DISCLAIMER: Murder in Suburbia and its characters are the property of ITV. No infringement intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
THANKS: To Ann for the beta.
Christmas in Suburbia
Scribbs surveyed the piles of neatly arranged Christmas cards with a confused look. After years of working side by side with Ash, not to mention the seven months and four days they'd been knocking boots, Scribbs had thought she'd got a handle on all of her partner's quirks, but that was before Ash revealed the card rules.
"So," said Scribbs, her face scrunched in adorable confusion, "you have a system?"
Ash ticked off several items on her checklist before turning her attentions to her somewhat slow-witted companion. "I've already explained this once, Scribbs, do I really need to repeat myself?" The overeager nod brought a sigh from Ash and a repeat of her Christmas card rules, "The value pack of Christmas cards I purchased in the January sale last year - you really should buy all your Christmas peripherals during the sales, Scribbs, it's much more economical - are for vague acquaintances."
"The postman, paperboy, woman at the dry cleaners?"
"Exactly." Ash withdrew a card from her second pile. "The cartoon or other trademarked cards - this year I've gone with Winnie the Pooh - are for general acquaintances and work colleagues."
"Like the boss?"
"No." A card from the third pile was displayed for Scribbs' edification. "Sullivan is one of a select few, including good friends and secondary family members, who will receive Marks and Spencer's finest Christmas cards." The card on display was artfully decorated and of an obviously superior quality paper. "Following me so far?"
"This final pile," Ash explained, pointing to but not displaying an example from the last pile, "are for immediate family and special friends."
The cards in the smallest pile were, conversely, the largest of the group, their irregular sizes and shapes marking them as individually purchased missives of holiday cheer, unlike their bulk purchased cousins from piles nearby. Scribbs knew, due to an accidental case of peeking, which she'd had to accidentally do twice because Ash walked in on her the first time, that her card was amidst the special pile. It had put the biggest of smiles on Scribbs' face but, now that the system had been explained, she was left with a burning question.
"How come I only got a 'Daffy Duck does Christmas' card last year?" She pointed to where Winnie the Pooh and Tigger were staring up from the second pile. "Not even a Marks and Spencer's job, like the boss, but Daffy bleeding Duck!" Her indignation was mostly for show, but there was a tiny part of her Christmas addled mind that was a little peeved at having been thought of so lowly by the woman who, only five months later, professed to have loved her for years.
"I..." The tips of Ash's ears had turned red, and she was assailed by the desperate urge to change the subject. "You gave me the same card you gave the custody sergeant."
Scribbs pointed to the piles. "I don't have a system," she accused. "I just pick up a box of cards at the supermarket and hand 'em out willy-nilly."
"That's hardly an appropriate way to disperse seasonal greetings, Scribbs, you should have a..."
"Don't change the subject. Why did I only get a work colleagues card?"
"We are work colleagues."
"And that's it?" A year had past and with it their relationship had gone through a monumental change, but Scribbs couldn't help feeling a little hurt that Ash had felt so little of her just twelve short months before. "Just colleagues?"
Ash shifted uncomfortably. "No, of course not." Scribbs merely looked at her, a sense of disappointment colouring her features and bringing an ache to Ash's chest. "I... I had another card but... I thought you might get the wrong idea." She smiled, her eyes meeting Scribbs' for the first time, "Or the right idea."
Scribbs let forth a smile of her own. "You bought me a soppy card."
"I did not." Kate Ashurst would admit to many things, but being soppy wasn't one of them. "I merely purchased a card that some might have construed contained a hint of affection beyond that expected from a superior officer."
The smile on Scribbs' face just grew. "Did you put little Xs after your name?"
"There might have been a smudge," Ash conceded, "that some might have mistaken for an X."
"Just the one?"
Scribbs pushed aside the various piles of holiday cheer, their disarrangement earning a squeak of protest from Ash before her lips were silenced by an overdue kiss. "That," said Scribbs, her hands working slowly at the buttons on Ash's shirt, "is one."
"Of the kisses you owe me from last year." She bent her head and kissed the sweet spot just below Ash's jaw.
"Two?" questioned Ash.
"Uh huh." A second kiss landed upon the first. "That was for the smudge."
"It was a big smudge," Ash conceded, her head arched back and her Christmas card system forgotten. "A very, very big smudge."
"I still don't see why we need a new tree," whined Scribbs, her breath causing the air to turn frosty and her good mood to plummet a further seven or eight degrees. "We've both got perfectly good ones at home."
"Those," explained Ash, with all the patience she could muster, "are our singles trees, and now we're not single any more, we need a couple's tree."
"A tree's a tree." With a wave of her hand Scribbs pointed to the long line of future Christmas trees laid out before them. "If you insist we get a new one, can't you just pick it out already?"
"It's our first Christmas tree," Ash scolded, as if the concept was obvious, a notion that was quickly disproved by Scribbs' baffled look. "It shows that we take this -" she pointed between the two of them "- seriously and aren't just in it for the quick thrills."
"I rather like the quick thrills," Scribbs mumbled.
"I heard that."
Scribbs tried to fake enthusiasm. "How about that one?" She pointed to the second tree in the line. "It's got commitment written all over it."
"Don't be facetious."
"I wasn't." Reluctantly pulling her hands from the warm confines of her coat pockets, Scribbs gestured towards the tree in question. "See, thick branches, but enough space to hang the lights and stuff." She waved expansively, "Good overall shape," gave it a slight tap with her boot, "And the needles look like they've been stuck in there, so you don't have to worry about it shedding all over the carpet, even though you will."
Ash had to concede that it did, indeed, meet her requirements. "But does it say 'us'?"
Scribbs looked at the rigid needles that were so lovely to look at, but so prickly when you got up close, and the slight disarray of the branches that seemed to rise up into the air with no sense or reason. Stepping up behind Ash, she put her arms around her middle and whispered in her red tinged ear, "Yes, it's most definitely us."
Scribbs' warm breath tickled against Ash's skin as she brought their bodies into closer contact. "That," she said, "is the tree beneath which I am going to make love to you, all Christmas long."
Ash shivered. "I think we've found our tree."
"What do you think?" Scribbs held up the article in question and waited patiently for her shopping buddy to give forth an opinion.
Sullivan coughed twice before surveying the surrounding area for familiar faces. "Scribbs, are you sure I'm the best person to ask?"
She shrugged. "Sure, why not?" She put the sheer black teddy back on the rack with the others. "You know Ash and, unlike most of my other mates, you're not scared witless of her." She waited a beat. "You're not, are you?"
"Under normal circumstances, no, but I really don't think she'd appreciate me helping you buy her lingerie." He took another furtive look behind him but didn't recognise any of the shoppers. "There are some lines that really shouldn't be crossed."
"Yeah?" She swivelled the display rack and picked out another ensemble. "What about this?"
"I don't think so." Sullivan shifted uncomfortably and tried not to imagine Ash wearing the red silk undergarments Scribbs' was holding out for his inspection. "Are you sure she wouldn't prefer a nice warm jumper?"
"I've already got her a jumper." She held up a garter belt. "Too much?"
"Much, much too much." He started to perspire. "What about something in the electrical department?"
"Really, Boss, talk about crossing the line."
He looked baffled for a moment before realisation dawned and his cheeks suffused with colour. "I didn't mean... I would never..."
"Besides, I already got her something from Naughty Santa." Scribbs' smile only added to his embarrassment. "You okay, Boss?"
"I've just remembered something ... back at the office ... very important ... got to go."
Scribbs watched as Sullivan practically ran from the shop, his normal suave sophistication most definitely lacking in his desire to put as much distance between himself and Scribbs as humanly possible. "That'll teach him to kiss my soon-to-be-girlfriend," Scribbs muttered, a devilish smile lighting her face before she turned to hurry after her boss to torment him some more.
Sellotape, four kinds of wrapping paper, scissors, labels - colour co-ordinated to match the paper - and two ball-point pens were laid out with military precision on Ash's kitchen table. An area that Scribbs had re-christened 'Santa's Sweat Shop' after being given her orders for the evening which basically consisted of wrapping every single item in the flat that wasn't nailed down or breathing.
"I only came round for a shag," she moaned.
Ash peeled off another price tag and handed the box to Scribbs. "And if you're a good little elf you might just get your wish."
"Elf? Ash, have you been indulging in the Christmas spirits a little early?"
Ash ignored the comment. "Use the blue paper for my family and don't forget the bows on my mother's gift." She pointed to the package in question before turning her attention to a second pile of boxes. "I thought you could use the red for your family, except for your sister's boys, who should have the children's paper."
"You've got a system," Scribbs guessed. "Why am I not surprised?"
"You'll thank me when it comes time to put them all in the car, and you don't have to waste energy searching through all the name tags." She picked up one of the tags in question and started scribbling details. "A good system never fails."
"So, where do I come in this system of yours?"
Ash looked up, a self satisfied smile on her face. "You'll have to wait and see."
Fortified against the puppy-dog look, Ash merely raised her chin in defiance before handing Scribbs a tag for the gift she'd just finished wrapping. "The tags are self-adhesive."
Scribbs attached the tag and was just about to move it to a separate pile when the words on the little snowman caught her attention. "Love, Kate and Emma?" she asked, her brows knit in confusion.
"Yes." Ash didn't see the problem. "They're joint presents, remember."
"Yeah, I know, but Kate and Emma?"
Ash sighed. "You'd rather Emma and Kate, I suppose?"
"No, that's not ... Kate and Emma?" she repeated, as if her meaning would suddenly become clear. "The only time I call you Kate is when we're... You know."
"So, it feels weird signing your mum's Christmas present like that."
"Believe it or not, Scribbs, but my mother's heard me called Kate before."
"I know, it's just... I dunno."
"Very eloquently put." Ash waved another tag in Scribbs' direction, in a not-so-subtle cue for her to finish wrapping the next present. "We could always try calling each other by our proper names," she suggested, "outside of the bedroom."
"When we're doing it in the car, you mean?"
"No!" Ash had distinctly told Scribbs never to mention that particular lapse in professional judgement, but the blonde seemed to take a perverse pleasure in reminding her of their little adventure in the back of a surveillance vehicle at every opportunity. "I meant that we should try using each other's name when we're not having sex."
Scribbs' hands slowed, and the paper she'd been using to wrap her sister's present drifted to the floor. "I'm not sure I could call you Kate and not want to see you naked."
"Don't be silly," Ash laughed, her mirth dying the second she caught sight of the arousal on Scribbs' face.
"I mean it, Kate, just the feel of your name on my lips makes me horny as hell." The scissors clattered to the floor as Scribbs rose and took a step closer to Ash. "I really don't think you want me doing this -" she pulled off her jumper and threw it to the floor "- in the middle of your parents' living room."
"Scribbs?" Ash gulped, her heart rate tripling as Scribbs made her approach. "Emma?"
Scribbs reached for the hem of Ash's top. "I think it's time I got to unwrap my present, don't you... Kate?"
"We're going to be late," Ash hissed as she got dressed for the second time that day. "My mother will go ballistic."
Scribbs rolled over in bed and grinned, her Christmas morning already far exceeding any she'd previously experienced. "I could give her a ring? Tell her we've been delayed?"
Mysterious delays had been happening with alarming frequency since Ash and Scribbs had crossed the line between friends and lovers, and even their most dense of acquaintances had learnt not to expect them on time. Ash's mother, however, was an entirely different matter, not so much because of the woman herself, who had turned out to be surprisingly easygoing and liberal in her views, but because of her daughter's terror at the idea she would correctly guess what prompted their delays.
Scribbs stretched. "Or I could just say we're too busy fooling around to make it for dinner?"
"Scribbs, if you do not get out of that bed, this instant, you won't be invited back again before next Christmas!"
It was an idle threat. Scribbs knew it. Ash knew it. Hell, Ash's mum probably knew it, but that didn't mean it could be taken lightly. Scribbs jumped out of bed and started rifling through the closet for something else to wear, her first choice having met its end at the hands of Ash's frustration with the buttons. "Have I got time for another shower?"
"Only if we share." Ash ignored the lecherous look and set forth her pre-Christmas dinner with her family ground rules for shared showers, "There will be no touching. No splashing of water. No dropping of soap and, under no circumstances, are you allowed to play with the shower settings."
The smile fell from Scribbs' face. "But it's Christmas."
"Those are the rules." Ash turned her back and headed to the bathroom, sure in the knowledge that Scribbs would be only seconds behind her.
But rules or no rules, the Ashurst family Christmas dinner would be served late that year, and for many years to come.
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