Smoothie Sims Inc. proudly presents…
A Villainous Apocalypse
Episode 23 – “Nothing You Can Do”
Warning: Portrayals of depression and emotional abuse
“Sorry to disturb you, Mrs. Fitzhugh, but we have a warrant to search the house.”
The first morning of Summer found Elle at home alone. Mya was doing a drive-by checkup on her businesses, and Harry had decided to ride along, taking advantage of a rare day where he felt completely himself. Gabriel invariably went wherever Mya went. Tristan had gone to the office early. Saxon, now approaching his toddler birthday, had finally become less needy and might as well not have been there at all.
Thankful for at least a bit of quiet after the last several days, Elle had settled down at the kitchen table to read the newspaper, but she was so exhausted that she couldn’t keep her focus for very long.
A light touch on her shoulder startled her awake. “Ugh,” she moaned. “My neck-” She looked up. “Billy!”
Her younger brother grinned. “Hi, Ellie. You didn’t forget I was coming home today, did you?”
“No, I thought I’d read the paper while I waited for you. Guess I fell asleep. When did you get here?”
“Just now. I let myself in, hope you don’t mind.”
She hugged him. “Never. It’s as much your house as mine. Oh, I’m so glad you’re here.”
“Yeah, I missed you, too.” He looked down at her, smiling, but with concern lurking underneath the pleasant expression. “How are things? You look exhausted.”
“I am tired,” she admitted, “but that’s just because we had a late night on top of Saxon being a fusspot for the past couple of days. Oh! You haven’t met Saxon yet! He’s sleeping right now--or at least he was--but we can go and look at him, at least. And then Uncle Lex is coming over to talk to us. Actually, what time is it? He might already be on his way.”
“He’s actually upstairs using the restroom,” Billy said, amused. “We got here at the same time.”
Elle blinked. “Wow. I’ve been out for a while, then.”
He crossed his arms, pinning her with a stern look. “Yeah, and sleeping on the table can’t be good for you.”
“I didn’t mean to fall asleep. Anyway, I guess I’ll check on Saxon and then we can talk.”
Saxon was awake and seemed content, so she took a moment to show him off to the other two, then gave him to Billy so that she could fix up a chef salad.
“I’ve got a job offer for one of you if you want it,” Lex explained, when they had settled somewhat. “Dominic was supposed to join the force in the Spring, but as he’s not going to be back for a while, the position’s still open. I know Azula wanted one of you to take a Law Enforcement job as part of her plan.”
“Yeah, that’s still on as far as I know,” Billy said, with a glance at Elle, who nodded in agreement. “Uh, do you care who takes it?”
“I’d be happy to have either one of you join us,” said Lex. “You decide.”
“You should take it, Billy,” said Elle.
Her brother frowned. “You sure? You’re the heir.”
“You’d do better with this job than I would and I’m not going to make you wait around for an opening in the Slacker track,” she said firmly. “That could take a while. I’m sure you and Snow would like to get married as soon as possible.”
“That is true,” he said lightly. “I feel like you ought to get first choice, though.”
“Billy. I want you to take it.” She smiled in an attempt at playfulness. “And since I’m the heir, you should listen to me.”
Billy chuckled and turned back to Lex. “I guess I can’t argue with that. I’d love to take it.”
“You can start tomorrow,” their uncle said amusedly. “We’re going to put you straight to work, too. Recruiting, mostly. It’s about time we filled out the ranks a bit.” He glanced at Elle. “Ellie, you’re very gracious. I’m sure something will come up for you soon.”
“I’m sure it will,” Elle said lightly. “I’m going to put Saxon back in his crib. My salad better still be there when I get back.”
“Oh, that was for you?” asked Billy, with a mischievous glint in his eye. “I thought you’d made an extra portion for me.”
She shook her head at him as she left.
Lex stayed until late afternoon, chatting with them, and then excused himself. “It’s my turn to babysit the girls,” he explained. “Faba’s in need of another mental health day, and Rhi’s been on baby duty.”
“Oh, by all means, go home,” Elle said quickly. “It was great to see you. Come back anytime, you don’t need to wait for an invite.”
Her uncle smiled a bit and gave her a hug. “I’ll remember that. You take care of yourself, got it? After last night, I don’t think you can be too careful.”
She frowned. “I’m fine, Uncle, don’t worry. Besides, we’re always careful.”
Billy waited until Lex had gone, then turned to her. “What happened last night?” he asked.
Elle had hoped she could avoid telling her spitfire brother about the events of the previous night, but after Lex’s comment, it was no longer possible. “Some officers came by the house really late,” she said. “They had a search warrant. They didn’t tell us why, but Uncle Jon and Aunt Suzy came out to wait with us while they were getting searched and they were able to tell us. Raikov sent them to look for Azula. She and Dom got out of Twikkii, and I guess Raikov found out. The whole neighborhood got searched last night. Now they’re running patrols—I don’t know how long.”
“Zuzu got out? When was this?”
“Just a couple of days ago. She wouldn’t tell me how, or where they are now, though.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
She bit her lip. “You had finals. We didn’t know any details. I figured we should wait until you got home so the not knowing wouldn’t distract you.”
Still, he looked angry. “You should have told me right away. What if one of those officers had stopped me on the way home?”
“I’m sorry, Billy,” she said, looking at the floor. “I didn’t do it to hurt you. I’m just trying to keep everyone going.”
At that, he seemed to deflate somewhat. “I’m sorry too, Ellie. Look, that last year by myself was driving me crazy. I wanted to be here to help, but I had to finish. And now…” He crossed his arms. “I kind of feel like you’re trying to push me out of the house, I’ll be honest.”
“No, never.” She blushed, thinking about her insistence that he take the job offer. “I want you here. I’ve been lonely, too. I just don’t want you to have to put your life on hold longer than you have to.”
He smiled a bit. “You’ve been lonely even with Tristan here?”
As if on cue, she heard a car pull up to the curb. “He’s so busy preparing for the elections,” she said, by way of excuse. “Everybody’s busy but me, it seems. And Dad, but he’s got an excuse. I haven’t found a job yet, so I have nothing to do.” She tried not to feel too badly about having to quit Culinary—it hadn’t been part of Azula’s plan—but the fact that she hadn’t even made it to her first shift made her feel pretty pathetic, even days after the fact. “Anyway.”
“Right.” Billy sighed. “So they were here looking for Zuzu, huh? I really hope she wasn’t stupid enough to come back here.”
“She didn’t,” said Elle, “but that was all she would tell me.” She hesitated. “They don’t know for sure, but they don’t want anyone knowing where they went just in case someone’s informing Raikov.”
He blinked. “That’s impossible. Only the immediate family even knew they went to Takemizu in the first place.”
“I know, but she said they could have found the flight records if they’d dug deep enough.”
That seemed to set Billy off again. “The only reason Raikov cares is because she’s a Fitzhugh. It’s fine if other people here don’t follow protocol to the letter, but if we break a regulation? Forget it. What Zuzu did was dumb, sure, but there was no need to basically exile her for it and then do a manhunt when she disappears. It’s not like she killed someone.”
“That may be, but the only thing we can do is go along with it,” said Tristan, who had climbed the stairs in time to hear the last sentence. “Hello, Billy. I see you made it back all right.”
Billy glanced at Tristan. “Yes, I did. Hello.”
Tristan smiled indulgently and crossed over to Elle. “How did your meeting with Lex go?”
“Well,” she said. “Billy has a job.”
“Oh?” He looked at Billy. “Congratulations.”
“Thank you,” said Billy. His eyes narrowed a bit. “Speaking of jobs, how’s yours coming along?”
“Nicely, thank you,” said Tristan. “We’ll definitely be ready to hold elections at the end of the season.”
Billy nodded, but he looked uncomfortable. “Great. Well, I’m going to go take a shower. Elle, you can leave the dishes if you want, I’ll clean them up for you after.”
Tristan raised his eyebrows. “You don’t have to do that. You just got back, rest for a while. Ellie’s not busy, are you, baby?”
“Yeah, I’ll do it,” said Elle, ignoring her brother’s incredulous expression. “Go take your shower. Mom and Dad and Gabriel will be back soon, and then we’ll age Saxon up.”
Billy glanced between them. “All right,” he said slowly.
The whole conversation left Elle feeling very unsettled, but she pushed the feeling aside, did the dishes, and then gathered upstairs with everyone else to help Saxon become a toddler.
Elle’s heart swelled with pride when she saw that he looked like both her and Tristan. He had all of her coloring, and her nose, but he strongly resembled his father in feature. Most importantly, in her eyes he was the most beautiful little boy alive. She couldn’t have loved him any more fervently if she’d tried.
Billy, who seemed really excited to be an uncle, pouted when he had to give Saxon back to her after his turn to hold the toddler.
Despite her exhaustion, she pushed her energy for another hour or so, getting him some milk and beginning to teach him to walk. It was only when she felt herself in danger of collapsing where she stood that she reluctantly put him to bed. I’ll have him the whole day tomorrow, she thought, and suddenly felt much better about being unemployed for the time being.
“Good night, Saxon,” she said, as she tucked him in. “I love you.”
She could barely get up the stairs to her bed, and passed out the second she collapsed into it. A short time later, however, she slowly woke again at hearing heavy footsteps on the stairs. “Ellie,” her husband’s voice came. “You’re not asleep yet, are you?”
She was so annoyed that she almost ignored him. His steps came to a halt on his side of the bed, and she could hear him getting undressed. “I was,” she mumbled, at length. Immediately, she felt ashamed of herself at letting her irritation slip. She didn’t apologize, though, hoping he would get the message and either say he was sorry or just leave her alone entirely.
He didn’t do either one. Instead, he slipped in next to her and shifted close. She stiffened. “Tristan…”
“What?” he asked reproachfully, which increased both her shame and her frustration. “I just want to spend some time with my wife.”
“I don’t want to tonight,” she insisted, feeling about to cry. “I’m exhausted.”
“Come on, baby. I missed you at the office all day, and now that your brother’s home we won’t get as much private time as before. He’s out for a couple of hours, but he’ll need to come up here to sleep when he gets back.”
Elle silently conceded that point.
“Don’t you love me?” he whispered.
She sighed heavily. “You know I do.”
“I’m not sure, sometimes.”
“I do!” she insisted, suddenly feeling a bit frantic. Was an extra hour of sleep really worth this? “Of course I love you. I’m just tired.”
His arm snaked around her waist. “So am I,” he said, “but not too tired to miss this time with you.”
“You’re right. I’m sorry.”
He smiled and kissed her. It didn’t make her feel any less tired or upset, but for his sake, she did her best to put up a good front. He was her husband, after all. She couldn’t expect their marriage to work if she didn’t put in a little effort now and again, and this was the least she could do.
In the morning, Elle got up early as usual to see Tristan off to work. It turned out that Billy needed to leave at the same time for his first day. On their way out, both assured her they would be there for dinner. “You don’t want to visit Snow?” Elle asked her brother.
“I’ll see her tomorrow,” Billy said easily. “I’ve got the day off.” With that, he saluted and followed Tristan down the stairs to the waiting car.
Feeling unsettled, Elle took a quick moment to check on her son, and then went downstairs in search of an instant drink.
Harry was sitting at the chess table, looking exhausted. He glanced up when Elle came in and tried to smile. “Hey, sweetheart,” he said.
“Are you okay, Dad?” she asked.
“Yeah, I’m fine, I just think I spent a little too long at the salon yesterday. If I stay close to home today I should be fine.”
“Are you sure? You don’t seem like you’ve been yourself since you got sick. I’m worried about you.”
Her father offered her a real, although tired smile. “I’m just getting old, Ellie. These things happen.”
“But Mom’s still fine,” she argued. “And so are Uncle Lex and Aunt Rhi and—"
“And everyone ages differently,” he said calmly. “Don’t worry, you won’t be rid of me any time soon. I’m more worried about you. When was the last time you left the house?”
Elle blinked, thought about it, and realized that she hadn’t been much of anywhere since her wedding. “I’ve been tired,” she said, wincing even as she said it. No matter how many times she repeated it, it sounded pathetic. What reason did she have for being tired, anyway? Her pregnancy, certainly, but that was long over. It wasn’t as if she had a job or much of anything to do at home. Gabriel took care of most of the cleaning and barely let her help. She didn’t write, like her father did. She’d maxed out her skills a long time ago. All she really had to do was look after her son, check the job listings, and keep everybody else happy. There was no excuse for it.
“Why don’t you go do something?” Harry said kindly. “I’m staying home today and I can take care of Saxon for you.”
“Oh, I couldn’t leave you alone.”
“Ellie, please give me some credit. I did raise three toddlers of my own, and my parents were quite a bit older than I am now when they helped with you.” His eyes twinkled with humor. “Go visit a friend or something. Get some fresh air. It’ll be good for you.”
She hesitated a second longer before relenting. “I could use a day out,” she agreed. “Thanks, Dad.”
A quick call to her cousin Edie proved that she, too, had to work that day. Elle readily agreed to a visit on the weekend instead and kept in her disappointment until she hung up. She could think of no one else she really wanted to see. She hadn’t spoken much to any of her cousins since before the Azula crisis, and she missed them, but suddenly the thought of calling around to all of them just to see who might have the day off was tiresome.
Suddenly, it occurred to her that if her father was staying home, her mother might be able to use an extra hand at the salon. The other four businesses were safely in the hands of managers and new employees, but Mya was having a harder time with training at the salon. It was possible she could use someone to hold down the fort at the cash register, at least. The thought of being useful perked her up a bit. “Has Mom left already?” she asked Harry.
“Not yet, why?”
“I’m going to go talk to her real quick.” Without pausing to explain, she hurried up the stairs.
Mya was surprised, but by no means displeased, by the offer of help. “I wasn’t going to ask,” she explained, as they arrived at the shop to set up, “but I really appreciate it. You always did good work and it’ll be nice to have at least one person to depend on.”
“You do have Gabriel,” Elle pointed out.
“He’s been trying to learn hair, and it’s not going very well,” her mother admitted. “At any other task he’d be invaluable. I haven’t pulled him yet because he seems to like it so much, but…” She sighed. “Who knows. Maybe this will be the day it takes.”
Elle hoped so. At least Mya wasn’t asking her to do that. She had had a paralyzing fear of messing up hair as a teen, and although it wasn’t as strong now, she still didn’t want anything to do with it. It was funny—Elle’s Enchantments had been named after her and decorated to suit her tastes, but it had always been the business she liked the least.
As she had expected, she was given a post at the register. That was good. All she had to do was smile at people, ring them up, and thank them for their business. Some of them engaged in polite chitchat as she assisted them, which wasn’t so bad. She didn’t feel as afraid to speak to strangers as she once had. The realization cheered her up a bit and kept her going for three or four hours.
By the middle of the day, however, she had developed a headache, and her stomach was churning uncomfortably as if it couldn’t decide whether she was sick or just hungry. Either way, it was becoming harder and harder to concentrate. She lost her focus more than once in the middle of a transaction, and every time, it made her feel worse. “I’m so sorry,” she said, repeatedly. They didn’t seem to hold it against her, but who knew what they were thinking.
Finally, Mya slipped away from the floor for a moment and came up to her. “Elle, go home,” she said quietly.
“I’m fine,” Elle said, automatically.
“No, you’re not. You keep rubbing your head and shifting uncomfortably. I don’t want you getting sick for my sake.”
“I’ll just take a break—"
“Elle.” Her mother gave her a stern look. “It’s all right. The place won’t go up in flames if you leave, I promise.”
Elle looked at Mya, saw she was serious, and forced a smile to cover the sudden urge to cry. “If you’re sure.”
“I’m sure. You’ve been a great help. I’ll manage the rest of the day.”
She nodded in acquiescence and hurried out of the shop without bothering to take her uniform off. Walking unfortunately proved her mother right—she really wasn’t well at all. She had hoped that fresh air would make her feel better, but she could barely stay on her feet.
Seeing that someone was about to pass her to go inside, she lowered her eyes to the ground and waited until he couldn’t see her before trying to move again. It was no good. Sighing heavily, she pulled out her phone to call a taxi. So much for being useful.
The sudden illness didn’t make any sense until much later, when she woke up from a restless sleep in the wee hours of the morning.
She was pregnant again.
At first, it relieved her, because it meant there was a real reason for the miserable day she’d had. She was even happy, for just a second. I can’t wait to tell Tristan, she thought, and turned to wake him, to do just that.
Then she remembered. He’d tried to be as gentle as possible about it, but he had made it very clear that he wanted Saxon to be their only child. Sure, he’d made it sound like they could talk about it again after she lifted a career, but she knew her husband—his mind was made up. Just like that, her excitement disappeared. What would Tristan say when she told him?
She didn’t know, and she was afraid to find out.
Even though it had only been a day since he had last seen Snow, so much had happened in that time that it felt more like a full season to Billy. It relieved him intensely when she opened the door to let him in. Somehow, just looking at her made everything better. “Hey, sorry I’m late,” he said, and kissed her.
Even though they were in full view of the entire street, Snow didn’t seem to mind, and she looked as happy to see him as he was to see her. “It’s all right,” she said. “Come in and sit down, you look wiped out. How was work yesterday?”
“It was great, actually. My uncles put me right to work and I liked it a lot. It wasn’t easy, but I feel like I did good work and that I’ve earned the position they gave me.”
“I’m so glad to hear it.”
“Thanks. I’m hoping it won’t take too long.”
They sat down together on the couch in the living room. Snow turned to him. “So if it wasn’t work, what was it?”
Billy exhaled. He hadn’t come to complain about what was going on at home, but if he couldn’t talk to Snow, who could he talk to? “My sister’s pregnant again,” he said.
“That’s wonderful,” Snow began.
He cut her off with a shake of his head. “Tristan is pissed about it. He practically yelled at her when she told him this morning and she was crying when he finally left for work. As if it’s her fault!” Thinking about the look on Elle’s face upset him all over again. She would never admit it, but she was miserable, and he hated seeing her that way.
Snow scooted close to him, and he took her hand. “I’m sorry, Billy,” she said quietly.
He bit his lip. “Anyway, that’s why I was late,” he said. “I couldn’t leave her alone while she was so upset. She told me to go or I’d still be there. I don’t know what to do.”
“Maybe there’s nothing you can do,” said Snow, “except be there, and wait for her to tell you what she needs.”
“She needs a better husband,” he muttered.
“Honey, I know you hate it and I hate it too. Ellie is one of the nicest people I’ve ever known and she deserves the best. Tristan shouldn’t have yelled at her, but…maybe it’ll work out.”
He could tell that she wasn’t convinced. His fiancée tried to see the good in people, but even she was finding it hard with Tristan.
“She chose him,” Snow continued, as if saying it would make it all right. “And she loves him, so there must be a reason for it.”
Billy couldn’t see it and never had. He thought back to the night Elle had told him about her engagement. “You can’t blame me for doing what I have to now that I have it,” she had said, when he’d reminded her that her decision to take heirship was her own, and no one else’s.
He wished, now more than ever, that he could make that decision over again. He and Azula had basically thrown Elle under the bus. If she had not felt that she had to, she would never have taken the heirship. She had chosen her family over her happiness, and she was suffering for it, and it was all his fault.
“Would you have been okay with it if I’d taken the heirship?” he asked Snow.
She looked at him. “You never would have. You’d have hated it.”
“If I’d known—"
“Stop,” she said firmly. “You would have hated being the heir. If you had really wanted it, yes, I would have supported that, but you didn’t.”
I’d be doing better than Ellie, he thought. At least I’d still have you. Instead of saying it, he just nodded. “Is there anything I can do for you, at least?”
Snow smiled. “I wouldn’t say no to some help straightening up before you go.”
“You’ve got it. How are you, anyway?”
She told him about her job at the school and how living with Riku had been. “Oh, and our new roommate moved in yesterday,” she added. “He’s not working until tonight so you’ll get to meet him while you’re here.”
“Where is he? I haven’t scared him into hiding with my ranting, have I?”
“No, he’s in the shower, I think,” she said. “I doubt he’s even heard us. He’ll be down in a minute for lunch, though. Sandwiches sound good to you, by the way?”
Billy could hear the water running, now that she had pointed it out. “Sounds perfect, and I’m looking forward to it. If Riku let him move in, he must be okay.”
“He’s great. You’ll like him. Oh, and you’ll never guess who else came by yesterday.”
“Uh…all right, who?”
He stared at her. “My mother was here? Why?”
“To say hello. She said it had been a while and apologized to me. I was surprised by how much older she looked.”
“Well, what—what happened?”
“Nothing, really. I didn’t know what to say. I don’t think she did, either, but she was trying.” She looked thoughtful. “I think…I think she’s very sorry, Billy.”
Billy frowned, trying to figure out what to make of that. Before he could really reflect on it, however, the sounds of water stopped, and he heard footsteps on the stairs shortly after.
“Oh, good,” said Snow, looking up. “Liam? Billy’s here.”
The brunette man reached the bottom of the stairs, and Billy started in his seat before he realized that it wasn’t Stuart he was looking at. Although they styled their hair similarly, Snow’s roommate had a very different face—handsome, but darkened somewhat by a troubled expression he could not quite mask.
“Hello,” said the stranger, cautiously. “I’m Liam Whedon.”
Billy got up from the couch and extended his hand. “Billy Fitzhugh. Nice to meet you.”
Liam cracked a hesitant smile as he reached to shake hands with Billy. “Snow’s told me quite a lot about you.”
“Good things, I hope.”
“Please, your girlfriend couldn’t say nicer things about you if she tried, and if she did I’d call bullshit.”
Snow made a face at him. “Come on, I’m not that bad.”
Liam only laughed at her.
Billy grinned. “Just checking to make sure everything’s normal,” he said lightly, with a teasing wink in Snow’s direction. “You’re not from around here, are you? I don’t think I’ve seen you before, and that’s saying something considering my mother’s the town entrepreneur.”
“Ah…no,” said Liam, looking a bit uncomfortable again. “I’m from The Hellmouth.”
“The hellhole west of here that’s stuck in neverending nuclear winter? Yeah.”
Billy winced. He had heard of other places similar to Sierra Plains, all of them in varying degrees of disrepair, and Liam’s birthplace was reputed to be one of the worst. “Yeah, I heard things haven’t been great out in that direction.”
The other man lifted a shoulder. “I wouldn’t know. I left when I was a teenager and haven’t looked back.”
“I don’t blame you,” said Billy honestly. The fifth generation from the beginning was bad enough. He couldn’t imagine what it must have been like in Sierra Plains when things had been even worse.
Liam seemed to understand his sincerity, because he nodded.
Thankfully, Snow cut in then. “I’ll have those sandwiches ready in just a minute.”
When she was finished, they sat down together at the table. Billy couldn’t help feeling sympathy for Liam, but the other man’s obvious bitterness had him worried all the same. During the course of the meal, he was able to relax somewhat. Liam turned out to be relatively pleasant—not on Snow’s level, but hardly anyone was—and readily answered Billy’s questions about where he had lived and what kind of work he did. “I lived in Sim City for a couple of seasons when I was first on my own,” he said. “I worked as a security guard.”
“And what made you decide to move to Sierra Plains?”
“I heard about the Law Enforcement positions that opened up and figured it could be a good opportunity for career advancement. Lex Holm hired me this morning.”
Billy grinned. “That explains why I haven’t met you yet. I’m Police Chief, but I had the day off today.”
Liam looked amused. “So my roommate’s fiancée is going to be my boss. Glad I found that out before I went in tonight. I knew Sierra Plains was small, but I didn’t realize how small.”
“It’s mostly just Law Enforcement,” Billy assured him. “Lex and another uncle of mine are the two current Captain Heroes. A lot of our extended family go into that career path because of my great-grandmother Narissa. The rest are a lot more spread out.”
“Are there a lot of you?”
“I have two sisters, seven first cousins, and four second cousins. They all live in Sierra Plains or Sim City.”
Liam whistled. Then his expression turned thoughtful. “Two sisters? Does one of them have long brown hair and glasses?”
“Yeah, her name’s Elle. Why?”
He snapped his fingers. “Elle! That was her name. I passed through Sierra Plains when I first left home and I met her, at that playground down in the business district. You look a lot like her, that’s what made me remember.”
Billy was astonished to hear that. “You did?”
“Yeah. We only talked for ten minutes, so she probably doesn’t remember me, but she was…nice.” Liam paused a moment over the word ‘nice’ as if he wanted to say more, but wasn’t sure if he should. “I think I ran into her outside one of the shops yesterday, too, although she didn’t stop to talk.”
“Ellie came home sick yesterday,” Billy explained. “She probably didn’t even see you.” He was still having a hard time wrapping his head around the fact that Elle had met this man when they were both teenagers and never said a single word about it.
“Ah, sorry to hear that. I’d like to say hello, though. When she’s feeling better, you know.”
He smiled. “Sure, I bet she’d love that. I’ll let you know.”
Go to Part 2