Disclaimer: I neither own psych nor have any right whatsoever to post anything whatsoever about it.
Summary: Lassiet (shocker). The Feds want Juliet for an undercover op which makes her reevaluate her partnership, friendship… and more… with Carlton.
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CHAPTER ONE: Realization
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Juliet turned from the counter and went to fix her coffee; normally she liked it black and plain but the particular barista working this afternoon tended to make it too strong to be drinkable without a little corrective creamer.
Carlton had gotten separated from her by a woman who 'accidentally' pushed her way in front of him. He probably would have stepped around her anyway if she hadn't had a cast on her leg and a patch over one eye (although Juliet could easily imagine him insisting it was a disguise and she was about to rob the place).
But when she scanned the room looking for him, he turned up off to the left chatting somewhat animatedly with a dark-haired woman. Well, the woman was animated; Carlton was quieter, but he seemed relaxed. It couldn't be Victoria, judging by the woman's scrubs, but she was attractive and seemed perfectly comfortable with Carlton.
Juliet stirred the creamer into her cup and replaced the lid, then edged her way down the line so she could see Carlton better, and damn if he wasn't smiling at the woman as if he weren't perfectly comfortable with her, too.
A prickle of oh-I-don't-like-this crossed her senses, promptly squashed down with nunya-bidness-let-him-alone.
Her phone rang, with a summons to a crime scene, so she had to interrupt their tete-a-tete.
Approaching, she tapped Carlton on the arm. "Excuse me. We have a call."
"Oh, I'm sorry I stopped you getting coffee," the woman exclaimed as Juliet read her nametag: Ricki. She found the woman's dark gaze to be friendly.
"There'll be other chances," he assured her. "This is my partner, Detective O'Hara."
"Ricki Smith," she said, holding out her hand. "I met Carlton last month under somewhat less pleasant circumstances."
"Yes, well, things have improved on that front." He glanced at Juliet. "Rush?"
"Homicide. Sorry." She smiled at Ricki. "Nice to meet you."
Ricki nodded. "It's really good to see you, Carlton," she said with a warm smile, and Juliet knew him well enough to detect a definite, albeit faint, blush.
"You too," he said with an answering smile, and moved rapidly with Juliet out to the car. "Where to?"
She gave him the address, offered him some of her coffee which of course he refused, and settled in for the ride. "I'm not going to point out that it looked like she was flirting with you, in case you were worried."
A more decided blush colored his lean face. "Thanks."
Ha, and there was an admission.
"But where did you meet her?"
"At the hospital." He was diffident.
She ran through recent cases in her head. "When was that?"
Still nothing. "Was I there?"
Interesting. "What case were you working?"
"It wasn't a case."
Juliet stared at him openly; he clenched the steering wheel more tightly. "Then why were you at the hospital?"
He put on his sunglasses with one hand, which made her want to rip them off his face again. "It's not important."
"Carlton," she said fiercely.
"It was after the Thane Woodson case. Okay?" He deliberately looked away from her. "What do we know about the homicide?"
"Why were you at the hospital? You told me you were fine." She'd known full well he wasn't entirely fine, but she had in all honesty been focused on retrieving Carl Dozier, and oh yes, proving to herself (and Shawn) she wasn't a bad cop for having arrested Thane Woodson to begin with.
Juliet resisted the urge to slug his arm. "You do know I'm not going to drop this, right?"
"I thought I should have my head checked out. It's no big deal."
"But I asked you if you needed to—"
"We had to catch the Doziers," he reminded her.
"We did, but if you had a head injury—"
"It was just a mild concussion."
"Just a concussion?" She was agape. "Carlton, what kind of partner am I that I didn't see—"
"You're a cop, not a doctor."
"For you to go get checked out meant you felt pretty damned bad. Why didn't you tell me?"
"We had to catch the Doziers," he repeated.
"I think we could have found time to get you to the hospital!" she insisted. "That was a serious collision!"
"Yes, I know. I was there." His tone was dry.
Juliet felt sick, remembering the force of the impact. "I am so sorry. I should have made you go."
"Everything's fine. I told you. You wanted to know where I met Ricki, and that's where."
Oh yes: the original reason for this line of questioning. "She's an ER nurse?"
Carlton didn't answer.
Maybe he thought it was rhetorical. She persisted, willing to make it lighter if he needed that, "I guess she remembered your big blue and probably dilated eyes from that day. How long did you have to wait in the ER?"
"Not long," he said shortly.
There was more here, and she felt uneasy again. She stared at his impassive profile until he glanced at her.
"What aren't you telling me?"
"Nothing. They kept me until they were sure my head was still on, that's all."
"And how long was that?"
"I was back to work Monday morning, wasn't I?"
"How long were you there, Carlton?" she repeated, both sick and angry.
"I got home Sunday afternoon. Here we are," he said—brisk as if this was nothing of consequence—stopped the car while she was still gaping at him, and was halfway out the door before she reached over and grabbed hard at his sleeve to hold him back.
"You were in the hospital all weekend long?"
Carlton tugged his arm free, but not without effort. "O'Hara, that was a month ago, it's over, and everything's fine. Let's go do our jobs, okay?"
Stunned, she sank back against her seat after he slammed the door and strode away.
He had been hospitalized—and not without a fight, she knew that without asking—all weekend long and never said a word to her. No call, no text, not so much as a whisper in the days or five weeks since. Not even a complaint about the food.
This wasn't right.
Somehow, it was her fault.
Juliet scrambled out of the car and raced to catch up with him, yanking him around to face her just before he reached to open the heavy glass door into the office building. "Carlton Lassiter, you stop your Irish ass right there."
He'd taken off his sunglasses again, and his vivid blue gaze was both cross and surprised, that oh-so-familiar frown directed fully at her. "What."
"Are you really going to make me ask you again why in the hell you didn't tell me you were going through all that?"
"Going through what? I lay around in a hospital bed for a couple of days. It wasn't exactly high drama, O'Hara."
"Carlton, stop downplaying. I need to know why you didn't call me. I need to know."
His jaw clenched briefly. "You were busy."
Juliet stared at him. "Busy with what? What could I possibly have been doing to make you think—"
"You were celebrating your victory with Spencer," he ground out. "Far be it from me to interrupt that."
Mentally, she flailed around for a handhold. "It was our victory, Carlton. Yours and mine, as cops."
"The hell it was. That was about you righting an unintentional wrong, proving to Spencer he was an asshat to think he had to correct the error, and it had nothing to do with me. It was never even my case to begin with."
"You're my partner, and you stood by me, and you helped me fix it. You supported me all the way," she insisted. He had, too. He'd touted her work to Shawn, he'd never once given her any flak for the original closure of the investigation, and apart from his opening snark that the case would drive her and Spencer apart, he'd been right beside her the whole time.
Carlton drew himself in—she could see his retreat. "The point is, that weekend was about you and him. There was nothing you could do for me, and everything Is. Fine. Now." He put his hand on her upper arm and tried to ease her aside, but Juliet didn't budge.
The truth was, the case had driven her apart from Shawn. Three weeks later, she'd grown tired of his constant reminders that together they ("but mostly me") had saved Thane Woodson from the cruel injustice ("no offense, Jules") of his original arrest ("not that you did anything wrong, Jules, but isn't it good I saved… I mean, that I got you invested in reworking the case?"). She'd begun to finally see the pattern of their relationship; in fact, the pattern of all his relationships, and had cut him loose. Or maybe cut herself loose.
That she hadn't told Carlton—even while berating him about not telling her of his hospitalization—was an irony not lost on her.
"Did you really think I wouldn't be there for you?" she asked softly, very much afraid he'd flat-out say yes, and she wouldn't be able to blame him one bit.
He sighed. "O'Hara, it wasn't about whether you'd be there for me. But you're part of a package deal with the primary source of my blinding headaches, and since I had a concussion, I really didn't need Spencer around to make my skull explode, did I?"
Juliet released her grip on his arm, staring at him in… disbelief, or shock, or shame or embarrassment or… all of the above.
Carlton gave her a moment, and then pushed past her, not exactly gently. He held the door for a few seconds, and when she didn't follow, let it close between them.
Later, it felt like a hell of a metaphor.
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A package deal with Shawn.
Which truthfully included Gus most of the time. To Carlton, it must have seemed nigh on horrifying to think of the three of them parading into his hospital room. In her defense, she'd have tried to keep Shawn away, but how hard would she have tried, really?
She took for granted Shawn wouldn't listen to her when she said 'back off' because he never listened to her. It had become merely a faint hope of 'someday' when she said those words, and Shawn always blithely did whatever he wanted.
She remembered being at the Psych office once when Carlton called about a case and told her not to let them come, and her immediate response had been that she assumed they would follow her anyway—and she said so in front of Shawn. Wasn't that tacit permission, if not an outright invitation?
Juliet paced her apartment, seeing the great distance she had created between herself and Carlton, hands-down the most dependable, loyal, trustworthy person in her life. She saw what she had done to break his trust in her, time and again.
Not only by the big sins—concealing her involvement with Shawn in the first place—but by the little subtle sins, such as giving him any reason at all to think she wouldn't stand on her own, sans Shawn, to be his friend and supporter.
Someone who wouldn't ignore the aftereffects of a brutal collision. Someone who wouldn't gamble with her partner's health.
Someone who would have taken him to the damn hospital herself and insisted he get checked out—screw the Doziers—if not to follow long established and highly sensible protocol then because she was his friend.
Her tears were bitter, but thankfully short. She braced herself for what she had to do now: rebuild.
She was done with Shawn. She'd tried to make it an amicable split, despite his clear disbelief that anything could be wrong with their relationship. She hoped he'd respect her request for him to keep his distance awhile, and for the last two weeks he had indeed been scarce.
Carlton, on the other hand, was her partner, and she didn't even want to contemplate ever being done with him. He was the one she trusted, the one who was supposed to be able to trust her in all things. The one who had taught her more in these seven years about being a good cop than she could ever have dreamed.
The one she prided herself on having… softened.
She had, she knew. His edges were a little less rough. He took a moment, more often, before running roughshod on people. He was less quick to assume everyone in the field was a suspect or an enemy. He laughed more with her; he relaxed more. He told her things he knew she'd never tell anyone else, because he trusted her.
Or he had.
Now, it was clear he didn't think he could, because Shawn was always looming, mocking, belittling, denigrating. Shawning.
But Shawn was out of the picture now, and starting tomorrow, she was going to repair her partnership—her friendship—with Carlton, no matter what.
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One good thing about nearly always getting to work before Juliet was that Carlton could assess the day and his mood before she turned up. Juliet's good cheer was hard to completely resist, despite his most valiant efforts to maintain a finely-honed foul disposition.
Today he'd decided—after their rather intense confrontation yesterday afternoon—to be… steady. It was unlikely she'd let it completely drop (he knew her), but he could… maintain.
At the crime scene, she'd merely worked quietly alongside him, saying no more about The Discussion, but he knew she was Thinking. Analyzing. On a double-track of crime investigation and Carlton investigation, Juliet O'Hara was more than capable of keeping both in her sights.
Ricki was married, and she hadn't been flirting. He knew even in his hospital room her pleasant demeanor was more about keeping him calm. (By his own standards, he'd been cranky to the nth degree.) But he wished now he'd come up with a lie about how she knew him. Anything to have avoided The Discussion.
He'd wanted to call Juliet that weekend. But apart from his physical pains being a good reason to avoid everyone, he'd seen how (uncharacteristically) quickly she'd accepted his 'I'm fine,' after the crash, and having Spencer later 'joke' that he'd died in that crash had seemed unusually bastardly. Juliet's shushing him was barely noticeable, and that stung.
She was focused on solving the case, on restoring her self-respect and proving Shawn wrong, and he had no problem with any of that. He'd have told her he was fine even if he'd had to carry his head out of the car in his hands, because he wanted justice done too.
But the idea of calling her that weekend—knowing Spencer and probably Guster would follow her in, and she'd tolerate it—no. Just no.
He poured coffee and smoothed his tie, and braced himself for a day of pretending. Their partnership wasn't what it had been, but it was far from being a lost cause, and incidentally, it was all he had.
So when Juliet came in and smiled cautiously at him, he smiled back as if he meant it, and got down to work as if everything was going to be all right.
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Karen Vick stepped into the station with her mind racing. The meeting she'd just had with the FBI had gone a completely different direction from any she might have expected and she wasn't sure she had a full grip on the matter yet.
But time was of the essence, they assured her, so rather than make a public summons, she called Carlton from her desk phone and asked him to discreetly bring Juliet into her office as soon as possible. Sooner, even.
Through the blinds, she saw him get up and move with reasonable speed to Juliet's desk; the slim young woman gave him a bright smile which faded after he spoke to her, and neither was smiling as they walked down the hall to her door.
Carlton didn't wait to be asked to close it behind them, and they sat across from her, expectant.
Karen gazed at her top detectives as if they were strangers. Carlton, lean and remote, his large blue eyes perceptive and searching. Juliet, calm but curious, always steadfast and relentlessly optimistic.
Start brisk, Vick. "I've just come from a conference with the FBI at the courthouse, and I'll get to the point. Detective O'Hara, they want to use you for a sting operation."
Juliet blinked. "Really?"
Carlton glanced at her with a faint smile of pride. "There's a gold star for the personnel file."
Juliet seemed more pleased by his remark than Karen would have expected, and once again she considered the recent distance she'd noticed between this formerly tight team.
"What's the mission?" she asked. "Nothing too complicated for my first time out with the Feds, I hope."
"They want you to be yourself, only… gone rogue."
Carlton scoffed before Juliet did, but Juliet spoke first. "Rogue? Do they know me?"
"O'Hara's professional reputation is damn near spotless. No one's going to believe she's gone rogue."
"The mission," Karen said, "is to be chosen to perform a hit."
Juliet's mouth dropped open. "A hit?"
"Once you're chosen, agree to the job and accept payment, they can move in and arrest the perps."
"Uh, payment's usually made after the hit is performed," Carlton pointed out unnecessarily.
"They assure me the victim will be protected." She hoped.
"But Chief, why do they want me? Don't they have anyone in their office to do this?"
"For that matter, don't the perps have their own guy?"
"It's a mob case," Karen explained. "The suspects are looking for someone completely unconnected to them, according to the FBI's inside man, and the FBI needs someone equally unconnected to their side to make Juliet's placement plausible."
"But you said she's supposed to be herself, so why would they take on a cop to do the job?"
"They say the leader of the pack they're after would find it deliciously tempting."
"Tempting," Juliet repeated, still seemingly at a loss.
"Tempting for them to take her down the second they figure out what's going on," Carlton snapped. His eyes were ablaze now and Karen was savvy enough to recognize personal attachment and fear for his partner in his reaction.
"The FBI has already developed a cover story to answer all these concerns," she said as calmly as if she believed it.
"Well, I'd like to know what it is, Chief, because any screwups on my part if I can't pull it off could cost more than my life, and I don't want to be responsible for that."
"Let's hear it, Chief."
Karen briefly considered censuring Carlton for his tone, but the truth was she'd have sounded like that herself—had sounded like that half an hour ago to the FBI, in fact.
He pressed on, "She's like the gold standard for good police work, and for that matter, my record's pretty good too. You'd have to convince the mob that I'm either allowing the transgressions or part of them myself."
She eyed him. "Oh, don't worry, you play a key role in this too."
"Carlton does?" Juliet sounded relieved. "So I won't be totally out there on my own?"
While she was thinking how the hell to answer, she noted the two exchanging a glance—Juliet's steady, his slightly surprised. Karen filed that away for later study.
Still Carlton persisted, "Come on, Karen, lay it out."
Juliet leaned forward. "What cover story is going to make anyone think I've suddenly become a dirty cop?"
"Not a dirty cop," Karen corrected. "Just a cop who can be manipulated."
"But how? What on earth would make me a credible choice?"
"Well," she said, pausing to take a deep breath, "for starters, the fact that you're going to blind your partner."
They stared at her—and it occurred to her they both had rather remarkable blue eyes, especially now that both pairs were fixed on hers so relentlessly.
She added helplessly, "As a result of a car accident."
Carlton frowned… but Juliet went white.
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