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Chapter Twelve: Lydia
Fan Fiction: Never Look Back
Chapter Twelve: Tea Time
SATURDAY, JUNE 8, 2002, 3:58 PM (GMT)
Lydia Chalmers paused outside the door of the 'guest' bedroom, breathing deeply and trying to keep her hands from shaking. It did no good for her image to have the teacups rattling on the tray, no matter how nervous she was.
She could think of only two possible scenarios that she might encounter on the other side of that door. She would either find Faith Lehane dead, willing victim of Travers' poison, or a Slayer enraged, seizing the opportunity of the open door to attempt her escape. Even without her usual strength, the girl was a menace; Lydia had seen Travers' morning reports, and had been impressed by the amount of damage she had wrought. Neither probability was very encouraging, and both had rather negative implications for Lydia's future wellbeing. The probability of a positive outcome was small. Nevertheless...
"I volunteered for this," she reminded herself, then straightened her spine and inclined her head at the Council flunky travelling in her wake. The young man-- Percy, was it?-- pulled a slim golden key from his pocket and turned it in the lock.
The process looked simple, but wasn't-- at least, not ordinarily. No one was quite sure as yet whether static enchantments were affected by the 'void spell' Travers' research teams had finally perfected, or if only biological organisms were magically suppressed. Regardless, the lock was a great deal more substantial than it appeared, both physically and otherwise. Enough to keep all unauthorised persons out, and all disgruntled supernatural beings in.
The tumblers engaged, and Percy gave her a weak smile before withdrawing the key and scurrying hastily out of range. Clearly, he was betting on the she's-alive option; most of the Watchers were. They still planned to stop Faith's heart, of course, but she would make a singularly effective weapon afterward, once she had been re-educated. The only Potential who came close to her level of skill or to Buffy's abilities was Kennedy, and that young woman would be far more useful in the role of trainer than as a fighter. For the next few years, the new Council would still need Faith in the lone warrior's role.
Lydia needed Faith too, although Travers would be surprised if he knew what for. Travers may have taken control of the cream of the Watcher hierarchy and property when he embarked on his multiple-Slayer project, but that didn't mean that all those who accompanied him endorsed his philosophies. Some, like Lydia, functioned as spies, acting on behalf of more conservative groups.
Of course, she admonished herself, she would not have much chance of thwarting Travers if she kept standing here like Schrödinger speculating about the fate of the cat! With a final weak smile for Percy, she balanced the tea tray with one hand and dropped the other to the doorknob.
The wooden portal opened slowly, giving her a narrow view of the room's sparsely furnished, elegant interior. There were no sounds of movement inside, but neither was there a corpse on the bed, and a spark of hope took up residence in the back of her mind. Quickly, she stepped inside, and tried not to flinch as Percy pulled the door shut and locked it behind her.
"Well, well, what have we here?" Yes; Faith was alive, and hadn't lost any of her attitude. "Ol' Rich too busy to follow up himself? What, did they think I wouldn't fight a woman? Lady, I got news for you; after the disaster that was Gwendolyn, I don't give a shit what gender you are."
Lydia turned her head to the right, moving slowly in an attempt to avoid any behaviour that might provoke a violent reaction. Faith's voice was husky with pain and exhaustion, and as the girl came into Lydia's field of vision she could see that the Slayer looked as bad as she sounded. She was pale, marked with livid bruises on her face, arms, and chest, and her immodest clothing undoubtedly concealed many other injuries. Her face was set in a mocking grin, but there was no sparkle in her eyes; they were empty and haunted.
"I am not here to fight you," Lydia said, carefully. "I was sent to ascertain what fate you had chosen, and as the deadline coincided with afternoon tea..." She gestured with the tray.
Faith's eyes widened in disbelief. "What, you think I'm going to just sit down and drink that shit with you? Do I look stupid?"
Lydia allowed herself a small smile. "No. After all, your suspicions are correct; everything on this tray has been saturated with drugs. I was given an antidote before I came." Magic-based, naturally, and possibly ineffective in the magic-less zone that encompassed the house; a 'necessary risk', according to Travers.
Faith looked a bit startled at her bluntness, but the girl's expression closed up again immediately. "And you're telling me this because...?" she prompted, crossing her arms and throwing a suspicious glance at the door. "What, intimidation's not working, so you're gonna try and trick me into trusting you?"
The tray was getting heavier with every moment, but Lydia didn't want to move and risk disrupting the dialogue. She took a deep breath and continued. "I'm fairly certain that that would be a waste of my time; I know of your past history with the Council. You may believe me or not as you choose. All I ask for is that you listen to what I have to say."
"Make her tell you what they did to me, first," a new voice said, very firmly. A familiar voice, actually, one that brought back bad memories of Lydia's one and only trip to Sunnydale.
"Anya Jenkins?" Lydia forgot all about maintaining eye contact and avoiding sudden movement and turned immediately toward the room's third occupant. "What... what are you doing here? This room was sealed, I checked it myself before they brought Faith in... and how on Earth could you know where she was?" Her eyes darted involuntarily to the heavily leaded, barred window, and then back to the angry, determined blonde. "Is, is Rupert Giles with you? Or the other Slayer?"
"Nope. Just me. Buffy told everyone I was an ex-demon when you visited us, don't you remember? Not that I appreciated her revealing my secret, but I thought for sure you would look me up in the Watcher chronicles after you left. I know I'm in them."
"Ah, actually..." Lydia gave up on the tray and set it on the floor to the left of the door, then laced her fingers together in an effort to keep from wringing her hands. "We were rather busy, what with Glory..."
Anya rolled her eyes. "I was a vengeance demon. Anyanka, patron saint of scorned women? Anyway, I'm back in the game now, and even your tiny Watcher mind should be able to guess what I'm doing here."
"V-vengeance?" Lydia blinked at the girl-- demoness-- in shock. This hadn't been in any of Mr. Giles' Watcher Diaries; he'd mentioned Anyanka, yes, but not that she'd somehow become human and joined his little band of civilian associates. What else had the man concealed over the years?
The sound of snapping fingers startled her and drew her attention back toward Faith. "In other words, you don't have any idea why she's suddenly as human as I am?" the Slayer asked, her voice sharpened with annoyance. "At first I thought it was the drugs, but when Anya showed up... Wait. This doesn't make any sense. Why would they send you in here clueless? I mean, two on one odds, if we'd decided to jump you..."
The backhanded reference to the void spell re-centred Lydia somewhat, reducing her confusion. At least that made sense. A vengeance demon's abilities would be blocked by the spell just as any magical being's would, but Anyanka might have had time to teleport in when the spell had been altered earlier in the afternoon. Well. Two would be much more difficult to release than one, but if Lydia could get them outside the boundaries... This changed things, considerably. Putting a stop to Travers' plan might be easier than she had feared, if she had the power of the Wish at her disposal.
"It's a general spell," she explained hurriedly, "not a specific one, and it limits us as much as you; we didn't even know whether you were alive. I doubt anyone knows she's in here. If, If I help you, if I tell you how it was done and get you out of here, will you exempt me from any vengeance you might Wish on the Council?"
At her oblique reference to the goblet of poison, Faith glanced quickly toward its presence on the bedside table. "Explain it to us first," she said warily. "You know, as a gesture of good faith." She snorted at her inadvertent self-referent, then waved her hand toward the bed. "Go on. Sit down. Talk. They don't expect you back out there anytime soon, do they? I mean, since you were bringing tea, and all."
"Actually, they do," Lydia said, with an apologetic frown. "They would expect the tea to render you unconscious almost immediately. I know this must sound suspicious to you, but if you will help me get you out of this house, you'll be outside the boundaries of the void and your abilities should immediately return. The spell takes too much power and preparation to adjust it quickly, so we should have several minutes to make good our escape."
"Void? As in void spell?" Anya raised her eyebrows at Lydia, then cast a shocked glance at Faith. "You mean they've managed to reconstruct a magic-exclusive internally-focussed shield matrix? I hate to break it to you, but we're not going anywhere until they take the thing down. There was a reason the lords of Arashmahar tried to burn all copies of those spells out of existence; they're trap spells. And they don't make any distinction between sub- and super-human sentient beings." Her voice got angrier with every word, until Lydia was sure Percy would hear her out in the hall.
"Like Slayers," Faith said, quietly, and sat down on the bed, a dismayed expression on her face.
"What?" Lydia was in shock. Again. It was supposed to be a simple rescue; well, perhaps not simple, but at least uncomplicated. What more could go wrong? "I've seen Travers' working notes, and there's no mention of traps, or shields, or anything else you've just mentioned!"
"Of course not!" Anya exclaimed. "The documentation got destroyed with the original spells; no one was supposed to ever cast them again. I only know because D'Hoffryn was involved. So, yes, it can trap Slayers. And demons. And werewolves. Even elemental mages like Giles. This thing will catch anyone whose DNA or aura is significantly different from a normal human's. The Church even tried to use them as witch-traps for a few years, but of course most witches and sorcerers aren't different enough from the average person for the spell to hold them, it just stops them making magic. That's irony for you."
Lydia tried to take a step back and fetched up against the wood of the door. Her knees folded and she went down a little heap, finding herself seated on the floor next to the tea tray. "Then we can't stop them," she said, feeling as though all her hopes were crumbling to dust like a newly-Slain vampire. "If you can't get out... They'll kill you, Faith, just for a moment, and then repeat the process with every new Slayer until they can activate no more. Then they'll drug them into obedience. An army of Slayers might sound like a good idea in principle, but under Travers' control..." Her voice faded out in horror.
Faith shuddered. "An evil Slayer army, huh? Figures. From what B said, he's not exactly Boy Scout material."
Lydia sighed. "Travers never forgave Buffy for her attitude when we came to review her before her last confrontation with Glory. She said a number of things that didn't set well with him..."
"'Power. I have it. They don't. This bothers them'," Anya quoted, her gloom lifting a little. Apparently, that was a pleasant memory for her. "She really put him in his place."
"Go B," Faith muttered.
"Actually, it was more, 'You're Watchers. Without a Slayer, you're pretty much just watchin' Masterpiece Theater.'" Lydia reflected back on the surprise of that moment, of Travers' capitulation and his anger afterward. The long flight home had been very unpleasant. "When Rupert returned to England without Buffy that fall-- well, we didn't even have marginal control of her any longer, and as policy at that time forbid arranging Faith's death in prison..."
"He decided to make sure he'd have total control of the rest of the Slayers, for pretty much ever," Faith said, bluntly. "If it works, anyway."
"If? It worked for Buffy," Lydia reminded her. "Kendra was called, then Sherise, then you, and Buffy remained the Slayer throughout. The principle should hold true even when there are nearly fifty of you."
"Sherise?" Faith's eyebrows went up. "That's news to me. There was another Slayer?"
Lydia shook her head. "She was killed in her first active week. That happens to more Slayers than the Council would like to admit."
Faith shook her head. "Damn. But you know, all of this was before the Hellmouth went AWOL and the Prophecy of the Rule went active. What if the rules have changed?" Her tone of voice was lighter now, almost speculative, and she threw another long glance at the pewter goblet.
"The what? I, the Hellmouth is in Los Angeles, yes, we know that, but... AWOL? And what do you mean about the Prophecy of the Rule? I have not heard of it." Lydia just shook her head, feeling the beginnings of a migraine throbbing along the edges of her awareness. This was becoming an unmitigated disaster. She set the heels of her hands to her eyes, and tried to breathe deeply.
"Not many people have," Faith said quietly.
"Oh. Oh!" Anya suddenly exclaimed, a strange excitement in her voice. "The Hellmouth... Do you know how dark this kind of spellwork is? If the Watchers cast very many of them..."
Faith laughed softly. "Guess we're gonna have a English Hellmouth. Wes'll love that."
Lydia opened her eyes again and stared at her. "You can't be serious."
One corner of Faith's lifted in a bitter half-smile, and some of the life returned to her eyes. "Get out of here, Watcher-lady. Get word to G-Man, and Wes; if anyone can help, they can." She turned to Anya next, with a shrug of her shoulders. "Sorry, Ahn; I hope you can get out when they drop the spell. If they've only got it up because of me..." She looked at the goblet again, then took a deep breath, shifted to the edge of the bed, and reached for it.
"Guess I better start trusting the Powers sometime," she muttered, then tossed the contents of the pewter cup back and swallowed.
"Faith!" Anya objected loudly, rushing to her side. "What did you do that for? I was supposed to grant your Wish so everything would be okay!"
"Grant someone else's," the Slayer told her, through black-stained lips.
"Faith..." Lydia didn't know what else to say. What could she say? Faith had chosen Death; there was no salvaging anything, now.
"It's okay," the Slayer whispered, collapsing backward onto the bed. Her head turned toward Lydia, giving the Watcher full view of her face as she paled even further and her lips began to turn blue. "Dreamed... she said... my choice. Five by... five. Be... okay." Her voice went quieter with every word, then fell silent; her eyelids fluttered closed over dark, glazed eyes, and every muscle went suddenly limp.
"She's dead," Anya said, unnecessarily.
Lydia dropped her forehead to her knees and just breathed, crying without tears. What were they going to do now?
© 2004 Jedi Buttercup.