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Everyone will know that it's real (What you make me feel)
"-and so I said to him, 'You can eat what's in front of you or you can wear it, your choice'."
Vanessa laughs, shaking her head in that affectionately reproachful way of hers that Charity loves. She's had so many people judge her and get angry at her for just being herself over the years, that Vanessa's love and tenderness are still a welcome salve. "You should run customer service courses, you."
Charity grins and leans further over the bar, her folded arms bumping against Vanessa's. "Thinking of opening a charm school, actually."
"Now that's something you are not short of." Vanessa's eyes drop briefly to her lips. "You could charm the birds out of the trees, even on an off day."
"Lucky there's only one bird I'm interested in charming then, eh?"
Charity purses her lips for a kiss, but Vanessa's phone starts going off, vibrating violently on the bar between them. Letting out a sigh, Vanessa picks it up and answers it, mouthing 'work' at Charity.
Charity nods, moving away to serve an impatient Eric who, in fairness, has been trying to get her attention for the past ten minutes. But she doesn't get to see Vanessa all day every day anymore, so yeah, maybe she gets a little caught up in her when she comes home.
She's only been back practising a few weeks, but there's a real change in her that's been a joy for Charity's to witness. She's brighter, chirpier, if that's possible. She comes home with red cheeks and bright smiles and stories so ridiculous that Charity can't even begrudge the fact that she's not around as much.
She hands Eric his change just as Vanessa's ending the call and sending her an apologetic look. She rolls her eyes, sloping back over to her. "Oh, don't tell me, there's a cow emergency somewhere and someone just used the Supervet signal to get your attention?"
"It's a sheep, but yeah, pretty much." Vanessa pouts, drawing her fingertips over the back of Charity's hand. "Sounds like it might be a long one...I'm sorry."
"It's fine," Charity says, turning her hand over so that their palms can slide together. "S'pose I'll have to get used to playing second fiddle to a bunch of smelly, scruffy animals again, won't I?"
"You're always my first fiddle, Charity Dingle." Vanessa winks. "And my last, if I've got any say in the matter."
Charity leans over the bar and plants a firm kiss on Vanessa's lips. "Go on. Go and earn some cash so you can whisk me away on a dirty weekend at some point soon." She wiggles her eyebrows. "And then you can fiddle all you like, you filthy mare."
She gets an eyeroll in response, but it's accompanied by a smile so she'll take that as a victory. She waves as Vanessa heads through the back to get ready to head out. Looking around the bar, she sighs at the sight of several regulars supping their pints and yammering on about nothing interesting.
It's going to be a long night.
Tracy comes in a little bit later with Leyla and Charity perks up; at least Tracy's not boring. She heads over to take their order.
"So, ladies, is it a wine evening or are we on the hard stuff?"
"Chance'd be a fine thing," Leyla drawls. "Been nothing hard in my life since Clive left."
Charity snorts and Tracy slants her eyebrows at her in apology after herding Leyla to a table. "She's already been on the wine back at home," she confides. "Thought it might do her good to get her out of the house."
"My till thanks you," Charity says. "What'll it be, then?"
"I think we'll just take a couple of Diet Cokes for now, thanks. Oh, and some crisps." Tracy wrinkles her nose in thought. "D'you know what I really fancy, though? A packet of pickled onion Space Raiders. You wouldn't happen to have them, would you?"
"Well, since we're not a school tuck shop from the eighties, no, we don't." Charity rolls her eyes as she fills two glasses. "You can have cheese and onion like a normal per-."
Chas sidles up to her, shoulder pressed against her own, grinning at Tracy. "We do actually have a box of those as it happens."
"No we don't."
"We do." Chas nods vigorously. "There was a mix up the other week with the supplier and we ended up with a box. I shoved them in the cellar for the next time we have a kiddies' party or summat."
"Send Matty down for them, then." Charity says, plonking Tracy's drinks on the bar in front of her. "I'll bring 'em over."
"He's nipped out for half an hour," Chas says, gesturing vaguely over her shoulder. "Some emergency up at Butlers, I think."
"Flippin' heck." Charity sighs. "What's the point of having a dog and barking yourself, eh?"
Chas shoves at her. "Just go and get her the crisps, would you?"
"Yeah." Tracy bats her eyelashes. "Since we're practically sisters and that. "
Charity narrows her eyes. "In law, Tracy. In law."
"Oh, whatever. You love me." Tracy blows her an air-kiss and Charity groans.
"Fine! Since I'm apparently the only one who works around here." She ignores the guffaws of laughter from both Chas and Tracy, and trudges down the cellar steps. Turning the corner, she stops short, her breath catching in her throat. Vanessa's sat in the chair they slept in that night they got locked in here. She's wearing the same dress she was wearing that night, complete with the same daft yellow cape. The mask is shoved up onto her forehead. Charity swallows through a suddenly dry throat.
"What's going on, babe?" She shoves her hands in her back pockets, jutting her hips forward. "I mean, not that I'm complaining about you bunking off to spend time with me, but it didn't end too well that last time."
The cellar door closes above them, and the lock clunks into place. Vanessa raises an eyebrow. "That was Chas locking the door so that we're not interrupted."
Charity lifts her chin, her eyes trailing down Vanessa's body. She struts forward, stopping when her legs bump against Vanessa's. She grins down at her.
"Feeling nostalgic, are we?"
Vanessa hooks a finger into her belt loop, tugging gently. "Hmmmm, little bit, yeah."
Charity follows the motion of Vanessa's pull, sliding into the chair beside her. Reaching up, she pulls Vanessa's mask out and lets it snap back, covering her eyes. She leans in, tipping Vanessa's chin up, kissing her just as softly as she'd done that first time. This time, though, there's no surprise, no hesitance or uncertainty. Vanessa kisses her back so enthusiastically that the mask soon becomes a hindrance and Charity pulls away enough to yank it off and chuck it to the side. Vanessa laughs, cupping her cheek and holding her back when she tries to go in for another kiss.
"Hey, plenty of time for that," she murmurs, swiping her thumb under Charity's eye.
"So...I'm guessing there was no sheep emergency, then?" Charity settles herself further into the chair, adjusting their legs so Vanessa's are over hers. "And that Chas and your sister are in on...whatever this is."
"Guilty as charged," Vanessa says, smiling. "I needed a little time to get things in place. I'd roped Chas and Tracy in earlier today and we concocted a plan to get you down here when I was ready for you."
"Devious little madam, aren't you?" Charity squeezes her thigh, sliding her hand up a little higher. "You're gonna make a brilliant Dingle."
Vanessa nods, she sifts her hand through Charity's hair and rests her arm over her shoulder. "Yeah, I was thinking about that. That's actually what I wanted to talk to you about."
Charity's stomach starts to churn. She makes herself laugh to cover it up. "Not changed your mind, have you?"
She's met with a frown and a shake of the head. "Will you stop asking that? No, I haven't. And I'm not going to." Vanessa rolls her eyes. "No, I was thinking about how it's not really fair that the person doing the asking has all the worry and stress and then they don't even get a pressie out of it."
Relieved at Vanessa's immediate reassurance, Charity shrugs. "Hey. I got you out of it. I think I'm getting the better end of the deal here."
Vanessa flushes and ducks her head, lifting Charity's hand from where it rests on her thigh. "I totally disagree." Charity goes to argue, but Vanessa presses on. "Anyway, I got you a little something."
"Ooooh, now we're talking." Charity lifts her eyebrows. "Did you go and book that dirty weekend already?"
Vanessa shakes her head, a soft smile curling her lips as she slides her hand into her own bra, rummaging around. Panic briefly flashes across her face, quickly followed by relief. Charity tilts her head as Vanessa's hand emerges holding a ring.
"Vanessa-" Charity begins, her throat growing tight. "You...you didn't have to-"
"No, I know I didn't." Vanessa looks down, briefly, her cheeks colouring a little. She looks back up with a hopeful smile. "But Just because you asked, doesn't mean you shouldn't get a ring too. And if I'm honest, I'm a bit miffed that I didn't get to make a big soppy speech about how you make me feel."
Charity shrugs, swallowing and blinking far too much. "Then by all means, babe. Carry on. Although I do kind of wish you'd let me have a go at fishing that ring out of there." Vanessa shakes her head and blows out an unsteady breath. Charity almost chides her for being nervous, considering they're already bloody engaged. Instead, she takes her hand and squeezes. "C'mon, Ness, no matter what you say, it'll be better than my disaster of a proposal, won't it?."
"Your proposal was gorgeous, when you finally got down to it," Vanessa says, with a roll of her eyes. "Anyway...I was thinking a bit about all the stress you had trying to find a place to do it and how I absolutely meant what I said." She's getting a little teary eyed now, and Charity squeezes her waist. "Wherever you are, that's my special place." She sniffs, looking down at the ring in her hand before glancing at their surroundings. "But this place...this is where I first met you."
Charity frowns. "No it's n-"
"Where I first met the you that I know now, I mean." Vanessa smiles. "I may have known of you for years before that night, but I didn't know you." Charity nods, afraid to use her voice right at this second. "And I can't really remember what it was like not to know you. I can't remember a time when seeing your face didn't make my heart beat faster." She drags Charity's hand up to rest over her heart, and sure enough, it's pounding away. "I can't remember not knowing what your skin feels like, or how strong your arms are, or how loudly you snore."
"Oi, you," Charity says, trying to frown through the smile that's overtaken her face.
"I can't imagine you not being in my life." Vanessa swallows, and shakes her head, tears freely running down her cheeks. "I don't even want to try. I love you so much. More than I even thought was possible." She laughs, squeezing Charity's hand. "And I can't wait to be your wife. I can't wait to be Mrs Dingle and start on the next chapter of our lives together, me and you and the kids."
"Me neither, kid," Charity whispers.
Vanessa beams at her and nods. "Right...so, Charity Dingle, will you do me the honour of wearing this ring as a completely inadequate symbol of how I feel about you?"
"Oh, go on then," Charity says, wiping her eyes and holding out her shaking left hand. Vanessa slips the ring onto her fourth finger, sliding it gently over her knuckle until it's in place. She examines it for the first time since Vanessa brought it out. It's a white gold solitaire, with four tiny stones set into the band on one side of it, and one on the other side. "It's gorgeous, Ness."
Rubbing her thumb over the ring, Vanessa rests her head against Charity's, looking at it from the same angle. "The big one's from me. The little ones are from each of the kids. I went and spoke to all of them and told them about what I was planning and...I suppose I was asking for their blessing, really."
Charity pulls back and looks at her. "What? What for?"
"Because I'm not just marrying you, am I?" Vanessa shrugs. "I wanted them to know that I'm in this one hundred percent. That they'll be my family and I'll be theirs." She crinkles her nose. "Not sure Moses really understood what I was going on about, but he gave me a blob of play-doh and I took that as a good sign."
"God, babe," Charity chokes out. The thought of Vanessa going and having that conversation with each of her smart-mouthed kids is about the sweetest and bravest thing Charity's ever heard. She shakes her head. "How the hell did I get lucky enough to land you, eh?"
"I've told you before," Vanessa says, pressing a kiss to her lips. "We're perfect for each other."
Charity hums against her mouth, lifting her hand to admire the ring again when they part.
"Well, I'm gonna have something to flash the next time a drunken ex makes a pass at me, yeah?"
"There better not be a flamin' next time," Vanessa snaps, brow creasing.
"Oh, babe," Charity's hands frame Vanessa's hips, tugging her more into her lap in the confined space of the chair. "Jealousy is a good look on you."
"No, Charity, it's not that. I wasn't jealous." Vanessa looks at her, eyes glistening. "I just don't want anyone, ever, to put their hands on you without your say so again. You've had enough of that in your life. That's why I was so angry at him."
She shakes her head, looking so genuinely aggrieved by Cain's actions that it catches Charity off-guard. She knows Vanessa loves her and she knows Vanessa's on her side, but sometimes she's still shocked to see how much even thinking about Charity's past affects her emotionally. It actually hurts Vanessa to think about the things that have happened to Charity. Charity swallows and sits up a little, her nose bumping against Vanessa's.
"There's only one set of hands I want on me ever again." She takes Vanessa's left hand, lifting it to her lips and kissing her ring, before placing it on her breast, inhaling sharply when Vanessa cups it, brushing her thumb over Charity's nipple. "How long did you arrange for us to be locked in here?"
"All night, if we want," Vanessa says, pressing wet kisses to Charity's neck as her hand begins a slow journey south. "Or until a barrel needs changing. Whichever comes first."
Charity smirks, pushing on Vanessa's hips and lifting until Vanessa's straddling her on the chair. Her hands slip up Vanessa's thighs, pushing her dress up with them, revealing her favourite set of red, lacy knickers. She hooks her thumbs into them, grinning up at Vanessa.
"Oh, I don't think there's any doubt about who'll be coming first."
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