It all started with a bare light bulb that hung from the ceiling, swaying gently in the breeze and casting deep shadows throughout the rest of the room.

"Spencer!" Lassiter snapped, glaring across the table at the younger man.

Spencer stopped, the rest of the air leaking from his puffed cheeks in deflated rejection, his eyes widening in innocence as he looked at Lassiter. There was silence as the light slowly came to a standstill in the absence of Spencer's manipulations, only illuminating the table and the two men.

Spencer bit his lip against the smile Lassiter could see forming. "Just trying to set the mood," he said. He snorted when Lassiter tilted his chin to take his glare into "seriously threatening bodily harm" mode.

Lassiter labeled it number four in a ten level glare setting. He liked using numbers three to six with the fake psychic, reserving the latter levels for serious criminals and his ex-wife's lawyers. Though ever since he'd finalized his divorce and met Marlowe, the lawyers had graciously been spared his withering looks whenever they crossed paths.

"Good evening, gentlemen," came a deep voice from the shadows and Spencer threw his head back in laughter.

"Oh, this…this is awesome! Did you study the book on clichés just for us, dude?"

Lassiter hissed a warning to the younger man to shut up, clenching his teeth when it was ignored.

"Oh, come on! Tell me you weren't thinking it," Spencer said, smirking at Lassiter and proceeding to speak in a ridiculous, overly-dramatic voice. "The bare light bulb hung over the table, swaying gently in the breeze and casting deep shadows in the rest of the room. Before the man could free himself from the rope tying him to the chair, a deep voice spoke from the darkness, welcoming him to his new fate…"

He trailed off at Lassiter's look—grade five now, because if the idiot didn't shut up, they probably wouldn't make it out of this situation alive…not that their chances were looking all that great at the moment, anyways—and lifted his shoulders in a slow shrug.

"I take it you've never read any suspense novels," he finished, not even flinching when a hand suddenly materialized from behind him to clasp his shoulder.

"I find this method very effective," came the voice again, the knuckles of the hand growing white as it squeezed Spencer's shoulder.

Lassiter twisted his hands against the rope binding them to the arms of the chair as Spencer winced. "What do you want?" He growled, squinting into the darkness as he tried to see the man.

"You have some information that I want." The hand disappeared into the dark abyss behind the younger man and Lassiter scowled.

"That's too bad. I just don't feel like I'm in a sharing mood today," he said.

"Knife," Spencer mouthed at him. "In three…two…"

A knife slashed through the air, glinting in the light from the single light bulb before it dug into the table with a dull thunk. Spencer grinned, still mirthful even as a hand curved around his shoulder again and squeezed.

"Oh, I think you'll talk."

This couldn't end well.

It wasn't until the thug started giving his monologue that Spencer acted up again, his eyes lighting up with his grin. Honestly, Lassiter was surprised it had taken the other man that long to start again.

"Something funny?" Asked the man that had yet to step fully into the light.

"Let's see… Cliché number three, threaten a police officer to talk, I quote, 'or else,' followed by number four, giving a monologue on why you chose to become the world's stupidest criminal by kidnapping Santa Barbara's head detective and SB's own psychic detective." Spencer hummed thoughtfully, cocking his head in the direction the criminal's voice had come from. "Yeah, the whole thing's pretty hysterical, actually."

Lassiter rolled his eyes. Why couldn't the idiot just keep his mouth shut? The punch to the younger man's face snapped his head to the side, immediately splitting his lip and sending drops of blood down his chin.

Lassiter couldn't help but silently supply the next cliché. Smart mouth hostage is punished for not keeping his mouth closed.

...

"You know what I'm hoping for? Like, would-cross-my-fingers-if-Bruce Banner-hadn't-just-broken-them hoping for?" Spencer's voice was thin, pain not quite hidden despite his obvious efforts to do so. He continued before Lassiter could respond. "That the next cliché isn't going to be the heroes' near escape."

Lassiter put his hands under Spencer's arms and lifted carefully, grimacing at the whimper-like noises coming from the younger man. "Heroes' near escape?" He questioned, trying to keep his tone pitched somewhere between indifferent and annoyed. To his chagrin, however, his voice was much gruffer than he'd meant it to be, anger and helplessness bleeding out despite his attempts to keep it contained.

He'd had to watch while Joe Thug whaled away on Spencer all because he wanted Lassiter to answer his questions. Joe Thug wanted information on a case he had worked on, not Spencer. Spencer didn't know anything, and it annoyed Lassiter that the thug was attacking him. They should have been hitting him; he was the police officer, not Spencer. He was the one with the information; this was his game, not Spencer's. It was his job.

"Yeah, you know…the heroes think they're home free, but just when they turn the last corner to their freedom, the bad guy jumps out and stops them. It usually…stretches the book out another few chapters, while adding at least a half hour to…to a movie."

It was his job to protect civilians, and Spencer was one, despite his play-acting as a psychic "detective." The thug that had just recently taken the position of Lassiter's Most Wanted kept telling Lassiter to talk or "his friend" would be the one to continue suffering. It didn't matter if Lassiter only viewed Spencer as an acquaintance, an annoyance on his investigations that he had eventually become accustomed to. Their captor saw something different in their "relationship," no matter how many times Lassiter said he didn't care what happened to Spencer.

At least they hadn't taken O'Hara. Better that she was out there looking for them than a hostage with him. If it had been…difficult…to watch Spencer get the snot taken out of him, then it would have really been torture to watch his partner get hurt.

The fake psychic's sarcasm had most definitely not done Spencer any favors, however.

Idiot. Everyone knew they were supposed to keep their mouths shut if they were in a situation like this! At least with Spencer's unintended distraction, Lassiter had been able to work the rope loose enough to escape. He'd only waited a few minutes after the criminal left the room before he finished freeing himself and darted to Spencer. Spencer, who had given him a tired smile missing all traces of their mocking and competitive relationship and said, "Nice going, partner," even though he had done nothing to help Lassiter escape. Nothing except be the delinquent's punching bag, refusing to keep his mouth shut even as Lassiter shook his head in warning and the thug kept hitting him.

He came to a sudden stop in their trek across the room, causing Spencer to hiss in pained surprise.

"What?"

"You moron!" Lassiter growled, looking down at the younger man (glare number 8; they were reaching dangerous levels now). "You did that on purpose?!"

Spencer avoided his gaze, focused instead on the door they had almost reached. "I don't know what you're talking about, and I don't know if you've really noticed, but we're in a bit of a tight spot right now. You think maybe we could t-talk later? Like when we're safe and, preferably, sipping some smooth-smoothies on the beach?"

The other man's breath hitched in pain and Lassiter gritted his teeth. He shifted his focus to the faint outline of the door ahead of them as he started slowly forward again, bracing the younger man against his side when he reached forward to check the door handle. He twisted carefully, sighing in relief when the knob turned easily beneath his hand.

"Dude, never relax!" Spencer whispered urgently. "Not until you're free and the bad guy is behind bars!"

Lassiter ignored him, but when he opened the door to see the muzzle of a gun pointed straight at them, he had to say Spencer had a good point.

Cliché number six: the heroes' near escape.

"You know…I think I'd…really prefer the guy stop…stop fulfilling every awful suspense cliché that exists."

Spencer was back in that damn chair and Lassiter was strung up from the ceiling. He fumed silently at Joe Thug and his previously unseen partners who had left the room a short time before, leaving Lassiter a little worse for wear and Spencer much worse off than he had been. He blinked quickly as he tried to clear his sight of the blood that leaked into his eye.

"Is it so much…to ask for some…creativity? I mean, isn't that the least th-they could do? Especially when we're the ones having to go through every…mmm…everything?"

"Do you really want them to get creative, Spencer?" He asked, cocking an eyebrow at the younger man.

Spencer's head dipped, a breathy hum just reaching Lassiter from across the room. "At least they…turned the lights on finally."

It was true, they could actually see the rest of the room now; but that did little to help them. It just made it easier to see the injuries on the fake psychic and on Lassiter himself.

"You think…think Jules will…find us? S…soon?"

He didn't. Not soon enough, at least. Not for Spencer. "Of course she will."

Spencer smirked, and Lassiter saw something in his gaze that made his jaw clench. He knew. "You're a horrible…liar, Lassie."

"Shut up, Spencer. I'm trying to concentrate," he shot back quickly, staring up at the rope that wrapped around his wrists. He'd only given a few experimental tugs on the bonds—couldn't have been more than 30 seconds—before he froze, the silence that had filled the room after his comments finally sinking in. Spencer had actually listened? He narrowed his eyes and looked over at Spencer, barking out a sharp "Hey!" when he saw the fake-psychic's chin bobbing towards his chest.

Spencer flinched, head lifting with effort, eyes slowly creeping open to look at Lassiter in confusion. "'S matter?" He slurred, and Lassiter's lips pressed together in irritation.

"No sleeping. Or passing out. Or whatever the hell it is you're doing; not when you more than likely have a concussion."

Spencer blinked, head drooping before he caught himself. "Careful…you…'lmost sound like you…care." He gave a brief smile as he rested his head against the back of the chair.

Lassiter snorted at the possibility.

"So…how bad would it b-be? If the cliché-happy bad guy got the…the info he wanted? We talkin' Yin/Yang bad? Or Despereaux bad?"

"Weren't they both bad enough?" Lassiter asked. He didn't even grimace at the blood that streaked down his arms as he tried to free himself, didn't let the slight alarm (not panic; he was Head Detective—he never panicked) surface as he realized the rope wasn't going to budge any time soon no matter how he twisted and pulled.

"Dunno…" Spencer answered. "Despereaux had a certain ch-charm, you know?" He smiled at Lassiter's look of disgust.

"You and your man-crushes," Lassiter muttered, his hands twisting stubbornly against the bonds.

Spencer shook his head, his eyes slowly sliding to half-mast. "Might as well give…it up, Lassie. We both kn-know. It's not gonna be enough," he slurred. The door slowly creaked open and a sad smile twisted his face. "'S not gonna be enough. "

Lassiter finally managed to unravel the ropes when the men left again. He fell to the floor with a groan, wrapping an arm around his middle as pain flared. He didn't let it hold him back from getting back up again quickly, urgency growing at the fake-psychic's wheezing.

"Spencer!" he whispered as he hurried to his side, fingers exploring the knots that tied the other man to the chair.

"Lass…Lassie…" He gasped, chest hitching.

Wide, desperate eyes latched onto the detective, the agony and fear Lassiter could read in the gaze too much for him to stare at for long. He looked away quickly, swallowing at what he would only describe as discomfort. After all, Spencer was a colleague and it wasn't easy for him to see the younger man like this.

It wasn't like he really cared about the other man. Not enough for his fingers to tremble as he untied the rope. The only reason they were shaking was because of the pain he was in. That was all.

"C…can't br…breathe." The hand Lassiter had just freed latched onto Lassiter's shirt, broken fingers clenching in the material as Spencer tried to catch his breath.

Lassiter grabbed his arm, squeezing gently. "Easy now…Easy," he tried to soothe, even as the words felt awkward in his mouth. "Just take a slow breath, Spencer. Come on-" He cut off when the fake psychic arched his back, whimpers and gasps the only sound he could make now. "Spencer. Spencer!"

He hurried to finish untying the man, carefully pulling him from the chair to lay on the ground, his hands bracketing Spencer's head as he tried to get the man to focus on him. "Spencer, come on! Breathe!"

The pleading fell on deaf ears. Spencer's grip on his shirt went slack, his hand falling slowly back down to the ground as Lassiter watched in shock. No. Lassiter's breath stuttered in when Spencer's eyes slid shut.

"Spencer?" His fingers searched for a pulse, his own heart hammering in fear when he felt nothing. How was he going to tell O'Hara? His partner loved this moron, for some reason, and he'd died on Lassiter's watch!

The door burst open and Lassiter leaned over the other man, lips bared in a snarl at the figures rushing into the room. They weren't going to touch him again. Not on his watch, not when he was already…already…

"Carlton?"

"Detective?"

Voices mixed together in a cacophony that left him momentarily dazed.

"Shawn? Shawn! Paramedics; McNab, get the paramedics!"

O'Hara was suddenly in front of him, her shaking hands flitting over the fake-psychic's body until they landed on his neck, and she choked. She knew; she knew he was gone. How was he going to be able to face her now?

"No," she denied, leaning over him and starting compressions. Lassiter watched dumbly as she pinched Spencer's nose and blew into his mouth. It wouldn't work. He was gone. Lassiter knew he was gone.

He blinked and suddenly the paramedics were in front of him, pushing them both out of the way and taking over the life-saving actions O'Hara had been doing. Another blink and McNab was in front of him, asking him questions that were garbled and why the hell don't people speak clearly nowadays? He caught a glimpse of Spencer leaving the room on a stretcher, O'Hara close behind, and heard one of the paramedics hovering over the younger man yell that he had a pulse. Lassiter had a brief moment to think cliché number seven: the final rescue at the last possible moment before he blinked again and knew no more.

Lassiter shuffled into the room slowly, bruised eyes slowly traveling up and down the still body on the hospital bed. The steady beeping of the heart monitor was almost lulling, if he didn't linger too long on how necessary it was. Because Spencer's heart had stopped beating, because he had almost died.

Bruises painted the other man's face and torso, bandages covering cuts that Lassiter had helplessly watched being applied to his body. Twisted, broken fingers were straightened and taped together, limp hands resting on top of the blankets that hid more damage. (Spencer's head snapped back, his hoarse yell echoing in the dark room as first one finger snapped and then another and another…)

Seeing that Spencer was unconscious still, Lassiter took another step forward until he was hovering over the bed. He cleared his throat, eyes briefly going to the ceiling as he wondered why he was there, why he was torturing himself by visiting the other man.

"Nice going, partner," Spencer had said, even though he had done nothing to help Lassiter escape. Nothing except be the delinquent's punching bag, refusing to keep his mouth shut even as Lassiter shook his head in warning and the thug kept hitting him.

He came to a sudden stop in their trek across the room, causing Spencer to hiss in pained surprise.

"What?"

"You moron!" Lassiter growled, looking down at the younger man. "You did that on purpose?!"

"You shouldn't have done that, Spencer. You…" He cleared his throat again, eyes sweeping across the other man's body until they settled on the bed railing. "You moron, you should have just kept your mouth shut," he muttered. "It wouldn't have been so bad if you'd just kept quiet. But no; you're Spencer and you don't listen to others. You shoot your mouth off and ignore your own well-being for what? For me?"

He stopped, jaw clenching and unclenching. He forced a harsh breath out through his nose. "You're the civilian, Spencer. For all your charade of being a psychic detective, you are the civilian. I am the detective. I protect you, as much as the idea annoys me; not the other way around."

He pinched the bridge of his nose, eyes closing as he shook his head. "I tried to stop them, Spencer. I swear I did. But I couldn't do anything!"

"Carlton?"

Lassiter jerked and turned to see his partner standing in the doorway, coffee cup cradled in her hands.

"What are you doing?"

He hurried to explain he was looking for her (not talking to an unconscious pain in his butt) when another voice interrupted him.

"Aw, c'mon Jules! He was…baring his secrets to me! And he was…just getting to the good stuff!"

Lassiter spun back around, glaring as he saw a mischievous, wide-awake Spencer that he had assumed was still unconscious. The other man smirked and Lassiter's hands curled into tight fists. He really should have seen that coming. Cliché number eight: The confession to the not-so-unconscious victim.

"He was…confessing his undying love and…and devotion!"

Lassiter's scathing response was slow to come with the embarrassment over his accidental (supposedly private) tell-all. The lines of pain that bracketed the fake-psychic's mouth, the haunted look Spencer couldn't quite hide—not when the events that had occurred at the hands of Joe Thug and associates were still so fresh—and the hint of gratitude he could just detect in Spencer's expression, however, made the words he wanted to say take a detour.

"I was just telling Spencer he had to pay up on our little bet," he said instead.

"Bet?" O'Hara questioned, and Spencer's eyebrows furrowed in confusion.

"Spencer here thought you wouldn't be able to find us. I, of course, had complete faith in your detective skills, O'Hara. You owe me, Spencer," he smirked.

He didn't; he really didn't. But when he told his partner goodbye and glanced at Spencer, he was positive the other man understood that, if the slow nod Spencer gave him was any indication.

"He was lying, Jules," Spencer whined as Lassiter left the room, smiling to himself at the faux-psychic's denial. "I knew you would come. Scout's honor!"

"That doesn't count if you weren't a scout, Shawn!" O'Hara shot back, and Lassiter snorted to himself.

Spencer would be fine.

"Hey Jules, is this…serious enough for that…that nurse costume? Please…say yes."

Oh, sweet Lady Justice, he hadn't needed to hear that. He scrunched his nose, huffing a quiet laugh at his partner's reply.

"After hearing you doubted me? I don't think so."

Lassiter lengthened his stride and hurried away from the room, keen not to hear anything else from the man who was corrupting his partner. Not when Spencer's question reminded him of Marlowe's surprise when he'd gotten hurt three months before.

Now that was something he didn't mind dwelling on…