More shots echoed above him as Shawn raced down the wooden stairs and back around toward where Brannigan and Lassiter had fallen. He tried to count—tried to figure out how many bullets Salamatchia had left based on the type of gun it was. That he could remember, playing those few seconds back in his mind, and when Salamatchia gave up trying to hit him Shawn was relatively sure there were two rounds left.
What he couldn’t remember—what he hadn’t seen or didn’t want to remember—was where Brannigan had taken the hit. He didn’t know, and Lassie had gone down the stairs and there were any number of things that could go horribly wrong when falling down stairs and he hadn’t heard anything more from either of them.
Shawn rounded the corner and nearly tripped over her. He stopped and his arms pinwheeled, and he could see the stairs stretching away but he couldn’t see Lassie. He didn’t hear anything. But he didn’t see Salamatchia either. No one pointing a gun at him. But the stair landing just above blocked his view of the loft anyway. A blind spot.
And at his feet Brannigan wasn’t moving. He didn’t really want to look down, because he knew what he’d see. The glimpse when he stopped was enough to tell him, before he’d looked up to check for possible mad gunmen.
“Crap...Betsy…” Shawn gasped. He bent over his knees, trying to breathe, getting a better look he didn’t want.
The SBPD’s head detective lay splayed on her side, eyes open. The bullet had caught her in the side of the neck and come out...he couldn’t see it. But a puddle of blood was spreading from under her head.
She never had a chance.
The sound of two new shots startled him. Shawn jerked upright again and sprinted for the base of the stairs.
Two shots. Both the same sound. From the same gun. Salamatchia had two shots left.
An arm, falling. A body upside down on the last two or three steps of the stairs.
Shawn’s stomach dropped, but a thump from above made him look up. A foot hung over the edge of the loft, unmoving. Salamatchia’s shoes.
He could breath again. It was Lassiter at the base of stairs, but he was moving, pulling himself upright, clinging to one of the steps for leverage to pull his legs down, to position himself sitting on the bottom step. He was holding his right arm close to his body, but he was alive.
“Shh!” Lassie hissed. He leaned back into the concrete wall the stairs were built against so he could push the small gun he held into Shawn’s hands when Shawn made it to him, crouched in front of him.
“Take this,” Lassiter whispered urgently. “You have to check him.”
“He’s not moving, Lassie. I’m pretty sure he’s—“
“Check! We don’t need anymore surprises, and I can’t—” He leaned away from the wall, trying to pull himself up farther to illustrate his point. He failed, falling back dizzily and grunting.
“Whoa, ok. Give me a hand, would you?” Shawn set the gun on the step so he could wrestle out the keys he’d shoved into his pocket earlier and get the knife open.
He didn’t necessarily trust Lassie to position the knife himself right now—even though he’d apparently landed at least one of those shots a moment ago—but he could use the leverage. He found a safe spot between his hands and under the tape to slip the blade, and Lassiter pulled up with his good hand to get enough of a cut for Shawn to get the stuff off. With the tape gone the shoelaces unraveled, and his hands were sticky, but free.
Maybe he used a little too much force yanking the stuff off his hands and tossing it away, but whatever.
“Ok,” he said, taking up the gun. “So just...make sure he’s not gonna start shooting people again, right?”
Lassiter nodded once and his eyes closed. He made a face and he was holding his arm.
“What’s wrong with your arm?”
“Nothing, my just shoulder’s out. Go!” he shot back quietly.
The foot above still wasn’t moving. There wasn’t a whole lot of point to this, but...at the same time, Shawn welcomed any chance to stall telling Lassie about Brannigan. Shawn didn’t know how he’d take it right now, after...yeah.
Also, Lassie was more than a little right. They didn’t need anymore surprises.
Shawn crept up the stairs, leading with the gun as Lassie had done earlier. Probably not as skilled in his form, but that was neither here nor there. He could still hit a target like nobody’s business thanks to his dad, but he didn’t carry a gun around every day.
The body up in the loft wasn’t moving, wasn’t breathing. Both shots had landed in the torso. Shawn kicked away the gun resting beside him anyway, mostly to make Lassie happy, and checked for a pulse. There wasn’t one.
“Yeah, he’s dead,” Shawn said, when he made it back to Lassie. He lowered himself down against the wall beside him, on the next step up, and gave Lassie his gun back. Lassiter secured it in his ankle holster and then they were just sitting there, shoulder to shoulder, both still trying to catch their breath.
Shawn wondered if there would ever be enough.
Lassiter was the one to break the silence.
“Brannigan’s dead too, isn’t she?” he asked softly.
Shawn blinked at him, and the first time he opened his mouth nothing came out, but he wasn’t really surprised. Lassie wasn’t stupid.
“I’m sorry…” he managed finally. He didn’t know what else to say.
Lassiter just nodded and looked away, grimacing. Shawn thought that might be it for now until Lassie scrubbed a hand over his face and let out a breath that sounded more like a moan. He cursed a few times and let his head drop back against the wall.
Shawn sat. He wanted to thank Lassie for showing up, for coming for him, but now didn’t seem like the time, not at all, and he didn’t know what he was supposed to say about anything else, either. But he was sitting here. He was doing that. And Lassie hadn’t growled at him to move or anything, and he probably didn’t need to because Brannigan had undoubtedly called for backup before coming in. Jules was coming. She had to be coming.
“Jules should be coming.” He said it aloud for Lassiter, who nodded again silently.
So Shawn sat, and he kind of leaned in a little more on Lassie’s good shoulder so he knew Shawn was there, because that was all he could think to do. It could have easily been weird but Lassie didn’t say anything. He didn’t seem to mind.
Juliet and McNab had scarcely finished checking one previous residence and gotten back in the car when Brannigan radioed. Both the car Salamatchia had been driving and Lassiter’s Ford Fusion were on the street outside the old Petrovich place.
She told them she was going in. McNab asked her to wait for backup, but they were nearly twenty minutes out and there wasn’t a unit that could get there quicker. Brannigan made it clear she wouldn’t have anyone dying in there while she sat around outside waiting for extra guns.
“Betsy, be careful,” McNab pleaded.
Then she was gone.
The dash there was tense and silent, as was the climb down into the underground hideout. The place seemed strangely quiet as they made their way in, weapons drawn.
There was no standoff, no commotion, no movement...just Shawn and Carlton, sitting on the bottom steps of the stairs leading to the loft.
“Jules!” Shawn stood up, a little unsteady. One side of his face was covered in dried blood that had dripped from a nasty gash at his hairline, his lip was split, and his chin and the other cheek showed bruises.
But he was alive. He was ok. A tight knot in her stomach unraveled and Juliet wanted nothing more than to go to him, hold onto him, but her instincts took over.
“Where’s Salamatchia?” she asked.
Shawn pointed vaguely up and as he stepped over Carlton’s legs to the concrete floor. “Up there...he’s dead.”
“Any other hostiles?”
“Nah...we’re clear in here.”
Juliet and McNab lowered their weapons, but McNab still looked worried. “Where’s Detective Brannigan?” he asked.
Brannigan. Oh no. The look on Shawn’s face when McNab asked gave Juliet the answer before he said anything. She clamped a hand tight over her mouth, and on the stairs Carlton was making that face he made when he didn’t know what other face to make. When nothing made sense and there was nothing he could do about it.
Shawn swallowed. “Buzz...I’m...I am so sorry, man…”
McNab deflated. “What? But...no…”
Juliet sobbed once, quiet and dry. By the time Shawn looked at her she’d dropped her hand already and composed herself.
“Buzz, why don’t you go up to the car with Shawn and make sure dispatch knows what we need here, ok?” she said gently. Wherever Brannigan was, whatever happened to her, he didn’t need to see it. Not now. Not like this. They could all pay their respects later.
He looked like he might protest, but he didn’t. After a moment McNab nodded and Shawn took his arm and led him back for the entrance and the ladder. When he passed Shawn caught Juliet’s hand, squeezed it, and looked in her eyes long enough for her to know he’d be all right.
Not right now. None of them were ok right now. But he was here, and he would be.
“Oh! Shawn!” She remembered something before they’d gotten too far. She pulled her phone from her pocket and held it out. Shawn came back for it. “Your dad. Please call your dad.”
When they were gone Juliet crossed to the stairs, stepped over Carlton’s legs and took Shawn’s place beside him against the wall, on the next step.
“How are you doing?” she asked after a minute or two.
He let out a breath, and looked like he was actually thinking about it. “I don’t think I could stand up right now if I wanted to.”
He glanced up the stairs. “Falling down a relatively steep flight of stairs...not such a great idea when one already has a concussion.”
“That’s what happened to your arm?”
Carlton shrugged, grimaced. “It’s fine. Just out of socket. I think.”
“We’ll have paramedics here soon…”
There was silence, and then he said something. “It was him or me.”
Juliet looked at him quickly. “I didn’t say anything,” she said, surprised.
“But you were thinking—”
“No. I wasn’t.” She shifted on the step, turned into him to be sure he was looking at her. “You were upset earlier. I know that. We worked side by side for eight years, Carlton. You’re my friend. Do you seriously think I don’t know you well enough to believe no matter how big you talk, when it comes down to the line you’d never kill anyone if it wasn’t the only way?”
Carlton looked at her. His eyes misted, and he looked away. “Sorry.”
Juliet started to put an arm around his shoulders, then remembered that would hurt and pulled it awkwardly back. There wasn’t even a hand available; he was holding his injured arm against him to minimize the pain until it could be put back in place. She ended up threading her hand through his other arm, just so she had something to hold onto. Because right now she felt like she needed it, and maybe he did, too. He didn’t complain.
“You didn’t tell me he had Shawn,” he said.
“And you didn’t tell me he called you,” she shot back. Anyone else would have gotten defensive—thought she was starting an argument. But they’d known each other long enough he knew that wasn’t the case. She was offering a truce. They’d both been wrong, and neither of them had any high ground. Not that such things should really matter right now.
Carlton looked at her again, snorted a breath through his nose and relaxed, and if it were any other day he might have smiled a little. He didn’t now, but Juliet got the message. His assent. This would be the end of it.
“Lily has eyes on her at the hospital,” Juliet offered.
He sighed. “Thank you.”
The way his voice went wobbly when he said it reminded her everything else was far from over.
Henry yelled at him when he called, because apparently no one had updated him in the last hour or so. Shawn knew that was just his twisted personal way of communicating love and concern.
“This whole detail shows up to keep an eye on Lily, and no one would tell me anything—”
“Dad, I was kind of tied to a chair…”
Shawn sat with McNab until everybody else started to show up—two black and whites, Woody, two ambulances, and Detective Dobson and his partner because neither Buzz nor Lassie were in any state to be taking over the scene, and Jules didn’t work here anymore.
Dobson kind of looked at Shawn funny when he spotted him. Maybe that had something to do with the video he’d sent.
Gus texted Jules that the LAPD had gotten the update that everything was safe and resolved in Santa Barbara, so they were sending him home. He and Jules’s car were on the way back. Shawn texted back he should meet them at the station because he figured they’d all be there by then, what with needing to get statements in and all.
Then because Shawn had mentioned in the text that it was him, Gus called Jules’s phone and wailed for a few minutes because Shawn was ok.
“Dude. Pull yourself together and drive. I’ll still be in one piece when you get here.”
Shawn let one of the paramedics clean up his face and stitch the gash. They told him he’d be fine, mild concussion, make sure somebody woke him up every few hours for a day or two, bla bla bla...McNab just stood there with him and looked lost. Both of them tried not pay attention when Woody and the other paramedics brought up the body bags.
When Jules and Lassie came back up Lassiter’s arm was fixed and in a sling again, and Jules had taken her vest off. She guided Lassie to the passenger seat of her car and dumped the vest in her trunk, and then she was looking around and Shawn knew who she wanted.
Shawn hopped off the back of the ambulance where the guy who’d patched up his face had put him. He patted McNab on the shoulder, motioning to Jules.
“Ok,” McNab said.
“Look, man, you gonna be ok?”
“Yeah, I guess.” He winced. “I guess I’ll take Detective Brannigan’s car back to the station and see if I can help with anything.”
“Ok...I’ll see you there.”
Shawn bounded over to Jules’s duty car and she had her arms out before he got there.
“I should be so angry with you right now,” she said into his shoulder.
“And I would so deserve it.”
Jules made a strange sound. “We’ll have to get your dad in here.”
“I called him, Jules. He knows I’m ok; he’s fine.”
“No, I mean...something he said after you left the hospital...guilt police…”
Shawn shook his head against her neck in confusion and held on a little tighter. “Ok, we’ll have to get into that later. I’m not really...processing, right now.”
“That makes two of us,” she admitted. “I’m just glad you’re ok. That’s about as far as I’ve gotten.”
“I’m ok with that.”
Shawn pulled back just enough to kiss her. Their foreheads rested together for a moment, until Jules pulled back a little more and lowered herself back onto her heels.
“You’re going to the station, right?” she asked.
“You still have Carlton’s keys?”
“Uhm…” He patted his pockets. “Yeah.”
“Ok. Could you use his car and bring it back to the house later, when you’re done there? I’m taking him home now. Dobson’s all right with it; we can give our statements tomorrow. Right now he really just...I’m getting him out of here.”
Shawn nodded, and tried to give her phone back.
“Keep it. I’ll call you from the house phone when you’re clear to come over there. Um…” She trailed off and made a face. “Don’t come until then?”
Shawn blinked a couple of times, then nodded again. “Um, yeah. Ok. You got it.”
Before she left he pulled her close one more time.
Carlton didn’t say anything else until they were inside the house. He stared out the window on the way there, and Juliet could only imagine where he was.
She followed him inside and up the stairs. He started talking about the guest room and how he didn’t know when the bedding in there had been washed last—Henry said right before he left, but who knew for sure?
“That box right outside the door should be sheets and blankets though. The hall closet isn’t very big so I think Marlowe wants to store some of them in that dresser in...there…”
Carlton trailed off when he realized what he’d said. His face crumpled and there was a heavy breath.
Juliet reached for his hand. “Hey. If you could think of one thing in the world that would make you feel better right now, what would it be?”
He almost smiled. In the past that exact question had led to such humorous answers as sloppy joes (when she asked him after the haunted-condo incident) and double fudge sundaes (when he asked her once). She didn’t expect anything funny now, but that was fine. Some of the tension went out of his shoulders and he leaned back into the wall there in the upstairs hallway. He squeezed her hand, and his eyes went distant, like he was thinking about it.
“Tell me what I’m supposed to do now?” he asked quietly.
“Now, you’re supposed to sleep.”
Carlton shook his head. “No...I mean...I mean…”
This time it wasn’t a breath. It was a sob.
That was what she’d thought.
“What the hell am I supposed to do now, O’Hara?” he cried. “I don’t know. I don’t—”
He cut off when Juliet wrapped her arms around him, stopped trying to talk. Carlton sobbed into her shoulder, and since that morning on the clock tower this was one favor she’d always hoped she would never have reason to return.
Everyone knew it when Gus made it to the station. Shawn was in the middle of the bullpen milling around, waiting for Jules to call, keeping an eye on McNab because he’d already given his statement and had nothing else to do.
Gus charged in and made a beeline for him.
Like with Jules, he thought he’d probably get a good tongue lashing. But he didn’t. Gus latched on, and didn’t let go for a really, really, embarrassingly long time. Seriously, people were starting to stare.
“Shut up, Shawn. People died today. People we knew. And you could easily have been one of them. I’m entitled to this.”
Shawn clapped him on the back and sighed, and held on, and figured he was right.
Juliet didn’t protest when Carlton wandered back down the stairs and chose the couch to collapse on, rather than the bed he would have had to face alone. She pulled off his shoes, and he was asleep almost before she tracked down a blanket to pull over him and a pillow to stuff under his head.
She crept into the kitchen to the phone, called Shawn to let him know she’d be up in the guest room, and climbed back up the stairs. They felt like a mountain.
She wanted to take a shower, but she didn’t think she’d have the energy to stand up that much longer. She remembered the bag with the few clothes she’d brought was down in the car, but she didn’t want to go back down for that, either. She set a few alarms on the clock by the full-sized bed in the guest room, stripped down to her t-shirt and underwear, and crawled under the covers.
Gus was reluctant to part with him when Jules called. Shawn said he was sure they could find a place for him to crash, too, that his bed was still in Lily’s room and there had to be sheets somewhere. Gus thought about it seriously, but he declined and said he didn’t want to intrude. He’d be at his place. The mattress was still there on the floor and he could dig some sheets back out.
“Dude, it’s my bed at the house. You’ve slept in it five million times anyway.”
“But it’s Lassiter’s house now, and he’s got enough going on as it is. Besides, tomorrow I’ve got to get up and figure out how to get back to San Francisco before my first interview Tuesday morning, because I know you and Juliet aren’t going to want to go back just yet. I might have to take a bus or something. I’ll probably spend half this afternoon comparing prices.”
“Ok, Gus, but get some sleep, ok?”
Gus nodded wearily. “I hear that.” He hesitated before he headed back out to Jules’s little green car. “Shawn?”
“Look...if I don’t see him, just, if there’s a good time, tell Lassie…”
“Yeah. I got you, man.”
The house Shawn grew up in was still and quiet when he arrived. Jules’s duty car was on the street, and he pulled Lassiter’s Ford Fusion into the driveway where his dad’s truck would have been just weeks ago.
It was even weirder going inside. The place had been full of boxes the last time he saw it, too, but these were different boxes. His dad’s furniture was gone and Lassie and Marlowe’s stuff had replaced it. Shawn had thought maybe their unique combination of modern and classy furniture would clash with the manly-ish 70s and 80s interior of the house, but strangely enough it kind of worked. It’d probably work better after some repainting, but whatever.
Then Shawn wondered why he was worrying about that stuff, and figured it was just because it was easier to think about than other things.
Lassie was passed out on the couch. Shawn felt a little weird stopping at the kitchen doorway to watch him for a minute, but no one else was going to know. He just needed to see Lassie was ok. “Ok” being a seriously relative term right now, but anyway...
Even across the dim living room Shawn could make out the dry streaks on Lassiter’s face and the almost imperceptible hitches in his breathing, even while he slept. Maybe no one else would have seen those things, but Shawn did. Because he was him. It was one of those times he wished he wasn’t.
So he knew exactly why Jules had asked him to wait.
At least Lassie was really sleeping now.
Shawn trudged up the stairs and found the oversized closet that passed as a guest room. There was barely enough space inside for the full-sized bed and a small wooden dresser. The flowery bedspread was a vestige of the years before his mother left.
Jules was bundled under the covers. Shawn shrugged out of his shoes and jeans and tried not to wake her as he climbed in, but she woke up and turned over into his arms anyway.
“Hey,” she whispered.
Shawn could feel his eyelids drooping already, and everything was fine for a while. He was alive and Salamatchia was taken care off and Jules was here, and she was warm, and that should have been enough.
So why was he shaking? Why was he cold?
“Shawn?” Jules asked.
He didn’t know why his throat tightened suddenly, or why he turned over so she couldn’t see his face. Jules pressed herself into his back, wrapped herself around him, and he knew what this was. He wasn’t dumb. It had happened before.
“Shawn, it’s ok,” Jules whispered. “It’s over…”
Shawn couldn’t breathe. There was a thought that wouldn’t quite take shape, and he knew it was the reason for this—not the reason, there’d been so much, but it was the instigator.
“It could have been you,” he gasped. The thought took on words and pushed itself between his lips, and dry sobs followed it. “It could have been you, Jules. If you and Buzz had gotten there first. It could have been you. You could be dead right now, and I’d be...and I mean I know that sounds really awful right now, but—”
He didn’t have any air to form any more words, and Jules tugged on his shoulder until he turned back over.
“Shawn, Shawn, it’s ok. You’re not awful.”
“You’re just human.” She kissed him gently—his forehead, his cheeks, his lips. “It’s ok. I’m right here. I’m not going anywhere. Come here.”
Jules pulled him into her chest and he cried for a little while, and that was ok. He was pretty sure she was crying, too.
“Jules, what are we gonna do? Lassie…”
“We’ll be here.”
Shawn sniffed and cleared his throat loudly. “Yeah,” he agreed. “Whatever it takes, right?”
It seemed to be their mantra about everything lately, but it worked.
“Whatever it takes.”