Disclaimer: Own nothing psych-ish, claim nothing psych-ish, know nothing in general.

Rating: T

Summary: LASSIET. Another Lawson227-suggested topic, because my brain was on hiatus. Car trouble: Lassiter & Juliet get stranded together one night. (This was supposed to be another ONE-shot in my Contrived Cliché series but methinks it's too long and needs to be a two-shot. So consider yourself shot for the first time.)

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CHAPTER ONE

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They were coming out of Starbucks when Juliet asked him, mostly politely, how Marlowe was.

He said gruffly, with a side of "don't ask," that they'd ended their relationship.

Juliet took the "don't ask" seriously, told him she was sorry to hear it, and let it go.

However, instead of sleeping that night, she experienced a series of epiphanies.

Epiphany The First: she had been unduly uneasy about the relationship from its start
Epiphany The Second: she was now unacceptably relieved Marlowe was out of the picture.
Epiphany The Third: so far as she had observed, Marlowe was a perfectly nice (albeit incarcerated) woman who had made Carlton happy and hopeful.
Epiphany The Fourth: the first two, in conjunction with the third, could mean only one thing, one rather significant thing she had been putting off dealing with for months, because… crap.
Epiphany The Fifth: Juliet O'Hara had been jealous of Marlowe, because Marlowe had Carlton.

... and Juliet didn't.

But… Juliet had Shawn.

Juliet was (supposed to be) happy with Shawn.

Alas, Juliet had not been happy with Shawn for quite a while.

He still didn't have a car. And it wasn't that she minded driving her Bug everywhere they went, but rather she minded knowing his heartfelt declaration in Canada had been for nothing. Granted, he'd only said he was thinking about buying a car, but it hurt a little (more than a little) to know this was just one more way he didn't have to compromise for anyone else.

He was an incorrigible liar and evader. He was so determined to undermine Carlton that his antics often threatened the legal closure of cases (legal as in "this'll stand up in court"), never seeming to realize that his games affected her as well, both as a cop and as Carlton's partner.

She could deal with Shawn never being serious at all, about anything, ever, unless someone's life was on the line… but it'd have been nice if he could try. If sometimes he could just answer a simple question in a timely manner.

He had hurt her more than she could express in the process of pushing her father back into her life. The outcome notwithstanding (not that she'd heard even one word from Frank since he left town), Shawn's disregard of her stated wishes had been painful. She knew she hadn't really explained well enough just how hurtful it had been—in the end, she backed off from her expression of anger and woundedness because Shawn had given her the puppy-dog-eyes look, and she'd let it go. She'd let it go, she'd forgiven him, she'd… compromised. That concept so foreign to him.

She had neither Henry's iron will and fortitude—and blood-relation status—nor Gus' co-dependent nature: she didn't know how either one of them lasted so long. Didn't know how she could possibly do it. Didn't know how long she was prepared to wait for her already-thirty-six-year-old boyfriend to become a bonafide adult.

But when Carlton admitted he and Marlowe had broken up, and those epiphanies washed over her late in the night, Juliet knew she'd been clinging to the thinnest of reeds, and something—everything—had to change.

. . . .

. . .

Lassiter eyed Juliet over the shelf of Twinkies. She was perusing the soda selection, and everything about her radiated annoyance.

She had been radiating said annoyance for weeks now, and so far as he could tell, it was directed solely at him. He was glared at, he was interrupted, he was abandoned mid-conversation: Juliet O'Hara was seriously torked at him.

After a few days he started asking what was wrong; after a week he started demanding. After two weeks, he gave up. They worked in testy silence, still able to benefit from the bond of their partnership—after all these years, at least that much was unchanged.

But he missed her. He missed the sunny Juliet, the one who could pull him out of a funk or distract him from homicidal thoughts, who merely had to give him A Look to get his temper under control. They didn't have lunch out anymore. When they had to eat in the car, she stuck her headphones in and refused to talk to him.

It had been seven weeks now of Angry!Juliet, and he was ready for a break in the ice age. It was bad enough that Marlowe gave him the heave-ho, but to not even have the consolation of Juliet's friendship in the aftermath (especially since Juliet was the reason Marlowe dumped him: "I can see you care for her more than you want to admit. I can't compete with that and I won't try") was a bitter wake-up call indeed.

You couldn't have the one, so you went for the other; the other says you want the first one too much, and now the first one seems to want to kill you.

This afternoon they were driving up into the forest to collect a fugitive, one Minto Gilreath, who with his partner Findley Ratcliffe had made off with a bread van full of electronics the previous week. Ratcliffe was captured a few days later with the van, but Gilreath had fled, forgetting that his background as a CPA had not properly prepared him for living on twigs and berries. He'd surrendered himself at the ranger station that morning.

They were two hours into the trip with another hour-plus to go, and so far, Ms. Cold Shoulder had said three words to him: "No," "Whatever," and "Yeah." He didn't even remember the questions. All he knew was that it'd be dark by the time they got there and they'd be coming back with Gilreath in the continuing dark.

And now, watching her have the audacity to smile at the convenience store clerk, Lassiter was starting to get righteously pissed off.

They got back into the Crown Vic and he started onto the ranger's road, driving another half hour in silence, going over again all the things he might have done to invoke her wrath. Every other time she'd been annoyed with him, if it even lasted more than ten minutes, she'd been forthcoming about why. What was different this time?

Is there any way this could be Spencer's fault? Could Spencer have spun some wild lie about him?

Spencer hadn't been around much, come to think of it. Psych had been in on a few cases but they'd been called in, rather than allowed to consult after hanging around nagging for a role to play. Certainly Juliet hadn't mentioned Spencer, but then since she'd been avoiding talking to Lassiter at all, it might not be significant.

If I wanted the silent treatment, I could have stayed married.

"If I wanted the silent treatment, I could have stayed married," he said out loud, loud enough to penetrate her earbuds.

Juliet yanked one out. "What?" Her dark blue gaze was intent and that was something: she was looking at him. Maybe for the first time in weeks.

"You know, not many people like me and for the most part, I really don't care. I never even needed a partner to like me but it sure makes things easier and maybe you spoiled me all these years, I don't know. But since you obviously don't like me anymore, and God knows you've stopped talking to me, I think that when we get back to the station with Gilreath, you ought to speak to Vick about getting a new partner."

"Oh, here we go again with that," she snapped. "You think the answer to every problem is to get a new partner."

"That's crap," he snapped right back. "And you know it, and furthermore, you admitting there's a problem you won't tell me about only proves my point."

"I don't know what your point is, and you probably don't either." She tried to shove the earbud back in but he reached over and tugged it free, out of her grasp completely. "Carlton, knock it off!"

"No, O'Hara. You knock it off. You have an issue with me, tell me what the hell it is. If not, stop acting like I'm public enemy number one." He'd said as much before, but probably not with this much anger.

Juliet glared at him. "I don't have an issue with you." She pulled on the earbud cord.

Lassiter clenched the steering wheel with one hand and forcefully pulled back on the cord, ending up holding the whole thing while Juliet rubbed her right ear and muttered curses at him.

"You don't lie, O'Hara. So don't lie to me anymore."

"Carlton—"

"I mean it. If I'm not worth telling the truth to, then we are past the point of being able to work together anymore." He felt recklessly angry, and at the same time oddly relieved because she was actually talking to him—yelling, even—and to have her acknowledge his existence beyond casework was a novelty.

And then he hit a tree.

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. . .

It wasn't actually a tree, Juliet reflected later, and he didn't actually hit it. It was a large tree limb in the middle of the road, and Carlton swerved at the last second, which put them off the road and nose-first into a watery ditch, with the back end of the Crown Vic suspended well off the ground.

"O'Hara! Are you all right?" He turned to her, despite being locked in place by the seatbelt, and both of them beat back the rapidly deflating airbags.

"Yeah, but I can't… I can't get this seatbelt to release." She struggled with it, trying to brace her feet on the floorboard; the angle of the car was giving gravity more power than she liked right now.

Carlton leaned over to help while she pushed at the door, which wouldn't budge, and then suddenly he stopped and stared at her, much too close, his blue eyes bright and fierce. "Tell me what's wrong."

"What? Carlton, this is not the time! Just help me get out of here before we drown!"

"It's a ditch," he pointed out with irritation, "not the Mariana Trench. You want out, you tell me what the hell I did to piss you off."

Juliet glared at him, torn between smacking him and … and that other thing she'd been resisting for so long. "Carlton. We are not having this conversation now."

He sat back, his frown carving deep lines in his forehead. "Fine." He fished a pocket knife out of his jacket, reached past her to savagely slash at the seatbelt with enough force to slice a path in the door frame padding as well, and then yanked the rest loose with brute strength.

The whole thing took under ten seconds and she was stunned by the ferocity of it.

He scrambled out of the car and his long arm shot out for her to grab his hand, and when she had climbed over the console into his seat, he said coldly, "That's it. When we get back, we're talking to Vick."

One last hard pull and she was out of the car, protesting—not even sure what she was saying—following him up the slippery embankment.

"Carlton! Carlton, stop! I don't want a new partner!"

On the dirt road, he turned to face her, jaw set. "Well, you sure as hell don't seem to want the one you have." He strode away to check out the size of the tree problem, and Juliet stood catching her breath, hands to her hot face, trying to figure out how this had gotten so out of control so fast.

Calm down, she warned herself. Calm down. Focus.

She got out her cell phone—no signal. She knew better than to ask him; even if he hadn't already checked his own phone, they had the same carrier so they were both S.O.L.

The car's back end was off the ground by several feet, and there was no chance they could pull it free even if they had the equipment they needed… like, you know, another vehicle and a strong chain.

The tree limb was more like half a tree. Carlton was across the dirt road looking at the split trunk of its source.

"Lightning?" she called out. There had been bad storms overnight. This was the ranger's road but surely someone would have traveled it before they came through.

"Yeah." He was curt. She couldn't blame him.

It would be full-on dark in another hour, and cold.

Carlton made his way to the other side. She could just see the top of his head, and allowed herself a few moments to try to compose herself further.

Damn him.

She wanted to go around and confront him and tell him how things were, but if she did that, she would probably fling herself into his arms and completely lose her well-stoked fire of aggravation and that wouldn't do.

Finally he came back into view, shoving a hand into his hair, looking irritated and remote.

"Even if we get this moved, we can't get ourselves moved." He glanced at the Vic, and then looked up at the gray sky.

"Someone has to come along, right?"

Carlton shrugged. "Eventually."

Juliet hugged her arms to her chest tightly. She knew there were water and granola bars at the very least in the trunk, along with a blanket or two, so they would neither starve nor die of thirst before someone turned up.

But Carlton might freeze her to death, which admittedly she might deserve.

Suddenly he was heading down the embankment again toward the open driver side door of the car. He was trying hard not to slip in the damp leaves, clutching at the car for support.

"What are you doing?" she called out anxiously.

"Turning on the hazard lights."

To alert any other drivers who might come along. Preferably rangers. With chains. And radios.

The Crown Vic should have had a radio, of course, but when Ackerman in the police garage found out they were only going to spend the day driving up to collect a fugitive, he'd pulled it out for service, swearing it would be ready by the time they returned. And they weren't going to need it, right? Because they had cell phones, right? And the trip was short, right?

Right.

The flashers lit up the gray of the fading day, and Carlton took the time to collect the keys before he slammed the door shut and made his way back up the embankment.

"We're staying put," he said flatly. "If you argue about it for any reason having to do with how much you hate me, I don't want to hear it. We're too far from the ranger station to walk, and we have the supplies we need to make it until morning."

Juliet was stung. "I don't hate you, Carlton. I couldn't. Ever. I'm just… just give me some time to…"

"Take all the time you need," he interrupted brusquely. "You can tell your new partner all about it. Tonight, you can go back to giving me the silent treatment."

"Stop it!" she yelled. "I am not asking for a new partner!"

Carlton turned away, hoisting himself up onto the trunk. The angle of the car turned the trunk and rear window into a lounge chair of sorts, and he crossed his long legs, hands behind his head, as if he were completely relaxed.

She knew better, though. She knew him. She knew him better than anyone else. She knew his moods and his annoyances and every shade of blue of his remarkable eyes. She knew he was hurt and confused and angry by her treatment of him, and she knew he didn't deserve any of it.

Getting her foot up on the bumper, she held out her hand for him to help her—never questioning whether he would—and he reached out immediately to pull her up beside him, even moving over a little to make more room for her.

Juliet shivered, and he eyed her suspiciously. "You need the blanket from the trunk?"

"Not yet."

I could get all the warmth I need from you if only…

"Carlton," she ventured. "I'm sorry."

He said nothing. She stole a glance at his profile, and it was stony.

"I have been… unfriendly lately."

He cleared his throat.

"I've been working through a problem," she continued cautiously.

"With me," he supplied. "Yes, I know that much, O'Hara; I have been paying attention."

"No… not you… it's…" She stopped. She had no idea what to say. Whether to say it.

"Not me?" Carlton repeated in disbelief. "Who else have you been a total bitch to the last two months?"

She deserved that. But… "Carlton—"

"No, really, O'Hara. It's like you repressed bitchiness for seven years and then released it all at once on me, and I'm not saying I didn't do anything to bring it on because I'm a man and that's what we do—piss women off without even trying—but crap on a cracker, I know I deserve an explanation."

She studied him warily. He was angry but the hurt underlay it all and this was all her fault.

"I deserve to know what I did to make you hate me," he said more quietly, not looking at her.

Her heart ached. "I don't hate you. I don't. God, Carlton, I love you."

Oh, crap! DAMN! She'd said it!

But when she looked at him in panic, he was shaking his head. As if he were… annoyed?

This in turn annoyed her. He was never supposed to react that way. "Why the hell are you shaking your head?"

"Sweet Lady Justice," he muttered. "Like I'm one of your brothers—'don't be offended if I slice you to ribbons; I still loooove you, bro!'" he said mockingly, and practically jumped off the trunk again—like he couldn't get far enough away from her.

"What?" she screeched, scrambling again to keep up with him. On her knees at the edge of the trunk, she managed to snag his sleeve and force him back around; gravity on the slanting embankment brought him the rest of the way back to the edge of the car.

Juliet whispered, "Not like that, you idiot," and kissed him. Her hands on his lean face, her mouth on his. She tasted the curve of his lips and the warmth of his mouth and heard his quickening breathing and felt, oh how she felt, the response—and then he jerked back.

His brilliant blue eyes were huge and startled. "What are you doing?"

"Explaining," she said, and pulled him in for another kiss.

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