A/N: Hey everyone! I'm not dead! :D Instead, I now have two jobs and classes! Yaaaaay! = _ = So basically, I have been very, very short on time. But. I have been promising something to one of my best friends, LordessTote, for a VERY VERY VERY long time, and I have finally managed to finish it! It's quite a bit darker than what I usually write – I've actually never written anything with themes of suicide before – but I still hope you like it!
So everyone, please – let me know what you think! What's good? What's bad? How can I make this better? I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts.
And as usual, you guys are amazing! Your reviews, watches, and favorites always make me smile. : )
Disclaimer: I do not own Psych.
A Place Where I'll Be Happy
Twenty-seven years ago today. The thought sent shivers up Carlton's spine. He had almost forgotten. He wished he had; he was already tired and grouchy, with it being three in the morning during a less-than-productive stakeout. The last thing he needed to think about was that dark night when he was sixteen. Every year he told himself he wasn't going to replay it in his head, but he always did. He sank down in the driver's seat beside O'Hara, who was peering intently through her binoculars at the warehouse they were supposed to be watching, and let the memories overtake him.
Carlton knew his dad would never forgive him for taking the car. There were a lot of things his dad wouldn't forgive him for, to be fair, but this was definitely high on the list. Soon, though, that wouldn't matter. He just had to get to the bridge.
He glanced at himself in the rearview and was surprised by how calm he looked. He had thrown up before he left home, and he felt empty and light, like some kind of shell. No one would miss a shell. That thought comforted him some. Knowing that no one was waiting for him only solidified his need to get out. Once he was at the bridge, everything would be okay. Everything would be over, and he could finally rest.
It was raining. He laughed. Of Goddamn course it was raining. It was kind of beautiful, in his mind, the image of his father's station wagon parked in the shimmering street, a thin body perched on the bridge's safety railing before gently, gracefully cutting through the air, hitting the water with a resounding smack, like a door slamming shut, all in this lovely haze of rain. It was traditional, classic. He liked classic.
He hadn't seen anyone on the street, and he was glad – he didn't want to see a happy, well-adjusted, breathing person. The idea unnerved him. It would be like coming face-to-face with the world of the living, a world he no longer felt he belonged to. He didn't want that sprung on him. He was here to end life, not acknowledge the presence it still had on earth.
"Dammit," he murmured. Just as he had that last thought, he saw a small, white, shining face staring at him from a swing set in the dark, rain-drenched park. He hoped for a moment that it was just the moonlight reflecting off a piece of equipment, but he quickly saw that the face was attached to a small body, and it was peering with interest at his slowing car.
He squinted, suddenly annoyed. The boy was obviously pretty young, and he was soaked to the skin. What kind of parent lets their kid go out in the rain without a jacket? Much less this late at night? Carlton wondered. He frowned when he saw the kid shiver. Maybe he was a runaway.
Whatever. Carlton turned back to the road with gritted teeth, but he couldn't make himself drive away. It was one in the morning; no one was bound to find the boy for hours, and who knows what could happen to him by then? With a groan, he parked, yanking the key out of the ignition with far more force than necessary. He had wanted to be quick – he was planning on being dead before his parents had realized he was gone – but he couldn't leave a child to freeze.
"Hey!" He slammed the door behind him. He started to walk toward the boy, but the kid held up a hand to stop him.
"What do you want?" The little boy's eyes narrowed suspiciously, and Carlton took a surprised step back. He had never heard someone so young speak with so much authority and confidence.
A little shell-shocked, Carlton stammered out, "I-I saw you sitting here, and I figured…" He looked around awkwardly. He just wanted to leave. Was it so much to ask that his last night on earth went at least a little smoothly? "Listen, kid, you're gonna get sick out here. Where do you live? I can take you home."
"And have my face show up on a milk carton next week?" The boy crossed his arms. "Nice try."
Carlton stared. This child couldn't be older than ten; how did he know to reference something that dark? His words only twisted Carlton's stomach more. If he left him here, he would be as good as giving all kinds of creeps and perverts permission to mess with an innocent boy. His stomach twisted at the thought, and he knew there was no way he could just leave.
"Okay, fair enough." He held up his hands, trying to show the kid that he didn't have any weapons on him. His T-shirt quickly became plastered to his chest in the rain, and he was already starting to shiver. "Can I at least sit and talk to you?"
The boy pointed to his right. "Leave a swing between us."
Carlton tried not to look frustrated as he took a seat on the squeaky plastic swing. Now that he was allowed to talk, he couldn't think of anything to say. He stared longingly at the car until he heard, "Who are you, anyway?"
"Me?" Carlton was about to give the kid his name, but stopped. This little guy was smart – what if he looked in the paper and saw his obituary? Or what if they had a story up on the news? He couldn't imagine how bad it would screw a kid up to know that they had talked to someone only hours before the person offed himself. "My name's… Lassie."
Technically, he wasn't lying – it was his nickname. At least it had been in elementary school, when he had been too polite to tell people how much it bothered him.
Shawn cocked an eyebrow. "Like the dog?"
Carlton flinched a little, but nodded, because hey, why the hell not? Not like it would matter much longer. "Yeah. Like the dog. What about you? What's your name?"
The boy squinted at him, clearly scrutinizing him. Finally, he said, "Shawn."
"Nice to meet you, Shawn." Carlton gave him a nod. He might have shaken his hand, but he didn't want to scare him away. "So what are you doing out here?"
"Thinking." Shawn shrugged, as if sitting in a storm just to think was the most natural thing in the world. "What about you? You don't look old enough to be out this late."
Carlton laughed at the hypocrisy. "I don't?"
"Nope. You're still a kid. I can tell."
"Takes one to know one, I guess." Carlton pushed his sopping bangs out of his eyes, trying to think of the best way to answer him. "I'm taking a trip."
"Without your parents?"
"What kind of trip?" Shawn tilted his head to the side in curiosity, and he reminded Carlton of the dog that he had inadvertently nicknamed himself after.
"A very, very long trip. I guess you could say that I'm moving."
"Wow." Shawn looked at him with that sense of awe that all children seemed to have for anyone older than themselves. Carlton felt something unfamiliar swell in his chest at the expression, and he was surprised to find that it was pride. Since when was he proud of himself? "All by yourself?"
"All by myself." Carlton had never really talked to a little kid before. He always thought it would be annoying or awkward, but he was surprised to find out that he was good with kids. Who would have thought?
Too bad I won't have any of my own, he thought. Even if I lived…
"Why are you moving without your parents?" Shawn asked.
Carlton smirked to himself. "We don't really get along. Besides, this is the kind of trip I have to take alone."
When he glanced at the little boy, he looked glum. "I wish I could take a trip without my parents," Shawn grumbled, folding his arms and finally acting more his age than he had seemed capable of.
"Don't like your parents?"
Shawn shook his head. "Not anymore."
Shawn just shrugged, and Carlton felt a deep, sweeping sense of foreboding. This kid must have been a runaway. But why did he leave home? He wondered if Shawn's maturity was a sign of a childhood lost to some kind of trauma. He frowned when he realized that Shawn reminded him of himself as a kid. Carlton slowly moved to the swing between them, hoping for a reaction from the boy (if only to prove that he was okay), but received none. Gently, he laid a hand on Shawn's shoulder. "Why don't you like your parents, Shawn?" he asked softly.
"My dad…" Shawn looked up, his lip quivering. Carlton waited, shoulders tensed, for the answer that he was so sure was coming: "My dad hit me." Finally, Shawn whispered, "My dad wants me to be a cop."
Carlton gave a deep sigh of relief. "Thank God." This seemed to make the boy's lip quiver harder, and he quickly added, "Do you not want to be a cop?"
Shawn rubbed his glistening eyes, embarrassed. "I don't know," he mumbled, staring at the ground. "I guess it would be okay to be a cop. But I also wanna be a superhero, and an alien hunter, and a cowboy…"
"It sounds like you don't know what you want to be," Carlton observed.
Shawn looked up, far shyer now that he wasn't ordering Carlton around. "What do you wanna be?"
Dead, Carlton thought, forcing back a wry smirk. Watching Shawn's anxious expression, he answered, "I don't think I know what I want to be, either."
Shawn smiled – this seemed to calm him. They sat in comfortable silence for a moment before Carlton asked, "So, you left home because your dad wants you to be a cop?"
The smile instantly vanished from Shawn's face. "Yeah," he said gloomily, kicking back and forth listlessly. "He won't stop talking about it."
Carlton nodded understandingly. "That's a lot of pressure for a… hm. How old are you, anyway?"
"Yeesh. And he already wants you to have a career plan?"
Shawn wrinkled his nose. "He makes me count hats."
"Count hats?" Carlton quirked an eyebrow. Was he using a metaphor? Did seven-year-olds even know how to use metaphors? "What do you mean?"
"Count hats." Shawn looked up at him with wide, innocent eyes, as if he couldn't even fathom why this would be a strange statement to anyone. "He makes me tell him how many hats there are in a room."
"That doesn't sound too hard."
"I have to do it with my eyes closed. He doesn't tell me when he's gonna ask, so I can't memorize it. I just have to remember."
Carlton shook his head in amazement. Did this kid's dad want him to be a cop, or Matlock? "That… really sucks. Sorry, kid." He frowned when he saw Shawn grin. "What?"
"You said 'sucks'." Shawn looked downright excited.
"So I'm not allowed to say 'sucks'. My dad said he'd wash my mouth out if I ever said 'sucks'."
"You're allowed to say whatever you want when you're alone," Carlton pointed out. "Just don't say it when your dad's around. It's not like he can get mad at you for it if he doesn't hear it, right?"
Shawn's smile widened, and he nodded. He wrapped his arms around the chains of his swing, his previous worries forgotten in typical little-kid fashion. "You're cool."
Carlton raised his eyebrows. "Really?"
"Yeah! You're tall, you can swear, and you're moving on your own. No part of that isn't cool!"
Carlton laughed and shook his head. Great. Someone finally though he was cool, and it was a seven-year-old who thought he shared a name with a dog. Reason number five thousand to kill himself seemed to have just popped up. "Why does your dad want you to be a cop so bad?"
Shawn swung his legs, his feet barely skimming the mud as he rocked back and forth. "Because he's a cop, I guess. And all his friends are cops. I don't think he really likes people if they're not."
"You don't think your dad would like you if you weren't a cop someday?"
Carlton smiled sadly. Parents never seemed to realize how their actions could affect their children. It's not like you could really reason with a seven-year-old. People always took it for granted that they just automatically understood. "Do you know what I think, Shawn?"
The little boy looked up with bright, hopeful eyes. "What?"
"I think your dad loves you very much," Carlton explained. He put a hand on Shawn's shoulder. " He thinks that if you want to be a cop, it means you want to be more like him. Understand?"
Shawn frowned. "I think so. He wants me to like him."
"Exactly. He worries that if you don't want to be a cop, that means he's not your hero."
"Is that why he got mad when I said I wanted to be a firefighter?" Shawn asked.
"I'm thinking so." Carlton gripped the cold, wet metal swing chains. "Everyone thinks that parents are sure of themselves, but even they're scared of things. Sometimes you have to be patient with them."
"Yeah. Adults are weird." Shawn grinned at Carlton. "Except you. You're kind of an adult, but you're not weird."
Carlton snorted. "Thanks, kid, but I think you're alone on that one."
"Is that why you don't get along with your parents? Because they think you're weird?"
"I guess you could say that. My parents just… don't really like me."
Carlton could almost hear the sound of a lamp shattering and a shout: "No son of mine is going to be some Goddamn fairy!" Without thinking, his hand flew to his chest, where he knew there was still a mottled purple bruise in the shape of his father's thick fist. "They want me to be something I'm not."
"Like a cop?"
Carlton sighed, biting his lip. How could he put this in a way that the kid would understand? "They want me to get married and have kids and everything. And I don't really want to do that."
"You know, you ask that a lot." Carlton glared, but the kid continued to send him that nagging stare. "Okay, fine. It's like this. A lot of guys want to marry girls, right?"
"Well… there are guys out there who want to marry guys."
"Okay." Shawn looked mildly interested, but thoroughly un-traumatized. It always amazed Carlton how nonchalant kids were about things that made adults lose their minds.
The teenager rubbed at his sopping wet arms, trying to warm himself. It didn't work. "I'm one of the guys who want to marry guys."
"Oh." Shawn nodded slowly, clearly thinking this new piece of information over very carefully. "So what?"
Carlton smiled. Kids. They were so much smarter than adults in so many ways. "A lot of people don't like that. Including my parents."
"That's the only reason they don't want you around?" Shawn cocked an eyebrow. "That's stupid. It's not like they're the ones getting married."
"It's not just that. I guess my parents didn't like me a lot when I was little, either. It always seemed like I bugged them." He knew that his parents had never really wanted kids. He had been an accident, an accident that made his mother shut herself off from the world and his father start drinking himself into a violent rage every night. Beaten and berated by his dad, ignored by his mom. He wouldn't be surprised if his parents were happy when he was dead. Thinking of his friendless existence at school, he quietly added, "It seems like I bug everyone, really."
Shawn frowned. "You don't bug me."
Carlton shot him a small smile. "Thank you, Shawn." He looked at his watch. They'd been talking for twenty minutes. "It's really late. We should both be leaving."
"But you haven't told me where you're going," Shawn said stubbornly. "You can't say you're moving and not say where to. It's rude."
"Most people would say that asking a lot of questions is rude."
"You were rude first."
There was no point in arguing. He doubted Shawn would ever admit to being wrong. "I'm going somewhere… where I'll never be sad again."
Shawn's eyes widened. "There's a place like that?"
"Can I come with you?"
For the first time, Carlton felt a pang of regret. "No. Sorry, kid."
"It's not really someplace you can go with me."
"Am I too little?"
Carlton shook his head. He slid off the swing to kneel in front of the boy, looking him straight in the eye. "It's not that you're not too little, Shawn. You're too special. You're too important. You'll make the world a better place."
"So will you." Shawn said it with the childlike assurance that told him that everybody that he liked was a great person, and that great people always did great things and that great things always happened to them. Carlton could only answer him with a sad smile.
"Thank you. Coming from someone as smart as you, that means a lot. But listen. When you're special, sometimes things are hard. But they get better, because you have the power to make them better."
"How do you know?"
"It's just something I can tell. You have to trust me on this, okay? You're going to do amazing things."
Shawn beamed. "You really think so?"
"I really do." Carlton couldn't explain what it was, but he felt like he needed to help this kid. He couldn't stand even thinking about this smart, innocent boy ending up like he did. He knew worthless when he saw it, and Shawn wasn't it. "What I'm trying to say is you don't have to find a place where you'll be happy, because you can make yourself happy. All you have to do is stay… stay the same as you are now. Just stay like this, and you'll be fine."
Shawn nodded solemnly. Carlton wanted to say more, but he managed to stop himself. He hoped that Shawn would remember this, that he would take it seriously. Maybe when I die, I can be his guardian angel, Carlton thought. It was the one thing that he thought he'd be good at.
Carlton stood, cold mud seeping over the tops of his sneakers. Shawn followed suit. "So." Carlton folded his arms, trying to warm himself. "Do you want me to drive you home?"
The boy shook his head. "You should probably take me to the police station. And don't take your car. If you take your car, my dad will probably think you were trying to kidnap me."
Carlton suppressed a groan with difficulty. He was already freezing and soaked, and now he had to walk half a mile to the police station while his car was sitting right there? "Alright. You lead the way, I guess."
Shawn took charge, guiding Carlton through the streets, so full of purpose that he barely spoke (except when he admonished Carlton for not holding his hand when they crossed the street, saying, "Come on. Do you seriously know nothing about kids? You have to hold my hand when we cross the street. It's what you do."). When they arrived at the police station, Carlton went to leave, but Shawn said, "You have to come in with me. My dad's gonna want to talk to you."
Awesome! Carlton was mentally screaming. Now I get to talk to a cop who is going to be wondering why in the fuck a sixteen-year-old boy would hang out with a child in a park in the middle of the night! If he hadn't wanted to kill himself before this all started, he was sure he would want to now.
Their shoes squeaked so loudly it was almost painful, and Carlton nearly slipped several times on the tile. Shawn spoke to a woman at the front counter and pinned a guest badge to his shirt before handing one to Carlton. The kid quickly ushered Carlton into the bull pen.
"Shawn? What the hell are you doing here?"
A man with thinning blonde hair stormed up to the pair, and Carlton cringe. Shawn's dad seemed to be one of those people who was able to intimidate anyone with little more than a glance and, at the moment, he was barreling towards them with a scowl. "Your mother called me two hours ago, worried sick, saying you snuck out of the house. Where have you been?"
"The park. But it's okay!" Shawn pointed at his lanky companion. "He was with me."
"Yeah?" Shawn's father folded his arms and stared Carlton down so intensely it was amazing that he didn't spontaneously combust. "And who is he?"
"His name's Lassie. Like the dog."
"Lassie." Shawn's dad fixed his gaze on the teenager. "Like the dog."
"Yes, sir," Carlton replied, standing ramrod straight and forcing himself not to shiver from the cold.
"Is that your given name?" The question was light and sarcastic, and Carlton could hear the danger behind it.
"No, sir. It's more of a nickname."
"Henry?" Another man with a bushy, black mustache rushed up to Shawn's father. "Henry, we still haven't hear from the Gusters, but… Oh." He looked down at Shawn and smiled. "Looks like you found him."
Henry sighed. "Yes, John, I did. Now could you please bring this young man down to an interrogation room?"
"Woah." Carlton's hand's immediately went up. "Woah, woah. I'm kinda busy tonight, okay? I really… I really don't have time for… whatever this is."
"Too bad, Lassie," Henry growled. "You're gonna make time."
Carlton found himself in a cold interrogation room, staring around at the blank walls. He looked at his pale face in the two-way mirror and wondered why he looked so calm. His stomach was shaking and he thought he would throw up, but his eyes were just as dim and unresponsive as they had been for the past several months, ever since he started questioning the point of letting his heart continue beating. For the first time, something in him sparked. Why are you just sitting there? Why can't you look like you care for once? You do care, you moron! You care that you're locked in a dirty room waiting to get your ass handed to you by the police! So, for once, Goddammit, just act like it!
His expression didn't change. He didn't understand why. What was wrong with him?
The door swung open, and John walked in. "Hey there, kid. Sounds like you've had an interesting night."
"Am I being arrested?" Carlton had hoped to lead up to that, but it just came out.
John laughed. "No, kid, you're not being arrested. But Shawn's dad has some questions to ask you. You showed up at almost two in the morning with his kid in tow. You have to admit, it looks a little strange."
"I just found him like an hour ago at the park," Carlton explained. A hint of desperation crept into his voice. "I talked to him for a little while, and then I walked him here. I didn't even drive him. We were out on the open the whole time. You can ask him."
"If you don't mind me saying so," Henry said, following his partner inside, "talking to Shawn isn't always the best option. The kid has a real penchant for bending the truth." He waved a hand at John. "This is my partner, Officer Fenich, and I'm Officer Spencer. We have a couple things to straighten out."
"I really have nothing else I can tell you!" Carlton hoped he came off anxious instead of irritable – people always thought he was annoyed, even when he wasn't. "I saw him sitting in a playground at one o'clock. I stopped to make sure he wasn't in trouble. I talked to him until I knew he was okay, and then I walked him here." Walked him here! Carlton wanted to yell. Left my dad's care sitting by the side of the road and put off my suicide just to bring your kid here! A little gratitude, please?
"How about we start with why you were out so late?" Henry asked, narrowing his eyes.
Carlton gulped. "Uh. Nothing."
"It's past curfew," John chimed in. "You realize that don't you?"
"Well, yeah. I was just, um, on the way home."
"From where?" Henry's eyes were boring into Carlton's, and he had to look away.
"I was just at a friend's house. I ended up staying later than I planned."
John frowned, watching his partner. "What do you think, Henry? He telling the truth?"
Carlton looked up just enough to see Henry's lips turn up in a smirk. "Not a chance."
"I-I was! I was studying at a friend's house!"
"Okay. So does Norman Bates have a phone number?"
"Not that I can think of."
"What's his address?"
"Not sure. I mean, I can get there, I just don't know the street number."
Henry stood. "Okay, sounds great! You can take us there, then." His glance was a challenge.
John held the door open, and Henry stared Carlton down. The teenager scrambled, trying to think of anything he could possibly say or do to get himself out of this. His pulse was rushing, and when he looked in the mirror, he saw that he looked scared. Terrified even. And the sight of himself, wide-eyed and shaking, melted the numbness that had been gripping him for so long and replaced with searing, aching pain.
It had all happened so quickly after that. Carlton had broken down in tears, telling them where he had been going and why and begging them to please, please, please not tell his father. Photos were taken of his bruised, mottled torso and his dad was hauled, drunk and angry, into a cell. Carlton had fallen asleep on John's couch after he had promised that no one would tell Shawn what had happened.
"I just don't want the kid getting hurt," Carlton tried to explain.
John smiled. "Don't worry about it, son. Shawn's resilient. And he's such a smart kid, I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't already know." He laughed, but it sounded humorless. "If I didn't know better, I'd say that boy was psychic."
Twenty-seven years later, and here Carlton was, a bitter, divorced detective. He sighed. He had tried to reconcile with his mother after his father passed away, which just turned into doing whatever he could to please her – getting married, trying to start a family, and "being a good role model" for Lauren. And he hated himself for it. John had helped him find a reason to live, and he felt like he was throwing all of his hard work away by keeping himself miserable for everyone else.
He found himself again after his divorce. He wasn't out waving a rainbow flag, but he had stopped accepting dates he didn't want and stopped worrying about what people thought of his hair and clothes. He no longer felt so self-conscious around his partner, and had started treating her less as a subordinate and more as a friend. For the first time in a long time, he started feeling like he was worth the admiration of that young boy in the park.
Shawn. Good lord, Shawn. Carlton had been stunned when, twenty-one years later, Shawn Spencer had been dragged into his interrogation room. At first, he had been outraged. He had wanted Shawn to do well, to go out and do all of the things he had known that boy was capable of, rather than skipping from job to job and place to place for years on end. The fact that the brilliant young boy from that park had grown up to steal a car and spend all of his time collecting cash for crime tips had made him so angry that he had acted like a righteous jerk when he first saw him again. When the young man had claimed to be psychic, he'd rolled his eyes, but felt a spark of panic as well.
If he's psychic, does that mean he knows who I am? No, of course not. There's no such thing as psychics. Besides, I doubt he would ever remember me. I'm sure it was just a stupid, insignificant night to him.
That was before Shawn had smirked and called him Lassie.
Carlton instantly knew that Shawn remembered, and he felt ashamed. Felt ashamed that he had been so close to giving up. Felt ashamed that Shawn knew what was now his most closely-guarded secret. Felt ashamed that Shawn knew that Carlton had turned his back on who he was. It hurt to be around the psychic.
And so, Carlton pushed him away.
He told him that he was an immature nuisance, an idiot, and a liar. He had tried to ignore the fluttering in his heart every time Shawn touched him, and pretended that he didn't marvel at just how good-looking he had grown to be. He was too embarrassed to admit that he was starting to actually like the disappointing little slacker.
Carlton jumped at O'Hara's voice. She was watching him with a concerned frown. "You here with me right now?" she asked.
"Of course." Carlton sat up straighter, blushing. "Why?"
"I just got a text from Shawn. Apparently Buzz just apprehended the criminal."
"Buzz? Buzz McNab?"
"I know. Apparently, he just happened to run into the guy." O'Hara sighed, shaking her head in disappointment. "Oh well. I guess that means we get to go home, huh?"
Carlton nodded, feeling relieved. As annoyed as he was that the rookie had been the one to catch their suspect, he was glad this night was over. He didn't know how much more self-loathing introspection he could take. At least there was a TiVo full of unwatched COPS reruns and a decent supply of scotch at his home.
O'Hara's phone buzzed again, and she looked confused when she saw the screen. "Huh. It's Shawn again. He says to tell you to go straight home tonight."
"Why?" Carlton couldn't help but feel unnerved. Oh God, he's broken into my house again. What did he do? I swear, if he screwed with my TiVo…
"Not sure. He just says he wants you to meet him there." O'Hara raised an eyebrow and gave Carlton a sly smile. "What's Shawn doing at your house, Carlton?"
"I don't know." Carlton hopped out of the car, slamming the door behind him. He and O'Hara traded seats, and he spent the rest of his drive to the station pretending not to hear her giggling.
Once Carlton was home, he approached the door with extreme caution. The last time he'd gotten a text from Shawn asking him to meet him here, he had nearly been killed by a crooked cop. He wasn't entirely certain it wouldn't happen again.
His fears that Shawn was being held hostage were quickly put to bed when Shawn leapt out the door. "Lassie!" he crowed, bouncing with excitement. "You have got to come inside, I've got something to show you!"
"What is it?" Carlton asked, trying to hang back. He rolled his eyes when Shawn grabbed his hand and yanked him inside, but he couldn't stop the warmth that spread through him from where they touched.
"I can't explain it, Lassie-face. You have to see it." Shawn lead him into the kitchen, grinning. "Okay. Now close your eyes."
"I've told you before, Spencer, I don't-"
"Oh, come on, Lassie! Don't be a one-eyed, one-horned, flying purple people-eater. Just do it."
Carlton made a show of looking frustrated, but did as he was told. The path of least resistance was always the smartest one to take with Shawn. He could heard scraping sounds and shuffling, as well as a clunk and a loud curse from the psychic, before he felt a glossy box being shoved into his hands. "Okay," Shawn chirped, sounding excited. "Open!"
Carlton opened his eyes and looking down, puzzled, at a shoe box. "You got me shoes?"
"No, no, no! Open the box, Carly."
Carlton glared at what was possibly his least favorite nickname before doing as he was told. He tentatively peeled back the cover of the shoebox to find a pile of – there was no other word for it – junk. A letter from some Texan politician, thanking Shawn for working on his campaign. A menu written in Portuguese. A copy of the Declaration of Independence purchased at Monticello. Carlton picked up a pressed penny with Donald Duck's face embossed on it. "Okay, Spencer, I'll bite. What is all this?"
"So glad you asked." Shawn took the box and placed it on the table. He was still smiling, but Carlton's sensed a shift in his mood to something that he was unfamiliar with. Could it be that Shawn was actually being serious? "I probably don't have to ask, but… Do you remember that night? That night a long, long time ago when you found me in the park?"
Carlton's entire body stiffened. He should have known. He should have known that Shawn was here to torture him, to mock him, to laugh at him for all the mistakes he'd made since then and all the things he'd said that Shawn would be able to lord over him for the rest of his life. He narrowed his eyes. "Yes, Spencer. I remember."
"Well." Shawn looked almost bashful. "Back then, I didn't know what you meant when you said you wanted to find someplace where you'd always be happy. It wasn't until a couple years later that I realized you were… you know…"
"That I was going to kill myself," Carlton spat. "Don't sugarcoat it, Spencer."
Shawn's gaze was patient and surprisingly gentle. "Fine. I didn't realize at the time that you were going to kill yourself."
Carlton blushed, and he could feel shame permeating every inch of his being.
"I was surprised. I don't know what it was, but I liked you almost immediately. Something about you told me that you were an amazing guy." He smiled slightly. "Maybe I didn't realize that it was the spirits saying it."
"The spirits told you all that?"
"Oh yes, Lassie. You greatly impress the spirits, you know. They think you're a genius."
Carlton scoffed, but waved his hand to keep Shawn talking. He could feel a lump start to rise in his throat.
"I didn't understand why someone as great as you would want to stop living," Shawn explained, running his fingers over the top of the worn shoebox. "And I thought it was really sad that you thought that you had to die to find someplace where you could be happy. So, when I graduated from high school, I decided to find somewhere else."
Shawn gently picked up the box and placed it back in Carlton's hands, standing so close that the flimsy cardboard was the only thing separating them. "I went all over the world trying to find a place where you would never be sad again. I wasn't sure what I was going to do when I found it, but I knew I had to. I knew I couldn't let you go on thinking that death was your only way out."
"And did you find it?" Carlton whispered, his voice shaking with repressed emotion.
Shawn sighed. "See, that was the problem. I went to all these different places." He shook the box, and Carlton heard the fluffing sound of paper and knick knacks shuffling around. "I did all these different things. But I never found that place. Everywhere I went, there was always something wrong with it. Sometimes it was too hot, sometimes it was too loud, sometimes I just missed having some people around. But there was always something."
Carlton took a deep breath, closing his eyes. "Why are you telling me this, Spencer?"
"You didn't let me finish." Shawn cleared his throat. "After I didn't find it, I decided to come home and regroup. I figured I was going to see Gus, say hi to a couple people, and then move on to the next place. But then, I ended up dragged into an interrogation room. And that's where I saw you."
Carlton twitched when he felt a warm hand on his cheek, and he opened his eyes to see Shawn watching him with a concentrated frown.
"I knew who you were right away. And the second I saw you… I felt happy. I felt content. And every day that I've been around you since, I've just felt happier and happier."
Carlton swallowed hard. "Really?"
"Yeah." Shawn looked down at the box. "I realized that none of these places really matter, because I finally found the place where I would always be happy." He looked up and, if Lassiter hadn't know better, he would say the psychic looked shy. "I realized that I'll always be happy wherever I am, just as long as you're there."
Carlton took a shaking breath, and he had to look down at the box. A tear fell and broke apart across the dimly shining red. His chest ached, and his lungs burned from trying to hold back tears. "Spencer." His voice was steadier than he thought it would be. "You had better not be messing with me right now."
The box disappeared from his view, and Shawn wrapped his arms around the detective, pressing their chests together. "Of course not, Lassie."
"So what are you saying?"
Shawn laughed, pulling back to look deeply into Carlton's ice blue eyes. "I'm saying I love you. And I'm saying that, if you give me the chance, I would really like to make you happy."
The ache grew worse, but Carlton couldn't keep from grinning. "You don't have to try, Shawn." He pulled the younger man in for a kiss. "Because you already do."
A/N: And of course, there had to be fluff. XD Please R/R!