CHAPTER SIX

. . . .

. . .

Juliet woke to a kiss at the back of her neck, and then one on her shoulder, and she smiled and was afraid of absolutely nothing, because Carlton was her lover now and she was safe in his arms.

What time it was, she couldn't have cared less. All she wanted was to stay like this in the best darkness of her life, the darkness in which Carlton was there, fully hers, and murmuring her name against her sensitive throat, his chest to her back, his arms around her middle, and, when she turned her head, his lips on hers.

But gradually the words he was saying became clearer: it was past 6:30 and they had to get up, because her appointment was at eight and they could not be late.

He slid out of bed and was gone from her field of sensation, and she couldn't tell whether he had fled or was merely being practical (which would amount to having fled).

She rolled onto her back sighing, and granted herself a few minutes to relive the night.

The dream had been terrifying: the voices were implacable, telling her she could not ever see Carlton again, that her vision would be perfect but he wouldn't be there, and every part of her soul screamed that this could not be and she had to fight it. Getting the bandage off was paramount, because if she could find him before 'they' took over, everything would be okay.

When he pinned her down to control her, to wake her and soothe her—once she realized it was him—everything changed. It was only a bandage, and he was there. Carlton would always be there. He said so—and she knew it anyway.

Then the kissing started. Well, she started it. Again. She couldn't help it. And the rest was a dark blur of perfect passion and love, unstoppable and unforgettable.

Juliet shivered, thinking of his touches to her body and the sensation of their deepest connection.

This would happen again.

And many more times after that. She knew it. She knew he knew it.

But it was time to get up, to shower and dress and go see the damn doctor who held her temporary fate in his hands… or in his medical charts and test results anyway.

However, after her shower and wrapped in a large soft towel, she realized she needed a little help with her wardrobe. Going to the door and listening a moment, she heard Carlton in the kitchen and smelled the wonderful and unmistakable aroma of coffee. Should she put on her robe?

Uh, no, stupid.

"Carlton, could I borrow your big blue eyes for a minute?"

"Just a sec," he called, and joined her almost that quickly. He'd obviously had time to shower and shave judging by the pleasant scents emanating from his personage, though she'd had no complaints about the scent of sex and sweat and shared desire from the night.

Concentrate, girl.

"I'd like to wear the black skirt and a pale blue blouse. Today of all days I don't want to be a fashion laughingstock."

He slid his hand down her bare back in a possessive caress as he reached into the closet with his free hand. "There's two black skirts."

"Um, the one with silver trim at the waist."

"Got it. So you'll want this blouse," he concluded, and hangers rattled as he shifted clothing. "Here you go, my lovely, hanging from the dresser knob."

"Thanks," she said appreciatively, delighted he was relaxed enough to talk to her this way.

"Anything else you need?"

Juliet couldn't resist. Reaching out to touch his chest—happily bare where his shirt wasn't buttoned; he hadn't finished dressing yet—with her fingertips, she felt his heat, as well as his shiver. "You know," she said unsteadily, "a girl likes her bra and panties to match too."

Slowly, as Carlton let out a breath, his hand came to cover hers, and he leaned in very close, nearly pressing her to the side of the dresser. His faint cologne was sensual and his warmth was magnetic.

"O'Hara," he growled, "if I get anywhere near your panties, they're for damn sure not going on."

Her heart stopped as his lips grazed her jaw, his breath tickling her cheek.

"And we definitely won't make that 8:00 appointment," he added, nibbling her earlobe and reducing her to goo.

"I don't mind the dark a little longer," she said urgently, and lifted her arms up around his neck.

With that motion, her towel dropped, and his warm hands immediately managed to touch as much of her bare skin as he could when he pulled her close to him, impossibly close, his hot mouth locked to hers now because that much at least there was time for. That much they could not do without, and she didn't need to see his glorious blue eyes to know it.

"No… time," he said with difficulty, although his hands stroking her backside suggested he'd like to make time.

"Don't care," she moaned against his throat, and damn if she didn't seriously actually not care, since nibbling his earlobe was ever so much more important right now.

"O'Hara…"

"Take me to bed right now, Carlton," she pleaded.

"God, woman—" He laughed. "No. Stop it. There is no time. And the doctor doesn't need to be asking you why your pulse is so fast or your skin is so flushed." He disentangled himself from her.

Juliet was now cross as well as aroused. "You're turning down a naked woman who wants you."

"Yes, because I'm a freaking whackaloonatic moron. Get dressed, Juliet. For the love of God. Because if we don't make that appointment, people will come looking for us, and I do not intend to risk being interrupted the next time we make love."

"Oh," she said, feeling a blush overtake her. "Okay then."

"I am a whackaloon," he muttered as he left, calling back one more "Get dressed!" before he shut the door.

She was still aroused, but the words "next time" would hold her over for now.

. . . .
. . .

Lassiter wasn't sure when he'd turned the corner exactly and started believing he had a future with Juliet. It wasn't as simple as having made love with her.

It started to sink in while he was showering, and settled over him completely as he made coffee. By the time she called his name from her room, his heart had completely taken over his common sense.

(And how in the hell he had not dragged her gorgeous nude self back to the bed to have at her he would never, ever understand.)

His common sense said there were still risks. Spencer could convince her to give him another chance. Or he could be so difficult about everything that Juliet would put anything new on hold until it was sorted out. Or she might wake up in a few days and see that her dependence upon Lassiter had only been during her temporary blindness, and getting her vision back would include seeing it was foolish to think of him as a romantic partner.

A lot could still happen, and his heart could be trumped.

But right now… right now. He would believe.

They were driving to the hospital, with a little time to spare, and Juliet was growing more nervous—more quiet—as they got closer. He reached over and took her hand, and she grasped it gratefully albeit wordlessly, holding on tight.

His phone rang and he had to let go of her to see who it was. "Vick," he told her.

Juliet was instantly panicked. "No—she can't call you in. She can't—not now, I need you—"

"Juliet, stop. Not even a multiple homicide involving nuns, orphans and Starbucks can take me away from you this morning."

Her hands were clenching.

"Two Starbucks, maybe," he added, and thank God, she smiled at that, taking a breath and settling down. He answered the phone with a brisk, "Chief! Please tell me this does not involve orphans at Starbucks."

Vick said with surprise, "No, actually, I was saving that for later in the week, and I'm not sure I approve of children drinking coffee anyway. O'Hara's appointment is this morning, right?"

"We're on our way now."

"Where is it exactly? I'd like to come down for the news, and…" she hesitated, and he thought she might be smiling, "there's a few other folks who might tag along. O'Hara's got a lot of supporters at the SBPD, you know."

He felt warmth in his chest on his beloved Juliet's behalf. "I know she does, and I think she'd like to see as many of you as she can." He gave her the information and disconnected, reclaiming Juliet's hand afterward. "Vick's bringing the troops in to see you."

She sighed. "That's so sweet." Now her phone rang, and she fished it out of her skirt pocket, handing it over to him. "Who is it?"

"Guster," he said shortly. "You should talk to him."

Juliet nodded, and took the phone back.

From what he gathered, Guster was also asking about her appointment, and it sounded as if Spencer intended to be in the waiting room as well. Juliet said they were welcome to come, but there wasn't much enthusiasm in her tone.

Lassiter would have preferred to be alone when he got the doctor's report, but it would make Juliet happy to know so many people had come to see her, and he would be content with that. Besides, he was pretty sure he'd be the one taking her home, unless Spencer pulled off some miracle in the waiting room.

Juliet stayed quiet after that, nervous again (or maybe wondering about Spencer) while he found a parking space and stopped the car.

She let go of his hand so he could turn off the engine.

"Ready?"

"Yes and no," she managed.

He got out of the car and went to her side, taking her arm to lead her into the building, and he said little nothings to her as they walked, remarks about the ridiculous clothes people were wearing and their various bad hair days and where he would take her for breakfast after they were done here.

If she wants that.

Juliet was mostly silent, although she gave him a faint smile from time to time, and her hand when he took it in the elevator was chilly.

"Come on, girl. This is the easy part." He squeezed her hand, leaning against her, and Juliet suddenly turned and hugged him hard, surprising him, but he knew to put his arms around his beloved, and to glare fiercely at the people who got on at the next floor and stared at them. "Easy now," he murmured to her, and after another few moments she lifted her flushed face from his jacket and took her place at his side.

There was just the long walk now down to the waiting area, but thankfully Juliet was called back as soon as she signed in. "You'll be here," she said to Lassiter, urgent. "That's not a question."

"Then you already know the answer," he said simply, and watched the nurse lead her away.

The next twenty-nine minutes were the longest he could remember—not counting the dreadful time at the hospital on Thursday, waiting to find out if she'd been blinded.

Others arrived during this period: Vick and Henry, Buzz McNab and even Officer Allen. Miller and Dobson showed up as well, and finally, half an hour into the wait, Spencer came in, bleary-eyed, trailed by Guster.

"Lassie," he said without enthusiasm.

Guster nodded and asked how long they'd been waiting.

"Since the appointment began… half an hour ago." He actually did try to keep the snark out of his tone.

Guster shrugged. "I tried to get him here on time. This is actually pretty good considering how early it is for him."

Spencer sank into one of the chairs. "How is she, Lass?"

Lassiter eyed Guster, wondering if Spencer had told him Juliet ended their relationship. Guster met his gaze dispassionately. Yeah, he knows.

"She's fine. Nervous about today, but fine."

"Yeah. She would be." He yawned, and looked unhappy. "She's a fine person generally, you know, and feeling fine is just what she'd do." He paused. "Which is fine. It's fine. Fiiiine. Funny word, fine. Larry Fine was a funny guy. Now funny sounds funny. But that's fine too."

Pacing would be better than trying to talk to this guy, so Lassiter resumed that. He thought maybe he should feel more guilty about his night with Juliet but… but she'd ended it with Spencer. She was free. And she'd wanted him. There was nothing to feel guilty about.

So he felt a little guilty anyway. But it was manageable, because right now he was going slowly insane wondering what was happening down in the doctor's office.

Guster sat down next to Spencer, then got up and moved one seat away after Spencer sprawled out disconsolately.

Henry came to Lassiter when he was at the far wall. "And how are you doing?"

"Me?"

He gave him a wry smile, speaking in a low voice. "Yeah, Lassiter, you. You've been looking after your partner—and I imagine, best friend—for days. I assume this is as important for you as it is for her."

Lassiter blinked. "Yeah," he said slowly. "It is." He could admit that much, even to Spencer The Elder.

"No one's been easing your mind the way you've probably been easing hers," Henry suggested.

He felt his cheeks warming. "Henry, I'm fine. Getting Juliet through this… that's been the main thing. I don't matter. She does."

Henry's all-too-perceptive eyes narrowed. "I'd be willing to lay down money that she thinks you matter a whole hell of a lot."

"Yeah. Well." He turned to the wall, willing his blush to recede.

Henry chuckled, the evil bastard, and left him alone.

Lassiter paced a little more. It had been thirty-seven minutes and seventeen seconds now. He shoved a hand through his hair, growing more restless every moment.

The doctor appeared at the end of the counter. "Detective Lassiter?"

Lassiter froze. "Yes?"

"She's asking for you."

He didn't even think how it would look to anyone else; he just followed, and didn't bother asking the doctor anything, because Juliet would tell him what he needed to know.

"Keep the lights down," the doctor said as he opened the door, and didn't follow him in before closing it again.

Lassiter stared at Juliet. Beautiful, smiling, Juliet.

"There you are," she said softly. Sitting on the exam table, she waited for him to join her and immediately clasped his hands within hers.

The bandage was off and he could finally, finally see her beautiful dark blue eyes. There were faint red marks underneath where Vandiver's spray had hit her skin, and more where the bandage tape had been stuck to her temples, but even in the dim light of this room, he could see her eyes and they were even more lovely than he remembered.

"Juliet," he breathed. "How is it? How much can you see?"

"Plenty. It's blurry still but the doctor said that'll improve. He's giving me eyedrops to use every three hours and I have to wear sunglasses and avoid blizzards and dust storms but God, Carlton, I just—I'm just so glad to see you." She put her cool hands to his face and he kissed her, and it was new and familiar and sweet and perfect. "I missed your blue eyes so much."

"My eyes," he said, marveling. "They're nothing compared to yours. Juliet, sweetheart, your eyes are amazing."

She slid her arms up around his neck and kissed him again, sniffling a little. "I told the doctor to bring you back here. I wanted to see you before I saw anyone else."

"There's a lot of people out in the waiting room."

"I know, but you're the one I need most. I had to see you, Carlton. Only you. I wanted to look into your gorgeous eyes and tell you how much you mean to me."

His heart was pounding. "You don't have to. Not yet. You don't—"

"Don't be scared," she whispered. "Please. Not now. This is all good."

Don't be scared. Lassiter sighed, and let the gentle kisses she gave his face and forehead soothe him—soothe him! The woman might have had permanent eye damage and she was soothing him?—until he found his voice again.

"It is all good." He cupped her face and looked into those eyes he'd missed so much. "Are you ready to get out of here?"

"Yes," she said, and he helped her down off the table, but she ended up in his arms again, mouth seeking his desperately, and he was almost dizzy from kissing her.

Juliet pulled back, her hands to his face again, searching his eyes. "It's a cliché, isn't it." She laughed. "I had to go blind to stop being blind. I had to lose my ability to see in order to see the truth about my relationships with both Shawn and you."

"Nothing wrong with a good cliché," he assured her quite sincerely. "They come from truth anyway."

"And the other truth is I don't care right now if my eyes ever completely heal, if going through all this means you're mine."

His pulse was racing again. "I am yours, Juliet." He might as well say it; after last night she couldn't have any real doubts that he was hers body and soul.

Her smile was like the sun—the dimness of the room immaterial—and she stood on tiptoes to kiss him again, making him weak in the knees, and Carlton Lassiter did not get weak in the knees. Although having this soft warm creature in his arms was a good reason to start.

"But," he managed, "you still have a lot to deal with and some of it's out in the waiting room."

"Okay. Take me to greet the troops and then take me to breakfast and then take me home to bed." She traced his lips with her fingertip. "I want to be able to look into your blue eyes when you make love to me."

Lassiter was having trouble breathing, and Juliet's expression didn't help. "My God, yes. Anything you want, Juliet. Anything."

. . . .
. . .

It didn't go as smoothly as that, of course.

Juliet kept hold of his hand when they walked down the hall but they both knew to let go before they reached the waiting area. This was not the time to go public with their relationship.

It was all a bit blurry but she knew everyone who was hugging her, even through the dark glasses the doctor insisted she wear, and she was touched and misty-eyed at their enthusiasm.

Shawn hung back, playing the 'cool' card, but eventually he had his turn, and put his arms around her gingerly as if she were made of glass. "Jules," he murmured in her ear. "You know your man, right?"

I do, and you're not him.

She could feel Carlton at her side, tense but staying out of it. "Hello, Shawn. Thank you for being here." She let Gus step up and hug her and make a joke about her Ray Charles glasses, and then, because it was going to happen, she allowed Shawn to take her arm and draw her aside, almost to the door.

He looked tired—but anything before 9 a.m. was the crack of dawn to him—and gave her a faint smile. "Now's your chance. Your chance to give me the chance I'm asking for."

"Shawn…"

"I left you alone the last two days to let you think it over. All the good times we had. All the years we spent getting to where we could have a relationship at all. You know that matters, Jules. You know it does."

"It does matter. It did," she amended. "We'll always have… what we had. But I need more, and I can't get it from you. You're not ready to give more."

"I'm ready to try," he insisted. "That has to mean something."

"It does." She touched his arm lightly. "But you asked me to look you in the eye, and I am. I'm looking you in the eye to tell you it's over. No going back. I'm sorry and I hope we can be friendly and still work together but it's over."

"Friendly," he repeated. "You can't even say 'friends.'"

"It's up to you how it goes from here." From over his shoulder she could see Henry gazing their way, and Carlton standing dark and restless near Vick. "But it's up to me that it's ending now. I'm sorry, Shawn. I am glad you came today." She leaned in and kissed his cheek. "I'll see you around."

She crossed the room to where Carlton was waiting, and he put one hand on her back, and she whispered for him to take her home. He bent his head to hear, and she took in the scent of his aftershave and his skin and when he turned to look at her, the intense blue of his eyes pierced through her slightly blurry vision direct to her heart.

"Anything you want," he whispered back, as he had in the exam room.

Then that would be simple, because he was everything she wanted.

. . . .
. . .

Juliet savored the feeling of being able to see Carlton as he undressed her unresisting form. Lying on her bed, being disrobed by her man, she savored the appearance of his arms and shoulders and furred chest, the line of his jaw and the way his hair curled and how soft it felt between her fingers as he kissed her breasts and sighed his way across the curves and valleys of her body… which was his now, forever.

He too seemed to want to see her eyes, his wide blue to her dark blue, and when he put his hand to her heat, his gaze was locked to hers—he whispered that he wanted to see what he could do to her in her eyes as well as feel it under his fingers.

Juliet opened herself to him, gasping at the workings of his hand, and the dim bedroom seemed bright with love, love she had yet to speak out loud.

When he took her, those blue depths ablaze with need, she wanted him even closer and deeper than physiology would allow. Closer, closer, harder, deeper—wrapped so completely around him she could hardly breathe and yet there was still so much more skin to be touched and kissed and loved.

It was barely over before she was asking for more, and they remained locked together through the morning and into the afternoon, giving and taking and uniting until collapse was the only option, and she wasn't sure she even had enough strength for that.

"Juliet," he said hoarsely, his head resting on her shoulder. "I can't not tell you I love you. I know I should wait and see how you adjust to all this but I can't. I love you."

Juliet laughed. "I know. Do you know I love you too?"

He lifted his head, half-frowning, half-chagrined. "Was I that obvious?"

She kissed his forehead. "Only because I wasn't trying to see it with my eyes."

A slow smile eased his frown, and he kissed her back. "You love me? You're sure?"

"Yes. Because I see that with my heart."

Carlton sighed and put his head back on her shoulder, his breath warm on her skin.

And Juliet finally closed her eyes, because now their hearts could do the rest.

. . . . . .
. . . . .
. . . .
. . .
. .

F I N

(This is officially the longest "one-shot" I've ever done. Cheers, y'all ~ thanks for reading.)