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Vanity bits and bobs
It's raining hard; battering off the roof and blurring the light coming through the window into some Van Gogh-esque canvas of blues and yellows. They'd fallen into bed together the minute they'd come through the door, far too preoccupied with each other to bother with closing the curtains.
Vanessa smiles as Charity snuggles closer to her, murmuring something unintelligible against her neck. She tightens her arm around Charity's shoulders, her thumb stroking smooth skin. Even after almost a year together, she still appreciates times like this, when they're curled up together, warm and happy.
A flash of lightning illuminates the whole room, making Vanessa's heart speed up with its suddenness. She counts in her head. One...two...three...four...five And then it comes, a crack of thunder that sounds like it's ripping the sky in two. Charity jolts upright, the covers falling away and revealing her naked body in silhouette. She's shaking. Vanessa frowns, reaching out to touch her back, to offer comfort, but Charity twists away from her hand, looking around wildly until her eyes land on Vanessa. She seems to calm a little at the sight of her.
"You okay?" Vanessa whispers. "The thunder woke you up."
Charity's head whips to the window, absorbing the sight of the rain. She nods. "I'm fine," she says, her voice tremulous from being woken suddenly. "Just...just startled, you know?"
"Yeah," Vanessa says, with a nod. She beckons with her hand, nodding to her shoulder where Charity had been resting peacefully before. "C'mere."
Slowly, Charity lowers herself to her previous position, glancing at the window every few seconds. Immediately Vanessa knows something's wrong; there's tension in Charity's frame that wasn't there before. She's almost rigid when Vanessa tries to pull her closer.
"Charity are y-" Lightning flashes again and Charity is up and pushing herself backwards until she's seated against the headboard, her knees are drawn up to her chest and she's hugging them. Her face is hidden in her arms. Vanessa's so shocked that she doesn't move for a few seconds. But when the thunder rumbles again, Charity's whole body goes tense until it stops.
Vanessa gets up on her knees, inching closer, afraid to touch in case she startles her more. "Charity," she says quietly.
"I don't like storms, alright?" Charity's voice is harsh, but muffled from where her face is hidden. "Daft, I know. Go on, take the piss."
Vanessa's seen animals react like this, not just to storms, but when they're exposed to reminders of trauma. "Why would I take the piss?" Vanessa asks, gently. "You're upset. I don't like seeing you upset. All I want to do is see if I can help you."
The lightning brightens the room once more and it must make it through the barrier of Charity's arms because she tenses again, waiting. This time, Vanessa reaches out and takes hold of Charity's foot, just so that she's touching her in some way when the thunder sounds. She feels the jump when it does, the tremors that pass through Charity's entire body. She squeezes Charity's foot as tightly as she can, making her presence felt. When the noise stops and the rain is all they can hear, she strokes her thumb over Charity's ankle.
"Charity, talk to me," she murmurs.
It takes a few seconds, but Charity turns her head so that she's looking at Vanessa, her head still resting on her arms. "Cain always took the piss," she whispers.
Vanessa's lips form a thin line. "Well, I'm not Cain," she says, moving closer. She sits against the headboard and risks wrapping an arm around Charity's back, glad when she moves a little closer. "And I'm never going to take the piss out of you when you're scared." She leans closer. "Even if it's of silly things like clowns."
Charity lets out a clipped laugh. "Killer clowns," she corrects, just as lightning flashes. She turns her face into her arms again, but this time Vanessa pulls her close, pressing her forehead against Charity's temple. The thunder is closer now, with hardly any gap between the flash and the noise, so she holds Charity tight until it passes, feels her whole body trembling. After a few seconds, Charity turns so their foreheads are resting together.
"When I was...when I was little, my dad used to tell me that storms were God being angry and stomping around in heaven," Charity says. Vanessa tightens her grip around her shoulders but stays quiet; Charity rarely mentions her parents. The only time Vanessa can recall them coming up in conversation was when Charity was telling her about the events leading to Debbie's birth. "And...when I was...on the streets to begin with...I...there was a big storm and I was huddled in a doorway, trying to keep dry-"
Vanessa's chest starts to ache like it does whenever Charity talks about this period of her life. She forces herself to picture it. It's so much easier to block it out and not think about it, but Charity had to live it so the least Vanessa can do is try and imagine what it must've been like for a thirteen year old kid to be out in the rain and wind with nowhere to go and nobody to care about her. Tears burn her eyes and she presses a kiss to Charity's cheek.
Charity's lips quirk into a tiny smile before she continues speaking. "-and I just remember thinking, being positive, that the lightning was gonna hit me because I was bad. I was a bad person."
"Oh, Charity," Vanessa whispers, shaking her head.
She hates Charity's parents so much. She cannot imagine ever letting Johnny, or Noah or Moses, feel like that. She can't imagine anything that any of them could do that would make her throw them on the street and leave them to fend for themselves. Lightning strikes again, this time with virtually no gap until the thunder sounds. Charity buries her face into Vanessa's neck, and Vanessa lifts a hand to cup the back of her head, whispering reassurances into her ear.
"Nothing can hurt you here, okay? You're safe. I've got you."
At that, she feels a sob move through Charity's chest. Then another, and another. Vanessa rocks them, both, continuing her constant stream of comfort through each crack of thunder until Charity's crying subsides. She sniffles and rubs her face, sitting up a little and avoiding Vanessa's eyes.
"Sorry," she mumbles. "I...I don't know where that came from."
"Hey," Vanessa says, gently, waiting for Charity to look at her. Her eyes are always greener after she cries. "Doesn't matter where it came from." She lifts a hand to cup Charity's cheek, rubbing at a tear track with her thumb. "And if it comes back again, that's okay too. I'll be here."
Charity rolls her eyes, but turns her face further into Vanessa's hand, rubbing her cheek against her palm. "We've enough kids between us as it is, you shouldn't have to listen to me blubbering an'all."
"I don't have to," Vanessa tells her. "I want to." She leans in and presses a firm, chaste kiss against Charity's lips. "And I don't see that changing anytime soon, okay?" She learned early on not to speak in terms of 'always' or 'forever' with Charity.
There's a long pause where she thinks Charity might continue to protest. Instead, Charity's head falls to rest on her shoulder and a quiet 'thank you' is murmured against her skin.
"No need to thank me, you wally," Vanessa says, kissing the side of Charity's head. She eases them both back down until they're lying flat, Vanessa pressed against Charity's back. She sweeps Charity's hair aside and kisses the side of her neck. "Go to sleep. I'll be here."
Charity reaches around and grabs Vanessa's hand, pulling it around her waist and linking their fingers together.
To Be Continued
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