DISCLAIMER: Murder in Suburbia and its characters are the property of ITV. No infringement intended.
SPOILERS: There’s a quote from 1x03, but it doesn’t really contain spoilers.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thanks to the_girl_20 for the beta.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
The Games People Play
"What's the valuable lesson she's taught us, Scribbs?"
"Don't gate-crash stag parties?"
"Don't mix business with pleasure."
"It'll end in tears."
You watch her across the desks between you and hear her animatedly describing to half the station how she spent two hours trying to corner a neighbour's pet gecko that had somehow escaped from its terrarium and strayed into her flat the night before. It's not that you have to listen to the story; it's your flat, too, and you were there, shooing the small reptile around and wondering whether geckos were clean animals. But you enjoy looking at her while she relates the incident, her blonde hair a little messy from demonstrating how she crept under the table in her pursuit of the gecko, and her cheeks slightly flushed as she gets into the story.
You find it quite endearing how engrossed she is in her tale, and how oblivious to you observing her. Were she to look at you now, she'd see seriousness on your face, and perhaps a hint of disapproval for neglecting the report she should be writing and instead entertaining her colleagues. But she wouldn't take it seriously; she never does when you look at her that way, because she knows the only reason for it is that you're her DI and can't appear all smitten with her at work. And really, behind your professional mask, you nourish a deep affection for this woman, and it still amazes you how those feelings for her completely took you by surprise.
She's her usual chipper self, and you think how her effervescent nature counterbalances your stoicism, somehow making you a good match. While you remain adamantly professional in almost all situations, she's much more versatile in the way she acts. Tough when she deals with criminals; soft when she offers comfort to the bereaved; sometimes seductive when she's trying to charm bits of information out of someone; sweet when she wants to convince you to do something. Your different personalities make you clash frequently, but in the end they are what make you function so well as a team and a couple.
Most things are simple and straightforward for her. Her occasionally slightly blunt honesty is one of the things you appreciate most. As you observe her, you ponder whether you should tell her that Sullivan asked you out on a date earlier. Is it important? That depends on the answer to his question. To her, it would be easy, but not to you. There was a time when you were craving his attention, but now, you positively don't want to go out with him. When he stood there, clearing his throat nervously, you instinctively took a step backwards, somehow having an inkling of what was to come. Upon hearing the fateful words being uttered, you wanted to blurt out a firm 'no' right into his face, but your proper upbringing and sense of politeness allowed no such thing, so you evasively informed him with a forced smile that you'd have to contemplate whether dating a co-worker might be reconciled with your rules.
He, like everyone else, is aware of your affinity to rules, so he nodded understandingly and made sure to let you know there was no hurry to make a decision, and then ushered you out of his office. You gained some time to come up with a viable explanation to turn him down, which you undoubtedly will, so technically, there's no reason to tell Scribbs about this.
Then she turns to gaze at you, catching you off guard while you're deep in your thoughts.
"Hey Ash, what are you brooding about? Making up some new rules?"
She regards you so openly, with so much trust and that teasing half-smirk of hers curving her lips, and you know that you have to tell her. But now is not the right moment, so you just smile and shake your head.
Later that day, after the end of your shift, you sit at the bar of a crowded and noisy pub. Sipping slowly on your whisky, you glance at the empty stool beside you. You'd much rather be lounging on the couch at home with a glass of wine, but you came here to do her a favour, and you resent her a little for abandoning you at the bar with your tumbler and a small bowl of nuts which probably have germs all over them when the point of coming to the pub with her was spending the evening together.
Scanning the crowd with your eyes, you spot her on the other side of the room, dancing closely with some bloke. You immediately feel a pang of jealousy and clutch the glass in your hand more tightly. She sometimes does this when you're out together; flirts with random men and, occasionally, women. It irks you a little more each time, gives you that unpleasant sensation in the pit of your stomach, makes you feel like the third wheel even though you're sure you should be the focus of her attention.
She swirls around on the dance floor, now facing another bloke while moving her body to the music. Between two songs, she leans in to whisper something in his ear, and he laughs. You feel anger rising inside of you; why does she do this when she knows you're watching? But you know why. You used to think the purpose of her excessive clubbing was to find someone to love, and when the two of you started dating, you thought it would stop because there simply was no reason for it anymore. By now you know that Scribbs is the kind of person who has to attend every damn party out there because she's afraid of missing something, of being left out. She has to assure herself that she's living her life to the fullest by dancing wildly and flirting a little here and there. She doesn't do it to annoy you, or to hurt you, and deep down, you know it doesn't mean anything. That's also the reason why you can't simply ask her to quit doing it; it's not like you to confront people with an irrational fear of yours without being able to argue your case convincingly.
When the song ends, she crosses the room, elbowing her way through the crowd, and comes to stand close to you, placing a hand on your thigh. You think you smell aftershave on her and involuntarily recoil a little. She doesn't notice it. For some reason, her behaviour bothers you more tonight than it usually does, and the urge to snap at her is growing. But you can't do that, not when she doesn't even know she's done something wrong, your rules forbid that, so you settle for a game of 'an eye for an eye', knowing very well how you can make her feel bad.
"Sullivan asked me to have dinner with him."
She smiles. "A date?"
"That's the idea, yes." You search her face for the reaction you've been aiming for, something to let you know she hates the thought of it.
But she merely seems amused. "Poor Boss."
You wrinkle your brow in confusion and forget your eloquence. "What?"
"Well, I hope he didn't take it too hard when you turned him down." When you remain silent, her smile falters and she withdraws her hand. "You did turn him down, didn't you?"
"No." You should also tell her that you definitely plan on doing so, but in your endeavour to punish her for acting like she isn't in a relationship, you choose selective truth as your weapon.
"You agreed to go on a date with him?"
"Told him I'd think about it."
"This is a bloody joke, right?"
"Far from it." You wince at the sharpness of your own voice.
Her eyes darken, and disbelief is etched on her features. She seems incapable of comprehending this, of what's going on here, of even asking why, so she turns on her heel and leaves the pub.
You continue to sit at the bar for awhile, thinking how you achieved what you set out to do and trying to wash away the sour taste in your mouth with whisky.
When you come home, everything's quiet in the flat. You cross the dark hallway and enter the equally dark lounge, and for a moment you fear she's not there. Then you see her huddled on the windowsill, staring out the window at the faintly moving leaves of the tree in front of it.
You know you have to fix this, tell her the truth. But you don't know where to start, or how, because you feel so stupid. Talking about your emotions has never been one of your stronger suits; you've always felt silly doing it.
No response. You know she heard you, but she doesn't stir. You try again, softly.
Something in your tone strikes a chord. She turns her head, and despite the lack of light you can see she's been crying. The sight cuts right through you; it's unexpected, you've seen her cry before, over sad films, but you've never been the reason for her tears. For a fleeting moment you catch yourself thinking that she's overreacting. Then you immediately discard the thought because you know very well how the idea of her even considering seeing someone else would kill you. You can tell by the feeling of inadequacy merrily gnawing away at your heart.
When you take a step closer, you see the silent question in her red-rimmed eyes. On your way home, you prepared a whole speech in your head, it all made sense, but all was gone the minute you saw her. You want to make it right, and yet you begin by saying all the wrong things.
"It's all your fault. If you hadn't "
It's the first thing she's said to you since she asked you in the pub whether you were joking, and no matter how sad and broken she looked just a moment ago, now there's clearly an edge in her voice.
"You danced with that sleazy bloke," you say, and even to your own ears it sounds like a very weak attempt at explaining why you mentioned the potential date.
"So? Are you gonna run off and shag the next best person every time I dance with some random bloke?" There's contempt in her voice; it stings, but you know you deserve it. Nevertheless, her words seem unfair to you.
"I wasn't gonna shag him!"
"Oh, sure, you were gonna shake his hand at the end of the date and say, 'Thanks for the dinner, Boss, see you tomorrow at work.'"
"You know my ru "
"To hell with your rules, Ash."
This makes you angry again; angry at her for not letting you explain, angry at yourself for bringing about this situation in the first place. Suddenly you're yelling, hurling at her all the things that you've kept bottled for far too long because you're too damn repressed to properly talk things through like an adult would. You keep going until your voice cracks, and then you yell some more.
When you're done and look into her face, you see that she had no idea. She's not angry anymore; instead, a number of other emotions cross her features: shock over your outburst, regret over hurting you, sadness over the tricky nature of it all. But most prominent is disappointment over your incapability of simply telling her what was wrong and playing a cruel, childish game instead.
"I don't know what to say to this," she whispers and brushes past you, leaving you on your own for the second time that night. You can't find your cheeky, pouty Scribbs anymore, and you hate that you're responsible for it.
Standing near the window, you find yourself gazing at the same tree she'd stared at only minutes before. You silently curse it for standing there so firmly and witnessing everything spiral out of control so quietly. Just minutes ago, you'd thought that in this very moment, you'd have kissed and made up already, but here you are, alone, everything worse than before. This was not how it was supposed to be.
You feel empty and exhausted after all the yelling. In a way, it was a cleansing experience. Only now, jealousy, pain and anger made room for guilt, regret and fear.
With a heavy heart, you eventually manage to move into the bathroom, take a quick shower and then join her in bed. It's a tiny piece of comfort that she's still here, still sharing a bed with you. You hold on to that, simply because anything else would be like a rug being pulled from under your feet. She's facing away from you and lying quite still, but you know she's awake from the way she breathes. It's almost ridiculous how well you've come to know her breathing pattern and how easily you can tell whether she's asleep or not.
You'd give more than a penny to also be able to read her mind. Is she already pondering where she'll look for a new flat, already mentally dividing the things you bought together between the two of you? Suddenly you're scared shitless that you're gonna lose her over this incredibly stupid little campaign of revenge of yours. She'd never have done something like this, and you wonder when it became acceptable to you to hurt somebody you love on purpose, but then love does make you act like a fool. And this is what it all comes down to, love. It's what made you manouevre yourself into this mess and it's the reason why you desperately want to get back out of it.
Now you're staring at her back, so familiar to you that you'd recognise its outline beneath your fingertips anywhere. Just barely stopping yourself from reaching out and touching her, you tell yourself that it would be a bad idea right now, as much as you want to keep her from slipping away from you. You crave her smile and the mischievous sparkle in her eyes directed at you, but she's silent and sad, and you miss her even though she's right here.
Sighing, you force yourself to close your eyes and attempt to slow down the carousel that is your mind enough to catch some sleep. Unsurprisingly, it's not working; you always had a tendency to overthink things. It's not until the early morning hours, when dawn is beginning to break with a hazy grey sky showing, that you finally drift off.
When you wake from your few hours of blissful ignorance, you find that Scribbs is gone. For a moment you panic; then you notice all her belongings are still here. She's evidently gone to work without you, for the first time in months.
Dragging yourself out of bed, you glance out of the window and see what a dreary day it's going to be. How appropriate. After going through your morning routine mechanically, you briefly consider calling a cab, but then decide to take the bus down to the station because it will give you more time to think. During the half-hour ride, you make a plan, again. This time, you're determined to go through with it, and woe betide the person who dares to foil a plan by Kate Ashurst. By that, you mostly mean yourself. The first step will be to break it to Sullivan that you're not going to go out with him.
When you push through the doors at the station, you get a strange look or two. You never realised how accustomed people had grown to the two of you striding into the building together every morning, usually engaged in banter that doesn't stop until both of you sit at your desks, each nursing a mug of coffee peacefully.
Before you walk into the office, you stop at the door, surveying the large room with a trained eye and finding her at the board, pinning names and crime scene photos from your current case on it. You take a few moments to just look at her before she, or anyone else, notices you. It's odd how you did the same thing not even 24 hours ago, and yet it's so different now.
She's wearing that green jumper which she knows you love so much on her, and you wonder why she put it on today. Head tilted in a typical Scribbs fashion, her eyes flit back and forth between names, fact and photos. Right now, she looks more focused than down, and you hate that you have to go in and remind her why she's currently standing in front of the board alone.
But you, too, have to contribute to solving the case, so you casually stroll across the room to where your desk is located. Tossing your coat over the back of a chair, you decide to test the waters.
Your heart thumps wildly in your chest, like what she'll utter next, or whether she'll reply at all, will determine the course of the rest of your life. It might just as well.
"Morning," she says curtly, without looking at you. Her tone is noncommittal.
Still pissed-off then. You can't blame her. Remembering your plan, you think that now would be a good time to go and talk to Sullivan. When you turn to walk over to his office, you unexpectedly find him standing practically next to you. He has witnessed the short exchange and appears to be rather surprised by it.
"Boss," you manage. "I I was just going to come and see you. May I have a word with you in your office?"
"Sure." He continues to scrutinise Scribbs for a moment before he turns and briskly walks towards a door on the other side of the room, motioning for you to follow him. You do, and without checking, you can tell that Scribbs' eyes follow your every move. You resist to suddenly stop and wheel around, to force her to look directly at you.
As soon as you've closed the door behind you, you inform Sullivan that after careful consideration, you've come to the conclusion that it wouldn't be a wise idea to date a colleague, and a superior at that. He nods knowingly and says he respects your decision, and you get the feeling that he understands a lot more than he lets on. He doesn't hint at anything, however, and if he suspects something between Scribbs and you, you're grateful that he doesn't use your rule of separating work from your private life against you.
Exiting his office, you feel lighter, and somehow like you have Sullivan on your side. But the hardest part of your plan has yet to be fulfilled.
The day is going slowly, no witnesses or suspects to interview at this point, so the two of you are focusing on piecing together the information you've come up with so far. Not that this involves much in the way of communication. For awhile she broods over a list of phone calls the victim made the day before she was murdered, and now she's back at the board, staring at it intently.
"Hungry?" you casually ask.
She shakes her head, and if this was one of her normal pouts, you'd tell her you heard her stomach growl only a few minutes ago. But it isn't, so you don't.
"Fancy some fresh air?"
She gives you an almost pitiful look for your awkward attempts. "Not really."
You have no rules for this, and they probably wouldn't help here anyway, so you do the one thing that you normally avoid doing: You let your heart take the lead. Rising from your chair and stepping closer to her, you touch your hand to hers and lightly toy with her fingers.
"Please come outside with me and let me try for a proper apology," you plead quietly.
She locks eyes with you for a moment, and there's something in them that you can't quite figure out. Then she nods. "Okay."
Following you out of the building, she walks next to you in silence until you reach a small park near the station. Due to the dull weather, it's deserted. You come to a halt at an oak tree and face her.
"I " you begin, then change your mind. "You we "
"Congratulations, you've got about half of the pronouns covered," she supplies dryly.
You sigh. "This is bloody hard."
"Well, it's not supposed to be easy." She has her arms folded across her chest, but adds more softly, "Go ahead."
"I guess 'I'm sorry' would be a good start. I completely overreacted."
"You already know why but let me try to do this again without the yelling. I don't understand why you have to be all over other people when we're out together. It makes me feel so unimportant, and I wonder why I'm even there, or if you still want to be with me."
This could be her cue to reassure you, but she holds back for now. "And why couldn't you just tell me that? Instead of using Sullivan's advances to get back at me?"
"Because I'm a stupid cow," you mutter and absent-mindedly begin to pick at the bark of the tree. "And I felt rather silly about my petty jealousy."
At this, she cracks a smile. "Kate Ashurst has insecurities. Who would have thought it?"
"Yeah, who would have thought it indeed."
She grows serious once more. "You know what bothers me most about this? Not that you didn't feel you could tell me this, and not even that you played a cruel game instead. How could you think, even for a minute, that dancing with or talking to any of these blokes and women meant more to me than you do?"
"I don't know." And you really don't.
"Look, I admit that it may have seemed like I didn't care, but you know me. I like to party, and when I'm plastered, I interact with people easily. It doesn't mean anything."
"Maybe not in your world, but to me it does Posh Girls High, remember?"
You think that joking is perhaps the best strategy to not look like an uptight, pathetic sap of a girlfriend. Again, you see the hint of a smile play around her lips. She moves closer, so close you can feel the warmth emanating from her body, and gently takes your hand that is still worrying at the tree.
"Let me tell you something. I've been crazy about you from day one. And guess what? Hasn't changed one bit. Still hopelessly in love with you. Will probably never change, either. And here's the sappy part that I swear I didn't get from a greeting card: With you, I can stop searching. I was desperately looking for love, and then there you were, and you cooled my mind and soothed my heart. I'm happy with you, Ash. I don't need anyone else."
And she means it, you know that.
"Got it. I'm sorry I ever doubted you and for everything else. You know." You make a vague gesture with your hand.
"No worries." She knows how uncomfortable apologies make you and proves once again how easily she forgives. Her little huffs are frequent, but when it really matters, she's not hard on you. She looks pensive. "Just one more thing."
"Did you really consider going out with Sullivan? You know, did it flatter you when he asked?"
You're surprised by how vulnerable she suddenly looks.
"Of course not," you snort. "And who's being insecure now anyway?"
She shrugs, a little sheepishly. "Just had to make sure."
"Me and Sullivan if you think I'd ever go on a date with him, you have another thought coming."
You point at the patch of green showing from underneath her jacket. "Why'd you put that on today?"
And finally, there's the half-smirk, at this moment the most beautiful sight in the world to you.
"I know you like it, and I wanted to look nice for you when you take me out for a make-up dinner tonight."
And you realise that all this time, she never once considered walking out on you as you had feared; she never doubted that you'd fix things. You should've known, really, and somehow it doesn't surprise you much to find she had more faith in you than you did.
"Dinner, eh? Got a place in mind?"
"Lombardi's will be fine."
"Good gracious, woman, I don't earn that much more than you do."
"Do you want to make up properly or not?"
"I do, I just don't wanna drive myself into bankruptcy doing it. But I'll make a reservation."
She grins. "Good. I also demand champagne."
"Don't push your luck."
An even wider grin. "You feel bad enough to buy me champagne. Don't worry, it'll make everything better for you, too."
You know she'll take shameless advantage of the fact that you're feeling guilty, milking the opportunity for all it's worth. And you wouldn't have it any other way.
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