"Well done, James. A good result. Go home, have a drink, It's over." George looks very pleased at the verdict of the trial, but Alesha can see that James isn't so pleased.
"For us, maybe," James answers, his gaze following Dionne and her sister as they leave the Old Bailey together. He looks back at his colleagues, and Alesha gives him a half smile of sympathy as they move away.
"You too, Alesha," George says, surprising her. "You can finish up early today. You've earned it after all your hard work."
They head back to the office first to unload the paperwork and files which will now be archived. They're both feeling drained and an early departure seems like a gift.
"I meant it," George tells them as he heads towards his own office. "If you two are still here in ten minutes, I'll have you escorted off the premises."
James gives him a tired smile, and Alesha nods, then she looks at James and shrugs. "Might as well do as he said," she comments. "After all, it's not often we get to go home early."
He nods. "Let's go and get that drink," he suggests. Her eyebrows go up, and he suddenly looks uncertain. "I mean – Well, if you'd like to come and have a drink with me, I'd enjoy your company."
For a moment she savours the sight of the formidable James Steel looking flustered before she smiles. "I'd love to," she says simply, and his expression immediately clears, his relief palpable.
They head back downstairs to the bustling street and James touches her elbow to steer her in the direction he wishes to go. Alesha tries not to react to his touch, but it feels electric somehow; she feels this case has drawn them closer together than before, with both of them so desperate to see justice for Dionne and her little boy. She hasn't been able to shake the feeling that it's a case of 'There, but for the grace of God, go I' because of her background; her own mother, as a single parent, struggled a fair bit bringing her up, and she's doubly grateful for her mother's encouragement to pursue her studies, so that she was able to escape the council estate where she grew up.
"That could have been me," she tells James once they're settled into a quiet corner of the pub. Although it's still early enough in the evening for it not to be crowded, they've instinctively headed to a corner table where they can talk without having to shout to make themselves heard.
"What could?" he asks, his mind still on Dionne.
"In Dionne's shoes," she answers.
He looks up at that, his glass halfway to his lips, and his expression is more focused. "What do you mean?"
"If I hadn't had my mum's support and encouragement to study and better myself, I could have ended up like her or Dionne – a single mother with a young child, struggling to survive."
His startled expression has sharpened into interest now, and she realises, abruptly, that this is the most personal conversation she's ever had with him. Normally they never talk about themselves, only about work. Even going for a drink together is a rare thing; she usually heads home to her boyfriend, who's lately begun to resent the long hours she works, and the fact that she's usually too tired to do more than shower, eat and sleep when she gets home. She's been wondering if it wouldn't be fairer to him to end their relationship, before his resentment turns into outright anger and they start to row.
"Alesha." James' soft voice, full of concern, pulls her attention back to her surroundings, and she realises he's asked her a question she didn't hear.
"Sorry," she says, frowning. "I didn't mean to be rude."
"It's okay," he assures her, smiling.
She smiles back, grateful that he doesn't mind her inattentiveness. "I was just thinking – " She pauses then, realising it's probably not a good idea to complain to your boss that your job is interfering with your love life. "Never mind," she says.
He quirks an eyebrow at her over his glass before swallowing a mouthful of Scotch. "You don't have to talk to me if you'd rather not, but I can listen if you want."
She smiles again. "Thanks, but I wouldn't want to bore you. Relationship issues and having a quiet drink aren't really compatible."
He gives her a rueful smile. "If you're having boyfriend or girlfriend trouble, then I'm definitely the last person to offer advice."
"Girlfriend?" she asks weakly.
He looks surprised. "This is the 21st century – you're just as likely to have a girlfriend as a boyfriend."
She takes a quick swallow of her drink to hide her embarrassment. "I'm straight," she says.
He smirks at her. "DS Devlin will be pleased to hear that."
She's so taken aback that she gasps, then coughs as her drink goes down the wrong way. James is instantly apologetic as he pats her on the back.
"Alesha, I really am sorry," he says for the third time.
She shakes her head and catches her breath. "It's okay," she assures him, grateful that her darker skin hides her blushes. "What do you know about Matt Devlin, anyway?"
It's his turn to look embarrassed now. "Well, just that he seems to fancy you."
She's surprised he's noticed, and wonders if it's significant that he has – she'd always assumed he was 100% focused on whichever case their police colleagues had come to see them about. It simply hadn't occurred to her that he was taking note of Matt's flirting, and she wonders if he feels protective of her. She certainly doesn't imagine that it's because he's interested in her; just because she finds him attractive, doesn't mean he feels the same.
"You were asking me something just now," she says, desperate to change the subject.
"I was just asking what you were going to do with the rest of your evening," he answers.
She shrugs. "I'm not sure. I'm not used to finishing work this early. I feel vaguely guilty about it, somehow."
He laughs softly. "I know what you mean," he assures her. He starts talking about cases that have kept him in the office until midnight because he's been desperately digging for more information, and she responds with tales of all-night study sessions when she was in the final year of her degree.
"That wasn't because I'd left my essays until the last minute," she explains, eager for him to understand she wasn't the sort to leave her work until the night before it's due.
"I never thought it was," he assures her. "Alesha, I've seen the way you work – you're no more capable of doing things at the last minute than I am. I think it's why we work so well together, because of our shared work ethic."
She flushes with pleasure at his words, and reflects, not for the first time, that she's lucky that George assigned her to work with James. She thinks of the four law firms who interviewed and rejected her (she suspects it was because she's a black woman from Hackney), and is glad that they didn't want her. She can't think of anyone she'd rather work with; while there are other lawyers whom she admires, they almost all work on the defence side, and she knows she couldn't have done that. She and James share a passion for getting justice for the victims of crime.
"You did well, by the way, building that case against Turner and Walters." His words bring her attention back to him again.
"I was just doing my job," she answers, feeling heat in her cheeks again. James' praise is valuable to her: he's not stingy in giving praise, but at the same time, he doesn't flatter. If he says she's done well, she knows that he means it.
"My little terrier," he says, grinning, "always digging up the facts that I need."
"Terrier?" she says, wrinkling her nose. "Is that how you see me?"
He shakes his head emphatically, his expression serious again. "No. You're my right hand woman. My job would be far harder, sometimes impossible, if you weren't so good at digging up the facts I need." His grin returns as he gets to his feet. "Maybe I'll start calling you Sherlock," he teases.
His eyes are dancing with merriment as he goes away to the gents, while she's rolling hers in disgust. When he returns, he brings them both another drink, then settles into his chair.
"I'd sooner be a bloodthirsty pirate queen," she tells him. "The deerstalker wouldn't suit me, and I don't smoke."
James laughs aloud, and she's both pleased and slightly embarrassed by his response. "A pirate queen, I like that," he tells her, tilting his head to one side and giving her a considering look.
Alesha flushes at his close scrutiny and buries her face in her glass.
"I see you in a bright red bandana and huge gold hoop earrings, thigh high leather boots, a black skirt with two or three layers to it, and a red blouse – one of the ones with the laces at the neck," he says.
"Maybe the next time I go to a fancy dress party, that's how I'll go," she says, tickled by the image he's conjured up.
"I hope I'm there to see it," he answers.
"You'd have to come too," she says, "wearing an eye patch, of course, and a blue and white striped sweater, I think. Oh and knee high leather boots with breeches, no leather trousers." She blushes at the image of James in leather trousers. She's never seen him in anything, but formal trousers, but she finds she likes the idea of him in tight leather trousers.
He laughs. "I'd like that," he says. "We should get George to organise an office fancy dress party."
"He could come as Governor Swan," she suggests, giggling at the astonished expression on James' face.
"Oh god! Can you just imagine him in the wig and hat?" he gasps, trying to stifle his guffaws.
For the next few minutes they're both speechless, tears of helpless laughter running down their faces, at the image of the very serious George dressed as Governor Swan from the Pirates of the Caribbean film. They're earning sidelong looks from the pub's other customers, but they don't care – in fact, Alesha is delighted that James has sufficiently relaxed to be so amused by this nonsensical idea.
Once they've both calmed down again, they start talking about the movies: James has only seen the first of the Pirates films, but Alesha has seen all three, although she thinks James didn't miss out much by not seeing the third one.
"I could lend you the DVD of the second one, if you want to watch it," she suggests.
"Oh, I don't know," he says, "I'm not fond of watching movies on my own. It seems – I don't know – I just think watching movies is more fun if you're not alone."
"Well – " She pauses, unsure how he'll take the suggestion she was about to make.
"Well what?" he asks, finishing his drink.
"Well you could come over some time and we could watch it together." She blushes again, and mentally curses him for making her blush so often – it's not something she does normally.
"Could I?" he asks, sounding almost shy. "I'd like that."
"I would too," she says.
"Do you want another?" he asks, gesturing with his empty glass at her almost empty one.
"I'd better not," she says regretfully. "I should go home." Looking at her watch, she's amazed to discover they've been here nearly two hours.
He sighs, then nods. "Me too."
They stand and pull on their coats and scarves, gather their bags, then head out into the street.
"Can I get you a taxi?" James asks.
Alesha shakes her head. "No, that's okay, thanks. I can walk. I'll see you tomorrow."
He puts a hand on her shoulder and squeezes it. "You will, and thanks again for your help with the case."
"You're welcome," she answers, smiling up at him.
He slides his hand from her shoulder down her back, sending a shiver through her body, and she wonders, for one mad moment, if he's about to kiss her, but he doesn't. He just gives her a nod, then turns away, and she swallows down an unreasonable sense of disappointment, and turns for home. She is slightly ashamed to realise that she wanted James to kiss her, and decides that she should probably have that talk with her boyfriend sooner, rather than later.