Disclaimer: Hustle belongs to the joint forces of the BBC and AMC. I'm only borrowing the characters, and will return them unharmed.
Spoilers: This is a post ep for 2.04, Missions. Picks up from the moment Stacie walks into Eddie's at the end of the episode.
A/N: I owe many thanks to Beckymonster for both the beta'ing and the Brit pick. Also, much thanks to Hestia8. Not only because her detailed episode reviews are very useful references, but because this story totally changed after reading her review of 2.04.
When Stacie walks into the bar everyone's eyes are on her, as much for the fancy dress and pearls as for the briefcase full of money she carries. She tries to ignore their curious looks, and glances at her watch as if she has to be somewhere at a certain time. Her eagerness to escape doesn't save her from the questions. She should have known that Danny would be the one to ask out-loud what the others only show in their eyes.
"Whoa whoa whoa. Where are you going off, all dressed up like that?"
"Well, I, um, don't think that's any of your business, Danny." She hesitates, unable to think up a lie and unwilling to tell the truth. There are some pieces of her life that she isn't willing to share with these men she calls family.
"She's got a date." It's Ash who provides the missing detail, and it takes all her skills not to look shocked. She quickly turns her attention to Mickey, giving him the same rebuff she gave Danny. When, with a mischievous grin, Ash supplies the name of the comic book collector as her companion she can't help but gape at him. What is he trying to do to her? She finds it easiest to ignore him by focusing on Danny, playing another round of their game of 'we're not going to date because I say so.'
As soon as possible she makes her escape from the bar, lingering in the entryway just long enough to make sure that they are all settled into their game of cards before she leaves. As she steps into the cool spring air she smiles to herself. The sweetest con of all is to con another con. Albert's said it more then once, and as usual he is right. It's particularly fun when the people you are conning are also your best mates, the very people who should be able to catch on.
She has a bit of time to spare before she has to meet her date, who is most definitely not Neil. On the off chance that Eddie loses his money too quickly and the boys call it an early night she avoids going back to the hotel. Regretting the fact that she didn't wear a jacket, or at least a pashmina, she ducks into a boutique and spends a pleasant half hour browsing, parting with one of her hard earned fifty pound notes when she finds a diamante´ pin in the shape of an S.
When she glances at her watch this time she actually pays attention to the time. It's a quarter to, and she decides that she has enough time to get to the restaurant on foot if she leaves now. As she walks she watches the people around her, reading their body language in the same way that most people read street signs; it's a habit that can't be turned off.
The maitre d' leads her to a table for two in a dim corner of the dining room, and Stacie is surprised to find that she is not the first to arrive. Her date is holding a glass of wine, and she knows without asking that it's one of her favorite vintages, probably a Château Briand or a Sangiovese.
"You didn't have to get all dressed up for me," she greets him as she leans over and kisses his cheek.
"Like I was going to show up in jeans and a polo after I'd seen what you were wearing." With a grin he straightens his tie, which either by coincidence or design is the same color as her belt, and sets off his dark blue suit nicely.
"How did you manage to make yourself so posh and still beat me here?" She takes a sip of the deep red wine, appreciating the smooth flavor. He knows her tastes well.
"Stacie, my luv, I am a man of many talents."
"Threw the game after a couple of hands and raced back to the hotel, right?"
"Actually I excused myself to use the loo. I don't know that they've even noticed how long I've been gone. Mickey and Danny are having too much fun scamming Eddie, and Albie's doing his best to fix the game without the others noticing." Ash's comment has a touch of self-deprecation to it. It's possible they haven't noticed his absence at the table; his chameleon-like tendencies, so useful in their work, can make him seem a bit invisible. It certainly took her long enough to really see him.
"Their loss is my gain." She reaches across the table and covers his hand with her own. She might have said more, but the waiter chose that moment to ask if they are ready to order. She hasn't even looked at her menu, and quickly scans the list of entrees while Ash chooses a steak with all the trimmings. She settles on the scampi, despite the fact that she knows Ash will steal half of her shrimp and she's end up eating plain pasta. She's not that hungry.
"Shall we have a toast then?" He holds his wine glass in the air. "To bent cops who aren't as smart as they think and grown men who pay ridiculous sums for comic books."
"No." Stacie shakes her head, pausing a moment before touching the rim of her glass against Ash's. "To finding an oasis of time for just the two of us."
"I'll drink to that." It's a rare thing for them to find an entire evening to spend together. At some point they were going to have to tell the others that they were dating, but the relationship was still new and they wanted this time to be about just the two of them.
Ash does end up eating most of her shrimp, but he orders profiteroles in a chocolate sauce for dessert and only takes a few bites, leaving her the rest, so it balances out. They linger over the last of the wine, talking of nothing and everything. It's funny, they've more or less lived together for the past year and a half, but there are so many things they don't know about each other. Out of necessity and habit they have learned to keep too many secrets, and it's an unexpected pleasure to share small details without worrying about giving too much away.
Not ready for the evening to end, Stacie suggests a walk. They haven't gone more then a dozen steps when the evening air causes her to shiver. Without a word Ash removes his jacket and slips it over her shoulders. She starts to thank him, but the diffident look he is wearing is enough to change her mind. Not caring that they are spotlighted by a streetlamp she wraps her arms around his neck and kisses him. Ash stiffens in surprise, but it only takes a moment before he's melting into her, enjoying the sweet taste of chocolate and Stacie.