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Mise En Scene

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Part 1

“Oi, Woodfield!” Charity calls from behind the bar.

Vanessa turns around. “Yeah?”

“Seen the next script yet?” Charity smirks. She’s been looking forward to seeing Vanessa’s expression since she first read it.

Vanessa gives her a curious look. “No? Why?”

Charity winks salaciously at her. “You and I have a little tongue twister in the cellar.”

Vanessa rolls her eyes. “Very funny, Charity. You’re hilarious.”

“So I’m told.” She leans forward over the bar. “If you want to practice, you know, before the scene, let me know. Although I seem to remember you do have some experience in that area.”

Vanessa glances around nervously. “You promised you weren’t going to mention that.” She blushes. “And as for your other offer, thanks but no thanks. If you weren’t full of crap and that was actually true, I’d rather poo a porcupine before spending any time voluntarily kissing you.”

Charity watches Vanessa storm off, her lips quirking. Some people are too easy. Especially when they’re little goody two shoes, stuck up, proper, trained actresses.

Well, she’ll get a surprise when she actually reads the script. That’ll be hilarious.

“Places, people,” the director calls and Charity takes up position pulling a pint. Vanessa looks up at her from the booth she’s sitting in with Tracy and then quickly looks away. Charity smirks.

***

“Knock knock.”

Charity looks up from her crossword and sees Vanessa standing in the doorway to her and Chas’s dressing room, looking sheepish.

“Hi,” she says. “Can I come in?”

Charity raises her eyebrows; Vanessa is almost entirely inside already. “Doesn’t look like I can stop you.”

Vanessa sighs and comes fully inside, face morphing into an apologetic smile. “I just wanted to say, I’m sorry about yesterday. I thought you were taking the mick. You know, because of….”

Charity raises her eyebrows. “Because of…”

Vanessa sighs, the smile falling from her face. “The thing at the Christmas party.”

Charity widens her eyes. “Oh yeah! Now that you mention it, I think I do remember you and our resident pill popper sharing a cheeky snog under the mistletoe.”

Vanessa looks down and sighs. “Look, I’m sorry about yesterday. I just came by to see if you wanted to run lines?”

Charity pauses for a moment and then realises Vanessa is serious and cackles. “Yeah, no love, I’m good.”

Vanessa steps forward. “Don’t be like that. Don’t you just want to run it once?”

Charity sighs. “No, I really don’t. What I want is some peace and quiet without your nattering to finish my crossword.”

Vanessa sighs deeply. “Fine. I tried.”

“Yeah, gold star for you,” Charity shouts after her as Vanessa leave.

***

They film two days later. Charity hasn’t seen or spoken to Vanessa since she came to see her in the dressing room.

It’s obviously still gnawing at Vanessa; she scowls at Charity as make up does the final touches on her and the super hero mask that Meredith wears in the scene is placed on her head.

The minute the camera starts rolling, Vanessa’s whole body changes. Charity is slightly impressed despite herself; they run the whole scene without incident and do another take, and then they move the cameras around for the scene on the armchair.

Vanessa glances at her and says “You’re really good.”

Charity rolls her eyes. “Spare me. We don’t have to make small talk. We’re doing one scene together and that’s it. We don’t have to be friends.”

“God, are you always like this?” Vanessa says, exasperated. “Can’t you just act like a normal person for five minutes?”

“Where’s the fun in that?”

“Places,” the director calls and Vanessa huffs and slumps into the armchair.

Charity rolls her shoulders and gets into the Davina headspace. She stalks around and sits on the arm of the chair, placing the bottle of fake whiskey on the table behind it.

“Like the little boy who pulled the little girls pigtails?” Vanessa asks, voice slightly rough.

Charity slips down next to Vanessa. “If I want someone to notice me, they notice me.” She leans forward, tilts Vanessa’s head up, and kisses her.

Vanessa’s a good kisser, that much is evident immediately. Charity has kissed a lot of people, both as herself and as Davina, and this is definitely one of the better ones. She notices with mild amusement that Vanessa has obviously taken the time to eat a mint before they started and she tastes fresh and clean.

It’s kind of nice though. Back when Davina was still getting with Cain’s character, he would sometimes munch on cheese and onion crisps between takes and that was really not conducive to acting passionate.

“Cut!” The director is frowning slightly. “Let’s take it again. And this time, I don’t know, a bit more oomph? The audience needs to buy the attraction between Davina and Meredith.”

Vanessa wipes at her mouth to fix her lipgloss and nods. “More attraction. Right.”

Charity sighs. “Look,” she says when the director talks to the camera two guy. “Do you mind if I try something? With your mask?”

Vanessa gives her a long look and then shrugs. “Fine.”

Charity nods. This time when Davina settles down next to Meredith, she playfully pings the mask down on Vanessa’s face.

Vanessa twitches a little in surprise, but leans in eagerly for their kiss. Charity can tell that this take is the one even before the director calls cut. She can imagine it playing out on the screen, that little jump and gasp and the kiss is better this time too, at a better angle, and Charity is not surprised when the director says “Thank you ladies, I think that’s that one.”

Vanessa smiles at her. “That was fairly painless.”

“You’re not a bad kisser, I’ll give you that.” Charity quirks her eyebrow. “Must be all that practice.”

Vanessa’s shoulders drop. “Can you just drop that?”

They’re talking quietly enough that no one can hear but Vanessa still looks around anxiously and Charity rolls her eyes.

“Seriously, love, what’s the big deal? So you like kissing ladies!”

Vanessa flushes. “I don’t! It was one time.”

Charity can tell she’s lying; she looks down and to the left and she’s chewing her lip anxiously.

“Babe, we’ve all been there. Women are hot! Chill out!”

“Easy for you to say,” Vanessa replies grumpily.

“What, because I’m a slag?” Charity snaps. She knows her reputation on the set, has cultivated it, but it still jars to have it thrown in her face by little Miss Goody Two Shoes.

“That’s not what I said,” Vanessa snaps back. “Jesus, you are so bloody antagonistic all the time!”

“Right ladies, time to cuddle up on the sofa for the next scene!”

Vanessa shoots her one more doleful glare before shifting over and making room for Charity to squeeze in beside her.

Charity throws herself into the chair with oomph and smirks at the little grunt of annoyance Vanessa lets out.

“Now, Meredith is the big spoon,” the director calls. “We’ll cover you with a blanket.”

Charity turns to the side and waits.

“Can I…?” Vanessa asks, still sounding grumpy.

It makes Charity pause, that she asks. “Yeah,” she says gruffly, and feels Vanessa’s arm snake around her, holding her close.

One of the assistants covers them with a blanket and the director calls instructions as they wait.

“I like your perfume,” Vanessa whispers.

Charity can’t help it; she snorts.

“What?” Vanessa asks, defensively.

“You actually can’t help yourself, can you?” She twists round to see Vanessa’s face.

“Can’t helps myself from what?”

“Being so bloody nice all the time.”

“You should try it some time, people might actually like you then,” Vanessa says, but it lacks bite.

Charity turns back around. “It’s Dior. My kids got it for me for my birthday.”

“It’s nice.”

“It’s the one I used to try and shoplift when I was younger, so it brings back good memories.”

Vanessa giggles but Charity can tell that’s she’s not sure if Charity is joking or not.

“Ready?” the director calls, and Charity feels Vanessa’s head drop down and her arm tighten around her.

***

“That was pretty quick,” Chas comments as Charity comes into their dressing room and throws herself onto the sofa.

“Didn’t need a lot of takes,” Charity shrugs, pulling off her shoes with a groan. Davina has a great wardrobe but Charity wishes they didn’t always have to put her in the red stiletto boots – in the scenes they shot today you couldn’t even see her feet!

Chas quirks her eyebrow. “Soooo, how was the new girl? Make her cry yet?”

“That was one time, and that extra had it coming. And Vanessa’s not even that new. And she’s actually not bad.”

Chas dramatically gasps and clutches her chest. “Good god, Charity, did you just say something nice about someone?”

Charity rolls her eyes. “Don’t be daft. I just meant she’s not a moron and actually knew her lines.”

“Good kisser?” Chas turns back to the mirror and wipes her eyes makeup off.

“Definitely passable.” Charity laughs. “Pretty sure she ate half a packet of polos before the scene, it was like kissing a tube of Colgate.”

Chas chuckles. “Well, that’s considerate. Bodes well that you don’t hate her guts in case this storyline turns into something.”

Charity rolls her eyes again. “Chas, come on. Davina doesn’t get long romance arcs. Davina gets quick shags and then she scams them. This is a flash in the pan. They’ll have Meredith marrying someone else in no time.”

***

The next day, Charity arrives in hair and makeup at almost the same time as Vanessa, who hands her a Starbucks cup.

“Two shot late,” she says proudly.

Charity stares at her. “Are you some sort of stalker?”

Vanessa giggles. “Nah, just asked Chas what your order is. Thought it might make you less grumpy.”

Charity huffs but takes a sip. It’s good, a million times above the sludge they serve on set. “Thanks,” she grumbles belatedly.

Vanessa grins and hops onto her seat.

Thankfully, while Vanessa is chatty, she mainly talks to the hair and makeup girls and leaves Charity in relative peace until she’s woken up more and consumed most of her coffee.

They’re almost done when Charity’s phone buzzes; she takes one look and cackles.

“What?” Vanessa smiles. “Good news?”

Charity shows her the picture Moses’s nursery has just sent her, of him and another boy absolutely covered in paint. “That’s my youngest. Nursery’s telling me I’ll need to bring in a new change of clothes tomorrow.”

Vanessa laughs delightedly. “How cute! Your boy isn’t that much older than my Johnny.”

“Is that the one you had with that child?” Charity says without thinking, and sees Vanessa’s smiles freeze and drop off her face.

“All done,” Vanessa’s hair stylist says quickly and Vanessa leaps of her stool.

“I honestly don’t know why I try with you,” Vanessa says, shaking her head. “Everyone told me not to. There’s clearly no point. You don’t care about anyone’s feelings but you.” Then she stalks out of the room.

Charity sighs, feeling a stab of uncharacteristic guilt in her gut. “What?!” she snaps at her own hair stylist, who is biting his lip.

There’s a pause. “You’re all done,” he says, and Charity sighs and gets up, keen to get away from the looks of utter judgement. Just as she’s headed out of the door, she hears “You know he died, right? Johnny’s dad?”

She didn’t know that. There’s always a lot of gossip about the new people who join the cast and to be honest she hadn’t paid that much attention to Vanessa except for thinking that she must be really strapped for cash if she went from proper TV to doing soaps.

She pauses in the corridor, and then does a u-turn and heads to the dressing room Vanessa shares with Tracy.

“What do you want?” Vanessa asks gruffly as she opens the door.

“Can I come in?” Charity asks.

Vanessa shrugs and steps aside.

There’s a lot of pictures on what she assumes is Vanessa’s side of the table, of a little toddler in various outfits and with various toys, and often with Vanessa’s sunny smile right next to him.

“Look, I’m not in the habit of apologising, but I am sorry about what I said. I didn’t know, about your kid’s dad, you know, dying and all.”

Vanessa sighs. “You must be the only person not to. Press bloody hounded me for months.” She squares her shoulders. “Fine, apology accepted. Anything else?”

Charity bites her lip, because she feels like there is something else. She doesn’t want Vanessa to look at her like that. She wants Vanessa to keep looking at her like she did. Like she hasn’t already made her mind up about Charity.

“It’s not all true, what they say about me,” she says, apropos of nothing. “I mean, quite a lot of it is. But not all of it.”

Vanessa gives her an unreadable look. “Ok.” She hesitates. “I’m sorry about what I said before. That wasn’t fair, I don’t even know you.”

Charity shrugs. “Heard it from lots of people before you.”

“Doesn’t make it ok,” Vanessa says.

There’s a pause, and Charity blurts out “Wanna run the scene?”

Vanessa stares at her. “What?”

Charity looks down, uncomfortable. “We’ll be waiting at least another half hour while they set up. Wanna go through it?”

“I thought you don’t like to-,” Vanessa starts. “You know what, never mind. Sure, let’s do it.”

“Ok,” Charity nods, squaring her shoulders as if she’s going into battle.

***

After their initial arc, they have a few follow up scenes in the pub, filmed over the next few days, in which Davina and Meredith bicker and flirt and bicker some more.

But Charity still firmly believes that this arc will shortly be coming to an end, until the morning after their cellar kiss airs and Vanessa skids into her dressing room, clutching her phone, and babbling something about ‘hashtag Mervina’ and how Twitter seemed to love it.

“Well it’s two women making out, of course they love it,” Charity says. “Doesn’t mean it’s going to come to anything.”

“They’re adding a bit to my scene today,” Vanessa tells her. “Meredith gets a booty call text from Davina.”

Charity stares at her. “You’re having me on.”

Vanessa pulls out the folded paper in her back pocket and holds it out. “See for yourself.”

But still, it doesn’t really sink in until she gets the scripts for filming in December. That’s always a bit hectic because production stops during Christmas week and so they film further in advance than normal.

And there’s a lot of Meredith and Davina action in those scripts.

Vanessa is delighted.

Charity has never really run lines with other actors before except Chas on occasion, but she’s found she quite enjoys doing it with Vanessa. Vanessa always brings her a coffee and a blueberry muffin, and she laughs despite herself when Charity reads all her lines in funny accents.

She’s starting to get the worrying feeling that she and Vanessa are becoming friends.

“Thought you said she was a stuck-up theatre bitch who thinks she’s better than us lowly soap actors,” Chas teases her.

“Well, she is a bit stuck-up,” Charity mutters. “But looks like this Davina and Meredith thing is going to continue on into the next year, so I might as well make nice.”

“You’ve never made nice in your entire life!” Chas exclaims. “Don’t tell me you’re going soft in your old age.”

“Piss off,” Charity responds, but she does wonder, later that day, what she’s doing, sitting on Vanessa’s dressing room sofa. They’re not even running Davina’s lines today; Charity is being Frank, who plays Meredith’s dad, and she has Vanessa in stitches with her exaggerated facial expressions.

She realises that she genuinely likes Vanessa. Even though she’s bossy (she likes to tell Charity off for her unhealthy lunch choices) and a hot head, especially when she’s PMSing, she’s also kind and genuine and apologises when she thinks she’s in the wrong.

For example, when she blows up at Charity for making a joke about Vanessa messing up one of her lines, she sheepishly comes into her dressing room later with a bar of Dairy Milk and apologises. “Sorry for earlier. I have the worst cramps and I had an infuriating call with Johnny’s grandparents earlier and I just overacted.”

Charity isn’t used to people apologising. Most of the time when she argues with people in her life, there’s a cooling down period and everyone just acts like nothing happened. Lets the wound scab over. But Vanessa isn’t like that; she needs to hash it out and make up, and it takes some getting used to.

Despite herself, she’s growing fond of Vanessa.

***

A couple of days before they’re due to film the big scene where Davina chases Meredith down the road and declares that she “likes her, quite a bit actually,” they’re practicing in Vanessa’s dressing room before Charity’s afternoon filming starts. Tracy is there as well, and offers Charity a piece of cake.

“What, is it my birthday?” she jokes.

“No, it’s Vanessa’s!” Tracy beams.

Vanessa blushes.

“Why didn’t you say anything?” Charity isn’t big on stuff like birthdays, but she gets a feeling Vanessa is and she would have gotten her a chocolate bar or something.

“It’s no big deal,” Vanessa shrugs. “Let’s do the scene again.”

Charity sighs and puts down the plate, getting into the Davina zone.

She doesn’t notice that Tracy is watching until she applauds when they draw back from leaning in. It’s been kind of an unspoken agreement that they don’t kiss off the screen, like it might somehow dilute the rawness of the moment when they film.

“Well, I’m on the Mervina train for sure,” Tracy says. “You guys have great chemistry.”

Vanessa blushes again and Charity rolls her eyes fondly. Vanessa has been constantly reading her the feedback on their storyline from the internet, and Charity suspects that Vanessa might be the biggest Mervina fan of them all.

***

It’s later that day, after filming ends, that she is headed towards her dressing room when she spots a bunch of the cast loitering in the hallway. She spots Tracy and Megan and Rhona and, god, even Moira.

“Coven meeting? Ritual sacrifice?” Charity snarks as she walks past.

Tracy laughs. “Nah, just getting some drinks for Ness’s birthday.”

Charity pauses. It stings, more than she would have thought, that Vanessa hasn’t invited her.

“Finally!” Charity hears and turns round to see Vanessa bounding towards them, her eye makeup more elaborate than Charity’s ever seen on her, and wearing a black sparky top and leather jacket.

“Well, enjoy yourself,” she says sharply.

“Do you want to come?” Vanessa smiles.

“I don’t need a pity invite, Vanessa,” she snaps. “Toddle off with your friends.”

Vanessa rolls her eyes. “Oh don’t be such a child, Charity. Why do you think they were all waiting for me here? I was coming to invite you.” She puts her hands on her hips. “Now go get your bloody coat.”

Charity scowls but opens the door and grabs her coat.

She ignores Chas’s wide-eyed stare as she storms past her. “Well, are we going then?”

Vanessa beams. “Yes! Chas, want to join?”

Chas shakes her head. “Sorry, got more filming.” She gives Charity another curious look before Charity falls into step beside Vanessa.

“Thanks for coming.”

“Yeah, sure.” Charity chews her lip. “I’ll get you a drink since I didn’t know it was your birthday.”

“She likes disgustingly sweet cocktails,” Tracy squeals behind them.

The bar they head to is large and busy even on a Thursday, and Charity has to wait to be served, volunteering to get the first round.

It was worth it just to see the suspicious looks on Rhona and Moira’s faces, as she’s not exactly known for being the most generous of people.

The others head off to a big round table and Charity leans across the bar and rattles off the order.

“Come here often?” Charity feels her neck hairs stand up at the god-awful line, but when she turns around the guy is actually surprisingly attractive. He’s got salt and pepper hair and stubble, and is dressed in a sharp suit. No wedding ring.

“Not particularly, but I may have been missing a trick,” she says with a flirty smile.

“Can I buy you a drink?” he asks.

Charity glances over at the table, sure that they’ve probably forgotten about her already, and is met by Vanessa’s dark glower.

Huh. Maybe pulling on your new friend’s birthday night out before even buying her a drink is a bad idea.

“I’m on a night out for my friend’s birthday,” she tells him. “But maybe later?”

He grabs a napkin and begins scribbling. “Here’s my number. Give me a shout if the party starts winding down.”

She glances down. His name is Greg and his writing is small and neat.

She smiles and nods, grabbing the napkin and balances the tray of drinks over to the table, where Vanessa is still sitting with a face like she’s sucked a lemon.

“Who was the hottie?” Tracy asks immediately. “Oh my god, is that his number?! Nice work, you’ve been here like five minutes.”

Charity shrugs. “Just some guy.”

“He was pretty hot,” Rhona acknowledges. “Don’t you think, Ness?”

Vanessa scowls. “Not really. He had a funny chin.”

“You’re so picky!” Tracy laughs.

“I just think Charity can do better,” Vanessa snaps, and catches Charity’s eye, flushing.

Charity realises with a start that Vanessa is jealous. And she’s not jealous of the attention that Charity is getting. She’s jealous of Greg.

Testing her theory, Charity leans back and wiggles her fingers at Greg, who waves back enthusiastically.

Vanessa picks up her drink and drains it almost in one go, slamming the glass back down.

“Jeez, Ness, in a hurry?” Rhona asks, throwing her a worried look.

“Just trying to have some fun,” Vanessa snaps. “I’m off to the bar.”

Charity smirks and then catches Rhona’s eye. Rhona is glaring at her. “What?” she asks.

“Don’t mess with her,” Rhona says softly, so only Charity hears her.

“What, like you did? Oh, no, wait, you just used her to cover for your drug addiction.”

Rhona gives her a pained look. “I regret that much more than you know. But I’m not going to stand by and watch you hurt her.”

“Hurt her?” Charity says incredulously. “Jesus, I’ve not even done anything.”

Vanessa comes back to the table and squeezes in next to Charity. “Alright?” she asks. Her smile is a little strained but she clearly trying not to be bothered.

Charity looks at her and is suddenly, sharply, struck by how hot Vanessa is looking tonight. And ok, she’s known that on some level before, she’s not blind, and she’s been making out with Vanessa on screen for weeks, but faced with it up close like this, without cameras pointed at them, it makes her pause for a moment.

God, she’s had like two sips of her cocktail and it’s already going to her head. She must be getting old.

Vanessa accidentally knocks her glass and a little of her drink spills onto Charity. “Oh, sorry!”

Charity grabs a napkin and begins dabbing at her jeans. “It’s ok, drunkie. Just maybe slow down a bit, yeah?”

Vanessa nods and grins shyly at her and Charity quickly looks back down at her jeans because her stomach does a weird lurching thing when Vanessa looks at her which is definitely alcohol related.

“Charity!” Tracy screams, anguished. “That’s the napkin with that guys number on it!”

Charity looks down and sees the numbers are a smudge of blue ink and strawberry daiquiri. She glances at Vanessa and shrugs. “Never mind. Wasn’t going to call him anyway.”

She almost doesn’t hear the outraged response of the rest of the girls, because Vanessa smiles at her like she’s just given her the world’s biggest present.

And it makes Charity feel good, to put it there.

Vanessa flicks out her tongue to lick some of the sugar off her own lips and Charity gulps.

God she’s in trouble.

***

When she’s sober and slightly hung over the next day, she is able to rationalise things better.

They’d been rehearsing some emotionally intense Mervina scenes. She’s not been laid in ages. Vanessa is hot. They were both drunk.

There’s no way either of them have actual feelings for one another.

In the light of day, she searches Vanessa’s eyes for a hint of the emotion she say the night before, but she’s starting to doubt herself that she even saw it.

The filming of the dramatic Davina-chasing-Meredith scene goes off without a hitch, and Vanessa squeals after. “The Mervina girls on Twitter are going to have a meltdown.”

Charity rolls her eyes fondly but she can’t deny that it feels good, to for once be part of a storyline where people tweet about how much they love Davina and not just how much they want to stove her head in.

***

The next day, they’re just wrapping up a scene in the Woolpack, when Charity sees one of the gophers approach Vanessa and whisper something in her ear.

Vanessa goes white. Almost involuntarily, Charity feels herself move, and is next to Vanessa in seconds.

“You ok?” she asks. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“My mother is here,” Vanessa blurts, her eyes widening in panic.

Charity raises her eyebrows. “Good?” she asks.

“I don’t have time to change!” she says, sounding anguished. “God, I have nothing to wear.” She looks down at herself.

“Babe, no offence, but I would suggest staying in your Meredith outfit. A lot less yellow wool in her wardrobe.”

Meredith likes to wear short dresses and boots, which both Davina and Charity appreciate a lot.

Vanessa isn’t even listening; she’s turned on her phone camera and is critically examining her face with a scowl. “I look awful.”

Charity stares at her. Vanessa can be moody and grumpy on occasion, but it’s unusual and doesn’t usually last long, and she’s never seemed particularly fussed about her appearance.

“You look great!” she says, trying not to sound like she’s been staring at Vanessa’s ass in that dress all morning.

Vanessa sighs. “I’d better go.”

She looks so dejected that Charity has the sudden urge to give her a hug. But she’s still Charity Dingle, so she manages to suppress that urge.

“What’s up with her?” Chas asks as Vanessa scurries off.

Charity shrugs thoughtfully. “Not sure.”

Chas smirks at her. “Staring at her ass again?”

Charity opens her mouth in outrage. “Slander!” She gives a little sigh. “It did look good today though.”

“I hope you know what you’re doing,” Chas tells her. “You know better than anyone how awkward it gets on set when offscreen romance goes bad.”

“Who said anything about romance?” Charity says, her voice high. “Jeez, the woman is fit. That’s it.”

Chas sighs. “Whatever you say. I’m done for the day so I’ll see you tomorrow?”

Charity nods. “Have a good one.”

She heads back to the dressing room and pulls tomorrow’s script towards her. But soon she loses interest and instead works on the crossword she started in hair this morning.

A knock startles her and she shouts “come in!”

“Hi, Charity,” Vanessa says. She doesn’t sound like normal Vanessa though. She sounds like she’s constipated and/or about to cry, and she’s leading behind her a very glamorous woman in heels and with long, red nails. “Erm, this is my mum, Margaret.”

Charity, taken aback, gets up and sticks her hand out. “Charity Dingle.”

Margaret gives her a limp handshake and glances around the room raising her eyebrow a little.

“Charity and I work closely together,” Vanessa says, talking much faster and higher pitched than normal. “Our characters are…” She trails off helplessly.

Margaret turns to her. “Yes, so I’ve heard.” She rolls her eyes. “I hope for your sake that that doesn’t carry on for too long. You don’t want to get a reputation and get type cast. You’ve worked hard to put your previous indiscretions behind you.”

Vanessa goes bright red and looks at the floor. “There’s actually been a really positive response to the story line,” she says quietly, but Margaret shakes her head.

“Come on, Vanessa.” She throws up her hands. “You’ve taken me round the set. You’ve introduced me to your mediocre costars.”

“Oi!” Charity interjects.

“You must know that you are better than this. I mean, Villagers?”

Vanessa looks up and Charity sees her square her shoulders. “I like working here.”

“Vanessa, you need to stop swanning through life, taking the easy option.” Margaret sighs. “I didn’t spend thousands on acting classes and elocution lessons for you to end up doing this drivel!”

Charity’s eyebrows shoot up and she puts her hands on her hips. “Excuse me, but that’s a bit out of line. I don’t think that’s how you should be talking to your daughter. Who is excellent as Meredith, by the way.”

“Tell the pound shop Kim Bassinger to stay out of this,” Margaret tells Vanessa.

“Mum!” Vanessa cries. “What is wrong with you? You can’t show up at my place of work, demanding a tour, insulting my coworkers!”

Margaret grabs Vanessa’s arm and drags her outside. Vanessa throws a quick, apologetic look at Charity, who can still hear most of the conversation happening in the corridor.

”…need to be surrounding yourself with talented people, Vanessa, and not wasting yourself on this drivel…”

“…just impossible for you to be happy for me that I’ve found something I actually enjoy…”

“…at the very least you need to speak to them about this ridiculous lesbian story line, with that woman-“

“Charity is amazing! She’s a great actor and we work well together!”

“Yes, I’m sure she’s the next Meryl Streep! Good god Vanessa, please tell me you’ve not got one of your ridiculous crushes on that woman…”

Feeling herself begin to fume, Charity stands up. She knows it’s none of her business but staying out of things has never been her strong suit and Vanessa doesn’t deserve this.

It is suddenly very, very clear to Charity why Vanessa is so deeply closeted about her own sexuality.

Vanessa suddenly sticks her head in. Her face is still flushed and she looks like a few angry tears have rolled down her face, but her voice is steady when she says “Mum is leaving. I’m really sorry about this. I’m just going to take her out and then can I talk to you for a sec?”

Charity nods. “Sure. You ok?” Vanessa nods, almost convincingly, and withdraws. Charity can hear the click of heals on the linoleum walking away, and the continuing chatter of Margaret’s voice as it moves away.

Fifteen minutes later, there’s a tentative knock on the door. Vanessa looks sheepish; Charity feels something in her chest stutter when she sees the slight smear of mascara under her eyes where she’s wiped at them with a tissue.

“I am so, so sorry we ambushed you like that. I just wanted her to meet you, I had no idea she’d be so awful.” Vanessa sinks into Chas’s seat. “We don’t really see much of each other. You can probably tell why.” She sighs. “Mothers, eh?”

Charity shrugs. “Mine died when I was really young, but judging by that maybe that was a blessing.”

“I’m sorry,” Vanessa says quickly, looking contrite. “About your mum.” She rubs her hand across her forehead. “And thanks. For sticking up for me. No one ever does that with her. Not even my dad.” She lets out a wet chuckle.

“Charity Dingle, defender of your honour at your service.” She takes a little bow and is pleased when Vanessa cracks a small, genuine smile.

“I, well, it meant a lot, to me.”

Charity reaches out and puts her hand on Vanessa’s. Vanessa looks up at her, and Charity suddenly realises she’s in real trouble.

They move forward at the same time, rising up out of their chairs and grabbing at each other, lips meeting hotly, and it’s the same and yet completely different to the way they’ve kissed on screen. Vanessa is much less restrained; her lips part and she sighs and gasps, and Charity clutches her close and loses herself in the hot flutter of her mouth and tongue.

They tug at each other’s clothes and hair, sighing and gasping, until Charity pulls back.

“You’re not doing this just to spite your mum, are you?” Charity gasps as Vanessa gently bites at her chest while unbuttoning her shirt.

“Here’s an idea,” Vanessa hisses as she shoves Charity’s shirt off. “How about we don’t mention my mother, especially while we’re doing this.”

In response, Charity grasps Vanessa’s head in her hands and pulls her in for another kiss, firm and hot and with heir tongues rubbing gently against one another.

Vanessa melts against her, letting out these little throaty gasps that are making the heat in Charity’s stomach bubble and she walks them back to the sofa, falling backwards and pulling Vanessa into her lap.

“Are you sure?” Charity asks, even as she’s dragging Vanessa’s dress, the one she’s been admiring all day, up and over her hips.

“I want you,” Vanessa gasps.

Charity groans a little and pulls Vanessa closer. “Good.” She drags down the zip of the dress, scraping her nails along Vanessa’s back and making her shiver. “I want you too.”

Chapter Text

Part 2

After, when Vanessa has removed the dress from where it was bunched around her waist, and Charity has kicked her trousers off, they collapse together, slightly sweaty, limbs entwined.

Charity had expected Vanessa to be slightly prudish, and a little hesitant, but it seemed like once Vanessa got going nothing was going to stop her.

It’s been a while since Charity has had sex this good. Yes, it was slightly sloppy and clumsy, as it always is the with someone new, but for the first time in ages, Charity wasn’t having sex with a stranger she’d just met; she was touching someone who for some inexplicable reason seems to genuinely like her, and somehow that changed everything.

And she’s pretty sure Vanessa had a good time too, judging my her enthusiastic sounds and her gentle bite on Charity’s shoulder as she came.

She feels Vanessa start to shake, and looks down worriedly. Vanessa has her hand pressed over her eyes and is shaking her head.

“Are you ok?” Charity asks.

Vanessa lets out a laugh and uncovers her eyes. “Yeah. Yes. It’s just, I’m such an idiot.”

Charity bristles; she had hoped the afterglow would at least have receded before the regrets started.

“I forgot. How good sex can be when you’re actually attracted to the person you’re sleeping with.”

Charity freezes, the frown falling off her face. “What do you mean? You’ve done this before?”

Vanessa looks at her, and she’s practically glowing with post-coital satisfaction. “Years and years ago. Couple of times.” She shrugs, looking a little embarrassed. “Convinced myself it was a phase. Or rather, my mother did. And I just kind of tried not to think about it. Worked ok, until last year with Rhona.”

“How long are we talking here?” Charity asks, some of her smugness receding as she suddenly suspects that maybe Vanessa’s intense reaction to her touch wasn’t just about Charity’s skills in bed and maybe more because Vanessa hasn’t actually had enjoyable sex in a really long time.

Vanessa blushes a little. “I was twenty one. Easter break at RADA, and my friend Jenny came home with me. And it just kind of happened.” She lets out a slow breath. “Mum walked in and went ballistic. Said we’d never get any roles if we carried on with that nonsense. It was awful.”

“Your mother is a real piece of work.” Charity growls.

“She meant well, I think, in her own way. She always wanted me to do well.” Vanessa sighs. “We just never really shared the same dream of what that meant. I went along with what she wanted for years before I realised it was making me sick.”

Charity looks at her for signs she’s freaking out but she seems strangely calm.

“You weren’t bad for being that out of practice,” Charity says in an attempt to lighten the mood and is rewarded by Vanessa nudging her with a grin.

“Not bad?” she says, outraged. “Tell that to the scratches on my back.” They fall into comfortable silence, Vanessa gently playing with Charity’s messy hair. “Have you done this before? With a woman?”

“Couple of times.” Although it has never been this good, not that she’ll tell Vanessa that. “When the mood strikes me.”

“And it struck you today?” Vanessa asks in a playful tone.

“Well, you’ve been prancing around in that bloody dress all day, haven’t you,” she growls, and nibbles Vanessa’s earlobe, revelling in her gasp.

“Like that, did you?” she asks in a strangled voice. “I’m partial to you in your Davina heels, myself.”

Charity wrinkles her nose. “God, please don’t tell me you have a Davina fetish. I’m fed up of people calling me that in bed.”

Vanessa raises herself up slightly. “People actually do that?” She looks horrified.

“Oh yeah,” Charity nods. “This is why you should never sleep with anyone who says they’re a fan of the show.”

“I’m a fan of the show!” Vanessa exclaims. “But that’s kind of gross, them picturing someone else.”

Charity shrugs again. “Happens all the time.” She doesn’t say when people sleep with me but it rings through the room anyway.

“People are idiots,” Vanessa says lightly. “You’re incredibly hot. I’ve always thought so, even before it became my job to make out with you on camera.” She grins a little. “Even when I still thought you were a massive bitch.”

“I am a massive bitch!” Charity tells her, grinning back. “And yeah, I’d kind of noticed. Despite your insistence that you’re straight as a nail, it’s a bit of a give away when your eyes are glued to my chest.”

Vanessa flushes a little but meets her eyes. “Well, can you blame me? They’re gorgeous…” She trails her fingers softly over Charity’s nipple and they both gasp a little as it pebbles under her touch. “Also I’m pretty sure the straight thing is out of the window.” She shakes her head. “I didn’t even know it was possible to come that hard.”

Charity preens, and Vanessa rolls her eyes.

“I knew that would go to your head.” She pauses. “We probably shouldn’t do this again, though, right? Keep it a one time thing? Since we have to work together every day?”

Charity nods, even though she’s disappointed. Good sex, she knows from experience, is hard to come by, especially with someone you actually like a bit. But it’s sensible, to not do this again. She’s mixed business and pleasure a number of times in the past and it’s always ended badly.

“The thing about women, though,” she drawls, tracing her finger up Vanessa’s thigh, “is that the ‘one time thing’ can last for quite a while.”

Vanessa looks at her and raises her eyebrows. “Is that right?” Her voice sounds a little strained.

“Mhh hmm,” Charity mutters along her skin, bending down to kiss her stomach, and smirking when Vanessa’s thighs part involuntary. “I think it’s important you get the full experience.”

Vanessa looks down at her, and places her hand on Charity’s hair. “Yes,” she sighs. “I agree.”

***

Charity knows the minute she walks on set the next day that it’s not going to be a one time thing. She’s braced herself for awkwardness, for avoidance, for bickering even.

But she isn’t ready for Vanessa’s hot gaze following her around all day. How she finds Vanessa’s eyes glued to her lips as she licks away her excess lipgloss. How she meets Charity’s eyes in long, lingering eye contact across the bar, even though they’re not even talking in this scene.

And Charity can’t help herself; she’s looking too. Vanessa has her hair up today, and it’s exposed her long, slender neck, where Charity remembers placing a line of heated kisses while Vanessa arched below her hands.

And she’s wearing another one of Meredith’s bloody dresses, which pushes up her boobs so they’re practically waving a flag saying “hi Charity, want to fuck?”

Vanessa finishes filming before Charity that night, and gives her look before leaving which suggests to Charity that it would very much be in her interest to ensure filming goes smoothly and they finish quickly.

She rarely misreads desire; it’s the language she’s always been good at speaking, and she’s pretty confident that Vanessa wants this too. But she’s still worried, a little, that Vanessa’s going to panic.

Charity doesn’t exactly have many friends, except for Chas, and she does genuinely like Vanessa.

And she knows how people react when they stop sleeping with her. God, Cain couldn’t even look at her for months.

She knocks on Vanessa’s dressing room anyway, because the sensible option has never been appealing for Charity, and as Vanessa opens the door in a mustard yellow knit which should absolutely not be a turn on but somehow is.

“Come here,” she husks, and pulls Vanessa to her, pushing her up against the door, sighing as Vanessa sinks into her eagerly.

***

“So,” Chas says to her the next day in their dressing room. “I found this behind the sofa this morning.”

Vanessa’s pale pink bra dangles from her finger.

“Care to explain?”

Charity shrugs nonchalantly. “Is it yours?”

Chas looks at the cup size and then down at her own chest pointedly. “Hmmm, unless my boobs go up and down about three cup sizes a day, I don’t think so.”

Charity shrugs again. “Maybe someone’s sneaking in here to get their rocks off?”

“Uh huh.” Chas frowns. “So you and Vanessa aren’t acting out what happens with Davina and Meredith when the camera stops rolling, on the sofa that you and I share.”

“Course not,” Charity says with a smirk. “That would be disrespectful and wrong.”

Chas sighs. “Just clean it after, yeah? And pick up your girlfriend’s underwear when you’re done.”

“She’s not my girlfriend!” Charity says, palms a little sweaty. “Who said anything about girlfriend?”

Chas holds up her hands defensively. “Ok, ok! Sorry!”

Charity turns back to her crossword. “It’s nothing.” She almost means it, too.

***

The water runs over them, cascading down to where their bodies are joined, where Vanessa’s hand is working between her legs.

“Is that what you need?” Vanessa husks in her ear. “Are you going to come for me?”

Charity, who has been waiting for this since she went down on Vanessa while she was seated on her dressing table earlier, groans in answer and lets her head fall back against the shower wall.

“So close,” she sighs. “Faster, please, faster.”

Vanessa takes direction well, maybe because she’s so used to it from work, and never seems offended when Charity tells her what she wants or moves her fingers to where she needs them.

But just as Vanessa speeds up, the door to the dressing room outside opens with a creak and they hear Chas come in.

Vanessa leans forward and whispers “Be good and quiet and I’ll keep going.”

Charity lets out a low whine which Vanessa swallows with her mouth.

She’s too close to stop now, but it’s going to be hard to keep it down.

“I’m off home, Charity!” Chas tells through the door.

“-Kay!” Charity manages, but it comes out kind of strangled.

There’s a pause. “You ok in there?”

“Uh huh!” Charity shouts back, but it turns into a kind of drawn out moan as Vanessa’s finger tips hit that spot inside of her that drives her crazy.

A longer pause. “See you tomorrow then! Bye Vanessa!”

Vanessa freezes, and Charity cries out in frustration. “Ness!”

Vanessa withdraws her fingers and stares at Charity in horror. “Does she know we’re in here? Does she know about…about…”

Charity sighs, the urgent haze of arousal fading slightly. “Well, she found your bloody bra behind the sofa, didn’t she?”

Vanessa lets out a horrified whimper. “But she won’t say anything, will she?”

Mood well and truly gone, Charity straightens. “No, Vanessa,” she says sharply. “Don’t worry, no one knows your dirty little secret.” She moves to leave the shower but Vanessa’s hand catches her arm.

“I’m sorry,” she says softly. “I didn’t mean-“

“It’s fine,” Charity lies.

Vanessa pushes herself up against Charity’s back, pressing her hard nipples against her and slides her hand round Charity’s stomach and creeping further down, very slowly, giving Charity the chance to stop her.

She hesitates, then spreads her legs, and feels Vanessa kiss her back as she slides her left hand against Charity’s clit while her right hand enters her from behind.

Charity leans forward, hands on the wall of the shower, panting.

It barely takes two minutes before she’s crying out. But the glow has gone out of it.

She gets out of the shower the minute Vanessa pulls out and towels off quickly.

Vanessa is watching her with big, guilty eyes, and Charity is annoyed, because it’s making her feel bad.

“I’m sorry,” Vanessa says again.

Charity doesn’t respond.

“It’s not you.” Vanessa sighs and rubs her forehead. “I just, I’ve only just got used to letting myself feel this. I’m just not ready for the world to know.”

“Ness, it’s fine, yeah?” Charity says, keeping her tone casual. “Not like we’re a couple or anything. Couple of weeks I’ll be bored of you anyway.”

Vanessa flinches like she’s been struck. “Right.” She pulls on her clothes. “Well, erm, I’ll see you at the party tomorrow?”

Charity shrugs. “Sure.”

Vanessa steps forward, like she’s going to kiss Charity goodbye like she normally does, but seems to think better of it last minute and gives her a small, hesitant smile before leaving.

Charity sinks onto the couch and buries her face in her hands. This needs to stop now, she decides. There’s a reason she doesn’t do feelings; it leaves everyone feeling shit. And she’s had, quite frankly, enough of feeling shit to last a lifetime.

***

At the Villagers Christmas party the next night, Charity avoids Vanessa, hanging around Chas, taking shots with the young crowd who play Davina’s various extended family, and generally pretending like she can’t see Vanessa in her sparkly green dress and her big eyes, watching her.

But Vanessa doesn’t come over.

Charity throws back another shot, relishing the burn because it washes away some of the bitterness in her mouth.

Because once again, she’s good enough to fuck, but not good enough to acknowledge in public.

It’s not like she’s expecting life long commitment or anything, but she’s sick of being treated like she’s the dirt on someone’s shoe.

“Where’s Vanessa?” Chas asks her as the music changes to cheesy party tunes and most of the cast leap up to do the Macarena.

“Don’t know, don’t care,” Charity manages almost convincingly, deliberately turning her back to where Vanessa is leaping about with Tracy.

Chas shakes her head. “You’re an idiot.”

Charity glares at her. “Have you got something to say?”

Chas rolls her eyes. “That girl can’t keep her eyes off you. But you’re playing it so cool, like you always do, and someone else is going to come along eventually who actually shows an interest.”

Charity snorts bitterly. “Right. It’s all my fault.”

Chas’s face softens. “Charity-“

“You know what, I think I’m all partied out,” Charity announces.

“Hey,” Chas says, remorse crossing her face. “Look, clearly I don’t know what I’m talking about-“

“No, you bloody don’t!” Charity stands up, only slightly wobbly. “Look, I don’t know what you thought was going on with me and Vanessa, but it’s nothing. She’s not interested in anything serious. Hell, she can’t even think the word ‘lesbian’ in public without having a heart attack. So no, sorry to ruin your little fantasy, but there’s no big gay white wedding coming up here.”

She storms off, ignoring Chas calling after her, and fumbles in her bag for her phone, pulling up the Uber app.

“Hey,” a soft voice called behind her, and despite all the tequila and the anger, Charity still gets that annoying fluttery feeling in her stomach.

“Hi.” She doesn’t turn around. She doesn’t want to look into Vanessa’s eyes.

“Been waiting for you to talk to me,” Vanessa says, an edge to her voice. “But looks like you’re headed off?”

“Sorry love, if you were after a quickie in the bathroom, I’m not really in the mood tonight.”

Vanessa lets our a frustrated sigh. “That’s not what I meant.”

“Then what did you want, Vanessa?” Charity asks tiredly.

“I just wanted to say hi!” Vanessa says , voice squeaky.

“Hi.” A notification pops up on her phone. “My ride’s here, so I’ve got to head.”

She’s almost at the door when Vanessa touches her shoulder. “Charity,” she says softly.

And like Vanessa’s cast some sort of spell, Charity finds herself turning and suddenly finds Vanessa’s arms wrapped around her.

“Merry Christmas, Charity,” Vanessa whispers, pressing a soft kiss to the corner of her mouth.

Then she’s gone back into the party, leaving Charity standing with her heart thumping and her skin burning.

 

***

The next day, Christmas Eve, Charity spends most of the day in bed, nursing her hangover.

Debbie comes round with the kids, and she hears them all downstairs, squabbling while they decorate the cupcakes with the Christmas icing figures Charity bought in the last shop in an effort to do something “home made”.

At some point mid morning, she thinks she hears the doorbell, but she’s half asleep and groggy and she isn’t sure until she comes downstairs around lunch time and sees the large gift bag sitting on the coffee table.

“What’s this?” she croaks at Debbie, who is watching her with some amusement.

“Good night last night?” Debbie asks.

“Not really.” Charity gulps down some water. “What’s with the bag?”

Debbie gives her an long, searching look. “One of your coworkers stopped by to drop off your Christmas present. She seemed pretty disappointed she missed you.”

Feigning nonchalance, Charity edges over to the bag. “Oh?”

Debbie moves round with her. “Something you want to share, Mum?”

Charity peers into the bag. There’s five chocolate reindeer inside, each one iced with the names of Charity’s kids and grandkids. Vanessa’s even remembered Charity’s offhand comment that Noah prefers white chocolate.

And underneath there’s a large, squishy gift with a tag that says Charity’s name in Vanessa’s small writing.

“Are you going to open it?” Debbie asks, a challenge in her voice.

“Not Christmas yet,” Charity mumbles, but she’s already pulling the present out.

It’s a jumper. Davina-red, exactly Charity’s size. Vanessa’s clearly hand knitted it. And on the front it says Team Mervina.

“Did she make that?” Debbie asks, sounding surprised.

Charity nods. “Yeah.” There’s a lump in her throat. She doesn’t know how long it takes to knit a jumper, but Vanessa doesn’t have that much time, with filming and Johnny, and the amount of time they’ve spent wrapped up in each other over the past few weeks.

And she’s spent her spare moments making this, for Charity. And yes, it’s clearly a joke gift, but it’s a joke that required effort. And forethought.

“Put it on then.” Debbie has her phone out, poised and ready.
“Let’s send her a photo so she knows you like it.”

There’s a challenge in Debbie’s voice, like she’s daring Charity to say something. Explain.

But she can’t. It’s been years since her kids have been aware of anyone she’s been seeing, however casually.

The last one was Ross, and that was only because it resulted in the accidental conception of Moses.

She tugs the jumper over her head and lets Debbie snap a few pictures, before sending them to Vanessa.

It’s not Christmas yet, you cheat! she replies almost immediately.

Charity smiles. Team Mervina doesn’t play by the rules she replies.

Too right! Just at a rest stop, driving to London to see my Dad atm. Sorry I missed you earlier.

Charity bites her lip. She wants to say something, make up for last night, but she doesn’t know how.

Can I call you tomorrow? Just to say Merry Christmas? Vanessa asks, and Charity feels her face break into a smile.

“What’s going on with you?” Debbie asks suspiciously. “You look way too happy for your level of hangover.

“Nothing,” she lies. “Must just be Christmas spirit.”

***

Vanessa calls her the next day, in the spot after dinner where they’re all too full to move, and she takes the call up in her bedroom, away from Debbie’s prying ears.

She’s worried it’ll be tense or awkward, but Vanessa sounds both happy and exasperated and Charity is content to hear her stories about her dad ‘helping’ her make the Christmas dinner and burning the Yorkshire puddings.

And they speak again, a couple of days later. Charity is better over text; she’s never been good on the phone, but Vanessa seems happy to do most of the talking and accept the occasional grunt of acknowledgement from Charity.

They don’t speak about what happened before Christmas, but it seems pretty clear they both want to leave it behind them, and Charity has decided that in the spirit of the new year she’s going to let it go. God knows she’s not perfect either, and there’s something about Vanessa that she can’t stop thinking about.

After New Year, Charity’s one of the first back at work, but it’s only a short scene, so she takes Noah and Moses in with her and leaves them in her dressing room, promising an end of school holiday bowling session as a reward if they behave.

Noah doesn’t act particularly enthused, but he doesn’t make a fuss and at the moment that’s ringing enthusiasm, so she’s pretty happy with that.

But when she gets back to her room after filming, there’s a familiar voice joining Noah’s.

“Batman doesn’t even have any powers!” she hears Noah exclaim. “He’s just rich!”

“But he has a cool car and suit and stuff!” Vanessa says defensively.

“Spider-Man is way cooler!”

“I think you’ll find that nothing about this discussion is remotely cool,” Charity says from the door.

Vanessa whips around and Moses, who seems to have fallen asleep on her, shuffles. “Charity!” Her whole face lights up and Charity looks down, embarrassed at the genuine emotion.

She’s hesitant to look at Noah and see his reaction.

“Didn’t know you were filming today?” Charity asks, still looking at her feet.

“I’m not.” Vanessa sounds oddly shy, and it makes something warm bubble up in Charity’s chest. “Johnny is spending another week with my Dad and I knew you were filming so I just wanted to see if you wanted to grab lunch.” She smiles. “But I’ve heard you’ve got big bowling plans, so maybe next week?”

Charity hesitates; she wants to ask Vanessa to join them, but it’s been really hard work, getting her relationship with Noah to this point, and she’s worried to do anything that might jeopardise that.

“You should come,” Noah says, glancing up at Charity.

“Oh, no, I don’t want to intrude!”

“Come!” Moses squeals, making Vanessa jump as she clearly hadn’t realised he’d woken up. “Come, Ness!”

Vanessa looks up at Charity apologetically and Charity can’t help but let a big smile overtake her face.

“Yeah Ness, come!” she mocks her youngest gently. Moses has always been affectionate with everyone he meets, but he’s clinging to Vanessa like a limpet.

“Well, Dingles, I hope you’re ready to be annihilated by the Woodfield bowling prowess!”

***

The Woodfield bowling prowess turns out to be Vanessa managing to get the ball into the tracks at the side without hitting a single pin twice in a row, pretending to have done so on purpose to let the kids win, and then disappearing to get them to put up the side barriers “for Moses”, who has without the assistance of the barriers and with the help of the ball ramp managed to hit two spares already.

“Sorry to ruin your family day,” she says to Charity as they’re handing the shoes back later. “But thanks for getting me out of the house. I’m always bummed when Johnny’s away.”

Charity shakes her head. “You didn’t ruin anything.” She takes a deep breath. “I’m glad you came.”

Vanessa rewards her with one of her big, eyes shining, teeth gleaming smiles, and Charity can feel herself going a little dopey.

“Are we getting that Chinese now or what?” Noah asks, rolling his eyes at them.

Vanessa shuffles. “I’ll just call a taxi.”

“Don’t be daft,” Charity says, sighing at the thinly veiled hint. “You’re coming and all.”

Vanessa beams.

It’s the first time in a long time anyone from work who’s not Chas has been at her house, but she’s oddly not self conscious with Vanessa, who makes herself at home but not obnoxiously so, and who helps her with the dishes after dinner, ”since I guilted you into using proper plates”.

Charity can feel Noah watching her, and Vanessa, all through dinner, but she doesn’t sense disapproval, only hesitancy.

She can’t blame him.

She knows she shouldn’t expose the kids to this, because it’s going to blow up and then they’ll be hurt too, but it’s hard to remember that when Vanessa is around, lighting up their lives.

After dinner, when Charity has tucked in an exhausted Moses and Noah has disappeared to his room, she hands Vanessa glass of wine and curls up next to her.

“Noah likes you,” she says. “And he doesn’t like a lot of people.”

Vanessa seems genuinely chuffed at her comment. “He seems like a great kid.”

“We’ve had a rough time, me and him” Charity confesses. “But it’s been better recently. I mean, he’s still a moody teenager, but at least he’s not skipping school every other day and telling me he hates me.”

“He loves you,” Vanessa says instantly. “He thinks you’re incredible.”

Charity rolls her eyes. “Come on Ness, he’s a teenager. And to be honest I’ve given him plenty of reasons not to think I’m incredible.” She pauses. “He was in foster care, when he was young. Took me almost two years to get him back. Didn’t think he’d ever forgive me.”

Vanessa reaches out and takes her hand. “You know, earlier, he was asking about our storyline? And he was saying how happy he is that you’re finally getting to play something that’s not just Davina screwing people over. He said, ‘Mum deserves a good storyline for once. She shouldn’t be a villain all the time.’.”

Charity gapes at her. “He did not!”

Vanessa smiles. “He did. Sounds like he’s been watching Villagers quite a bit recently.”

“He never said anything.” Charity shakes her head.

“Doesn’t mean he doesn’t care.” Vanessa squeezes her hand. “You’re a great mum, Charity.”

Charity shakes her head. “I’m trying. I really am. But I’m not a natural at it. Probably cause I never had a role model for decent parenting.” She looks at Vanessa, bathed in the soft light from the side lamp. “Bet you’re good at it though.”

Vanessa’s face falls. “I try to be,” she says, her voice thick suddenly. “But I wasn’t at the start.” She looks down at her lap. “When Johnny was born, I, I couldn’t even hold him. Or touch him.” Her voice catches. “I looked at him and felt nothing.”

Charity edges closer, almost involuntarily. “Ness,” she whispers.

“It took months of anti depressants for me to start feeling normal again. And I know, rationally, that it’s not my fault, that post partum can happen to anyone, but I feel like I let him down. Like I’ve robbed us of our first six months, and somehow he knows and holds it against me.”

There are tears rolling down Vanessa’s cheeks, and Charity gathers her up and pulls her close.

“Sorry,” Vanessa gasps, wiping at her eyes. “God, I don’t know where that came from.”

“Thank you for telling me,” Charity says earnestly.

“Thanks for telling me about Noah,” Vanessa replies, and they smile hesitantly at each other.

Then Vanessa glances at her watch and winces. It’s late and a Saturday, so cabs will be hard to come by.

“Do you want to stay?” Charity asks, then leans forward to kiss her to give her an incentive. To gloss over how big a step this is.

Vanessa melts into her. “What about the boys?” she husks against Charity’s mouth, sighing into her kisses.

“Do you want to stay over?” Charity asks again, and kisses down Vanessa’s neck until she shudders.

“Ok,” Vanessa whispers shakily. “Ok.”

Chapter Text

Part 3

 

Noah raises an eyebrow but doesn’t comment when he comes down the next morning to find Vanessa and Charity in the kitchen, with Charity making cups of tea and Vanessa, wrapped in Charity’s dressing gown, making pancakes from scratch.

But she can feel him watching her, and Vanessa must feel it too because she blushes and babbles nervously and when Charity puts her hand on her back to lean over her and grab a spoon from the drying rack, she actually gasps a little.

Charity kind of wants to laugh, at how obviously Vanessa wants Noah to like her, but she’s never been with someone before whose been bothered with the kids, and it’s nice.

And yeah, it’s a bit odd, because they’ve never been a Saturday family breakfast kind of family, but they slip into the role of one easily enough. Maybe too easily.

They end up going to the cinema after to see the new Pixar film, and Charity and Noah sit on either side of Moses, with Vanessa beside Charity. Ten minutes in, Vanessa reaches across and entangles their fingers.

Charity turns to look at her and returns Vanessa’s shy smile.

It’s been decades since she’s held hands in the cinema. Years since hands touching has made her heart thud in her chest like this.

And ok, Vanessa pulls her hand away when the lights go on. But she walks with their shoulders touching and holds Moses’s hand when they walk across the car park, and when they drop Vanessa off at her house, Vanessa glances over her shoulder and then goes red and presses a quick, soft kiss against Charity’s cheek before getting out of the car.

Charity expects Noah to say something, but he’s still quiet.

He’s so different to Charity that way. He broods over stuff, and waits for his moment. Charity has never been like that.

It comes that evening, via Debbie, whose come round with the kids for dinner.

“Noah says Vanessa stayed over last night,” she says without preamble.

“Yep,” Charity says. She can feel her shoulders rising defensively.

“So are you guys, like, a thing now?”

Charity sighs.

“Oh come on, Mum.” Debbie throws up her hands. “When was the last time you introduced someone to us? When has anyone ever stayed over and stayed for breakfast?”

Charity shakes her head. “It’s not…I don’t know, Debbie, ok?” She’s suddenly frustrated and her voice rises. “I don’t know. We both said we weren’t looking for anything and god knows I’m not good at relationships.”

“But you like her.” It’s a statement, not a question. “And Noah said she likes you too.”

Charity can’t help it; the warmth in her chest that Vanessa seems to bring out in her spreads across her face and she smiles.

“Oh my god, look at you! You’re so chuffed!” Debbie stares at her. “I’ve never seen you like this.”

“Oh give over.” Charity turns away. “You’ve seen me with plenty of people.”

“Not like this.” Debbie moves around so they’re facing each other again. “Hey, look, I’m happy for you, ok?”

“It’s not…we’re not…”

“Yeah, yeah, nothing serious, blah blah.” Debbie rolls her eyes. “When do I get to meet her?”

“Erm.” Charity is suddenly gripped by panic. What if she tells Vanessa that her other kid and her grandkids want to meet her and Vanessa bolts? What if Vanessa doesn’t bolt and wants to put a label on them? What if she wants to put a label on them and Charity wants that too?

“Ok, calm down Mum,” Debbie says, looking at her face in alarm. “I just feel a bit left out, that’s all.”

“I’ll ask her.” Charity finds the words coming out of her mouth without permission. But after she says them, her heart rate slows down. Because she’s pretty sure she knows what Vanessa’s answer will be.

***

That weekend is a turning point for them. Suddenly, instead of sneaking into each other’s dressing rooms for a quickie against the door, Vanessa is coming round to hers, or, once Johnny is back, Charity is staying at Vanessa’s on nights where Moses is with his Dad, and Noah mysteriously always wants to stay at a friend’s.

Vanessa’s even, a couple of times, brought Johnny with her to stay, and although Moses was hesitant at first, they now get on like a house on fire.

She even held up against Debbie’s dinner come interrogation.

It’s incredibly domestic, and to her utter horror, Charity loves it. She loves that Vanessa insists on actually cooking, and then all sitting down and eating it, and she loves having her curled up on the couch next to her, and she really, really loves finally being able to touch Vanessa in an actual bed.

Vanessa’s self conscious at first, about the boys hearing, but Charity can be very persuasive and in the end it doesn’t take much each night for Vanessa to give in.

They’re addicted to each other.

Charity hasn’t known another person’s body this well maybe ever. The spots that make Vanessa gasp, the ones that make her squirm.

And Vanessa knows her too. Knows what she wants and how fast. Sometimes knows it better than Charity does herself.

One night, after Vanessa has spent what feels like hours kissing and playing with Charity’s nipples while rubbing her slowly with her other hand, and Charity has finally come, quieting her loud groan into a pillow, she has to pull Vanessa’s hands away from her chest.

“God, you’re obsessed,” she groans. “How on earth you managed to convince yourself you were straight for twenty odd years is beyond me.”

Vanessa freezes, and Charity feels a stab of regret. She can’t help it, sometimes, the stuff that comes out of her mouth.

“Sometimes I think if I’d just told my mother to fuck off and had been brave enough to just live how I wanted, Kirin might still be alive.”

Charity turns to look at Vanessa. “Ness,” she says apologetically. “I didn’t mean-“

“No, I mean, you’re right.” Vanessa sighs. “It’s not like I didn’t like my boyfriends, but I wasn’t attracted to them. Not the way I am to women.” She gives Charity a small smile. “Definitely not the way I am to you.”

It gives her a thrill, every time Vanessa so openly tells her that she likes her, that she’s attracted to her in a way that’s over and above her simply being the first woman she’s slept with in decades.

“Kirin and I had broken up, before he died.” Vanessa’s voice is quiet and she’s staring at the ceiling. “He was angry. He thought I’d got pregnant on purpose. And he wasn’t ready to be a dad. He walked out, got in his car, and went drinking. Crashed on the way home.” She sighs. “But he’d never have been in that position if I hadn’t been hiding myself away by dating him.”

“You can’t think like that.” Charity’s learned that the hard way over the years. “Shit happens, but it usually results in good stuff as well as bad. If you hadn’t dated Kirin you wouldn’t have Johnny.”

Vanessa nods. “True.”

“My first husband killed himself,” Charity says. “And a lot of people had a lot to say about it. Blamed me.”

Vanessa rubs her arms and Charity finds herself snuggling into her, almost as if her body is seeking Vanessa out even without express permission.

“But it’s taken me a long time to realise that all we can really take responsibility for is the things we do. If we start trying to shoulder everything else as well people just break.”

“You’ve really been through a lot of shit, haven’t you?” Vanessa asks rhetorically.

Charity shrugs. “Everyone’s been through stuff. But yeah, I’ve probably had more than my fair share.”

Vanessa looks at her for a moment and then kisses her. “You’re pretty amazing, you know that?”

“Don’t be daft,” Charity says, feeling self conscious at Vanessa’s earnest expression.

“You are. You’re wonderful.”

“You really think so?” Charity can’t help herself asking.

“I really, really do.”

And her eyes are shining with something that Charity can’t handle right now, so she rolls on top, eliciting a squeal out of Vanessa. “Wanna see how wonderful I can be?”

***

“Oh thank god you’re here!”

Chas and Charity look up from where they’re sitting on the sofa, reading a long scene full of Welch action coming up in tomorrow’s filming.

Vanessa looks frazzled. She’s made up like Meredith and is wearing a Meredith skirt, but she’s also got on…are those two coats on top of each other?....and she has Johnny clutched in her arms.

“Charity!” he shouts in delight.

“Inside voice, darling,” Vanessa tells him, voice tense. “Can you please, please watch him for an hour? My childminder’s mum died, and Rhona is in the scene with me. And he knows you better than Tracy.”

“Of course!” She reaches for him. “Come here, Johnnybobs.” She deliberately does not look at Chas.

“God, thank you! I am so late.”

Their fingers brush as Vanessa hands Johnny across and Charity feels the familiar spark, the one she’s still barely used to just from touching another person.

“I’ll make it up to you. I’ll be back ASAP.” She hurries out, giving Johnny a little wave.

Johnny buries his face in Charity’s shoulder sleepily.

“Want a nap, pumpkin?”

He shakes his head. “You got Rubble?” he asks.

Charity fishes for her phone and pulls up Netflix, putting on an episode of Paw Patrol. Johnny grabs the phone enthusiastically but is asleep within minutes.

The second he nods off, Chas jerks her head and beckons her close.

“Since when are you hanging out with Vanessa’s kid?” she asks. She doesn’t sound judgemental, just curious.

“Dunno. About a month I guess?”

Chas beams at her. “Does this mean you guys are finally official? Because let me tell you, half the cast already thinks it.”

Alarmed, Charity says “Don’t joke about that with Vanessa, please.”

Chas’s face falls. “Charity….Is she still not…”

“I don’t want to push her.” It sounds pathetic, even to Charity’s own ears. Normally she does nothing but push the people she’s with. But Vanessa, she’s different. Kind and good in a way Charity has never had in her life. So maybe no one except their kids and Chas knows about them. So maybe they don’t hold hands in public. But for the first time in a long time, Charity feels seen. Feels respected and cared for. Wants to give those things in return. “I can wait.”

Chas sighs. “I like Vanessa. You know I do. But you deserve more than this, Charity.”

Chas’s words settle in her gut the way uncomfortable truths have a habit of establishing residence, but looking at Johnny, remembering the way Vanessa cuddled Moses during a nightmare yesterday, remembering how Debbie had nodded her approval during a brief lunch the other day, it’s easy to ignore them for now.

***

Back in October, Charity had promised Noah that she’d take them away for half term, and to prove that it wasn’t one of her empty promises, she booked a week in Lanzarote there and then.

The night before they go, Vanessa and Johnny stay over; Vanessa’s offered to take them to the airport at the crack of dawn because Debbie has to work.

“We can take a taxi,” Charity has said, but Vanessa can be just as stubborn as her.

Tonight, Vanessa is urgent and possessive, scraping her teeth along her skin and holding her hips firmly as she licks between Charity’s legs.

After, she curls around Charity, holding her tight. “I hope there’s no fit Spanish girls on Lanzarote trying to get your attention,” she says, obviously trying to keep her voice light.

Something warm glows in Charity’s stomach; Vanessa’s jealous.

“Don’t worry babe, even if there were I think my body needs a week to recover from what you just did to me,” she replies glibly, hissing as Vanessa pinches her hip.

“Good,” Vanessa mumbles into her skin. “I’m not so good at sharing.”

Charity’s heart thuds in her chest. Maybe they are going to have this conversation, then. “Me neither,” she says. “So you’d better keep those Yorkshire girls away too.”

“Deal,” Vanessa smiles into her back.

When she drops them off at the airport, there’s a moment where she thinks Vanessa is going to kiss her. In public.

“Oh my god, Davina and Meredith?” a voice screams, and Vanessa jerks back, a blush rising on her cheeks.

The fan is in her mid twenties and insists on a selfie with both of them, before she finally leaves and it’s time for the Dingles to board. Vanessa gives each of them a hug goodbye, squeezing Charity hard.

“Nice of her to take us,” Noah mutters, even thought the hug embarrassed him.

Charity nods, and deliberately pushes down thoughts of how nice it would be if Vanessa and Johnny were with them.

***

“Oh thank god!” Charity turns around in her makeup chair and sees Rhona standing there. “You’re back.”

Charity has spoken maybe ten words Rhona offscreen since Rhona started on Villagers five years ago, so this reaction is somewhat surprising.

“Very observant.” She looks at her curiously. “Can I help you?”

“More like, can you help Vanessa,” Rhona mutters. “All week all I’ve been getting is a running commentary on the Lanzarote weather.”

Charity stares at her. “What?”

“If you’re looking for your girlfriend, she’s just finishing up at Tug Ghyll. Should be wrapping up right about now.”

“My what?!” Charity asks, but Rhona has disappeared already.

Charity’s head is spinning. Rhona knows. That means she’s either guessed, or Vanessa has told her. And if she’s told her, she’s described Charity as her girlfriend.

They haven’t talked about what they are. Except for Vanessa’s not so subtle hint that Charity shouldn’t sleep with anyone else, they’ve not really defined any parameters for their thing.

The G word makes Charity palms sweat. Because that means commitment. That means a relationship. That means something to lose.

And Charity has lost pretty much everything she’s ever valued this way.

And yet.

When she thinks about Vanessa, and her weird affinity for multiple coats and the way she drools in her sleep and the way she insists on putting mugs on coasters, all she can think about is that she wants that all the time, all around her and her kids.

The minute her hair is makeup is done, she heads outside to the street where Meredith has her little cottage, and sees Vanessa coming towards her, her yellow coat on over Meredith’s wool dress. When Vanessa spots her, her whole face lights up, and Charity can’t help the grin that spreads across her own face.

“Hello, stranger!” Vanessa calls. “Was beginning to forget what you looked like!”

Charity grins. “Should have taken a picture for reference.”

Vanessa raises an eyebrow. “That would have been helpful for multiple reasons.”

Charity clutches her chest, fake outraged. “Vanessa Woodfield! Imagine what your mother would say!”

Vanessa quirks her lips. “Probably tell me that her elocution lessons were wasted because I’m still not enunciating, and that my unfortunate sapphic tendencies mean I’ll never get cast by Spielberg.”

“Good thing I find your accent sexy then.” Charity looks around; no one is watching them. “Fancy giving me a proper hello in my dressing room?”

Vanessa’s lips quirk, but she checks her watch. “We’ve got that on-set Interview in an hour with that soap podcast.” She gives Charity a firm look. “So no messing with the hair or the makeup.”

“Even the lipstick?” Charity husks. “Because I’ve been thinking about your mouth between my-“

“Charity, Vanessa, Graham wants a word!” one of the runners shouts across the street.

Charity sighs but at least Vanessa lets out an equal huff of frustration. “Maybe later,” she tells Charity but it’s clearly also a pep talk for herself.

As they walk to Graham’s office, Charity says, trying for casual, “Rhona was acting weird earlier.”

“Weird how?” Vanessa says worriedly.

“No, not like I’m on pills weird,” Charity says quickly. “More like, insinuating stuff. About us.” She glances at Vanessa for any panic, but is surprised to see her looking a little guilty.

“Sorry, I should have warned you. Rhona knows about us.”

Charity looks at Vanessa in shock.

“I was missing you and I really wanted to talk to someone, you know, about us and stuff,” Vanessa says, blushing. “I hope that’s ok. I feel like a massive hypocrite because I gave you such a hard time about Chas.”

“It’s fine.” Charity tried to wrap her head around this development.

“She said she’d kind of guessed anyway. Apparently I can’t shut up about you,” Vanessa grins shyly.

“Well, I can’t blame you,” Charity says, but inside her heart is pounding.

They reach Graham, one of the Executive Producers’ door, and his assistant opens it for them.

“Ah, it’s Mervina!” His words sound like he’s enthusiastic, but his delivery is always so flat it sounds sarcastic. “Glad to see you back, Charity.”

“Graham,” she nods at him. She’s already on edge. There are two reasons to get called in here: one is the can, and two is that their characters are going to get some sort of special storyline that requires promoting.

“I’ll cut to the chase ladies. The company loves Mervina. The distributor loves Mervina. The audience loves Mervina. So they’re going to get what they want.”

Charity raises her eyebrows. The last time Graham assured her the audience loves Davina she ended up getting the storyline which-

“So we’re going to delve into Davina’s traumatic past a little deeper, and of course Meredith will help her through it.”

Yep, just as Charity was expecting. Probably draw on her own sob story to sell it. Like when Davina ‘happened’ to have her daughter she gave up for adoption as a baby come to find her and they persuaded Charity to talk about her own experiences with Debbie a couple of years earlier.

“Now we know Davina worked as a prostitute after she had Rachel. But we’re going to go a little deeper into that. It’s a tough storyline but it’s important and it needs to be told sensitively.”

Charity suddenly has a very, very bad feeling about this.

“What’s the storyline?” Vanessa asks, sounding hesitant.

“Davina was raped by a policeman when she was fourteen. And he’s now back in the village, and she has to face up to what he did to her.”

Charity clutches her fingers together to stop them shaking. This can’t be happening.

“We think this is an important story to tell, and that you two are the right people to do it.”

Vanessa nods. “I mean, wow.” She glances at Charity, who quickly schools her face. “That’s definitely a big responsibility .”

Graham nods. “We’re going to feature a very special flashback episode, and we’re currently casting for a young Davina. Charity is going to narrate the episode.”

Vanessa glances at Charity, but she still can’t bring herself to say anything.

“We’re also going to have Davina go through the process of reporting him, and towards the end of summer we’ll be airing the trial. One of the twists will be that Davina had a son with the guy who she thought died, but turns out he’s still alive. We’ve cast a great guy, Ryan Stocks, you’ll meet him in the next couple of days.”

Raped when she was fourteen.

Charity can’t believe this is happening. Those records are supposed to be sealed. She thought for sure someone had destroyed them in any event, after what happened.

But it’s clear Graham knows, because he’s watching her with the same hard, greedy look he wore the day he told her Davina’s long lost daughter Rachel was going to join the show, and wouldn’t it be a great way to promote the storyline if Charity were willing to speak about her experiences regarding adoption.

“We’re dealing with this very sensitively, and we’ve got a consultant in from Rape Crisis, to help us get this right.”

Vanessa casts Charity another concerned look. “That sounds like a good idea. Right, Charity?”

Charity nods. She still can’t speak. She thinks she might be sick.

“Any questions?” Graham asks, giving her a look like he’s daring her to say something.

“We have that podcast thing now,” Charity says. Her own voice sounds weirdly far away.

“Ah, yes.” Graham gives a small smile, which is about as much of a smile as he ever gives. “Feel free to tease the new storyline, obviously without giving away too much.”

They leave the office and Vanessa lets out a long breath. “Heavy stuff, eh? That’s going to be pretty draining to film. I’m going to have to do some serious research, this is such an important storyline.”She turns around and realises Charity isn’t moving. “You ok?”

“Fine,” Charity manages. “We’re late.”

Vanessa gives her a searching look but to Charity’s relief lets it go for the moment.

They’re interviewed on the street outside the Woolpack, which is possibly the most iconic spot in the village.

The young girl who interviews them is obviously a massive fan, who has such an obvious crush on Charity she’d normally find it hilarious.

Raped when she was fourteen.

How did they find out? God, she’s going to have to tell her kids. How is she going to do that? She hasn’t let herself think about this in years, has pushed it into a box and thrown away the key, and now it feels like someone has broken in and is threatening to upend it all over her front garden for the world to see.

“How does it feel to be part of one of the most popular same-sex couples on British TV today?”

“It’s so rewarding to be part of such a great storyline,” Vanessa says. “I think what really connects with people is that Meredith and Davina didn’t get together through cheating or anything like that. They just liked each other.”

Both Vanessa and the girl glance at Charity to see if she has anything to add but Charity can’t bring herself to open her mouth to speak.

“What was your reaction when you read the script for the scene in the cellar?”

Again, Vanessa hesitates to give Charity the chance to answer, but she doesn’t say anything.

“I thought Charity was messing with me, to be honest!” Both Vanessa and the interviewer laugh. “Didn’t I, Charity?” She nudges her.

“Yeah,” Charity mumbles.

“Thought it was totally random, but it worked!”

“And what’s it like working together so much?”

Charity feels Vanessa’s elbow again and manages to snap out of her head for a moment. “Oh, she’s a nightmare, this one.”

The interviewer glances between them to make sure it’s a joke and lets out a nervous laugh.

“Quite a comedian,” Vanessa smiles. “No, but it’s been really fun working with Charity. We get on really well.”

Charity snorts, a flicker of amusement cutting through the fog in her brain. “You could say that, yeah.” She feels Vanessa kick her shoe with her foot.

“Right.” The girl looks confused. “Final question. What’s next for Mervina?”

There’s a brief pause as Vanessa clearly expects Charity to take the question, but she doesn’t say anything.

“Erm, so we’re excited to be able to tell you that there’s going to be a big arc coming up with lots of Mervina action.” She pauses but Charity can’t speak. “We’ll be going into Davina’s past a bit more and we’ll get to see how that affects the relationship.”

The girl thanks them and they hand back their mics. Charity dashes off as soon as she’s free. She hears Vanessa jog to catch up.

“You just broke that poor girl’s heart,” Vanessa says. “She had such a crush on you.”

Charity keeps walking.

“Hey!” Vanessa follows. “You ok? You’re very quiet.”

“Fine.” Charity swallows hard. “Look, I’ve got a massive headache, I’m just going to go lie down for an hour.”

Vanessa rubs her arm. “Do you need anything? I have painkillers?”

Charity shakes her head. “Power nap will sort me out. I’ll find you later, yeah?”

Vanessa nods. “Text me if you need anything. I’ve got a scene at three but I’ll be free after.”

Charity nods. She prays her dressing room is empty and when she sees that it is, she collapses onto the sofa, pressing her hand to her mouth to quiet the sounds of her sobs.

***

She lies in the darkness for a long time, without moving. It must be several hours, because then Vanessa is quietly letting herself in. She’s trying to be quiet, and hasn’t switched on the lights so she doesn’t wake Charity who she clearly assumes is asleep, but she trips over Charity’s bag and stumbles and lets out a quiet curse.

The sounds crack some of the ice that feels like it’s made it’s way through Charity’s veins. There’s just something about Vanessa, in her bright, messy glory, that can make her smile any time.

“You can turn on the light,” Charity rasps, voice rough from crying and disuse. She wipes at her cheeks to make sure any traces of her tears are gone.

Vanessa lets out a little scream. “Jesus Christ, Charity!” Charity can hear her panting. “I thought you were asleep.”

Charity feels an outstretched hand and then Vanessa is lowering herself onto the sofa next to her.

“How’s your head?” Vanessa asks softly, reaching out to stroke Charity’s hair.

Charity takes a deep breath and centres herself. “Much better.” She sits up.

Vanessa hesitates. She does this thing when she’s not sure whether she should speak, where she looks down for a minute, and Charity’s heart speeds up as she realises she might not be fooling Vanessa as well as she thought.

“Thing is,” Vanessa says softly, “it kind of seemed to me like you were upset earlier. After our meeting with Graham.”

“Why would I be upset?” Charity laughs but even to her own ear it sounds fake.

“I don’t know.” Vanessa is still using that soft voice and she squeezes Charity’s hand. “But you can talk to me. You know that, right? About anything.” She sighs. “God knows I’ve unloaded stuff on you enough times.”

There’s a terrifying moment, where Charity opens her mouth to tell Vanessa. It’s like a compulsion, like something in her is pulling her strings like a puppeteer, and she has to clench her jaw to keep it in. Because this is not what this is. Not who Charity is.

“I’m fine,” she manages in an almost normal voice. “Now, are you ever going to give me my welcome home kiss?” She tugs on Vanessa’s jumper. “Come here.”

Vanessa melts into her, kissing her so tenderly it makes Charity tremble.

This wasn’t what she wanted. She wanted heat, a quick fumble on the sofa, messy and fast and hard to take her mind of things.

But instead, Vanessa is kissing her like it means something, like she’s missed Charity and knows that Charity has missed her too. Like she feels this connection, like she wants and wants the way Charity wants late at night, wishing Vanessa were next to her.

But she realises now that those things she fantasises about aren’t possible for her. She’d fooled herself, because Vanessa made it seem like she could see a future like that for them.

But Charity is too hard, too broken. Too many boxes locked inside herself to ever give enough to Vanessa. And she can’t give her the dark things, because Vanessa is all light and kindness, and these kinds of secrets drain people like that until they have nothing left to give.

“You’re crying!” Vanessa says, pulling away, stroking Charity’s cheeks.

“I’m fine. It’s nothing.” Charity pulls away and gets up, wrapping her arms around herself.

“So this is normal, is it? Having a little cry while I’m kissing you?” Vanessa follows her, hesitantly touching her arm. “Look, Charity,” she starts, voice trembling a little. “You don’t have to tell me anything. But you can if you want to. I’m not going anywhere. I’m here for you. Whatever it is. Just don’t say you’re ok when you’re not.”

Charity shakes her head. “This isn’t what you want, Vanessa.”

Vanessa wraps her hands around Charity’s elbows and turns her around. Charity can’t see her whole expression in the darkness but she can picture it; her open, kind face giving her that look that makes her melt.

“I want all of you, Charity Dingle. All bits you’re willing to give me.”

Charity chokes on a sob. “You should save yourself, Ness.” She clenches her fists, digging her nails into her palms.

Vanessa wraps her in her arms. “I’ve got you. For as long as you’ll let me. No matter what you tell me. Ok?”

And Charity knows that isn’t true. But she knows Vanessa believes it is. And this secret is like poison in her, rolling around in her stomach. Bile aching to come out.

“You don’t want to hear this,” she chokes against Vanessa’s shoulder.

“Do you want to tell me?” Vanessa asks, rubbing her back. “Because then I want to hear it.”

Charity has always been good at breaking things. Smashing them beyond repair. Maybe this is how she’s supposed to break this. It aches, to think about letting go of Vanessa.

But she can’t do this, can’t spend months filming this storyline and then hide from Vanessa after. Vanessa can see when she’s not ok, and she won’t let it go.

Better get it over with now. Like pulling off a plaster. Give her just enough to send her running.

“Ok,” she says. “Let’s talk.”

Chapter Text

Part 4

Vanessa is sitting on the sofa but Charity can’t keep still. Can’t be touching Vanessa when she says this, can’t feel something so good on her skin when she talks about this darkness.

She’s been quiet for some time, but Vanessa hasn’t pushed her. Has just sat there watching her with aching eyes.

“I haven’t talked about this in a long time,” she rasps, voice shaking.

“Take as much time as you need.” Vanessa looks like she wants to reach out but is desperately trying to give Charity space.

Charity rubs her forehead.

“It was the new storyline that upset you, right?” Vanessa asks softly, looking at Charity to make sure it’s ok for her to start this.

Charity gives a sharp nod.

Vanessa’s voice shakes a little. “Ok. So I’m guessing something about it…something happened to you too? Something bad?”

The words hang between them for a moment.

“After I had Debbie,” Charity starts, “my Dad kicked me out. He was religious, cared what the neighbours thought. I have a big extended family and bounced from sofa to sofa. No one let me stay long.” She looks down. “I was in Manchester shopping one day when a guy approached me. Said he was a scout for a modelling agency. Asked me to come in for a photo shoot. I was fourteen.”

She walks over to Vanessa and sits on the arm of the sofa opposite her. The words come easier now she’s started, in a flow.

“His name was Mark Bails.”

Vanessa’s eyes widen in recognition. “The guy who did that casting show on Channel 4? The one who had that skiing accident?”

Charity nods. “One and the same. This was much earlier though, before he got successful. He just had a small agency. But I thought he was incredible.” She lets out a bitter laugh. “He promised me I’d be famous. That I’d see the world. And to start off with, things were great. I did a campaign for H and M. I even walked a small show at London Fashion Week.” Her hands start shaking and she digs her nails into her palm again, relishing the sting. “But then he started to say I wasn’t making him enough money.”

Vanessa reaches out and places a hand on her knee.

“One night we’d been to a party and it hadn’t gone well. He’d lost some money and he was angry. He made me drink and then-“ She swallows. “He raped me.”

“Charity,” Vanessa says, and Charity sees tears flowing over her cheeks.

“But I couldn’t go anywhere. He’d put me in a flat with the other girls in the agency, and I had hardly any money. I thought, if only I could get that big break, I’d get away.” She feels her own eyes start to water. “But it never happened.”

She feels Vanessa grip her hand but she can’t let her touch her, can’t take her comfort, not yet. Not when there’s more to come.

“Then he started bringing men to our flat. Investors, he called them. Said we had to impress them. They’d take us to parties, get us drunk. And after, we’d have to go back to their hotels.” She shakes her head bitterly. “He basically ran a brothel with teenage girls. All of us were poor. Would have been on the streets otherwise. Desperate.”

She gets up, starts pacing. “Day before my fifteenth birthday I found out I was pregnant. I knew he’d go ballistic. So I went to get an abortion. The GP was really lovely. She persuaded me to go to the police.”

“What happened?” Vanessa asks, voice wet.

“I reported him. But he was well connected.” Even after all these years, the next part is still the part that burns the most. “My dad came to get me from the police station. Said he’d sorted it. Turned out he meant Bails paid him twenty grand to shut me up.” She laughs, a brittle, hard sound. “That’s what it was worth to him, his daughter getting raped every day for seven months. Passed around Bails’ friends. Twenty grand.”

Vanessa stands. She makes a sound in her throat that breaks Charity’s heart, but she can’t bear to look and see pity.

“A few years ago, after Bails had that accident, his agent approached me. Asked if I wanted to come on that fundraising show they had on TV and say a few words about what a great guy he was. Help raise money for research into neurological damage.” She laughs again. “Can you imagine? There were so many girls like me, who he raped and let other men rape. And they wanted me to go to a fucking fundraiser for him.”

“God, Charity.” Vanessa stops in front of her, eyes red. “I knew you’d been through some stuff, but I never realised…” She trails off. “You’re incredible.”

“What?” Charity stares at her.

“You’re so strong.” Vanessa reaches for her hands, holding them tight. They’re shaking, but she doesn’t know whether that’s Vanessa or her.

“I’m not.” She doesn’t feel strong. She feels like someone’s run her over with a truck and she can’t feel her limbs. She feels like she’s stuck under water and no matter how hard she kicks and kicks she can’t reach the surface.

“You are.” Vanessa gives her a tremulous smile. “Look at you. Look at all you’ve been through and what you’ve made of yourself despite all that.”

Charity shakes her head. “Plenty of people have had it way worse than me.”

“You’re so incredibly brave,” Vanessa says, so earnestly that it makes Charity’s heart stutter. “Thank you for trusting me with that.”

The relief, of having said it, hits Charity like a brick thrown from a height. Suddenly she feels like she might be sick, and her breath somehow doesn’t reach the whole way into her lungs.

“Shhh, it’s ok,” Vanessa says, and she’s suddenly wrapped in the warmth of Vanessa’s arms. “You can let go, Charity. I’ve got you. It’s ok.”

Nothing is ok. Charity knows that Vanessa knows it too. But for a moment, they both pretend. Charity closes her eyes, and lets herself cry.

***

They end up wrapped in each other on the sofa. Charity is pretty sure they both look a mess, and that most of her mascara is now on Vanessa’s jumper.

She doesn’t speak. Doesn’t want to end this moment, before Vanessa inevitably walks away.

This was supposed to be a bit of fun. Really good sex while Vanessa worked through her sexuality. A couple of fun days with their kids.

But this. This is way beyond anything she could expect Vanessa to put up with. This isn’t what they signed up for, Charity knows that. This is it.

“It’s an incredible coincidence,” Vanessa breaks the silence. “That Davina is getting a story line that’s so similar.”

Charity snorts bitterly. “Don’t be so bloody naïve,” she says sharply. “They obviously know.”

“What?” Vanessa draws back and looks at her in horror.

“Oh, come on!” Charity stares at her in disbelief. “Did you think it was a coincidence that Davina’s long lost daughter showed up after Debbie found me, and I just happened to be able to promote that storyline by referencing my personal life? Do you think it’s a coincidence that Maureen had alcohol problems after Rhona came back from bloody rehab?” She shakes her head. “This is what they do. They take our personal lives and gut it for anything they can make money out of.”

Vanessa stares at her in horror. “Are you serious? You think they wrote this knowing about what happened to you? That they want you to…”

“Play the victim in public? Yeah, Vanessa, that’s exactly what I think.” She knows there’s no point in snapping at Vanessa but she’s bloody angry. “Give interviews about how I can relate because of my own sob story.”

“They can’t do this!” Vanessa has that determined voice on, the one she uses when Charity is about to lose the argument over vegetables versus ordering pizza. “We have to do something, Charity. Tell them we’re not doing it.”

“We?” Charity questions.

“I’m not playing along with this. This is awful and exploitative!” Vanessa tugs on her hands. “Let’s go tell Graham right now.”

Charity tugs her hand away. “No!”

Vanessa stares at her. “Why on earth not?”

“Because I’m not a victim, Vanessa!” she shouts. “Because maybe I don’t want to talk about my ‘trauma’ or whatever with Graham. Because it’s my decision and I don’t have to talk about it.”

“But you’ll have to go through filming this stuff!” Vanessa says, sounding as if this is physically hurting her. “Don’t you think you deserve to be spared that?”

“I can handle it!”

“You shouldn’t have to!” Vanessa shouts back.

Charity sighs. “It’s my decision. I’ve said no.”

“But Charity-“

“I have to pick up Noah now,” she says, grabbing her coat. “I’ll see you tomorrow, yeah?”

“Charity!” Vanessa shouts after her, but Charity hurried off.

She turns her phone to silent and tries not to look at all the calls and messages from Vanessa piling up.

She can’t deal with this tonight. It’s too much.

***

The next day, feeling slightly guilty about the way she had a go at Vanessa, she makes her way to Vanessa’s room. But it’s Tracy who answers the door.

“Hey Charity! Ness went to see Graham a while ago. I’m sure she’ll be back soon though if you want to wait?”

Cold spreads through Charity’s chest. “She what?”

Tracy looks at her in alarm. “Are you ok? Charity!”

But Charity has turned around and half runs through the halls, dodging actors and crew and the coffee trolley that’s making its way around the indoor sets, and skids to a halt outside Graham’s office.

Even from here she can hear Vanessa’s raises voice inside.

“Excuse me, you can’t just go in there!” Graham’s secretary says, outraged, as Charity storms in and throws open the door.

Vanessa whips around and when she sees Charity, her face falls. “Charity,” she begins, but Charity cuts her off.

“What’s going on here, then?”

“I was just-“

“Vanessa informs you both have some reservations about the new story arc?” Graham says. He gives her a hard look. “Do you share these misgivings?”

Charity turns and stares at Vanessa. Whatever Vanessa sees on her face makes her go pale.

“Charity,” she starts again. “Please, I’m just trying to help. This isn’t right-“
“There’s no problem,” Charity says to Graham. “Not with the story, anyway.”

“Excellent. Glad we cleared that up. Now, I do have other things to do.”

Charity turns around and storms out. She can hear Vanessa hurrying along behind her.

“Charity, wait!” Vanessa calls.

She keeps walking, at top speed. She’s shaking with anger and betrayal. She can’t believe she was stupid enough to trust Vanessa with this.

Her dressing room is thankfully empty when she throws open the door and whips round to face Vanessa who cowers a little in the face of her rage.

“How dare you?” she asks, voice low and hard.

“I was trying to help you, Charity,” Vanessa pleads. “They can’t just do this to you…”

“I told you I didn’t want to do anything about this, and you went behind my back!” Her voice rises at the end, the flames in her belly spilling out in her words. “I told you my most private, painful secret and asked you to keep it to yourself and you went behind my back because you thought you knew better.”

Vanessa is blinking back tears, and it enrages Charity that it makes her want to wrap Vanessa in a hug.

“I’m so sorry,” Vanessa whispers. “I wanted to help and I didn’t know how and I obviously massively miscalculated. I’m so sorry Charity.”

“I can’t look at you right now. Get out.”

“Charity, please, let’s talk about this! Please tell me how to make it right!” Tears are now freely spilling over Vanessa’s cheeks and Charity looks away quickly.

“If you won’t leave, I will,” Charity hisses, grabbing her coat.

She tries to block out Vanessa’s sobs echoing down the hall as she storms out, past a concerned looking Chas who is coming down the corridor with Paddy, and out the side door, where she leans her head against the wall and tries to calm her breathing.

Charity’s learned over the years that she only realises how much someone meant to her when it’s over. And this hurts, it hurts so much. For a brief moment, she thought she’d found that thing. That special thing people go on about, that they wait for their whole lives.

And now it’s destroyed, and for once she can’t even completely blame herself.

Doesn’t make it hurt any less though.

***

When she goes back to her room an hour later, Vanessa is sat against the door. Her eyes are rimmed red and she looks a mess.

“Can I please talk to you?” she asks Charity as she unlocks the door.

“There’s nothing left to say.” Charity sighs tiredly.

“So what, that’s it? We have an argument and we’re over?”

Charity clenches her fist. “We didn’t have an argument, Vanessa. You went behind my back and you betrayed my trust.”

Vanessa is already crying again. “And I’m so, so sorry for that. I genuinely thought I was helping.”

“What exactly did you think was going to happen?” Charity explodes. “If I don’t act what they write for me, then Davina gets hit by a car or sent to prison or shot or dies in some other dramatic over the top way. And that might be ok for you, Miss RADA-graduate-Royal-Shakespeare-Company-and-BBC-period-drama-star, but this is what I do. This is allI do. I have kids and a mortgage for a house I can barely afford and a loan I’m still paying back for legal bills from getting Noah back. I can’t lose this job, Vanessa! So no, it’s not fair and it’s not nice but I’ll suck it up because I have to!”

“I’m so sorry.” Vanessa reaches for her. “I didn’t think…”

“Ness knows best.” Charity lets out a bitter laugh. “Well, not any more.”

“So that’s it? You’re dumping me?”

Charity laughs again, but it sounds harsh and hard. “Dumping you? We’d have to be in a relationship for that, wouldn’t we babe?”

“Charity!” Vanessa exclaims, hurt echoing in every syllable.

“Let’s stop kidding ourselves. This was never going to go anywhere. I was good for your sexual awakening or whatever, but it’s not like we’d ever go on an actual date. Or, I don’t know, acknowledge our relationship in public, is it?”

Vanessa goes even whiter. “You know it’s hard-“

“Yeah, yeah, poor Vanessa. It’s all so hard for her. Tell me, does anyone in your family even know you’re seeing anyone? You know, apart from the toddler.”

Vanessa doesn’t reply.

“Thought so. And apart from Rhona, who you told because she guessed, does anyone at work know about us? Or any of your friends?”

“I’m not ashamed of you,” Vanessa says.

“Right.” Charity shakes her head. “Sure.” She walks over to the drawers where she keeps her clothes and pulls out a jumper, chucking it at Vanessa. “I’ll bring the rest of your stuff tomorrow.”

“Charity, please don’t do this.” Vanessa walks up to her and tries to grab her arm.

“Don’t touch me!” Charity snarls and Vanessa steps back at once.

“Please,” she whispers. “Give me another chance, please.”

“You can show yourself out. I have to get to hair.” Charity bites her lip and manages to make it round the corner before she starts to cry. The image of Vanessa’s white face, streaked with tears and mascara, clutching that stupid jumper, makes her heart ache, like someone is squeezing and squeezing and won’t let go.

But it’s for the best this way. To cut their losses now. Soon, Vanessa will be grateful that she’s dodged this bullet.

***

She goes home that night in a terrible mood, and when Noah asks when Vanessa will be round to make them dinner again, she snaps at him and he snaps back and she storms up to her room like she’s the teenager, collapsing beside her bed and crying and crying. She hasn’t cried this much in decades.

It’s like she’s torn off the plaster on her heart and it won’t stop leaking.

“Mum?” Noah asks from the door, sounding worried. “Do you want me to call Debbie?”

“I’m fine,” she sobs.

Noah hesitates, then comes in and wraps his arms around her, slightly awkwardly, but it makes her feel better, just a little. “Is it Vanessa?”

“I don’t think she’ll be round again,” Charity gulps. “I’m sorry. I promise it wasn’t my fault this time.”

Noah just holds her tighter, until she has no tears left.

***

The next few weeks pass in a blur. Charity leaves a bag of Vanessa’s stuff with a frowning Rhona, and comes back to her room a couple of days later to a bag of neatly folded clothes that smell likes Vanessa’s detergent. She bites her lip until it bleeds in an effort not to cry and then goes home and drinks a bottle of wine in bed.

Work has been ok; they’ve had separate storylines and they’ve hardly seen each other. Vanessa seems to be giving her space which is good and hurts in equal measure.

But then the Meredith/Davina stuff kicks off in earnest, and suddenly they’re on set with each other every day.

Charity knows she’s being a nightmare; she bickers with everyone and is moody, but she’s hurt and sad and seeing Vanessa is almost physically painful, even more so because Vanessa gives her these looks like she’s a puppy that’s been abandoned at the side of the road, like Charity is the one in the wrong.

It’s not fair.

Filming is tough and each take takes a long time. Charity is exhausted every night when she gets home, emotions frayed. She feels so exposed during the scenes, can sometimes feel the panic rising in her when one of Davina’s lines hits to close to home.

It hurts too, that even though it’s over between them, Vanessa is still a comfort to her during these scenes. When Meredith wraps Davina in a hug after Davina shares her past with her, Charity closes her eyes and inhales Vanessa’s smell and can pretend, for a moment, that this is real and not just for the camera.

And then the director calls ‘cut’ and reality sinks in.

She misses Vanessa so much and hates her for it. She’s never felt such an ache for anyone before, especially someone who betrayed her.

It’s obvious Vanessa is hurting too, and that makes it worse in a way, rather than better, because it shows that she genuinely did care about Charity. And Charity hasn’t had that very often in her life.

Undoubtedly the worst part is having to kiss, because until that point she can remember they’re acting, but she hadn’t realised that she’d got to the point where she was just kissing Vanessa, not being Davina kissing Meredith on screen, and it’s hard, to bring that back. They have to do several takes of everything, and the director seems puzzled at their sudden lack of ability to connect.

It doesn’t help that Vanessa is being respectful to the point of almost not responding to the kisses, and Charity finds herself having to be the one to push, to deepen kisses for the camera, and she resents that bitterly.

She feels like she’s constantly on the verge of losing control, of an anger so sharp and painful it makes her want to punch walls and scream at anyone who talks to her.

It comes to a head the day they’re filming the scene where Meredith chases Davina into the hallway and Davina pushes her.

It’s not hard to draw on her own anger and pain for the scene, and she can tell Vanessa’s tears are real and close to the surface too, but the moment when she’s supposed to shove Vanessa she feels this incredible rage well up inside her: at Vanessa, at Bails, at Graham and the production company, at the world in general.

She holds up her hands. “Stop.”

“Charity?” Vanessa rasps, wiping at her face.

“We need to use the stunt double,” Charity tells the director.

“Charity, I can handle a small tumble to the floor,” Vanessa says, annoyed.

“We use the stunt double or I’m not doing the scene,” Charity says. She can hear people muttering and sees at least one of the lighting assistants roll his eyes.

But in the end they relent and there’s a brief break while they go find Kelly.

“I could have done it,” Vanessa says, annoyed, following Charity outside. “We need to be able to work together.”

Charity sighs and snaps “Vanessa, I’m so angry with you I can hardly be in the same room as you. Doing stunts requires trust. And guess what, I don’t really trust you right now. I don’t trust myself not to hurt you. So yes, we need the stunt double.”

Vanessa’s eyes go very wet again but she manages to hold it together today at least. “Right,” she says in a weak voice. “Sorry, yeah, you’re right. Whatever you want.”

Charity, who was kind of been hoping for a fight, sags. “Right. Good.”

They both pause for a moment to see if the other will say anything, but the moment passes and Charity watches as Vanessa turns to go back inside.

***

The much-anticipated flashback episode is the hardest thing Charity has ever had to film.

When she read through the script, she was incredibly glad she did so in the privacy of her own home after the kids had gone to bed because she had a panic attack on the sofa and almost threw up her dinner.

It’s awful. It’s not even the facts that get her; it’s the feeling Davina describes, of that misplaced, betrayed trust. That helplessness and hopelessness. It floods back to her in a way it hasn’t in years, and she can’t shut that box again no matter how hard she tries.

She dreads going to work the day of filming, and struggled to hold it together. She barely eats anything and half way through has to leave the set to throw up.

Suddenly, soft, warm hands are pulling her hair back from her face, and one of the hands starts rubbing her back.

She knows who it is without turning around; the same person who’s been shooting her worried glances all day.

She half heartedly tries to pull away but retches again.

“Shhhh,” Vanessa mumbles. “It’s ok. I know you hate me right now. But that doesn’t mean you can’t let me hold back your hair while you’re being sick.”

Charity guesses there’s some truth to that; if Vanessa wants to watch her chuck up the single slice of toast she choked down this morning that’s her funeral.

When she finally manages to pull herself up, her legs are wobbly and Vanessa supports her over to the sink, where she steps back, giving Charity her space.

“I’ll leave you now, ok?”

Charity nods. “Ness,” she calls as Vanessa is almost at the door. “Thanks. For holding my hair.”

Vanessa gives her a small smile.

“I don’t hate you.” Charity looks down at her hands. “I’m bloody furious with you, but I don’t hate you.”

“You deserve to be.” Vanessa takes a step back towards her. “But I want you to know, no matter what, I’m here for you. I know I’ve betrayed your trust and it’ll take time for that to come back, but I promise I’ll try. So if you ever need me, even if it’s just to hold your hair while you puke, I’m here, ok?”

Charity looks at her. “It might be a while.”

Vanessa lets out a sigh. “I’ve got lots of time.” She gives Charity another smile and leaves the bathroom.

Something in Charity loosens a little. Even at Charity’s lowest, Vanessa is still there. In her I-know-best, bossy glory.

She wipes her mouth and looks at her pale face, and her sunken eyes. At least she looks the part. Makeup had a really easy job of it today.

“Almost done,” she tells Davina in the mirror. “We’ve got this, babe.”

Davina looks almost convinced.

***

Charity has done Britain at Breakfast once before, back in the aftermath of Rachel coming onto the show as Davina’s daughter, but that was a good six or seven years ago. And now she’s doing it with Vanessa, to promote the flashback episode.

She’s done a number of interviews with Vanessa in the recent week, and they’ve got very good at being exceedingly polite to one another, letting each other answer and apologising profusely if they accidentally talk over one another.

On set, Charity has continued to avoid Vanessa and although filming is less frosty, it’s still awkward and uncomfortable.

Almost worse than Vanessa’s stilted politeness and Rhona’s glares are Chas’s excessive hugs which she seems to think Charity needs.

The consensus amongst Chas and her kids seem to be that they ended things because Vanessa refuses to come out, and while that’s helpful in that it shows the breakup wasn’t her fault, it does mean that everyone constantly wants to talk to her about it. There’s very little Charity hates more than talking about her feelings.

She can tell Vanessa is nervous before their BaB segment; she turns down tea which is a first for Charity to witness, and fidgets in the makeup chair until the girl with the mascara wand almost stabs her in the eye.

“Sorry,” Charity hears Vanessa say. “Live TV makes me nervous.”

“Alright,” the producer says as their mics get clipped in. “Now the first few minutes we’ll be introducing you two and the Mervina storyline to date. Then we’ll talk about working together, and then about the arc that’s coming up about Davina’s past.” He looks at Charity as he stands up. “That’s when we’ll lead into your personal connection.”

For a moment, the world freezes. “What?” she manages.

“Yeah, we felt it was stronger at the end of the segment. I know that gives you less time to speak about it but we don’t want it to come across as tabloid-y.”

Charity thinks she must be caught in a nightmare. “Sorry, what are you talking about?”

“We’re really pleased you chose BaB to talk about your sexual assault for the first time,” the guy says, glancing at his phone. “Powerful stuff. Sorry, we’re live in five. You’ll need to go on now.”

Charity moves like she’s in a dream. A nightmare she can’t wake up from. She’s aware that she’s shaking.

“Charity!” She hears Vanessa’s voice cut through the white noise in her head. “Did you…did agree to this?”

Charity turns to face her and Vanessa gasps, the look on her face enough of an answer.

“We’re not going on,” Vanessa says immediately.

“It’s too late,” Charity says. Her own voice sounds weirdly far away.

“It’s not!” Vanessa grabs her hand. “Say you’re sick! I’ll go on without you.”

“They’re just going to keep doing this, Vanessa.” She’s shaking so hard she’s worried her legs might give out. “God, this isn’t happening. I haven’t even told my kids yet.” Now they’re going to see it on national TV, along with every other John, Dick and Harry.

They’re suddenly ushered to the sofa opposite Katie and Will, and the Britain at Breakfast jingle plays.

“And we’re back, and joining us are two of the stars of popular soap Villagers, Vanessa Woodfield who plays local vet Meredith Forsyth, and Charity Dingle, who plays our favourite bad girl Davina Welch.”

“Charity, Vanessa, great to have you!” Will grins at them. “So, Meredith and Davina have had quite a year. Talk to us about the Mervina phenomenon.”

Maybe it won’t be so bad, getting it out in the open. God knows, she’s torn at the wound enough the last couple of weeks, surely she should be over the pain of it by now.

It shouldn’t be this hard. She’s a grown woman. She’s not his victim.

She thinks she might be sick.

“…and the fact that we’re in our forties, as well, I think really connects to many people who watch the show. I mean, we’ve got kids, and the show really explores how the meshing of two families works,” she hears Vanessa finish.

Despite her fear of live TV, Vanessa is good. But she’s shooting Charity worried glances, and presses close to her on the sofa, as if trying to give her some comfort.

It does help a little. She manages a slightly garbled response to a question about how this differs to Davina’s other storylines, and then gratefully lets Vanessa take over the next question about how it’s been working together.

“We get on so well,” she lies.

Hysterically, Charity considers blurting out the real answer. First we annoyed the crap out of one another, then we fucked, and now we can barely speak to each other. Now that would distract them from talking about Charity’s past.

She can tell the moment that they decide to move on to ‘that topic’; Katie shifts her prompt cards and Will puts on his serious face. She can feel Vanessa go very tense next to her.

You could just not do it, she tells herself. Deny it. Fuck them. Except, once the question is out of Will’s mouth, people will make up a story regardless of what she says. Graham has clearly told the BaB production, which means it’s going to leak anyway. Even if it doesn’t, he’ll spring this on her again and again until she does talk about it.

“Now, we know there’s a very special flashback episode coming up, part of the new story arc, and we understand that this has a very personal connection for one of you?”

What happens next feels like it’s happening in slow motion. She feels herself start to shake, panic rising in her. She feels Vanessa reach out and grab her hand firmly, squeezing it. And she hears, through the rushing in her ears, Vanessa.

“That’s right, Will,” Vanessa says, voice shaking ever so slightly. “The Mervina storyline has been so rewarding on a personal level for me as well, because it’s finally allowed me to be honest with myself, and the people around me, and I’m proud to be able to come onto to Britain at Breakfast and say, I’m gay.”

Charity turns and stares at her in disbelief. Vanessa doesn’t look at her, but she squeezes her hand again.

Will looks slightly shocked, but both him and Katie are pros, and they switch track immediately.

“It must have been very difficult to admit that to yourself. Why do you think it took so long?”

“I think it’s partly the industry I’m in. You always worry that anything in your personal life might mean you’re not employable anymore.”

She’s still speaking but Charity can’t focus on it, can’t focus on anything that’s not her heart thudding in her chest as the adrenaline recedes.

“And that’s all we’ve got time for with Vanessa and Charity,” Will smiles into the camera. “After the break we’ll be back to talk to our fashion expert, Roni, about the return of the shoulder pad. Stay tuned!”

The moment the camera light goes off, Charity is ripping her mic off herself and rushing off the set.

She thinks she hears Vanessa’s concerned voice but she can’t, can’t be there anymore. She storms into the bathroom; a fancy one with a selection of hand creams and real towels, and splashes water in her face.

The door opens and Vanessa sticks her head in. “You ok?” she asks. “You looked like your hair might need holding back.”

“What the hell was that?” Charity rasps. She can’t get the shaking in her body under control.

Vanessa hesitates. “I’m sorry, if you did want to talk about it. But I didn’t know what else to do. And then I figured, it’s better for you to be mad at me for taking your moment to talk about it than for you to be forced into something you don’t want.”

“You….” She can’t even finish the sentence. It doesn’t compute.

They’re not even anything to each other anymore. They’re barely civil at work.

But Vanessa just upended her entire life to protect her.

“What have you done?” Charity shakes her head. “Ness, you can’t just come out on live TV to protect me!”

“I told you, I’m here for you!” Vanessa says stubbornly.

“But you weren’t ready!”

Vanessa puts her hands on her hips, and her Very Determined Face makes an appearance. “Yes, I was. It was my decision. The way it should be your decision if you want to talk about what happened to you.”

Charity stares at her. “You really are something else.”

Vanessa gives her a smile, and it’s one of her big ones, one of the ones Charity hasn’t seen in two months.

“I know I betrayed your trust,” Vanessa says. “But I want to earn it back. I know it’s over between us and I respect that, but I really like you, and I’d like to try and be friends again. When you’re ready.”

Charity has never wanted to kiss anyone more than she wants to kiss Vanessa in this moment.

She’s good at looking after herself; has always had to be. She can count on one hand the number of people that have ever stood up for her. Protected her.

She can’t wrap her head around what Vanessa did today.

“Can I hug you?” Vanessa asks, voice shaking slightly. “I kind of need a hug.”

Charity realises that Vanessa is trembling as well, and that she’s probably coming off an adrenaline high too.

She opens her arms and presses her lips together to keep in the sigh as Vanessa presses into her.

“Ness,” she whispers. “Your butt is vibrating.”

Vanessa pulls back, sighing. “That’ll be my agent or my dad or my sister or my mother or Rhona or any of the other millions of people who are probably going to ask what the fuck I was thinking.”

“I’m sorry.” Guilt floods through her.
She knows Vanessa didn’t have to do what she did, but she’s unendingly grateful.

“Don’t be.” Vanessa laughs a little. “I actually feel good. Like a weight is off my chest.” Her phone buzzes again. “I’d better take this. Will you be ok?”

Charity nods. She thinks, I love you.

Then her brain skids to halt.

Vanessa smiles at her and heads to the door, and Charity feels an ache in her chest full of longing and desire so strong she clenches her fists to keep quiet.

Of course. Of course now she bloody decides that she loves Vanessa, when everything is chaos.

She can’t deal with this right now. She has something she needs to do first.

She grabs her phone and in her group chat with Noah and Debbie, types I need to talk to you guys about something important. Dinner at 7 at ours.

Time for her to be brave, too.

Chapter Text

Part 5

The audible sigh of relief when Vanessa walks onto the set the next day and hands Charity a coffee and a muffin is comical. Charity swears she sees today’s director mouth “Thank fucking Christ” to her assistant when Vanessa sits down next to her.

“Morning,” she says, chipper as ever, and almost successfully nonchalant.

“Morning. How are you after your little Ellen moment yesterday?”

Vanessa tilts her head, considering, then counts off her fingers. “Well my dad is falling over himself to be supportive, probably because he still feels guilty for walking out on me and Mum. My sister is sending me endless rainbow unicorn memes. My mother is apoplectic and has decided she can’t talk to me right now. My agent yelled at me for half an hour for not discussing this with her first, then signed me up for about ten interviews. But at least I got two phone numbers from cute girls on the way here, so I guess it’s worth it, eh?” She winks.

Charity chokes on her coffee. “Right,” she coughs.

It suddenly hits her that now Vanessa is out and proud, there’s no reason for her to want or need Charity any more. She has options now. Options that don’t come with a trolley full of emotional baggage, children and grandchildren ranging in age from twenty seven to three, and a complicated work relationship to boot.

“Were you Ok yesterday?” Vanessa asks. “I wanted to call but then I didn’t want to cross a line.”

“Yeah, I was fine.” She sees Vanessa’s look. “Really, I was.” She pauses. “I, erm, I told the kids. About Bails.”

“Really?” Vanessa reaches out and puts her hand on Charity’s arm. She can feel the warmth through her shirt and it feels like it’s slipping into every part of her. “How did it go?”

“It was hard.” It had been. Noah took it especially badly, but in the end she has great kids, and when they hugged at the end she felt like a heavy load had dropped off her. “But I’m glad I told them.” She gives Vanessa a small smile. “Thought I’d follow your example and be brave.”

“Don’t be daft,” Vanessa says, blushing. “You can’t compare that.”

“No, that’s true. I didn’t do it to a live TV audience.”

“Please, stop,” Vanessa groans. “When I think about it too hard I feel sick. I’m only ever brave in the moment, I can’t look back at stuff after.”

Charity laughs. “You’re hilarious.”

Vanessa shoves her lightly with her shoulder. “Glad you think my big coming out moment was funny.”

“I thought Will’s eyes were going to pop out of his head,” Charity giggles.

“God, you should have seen the producers after,” Vanessa laughs as well. “Like headless chickens.”

It feels good, to laugh again. She feels like she hasn’t laughed in a long time.

***

It’s hard, to push down what she feels for Vanessa, and to concentrate on filming, because everyone keeps wanting to talk to her about it.

She didn’t mention it to Vanessa, of course, but when she came home the day of the interview, her kids had clearly thought she was announcing that her and Vanessa were back together. They’d been so happy, had watched the segment together, and had obviously thought that Vanessa had done this as a grand gesture to win her back.

The truth disappointed them, especially Noah. He’s fond of Vanessa, more than he’s ever been of anyone else she’s ever dated, and she can tell he’s upset.

But even on set, everyone is giving her curious looks.

“Can I ask you something?” Ryan asks her, catching her standing at the side, watching Vanessa do a scene with Pearl in the vet office.

“You just did,” Charity snarks, but she doesn’t mean it. She likes Ryan; he doesn’t take any of her shit, and he’s funny.

“What’s going on with you and Vanessa?”

Charity takes a deep breath. “What do you mean?”

He doesn’t let her get away with it. “I mean, when I started everyone told me you guys had been a thing and then broke up because she refused to come out.”

Charity sighs. Fucking Chas and her big mouth.

“And the next minute she’s on TV telling everyone she’s gay, and you guys go from not speaking to best friends, and you’re standing here ogling her-“

“Er, excuse me, I don’t ogle!” Charity exclaims.

“Why aren’t you guys together?”

“It’s complicated.” Charity turns back to watch Vanessa laugh loudly as she messes up a line. She feels herself smile in response; a Pavlovian reaction to seeing Vanessa happy.

“Right. So you’re completely not bothered by the fact that she’s going on a date with the barista from Starbucks across the road then.”

Charity whips round so fast she almost sprains something. “What?

Ryan smirks. “There’s a saying that I think applies here. Shit or get off the pot.”

Charity raises her eyebrows. “Charming.”

He shrugs. “I’m not here for eloquence, I’m here for wisdom.” He gives her a pitying look. “You should tell her. Before someone else gets there first.”

***

She almost does. Makes it halfway to Vanessa’s dressing room, then turns back again. Sits in her own room chewing her nails until Chas explodes at her.

Finally makes it to Vanessa’s room, and is greeted outside by Rhona, who gives her a pitying look. “If you’re looking for Ness, she’s off already.”

So. That’s that.

She goes home, sits on the couch next to Noah, who is watching some gross TV show about skin growths, and sighs.

Vanessa’s probably having a great time. All dressed up. The girl is probably really pretty. And young. And fun.

“Mum!” Noah exclaims. “Can you stop sighing?”

“Sorry.” She bites her lip. “Vanessa’s on a date.”

“Oh.” Noah doesn’t look up from his phone, but he frowns. “That sucks.”

“Yeah.” Charity necks her glass of wine. Vanessa and her date probably ordered a bottle.

Ness doesn’t even like wine that much. She prefers a pint, except when she’s in a particular mood, then she likes white.

Charity has lots of white in her wine rack from when Vanessa used to come round.

“Mum?”

“Debbie?” Charity looks up in surprise. “What are you doing here?”

“Noah said Vanessa’s on a date and that you’re moping instead of doing something about it.”

Charity groans. “What am I going to do about it? She clearly wanted to go, she said yes.”

“Yeah, maybe because she didn’t know she had another option!” Debbie says, exasperated. “Why aren’t you down there getting your woman?”

Charity raises her eyebrows. “Because this isn’t an episode of Villagers, babe.”

“You’re being very unlike yourself.” Debbie huffs. “You normally go after what you want. Why aren’t you going after her?”

“Maybe she doesn’t want me to!” Charity explodes. “Maybe she’s happy in her new out and proud lifestyle with women throwing themselves at her.”

“Mum,” Debbie says softly, giving her a sympathetic look. “She’s crazy about you. The way she was looking at you on TV-“

“She was just trying to help me. That’s what she does.” Charity shakes her head. “I’ve missed my chance.”

Debbie just shakes her head.

***

The next morning, Charity manages half a bite of her muffin before she blurts out “So how was your date?”

She hears her hair stylist let out a gasp and cover it up with a pretend exaggerated yawn. She sees the other stylists exchanging looks in the background.

Vanessa looks a little awkward. “Bit crap, to be honest. How did you even hear about it?”

Relief floods Charity sharply. “What happened?”

Vanessa sighs. “Well, it was going ok, and then a bunch of Inside Soap photographers just happened to show up and take our picture, so I’m pretty sure I know what she was after.” She rolls her eyes. “I should have known the minute she said she also wanted to be an actress.”

“You can do way better, babe.” Charity tries very hard to ignore the looks everyone else in the room is giving each other.

It’s so bloody annoying how Villagers is so gossipy. She hates everyone knowing her business.

“I think I might give it a rest for a while, to be honest.” Vanessa shakes her head. “Sort myself out before I think about dating anyone. And to be honest, I’m still-“

She breaks off.

“Still what?” Charity’s heart starts thudding loudly.

“Still getting used to being out, in public,” Vanessa says, looking away quickly and going red.

Charity is almost entirely sure she was going to say something else.

“Anyway, enough about me.” Vanessa clears her throat. “What are you going to do about Graham? You know he won’t stop until he’s got you doing what he wants.”

“I know.” Charity’s been thinking about this too. “I’m going to handle it. My way.”

“Not so subtle hint taken,” Vanessa says with a mock salute. “But if you need anything at all, tell me, ok? I’m here for you, no matter what.”

“I know, Ness.” She leans across and pats her hand, although she draws it back when she sees one of the stylist mouthing “awww” to another in the mirror.

***

In the end, sorting out Graham isn’t too difficult after she does some Charity-style digging for dirt; a threat that she’ll tell his long term partner and majority shareholder of the production company, Kim, that he’s been shagging one of the actresses on the side, and he backs right off.

She knows it’s not a permanent solution, knows he’ll come for her one day for this. But for now she has room to breath and focus on her work.

It’s ridiculous how much easier it is to deal with this storyline now Vanessa and her are talking again.

Vanessa is great at pulling Charity out of her moods; she makes her a brew, or takes her for a walk, or just makes her laugh. Everything feels lighter when she’s around, and Charity slowly feels like she’s becoming herself again, step by step, day by day.

“Is filming the trial going to be hard for you?” Vanessa asks her one day during lunch, picking the anchovies out of Charity’s salad. “Because you didn’t get to have one?”

Charity shrugs. “Not more than any of the other stuff.” She shoves an anchovy Vanessa has missed into her takeaway box. “I used to wish I’d had a chance to have my say. Look him in the eye. Feels like he got off easy, somehow. Like, I know he’s brain damaged, but that means he gets to forget about what he did to me. To all those girls. It’s us that has to live with what he did, every day.”

She’s told Vanessa some of it; the drinking, the drugs, the nude modelling she did to get away from her dad. The years she did escort work. The way she let them take Noah without a fight because she felt like she couldn’t give him anything, like she didn’t deserve his love.

And Vanessa listened, with tears in her eyes.

“Brain damage or not,” she says, “ I don’t know what I’d do if I got the chance. It just makes me furious that men get away with doing stuff like this.”

Charity smiles. “You’re such a little pitbull.”

Vanessa grins sheepishly. “I just care about you.”

Charity bites her lip. Vanessa says stuff like this a lot, but it’s hard to tell what it means.

If anyone else said something like that, she’d have no difficulty identifying a come on. But Vanessa isn’t like that. She’s good and sweet and kind and seems to genuinely want to be friends.

It’s all very frustrating.

***

“Good news!” Vanessa squeals, bounding into Chas and Charity’s dressing room one day in early summer.

“Frank’s character dies?” Charity guesses, and mutters ‘ow’ as Vanessa whacks her with a rolled up script.

“No! And stop picking on poor Frank.” Vanessa beams at her again. “Guess who’s shortlisted for the Best Actress Award at the British Soap Awards?”

Charity smiles at her. “You?” She’s pleased for Vanessa; she deserves it.

“No!” Vanessa’s eyes go wide. “You, obviously!”

Charity stares at her. “I never get nominated for any of that stuff.”

“Well, you did.” Suddenly Vanessa’s arms are round her in a brief hug, and Charity’s eyes flutter closed and she forgets to breath for a moment.

“This is so great! First this, and then the stuff about the Mervina I love yous in the scripts we got today.” She checks her phone. “Oops, I’m late.” She smiles at Charity again, squeezing her shoulder. “You deserve this, Charity. You truly do.”

“My god, could you look any more lovesick if you tried?” Chas says in disgust after Vanessa leaves. “Please, will you just put us out of our misery and ask the girl out.”

“Did she say something about Mervina and…”

Charity scrambles around the table for the box with the new scripts, finding the tab with her lines.

There’s something about a lasagne, and then over the page something about Ryan’s character coming over with chocolate bars, and on the next page…

I love you. I really, really, stupidly and completely love you

“Fuck my life,” Charity says, lowering her head to the table.

“Let me see.” Chas leans over. “Nawww! The fans are going to love this! How cute!”

“I can’t say that to Vanessa, Chas!” Charity says, anguished. “She’ll be able to tell!”

Chas sighs, but seems vaguely amused. “Charity. When are you going to grow a pair and tell that girl how you feel? I mean, Jesus, even Davina is getting her act together before you!”

Charity shakes her head. “She doesn’t feel that way about me. Since she came out, she hasn’t even slightly flirted with me.”

“Has it ever occurred to you that the ball might be in your court here?” Chas replies. “Charity, Vanessa is mad about you. She won’t shut up about how great you are. Have you read any of the interviews she’s been giving?”

Charity has, in fact, read all the interviews she’s been giving.

“She keeps saying how great and talented and amazing you are and how she would never have come out without you. She likes you!”

Charity groans. “I can’t mess this up, Chas.” She closes her eye, embarrassed. “She’s different. She makes me feel different.”

“I know.” Chas pats her back softly. “So fight for her.”

***

They’ve got back into the habit of running through scenes, but circumstances mean that they don’t really get a chance to practice the ‘I love you’ scene before they film.

Johnny gets a tummy bug and Vanessa is off for a couple of days, then has to squeeze all her filming into three days. On one of the days, Charity stays with Johnny; Vanessa is so grateful she looks close to tears and Charity aches inside.

It’s almost back to the way it was. She knows she’s forgiven Vanessa, knows that Vanessa has taken what she’s said to heart. And she’s been a great support. She’s a good listener, and endlessly practical, pulling Charity out of her moods with a practiced ease that would once have terrified her.

It’s scarily easy.

But it’s not quite the same. Because Vanessa doesn’t kiss her goodbye anymore and she doesn’t wake up in Charity’s bed.

They haven’t had many kissing scenes during the trial, but last week Davina was deflecting Meredith’s questions by initiating a kiss that felt like it came straight out Charity’s playbook of fantasies about Vanessa.

And feeling Vanessa respond, even as Meredith, feeling their tongues sliding against each other and Vanessa’s body against hers and Vanessa’s hands in her hair, tugging her close, had turned her into a tense ball of sexual frustration.

Vanessa is looking especially good at the minute. She’s just had a haircut and keeps sweeping a short bit of hair out of her eyes. Charity can’t stop her eyes following the movement. She’s addicted, she’s obsessed.

And she might be going mad, because she sometimes thinks Vanessa might be looking too.

But she doesn’t trust herself about this, isn’t sure enough. She’s worried her own desire is clouding her judgement, and she knows now, what it’s like to live without Vanessa, and isn’t sure she could do it again.

Still, her heart is thumping as they wait for lighting to finish setting up the scene, and she can’t help but glance at Vanessa who’s leafing through the script with a furrowed brow.

“I meant to ask you,” Vanessa suddenly says. “Who are you going to the British Soap Awards with?”

Charity can honestly say she’s given it zero thought. She sometimes takes Debbie to these things, because she likes getting dressed up. “Dunno? Why, you asking?” she jokes with a wink.

Vanessa smiles shyly. “Well, I thought it might be nice. Since neither of us is seeing anyone. I mean,” she stutters a little, “I assume you’re not, because you haven’t said anything, but obviously if you are-”

“I’m not.” Her palms suddenly feel very sweaty. “You really want to go with me?”

“Team Mervina?” Vanessa smiles. “Of course I totally understand if you’d rather not or if it’s weird, but-”

“I want to go with you,” Charity says quickly. “I mean, it’s not fair you’re not nominated. You were in all those scenes with me. This is for us, yeah?”

“It’s for you.” Vanessa smiles again. “But if you’ll let me, I’ll come and be your cheerleader.”

There’s something in Vanessa’s eyes, crinkled with happiness, that doesn’t go away all afternoon when they film. It’s there when she manages to get through the “I love you” scene without gazing too obviously into Vanessa’s eyes, it’s there when Meredith says it back, and it’s there when they hug after the camera stops rolling, as if a magnet is drawing them together.

Almost despite herself, she suddenly has hope.

Vanessa isn’t seeing anyone. Vanessa wants to go with her.

She makes Debbie take her shopping, ignoring Debbie’s commentary about how she’s too indecisive.

“Why are you so excited? I thought you thought awards are daft?”

She doesn’t meet Debbie’s eye. “Well, I’ve never been nominated for Best Actress at the BSAs before.” She pauses. “And I’m going with Vanessa,” she says quickly.

Debbie actually squeals. “Like a date?”

“No!” Then she pauses. “Well, I don’t know. She didn’t really say.” God, is it a date? Surely Vanessa would have mentioned. She’s a talker, that one. Wouldn’t have left any doubt about it. Or would she?

Debbie sighs. “You guys are the worst. I’m serious. This relationship is more stressful than your on-screen one, and that’s a soap.”

***

Charity ends up spending a lot more on her outfit than she ever has before for one of these events, and has Debbie come round to do her hair and makeup before Vanessa picks her up.

“She’s picking you up! It’s clearly a date!” Debbie tells her as she selects a lip liner.

“If you’re planning on arriving together, someone has to pick the other one up.” Charity frowns. She desperately doesn’t want to get her hopes up, in case Vanessa pulls tonight or something and she feels like a total idiot.

“If you’re planning on arriving together, it’s a date.” Debbie sighs. “You’re actually impossible.”

“Are you just going to wave that stuff at me or is any of it actually going on my face?” Charity replies.

*** 

Debbie is just spraying the fixing spray over Charity’s face when the doorbell goes, and they hear Noah slumping down the stairs, followed by Vanessa’s light chatter in the hallway.

Debbie goes down first, and Charity has to hide her eye roll; she knows her daughter is trying to give her a grand entrance and while she appreciates the sentiment, it’s kind of embarrassing.

“…look gorgeous, Vanessa,” she hears Debbie say, and as she steps down into the hall her breath actually catches a little.

Vanessa’s dress is floaty and light, charcoal coloured and strapless, revealing seemingly endless amounts of creamy shoulders, and her chest looks even perkier than normal. Her hair is wavy and swept to one side, and her eyes are smokey and dark.

“Wow,” she says, and then clamps her mouth shut before anything worse can come out.

“Look who’s talking,” Vanessa says, and her voice sounds a little rough.

Charity preens; she knows she looks good in Davina-red, and she can see Vanessa’s eyes briefly arrested by the amount of her leg on show through the slit.

The dress is already worth every single penny she spent on it.

“I got you these,” Vanessa smiles, revealing a large bouquet of white and yellow flowers.

“You didn’t have to-“

“I wanted to. You deserve them.” Vanessa smiles again.

“I’ll put them in a vase,” Debbie says, grabbing them and raising her eyebrows at Charity when her back is to Vanessa, mouthing the word ‘date’ at her. “Oh, by the way, we’ve decided to go round to mine to watch it.”

Charity frowns. “But our TV is bigger.”

“Yeah, but Noah forgot something there, didn’t you Noah?” Debbie says pointedly.

“Er,” says Noah. “Yeah.”

Charity realises with horror that her children are trying to not so subtly tell her that the house will be empty tonight.

She really, really hopes Vanessa hasn’t caught on.

“We have to go,” Charity says quickly. “Don’t we Ness?”

Vanessa smiles. “That’s right. Don’t worry, I’ll have her home nice and early!” She winks.

Debbie and Charity exchange a look and Charity widens her eyes in warning.

“Have a great time!” Debbie chirps sweetly. “Love you Mum.”

“Hmmm,” Charity growls. “Love you too, you terrors.”

Vanessa laughs and holds the door for her. “Come on then, Ms Best Actress Nominee. Your chariot awaits.”

***

Vanessa stays glued to her side during the red carpet, hand firmly pressed to Charity’s back and to her elbow, and gradually Charity becomes braver too, wrapping her arm around Vanessa’s shoulder playfully as they’re interviewed about Mervina and what they’re wearing and who they think is going to win.

Vanessa always chimes in with a “Charity, of course!”, and Charity has to stop her a couple of times when her commentary on the other nominees gets a little too biased.

“Tamara’s acting is a little wooden though!” Vanessa defends herself. “And Chesterview Road has nothing on Villagers.”

Charity secretly dreads to think what will happen if she doesn’t win the award. “Babe, it’s nice just to be nominated, yeah?” she tries.

“You’ve put in so much of yourself these past few months and worked yourself to the bone,” Vanessa says earnestly. “You’re so talented and brave and I’m incredibly proud of you. If anyone else wins this tonight it’ll be ridiculous.”

“Babe,” Charity says weakly, feeling suddenly choked up.

Vanessa smiles at her and links their fingers together.

They reach the end of the carpet and someone shoves a glass of champagne in her hand, but it’s like she’s in a bubble, all of a sudden, containing just her and Vanessa and everyone else is just background noise.

Vanessa doesn’t let go of her hand, and keeps smiling that smile at her, and all she can hear on repeat is I’m incredibly proud of you.

She feels like something is shifting in her, moving into place. She’s oddly removed from her own body, as if she’s watching from the sidelines as Vanessa leads her to her seat, and makes her laugh with a comment about the dresses some of the actresses have showed up in.

The awards drag on a little, and best actress is near the end.

“And the nominees are,” the host begins, and Vanessa squeezes her hand tightly.

“Charity Dingle, Villagers.”

Vanessa applauds wildly, whooping. Charity can see her beaming face next to her own on the projector screen above the stage.

They play a short scene, from the trial, which aired this week. Davina is giving evidence, and it’s powerful.

“So I was a prostitute! Are you saying that means I can’t be raped?”

“I’m saying it means you could be confused.”

“That man raped me, when I was fourteen. I’m not confused about that!”

There’s loud applause, and Charity glances at Vanessa, sees her shining eyes and realises with a start that she might actually win this.

She’s not prepared anything, of course. She didn’t think this would actually happen. But suddenly, with Vanessa next to her, she realises what she wants to says. What she needs to say.

“And the winner is…”

She can practically feel Vanessa hold her breath as she clutches Charity’s hand.

“Charity Dingle, Villagers!”

She rises like she’s in a dream; feels Vanessa hug her tightly and whisper “You’re amazing” in her ear; feels Paddy clap her on the back and Chas smile at her from the row in front.

Then in a blink she’s on the stage, shaking the host’s hand and accepting the glass award, and then the applause stops and there are hundreds of faces looking at her. She glances to the screen on the right; they’ve zoomed in on Vanessa, who’s beaming proudly.

“Well, this is certainly a first,” she starts, and the crown titters. “I know I’m definitely not the only one here who would not have believed a year ago that I would be standing here today, winning an award for playing Davina Welch, of all people.” She takes a deep breath. “This year has been a turning point for Davina, and it’s been a great pleasure and privilege to be able to be part of such an important, powerful storyline.”

There’s a pause for applause.

“I want to start by thanking the producers and the network for being brave enough to tackle such an important issue.” She manages an almost genuine smile in Graham’s direction. “Thank you to my incredible co stars for your support during what has been by far the most challenging months of filming I’ve ever done.”

She steadies herself and finds Vanessa in the crowd; just a blonde spec, but she can picture her face vividly. She speaks as if it’s only to her.

“Thank you also to the the fans, who have written to me to tell me what this storyline means to them.” She takes a deep breath. “This arc has also been important to me on a personal level. Just like Davina, I was raped when I was a teenager, by a man I trusted, who I thought was helping me. Just like Davina, I was let down by those I turned to for help.”

The room has suddenly gone very still.

“If watching Villagers this year has helped even one person who went through what I did to decide that they want to report something that’s happened to them, or to get help, or even just made them feel less alone, then we’ve done our jobs. I can certainly say that, although it’s been tough, I’m grateful to have gotten this chance.”

There’s applause again, and it’s stronger this time.

“It’s been an emotional ride, and at times exhausting, and I want to thank my amazing kids and grandkids for their love and support. And last but not least,” and she swallows hard, feeling the emotion get to her at last, “I need to thank my partner in crime. Thank you Ness, for believing in me more than anyone else ever has and for making me brave.”

She manages to make it off the stage before the first tear rolls down her cheek. She swallows hard; she doesn’t want to look a mess when she gets back to Vanessa.

“Miss Dingle?” an assistant says hesitantly. “You should probably wait here. They’re about to announce best soap…” She trails off in implication, and Charity realises distantly that she’s trying to say Villagers has won.

“I really admire what you said up there,” the girl says, blushing.

“Thanks,” Charity manages distractedly, before suddenly a rush of applause floods the room and she hears the host shout “And the winner is, Villagers!

Charity hears her friends cheering and sees them come up to the side of the stage. Many of them pat her shoulder or hug her as they pass. Chas squeezes her hand. But Charity is looking for one person in particular.

Vanessa is smiling but Charity can tell she’s been crying and is desperately trying to stop. The embrace quickly and Vanessa whispers “I’m so proud of you.”

It’s cheesy and it’s ridiculous, but in that moment, Charity suddenly feels like a winner. Feels like she can suddenly see a little bit of why Vanessa is looking at her like she’s important. Like she means something.

“Come on. This is our award as well,” Charity says roughly, and grabs Vanessa’s hand, pulling her up the stairs.

The cast is lined up, arms around each other, and Charity nudges Vanessa next to Tracy and holds her on the other side, trying not to impale her with her award.

Cain is speaking, and then Zack says a few words, slurring a little already. Charity catches Ryan’s eye, and he gives her a thumbs up, before winking at her.

Charity rolls her eyes but smiles despite herself.

She knows it’s not hit her yet, what she’s done. Knows that there will be fallout. Questions. People pouring over what she’s said and trying to find out who she meant.

But right now she wants to enjoy this moment. With her friends, her on screen family.

And with Vanessa.

***

Reality begins to hit her when the awards are over and the photos begin. She’s separated from Vanessa by people ushering her against the BSA backdrop while blinding flashlights snap in her face. She poses with the other winners, and tries to keep her smile in place over the din of reporters shouting questions at her.

She’s briefly comforted by Vanessa reaching for her hand during the Villagers cast photo, but the she’s having to give an interview and then another and she feels the beginnings of panic at the edge of her consciousness.

It’s too much. Too loud. Too bright.

And then a warm hand is in hers, pulling her to the exit. “Hey,” Vanessa smiles. “Got us a taxi to ourselves to the after party. Figured you could do with some quiet.”

Charity nods. She can’t manage words right now but she knows it’s ok, knows Vanessa can see the gratitude in her eye.

Vanessa’s quiet in the car, but she keeps holding Charity’s hand and smiles when Charity squeezes it, and her lungs expand and her shoulders relax as everything is suddenly blissfully calm.

It’s easier at the after party, even though it’s loud and bright as well. Everyone is well on their way to merry and they cheer when she walks in clutching her award.

Graham makes a toast which makes Vanessa growl beside her, but Charity doesn’t even mind. It warms her, that Vanessa is so protective.

“Proud of you,” Chas says, as she hugs her, and Charity feels warmth inside her.

“Thanks, babe.”

Chas smiles a little wetly. “I’m sorry. If I haven’t been there for you the way you needed these past few months.”

Charity shakes her head. “You didn’t know.”

Chas tilts her head. “Vanessa did, though. Right?”

Charity nods. “She’s been…”She breaks off and looks at Vanessa, who is currently posing with Tracy, who already looks a little worse for wear as Leyla takes a picture. “She’s been amazing.”

Vanessa turns around and catches her eye, smiling, and Charity smiles back.

“It is actually impossible to speak to you when she’s in your line of sight,” Chas sighs, but she doesn’t sound annoyed. “Well, what are you waiting for? Go get her!”

Charity heads towards Vanessa, trying to look casual and not like she wants to grab her and kiss her right there on the dance floor.

“There you are!” Vanessa exclaims. “Come on!” She starts dragging Charity by the arm.

“What are you doing?” Charity asks as if it matters and she wouldn’t follow Vanessa pretty much anywhere tonight.

Vanessa comes to a stop outside the novelty photo booth in the corner. “We haven’t got any pictures of just us yet!”

“Babe, if you go on Twitter, I’m pretty sure the Mervina hashtag is exploding with red carpet pictures of just us.”

Vanessa ignores her, and picks up a crown from the table. “Here, put this on. For the queen of Villagers.”

Charity sighs but places the crown in her head, then draws back the curtain and steps into the booth, selecting the beach background for a laugh.

She turns as Vanessa enters and pauses.

“Look what I found!” Vanessa exclaims gleefully. She’s holding a yellow mask, just like the one Meredith wore in the cellar that time. Vanessa struggles with her hair and Charity reaches out her hands.

“Let me,” she says, and it somehow comes out as a whisper. She takes the mask out of Vanessa’s hands and gently pulls it over her head, softly placing it on Vanessa’s face and then trails her finger gently down Vanessa’s cheek.

Vanessa inhales sharply and rocks forward, and that’s all the encouragement Charity needs to wind her hand round to the back of Vanessa’s head, curl her fingers into her stiffly hairsprayed locks, and tug her towards Charity to crash their lips together.

Vanessa winds her arms around her without hesitation and opens her mouth, welcoming Charity’s tongue as she slides it against Vanessa.

The relief, the joy of being able to do this again, on this night, is almost overwhelming, but she doesn’t want to stop in case Vanessa decides it was a mistake after all.

But Vanessa isn’t kissing like it’s a mistake; she’s kissing like she wants to take Charity right there in the booth.

“Vanessa,” Charity gasps as Vanessa nips her bottom lip.

Vanessa draws back and smiles at her a little sheepishly.

The questions Charity wants to ask stick in her throat. Vanessa’s eyes are dark and full of desire and it makes Charity ache.

“Ness,” she says again.

“Yes?” Vanessa says, pushing her mask off her face.

“Is this…”she starts. “Are we on a date?”

Vanessa’s eyes widen and then she laughs.

Hurt, Charity steps back but Vanessa follows her, placing a hand on Charity’s cheek. “When I take you on a date, Charity Dingle,” Vanessa says, voice rough, “I promise you you’ll know about it.”

Charity feels her face stretch into a grin and she tugs Vanessa forward as Vanessa lurches towards her and they’re kissing again, lips and teeth and tongues clashing together messily, and someone is moaning, possibly her, and Vanessa’s hands are cupping her face and Charity threads her fingers through Vanessa’s hair and their bodies are flush against each other and –

“Sorry Vanessa, Charity,” Paddy’s voice rings from outside. “Erm, I don’t mean to interrupt but…”

Charity pulls back and hisses in frustration. “What, Paddy?”

“You’re, well, you’re dropping your photos.” A hand clutching a pile of photo strips thrusts through the curtain.

Vanessa presses a hand to her mouth to contain her giggles and grabs the pictures. Charity presses close to her and looks over her shoulder. They’re blurry, mostly, smudges of yellow and red, but there’s a couple that Charity is keen to keep, of Vanessa looking up at her with a soft expression, and the next few are definitely not ok to be shared with anyone and Vanessa makes a high pitched embarrassed sound in her throat when she sees them.

They emerge from the booth, Charity smirking at a blushing Paddy, as Vanessa pats down her hair. “Something to remember, maybe, when you’re bored and lonely,” she suggests to him.

“Charity!” Vanessa hisses but she can tell she’s not really mad.

They stand for a moment, looking shyly at each other. “There’s nobody in at mine,” Charity says suddenly. “If you want to maybe go and talk?”

“That sounds perfect,” Vanessa replies.

***

Charity unlocks the front door and kicks off her shoes which are starting to pinch, and feels something warm within her when she hears Vanessa do the same. Like they’re coming home.

“Do you want anything?” She’s suddenly desperate for something to do with her hands. “Wine?”

“I’d kill for a cuppa, actually,” Vanessa says, sounding like she’s trying to hide her own nerves.

Charity nods, glad to have a mission, and heads to the kitchen, filling the kettle. But when she turns around, Vanessa has followed her and has taken down the mugs: Charity’s Best Mum mug, and the one Vanessa always picked when she used to come round, the one with the cow on it Chas got her as a joke one time.

“It’s weird, being back here,” Vanessa says softly, still looking at the mugs.

“Good weird?”

Yes!” Vanessa turns around and gives her one of her big, earnest looks.

Charity breaks the eye contact and pours the hot water in, then leans back against the opposite counter.

“I’ve missed you.” Vanessa’s hands twist together in front of her. “You and the kids.”

Charity glances at her. “They missed you too. Won’t shut up about you.”

“And you?” Vanessa breathes, stepping forward. In the dimly lit kitchen her eyeshadow looks even darker, making her eyes seem even bluer.

“Did you mean it? About taking me on a date?” Charity asks.

“Charity,” Vanessa breathes, sounding exasperated, and moves in front of her, taking her hands and threading their fingers together. “You are the most incredible, brave, tough, frustrating, wonderful person I’ve ever met.”

“Is that a yes to a date then?” Charity asks, voice a little choked.

“Of course it is, you daft-“

“I love you.” She doesn’t mean to blurt it out like that, like she’s throwing down a gauntlet. But once it’s out, it feels like the last heavy weight between them is gone and she feels light.

Vanessa knows it all now. All her secrets.

“You do?” Vanessa’s eyes shine wetly up at her.

“Yeah.” Charity’s heart thumps in her chest. “That ok?”

“I guess so,” Vanessa smiles at her, eyes shining. “Since I love you too and all.”

Charity searches her face for any hint of dishonesty, but as always, Vanessa’s expression is heartbreakingly open and genuine.

“Well,” she says, voice a little strained. “That’s good, then, isn’t it.”

Vanessa laughs, free and happy, and Charity has to kiss her then, feel that smile pressed against her own. She tugs her close, trailing her fingertips along Vanessa’s back and making her shudder.

“Tea’s getting cold,” Vanessa pants, as Charity begins trailing kisses across her bare shoulders.

“I don’t care about the bloody tea,” Charity growls, pulling them even more firmly together and relishing Vanessa’s gasp.

“What do you care about then?” Vanessa asks playfully, her hand burning Charity’s skin even through the fabric of her dress where it rests on her hip.

“Why don’t you come upstairs and find out?”

Vanessa groans. “God, is this what I’ve got to look forward to? Being seduced with lines from Davina Welch?”

“Seems to be working though, doesn’t it?” Charity says, grinning at the way Vanessa’s eyes flutter closed when she trails her hand down her chest and cups her breast.

In answer, Vanessa tugs her hand and pulls her towards the stairs.

***

Despite how familiar they are with each other’s bodies, it feels different somehow. Closer. Charity has never felt anything like it and it’s incredible and terrifying in equal measure.

She can tell Vanessa feels overwhelmed too, by the way she holds Charity close, pressing their foreheads together as Charity moves inside her.

“More, please, Charity,” Vanessa breathes against her lips.

Charity hesitates; she’s already got two fingers inside Vanessa and she’s never used more than that. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

Vanessa moves her hand to Charity’s face and arches up to kiss her softly. “You won’t. Please, I need to feel you.”

She can’t stop watching the look on Vanessa’s face as she slips another finger into her, how the intensity of the pleasure washes over her. She can hardly move her fingers but it doesn’t seem to matter; Vanessa rotates her hips and when Charity brushes her clit she lets out a stuttering sigh and jerks against her.

It’s not like the wild, loud, frantic sex they had at the start. This is something different, something new and close and intimate in a way Charity’s never experienced.

Her heart thuds in her chest loudly as Vanessa looks right into her eyes while she reaches down between them.

“Tell me,” Charity gasps, close already. “Please Ness, tell me again.”

“I love you,” Vanessa replies instantly. “I love you, I love you, I love –“

Charity arches and pulls her close, head falling into the crook of Vanessa’s neck as she comes.

Vanessa wraps her arms around her tight and kisses the top of her head.

“This is not how I thought tonight would go,” Charity gasps, trying to catch her breath.

“I kind of hoped it would,” Vanessa smiles.

“Vanessa Woodfield, were you trying to seduce me?” Charity pulls herself up into one elbow in mock outrage.

“No trying about it, evidently.” Vanessa smirks, but it fades into a softer smile. “I saw you watching me, on set. And when I went on that date, it kind of seemed like you might be a bit jealous.”

“Don’t know where you got that idea from,” Charity says in a false casual tone and Vanessa nudges her.

“So, does this mean you’re my girlfriend now?” Vanessa asks. Charity can hear the teasing in her voice.

“Lets not get ahead of ourselves,” Charity jokes back, then tugs Vanessa towards her and kisses her, just because she can.

“I thought I’d lost you,” Vanessa mumbles against her lips.

Charity presses her lips against the side of her head. “Got me back though,”she says, trying to lift Vanessa’s frown.

“Yeah,” Vanessa smiles. “I did.”

“I’d better check my phone,” she sighs, after they finally part. “Face the world.”

Vanessa squeezes her hand. “The people that love you are so proud of you. The rest can sod off.”

Charity smiles at Vanessa’s protective tone and pads downstairs naked to get her bag. When she gets back she relishes it for a moment: Vanessa, gloriously naked in her bed, and not going anywhere.

There are a lot of missed calls and messages in her phone, but the only ones she cares about answering tonight are from her kids.

We’re so proud of you mum. Love you.

She feels tears sting in her eyes and scrolls down.

Do you want us to come round?

She glances up, to where Vanessa is wiping her smudged makeup off her face, surrounded by the clothes they peeled off each other earlier.

Love you too. And I’m ok. Vanessa’s with me.

***

The second Charity knocks on the door, it flings open and Debbie hugs her tightly. Behind her, Noah is standing looking slightly awkward as he always does when something emotional is happening, and behind him, Sarah is holding Moses’s hand while Jack peers around her legs.

Charity feels herself choking up again, in the face of all this love.

She realised this morning, when she woke up with Vanessa’s body smooshed against her, how lucky she was. It’s still hard to believe, that her luck has changed like this.

“Erm, Ness wants to take us all for breakfast.” She winces as she remembers the time. “Well, brunch.”

They’re a little later than planned, because Charity insisted on demonstrating her special hangover cure on Vanessa in the shower earlier.

“Where is Vanessa?” Noah asks.

Charity laughs. “Hiding in the car.”

They look around her and see Vanessa in the passenger seat, waving sheepishly. Johnny is tucked in the back, snoozing away in his car seat.

“Think she’s nervous.”

The kids all wave back at her, and Charity’s heart flutters at Vanessa’s relieved smile.

She knows that things are going to be tough. Knows that people will want to ask her questions about her big reveal. Knows she’s exposed herself and that that often brings out the worst in her.

But she realises now she’s not alone. She’s got her amazing kids. She’s got Chas. And she’s got Vanessa, in all her bossy, cheery, relentlessly wonderful glory.

Life’s good.

Chapter Text

Epilogue

9 months later

 

“It’s bad luck to see the bride before the wedding,” Tracy laughs as she lets Charity into her and Vanessa’s dressing room.

“Well if anything worse than one of the brides being kidnapped before the wedding by her crazy crime boss mother happens to Mervina, you have my permission to blame me,” Charity responds.

Her eyes are on the centre of the room, where Vanessa is standing on a little footstool and two of the ladies from costume and Rhona are doing up the many tiny buttons on the back of the dress she’s been bitching about for the last month.

Charity takes a moment to let out a deep breath. She’s relieved. Vanessa had said that the dress isn’t her at all, and it’s not. It’s very girly, with playful lace all over it and lace sleeves and little buttons and it’s all a bit cutesy for Vanessa. It’s perfect for Meredith.

But at least it means that Charity is going to be able to focus, to remember that this is just a scene and ignore all the looks people have been giving her. Because despite how well things are going and how happy she is, it hasn’t really been that long yet, and the last thing she and her kids need is another shotgun marriage.

Vanessa turns round and Charity’s eyes automatically sink to the substantial cleavage on display.

“Don’t you look like a lovely doily,” she says.

Vanessa sighs, tugging at the dress. “I can hardly bloody breathe. And they won’t even let me drink water in case I have to pee.” She scratches at the bandage at her head, which is at least a step up from the gaping head wound she’s been sporting the last few days, because fake blood is a bitch to get out of stuff and Charity has already ruined one of her shirts this week trying to help Vanessa peel off the fake skin.

“They’re certainly playing it up for the target audience,” she jokes, nodding towards Vanessa’s cleavage.

Vanessa winks. “Are you going to show me yours?”

Charity very deliberately slides her suit jacket off her shoulders and does a slow spin. She hears Vanessa’s sharp intake of breath and turns to see her dark eyes.

She is so getting lucky later. Her halter neck jumpsuit is backless, and has a tuxedo style front, and judging by the way everyone is gawping at her costume have done a pretty good job. She leans forward on her red heels and smirks. “See something you like?”

“No!” a voice behind Charity calls. “Get out of here Charity. I’ve just done her makeup. You are not messing up my masterpiece before the scene.” She feels Yvonne from makeup tug at her.

“Everyone on this set is a massive cockblock,” she informs Vanessa, who is still giving her that dark, hooded look full of intent. “See you at the church then, babe?” Which, seriously. Davina getting married in a church?

“I’ll be the one with the air being squeezed out of her by her dress,” Vanessa replies.

***

She fucking cries. After weeks of making fun of Vanessa for welling up whenever they practice the vows, she fucking cries.

She’s never living this down.

She’s fine all through Meredith’s vows, because they’re mostly about how Davina stuck by her during her suspension and how she rescued her from her crazy mother days before, and although Charity acts choked up when Davina thanks Meredith for being there for her, it mostly is just acting because these words aren’t enough to describe how Vanessa has been there for her, or how she feels. It’s nice and all but it’s not them.

But then. The line that gets her. “I never thought someone like me could get something like this.”

She tries to play off the tears as great improvisation later, but Vanessa shoots her a knowing, watery smile, and when they embrace after the kiss, she hears Vanessa whispers “You big softy.”

After the church scene, they get a break, and Charity pulls Vanessa into her lap on one of the benches. “I cannot wait to get out of here,” she groans.

It’s been full on, these past months since the Christmas proposal. They’ve had a lot of scenes, a lot of press. The last month or so, they’ve not even been filming together because of the Meredith kidnapping storyline and she’s missed it.

“Well, only a few more hours and then we’re off on our holiday.”

The holiday had been Vanessa’s idea, and although Charity has bitched about the cost and the fact that they will never get any alone time if the kids come along, she’s secretly super excited.

Maybe not so secretly. Vanessa can usually tell when she’s just moaning for the sake of moaning.

Vanessa whips out her phone and opens the camera. “Smile!”

Charity sighs but obliges.

She knows why Vanessa suddenly developed the world’s most active instagram account. She’s not stupid. For months, Vanessa has been trying to make up for wanting to hide them at the start of the relationship, and has been almost aggressively doing the opposite since they got back together.

They’ve attended every awards event in the past nine months together, hand in hand. They kissed on the Villagers float at Leeds Pride. Vanessa constantly tags them in pictures together outside of work.

To Charity’s amusement and Vanessa’s frustration, however, the soap press seem determined to keep labelling them as “best gal pals”, and suggest that this is all a way to promote Mervina. Apart from a few clued-up lesbians in Twitter, no one else seems to have caught on.

This is especially impressive because the entire cast and crew of Villagers knows about them. Many, many of them have accidentally walked in on them in various states of undress.

Charity does appreciate that Vanessa is trying so hard to make it up to her, even if it’s not necessary. She’s disgustingly happy, for the first time she can remember.

Vanessa snaps the picture and begins tapping away on Instagram and Charity tightens her hold around Vanessa’s waist.

“So, is this making you want to pop the question?” Chas asks with a smirk, dropping down next to them.

Vanessa raises her head. “God, please don’t. This one had a panic attack when I gave her a key to my house.”

Charity rolls her eyes. “I just wanted to make sure you were ready.”

Vanessa turns and gives her a knowing look. “Uh huh.” She gives Charity’s hand a squeeze. “That’s very considerate of you.”

Chas jerks her head towards the set. “Vanessa, I think they wanted to do that scene with you and Frank now.”

Vanessa nods. “Right. I’ll see you for the first dance.” She plants a kiss on Charity’s head and gets up.

Chas smirks at her. “You guys are so cute it makes me sick.”

“I’m not cute.” Charity tries to force a scowl onto her face.

Chas is scrolling down her phone. “Naww. Look at that.” She holds up the photo Vanessa just took. “Hashtag ‘I think I wanna marry you’, hashtag ‘Mervina wedding’.” She clicks on the comments. “Oh, and people are loving it. Does Vanessa always get this many marriage proposals on her posts?”

What!” Charity grabs the phone. “This woman says she has five dogs. She does realise Vanessa isn’t actually a vet?”

“What are you doing?” Chas asks, as Charity starts typing.

“Putting then straight,” Charity says. “Someone needs to tell them!”

Chas leans round and then tries to grab the phone. “Charity! If you’re going to respond to every comment about Vanessa, can you please do it logged into your own account!”

Charity is only half listening. “Can you believe this woman actually thinks describing her sexual fantasies about Vanessa will make her want to go out with her?”

Chas manages to use Charity’s moment of inattention to grab the phone back. “You know, if you just released a statement this whole jealousy thing could end.”

“I’m not jealous,” she lies. “Why would I be jealous of the fact that every time we go anywhere the entire lesbian population of Yorkshire shows up and asks Vanessa out?”

Chas laughs. “You know she only has eyes for you.”

Charity does know that. It’s still weird to her, a little, how much Vanessa seems to want her. That this is real.

“You all packed?”

Charity nods. “Ness is a proper little slave driver.”

“She’s good for you,” Chas proclaims. “Even if I did find this in our dressing room this morning.” She pulls a pair of black, lacy pants in a plastic bag out of her pocket. “Please, please gather up your underwear. Paddy almost had a heart attack.”

Charity grabs the bag and shoves it into the middle of her script. “Sorry,” she says insincerely. “What can I say, Vanessa can’t keep her hands off me.”

***

At the airport later, Charity can’t help but think about Chas’s words. How a statement about them could sort this out.

Her comments as Chas have not done down well on Instagram, with several snarky responses, and she almost feels bad for some of the messages Chas is probably getting now.

Only one way to fix this once and for all. “Sarah, come here.” She hands her her phone. “Take a picture of me and Ness, yeah ? Candid.”

“It’s not candid if you’re posing for it,” Debbie informs her, but Charity ignores her.

She heads over to where Vanessa is, for the third time since security, checking all their passports. “Hey babe.”

Vanessa smiles up at her. “You alright?”

Charity nods ands sits down beside her. “Just wanted this,” she says with a smile, and leans forward for a kiss.

“Here you go, Granny,” Sarah says as the pull apart. “I took a few.”

“Did you just make your granddaughter take a picture of us kissing?!” Vanessa asks, appalled.

Charity ignores her, opening Instagram. Mervina safely on their honeymoon. Finally off on our own romantic getaway. #Chanessa

Vanessa peers over her shoulder. “Marking your territory?”

“Well, they don’t seem to get the picture when you do it,” Charity grumps.

“Give me that,” Vanessa says, plucking the phone out of her hand.

“What, is it too much?” Charity sighs. “I’m just fed up of women asking you out when I’m standing right there.”

Vanessa shakes her head. “You’re cute when you’re jealous. And I’m just fixing the hashtag.”

“What’s wrong with the hashtag?”

Vanessa grins at her. “If you went on Twitter occasionally, you’d know. Our couple name is ‘Vanity’!”