DISCLAIMER: Murder in Suburbia and its characters are the property of ITV. No copyright infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is a prequel to Gasp and Shift.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Ash turned away from her computer screen, a little startled. It was late and there weren't many people left at the station; she hadn't expected to hear another human voice till Scribbs got back with her takeaway, and she'd only been gone five minutes. She craned her neck to see Robin Gatecliff coming up behind her.
"Heard you snatched your case back from Organized Crime."
Ash smirked. "Well, I'm sure John Foy can still help them in their fight against the Red Mafia. It's much more important than some petty little suburban murder."
The forensics technician's dark eyes twinkled with amusement.
"What brings you down here at this hour?" Ash asked, pushing back from the desk so she could spin her chair around. If Scribbs could take a break, there was really no reason she had to keep plugging away at paperwork.
The other woman held up a thick envelope. "DNA results for Macy and Walker. Wanted it on their desks first thing in the morning."
"Aren't you obliging."
"I've done the same for you. And probably will again."
Ash nodded absently as Robin dropped the envelope on Macy's desk a few yards away, then came back into the circle of Ash's desk lamp. Without the overheads on, the office had become like a dark street, a long stretch of shadow interrupted by pools of light. There was something about this after-hours atmosphere that Ash liked, something almost theatrical. The place was not quite itself at this time of night.
The lighting made Robin's rust-coloured hair look darker than usual and her face paler, but Ash supposed it had the same effect on her own appearance. The tech had on a short tan jacket over a royal blue sweater -- one could always expect a good dose of colour from Robin, Ash mused. Just like Scribbs -- until recently, anyway.
"Where's your better half?" Robin asked as if on cue. She had gone around to Scribbs's desk and was poking into her pen holder absently.
Robin pulled a face. "At this hour?"
"You know Scribbs."
"Mmm. Right." Robin leaned over and picked up the salsa CD case from Ash's desk. "What's this?"
"Oh -- it's just a... It's for the case." Ash chewed her lower lip as Robin flipped it over, scanning the list of songs.
"No, it was... a gift."
Robin raised an eyebrow at her. "From who?"
"Someone gave it to me at the salsa club." Ash shook her head dismissively. "Dance instructor. A suspect."
The eyebrow again. "Male or female?"
Ash pushed up and pulled the case out of her hands, thunking back into her seat a tad ungracefully. "Male."
"Interesting," Robin said, eyes twinkling again. "I seem to recall you coming down kind of hard on Scribbs for that kind of thing."
"There was no kind of thing," Ash retorted, and immediately rolled her eyes in disgust at herself. "He was trying to get me to join one of his classes."
Robin came back around to Ash's side. "And?"
"Are you going to?"
Ash snorted. "Become another of the Italian Stallion's devotees? Not likely."
"Then why..." Robin reached down with one index finger extended and hit Play on the CD player resting on the desk. "...have you been listening to the CD?"
Ash's hand flew to the volume nob, dousing the first track almost before it began. Horns, drums and electric guitar played on faintly as she pinned the other woman with a dour look. "I've been trying to get into the right mindset. To solve the case."
Robin gave a little chuckle and backed off to continue her aimless perusal of the office. She strolled to the transparent dry-erase board where photos of the victim were posted, surrounded by hastily jotted names, places and keywords. Mary Soukis's name was circled repeatedly in red, and after it Scribbs had inked three bold asterisks. Robin faced the board with her hands loosely entwined behind her back. She could have been solemnly considering the evidence, if not for the way her hips had started to swing back and forth just slightly, to the rhythm of the barely-audible music.
"I used to go salsa dancing," she said.
"No, before I met him. Do you remember DS Garcia from Regional Crime?"
Ash furrowed her brow, flipping though a mental catalogue of detectives she'd known over the years. "Skinny bloke? The one the other guys called Ricky Martin."
Robin turned and they exchanged disgruntled looks. "Yeah, that was him. He was a fantastic dancer."
Irritation at their less enlightened colleagues was quickly forgotten as Ash watched Robin begin to move to the beat a little more. Her hand crept back to the CD player and upped the volume just a bit. The track was a moderately-paced one, perfect for warming up, for getting people out of their seats and into the mood. Ash tapped her foot to the music, thinking that if ever a piece of music could be called infectious, this was it.
"And I wasn't so bad myself," Robin added with a grin.
Ash could see that. The technician moved easily, fluidly, and Ash remembered Roberto the dance coach telling her, You are a little stiff. "Maybe you should go to Salsa Sensations instead of me."
Robin stilled. She fixed Ash with a contemplative look. "I think dance classes might be just the thing for you, Ash."
"Oh, here we go." Ash sighed. "You're as bad as Scribbs."
"Trying to get me to--" She made derisive air quotes. "Loosen up."
Robin shrugged. "Some girls just can't resist a challenge."
Ash racked her brain for a retort -- something about some girls needing to mind their own business, but snappier -- as Robin returned to the CD player and nudged the volume up a little more. Then she sauntered out into the open space beyond the desks and turned smoothly on her heel to face Ash, holding out a hand. "Come on."
Ash blinked. And though she knew full well what Robin was requesting, she said, "What?"
"Salsa. You. Me. Right now."
"But..." Ash fought to keep her eyebrows out of her hairline and her wits about her. "I've never... I don't know how to do the... peekaboo, or the, the... cuddle."
Robin's lips curled upward. "We'll start simple."
That was another way Robin was just like Scribbs, Ash thought as she stood up -- she simply didn't take no for an answer. Robin shrugged out of her jacket as Ash's hesitant steps closed the distance between them.
"I... I did do a few moves with the dance coach yesterday. I don't know what they were called, though."
"The names don't matter, Ash."
"Of course not," Ash said faintly.
The song was just ending. In the brief silence that followed, Ash was hyper-aware of the preposterousness of the moment -- was she actually about to dance in the deserted office with a straight colleague? -- and of the closeness of said colleague's body. This close, she could see a light smattering of freckles on Robin's nose and cheeks, something she'd never noticed before. The faintly spicy perfume she detected, on the other hand, was familiar. That was oddly comforting.
The second track started. Neither of them moved, just listened for a few bars, getting a feel for the tempo. It was about the same as the previous song, Ash noted with relief, since she didn't fancy starting with one of those frenetic numbers they'd had at the competition.
"Here we go," Robin murmured and stepped in close, putting her right hand in the middle of Ash's back and clasping Ash's right with her left. Ash automatically put her free hand on Robin's shoulder. "Step back with your right foot on four. One, two, three, four."
Three songs later, Ash was flushed and a little breathless. Robin was grinning.
"You're no Garcia."
"Well, you're no Italian Stallion."
"I should hope not. I don't think my husband cares for chest hair."
Ash snorted. She was unabashedly pleased that she had managed not to step on Robin's feet, clunk heads with her or cause any other injuries. She was doing well by her own standards. Robin had shown her a series of basic maneuvers, and she was mixing and matching and patiently waiting whenever Ash faltered or lost the beat.
"You lead awfully well for a woman. Done this before?"
"As a matter of fact, yes."
"You're lucky that husband of yours isn't the jealous type."
"No, he just knows me. Besides, it was only Scribbs." Robin suddenly clenched her teeth, sucking air in sharply. "Not so tight."
"Sorry." Ash loosened her grip on the redhead's hand. "You've danced with Scribbs?"
"A few times."
"And you led?" Ash could picture it easily: Robin and Scribbs in each other's arms under colourful lights amidst a sea of other couples. Their bodies would move in tandem, sinuous and sexy. Now that Ash had up-close-and-personal knowledge of each of them -- their curves, the way they felt pressed against her -- she didn't doubt it would be quite something.
"Ash, it's not really dancing if you don't move your feet."
"Oh. Right. Sorry."
Ash felt her ears turn hot. "This was your idea. I warned you I'd be crap at this."
"Don't get prickly. I'm having fun. So're you, whether you'll admit it or not."
"I just... I don't think I'm really built for dancing."
Robin shook her head in mock exasperation. "Bullshit. You're doing it, aren't you?"
"Not as well as you."
"Okay, you are a bit..."
"You could stand to put your hips into it a little more," Robin said diplomatically.
"Hips," Ash repeated, as if trying out a foreign word.
The song ended. Robin let go and went to the CD player, pausing the disc. Ash ran a hand over her hair to check its tidiness. When Robin turned around Ash was perturbed to see she was laughing.
"You're a lesbian, right, Ash?"
The odd segue bemused the detective, but she gamely answered, "Last time I checked."
"So which of the two of us is more familiar with the female body and all its charms?"
"You're the one who's been tangoing with my DS -- you tell me."
The intrigued look Robin gave her then made Ash regret her choice of those particular words. But the redhead let it pass and stuck to the subject at hand, such as it was.
"Hips, Ash, hips." She planted her hands on her own.
"Yes, Robin, I know where they are."
"Right, but can you move them?"
Ash gave her the most withering look she could muster.
"Let's try this." Robin hit Play and trotted back. The song that started up was the fastest one yet. Robin came face to face with her again and took both Ash's hands, putting them where her own had just been. "Hips."
"Right," Ash said uncertainly.
"Concentrate on what I'm doing. Feel it. Okay?"
What Ash felt was bare skin under her index fingers, the cut of Robin's snug trousers being fairly low and her sweater being fairly short. But she nodded her assent. Robin placed her own hands on Ash's shoulders and began to go through the same basic steps they'd been doing, keeping their bodies closer this time, so that Ash could sometimes feel the movement of Robin's pelvis with more than just her hands.
"Close your eyes," Robin instructed after a moment.
"Feel the music. Don't tell your body what to do, just let it do what it wants."
"Stop thinking so much?" Ash murmured dryly. She still felt like her movements were stilted, a substandard imitation of Robin's, but the beat was pounding through her like a pulse. She couldn't have not moved to it if she tried.
"Let me guess -- that's Scribbs's line."
"Practically her mantra."
"Oh, to answer your question... we took turns."
"Me and Scribbs. When we danced. We took turns leading."
"Isn't that how you girls do it?"
Ash opened her eyes to Robin's teasing smile. Then she kept them open, maintaining eye contact as they danced. "Scribbs and I? We've never danced."
This time Robin's smile was sly.
"What?" Ash asked, feeling her own lips curve upwards despite herself. "What? No -- you know what? Don't tell me."
They finished the rest of the song without speaking. When the final crash of cymbals had sounded, they stood panting and smiling at each other.
"Better," Robin said.
"Give Ricky Martin a run for his money," said a voice from the shadows, and they both turned their heads toward the sound.
Scribbs came out of the dark by the doorway, a large paper bag in each hand. Ash gave herself a mental pat on the back for staying where she was, even though her every instinct was to pull away from Robin, turn off the music -- yet another song was starting -- and get back to the safety of her desk. Robin, of course, seemed perfectly at ease with the sudden audience.
"Enjoying the show, Scribbs?" The redhead deftly rearranged Ash's arms and her own, putting them back in the classic dancers' pose, and started them moving to the new track, a slower one dominated by horns. "How long you been watching?"
"Just a minute or two."
"We've decided your DI's not a complete disaster on the dance floor."
The DI in question willed her ears not to redden. Out of the corner of her eye she watched Scribbs deposit her takeaway on her desk and doff her coat. "Just for the record, this was Robin's idea."
"You owe me one," Robin said, waggling her eyebrows at the blonde.
"Owe you--?" Ash furrowed her brow at the redhead, but caught herself and rolled her eyes. It was always the same with these two -- they were both incorrigible enough on their own, but as a pair... Deadly. She held her tongue and let herself be dipped, then dipped even lower, so low that she had a brief glimpse of Scribbs, upside-down, watching intently. Vertigo rolled over her as Robin pulled her upright, and she stumbled.
"Whoa," Robin said, stopping to steady her.
As soon as she regained her balance, Ash stepped out of Robin's arms. She knew her face was red but there was nothing she could do about it. "Um, I think that'll do for tonight, don't you?"
Robin looked at her a moment, then Scribbs, then the clock on the wall. "I did tell Colin I'd be home by 10."
"Yes. Right." Ash brought both hands up to her hair, grateful to find it still in place, then smoothed them down the sides of her shirt.
The technician retrieved her jacket from Ash's desk. She also picked up the CD case and glanced at the back. "Three more tracks left," she murmured, as if to herself, but then held the case out to Scribbs with a pointed look. "Shame to waste them."
"I've never done salsa," the blonde said, her tone indicating she was in no way against the idea.
"Believe me, you could handle it," Robin told her as she pulled on her jacket. "Salsa's all about..." She flicked a glance Ash's way, then looked back to Scribbs with a sly expression. "...Passion."
Ash went to the CD player and hit Stop.
"Do drive safely, Robin, and, um, thanks for the lesson." She resolutely didn't look at either of them as she sat down at her desk. She could imagine the looks passing between them just fine.
"Any time, Ash."
Robin headed for the exit. She was almost swallowed up by the shadows when she suddenly stopped and looked back. "By the way, Scribbs, what the hell are you wearing?"
Ash snorted. Scribbs sighed good-naturedly. "Long story."
The technician left with a bemused shake of her head.
"See?" Ash said. "Told you."
Wordlessly, Scribbs began pulling cartons of food from grease-stained paper bags. After a minute Ash gave up on her half-hearted attempt to figure out where she'd left off in her paperwork before the madness began, and she looked across the desks. Her eyes drifted over her partner's sweater, which was a washed-out grey that did nothing for her, and down to the mud-brown trousers that had replaced the snug jeans she usually wore.
"I miss your jeans." The words were out of her mouth before she realized it.
Scribbs glanced up from her food, but didn't stop what she was doing. Her smile was a familiar one -- amused and slightly smug.
"I mean, um... That came out wrong."
"I just meant I miss your clothes. Your old clothes. How you used to dress." Ash cleared her throat. "And I'm not the only one. Robin obviously doesn't think this new colour scheme suits you."
Scribbs sat down in her chair and picked up one of the cartons. "Want some chow mein?"
"No, thanks. And don't change the subject. Look, you're not an autumn. I don't care what this image consultant says -- she doesn't know you at all."
"Kung pao chicken?"
"I'm not hungry. Are you listening to me?"
"Have I ever not listened to you?" Scribbs looked up. "Ash, I get it. You don't like the new clothes."
"Right. I'm sorry -- I know this change was supposed to help you achieve your personal goals, but really, it's not working."
"I don't know. I think I achieved more than you realize."
Ash frowned. "What do you mean?"
Scribbs held up another carton. "Bean sprouts?"
"God, you're impossible." Ash leaned forward and caught her partner's wrist, forcing her to put the carton down. "Scribbs. Promise me you'll give up this nonsense straight away and go back to being yourself."
Scribbs looked her in the eye. "You once told me I had the fashion sense of a twelve-year-old."
"That was a long time ago." Ash released her wrist.
"Before you developed a fondness for my jeans, apparently."
"Fine. Okay. Dress however you like. What do I care."
She grabbed her mouse and resumed her examination of the unfinished form on her computer screen. Scribbs tucked into her meal. She was enjoying it, if the various sounds she made while eating were any indication. No further conversation passed between them until there were three empty cartons on Scribbs's desk and Ash's eyes were starting to hurt from staring at the screen so long in the dim light.
"You surprised me tonight."
Ash looked up. "What? Oh -- the dancing?"
Leaning back in her chair, Scribbs nodded. "That was about the last thing I expected to see when I came in."
Ash shrugged. She couldn't think of anything to say.
"I only wish I could've seen more."
"I can't believe it lasted as long as it did, actually." Ash caught her bottom lip between her teeth.
They held each other's eyes a moment. Then Scribbs leaned forward.
"I'll make you a deal, Ash. I'll go back to my old clothes if you'll do something for me."
As hard as she tried, Ash could not help tensing up in anticipation. "What?"
"Wear your hair down."
One hand went to her head in reflex. "What, now?"
"Sometime," Scribbs said. "At work. Once in a while."
Had anyone else made this request, she'd not only find it odd, but she'd dismiss it without thought. Coming from Scribbs, though... She nodded once, and was rewarded with a joyful grin.
"It doesn't have to be totally loose. It can be in a ponytail. Your call."
Ash didn't understand exactly where this was coming from, but at that moment she thought she might just agree to anything that put that expression on Scribbs's face. "Okay. I'll keep it in mind."
"Good. And tomorrow I'll put on..." Scribbs tapped her lips in exaggeratedly deep thought. "Hmmm. What do you think? Green? Blue?"
"Red," Ash said.
Scribbs looked at her like she was the most adorable thing on the planet, and Ash, to her credit, managed not to squirm or blush.
"You're a summer," she said.
The grin returned. "I'm a summer."
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