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I have a tale to tell (Sometimes it gets so hard to hide it well)
"Are you and Vanessa...alright?"
It's not the first thing she expected to hear this morning. She'd left Vanessa in bed to come and make a brew for the pair of them. After all the drama of the last couple of days, she was hoping for a quiet morning where they could just cuddle up and forget there was a world outside. But the outside world appears to be up early for a Saturday morning. She glances over her shoulder at Tracy, bleary eyed and wrapped in her fluffy dressing gown.
"We're fine," Charity says, turning back to the mugs she's set out, grabbing a third for Tracy. "Why wouldn't we be?"
"Well, it's just...after that big reconciliation behind the bar the other week, I thought you'd be...more, you know-" Tracy huffs, frustrated by her inability to explain what she means. "I thought you'd be happier than you seem to be. It feels like there's something going on with the pair of you. Like...there's always...I dunno. Tension or something."
Charity sighs. She leans both hands on the counter, looking out the window. There's nothing she can say here that's going to put Tracy's worries to rest, because she's right. There is tension between them, and it's because of Tracy.
Tracy walks over to stand beside her, back against the counter. Charity can feel her looking at the side of her face, but she doesn't turn to meet her eyes. She picks up the teapot and swirls it around.
"Look," Tracy says, her voice slightly softer than it was before. "Vanessa insists that that last break up was her fault, right?" Charity grinds her teeth together; of course Vanessa would have to insist on that. Not like people would even consider it wouldn't be Charity's fault. "And if that's the case," Tracy continues. "And you haven't properly forgiven her then..."
Charity frowns and sets down the teapot, turning to look at Tracy. "Then...what?" She widens her eyes and shrugs. "We should just call it quits?" Her gut twists at the thought alone. She might have been the one to dump Vanessa after the whole thing with the police, but she soon realised that being away from Vanessa hurt much more than what Vanessa had done.
Looking down, Tracy shrugs. "If it's gonna happen, then it's better to happen now, isn't it?" She looks up at Charity. "She was devastated before. I'd hate to see her if you let her get herself in any deeper and then decide that you can't let go of whatever it was she did."
"I have let it go," Charity says, pushing the words through a dry throat. She hates to think of Vanessa upset over her. When Megan told her Vanessa was at home crying, all she wanted to do was find her and wrap her up in her arms. She shakes her head. "I've let it go so much I'm practically dancing and singing with magic flamin' snowmen."
A brief smile blooms over Tracy's lips before fading again. "Then what's going on?"
"Nothing," Charity snaps. She picks up the teapot again and starts pouring. "Nothing for you to concern yourself with."
"Which means there is something," Tracy concludes.
Charity turns to her, eyes hard. "Leave it."
"But I can't, can I?" Tracy says. "Because she's my sister."
"'She's my sister'," Charity mocks. She's heard more than enough of that from Vanessa this past week. "Yes, I'm very aware of that, thank you."
"And it'll be me that has to pick up the pieces when whatever this tension is finally breaks the two of you apart."
Charity pauses, looking down into the cups. "It's not-" She swallows. "It won't come to that, alright?"
Tracy sighs, shaking her head. She's silent while Charity retrieves the milk from the fridge. "Is it...is it to do with...you know."
"No, Tracy, I don't know. And I'm not in the mood to play guessing games." She stirs one of the mugs unnecessarily hard. "There's a very attractive woman waiting in bed for me upstairs, so if you've got something to say, say it."
"Fine," Tracy says, pulling herself up to her full height, shoulders back. Charity's defensive instinct kicks in and she throws the spoon onto the counter and faces Tracy, staring her down. Tracy continues. "All this weird stuff between the two of you happened right after Phil's trial. So, I'm guessing it's got something to do with your past." Charity just keeps staring at her, which Tracy takes as confirmation. "Right. So, remember what you told me about David? That if I told him stuff about what I had to do, and I didn't like his reaction, then that was me seeing the real him? If you told Vanessa stuff and sh-"
"Don't even finish that sentence," Charity says, her voice low, eyes dangerous. "Don't you dare compare her to him."
"No, I didn't mean-"
"If you think for one single second that Vanessa's ever made me feel dirty or ashamed of myself then you don't know your sister at all." For all the trouble they've gone through since Charity bared her soul, never once has Charity ever felt any judgement from Vanessa. Only acceptance and support, even if she's misguided about how she shows it at times. Charity takes a step closer to Tracy, her slight height advantage more obvious with both of them in bare feet. She points a finger at her, close to her face. "Vanessa has been nothing but-"
"What the hell's going on here?"
They both turn in the direction of Vanessa's voice, finding her frozen at the bottom of the stairs. Charity immediately takes a step back, aware how it must have looked. She goes to explain herself, but Tracy cuts her off.
"It's fine, V." Tracy meets Charity's eyes and shakes her head the tiniest bit. "Go back to bed. Charity'll bring your tea up."
Vanessa ignores this instruction and marches across the room. Charity briefly closes her eyes, expecting a tongue lashing.
"What've you been saying?" Vanessa demands. Only, it Charity takes a moment to register that she's demanding it of Tracy. And that there's a gentle hand rubbing her back.
"We were just talking," Tracy tells her.
"Oh, yeah, that's exactly what it looked like," Vanessa says, scowling. "Just a nice chat about the weather, was it?"
Charity drapes an arm around Vanessa's shoulders, pulling her close and pressing a kiss to her forehead. Vanessa's arms slide around her waist and she leans into her side; a solid reassuring weight against her.
"She's right, babe. It's nothing," she murmurs, still amazed by the way Vanessa's mere presence soothes her; fills up that space inside her with something that's not anger and fear. "It's fine."
"Well, actually," Tracy says. "D'you know what? No, it's not fine." Charity frowns at her, but she keeps going. "One minute the two of you are all lovey-dovey like this and the next you're glaring like you want to rip each other's throats out. I can't keep up."
"Tracy," Vanessa's voice carries a clear warning. "That's none of your business."
"It is my business when I'm the one who'll have to wipe your tears when she decides to dump you again!" Tracy declares. "It is my business when I don't know if my earplugs are to block out the sound of the two of you shagging or screaming at each other."
"Those aren't mutually exclusive, actually," Charity says, attempting to lighten the mood, because Vanessa tensed up the second Tracy mentioned Charity dumping her again. And, seriously, when did she become the mediator in all of this? Neither of them even acknowledge that she's spoken.
"Oh, I'm so very sorry if my relationship is stressing you out, Tracy," Vanessa says. "But I'm afraid that you aren't, in fact, entitled to know every detail about it. About us."
"Fine!" Tracy throws her hands up. "Forgive me for caring. Forgive me for breathing." She shakes her head, moving around them to finish sorting the abandoned mugs of tea. "Just keep on going the way you're going and don't come running to me when there's another big blow out." She throws down the teaspoon and picks up a cup, nodding at the other two. "Tea's ready."
Vanessa makes no move to release the hold she has on Charity, choosing instead to glare at Tracy. Charity sighs.
"Vanessa's worried about you," she begins, unsurprised when Vanessa's head jerks up to look at her. "We both are." Tracy's attention is also caught, a confused frown marring her soft features.
"Me?" she asks, placing her mug back on the counter behind her.
"Charity, you don't have to do this now," Vanessa says, one of her hands moving to rub Charity's belly through her t-shirt. "Not if you feel forced into it."
"It's fine, babe," Charity assures her, meeting her eyes and giving her a tight smile. "It's...it's my choice." Vanessa returns her smile and stretches up to press a kiss to her lips, her right hand finding Charity's left and linking their fingers. Her other hand grasps Charity's left forearm, fortifying the contact.
"What's going on?" Tracy asks, pushing herself up from the counter and coming closer to them. "Why am I causing problems for the two of you?"
"You're not," Charity assures her. "Listen, I...I know you think that I've got a problem with Bails because he put me away a couple of years back, but that's not what it is. Not even close."
Tracy's eyes flit between them, looking for answers. "So what is it, then?"
Bile rises in her throat and she swallows it down, feeling herself begin to shake as she always does when she thinks about what he did to her. She hates that he can still make her feel this way, that he still has the power. Vanessa's hand squeezes hers, her thumb sweeps back and forth over her arm, and suddenly she can breathe again.
"He...hurt me." Vanessa presses her face against her arm. "He raped me, Tracy. And it was a long time before he put me away." She's not going to go into any more detail than that. Tracy can draw her own conclusions about her age from whatever Megan's said and whatever other village gossip she's picked up. Her throat is closing up and her next words are barely a whisper. "So please, just stay away from him, okay?"
Tracy's shaking her head. "No...no he…he can't-"
"Yes," Vanessa says, firmly. She squeezes Charity's arm. "Yes, he did. And Charity's been so brave in telling you that. So don't even think about trying to defend him."
"Oh, God, no, I didn't mean...I wasn't saying you were-" Tracy's eyes brim with tears and she covers her mouth. "Oh Charity, I'm so sorry...I brought him here and yelled at you and-"
"It's okay," Charity says, wiping at her own eyes, sniffing. "You weren't to know, were you?" She glances at Vanessa, finding her with tears running down her face. She shakes her head and lets go of her hand, pulling her into her arms, letting her hide her face in her shoulder as she strokes the back of her head. She looks at Tracy over Vanessa's shoulder. "I should've told you earlier. Ness wanted me to. I just...I never-"
"I get it," Tracy says, quickly, nodding. "I know it's hard to say this stuff." She rolls her eyes to the ceiling, clearly trying to keep more tears from falling. "That's what this whole task force was supposed to be about. To make it easier." She wraps her arms around herself. "What a bastard."
"Yeah, that's one word for him," Charity agrees, feeling Vanessa's arms tighten around her. "I can think of a few more."
"I'm sorry," Tracy whispers.
Charity sighs, lifting an arm from around Vanessa and beckoning Tracy closer. "C'mere," she says. When Tracy hesitates, Charity raises an eyebrow. "This is a one time only offer. Take it or leave it."
Letting out a half-laugh, half sob, Tracy shuffles over and joins them, wrapping her arms around both of them. Charity encircles her shoulders and pulls her close, Vanessa trapped between them. Charity closes her eyes and lets out a shaky breath, resting her head against Vanessa's and rubbing Tracy's back.
She knows this isn't the end of it. Tracy's bound to want Bails off the task force and away from other girls, as much as Vanessa had wanted him away from Tracy. But she'll tackle that when it comes. For now, she feels a relief she hadn't expected to from telling someone else. From protecting someone else. From protecting her family.
She pulls them both closer.
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