Just Another Human

Summary: He tells Buzz that he's a robot, tells himself that too. But he's really just another human with a whirlwind of emotions and a fragile facade. Lassie before, during, and after the scene behind the glass. Season 5 finale spoilers. Shules and Protective!Lassie.

A/N: First off, any of you still interested in my WIP Beginnings of a Happy Ending, I'm working on getting it just right. Still might be awhile, but I'll try my best to make it my priority...after I can crank out a few fics for this finale (so much inspiration, so much potential!) The moment in which Lassiter has to shake off whatever he's feeling particularly resonated with me during the episode, and that is the theme of this fic, along with the protective feelings Lassie has for Juliet. It's been tricky – I haven't had to rework organization of a story this much in a very long time, if ever. Pretty much everything got rearranged at one point or another, but I'm satisfied now. Let me know how I did.

O'Hara sits across from him, bruised and cut from her struggle with Allison. At the scene, Carlton had offered an awkward-hovering sort of support while she was checked out and bandaged, but now he cares much less about the physical wounds and much more about her state of mind. He knows that this case has brought her to the edge and it is his duty as her partner to bring her back in the event that she cannot manage it on her own.

He'd already seen her break once during this new investigation. From the observation room, they had watched Allison give her statement, a horrific tale of kidnapping and fear. He's not stupid – he knew what it did to O'Hara as clearly as if she had told him. It brought back those memories, that nightmare. It had played like a movie in her eyes, and he'd seen the lip tremble and the shaking hands and the tears she didn't want to let fall. She had excused herself and he allowed it, feeling inadequate that he could offer nothing more for comfort. He'd never been good with words.

Like only she could, O'Hara had pushed the pain away long enough to help solve the case, enough to save Spencer and Guster and give nearly all she had left to give.

He just hopes, now, that it won't prove to be too much.

Lassiter's pen flashes across the page in front of him, his hand moving almost of its own accord to write out his official statement. But his eyes stray all too often to her; his only desire is to help her in any way he can, to comfort or just be a solid reassuring presence. Of course, he can't fail to notice the fact that she hasn't written a single word for her own statement. Hasn't even touched her pen. It is several long minutes before Carlton musters up enough courage to address it. "O'Hara, you should probably get started on that so you can go h-"

"I'm getting to it, Carlton," she cuts him off. The words are very nearly sharp, and she must realize it, because she softens slightly. "Sorry, I'm just...it's too loud in here. I think I'll take this down to the interrogation room. I need the quiet to concentrate."

The station is anything but loud right now, but he doesn't argue. "Okay," he replies. "I'll...I'll still be here if you need me."

The words hang, and a momentary look of distress flashes over her face. He understands why – his words are too uncharacteristically compassionate and so she knows that he knows that she's vulnerable now. She's not used to feeling that way, would rather hide it (they are not so different, after all). Carlton sees the hurt there, so easily read in her eyes, and it makes his heart ache in a way that reminds him all too well of just how human he can be.

But he contains it, sets his face to impassivity and waves a casual goodbye as she walks away.

After she leaves, Lassiter is able to concentrate more fully on his statement. He goes back over what he's already written only to find it a jumbled mess of gibberish, half-formed sentences and obvious indications that his mind had wandered to clock towers and piers and syringes filled with poison.

He forces those thoughts away and starts again. Makes the second attempt more coherent, more professional. Crosses his t's and dots his i's. When he's done, he leaves the statement on the Chief's desk and tries to pretend he can leave the memories behind just as easily. It should be nothing more than ink upon paper now.

He wears an almost cheery facade as he makes his way through the rest of the station (sometimes he can't help but to overcompensate).

He feels nothing but relief and pride at a job well done. This is how he forces himself to act, because he needs others to believe it. He needs them to believe it because he can't.

Lassiter knows better. He's not unflappable, untouchable, invincible – no matter how much he wishes he could be. He's just another human with a whirlwind of emotions and a fragile facade. He has an all-too-palpable heart and is just as afraid and worn and scarred as everyone else.

But no one else must know (he understands that O'Hara knows, but she alone is the exception).

Today, Buzz is the only one who will test Lassiter's act, even if only for a second. Buzz, who wears emotions on his sleeve. Buzz, who willingly admits to fears and insecurities so often and to so many. Some part of Carlton understands that this is a strength that he himself will never have, but admitting to even that would be too much.

In any case, Buzz tries to pull the truth out of him, tries to dig until he finds the core of the detective. But Lassiter shrugs it off with near-indifference. A robot. Let Buzz believe it.

Lassiter knows that holding himself up sometimes seems to take more energy than he has, but he does what he must to survive. Bottles emotion, hides it, puts up an impenetrable wall.

Having shaken off Buzz and finding himself away from prying eyes, he takes a minute to himself. These are the types of moments he needs to get him through days, weeks, years of solving crime after vicious, heartbreaking crime.

Moments to break, alone in a dark bedroom at home.

Moments in the gun range, shooting away the memories.

And the moments he needs the most – moments to breathe again.

With no one around, Carlton allows himself to feel it. The fear, the strain, the unrealized-but-brimming-with-potential grief. He breathes deeply and attempts to master emotion. It leaves him in waves and he rolls his neck to shake it off. It's not everything, not nearly, and tonight he'll surely succumb to much greater tremors of this feeling. But, for now, just breathing is enough to regain composure.

It's enough to remind himself that he is not alone, and he's ready now to lend strength to someone else who may need it.

Juliet.

He's about to go into the interrogation room to see if she's still there. He's ready to offer support and whatever else he can give, but a sudden possibility occurs to him and stops him dead in his tracks. If she's crying (and he wouldn't blame her, could never blame her in this situation), he won't know what to say. He needs to prepare, he needs to know what he's dealing with beforehand.

I'll just check it out first, he thinks.

He changes course just slightly and slips into the observation room instead.

Through the glass, he sees her. Shoulders hunched and stony-still, paralyzed by something Carlton can only understand in the most basic sense. He has faced near-death in the line of duty too, after all, but never like that.

At least she's not crying. He steels himself to leave this room and join her, ready now to offer a pep talk and a supportive hand to her shoulder.

But Spencer suddenly enters the interrogation room before Lassiter makes any move to do so. If he bothers her, Lassiter thinks with annoyance, I'll haul him away. Maybe throw him in a holding cell for good measure...

He watches, he listens.

And what Lassiter witnesses shocks him so deeply that all else is driven from his mind.

O'Hara reveals her fears to Spencer, and the conversation is so deep, so intimate that Lassiter can't help but feel intrusive even behind the glass. Spencer is uncharacteristically serious, quiet. Supportive. And O'Hara accepts it as if it's the most natural thing in the world, to see him this way.

And then Lassiter watches as Spencer takes his partner's hand.

"I'm trying to tell you that I'll protect you," Shawn says.

Wait, what? Isn't that Lassiter's job? Why would he...?

"And I'll protect you right back," she replies.

And he kisses her hand. And she let's him. Doesn't pull back, doesn't look surprised, doesn't punch him in the face.

This. Is. Not. Real.

As if it couldn't get more frightening, he then kisses her again. But on the lips. A real kiss. She doesn't resist at all.

Lassiter doesn't know what to make of it.

And then Shawn leaves and his partner is alone again, but now writing with purpose and renewed energy. She doesn't need Lassiter after all.

Sluggish thoughts finally coalesce into this one fact: O'Hara and Spencer are a couple now, and have kept it hidden from him thus far.

The shock is mind-numbing and drives all other thought away. Yin? Yin Who?

Spencer and O'Hara, together. Kissing.

He'll have nightmares of this, he's sure.

Lassiter walks out of the room, scratches his head (with his mug, though he does not realize it) and stumbles through the station. Dazed.

How could this have happened?

A sudden anger spikes in his gut, and he's somewhat grateful that he does not meet Spencer on the way out. He's not entirely convinced that he would be able to control the natural impulse to strangle the psychic, and while it might be worth it, he's not fond of the idea of life behind bars.

Spencer!

For the love of Sweet Justice, why does it have to be Spencer?

On his drive back home, Lassiter asks himself what he's supposed to do now. Denial clings but the evidence is damning. Open-and-shut case. O'Hara and Spencer are in a relationship, no doubt about it.

Should he tell the Chief? Should he tell the couple that he knows their secret? Should he just try to forget what he saw, pretend it didn't happen?

He's also not sure what to feel. Not sure if he's angry and hurt at not being told, or grateful that he didn't have to live with this knowledge longer than he has to now. Is he jealous that Shawn came to comfort O'Hara instead, making Lassiter relatively obsolete? Is he...could he possibly be happy that O'Hara is getting something she seems to want, even though only God knows why? He's not sure at all, and he definitely won't admit to it if he is.

It hits him, quite suddenly, that he knows only one thing with absolute certainty: If Spencer hurts O'Hara in any way, whether it be dumping her, cheating, or simply making her cry during an argument, Lassiter won't hold back the emotions anymore, and Spencer will pay dearly.

He will no longer abide by self-restraint or law, and instead let the emotions (rage, most certainly rage) carry him.

Because there's only so much a person can take, and Carlton Lassiter is, after all, only human.

A/N: Even in an episode with a plethora of amazing moments, Lassie's moment is still my favorite. I love that guy. ;) Reviews much appreciated, as always.