A Common Trope
Yeah, yeah… we know the drill. Own not even a minority interest in psych, wish I did, or at least that I got to play in the writer's sandbox with them, instead of out on the perimeter of the playground. TPTB got everything, no infringement intended, etc., etc…
Vague S6 spoilers but nothing super specific.
Another day, another stakeout.
At least for this case, it was just him and O'Hara, Spencer and Guster off on an actual reunion for their sleepaway camp. Hopefully sans murdering, revenge-seeking whackjobs. Spencer had taken along an industrial-sized can of pepper spray, though—just in case—at least, according to O'Hara.
Spencer, not O'Hara, of course. Although she did insist on continuing to date the smoothie-obsessed moron…
Eh, Spencer did care—in his own Spencer-like way. Carlton just wished he could be less… Spencer-like in his expressions of affection toward O'Hara. At the very least, she deserved some basic consideration.
Beside him, O'Hara turned a page of the book she was reading. It didn't always used to be this way. Used to be they'd sit and talk—rather, O'Hara would talk, peppering him with questions and starting conversations as both of them kept an eye out for their potential target. Ever since his discovery of her relationship with Spencer, though, she'd withdrawn a bit, sitting silently with a thoughtful expression he could only interpret as moony—and who the hell knew Spencer could inspire such introspection?—or more often, bringing a book along. He told himself he preferred it—going back to the days when he could sit in blessed silence and concentrate on nothing but the work. Not his personal life or lack thereof or peppy young partners who confidently informed him they didn't believe in inter-office romances. Or quizzed him about movies or Civil War reenactments or music or police code or whatever the hell flitted in and out of her brain.
Once again, O'Hara made yet another noise that sounded, to Carlton's ears, like disgust, followed by the distinctive sound of several pages being flipped in rapid succession.
"If it's that bad, I've got a copy of California Police Code in the glove compartment," he offered without shifting his gaze from the building they were watching.
He glanced at her, head still bent over the book, casual in jeans and a loose t-shirt, hair pulled up in a ponytail, the better to blend into the neighborhood in case they had to do any kind of footwork. He'd wanted to wear khakis and a polo, but she'd hit him with that look and muttered something about this wasn't a country club sort of neighborhood, so he'd donned his sole pair of jeans with only a muttered grumble. At least he was getting to wear one of his well-worn plaid button-downs.
"I said, if the book's that bad, I've got a copy of the California—" He stopped short and returned his gaze to the building. "Never mind."
After a beat of silence she said, "It's not that it's bad, it's just… so unrealistic."
The woman was dating Spencer and she was calling a book unrealistic? And he really needed to stop. It was her choice. And she seemed happy enough, when she wasn't actively considering killing him.
Leaning forward on the steering wheel of the battered pickup borrowed from Impound, he nevertheless found himself asking, "How so?"
When she didn't immediately answer, he chanced another look at her, finding her toying with the straw of the soft drink she'd had with lunch. "The basis for the two characters getting together is the whole friends-to-lovers trope."
Meeting his gaze, she shrugged. "I guess I just find it difficult to believe you can be friends with someone for years—a lifetime, in some cases—and remain completely oblivious to any potential charms or attraction. And then some big misunderstanding—" Propping the cup between her thighs she made air quotes with her fingers. "All of a sudden wakes one or both of them up to the fact that they were meant to be together all along."
"You knew Spencer for years before you finally started dating him." Carlton wrapped his hands around the steering wheel and leaned back, welcoming the tension in his muscles as he stretched his arms. Imagined Spencer's penciled neck instead of the steering wheel and for God's sake—he needed to stop. Her choice. Her damned choice. He dropped his hands from the steering wheel to his thighs.
"Most would say you were friends."
"That's different," she shot back immediately.
"For one thing, I was never exactly oblivious to his charms—it's just… with Shawn being… you know, Shawn—"
Yeah. He knew.
"It just never seemed like a good idea is all."
Clearly, that opinion had changed. Or maybe it hadn't. Maybe she recognized it still wasn't a good idea, but just couldn't help herself. On that, at least, he could relate, seeing as one could argue that dating a convicted felon, especially as Head Detective of the police department that had arrested her wasn't exactly a good idea either. Yet, he couldn't seem to help himself.
But that's different.
Right. Of course it was. He supposed he should cut O'Hara some slack—you fell for who you fell for. And when someone actually liked you... Or relentlessly pursued you, as Spencer had O'Hara—
"As far as being friends…"
From the corner of his eye he could see her shrug again. "Outside of Gus, I don't think anyone really knows Shawn well enough to consider him a friend. He just doesn't let himself be known and that's… that's actually kind of part of what makes it exciting." A faint wash of color stained her cheeks. "You just never know what you're going to get with him."
"Sort of like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates," Carlton muttered.
"Actually, that's not a bad analogy," she replied, a thoughtful tone to her voice. "Sometimes it's sticky caramel, sometimes it's a hard nut, and sometimes, it's almost unbearably soft and sweet. And it's never what you expect when you bite into it."
So what's going to happen when you get bitter chocolate filled with lemon?
Not meant as a low blow—not really. More a reasonable expectation based on past behavior. Threats of violence aside, at some point, something was bound to happen to hurt O'Hara—for Christ's sake, something already had happened, in the form of Spencer shoving Frank O'Hara back into her life against her repeated and vehement wishes—and Carlton knew that was part of his irascibility where Spencer and O'Hara were concerned. What happened when it finally went too far?
Because he damn well knew it would.
"I'd think that sort of uncertainty would get old after a while," he replied as neutrally as he could. "Especially when you consider all the other uncertainties our job brings with it. I'd think a little stability in some aspect of your life would be… reassuring."
"You'd think, wouldn't you?"
He sighed. Yeah—you fell for who you fell for.
"So, end result, you don't think people can be friends and lovers?"
"Now wait, I didn't say that—" She shifted in the seat to more fully face him. While he kept his gaze primarily focused on the building, he shifted slightly as well, giving him a better angle from which meet her gaze if necessary and indicating he was paying attention to their conversation. Not the likeliest topic he expected, not even one he felt especially comfortable with, to tell the truth, but hell, he couldn't deny it felt nice to be talking—really talking—to her again. And judging by the way she'd shifted in her seat and the grin he'd caught a glimpse of she felt the same way.
"It's the concept of starting out as friends and all of a sudden discovering that that person is The One that I'm taking issue with. I think a couple can become friends—my God, they should. If they don't or can't—maybe that's when you realize something's not right."
And yet—you say there's no way to really know Spencer. Is that what you really want, O'Hara?
"How well did you know Marlowe you decided she was the one for you? When you decided to buy a condo for her?"
Building be damned, Carlton fully met O'Hara's gaze, realizing too late, he'd actually spoken aloud.
But she merely crossed her arms and cocked her head and fixed him with that Well? stare she was so damned good at.
"I—" He tried again. "We had a lot in common from the beginning." Which was more than he could say about her and Spencer. "And we've become friends."
"But you weren't friends to start with," she insisted. "And yet you still felt as if she was the one for you."
"Yes, O'Hara, you're right, okay?" He shoved a hand through his hair, slightly messy already in deference to their lower key appearance. "But that has no relevance to your argument."
One eyebrow rose, the dark blue of her eyes taking on shades of the twilight falling around them. "Oh?"
"Yes, oh." Mindful that they were still here to actually do a job, he turned to stare back out the windshield. Made for a handy excuse at any rate.
"Your argument is that two individuals can't be longtime friends and all of a sudden see each other as more." He wrapped his hands around the steering wheel, aware he was heading into seriously dangerous waters—knowing he should just stop, agree with her and let it go, but dammit, he couldn't. If not for now, then maybe for the future, because if there was one thing he knew, was that O'Hara deserved better than what Spencer could give her—at least right now.
There was a possibility the man could get it together and actually become a functioning, responsible member of society, and worthy of O'Hara, but you know, Carlton wasn't going to hold his breath.
"So you're saying you think it's a possibility?"
He knew he should face her—meet her eye to eye when he said this—but he just wasn't that brave.
He stared, mesmerized, at his fingers flexing, one at a time, around the wheel. "I know it is," he finally said, his voice as flat and emotionless as he could possibly muster.
The words echoed through the small cab, cushioned by the oncoming dark.
Several moments passed before she quietly and ever-so-gently said, "But it didn't work out, right?" There was no sense of triumph in her voice, but it nevertheless carried a distinct tone of assurance that in the end, she was right. And that was a misconception he just couldn't allow.
Turning his head, he met her gaze head on and very quietly said, "Only because I didn't have the guts to say anything to her." He took a deep breath. "It was someone I'd been friends with—only saw that person as a friend for the longest time—and then, something happened. And I realized that if I lost that person, I'd be losing my other half."
Her voice maintained that extraordinary gentleness that always made him hurt deep inside as she asked, "So why didn't you say anything?"
That one was easy to answer. It sucked—but it was easy. "Because I knew she didn't feel the same way. If I'd said anything, I might have lost her as a friend and I couldn't risk that."
"Idiot," she muttered, loosening her ponytail and refastening it with jerky motions.
He sat up. "I beg your pardon?"
She paused, hands caught up in her hair, the light of the streetlamp bringing out even more shades of gold and honey. "Oh, not you, Carlton—the girl."
"She's pretty damned smart, O'Hara. Probably one of the smartest people I know."
"Know?" Both eyebrows went up. "You're still friends with this… person? How could you? Considering how you feel—"
"Because—I would rather be friends with you than not have you in my life at all."
Son of a bitch.
The words had escaped before he could stop them and maybe it was a good thing. Maybe it was a stupid thing. Hell, he didn't know. He had no goddamned idea what he was trying to prove, if anything. Really, there wasn't anything to prove. They had their own lives, their own relationships, and maybe that's why he finally felt safe saying something. Because he knew her—he knew if he was still unattached, she'd likely feel weird and self-conscious, be worried that at any given moment he might fall to his knees or bound around, acting like some addlepated, lovelorn idiot.
No thanks—that was Spencer's shtick.
But on second thought—there was something he wanted her to understand—that he hoped she'd get: To not close herself off to possibility. To understand that love might just live in the unlikeliest of places. It didn't have to be the Spencers of the world with their unpredictability and inevitable disappointments.
If she got that, well then, it would be worth dealing with the fallout of exposing his deepest held secret.
"I'm going for coffee. Keep an eye on the building—call me if you see anything."
Didn't stop cowardice from kicking in, however, propelling him from the truck and down the street, knowing she couldn't call out or come after him for fear of blowing their surveillance. Give it a few minutes, return with coffee, a couple of pastries, and typical cranky mood intact and she'd realize nothing had to change.
Walking, head bowed against the wind, he was also hit with the inescapable irony that in proving she was wrong, at least on some level, about the friends-to-lovers trope, he'd also provided ample proof of another: