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A Country Christmas
"Rise and shine, Scribbs," came an unnaturally cheerful voice from the phone Scribbs had knocked onto the floor. "We've a dead body." Scribbs blinked, several times, as she tried for the phone, where Ash wasstill in entirely too cheerful a tonedescribing in great detail stab wounds and bloody footprints.
Finally Scribbs succeeded in swiping the phone from the floor with only one eye cracked, pulling it close enough to her mouth to say, "Ash." When her partner didn't even pause in her recitation of the gory scene they had been called to, Scribbs tried again. "Ash! Do you know what day it is?"
"Yes, of course. It's Christmas, otherwise known as our on-call holiday this year."
Scribbs rolled over onto her back and groaned at the weak winter sunlight that struck her eyes. "But we aren't supposed to get called in on Christmas."
"Had a bit to drink, did you?" Ash's voice held a hint of teasing mockery.
"I may have had a few glasses of holiday cheer," Scribbs groused. "And I'm supposed to go around my folks this afternoon."
"Well, then, the sooner we get started, the sooner we'll be done."
Scribbs rolled into a sitting position, her hands finding a pair of jeans that weren't too badly wrinkled sitting on the top of a heap of almost dirty clothes. "How can you be so bloody cheerful? Didn't you have plans for the holiday?"
"Not really." Scribbs' silence on the other end prompted Ash to explain. "My brother is going round to his girlfriend's, mum's in France, and my father, well ."
Scribbs' voice was muffled and Ash surmised that she was pulling on a sweater. "You should have said. You can always join the family, you know."
"I wouldn't want to bother."
"It'd be no bother. Mum's always after me to bring you around. She'd be thrilled."
Hearing a mumbled curse as Scribbs knocked into something, Ash asked, "Are you almost ready?"
"Yeah, almost." The sounds of boots on the staircase could be heard. "Where are you? Are you on your way?"
"I'm at the door."
Ash could almost hear Scribbs roll her eyes. "Why didn't you come in, then?"
"What, and walk in on you and whoever you were spreading the holiday cheer with last night?"
Scribbs snapped her phone shut and opened the door. "It was just some mates at the pub."
"Yes, well, how was I to know that?' Ash handed her a tall takeaway coffee. "Come on," she commanded briskly as Scribbs grabbed a scarf and followed Ash out to the car.
Some time later, as the coffee began to take effect, Scribbs opened her eyes and peered blurrily around the snow-filled trees flanking the narrow country road they were on. "Where are we going?"
"To the crime scene."
Scribbs eyed the landscape dubiously before collapsing back down into her seat, a sarcastic comment quite beyond her. "Huh." She managed to rouse herself to get out and view the body, the crime scene living up to the gore that Ash had so lovingly described. But her hopes for a quick view of the body and then back to civilization were dashed as Ash began to follow the faint outline of footprints away from the scene.
Ash could feel Scribbs' pout behind her as they trudged though the snow and leaf-strewn landscape. The sound of her shoes shuffling through the leaves like a disgruntled five-year-old signaled to Ash that the whining was imminent, and she was not disappointed when a moment later, Scribbs' voice sounded behind her. "It's cold."
"Do we have to do this now?"
"I'm sorry if this murder is inconveniencing you. Just imagine how he feels," Ash replied, with a nod of her head up toward the morgue attendants loading the body into the truck. Chastised, Scribbs' whining subsided for a few moments before beginning again.
Ash turned back to look at her partner. "Oh, for heaven's sake." She reached out, grabbed Scribbs' coat, and began doing up the buttons. Ignoring an outraged 'Hey!' she buttoned the coat up all the way to the neck and tied the sash tightly, lecturing all the while. "You know, when closed securely, a coat can work as a barrier against the cold as well as a fashion statement."
"Really? A barrier against the cold? You don't say," Scribbs replied sarcastically.
"It's amazing, really, when you think about it," Ash agreed.
They walked for several more minutes in silence before Scribbs began again. "We're not going to find anything."
"We have to look."
"But it's Christmas."
Ash just sighed and kept walking, secretly wondering if her partner was right as the woods grew murky under rapidly darkening skies. Just as she was about to give up and suggest they turn around, Ash noticed something on the ground.
"Now, see, that wasn't all for nothing."
Scribbs eyed the button dubiously, but she extended a plastic bag for Ash to place the button in. "How do we know it's related to the case?"
"It's sitting on top of the snow," Ash explained, even though she knew the explanation was unnecessary, but when Scribbs was being difficult, sometimes it was better to humor her, "and it snowed last night." Spying something hanging from a branch, she scooted further under the tree and retrieved an ice pick, blood evident on the wood of the handle. "Much better," she said, smugly, waving to Scribbs to produce another evidence bag.
Satisfied she had found everything, Ash began to get up. "Ash!" Scribbs' warning came a moment too late as Ash stood and bumped a low hanging branch. Ash gave an undignified shriek as a shower of wet, heavy snow fell on the back of her neck and soaked her hair. Scrubbing ineffectually at the sludge that trickled under her coat and down her back and contorting in a futile effort to keep the icy water from reaching sensitive areas, Ash shimmied out from under the tree to face her partner, whose efforts to keep from laughing had her near an apoplectic fit.
Ash's eyes narrowed, daring Scribbs to say anything. Scribbs, for her part, was biting down hard on her lip to keep the guffaws at bay in the face of the murderous look in her partner's eyes. "All done, then?" she managed to get out, her innocent tone fooling neither of them.
"I think I found everything," Ash replied evenly. If possible, Ash's tone was even icier than the surrounding snow.
"Are you sure?" Scribbs pointed to a spot under a particularly laden branch. "Maybe you should check under there."
Ash simply glared and stomped away as peals of laughter erupted behind her. Scribbs caught up with Ash after several minutes, her giggles finally under control, and she noticed two things: Ash was standing beside the car and she looked even more angry than she had several minutes before.
"The car won't start."
"It won't start?" Scribbs rounded the car to stare at it incredulously. "What's wrong with it?"
"Do I look like a bloody mechanic?" Scribbs was about to retort, until she took in her still-dripping, obviously miserable colleague, and she thought the better of it. Rummaging in her pockets, she was visibly relieved to see that her cell phone had coverage. She called in to dispatch, only to be told it would be over an hour before a repair truck could be sent. She reported the bad news to her partner before shooing her into the car. "At least it's out of the wind."
Scribbs watched out of the corner of her eye as Ash tried to hide her shivering. She had already offered her scarf to wrap Ash's still damp hair, but she had been haughtily rebuffed, and she hadn't wanted to repeat the experience. But seeing Ash surreptitiously rubbing her hands together when she thought Scribbs wasn't looking prompted Scribbs to action. "Come on then," she said as she climbed between the seats.
"Come on." Scribbs settled herself in the back seat, opened her arms, and looked at Ash expectantly. And even though she had been regretting her rejection of Scribbs' scarf, Ash still found herself protesting. "I'm fine, Scribbs."
"It's called conserving heat." Scribbs held up a finger, cutting off Ash's attempt to protest further. "Either you come back here, or I'll join you up there." Ash had no doubts that Scribbs would indeed do as she was threatening, so rather than have a lapful of her DS, she mutely climbed between the seats and gingerly leaned back, trying to keep some distance between their bodies.
Distance which promptly disappeared as Scribbs wound her arms Ash's waist and pulled her close, making sure to wrap her coat around the chilled brunette. Warm breath tickled Ash's ear, but it felt so heavenly against the skin much abused by the snow and chilled water that she didn't even consider protesting the heavy breathing. Snuggling back, she let Scribbs rub circulation back into her arms.
"Mmmm, much." Some time later, Ash noted, "It's snowing."
Ash smacked Scribbs lightly on the arm as a reminder to not be pert. "It's pretty." Ash sighed and Scribbs was surprised to see a drowsy smile on her lips.
"It's just," she waved her hand to encompass them, the car, the snow outside, "this."
"Yeah, a pretty lousy way to spend Christmas."
"You would think, wouldn't you?" Ash's voice was quiet, and taking on the slurred sound of someone on the edge of sleep. "But after all the misadventures of the day, I'm warm, safe, in your arms, watching the snow fall." Her eyes blinked. "Feels like a perfect Christmas to me."
Scribbs could see Ash fighting to keep her eyes open, watched as they fluttered closed, so she chanced a soft brush of her lips against Ash's temple and whispered, "I love you too."
Some time later, Scribbs realized that the light that seemed to be floating toward her was actually the repair truck off in the distance, so she gently shook awake a lightly snoring Ash. "Rise and shine, Ash."
"We're being rescued."
Ash seemed reluctant to move. "How very rude."
Scribbs chuckled. "Yes, very." She nudged her partner up into a sitting position. "Now I'll go out and greet the rude repair man who drove out here to rescue us on Christmas day, and you stay in here in case we need someone to try to turn the crank."
With some effort, and a lecture on battery maintenance and winterizing, they got the car started and, after promising to get a new battery first thing, they watched as their benefactor reversed down the narrow lane.
Ash walked around to the passenger side, pausing to glance over the car at her partner. "Scribbs?"
"Huh, yeah, Ash?"
"What do you say we adjourn to somewhere a bit more civilized? I've a nice bottle of red I've been saving up for a special occasion back at the flat." She winced as she remembered the day. "I mean, if you'd like, I know you have your family and "
"It's kinda late to drive out there tonight," Scribbs said, mercifully cutting off Ash's rambling.
"Yes, now that you mention it." Ash's sudden smile belied the nonchalance of her words. "It seems we wasted the entire day out here."
"I wouldn't say wasted."
"No, perhaps not." Ash paused, considering. "Oh, and just for the record, you are supposed to wait until I say 'I love you' before you say 'I love you too.'"
Scribbs stared at her for a moment. "Oh," was her articulate response. She thought for a moment, and then asked, "Are you planning to some time soon?"
Ash gave an impish grin before ducking into the car. "Perhaps."
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