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I'm only human (And I bleed when I fall down)
I'm at the church.
She's off the stool and on her way out of the door almost before she's finished reading the text. A quick nod at Chas is all she spares as she passes the celebrating hens. She breaks into a run when she gets outside, only slowing down when she sees Charity and Harriet, standing in the churchyard. Charity's arms are crossed over her stomach, but she's nodding at whatever Harriet's saying. Vanessa's heart lifts a little at the sight of her, standing tall and strong, even though her deepest secret was screamed in front of a roomful of people earlier.
The noise of her footsteps must reach them because Charity turns to look at her. She's been crying, Vanessa realises. Her eyes are puffy and her make-up gone. One side of her mouth turns up.
Vanessa just keeps walking, reaching out and unwinding Charity's arms from around her waist and replacing them with her own, pressing her face into her shoulder. She's relieved when Charity's arms wrap around her in return. At the moment, whenever Charity's not in her sight, she's anxious. Worried that Charity might be back at his house. Worried that he'll snap and hurt her.
"Disappointed, eh?" Harriet sounds amused from behind Vanessa.
Charity's arms tighten around her. "Shut up."
"I'll leave you to it, shall I?" There's a squeeze to her shoulder. "You're in good hands here."
She feels Charity nod and hears her whisper 'thanks'. Harriet's footsteps retreat and the church door closes behind her. Vanessa lifts her head and looks up into Charity's face. "Are you okay?"
She sees a flicker of movement in Charity's jaw, the almost immediate instinct to say yes. She sees the war in Charity's eyes as she fights years of closing herself off, of protecting herself to the point of isolation. And, finally, she sees the tiny shake of the head that Charity gives her. While it makes her chest physically ache, it heartens her to know that Charity listened to her when she asked her never to say she was okay when she's not.
"Then let's get you home, eh?" Vanessa tries to keep her voice from betraying her emotions. She needs to be the strong one now. Charity needs her to be strong.
"Not the pub," Charity says, quickly. "Can we...can we just go to yours for a bit?"
"Course." Vanessa nods and smiles. She stretches up to press her lips to Charity's cheek, letting them rest against her skin as she whispers. "I'm so proud of you."
Charity jerks back, meeting Vanessa's eyes, flicking between them as if looking for the lie, looking for deceit. "What?"
"What you did today was so brave," Vanessa tells her, squeezing her, as if the pressure from her hands will help the message sink in.
"Oh yeah, dead brave," Charity rolls her eyes. "I was just stood there...shaking and crying like some stupid k-"
"No," Vanessa interrupts. She waits until Charity meets her eyes. "You stood there like the brave, strong woman you are. And you were amazing. You are amazing."
Charity's eyes grow bright and she looks down, one of her hands coming to fiddle with the collar of Vanessa's shirt. "You're going to have to stop saying that if you don't want it to go to my head," she mumbles.
"That's exactly where I want it to go," Vanessa says, tilting her head until Charity meets her eyes. "Come on. Let's go and make you a brew. And we can talk." Charity inhales and Vanessa beats her to it. "Or not talk. Or whatever you want."
Nodding, Charity offers her a small smile. Charity's arms tighten around her again, pulling her in and holding her close, their foreheads resting together. "Thank you."
"You don't have to thank me, you daft mare," Vanessa says, lifting a hand to Charity's cheek, stroking over dried tear tracks. "That's what girlfriends are for."
She feels Charity's stomach clench with a tight laugh. "Yeah, I'm sure this is what you thought you were signing up for." Charity lets out a shaking breath. "An emotional wreck who can barely make it through a week without having a nervous breakdown."
"I signed up for you," Vanessa says, explaining it as simply as she can. "And whatever comes along with that. Okay?"
Charity just looks at her for a long moment. She lets out a sigh. "Then I think you're the brave one."
Vanessa shakes her head, pressing a soft kiss to Charity's lips. She slides a hand along her arm, linking their fingers. She tugs gently and they start walking. "Come on. Home. Brew. Then whatever you want."
A glimmer of Charity's usual spark flares briefly in her eyes. "That's a pretty dangerous offer, babe."
Vanessa rolls her eyes, squeezing Charity's hand. "It's a risk I'm willing to take."
The returning squeeze lets her know that Charity understands.
The kettle is just coming to the boil when the front door opens. She turns and lifts her eyebrows in greeting at her sister and Charity. They're holding hands and Charity looks like shit. Tracy's all too familiar with what hours of crying can do to your face; she's seen it in the mirror often enough lately. Although her own troubles pale into insignificance when she thinks about what Charity's gone through. She'd known bits about her past, of course. The village gossip mill made sure of that and Megan provided the details. And her reaction to Phil had left Tracy with the impression that someone had treated Charity terribly. But not this. She could never have imagined this.
She wants to say so much. To thank Charity for her support throughout the whole Phil thing, when it must have brought back awful memories for her. To apologise for bringing Bails back into her life. For parading him in front of her and extolling the virtues of a man who abused Charity in so many ways. Instead, she says the only word that comes to mind.
Charity nods. "Yeah, ta."
"Thanks Trace." Vanessa smiles at her and something coils in Tracy's chest. Something twisted and ugly that she doesn't particularly want to put a name to. She turns back to the kettle and grabs the extra mugs as they get out of their jackets.
"Actually, I might hold off on that brew," Charity says. Tracy looks over her shoulder, feeling out of place as Charity lowers her voice to speak to Vanessa. "I was gonna...take a quick shower. I mean, if that's-"
Tracy understands that need. How even looking at that man must make her skin crawl. She knows how that feels.
"Whatever you want," Vanessa says, rubbing Charity's arm. "You've plenty clothes upstairs to change into after."
"Mmhmm." Charity leans in to kiss Vanessa's cheek. "Half my flamin' wardrobe's ended up here somehow."
"Somehow, yeah," Vanessa agrees. She nods to the stairs. "Go on." Charity nods and heads to the stairs, holding on to Vanessa's hand longer than she needs to.
"Charity." Tracy's spoken before she knew she was going to. Charity pauses on the stairs and turns back, waiting. Tracy takes a few steps forward. "I...I'm sorry."
"What for?" Charity looks genuinely baffled.
"For, you know, bringing him here. Bringing all this back up for you." Her throat is closing up. "Standing there today and calling him a...a hero." She swallows, blinking back tears. "I'm so sorry."
"Hey." Charity comes back down the couple of stairs she'd gone up and approaches Tracy. "I don't want you feeling guilty, right? You weren't to know, were you?"
"No, I know...but-"
"But nothing." Charity shakes her head. "You did a good thing today. You were there to help people. Just because he got all mixed up in it doesn't take that away." She reaches out and squeezes Tracy's arm. "You've done nothing, nothing to be sorry for. Okay?"
Tracy nods, not trusting her voice to work yet. Sometimes it still amazes her that this is a woman she'd gladly have strangled a few months back. Someone who made her dad's life a misery. And now she's someone who makes her sister happier than she's ever seen her. Someone who's been better at keeping Tracy's spirits up throughout this whole ordeal than anyone else. A friend.
"Okay," she finally manages, smiling as best she can.
"Good." Charity nods. "Only...maybe chuck that book you've been reading in the bin, yeah?" She winks. "It's obviously not working."
The tightness in her chest loosens a little and she laughs at the unexpected joke. She nods, smiling. "Yeah. I think you're right."
Charity rubs her arm. "That's better." She starts heading back to the stairs. "Keep your chin up, kid."
Tracy watches her climb the stairs, before shifting her attention to Vanessa. She's also watching Charity, that same lovestruck look on her face that she's had for months now. Again, that unpleasant feeling curls around Tracy's heart and twists her mood back towards darkness. She swallows it down and heads back to retrieve the mugs she'd abandoned. She takes a sip and holds the other one out to Vanessa, who takes it with a smile. Tracy sits on the couch and turns the telly on.
"Listen, I'm sorry I didn't speak to you earlier in the pub." Vanessa puts her mug down on the table and takes a seat beside her. "I was just...I didn't know where she was or what she was doing and I couldn't-"
"It's fine," Tracy's surprised at how sharp her voice sounds. "You were worried." She offers her sister a tight smile. "It's fine." She turns back to the telly. She can feel Vanessa looking at her.
"Well, it's obviously not fine." The remote is taken from her hand and the telly switched off. "So maybe you should tell me what's bothering you."
Tracy lets out a humourless laugh. She doesn't even know. "Oh, I dunno, V. Maybe just the fact that I've been gallivanting around with a violent rapist for the past month or so. Could be that, I suppose."
At least Vanessa has the good sense to look guilty. She wrings her hands, eyes pleading. "I know, Trace. I...like I said, it wasn't my secret to tell. I wanted to, but I just...I couldn't."
She tries to keep herself under control, because she can appreciate Vanessa was in a bind, she really can. But Tracy is one hundred percent certain that if their positions had been reversed, she'd have told Vanessa. "I get that it was her secret. I really do. And I understand why she wouldn't want people knowing. I totally get why she wouldn't tell me." She looks away, pressing her lips together, trying to fight back the burn in her eyes. "But you're supposed to be my big sister." Her voice is barely a whisper.
Vanessa slides a hand onto hers, squeezing her fingers. "Tracy. Tracy look at me, please?"
She sniffs and blinks a few times before complying with Vanessa's request. There are tears in her sister's eyes when she meets them, and it makes her feel guilty for doing this right now. Vanessa must've had a hell of a time if she knew all this before. But the hurt she feels won't be ignored. Vanessa takes her hand between both of her own, lifting it and pressing it between them as she speaks.
"I am your big sister. I wanted nothing more than to keep you safe. You and Charity. I begged her to tell you. To let me tell you. I swear I did." A tear escapes Vanessa's eye and she lets go of Tracy's hand for a second to swipe at her cheek. "Honestly, the arguments we've had about it this past couple of weeks."
"Still didn't tell me, though, did you?" Tracy points out.
"I tried to warn you off him as best I could." Vanessa's pleading with her now, obviously wanting her to understand. "We both did! Charity warned him off an'all. And she made sure you knew he was married so you'd steer clear."
"I was still spending time with him, though, wasn't I?" Tracy presses on. "Still meeting up with him and listening to him go on about how we were gonna save all these girls together." She pulls her hand free from Vanessa's grip, and stands up folding her arms over her stomach. She feels ill at the thought of it now. His words and platitudes ring in her head along with images of what he did to Charity. "God. I was probably more determined to like him because the two of you were going on at me about him so much."
"I'm sorry," Vanessa says, standing too. She reaches for Tracy, but Tracy takes a step back. She doesn't want to be comforted right now. Vanessa's hands fall to her sides and she looks at the ground. "Like I said, it wasn't mine to tell. I...I didn't have a choice."
"You did, though, didn't you?" Tracy says. And that's really what this comes down to. Why it hurts so much.
Vanessa's head shoots up. "What do you mean? I couldn't-"
"You had a choice," Tracy says, calmly. "You could've chosen to tell me. To keep me away from a violent, sick man." She lifts her chin, determined not to cry. "But you didn't. You chose to keep her secret." When Vanessa goes to speak Tracy lifts her hands and shakes her head. "Which is fine, like I said, I understand why you did it But don't kid yourself that you didn't have a choice." She takes a step closer to her sister, making sure to look her in the eye. "You chose her."
Fresh tears spill over Vanessa's lashes and she covers her mouth, shaking her head. "Tracy-"
"It's fine, Vanessa. I'll get over it," Tracy says, heading into the hall, grabbing her jacket and shrugging into it. "Not like I'm not used to coming in second place, eh?"
"Oh, Tracy. Don't say that!"
Vanessa follows her, tugging on her arm until she turns to face her. Tracy sighs at the sight of her, tears and guilt dripping from her face in equal measure. She shouldn't have twisted the knife like that, with the jibe about their dad. That's not Vanessa's fault and neither is any of this, really.
"Look, V," she begins, trying to soften her voice. "I meant it when I said I understood, right? Charity's good for you, you're good for each other, and I get why you wouldn't want to risk that." She covers Vanessa's hand where it rests on her arm. "I will get over it, I promise. It's just...it's all a bit raw right now. Okay?"
"I love you," Vanessa says, her voice rough and her eyes earnest. "You know I do. I was...I tried to do everything l I could to keep you safe."
Tracy gives her a little smile and a nod. She could point out, again, that she wasn't doing all she could. That she could have told her. But there's no point in rubbing any more salt in.
"Okay," she says. "I know...I know it couldn't have been easy."
"I'm sorry," Vanessa says, again.
"I'm gonna go for a walk," Tracy says, clearing her throat and looking away from Vanessa's sad eyes. "Give the two of you a chance to talk."
"You don't have-"
"I know." Tracy nods. "I need to clear my head a bit."
Vanessa nods and lets go of her arm, taking a step back. "M-maybe the three of us can talk a bit when you get back?"
"Yeah, maybe." She nods towards the stairs. "Just...concentrate on her, yeah? She needs you right now. And she'll need you even more tomorrow when it hits the papers." She laughs through her nose. "At least you won't try and bin 'em all before everyone sees."
Vanessa looks at her. "You are an amazing woman, Tracy Metcalfe. And I am so proud to call you my sister. Please don't ever think I don't think the world of you."
Tracy groans and moves the few steps she needs to to pull Vanessa into a hug. "I'm just a bit mad at you right now," she whispers. "Doesn't mean I don't love you to bits. Right?"
Vanessa nods against her shoulder and Tracy drops a kiss on her head. "Go finish your tea and see to Charity. I'll see you in a bit."
She heads out the door and closes it behind her, letting out a shaky breath. The hurt is still there, but it's dampened a little. She knows Vanessa was in a terrible situation; having to choose. But she still made the choice she did. Tracy inhales through her nose and sets off in whatever direction her feet take her.
Maybe, one day, someone will choose her.
She feels much better after her shower; her face finally scrubbed clean of tears and mascara. Once dry, she slips into a pair of pyjamas Vanessa had insisted she bring over after Tracy caught her making tea one morning in just her knickers and a vest. As an afterthought, she rummages in the the wardrobe and finds Vanessa's yellow jumper, tugging it on over her top. There's still a bit of a chill in the air. That's what she tells herself, any road.
She heads out onto the landing, expecting to hear some reality show or other blaring from the TV. Tracy loves them, and Vanessa claims to hate them, but she somehow knows all the people involved and who they've slept with and who they had a catfight with three months back. But the only noise she hears from downstairs is soft sobbing. Charity picks up her pace, hurrying down the stairs just in time to see Vanessa rise from the couch and move swiftly to the kitchen.
By the time she rounds the bottom of the stairs, Vanessa is standing by the sink, facing away from her. Vanessa's shoulders jump every few seconds, giving her away.
"Babe?" She keeps her voice even and soft. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing." Vanessa's arm comes up to swipe at her face and she glances over her shoulder, giving Charity a watery smile. "Just...sorting out a brew for us. Get comfy and find something on the telly, eh? I'll bring it over."
Charity moves closer until she's stood right behind Vanessa. She reaches out and puts her hands on her hips, thumbs stroking up under her shirt onto her skin. "Just got something in your eye, have you?"
Vanessa sniffs, but doesn't turn around. "I'm fine. Honest." She covers one of Charity's hands and squeezes before patting it twice. "Go on and sit down. You've had a big day."
"So, this thing about not saying you're okay if you're not okay-" Charity says, not moving from her position. "-that only applies to me then, yeah?"
Sighing, Vanessa lets her head fall back against Charity's shoulder. "Using my own words back at me is unfair, Charity Dingle."
"I never play fair. Thought you'd have picked up on that by now," Charity slides her hands further around Vanessa's waist and pulling her in tighter. Vanessa's torso hitches involuntarily with the ghost of a sob. "Why're you crying, Ness?".
Vanessa shakes her head, her hair tickling Charity's cheek. "It really is nothing. Nothing compared to what you're going thr-"
"Oi," Charity stops her. "It's not a competition." Loosening her hold, she steps back and urges Vanessa to turn around. There's a little resistance, but she does turn and looks up at Charity with bloodshot eyes, so blue and deep that Charity almost has to look away for fear of falling in. "I'll ask you again, and I don't want to hear 'nothing' or 'I'm fine'. What's the matter?"
Vanessa looks at her and takes a breath like she's going to start speaking, but stops herself, biting her lip. She shakes her head, looking down between them. "I'm supposed to be being strong for you. I was trying-"
"Right, stop that now, lady." Charity cups Vanessa's face with both hands, making sure she's looking at her before she continues. "You have been strong for me. Okay? From the minute I told you, you've been nothing but supportive."
Vanessa's eyes turn downwards again. "Well, apart from when I-"
"Even then," Charity cuts in, stroking her thumbs over Vanessa's cheeks, waiting for her to meet her gaze again. "You were doing what you thought was best, yeah? I do know that."
Tentative hands come up to grip her wrists lightly and Vanessa offers her a lopsided smile. "I just want you to be safe."
"Vanessa," Charity draws the name out, shaking her head. "I'd never told anyone all that stuff I told you. I'd never felt I could...not without them...judging me or just plain not believing me." She drags in a breath through her nose. "But with you? I just opened my mouth and it all came spilling out and do you know why?" Vanessa shakes her head, her eyes locked on Charity's. Charity swallows, fighting the instinct to say something flippant, to close herself off. Vanessa needs this. "Because I felt safe."
Vanessa's grip tightens slightly on her wrists, her eyes growing wider. "Yeah?"
Charity nods, buoyed by growing smile on Vanessa's lips. "You said before that I was strong today...that I was brave." She shakes her head. "If I was either of those things it's only because of you."
At this, Vanessa's forehead creases and she shakes her head. "No, it wasn't. Charity, you are strong and you are brave. It's got nothing to do-"
"Yeah, yeah, I know," Charity rolls her eyes. "All the stuff I've been through, blah blah blah." She shakes her head. "About this, I mean. I never, in my life, thought I'd be able to tell anyone about it. I never thought I'd be taken seriously. Until you believed me. Until you made me believe other people might too." She smiles. "When I was making up my mind whether to go to that launch today, whose annoying little voice do you think was yapping in my head, eh?"
"Annoying?" Vanessa asks, feigning offence. But she can't hide her smile.
"Annoying…-ly sexy?" Charity tries, lifting her eyebrows in question and Vanessa laughs, pulling her close and burying her face into her neck. Charity closes her eyes, focussing on the feeling of contentment that comes over her whenever she's in Vanessa's arms. "Oh, and I reported him properly, by the way."
Vanessa's head shoots up. "Did you?" Her eyes are growing wet again. "Oh, Charity...that's-"
"Incredibly brave and-" Charity adopts an overly earnest expression. "-so, so strong. Yeah, we've covered that." Charity sighs, her smile fading as she recalls the conversations in the church. "It...it's not great, Ness. They need evidence to take the case forward and with it being so long ago-"
"They'll find it," Vanessa says, her voice surer than it's been all afternoon. "There's no way he's managed not to leave something behind. They'll find it, or they'll find other people he's hurt."
Charity's throat closes up as she thinks about the 'evidence' she'd told Harriet about. But she doesn't want to put that on Vanessa now. She's had enough to deal with these past few weeks without adding this to the pile. "Yeah, well...we'll see, eh?"
"I'm so proud of you," Vanessa whispers, echoing her words from earlier. "You've made the world a little bit safer today, you know that, don't you?"
Her lips quirk into a smile and she lets out a little laugh. It never ceases to amaze her how Vanessa can look at her and see positive, great things. No-one else ever has. "You might need to give me a lend of your worming cape."
"You don't need a cape, Charity," Vanessa says. "You're already my-mmphhh"
Charity kisses her, hard, her hand coming up to rest on the back of Vanessa's head. She pulls away slowly, kissing around her mouth and chin. "Sorry, babe, I just couldn't let you be that cheesy."
Huffing a little, Vanessa pushes her face back a little. "Doesn't make it any less true, just 'cause you stopped me saying it."
"Yeah, but it means I can-" Charity frowns. She was supposed to be finding out what was wrong with Vanessa and had been thoroughly derailed. "Oh. Well played, Woodfield."
Vanessa seems genuinely confused. "Eh?"
"Distracting me from you standing here having a cry." Charity tightens her arms around Vanessa's waist. "Right. I'm not moving until I've got an answer. And don't make something up because you are a terrible liar and I'll know."
Rolling her eyes, Vanessa nods. "It's n-"
"Vanessa!" Charity warns.
"Fine!" Vanessa blows out a breath, her hands coming to rest on Charity's shoulders, thumbs stroking over her clavicle. She keeps her eyes trained on them as she speaks. "Tracy's mad at me for not telling her about Bails." She shrugs and tilts her head, but she's pressing her lips together to keep them from trembling.
Charity sighs and nods. "Yeah, I...I thought she might be." Guilt leaks into her stomach, weighing it down.
"It's...it's fine. She's right to be mad," Vanessa says, nodding. "I put her in danger and I...and, yeah, that's about the size of it."
"Because I asked you to," Charity says. Now that it's all out in the open, it's hard to remember why she was so scared of Tracy finding out. "It's not your fault, Ness."
"No, it is. It is my fault," Vanessa says, looking up at her. She presses a kiss to Charity's cheek. "It's definitely not yours, okay? So don't be thinking that."
Charity swallows, her hand rubbing Vanessa's back, trying to bring some comfort. "If I'd just-"
"No. I had a choice, Charity," Vanessa tells her, firmly. "As Tracy pointed out; I had a choice. And I made it." Her eyes fill with tears and she shrugs again. "I chose you."
Her own eyes fill with tears in response to Vanessa's clear distress. She found, very early on in their relationship, that she hated seeing Vanessa upset. And she'll do anything in her power to prevent it. But this...this is her fault. "Ness...I-" Vanessa's hand comes up, a gentle finger covering her lips. The smile Vanessa gives her is sad and beautiful and makes her whole body ache with the need to turn it into a happy one.
"The really terrible thing is, though..." Vanessa's voice is rough and quiet. "If I had it to do over again, I know I'd do the exact same thing."
There's an initial sense of elation that comes over her at hearing those words, before the guilt swoops back in to replace it. She shouldn't ever have put Vanessa in this position. She gathers her up in her arms, pulling her close. "You won't have to, okay? I'll never ask that of you. Never again."
"God, I hope we're never in a situation like this again where you'd need to," Vanessa says, voice muffled against her shoulder. But her arms are tight and warm around Charity's neck. She jerks back suddenly, frowning. "Why are you wearing my jumper?"
Charity looks down at herself; she'd forgotten about that. "Oh, you know...bit nippy tonight."
"Right," Vanessa says, slowly. A hint of a smile plays on her lips, though, and for that Charity's grateful.
"Anyway, Tracy'll come round, yeah?" Charity resolves to talk to Tracy at the first opportunity to make sure she does come round.
"She will," Vanessa says, her face not displaying as much confidence as Charity's sure she thinks it is. "And until then I just need to put up and shut up."
"Shut up? You?" Charity widens her eyes. "That'll be a first."
"Oh, give over," Vanessa says, pushing at her shoulder.
"How about I give you a kiss instead?" Charity asks. "And then we can have that brew, eh? It's been hours since you offered it me and I'm flamin' parched."
Vanessa smiles and nods once. "Sounds like a plan."
"Good. Now..." Charity tilts Vanessa's face up with her fingertips on her cheek. "Come here."
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