Disclaimer: la la la I own a stuffed flamingo, a mini lava lamp, and a photo of Nick Mancuso, but nothing whatsoever to do with psych.

Rating: T

Summary: Yet another Lawson227 suggestion. The biennial Tough Enough competition is coming up, and Shawn is determined to beat Lassiter. But it's for the wrong reasons, and tests more than one relationship. Possibly Lassiet by the end, possibly not.

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"Oh, you can SO count me in for that," Shawn declared, puffing up a little.

Juliet followed his gaze to the bulletin board; it was the announcement of the biennial Tough Enough competition for Santa Barbara police, fire and rescue workers. "Are you eligible?"

"According to the fine print I am. Look—'guests may enter the competition if vouched for by city employees,' and you're a city employee." He gave her a funny look. "You are a city employee, aren't you?"

"Shawn. Really?"

"Well, I don't know! They have weird rules about stuff like that. But you'll vouch for me, right?"

She was doubtful. "I will, but are you sure you're up for this? The competition is in two months, and you'd need to start training, like, two months ago."

"What was that emphasis there? I'd need to start training? Jules, I'm good to go right now." He started doing jumping jacks, out of breath three seconds in. "Okay, so maybe I'll need a little practice. But I can do this."

"Why would you want to? Shawn, you're not exactly the most physical-fitness oriented guy around."

"One reason," he said triumphantly. "Just one. And there it is in black and white." He pointed to the section of the flyer which listed the top performers from two years earlier in the five age categories—21-27, 28-35, 36-43, 44-50, 55-62—and one of the names in the middle group was Carlton Lassiter.

That couldn't be good. Juliet frowned. "You weren't interested in this two years ago."

"I didn't know anything about it two years ago."

"It was all anyone talked about for weeks, before and after. What about two years before that?"

"Jules, you know I stay totally focused on casework at all times."

She stared at him. "I have to admit, Shawn, nobody throws out an authoritative flat-out lie like you do."

"Thanks!" He kissed her on the cheek. "Gotta go get some workout supplies. Gus will be so thrilled he gets to train me!"

Somehow she doubted this was true.

. . . .
. . .

Lassiter turned in his Tough Enough entry form and went back to his desk, remembering the last competition. He'd been pleasantly surprised to finish in the top three in his age group. He knew he had the speed for the various runs and dashes, but hadn't been as confident about the bench press and other weight-lifting-oriented activities. Certainly he could sling a suspect around and he was definitely an ace arm-wrestler, and nearly two decades of not enough sleep and way too much coffee had taught him how to maintain stamina, but he didn't have the sheer muscle bulk for some of the other tasks.

Coffee-drinking, he mused; that'd be an interesting competition, particularly on the detectives' squad.

Juliet came to his desk holding her own entry form. "Did you hear Shawn earlier, talking about Tough Enough?"

He gave her A Look. "Let me guess. He was mocking it, especially me, and suggested that a better competition would involve TV marathons and something to do with pineapples."

Juliet blinked. "Actually, not this time. He's planning to enter."

His eyebrows went up. "Why?"

She shrugged, but he detected something evasive in her expression. He'd seen a lot of that evasiveness since she took up with Spencer last year.

I miss my partner… my friend.

He pressed on, because missing her was second-nature now, and too damn bad. "Does he understand it's… what's the word… oh, I know: hard?"

A faint smile—so faint he couldn't swear it was there at all—curved one corner of her mouth. "I tried to tell him. I… I think he has this idea he'll be trying to beat you."

Lassiter laughed. "Right. Seriously, why's he entering?"

"I am serious. He wants to beat you."

Sometimes women said totally inexplicable things, and this was one of those times.

He decided to take the high road. "He'd better get busy, then."

After a pause, she nodded and went away.

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. . .

:: One Month Later ::

Shawn was sprawled on the sofa in the Psych office, and Gus leaned back in his chair.

Juliet, who had just come in with their power drinks, eyed the two of them. "You look rested."

"I am," Shawn agreed. "This is the best nap-taking sofa ever."

"Sofas don't take naps, Shawn," Gus corrected.

"I didn't say they did. What are you talking about?"

"You said 'nap-taking sofa.' 'Nap-taking' is an adjective phrase to describe the noun 'sofa,' but a sofa can't take naps. You meant it was the best sofa to take naps on."

Shawn glared at him. "First of all, how do you know sofas can't take naps? Second, you don't fool me, Mr. Language Person, not as long as you're over there callously ending sentences with prepositions."

Gus looked embarrassed.

Juliet cleared her throat. "For what it's worth, I was being sarcastic. You're supposed to be training for the competition, aren't you?"

"That's what I said, but he refused."

"Saturday is the day of rest, Gus. Everyone knows that."

"Sunday is the day of rest, Shawn. Everyone who's ever opened the Bible knows that."

Shawn yawned. "Saturday, Sunday, it's all the same. Like the calendar hasn't changed since Biblical times. How long ago was that, anyway—two, three hundred years?"

This rendered Gus speechless.

Juliet handed him one of the bottles. "Shawn, the competition is only a month away. You still haven't come anywhere close to meeting the records set by the competitors in your age group from the last time."

Gus scoffed. "He never will, either, unless they offer a Plant Your Ass On The Couch contest."

"Jules, two things. First, I only have to beat one guy, and that is very do-able. Second, and this is the clincher, I am clearly the underdog here, and it is a basic fact of life and nearly every feel-good movie ever made that the underdog always pulls through during a crisis."

Handing Shawn his drink, she said carefully, "I'm not sure voluntarily entering a contest you have no real chance of winning for the sole purpose of trouncing someone else qualifies you as an underdog."

"It qualifies him as an idiot," Gus muttered. "I could do better than he could."

She knew he was right, but elected not to say so.

Shawn was already taking offense. "You've got it wrong. Yes, I am in it to beat Lassie, I admit that. But don't you see? I have to—for me. It's for me. It's to prove I'm man enough to out-physical-ize him as well as out-mental-ize him, which as you know I already do very well." He ignored Juliet's eyeroll, and she was tired of reminding him that Carlton was a pretty damn sharp guy. "Plus, if I'm going to chase after criminals whenever Gus tells me to, I have to get in shape."

"When I tell you to? Hello? I'm pretty sure I'm the one running away from trouble."

"That's fair, but the point is the same." He swung his legs off the sofa and faced Juliet, seemingly quite earnest. "It's important to me for a lot of reasons apart from merely rubbing Lassie's face in the cold smelly dirt of defeat."

"Though that's pretty important to him too," Gus amended.

"And mature as well," Juliet said with a sigh. "The thing is, if you don't train for this, you've got no shot at all. Even an underdog prepares for the battle."

While Gus nodded enthusiastically, Shawn thought it over. "You're right, of course." He sighed. "Okay, Gus. Let's go get sweaty. Jules, you want to watch?"

"Not when you put it like that, no."

He tilted his head and gave her a winsome smile. "But you're my girlfriend. My cheerleader. My Adrian. Yo?"

"No." She grinned back. "I have to go do my own training. I just came to check up on your progress and deliver these drinks."

"What? You're in the competition too?"

"Shawn, honestly. You should take ginkgo biloba or something. Of course I'm in the competition, just like two years ago. I've been training for the last few weeks. Is there anything in your head which isn't…" Stop. Be nice. This is your boyfriend.

"Himself?" Gus supplied, not so strong, and ducked the sofa pillow Shawn threw at him.

"Guess I'll have to train to beat both you and Lassie." He stood up, stretching as if he'd already had a good workout.

"Forget that; we're in different age categories. Plus I'm a woman. And already in shape. Just get to work," she advised, making her way back to the door despite his wounded expression. "Make us all proud of how hard you're trying, okay?"

"I will," he promised. "Scout's honor."

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:: Two Weeks Before Competition ::

They were at a crime scene. Lassiter was studying the array of spent casings in the room—the victim was killed with one shot to the head, but at least twelve shots had been fired—and trying to figure out whether the murder might have been accidental.

Spencer stood at the edge of the room with Guster. They hadn't been asked to come in, but then they seldom waited for an invitation. Since Henry's retirement, they'd been bolder about horning in, and in Lassiter's opinion, Juliet had been far too lenient in allowing their access.

It wasn't that Spencer couldn't crack the cases—he usually could—but unchecked by the dampening force of Henry's will, the sheer number of disruptions and complaints tripled. Vick was trying her best to get the liaison's position filled, but in the meantime, havoc was the norm.

Lassiter—who used to be pretty good at it, if he did say so himself—had just about quit trying to rein them in. He simply stepped away when Spencer got out of hand, and left it to Juliet. The bozo was her personal bozo, so he considered him her responsibility now.

This earned him more than a few glares, but as time passed, he was less sympathetic. Their partnership and friendship was cracking, and he knew it, and he hated it, but somehow there was a certain inevitability about the whole sinking ship: as long as she was blind to how doomed her relationship with Spencer was, there was nothing he could do but watch and be regretful.

Spencer made a few mad proclamations about the victim and unknown shooter, inspected the contents of the refrigerator, argued with Gus about the pronunciation of 'transient' and then got directly in Lassiter's path.

"So," he challenged.

Lassiter raised one eyebrow. "What?"

"You ready for me?"

"No one's ever ready for you, Spencer, and before you ask, that's not a compliment." He moved past him, but Spencer kept up.

"I take it as one anyway. I'm talking about Tough Enough. Are you? Tough enough? Tougher than me, even?"

Lassiter frowned. "Are you serious?"

Spencer waved Gus over. "Of course I'm serious, and my personal trainer here can attest to my readiness."

Gus shook his head. "I cannot attest to that."

"He can also attest to the certainty that I am going to leave you weeping in my dust," Spencer went on cockily.

"I cannot attest to that either," Gus insisted.

Lassiter jerked his head at Gus, as what he'd said finally got through to Spencer. "Sounds like your trainer doesn't think you're ready."

"Gus! Don't turn on me when I need you most. This—right here, right now—is the mandatory pre-contest hero-villain encounter where the competitors challenge each other and amp up the psychological stakes!"

Juliet joined them, taking off her rubber gloves. "Which are you, Shawn, the hero or the villain?"

Lassiter couldn't hide his faint smirk. "I'm not challenging you, Spencer. I don't care if you're in the contest or not." He really didn't. It would be incredibly annoying if Spencer bested him in so much as emptying a dishwasher, but only because Spencer would crow about it for freaking ever.

Spencer was at a loss. "But Lassie, look. You're supposed to mock me now. You're supposed to show the fates all the reasons you're the bad guy and I'm the underdog and the underdog always wins."

In unison, Juliet and Gus said, "He's not the bad guy."

Juliet added, "Shawn…" but then trailed off. To Lassiter, her expression indicated don't-make-me-shut-you-down-in-public.

Gus supplied the rest. "You can't beat Lassiter. You probably can't beat anyone in that competition."

Now Spencer was horrified, backing away, hands in the air. "O. M. G.! We've suddenly turned a corner into the Hero Gets Eaten By His Own Team In Front Of The Villain chapter! Look, I'm going to win. I have to win. Logic says I'll win. I'm younger, I want it more, and I've got boyish charm and cussedness!"

Lassiter said nothing. Any word out of his mouth would be Very Very Very Extremely Very Mondo Bad.

Juliet seemed to be biting her lip to keep quiet.

Gus sighed. "Look. Lassiter's got seven years on you, true, but you outweigh him by a long shot and you don't take care of yourself. He can run faster, he can fight better; hell, he can stay awake longer. And cussedness is what he has, Shawn. You've only got petulance."

Juliet's eyes went wide, and Lassiter was surprised himself, but it was Spencer who was the most shocked—and clearly hurt.

"Fine," he said quietly. "I see how it is, naysayers. Looks like the psychological stakes got amped up by my own side." He glared at Lassiter. "I'll see you in two weeks. But don't bother looking behind you, buddy, because I'm only ever going to be in front."

He stalked off, Gus trailing after, and Lassiter met Juliet's dark-blue gaze impassively.

There was no way he was going down that conversational path with her, and he knew damned well she didn't really want him to.

"So. ID on the victim yet?"

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:: Four Days Before Competition ::

Juliet was tired. She'd been pushing herself to get ready for Tough Enough, and their case load at the moment was pretty grueling to boot.

Between work and prep and Shawn obsessing over the competition, she was just about ready to tell Vick she needed a month off, stat. Walk away clean from all of it.

Yes, including the boyfriend.

Shawn had also been pushing himself, more than she'd ever seen before, but despite her innate loyalty and optimism (and not just because she was dating him), he really would have to be the recipient of The Underdog Miracle to do at all well.

He could, though, she reasoned. He might not beat Carlton at his best—and Carlton was at his best; he'd been working hard for two months to get ready—but he could do well enough, if he stayed the course, and never mind the cliché. He'd been genuinely stunned by what Gus said to him—and her failure to defend him—and it seemed to be a motivator beyond merely doing better than Carlton.

There was one thing she could do for him, though, and it niggled away at her brain off and on every day. She didn't want to do it. She wasn't sure it would work. But if anything was going to work, the thing she didn't want to do would… do it.

The alternative—his crushing defeat? depression for months? sulkiness? outright whininess?—was difficult to envision, and it would affect far too many people, because Shawn, bless his heart, was not one to keep his miseries private.

Another cup of coffee, and she braced herself. Time to do what The Good Girlfriend would do.

Carlton was at his desk, resting his head on his hand, staring blankly at his laptop screen. His sleeves were rolled up and his tie loose, the top buttons of his shirt undone, and she needed to stick to the reason she was there.

He mused, "These lab results don't make any sense. Are we positive Woody's not on drugs?"

"I've never been positive of that," she admitted, sitting in the chair next to his desk and offering him the cup of coffee she'd prepared as an advance peace offering.

Carlton eyed her, his vivid blue eyes only half-suspicious.

For a moment this made her rather sad. Time was, he'd only have said thanks appreciatively as he took the cup. These days, he probably thought he had to wonder about her motives, and that was entirely her fault.

Might as well launch in. "I have a really big favor to ask you. Humongous, even. Ginormous. I'm not sure I've ever asked you for anything this big before. I… it's… well, I—"

"Just ask," he broke in with the hint of a smile, and she was sad again, because she didn't get to see that very often anymore.

"It's about Tough Enough."

Instantly wary, he took a sip of the coffee and raised one eyebrow for her to continue.

Juliet could already feel her insides roiling. "Would you consider… easing up?"

Both dark eyebrows were up now. "On what?"

"On Shawn." It was almost a murmur, and he leaned forward as if to hear her better. Dammit, girl, you're not in a library. "Would you ease up on Shawn?"

Carlton was surprised and confused. "What are you talking about? I haven't said anything to him at all about it, even when he got in my face last week. Has he said I've been giving him a hard time? Because that's a lie."

"No, nothing like that. No." She rubbed her temple distractedly. "I mean… ease up during…"

Crap, she couldn't say it.

Because you shouldn't say it. This man is your partner and friend and you should not ask this of him.

But Carlton got it anyway, and if his eyebrows were high before, they damn near leapt off his forehead now. "You want me to… hell, O'Hara, are you asking me to pull my punches during the competition?"

Yeah, she felt sick. "Well…"

"Why? Why in the hell would you ask me that?"

For a second, stunned by the ferocity of his question, she honestly had no idea. "It's just you're so competitive, and—"

"Hell yeah I am," he spat, "and so are you! You think he's not—"

"I meant both of you!" she interrupted. "You're both competitive, and I know how much this means to him, and if he loses big it's going to mess him up and we'll all have to pick up the pieces, probably for months. But you're stronger, Carlton, and you don't need a win like he does, or at least not in the same way."

His eyes were the color of the sea as the storm of the century was whipping up the waves. "I don't need a win at all," he said flatly. "I need to do well because it's kind of my job. And yours. We have to be at the top of our game both mentally and physically and the two go hand in hand. I've participated in Tough Enough every time because it's my gauge of what I'm capable of. I don't do it for anyone else, because of anyone else, or on anyone else's agenda."

"I know," she said miserably. "It's just he's got his heart set on this, and if there's any way at all you can... do this… for me, well, I…" She had to stop. She knew she'd made a huge mistake, and wondered if asking for his wastebasket so she could retch into it would be crossing yet another line.

He had picked up a pen while she was speaking, and now he threw it down on the desk with enough force to make it bounce off and skitter off the edge to the floor. It was the angriest she'd ever seen him, and his words were little pinpricks of steel. "You've lost your mind, haven't you. You've totally subjugated yourself to his will."

"What?" She heard the screech in her tone.

"I warned you awhile back about not following Spencer down the rabbit hole, but it looks to me like you've settled in pretty well over there in Bunnyland." He was icy.

In contrast, Juliet felt heat rising to her face, but Carlton wasn't done.

"Obviously things have changed between us since you took up with him. We don't have the same partnership anymore, and we certainly don't have the same friendship. But if you think I'm going to pull back and not do my best, for myself—for my job—and for the department, just so your narcissistic, immature, manipulative bully of a boyfriend can have his self-serving way again, then…" he paused, but his blue eyes were fierce and he was clearly struggling for control. "Then you're an idiot, O'Hara."

Juliet felt slapped, and cold, and stunned.

Carlton went on brusquely, "I expect I'll apologize for saying that later, but right now, it's what I think. You're an idiot." He let out a breath, his own color high. "Now I don't want to talk about this damned crap anymore, so I suggest we both get back to work." He stood up and strode down the hallway with the casefile, and Juliet sat stunned in the chair.

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