Disclaimer: Psych and the characters of Psych are not mine; this story makes no profit and intends no copyright infringement.
So the first thing that happens to Juliet O'Hara when she walks through the front doors of the SBPD as its newest member is: cold. Icy, chattering inside her, and she shakes; stumbles.
The cold fades quickly to sunny Californian warmth, and Juliet shakes her head, and thinks to herself, That was weird.
Then she meets her new partner and forgets all about it.
Carlton Lassiter. The kindest thing you could say about him is that he's broken. There's something about the way he stands, as if his insides are full of sharp edges that cut him from within; there's something about the way he speaks, how there is never any hesitation, yet – the odd pause, the odd hitch in breath. He knows procedural code inside out, backward and forward; he makes an unwilling yet skilled mentor; and he is never anything less than immaculately dressed and groomed.
Juliet is a good detective, and so she investigates. Gathers evidence, tries to track the trajectory of the rising star of the department's Head Detective; tries to understand how that rising star could have fallen so low.
The list is a long one: separated and almost divorced, no children, affair with his last partner – all his problems are personal ones, Juliet notes. There's not much she can do about that. Otherwise his track record is near-spotless. He has a more than decent arrest record and a reputation for solid investigative work. His academic credentials are no less impressive. There is one slight irregularity and it dates back only a month and a half (Juliet isn't supposed to have found it: a paragraph long notation, an order to seek counseling, the sentence Found not responsible for the death of S. Spencer underlined in shaky red pen).
The first time Juliet works late and the bullpen is empty except for her, and the sky outside is dark – when she gets sleepy, yawns and closes her eyes – that time, the space behind her eyes fills with such blinding intense light. Light like that you'd expect to burn, but it doesn't. You'd expect it to scorch you to screaming, but that first time and every time after, all Juliet feels is warm.
In any profession governed by the possibility of death, superstition reigns supreme. They don't make a big deal out of it because they are all supposedly rational adult human beings, but some cops won't leave the station without their lucky holster, and some detectives only use the same obscure brand of pen to fill in all of their reports. (Juliet's quirk is that she recites lines of police code and baseball statistics in pairs whenever she makes coffee; she doesn't know why she does this, it's an absent-minded mental exercise. Sometimes, too, when she's cleaning her gun, she'll sing under her breath the theme song to Lone Ranger. It's gotten so that she doesn't even notice she does it, anymore.)
Despite this, Juliet hesitates to think ghost when she feels insubstantial fingers tug on her curls, nonexistent sharp chin resting on her shoulder, soundless voice in her ear amused and low, saying, Don't you see? Look at the scene sketches again. Look at the interview transcripts. Don't you notice it? This is who the killer is. So logical, and Juliet wants to think the answer has come from her – that she has gained, from one day to the next, the ability to look through a Cold Case and solve it – but she knows she hasn't.
She's never actually answered the presence. She's never actually acknowledged its existence.
She takes to calling it 'Casper', after the cartoon; but only in her head. Because she's not crazy, and she's not going to go crazy, and the first step on that road is to start talking to people who aren't there.
(Even if she thinks he might be there. Maybe.
Even if she wants him to be there.)
Juliet's never felt comfortable calling Det. Lassiter 'Carlton', despite the fact that they work alongside one another five days a week. Maybe in a different life, but in this one there is something too sad about him. Too closed off and distant, and she could take it if he ever got angry or annoyed, but even that much passion is beyond him.
She's seen cops like him before, the career kind, who are like wind-up toys with broken springs. Shuffling.
Det. Lassiter is her constant puzzle. She wants to figure him out. She wants to dissect him and have his each emotion laid bare for her to analyze. He's not a real person to her, because he's not even a real person to himself, and she occasionally thinks she should feel guilty over her rampant objectification of his emotional state – but she isn't.
Casper is amused by her attention, bemused; saddened. (Juliet doesn't want to think about the fact that she is now attributing emotions to a phantasm. Juliet doesn't want to think about how lonely this new job is, with a partner who won't look her in the face. Juliet doesn't want to think about anything except for the latest case she's on, because she's single-minded like that, because it's less confusing like that.)
Three months into her new job, and Juliet meets Burton Guster. He's a blind date, and very cute. They meet at the restaurant and Juliet gets there first, so she sees Burton – "Gus," he says, smiling a reserved smile, "Call me Gus, everyone does." – walk in through the front doors with his stiff shoulders and his set jaw. He moves tensely, as if his body hurts him: as if his body is wound and he doesn't know how much longer he can bear the pain of living inside of it.
Juliet likes him, she really does. He's sweet and unexpectedly funny, a consummate gentleman, but there is something so deeply sad about him. There is something so deeply pained. Juliet has never been one of those girls who needs to fix her boyfriends. She prefers they come to her healthy and happy. She doesn't have the energy or time to put fractured people back together, except as the intellectual exercise she does with Det. Lassiter; she can't be the person who makes Gus whole again. She already has a full-time job.
Either Gus can read her mind or he's not ready, either, to be in a relationship, because by the end of the night they smile at one another awkwardly.
Gus says, "Uh, so, should I call you?"
Juliet says, "If you want, but…" her voice trails off to nothing.
Gus smiles. His teeth are very white, and for all that it's a nervous motion, it's the first expression she's seen on his face that isn't tinged somehow by inexpressible sorrow. "I do like you, Juliet," he says, "But, I think we make better friends than anything else."
She smiles back and nods. "You should call me," she says. "I don't have all that many friends here yet."
The sadness in Gus's eyes sharpens and gleams as he says, "Neither do I, anymore."
Casper never leaves the station, but he's always waiting at the front doors for Juliet when she walks in each morning. Playful, his insubstantial arms hugging her around her shoulders; his cool breath whuffling across her cheek, like her brother's dogs used to do; his sly voice mumbling in her ear, Would you look at that guy's hairstyle? Can we say 'mid-life crisis', ladies and gentlemen? Juliet smiles, because it's amusing; because there's something so friendly and puppy-like about him. She sometimes wishes he were actually real and not the by-product of her lonely imagination.
Though, for someone (something?) not real, he is eerily good at guessing who their latest bad guy is. He whispers his answers in Juliet's ear. He tells her how he figured it out, and it's always the little details, the little extrapolations. He's more of a teacher to Juliet than Det. Lassiter has been. Det. Lassiter who only grows more gray with each day, as if the life is leeching out of him. Who offers brusque and unfeeling congratulations whenever Juliet manages to land a new lead to a seemingly dead case; who, for all that he has a pulse and steady breath, is no more alive than the corpses lying in the morgue's refrigeration units.
Juliet can't help but feel concerned for him, more and more, as with each passing day he shrinks, becomes lesser.
Something has to be done, she thinks.
Casper agrees, must agree, because he tugs her down to the records room and pushes her towards a pile of boxes. His impatience pushes against her like a palpable thing, speeding her through the files until she pulls a slim folder out, the name on its tab familiar to her: S. Spencer.
She falls asleep at her desk that night and her dreams are full of light and two hands and an amused, low voice asking her, Do you see? Do you see?
But Juliet is blinded by the light, and she shakes her head and mouths No. She forms the words but doesn't say them: Tell me.
You're a detective, the voice says. Go and detect.
Then the lightest touch on her lips. The softest possible touch, as if from lips less substantial than air, and Juliet moves into that kiss but can't chase it back to where it's come from, because she's woken up.
There are paperclips stuck to her cheek. She's drooled a little. She groans and checks the time and flips open her cell to phone Gus for late night pizza and movies.
Shawn Spencer is a handful of years older than Juliet. He has a criminal record (the arresting officer is a Henry Spencer, and Juliet has to wonder if they're related) from a misspent youth; he has a photograph on file with a crazy smirk and crazier hair. Juliet can't tell the colour of his eyes. His skin is a rich tan, and his nose almost beak-ish yet not quite. There's not much more on the file besides that, except for the roughly hand-written note: Claims to be a psychic, his tip closed the MacCallum case.
The date of his death is less than six months ago. The cause: blunt force trauma to the base of the skull. Ancillary injuries: broken rib, punctured lung, fractured cheekbone, broken wrist.
It hurt, Casper whispers over her shoulder. I can't remember it even now. But I remember how much it hurt. For all that he's a ghost (yes, Juliet has given up and accepted her insanity, she has taken to calling Casper what he is: a freakishly friendly ghost) this is the first time he's ever sounded haunted. He says, And I thought maybe dying would take the pain away, but it just put a different kind of pain inside me. It just made me hurt in a different type of way.
Juliet shivers. She whispers, "Shawn?" and if her tone is disbelieving, it doesn't stop Casper from laughing, doesn't stop his delight as he says, Shawn Spencer, ghostly psychic detective, at your service.