Disclaimer: psych not mine, Lassiter not mine, time not mine, youth not mine, keen eyesight not mine, and by the way, Roll Tide.

Rating: T

Summary: Well, yeah, it's another Lassiet. Variation on a theme, you know: how the unlikely but perfect pair work their way to a closer relationship. Set S6 but there is no Marlowe.


. . . .

. . .

Juliet ended her relationship with Shawn Spencer on a Thursday evening just before eight. She didn't have much to say to him, really, as it turned out. She couldn't handle the narcissism, the way he disregarded her wishes, the way he treated Carlton, and even the way nothing, ever, didn't involve food or in some way trampling on someone's privacy. She told him she cared about him and she didn't regret their time together, and when he reminded her she'd once explained that the best things in life weren't meant to come easily, she only said sadly that sometimes, having to fight that hard for them probably meant they weren't really the best things after all.

It was a short and miserable conversation and it hurt her that she was hurting him, but when she got home she knew she'd done the right thing.

She didn't tell Carlton for a week; she needed to absorb it herself. Shawn stayed away from the police station and fortunately Psych wasn't needed on any cases, and on Friday morning, she took a cup of coffee over to Carlton's desk and sat down in the chair next to it.

"Yes?" he inquired briskly, glancing up from the folders in front of him.

"I don't want to talk about this very much," she said quietly, "but I wanted you to be the first person I told. Shawn and I broke up." She waited for some gleam of satisfaction—some sign he was crowing internally.

But Carlton leaned back in his chair, his blue eyes showing only concern, and asked, "Are you all right?"

"Yes." She let out a breath. "Yes, actually."

"It was your decision?" His tone was neutral. Possibly.

Juliet gave him a look. "Yes. I returned to sanity."

A very slight smile curved his mouth. "Seriously. Are you okay? I know you… I know this was a…"

She knew he was trying to express that he supported her even though he hadn't understood (or liked) the relationship, and that was both honest and kind of him, and she also knew he dreaded awkwardness, and this meant he most likely wouldn't press for details. "I'm okay. I actually ended it last week but I had to settle things in my mind."

"Ah, that explains why he hasn't been around," he said, more to himself. Another curious glance. "Is he… I guess you can't really predict this, with Spencer, but is he going to be… hell, O'Hara," he said, throwing his pen down impatiently. "Is he going to take it like a man or is he going to be a pain in the whiny ass about it?" As soon as the question was out of his mouth he seemed to regret it.

But Juliet took no offense, because she knew with Carlton Lassiter, she could always count on a straight—if unfortunately phrased—question, to get to the point, to not waste time. She also appreciated that he was capable of regretting how he asked, or even how he answered; Shawn seemed to have no filters at all nor any awareness of crossing lines. She smiled at her partner, appreciating him anew. "We'll find out together, I guess. I'm going to tell Chief Vick. I'm sure Henry knows already."

Carlton glanced over at Henry's empty desk. "He's kept quiet?"

"So far, but if he's got something to say, he'll say it."

"Like father, like son," he commented. "Thanks for telling me, O'Hara. And let me know if I need to run interference. On either of the Spencers. Or Guster. Or anyone, really, for that matter." He gave her a crooked smile, and Juliet felt unexpectedly warm and hopeful.

She thanked him, took her coffee to her desk, and found a sudden need to blink away tears.

. . . .

. . .

Lassiter kept an eye on Juliet for the next few weeks. She seemed all right to him, and one of the things he was confident about in life was that he knew his partner. Not that she couldn't keep secrets—he knew this very well—but he could always tell when her mood was off, her temper short. Long hours spent together over six years makes for good partners. Friends.

He savored that word in his mind for a moment. Friends.

Well, yes. She knew him as well as he knew her. She knew when to silently hand him Excedrin with his coffee, when to give him a look or a word to get him back on track instead of succumbing to his irritation, when to leave him alone and when to suggest lunch someplace quieter than usual, where he could decompress.

Of course he loved her, he explained to his curious mind; who wouldn't love her? She was lovely and kind and the best partner he'd ever had, and she'd put up with him longer than any other woman including his ex-wife. She was also beautiful and gentle and good with her gun and she had the prettiest eyes and smelled wonderful and… he stopped the litany, shaking his head.

The main thing was that she was off-limits, no less so sans Spencer than with him. She would always be off-limits, and he was quite sure that even with her generous spirit it had never crossed her mind to look at Carlton Lassiter as anything other than her partner. Which meant she was better off, he concluded; certainly she could do better, and had before.

Still, he watched her as the weeks unfolded, trying to see how the breakup with Spencer had really affected her, and she seemed to be all right. A little touch of regret, now and then, as Spencer and Guster started coming around again to work on cases for the SBPD, but just as much annoyance as regret, because Spencer seemed to be determined to take the 'business as usual' route, and never once reduced his flailings and rapid-fire stream-of-consciousness commentary while working a case.

One day while Spencer was trying to sweet-talk McNab into giving up his lunch, Lassiter drew Guster aside and asked bluntly, "How is he?"

Guster was surprised. "You're interested in Shawn's well-being?"

Lassiter scowled. "I'm interested in O'Hara's well-being, and if that means finding out how Spencer's doing, so be it." Reading Gus' suspicious look, he tried again. "We both want the best for our partners, Guster."

Gus relented. "Yeah. I think he's okay. He gets what he did and he gets that it's too soon to try to win her back."

Lassiter's gut tightened. Win her back? God forbid.

"He's been out on a date, so that's good, right?" Guster continued.

"It's great. Wait. Will there be a second date?"

Shrugging, Gus said, "Eh. He's thinking about it."

Most likely the girl was thinking about it too, Lassiter snarked to himself. But then again, Spencer had won Juliet and before her Abigail, so obviously he had some skill. He went back to his desk feeling suddenly ridiculous: Spencer, with his lousy track record of keeping relationships alive, at least had more options than Lassiter did. And Juliet had seen something in him. Who had seen anything in Lassiter?

. . . .

. . .

Juliet sat in a booth at a bar she didn't want to be in. Her friend Nadia—more of an acquaintance, really—had talked her into coming out with her on this rainy Friday night. They were neighbors who met up on the sidewalk sometimes; Nadia was about her age and newly divorced and friendly enough, and after one lengthy sidewalk chat, Nadia had suggested an evening out. Just the girls. Etcetera.

With laundry and household chores done and no particular interest in watching TV or reading, Juliet had agreed, and now here she sat alone while Nadia was at the bar chatting up a redheaded stockbroker.

It had been an hour, and the music was too loud and Juliet really wasn't in the mood. You're thirty, and already feeling too old for the bar scene? It wasn't that. But everyone here had one of three primary motives: get drunk, get laid, or both; and having drunken sex with strangers had never been Juliet's thing.

A waiter stopped at the booth behind hers and said, "Well there ye are! Thought you weren't comin' in again after the last time."

"Takes more than multiple arrests in a bar brawl to keep me away, Mac. You fixed up the place, I see."

The voice sounded familiar. Familiar, hell; she'd know Carlton's voice anywhere. Juliet smiled. She'd rather be here with him than with Nadia.

"Oh, aye, the insurance came through right off. We weren't closed more than three, four nights. Are ye drinkin' the usual?"

"Of course."

The waiter seemed to pause. "Far be it from me to ask such a forward question, laddie, but are ye all right?"

"No worse than usual. Actually, I should be happy."

Juliet pondered that for a second: she hadn't noticed anything unusual in his behavior or demeanor lately.

"And why's that? That ye should be but aren't?"

"For one thing, my fine Irish barkeep, I am a product of my upbringing. There's really never a time when I'm allowed to be happy. In fact, I don't even trust happy. Happy is for other people."

Juliet smiled again. She wished she could find a way somehow to make Carlton see the good things in life. She wished that as much as he trusted her already, he'd trust her more and let her in past his considerable defenses.

Mac laughed and obviously settled into the seat across from Carlton. "But if ye were allowed to be happy, what would ye be happy about tonight?"

Carlton didn't answer at first; she heard the ice clinking in his glass. "It's nothing new, Mac. Nothing you haven't heard a variation on a thousand times before."

"Try me, laddie. Put a spin on it to make it fresh if ye want."

Her partner sighed—a sound which traveled clearly. "Okay. The woman I love recently broke up with her boyfriend."

Juliet froze. Absolute total stillness. Every other noise in the bar faded away; her ears were completely attuned to the conversation in the next booth.

"Ahhhhh, and you should be happy because she's free now, is that it?"

No answer.

"But you're not happy because… you think you still can't have her?"

"I could never have her," Carlton said flatly. Another sound of ice; he must have downed his drink.

"And why's that? Ye're a fine-looking Irishman and you always pay your bar tab."

"When a woman's not interested, she's not interested, Mac. This one's never been interested in me and never will be. Never could be." He set the glass down hard on the table. "Ironically, if any woman were ever going to give me a chance, it'd be her. Biggest heart west of the Mississippi. Best heart," he said more softly.

Juliet's eyes were burning, and her heart was pounding, and absolutely everything in her world had just flipped onto its side in shock.

"Then don't give up hope, boy-o. A big heart can always find room for a needy one. Hang on there, I'll get you a refill." Mac climbed out of the booth and went to the bar, and Juliet sank into her seat.

Oh my God.

Carlton loves me.

He loves me.

And I …

I don't…

I don't mind.

Nadia came bounding back to the booth with fresh drinks and started waxing rhapsodic about the stockbroker, and Juliet pretended to listen to her, but all she could think of was her partner sitting in the next booth and what he had said.

She didn't know when he left. She only knew that suddenly multiple voices were coming from that booth, so he must have gone out quietly before Mac returned. She knew he hadn't seen her, and Nadia never said her name. It was a relief that he wouldn't have to be embarrassed.

The stockbroker sauntered over and Juliet said her goodbyes, telling Nadia she was done for the night. Nadia didn't mind. Neither did the stockbroker.

It took a long time to convince herself not to drive straight to Carlton's place.

. . . .

. . .

Lassiter got into work Monday morning in a reasonably un-foul mood. The neighbors had been quiet, he'd bested his record at the shooting range on Saturday, and on Sunday when he stopped after his morning run to pick up coffee, the barista had smiled and told him he had pretty eyes. Not that 'pretty' was a word he wanted to hear, but he chose to accept the compliment in the completely insincere spirit of commerce in which it was given.

But as the day wore on, he began to realize something was amiss, and after quietly contemplating everything he'd seen and heard for the day, the 'amiss' turned out to be a miss – Miss O'Hara.

She was behaving oddly toward him.

Oddly… Lassiter strove to define 'oddly' in this setting. She was pleasant, but not too perky. She was business-like, but not aloof. She was… dammit, what was she?

At the point he understood that he had no idea what was different (not her hair, still golden and upswept; not her makeup; she glowed as usual; not her clothes), they were on their way to talk to a prominent citizen about his claim that aliens had broken into his attic ("so for a change it's not bats in the belfry," Lassiter had groused, and Juliet laughed, and he always liked making her laugh because it made him feel there was hope for him, if not with her, than with some other woman, some day… not that he would ever want anyone else).

"What's wrong, O'Hara?" he asked brusquely.

She turned and gave him a wide-eyed look, and her eyes were such a beautiful dark blue, almost gray-blue; he didn't know what they were but he loved them. "What do you mean?"

He stopped for a red light and turned to face her. "I mean, what's wrong? You're in a funny mood. I don't know what it is, but I know it's not normal."

"I'm abnormal?" Faint smile.

"Don't deflect," he warned her.

"Carlton, you know you don't like to talk about personal problems."

"Of course I don't. No one does. But you're my partner and I…" He stopped himself before saying the word 'care.' "I'm concerned."

"Everything's fine," she assured him, her smile gentle. "In fact, everything's really good."

He eyed her suspiciously for a moment.

Then it hit him.

She had met someone.

Instantly partly sick and partly stone, he faced forward again, feeling himself ice over.

"Carlton," she said, "I mean it. I'm not stonewalling you. I just… I just feel good about some things I didn't know I could feel good about, and—what's wrong?"

She was peering at him, reaching out to touch his arm, and he collected himself. "I'm glad to hear it. About time you picked up your social life."

Juliet laughed. "What? I don't have a social life. What are you talking about?"

The light changed and he hit the gas a little too hard, jerking the car forward. "Nothing. I thought maybe you were dating again. That would explain the good mood."

She was silent for a moment, and his heart sank.

But then she said quietly, "You're the only man in my life, Carlton."

His hands clenched on the wheel. Why the hell had he started this conversation in a moving vehicle? No place to run. "That must be depressing," he finally said, sensing her stare but not having the nerve to meet it.

"Actually," and her voice was mild in the way tungsten steel is sort of sturdy, "I consider it a very good thing."

He whipped his head around and stared back at her.

To his surprise, she laughed. "My God, sometimes those eyes of yours are fierce. Like giant blue spotlights. It's as if you have X-ray vision."

Funny, he might have said the same thing about her. He wrenched his gaze from her face to the road ahead, and thanked God they were just a block from their destination.

But Juliet said, "Carlton?"

He knew he was done for. "O'Hara?"

"You have no other comment about what I said?"

He put the car in park and pocketed the keys. "You think my eyes are freakish. Got it."

"What? No!" She grabbed at his arm before he could get out, and he reluctantly faced her. "You have remarkable, perceptive, and completely gorgeous eyes. That's what I said."

Lassiter swallowed. "Don't say nice things to me."

"Why not?"

Dammit, why was she like this today? "I don't… I can't… you know… just get out of the car, O'Hara. We have a whack job to talk to." He was out on the sidewalk a second later, and glanced over at her uncertainly. She seemed composed enough, and might even be willing to drop the subject. Whatever the hell the subject was.

. . . .

. . .

Juliet took a look around the living room in the two-story home, thinking it was as interesting as the owner, John Galway. He didn't seem much like a 'whack job,' despite Carlton's assumption. He was calm, rather studious but not nervous. He was also a cousin of the mayor's, which is why they had been asked to come talk to him.

The walls were covered with paintings of seascapes. The color scheme was blue and green; the knick-knacks were ocean-oriented, and Mr. Galway himself was wearing a blue sweater over his blue jeans.

Nothing, she thought idly, to compare to the color of Carlton's eyes, and she stole a glance at him. She hadn't meant to agitate him in the car; she'd had in mind to simply let him know he was the key male in her life and in her eagerness she'd forgotten how skittish he could be. Put a camera in his face and he'd puff up, but one-on-one and he was almost… shy. Masked by gruffness, of course.

Carlton was at present eyeing Mr. Galway with outright disbelief, and Juliet knew she had to step in. With a hand to Carlton's arm, she maneuvered between him and the homeowner and asked, "Will you show us the attic?"

He led the way, and she could feel Carlton behind her, radiating this-is-a-waste-of-time-this-is-a-waste-of-time-this-is-a-waste-of-time until she turned on the stairs and hissed, "Stop it," and his expression became one of surprise, because he always forgot she could read his mind.

I wish I could read it. She had spent the weekend deeply embroiled in her thoughts about what she'd overheard and what it meant and what she should do and what she could do and what he would let her do. The latter was the tallest hurdle by far.

She'd always cared for him more than she should. Even before he saved her at the clock tower, in fact, but that morning had been a cornerstone. Still, it was such an old story, falling for the man you spent the most time with, the man you couldn't have because the longevity of your career depended upon staying distant. She'd gotten so used to thinking of him as unavailable—because there was no way he would jeopardize his own career again—that in time she'd learned to think of her attraction to him as something she would one day get past.

Only that day hadn't come, not even while she was with Shawn, and since she'd been in that booth a few days ago, it didn't look like it would be coming any time soon.

Mr. Galway's attic was large and spacious, partly furnished and suitable, she thought idly, for renting out to a student.

It also had a shattered window in the north wall, and what appeared to be dozens and dozens of deck prisms on the floor amid the broken glass. The blue-green of the myriad prisms reflected the light from the blue sky through the window, and it was actually a rather hypnotic and soothing sight.

"Deck prisms," Carlton said, without emphasis. "I used to have one of those."

"These aren't mine," Mr. Galway assured them. "I've only got one, down in my study, and it's still there. These showed up last night."

"I count… forty-two." Carlton stepped closer, avoiding the broken glass. "They're all neatly placed, upright and undamaged. Did you touch anything?"

"Absolutely not. When I saw the lights and heard the crash, I… well, I left the house and didn't come back until this morning."

Juliet frowned. "Lights? A crash? When was this exactly?"

"10:13," he said confidently. "The light came through my kitchen window while I was washing up. It was blue and white and completely blinding. While I was trying not to stare at it, I heard the crash from upstairs, and a few seconds later, the light disappeared and everything was deathly quiet."

"You didn't call the police." Carlton's tone was again skeptical.

"No. I didn't see the point. Besides, I thought it would be better to remove myself until daylight."

Aliens don't like daylight, I guess, Juliet thought. "So you left the house empty until when?"

"Nine a.m. sharp."

Carlton bent down and nudged a prism with his pen. "How do you know these arrived last night and not at some point after you left?" Punks, he was thinking; Juliet could almost feel that conclusion in his head.

Galway blinked. "Well. I set the house alarm, and it wasn't tripped when I got home. If anyone came in after... they… did, it was either through that window or by somehow bypassing the system."

Juliet treaded carefully to the window and peered out. The back yard sloped down and made the window a good thirty feet off the ground, with no ledges, decks or other means for someone to get in without a ladder. She decided to say it before Carlton did. "And you think aliens did this because…?"

"Detective, there are forty-two deck prisms on my attic floor under a window broken at 10:13, and both of those numbers are well-known to be associated with aliens. I've checked the ground at the back of the house and there's no sign a ladder was used."

"We'll check that too," she said mildly, a bit impressed at his authoritative delivery of a completely ridiculous statement.

"However, 10:13 is only associated with the man who created The X-Files," Carlton said with unusual calm. "It's his birthday."

Juliet looked at Carlton with the same surprise as Galway.

Carlton shrugged. "Who didn't watch that show once in a while?" He checked the glass edges of the window and then took a closer look at the prisms. "Also, I think forty-two is the meaning of life, which comes from The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, if I'm not mistaken. At any rate, I don't see anything here which could have broken the window. All the prisms are intact."

"You're saying that one prism broke through and the rest were hurled in after?" Now it was Mr. Galway who was skeptical. "With no marks to the back of the house? Every throw perfect? Every prism landing undamaged in an upright position right in this spot?"

"It's no worse than your theory," Carlton muttered, and Juliet suppressed a smile. "Okay, at the very least it's vandalism. Let's go out back."

In the yard, staring up at the house and the broken window, they concluded Galway was correct: no marks on the siding or shutters, no marks on the ground where a ladder might have been placed, and from down here, no obvious signs that anyone went in from the roof. They'd have to get someone on-site to do a closer inspection and take photos, and this is how they left things with the man.

Juliet called in a request for a team to come out and check the roof, the siding and the prisms themselves, and after they'd checked out the fully-functional house alarm, she and Carlton got back in the Vic and sat for a minute.

"Odd," he said. "Even for creative punks, it's odd."

"He could have done it himself. He could have broken the window any number of ways from outside, planted the prisms, and made up the rest."

Carlton looked at her sharply. "You're turning into me. Aren't you the one who's supposed to be more open-minded about this kind of crap?"

Juliet scoffed. "You taught me to consider the human suspect first. And come on, why would aliens go to this much trouble? To leave deck prisms in the home of a man obsessed with the sea?"

"Why would anyone go to that much trouble? Why would Galway?" he countered.

"Maybe you called it before we got here, partner. Maybe he's a 'whack job.'"

Carlton gave her one of those rare grins which said… which said he liked her. It said he appreciated her knowing him well enough to turn something back on him. It said so much more than he could possibly have imagined, and it brightened his amazing blue eyes even more.

She sighed privately. Somehow she had to figure out how to bridge the gap between them.

. . . .

. . .