It was clear something was off the moment they saw the footage of the crash from a camera at a business across the street. Shawn’s finger shot to his eyebrow immediately.
“The car behind them—”
“It reacted too quickly,” Brannigan cut in.
“It reacted before there was any hint anything was wrong,” Shawn agreed, deflating a little as his thunder was stolen. He should be used to it by now with her, but there it was.
“The driver knew what was going to happen. It was him. He was in that car,” Brannigan deduced.
Shawn was nodding. “He couldn’t have known exactly when they’d pick up the car, and if he wanted it to look like an accident at first he couldn’t have anything going off when they opened any doors or anything. So it wasn’t rigged, he—”
“Had a remote detonator! Which he couldn’t have used from much of a distance; not with the crude materials he used.”
“Man…” McNab said quietly.
Shawn swallowed, and he had to sit down. Gus was there, at his shoulder, and he was kind of really grateful for that. He was also glad it was just the four of them, sequestered in the conference room like last night.
“He set them off himself,” Shawn said thickly. The more he talked the more angry he realized he was. “He watched all three of them get in that car, the whole family, and he followed them, and he set the explosives off himself while they were going downhill in a bad spot and there was nowhere for them to go!” He was chopping hands at the screen.
Brannigan’s mouth pressed into a hard line and she made for the door. “I’ll put an APB out on that model car. And I’ll get someone in here in the morning to try to clean up that footage and get a license plate number.”
McNab followed his partner, but not before he told Shawn and Gus to let him know if they needed anything.
“What do we do?” Gus asked. He took a seat and Shawn shrugged.
“Wait and look at the rest of this footage, I guess. Mostly wait. Which sucks.”
It wasn’t until after a couple of miserable hours or so of it that Jules finally called.
“Jules! I was going insane!”
“I’m sorry! We’d just closed the case when I got your message. I was still at the station so I just...I talked to Karen and I ran home and threw some stuff in a bag and started driving. You know, you get on autopilot, and...I’m sorry. I’m probably, I don’t know...about halfway there? Give me a couple more hours.”
Shawn heard something in her voice. The way she got when she’d been up on a case for two or three days. “You haven’t slept, have you?”
“Well…” she wheedled.
“No, ok? I can sleep when I get there. How are they?”
“Jules, be careful. You have coffee?”
“I had a whole thermos. I need more. I have to stop anyway I really have to pee.”
Shawn sighed and poked at the scrunching skin between his eyes. “Ok...ok, good. Keep with the coffee. Coffee is your best friend. Call me if you need any more help staying awake. Or you know what? Don’t. Don’t call back. Just stay on. I don’t have anything to do. We’re sitting around waiting on any word from an APB Brannigan put out. We know what kind of car Slamatchia’s driving.”
“How are they?”
Shawn made a face, because she couldn’t see it. “I don’t know...we were only there for like five minutes a couple of a hours or so ago. Lassie was sort of up. Broke his wrist and he’s banged up pretty bad I guess, but otherwise he’ll be fine once he gets over the concussion.”
“Marlowe and Lily?”
“That’s what I don’t know about, Jules. From what I heard the doctors were being kind of particularly unhelpful in that area. They both had surgery. I don’t know what that means, either.”
The line was quiet for a while. “Jules?”
“Ok,” she said finally. “Look, I mean...your dad got shot in the chest and had surgery and he’s fine. You’re right; we don’t know what that means. Just hang on, Shawn. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
“Good. Awesome. Please hurry. Safely.”
“I love you, but I have to go. Being on the phone with you right now is illegal enough; I don’t need to do it for two hours. And I still have to pee.”
Shawn’s chest tightened at the idea of hanging up now that he had her. “But—”
“I promise I will call back if I get too tired, ok?”
“Ok...I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
Jules hung up, and Shawn looked around the conference room. Gus was asleep in a chair, his feet propped in another. He was snoring.
Shawn wandered out into the bullpen. Brannigan still had Jules’s old desk, and she was still sitting at it even though it was past midnight. She looked up when Shawn shuffled over to it.
“You don’t have to stay here, you know. The department hasn’t even officially hired you on this case. And it may take a while to get a hit,” she told him.
“You’re not going home.”
“No, but I was about to hit the couch in the break room.”
“Gus is asleep. And Jules is on her way.”
Brannigan perked up at that. “Detective O’Hara?” Shawn nodded. “I’ve wanted to meet her! I’ve heard so much about her. Of course, I’d rather it weren’t under such dire circumstances…”
Shawn shrugged. He started to shuffle off, but something stopped him. “Hey...Betsy?”
“Just...I mean, you did kind of put me and my buddy Gus out of a job here, but, you know, everything worked out, San Francisco is great. Big. But great. I mean anywhere’s great if Jules and Gus are there, so...”
He shrugged again. “And you and Lassie seem to be doing great here running this place and...sorry, I only get this normal when I’m this tired. Before I’m not anymore I guess I thought you should know you’re kind of awesome, and...thank you, for looking out for Lassie now that the rest of us aren’t here anymore.”
Brannigan got one of those big scary smiles, and Shawn wondered whether he was going to regret saying anything at all. She got up and came around the desk. “Thank you, Shawn! It’s nice to know you feel that way. Give me some sugar!”
“What?” She hugged him briefly and kissed his cheek with a big smack, and it was no less scary than the first time. “Oh-ok. Um…”
“Gonna go see about that nap now,” she said, and blew past him.
“Ok, you do that…”
Though it was kind of funny Brannigan was doing that at all. In the brief time he’d known her Shawn had already come to equate her with the Energizer Bunny. But, he supposed, everyone was human.
Carlton drifted off in his chair, head pillowed by his good arm on the edge of Marlowe’s bed. He knew it wasn’t a good idea the first time Henry woke him. His body was stiff and sore from the accident and this was only making it worse. But he didn’t want to move.
“Sorry,” Henry was saying. “Concussion, remember? Have to check.”
“How many fingers?”
“Don’t be stupid, Henry.”
The older Spencer huffed in amusement and patted his shoulder once. “You’re fine.” Henry started to go, to leave Carlton alone with his wife. “And you might want to check your phone,” he said, before he ducked out.
He reached for it in his pocket, but before his fingers found purchase he realized he’d felt something, when he pulled his hand from Marlowe’s to get it. A twitch, maybe.
Carlton took his wife’s hand again. “Marlowe?” Another twitch, her fingers sliding against his. “Bunnyface?” He got to his feet, ignored the spinning room, and clung to the edge of the bed to lean close to her face without toppling over.
Her eyelids flickered, and she was looking at him. Just like that. Not particularly alert-like, maybe not clearly, but she saw him. He knew she did.
“Hey,” he gasped quietly. “Hi.” Carlton leaned over clumsily to kiss her forehead. “I’m right here, Marlowe. I love you. I love you so much.”
But when he pulled back her eyes were closed again. He didn’t know how much she’d heard. Carlton sank back into his chair and waited, but she didn’t wake up again.
When he remembered to check his phone there was a long text from Brannigan about the clue in the video and the APB, which helped a little, and one short text from Spencer.
Jules is on the way.
That helped more.
When Juliet pulled into the parking lot at the Santa Barbara Police Department, she didn’t have time to think about the fact that it would have been nice to be back if it weren’t for what was going on.
There were several people on the steps, making their way up and into the station. She was so beyond tired even after all the coffee that once she’d parked she spaced out a little. It took a minute or two for her realize two of the people heading inside were Shawn and Gus.
Juliet climbed out of the car and called over the hood. “Shawn!”
Her fiance’s ears perked up immediately. He spun, spotted her, and raced back down the stairs. Juliet hurried around the car to meet him halfway, and she didn’t mind the slightly painful impact and the rush of air from her lungs when they ran into each other. It kept her awake.
“Jules! You’re here! It’s only been like an hour and a half.”
“Yeah,” she gasped into his shoulder.
“My sweet, sweet speed demon,” Shawn bragged, to no one but the two of them. It took a while for him to let go of her.
“Did you just come from somewhere?” she asked, once she had her breath back.
Shawn gave her half a step of space, still holding onto her arms between them. He deflated a little. “Yeah. We got a hit but it was a dead end. Not the right car.”
“These things take time, Shawn.”
“I know, Jules, I know. I’m just kinda hating that right now.”
Juliet hugged him again, briefly. “I know.” Then she kissed him, because she needed that, and he certainly wasn’t complaining about it. “Ok, speed demon has to pee and then you’re taking me to the hospital.”
“You don’t want to rest?”
“Have you?” Shawn made a face. “I didn’t think so. And I want Carlton to know I’m here.”
“I told him you were coming. Are you sure? Because it’s like two in morning and I could use a nap, too, and since you’re here now maybe I could actually—”
“Shawn,” Juliet said firmly. She wasn’t angry. She knew he was only half serious, and that he tended to ramble even more than usual when he was tired and stressed. She got it. She just put both hands on his chest so he knew she was serious. “Shawn, he’s my best friend. I want to see him.”
“Ok, ok, sorry, I’m just—”
“I know. Don’t worry about it.”
Shawn nodded, and then he blinked at her. “Wait. He is? Lassie?”
“Is what? Oh…” Shawn, he’s my best friend.
She didn’t realize it’d slipped out. She’d thought it a few times over the more recent years, but she’d never said it.
“Yeah,” she said after a moment. “I guess he is.”
After Juliet ducked inside to the bathroom Shawn and Gus were waiting for her in her little green car, Gus stuffed into the back seat. The engine was running and she slipped into the passenger’s side.
“So, really?” Shawn joked, once they’d pulled out. “Really, really?”
Juliet could tell he was seizing any opportunity to riff—a chance to dispel nervous energy in the only way he knew how. So she went along with it. Normally she did anyway, and it was one reason why they worked so well together, but right now she wasn’t in the mood. She did it anyway because he needed it.
“Well, you don’t qualify anymore. I’m marrying you,” she said.
“Aren’t you supposed to marry your best friend?”
“I hope not. You’d be engaged to Gus instead.”
“Not happening!” Gus called from the back seat.
“We didn’t ask you!” they called together. Juliet found herself laughing despite herself. Just a little. And thinking maybe everything would be fine. Just an awful night that they’d get through, and everything would be fine. What else were friends for?
Shawn nudged her with an elbow. “What? No girlfriends from college? Grade school buddies?” he asked.
“I wasn’t that kind of girl, Shawn. You know that. And I’ve hardly kept up with anyone I did hang out with. Scott was the closest I came to having someone I planned to keep around, and you know how that turned out. Karen would be the only other closest thing now.”
Juliet cocked her head at him, smiled. “You don’t have a problem with that, do you? If Carlton is my best friend?”
Shawn smiled, and it was a real smile, and she felt a little better about her fiance’s mental state. “Are you kidding?” he said. “If Lassiter and your family are my only competition for your affections, I’m totally set.”
“And Gus,” she added.
“Thank you,” Gus piped up.
“Should I wake him up?” Juliet asked.
She and Shawn and Henry were crowded just outside the doorway to Marlowe’s room, and Carlton was asleep with his head in his arm on the edge of the bed. Henry said it wasn’t the first time tonight, either.
“Go ahead,” Henry answered. “I was about to check on him again, anyway.
“Thanks, Dad,” Shawn put in.
“Yeah.” The older Spencer motioned back toward the waiting room. “I’ll be out here with Gus.”
Shawn watched him go, then glanced inside at Lassiter. “I can go with my dad. Or do you want me to stay here?”
Juliet squeezed his hand. “You don’t really want to go in the room, do you?”
“Sort of not really…” he trailed. His mouth pressed into a thin line and he shifted uncomfortably on his feet.
“But tell me how Lassie’s doing?”
“Ok. Go on.”
Shawn nodded and took a step away, then came back to peck her lips with his before he loped off after Henry.
The room was quiet, but for the beeping of the monitors and sounds of the respirator and the equipment humming. Lassiter’s breathing was even, his fingers twined with Marlowe’s by his head, and he looked so peaceful that way Juliet hated to wake him. He didn’t have to worry like that. He could just be.
In eight years she’d learned it wasn’t often Carlton Lassiter could do that.
But the taped gash on his forehead reminded her why he needed to be woken, and she made a face and brushed a chunk of hair away from it to get a better look.
Well. Not as bad as she’d thought. Good.
“Carlton.” Juliet squeezed his shoulder, shook a little when he didn’t wake at first. “Carlton!” she whispered. She wasn’t sure why she was whispering.
He started, reached for a weapon that wasn’t there.
“Carlton, it’s me!”
“Huh...?” Lassiter blinked up at her groggily.
He blinked at her again, and then his eyes cleared and she saw it register. “O’Hara!”
“Oh!” Carlton stood and locked onto her before she could tell him not to get up. They swayed a bit when he did, but Juliet stood her ground until he was steady against her shoulder. “Ok. Oh, Carlton…”
He just held on for a while. She decided it had been a good idea to come in here alone; Lassiter would be far beyond embarrassed later if Shawn were in here right now, and that was the last thing any of them needed to worry about at this point.
This used to be so awkward. They’d never hugged often. But it didn’t bother her at all anymore. Something had changed the day they said goodbye. The day she found out Carlton would have given up his dream job to keep working with her. To keep her from moving away. It was like the last piece of any wall that kept them from calling what they had what it was—a friendship, and a close one—fell that day. Of course Carlton still used his own words—confidante, important—but she knew what he meant.
When he pulled back Carlton took her shoulders, mostly because he seemed to need the steadying, she thought, but it didn’t matter.
“How are you doing?” she asked.
He just shook his head. There was no good way to answer that.
“What time is it?” he asked instead, making that right-the-real-world-exists face. She’d seen it before, on stakeouts or long nights in the office on tough cases. Once or twice waking up like this, after he’d drifted off and face planted in a pile of files on his desk. Juliet was relatively certain she was only one who’d ever been allowed to see that.
He nodded, like he should have known. And then Carlton really looked at her.
“You came,” he said.
“I will always come, partner. You should know that.” Juliet made a face, what she was sure was a poor imitation of Shawn and Gus. “Come on, son.” If there was ever a time Lassiter needed a laugh, it was now.
It did the trick. He chuckled once, tiredly, but at least he did. “Tell me again why you have to marry Spencer?”
“Just to annoy you,” Juliet smiled. “Now sit back down. I’ll get my own chair.”
For once, Carlton did at he was told. “You don’t have to—”
“What else am I gonna do?” She snagged a chair from by the wall and pulled it close to his. “Well until they kick me out, anyway.”