A/N: So I was watching "Gus' Dad May Have Killed an Old Guy" and this fic just hit me. The plot gods know I can't resist some pre-Shassie goodness, and that episode totally left this idea hanging out there. Of course, they didn't seem to take into account my tendency to accidentally ramble when I intend to write a short fic. Silly plot gods. Of course, spoilers lie ahead, but if you haven't seen this episode yet, what's wrong with you? Go watch it now! You can read this later. Go. Shoo.
Lassiter stalked up the stairs of the Santa Barbara Police Department, absolutely ready to leave the holding cells behind. It was amazing how many people committed crimes around Christmas; it was almost as bad as the full moon. Crazy, the whole lot of them, especially the old lady they'd arrested at the estate sale: Gladys, who murdered her neighbor because he saw her having an affair thirty years ago and didn't want it brought to light now. There was something genuinely creepy about the calm way she could say something and still sound like she would grievously injure you if you didn't do exactly what she wanted. She was like a deranged villain from a comic book, if they came in the old hag variety.
And now he got to spend the rest of his night filling out forms and reports, processing her arrest and lining everything up for the impending trial. Fantastic. It was undoubtedly the least interesting part of police work, but he was willing to endure it as long as it meant justice could be properly served. Due process had just as much merit as the car chases and standoffs that led up to it, glamorous or not, and he wasn't about to botch the system he worked so hard to uphold.
At least it gave him something to do besides sitting on his couch, watching the Law and Order reruns that always seemed to be on. Even though the holidays were in full swing for the next week or so (depending on how hungover some people got on New Year's Eve), he had exactly zero plans, unless working counted. He'd been invited to O'Hara's family party, but didn't want to intrude on her time with her nephews any more than he already had. They were her family, after all; she deserved to be the one they looked up to, not him.
It wasn't like his own family was exactly holiday-friendly, either. His mother had refused to get a tree, real or fake, for as long as he could remember because they were 'too messy.' Presents had become nearly nonexistent after his father left; what they did get were necessities, and maybe a book if they were lucky. He'd tried to make Christmas dinner once, when his siblings still lived at home, but that had been such a disaster that they had disavowed the whole concept forever. Now, his brother and sister never came home for any reason, so Christmas was no exception, and there was no way Carlton got along with his mother well enough to spend the holiday with her, just the two of them. He dealt with some of Santa Barbara's nastiest criminals on a day-to-day basis, but she was just too much.
That left him on his own for tonight, and possibly the rest of the week. A voice in the back of his head protested that this should have bothered him, but he ignored it, like he did every year. Even when he was married, visiting Victoria's family had made him feel just as bad, if not worse; at least here, he could exchange small gifts with O'Hara without being scrutinized by dozens of people he knew for a fact hated him.
This was actually preferable to having to spend even one more hellish minute with his ex's snobbish family, or listening to his mother harangue him about everything he was doing wrong with his life. At least paperwork didn't actively dislike him. Passively, maybe, but only in the same way mundane tasks generally disliked everyone.
Besides, he'd given up on a decent Christmas back when he was a kid. Maybe it would be nice to have a family gathering like Guster and Spencer, but that just wasn't his life. He had stopped expecting gifts of any sort when he went away to college, and while O'Hara insisted that they trade little presents every year, the concept had lost a lot of interest for him. Nobody who gave him a gift did it because they actually cared. They were just following traditions and workplace etiquette, and he was okay with that. It just meant a few more generic knickknacks in his yearly Goodwill donation box.
As he finally made it to his desk, blissfully free of the snow globes that had littered its surface earlier, a glint of something silver caught his eye. Not the silver of polished metal, either—the silver of a mass-produced plastic bow. The box it rested upon was less than a foot square and maybe two inches deep, covered in an unseemly shade of green wrapping paper, adorned with little yellow pineapples with red ribbons tied around them. Though he knew whom the gift was from almost instantly, he sunk into his chair and stared at it for a long second before finally grabbing it.
Consumed with curiosity and maybe, just maybe, a tiny bit of terror (after all, the last gift Spencer had given him managed to be one of the few things that completely petrified him), he tore through the paper, still unsure what kind of store would actually sell such bizarre wrapping paper.
It didn't make much more than a vague rustling noise when he shook it, so he discounted the idea that it was filled with dozens of tiny snow globes. He knew Spencer didn't have the patience to individually wrap that many things, even in the name of irritating him. The younger man's special brand of annoyance seemed to be less meticulous and more spontaneous, more touchy-feely. Besides, if he really had gone through all of that effort, he would've stayed behind to see Lassiter's reaction, and the detective knew for a fact that he and Guster had gone off to their family celebration after coming to pick up the latter's parents.
With only this vague reassurance, he tossed the strange paper to his waste basket and pried the lid off of the box. At first, he couldn't quite tell what it was. A large piece of cloth, to be sure, but it was a jumbled pattern of blues, reds and whites with stars, like an American flag that had been sewn by someone with only a vague knowledge of what the flag actually looked like. There were even a few holes burned into it. Then, as he pulled it out, he realized how right he actually was, in a roundabout sort of way.
It was a Confederate flag, old and very possibly authentic, if the wear and tear was anything to go by. Sure, it was in bad shape, but that didn't make it any less real in his mind. Amazing. He'd take it to an expert, of course, just to have it appraised and make sure it was real.
Still, real or not, it was a gift, a real gift, and from Shawn Spencer no less. Shawn Spencer, who constantly showed him up and invaded his personal space, who horned in on cases he wasn't even supposed to know about and managed to solve them like they were nothing while making the force look like a bunch of slack-jawed idiots.
Spencer, who actually did good work under all the theatrics and psychic crap, who apparently paid enough attention throughout everything to solve a case and find a thoughtful gift for a coworker that he didn't even seem to like most of the time. A gift that was possibly the most considerate gift that Lassiter had ever received, even from the (ex) wife he had thought was his soulmate, his other half. The entire idea was strange, but not entirely objectionable like he thought it should be. Huh.
From the folds of the flag, which he now held gingerly by the corners, a small piece of paper fluttered to the floor. First laying the gift across his desk with all due care, he picked up the tiny card and read the messy yet precisely scrawled note.
Lassie—Saw this and thought of you. Forget about the snow globe. This is your real gift. H & K, Shawn.
Words sinking in, he propped the card up against his computer monitor and folded the flag back into the box, which he stowed under his desk where he was sure he wouldn't accidentally kick it. Then, as he opened a file to start filling out his report and very much despite himself, Carlton smiled.