Disclaimer: *snore*

Rating: T for now

Summary: First, Karlton. Second, kind of AU, because Karen Vick is already divorced and there is no Marlowe, although references may be made to episodes throughout S6. Third: at the urging of the inestimable Lawson227, I agreed to revamp my Lassiter Draws The Line (a Lassiet) as a Karlton. In essence, Lassiter gets tired of how Shawn treats him, and does something about it… and gets Karen's attention in a big way. A good portion of this first chapter's dialogue is lifted from the original story, so if it seems familiar, that's why!

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Karen's head was aching and it wasn't even ten a.m. She'd already popped two Aleve and slugged back three cups of coffee and the pounding was still there. Yay for me, she thought, and headed grimly out to the coffee bar for another round. At this rate, she'd spend the rest of the day in the ladies' room.

Because she generally moved quickly and quietly, people engrossed in their own work or conversations sometimes didn't notice her approaching, something she considered a bit of a gift. It was nice to be able to 'materialize' when least expected. (It worked on Iris, too, she thought with a private grin, and had been very helpful in the year since her divorce, as Iris tested behavior boundaries with both parents.)

As she approached the coffee bar, she noted Shawn and Gus looming over Carlton's desk, their backs to her and blocking Carlton's view. O'Hara was on her way over, head down as she perused a file.

Good. I can get coffee and get back to my office without having to be nice to anyone.

She veered into the coffee bar area, especially not in the mood for Shawn Spencer this morning.

"Lassie," he cajoled, "come on! It's time you had a date, don't you think?"

This caught her interest immediately—and why? Why would Carlton's love life interest her?—and she glanced over to see his cool blue gaze on Spencer.

"I think if you think I need a date, given the type of women you know, then I'm doing just fine."

O'Hara cleared her throat.

Carlton sighed. "Present company excluded."

She sat at Henry's desk with the folder, but Spencer was still talking. "I'm serious, Lassiefrass. You need a woman, and you need one baaaaad."

Guster was nodding. Karen contemplated tossing the container of sugar packets at them both. Spencer made an increasingly broad target these days, and if she aimed right, she could probably peg him squarely in the back of the head.

"Go away now," Carlton said flatly.

"Come on! You have to admit it's been a long time since you saw any action."

"And you would know this how?"

"Yeah, Shawn, you would know this how?" asked Gus.

Shawn scoffed. "No one who's gotten any action in the past five years would be as completely gloomy as he is."

Gus considered. "But you weren't gloomy in the five years before you finally talked Juliet into dating you."

Karen muffled a snort of laughter; Carlton didn't, and O'Hara only sighed. Karen wondered—not for the first time—why she tolerated Shawn's ongoing jeering of her partner, a man she knew O'Hara considered her best friend. A friend she was lucky to have, unless she'd forgotten this fundamental truth during her stint with Shawn.

"Gus, I can't do this with you right now. Lassi-saurus, I am fixing you up. I have just the date for you. I'm not saying she'll be pretty, or smart, or nice, or even a woman, but she'll be available, and you, good sir, will finally get—"

It was almost a snarl: "Spencer, go away."

"Can't make me," Shawn mocked.

Carlton sat up straight. "Yes, actually, I can." His hand didn't quite reach for his Colt.

"Just listen. Don't you want to be happy, man? Don't you want to look at the world with new giant eyes instead of the sad and lonely giant eyes you have now? Don't you want to see if you actually remember sex?" His voice was getting louder, and other cops were starting to glance in their direction.

O'Hara looked a bit uncomfortable, but said nothing.

Damn her, Karen thought uncharitably.

Carlton's glare to Spencer was all ice. "Spencer, I have told you for the last time to get the hell away from my desk."

Shawn shrugged. "Apparently not very effectively, because here I am. You know, that lack of effectiveness could be due to your lack of a sex life. Which means that maybe your lack of a sex life is why I have to keep solving cases for you. Everyone! Show of hands if you think Lassie needs to get—"

"Mr. Spencer!" Karen snapped, striding across the hall, her cup still empty. "I believe you're going to shut the hell up now."

He whirled—Gus too—and O'Hara sat up straight at Henry's desk. Carlton was wary, a flush to his face and his blue eyes lit with anger he clearly still felt.

"Chief," Shawn started cheerfully.

"What is wrong with you, Spencer?" she demanded. "What is this deep-seated need you have to mock and embarrass other people? Did Henry raise you this way? Would your mother be proud of you? Because I'm not, and before you smart off, please remember I give you the occasional paycheck."

"Chief," he tried again, as Gus backed off.

"I don't want to hear it. In fact, I don't want to ever hear it again. To the best of my knowledge you have not been hired for any case, so please remove yourself and your associate from the police station and do not return until you are summoned. Is that clear?"

Gus was already gone. Shawn mumbled, "Yes, ma'am," and followed.

Karen turned on her heel to finally refill her coffee cup, aware that Carlton left his desk and strode off without a word, and she was glad, because she had one more thing to say, and it was to Juliet, who returned to her desk quietly.

"You know, O'Hara," she said with chilly politeness, "seems to me I wouldn't have had to do that if Lassiter had a partner who'd take up for him now and then."

Juliet's eyes grew wide and her mouth opened, but Karen didn't wait to hear the excuse. She was tired of watching the carefully-won excellent partnership between Carlton and O'Hara disintegrate bit by bit under the influence of Shawn Spencer.

She headed back to her office, but spotted Carlton at Booking signing forms, so she aimed herself at his tall, lean frame, allowing a familiar little he's so attractive thought to tickle the back of her brain.

He looked up when she was near, expression shuttered. Remote. Cool.

Officer Allen stepped to the other side of the counter and Karen said briskly, "I know. You're trying to decide whether to thank me for stepping in or to tell me you're a big boy and you didn't need me to step in." She sipped her coffee, trying to read his unwittingly expressive eyes.

But there was no chance for a response, because McNab joined them hurriedly. "Chief, Boss—double homicide at Brighton Park."

He handed a slip of paper to Carlton, who read the address quickly and nodded at Karen with a quick "We're on it."

. . . .

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Three hours later, Lassiter sat heavily in his chair, tired not from the crime scene but from the anger. He was so very very tired of being angry about Spencer's antics (long past being angered by the antics themselves; if you've seen one narcissist, you've seen them all).

They'd been investigating two homicides in the park, and Spencer, who had followed them over there despite Karen's warning, had gone out of his way—really, extraordinarily out of his way—to mock and belittle Lassiter in front of all present, from other cops to curious onlookers. The only reason Lassiter wasn't on suspension right now is that Guster and McNab, encouraged very nearly at gunpoint by O'Hara, had stuffed Spencer into the stupid little blue car and driven him out of reach.

He didn't hate Spencer, contrary to popular belief; he could see the idiot-man was intelligent and certainly he made case-solving observations quickly. While Lassiter's preference was certainly that police matters be handled by actual trained, competent, able-to-use-silverware-effectively police staff, he wasn't so arrogant as to assume consultants had no value, and God knows Spencer had certainly come to his aid during the Drimmer business. Even Bobo the Donut Man sprang to mind as an example of Spencer not being completely unhelpful.

But these constant public attacks in the name of 'humor'—those had to stop. They had to stop for good.

He got up to refill his coffee mug, and moments later, Spencer breezed past on his way to corral his father.

"Dad!" he said peremptorily. "I want in on Lassie's case."

Henry didn't look up from his computer. "Aren't you always on Lassiter's case?"

"Ha ha. Oh ha. Ha and a double ha." He paused. "Actually, that was pretty funny. Props to you. But you know what I mean. The case he and Jules just got."

"I don't even know what that is, Shawn. Mostly like you don't even know what it is."

"Doesn't matter. I want in."

Henry leaned back in his chair, surveying his son. "How am I supposed to make a case for you being on the case if you don't even know what the case is?" In a sharper tone, he demanded, "Is this about a bill you can't pay?"

"Dad, just get me on the case!"

"I need more information," Henry declared, and walked away from his desk; Spencer followed and Lassiter returned to his seat.

Juliet appeared to drop a folder on his desk, and gave him a careful once-over. "You okay?"

Lassiter looked at her over the top of his mug. "Stop worrying. I'm not going postal."

Yet.

The expression in her eyes was both kind and fierce. "I'm so sorry about earlier, in the park."

"It's not your fault. In fact, O'Hara, you went above and beyond to control the situation." First time in awhile, he reflected. Like she finally remembered we're in this cop thing together. "What's new on our victims?"

"Lassie-saurus!" Spencer declared, coming up behind Juliet, startling her and making Lassiter's jaw clench again. "My dad says I'm in. Now, for my first trick, I'm going to pull a rabbit out of your giant ears, and then I'm going to take you shopping for new cologne, and then I'll—"

"Shawn!" Juliet interrupted angrily. "Stop it right now."

Clearly, Karen's admonition had already been forgotten. Shocker, he thought.

He beamed at her. "I told you, Jules, I'm just playing. Like last week when you said you wouldn't—"

"Shawn!"

Lassiter was intrigued. Her level of anger at Spencer was fascinating because he hadn't seen anything like this since Spencer had forced her father back into her life. Beyond that, he found his own annoyance with Spencer intensified by the fact that he was pissing Juliet off. He stood up abruptly, taking the case folder. "Spencer, if you'll excuse us, and frankly, even if you won't, my partner and I need to go speak with the Chief."

Juliet didn't protest at being forced in the direction of Vick's office; his glance at her showed she was fuming, but obviously not at him. Kinda nice, he thought, to not be the only one torked off at Spencer for a change.

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. . .

Karen was at her desk going over statistics, and when Carlton and O'Hara came in, she gestured at them to sit. Shawn Spencer of course followed, whistling some slap-happy tune. She gritted her teeth. "Give me the rundown. Mr. Spencer, I take it your father okayed your involvement?" Because your ass had better be here for a damn good reason.

"So far as you know," he said nonchalantly.

Carlton sat in one chair, and Juliet the other, as Karen—unamused and moderately homicidal—said with deliberate precision, "Mr. Spencer. If I call Henry in here, is he going to say he thinks you should be on the case?"

"Of course he will!" He perched on the table in the corner until her glare encouraged him to use a chair properly.

"Because I distinctly remember telling you quite clearly only a few hours ago to stay the hell out of my station until you were specifically invited, and I'm quite sure none of us did that, since no one on this side of the room is an idiot."

For some reason the old line about the Texas murder defense spring to mind: he needed killin'.

It must have reflected in her expression, because Shawn had the sense to look a bit cowed. "Well, Chief, I just... well, I..."

Henry walked by the open door with Guster, and Karen called them in sharply. "Henry—"

Shawn interrupted. "Okay, okay, he didn't exactly say I could be on it, but he didn't say I couldn't. He just said he needed more information."

"Well, so do I," Karen said, and turned to Carlton. "Sum it up, please? I have a meeting in ten minutes." She thought he looked weary, but his blue eyes were still vivid and he always, but always, knew how to focus on the job.

So should you. You don't have time to deal with Shawn's button-pushing right now.

"Two white males, both between the ages of 45 and 60, no ID, not obviously homeless, at the south edge of the park. Victim 1 was knifed; Victim 2 held the knife and had been shot in the head. No gun found at the scene."

"You know," Shawn interrupted, "there's really no such thing as obviously homeless anymore."

"Shut up, Shawn," Juliet said, clearly annoyed, which interested Karen. Maybe her brief little smackdown earlier had done some good.

"No, really. They wear better clothes and sometimes they'll even have cell phones and—"

Karen sighed. "Mr. Spencer, please. Lassiter, continue."

"We're waiting for prints and DNA, and the autopsy to retrieve the bullet; we're canvassing the area and running their photos through the system. Until we get an ID or a witness, we're in limbo."

"How loooow can you goooo?" Shawn slid out of his chair, doing a limbo dance sans pole, then straightened up. "Chief, while Lassie here was wasting time adjusting his military garters, I was talking to the spirits. They tell me that the knifed victim wasn't knifed by the man holding the knife."

She was annoyed on Carlton's behalf, but gave him her attention. "Do they now?"

"Yes. The guy with the knife was right-handed but the knife was in his left hand. Have I used the word 'knife' too many times in the last thirty seconds?"

"You're suggesting there was a third person there who killed them both?" Henry inquired.

With relative calm, Carlton said, "Again, we're canvassing, running photos and waiting for test results. At this point I don't see the need for—"

"How can you not see with eyes that freakishly huge? Come on, Lassie, don't slow me down again. Don't get in the way of solving the case like you always do when I'm here to save the day!"

Carlton looked at him, and Karen, no stranger to observing body language, could almost feel his anger building.

Just like hers was.

Still, she quickly cut off whatever Carlton might have said. "Fine, go talk to the spirits while we wait for the results. Lassiter, O'Hara, you can—"

Shawn was crowing. Actually crowing. Henry said his name sharply, and Gus nudged him hard in the arm, eliciting a gasp of pain.

Juliet said, almost desperately, "Chief, I think maybe Shawn should sit this one out until we know we actually need him."

Karen raised her eyebrows. "I hear you, but really, just get to work, O'Hara, and maybe you'll have it solved before he's finished pirouetting."

"That was not a pirouette," Shawn protested. Gus grabbed his arm and yanked him out, and Henry, shrugging, followed.

Juliet looked unhappy.

And Carlton looked… oh, hell. Karen's senses started prickling, more so when he got up and closed the door to her office.

"Yes?"

"One question," he said evenly, and she knew this wasn't going to be good.

"A question which requires the door to be closed?" She leaned back in her chair, arms folded.

"It's a long one," he elucidated coolly. "Do you assign Spencer to us because I'm the Head Detective and O'Hara is my partner and we therefore tend to get the complex, high-profile cases where outside help might be required, or do you assign him to us because you don't think I'm competent to do the job without him?"

She was taken aback. "What?"

"Because if it's the former, Chief, then honestly, I don't want to be Head Detective anymore. You can promote O'Hara, give her a new partner Spencer likes better, and put me with the other rank-and-file detectives."

"What?" she exclaimed again. "What the hell—"

"But if it's the latter," he continued, icy now, "and you do think I'm not competent to do my job without his help, then my badge and letter of resignation will be on your desk in the morning."

"Lassiter!" Karen snapped, but was more shocked than angry. "Spencer is an authorized consultant and it's no insult to anyone when we call him in!"

"No," he agreed. "It's not. What's an insult is the way he acts at crime scenes. The way he acts in meetings like this one, uninvited or not." After a second he added deliberately, "Or how he acted at my desk earlier today."

She was fighting to remain calm, as Juliet sputtered anxiously in her seat. "He's a showman, Carlton, and you've had six years to get used to that. You know he doesn't mean half of what he says." She herself knew it, which didn't stop her wanting to thwop the man upside the head on a regular basis.

"This isn't about the personal insults. You think I'm not capable of handling myself? You think I haven't been hearing about my big ears and my crooked nose and how I'm uptight since I was a kid? You think I'm not capable of beating the crap out of him and never leaving a single mark?" His blue eyes were fierce, and she felt pinned in place. "That's not the point. The point is how he acts in public, in front of witnesses, victims, other cops, and the media. The point is how he publicly ridicules my abilities as a cop. It gets in the way of doing the job, Karen, because now I'm not just trying to work a case but also trying to get past everyone's reactions to the stupid-ass crap he spews to discredit me."

She stared at him, as did Juliet, and the clock ticked far too loudly in the silence.

The stallion is out of his stall, and God help anyone who thinks he's going back in without a fight.

"Like just now, three minutes ago. How many times did he manage to work into his monologue that I'm a bad cop? And that's okay with everyone. I'm not saying you should defend me—I don't need anyone to defend me, because my record should speak for itself. But nobody even thinks twice about what he says anymore, and though that might be borderline tolerable here in the station, it's totally unacceptable out in the field where his constant public attacks interfere with getting the damn work done."

Juliet tried to speak but Carlton held up a hand to stop her.

"I know it's impossible to change him, and even if he promised to keep his piehole shut, he wouldn't, and we all know it. Again, that's not the point." With a sigh, a terribly final sort of sigh, he said flatly, "But I'm done being publicly undermined. I'm done. If he can't work a case without insulting me—and by extension the entire Santa Barbara Police Department because you're stupid enough to have an incompetent dolt as your head detective—then he shouldn't work with me at all. Either demote me so I can get some real work done, or accept my resignation." He went to the door while Juliet was scrambling to get up. He paused to add, "I know this is an ultimatum and I apologize for springing it on you like this. But enough's enough, Karen." He strode out.

Juliet made it to her feet and was halfway to the door—never mind Karen's reaction to all this—when she turned back to say urgently, "Don't you even think about giving me a new partner. It's Carlton or nobody, Chief, and that's my ultimatum."

Karen was abruptly alone in the room, and completely unable to think straight.

It had been a long time since she'd felt so utterly blown away… and yet… so mesmerized.

Turning to look through the window which faced Carlton's desk, she saw him moving rapidly to collect his jacket, presumably focused on getting the hell out as fast as he could. Near him, Shawn and Juliet were intersecting; Shawn's aim was to cut her off, and the two of them converged in the small space directly in front of Carlton.

Still stunned, Karen got up and went to her door and listened.

Shawn said, "So! Who wants to go visit Woody?"

"Carlton," Juliet started, ignoring him.

"Jules! Don't interrupt." He put a hand on her shoulder and she jerked back; his eyes widened and just for a moment, he stopped talking.

"Excuse me," Carlton said flatly. Juliet grasped his arm, and Shawn jumped in front of him. "Get. Out. Of. My. Way."

"Shawn, leave." Juliet let go of Carlton and glared at Shawn.

"What's up with Mr. Roboto? Do you think he could actually shoot real lasers out of those eyes?" Shawn peered at him with mock interest. "Come on, Woody said he had the preliminary ready, so we gotta jet."

"Spencer," Carlton ground out, "if you don't get the hell out of my way, I will shoot you where you stand."

Shawn blinked. Then he grinned. "Let me lie down first. Be more comfortable."

"Shawn!" Juliet nearly yelled, rounding on him. "What is wrong with you?"

"Leave it, O'Hara. I'm out for the rest of the day." Carlton pushed through at last, and it probably wasn't an accident that his shove to Shawn's shoulder was harder than it needed to be.

He glanced coolly at Karen as he passed her office, and she clearly read the I really could not care less what any damn person thinks right now in the stormy blue sea of his eyes.

When Juliet dashed after her partner, Shawn tried to pursue, but he was jerked short by his father, who said loud enough for all to hear, "Think again, boy. The lady has a gun."

Karen wasn't sure why, but she had to follow her detectives. She had to get a grip on this before it spun completely out of control.

Oh, honey. You're ten seconds late to that party.

When she caught up with them in the parking lot, she was in time to hear Juliet say fervently, "You know he doesn't mean the things he said. Your record speaks for itself, and—"

"Yes, exactly!" he snapped. "My record does speak for itself, O'Hara, but it can't speak up at a crime scene. And I don't care whether he means what he says or not. He could have a shrine to me in his apartment for all I care. It doesn't matter. What matters is the public perception when I'm trying to do my job." He raked his hand through his hair. "Hell, maybe you should jump at the chance for a new partner. You might be a lot happier."

"No," she shot back angrily. "You are the best—" She turned her head suddenly, tears in her eyes, and saw Karen.

Carlton's gaze pierced her effortlessly. "I'm taking the day, Chief. Before things get any worse."

She held up her hands; a gesture of peace. "Lassiter. Carlton—I think we need to talk about this some more."

Did she sound helpless? She felt helpless.

"Yes," Juliet agreed. "We do. Please come back inside."

"Not today." He unlocked his car door, his movements all steel and fire and grace. "I'm not good for anything today, not now, and as long as Spencer's lurking, consider me gone. Chief, you can assign that case to another team if O'Hara doesn't want to work it by herself with Spencer. But I won't be in on it. You understand?" He slid in, slammed the door, and started the engine.

Yeah. Helpless was a good word, Karen thought, watching him drive away rapidly.

Who was this man?

And why did she have a sick feeling this had all been completely her problem to prevent?

And a far worse feeling that letting him resign would be a huge mistake personally as well as professionally?

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