Rating: R (eventually)
Summery: Carlton knows it's selfish of him, but he can't help but hope that Shawn never gains his sight back. For allikitty699 who wanted Insecure!Lassiter and a bit for myself who wanted to write something sappy and cliche.
Warning: Alternate universe. Sex in later chapters. Abuse of medical science by a journalism major.
Disclaimer: Psych and all related characters are the property of USA Networks and a bunch of other people in suits. Please don't sue.
It's March, the weather is gloomy and Carlton is in the hospital—again. At least this time it's due to a minor strain of bacteria rather than a serious threat to his health. A virulent infection say the doctors, as a result of an emergency appendectomy he'd undergone a week ago. This stay is marked by long stretches of bed rest as he waits around for the antibiotics in his IV drip to empty. It's soul-crushingly dull, and he sorely regrets not calling in some assignments from the museum, but it's one of his better hospital experiences.
Not like his last one.
Not like five years ago when a pounding headache had sent him to the hospital's ER in near hysterics, begging the doctors to give him anything—drugs or a solid hit to his temple—that would knock him out and take away the pain.
His head had been scanned, poked and biopsied over a period of two months before doctors found the cause: cancer. A growth was found sprouting out of his sinus cavity and reaching for his brain.
The doctors tried blasting it away with radiation, then poisoning it with chemotherapy. In the end, a surgeon had to crack open his skull and remove the mass.
But the tumor hadn't been all they taken. The growth had metastasized so thoroughly to his skull that when the surgeons had removed it, there was no other option but to take half of Carlton's face with it.
Carlton has just finished his morning IV drip when his nurse comes flouncing into his room. He normally feels awkward and uncomfortable around her kind of people ("her kind of people" as in charismatic, outgoing, cute kind of people), but it's hard for him to hold any sort of negative feeling toward someone who can look at him without being turned off by his face. Since his bout with cancer, members of the medical community are the one group of people Carlton feels comfortable around. Most view his face with clinical detachment brought on by years of experience with deformities and injuries; Carlton finds it refreshing.
"Good morning, Carlton," she greets him, all of spring's sunshine in her voice.
Her tone is even more cheery than normal, making Carlton suspicious of her visit. His morning vitals have already been recorded and he's not due for another drip for six more hours. He's staying in one of the busiest hospitals in the city, so she's not likely to be stopping by for a social visit.
"What do you want, Juliet?" he grouses. His attitude is just for show and she knows this.
She gives an exaggerated pout at his tone, but it is quickly replaced by another radiant smile. She walks over to the empty bed on the other side of his room and begins fiddling with the monitoring equipment.
"You're getting a roommate," she says easily.
Carlton's stomach twists in fear. "What?" he asks, panic causing his voice to come out a bit higher than he'd like. Carlton has made enough friends among the nursing staff to ensure that, even though he's not paying for a private room, the other bed is kept vacant. "You're putting me with someone else?"
"I know you like your privacy, Carlton, but all this wet weather has been keeping us busy. We're seeing a lot of cases of pneumonia. There's not another empty bed on the floor."
"There's no where else in the hospital you can put him? Geriatrics? The ICU? Maternity?"
"You're not staying for too much longer, so it'll only be for a few weeks. It won't be that bad."
"Weeks?" Carlton grips the handrails of his bed until his knuckles turn white. "He'll be here that long?"
Juliet turns from the monitors to look at him. "I'm sorry," she says and for a moment her eyes melt with pity. Carlton has to fight the instinct to turn his face away.
He's overreacting and he knows it. The possibility of meeting strangers tended to rile him up, but it's not like he's never dealt with it before. Just never in a 12-foot by 12-foot room where he and said stranger would spend the next few weeks (weeks!) eating, sleeping and recuperating with nothing else to look at except each other and bad daytime TV .
He takes a deep breath and attempts to put up a calm front. "When's he coming?"
"He's still in recovery right now, but they should be moving him up after dinner," Juliet answers as she comes closer to check the machine recording Carlton's ever increasing heartbeat.
Dinner is served around 5 p.m.; that only gave Carlton three more hours of precious solitude.
He clears his tightening throat. "Will you come warn me before they bring him up?" Carlton asks quietly.
Juliet ceases her puttering to give Carlton another look, one with more warmth and less pity. She places her hand on his. "Don't worry so much, Carlton."
She gives his hand a squeeze before beaming at him and breezing out the room.
Carlton feels like throwing up.
Carlton spends the next hour sitting in his hospital bed fretting over the man who'll soon be brought up to his—their—room.
He can picture how their first meeting will go down, referencing the thousands upon thousands of reactions he's received from strangers over the years. The man will be wheeled in by an orderly who will have forgotten to warn him of his ugly roommate. And of course, with Carlton's luck, his roommate won't just be normal looking, he'll be gorgeous. The kind of gorgeous that made Carlton feel insecure and inadequate even before his face was messed up. The man will look over at his new roommate expecting to be greeted by another normal and whole person, when he'll see Carlton. He'll see Carlton and his look of polite greeting will either become disgusted horror or condescending pity. Five years since losing his face and Carlton still can't decide which of the two is worse.
During the second hour he rises from his bed, careful of the stitches in his abdomen, to go to the small restroom. He washes his hands after relieving himself and looks up to stare at his face in the mirror above the sink.
His forehead is smooth and his hair is cut short, a style he's questioned over the years. He's averse to longer hair, thinking it unkempt and messy, but he knows longer hair would be easier to hide behind. His eyes used to be his most prized feature; now, his good right eye—blue as a robin's egg—glares out at the world, but the effect is ruined by his sunken left eye. His nose stands proudly over his the jagged crater of his left cheek. The right side of his mouth is held in a tight line that gives way to the slack-jawed frown of the left. He is, he knows, hideous.
For just a second, Carlton mourns. Mourns for the loss of his face, his loss of normalcy and his loss of youthful attractiveness that all people of a certain age seem to possess. He's tired of the stares he receives from passersby. He's tired of the shrieks he receives from children. He's tired of doing his grocery shopping at two in the morning to avoid crowds. He's tired of having to seclude himself in his office whenever visitors are touring the museum. He's tired of having to mentally prepare himself for the simple act of meeting a new person.
Carlton turns away from the mirror and puts his hands to his face. It feels worse than it looks: jagged surgery scars and drooping flesh that sits on a face with no bone to support it.
He returns to his bed and spends the final hour trying not to cry out and curse God for turning him into a monster.
Juliet stops by in the middle of his sour mood to hook him up to his IV. She's polite enough to ignore his red and swollen eyes, but is kind enough to ask if he wants the curtain between the two beds pulled closed before his new roommate arrives.
"For privacy," she tells him.
He nods, feeling ridiculous at how upset he's become over one sick man he hasn't even meet yet. She pulls the curtain closed, then proceeds to close all the blinds on that side of the room. She gives Carlton a smile and a wink before bustling out of the room.
Juliet is gone not ten minutes before his new roommate is wheeled into the room. The first thing Carlton notices is that the man is stunning. Despite whatever it was that brought him to the hospital, his skin radiates a healthy glow. He either hasn't fixed his hair since being admitted to the hospital or he wears it in that meticulously mussed style that Carlton couldn't even hope to pull off. (Carlton assumes its the latter as it goes well with the stubble covering the man's jaw). His full lips are quirked in a cocky smirk.
The second thing Carlton notices are the bandages covering his handsome roommate's eyes.
His new roommate is blind.
It's a quarter past two in the morning, but Carlton's mind is too busy to sleep. He turns to look at the curtain, straining in the dark to see the silhouette of his new roommate. The man hasn't said a word since the orderly wheeled him in and Carlton assumes he's asleep.
Carlton wonders briefly about Juliet's role in his new roommate assignment. She had told him not to worry so much. Seems like his favorite nurse had been looking out for him.
"Thank you, Juliet," he says aloud, chuckling to himself quietly.
"Who's Juliet?" a voice says from behind the curtain.
Carlton starts. "Sorry," he says. "I thought you were asleep."
The other man is silent and Carlton assumes that's the end of the conversation. He settles himself in his bed and tries to get comfortable.
"Who's Juliet?" the other man asks again.
"I thought you went back to sleep," Carlton replies.
"Obviously, I'm didn't," the man replied. "Who's Juliet?"
"A nurse. One of the nurses on this floor."
"And why are you thanking her?"
"No reason," Carlton says quickly. "You should go to sleep. I'm sorry for bothering you."
"I can't sleep," the man says quietly.
"Are you in pain? The nurses can give you something."
"Afraid of hospitals?"
"Afraid of the dark?" Carlton asks sarcastically.
The man doesn't answer. A few moments later Carlton hears a bitter laugh and Carlton flushes as he realizes what he said.
"I'm sorry," Carlton rushes to say. "I forgot—"
The man cuts him off. "It's nothing."
They sit in awkward silence, listening to the beeping of their heart monitors.
"Why aren't you asleep?" the man asks.
"Not tired," he answers truthfully. "Bit jumpy tonight, I guess."
"Don't like hospitals?"
"No more than anybody else."
"Why are you here now?"
"Infection," Carlton replies. "Nothing too serious."
"How long have you been here?"
"About a week."
"And you're already on a first-name basis with the nurses?" the man teases. "You must be a real lady killer."
Carlton decides to ignore the remark. Innocent or not, he doesn't like to be reminded of his incompetence with the fairer sex. "You're kind of talky for so late at night?"
The man laughs again, and it's much sweeter than before. "Just trying to keep you talking."
"Keep me talking? Why?"
"Don't take this the wrong way; I like your voice."
Carlton wasn't expecting that. "My voice?"
"I don't like hospitals and now," his roommate falters, his breath hitching, before he continues, "and now I can't see anything and I feel so lost. I need somebody to talk to. Somebody to keep me focused. Your voice is very soothing."
"Oh," Carlton says simply. "Thank you."
The room falls quiet again. Carlton wants to know what took the sight from the man's eyes, but knows better than to ask.
"So," the man begins again, "what's with you and the nurses?"
"Nothing," Carlton snaps.
"You're kinda touchy."
"And you're kinda annoying."
"Believe it or not, I get that a lot."
"I believe it."
"You have to be nice," he tells him. "I complimented your voice."
Carlton snorts. "You can't see me. What else could you have complimented me on?"
The room falls silent and Carlton once again realizes too late how assholey his comment sounds. Then he hears a quiet chuckle.
"What's your name, deep-voiced roommate?" the man asks.
Shawn, Carlton learns, is a computer genius who makes a living doing online cartoon animation of all things. He shares a house with his best friend who he's known since they were both getting beat up by the same schoolyard bully. ("In my defense," Shawn tells him one morning, "the guy bullied Gus first. He wouldn't have bothered with me if Gus hadn't kept hanging around me.") He's single but must be well-admired because he receives a bouquet of flowers or balloons or cookies every other day.
He's also a horrible mechanic.
"I was working on the gas line of a '68 Mustang," he tells Carlton as they eat their breakfast of dry pancakes and runny eggs, privacy curtain pulled aside. "I remembered to empty the fuel tank but forgot to disconnect it. There must have been a bit left in the line because when I went to test the starter…kaboom!"
Carlton is afraid to say anything, ask anything, because this is the first time Shawn's shared the details of his injury in the week he's moved into Carlton's hospital room.
"I somehow avoided most of the flames, but not the debris. My eyes itch more than anything." Shawn lifts a hand to his bandages and begins patting at his eyes.
"Stop it," Carlton scolds him.
Shawn removes his hands from his face before attempting to glare at Carlton. Failing that, he settles for wiggling his face around underneath his thick bandages. "My father had a fit," he grumbles. "I'll bet you anything he'll make me pay for the car."
"You laugh, I'm serious," Shawn pouts. Carlton snickers again.
"How are my two favorite patients this morning?" Juliet sings as she enters the room.
"Better now that you're here," Shawn replies with a flirtatious leer in his voice. Carlton's roommate seems to have developed a thing for their bubbly nurse and Carlton doesn't understand it. Shawn can't see Juliet so he has no idea what she looks like. Either Shawn's been asking around about Juliet or he hits on anything that moves.
"Shawn," Juliet begins, a seductive lilt to her voice, "I've got a great opportunity for you."
"You, me and a hot tub?" Shawn answers back.
Juliet giggles a giggle Carlton has never heard her giggle before. He wishes he could disappear. He wishes that the floor would open up and swallow him whole or that he'd choke on the thick pancake he's chewing and have to get rushed to the OR for a tracheotomy where he won't have to watch his attractive roommate hit on his equally attractive nurse.
"No. The doctor's arranged for you to meet with one of the hospital's occupational therapists. She's someone who can help you overcome your recent injuries."
Shawn remains silent, all traces of his previous playful mood gone from his face.
"Shawn?" Juliet inquires when the other man doesn't answer.
"No, thank you." Shawn answers.
"I appreciate your offer for assistance, but I won't be needing it," Shawn says with unnecessary politeness.
"Shawn, I don't think that's a wise decision."
"Regardless, Nurse O'Hara, it's the decision I'm making."
They stare at each other (only Shawn's head is tilted a few degrees too high), Juliet wearing a look of concern and Shawn's mouth set stubborn determination.
"Shawn," Juliet begins, her voice firm but kind, "I understand you're scared but you can't pretend nothing happened. Even if your blindness is temporary, you need help to make it through this."
Shawn says nothing as he leans back in his raised bed and resumes eating.
Juliet sighs. "Just promise me you'll think about it. Both the doctor and I think this will be good for you." Juliet turns to acknowledge Carlton before she leaves the room.
Carlton looks at his roommate. Shawn's face is unreadable. His mouth is set in a thin line and the bandages over his eyes hide any clue as to what he's thinking.
Carlton clears his throat. "Guess this means no hot tub?" he jokes nervously.
Shawn ignores him.
"Don't be upset, Shawn. She means well."
"She thinks I need to learn how to be blind," he replies quietly.
"She just wants to help you."
"I didn't ask for any help."
"It couldn't hurt to just see what they have to say."
"I don't want to hear what they have to say."
Carlton can understand Shawn's refusal. Doctors had suggested he see a psychologist after he had his tumor removed to help him "cope with the emotional stresses caused by his significant change in appearance." Accepting help made the problem more real. And learning how to cope meant accepting that his condition could be permanent.
Sill, learning to make it through life without the one's vision is an entirely different matter than learning to deal with an ugly new face.
"Therapy isn't that bad, Shawn," Carlton tells him gently. "They just want to help you adjust."
"Well, when they offer to help you adjust to your infection," Shawn snaps, his tone resentful, "you be sure to take them up on it."
Carlton reacts to the barb as if he'd been slapped; he feels the blood as it rushes to his face and nearly chokes as he swallows a doughy lump of food.
They finish their breakfast in silence.
Carlton can't sleep again. It's three in the morning and their room is uncomfortably chilly, but that's not what's keeping him up. It's the fact that he and Shawn haven't spoken since their therapy discussion at breakfast.
Shawn had remained silent for the rest of the day, ignoring Carlton, as well as the nurses and doctors. But that's not enough to keep Carlton awake for hours. He knows Shawn is just reacting out of fear of his condition. What's keeping Carlton awake is the question of why Shawn's coldness toward him hurts as much as it does.
In the week they had been roommates, Carlton had shared more with Shawn than he had with any one in the last five years. They'd talked hospital nurses, court procedural television dramas and favorite local eateries. Shawn had told him about his hard-to-please father and Carlton had told Shawn about his jackass co-workers. And as they spoke, Carlton realized he'd missed having someone close to confide in. He'd cut himself off from his small group of friends after his surgery and found himself regretting that decision. He thought back to his week in the hospital before Shawn came and realized that most of his misery wasn't brought on by boredom, but by loneliness.
Suddenly, Shawn's voice cut through his thoughts.
"What?" Carlton asks cautiously.
"I said, I'm sorry."
Shawn sighs. "You know what for. I'm sorry I snapped at you. It was wrong; you were only trying to help."
Carlton sits up in his bed. "You were upset. I understand."
"I shouldn't have taken it out on you. You're the only person keeping me from going crazy around here."
Carlton feels his heart speed up at Shawn's easy confession. "Well, I forgive you. Don't worry about it."
Shawn remains silent for a few seconds, but Carlton can hear the sound of his increasingly heavy breathing.
"I don't want to be blind," Shawn whispers. Carlton hates the fear he hears in his voice.
"I know," he tells him gently. "But avoiding the possibility doesn't mean it won't happen."
"Everything will be fine," Carlton tells him. He knows that it's trite and that everything may not be fine, but he has to do something to cheer Shawn up.
"You're only scared because you don't know how to handle living without your sight. Therapy will help you get over your fear."
"You want to go home, right? Live independently?"
"Yeah…" Shawn mumbles sleepily.
Carlton turns to look at his roommate whose head is lolling about his neck as he drifts off. "Are you going to sleep?"
"Yes," Shawn slurs.
Carlton gives a small chuckle. "Want me to keep talking?"
Shawn makes a sleepy sort of snort that Carlton takes as a "yes." Carlton then spends the next hour telling Shawn that even if he's permanently blind, he's still funny, warm, kind, charming, beautiful and quite possibly the most amazing person he's ever met.
Later that night as he listens to the sound of Shawn's even breathing, Carlton wonders how much of what he told Shawn was said out of a desire to comfort him and how much was based on truth.
"Come over here," Shawn orders him a few days later as Carlton finishes his antibiotic drip.
"Can we say 'please'?" Carlton replies sardonically.
"Yes," Shawn answers shortly. "Come over here," he repeats. He is practically bouncing in his bed and a grin is playing about his lips.
"I want to try something the therapist told me about."
Carlton usually doesn't take orders from people, but today, he finds himself eager to keep Shawn happy. The first day Shawn had therapy, he skipped his appointment. The second day, he had come back full of nothing but scorn for his therapist, whom he called an "overpaid, hand-holding, blind baby-sitter." Today had been Shawn's third day with the therapist and it's the first time Carlton has heard his roommate even talk about the actual therapy.
Carlton eases himself out of his bed and pulls a chair from the corner of the room. He sits and scoots closer to Shawn's bed. "Well, I'm here. What did you learn in school today?"
Shawn smiles and begins to feel around the air for Carlton's face.
"What are you doing?" Carlton asks, voice tight, as one of Shawn's hands nearly smacks him upside the head.
"I want to touch your face," Shawn says easily.
Carlton dodges another smack. "My face?"
"One of the things I learned was how to use my other senses to compensate for my lack of sight. I can figure out what things look like through touch. I want to know what you look like."
Carlton's heart nearly stops. "Why?" he whispers.
Shawn doesn't pick up on his discomfort. "Why do you think?"
Carlton grabs one of Shawn's flailing hands and holds it between both of his. "What do you think I look like?" Carlton is surprised to hear himself asking. He has no idea why he'd ever want to know such a thing. True, he may be curious as to what Shawn thinks he looks like, but he knows whatever answer Shawn gives will only hurt him.
"I have no idea, that's why I want to touch you."
I want to touch you. Carlton thinks he'll die because he hasn't breathed nor felt his pulse in nearly thirty seconds. Shawn is cruel for getting his emotions and cardiovascular system so reeved up.
"Carlton?" Shawn sits up, his bandaged covered eyes turned toward Carlton. "I know you're still there; you're cutting off the circulation to my hand."
Carlton relaxes his grip. "You must have some idea of what you think I look like. What do you picture when you think of me?" Carlton doesn't know why he keeps pushing this topic. He must be a masochist.
"If I tell you, can I touch your face?"
"Sure," Carlton says roughly.
Shawn sighs and cocks his head. "A lot of what I think of you comes from your voice," he begins. "It's deep and confident, so I assume you're tall and in shape. You said you were Irish so...red hair?"
"Black," Carlton corrects.
Shawn shrugs. "Close enough. And you must be handsome. Juliet and the rest of the nurses love you."
Carlton wants to cry because he more than anything wants to be the man Shawn has described.
"Can I touch you now?"
"Fine," Carlton sighs, but he doesn't release the hand he holds. Shawn lifts his free hand and feels around for Carlton's face. Carlton offers his good side to Shawn's hand and leans into his touch.
Shawn's fingers are soft and nimble. They walk across his face skimming his left eyebrow, smoothing his forehead. Carlton closes his eyes and relishes the feel of warm fingers on his face. They drift over his hairline and dance across the shell of one of his rather large ears.
"Do these things stick out?" Shawn jokes gently as he give the said organs a small tug.
"A little," Carlton mumbles.
Shawn's fingers make their way down Carlton's jawline and over his chin. Carlton feels his breath hitch as they glide over his lips, as gentle as a breeze.
Carlton is so caught up in the feel of Shawn touching him that he doesn't notice Shawn drift closer to the right side of his face until it's nearly too late. He feels the pads of Shawn's fingers as they skim dangerously close to his sunken cheek. He grabs Shawn's hand, causing the other man to frown down at him.
"What?" Shawn asks softly. He leans in closer, so close that Carlton can smell his cinnamon-flavored toothpaste on his breath. "What's wrong?" he asks again.
"Shawn," Carlton begins, not really sure what he can tell the other man that won't insinuate he's hiding something. "I—"
A throat clears. "Um...time for lunch, guys."
Carlton drops Shawn's hands and turns to see an orderly with a food cart standing in the doorway giving them both an awkward look. Carlton pulls away from Shawn and hurries back to his bed. Shawn looks over in Carlton's direction, a confused frown still sitting on his face.
They're served their lunch (rubbery spaghetti with a rock-hard roll), but Carlton can't eat. His face is still warm from where Shawn's fingers pressed against it. He knows he shouldn't dwell on how nice the man's fingers felt against his skin. He knows this, but it doesn't stop his heart from beating faster as he retraces the path Shawn's fingers took across his face.
"Are you listening to me?" Shawn says, interrupting his thoughts.
"Uh...no," Carlton admits. "Sorry."
Shawn chuckles affectionately. "I said, I don't think it's possible for this food to get any worse."
Carlton is still too engrossed by the lingering sensation of Shawn's fingers on his face to think of anything to say, so he just gives a mumble of agreement.
"Maybe I can talk Gus into sneaking us something that's actually edible when he drops by tomorrow."
Carlton freezes. "You're expecting visitors?" he asks.
"Just Gus. I've told you about him," Shawn says. "I want you to meet him."
Carlton remains silent.
"Sounds great," he finally replies. "Meeting your best friend. That sounds great."
Carlton doesn't know what type of person Shawn's friend Gus is. He could be the kindest, gentlest, warmest soul to exist since Mother Theresa's church-going grandmother. But Carlton does know this: There's no way in hell he's going to risk having someone tell Shawn the truth about him.
A/N: OMG, THIS WHOLE UGLY PERSON/BLIND PERSON STORYLINE IS SO CLICHE BUT I JUST COULDN'T RESIST. Part two may take a few weeks; the new semester starts next week and I need to set up a good studying/writing schedule. Please forgive any obvious errors in medicine, hospital administration or automotive repair. I hope you all enjoyed. This is the longest fic I've ever undertaken, so of course I'm seriously worried about the pacing. Hope it doesn't move too fast or too slow. I know this chapter was really low on the Shassiness, but I promise it gets better. Thanks for reading and as always, reviews equal love.