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Birthday Blues
By Lesley Mitchell


Ash didn't bother with birthdays any more.


Ash didn't used to bother with birthdays. Not since twenty one had been and gone.

In her world, it was children who had birthdays. This involved parties with cakes and candles and bunting and presents. Adults didn't need this sort of self affirmation.

Well, she thought, a little crossly, they shouldn't.

But apparently, she was in the minority. If she had to put another pound in a brown envelope and sign another inane message in another inanely risque card, she felt sure she was going to scream. The station wasn't all that big, but it seemed that every week someone had a birthday, requiring a collection and a card and, occasionally, a trip to the pub to watch her colleagues get drunk.

She'd found increasingly creative ways to excuse herself from these painful events. Even going so far as taking an evening class, one year.

But that was all before.

When old Bill Godwin retired, the powers that be had seen fit to give the vacant DCI post to a young turk from the Met, by the name of Sullivan. While the station hadn't been actively backward, it had been run along somewhat... traditional lines. Sullivan was a breath of fresh air, and DS Ashurst quickly found her skills recognised and rewarded with a promotion to DI.

However, his work wasn't done with that. Filling Ash's DS position with an internal candidate proved to be harder than he'd hoped, but a few enquiries around the golf course turned up a promising candidate, recently promoted at headquarters. A completely competent, safe pair of hands he was told, but not quite fitting in with the team there.

He'd liked her immediately. Even if she had managed to throw bad coffee down the front of his best trench coat within 5 minutes of meeting him. It didn't take much to see why Scribbins didn't fit in, but those qualities were, he felt, precisely the ones he needed to balance his new DI's personality.

The day Sullivan introduced Scribbs as her new partner, Ash nearly resigned. It took a week before she even spoke to him again, and that was only to complain that her new partner was too loud, drove like a maniac, and, worst of all, listened to the local radio in the car! Sullivan just nodded and smiled, and let the rant wash over him. Ash's bark, he was fairly certain, was much worse than her bite.

The first time they worked a murder together, he thought he was going to have another body on his hands, but whether it was going to be Ash from an aneurysm at Scribbs's methods, or Scribbs at Ash's hand... well, he didn't dare join the station pool on that one. However, when they brought the killer in and extracted a signed confession from him, with his solicitor present, in less than a week, Sullivan felt entirely vindicated.

As time passed, they rubbed off on each other. Ash was less uptight, well, at least to people who knew what they were looking for, while Scribbs gained more of Ash's thoroughness and attention to detail. They made a great team.

The first time Scribbs had a birthday party, at one of the local night spots, Sullivan virtually frog marched Ash to go along, and he watched her sit quietly in a corner nursing a G&T, all night... until Scribbs left with some bad boy from uniform. He had driven her home, after watching her down two more drinks in alarmingly quick succession.

Scribbs didn't bother asking Ash if she wanted to come to the Christmas party... since it avoided her having a chance to say no. She also didn't mention the two blokes she'd met in the canteen, until they were out of the car and walking to the club.

It hadn't been a complete disaster... though Ash's erstwhile date failed to find her in the crush for more than ten minutes all evening and Scribbs got more than a little dressing down, and a very clear re-introduction to the rules about men, afterwards.

It took Scribbs months. No one in the station knew, as far as she could tell. Well, no one who was telling, that's for sure. She thought that Sullivan might, but his lips appeared to be sealed on the point. She even tried ringing personnel, but she got the grumpy old bat whose car she'd once dinged in the HQ car park, who point blank refused to tell her, and threatened to expose her little plan.

In the end, it was Ash herself who let it slip, one evening over wine and paperwork at her flat, as had become their habit during less busy periods. It was just a throwaway comment, in a conversation about something else entirely, but Scribbs took note, and filed the knowledge away carefully.

The second brithday party Scribbs had at Middleford was a slightly quieter affair than the first. Classier, one could say, and Ash attended it willingly. She even bought a rather swanky new outfit for the occasion.

Sullivan wasn't in the least bit surprised to see them arrive in a shared taxi, and he watched them watch each other, all evening. Each tried to look away before the other noticed, but occasionally they shared a shy smile when they accidentally locked eyes.

There was, he felt, a clear new dynamic to their relationship, and he wondered if it had something to do with the recent incident during the surveillance, or if it was more to do with the odd case at the old people's home.

They left separately, but not before Scribbs had briefly hugged a surprised Ash, who Sullivan thought had almost been on the verge of returning the gesture when Scribbs had stepped back flustered and apologised.

This was now, Ash thought, and it was all Scribbs's fault.

She reached for her heals and another thought struck her. Perhaps some of the blame could be passed to Sullivan, too. After all, she might never have met Scribbs if not for him.

A horn sounded outside her window, and she hurried, as much as was possible in heels, to grab her bag and shawl and make her way to the cab blocking the street outside her flat.

Scribbs had said, "come to dinner. But dress up. It's gonna be... classy."

She'd agreed without a second thought, until she'd realised the date. Had her colleague managed to pick her birthday randomly, or was this a set up? Ash couldn't remember ever mentioning the date and she felt sure that Sullivan would never have been indiscreet. Initially, she'd worried, but then she'd found herself looking forward to the dinner with her friend more than she cared whether there was an ulterior motive, and decided that she should just put the suspicion away.

It wasn't a long cab ride, and she paid the driver exact change. While he'd failed to kill her, she had, all in all, felt slightly less safe than with Scribbs after the blonde had returned from a course on pursuit driving.

Now she stood at her door and hesitated to ring the bell. There were no signs that suggested a surprise party about to be sprung or anything equally as irritating, and, if anything, that left Ash more worried, rather than less.

The women had been spending increasing amounts of their spare time together as their professional partnership had become a friendship, but recently, that had become almost all of their off time. It had also been, Ash realised suddenly, months since Scribbs had turned up with her latest bad boyfriend story.

In the dark, on the steps of Scribbs's flat, Ash thought back over the past few months, analysing them as only she could. She felt close to drawing a conclusion, when suddenly she was bathed in light and warmth.

"Ash, come in already. You've been stood there for at least ten minutes since the taxi pulled away. Why on earth didn't you ring the bell?"

As she made her way into the house, Scribbs reached out, running her fingers over the bare flesh of her arm, trailing fire with the touch, and causing Ash to discover that it was possible to get goosebumps on goosebumps.

"You got cold," said Scribbs, simply.

Ash nodded.

"Are you actually going to say anything, tonight? Or am I making conversation for both of us, as well as dinner?" There was a slightly acid tone in Scribbs's voice, by now, as she walked away from Ash towards the kitchen, whence steam and a pleasantly pungent smell emanated.

Ash cleared her throat slightly and said, "Hello, Emma."

Scribbs stopped abruptly, and turned to face her colleague. Their eyes met, and the world stopped.

Cliches become cliches, thought Ash, a little breathlessly, sometime later, because they really do happen.

She would never know which of them had moved first, or why it was at this precise moment that it had all fallen into place. What she did know was that nothing had felt more right than the kiss they had just shared, and that there was nothing she wanted to do more in the world, right now, than repeat the experience.

She looked slightly down at Scribbs, her heels and Scribbs's bare feet making her the taller of the two for the moment, and found Scribbs grinning back at her.

"You figured it out then, oh great detective?"

Ash nodded back, afraid to break the spell.

Scribbs took her hand and led her to the dining room.

"Come on. Eat first, then talk," she explained firmly. "Oh, and, by the way... Happy birthday, Kate."

The End

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