"With you I serve, with you I fall down.
Watch you breathe in, watch you breathing out.

Only twenty minutes to sleep,

But you dream of some epiphany.
Just one single glimpse of relief,

To make some sense of what you've seen."

––epiphany, t.s.


XXXVI

Reckoning (Part III)


Lynn had found a surprise witness, who had been called up just before they had adhered… and it had only been Katie. Bloody basic-training Katie! Molly had been reeling as she had arrived through the doors, walking like someone who was still in the military despite her lack of uniform, though she had looked nervous as she moved straight to the witness box. When Lynn had first called Molly up the morning after the intoxicating evening in the hotel and asked her is she knew a Kate Robertson, she hadn't quite been able to believe it. Then Lynn had really dropped a bomb that had changed everything: "Did you know she had an incident with a Corporal in her Section a few years ago?"

Suddenly, the utter unlikelihood truth of what Lynn was saying came and truly hit her square in the gut. Lawrence had been the Corporal that Katie had mentioned that had felt her up. She had reported him… and he had only gotten minimal punishment. A punishment that had probably been rescinded from his record thanks to it being a first time offence or good behaviour… They let him off…and he got worse.

She'd barely been able to keep from crying watching her old friend give very brief, but rather damning, testimony, swearing to the fact that Lawrence had been the one to grab her from behind without consent in his younger days. When it was over, Molly felt rather dizzy and felt guilty that she was glad when Katie was ordered to leave the courtroom, as all other witnesses had been after their testimony; she did not have the energy left to speak.

Molly watched numbly from her seat as everyone in the room immediately bloomed into chatter and began to disperse. Charles looked wooden as she watched his parents trying to interact with him, their voices indistinguishable above the noise. They were clearly trying to ease the tension, Elvis keeping them busy as Charles rushed for the door. Almost immediately, Molly kept her eyes down as Lynn lead her through the side door to the room set aside for them. She felt the lump in her throat growing again with earnest, a tightness in her chest as she tried her best to keep her feelings in. She was shaken up by the volatility of the day, thinking back to how everything had transpired.

"Lynn," she wheezed, dashing the single tear that managed to escape her eye prematurely. "Can I have a minute on my own, please? D'ya mind?"

Immediately, Lynn stopped her conversations with her associate and gave her one of those smiles that Molly usually hated, one that told her that she knew exactly of the emotional breakdown she was on the brink of. The moment the door clicked shut, it was all she could do not to keel over with the relief of being alone and the building pressure of unshed anguish in her chest. She managed to make it to the furthest table from the door, pulling herself to sit on it as she lowered her head into her hands, trying her very best not to break.

They had let him off.

The anger of this realisation was still as oaliple as it was the day Lynn had revealed to her this truth down the phone.

They had let him off and because of that, he had been in a position of power enough to shatter her soul.

She was very stiff in the spine by the time she heart movement at the door. She didn't turn to see who it was, mostly because she didn't want whomever it was to see the mess of tears and snot on her face. Elvis' head popped round the door and he cleared his throat when Molly didn't turn to look at him.

"Moll," he called, gently, looking more frazzled than usual. "I think you best come and see Charles…"

Immediately, she was alert and slid off the table. "Where did 'e get to?"

"He went for a breather," he explained as she followed him down the corridor, "but he's a bit…" He trailed off and Molly was anxious at the fact that such a chatty bloke was lost for words.

Immediately, she felt the panic of uncertainty. "Wha––? 'Bit' what?"

Outside the back fire exit door, she got her answer. Charles was pacing in the manner of a caged animal. He didn't seem to notice Molly's arrival, his entire body language even from behind screaming furious stern Captain James. She was tense herself at the sight of his anger as it always made her nervous, but especially today. She looked sideways to meet Elvis' gaze as the two regarded one another with the same clear trepidation. What was the best course of action here? Molly certainly hadn't the foggiest. She watched him moving up and down, clearly in his own world and felt a lump raise in her throat.

"Charlie––," Elvis called.

"Just––not now, Elvis," Charles dismissed exasperatedly, barely looking up as he moved against the wall to lean his forearms against it, trying to hide his face. The bleak nature of his tone spurred her into moving forward from the doorway, making herself known. He seemed to try and hide the reality of his emotion from her, pressing his forehead to the brick with a clear focus on keeping himself in check. She leaned against the brick right beside him.

"Sorry," he apologised softly with a sharp inhale. "I know none of this is even about me––I just can't believe they let him––"

"Don't say sorry," she immediately replied, bridging the gap between them with a hand on his arm, tenderly running her thumb over the fabric of his sleeve. Only upon contact did he look at her, dark eyes brimming with everything he did not seem to have words for. His breathing caught in his throat at the same moment as he pressed a hand to his chest.

"I think I'm having a heart attack," he forced out in a manner in a pretty humourless chuckle.

She smiled in sympathy and moved to hold into him, wrapping her arms tight around him in a panic hold, as he had done to her before. "Nah, mate, you're alrigh'," she murmured, looking up into his eyes despite the craning of her neck that it required. "'Just breathe,' remember?" She gave him a smug look for having given him his own advise. He managed to roll his eyes, but she could see he was distracted. His eyes were looking over her as though seeing her for the first time, which made her fill with dread. The last thing she wanted was for him to see her differently now.

They both were about to speak at once when a new arrival at the door made them turn –– the sight of whom they found there entirely changing the mood. None other than Lawrence stopped dead in his tracks, cigarette hanging out his mouth and lighter in hand. He evidently hadn't expected them to interrupt his smoke break. Molly immediately froze against the brick wall and before she could react, Charles had leapt into action, shielding her with his body before she had any say in the matter.

"Alright fellas'," Elvis immediately warned, stepping into the few feet between them. "Let's not do this, eh?"

"Oh, but she loves a good rule breaker, don't you Dawesy?" Lawrence chided innocently from the doorway, lighting his cigarette in infuriating nonchalance.

"Don't you dare call her that," Charles replied in his infamous quiet, flint-like furious tone. "Do not even speak to her."

"Or what, James?"

Molly stepped around from behind the shield of Charles' body to glare at Lawrence with all she had, managing less than one foot forward before Charles' hand was on her waist, keeping her behind. She wanted to roll her eyes, but she realised that with him here, the fear she previously felt was at least alleviated enough for her anger to surge with a vengeance. "Leave 'im out of this!" she interrupted boldly, feeling her hands secretly shaking by her sides.

"Hm," Lawrence exhaled humorously. "I forgot how bloody loudly your bitch barks."

As though his words wound a spring, Charles pulled himself even taller somehow, now gripping her skin wither painful pressure as he held himself back. "Don't. I suggest you leave. Now." Charles' warning was barely audible as he put on a snide, belittling smile, trying to look flippant. But Molly felt his muscles with anger. Silently, she reached to grip his wrist with her hand. His pulse practically jumped out against her fingers.

"I'm still the bitch would never touch you with a fuckin' bargepole – an' after this, neither will anyone else."

"Oh, you'd think, wouldn't you?"

"Oh, fuck you, you ugly Scottish twat!" Molly snapped, sick already of his smug twisted smirk.

Lawrence did nothing but raise his eyebrows, momentarily silent. She should have known, by the weight of the pregnant pause and the fact that the universe liked to bring things back around in circles, exactly what it was he would say as he smirked and turned to leave.

"Hm," he hummed in false nonchalance. "You already have."

The comeback hit her square in the chest with fury and immediately it was clear she wasn't the only one. Charles launched forward to grab Lawrence's jacket to keep him from leaving, immediately resulting in an aggressive scuffle for dominance.

"How dare you!" Charles growled as he attempted to shove Lawrence hard against the brick.

"Charlie!" Molly exclaimed before she could stop herself, unaccustomed to seeing any kind of display of physical aggression from him. "Don't! He ain't worth the trouble!"
Elvis was faster, grabbing onto Charles' shoulder to keep him further enough back that he couldn't throw the first punch, wedging himself between the two and pinning Lawrence against the brick wall.

"Your husband's a handsome bugger when he's angry, eh, Dawesy?" Molly's expression twisted to one of repulsion at the way Lawrence looked to be enjoying the aggressive physical contact between he and Charles.

"Unless y'both want to face a charge from the bloody JA, I suggest you both pack it in."

Charles looked at his friend in admonishment, evidently frustrated, but took at the step back required, ever one for regulations. Behind them, Molly could feel her entire frame shaking with the adrenaline, the sickly, nauseating kind that was unmistakably a response to spontaneous danger, making her feel a little unsteady on her feet. She finally let out a breath of relief as she watched Charles take a step back away from the possibility of doing something stupid.
It inevitably didn't last. In front of him, Lawrence was sniggering.

"Wha'do you know? Too much of pussy to even defend his wife's pussy."

Molly's heart surged as she watched Charles' resignation immediately ignite back into rage, propelling himself forward in less than three steps and launching his knee into Lawrence's groin with his full strength. Lawrence immediately crumpled to the floor with a wave of groaning and Molly couldn't help but smirk automatically despite the worry within her that Charles has just made an incredibly stupid mistake for her and would suffer for it.

"Good luck using that cock of yours for anything now, you cunt."

Molly would have sworn that her heart actually leapt up her throat as the expletive escaped his mouth, a word she had never once heard from his polite mouth before. The threat of the rare choice of words was clear; even Elvis raised his eyebrows. "You're a disgrace to that uniform, forcing your cock onto such a fierce and beautifully independent woman –– a woman who's also someone else's wife!" Charles' tone was more menacing than anything Molly had ever heard from him — the kind of angry that made her heart race with fear. She had never used him use such language before, not once, not even when she had scratched his precious car or called him the worst names he could think of during gather first big row. Once upon a time –– and she would have never admitted so out loud –– but it would have caused her heart to race for other reasons, too, since she always secretly fantasised about the shouty Captain she first fell in love with.

It did occur to her, hearing him use that kind of word, something inside her was spurred into wanting him more than ever in that kind of guttural, unexplained way. This fierce, animal side to him was one she had seen so very rarely, even as his wife. She was not sure what kind of person it made her, that she wanted that part of him more than ever.

His voice was deadly quiet and only just reached her ears thanks to the groans coming from the man on the ground. From behind Elvis' hold, he seemed to be shaking, the kind of near-silent anger that caused goosebumps on the back of her neck to watch, as he leant over a crumped Lawrence and held him by the collar. "You may not think much of me, but I swear to you, if you come anywhere near my wife again –– or even speak about her like that again –– I will kill you, do you understand?"
"Charles!" Molly panicked, gnawed her lower lip at the clear threat in his voice and the violence of his words. She knew he meant it, which terrified her a little, because the man she knew Charles to be took no joy in violence of any kind, or even the threat of violence.

"I know, it's okay," he pacified softly, a tarring juxtaposition as he turned back to her despite the clear steel tension in his frame. Charles sniffed hard, turning up his nose as he looked down at the man with her hands settling back under his armpits in his typical officer stance. Elvis moved to stand between them both again, holding his hands out.

"Well, you've really done it now, Charlie," he berated, though he couldn't keep his smirk off his face. "Beck'll have your balls."

"Good job I don't bloody care, then, isn't it?" Charles replied in a predictably cool and flippant tone.

"Beck'll have your balls for what?"

All three of them span around to the doorway, where none other than Beck stood in his dress uniform, surveying the scene. Immediately, all three of them still standing went rod-straight, standing to attention. Meanwhile, Lawrence was attempting to get up from the tarmac.

"Sir!" Molly rushed out, immediately ready to leap to Charles' defence, but he didn't give her chance.

"Do I even want to know what happened here?"

Elvis made no move to help Lawrence off the floor as he smirked a little. "You know how it is, sir. Some people just can't walk in a straight line and get themselves in all sorts of shit." The double-entendre in his voice was clear, but Elvis had of course had perfected the art of looking entirely innocent. Charles on the other hand, whose chest was still going up and down a little harshly with the exertion of his anger, made no attempt to look straight ahead or past Beck in the polite regulation way. He met Beck's eye with absolutely no pretence in his expression, clenching his hands by his sides.

Most surprisingly of all, Lawrence didn't say anything, perhaps too preoccupied trying to right himself and, by the looks of things, embarrassed to have been knocked for six. Molly held her breath as Beck looked at her, an unreadable expression in his eyes. Then just like that, it was over.

"I suggest you come inside, Dawes." She immediately moved toward him, head down. "You too, both of you."

"I cannot attest to what I did not see," Beck said carefully in Charles direction. "But let this be the end of it. Understood?"

"Sir," Charles acknowledged immediately, saluting Beck as though their expressions were not both loaded with unspoken words. Molly made her way back to the waiting room office, eyes down, hearing rather than seeing Charles and Elvis behind her. She went back to her position sitting, rather childishly, on the table facing the fogged window. The barrister and her solicitors were murmuring in the corner now over their papers, but she tuned them out. She watched as Elvis said something to Charles at the door, clearly attempting to calm him with a hand on each shoulder. Molly ignored them, a little miffed with him that he would risk behaving so irresponsibly when in uniform and all in the name of defending her.

Eventually Charles approached her. She felt rather than saw him sit on the table beside her, mirroring her posture with his legs hanging over the edge until they basically touched the floor because they were so bloody long compared to her own. He was breathing heavily, as though almost recovering from a work out. There was a long, gnawing silence as she began chewing her nails, staring blindly at the raindrops on the windowpane as she began fretting about how long they would have to wait and what decision may be awaiting them. Charles' hand appeared around hers, pulling her fingers away from her mouth. He settled her hands around that single one of hers, keeping her from nibbling her nails to shreds before bringing the back of it to his lips.

This made her turn to look, meeting his eye with apprehension. He tried to smile, but really his eyes were burning with questions and anger and confusion.
"You shouldn't have done that," she whispered in a fractured voice, her eyes swimming with sudden moisture that had her holding her breath.

"I know," he replied, rubbing his eyes roughly. "But I'm not sorry I did it." His tone was harsh, sharp, as though preparing for a bollocking from her. His leg violently bouncing up and down was the only indication of the fact that his inward turmoil matched her own.

"I know," she mirrored, trying her best to give him a smile as she squeezed his hand and press a hand on his knee to stop the nervous bouncing, which in itself was very unlike him. "It was pretty fucking awesome, really."

He all but managed to crack a smile, clearly not possessing much of his humour thanks to he black cloud of dread that hung over them.

"What he said about you was the opposite of awesome." He was wringing his hands suddenly, reaching to fiddle with a wedding ring that wasn't there. "I just couldn't let him disrespect you so abhorrently like that and laugh about it as if he hadn't done the very worst thing..."

Molly bit her tongue, managing to refrain from adding what she had automatically wanted to point out, which was that he had actually only resorted to kneeing the guy in the balls when his masculinity had been called into question. She wanted to roll her eyes; bloody men and their dick waving. It wasn't that Lawrence hadn't deserved it, or even that Molly was not grateful that someone did a fraction of what she longed to do to him –– she was! She just was not sure Charles realised that there was a definite symbolism in exactly which insult it was that had made him snap.

Either way, their current location was not the place to get into that. Turning her hand in his, he let her fingers slip to his wrist, where she felt his pulse and felt a surge of both empathy and fear at the thumping, fast rhythm she could feel there, as it indicated just how angry and possibly frightened he was, too.

"Y'little heart is pumpin' a right one out, mate," she murmured. Charles finally then turned to look her in the eye, placing his hand over hers for a moment in a gesture that seemed to say 'thank you', before moving his to feel for hers with tender fingers along the column of her neck.

"Yours too," he challenged gently, leaving Molly wondering if he was trying to be coy or if this was him avoiding the elephant in the room which was why his pulse was racing. Little did he know because she would never tell, but her heart rate always increased when he touched her like that, all slow and tingly, as if she might break or disappear and with cognac eyes that burned into hers with such an unspoken intensity.

"Well, not fishin' for compliments or nothin', but mine always thumps something bonkers when you twinkle at me with them chocolate eyes of yours." She was adamant she was not going to admit that, so immediately cringed inwardly when the words came out her mouth. It must be verbal diarrhoea brought on by the nauseating nerves she was feeling, she assumed, since she didn't plan on saying it at all –– much less nervously chuckle afterward. She dared to glimpse at him and he was smirking at her as though she just told him something intensely secret and scandalous.

"Is that so?" He was teasing her, ghosting that special spot just below her ear with the pad of his thumb that had always made the muscles deep in her abdomen clench and her pulse stagger a little. "Actually, tell me, what exactly constitutes a twinkle?" He provoked her, arching one of his perfectly expressive dark eyebrows and leaning down into her face.

She shoved him hard in the side. "Oh, shut it, don't play dumb with me!"

"I'm not, I swear!" He held his hands up in surrender, but the biting of his lip told her he was trying not to laugh. She rolled her eyes at him aggressively and stuck out her tongue before crossing her arms in a childish sulk, hating when he made fun at her expense.

"You're a shit liar, Charles," she grumbled. "An' I changed my mind: I take it all back. You're ugly mug don't do nothin' to me."

"Nothing, hm?" Suddenly he was doing that kind of quiet murmur that Molly knew to be one only people who were fucking used, all quiet and cringeworthy if you're the poor sod who's stuck third-wheeling two people doing it. Luckily, their company were deep in legal conversation across the room, so the sudden rush of heat to Molly's neck was witnessed by no one –– except the devilish man in uniform who caused it. "Not even if I do this?" The bastard lifted his hand across to her and curled an imaginary piece of hair into place, no doubt as an excuse to caress the intimate spot on her neck that made her want to squirm. She refused to move, not wanting to give him the satisfaction, but she felt her resolve wavering as he leaned down to close the small gap between them created by their height difference, almost resting his chin on her shoulder as his breath tickled her exposed neck. Her eyes fluttered closed against her will as she held firm on a strange stubborn resolve that she didn't quite understand. She wasn't really angry with him; she was easily affected by him and they both knew it, and yet she felt a strange instinct to hold her decorum and keep up her guard. Was it because of where they were? Because of the uniform they were in? Because of the aggression he had just demonstrated, the likes of which she had never witnessed before? Because this felt a little like a slight display, as if it was his way of trying to prove he and his sexual prowess held the key to her in a way

Lawrence never could? It was anyone's guess what this was. Perhaps it was all of the above.

She also secretly wondered if there would always be a part of her that resented how easily he could physically affect her. She had found it frightening at the very beginning, when he was nothing but a shiny beacon of seeming perfection that she barely knew, but she thought by just over one year of marriage and over three years of knowing one another that she would have grown from that. It infuriated her a little that the reality had been slowly setting in: perhaps she never would. Perhaps he would always have this unique kind of physically magnetic upper hand.

"Charles––," she warned in a whisper as she turned to face him, misjudging how close his face was to hers –– their sudden direct level eye contact making her lose her breath and her intent to speak.

"Do you still have no idea of your constant affect on me?" His fingers now toyed with the velvet soft skin of her earlobe. "You're not the only one whose heart races like a teenager when the right person walks into the room."

"I think your heart might be racing for a very different reason right now, mate," she quipped dryly, unable to help but change the subject as the magnitude of what he was confessing made her blush, "Namely, kickin' a rapist in the balls."

It had the desired affect –– they both grinned and couldn't hold back laughter, despite the grim nature of the situation they were in. Their collective sense of humour often saved them and this time was no different.

"Oh, my Molly," he drawled, "don't ever change." His tone was affectionate and telling of the smile on his lips as they met her forehead. Again, unbeknownst to him, her heart rate momentarily gave a little jump, as it did every time he treated her to such tender gestures.

Suddenly a clerk burst into the room, breaking the illusion of calm as they delivered another notch in Molly's fate, sending her heart straight back into her mouth.

"They're coming back!"

Immediately, Molly grip of Charles tightened to an absolute death grip, looking up at him with terror coursing through her.

"What if they don't believe me?" Her question was rhetorical of course and really just an excuse to try and extinguish some of her fear by voice it aloud; it came out a tiny whisper, croaking and uneven. His large, strong hands cradled her face one last time.

"Then we will face it together."