a/n: Just so it’s not confusing, this chapter begins with the phone conversation from last chapter, but in another perspective now.
Gus felt his heart slamming in his chest, letting out the breath he’d been holding for so long. It was Shawn. His best friend’s voice had never sounded so good.
“Shawn!” exclaimed Gus, pulling the phone away from his ear, his fumbling fingers hitting the speaker-phone button. “Are you alright?” he asked, though as soon as the words were out of his mouth, he realized how stupid they were. It was just a gut reaction. A default question.
A hope, more than anything.
It took Shawn a moment to answer, and when he did, Gus felt his own breathing stutter to hear just how weak his best friend came off. “Define… alright.”
“Shawn,” said Henry suddenly, taking the phone out of Gus’ hand and holding it closer to himself. Gus didn’t react; he felt too numb. The group shifted closer to Henry, who continued, his voice low and quick. “Where are you, son? Are you safe?”
“You’re on speaker,” added Gus, feeling that Shawn ought to know.
Vick’s eyes were suddenly scanning her crowd of people, and she was yelling, “Someone get a trace on this call! Now!”
Two officers rushed to the computer sitting at a desk, not too far from where the group was standing. One of them typed at the keyboard, a map jumping to life on the screen, the other officer looking over his shoulder.
“I’m… I’m in a closet,” said Shawn. His voice seemed so small, almost childlike. Gus looked up at Henry, who looked just as stricken as Gus felt.
“A closet?” asked Henry hollowly, rubbing his face. He looked helplessly from the faces around him to the officers tracking the call. “Shawn—”
“Is—is Lassie with you?” asked Shawn suddenly, his voice a fraction stronger. Everyone turned to look at Lassiter.
“Spencer!” Lassiter exclaimed, “What the hell were you doing at a sketchy cab station?”
“Lassiter!” hissed Vick, shooting a glare toward him.
“In my defense… I didn’t know it was sketchy… at the time,” said Shawn, his breathing incredibly unsteady. The breaths he took were audible. Fear trailed like ice down Gus’ spine.
His best friend was struggling to breathe.
“Lassie…” said Shawn slowly. “You—you met my kidnappers.”
A small silence washed over the group as they turned to Lassiter, who froze at Shawn’s words. Gus watched realization dawn in the man’s eyes and Lassiter hissed a vulgar word under his breath. He shook his head. “I met them. Those two men at the cab station. I met them.” He sighed sharply, anger welling up in his words. “They were claiming to be drivers at that damned station—”
“You met them?” demanded Henry, taking a step closer to Lassiter, a subtle red hue coloring his face. “You’re telling me that you were face-to-face with the sons of bitches who kidnapped my son—!”
“I didn’t know they kidnapped him!” growled Lassiter at Henry.
“Do you know why they took you, Shawn?” asked Vick suddenly, her glare shifting between Henry and Lassiter.
“Something…” whispered Shawn, his voice much quieter than it had been a moment ago, chilling Gus to the core. Shawn continued, the strength in his words uneven, “Something about money. At the station.”
Everyone turned to the bag of money sitting in the chief’s office. Gus pointed to it. “That! They want that for Shawn, let’s give it to them!” He started for the office but Lassiter grabbed Gus’ arm.
“Gustor,” he said, sounding almost reluctant, “it doesn’t work that way. We can’t negotiate with kidnappers.”
A tight knot formed in the pit of Gus’ stomach. His eyes narrowed and he glared at Lassiter. “Look, Lassiter,” said Gus, his voice dark, “I know you don’t like Shawn. You’ve made that very clear. But he’s my best friend and you better damn well trade that money for him or I swear to god—”
“Gus,” said Henry, cutting him off.
“What?” snapped Gus.
“Lassiter’s right,” said Henry, seeming to force the two words through his teeth. “Police can’t negotiate with kidnappers.”
“But—” began Gus. “But… it’s Shawn!” He turned to the chief. “You can’t be serious—”
“Shawn,” said the chief suddenly. “What can you tell us about the people who took you?”
“Shawn!” said Henry. Gus stared at the phone, willing to hear his best friend’s voice.
“Damn it,” hissed Lassiter, yelling, ”Spencer!”
It was a second before they could hear a very faint apology from the other line.
“We know what they’re after,” said Lassiter to Shawn, “We’ve got the five mill—”
“Son, you said you were hurt,” said Henry suddenly, interrupting Lassiter. Shawn was too quiet.
Much too quiet.
“Mhm,” mumbled Shawn, and it took a moment for the group to even register that the small mumble was from him.
“Shawn!” Henry nearly shouted. “Stay with us, kid! Now, where are you hurt?”
“M’head,” slurred Shawn, making Gus’ blood run cold. If Shawn had a concussion and he passed out, there was a chance he wasn’t going to wake up. And Shawn’s next words only fueled Gus’ fear. “I’m…. I’m really tired.”
But before Gus could say a word, Juliet beat him to it.
“No, Shawn! You have to stay awake!”
They looked to Juliet, who’d been frozen for most of the conversation. But her eyes were wide with fear, staring at the phone. They listened to a pause from Shawn’s line.
Gus watched Juliet hesitate, then quietly say, “Yeah, Shawn, it’s me.”
Gus thought he heard a sharp intake of breath from Shawn, and he didn’t speak for a moment. The chief shot a look to the officers tracking the call, trying to see how close they were. Then Shawn suddenly said, “Anytime you guys… you guys wanna come rescue me, would… would be good.”
“Where are the people who took you?” asked the chief suddenly, turning back to the phone.
Shawn hesitated again, and it hurt Gus to realize that Shawn was struggling to simply keep up with the conversation. Shawn Spencer. Someone Gus could never seem to get to shut up.
And now he was straining to form words.
“I’m not sure.” said Shawn quietly. “One—one of them is… is looking for me.”
"God,” whispered Henry, rubbing his face again, shutting his eyes.
“We’ve got a trace on him!” the officer at the computer shouted.
Every head whipped toward him, the chief at their side in seconds. The two officers were avidly talking to the chief about the location but Gus didn’t hear any of it. He just heard the first outburst and that was enough for him. Giving Henry a half-hearted smile, he told Shawn, “Did you hear that, Shawn?” asked Gus, feeling the knot in his stomach loosen slightly, “We’re coming for you, buddy!”
But he didn’t get an answer.
“Shawn?” asked Henry, as he exchanged a look with Gus.
“Did the call drop?” asked Henry, but they both looked at the screen. It was still connected.
Shawn just wasn’t responding.
“Shawn!” yelled Henry. “Son, answer me!”
“We have a location,” said Lassiter, holstering his gun and rushing back to the group. “It’s an apartment building about thirty minutes out. Come on, O’hara.” He looked at Gus and Henry. “Follow us, but stay out of the way.” The four started out of the station, the chief yelling distant instructions to the rest of her officers.
“Shawn’s not responding!” exclaimed Gus, taking the phone from Henry as they descended the steps. “Shawn!” he exclaimed again, still getting the same empty result. His heart spiked again.
“He’s not?” asked Juliet sharply, stopping at the door to Lassiter’s Fusion.
The four exchanged a quick look, all seeming to be thinking the same thing. Gus voiced their mutual question.
“Who’s going to stay on the line with him?” asked Gus, lifting the phone.
“I’m his father,” said Henry firmly, holding out his hand.
“No, you’re driving. And I’m his best friend, but…” Gus looked to Juliet. “If anyone’s going to get his attention, it’s you.”
Juliet hesitated, then nodded and took the phone and followed Lassiter into the car. Gus and Henry ran to Henry’s truck, but Lassiter was speeding down the street with his sirens blaring before Juliet saw either of the men even climb into the old truck.
Juliet turned the phone in her hands, turning off speaker-phone, and pressed it to her ear. She quickly realized her hands were shaking. “Shawn?” asked Juliet, waiting to hear Shawn’s voice in her ear.
She should have been answering his messages. She shouldn’t have been screening his calls.
Maybe this never would have happened.
“Carlton,” whispered Juliet. “Where is he?”
“Lennox Apartments. Old, burnt-out apartment building that went under a few years ago.” said Lassiter, his voice low. Controlled. He sped through a red light, silently thanking his right to do so.
“Shawn,” said Juliet desperately, louder. “Please, answer me!”
Nine calls. Nine. And each time she watched as her phone sent his calls to voicemail.
The silence on the other line tortured her. Lassiter took a sharp left, and the suddenness of it almost made her drop the phone.
“He’s not answering, Carlton.” she said. “He’s not saying anything.”
“Keep talking to him,” replied Lassiter shortly.
“Shawn,” she repeated. “Look, I need to know that you’re okay. Talk to me.” She cut off her words just before she felt her voice would crack. She swallowed. “Please, Shawn.”
What if they found him? The evil thought snuck into her mind and suddenly Juliet’s heart was tripling its rate.
“Anything?” asked Lassiter, casting a glance at her.
“No,” said Juliet, then shifting her gaze to the road, she realized just how fast Lassiter was driving. She swallowed her fear, and yelled Shawn’s name again.
Juliet took a shaking breath, stressing his name again, “Shawn! Please, Shawn, answer me!”
And then she heard it.
Her heart stopped in her chest and she sank back into her seat in relief. She shut her eyes. “Shawn, thank god!”
“He’s back?” said Lassiter suddenly, whipping toward her, his voice clipped. Juliet nodded, telling Shawn, “I’ve been trying to talk to you for the past fifteen minutes!”
She was met by another silence, but this time, she could hear his breathing. Ragged breathing.
“Shawn, what happened?” she asked quickly.
“I—” whispered Shawn, terribly out of breath, and Juliet felt a pull in her chest at his weakness. “I think I passed out.” Shawn let loose a pained grunt, sending Juliet’s response out the window and her heart into a frenzy.
“Shawn?” she asked desperately.
It took him a moment to reply. “I… I think I know… a way out…” he whispered.
“We’re on our way,” said Juliet. She rambled off to Shawn about the apartment building, using what Lassiter told her. She waited for a reply.
But it never came.
“Shawn, talk to me!” said Juliet suddenly, her heart threatening to beat right out of her chest.
“Jules, I—” began Shawn in a low, strained voice, his nickname for her tearing at her heart. Right now, she didn’t care what happened between them. She couldn’t care.
"What is it?" asked Juliet.
“We’re five minutes out,” said Lassiter quickly, shooting concerned glances her way every few seconds. He took another hard left, and Juliet grasped tightly to her seatbelt.
And that’s when she heard the glass shatter.
She was about to call his name again, but suddenly, the line went dead. She froze, then ripped the phone away from her ear. She looked at Lassiter. “It’s dead, Carlton, the call dropped!”
“We’re almost there,” he said, stepping on the gas.
It was an agonizing six and a half minutes until Lennox Apartments came into view. Lassiter slammed on his breaks, jolting the car to a stop, and he and Juliet were running to the building seconds after. They weren’t the first to arrive to the scene. A few patrol cars had beat them here. Various voices shouted SBPD, the announcement echoing loudly in the air. Officers were running inside the building, vests on, guns held in front of them.
“Detectives!” an officer called, standing in front of a patrol car, waving them over. Both Juliet and Lassiter had drawn their guns. Juliet looked up at the apartment building. The wood was so dark it seemed almost charred. A rusting sign hung on the front, reading Lennox Apartments in faded ink. The officer turned toward the building. “I already have teams inside the building, searching for your man.”
Juliet and Lassiter nodded, and, without another word, rushed through the doorway into the darkened building.
Henry and Gus arrived at the scene only minutes after the chief did. Henry parked his truck haphazardly in the middle of the road, jumping out and sprinting to the building with a speed he didn’t think he had anymore. Whipping his head from side to side, he searched for Vick.
“Karen!” he called when he spotted her, talking with an officer in front of the swarm of people in front of the building. He looked up at the mess of a structure.
“Henry,” she said, cutting off her conversation with the officer, turning to him. “We have teams searching the apartment. Keep your distance,” she said firmly, seeming to read the emotion in his eyes. Her voice softened a bit and she said, “We’ll find him.”
Gus was suddenly at Henry’s side, panting. He doubled over, out of breath. “Could—you park—any further—away?” he panted, looking up at the man.
Henry rooted his feet to the ground, trying to fight the urge to sprint up the molding steps into the building to find his son himself. Shawn was inside. Shawn was hurt.
His son was in danger, and he had to sit tight and wait.
Henry sighed, rubbing the back of his neck and took a few steps back, trying to rid his anxiety. They were going to find Shawn.
Shawn was going to be fine.
Henry didn’t even realize he’d started walking away until Gus caught up to him.
“Mr. Spencer,” he said, keeping up with Henry’s brisk pace. “Where are you going?”
Henry stopped. He was suddenly staring at the side of the building, something on the ground catching his notice. He jogged across the pavement.
Something had glinted the setting sun off the ground. Henry walked over to where a fire escape seemed to have fallen apart. But the entire apartment building was a mess; this could easily have happened in a storm years ago. Henry ran his eyes over the debris.
Shawn’s phone. Shawn’s phone was lying on the ground, the screen facing the sky, but cracked.
“Gus!” said Henry quickly, picking up the device. He held it for Gus. “It’s Shawn’s phone!”
But why was it over here?
Some commotion by the patrol cars had Henry and Gus sprinting back to the chief just as Juliet and Lassiter came out of the building with three other officers. They were carrying out an unmoving body, and Henry’s heart jumped into his throat.
Please… don’t let it be Shawn… his heart whispered, pushing his way past the few officers scattered in the lot. Breathing hard, Henry took a tentative step closer, looking down at he body. He sighed in relief.
It wasn’t Shawn.
“Found this guy on the fourth floor,” said Lassiter to the chief, as they laid the man—dark-skinned, with tattoos staining most of his skin—down on the pavement. Vick muttered something about calling the paramedics. Lassiter looked up at the crowd of officers. “He was killed by a shot to the head.” Sure enough, a bullet hole was centered between the man’s closed eyes.
Henry looked down, heart still beating rapidly from the thought of watching the officers potentially carrying his son’s lifeless body.
“Who is he?” demanded the chief, looking back down at the body.
“He’s one of the men I met at the station,” said Lassiter grimly. “He’s one of the men who took Shawn.”
“Did you find him?” asked the chief quickly, looking between her detectives. “Shawn—did you find him?”
Both detectives shook their head. Henry’s heart gained speed. He turned away from the body, looking back to where he’d found Shawn’s phone—
His eyes found the shattered fire escape again. His gaze followed the path of debris from the broken pieces of the staircase.
And they all lead in one direction.
“They’re in the forest!” exclaimed Henry, pointing to the fire escape. “Shawn must have been chased down by his other captor,” he said, adrenaline kicking into his veins.
All eyes followed Henry’s to the fire escape. Without waiting for any response, Henry turned and sped toward the forest.
“Henry!” he heard Vick yell. But Henry was already disappearing into the trees.
It was time to find his son.
“Damn it—” hissed Lassiter, as he and Juliet pulled their guns again and ran after Henry. “O’hara, you go right. I’ll go left. It’ll be easier to find Shawn if we split up.” They disappeared into the forest. Gus followed closely behind, ignoring Vick’s shouted protest.
Adopting their plan of splitting up, Gus decided to go neither left nor right. He went straight. He kept a breakneck pace, ignoring the twigs and branches that whipped into his face. A bug whizzed by his ear and Gus slapped it away, barely containing a shriek of disgust. His chest tightened quickly, protesting his sudden expense of energy but he ignored it. Gus wasn’t about to slow down.
He needed to find his best friend.
Gus passed tree after tree, squinting as the sun cast deep orange rays through the branches, the light beginning to fade. The trees were dense, holding a sort of heaviness in the air like a damp heat. Gus felt sweat drip down his back.
Twigs snapped under his feet, each small noise making him jump. He couldn’t hear Lassiter or Juliet’s footsteps anymore.
“Shawn!” hissed Gus. He would have yelled his friend’s name, but a terrifying realization suddenly hit Gus. There was a reason the detectives didn’t want Henry going into the forest. And a reason they wouldn’t want him in here, either. Because Shawn wasn’t the only person in this forest.
There was a killer in here, too.
Gus shivered, despite the humidity, and tried to make his steps quieter. He passed a thick oak, sap slimed down the trunk, and he made a mental note to keep his hands away from all trees.
Gus took another few steps, carefully distributing his weight over mossy ground, when he heard it. Rustling.
Someone was nearby.
Fear spiking into his veins, Gus froze, wondering what his plan was. There was a possible murderer standing only feet away from him, somewhere, shifting the leaves. Gus strained his ears.
A twig snapped.
Gus’ heart beat rapidly against his rib cage. Fearless Gustor, he reminded himself. Another branch shifted. Terrified, Gus followed the source of the noise, slowly turning his head to the right. Someone was standing on the other side of the tree. Gus slowly crouched down and picked up the first thing his fingers came into contact with. It was a rock. It wasn’t much, but it was something.
Gus took a step on the massive root of the oak, ready to face the man. If the man had a gun, he was screwed. He was so screwed.
Gus turned the corner and glanced around the tree.
And nearly had a heart attack.
The rock fell from Gus’ grip as he fell back against the tree in relief.
“Gus!” exclaimed Henry, sighing in kind, lowering his own makeshift weapon—a thick tree branch. “God, Gus, I thought you were—”
“Yeah,” panted Gus. “So did I.”
Gus pushed himself off the tree, temporarily forgetting about the sap he’d been so apt to avoid. But he didn’t care.
Shawn was in danger.
“Let’s go find—” began Gus, but Henry suddenly clamped a hand over Gus’ mouth and pulled the younger man to the ground. Gus’ heart beat furiously. Henry slowly released his hold on Gus, keeping low, and putting a finger to his lips, then pointed silently past the cluster of trees behind them.
Someone was walking toward them.
Gus’ eyes widened. The man was holding a gun. He had close cropped hair and tan skin, wearing ripped jeans and a dark t-shirt. Cuts were evident on his cheeks and forearms where twigs had scraped him.
Gus slowly turned toward Henry as they crouched behind the tree. “That’s him!” whispered Gus almost inaudibly.
Henry nodded, his eyes glued to the man. The killer didn’t seem to notice them yet. He was walking around, weaving between the trees, swatting away branches carelessly. His eyes were scanning the forest like a predator hunting its prey.
Gus slowly crept away from Henry. A shallow bush grew beside the oak, providing visual cover between himself and the man walking about eight or ten feet away. Gus crept forward on his arms and chest, keeping low to the ground. He felt Henry grip his ankle, but Gus silently shook him off.
Gus had a plan.
Moving slowly across the soft ground beneath him, trying not to think about how hard it will be to get the grass stains out of these pants, Gus maneuvered himself to a tree right across from the one he and Henry had taken cover behind.
Lifting himself cautiously back up off the ground, Gus slid his back up the trunk of the tree, sighing soundlessly in relief. Sneaking a look behind him, he realized the man was closer now, maybe only five or six feet away. He was so close Gus could smell the cheap aftershave off the man. Pressing his back firmly against the tree, his heart pounding in his ears, he watched as the man took another step closer.
A frantic movement had Gus turning his head back toward Henry, who was directly across from him, maybe four feet away. His eyes were wide and he was mouthing, what are you doing?
Gus’ eyes flicked back to the man, and he lifted a hand, jabbing his thumb at the killer, then making a swift punching motion.
To say the look Henry gave him was incredulous would have been an understatement. He shook his head furiously.
A twig snapped under the man’s boot, halting Henry and Gus’ silent argument. He was going to walk through the brush, between the trees Henry and Gus took cover behind.
Gus took a breath, and held up three fingers to Henry.
Henry’s eyes widened, shaking his head again.
Gus put a finger down. Two.
Henry and Gus froze as another branch broke under the man’s weight. Henry hesitated, then gave Gus a nod.
The man stepped between the trees at the exact moment Gus finished his wordless countdown, and both Gus and Henry lurched up and tackled the man to the ground.
They hit the man hard, and the three men crashed to the ground. The killer cried out in surprise. Gus tumbled to the side, and suddenly felt a hand grab him by the scruff of his neck with an agonizing grip. He hadn’t expected the man to recover so quickly.
Gus was thrown against the trunk of the tree Henry had hidden behind, and the wind was knocked clear out of him. Gus fought for breath, falling to his side. He suddenly heard the man grunt in pain. Gus panted, pushing himself off the ground, watching as Henry landed another punch across the man’s face. Blood was streaming from the man’s nose.
Henry grabbed a fistful of the man’s shirt, hissing through his teeth, “Where is my son?” The man grinned, blood staining his teeth. Henry shook him. “Tell me, damn it!”
But with surprising speed, the man swung his arm, holding the pistol tight in his hand, landing a blow across Henry’s face. Henry fell back, grunting.
Gus pushed off the tree, but the gun was suddenly aiming at him. He froze, staring down the muzzle of the weapon.
The man cocked the gun.
Gus shut his eyes.
And the gunshot rang out in the air.
Gus heard the cry of pain. But he didn’t feel the pain. Shouldn’t he feel pain if a bullet had lodged itself in his chest? He cracked his eyes open.
The killer was lying back on the ground, clutching his now-bleeding arm, the gun on the ground, forgotten. Gus and Henry both whipped around as Lassiter ran toward them through the trees. The man feebly reached for his gun.
"Freeze!" shouted Lassiter. ”Do not move!"
Henry scooped up the weapon and pulled himself to his feet, training the gun on the downed man.
Lassiter looked between Henry and Gus. “Are you two okay?”
Henry nodded, and Gus saw a small cut on the side of his face. Gus slowly stood, his back smarting where he’d hit the trunk of the tree. Lassiter stared down at the man on the ground, his expression suddenly paling. Henry and Gus noticed.
“What, Lassiter?” asked Henry, shifting his gaze between Lassiter and the man.
“This isn’t him,” muttered Lassiter. “This isn’t the man I met.”
“What?” demanded Henry and Gus in unison.
“There’s three.” said Lassiter in a low voice, shifting his gaze between Gus and Henry. “There’s another kidnapper.”
“Freeze! Do not move!”
Juliet froze mid-step, hearing her partner’s faint voice, somewhere in the distance. She must have wandered far because, if not for the silence of the forest, Juliet could have easily not heard.
She felt her muscles relax slightly at hearing Lassiter’s words. They caught the man who’d been chasing Shawn.
Now they just needed to find Shawn himself.
Juliet resumed her pace, walking aimlessly through the forest, keeping her gun at her side regardless of the fact that the killer was apprehended. Where was Shawn? Did they find him?
Juliet called out, but she didn’t get a reply. Of course, her voice didn’t carry half as far as Lassiter’s did. Juliet turned around and started heading back out of the forest.
And that was when she saw him.
There, lying on his back, about fifteen feet away from her, was Shawn.
Juliet’s breath constricted in her throat and she ran, falling to Shawn’s side.
Shawn’s eyes were shut, his head fallen toward his shoulder. He was motionless. A deep gash under his hairline had bled down the side of his face, leaving a trail of dried blood staining his skin. Juliet felt her stomach twist at the sight. Bruises colored his face and his complexion was drained of color.
God… please don’t be... Juliet’s hand shook as she reached out and pressed her fingers to his neck, feeling for a pulse. His skin felt unnaturally cool against her touch, sending fear slithering down her spine. Unwelcome tears brimmed in her eyes as she waited, trying to get her fumbling fingers to find an artery.
A pulse beat back at her. It was weak, but it was there.
Juliet let out the breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. He was alive. Shawn was going to be fine. Hesitantly, Juliet gently touched Shawn’s cheek, careful to avoid the bruising, trying to rouse him. “Shawn?” she asked, hearing her voice crack as her breath caught in her chest. She searched his face. Shawn didn’t react to her touch.
A tear rolled down her cheek. “Shawn, please, can you—can you hear me?” she asked, her voice somehow becoming quieter. She shifted her hand to his chest, suddenly terrified. She couldn’t tell if he was breathing. The sun was setting and the light was fading—it was getting harder to see.
To her relief, Juliet felt the slow rise and fall of his chest. Suddenly, her hand encountered something wet, and her eyes fell to his shirt. Blood had seeped through the material. His shirt was torn at his side, the ruined cloth covering whatever wound lay underneath. Juliet’s heart jumped into a mad frenzy. How much blood has he lost?
Shawn suddenly shifted, a low moan escaping his lips. Juliet gasped, startled. Her eyes snapped to Shawn’s face. She quickly realized her hand had been resting on the wound in his side. She tore her hand away.
“Shawn?” she asked desperately, her hand cupping his cheek again, on the only part of his face that didn’t seem to be bruised or bloody. His eyes were still shut, and Juliet willed him to look at her. “Shawn… Open your eyes, can—can you do that for me?”
Juliet watched the muscles in Shawn’s face tighten as he tried to comply. He cracked his eyes open, seeming utterly disoriented. He blinked a few times, staring somewhere in front of him. Very slowly, he turned his head. When Shawn saw her, his eyes opened wider, his features screwed up in complete confusion. “J—Jules…?” he whispered, his voice hoarse.
Juliet smiled at the sound of his voice, speaking the nickname she hadn’t heard for days, unable to help another tear from spilling down her cheek. “Shawn, thank god,” she whispered. Shawn shifted again, then froze mid-movement, his face screwing up in a grimace. Juliet’s other hand was suddenly on his shoulder. She watched helplessly as the pain laced through his features, feeling useless. Worry creased her face. How badly hurt was he?
He blinked a few times, seeming to be caught between reality and whatever dazed state his concussion had left him in. He looked at her, suddenly concerned. “W-why are you… crying?” he asked, his voice so small it nearly broke her heart. Juliet hastily wiped away her tears.
“I’m not,” she lied quickly, hastily wiping the tears away. She placed her hand back on his cheek, her eyes following the pattern of bruises. He’d been hit across the face. Repeatedly.Bastards, she thought, blind anger coursing through her veins. “Shawn, you’re safe now,” she told him, as though trying to convince herself more than him. “I’m going to get you out of here.”
Shawn nodded, then stopped, cringing, seeming to realize moving his head was a bad idea.
“Shawn,” said Juliet, feeling a pull in her chest. “Don’t… don’t move. Not yet, okay? You’ve got a pretty bad head injury,” she said gently. Calmly. She shifted her eyes back down to his once-blue, checkered, button-down shirt. He’d been wearing that shirt on a date with her, only seven days ago. Now it was dark with blood. His blood.
Juliet felt sick.
“What happened to your side?” she asked, eyes following the stains, trying to gauge the severity.
Shawn blinked, suddenly perplexed again, asking, “W-what?”
Her heart pounded furiously in her chest as she repeated her question, terrified of his condition. Shawn didn’t even seem to be tracking their conversation. “Your side, Shawn. You’re hurt. What happened to you? Do you remember?”
Shawn looked at her, puzzled, his eyes unfocused. “My… m’ side?” he slurred, sluggishly trying to tilt his head down.
“Yes, Shawn,” said Juliet slowly, his bewildered expression only instilling more fear in her. “You’re bleeding.”
Shawn examined his side curiously, his hand slowly feeling the damp material. His eyes widened in surprise. Shawn winced as his hand brushed the wound, and he looked at Juliet, his confusion deepening. “I…” He trailed off.
Juliet’s face deepened in concern. “Do you remember..?”
It took an agonizingly long moment for Shawn’s features to relax, as if he’d been trying to decide what she could have possibly meant by her question. His eyes drifted shut and he finally said, “Uh… oh. A-accid’nt, I—I think…”
Car accident. Juliet looked back down at the blood darkening the front of his shirt. Flashing back to the crime scene, Juliet recalled all the blood staining the cloth seats, and the EMT proclaiming it couldn’t possibly have been from the driver alone.
That blood had been Shawn’s.
She took an unsteady breath, eyeing his side. “Shawn, I need to see…” she trailed off, resisting the urge to finish with, how bad it is. She cleared her throat.
Somehow, Shawn seemed to understand what she meant by that, giving Juliet a sliver of hope that he might be somewhat aware of reality. He shut his eyes tight, and Juliet gently lifted the shirt from his skin, pulling it away from his waist. Shawn hissed as she did, the sound alone sending ice through her veins. She examined the wound. Her stomach churned; his shirt had been hiding most of the blood. Dark red stained his side, and streamed across his waist, looking like black ink in the dim lighting. Something sharp must have struck Shawn in the car crash. A short but deep line had drawn across his side, the skin an array of black and blue.
“What’re… you…?” asked Shawn quietly, lifting his head slightly off the ground, trying to fix his gaze on her. He already seemed to forget he’d be injured, because he suddenly tried to sit up. He let loose a low cry as he moved, and Juliet’s hands were suddenly on his shoulders, pushing him back down.
“Shawn,” she said, barely keeping her voice even. “Stay still!” She watched him take a shuddering breath, and his hand was clawing at the ground. She rubbed his shoulder instinctively, trying to comfort him, but he didn’t even seem to notice she was there.
“Are you okay?” she asked gently, knowing he was far from okay but not knowing what else to say.
His jaw was clenched tight as he rode the wave of pain. Shawn took a sharp breath. Juliet’s chest tightened. This wasn’t Shawn. Shawn had a response to everything. Everything. She’d never seen him in a state like this. Even when he’d been shot and kidnapped by Garth Longmore, he’d still managed to hold onto a sense of humor, arguing with Gus about his distaste of resembling Paul Walker. He’d grinned. He had even laughed.
But not this time.
Juliet didn’t think he heard her question. There was also the fact that he was just in far too much pain to try to reply.
But Juliet didn’t want to think about that theory.
Shawn must have heard her after all, because his body seemed to relax slightly and he whispered, “F-fantastic.”
There’s the sarcasm, thought Juliet. “You’re going to be fine,” she said, tearing her eyes away from the grotesqueness of his wound and pulling his shirt back down. It was no longer bleeding, so she could satisfy herself with that. Juliet absently wiped her fingers on her pants, accidentally smearing his blood on her pants, but she didn’t care. She glanced behind her, hoping to see where she could find a way back to the apartment building. But everything looked identical around her. Trees. Branches. Dirt.
Juliet looked around, and called, ”Carlton!" She waited, listening intently, but she didn’t get a reply. The leaves shifted quietly in the shallow breeze. She was surrounded by silence. Juliet sighed and tried again, louder, ”Carlton! I found him!"
Juliet cursed her voice for its lack of volume and pulled out her phone, but she had no service. She sighed and dropped it back in her pocket, her heart beating a quick, steady rhythm in her chest.
The last thing Juliet wanted to do was make Shawn walk through the forest. She didn’t even think she could get him to sit up. But it was getting darker. And colder, she noticed, suddenly shivering. Shawn was hurt and fading fast. She needed to get him out of here.
Juliet turned back to Shawn who’d shut his eyes again. His head had fallen back toward his shoulder. Juliet’s heart spiked.
“No, no, no, Shawn,” she said quickly, resisting the urge to shake him. “Stay with me!”
Shawn snapped his eyes open at her order. He tilted his head back toward her, his eyes seeming slightly clearer than they had been when he’d woken the first time, but still much too unfocused. His pupils were far more dilated than they should be. He looked at her skeptically, as if seeing her for the first time. “J-Jules?”
“Shawn,” she said apprehensively, worry paralyzingly her. Did he already forget waking up?
“W-where…?” he trailed off, his eyes weakly searching his surroundings.
“We’re in a forest, Shawn,” she explained, upgrading her personal diagnosis of his concussion from moderate to severe. “Shawn, look at me,” she asked quietly, and she waited for his eyes to find her. His mind seemed frighteningly two or three steps behind. With his eyes on her, Juliet asked, “How many of me do you see?”
Shawn’s face screwed up in confusion. “When… when’d you get here?” he whispered.
Her heart picked up speed, pounding in her head. It was as if he hadn’t even heard what she asked. “Shawn,” she said slowly, her hand back on his face, and she repeated, “just… just tell me how many of me you see.”
Shawn fought to keep his gaze on her, and slowly said, “I… dunno… ’s… bl’rry…” he said, taking a shallow breath. He looked at her again. “When… d’you… get here?”
Juliet hesitated. His lapse in memory terrified her. And with impaired vision, it would be even harder to get Shawn out of the forest on her own. “I don’t know, Shawn,” she said, answering his question. “Just… just a few minutes ago.” She looked around again, as if Lassiter would miraculously emerge from the trees.
“’m sorry,” he said quietly, his eyes drifting shut again.
“No,” said Juliet suddenly, and his eyes slowly opened. “Shawn, you can’t fall asleep.” She had to keep him talking. “What are you sorry about?”
He mumbled something so quietly that it took Juliet a moment to make out what he said.
Juliet sighed. With Shawn in danger, she’d pushed everything that happened between them as far away as possible. She couldn’t think about it.
“Shawn, it’s—” she said, ready to say it’s okay, but quickly stopped herself. She hadn’t exactly forgiven him for what happened. She hadn’t exactly… processed it yet. Juliet shook her head and finished, “—it’s not important right now. We need to get you out of here.”
“’m really… tired,” he slurred, his eyes falling shut again.
“Stay with me,” she repeated quickly, her hand back on his cheek, cupping his face. His eyes opened again at her touch. Juliet scanned the forest. The light was continuing to fade. She needed to get him out of here. “We need to go.”
“M’side hurts…” he said suddenly, as if he’d just thought of it. Something painful struck Juliet inside as she watched Shawn’s hand slowly rest protectively by the wound in his side. He shifted his weight, cringing as he woke the pain.
“Shawn,” she said gently, putting a hand over his. She looked around. “Do you know how to get out of here?”
It seemed to take a lot of convincing to get himself to open his eyes. She hadn’t even noticed he’d shut them again. Juliet watched him slowly turn his head, his eyes sluggishly scanning the area. He swallowed, then said, “Might.” He turned his head back toward her. “W-was a boy scout,” he whispered, “for a few—few days.”
A ghost of a smile crossed Juliet’s face. “Only a few days?” she asked, glad to see that he was somewhat lucid.
“Got…kick’d out,” he said, almost remorsefully. “Acc’dent’ly… set G-Gus’ tent.. on fire.”
Despite herself, Juliet’s eyebrows shot up. “You what?”
Shawn gave a small, half-shrug. “Gus—Gus said he… was cold.”
Juliet shook her head, both in incredulity and relief. He was already sounding more like himself, minus the slurring. She felt a sudden tremor run through Shawn’s body, and realized he must be getting cold, too. She took a breath. “I’m going to help you up, okay?”
Juliet slipped an arm under Shawn’s shoulders, slowly beginning to lift him up. He didn’t try to stop her, but she watched his face tighten and felt his body tense. With her arm around his shoulders, she led him to lean back against the trunk of the tree beside them. Shawn breathed hard, keeping his eyes firmly shut. His hand was pressing firmly against his side, seeming to have just barely held in a cry of pain. “M’head’s… killing me,” he whispered, out of breath.
“I know, Shawn,” said Juliet quietly, keeping a hold on his arm, feeling him starting to lean to the side. “Are you dizzy?”
It took Shawn a moment to answer. “Yes.”
“How bad did you hit your head?” she asked, her eyes following the bruising on his face again.
Shawn kept his eyes screwed shut when he replied. “Which… time…?” he asked. He suddenly began to fall to the side, but Juliet caught him before he did. She helped him sit back up. He looked at her, suddenly puzzled. “Where’s… L’ssie?”
“Carlton’s somewhere around here,” said Juliet. “He just apprehended the men who took you. Both of them are in custody,” she said. Well, the first man was technically in custody, even if he was dead.
Shawn’s eyes flashed. “Both?” he asked, his voice suddenly clear. Sharp.
Juliet hesitated. “Yeah, the two men who kidnapped you,” she said slowly. “We’ve got them—”
“Th-there’s three… Jules,” he said in a low voice. “There’s—”
Both Shawn and Juliet jumped at the voice behind them. Her heart jumped into her throat as she watched a man emerge from the trees beside them.
And it wasn’t Lassiter.