CHAPTER TEN: COASTING HOME
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(the end of the saga)
(note: as with Chapters 1 and 2, some dialogue is from "Lassiter Draws The Line," the story which inspired this one)
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He woke in the pre-dawn light and again watched Karen sleeping, but this time he kissed her forehead to wake her.
"Mmmm," she purred as she pressed to him, hooking her leg over his and burrowing her face into the crook of his shoulder.
"That's what I was thinking." He kissed her hair, stroking it lightly, and had no idea what to do about the fact that she seemed happy with him in her life.
Karen tilted her head back and smiled at him. That was all, just a smile.
"I like looking at you."
"You've looked at me for years. Never made you smile before."
"Oh no? Well… doesn't that go both ways?"
"I wasn't supposed to look at you. You were married. And my boss."
"And now I'm divorced."
"But still my boss."
"Not right now, I'm not."
"Actually," he countered smoothly, "I thought the rule was the woman is always boss."
Karen laughed. "That's true, but I think you know what I meant."
"Yeah…" He sighed, letting her kiss his jaw. "Karen. If this gets out."
"Which it will."
He studied her; she seemed calm. "Which it will. I don't want it to affect your position."
"How could it?"
"Karen, come on. The Chief of Police having an affair with her head detective?"
"I'm single, you're single, we both have excellent service records, and as long as we're discreet and I get independent verification from now on when it's time for your performance reviews, what can anyone say about it?"
Lassiter stared at her, wanting so desperately to believe.
"And it's not an affair," she whispered. "I know it scares the hell out of you, but I don't consider this temporary." She sat up abruptly, holding the sheet up. "I know you're freaked because I'm the Chief and I have a child—most men wouldn't want to step into a relationship with that complication up front, and—"
"I would," he interrupted, his heart thudding.
Yeah. I said it.
Karen was still, and then finally sighed, a faint smile curving the lips he wanted to kiss again. And again. "I'm very happy to hear that."
He sat up too, taking her hands, searching for her heart by way of the look in her eyes. "But I'm not… I'm not easy, Karen. I'm not easy to live with, or to stay with. I'm not someone women want long-term. How can you think you really want this when you know me like you do?"
She leaned in and kissed him softly. "Because I know you like I do. All I'm asking is that you give this time, and trust me. Trust… us."
"It's insanity," he whispered back.
"Yeah? You're the bravest man I know, Carlton. You see trouble, you run toward it. Some people would say that's insanity. I'm sure I've called it insanity now and then."
He closed his eyes, just letting it—Karen, and Karen's certainty—wash over him for a moment. "Time."
"That's all I'm asking."
He felt her kisses on his face, his forehead, his eyelids, gossamer gentle and warm.
"I can do that," he breathed, feeling his heart expand with hope.
Karen kissed his mouth, murmuring, "Say it again."
"I can do anything," he said more confidently, and pulled her into his arms to show her.
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It is written, she thought, and a moment later, it was printed. The document she'd created to outline her decision about Head Detective Carlton Lassiter and the Psych agency was ready to be shared and its contents implemented.
Karen read it over for the tenth time.
Before the eleventh read, she allowed herself a minute to bask in the afterglow of her early morning conversation with Carlton. She believed now that he would try to trust her with his heart, though he hadn't used those words—and that he understood she was no frail creature who'd bail at the slightest sign of imperfection on his part. Because, uh, seven years as his supervisor had pretty well inured her to his imperfections, and she definitely liked him anyway.
He was coming to dinner tonight, and while she wasn't ready to introduce Iris to the concept of Mommy having sleepover friends, she was ready (and pretty sure Iris could handle it) to at least introduce her to the concept of Mommy having a boyfriend.
They could be discreet. They would be.
She shivered, remembering exactly what they had to be discreet about, and why Carlton Lassiter was damn well worth being discreet about.
Back to the document, dear.
Once she was satisfied everything was laid out, she set it aside and called her head detective and his partner to her office.
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"This is it," Juliet said in a low voice as she walked with him. "This is it!"
"Settle down, O'Hara," he warned her. "There's as much a chance she'll kick me to the curb and give Spencer my position."
She promptly punched him in the arm, hard. "Not funny. Or damn likely."
He smirked, and she punched him again. "Ow!"
"Violence between officers is frowned upon," Karen said with a smile as she ushered them in. "Have a seat. This won't take long."
"We're both fired," he whispered to Juliet, but dodged her fist just in time.
Karen's eyebrows went up and she was amused, but Juliet was right: this was it.
She took a breath as soon as they were seated. "I'll just jump right in. I don't want you to step down, Carlton. You're not only an excellent detective with a very impressive record, you're also organized and efficient and keep the entire detective squad focused and productive. If you could just keep your gun in its holster, and maybe not be quite so quick to assume the worst about people, you'd be damn near perfect." She smiled faintly. "Don't let that go to your head."
He was trying to beat down the instinctive blush: while his work-related ego didn't usually need any help being puffed up (a fact he'd told a psychologist once with reasonable calm), it was still unexpectedly nice to get unsolicited praise from his superiors… and not just because this one was his lover now. "I won't," he assured her, and could almost feel Juliet's smile, though he would not look at her.
"And you, Detective O'Hara, seem to be the best partner for Lassiter. The differences in your personalities complement each other and while I'm sure you'd make an excellent partner for any of my detectives, I have no good reason to separate you from this one as long as it's working so well."
Juliet murmured, "Thank you, Chief." Her relief was palpable.
"So that brings us to Mr. Spencer." Karen shook her head slightly. "First, let me apologize to you again, Carlton, for my role in all this."
He started to protest; he thought he'd made it clear—both in this office and privately—that no one had to fight his battles for him, least of all over a tornado like Spencer.
But she overrode him. "You were right to say his behavior makes the whole department look bad. By not stepping in—by letting myself believe your personality conflict was the root of the problem—I am guilty of letting an unacceptable situation get progressively worse. I allowed the working conditions for my best detective to degrade to the point he considered quitting a viable option, and I am, quite honestly, appalled that I dropped the ball to that extent."
Lassiter was at a loss. She was saying, very sincerely, what he hoped he would say if he were in her position, but there was no idea in his head as to how to respond.
Leaning forward, elbows on the desk, Karen went on. "Now, since you were prepared to either step down or quit, I'm going to assume you're willing to make at least one significant compromise instead."
"Yes," he said at once. "Name it." Nothing could be that bad after what she'd just said.
"Psych has assisted with numerous cases, and I can't justify cutting them off as a resource. They're too well-known by City Hall, for one thing, and it would be a disservice to the city of Santa Barbara if we turned our back on the chance to solve some cases simply because Spencer's an ass." She glanced at Juliet. "No offense."
"None would be taken even if we were still together, Chief," Juliet assured her calmly.
"Therefore, when Psych is needed on a case, you'll pass it off to another set of detectives. Without question, without hesitation. No matter how big, how flashy, how career-making, you and O'Hara will pass the case off immediately and Spencer will work with that team." She looked at him steadily. "We have a lot of good detectives in the squad and there's no reason they can't get some of the glory, as well as some of the experience of working with Psych."
"Deal." He looked at Juliet then, realizing he shouldn't speak for her. "Sorry. It's your career too, but I say yes."
"I don't want a career. I want to be a detective." She gave him a little smile and he felt a bit as if she'd kissed his cheek.
To Karen, he said firmly, "We accept. What else?"
She glanced at Juliet, who nodded as well. "All right, good. Now, I'm aware that Spencer has a tendency to show up at crime scenes before we know whether we need him, so my solution for that problem is more direct. If he hasn't been called in, he's not welcome. It will be a standing order among all crime scene personnel to treat him as any other interfering civilian if he doesn't have preauthorization to be onsite. He will be removed immediately. This goes for Guster, too."
Lassiter stared. It was Christmas. In April.
As if sensing his masked enjoyment, Karen allowed a hint of a grin to show. "Second offense, removal plus a fine to Psych. Third offense, suspension of their services for three months. Fourth offense, we sever our consultancy arrangement with them completely and look to other area psychics for assistance if we need them. That'll be Henry's purview."
Oh, Henry wouldn't like that, Lassiter knew, and how did one go about seeking out hyper-observant non-psychics anyway? Henry might as well just hire himself.
"With this plan in place, if it should ever come to pass that we need to permanently sever our dealings with Psych, the documentation of the incidents leading up to it will be our defense for doing so."
She took another deep breath, and Lassiter's man-brain admired the way her chest rose in the process. A lovely, lovely woman was Karen—and not just because she was saying these remarkable things.
"Finally, there is the matter of how Spencer conducts himself during investigations, which is ultimately the reason we're having this conversation." She looked rueful. "We can set the rules on his access and who he works with, but I'm not sure anyone will ever be able to control his speech. If he had his father's self-control, maybe, but he's thirty-six so somehow I doubt we should expect him to develop that skill now."
Juliet muttered something which sounded like "damn straight," but Lassiter couldn't be sure. It might have just been that he was thinking it himself.
"So I'm going to apply the same rules regarding his access to his mouth. If he publicly insults you or any other officer in the course of doing your jobs, he'll be removed, fined, suspended and later, er, severed, in that order. But be warned, Detective Lassiter, that you are expected to rise above the temptation to respond to anything he might say. When I ask witnesses about any verbal altercations between you, I expect fully to never hear that you behaved in anything other than a completely professional manner. That means no return fire, no gloating, nothing but neutrality. Always. Understood?" She waited for his nod. "Obviously, whatever you say to each other in private is between the two of you, but I'd strongly advise you to always be the better man, because even in private, Carlton, your first responsibility should be to the department and its good name."
Lassiter believed that was true (apart from the small matter of his intimate relationship with his boss, the Chief of Police). "Agreed. I promise you'll never hear anything negative about my behavior toward him." He'd have to ask later if eyerolls counted.
"I'm glad to hear it, because if you don't comply, it'll turn up in your performance review—for starters." She sat back again, seeming to have come to an end. "I'll be meeting with Spencer, Guster and Henry later today to lay out these new protocols. It's certainly in Spencer's best interests, for his livelihood, to comply. I'll let you know if he doesn't."
Lassiter looked at Juliet; they both looked back at Karen.
"Any questions?" she asked mildly.
"No, ma'am," he said.
"Then you're dismissed. There's plenty of work to be done and you're just the people to do it."
He and Juliet stood, and he thanked her quietly for her consideration.
Karen nodded, and when they were nearly to the door, said, "Oh, and Carlton, for what it's worth? I know you can beat the crap out of him, like you said last week, but be sure you can make good on that promise of not leaving a mark." She was grinning.
He heard Juliet laugh a little, and thought—though he could not repress a smile—that he should perhaps only say, "Understood," and leave it at that.
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= THREE MONTHS LATER =
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Stakeout. Midnight, outside a warehouse where an exchange of illegal weapons was supposed to take place.
Everyone was in position, and the exchange was happening in thirty minutes.
Lassiter wanted to get home, to slide into bed beside Karen after looking in on Iris—a nightly habit now even when he didn't stay over—and absorb the warmth Karen gave him both physically and psychologically.
Beside him, Juliet yawned.
He cut off his mike and made sure hers was off too. "O'Hara. I… I need to tell you something."
She turned her head, curious. "What is it?"
Yet he fidgeted. Of all times to get nervous about something: was he thirteen?
Juliet smiled. "Is it about you and the Chief?"
He was relieved and yet embarrassed—and somehow not surprised she knew. "Are we obvious?"
She tilted her head, considering. "Not really. I just noticed… well, I noticed you were happier, and then I noticed you two smiling at each other a lot. I also noticed you getting called to her office several times a day, but you never seem to have anything to tell me afterwards."
He blushed. That was the one thing they still had to get under control: their mutual need to just have a few minutes now and then to speak privately, even if they were separated by Karen's desk. One-on-one 'face-time' was essential now. He didn't know how it was for Karen, but looking into her beautiful dark brown eyes, lit by a smile, was a restorative he could no longer do without.
"But," Juliet said in a more teasing manner, "what really did it for me was that every time I glance over at your desk, you seem to be looking toward her window, aaaand her blinds are usually open just enough for you to see her."
"Crap," he growled. "I was afraid that would get me in trouble."
She laughed delightedly. "Well, I think it's a good thing, and I knew you would tell me when you were ready. When did it start? And how?"
He couldn't blame her for being surprised; who would ever expect cool, collected, in-charge Karen Vick to become entangled with one of her employees at all, let alone him? "It started after my ultimatum," he said simply. "As for how, I have no idea. I guess she's insane."
"Don't make me punch you in the arm, Carlton. How are you getting along with Iris?"
"Iris is one great little kid." She really was, and she liked him, and so far she hadn't objected at all to him hanging around her mom. "She already wants to be a cop when she grows up."
"You're smiling," Juliet said with satisfaction. "I'm really happy for you. And since we're trading secrets, remember that veterinarian I met a few weeks ago?"
"I do; what about him?" She'd eased out of her post-Spencer mourning fairly well, and fairly soon, and was able to be friendly to Spencer when he was in the station working with other detective teams. For his part, Spencer seemed to need more time to recover from the breakup, but Lassiter considered it a sign he could learn from his mistakes.
"Third date coming up." She beamed. "He's really nice and has a great sense of humor and he's… he's an adult, Carlton, which I appreciate more than ever." Laughing, she added, "And he has the right idea about women, too. He says we're here to make men better. He even named his cat Boss. She is the most beautiful shade of dark gray."
Lassiter put his head back and laughed, and it was a few minutes before he could explain why to O'Hara.
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Carlton didn't get home until after two a.m.
Karen was awake, not exactly waiting up for him but not willing to lose herself completely to sleep until he was home.
Home, yes. And safe. With her. Preferably in her arms.
Definitely in her arms.
She heard him on the stairs, quiet but unmistakable, and she heard the pause as he stopped to peek into Iris' room. It warmed her immensely that he already loved her little girl. She suspected he'd fallen in love the day Iris dropped frozen yogurt on his shoulder.
After a moment, he came into their room, closing the door behind him. "Hey," he said. "You're supposed to be asleep."
"I wanted to see you." His return smile told her he didn't mind at all. "How did the stakeout go?"
"Perfect." He sat on the edge of the bed and bent to kiss her. He was tired and there were dark circles under his ever-remarkable blue eyes, but his kiss was very much alive with energy. "We got them all."
Karen grasped his jaw and pulled him in for a deeper kiss; more tongue, more teeth, more everything—what she always wanted with this man. "Mmmm, that's what I like to hear."
"I like to hear what you like to hear," he murmured against her lips.
"I like to hear you say you love me," she murmured back.
Carlton smiled. "I've been telling you ten times a day for weeks. You're not tired of it?"
"Nope." Karen started pushing his jacket and holster off. She'd known he loved her long before he said it, but hearing the words in his smoky voice just made her go all melty, every single time.
He cast the jacket to the floor and undid the holster, putting that and his gun in the bedside drawer. Karen stroked his back as he bent to lock up the weapon, and he sighed under her touch. "I love you."
He grinned, turning back to her and pinning her to the bed as he kissed her hard. "I, Carlton Lassiter, love you, Karen Dunlap Vick." He kissed her again, trailing his warm lips down her throat to where her nightshirt began. "I love you and I am yours for as long as you'll have me."
"Sixty years," she suggested breathlessly.
He laughed, and then with one hand started hiking up her nightshirt. "Sixty?"
"Covering the bases. People in my family have long lifespans." When his hand made it up to her breast, she covered it with hers through the fabric. "And I don't want to go by Vick for much longer."
Stilling, he gazed at her, various emotions flitting through those expressive blue eyes. "I can only offer you Lassiter as an alternative." His voice was low, uncertain.
"Sold," she said, and kissed him hungrily, and Carlton was hers, arousal quickly evident amid the love and emotion.
She shouldn't push him tonight; he was tired and once again she was putting her own needs ahead of his. But there was something about him, something so utterly irresistible, and in the few months they'd been together she'd never had one single doubt he was the one for her, forever.
She'd watched him slowly let go of his fears, one by one, trusting her—trusting the 'us' she'd asked him to—and finally believing that it didn't matter how fast it had happened so long as it was real and honest.
"I love you," she said, and why were there tears in her eyes?
Carlton lay with her fully on the bed, letting her unbutton his shirt as he kissed her face and throat. "No tears, sweetheart. No tears."
"They're good," she promised.
He rested his head on her pillow. "You really want to marry me?"
"Yes." She ran her fingers through his soft hair, and he sighed. "I like commitment. I need it. I need you."
"You have me. I didn't think you'd actually want to marry again, though. I didn't know whether I should ask."
Karen gave him her best stern look. "Excuse me. The Chief of Police cannot simply shack up with a man."
His smile eased the tiredness from his face. "Of course not. I would be honored to stop dishonoring you."
She draped her leg over his. "Well, don't rush. If you're not too tired, I wouldn't mind being dishonored tonight."
His smile was as wicked as her intentions, especially when his hands moved to cup her ass and pull her closer to him. "We might be overdressed."
"That won't be a problem for very long." She resumed unbuttoning his shirt, sliding her hands across his furred chest, teasing his nipples and planting kisses on his skin, and for his part, he disposed of his belt and slacks.
Skin on skin, moving and sighing together, all kisses and touches and love, they soon found their perfect rhythm, familiar and yet new every time. Karen clutched at his back and opened her mouth to the heat of his, seeking fullest connection as he pushed into her, as he felt her encompassing him.
He gasped out her name as he lost himself in her, and she felt his love like waves on the ocean, steady and strong and endless. She hoped he felt her love the same way.
Later, while they settled down, he mumbled something against her shoulder.
"Sorry? Did you just say something about Shawn Spencer?"
"I said I owe him. For you." He used his teeth on her skin lightly, and she shivered with fresh desire.
The new policy for Psych was working. Shawn and Gus been removed from two crime scenes but Shawn hadn't pushed it as far as accruing a fine, and the detective teams they worked with were handling them well. Nobody in the department was rookie enough not to know how he operated, and word got around fast that his behavior didn't have to be tolerated. Several of the teams were kind of disappointed he'd mostly been playing by the rules.
"You mean if he hadn't been a jerk to you for so long, you wouldn't have gone off on me, and I wouldn't have woken up? Even though I ended up having to seduce you?"
He made a sound which she could only interpret one way.
"Carlton, are you snickering?" Well that was no good, because now she was laughing too.
"Yes," he admitted. "I am. And yes, that's what I meant. I owe Spencer for you."
"You want to start working with him again? I'm sure he misses you."
"Bite your tongue, woman," he growled.
Karen smiled wickedly. "I'd rather do something else with my tongue."
"So would I. Come here, future Mrs. Lassiter."
She went into his arms willingly, basking in the warmth he provided, cozying up to his chest and nuzzling his throat. "Soon. Don't make me wait too long."
"You're the boss." He stroked her back, his hands warm and gentle.
And he, she thought as she kissed her man, was the best.
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T H E
E N D
P.S. remember, Lawson227, it's all your fault this story exists. ;-)