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SERIES: Part three of Here be Dragons.

How can the light that burned so brightly (suddenly burn so pale?)
By thegirl20


Chapter 1

The door to the surgery bursts open and Vanessa looks up from where she and Rhona are poring over some paperwork to find Moses standing in the doorway, red-cheeked and breathless. His eyes widen when they land on her.

"Mum!" He darts into the building and grabs her elbow, tugging on it. "You've got to come quick."

"What is it, love?" Vanessa asks, letting him pull her, mild panic making her heart thud in her ears. "What's happened? Is Johnny okay? Where's Ma?"

"They're just comin' but you've got to hurry or it'll be too late."

Just at that, Charity enters through the open door, a tearful Johnny clinging to her hand and rubbing at his eye with his fist.

"Will someone please tell me what's going on?" Vanessa demands, although seeing them all together and in one piece has calmed her down.

"There's a r-rabbit on the road outs-outside," Johnny says, his shoulders jumping. "It's all-" A breath shudders out of him. "It's all s-squished."

Charity rolls her eyes at Vanessa, pulling Johnny in so that his face is hidden against her belly, her hand rubbing his back. "Hey now. Shhhhh. You're okay."

"But it's alive! And you can save it, mum!" Moses says, taking her hand and looking up at her with the absolute certainty that comes with being five and thinking there's nothing that your parents can't do. "I said to Johnny that you would make him better and maybe he can come and live in our garden."

"Oh, Moses...I-" She glances at Charity, quirking an eyebrow in question. Charity gives her a tiny shake of the head. She looks back down at Moses' big hopeful eyes and sighs. "I'll...just get my bag, okay?"

He grins and nods. "Okay, but hurry."

Rhona gives her a sympathetic smile as she grabs her medical bag. "Good luck," she murmurs.

"Yeah, ta very much for that," Vanessa says, knowing fine well she's going to have to tell Moses she can't work miracles. She holds out her hand for him to take and looks at Charity. "You stopping here?"

Johnny's head whips up to look at Charity. "I don't wanna see it again!" he whimpers.

"Yeah, you two go on." Charity takes one of the seats in the waiting area and Johnny clambers onto her lap, even though he's getting far too big for that, laying his head on her shoulder and twisting a curl around his finger. "Me and Johnny'll wait for you and Rhona can make us a brew."

Rhona frowns. "You can make it yourself, madam."

Charity lifts her eyebrows. "Uh, I'm a guest, Rhona."

"You're a pest, more like," Rhona grumbles, but she's moving to fill the kettle as she speaks.

"Behave, you two," Vanessa warns, as she lets Moses pull her out of the building and in the direction of the casualty.

"He's down here." He's squeezing her hand tight, maybe a bit more nervous than he's letting on about seeing the rabbit again. "His back legs is hurt. There was blood and stuff." He scrunches up his face as he looks up at her. "That's why Johnny got upset, I think. 'Cause of the stuff coming out of him. But I said that you would put it back in and he'd be okay."

"Moses, sweetheart, I'll do my best to help him, but I can't always fix everything."

He looks up at her, frowning. "You can." He nods. "You fix horses and cows all the time. This is just a little rabbit. It'll be dead easy."

Vanessa winces at his choice of words. "Well, let me take a look at him first and we'll see, eh?"

"That's him there!" Moses points and tugs on her hand. "See him?"

Even from a distance, Vanessa knows there's no hope in hell of saving the rabbit. Its back end's been practically flattened and most of its intestines are on the road. Its little head keeps twitching, though, showing that it's clinging to life. She sighs. It would have been much easier if it had died in the time it took Moses to come and get her.

"Yeah, I see him," Vanessa says. She crouches down by the animal, its eye flicking back and forth, the only sign of panic its poor paralysed body can give. She shakes her head. "I can't save him, darlin'." She points to the rabbit's crushed back. "See here? All his little bones in his back are broken and that means he's not going to be able to walk or run or jump anymore. And if he can't do that, he can't get away from bigger things that want to eat him."

Moses leans against her shoulder, frowning. "But...can you not fix his back? 'Cause he could come and live with us and we could protect him from the things that want to eat him."

She sighs and tries to smile at him. "I can't always fix animals when they're hurt or sick, sweetheart. He's too hurt. And even if I could fix him up, he couldn't come and stay with us. He's not meant to be kept cooped up. He needs to be out and running around in the wild."

Moses nods slowly before turning to look at her. "So...what will we do with him?"

"I'm gonna do what I do when I know I can't make an animal better, okay?" Vanessa says. "I'm going to make sure he's not in pain anymore." She opens her bag and puts on gloves before taking out a vial and a syringe.

"What's that?" Moses asks as she fills the syringe with liquid.

"This will make him go to sleep," she says, tapping the syringe. "And once he's in a really deep sleep-" She presses her lips together, not knowing how he'll react to her next words. "-his heart will stop beating and he'll stop breathing."

Moses is silent for a moment, looking at the rabbit. His bottom lip trembles just slightly and it's so like his mother's that Vanessa's heart breaks. "So...he'll be dead?"

"Yes, love, he'll be dead." She nods. "But it's the best thing we can do for him. I promise. Else he'd be in a lot of pain and it's not like with a person where you can explain to them what's happening or how you're trying to help them."

He nods and blinks, his eyes brighter than usual. "Johnny'll be upset," he whispers.

Vanessa wraps her free arm around his waist and pulls him close. He quite often expresses his own feelings in terms of how Johnny might react. Part of Vanessa wonders if that's healthy. Or if they've cultivated it somehow by telling him to look after Johnny. Or if it's just genetic; if that's the case the kid has no chance.

"I know he will be. And that's okay. It's okay to be a bit upset, because it's sad when anything dies. But at least we know we did the best thing we could for him, yeah?"

Moses nods, rubbing at his nose with his fist. "Yeah. 'Cause he won't be hurting anymore."

"That's right." She smiles and kisses his cheek. "Now, do you want to turn away while I give him this injection?"

"Will it be horrible?" he asks, eyes huge and worried.

"No, it won't be." She squeezes his waist. "It'll just look like he's going to sleep. I just thought you might not want to watch, that's all."

"It's okay. I'll watch."

"Okay darlin'," she says He takes a step away and puts his hands behind his back. She gives him a smile before she turns to the animal, quickly administering the correct dose of the drug so as not to draw it out any further. Once she's safely put the syringe away, she discards her gloves and stands, pulling Moses against her side. They both watch as the rabbit gradually stops twitching, and then stops breathing. Moses sniffs and rubs his nose and Vanessa bends to kiss his hair. "That's him gone now. He's not in pain anymore."

He nods. "That's good, then."

"Aye, aye." They both look up and see Ross approaching. "What's going on here, then?"

Moses quickly rubs his face. Vanessa lifts her eyebrows at Ross. "A rabbit was hit by a car and the boys wanted to see if I could do anything, but..." She trails off, indicating the dead rabbit. "I had to, ummm-"

Ross nods in understanding. He crouches in front of Moses, smiling up at him. "You okay, kiddo?"

Moses nods, quickly, a tear escaping the side of his eye. He rubs at it. "I'm just sad he can't run around no more, that's all."

Ross puts his hands around Moses' waist. "Well, what if I go and get a box and I take him up to Butlers and bury him, eh? Then he's still on the farm with all the other rabbits?"

"That'd be nice, wouldn't it?" Vanessa swiping some of Moses' hair back off his brow. He needs a haircut, she notes.

"Yeah." Moses nods. He sniffs once and wipes his nose on his sleeve. He leans against Ross, accepting the hug he's offered. "Thanks Dad."

"No problem, mate." Ross squeezes him tight.

"Why don't we leave your dad to do that, eh? And we'll go home and have our tea. You can pick what we have."

"Beans on toast," Moses says, immediately. Ross and Vanessa both groan. Moses would eat beans on toast for every single meal if he could get away with it.

"Fine," Vanessa holds out her hand, wiggling her fingers. "C'mon then. We best go and pick up your Ma and Johnny."

He takes her hand and turns back to Ross. "Dad, when you bury him, will you put him under a tree? Then we'll know where he is."

"Course I will." Ross chucks him under the chin and then presses a kiss to his forehead. "I'll pick a right good tree and pop him under it."

They bid Ross goodbye and head back up to the Vets', their joined hands swinging between them. Vanessa knows she should probably talk to him about what happened, but before she can decide on how best to approach it, he pipes up with a question.

"So, do you have to do that a lot at your work?" He mimes squeezing a syringe.

"Not a lot," she says. "But yeah, it's something we have to do from time to time." She smiles at him, sadly. "It's not my favourite bit of the job."

"No," he agrees, solemnly. He squints up at her. "Is your favourite bit getting to play with puppies? I think that would be my favourite bit."

She laughs gently and squeezes his hand. "Yeah, that's definitely up there."

"Can we get a puppy?" he asks, far too innocently, clearly playing on the fact that he's upset and she's feeling sympathetic.

"Uhhh…" Charity's voice is objecting loudly in her head. "If we're going to get a pet, then we'd need to all talk about it as a family."

His face scrunches in disappointment. "You know Ma's gonna say no."

"Well, then we'd need to find out what her reasons are for not wanting one." Charity's definitely going to find a reason for not getting a dog. "And maybe let's start with something a bit smaller than a dog, yeah? A hamster, maybe. That might be nice?"

"Or a rabbit?" Moses asks, grinning up at her.

Vanessa rolls her eyes. "Let's talk about it over our feast of beans on toast tonight, shall we?" She pushes open the door to the surgery. Johnny's kneeling on the floor, running two cars along the row of waiting room seats. Charity must've had them in her handbag. Charity's in the receptionist's chair with her feet up on the desk, reading one of the ancient magazines they keep around for folk that don't just immediately go on their phones. Charity looks up at them and rolls her eyes.

"'Bout time. If I had to read one more Woman's Weekly, I'd have lost the will to live."

Johnny gets up from the floor, his hands tugging at the hem of his t-shirt. "Did you help the rabbit?" His eyes flick from Moses to Vanessa, full of hope.

Moses walks over to him and puts a hand on his shoulder. "Johnny, Mum killed the rabbit."

"What?" Johnny shrieks, his eyes immediately filling with tears. He looks at Vanessa, aghast. "You killed the rabbit?"

"But it's okay, because it was the best thing for him," Moses tries to explain.

"Oh, Moses, love," Vanessa says, quickly crossing the room to crouch by the boys, rubbing Johnny's back.. "It's-" She turns to Moses. "We don't say 'killed' when it's a that vet does it. We say that we 'put him to sleep'."

Moses frowns. Johnny turns to her with large, watery eyes. "So he's just sleepin'?"

"No, he's dead," Moses tells him, still frowning at Vanessa. "You said so."

Charity seems quite happy to remain in her seat, clearly enjoying the predicament Vanessa's got herself into. She narrows her eyes at her wife over Moses' head.

"Yes...yes, he's dead," she agrees, tilting her head sympathetically at Johnny. "But it's just a bit nicer to say we put him to sleep isn't it? Because that's what we did. He went to sleep and…"

"And he won't wake up again," Moses finishes, nodding. Johnny lets out a wail, collapsing against Vanessa's shoulder.

"Poor little rabbit!"

Moses reaches over and pats Johnny's head. "He was too hurt, Johnny. Mum couldn't help him so she stopped him hurting."

Johnny doesn't lift his head from her shoulder; he's always been a bit dramatic with his emotions.

Charity saunters over, a smirk threatening to emerge on her face. "Well, if we're done traumatising the kids for today, maybe we should head off home, eh?"

"Yeah, definitely," Vanessa agrees, struggling to stand up with Johnny still clinging to her neck. Charity grabs her elbows to help and she smiles in gratitude before turning it into a scowl as she remembers Charity hasn't exactly been helpful in this situation. Sighing, Charity leans in and kisses Vanessa's cheek, then Johnny's. She pokes him in the side

"Oi, what were we talking about when Mum and Moz were gone, eh?" she asks, her voice taking on that gentle quality that only Vanessa and the kids get to hear. Johnny lifts his head, rubbing at his eyes.

"About how sometimes things don't get better," Johnny mumbles. Vanessa's eyes flick to meet Charity's, surprised that she broached this topic with Johnny. Charity lifts one eyebrow in that infuriatingly smug way of hers. As if to say 'see, i can parent'. As if Vanessa doesn't already know that.

"And what happens when they don't get better?" Charity asks.

"They die," Johnny answers, dutifully.

"Right." Charity nods, licking her thumb and wiping at the tear tracks on his face. He squirms away from her hand, pressing his face against Vanessa's shoulder. "So this little rabbit wasn't going to get better. Mummy made sure he wasn't going to hurt anymore. So that was nice of her, wasn't it?"

He looks at Vanessa again and she can almost feel him weighing up whether he needs to think of her as some horrible murderer, or a merciful animal lover. Finally he nods. "It was nice."

"Good." Vanessa rubs her nose against his. "Now, let's get home, eh?" She sets him back on his feet and Moses runs over to take his hand as they head out., chattering away about Ross and burial sites.

"I'm guessing I'm not locking Rhona in here?" Vanessa asks, as she turns the heavy lock on the old door.

"Nah, she had to go off and get Leo," Charity says, watching the boys scarper off in the direction of home. "Hey! You two! Wait for us before you cross that road!"

They come to a halt at the kerb, their heads close together as they whisper to one another. That'll be Moses relaying the fact that they're going to have a discussion about a pet rabbit over dinner. A vision of Moses' little face when she told him what the syringe was for comes into her head. She bumps Charity's shoulder.

"D'you think they're a bit young for all this death talk? I mean...I killed an animal in front of Moses today." She scrunches up her nose and looks at Charity. "Is that bad?"

Charity shrugs. "No idea, babe. S'pose we'll see how he turns out, eh?"

"Well, thanks for that reassurance," Vanessa grumbles. Charity laughs as they reach the kids, each taking one of their free hands to cross the road, looking in both directions in an exaggerated fashion. Once safely on the pavement, they let them loose to run down to the pub. Charity reaches out and takes her hand, threading their fingers together.

"You do, ummm-" She swallows. "-lock the really bad drugs away these days, don't you babe?"

"Eh? Of course I do!" Vanessa frowns. "What are you getting at?"

"No, it's nothing." Vanessa watches Charity's face closely and can tell she's trying not to smile as she continues to speak. "I just, you know, don't want to cut my finger peeling spuds or something and have him hovering over me with a syringe, telling me it's for the best and I won't feel a thing."

Vanessa barks out a laugh at the image. "That's ridiculous."

Charity turns to look at her, eyes wide. "Well, I'm glad you're so sure all of a sudden."

"Course I am." Vanessa leans in closer to whisper. "You never peel spuds."

"Oh yeah, go on and laugh," Charity says, still hiding her smile. "It's absolutely hilarious that our kid might turn out to be a serial killer, isn't it?"

They've reached the steps of the pub and Vanessa pulls Charity to a halt, letting go of her hand and wrapping her arms around Charity's waist. She smiles up at her before leaning in to press a soft kiss against her lips. She pulls back and nods.

"Our kid will turn out just fine."


Chapter 2

They're hand in hand as they walk up the steps in front of the Woolpack. Vanessa leans into Charity, bumping their shoulders together. "That was nice. Thank you."

Charity glances at her and shakes her head with a smile. "It was a toastie at Bob's cafe, babe. Not champagne at the Ritz."

"It was an hour of no kids and no Paddy and Pearl. And a toastie." She pulls Charity to a halt just outside the door that leads to the bar and goes up on her toes to peck her cheek. "And you. So it was perfect."

Charity makes a show of sighing. "Aren't you supposed to get less soppy after you're married? Not more soppy? In my experience, at least."

"That's 'cause you've been marrying the wrong people," Vanessa tells her with a wink.

"Oh, is that what it is?" Charity tugs on her hand until they're flush against each other. "Lucky I eventually found the right one then, yeah?"

Vanessa links her hands behind Charity's neck and pulls her into a soft kiss. "So, so lucky," she murmurs against her lips. A cough sounds from behind her and she turns to find Robert smirking at them.

"Don't mind me." He nods to the door that they're blocking. "Just trying to get in for a quiet lunchtime pint."

"Yeah, and we're just trying to have a quiet lunchtime snog," Charity snaps.

Shaking her head, Vanessa pats Charity's arm and moves around her to open the door, gesturing for Robert to enter. Charity glares at him as he passes her, but it's mostly for show these days. Vanessa takes her hand again and tugs her into the bar.

"Nice lunch?" Chas asks, leaning her elbows on the bar as they approach.

"It was lovely," Vanessa tells her. "Thanks for watching the boys. Did they behave?"

"Johnny has been such a good help with keeping his little cousin entertained" Chas says, with a fond look over at the corner where Johnny's reading a picture book to Hope, who's hanging on his every word. "Isn't that right, JD?"

Johnny looks up and smiles when he sees his parents. "Auntie Chas says I'm a angel."

"Auntie Chas hasn't had to try to get you into a bath lately, has she?" Charity says, raising her eyebrows at him, making him giggle guiltily. "'Cause you're no angel then, Johnnykins, I can tell you." She turns back to Chas. "So where's the devil child, then?"

"Oi! Don't call him that!" Vanessa says, backhanding Charity's chest gently.

"Through the back. Paddy looked in on him not long ago, said he was playing away happily." Chas lifts her eyebrows as she goes to serve Robert. "And quietly. So I've left him to it."

"Quietly," Vanessa repeats, frowning slightly. "Doesn't sound much like our Moses."

"He's fixin' Rubble," Johnny calls over.

"How d'you mean, 'fixing Rubble', love?" Vanessa asks, with a glance at Charity.

Johnny shrugs. "Rubble had a tummy ache so Moses said he'd fix him for me." Hope tugs on his arm and points at the book, babbling away at him in baby talk.

"I don't know about you but I could do with a decent brew," Charity says. "I'm positive Bob reuses them teabags." She bumps Vanessa's hip as she passes. "C'mon. Let's go and make sure he's not practising voodoo on Rubble."

Vanessa follows her, grasping her waist with both hands and following her steps like Johnny and Moses do when they're playing trains. Charity covers her hands with her own as she heads into the living room, but then stops walking suddenly, causing Vanessa to collide with her back.


"Charity! What have we said about swearing in front of the k-" She comes fully into the room and sees what Charity's seeing. Moses is standing by the couch, toy stethoscope around his neck and Johnny's cuddly Rubble toy lying in front of him, with the stuffing pouring out of a jagged cut in his stomach. "Shit!"

Moses looks up in surprise. "Mum! That's a bad word!"

"Your Ma just said the exact same word!" Vanessa protests, noting the brightly coloured safety scissors lying by Rubble's head. Sharper than they look, obviously.

"But she says it all the time." Moses shrugs and turns back to his patient.

"Little grass." Charity murmurs. She nudges Vanessa. "That's you, that is." Vanessa nudges her back, but she can hear the warmth and affection in Charity's voice beneath the accusation. Vanessa's about to go and investigate when Charity grabs her elbow, pulling her close. "What are we going to do? Johnny's gonna have a hissy fit when he sees Rubble's been sawn in half."

"He's hardly sawn in half," Vanessa says, peering around Charity. "It's not a bad incision, actually." She ignores Charity's scoff and moves closer to Moses, standing by his shoulder to watch him work. "What's...uh, what's wrong with Rubble, love?"

"He has a sore tummy so I'm taking all the bad stuff out to make him better," Moses says, yanking more of the stuffing out and discarding it on the floor. She kneels down beside him.

"Have you found what's making his tummy sore?" She watches him gently stroke Rubble's face, murmuring to him that everything will be okay and that he'll be feeling better soon.

"Not yet." Moses sticks his hand in the hole and roots around.

"Uh, Vanessa…" Vanessa looks over her shoulder at her wife, who raises her eyebrows and pointedly looks at Rubble's innards on the floor. "Shouldn't we be doing, you know, damage control here?"

It's sweet, really; how concerned Charity is about how Johnny will react. She still sometimes likes to pretend that she's a terrible mother and has no idea what she's doing. But Vanessa's never been fooled by that act. She tilts her head and smiles. "Why don't you go and keep Johnny through the front while me and Moses get Rubble sorted out, eh?"

"I got it!" Moses holds up a handful of stuffing, identical to the rest of the stuffing on the floor. "I got the bad stuff!"

"Excellent!" Vanessa stands up and moves swiftly to the kitchen, grabbing a bowl from the drying rack and ignoring Charity's incredulous eyes. She drops back to her knees by Moses and holds the bowl out. "Drop the bad stuff in here, eh? We'll send it away to the lab for investigation."

"For 'vestigation." Moses nods and places the fluff in the bowl, gently.

Charity throws up her hands, shaking her head. "What are the pair of you like?" She turns to leave, but pauses in the doorway, looking back over her shoulder. "I'll give Johnny an update on the patient, shall I?"

Hiding her smile at Charity playing along, Vanessa nods. "Tell him Moses found what was giving Rubble tummy ache, and he's been able to sort him out and he'll be just fine."

"Just fine," Moses echoes, patting Rubble's head. "You'll be just fine."

"I'll let him know," Charity says, leaning against the doorframe, her eyes on Moses for a moment before lifting to meet Vanessa's. Vanessa smiles and Charity rolls her eyes and pushes herself upright. She wrings her hands in front of her chest. "Please do your best by him, Dr Moz." She's adopted a southern belle accent for some reason. "We're all countin' on you to pull him through!"

Moses gives her an exasperated look over his shoulder. "Ma, he'll be just fine. I just told you."

"Now go on." Vanessa shoos her. "We need to concentrate."

Charity laughs and winks at Vanessa before heading back through to the bar. Moses sighs beside her, his eyes trained on the stuffing all around his feet. He looks up at her, worry collecting between his eyebrows. "We got the bad bit out. Now what do we do?"

She takes her thumb and rubs his forehead. When he smiles, he looks like Ross, but when he's worried, she can see Charity in him with no bother at all. "Well, we put all the good stuff back in and we stitch him up. And he'll be good as new in no time." She smiles and picks up some of the stuffing. "So, why don't you work on getting this back in, and I'll sort out some thread for stitching him up?"

He nods, happy that they have a plan. He starts shoving stuffing back inside Rubble's torso and by the time Vanessa's located a needle and a length of thread, there's not a single piece of fluff left outside Rubble's body.

"Good job!" Vanessa sticks the needle into the couch and squidges Rubble around until the stuffing is as evenly distributed as she can get it; he's almost the same shape as he was before. She picks up the needle and gives Moses a wink. "Okay if I do this bit?"

He nods, moving in so that he's standing right by her shoulder, leaning down to watch as she expertly slips the needle through the fabric again and again, making a neat line of stitches.

"Can I try?" Moses whispers when she's about halfway along.

"Course. You need to be really careful, though, because this is sharp." She hands him the needle and guides his chunky little hand as best she can for a few stitches. He smiles and nods as he sees his handiwork. They're a little wonky and out of line with the rest, but his stitches aren't half bad for a five year old. "That's brilliant, Moses," she tells him. "Now, I'll finish him off and that'll be him done. He'll just need a bit of a sleep after his operation."


He leans against her shoulder again as she stitches up the rest of the tear and finishes it off, snipping the thread as close as she can. Moses pushes off her and grabs a cushion, lying it flat and patting it before gently lifting Rubble and placing him on it. Vanessa's heart almost bursts with the tenderness of it. Moses is generally a rough and tumble little boy; always tearing around the place and bumping into things and falling. Gentle isn't a word she'd use to describe him. But right now, that's exactly what he's being as he pats the soft toy's head.

"You're okay, Rubble. We got the bad stuff out and you're gonna be all okay now."

Vanessa ruffles Moses' hair. "Yeah, he will be. But...next time one of Johnny's toys isn't well, come and see me first, eh? They don't always need an operation and I can show you how to check for what's wrong."

Moses is nodding as she speaks. "Yeah, like, sometimes they just need cream and a plaster, like my knee did when I fell off the wall?"

"Yes, exactly." Vanessa bends to kiss the top of his head. "You're so clever."

"How's Rubble?" They both turn at the sound of Johnny's voice and Moses grins.

"He's just fine, see?" He points to the cushion where Rubble is resting. "He had a operation and we took all the bad bits out and kept the good stuff in."

Johnny approaches the couch, frowning. Vanessa winces as he runs his hand up the tidy stitching on Rubble's underbelly. Charity comes in with Hope on her hip and meets Vanessa's eyes, quirking an eyebrow in question. Vanessa shrugs and moves to crouch by Johnny.

"What do you think?" She nudges Johnny gently. "D'you think he's better now?"

Johnny turns to look at her, his fingers still tracing along Rubble's new stitches. "It's just like Uncle Ross's." He brings his hand up to his shoulder where Ross has a small scar. Vanessa presses her lips together; little does Johnny know how right he is. She stitched both of them up.

"It is," she agrees. "And he's doing fine. Just needs a bit of a rest now, right Moses?"

She leaves Moses to update Johnny on Rubble's condition, their heads bent together as they talk, and moves over to Charity.

"Nessnessnessness." Hope's chubby hands reach for her and she takes her from Charity, blowing a raspberry against her cheek and making her squeal.

"Guess we should be happy he didn't put Rubble to sleep, eh?" Charity says, placing her hands on Vanessa's hips and sandwiching the toddler between them, rubbing her nose into the soft dark hair on the top of Hope's head. "Not sure I could have coped with that."

"I told you he would be fine, didn't I?" Vanessa sways Hope gently. "Not scarred for life after all."

"Mum?" Vanessa looks over at Moses' expectant face.

"Yes, love?"

"I think I'm gonna be a vet when I'm big." Vanessa's eyes immediately fill up and her throat starts to throb. "Can I come and work with you?"

Vanessa nods, swallowing hard. "Course you can, my darling. Course you can. I'd love that."

Charity rolls her eyes. "Great. That means two of you trailing muck through my bar and putting overalls with sheep droppings in the pockets in my washing basket." She leans in and kisses Vanessa's cheek. "Don't cry," she murmurs, before sweeping away and tackling Moses onto the couch, making him laugh. Johnny grabs Rubble out of their way and scowls, cuddling him close. Charity sits up, her arms still wrapped around Moses. "So, this one's gonna be a vet. What about you, Johnnyface? What're you gonna be when you grow up?"

His little face scrunches up in thought for a moment and then he shrugs. "I dunno."

"Nah, me neither, kid," Charity tells him.

Vanessa rolls her eyes and lets Hope down to toddle off to play with some building bricks that are on the coffee table. She moves over to the couch and sits down beside Charity and Moses, smiling with Johnny climbs up beside them and lays his head on her shoulder. She flicks her eyes over to Charity to find that she's already looking at her.

"So, so lucky," Vanessa murmurs, repeating her earlier assertion.

Charity rolls her eyes. "Soppy cow." But she leans over and kisses Vanessa, both ignoring Moses' protests about being squished.

He'll need rubber bones in his job anyway.

The End

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