It's almost four when she makes it back to the village. Lisa had stabilised around midnight, but they'd all been reluctant to leave in case anything else happened. Zak eventually insisted they go home to their beds, promising that he or Belle would call if they were needed. She parks in her usual place, but doesn't go into the pub. Instead, she heads down the street to Tug Ghyll.
She'd been keeping Vanessa updated by text, and the vet had promised to leave the front door open for her. That would normally be an invitation to come over and have sex, but she knows that's not what it is this time. It's a simple offer to be there, to provide comfort. And Charity's too tired and worried to question how much she needs that right now.
As she approaches, she notes that the living room light is on, presumably so she doesn't trip over anything on her way in. She opens the door as quietly as she can, stepping into the small hall area. Her attention is immediately drawn to the living room; Vanessa's sitting on the couch and she turns when she hears the movement behind her, offering Charity a tired smile.
"Hiya." Vanessa places a cup on the table and gets up, walking over to greet her as she takes her jacket off and hangs it up. Vanessa reaches out and runs her hands down Charity's arms, tilting her head to the side. "How is she?"
Charity shrugs. "She's, uh, stable. That's what they kept saying. She's stable."
"Stable's good," Vanessa says, with a nod and a little smile. "Stable's positive."
"Yeah." Charity's throat feels thick and rough and she looks down when her eyes start to burn.
She'd held it together at the hospital. Zak and Belle and Sam were the important ones and they didn't need her crying all over the place. But in truth, she'd been terrified. Lisa's as close to a mother as she's ever had, and the thought of losing her, of not having that strong, loving core to their family, frightens her. It's not like Faith could simply step into Lisa's shoes as the family matriarch if anything happened to her. And Charity's certainly not ready for that role. They need Lisa. She needs Lisa. She blinks and sniffs, trying to ward off the emotions that a little bit of distance has allowed to creep in. That and Vanessa's kind eyes and gentle touch. Vanessa always makes her feel more than she wants to.
"Hey. Come here." Vanessa steps closer and pulls Charity into a hug, strong arms wrapping around her back and holding her. Charity buries her face in Vanessa's neck, her own arms tight around Vanessa's shoulders. Vanessa's voice is quiet against her ear. "If you need a bit of a cry, have a bit of a cry. Better to let it out, yeah?" A soft kiss is pressed against her temple and that's all it takes to break her open. A sob escapes, then another and another until she's clinging to Vanessa, who just holds her, stroking her hair and murmuring soothing words against her ear.
"I just...I need her to be okay," she manages to get out. "She's the nicest...she doesn't...it shouldn't be her."
"I know," Vanessa whispers, lips moving against Charity's cheek. "I know. These things are never fair."
Drawing in a deep breath through her nose, Charity tries to get herself under control. She lifts her head from Vanessa's neck, keeping her eyes on the floor. "Sorry. I-"
"What are you sorry for?" Vanessa asks, a hand under her chin encouraging her to look up. When her eyes meet Vanessa's, she sees nothing but compassion.
"For, you know-" She shrugs. "It's the middle of the night. You don't need me turning up and crying all over you."
"I told you to come," Vanessa reminds her. "I want to be here for you at times like this. Wouldn't be much of a girlfriend if I only wanted to see you when everything's rosy, would I?"
Charity's lips quirk at that word. "I suppose not," she agrees, even if part of her still can't quite believe that Vanessa - kind, sweet, wonderful Vanessa - wants to be her girlfriend. She sighs and drops a quick kiss on Vanessa's cheek. Her eyes land on the cup of tea Vanessa had been drinking when she came in and she remembers her surprise at seeing her still awake. "Hey, you weren't waiting up for me, were you?"
Vanessa shakes her head. "No. I just...I couldn't sleep. Thought a brew might help."
The conversation they had over the bar comes back to Charity and she frowns. "You didn't find the ketamine, then?"
She watches as Vanessa retreats into herself, becomes smaller somehow, before shaking her head. "No." She looks up at Charity, her eyes huge and earnest. "And I'm so sorry for...you know, earlier. Thinking that you might have-"
Charity waves a dismissive hand, shaking her head. "Don't worry about all that." She can't deny that it had hurt, though. She's done some things in her life she's not proud of, including the actual thing that Vanessa suspected her of. But she would never have compromised Vanessa's job like that.
"No, it was terrible of me," Vanessa argues, her hands sliding to Charity's hips, flexing against them. "You've never given me any reason to doubt you and I...I just couldn't think and I was panicking and we had been mucking around with my bag and-"
"And it was an option you had to explore," Charity says with a nod. She does understand. Doesn't mean it didn't hurt. "Ness, like I said, it's fine."
But Vanessa's still shaking her head. "No it's not." She sighs. "Look, you know what went on with...with Rhona and me."
Charity nods. She knew most of it anyway, what with village gossip being what it is. But Vanessa had told her more about the emotional side of it one night when they were tangled together, talking about their pasts.
"Well, I think that's...that's maybe what made me think...made me doubt-" She frowns, seemingly annoyed at her inability to articulate what she means. She sighs and meets Charity's eyes. "I trust you. I know you wouldn't do that and I'm sorry for thinking it even for a second."
Briefly, Charity can't speak. Vanessa's honesty always floors her; the way she puts herself out there and leaves no place to hide. But those three words - 'I trust you' - they're not ones Charity has heard often in her life, if ever. Hearing them fall from Vanessa's lips, so clear and unambiguous, is like being punched in the chest. Even the fact that they're having this conversation takes away the need for Charity to stew over Vanessa's earlier words and actions and make them worse than they were. Vanessa has acknowledged them, explained them and apologised for them. This kind of healthy dialogue is all new to Charity. Her lips slowly turn up into a smile.
"You're forgiven," she says, holding Vanessa's eyes and watching relief bloom in them. "And tomorrow I'll help you look for it, okay?"
Vanessa lets out a sigh and slumps against Charity as the tension she'd been holding leaves her body. Charity idly wonders if it had been the missing drugs that had kept Vanessa off her sleep, or worrying about this. She presses a kiss to the side of Vanessa's head and rubs her back.
"You don't have to do that," Vanessa says, quietly. "You've got enough on your mind." She pulls back and looks at Charity. "This thing with Lisa puts everything else into perspective." She shakes her head. "My problem's just a work thing. Yours is family. And that's what's important."
She can't argue with that, but she can't dismiss Vanessa's problem out of hand either. "Hey, your work is important to you, yeah?"
"In the grand scheme of things, it's just a job," Vanessa says. "And if I need to pay for my own stupid mistake, then...that's what'll happen." She smiles a little. "You need to concentrate on family. Let me worry about my stuff, okay?"
A stupid part of Charity wants to say things. Ridiculous, grandiose things like Vanessa is her family and Vanessa's stuff is her stuff too. But she knows that's at least partly because of the late hour and the way Vanessa's looking at her. And she knows for sure it's far too early to make those claims and know they're true. Even if she's fairly certain things are headed in that direction. So she doesn't say them. Instead she nods and lifts a hand to trace a line from Vanessa's eyebrow to her chin.
"Let's see what tomorrow brings, eh?" She frowns. "Well, today."
Vanessa nods and rests her head on Charity's shoulder, humming in agreement.
"Do you want to finish your brew?" Charity asks, swaying them both gently, noting that more and more of Vanessa's weight is transferring on to her.
"No," Vanessa says, turning her face into Charity's neck and smothering a yawn. She tightens her arms around Charity's waist. "I think I might be able to get to sleep now."
Charity hides a smile in Vanessa's hair, her earlier suspicions confirmed. "C'mon then," she starts walking them both to the stairs, flicking the lights off as she passes. "If we're lucky we might get three hours' kip before someone demands our attention."
"More'n you let me get some nights," Vanessa comments. Charity can hear her smile.
"Is that a complaint?" she asks.
"No," Vanessa lifts her head as they pause at the foot of the stairs. She smiles. "Just an observation."
Charity leans down and brings their lips together, just a gentle caress of skin on skin. "I'll let you sleep tonight."
"You've not got much choice, to be fair," Vanessa says, covering another yawn with her hand. "You might be carrying me by the time we reach the top of the stairs."
"Not a problem," Charity says, as they start their ascent, fingers intertwined. "You're a tiny person. Moses'll weigh more than you soon."
"Hardly," Vanessa says, with a laugh. "But it's nice that you'd carry me if you had to."
"Any day of the week, babe," Charity tells her. And she hopes Vanessa knows that she means it. That she can lean on Charity if she needs to.
Vanessa turns when they reach the upstairs landing. She cups Charity's face with both hands, looking into her eyes. "Same here." A moment passes between them, along with understanding. Charity rolls her eyes.
"As if you'd be able to carry me, you daft mare," she says, shoving Vanessa in the direction of her bedroom.
"Oi, you. I'm deceptively strong," Vanessa protests, flexing her bicep. "And I'd give it my best go."
Charity smiles, grateful for the temporary return to normality after her hellish day. "Yeah, I know you would, buttercup. I know you would."