DISCLAIMER: Murder in Suburbia and its characters are the property of ITV. No copyright infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is a prequel to my story Shift.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
"Don't get all uptight when I say this, Ash, but... come to bed."
Ash stopped pacing and looked at Scribbs, snugly tucked under the floral-patterned blankets, the picture of comfort and relaxation. As if she spent the night at retirement homes all the time, as if she thought nothing of sleeping in a strange bed with a colleague. It boggled Ash's mind. But what was more unsettling was the ever-so-slight hint of glee in the blonde's eyes.
There was no more putting it off. Ash took a deep breath and began to shed her bathrobe.
"Do you think Zenith and Ellie are a couple?"
Typical, Ash thought. When I'm brainstorming about the case it's "shut up and come to bed" but when she wants to talk...
"If she practices what she preaches they will be." She laid her robe at the foot of the bed. "Um, I can't sleep on that side."
Scribbs looked over at the empty side, and for a second Ash thought she was going to put up a fight -- not an altogether unappealing prospect. But then she shifted over without complaint, allowing Ash to slide under the covers on the familiar side. The springs creaked a little. Just like home, Ash thought somewhat sourly.
"Maybe that's why she gave us the double bed. Good gaydar." Scribbs grinned.
"Maybe she overheard that gossip Gallimore," Ash muttered. "Okay, these are the rules."
Scribbs blinked up at her from her pillow.
Ash used her right hand to sketch an invisible line between their bodies. "This is my side of the bed. So no diagonal sleeping, no heavy breathing in this direction, and absolutely no stray limbs."
As she wriggled down into a reclined position, she caught Scribbs's expression, something akin to dismay. Her tone was an exact match when she spoke. "Do you do this with everyone you sleep with?"
"No. I usually have earplugs."
She reached out to switch off the lamp on her side, and a moment later Scribbs did the same. Ash waited for her eyes to adjust to the darkness, hyperaware of the warm body less than a foot away. It was just as Ash had feared. Her mind immediately started listing all the reasons why this sleeping arrangement was not going to work, all the things that were out of place or just too distracting. Even if Scribbs did respect her wishes and keep a safe distance.
"You do not," Scribbs said.
"I beg your pardon?"
"I don't buy it for a second. Earplugs. Come on."
Ash exhaled sharply through her nose. "Buy whatever you want. I'd like to get some rest."
In her peripheral vision she could see Scribbs's face turn toward her. "And? What? You won't be able to sleep if I get too close?"
Ash couldn't see the teasing smile but she could hear it in her voice.
"You're already pretty bloody close," she murmured, keeping her eyes trained on the ceiling.
"Is there some reason why that bothers you? You've never complained before."
"We've never slept in the same bed before."
"That's true." Scribbs was quiet for a few heartbeats. "Not exactly how I pictured it, either. What about you?"
"What about me, what?"
"Did you ever picture it being like this? On a case, I mean. In an old folks' home, of all places."
No, of course not, was what she thought, but she didn't say it. She was too busy wondering what Scribbs had pictured, while simultaneously dealing the sound of a hundred and one alarm bells going off in her head.
"Oh, don't pretend you've never thought about it. You don't fool me, Ash." A hint of reproach crept into Scribbs's voice. "Bringing out the rules again -- that stopped working on me ages ago, you know."
There was something very vexing about her partner knowing her so well. Also something very, very nice. But at the moment Ash was more inclined to focus on the negative. "Congratulations on becoming so incredibly wise."
"Your back's just up because of the kiss, and the tape, and all the talk at the station."
Ash turned her head to face Scribbs. "Sullivan sat in on my interview with Cindy today. He never comes into interviews."
There was just enough moonlight to make out Scribbs's frown. "So?"
"I think he's worried about my ability to handle the case. He doubts my competence."
"Because of last night?"
"Think about it, Scribbs. Our behaviour was -- was unprofessional and inappropriate. It could have serious consequences for our careers."
The blonde turned on her side, planting her left elbow on her pillow and propping her head on her palm. "Don't you think he would have said something to us already if he thought it was a problem?"
Ash shook her head. "You know how he is. Too uncomfortable with that sort of thing. Probably worried we'd cry discrimination. Or just that we'd cry."
"He congratulated us on our quick thinking. He gets what happened, Ash. Give him some credit."
Ash shook her head again. In her mind's eye she replayed Gallimore's wink-wink, nudge-nudge antics earlier that day, then Sonny from Traffic leering at them through the car window later. By Scribbs's own admission, the entire station was gossiping about the previous night. That just didn't add up to anything good in Ash's book. She rolled away from Scribbs, curling up on her left side.
There was silence for a moment. Ash stared at the outline of the nightstand and listened to the sound of Scribbs's breathing, barely audible. When the blonde spoke again, there was a raw quality to her voice that Ash had never heard before.
"If you're really that worried... then I'm sorry."
"For what?" Ash asked.
"For kissing you. I didn't mean to cause you any trouble. I did it to keep our cover -- plain and simple."
Ash closed her eyes. "I know."
"But... I have to be honest." Scribbs took a breath. "I wouldn't have thought of it with Macy or Diaz or Sullivan. I've just been dying to kiss you for so long that... I hardly ever stop thinking about it."
Another wave of conflicting emotions rolled over Ash at the frank admission. She wanted Scribbs to stop, to be quiet and go to sleep. Jokes and teasing were one thing, but this was too much. Yet at the same time, there was something thrilling about Scribbs laying it out like that, her real feelings stripped of all the usual playfulness and affectation.
A rustling sound and a slight shift of the blankets told her Scribbs had dropped her head back to the pillow.
"Sooner or later. That's what I've been telling myself for months, you know -- sooner or later. Be patient, wait it out. Should've realized that sooner or later I'd be messing it all up. Undoing all the progress we've made it one impulsive move."
The self-deprecating words made Ash's throat tighten. "Scribbs... You haven't. You haven't messed anything up."
"You won't even look at me."
"I'm just..." She hated the roughness of her own voice. "I can't..."
"I never meant to push too hard, Ash. I swear."
She felt Scribbs's hand come to her shoulder, squeezing gently, her thumb rubbing back and forth. She brought her own left hand up to cover it, not to still it or remove it but to acknowledge it.
"You haven't," she said again. "Please don't apologize for..." Loving me. Wanting me. The words refused to pass her lips. It's me who should apologize. Me who's failed you. I'd explain it if I could -- if I understood myself why I can't just let it happen.
She lifted Scribbs's hand off her shoulder, moving quickly so the blonde wouldn't think she was casting her off, and brought it down to her side, where she let go with her left and covered it with her right. Their fingers interlaced against her rib cage. Scribbs shifted a little closer in reflex, the bedsprings and the increase in body heat telling Ash what she couldn't see.
"Ash... you're trembling." Wonder warred with concern in the hushed whisper.
Wordlessly, Ash nodded. She pushed herself backwards a little, edging closer so that she could pull their joined hands to a more comfortable position against her sternum. Scribbs's knees brushed the backs of Ash's thighs. Her chest brushed Ash's back. Her next breath warmed the back of Ash's neck. Ash herself could barely breathe, the pressure in her chest incredible.
Don't let go, she wanted to say, but she couldn't.
Scribbs didn't think she'd fallen asleep, but suddenly she was alone in the bed. She knew it without opening her eyes and before she even reached out to the empty space where Ash had been.
"Ash." She pushed up onto her elbows, looking around the room but seeing no one. "Ash?"
Silence. She got out of bed, noting that Ash's bathrobe was gone from its resting place. Ash had obviously not been snatched away by JJ's killer or the boogeyman or some other bad guy. The brunette must have taken care not to wake Scribbs when she left, which meant there was no cause for alarm, but the blonde couldn't help becoming a little anxious. Ash had been so unsettled, almost in tears, and now she'd left while Scribbs was sleeping.
She put on her own bathrobe and went in search.
The corridors of Birch Grove were half-lit; every other wall sconce she passed was on. There was no sign of human activity, though, except the distant sound of a toilet flushing behind the door to one of the double suites. Scribbs went down the stairs as quietly as she could, feeling oddly like she was back in her parents' house, creeping around when everyone else was in bed, sneaking out to meet someone. Tension in every muscle.
The main floor was still as well, but she caught sight of an intermittent flicker of light in a dark corner and tiptoed toward it. When she got closer she recognized the glow of a television screen. Someone was watching with the sound off. She sidled up to the doorway and there was Ash, alone, sitting on the carpet in front of the TV, her back to the door. She was watching the surveillance tape.
Should have guessed, Scribbs thought.
On the screen, her own image all but obscured Ash's, thanks to blonde hair swinging with the force of her sudden lunge across the seats. The darkness of the room combined with the poor quality of the tape and the bad lighting in the car park to make the blonde head stand out in its paleness, while the brunette one nearly blended into the background.
The video suddenly hitched to a stop and began to rewind. The Scribbs on the tape lurched back to her own seat, the camera zoomed out, the suspect turned away from the detectives' car and seemed to fall back into her own. Then the tape kicked back into normal play, and events unfolded again. This time the Scribbs in the doorway got to see her counterpart finish the lip-lock -- she remembered Sullivan's strained voice in her ear: "Er, you can stop kissing now" -- and pull back to reveal a stunned-looking Ash.
Scribbs couldn't see the remote control but obviously Ash was giving the thing a thorough workout. The image of Ash, open-mouthed and breathless, froze on the screen. Scribbs's gaze flitted back and forth between that and the real Ash, or rather the back of her head. The blonde longed to know what expression was on the real Ash's face as she considered the representation of herself.
Ash rewound it again, played it again, paused it again at the same moment.
Okay, this is bordering on obsession now, Scribbs thought, but something in the image grabbed her this time. She hadn't seen the look on Ash's face when it happened; she'd been checking the target's position, glancing at the surveillance van... and, okay, feeling a little bit pleased with herself, both for saving their aeses and for finally laying one on Ash. And then they'd received the go-ahead to arrest the target, and they'd been off and running.
Ash, post-kiss, looked utterly thrown. Like the carpet had been yanked out from under her. And Scribbs knew that was not a state Ash cared for. Especially not on the job, especially not in the presence of her superior officer. Ash was mortified that her colleagues and boss had witnessed her this way, had seen the open book that was her face in that moment. And I'm the one who put her in that position, but she isn't angry at me, Scribbs thought. She may have put some walls back up, but she still got into that bed with me, she still let me touch her. She took my hand... She waited till I was sleeping to pull away.
Scribbs leaned her shoulder against the doorframe, feeling the tension bleed from her body. That's the way it is with Ash and me, isn't it? We want the same thing -- I know without a doubt she feels the same way I do -- but she holds back, she pulls away. She can't just go for it. And that has nothing to do with me and everything to do with pride. Strength. Control. With Ash being Ash.
She sighed. Ash's head turned sharply, her expression wary. When she saw who was there, it softened, but then Ash dropped her eyes. Scribbs waited. It only took a moment for Ash to meet her gaze again, and she could see it wasn't easy. It spoke volumes.
I really haven't ruined everything, Scribbs thought.
Just then a light went on outside the window. Ash stood and went to pull back the curtains.
"Security light's been triggered. There's someone out there."
Only then remembering they were supposed to be working a case, Scribbs pushed off the doorframe. Together they hurried outside to investigate, Ash all business again, as if a switch had been flipped.
Scribss wanted to tell Ash she understood, but she couldn't.
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