Shawn was sitting on the steps to Carlton's apartment when the Crown Vic pulled up. His expression was hopeful, but Carlton noted the purple circles under his eyes that suggested maybe he hadn't been sleeping either. It was reassuring to see Shawn be this human. He felt a rush of empathy and protectiveness, which he quickly suppressed. This is probably just another one of his tricks.
"What's Guster worried about now?" Carlton asked warily. "If you came to beg me not to turn you in you're too late. Chief Vick already knows." No need to mention she's probably known for years.
"So why haven't you come by the office then?" Shawn stood close to Carlton, hands in his pockets. He smelled like soap and cologne. "To put the handcuffs on, I mean."
"She doesn't care." Carlton stepped past Shawn and unlocked his door. "You're more valuable to the department as a fake psychic than you are as a real felon." Hell, if I'm honest about it, I can't blame her. I'd rather see Spencer in the field getting the work done than languishing in prison.
"Really?" Shawn sounded as if he was hesitant to believe him. He followed Carlton inside, not waiting for an invitation.
"Yeah." Carlton put his keys on a hook by the door, walked across to the kitchen counter, pulled a bottle of Glenlivet from the cupboard, and poured himself a scotch. "She couldn't care less if you're as phony as Kreskin, so long as you keep closing her homicide cases."
"Kreskin's a phony? What?" Shawn trailed after him and leaned against the dark granite counter. "I suppose you're going to tell me the wrestling on the WWE is fake."
"Real wrestlers don't wear face paint and costumes," Carlton said. He'd wrestled in high school and found the melodrama of professional wrestling intolerable.
"I hear they wear the required uniform."
"Why are you here, Spencer?" And make it good. You're cutting into my drinking and brooding time.
"I've had an epiphone."
Carlton looked at him sceptically. "You've had an electric guitar?"
"What? No. An epi…an epipi…an idea. I've had a sudden realization."
"That too. The good news is, I realized that you're not mad at me."
"I'm not?" Carlton sipped his drink, enjoying the warm burn. He was feeling amused for the first time all week. Watching Spencer try to argue his way out of trouble was always good for a laugh.
"No. You're mad at Mrs. Montresor. You're mad at almost dying. And if I had to guess, you're probably mad about feeling freaked out by claustrophobic spaces. Like phone booths. Not that you really encounter those anymore, what with everyone having cell phones. Although we still see them in the movies, don't we?"
"What makes you think I'm bothered by small spaces?" Carlton looked him in the eyes. Shawn was fishing. He'd done it himself in dozens of interrogations. But Shawn didn't have the experience necessary to break him down, even if what he said was true.
"I know I am," Shawn said. "I'm afraid to shower." He laughed. "It's funny really, because I showered a lot when I first got home, but now suddenly it's disturbing. I washed in the sink today, and I don't think I rinsed properly. I feel all itchy." Shawn walked over to the fireplace and toyed absently with some of the items on the mantle.
"Leave those alone," Carlton said wearily. "Let's suppose all that is true, why do you think I'm not mad at you?" He loosened his tie. It felt reassuring to know he wasn't the only one having issues with the shower. Unless Spencer had made that up. Could he have guessed it—used that intuition and observation he used on all his cases? Was there something about me that gave it away? He turned his head to sniff himself in a way he hoped was unobtrusive.
"Because you've been so mad at me," Shawn said, abandoning the mantle. He looked at Carlton across the island counter. "And mean. You've been meaner than any reasonable man would be. You've been Shannen Doherty on 90210 mean. So, I lied to you. Big whoop. You didn't believe me anyway. But you've been angrier than Klaus Kinski having an argument with Christian Bale. And I don't deserve that."
"You don't." Carlton had meant it to be a question, but as he spoke it had come out as a confession instead.
"It's projection. You're projecting your anger onto me like I'm the side of Rudolph Valentino's mausoleum and you're the Hollywood Forever Cemetery." When Carlton's face betrayed no recognition, Shawn added, "They show movies there. Come on, keep up with me here."
"You've been talking to your mother, haven't you?" Carlton smiled assuredly. This was just the kind of psychobabble that a psychologist would come up with. "This is her idea."
"No, actually I'd rather she not know about our little stint under the ground," Shawn said. "I don't need any more people having nightmares."
Carlton furrowed his brow and watched Shawn pace anxiously around his livingroom. Maybe Shawn wasn't as immune to trauma as I'd assumed.
"Actually," Shawn said, "I've been watching television—it's amazing how much you can squeeze into a day when you cut out sleeping. Zombie movies, mostly, but also some Max Headroom and…" he paused dramatically, "wait for it….Arrested Development."
Carlton put his drink on the counter and crossed his arms. "Spencer, say something relevant or I'm dragging you out the door."
"It all came together for me when Tobias told White Power Bill that he didn't hate the government, or his father. He hated White Power Bill. And I realized something." Shawn had walked around the island and now he stopped in front of Carlton and looked up at him with a wide smile. "You're my White Power Bill."
"What kind of drugs are you on, Spencer?" If Shawn thinks that being compared to a white supremacist is going to get him into my pants he had another think coming.
"No, run with it. You're waaaay madder at me than you should be. Why? Because the people you're really angry at aren't handy. You can't very well go say hurtful things to the Montresors. Well, you could, but I doubt your words would cut very deep. Those two…" Shawn twirled a finger next to his temple, "they've got something wrong upstairs. So I'll go out on a limb here and say you're mad at them, and maybe you're mad at yourself."
Carlton's mind reeled. He's right. Of course I'm mad at myself. What cop wouldn't be? I allowed myself and a civilian consultant to get drugged and almost murdered. And I didn't even suspect what I was walking into. Even in retrospect, nothing had warned him she was anything other than an elderly neighbour—a potential witness at most
"You're right about the Montresors," Carlton said finally. "There's no point in being angry at them. They're as sane as a Bates family reunion." He took another gulp of scotch. "And maybe I am mad at me." He looked down into the glass. "I should have seen it coming."
"Please!" Shawn scoffed. "I didn't even see it coming. I've gone over every inch of that house in my mind a dozen times since, and there's nothing that should have been a red flag. Trust me, there's no way we could have known."
Carlton appreciated the absolution, even if he couldn't bring himself to accept it yet.
"Unless I really was psychic," Shawn went on, slowly moving to the other side of the island and sidling up next to him. "That might have come in handy."
"So you're saying I'm mad at everyone, but not at you?" He smirked. Why did he find it so difficult to stay angry with Shawn? He liked to think it wasn't just his libido overriding his brain. At least, he hoped it wasn't.
"No. You're cool with me." Shawn bounced lightly in place, only inches away from the tall detective. "You like me."
"Maybe." Carlton turned so Shawn wouldn't see his growing smile and poured more whisky into his glass. "Listen, why don't you sit down. Do you want a drink?"
"Has it been helping?" Shawn asked. He moved back and leaned against the granite counter of the island.
"Then load me up. Lots of ice."
Carlton grimaced but prepared the drink as Shawn asked.
"Listen," Shawn said, "I know they made you talk to the shrink and all, but if you want to talk to someone who actually, you know, gets it, then I'm right here." He accepted the drink and sipped it.
"Shawn. You've had your tongue in my mouth. You can call me Shawn."
"I appreciate the offer, Shawn." He paused, feeling the strangeness of using Spencer's first name out loud. "But just because we were in the same crate doesn't mean we're not still on different planets."
"You think I don't get it?" Shawn's voice was quiet, without any trace of histrionics. It was more alarming than anything he'd done yet. "I have a dream where water pours into the coffin when we break through the wood and we drown. I have one where my mouth fills with dirt and I choke to death. I have one where I'm paralysed and I can't fight my way out and you leave me there. Trust me, I get it."
"I wouldn't have left you there, Shawn."
"I know you wouldn't. The Carlton in my dreams isn't really you." He laughed. "If that were the case we would have hooked up long ago. Dream you is a freak in the sack."
Carlton thought about one of his own nightmares, where he breaks through the wooden crate and begins to dig himself out, but dream-Shawn grabs him and pulls him back. He wasn't sure what that was about, but he was pretty sure it wasn't a reflection on Shawn's character.
"Okay, maybe you do get it, but…"
"—But what? What is eating you up so much?" He stepped forward and leaned in, and for a moment Carlton was positive that Shawn was going to kiss him on the neck. Instead he hovered there and whispered, "It can't be the gay thing. You still want me, I can tell. So what is it?"
Carlton took a breath, set his drink down and steeled himself. "We're alive, Shawn. And you know what? We shouldn't be. We should have died."
Shawn stepped back and looked at him quizzically.
"Only two things got me out of that crate," Carlton went on, "and one was wanting to get my hands around the neck of the woman who put me there." He realized he was mimicking the action with his hands and quickly curled them into fists and dropped them to his sides. "In those minutes, smashing through that box, and digging my way out, in those minutes I was a killer. Do you have any idea how that makes me feel? How am I supposed to go to work and arrest people knowing I'm like that?
"What, human?" Shawn made a dismissive sound and took a gulp of scotch. It burned and he coughed ineffectually for a few moments. "Yeah," he said sarcastically, when he could speak again. "How can you possibly live with yourself, knowing that you have feelings like everybody else?"
"Wanting to kill people isn't normal, Shawn."
"Hell, I was prepared to bludgeon her with a baseball bat. Given the circumstances, trust me Lassie, it's normal."
"What would you know about normal?" It was a question he'd often mulled over in his head the past week, but when he said it now it came out in a tone of affection.
"I recognize it in others." Shawn smiled and took a very small sip of his whiskey. "But all kidding aside, I do have feelings. Almost dying did a number on my head and I'm not over it yet, no matter how much I joke around."
"I wasn't sure it bothered you at all." Lassiter felt slightly guilty for assuming that Shawn's happy-go-lucky façade was anything less than skin deep.
"I put up a shiny front. I don't like to burden people with all my icky feelings. Plus, they're distracting. The more upset I get the less well I can work. I need a lighthearted atmosphere to be able to focus."
"And here I thought you were somehow above all the stresses that affected us mere mortals. Hell, you didn't even panic when you found out we were," Lassiter took a deep breath and forced himself to say it, "buried alive."
"Didn't panic?" Shawn laughed. "As if! You know what was going through my mind down there? I was trying not to cry in front of you, that's what. Yeah. I was eighty percent sure I was going to die and I was worried what you'd think of me if I cried. How's that for embarrassing?"
"I wouldn't have minded if you'd cried," Carlton said. "I mean, I wouldn't have thought any less of you." Although if you did then I might have started crying and then we both would have died.
"What was the other thing?" Shawn asked.
"You said there were two things that got you out of the crate. What was the other thing?"
"Oh." Carlton looked away, hesitant to bring the second factor out in the open. But if not now, then when? "The other thing was you," he said. "Thinking that there might be something between us, and wanting to live long enough to find out what that was."
"Well let's scratch that off your to-do list now." Shawn set his drink down, wrapped his arms around Carlton's waist and nuzzled into his neck. Carlton, surprised, raised his arms slightly and let them fall to rest along Shawn's back. He closed his eyes and revelled in the solid feel of Shawn's body against him and the smell of his hair. He felt a rush of heat course through him stronger than any scotch. Shawn raised his face toward him, and Carlton opened his eyes at the movement and leaned in, almost instinctively. Then they were kissing, and Carlton felt the soft insistence of Shawn's mouth, and the roughness of the stubble on his jaw. He pulled Shawn closer and opened his mouth to him. All his hesitations about Shawn were pushed to the side by the realization that Shawn wanted him—really wanted him—as evidenced clearly by the passion of his kiss and the hardness pressing against his thigh. Suddenly eating dinner and watching Dragnet together didn't seem so far-fetched.
Shawn pulled back and smiled up at him. "Another mystery solved by our fabulous teamwork," he said, his voice huskier than usual.
"I don't want to have sex with you," Carlton said abruptly.
Shawn raised an eyebrow at him and glanced down. He didn't even have to say, 'Really? Because your pants say otherwise.' It was all in the look.
"I mean I, I do," Carlton stammered. He took a deep breath and bit the bullet. "But that's not all I want."
"Whatever you want, Lassie. You just have to ask."
"I don't do one night stands," he said virtuously. By which I mean I don't do them any more, since most of them have been dissatisfying and awkward. "If we're going to do this we need to talk about what it is and where it's going."
Shawn pulled Carlton tighter. "Come on. You like me. I like you. This shouldn't be some complex puzzle here like the Rubiks Cube, or the less popular Missing Link. I solved my Rubiks Cube with a screwdriver and a hammer. Don't tell me we have to resort to that kind of intervention here."
"I mean it, Shawn. Relationships are more than sex." Oh God, he thought, listening to himself speak, I'm the girl.
"Really? Who says that? Other than you and Gus? And all the girls I went to highschool with."
"I know this. I've had relationships. They take trust and commitment and shared values. We have none of those things." Of course I had those things with Victoria and it still went all to hell.
"I trust you," Shawn said. "And we both like fighting crime. We could be the cutest couple since Batman and Robin."
"Batman and Robin weren't a couple." Carlton frowned. "Batman was his legal guardian. He was like a parent to Robin."
"You wouldn't say that if you'd read the stories about them I have. I can send you the links if you like."
"Are you saying you don't want to date?" Carlton felt his stomach churn a little.
"What? No, of course I want to date. I just don't want to do an autopsy on a relationship that hasn't even started yet."
"Fair enough." Carlton kissed Shawn's neck. He really did smell strongly of soap. "Do I need to ask if this is a monogamous relationship?" he asked.
"Please! I'm Captain Monogamous. I'm the mascot for monogamy, the monogamoose. Have you ever seen me show up at a crime scene with more than one date?"
"You do flirt with practically everyone," Carlton grumbled. "I just wanted to be sure."
"I admit, I have sometimes kept people on the back burner of the love stovetop, but if you need the crockpot of exclusivity I'm perfectly content with that."
"That metaphor is dreadful." He pushed Shawn back slightly and glared at him. I am not a crockpot. What does that even mean?
"Thanks." Shawn scratched behind his ear. "Listen," he said. "I'm all covered in dried soap or something. Would you mind if I jumped in your shower?"
"No, of course not. Help yourself."
"Can you come with? Talk to me so I don't think about dirt or coffins or anything?"
"Sure. Whatever you need."
Lassiter leaned against the sink while Shawn pulled off his t-shirt, jeans, and underwear. It was impossible to take his eyes off him. Shawn was as unashamed naked as he was clothed.
My God, Carlton thought, why did I ever try to convince myself that I didn't want this?
Shawn turned on the water and looked over his shoulder at Carlton. "You could join me, you know."
Carlton hesitated, but only for a moment. He was tired: tired of holding back from what he really felt like doing, not saying what he felt like saying, and of thinking and re-thinking everything instead of just going on instinct. Carlton smiled. He was getting in the damn shower.
"Okay, but if I have a panic attack please don't take it personally."
"Ditto," Shawn said.
The shower was not built for two, and the space was slightly cramped. Despite this, Carlton felt less anxious than when he'd showered alone. As the water ran over them the stress and tension of the past week seemed to drain out of him.
As he ran his mind over the trauma they had shared only a week ago he realized there had been more to it than feeling frightened and trapped. They'd also been brave and taken matters into their own hands. They'd risked their lives to make their escape. And we found this, Carlton thought, running a hand through Shawn's hair. Whatever this was.
Shawn hugged him and rested his head on his shoulder. Carlton ran his hands over his skin, wiping off the soap residue. Despite the warmth of the water pouring over them, Carlton noticed that Shawn was trembling. It was a few moments before he realized that Shawn was crying. He raised Shawn's face up to his and kissed him tentatively. He could taste the tears on his lips. Carlton had never been much of a crier. It wasn't an appropriate way for boys to express emotions in his family. Once, on a fishing trip with his grandfather, he'd got a fishhook stuck in his hand and cried all the way back to his grandparent's house. His grandmother had called a sissy girl. She hadn't been much for vulnerability. But seeing Shawn this emotionally naked in front of him acted as a kind of permission for him to let down his own wall of resistance. He'd had few problems tapping into his anger about almost having died, but allowing himself to acknowledge his fear was another matter. Standing there, naked with Shawn, he let himself feel how frightened he'd been, and sometimes, still was. Leaning against the shower wall for support, they clung to each other, shuddering and sobbing. Carlton took comfort in the fact that the water washed away most of the evidence of his breakdown.
When several minutes had gone by with neither of them crying Shawn spoke. "So…I guess we're done in here then."
"Yeah." Carlton cleared his throat. "I think all the, uh, soap's off now."
"Oh yeah. I feel much better. Cleaner."
"Me too." Carlton shut off the water and Shawn stepped out onto the bath mat. He wrapped a towel around his waist and passed one to Carlton.
"Stay over," Carlton said.
"Really?" Shawn looked at him with red rimmed eyes. "I wasn't sure if you'd still be interested after that emotional deluge in there." He laughed. "I was a total mess."
"Emotionally messy I can live with," Carlton said.
"Living together is a big step, Lassie. Let's try staying overnight first." Shawn pulled a toothbrush out of the pocket of his crumpled jeans, grabbed Carlton's cinnamon toothpaste, and began to brush his teeth.
"You brought your toothbrush?" Carlton said, surprised. "How confident were you?"
"You're a hard fish to land, Lassie. I was hopeful, not confident. There's a difference. One makes me a sweet lovestruck fool and the other makes me a smug jerk who may also be a slut. I think you'll prefer lovestruck fool. Unless you want to go for a combo deal and settle on lovestruck slut. That works too."
Carlton led the way to the bedroom. He pulled the covers back on his bed and crawled between the crisp sheets. Shawn nestled against him, and draped an arm casually across his abdomen.
"Listen, I get the feeling you were hoping this was going to be some kind of booty call," Carlton began.
"Actually," Shawn said, "If we could move the celebratory sex to the morning, that would work better for me. I'm pretty wiped right now and I'd really like to be good the first time out."
"I agree completely," Carlton said. "Besides, I make excellent after-sex pancakes."
"Awesome. I was kind of worried you'd be one of those holding out until the third date types."
"I'm a cop, not a monk." He turned out the light.
For the first time since the Montresor case began, Carlton slept like a log.
Note: Lassiter's last line in this story is from a tweet he directed at VivreNuit on twitter. He's the only reason I'm on that site.