DISCLAIMER: Murder in Suburbia and its characters are the property of ITV. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Written in celebration of atfm’s birthday. Hope it's a good one!
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
"Ash, I'd like to see you in my office, please," said Sullivan, pausing in the doorway to be certain his DI had heard his request. A slight crinkling of her nose and pursing of her lips in a typical Ash-like grimace told him all he needed to know she'd not only heard, she'd already figured out what the topic of conversation would be. Not allowing time for any lame excuses as to why now wasn't a good time for her, he turned on his heel and started for the stairway, running the words of his planned encounter through his head. He'd not let Ash's stubbornness ruin her life or that of her fellow officers, with her bitterness, once she'd realized what she'd sat back and allowed to occur.
With a resigned sigh, Ash tiredly pushed away from her desk and, as had become her habit, spared a glance toward her partner's conspicuously empty space, the usually cluttered desk neat and tidy with action figures lined up, across the top of a darkened monitor, in alphabetical order of their characters' names. Scribbs' three day absence had seemed like an eternity to Ash and straightening her DS's desk hadn't eased the helpless, lost feeling she'd felt in the pit of her stomach. Her apprehension that Scribbs, her partner, would never return had consumed her every thought, the worry keeping her from facing her ultimate fear that she'd lose Scribbs, her friend, forever.
Standing outside Sullivan's door, Ash hesitated before knocking, trying to order her thoughts and emotions. She'd basically been a walking, talking zombie, merely going through the motions of her job, ever since Scribbs made her announcement to a group of colleagues she'd assembled just for the occasion. Ash had been dumbstruck by the news and had never made her way over to congratulate her partner. She'd just slipped from the room and headed straight for the nearest exit. If she hadn't sought out fresh air, she'd have hyperventilated on the spot, embarrassing both herself and Scribbs. She'd pushed through the station doors and greedily gulped the outside air into her lungs, stubbornly ignoring the tears that had blurred her vision. Without another thought, she'd walked away from the building and headed down the pavement. She'd needed to be alone to try to come to terms with the reality of the situation. Three days later and she still hadn't.
"Ash? You coming in?" asked Sullivan, his voice gentle and reassuring. Ash started, despite her boss' calm tone; so lost in her thoughts, she'd not seen his approach.
"Oh . . ." Ash covered her alarm with a nervous chuckle. "You've got very light feet, Boss."
Sullivan smiled and gestured toward the chair he'd placed in front of his desk. He was fairly certain he could've stomped over with steps as heavy as an elephant's and Ash still would've been oblivious to his presence. Closing the door once she'd started forward, he followed her into the room and veered behind his desk. He needed to ease into the conversation as to what they were going to do about Scribbs' rather sudden decision, but first he needed to force Ash's hand.
"This business with Scribbs has taken me completely by surprise. How long have you known?" He leaned back in his chair and carefully studied Ash's reaction. A slight narrowing of her brow, coupled with a tightening of her jaw, told him exactly what he'd already suspected: Ash had been as much in the dark as he'd been.
Breaking off eye contact with her supervisor, Ash brushed imaginary lint from her dark jacket and said, "I found out when everyone else did. Scribbs hadn't told me of her plans." She tilted her head and studied her other lint-free sleeve. "I hadn't realized the relationship had gotten this serious."
"What exactly has she said about this chap?"
"Nothing, really," said Ash, straightening the sleeve of her jacket when the obvious absence of lint had let her down. "She barely spoke of him."
Sullivan's brow rose in surprise; Scribbs always managed to work her latest bloke into conversation, oftentimes with great detail. "You're kidding."
A dark head snapped up at her boss' words. Ash never kidded; she was the consummate professional, both on and off the job. "Scribbs would occasionally mention she had a date, but she never went on and on about it like she normally did." Ash paused, a sudden thought occurring to her. "Perhaps I should've realized how serious she was by her lack of communication."
"So, Scribbs, the chatterbox, stopped talking altogether?" He placed his elbows on the arms of his chair and steepled his hands against his chest, resting his chin on top of his middle fingers. "You never questioned her about her dates with Stevens?"
Ash was temporarily taken aback by the question. Sure, she'd thought of asking Scribbs how it was going with her latest fling, but she'd just figured her partner had already grown tired of the bloke. By the time she'd realized Scribbs was still seeing the financial advisor, it was too late the banker had asked Scribbs for her hand in marriage and, much to Ash's shock and dismay, she'd said yes.
"Actually, Boss, I'd not realized she was still seeing him."
"Ah, well then, I guess we'll have to put our faith in Scribbs' judgment." Sullivan sighed dejectedly. "I do wish we knew *something* about him."
Ash fidgeted in her seat. "I did a basic check after Scribbs' first date with him." As was her practice, Ash had indeed checked out Stevens, just as she had all the other men her partner had gotten involved with. However, she'd not been in the least bit worried about the banker. After checking into his background and following him a few times, she'd come to the conclusion that the tall, green-eyed, dark haired, impeccably dressed, time- and rule-oriented man wasn't Scribbs' type. "I just needed to be certain she hadn't fallen into bad company; you know how those banker types can be."
Sullivan actually had no idea how banker types could be, but he imagined they'd hold their rules in the same high esteem as Ash held hers. Another point in Ash's favor.
"Hmm, has Scribbs ever intimated that she'd quit her job or perhaps cut down on her hours once she's married?"
Ash froze at the question; Sullivan had managed to hit her biggest fear head on without blinking an eye. Too bad she couldn't say the same for herself. She blinked and then blinked again, but neither the question nor the situation had changed.
"Boss?" She stalled. How could she tell Sullivan that she was terrified at the prospect of continuing in a job she loved without the woman Ash began to pale, her cheeks appearing almost alabaster . . . without the woman eyes widened comically as realization crashed down upon her without the woman she loved. Ash gripped the edge of the desk to keep from falling from her chair. She loved Scribbs!!!
Sullivan leaned forward in his chair and prepared to leap from it if necessary. It wouldn't be proper form to allow his DI to fall to the floor on his watch, but he'd honestly had no idea Ash would react so strongly to that particular question, although he was grateful he hadn't had to come right out and asked her directly how she felt about Scribbs marrying Stevens. He had, however, figured the proverbial 2x4 hit would smack Ash right between the eyes the moment her true feelings for Scribbs surfaced. Biting down on his lip, Sullivan kept his expression neutral as he slowly rose from his chair and moved around his desk. Ash had finally figured it out.
"Ash, are you okay?" Freeing her right hand from the death grip she'd had on his desk, Sullivan cradled it between his own and knelt down beside the distraught woman, waiting patiently for her to acknowledge him. It took several seconds for her eyes to track to his and several more for her to blurt out her confession in a soft voice, her emotions taking over her usually good sense.
"I love Scribbs."
Sullivan patted the hand he held and offered a reassuring smile. "I know, Ash; I know." He paused momentarily, allowing her to process his words, but with time being of the essence, he knew they needed to plod ahead.
"Now, let's figure out what you're going to do about it."
Sitting cross-legged in the middle of her bed, Scribbs stared across the room at the wedding dress that hung over her wardrobe door. In just ten days, her entire world would change - she would become Mrs. Jeremy Stevens. She gazed away from the sequined, white dress as she flopped onto her back and looked up at the ceiling, her mind wandering in a multitude of directions. Would people still call her Scribbs if she was Stevens instead of Scribbins? Her face scrunched up into a frown and not just at the thought of what she *might* be called after the wedding, but more so because she would in fact *be* Emma Stevens. The idea of keeping her current initials intact did little to alleviate the knot that had been steadily growing in the pit of her stomach as her wedding day neared, her upset exacerbated by her vivid recollection of how often she'd imagined an 'EA' becoming her new monogram.
Everything was happening so quickly, but she was saved from further troubling thoughts by a light rap on her door. With a groan, she rolled to the edge of the bed and pushed to her feet. She just hoped it wasn't her mother - again.
"Ash?" Scribbs' surprise was evident in her tone when she opened the door. She'd stopped trying to contact her partner after all her calls had gone to voice mail, figuring Ash would contact her when she was ready, but she never dreamed the other woman would show up in person.
"Scribbs," said Ash, pushing past her partner, "we have to talk." Making her way inside, she turned on her heel, fully prepared to confess her feelings, but her rehearsed speech flew out the window when she got her first good look at her partner. Scribbs was wearing a pair of threadbare jogging bottoms and a loose fitting collarless shirt that hung precariously from the edge of her right shoulder. Judging from the creamy bare skin on display, Scribbs wasn't wearing a bra underneath, and Ash found herself willing the shirt to take its plunge off the edge.
"Um, okay." Scribbs closed the door and shuffled on her bare feet toward the love seat. "What do we need to talk about?" There were dozens of topics that came to her mind and an equal number to Ash's, although, at the moment, all of Ash's centered on the treasures that lay under Scribbs' shirt instead of what she'd originally planned to say. An awkward silence grew and grew until it practically drew air from the room.
Both women spoke at the same time with the same uneasy tone; neither wishing to breech the silence but fearing they'd suffocate from it if they didn't.
"So . . ."
"So . . ."
"Go ahead then," said Ash, stalling for time. She really needed to get her resolve back on track she should either be kissing Scribbs senseless by now or drowning her sorrows in the bottom of a pint or three at the nearest pub.
"No, you should have first say."
"It's your home."
"But you're the guest."
"Just say what you were going to say, Scribbs."
Having no real idea what she wanted to say, Scribbs blurted out the first thing that came to mind. "Want to see my wedding dress?"
Ash's face fell, but she gamely pasted on a smile. The last thing she wanted to do was to see Scribbs' dress. Well, perhaps the second to last thing. Scribbs wearing the dress, walking down the aisle toward Stevens, was the very last thing she ever wanted to see, but she lied anyway, her good manners prevailing over her good sense.
"I'd love to." The words were forced out from between pearly white teeth, followed by another smile that was weaker than her first one. She looked a bit like a demented Cheshire cat, but it escaped Scribbs' notice as she'd already turned and started toward her bedroom, trusting her partner to trail along behind her.
Moments later, the two women stood in front of the stark white dress, the polite conversation yielding once again to uncomfortable silence. That is until Ash's proper upbringing seemed to fly right out the window.
"What?" Scribbs was momentarily taken aback, but only momentarily. "Yes, white. This is my first, you know."
A dark eyebrow scaled upward. "First? First what? Time you've jumped into marriage with one of the dozens of blokes you've slept with?" Ash hadn't actually meant her reference to white as virginal; she'd been referring to how white - bright white - the dress actually was, but Scribbs' reply had stirred up a hornet's nest of a different kind.
"Jumped?" Scribbs seemed less concerned with the implication of jumping than sleeping around. "I thought about this long and hard."
"Scribbs, you've only dated Stevens for a month. Granted, it's weeks longer than the others, but marriage isn't something to be taken lightly."
Scribbs folded her arms over her braless chest. "So, 'Miss graduate of posh girl's high,' how long should a proper engagement be?"
"A year," replied Ash, figuring that's how long it would take to convince Scribbs that it was she, not Stevens, who Scribbs should be making plans to live the rest of her life with.
"A year? You're kidding? The spark will have gone out of the marriage before it ever began."
"Not if you're truly meant to be together," Ash disagreed, which was precisely why she'd never settle on mediocre. She'd rather grow old alone than be trapped in a loveless marriage like so many of the other couples she'd seen through the years. Besides, she'd already found the one she wanted to spend the rest of her days with, even if it might only be in the form of a retirement home such as Birch Grove.
Scribbs opened her mouth to offer up a protest, however, the sudden look of sadness that had come over Ash pulled her up short. She understood too well the fear of never finding someone, and that was precisely why she'd said, 'yes,' to Jeremy. But now, standing here with Ash and looking at her wedding dress, she didn't feel so alone. She felt comfortable; she felt happy; she felt complete.
"He's a nice enough chap, but I don't love him, you know."
"No?" Ash had had no way of knowing; how could she? Scribbs had seemed so happy when she'd made her wedding announcement. Ash prodded on further. "Why'd you say yes then?"
Scribbs shrugged and tilted her head to the side in a gesture that often had Ash melting inside. This was one of those times. Unbidden, she reached out and gently took her partner's hand. "Why, Scribbs?"
"I guess I was afraid."
"Of what?" asked Ash, her tone soft, but with a hint of promise.
"That you'd find someone and then I'd be left alone."
"Me? What do I have to do with it?" Ash's heart rate increased, and she dared to hope that Scribbs may hold some sort of deep feelings for her as well.
"Friends often grow apart when one or the other marry. I didn't want to be the one left behind."
Ash nodded in agreement. She knew firsthand how it felt; the moment Scribbs had announced her plans, she'd felt as if her heart had been ripped from her chest. Feeling a gentle squeeze, she looked down at their joined hands.
"Ash, I need to tell you something."
Green eyes lifted to meet dark ones. "Me, too; I need to tell you something, too."
Scribbs smiled. "Okay, who goes first this time?"
"Why don't we go together?" suggested Ash, thinking that if she professed her love and Scribbs didn't, there was always the possibility Scribbs would misinterpret what she'd said.
"Are you asking me to go steady, Ash?" asked Scribbs teasingly.
Ash's eyes almost bulged out of their sockets. "What? No! I mean, perhaps, maybe, . . . but that's not what I was going to start off with."
"What were you going to say then?" Scribbs smiled reassuringly. The 'maybe' had sounded quite promising.
"Um, I realized something today," started Ash, once again gazing down at their hands. The perfect fit gave her the confidence to continue in a whispered voice, but she continued nonetheless.
"I love you, Scribbs."
Scribbs released a nervous breath and broke into a bright smile. "Oh Ash, I love you, too."
This time the ensuing silence was comfortable, and neither woman felt the need to fill it with mindless chatter. The words they'd both been holding back had finally been said. There was nothing else left to do except . . .
Eyes met first, followed tentatively by lips, until both women attempted to outdo the other in showing how very deeply they cared. Ash somehow managed to take control of the kiss, while leading Scribbs slowly backwards. She wasn't happy when her kissing partner suddenly pulled away.
"What about Jeremy?"
"Let him find his own girl," growled Ash, easing Scribbs down onto the soft mattress, and covering her partner's lips once again, she followed suit by covering Scribbs' body with her own. One hand slid under the shirt that had been teasing her unmercifully since she'd arrived, while the other moved to the drawstring of her soon-to-be lover's jogging bottoms.
Scribbs definitely wouldn't be wearing white at their wedding.
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