DISCLAIMER: V.I.P. is the property of J.F. Lawton, Morgan Gendel and Pamela Anderson, no infringement intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
"Val, why are we here?"
"To shop, Miss Never-Has-Fun! It's a mall, why else would we be here?"
"You can shop at home," Tasha says, glaring at her boss in frustration. "I don't see why we had to come all the way out here so you can do what you always do."
"Tasha... you need to lighten up," Val says, flicking through a rail of clothing with expert speed before turning away with a shrug. "C'mon, this is fun. You. Me. Louisiana. No bad guys or anything, no work -- it's a vacation!"
"I didn't ask for a vacation," Tasha grouches back, adjusting her hold on the bags she's carrying. "And even if I had asked for one, do you really think this is fun for me?"
Val sighs and turns to face her, one arm draped in clothes she hasn't tried on yet. They've been shopping for several hours now and Tasha's patience -- never excessive at the best of times -- has all but run out; Val can tell by the little frown lines that seem to have permanently engraved themselves into her forehead.
"No, silly, this is fun for me. You don't like having fun, remember?"
The look on Tasha's face when her words register makes Val re-consider trying on the three outfits she's carrying. She's tempted to see if Tasha will cope with waiting while she tries on just one more shirt, but the idea behind bringing Tasha with her was for them to spend time together, and that won't happen if Tasha stomps off in anger.
Dumping everything she's holding into the arms of the first shop assistant she sees with an apology, she takes two of the bags away from Tasha and nudges her towards the exit.
"Okay," Val says as they leave the shop, offering Tasha her brightest smile. "No more shopping. Let's get rid of these bags and we can go get something to eat instead."
"I'm not hungry."
"You are so difficult sometimes!" Val says, rolling her eyes as she transfers both her bags to one hand. "People have to eat, even you!"
She links an arm through Tasha's and, even though the bags they're carrying make it an awkward position to maintain, Tasha doesn't pull away, which makes Val smile.
"I am not difficult," Tasha says, automatically pulling Val out of the way as a teenager whizzes past them on a skateboard. "I just don't see why I had to come with you."
"Because that's what friends do, Tasha," Val says, her eyes lighting up as she spots a Starbucks nearby, changing course and nearly tripping Tasha in the process. "Oooh, look! I could totally go for a non-fat Caramel Machiatto."
As she regains her footing, Tasha allows herself to be dragged in the direction of coffee which she'll probably be paying for, and most likely carrying back to the car.
She's not entirely sure why she let herself be brought here, or why she's just spent an entire day following Val around a Louisiana mall, or why, in fact, she got on the plane in the first place. She tried justifying to herself that someone needs to keep an eye on Val, and that someone is always her, but it doesn't seem like enough of a reason.
She's just not sure she wants to look any deeper than that, at least not yet.
Val lets go of her when they get to the doors and Tasha's strangely disappointed that she has. It's irrational and completely unlike her, but it bothers her all the same.
"I'll get the drinks, you get a table," Val says, handing her bags back to Tasha, who has no choice but to take them. She's gone before Tasha can object, bouncing up to the till to greet the barista with a beaming smile, and Tasha's sort of surprised to find her earlier prediction was wrong.
She mutters something about unpredictable, ditzy figureheads under her breath as she turns to search out somewhere for them to sit, finally locating a small table in the corner, out of the way. Dropping Val's bags unceremoniously on the floor, she turns back to see Val already walking towards her.
"Could you have found anywhere more out of the way?" Val complains, setting their drinks down and stealing the chair Tasha had already chosen for herself. "I got you just coffee, 'cause last time I got you something nice, you complained."
"It was too sweet," Tasha says, pulling a face in remembrance, "And you're sitting in my chair."
"It isn't your chair, it's Starbucks' chair. Sit in the other one."
"I don't want to sit in the other one, Val, I want to sit in that one -- move!"
"Tasha!" Val mimics, stirring her latte with a plastic spoon. "What's wrong with that chair?"
"If I sit there I can't see the door," Tasha points out, lowering her voice. Even in their out-of-the-way corner, their raised voices are still attracting looks.
"So," Val shrugs. "I can see the door. If anyone interesting walks in, I'll tell you."
"Geez, Tasha. If anyone interesting walks in I promise I'll tell you -- is that better?"
"No," Tasha says, finally taking the other chair with a glare. It makes her twitchy not to know who could be approaching them, especially given Val's talent for attracting trouble. Val's still her responsibility, even if they are on vacation.
Val takes a few sips of her Caramel Machiatto before putting it down with a frown, noticing Tasha hasn't so much as touched her own drink. "Do you want something else? I can get you something else."
"This is fine," Tasha says, sighing and resigning herself to the inevitable. She drinks a little of her coffee and then glances behind her, checking to make sure no one's about to surprise them.
"Oh my god, you're looking for trouble aren't you? We're on vacation, Tasha, can't you switch off for even a minute?"
"With you? No." Tasha steals Val's spoon and stabs it into her own drink, stirring the hot liquid as she glances around again. "You attract trouble, Val."
"I do not!" Val lies. "You're just too uptight for your own good!"
Tasha slams the spoon down on the table, making Val jump, and asks, "Then why the hell did you bring me here?"
"Because I wanted to! Because the only time we ever spend together we're running from bullets or you're beating someone up, or we're protecting a client!"
"That's what we do," Tasha snaps back. "If you don't like it, that's tough."
Val makes an incoherent sound of disgust and pushes her mug away.
"You know what, Tasha Dexter? This was a bad idea," she pouts, looking upset. "I should have brought Kay! At least she'd loosen up and try to enjoy herself!"
"Maybe you should have brought Kay," Tasha agrees, glaring, trying to ignore the tears she can see beginning to cloud Val's eyes. She hates seeing Val cry, and she hates that Val's tears can affect her -- she's not sure which one bothers her more.
They're supposed to be having a fun week away and instead they're sitting in Starbucks arguing. Tasha's aware that this is mostly her fault -- well, okay: all her fault -- but she can't bring herself to admit that to Val.
She doesn't go on vacation and she doesn't know how to lighten up the way Val wants; she can't switch her protective instincts off and forget her need to keep Val safe, because... it's Val, and she's lived life without Val once before and hated it.
She really does appreciate that Val asked her to come, that's why she got on the plane when she didn't have to, but her emotions are sort of complicated where Val's involved and Tasha doesn't like complicated.
She looks at Val, who's staring at the table, and tries to summon up a genuine smile. For all her protests, Val's still probably the best friend she's ever had, and she feels like she should probably apologise for, well, whatever it is she's done wrong. Tasha doesn't apologise -- to anyone, ever -- but she'd prefer not to spend the next six days arguing, so she'll make an exception just this once.
Except Val beats her to it.
"Look, Tasha, I'm sorry you didn't have fun today, okay? I should have picked something else for us to do but I thought that, maybe if we weren't working, you'd find it easier to relax."
Val looks up at her with sad, blue eyes and Tasha can feel her resistance crumbling into dust, which only ever seems to happen around Val, and that's another thing that annoys her.
"I don't relax, Val," Tasha says. "I can't afford to. Remember our road-trip? I relaxed then and I nearly got us both killed."
"That was different," Val objects, "That was work. This is fun."
"It's all the same--"
"No it isn't!" Val's expression switches to pleading, her coffee forgotten on the table. "Just try for one night, Tasha, please. We'll go back to the hotel, then we'll go out for dinner -- they had that cute little place not far from there, the one we passed this morning? -- and we'll have food and a drink, and everything will be fine."
Tasha doesn't feel anywhere near as optimistic as Val looks but she can't really refuse, so she nods reluctantly, smiling despite herself when Val's eyes light up in response.
She can already tell she's going to regret this tomorrow. She just hopes they'll both be in one piece when she does.
"Okay-- fine," she concedes, pushing her still-full cup away. "We'll have dinner--"
"--and everything will be fine," Val finishes firmly, nodding her head happily. "It'll be fun, Tasha, you'll see."
She picks up her cup and takes a sip, pulling a face at the tepid liquid.
"My coffee's cold," she pouts. "Let's get take out instead."
"My treat," Tasha sighs, standing up and collecting their bags.
Val grins as she follows Tasha over to the register, letting Tasha order for both of them. Tasha's just contemplating how to hang on to all the bags while she fishes out her wallet when Val hands a card past her to the barista.
"I said it was my treat," Tasha points out, as he swipes the card.
"It is, kind of," Val admits, giving Tasha her best innocent smile as she takes the pen he offers and scrawls a perfect imitation of Tasha's signature on the receipt.
"You lifted my card?" Tasha asks, half-outraged and half-amused. "How much of your little shopping trip have I paid for?"
Val doesn't answer, handing the slip and pen back with a smile, until Tasha growls her name in a tone that suggests the truth would be good right about now.
"Not everything," Val says evasively. "I put some of it on mine. But I let Kay charge that new computer thingy she wanted and Nikki needed a new gun right before we left, and--"
"How much, Val?"
"Tasha, you're getting way too hung up on the details," Val says, dismissing the line of questioning with a wave of her hand as she collects their drinks. "Besides, I got you something too. Now c'mon, before these drinks get cold."
Tasha has no choice but to follow Val again, shaking her head as she watches Val slide her credit card into her pocket. She used to have excellent credit, in her Life Before Val, but then again she also used to have a far more lonely life than she does now, and the trade-off is probably fair.
The barista is looking at her curiously and only looks away when Val calls her name impatiently from the doorway.
"She's high-maintenance," Tasha says impulsively, shrugging her shoulders. "What can I say?"
"Are you two, um, y'know... together?" the barista asks hesitantly. "Cause if you aren't--"
"We are," Tasha snaps, ignoring the fact that it isn't technically true in favour of cutting this line of questioning dead as fast as possible.
"Tasha!" Val shouts from the doorway. "Get over here, missy, or else--"
"I'm coming, Val," Tasha calls back, giving the barista one last 'don't even think about it' look and making a mental note not to come back here.
She rejoins Val at the doors and as they step outside into the sunshine, Val's already talking again; her earlier annoyance forgotten. Tasha tunes out the words and just listens to the sound of Val's voice as they walk together towards their car.
It's going to be an interesting week, she thinks. A long, but interesting, week.
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