DISCLAIMER: Murder in Suburbia and its characters are the property of ITV. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Written for passion_perfect's Save the Fandom challenge, a day late and a pound short.Thanks to zero2aries and ajay3bee for the wonderful prompts. A very special thanks to ralst for battling a nasty cold to beta this one.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

The Games People Play
By Ann


Thick, white liquid sloshed against the sides of a clear glass container, the roundish yellow pieces of cereal inside bobbing up and down, jockeying for position, and then quickly scurrying to the top in an attempt to escape the milk that continued to fill the empty space. Seconds later, a lid was slammed down into place, and with a flick of a switch, a loud whirring sound filled the silence of the room. The blonde winced, the pain in her head exacerbated by the irritating, louder than usual noise, but she maintained her focus and kept a critical eye on the mixture, watching and waiting for the exact moment that signaled that just the right amount of blending had taken place.

Finally, the silver agitator at the bottom of the container came to a complete stop, leaving the contents on their own to settle its chaotic movement; the circular, whirlpool-like motion stopping mere moments after the switch had been flipped into the off position. Not bothering with a proper glass, the impatient woman removed the lid, tossed it haphazardly onto the counter, and drank directly from the blender's glass jar.

"Scribbs, you really need to…" started Ash, smoothing her hands down her trousers as she rounded the corner into the kitchen following a quick trip to Scribbs' toilet. She'd looked up just in time to witness, in her mind, the most barbaric of acts. "That's disgusting." She crinkled her nose and scrunched up every single facial muscle that she owned. "Haven't you heard of a glass?"

"Thhhsss's esssr," mumbled Scribbs around the edge of the jar that contained her infamous Sugar Puff drink. She eased the container from her lips and used the sleeve of her worn chenille robe to wipe her mouth. "Ahhh, I needed that."

"Well, I certainly didn't," complained Ash, her face frozen in an undignified grimace at seeing Scribbs' bad manners reach new heights. She hadn't thought her partner could top drinking directly from the glass jar, but the swipe of her mouth against something other than a proper serviette managed, at the very least, a tie with Scribbs' uncouth drinking method. "And now that your lips aren't attached to the blender's jar like some parched limpet, perhaps you can explain why you chose to forego drinking that horrible concoction of yours from a glass."

Scribbs shrugged, unconcerned that she'd offended the other woman – it was her house after all to do whatever she pleased - and once again lifted the large container to her mouth. "Like I said, this is easier." Tilting her head back, she proceeded to gulp down more of the mixture with several long swallows, much to Ash's displeasure, and as was usually the case, the Emily Post of Middleford decided to voice her rules on proper drinking etiquette.

Opening her mouth to offer up just such a protest, Ash found her words had stuck in her throat as her focus had suddenly shifted from the act of drinking to the actual path of the drink. She stared at Scribbs' exposed neck and tried to trace the liquid from beneath smooth skin that stretched from the edge of her partner's chin to the base of her throat. Unconsciously licking her lips, she allowed her eyes to linger on the silky skin and began to wonder if it was possible to taste the sweet, milky concoction should she just happen to run her tongue along the drink's current path. She visibly shivered at the thought and slammed her eyes closed tightly. What was wrong with her? This was Scribbs she was thinking about accosting with her tongue, not some nameless person she normally admired from afar - and on the rare occasion, up close and personal - and then not think about ever again.

"Ash?" Scribbs had almost finished her traditional pick-me-up breakfast and had placed the blender on the counter, wanting to sneak a peek at Ash before she consumed the rest of her drink. She had worn a huge smile when she'd looked over at her partner, expecting to be further reprimanded, but her smile had vanished when she'd seen the expression that Ash still wore. If she hadn't known better, she'd have assumed Ash was looking at her with interest, a real interest – a let's be more than friends type of interest, but she cast the ridiculous notion aside, explaining it away easily. The combination of a slight hangover and a sudden infusion of way too much sugar were causing her eyes to play tricks on her.

"Huh?" Ash swallowed hard and forced herself to tear her eyes away from Scribbs' inviting neck. It was just too bad her thoughts chose to linger on her speculation of how the other woman's skin would taste. "Um," she stuttered, barely able to meet Scribbs' eyes, but she managed to cover her unease by focusing on the case at hand – the literal case at hand and the reason she'd shown up, uninvited, at her partner's door. "You need to hurry along, Scribbs. Murder doesn't take a holiday just because you decided to get pissed last evening." She bit down on her lower lip to keep a more serious accusation from escaping as an irrational sense of jealousy wouldn't allow her to make mention of a pair of ripped stockings that she'd spied on the floor just outside the bedroom door. Ash didn't need her partner to connect the dots. Scribbs didn't wear stockings.

Unable to stop her expression from morphing into one of displeasure at the mere thought of Scribbs in another's arms, another woman at that – another woman other than herself –she allowed her overactive imagination to run away with her, the torn stockings playing a starring role.

Scribbs could only frown at the rapid change in her partner's demeanor. One minute, Ash had looked at her much in the same way Scribbs always looked at her Sugar Puff drink – as if she couldn't wait to drink it down - and then she'd glared at her with such contempt, it was unsettling. Her feathers sufficiently ruffled, she defended her reason for dallying. "I have to have my breakfast. It's the most important meal of the day. You've said so yourself."

"Meal being the operative word, Scribbs. Your Sugar Puff drink is not a suitable breakfast."

Crossing her arms over her chenille-covered chest, Scribbs tilted her head in question. "And just what did you have for breakfast?"

Hesitating briefly, Ash looked properly chastised but reflexively reacted to deflect the accusation that she'd not eaten a proper breakfast either. "We're not talking about me."

"We're talking about breakfast though. So, what did you have?"

"Coffee," Ash said in a low, soft tone, while trying to distract Scribbs by making a quick show of checking her watch. "We really need to get going."

Scribbs wasn't deterred in the slightest and stood her ground; the victim wasn't going anywhere anytime soon. "So, what makes your drink breakfast and mine unsuitable?"

"I can actually cook," said Ash matter-of-factly, figuring her culinary abilities made her rather poor choice of breakfast acceptable. She gestured toward the nearly empty blender. "Tossing cereal and milk in a blender and pulverizing it into a sickening sweet, non-healthy drink is not cooking."

"And coffee loaded with caffeine and artificial sweetener is a healthy alternative?" Scribbs' voice raised an octave as did her left eyebrow. She was careful to avoid the question of cooking as having the fire brigade show up on her doorstep when she'd attempted to make a bacon sandwich wouldn't exactly help her case, even if the cute, female firefighter she'd met had made the smoky incident worthwhile. The slender brunette had stayed afterward, at Scribbs' request, to demonstrate the proper method of carrying a victim to safety, which – in this particular case – had ended in the safety of Scribbs' bed after the pair had gone out for dinner and drinks. The fact that the other woman had also carried a remarkable resemblance to Ash had been an added bonus.

"Let's debate breakfast in the car; Boss wants us to clear up the crime scene as quickly as possible. Apparently, it's putting a damper on business at one of those new shops over on High Street," said Ash, inordinately pleased that their breakfast debate had put a firm lid on her less than pure thoughts concerning her partner. A good murder scene would go a long way to suppress Ash's sexual tension until she had time to contemplate exactly why she'd been feeling so uptight lately whenever she was in the company of Scribbs, and more recently, whenever she was alone as well.

"No verbal debates. I propose a battle of culinary skills instead," said Scribbs, the bacon sandwich incident and sexy firefighter forgotten in favor of Ash's challenge. "I'll make us both pancakes for tea this evening, and you can come up with something tomorrow. We'll let our cooking abilities decide." Reaching for the blender, she lifted it toward her mouth to finish off the best part – the last few swallows that held the most amount of sugar. "Where's the murder scene anyway?"

"I've never heard of it," said Ash, her earlier grimace returning as she watched the rest of the drink disappear from its container. This time, however, she concentrated on the jar and kept her eyes off any part of Scribbs that had skin. "Sumners… no wait, that's not it. Summers! Yes, Ann Summers is the name of the shop."

A stream of Sugar Puff flavored milk spewed across the kitchen floor.

Ash stood in the middle of the sex shop and stared down at the Valentine's Day specials that had been strategically laid out on a round table decorated with pink and red hearts. From the pavement outside, the specialty shop had looked like all the others on the street with the exception of large pink displays, proclaiming the owner's name, splashed across the window. She hadn't expected to encounter such a wide variety of sex toys before she'd even had a chance to see the murder victim, but her attention had been immediately drawn to the display table and the various toys it held. The pink Rampant Rabbit Wave stood tall and proud with its £10 discount, while the Nooki in the Mood for Love Kit sported its usual price. It seemed new items weren't for sale on the special day for lovers.

"Ash, get a load of this stuff," said Scribbs, pointing at the different items without any signs of hesitation or embarrassment as if she shopped for sex toys everyday. "Hey, this G-Spot gel comes with a G-Spot Find it Guide. Think 'x' marks the spot?" She chuckled and looked up at Ash, surprised to see the other woman staring down at the items with such intensity it was as if she was willing them to change into something less tawdry. "So, no Ann Summers parties at Posh Girls' High?"

"What?" Ash snapped out of her trance – more like deep inner reflection really, as she had always thought it was much more enjoyable finding that particular treasure without a map - and whipped her head around so fast Scribbs wondered how the other woman's hair had stayed in place. "Of course not. It's an all girls' school."

"And your point would be?" asked Scribbs, perfectly content to wait until Ash was ready to go to the back of the shop where the victim's body awaited them. This was going to be one case Scribbs intended to thoroughly enjoy, despite the seriousness of the crime. She picked up a 'how-to' book and briefly wondered if her police status would afford her a further discount of any of the items on display, especially if they managed to clear the crime scene in record time. "'Mind Blowing Orgasms – Part 3.'" Scribbs paused in thought as she thumbed through the surprisingly thick book – complete with graphic demo-type photos splashed across the pages in color with a few black and white prints sprinkled here and there. "You'd think parts 1 and 2 would be enough. Seems kind of greedy, if you ask me."

Ash narrowed her eyes – mostly to block her view of the photo depicting two women engaged in one of the aforementioned orgasms - and glared at her partner, grateful to have something else to concentrate on other than imagining what her own private search of Scribbs' 'x' would be like. This particular murder location couldn't have come at a worse time; she really needed to get a handle on her chaotic feelings for her partner.

"We don't have time for this." Taking the book from Scribbs' hands – without looking, of course - she blindly placed it back on the table. "We've got a murder to investigate." She thrust her hand deep into her pocket and pulled out a pair of latex gloves, tugging them on roughly and snapping them at the wrist. Taking a deep breath, she started for the door that would lead them to the back room. "Shall we?"

"After you," said Scribbs, stifling a chuckle under her breath. She waited until her partner had stepped across the threshold and then followed her inside, the makings of a grin etched deeply in the corners of her mouth. Something was definitely up with Ash, and she set her mind on figuring out exactly what it was.

"Well, this is something you don't see everyday." Ash had stopped just inside the room and tilted her head at different angles. The view didn't change much though; the man was still quite dead, and Ash was one hundred percent certain that his last wish would have been to be found dead in some other position than his current one. She walked closer and tried not to imagine what had taken place prior to his death. Scribbs, on the other hand, was in her usual curious mindset as she began to work out the logistics in her head, but not before she addressed the scene with a spot of humor.

"Cause of death – mad cow disease?" she snickered softly as she allowed her keen sense of observation to take in the scene, her main focus on the victim himself: a man in his mid-to-late forties, strung up – six inches off the floor - by three ropes fastened around his wrists and neck, respectively, and dressed from head to hoof in a cow costume, complete with a set of fake udders, save for the one made of flesh directly in the center of the others, that hung precariously lower than his hips. The more protrusive udder lay limp on top of the lower ones. "Looks like he wasn't able to hold himself up any longer."

"Don't make ill of the dead, Scribbs," scolded Ash, her own mind already having come to the same irreverent conclusion about the more prominent of the udders.

"I wasn't," replied Scribbs, pointing up to the three ropes. "I was referring to his arm strength. The rope around his neck is shorter than the other two." Her eyes strayed to the man's udders. "Although, I'm sure the two are directly related." A voice from the doorway interrupted Scribbs' next words of priceless wisdom, and the two detectives turned around just in time to witness the arrival of the queen of all queens.

"This is horrible, horrible I tell you. I warned Eric time and time again about this kind of behavior at the store. I told him to keep it at home." She wiped away a tear that had welled in her eye.

"So, you're saying this was accidental, Mr…"Ash faltered slightly, "um, Ms…."

"Glorietta, just Glorietta," said the queen, waltzing over to Ash in her four inch heels and gesturing toward the body of her employee but making sure not to actually look at the victim. "And no, it was murder, pure and simple."

"How can you be so sure?" asked Scribbs, not at all intimidated by the sheer height of the queen who easily towered over Ash by at least a foot.

Glorietta sighed dramatically. "Eric never used a neck rope. He hated autoerotic asphyxia…said it was sick." She wiped away a second tear and tsked, "Such a waste."

Ash glanced over at the six foot victim, encased inside a cow costume and hanging from the ceiling, and shifted her gaze to the real-life udder. She suppressed a shiver of revulsion and cursed her luck at drawing this case. "So, you're saying someone forced him into the costume, tied him to the ceiling with the three ropes, and then left him here to die?"

Glorietta shook her head and looked at Ash as if she was simple. "No, I'm saying someone talked Eric into using the third rope, played a game of 'milk the cow,' and then left him here to die."

Try as she may, Ash couldn't stop the look of total and utter, or perhaps udder in this particular instance, disgust from forming on her features. "Milk the cow?"

Glorietta was positively horrified by the detective's tone and expression. She stood to her full height and folded her arms over her artificially enhanced chest. "Don't tell me you haven't played games with your little blonde assistant here," she gestured to Scribbs. "I watched the way the two of you practically drooled over the specials." She flipped her long red hair over her shoulder with an overly exaggerated flick of her wrist. "I bet you make her," again a finger toward Scribbs, "parade around in one of those pipa pink peek-a-boo bras." She looked appreciatively at Scribbs' chest. "I bet she looks good in it, too."

Biting down on a grin, Scribbs stepped in to help a floundering Ash, who appeared every bit as if she was a fish out of water and miles from any shoreline. "Actually, she prefers me in the foxy lady crotchless knickers," she dead-panned, drawing an expression she'd never before seen from Ash. Her partner had turned stark white and her jaw had dropped almost completely out of sight, however, Scribbs kept her focus on Glorietta and concentrated on her reaction instead, noting the corners of the queen's mouth begin to quirk until, finally, she threw her head back and barked out her laughter.

"Nice one, Detective," she said, a full-blown smile lighting up her made-up features. "Let's go into my office, and I'll tell you everything I know, including the name of the murderer. Although," she paused briefly, "now that I think about it, I may be mistaken about premeditation on his part." Looping her arm through Scribbs', she started for the door, leaving a dumbstruck Ash to follow a few moments later, images of Scribbs in a peek-a-boo bra and crotchless knickers causing her to bounce off the room's doorframe.

"Think we should wait inside? Maybe catch him when he signs in?" asked Scribbs, craning her neck around the rearview mirror to see the front of the building she and Ash had parked across the street from, their strategic parking spot affording them an excellent view of the pavement that led up to the building's entrance.

Ash unconsciously rubbed her sore shoulder. "He might notice us loitering in the lobby. Glorietta said he was quite observant."

A ghost of a grin edged Scribbs' lips at Ash's casual mention of the queen. Glorietta had warmed up to Ash mid-way into their interview and found great pleasure in teasing the brunette detective every chance she got. Surprisingly, Ash had allowed it and even seemed to enjoy it after awhile, especially since Glorietta had glossed over the details of how to 'milk the cow' and had jumped right into her theory on who was responsible for her employee's death.

"I think she likes you," said Scribbs, allowing her grin to burst forth.

"Who?" asked Ash, her concentration centered on the front doors of the gym their suspect had been known to frequent. She spared a glance at a photo of John Smythe and then returned her attention back to the surrounding area. If Glorietta had been correct in her assumption, and Ash had no doubt that she had been, the weekly round of fun and games between Smythe and the victim had turned deadly by accident and not because Smythe had fallen back into his habit of what Glorietta had referred to as 'rough housing.' Ash hadn't asked the queen to elaborate on the term as she could fill in her own blanks to a certain extent and actually feared Glorietta's explanation would be much more graphic than she cared to hear.

"Glorietta." Scribbs' grin grew. "By the way, what was in that bag she gave you?"

Ash's complexion turned a nice shade of rosy. "She was just cooperating, Scribbs. She wanted to help catch a killer." She purposely ignored the question of the bag, which was easy to do since she honestly had no idea what the queen had given her. She'd planned to wait until she was in the privacy of her own home before checking inside. Of course, she fully intended to return the items as it wouldn't be proper to accept gifts of any kind.

"Yes, that's true, but you have to admit, she definitely took a shine to you." Scribbs turned to see if Ash's cheeks had reached a scarlet red tint yet when a movement caught her eye. Glorietta and the mystery bag temporarily forgotten, she looked past her partner and spotted the suspect walking along the pavement next to their car. "There, Ash." She pointed toward the man and was surprised to see him looking directly at her. Glorietta had been right, Smythe was very observant. The suspect held eye contact with Scribbs for mere seconds and then took off down the street. "Bloody hell, he's on the run!" Scribbs reached for her door handle and shot out of the car before Ash could as much as blink.

Reflexes alone had Ash climbing from the car and joining in on the chase, her thigh muscles burning after the first few hundred yards. She watched, frustrated, as the suspect turned the next corner, but a smile lit her face when she spotted an alley to her right. Ducking inside, she ignored her leg discomfort and sprinted toward the end of the narrow pathway, grabbing a bin cover when she reached the other side. She braced herself against the wall and extended the cover outward. Smythe, who'd just looked over his shoulder to check on Scribbs' progress, never saw the object in his path as both he and Ash took a hard tumble on the pavement.

"You sure you don't need to take a few days, Ash?" asked Sullivan, a look of grave concern etched on his features. His DI looked positively miserable in the bright white sling that held her right arm close to her body.

"I'm fine, really; it's just a slight dislocation." Ash adjusted the strap that had begun to dig into the sensitive skin around her neck and just above her collarbone. "It was really stupid of me to try that stunt." Before Sullivan could offer any type of reassurance that at least Ash had caught the suspect, Scribbs came bounding into the room, wearing a huge smile.

"You should've seen her, Boss. It was amazing, swooping out of that alley like some kind of superhero." She stepped next to a seated Ash and leaned her hip against the other woman's desk, reaching out and straightening the strap Ash was still fiddling with. "The guy never knew what hit him."

Sullivan watched Scribbs gently lift Ash's collar to slip the strap underneath, straighten the collar back into its original position, and rub the injured woman gently on the arm. His surprise came not from the coddling Scribbs had shown Ash, but from the way Ash had sat back quietly and allowed it. He did, however, note his DI's slight shiver when Scribbs had let her hand linger on Ash's arm, and he suddenly felt like a third wheel.

"Yes, well, good work for not only apprehending the suspect so quickly, but for procuring a confession from him as well."

"Thanks, Boss," said Scribbs, her hand easing up to rest on Ash's shoulder. "I wasn't expecting him to burst into tears like that though."

Ash remained silent, struggling to keep a hold on her emotions. She could feel the heat of Scribbs' touch through her blouse, its warmth spreading rapidly throughout her body, and she wondered if she would spontaneously combust should Scribbs ever touch her more intimately. Just as she readied to join in on the conversation, a familiar voice called out from the doorway.

"I got here as soon as I heard." Glorietta had changed into a one-piece leopard skin outfit, complete with furry boots and held, in her gloved hand, material that appeared to have been shorn from her footwear. "This should help with any chafing." She smoothed out the fuzzy material and started across the room, her path on a direct course for Ash.

No longer concerned with how touching or being touched by Scribbs would doom her to a fiery death, Ash leaned against her partner, practically burrowing into the other woman's leg and side. She didn't even mind the slight twinge in her shoulder at the action, the pain worth the gain of her silent request for Scribbs to do something – anything – to stop whatever Glorietta intended. Scribbs, being the ever perceptive detective that she was, changed her touch to more of a protective one and eased forward to intercept the fast-moving queen, her immediate plan one of distraction.

"How did you find out so quickly?"

Glorietta grinned. "I have my sources." She spared a quick glance at Sullivan and then winked at Scribbs. "A girl can't tell all her secrets."

Scribbs was fairly certain that Glorietta had many, many secrets, but she opted for more distraction, instead of trying to pry any information from her. "You were right about Smythe being involved in Eric's death and about it being accidental, too."

"Told ya," said the queen, stopping inches from Scribbs and extending the furry material for the detective to take. "Here, this is the same material used in our fur-lined handcuffs. You can line Ms. Stud's shoulder strap or," she paused dramatically, "you can line your own cuffs with it." She offered a teasing wink to go along with her words.

Scribbs took the material and studied it critically. It was very soft and would definitely prevent chafing of any kind, and she wondered if it would be possible for it to serve two purposes. She eyed Ash's strap, while mentally picturing her own set of handcuffs. If she could figure a way to line the strap without making any cuts to the material, she could find a more creative use for it later. Now, if she could just talk Ash into participating in both endeavors, life would be perfect, or if not, it would certainly be a hell of a lot more enjoyable.

Glorietta stood back and watched the two detectives with a knowing grin. Ash looked as if she wanted to hide under the desk, while Scribbs appeared to be working out the best use for the newly obtained fur. Her job done, the queen readied to make her departure. "I'll just leave the two of you to work out the logistics." Turning on her high heel, she started toward the door, stopping suddenly as if she'd just remembered something. "Oh, and Jeremy," she said, pausing long enough for the two female detective's eyebrows to successfully reach their hairlines. "Cousin Jackie said to thank you for the quick resolution of this most unfortunate event." With a flirting wink, she waltzed from the room, a soft chuckle following in her wake.

His face changing from its usual healthy-looking tint to a pasty white in zero point two five seconds, Sullivan looked around nervously for an escape as a deep scarlet tint infused color back into his cheeks – a color Glorietta would have been jealous of as she'd been searching for that exact shade of blush for weeks.

"Yes, well, good work you two." Avoiding eye contact with Ash and Scribbs, Sullivan glanced over his shoulder and took a giant step backward, and then another. "Take tomorrow off and take care of yourself, Ash." He chanced a quick glance at his detectives and immediately spied the mirth in Scribbs' eyes. "You, too, Scribbs. I'll assign Collins and White to take your shift." His long backward strides successfully taking him to the edge of the door, he readied for his escape. "Have a good evening, then." With a curt nod, he turned and hurried for the stairs that would take him to the safety of his office.

"Cousin Jackie?" asked Scribbs as soon as she was certain her boss was out of earshot. "Jacqueline Gold, the CEO? Is Sullivan cousin to her or is Glorietta? And how did Glorietta know the boss' name?"

The pain in Ash's head began to rival the one in her shoulder, the thought of Glorietta knowing her boss in any way was just too much.

"Take me home, Scribbs."

Ash plopped down on her sofa and gently cradled her arm against her chest, her head lolling against the soft padded surface of the couch. "You don't have to stay, Scribbs; I'll be just fine." She'd already had this discussion in the car, but Scribbs had insisted on accompanying her to her flat. Now that she was safely tucked inside, Ash hoped the other woman would leave her in peace as her adrenaline was wearing off very quickly.

"Nope, I promised to make you pancakes," said Scribbs, closing the door and turning the lock. "Let me just go check your supplies." She placed a bright pink bag, complete with matching pink handles, on the cushion next to Ash and disappeared into the kitchen.

Ash slowly rotated a green eye toward the bag, a second following closely behind, with a quarter rotation of her head completing the subtle move. She stared down at the shiny bag and then at the kitchen door to check on Scribbs, who was far too busy banging pots and pans together to pay any attention to her injured partner. Turning her focus back onto the bag, Ash began to worry at her lip as her curiosity neared its saturation point.

Seconds later, she innocently tipped the bag onto its side and allowed a few contents to slip onto the sofa cushions. A tube of white chocolate body paint rolled toward her and stopped, label-side up, next to her leg, the analytical part of her brain already playing through its many possible uses, most of which pretty much assuring that her 'no stray limbs' rule would be rendered ineffective should Scribbs' body be the one wearing the chocolate coating. In fact, she was certain the wording of one of her most important rules would need to be altered to include the necessity for intertwining limbs in such an instance.

"Ash!" yelled Scribbs, her cry muffled by the fact that her head was inside the fridge. "Where's the butter?"

Starting at the unexpected shout, Ash quickly scooped the items back into the bag with her one free hand and winced at the pain that shot through her shoulder at the jerky movement. "In the door!" She righted the bag and scooted further away, closing her eyes and trying to pretend that she hadn't just painted every square inch of Scribbs with chocolate in her mind's eye.

"It's not there," replied Scribbs, sliding items around on the shelves in search of the elusive butter. "Are you sure you didn't use the last of it?"

The only thing Ash was sure of was that she now had an overwhelming craving for white chocolate and eating it directly from the tube simply wouldn't do. "I must be out," she stated the obvious, screwing her eyes shut tightly in an attempt to remove the image of white chocolate nipples, jutting out from their perfectly placed cut-outs in the peek-a-boo bra Glorietta had spoken of earlier in the day.

"You need to eat."

Scribbs' voice sounded much closer than before, but Ash just assumed her hearing had somehow been affected by the erotic images of a chocolate-covered Scribbs. "I'm not hungry," she said, which was a lie, as she was definitely hungry, just not for the type of nourishment Scribbs had in mind. A soft touch eased stray hairs from her forehead, and Ash reflexively opened her eyes, finding Scribbs' dark ones peering into hers, concern and something else – something Ash couldn't put a name to – lurking in their depths.

"Are you in pain?" Scribbs had abandoned her search for the butter and closed the fridge when she'd asked Ash if she'd forgotten that she'd used up all of the necessary ingredient. She'd returned to find Ash looking as if she was in extreme pain and had instantly rushed to her side.

Ash's mouth suddenly felt like the Sahara, and she licked her dry lips, desperately seeking moisture. It didn't escape her notice that Scribbs' eyes tracked to her lips, following the path of her tongue with more than just a passing interest.

"Why don't I go out for take-away? We can do the culinary challenge later," said Scribbs, her fingers still playing with the ends of Ash's hair. She'd taken her partner's lack of reply as a sign that the other woman was indeed in pain. Ash would never come right out and acknowledge weakness, so her silence was the next best thing. Or so, Scribbs had thought. Ash's next move was totally unexpected.

The softness of Scribbs' touch, her deep concern, and her nearness were Ash's undoing. All thoughts of right or wrong, possible consequences, and her ever-present need for decorum flew out the window. For the first time in her life, she threw caution to the wind and took what she wanted as she closed the narrow distance between the two of them and pressed her lips to Scribbs. She ignored the throbbing pain that had worked its way down her arm and deepened the kiss, her tongue finding the oasis it sought. She cast away that one stubborn doubt that had clung to her and greedily drank in the sweetness she'd been craving.

Scribbs couldn't believe it. Ash was kissing her, really kissing her, for real and not in her dreams. She was awake and Ash was awake; they were sitting on Ash's couch, and Ash had initiated the kiss, a scenario she'd never before imagined – the bit about Ash being the one to kiss her first, that is. She'd already imagined every possible location for their first kiss and subsequent lovemaking, but just as the question of what would follow this real-life kiss had formed in her mind, Ash released her lips and slowly pulled away. Scribbs sighed and opened her eyes, prepared to hear a heartfelt, but nervous apology from the other woman and how it had been a mistake that she'd never again repeat.

"How come you never told me you could kiss like that?"

'Okay,' thought Scribbs, 'so, the apology won't come right away.' She inched back and smiled. She could play this pretend it didn't happen game. "We've discussed kissing before."

"Yes, but not from your end. We've always talked about how awful our dates' kisses were," explained Ash matter-of-factly, as if she hadn't just thoroughly explored every square inch of Scribbs' mouth with her tongue.

"I've told you I was a good kisser," said Scribbs, not actually remembering saying the words, but she figured that she had to have mentioned it at one time or another, especially given some of their more personal topics of conversation.

"No, you haven't." Ash would've remembered that particular statement as it would have further fueled her dreams and aspirations of kissing her partner. Perhaps had she known, she would have kissed Scribbs sooner, and they'd already be a couple. "Haven't you wondered about me?"

"What?" Scribbs was becoming more confused by the second. Ash had kissed her passionately, with no question as to her intention, and now she wanted to talk about kissing in general? Granted, it was their kissing abilities they were discussing, but Scribbs really wanted to move on to the discussion of kissing each other.

"My kissing? Haven't you ever wondered what it would be like to kiss me?" Ash seemed stuck on the question.

"I've seen you kiss someone, Ash, up close and personal, twice. I knew you'd be a good kisser." Scribbs didn't bother revealing that she'd had to go home and take a cold shower after witnessing the tongue-kiss Ash had given Sullivan. She'd often wondered what kind of distraction Ash would've come up with had it been the two of them on stake-out instead of Ash and their boss.

"So?" asked Ash, expectantly.

"So, what?"

"Am I?"

"Are you what….oh!" Scribbs was finally catching on. She smiled. "Yes, Ash, you're a very good kisser."

A slight grin eased its way onto Ash's face. "Want to try again, just to be sure?"

"Yes, well, I guess we should be sure," teased Scribbs, scooting closer and carefully putting her arm around the other woman, drawing her near. "Once is definitely not enough to draw a suitable conclusion."

"I've heard, statistically speaking, the more samples, the better the results," said Ash, inching nearer to yet another sample. If she had her way, their results would be backed by twice as many trials than were necessary to obtain a solid, reasonable conclusion.

Tired of just discussing the hypotheses, Scribbs chose not to reply but showed her agreement to Ash's proposed experiment by pouring herself into their second trial run, gladly sacrificing herself to prove their theories. A low moan from Ash was all the proof she needed that her own kissing ability was well above average, but she wasn't about to forsake multiple kissing trials just in case her thinking had been erroneous. Clearing her mind, she concentrated on giving as good as she was getting.

Beside the two women, the bag went unnoticed, forgotten in favor of intimate kissing. There wasn't a single toy, book, video, or accessory inside the Ann Summers bag that could come anywhere near creating the sensations Ash and Scribbs were currently experiencing. Sometimes games were just games.

The End

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