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There's a freedom in your arms that carries me through
By thegirl20


She's first up, sat at the kitchen table with a brew before seven on a Saturday. A few months back that would have been unheard of, but her sleep has been restless and irregular lately and she hates to disturb Vanessa. So here she is, sat alone in the silence with her thoughts. Thoughts of Ryan and Bails and Irene and Debbie rattle around inside her head, scrabbling for purchase and chasing each other before she can settle on one. She shakes her head. It feels like every time she thinks she might be on solid ground, another crack emerges beneath her feet.

Footsteps start up above her head and from the location, it can only be Vanessa. Charity allows herself a small smile at the one consistent thing in her life right now. Vanessa's amazing. She's always there, always has a supportive word or hug. There are times when Charity's afraid she's leaning on Vanessa too heavily. That she's shifting too much onto shoulders that aren't her own and she risks weighing Vanessa down with all her crap and pushing her away. But then, sometimes, Vanessa looks at her with such belief shining from those big blue eyes that Charity feels like she can rule the world. And she needs that right now. God, she's needed that for a long time.

The door opens and Charity looks up and smiles. Vanessa is adorably sleep mussed; hair going in all directions, a red crease running up one cheek from whatever she's been lying on, and one of Charity's dressing gowns haphazardly tied at the waist. She yawns as she approaches the table, leaning down to kiss Charity's forehead, letting her lips linger there for a moment.

"Mmmm, morning."

"Morning, babe." Charity nods to the kitchen. "There's tea in the pot."

"Brilliant." Vanessa shuffles over and grabs herself a cup, setting about sorting herself a cuppa. She glances over at Charity and tilts her head. "How you feeling this morning?"

"Oh, you know, fair to middling." She sighs. "Not really sure how you're supposed to feel after you sabotage your relationship with a kid you thought was dead until a week ago, you know?"

Vanessa sighs, picking up her cup and joining Charity at the table. She stops by Charity's shoulder and pulls her into a one-armed hug, Charity's head against her hip. "You're not supposed to feel anything. You feel what you feel and that's that."

Charity closes her eyes and inhales through her nose. She squeezes Vanessa's waist and nods. "Well, when I know what that is, I'll tell you, yeah?"

"Deal," Vanessa says, planting a kiss on the top of her head and sitting down. They sip their tea in silence for a few minutes. Vanessa's eyes go wide. "Oh, I meant to say to you yesterday...but then things got..." She gets up and rummages in her bag for something as she speaks. "Is Ross planning anything for Moses' birthday on Monday?"

A pang of guilt resonates in Charity's chest. She hadn't even given her kid's birthday a second thought; too focused on the new one. "Not that I know of. Why?"

"Well, if he's not, I thought we might take the boys out for a little treat." She hands Charity a flyer as she takes her seat again. Charity scans it over; it's for some dinosaur show in Leeds. Some combination of a theatre show and an interactive experience. It's pretty much Charity's worst nightmare. "I picked that up in town the other day. It's right up Moses' street. Johnny's too." Vanessa smiles hopefully.

"Awww, Ness," she begins, wrinkling her nose. "This is a bit full-on. I was thinking more like bowling and burgers in Hotten. With everything that's going on-"

"No, I know, I know." Vanessa reaches out and takes her hand, squeezing it. Charity looks up into her eyes. Big mistake. Always. "And if that's what you want to do, that's what we'll do. I just thought this might be, you know, something special? Something different that we can do as a...as a little family outing."

Sighing, Charity looks back at the leaflet. There's a picture of hundreds of kids staring slack-jawed at whatever's happening on the stage. "I'm just...I don't know if I'm in the mood-"

"I know. And that's totally understandable." She rubs her thumb over the back of Charity's hand and tilts her head with a smile. "Like I said, if you don't want to, then we won't." She shrugs. "There's always Johnny's birthday in a few months."

Charity's throat aches at the disappointment in Vanessa's eyes. And the thing is, she knows it's not disappointment in her. She's seen that enough over her lifetime to know how to recognise it, and that's not what this is. Vanessa's never disappointed in her. She's disappointed that she won't get to spend time with Charity and her kids. And that's a whole new prospect.

And it's a desire to make that go away that has Charity squeezing Vanessa's hand in return. "Oh, go on then," she says, rolling her eyes. "See if you can get us tickets."

"Really?" Vanessa asks, and Charity can see the excitement dancing just beneath the concerned expression she's wearing. "I don't want to pressure you into this if you don't fancy it."

"Well, I might not fancy it, but I fancy you," Charity says. "And you've had a really crap time of it dealing with me these past couple of months-"

"Charity, no, I-"

"Oh come on, Ness, it's hardly been a bundle of laughs, has it?" Charity's smiling, but her eyes are stinging with tears as she says the words she's not allowed herself to really even think. "This can't be what you thought you were signing up for back when you were sending me selfies from bars, trying to drive me mad with jealousy."

"Uh, I think you'll find I was succeeding at that, not trying." Vanessa says with a half smile. She gets up and moves so that she's sitting in Charity's lap, her arms looped around Charity's neck. She shakes her head. "And I was signing up for you. I wanted to be with you. Whatever that meant, whatever it brought."

"So...you're not just staying with me because people would say you were a right insensitive cow if you dumped me now?" Charity asks, mostly kidding, but Vanessa doesn't laugh. Instead, she gently kisses Charity's lips.

"Hey, I'm with you, okay? Always." She freezes, panic flaring in her eyes as it does whenever she says anything she thinks will spook Charity. What she hasn't figured out just yet is that Charity isn't spooked at all. Just charmed and amazed that this wonderful woman has chosen to be with her. "Or...you know..."

"I think we both know 'always' was an exaggeration, babe." Charity raises her eyebrows. "I mean, for one thing, you keep insisting on leaving me to go and work." She tilts her head. "Occasionally."

Vanessa smiles, obviously relieved. "That's very true."

"So you're sure you want to stick around? Even though you've seen-" Charity swallows, realising just how much Vanessa has seen of her. "-well, everything. "

Vanessa shakes her head and smiles. "Whatever I've seen in you has just made me want to be with you even more, okay?" She kisses Charity, barely brushing their lips together. "So you don't have to worry about that. You've enough on your mind as it is."

"Anyway," Charity says, blinking too rapidly. "Before we get into another deep and meaningful conversation about my damaged psyche, let's find out whether we can get tickets, eh? And if we can persuade Noah to come along."

Vanessa grins. "Great."

She's slightly regretting her decision as they shuffle their way into a crowded auditorium on Monday night. Noah's walking a few steps ahead of them, using his height and weight to counterbalance the two excitable toddlers yanking him along by the hands. He'd rolled his eyes and huffed a lot when she'd suggested this outing, but had agreed much easier than she'd expected. Maybe he's finally coming to terms with Vanessa being around. Or maybe there's a little kid in him that just wants to see the dinosaurs.

Vanessa squeezes her arm where she's gripping it and she looks at her to find her grinning at the boys. Charity smiles and shakes her head, leaning down to press a kiss to Vanessa's temple. "The things I do for you, babe," she mumbles.

"Uh, it's for Moses," Vanessa corrects her. "He's so excited, look."

She looks back at the kids and watches with a smile as Moses babbles away to Noah and Johnny in broken half-sentences, most of which seem to end in -saurus. She nods. "He looks happy."

"He is happy," Vanessa insists, leaning in close to whisper. "And I even think I saw Noah crack a smile a minute ago."

"Wonders will never cease, eh?" Charity knows what Vanessa's doing; she's trying to show her that she's a good mother and that she's, somehow, managed to raise a couple of happy, healthy kids. And Charity loves her for it. She slips her arm free of Vanessa's hold and wraps it around her shoulders, tugging her close. "Thank you for suggesting this. I...I think I needed it."

Vanessa smiles. "No problem. I think we all needed it, a bit."

She has to let go of Vanessa so they can get to their seats. She ends up sat between Noah and Johnny, with Vanessa two seats away on the other side of Moses. The little ones had insisted on sitting together, meaning there was no chance of Charity grabbing a quick grope in the dark. She sighs and settles in as the lights go down and an excited murmuring goes through the crowd; maybe she can catch forty winks. Johnny shifts a little closer to her, his hand coming to rest on her arm. He's not great in the dark; always sleeps with a nightlight on. She drapes her arm around him, pulling him closer to her on the seat and feeling his little body relax.

"You excited for the dinos, kiddo?" she whispers.

"Mmmhmm." He pushes himself up on the armrest so he can whisper, loudly, in her ear. "Will they be scary?"

"Nah." She shakes her head and smiles at him. "They're all friendly dinosaurs, I heard."

He nods and smiles at her. "Okay." And he turns back to the front as the curtain goes up, revealing a colourful wonderland of trees and leaves and volcanoes.

She watches Moses' face and knows the exact second the first dinosaur makes its appearance. His eyes go wide and his mouth drops open. He slips off his seat onto his feet, moving forward and leaning against the row of seats in front of them, just to get closer. She glances up to find Vanessa looking back at her with a fond smile and she rolls her eyes at getting caught, mouthing 'shut up'. Vanessa just blows her a kiss.

The show is actually pretty good. The dinosaur puppets are constructed so they move like real animals and the kids gasp and 'oooooh' every time a new one comes out. Moses joins in enthusiastically at the section where the kids are encouraged to shout out the names of the dinos; Vanessa helps him with the more complicated pronunciations.

The big finale is a huge Tyrannosaurus Rex that emerges from dry-ice, roaring and bellowing and showing its big mouth. Johnny almost leaps off his seat and into her lap, pressing his face into her shoulder. She wraps her arms around him, hugging him tightly. Noah leans over and squeezes Johnny's shoulder.

"Hey, mate. It's alright. He's not here to hurt anybody, see?" Johnny lifts his head and turns to look at the stage, his fists still bunched in Charity's top. Noah continues to talk him through what the dinosaur is doing. Charity looks along the row to see Moses straining forward, waving at the stage to get the dinosaur's attention. Vanessa has a finger hooked into the back of his dungarees to keep him from leaning so far over that he'll fall.

It's a stupid moment to realise she's found what she didn't even know she'd been looking for; sitting in the dark with hundreds of screaming kids while a puppet roars at them. But that's exactly how she feels right now, right here.

Here, with a kid in her lap that's not even her own, clinging to her for protection and trusting that she'll give it.

Here, with her boys happy and glowing and yelling.

Here, with Vanessa, strong and brave and consistent.

Here, with her family.

Afterwards, once the boys have each picked a t-shirt - Moses picked the T-Rex, Johnny went for a brachiosaurus, Noah declined - and they've wrangled them into their car seats, they set off for home. The excited chatter in the backseat soon trails off into silence. Charity glances back to find both Johnny and Moses asleep, with Noah crammed in the middle, concentrating on his phone with his earbuds in. She smiles at how normal it all looks. Like some family on a sitcom.

Turning back to the front, she reaches over and puts a hand on Vanessa's thigh, rubbing it with her thumb. Vanessa flashes her a smile and covers her hand with her own.

"Did you have a good time?" she asks, flicking on the wipers as it starts to rain.

"Surprisingly, I did." She splays her fingers, letting Vanessa's slide in between them so their hands can link where they rest on Vanessa's leg.

"Good. And Moses had a ball, didn't he?" Vanessa grins. "His little face when that first dinosaur came on."

There's a flash of something that shoots through Charity. Regret. A mourning for all the tiny moments like that she's missed with all of her kids. But if she's learned anything over the past couple of months, it's that things can change. Things can get better. If you do something about them; take action, make it happen. She smiles.

"Yeah, it were a picture." She squeezes Vanessa's hand. "Thank you."

"You already thanked me for suggesting it," Vanessa tells her. "You don't have to keep saying it."

"No, not just...not just for tonight." Charity shakes her head and sighs. "For all of it. For-" Vanessa looks over and Charity rolls her eyes. "-just for being here. Annoying and daft as you are, at times."

Vanessa laughs, but Charity can detect a sheen of tears in her eyes. "Hey, I told you, I'm with you. Right?"

"Right." Charity nods, lifting Vanessa's hand to her lips, pressing it against them as she whispers the next word. "Always."

The End

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