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Beloved – Interlude 5-6 – Discussions with my Sister
The destruction of the Council had taken the lives of most of Lydia Chalmers’ fellow Watchers, and left her little more than a comatose bag of battered bones. Blissfully unaware of her physical state for six months, she had awoken to horrific pain as her body and mind knit themselves back together. It had taken another year for the nursing staff to deem her well enough to go home.
Home. Not all it was cracked up to be, though certainly an improvement over the convalescent wing in hospital. Mum and Father were overjoyed to have their daughter alive and kicking – at least, metaphorically, and accommodated her disabilities by renovating the old servant’s quarters on the main floor. They’d spared no expense decorating according to Lydia’s smallest requests, but it just wasn’t the same as the rooms she’d grown up in. Nothing was the same anymore.
Her daily routine? A daily exercise in torture. It had taken her ten minutes to disentangle herself from her bedcovers, fifteen minutes to hobble over to the bathroom, and another hour to complete her ablutions. Whereas most people were left invigorated after their morning routine, Lydia Chalmers stood panting for breath and sweating enough to almost warrant a second shower.
Lydia was hurting, body and soul. She was not yet thirty but felt like an ancient crone. A hag who’d achieved little or nothing in life. Her biggest honors came in her first years as Watcher – her thesis on William the Bloody, the vampire who’d ended up dying to save the world.
Great legacy, Mesdames et Monsieurs.
She’d had great hopes for updating that thesis. When last she’d spoken with the vampire, he’d seemed amenable to an interview. Downright cheeky, flirting with her like that. Then the Council went up in flames and she’d lost years. The explosion had left her with next to useless legs and muscles that spasmed all night long. “They would never heal,” the doctors said. “You would never walk again.” But she’d proven them wrong… all of them, with their superior attitudes and stupid clipboards. It had taken her two years, but with her crutches, braces and a lot of patience, she could maneuver.
But then she’d lost him. Damned shame, that. Slight crush aside, William the Bloody – Spike – had been an extraordinary demon.
Faced with the prospect of leaving her rooms, Lydia hesitated. She was dog-tired; hardly slept anymore. Grabbing her cache of pills off the dresser, she made her way to the kitchen, requesting a light lunch from Tilly, her family’s cook of the past twenty years.
Swallowing pill after pill, Lydia wished her nightmares were as controllable as her pain. No sooner would she begin to doze off, when the deafening explosions would begin. Body parts of friends and colleagues alike would rain down all around as flames blocked the exits. Flying debris and falling bookcases took her down time and time again. Her own screams woke her up every, single, time.
She checked her watch. “Noon already,” she murmured, noting the time for her next dose of medication and wondered if it wasn’t too early… no, she owed him one, anyway.
“Tilly, would you be a dear and get me the phone? I do think it’s just the perfect time to give my younger brother a wake-up call.”
Lydia punched in the familiar number, listening as the familiar beeps and boops gave way to an American ring-tone. “Hello, Hugh,” she chirped with a cheerfulness she rarely felt anymore. “I hope I didn’t awaken you.” A low, whimpered groan met her ear. She couldn’t help but smile as her brother apparently needed time to remember his own name. “How are things by you?”
“Mmup,” he mumbled. “Bloody hell, Lyds. Do you know what time it is over here?”
“Oh, poor Hugh. Still have trouble waking up easily, do you? No perhaps you’ll remember the time difference when you call me.”
“It was once, Lydia,” he groaned. “Just one sodding time out of a dozen that I forgot. Can’t you forgive me for one blunder?” He didn’t sound half as upset about it as he pretended to be.
“Sorry, dear,” she laughed. “That’s what big sisters are for. To make life a living hell for their baby brothers. Even when they’re old and gray. On a more serious note… how are things working out for you with the souled vampire and your mutual project? Is he treating you any better? Are you getting along with that girl? What was her name… Charlotte?”
“Please don’t ask me. Things have gotten worse with Mr. Angel, and as for Charlotte – she must hate me by now.”
The defeat in her brother’s voice was palpable, and Lydia couldn’t help but worry for him.
“What happened? Did he hurt you? If he did, let me know and I’ll get Father to send a cadre of Slayers after the beast. I swear I will.”
Hugh sighed. “He barely acknowledges my existence. Hurting me would be a step in the right direction. And after tonight’s debacle, well… I don’t know what in the blazes I’m still doing here.”
“Hugh, don’t.” Lydia’s exasperation nearly choked her. Her brother could be as frustrating as their father. When you wanted to know something, it was like pulling out a vampire’s fangs. Very, very hard work and nearly impossible to do without getting bitten for your troubles.
“Do you want me to ask Father to find a position for you back home? Really, Hugh. Torturing yourself over the Council’s latest ‘most important project’ isn’t helping anyone.”
Lydia shivered, remembering when she was in the thick of things. The Council’s library was open to her at whim. She’d spend hour after hour amongst the musty smelling books and low lit reading rooms. They were some of the happiest times of her life. Sad, but true – she’d never been more content than when she’d been nose deep in research, away from the distractions of a normal life.
And now? She’d give her left crutch to have the Council’s old archives back in existence. Maybe she would contact Mr. Giles on her own behalf. There had to be something she could do for the new Council. Then she’d be available to help Hugh, too.
She drank her tea and took nibbles of her toast. Tilly’d been warned. Nothing too heavy for Miss Lydia. Doctors orders. Nothing to overtax her kidneys. Bah, humbug. So involved with her thoughts of the future, she almost missed her brother’s frantic plea.
“No! No bloody way, Lyds.” He was petrified; his voice shaking in terror. “Please, no. If you ever cared for me, don’t interfere in this, love. I can do it. I swear, I just…”
The abject silence was deafening, and it made Lydia hate the miles that separated her from Hugh. Nowhere near as much as she hated Angel at the moment. Dear Lord, she wished he’d been the one to die in Sunnydale instead of the other one.
“I’m a coward,” Hugh interjected. The words hurt her as much now as they did the last time she heard him utter them. When he’d failed the Watcher’s field test.
“Oh, sweet Percival, thou art no coward.” Lydia lapsed into childhood banter. “Thou are my brave knight, who saved me from many a foul fate.”
But Hugh wouldn’t pick up on the expected response.
“I ran, Lydia. I just ran. She expected me to be a hero, and I just… ran.”
“Enough, brother,” Lydia demanded. “Was the danger too great for you to handle? Did you run and hide, or were you seeking help?”
“It was Drusilla.”
“Drusilla, the Mad? Angel’s childe?”
“Yes,” he whispered, a combination of awe and fear coloring his words. “It was the she-devil, herself. She’d grabbed Angel’s son and I… all I could think of was running for help, whilst I made Charlotte face off against that monster on her own.”
“You made her? Somehow I find that hard to believe.”
“Fine, then. I left her in that mad vampire’s clutches and it was just luck that I ran into Angel and his other son walking into the lobby. Oh, Lyds,” he croaked, voice tight with restraint. “She could have died, or worse. And the baby…”
“You wouldn’t have stood a chance against her, my darling brother,” Lydia soothed. “Drusilla isn’t some fledgling used for field training. She’s dangerous. It would have been suicide to try and take the child away from her.”
“What’s the first lesson taught by the Council, Hugh?” She tried again, desperate to break through his self-loathing. “Stay alive. You can’t help anyone if you die attempting to play the hero.”
“Charlotte didn’t run,” came the quiet rejoinder.
“Charlotte didn’t run because she didn’t know enough to be afraid. She didn’t know the situation she was dealing with. You did. Knowing your limits is not a bad thing, Hugh. Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor.”
“Thank you, dear girl. What would I do without you?”
Lydia sighed, not buying his false bravado for a moment. “Any time, my Percival. I guess you’ve decided to stay on, then? In spite of that vampire’s foul treatment?”
“I want to be a Watcher, Lydia. In one capacity or another.”
Her heart broke for him all over again. Twenty five generations of Watchers in one family and Hugh had been the first one to break the string. It didn’t help any that she could understand why he’d been passed over, but she hurt for him all the same.
“But I can’t,” he continued. “I’ll never have a slayer of my own, or do anything that’s… anything truly important. But I can do something. I can help the senior slayer. For the first time since university, I believe I can actually do some good. I can’t stop now. I can’t… won’t, disappoint Mr. Giles any more than I have today. The mortification of having my new employer call the Council to tell them I’m less than useless was a new low, even for me.” Hugh paused, taking a deep breath. “Mr. Giles called me to the carpet like an errant schoolboy taken to task for failing at exams.”
“Oh, Hugh!” God, she wished she could reach through the phone to knock some sense into him. “Mr. Giles knows you’re doing your best. If anyone knows the difficulties of working with that vampire, it’s him. Has there been any progress at all on Ms. Summers’ behalf? Any hopeful leads?”
“I’ve not been allowed to step foot in the library as of yet, but I won’t give up, sweet girl. I will stay the course and eventually Mr. Angel will have to allow me to help.”
“That’s a brave lad. You stick to your convictions and demand to have access to those texts. It’s your strong suit, Hugh. Research. Work the Internet. I’d be willing to help if you’d let me. If he’d not get his knickers in a twist.”
Hugh laughed at that. “So, you want in with another vampire? Is that what it’s all about for you?”
Lydia practically snorted, a habit she’d not been able to break since childhood. “As you well know, my interest in vampires only extended to one, in particular,” she insisted. “And he’s gone now. Let’s just… no more talking about it, Hugh. It breaks my heart that William the Bloody is no longer around. I would have loved to continue my thesis… it would have been something for the ages. His story, firsthand.”
There was a pregnant pause in the conversation when Lydia was sure her brother had something more to add, but the moment passed in silence.
“Do you want to talk about Nate?” she asked, ending the awkward silence.
“Not really. Would you mind not discussing Mr. Andrew Nathanial Chalmers the Fourth right now, Lyds? I think one brutal humiliation per phone call is sufficient.”
“It’s all right, pet. I understand. Nate can be a bit trying, even at the best of times. You know he does love you – in spite of being a royal arse on occasion.”
Lydia expected the oft recited litany than followed.
“Yes, I know. Nate loves me. Mum loves me. Father loves me. You love me…”
“Stop, Hugh.” She giggled, unable to suppress her mirth. “Stop before you get to Tilly and the litter of kittens found in the stables. We all love you, pet. It’s no secret.”
“I-I know. It’s just… I just wish that Mum and Father would actually show some disappointment at my failures.”
“Are you daft?”
“Take Nate, for example. Every little bump along the way to becoming a Watcher was criticized and analyzed for hours, until he’d corrected it and bettered himself. And you, Lydia – the same thing.”
“And this is what you want? To be hounded for the smallest of errors?” Lydia was incredulous.
“No, pet. That’s not it at all and you know it,” Hugh sighed. “I think by the time I was born they had no expectations left. Mum and Father had their perfect family, and I was simply an afterthought. It never mattered what I did or did not do, since they already had the perfect son and daughter.”
“But they… that’s not…” Lydia would have stamped her foot if she were able. “I’m too tired for this argument, Percival. You know it’s not true. They may be a mite easier on you because you’re the baby of the family. That’s all. We’ll talk again, soon. In the mean time, don’t let Angel ignore you. Make yourself the raspberry seed in his fangs. If you’re always under his nose, he’ll have to take notice and deal with you.”
“You’d better hope he doesn’t decide to drain me dry, first,” Hugh grumbled.
“Cute. Very cute, sweet boy. I’ll check some of the more private archives to see if I can come up with something helpful in your quest. Be well, Hugh.”
“Be well, Lyds. And thanks… for everything.”