Disclaimer: psych not mine, no ownership claimed. You know. All that.
Summary: Valentine's Day is still a ways off but this story about Carlton & Juliet's friendship popped into my head and demanded to be written down. Don't worry, Shules-ians, she's still with Shawn. (Update: for now!)
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"What do you want for Valentine's Day, O'Hara?"
They were driving across town to talk to a man about a mongoose theft (but only because the mongoose turned up at the scene of a murder) (the mongoose was not a suspect), and Lassiter was trying to distract himself from being annoyed by traffic. It made Juliet nervous when he reached for his weapon while approaching stoplights.
Juliet turned, smiling. "Are you going to be my Valentine?"
He was embarrassed, and looked out the window with ruthless determination to appear completely impervious to her in every possible way. "You already have one. I was just interested in what women want these days."
She hesitated. "Oh, because of Marlowe?"
Lassiter, eyes still straight ahead, said stiffly, "No."
"No? But… oh, you're worried about what she can have in prison."
"No," he said again. Might as well say the rest; she'll figure it out eventually anyway. "She asked me to stop coming to see her."
"Carlton, what?" She was all concern. "What happened?"
He shrugged. "She... she said it wasn't fair for me to wait since she didn't know what was going to happen when she got out." It hurt a little to say it out loud, but not as much as he'd expected.
"I thought things were going well. I thought she—"
"So did I." He slowed to make a turn, saying more casually (there was at least a slim chance she'd believe he could be casual), "It was stupid to think we could form a real relationship based on hour-long visits once a week."
"It wasn't stupid." Her tone was insistent, and he couldn't look at her now because she cared about him and seeing it in her eyes would make his heart twist. "And you seemed to have really connected before she... went in."
Yeah right, he thought, impatient with himself. "Based on a three-minute conversation in a bar where her goal was to help her brother drain my blood, and then a five minute conversation in her house before you showed up, and then one rather magnificent make-out session before you and half the SBPD threatened to break the door down. It was stupid, O'Hara. Certainly naive." After all these years it still surprised him that he could tell her things he wouldn't tell anyone else. Why? When would he learn?
"The heart wants what it wants," Juliet said gently, "and there's nothing wrong with being a little naive when really it's just hope. What's her release date? Is she going to get in touch?"
"The way she keeps getting thrown in solitary, it's hard to say. But she'll have a lot to work through, putting her life back together." He was sorry he'd brought it up. He felt ridiculous, having expected anything at all to go right where his heart was concerned.
"I'm sorry, Carlton," Juliet said very softly.
"It's okay." He knew he sounded gruff. "Thanks." Dammit. Subject change. "So what's on your wish list for Valentine's? Do women still want flowers and candy and expensive jewelry?"
After a pause (during which he could feel her studying him), she allowed the change, laughing a little. "Oh, you know, what women really want is just to know their men care."
"By way of flowers and candy and jewelry," he said dryly. He hadn't forgotten Victoria's very specific demands.
"No," she protested. "For some women, yes, of course, that's how they know how much value a guy places on her. But I… I'd rather have something to show me he thought about it. Like, I'd be more impressed with fresh flowers, hand-picked—and not stolen out of someone's yard, either," she clarified, and he knew she was thinking of Spencer. "Or if it's candy, something really whimsical or homemade. And for jewelry, I'd rather have something pretty instead of expensive. Something I can wear to work without worrying it'll be ripped off my neck or spattered with blood." She sighed. "I know not all women are the same, but for me it's about being made to feel special because he cares about me. Not just that he's working from a standard checklist."
Lassiter pulled into the parking lot of the condo building which was their destination and parked, but neither made a move to get out. He felt a little sorry for her, having Spencer to deal with, but she was still with the doof, so she must be happy enough. "This is your first Valentine's together."
She looked up, sighing a little, her expression hard to read, but was that... wistfulness? "Yes. I... I'm sure it will be... colorful."
"What do you want?" he asked, not sure why, except that he suspected Spencer's first instinct would be to give her what he wanted, not what she did. "I mean, what do you really want?" He realized, as soon as he asked, that she might say something horrific like 'a proposal,' and honestly there was no way he could respond well to that, so please, God, don't let her say anything to make me hurl.
She studied her hands for a moment. "Well, like I said, I… I want to know I matter." Looking up at him, smiling a little, she added, "That I matter enough to warrant the time it would take to make it personal."
He rejected a large number of snarky comments about Spencer in favor of a simple question. "Do you think he understands that?"
Juliet sighed quite deeply, and turned her gaze out the window. "His heart's usually in the right place. I think he'll do or say something that he's sure will matter to me but which happens to actually matter more to him."
Yeah. "Like a bounce house on your birthday," he muttered.
Fortunately, she seemed amused. "Yes, like a bounce house on my birthday. I'm sorry, I shouldn't be saying any of this. I know you have a low tolerance for Shawn and it can't be easy to try to be supportive of me when he's…" Another sigh. "Anyway, thanks."
He was silent at first, because again, he couldn't decide which potentially disastrous thing to say. Leave the idiot; shoot the idiot; you deserve better; hell, I'm better, and I'm not better at all.
"O'Hara," he finally said, "I have a high tolerance for you. And you're welcome."
"Thank you, Carlton." She managed a smile. "Let's go see about a mongoose, shall we?"
Heading up the sidewalk, and he wasn't sure why he was so curious, he asked her again, "But what would you consider a good gift from Spencer? I mean if he got it right?"
"Oh…" She paused and looked up at him. "I… nothing I can really explain, I don't think. Really, it's not important." Touching his arm lightly, she went on ahead to talk to the mongoose man, and Lassiter followed slowly, thinking about all of this.
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"Lassie, you are just the man I need to see. Not that I often need to see a man, but today, I need to see a man, and you are that man."
Lassiter looked up at Spencer, flanked by the ubiquitous Guster. "What?"
Spencer looked around in an exaggerated fashion. "Jules isn't here, right?"
"She's in court. I'm sure you can find your way over there." He resumed entering data, but this did not have the desired effect of banishing Spencer.
"Lassie, I need you."
"That's creepy, Shawn."
"Yes it is, Guster, so why don't you encourage your friend to leave?"
"Because he's got my car keys."
Lassiter glanced at Guster and knew it had to be true by his slightly cramped expression. "Would you like to file a complaint? I can access the forms right here and we'll have him in a cell in no time."
"It's tempting, I admit—"
"Guys!" Spencer interrupted. "Let's focus. Lassiefrass, as much as I hate to say this, you spend more time with Jules than I do."
"Brilliant observation, Spencer, since she and I have worked together for six years."
"Right. That means you know the day-to-day Jules better than I do."
"Damn straight," Lassiter agreed, sitting back in his chair.
Spencer looked pained. "Help me out, man; it's our first Valentine's Day together and I want it to be right."
Crap. His chest tightened and all he could think was what in the hell did I do to deserve this moment? "You're supposed to be psychic. Use your awesome powers," he said acidly.
Guster, unexpectedly, rose to Spencer's defense. "Lassiter, if he screws this up you'll have to deal with the aftermath. Do you really want Juliet to be unhappy?"
Unhappy enough to dump Spencer? Well… He stood up, knowing he had to do the right thing for his partner, even if it killed him. "If you've paid attention to her at all the past few months, Spencer, you already know. She wants to feel special. Get her something to make her see how special she is."
"Special," Spencer muttered. "But how do I top the bounce house? How can anyone top that?"
Good Lord. "Try." He started to move around them but Spencer got into his path.
"I'm serious. Help me out. Does she like parade floats? I still have a few days; I could probably rent a Winnie The Pooh. She likes Winnie, right? Or maybe I could sign her up for the Donut of The Month Club over at Bobo's. Something to last all year. What's better than that, right? Let me see your credit card, Gus."
Lassiter snapped, "First of all, no. Not just no, but hell no. To both ideas. For damn sure, use your own money to pay for whatever crack-headed scheme you come up with. This is supposed to be your gift to your girlfriend, not Guster's."
Guster muttered, "You know that's right."
Lassiter ignored him. "Most importantly, you nimrod, whatever you do needs to be about her. What she likes. What she wants. What makes her happy. Not you. And if you don't know enough about O'Hara by now to get that right, then nobody can help you." He stared down at him, wishing he had the legal authority to box him up and send him to the site of an active volcano, or a nuclear meltdown, or maybe just into a room full of rampaging rabid raccoons—whatever it would take to stop Spencer from screwing this up.
Spencer was staring at him, gears obviously whirring in his head. "Yeah. Yeah, I get it. Yeah!" He clapped Lassiter on the shoulder and turned to Guster. "Okay, we have to get down to Party City. I need three hundred balloons and enough candy sprinkles to fill a bathtub. Then we need some frosting and a fire truck. Do you think we—what?"
Guster was exasperated. "Didn't you listen to one thing he said? You have to think smaller, Shawn. It doesn't have to be big to get her attention. It just needs to be special."
"But it will be! Don't you see? I'll use the confetti to—where are you going?" He seemed genuinely puzzled that Guster was striding away.
Lassiter said, with more feeling than usual, "You're an idiot."
Spencer grinned. "Maybe, but I'm an idiot with a plan, Lassie-face. An awesome-tastic plan, and I owe it all to you. Thanks!" He took off after Guster.
Crap. Now he'd get blamed for the inevitable disaster.
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Lassiter watched, privately morose, as Spencer fluttered around Juliet for the next few days. He knew, he just knew, that one of two things was going to happen.
Either Spencer was going to screw it up and end up making Juliet miserable, or he'd somehow stumble onto the perfect gift and make her deliriously happy.
In Scenario 1, Lassiter would be left with a dejected Juliet who would try to be brave and not discuss it. In Scenario 2, he would have to pretend to be happy Spencer got it right, and deal with Juliet's certain-to-be-poorly-disguised elation.
He supposed, in all honesty, that he'd rather have a happy Juliet around. Since she and Spencer seemed inexplicably headed into some kind of future together—entirely because she was too good for the moron and would always forgive him—he'd rather have her be sure than have doubts. And despite his inclinations, he knew he couldn't feed the doubts she clearly already had. It was her heart at stake, after all, not his.
Finally it came down to something truly basic: Juliet was his friend and partner and there was a place in her life for him (not that he understood that whatsoever).
And there was something he could do for his friend.
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. . .
It was here. Valentine's Day.
When Juliet came into work, Lassiter stood in the corner by the filing cabinet ostensibly looking for something. He could look busy. Usually he was busy, but at the moment he knew there was no chance of concentrating on anything, and anyway, he wanted to watch her when she got to her desk, and from here he had a clear shot.
First, the steaming mug of coffee, placed thirty seconds after he saw her parking her car.
He could see the side of her face, and the curve of her smile, and she picked up the mug for a slow, careful sip while looking down at the other objects on her desk.
Second, the bunch of wildflowers, tied with a violet ribbon. Last week they'd gone to a floral shop to follow up with a witness, and he'd noticed how her gaze kept drifting to the pretty little bundles of flowers in the window, more so than to the flashier arrangements of roses and orchids.
She lifted the little bouquet to her face and breathed deeply; the smile was still there.
Third, cupcakes. He'd baked a full dozen last night—red velvet, one of her favorites—but had placed just three, swirled in cream cheese frosting, on a small dish next to the flowers. He figured she'd share with Spencer and Guster, and if he'd given her all twelve, she'd have been lucky to get one for herself.
Her smile was broader now—he wished he could see her eyes—as she dipped one fingertip into the frosting for a taste.
Finally, and this was the thing that made him so nervous, and so convinced he was an idiot who would regret this pathetic gesture, the small flat box.
Was her hand trembling as she picked it up? He couldn't quite tell from here.
It contained earrings—delicate silver dolphins. He'd found them at a resale shop she'd once told him was her favorite for odds and ends of jewelry and off-work clothes, and he didn't know why exactly but they seemed right for her. Reminiscent of the sea, of her home back in Miami. Something she could wear to work which wouldn't be likely to be grabbed off her by a perp and would go with most everything she wore.
He wasn't actually worried she'd like them, and God knows she'd say she did even if she didn't.
What he was worried about was the bit of paper inside the box. The one on which he'd written only "You matter to me" and signed with his initial. That's what he was worried about.
She opened the box, lifted the earrings out and held them carefully while she read the note.
For a second she didn't do anything, but then, to his shock, she put her hand up to her face and wiped a tear off her cheek.
Oh God, I made her cry. Oh hell, oh damn, oh God no, you moron, no.
But… but… but the smile was still there.
For a minute, she was motionless, staring at her desk. Then she took a deep breath—he saw the rise of her shoulders—and turned straight for him. He was trapped in that corner—so much for your tactical skills, Detective—and felt more than a bit helpless as she approached.
"Thank you so much, Carlton," she whispered, still unmistakably misty-eyed, and stood on tiptoes to kiss his cheek.
He felt his face warming but couldn't take his eyes off her; she was glowing. "You're welcome. Happy Valentine's Day. I know I'm not the one who's supposed—I mean, I'm not your—but anyway, yeah."
There was a touch of laughter in her eyes, and she put her hand on his arm. "Last week when you asked me what I really wanted, I was… I didn't tell you, but I will now." She stepped back the slightest bit, and took a breath. "I… I wanted the most important man in my life to do something… or say something… or give me something or make me something, it didn't matter what, which would be so special and sweet—and just for me—that it would… well, that it would make me cry. That the joy of what he did for me would make me cry."
As he was forming the thought that she looked to be full of joy right now, she put her cool hand up to wipe a smudge of lipstick from his cheek.
"And look," she went on softly, blue-gray eyes brimming.
"What is it?" His voice was almost a whisper too; she was mesmerizing him.
"You did." She leaned up and kissed his face again. "You did, Carlton."
While he was absorbing the utter magical sweetness of her words, she added, breath warm against his ear, "No matter what else happens the rest of the day, nothing will mean more than what you did for me just now."
His heart was pounding and he really had no coherent words at all. He could only stare at her, and nod, and know—because he did know—that she understood.
"And check your top drawer," she added with a smile, "while I go drink a magnificent cup of coffee."
Dammit, now it was his hand trembling, but fortunately there were no witnesses. He managed to wrest the drawer open to find a similar small flat box. There was a card with it, a simple seascape with her signature and the words, "Thank you for asking what was important to me."
The box contained a tie clip, and he could tell it was a Glock before he looked at the attached tag. He couldn't stop the grin, and affixed the clip to his tie immediately, glancing up to see her watching—and smiling—from her desk. She tapped her ears to show she was wearing the dolphins, and if his face were any more flushed he'd need to be hosed down.
In a little while, as he pretended to work, he heard the message beep on his phone.
The text was short.
Thank you, Carlton.
His answer was short as well.
Happy Valentine's Day, Juliet.
Because however it turned out for her, it was the best one he could ever remember having.
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[Author's note: Lawson227, I borrowed (okay, flat-out stole) the baking habit characteristic from your version of Carlton. Hope you don't mind.]
[P.S. Yeah... apparently I'm weak, and went on to write more of this thing.]