Holidays and Discussions
Disclaimer: I don't own psych and no copyright infringement is intended.
Lassiet – Carlton Lassiter & Juliet O'Hara, and a change of relationship around the holidays.
. . . . .
. . . .
. . .
A week before Christmas.
Lassiter leaned against the wall near his desk, watching the festivities for the office party. He'd had a fair amount of spiked punch, so he was a little buzzed, but it was nothing serious. He felt, as always, detached from the proceedings, never quite sure how to fit in, and sometimes content to observe how so-called normal people relaxed and enjoyed each other.
Juliet stepped up beside him, her golden hair down, her face slightly flushed. "Merry Christmas, Carlton," she said, smiling. "You're not near the mistletoe."
It crossed his mind that this was a mildly flirtatious remark, which is when he was sure she'd had a few over her limit, too. Spencer was down the hall grandstanding for an audience of inebriated cops; that he was there at all wasn't necessarily Juliet's fault since he did have a way of showing up wherever the hell he wanted. "No, I'm not," he finally said. "Neither are you."
"You don't like Christmas," she observed. "It's too bad."
"It's all in how you're raised." His upbringing had produced few happy memories of the holidays, and he didn't want to talk about that, because she was too kind and would care too much. "I'll tell you what, though, I think I'd do pretty well under the mistletoe."
"Oh, really?" She tilted her head, amused. "How do you know?"
"It's one of the few things Victoria told me I was good at."
He nodded, and because he was just slightly tipsy and had always known he could trust her, he added, "The trouble is getting a woman to tolerate me long enough to let me kiss her."
"Carlton," she protested. "You're too hard on yourself."
So you say, he thought, and only shrugged.
"Well, I have to know now," she said.
"Whether she was right. Whether you're a good kisser or not."
Lassiter stared at her. She seemed both guileless and challenging, and she was so beautiful, really; he'd always thought so, and spiked punch, holiday melancholy, and her natural glow all melded together to make him go temporarily insane. "We agree to never discuss this," he said, and slid his arm around her.
. . . .
. . .
Whatever Juliet had expected when she issued her out-of-character challenge—and it was out of character, not to mention wrong, since her boyfriend was down the hall—it was not that he would accept so readily, it was not that his arm would feel so right around her, and it was most certainly not that the kiss would quite possibly be the best, most decadent, most toe-curling one of her life. It was especially not that his mouth would feel like silk... like fire... like... she stopped thinking as she kissed him back, her arms winding around his neck.
There in the shadows of the wall, she and her partner kissed as if at least one of them was set for execution in five minutes.
Someone down the hall popped a bottle of champagne and there was an explosion of laughter and applause. Carlton let her go, his blue eyes huge and fixed on her almost dazedly, but then she probably looked the same way.
"I'm going to go drink more now," he said conversationally. "A lot."
"Just so you know," she managed, "Victoria was right. Happy holidays."
. . . .
. . .
Lassiter didn't drink more that night. He wanted to remain at that same level of mild intoxication, and he didn't want to forget what he would have to pretend had never happened come the start of the workday on Monday.
They did not discuss, as agreed. The week before and after Christmas were like others, and they worked together as a team as they always had. They didn't have to call on Spencer, for which he was glad, because no matter what Lassiter thought of the man, he didn't want him sussing out that his girlfriend had been kissing someone else, especially Carlton Lassiter.
New Year's Eve, he volunteered to provide security for a big hotel party down the block. He wasn't social, but he never minded watching other people have a good time as long as he didn't stand out as being a watcher… or more precisely, as being alone.
As it happened, it was the same party Spencer took Juliet to, with Gus and his date trailing along. Lassiter kept to the perimeter of the room, trying not to be where they were. He "accepted" O'Hara's relationship with Spencer, and helped keep it quiet out of respect for her, but he didn't need to see it in action. Plus, Spencer could never resist poking at him, like a forever-12-year-old, and Lassiter's fuse was very short in that arena.
He had a few sips of champagne, but he was sober, and shortly after midnight when the cacophony was beginning to wind down, he took a seat on a bench between two tall fake trees, a little tired, and a little sorry he had come, because everyone else there had someone.
Juliet sat next to him, slightly out of breath. "Hey, partner. How's the moonlighting?" She held two glasses of champagne, and handed one to him.
"Not bad. A nice bit of extra money." He had no plans for what to spend it on, and since he was frugal by nature, it would probably go into savings or maybe some new Civil War history. "Happy New Year," he added.
"You too." She raised her glass to his and they drank, and she had that glow again, the one which seemed to light her wherever she went. "My midnight kiss was with Shawn," she said quietly. "But I'd like my first kiss of the New Year to be from you."
While he was marveling at this unexpected and stunning remark, she continued with a grin, "Plus I'd like to know whether that kiss two weeks ago was a fluke."
Lassiter had been half in love with her for years, three-quarters in love since the night of the clock tower, and by the time this kiss ended, he was easily nine-tenths a goner.
Juliet stared up at him, her fingertips in his hair, and leaned in closer, and he was no fool: he kissed her again. And again. He kissed another man's girlfriend in the fiercest, hungriest way, and she gave it back in full, and although he lacked in self-esteem where women were concerned, he knew this was not just O'Hara being nice. He knew this thing they were not going to discuss was a very big thing.
She was the one to pull away, almost gasping, and he released her at once. "Happy holidays," he said unevenly.
"Yeah," she whispered. "But no discussion."
. . . .
. . .
Juliet lay awake on New Year's Day, early in the morning, reliving the kiss. She had known she was going to ask for it, and she had known it was reckless and wrong, unfair to both men, but ever since the first kiss there really hadn't been any doubt in her mind about whether there would be a second.
She had spent five years doing the dance of flirtation with Shawn, and their relationship was only a few months old. In this same five years, she had come into her own as Carlton's partner. As different as they were, they were a good match, and she really didn't want to screw that up. He was awkward and driven and cranky and got puffed up around cameras (just like Shawn, she mused), but damn good at his job. He never coddled her; he held her to his high standards, and she valued him enormously.
He also had the most amazing blue eyes and sometimes, when he was tired or vulnerable (not that he would ever admit to that) she could get lost in them. Arm's length, though; she'd been firm on that for herself. Never get involved with your partner. Bad idea all around.
So why she had come on to him twice now was something she couldn't explain. In public no less. With Shawn nearby both times.
Was she trying to provoke Shawn? Why? He was very happy in their relationship, and she filed away for future consideration the realization that her mind had put it that way: he was very happy. Was she trying to sabotage it? No. That was not her way, especially by means of getting a third party involved.
She didn't sleep much, but when she did, Carlton was in her dreams.
. . . .
. . .
The new year putzed along, a little chilly, the sunshine a little weak. It was ocean-side California but it was still January, and sometimes 60, if you're in the right frame of mind, can feel just as cold as 20.
Lassiter and O'Hara both worked on Martin Luther King Day, dealing with a murder they hadn't needed Spencer's help to solve (though Lassiter was generally of the opinion that Spencer was seldom needed). It was late afternoon, and the station was quiet, with a lot of non-essentials off duty.
He thought Juliet had a strange air about her as the day progressed, but he kept it to himself; she wasn't angry, she was just off, and sometimes she cast a vivid blue glance at him which conjured up pleasant memories of their encounters, memories he couldn't afford to spend time on.
"Carlton," she said abruptly, "I need to talk to you privately."
He looked up, puzzled at her tone. Maybe she was angry with him after all. His mind backtracked through the day's conversations to see where he might have crossed some line. He followed her down the hall and into the small conference room, still considering whatever faux pas he might have committed, and thus was altogether unprepared when she pushed him back against the door and whispered, "Happy Martin Luther King Day," in the moments before she stood on tiptoes to kiss him.
Later, he thought she hadn't wrapped herself around him so much as she had simply, and effortlessly, become a second layer to his body. He never allowed his hands to stray from her back and shoulders and arms, but the kisses were intimate explorations nonetheless. The way she pressed against him was illicit, and he couldn't help but wonder (not for the first time, or even the second or third) how it would be to make love to her.
She sighed against his throat as he kissed hers, and returned her lush mouth to his briefly before stepping back.
"No discussion," he said before she could speak, and they parted.
. . . .
. . .
This no discussion thing couldn't last, Juliet knew. Of course, the kissing shouldn't be happening at all. She spent her off evenings with Shawn, who remained very happy without ever compromising his specific and odd standards of behavior in any way. They had a lot of fun; he could be very sweet, and oh, he made her laugh.
She didn't know what followed the but. There was just a but.
. . . .
. . .
Tuesday after President's Day.
Lassiter was thankful Valentine's had been on the weekend and he didn't have to see Juliet being courted by Spencer at work. He still "accepted" their relationship and had no illusions that this business with O'Hara was anything more than some temporary aberration on her part... regardless of what the nine-tenths-besotted part of him wanted. (In truth, he was up to 99/100ths now.)
They were going over paperwork for a complex case which was about to go to trial. Vick was in the conference room with them, helping when she wasn't called away to deal with her chiefly duties. They were all three tired, the numbers were swimming in their heads, and although Lassiter didn't mind soloing on paperwork, when he could concentrate better, working as a team on minutiae had driven him to the point of wanting to storm out and stride the halls until some of his frustration could spend itself out. The blinds were drawn against activity in the station, to keep their distraction level down, but too many hours of detail-checking and too many cups of coffee had messed him up.
Chief Vick had to leave at 3:00 for a conference call with the mayor's office, and she closed the door behind her.
Juliet got up to refill her cup, but changed her mind and went to the window instead, peering out the blinds into the sunny day. Lassiter rubbed his temples and sighed, wanting to be gone, wanting to be done with this crap.
She came to stand next to him, and cleared her throat.
He looked up. He swallowed, because she had that look again.
"We nearly missed a holiday," she said softly.
Lassiter reached for her almost blindly, and she slid onto his lap smoothly. They fit together pretty well in his chair, his hand on her hip to hold her in place against him while they plundered each other. Juliet's breathing was rapid and anxious and her mouth was fire on his. His right arm was around her back and when she tilted her head so he could nuzzle her throat he was shocked at how much he wanted to slide lower and kiss the skin just above her bra, where her blouse parted slightly. Her right hand caressed his neck and slid under his shirt collar, loosening his tie and allowing her to stroke more of his chest, and this really had to stop. Really.
He pulled back, taking in a lungful of air.
Juliet closed her eyes and buried her face against his shoulder for a few moments until they'd both settled down, and then she got off his lap and said she was taking a break. Lassiter sat for a bit, just breathing, and then went out to walk the parking lot briskly for ten minutes.
. . . .
. . .
In the ladies' room, Juliet stared at her reflection—flushed, distracted—and had no idea what she was doing or why she couldn't stop this, or why she couldn't resist him, when he wasn't even coming on to her. She knew she was too good a person to be cheating (if this was cheating, and given what was going on with her hormones, it surely was) on Shawn, or potentially hurting Carlton.
. . . .
. . .
It was past the point of being a problem. Lassiter found himself looking at the calendar to see what holidays were impending, arguing with himself about whether to call in sick those days (unthinkable) or face the impossibility of his attraction to her head on. They were still working together well, fortunately. Their "no discussion" agreement was holding steady and he wasn't about to jeopardize it. He didn't intend to lose her as a partner, or to push her into wanting to ask for a new partner.
But off duty, he was spending way too much time thinking about her. Change was necessary if he were to survive this.
He took down the photos from his "wall of crime."
It was time to develop a life outside of work—something Victoria had told him when they were still together. It was time to have something to come home to that wasn't about the job, because no woman was going to want a man who was either working or thinking about work 24/7, and if there was to be no woman, he didn't want to be one of those old retired cop geezers who had absolutely nothing other than case memories in the nursing home.
He bought plants.
. . . .
. . .
It was past the point of being a problem for Juliet too, but she already had plants.
Her off-duty time was still spent with Shawn, as he liked, and if it weren't for his Shawn-centric view of the world, he would have noticed her distraction. She was both glad and annoyed he didn't notice, and more than once she wondered seriously what she had thought would change when they got involved.
"I warned him," Gus said, exasperated after an incident where Shawn's insistence that the crazy-ass thing he wanted to do wasn't illegal, wasn't dangerous, and wasn't seriously pissing Juliet off. "I told him he would have to make compromises if he was going to be in a relationship."
Juliet asked what Shawn's response had been.
Gus rolled his eyes. "That you had five years to get to know him, and you wouldn't be together if you didn't like him exactly the way he was."
. . . .
. . .
March 16. Lassiter and O'Hara were on their way back to the station after a court appearance, and she asked if they could stop to pick up lunch. She liked a little taqueria near the beach, and it was a nice day, so they sat in the car with the windows down sipping colas and crunching on tacos and sopapillas, and he tasted the cinnamon on her lips when she curled into his arms and they kissed. "Happy St. Patrick's Day tomorrow," she murmured, and they didn't talk for awhile. This seemed the most leisurely and delicious of all their encounters thus far, the most intimate, and the most insanely tempting.
He would not allow himself to let his hands stray along her warm curves. He knew if he did, she would either jerk away, the spell broken, or she would not jerk away, and they would cross a line they could still pretend had not already been crossed back on New Year's Eve (he didn't count the pre-Christmas kiss; that was a fluke and many partners before them had dealt with flukes).
However, Juliet's hands strayed, if only between the buttons of his shirt, to caress his chest, to make him breathe faster and kiss her harder. He could not get enough of her mouth. He could still taste the cinnamon, and he could smell the peach fragrance of her hair, which tumbled down her shoulders when he pulled it loose to run his hands through it.
99 44/100ths now. Maybe 99 99/100ths.
Neither one had to say "no discussion" this time after they'd separated and composed themselves.
. . . .
. . .
April 2, Monday. Leftover April Fool's jokes throughout the building. Lassiter kept to his desk, not taking anyone's bait. Spencer showed up and Lassiter refused to cooperate in being the butt of one of his jokes. He didn't insult him; he'd stopped that. One of his New Year's resolutions, in part out of respect for Juliet, was to let his conflicts with Spencer be started by Spencer.
Spencer was especially determined to get a rise out of him, though, and Lassiter was close to giving in to the urge to yell for McNab to haul him off. He glanced past Spencer to see Juliet looking their way, and her expression was interesting: almost as if she wanted him to blow up. But why?
He told Spencer he'd be right back. Then he walked out of the building, stopping to sign out, and stayed away for forty-five minutes, picking up supplies and running a few other errands he'd been putting off.
Spencer had given up and gone away before he got back, and Juliet texted him to meet her in Interrogation to talk to a borderline suspect in their current case. He went down and found her in the observation room, the lights low, staring into the empty interrogation cell. "What's up? Where's Guyanne?"
"He's coming at three," she said, not facing him. It was only 2:30. "Where did you go?"
Was she angry? Lassiter sighed, because if this was something he was supposed to understand, he'd already failed. "I didn't think you wanted me to put your boyfriend in a chokehold."
Juliet, without turning, did something he hadn't expected: she smiled. He could see her reflection in the glass, and she was amused. "Thanks. I knew he was getting to you and I couldn't decide whether I wanted you to deck him or not."
Lassiter stood behind her, aware he was about to do something ill-advised. He could see her face in the window, and she could see his, and she was very still. "I also left because it wasn't a good time for a holiday."
She leaned back against him, sighing, and he circled her waist with his arms, not lifting his hands to cup her breasts despite his great desire to do so. He kissed her throat, and she grasped his hands to put them exactly where he wanted them to be, turning her head to meet his mouth.
The feel of her, even through the fabric of jacket and blouse and bra, was magical in the way that all men find it magical, and he moved his hands slowly over the curves he longed to see and touch and kiss. He could take her here, he knew, and it wasn't arrogance.
But he wouldn't. So many reasons not to.
The line was blurring. Her kiss was a fire, familiar but new, and she turned fully into his arms, and they locked together briefly, intensely.
The phone in the room rang shrilly, jerking them apart, and he answered it gruffly while Juliet smoothed her clothes and hair. After he dealt with the call, Juliet said, "No discussion."
But her voice was unsteady. The discussion was coming.
. . . .
. . .
Juliet, awake. Shawn beside her, asleep.
Carlton on her mind.
Shawn on her mind.
Her behavior on her mind.
Her desires and her sensibilities at war.
You can't have it both ways, she told herself.
Why not? Why couldn't she be the kind of person who could live like that?
. . . .
. . .
It was near tax day—Friday the 13th, actually—and they'd kept things under control since the 2nd. It couldn't last, and Lassiter, who was now 105 and 6/7ths in love with Juliet, was dreading what seemed inevitable: she would break this off, or she would request a new partner, or both. She would leave him. He thought he could handle the end of the "holidays," but he wouldn't be able to handle the end of the partnership. He believed (he hoped) he could slip back into 3/4 status after awhile, and keep at bay the feelings which threatened to topple him these days.
On Thursday, she asked if he would help her move a box after work. "It's a bookcase. The guys from the store put the box in the trunk for me but it's too awkward for me to get it out and into the house by myself." Shawn, she explained diffidently, was watching a Family Ties marathon with Gus and couldn't help her until Saturday.
Jerk, thought Lassiter, but said nothing.
He followed her home and parked beside her car. The box was long and unwieldy, definitely not meant for one person, and he didn't mind helping. Plus he enjoyed her house; it was inviting and warm and pleasant, like Juliet, and once inside he could smell the same scent of peaches which infused her golden hair.
They set the box on the living room floor and he tugged at the top flap. "Do you need a hand putting this together?"
She frowned. "I hope not, but I won't say no to an offer of help. I can repay you with dinner." She hesitated. "But you don't have to, if you have other plans."
Lassiter looked at her, one eyebrow up. "Seriously?"
She didn't think that was funny. She didn't like it when he admitted his own sense of being alone. And he didn't like thinking that she might still, at heart, just feel sorry for him.
They put the bookcase together in under an hour. His tie was off, his sleeves rolled up; her hair was down and they laughed at the barely-English instructions. He up-ended the finally-assembled unit, and then they both knelt to pick up the bits of plastic and debris from the box and its contents.
"Thanks," she said, and she had somehow gotten closer to him than he'd expected. "What would you like for dinner?"
Lassiter looked at her, his heart constricting. "A holiday."
How lame was that?
Not very, as it turned out. Juliet was wrapped around him in two seconds, her hungry mouth on his, and they knelt like this, next to her new bookcase, possessing each other. He loved her scent, and he couldn't stop his hands this time, he couldn't. One slid up under her blouse, across her bare back, and the other skimmed down her backside. She was pressed tight to him, undulating, almost moaning, and he knew she was his. He knew it. He felt it.
But she was not his to take.
He found some inner reserve of strength to separate his mouth from hers. He murmured, "If we get any closer you'll be able to feel exactly how much I want you, but you belong to someone else, and we're partners. I don't think either one of us wants to break both those rules in one night."
Juliet whispered back, "I don't have to be closer to feel how much you want me."
Then she moved closer anyway.
Lassiter almost lost it right there, driving his mouth against hers in a fury of desire, his hands all over her now, persistent and sure. Juliet was pliant and willing and those undulations were driving him mad.
But he had to stop this. He pulled back, falling to a sitting position, making it over to the sofa before getting to his feet slowly.
He offered an unsteady hand to Juliet, who took it and wrapped herself around him again, not suggestively; only holding him. He kissed her hair. "I have to go."
She knew, and her eyes said she regretted it, but she wouldn't stop him.
At the door, he said some exceptionally difficult words.
"No holidays for awhile."
Juliet was silent, but she nodded.
. . . .
. . .
Juliet texted him early Monday and asked him to meet her for coffee before work. When he was seated across from her in the noisy shop, looking a bit haggard as well as wary, she said, "I'm sorry."
He said at once, "Don't say that. Don't say you wish you hadn't—"
"No!" she interrupted sharply. "That's not it. I'm sorry if I've seemed to be leading you on. If I've seemed to be the kind of person who would do that. It's been making me crazy." Her mood had even gotten Shawn's attention, to her surprise; she'd become used to him being unaware of what was going on with her.
"I don't think that."
"How can you not? I'm in a relationship," she said in a low voice. "I've been—"
"O'Hara," he said patiently. "It is beyond my comprehension that anyone could ever think anything bad about you. Certainly not me."
She almost reached out to take his hand, but other cops were in the shop and she had to learn to keep herself off of him. "Carlton, what I've done isn't right."
"That's true." His tone was mild, and his blue eyes impassive. "But it's true for me, too. It's not like I didn't know you were with Spencer. Some might think—you might think—I've been taking advantage of you, trying to weaken your defenses."
"No. You haven't." He had been far stronger than she. She stared at her coffee. "Your good opinion matters to me, that's all."
"You have it," he said quietly. "Always."
She believed him, too, and her good opinion of him was unchanged.
. . . .
. . .
Lassiter was in court most of the next week, which was only half-bad, because there was a case Vick wanted Spencer in on, and Lassiter wasn't entirely able to look him in the eye. He knew Spencer wasn't psychic, but he was damned perceptive, and if he sensed anything off about Lassiter, he'd push and push and push until he figured out what it was, for no other reason than to know.
Spencer already made it plain he was puzzled by Lassiter's reluctance to "engage" with him in the cases so far this year. Lassiter had held firm to his decision not to provoke any confrontations, though he had certainly responded a few times when his irritation insisted on verbally throttling the man whom he felt wasted so much of their time.
"Why don't you think he's psychic?" Juliet asked him on Thursday morning in the observation room while Shawn put on a show for a suspect.
He only had a few minutes before he had to go to the courthouse, and he didn't want to answer this question, even from her. "He's observant. His deductive reasoning is top-notch, when it's not completely insane."
Juliet glanced at him. "But?"
"But I've pored through every word of every bit of documentation on some of our cases, O'Hara, and every single thing he 'divines' is either something we could have found on our own, or something he only found because he went back to the scene and discovered it himself, just prior to telling us he had a vision." He met her gaze evenly. "And because I am obsessive, I've even checked security footage of crime scenes before and after we've been there. Spencer and Guster routinely revisit places they have no business being."
Juliet stared at him, her expression unreadable.
"It's a con." He turned back to the window. "He does it very, very well, and he's helped us solve cases a lot faster than we could on our own, because he breaks the rules we're not allowed to break."
After a pause, she said, "Why haven't you reported this to Chief Vick?"
Lassiter shrugged. "No one can see past the fact that I don't like him. Everyone thinks I'm just annoyed because he goes out of his way to make me look like an idiot."
"And me, too." She was quiet.
He looked at her. "Not you. He doesn't target you."
"I'm your partner, Carlton. I stand by you. Every time he takes a shot at you he's taking one at me too."
"I'm sorry. I'm sure that's not his intention."
"It's not your fault." She said wryly, "You and his father, as different as you are, have something in common: you're authority figures. Shawn is practically programmed to rebel against you. I've been too lenient with him all these years."
He couldn't say aloud that he agreed, and he wouldn't say aloud that he didn't agree, because she'd know he was lying, and he didn't like to lie to her. She could always tell.
Lassiter glanced into the interrogation room, where Spencer was now standing on a chair and waving his arms around. "The thing is, if he'd just come in, make his observations and leave, I'd be okay with him. But he wastes so damn much time for show. I'm surprised we haven't been sued for some of the crap he pulls." He glanced at his watch. "I have to go. Text me if he walks on the ceiling."
. . . .
. . .
Juliet thought about what he said.
She also thought about the scent of his aftershave and how the color of his tie drew out the magnificent blue of his eyes.
She watched Shawn cavorting, and finally stepped in to stop it.
Later, after looking over the case files, she went to talk to Vick. Then they talked to Henry Spencer, the liaison for consultants, who without ever intending it had made Shawn the man he was.
By the time Carlton got back from court late afternoon, a stunned Shawn and a not-very-stunned Gus had been fired from the case and barred from any further involvement, with the very real threat of jail time.
Juliet watched Carlton carefully as he got the news, looking for traces of anything smug or superior or "neener-neener." But if he felt any of that, he hid it. He only said, "Let's get to work," and they both stayed late to keep on top of the case.
. . . .
. . .
Lassiter was, in fact, very surprised. For Juliet to have initiated this—and he was sure she had; Vick had tolerated far worse from Spencer—was remarkable. That she did it while he was off-site was even more interesting. He had a conversation with Henry, who said with a wry shrug, "If you hired a guy to fix your toilet and in the process he flooded your whole house, it wouldn't matter how well the toilet worked, right? You still wouldn't pay him. You'd probably sue him. Consultants are like that. They screw up, they can get fired. And Shawn needs a reminder now and then that things don't always go the way he wants. When they get hired for their next case, maybe—maybe—he'll stay within the lines."
Lassiter studied Juliet as she worked. The peach scent was faint but tempting, and a holiday would be so very very nice without being 'nice' at all… but by his own rules, they were verboten.
. . . .
. . .
Juliet watched as Carlton talked to a female witness. The woman was attractive, and Carlton wasn't being anything other than professional with her, but for the first time it hit Juliet that he might start dating someone. She wasn't the only woman who found his large blue eyes compelling, but she'd begun to take for granted that he would remain single… available… even though she wasn't.
Seeing him with the witness, she knew she had some serious thinking to do about the future.
Shawn was still angry about having been fired from the case. He couldn't believe she had done it. It was beyond his ken that Juliet of all people would step in and stop the schtick which defined his whole style. He tried to line Gus up in support one Saturday afternoon, to get her to admit she was wrong.
"We solved the case, Shawn," she pointed out. "It took us a few days more than it might have taken you, but we solved it. We do that. We're not incompetent."
"You're not," he said, "and I never said you were. I never thought you were. But Lassie—"
"Carlton isn't incompetent either," she shot back, "and I really don't want to hear you say anything like that again. He was catching bad guys while you were still memorizing the dialogue in Airplane, and he's damn good at his job."
"Surely, you can't be serious—" he started.
Gus cut him off. "Shawn!
"What? It was wide open. I had to—"
"Shawn, stop. Juliet was right to fire us, and you know it. We probably should have been fired from a lot of other cases, too."
"Look, all I'm saying is he's… he's just so…" Shawn was floundering for just the right insult.
Juliet said again, "He's my partner. Do you understand that?"
"There are other partners, Jules. You don't have to be stuck with Lassie forever." His tone was almost condescending.
She stood up and said flatly, "I'm not stuck with him. I choose him." She walked out.
. . . .
. . .
She sat in the park, head down. She didn't know what she was doing or what she wanted.
There was a woman nearby, a retired teacher she'd chatted with before. They'd tossed popcorn to the pigeons and talked of nothing, little pleasantries.
She came to sit beside Juliet. "I hear you sighing, dear. Do you need an impartial audience?"
Why yes. Yes, she did.
Juliet laid it all out. Naming no names and even keeping their occupations vague, she explained her dilemma as best she could.
The woman said, "But these are two entirely separate problems. Whether or not the situation with your coworker goes anywhere is completely irrelevant until you resolve the matter of your boyfriend."
Well, that was simple, wasn't it?
"You need to look at your potential future with him and decide whether that's what you want, and you have to be realistic about who you both are. Can you take this man to meet your family? Will he get up at night to feed the baby? Will he mow the lawn and help pay the bills? Will he stand beside you without a fuss even when he doesn't want to simply because you need him?"
Juliet stared at the grass.
The woman continued, "If he's what you want, as he is, then you have no situation with the coworker, because that simply has to stop. And if he's not what you want, you have to break it off. Only then can you allow yourself to seriously consider the coworker."
It really was simple. Juliet hugged her and went home.
. . . .
. . .
May was busy.
Lassiter's plants were doing well, to his great surprise, and he liked his apartment more now. It was brighter, warmer. Spring was for renewal.
He got rid of most of his guns, and cancelled some of his more dark-minded crime periodicals. He also cancelled his eHarmony account because he wasn't done with personal revisions yet.
He wished, late at night, for things to be different with Juliet. But working with her every day was still a tonic, even when bullets were flying, even when she gave him that 'shut up' look, even when they were both annoyed with each other after too much court time and paperwork and lying, cheating, backstabbing criminals.
What was going on with her, he couldn't tell, and didn't ask. Spencer and Guster were called on for two cases in early May and he thought Spencer was more restrained than before; maybe the termination had gotten through to him. Halfway through the second case, Lassiter made his own breakthrough observation and solved it while Spencer was still scrambling for a "psychic revelation."
Juliet kissed his cheek spontaneously, and he felt her sincerity. He also smelled the fragrance of her hair, and this set off enough alarms that he declared an immediate need to write up the case and left her standing with the others.
. . . .
. . .
Shawn gave Juliet an impromptu "pre-between" anniversary bouquet of flowers and dinner out at their favorite restaurant. He was so sweet; it almost didn't matter that she had to stop him from using Gus' credit card and ended up paying for it herself. He did love her, and this was who he was. She accepted this about him and knew it was no failing of hers that he behaved the way he did. He was trying. He was trying for her. And that was important.
Maybe it was the most important thing of all.
Her thoughts on the matter were varied, complex, and confusing, but in the end, as the month came to a close, she had made two decisions.
One was about Shawn, and one was about Carlton.
. . . .
. . .
Lassiter looked around at his place and decided he liked not being surrounded by criminals every minute of the day. He would have liked to be surrounded by Juliet every minute of the day, but as time passed, he understood it wasn't going to work that way. She was conscientious and prized her job and her performance thereof. She wasn't going to risk their partnership just because she was confused about their personal relationship, and neither was he.
Whether or not she stayed with Spencer, she would not choose Lassiter.
He wouldn't let himself dwell on it.
. . . .
. . .
Memorial Day weekend. Juliet was supposed to be with friends in the afternoon, and Carlton had said he might go fishing, but she knew she would find his car when she drove to his place mid-morning.
She called him, and he answered on the second ring. "Can I come up and talk to you for a minute?"
"Yes. Do you have time?"
No hesitation. Maybe a little hesitation. "Sure."
She told herself she knew what she was doing. She didn't know if that was true.
Carlton opened the door one second after she knocked. He was wearing a gray t-shirt and his eyes were the bluest blue she'd ever seen, and she didn't know how this was going to go.
. . . .
. . .
He had no time to even say hello.
Juliet spoke rapidly. Her cheeks were flushed and her hands may have been shaking but she shoved them in her skirt pocket before he could tell for sure. "I thought about all the ways I could tell you what I have to tell you, all the nuances I could add. I thought about the order of the words and how everything was going to come together in one brilliant summation. But really, Carlton, it's only two things."
He took a breath. She was going to shatter his heart, and it would hurt her as much as it was already hurting him.
"The first is that I broke up with Shawn a week and a half ago."
He stared at her, stunned.
"The second is that I want more holidays with you." She smiled shakily. "A lot more. All of them, in fact."
Lassiter exhaled and yanked Juliet into his arms, kissing her with relief and love and desire and hope and yearning and completion. She clung to him, sighing.
What the neighbors thought, looking into the hall through peepholes, he didn't care.
Juliet asked, half-laughing, half-gasping, if she could come in.
Lassiter lifted her up, his arms tight around her waist, and carried her inside. When he set her down and turned to close the door, she said with wonder, "Your place. It's so nice now. It's so—"
He kissed her. They moved (more like stumbled) to the sofa, kissing.
"Are you okay?" he asked. "About the breakup? Is he?"
Juliet looked up at him, a faint shadow on her luminous face. "I'm okay. I realized he was always going to be the man he's always been, and I'd had five years to see that. I never should have gotten involved with him."
"Does he know about us?"
"No. I couldn't let the end of our relationship be about anything other than him and me. I don't imagine he'll like it when he finds out, but it's separate. It's my life." She smiled, and traced his lips with her fingers. "It's our life."
He told her he loved her. It was so easy. The words turned out to be so very damn easy to say when you had no fear of how they'd be received. She said it back, and they smiled into each others' blue eyes.
"What about the other rule we weren't supposed to break?" he asked, stroking her hair.
"I looked into that. It's not against regulations. It's just strongly discouraged, and the Chief can separate us if we give her cause."
"We won't give her cause," he murmured against her throat.
"You'll have to keep your hands off me at work," she said solemnly. "Not like these past few months when you kept throwing yourself at me."
Lassiter laughed, delighted, and delighted to feel delighted. "You are such a—"
"A woman in love," she finished, taking his breath away. "A woman in love with you."
"O'Hara," he said softly, his heart tightening again, the old fear back for a last rally. "You can't really want me. I'm older, I'm angrier, I'm a hardass. I have trouble getting along with people, and sometimes I make really bad hair decisions."
Juliet laughed, and tilted her head curiously. "But don't you see? It doesn't matter what you think about yourself. What matters is what I think about you. I think you're strong and intelligent and dedicated and far nicer than anyone realizes. I've worked with you for five years. I've seen you at your worst and at your best and all the points in between. And I've been kissed by you, Carlton, which I'm thinking most people haven't." Her eyes were alight, and he loved her. "Maybe I needed the distraction of Shawn, to give me time to see what I really wanted. I don't know. I only know that egging you on for that kiss at the Christmas party opened my eyes, and my heart, and there's no turning back."
Lassiter kissed her palms. "I'm not sure I can learn to call you Juliet."
"You can try it out in bed," she suggested. "It might be easier in the dark."
He felt every nerve ending go on sensory alert, and his smile was slow. "Maybe we should… discuss that."
"No way," she whispered, sliding even closer to him on the couch. "You know the rule. No discussion."
He muttered something about holidays, and kissed her hard—his heart unshattered, and his love in his arms.
. . . .
. . .
T H E
E N D