A Different Kind of Partner
Written for hbee's character fantasy on Psychfic
Prompt: Juliet and Lassiter dancing. Fluffy Juliet/Lassiter friendship
Carlton Lassiter choked down another bite of his steak, which had gone cold long ago, and took another sip of water to wash it down. He scowled at the fancy white china, the gleaming silver table service, the crystal water glasses, and the flickering flame of the white candle in the center of the table.
This whole thing had been a bad idea.
He could feel his "date's" eyes on him, studying him, and it pissed him off. Quit trying to analyze me. He pointedly ignored her in favor of the steak. True, she was more attractive and intelligent than any of the women he had gone out with since the divorce. She wore a classic, elegant little black dress, and her soft hair hung loosely down to her slim shoulders. He noticed several other men in the restaurant checking her out approvingly, no doubt wondering what a beauty like her was doing with him. That pissed him off, too. She's with me, dirtbags. Who checks out another man's date so obviously? At least be subtle about it.
Even though the circumstances were different, being here was a bitter reminder of every failed date he had had since Victoria left. What was the matter with him? Why did most of the women he went out with end up excusing themselves to go to the ladies room and never come back? Was he so repulsive? What was he doing wrong?
He forced himself to focus on the job at hand, but that didn't help matters either. This whole evening had been a big waste of time.
From across the table, his date watched him with a bemused expression on her face.
"Could you stop scowling and at least pretend that you're having a nice time? You're making me look bad."
"This isn't a real date, O'Hara."
"But it's supposed to look like one. Am I really such bad company?"
"Cut it out, O'Hara." He hated that fake pouty look she adopted when she was baiting him. "We're here to do a job. One that we failed at, I might add. He's obviously not coming."
Juliet glanced at her watch. "It's only 9 o'clock. Want to give it a little more time?"
He sighed. "Another half hour, I guess. Then I say we call it a night."
The waitress appeared then. Young and dark-haired and perky, she was the final annoyance in this miserable evening. "Are you finished with those plates?"
He nodded silently.
"Would you like a box to take the rest of your steak home?"
"Would you care for any dessert?"
"We'll take two cups of coffee," Juliet said hastily, before Lassiter could snap at the hapless waitress.
She smiled and nodded at them before walking briskly back to the kitchen with their empty plates.
They sat in silence until the waitress returned with a carafe of steaming coffee, a tiny pitcher of cream, and two delicate china cups. She filled each cup to the brim, then addressed them with a smile.
"Just let me know if you need anything else. And may I say, it's really wonderful to see a man spending good quality time with his daughter like this." She stepped back and beamed at them in appreciation.
Two sets of blue eyes widened. Juliet choked back a laugh as Lassiter began to sputter.
"Now, you listen here-"
"Why don't you go ahead and bring us the check?" Juliet cut him off before the disastrous tirade could commence. The waitress fished the slip out of her apron and handed it to Lassiter.
"Take your time and enjoy your coffee. You can pay at the front when you're ready. Enjoy the rest of your evening." She gave them one last smile before heading off to her other tables.
Lassiter turned to glare at his partner, who was still trying her hardest not to dissolve into giggles. "It isn't funny."
"Oh, Carlton, lighten up."
"This is an assignment, O'Hara. We're supposed to be staking out one of the most wanted men in California tonight. This is his favorite restaurant. He eats here almost every night. But of course, not tonight..."
He trailed off, his eyes looking past Juliet to the far corner of the dining room. Juliet waited patiently for him to finish his rant. When he didn't, she turned around, scanning the tables behind them to try and figure out what he was seeing.
"What is it, Carlton? Did Morelli finally show up?"
He didn't answer. Just kept staring, his bright blue eyes wide with apparent shock. She followed his line of vision to a corner booth where a woman with long dark hair was being seated. Juliet recognized her from a photo she had found, shoved in the back of Lassiter's desk, months ago. Victoria. Smiling and laughing, about to have dinner with another man.
Juliet whirled back around to check on her partner. He was still staring, eyebrows raised and mouth slightly open. She half expected him to storm across the dining room and confront the couple. Instead he remained seated, his expression softening into something that looked a lot like hurt. Finally he looked away, head drooping, eyes falling to the untouched coffee still steaming in front of him.
"Somebody up there hates me."
Juliet was struck with a feeling of compassion. Yes, Carlton could be grumpy and self-absorbed and clueless sometimes. But underneath it all, he was a decent man. A good guy who was having a really, really bad night. Catching criminals was everything to him. She had seen Carlton's eyes light up when they were given the chance to tail Morelli. Now that operation had turned out to be a big bust. And to top it off, he had to see his ex-wife having dinner with another man. Juliet knew her partner still cared for Victoria, even after the callous way she had treated him in the past.
He didn't deserve all this.
Impulsively, Juliet took his hand. "Come on. Let's go dance."
That was enough to bring his gaze back up from the table. "What?"
"Dance." She jerked her head towards the small dance floor set up at the end of the dining room, where a quartet was playing soft mood music.
"Come on, Carlton."
"O'Hara, this is a stakeout-"
"He's not coming, Carlton. We might as well have some fun."
She dragged him to his feet, still protesting.
"We'll have to walk right past them-"
"That's the idea. Haven't you ever heard of revenge?"
She giggled loudly as they passed Victoria's table. He managed to pretend not to see her, although he was pretty sure she saw them as O'Hara practically dragged him by the hand to the dance floor.
The band was playing a medium fast two-step. Still holding his left hand, O'Hara put her own left on his right shoulder and waited expectantly. He stared at her in shock.
She sighed and moved his right hand to her waist.
"You do know how to dance, right?"
"You're my partner. I really don't think this is appropriate."
"Stop thinking so much." She began to move, stepping in time to the music, and he had no choice but to move along with her. He kept his body stiff and left as much distance between them as possible. His hand barely touched her waist.
"Carlton, we look like we're at a junior high dance. Relax. Take the lead. I think she's watching us now." O'Hara took her hand from his shoulder and twirled, and he managed to let her. They came together again, and this time he took the lead. Out of the corner of his eye, he glanced at Victoria's table. She was definitely watching them. Watching him dance with this attractive, much younger woman. A slow smile spread across his face.
"Maybe you were right. About this revenge thing."
Juliet laughed loudly, and he responded in kind, making sure it was loud enough to be heard all over the dining room. He took her hand and twirled her again, once, twice, and spun her back into his arms as the song ended. The dancers and diners clapped politely as he and O'Hara stared at each other, a bit out of breath.
The next song was a slow one. He hesitated, but O'Hara put her hand back on his shoulder. He pulled her in closer, still keeping what he considered a respectable and professional distance between them. After his disastrous relationship with Lucinda, he had developed a hard-and-fast rule about never dating co-workers. And he never thought of O'Hara that way, anyway. He had come to value her as a friend and as a partner. Probably the best partner he had ever had, actually. She was smart and had good-instincts. She was willing to work long hours and do whatever it took to get the job done. But beyond all that, she was good at knowing what he needed. She knew when to push him on and when to rein him in. She helped him avoid tunnel vision, to look at the picture from different angles that he would not have considered otherwise. He could trust her, and she could trust him. They had both saved each other's necks countless times. Best of all, she was supportive. She knew how to help him relax, and how to make him laugh, and not many people could do that anymore.
"Think she saw us?" Her voice brought him out of his thoughts and back to the present.
"I know she did. Pretty sneaky, O'Hara. Almost like you've done this kind of thing before."
"Who says I haven't?" She glanced at her watch. "It's 9:30. Want to call it a night?"
He didn't look at Victoria as they passed by her table again. There was no need. He had moved on. Maybe not completely yet, but he was getting there, thanks in large part to Juliet. She was a different kind of partner than his wife had been, but she was exactly what he needed at this point in his life.