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Mend This Broken Heart

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"You okay, love?"
"Yeah, never better" Swishing the warm dregs of beer around the bottom of the glass
Chas raises her eyebrows, not believing her for a second. "Do you want to try saying that again but with feeling?"
Vanessa sighs
"Is Charity with someone?"
Chas looks surprised. "What makes you say that?"
"Well, it's just that we've been spending quite a bit of time together recently for one reason or another and sometimes it kind of feels like it used to between us. And, despite the logical part of my brain screaming at me not to.....the part of me that remembers how special it was thinks that maybe we could try again." She fidgets with the beer mat next to her whilst she tries to work up the nerve to say the next part out loud. "And then....last night I thought she was going to kiss me, but then she blurted out some stupid excuse and ran off. Ergh! I don't know. Have I got the wrong end of the stick?"
"Oh love, it's not you." She takes a deep breath and sighs it out. "She's breaking her own heart so that she doesn't break yours again"
Vanessa looks confused. "What do you mean?"
"I mean.....she still loves you. More than I ever thought she could love anyone. But she hates herself for hurting you and so she's punishing herself by staying away from you. She thinks you deserve better and that she's doing you a favour by letting you try and find someone else. She can't see past her stubbornness and fight for her own happiness. I think she's trying to do the right thing in her own way."
Vanessa sighs and looks thoughtful. She can kind of see the logic she guesses.
"Please don't give up on her. Not if you still love her too."
She goes to leave. "Oh, and I never said any of that okay?! She'll kill me if she finds out I've told you."
Vanessa nods silently and immediately goes back to pondering

Chapter Text

"Johnny, don't go any further, wait for Mummy and Aunty Tracy please!" the shout comes from just inside the doorway where Vanessa is wrestling with her coat and shoes whilst Tracy struggles with the pram inside.
Johnny obediently stops at the bottom of the path to Tug Ghyll and starts marching up and down from the road to the door and back whilst he waits. He turns around at the top of the path and sees Charity crossing the road a little further up.
"Mummy Chatty!" he shouts and sets off as fast as his little legs will carry him.
Charity freezes when she hears the shout, her hand coming up to cover her mouth as she gasps in shock. She sinks to her knees to accept the little bundle that's heading at her full pelt. Johnny doesn't stop running until his body hits Charity and he has his tiny arms wrapped securely around her neck. She easily engulfs his whole body with one arm and gently cradles his head with the other hand, breathing him in deeply as her body rushes with love and relief at finally seeing him again.
Vanessa, meanwhile, also hears the shout and her stomach does a funny summersault at what she knows she's going to see when she steps out of the house.
"I missed you Mummy Chatty!"
"I missed you too Johnnybobs. So much" Kissing his head and trying to hold back the tears.
"Where did you go?"
"I didn't go anywhere sweetheart. You've been at Grandma's remember? Did you have a nice time?"
She sniffs, trying to get her tears under control.
"Yeah, it was good. We had lots of cakes!"
Charity lets out a watery chuckle
"Mummy was sad though. She needed lots of cuddles"
Charity sobers at this. Remembering what Johnny's reappearance probably means.....Vanessa. She stands up and encourages Johnny to walk back towards Tug Ghyll with her. He stays close to her the whole time and hugs her leg once they get to the bottom of the path again, reluctant to let go of his favourite person.
Her heart is hammering in her chest as she locks eyes with Vanessa momentarily. "Sorry" she whispers before looking down, expecting a few choice words from Vanessa. She looks up again slightly startled when Vanessa replies with: "It's okay, he's been asking after you constantly. I shouldn't be surprised really" She then catches Johnny's eye and reprimands him "What did I say about waiting though, Johnny? You can't just run out into the road like that - it's so dangerous!"
"Sorry Mummy. Mummy Chatty was there though - she keeped me safe didn't you?"
"Yeah. Always kid. You make sure you listen to your Mummy next time though, yeah?"
The two adults stand awkwardly, neither knowing what to do or say after being thrust into this situation.
"You're back then?" Charity finally manages to mutter, grimacing at the stupidity of her comment.
"Yeah, just for a couple of days." Charity tries to hide her disappointment. "Wanted to meet the new addition, didn't we Johnny?"
"Aunty Tracy had a baby, Mummy Chatty! Have you seed her?"
"Seen, darling, and no I haven't"
"She's tiiiiiiiiiny! But she cries a lot"
Charity chuckles. "Yeah, babies do that. Do you like having a cousin though?"
Just at that moment Tracy finally steps out of the house and spots Charity and Johnny still holding onto each other.
"What's she doing here?" Tracy spits
"Johnny saw her and ran off"
"Well, I don't care, she's got no right to be anywhere near him!" She says furiously.
"Tracy" Vanessa warns, swallowing nervously
"It's fine. I've got a shift anyway" pointing up the road with her thumb "so I'd better go. Good to see you, kid" giving Johnny one last smile before disentangling herself to turn around and head towards the pub.
Johnny looks crestfallen. "Can we see Mummy Chatty again Mummy?"
"Maybe sweetheart" Vanessa replies at the same time as Tracy shouts a very adamant "No"
"Tracy, not now. Just....let me deal with this okay?"
"Fine" she strops "But I hope you know what you're doing"
They lift the pram down the steps and silently set off on their walk around the village, Vanessa's mind still running at a mile a minute and her heart pounding just as quickly.

Chapter Text

"I'm not condoning what she did or saying I understand it, but Nessa.....she was absolutely gutted when you didn't come home from that court hearing - like 'sobbing over a picture of the two of you' gutted. She'd missed you so much and was so nervous and excited that you were finally coming home."
"Oh right, so it's my fault that she snogged some bloke?!"
"No! No, of course not. I'm not saying that. I'm just telling you what I saw of the situation. She was so sure....absolutely convinced that you went back to your Mum's because you didn't love her any more. And there was no talking her down from that."
"But why? That's so stupid! She'd just adopted Johnny for goodness sake! And did that video call on our anniversary just completely slip her mind?!"
"I don't know, Ness. I don't know how Charity's brain works. But by the next morning she'd decided you must have found someone better, someone that understood what you were going through and could look after you."
"You have got to be kidding me! What, she actually thought I would cheat on her?! And so she goes out and snogs the first person she can find as revenge?!"
"No, no I don't think it was like that. Tracy said she'd stormed out all worked up and upset and then when she told me what she'd done the next day she didn't really know how or why it had happened." She tries to recall the conversation. "She said that....she was in a bad place and he was being all arrogant and flirty and she let herself get sucked in by it."
"Oh right, well that's fine then! It wasn't her fault at all, was it?! I thought I actually meant something to her. That I was different. But clearly not. I mean if she can throw herself at the first person she finds then how many others could there have been?!"
"Ness, come on. Calm down. Look, you know what she's like by now - if she feels threatened she acts out, she lashes out....before she's properly thought things through."
"Yeah well, she can't keep doing that can she? Because people get hurt. I got hurt. She needs to grow up. And think about someone other than herself for once!"
Rhona sighs
"I've got to go and fetch Johnny" and with that she storms out of the house, slamming the door behind her.
Rhona puts her head in her hands and mutters to herself! "Well, that went well.."

Chapter Text

The front door opens and closes but Charity barely even notices. Much more interested in her wallowing and the glass of wine she's clutching onto as if it holds all the answers.
"Mum!" Sarah exclaims
Something cuts through the fog and Charity's eyebrows crinkle in confusion. She clumsily manoeuvres herself round on the sofa and sees Debbie standing next to the table, then immediately turns herself back round. She knows she looks a mess and she doesn't need Debbie telling her so.
"What's going on?" Debbie asks
"We're just making dinner" Sarah replies innocently
"I can see that. Why isn't she making dinner?" pointing at Charity
"Granny's not really....in the right frame of mind to cook"
"Yeah, so I've heard. So, come on then, mother. Do you want to explain why my daughter and little brothers are having to fend for themselves?!"
Charity sinks lower into the sofa and doesn't reply, but at least has the good grace to look slightly embarrassed.
"I've had to leave the garage and lose business so that I can come home and babysit this alcohol-fuelled mess?!"
"I've just lost the love of my life!!" She finally replies
"Yeah, and whose fault is that?! Grow up!"
Charity hugs her knees to her chest, silent tears spilling down her cheeks as Debbie heads over to Sarah and Noah, giving them both a big hug.
"Is dinner nearly ready guys?"
"Yeah, we're pretty much done" Noah replies
"Okay, well, do you want to take it up to your rooms whilst we have a little chat?"
"Yeah, okay"
"I'll come and see you properly once I've sorted her out, okay? I'm so proud of how well you've handled this."
They share a sad smile before the kids head upstairs

"Right. Are we doing this the easy way or the hard way?"
"Do what you want. You always do"
"Fine. You need to sort yourself out"
"Says who?" She knows she's acting like a petulant child but she doesn't care.
"Says me, Mum. Says half the village. Says your kids and your grandkids, who need you!"
Charity shrugs and looks away.
"Come on, Mum. You're so much better than this"
"I'm not though, am I?! Messed everything up once again because I'm a useless, horrible person!"
"That's not true"
Charity gives her a sceptical look and Debbie sighs.
"Do you know why I felt I could stay away from the village for so long and concentrate on the garage?"
Charity doesn't answer
"Because of you, Mum. Because whenever I called Sarah she seemed so happy and she'd tell me how amazingly you were doing, even when Vanessa took a break and went to her Mum's. You were looking after four kids by yourself! And one of them wasn't even yours yet!"
Charity's lip wobbles at the reminder of Johnny
"I was so proud of you and how much you've grown up, and really taken responsibility for your family."
"But I was only that person because of Vanessa. She made me better" Charity counters
"No. She gave you love, and understanding, and support, and showed you who you could be, but you made those changes yourself. And you can still be that person. Please don't throw it all away now. You've come so far"
Charity studies her daughter, trying to take in what she's said.
"Doesn't change the fact that I cheated on her though, does it? I mean, what kind of monster does that to the person they love?" She sighs and hides her face in her hands for a moment. "I just want her to come home so I can try to explain"
"And if she did come home....do you really think she's going to listen to you and take you seriously when you're like this?"
Charity looks down at her lap, embarrassed.
"So are you going to clean yourself up and stop drowning your sorrows in alcohol?"
"I can't"
"Why?"
"Because it numbs the pain. I'm not ready to feel it. I don't want to feel it."
"So, what, you're just going to drink forever? Mum, you're going to have to face up to it eventually"
Charity's lip wobbles "I just miss her so much" she sobs, and throws her arms around Debbie, crying out her pain with her face buried in her daughter's shoulder.
"I know Mum, I know" hugging her tight, with a tear snaking it's way down her face.
It was going to be a long and difficult few months.

Chapter Text

"Oh! Hi Debbie. Sorry. Erm....is Charity in?"
"No, she's in Hotten. Is everything okay?"
"Yeah. Erm....yeah. Never mind"
"Never mind what?"
Vanessa sighs "Well, it's just that she's meant to be having Johnny later but I've just been asked to cover a call out because everyone else is busy so I was just wondering if she could take him a bit earlier, but it doesn't matter."
"Well, I can watch him until she gets back if you like?"
"No, it's fine, I don't want to impose"
"It's fine, honestly"
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah, of course. And Mum won't mind either. She hasn't shut up about seeing him since you agreed to it!"
Vanessa's mouth quirks into a sad smile
"Okay, well, I'll be back as soon as I can. Thanks for this Debbie!" She looks down at Johnny. "Are you going to go and play with Debbie and wait for Charity to come home?"
He nods silently without looking up, slightly shy in Debbie's company but willing to go along with it if it means he gets to see his favourite person. Vanessa thanks Debbie again and rushes back down the path towards her car.
Debbie gets Johnny settled on the rug in the living room with some of Moses' toys and pours him a drink before texting Charity. 'Get your arse home, mother'
Charity comes through the door a little while later, laden down with shopping bags. She sees Debbie and looks at her questioningly. "What's going on? Why did I have to cut my shopping trip short?"
Debbie smiles and nods her head towards the little boy on the floor who had stopped playing as soon as he'd heard Charity come through the door and was now sat with a big grin on his face and his arms outstretched impatiently waiting for a cuddle.
"Johnny!" Charity smiles "What are you doing here? You're not meant to be here 'til later!" She puts the shopping bags down near the bottom of the stairs as she's talking and then turns back towards Johnny.
"Mummy gots to look after some sheeps so I came to play with you!" He beams
"Well lucky me, then eh?" and she heads over to sit with Johnny on the floor, scooping him up onto her lap and giving him a squeeze, both of them happy to be reunited.
They stay that way for the next hour or more, completely wrapped up in each others company and oblivious to Debbie's presence. Might as well not exist! She thinks to herself whilst pottering around the house doing little chores. But really she's happy for her Mum. It's so good to see her smile properly for the first time in months. It's obvious how much Johnny means to her. And Vanessa too, no matter how much she insists that Vanessa's better off without her.
Eventually Charity's body objects to being on the floor for so long and she lifts herself up onto the chair next to Johnny with a groan. Johnny carries on playing whilst Charity watches on and she startles slightly when Debbie nudges her to pass her a cup of tea. "Thanks Debs" she says with a soft smile. "I wish Moses was here. He'd have been so happy to have his brother back" she sighs wistfully.
"I know, but I'm sure you and Ness can arrange something for them both soon"
"Yeah, I hope so"
Johnny has seemingly had enough of playing on his own and stands up next to Charity. "Mummy Chatty?"
"Yes sweetheart?"
"Can we read a book please?"
"Yeah, of course we can kid" she smiles "Can you remember where they are?"
"Yeah" he shouts and toddles off up the stairs to Moses' room to pick a book (or several probably, knowing Johnny!)
Charity gulps down some more of her tea and then moves and sits in the corner of the sofa to give them a bit more space. She needn't have bothered because when Johnny comes back downstairs he clambers up onto the sofa with his books and drops himself down in Charity's lap. She smiles and ruffles his hair whilst he turns his little body to the side and snuggles into her chest, tangling his hand into the front of her shirt. She opens the first book and holds it out to the side so Johnny can see the pages. She's going to get a crick in her neck reading like this but she doesn't care.
They stay like that for half an hour, reading book after book until Johnny snuffles slightly and Charity realises he's dropped off to sleep. Must be all the excitement, bless him. She puts the book down and tries to shuffle her body down the sofa slightly into a more comfortable position without disturbing Johnny, and it's not long before she joins him in the land of nod.
Debbie takes the opportunity to check in on the garage's booking system and accounts whilst the house is quiet and is only interrupted by a knock on the door a little while later. She opens the door to see a slightly disheveled looking Vanessa on the doorstep.
"Hi Debbie" Vanessa says as cheerfully as she can manage
Debbie just holds an index finger up to her mouth and silently signals for Vanessa to follow her into the house. Vanessa looks at her quizzically but follows her in nonetheless. Her eyes fall upon the sleepy bundle on the sofa that is Charity and Johnny and her heart flip flops in her chest.
"They've been inseparable from the second she got home and they look so happy and peaceful I didn't dare wake them. We probably should though or we'll never get them to sleep later." Vanessa chuckles at Debbie lumping Charity in with Johnny like she's a child too. She heads around the sofa and tries not to think about how much her heart swells at the sight in front of her before she bends down to stroke Johnny's head to try and gently rouse him. He starts to stir and the movement makes Charity wake with a little snore.
"Sorry" she says as she comes to and sheepishly realises that she must have fallen asleep not long after Johnny. "We were just reading and.." she trails off
"It's okay" Vanessa whispers back. She quickly clears her throat, trying to get her voice back to normal.
"Come on then Johnny, shall we go home and see Aunty Tracy?"
"Yeah" comes the tired reply as he rubs his eyes
"Say bye and thank you to Charity"
"Bye Mummy Chatty. Love you"
Charity's heart thumps in her chest "Love you too Johnnybobs, see you soon" kissing him on the head one last time
"Thank you" she mouths to Vanessa, who just smiles at her shyly. Johnny and Vanessa walk out of the door together and Debbie turns to her Mum
"You okay?"
"Yeah" she whispers back with a smile on her lips and her eyes shining with tears. She holds out her arms for a hug which Debbie gladly walks into. Hopefully her Mum can keep hold of this happiness now.

Chapter Text

"No Chas. Because I've known for a long time that she's it for me. I don't want anyone else."
"Well, that's not strictly true.."
Charity glares at her
"It was never about wanting him. I thought Vanessa didn't love me anymore, my head was a mess and I lashed out and did something stupid. Standard Charity, eh? But I will never love anyone like I love her. And no-one will ever love me the way she did either."
"They might"
"Well, this imaginary person can do what they want. I'm done. My heart is hers. Always will be."
"Well then do something about it. Go and fight for her!"
"No. I had my chance and I blew it. She deserves to be happy and for someone to treat her right. And that's not me. She doesn't need me steaming in there being all selfish as usual."
She sighs
"I just....can't watch her with someone else right now. It hurts too much." Charity's lip starts to wobble
"Oh love" Chas opens her arms to offer a hug and Charity clings to her for dear life, silent tears streaming down her face.

Chapter Text

"Where's Johnny?"

"He's upstairs with Moses. I'll go get him."

She turns to head towards the stairs but stops in her tracks when Vanessa says:

"You two looked cosy together the other day. Found someone exciting enough for you now, then?"

"What?" She looks at Vanessa for a second before realising what she's insinuating. Mack. "No. It's just business"

"Ah, I see. Back to the scams. Well, you need to get your thrills somewhere after being with boring old me for three years, eh?"

"That's not....you weren't....you were never boring"

Vanessa scoffs and rolls her eyes, shifting her gaze to settle elsewhere

"You were everything I ever wanted" she whispers. Almost surprised that she had let the words slip out

Vanessa's eyes spring back to Charity "Oh yeah. Clearly. You wanted me so much you went off and kissed someone else. Just admit it: sensible Vanessa with her boring job and her boring cancer - I was never going to be enough for you, was I? I was an idiot to think otherwise"

"It wasn't like that"

"How was it then, Charity?"

Charity sighs "You weren't there.."

"Oh, right, and while the cat's away the mice will play?!"

"No! Please....please stop putting words in my mouth"

"Fine" she crosses her arms huffily "I'm listening"

"You weren't there and I missed you. So much. When you didn't answer my calls my mind would run away with itself and I'd end up thinking you were losing interest in me. Then the day of the hearing came round and I was so....nervous, and happy, and excited. I'd organised a little welcome home party and I was stressing over what to wear because I just wanted it to be perfect for you. And for Johnny. Because we'd finally be a family. But you were so quiet and distant during the hearing, and then you ran off back to your Mum's instead of coming home. I was heartbroken." Her voice wobbly and tears threatening

"Didn't take you too long to get over it"

Charity glares at her for a moment before swallowing past the lump in her throat and continuing

"I cried myself to sleep that night"

Vanessa takes a breath as if she's going to say something but Charity gets there first.

"And no, I wasn't watching Titanic before you say anything!"

They both stop for a second, thinking back to their early days and the arguments they'd had before they finally admitted their feelings.

"I tried to speak to you the next morning, but you ignored my calls again. Then your Mum answered the landline, sounding pretty damn well to me I might add, and told me you'd gone out. And that was it. My mind went into overdrive. I was convinced that you'd come to your senses and you didn't want me. That we were over"

"But why? Why would I not want you?"

"Because I'm me, Vanessa! Because I'm hard to love. Because I'm a mess! Because I'm a rubbish partner, and a rubbish Mum! Because there's a million people out there that deserve you so much more than I do!"

Vanessa studies Charity for a second

"You're wrong. Falling in love with you was the easiest thing I ever did. You made me so happy. And yeah, you'd get things wrong sometimes. We all do. But I knew how much you loved me and how hard you were trying. Or at least I thought I did"

"I did. I.." I do, she wants to add but it catches on her tongue. It's not her place any more.

"That still doesn't explain why you did it though. Why you kissed him"

Charity shrugs. "I don't really know myself. He was just there, and being flirty, making me feel wanted for a second. I guess I thought that if the person I loved more than anything didn't want me then at least someone did. So I took the attention he was offering, and before I knew what was happening I'd kissed him."

Vanessa closes her eyes and swallows hard, trying not to picture the two of them together. She takes a deep breath.

"Why did you lie? When I asked you about it why did you lie?"

Charity sighs. "Because I didn't want it to be true. I've hurt a lot of people in my life, most of them deliberately, and not given a stuff how they might feel. You were the one person in the whole world that I didn't want to hurt. But I did. And I knew I'd lose you because of it. I couldn't bear the thought of losing you so I tried to pretend it wasn't true."

"And the drinking and the scamming made you feel better, did it? Back to the old, carefree Charity.."

"No" she takes a deep breath. "I couldn't stand the pain. The alcohol numbed that. Helped me forget what was happening. And the scams were just.....I don't know.....an escape. Something I knew how to do. Because I didn't know how to do anything else without you there." She pauses for a second. "I told you I couldn't function without you"

"Well, I'm sure you'll get used to it"

"Yeah" she whispers sadly. "I'll just er.." pointing towards the stairs

When she comes back downstairs with Johnny they both try to act more normal in front of him - asking if he's had a good time, and making sure everyone says goodbye. Johnny and Vanessa head out of the door and Charity closes it behind them, resting her forehead on it for a second before heading over to the sofa and flopping down onto it with a sigh.

Oh well, at least Vanessa knew the truth now, instead of Tracy's version of events..

Chapter Text

Christmas had been perfect this year. Vanessa had gone overboard with the decorations and food. The boys had run around like giddy kippers with their new toys. And the older kids had spent the day with them too. But now, this moment right now, is why it was perfect. Charity and Vanessa were sat snuggled together with Johnny and Moses on their laps whilst they all watched a Christmas film in their matching pyjamas. And seriously, if Vanessa tells ANYONE that she got Charity to wear matching Christmas pyjamas she's a dead woman! She'd huffed and puffed and pretended to be put out but really her heart had exploded at the fact she got to do things like this with the woman she loved and their kids. It was the kind of thing she never believed she could have but here she was, living in a dream.

The boys had gone quiet and were struggling to keep their little eyes open after all the excitement of the day when the film eventually finished. Charity moved her hand to Vanessa's hair and gently pulled her toward her to kiss her temple. Vanessa smiled softly and turned to face Charity so she could have a proper kiss. Neither woman could remember ever being so content.

"Right, come on then sproglets, time for bed!"

"Not just yet, Charity, there's one more present still left isn't there boys? Can you two fetch the secret present for Mummy?"

The boys were suddenly wide awake again at this and jumped off the sofa, diving under the tree to reach right around the back to pull out a little square-shaped gift that Charity didn't remember seeing. They stood in front of Charity, and Johnny shyly held the gift out towards his Mummy Chatty. She looked over at Vanessa with a questioning look on her face. Vanessa just shrugged mischievously. "Better open it and see what it is, eh boys?"

They nodded enthusiastically until Charity cautiously started opening the little package and uncovered a small box that definitely looked like something you'd get at a jewellers. She looked at Vanessa again, swallowing nervously - she didn't want to get her hopes up for them to be dashed when it turned out to be just a pair of earrings..

She steeled herself and opened the little box to find a silver ring with a modest diamond standing proud at it's centre. Her heart felt like it was about to burst out of her chest but she swallowed her nerves and tried to play it cool.

"Well?" Vanessa questioned nervously

"Well, it looks like a ring to me" she replies coyly

"It's a gazement ring Mummy!" Moses shouts

"Is it? Doesn't seem like it to me.."

Vanessa bites her lip nervously. Maybe she'd read this all wrong and they weren't on the same page at all with where their relationship was at. She starts to panic internally and cringe at what an idiot she's made of herself. The boys jump closer to Charity and practically have their noses stuck in the box trying to peer at it and work out why it's not a 'gazement' ring.

"Why not, Mummy?" Moses eventually asks

"Well.." she draws the word out "engagement rings are meant to come with a question.."

"What question?" Johnny shouts excitedly

Vanessa rolls her eyes and feels a wave of relief wash over her. This woman would be the death of her. She huffs out a little laugh but gives in to Charity's cheekiness with a happy sigh.

"Charity Dingle, you amazing, infuriating, beautiful idiot, will you marry me?" They gaze at each other, their eyes shining with love.

"Say yes, Mummy!" Moses shouts

"Yeah, okay then" she whispers, barely able to get the words out past the lump in her throat before the tears she's fighting eventually win out and spill down her cheeks.

"Yaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyy!" The boys shout in unison, jumping around with excitement.

Vanessa shuffles closer to Charity and removes the ring from its box to place it on her fiancée's finger. No mean feat when they're both shaking with nerves!

Charity sniffs and brushes her hand over her face, trying to get rid of the worst of her tears before leaning in for an emotional and love-filled kiss.

"Are you sure?" she asks when she pulls back

Vanessa rolls her eyes again. "Yes, you daft mare! And it's definitely happening this time! I'm not standing at that registry office on my own again." She widens her eyes pointedly but the cheeky smile on her face lets Charity know she's toying with her.

"No chance, babe. I'll be there an hour early, waiting for you. NOTHING is stopping me marrying you this time."

They both smile and share another kiss.

"Okay boys, I think that's enough excitement for one day, don't you? Up those stairs so Mummy Charity can read you a bedtime story"

"Oh cheers, babe. Is this what it's going to be like from now on? Thought I'd bagged myself a fiancée, not a taskmaster!"

Vanessa chuckles "Just stop complaining and get up those stairs, will ya!" Sticking out her tongue cheekily.

"Come on then kids. Mummy's given her orders. Best behave or we'll never hear the end of it!"

The boys start climbing the stairs, holding onto the rope bannister to keep their little legs steady. Charity climbs the first couple of steps before turning around and heading straight back down to steal another kiss. She pulls away but only minimally, keeping her eyes closed and her face close to Vanessa before letting out a contented hum. Vanessa smiles, giving Charity one last peck and then turning her back around towards the stairs and patting her on the bum to send her on her way.

Whilst Charity is upstairs, Vanessa takes the opportunity to have a quick tidy up, exchange the film credits for some soft music and light a few candles around the room. She pulls a bottle of fizz out of the fridge and finds two glasses in the cupboard above, setting it all down on the coffee table in front of the sofa.

Charity smiles when she comes back downstairs and sees what Vanessa's done, a funny fuzzy feeling taking over her body that she didn't think actually existed until she'd fallen in love with Vanessa

"This is nice, babe"

"Well, I thought we could have a little glass of fizz to celebrate now that we're alone." She pops the cork and pours them each a glass. They chink their glasses together and take a sip, their eyes never leaving the others.

"So babe, seeing as though we're engaged again and you got me this lovely ring.."

"Not too small and boring for your tastes, then?" Vanessa asks cheekily

"Babe, you could have got a flippin' plastic ring out of a cracker for all I care! It's not about the ring."

Vanessa links their fingers together and squeezes Charity's hand.

"Anyway, as I was saying....seeing as though you got me this" pointing at the ring on her finger "I wondered if....maybe....you might want to wear this again?" She's full of nerves again as she pulls the engagement ring she'd given to Vanessa the first time around out of her pyjama pocket.

Vanessa's mouth drops open in surprise

"You kept it?"

"Of course I did. I needed you back, and desperately hoped I'd be able to put it back where it belongs. And if not, then it would remind me of the best day of my life and what an idiot I'd been to throw it all away"

"Oh you"

Vanessa holds out her hand to let Charity put the ring back in its rightful place before leaning in for a kiss. Charity's smile is dazzling and she pulls Vanessa towards her so they can snuggle up again.

"So, when's the big day then?" Charity mumbles lazily a few moments later

Vanessa chuckles. "Charity" she says in that way that only Vanessa can say it. "There's no rush. We can start planning in the new year maybe, after your birthday"

"I'm not waiting that long, babe! I've already missed out once, I am NOT missing out again. I want you walking down that aisle towards me ASAP!"

A smile breaks out across Vanessa's face. Charity really was silly sometimes. But flippin' cute. And all Vanessa's.

"Do you think the registry office is open tomorrow?" Charity ponders

Vanessa chuckles and kisses her silly woman again to shut her up.

They stay curled up on the sofa, drinking the Champagne and talking idly about the wedding until Vanessa realises the time.

"Come on you." Vanessa says as she pulls Charity up off the sofa. "I'll sort the candles and music out and you put the dishwasher on and let's head upstairs"

"Again with the bossiness, babe!" She says with mock outrage as she turns around from where she's just put the glasses in the dishwasher. "I hope there are perks to this engagement mularky!"

Vanessa slinks over to her after blowing out the last candle and grabs the front of her pyjamas pushing her backwards until her back hits the wall at the bottom of the stairs

"Oh, I can think of a few.." she husks before kissing her hungrily leaving Charity wide eyed and breathless stood at the bottom of the stairs until she comes to her senses and chases her fiancée to their bedroom..

Chapter Text

"Well, it was all a bit rushed, wasn't it? I should have known really that it wouldn't last. That the novelty would wear off. I mean, we were barely together a year before you proposed, which, let's face it, you only did because I got stabbed, right?"

Charity looks at her horrified

"No! How can you..?" She takes a deep breath "I knew before that Christmas that this was it for me. That this was the one I wanted to last forever. When you told me how good we were together and I saw this amazing little family we'd built, I knew. When you moved in and I got to hold you in my arms every night, I knew. When the drayman called me 'Mrs' Dingle and my heart skipped a beat thinking about us both being Mrs Dingle, I knew. When I had to sit through those two idiots getting married on Christmas Day and thought about how disgustingly happy I'd be if that was us instead, I knew. But when you nearly got ripped away from me that's when I realised that you needed to know too. I couldn't bear the thought that I almost didn't get that chance to tell you."

Vanessa's breath hitches, surprised by the passionate outburst.

"It has always been, and will always be you, Ness. Whether you feel the same or not." And with that she walks off, hot tears streaming down her face leaving Vanessa rooted to the spot.

Chapter Text

"Can I...erm...can I have a word?" Charity asks hesitantly, looking down at her hand as she picks at a non-existent splinter in the wood of the table Vanessa and Ruth are sat at.

"I'm a bit busy" gesturing between herself and Ruth "maybe later yeah?" Rudely dismissive

"Not with you. I wanted to speak to Ruth"

Vanessa stares at Charity like she's got two heads
"Don't be ridiculous! What, you want to threaten her to keep her hands off your fiancée? Newsflash Charity, not your fiancée! You don't get any say in my relationships!"

Charity sighs. "I know that. I just want speak to her."

"No. Just grow up, and leave us alone!"

Charity slinks back behind the bar defeated and spends the next hour trying but failing to keep her eyes from wandering to Vanessa and Ruth's table.

Eventually, Vanessa leaves to get back to the vets for her next appointment whilst Ruth stays to finish the rest of her pint before heading to the bar to settle up.

"Everything okay with your lunch?" Charity asks half-heartedly

"It was fine thanks, apart from the unwanted interruption" she looks at Charity pointedly

There's a pause..

"Vanessa's amazing" Charity blurts out rather incongruously

Ruth is quite obviously puzzled by the sudden outburst but eventually responds

"She is"

"Right." She looks down and draws in a deep breath. "And she deserves to be happy and to be treated right"

"Like she was with you?" She retorts sarcastically

Tears spring to her eyes at the reminder and she feels herself begin to crumble but determines to get through what she wants to say.

"I messed up. Massively. I've made a lot of mistakes in my car crash of a life but losing Ness was the worst mistake of all of them. So if....so if you're serious about Ness then just make sure you don't make the same mistake I did. Because, trust me, you'll regret it every day for the rest of your life."

"Okay.." slightly unnerved

"I don't deserve someone as good as Vanessa, I know that, but...." she hesitates, wondering whether she's crossing a line but ploughing on anyway...."I'll never stop loving her and being grateful for what she brought to my life. So just....don't take her for granted. And don't hurt her." She pauses for a second "Or I'll set my family on you" she says semi-jokingly trying to lighten the moment

"Right. Can I just pay for lunch please?"

"Yeah, course" she mumbles embarrassedly taking the proffered money

"Keep the change" clearly just wanting to get away from Charity as quickly as possible

Charity heads to the till, closing it once she's finished and tipping her face to the ceiling letting out a big sigh

'So, I just had the strangest conversation with your ex..' Ruth texts Vanessa as soon as she gets outside

Chapter Text

"It's a simple question, Charity! Did you or didn't you sleep with him?!"

She's starting to regret asking the question because she can tell by Charity's nervous fidgeting and the way she can't meet her eyes that she's not going to like the answer.

With a wobbling lip she eventually whispers: "Yes"

"I knew it!" She says bitterly "Is there anything that comes out of your mouth that isn't a lie?! How long was it going on?" She demands. How is it possible that this woman can break her heart even more than she already had?

"It wasn't! I didn't lie! It was just that one stupid kiss when we were together. I didn't sleep with him until a couple of months later"

"Aww, nice cosy relationship. You don't normally wait that long before jumping into bed with someone" She knows she's being downright nasty. As nasty as the rest of the village had always been about her until Vanessa had helped them start seeing her differently. But she's just so angry and hurt right now.

Charity looks physically wounded by the venomous way Vanessa spits the words at her. She visibly sags, and can barely bring herself to look at Vanessa when she replies.

"Don't hold back, will you Vanessa?! It's good to know what you really think! We did a couple of scams together, okay?! And he kept pestering me no matter how many times I said no, until eventually I just....gave in" she finishes with a sigh

"What? Why? Why would you do that?"

"Why not?" she shrugs

"That's not a reason, Charity"

She sighs again. "Because it was easier than saying no. Because I didn't deserve any better. Because I'd given up - on you, on us, on me, on the kids." She lists off "And because I thought it might take my mind off what a complete mess I'd made of my life" she throws her hands in the air in exasperation

"And did it?"

"No." she admitted. "Just like the drinking. And the scamming. I just felt empty. I felt dirty. And it felt like.." she stops, not wanting to remind herself of what she'd done to Vanessa

"It felt like?" Vanessa questions

Charity takes a deep breath. "It felt like I was cheating on you....again" she whispers quietly, ashamed.

"But why? You said it happened later?"

"Yeah, it did. But I'd known for a long time that you would be the last and only person I ever slept with for the rest of my life. Because I only wanted you. Forever. So sleeping with someone else just seemed....wrong. It wasn't what I wanted, who I wanted"

"Shame you didn't remember that before you kissed him, eh?"

"I did. I was sat there crying over pictures of us together for God's sake! But my head was a mess. I thought you didn't want me, didn't love me. So I let his stupid flirting and flattery sweep me up and I went and sabotaged things, like an idiot, before you could break my heart"

"Well, I'm not going to argue with the idiot bit. But I was never going to break your heart, Charity. I can't understand why you would think that.."

She sighs. "I know that now. I just read it all wrong. And acted without thinking, as usual. I think I'd gone half crazy with missing you. You were all I thought about every day, Ness, and I wanted you to come home so badly. So when you scuttled off back to your Mum's with barely a word I thought that was it."

They both sit silently, taking the other in for a moment

"I'm sorry for doubting you. And for hurting you. You're the last person on this earth I wanted to hurt. But it's just what I do, isn't it? I hope you find someone that won't hurt you like I did. You deserve someone good, Ness"

She looks at Vanessa one last time and swallows the tears that are threatening to fall then stands and walks out, leaving Vanessa with her thoughts and her own tears.

***

"Well, isn't it better that it wasn't an actual attraction to him that led her to those actions?"

"No Rhona, it makes it worse! At least if she'd liked him and 'couldn't resist' him I could just hate her for betraying me and try and get on with my life without her. But as it is, it sounds like he took advantage of her when she was at her lowest. Twice! I hate him for that and it makes me so sad that she allowed herself to be worn down and used like that. After everything she's been through, and how much she's grown. It's like she's got no respect for herself and her own body any more. Like she thinks she deserves to just be some play thing for rotten men who have no regard for her, her body, her emotions. I know she hurt me. But she's worth so much more than that."

"Nessa, you can't keep fighting her battles for her and trying to get her to see her own worth. She needs to figure that out for herself. She's a grown woman"

"She's not really though is she? Emotionally. Let's be honest. No-one in this world, including her own flamin' family, has ever given her reason to think she's anything but worthless and so she's just gone back to believing that again"

"Okay" She pauses "But that's not your problem any more is it? Because you've chosen to move on with your life and leave her behind"

"Yeah, I know but.."

"You can't be everyone's hero, Nessa. Just concentrate on your own life, yeah?"

Easier said than done when it comes to the one and only Charity Dingle. The only person who's ever truly had her heart. Things were never simple when they concerned Charity, and this was no different.

Chapter Text

"Charity, can't you see how unhealthy that is?"

"What? Loving you so much that I can't live without you?!"

"Yes! Exactly! Charity, you can't go through life completely falling apart, neglecting the children in your care, binge-drinking, pushing everyone away, and going on scams because someone split up with you!"

"Not someone, Ness, you. This was so much worse because it was you. We can't all be perfect you know"

"I'm not perfect. Far from it. And I didn't want to live without you either. It hurt. A lot. But I did it, because the world keeps spinning no matter how broken your heart is, and because Johnny still needed his Mum. That doesn't mean I didn't break down in tears every night when he'd gone to bed. It doesn't mean I didn't get lost in my thoughts sometimes when I should have been giving him my full attention. But I just kept putting one foot in front of the other and doing the best I could each day"

"That's because you're a good Mum, Ness. Unlike me"

"No Charity. You're an amazing Mum and you're one of the strongest, bravest, most loving and thoughtful people I've ever met, when you put your mind to it. But you're also still that broken little girl that doesn't trust anyone, least of all yourself. And that's what you need. You need to trust yourself. You can't let all your happiness, all your self-worth depend on the love of someone else. You have to find that in yourself."

"You're the only person in my whole life that has made me feel like I am worth something. That I'm more than just a piece of meat"

"And that's still true: whether I'm right beside you or I'm 100 miles away, whether we're together or we're not. You are always worth knowing and worth loving, Charity, and you can be that person without me"

"I can't" she hiccups

"You can, I promise you." She pauses for a moment. "But maybe it would be good to let someone help you realise that.."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean.....that maybe you should talk to someone. A therapist."

"Because I'm a basket case?" she scoffs

"No, Charity! Because you've been dealt every possible bad hand in this life. Because you were discarded and abused as a child instead of being nurtured like you should have been. And then you've been treated badly by nearly every man that's come into your life. And that's left you with scars. And this feeling of worthlessness. But I want you to be able to see yourself the way I see you."

"I'm fine Vanessa. I don't need some posh nonce psycho-analysing me and spouting clap trap at me, making me talk about my feelings"

"Do you not think it could help..?"

"Other people maybe, not me. I've got through all of that on my own. Why should I suddenly get help now?"

"Because there's a lot to unpack, a lot of mental and physical trauma. Sometimes you need to break it down. Let yourself fall apart. So that you can rebuild the pieces even stronger than they were before. Please....just....think about it, yeah?"

Charity sighs. "Fine"

"Good" she gives Charity's arm a rub before heading out and leaving her to her thoughts

Later that evening Charity is still thinking about what Vanessa had said to her:

She doesn't need a therapist.

She's always got through everything her shitty life has thrown at her by herself.

She's never needed anyone's help before.

So why should she change that?

It's none of Ness' business anyway.

Except it kind of is.

And she definitely wants Ness.

Wants her love and support.

Maybe if she can 'rebuild' herself like she said then Vanessa might see the person she fell in love with.

And maybe, just maybe, there might be a chance that Vanessa could love her again.

And that's what sways it..

Chapter Text

"I'm glad I caught you actually. I wanted to speak to you"

 

"Yeah?"

 

"Yeah, I....erm....I've started seeing someone"

 

"Oh....right. Okay"

 

Not the reaction Charity expected

 

"I thought you'd want to know"

 

"Well, I'm not sure it's any of my business any more. Good for you though, I guess"

 

"I thought you'd be pleased..?" She was doing this for her for goodness sake!

 

Vanessa looks at her, not really knowing what to say. "I hope they make you happy"

 

"Well, yeah, I guess that's the goal in the end isn't it? To fix myself"

 

"You can't fix yourself by falling into another relationship, Charity!"

 

"What?! What are you talking about?!"

 

"This new person, whoever it is.."

 

"Ness, there is no new person" There's only you, she thinks

 

"But you said.."

 

"I'm seeing a therapist....a therapist, Ness!"

 

She watches the comprehension dawn on Vanessa's face

 

"Oh! Oh right" she finally says, sheepishly

 

Is that relief Charity can see on her face too? It's hard not to hope so..

 

"That's.....that's amazing, Charity!" She pauses "I'm so proud of you"

 

Charity tries to temper the huge grin that wants to break out "Yeah, well, maybe it'll knock some sense into me" she chuckles

 

"It's gonna be tough, Charity, living through all those memories again. But if anyone can do it, it's you" The pride she'd just mentioned shining in her eyes

 

"Yeah, it's not the most fun I ever had. But we'll see, eh? Might be worth it in the end"

 

"Well, if you ever need a brew and a normal chat, or someone to look after the kids while you process whatever you've been talking about, you know where I am"

 

"Yeah. Thanks Ness" she replies softly

 

The sooner it's over the better, she thinks to herself. Because it's bloody horrible. And because then she can try and prove herself to Vanessa and try to win her back. It'll definitely be worth it if she can get Vanessa back.

Chapter Text

"Hiya, Nessa! Brew?"

 

"Mmmmm"

 

"Oh dear, bad day?"

 

"What? Oh. No, I'm fine.." she says dejectedly

 

"Sure? You don't seem fine.."

 

"It's just.." she trails off and sighs

 

"Let me guess....Charity?"

 

"Ergh" 

 

"What has she done now?"

 

"Nothing"

 

"Right.....so what's the problem..? Oh....wait, is this one of those situations where she hasn't done something you want her to do, rather than having done something you wish she hadn't?" She manages to ask without tying herself in knots

 

Vanessa nods

 

"Okay, so what has she not done?"

 

Vanessa fidgets nervously, not managing to get the words past her lips. Rhona starts guessing..

 

"Picked up the kids? Had a shower? Apologised another 400 times? Skived off a shift? No, that one doesn't work. Help me out.."

 

"Shehasntkissedme" she mumbles

 

"And again in English..?"

 

"She hasn't kissed me, okay?!"

 

"Oh....okay.....well.....I mean, I didn't know that was something you wanted her to do. Is this....new....or..?"

 

"It's.....we.....she" she deflates with a massive sigh "We've been spending time together because of the kids, and we've been talking, and she's explained things, and....I've missed her, Rhona. When I see her, it.....my heart beats a bit faster still"

 

Rhona tries to hide her smile, because despite what she said, she's seen the way they've been interacting and sharing lovesick glances at each other when the other isn't looking. It was only a matter of time with these two.

 

"Right, so have you talked to her about it?"

 

"There's no point, Rhona. There's been so many times when I thought she was going to kiss me and then she....didn't"

 

"Really? That doesn't sound like Charity.."

 

"Exactly! If she wanted to, she would have done by now. She didn't hold back the first time she kissed me, she just went for it, even though I'd shown no interest in her whatsoever....the opposite in fact! I just don't think she wants me any more"

 

"Yes, but things are different now, aren't they? You've got history. And, to be fair, you did tell her that you never wanted to see her again and sent your engagement ring back. Maybe she still thinks you don't want her to kiss you. Have you told her about your....change of heart?"

 

"Well....no....but.."

 

"Well there you go then! Tell her! And if she tells you she doesn't want to, then at least you'll know once and for all. Or....you can just spend the rest of your life waiting and hoping. Come on Nessa, get those big girl pants on and go get your girl!"

 

"So you don't think I'm crazy for wanting to give it another go?"

 

"Ness, I've never seen anyone so sickenenly in love. And this is Charity Dingle we're talking about - she doesn't do sickenenly in love. She made a mistake. I know how that feels. But she's absolutely crazy about you. And you two, you're just....you're just meant to be."

 

She draws in a deep breath. "Okay" Time to be brave, she thinks.

Chapter Text

1. Vanessa and Charity have had a film night with the boys who are then having a sleepover at Vanessa's

 

"Right, bath and bedtime for the monsters, or tidying this lot up and doing the dishes?"

 

"Err....bath and bedtime....obviously!"

 

"How did I know you'd say that? Anything to avoid doing the washing up!"

 

"I'm a domestic goddess thank you! And anyway, you know the kids love my stories" she winks cheekily

 

"Hmmm....maybe a little too much. Don't get them worked up, Charity, or they'll never get to sleep"

 

"Are you doubting my skills?"

 

Charity turns round to collect some of the dinner plates and dishes off the table ready for Vanessa to clean

 

"Just hurry up will ya?! I want to get to bed this side of midnight if that's alright!" She chastises with mock annoyance

 

"Alright alright! Keep your hair on! Here....don't say I never help with the dishes" she leans in to deposit the plates on the side next to Vanessa, who just rolls her eyes at her. And just for a second, Charity forgets what they are (or, more accurately, what they're not) to each other now. The playful bickering (or is it flirting..?), the smell of Vanessa's perfume, a 'family' film night has easily fooled her into forgetting that this isn't her life any more. And so it seems like the most natural thing in the world to give Vanessa a quick kiss before she heads upstairs to sort the kids out. She freezes when she realises what she's about to do. And Vanessa's noticed how close they are, and the look on her face. Shit shit shit shit shit!

 

"I....erm....I'll leave you to it" and she gives Vanessa a tight lipped smile "Come on kids, bath time!" she says in as normal a voice as she can manage, already heading towards the stairs as quickly as possible

 

 

2. Vanessa's had a hard day and Charity's been a big help

 

"Thank you so much for having him. You're a lifesaver!"

 

"No problem"

 

"I'm sure you had better things to do with your day off though than deal with me having a wobble and then looking after two snotty little kids"

 

"Well we definitely got through a lot of tissues and there are some questionable stains on the sofa but I love spending time with these little guys"

 

Vanessa smiles at her softly before turning her attention to Johnny

 

"Come on then, Johnny - home time" with a nod towards the front door

 

Charity follows them to the door to wave them off but as they try to open the door they're left a little closer together in the small space than she had anticipated. Her breath hitches slightly at the proximity and Vanessa looks at her nervously. Charity looks away and takes a step back to give Vanessa more space, missing the split second that Vanessa's eyes flit to Charity's lips and she subconsciously licks her own.

 

"Sorry" Charity says awkwardly, oblivious to how the moment had affected Vanessa as well "Well, enjoy your evening, babe. I'd say you've earned yourself a glass of wine or two after today. I don't want to keep you from that" She looks down at Johnny "Good to see ya Johnnybobs. And don't forget to get lots of cuddles off your mummy to get you feeling all better, yeah?" She ruffles his hair as he grins up at her. Vanessa's expression softens at the easy affection between the two and she looks away with a little blush when Charity looks back up at her.

 

"Right, well, thanks again Charity"

 

Charity smiles back at her. "You're welcome"

 

She looks like she wants to say something else but with nothing forthcoming Vanessa turns and heads out onto the path"

 

"Ness?"

 

Vanessa turns around again, looking hopeful "Yeah?"

 

"Bye" she says softly

 

"Bye" Vanessa returns, heading off towards Tug Ghyll her heart still fluttering

 

 

3. The girls are heading into town for a night out and are slightly worse for wear before they leave the pub. 

 

"Woah there, Super Sloshed Girl" she says as her arms reach out instinctively to catch a stumbling Vanessa "Not got your sea legs yet?"

 

"No, I jus' tripped on the errrr.." she looks around for the offending item

 

Charity looks too "Oh yeah, that bit of fresh air there" she replies cheekily

 

Vanessa gasps indignantly trying to look offended but promptly giggles "Yeah, maybe"

 

"Right, well, maybe lay off the shots for a bit then, yeah?"

 

Vanessa grimaces and closes one eye, trying to focus better on Charity's face "I can't promise" she shrugs

 

"Wow, I do not envy tomorrow you"

 

Vanessa waves a hand dismissively "I'll be fiiiiiiine" she says wobbling again and putting her hands out onto Charity's waist to keep her balance. She smiles lazily. "Night Charity" she mumbles, leaning in unsteadily to kiss her

 

Charity's eyes go wide at the realisation of what Vanessa's trying to do and she quickly turns her head, taking advantage of Vanessa's slow movement and lack of coordination, so that the kiss lands on her cheek instead

 

Vanessa frowns in confusion at not having met Charity's lips. It then turns into a scowl when she realises what Charity's done

 

"Night Ness" she replies softly

 

"Whatever" she scoffs and pushes past Charity towards the front door

 

Charity tips her head back and lets out a big sigh before eventually going back to collecting the last remaining glasses and closing down the pub. Vanessa, meanwhile, has staggered outside, scowl still in place, to rejoin the waiting group of women "Right come on ladies, more shots!" she shouts as their taxi pulls up

 

"You okay, Vee?" Tracy asks, having noticed the difference in her demeanor since she'd nipped to the loo

 

"Yep. Fine" she replies in a way that sounds decidedly not fine

 

'Charity' Rhona mouths silently to Tracy behind Vanessa's back and then grimaces

 

Tracy just rolls her eyes. The sooner she forgets about Charity and moves on, the better!

 

 

1. Vanessa wants to know why Charity hasn't kissed her

 

There's a knock on the front door. Charity sighs, putting her brew down on the coffee table and getting back up from where she'd just got herself comfy after a long day behind the bar and then trying to get Moses down to sleep after his bath.

 

"Hi"

 

"Hi"

 

"Can I err...?" Pointing inside the house

 

"Sorry. Yeah" she holds out her arm indicating for Vanessa to come in, then closes the door behind her.

 

"Charity, can we talk?"

 

"Yeah, course." She pauses "Look, if this is about the other day when the boys ended up covered in paint and glue and stickers and whatever then I'm sorry" she sighs "Rubbish mum strikes again" 

 

"No Charity. They're kids, they're always going to end up with more of it on themselves than on the paper!" She smiles "And they had so much fun with you. And....it was quite thoughtful of you, actually, getting them to make that lovely card for me"

 

"No need to sound so surprised"

 

"Sorry" she chuckles nervously "Anyway, no, I....errr....I wanted to talk about us actually"

 

"Us?"

 

"Yeah"

 

"Oh. Right. What about us?"

 

"Well, about where we stand I guess"

 

"Do you not want me to see Johnny any more?" she asks sadly

 

What?! No! No no no no no, it's nothing like that. He loves spending time with you, Charity" she smiles

 

Relief floods Charity's face "Okay, good. Well, what then?"

 

"Right, well, we've been spending a bit of time together, yeah? What with one thing and another. And a couple of times it's kinda felt like there was maybe a....moment....between us" she says hesitantly, twisting her fingers together nervously

 

Charity sighs and looks down "I'm sorry"

 

"I wasn't imagining it, then?"

 

"Probably not" she admits

 

"So....you did want to kiss me?"

 

"Of course I did, Ness! I don't think I'll ever be able to stop wanting to kiss you!" she blurts out, then looks away in embarrassment when she realises what she's revealed

 

"So why didn't you?"

 

Her head flicks back round so she can look at Vanessa. "What?"

 

"Why didn't you kiss me?"

 

She shrugs "Because....I didn't think you wanted me to. And I thought, just like everyone else 'round here does, that you were better off without me"

 

"And what about in the pub the other night? Did it seem like I didn't want to kiss you then?"

 

"Well....no....but....you were drunk, Ness. I didn't want to take advantage. And I didn't want you to regret it in the morning and resent me, or yourself, for letting it happen"

 

"Very noble of you"

 

"Again....no need to sound so surprised"

 

"Charity?"

 

"Yeah?"

 

"Kiss me" she whispers softly

 

Charity looks like she can't believe what she's hearing. Her eyes wide and shimmering, as if tears have just sprung to them

 

"Yeah?"

 

"Yeah"

 

Charity steps closer to Vanessa until they're almost touching, and gently places a hand on Vanessa's waist underneath her open jacket, and then slips it around her back so that she can pull her to fit snugly against her own body, whilst the other hand comes up to cradle Vanessa's face and softly stroke her jaw. She leans in slowly and plants the most tender single kiss on Vanessa's waiting lips, pulling back to make sure that Vanessa definitely does want this. Vanessa wasn't expecting the kiss to end so quickly and so her eyes stay closed for a second, her lips chasing Charity's when she pulls away. And that's all the encouragement Charity needs to lean in and kiss her again. Nothing had ever felt so good. 

Chapter Text

"Heard your fella's got a rather healthy bank balance. Never could resist the money, could you? So I was just a blip in your quest to find a rich man to look after you, eh? Normal service is resumed." She shouldn't care really. And she tries to convince herself that she doesn't. But clearly she wasn't rich and exciting enough for Charity. This was what she'd always go back to. What made her happy.

 

The words sting. But she can't blame Vanessa for her less than positive view of her choices in life. Doesn't mean she's right though. "No, Ness. You were it. You were everything. But it's just....easier to go back to this than to give my heart to someone properly, like I did with you, because losing you nearly killed me. I would choose you though, if I had that option. No matter how much money they had or what they offered me. I would always choose you." She didn't mean to lay her cards on the table quite so openly but she hates that Vanessa thinks that this, and not the Charity that loved her unreservedly, was the real her.

 

Vanessa scoffs. "Yeah, right. So....what, we just fall back in love and live happily ever after, yeah?!"

 

"You might.." Charity mutters, although not quietly enough it would seem

 

Vanessa looks outraged. "What's that supposed to mean?! You're so irresistible that I'll fall in love with you but big bad Charity will be immune to it?!"

 

There she goes: thinking the worst again. "No Vanessa!" She shouts, before taking a deep, steadying breath, conflicted as to whether to say what she knows is true. But hey, she never was one for holding back. In for a penny, in for a pound or whatever. "It means....you can't fall back in love with someone you never fell out of love with in the first place!"

 

Vanessa looks taken aback, like she can't decide whether to believe her or not and stutters out her response. "Yeah, well. It's not gonna happen is it? Not after what you did to me." Regaining her composure

 

"No. No, course not." Any glimmer of hope she might have had fading and her shoulders dropping in defeat. "So, I'll go back to doing what I do best, yeah? And you can go and find someone that deserves you. Everybody's happy."

Apart from having an aching in her heart that no amount of money will ever be able to fix..

Chapter Text

Charity stumbles into Brook Cottage looking rather shell shocked and flops herself down unceremoniously onto the nearest seat whilst trying to take some steadying breaths.

 

"Charity? Are you alright, pet? Has something happened?"

 

"She's here, Diane. She's back" she says, looking like a rabbit in the headlights

 

"Who is?" As soon as she asks the question she realises who Charity is talking about. There's only one person who would affect her like this. "Oh, I see. Okay, well that's good isn't it?"

 

"It's....yes....no" she scrubs at her face with her hands "I don't know!" she throws her hands in the air frustratedly, then suddenly jumps out of her seat "I need to see her!" and she moves to head back out of the door.

 

"No, no, no Charity! Sit back down"

 

"No I need to talk to her. And I need to ask her about seeing Johnny, Diane!"

 

"I agree." She pauses. "But not right now"

 

"What? Why not?!"

 

"Because you're all worked up. You need to calm down and think about how you want to approach this. Come on, I'll make us a brew"

 

Charity reluctantly retakes her seat and runs a shaky hand through her hair. Soon enough Diane comes back with two mugs of tea.

 

"Right then. So how do you know she's back?"

 

"Well, 'cause I saw her didn't I?! Outside Tracy's house"

 

"Okay. So she's staying with Tracy and little Frankie?"

 

"How do I know, Diane?!"

 

"I know you're upset, Charity, but I'll take less of that attitude thank you very much." She says firmly but calmly. "So you didn't speak to her?"

 

Charity takes another deep breath. "Sorry Diane. My head's a mess. I just....I just didn't think I'd ever see her again" she whispers, on the verge of tears. "I could barely breathe. I saw her from across the street and before I knew what I was doing I'd legged it back here"

 

"Oh pet" a sympathetic tone to her voice. "And that's exactly why you're not going over there today"

 

Charity looks at her questioningly.

 

"You're not in control of your emotions. Look, give her a couple of days to get settled in, and for you to get used to the fact that she's here. And then when you're ready you can have a calm and civilised conversation with her - one that you've thought through, instead of tearing in there now like a whirlwind"

 

"But what do I say to her?"

 

"Well, that's up to you love. But whatever you say to her you make sure it's calm, and measured, and respectful. Don't go in there all guns blazing, okay?"

 

Charity nods in agreement, hoping she can stick to the advice. She's getting better at not just exploding at everyone all the time and being argumentative, but she just doesn't know how well she'll be able to control her emotions when it comes to Vanessa.

 

"And what if she says no to me seeing Johnny?"

 

"Well, then you respect that decision and you leave her be"

 

"But he's my son too, Diane. I should be able to see him!"

 

"That's as may be, but you two have got a lot to work through so if you have to play the long game then you play the long game. Let her realise that you're serious by being a grown up about it and showing her that you can be dependable, and a good Mum and positive influence on the little lad"

 

Charity scoffs. "Fat chance of that!"

 

"I've seen you with Moses. I know you can do it. You just need to believe that for yourself"

 

Charity doesn't seem entirely convinced but now that she's calmed down a little she's less inclined to just go storming over there demanding to speak to her and to see Johnny.

 

 

 

The next couple of days gives Charity plenty of time to think about exactly what she wants to say to Vanessa and to prepare herself for any answers and comments from her ex that she may not like. She's determined to get this right and start building bridges, even if she can't get her love back.

 

She spots her opportunity when she's leaving the café one morning with a latte in hand and sees Vanessa walking up Main Street towards the vets.

 

"Ness?" she rasps

 

Vanessa keeps walking. She's not sure if she didn't hear her or is deliberately ignoring her but she takes a breath and tries again a little louder.

 

"Ness"

 

She stops this time and turns towards Charity but doesn't really attempt to make eye contact with her.

 

"Hi. Erm....can we errr.....can we talk?"

 

"I haven't really got anything to say to you Charity and I'm busy right now - I'm off to see Paddy at the vets" And with that she goes to turn away and leave

 

"Well, later then? Or tomorrow? Or whenever you're free. Please? Ness?" Charity pleads following her

 

Vanessa lets out a huff. "Why?"

 

"Well, because I think we should talk about what we want to do with the kids. Moses has been asking where his brother is. And I don't want us not being able to be grown up about this to be the reason they don't see each other."

 

Vanessa's expression softens at that and she sighs

 

"Okay. Fine. Half two. Your place" and she walks off

 

Charity allows herself a small smile - she's chalking that up as a win. Now she just has to get the next part right.

 

"Oh, Ness. I'm erm....I'm living at Diane's now. Not sure if anyone's told you"

 

Vanessa looks at her questioningly as if she's going to ask her about it but then thinks better of it and carries on towards the vets.

 

 

 

As hard as she tries she can't stop the nervous hand-ringing and pacing up and down the living room as she waits for a knock on the door. When it finally comes she nearly jumps out of her skin. She takes a deep breath and tries to swallow down her nerves, heading for the door. Vanessa's stood there looking....awkward? Uncomfortable? She's not sure. But it makes her so sad that things are so different to how they used to be between them.

 

"Come in"

 

Vanessa heads through and hovers in the living room looking a little lost in these unfamiliar surroundings

 

"Have a seat. Do you you want a brew or anything?"

 

"No ta" she perches on the edge of a seat cushion without taking her coat or bag off.

 

She's not planning on staying long then, Charity thinks disappointedly.

 

"How.....how are you?"

 

"Fine"

 

God this is going to be like pulling teeth

 

"Have you had any more appointments?"

 

"Not really any of your business any more is it?"

 

Charity sighs. "Sorry. I just wanted to know you're okay. I still care about you, Ness" I still love you, she thinks. Not that you'd want to hear that.

 

"I'm fine" she reiterates, slightly less clipped than the first time

 

"Ok, good. I hope so" she's not sure what to say next, but luckily she doesn't have to try and think of something

 

"How long have you been living here?"

 

"Erm, since February"

 

"Why?"

 

"Because..." she doesn't want to have to say it but Vanessa's sure to find out soon enough. She's surprised she hasn't already. Maybe she has and she's testing her to see how economical she'll be with the truth, she thinks. Well, she's got nothing to lose so.. "Because, I lost it all, Ness. You, Johnny, the rest of my kids, my family, my home, my business. I drank myself stupid for a while and made a string of bad decisions for an even longer time until everyone hated me and chucked me out - of the family, of Jacob's Fold, of The Woolpack. Pretty sure they would have preferred it if I'd just topped myself. Well, I know they would. They told me so. But hey. Nothing less than I deserved. I was a mess."

 

"Why?"

 

"Talkative aren't you?" She says sarcastically. "Sorry." She pauses. "Why do you think, Ness?"

 

Vanessa doesn't reply

 

"I couldn't cope without you. I'd destroyed the best thing that had ever happened to me and so I just destroyed everything else as well. Didn't seem worth trying without you there."

 

Now she definitely doesn't know what to say. And it seems Vanessa doesn't either. There's an awkward pause until Charity remembers why she'd asked to see Vanessa in the first place.

 

"Anyway, I'm getting myself sorted. I've got a new job, Moses is home, Noah's kind of talking to me and Chas has pretty much forgiven me. But I'd love to be able to see Johnny. And for Moses to see him. If it's okay with you.."

 

"I agree that Johnny and Moses should still see each other. I don't want my son spending time with you though"

 

That hurts. "Our son" she whispers

 

"My son. You gave up any rights to him when you broke both of our hearts and tore our family apart"

 

Charity closes her eyes, biting her lip in an attempt to keep her tears at bay. It doesn't work. "Okay" she whispers, then tries to pull herself together. "Is he okay though? Can I....can I see any pictures of him?"

 

Vanessa is surprised by the lack of verbal sparring from her ex, expecting to get into a slinging match. For the second time that day she gives in to Charity's request, and flicks through her phone until she pulls up the most recent pictures she'd taken of Johnny - one at the park near her Mum's and then one with Frankie not long after they'd arrived at Tracy's.

 

Charity breaks into a massive smile when the phone is nudged in front of her, but the tears don't stop rolling down her cheeks. He's changed. Not massively, just a couple of noticable little things. They grow so quickly at that age. "He looks like a natural with Frankie" she says wetly "Thank you, Ness. You've no idea how much I've missed him. Both of you." She swallows and looks Vanessa in the eye. "I'll respect your decision, Ness and I won't keep asking you to change your mind. But I won't stop trying to prove to you that I deserve to be in his life either."

 

Vanessa is once again taken aback by Charity's calm demenour and what seems like honest conviction. "You can bring Moses round for a couple of hours this weekend if you'd like, and then I'll bring him back here. I'll text you."

 

"Thank you" She might not be able to see her son, but at least Moses can. He'll be bouncing off the walls when she tells him.

 

Vanessa gets up and heads towards the door which Charity takes to mean that they're done. Before she lets Vanessa walk out of the door though:

 

"Ness, I'm sorry. For everything. You didn't deserve what happened. And I'll never forgive myself for it so I don't expect you to either. But I need you to know how sorry I am. And how much you and Johnny will always mean to me."

 

She studies Charity for a moment. "Okay" she replies softly before walking out of the door.

 

Well, that definitely could have gone worse. She's glad she listened to Diane's advice and managed to stick to it. Now just to prove herself to Vanessa..

Chapter Text

A whimper.

 

Vanessa snaps her head up.

 

A breath being sucked in. And then released with a slight groan.

 

"Charity?"

 

An unintelligible mumbling.

 

"Charity, can you hear me? Open your eyes, Charity."

 

She sees a flash of that beautiful green for just a second before they close again. Charity tries again, blinking rapidly against the bright lights above her, her eyebrows crinkled in confusion as she tries to figure out where she is.

 

"Ness?" She slurs and tries to move her hand towards where the voice came from

 

Vanessa stands up and leans over Charity so that she's in her field of vision, a hand grasping the one that's looking for her.

 

"Where am I?" Charity questions

 

"You're at the hospital. You got knocked down, remember?"

 

Charity stares at her, before slowly shaking her head.

 

"You saved little Johnny" Chas chips in

 

Charity hadn't realised Chas was there too. Too fixated on Vanessa, as always. She slowly turns her head to face Chas.

 

"Johnny? Is he okay? He's not hurt, is he?"

 

"He's fine, love. Thanks to you!"

 

"Oh thank God" she flops her head back down onto the pillow behind her. "What happened?"

 

Chas looks at her for a moment, wondering if they should be worried that Charity can't remember. "Well, it seems he was rather excited to see his Mummy Charity and ran across the road in front of a car to get to you." Charity looks stricken and turns to Vanessa who has tears slowly running down her face. "You saw it happening and ran across too to push him to safety but ended up taking the impact yourself. Made a right mess of their windscreen, mind" Chas tries to joke

 

Charity still doesn't remember any of it but she loves that kid something chronic so it does sound like something she would do. For him. For any of her kids. "And he's definitely okay? You're not lying to me?" She pleads with Vanessa

 

"No he's fine, honestly Charity"

 

"Okay, good" she whispers, her bottom lip wobbling whilst she squeezes Vanessa's hand tighter in her own.

 

There's silence for a moment or two until Charity realises:

 

"Ness! What are you doing here?!"

 

"You saved Johnny. I just wanted to make sure you're alright. I couldn't just leave you."

 

"But your cancer, the chemo. You might catch something! You should be at home where you're safe"

 

Vanessa and Chas look across the bed at each other with matching shocked looks on their faces.

 

"Charity....it's....I got the all clear in October, I video called you to tell you.."

 

"Ness, what are you talking about? It isn't October yet. You're still in the middle of your treatment.."

 

Vanessa opens her mouth to speak but doesn't know what to say so closes it again. Luckily, Chas steps in.

 

"Charity?" Charity removes her gaze from Vanessa and turns her head towards Chas. "What month do you think it is?"

 

"It's August.." she states, confused as to what's going on

 

"August 2020?"

 

"Yeah"

 

Chas takes a deep breath. "It's June 2021, love"

 

"What? It can't be.."

 

"We should get a Doctor" Vanessa manages to say.

 

Chas nods in agreement and stands up to head out of the room.

 

"Ness, what's going on? Why isn't it August?"

 

"It doesn't matter right now Charity. Let's just speak to the Doctor and see what they say."

 

"What do you mean: it doesn't matter?! I've apparently just lost nearly a whole year of my life, of course it flippin' matters!!" She shouts, sitting up with a wince as her ribs sear with pain and her wrist throbs, but starting to pull off the various wires that are attached to her regardless.

 

Vanessa jumps up "Charity, no! Stop! Charity please, just stay here for a minute until the Doctor gets here"

 

"No, I want to know what's going on! Now!" wincing again - this time as the sound of her own shouting makes her head pound.

 

Luckily Chas walks back in with a Doctor in tow just as Charity is trying to swing her legs off the bed to get up.

 

"Ms Dingle, please refrain from exerting yourself. Your body needs time to recover"

 

Charity stops her efforts. "And what about my head, eh? How long does that need to recover?"

 

"Well" the Doctor signals for Charity to get back into bed, which she does - albeit rather huffily. "It's always hard to say with a head injury. For some people it can be a matter of weeks, for others years, and of course there are some cases where the memories never return. I'd like to keep you in for a couple of nights so we can keep an eye on you, and do another brain scan now that you're awake."

 

"Can't I just go home?" she pleads "I just want to be with my fiancée and my kids"

 

It hits Vanessa like a brick to the face. Of course. God, how had she not realised..?

 

"Ms Dingle, your body has been through a very traumatic event. We'll keep you in for a couple of days and, of course, get you back to your family as soon as we're satisfied it's safe to do so."

 

Charity huffs. "Fine, whatever. Can they come and visit though? I want to see them."

 

"I'm sure we can manage that. I'll leave you with your family for now but I'll be back soon and we'll have a proper chat and I'll answer any questions you might have" the Doctor smiles kindly before leaving the room.

 

"Well, that's something at least" Charity mutters

 

The other two people in the room are radiating nerves at the thought of the conversations they know they need to have.

 

"Charity" Vanessa starts, timidly. "I need to tell you something. There's......it's.....some things have changed since last year"

 

"Like what? Are the kids okay?" she asks in a panic

 

"Yes, they're fine. They're fine, Charity. It's....erm....it's us"

 

"What about us?"

 

"We....we're not together any more, Charity" she says gently

 

"What? What do you mean? Why?" Charity blurts, confused and upset. This can't be happening.

 

"Well, because.....because you kissed someone else"

 

"As if" Charity scoffs. But Vanessa isn't laughing. Vanessa is barely even looking at her. "No" she states. "No" she says even more adamantly. "Ness, you know how much I love you. I would never do that! I wouldn't. I couldn't. Ness?" But Vanessa just looks at her sadly. "Chas?" She turns towards her cousin who gives her the same sad look and bows her head. "No. No no no no no" she sobs. "Vanessa please? I don't know who it was and what happened but you know I only want you. You're it for me. I can't do this without you. Please?" she tries to grab Vanessa's hand but she pulls it away this time. "I've wanted you home every day since the moment I left you at your Mum's. I wanted to look after you. I wanted you to get better. I wanted to adopt Johnny. And I wanted to be your wife. I had everything else. Everything I didn't even know I needed. There is no-one else that I could possibly be interested in" she begs

 

Vanessa swallows. "Charity I....I've moved on"

 

Charity stares at her in disbelief for a second and the tears start falling anew, and Vanessa swears she can see the exact moment Charity's heart breaks. Her face crumples in despair and she brings her good hand up to cover it as she sobs unreservedly. Vanessa thinks she can feel her own heart breaking for a second time too.

 

Charity rolls over and buries her face in the bed sheets and her crying becomes muffled. 

 

"I'm going to go" Vanessa whispers before shuffling out of the room. She finally lets her own tears fall then with her hand clamped over her mouth so that no-one can overhear her.

 

"How could I be so stupid, Chas?" Charity stutters once she finally starts to get herself back under control

 

"I don't know, love. But that's not the end of it I'm afraid."

 

"What do you mean?"

 

"I mean, you blew everything up as well when you lost her." She sighs. "The long and short of it is: you drank yourself silly so Moses has been with Ross for months now, the other kids are only just starting to talk to you again, you're living with Diane and you've signed your share of the pub to Marlon" she winces at how bad that all sounds.

 

Charity covers her face with both hands this time before rolling to face the other way. This can't be real.

 

"Anything else you want to rub in my face?"

 

"Charity I'm not trying to rub anything in, you needed to know and I thought it would be better telling you now than you finding out when you get back to the village."

 

"Whatever Chas. Bet you loved getting to be all high and mighty about it. Good old Charity mucks up again. Just go."

 

"Charity, come on"

 

"Go home Chas. I don't want you here" she snaps moodily

 

Chas sighs and stands up to leave. "You know where I am if you change your mind" Stubborn old cow.

 

 

 

 

A week later and Vanessa knows Charity should be back home by now but hasn't seen hide nor hair of her so she eventually decides to brave it and go and knock on her door. It's Diane that answers. She sees Vanessa and rather than inviting her in she steps outside to join Vanessa and closes the door behind herself. That's not a good sign she thinks to herself.

 

"How is she?" she asks cautiously

 

"She won't come out of that room of hers. All she does is cry and sleep - she's heartbroken, pet. Other than that I don't know"

 

Vanessa sighs

 

"Bet you wish you hadn't asked now, eh?"

 

She grimaces but doesn't deny it.

 

"I'm just thankful she doesn't seem to have the energy or the inclination to start on the alcohol like she did last time. God knows we don't need a repeat of all that!"

 

Vanessa sighs again. She doesn't really know what to say. "Just let me know if there's anything I can do, okay?"

 

"Course, pet"

 

Vanessa heads off into the village, her mind in turmoil.

 

 

 

 

The next night there's an insistent knocking on her door. It's not particularly loud so she doesn't think it'll wake the kids but she hurries to the door anyway just in case. When she opens it the sight she sees knocks her for six. Charity's there in her pyjamas and a blanket, hair flat to her head with grease and eyes red from crying. She's swaying slightly at the effort it takes just to stand after barely eating and drinking for days. Eventually she manages to sob: "I kissed him, Ness. I remembered. I kissed him. I'm so sorry" before her knees give way and she drops to the floor. Vanessa steps out and without even thinking she crouches down to join Charity and wraps her up in her arms, rocking her like she does with the kids to try and soothe her. Charity sags into her, a dead weight with exhaustion. She lets Vanessa hold her for a while before voices from inside the house jolt her back to reality.

 

"Sorry, I should go" she stands quickly, too quickly, and promptly pitches sideways into the hedge, her eyes rolling back. Vanessa tries to catch her and break her fall and they end up in a heap on the path. After rubbing her elbow where she'd cracked it against the wall on her way down she tries to shuffle Charity into a slightly more comfortable looking position and then heads inside to get help.

 

"No way, V. I'm not helping her. Have you forgotten what she did to you? She deserves to stay out there in the cold where she belongs!"

 

"Tracy!" she exclaims. "Look, she's clearly struggling to come to terms with everything right now. We can't just leave her out there. Just help me get her in. Please?"

 

"Fine" Tracy huffs. "But I'm not doing anything else for her. And don't think I'll be being nice to her when she wakes up either."

 

Vanessa sighs. At least she'd agreed to get her inside.

 

 

 

 

Charity's eyelids flicker and Vanessa rubs a hand up and down her bicep gently. "Charity?"

 

She's slowly dragged back into consciousness and tries to get her bearings. She's in Tug Ghyll. With Vanessa. What on earth? Then it comes back to her. The memory. Coming over to apologise. And then everything going black. She tries to push herself up into a sitting position with a groan but the action makes her feel dizzy and her arms struggle to hold her weight so she drops back down again.

 

"It's okay. Just stay there a minute. And when you're ready we'll get you sat up and get a cup of tea down you"

 

"It's fine. I'll just go. Get out of your way"

 

"At least she knows when she's not wanted" Tracy pipes up. Vanessa just glares at her.

 

"Ignore her. Just take your time. You can barely even sit let alone stand. Let's get you sorted first."

 

"Here you go" a voice says. Charity doesn't recognise it.

 

"Ta" Vanessa replies as she takes the proffered cuppa from whoever is handing it to her.

 

Charity freezes. Tears prick her eyes again. "Is that her?" she whispers to Vanessa, unable to turn around and look at the woman that's replaced her.

 

"Yeah" she replies gently, looking almost apologetic as she hands Charity the tea

 

Charity nods, biting her lip to stop the tears from falling and bringing the tea to her mouth to hide the wobble she can feel pulling at the edges of her lips.

 

She drinks the tea as fast as she can, despite the sickly feeling in her stomach.

 

"Right, well, I'll get going. Thanks for the tea." She mutters before carefully standing up and then rearranging the blanket around herself.

 

"I'll walk you back"

 

"It's fine. You don't have to."

 

"I'll walk you back" she says more firmly this time

 

"Okay" she whispers

 

They walk to Diane's in silence until they're almost at the door.

 

"I hope she makes you happy. Looks after you. Cos you deserve that, Ness. You deserve everything. The opposite of me."

 

"Don't say that"

 

"It's true though, isn't it? I was never good enough for you." She pauses. "I'll never stop loving you though. You know that, don't you?" she says sadly, and before Vanessa has time to realise what's going on Charity wraps her hand around the back of Vanessa's head and gently pulls her towards her to kiss her forehead reverently. "Night, Ness" she whispers before disappearing into the house.

 

Vanessa stands staring at the door for a moment then stuffs her hands in her pockets and starts making her way back to Tug Ghyll, her heart beating just a fraction faster.

 

 

 

Two weeks later, Diane eventually gets Charity to relent and let her take her to the Doctors so that she can get help for the depression she's clearly suffering with.

Chapter Text

1. The Perfect Date

 

"I just want to surprise her. And spoil her. With something she'll really like, you know?"

 

"Okay, so what have you narrowed it down to?" Tracy questions

 

"Well, there's the donkey sanctuary, a knitting convention, or a cat café."

 

Tracy grimaces. None of them sound massively appealing or exciting. Charity has also heard the conversation and scoffs at Helen's suggestions. "Cat café? Knitting convention? How old do you think she is?!"

 

"Shut up Charity! At least she's thinking about Vanessa and trying to treat her right!"

 

"Alright, alright, keep your hair on! Just think there's better options out there, that's all"

 

"Oh yeah, and where would you take her then, little miss perfect?! The casino?!" she goads

 

"Well, there's that pub with the goats, for one. She loves those stupid things. But hey, what do I know?!"

 

Tracy huffs. "Just go away"

 

"Whatever" Charity leaves, unperturbed by the little skirmish with her ex sister-in-law

 

"Is she right?"

 

Tracy looks annoyed and begrudgingly admits "Yeah, she'd love that to be fair"

 

Helen Googles the pub and starts exploring their website and booking options.

 

***

 

2. Johnnybobs

 

Vanessa's still at work when Charity drops Johnny back round to Tug Ghyll after their afternoon play date so she has to make nice with Helen.

 

"Have you had a nice afternoon, Johnny?" Helen enquires

 

"Yeah!" Johnny shouts. "We did colouring in and baking and cuddles"

 

Charity smiles softly at him

 

"Wow, that sounds great! Are you ready for your dinner? Sausage, mash and peas" Helen asks

 

But Johnny's already distracted by the TV and his favourite Paw Patrol characters.

 

"Good luck with that" Charity laughs

 

"What do you mean?"

 

"He hates peas"

 

"No, he doesn't"

 

"Well.....he does"

 

"I don't think so"

 

Charity sighs in annoyance. "Johnny?" She waits until he's ripped his attention away from the TV. "Do you want peas with your dinner tonight, baba?"

 

"Ergh, yuck! No peas please!" he grins at the little rhyme.

 

Charity gives Helen a look of 'I told you so'

 

"Just crush them up, mix them with the mash and add a bit of butter and cheese to it. He normally falls for that" she says once she's sure Johnny's attention has been taken by the TV again

 

"Bye Johnnybobs! See you next time, yeah?" she calls

 

"Bye Chatty" and he blows her a kiss. She turns around and bumps into Tracy who's just got home and overheard the end of their conversation.

 

"Who falls for what?" She asks once Charity's left, thinking she's getting ready to con some poor bugger again.

 

"Oh, nothing. Just trying to get His Royal Highness to eat his peas" she whispers conspiratorially

 

When Vanessa gets home later Johnny tells her all about his day, and how he ate all of his dinner like a good boy ("even the peas" Helen mutters quietly, winking at Vanessa) but that Helen didn't let him have ice cream like Mummy Chatty does. 

 

"Wow, you're such a good boy Johnny! Why don't you go up and pick a book and Mummy will come read it to you before bed?" As soon as he's out of earshot she turns to Helen. "Errrr....how did you get him to eat his peas? I normally have to bribe him!"

 

"I have my ways" Helen says mysteriously

 

***

 

3. Morning Coffee

 

"Two black coffees please Brenda"

 

"I hope one of those isn't for Ness" Charity quips from behind her

 

"Why?" Helen asks rather curtly

 

"Cos she's more of a latte kinda girl, babe. Milky tea, milky coffee"

 

"I think I know what my own girlfriend drinks thank you"

 

"Soz, just trying to help" she holds her hands up in surrender

 

"Actually" Brenda pipes up "she does normally order a latte when she's here"

 

Charity tries her absolute hardest not to smirk. Brenda - what an absolute hero.

 

"Fine" Helen sighs "One black coffee and one latte please Brenda"

 

"Coming up. They're to take away I assume?"

 

"Yes please"

 

Charity continues to wait in the queue behind Helen feeling rather smug with herself before ordering a coffee for herself once Helen's order is completed.

 

Tracy comes in, passing Helen who's on her way out. "Hiya Helen, you okay?"

 

"Yeah, just getting your sister her morning caffeine fix"

 

"Aww, she'll love you forever for that!" she smiles as Helen leaves before frowning when she sees who's in front of her in the queue.

 

Charity picks up her coffee and turns to leave "Morning Trace, lovely day, eh?" she says with faux cheeriness.

 

Tracy just frowns at her.

 

"Suit yourself"

 

Tracy places her order and Brenda makes a start on whipping it up for her. "So, is everything going okay with that new what's-her-face?"

 

"Helen? Yeah, course. Why?"

 

"Oh no reason. It's just that Charity had to correct her with Vanessa's order. Thought maybe it wasn't all that serious if she doesn't even know the basics after however many months" Brenda says in that innocent way she has

 

"No, Helen's just forgetful sometimes, it's going great." Tracy adlibs quickly "And Charity needs to learn to keep her nose out of other people's business"

 

***

 

4. Frankiversary

 

When the 1st of August comes around, Charity gets some flowers delivered to the vets for Vanessa. 'Thinking of you today xx' the card says.

 

Vanessa is touched by such a thoughtful gesture but decides to wait until she gets home to thank Helen for them. She doesn't even remember telling her about her Dad properly yet but Tracy must have said something to her in case Vanessa was a bit quiet or distant today. She finds the day a bit more bearable than she thought she might.

 

She gets home after a long day at work and smiles when she smells dinner cooking and sees her girlfriend happily dancing to the music playing in the background as she cooks. She heads over and slides her arms around Helen's waist from behind, kissing her shoulder when she gets close enough.

 

"Hello you" Helen smiles

 

"Hello"

 

"How was your day?"

 

"A lot better than I thought actually, especially as it started with some flowers" she points to the flowers she'd left on the coffee table on the way in.

 

"Oh really? Should I be worried?"

 

"What do you mean?"

 

"Well, that someone else is buying my woman flowers"

 

"Oh. I thought they were from you!" she says confusedly

 

"Nope. Not guilty"

 

Tracy traipses downstairs, lured by the smell of dinner cooking.

 

"Oh, well, who are they from then?"

 

"Search me" Helen replies

 

Tracy heads over to read the card that's attached to the flowers and grimaces. There's no way she's telling them who they're really from. "Maybe it was Rhona" she suggests with a shrug, hoping they'll think that plausible and move on. She had been at a conference today and so wasn't in the office. Luckily they accept it and start talking about the rest of their respective days.

 

***

 

They're sitting on the bench at the park with Frankie next to them in her pram and Johnny running from the bottom of the slide back to the steps for go after go. That kid sure loves a slide. 

 

"So, I tried to thank Rhona for those flowers yesterday and she said it wasn't her that sent them either." Vanessa offers by way of conversation

 

"Well, maybe you've got a secret admirer" Tracy says a bit too quickly

 

"They weren't from a secret admirer Trace, they were for Dad's anniversary"

 

"Well....I don't know then. There isn't anyone else it could be" she replies, trying to add a tone of finality to her response, hoping that Vanessa won't keep digging.

 

"Are you sure?" Getting suspicious of Tracy's quick answers and avoidance. "I feel like maybe you know who they're from."

 

Tracy stutters

 

"Oh my God, were they from you?! Why are you being so coy about it? That was a lovely thing to do, Trace" she smiles at her sister

 

"Err, yeah. Yep. That's me. Your lovely, thoughtful sister!" She gives Vanessa the best fake smile she can muster before she deflates. She looks at Vanessa and grimaces. "I'm sorry V, I think they might be from Charity. I'm pretty sure I overheard her ordering them the other day"

 

"Oh" is all Vanessa can manage

 

"She's just playing mind games. Don't let her get to you, okay?"

 

"No. No, course not. I've got Helen now and everything's going great. It's fun, and uncomplicated, and she makes me happy. I'm not going to let Charity ruin that with her meddling."

 

"Okay, good"

 

"I mean, it's just the little things. She gets me, you know? And there's no big drama about it all. Like, she took me to that gastro pub with the goats because she knows how much I love them, and she'll get me a coffee in the morning because she knows I can't function without it, and she even got Johnny to eat his peas! I still need to get it out of her how she did that." 

 

Tracy closes her eyes and sighs.

 

"What? I thought you'd be happy for me?"

 

"I am! Well, I would be....V, that was all Charity too"

 

"What are you talking about?"

 

"She told Helen about that pub, she made sure Helen got you a latte when she tried to order you a black coffee instead, and she told her the trick with the peas."

 

"Right" she states, sounding slightly annoyed before thinking for a moment. "I'll be back in a minute. Watch Johnny for me"

 

"What? Where are you going? V? V?!"

 

But Vanessa was already marching off in the direction of Diane's house. Tracy drops her head into her hand with another sigh.

 

Vanessa bangs on the door angrily. And then again when she doesn't get a reply straight away.

 

"Alright, alright, where's the fire?!" Charity shouts as she yanks the door open. "Ness, what are you doing here? Is everything okay? Is it Johnny?" she asks, starting to panic

 

"Just keep your nose out of my relationship!" she warns "And don't ever buy me flowers again!" She storms off as quickly as she arrived. Charity looks taken aback. Vanessa soon swirls back around to face Charity again though. "Why Charity? Why?"

 

"Why what? Why did I send you flowers? Because it was the anniversary of your Dad's death and I thought it was a nice thing to do.."

 

"Well don't bother next time! And while you're at it, you can stop trying to tell Helen what to do as well."

 

"What?" Charity sputters "I haven't tried to tell her anything!"

 

"Liar! The gastro pub, my coffee order, Johnny eating peas" she lists. "We don't need you interfering"

 

"That's not....I wasn't trying to interfere. She was just....getting stuff wrong. And I didn't want you to be unhappy.." she finishes sadly, looking at her boots which she's poking at the ground with

 

"Why? What's it got to do with you?"

 

Charity sighs "Nothing" she says dejectedly.

 

"Exactly! Nothing! And don't you forget it!"

 

"Sorry. I am sorry. I guess I just wanted to think that, even if it wasn't with me, someone was making you happy and treating you like you deserved. I won't do it again" she promises

 

"Okay. Good" she studies Charity before turning and marching away again for a second time. Damn that woman! Damn that woman and how she still makes her feel..

Chapter Text

"It was only because of you though. You made me that person."

 

Starting to get frustrated: "I didn't do anything, Charity. I didn't ask you to change. I didn't force you to change. Any difference in who you were was down to you. So you can be that person again. You don't need me."

 

Yes I do, she thinks. I'll always need you.

 

"Fine, maybe you didn't actually change me but it was only because I was with you that I wanted to change and be better. If I don't have you then what's the point? Might as well be the me that everyone else thinks I am."

 

"And does that make you happy?" 

 

"As happy as I can be.." (without you)

 

"Really? So you're telling me that if you had the kids back in your life properly and your own place to live you wouldn't feel happier than you do now?"

 

"Even if I did, the kids wouldn't be better off would they? They deserve someone better than me."

 

"Charity, of course they would! You're their Mum. There's no-one better for them than you, when you actually put them first." She pauses. "Just try it. Just for one month, and then you can tell me I'm wrong. Stop with the stupid scams and put that business brain of yours to some proper use; spend time with the kids, love them, be there for them and show them you can be a positive part of their lives. And hey, if you want to go the whole hog why not get some counselling so that you can actually believe in your own self worth and not keep going round in these ridiculous circles! You're so much better than this, Charity."

 

"No I'm not. There's only you that's ever thought that. I was stupid to let myself believe I could be better. You don't have to try and save me, Ness. I know who I am, what I am. This is where I belong."

 

"You're wrong, Charity. I know the real you. The one that had been hiding all those years. This isn't what you really want. I can see it in your eyes."

 

"Of course it isn't, Ness! I can't have what I really want though, can I?! Look, just leave it, yeah?"

Chapter Text

"What's the problem? I get a bit of eye candy to show off to all the execs on the board of investors, and you get to spend the evening with an insanely rich, devilishly handsome, charming young business tycoon." He preens cockily, wiggling his eyebrows.

 

Charity scoffs. "Well if you find someone that actually fits that description you let me know and I'll think about it, yeah?" She tries to turn away and catch someone else's attention. Literally anyone will do right now..

 

"Oh come on darlin', you know you want to" he replies arrogantly, sliding his hand up her thigh.

 

"Don't you 'darling' me! And keep your sodding hands to yourself!" She grabs his wrist and yanks his hand away from her leg, her anger rising.

 

"Feisty! I like it.." leaning far too much into her personal space.

 

She grabs the front of his shirt in her fist, staring him down. "Yeah? Well I'll show exactly how feisty I can be in a minute if you don't sling your hook!" before she pushes him away again harshly, but he doesn't seem the slightest bit perturbed.

 

"Is that a promise?" He adds what he clearly thinks is a cheeky wink and swaggers towards her again.

 

"Ergh! Just bog off and take your naff hairdo with you will ya?!" She turns away from him again and spots Mandy sitting on her own in a booth so decides to put some physical distance between herself and the insidious prick seeing as though he's not getting the message.

 

He tries again as she gets up from the bar stool she's been occupying and goes to walk away from him. "Come on. Just one night. You don't know what you're missing out on - Champagne on ice, you draped in diamonds....I'll even throw in a night in a luxury suite if you're good." He winks again

 

Charity rolls her eyes and mutters under her breath: "Don't say I didn't warn you" as she spins herself round to face him again, using the momentum to land a solid punch across his face. He staggers backwards with the force, his hand flying up to his nose and coming back down covered in blood. His eyes go wide in shock and anger.

 

"You'll regret that you stupid little bitch" he manages through the blood dribbling into his mouth.

 

"Not a chance mate. I know your type. You think you're God's gift to women. That everyone will fall at your feet, begging to be your latest bit of fluff. Well newsflash, I'd rather shove my hand in a blender than touch you with a flippin' barge pole! Men like you make me sick. Now get out before I make even more of a mess of that face of yours!" She glares at him, her breathing ragged, and the hatred radiating from her until he finally takes the hint and slinks off towards the door with his tail between his legs and his pride more than a little bruised.

 

She glances around the pub and all eyes are on her. Great, just what she didn't want: an audience. She tries to ignore them and go back to her drink, hoping that they'll all do the same. Obviously that's too much like wishful thinking though.

 

"You feeling alright, Charity love?" Cain chirps up from across the bar

 

"Just dandy thanks" she retorts sarcastically

 

"You sure? It's just that....a few years ago you'd have been the one chasing him around trying to marry his bank account. Thought he'd be just your type.." he goads

 

"Shut up Cain! Unless you want your face rearranging an' all!" 

 

Cain widens his eyes innocently and holds his hands up in mock surrender. "You can't blame me, Charity - we all know what you're like"

 

"Yeah, you like to think you do. You know nothing. I'm not that person any more so just keep your neb out of my business and my life!" With that she throws the last of her drink down her neck and storms out, all but crashing into someone in the doorway.

 

"What's going on?" Vanessa asks as she rights herself after narrowly avoiding colliding with Charity or the doorframe.

 

"Nothing to worry about love" Cain replies "Just Charity offending the punters as usual"

Chapter Text

Charity is sprawled on the sofa flicking through a magazine disinterestedly when Diane comes home from the B&B. "Hiya Charity, are you not going to the Pride event that Charles and Ethan have organised, pet?"

 

Charity looks up from her magazine with a look of complete disdain. "Why would I go to that?"

 

"Well, to celebrate who you are, the community you're part of.."

 

She scoffs. "No one wants to celebrate me, Diane. And what have I got to be proud of, eh? Lost the woman I loved, abandoned my kids, alienated most of the village. Everyone hates me because I'm a terrible person. And frankly, I don't blame them!"

 

"That's not true, Charity. Yes, you made some bad decisions, yes you hurt some people.."

 

"Alright Diane, cheers for the sympathy.." Charity interrupts.

 

"But!" Diane continues. "You're still here. You survived. You're slowly getting your life back on track. And deep down, that sassy, caring, big hearted, proud woman still exists and longs to be cared for and accepted for who she is."

 

"Maybe if I still had Ness." She admits sadly. "She would have loved something like this. Would have dragged me along. And I would have let her. Because I was proud. I was proud of her. Of our family. Of myself! I had it all. But right now, I don't want to be reminded of anything to do with her. And how much I've lost. So no, Diane, I won't be going."

 

Diane looks at her sadly. "Sorry pet." She pauses and turns to head into the kitchen. "Maybe next year, eh?" she says as she pops her head 'round the corner from inside the kitchen.

 

Charity just rolls her eyes and goes back to her magazine, wishing desperately that she could still proudly call herself Vanessa's fiancée..

Chapter Text

Noah walks through the front door just as Charity is coming down the stairs from getting ready. "Alright Mum."

 

"Hiya Noah, you okay?"

 

"Yeah fine. Just gonna get changed and then head to Jacob's.....if that's okay?"

 

"Yeah, course. Don't be too late though, yeah?"

 

"Yeah, okay." 

 

Noah doesn't move towards the stairs like she expects but stands slightly awkwardly in front of her still. "See you later then." Charity says, trying to step past him.

 

"Where are you...?" 

 

"Just going to the Woolie with Diane for some dinner, why?"

 

"No reason. It's just you look erm....well, I thought maybe you were going out or something.." he says hesitantly.

 

She looks at him confusedly. "I am going out, Noah. I just said: I'm going to the Woolie.."

 

"No, like, I thought you might be going out. With someone. Like together." Equally as vague.

 

"You do know the hammer is for hitting nails into the wall, not for knocking yourself round the head with? Should I be worried..?"

 

"No. No, I just mean, like, on a date or whatever.." he mutters embarrassedly.

 

That's what he was trying to get at! "Nope. Just me and Diane getting some food."

 

"But you could though, couldn't you? Cos you haven't been out with anyone for ages have you? And obviously Vanessa's....moved on. So you could too.."

 

Charity bites her lip. She doesn't really know how to respond to that

 

"I mean. Do you not want to find someone else and be happy again?" He questions.

 

"It's not that simple, Noah." She'd rather not have to have this conversation with her teenage son.

 

"What do you mean? You've done it before tonnes of times"

 

"Cheers for that!" she replies indignantly

 

"Sorry. I didn't mean it like that. Just that, you're never normally on your own for this long."

 

"Keep digging, kid." Still rather offended.

 

"Ergh.....you know what I mean."

 

"Yes! I know what you mean, alright?! I used to bounce from bad relationship to bad relationship and back again! But this was different. Vanessa was different. And I just don't feel like trying again yet, okay?"

 

"You don't......you don't still love her do you?" He asks her nervously.

 

"Noah" she says warningly.

 

"Do you?"

 

"Does it matter?" Trying to avoid the question.

 

"Are you going to try and get her back?"

 

She doesn't expect him to keep questioning her so directly. "What?"

 

"Are you going to try and get her back?" He repeats.

 

She pauses and sighs before giving in to his questioning. "No. Yes. No. I don't know! Look, just leave it, yeah?"

 

"Okay. Whatever. You could make worse decisions than trying to get Vanessa back though. She's good for you, Mum."

 

"You think I don't know that?! Sorry. I just....I don't want to get my hopes up, okay? She's with someone else, and I don't deserve her. I'll just keep on.....keeping on, and make you and Moses my priority and eventually it'll hurt less. I'm going, okay?"

 

"Yeah. Okay. Have a nice time."

 

Great, now all she'd be able to think about during her meal with Diane is Vanessa.

She was right when she said she didn't know it was possible to love someone this much.

She was right when she said she couldn't imagine being able to function without her.

None of that mattered any more though. She'd have to get over her eventually.

Maybe.

Chapter Text

Charity and Vanessa had taken the boys to see a Panto in Leeds at the weekend and ever since then they had been shouting: ‘It’s behind you!’ at any opportunity and then enjoying ‘Oh no, it isn’t! Oh yes, it is!’ arguments with each other (and anyone else who would join in) for the next five minutes. It was quite funny and cute the first couple of times but after nearly a week with barely any let up it was starting to get slightly tedious for the two mums who were each secretly delighted when it was the other’s turn to look after the boys.

Tonight they were all having a meal together (which they’d promised they would do once a week for the boys) and Tracy and Frankie had joined them. Then it was Charity’s turn to have them for the night. She could already feel a headache coming on and was counting down the minutes until they were in bed and she could have some peace..

“Okay monsters, have you finished your dinner?”

“Yeeeeaaaaaaaahh” they both cheered

“Right then, what are we doing tonight? Shall we watch a film, eh?”

“PANTO!” they shouted

Tracy chuckles. She’d experienced their Panto obsession too.

“Boys, we can’t just go to the Panto whenever we want – we don’t have tickets for tonight, last weekend was a special treat.” Vanessa tries to explain

“Can we watch Panto on the telly then?”

“No Wigglebum, it’s not on the TV tonight and we don’t have it recorded. But if there’s one on TV sometime soon then we’ll record it so you can watch it as many times as you want.”

“You’ll regret saying that.” Charity mutters under her breath. She knows how many times they can watch the same thing over and over, seemingly without ever becoming bored of it. Their Paw Patrol obsession was rather painful for the taller blonde.

The boys looked disappointed and went quiet for a minute, then put their heads together and started whispering back and forth. Charity and Vanessa both looked on adoringly at their boys; happy to see them back together and as thick as thieves once again.

“Mummies do a Panto!” Moses suddenly shouted.

Tracy cackled. “Oh brilliant! I was going to go home but this I’ve got to see!” she clutches her stomach with the laughter.

Charity looks absolutely horrified. “No, no, no, no, no. Not a chance! Trace, you and Ness can crack on but I’d rather pull out my own toenails. I’ll be in the bathroom if you need me.”

 Tracy looks horrified. “Oh my God, you’re not actually going to do that, are you?”

“Of course she isn’t..” Vanessa replies, but doesn’t sound completely convinced.

“No Trace, I’m going to go for a bath whilst you two make idiots of yourselves.”

“Aw Charity, come on. It’ll be fun! And the boys will love it! Plus, I think you’d make a lovely Dame..” Vanessa teases.

A look of outrage crosses Charity’s face. “You cheeky..”

Charity..” Vanessa admonishes, not sure Charity can be trusted to say something suitable in front of the boys.

“I’d definitely be the handsome Prince wouldn’t I boys? Cos Mummy knows how to wear a suit.” she winks.

“Fine, I’ll be the Princess then. Sorted.”

“Errrrr…..I wasn’t actually saying I’d do it, babe.”

“Princess Vanessa!” Moses shouted

“Can I be a Prince like Mummy Chatty, Mummy?” Johnny asks shyly.

“Well, not if she won’t join in, you can’t.”

“And where are we getting a script from exactly?! Hmmmmm, Princess Vanessa?”

“There’ll be loads online I bet.” Vanessa says hopefully.

Charity rolls her eyes.

“Here you go.” Tracy offers, showing them her phone and the script that she’d pulled up online whilst they’d been bickering.

“Oh great.” Charity mutters. “Remind me again why I bothered inviting you?!”

“Come on Charity….pleeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaase! It’ll be fun, I promise!” Vanessa begs.

“Please Mummy, please!” Moses joins in.

“Pease?” Johnny says quietly looking up at her with those big blue eyes of his. She didn’t stand a chance really, did she?

“Ergh…..fine!” she sighs dramatically. “But if you tell anyone about this, you’re dead!” she warns glaring at Tracy, who makes a zipper mime across her lips with a face of pure innocence.

“Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyy!” the boys cheered, jumping around in front of the sofa.

Vanessa smiled at how easily Charity had caved. She pretended to be hard as nails, but Vanessa knew she’d do anything for their boys.

 

Twenty minutes, and a quick costume change, later (which saw Vanessa wearing one of Charity’s dresses and a makeshift tinfoil tiara, and Charity changing into one of her famous suits) Charity and Vanessa were stood at the front of the living room, having pushed as much furniture out of the way as possible. They each held their phones in front of them and were reading their lines out, with Tracy reading any narration, additional character lines, and stage directions for them from her own phone.

The boys were having the time of their lives, shouting at the top of their lungs whenever there was any chance for audience participation. They particularly enjoyed it when there was a comment about how ugly the audience were, and when the Prince had arrogantly stated that he was the answer to all of the Princesses dreams and Tracy had muttered “Nightmares, more like!” loud enough for the boys to hear. And of course there was the obligatory ‘Oh no, it isn’t’ and ‘Oh yes, it is’ exchange when the Prince was looking for his horse who was lazy and had taken to hiding whenever the Prince mentioned needing him.

Charity had really started getting into it, not that she’d actually admit that, obviously. The final scene quickly came ‘round. The Prince and Princess had eventually fallen in love and were getting their happily ever after, starting with a wedding in front of the audience. It had been a little awkward as they both thought about what could have been but tried to stay in character and get through the scene for the boys.

“Kiiiiiiiisssss!” Moses shouted when the nuptials ended. After all, that was what had happened when they’d seen the Panto in Leeds.

Charity and Vanessa froze, both stunned by the demand and not sure what to do with themselves.

“Errrr......that’s the end boys. Clap your hands and say thank you to your mummies.” Tracy encouraged.

“Kiss?” Johnny said.

Charity looked down at her boots and then took a deep breath before leaning in and placing a gentle kiss on Vanessa’s cheek. As she pulled away their eyes met for a second, making Vanessa’s breath catch momentarily, and Charity’s heart start pounding.

“Yaaaaaaaaaaaaay!” the boys cheered, oblivious to the swirl of feelings and emotions their demand had caused for their mothers.

The two ladies stood together awkwardly for another moment trying to avoid the elephant in the room.

“Sorry.” Vanessa muttered quietly.

“It’s fine, Ness.” Charity replied. “Right then boys, bath time! Come on, up we go.” Charity shepherded them towards the stairs as quickly as she could. “Bye Trace. Say n’night boys”

Vanessa followed them upstairs and slipped into Charity’s room to get changed back into her own clothes whilst Charity ran a bath for the little ones and started stripping them down.

“Mummy Chatty? Is Mummy really a Princess?” Johnny asked shyly.

“Of course she is, baba! The most beautiful Princess in all of the land, that’s what the Prince said, right?”

“And are you really a Prince?”

“No kid. I’m more like the village idiot, aren’t I.”

“But you still love the Princess, don’t you?” he asks worriedly.

She swallows and pulls him in close, cradling his head in her hand before whispering “Always” and kissing him softly.

Vanessa had been hovering in the doorway waiting for the right moment to make her presence known.

“Right boys” she says brightly as she enters. Charity freezes again, her cheeks flushing with embarrassment and her gaze fixed on the wall opposite her as she desperately tries to avoid Vanessa’s focus. “Be good for Charity” she says as she drops a kiss on the top of each of their heads. “And I’ll see you in the morning.” They give her a chorus of goodbyes, waving her off as she turns to leave the bathroom. “Thank you for tonight, Charity.”

“No problem. See you tomorrow, Ness.” Still not daring to meet her eye.

 

Tracy’s sat on the sofa in Tug Ghyll when Vanessa gets back.

“So….that looked like quite the moment at the end there.” She says without any preamble.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Vanessa denies, not sounding quite as convincing as she would have liked.

“If you say so." She pauses. "Just make sure you’re sure about what, or who, you want your happily ever after to be, Vee.”

Vanessa flops down onto the sofa. She thought she’d covered it quite well. Clearly not. Her feelings for Charity would apparently always be obvious to anyone bothering to look at either of them. Could she give her heart to Charity again though? Was she worth the risk?

Chapter Text

Her Dad can't walk her down the aisle, obviously. So she's chosen Tracy to do the honours, and they've got as far as the foyer of the little hotel where they're having an intimate civil ceremony followed by a fancy meal and hopefully a good old boogie, all with their nearest and dearest. But there's a lump of nervousness balled up in her stomach that feels ominously like dread rather than excitement. She takes a deep breath and lets it out shakily.

"You okay, V?"

"Yep."

"Nervous?"

"Mmhmm"

"You'll be fine. Take another deep breath and let's get in there and find your bride. You'll feel loads better then."

Her bride.

She gives Tracy a tight-lipped smile. She tries to take the deep breath that Tracy mentioned but she feels like she's drowning. "Can we errr....can I just get some fresh air?" She asks shakily, her eyes darting between Tracy, the wedding coordinator and the doors.

"Yeah, of course we can." 'Two minutes' she mouths to the wedding coordinator who's waiting for Vanessa so they can start the ceremony.

They get outside and Vanessa drops down onto a bench overlooking the grounds, dragging in deep lungfuls of air, her eyes closing in relief. Tracy follows behind then sits herself down on the bench and watches Vanessa for a moment.

"What's going on V?"

"Nothing. Just needed some air that's all." She says, slightly more defensively than she intended.

"Okay." Tracy replies, with more than a hint of uncertainty. "But you do want to do this, right?"

She swallows nervously, hoping the lie will come out a bit easier and her tears can be kept at bay without this lump in her throat. "Yeah. Course." She tries to convince herself as much as Tracy.

"You're sure?"

"Why wouldn't I be?" She snaps defensively.

"Well....I don't know but you've just....you've not seemed that excited about it all.."

"Well I am!"

Tracy doesn't appreciate Vanessa's snappiness when she's just trying to be supportive so her own response comes out a bit more accusingly than she meant it to. "If you say so. I was there though, remember, when you were meant to marry Charity, and it was nothing like this!"

And that's it. That's all it takes. One mention of her name and the dam breaks. Tears stream down her face and she lets out a sob, quickly slapping her hand to her mouth to try and stop any more from escaping. But it's futile. And suddenly she's wracked with sobs that she's got no control over.

Tracy looks utterly bewildered for a second then quickly slides along the bench to her sister and pulls her into hug, rocking her whilst she cries. After a while, when Vanessa's got herself under control a bit, Tracy lifts her head up from where it had been resting on the top of Vanessa's so that she can see her sister a bit better. "Does this mean what I think it means?" She asks gently.

Vanessa looks up at her, her eyes pleading with Tracy not to judge her or be disappointed with her. "I hate her, Tracy. I hate her. But I....I don't know how to stop loving her." The sobs overtake her again.

Tracy sighs. She'd known all along. Of course she had. As much as Vanessa had tried to convince everyone that this relationship was perfect there just wasn't that spark in her eyes like there was with Charity. Eyes that, despite her best efforts, always drifted to Charity if they were in the same room. And as much as she hated Charity for hurting her sister, she had to admit that when they were together she had loved Vanessa fiercely.

"So....what are we doing?" She asks quietly.

"I don't....I don't know." Vanessa admits.

"Well" she tries again "are you getting married today?"

Tracy watches as her sister looks up at her again, more tears tracking down her cheeks, she swallows and then her face crumples before she shakes her head almost imperceptibly.

"Okay". She pauses. "Right, well, first things first: you need to tell Kate."

Vanessa sags. She hates that she's going to have to hurt Kate. On their wedding day of all days. But she can't marry her. It wouldn't be fair, on anyone. She nods.

"I'll go get her."

"Thanks." She manages to reply dejectedly.

Tracy heads back inside and a minute later, Kate steps outside looking around for her bride. As soon as she lays eyes on Vanessa, and her tear-streaked face, her shoulders drop and a rueful half smile comes to her face. She knows, Vanessa thinks. Kate comes over and takes the seat that Tracy had recently vacated. Vanessa takes Kate's hands in her own, holding them on Kate's lap, her eyes fixed on their hands.

"I'm sorry" she whispers

"It's her, isn't it?"

"I'm sorry." She says again, a little stronger this time.

Kate sighs. "We could have been happy. I would have given you everything, you know."

Vanessa nods. Because she knows it's true. But she also knows it's true that she couldn't give her the same in return. And that wasn't fair on Kate.

Kate releases her hands from Vanessa's gentle grasp and stands up, leaning back down to place a kiss on Vanessa's head before walking away. Vanessa watches her. She sees her hands come up to cover her face and her shoulders start to jump. She's done that. She's caused that pain. She's broken Kate's heart for someone that's broken hers.

 

 

After a sleepless night where she'd been wracked with guilt and doubt she wanders through the village towards David's under the pretence of getting some milk, but really she just wants to get away from Tracy and her sympathetic gaze and constant cups of tea. She looks up and sees Charity step out of David's and head down the street towards her. Great. The one person she'd hoped to avoid. Obviously she was never going to be that lucky.

"Hey." Charity says once they reach each other. "Congratulations and that." She adds without the slightest trace of enthusiasm or sincerity.

"Thanks." She pauses. "Not married though." She holds up her left hand and shows Charity her bare ring finger.

She hears the little gasp that Charity takes before she looks at her confusedly for a second.

"Oh. Right. Sorry." She manages to stutter out.

Vanessa can see the questions swimming behind Charity's eyes as they look at each other. "See you later." She offers before Charity can ask any of them.

"Yeah. Yeah, bye." She replies, still flummoxed by what's happening and not showing any signs of moving.

Vanessa carries on past her towards the shop and Charity watches her go, rooted to the spot. When she reaches the shop she turns and looks back down the road, catching Charity's eye. Her heart thuds in her chest and she sighs frustratedly. Maybe she'll just have to come to terms with the fact that it'll always be Charity, no matter how much she tries to fight it.

Chapter Text

It's Vanessa's Hen Do and Charity has decided to stay at home and wallow with a bottle of wine instead of risking seeing the love of her life celebrating the fact that she's marrying someone else. There's a knock at the front door and Charity groans when she hears it.

"For crying out loud! Can a woman not just get drunk in peace any more?!"

She opens the door and freezes when she sees Vanessa standing on her doorstep looking the level of drunk that Charity wishes she was. She then spots Rhona stood at the end of the path looking a little furtive. (She'd tried to convince Vanessa that now wasn't the time to do this but she was belligerent in her drunkenness and so there was no talking her out of it. Rhona thought that by coming with her she could do some damage limitation if things got heated, and hopefully stop Tracy from marching in there if she realised that Vanessa was missing from the celebrations.)

Charity continues to stare dumbly at Vanessa, wondering what's going on and before she knows what's happening Vanessa has pushed her way unsteadily past her and into the house. She shifts her questioning gaze to Rhona who just offers her a shrug and turns away to keep an eye on the pub door. She shuts the door and slowly turns around to find Vanessa leaning heavily against the kitchen counter trying to focus on the woman in front of her.

"Ness....what....what are you doing here..?" She asks uncertainly.

"I came to see you."

She rolls her eyes. "Yeah, I noticed that. But why?"

"To talk."

Why is she so difficult when she's drunk? "Right. Okay. About..?"

"You"

Great. She's come to shout at her. And tell her what an awful person she is. As if she wasn't having a bad enough night as it was..

"Come to tell me I'm pathological, Super Sloshed Girl?"

Vanessa studies her for a second.

"No. Just that you're an idiot."

"Great. Well, you've done that now so.." Hoping she'll take the hint and leave her in peace to get drunk.

"No I haven't." She pauses. "You're an idiot. Now I have!" Vanessa almost giggles, looking very pleased with herself.

"Okay. Well, thanks for coming, yeah, but I've actually got a date with this bottle of wine and you've got a Hen Do to get back to.." Trying again to get rid of her.

"I'm getting married."

It's not as if she doesn't know that but Vanessa saying it like that feels like somebody's just ripped her heart out. "Yep"

"We were going to get married, Charity."

Oh good, and now she's stamping on it for good measure. "Yep"

"But then you went off with someone else, didn't you? Because I wasn't enough, was I? You got bored of me, just like you said you would." She huffs out a breath.

Charity covers her face with her hands, trying to hide the tears that have been threatening, and doesn't trust herself to be able to speak without the tears falling.

"You don't even care, do you? How much you hurt me. Was it all just a big game to you? A joke?" She huffs again when Charity still doesn't reply. "Can't even be bothered to answer. You're pathetic! Bye Charity." She spits before righting herself and staggering back towards the door.

"Do you have any idea how hard it was for me?" Charity manages to mutter through her clogged throat.

Vanessa spins back 'round to face Charity and somehow manages to stay upright. "Which part? Eh? Kissing someone else? Lying to me? Drinking yourself stupid? Scamming? Oh, however did you manage?! Poor old Charity." She says mockingly.

"NO! The part where the person I love more than I've ever loved anyone had cancer! The part where I knew you were struggling and in pain but there was nothing I could do about it - I couldn't take it away or make it better....I couldn't even look after you because you were a hundred miles away at your Mum's! All I wanted was for you to be here so I knew how you were, and I could care for you, and we could do it all as a family. Because I knew what you needed - I knew exactly how hot you wanted your bath, even if you didn't, I knew you'd always fall asleep to afternoon telly and forget to have your tablets so I'd have to wake you up to take them, I knew the kids coming home from school was what you looked forward to most every day, I knew what food you could manage on each day of your chemo cycle. And I was ready to do it all, day in day out, just like I'd promised at the hospital. But you weren't here. And I was terrified. Every single day. I was terrified that I'd never see you again, that I'd never get to hold you again, that we'd never be a family again."

Vanessa looks a little startled by Charity's answer but quickly comes back with a vicious retort. "Well you made sure of that anyway."

"Yeah." She whispers sadly.

"Why though, Charity? That's what I don't understand....why?"

"I don't even know. I felt like every day was a struggle to stay afloat - I was fighting so hard to adopt Johnny, and was trying to keep the kids and house in order, so I just wanted you home. Even though you couldn't help with any of that because you were poorly. So when you stopped speaking to me as often and then didn't come home when you'd promised you would I just convinced myself that you didn't love me any more. I couldn't handle that. I couldn't handle the fact that, for the first time in my life, I'd given my heart and my trust to someone completely, only to have it broken. I was devastated....and I lashed out, like I always do. Made sure I could still be wanted by someone, even if I couldn't be loved by the person I wanted."

"Well, I hope he was worth it."

"No Ness. Of course he wasn't. Nothing could ever be worth losing you over." She pauses. "But hey, at least some good has come of it, eh? You got out. You found someone that deserves you and makes you happy and now you're getting married so.."

"I didn't want to get out though, Charity. I wanted you to be my happy ever after. But you broke my heart. And I'll never, ever forgive you for that. But one day....one day I'll eventually stop loving you."

Charity's head shoots up at this, her eyes wide. She hopes that day never comes. Because she knows it never will for her.

"You can't say things like that, Ness.." she says shakily.

"Like what?"

"That you'll stop loving me. Because....because that means you haven't yet. That you still love me. And if that's true then I'll fight....I'll fight for you. Every day. Whatever it takes."

"Whatever. You don't deserve me."

"Maybe. But when has that ever stopped me? You're it Ness. You're the kind of it I thought I'd never get....that I didn't think was real. So if there's even just the tiniest chance that we could try again.."

"Well there isn't! I don't trust you, and I can't risk you breaking my heart again. It hurts too much Charity."

"I wouldn't, I swear"

Vanessa scoffs. "As if that means anything!"

"I'm done playing games, Ness. I want family dinners, and sharing the school run, and your smelly overalls stinking out the washing basket, and fighting over who used the last of the shampoo and all that stuff I would have hated if it was with anyone else. But mostly I just want you, and our crazy family because that's what makes me happiest - and I know it made you happy too - and because.....because I can't stop loving you either. Don't you think that means something..?"

Vanessa studies her for a moment, her lip wobbling and tears threatening. "No." She whispers. "Because it was never about not loving you. I loved you so much more than you'll ever know and probably for so much longer than you ever realised because I didn't want to admit it too soon and scare you off. But you've broken my trust too many times and you can't build a future and a relationship without trust, Charity."

"I'll fix it!" she pleads desperately.

"How?!"

"I don't know. But I'll do anything, Ness, anything." 

"It's too late."

"Please?" she whispers forlornly

"No, Charity."

Charity closes her eyes. The tears already running down her face against her will. She tips her head back to face the ceiling and takes a deep breath, releasing it as a sigh. When she opens her eyes again Vanessa is by the door.

"Bye Charity" she says softly

"Bye.."

She needs that bottle of wine even more now..

Chapter Text

It's Tracy and Nate's wedding day. The girls are all at Tug Ghyll helping the bride get ready and talking about dresses and vows and wedding nights and happily ever after and it's all. just. too. much. Tracy makes up some excuse and removes herself from the house. She just needs to gather her thoughts and she can't do that with them all wittering on and making a racket! She makes a dash for it across the village, barely noticing Charity as she goes, and only stopping when she finds the bench outside the church. Charity follows her the last few steps and, not seeing anyone following Tracy, gingerly approaches..

 

"Trace?"

 

Just who she needs. "Ergh. Go away, Charity." She responds frustratedly.

 

Not one to be deterred quite so easily, Charity moves a step closer so she can see Tracy's face and the worry etched across it. "Are you okay?"

 

"I'm fine." She says dismissively.

 

"Yeah, you seem it. Do you....do you want me to get someone for you?" She asks with her thumb pointing behind her towards the village.

 

"No. I just need a minute."

 

Great. "Okay. Well, I'm just going to sit here cos you don't look like you should be on your own right now." She says sitting down at the opposite end of the bench.

 

"Oh cheers, what's that supposed to mean?!" Tracy replies indignantly.

 

"You just....look....upset." She's not really sure what else to say.

 

"Right. What do you care anyway?"

 

"Well I'm sorry for trying to be a good neighbour! I did actually quite like you Trace, believe it or not. I liked having a sister in law. Until you threw me under the bus and then ripped my son away from me.." she adds.

 

"Errrr, excuse me! You cheated on my sister!! You deserved everything you got!"

 

"Yeah, maybe I did. Or....maybe I deserved a chance to try and explain myself." She offers.

 

"What is there to explain?! You saw a bit of fresh meat and you just couldn't help yourself!"

 

"Is that honestly what you think?"

 

"Well, what else am I supposed to think? It's true isn't it?"

 

"No Trace! You saw what I was like that morning! I thought your sister didn't love me any more, didn't want me any more. I couldn't handle that because she was my whole world and I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. It was like my brain just....short-circuited and I did the stupidest thing I could think of. Queen of bad decisions, me. But it wasn't an affair. And it wasn't about feelings or attraction. It was just a stupid, reckless, impulsive decision because my heart was breaking thinking I'd lost her."

 

Tracy looks at her for a second, her face scrunched up in thought. "That doesn't make any sense. Or make it okay."

 

"No, I know that. And if I could take it back I would. Cos then maybe we'd be happy, and married, just like we planned and I wouldn't have lost everything important to me." She says sadly, before checking herself and trying to add some brevity to the moment. "And I'd be sat in there with you sipping Champagne and making sarcastic comments."

 

Tracy scoffs. "You're not as funny as you think you are, you know."

 

"Oh please, you loved my sarcasm and sass!"

 

"If you say so."

 

There's a silence for a moment.

 

"So....cold feet?" Charity ventures.

 

"No." Tracy replies quickly.

 

"Okay."

 

"Maybe." She admits.

 

"Right. Why?"

 

"I dunno. It's normal isn't it?"

 

"Not always. If your gut is telling you something's not right, though, maybe you should listen to it."

 

"As if I'm going to take marriage advice from you!! You've been married like a hundred times!"

 

"Exactly Tracy! That's why I know what I'm talking about! I've been married four times and nearly married another four and all but one of them were for the wrong reasons. So if you're going into this out of a sense of duty or something then, trust me, it's not going to work."

 

"Why would you think that?"

 

"I dunno. It just.....everything happened so quickly with Frankie, didn't it, and you guys seemed happy enough but it never seemed like the romance of the century....no offence."

 

"Errr, rude! What would you know about romance anyway?!"

 

"Trust me, no-one could ever feel for anyone like I did for your sister. It was beyond anything I'd ever imagined." She pauses. "Do you love him?"

 

"Yeah. Of course I do." 

 

"Are you in love with him?"

 

"It's the same thing.."

 

"Not really. Is he the first thing you think about when you wake up? Do you want to spend every minute of every day with him? Do you thank your lucky stars every day that he's yours because you don't know what you'd do without him? Does your stomach tie itself in knots every time you see him? Would you kill or die for him?"

 

"You're ridiculous. He's a good guy. He makes me happy. He loves Frankie to bits. And it's none of your business anyway."

 

"Fine. Don't say I didn't try." She huffs and gets up to walk off.

 

"Is that how you felt about Vanessa? All those things you said?"

 

Charity pauses for a second. "Yeah." She replies sadly.

 

"Do you still love her?"

 

"Doesn't matter does it, she's moved on."

 

"Do you?"

 

"What do you care? You hate me."

 

"Ergh. It's a simple question! Why do you have to make everything so difficult?!"

 

"Fine! YES! Okay?! I still love her. Always will. But it makes no difference does it? Because I broke her heart and her trust and she can't even step foot in the same room as me without looking like she'd rather die than spend time with me."

 

"Maybe cos you're shacked up with the idiot you cheated on her with!" She accuses. "What you supposedly feel and what you choose to do don't exactly match up do they? You must have been at least a little bit interested in him if you're together now.."

 

"I'm about as interested in him as I am that dry stone wall." She says pointing out across the grounds. "But it's a distraction from how much it hurts seeing her with someone else. And maybe it'll help me move on." She adds with a sad shrug.

 

"You're an idiot."

 

"Yeah, tell me something I don't know, kid."

 

"Just get your act together. Think about what you're doing and what you want and make it happen.." and with that she gets up and starts walking back towards Tug Ghyll. 

 

Charity stands rooted to the spot, stunned. Does she mean..?

Chapter Text

Charity is at Tracy and Nate's wedding and is struggling seeing Vanessa with someone else. She finishes her drink and approaches Nate.

 

"Hey. Erm, look, something's come up so I've got to go."

"Oh. Is there no-one else that could sort out whatever it is?"

"No, it err....I.." Her eyes flick to Vanessa. "I can't stay. Sorry." Nate can see her fighting with her emotions.

"Okay" he says softly, seeing through her excuse.

"There's plenty of other Dingles to keep the party going though." She jokes, trying to keep things light and hoping to hide her emotions from Nate and the room full of people around her. "Congratulations, yeah." She adds before slipping out and making her way home as quick as she can.

 

***

 

Tracy isn't impressed with Charity's choice of partner (Mack).


"What business is that of yours?! Vanessa's moved on so.."

"Yeah, with someone nice. Not some dipstick that helped ruin your relationship!"

"Well Vanessa deserves someone nice doesn't she.."

"What, and you deserve an idiot? Makes sense I guess." She counters sarcastically.

"Better for everyone like this, eh? Can't hurt someone nice that doesn't deserve it, can I?"

"So you just get into relationships so you can hurt people?"

"No. But it's just what I do isn't it? No matter how hard I try. Or, apparently, no matter how much I love someone. Safer this way, yeah."

 

***

 

Vanessa wants to know why Charity did what she did.

 

"Of course I trusted you. I trust you with anything, everything. I just didn't trust that you could love me just for being me.."

"Why?"

"Because....because I'm me." She whispers, struggling to speak through the threatening tears.

"That's not a reason. How many times did I tell you that you were amazing and strong and brave and wonderful, and that I was proud of you, and that I loved you?!"

"More than anyone else ever did.."

"Exactly!"

"But none of them stuck around. None of them loved me enough so why would someone good like you stick around?"

"Did I ever give you reason to doubt me?"

"No. Just....life did, didn't it.."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, let's see....Mum abandoned me, Dad.."

Vanessa interrupts. "Your Mum didn't abandon you - she died of cancer, that's different."

"She....she chucked herself off a cliff, Ness."

"What? But you said.."

"Yeah. Dad covered it up. Apparently suicide's a sin so he told everyone she'd died of cancer instead."

"Oh Charity.." Vanessa reaches out a hand towards Charity to try and offer some comfort.

"It's fine." Removing herself from Vanessa's reach, and hopefully her pity. "So, yeah, Mum chucked herself off a cliff, Dad turned to alcohol and chucked me out after Debbie, Bails abused me instead of helping me, Chris offed himself and tried to frame me for it, Cain was just toxic and knocked me about more than once, Jai cheated on me and locked me up in a shipping container, and Declan went psycho and tried to kill me. So when you came along I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop because good things don't happen to me, Ness. I didn't believe you'd stay, even though I wanted you to. More than anything. So when you didn't speak to me and then you didn't come home after the hearing, that was it....I thought you'd had enough of me like everyone else."

 

***

 

It's Charity and Vanessa's wedding day and Tracy finds Charity pacing up and down outside before the ceremony.

 

"You okay, Charity?"


"I can't....I can't do it.." she says shakily.

"Are you actually joking?! You've chased V 'round for months, begging for her to get back with you and then you're 10mins away from marrying her and you're trying to back out?! I always knew you were an idiot but you really are something else! I can't believe this!" She shouts incredulously.

"It's not....I don't....I'm scared, Trace."

"What do you mean? You're scared of V?" She asks confusedly.

"No, I....I'm scared of how much I love her. And of how much of a screw up I am. I hurt her didn't I? What if I do it again? I don't want to hurt her. And I couldn't bear it if I lost her again. I can't live without her."

Tracy realises just how worried and insecure Charity is and softens. "Well not turning up to your wedding isn't a good way to avoid hurting her is it, eh?" She teases gently.

"I don't know. Maybe it is. Maybe it'd be better to hurt her now than me doing something stupid further down the line." 

"Look, for some....unfathomable reason, she loves you and wants to marry you, yeah? And you love her. So, just take it a day at a time. Be honest with her. Don't get involved in stupid scams with stupid people" She pauses. "And remember that if you even think about hurting her her little sister isn't afraid to put you in your place.....or chuck gravy over your head." She adds cheekily.

Charity smiles tearfully. "Do you think we'll be okay?" She asks worriedly.

"We'll be fine as long as I don't have to get the gravy out.."

"No, I.."

"I'm joking. I know what you meant."

"Oh." she smiles sheepishly.

"I think you'll be more than okay. You two are crazy about each other. And I think that taste of life without her last year is enough to make you think twice before doing anything stupid in the future, hmmm?" She nudges Charity's shoulder playfully with her own. "Just try, Charity. Just keep loving her and keep trying."

"I don't think I'd know how to stop loving her to be honest. I'd do anything for her, you know that don't you?"

"Yeah, I do. So get in there and marry the poor girl before she thinks you're not going to turn up!"

 

Chapter Text

Charity is sat cradling her glass of wine, looking the complete opposite to the 'life and soul of the party' when Chas approaches. "What's up with you?" She asks bluntly.

 

"Nothing. Why?" Charity replies defensively.

 

"Well, do you want to tell your face that? You look like you've lost a pound and found a penny."

 

Charity sighs. "I think I have." She mutters dejectedly.

 

It's Chas' turn to sigh then. "Is this to do with Vanessa?" Straight to the point again.

 

"No, why would it be?" Trying to avoid the conversation.

 

"Because you've had the same face on you for the past two days! Bit of a coincidence, isn't it?" She replies accusingly.

 

"It's nothing, alright? Just leave it." Trying, once again, to put an end to the conversation.

 

"All I'm going to say, Charity, is: you've made your bed and you've got to lie in it." She says sternly, before muttering: "And it sounds like you've been laying in it a lot recently" with a smirk.

 

"Shut up, Chas!" Giving Chas her best death stare. "Look, I'm just worried about her, okay?" She gives in.

 

"She's only been back for two days, how can there be anything to worry about?!" Chas asks in bewilderment.

 

She swallows nervously and looks around, not wanting to be overheard. "I don't know if you've heard already, through Cain or whatever, but she's just found out that her....that the woman she's....involved with....slept with Nate a few weeks ago." Charity plays with the stem of her wine glass, avoiding Chas' eyes, not wanting to see the pity in them at her struggle to even say the word 'girlfriend'.

 

"What?! You're joking!"

 

Charity's face remains completely serious as she looks back up at Chas. "Do I look like I'm joking?" Chas' face drops in response.

 

"Oh God. Poor Vanessa." She says, her hand over her heart, then adds jokingly: "And I thought the Dingles were messy..!" Charity's death stare makes an appearance again. "Well, I guess Nate is a Dingle really.." Chas mutters after a moment's thought.

 

"That's not the point, Chas! She's going to think there's something wrong with her, isn't she....that she's not good enough....that people don't think she's worth loving or respecting or something. She doesn't deserve that, Chas. She's the best thing anyone could ever wish for." Charity pauses. "She's....she's perfect." She whispers.

 

"Oh Charity." Chas says slightly pityingly. "Maybe you should have thought about that before you cheated on her then." She adds with more than an ounce of sass.

 

Charity glares at her again.

 

"What if she's not okay, Chas?" Charity asks quietly.

 

"She will be. Of course she will. She's strong. And she's got Tracy, hasn't she?"

 

"Oh yeah, like her heartbroken sister is really going to be looking after her!" Charity replies exasperatedly.

 

Chas sighs. "Rhona then. Look, she'll have support, okay?"

 

"Do you think so?"

 

"Yeah, of course."

 

"Okay. Okay. Will you....will you check on her though? Just.....if you see her, you know?" Charity shrugs, trying to act nonchalant.

 

"Yeah, course I will." She smiles softly. Charity's not fooling anyone - she's still not over Vanessa, nor will she probably ever be.

 

"Thanks Chas. Don't tell her that you know though. I don't want her to think anyone's gossiping about her."

 

Chas should be surprised by Charity's thoughtfulness and selflessness, but it's Vanessa she's talking about and nothing surprises her when it comes to her cousin and the blonde vet anymore. "I can do that." She winks at Charity.

 

"Okay. Okay, good." Charity returns to cradling her glass of wine sadly, but her heart is a little happier knowing that someone's looking out for the love of her life now that she's no longer in a position to look out for her herself.

Chapter Text

Charity’s POV

 

From the outside, Charity looks cool, calm and collected. On the inside she is anything but. Vanessa is in her bed. Not just that - Vanessa is nestled gently against her own body, and everything feels right with the world. She never thought she’d get this again so right now her heart is hammering against her chest wildly (just like it always did when she was this close to the love of her life). Not that she was going to let Vanessa know that. Obviously. No, she was the Queen of tease and was primed and ready to make Vanessa squirm, despite last night being an actual dream come true (well, her dreams of the last 18months anyway).

 

Charity felt the disappointment flow through her as Vanessa started stirring and let out a small groan as she opened her eyes. (That'll be the hangover, thought Charity.) And although she might be able to have some fun at someone else’s expense (which she always enjoyed) she’d much rather keep her tiny blonde rocket woman ensconced in her arms for as long as possible.

 

"Morning, babe!" Charity chirped with false confidence in an over-the-top sing-song voice after feeling Vanessa's body tense with panic. She loosened her grip a little to allow Vanessa to roll over and face her, but made sure that her hand made its way to the small of Vanessa's back, pulling her in closer, once she'd turned over.

 

"Morning. I errrrr.....we......we didn't.....you know..?" Vanessa said with a grimace, giving Charity the impression that she couldn’t possibly be any more repulsed by their current situation.

 

"What?" Charity asked with faux innocence.

 

"Sleep together?" She muttered.

 

"Well, you're waking up in my bed so obviously we slept together, babe." Emphasising the 'sleep' part.

 

"You know what I mean, Charity!" 

 

"Ohhhhhhhh! You mean: did we do the horizontal tango? Did we bump uglies? Did we enjoy a little bedroom rodeo?" She takes a breath to continue but Vanessa interrupts.

 

"Alright, alright, we get the idea. Just answer the question, Charity!" 

 

"Not sure why you're being so coy about it, Ness - it's nothing we haven't done a thousand times before.." She knows she’s being cheeky but she also knows that Vanessa loses her head when she’s within five metres of her – which is clearly what happened last night in her drunken stupor and was now regrettable in the stark light of day.

 

"Charity!" She admonishes, shifting away from Charity and out of her grip, much to Charity’s dismay.

 

"But no, we didn't, okay?"

 

"Really?"

 

"Not convinced you'd be able to resist me, eh? I can't blame you. I mean, who wouldn't want to get their hands on this?" Gesturing at her body under the duvet. "No, it was you making all the moves actually, babe." She says coolly. "But I'm not really into taking advantage of drunk people so you had to settle for being little spoon instead I'm afraid." 

 

"Okay.." Vanessa replied uncertainly.

 

"You're very......persistent when you're drunk, aren't you? Not really sure how I managed to keep hold of my pyjamas to be honest.." She says teasingly.

 

Vanessa covered her face with her hands and groaned in embarrassment. Charity enjoyed toying with people but there was a little part of her that wishes she hadn’t embarrassed Vanessa quite so much..

 

"Lucky for you I'm so trustworthy, eh? Otherwise you might have got yourself into all kinds of trouble.." she continues.

 

Vanessa scoffs. "Shut up Charity!" 

 

"Is that all the thanks I get? I stop you doing something you might not remember but definitely might regret, and then act as your personal hot water bottle all night like you practically commanded me to?! No it's fine....you're welcome, babe." She accuses incredulously.

 

"Sorry" Vanessa mutters. "Look, I was clearly drunk, so.."

 

"So you didn't mean what you said, yeah yeah, don't worry. It'll be our little secret." Charity jumps in, pre-empting Vanessa because maybe it'll hurt slightly less if she says it herself rather than Vanessa saying it.

 

"Thank you"

 

"Don't mention it." She pauses. "Guess it's time for the walk of shame eh?" Charity says nonchalantly, as if Vanessa leaving is not the last thing she wants.

 

Vanessa slowly manoeuvres herself off the bed and starts looking around the room, presumably for her belongings.

 

"They're downstairs." Charity supplies.

 

"Thanks. I'll just.." she gestures towards the door. "Bye"

 

"Yeah, see you next time" Charity says with a wink. "Best night of my life, Ness"

 

Vanessa huffs and rolls her eyes before turning 'round and yanking the door open and stomping down the stairs.

 

Charity stares forlornly at the empty space where Vanessa had just been standing. Why does she always make stupid jokes and pretend she doesn't care? It really had been the best night she'd had in a long time (since 21st July 2020 to be precise). She was going to have to put her heart back on her sleeve and give Vanessa the truth sometime soon. Clearly today wasn't that day. She sighs and drops her head back onto the pillow. "Idiot." She mutters.

 

 

Vanessa’s POV

 

Vanessa shifted her body around on the mattress, after trying but failing to cling onto the sleep she was enjoying so much. She couldn’t help but let out a small groan as she slowly came back to consciousness against her will. It felt like the sun was shining directly into her eyes and despite having slept well, she could definitely feel the pounding of a rather strong headache. She experimentally opened her eyes against the bright light. Nope. She slammed them shut....but within seconds they sprang open again and her whole body went rigid with panic as she realised that the headache wasn’t the only thing she could feel - there was someone else in the bed with her. Someone who had their arm slung across her midriff. Someone whose smell she'd know anywhere. Someone who really, really shouldn't be there. Or she shouldn't be in their bed. Whatever. Now was not the time for quibbling over details. What the fuck had she done?!

 

If she didn’t already know whose bed she was in the cocky “Morning, babe!” certainly confirmed it. Oh God, how the hell had this happened?!

 

Mortified, she slowly rolled herself over so that she could speak to the other occupant of the bed. Charity. Great. The taller blonde didn’t let go of her either…..pulled her closer if anything. Ergh….this was her worst nightmare (and secretly her deepest desire). Being so close to Charity again made everything difficult – thought, speech, breathing..

"Morning. I errrrr.....we......we didn't.....you know..?" She said with a grimace and a blush and a hand vaguely waving between them unable to actually meet Charity's gaze.

 

"What?" Charity asked with faux innocence. She should have known Charity wouldn’t make this easy for her..

 

"Sleep together?" She muttered embarrassedly.

 

"Well, you're waking up in my bed so obviously we slept together, babe." Definitely not making it easy..

 

"You know what I mean, Charity!" She accused.

 

"Ohhhhhhhh! You mean: did we do the horizontal tango? Did we bump uglies? Did we enjoy a little bedroom rodeo?" She takes a breath to continue but no way is Vanessa going to endure any more embarrassing euphemisms.

 

"Alright, alright, we get the idea. Just answer the question, Charity!" She interjects, struggling to hide her frustration.

 

"Not sure why you're being so coy about it, Ness - it's nothing we haven't done a thousand times before..". Vanessa does NOT need a reminder of their previous incredible sex life right now..

 

"Charity!" She admonishes, moving herself away from Charity in the hope that her ex wouldn’t notice her deepening blush and quickening pulse….as well as another rather visceral response to their closeness..

 

"But no, we didn't, okay?"

 

What? Did she hear that right? "Really?" Hoping Charity wasn’t lying.

 

"Not convinced you'd be able to resist me, eh? I can't blame you. I mean, who wouldn't want to get their hands on this?" Gesturing at her body under the duvet. "No, it was you making all the moves actually, babe. But I'm not really into taking advantage of drunk people so you had to settle for being little spoon instead I'm afraid." God she’s cocky, and she really knows how to push her buttons and wind her up.

 

"Okay.." Vanessa replied uncertainly.

 

"You're very......persistent when you're drunk, aren't you? Not really sure how I managed to keep hold of my pyjamas to be honest.." She says teasingly.

 

Vanessa covers her face with her hands, groaning in embarrassment. Any chance the ground could just swallow her up? Right now would be great. Please?

 

"Lucky for you I'm so trustworthy, eh? Otherwise you might have got yourself into all kinds of trouble.."

 

Vanessa scoffs. "Shut up Charity!" Seriously?! Making out like she’s some kind of angel?!

 

"Is that all the thanks I get? I stop you doing something you might not remember but definitely might regret, and then act as your personal hot water bottle all night like you practically commanded me to?! No it's fine....you're welcome, babe."

 

Oh God, she hopes she hadn’t begged. She hopes she’d been, in some way, endearing at least. "Sorry" Vanessa mutters. "Look, I was clearly drunk, so.." she tails off, not sure where she was going with her statement but getting interrupted by Charity anyway..

 

"So you didn't mean what you said, yeah yeah, don't worry. It'll be our little secret."

 

And as much as she’s not sure she 100% believes Charity (outing her in the pub after their first encounter comes to mind..) she’s relieved to hear her say it. "Thank you" She replies gratefully.

 

"Don't mention it." She pauses. "Guess it's time for the walk of shame eh?" Charity says nonchalantly.

 

Vanessa cringes at the thought but knows when she’s not wanted so slowly manoeuvres herself off the bed and starts looking for her jacket and handbag that she literally has no idea where she’s left. 'At least I'm fully dressed', she thinks to herself.

 

"They're downstairs." Charity supplies, helpfully.

 

"Thanks. I'll just.." she gestures towards the door. "Bye"

 

"Yeah, see you next time" Charity says with a wink. "Best night of my life, Ness"

 

Why does she always have to make everything a joke?! Vanessa huffs and rolls her eyes before turning 'round and yanking the door open and stomping down the stairs.

 

Locating her missing belongings in the living room, Vanessa heads towards the front door. She used to love this part when they first got together – sneaking out and trying to get back to Tug Ghyll without anyone seeing her whilst also secretly hoping that someone did see her (and her messy sex hair and ridiculous grin) and know that she’d just had the best night of her life and who was to thank for it. How had she let this happen this time though? They were over. Vanessa had to move on. And Charity clearly just wanted a good time and something to gloat about around the village later. “Idiot” she muttered. That’s it: she’s never getting drunk again!

 

She takes a deep breath and steps out of the front door and barely manages five steps before she literally almost bumps into Brenda. Perfect. “Morning Vanessa!” she says brightly and then realises which house she’s just stepped out of. “Oh…..you’re up early..” she says knowingly with a gleeful grin.

 

“Yep” she replies and marches back to Tug Ghyll wondering if it’s possible for her day to get any worse. Probably, knowing Charity.

Chapter Text

"Look....I know you don't trust me right now, and you probably think everything I say is a lie, and I get that....I guess. So if you never believe anything I say ever again, then fine. But you have to believe this, Ness." She pauses to make sure she has Vanessa's full attention and they're making direct eye contact. She needs her to know that she's telling the truth. "It wasn't an affair, okay?" She stops again, to guage Vanessa's response to the statement, before continuing. "It was one stupid kiss. And it wasn't because I was bored of you, or didn't want you. The opposite in fact! I was so flippin'.....obsessed with you" she says with an embarrassed scoff "and so excited that you were coming home that I just completely lost it when you ran off after the adoption hearing and went back to your Mum's. I thought you didn't want me. And I couldn't cope with that. My heart was in a million pieces. So I did something stupid. And that broke your heart. So I'm sorry." She pauses again. Vanessa still seems to be listening. Well, she hasn't jumped in and interrupted her anyway - that must be a good sign. "I know that can't make it better or even begin to make up for what I did, but I am sorry." She takes a breath and continues with a rueful smile: "I thought I'd already made the biggest mistake of my life - I mean, I had plenty to choose from, eh?" With a self-deprecating laugh. "But that tops them all. So, I understand why you're mad, and upset, and hurt and why you hate me. I hate me too. But I don't think it'll ever be true to say that I don't love you." She says honestly, but without agenda. "I can't change that. And I can't make it disappear - with booze, or scams or meaningless relationships. So I'm just going to learn to live with it. And to live without you. But I'm going to try and be that person I was when I was with you. Because that's the best me I can be, isn't it? And I'll always be thankful to you for that....even if I can't show you every day like I wanted to. You're so special, Ness. That broken cellar door is the best thing that ever happened to me cos it brought me you. And I hope you find someone that deserves you as much as I wish I could deserve you."

 

Vanessa studies Charity tearfully, trying to take in her emotional and, she thinks, honest outburst, temporarily lost for words.

 

"Right, well, you don't need to listen to me ramble on any more!" Charity blurts out nervously when Vanessa doesn't respond, turning to head out of the door before turning back and adding: "I....erm.....I'll see you tomorrow for the boys' playdate, yeah?" She adds in the most casual tone she can muster, trying to diffuse the tension and awkwardness she's caused.

 

Vanessa nods, her eyes shimmering.

 

"Charity.." Vanessa manages to eke out, just before Charity steps out of the door.

 

Charity turns back around, briefly letting her eyes rake over Vanessa's face, trying to gauge what might be coming, before casting them down to stare at one of the buttons on her ex's shirt nervously. "Yeah?"

 

"I believe you." She says.

 

Charity's heart thumps in her chest and she tries to swallow down her disbelief. "Yeah?" She asks, eyes darting over Vanessa's face, looking for confirmation.

 

"Yeah. I mean....I still think you're an idiot" she adds cheekily with a tearful laugh "but I believe you."

 

"Okay" Charity whispers emotionally, a smile breaking onto her face despite her tears. "Good." And she goes to leave again before turning back one last time. "Thank you, Ness."