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When I close my eyes (I still can see your smile)

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It feels like they've only been asleep for minutes when Charity's phone beeps loudly, announcing the arrival of a text. Charity's whole body goes tense in her arms before she moves, stretching over Vanessa to reach her phone. The events of the previous day come back all at once and Charity's panic is understandable. Vanessa pushes herself up onto her elbow, watching Charity's face as she opens and reads the message. Her face slackens in relief.

"Belle says she had a good night." Charity falls back against the pillows. "The doctors have said she's improving."

"That's brilliant news," Vanessa says, leaning in to kiss Charity's cheek. "Oh, I'm so glad."

"Yeah, me too," Charity says, finally pulling her eyes away from the text message to look at Vanessa, her smile wide and bright for a moment before her eyes drop to the quilt. She plucks at it with her fingers. "Thanks for...you know, last night. Being there."

Vanessa shakes her head. "It's part of that whole girlfriend deal we signed up to, isn't it? The good stuff and the bad stuff." She moves closer and settles against Charity, draping an arm over her stomach and placing her head on her shoulder. "All of it. Together, yeah?"

"I don't remember signing anything of the sort." Amusement is clear in Charity's voice and Vanessa doesn't have to be looking at her to know she's kidding.

"Verbal agreement," Vanessa says, sliding her hand up under the t-shirt Charity had borrowed from her to sleep in, content just to let it sit on the warm skin of Charity's belly. "Sealed with a kiss."

"Don't know what you think quoting Jason Donovan songs at me is gonna achieve," Charity says. But a kiss is pressed to her forehead and she smiles.

"What do you say I make us a quick brekkie and then I walk you home, eh?" Vanessa suggests.

"So gallant," Charity murmurs. "It's three doors down. I think I'll make it."

"I...wanted to check the living room again for that ketamine," Vanessa says, lifting her head and looking down at Charity. She still has residual guilt from suspecting Charity might have taken it, and mentioning it brings that back. "Just, you know, in case it fell out and is under the furniture somewhere."

"Oh, course, yeah," Charity nods. "We can give it a good going over. I'm not due on until lunchtime."

"Thanks," Vanessa leans down and brings their lips together in a soft kiss. "And maybe I can come and visit Lisa with you later. If she's up to it. And if you want me to."

Charity looks at her, surprised. "Yeah?"

"Only if you want me there. I know there's dozens of you Dingles and I don't want to be taking up anyone's place," Vanessa finds Charity's hand and links their fingers together. "But yeah, I want to be there for you."

A slow grin spreads across Charity's face and she lifts their joined hands to her lips, resting the back of Vanessa's hand against her mouth. "You're really good at this girlfriend malarkey. Anybody tell you that before?"

Vanessa shakes her head, her eyes drifting away from Charity's. She lifts a shoulder and lets it drop. "I haven't been many people's girlfriend before. Not really."

Charity's hand cups her cheek, bringing her face back around, making sure Vanessa's looking at her when she speaks.

"More fool them, then. Because you're bloody brilliant at it."

 


 

After a quick breakfast, they get dressed and head out to go to the pub. Just as Vanessa's locking up, Charity receives another text from Belle, with more encouraging news about Lisa's condition. Vanessa wraps both of her arms around one of Charity's as they head down the path and through the gate, murmuring encouragement as Charity reads it over again.

"Oh, you have got to be joking."

Vanessa whips her head around to find Rhona marching towards them, looking like she's on a mission.

"Good morning to you, too," Charity says.

Rhona ignores her, focussing on Vanessa. "Seriously? I've been up all night worrying about this bloody ketamine and you're playing happy families with your girlfriend?"

Guilt floods Vanessa's chest and colours her cheeks. Maybe she shouldn't have invited Charity round.

"Uh, excuse me," Charity interjects. "I'll have you know she's also been worried sick."

"Yeah, it really looked that way when the two of you were laughing and giggling like a pair of teenagers just now," Rhona spits.

Vanessa tries to explain, understanding how it must have looked. "We'd just had some good news ab-"

Rhona doesn't let her finish, jabbing a finger at Charity. "And this is all your fault anyway! If you hadn't distracted her with your stupid flirting, none of this would have happened!"

She sees it happen out of the corner of her eye. Something changes in Charity. Her face hardens and her eyes hone in on Rhona like a a predator sighting its prey. She saw the same thing happen when Veronica was having a go at her in the pub that day before Christmas. And that was with Charity in a fairly good mood. This is a sleep-deprived, worried Charity and Vanessa fears for Rhona's wellbeing. She tightens her hold on Charity's arm and shakes her head.

"Rhona, that's not fair. It's not Charity's fault. I could've said n-"

But Charity's not going to be derailed. "My fault?" She tilts her head. "Correct me if I'm wrong here, Rhona, but wasn't it you that was supposed to go and see to this randy cow in the first place?"

Rhona frowns. "What's that got to do w-"

"Seems to me if you'd done what you were supposed to, none of this would have happened, yeah?" She takes a step towards Rhona, towering over her. Vanessa keeps a firm hold on her arm. "In fact, seems like you and Paddy make a bit of a habit of palming off the jobs you don't fancy onto Vanessa. And she does them, because she's a nice person and a good friend."

"Charity," Vanessa says, tugging on her arm, trying to move her away from Rhona. "Leave it. It's my fault, nobody else's."

"That's completely irrelevant," Rhona argues. "It's her job to keep track of the very dangerous drugs she carries around. Whether it was my call-out or hers, doesn't excuse her just misplacing a vial of tranquiliser."

Vanessa's face colours again, hearing it put in such plain terms. She knows she's mucked up, and badly, but hearing it over and over again doesn't help.

"Oh, and you're an angel in that respect, aren't you Rhona?" Charity says, and Vanessa's stomach freezes. She knows where this is going. "I mean, it's not like you'd ever ask someone to abuse their position to get you highly dangerous drugs, is it? It's not like you'd use someone's feelings for y-"

"Charity!" Vanessa half shouts. "That's enough."

Rhona's mouth drops open and she turns to Vanessa, betrayal clear in her eyes. "You told her?"

The flash of guilt she feels is quickly replaced by indignation. "You told Pierce! Who took great pleasure in throwing it in my face at every single opportunity." She feels Charity tense up at her words and resists the urge to roll her eyes. She's going to have to be careful what she says if Charity's going to want to fight everyone who slights her.

"That was different! He was-" Rhona stops, her jaw working. On one hand, Vanessa feels terrible for bringing him up, for making Rhona even think about him. But on the other, it did really hurt to know she'd been speaking to him.

"How was it different?" Vanessa challenges. "Charity's my partner, just like he was yours. But I'm not entitled to speak to her about it?" She frowns when Rhona shifts uncomfortably, avoiding her eyes. "Why is that, exactly?"

"Because you've barely been going out with her five minutes!" Rhona says, her incredulous laugh sounding a little forced.

"She thinks I'm going to use it against you," Charity says, shaking her head. "Or her."

"It's not like you don't have form, Charity," Rhona says.

Vanessa's heart sinks with the realisation that Rhona's still waiting for this to go wrong. She still doesn't believe it's for real. That's the real difference she sees between her situation with Pierce and this one.

"And you don't? Which of us two here has broken her heart?" Charity says, tapping her chin in an exaggerated pantomime of thinking. "Oh wait, that was you."

Rhona shakes her head, swallowing hard, finally chastened. Vanessa's torn between saying something to comfort her, and agreeing with Charity. She settles for squeezing Charity's arm. Rhona meets her eyes and holds them.

"Just...find the stuff. Then we can all move on." She turns and walks away, her pace quicker than normal.

"You didn't have to say all that," Vanessa mutters.

"Yeah, well, she didn't have to make you feel like something she'd trod in for making a simple mistake, either," Charity says, still watching Rhona walk away. "People in glass houses and all that."

Vanessa sighs, leaning her head on Charity's shoulder. "If I didn't have to go and look for these drugs, I'd be dragging you back into that house." She turns and presses a kiss to Charity's cheek. "Because you are dead sexy when you get all defensive over me."

Charity turns to her with an eyebrow raised. "Well, let's get moving," she says. "Because the sooner we find it, the sooner we can come back to yours. Or we could always nip down the cellar." She leans in and whispers against Vanessa's lips. "And we'll lock the door this time."