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the defence of charity dingle

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She was late. She was so bloody late. She hated being late because she knew it sent her girlfriend into a tailspin. Her tough, beautiful, and so, so fragile girlfriend whose own mind was her worst enemy. Not that she could blame her. After decades of heartbreak and betrayal anyone would be wary. So, she hated being late because she knew what Charity would be thinking. She knew that the landlady would be wondering if she had finally come to her senses and decided that they weren’t worth it. That she wasn’t worth it. The idea was almost laughable, of course. She was head over heels for Charity Dingle and she couldn’t imagine her life without the other woman in it anymore, she just hoped that one day her girlfriend would understand that and wouldn’t worry so much.

Lost in her own thoughts, she didn’t hear the loud voices coming from inside the Woolpack until she was pushing through the swinging wooden doors.

“Eh, come on, Charity, love,” a well-built lad Vanessa recognised from around the village slurred, “how about you ditch this dive and come to town with us?” he indicated to his friend beside him. Both men had clearly had one too many and showed no signs of stopping anytime soon.

The blonde behind the bar rolled her eyes, “I don’t think so, Jack. I’m spoken for.” She kept her voice light, having experience dealing with rowdy punters, but her face had hardened. Vanessa could tell that these two particular customers weren’t ones that her girlfriend liked, meaning that this had the potential to not end well. Still, even with her ‘I’ll-kill-you-if-you-cause-trouble’ face on, Vanessa was struck by how beautiful the other woman was. God, she was lucky.

“Oh, come on, you sour-faced cow, that’s never stopped you before, has it?” the first man, Jack, snarled. His earlier air of ‘cheeky lad’ having vanished completely. Vanessa watched as the words travelled across the bar and landed squarely on their mark. She watched Charity sag slightly under the weight of them, but the blonde recovered at an impressive speed, rearing up and opening her mouth to retort. She was beaten to the punch by Jack’s friend.

“Yeah, come on, Charity. Everyone knows what you’re like. Always gagging for it. Practically give it away don’t ya?” he winked, as though, somehow, his words were meant to be flirtatious. Vanessa wondered briefly if these boys had ever come into contact with an actual human woman before today. She was pulled harshly from her musings by the sound of Jack’s voice piping up once more.

“Not always free though is it, love?” he posed to Charity before turning to his friend, “bit of a slapper is our Charity, here. Used to sell herself down Hotten,” he clarified for his friend, as if his taunt had been at all ambiguous.

Vanessa winced. Their words made anger boil in her stomach and she could feel a retort on her tongue, itching to be released. Eyes glancing over to her girlfriend, who seemingly had not noticed her yet, solidified her anger and turned it into rage. Charity was good at hiding her pain from the outside world, but Vanessa knew her too well, had seen her at her most vulnerable, and could see the hurt flashing in her eyes. Her lack of response spoke volumes, even if her voice didn’t.

Charity did that sometimes. When people were attacking her, she would remain silent and let them have their say. Sure, she would eventually have her moment, but she would wait. Vanessa supposed that it was an act of twisted self-flagellation. That Charity was allowing their cruel words to rip and tear at her as a self-imposed penance for sins once committed. She may brush off their taunts but inside she felt every word like a blow. She absorbed every word as though it was gospel. She believed and accepted them. She had become so accustomed to the words often thrown at her that she had absorbed them into her own sense of self.

Vanessa cursed the men in front of her, oblivious to her presence. They threw about insults as though they meant nothing, as though Charity meant nothing. But it would be she who would have to help Charity heal again from the wounds that their words would open. Wounds, she knew, that never truly faded but rather eased over time.

Before Charity could come to her own defence, Vanessa spoke up, “Don’t speak to her like that,” her voice was strained, hints of barely-controlled rage just peeking through.

“Eh up, what’s this?” Jack’s eyes narrowed, “what you doing defending the local bike?”

Vanessa watched as Jack’s friend, she still didn’t know his name, not that it really mattered, leaned over and whispered something. She wondered briefly what words were passing from lips to ear but when a slow smirk formed on Jack’s face she guessed she had a pretty good idea. Her eyes flickered over to Charity who was looking straight at her, seemingly oblivious to the ammunition Jack was currently being supplied with. Instead her focus was on Vanessa who, if she didn’t now any better, would swear that Charity looked confused. What she could be confused about was beyond Vanessa, but the vet didn’t have time to dwell on it.

“Ohhhhh, it’s because you’re the one shagging her!” Jack’s voice was dripping with cruel glee, and Vanessa could feel her blood beginning to boil.

“So what if I am?” she asked, chin raised in defiance. She wasn’t ashamed of her relationship with Charity, had overcome her internalised shame long ago, and she was not about to let some jumped up bully make her feel like she should be.

“Her I understand,” he gestured behind him to Charity, whose eyes had snapped back to him, “she’ll spread her legs for anyone. But I never had you pegged as a lezza.” Both men laughed. They were obviously enjoying themselves.

Vanessa shut her eyes and took a deep breath, trying her best to calm down. She didn’t get angry often, got furious even less, but she was quickly reaching breaking point. She couldn’t believe the audacity of the two men in front of her; she barely knew them for Christ’s sake. She supposed this was what men were like, throwing their toys out of the pram because they had been told no. Over her dead body would her son ever end up like these two pillocks.

“I said, don’t speak to her like that,” Vanessa ground out through clenched teeth. It was taking all of her strength to not rip them both a new one.

Allowing herself a quick look at Charity again, she saw that her girlfriend was looking at her once more, the look of confusion still firmly on her face. Letting it go for now, she had other things to think about, she made a mental note to ask her girlfriend about it later. She couldn’t let it distract her from the increasingly offensive men in front of her. She knew their kind, had dealt with people like them more than once, and so she knew that the situation needed her full attention in case it escalated beyond cruel words.

“How sweet,” Jack’s friend piped up, an overly sickly-sweet smile on his face, showing far too much teeth, “the little dyke is sticking up for her whore.”

Vanessa saw red. Before she knew what was happening she had stepped forward, swung her arm up and forward, and punched what’s-his-name in the face. The moment her fist connected with his cheekbone the world slowed around her. She couldn’t remember ever feeling this angry and she definitely couldn’t remember the last time she ever actually hit someone. She and Tracy had had a few shoving matches back when they hated each other, but this was different. She had thrown a punch, at a grown man who was almost twice her size, who definitely looked capable of snapping her in half. Fuck.

Pulling herself out of her inner musings, Vanessa watched her fist drop back down to her side and heard someone gasp nearby. Turning to see who it was she saw Charity take a step forward and she realised it had been her girlfriend who she had heard. She opened her mouth to say something, anything, but she was stopped short by a shout from beside her. She turned in time to see Jack snarl and raise his fist.

His knuckles connected firmly with her brow bone and the force of it sent her flying backwards into the wall, the impact knocking the breath out of her. As she crumpled into a heap on the floor she watched the two men advance on her. She fleetingly thought of Johnny. How she would explain this to him. She would undoubtedly look like she had gone a couple of rounds with a train once this was over and how do you explain that to someone so young and innocent? He would never be able to wrap his head around the idea of anyone hurting his mummy.

She saw a big boot swing, felt it connect with her side and almost passed out from the dazzling pain that radiated from the ribs that surely must have cracked under the pressure. Pushing through the pain she curled up into a ball in an effort to protect herself from anymore blows. But no more came. Unable to hear anything over the sound of her own blood rushing in her ears she lifted her head slightly to see Cain, Aaron, and Ross wrestling the two men away from her and out of the pub. It was funny, she didn’t remember seeing them, seeing anyone, in the pub. But then again, she had been otherwise engaged, it was 5 p.m. though, so surely the place was packed. None of them had spoken up to defend Charity, either. Not that she was surprised. No one ever did.

Knowing that she was out of danger she allowed her head to fall and her body to relax. She could feel blood dripping down her cheek and her head pounded where it had hit the wall but all of that paled in comparison to the sharp pain that screamed in her chest every time she inhaled. Yep, she thought, definitely broken. She was pulled from her mental damage check of her own body by a soft voice in her ear and an even softer hand on her shoulder.

“Ness, babe, it’s me,” Charity spoke lowly, not wanting to startle her, “can you sit up for me?”

Vanessa raised her head once more to look at her girlfriend. She remembered so well the look on Charity’s face not too long ago, but it was gone now. In its place was concern. Smiling weakly through the pain to ease her girlfriend’s worry, she nodded. Pushing herself up she slumped back against the wall and clutched at her side. She was no stranger to a broken bone but God, this hurt like a bitch.

“Ouch,” she complained, feeling and looking pitiful and trying her best not to focus on the faces of the punters who were all staring at her. She knew she must look a right state and she was not looking forward to news of what had happened spreading. Drama this juicy would serve as gossip material for weeks and she did not like being the star of gossip, having had more than her share of that since moving into the village.

“Where’s it hurt?” Charity asked, voice still low, she too was conscious of their audience.

“Everywhere,” Vanessa laughed out through clenched teeth, “my head and ribs mostly, though.”

“Alright, do you think you can stand? We should probably get you to the hospital,” Charity’s voice had a frantic edge to it and her eyes scanned Vanessa’s body looking for further damage. Vanessa could see that she was panicking, and a panicked Charity was never a good thing.

“Hey,” she whispered, grabbing her girlfriend’s hand and waiting for the other woman to look her in the eyes, “I’m okay.”

“Come off it, Vanessa,” Charity rolled her eyes, “look at the state of ya! They could have killed you, you know.”

“I know, I know, but it’s just a few bumps and bruises, I’ll get over it.”

“And a couple of broken ribs by the looks of things” Charity retorted.

“Charity, I’m okay, I promise,” Vanessa implored the other woman to believe her.

The landlady’s eyes narrowed but her panicked look calmed slightly, soothed by Vanessa’s words, “If you say so.”

“I do. Now help me up, will ya?”

Charity rushed forward and grabbed Vanessa’s arm hoisting her up into a standing position. The quick movement sent a wave of stomach-turning dizziness through her and she stumbled over her own feet. Luckily Charity still had a firm hold of her and the landlady quickly manoeuvred her so that her arm was slung around taller shoulders and she was leaning heavily into the other woman’s side. They slowly made their way towards the door, Chas’s voice floating from somewhere, behind the bar she assumed, assuring Charity that she’d cover the rest of her shift. As they reached the door, it flew open and Aaron spilled through it.

“They’re gone,” he said, shaking out his fists “and they won’t be back if they’ve got any sense.”

Vanessa smiled her thanks and stopped to let her girlfriend talk to her cousin for a second. She didn’t know what either one was saying, all of her concentration on keeping her breathing shallow so as not to aggravate her ribs further. She did idly wonder why Aaron and the others cared so much about what happened to her, but she had much more pressing and immediate issues to deal with that she quickly forgot about it. Truth be told, she wanted to check in on Charity, but she knew that her girlfriend needed time to process what had just happened. She also knew that, despite what people thought, Charity cared deeply and there was no way in hell that she was going to stop and talk about her feelings when her girlfriend had blood pouring out of her head and could barely breathe.

“C’mon, buttercup, let’s go,” Charity smiled thinly in an obvious attempt to reassure Vanessa, who then let herself be led out of the pub, still leaning heavily on her girlfriend for support. She wasn’t a massive fan of hospitals but god, she couldn’t wait to get there and get something to take the edge off the pain. She hoped they gave her the good stuff.

Chapter Text

She had sat and watched as the doctor stitched up Vanessa’s forehead. Had held her hand as she gritted her teeth with every breath and waited for the painkillers to kick in. Had avoided her eyes and changed the subject every time she tried to bring up why Charity had looked so confused when she had spoken up to defend her. Charity knew that she owed her girlfriend an explanation. Hell, the woman had taken a beating for her, the least she could do was explain to her what had been going through her own mind at the time. But she needed some time to sort her thoughts out and figure out exactly what the hell had happened. And she had long ago learned that if she spoke before she had her feelings sorted she usually said the wrong thing.

They had decided to keep Vanessa in overnight and she had refused to move from the chair beside her bed all night. The nurses had tried to get her to leave more than once but even they had given up at about 2 a.m. when she had told them in no uncertain terms that if they wanted her to leave then they would have to carry her out themselves. So there she had sat, keeping watch over her sleeping girlfriend, dozing occasionally until the next morning when the doctor had discharged Vanessa with the order that she be watched over by someone for at least one more night, just to be on the safe side. Not that she had any intentions of letting the other woman out of her sight just yet. They had already decided that Vanessa and Johnny would be spending the night at the Woolpack.

Charity knew that Vanessa had hoped to avoid seeing anyone by sneaking in through the backdoor, but it was delivery day and the door was completely blocked off. Typical, she thought, rolling her eyes and leading a reluctant Vanessa around to the front entrance of the pub. As expected, the pub came to a standstill when they stepped through its swinging wooden doors. News of what had happened had clearly made the rounds, and quickly by the looks of things. Bloody nosy gits. She sent them all her most intimidating look, one that most of them were familiar with, and the noise quickly picked back up. It was obvious to her though, that most people were talking about her and Vanessa.

“Ignore them babe,” she whispered, “they’ll soon find something new to talk about.”

She waited, still glaring at people who dared look their way, but when Vanessa didn’t reply she turned to face the other woman. She expected her to look embarrassed or even a bit scared, but she was met with Vanessa’s determined face. A face she had become quite used to seeing over the past few months. Vanessa usually only busted it out when Charity was being particularly stubborn or if Johnny absolutely did not want to put his shoes and coat on. But there the vet stood, admittedly looking slightly worse for wear, but nonetheless determined. Charity just couldn’t figure out why.

She didn’t need to wonder for long though. Before she knew what was happening Vanessa had stormed across the room to the last-orders bell and, in a move that gave Charity a sense of déjà vu, began ringing it with such force that she wouldn’t be surprised if people in Leeds could hear it.

“Excuse me everyone can I have your attention please?” she called out, as if everyone wasn’t already looking her way.

Rushing over, Charity rushed out a whisper, “Ness, babe, what you doing?”

She wasn’t sure whether she actually expected a reply from her girlfriend, but she was still a bit shocked when the woman ignored her and continued speaking to the busy pub.

“By now I’m sure you all know what happened yesterday,” Vanessa started, making eye contact with a few people who shifted uncomfortably in their seats, “and I’m sure you all know why it happened.” Charity herself shifted uncomfortably then as everyone looked at her. She usually loved being the centre of attention but at that moment she wished that she was anywhere other that in the pub. Ironic really, she thought humourlessly, you finally get what you’ve spent your whole life trying to get and now you don’t want it.

“I just want you all to know that from now on if anyone speaks to Charity like that again, or even thinks those things about her, I will find out about it and you’ll have me to deal with, right?” Her voice held a conviction that Charity had never heard anyone use when talking about her before. And she noticed that she wasn’t the only one shocked. The pub was dead silent, all of the punters sat, wide-eyed, taking in the words of the tiny but fierce blonde stood before them. Charity was willing to bet that none of them had ever found her remotely scary before, but she could tell that her girlfriend had just put the fear of God into them all.

Smiling at the thought, she turned to Vanessa and took her hand, “C’mon, Ness. I think they get the message.”

She watched Vanessa send a glare around the room, one that she couldn’t help find absolutely adorable, and then the other woman was pulling her through the door and into the back of the pub.

Once they were in the relative safety of the living room, Charity turned to Vanessa, “What was all that about?” Vanessa had stood up for her two days in a row and she couldn’t quite wrap her head around it. Surely the other must have some kind of ulterior motive. No one ever defended her unless they wanted something in return, she just couldn’t figure out what it was that Vanessa wanted.

“What was what?” To her credit, Vanessa looked genuinely confused and that alone was enough to assuage Charity’s fears slightly. No one was that good at acting, especially not Vanessa whose emotions played across her face more openly than anyone Charity had ever encountered in her life. She felt guilty that she had even questioned her girlfriend in the first place. Vanessa had proved herself time and time again in the months they had spent together, and she deserved better from Charity. It was a sign of the positive impact Vanessa had had on her that the landlady’s fears were quietened by a simple look and Charity herself was aware of that.

“You, out there, threatening half the village.” She wasn’t worried about Vanessa’s intentions anymore, not really, but she still didn’t really know why her girlfriend had done what she had. No one ever defended her, even her own family had mostly given up on doing that by now, convinced that if someone was having a go that she had probably caused it one way or another.

“I was sticking up for you,” Vanessa explained as if it was the most obvious thing in the world, and it was really, “people throw your past in your face without really thinking or knowing about everything you’ve been through or how their words affect you. It’s not on, Charity.”

Charity watched as Vanessa worked herself up as she talked, her voice getting louder and louder with every word. She couldn’t help but smile fondly. No matter how agitated up she got, Vanessa always managed to look adorable. It was annoying really, it made her hard to argue with. And arguing was Charity’s idea of foreplay.

“Whoa whoa whoa, calm down babe,” she spoke in what she hoped was a calming voice, “you’re gonna hurt yourself again.”

“We need to talk about this, Charity!”

“I know, I know,” and she did. She knew that she couldn’t keep avoiding the subject, that Vanessa wouldn’t let her, but she just didn’t want to talk about it. She didn’t want to drag up a past she had long since buried. Didn’t want to rehash her failed relationships and loveless marriages. So, she put it off once more.

“We will talk about it babe, but you need to relax first,” she all but begged the other woman, “please?” she added, eyes pleading with her girlfriend.

Charity watched the vet sag slightly, the fight leaving her, “Fine,” she acquiesced, “but we will talk about it, right?” And Charity didn’t doubt that they would.

“Of course we will, but no offence babe, you stink,” she fell back on her best defence, humour, “so how about I run you a hot bath, yeah?”

She watched as Vanessa struggled with her desire to push further on the subject, but the other woman’s exhaustion won out, “Yeah, a bath sounds perfect actually,” she smiled wearily.

“Alright c’mon then, buttercup. Let’s get you upstairs and in a bath and then I can make you something proper to eat for when you get out.”

“Uhh, actually,” Vanessa started, fidgeting with the hem of her t-shirt, “will you have one with me?”

Instinctively, Charity’s eyebrow arched at the suggestion, unable to stop the images of previous baths they had shared together flashing through her mind, “I don’t really think you’re up to… strenuous activity at the moment, babe.”

She laughed slightly as Vanessa rolled her eyes dramatically, “Not like that, I just want to be close to you.”

She couldn’t stop the smile that grew on her lips. Vanessa always knew what to say to make her melt. She would deny it if ever asked but it was pretty clear that she had gone soft. For Vanessa Woodfield, of all people. And God help her, she loved it.

“C’mon, babe,” she smiled softly taking Vanessa’s hand and leading her up the stairs, “I wasn’t kidding, you really do stink.” The sting was taken out of her words by the wink she threw over her shoulder. She was rewarded with a disbelieving gasp and a light slap on the backside from Vanessa who she knew, without looking, was trying her best not to laugh.

“You still would,” Vanessa threw back at her.

“You know it, babe.”