DISCLAIMER: Murder in Suburbia and its characters are the property of ITV. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thanks to Ann for being the queen of commas and beta'ing this for me.
CHALLENGE: Written for the Second Annual Ash/Scribbs ficathon.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Gone but Not Forgotten
A stunned silence descended on the CID room as all eyes turned to witness the unprecedented sight of Inspector Kate Ashurst in full mental meltdown. If anyone had been paying attention, the meltdown wouldn't have been so unexpected, but since the transfer of her sergeant and the scowl that had taken up permanent residence on Kate's face, no one had dared give her more than a passing glance, in fear she'd bite their head off.
"Now, Ash, there's no need..." Sullivan's words were placating, but they did nothing to calm the storm that had been brewing for months. He had waited too long to intervene. The perfect moment that he'd been waiting for, when Kate would be open to discussing whatever travesty had resulted in her partner's transfer, had never materialised, and like a coward, he had simply sat back and waited for things to get better.
"No need!" Uniformed officers began to wander into the CID room, their trepidation mixed with curiosity, keeping them in the shadows and doorways as they looked in on the spectacle they were sure was about to unravel. "He is incompetent," Kate enunciated, the precision of her words somehow cutting deeper than her earlier outburst. "His stupidity almost cost us the conviction."
"I said I was sorry," DS Holt grumbled, colour seeping into his ruddy cheeks to lie almost hidden beneath the stubble. "It was an honest mistake."
Holt picked up his coat and pushed his way into the lingering crowd. "I'm not staying here to be her whipping boy," he told Sullivan, before raising his voice to address Kate and the crowded room, "So, your girlfriend left you. Get over it!" Holt turned to make a dramatic exit, only to find his way blocked by a wall of stern faced detectives; Middleford CID had closed ranks, and he suddenly realised he was well and truly on the outside looking in.
"DS Holt," barked Sullivan. "Wait outside my office until I see fit to speak with you."
"Now!" The room vibrated with the anger inherent in that one tiny word, and for the briefest of moments, Sullivan's officers were treated to the sight of their DCI in an unaccustomed rage. His voice lost all of its hostility as he turned to address Kate, "Can I have a word with you in private, Ash? Outside?" He motioned towards the exit, and the crowd parted to make way.
Kate looked past him to where Holt was slowly fighting his way through the hostile crowd, a moment of satisfaction almost immediately subsumed beneath the turmoil his words had wrought. A gentle touch to her arm brought Kate's attention back to the present, and she reluctantly followed Sullivan towards the exit and out into the car park.
A slight drizzle dampened the air, but Kate paid the weather scant attention as she prepared to accept the reprimand she knew she deserved. "Sir?"
"Have you spoken to her?" he asked, and Kate suddenly wished he was lecturing her on proper procedure. "Had any kind of contact?"
Kate banished the memory of the missed calls on her mobile. "I got a postcard last month." She swallowed hard. "She's having a lovely time, wishes we were there."
"Have you tried to contact her?"
"What for?" Despite Holt's assumptions, they had never been more than friends, colleagues even, and relationships like that weren't built to survive desertion. "She made her choice."
"She accepted a promotion, Ash; she didn't leave you for another woman."
"We weren't..." Kate swiped at the rain coating her face, her frustration resulting in the resurrection of her anger. "She was a colleague, nothing more."
"Bollocks!" Kate did not appreciate having that particular word thrown back at her, but Sullivan was long past caring about niceties. "You might not have been sleeping together, but don't try and tell me you weren't in love with her." His voice lost its edge as he added, "I am a detective, remember?"
"She's gone; can we just stop talking about her?" Kate would neither confirm nor deny his assumptions. "What do you plan to do about Holt?" she asked, in an attempt to change the subject.
"What do you plan to do about Scribbs?" he countered.
Kate's teeth ground together with wince inducing force. "Nothing."
"Then that's exactly what I'll do about Holt."
"You can't be serious."
Sullivan was a man of principle, but he was also a realist, and if that meant he needed to push the boundaries a little and blackmail Kate into doing what was good for her, then he was more than prepared to do so. "I'll talk to Holt, if you talk to Scribbs."
"She's a nightmare," Holt complained for the fourth week in a row. "Yesterday, she confiscated my notebook and then spent twenty minutes going through it and correcting my grammar." He slumped into a seat, his slovenly appearance emphasised by his bad posture and hangdog expression. "Then this morning, she refused to get into the car with me until I'd put on a coat and tie."
Sullivan looked unfavourably at the mustard stained tie Holt had chosen to wear but otherwise refused to comment on Kate's sartorial dictates. "She's an excellent detective," he reminded Holt. "You could learn a lot from her."
"You're right," Holt replied sarcastically. "Now I know what a fucking semicolon looks like."
"Holt!" Sullivan was in no way adverse to Holt making Kate's life a misery if it accomplished his goal, but he drew the line at profanity. "Watch your language."
"Give her some time," he advised. "She and Scribbs worked well together, and it's only natural that it would take her some time to become accustomed to working with someone else."
"Scribbs must have been a bleeding saint," Holt mumbled, before making his excuses and going back out to face the lioness in her den.
"He's a dead man walking," Kate fumed. "A dead man!"
Sullivan wasn't convinced that a crime scene, that included a corpse no more than ten feet away, was the best place for that kind of statement, but he refused to comment. The animosity between Kate and Holt had been growing steadily for weeks, and he wasn't about to ruin the momentum with a lecture on propriety. "Has something happened?"
"Happened?" Kate's face was unnaturally pink, and her normally immaculate hair style was showing signs of imminent collapse. "That idiot has only gone and contaminated the entire scene!" A vein throbbed in her temple, and Sullivan began to worry about the state of her blood pressure. "Not only did he leave muddy footprints throughout the house, but he kindly informed the victim's wife of exactly how many stab wounds her husband received and then proceeded to ask her out!"
"Yes, he did." The vein twitched noticeably. "Well, he might not have asked her out, exactly, but he was definitely flirting with the woman."
Sullivan remembered the good old days when the only flirting at crime scenes was between colleagues. "Have you spoken to Scribbs?"
"What?" Kate was somewhat flummoxed by the non sequitur. "What has she got to do with this?"
"Have you spoken to her?"
"No." Kate would readily admit that her former partner had been a good detective, but even she doubted the woman could solve the case from two hundred miles away. "Why?"
There was no time for explanations. Sullivan reached into his pocket and pulled out his mobile, quickly tapping in a phone number from memory. "Hello," he greeted the voice on the other end of the line. "Can you put me through to Detective Inspector Scribbins." There was a second's pause. "DCI Sullivan," he continued.
"What are you doing?"
"I told you, Ash, you speak with Scribbs and I'll speak with Holt." He turned back to the phone. "Scribbs? Is that you?"
The colour drained from Kate's face, and she took an involuntary step backwards.
"I've got someone who's been dying to talk to you," Sullivan lied, before passing the phone to Kate. "Talk to her," he instructed, before he turned to head off in Holt's direction.
Kate scratched Holt's name off the top of her mental hit list and replaced it with Sullivan's, before screwing up her courage and issuing a tentative, "Scribbs?"
"Ash?" There was a note of disbelief in Emma's voice. "Is that really you?"
"Of course it's me." Now that they were talking, Kate didn't have a clue what to say. "How are you?"
"I'm fine." There was a noticeable pause. "How are you?"
"I'm fine." The pause became more definite. "Busy?"
"So-so ... You?"
"You know how it is."
The silence grew uncomfortable until the first cracks in Kate's defences began to show. "My new DS is a fool," she confided.
"There's no need to sound so happy about it, Scribbs. I'm the one who has to work with the moron."
"Sorry." She didn't sound it and, for some reason, that made Kate smile. "If it's any consolation, my DS is a train-spotter." Emma sighed. "Last week he brought in his antique collection of railway timetables to show me."
"Has your DS ever contaminated a crime scene and flirted with the widow?" Kate asked.
"I don't think so."
"Then it's no consolation."
There was a pause of a far less strained variety before Emma asked, "Did he really flirt with the widow?"
"Unashamedly," Kate confirmed.
"Didn't you tell him your rules on flirting while on duty?" Emma had heard them so many times she could recite them in her sleep. "Or the ones about fraternising with suspects?"
"He's not very keen on my rules," Kate admitted, although, what she failed to mention was that she had never felt comfortable enough with Holt to share her more specific rules with him. It was silly, she knew, but somehow her rules had become something she shared with Emma and talking about them with Holt had seemed in some way disrespectful of the bond they'd shared.
"He sounds like a prized prat," Emma decided. "Why hasn't Sullivan given him the old heave-ho?"
Kate looked off into the direction Sullivan had disappeared and could just about discern his image through the house's front window, as he stood talking to Holt, his finger jabbing in the other man's direction with some regularity. "I think he's doing it right now." The knowledge didn't instil Kate with the amount of pleasure she'd anticipated. "I miss you," she said suddenly, and all at once, she didn't care about Holt and his slovenly ways, or whether or not she was lumbered with him for the rest of her career. All that mattered was that she hadn't seen her best friend in nearly five months, and it was killing her.
"I miss you, too."
Kate was more than aware of the other officers littering the scene, but for once, she wasn't concerned with the repercussions of her actions. She'd waited too long to tell Emma the truth, and even though it was the worse possible timing and mobile phones were hardly the most romantic of instruments to convey your innermost feelings, she couldn't wait. "I need to tell you something," she decided. "It's something I should have told you years ago." She closed her eyes and prayed she wasn't about to ruin the best friendship she'd ever had. "I love you."
As the silence on the other end of the phone grew, Kate opened her eyes and stared out into the other room, which had formerly been crowded with busy techs and hovering policemen, only to find it suspiciously empty. She would have spared a moment of gratitude to her colleagues for giving her the space she needed, but she was far too busy dying inside with each second of continued quiet.
"Scribbs? Say something."
"I can't." Emma sniffed, and Kate suddenly realised that she was crying. "I can't say it over the phone."
"No." She sounded more adamant. "I refuse to tell you I love you over the phone." There was a stunned pause. "Bollocks! I guess I already did."
"Scribbs?" Kate's voice held a mixture of confusion and happiness. "What did you say?"
"I said that I love you, but you've got to forget I said it until I can get there and say it in person."
"No, I'm a romantic."
"Sweet talker." Emma laughed. "Look, can I call you back? Only my boss is breathing down my neck and I really need to..."
"That's fine." Kate hoped her voice didn't betray her disappointment. "I'm in the middle of a crime scene myself, and I really should get back to it."
"I'll call you back as soon as I can."
Before Kate could say 'goodbye' the line went dead.
Sullivan lurked at the entrance to the CID room and cautiously watched Kate attack her computer keyboard in a violent approximation of typing. Despite his curiosity concerning her earlier conversation with Emma, he would quite happily have avoided his DI for the remainder of the day, as were the majority of the station's personnel, but the infuriating woman had taken his mobile phone hostage, and he really needed it back.
"How's the report coming along?" he asked, his voice as friendly and non-demanding as he could make it.
Kate didn't so much as flinch at his sudden intrusion. "Slowly."
"Anything I can do to help?"
"It's regulations," he explained, mistaking Kate's volatile silence for anger over Holt's continued presence in the station. "I've requested he be transferred, but they've told me it could take up to a month."
Kate couldn't care less about Holt. "I understand."
"In the meantime, I've reassigned him to work with Jacobs," he continued. "So you won't have to work with him again."
"I'm glad." She would buy Jacobs a bottle of Scotch by way of an apology. "If that's all...?"
He was desperate to mention his mobile, but the look of flint in Kate's eyes kept him quiet on the subject. Instead he asked, "Are you all right?"
"Did things not go well with Scribbs?" He prayed that he hadn't made a bad situation worse by forcing Kate to make the first move.
Kate didn't know how to answer him. On the surface, things had gone better than she could have ever hoped, but then the conversation was over, and four hours later, Emma still hadn't called back. "She said she loves me." Sullivan broke out into a smile. "Then she made an excuse and hung up."
"Oh." He tried desperately to think of something positive to say but to no avail. "Have you tried calling her?"
"No answer." Kate had tried ever single number she could think of, but her calls were either ignored or answered by people who insisted that DI Scribbins could not be reached. "I think she's avoiding me."
"Or," said a new voice, "she was halfway round the M25 and couldn't get to her phone without causing a ten car pileup."
"Scribbs!" Sullivan's oddly high pitched exclamation almost drowned out Kate's own recitation of the name, and with two quick strides, he was at Emma's side and engulfing her in a rather overly enthusiastic hug. "I'm so glad you're back," he whispered.
Standing back, he looked at the two women, his smile indecently large as he began backing out of the room. "Welcome back, Scribbs, and don't worry about that report, Ash, I can finish it in the morning." And with that, he was gone.
"Is it my imagination or has he got a little weird since I left?"
Kate ignored the comment. "You didn't phone back."
"I know." Emma dropped her overnight bag onto the nearest desk. "But there are some things that need to be done face to face." She walked up and leaned over Kate's chair. "And this is definitely one of them." She slowly leant down until her lips were hovering tantalisingly above Kate's own, her breath ghosting a delicate kiss as she whispered, "I love you."
Kate reached up, her hands tangling in blonde hair, as she pulled Emma close, their lips meeting in a desperate kiss that had been five years and hundreds of rules in the making.
They were both finally home.
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