Title: In For a Pound
Fandom: Murder in Suburbia
Pairings: Ash/Scribbs, Ash/Sullivan
Rating: M, LS
Disclaimer: I don’t own them. I make no profit.
A/N: I got sucked into this fandom by all of the good fic out there and couldn’t help trying my hand at it as well. This fic has mentions of heterosexuality in it, so if that’s illegal where you live, read at your own risk. Also, I’m not British so please forgive any misuse of slang.
When Scribbs arrived at the office, a few minutes past her traditional late, it was to find Ash sitting at her desk staring off happily into space.
“Good first date then?” she asked sourly, wiping ineffectually at the coffee stain on the front of her blouse. It had been the last in a long line of things that had combined to make that Monday morning ever so much worse than normal, especially since she’d been dreading coming into the office to find Ash in just the state she was currently in. Frowning more deeply and wiping just a bit harder, she muttered, “Angels and harps and all that?”
Shaking her head lightly to clear it, Ash shot Scribbs a beautiful, beaming smile, oblivious to the other woman’s bad mood. “What was that? You’ve taken up the harp?”
Plopping down into her seat, Scribbs set about the task of unwinding her scarf and ignoring Ash. “Yeah. The harp. Next it’s the cello and then the violin and then I’ll be my own bloody wedding trio, won’t I?”
Brow crinkling as she began to realize that Scribbs did not share in her euphoria that morning, Ash asked, “What’s wrong with you?”
Scribbs sneer was downright viperish. “I don’t know. What’s wrong with you? Staring off into space, smiling like a nutter on leave.”
“Oh, that,” Ash said with a smile, not in the least bit chagrined. She leaned forward, eyes sparkling with anticipation. “It was absolutely wonderful. Candlelight dinner at a posh restaurant, moonlight stroll around the gardens. I had no idea Sullivan was so romantic.”
Scribbs hadn’t either, and would have preferred to have never known it. “So what happened after?” she asked, tone sharp. “Shag at your place or his?”
One brow rising in obvious disapproval, Ash sat back, arms crossing over her chest as she surveyed her partner. “He was a proper gentleman. A kiss on the cheek when he dropped me at my door.”
“Oh?” Scribbs murmured, straightening some, her scowl easing slightly. “That all, then? No invite in for a glass of wine or a foot massage?”
Now it was Ash’s turn to scowl. “No,” she said sharply, “but we’re having dinner again this weekend.”
“This weekend? That’s taking things a bit slow, isn’t it? A week between dates and it’ll take you forever to get him in the sack at the rate you’re going.”
Brows drawing together in impending warning of the coming tirade, Ash said shortly, “Not every relationship is about rushing off to bed at the first opportunity, Scribbs. It’s called courting. Perhaps you should give it a try before your bedpost runs out of room for notches.”
“Well, my bed has four posts, doesn’t it,” Scribbs noted with a wicked smile. “No need for me to turn Victorian any time soon. I’ll leave that to you proper girls.”
Scribbs smiled up at Sullivan sweetly, then rolled her eyes at the blush rising up her partner’s cheeks. “Got something for us, Boss?”
“Uh, no,” he said, and she watched with some amazement as a blush started to rush up his cheeks as well. “Actually, I was rather hoping that I could speak with Ash a moment. Alone.”
Nodding sharply, Scribbs slammed her palms down on her desk, lifting up with an accommodating smile. “I was craving a coffee.”
“I’ll have one too,” Ash called out after her, then looked up at the still standing Sullivan. “Something you needed, Boss?”
He shifted nervously, one hand at the knot of his tie, tugging it loose. “Yes, well…”
“Not something wrong, I hope,” Ash interrupted, pasting on a smile of patient anticipation.
Shaking his head rapidly, Sullivan swallowed convulsively. “Oh, no. Nothing wrong. I just wanted to make sure we were still on for this weekend.”
Ash smiled brightly, thoroughly charmed by his anxiety. “Why wouldn’t we be?”
“Right.” He smiled quickly, hands clasping together in front of him. “Of course. Of course we are. Carry on, then.”
When Scribbs returned, Ash was staring off in the direction in which Sullivan had departed, her nose scrunched and dimples out in full force.
“What?” she asked irritably, taking a sip of her coffee and wincing when it burned her tongue.
“He’s adorable,” Ash said dreamily. Then, with a bit more outrage, added, “Hey, where’s mine?”
“Didn’t know how long you’d be,” Scribbs said lightly, taking another, more cautious, sip of her coffee. “Didn’t want it to get cold. Suppose if you really want one, you’ll have to go get your own.”
Scribbs steeled herself for the explosion of sunny cheer that was sure to meet her as soon as she entered the office. It had been the norm for the past three weeks, the beginning of each work week starting off with a glowing recollection of Ash’s ever so romantic and perfect date with Sullivan, and she was beginning to wish they were allowed to police with guns. That way, at least, she could bring about an end to the torture, one way or the other.
As expected, Ash was sitting with her chin propped on her hand, staring off into space once again. Unlike all of the other times, though, this time there was a hangdog look on her face.
“Something wrong?” Scribbs asked brightly.
“Wrong?” Ash scoffed, immediately schooling her face into an expression of less than fully convincing happiness. “What could be wrong?”
“I don’t know,” Scribbs said, offering a Gallic shrug of the shoulders. “Just, you look like someone’s kicked your dog.”
“I don’t have a dog,” Ash said morosely, and Scribbs scowled. As far as she knew, Ash didn’t even like dogs.
“Turn of phrase,” she muttered, narrowing her eyes in concern. While the unrelenting extolling of Sullivan’s many attributes had nearly driven her to the brink of something drastic, Scribbs had been hoping that she might one day see the return of her partner of old. She wasn’t looking for much – a bit of witty conversation, perhaps, or delightfully cynical commentary – but not this. Ash seemed downright lachrymose, the possible threat of imminent fluttering, gasping sobs crawling over Scribbs’ skin like a skittering spider.
“Right. Well…” Ash trailed off, eyes tracking something over Scribbs’ left shoulder, brow crinkled as if she were in deep thought.
Turning slightly, Scribbs saw the broad back panel of Sullivan’s tailored jacket as he hurried into his office. “Well what?”
Frowning, demeanor turning on its head in an instant, Ash snapped, “What do you mean, well what?”
“I don’t mean anything,” the blonde protested heatedly, the vehemence in her tone matching Ash’s. “You’re the one who started the sentence then forgot the rest of it.”
Thumb and middle finger massaging her temples, Ash sighed.
“Don’t we have a witness to question?”
“Depends. Did we snag a murder?”
Canting her head to the side, Ash took a moment to inspect Scribbs, searching for any hint of teasing. “Didn’t I tell you about it?”
Sitting down carefully, her own emotions swinging back around to worried, Scribbs said slowly, “No. I just got here. You haven’t told me much of anything, yet.”
“Oh, right then,” Ash said, giving a decisive nod. “We’ve got a dead dentist, found murdered in his office.”
“Revenge of the root canal?”
“Wasn’t killed with that little scraping hook thing, was he? Those things do hurt like bloody murder. It would only be fair if someone turned one back on him.”
“Strangled with the little bib?”
“Scribbs,” Ash said irritably, finally managing to break into Scribbs’ list of hypotheticals, “do try to avoid poking fun at the dead.”
Grumbling, Scribbs said beneath her breath, “What’s crawled up your bum and…”
“I wouldn’t finish that sentence, if I were you.”
Scribbs could virtually feel the thunderclouds circling her head, a veritable warning for anyone contemplating getting on her bad side. It had been awful enough, the week before, when Ash had come into work and taken out whatever had happened over the weekend on her. The other woman had been on the warpath, and Scribbs had, more than once, thought about snapping free her baton and rendering Ash silent, if only so she could enjoy a moment of peace. But this Monday – this Monday had heralded things to come which were even worse than the week before. This Monday, she’d arrived at the office to find that Ash had cleaned and organized both of their desks, had typed up all of their field notes from the last case, and had begun to make an organizational chart for their current investigation. She’d pulled her hair back in the tightest bun Scribbs had yet to see her wear, so tight that it seemed to be pulling the corners of her eyes up and into slits, giving her something of a demonic look. She was wearing unrelenting black, from the tailored suit to the button-down underneath, and Scribbs could have sworn that she’d actually seen a colleague scuttle away in fear when Ash had stalked across the room to meet her at the door.
“Punctuality is more than a courtesy,” she snapped at Scribbs, wrapping an iron hand around her wrist and dragging her over to the whiteboard. “Punctuality is a sign of professionalism, and if you can’t manage to be professional, Scribbs, then perhaps you should reconsider your current career choice. You’re a detective sergeant, not a bar maid. Please do manage to arrive to work on time.”
“Wait just a minute,” Scribbs protested, trying and failing to remove her wrist from Ash’s surprisingly strong grip. “This is the time I always come in to work. How come it’s a problem today?”
“Because it is,” Ash seethed, eyes narrowing. “Now stop dithering. We have work to do.”
Eyeing her immaculate desk warily, Scribbs noted, “Looks like you’ve already done all of it.”
The laser-like glare Ash sent her way made Scribbs want to scuttle away herself. “If I have to…”
Sullivan’s voice was formal yet tinged with hesitation in a way that Scribbs hadn’t yet heard. He was known to be reserved, even taciturn, with them and had always radiated an air of tentative confusion, but Scribbs had never seen him be downright sheepish. Now, standing beside their desks as if he was a hair’s breadth away from sprinting off like a Thomson’s gazelle, Scribbs thought she could see the beginnings of a nervous sweat dampening his usually immaculate hairline.
“Everything okay, Boss?” she asked, genuinely concerned. For approximately the past month, she’d avoided Sullivan as much as was humanly possible to avoid one’s supervisor. Despite that, she’d certainly heard enough about him from Ash, or at least had done so until the week prior, to imagine he was her constant companion, always there with them, looming over her shoulder from the backseat of the car. But still, seeing him in the flesh looking as if he was one cracked egg away from a full-on nervous breakdown was a bit of a shock.
“No progress to report on this case so far,” Ash interrupted, her voice clipped. “I’m afraid we’re going to need a bit more time.”
Shooting a nervous glance Scribbs’ way, Sullivan took a step closer. “Ash,” he said, voice low and intense, “I was hoping we could talk. Tonight, perhaps.”
The smile she shot him was brilliant yet fake, much like the cubic zirconia ring Scribbs’ mother had ordered from the telly. “Would love to,” she said, far too many teeth visible for Scribbs to be completely comfortable, “but it’s a girls’ night. Didn’t I tell you? Scribbs and I always have movies on Monday.”
As she was aware of no such longstanding practice, the puzzled glare Scribbs sent Ash’s way was almost certainly enough to put a bit of tarnish on the ruse.
Watching the hint of color licking up her DCI’s cheeks reminded Scribbs of a recurring thought she’d had often since pairing up with Ash. It was a rather undefined thought, more like a pondering of what would happen when prim and proper met it’s boiling point, but she suddenly wondered if Sullivan was about to provide her with a first hand lesson.
She was a little disappointed when she saw his shoulders slump slightly instead, preceding a slight step back. “Another time, then,” he said, offering a tight smile.
Ash’s smile morphed into something almost venomous in its insincerity. “Certainly.”
“So what will it be, romantic comedy or thriller?”
Ash looked over in confusion to where Scribbs was standing, slowly shouldering into her coat. “I’m sorry. What?”
“Movie night,” Scribbs enunciated clearly, offering a challenging brow. “It’s our tradition.”
“Oh, that,” Ash murmured, waving her hand dismissively. “I’m afraid you’re going to have to count me out.”
A hint of bemusement chased its way across Scribbs’ face, leaving behind a wry smile. “Don’t think so, Ash. I’ve been promised a girls’ movie night, and I intend to have one. I’ve got wine at mine. We can grab a curry, snag a DVD, and make it a night in.”
“I’m really not feeling up to it.”
“Not much choice in the matter for you,” Scribbs said decisively, arms crossed firmly over her chest.
A few hours later, Ash swirled the remainder of her wine around the bottom of her glass, watching it with the intensity one devotes to the driers at the laundry. “That was neither romantic nor comedic,” she observed wryly. “Next time, I’m picking the movie.”
Instead of defending her choice, Scribbs instead chose to pry. It was an odd turn, as she’d been trying desperately to avoid Ash’s constant monologue on the many wonderful attributes of Sullivan for nearly the past month, but painful as it promised to be, it was her duty as a friend.
“Do you mind telling me why we suddenly have this new ritual?”
“Oh,” Scribbs acknowledged, head canting to the side thoughtfully. “Well then, how about this… I’m not going to stop pestering you until you tell me. Obviously something’s gone wrong with you and Sullivan and I’m the one who’s had weather the fallout. If nothing else, you owe me an explanation since I’m the one who’s borne the brunt of the ghastly mood you’ve been in for the past week.”
Cringing apologetically, Ash sighed. “I’m sorry about that.”
“Explain yourself and I might let you off the hook.”
Swallowing the last of her wine and reaching for the bottle, frowning down at it when she discovered it was empty, Ash sighed again. She was obviously weighing the pros and cons of sharing her troubles, the mental mathematics involved evident on her face.
When she did confess, it was in a barely intelligible rush. “We slept together.”
Scribbs frowned, picking through the jumbled words to tease out the message. “You and Sullivan?” she asked, ignoring the way her eye twitched slightly as she said the words.
“Yes,” Ash nearly moaned, now clearly well on her way to getting it all off of her chest, “and it was horrible. Absolutely horrible.”
Scribbs ignored the small burst of jubilation the words engendered, choosing instead to nod sympathetically. “Did you try it a second time? Sometimes the first go can be a bit off – nerves and such.”
“Yes,” Ash moaned dramatically, “and even a third time. Trust me, it wasn’t a charm.”
Striving for comforting and understanding, Scribbs laid her hand on Ash’s, patting it lightly. “Anything in particular that stands out?”
“Everything,” Ask continued, on a roll, the three-quarters bottle of wine she’d consumed loosening her tongue. “It started off with the kissing, which I thought would surely get better.” She paused, narrowing her eyes meaningfully. “It didn’t. It was just so awkward, Scribbs. I’d waited for so long, had let the anticipation build and then, when it finally does happen, I nearly come away with a chipped tooth and a concussion. So I thought it had to be me. I was too eager. But, that wasn’t it either. Even after the first one, when all the pressure should have been off, it was still awful. And I began to think that maybe it was me. Maybe I’ve never been good at it but just never noticed, or maybe it’s been so long I’ve forgotten how to do it correctly.”
“That doesn’t seem very likely,” Scribbs noted comfortingly, hand moving over to pat the other woman’s knee. “Maybe the two of you just aren’t well suited.”
“No, we’re fabulously suited,” Ash bemoaned, reaching forward to deposit her empty wine glass on the table. “He’s the perfect gentleman but, away from work, loosens up quite a bit. He can be witty and entertaining. He’s a magnificant dancer, and we have chemistry – I swear we do. It’s just the good bits that are off.”
Scribbs smiled wryly. “The good bits are the important ones.”
“Relationships need to be built on more than just sexual compatibility,” Ash said sternly, trying to convince herself as much as anything else. “You need mutual respect, similar likes and dislikes, harmonious dispositions, like-minded hobbies…”
“Rubbish,” Scribbs scoffed. “Sounds bloody boring to me. What you really need is passion. I think the two of you are too similar. That’s your problem. Posh girl like you… maybe you need a bit of the rough.”
Leaning forward challengingly, Ash narrowed her eyes, ignoring the last part of Scribbs’ statement and instead focusing on the front end. “Is that all you look for, then? Passion?”
“Well, not all,” she admitted. “But, if you know you’ve got passion, you can move on to those other things you mentioned later.”
“And what if those other things don’t exist?”
“Then at least you’ve gotten a good shag out of it.”
“That seems rather…”
“What?” Scribbs challenged. “Slutty? You could stand to be a bit more like me, Ash. Not that I’m saying I’m a total slag, but I don’t get all caught up in the technicalities like you.”
The expression in Ash’s eyes changed, morphing into shrewd. “Maybe I do need to be a bit more like you,” she said thoughtfully. “Care to provide me with a tutorial on mindless passion, Scribbs?”
“A tutorial. A crash course. A mini-seminar. You know, use your vast repository of knowledge to get me up to speed on passion so I might be able to fix this.”
Scribbs scoffed. “It can’t be taught.”
“Everything can be taught,” Ash said reasonably. “How else do you think we learn things?”
“Some things can’t be learned,” Scribbs protested indignantly. “Some things are automatic. They’re like lizard brain functions. They come hardwired. Either you’ve got them or you don’t.”
“Maybe you don’t know what it is either,” Ash said triumphantly.
“I most certainly do!”
Ash leaned back against the couch, smirking arrogantly. “I’ve seen no evidence of this supposed knowledge. And besides, you can’t even explain it satisfactorily.”
Affronted, Scribbs leaned forward, reversing their previous pose. “You want me to teach you, do you?”
“I do,” Ash confirmed, “though I doubt it’s possible. You can’t teach what you don’t know.”
Having misplaced a sizeable chunk of her rational brain, Scribbs launched herself at her partner, one hand on the back of the couch and the other on its arm as she pinned her in the corner. “Oh, you’ll rue the day, Ash. You’ll bloody rue it.”
Before Ash could ask what that even meant, Scribbs’ lips were on hers, hot and insistent.
Her response to the attack was overwhelming and unexpected. Heat rolled through her in a wave, enveloping her in an erotic haze and, responding without conscious thought, Ash let her hands come up to wind into Scribbs’ hair and her lips part to allow the blonde entry. And though Ash had always believed that she wasn’t the kind of girl to do something like that on a first kiss, she may even have moaned.
Moments later, Scribbs pulled back with a triumphant smirk. “There. That’s passion, wouldn’t you say?”
Struck dumb, Ash could only stare at her, eyes flicking nervously up to meet Scribbs’, then down to her lips, then back again.
The notion that she’d kissed her partner senseless was a bit too much for Scribbs. “In for a penny,” she muttered, then closed the gap between them once more, free hand fumbling awkwardly with the clips in Ash’s hair.
The insistent bleat of the alarm clock roused Scribbs’ from a sound slumber. She raised her head, looking around blearily, one hand stretching out to the now empty side of the bed. The sheet was cold beneath her palm, indicating that the other occupant had fled some time ago, so with a sigh, Scribbs reached over to slap the alarm into silence.
“Figures,” she murmured, rolling over onto her back. She stretched leisurely, hands above her head and toes pointed, back arching as she eased herself more comfortably into the morning. One of those questing toes brushed against something soft and lacy, and with a mischievous grin, Scribbs burrowed down under the covers to retrieve her prize.
“Run away without your knickers, have you, DI Ashurst?”
When she arrived at the precinct, it was to find Ash studiously perusing a case file and just as studiously avoiding her. She also had her hair down, the uncharacteristic display almost enough to throw the blonde off kilter.
“Morning, then,” Scribbs said lightly, perching on the corner of Ash’s desk, watching with fascination as the tips of the other woman’s ears slowly began to burn bright red. “Course, I would’ve preferred to say that earlier, but you’d disappeared by the time the alarm went off.”
The red ran down from Ash’s ears to paint her cheeks. “Scribbs,” she hissed, looking up at the other woman with wide, horrified eyes, “what do you think you’re doing?”
“Not like I expected breakfast in bed,” Scribbs continued innocently, “but I could have done with a quick morning shag. Short of that, a good-bye kiss wouldn’t have been out of line either.”
Mortified, Ash again hissed, “Scribbs. You are not talking about this here.”
Sliding down from Ash’s desk before the other woman could stab her in the bum with a pencil, Scribbs smirked. “You hair looks nice like that, but you never wear it down at work.”
“Yes, well,” Ash scowled, words crisp, cheeks miraculously glowing even more red than before, “some of us have very sharp teeth and a tendency to bite at… critical times.”
“My fault, is it?” Scribbs asked, nearly glowing as she settled into her chair. “Good job me, then.”
Ash’s brows lowered, promising imminent verbal evisceration, but Scribbs found she was strangely unafraid.
“Ah, there you are.”
Sullivan’s voice was as calm as usual though his smile was a bit strained. Scribbs noted with interest that Ash’s face went from beet red to sheet white in the blink of an eye, though she was too busy smiling smarmily to comment on it.
“Got something for us, Boss?” she asked, one brow arching and lips pursing smugly. Unable to stop herself, she ran her gaze up and down the length of her DCI appraisingly, much like a predator about to pounce on its unwitting and ultimately outmatched and doomed prey.
Thrown by her posture, which he deemed entirely too confident for first thing in the morning, Sullivan stammered, “Murder at the Zen center.”
Momentarily intrigued enough to forget her blind panic, Ash asked, “Middleford has a Zen center?”
“It appears we do,” Sullivan said with a small shrug, handing her a slim case file. “I’d like for the two of you to get over there immediately. Something like this will have the community in an uproar. I’d like to see this one solved by mid-week, if possible.”
Scribbs hopped to her feet, already reaching for her scarf. “We’ll get right on it.”
“Good. And Ash,” he said, voice lowering, “perhaps you’ve got time for that chat today.”
Smile tight, Ash nodded tersely. “I’ll come find you when we’ve finished up for the day.”
Sullivan’s answering nod was just as terse. “Excellent. Well then, I trust you had an enjoyable movie night?”
“Oh, it turned into a right marathon, Boss,” Scribbs said brightly, ignoring the tight clench of Ash’s jaw. “I thought it was going to go all night.”
Smile touched with a hint of confusion, picking up on the odd undercurrent crackling between the two women, Sullivan merely repeated, “Good.”
As he disappeared into his office, Ash swung around to face Scribbs, clearly livid. “You were gloating!” she accused incredulously.
Scribbs shrugged innocently. “Not really. Besides, even if I was, you could hardly blame me. I think it’s pretty clear how I stack up in comparison.”
“One more word and the next murder I investigate will be yours,” Ash snapped, eyes blazing.
As Ash was clearly so very tightly wound, Scribbs decided it would be best to wait until they were in the car before resuming their previous conversation. But, as soon as she was behind the wheel and they were backing out of their slot in the car park, she said slyly, “I think we can be certain it isn’t you.”
“I thought I’d made it clear that you were to remain silent,” Ash said stiffly.
Scribbs considered that, and then continued on. “Now that I speak from firsthand experience, to use a much more descriptive turn of phrase than I’d intended, I can say with confidence that the problem isn’t you.”
For a moment, Scribbs wondered if it was possible for Ash’s head to actually implode. But, instead of self-combusting, she said, voice low and serious, “Scribbs, listen closely. I only intend to say this once. Last night was an aberration. I’d consumed nearly an entire bottle of wine. I was intoxicated, depressed, and vulnerable. In a moment of weakness, I behaved in a very uncharacteristic manner. I’m sure you’ll agree this is not like me. I don’t shag my DCI over the weekend and then my DS on Monday, so if you have any shred of decency, you will stop talking about this immediately and never mention it again.”
“No need to get so upset,” Scribbs huffed, one hand leaving the wheel to dig blindly in her purse. Tugging free the knickers she’d stashed there before leaving her house that morning, she continued blithely, “I just thought you might want these back.”
Ash grabbed the bit of fabric dangling from her fingers so quickly that Scribbs was afraid she’d broken one.
“Thank you,” she snapped, furiously balling up the fabric and stuffing it into the glove box, out of sight.
“No problem. And, I know you said you didn’t want to talk about it, but I thought you should know that I would give last night a grade of exceptional.”
“I didn’t want to know,” Ash said shortly then, grudgingly, “but thank you for the generous scoring.”
“Oh, not generous,” Scribbs averred. “You earned every bit of it.”
“And now we’re back to horribly uncomfortable,” Ash said with a sigh. “Please, Scribbs, no more talking.”
“Going to be hard for me to help investigate the case if I can’t talk,” Scribbs pointed out, swinging them into the Zen center’s car park.
“Then you may talk about case related topics only.”
Throwing the car into neutral, Scribbs turned to face Ash, the expression on her face deadly serious for once. “Just one more thing, Ash,” she said softly, eyes glinting with an uncharacteristic vulnerability. “I think you should leave Sullivan for me.”
“Just, you know, consider it.”
Ash knocked tentatively on Sullivan’s door, peeking her head around to make sure he was in his office. “Do you have time for that chat now?” she asked, shooting for upbeat. Instead, the words came out as strained.
“Ah, Ash. Yes, please come in,” he said, the words tightly formal. “Would you like to have a seat.”
“I think I’d rather stand,” Ash muttered, already on the verge of bolting.
They paused, smiled at the simultaneous outburst.
Each took a deep breath, and Sullivan gave an awkward chuckle. “Ash, I think we may be…”
“I may have inadvertently cheated on you,” she broke in, cringing, shooting him an apologetic smile.
“Too similar,” he finished weakly, scowling at her in confusion.
The words rang oddly familiar, and Ash frowned. “Have you been talking to Scribbs?”
“Scribbs? No, why?”
“It’s just, she said the very same thing.”
Sullivan took a moment to organize his thoughts, then said slowly, “Ash, did you… I mean to say, did I hear you correctly?”
“Depends on what you heard,” she said, blushing, chewing nervously on her lower lip.
“I heard you say that you may have inadvertently cheated on me.”
Expression a mix of stricken, chagrined, and petrified, Ash nodded.
Cringing again, Ash muttered, “That’s not really the relevant part, is it?”
“I would have to disagree. It feels rather relevant.”
Taking a deep breath, Ash began, “You have to believe me when I say it was an accident. There was a bottle of wine involved, and I was feeling quite depressed and vulnerable. It was a moment of weakness and…”
Halfway through her rambling explanation, Ash was struck by a thought. She trailed off, eyes narrowing. “Wait a minute. What did you mean when you said you thought we were too similar?”
Sullivan shifted uncomfortably, then straightened. “One thing at a time, Ash.”
“No.” Voice rising slightly as the implication of the words began to take shape, she said, “You were going to break up with me, weren’t you?”
“Anything of the sort certainly takes a back seat to your revelation, don’t you think?”
“I’m not so sure I do think,” she paused, frowned, then added, “that.”
Now warming to the subject, Sullivan crossed his arms over his chest. “How long have you been inadvertently cheating on me?”
Given that he had been about to break up with her, Ash found Sullivan’s posture of moral affront to be thoroughly irritating. “It only happened once.”
“Once,” Sullivan repeated slowly, tone conveying obvious distrust. “When?”
Ash flushed deep red, wondering just how to convey that particular bit of information. Her clothes suddenly seemed restrictive – her collar was too tight, her jacket too confining, and she tugged on the hem of her shirt nervously. “Again, that’s not really the relevant part.”
Frowning suddenly, as if the clue had just jumped up to smack him in the face, Sullivan said accusingly, “You’re wearing your hair down.”
Ash smiled weakly. “I’m trying a new style,” she offered hopefully.
Clearly surprised by his self-deduced revelation, Sullivan leaned back on his desk, dazed. “This happened last night?”
“Well…” Ash prevaricated, trying to summon every ounce of lying acumen she could muster.
“Because I know I didn’t do it,” Sullivan murmured, lips curling down in the beginnings of a pout. “I’m much too respectful for that.”
“Much too respectful for what?”
“To do whatever it is you’re trying to hide.”
“I’m not hi…” Ash began, then ground to a halt, unable and unwilling to put forth further denials when they could be so easily disproven. “Anyway, the point of this is that I’m sorry. It was a mistake.”
Still clearly stuck on the notion, Sullivan murmured, “You even coerced Scribbs into covering for you.”
“I did no such thing,” Ash protested before realizing that she would have been far better off to let Sullivan think they were in collusion together instead of giving him clues as to her partner’s true identity.
Because Sullivan hadn’t made DCI on his good looks alone. “Scribbs?” he asked, the name as close to a screech as Ash had ever heard him come. “You slept with Scribbs?”
Again, Ash decided that lying was more trouble than it was worth.
“I would like for you to explain how one person can inadvertently sleep with another,” Sullivan said dryly, then frowned. “On second thought, please don’t.”
Ash cringed, watching with obvious dismay as Sullivan’s shoulders slumped. “I really am very sorry.”
He sighed, then shook his head in bemusement. “Actually, it’s okay. It makes me feel much better about breaking up with you.”
“I knew it,” Ash crowed. “You were planning on breaking up with me.”
“Yes, well…” Sullivan paused, clearing his throat. “After our misadventures of the weekend, I arrived at the conclusion that we make much better friends than lovers.”
“Sadly, I think that’s true,” Ash agreed, depression once more descending full force. “I don’t understand it, Boss,” she continued, the sobriquet unconsciously slipping back into use. “We were perfect for one another.”
“Too perfect, perhaps.”
“I suppose it was a bit like dating myself,” Ash murmured.
“Though I do quite like myself.”
“And I do quite like myself,” Sullivan agreed.
“I mean, I did like you as well,” Ash rushed to reassure.
“I also very much so liked you. And,” he began, and Ash noticed the slightest hint of a blush creeping up his cheeks, “I want you to know that I really am quite good in bed.”
“I have no doubt you are,” she said with a bemused grin. “We just don’t seem to be very good in it together.”
“Should we give it one more go? I hate to leave you thinking the worst.”
Ash pursed her lips, briefly considering it. “I don’t think so,” she said finally. “I’m fully prepared to believe that you are absolutely amazing when the girl in question isn’t me, and I trust you to assume the same in reverse. Besides, I don’t think it would change things.”
“Yes. You’re probably right.” After a second, he added hesitantly, “Perhaps, then, we should go back to liking ourselves in separation and liking each other as friends.”
Sighing, Ash said glumly, “This is going to be awkward, isn’t it?”
Sullivan sighed as well. “For a short time, no doubt it is.”
“Perhaps we should avoid each other, at least for a week or so.”
“We’ll still need to have briefings and such.”
“Outside of that, then.”
“Agreed,” Sullivan said. “But why don’t we make it 10 days instead.”
“That sounds very practical, Boss.” Straightening, Ash held out her hand. “So, I suppose this is it, then.”
Smiling slightly, Sullivan shook Ash’s hand firmly, then, on impulse, raised it to his lips and placed a soft kiss on her knuckles. “I suppose so.”
Ash drew her hand back gently, and then shook her head. Smiling ruefully, she said, “Well then, friends it is.”
Sullivan’s smile was wistful and full of regret. “Absolutely.”
Head bobbing nervously, Ash began to back away, heading for the door.
“Oh, and Ash,” Sullivan said, prompting her to stop.
“Tell Scribbs she needn’t look so smug.”
Ash cringed again. “Will do, Boss. Will do.”
Scribbs gave up the pretext of scanning over an incident report as soon as she saw Ash emerge from Sullivan’s office.
“Well, I’m out,” the brunette said breezily, swooping by her desk long enough to snatch up her jacket.
Scrambling to her feet, Scribbs grabbed her own and followed closely on Ash’s heels. “So, what happened?” she asked bluntly once she caught up with her partner.
“Hmm?” Ash murmured distractedly. “Oh, the meeting with Sullivan? It was nothing important.”
“Nothing important?” Scribbs nearly screeched, her forearm connecting firmly with the station’s front door, blasting it open and depositing them out into the cold night air. “He was so worked up about talking to you that it looked like he was about to wet his knickers, and you’re trying to tell me it was about nothing important? Not bloody likely.”
“Then perhaps it was private.”
Having reached the car park, Ash found herself at a bit of a loss. Scribbs normally dropped her at home after work, but as they were in the midst of a heated discussion, she thought it wise to perhaps seek out another form of transportation. Of course, she hadn’t called a cab before leaving the office and didn’t even know the bus schedule for the area, things which combined to thwart any plans for a smooth escape, and judging from the looks of the mostly empty lot, she wasn’t going to find another ride home any time soon.
So, with an impatient hand gesture, she jerked at the locked passenger’s door of Scribbs’ car. “Well, aren’t you going to take me home?”
“Yeah?” Scribbs said, brightening, the scathing rejoinder she’d been about to deliver dying instantly on her tongue.
Ash scowled. “Just a lift home, Scribbs. That’s all.”
Considering that a lift home gave Scribbs plenty of time alone in a small, enclosed space with Ash – especially if she drove normally for once – the blonde nodded.
She had buckled herself in safely, checked all her mirrors, and turned on her indicator to back out of her parking slot – earning a questioning look from Ash in the process – before she spoke. “So,” Scribbs said nonchalantly, both hands firmly on the wheel as she slowly navigated away from the station, “have you given any more thought to my suggestion?”
“What?” Ash scoffed, biting back a smile as Scribbs pulled to a complete stop at the sign, looking first left, then right, then left again before easing out onto the street. “That I leave Sullivan for you?”
“No need to be snappy about it,” Scribbs pouted, puttering out into the light flow of late evening traffic. “All things considered, it’s a perfectly valid request.”
For a long moment, Ash was silent. Scribbs thought about following up on her statement, about coming up with a list of reasons why her suggestion was imminently logical, but lists had never really been her forte. The only other option was to confess that she’d been secretly pining for Ash for longer than she’d care to admit, that she had, in fact, done just about everything she could think of to catch the other woman’s attention including changing her hair, changing her wardrobe, and coming up with increasingly outrageous dating stories in an attempt to elicit even the slightest notion of jealousy. Although she’d been somewhat successful – Ash had, if nothing else, noticed her during her brief time as an Autumn – on the whole she’d failed rather miserably until the night before. And though the night before had been a great pay-off in return for some of the crises Ash had evoked – identity and sartorial among those – Scribbs hadn’t really counted on it being a one off. After all, she’d never put that much effort into a one night stand before, and besides, she wasn’t yet ready to give up on her fantasy of waking up in the mornings and actually seeing Ash’s dark hair spread out wildly across her other pillow. If Ash let her hair do something that untidy, that was.
Ash watched in bemusement as Scribbs fidgeted, as she gnawed nervously at her lower lip and drummed her thumbs against the steering wheel, obviously lost in deep thought. “Scribbs,” she said softly, suddenly unaccountably touched, “were you trying to be my bit of rough?”
The words pulled Scribbs from one set of mental contortions and flung her straight away into another one. Brows lowered in thoughtful confusion, she said, “Well, I don’t have anything against games, so if that’s the way you’d like to play this…”
Ash frowned, then huffed in bemused irritation. “That’s not what I meant, you twit,” she said, though the insult was said so affectionately that Scribbs couldn’t find it in her to be insulted. “Last night, you said that a posh girl like me might need a bit of the rough. If that’s true, does that make you my rough?”
“I don’t think I meant for you to interpret it so literally.”
“Then what did you mean by it?”
“I don’t know,” Scribbs said in exasperation, the dam finally beginning to crack. “The truth is, every time I’ve seen Sullivan this past month, I’ve had to stop myself from clawing his eyes out, I’ve been so jealous. If you were suddenly going to start dating a colleague, Ash, I wanted it to be me, not him. I certainly didn’t want to listen to you sing his praises day in and day out. You made the man out to be a bloody saint. No way I was going to have a chance against that, was there? And then there you were last night, going on about how your perfect man fell short, metaphorically speaking, and it wasn’t the most decent thing for me to do, maybe, but I probably would’ve said anything I thought might push you away from him. Which, I should add, doesn’t necessarily mean I didn’t mean it.”
Ash nodded sagely. “I see.”
“For the first time, then, as you’ve been blind as a bat since I’ve known you.”
Cocking a brow at that, Ash continued calmly, “Did you say date, Scribbs?”
Thrown by her partner’s unnaturally sedate demeanor, Scribbs shrugged her shoulders wildly. “Yes, date. You, dating Sullivan.”
“No,” Ash corrected, “that’s not the bit I’m referring to. You said that you wanted to date me.”
Feeling cornered, as if she were about to step into a trap from which she’d never disentangle herself, Scribbs offered an aggressive and confused, “Yeah. I said that.”
“So can I take that to mean that you didn’t intend for last night to be a one night stand?”
“You can take it however you want.”
“I’d prefer to take it how you meant it.”
Scribbs found herself at the entrance to Ash’s drive. Swinging in, she pulled them to a stop, and then cut the engine. Screwing up her courage, she twisted around in her seat so that she was facing her partner. “I’d rather it not.”
“Not be a one night stand,” Scribbs admitted grudgingly. “Sides, I thought you didn’t have those anyway.”
“I don’t,” Ash replied blithely. Then, “Scribbs, is this an admission of feelings?”
Suddenly feeling a bit shy, Scribbs lowered her head, looking up at Ash from beneath her lashes, shoulders tensed as if expecting a blow. “On whether or not you’re going to laugh at me.”
The admission was so adorably cute that Ash couldn’t help but reach out and place a finger under Scribbs’ chin, tilting it up so they were eye to eye. “Do you honestly think I would laugh at you?” she asked gently, the barest hint of a smile visible.
“Well, actually, I’m not entirely convinced you wouldn’t,” Scribbs admitted honestly.
Ash sighed and let her hand drop, palm coming to rest face down on Scribbs’ thigh. “Would you like to know about my meeting with Sullivan?”
“I don’t know,” Scribbs shrugged, watching Ash closely. Her skin was beginning to burn beneath her jeans where Ash’s hand lay, the muscle there on the verge of jumping spastically. “Would I?”
“Probably,” Ash murmured. “He said we were too similar.”
“What?” Scribbs asked, confused. “You and me?”
The look Ash gave Scribbs was one of utter annoyance. “No. He said that he and I were too similar.”
“Well,” Scribbs huffed, not at all appreciating the way Ash was speaking to her, as if she were a particularly thick child, “I’d already told you that.”
“Yes, well,” Ash muttered, “it seems that he’d also come to that conclusion on his own.”
“Looks like he and I agree on two things, then.”
Head tilted to the side quizzically, Ash queried, “Two?”
“Yes. There’s that and the fact that we both want you.”
“Better make that just the one, then.”
“Thing upon which you agree.”
Scribbs shook her head shortly, frustration building. “You’ve lost me, Ash.”
“And he’s dumped me,” Ash said with a rueful grin. “And that was even before I told him I’d slept with someone else.”
Scribbs sat back, impressed and a bit stunned. “You told him that?”
“I did,” Ash confirmed, tone conveying that she almost didn’t believe it herself.
Unable to help herself, Scribbs snorted. “How’d he take that?”
“Not well, I’m afraid,” Ash offered with a shrug and an apologetic grin. “Especially not when he figured out who it was with.”
Taken aback, Scribbs squeaked, “You told him that, too?”
“Then he’s a lot more keen than I’ve given him credit for,” Scribbs muttered.
Scribbs groaned. “So what’s up next for me, then. Transfer to Siberia?”
“I don’t think so,” Ash said with a comforting smile, “though he did ask me to tell you that you needn’t look so smug about it.”
Scribbs’ attempt at innocent fell far short of the mark. “Smug?”
“Like a lioness after a successful hunt,” Ash muttered, momentarily derailed. “Don’t think I didn’t notice, either.”
Trapped, Scribbs offered a contrite shrug. “I was feeling rather proud of myself.”
As silence again momentarily descended, Scribbs noted the most interesting thing – Ash had yet to remove her hand.
“So,” she began slyly, “I guess this means you’re single.”
“I guess so,” Ash sighed.
“Available,” Scribbs continued, leaning over slightly, one hand on the steering wheel for balance and the other freeing the latch of her safety belt.
“The story of my life, it appears.”
Scribbs grinned brightly. “Fancy inviting me in for a drink, then?”
Ash eyed Scribbs carefully, easily reading her intent. “You do realize,” she said dryly, “that I didn’t actually leave Sullivan for you.”
“You didn’t leave him at all,” Scribbs pointed out, “but I’m not one to get caught up in the technicalities, remember?”
Scribbs was moving steadily closer, body nearly draped over Ash’s own stiff form, and Ash felt herself begin to panic. “I do remember,” she said breathlessly, jumping slightly in her seat as one of Scribbs’ hands slid behind her neck. “Scribbs, we’re in the car.”
“I know,” Scribbs said mischievously. “Perfect place for a snog.”
Scribbs cut off the protest with her lips. Unlike the night before, this first kiss was lazy and slow. It was soft and intimate and knowing, too, less about overcoming obstacles and more about seductive enticement. A bit of the other first time still lingered, though; when Scribbs’ tongue first brushed against her lower lip, Ash moaned once more.
Scribbs pulled away with a smile, two fingers tracing a soft path down the stern line of Ash’s jaw. “Does this mean I’ll be staying over at yours tonight?” she asked cheekily, one hand sneaking between the buttons of Ash’s shirt to brush against her belly.
“No,” Ash said decisively, stomach muscles trembling under the touch.
Scribbs leaned forward once more, this time to brush a stinging line of kisses up the length of Ash’s neck. “You sure?” she whispered, breath hot against the shell of the other woman’s ear.
Shivering, Ash murmured a weak, “Well, maybe.”
“Hmm,” Scribbs hummed, the hand on Ash’s belly leaving its perch to travel up to her breast. Thumb flicking over a rapidly hardened nipple, she nipped at the brunette’s earlobe softly, sharp teeth dragging along the skin.
Ash’s fingers dug convulsively into Scribbs’ thigh, earning a low moan that seemed to run down Ash’s spine like a live current. “Oh, God,” she gasped. “We’ll see.”
“I’m not opposed to continuing this discussion in the car,” Scribbs teased seductively, digging her nails into the back of Ash’s neck in a maneuver calculated to bring about the aroused hiss it received, “but I could be convinced to move things into the house.”
The cold night air brought with it a slight return to sanity. “I’m not going to have an affair with you,” Ash warned, key sliding easily into her lock. “I expect proper dates and romantic dinners and…”
“Anything you want,” Scribbs promised, wrapping around the taller woman from behind. She pushed aside Ash’s long hair, planting a soft kiss on the back of her neck. “Just get us inside, yeah?”
“Scribbs,” Ash said sternly, pushing open the door and leading the other woman inside, “relationships cannot be built on sexual compatibility alone. You need to have…”
“I remember the list,” Scribbs muttered in exasperation, fingers working quickly to slide Ash’s jacket off her shoulders. “We’ll worry about mutual respect and harmonious dispositions tomorrow, alright. Right now we’re still working on the passion part of things.”
After a moment, Ash nodded her reluctant agreement, dutifully raising her arms above her head as Scribbs divested her of her shirt. “I do have a perfectly serviceable bedroom,” she said haughtily, head cocking to the side to indicate its direction.
“You’ve got a perfectly serviceable foyer too,” Scribbs murmured, lips once again on the skin of Ash’s neck as her fingers easily released the clasp of the other woman’s bra, hands immediately cupping her breasts, “and we’ve got all night.”
Well, when Scribbs put it that way, Ash acknowledged internally, gingerly stepping out of her trousers and wrapping her hands around the other woman’s arms for balance, the plan did sound imminently practical.