CHAPTER SIX

RATING: M

(and here it ends)

. . . .

. . . .

Lassiter stood in his kitchen, waiting for coffee, holding Juliet's note.

He still felt absolutely... what was the word... he smiled as it occurred to him: alive. His arm was aching and he was exhausted, but he didn't care. He could still feel Juliet all around him, and no matter what happened now, even if the coffee maker exploded and killed him before he'd gotten one sip of caffeine, he was okay.

Ah, Juliet. He leaned against the counter, eyes closed, the note crinkling in his hand. When he opened the door to her, he was already hers (just like she said: you are mine). From the first kiss, there was no going back. He had mastered every inch of her warm and wonderful body, losing himself as she mastered his.

He had no idea when she'd left, but she'd done the right thing. There had been too much thinking in the past week and last night was for action, for completion.

Now he just had to decide whether or not to trust what his heart wanted so desperately to be true.

And that might require the entire pot of coffee.

. . . .

. . . .

Juliet wandered her neighborhood, humming. It was a lovely day and she was still some distance from the water but she could almost hear the sea, and without thinking, she pointed herself in that direction. Her phone was in her skirt pocket, her hair was tied back with a ribbon, and even though she really hadn't slept in four months, and certainly not in the last week, she felt nothing but hope.

Some of that hope was about Shawn, an admittedly selfish hope that he would be okay, that he would meet someone new, someone more like him, someone who could match him and challenge him and keep him happy and maybe even let him stay exactly the way he was. He had been good to her. He deserved more than she'd had to give him, and what she'd told him was true—even if Carlton turned her away forever, how could she tie Shawn to a relationship with someone who couldn't love him fully?

But most of her hope was about Carlton.

Most of her hope was that he would let go of his fears and trust her love, because there was nothing more certain in her mind that they should be together.

She smiled. And she hoped.

. . . .

. . . .

Lassiter looked at the phone. It seemed so easy, this first step. All he had to do was press a few buttons.

Come on, man. You've brought down gun-wielding maniacs. You've weathered departmental storms, survived attempts on your life and years of longing for something you never thought would happen. You can handle this one little thing.

He pressed the buttons.

"Lassiter?"

"Gardner," he said, not sounding at all like an idiot. "Who did you say has my car keys?"

She laughed. "I do. But you can't have them. I told you—the chief told you—no chasing after Chandler's accomplice."

For a moment he had no idea what she was talking about. "Oh," he exclaimed, genuinely surprised. "No, it's not about that. I forgot about him."

"Uh-huh. Sure, workaholic."

"Hey, I was shot, remember? I'm not myself. I just need to get to Santa Barbara today."

"Well, how are you going to manage that? I'm pretty sure your doctor doesn't want you driving yet."

"My arm is still attached," he pointed out. "Look, I don't really want to take a taxi all the way over there and I'm nowhere near a bus depot, so the best I can do is ask you to give me a ride to the police station to collect my car. I promise I'm not going after any criminals."

"Then where are you going?"

"I..." Might as well say it. "I need to see O'Hara."

Gardner gave a low whistle. "All right, now we're getting somewhere. You ready? I'll be there in fifteen."

. . . .

. . . .

Juliet stared at the fruit, the kiwi, the grapes, but saw none of it. She hadn't heard from Lassiter yet but it was only mid-morning, and her hope had not faded. She would give him as much time as he needed. Within reason. Then she'd have to go after him, with her gun if necessary.

Turning to the vegetables, she was momentarily distracted by the cucumbers, and turned away with a blush on her face to find Karen Vick standing there with her own grocery cart.

Karen smiled. "Hello, Juliet. You look a lot better than the last time I saw you."

For some reason, that only deepened Juliet's blush. "I feel a lot better, thanks."

"You took advantage of mutual days off and talked, I assume?"

I took advantage of him, some might say. "Yes. Thank you. I mean, I really do thank you for making me take the time off."

"It was to my benefit as well," Karen remarked. "Not to pry, but did you get any answers? Or... closure?"

Juliet hesitated. "I hope it's an opening... a beginning... rather than an ending."

Karen's smile was slow and sincere. "I hope that too, Juliet."

"Carlton says hope is a bastard."

She laughed. "I can imagine he would. It never gives up, does it?"

"Nope." Her happiness was rising again just thinking of possibilities, and she had no idea how much Karen thought she was glowing right then. "Can I ask you a totally 100% hypothetical question?"

"Yes, but you know how hypothetics go," she warned.

"I know. Here it is. If I—hypothetically—were to, um," and she blushed, "get involved with Carlton, and if, hypothetically, he wanted to come back to Santa Barbara—and I have no idea if he does, hypothetically or otherwise—but if he did, and if you—hypothetically—were to give him his old job back, which I know might not even be up to you, but again, this is hypothetical, would..." She stopped. It seemed so naive now.

Karen was smiling. "Go on."

"Would you let us be partners again?" She felt ridiculous. "Hypothetically?"

Laughing, Karen moved her cart out of the way and came to hug Juliet. "Detective O'Hara, I can assure you that in the event of all those hypothetical events coming to pass, and in the further hypothetical event that I could be sure I would never be given a reason to regret the decision, yes. I would. Hypothetically." She smiled at Juliet. "I'm supposed to be detached and professional, but we're off duty and on neutral ground so I'm going to break a rule of my own right now and tell you that I hope everything works out. You and Carlton are an unlikely but somehow... perfect fit. You've been good for each other, and seeing you now, looking the happiest you have in months, makes me hope for you that your beginning is just that, and leads you both to a very good place."

Juliet sniffled as she hugged her back.

. . . .

. . . .

Lassiter slid into Gardner's car almost before she'd come to a stop.

"Hey there," she said, amused. "You're in no hurry, I see."

He gave her a grin. "Nope. Got my keys?"

She held them up, and when he reached for them, snatched them back. "Nice hickey," she said smoothly.

Lassiter immediately tugged at his collar, and she laughed. "Could just be a leftover bruise from smashing the car up."

"Yeahhhh sure it could." She pulled out into traffic, still laughing. "I guess O'Hara forgave you for ditching her. I knew I read that right."

"There was nothing going on," he said emphatically. "I had no idea she... I never dreamed..." he trailed off, not sure how lame he would sound.

"That she'd want to leave love bites all over your body?"

"Gardner, enough," he protested, but he was smiling and she saw it. "Don't get cocky. It could all be nothing."

"Who are you trying to convince, me or you?"

"Honestly? I don't know anymore. I just never thought there was a reason to hope for anything. I'm not exactly the most trusting guy around."

"I noticed that," she said dryly. "So is your plan to throw yourself at her feet?"

He gave her a sharp look.

"Because I'm thinking that'll probably work." When he smiled despite himself, she added, "Remember, I pegged her as goner from the start. What, I can't have a romantic side?"

Lassiter laughed. "You're not helping."

"I don't want to help," she said cheerfully. "Not if you're going to talk yourself out of something really good. I mean, I haven't known you very long and I don't know her at all, but I saw the way she looked at you. And by the way, I saw how you looked at her, too. Didn't tell you that before because I know a man likes his dignity. And his hickey," she threw in, ducking his mock slap. "But I know this," she concluded as she turned into the police station parking lot and cruised over to his car. She faced him, and her smile was genuine. "I'm going to miss you when you go back home. Partner."

Lassiter was stunned. And stunning himself even more, he reached over and pulled her into a hug, which she returned. "Thanks, Gardner. I still don't know whether you'll have to miss me, but thanks for saying it."

"I'm hardly ever wrong," she promised. "Now go get her."

. . . .

. . . .

Gus wasn't late. She'd called him on impulse, asking him to come to the little park near her house. He sat beside her on the bench facing the duck pond.

"I just wanted to say I'm sorry," she said quietly.

"You didn't do anything wrong, Juliet." He was solemn. "You're a nice person. A good person. You wouldn't deliberately hurt anyone. Shawn knows that."

"I hope he does." Time would tell. "The thing is, being a good person who doesn't want to hurt anyone doesn't mean I never get to put my own needs first. Sometimes I get to be selfish." She gave him a small smile. "I'm sorry you're caught up in this. I'm glad he has a friend like you."

"You're my friend, too. Don't forget that." He looked troubled. "Are you sure about this? Not about breaking up with Shawn. I know you wouldn't have done that if it weren't the right thing for you. But are you sure about Lassiter? How he left, that was hard. Maybe—"

"Gus, please don't ask me if I'm confused. I'm not confused. I know not everyone can see what I see in Carlton, just like not everyone could understand what I saw in Shawn. Friends of mine actually pulled me aside last year to ask if I knew what I was doing."

"You know that's right," he muttered. "I kinda wanted to ask you that myself."

She grinned. "Well, I defended him, because I knew he was a really good guy who cared about me. And if necessary, I'll defend Carlton, too."

"Hey, you don't have to tell me Lassie's a good man. I know that. He's rough around the edges and no one's ever gonna mistake him for a teddy bear—unless it's a steel-plated bear filled with nitro or something—but anyone who gets to know him can see what he's made of. If you love him, you love him."

"I do," she agreed, smiling. "I wish I'd given into that a long time ago so I wouldn't have to hurt Shawn now, but you know what they say about hindsight."

"Yeah, it kicks you in the hind end. Is Lassiter coming back to Santa Barbara?"

Juliet shrugged. "I have no idea. At the moment I really don't know what he's going to do about anything. I'm just… hoping."

"Hope's good," he said. "I'll hope for you. You both deserve to be happy."

"Thank you, Gus." She hugged him. "Will Shawn still work with the police now that I've stomped on his heart?"

He smiled. "You didn't stomp, and yeah, I think he will. This is the longest he's stayed with anything. He's good at it and he needs it. Maybe don't call on us for a little bit, though." He raised one eyebrow.

"You know that's right," she agreed.

. . . .

. . . .

Lassiter sat on the wrought-iron bench on Juliet's front porch, as relaxed as he could be given his feeling of terror. He was having trouble with the idea that he'd driven all the way over here to have this conversation with the woman he loved, knowing it could all come crashing down at any moment.

Lost in this haze of doom, he didn't see her coming up the sidewalk, and when he did, he was rooted to the bench.

The sun was in her hair, and her light long dress flowed around her legs. She smiled at him, and he thought her blue eyes were incredible and wonderful and… everything. Just everything.

She slowly came up the steps. "Hey," she said faintly.

"Hey." His voice was faint too.

She came closer slowly, as if fearing he might bolt. "May I?" she whispered, leaning down, all tropical paradise and golden skin… and love in her eyes.

"Yes, please," he whispered back, and kissed her willing mouth, slipping his hand into her hair as it tumbled from the ribbon's grasp. It was a sweet kiss, intimate and perfect. "You are the most beautiful woman who ever walked the earth," he murmured. "No matter what else happens, that will always be true."

She blinked back tears, and stepped back only long enough to invite him inside.

Lassiter started talking as soon as the door was closed, a half-rehearsed, half-unfocused speech about uncertainties and unpredictabilities and the job and the past and the future, and Juliet watched him, possibly listening; he couldn't tell because he himself had no idea what he was saying; most likely she merely thought he'd lost his mind.

He paused to get his bearings, taking a seat on her sofa, and in the middle of a sentence about how he needed her to be completely sure of what she wanted, she simply straddled his lap and kissed him, probably to shut him up. Which worked.

Yeah, she seemed pretty damn sure. And so were his hands, which slid up under her gauzy skirt while she kissed the mark she'd left on his neck last night. Her mouth was lush and sensuous and he could die now, he really could.

"Dammit," he groaned, and then shut up again as she moved in his lap, tormenting him. He couldn't help it; his hands were under her panties now, on her skin, and they kissed as if it had been years instead of hours since they'd last connected.

She breathlessly directed him to the bedroom, and he carried her there, her legs wrapped around his hips, and in short order, with no protests from either side, clothing ceased to be an impediment and they made love with the same relentless passion which had carried them through the night. Grinding together, coming together, being together.

And then silence, except for ragged breathing.

Juliet trailed her fingertips across his collarbone to the soft fur of his chest, and he shivered. "I only heard part of what you were saying earlier," she confessed. "But I got the gist of it."

He rolled onto his side and scooped her closer. "What did I say?"

"You said you're a practical guy who likes things black and white. You like facts and guarantees and sure things."

Lassiter smiled. "I don't think that's what I said. I think I babbled a lot more than that."

"No, really, this'll be good. Stay with me," she urged, and he laughed. "You have an analytical mind and you know how to choose the best options in a crisis. First rule, you figure out which aspects of a situation are beyond your control. Like you're not going to be able to get that plane for the guy who holds hostages, and you can't get through that steel door with a butter knife. You have to come up with plans which encompass the things you can't change."

"With you so far." He moved against her, loving how her silky warm body felt against his.

"You should be. I heard you were once a pretty sharp detective."

"Yeah, yeah, go on," he murmured, grazing her shoulder with his lips, slipping his hand under the sheet to caress her breast.

"To make this decision, you have to..." she paused to shiver, "factor in that I love you."

His hand stopped moving.

Her voice got quieter. "That means you only have two options where I'm concerned, because no matter how much you fight this, you can't change how I feel." She looked at him, half-smiling, and he felt perfectly still. "Would you like to hear the two options?"

"Yes," he breathed, afraid to move at all.

"Well, the first option, which is my preference, is for you to accept that I love you and want you, and then tell me you love me back, and let us get on with our life together."

He felt a smile building.

"The second option is pretty easy too. For that, you only have to wait patiently."

"Wait?" he repeated, puzzled.

"Patiently," she reiterated. "You simply wait to see if I change my mind."

Lassiter frowned. "Come again?"

"And while you're waiting," she went on calmly, "I'll marry you, make a life with you, have your children. We'll work together, or not. We'll squabble, we'll bicker, we'll make love at every opportunity. We'll grow old together while you simply, and patiently, wait to see if I change my mind." She touched his face gently. "And who knows? In sixty, seventy years, I might say, damn, Carly, you were right! Turns out I was only confused all this time. Oops!"

Lassiter laughed, burying his head against her soft shoulder. He felt so free now, like everything was possible.

"Now make your choice, Detective," she said smartly, poking him in the ribs. "I told you already you're mine, and there is no scenario where you don't end up spending your life with me."

He lifted his head and said without reservation, "I choose it all, Juliet. I love you. I've loved you so damned long."

She threw herself against him, kissing him over and over, sighing, and he kissed her back, unable to stop for quite awhile. "You sure?" she managed, breathless. "You're not, I don't know, confused?"

He squeezed her, half-growling. "I'm not confused. And no one who heard all that would think you were confused either."

"Well, I wish I'd said it a few days ago, then. Sheesh." She collapsed into happy laughter when he squeezed her again. "Just one more question."

"Yes, I'll marry you."

"Well, duh," she said exaggeratedly. "That wasn't it. The question is, will you come back home?"

Lassiter smiled. "You think Vick has a job for me?"

"I have it on good hypothetical authority that she does."

"She's not confused either?"

"Nope." She undulated against him, and for a moment he forgot how to talk.

But then he remembered what else had happened this week, and held her still. "You and Spencer… he came to see me yesterday afternoon. He said you broke it off with him."

A shadow crossed her face for a moment. "Yes. I would have had to, even if you hadn't come to your senses. What did he say?"

"He threatened to shoot me. But that was fair. I didn't take any offense; I offered to loan him one of my guns."

"That's not funny," she admonished.

"I wasn't laughing." He folded her more tightly into his arms. "I'm sorry. I know the last thing you would ever have wanted was to hurt him."

"Or you," she whispered. "I'm so sorry about the wasted time."

"We'll make it up." He kissed her. "We'll make it up."

. . . .

. . . .

In the end, Lassiter chose option one, with all the benefits of option two.

With Karen Vick's blessing, he transferred back to the SBPD and resumed his duties as head detective. In that capacity, he saw to it that Psych was hired as needed, assigned other detectives to work with them more often, and in time was content to have Juliet get back some of her original friendship with Shawn, who in his own way remained irrepressible, and certainly inimitable.

Lassiter and Juliet made a life together, quiet and rich with love, where no one was confused, and hope thrived.

Hope, incidentally, would have made a lovely name for their first child, except that Juliet always dissolved into giggles thinking about Lassiter's terse "Hope's a bastard," from that long-ago conversation. So they made it her middle name, and pledged never to reveal to anyone why they'd chosen it.

And thus they all thrived… and you know what? They even went so far as to live happily ever after.

. . . . T H E . . . .

. . . . E N D . . . .