"But I can't live with this anymore."
Shawn recognized that the train had just jumped the track, and he was powerless to stop the collision. With a whoosh, the flames leapt around Army Johnson as he tried his hand at self-immolation. Given the quantity of accelerant on the floor of the deserted warehouse, it was not surprising to see the flames spread, well, like wildfire. Nevertheless, the sheer speed was breathtaking, and all the psychic could do was scream, "No!!!! Gus!"
His partner kept his head. Throughout Shawn's attempt to talk sense into the arsonist/killer, Gus had been inching into a position where he could tackle the man unawares. Ironically, that now gave him the best chance of saving the older man's life. "Get Morgan! Get Morgan!" he shouted back to his friend, making sure that the injured woman was taken care of. He quickly spun, snatching the movers' blanket he'd spotted earlier from the top of a nearby crate, then dove into the flames. His momentum upon impact carried both the arsonist and himself out of the major fire zone, but that wouldn't last long. A haphazard pile of wooden pallets nearby had already caught, and the blaze was spreading quickly. Wrapping the man tightly in the blanket, he attempted to smother his burning clothing.
Shawn paused for a second, eyes wide, as he saw his best friend dive into the conflagration. Still, Gus knew what he was doing, and he was right; the junior arson inspector was in no shape to escape under her own power. Taking a deep breath, his lips set in a grim line and raced for the downed woman. 'So help me, Gus, you'd better be right behind me,' he thought as he scooped up the lanky brunette and vaulted towards the warehouse door. Smoke was already thick in the air from the rapidly spreading inferno, and he began having trouble seeing the path to the nearby exit.
The pharmaceutical rep had finally managed to extinguish the flames, but Mr. Johnson was down for the count. 'No choice. I'll have to carry him.' Wrapping the unconscious man tightly in the blanket, he maneuvered the bundle over his left shoulder and staggered to his feet. He tried to breathe as shallowly as possible to avoid too much smoke inhalation, but soon found himself gasping for breath; his burden outweighed him by at least 80 pounds. He had only managed a few steps before the world exploded, then went black.
The blast caught Spencer completely unawares as well. One minute he was racing towards the sunlight, Morgan cradled in his arms, the next he was being slammed into the front wall by the force of the explosion. Apparently the flames had reached one or more of the barrels marked "Flammable - Poison" stacked throughout the room and the concussion threw him forward like a paper doll in a hurricane. He saw stars as he impacted the solid wooden wall, but managed to twist enough to keep his body between it and the burden he carried. Fortunately Morgan was awake enough to have snaked her arm around Spencer's neck, or he might have dropped her. As it was, he had to pause to get his bearings before heading once more for the nearby doorway.
Outside, everyone took cover as the blast sent metal and debris flying over a hundred feet into the air. Juliet looked on in horror, suddenly certain of the psychic's exact location - inside that building. Clearly Lassiter had come to the same conclusion, because the pair were both shocked into immobility, staring helplessly at the burning structure.
Then Juliet's keen eyes picked out the movement in the smoke-filled entrance. "I can see somebody coming out!" she exclaimed, pointing. Instantly the detectives were pelting forwards, anxious to check on their friends.
As he staggered into the sunlight an ambulance crew met Shawn with a gurney; he had never been so happy to see anyone in his life. He gently deposited the semi-conscious arson inspector on it, then swung back towards the building as she was whisked away.
'Come on, Gus, where are you?!?' he silently pleaded. His long-time friend should have been right behind him. Smoke billowed out from the warehouse, but nothing else.
'Nonononono…' he chanted internally as he blindly sprinted back towards the building. "Gus!!!" he screamed, before plunging into the murky smoke-filled structure. None of the firemen or rescue workers were near enough to stop him, even if they had expected the unprotected civilian to go rushing back into the burning building.
"What is that idiot doing?" cursed Lassiter as he saw Spencer disappear back into the conflagration. Arriving at the rescue vehicles, he glanced around the area for Shawn's more reasonable partner; when he didn't see Guster, his mind flashed back to a recent bank robbery. He'd physically intercepted the young psychic as he'd made a bolt for the bank, and now repeated Shawn's statement, suddenly realizing why the consultant had dived back into the flames.
"Gus is in there."
He and Juliet watched powerlessly as the rescue crew gathered their equipment and headed inside.
Taking a moment to get his bearings, Shawn covered his mouth with his sleeve as he began to choke on the noxious cloud. He squinted towards the spot where Gus had tackled the arsonist, then headed in that direction. Breathing became increasingly difficult over the coughing, and his mind flashed back to what Gus had said the day before.
"The key is to stay underneath the smoke." Spencer had teased him at the time, but right now it sounded like good advice. Dropping to his hands and knees, he scuttled forward, still coughing, but finally able to move.
It took less than a minute before he encountered something soft. His heart sprang to his chest as he quickly felt enough of the unmoving body in front of him to be certain it was Gus. If he was alive, he was unconscious, either from smoke inhalation or the blast. He thought he could see Mr. Johnson's blanket-covered form just beyond them. Given the blurring of his vision from lack of oxygen, Spencer could only deal with one problem at a time, and his life-long friend had priority. Snagging a hand under each of Gus's armpits, he rose to a crouch and began pulling the prone figure backwards, trying to put as much space as possible between them and the fire. It was a gargantuan effort; the smoke was so thick - he couldn't see, he couldn't breathe, and if he didn't move it, Gus would die…
A rubber-gloved hand suddenly fell on his back; he stood and turned watery eyes towards the gas-masked firefighter on his right. The man jerked a thumb back towards the exit, indicating that Shawn should leave. Shaking his head stubbornly, he pointed down at his unconscious friend, just in time to see Gus's body being swept up by a second fireman and hauled towards the door.
OK, that problem was taken care of; now Mr. Johnson. Coughing uncontrollably, he bent double as he pointed at the blanketed form just a few yards away, just as two more firefighters converged on the downed man, scooping him from the floor as well.
'Huh,' thought Shawn dazedly, 'They're quick.' And with the last of his obligations covered, his eyes rolled back in his head and he surrendered to the blackness.
Juliet sighed with relief as she watched Gus being carried from the building, knowing that Shawn wouldn't be far behind. Her brow creased in concern, however, when the next person hauled from the structure was significantly larger than the psychic, and wrapped in a blanket. While Lassiter moved over to where they were resuscitating the two unconscious victims, O'Hara found herself rooted in place staring at the smoke-billowing entrance. She let out the breath she didn't know she was holding as another firefighter finally emerged from the inferno, an insensate Spencer slung across his shoulders.
He lay the soot-covered psychic on the pavement next to Gus and Mr. Johnson, then moved away to let the EMTs get to work. "What the hell happened?" demanded Carlton of the environment in general, as the only people present with answers were stretched out in front of him receiving aid and the junior arson inspector was already on her way to the hospital. Recognizing the third man, he was more confused than ever. "What is Army Johnson doing here?"
Juliet shrugged. "I have no idea. I guess we'll just have to wait for Shawn to tell us."
Just then, the object of her consideration began hacking into the oxygen mask that had been applied to his face. He was coughing so hard he was turning red, unable to catch his breath. The paramedic treating him rolled him to his left side and began calmly repeating, "Breathe slowly. In through your nose, out through your mouth. In through your nose, out through your mouth. That's right. Just like that," he reassured as Shawn's whooping and gasping began to subside. As Spencer gradually got control of his breathing, his eyes regained focus and he frantically began looking around for his friend.
"He's on your right, Spencer," commented Lassiter, correctly interpreting the psychic's movements. Shawn immediately rolled over, sighing and relaxing back as he saw Gus beside him, still unconscious but breathing normally.
Carlton barely heard the whispered, "Oh, thank God" before Spencer's eyes were closed again. Kneeling next to the group, he prodded Spencer in the shoulder. "So. What happened here?" His tone was no-nonsense, and for once Shawn seemed inclined to forgo the 'psychic' mumbo-jumbo.
He removed his mask in order to be better understood. "It was Mr. Johnson. He killed the arsonists responsible for his friends' deaths all those years ago, then walled up the bodies in the new construction. When the edicts came down concerning seismic retrofit, he knew it would just be a matter of time until the bodies were discovered. So…" His 'big reveal' was interrupted by another wracking cough.
"So he decided to clean up his mess," finished Lassiter smugly as he forcibly replaced Spencer's oxygen mask.
Shawn could only nod as he watched the paramedics load Gus onto a gurney. "Is he gonna be OK?" he asked worriedly.
"Probably. Looks like he was knocked out by the explosion," replied the nearby EMT. "He's going to Cottage." He pointed at the older man as he continued, "Him, too. They both need to be checked out by the doc." He smiled at Shawn, "You, however, will be free to go after you've sucked down a little more O2. I'd stay away from any track-and-field events for the next few days, though."
The psychic nodded absently as he watched his buddy loaded into the back of an ambulance. Lassiter gruffly commented, "Soon as you're cleared, Spencer, we'll be happy to take you to the hospital. We have go there anyway to arrest a criminal, after all."
Shawn took two more deep breaths then struggled to his feet. "OK. Let's go." He ignored Lassiter's eye roll at Juliet and continued, "Where's your car?"
O'Hara pointed out the Crown Victoria, "Over there."
Shawn nodded and started toward it, only to immediately stumble over a piece of debris left from the explosion. The head detective's hand shot automatically to the consultant's elbow, steadying him. "You sure you're ready, Spencer?" he asked, carefully keeping his tone unconcerned.
"Yeah, yeah. I'm good." He glanced at the hand still on his arm, then met Lassiter's gaze. Affecting a more effeminate tone, he joked, "You can hold my hand if you want, big boy."
Carlton jerked his hand away as if it had been scalded, much to O'Hara's unconcealed amusement. Frowning, he muttered, "Fine. Let's go."
Juliet steadied him as they clambered over the low concrete wall in front of the car, while a fuming Lassiter strode ahead, presumably to unlock the doors. Shawn smiled to himself as the gruff detective held his open, watching to make sure he didn't hit his head as he climbed into the back seat.
The drive to Cottage Hospital was only fifteen minutes, but Spencer found himself limp as a damp washcloth as his adrenaline evaporated. Propping his elbow on the armrest, he cupped his chin in his hand and stared out the window at the passing buildings.
'What was I thinking?' he worried. 'If I hadn't sent Morgan to check out the buildings, we'd have never been caught off-guard like that. And why did I allow Gus to do the heroic rescue? If anyone had to be leaping into flames, it should have been me.' He was so caught up in his own self-chastisement that he was oblivious to the worried looks being sent his way by the detectives in the front seat.
"Spencer? You still oxygen-deprived or something?" baited Lassiter, concerned by the normally-ebullient man's silence.
"Or something," muttered Shawn without blinking. The two police officers exchanged anxious looks as he lapsed back into silence.
Finally Juliet commented, "We're almost there, Shawn."
The hospital itself was a madhouse. The group quickly determined that Guster, Johnson, and Morgan were all still in the Emergency Department getting evaluated and, while they were all listed as being in 'stable' condition, no other details were forthcoming. And 'no', none of them were allowed to go back at this time. The three had no choice but to settle into the hard, plastic chairs and wait for news.
The detectives sat next to each other and discussed the case in hushed tones, careful not to bother Shawn, who had fallen prey to his own self-derogatory thoughts once more. The quiet persisted until, with a gasp, Spencer suddenly rocketed straight up in his chair.
"Shawn! What is it?" O'Hara worried that he might have relapsed, as he seemed to be having trouble catching his breath.
"Gus's parents! I need to call them, let them know what happened…" The expression on his face implied that he'd rather face a pride of hungry lions. "Gus's Mom always said I'd get him killed - I was a bad influence…and…and dangerous…and…" Haunted eyes met O'Hara's, "Jules, what if she's right?"
"She's not right, Shawn." Juliet laid a reassuring hand on the tired psychic's arm.
"Yes, she is," commented Lassiter from her other side.
"Carlton!" O'Hara shot him a glare that would melt titanium.
"Well, from what I've seen of Mr. Guster, he's clearly the responsible member of the team." Lassiter was nothing if not persistent.
That got Spencer riled. "Now wait just one second…"
Carlton leaned forward and ticked off points on his fingers. "One: he makes certain you two are at appointments on time. Two: he makes sure the bills are paid in a timely fashion. Three: he always dresses professionally. Four: he is always respectful and appropriate when dealing with others. Five: he does what he's told, and stays away when instructed. Six:…shall I continue?"
"Hey, I pull my weight. Without me, there wouldn't be a 'Psych' - I solve the cases; I have the gift. No way to pay bills if there's no money coming in." Shawn stood in a huff. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a phone call to make, and I'd like some privacy." With that, he stalked out of the waiting room and into the nearby corridor where he could still watch for the doctor's arrival while he talked to Gus's parents.
Juliet had fire in her eyes as she swung to face her partner, only to find him leaning back with arms crossed and a smug half-smirk on his face. She blinked as the realization hit her. "You…you did that on purpose!"
Lassiter gave her a little half-shrug in agreement. "Having him furious with me sure beats having him angry with himself."
"You think that's why he was so quiet?" Juliet was fascinated by this new side of Carlton.
"Come on - Spencer goes out of his way to make sure nothing happens to Guster…ever. Remember that bank robbery? He actually managed to get himself taken hostage and nearly shot, just because he felt guilty about his friend. Now, for the first time I can remember, Guster is injured while Spencer is relatively unscathed; he's been mentally berating himself since he woke up outside that warehouse." He shrugged again noncommittally. "I got tired of watching it."
Juliet grinned and thought, 'You old softie!', but was smart enough to not say it out loud. Just then Spencer came back into the room, catching her eye. While not quite energetic, he still moved with more self-assurance than he had for the last hour.
"They're on their way," he stated, then sat down once again.
"As long as we're waiting, do you mind if I ask you a few more questions about what happened?" Lassiter pulled out his notebook from his pocket and gestured for Juliet to switch places with him.
"Sure, Lassie. What do you need to know?"
Juliet leaned in to hear the quiet deposition. In light of Carlton's earlier admission, she saw the questioning at a whole new angle. 'He's just trying to distract Shawn until we hear from the doctor,' she realized. Then she noticed the careful wording to the apparently innocuous queries. 'And he's making Shawn admit out loud that none of the events were his fault!' Her respect and admiration for her partner just went up a notch; she'd never seen him do 'subtle' before.
The Gusters arrived fifteen minutes later.
Shawn rose as Mrs. Guster furiously charged into the room. "What have you done to my boy this time?!?" she demanded.
Lassiter stood to run interference. "Mrs. Guster, I assure you that Mr. Spencer…"
Mr. Guster interrupted, staring at Shawn. "Anytime Burton has gotten in trouble, you've been right there. What did you do? How did this happen?"
"Now wait one second," Juliet had literally leapt up to Shawn's defense. "If you think…"
"Family of Burton Guster?" The question came from the white-coated man standing in the entrance to the treatment area.
'Thank God,' sighed Shawn mentally, hurrying forward with Gus's parents, who were now focussed on something other than him and his culpability.
"We're the Gusters," announced Gus's mom.
Spencer, Lassiter, And O'Hare stood and joined them in a small crowd around the physician. "And we're his friends. How's he doing?"
The doctor's smile was reassuring. "He's fine. We've run a battery of tests, and all we can find is some smoke inhalation and a mild concussion. We'd like to keep him overnight for observation, but he should be free to go in the morning."
Frowning, Lassiter jerked his chin towards the treatment area. "What about the other two? Morgan and Johnson? We need to get their statements."
The physician nodded. "The young lady is doing quite well, and should be released first thing in the morning as well. Mr. Johnson, however, also has some second and third degree burns; he'll be staying with us for a few days." He shook his head appreciatively and addressed the worried parents, "I have to say, if it weren't for your son's quick thinking, Mr. Johnson would be in considerably worse shape; in fact, he could easily have died."
Mrs. Guster blinked in surprise. "My Burton was injured while helping someone?"
The doctor snorted as a corner of his mouth turned up. "While saving his life. Your son is a bona fide hero."
Mr. Guster was more practical. "May we see him now, doctor?"
"He's being moved to room 237 as we speak. The information desk can give you directions on how to get there." He turned to the detectives as Shawn and the Gusters headed for the door. "Officers? If you'll come with me, I'll take you to Mr. Johnson and Ms. Carson."
Gus was sitting up in bed checking out the TV reception when his family burst into the room. Shawn loitered at the door, unsure of his welcome with Gus's folks. His friend was immediately smothered in his mother's arms. "Oh, Gus, we were so worried!" she exclaimed.
"Mom, I'm fine," he tried to say, but it was muffled by her clothing and came out more like, "Mmmfne".
"Let the boy breathe!" joked Mr. Guster. "He's already had trouble getting oxygen once today."
As his mother released him, smiling, Gus looked worried. "Where's Shawn?" he demanded. "I thought he'd come in with you."
From the doorway Spencer gave a little wave. "I'm over here, buddy."
"Well, get in here. You OK? How's Morgan?" He noticed his parents glaring at his increasingly uncomfortable friend, and his eyes narrowed.
His suspicions were confirmed by Shawn's next words. "I'm fine. She's fine. I…just wanted to see you for myself. I'll get out of your hair now."
As his friend turned to leave, Gus raised his voice. "No, you get back here, Shawn." He turned to his mother. "Mom, what's going on between you guys?"
Her mouth set in a firm line. "Your…friend…there nearly got you killed!"
"No, Mom, he didn't. In fact, I was pretty much calling the shots in that warehouse. I told Shawn to start talking, to try and stall Mr. Johnson until backup arrived. He almost convinced him, too. Then the guy's guilt got the better of him, and he decided that burning to death was a viable option, even if it took us out with him. I told Shawn to get the girl out, since I was closer to Mr. Johnson than he was. I'm just surprised he did as he was told for a change."
He grinned at his partner, who had eased a few feet into the room.
"Mom, it was my decision, my choice."
His mother was not mollified. "But you never would have been in that position if you weren't with him." She pointed an accusing finger at Spencer, who dropped his head in shame. Clearly he felt pretty guilty about the way things had turned out.
"Would you rather that young lady arson inspector had died?!?" Gus was emphatic. "Because Mom, I promise you, if we hadn't been there she would have. Mr. Johnson had poured accelerant on her as well as on the floor. He fully intended there to be a second victim. Is that what you wanted?"
Mrs. Guster visibly deflated, but tried once more, "But the police…"
"Were nowhere near enough to save her," interrupted the man on the bed. "The only reason they were coming at all is because we figured it out and called them!"
"Well…I guess…" She looked sheepishly at her son. "I guess you can still work with him."
Gus shook his head tiredly, then thought better of it; he still had a headache from being knocked unconscious. "Mom, in case you haven't noticed, I'm a grown man. I don't need your approval of my friends. And trust me, there is no better friend than Shawn." He looked up at Spencer, who had managed to inch up to his bedside opposite his parents. He held up a fist as he asked, "Right, buddy?"
Shawn made a fist of his own that he gently knocked against Gus's. "Right."
And finally, finally, the smile was back.