It didn't feel real.
Not when the deep voice shattered the silence. Nor when the man who'd kidnapped him stepped out from between the trees. Not even when a gun was suddenly aimed at his head. It didn't feel real at all.
It felt like a nightmare.
Shawn was frozen. He vaguely saw Juliet whip around, and shift herself in front of him. Protecting him. The surge of feeling he would have felt at her gesture was quickly lost in his fear. Adrenaline kicked into his veins, clearing some of the ringing from his hearing, but his vision was far too blurry. He was still seeing double. He blinked, trying to get the two imposing men with guns to remain single.
"If either of you move even an inch," said the man, and Shawn shook himself, pulling himself back to attention. It had been incredibly hard to focus ever since he'd regained consciousness. "And I mean an inch," hissed the man, taking another step forward. "I will put a hole between your eyes."
Shawn felt Juliet's back pressing into him, staying as close to him as possible. Shawn shut his eyes as a new wave of pain from his side treaded in his veins. It was as if the pain had just decided to wake up when Juliet roused him. It definitely hadn't hurt this much when Shawn had been in the van or the apartment building.
"Am I boring you, Shawn?"
Shawn's eyes snapped open. The gun had shifted from aiming in the general direction of himself and Juliet to his forehead. Well, Shawn assumed it was aimed at his forehead. He was currently seeing two guns aimed at him, his vision still messed up. The man was suddenly closer, maybe two feet away from them, an ugly frown twisting his face. "I wouldn't want to bore you, Shawn. Which is why things are going to get much, much more interesting." His frown morphed into a sick grin. "I had no idea you were dating a cop."
Shawn shifted toward her involuntarily, but quicker than his mind could comprehend, the gun was back on him and the man was suddenly closer. "What did I say about moving, Shawn?"
Shawn set his jaw, halting his motion. He held himself back, feeling a head rush, but he resisted the urge to shut his eyes. He fought to keep himself upright and watched the world spin.
"What do you want?" demanded Juliet, her voice even. Fearless.
"I want my money," the man said, as if it were obvious. He tilted the gun in his hand, shifting his weight, crushing leaves underneath his boots, the sound chilling the silence. "And something tells me that the cops will be much more motivated to keep their detective alive than their consultant." He laughed. "You know what that means, don't you?"
Fear burned in Shawn's veins. Juliet leaned her weight further back into Shawn. She'd already been close enough that her back had been brushing his chest. Shawn fought the urge to cringe as she pressed sharply into the raw wound in his side. What was she…?
Shawn's heart sped. His delayed mind suddenly caught up to the rest of him. It wasn't Juliet's back that was pressing into his side.
It was her gun.
Her gun was in the waistband of the back of her pants, now mere inches from Shawn's hand. Shawn slowly nudged the small of her back to acknowledge that he understood what she meant.
He was going to have to grab the gun and shoot this man.
Shawn felt the back of her shirt, deciding that relying on his screwed up vision wasn't going to do him any good. His fingers brushed her back. Juliet's muscles were tense. Rigid.
Shawn's hand met the cool metal of the gun, and he slowly started to pull it from her waistband.
"Now," the man said sharply, and Shawn let go of the gun, terrified the man had seen him. But… the man didn't seem to have noticed. He narrowed his eyes. "I'm going to tell you how this will work. I am going to walk your girlfriend out of this damned forest and put this gun to her head in front of your little police friends. And then I will get my money." He laughed to himself. "I'll shoot her when I get it, of course, but they don't know that.
"You—" Shawn felt another wave of vertigo hit him, cutting off his response, and he clawed at the ground, trying to force himself to stay put. The bark on the tree bit into his skin as he pressed himself against it. He fought his swaying, forcing away the pull of unconsciousness. He couldn't pass out now. He just couldn't.
"You see, Shawn," the man said, "I don't have to kill her. But you made things difficult for me. And for that, you need to be punished."
"You—you touch her, I—I'll kill you," said Shawn, his voice breathy, as if he'd just had the wind knocked out of him and hadn't quite recovered. The man only laughed in response. Shawn's fingers found Juliet's gun again. He slowly pulled it free from her waistband. The weapon felt heavy in his weakened state. Shawn's hand shook and he hesitated. He could barely sit up without lilting to the side, much less hold his focus on anything for too long. How did Juliet expect him to shoot this man with any accuracy?
Shawn lifted his eyes back to the man. His head felt fuzzy and an intense pressure was beating behind his eyes. The man had said something to Juliet but Shawn didn't quite hear it. The ringing in his ears was back. He vaguely saw the man take a step toward Juliet and grab her by the arm, pulling her roughly away from Shawn.
Heart jumping into a frenzy, Shawn lifted the weapon in his hand. But before he could even wrap his finger around the trigger, he felt something strong hit him across the face, sending him straight back to the ground, his face hitting the dirt. The gun was ripped out of his hand. The man suddenly lashed out with his foot, and Shawn felt agony explode in his side. It took him far too long to realize his hearing had been torn down to mere ringing and fresh blood was dripping down his skin from the wound in his side.
And Juliet and the man were gone.
"What do you mean there's a third kidnapper?!" exclaimed Henry. "What the hell are you talking about?"
Lassiter shoved the man he'd shot to the ground, making him groan in pain. "Now," hissed Lassiter through his teeth, pressing his weight into the man, pushing him further into the dirt. "You're going to tell me about your other partner. Where is he? Who is he?"
The man let out a low cackle of laughter, and Lassiter increased his hold on the man, turning the chuckle into a groan of pain. In a strained voice, the man said, "I don't… even know the guy."
"Bull," growled Lassiter, pressing his knee into the man's back. He felt the man shutter beneath him, blood streaming from his wound. "Tell me what you know," demanded Lassiter, "and maybe I'll make prison less painful for you."
"We're—we're ex-military, man," gasped the man. "Just—just trying to make some extra cash. That's—"
Henry cut him off, his voice dripping with dark fury. "And you think money is a reason to murder a cab driver and kidnap my son, you son of a—" Henry lunged forward toward the man but Gus jumped forward, throwing his arms around him, holding him back.
"L-look, it was his idea!" the man groaned. "T-trent and I n-never… never even k-knew the guy's name, man!" Lassiter shoved him down again, a strangled groan escaping the man's clenched teeth.
"Where is he?" demanded Lassiter.
"W-we… split up," the man choked out, underneath Lassiter's pressure. "L-lookin' for that… kid—"
"That kid is my son, damn it!" raged Henry, fighting against Gus' hold on him. "You—"
"Stand down! Everyone, stand down!"
Lassiter, Henry and Gus froze. Shouts were coming from officers not too far away.
"Shawn!" whispered Henry, hope searing through him. "That could be Shawn!"
He took off at a run, hearing Gus following near behind him, and Lassiter's hissed orders at the kidnapper to get up.
Henry strained his ears, thankful that he'd trained himself in observation using all five senses. The voices were coming from the southwest, and Henry had no trouble pinpointing where the parking lot was. He heard Gus' panting behind him, but Henry didn't slow down to let the younger man keep up.
His son was found. Shawn was safe.
Henry ignored the twigs whipping into his face, feeling the sting as the branches cut into his skin. The light continued getting brighter as he raced through the trees, out of the dense woodland. He heard the voices louder, repeating the same two phrases he'd heard them first say.
But why didn't this feel right?
The parking lot came into view, and Henry squinted through the branches, seeing the navy and black of the officer uniforms. He saw officers lowering their weapons, some behind patrol cars, but all heads pointed in the same direction. Henry burst through the trees, and a few heads snap toward him. Including Chief Vick's.
"Karen," huffed Henry, out of breath, as he ran to the chief. He looked wildly around, "Did they find—"
His gaze landed about thirty feet away. And it wasn't Shawn. A man had a vice-grip around Juliet's neck, and a gun pressed firmly to her head. Her hands were gripping the arm around her, but muscles rippled underneath the material of the man's shirt. Juliet struggled. He wasn't giving her enough air.
"—the money," the man was saying, as Henry's hearing broke through his shock. "Give it to me, or the detective dies." the man growled through his teeth. He glared at the Vick. "My patience is running thin." The gun pressed harder against Juliet's temple, and she gasped, making almost every officer flinch.
Henry looked at Vick. Vick made a gesture at the officer to her right, and he slowly stood up, leaving his weapon on the ground. Henry watched Juliet's captor's eyes follow the man, ensuring that the officer wasn't going to make a move. The officer opened the door of a patrol car, and pulled out the bag of money Lassiter and Juliet had confiscated from the taxi station.
Henry knew the drill with exchanges. It all came down to trust. If it came to handing over the actual ransom, the police usually had a backup plan to ensure that thee perpetrator wasn't getting away with it.
But this wasn't planned.
"Slowly, Dobson," said Vick in a low voice, as Dobson took measured steps toward the man. She shifted her gaze to the man and said, "The bag for my detective."
The man nodded stiffly, his eyes giving away nothing. "That's the deal."
The man's knuckles were white on his intense grip on the gun, pressed firmly against Juliet.
Henry and Vick turned. Gus and Lassiter were suddenly behind them, watching. Lassiter stared at his struggling partner, his hands tightly securing the other kidnapper, knocked out cold in his arms. Lassiter's face was ashen.
"Where's Shawn?" asked Henry, suddenly overwhelmed. Juliet was here. The third kidnapper was here.
Where the hell was his son?
Dobson stopped ten feet away from the man and Juliet.
Henry couldn't contain himself.
"Where's Shawn?" he demanded, eyes burning into the man. "Where the hell is my son?"
The man shifted his eyes from the bag to Henry. Henry ignored the hisses he got from the three standing beside him. The man adjusted his grip on Juliet, holding her tighter, and she shut her eyes. He grinned at Henry.
"Your son," the man said, low and even, "is dead."
This must be what dying feels like.
Shawn felt paralyzed. The sheer agony piercing into his skull and emanating from the wound in his side singed through his veins, as if his very blood was on fire. His eyes were screwed shut.
He had to get up. He knew he had to. Juliet was in danger. The man was a killer. He was going to shoot her whether he got the money or not.
He had to get up.
Shawn didn't know how long it took to get feeling back into his limbs. The pain whited out every fiber of his being. He was lying on the ground, his cheek pressed against the dirt. Well, more like mud, considering the thunderstorm from the morning.
To think he'd been sitting in the Psych office watching the rain hitting the window less than ten hours ago.
Shawn shook himself. He needed to focus. He needed to get off the ground.
But that was the last thing his body wanted to do.
No, Shawn told himself firmly, it's not what you want to do—it's what you need to do. Shawn took a breath, hissing in pain as the simple breath shifted his rib cage. That must be why it hurts so much, realized Shawn. Broken ribs. Shawn gave himself a moment to let the pain subside, but with a sinking feeling, Shawn realized that the pain wasn't going to subside. It burned steadily.
He needed to get to Juliet. Shawn let the rush of his desperation force him to lift his hand, and plant it firmly on the ground in front of him. His fingers sank into the damp dirt. Shawn cracked his eyes open, facing the faded sunlight casting lazy rays through the branches.
Shawn slowly tilted his head, trying to focus his eyes on what he saw. There were imprints in the dirt, not far from him. They led away from him. Imprints. What were they?
Footprints. The thought flashed through Shawn's backwards thinking and he shut his eyes at his own slowness. He couldn't even recognize footprints at first glance. His head was thoroughly messed up.
Shawn realized his arm had fallen back to his side. His fingers were covered in mud. Without readying himself for it, Shawn lifted his arm again, shifting his weight onto it and pushed himself up. He screamed through his teeth as his ribs seared in pain, as if he'd just been stabbed half a dozen times. Shawn breathed hard, finding himself leaning on his forearm, his body shaking with merely trying to hold himself three inches off the ground. Shawn pressed his other hand into the dirt, pushing himself up further, his breath now coming in short gasps. He quickly got his knees underneath him, ignoring his ribs' protest.
Shawn lifted his head, his vision still spinning, but he was no longer seeing double. Things were moving slightly and had a fuzzy blur to their edges. But he could still make out the footprints beside him. If he followed them, he could find the man and Juliet.
Shawn hesitated, his body trembling with his own weight. Crawling out of the forest would be agonizing. Moving his knees underneath him would jostle his abdomen far more than walking would.
He was going to have to stand.
Shawn let out an exasperated breath, cringing as he straightened his arms, pushing himself up higher off the ground, getting his feet under him. His weight seemed to double, protesting his movement. It was as if his body was going… how did Gus always describe it? Boneless, thought Shawn. His own body was threatening to go boneless on him. Shawn clenched his teeth as he fought it, pushing himself up, hearing Gus' voice in his head repeating, Don't go boneless on me, Shawn!
The bark in the tree beside him bit into his shoulder, telling him he was at least a foot or two higher off the ground. Shawn shifted away from it—
No, that was it. Shawn looked sluggishly back toward the tree, an idea forming. He could use the tree to keep his balance as he forced himself to his feet. Shawn took a breath, and pushed off the ground, letting himself fall back against the tree. His back hit the trunk, and Shawn bit his tongue hard at the impact. The metallic taste of his blood filled his mouth, and Shawn coughed, his blood staining the grass and his jeans. Brand new jeans, thought Shawn irritably, as if it were the small drops of blood that suddenly ruined the clothing and not the grass and mud stains already caking the fabric.
Shawn sank back against the tree, glad to have his feet already underneath him. That was half the battle at this point. He gave himself a moment to breathe, his chest rising up and down abnormally fast. Shawn cast a glance down at himself, taking in the mess of his shirt. It was torn. Almost shredded, it looked like, as if he'd stuffed the material in a sink disposal. I wore this shirt last week with Jules, Shawn remembered, the useless thought coming to the front of his mind for some absurd reason. Juliet had commented on the shirt last week, mentioning that she liked it on him. And now it was ruined.
Shawn shook himself, stopping his train of thought, and his eyes suddenly followed the blood. It spread across his abdomen, and fear flitted in his chest. That was a lot of blood. Shawn put a shaking hand to his side, trying to stem the flow. The moment his fingers touched his side, Shawn yelped in pain. He tore his hand away, and pressed his back hard against the tree, waiting for the pain to subside. Oh, right, thought Shawn bitterly, it doesn't subside.
You're wasting time, said a firm voice in the back of Shawn's mind, and a grim realization crept into his thoughts. There was no use trying to do this gently. Trying to stand was going to hurt like hell whether he took it fast or slow. Shawn grasped a low branch on the tree, and he yanked himself up.
Shawn didn't know how to describe the sound that escaped him as pain ripped through his abdomen. Heart thudding painfully against his chest, Shawn held onto the branch for dear life, forcing himself up to his full height. He pressed his back firmly against the tree, shimmying himself up the trunk, the bark scraping the skin on his back. Shawn breathed hard and fast, pain following his every movement.
The mixture of agony and motion was enough to send his vertigo into overdrive, and Shawn held an iron-clad grip on the branch, terrified of falling back down. It seemed to take years for the world to slow its spinning, and Shawn cautiously opened his eyes. He found himself standing, pressing firmly against the tree. He'd done it. He was standing.
Too bad that was only the first step in getting to Juliet.
Shawn shoved his doubt away. He could do it. He'd gotten this far. Cracking his eyes open, facing the ground, Shawn tried to find the footprints again. Somewhere during his struggle to his feet, Shawn's headache snuck up on him, and it now pounded viciously behind his eyes.
"Come on," muttered Shawn, annoyed with the pain. He held tight to the branch he was clinging to and slowly reached his other hand to the next branch. Successfully grabbing a hold of it, he paused, steadying himself. His eyes roamed the fuzzy ground, and he dimly found the footprints again, and Shawn followed them with his eyes, as they led behind him, through the forest.
Shawn took a hesitant step forward, shifting his weight carefully to his left foot, feeling his almost drunk-like coordination tilt his balance. He held onto the branch tighter, righting himself. Surprisingly, the movement wasn't enough to cause him much pain. That, or his side had gone numb—and Shawn wished it was the latter.
Reaching for a branch on a tree adjacent to the one he was leaning on and took another step to his right foot, following the footprints. At least that was something; getting up had been the hard part.
Now he just had to focus on keeping upright, or he'd have to do it all over again.
Shawn's next step wasn't as calculated as his first, and he tilted forward, hitting the trunk of the tree face-first. Shawn threw his arms around the trunk of the tree, catching himself from falling. His side singed with pain. There goes the numb theory, he thought bitterly. He steadied himself, taking a few shallow breaths, and planted his feet firmly on the ground.
Shawn looked ahead, finding the footprint trail again. Hurry. Adrenaline swam in his veins, but Shawn kept his pace slow—even slower than before—as he followed the trail. He took more steps forward, keeping his hold shifting from tree to tree. His movements fell into a painfully slow and slightly off-balance rhythm. It wasn't fast, but it was progress. The pain had mellowed out to a constant burn, but it had stopped stinging. That was something, at least. Shawn blinked away his fatigue. His exhaustion crept up on him, feeling like a thick vapor in the very air he breathed. The extra blood loss from Shawn's wound was definitely taking its toll, but Shawn fought it. The adrenaline was still within him, driving him forward. He wasn't putting himself through this agony just for the hell of it. Juliet needed him, and there was nothing in the world that could stop him from protecting her.
"Stand down! Everybody, stand down!"
Shawn nearly lost his footing as the yells pierced the silence, competing with the deafening ringing in his ears. He grasped the branch he was holding on to, and strained his ears. Those yells were close.
Shawn picked up his pace, eyes shifting from the footprints to what was ahead of him quickly, angering his headache, but he didn't care. Juliet and the man must be nearby.
The light was suddenly getting brighter, and Shawn looked up as he saw the parking lot looming ahead through the branches, maybe forty feet away. Shawn picked up his pace more, shifting his weight from foot to foot, hearing the man's deep voice speaking somewhere in front of him. Shawn's vision was twisting everything in sight, and Shawn blinked rapidly, trying to clear it as best as he could. Pain radiated from his abdomen, his heart thudding excruciatingly against his injured ribs. He was ten feet away from the parking lot now.
He was almost there.
"Your son," the man told Henry, "is dead."
A thick silence settled over the parking lot. No one spoke. No one moved.
Henry couldn't breathe.
Your son is dead.
He learned a lot as a detective. He learned how to control his emotions, keep them in check during sting operations, to lie undetected to get information out of criminals, to deal with shock.
But shock had never felt like this.
Heads turned back toward the man. Vick recovered first, her face white. Dobson had frozen as well. "D-Dobson. Give it to him."
Henry felt himself shaking. Karen Vick had just stuttered.
Karen Vick never stuttered.
In silence, every officer watched as Dobson took three more steps toward the man. Then man watched him carefully, then said, "Stop."
Dobson stopped a few feet away. The man nudged Juliet with the gun, then he turned to Dobson. "Drop the bag and walk away."
Dobson complied. He put the bag on the ground and retreated back where the other officers stood. Henry watched everything as if from someone else's eyes.
Shawn was dead.
"I'm going to release her," said the man to the officers. "I'm going to release your detective, pick up my money, and walk away. If you take a shot at me, I'll shoot her." He shifted his gaze between the officers, tightening his grip on the gun, eyeing the officers. "I promise I'm faster."
"He's—He's ex-military," said Lassiter in a quiet voice to Vick. "Don't shoot." His face was blank.
Dobson retreated and stood next to Vick. Everyone watched as the man slowly released his tight hold on Juliet. She fell to her knees, gasping for breath. The man kept his gun trained on her as he picked up the bag of money and started backing up. He continued walking backward, his gun glued to Juliet's back. She coughed hard, and seemed to be trying to tell them all something. Henry took a step toward her.
"He's—He's—" she gasped, coughing again, rubbing where the man had held her around the throat. "Sh-Shawn's—not—" Juliet coughed again, out of breath.
The man took more steps backward, tightening his grip on the weapon, picking up his pace a bit, a hint of a grin slicing across his face.
"Chief," said Lassiter suddenly, staring at the man. "He's going to shoot her. He—He's going to shoot!"
"He—He's going to shoot!"
Pure fear wiped the haze from Shawn's mind as Lassiter's yell pierced the air. Shawn stumbled forward the last ten feet, catching himself on another tree, and squinted through the branches. He'd reached the parking lot. Heart tripling in speed, Shawn's eyes found Juliet. She'd fallen to her knees on the pavement. And there, backing away from her, was Shawn's kidnapper. With a gun.
His finger poised on the trigger.
Shawn felt something strong take him over, and suddenly all the pain was forgotten. The dizziness was thrown aside. His fear was reduced to raw desperation. He was suddenly running out through the trees, straight for Juliet. Shawn watched as she turned her head toward him and her eyes widened in fear. He threw himself forward toward her, straight into the line of fire.
Just as the man pulled the trigger.