Word Count: 1,055
Summary: Lassiter's mother was one of the wire monkeys in Harry Harlow's experiment, apparently, so he doesn't know how to respond to O'Hara's touchy-feely ways. Especially when it's all over vehicular turtle homicide on the freeway.
Was "Feel her breath on my face" an intentional nod to "She's Like the Wind?": Not at first, but when I reread it, I almost wrote "Her body close to his."
Lassiter's mother once told him that the maximum time limit on a hug was two seconds, using the "one-Mississippi" method. “Any more than that is coddling, and people don't need more coddling than they already get in this life."
His mother said this to him when he was six. He had broken his leg.
So it wasn't that he found hugging unpleasant. It was that he believed there was a time limit. If he, at the age of six, could be weaned from maternal affection, he saw no reason why the rest of the universe couldn’t adhere to hugging standards.
O'Hara had been hugging--no, clinging to him--for the last 5 minutes and 43 seconds. He was watching the wall clock near Interim Chief Vick's office. O’Hara was also snuffling into his shirt collar…which was better than the wailing she had been doing into his shoulder.
O'Hara had run over a turtle. Not that she'd meant to. But it was the freeway. And it was a turtle.
He felt he'd run through all of his options during the tense commute back to the office: he'd tried explaining the braking distance and evasive actions needed to avoid a turtle at 70 mph; he'd tried explaining that box turtles generally have shorter lifespans than, say, large sea turtle; he tried saying, in a voice he barely recognized as his own, steeped as it was in panic and a tightness that started in his esophagus and ended somewhere around his toes, "O'Hara, please please PLEASE don't cry."
What seemed to be working now was sitting on the corner of his desk while she leaned her face against his shoulder. He'd rubbed her back for a bit while she hiccupped, but then he'd had to stop because he accidentally touched the bottom of her ponytail. When he murmured "Sorry," it caused her to wrap her arms around his neck.
That was not the result he had intended. At all. “He was just so little!” she wailed.
He rolled his eyes. He just wanted her to be happy. And stop crying. Mostly the latter.
He was relieved it was after-hours and there were only a few uniforms meandering around the front. Embarrassed, he murmured “It’s okay,” into the crown of her head. To his surprise, it sounded less exasperated than he’d been feeling, and more…
He was unwillingly pleased by the feel of her fingers curled around the base of his neck, an area lately touched only by his barber, a 58-year-old man named Don who didn’t clip his nails nearly often enough.
He wasn’t sure how he felt. Damn this infernal hugging. Why won’t she stop?
“I know this is unprofessional,” O’Hara said into his collarbone, nearly reading his thoughts. In fact, he was inclined to agree with her and almost said as much. But agreeing with a woman’s self-depreciating opinions, he had learned, was never, ever the right thing to do. Ever.
Especially when wondering what your partner does to keep her hands so warm and satiny, willing her pinkie finger to curl closer to your earlobe.
He shook his head in the negative but said nothing. He tried to think: what would Spencer do?
Spencer would, naturally, make her laugh with one of his “jokes.”
He began to feel panicked. Joking didn’t seem appropriate. And he really hadn’t proved to be good at it in a workplace setting. Or with women.
I’m probably not very funny, he thought to himself.
Just make something up, dude, a voice in his head that sounded suspiciously like Spencer.
“Maybe it had shell rot.”
There was a long silence. Damn it. In the future, Lassiter, don’t try to joke. Not until you get this whole “humor” thing figured out. And definitely don’t listen to anything that sounds like Spencer. You should know better.
“What?” O’Hara said into his chin. Her breath on his face made his muscles freeze and his heartbeat accelerate uncomfortably. This situation had gotten entirely out of control. This was why his mother had put a time limit on hugging. This was why he had always failed to make his ex-wife feel better about anything, but especially being married to him.
But he had to commit to this. Power through. “Shell rot. Maybe he only had days to live and he…chose to end it quickly. Or it could have been late-onset tortoise dementia.”
“Those aren’t real diseases, Carlton.” The words were disbelieving. But in her voice, there was something.
She was playing along. And she had stopped crying. And she had pressed her pinkie into the back of his earlobe.
It was the worst, best thing that could have happened. Next to O’Hara having hit a kitten or a baby duck, he imagined.
“I read about it…in Reptile Health Quarterly.”
“That’s not real either.”
“You’re right. It’s a monthly publication. Sorry.”
He looked at her then (finally) and saw her sparkling face, wet with tears, dashed with a quirked smile. His nose was touching her forehead. It felt like heaven.
“Thank you,” she whispered. “For helping.”
He felt flushed. He couldn’t be blushing. That was something a teenager would do. “Well, I’m glad I could…” But he wasn’t sure what he had done, besides channel Spenser’s inane sense of humor and take advantage of O’Hara’s weakness to wallow in the joy of coddling her.
His mother and Interim Chief Vick would have been most displeased. Spencer…well, he imagined Spencer would be torn between displeasure and a sort of begrudging respect for the amoral aspect of it all.
Her hands slipped away and she took a step back. She was still smiling.
He felt like he was six again. But instead of his leg breaking, it was his professional resolve. He wished she would stop looking so…was it adoration? It couldn’t be. Whatever it was, it was making dimples appear, and those dimples were crushing him like…
Oh, that was terrible. Like that turtle. He didn’t think O’Hara would appreciate that (he had to admit clever) attempt at humor.
He clapped a hand to each of her shoulders and shook her a little, trying for professional camaraderie and distance. “Well, then. Okay. See you tomorrow, O’Hara.”
In response, she threw her arms around him again.
Someday he would get around to explaining his mother’s theories on hugging to her. Though not today.