I was arranged to leave on that day
There were complications I've chosen to stay
I saw the curtains and it was the end
When one life is over a new one begins
He wasn't sure what the material of the curtain was, but it looked just about as scratchy as the blanket that covered him. Which was just about as scratchy as his face felt. That first day, when he'd woken up and the doctors and nurses had huddled around him like it was third and long, the only thing he could think about was how he needed to shave. Most of the words that flew at him that day through the haze kept on going. Not many stayed with him. Except for "traumatic," "shattered," and "unlikely."
The nurses offered him condolences and platitudes that the doctors wouldn't. He hated their smiles, their disingenuous sympathy. These people didn't know him. How could they possibly understand what he'd lost during those few days he'd been in that chemically-induced coma? Or before, in the split-second that bullet entered his body?
So instead of facing anyone, he simply stared out the window. When the curtains were closed, he'd stare at those. Not at the flickering television screen. Not at their faces. Not at anyone's faces.
He was asked if he wanted visitors. He was told that a young man and young woman had been hovering around his room during visiting hours every day; that they'd kept vigil by his bedside while he was under. But he especially couldn't look at their faces. They knew him. And they knew exactly what it was that he had lost. He couldn't handle those glossy-eyed stares, those red-rimmed eyes. They wouldn't smile for him and they wouldn't offer platitudes, because they knew him and they knew how much he hated those things.
After weeks of drifting, he was moved to a different room without curtains. This room had blinds. His doctors told him about outcomes, scenarios and likelihoods. Schedules were set up, goals were discussed. Physical therapy routines were outlined but always, just on the periphery, were the sharks waiting to swallow any hope he might allow himself at encouraging words like progress.
In this time, he'd had visitors. Juliet, his former partner now. The chief. She seemed the most torn up, unwilling to utter the words of encouragement and instead tiptoeing around the official protocol. How he could no longer be on active duty. How she wished it could be different but she couldn't keep his job for him. If he even decided to return, she promised they would give him something. It was a consolation prize and he didn't want it. She could keep her pity job. He wouldn't be coming back.
When she'd left that day, he'd fallen into an ever darker abyss. So much of his life had been spent working towards something that he'd thought was so sure, so incredibly solid. He hadn't realized that the precipice he'd stood atop was so tenuous and the fall so far and damaging when he'd stumbled. Or really, he'd been shoved off. Shoved off by a bullet. Just a little bit of metal that did an obscene amount of damage to his knee. The doctors had told him that first day that there were small fragments of metal and bone remaining. Pieces too small, too deeply embedded in that flesh to remove. These were his souvenirs for a job unfinished and a life unlived as he put everything aside for his goddamned career. He was told he'd probably have a little bit of pain from it for the rest of the life. Because that was just how things went.
He'd retreated then. Anyone asking to visit was turned away. He figured anyone who came now was simply doing it out of a sense of duty. Sometimes he hated the false brotherhood that the police force cultivated among its members. Just because you spent a lot of time with someone didn't make them family. Uniforms weren't the same as the blood that ran through your veins, no matter what your inflated sense of pride made you think.
Only a few days passed this time before he awoke to a face he especially couldn't look at.
"Hey," he said softly, that smirk for once wiped off his face. He knew Shawn was the most likely to go against his desire to remain alone, but he had hoped the man would surprise him for once and just let him be.
Lassiter turned away, involuntary moisture from his eye sliding down the side of his face. It still hurt so goddamned much even though he'd been assured that they'd given him the good stuff and anymore and he'd be in another chemically-induced coma. "Go away," he said softly, his voice scratchy like the blanket, like those curtains in the other room.
Shawn laughed ruefully, rubbing his face. Lassiter was still turned from him, but he heard the slight sniffle, the strangled quality to his voice. "No."
"Dammit, Spencer," Lassiter barked, turning to face Shawn, hoping he could muster up the venom in his look even though he knew his words would fail to even barb.
Shawn's hands flew towards his face, grabbing his hair (too long, too unkempt after weeks in that bed), his face crashing against his, his tongue greedily prying open his chapped lips. Shawn always tasted like artificial sweeteners and high fructose corn syrup, even though, in that brief time they'd been together, Lassiter had practically forced healthier foods down his throat.
"We haven't gone through all of this just for me to be Spencer to you again," Shawn said as he broke the kiss, breathing heavily.
"I can't…" Lassiter said after a long period of silence, his voice breaking. He looked away, unable to take the look in Shawn's eyes. Of course he could never just be Spencer again. But he couldn't handle him being Shawn right now. Which was why he just so desperately wanted to be alone.
But Shawn was stubborn. They were both too stubborn and maybe that was why they had originally thought it could work out. Like everything in Lassiter's life that he touched, he had watched that brief spark of their relationship flicker and fade out quickly.
"When I heard what happened…I got on my bike. I was almost in San Francisco," Shawn said, still looking at Lassiter. "And I don't know why I turned around, because I've never turned around before."
Slowly Lassiter looked back up at Shawn. There was no manufactured sympathy in those eyes, no halfhearted encouragement. He wasn't sure why he'd missed it before and he was angry that he had. The look on Shawn's face held what could only be described as love. Shawn slipped his hand into Lassiter's, their fingers intertwining. It was as if he was being pulled from the depths with that simple gesture. The shark fins dipped below the surface and were briefly forgotten as that glimmer of hope shone on the horizon.
It was too much for Lassiter after so much time spent on the edges, trying to will himself into non-existence. For the first time in years he allowed himself to break down. To purge every fear and devastation and worry and to just let go. And Shawn held him as he did, absorbing the heaving sobs and the hoarse cries.
Lassiter rolled over, feeling the breeze from the open window on the bare skin of his chest. There was a warm pressure on his side and a faint numbness in his arm, but these were things he'd gotten used to again after several years spent in an empty bed.
The flash of pain in his knee sent him reaching for the pill bottle on the nightstand. He was told that he'd always have that reverberation, those aftershocks from that day. Even now, when he was just about ready to move from a hard jog to a light run and he could go almost the whole day without falling into a limp. That little red hot ember would always be there to remind him of the life he'd left and the overwhelming pain of that loss.
But laying here with the chilled morning air and the snoring body beside him, he knew that his best days weren't behind him. So he wasn't Head Detective anymore and so what if he'd had to retire early from the only job he'd ever dreamed of having. He could step onto his balcony in the morning and see the whole of the valley below his house, covered in mist. At night he looked up to a sky so clear that the edges of the Milky Way were visible. In the spring were the calls of birds; in the winter the somber howls of wolves.
He found that he didn't miss Santa Barbara. He missed a few of the relationships that he'd left there--Juliet being the hardest to leave. But she came up to see them often enough that the reminders of the distance between them didn't cut as deep.
He'd left his life there. Almost immediately after he'd left the hospital, Shawn had told him that they needed to leave. As long as the artifacts of that lost life surrounded him, he'd be doomed to call his house his tomb and he'd remain miserable in the most unfathomable depths of that abyss. They'd packed up what he'd considered essential, sold or donated what he didn't need, and gave away the things that didn't fit into the former two categories to the people in his life that he wanted to have keepsakes. He put his house on the market and then he and Shawn drove north in their packed U-haul.
Staring at the cool glow of the morning light on the curtains, he knew he wouldn't be able to get back to sleep. Most mornings he allowed himself to go against that internal clock that had been conditioned so many years prior to get up before dawn and drift until whenever it was that Shawn finally roused himself from sleep. This morning the dull pulse of the pain was just a little too harsh for sleep. So he rolled onto his side and put his arm around Shawn's waist. And he watched the undulations of the curtains, thinking that he was glad he had this life, unafraid of the shadow of loneliness that had once crept along the peripheries. Even though he'd had to start all over again.
a/n: there's a companion piece through Shawn's point of view that I've begun working on, but I won't post it until it's complete. I'm also considering making Heatherwood into a longer fic (oh, the angst!) but that's one of those far off on the horizon sort of deals. if you're curious about the songs I've referenced, here's the list in order:
"Talamak" by Toro y Moi
"Triggering Back" by Benoit Pioulard
"I and Love and You" by The Avett Brothers
"While You Wait for the Others" by Grizzly Bear
"Heatherwood" by Deerhunter