Spoilers: Through AHIW
Disclaimer: Angel & Co. belong to Joss and Mutant Enemy. The passage Wes reads is from "A Little Princess," by Frances Hodgson Burnett (it's the book he read to her in AHIW.) ::grin:: This particular passage seemed appropriate.
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Notes: After "Shells," I made my boyfriend watch that and AHIW with me, so that he would understand the "Angel"-induced stupor I was in. Instead, he thought it was very funny. Tonight at dinner he started singing, "You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy"--and then made vomiting noises. He's really very mature. Yeah. That's all.

He read out loud to her as she faded, the skin on her narrow arms turning so cold that it pained him to touch her. He held on, though, because letting go was so much harder.

His words washed over her, and she drowned comfortably in the warmth of his voice. "She had become fond of the Indian gentleman because he looked unhappy. He had met with great misfortunes which had for a time so imperiled his whole fortune that he had thought himself ruined and disgraced forever," he read.

"Wesley," she interrupted.

He closed the book. "Yes?"

"You said you were gonna take me out tomorrow night. Where were we gonna..." Fred coughed, a shallow, ragged sound, and pulled herself closer to him.

He tried to swallow the tears burning like acid in his throat. God, had it only been earlier that day? He was certain that it had been a lifetime at least. Everything had been fine--no, not fine, fine for him was a distinct lack of happiness, and the past week had been bliss. He had even convinced himself that maybe, after everything that had happened, he would finally have a shot at something real. Starting with tomorrow night. "It's a secret, remember?"

"No," she said earnestly. "No more secrets. And don't tell me that you'll take me out when I'm better, 'cos we both know that ain't gonna happen." She softened. "Please."

He placed the source book on her nightstand. "It wasn't much, really," he began.

"Don't do that," Fred whispered. "Whatever it is, it's enough." He nodded, and she snuggled closer against him. "You're so nice and warm." They both smiled. "Okay, keep going."

Of course he complied. He couldn't deny her anything. Not now. "I was going to take you out to dinner. I thought we could try--there's a new Asian restaurant downtown, it's supposed to be...rather romantic. At eight o'clock there was a guest lecturer at UCLA, discussing a new breakthrough in chaos theory as it relates to subatomic particles--I thought you might be interested."

She giggled. "That sounds awfully formal."

"Yes, well," he stammered, "otherwise I suppose we could have just taken out a video."

"Would we have had popcorn?" she asked hopefully. It was so easy to build an image of the two of them sitting on the couch, watching some old black and white movie where the boy gets the girl in the end. Too easy, really.

"If you brought some," he said, stroking her hair. "I'm afraid I haven't had much reason to stock up on it." Never had anyone to curl up on the couch and eat it with.

She lay in his arms silently for a few moments. The kind of moment, he thought, that would never fade. He listened to her heartbeat as it struggled to maintain control over her rebellious body, and thought that the strength of her heart might be the only thing keeping either of them grounded.

Fred reached one cold hand up to trace the line of his chin. "Wesley? Did you ever imagine yourself living like this?"

Wesley considered the question seriously. "Not like this, exactly, but to a certain extent--yes. I didn't expect to remain where I was, in any case."

She grinned, thinking of the seventeen-year-old Wesley she'd met so briefly. "What, you didn't like being stuffed shirt guy?"

He laughed with more bitterness than she was used to. "No...I just assumed that the Council would realize that I wasn't cut out to be a Watcher. My father knew all along that I couldn't do it, and I managed to prove him correct. As always."

She bit her lip. "I'm sorry."


And what kind of life did they live? Fred wondered. What kind of life was this, where every moment of happiness was answered with a thousand more of pain? Where you could find someone, finally, and then lose everything in a flash? All of the things they would never share, all of the conversations they'd never have--the impending loss chilled her. "Do you ever think about what we might have been like--together, I mean?"

He leaned back against the headboard. She had to ask the hard questions now, as though she didn't already know the answers. Now that it was too late to create a kinder answer or build a new life from the fragments they already had. I think about it every day, he almost said. Instead, he opted for an easier answer. "Does it matter?"

"Not really. Just being here with you, it makes me wonder. It kinda makes me want to know."

Dreams flashed through his mind, dreams of long kisses and damp sheets and promises that would never be made. And now she wanted to know what they could have had. "I think it's easier not to."

Her breathing slowed. "Easier. Tell me something that'll make it easier."

"Make what easier?"

Fred forced out a smile even as she felt her stomach convulse and contort. "Dying."

Wesley clenched his teeth. She didn't get to give up. Fred was the only one of them who never did. She never lost the mission. She shouldn't be the one whose body was collapsing. "Nothing I say..." Nothing could ever make the hardest thing any easier.

"Please, Wesley," she said softly.

He closed his eyes. "If you die now, it won't be the end of who you are. Your soul--it goes somewhere, to a place that's better than the Hell we live in."

"You don't know that."

"No. But I believe it."

And somehow, that was enough for her--that Wesley, who didn't believe in anything he couldn't find in an ancient, reputable text, believed that this wasn't really the end. She just nodded and relaxed for the first time in hours.

Wesley picked up the source book and began to read aloud again. "The shock had been so great that he had almost died of brain fever; and ever since he had been shattered in health, though his fortunes had changed and all his possessions had been restored to him. His trouble and peril had been connected with--"

Fred interrupted him again. "Wesley...I wish I could say something to make it easier."

He looked at her fondly, a little confused. "Make what easier?"

She locked eyes with him, his irises reflecting the blue tinge of her skin, and suddenly realized how very much she meant to him. "Living."

Wesley stared back intensely for a long moment, and then broke their gaze with a quick turn of his neck. So quick he could almost imagine his spinal cord snapping--but it didn't, and they were both still alive when he raised his eyes to hers again. He wrapped his arms around her, and they sunk down beneath the thick blankets, trying to get warm.