The alarm dragged Juliet from her sleep, but something was wrong about it. She couldn’t put a finger on why. She rolled over and Shawn was snoring beside her and everything should have been fine. It was the usual morning alarm on her phone, but…
She opened her eyes, took in the visual assault of flowers covering the bedspread they were both bundled under, and it all came back.
She hadn’t had her phone when she set the alarms so she could wake up Carlton and Shawn to check on them. She’d set those alarms on the clock radio by the bed.
“Crap!” she gasped. Juliet launched herself out of the bed, climbing over Shawn. She found his jeans on the floor and her phone in the pocket. It was her normal Monday morning alarm going off. For work. They’d slept through the rest of Sunday afternoon and all night. What happened to the alarms on the clock radio?
“Shawn! Shawn, wake up!”
Juliet was shaking him, but he was already groaning from when she’d climbed over him.
“What?’ he mumbled.
“You’re awake? You’re ok?”
He scrubbed at his eyes and squinted up at her through the tendrils of morning sun making their way through the thick curtains. “What? Yeah. Why? Oh...concussion. Yeah, I’m fine, Jules. And look, I love you, but knees in the stomach are not fun.”
She wasn’t listening. As soon as he really started talking she went for the door. “Sorry,” she tossed back. Then she was in the hallway and shouting. “Carlton!”
She thought maybe Shawn tried to call something after her, but it didn’t register.
Juliet pounded down the stairs, and there was a light on down there, and had she left a light on? If they’d all been asleep who had turned on a light?
“I’m down here, O’Hara!”
She didn’t register Carlton’s voice until she’d already launched herself from the base of the stairs and into the kitchen, and he was standing there at the stove staring at her.
“O’Hara?” He almost choked on a sip of coffee, and that was when she remembered she had no pants on.
He was already doing so anyway.
Cursing at herself, Juliet ducked into the living room and snatched up the blanket from the couch to wrap around her waist. She padded back into the kitchen with it dragging around her feet, red-faced and sheepish.
“Ok,” she huffed.
“What the hell, O’Hara?” Carlton was wiping coffee from the counter, and he looked back at her with both eyebrows up.
“Someone was supposed to wake you up! None of the alarms I set on the clock by the bed went off.”
“Of course not; the alarm function is broken.”
“It’s—? How did you know that?” It wasn’t his clock. Henry had left it here.
Carlton wiped the rim of his coffee mug and took another sip. “Spencer told me when I woke him up last night.”
She blinked. “You—?”
“I woke up about nine or so. I hadn’t heard from you and I figured you’d told Spencer to come here. I went up to check, and we thought we should let you sleep. You’d been awake longer than any of us.”
Juliet groaned in frustration and covered her face for a moment. “He could have told me it didn’t work when he got here…”
Carlton sighed a little. “We were all distracted yesterday, O’Hara.” Something popped behind him and he turned back to the stove to flip over several strips of bacon in a pan. There were already eggs, toast, and a stack of plates and silverware on the table.
“I woke up and had a panic attack, Carlton,” Juliet said. She tried to take deep breaths. “Something could have happened to either of you.”
“But it didn’t. We’re fine. Spencer’s still fine, right?”
Footsteps on the stairs behind her answered that question. “I’m fine!” Shawn said. He’d pulled his jeans back on and he all but fell off the last step while still rubbing at his eyes. “I’m here,” he yawned. “Ooo! Food. Nice, Lassie.”
Juliet glared at him as he passed her and went for the table. “Why didn’t you tell me Carlton woke you up last night?”
“I tried, sweetheart; you’re too fast.”
Shawn pulled out two chairs and offered one to her, trying to placate her. What she really wanted to do was go back upstairs and find her pants, but she was suddenly too drained to do it. And the food smelled good, and when was the last time she’d eaten? She had the blanket anyway, and sitting down was a good way to hide it.
She sat. Shawn sat beside her and dug into the food, but she waited.
“Why are you dressed?” she questioned Carlton.
He went hunting in the cabinet for another plate to put the bacon on. When there were no more he reached down into a cardboard box that sat by the counter. “We have to go to the station today to give our statements,” he said, glancing at her.
“We don’t have to be in work clothes for that,” she reminded him, eyeing his fresh suit suspiciously.
He pulled a plate from the box and rinsed it in the sink. He wouldn’t look at her now. “I do if I’m staying to work.”
Juliet’s mouth opened, and she exchanged a concerned glance with Shawn. Shawn stopped eating. “You are not staying to work,” she said finally.
Carlton dried the plate with a dish towel and began picking the bacon from the pan with a pair of metal tongs. “Why not? What would I do here? Lily’s in the hospital.”
She grimaced. “There are other things you need to—”
“I can’t do any of that until I know when Lily will be released. There’s not going to be a funeral until she’s home, and when I called the hospital this morning they couldn’t give me a firm answer.”
He put the tongs down on the counter, maybe with a little too much force, and came to the table with the plate of bacon. He sat down across from them and he still wouldn’t meet anyone’s eyes.
“That doesn’t mean you have to be at work,” Juliet said gently. “You could go to the hospital and be with her.”
Carlton let out a breath and tugged a plate from the short stack on the table. “I would, but I don’t have a head detective to hold down the fort. I’m stopping there before I get to the station, and I’ll probably spend lunch there too. There’s probably paperwork for miles. I know there is at work...”
“How are you getting there?” Shawn asked. “Shouldn’t you like, still not drive?” He looked at Jules. “Should I drive? I drove some yesterday.”
Juliet patted his knee beside her absently. “Just don’t overdo it, Shawn.”
“McNab’s picking me up,” Carlton shrugged.
“Buzz?” She and Shawn said it together. Juliet was the one to go on to say, “But he shouldn’t be at work today, either!”
“He called me, O’Hara. I was just going to call a cab, or maybe Dobson, but I’m not going to deny a man who wants to work.”
“He doesn’t have a partner.”
Carlton winced. “I’m not going to let him out in the field. I’ll keep him at the station with me; there’s more than enough to do.”
“Karen would kick you both to curb the second you showed up…”
He just gave her a look, and Juliet sighed because she knew she wasn’t going to get anywhere. She took the last clean plate from the middle of the table and scooped eggs onto it.
Shawn jumped up from the table. “Hey! You have any jelly? There is absolutely no point to toast without jelly.”
Carlton glanced over the table like he expected to see it. There was butter, but no jelly. “Yeah...in the door.”
Juliet leaned over the table a little as Shawn crossed to the refrigerator. “I would have made breakfast, you know. I just didn’t know you planned to be up this early.”
It wasn’t even seven yet.
“It was something to do,” Carlton said. “Been up again since four thirty…”
If he’d had a free hand she would have reached for it, but he didn’t. His arm was still in the sling. “How’s your shoulder?” she asked.
“Not bad, just sore,” he said, glancing at the sling. “Mostly keeps me from trying to use this hand too much. Not that I’ll be able to avoid it anyway. My job revolves around paperwork.”
“Hey, Lassie?” Shawn called. His head was in the refrigerator.
“What?” Carlton asked over his shoulder.
“Jelly’s not in the door. I don’t see...nevermind, here it is. Behind the peanut butter? Who puts peanut butter in the refrigerator?”
Carlton’s face clouded. He turned back to his eggs, stabbed at them hard and didn’t answer.
The result, of course, was now they all knew exactly who had put the peanut butter in the refrigerator.
Shawn made a face as he closed the refrigerator and came back to the table. His mouth opened as he sat back down, probably to apologize, but Juliet held up a hand to keep him from saying anything.
Don’t make it worse.
She changed the subject. It wasn’t the easiest one, but it was the first thing she could think of and it was, at least, a change.
“Have you called your family yet?” she asked. “Has anyone?”
Carlton shook his head and his mouth pressed into a thin line. “I don’t know when anything is yet; there’s no point in bothering them until I do.”
“Bothering them? Carlton…”
“Well...Lulu is in LA trying to get her film career off the ground since she finished grad school, and my mother and Althea...are them,” he said, trying to defend himself.
“Ah,” Shawn piped up. “The they’re them defense. I know it well. I once used it often in conjunction with my father.”
“Which has since been remedied,” Juliet insisted.
“Yes. If Jules says so.” She gave him a look. “Yes. Yes, it has.”
Carlton just stared at them for a moment with that why-am-I-friends-with-these-people face, and the awkward silence of a failed diversion fell over the table.
The silence didn’t last long. There was a honk from out front and Carlton stood up.
“McNab’s here,” he said. He brought his plate to the sink and picked up his briefcase from the other chair on the way out.
Juliet got up, pulling the blanket with her, and followed him through the living room. “Carlton…”
He turned short of the doorway. “What?”
She gave him a pleading look, and he sighed a little and held out his good arm to let her hug him briefly—probably more because he knew it would make her feel better than anything, to be able to do it. She could only use one arm herself holding the blanket, so it turned out even.
“I’m fine,” he said quietly, when she let go.
“No, you’re not, and that’s ok. I just really don’t think you should be going to work, but if you think this is what you need to do right now…”
He didn’t really answer. Something in his eyes asked her to give him this, and she couldn’t protest anymore.
Outside, McNab honked again.
“Ok,” Juliet said. “I’ll be there later.”
Carlton nodded in thanks. He started to reach for the door and then paused again. He looked back at her and almost smiled. “I’m sorry we scared you,” he told her sincerely. “If I’d known you’d react like that I’d have woken you up.”
“I know,” she said, waving it off. “It’s fine. Go on.”
Back in the kitchen Shawn was barely picking at his food—which, of course, meant something was wrong.
“Great,” he said. “A day I really needed my foot to stay out of my mouth…”
Juliet kissed his forehead as she sat back down. “Shawn, I don’t think he’d appreciate us walking on eggshells, either. Don’t worry about it. Those things are going to happen.” She picked up a piece of toast. “Now hand over the jelly.”
Shawn killed time while Juliet was in the shower, aimlessly flipping through channels on Lassiter’s television.
“We’re both pretty disgusting, Shawn. I’m taking a shower by myself,” she’d said. “Then you’re taking a shower, and we’re putting the sheets from last night in the washing machine.”
“And then what?”
“I have to go to the station to give my statement. You can stay here if you want.”
“I do not want to stay here alone; that’s just weird now.”
But he was relatively alone right now and...he was right. It was weird.
Gus saved him when he pulled up. The front door was unlocked and Shawn called to him to come in.
“Where is everybody?” Gus asked.
“Lassie went to the station, because he’s Lassie. Jules is in the shower. I am sitting here. Rejected. And alone. For the duration of said shower.”
Gus rolled his eyes and dropped onto the other end of the couch.
“Why are you up so early, Gus?”
“Why are you?”
“We were all awakened by a classic Juliet O’Hara panic attack that, admittedly, Lassie and I probably could have prevented. But our intentions were good.” Gus gave him a strange look, and Shawn ran through the real story.
Gus snorted. “You’re lucky you two are fine. Anyway, I’ve got a bus ticket back to San Francisco after lunch. I came to bring Juliet’s car back to her. You need to get your bag out of the trunk.” He paused. “Do we know when...anything is?”
Shawn made a face and shifted uncomfortably. “No.”
“Ok...I’ll just get back as soon as I can after the second interview Thursday morning. Let me know if anything changes?”
He trailed off at footsteps on the stairs, and Jules’s voice.
“All yours, Shawn! I feel human agai—oh!” She came around the corner in a towel, cut off, and jumped back into the stairwell. Gus shot up and spun away, and Shawn’s eyebrows went up.
He couldn’t help laughing once as he climbed off the couch to follow Jules around the corner. “Gus is here,” he said needlessly.
“Yeah, I gathered that,” Jules hissed quietly, clutching the towel to her chest. “Second time today, really?”
“I’m sorry, but you’re faster than me, sweetheart, which makes sense. You have all the police training, and the muscles, and the badass-ness.”
“Get faster,” she deadpanned.
“I need my clothes out of the car; they’re in the back seat.”
Shawn took her bare shoulders and kissed her. “I’m on it.”
It took some convincing to get Shawn and Gus to take Juliet’s personal car to the station rather than riding with her.
“Why do we need to do that?” Shawn questioned. He’d trailed her into the bathroom while she tried to do something with her hair.
“Because with any luck he’ll let me stick around for a while. Maybe I can help. You’ll need a car.”
“So if you stay I’ll stay. No problem there.”
“Shawn, you’ll have to bring Gus to the bus station later.”
“So we all go in your personal car so I can drive it, and I’ll bring him and come back. What’s wrong with that?”
Juliet had to reach for his face and make him look at her. “Shawn. I’m ok. We’re ok.”
After what he’d said when he came in yesterday, she could understand why he didn’t want to be apart from her. Even if he’d never said it she would have understood.
But if she let him act like that now she didn’t know how long it would go on.
“I just—” he began.
“I know. I know, ok? We just gotta...hold it together here, all right?” she said.
He tried to smile. “This is the part where you remind me it’s not all about me.”
“Something like that.”
She turned back to the mirror for a moment, and decided her hair wasn’t going to get any better.
“So that’s why you’re all dressed?” Shawn asked.
Juliet smoothed the front of her blazer in the mirror, but it wasn’t perfect. She’d thrown one suit in her bag, just in case, and now it was wrinkled. She’d managed to track down Carlton’s iron, but apparently one leg of the ironing board had been bent in the move and they hadn’t picked up a new one yet. A towel on top of the washing machine hadn’t been as effective as she’d hoped.
“Yeah,” she said.
“I guess if there’s not a case to get in on I could go see Lily for a while…”
Juliet caught his gaze in the mirror and smiled. “That would be good.”
“This is gonna be a long week, isn’t?”
They shouldn’t have been surprised by what they found at the SBPD. They expected the bullpen to be quieter than usual, and it would have been.
Except for its chief standing outside his office door when they arrived, in the middle of wrapping up a rant.
“—so I need any report that would usually be on my desk on a Monday morning on my desk in the next half an hour! Which is still late! And last time I checked this floor was comprised of tiles, people! Not eggshells!”
Juliet stopped with Shawn and Gus at the corner by the front desk. Carlton hadn’t seen them yet.
“Ok,” Shawn said. “So you were right about the eggshells…”
“Maybe you should have have tied him up or something,” Gus suggested. Juliet and Shawn gave him a sideways look. “What?”
“That’s my cue,” Juliet sighed. “You guys stay out here for now, ok?”
To be honest though, she was suddenly a little less worried about Carlton than she’d been earlier that morning. Despite the fact that he’d just finished yelling at people, something about being here made him seem more at ease than he’d been at the house. More steady.
Maybe it was because here he had a purpose. That office was where he belonged.
He’d have to take time off at some point, some time very soon, but maybe he was right: maybe that time wasn’t now.
Carlton was conferring with McNab in the office doorway as Juliet made her way across the bullpen; he turned and saw her himself as the junior detective moved off.
“Hi, Juliet,” McNab waved.
“Hey, Buzz.” She caught him before he could get away. He was so tall it was hard to hug him, but she gave it a shot anyway. He patted her shoulder once and smiled awkwardly. She didn’t say I’m sorry, but he knew what she meant.
“Thanks…” he said.
“You’re distracting my detectives, O’Hara,” Carlton interjected. But she knew when he wasn’t serious, and he wasn’t now.
“I’m distracting one detective who shouldn’t even be here,” Juliet protested. “Shut up.”
He did, until McNab had gone back to his desk.
“Can I talk to you?” Juliet asked.
Carlton’s hands were already on his hips, and he gave the bullpen one more good once-over before looking at her. “If you’re not trying to make me leave.”
He nodded at and showed her in, closing the doors behind them.
“How’s Buzz doing?” she asked.
Carlton strode behind his desk and sat down. “All right. He’s been giving me a hand. We’ve banned together, I suppose; everyone else here seems intent on convincing us to go home.”
Juliet took a seat across from him and couldn’t help but smile at the idea of Carlton Lassiter and Buzz McNab actually understanding each other about anything, even if it was this. She wished it wasn’t this. “Good.”
“For us or for them?”
“Both, I guess.”
He raised one eyebrow at her, leaned back in his chair and waited for her to get down to business. Juliet tugged her own chair closer and leaned over the front of the desk.
“Look, Carlton, if you’re going to be here anyway at least let me help.”
“I would love to, O’Hara,” he admitted. “But you’re not ours anymore and you haven’t been officially loaned to us, either.”
Juliet shrugged. “So hire me as a consultant. You don’t have to actually pay me; just put something on paper so everything’s above board.”
He squinted at her suspiciously. “Doesn’t Karen need you?”
“They’ll manage. Really, Carlton, did you think I was just going to go home?”
He opened his mouth. Nothing came out at first, and he looked away for a moment. “I don’t know what I thought...”
Juliet took a deep breath.
“Carlton...I’m not leaving you now. I called Karen this morning and cleared taking at least the week; you’re stuck with me for a while, whether you let me help or not. Gus has to take a bus back for a couple of interviews in San Francisco this week, but Shawn’s staying too.”
She’d have to wash this suit at least every other day, but she wasn’t going anywhere just yet. At least she’d had the presence of mind to throw in one that didn’t require dry cleaning.
Carlton was still quiet.
“And you’re sure you won’t reconsider going home?”
She had to ask once, just to be sure.
“To what, an empty house?” he answered. It came out so quiet she almost didn’t catch it.
“We’re there,” she answered gently. Then she had a thought. “I mean, unless you don’t want us to be. We can stay with Henry, or—”
“No, that’s not it, O’Hara,” Carlton said quickly. He scrubbed a hand over his face once. “You’re staying. I was...never mind.”
Juliet nodded and studied her fingers, lacing them together on the desk. “So do I have a job for the week, or what?”
He looked at her appraisingly, two or three fingers tapping the desktop, maybe trying one last time to sort out if she was serious. She was, and he finally seemed to realize it.
“All right,” he sighed. “All right, fine. Where’s the paperwork for that? McNab!”
He raised his voice on the last bit, and Juliet smiled.
“But only you,” Carlton said quickly.
“I’m serious. Spencer can work with you on whatever he wants—haven’t been able to stop him in the past, and I’m under no illusions I’ll be able to now—but I’m not hiring him.”
“Fine,” Juliet giggled.
The office door swung open. “Yes, Chief?
“Paperwork for a consultant. Now.”
“On it.” The door swung closed again.
Juliet had another thought then, as she turned back to the desk. “What about Brannigan?”
Carlton nodded after the junior detective who’d just ducked out. “McNab asked to take point on that one. He’s telling me probably Thursday.”
“She didn’t have any family to take over...?”
“Unfortunately, no,” he sighed. “But we’ll do it right.”
They were silent after that. Carlton’s fingers were still tapping on the desk, and the rhythm grew harder and faster until he abruptly pushed up from the desk in a short, angry motion, cursed and started pacing.
Deja vu now.
He cursed again and motioned out at the bullpen. “Of course, it had to be the one person who could ever have made it even a little bit all right I don’t have you here. She did. It was working, and now—”
“You have me this week…”
“And what about after that, O’Hara?”
Juliet got up and went to take his arm and pull him to the table in the corner of the office. “After that, you’ll figure it out. I have faith in you. I’ve heard nothing but good things about the way you’ve been running this place so far.”
He snorted. “Even from Spencer?”
“Even from Shawn, believe it or not.”
Carlton relaxed enough to sit down. Juliet was going to take the next chair, but she was distracted by Shawn and Gus motioning wildly at her through the blinds.
What? she mouthed. She’d couldn’t make out what they were trying to tell her. Carlton saw the confusion on her face and looked over his shoulder. Shawn and Gus straightened up immediately when they saw him turning, but of course he caught them anyway.
“Oh for the love of—what now?”
“I have no clue,” she admitted.
He sighed and straightened his jacket as he got back to his feet and stalked out of the office. “What do you want, Spencer?”
He stopped just outside the doors, and Juliet nearly ran into his back. She dodged around him, and she grinned. It was the young woman standing with Shawn and Gus now that he was staring at. Gus was smiling the way he did when he knew he’d done something right, and Shawn was bouncing on his toes.
“Lulu?” Carlton said.
Lauren Lassiter broke from her impromptu escorts and hurried across the bullpen to hug her brother. Juliet gave them a few more feet of space, and from the look on her former partner’s face any protests he’d made this morning at least about the presence of his sister had been long forgotten.
But they were in the middle of the bullpen, and despite the look on his face and her arms around his neck he only returned the embrace briefly before easing her off of him to look at her.
“What are you doing here?” Carlton asked in wonder.
“Gus called me last night,” Lauren told him.
This was news to Juliet.
“I was going to call you…”
“Much later, I’m sure,” Lauren snorted.
Carlton sighed. “What about...whatever you’re doing? Are you sure you can be here?”
She took his arms and looked him in the eyes. “I’m not in the middle of a big project right now, and if I was it wouldn’t matter. You’re my big brother.”
“I—” But if he’d had a thought, he lost it. He looked up at Juliet. “Did you know about this?”
“Not a thing, I swear.”
So he looked past her, found Gus, and nodded to him. Gus nodded back. That was all there was to it, but for some reason Juliet’s throat was clogging.
Carlton cleared his throat and took a quick look out around bullpen. There was definitely staring going on. “Back to work, people!” he called in no uncertain terms. Everyone started to clear off. “Stick around, O’Hara; we’ll get that paperwork in order.”
“Sure,” Juliet nodded.
Carlton was already ushering his sister into his office, and he was smiling, sort of. It was something.
Juliet wandered over to Shawn and Gus. Shawn was still grinning.
“Dude, you did that?” he said.
Gus shrugged. “Yeah, I mean...I figured Lassie was pretty stubborn, and I had Lauren’s number anyway from when she was here filming. I’d never used it, but anyway. Somebody had to get her here.”
“That was good, Gus,” Juliet told him. The office doors were closed, but through the cracks in the blinds she thought Carlton and his sister were hugging again—longer this time, and more like they should.
Shawn held out a fist and Gus bumped it.