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Sharpen up your sting (And do your worst)
Charity shoves her phone back into her pocket with a sigh. Still no news from Vanessa about the inspection. Charity has no idea how long it takes to check if an operating table's clean and that the cupboards have locks on them, but this has been going on for ages. Whether that's a good sign or not is anyone's guess. She starts to head out from behind the bar to collect some glasses, just to have something to do with her hands.
"Still nothing?" Chas asks as she passes her.
"Not a word." Charity ignores the stupid look of sympathy that Chas sends her way.
"I'm sure it's-"
"You're not sure of anything, Chas," Charity tells her, holding up a hand. "We don't know how it's going, so let's not stand around here guessing, yeah?"
Chas presses her lips together, like she's trying not to smile. Charity frowns at her, drumming her fingers on the bar and Chas shakes her head. "I'm not laughing at you. Honest. I just...it's so nice to see you like this."
She lets out an incredulous huff. "What? Worried out of my head? Wow, thanks Chas."
"Worried about Vanessa." Chas tilts her head. "It's nice to see you caring about someone that much. That's all. It's been a while."
"Oh shut up, you soppy cow," Charity says, rolling her eyes. The door bursts open and they both look over. Charity's stomach clenches when she sees Paddy come through the door, his arm around Vanessa's shoulders. Vanessa doesn't look happy at all.
"Get the bubbly out, Chas," Paddy bellows, and Charity shifts her focus to his face, which is worlds apart from Vanessa's. "We're celebrating."
Vanessa turns to him. "Don't you think that's a bit premat-"
"Don't be daft," Paddy tells her, squeezing her more tightly against his side. "You heard what he said. The paperwork's just a formality."
Charity makes her way over to them as Chas goes to get a bottle of champagne. "So?" she asks, eyes flicking between them. "It's good news, yeah? I'm only asking because one of you looks like you've won the lottery and one of you has a face like a skelped backside."
"It's very good news," Paddy assures her, clapping Vanessa on the back so hard she stumbles a little. Charity takes the opportunity to wrap an arm around her shoulders and pull her close. Vanessa melts against her immediately, almost desperately; fingers twisting in the fabric of her blouse. "He's going to recommend that no action is taken."
Chas pops the cork on the champagne and Vanessa jumps, her arm tightening around Charity's waist. Charity presses a kiss to the side of her forehead, dipping her own head to try and catch Vanessa's eyes. "That's good then, yeah? No action."
"Hmmm?" Vanessa looks at her, but she seems miles away. A blink and she's back, offering Charity a half smile that doesn't come close to reaching her eyes. "Yeah. Course, yeah." She nods. "No action is great. If that's what he recommends."
"He said as much, didn't he?" Paddy accepts two glasses from Chas and hands them to Vanessa and Charity before taking his own. "Or as good as. And how could he not after your daring heroics?"
Charity raises an eyebrow, as Vanessa necks her entire glass of champagne in one go. She turns to Paddy. "Daring heroics? Sounds exciting." She shifts her hand so that it's splayed over Vanessa's back and starts to rub gently. Something's definitely not right here.
Chas leans on the bar, sipping orange juice from a champagne flute. "Yeah, do tell."
"Well," Paddy begins, and Charity feels Vanessa heave a sigh. "This one only rescued the inspector from a ruddy big snake, didn't she?"
"Eh?" Chas confused frown matches Charity's own thoughts.
"I didn't 'rescue' him," Vanessa huffs. "Not like it were wrapped around his neck or anything."
"No, but it was headed towards him, wasn't it?" He looks at Charity with a big grin on his face. "It was slithering along, headed right at the inspector-" He mimics the movement with his arm. "-and then, out of nowhere, this tiny little blur sprints past and grabs it, picking it up and getting it away from him."
"No, wait, go back," Chas says, making a winding gesture with her hand. "Why was there a snake on the loose in the first place."
"That's not pertinent to the story," Paddy says, hurriedly. "The snake got out. Somehow. Let's just leave it at that."
A humourless laugh makes Vanessa's shoulders jump. "Yeah. 'Somehow'." Vanessa mutters.
"And the fact that you had a snake slithering around on the floor didn't bother this inspector?" Chas asks, brow creased in confusion. "Because that seems like something the College of Scary Bosses would frown upon."
Paddy glares at her. "You're missing the point of the story. Which is that Vanessa saved the inspector from a snake. And she was very brave and heroic."
"Brave and heroic? She's a vet," Chas counters. "Picking up animals goes with the territory, surely?"
"Well, it sounds dead sexy to me," Charity murmurs, trying to cajole a smile out of Vanessa. She earns a quick glance, before Vanessa's eyes return to the floor. Charity continues, bumping Vanessa's hip with her own. "Eat your heart out Crocodile Dundee, we've got our very own Crocodile Demdyke, here." Charity's eyes light up. "Hey! That works on more than-"
"Right, Charity. I think we all got it, thank you," Vanessa snaps, slamming her glass onto the bar.
Charity looks at Chas, who nods immediately and turns to Paddy. "Oh, while I've got you here, there's a lightbulb in the hall needs changing."
"Right, I'll get to it before I lea-"
"No, Paddy, now would be better," Chas says, widening her eyes and nodding her head to the other couple. "You know, in case we forget later. Best get it done now."
Paddy clocks Vanessa's downcast expression and nods. "Yeah. Now is fine for me."
Charity waits until they've gone and turns to face Vanessa, one arm still around her waist. She lifts her other hand and sweeps some of the hair hiding Vanessa's face behind her ear. When Vanessa still doesn't look up, she gently urges her chin up with a finger until their eyes meet.
"Okay. So what's wrong?"
Vanessa shakes her head. "N-"
But Charity cuts her off. "And don't give me 'nothing'. Something's wrong. You can save us both time by just telling me."
For a moment, she thinks Vanessa's going to refuse. She's got that stubborn streak in her that Charity enjoys most of the time, but not in situations like this. Eventually, Vanessa rolls her eyes. "Fine. But not here."
Charity nods and finishes off her drink, placing the glass on the bar before heading after Vanessa who's already behind the bar and on her way through to the back. She flashes Chas a look as she passes her and Paddy, clearly not changing lightbulbs and just loitering in the passageway. "I'm taking my break."
Sighing, Chas nods. "Only try and not make it as long as the breaks you usually take with Vanessa, eh? I'm due to finish here in half an hour. Try and be back by then."
"I will definitely try," Charity says, on her way into the living room. She pulls the door closed behind her and finds Vanessa standing by the sofa, staring into space. Charity sighs and moves so that she's in front of Vanessa. Vanessa's eyes slowly meet hers and Charity frowns. "You're worrying me, babe," she says, trying to keep her voice gentle. "What's going on?"
Vanessa sighs and takes both of Charity's hands into her own. She looks up at her, meeting her eyes properly for the first time since she came into the pub. "Right, when I tell you this, I don't want you going ballistic, okay?" Vanessa says, squeezing Charity's hands. "I just want us to talk it through."
This is taking a turn Charity never expected and she tightens her grip on Vanessa's hands, tilting her head in question. "Why would I go ballistic?" She lifts her eyebrows. "Did he say my cleaning wasn't up to scratch or something?"
"So, Paddy was right earlier, the inspector did say he could have a word in the right ear and make all of this go away," Vanessa begins, her eyes dropping to a point over Charity's shoulder.
"So?" Charity shakes her head. "What's the problem?"
"He...uh...he insinuated that, for that to happen-" Vanessa draws in a shaky breath and brings her eyes back to Charity's. "I'd have to sleep with him."
For a second, she thinks she's heard wrong. That can't be what happened. Not to Vanessa. She thinks back through Vanessa's words, to see if there's any possible way that she could have misinterpreted them. But there isn't. Charity feels anger curl like a flame in her chest, burning hot and licking at her throat to be let loose. "He what?"
"I'm not going to!" Vanessa rushes to assure her, hands grasping her own as if she's afraid she'll march all the way to the RCVS offices and lamp the bastard.
"Of course you're not going to do it," Charity says, the alternative never having occurred to her. "It's...how dare he. How dare he ask you to."
"I know…" She shakes her head and looks down. "It made me feel...so-"
"I know exactly how it made you feel," Charity says, pulling Vanessa forward and wrapping her arms around her. She can feel herself shaking and she's not sure if it's anger or if it's the memory of exactly how it feels for a man to think he can wield that power over you. That your body is just a commodity to be haggled for; bought and traded. "And nobody should ever make you feel that way. Not you."
Not Vanessa. Never Vanessa. Charity would've probably slept with him then and there and got it all sorted and out of the way. Well, the Charity of old might have. The current Charity wouldn't have in case it jeopardised her relationship with Vanessa. But nobody should ever, ever, expect that from Vanessa.
"Not you either," Vanessa says, quietly, tipping Charity's face down with gentle fingers on her cheek so they're looking into each others' eyes. "Okay? You're no different from me, and nobody should have ever made you feel that way either."
Being with Vanessa, she's almost starting to believe that. Vanessa sees things in her that nobody's ever seen; makes her see them too, sometimes. She leans her forehead against Vanessa's and closes her eyes.
"I want to kill him," she whispers. And in that moment it's true. And more than that, she wants to make him suffer for daring to think he had the right to use Vanessa that way. That he thought he was worthy of putting his manky hands on her perfect skin.
"Yeah, well, get that notion out of your head," Vanessa tells her, sounding a bit more like herself. Charity opens her eyes to find determined blue ones looking back at her. "Because he is not worth you going to prison and leaving me. Right?"
It takes her a few steadying breaths, but she manages to nod in agreement. "Fine. But he is not getting off with this. We're not letting him get away with it."
Vanessa nods, giving Charity a little smile. "Like I said, I want us to talk it through and see what the options are." She goes up on her tiptoes and kisses Charity's lips. "But you need to go back to work now, and I need to collect Johnny. So when your shift is done, you can come over to mine and we can talk, yeah?"
Charity nods, tightening her arms around Vanessa, unwilling to let her go back out into a world where this happened to her. Vanessa's hands come up to cup her face.
"I thought about you, you know. And Tracy." Vanessa's thumb strokes under her eye as she continues. "When he...when he said what he said. I thought about the men who'd said things like that to the two of you. Worse things. It made me feel sick." Her eyes are growing bright and she shakes her head. "And you...you were no more than a kid." She blinks and tears spill over her lashes.
"Hey," Charity soothes, her hand moving to the back of Vanessa's neck. "C'mon, now. That was all a long time ago."
"It doesn't make me hate them any less," Vanessa says, her voice low and urgent. "I hate that they made you feel like that's all you were good for. And I hate that you still believe that, sometimes."
Charity's throat aches from the lump that's formed there and she sniffs and swallows. "Yeah, well, lately someone's been helping me change my mind a little bit."
"Good," Vanessa says. Her voice is firm and the words are accompanied by a watery smile. "Best hold onto that someone then, eh?"
Charity rolls her eyes, but she's smiling. She pulls Vanessa close again, pressing their cheeks together when Vanessa buries her face in Charity's shoulder. "I've no plans to let go, buttercup."
She lets out a shuddering breath, her mind already buzzing with possibilities about how to deal with this situation. Most of them involve bodily violence, which Vanessa probably won't go for. Whatever they decide, her main objective will be to keep this guy far, far away from Vanessa.
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