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(This final chapter's a little long, but not long enough for two chapters, so I figured you could tough it out.)
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Juliet jumped about a foot when Karen Vick spoke her name. She was at the filing cabinet behind Carlton's desk, and he had only moments ago whispered something suggestive to her when he got up to fetch more coffee.
Karen—who surely, God willing, hadn't heard what Carlton said—seemed to have materialized in his place. "Detective O'Hara. My office, please."
She was already gone before Juliet had the presence of mind to follow—let alone the briefest of moments to glance at Carlton—and was standing in the doorway ready to close it as soon as they were both inside.
"Have a seat." She pointed to the conference table in the corner. She looked tired, but definitely in control of herself. More than half the week was gone, and this was the first time Karen appeared ready to deal with the world.
As if sensing her thoughts, Karen said matter-of-factly, "Last Thursday I had this idea I could make a decision by Monday, but it proved more difficult than I imagined. I'm sure you of all people can understand that."
Juliet nodded. She still wasn't completely settled about everything after five weeks; if Vick only needed one week, good for her.
"In less than an hour, I'll meet with Guster and both Spencers in to give them my… ruling." She seemed to steel herself. "But I wanted to speak to you first because you're closer to the heart of this than anyone else, and because I have a question."
Juliet felt uneasy, but only because of the rather intent look on Karen's face. "Anything, Chief."
"Don't be so sure." She tucked a hair behind her ear. "I've spent these days working out what would be a fitting set of consequences for what I consider a serious breach of trust. I've tried to separate in my mind the facts which relate to police work, the law, and general workplace etiquette from the facts—or feelings, more accurately—which relate to me being personally pissed off in a way that I've never been pissed off before in my life."
"I hear that," Juliet murmured.
"Yes, I'm sure you do. There have to be significant repercussions here, O'Hara. There have to be. But at the same time, I simply can't discount the number of cases Shawn and Gus have solved for us. The public good can't be denied, even though half the time the public ends up complaining about their conduct during investigations."
Restless all over again, Karen got up and paced the room for a few moments.
"It's fraud, or a form of fraud. The point was to solve cases, and they've done that. They didn't make money because he was psychic—they made money because they solved cases. But it's still a lie, because we gave them the benefit of the doubt—and a hell of a lot of leeway—which we might not have done if they hadn't falsely claimed special abilities. I don't even want to imagine what kind of legal wormhole settling that issue might involve."
Plucking at a dead leaf on the plant by the window, she went on evenly, "Nonetheless, it's unacceptable. The lies are unacceptable to me. So I'm putting a moratorium on hiring them for six months. During that time, they must cease and desist advertising their agency or services as being of a psychic nature—possibly including changing the name of the agency. They must also make personal restitution for any outstanding complaints against them—and it'll take awhile to work through those, you know. If at the end of six months I am completely satisfied that in no way is Shawn Spencer at any time representing himself as a psychic, then I will consider retaining their services as consultants again. No guarantees," she added with a touch of anger Juliet knew wasn't directed at her. "And their visitor passes stay revoked for the duration, too."
Juliet dared not say a word.
"If they do not comply, I will proceed with fraud charges and let the lawyers work it out. And I'll wash my hands of them, O'Hara, with a completely clear conscience." Her eyes glittered with anger and resolve.
Juliet knew those feelings, too.
Returning to her chair, Karen composed herself. "As for Henry, he's suspended without pay for three months. If he elects to return as consultant liaison, he will always have to clear the hiring of his son through me, and there'll be no more worming their way into investigations, either. A formal request for their services will have to come from me or Lassiter." The chilliest hint of a smile curved her lips briefly. "So in other words, they'll have to work for it."
"That seems wise," Juliet ventured.
"Honestly, I don't know what I was thinking when I hired Henry to try to manage his own son. I suppose I thought he could do what no one else could do, but that was clearly a dumbass move on my part. If Shawn was unimpressed by the wrath of Lassiter, Henry sure wasn't going to get anywhere."
"It wasn't dumbass, Chief. Shawn even referred to himself as a steamroller the other day."
"He is that," Karen said grimly. "Con artist too… but never mind."
Juliet had no interest in defending Shawn, so she only waited for the rest.
Karen looked at her speculatively. "Now the other reason I called you in."
A faint prickling…
"One of the things which has been stuck in my head is actually something I said last week. It was about Sergei Czarsky and how Shawn's illegal trespassing almost cost us the entire case against that murdering son-of-a-bitch."
She remembered very well—the whole department had come under heavy fire along with Shawn—and she was afraid she knew where Karen was going.
"I reminded you recently that I used to be a pretty good detective, though it seems to me you only have to know Shawn about a day to figure out he likes shortcuts." Karen's voice was quite low now, and her brown gaze was fierce. "I turned a blind eye to my suspicions for a long time because I considered getting the cases solved to be the end game, and what I didn't know, well, I didn't know."
"Now, I do understand the shock of ending a relationship suddenly based on profound loss of trust, but you're no shrinking violet, and while this week has certainly been difficult for me, I can't help but wonder why you needed three weeks. Especially since—no offense—you moved on fairly quickly to Lassiter."
Her cheeks were burning. It did look bad, but how to explain how right it was?
"So what I'm asking you is this, O'Hara, because frankly, the idea of someone like Sergei Czarsky walking free scares the ever-loving crap out of me." She leaned in closer, and Juliet thought dazedly it's not just Carlton who can pin me down with a look. "Did you come into any other information at the time you learned Shawn was a fake which is even remotely on the same plane as the Czarsky disaster?"
She couldn't help but hesitate a moment, but then found her voice. "No."
Karen stared at her, unwavering.
"No, Chief." She was firm, and it was true. She had no idea, honestly, what other illegal activities Shawn had committed in the name of "investigation," but she was absolutely sure that if any of them were like Czarsky, he would have found a way to make it right, just like he did that Christmas.
Desperaux was an art thief, but no killer, and most of his thefts weren't really thefts at all. Juliet would never excuse or condone his actions but he was in no way whatsoever a threat to society the way Czarsky had been.
"No," she said again. "You have my word."
After a very long moment, Karen relaxed slightly and sat back in her chair. "All right." She rubbed her temples, and glanced across to the mug of coffee on her desk. "Good. It goes without saying that even if you repair your relationship with Shawn, you are expressly forbidden from under-the-radar consults with him or Guster."
"I wouldn't do that, and… there's not going to be anything like that kind of repair."
Karen eyed her. "Never say never."
"Never," Juliet said coolly. "And as for Carlton, I don't take offense because I know it seems questionable. That's why we're going to keep it private as long as possible. But for your information as my supervisor, I'm pretty damned sure Carlton's the one I should have been with from the beginning. This is not a rebound fling, and he is not a crutch. He has an incredibly loving heart and I am in all probability the luckiest woman alive." Well crap, now she had tears in her eyes.
Karen smiled. "Down, girl. I get it. As I said last week, I'm not even really surprised. You two have a remarkable connection." She sighed. "Just keep it under wraps as long as you can."
"We will. We don't want any drama either."
"All right, then." Karen stood up and made a beeline for her mug. "You can tell Lassiter any part of this conversation, but otherwise I don't plan to do a lot of explaining to anyone else beyond a strict enforcement of their persona non grata status here. You already understand the need for discretion. Truthfully, I'm hoping this doesn't come to the attention of the mayor's office—let alone the media—until long after Psych has stopped their fraud. The more distance between us and that, the better." She took a deep drink of the no-doubt lukewarm coffee.
Juliet rose, feeling unaccountably shaky for a few seconds. "Thank you, Chief, and I apologize for—" She hesitated.
Karen's eyebrows went up. "For what? Not overhearing them sooner?"
"Maybe. Maybe that's exactly it." Maybe she should have overheard them before she ever started dating Shawn. Half the angst—well, maybe a third—would be gone.
"Wish me luck," the Chief murmured as Juliet left. "Or wish them luck."
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Lassiter watched Juliet as she returned to her desk; she didn't look his way but in a moment she called his desk phone.
"Detective Lassiter," he drawled. He could see the side of her face, and she was smiling.
But the smile faded when she began to talk in a low voice. "I don't want to be so obvious as to sneak off with you to talk right now, but I wanted to let you know what Vick said."
"You have my full attention. Could you turn in your chair just a little so I can see more of you?"
The cheek he could see went pink, but she did turn a bit, shooting him a rather interesting glance as she pretended she was talking to someone else.
He listened without comment as she told him everything Vick had passed on. In his mind, Vick had been far too generous with Spencer—six months? What was that, one month for each year of asshattery?—but he actually did understand her dilemma: the cases they had solved had to be worth something.
"What do you think?"
"It's a start. It's more than he deserves."
She looked directly at him, and he couldn't quite read her expression. She probably thought he was too cold, too hard, and he resigned himself to her disappointment with him.
"I agree," she said quietly, "but it's the Chief's call."
Amazing how the pressure in his chest eased at those words. Still, he hadn't lost all ability to screw things up. "Has he been in touch with you?" he asked abruptly, and her eyes widened, and he felt guilty all over again. "I'm sorry. It's none of my business."
"Carlton, stop." She hung up the phone and approached his desk, and for a breathless moment he thought she was going to kiss him right here in the open—he knew that look well enough lately—but whether she was or not, her path was interrupted by McNab showing photos of the kitten he and Francie were considering adopting.
Foiled again. By the time they were both free of people, however, Spencer, Guster and Henry were making their slow way down the hall toward Vick's office, escorted by a uniform.
He was startled to realize he felt no joy now… in fact he felt a little uneasy on their behalf. Henry was a good cop—a good man—who was paying the price for the son he'd raised; Guster, forever in Shawn's shadow, had counted too long on Shawn being able to get them out of the trouble he got them into, rather than being fully his own man. And Spencer, well…
Carlton sighed. Idiot. Far too intelligent to be such an ass.
Of course, he suspected someone might have said that about him a time or two.
Juliet hurried over. "Can we take an early lunch? I don't really want to be here when they come out."
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They used part of the time to move a couple of boxes from her place to his, and while in his closet hanging up dresses, Juliet called to him, "Am I a coward?"
"If you are, I am," he called back. He'd taken his shoes off and was resting against the headboard.
"You're not," she said decisively, and came out of the closet completely nude.
"Holy crap," he said, laughing and instantly aroused (or more accurately, jumpstarted from his recently perpetual half-arousal to full-out arousal).
Juliet scrambled up onto the bed, undoing his belt while saying calmly, "I mean, running away just now so I wouldn't have to see him. Stealthily moving my stuff over here instead of being above-board."
"O'Hara," he managed, as she went to work on his shirt buttons. "I can't really have a conversation about cowardice while you're ripping my clothes off."
"Try," she said with a grin, and lowered her head to tug at his zipper with her teeth.
"Hell," he groaned. "No. The stealth is about privacy from coworkers as well as respecting Spencer's feelings. The running away… oh, God, honey, yes… is about… oh…sonofa…"
When her wickedly hot and irresistible mouth closed around his flesh, he really had to give up speech, but he was pretty sure she got the idea.
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Late in the afternoon, back at the station like a normal police officer who hadn't spent her lunch hour boinking her partner like a sex-mad bunny, Juliet found herself thinking yet again about Shawn.
Gus and Henry, too, but right now, Shawn. The three of them were long gone when she and Carlton returned from lunch, and Vick had only given her a cursory shrug and a quiet, "It's done," in passing.
She didn't feel free to ask Vick for details, and maybe ignorance was bliss.
Her cell phone rang, and to her surprise, Gus' name was on the screen.
It could be Shawn, she warned herself… but maybe it was time to talk to him again, if he was reaching out today of all days.
Gus, however, was on the other end. "Juliet," he said. "I hope you don't mind me calling."
"Of course not, Gus. What can I do for you?"
"I was wondering if you could come to the park down the road for a few minutes. Maybe get a cup of coffee and watch me eat a churro."
"Is Shawn with you?" she asked bluntly.
To his credit, he didn't hedge. "Yes, but he'll stay in the car. Or near the car, anyway."
"He can talk to me, Gus. I just didn't want to be blindsided. I'll be there in ten."
She searched out Carlton, who was heading down the hall, and caught up with him just as he was about to go down the stairs. "A word?" she asked, tugging on his sleeve.
He took her to Observation A, gazing at her with those sky-blue eyes. "What's up?"
"Gus just called. He wants me to come meet him and Shawn in the park."
He tensed immediately. "For what? Some kind of psychological ambush?"
"I don't think so. That's not really Gus's style, and I don't think he'd let Shawn do it either." She felt… she didn't know how she felt. She studied Carlton, trying to guess at his fears.
Grasping her upper arms lightly, he only said, "I'll go with you, or I'll stay here. Your choice. No questions."
All traces of unease left her at once, and she stood on tiptoes to give him a light, soft kiss, which made him sigh and relax and take her into his arms for a wonderfully warm and loving few seconds.
"I'll call you when it's over," she whispered.
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Juliet saw the Blueberry first, not surprisingly. Shawn was leaning against it, arms folded, sunglasses shielding his face—though he'd never really needed help concealing what he didn't want known.
Gus was at the vendor buying his churro, and he motioned to ask if she wanted one, but she shook her head.
They sat together on a bench near an elm, and he said earnestly, "I really just wanted to tell you I'm sorry, Juliet. I'm sorry for my part in what happened. You're a really good person and we shouldn't have let this go on so long."
She touched his arm lightly. "It's okay now, Gus. It's all out in the open and we can move forward."
"You know what the Chief told us, right?" There was a touch of alarm in his eyes as he remembered.
"Yes." She half-smiled. "If you keep the agency going, you'll have to change the name."
Gus looked skeptical. "Shawn's already pushing for Psych-Like, but I think maybe it should just be Guster & Spencer."
"Not Spencer & Guster?" she teased.
He muttered, "You must be out of your damn mind," but then grinned. "Honestly, I'm just glad he doesn't want to cut and run. I've been halfway expecting it all month."
Juliet had been too; from what she knew of Shawn's life before his return to Santa Barbara, very little of it had involved staying put anywhere.
"Anyway," Gus went on, "we'll be talking. But I think he's going to stick it out and try to… try to be a man. Admit to our mistakes, fix what we can, and move forward." He glanced back at Shawn, who offered a lazy wave. "You know he's a good guy, Juliet. He's just…"
"That's fair." But he was smiling, and she understood exactly how strong their friendship was. "I just wanted to apologize and tell you I think it's going to be okay in the end."
They both stood, and Juliet said quietly, "I do know he's a good guy, Gus. And so are you. You both usually had the right target in mind."
"I'd like to think so. Um… can he talk to you a minute?"
She waited for some internal sense of 'no' to signal her, but it didn't, so she nodded.
"I'll see you in six months," Gus said, and beckoned to Shawn, who approached—hands in pockets, not quite sauntering—as he went back to the Blueberry with his churro.
"Hey, Jules. Crap," he laughed. "I'm sorry. I'm always going to have trouble with that. You know I'm a nickname addict. Juliet."
"It's okay, Shawn. You can call me Jules." It didn't mean anything now, not like it used to. It wasn't special the way it had once been.
"Thank God, because seriously? That was never going to work. You put someone with an attention span as short as mine up against the colossal task of remembering not to call your ex what you called her for six years, and boom, disaster. Whaaaat?"
Ever the rambling jokester. "How did it go with Vick?"
He looked off toward the trees for a moment. "Better than I thought. I was sure she was going to throw my ass in jail and fire my dad outright. If you have anything to do with me walking around free right now—"
"I didn't. She made the decision completely on her own."
Finally he took off the sunglasses and faced her directly. He was tired, unsettled, yet somehow resolute. "I owe you a hell of a lot, don't I? For giving me—us—a chance to begin with, as well as for keeping quiet about… the other thing."
Juliet said levelly, "I have no regrets about the chance, and I'm sure you'll never need anyone to keep quiet about any other things again, right?"
Shawn shook his head. "Never. Well. Not like that, anyway."
Cynically she thought, or maybe you'll just keep your voice down next time. People like Shawn didn't change that much.
He scooped her into his arms for a hug, taking her by surprise, and murmured "I'm sorry" against her hair. "I am so sorry I screwed us up."
She could only return the hug, not the sentiment, and after he let her go she said gently, "Then you've learned how not to screw up the next relationship." She hoped this would answer as kindly as possible any lingering questions he might have about the possibility of a reconciliation. Even without Carlton, she knew she could never get back on the Shawn Spencer Rollercoaster.
"Yeah." He smiled faintly, and she knew he understood.
"Be well, Shawn. Maybe we'll work together again in a few months." She smiled, waited for his quiet goodbye, and turned to head back to her Beetle.
Henry Spencer stepped into her path before she got very far, and she wasn't even surprised.
"Hey, Henry. Is it Gang Up On O'Hara Day?"
"Nah. I just heard they were hoping to talk to you and thought I might get a moment, too." He fell into step beside her, aiming for the car. "It's been a hell of a ride, huh?"
Understatement of the decade. "I'm sorry it all worked out this way, you know. Including your suspension."
"I'm not. Truthfully, I can't really believe it lasted this long in the first place. Shawn's led a charmed life—guess he gets that from his mother." He gave her a wry grin, but she could see in his eyes that he accepted his role in Shawn being exactly the way he was.
"Every choice he made as an adult was his own, Henry. You know that."
"Eh." He shrugged. "Sorry you got caught in the middle."
"Me too, but I wasn't the only one, was I?"
Hands in his pockets—like his son—when they reached her car, he shrugged. "Still seems like you took the brunt of it."
Juliet thought about it. "Maybe in some ways, but I've had a lot of time to think and honestly, you know…"
"It was never going to last." He said it flatly, but without accusation or reproof. "You could have been good for him if he'd let you."
She kept her thoughts to herself on that point. "Will you come back as liaison in three months?"
"I don't know. Depends on whether I decide I like full retirement again." He grinned for a moment. "I kinda think I might want another shot. I don't like black marks on my record, and since this one was of my own doing, I feel a stronger need to clean it up."
"I can understand that." She unlocked the car.
He said, "Maybe by the time I come back, Lassiter will have made his move on you."
Startled, she whirled back to face him. "What?"
Henry chuckled. "Easy, girl. It was just a theory, which you've now confirmed."
"I haven't—I don't—what theory?"
His smile was broad and she was incredibly relieved Shawn and Gus were much too far away to hear any of this. "My theory, formed over several years now, that really the best man for you was the tall cranky one, not my son."
She blushed deeply.
"And as surprised as you are," he went on, still very much amused, "you're not really that surprised at all, are you?"
Deep breath. Willing cheeks to be less hot.
"It's okay, kiddo. It's a private theory, and I'd have to be on sodium pentothal to admit it to Shawn, so don't worry."
Relaxing a bit, Juliet put one hand on the car to steady herself. "Like you said, it's been one hell of a ride."
He held out his hand, but she gave him a hug instead. "See you around, O'Hara. Tell Lassiter not to move my desk."
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Lassiter looked at the clock. Nearly five, and Juliet wasn't back, and though it hadn't even been forty-five minutes yet, he couldn't help but wonder how it was going, and what she would tell him about it.
What she might shield him from.
Her regrets, maybe, or her desire not to hurt him if she still had feelings for Shawn.
Dammit, you idiot, a few hours ago she was writhing under you and moaning out your name while you—just stop it. She loves you. Stop thinking.
Then I wouldn't know myself, he thought wryly, settling down into his chair.
The phone buzzed, and he snatched it up.
I'm on my way back, but I had to stop to text you.
You could call. He ruthlessly squashed the be-miserable voice which muttered that maybe she didn't want to call because something changed for her while she was talking to Spencer.
No, because what we have got jumpstarted by a text, so now that everything's settling back down, only a text will do. Symmetry, you see.
You have my full attention.
Good. :-) I love you, Carlton. I love you so much. You are the One. You were always the One and always will be.
He had to remind himself to breathe. I love you too, Juliet. More than anyone, ever, and FORever.
And this new chapter with you isn't just a chapter… it's really the rest of the book. The book of us.
Seriously, man. Breathe. You're making this hardass SOB feel kind of mushy, O'Hara.
It's good for you. And one more thing. I don't know if I really answered you yesterday so I will now: yes, I will marry you. As soon as possible. With no do-overs.
Lassiter had to turn his chair to face the window; anyone who saw him right now would know he was about to lose it. When in the hell are you going to get here so I can kiss you senseless?
Actually, I think I'm going home early today. Why don't you meet me there?
Before he could type his response, she sent another.
And love me?
He was out of his chair in the next second, pausing only to type one more message: I will be there in ten and I will love you until the day I die.
Okay, one more: Actually, probably longer.
Her response was simple.
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