DISCLAIMER: Murder in Suburbia and its characters are the property of ITV. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Named for the Cardigans’ song, My Favorite Game: “I’m losing my favorite game.”
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
"Scribbs!" Ash stared at the apparition on her stoop; Scribbs was pale and propped up against the doorframe. She had an arm wrapped protectively around her midsection and a thin sheen of sweat on her forehead even though the air of the hallway was chill, but her glare was surprisingly forceful.
"You can't do that to me," Scribbs accused, plunging right into the heart of the matter, "Tell me you are transferring without a word of explanation and then leave me lying in a hospital bed."
"What are you doing here?" Ash glanced around the hallway with wild eyes, as if it held an explanation for the appearance of the blonde on her doorstep. "You should be in hospital."
"I want an explanation."
"How did you get here?"
"I walked." When Ash's eyes widened alarmingly, Scribbs decided to lay off the sarcasm. "I took a cab, of course." She shifted her position, and her vision narrowed dizzyingly as a sharp pain flashed though her ribcage. She bit her lip and leaned more heavily against the doorframe, hoping Ash wouldn't notice.
Her hope was in vain, as Ash reached for her coat just inside the door. "I'm taking you back to hospital."
"I'll just check myself out again and be back at your door in an hour." Ash raised an eyebrow, her lips pursed unhappily. "Now are you going to let me in or shall I collapse into a heap right here?" Scribbs asked, a bit of truth slipping into the banter.
Ash sighed and caught the blonde around the waist, being careful not to jar the wound as she guided Scribbs into the flat. Pressed close to the brunette, the crisp citrus-and-strawberries scent of Ash's shampoo was overwhelming. Scribbs slowed her steps and began to slide to the left as they neared the couch, but Ash firmly guided her through the living room and into the bedroom. Wordlessly, she pulled back the covers, stripped Scribbs of her coat, scarf, and shoes, and helped her lie down, wincing in sympathy when Scribbs jarred her side. "Do you have pain medication with you?" Ash finally spoke as she settled the covers around the blonde.
"In my coat pocket."
Ash searched for the bottle as Scribbs surveyed the room. She had been in Ash's bedroom once or twice, but never from this vantage point. It was, like the rest of Ash's apartment, understated and tasteful, with subdued colors, beiges and browns, dominating the room. The bed was amazingly comfortable and she was worn out from the relatively short trip across town. "If I knew it would be this easy, I would have done it a long time ago," she remarked to Ash as the brunette turned, bottle in hand.
Ash's eyes narrowed in confusion as she regarded the drowsy blonde. "Easy?"
"To get into your bed." An eyebrow shot up, prompting further explanation. "Two months undercover as a bent cop, a month of you angry with me, shot by gangsters, and a day in a coma." Scribbs gave a wane smile. "And here I am." Her eyes blinked. "Easy "
Ash shook her head as she headed toward the kitchen. "I'll get you a glass of water so you can take your painkillers."
Not surprisingly, Scribbs was asleep by the time Ash returned. Ash set the glass on the bedside table along with the tablets and spent a few minutes in quiet observation of her blonde colleague. Scribbs had lost weight she could ill-afford to lose, and her cheekbones stood out prominently, giving her face a new starkness even in the soft light of the bedside lamp. The experience had changed her, had changed both of them, and not necessarily for the best, and Ash frowned as she traced a line down along Scribbs' cheek. Picking up a magazine, Ash retired to the other side of the bed and settled in carefully, trying not to wake the sleeping woman.
Later, Ash found herself reclining on a pillow, her head propped up in her hand, gently soothing Scribbs' hair back from her forehead. The repetitious motion, fingertips on the forehead, along the hairline, back through the part, curling around the ear, down the chin, repeat, seemed to keep the blonde quiet. Ash's current position on the bed had begun when Scribbs began to toss and turn in a nightmare, and two hours later, Ash had not tired of toying with the soft, downy texture beneath her fingers. It took a few minutes for it to register that the hazel eyes were watching her as she stroked back the hair.
Scribbs' smile was soft, and happy, as if the simple act and their closeness on the bed signified something to her. Ash returned the smile, and did not still her fingers on their path. "This is so much better than waking up to the beeping of that heart monitor," Scribbs told her.
"You should still be in hospital," Ash admonished gently.
"You don't want to take care of me?"
"I don't mind taking care of you, Scribbs, but you nearly died. You should be under professional care."
"You took first aid."
Ash's eyebrow arched in disapproval. "That doesn't count." She toyed with Scribbs' bangs, staring at her fingers instead of meeting the blonde's eyes.
Scribbs caught Ash's hand and squeezed with surprising strength. "Ash, you can't leave."
"I can't bear it. When I was only seeing you at work for eight hours of the day, I missed you. You don't know how hard it was for me, to pretend I didn't want to see you." Scribbs thought back to all the times she wanted to spend time with her friend and had had to push her away. "Now you want to go away "
"It would be best," Ash asserted.
"I just, it's too hard, Scribbs. You take such risks, and I "
"This one time "
Ash jumped up from the bed. "Well, this one time I bloody well had to listen to you nearly dying on a mobile phone, now didn't I?" Scribbs watched as Ash paced the floor. "You really think I'm willing to go through that again? You really think I can go through that again? You break all the rules and I'm just supposed to live with that?"
"You have rules about risk-taking?"
Ash stopped her pacing at the teasing tone in Scribbs' voice, blushing a little as she admitted, "Physical and emotional."
Scribbs patted the bed beside her and Ash, an unreadable expression on her face, perched on the very edge of the mattress. "Let me guess, no getting kidnapped by gangsters "
Ash's embarrassment didn't keep her from chiming in, "Avoid heights and wild animals, always drive defensively," she gave Scribbs a telling look, "and the newest addition, no getting shot."
Scribbs considered how Ash must have felt during that phone conversation. She remembered crawling into the kitchen as the sirens propelled the men into a frenzy of loading, unwilling to save themselves and lose their shipment, looking for a place to hide in case someone decided to finish the job. She remembered the chill slowly overtaking her body, the way colors seemed to seep from her vision, and her only thought had been Ash, how she couldn't die without hearing her voice, telling her she was sorry. It had been two months since they had had a proper conversation and that didn't seem quite the right note to go out on. She hadn't thought how it must have been on the other end; she had only known she needed to hear Ash's voice.
"And the rules for emotional risks?" Scribbs prompted, taking Ash's hand in hers.
"Just one, actually." Ash sighed, staring down at their intertwined hands. "Never risk your heart."
Scribbs ran her thumb over the back of Ash's hand thoughtfully. "No risk, no reward," she reasoned, stealing a glance at Ash's clouded green eyes.
"Yes, well, let's just say I haven't exactly been lucky in the romance department." Aware of Scribbs' eyes on her, Ash loosened her grip and stood, self-consciously smoothing her jumper. "Anyway, we're not talking about my rules. We're talking about the fact that it's best that I leave."
"I still don't understand. If I avoid being shot and promise to tell you if anything like this ever happens again, then shouldn't we be able to "
"It's not just that." Ash folded her arms over her chest and regarded Scribbs with an unreadable expression. "I've had a lot of time to think, the last few weeks, about, you know, how I feel about you, and "
"Wait, what do you mean?" Scribbs shifted in the bed, trying to get a better look at Ash's face, to catch her eyes. "How do you feel about me?"
"I " her words trailed off into nothing. Her expression looked pained as she shook her head, mutely, helplessly, unable to get the words out. Casting about desperately for a distraction, she asked, "Are you hungry? I could fix something to eat. Or tea perhaps? Yes, tea sounds about right "
"Ash " Scribbs calling her name made Ash pause at the door. "Come here." Ash's feet moved her back beside the bed, despite her mind telling her to flee.
"Sit down." Her traitor legs got the blame this time, as she sank back down on the mattress. Warmth suffused her face as Scribbs ran her hand along Ash's chin and around to the nape of her neck, resting there. Ash closed her eyes, trying to concentrate on the voice in her head that willed her to ignore how the warmth spread through her whole body as Scribbs began to massage the sensitive skin.
"Look at me," Scribbs commanded, and wary green eyes met warm brown eyes. The hand at her neck urged her closer, until Scribbs could lean up from the pillows and kiss her. "I don't want you to leave," whispered Scribbs against her lips.
Ash pulled back, wide-eyed. "I I'll go make tea," she said, exiting the room before Scribbs could call her back.
When Ash didn't reappear, Scribbs leveraged herself out of the bed, trying to stifle the gasp of pain that threatened to escape when she moved too fast. She shuffled to the doorway to find Ash wearing yet another hole in yet another carpet, her teeth worrying at the nail on her pinky finger as she paced.
"I can't keep chasing you, you know," Scribbs told her.
Ash paused in her path. "I'm making tea."
Ash gestured vaguely toward the kitchen. "The kettle is on. Go lie down and I'll bring you some tea when it's ready." She then resumed her course through the crowded living room.
Scribbs stepped in front of her, catching Ash's shoulders to stop her. "Ash, talk to me."
Ash tilted her head to the side, that same helpless expression on her face from before. "I, I can't do this," she said, the raw honesty in her voice cutting Scribbs to her very core. Ash raised her hand, traced a route through the blonde hair to rest at the back of her head, her other hand coming up to cup Scribbs' chin. Ash leaned in and pressed a soft kiss to Scribbs' lips, the contact lasting mere seconds before she pulled away again. "I'm not strong enough," she admitted.
Scribbs read the darkness swirling in Ash's eyes and knew. "You're running away," she accused.
Ash dropped her eyes to study the carpet at her feet. "Yes yes, I suppose I am."
Scribbs felt the whispered words like a blow, and she crumpled under their weight. She wrapped an arm around her stomach and took a step back, the pain of her injuries returning threefold. "Can I, just rest here, for a while? Regain some strength and then I'll go."
"Scribbs, you don't have to go. I can take care of you."
"No. It's best that I leave." Scribbs shuffled back toward the bedroom, yanking her arm free from Ash's grasp when the other woman moved to help.
Hours later, hours after she had dropped Scribbs off at her flat, Ash surveyed her living room with a look of grim satisfaction. She had worked most of the night, packed the essentials, and prepared the rest for the movers. She felt ready to leave in the morning, just a few short hours off now. Wearily, she made her way to the bedroom, not caring where her clothes fell as she stripped down to her t-shirt and slid under the covers.
The scent of Scribbs' shampoo and lotion from the sheets and pillow assailed her as soon as she closed her eyes, bringing back the memory of the pain and bitterness in the blonde's eyes and voice as they had said their goodbyes. She rolled over from one side to the other, stared at the ceiling for a while, threw the offending pillow across the room, all to no avail. The numbers on the clock read 3:10, barely half an hour after she first laid down, before she got up again. Ash retraced her steps, stopping along the way to grab her jeans, then her sweater, finding her coat by touch by the door as she left.
Her banging and yelling at Scribbs' door raised the ire of the neighbors, but no blonde. Ash didn't use her key, knowing that Scribbs would have woken if she had been in the flat. She pounded on the door one last time, in frustration, as she racked her brain as to where Scribbs might have gone. In a flash of inspiration, she was running to her car and, fifteen minutes later, was pounding on yet another door. This time, a light blinked on over her head and the door opened to a disheveled, confused blonde. "Kate? What are you doing here? At this hour?"
"I need to speak to Scribbs, I mean, Emma. Is she here?"
Scribbs' mum stared at the wild-eyed woman on her stoop at 4:00 AM in disbelief. "Yes, she's here, but she's sleeping. As you know, she just got out of hospital," she told Ash, her voice raising as she warmed to her lecture, "and the last thing she needs is to be up at all hours because "
"Please, I "
"Mum." Scribbs stood at the top of the stairs, wrapped in an old ratty bathrobe. "It's okay, let her up." Personally, Scribbs agreed with her mum, but she knew her partner, former partner now she supposed, well enough to know that once she got something into her head, Ash wouldn't let it go just because someone told her to.
Wasting no time, Ash bounded up the stairs, yet all her energy seemed to drain away once she was standing in front of Scribbs. "Scribbs, I " she began, but she got no further. Her eyes got that lost, helpless look they had had earlier and all capacity for speech deserted her.
Scribbs noticed her mum still watching them from the foot of the stairs, so she grabbed Ash's hand and pulled her down the hallway. "Come on." She led Ash into the room at the end of the hall, releasing Ash's hand to shut the door. Carefully lowering herself into the narrow double bed, she leaned back against the pillows gingerly and stared at the dark figure in the center of the room. Ash was standing where Scribbs had left her, seemingly unaware of her surroundings, as she nervously chewed on a nail. She looked, if it were even possible, worse than Scribbs felt, the dark circles stark against the pale skin. "What are you doing here, Ash?" Scribbs asked, wearily.
Ash's green eyes flicked up to Scribbs and back down to the floor. "I can't do it."
"Yes, I know," Scribbs replied, her exhaustion pressing in on her. "We've been over this."
"No, I mean, I can't do it, I can't leave." The flare of hope Scribbs felt at Ash's words was quickly extinguished by her next, "But I can't stay either." She took a couple of steps, and Scribbs expected her to start pacing, but instead, she slumped against the wall, her arms crossed in front of her, her teeth still busy on the nail. "I don't know what to do." Sapped of the nervous energy that typically drove her, Ash looked exhausted, and Scribbs wondered how much sleep she had gotten in the last few days. "I haven't the strength to go, but I haven't the strength to stay. I feel like I'm being torn in two."
Scribbs didn't say anything, afraid to spook Ash if she spoke. She knew her friend and colleague well, but she couldn't remember a time when Ash was so open and reflective about her feelings. She sounded as if she were talking to herself, but that impression was belied when she raised her head and stared directly into Scribbs' eyes. "I didn't trust you." She shook her head as Scribbs opened her mouth to protest, "Not enough. I knew, I knew," her eyes squeezed shut and her hand clenched, "that you wouldn't, you couldn't "
And Scribbs realized that it wasn't just fear which drove Ash, like she had thought, but guilt. And anger, as Ash kept talking. "But you didn't trust me either." She pushed off the wall and stepped back into the middle of the room, her back to Scribbs and her hands scrubbing at her face. "If you had told me, if I had known what you were doing, then, maybe, I could have done something. I could have kept a watch on you. I would have noticed you were missing. Or I would have figured out that message sooner and maybe you wouldn't have been shot. Or "
"Ash," Scribbs called her name, and the dark head turned. "Come here," she commanded gently. Ash stepped to the side of the bed and took the proffered hand. "We'll fix it," she said, shaking her head to cut off Ash's immediate protest and pulling the brunette to sit beside her on the bed. "It'll be okay."
"I didn't trust you." The words came out quietly, brokenly.
"I didn't give you a lot to trust."
"My transfer order has been approved."
"We'll get Sullivan to pull it. Or I'll transfer with you." Ash glanced at her, and Scribbs squeezed her hand gently. "I won't lose you, Ash, I can't."
"I almost lost you." There was a rough tone in Ash's voice as she choked back tears.
"You won't, not ever again. I promise." Ash nodded in recognition, her eyes still clouded as she considered all the complications. "But first," Scribbs brushed the fringe back so she could meet Ash's eyes, "how much sleep have you gotten?"
"Since you told me you were shot?" Ash shrugged her shoulders, "A few hours."
That had been four, almost five days now. "We both need some sleep."
"Oh, yes, of course," Ash stood and made to pull away, "I'll "
"No, Ash, here." Scribbs indicated the other side of the bed.
"But your injuries and your mum."
"Mum will be more upset if she has to get up to let you out."
"Oh, right." Ash still looked lost as she surveyed the room, as if she were just seeing it for the first time and realizing where she was. She walked around the bed to other side, shedding shoes and jumper before sliding under the covers. She lay on her back, staring at the ceiling and feeling exhaustion overtake her as Scribbs cut off the lamp.
Scribbs reached out and caught her hand under the covers, the small contact magnified by the tumultuous events that had taken place over the last few days. "Is this okay? I'm breaking your rule."
"You break all my rules."
"All of them? Even the rule about "
Scribbs was unsure how to remind Ash about their earlier conversation, but Ash knew. "Especially that one," she confessed in a quiet voice. Even in the darkness, Ash could tell Scribbs was smiling broadly, and she gave their joined hands one last squeeze before sliding into sleep.
Return to Murder in Suburbia Fiction
Return to Main Page