The problem was pride.
Head Detective Carlton Lassiter, ten-year veteran of the Santa Barbara police force, had a lot of it. He had pride in his work, pride in his appearance, pride in the care he took with his equipment. Everything he did he did with the utmost care and attention to detail. So that he could be proud of it.
Sometimes, however, he had too much pride. Couldn't admit when he needed help. Lassiter had, on occasion, been forced to address his excess of pride, and it wasn't something he enjoyed. Usually he countered this shaking of his core with a few extra hours on the range, or a fishing trip.
Lately it had been less fishing and more shooting, and maybe he should have seen the signs, but stress was a slow build. He was always stressed; it wasn't something he paid much attention to.
So the final straw, the sign that he'd officially snapped, came as a bit of a surprise.
Lassiter and O'Hara (okay, mostly O'Hara but she was still a Junior Detective) were finishing up the paperwork on the latest case. There was no doubt in Lassiter's mind that Spencer was not psychic, but he did have an uncanny ability to show up after all the tedious work was already completed. He affixed his needlessly-loopy signature to the appropriate lines, made a joke about someplace called "Sandford," and ruffled Lassiter's hair before skipping off to bug Chief Vick for his check.
It was O'Hara's raised eyebrows that alerted Lassiter to the oddity. The corners of his mouth had pulled up into what he was frightened to assume may have been a smile. He dropped them immediately and gathered up the papers to turn in, something O'Hara normally did. She stared after him, her eyes burning holes into the back of his suit coat.
After leaving the papers and a glare, Lassiter made for the men's room. He leant over the sink, staring at himself in the mirror. He didn't look sick. For the sake of thoroughness, he tried to recreate the expression that had caused the raised eyebrows, and discovered it had indeed been a smile. Worse, it was a soft, affectionate smile. That couldn't be possible, it-
Lassiter took pride in the fact that he didn't jump, or show any outward signs of his surprise. He glared at Spencer as the younger man walked to the sink bedside him and started washing his hands.
"Buck up, Lassie, I'm sure you'll remember how to smile eventually."
"Don't talk to me, Spencer, I'm not in the mood."
"Got a headache, honey?"
Lassiter snorted, and was dismayed to realize it was a snort of laughter. Spencer must have noticed, because his grin spread as he shook his hands dry.
"That's okay, we can just cuddle."
"If you try to hug me, I'll shoot you in the foot."
"What about a kiss?"
Even Lassiter was surprised at the ferocity of the glare he turned on Spencer. And he could tell Spencer was surprised too. Mostly by the way he fled the bathroom without another word.
By the time he looked back in the mirror the glare was gone, but anything that shut Spencer up had to be serious.
He fixed his hair and left the men's room, catching a glimpse of Spencer heading for the exit. Without thinking, his eyes drifted down and focused on a part of Spencer's body he had hitherto been completely uninterested in.
The doors in the station had some kind of spring thing that prevented them from being slammed. This was a shame, since Lassiter had never wanted to slam a door as much as he did in that moment.
All he could do was gather his things, give a perfunctory goodbye to O'Hara, and get home and to bed as fast as he could. He was tired. He was stressed. He wasn't himself.
If he was staring at Spencer's ass, he was very, very, not himself.
The problem was pride.
If Lassiter was a little less proud, a little more willing to admit his weaknesses, maybe he could have talked to someone about it. Maybe he could have admitted months ago that, while Spencer's attitude annoyed him, the man had proven himself both useful and dedicated many times in the past. Instead he lay awake for hours, trying to figure out what might have caused this lapse.
When he finally fell asleep, Spencer taunted him throughout his dreams, until the alarm screamed him into submission. The thoughts persisted through a cold shower and half a bagel, and Lassiter was so shaken that he allowed himself a couple sugars and a splash of milk in his first cup of coffee for the day.
Being at work helped. He and O'Hara did some more paperwork, prepared for an upcoming trial, and responded to a call that was, for once, easily wrapped up. By the time noon rolled around, Lassiter was feeling normal again. Under control. Yesterday had been a temporary lapse in judgment, nothing to worry about.
Until Spencer showed up for lunch, with a bag of mini-muffins and an insufferable grin.
Lassiter tried to ignore him, at first, but Spencer insisted on annoying him.
"I've got blueberry, chocolate, apple-cinnamon, but no." Spencer rifled through the bag and produced one of the tiny baked goods. "You strike me as a banana-nut man."
An image that Lassiter had not even known he was capable of picturing flashed through his mind, and he started coughing to cover up his embarrassment.
"Okay, not so big on the bananas. Or is it the nuts?"
"Leave me alone Spencer."
"Not in the mood again? You're never in the mood any more." He mock-pouted. "Lassie, don't you realize how special what we have is? I annoy you, you get pissy, complaints are filed, shots are fired, cycle is repeated."
"There is nothing special between us," Lassiter snapped, praying silently that the warm fluttery feeling in his chest was just heartburn. "You annoy everyone."
"Shawn, we're working," O'Hara stepped in, proving once again what a valuable partner she was. "There's a suspect to question and I'm sure Lassiter wants to go to the range before lunch."
"A suspect?" Spencer's eyes lit up, and the warm feeling spread. "Maybe I can watch, see if I can glean anything from his thoughts."
"Not necessary," Lassiter said quickly. "This one is open-and-shut. Neighbors heard gunshots, uniforms found the wife dead and the husband a block away throwing his bloody shirt into a dumpster."
Spencer's eyebrows rose, much the way O'Hara's had yesterday. "Seems pretty careless."
"Most crimes of passion are. All we need is to find out why. And believe me; once you've been married you'll realize there are a hundred reasons to want to kill your spouse." That thought killed the warm feeling, so Lassiter headed for the interrogation room before it could come back.
"Ah, but he had the gun, right?" Spencer was following him, naturally. "Why would he have a gun if he wasn't planning to shoot anyone?"
"Protection," Lassiter snapped.
"Protection, hm, I thought married couples didn't need to use that."
Lassiter stopped mid-stride, making Spencer bump into his back. He grabbed Lassiter's shoulders to steady himself, and the warm flutter turned into a full-body tingle.
"Get off me." He jerked away. "You can watch, but only so you can learn how the pros do it."
Spencer grinned. "Why Lassie. I'm flattered you would take me under your wing, but I think I can handle myself."
"We'll see." Not his best comeback, but the most he could do when he was trying not to picture Spencer handcuffed to a chair while Lassiter taught him… a thing or two he'd learned in college.
The suspect wasn't talking. They'd already found gunpowder residue on his hands, the neighbors had seen him leaving the apartment, but he still wasn't talking. Lassiter wasn't on his game today and he knew that; the fact that he knew Spencer was watching from the other side of the glass didn't help. After fifteen minutes he knew he wasn't going to get anything more, so he left the suspect to glare at the table while he got more coffee.
"Wow," Spencer said. "That was amazing. The way you just… kept talking while he stared all creepy Children of the Corn like at you."
"Very funny," Lassiter muttered. "This guy knows he's sunk. He hasn't even asked for a lawyer yet."
"That's because he is one."
Lassiter blinked. "What?"
"He is a lawyer. Well, sort of."
"What the hell are you talking about?"
Spencer's hand flew to his temple. "I see a young man… So much to prove, and so little to prove it with. I see an alma mater, dotted with blood."
Lassiter glared at him for a moment before turning to O'Hara. "The t-shirt he was throwing away."
"From a college upstate," she nodded. "But the suspect worked at a garage. If he went to law school he never did anything with it."
"Flunked out," Spencer said. "And his wife never let him forget it."
Another glare. Lassiter's eyes lingered on Spencer's face, that stupid mocking expression, those bright eyes, the arch of his eyebrow.
He couldn't do it. Couldn't pretend everything was normal, when…
"O'Hara, maybe you should take over questioning for now."
"Me?" she blinked.
"Who else?" Lassiter rubbed his forehead. "I need to talk to the chief."
Lassiter ignored her, making his way to Chief Vick's office. She was talking to a couple of uniforms, so he waited until they left, shutting the door behind him and pulling the blinds.
"Something serious, detective?" Vick asked.
The problem was pride. If Lassiter wasn't so full of it, he might not have jumped to this conclusion.
"I need some leave," he sighed. "Mental health. I think I'm going insane."