DISCLAIMER: Murder in Suburbia and its characters are the property of ITV. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Written for the FemSlash Advent Calendar 2007 :: Dead of Winter. Thanks to AJ and Jenn for the opportunity to participate in another wonderful calendar. Very special thanks to Debbie for her endless support of my writing endeavors.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
The Odd Man Out
Scribbs hurried into the room and tossed her coat across the back of the chair. Plopping down in front of her computer, she swiveled towards her irritated-looking partner.
"Sorry, Ash. I forgot to do laundry this weekend. It took me some time to sort through my dirty clothes to find the cleanest of the lot."
Ash looked over at her partner's wrinkled shirt. She then followed the less than fresh blouse to find it tucked into an equally pair of wrinkled trousers. She grimaced.
"What was so important that you forgot to do your laundry?"
A wicked smile slowly spread across Scribbs' face, and Ash was immediately sorry she'd asked. She cut off the blonde's words before they could escape her lips.
"Don't say a word, Scribbs." Ash stood quickly and held her hand up to stop any further attempts of explanation. "I don't want to hear the sordid details of your unbridled sexual encounter with some bloke you picked up in a bar."
"If you didn't want to know, Ash, why'd you ask?" Scribbs leaned back and placed her elbows on the arms of the chair, resting her clasped hands just below her breasts in a casual manner. There hadn't been any bloke, but that didn't stop Scribbs from giving the impression that there might have been.
Ash forced herself to maintain eye contact with her partner instead of lowering her gaze to the soft-looking skin exposed by Scribbs' rather relaxed pose.
"It was a rhetorical question, Scribbs, meant to make a point. I never intended for you to answer." Ash's tone was far from convincing.
Scribbs smile grew, and in a practiced move, she slouched further in her chair, causing the lace of her bra to peek out from her loosely buttoned blouse. Ash's gaze briefly dipped to the opening before she swallowed hard and moved her eyes back to those of Scribbs. The smirk on Scribbs' face confirmed that she'd noticed Ash's change of focus as well as the light shade of pink which gave Ash a more healthy-looking complexion.
"Boss is waiting for us in his office." Ash blurted out Sullivan's earlier directive, and then turned on her heel to walk away; her escape attempt obvious to even the blindest of the blind.
Scribbs chuckled and pushed to her feet, taking just a moment to fasten the buttons she'd purposely left undone. She didn't catch up with Ash until her partner was knocking on Sullivan's door facing. It was quite apparent to anyone, detective or not, that the usually stoic Ash was still quite unsettled. Grinning, Scribbs followed the other woman into their superior's office, but she pulled up short at the sight of the attractive redhead talking with their boss.
"Ah, here they are." Sullivan's smile was sickening sweet. "Ash, Scribbs, I'd like you to meet Middleford's newest DS, Amanda Jenkins."
The woman stood from her chair and turned towards the new arrivals. A rare smile crossed Ash's face at the same moment Scribbs' expression turned into a frown.
Dressed impeccably in a black, neatly laundered and pressed suit, the woman moved forward, her gaze solely on Ash. Scribbs took advantage of the woman's focus to note the similar hair and proper walking styles. It seemed Ash had a redheaded clone.
"Detective Inspector Ashurst, it's so nice to finally meet you. I've heard such wonderful things about you. I'm truly honored to be a part of your team." The compliments gushed from the woman, and Ash smiled more broadly as she held out her hand to greet the newcomer. Scribbs, on the other hand, pulled her attention away from the obvious suck-up to address Sullivan.
"Team? What's going on, Boss?" She definitely didn't like the way things appeared.
Sullivan gestured towards the new DS. "Amanda is going to be working with the two of you until a suitable partner is found for her."
Scribbs looked over at the two women, chatting animatedly as they discussed procedures and rules. Glancing back at Sullivan, she couldn't help but notice the way he was watching the other women and smiling. A worried look crossed Scribbs' face; she was definitely the 'odd man out.'
Blonde hair peeked from over the top of the rubbish bin and was followed shortly thereafter by a series of curses. Finally, Scribbs was able to grip the sides of the container to pull herself above its rim. She looked down at her partner, standing several feet away, looking crisp and fresh in her new black suit, and Scribbs briefly wondered why Ash had chosen Amanda's first official day on the job to wear the new outfit. The smell emanating from below moved her focus back to the here and now.
"Tell me again why I've been subjected to sorting through this rubbish."
"Because, Scribbs, Mrs. Arrington said she saw a man, fitting the suspect's description, toss something into the bin."
"Ash, Mrs. Arrington is ninety years old and blind as a bat. Other than a new manila folder filled with blank paper, there isn't anything out of the ordinary inside this container."
"We have to follow up on every possible lead, Scribbs; it's fundamental in good detective work. Now, climb down out of there and let's go find Amanda. She should be finished interviewing the neighbors by now. Maybe she's come across new information."
Scribbs hooked a leg over the edge of the bin. "Speaking of Amanda; why isn't she the one crawling out of the rubbish? She is the new man, so to speak."
Eyeing the slightly teetering Scribbs, Ash started forward to offer her partner assistance, but the odd looking stain covering Scribbs' trouser leg had her moving further away. She had every confidence that Scribbs wasn't in any danger.
"Because she's new, she wouldn't know what to look for, Scribbs."
"She's been observing us for a week now, I'm sure she'd have been able to figure it out." Scribbs grunted and straddled the top of the bin. "Hey, give me a hand, would you?"
Ash grimaced. "You're doing just fine, Scribbs. My assistance would only hinder you."
Scribbs stopped all movement and looked down, immediately noticing how much further away Ash appeared to be. She tilted her head in silent question but came to her own conclusion seconds later.
"You picked me because of my clothes, didn't you?"
"What? Don't be mad, Scribbs, your clothes had nothing to do with it. You're more experienced in these things."
"What in? Climbing in and out of trash bins? It's not exactly something I do on a daily basis."
"I'm talking about spotting evidence, Scribbs; you're very good at that. Now, climb down from there."
Scribbs stubbornly remained on the bin's edge. "It's because I'm wearing jeans, isn't it? Well, I'll have you know these are designer jeans."
Ash bit down on her tongue; now wasn't exactly the time to discuss how much more her suit, and Amanda's, too, for that matter, cost in comparison to Scribbs' jeans. Nor was it the right moment to point out that denim would be much easier to clean.
"Just get down from there, will you, Scribbs? We have work to do."
"Fine, but next time, 'Ash, junior' is taking the dive into the bin." Scribbs flipped over the side and let go, landing first on a wooden crate and then coming down hard on her left hip.
Ash took a step to check on her partner, but Amanda's arrival halted her progress.
"DI Ashurst, I've found an eyewitness!"
Ash grinned and turned her attention to her new teammate while Scribbs pulled herself to her feet and slowly limped towards them, discretely rubbing the point of impact.
In the car, Scribbs stared out the window as she listened to Amanda prattle on and on about how excited she was to have discovered a possible suspect. Scribbs slouched in the seat and closed her eyes, still smarting on being relegated to the backseat due to the soiled state of her clothing. With all four windows fully opened, the car sped towards the station.
Scribbs immediately grabbed for the door handle when the vehicle pulled into an empty parking space. She couldn't wait to escape Jenkins' cheery disposition, and, if she were perfectly honest with herself, she'd admit to being happy about getting away from Ash as well. For the first time since they were teamed together, Scribbs found herself uncomfortable in her partner's presence. Of course, it probably had quite a bit to do with the way Ash seemed to totally ignore her whenever Amanda was around.
"I'll meet you inside." Scribbs figured she may as well try to explain her absence even if it wasn't going to be noticed by the other women. She was surprised when Ash actually acknowledged her words.
"Scribbs, why don't you let Amanda drive you home so that you can take a quick shower and change into fresh clothing? I'll fill Sullivan in on our findings."
"I'd rather go with you to the boss' office. I can go home and change afterwards." Scribbs glared at the back of her partner's head.
"Scribbs, I don't mean to be callous or rude, but frankly, you smell bloody horrible." Ash swiveled her head around to punctuate her words with a look of total disgust.
Folding her arms over her chest, Scribbs clenched her jaw but remained firmly seated in the backseat. Ash nodded and turned towards the new team member, her tone decidedly more friendly.
"Would you mind driving Scribbs home, Amanda?"
"Oh no, DI Ashurst, I'd be happy, too."
Ash smiled. "Okay then, it's settled." She turned back to face her partner. "See you in a bit."
Scribbs stared back in response. Ash opened her mouth to add something, but instead, she bit down on her lip and reached for the door, slamming it closed behind her. Properly miffed, Scribbs didn't even bother to take advantage of the perfect vantage point to watch Ash's bum as she walked away.
"So, Emma? Where do you live?" Amanda's bubbly tone had Scribbs wishing for a garrote. In her current position, all she'd have to do was reach forward and loop it around the new DS' neck. Just the fact that Amanda always called her Emma and Ash by her full title was enough incentive for Scribbs to follow through; however, without the proper equipment, she would just have to settle for boring holes into the back of the other woman's head instead.
"Just drive; I'll give you directions as we go."
"Okay, Emma." Amanda pulled out of the space, and the car had barely lurched forward when the annoying DS decided to engage in conversation. "Isn't DI Ashurst wonderful?"
Scribbs rolled her eyes; she should've known Ash would be the sole topic. "Yeah, she's a real peach."
Amanda nodded enthusiastically in total agreement with Scribbs' assessment, the sarcastic tone flying right over the younger woman's head. "I just love that she's so professional, following the procedures to the letter. Did you know she even has her own rules on certain subjects?"
"No! Really? I had no idea." Scribbs lay her head back and closed her eyes. Amanda would just have to find Scribbs' flat on her own.
Ash looked up from her report and smiled. "So, Amanda, what did you think of Scribbs' flat?"
"Emma insisted that I stay in the car."
"I just bet she did." Ash chuckled, and then turned towards her partner, seemingly noticing her for the first time. Her eyebrows rose to her hairline. "Why, Scribbs, I've never seen that outfit before." Ash nodded appreciatively.
Scribbs looked down at herself, pulling at the sleeves of the silky shirt. "Oh, this? I've had it forever." She smiled and sat down in front of her computer, pretending to busy herself with her e-mail. The outfit had practically cost her an arm and a leg, but the look on Ash's face made it all worthwhile.
"Well, you look . . . nice. You look very nice, Scribbs."
The two women smiled easily at each other for the first time since Amanda had arrived on the scene, but the brief moment of familiarity was shattered when the new DS stepped between the pair, severing the connection.
"What's the next step, DI Ashurst?"
Scribbs leaned to the left, trying to reconnect with her partner, but the moment was gone. Ash was already focused on Amanda, outlining the procedures of a proper interrogation. Scribbs groaned and turned to hit her head against the desktop in hopes that a concussion would save her from any more rules.
"So, Mr. Stevens, exactly what were you doing lurking around Jane Barrington's flat yesterday afternoon?" Ash sat across from the pompous man with Scribbs at her side; Amanda stood against the far wall, observing the interview, her eyes never leaving Ash. Scribbs glanced back over her shoulder and sighed. Neither Ash nor the suspect seemed to notice.
"I have never met anyone by that name." The man folded his arms across his chest and lifted his head arrogantly.
"That wasn't the question, Mr. Stevens. I believe my partner asked what you were doing inside the complex itself." Scribbs focused back on the case at hand.
"I don't know what you're talking about." He actually sneered at Scribbs.
Under normal circumstances, Scribbs would ignore the condescending look, but she'd been looked down upon and basically ignored for the past two weeks, and she wasn't going to take it anymore. She immediately went on the attack.
"Don't you dare..." Scribbs practically lurched across the table, her words cut off by a touch to her leg. She stopped her progress and slid back into her seat, glaring at the suspect. Her uncharacteristic loss of control gave Ash an idea of how to proceed.
Ash patted her partner's thigh before moving her hand back to the table. She smiled sweetly at the suspect. "So, you're saying you weren't anywhere near the building then?"
"That's precisely what I'm saying." He pointed at Scribbs, adding, "You really need to keep your temper in check. I'm totally innocent; this is all just a case of mistaken identity."
Scribbs tensed and leaned forward. Ash moved her hand back to Scribbs' thigh to keep her in place.
"You'll have to excuse my partner; she's been a little on edge ever since she had to climb inside that large trash bin located outside the flats. You know the one."
The man chuckled. "Oh yes, the big black container; I'd have loved to have seen that."
"It was quite the sight." Ash joined in the mirth, and Scribbs visibly bristled. "She actually fell on her arse trying to climb out."
The sound of laughter from three different sources filled the room, and, had Ash's hand not been drawing slow, soothing circles on her leg, Scribbs would've jumped from the chair and protested being made fun of. She could endure more ribbing as long as Ash maintained contact, and if Ash suddenly decided to move her hand a little higher, Scribbs would even join in the fun.
"How'd she managed to grab hold of the edges to crawl out? She's not very tall." Stevens wiped the tears from his eyes and continued to chuckle.
"Oh, well, she's actually quite agile, not to mention highly observant. Scribbs can spy a piece of evidence, no matter how insignificant it may seem to someone else's eye, even a manila folder filled with incriminating evidence hidden under kilos of rubbish."
The chuckles ceased from the other side of the table. Stevens now looked very nervous, and Ash turned serious.
"So, I ask you again, Mr. Stevens. What were you doing lurking around Ms. Barrington's flat?"
The suspect looked across at Ash, and then slid his focus to Scribbs. She was still quite agitated, but at the same time, appeared to know something he didn't. Paranoia took hold, and he blurted out a confession.
"It was an accident! She was blackmailing me, and I just went over to have a chat. She wouldn't let me inside, so I pushed against the door hard, knocking her backward into the flat. I was so angry. I followed her inside, trying to intimidate her. I took hold of her and shook her hard. She must've lost her balance somehow; she fell and hit her head on the corner of the table. I couldn't revive her." He put his head in his hands.
"Go on." Ash quietly encouraged him to continue.
"I panicked. I just grabbed the folder and left as quickly as I could. I threw it in the rubbish container as I was fleeing." He looked up at Scribbs. "I guess you found it then."
Scribbs grinned. "Actually, I did, but it was filled with only blank pieces of paper, nothing written on a single page."
Snapping his head towards Ash, he knew he'd been had. Ash and Scribbs shared a knowing smile; however, Scribbs humor didn't last for very long. The Ash Admiration Society had already begun to sing her praises.
"Oh, DI Ashurst, that was amazing." Amanda followed Ash and Scribbs from the interrogation room and down the corridor. "I've been reading up on interview techniques. That was the English version of the American's good cop/bad cop, right? I should've known that you'd be the good cop, DI Ashurst."
"Yes, we all know how good Ash is; you've certainly been telling us enough," Scribbs muttered under her breath.
At first, Scribbs was grateful that Amanda had chosen to shorten Ash's title, but the adulation of the brilliant strategy Ash had employed to get Stevens to confess had more than canceled out her glee. Scribbs was certain it would be the topic of conversation for the rest of the week. She needed a diversion, but more importantly, she needed to be free of Amanda.
"Ash, I think it's time you showed Amanda the finer points of filling out a report. I think I'll call it a day and leave you two to finish up. After all, I was only a minor player, bad cop and all, you see," Scribbs gestured to herself, "so, I'll be on my way. I'll catch up with you two in the morning." Scribbs turned and pushed forward, increasing her stride until she'd rounded the corner. Ash stared after her partner with a puzzled look on her face. Suddenly, she sprang into action.
"Meet me at my desk, Amanda; I need to take care of something." Her longer strides enabled her to catch up with Scribbs just outside the doors to the station.
Scribbs grimaced; she'd almost made a clean getaway. Pasting a smile on her face, she turned. "What is it, Ash?"
Ash reached a hand out but quickly retrieved it. She stood on the top step, looking every bit as awkward as she felt. "Is something the matter, Scribbs?"
"No, Ash. I just thought that I'd step out of the picture so that Amanda could get a feel of a true partnership."
"What are you talking about, Scribbs? You're my partner."
Ash had opened the door, and Scribbs stepped through, putting voice to what had been on her mind for the past several days. "You know, Ash; I've been thinking about that. Amanda follows your rules, even adds to them on occasion; she dresses nicely, she's young and vibrant, and willing to learn. It's painfully obvious that it's you she wants to learn from. So, in the morning, I'm going to talk to Sullivan and ask that he partner Amanda with you; you're perfect for each other. I'll ask to be assigned someone else."
Stunned, Ash stared at Scribbs, not able to form a single word. Scribbs took her partner's silence as acceptance and nodded sadly.
"I'll see you in the morning, Ash."
Turning, she made her way down the steps. Ash never moved, not even when Scribbs gave her a weak wave as she drove away.
In the shadow of the building, Ash finally saw the light, realizing exactly what Scribbs was proposing. She looked off into the distance in thought. She didn't want someone to follow her rules blindly, never challenging her; she didn't want someone who needed to learn from her, she didn't want to have to look at someone who always remembered to do her laundry, someone who dressed exactly as she did day after day after day. No, she didn't want someone who appeared to be perfect for her; she wanted someone who *was* perfect for her; she wanted Scribbs.
Scribbs leaned her elbows on the bar as she sipped from her glass, the alcohol not providing the comfort she'd hoped it would. Instead, it conjured up images of the times she and Ash had met for drinks after work. She managed to successfully block the memories of the moments the two shared at Ash's apartment. They were just too painful.
"Bloody hell," Scribbs muttered to herself as she drained the glass and then motioned for the barmaid for another round. She never noticed the woman who slid onto the stool next to her.
"Mind if I join you?" Ash gestured to Scribbs' glass, nodding to the barmaid to bring her the same.
At the sound of the unexpected voice, Scribbs fumbled her glass, dropping it on the top of the bar. She was grateful that it was empty. Reflexively, she then glanced over her shoulder.
"Amanda's not here." Ash quietly answered Scribbs' unspoken question.
Scribbs swung her head forward, still not able to look directly at Ash. "Is she parking the car?"
"No, Scribbs; she's back at the station getting acquainted with her new partner." Ash took the glass from the barmaid and nodded her thanks.
"Oh, that's nice." Scribbs grabbed her newly filled glass and took a healthy swig, almost choking when Ash's words finally filtered into her brain. She turned and faced the other woman. "New partner?"
Ash smiled. "Yes, Scribbs; I told Sullivan that Amanda was ready for a partner of her own."
"So, it's just you and me again?"
"Yes, the criminal element had better be on the lookout, too; the duo of Ashurst and Scribbins is stronger and better than ever." Ash smiled reassuringly.
"Stronger?" Scribbs began to relax.
"Better?" At the word, Scribbs sounded almost hopeful.
Ash took her partner's hand and squeezed. "Much better, Scribbs; much, much better."
Scribbs smiled broadly and swiveled back towards the bar, never releasing the hand that held so much promise.
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