Charity paces the kitchen for a good ten minutes before getting herself together enough to walk up the stairs towards their bedroom.
She opens the door as quietly as she can manage. The room is dark and she can barely make out the contours of Vanessa’s body at first. She moves quietly to her own side of the bed, careful not to rouse Vanessa. As her eyes gets used to the darkness, she can see Vanessa’s shoulders shaking lightly.
She feels it like a blow to her chest, how Vanessa is lying here alone, crying quietly so no one will hear her. Just like she must have done for all those days that piece of scum had her tied up and helpless. She reaches out for Vanessa’s arm, ready to be shrugged off again, but Vanessa just chokes out a sob and shakes harder.
”Oh, Ness,” Charity sighs, feeling tears sting her own eyes again. She lays down, cradling Vanessa from behind, wrapping her arm around her body, pressing her nose into the hair at her neck. ”I’m so sorry.”
Vanessa gips Charity’s arm so hard, as if she’s grasping at the last thing that’s saving her from drowning.
”Charity,” Vanessa chokes. ”I’m so scared.”
”I know. Me too,” Charity replies uselessly. She doesn’t have the words to make any of this better. She just holds Vanessa tighter, feeling the tension finally leaving Vanessa’s body and how it starts to convulse with sobs, not quiet anymore. Charity lets go and cries too, soaking the back of Vanessa’s neck, clinging desperately to her.
Eventually, Vanessa turns around and buries her face in Charity’s neck, and despite their despair, the most intense feeling of relief floods Charity. They’ve been apart for so long, and Charity can’t believe she tried to run away from this. She pulls Vanessa closer, as close as possible. She wishes she could sink through Vanessa’s skin, blend with her, have their hearts rest side by side.
”I’m so sorry,” she repeats. ”I should never have left you own your own like I did.”
”S’okay,” Vanessa murmurs.
”No it isn’t. I shouldn’t have left you to deal with everything on your own. I didn’t know how to be around you without blubbering all over you, so I thought I’d best stay away.”
Charity feels Vanessa smile against her neck. ”You’ve made up for that now.” she says, touching the back of her jumper where the fabric is soaked with Charity’s tears. ”Please don’t stay away, though,” Vanessa pleads, her voice small.
”I won’t. I want to be there for you.” Charity takes a deep breath. ”I just don’t know what to do,” she admits.
”Just be with me.”
That sounds so simple.
Charity wants to punch someone, scream in their face, rip the whole world apart. But that wouldn’t make the slightest bit of difference. What she needs to do is stay and be present, and not run when she feels like her ribcage is being crushed by the weight of everything.
”You know I’m a bit rubbish at things like this,” she mutters.
”Sometimes, yeah,” Vanessa agrees. ”But you’re also the only person I want to share this with. You’re the person I want to spend the rest of my life with, however long that may be.”
”Don’t say that,” Charity says, suddenly feeling choked up again. She can’t even think like that without feeling sick.
”It’s how I feel.” Vanessa leans back, her eyes searching Charity’s face in the darkness. ”I was so afraid I’d never see you again, when Pierce had me. All I wanted was for me and Johnny to come home to you again. To our family. But Charity, if this is too much for you—”
”Listen first, and then answer, okay? I understand if this isn’t what you signed up for. I didn’t sign up for it. But please don’t make me a load of promises you can’t keep, alright? I can’t cope with that right now. If you can’t handle all this, I’ll do it on my own—”
”No, let me finish. Please don’t tell me what you think I want to hear, or what you think you ought to say. Just be honest.”
Vanessa’s fingers are soft against Charity’s wrist. Charity bites her lip.
”My head’s all over the place,” she begins.
”Mine too,” Vanessa nods. ”It’s okay.”
”All I know is I could never leave you. If one thing’s become clear to me over the last two weeks it’s what life without you is like, and to even imagine that could be permanent is—” she interrupts herself, biting her lip harder. ”I’m sorry, I don’t mean to bang on about death all the time.”
Vanessa wipes at her own cheeks. ”I asked you to be honest.”
Charity clears her throat. ”Just the idea of losing you made me lose my mind for a bit, babe. You’re everything to me. I really mean that. And… there is no way I’d let you go through all this alone. I might not be any good at this, I might freak out again and say the wrong things, and just make things worse like I always do. But I want to be there for you every step of the way, if you’ll let me.”
”You’re not making it worse now.” There’s a ghost of a smile over Vanessa’s lips. ”The opposite.”
”Yeah. You’re here. We’re talking. I’ve felt so alone, since I started worrying about my health, and then with Pierce… And last night. I waited for you but you never came.”
Shame heats Charity’s cheeks. She can’t believe she left Vanessa alone with all this on her first night back. ”I couldn’t face it. I didn’t want you to know how badly I was freaking out.”
”It was kind of obvious. I know you, remember?” Vanessa taps Charity’s nose lightly. ”My point is, I’d rather have you with me, a blubbering mess like this…” Vanessa smiles when Charity rolls her eyes. ”…than not at all. And I don’t need you to say the right things. I mean, why start now, eh?”
They both laugh a little. If feels good, like something is falling back into place. Like they’re them again. It hasn’t felt like that in a while, not since the day they were supposed to be wed.
”I just want you close to me, just like this.” Vanessa lets her hand travel up and down Charity’s arm, like she is making sure she’s really there. She takes Charity’s hand, looks down at it. ”And I’m not the best at asking for help, you know that.”
”You hate it.”
”Yes. But I do need you, Charity. So much that it hurts.”
Vanessa looks up at Charity, and if Charity didn’t know it before now, she knows beyond a shadow of a doubt, she’d kill and die for this woman.
”I’m here now,” Charity whispers. She knows how much it takes out of Vanessa to be this open and vulnerable, and she’s not going to make her regret it again. ”You know, Chas said something today. Don’t worry, I didn’t tell her,” she adds quickly. ”But she saw that I was upset, and she told me that whatever we’re going through it’s easier to go through it together. And she was right, wasn’t she? Whatever’s coming our way, we can face it together.”
Vanessa closes her eyes at the words, looking like she might cry again.
”Even the really ugly stuff? The chemo, the bag, if I don’t… m-make it?”
Charity takes a deep breath, steeling herself. Then she touches Vanessa’s chin to make her look into her eyes. ”All of it. I’m here and I’m never letting you go. Never. No matter what. In sickness and in health, yeah? We may not have said those words officially but I do mean that. I do. ”
”Really?” Vanessa asks, her still voice trembling.
Charity nods because she doesn’t feel like she can speak anymore. Vanessa’s hands sneaks under Charity’s top, like she wants to get even closer too. Her hands are trembling as she grasps at Charity’s sides.
”I love you,” she murmurs into Charity’s sternum, pressing herself close. ”I’ve missed you so much.”
”Me too, kid,” Charity whispers, one hand stroking Vanessa’s hair, the other one caressing over her back. ”We’ve got this.”
Vanessa laughs through the tears. ”You think?”
Charity nods. ”Cancer treatment is amazing nowadays, isn’t it? Look at Sarah, and David, and Diane!”
”Thank you,” Vanessa sniffles. ”For saying that. My consultant said she’s had patients worse off than me come out of this okay in the end.”
Charity desperately clings to those words. ”You see?”
Silence falls over them for a while. Charity thinks about all those nights before Bails’ trial that Vanessa stayed up with her, doing her best to help her get through. It wasn’t always perfect, but Charity loved her for trying. That’s what she’ll do now. Try and try until she’s blue in the face, and if she gets it wrong, she’ll just keep on trying.
”God, this bed is comfy. I never realized”, Vanessa murmurs drowsily.
”Sleep for a bit, babe. You’ve earned it.”
”You’ll be here when I wake up?”
”’Course.” Charity scratches at Vanessa’s scalp the way she knows she loves and Vanessa shivers in response.
”You’re not as bad at this as you pretend to be,” Vanessa slurs, snuggling closer.
Charity kisses the top of Vanessa's head, and keeps scratching until Vanessa’s breath grows heavy.
Then she stays.