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I need you more than want you (And I want you for all time)
"What's up with our Charity?"
Lisa's query makes Chas turn and look over at the woman in question. She's half slumped over the bar, her head propped up in one hand. People are clearly waiting to be served but she's not even looking at them. If Chas had to sum up the look on her face in a single word, it would be 'forlorn'. Like some tragic heroine from a romance book that goes out on the moors in her nightie and wails at the moon. She rolls her eyes.
"Oi!" Charity looks over in question and Chas nods to where Rodney is waving his glass. "Customers. Money in the till. Food on the table. Remember?"
Charity sighs, but drags herself over to serve Rodney. Chas turns back to Lisa, who is watching the proceedings with that motherly concern she displays for just about everyone in the village, but particularly those whose last name is Dingle.
"The face like a slapped arse, d'you mean?" Chas asks, earning a disapproving frown. She relents and leans closer to Lisa, elbows on the bar. "Well, between you and me, I think Vanessa's chucked her."
"Oh no!" Lisa's hand flies to her chest. "Poor little mite. And I thought they were getting on so well."
"They were." Chas nods. "I could barely move in that house for falling over one of Johnny's toys or pairs of muddy wellies."
"So what happened?" Lisa asks, distress clear on her face as she watches Charity retreat to her former perch at the bar.
"I...don't know, actually."
She thinks back to the events of the previous evening. It had started like most evenings these days; Vanessa had come over at some point and was in the living room with Charity, Noah and Johnny. On the couple of occasions that Chas had popped through for whatever reason, everything had seemed normal. The first time, Charity and Vanessa had been bickering in that way of theirs that Chas suspected was foreplay. The next time, Noah and Vanessa were seated on the floor in front of the couch, playing a video game while Charity watched. A little while later, the back door had slammed so hard it felt like the building was rattling. Then Charity stormed through to the bar, picked up a bottle of vodka, and stormed out again. She wasn't seen for the rest of the evening.
At breakfast this morning, the atmosphere had been frosty. Noah clearly wasn't speaking to his mother, who barely noticed because of the hangover she was nursing. Chas's attempts at smalltalk were rebuffed by both until she grew fed up and asked straight out what had happened with Vanessa. Noah practically frisbeed his cereal bowl into the sink and shot Charity a dirty look, spitting 'Ask her' before stamping out to get the bus. Charity had ignored the question altogether and shuffled out of the room, mumbling about going back to bed.
Chas shakes her head and brings her attention back to Lisa. "They must've had some kind of barney and Vanessa left. That's all I know. You know what Charity's like. Not like she's gonna spill her guts to me voluntarily, is she?"
Lisa leans to the side to look over Chas's shoulder and makes a questioning noise. "I don't know. Poor love looks like she needs somebody to talk to."
"Needs and wants are two different things, Lis." Chas lifts her eyebrows. "When Charity wants to talk, I'll listen."
"I could...give it a go, if you like?" Although she's making the offer, Chas can tell that Lisa's hoping it'll be rebuffed. She pats her hand.
"Best leave it alone for a few days. Charity usually needs a bit of time to mull over whatever it is she's done wrong before she can admit to it."
"Oh, that's a bit unfair, isn't it?" Lisa says. "I don't think we should just assume that whatever's happened was Charity's fault."
Chas lets out a barking laugh. "Seriously? You'd put money on that, would you?"
"Oh, Chas. Even I'm not daft enough to take that bet." Lisa laughs and shakes her head. "Now, you said you thought Vanessa had chucked her, but does that mean that they were...you know, officially together?"
Chas groans. "No, no. They were still on this ridiculous 'no labels' thing." It'd been months since their first drunken fumble in the cellar. And while their relationship mostly took place in the back of the Woolpack or at Vanessa's house, it definitely was a relationship. Debbie even saw them holding hands outside the shop once. But they refused to call it what it was. Chas always suspected that was more Charity's doing than Vanessa's. She tilts her head in thought. "Maybe that's what caused this lat-"
"Right! Out! You're barred!" Charity's voice cuts through her thoughts and she turns to see Charity pointing at the door that Tracy and David have just entered through, both now standing in astonishment.
"What? Why are we barred?" David asks.
"Not you, just her." Charity once again jabs her finger towards the door. "C'mon. Out with you. Don't just stand there gawping at me."
Chas is at Charity's side in two long steps. "What's going on? Why've you barred her?"
"Because she's a psycho!" Tracy has found her voice. "I literally just walked in the door and she started shouting at me!"
"I don't need a reason. I'm the landlady. Out!"
"Charity," Chas warns. "Come on now. We don't bar paying customers for no reason."
Tracy, emboldened by Chas's support of her cause perhaps, leans on the bar and directs a wicked smile in Charity's direction. "Is this 'cause my sister finally came to her senses and dumped you?"
Chas is moving before the words are even fully out of Tracy's mouth, her arms going around Charity's waist before she can launch herself over the bar. "That's not helpful, Tracy!" Charity is like a cat in her arms, clawing and spitting insults as she drags her away. "Lis! Would you mind serving for a bit while I deal with...this?"
"'Course not, love." Lisa's already making her way behind the bar.
"First round for Tracy and David on the house, okay?" Chas says, as she shoves Charity through the door to the back and keeps shoving her until she's in the living room. Charity may be scrappy but Chas has had a brute strength advantage over her ever since they were kids.
Charity is, of course, livid. Eyes blazing, she turns on Chas. "Drinks on the house? So you're giving out prizes to people who treat me like that now, are you?"
Chas stands in front of the door, arms crossed, blocking Charity's exit in case she's thinking of going back through. "She hadn't even spoken when you barred her."
"She had this proper smug look on her face the minute she walked in." Charity's pacing now, her rage a physical thing taking up space in the room. "She was gonna start something. I could feel it."
"Mmhmm. So we're just pre-emptively barring anyone who looks at you funny now, are we?" Chas decides to try a softer approach. Being confrontational with Charity is not always effective as it tends to lead to an explosion and, sometimes, physical violence. She ignores Charity's scoff and presses on. "Anyway, is she right?"
"Right? Her? That'd be a first." She stops pacing and looks at Chas with a sigh. "Right about what?"
"About this being about Vanessa?"
Charity lets out a noise that's half scream and half groan. "Not everything is about Vanessa. The whole world does not revolve around Vanessa bloody Woodfield."
"I never said it did. I asked if this was about her." She flings a hand out to gesture at Charity. "You've had a face like a bulldog chewing a wasp since she left last night. Now you're barring her sister for existing. Seems this is very much related to Vanessa."
"Jesus. D'you want a chocolate watch for working that one out, Sherlock?"
Chas ignores the sarcasm. "So did she? Break up with you?"
Charity lets out an attempt at a laugh. "How could she break up with me? We weren't tog-"
"Oh, give over, Charity!" Any resolve about avoiding confrontation is forgotten as Chas's own fiery temper flares at the ridiculous claim. "She's slept here or you've slept at hers every night for...must be at least two months. Her kid adores you." Charity turns away at the mention of Johnny, folding her arms over her chest. Chas keeps going. "You're happier than I can ever remember seeing you." She takes a chance and steps away from the door, closer to Charity. "Babe, whatever name you put to it or don't put to it, makes no difference. You are together. Or were."
"Whatever. Doesn't matter now, does it?"
Chas is surprised to hear how rough Charity's voice is. She steps forward and puts a hand on her shoulder.
"It does matter. Because you like her. And she likes you. And this is the closest you've been to an actual grown-up relationship in a long time." She feels Charity's shoulders lift in a deep sigh. "What happened last night, Charity?"
"If it was nothing, she wouldn't have left the way she did." She moves around so that she's standing in front of Charity. "So I'll ask again. What happened?"
Charity's lips press together like a two year old refusing to eat and she shakes her head.
"Fine." Chas shrugs. "I'll go and ask Noah then, shall I?"
That certainly gets a reaction. Charity's eyes go wide and she grabs Chas's arm before she can move. "No! No, don't...don't ask Noah. He's upset as it is."
"Yeah, he is. And he seemed to think you could explain why." Chas crosses her arms. "So tell me why Vanessa left."
Charity's now the one standing between Chas and the door in case Chas decides to go and find Noah, presumably. "We had an argument and she left. That's what happened. That's what always happens, isn't it?"
"The two of you are always bickering. This must've been something different. What was said?"
Charity looks at the ceiling and shakes her head before meeting Chas's gaze. "Look, however I say this, it's gonna sound bad, right?"
"Which means it was bad, so just say it and get it over with." Chas nods encouragingly.
"Right. So. Her and Noah were playing some stupid computer game," Charity begins, rolling her eyes. "And they were laughing and shoving each other and it was getting right on my nerves."
"Because neither of them were paying attention to you," Chas puts in, earning a glare.
"No, actually. Because they were...just...being annoying." Charity sighs again. "And I may have...said something that I shouldn't have."
"Yeah, I'd figured that much out. What'd you say?"
"I made some comment about-" Charity's eyes flit away and Chas steels herself for whatever's about to come out. "-Vanessa making a move on Noah. Because of her thing for...teenage boys."
Chas closes her eyes. "Oh, Charity."
"And I may have...suggested that she was only with me so she could get to Noah."
Chas covers her face with her hands. "Oh, Charity. On what planet did you think that was an appropriate thing to say? After everything with Aaron? How could you say that to someone?"
"I didn't mean it. They were just..." Charity shrugs, her arms coming up to wrap around herself. "Anyway. So that's that. Like always."
"No. Not 'like always'." Chas stalks across the room so she's in front of Charity. "Don't say that like this was inevitable. You said something horrible and Vanessa walked out. You made this happen."
"As I said," Charity says, her eyes hard. "Like always."
"I take it you apologised?" Chas asks, her heart sinking when Charity looks at the floor. "You didn't even apologise?"
"What was the point? I knew as soon as it was out of my mouth that it was over the line." Charity walks to the kitchen and flicks the kettle on, watching it as it starts to boil. "Anyway, she's better off this way."
"That's not for you to decide, Charity," Chas says, moving closer again. "You can't keep pushing people away. Vanessa's a grown woman and if she decides she wants to be with you, as mad as it is to think that anyone would, that's up to her."
"Well, she made her decision." Charity leans both hands on the counter, letting out a shuddering breath. "She's gone. And if she's any sense she'll stay away."
Chas is shaking her head before the word is even out of Charity's mouth. "No. I'm not letting you throw this away."
Charity turns to look over her shoulder, an eyebrow creeping up her forehead. "You're not letting me? Last I checked you had no say in my lovelife."
"Charity, I know you struggle to get your head around the concept that people might actually care about your happiness, but I am one of those people. And Vanessa makes you happy."
"It makes no odds. She left. I haven't heard from her since."
"Well, what did you expect after what you said to her?" Chas points at the door. "You have to go over there right now and apologise."
"I can't. You didn't see her face...the way she looked at me when I-" Charity presses her lips together and closes her eyes. "I can't just go over there and expect her to talk to me."
Chas sighs. The fact that Charity even realises her behaviour was over the line is a good sign. But she can't let this go on too long, or Vanessa might, as Tracy so bluntly put it, come to her senses. "Fine. I'll go and talk to her then."
Charity's eyes fly open, horrified. "No you will not."
"Yes. I will. Because somebody needs to let her know that you're sorry and that you didn't mean it and that you're moping around here wracking that huge, but mostly empty, brain of yours trying to come up with how you can make it up to her."
Charity dashes forward and grabs Chas's arm, shaking her head. "No. Chas, don't. I don't want you mithering her. I will go over, I promise. I'll apologise. I just...need to give her some time."
Chas takes a long moment to decide that Charity is being genuine. She nods. "Fine. A little bit of time. But if I don't see you fixing it soon, then I will. Okay?"
"Okay. Yeah. Absolutely." Charity's whole body seems to sag in relief, and the hand she runs through her hair is shaking slightly.
"Good. Because for whatever reason, and I'm not ruling out head injury, that lass thinks the world of you. That doesn't come around every day, Charity."
"Alright, Chas, I know." Charity rolls her eyes. "You've made your point."
"Good." Chas shoves Charity towards the door. "And now you're going back out there and you are gonna be super nice to her sister, aren't you?"
"Why?" Charity frowns as she's pushed into the corridor with Chas following. "I never have been before."
"Well, this seems as good a time as any to get on her family's good side, wouldn't you say?" Chas looks pointedly towards the bar. "A little goodwill might go a long way."
"Fine," Charity sighs. "I will play nice as long as she does." She points at Chas. "But only for Vanessa's sake, right?"
"Obviously. Wouldn't expect you to just be nice to the customers as a matter of course, would I?"
Charity stops at the door to the bar, her hand on the handle. "I do...I mean I don't " She laughs, looking upwards with shining eyes. "It's ridiculous."
"What's ridiculous, love?" Chas prompts, gently.
Shaking her head, Charity meets her eyes and Chas thinks she sees her lower lip tremble before she whispers. "I miss her, Chas." She laughs again, as if she can't believe her own words. "Last night I...I missed her. This morning I started making her a brew out of habit. I miss hearing Johnny's little voice yelling for me. Right now I'm dreading going to bed because I know she won't be there and I cannot believe this is me talking." She turns large, plaintive eyes on Chas. "This doesn't happen. Not to me. Not anymore."
Chas resists the urge to smile and instead wraps an arm around Charity's shoulders, pressing a kiss to her temple. "Happens to the best of us, flower." She slaps Charity's backside. "Now you get through there and plaster on your best smile. And first thing tomorrow, you fix this, right? Because I bloody miss her a little as well!"
"Thanks Chas." Charity says with a nod. "And I will. I'll fix it. If she'll let me."
And with that, she disappears through the door into the noisy bar. Chas lets out a breath. She really, really hopes she's right and that Vanessa will let Charity fix things. She's sure that she's right about both of their feelings, what she's not confident about is Charity's ability to hold an adult conversation for the amount of time required to adequately apologise. Perhaps a little visit to Tug Ghyll first thing in the morning is called for, just to lay the groundwork for her cousin.
That's what family's for.
Following a mostly sleepless night, Charity gets out of bed much earlier than she normally would on a weekend. Whether or not it has anything to do with the other side of the bed being empty is irrelevant. She dresses herself in jeans and a top she knows Vanessa likes. The place is quiet when she heads out of her bedroom and she assumes Chas must still be asleep, which is unlike her, but not unwelcome today; she doesn't need another lecture. Or worse, a pep talk.
She heads out of the backdoor of the pub. It's just edging into summer and everything looks fresh and vibrant, the sun already warm on her face and it makes her feel a tiny bit hopeful. She decides to swing by David's and pick up a bunch of flowers. Which isn't ideal, considering she tried to bar one of the owners last night, but it's the only option in the village and she can't get in a car and go somewhere else in case she loses her nerve.
She plans just to grab the first ones she sees because she's not exactly an expert in flowers, but there's a bunch that immediately catches her eye. The flowers are mostly yellow, with some purple sprinkled through and their bright, cheerful petals remind her of Vanessa. She grabs them and goes inside to pay. Both David and Tracy are behind the counter and David immediately steps in front of his wife, plastering a big fake smile on his face.
"What can I do f-" Tracy nudges him out of the way with her hip.
"I'll serve this one," Tracy tells him, and he looks at Charity with an apology in his eyes before going into the back.
"Good morning to you too," Charity says, laying the flowers on the counter and going into her pocket for her wallet.
Tracy eyes the flowers with disdain. "Grovelling this morning, are we?"
"Inserting our noses into other people's business this morning, are we?" Charity smiles with very little sincerity.
Tracy rings up the flowers. "Uh, last time I checked, my sister is my business." She holds out her hand. "That'll be twenty-five pounds."
"Twenty-five quid?" Charity squeaks.
Tracy's eyes flash dangerously and for a second, Charity sees the family resemblance. "Is my sister not worth twenty-five quid to you?"
Charity sighs, remembering Chas' advice about trying to be nice to Vanessa's family. She takes out some notes and ignores Tracy's outstretched hand, dropping them on the counter instead. She gives another tight smile as she picks up the flowers. "Keep the change."
Tracy frowns. "You've given me the right money."
Walking backwards to the door, she holds the flowers up. "They're about a tenner overpriced, so you can keep that."
"Don't mess her about, Charity. I mean it."
Charity stops walking. Although it's phrased as a warning, it's the plea in Tracy's voice that prevents her from snapping back. They stand in silence, looking at each other, for a long moment and then Charity nods slowly. "I'm going to put things right."
"Well, just make sure you do." Tracy jabs a finger in her general direction. "For some reason, she thinks the bloody sun shines out of your arse. But I'll have no problem kicking it if you pull this crap again."
She bristles, but fights down the urge to respond. Tracy has every right to be narky at her. "Yeah? Well, you'll need to get in line behind half my family."
"Good. As long as you know that." Tracy nods to the flowers. "She'll love them. They're very her."
"At these prices, she better had," Charity says, but throws in a wink before turning and leaving Tracy behind.
Every step closer to Vanessa's house adds to the nausea in Charity's stomach until she actually stops halfway up the path to take a few deep breaths. She should not be this nervous. But the fact she is, reaffirms why she needs to do this. This is important. Taking in a shaky breath, she reaches out and rings the doorbell.
A voice from within shouts 'I'll get it' and Charity frowns. She recognises that voice and it's not Vanessa's. Sure enough, with the door opens, it reveals Chas, who freezes when her eyes land on Charity.
"What the hell are you doing here?" Charity hisses. "I told you not to interfere!"
"I was...just...I brought Vanessa a coffee!" Chas offers her a nervous smile, she lowers her voice to a whisper. "I just wanted to, you know, grease the wheels a little because I know you're not great at this kind of thing."
"What kind of th-" Before she can really wind herself up to respond the way she wants to, a voice draws her attention away from her flustered cousin.
Johnny comes barrelling past Chas and launches himself at Charity, who only just manages to catch him with one arm and pick him up. His little arms are tight around her neck and she closes her eyes, drinking in the fresh, clean smell of him.
"Hiya mate." She squeezes him gently.
"See Mummy? Chatty came!"
Charity opens her eyes and finds Vanessa looking back at her over Johnny's shoulder. She's wearing pyjama bottoms, unmatched socks and a hoodie with a weird brownish stain on one shoulder. Charity's stomach clenches at sight of red-rimmed eyes that she knows she's the cause of.
Vanessa nods. "So I see."
It's ridiculous that just hearing someone's voice after a couple of days can make you want to cry. It's been such a long time since Charity felt anything remotely like this that it feels brand new. Maybe it is. Nothing's ever been as easy as it is with Vanessa, where there's no complicated history or ulterior motive. Just two people who get on really well and want to be in each other's company. It's refreshing and terrifying all at once.
"Hi," she manages.
"Hi." Vanessa's voice has a scratch to it that reminds Charity of how it sounds when she first wakes up. It makes her ache with longing for that soft, warm space that's just theirs. The time before they need to think about responsibilities and they can just enjoy the quiet and each other.
"Listen, uh...why don't I take Johnny over to the pub to see Noah, eh?" Chas says, breaking the silence. "Give the two of you some time alone to talk?" She looks to Vanessa for permission. Charity holds her breath while Vanessa decides, knowing that this decision will indicate whether or not she's getting a chance to explain herself.
Vanessa lets out a sigh. "Fine. But no fizzy pop. And only one bag of crisps before lunchtime."
"Yes ma'am," Chas salutes and holds her arms out. "What do you say, Johnny? You coming to the pub with me to see Noah? Maybe Jack and Sarah'll come over in a little while too."
He goes to her without question, but holds out his hand to Charity.
"You come too, Chatty? We're gonna see Noah!"
"I'll be over soon, darlin'. Okay?" She takes his hand and blows a raspberry on his wrist, making him shriek with laughter and press further into Chas's arms.
Vanessa steps forward wrestles him into his jacket before planting a kiss on his cheek. "You be a good boy for Chas, okay? And I'll come and get you soon. Have fun with Noah. Bye."
"Bye!" Chas and Johnny chorus.
"Don't stuff this up," Chas murmurs, as she passes Charity.
Charity turns to watch Chas walk down the path and Johnny grins at her and waves. She can't help but smile back at his sweet face and she gives him a wave.
"He asked for you about a million times yesterday."
She snaps her eyes back to Vanessa, who's also waving at Johnny. "He did?"
"Mmhmm." Vanessa's eyes drop to the flowers in her hand and she resists the urge to hide them behind her back.
"They for me?"
"No. They're for Leyla." She rolls her eyes. "'Course they're for you. Here." She thrusts them forward like some spotty teen at his first school disco. A tiny frown creases Vanessa's forehead, but she takes them.
"Thank you. They're lovely." For a moment, Charity thinks that's going to be it, but then Vanessa steps to the side. "You better come in."
Charity takes a breath and moves past Vanessa into the house and through to the living-room. She stands, not wanting to take a seat without being invited to. She hates this awkwardness between them all the more because she put it there. Vanessa shuffles through, her too long pyjama bottoms dragging on the floor.
"I...I'll get a vase for these."
"Ness," Charity reaches for her as she passes, but clenches her hand into a fist before she can make contact, unsure if she's allowed to touch her right now. Vanessa stops walking anyway and turns to face her. "Leave them for now. Please?"
"Okay." Vanessa deposits the flowers on the kitchen table and turns back to Charity, arms crossed, waiting.
Charity takes a breath. "First off, I'm sorry for what I said the other night, okay? It was out of order, I didn't mean it, and I'm sorry."
Vanessa lifts her chin. "So why's it taken you two days to say that to me?"
Charity shrugs. "Because I'm me, aren't I?"
"That's not an answer, Charity." Vanessa's eyes are hard, lines between her eyebrows pronounced. "And it's not an excuse either."
She nods. She hadn't expected Vanessa to let her away with such a flippant answer, but old habits die hard. "I know. I know it's not."
"So." Vanessa raises her eyebrows. "Are you gonna give me a real answer?"
Charity feels the usual rebellion well in her chest at the challenge. She's never been one to have her hand forced; often choosing the hard road out of spite rather than any logical reason. But when she looks at Vanessa, all the fight goes out of her. Here's this wonderful, intelligent, kind woman who she's hurt, and literally all she's asking for her is an honest answer.
"I...after I'd said it I " She turns away, unable to look at Vanessa and remember the hurt on her face. She swallows. "Well, when you left I thought 'That's it. She's had enough'. And who could blame you? You shouldn't be on the receiving end of that kind of stuff." Almost anybody else, but not Vanessa. "So I thought it'd be better, in the long run...if you just...stayed away."
"Better for who?" Vanessa asks, her voice sharp enough to make Charity look at her.
"For you." She rolls her eyes. "Obviously."
"Why would it be better for me to stay away?" Vanessa presses.
"So that I can't hurt you more!" Charity half shouts, annoyed that Vanessa's making her say something that should be clear to anyone. "So that I can't say horrid things that make you sad. So that you can find somebody who can...I dunno, give you what you need. What you deserve." Her eyes drop to the floor again.
Two feet in odd socks come into view and she looks up to find Vanessa directly in front of her, wearing an expression that Charity's become very familiar with over the past few months; she's made her mind up about something.
"Well, here's an idea," Vanessa begins, eyes boring into Charity's. "Why don't you work on not saying horrid things that make me sad? And I'll decide what I need or deserve, right?"
"Right." She wishes she had kept hold of the flowers because she really wants something to do with her hands to stop them from reaching for Vanessa. As it is, everything inside her feels like it's quivering, unsure whether this means Vanessa has forgiven her for what she said and is willing to give her another go.
"What made you change your mind?" Vanessa asks, heedless of Charity's discomfort. "What made you come over here, if you thought I was better off without you?"
"I still think you're better off without me," she begins, uncertain what she's going to say next. She meets Vanessa's eyes and is gripped with fear of never being this close to her again. It's the fear that loosens her throat and lets the words flow. "But I know I'm not better off without you."
Vanessa purses her lips, but her eyes soften. "Yeah? How's that then?"
Charity lifts her eyebrows. "You're enjoying this, aren't you?"
Shrugging, Vanessa folds her arms and takes a step back. "A bit. It's quite nice hearing how you feel for once." She nods for Charity to continue.
Charity sighs and throws her hands up. "I dunno. Just...everything. I like when you're around. I like getting your daft texts. I like it when you tell me all the stupid stuff that happens at the vets. I like how Johnny smiles when he sees me. I like it when you argue with me over silly little things. I like going to sleep with you and waking up with your hair in my face and your drool on my pillow."
Vanessa tilts her head, a half smile on her lips. "Well, it was nice up to the drool."
"I missed all of it, including the drool, these past couple of nights." She pauses, drawing in a deep breath and letting it out. "I missed you." She clears her throat. "And even though I know that you're better off out of it, I'm too selfish to let you go without at least telling you that."
Vanessa rolls her eyes, which have become shinier all of a sudden. "I missed you too, you silly beggar." Her voice is rough again and it makes Charity's stomach twist.
Vanessa nods, dislodging a single tear at the side of her eye. "Yeah. A lot" She swipes at her cheek with her sleeve. "I even missed your snoring."
"I don't snore!" Off Vanessa's raised eyebrow, she shakes her head and reaches for her. "Come 'ere."
"No, don't." Vanessa twists away from her and her stomach seizes with fear that she's done the wrong thing until she realises Vanessa's running her hands over her hair and straightening her stained hoodie. "I must look a right state."
Charity laughs in relief. "No. You don't." She reaches out and tips Vanessa's chin up so their eyes can meet. "And you know me, I'd tell you if you did."
A shaky laugh bubbles out of Vanessa's throat. "Yeah. You would as well."
Charity nods. "I would. So you know you can believe me when I tell you that you look...beautiful." Has she ever told Vanessa that before? Has she ever let that word pass her lips? She's thought it often enough. She's definitely told her that she looks hot, or sexy or cute. But has she ever used the word that actually describes how she thinks of Vanessa most of the time?
Judging by Vanessa's reaction, she has not. She's looking up at her with genuine surprise, her cheeks tinged with pink and her eyes more alive than they have been since Charity walked through the door. "Do I?"
"You do." Charity nods, stroking a thumb over Vanessa's jaw, spurred on by her tiny smile. "And I should've told you that before."
"Something else for you to work on, then." Vanessa's hands land on her hips and pull, arms sliding around her waist until they are pressed together. Charity's arms go around Vanessa, holding her gently, one fist curling into the fabric of her hoodie almost desperately.
"I will try," Charity whispers, leaning her forehead against Vanessa's and looking into her eyes. "Can't promise I'll always be good at it though."
"I can't promise that either, Charity." Vanessa brings a hand up to cradle Charity's cheek. "All we can both do is try . And when we make a muck-up of something, we talk about it."
Charity takes a deep breath, the nearness of Vanessa making her a little lightheaded. Which is maybe the reason for the sudden desire to be frank. "The other night...when I said...well, what I said...I was jealous."
Vanessa pulls back, frowning. "Jealous? Of what?"
"Of you and Noah playing that stupid game." Charity can feel her face heat up with embarrassment at her own honesty. "I...I've not always had the best relationship with Noah and...well, you and him just get on, don't you?" She looks down. "And he already thinks Moira's a better mother than me and I suppose I just...well, I felt like I was slipping into third place."
"Oh, Charity." Vanessa's gentle hands bring her face back up and, surprisingly, there's no pity in her eyes, only understanding. "I never even thought-"
"No," Charity cuts her off, shaking her head. "You weren't doing anything wrong. I just...it's my problem, not yours."
Vanessa strokes her thumb over her cheek, her head tilted, eyes locked on Charity's. "You are his mum. He loves you. I'm a novelty right now, aren't I? I'm his mum's cool girlfr-"
Vanessa's eyes go wide and she presses her lips together. Neither of them have used that word to describe each other. Thanks to Charity, neither of them have really used any words to describe their relationship other than 'a bit of fun'. But given the things that have been said this morning, there's really no point in keeping up any kind of pretence.
She lets an eyebrow creep up her forehead. "Steady on now, babe," she says, shaking her head. "Nobody ever said you were cool."
The panic on Vanessa's face slowly fades into a tentative grin. "Fair enough. Am I...the other thing, then?"
"You are if you want to be." Charity offers her a lopsided smile. "As Chas took great pleasure in telling me, doesn't matter what name we put to it or don't put to it...we're together." She swallows. "I mean...I hope we are...if you still-"
"We're together," Vanessa confirms, with a nod and a chaste kiss against her lips.
"I know it was me with the stupid 'no labels' thing," Charity admits. "For all the good it did."
Vanessa's brow creases in question. "How d'you mean?"
Shrugging, Charity tightens her arms around Vanessa's waist. "I think I thought if I didn't put a name to it, it wouldn't hurt when...if " She shakes her head with a sad smile. "Didn't quite work out that way, eh?"
Vanessa returns the smile, sweeping some of Charity's hair behind her ear. "Don't push me away, okay?" she murmurs. "And if we fight, which we will, then we say sorry and we work through it, alright?"
"It sounds so simple," Charity whispers.
"It can be. If we both try."
Vanessa's looking at her with such hope, such trust, that the only reply she can give her is to lean in and bring their lips together. It's such a relief to feel the solid weight of Vanessa against her, warm familiar lips moving over her own. Her body feels like it's filling with warmth from her toes upwards, snaking through her veins and making everything tingle. Ever since their first kiss, Vanessa has been able to make her feel this way and it's only become stronger as time has passed. She can't imagine ever getting tired of this feeling.
Vanessa's hands come up to cup her face as the kiss draws to an end, and she keeps hold as they part. Vanessa's eyes are intense when she pulls back and Charity's breath catches in her throat.
"Look," Vanessa begins, her thumb stroking just under Charity's eye. "I'm gonna say this and not because I expect you to say anything back, okay?" She takes a deep breath. It's obvious what's coming and Charity's chest feels like it's expanding and constricting at the same time. "I-"
She quickly places a finger over Vanessa's lips, silencing her. "Ness...let's not do this now, eh? Not on the back of all this. Let's save it for a day when I haven't made you cry?"
Vanessa's frown melts into the most glorious smile Charity's ever seen. Her eyes grow bright and when she speaks, her voice is hardly more than a whisper. "'Let's'? As in, 'let us'? Both of us?" She swallows. "So, you you-"
Charity makes a show of rolling her eyes, but she's just buying time to make sure her throat is going to work when she speaks. "Course I do, you idiot. D'you think I'd be acting this soppy if I didn't?"
"This is you acting soppy?"
"I brought you flowers, didn't I? Which I'm sure your sister charged me double for by the way."
"Probably not. Their prices for most things are scandalous."
Charity continues as if Vanessa hadn't spoken. "I apologised. I said...things. Things I never say to anyone." She dips her head and rubs her nose against Vanessa's before murmuring against her lips. "This is as soppy as it gets without alcohol, babe."
Vanessa wraps her arms more tightly around Charity, squeezing her and pressing her face into her neck. "I'll take it."
She closes her eyes and rests her head against the one buried in her neck, swaying them both gently. "So...will you be drooling on my pillow tonight?"
Vanessa's lips turn up into a smile against her skin. "How can I say no to such a romantic invitation?"
Charity gently lifts Vanessa's head so they're looking at each other. She traces a thumb over Vanessa's upturned lips. "Good. Happy Ness is back."
Rolling her eyes, Vanessa playfully bites Charity's thumb. "You know I hate it when you do this. I always get that bloody theme song stuck in my head for days."
"You can knock it, you can rock it, you can go to Timbuktu " Charity sings until Vanessa slaps her backside and she laughs. "Okay, okay. I'll stop. I don't want Grumpy Ness to make an appearance." She widens her eyes in mock fear. "Or Ferocious Ness."
"Let's start with Clean Ness and see how we get on from there, eh?" Vanessa says with a smile she's trying to hide. "I severely need a shower."
Charity wrinkles her nose. "Well, I didn't like to say " She kisses the indignant gasp from Vanessa's mouth before pulling away slightly. "So, shall I wait for you down here or ?"
"You can if you like," Vanessa says. She reaches around and takes Charity's hand from where it rests on her waist, linking their fingers together. "Or you could join me." She starts to walk backwards to the staircase, tugging Charity with her.
A slow grin spreads over Charity's lips as she allows herself to be pulled up the stairs. Vanessa looks over her shoulder, as if she's just remembered something.
"What's this I hear about you barring Tracy by the way?"
Charity rolls her eyes. "Chas tell you that during your little chat, did she?"
"No, actually." Vanessa stops at the top of the stairs, worry creasing her forehead. "And don't get on at Chas for coming over here, right? She was just checking that I was okay and reminding me that you might not be great at the apologising stuff."
Charity eyebrows shoot up. "That cheeky "
Vanessa quickly interrupts, squeezing Charity's hand. "And you proved her wrong, so it's fine. Anyway, Tracy called me last night, ranting about my psychotic ex barring her from the pub for daring to share DNA with me."
Charity's mouth drops open. "Psychotic ex?"
Vanessa presses her lips together, trying not to smile, and nods. "Don't worry, I put her right," she says, solemnly. "I told her you weren't my ex."
It takes Charity a second to catch onto the implied insult and she can't stop the laugh that erupts from her throat. "Oh, so that's how it is, is it?"
Smiling, Vanessa pulls on Charity's hand to get them moving again. "I just thought we'd had enough talk of feelings for one morning, eh? Don't want you to use them all up in one go."
Charity appreciates the levity, and the fact that Vanessa knows her well enough to let her off the hook for the moment, given the relatively heavy discussion they've had this morning. Most of all, she's just grateful that she hasn't thrown away the best relationship she's ever had, even if she hasn't been calling it by that name. In all of her previous relationships, she's been constantly on edge, waiting to be found out. Or, in the case of Cain, waiting for him to walk away from her again. Having Vanessa in her life feels like the exact opposite of everything that's gone before.
As she's pulled into the tiny bathroom, Charity resolves to do as Vanessa suggested and try. Vanessa deserves at least that much. And maybe, with both of them trying, this thing will go on for a good long while.
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