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ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
It began with a small box, elaborately wrapped in silver and gold, sitting on Ash's desk when she arrived in from a cold, slushy, grey December day. Two hours later, when her partner finally showed up, looking much the worse for wear and mumbling something about 'bloody journalists,' Ash brought it up.
"Who do you think it is?" she asked as her surly partner nursed a cup of coffee and glared at the box as if the brightness of the wrapping was giving her a headache.
"You must have a secret admirer."
"Yes, but who?" Ash scanned the office carefully, watching for anyone watching her, but the only set of eyes on her were bloodshot and bleary.
"Dunno." Scribbs shrugged and propped her head up on her hand, trying to bring the screen in front of her into focus. "Could be anybody."
"Not necessarily," Ash countered. "It was left after we left last nightlateand this morning before I came in at 8. So an early riser perhaps?"
"Or someone on the night shift "
"Yes, that too."
Scribbs eyed the box suspiciously. "What's in it?"
"I don't know. I haven't opened it yet?"
Scribbs stared at her as if she were touched in the head. "What are you waiting for?"
"What happens if it's from someone I wouldn't want to accept a gift from?"
"What if it's from the man of your dreams?" Scribbs countered.
Ash glared at the gold and silver box, vexed. "And who, working in this office, would that be?"
"Not bloody likely."
Scribbs sighed. "Look, Ash, maybe what's inside is a clue to who it is."
"You're right," Ash said at last, while Scribbs rolled her eyes heavenward as if to say, 'finally.' Ash removed the bow and carefully ran a fingernail along the edge of the paper to cut the tape.
"Ooooh, chocolate," Scribbs said, showing the most interest in the conversation she had all morning as she raised up in her chair and reached for a piece. Ash pulled the box out of her reach and shot her a look, but relented when Scribbs gave her patented pout and hurt-puppy-dog-eyes combination.
Settling back in her chair with a piece of chocolate, Scribbs said, "Well, at least your mystery gifter knows you."
"Why do you say that?"
"Knows you like chocolate, at least."
"Knows I'm a woman who likes chocolate? Yes, that would be a keen bit of detective work there," Ash replied sarcastically.
The next few days, small presents appeared on Ash's desk every morning, more chocolate, a tin of tea, a new release from one of her favorite artists, a bottle of wine. When Ash expressed her appreciation of the very nice vintage, Scribbs asked, "Maybe you should leave a little something in return for your mystery man."
"Scribbs, what are my three rules about Christmas?"
Scribbs sighed; they had gone over these every year for the last three years. "Don't overindulge on eggnog," she recited from memory.
"And don't participate in holiday rituals or be persuaded by the sentiment of the season."
"Stay away from mistletoe at all costs."
Ash looked pleased that Scribbs remembered her rules so well as Scribbs settled back in her chair like a student trying to avoid being called on again. Suddenly, she shot up. "Wait, does this mean that if I get you a present, you won't get me anything?"
"Scribbs, you get me a present every year."
She shrugged. "Well, yeah "
"And do I get you a present in return?"
"Well, you always take me out for drinks later that night. I always thought that was the gift." Scribbs' grin turned cheeky. "You know, I'm gifted with your august presence for one night of the year." Ash tilted her head and raised an eyebrow in a 'are you done yet' expression. "After all, how often does a," and here her voice parodied a posh accent, "'posh young desirable from Lady Margaret's' grace a commoner like me?"
Ash sighed as Scribbs laughed at her discomfort. "I simply feel guilty for not getting you a gift."
"So what about the card, then?"
"You know, last year." Ash looked at her blankly. "The 'save the date' card you gave me a week in advance reminding me of our yearly night out?"
"I was simply making sure that you wouldn't blow me off for your new sleepover," Ash replied, looking to her computer screen to end the conversation once and for all.
Scribbs settled back in her chair with a pleased grin. "Yeah, right."
A day later, Scribbs handed Ash a badly-wrapped present, the ends of the wrappings loosely taped down and scissor marks that looked like a 5-year-old had used the paper to practice technique. Ash held it up and glanced at her partner quizzically. "Did you fish it out of the rubbish bin?" she asked.
"Just open it and say 'thank you'," grumped Scribbs as she poured herself a cup of coffee. Settling into her chair, she added, "And you don't have to reciprocate if you don't want."
Ash tore the paper off with much less care than the other presents, but her smile was soft as she gazed at the candle set with candle holders that fit with her apartment décor perfectly and candles in her favorite scent. She glanced at Scribbs, who was pretending to be busy with a file on her computer and pouting just a little. "Thank you," Ash told her. Scribbs looked unimpressed. "It's brilliant," Ash added, honestly.
Ash caught Scribbs' pleased little smile before she turned to her computer and began typing. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Scribbs' pout return, and she pursed her lips to keep from smiling. Still pretending to be engrossed in her work, Ash said, "Oh, and I thought we might do dinner this year instead of drinks." Scribbs's mouth stretched into a broad, brilliant smile. "We have reservations for 7:00 at Maggiano's."
"I think I'm free," Scribbs replied, her face schooled into a nonchalant expression.
"And Scribbs? Do wear something grown-up."
Scribbs cast a sideways glance at her partner as she negotiated the morning traffic. Ash leaned her head against the window, her eyes closed, and her usually impeccable outfit seemed to droop in sympathy, the collar seeming a little less crisp than usual. Not that Scribbs blamed her partner, or the suit for that matter, for feeling a bit under the weather.
"You made me break one of your own rules," she accused the suffering brunette.
"Rubbish, Scribbs. I distinctly remember you calling for 'one last round' right when I was ready to leave."
"Really? I don't remember that."
"I'm not surprised," Ash replied in a soft, yet smug, tone. "That is the last time I let you convince me to sample the 'special' eggnog. Next time you put a drink in front of me, I expect a detailed list of ingredients "
"Detailed list of ingredients, Scribbs." Ash put an end to that conversation and began another. "I didn't even get a chance to see my present this morning. "
"What makes you think you got one today?" Ash simply gave her a look of supreme self-confidence, and Scribbs sighed. Ash was, after all, Detective Inspector Kate Ashurst, and she most certainly got another present today. "Do you know who it is yet?"
"No," Ash replied, considering. "He knows my taste for fancy chocolates, music, and wine"
"So he's a stalker, then"
Ash shot her a look at the implication but continued, "he even knew that I had lost my glove"
"One of those efficient stalkers "
"Scribbs, I rather doubt one of our colleagues is a stalker." Scribbs just rolled her eyes in response. "He's studied me, certainly, and is trying to woo me." Ash paused to consider. "Rather well, I must say." When Scribbs still didn't answer, Ash tried to explain. "The presents are nice, thoughtful gifts, and obviously picked specifically for me. It's sweet."
Scribbs took the opportunity of a stoplight to lean over and pretend to scrutinize the face of her colleague. "Is that a hint of Christmas spirit I see?" Ash glared at her, darkly, and Scribbs sat back into her seat and put the car into gear, laughing all the while. "I guess not."
Ash's hand connected with Scribbs' shoulder just hard enough to register her displeasure but not to interfere with Scribbs' driving, earning her another chuckle from the incorrigible blonde.
And when they returned to the station, there was indeed a new present sitting on Ash's desk. The expensive bottle of champagne had an elaborate red bow trimmed with gold and a loop of ribbon threaded through a card that read, simply, "Tomorrow." Scribbs plopped down into her chair with a scowl as Ash lovingly traced the letters on the card and smiled.
"I guess you won't want to go to the holiday play with me tomorrow, then," Scribbs said sourly as she crossed her arms over her chest.
Ash glanced up from her contemplation of the bottle, surprised. "We had plans?"
"We go every year the night before Christmas. I was going to ask you this afternoon."
Ash looked between her partner and the bottle of champagne, obviously torn. "I'm sorry. Could we do it the night after?"
"Sure, if you aren't spending the evening with your mystery lover boy stalker drinking champagne and eating strawberries." Scribbs slid further down in her chair, arms crossed resolutely in front of her.
Ash studied her partner, puzzled at her behavior. "Honestly, Scribbs, if I didn't know any better, I would swear you were jealous."
"Jealous? Me?" Ash nodded. "That's ridiculous."
Ash leaned down to catch her stroppy partner's eyes. "You are, aren't you?"
Scribbs jumped up from her desk, heading for the fresh pot of coffee on the burner. "Absolutely not."
The last box appeared the next morning, another silver and gold affair. Inside was a bit of greenery and a card with the following instructions: "Place in doorway and be standing underneath at 7:00 PM."
Ash eyed the green sprig suspiciously. "It's mistletoe," Scribbs supplied.
"Yes, I know what it is, Scribbs."
"He obviously thinks he's going to get lucky."
"He'll at least get a snog out of it."
Ash put the mistletoe back in the box and tucked it into her bag, signaling an end of that topic of conversation. "Are we on for tomorrow night?"
Scribbs shrugged, clicking away on her mouse. "I was thinking about skipping it this year."
"But I thought "
"I'm sure you'll be busy. Besides, every year, you spend the whole time talking about how badly the sets are constructed and how awful the actors' accents are. I could probably do without that this year."
Ash hid her hurt and disappointment by ducking behind the computer monitor and clicking the keys rapidly, each word punctuated by a particularly brutal stab at the space key. "Yes, well, we wouldn't want that, now would we?"
The person for whom Ash opened the door at precisely 8 minutes til 7:00 PM wasn't the person she was expecting, even though she didn't exactly know whom she was supposed to expect. However, she was certain that the blonde with the slightly apologetic smile was not supposed to be on her stoop as the clock crept closer to the appointed time.
"Scribbs!" Scribbs stood just beyond the threshold, hands buried deep in her pockets. She was shifting around uneasily, and her smile managed to both widen and appear more apologetic when Ash opened the door. "What are you doing here?"
Scribbs ignored the question and made a show of peering behind Ash, into the corridor of her flat. "He isn't here yet?" The query was a bit more barbed than an inquiry into a possible interruption should have been, Ash noted.
"No, not yet," Ash admitted, reluctantly, before turning a raised eyebrow on her colleague. "What are you doing here?"
"He must not know you as well as we thought, huh?" Scribbs glanced at her watch, pointedly. "I mean, if he really knew you, he'd know how much you hate tardiness."
"And yet, the day you are on time for a morning appointment, I may have to throw a ticker-tape parade to celebrate the occasion," Ash replied, crossing her arms and leaning against the doorframe. "Scribbs, what are you doing here?"
Scribbs looked down at her shoes and shuffled her feet. "I just wanted to, ah, say I'm sorry, you know, for earlier." She tilted her head to the side and glanced up to meet Ash's eyes, her expression hang-dog and pouty. "Forgive me?"
Ash pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes, trying for all the world to appear as if she were considering the request, but she knew and Scribbs knew that she always caved in the face of that particular expression. Ash just wanted to make Scribbs work for it. After a suitable amount of time, in which Scribbs managed to look even more pathetic, Ash sighed and relented, "Of course I forgive you."
Scribbs brightened immediately and took a step forward, before pausing in the doorway, glancing up, and then smiling a rather devious smile. "Mistletoe," Scribbs pointed out, unnecessarily, as Ash glared at the offending piece of greenery positioned dangerously above both their heads.
"Yes, I see that."
"So " Scribbs leaned forward and scrunched her lips up.
"Oh, for heaven's sake."
"Come on, Ash. 'Tis the season and all that."
Ash scrutinized the hallway and, satisfied that nobody was watching, leaned in to give her partner a quick peck on the lips. However, for all her good intentions, as soon as their lips touched, Ash found herself caught up in the moment, enjoying the feel of soft lips beneath her own, and the kiss lasted for several long moments, long enough for Ash to hear the church bell ring out 7 chimes.
When they parted, Scribbs sported a big, silly grin and collapsed against the doorframe as though her legs wouldn't hold her. Ash swatted her arm. "Scribbs, don't take the piss."
"Sorry," replied Scribbs, looking anything but sorry. In fact, she looked like a very satisfied feline in that particular moment. "Hey, Ash, you realize that I've gotten you to break all of your Christmas rules? There was the eggnog "
"Don't remind me!"
" you've participated in holiday rituals and sentiment, like gift-giving, and, now we've just had a bit of a snog under the mistletoe."
"Yes, well, that's because you are thoroughly hopeless when it comes to following even the most common-sense rules and guidelines," Ash explained. "I despair of ever being able to rein in your more creative impulses."
Scribbs actually appeared contrite in the face of Ash's dressing down. "Um, yeah, about that "
Scribbs looked bashful again, and she chewed her lower lip nervously as she withdrew her hand from the deep pocket of her coat and held out an elaborately wrapped box in silver and gold, almost identical to the first box except for a single ruby-red rose affixed to the box with ribbon. "Here," she said, thrusting the box at Ash.
Ash gave Scribbs a puzzled look, and was about to ask a question, but Scribbs waved her hand in a 'go on, open it,' gesture, so Ash simply complied. Inside the box were several slips of paper, receipts, for chocolates, wine, gloves, all with the amounts carefully blacked out, but all made out to one Emma Scribbins. Ash stared at the box and its contents for several long seconds before saying, quietly, "It was you."
Scribbs nodded her head, watching Ash carefully and not without a hint of fear. "It was me."
Ash ran through everything in her head, "I, I can't believe, well, at first, the first package, I thought it might be you, but the timing was off, I mean, you've never been in before 9 AM in your life unless I've shown up at your flat and physically dragged you in to work." She paused and looked at her blonde partner. "How?"
"A mate on the night shift "
"And the jealousy act?"
Scribbs shrugged. "Just an act. I didn't want you to suspect anything."
"I most certainly didn't "
"And," Scribbs hurried on, "we're still on for the play, tonight even, if you still want to go."
Ash was taken back and more than a bit puzzled. "Why wouldn't I still want to go?"
"Because," Scribbs' teeth worried at her lower lip as she tilted her head to the side, her expression intense, as though she were trying to will Ash into understanding, "it was me." She swept her hand down to indicate herself and waited for Ash to realize the implications.
Ash's eyes narrowed in thought before growing wide. "Oh!" She stared at the blonde. "It was you."
"Yeah, your mystery man ended up being a mystery woman, your female colleague even, and well, I can't imagine it's what you were expecting, now, is it? I mean, you were expecting to get all swept up by some "
Ash cut Scribbs' rambling off by sliding her hand up under the blonde hair and leaning in for another kiss, effectively silencing her partner.
When released, Scribbs was only able to get a name out. "Ash?"
"Mistletoe," Ash explained, simply, before capturing those lips again.
The next time they broke apart, it was Ash's turn to grin in silly, unadulterated happiness. "It was you," she repeated with a hint of wonder in her voice. The next kiss, Ash threw her arms around Scribbs' neck to hold her in for a long, open-mouthed kiss, forgetting the box of receipts in her hand, which upended to send the slips of paper fluttering to the floor.
"You're making a mess," teased Scribbs, but Ash seemed to be much more interested in nibbling her way to Scribbs' ear.
"So are you coming in?" Ash whispered and Scribbs shivered at the warm breath in her ear. "I've champagne, chocolate, and strawberries." Ash didn't wait for a reply, and instead starting walking backwards, pulling Scribbs along with her.
Once into the flat proper, Scribbs paused for a moment to take in the usual décor lit by dozens of candles and one small twinkling tabletop Christmas tree. "Merry Christmas," Ash whispered.
Scribbs scrutinized at the brunette in arms closely. "Now that's definitely a hint of Christmas spirit I see."
"More than a hint," Ash agreed before silencing the blonde with another kiss.
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