Author:  Meltha

Rating:  G, nothing objectionable

Feedback:  Yes, thank you.

Spoilers:  Through Angel's season two finale, "There's No Place Like Plrtz Grbl"

Summary:  In the summer after season two, Fred's memories of Pylea haunt her.

Author's Note:  The seventeenth in the Jewel Box series, a collection of 500 word fics (in response to The 500 Club) and an idea taken from Challenge in a Can. In this case, it's Fred, jewelry, and fear. 

Disclaimer: All characters are owned by Mutant Enemy (Joss Whedon), a wonderfully creative company whose characters I have borrowed for a completely profit-free flight of fancy.  Kindly do not sue me, please, as I am terrified of you.  Thank you.

Handsome Man

            Months have passed since she came home, but she can still feel the chill of it imprisoning her neck.  The others know something is wrong with her.  Gunn and Wesley tread lightly around her, as though the floor were the thinnest of ice and any sudden movement could cause it to break and send her falling into deep, freezing water, drowning her.  They might not be wrong, she sometimes thinks.  Cordelia doesn't do that of course.  Caution and delicacy are not her style.  The former princess makes a point of speaking loudly and laughing robustly around her, almost as though she's trying to prove to her that there's nothing to fear anymore, and there are times Fred is grateful for that, too.  Lorne avoided her at first, and she knew it was because he didn't want to remind her of the others who looked like him, who had made her a slave, but he was so different from them that she never feared him.  They had both been outsiders in that world.  When he visits her now, they usually sing.  She doesn't have much of a voice, but as he tells her, that's not the point.  He's like living joy, and feeling happy again is good.

            Angel, though, is her favorite.  It's funny that one who should make her neck feel even more vulnerable can make it finally stop chafing against that remembered metal.  For five years the weight hung around her throat, telling her she was unclean and useless.  She rebelled at first.  Who wouldn't?  But the filth and the beatings eventually did their job, and her failure to find a way home made her feel stupid until finally she couldn't remember normal life.  The song of a Texas bluebird on a spring morning or the taste of a taco or the feel of denim or cotton or anything besides burlap and the cold, hard collar choking the life out of her drifted farther and farther away with each day until she didn't think she had any hope left.  Not until he saved her.

            Angel is careful with her, but he's not afraid.  Fred knows she's a little crazy, but he seems to be okay with that.  Maybe he's been there himself, she thinks.  On the good days, days when she can make herself leave her room and scurry close to the walls all the way down to the cavernous lobby, he'll ask her if she likes the Mexican food he's brought her from a tiny take-out place he's discovered or he'll poke with index finger almost warily at one of her new inventions, his mouth curling up slightly in a bemused half-smile.  Those are nice times.  But when it's bad, when she wakes up from nightmares of being hated and hunted, when nobody else hears the muffled crying, he quietly appears.  And it's his hands that gently still her fingers, which are frantically rubbing her neck raw just to prove to herself that it's really gone.