Juliet stopped five feet in front of this specter and gaped at him. It wasn't that she'd never imagined this encounter before, at this very place, even; but in her mind there had been cold, pelting rain, or at least clouds. Not a bright, sunny day like this; and in her mind his grin hadn't been so wide and ready and ordinary.
"Do I get a hug?" Shawn asked.
She found her voice enough to say, "Depends."
"Ten years, without a word--I'm deciding whether I should slap you first."
"Kinky, Jules. How about both?" and he opened his arms, all cheek and confidence.
She hugged him tightly; he hugged her back, a casual, comfortable squeeze. When they drew apart he kept one hand on her shoulder for a moment, the pineapple cradled under his other arm, and looked her up and down. "You look awesome. Great. Head detective now, right?"
"Yeah." She had to wipe her eyes, and not just from the sun's glare. Shawn's own eyes were bright and clear, the same color she remembered, that indeterminate shade between blue and green and brown.
He looked good, young for forty, tanned and still slender. He hadn't ever mastered the use of a razor, and his hair was still dark and not thinning yet, if a little shorter and less mussed. Jeans and a polo shirt, loudly lime green; that hadn't changed, either.
"And Lassie made chief, I heard."
"Three years ago, after Karen was transferred."
"Good for him."
"He's a good man for the job," Juliet said. "You've been keeping up on us?"
Shawn shrugged. "Now and then."
"You could have said something...!"
"I was thinking about stopping by the station this afternoon, actually, since I was in the neighborhood. Just wanted to drop by Gus's first, say hi," and he indicated the grave with a nod of his head. "Didn't expect to see you here."
"I come every year," Juliet said. Something clenched tight in her chest at how very casual that nod was. How very relaxed and easy, when she had trouble even reading the headstone without getting a lump in her throat. Burton Guster, 'Gus'. "Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known."
"He probably appreciates it," Shawn said. "He always thought you were cute. Maybe in a little sister way, but you've grown up since."
"Have you...asked him?" Juliet asked, not wanting to, having to anyway. She couldn't help it, not when he was being so calm about this.
He just winked at her. "Oh, come on, Jules, you know that psychic thing was a load of crock."
"I was never sure what to believe."
"But I told you so myself."
"I..." Ten years. She came here every year, on the anniversary, but she didn't really think about it, hadn't tried to remember, or wanted to, in all the last decade. "I wasn't listening to everything you said then. Or wasn't believing it, anyway."
Shawn cocked his head. "That's fair, I guess. I was sort of a mess then, huh?"
"I--we didn't think--when you disappeared like that, I was afraid..." Ten years and it still hurt to think about. "I thought I might never see you again." She'd thought that no one might see him again, and that she'd failed him so badly had been almost more than she could take.
"Now that would be a tragedy. Sorry if I broke your heart."
He said it so flippantly that she smiled in spite of herself. "You didn't break my heart--I just couldn't take losing another friend. Not then."
"Oh, you can be honest with me. I know I spoiled you for all other men, and for that, I sincerely apologize."
"Okay, now I really might slap you, Spencer."
"Is that a promise? I hope? You head detective types still carry handcuffs, right?"
She was standing in the sun, in a cemetery by a friend's grave, with a man she hadn't laid eyes on in ten years, and she was laughing out loud. There could be no doubt; Shawn Spencer was back.
It wasn't just that she had missed him, with all his immature irreverence. Standing with him in the cemetery's empty privacy, she felt something lift off her, a decade-long burden of guilt dispersed.
Ten years ago, she hadn't known what to do, standing here in this same spot, watching Shawn as he watched his best friend be buried. Gus's family had never liked Shawn much, but they'd let him stand with them. Not that he'd appeared to notice, saying nothing, eyes on the closed casket and a terrible emptiness in his face that was worse than any grief or anger or anything that he should've been feeling.
He'd had that same empty face at his father's funeral the day before Gus's. When she talked to him he didn't look at her, but through her, and Juliet knew that nothing she could say mattered to him. She'd tried anyway, done whatever she could. She'd tried contacting his mother, but couldn't get hold of her, and if the woman heard through other channels she still didn't come to her ex-husband's funeral, even for her son's sake.
Juliet had arranged an informal wake following the funerals: Henry's fishing buddies and old comrades from the job; various and sundry pals of Shawn and Gus--someone who knew one knew the other, generally. A good part of the station dropped by sometime during the evening, not only for Henry but for his son. The psychic had earned a few enemies among the SBPD, but more friends.
So it wasn't just herself and Lassiter and Karen Vick, but half a dozen other cops as well, who heard Shawn say, half-drunk and exhausted by grief and flat when he should have sounded angry, "No, I won't be finding a new office for Psych. That's over, I'm sick of that bullshit. You didn't ever really believe me, did you? God, I hope not, all you detectives and you couldn't even catch on to one guy yanking your chain."
"All right, that's enough, Spencer," Carlton had said, taking his arm and sitting him down, not roughly; and Juliet had quietly prodded everyone to go home.
When they were alone, the two of them and the chief with Shawn, he'd looked at them and said, "I'm sorry." That was all, but it was with the most emotion she'd heard out of him in three days, and Juliet had meant it when she answered, "It's all right, Shawn."
She and Lassiter had driven him back to his apartment, and before letting him out Carlton had asked, gruffly, "Are you going to be okay?"
"Yeah," Shawn had said, "I'll be fine," and he went up to his place alone.
When Juliet had gone over the next morning to check on him, Shawn's motorcycle was gone, and he'd left his apartment keys in the lock. Little had been missing, as far as they could determine; a couple shirts she clearly remembered hadn't been in his drawer, but not much else had been gone. Just Shawn himself.
She'd never seen him again, until now.
Now, watching Shawn Spencer balance a pineapple on top of the cross adorning Gus's gravestone, Juliet felt as if time had stopped, those ten years ago, and only now was starting again. Like the wake, and all those months searching the country and finding nothing, and the years after that, had never happened. When he grinned at her, a few lines showed around his eyes that hadn't been there before, but otherwise so little was changed that she had to touch her own hair just to make sure it was still short.
Shawn noticed, of course; he always did. "It looks great," he said, "that cut. Brings out your eyes. You seeing anyone these days?"
Rather than get into the complicated answers to that, Juliet found herself blurting out, "We caught the men responsible. Shattuck and O'Malley--we caught them and put them away. Life sentences."
Shawn's mobile features registered surprise; then he was smiling again. "Yeah, I heard. Thank you."
"It wasn't me, it was Carlton, mostly--he wrapped it up three days after you...left. It was one hell of a bust. The papers talked about him for a week."
"Lassie must've loved it." There was fondness in his tone.
"It helped get him his promotion. One of the things." They were quiet for a moment, walking between the graves; then Juliet asked, carefully, unable to help herself any longer, "So what have you been doing?"
"Oh, you know." Shawn shrugged. "Odds and ends, here and there. I work where I can, when I have to. Still can't hold onto a 'career'," and he made air-quotes around the word, nose scrunched with a distaste that clearly said, 'and why would I want to?'
"You had Psych for a year and a half," Juliet pointed out, then thought she shouldn't have.
But Shawn didn't look hurt by the reminder. He laughed. "Yeah, and that was awesome--I can't believe I seriously strung you guys along for that long."
"You were...convincing." Only that wasn't exactly it, and never had been. "We wanted to believe you, I guess."
"That's the trick, isn't it, making them want to trust you," Shawn said, quietly, and laughed again like a private joke had crossed his mind. "You want to get out of here, grab something to eat? Is Jeff's Jamaican Jerk Emporium still open?"
"Yeah, but..." Juliet checked her watch. "My lunch break's almost up, I have to get back to the station. Why don't you come along--"
"No, thanks but no thanks. Your chief would probably throw me in jail."
"Carlton wouldn't," she objected. "There's a statute of limitations on fraud."
"Yeah, but he could've dug up something else--I'd rather not take my chances."
"But you were thinking of going over anyway--"
"I wasn't planning on walking in the front door, though."
"He'd want to see you again," Juliet said quietly. "So would Lieutenant McNab, and other people, too..."
"Maybe later," Shawn said. "In disguise! What do you think, hat pulled low, Groucho Marx glasses? Or should I just do this?" and he flipped his hands upside-down to make goggles around his eyes and stuck out his tongue.
"Maybe not," Juliet said.
"How could anyone recognize me like this?" he mumbled around his stuck-out tongue, and waggled his fingers.
"How could anyone not recognize you like that?" Juliet returned. They were at the parking lot, and she got out the keys. "I'll see you later, Shawn," and then she stopped, looked at him. "I mean--I will, I hope?"
Shawn dropped his hands and put his tongue back in his mouth, gave her a smile that was sincere instead of goofy. "Yeah, you will," he said. "Though--could you not spread it around that superstar Spencer is back in town? I like my privacy, and I left my favorite mirror sunglasses back at Travolta's pad."
"Whatever you say, Shawn."
"No, seriously, I was hanging there, and Johnny was like, 'Shawn, my man, all those girls throwing themselves at your feet, doesn't it get embarrassing?' and I was like--"
"I won't tell anyone," Juliet said.
"Thanks," Shawn said. "Oh, and Jules? I'm sorry."
It was softly spoken, honest and understanding, and she turned around and hugged him again, to give him her forgiveness, and to prove to herself that he was real and not a ghost or a hallucination. He smelled of aftershave and pineapple, or maybe it was pineapple-scented aftershave; and his embrace, like before, was tight and friendly, not copping a feel, but close.
"Then I'll see you later," she said, and he nodded and waved and said, "See you," casually, but it was a promise she would hold him to.
* * *
Juliet intended to detour past the Santa Barbara Cemetery to pick up her chief, but when she called into the station, Dispatch ordered her to return directly. Lassiter was waiting for her in his office.
"Something came up, I got a cruiser to bring me back," he explained as she handed back his keys. "How'd it go? Did you see anyone there?"
Juliet hesitated a second, then shook her head. "Just another pineapple," she said.
Carlton sighed. "Wonder how much we missed him by. If it was him." Though he looked at her for a beat after he said it, and she wondered how much better she had gotten at lying since she had been his partner. By the chief's expression, he was wondering the same thing, but he didn't comment, instead said, "Your other cases right now, can you delegate them? This is big and I want you on it."
Juliet took one of the chairs before the desk. "I can give the robbery and the assault to Taggert. What's the case?"
"The Bureau just contacted me," Lassiter said. "They've got reason to believe that Gerald Kladinski is heading to Santa Barbara, if he's not here already."
"Gerry the Dark?" Juliet sat up in her chair. "The professional assassin?"
"Word is, he's been put on commission by three different syndicates, for the same target."
"He's got more than twenty kills ascribed to him," Juliet said. "Mostly mob hits, but he does freelance, too. He supposedly was trained by the KGB--he's one of the 'ghost killers', there's never been a positive ID made on his face. His last job was in Detroit, eight months ago, though of course there was no proof..."
Lassiter gave her a long look. "Okay, O'Hara, this is your job, I know, but it's creepy how you know more about pro assassins than you do about pro baseball."
"But you're always telling me I know too much about baseball."
"Which is my point. But it's why I need you on this case. The Bureau's sending their people up from LA; I want you to work with them."
"Why do they think Gerry's coming here, anyway?" Juliet asked. "Santa Barbara's not exactly a hotbed for organized crime."
Which owed in no small part to the efforts of Lassiter himself, but he looked disinclined to boast about it. "Kladinski's chasing rumors. According to our information, he's been hired to take down the Whisper."
Juliet started. "The Whisper?"
"Only makes sense, doesn't it? The Whisper brings down organized crime, one family at a time, informs the police, leads them to busts and provides the proof to make the charges stick--no wonder they've decided to do something about it. The record is what, a dozen gangs and syndicates in the last eight years?"
"Fourteen, actually, if you count the time he turned the Regino family against the Obrekov Russian mafia as two."
"Anyway, there's a story going around that the Whisper is in Santa Barbara. Which is the other reason you're on this case, O'Hara, being our resident expert. You wouldn't have any idea where to find him, or them, now, would you?"
Juliet swallowed. "No, sir. I haven't...I wouldn't know where he'd be, if he is here. You know I haven't been following the Whisper as much the last couple years."
"I know, but..." Lassiter studied her, brow drawn low over his blue eyes. Then he said, "You still say 'he'."
"I thought it was pretty much accepted these days that the Whisper's a group, that one person couldn't pull off what they've done. Maybe not an FBI team after all, since the Bureau doesn't seem to know anything about it--they've told me to put anyone suspected to be part of the Whisper in protective custody--but a gang with a grudge against organized crime, working together. But you say 'he,' like it's one man."
"I guess," Juliet shrugged, "when I started tracking the Whisper, I thought it was one man. I haven't really thought about it."
"Uh-huh," Lassiter said. "Well, if you get anything more about him or them, or whoever, let me know."
"Got it, sir."
He eyed her. "And what's with the 'sir', O'Hara? There's no one else here, you're making me paranoid."
"I hate to say it, but you're always paranoid, Carlton, sir," Juliet said, not missing a beat. "Is that all?"
"For now. I'll call you in when the agents get here; for now, put together a quick report of what you have on the Whisper. And Kladinski, too. Any questions?"
'No, sir. Unless you have any."
It was offering him a chance that she maybe shouldn't have, but though Lassiter gave her a long look that said he understood this, he didn't ask anything. Just told her to get to work, and if he was thinking about stopping by the cemeteries again later this evening when his shift was up, he didn't tell her.