DISCLAIMER: Murder in Suburbia and its characters are the property of ITV. No infringement intended.
CHALLENGE: Written for the Dead of Winter ficathon.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
It started innocently enough. Just another crush on a superior officer, I thought. A passing infatuation with someone very different from me. It's happened before and I braced herself for the inevitable realisation that it would never work and the accompanying increase in chocolate consumption. It wouldn't last long.
Or so I'd thought. But then, my previous experiences with workplace crushes didn't involved Kate Ashurst, did they? This is an altogether different beast.
Even before meeting Ash, I'd been prepared to be intimidated. An alumnus of Lady Hoity-Toity's School for Posh Gits and armed with a degree in somethingology that, to me at least, didn't seem particularly applicable to police work. I know the sort and I was expecting some stuck-up princess who would look down her nose at everything and everyone. And I wasn't completely wrong on those assumptions.
However, I hadn't really factored in the possibility of her also being completely gorgeous. I'd pictured a more horsey-faced, no-chin sort of a girl. Like a younger Princess Anne type. Bloody hell, could I have been more wrong?
The first thing I noticed about Ash was her hair. Which is possibly because she was sitting with her back to me at the time. But anyway, she had it up in some complicated twisty thing at the back, but it didn't hide the fact that she had long, lustrous dark locks that I immediately had the compulsion to bury my nose in. I didn't do it. I thought that inhaling her shampoo scent right off the bat might create the wrong first impression and lead to weirdness in our working relationship. Then she turned around and pinned me with her big, bright, inquisitive eyes and I was gone. Totally and utterly lost.
So, the physical thing was pretty much immediate. I fancied the knickers off her, there's no denying it. And as I got to know her, I discovered that the attractive exterior housed an equally enticing interior. Ash is funny, sweet, neurotic, crap with men, friendly and incredibly sarcastic. Pretty much all I look for in a prospective partner.
Some little part of my brain occasionally tells me that I shouldn't really like Ash at all.
Ash is a regulated person. In that she has actual rules about things like men, dating and fun. Personally, I have very few rules and don't always pay that much attention to other people's rules either. But I found myself very quickly learning Ash's rules and adhering to them. And regurgitating them when asked to.
Ash is a tidy person. I usually wait until I can't get the bedroom door open for clothes and towels before I realise that maybe a quick tidy-up is required.
Ash is a morning person. I can get to work for nine. Usually. But anything before that is out of bounds. The first time Ash knocked on my door at 7am I had very unkind thoughts about killing her all the way from the bedroom to the front door. Then I opened it and she breezed in all excited about some clue that she'd figured out and I forgot to be pissed off with her. Especially when she scrunched her nose up when she told me a certain detail. She could be reading me a warrant for my immediate execution, as long as she did it with her nose scrunched up I wouldn't give a toss.
Ash is a posh person. Not that I'm a peasant or anything. But I'm not quite in the upper echelons of society either. And I'm nobody's bit of rough. With Ash, though, I don't feel like I'm beneath her. I joke about her being posh but she never makes me feel like I'm less than her. Even though I am. Both in class and in rank. And anyway, being beneath Ash isn't a completely unpleasant thought. There are plenty of ways of being beneath her that I've imagined. She'd so roll her eyes at that.
Ash is a straight person. I think. Now, this one causes me the most problems. And it's this that the annoying little bit of my brain seems to want to scream quite often and very loudly. She's never expressed an interest in anything other than men. And she seems to have this strange thing going on with Sullivan. Not going on, going on, but she claims to fancy him. Thank God he's either gay or stupid because he doesn't seem to be interested in her. And those are the only two reasons I could understand for that to be the case.
So, obviously the crush hasn't gone away. It's gotten worse. And I've been flirting. What's really strange is that I think she's been flirting back. Sort of. In a repressed, middle-class sort of way. In that she doesn't actually flirt but she doesn't like when I go out with blokes and she touches me a lot without realising it. Of course, I am hyper-aware of the touching and it seems to be on the increase.
I've dropped hints. Some subtle. Some not so subtle. She hasn't responded overtly. But there's definitely something between us. I wouldn't exactly call it sexual tension. Cuz I always associate sexual tension with discomfort. Like it's hard and awkward to be around someone. It's not like that with Ash. I want to be around her. I like being around her. I feel like I'm meant to be around her. But there's definitely something. It's like the air is charged with electric particles or something.
Anyway, I'm going to grab the nettle by both horns or whatever and come right out and say this to her. Partly in the hope that she does feel the same way, partly just to get it out of my system. I'm not used to keeping things hidden and it's really killing me. Every time I'm with her I'm worried that I'll blurt out some inadvertent confession of love. And that could prove problematic if it happened during an interrogation, or at a crime scene. So it's best to get it out in the open at some planned time and place. Jesus, I'm beginning to sound like her now.
The pub seemed like a good idea beforehand. Neutral territory and alcohol literally on tap. As I down my fourth vodka in twenty minutes I'm beginning to wonder if this was the best way to go. She's still nursing her first and is looking at me with that slightly disapproving look that she wears from time to time. Actually, she wears it quite often.
"You going for a world record? Sober to pissed in thirty minutes?"
I look into my empty glass and fight the urge to run to the bar. Instead I avoid her eyes and shrug.
"Something like that."
"It's not nothing. It's mid-week and you've coaxed me into a pub and now you're drinking vodka like it's going out of fashion. Something's definitely up."
She reaches over and places her hand over mine. See? Touching. I look up into her eyes and I'm right back there on that first day, lost, gone, puddle of mush on the floor.
Deep breath, oxygen in lieu of more alcohol.
"We talk about men a lot, don't we?"
She takes her hand away and lifts her glass. Men do drive women to drink, it seems.
"Well, with all the action I've been getting lately, talking's about as close as I get to it. And generally you talk and I listen. Vicarious sex-life so to speak."
This isn't the first time she's implied that I'm a slut and I know she doesn't actually mean anything by it.
"Right. But I'm thinking less of the sex and more of the gender."
Her brow crinkles. Which is almost as adorable as the nose scrunch. But not quite.
"You've lost me."
And she's supposed to be the brainy one.
"Well we talk about men and going out with men but sometimes I think about gir- I mean women and going out with women."
She looks shocked. But in that kind of way where she's trying to look like she's not shocked. So I carry on.
"And l had wanted to bring this up for ages because lately there's this woman that I've been well there's this amazing woman and she there's this thing between us tension no, not tension what's it called biolo- no, chemistry!"
See, I knew the vodka was going to cause problems.
"And, well I think she might feel the same way "
Stop being so fucking trite and just tell her! But she's getting up. And she's taking her coat.
"I'm sorry I can't I can't hear this I can't handle this I have to go."
And she's gone. Shit. Those words just caused real physical pain. What's that old saying? "Words are like weapons, they wound sometimes." Actually, that might be a Cher song. But it's so true. I just got stabbed in the heart one two three bugger it, loads of times!
I didn't expect that reaction. I didn't expect her to launch herself into my arms and beg me to ravish her right there on the table either of course. She almost definitely has rules about public displays of affection. I should probably know them. But I didn't think she'd walk out.
Professionally, I have just shot myself in the foot. I actually did that once at training college. And it wasn't as bloody painful as hearing those words come out of Ash's mouth.
The one tiny bright spot in this whole situation is that I am in a pub, and from where I am sitting I can see at least three bottles of vodka. That'll do for starters. Oblivion here I come.
Oblivion appears to have a doorbell that sounds a lot like mine. And it's lighter than I thought it would be. Oblivion always struck me as a dark place. Cold and dark and without doorbells. Doorbells which keep on ringing even though people are trying to die quietly from the sledgehammer blows being dealt to their skulls at regular intervals.
I crack open one eye.
Bugger. Obviously I am not in oblivion. I am in my living room. How I got here is anybody's guess. I hope it was nothing to do with that ugly bloke who was chatting me up in the pub. The light is on and it's still dark outside.
Three short raps on the window cause me to nearly fall off the couch with fright. I tilt my head back to see if it's the ugly bloke. Or someone else come back to rape and murder me (how embarrassing, a murder detective found murdered, I'd never live it down).
But it's not. It's Ash. And now I'm wishing it was the ugly bloke. Or the murderer. Or both. She gestures towards the front door and then disappears. If I lie here she'll just come back to the window. I suppose I could go out the back door without her noticing, walk to the train station and post my resignation letter from France tomorrow.
She blasts the doorbell again. Time to face the music and dance.
Standing is quite problematic. My head seems to be weighed down. Probably full of vodka and scampi fries. And the hallway is rocking, which doesn't help matters. It's a miracle I make it to the door at all.
I open it to be greeted by a very unamused Ash.
"About bloody time! I've been ringing you all night but your phone's switched off. So I came over to see you passed out on the couch. I did think you might be dead until I realised I could hear you snoring through the double glazing. Then I stand on your doorstep in the middle of the night ringing the bloody doorbell for half an hour."
She storms past me and I catch an apology before it slips out of my mouth. After all, she's the one who trampled all over my whole life earlier resulting, in my current state. I'm not going to apologise just because she had to stand in the cold for a little while.
I traipse after her into the living room and collapse back onto the couch. She remains standing. I close my eyes.
"Please excuse me while I die. Make yourself a cup of tea if you want."
"I want to talk about earlier."
"I've put a lot of work into killing the braincells that remember anything after five o'clock this evening and I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't remind me."
"I want to I need to apologise for what I said. And for leaving. That was inexcusable. I'm sorry."
I allow my eyes to drift open. She has her arms crossed over her stomach and she's looking at the ground. What am I supposed to say here?
"I mean, there you were, trying to tell me something important, that you needed my support for and I allowed my own feelings and petty jealousy to get in the way of being a friend. Sorry."
She does seem genuinely upset about it.
"That's OK you were surprised and y- wait jealousy?"
She raises her eyes to the ceiling.
"I planned on never telling you this. But I have certain feelings for you. And hearing that you had found some other woman that you sound like you really care for was more of a blow than I thought it would be and I just couldn't stand to hear any more details about her right then. I just had to get out and clear my head. So you understand that it wasn't any kind of judgement of you or anything like that. Which I realise it must've seemed like and again, I'm sorry."
I can't believe I'm hearing this. I think my mouth is hanging open but I can't really feel my body at all so I can't be sure. She comes to sit beside me on the couch.
"But I'm ready now. So tell me all about her."
I close my eyes and shake my head slowly. But that hurts so I stop. I turn to face her. She's wearing her 'I so don't want to hear this but I'm repressed and proper so I'll listen and have a breakdown later' smile. If I didn't feel like death warmed up I would milk this opportunity for all it's worth. As it is I'm still going to have a little fun with it.
"OK well where do I start? She has dark hair and amazing eyes, she's sexy without trying to be, you know?"
She nods. There's a vein pulsing steadily in her forehead.
"She's successful, a little bit older than me. It makes me smile just thinking about her and she makes me laugh all the time."
The vein is becoming more prominent. The smile is still firmly in place though.
"And she is the thickest Detective Inspector I have ever had the pleasure to work for."
One second two three penny drops. Her eyebrows go up and her mouth drops open.
She stands up and starts pacing. It makes me feel a little dizzy.
"So earlier in the pub when you were saying you thought this woman felt the same way about you you were talking about me?"
"So you thought I fancied you?"
"So why didn't you say something?"
I want to hit her.
"I bloody was trying to say something before you practically ran out of the place screaming. Leading me to believe that I had been wrong in my assumptions."
"But why didn't you say anything before."
"Because I was working up to it. Why weren't you ever going to tell me?"
"Because I didn't think you fancied me."
How this woman got to be a DI is beyond me at times.
"Jesus Christ, I was practically throwing myself at you!"
She comes back and drops down onto the couch.
"I can't believe this."
"You're telling me."
We sit in companionable silence for a bit. Then she breaks it.
"So what do we do now?"
I hadn't really thought that far ahead. Mostly because I thought she would take charge and tell me what we were going to do next if it ever got to that stage.
"Uh I suppose we just play it by ear?"
She looks positively horror-stricken by that suggestion so I hurry on.
"I mean, I think we should call it a night now and start fresh in the morning."
She nods. That'll probably give her time to go home and consult her 'How to be a lesbian' handbook. She stands up and I do likewise, feeling strangely lighter than I did the last time.
She turns to face me.
"Should we I mean we probably shouldn't kiss."
My hand flies to my mouth. My tongue has a distinct sandpapery quality to it and it doesn't taste like a garden of roses. I shake my head.
"I'm not kissing you when I'm hungover. Or still drunk. I'm not sure which."
"Probably both, it's four in the morning."
I nod. A hand still over my mouth, lest my deadly breath make her change her mind about the whole thing. She turns and heads for the door, I follow at a safe distance.
She opens the door and stops, unsure of what to say. But I have a question anyway.
"Ash could I smell your hair?"
"Your hair. I've always wanted to see how it smells."
This possibly wasn't the best thing to ask right at this very moment. Her lip quirks up at the side and she shakes her head.
"You are very weird, you do know that right?"
Then she reaches up and pulls out her hair clip, shaking her hair loose like in those films where the mousy librarian takes off her glasses and takes down her hair and suddenly she's a sex-pot. Only Ash has always been a sex-pot. I'm just standing staring at her like a right idiot, feeling a bit strange for asking this.
She takes a step towards me.
"C'mere then, weirdo."
And then I'm in her arms. My hands slide onto her hips and around to her back. I turn my face into her neck and inhale.
She smells like home.
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