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ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Stalking is an Important Element of Friendship
"First of all, I would like to make a few things clear. Sullivan, point one, is not that fit. Yes, he's tall, successful, and at least intelligent enough to get the DCI position, but in all honesty, he is not fit.
Section A: (Ash would be proud of my organizational skills, it's too bad she'll never see this) Sullivan has bad hair. I have never been a fan of short cuts personally. It's usually a sign of a militaristic personality, or just no sense of style. On Sullivan, his hair is nearly the same color as his face, which is ugly. Scratch that, I don't need to get nasty. I'm still trying to make an argument here.
Section B: Sullivan has far too many attractive female "friends." He also is clearly going through a midlife crisis, what with the phallic cars and all that, which mean that even though he's only mid-forties, he's mentally way too old for Ash or other people. Oh Bollocks, it's not a secret. Sullivan is no good for Ash!
Section C: Sullivan is way too sweet for Ash. Now, I know this seems counter-productive, because I'm saying Sullivan is sweet, and everyone likes sweet boys, right? Wrong! Sullivan is one of those pathetic, doe-eyed, serious boys, who can't take a joke, and would have absolutely no ability to deal with Ash's frequent tirades. I, on the other hand, am very used to Ash's tirades, her rules, her neuroses, and I think she's pretty smart. I'm not sure where I was going with that, but clearly, Sullivan would never like those bits of her. I've heard her talk about her other boyfriends, I've seen her with them, and she's not Ash. She feels like she always has to play this game of being normal, girly, perfect, and she's good at that (wine, candles, Coldplay), but that's not who she is. My Ash is the real one, the abrasive, neurotic, domineering type. She doesn't have to hide those things when she's with me. And I know I'm shite at relationships, but I think the not hiding is important. It's important because if you were planning on spending the rest of your life with someone, it would be really tiring to not be able to be yourself."
Scribbs sighed as she folded up the paper and hid it in her drawer under the Barbie car. Writing that had been cathartic, but it didn't change the situation. Sullivan had asked Ash out on a date. She had been called into his office alone and come back looking bewildered and uncomfortable.
"He give you a bollocking?" she had asked, naively.
"Er, no. He wants to go for drinks."
"What? Now?" Both of us? But he would have called them both in.
"But we were going to-"
"He asked me out on a date, Scribbs!" Ash hissed.
Emma had just stood there for nearly a minute, her jaw going up and down like a fish out of water. "You've got to be shitting me."
"I'll admit it wasn't the most romantic of invitations."
Ash looked slightly putout and Emma felt an unexpected grin coming on. "What did he say?"
"He said that the office snogging had created an 'insupportable situation,' and to provide some 'closure' to the rumor mill we should try it."
Scribbs groaned. "You're right. No romance at all. But you said yes?"
Ash threw up her hands. "What was I supposed to say? I stood there gaping like an idiot for nearly a minute, said sure and sloped off as fast as I could."
Scribbs scratched the back of her head, pushing her fingers through her hair. "Hasn't hasn't this been what you wanted?"
Ash blinked at her.
"You've fancied him since you got here."
"What? No I haven't."
"May I remind you of the remarks on his arse? The salsa dancing? The excessive jealousy over Brandi?"
"You made comments too."
Emma just raised an eyebrow.
Ash scowled. "I didn't fancy him. Not fancy, fancy him. He was a figure of interest."
"It's the truth!"
"But you're going out with him?"
Ash shrugged. "I want these bloody rumors over too."
That had been two days ago. Drinks had gone well. Too well for Emma's liking. She had interrogated Ash over it, but she hadn't been very responsive, and that was absolutely unacceptable. There was no way Ash and Sullivan could make a good couple. It was bloody obvious! And if Ash was playing her stupid games and fooling him into liking her, she had to be stopped. Dating your commander was verboten. It would make everything awkward. She and Ash worked best when actively ignoring Sullivan's orders. And Scribbs was supposed to be the only one she was really comfortable talking to at work. She was the communicator. If Ash had Sullivan, she wouldn't need Scribbs as much, both in work and out of it, and that was totally not all right.
Tonight Sullivan was taking Ash to dinner, but they wouldn't be going alone. Scribbs checked her watch. He was picking her up in two hours, that was enough time to get home, change into her disguise, borrow her neighbor's car, and be waiting around the corner from Ash's flat to trail them on their date.
The beard tickled, and Emma couldn't see anything with the sunglasses on, so she plucked them off, tossing them into the passenger seat, and waited, as Sullivan knocked hesitantly at Ash's door. It was flung open. She must be running late. She usually called Scribbs when she was running late. Emma plucked out her cell phone and turned it on, no missed calls. Her heart sank a little, it was already happening. Ash didn't need her help anymore. The door shut, and she waited, resting her head in her hand, as Sullivan stood awkwardly on the porch, checking his watch. She hoped for a moment that he'd give it up as a bad job and head home, but the door opened again and all her worst fears were realized.
Ash looked amazing. It should be illegal for a woman like that to wear a little black dress. She was wearing heels. Ash never wore heels if she could help it, the last time she had seen Ash in heels was that sexy waitress/French maid outfit, and Scribbs had been so distracted by the expanse of leg that she hadn't noticed that brat of a suspect until it was too late and she was forced to beat her about the head with a wok. Ash was supposed to be a sensible shoes sort of girl, you know, those Excellent Women in Sensible Shoes who put their relationships with fellow females ahead of the ones with men. (Considering that more carefully, Emma wondered if there hadn't been more lesbian subtext in there then she had picked up on when she was thirteen.)
Irregardless, it was obvious that Ash was playing her little games. She could tell by the way she was walking, the tilt of her head to hear what Sullivan was saying. It was repulsive. Scribbs liked her usual dominating stride, she could imagine Napoleon walking like that, eating up the land and knowing that she bloody well owned every inch of it. She liked the way she looked at Sullivan when they were waiting for a bollocking, or if she was disagreeing with his interpretation of a case. She hardly seemed to notice him then, and she sure as hell didn't care what he had to say.
Shit they were leaving. Emma started the car as unobtrusively as possible and pulled into the street, staying a good distance behind them. Tailing two Detectives was a risky business. Luckily it wasn't a long drive. They pulled into the parking lot of a fairly nice pub, a gastropub maybe, but seriously not a nice enough restaurant to be worthy of Ash in a sexy dress, and Emma went around the block before parking to throw them off the scent. She found the sunglasses and put them back on, checking the bandanna that covered her hair once in the rear view mirror, before getting out of the car and following her prey inside.
She was glad it was a pub. A rough bloke in flannels and baggy jeans would have been tossed out of a nicer restaurant in an instant. She spotted Ash and Sullivan at a table near the corner, and walked nonchalantly to the bar where she ordered a pint of bitter in the lowest voice she could muster. The barman gave her a look.
Emma's eyes widened. She had no idea she looked like that young of a boy in drag. She could pop out her badge and he'd think she was undercover, but then he'd have her name, and she'd really rather this night be forgotten as soon as it was over. She glanced to the side.
"Ginger beer," she said guiltily. He cracked the top off and handed it over. She carried it with the label pressed into her chest as she made her way over to the booth nearest her targets. After she sat down she made short work of peeling off the paper and tearing it into such small shreds that her non-alcoholic situation wouldn't be visible to anyone else. It was particularly distressing because she could hear Ash and Sullivan talking, and she figured that she might need a pint just to keep from throwing up.
"So, er, do you like beer?"
Emma cringed at Sullivan's idiotic question.
"Oh," she could imagine the wince on Ash's face as she considered what to say. "Yes, but I'm more of a wine girl."
Scribbs could see the panic on Sullivan's face. It was becoming clear that the selection of the pub was a calculated choice. "But... don't you and Scribbs go out a lot?"
"Scribbs likes a good pint of bitter." She could hear the smile in Ash's voice, but Emma was still flushed with embarrassment over the previous incident. "She's always on me to try improbable candy cocktails, but really "
Sullivan looked blank. Ash stopped talking once his incomprehension became clear. She frowned. "Odd martinis?"
Sullivan was on his game again. "Oh! Of course. I'm partial to the occasional appletini myself."
Scribbs gagged. She would drink almost anything once, but she preferred her drinks to not be a vivid green and smell like baby shampoo. And Sullivan drinking appletinis was not an image she wanted to consider. Brandi had probably introduced him to them.
"Yea " Ash trailed off. She seemed to have lost interest in the conversation.
"But I usually drink beer, or scotch."
Was he defending his masculinity? Ash didn't even seem to be involved enough to answer. That was good. Maybe she was seeing that it was going nowhere too.
"Have you tried much American beer?"
Ash shook her head.
"I particularly like Bud Dry. It has a very nice flavor."
Emma furrowed her brows. Did they even make that anymore? When she had been dating that University student and he had dragged her to the Worst Party Ever, she remembered someone bringing Bud Dry and the rest of them throwing him out the door along with his light lager.
"I don't usually drink American beer," said Ash, finally making a move to get out of the worst conversation ever.
"Oh! Well you should try it then. Two Bud Drys."
Emma cringed. Ash hated light beer. She didn't particularly like dark beer either, which was why Scribbs had been trying to introduce her to some interesting cocktails so she wouldn't have to rely on the vile wines usually available in pubs.
"How is it?"
That was a lie if she had ever heard one.
"So, did you see the new James Bond? What did you think of it?"
Ash hesitated. "I thought I enjoyed it."
Emma frowned. They had gone to see it together and Ash had been raving about it for two days straight. She had thought it was repulsive, and American, and boring, and anti-woman.
"Oh, I did too!"
Emma snorted loudly, and then froze as they both glanced over. Sullivan looked put out, but Ash was the one who spoke.
"Did you have something to add?"
They didn't seem to recognize her. She swung her leg over and looked at them with her best hooligan teenager expression. "I thought the movie was shite."
Sullivan looked serious, and she wondered if he would try to call her parents. Ash arched an eyebrow. "I suppose there wasn't enough naked girl in it for you?"
Scribbs shrugged. That really hadn't been the problem. She had thought that the old Bonds where he fell into bed with the enemy were the stupid ones. He was very unprofessional. If she worked for the secret service she wouldn't go around shagging all the suspects. "Naw, the plot was shite. Bond's supposed to be saving the world, not some crappy country nobody's every heard of."
Ash nodded. Sullivan blinked. "I actually liked that bit. I felt that it was much more realistic than usual."
"And the six thousand explosions?" That was Ash, sounding like herself finally, arrogant and self-assured as always. "Those were realistic?"
"Well, you have to make some allowances "
Scribbs snorted. "For Americans. American movies and American beer are both flavorless and watered down."
Sullivan looked even more offended, but Ash guffawed before she realized exactly why Sullivan would not be pleased by that comment.
"You know, we're both police officers, you might want to be more careful about who you eavesdrop on, young sir."
Scribbs shrugged. "I don't have any problems with bobbys. But I do have a problem with insults to my taste. If you really like wimpy-ass American beer, good for you, but let the lady save her taste buds."
This was rather freeing. She would never talk to Sullivan like this if he knew it was her. And it wasn't as if she had any problems with him as a boss. But he should not be dating Ash. It would destroy the office dynamic. She was doing a public service, really.
Ash gave her an odd flick of the eyebrows. She had never seen that expression before, and it took her a moment to realize what was being said. "What would you order, then?"
"Well, first of all, I would never take a woman as beautiful as you to a pub. Not if you've made an effort like that."
She gave Ash's short skirt a long lecherous look, until she squirmed and tugged on the end of her dress. Sullivan glanced at Ash's outfit as if he hadn't even noticed it. Emma's internal chav was taking over, and she found herself getting more and more annoyed at Sullivan's obtuseness. Maybe he had just asked Ash out to get over the awkwardness and wasn't even interested in her at all. That was totally not cool.
"That outfit deserves a sommelier. But, since we are here " Scribbs called over the barmaid. "May I buy the lady a Diamond Fizz?"
The barmaid grinned. "I wouldn't mind one of those myself."
Ash looked sort of tense. "What are you trying to do?"
That hurt. Scribbs shrugged. "I was trying to have a nice drink on my own. Sorry if I interrupted."
She turned away and focused on her ginger beer. God, really, what had she been thinking, getting involved like that? It was sheer luck they hadn't recognized her. She really needed to work on her male voice. She sounded like a pubescent teenager. And what was she trying to do? Pick up Ash while on a date with someone else? That was slimy.
The barmaid brought the drink over. She heard Sullivan's voice.
"Are you really going to drink that?"
Out of the corner of her eye she saw Ash shrug, and take a sip, then glance swiftly over. Scribbs quickly looked away. Even bad champagne was good with lemon and a little sugar. This had gotten really embarrassing. She should probably just leave before they caught her. But just then, Sullivan's phone started ringing. He fumbled, and answered it.
"DCI Sullivan. Yes yes. I'll be right there." He stood, and looked at Ash. "It's the office. Should I take you home?"
There was a long pause. "No. I'll get a minicab. But call me if I need to come in."
Four long strides and the door was swinging shut behind him. Ash got up from her seat, carrying her drink, and sat down across from Emma.
"Scribbs." Ash shook her head and Emma felt that she was going to die. "What on earth do you think you're doing?"
Scribbs waited for lighting to strike, or any other natural disaster to free her of this miserable embarrassment. Ash was giving her the 'I have never met anyone quite as completely idiotic as you' look. She shifted uneasily and stirred the remnants of her ginger beer label.
"I don't think you should go out with Sullivan."
"Do you think, perhaps, that you could have told me this at work, or maybe over the phone, or, say, any other way than stalking us on our date and impersonating a boorish, oversexed, teenage hoodlum?"
"I wasn't really thinking "
"That's obvious!" Ash was furious. She looked great when she was furious. Emma put the lid on that thought. Her cover was blown; she didn't need to listen to her teenage boy anymore. "He could have recognized you! What made you think coming here and insulting our boss profusely was a good idea?"
Emma considered what Ash would like to hear. "It wasn't?"
"If that wasn't blatantly obvious!" Ash shouted at Emma, and then trailed off. She looked uncomfortable, then pressed her fingers against her temples. "Scribbs "
"Your facial hair is making it difficult for me to focus."
Ash seemed to have run out of steam. She sighed, and sipped absently at her drink. "You're right though, American beer is bloody piss."
"That seemed to be going pretty badly," Scribbs started hesitantly. Ash nodded. "How, how did it go better the first time? I mean you made it to a second date. Not that it was particularly long."
Ash shrugged. "It was longer than the last one."
Emma's eyebrows shot up. "Really?"
"He got called away about four minutes into it, so we rescheduled."
"You didn't tell me that! You could have called me. We were supposed to go out that night until you ditched me."
Ash eyed her with a little discomfort in her gaze that made Scribbs very sensitive to her outfit. She considered taking off the bandanna, but that would probably make the facial hair even more incongruous. "Were you jealous?"
Scribbs stiffened. "No."
"Not at all? I didn't mean to abandon you."
Emma shrugged and finished off her ginger beer, wishing it had some alcohol content, anything to make this evening less sharp and vivid. "Maybe a little. I didn't want you spending time with Sullivan. If you want to hang with a copper you should hang with me."
Ash shook her head. "You know this situation won't look good on your psych evaluation."
The barmaid sauntered over and gave Kate an approving grin. Scribbs felt embarrassed, but Ash didn't seem to notice that she was being commended for abandoning her date for someone with better taste in drinks. "Want anything to eat?"
Ash shrugged. "I'm a bit hungry, you?"
"Sure I guess."
When she had gone, Ash gave her a penetrating look. "How hard is it for you to take that stuff off?"
"Not too hard." Emma felt her chin. "It's bothering you, isn't it?"
"I can't eat across from you with it on." Ash shook her head. "I'm going to have to make some rules about male impersonation."
It was a joke, and Scribbs laughed in relief. "I'll go get it off now." She stood and headed for the toilet, pulling her bandanna off as she went.
It took longer than she had expected, and afterwards she looked well scrubbed, but clearly not like a person who ought to be having dinner with someone as well turned out as Ash. She had only brought her wallet on this mission and didn't have any make-up with her. She slipped back out, scratching the back of her neck where sweat had dried under her bandanna. Their meals had arrived, but Ash was just sitting, looking oddly thoughtful.
Ash's eyes focused on her face, and she relaxed. "Thank god you're presentable now." Scribbs shrugged, unsure of how presentable she actually was. "That woman-" Ash was tilting her head and it seemed that she was pointing at the barmaid. "She came over here and said that I was smart to throw over 'that old gaffer' for 'such a charmer.'"
Emma's face broke into a grin. Ash narrowed her eyes.
"What?" Emma defended herself, "I make a good bloke."
"Yeah, a fifteen year chav. What sort of woman does she think I am?"
Scribbs laughed and prodded at her fish before dubbing it fit to eat and cutting in. "Don't you think I'm a bit of a Leo?"
"Come on, Kate and Leo? We're good together."
For a moment, Scribbs wondered what she really meant by that, but she didn't dwell on it. It was nice to have her Ash back; no matter what misery she had suffered to get her.
The barmaid had been surprised when she came back, but they flashed their cards, hoping that would be some sort of excuse, and now, of age, Emma ordered a proper drink. Luckily the barmaid found the whole thing hilarious and offered them free drinks. Scribbs kept it to one, but Ash took advantage of it and was talking a mile a minute and wobbling on her heels as Emma led her out to the car. She found the borrowed vehicle mysterious and interesting, and commented on it excessively, until Scribbs pulled out of the parking lot.
Scribbs spared a glance at her partner, who had slumped despondently into her seat.
"I should never have even tried to go out with Sullivan."
Emma made a non-committal noise. She didn't want to come down too hard on one side until she knew what Kate was thinking.
"I was a bloody idiot. I thought he was, you know, sending signs. With the dancing, and the hurt looks, and the fecking snogging. He's not a good kisser."
"That's good to know."
Ash gave her a sharp look. "Don't you go after him. You try anything and I'll tell him about your male impersonation."
"I wasn't going to!" Emma caught Ash's ferocious expression and suppressed a laugh.
"Good. 'Cause if I'm bloody bad for him, you'd be worse."
"Why are you bad for him, Ash?"
Ash grumbled incomprehensibly for a moment, and then spoke, "Whenever I say what I think, he gets that stupid hurt look, or he thinks I'm joking."
Scribbs nodded, bobbing her head from side to side. She entirely agreed with the summation, but wasn't going to comment.
"I don't know what I was thinking." Ash sighed and melted farther into her seat.
"He's not that fit," remarked Scribbs. Ash looked puzzled.
"No, I mean, I don't know what I was thinking, thinking I was good enough for him."
Emma glanced over at her, and nearly hit the median before recovering. "What's that shite? Good enough?"
Ash was covering her face like a four year old who thought that if she couldn't see you, you couldn't see her.
"You are bloody well good enough for anyone. He's not good enough for you."
"My brother he says I have an abrasive personality." Scribbs considered this. "And he's right. I don't know why you put up with me with my weird neuroses."
"Ash, shut-up. Sullivan is a wimp. He's a lousy, middle-aged wimp, and the only reason he's hurt by your assertions is because they're true."
Ash frowned sulkily. Scribbs sighed.
"Think about it. You're a detective. He's a single, middle-aged man, who has wanking fantasies about his hot red car, young nubile 'friends' called Brandi, and plays golf. You don't want any part of that."
Ash chuckled, and Scribbs smirked, pleased that her summation had been accepted. "Then what am I supposed to want a part of?" She scrubbed her face with her fists and sat up like someone waking from a nap. "'Cause I'm kind of uncomfortable going after skinny fifteen year olds, no matter how snazzy their facial hair is."
"He was pretty suave with women though."
"Glad you think so." She had reached Kate's flat, and pulled up outside it. "We're here. You okay to make it in?"
Ash stretched, rolled her shoulders, and plucked off her heels, stuffing them in her bag. "I'm fine." She was looking at Emma, her eyes sharp and penetrating. Emma tugged nervously at her ponytail. "You know " Emma raised an eyebrow, rather tense about being examined so closely by her partner.
"You're prettier than Leo." Kate leaned in and kissed her quickly, just a brush of lips against lips, and, before Scribbs could recover, she was out the door and padding up the stairs in her bare feet.
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