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Author's Chapter Notes:

As usual, many apologies for the massive gap between updates!

*grovels to any readers who still remain*

I truly am hoping to manage to update more regularly on this one now - and hopefully even have it finished before next Christmas!

I know there was a Hilda Wilmot mentioned in the books, but there was never anything to say that she was Nancy's sister, so I've decided she wasn't. There is a reason for this - whenever I read the name 'Hilda', I get a mental image of Miss Annersley, and I didn't want to have to spend the entire drabble mentally correcting myself!

Although I'd already chosen a name for Nancy's sister, I had no particular thoughts on what sort of a person she was - but after reading jayj's wonderful Where You Belong, I just couldn't picture the woman in any other way, so blame jayj for her! ;)

"Oh, Nance, help!" Kathie had begged, when she had finally found herself alone with her partner. "I'm going to be too embarrassed to get within a foot of you all week!"

Given that Kathie had been clinging to her like a limpet at the time, Nancy hadn't taken this statement too seriously, but had set herself to soothing her partner - an effort that had turned out to be wasted as a hearty thump on the door and a stentorian bellow of "Lunch!" had sent an already nervous Kathie ricocheting out of her arms.

It had taken a significant amount of courage on Kathie's part to walk into the dining room and take her seat at the table, as Nancy was well aware. Her sister's attempt to enforce a seating arrangement that would have stranded them at opposite ends of the lengthy board had been firmly negated when Nancy, with an eye to her partner's anxious expression, had calmly taken her place next to Kathie and refused to budge.

With Nancy's reassuring presence beside her, Kathie felt confident enough to look around the table, attempting to identify the various members of the Wilmot family. All children old enough to manage a meal without significant assistance had, she was thankful to note, been seated at a separate table, leaving Kathie free to concentrate on identifying the adults.

The twins were easily spotted, although she couldn't tell which was which; she knew Paul, of course; and Nancy's sister was a slimmer, plainer version of Nancy. As for the rest of the Wilmot siblings, not to speak of the numerous in-laws, Kathie realised she would have to leave it to time and frequent hints from her partner.

Having got so far in her meditations, she gave her attention to the conversation. Nancy was caught in the thick of it, exchanging reminiscences and friendly insults with her brothers, answering enquiries about life at school, and catching up on the latest news from everyone else. Kathie listened, fascinated, but she gradually began to notice an undercurrent of something rather less pleasant.

The comments directed at Nancy by her sister seemed to have a certain edge to them - although judging by Nancy's unruffled demeanour, these barbs were failing to hit their mark. Kathie, however, was unable to demonstrate quite the same level of unconcern. Each pointed remark and veiled insult left her increasingly resentful on Nancy's behalf, until she was practically bouncing in her seat with indignation, her shyness and embarrassment forgotten.

Despite all appearances to the contrary, Nancy was anything but unconscious of her sister's hostility. Nor had Kathie's response to the spiteful taunts gone unnoticed; Nancy took every opportunity to draw her partner into conversation with some other member of the family, was assiduous in pressing food and drink upon her, and punctuated her own remarks with frequent smiles and glances at her partner, even giving the occasional reassuring touch to her wrist whenever Emily's comments provoked an indrawn breath or some other sign of tension from Kathie.

Oddly enough, Nancy was finding that her sister's words seemed to have lost some of their effect. They were still undoubtedly unpleasant, taking accurate aim at her weak spots as they did, but Kathie's palpable indignation seemed to alleviate Nancy's own feelings - apparently that old saying about a trouble shared was something more than just a platitude. Besides which, the person whose opinion really mattered to her was Kathie; and it was very obvious that Kathie was in vehement disagreement with every word that Emily spoke. Nancy could feel the fury radiating from her partner and found, somewhat to her surprise, that Kathie's anger on her behalf left her feeling cherished in a way she never had before.

On the other hand, Kathie appeared ready to explode, which might not be the best way to start their week, no matter how much of a solace it might prove to Nancy's ego. Under cover of a general burst of laughter, Nancy leant her head towards the younger woman and murmured, "She's always like that. Just ignore her, Kath."

Kathie did her best, concentrating instead on working her way through the man-sized serving of trifle that had been set before her. Emily also seemed to be giving her attention to the pudding, and Kathie relaxed enough to enjoy the dish, although she found herself unable to finish the large portion she had been given. Having eaten her fill, she edged the plate towards her partner, and Nancy calmly helped herself to the leftovers.

Into this little interlude of peace, Emily's next comment dropped like a thunderbolt.

"That's sheer gluttony. No wonder you're the size you are, Nancy."

This was too much. Guest in the house or not, Kathie had no intention of standing for this kind of thing. Even as Nancy went white at this assault, Kathie launched a ruthless counterattack.

"Pretty girls can get away with a few extra pounds here and there," she said, her hand reaching out to cover Nancy's. Pausing in her speech, she surveyed her antagonist, looking her up and down with undoubted disdain, before adding, "Though, of course, you would have no reason to know that."

There was a moment of stunned silence and then laughter exploded around the table.

"She's got you there, Em!"

"You tell her, Kathie!"

"You've got a feisty one there, Nance!"

While Nancy's brothers were undoubtedly highly amused, and even Mr and Mrs Wilmot were biting their lips, Emily was understandably furious at this well-deserved put-down and her expression, as she looked at Kathie, was decidedly unfriendly.

Somewhat belatedly remembering Nancy's injunction to ignore the gibes, Kathie glanced guiltily at her partner. She wasn't exactly repentant - after all, no one could expect her to hear Nancy abused in that fashion without doing anything about it - but she did rather wish she'd held her tongue.

However, Nancy, with a reassuring grin for her other half, went back to licking the remains of the trifle from her spoon, and Kathie found that, after all, she didn't regret her outburst one iota.

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