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A Slight Obfuscation of the Truth

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And we begin at the beginning…

“You ever thought about it?”

Ash pulled her gaze away from the passing scenery to shoot Scribbs a confused look.

“I’m sorry. You’ve lost me.”

Scribbs glanced over quickly, offering a questioning shrug. “You know, wife swapping.”

“Have I ever thought about wife swapping?” Ash’s tone was droll; the look she shot her partner was dry enough to parch. “I wasn’t aware I had a wife to swap.”

 “Maybe not wife swapping in particular, but an arrangement like it in general.”

“No. I can honestly say that, before this case, I’ve never thought about wife swapping at all.” Ash paused for a moment, then glanced curiously at Scribbs. “Have you?”

“What, thought about wife swapping?”

“I thought that was what we were discussing, yes.”

Scribbs shrugged again. “Not in particular.”

“But about an arrangement like it in general?”

“Maybe.”

Ash’s brows slammed down; Scribbs tried not to laugh at the look of curious horror on her face.

“Maybe?” she echoed. “Are you planning on explaining further?”

“I don’t know. Are you going to get your knickers in a twist about it if I do?”

Ash shot her a glare of near disgust. “I’m not a prude.”

“Didn’t say you were.”

“The implication was there.”

“Do you really want to know?”

“Probably not, but now I’m too curious to stop myself.”

“Okay,” Scribbs said, offering her partner a crooked smile. “I’ve thought about it plenty. You know, about finding someone I could call up whenever I was feeling a bit tense or lonely and say ‘Hey, fancy a shag?’ and they’d say, ‘Hello luv. I’d love one. Come on over.’ And then I’d say, ‘Straightaway. Be there in ten.’ And then I’d go over and we’d have fabulous no-strings sex.”

She stopped, looking at Ash expectantly, explanation apparently complete.

“I believe there’s a name for those types of friends, Scribbs.”

“I know what you’re insinuating, but that’s not exactly what I’m talking about,” Scribbs protested. “This is something different. You know, someone I could have dinner with or watch telly with or go shopping with or just talk to if that’s all I wanted.”

“But I thought you wanted no-strings sex?”

“Well, that too.”

“Scribbs,” Ash said, sighing, “you’ve just described either an unbelievably sensitive and caring yet non-pressuring boyfriend or a gay man you’ve hoodwinked into shagging you. I’m not sure either of those things exist.”

Scribbs drummed her fingers against the base of the steering wheel in frustration. “You’re missing the point entirely.”

“I think you’re missing the point.Take away the no-strings sex and you’ve just described a dating relationship. The two can’t be the same thing.”

“Firstly, what kind of dating relationship doesn’t include sex?”

“No-strings sex, Scribbs,” Ash stressed, shaking her head. “You take away the no-strings and leave the sex.”

“Which wouldn’t be what I’ve been describing, would it?” Scribbs pointed out. “This is my arrangement we’re discussing, if you’ll remember.”

“Yes, but what you’re discussing is a flight of fantasy. No such person exists.”

“Not true,” Scribbs said, frowning. “I’ve already thought of who it should be.”

Ash eyed the other woman warily but nonetheless felt compelled to ask, “So who is it?”

Slipping into their designated parking space, Scribbs cut the engine and looked over at her partner. “You, of course.”

Ash was left both speechless and motionless by her partner’s proclamation, so it took her a moment to realize that Scribbs was already out of the car and heading toward the front door of the police station. “What the bloody hell do you mean, ‘me, of course’?” she hissed, rushing to catch up with Scribbs.

“I thought it was pretty understandable the first time I said it,” Scribbs said with a shrug.

“It isn’t as if the structure of the sentence is what has me so confused,” Ash snapped, “but instead the thought process behind it.”

“I went over that, too.”

“When?”

“Just now,” Scribbs said slowly, pointing back out to the car park. “In the car.”

“That’s not at all what you just did,” Ash said firmly, catching Scribbs’ with a firm hand on her upper arm and pulling the other woman to a stop, dragging her back around the corner so they were away from the curious eyes of the desk sergeant. “You described a completely unrealistic situation and then plopped me down firmly in the middle of it as some sort of sexual release valve.”

“Don’t forget the shopping and telly watching.”

“You’re absolutely correct. How could I forget the shopping and telly watching,” Ash said scathingly. “Because those were the most important bits, weren’t they.”

“Well, actually,” Scribbs canted her head to the side thoughtfully, “it’s really probably the sex that’s the most important bit.”

“I know that,” Ash said, so frustrated she almost gave in to the impulse to stomp her foot.

“Ah, Ash. Scribbs. There you are.”

Sullivan’s smile was so blithely happy that Ash had to suppress the urge to punch him.

“Looking for us, Boss?” Scribbs asked brightly, returning his blithely happy smile with one of her own.

“I just wanted to check on your progress in the Smythe murder.”

“We’ve got someone in the frame for that one,” Scribbs said, leaning closer conspiratorially. “Give us a day and we’ll have cracked it, Boss.”

“Excellent, Scribbs!” Sullivan beamed. “I’ll look forward to hearing your full report.”

Ash waited patiently as Sullivan left, flashing another bright smile over his shoulder as he turned the corner. “Don’t think you can distract me by lying to our DCI.”

“I wasn’t lying. I think I’ve figured it out.”

“Oh, and were you going to tell me about this breakthrough?”

“Just as soon as you calmed down about the other thing.”

“The other thing,” Ash echoed,  incredulous. “You mean the thing in the car? The thing where you propositioned me?”

“I didn’t proposition you,” Scribbs pointed out. “I merely laid out the particulars of what I think would be a mutually beneficial arrangement for myself and a suitable partner and, upon prompting, provided the name of just who I think said partner should be.”

“An evasion worthy of a solicitor,” Ash muttered, snorting with disgust. “Here, Scribbs, are my particulars for you.” She paused, leaning forward so they were eye to eye. Voice deadly calm, she slanted her face even closer and said softly, “It’s never going to happen.”

“Whatever you say, Ash. Consider the suggestion officially off of the table.”

“Good.”

“But if you change your mind, you know where to find me.”

******

Two weeks later…

“Stop looking at me.”

Snapped out of her fog, Scribbs looked up at her partner in confusion. “I wasn’t.”

“You were. You’ve been staring at me all afternoon.”

“More like I’ve been in danger of falling asleep with my eyes open all afternoon.”

Ash glared, jaw clenched, obviously on the verge of saying something further when she decided against it. “Fine,” she snapped, returning her gaze to the computer screen in front of her.

Nearly 15 minutes later, she looked up again, eyes narrowing as she caught Scribbs looking right back at her. “You’re doing it again.”

“I wasn’t doing it the first time,” Scribbs stipulated, “but now that you’ve got me thinking about it, I couldn’t help it.”

“That makes no sense,” Ash muttered, putting a hand to her forehead to stave off the headache she could feel approaching.

“You’ve been nervous lately, since I told you about my idea.”

“I have not.”

“Like you’re worried I’m going around thinking about you naked all the time.”

Ash looked like she was going to snap again but stopped, a vaguely curious look flitting through her eyes. “Are you?”

Scribbs shrugged. “Not all the time.”

“But you are thinking about it some of the time?”

Scribbs shrugged again. “Sometimes. But sometimes I think about Sullivan naked. And then sometimes it’s someone famous, like Richard Armitage or Famke Janssen.”

Ash stared at her in disbelief. “Do you spend the majority of your day thinking about naked people?”

“Not always. I spend a lot of time thinking about what I’d like for lunch, too.”

“It’s nice to know your mind is always on the job,” Ash said snippily, crossing her arms over her chest and leaning back in her chair. “It’s a wonder we manage to catch any murderers, what with the naturalist camp frolicking about in your head.”

“Hey,” Scribbs protested, “it’s a proven relaxation technique. Helps me think more clearly, in fact, and keeps me substantially less tense than you.”

“I’m not tense.” Ash frowned. “I’m appropriately reserved. We can’t all be gushing cauldrons of emotion and nonsense.”

“You think I’m a gushing cauldron?”

“I think you need to return your attention to the task at hand.”

Scribbs pouted, tapping the end of her pen pointedly on the desk. “And I think I feel insulted.”

“One would hope you’d feel motivated to actually work.”

Throwing the pen down with a dramatic flourish, Scribbs stood, staring down her nose at Ash. “It’s time to go anyway. It’s Friday, past five, and I’ve got a date tonight.”

“A date? With who?”

“A nice bloke I met in line at the grocery.”

“The grocery? Do you even know anything about him?”

Scribbs shrugged her shoulders, lips quirking into a careless grin. “I know that he’s gorgeous and that he’s taking me to a movie. That’s all I need to know.”

“He could be an axe murderer,” Ash sputtered, a look of growing concern on her face. “Or a conman.”

Rolling her eyes, Scribbs murmured, “It seems rather unlikely that he’s either.”

“Is he married?”

“Don’t think so. I didn’t see a ring on his finger.”

Ash huffed, scowling once again. “Well, he could simply have hidden his ring. Honestly, Scribbs, you need to find out more about someone before you agree to go out on a date with him.”

“I think that’s what the date is for. Finding out about one another, that is. But don’t worry. It certainly isn’t serious yet. I’m going out with Clive Fraser tomorrow night.”

“Clive Fraser? The witness?”

“He’s not really that much of a witness,” Scribbs said defensively. “He didn’t actually witness anything. He just provided a little information about the case.”

“Well, I don’t think it’s a very good idea.”

“Of course you don’t,” Scribbs scoffed. “You don’t think anything’s a good idea.”

“I think not going out with Clive Fraser is a good idea. I think not picking up strange men at the grocery and then agreeing to sit with them in a darkened room for two hours is a good idea.”

“Then let me rephrase,” Scribbs said. “You don’t think doing anything fun is a good idea.”

“I don’t happen to consider any of those things fun,” Ash said, miffed.

Scribbs smirked. “Of course you don’t.”

Ash’s glare was as cold as ice. “Don’t you have somewhere else to be?”

“Luckily, I do. I’ll be out having fun. You should try it. Or,” she said, leaning over across the desk, voice pitched low, “you could take me up on my offer and I’ll help you experience it firsthand.”

“Never going to happen.”

Scribbs stood up abruptly, snagging her jacket and scarf. “Suit yourself. I’m off.”

“In the head,” Ash muttered under her breath. Then, louder, “Try not to get yourself hacked to pieces.”

“I’ll let you know how it turns out,” Scribbs called back over her shoulder, already on her way out of the station room.

Ash frowned, then sighed. “I’ll be on pins and needles.”

******

The next time Scribbs saw Ash she was – and if ever a thing like that could be done, Ash was the one to do it – testily drinking her tea.

“What’s wrong with you?”

“Nothing.” Ash took another irritated sip, then managed a vaguely nonchalant, “How were your dates?”

“Oh, grocery boy turned out to be a bore,” Scribbs said flippantly, “but Clive was alright. Too bad he lives so far away. We can’t make a proper go of it, or at least I can’t. Long distance relationships are for people with more patience than me. But, I told him to call me whenever he was in town.”

“Planning on being a port in a storm, Scribbs?”

Scribbs offered a petulant pout. “I have a feeling you’re implying something not very nice about me.”

“Your feeling might just be correct.”

“No need to be catty, Ash,” Scribbs huffed, finally getting around to the process of unwinding her scarf and removing her coat. “At least this way he can keep a bit of his mystique. Right now, he’s jungle boy Clive, dashing explorer and adventurer, not can’t-be-bothered-to-pick-up-his-dirty-laundry-from-the-bathroom-floor Clive, the antithesis of anything exciting. And that’s what they all turn into in the end, isn’t it?”

“Not the good ones, one would hope.”

Scribbs sighed, then leaned forward so that she was propped casually on top of her desk. “I don’t think there are any good ones. That’s the problem.”

“Hence your little proposition?” Ash asked dryly.

Scribbs nodded, then smirked. “I think you’re secretly intrigued by it, Ash. You talk about it more than I do. Why not just say yes already, save us both a lot of trouble? You could come round to mine tonight. We’ll order in Italian, pop open a bottle of wine, light a few candles, turn on the romantic music. I’ll wear a little something special and we’ll take things slow. Think about it – sounds like the perfect Monday night to me.”

“Well,” Ash said stiffly, “it doesn’t to me. And honestly, Scribbs, what is in the least romantic about a business arrangement crafted out of convenience shags?”

Scribbs looked distinctly affronted. “You think it’s about business and convenience?”

“What would you say it’s about, hmm? Have you been hiding some sort of secret sexual attraction to me?”

Scribbs gave her a long, assessing look. “You are well fit, if that’s what you mean. Got a fabulous arse, too.”

“Oh God,” Ash moaned, looking distinctly uncomfortable. “Take it back immediately.”

Scribbs looked genuinely confused. “Why?”

“Because otherwise I’ll think you’re checking out my hindquarters on a regular basis. How will I be able to work if I’m constantly worrying about you looking at my bum?”

“Same as before you knew I was doing it?” Scribbs offered with an innocent shrug.

Ash scowled. “I don’t find this at all amusing.”

“Me either,” Scribbs agreed easily. “It’s not a laughing matter.”

“So you agree that, henceforth, we will never have a discussion of this sort again.”

“No, actually I meant I was being dead serious.”

******

Four months later…

With a look of befuddlement on her face, Scribbs opened the door to an absolutely despondent Ash.

“Ash?”

“He’s gay,” the other woman moaned by way of reply.

Stepping back to let her partner inside, shivering as a bit of the cold night air made it in along with her, Scribbs asked, “Who’s gay?”

“Gerald.”

“You mean your boyfriend?”

“He’s not my boyfriend,” Ash said bitterly. “He’s some bloke’s boyfriend.”

Scribbs couldn’t hide her confusion. “Then why was he dating you?”

“So that his parents wouldn’t think he was gay.” Ash deposited her coat into Scribbs’ waiting arms and then headed for the living room. “Do you have any wine?”

“I’ve got a Riesling in the fridge. Caught it on sale,” Scribbs called out after Ash’s disappearing back. “Go ahead and open it.”

Moments later, after she’d dutifully hung Ash’s coat and Ash had deftly popped the cork from the bottle of wine, Scribbs found herself face-to-face on the couch with her morose partner, glass in hand. “Now how about you explain this all from the beginning,” she prompted.

“We met at mother’s Club, as you know. He’s a friend of David’s…”

“More like a friend of Dorothy’s,” Scribbs snorted.

Ash glared, then continued on with her monologue. “We hit it off immediately. He was wonderfully knowledgeable about art and wine, preferred sailing to football, and loved to discuss politics and social issues. Our conversations were exquisite.”

“Should’ve been your first clue,” Scribbs said. “Since when have you met a bloke who could have exquisite conversations about anything other than England’s World Cup chances?”

“There are a few sophisticated men out there, Scribbs.”

Scribbs nodded innocently, but couldn’t help adding, “And apparently they all have boyfriends already.”

“Well, I thought he was a proper gentleman,” Ash said sourly, taking a sip of her wine. “But, nearly three months of dating, and he was still leaving me standing at the door with a little peck. He never once accepted any of my invitations in for a nightcap. I thought it meant he was committed to taking the relationship slowly. Turns out he just wanted to get out of there early so he’d still have time to go around and shag his boyfriend before going home.”

“He told you this?”

“Yes. It appears he really liked me, as a friend of course. He said he was starting to feel guilty about using me and decided to confess.”

“Oh. Well, at least he had the nerve to tell you the truth.”

“I wish I’d had the nerve to wallop him,” Ash retorted viciously.

“I really don’t think that would have helped matters,” Scribbs offered, smiling. “And you would have felt bad about it later.”

“I doubt it.”

“Think of it this way, at least you found out now. Imagine if the two of you had carried on dating. You’d have gotten a complex, I imagine, from all of the avoidance of sex. And what if you’d married him? At least this way you don’t have to worry about your husband leaving you for the cabana boy when you go on honeymoon.”

“You’re right,” Ash drawled sarcastically. “I do feel ever so much better about things now.” She paused, then added a seething, “I wasted three months of my life on that man.”

“Could have been worse.”

“Oh?” Ash’s glare could have melted ice. “How?”

“He could’ve wanted you to join him and his boyfriend for a romp.”

“Actually, Scribbs, that was the problem. I’m sure neither he nor his boyfriend wanted to be involved in any sort of romping at all where I was involved.”

“It’s for the best anyway,” Scribbs murmured, a conciliatory expression on her face. “I can’t imagine you’d be up for a ménage a trois.”

Ash looked vaguely horrified. “My reasoning for coming here tonight escapes me,” she muttered, taking another sip of wine.

Scribbs appeared unscathed by the sarcasm. “For cheering up would be my guess. Though it could have been to tell me that I’d been right all along and that my proposed arrangement was a much better alternative than dating a string of losers and having futile, ill-fated relationships with no future.”

“Funny,” Ash muttered, draining her glass in a single gulp, “actually, it was the latter.”

For a moment, Scribbs looked intensely confused. “Latter means the second one, right?”

“In a situation where you have two options, yes.”

“What about when you have more than two options?”

Ash thought about that for a moment then glared. “There were only the two options, so that doesn’t really matter, does it?”

“But then, if it were the latter of the two, that would mean,” Scribbs said slowly, brow crinkled as if in deep concentration, “that you’re here to tell me that I was right all along?”

Ash looked distinctly ill at ease. “No,” she said, shifting uncomfortably, “it would mean that I’m here to accept your proposal.”

Unable to look Scribbs’ in the eyes following her proclamation, Ash leaned forward, refilling her glass with wine.

A moment of awkward silence stretched out between them until Scribbs murmured, clearly stunned, “Well, that was unexpected.”

Ash let out a sigh of mixed frustration and relief. “I realized you do have a point. If I weren’t so bloody desperate, I’m sure I would have realized before tonight that there was something wrong with Gerald. I mean, what kind of man dates a woman for three months and doesn’t once even make a move toward her knickers?”

“A gay one, I guess,” Scribbs offered.

“Exactly,” Ash snapped. “And there I was, blinded by my desperation. I wanted so badly for a relationship to work out that I willfully ignored all of the red flags. So as he was sitting there, explaining to me how he’d used me all this time, I thought to myself that it was high time I found a contingency plan.”

“That means I’m your contingency plan, then?”

“You were the one who said that this provided the perfect way to make it through the dry spells while providing the companionship needed to allow me to sharpen my vision and see through all the bad mistakes waiting to happen,” Ash pointed out. “Unless the whole thing was just you having me on.”

Scribbs silently shook her head in the negative, eyes wide.

Now that she’d actually carried through with her impromptu plan, Ash began to think that it might have been a very bad idea. Scribbs was staring at her as if she’d just walked off an alien ship. Her own stomach was roiling with nerves, and that was to say nothing of the sudden tension that had sprung up between them. And so, after a long moment, she snapped accusingly, “It was your plan. Don’t you know how things are supposed to go from here?”

“I had thought about it,” Scribbs admitted, “but usually my scenarios were a little more romantic. You know, soft music and candles and such, not me in my pyjamas and you miffed because your boyfriend turned out to be gay.”

“Should I come back later, then,” Ash said acidly, “when you’ve had time to locate the Barry White?”

Scribbs gave it a moment’s thought. “No, you should probably stay. And I don’t have any Barry White anyway. How do you feel about Sade?”

“Ambivalent. Shouldn’t we just get on with this?”

Scribbs looked torn. She knew just where that Sade cd was located, and it wouldn’t take but a minute’s time to put it in the player. But, Ash looked like she was on the verge of bolting, so instead she eased closer to the other woman, arm reaching out to wrap around Ash’s shoulders.

Ash flinched. Scribbs drew back as if burned.

“At the risk of this sounding a bit like a soft core porn nymphet, you’re too tense,” Scribbs muttered, immediately discarding her plan to go in for a kiss. “How about we just start with a shoulder massage?” She held her hands up hesitantly, palms out, as if trying to soothe an irritated witness.

Ash took another nervous sip of wine, eyes large over the rim of the glass, then nodded shallowly. “It might help.”

“Good. On the floor then.”

Ash’s resulting shriek was outraged. “What?”

“You sit on the floor,” Scribbs said calmly, soothingly, as if she was face to face with a livid tiger, “and I’ll sit behind you on the sofa. It’s a simple matter of practicality, Ash, not a proposition to shag on the carpet.”

Ash’s look was still distrustful.

“Down,” Scribbs prodded, pointing to the floor, eyes encouraging. “You can do it.”

Though she looked to be on the verge of mutiny, Ash nonetheless slid gracefully off the edge of the sofa, hands bracing against the floor as she settled down. “Very well, but I reserve the right to adjust this arrangement at any time.”

A bit relieved now that Ash was staring forward blankly instead of at her with a mix of trepidation and slight horror, Scribbs slid over the expanse between them, gently settling one leg on each side of Ash’s torso. She felt the other woman stiffen slightly as her calves brushed against Ash’s elbows, heard the sharp inhalation of breath that heralded some form of protest, and waited, shoulders tensed, for the explosion. After a moment, when nothing had happened, she felt confident enough to slowly begin to lower her hands.

Until Ash’s head snapped around, jaw stern in profile. “Well,” she said expectantly, “weren’t you going to…”

“I was,” Scribbs protested, “until you got me all discombobulated.”

“Discombobulated?” Ash scoffed.

“Now is not the time for mocking.”

“Fine.” Ash huffed, then turned so she was facing forward again. Relaxing back stiffly, she resolved, this time, to wait.

Scribbs took a deep breath, willing herself to focus, and tentatively let her hands drop to Ash’s shoulders. “Bloody hell,” she murmured a moment later, fingers digging into muscles rock hard with tension. “Are you always this tense?”

Tone defensive, as if she couldn’t decide whether that was a dig or not, Ash muttered, “I believe this situation may have made me a bit more so than usual which, you’ll have to agree, is completely understandable.”

Scribbs scowled at the back of Ash’s head, not quite sure how the other woman had so thoroughly derailed any attempts at a smooth seduction she might have made. Since she’d shown up at the door, bitter about her latest relationship and grudgingly and unexpectedly accepting Scribbs’ invitation to enter into the sort of arrangement Scribbs was now beginning to hope they’d eventually get to that night, Ash had been the antithesis of acquiescent. She’d been prickly and distrustful, bordering on aloof, and if Scribbs hadn’t wanted this so badly, she’d have shown the other woman the door some time before.

Instead, she dug her fingers into Ash’s shoulders, disregarded the other woman’s startled and slightly pained hiss, and directed all of her considerable attention to making Ash relax. Her brow furrowed, she started with her thumbs at the base of Ash’s neck, one on each side of her spine, and pressed hard. She didn’t let up until she felt the flesh become more pliant under her fingers, and when it did, she simply relocated to the spot directly below that one and started anew.

Her fingers were aching and Ash’s skin, from what she could see beneath the collar of the other woman’s jumper, was a faint red before she saw the first hint of success. Ash’s head tilted forward slightly, baring the back of her neck, and her shoulders slumped infinitesimally. Smiling, relieved, Scribbs moved her hand up the slim column of Ash’s neck, thumb and middle finger rubbing hard circles at the base of her skull, gratified when the move earned her the softest of pleased moans.

“Are you sure you’re not just trying to sleep with me for career advancement purposes?” Ash asked sleepily. The massage had relaxed her more than she’d expected, Scribbs’ fingers teasing away the ever-present tension in her shoulders with skill. It also made her feel slightly better about her decision to give this arrangement a try. After all, if she had back rubs to which to look forward, then it couldn’t be an entirely bad thing.

Unseen, Scribbs rolled her eyes. “No offense, Ash, but I think I’d shoot a little bit higher up the ladder than you if that was what I was going for.”

For some reason, Ash sounded disappointed when she said, “Oh, right.”

Emboldened by the progress she was making, as minute as it was, Scribbs eased up on the pressure of her fingers, instead letting her nails run softly against Ash’s skin. She traced down the slim line of Ash’s neck, let her fingers slide smoothly over the top of her shoulders to tease at her collarbone, and then brought them back around to dip under her collar in the back. It was the last move that earned a slight shiver, and she watched as goosebumps danced along the small portion of Ash’s forearms left bare by her jumper.

The position wasn’t the most comfortable in the world as she cupped her palms around Ash’s shoulders and slid her hands down her arms, leaning forward to lay a soft kiss against the back of her neck, but the involuntary hiss the other woman gave combined with the subtle dip of her head more than made up for it. And since it seemed like Ash was finally allowing herself to relax enough for this to happen, and as she hadn’t yet voiced any complaints and instead seemed to be at the very least satisfied with what Scribbs was doing, she decided to continue.

Scribbs took her time, lips covering every square millimeter of flesh they could find. Sometimes she’d linger in a particular spot, would seal her lips to it and suck lightly and grin as Ash’s breathing grew even harsher. She was doing just that when she let her hands move from their lazy path up and down Ash’s arms to slide across her abdomen and up to cup her breasts and Ash’s startled, needy cry caused her to bite down inadvertently.

Ash’s subsequent moan and her fervently murmured, “Oh, God,” enticed Scribbs to try it again. And this time the reaction was stronger; Ash’s fingers clenched into tight fists as her shoulders trembled and slammed back against the sofa.

The two, combined, were too much for Scribbs. With a speed and agility she didn’t know she possessed, she slithered down, swinging herself around so that she was straddling Ash’s thighs, and kissed her. Much to her surprise, given Ash’s earlier reticence, the other woman kissed her back with a singular intensity that was nearly overwhelming.

Scribbs was more than happy to let her.

Ash, for her part, was more than a little bit startled by the intensity of her reaction. She hadn’t been expecting the gathering heat of arousal that had pooled in her belly as Scribbs had decorated her skin with kisses, but it had happened nonetheless. She imagined that she’d been expecting something more comfortable, perhaps an easy sort of familiarity that was pleasing but not overpowering. She’d been expecting some level of excitement, surely, but not the unexpected surge of need that had happened instead. It was almost enough to make her want to pull away, but the conscious recognition that she was in a situation that was far trickier than she’d anticipated was nothing compared to the steady pull of her arousal. Pulling away was obviously the safe option, of course, but for once and much to her surprise, Ash felt a little reckless.

Scribbs wasn’t sure how long they remained that way, waging a mutually beneficial war for control of the kiss. She did know that it was the first time in longer than she could remember that her partner in kissing seemed to enjoy that particular activity as much as she did, with no frustrated grunts and entreaties to move things along marring the process. She also knew that the feel of Ash’s hands on her bum, pulling her forward with more force than she’d anticipated, had her worrying that she might be the one issuing those frustrated grunts and entreaties. And so she let her fingers drift down to the hem of Ash’s jumper, gathered it in her hands and began to tug it slowly upward, knuckles brushing against the soft skin of Ash’s belly along the way.

A sharp slap brushed her hands away and a stinging nip to her lower lip punished her for the effort.

When Ash pulled back, Scribbs tensed anticipatorily, expecting to see outrage and the imminent end of their previous activities telegraphed in her glare. And while she did see a hint of outrage, it was mixed with a good deal of haughty incredulity instead of threats of cessation.

“Not on the floor,” Ash said, brows drawing together in affront, as if she couldn’t fathom that Scribbs had dared to do something so fresh as her attempted disrobing.

It took a moment for the meaning of the words to register, but when they did, Scribbs scrambled off of Ash’s lap and onto her feet, extending a hand to the other woman. Ash took it primly, allowed herself to be hauled to her feet and then followed as Scribbs used their joined hands to tug her in the direction of the bedroom.

Scribbs waited until she’d crossed the threshold before pinning Ash to the wall. “This is better, then,” she murmured, and kissed her again. It was quite likely that Ash would have said that it wasn’t better at all, but Scribbs had pulled away slightly to do something to her neck that made it absolutely impossible to think, so instead she jerked impatiently at the shoulders of the Scribbs’  nightshirt. It certainly wasn’t the best approach to removing it, but when Scribbs seemed to get the message and stepped back just long enough to whip it over her head, Ash counted the move as a success. She also took the time to mirror the action, so when Scribbs stepped forward again, it was to the satin of their bras sliding together pleasantly and an abundance of warm, bare skin.

Not enough bare skin, apparently, as Scribbs caught an earlobe between her teeth and slid her fingers around to the clasp of Ash’s bra. They fumbled slightly, managed to get one hook undone but not the other, and dug into Ash’s back in frustration.

“Harder than it looks,” she mumbled, the words brushing across the curve of Ash’s ear. With a shiver and a slightly cocky grin, Ash reached forward herself, easily unhooking the clasp to Scribbs’ bra, then reached behind her to unsnag the last recalcitrant hook holding hers in place.

“Or not,” she said slyly, letting the bit of fabric drop to the floor. Her fingers traced up Scribbs’ sides, tangled in the straps of her bra and pulled, and the next time they pressed together, there were no barriers.

When Ash had decided to go through with Scribbs’ harebrained plan, so utterly infuriated at the general paucity of acceptable and trustworthy men, she’d consciously decided that it was a very bad idea. It was bound to be awkward and uncomfortable and no doubt virtually impossible to carry out, but the notion of being able to enjoy all of the good bits without all of the attendant mess had appealed to her in her fury. She’d been hoping to discover she couldn’t have the good bits this way either, if for no other reason than to stifle her overly curious imagination and Scribbs’ entendres, but that plan, such as it was, had been thwarted. Yes, it was a bit weird when Scribbs hooked a hand under her thigh and pulled it up so it was circling her waist. It was a bit weird, too, to look down and see the top of Scribbs’ head as the other woman drew her nipple into her mouth and did something with her tongue that nearly buckled her knees. And it was awkward, the knowledge that Scribbs had not only heard but actually been the cause of the low, deep moan she’d let out involuntarily, but, though she’d never have believed it even a day before, none of the strangeness of the situation – the way she was clutching desperately at Scribbs’ back or burying her hand in soft blonde hair, or the way Scribbs’ hips were pushing into hers urgently, her hands apparently unable to settle on a single spot of bare skin and, instead, driving Ash nearly crazy with brushing glances and desperate grips –was enough to outweigh her current inescapable need to continue on with her current course of action as long as was physically possible.

Of course, it also helped that she was a little bit tipsy and, on top of that, so utterly furious with Gerald that she was in just the frame of mind to do something a tad bit unpredictable. Until, that was, she felt Scribbs’ fingers slide below the waistband of her underwear, though how Scribbs had managed to unbutton and unzip her trousers without her notice escaped her.

“Scribbs,” she said incredulously, reaching down to capture the other woman’s wrist in an iron grip, “not against the wall.”

Scribbs looked up, eyes hazy and confused, lips wet and red and parted, and for a moment, Ash forgot her protest. “Wha…?” Scribbs asked, darting forward for another deep kiss, hand straining against Ash’s grip.

Ash’s palm, firm against her shoulder, stopped her. “Not against the wall,” she repeated sharply, unwrapping her leg from Scribbs’ waist and giving her a soft shove. She canted her head to the side, gave Scribbs another little encouraging shove, and murmured, “The bed, Scribbs. The bed.”

Hands catching on the waistband of Ash’s trousers, Scribbs shoved them down over her hips, nails raking back up along the outside of Ash’s thighs as she straightened once more. “Whatever you want, Ash.”

And then, before she could field another protest, Scribbs guided Ash back and lowered her onto the bed, crawling along after her. When she eased herself into the vee of Ash’s thighs, when the other woman brought her legs up to bracket Scribbs, she decided that the bed was a rather good idea after all.

“That gay boy was a bloody idiot,” she muttered, head once again lowering to take a taut nipple in her mouth. She had discovered she quite liked doing that, liked the softness of Ash’s breast against her lips, the responsiveness of the skin under her tongue. She had a feeling she would be quite happy to remain in her perch indefinitely, discovering new tricks until Ash’s skin was red and raw, but Ash obviously had a different opinion.

Fingers wound tightly in her hair and pulled back sharply, separating her from Ash’s skin with a wet pop, and she looked up to see Ash glaring down at her. The glare was followed by a sudden flurry of movement, as Ash used the hand still in her hair to pull her, rather less than gently, upright, the other propping against the mattress to bring her to a sitting position as well.

The look on Ash’s face was one of being too furious to actually speak, which she didn’t, and Scribbs tried to figure out just where she’d gone wrong.

“Ash?”

“Enough talking,” Ash snapped, and then her fingers were scrabbling against the waistband of Scribbs’ pyjama pants, trying desperately to push them down her hips, and Scribbs smirked. She wrapped her hands around Ash’s wrists, drew them free of her body, and leaned forward, pressing Ash back against the mattress, hands held hard above her head. For a moment, Scribbs hovered in front of her, lips so close that they were almost brushing. Then, with a sly chuckle, she pulled back.

Rising up on her knees, she eased the bottoms down her hips a few inches, uncovering the upper curve of her hipbones as she watched Ash watch her movements. Feeling a bit devilish, she slid her own hand into the fabric, inching ever so slowly downward until just the tip of her finger met up with wet flesh.

Ash watched intently, cheeks flushed and chest heaving, hands still pressed helplessly into the bedding above her head. Scribbs thought about continuing her torture, about watching Ash watch the muted shadow of her hand moving against her own flesh, but, as good as even that slight glancing touch had felt, the body she wanted to be touching was Ash’s.

She wasn’t sure if Ash’s sigh was of relief or disappointment as she pulled her hands free, as she shimmied out of her pyjama bottoms and kicked them off. She could tell that Ash was on the verge of demanding something from her, the growing darkness of her eyes expressing her intent, but instead of waiting to see what it might be, Scribbs instead hooked her fingers in the sides of Ash’s underwear, whipped them off, and slid her fingers inside of Ash, unable to stifle her curiosity. She pumped them once and then again, reveling in the feel of Ash wrapped tightly around her, then pulled them free suddenly, almost as if shocked that she’d dared to do it in the first place. When she held her hand up between them, staring wondrously, her fingers glistened in the dim light coming in from the street; unable to help herself, she wrapped her lips around them, the fresh, tart sweetness of Ash’s arousal suddenly heavy on her tongue.

It was much better, much more exciting, than she’d anticipated.

“We’ll come back to this,” she murmured, eyes glinting mischievously as her fingers returned, this time brushing lightly back and forth over Ash’s clit. Easing down on her side, propped up so that she could see the length of Ash’s body, Scribbs leaned over, kissing Ash again. She moaned at the way Ash’s tongue sought out her own; suddenly she was tasting Ash tasting herself, and it was almost too much.

She changed the motion of her fingers, went from soft, brushing strokes to hard, fast circles, and Ash pulled away from her with a hissed inhalation, hips bucking up and head pressing back into the pillow.

“Christ,” Ash gasped, one hand coming up to tangle in her own hair. Scribbs knew the gesture, a classic posture of utterly overwhelmed Ash, and when Ash turned toward her, eyes searching and begging and full of disbelief, it was to find her smirking.

It was at this point that Scribbs discovered an absolutely fascinating dichotomy. At work, Ash was rarely anything other than viciously coherent, a witty quip or scathing rejoinder always at the tip of her tongue. She was forever articulate, her words carrying with them the crisp, prickly polish of her posh girl upbringing; the sharp timbre had always fascinated Scribbs, who had often listened to Ash ramble on about any number of things just to hear her speak. Only now, much to her delight, Ash had been reduced to breathy, helpless noises and deeply pleased moans.

She thought it undoubtedly the sexiest thing she’d ever heard.

Until the noises changed, morphing into whimpers and soft urgent cries, each building upon the last in a muted yet staccato crescendo syncopated with the movements of her fingers. They were searching sounds, pleading to her in much the same way as Ash’s eyes, and Scribbs nearly melted.

And then, moments later, much to her surprise, as Ash’s body tensed and her hips pressed up in a disjointed rhythm and her fingers clutched desperately at her own hair, Ash let out a whispered, “Fuck,” the word a hoarse, snarled accompaniment to the sharp contraction of her body.

Scribbs took the fact that Ash had let the vulgarity slip to be the highest of compliments.

She watched, entranced, as Ash’s eyes fluttered shut, as the muscles in her abdomen and thighs tightened and shook, as her head dug into the pillow as if she were trying to escape the intensity of the moment. Seconds later she was collapsing, and Scribbs slowed the movement of her fingers until her touch was once again a brushing tease. She watched a drop of sweat roll down the center of Ash’s chest, fought against the urge to lean over and lick it off, and felt an inordinate sense of pride at the glassy look in Ash’s newly reopened eyes.

Ash’s lips parted and her brows contracted, as if she wanted to say something but couldn’t find the words After a few moments more, after her lips had parted and closed yet again, Ash murmured, “Another few minutes and I plan to reciprocate.”

And even though she was mentally kicking herself, Scribbs nonetheless heard a demurral pass her lips. “You don’t have to do that, Ash. We can take things in baby steps. Maybe this was enough for tonight.”

Ash snapped to attention immediately, looking positively affronted. “You doubt my capabilities?” she asked, a sudden burst of strength reversing their positions so that she was laying atop Scribbs, their hips pressed tightly together.

“Never,” Scribbs vowed. “I just didn’t want to overwhelm you with everything all at once.”

Voice heavily tinged with disbelief, Ash echoed, “Overwhelm me?”

Scribbs cringed, overly familiar with just what Ash looked like when insulted. “That’s not what I meant, exactly.”

Shifting over so that one leg was between Scribbs’ thighs, pressing up tightly against her and earning a pleased gasp, Ash said, “Just what did you mean, exactly?”

Unable to keep her hips from rocking up against the hardness of Ash’s thigh, Scribbs gasped. “Something quite the opposite of what I said, I’m sure.”

Ash felt something jolt to life inside her, the competitive nature that she’d always tried to at the very least hide behind a polite veneer. She frowned and tried to stifle it; after all, this wasn’t the time or the place in which to indulge it.

“We’ll see,” was all she said in reply, the words a seeming non-sequiter, and Scribbs was tempted to ask just what it was they’d be seeing before thinking the better of it.

Without prelude, Ash slid down Scribbs torso so that she was perched between her legs. Hands on the other woman’s thighs holding them spread widely apart, she shot Scribbs a slightly arrogant glare before running her tongue along Scribbs’ full length. She paused at the apex, her lips wrapping around Scribbs’ clit as she applied the tiniest bit of suction.

Scribbs whimpered, grabbed fistfuls of the sheets, and tried to stave off orgasm.

Much to her disappointment, Ash followed that by pulling free slowly, scowling, and sitting up. “No, no, no… this simply won’t do,” she said, shaking her head in consternation.

Scribbs’ brows shot up, her voice sharply insistent as she said, “Yes it will. It bloody well will do, Ash.”

“No,” Ash replied with measured calm, eyes shifting from right to left as she contemplated the situation, “but I’ve got a better idea.”

Scribbs had been just fine with the last one.

She was about to tell Ash that much when the other woman smirked, placed both hands firmly on the mattress, and slithered off the side.

“Ash?” Scribbs called curiously, rolling up so that she was in a half curl. “What are you doing?”

“This,” Ash replied, wrapping one hand around each of Scribbs’ ankles and giving a firm tug. Scribbs slid down slightly, sticking to the sweat wet sheet, then wriggled the rest of the way.

Once settled, Scribbs’ legs on either side of her shoulders, Ash nodded definitively. “Infinitely better,” she said with a self-satisfied nod, then returned to her previous activity.

At the first touch of her tongue, Scribbs shot up, one hand behind her for support as the other wrapped itself in Ash’s hair. She’d spent a lot of time thinking about what sex with Ash might be like. She’d wondered if Ash would be assertive or complacent, loud or restrained, uninhibited or shy. She’d pictured things happening much the way they had, with her leading the way and Ash maintaining her façade of control as long as possible. She pictured a lot of things, actually.

Ash going down on her their first time together?

It hadn’t even been on the list of things she thought remotely possible.

And yet there she was, kneeling in the thick carpet beside Scribbs’ bed, dark head bobbing up and down between the Scribbs’ thighs. It was unfair, so utterly unfair that Scribbs wanted to scream out her frustration.

Instead she screamed out a stream of expletives and garbled pleas as she fell back against the bed, writhing, spine arched so that she was supported only by the barest strip of her upper back as her hips circled unstoppably.

And Ash? Didn’t stop. Her tongue was joined by the insistent press of her fingers and Scribbs gave up on keeping hold of any shred of her dignity. Instead she groped blindly in search of Ash’s free hand, tangling their fingers together and squeezing tightly, and barked out a few commands.

“Fucking bloody hell. Up here, Ash. Now.”

The haughty arch of Ash’s brow left her unphased.

When Ash rejoined her on the bed, Scribbs wrapped her hands in the other woman’s hair and pulled her to her. No longer concerned with finesse, she kissed her hungrily, desperately, hips meeting the thrust of Ash’s fingers with abandon. She raked her nails down Ash’s back, dug them into her hips and kissed her way down to the curve of the other woman’s shoulder where she bit down hard.

Ash hissed with the pain of it just seconds before Scribbs clamped down around her fingers.

For a moment, Scribbs’ world went fuzzy.

When she stopped panting and finally re-opened her eyes, it was to see Ash hovering over her, smiling.

“You’re quite violent,” Ash said with indulgent amusement. “Did you know that?”

“Not usually,” Scribbs muttered tiredly, wrapping her arms around Ash’s back and pulling the other woman down so that she was draped atop her.

Ash nuzzled into her neck, then placed a soft kiss on her chin. “Well, you were tonight.” She paused for a beat, then added, “I suppose I should go soon.”

“Go?” Scribbs shivered, arms tightening minutely. “You’re as bad as a bloke. Have a bit of cuddle time, will you. Let me have my afterglow. And besides, you can stay the night, you know. No need to rush off.”

“I most certainly cannot stay the night,” Ash huffed even as she relaxed slightly. “I would prefer to avoid any awkward morning after conversations. I see no need to endure the painfully strained breakfast, the use of the cheap extra toothbrush, and the necessity of wearing the previous day’s horribly wrinkled clothing.”

“It doesn’t have to be awkward,” Scribbs grumped, chin brushing against the softness of Ash’s hair. “We’ll go out for breakfast. You can borrow one of my outfits. I’ve got good quality toothbrushes for you to choose from.”

“Sounds appealing, truly, but I’m still going to go.”

“God, Ash. You can’t seriously mean that.”

“Of course I mean it. Besides, I think we need a little time apart to process things.”

Scribbs nose wrinkled as she frowned. She was still trying to fight back the hint of black at the edge of her vision and Ash was going on about nonsense. “Process things?”

“Exactly,” Ash nodded, the movement tickling against Scribbs’ ear. “We just had sex, Scribbs. I’m frankly surprised that I’m not in the midst of a panic attack, though that could just be the shock.”

“Shock? Like a casualty patient?”

“Or a trauma survivor,” Ash offered helpfully. “Against everything I’d anticipated, I’d say tonight proves that your little arrangement could actually work. Now we need to think about the practical implications. We’ll need to work out some sort of agreement.”

“I see,” Scribbs said in disbelief. “And you need to be alone in your flat to work out the intricacies and to have your delayed histrionics in private whenever the shock wears off, is that it?”

“Well, it would help.”

Scribbs sighed. “Ash, it’s three in the morning. I doubt you’d even be able to get a cab at this hour.”

“Of course I wouldn’t get a cab,” Ash said, affronted.

Scribbs began to relax, glad to have that out of the way.

“You’ll drive me.”

Any sense of relaxation vanished. “You’d drag me out of my comfortable bed and make me cart you half way across town in the dead of the night?” Scribbs protested.

“Honestly, Scribbs. I don’t live that far.”

“You’d really rather go out there in the cold instead of staying here, all warm and cozy with me?”

“If this is going to work, I think we need to have some structure. Some boundaries.”

Scribbs looked down at the way their naked forms were plastered together and summoned to mind the events of the past few hours. “Boundaries? You are aware of our current position, aren’t you Ash?”

“Yes,” Ash said slowly, giving her a placating smile. “Against my better judgment, I’m indulging your request for post-coital cuddling.”

“Indulging my request?” Scribbs echoed, affronted. “You’re lucky I don’t kick you out in the cold for that.”

Ash sighed, then rolled off of Scribbs and over onto her side. “I sincerely doubt you’re going to kick me anywhere,” she said with a roll of the eyes, then eased to a sitting position. “Eyes closed. I’m going to track down my clothes.”

“I’ve already seen all of you,” Scribbs grumbled, reaching down for the duvet and pulling it over her rapidly cooling skin. “If you think I’m actually going to close my eyes, you can think again.”

“Fine,” Ash said, her voice coming from somewhere in the corner of the room. In the next second, a shirt came flying from that direction, landing squarely on Scribbs’ face. “You should get dressed too. I was serious about you driving me home.”

“I’m not going to do that either,” Scribbs’ muttered. “You’re being ridiculous.”

******

“I’ll see you Monday, then,” Ash said, one hand on the roof of the car as she leaned in, breath fogging in the cold night air.

“Monday?” Scribbs asked irritably. “What about tomorrow?”

“Lunch with mother tomorrow.”

“Then you’ve got the evening free.”

“I spend Sunday evenings making sure everything is prepared for the coming week.”

“What is there to prepare?”

“There’s the ironing, food preparation, cheque writing…”

“Of course,” Scribbs muttered, rolling her eyes. “I’ll see you Monday.”

For a moment, Ash looked almost timid. “I did have a good time tonight,” she offered, well aware of Scribbs’ upset.

Unable to help it, Scribbs blushed, irritation forgotten in the face of sudden shyness. “Yeah? Me too.”

“We’ll discuss the details next week, okay?”

“Maybe we could try it without details first.” Ash’s scowl quickly convinced her otherwise. “Or,” Scribbs amended, “maybe we could work up a vague outline.”

“This will work better with rules,” Ash promised. “You’ll see.”

Scribbs wasn’t necessarily convinced it would, but she nodded nonetheless. “Sure, Ash. Rules will make everything just peachy.”

Ash’s pursed lips and arched brow indicated that she’d both heard and been largely unimpressed with Scribbs’ sarcasm. “Yes. Well, I’m cold and you’re cranky. Let’s call it a night, shall we?”

“What? No goodnight kiss?”

“In public? I should think not.”

“There’s nobody around to see,” Scribbs muttered, the words tinged with a hint of hurt. “Besides, it’d make me feel better about myself.”

Ash’s look became guarded. “Why do you need to feel better about yourself?”

“Because you’re abandoning me in the middle of the night. It’s enough to make a girl feel a little self-conscious.”

Ash’s jaw seemed to tighten as she considered it, her mental machinations visible on her face. Her eyes darted right and then left. She stood up to look over the roof of the car and down the street, then back up to the front of her building. She searched darkened windows for an interminable period of time before leaning down again to offer a tight nod. “Very well,” she said, the words clipped, “but only one.”

Scribbs was almost insulted enough to say no.

But then Ash was leaning across the interior of the car and Scribbs gave a mental shrug of the shoulders and met her halfway. It was a soft kiss, almost sweet, and when Ash pulled back, she looked distinctly embarrassed.

“Monday,” Scribbs said softly, offering a shy smile.

“Yes. Monday.”

******

The following Monday…

“So, I’ll swing by and get you and we’ll check this out.”

Ash nodded, then realized that gesture wasn’t of any use over the phone. “I’ll be ready,” she replied, studying her chosen outfit for the day carefully. It was probably too bold of a choice, pairing the crimson button down with the black pantsuit. Too likely to draw attention. “Let’s make time for a coffee.”

“How about I pick them up on the way over?”

Ash couldn’t hide the incredulity in her tone. “You’re dressed already?”

“Woke up early for some reason,” Scribbs replied, a casual shrug in her voice. “You’ll have the usual?”

“Of course.”

“See you in twenty, then.”

Ash hung up distractedly, eyeing the combination once more.

No. Too bold. She’d wear the white.

******

She’d been fine when Scribbs had picked her up. It had been a bit awkward, of course, and she’d felt the blush rising up her cheeks despite her intense wish that it wasn’t so, but work was work. She was good at work and she was good at focusing, so when they reached the scene of the crime, she had been able to forget entirely about the fact that she now knew what Scribbs looked like when she came.

And then she had frowned. She didn’t even think words like that, much less use them in mental conversation. It had to be Scribbs’ bad influence.

“You think he did it?”

Ash pulled herself from her mental daze, surprised to find they were almost back at the station.

“Who? The husband?”

“Seems the most obvious choice,” Scribbs offered.

“Nothing is ever obvious.”

Scribbs felt the need to disagree. “Some things are obvious.”

Ash hummed distractedly, her answer coming a beat too late to fit neatly into the flow of conversation. “Arguments about philosophical differences aside, I’d prefer we didn’t jump to any conclusions.”

“I wasn’t jumping anywhere.”

“Though he was covered in blood,” Ash mused, brow crinkling in thought.

“Could have been from when he scooped his dying wife into his arms.”

“Which would explain the large splotches, but not the more misty droplets.”

“Which seems to indicate that he shot her, but I didn’t want to state the obvious.”

“We can’t rely solely on that. If he did do it, there’s got to be a motive.”

Scribbs shot Ash a sideways glance, beginning to get a bit worried. Her partner wasn’t normally one who felt the need to quote the basics aloud. “I’ll agree with you there – there’s certainly a motive.”

“Probably not an obvious one,” Ash noted.

“Unless she was cheating on him.”

Moments later they were out of the car, and Ash was looking up at the suddenly imposing façade of the police station, shoulders hunching shyly. “They’re going to know. It’s going to be obvious.”

Despite the sudden switch in the conversation, Scribbs knew exactly what Ash meant. “Impossible,” she scoffed.

“No, Scribbs. They’re going to take one look at us and know.”

Scribbs sighed. “I thought you were going to do your freaking out about this over the weekend in private.”

“I did,” Ash snapped. “Sunday was a complete waste.”

“Might as well have spent it with me, then.”

Ash glared. “And have even more for them to know about? I think not.”

“No one’s going to know anything,” Scribbs said, shaking her head in amusement. “Besides, most of the station’s got money on us already, Ash. The odds against us having slept together in Gallimore’s book were so bad he dropped the bet entirely. Now it’s on to how it happened. People are pretty evenly split between drunken one night stand, secret short-term affair that’s since ended, and secret ongoing long-term affair.”

She didn’t add that Sullivan, ever the romantic, had placed his ten quid on the last one.

Ash gasped, aghast. “Please tell me that’s not true.”

“I could tell you that, but I’d be lying.”

Ash’s eyes fluttered closed. “Oh God.”

“Hey,” Scribbs said, voice turning conciliatory as she decided to switch tactics in favor of something more calming and soothing, “I wouldn’t worry about it, Ash. The winning camp has to have proof and so far, no one has anything.”

“Because there wasn’t anything to have proof of before this weekend,” Ash gritted out, jaw clenched tightly. “This is going to be a disaster.”

“Hardly,” Scribbs scoffed, rolling her eyes. “Not unless you keep on with the dramatics and announce it during the staff meeting, that is. Otherwise, I’m pretty sure we’re fine.”

Ash merely scowled. “You go in first.”

“Go in first? You mean, the station? Go in the station first?” Scribbs asked, puzzled.

The look she received in reply was so hotly furious it was enough to sear.

“Ash,” Scribbs said placatingly, valiantly resisting the urge to openly laugh at her partner, “we haven’t shagged just now, you know. There’s no need for subterfuge at this precise moment. In fact, it might actually make people more suspicious.”

“More suspicious?”

Scribbs groaned in exasperation, well aware that she’d opened that trap door for herself. “Suspicious at all. Currently, no one’s suspicious but if you start acting like some sort of daft, paranoid freak then they’ll at least notice that for sure. Just carry on like normal and no one will think a thing. Trust me.”

“Trust you?” Ash asked, incredulous. “You’re the one who got us in this mess to begin with.”

“There’s no mess,” Scribbs hissed, frustrated. She threw her hands up in the air, then stomped her foot for emphasis. “There’s just you having an unnecessary episode in the car park. So, pull it together. Walk into the station with me, settle in at your desk, and continue on with your work today just like you do every other day. Nobody gives a toss what we do, Ash. No one’s going to notice anything so long as you don’t act like a bloody idiot about it.”

Ash sniffed delicately, chin tilting upward haughtily. “Honestly, Scribbs, there’s no need to be rude about it.”

******

By the end of the day, Scribbs was on the verge of GBH.

At exactly 5:00, she stood, pulled on her jacket, and glared at her partner. “You’re coming home with me,” she said shortly, tone brooking no argument. “Now.”

A bit stunned at her partner’s uncharacteristic assertiveness, Ash obediently gathered together her things and trailed Scribbs out of the station.

“You’ve been jumpy all day,” Scribbs said as soon as they were in the car. “And not your normal, tightly wound jumpy, Ash. This has been ten times worse than that. It’s so bad that now I’m jumpy. I don’t do jumpy. I don’t like jumpy. I can’t handle you with your blushes and your guilty looks and your bloody nervous tension. It’s got me all worked up.”

Taken aback by the unexpected tirade, Ash merely shot Scribbs a concerned look.

“So what we’re going to do,” Scribbs continued, jerking furiously at the wheel, “is reverse the effects, do you understand? You’re the one who got me all wound up. You can wind me back down.”

“I’m not sure I do understand,” Ash said hesitantly.

Pulling into the other woman’s drive, Scribbs killed the engine, turned in her seat, and pointed heatedly at the flat’s door. “You’re going to take me inside. If you’ve still got some kind of objection to the floor or the wall, then you can take me to the bloody bed. And when you get me there, you’re going to have your wicked way with me until I feel properly rebalanced.”

“Scribbs,” Ash gasped, shocked, “it’s Monday afternoon.”

“That’s right, Monday,” Scribbs stressed, “and as of right now, I can think of no better way to start off the week than by having you undo all of the damage you’ve already managed to do. I’ve been on edge for the better part of the day because of you.”

“We can’t just…” Ash trailed off, blushing. “It’s the afternoon!”

“Either take me inside,” Scribbs said seriously, “or explain to your neighbours why there’s a naked woman sitting in your driveway wanking.”

“You wouldn’t dare.”

“Don’t test me.”

Ash scowled. “This is blackmail.”

Scribbs merely raised a brow as she began to unbutton her jeans.

“You stop that this instant,” Ash chastised, lunging across the seat to grab Scribbs’ wrist in her hand.

Brow raised in challenge, Scribbs repeated, “You’re going to take me inside and…”

“Yes,” Ash broke in insistently, glancing around nervously. There was no one on the street, but who knew who was looking down on them from the hidden vantage of their window.

“Even if it is the afternoon?”

“Just come inside before you draw attention to yourself,” Ash hissed.

“Because if you promise, I’m going to hold you to it.”

“I promise. Just come inside.”

Scribbs nodded, content.

As soon as Scribbs was out of the car, Ash grabbed her wrist and didn’t let go. Scribbs wondered if the other woman was afraid that she would resume her previous activity if allowed the free use of her hand and nearly chuckled, imagining Ash literally dying of embarrassment.

“Whatever it is you’re thinking, it isn’t funny,” Ash muttered, tossing Scribbs an aggrieved look. Once in her flat, she headed straight for her closet, carefully hanging her suit jacket from one of the hangers.

“Now,” she said, the words drifting back over her shoulder as she carefully shut the closet door, “I think it’s time we worked out some rules for this arrangement. For starters…”

“Yes?”

Ash tumbled to an abrupt stop, mouth immediately going dry. Somehow, in the span of seconds it had taken her to ensure the tidiness of her clothes, Scribbs had completely removed hers. With the exception of her underwear, that was, a matching set of candy apple red that, paired with the mischievous look in her eyes and the teasing tilt of her chin, erased the thought Ash had been in the middle of conveying.

“Scribbs,” she murmured breathlessly, not really able to think of any other words. Ash hadn’t anticipated the sexual connection between them. While she’d certainly had to realign her expectations after their first night together, she’d put it down to the two glasses of wine, the circumstances, and sheer luck. She was neither a prude nor a virgin, but Ash had never really considered herself to be one of those people who was overly swayed by sex. She enjoyed it. She preferred to engage in it with regularity. She was happiest with it when there was a respectable level of physical comfort between herself and her partner, or at least enough familiarity to erase the awkwardness of two individuals engaging in a decidedly personal act together. But this – this flare of excitement she felt as Scribbs crossed the room slowly, the sway of her hips almost alien in its femininity – was something new. It was also highly disconcerting.

After all, Scribbs was her friend. Her female friend. And while Ash might have had a few rather innocent dalliances with a girl or two from school, the dearth of boys making such things easier to excuse, she’d certainly never imagined that this could excite her as much as it did.

“You promised me, Ash,” Scribbs said, smirking, shrugging seductively out of her bra. The closer she came, the more Ash retreated until her legs bumped up against the barrier of the bed, and, with the push of Scribbs’ hands on her shoulders, she was sitting on the mattress. Ash was looking up with a stupefied expression on her face, hands resting almost primly in her lap, and it took all of Scribbs’ reserve to keep from laughing at her dumbstruck partner.

Moving sinuously, she climbed easily into Ash’s lap, arms locking loosely around the other woman’s neck.

“Scribbs,” Ash said, voice dry, hoarse, and a tad bit baffled, “it’s the afternoon.”

“So you’ve said.”

“I don’t think this is appropriate.”

Scribbs’ head canted to the side, expression speculative. “No,” she said lightly, moving forward so that her lips were brushing against the curve of Ash’s ear, “I think it’s very appropriate.”

Ash shivered, eyes fluttering closed. “I’m not sure I feel quite comfortable with this.”

“How about you give it five minutes,” Scribbs suggested, scratching her nails lightly along Ash’s neck, just below her collar, “and then reassess.”

It was a small movement, the scrape of the other woman’s nails, but Ash felt it along her entire spine.

“Five minutes then,” she whispered, whimpering slightly as Scribbs placed a soft kiss on the corner of her mouth.

Scribbs smiled as Ash shifted slightly, as she brought their lips together. She let the kiss develop slowly, seemingly unhurried as she kept the contact limited to soft, light brushes until, after an interminable amount of time, she added the light flick of her tongue, surprised when it was met by Ash’s.

Ash didn’t know how long they’d been kissing when Scribbs broke free to explore the patch of skin just below her ear, but it felt like an especially enjoyable eternity. “Changed your mind yet?” Scribbs asked impishly, nipping softly at Ash’s earlobe.

Ash sighed, fingertips sliding over the waistband of Scribbs’ underwear. “I’ve decided to just go along with things for the moment. Don’t ruin it with commentary,” she said, though the words lacked real vigor.

For once, Scribbs was inclined to obey. She was even more inclined to obey when she felt the soft stroke of Ash’s fingers tracing a path up and down between her legs, the touch a teasingly light brush against the outside of her underwear. So instead of delivering what she felt certain would have been a brilliantly witty rejoinder, she instead focused on undoing the buttons running down the front of Ash’s shirt.

Ash had been staring rather blankly at Scribbs’ chest. It wasn’t a perverted stare – not a leer or the drooling, senseless smirk of an overly confident wanker well into his/her cups. It was instead a stare of slight shock. Scribbs was looming over her, pushing the fabric of her shirt over the curve of her shoulders, eyes hooded and hips rolling ever so gently against her touch. A touch she was providing because she wanted to provide it, the slight rasp of damp fabric against the tip of her finger one of the most tactilely thrilling things she’d ever felt. The sun was setting just outside her window, the light shining through Scribbs’ hair to create a disheveled halo and shading her eyes from view, and she herself was half-naked and aroused.

It was natural, she reassured herself, to feel an overwhelming sense of desire for a new lover. The beginning of physical intimacy between two people was exactly the right time to feel such a thing, actually, when everything was still new and overpowering. And even if Scribbs’ was her longtime friend, she was still a newfound lover, even if the word did leave a taste of panic lingering in the back of Ash’s throat.

Regardless, there was absolutely nothing wrong, she assured herself, with the fact that she was soon going to push the fabric of Scribbs’ underwear aside and press her fingers up and inside her old friend/new lover as the fading light of the afternoon sun drifted in through window to paint said friend/lover’s skin in the loveliest shade of gold.

“I’d like you to take this off, but that would mean you’d have to stop touching me,” Scribbs murmured, looking down at Ash’s opened shirt and bra in consternation. She really did want to see and feel Ash’s skin against her own, but that finger was still brushing teasingly in a slow, leisurely trail and it had become not enough pressure to the point where it almost was.

Ash’s eyes snapped up to hers, wide and a little confused, and so Scribbs decided to take the opportunity to go ahead and achieve her wish. A little bit of tugging and prodding, and Ash’s shirt and bra were in a pile somewhere in the corner of her room, and a bit of repositioning later, Scribbs was once again in the position she had been before.

“Much better,” she sighed, then leaned down to kiss Ash again.

The move was slight. After all, Ash had merely hooked her fingers under the fabric of Scribbs’ underwear and continued on with the same, maddening pattern, but now it was directly against her flesh instead of slightly separated from it, and Scribbs found she could do little more than moan and shiver with the excitement of it. She wondered momentarily if Ash was even aware of the slow death she was inflicting, or if she was instead too caught up in the kissing. Either way, Scribbs decided it was likely she was going to plunge headfirst into outright insanity in the imminent future.

And so she wiggled her hips and tried to influence the direction of things.

It seemed to work. At the very least, Ash’s hand slid out and then back under the waistband of her underwear, adopting a no less maddening but at least more focused rhythm. But Scribbs nonetheless felt the pressure begin to build inside of her, like a slowly inflating balloon, her bursting point arriving with a shudder and a gasp instead of a bang.

Ash merely looked at her with a confused expression, paused for a second, then continued on with what she had been doing.

An incalculable amount of time later, Scribbs had buried her head in Ash’s shoulder and dug her fingers into the other woman’s back. She’d lost count of the number of times Ash had stolen her breath, had given up on thighs gone numb with strain, and forgotten to be embarrassed by the helpless whimpers flowing freely past her lips. Instead she took in air in great, gulping heaps and finally gave into her desire to sink her teeth into the smooth skin beneath her lips.

There was a moment’s delay and then a yelp before Ash pulled back, looking at her accusatorily, but Scribbs didn’t care. She simply collapsed against the other woman, their skin sliding slickly together as she tumbled them into the mattress.

Ash’s voice was just a hint snippy. “Are you going to bite me every time we do this?”

Scribbs nodded drowsily. “If it’s always that good, yeah.”

“Oh.” There was a sudden hint of meekness in Ash’s voice. “So you…”

It took Scribbs a moment to realize that Ash’s words had trailed off. “So I what?”

“You…” She could feel Ash’s hand flutter against her back. “You know.”

Pushing up weakly on her hands, Scribbs shifted over so that she was propped atop of Ash looking down. “Ash, you nearly killed me,” she muttered in disbelief. “You couldn’t tell?”

Her partner’s face was an uncomfortable shade of scarlet. “I thought maybe… but I didn’t know.”

“Didn’t know?”

“Well, I’m certainly not an expert in these matters,” Ash snapped bitterly, distinctly embarrassed.

 “You could have fooled me.”

“I could do without the mocking,” Ash said dryly.

“I’m not mocking,” Scribbs replied, tone serious. “Too delirious for that, though I am going to take your pants off in a minute. But first I’m just going to lie here for a bit.”

She lowered herself back down as gently as she could manage, face pressed tightly against Ash’s neck.

After a moment’s hesitation, Ash’s arms came up to settle around her gently.

The last thing she heard as she drifted off to sleep was Ash muttering, “Seriously, Scribbs, you’re going to have to stop biting. How am I supposed to explain coming in to work looking like I’ve been mauled by a tiger?”

******

Scribbs woke up sprawled face-down on Ash’s bed.

“Ash?”

There was no answer, so she tried it again, this time a bit more loudly. “Ash?”

“In the kitchen.”

The words floated back to her along with the teasing hint of what smelled like dinner, and Scribbs stretched and smiled. Until she realized that she’d fallen asleep on the other woman, that was, her smile abruptly turning into a frown.

She found her clothes neatly folded on the dresser.

“How could you let me fall asleep on you?” she accused gently, padding barefoot into the kitchen.

Ash looked up from the chopping board, offering a brief, apologetic smile. “I tried to wake you but you were rather insistent.”

“Oh,” Scribbs said, subdued and slightly embarrassed, as she reached out to snag a slice of red pepper from beneath the blade of Ash’s knife. Then, in her defense, she added, “I did have trouble sleeping last night.”

Ash studiously avoided looking at Scribbs, who was pouting slightly and whose hair was adorably mussed. Instead, she scraped a riotously colorful collection of vegetables into a sizzling wok. “I’m making stir-fry.”

Scribbs propped her arms on the island counter. “Anything I can do to help?”

“Yes,” Ash drawled dryly. “You can stay as far away from the preparation of our dinner as possible.”

“I’m not that crap in the kitchen.”

“Yes, you are. And besides, I have a system all worked out.”

Scribbs nodded. “Of course you have a system.”

Ash glared through a rising cloud of steam. “You should know by now that my systems usually lead to success.”

Nearly an hour later, Scribbs pushed her empty plate away from her and leaned back in her chair, hands coming to rest on her full belly. “You were right. It was a successful system.”

Ash smiled smugly. “Of course I was.”

The expression was so precious that Scribbs beamed in response. “And now I’m full and rested and re-energized. What’s say we do the dishes and then I make up for time lost napping?”

The smug smile turned into a look of muted horror in the span of a second. “Scribbs,” Ash hissed, ducking her head down and leaning forward as if preparing to share a horrible secret, “you can’t just go around alluding to… You can’t go around alluding to that all the time.”

She trailed off, one hand gesticulating wildly between them, both eyebrows raised as she looked at Scribbs beseechingly.

“You mean sex,” Scribbs clarified, face pinching in confusion.

“Of course that’s what I mean,” Ash exploded, reaching out to snatch up her plate, her cheeks flaring up in a vicious blush.

Scribbs followed her into the kitchen at a more sedate pace, her own plate held in her hands. “Does it bother you?” she asked mildly, the picture of innocence.

“No,” Ash said, deadpan, a look of absolutely scathing censure on her face. “Of course not. It doesn’t make me uncomfortable. It doesn’t pull on my nerves like nails on a chalkboard. It doesn’t render me not in the least bit interested in engaging in the act you’re trying to discuss.”

“Point taken,” Scribbs huffed, crossing her arms over her chest and drawing her brows down to compliment her patented pout. “No need to be so cross about it. Now I know. Don’t talk about how much I want to shag you. In the future, just act upon whatever impulses I may have without asking, lest I get the dirty look and the lecture. And let’s forget about clever banter as foreplay.”

“I wasn’t aware you knew how to,” Ash said dryly.

Scribbs’ eyes widened incredulously. “I’d think you know very well that I know how to.”

“Banter,” Ash finished crisply.

After a second to indulge fully in her petulant glare, Scribbs straightened with dainty precision. She closed the gap between herself and Ash with an economy of steps, hands sliding around the other woman’s waist as she nuzzled the back of her neck. Ash stiffened, nearly dropping the plate she was rinsing under a stream of steaming water, and then gasped as Scribbs fingers made quick work of the button on her trousers.

“You might want to put that in the rack,” Scribbs murmured, teeth nipping lightly at Ash’s ear as one hand skimmed along the other woman’s abdomen, fingers brushing lightly against the smooth satin of her bra, “and turn off the water. No need to be environmentally unfriendly.”

“Is this your idea of banter?” Ash asked, her voice rough, low, and the slightest hint shaky. She reached forward slowly, her movements very deliberate as she placed the plate on safe ground and switched off the tap. After, her hands came to rest on the edge of the counter, driven there by the sudden and unexpected tightening of Scribbs’ fingers on her nipple. Despite her ardent wish otherwise, at the move Ash moaned deep in her throat, hips bucking involuntarily.

“No,” Scribbs contradicted, running short nails across Ash’s skin. “My banter is much more witty. I was under the impression that you weren’t interested in it.”

“So you’ve chosen to discuss environmentalism instead?” Ash asked, trying desperately to keep her tone stern. She failed miserably, words faltering as Scribbs’ lips locked on to the surprisingly sensitive skin of her neck with a hint of suction that was absolutely divine.

“If that’s what you’d prefer,” Scribbs murmured back, lips curving into a smile against Ash’s skin. “Shall we discuss the fate of the polar bears? It’s dreadfully depressing… melting ice caps and early summers leaving them stranded and whatnot. Makes me cry to think about it.”

It might have made Ash cry, too, if Scribbs hadn’t chosen that moment to slide her fingers under the waistband of her underwear.

“Scribbs,” she hissed, even she unconsciously widened her stance to allow the other woman more freedom, “this is entirely inappropriate.”

“You’ve already been inappropriate once today,” Scribbs pointed out, delighted to discover wetness beneath her fingertips when she slid her hand down further. “Why worry about being appropriate now?”

The question must have stymied Ash, because instead of providing another protestation or rationalization, her head dropped slightly and her hands wrapped so tightly around the edge of the counter that her knuckles turned white.

“I quite like it when you’re inappropriate,” Scribbs confessed, wrapping her free arm around Ash’s torso in a diagonal from her ribs to her shoulder. She was beyond pleased with Ash’s response to her touch – she hadn’t even kissed her, really, but still Ash was wet and ready for her.

The position didn’t leave her many options, but Scribbs took full advantage of all of them. Her hand slipped from Ash’s shoulder to her breast, fingers kneading indelicately as she licked along the curve of Ash’s ear. “I like it so much I think you should make a habit of it,” she continued absently, mind parsing through the things she wanted to do to the other woman. Part of her wanted to slip her fingers inside of Ash; in fact, the insistent press of Ash’s bum against her midsection seemed to almost call for it.

“Scribbs,” Ash murmured breathlessly as Scribbs pulled her hips back, pushed her trousers down to mid-thigh, and ran a hand up her back to her neck. Just a hint of pressure had her leaning forward, arms sliding out from the narrow grip she had on the counter in search of something to secure her balance. “What are you…”

The question died off. It was clear what Scribbs was doing, and despite her initial impulse to admonish Scirbbs, as Scribbs pushed into her, Ash found it nearly impossible to think, much less speak. Instead she ground back against her with an insistence that was patently embarrassing and tried hard not to whimper.

It seemed as if there should have been something unseemly about it all, and Ash thought about protesting or pulling away, but a part of her that she refused to consciously acknowledge knew that if she did either, Scribbs might stop. So instead she tightened her grip on the counter, drew in deep, hissing breaths through her teeth, and tried not to scream when she clamped down hard on Scribbs’ fingers, body quaking almost violently as she climaxed.

When she caught her breath enough to be able to speak again, she straightened as much as possible, let out an involuntary gasp as Scribbs pulled free of her, and seriously considered putting in for a transfer.

“I feel like I should make some kind of quip about dessert, but I don’t have the energy,” Scribbs panted, heart racing from exertion as she leaned tiredly over Ash’s back and wrapped her arms around the other woman’s waist.

The bit that had eluded her before, the part that she was sure she should have found unseemly, hit Ash suddenly. She scowled, braced her hands against the counter, pushed back, and growled, “Let go of me.”

As oblivious as she might often be, Scribbs easily recognized the burr of irritation in Ash’s voice. She released the other woman from her grip immediately, took a step back, and held her breath in nervous, almost fearful, anticipation.

Ash took her time before turning. She pulled up and rebuttoned her trousers and smoothed down her shirtfront. She brushed wet bangs away from her forehead and took in a series of deep, calming breaths.

When she did turn around to face Scribbs, she was looking back at her with innocent chagrin, shoulders hunched and eyes begging for leniency. “I might have gotten a little carried away,” Scribbs admitted in a rush, hoping to forestall a lecture by going on the offensive.

There was absolutely nothing Ash could do about the deep blush that spread across her face. “No, it was…” She paused, sighed, tried to make her next words come out less tightly, but her blood was still racing and she was still finding it difficult to focus. “I think we have to keep a little perspective,” she muttered, eyes meeting Scribbs’ and then skittering away. “We work together, Scribbs. That means we need to remain objective. We need to maintain standards of decency…”

“Are you saying I’ve been indecent?”

“Well, you certainly induced me to behave in an indecent manner,” Ash snapped, embarrassed.

Scribbs shot her a look of deep affront. “I did no such thing. Your problem is that you don’t like giving up control.”

“That’s not true.”

“Of course it is. There was a moment there, just now, when you weren’t in control and you enjoyed yourself and now you’re embarrassed.”

“I am not.”

“Are too,” Scribbs retorted, crossing her arms over her chest and staring up at Ash mulishly. “I don’t want to hear your arguments about decency and indecency and objectivity. Not having to worry about those kinds of things is part of the point of all this. There’s no one I trust more than you, Ash.”

“And I don’t trust you?” Ash asked, unexpectedly stung and decidedly confused. She’d been fully prepared to deliver a lecture on the standards of propriety necessary for maintaining illicit, no strings associations, and instead was having to deal with character assassinations and potentially hurt feelings.

Scribbs softened. She shook her head in exasperation, reaching out with both hands to entwine her fingers with Ash’s. “Of course I know that you trust me,” she muttered affectionately. “So you see, there’s no reason for you to make us feel bad about something we both enjoyed.”

Ash allowed herself to be pulled closer, though she kept her eyes averted. “But it’s embarrassing,” she admitted with a wince, not caring that she’d contradicted herself. “It’s the kitchen, and you… I let you…”

“We participated equally in,” Scribbs interrupted sternly, amending whatever Ash had been preparing to say.

“Either way,” Ash sighed.

“Oh, come on now.” Scribbs pursed her lips, shooting Ash a mock glare. “If it’ll make you feel better, I’ll let you dismantle me next.”

Ash stiffened testily. “I wasn’t dismantled.”

“Now you’re just insulting my performance,” Scribbs huffed. “It’s clear that we’re going to have to have lessons in surrendering control. I can’t have you getting this touchy and temperamental every time I shag you silly against the kitchen counter.”

“I doubt it will be a problem since it isn’t going to happen again.”

Scribbs ignored Ash’s glare, choosing instead to stretch up and place a soft kiss against her lips. “Don’t be daft. Of course it will,” she murmured. “I happen to have a good many kitchen related fantasies. You’re going to love what I plan to do to you on the table.”

“If you’re even contemplating making an uncouth joke or ill-advised pun, I’d suggest you think otherwise,” Ash warned sharply, narrowing her eyes.

Scribbs’ look of genuine befuddlement would have been enough to provoke a laugh had Ash not still been so tightly wound.

Shrugging it off, Scribbs asked pertly, “Are you over your tantrum now? Because I was kind of hoping we could get around to my dismantling.”

Ash looked pointedly at Scribbs and then at the clock. “It’s time for you to go. We have work tomorrow.”

“You’re going to kick me out?”

“It’s almost time for bed.”

“Honestly? You’re going to kick me out?”

“Work,” Ash reiterated sternly. “Tomorrow.”

“You are,” Scribbs said slowly, mouth dropping open in disbelief. “You’re really going to make me leave.”

“I most certainly am. Getting the appropriate amount of sleep is absolutely critical to being able to deliver at your peak performance,” Ash said resolutely. “I’m not going to have the quality of our work suffer.”

As so, for the second time in a row, Scribbs found herself ending the night alone.

******

Approximately a month later…

Ash glared at the gentleman sitting directly to her right. He’d been grinning at her idiotically for the past quarter hour; he hadn’t talked to her, not beyond a rather slurred, “Hello luv,” at the time of his initial arrival. No, he’d simply stared in a manner that put Ash in mind of a serial killer.

Scribbs was no help with the matter. She was down at the other end of the bar holding court, laughing and drinking and somehow managing to ably entertain the three men buzzing about her. They all looked entranced, alternately elbowing each other out of the way in displays of manliness and preening when Scribbs diverted the bulk of her attention to one of them, and Ash thought she might scream. It had been that way for the past three Saturday nights in a row. Oh, they’d both have their fair share of admirers at the start of the evening, but by the halfway point, Ash had managed scare her allotment away while Scribbs’ contingent seemed only to grow.

It was positively depressing.

“The staring…” she snapped, unable to take it any longer. “What is the purpose of that? Is it a proven technique for you?”

She waited impatiently, tapping the tiny black drink straw against the side of her now empty glass, but the fool’s grin only widened.

“Oh, for god’s sake,” she muttered, throwing the straw down to the bar in disgust.

“Ready to go then?”

Hand to her chest, Ash whirled around so quickly she almost lost her balance.

“Scribbs?”

Much to her confusion, Scribbs was standing directly behind her, coat slung over her arm. Ash’s eyes shot down to the far end of the bar, mind unable to comprehend how she had moved so quickly, but Scribbs’ hand was already on her arm, tugging her away.

“Well, that one’s creepy,” she muttered in Ash’s ear, giving a nod to the still grinning patron. “You reckon he’s high or something? Maybe practicing to be a mime?”

“More like a serial killer in training,” Ash said grumpily, discreetly pulling her arm out of Scribbs’ hold.

Scribbs waited until they were outside the club before throwing Ash a brilliant smile. “Here’s to another unsuccessful night out,” she said cheerily. “Now, what’s say we go home?”

“You looked like you were plenty successful,” Ash sniped, crossing her arms over her chest against the cold. She stalked off toward the car, leaving Scribbs to follow along after her. “Couldn’t bring yourself to choose from between the three?”

“None of them were worth it,” Scribbs said dismissively, the phrase the same she’d used the previous three outings as well. If there was one thing that remained constant, it was the coterie of willing men who seemed to flock to Scribbs like moths to the light.

Ash raised a single brow in disbelief. “I don’t think there’s a man in this town who is worth it, according to your newfound standards.”

“Well, I can afford to be pickier now, can’t I? You’ve always told me I should be more discerning.”

“Since when do you listen to my advice?” Ash mused, looking skyward in exasperation as she opened the car door.

Scribbs frowned, then protested, “I always listen.”

“But rarely follow.”

“Well, maybe this is good advice.”

Ash sniffed. “All of the advice I offer is good advice.”

“Course it is, Ash,” Scribbs murmured patronizingly. “Some of it just takes longer to integrate.”

They were halfway to Ash’s flat when Scribbs brought up the one thing she’d been thinking about all night.

“So I was thinking,” she began cautiously, the words as non-threatening as she could make them. “I know you’ve not been particularly keen on the idea of me staying over, but I’m tired of driving home at three in the morning, Ash. I’ve brought my own pyjamas and my own toothbrush and chocolate chip pancake mix and blueberry pancake mix, just in case you’re in the mood for something fruity, and a bag of that dark roast coffee blend that you like so much. I’ll even sleep on the couch, if that’s the problem. Just, please, don’t make me sneak home in the cold again.” She paused long enough to shoot Ash her best wheedling pout. “Please, Ash.”

“Scribbs…” Ash began stiffly, only to be immediately interrupted.

“It won’t be awkward. I promise it won’t,” Scribbs assured her earnestly. “You can sleep in and I’ll make breakfast for us. I promise to leave in plenty of time for you to get ready to meet your Mum for lunch. I’ll even wear different clothes out in the morning than the ones I’ve got on now so that people will think I’ve only just come to visit.”

“There are rules…”

“I know there are rules,” Scribbs interjected, exasperated, “but I don’t bloody like them. Come on, just try it. Just once.”

Scribbs looked at her with such an expression of hopefulness that Ash found she didn’t have the heart to deny the other woman flat out. “Fine,” she said tightly. “You can bring in your bag but I’m not promising to let you stay.”

Scribbs’ smile was almost blinding.

“Brilliant, Ash. I promise you won’t regret it.”

“It’s highly likely that I will, actually,” Ash muttered. “I don’t want you getting too comfortable.”

“Why not?”

“Because if I know you, it’ll start with one bag and bribes but won’t stop until I open a kitchen cabinet one morning to find a box of your disgusting sugar cereal lurking about.”

“It’s not like my cereal could contaminate your cereal,” Scribbs said huffily.

“I wouldn’t put it past it.”

Scribbs was on the verge of arguing further, of trying to point out to Ash just how ridiculous it was that she was still sent home in the middle of the night, but for once, she held her tongue. The point of the entire exercise was to be able to fall asleep with and wake up next to Ash, and if she pressed the issue, it was just as likely that she’d be sent home even before she got a chance to stash her overnight bag in a place from which it would be difficult to retrieve. That was what kept her silent, the intense desire to snuggle up against Ash and fight off the morning.

“You don’t have a reply?” Ash asked, sounding slightly lost. “That’s it? You’re just going to concede?”

“Yes.”

“But you never concede,” Ash pointed out, still puzzled. She clicked out of her safety belt, standing for a second in the cold as Scribbs retrieved her overnight bag. “You’re never without a comeback, Scribbs.”

“It’s priorities, Ash,” Scribbs offered, giving Ash an apologetic shrug. “I thought you’d be happy I was considering them.”

“Considering what?”

“My priorities.”

“So you suddenly don’t care about your cereal any more?”

“Of course I care about my cereal,” Scribbs said, following Ash into her building and up the stairs. “It’s a major component of my diet. I just don’t care about it right now. I’ve got other priorities. You know, things I’ve decided are of greater importance.”

“Like what?” Ash asked curiously.

“Well, like getting inside for one. It’s bloody cold out, Ash.”

“I told you you’d need a thicker coat.”

“And I’m sure you’re gratified to know you were right.”

“Obviously,” Ash murmured tartly. “Now, back to this list of priorities.”

“Oh, that. Well, there’s getting you naked, for starters.”

Ash’s blush was immediate, colouring her skin all the way up to the tips of her ears.

“That’s always a priority, actually,” Scribbs continued thoughtfully. “Clearly it’s not always practical, like when we’re at work and such, but that doesn’t mean I forget about it.”

Voice tight with embarrassment, Ash hissed, “Are we going to have to have the talk about boundaries again?”

“You shouldn’t have asked if you didn’t really want to know.”

Ash put her shoulder to her door, voice drifting back as she muttered, “I thought that when you mentioned priorities, you meant proper ones.”

“It is a proper priority,” Scribbs protested, dropping her overnight bag to the floor. It landed with a thump even as she closed the distance between herself and Ash, wrapping her arms around the other woman’s waist from behind. Her lips found the skin behind Ash’s ear, her words a whisper as she continued, “Highly proper.”

“I’m beginning to think you don’t understand the purpose of your own arrangement,” Ash said, and though she’d intended her voice to be sharp, it was, instead, a little breathless.

Scribbs fingers fumbled with the belt of Ash’s coat, working it free as she mumbled, “What do you mean?”

“The purpose isn’t to think about me all of the time,” Ash said somewhat shakily. Scribbs’ still cold fingers had somehow found their way under her shirt. “This is just a stopgap.”

“Either way,” Scribbs said distractedly, as if she’d actually offered up a viable argument to Ash’s assertions, “it’s my priority right now.”

“I forbid it from being a priority at other times, and certainly not during the work week.”

“If you say so, Ash.”

“I mean it, Scribbs. I’m officially making it against the rules.”

“Then I’ll make sure to take heed.”

“You will if you know what’s best for you.”

“Course, Ash.” Scribbs circled around so that she was facing Ash. Her hands immediately began to push the other woman’s jacket over her shoulders as she leaned in close, her voice dropping an octave. “I’ll do whatever you say.”

“Now I know you’re lying to me,” Ash huffed.

Scribbs paused. “Can’t you think of better uses for my promise than arguing?”

“What promise?”

“That promise I just made… you remember, when I said I’d do whatever you say.”

“Well, then, I say you are no longer allowed to think of ways to get me naked during the work week.”

With a sigh, Scribbs pulled her hands free of Ash’s shirt and shifted so that she was standing in front of her. “I was getting more at sexual uses,” she explained.

“I am well aware of what you were trying to get at,” Ash hissed icily.

Scribbs pouted and murmured, “Oh, now, don’t be mad, Ash.” Her fingers found their way under the hem of Ash’s now untucked shirt again. “It makes me sad when you’re mad at me.”

Ash squared her shoulders, tilted her chin, clenched her jaw, and tried resolutely to ignore the look of adorable contrition being sent her way.

Leaning up, Scribbs placed a soft kiss on the underside of Ash’s jaw. “I always pay attention to your rules,” she vowed, then pressed her lips to the strong column of the other woman’s neck. “I try very hard to follow them,” she continued earnestly, her lips drifting up to the point of Ash’s chin. “I’ll even try to stop thinking about getting you naked, at least while we’re working.”

Softening slightly, Ash corrected, “During the work week.”

Teeth biting down gently in protest, Scribbs muttered, “I can’t make promises about after hours, Ash. When I’m not on the clock, it doesn’t seem fair.”

“It shouldn’t be a priority at all. You’re supposed to be sharpening your focus.”

“My focus is as sharp as a razor,” Scribbs protested, fingers sliding around to find the bottom button of Ash’s shirt. She flicked it open, moving to the one just above it at a leisurely pace that suggested no hurry. “I know exactly what I want. I’m just waiting on it.”

“And none of your bevy of admirers at the bar met your criteria?”

Ash was surprised at the churlish edge to her voice and drew in a deep breath, head jerking back slightly.

“That lot? Not a one of them,” Scribbs demurred with a soft smile, seemingly oblivious. “But now I can afford to be patient, and so can you. There’s no pressure to rush into anything.”

Ash shivered slightly as the backs of Scribbs’ fingers brushed against the inner curve of her breast.

Insecurity rife in her voice, Ash said softly, “But don’t you worry…”

She trailed off, the words dying out in a spate of uncertainty.

Scribbs’ lips found Ash’s neck once more as she murmured distractedly, “Worry about what?”

“Becoming complacent. Getting too comfortable,” Ash postulated uneasily, eyes fluttering closed and a shiver running down her spine as Scribbs slipped her unbuttoned shirt past her shoulders.

“Can’t say I do.”

Ash took in an unsteady breath as Scribbs’ lips slid down further, tracing over the skin left bare as she eased off her bra. “Maybe I worry about it,” she admitted, fingers coming up to twine in Scribbs’ hair. “It’s easier this way, not having to court disaster or rejection, but if we’re just delaying the inevitable…”

“Quiet, Ash,” Scribbs murmured, sighing deeply as she pulled herself away from the softness of Ash’s skin to look her directly in the eye. “Don’t talk yourself out of this, too.”

“But can’t you see, Scribbs? We already spend so much time together, and now you want to stay the night…”

“Ash,” Scribbs interrupted, frustration edging into her voice, “it’s been a month, that’s all.”

“Exactly,” Ash enunciated. “First it’s a month and then it’s two months and then it’s six months and the next thing you know, it’s a year later and both of us are still in the same position we are now.”

Scribbs’ grin turned lascivious. “I like this position.”

Ash growled in frustration. “You see, that’s the point. It doesn’t feel like I’m freeing myself from complications so that I can find the man who’s right for me, Scribbs. It feels like I’m dating you.”

Shrugging, Scribbs offered, “So let it feel that way.”

Ash gaped. “Do what?”

“Let it feel like you’re dating me. It’s part of your problem, I think.”

“That’s what I was trying to tell you.”

“No, the desperation. They can smell it on you, Ash. No one likes to offer to buy a girl a drink and then feel like he’s being sized up for his long term prospects.”

Ash stiffened.

“I don’t mean it in a bad way,” Scribbs rushed to assure. “I’m just saying that you should go with it for a bit, Ash. Pretend that you’re taken. Take what you’re feeling and believe it. There’s no need to look if you’ve already found what you want, and unavailability is about as alluring to a bloke as an all you can eat buffet. So, settle in. Take your time. Know that you’re coming home to me and stop worrying so much about every single outing as if it’s going to be the one to unearth the future Mr. Ashurst.” She paused, then shot Ash a crooked smile. “It’s a proverb or something, isn’t it? If you look for something, you’re never going to find it. It has to come to you.”

Blushing deeply, Ash asked, “Am I really so obviously desperate?”

“You’ve always been intense,” Scribbs demurred. “When you add that to your single-minded focus to snag the first good man who comes along, then…”

She trailed off with an apologetic smile and a shrug of the shoulders.

Ash sighed. “And you don’t think this is counterproductive?”

“Counterproductive?”

“You don’t think it will make us even more complacent?”

Scribbs shook her head dismissively. “Course not, Ash. You’ve always been one to keep her eye on the prize. Just now, for a little while, you have to pretend that you’ve already found the prize, only you have to remember that you still have another prize that you’re eyeing but not actively pursuing.”

Mind churning through the implications, Ash didn’t even blink at Scribbs’ rather convoluted explanation. “I don’t know,” she said hesitantly.

Scribbs grinned adorably, her hands once again finding Ash’s waist. “Playact. I’ll do my best to make it realistic, so you won’t even have to try so hard.”

“But what about you?”

“What about me?”

Ash shrugged awkwardly. “What do you get out of it? It’s not as if you need the help.”

“I already told you,” Scribbs said cheekily, breaking into a nearly blinding grin as her hands traced steadily up Ash’s side so that her thumbs were resting under the curve of the other woman’s breasts. “I know exactly what I want. I’m just waiting on it.”

“And you’ll let me know when you find it,” Ash said sternly, giving Scribbs the barest hint of a scowl. “You won’t let an opportunity pass you by just because you feel some sort of obligation to help me sort things through.”

Scribbs chuckled shortly then deliberately closed the gap between them, already stretching up on her tip-toes so that her lips were even with Ash’s. “No danger of that. I find what I’m waiting for and you’ll be the first to know.”

“Promise?”

“Cross my heart.”

Ash gave a barely perceptible nod. “Right, then. I’ll give it a try.”

******

Approximately one month later…

After a moment of stunned silence, Ash arched a brow, delicately cleared her throat, and forced her voice into a monotone neutral as she asked, “Are those new?”

“New?” Scribbs echoed disingenuously.

Ash cleared her throat again, one finger waving a vague path up and down Scribbs’ torso. “Yes. New. Those.”

Scribbs looked down, face angelically innocent as she ran her palm over the flat of her stomach, fingers stopping at the indecently low waistband of her sheer, black knickers. They were the smallest things Ash had ever seen masquerading as underpants, though as little as there was to the front of them, she had a sneaking suspicion that there was even less to the back.

“These?”

Ash fought back irritation at Scribbs’ coy smile. Of course those… it was what she’d been talking about, or at least trying to talk about, for the last half minute and whatever Scribbs thought she was doing, giving her teasing smiles edged with the hint of a smirk, she was definitely not happy about it.

She was almost certain they were new, and that meant… well, that meant one of two things. Either Scribbs had bought them for someone else or she’d bought them for Ash, and Ash wasn’t sure which of the two disturbed her more. If Scribbs had bought them for someone else, either someone she’d already met or someone she expected to find while out on the prowl one night, then the notion that she was giving them a trial run with Ash was… well, it was disconcerting. But, if Scribbs had bought them for Ash, for the sole purpose of donning them and prancing about in them for Ash’s carnal enjoyment, then that bit was even more disturbing than the other option. The thought that Scribbs had purposefully shopped for and chosen the sexy knickers she was currently sporting with Ash in mind was almost heady enough to make Ash nauseous. It was disturbingly outside the bounds of their agreement – not that Scribbs had done a very good job remaining inside the bounds of their agreement thus far.

Scribbs’ smile faltered somewhat as she observed Ash’s decided lack of enthusiasm. She’d certainly expected something other than the perplexed frown she was getting and so, with a directness that she would have rather avoided, she placed her hands on her hips, scowled, and asked “What’s wrong with you?”

Ash crossed her arms over her chest and said, tone icy, “I think that should be obvious.”

“Clearly it’s not.”

“Don’t play the disingenuous ingénue with me,” Ash said dismissively, chin dropping as her scowl deepened. “You know very well that I’m talking about those… those…” she paused, glaring sharply, then finished with an almost disgusted, “knickers.”

Instantly self-conscious, Scribbs looked down, face twisting with trepidation. “You don’t like them?”

“You see,” Ash nearly crowed, “that’s the point. You want me to like them.”

Scribbs look of trepidation turned into one of confusion. “And that’s wrong?” she asked slowly.

“Scribbs, you can’t honestly tell me that you don’t see the danger in picking out fancy knickers with me in mind,” Ash said on a sigh, shaking her head slowly, much like one would do when scolding a difficult child.

Brow scrunching in her perplexity, Scribbs mumbled, “I mean I don’t. Not really.”

“It’s highly inappropriate.”

Now irritated, Scribbs scowled. “Ash, don’t you remember when we talked about trying a new strategy…”

“I remember no such thing.”

“Just last month,” Scribbs continued, frowning mutinously. “It was a whole conversation. I can’t see how you could have forgotten it.”

Now Ash was the one who was scowling. “You mean that business about pretending to be unavailable?”

“Not pretending,” Scribbs said sharply, then deliberately softened her tone. “You were going to work on appearing taken and I was going to make things as realistic as possible to help you along.”

“What does that have to do with…” Again, Ash paused, eyeing the knickers in question with concern and waving her hand in a vague motion. “Those.”

“It’s part of my plan.”

“What? Dressing like a pornography catalogue model?”

“Is this the way you are with all of your lovers?” Scribbs muttered, a hint of sulk in her tone. “Someone tries to do something a little special, and you have to dissect it like a murder victim?”

“That’s hardly a fair assertion.”

“I’d say it’s dead fair,” Scribbs shot back dryly. “I come to you wearing this and you don’t question my motives, Ash.”

“What am I supposed to do when confronted with the sight of you prancing about in…”

Unable to listen further, Scribbs broke in, voice sharp with incredulity, “You shag me through the mattress.”

“Unacceptable.”

“Unacceptable?”

Ash’s eyes narrowed. “Yes, unacceptable. I will do no such thing. You can put on your regular knickers or you can go home.”

Scribbs’ jaw tightened, as if she were preparing to protest. “How about I just take the knickers off,” she said irritably, pushing them down over her hips. “No knickers, no problem.”

“Take them off if you want, but if you expect anything from me tonight, you’ll do as I suggested.”

“What? You honestly want me to go fetch an old pair of knickers and put them on only to have you take them off?”

“It’s either that or take yourself home,” Ash said with a definitive nod.

Scribbs felt unexpected fury pulse through her. “Well, maybe I will.”

“Fine. I’ve got plenty enough to do tonight as it is.”

Scribbs’ jaw dropped. “Am I inconveniencing you, Ash? Keeping you from some very important dusting?”

Ash crossed her arms over her chest and stared silently.

“Just as well,” Scribbs muttered, bending down to swipe up the apparently offensive knickers. “Try to do a little something special. Try to make one little change.” She stood suddenly, face red. “You…” she began, pointing an angry finger Ash’s way.

Ash waited, but nothing followed.

“Yes?” she asked expectantly.

“Why are you so difficult?”

Ash’s brow rose. “Why are you so easy?”

Scribbs straightened, sputtered, and gave Ash a glare of such unbridled fury that Ash took an unconscious step back.

“I don’t know why I even try,” she said finally, balling up the knickers and throwing them at Ash as hard as she could. The wispy fabric wasn’t able to close the distance, though, and fluttered to the floor at Ash’s feet.

Scribbs’ stared at it as if it had betrayed her.

“I’m not some slag,” she whispered, then turned on her heel.

Ash caught up to her as she was leaving the bathroom, clothes askew from being thrown on hastily.

“That’s not what I meant,” she said contritely.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Ash,” Scribbs replied tersely. “It’s exactly what you meant. I’ve never known you to say something you didn’t mean.”

“I just meant that you’re much better at this than I am,” Ash said as Scribbs brushed past her, heading for the door. “It doesn’t seem to bother you. Nothing seems to bother you.”

Scribbs didn’t slow. Her hand was on the doorknob, shoulders stiff, and Ash gave in. She closed the space between them, wrapping her hand around Scribbs’ wrist to keep her from going.

“It’s been months,” she said, sighing. “There’s never been any hesitation on your end, Scribbs. You act as if this is nothing, as if you’re just floating through with no concerns. Why don’t you have doubts? Why isn’t this difficult for you?”

“The point of it is to not be difficult.”

“It should be at least a little difficult,” Ash stressed. “You don’t worry about the things you should be worried about. I tell you I’m concerned that we’re growing complacent and you buy fancy new knickers to wear for me. How can you not see that this is a problem?”

“It’s only a problem because you think too much, Ash,” Scribbs muttered, turning to stare her down. “You’re making everything more complicated than it needs to be. Why shouldn’t I try to please you? Why shouldn’t I enjoy myself? Why shouldn’t we enjoy ourselves?”

“If what I’ve been trying to explain isn’t already clear to you, I’m not sure how I can make it any clearer.”

“Okay then. What do you need me to do to solve this? Put on a pair of boring knickers? Will that set your world right again?”

“It’s a start.”

“How about I take a bloke home from the club next weekend? Will that reassure you?”

Ash tried to hide the pang of distaste that ran through her. Instead, she swallowed down a hint of bile and nodded. “It might help.”

“Fuck’s sake, Ash,” Scribbs said, shaking her head. “Fine. If that’s what you want. I’ve got the knickers for it. Might as well start tonight.”

She opened the door just far enough to slip through, leaving Ash standing dumbfounded on the other side.

******

Two weeks later…

 “Ah, Scribbs, there you are.” Sullivan smiled jovially, looking as if he were about to bounce out of his loafers.

“Something you needed, Boss?”

“Some of us are heading over to the pub to watch Liverpool and Chelsea. Why don’t you grab Ash and come join us.”

Scribbs tried to look appropriately disappointed. “Would love to, but Ash and I have yoga on Wednesday evenings.”

“Yoga?”

“I signed us up for classes.” She paused, voice lowering as she continued conspiratorially, “I thought it might help her relax.”

She could see the agreement on the tip of Sullivan’s tongue before he found the good sense to reel it in.

Later that night, lounging back against the sofa with Ash curled on the other end of it, Scribbs took a sip of wine and said, “I saved us from a night of male bonding.”

Ash glanced over, blinking slowly. “Pardon?”

“Sullivan wanted us to watch football at the pub with him and the boys.”

“Sounds ghastly.”

“Not that I mind completely. It can be fun to grab a pint and get a little rowdy.”

“But Liverpool and Chelsea? One would be better served watching paint dry.”

It took Scribbs a moment to understand the import of what Ash had just said. “I didn’t tell you who was playing.”

“It’s the only match of note on tonight.”

“You already knew. You were aware of who was playing and you actually have an opinion about it?”

Ash shifted over so that she was facing Scribbs, a look of confusion on her face. “Why is this so shocking to you?”

“As if you really need to ask.”

“Apparently I do.”

Scribbs shrugged her shoulders. “It hardly seems in character. And besides, I’ve known you for years. If you were secretly some rabid footy fan, I think I would have ferreted it out by now.”

Ash tilted her head speculatively. “Just because something isn’t my favorite thing in the world, it doesn’t mean I’m not aware of it. You don’t know all my secrets.”

That, Scribbs acknowledged, was entirely too true.

Silence fell for a moment, broken only by the rustle of cloth as Ash shifted so that she was facing the telly again. “I’m picking the movie next time.”

“What?”

“This one is atrocious.”

As she had a number of times since the argument they’d had two weeks previous, the one that had precipitated her slamming out of Ash’s flat and waiting in vain for Ash to offer more of an apology than she had that night, Scribbs’ jaw clenched.

The silence stretched again before Ash added, “I can’t understand Americans.”

“Well,” Scribbs mumbled, trying to pick her way into the stilted conversation, “can be a bit weird, can’t they? Adding an unnecessary –s to sport and taking a perfectly serviceable one off maths. And don’t even get me started on their foreign policy…”

Ash frowned. “No, I mean I literally can’t understand them. Does this movie have subtitles?”

Scribbs shrugged and rolled her eyes. “Why do you care if you can understand what they’re saying if the movie is atrocious?”

“It’s the principle of the thing.”

Calmly, Scribbs grabbed the remote control and turned the movie off, leaving the television a blank, black screen. “Let me propose an alternative activity then,” she said with a tight smile.

“Really, Scribbs…”

Scribbs held up a single finger, calling for silence. “Honestly, Ash,” she said, placing the remote back on the table and turning so that she could climb up and over Ash until she was hovering above her on the sofa, each of her movements deliberate. “If we can’t agree on anything, let’s just not talk.”

Ash’s eyes widened slightly. “We’re far from not agreeing on anything. We agree on plenty of things.”

“I beg to differ.”

“Scribbs,” Ash chastised, frowning, “if you honestly think we’re having some sort of argument or disagreement, then the way to solve it is through communication.”

“I am…”

“With words.”

“We haven’t been especially good with words lately,” Scribbs murmured, slipping down to place a soft kiss against the curve of Ash’s jaw. She heard the sharp intake of breath Ash made, felt the way her body tensed, and buried a smile into Ash’s neck.

“That’s not entirely true. I know there’s been tension, but…”

Scribbs slid up to capture Ash’s lips with her own, bringing a halt to the stumbling justification.

******

45 Minutes Later…

Scribbs rolled her shoulders and slid to the edge of the sofa. She could feel Ash behind her, just starting to stir, as she reached down to snag her clothes from the floor. The thing she was planning to say next was already making her gut twist nervously. It was a calculated gesture, designed to provoke, but the problem, insofar as she’d been able to map out the possible outcomes, was that there was absolutely no way to determine if it would provoke the response she wanted.

The other problem was that, if there was going to be a way forward, it had to be done.

“I reckon we can take this weekend off, Ash,” she said quietly, slipping back into her shirt. “I’ve got plans.”

There was some small gratification to be found in the way Ash’s voice caught. “Plans?”

“You’re always nagging me about being too picky. Maybe you’re right.”

“So you have a date?”

“It’s nothing serious. I thought I’d give it a go, like you said.”

Scribbs paused for a second before leaning over to give Ash a soft kiss. “But we’ve got tomorrow night before then, right? And we can pick back up next week.”

Ash blinked at her, caught unawares.

“You’ll probably be glad to be rid of me for a few days anyway.” Scribbs stepped into her jeans and stood, keeping her back to Ash. “Work tomorrow. I should probably be going.”

“You don’t have to go,” Ash said weakly, and Scribbs stiffened, refusing to let herself turn around. Knowing if she did, she’d lose her nerve.

She thought about making a quip, about citing the rules. About being petty. Instead, she murmured, “See you tomorrow, yeah?”

“Scribbs…” Ash began, then paused. Scribbs waited for a long moment, again fighting the urge to turn. The sound of Ash’s soft sigh made her wince, made her fingers twitch with the urge to comfort. “Yes. Tomorrow.”

******

Two days later…

The night before had been a disaster of such epic proportions that Scribbs had almost called her own bluff. Ash was a terror, scowling and prickly and irritated with each and every thing Scribbs had done, and they’d barely even made it through dinner when they’d come to a mutual decision that it would probably be best to call it a night.

And now she was having take-away and listening to Jordie Larsen sniffle his way through the telling of his latest fight with his boyfriend for the third time.

It was all Ash’s fault, in more ways than one. If Jordie hadn’t caught on to the way she apparently looked at Ash, he wouldn’t have had the stomach to approach her and slyly insinuate that they had something in common. And, if she hadn’t been so distracted by how things were going with Ash, she wouldn’t have had the moment of weakness that allowed her to apparently reply to him in some sort of coded message she hadn’t intended, the one that appeared to have told him that she was absolutely dying to hear about all of his various relationship troubles given what he presumed was their shared kinship. Following that, if Ash hadn’t virtually forced her to make some sort of move to shake things up, she wouldn’t have been struck by the notion that letting Jordie come over for curry and a movie would suit her plan well, giving her legitimate plans for the weekend. And, if she hadn’t told him that he should come over, he would never have had the opportunity to dissect with her, in excruciating detail, every possible hidden meaning or missed opportunity of his latest romantic debacle.

After three hours of it, she was exhausted.

“… and I told him it wasn’t like that, that sometimes I just needed to have a little time away with the boys. That’s not an insult to his manhood, is it? He doesn’t even like football. Why should he care if I want to have a long weekend with my mates to catch a match in London? I told him he didn’t have anything to worry about. And then he goes on about how I’m ashamed of him, just because I don’t want him to meet any of my friends. And I tell him he wouldn’t like them anyway, but he doesn’t listen to me, does he? So then I think maybe we could have dinner, the two of us and you and DI Ashurst, and I’m going to tell him, because it’s a splendid idea, I think, but he’s already throwing clothes in his suitcase and saying how he’s going to go stay at his mum’s.”

Scribbs blanched, thinking of the look on Ash’s face should Jordie ever mention the possibility of something that sounded suspiciously like a double date.

“Jordie,” she sighed, glancing down at the three bottles of wine they’d consumed, “the trouble is you’re in the closet and your boyfriend isn’t. You have different expectations for your relationship. He’s always going to want more than you can give him. One of you is going to have to change, and that’s that.” She paused, consciously ignored the advice she had just given, and added, “I’m not letting you drive home. You can stay here. I’ll make up the sofa.”

******

10 minutes later…

Ash’s hands tightened painfully around the steering wheel as she watched the lights in Scribbs’ flat flick off. Clearly, she was going to let him stay the night.

Jordie Larsen. Honestly. They worked together. She was going to have to see him every day. Did Scribbs have no common sense?

Honestly.

******

Four days later…

Scribbs wasn’t entirely sure what had gotten into Ash, but she wasn’t complaining. Maybe having some time apart did help, because it was a Tuesday and for once she hadn’t even had to do any sort of maneuvering to persuade Ash to engage in after work shenanigans. Instead, Ash had her pinned to the bed, wrists drawn up above her head and held there by a firm grip. The look in her eyes was determined, jaw set, and the way Ash was fucking her, rough and hard and with enough fingers to make it burn so good, in a way that nearly had Scribbs’ eyes rolling into the back of her head… well, it was unexpected.

She didn’t even know what she was saying anymore. Sounds were coming out of her mouth that bore no relation to discernable language, that were breathless and needy, and she didn’t care. She simultaneously wanted to orgasm and wanted it never to end, but there came a point when she couldn’t hold back any more.

The sound of Ash’s name hadn’t even stopped echoing around the room when Ash slid down and replaced her fingers with her tongue.

******

One day later…

When Ash suggested that they retire to her flat after work, Scribbs didn’t even answer. She simply packed her things and led the way out of the station

******

Three days later…

Ash stared morosely into her vodka tonic. Scribbs was sitting on a stool at the corner of the bar, surrounded, as always. She was laughing and flirting and occasionally shooting Ash glances that were all tied up in their secret. They were full of the promise that the only person Scribbs would be leaving with that night was her, and it was her own fault so she had no one to blame for it but herself.

The objective truth was that she’d quite simply taken leave of her senses for a bit. She’d thought about Scribbs and all of the various things she could have done during her night with Jordie Larsen, and she’d spent the week systematically and with concerted effort attempting to prove something. She wasn’t entirely sure what that something was, though she knew it would be disingenuous if she didn’t at least admit to wanting to show Scribbs that there was no need for anyone else. She was more than capable of fulfilling any need Scribbs might have, and with far greater aptitude than Jordie Larsen, she was quite sure, though why she had felt the need to prove that beyond any shadow of a doubt was, well… troubling.

It was the sort of thing that needed organizing. She needed to make a list, to sort through all of the things she was feeling until a clear pattern emerged, but a large part of her was absolutely adamant that doing so would be a supremely bad idea. There was a truth lurking in there somewhere, ominous and insistent, and if she went looking for it, chances were that she’d find it.

And so, she had options: search for the truth in spite of her feelings of foreboding, continue on as if nothing had changed and attempt to ignore the nagging knowledge that they had, or call a halt to the whole thing and bury it all under a mountain of denial so massive that nothing could ever crawl out from under it.

It wasn’t really a choice at all. She knew what she had to do.

Tomorrow.

******

The next morning…

Scribbs smiled into the pillow, stretching from her fingers to her toes. She’d felt something change within Ash the night before, in the way her touches were tender and lingering. It felt like a definite turning point, like a change for the better.

She took her time, rolling slowly out of bed and slipping back into her pyjamas. She used her fingers to comb her hair back into some semblance of order and, when she couldn’t find her toothbrush, used her fingers for that too. Breakfast was cooking, pancakes from the smell of it, and she smiled broadly, the image of Ash waiting for her with the sun just starting to come in through the window making her feel warm inside.

“Morning,” she said, shuffling into the kitchen to find Ash staring out the window. Scribbs slid in behind her, wrapping her arms around Ash’s waist and placing a kiss against the back of her neck.

When the greeting wasn’t returned and her touch was met with a slight stiffening instead of the melt of Ash’s body into hers, Scribbs took a step back, confused.

“Everything all right, Ash?”

“I’ve made breakfast,” Ash replied, and Scribbs noted the strain in her words. “Why don’t we sit.”

There was a feeling creeping up inside of her, like when a dream turned into a nightmare and whatever utopia her dream mind had conjured up for her melted away into something horrific, and so Scribbs didn’t sit. She retreated another step back and tried to push down on the spike of nervous anxiety that had shot up her throat.

“Ash,” she said again, this time a little desperately.

Ash sighed and then turned, the look on her face solemn and formal. “I think it’s time we stopped what we’ve been doing,” she said softly, her eyes flitting over the planes of Scribbs’ face before flicking over to the corner. Scribbs followed her gaze, caught sight of the bag she’d left at Ash’s flat so long ago, now bulging, and couldn’t hold back a gasp. “I’ve packed your things.”

Dumbfounded, caught completely off-guard, Scribbs whispered, “What do you mean?”

“Come now, Scribbs,” Ash said, forcing cool into her voice. “We both know this couldn’t last forever. It’s time to end things, before either of us gets the idea that this is something more than it is.”

Scribbs’ jaw tightened involuntarily. “More than it is?”

“Yes. More than an arrangement. Don’t think I haven’t seen the way you’ve…” The way you care for me, her mind suggested. The way we work so perfectly together. “The way you’ve been looking at me.”

Scribbs could already feel tears clogging her throat. “The way I look at you? Like I care about you, you mean?”

“You’ve always had difficulty adhering to the spirit of the arrangement,” Ash said, pushing on. Her eyes dropped to the floor, no longer able to take the stricken expression on Scribbs’ face.

Scribbs felt something in her tear apart. She felt words coming that she knew she should stop, but she couldn’t find the will to stop them. “Maybe because this whole bloody thing has been ridiculous. I don’t want to be the girl you shag because you’ve got nothing better to do until the right man comes along. I want more than that, and I think you do too.”

“Scribbs,” Ash warned.

“I don’t want a shag. I want a girlfriend. I want you, Ash, and I think some part of you wants me too. You’d never have been able to do it otherwise.”

Ash’s eyes closed, tears gathering. She couldn’t disagree with the words, but she couldn’t agree either. “You’re telling me this has all been false pretenses, Scribbs? All along, you’ve lied? You’ve misled me? You’ve been playing a game?”

“You can’t tell me you don’t feel it too, Ash,” Scribbs interrupted, not able to listen to her litany of sins any longer. “This last week? That was jealousy. And be honest with yourself about what we’ve been doing. You’re not that kind of person, Ash. You’re not someone who carries on with an arrangement. You need feelings. You care about me.”

Ash took a deep breath. She brought her gaze up, locked her eyes with Scribbs, and said deliberately, “Yes, I care about you. As a friend. As a work partner. Even as a sex partner, but not as a girlfriend. Not as that kind of partner. That was never supposed to be the point of this.”

Scribbs bit her lip to keep from making a sound, though she couldn’t stop the tears rolling down her cheeks. “Rubbish,” she said, voice strangled. “Even you don’t believe that. You can’t.”

“I know it’s going to be difficult to work together for a time,” Ash said, again looking away, desperate to have Scribbs out of her kitchen, where she was close enough for Ash to reach out and pull her into her arms. Desperate to be away from the way Scribbs was looking at her, vulnerable and scared. Desperate to be away from the doubts she refused to hear. “I suggest we minimize our contact with one another to strictly business encounters until such time as we’re able to discuss this objectively. I’m confident that, with time, we can put this behind us.”

“Behind us?” Scribbs shook her head sadly. “You don’t have to pretend to be so cold, Ash.”

“Pretend? Indulge me for a moment, Scribbs, while I get this straight.” Ash adopted the droll, accusing tone she used when they interviewed particularly dense subjects, because if Scribbs didn’t understand reason, then at least she might understand deliberate cruelty. “What I’m hearing from you is that in what is quite possibly the most convoluted, misguided and, dare I say it, backward plan to woo me into an actual relationship I have ever heard, you chose to proposition me with an arrangement designed specifically to achieve the sole benefit of mutual sexual gratification. Once your enticement worked, you then chose to continue with this arrangement for several months, never once hinting at an ulterior motive, until this morning when said arrangement was threatened. You’ve been lying to me about your motivations for months, Scribbs. You’ve been dishonest in your intentions. You’ve been actively trying to manipulate me.” Ash paused, unexpected anger catching up to her. She wasn’t the innocent in this scene, but neither was she the villain. She’d ignored the clues because she hadn’t wanted to see them, but a part of her rebelled at having been put into the game in the first place. “It’s not as if you’ve discovered you have feelings for me in the course of this arrangement. No, it’s nothing that honest. You deliberately set out to try and trick me. You were never playing by the rules.”

“I needed you to see,” Scribbs said sadly, head dropping. “You wouldn’t have given us a shot, not really. But you can see now, Ash. I know you can. You can see how good we are together.”

“Is that supposed to excuse everything?”

“No. Look, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I wasn’t entirely upfront with you, Ash, but you’d have never known otherwise, would you? You’d never have given it a chance. And I didn’t think you would, really. I honestly never thought… and then you were at my flat and you were saying yes and it was an opportunity and I took it. If I’d have said to you then that I’d been falling in love with you for months, years maybe, what would you have done?” Scribbs laughed dryly. “You’d have left.”

Despite herself, Ash felt herself softening. “It’s no excuse.”

“Ash, let’s just…”

“I need you to leave, Scribbs.”

“Please…”

“Scribbs, just go.”

There was a finality in Ash’s tone that completed the breaking of Scribbs heart.

Scribbs took one last look at the scene, at Ash standing by the window with the morning sunlight creeping in behind her, at the breakfast laid out on the table, now cold, and did as asked, leaving the bag and everything in it behind.

******

Thirteen days later…

Ash opened the door to what had to be one of the most surreal sights she’d ever seen – Sullivan cradling a sleeping Scribbs in his arms.

“Boss?” she asked, unable to conjure up anything more coherent.

Sullivan smiled apologetically, then hefted Scribbs up a bit higher. “Mind if I drop her on the sofa?”

“Oh, of course,” Ash said, still stunned. She took a step back as Sullivan swept by her, intent on depositing his burden. After a moment’s hesitation, she said softly, “But why don’t you put her in the bed, instead. She’ll be miserable enough in the morning without having spent a night on the sofa.”

To his credit, Sullivan’s expression didn’t change. He simply looked at her expectantly and Ash jolted herself into motion, leading him down the short hallway and into her bedroom. She cringed, the sight of the messy duvet an embarrassment, but nonetheless smoothed it back and stood back, watching rather blankly as her boss eased her erstwhile lover under the covers.

“I was having a pint at the pub,” he said, something about his tone apologetic, as if it were his fault instead of Scribbs’ that he’d invaded her home late at night. “I caught sight of her drowning her sorrows at the end of the bar. By the time we were ready to leave, she was clearly incapacitated. And by incapacitated, I mean she’d likely consumed her body weight in alcohol.”

Ash felt an involuntary need to defend her partner spring up inside of her. “She’s not usually like that,” she said, though the words were weak, ambiguous. “She’s just been going through a rough patch of things lately.”

“So I gathered,” Sullivan said dryly. “I had intended to take her back to her flat, but she insisted on coming here.”

He didn’t add that the insistence had come with a great deal of tears and self-recrimination.

“Well,” Ash said uneasily, “she’ll sleep it off and then I’ll talk to her.”

“Do,” he said softly, a hint of kindness in his eyes that made Ash need to look away. “I take it the two of you have had a bit of a fight.”

Despite her desire to remain still, Ash fidgeted, shifting from foot to foot in an uncharacteristic display of uncertainty. Her eyes flicked from Scribbs’ sleeping form to Sullivan, then back again. It was an awkward situation, and part of her resented Scribbs for putting her in it, but she couldn’t bring herself to work up any real anger. Not with Scribbs tucked neatly into her bed, blonde hair a spiky halo on the pillow and one hand clutched into a fist and tucked away against her chest. So, trying to keep her voice light, Ash murmured, “Oh, is that what she told you?”

“Not exactly,” Sullivan said with a small smile. “It was more along the lines of , ‘I’d never hurt Ash on purpose, Boss. I love her, but I’m a stupid, bloody, stupid, bloody, stupid stupid idiot and it’s all my fault.’ And then she lapsed into song.”

“Song?”

“Apparently mistook the headrest for a karaoke machine,” Sullivan said with a soft chuckle. “When she wakes up, you can tell her that she does a rather smashing Celine Dion.”

Ash smiled despite herself.

Clapping his hands together lightly, Sullivan offered an apologetic, rueful smile. “Well, I’m off then. I’ve got the strangest urge to watch Titanic, as it were. I expect the two of you will work things out sufficiently. You’re the best team I’ve got. I’d hate to see something come between you. Nothing’s more important than friendship, I say, or would if I were given to platitudes.”

Returning his smile with a weak one of her own, Ash nodded. “Quite right, Boss. We’ll see about patching this up.”

He paused at the door, standing even with her, and reached out awkwardly, resting his hand lightly on her shoulder. “I’ve got faith in you both, Ash. You’re good together. You’ll work through this.”

She looked at him closely, checking for any signs of covert meaning or hidden messages but found nothing but a reassuring smile and kind eyes.

When the door closed behind him, Ash slumped against it tiredly. The previous two weeks had been absolutely awful, with Scribbs in equal measure silent as a stone and full of enough broody, repressed longing to win the starring role in a BBC adaptation. She’d tried to apologize once more and Ash had cut her short. In fact, Ash admitted she’d been nothing but short with her, actually, furious with herself for as many reasons as she’d been furious with Scribbs.

Furious with herself because she’d found, after only a few days without Scribbs in her life in the way she had been before, that she was compelled to accept Scribbs apology, to let things go back to the way they had been. She’d been lonely, but she’d thought that if she could only manage to wait things out long enough, that would go away. It was a parting, after all. An end to a relationship, or at least to a component of her relationship with Scribbs, and it was only normal to mourn that. Only, waiting didn’t seem to make things better. Waiting only made her miss things more, like the sight of Scribbs laughing, curled up on her couch and teasing Ash over something she’d said. It made her miss Scribbs’ habit of surprising her, hugging her from behind and kissing her way around her neck until Ash would turn in her arms, unable to hold out any longer.

She wasn’t ready to forgive her, because the more she thought about it, the angrier she became, but being ready to forgive her and wanting to forgive her didn’t seem to be at all connected.

She’d seen how miserable Scribbs had been. It’d been impossible to miss, and it didn’t seem fair that Ash felt guilty for causing that misery. By all rights, she should be exempt from guilt. She hadn’t done anything wrong, not really.

Except she had. It wasn’t honest of her to say she hadn’t felt anything. She’d been jealous, surely, and that jealousy had stemmed from something. It hadn’t appeared whole cloth. Thinking about it too closely was dangerous, though. Thinking about it too closely compelled her to admit things she wasn’t sure she wanted to know.

And there was nothing for it now, not with Scribbs passed out dead cold in her bed. It seemed silly to be ousted onto her own sofa, so with a sigh, Ash made her way to her bedroom, slipped under the bedcovers, and tried to ignore the sense of peace she felt at the familiarity of having Scribbs next to her again.

******

The next morning…

“Scribbs?” Ash called out sleepily, one hand outstretched as she searched the other side of the bed for evidence of Scribbs. The sheet was warm and wrinkled but obviously bare, and she frowned slightly, half convinced she was going to have to actually open and use her eyes to locate her.

When the bed dipped a half second later, Ash let out a barely audible sigh. “I’m here,” Scribbs murmured, snuggling back into the place she’d only recently vacated. Ash’s resulting unconscious, pleased smile made her heart skip a beat and she turned onto her side, facing away from the other woman just in case Ash chose that moment to actually look at her. She didn’t want the other woman to catch sight of the sappy grin that she could feel tugging at her lips.

There was a subtle movement behind her, the rustling of the sheets alerting her to the fact that Ash was moving, and then suddenly the warm length of the other woman’s body was nestled snugly along her back and Ash’s arm was draped over her side, fingers settling lightly against her belly.

“That’s better,” Ash mumbled sleepily, and Scribbs shivered.

“Ash?” she asked tentatively, not quite sure what she wanted to know.

The heavy cadence of the other woman’s breathing was her only reply, so she tried it again.

“Ash?”

Nothing. Of course. She was sleeping.

******

Ash was surprised she’d slept as deeply as she had. Then again, it had been two weeks since she’d had a truly restful night.

It took her a full minute to remember why.

She sat up so quickly that she was dizzy, but the flat was silent, empty; Ash felt oddly disappointed, but she shook it off. Scribbs was gone, as well she should be, and at least there was no awkward morning after.

She didn’t see the note until almost midday, scrawled on the back of an old envelope.

‘I don’t know how I got here. I’m sorry if I made a scene.’

It was unsigned, not that Ash had any doubts who had written it.

******

One and a half weeks later…

The invitation was oddly formal.

“If you don’t have other plans, Scribbs, perhaps you’d like to join me for a drink after work.”

She’d been sure for a moment that Ash hadn’t actually meant to address her, even if she had used her name, and so Scribbs hesitated. She played the invitation back over again in her head, decided that she hadn’t been hallucinating, and nodded with a sincerity and eagerness that was frankly embarrassing.

As per usual, Scribbs drove.

“I’ve written up a list,” Ash said stiffly, staring straight forward. “I’m still quite angry, you understand.”

“Rightly so,” Scribbs said quickly, long past the point where she felt any need to defend herself or her actions. She was more than ready to grovel if given the opportunity.

“I don’t like being lied to. I don’t like being misled.”

Scribbs hands tightened around the steering wheel. “I know, and I’m sorry.”

“But,” Ash allowed, “you were right to think that I never would have considered entering into any sort of relationship with you had you just explained how you felt and simply asked. It would have been far too risky, and I certainly wouldn’t have been in a place where I was able to entertain the notion.” Ash paused and sighed deeply. “The fact of the matter is that I miss you.”

Scribbs felt her heart skip a beat.

“I followed you that night,” Ash admitted, voice quiet with embarrassment. “I should have admitted it to myself then, but I didn’t. I sat outside your flat and watched you welcome Jordie Larsen inside. I stayed until the lights went out and he didn’t leave, and I was jealous. I was jealous and I was angry, even if I had pushed you to do it.”

“Actually Ash…”

“No, let me finish,” Ash said sternly. “I’ve struggled with that these past weeks, Scribbs. What you did, lying to me all along, felt like… no, it still feels like a betrayal. That said, I can’t seem to get over the notion that I want what we had back.”

Against every impulse to the contrary, Scribbs held her tongue, waiting for Ash to finish.

“I am tentatively willing to give this another try, if and only if you promise to be nothing but upfront and truthful.”

It was far more than Scribbs could have hoped for. “I promise,” she said immediately. “And Jordie Larsen is gay, but you can’t tell anyone at the station because he doesn’t want anyone to know. I didn’t sleep with him Ash. I listened to him prattle on about the fight he’d had with his boyfriend and then made him sleep on the sofa because he’d had too much to drink to drive home. But, I did invite him over because I wanted to make you jealous and because I didn’t want to lie entirely. I did have a date, just like I said, but with a friend, that’s all. And, I did buy those knickers to wear for you because I hoped you’d like them. I spent a ridiculous amount of money on them. All those times we went out, I wasn’t even trying. I was never going to go home with any of those blokes and…”

“Scribbs,” Ash said, interrupting gently, “you don’t have to confess to everything at this very second.”

“I don’t want there to be any room for ambiguity this time.” Scribbs pulled the car to a halt, easing into an empty parking space on the side of the road. She turned, smiled nervously, and said, “I’m madly in love with you, Ash. I have been for a while.”

Despite her intense desire to remain unmoved, Ash felt her eyes get a bit watery.

“I realize it’s maybe a bit much, springing it on you like that, but I think you were already aware,” Scribbs added apologetically. “I’ve been miserable these past weeks, which you may have noticed.”

Ash laughed shortly. “Only just.”

“So you’ve definitely got me at a disadvantage as I’m fully prepared to do anything necessary to win you back.” Scribbs paused, brow furrowed, “Or, win you in the first place, as the case may be. I’m talking begging, candlelight dinners, excessive compliments, wearing the knickers of your choice, letting you pick all the movies…”

“Scribbs,” Ash said, unable to keep the smile from her face, “as much as I appreciate your enthusiasm, I think we should start with that drink I mentioned.”

“Oh, right,” Scribbs said, reining herself in. “Did you want to go over that list you made? I’d be more than happy to listen.”

“Don’t lay it on too thick.”

“Right.”

Scribbs started up the car again and pulled back onto the thoroughfare, unable to keep the grin off her face. She was firmly convinced that she’d be able to do a lot with a second chance, given her motivation.

“And Scribbs,” Ash said nonchalantly, “you do still have those knickers, right?”

Scribbs’ smile turned devilish. Quite a lot, indeed. “Not just those,” she said, suppressing a smirk. “I’m afraid I went on a bit of a shopping spree the day I got them.”

Ash sat back against her seat, a self-satisfied smile on her face. “Excellent,” she murmured, glancing briefly at Scribbs before reaching down, finding Scribbs’ free hand and twining their fingers together. She turned to look out the window, feeling unaccountably peaceful, and wondered how long she’d have to wait, for dignity’s sake, before politely requesting the opportunity to view the entire collection.