WAITING FOR THE STORM

D.M. Evans

Written for Kristi in the Female Ficathon (requirements at the end)

Disclaimer - Nope, don't own them. We all know Mr. Whedon does.

Rating - PG-13

Spoilers - None, set between Fredless and Billy

Feedback - pretty please, - Fred's still trying to get used to being back on Earth and turns to a friend to help her find her strength.

It's all so confusing sometimes, this world. I know it shouldn't be. It's my home. How could five years have taken me so far out of it, made it so foreign? It's gotten so Pylea felt more like home than here. Maybe I just don't know what to do without the constant terror. I'm not living on pure adrenaline here and it's like I can't handle the calm, like I'm waiting for the storm.

There are little storms though, like venturing out of my room. Three steps into the hall and my pulse jumps. I get halfway down the steps and my palms are sweating and my heart hammers. It's all I can do to stop myself from running back to the safety of my cave...room.

I know the name of my problem, agoraphobia. I'm afraid to be out in the open. I know pushing myself to confront my fears might help. It's getting better, little by little. The others are helping. Sometimes they try a little too hard, pushing too much, making things worse. Angel just complicates things even more. It feels a little like love but maybe it isn't. Maybe what I feel for him is just hero worship gone too far. Angel saved my life. He brought me home. It's natural I have feelings for him.

I'm not sure what I want to do about how I feel but I do know for now I belong here. I am getting better, after all. I've gotten out of the hotel a couple of times, even faced down some demons. I didn't run home to Texas with my parents. It had seemed oddly inappropriate to do that, like I was a square peg and they the round hole. I needed to find myself before I went home where I know I no longer fit in. Maybe I would later. My parents, bless them, accepted that, even if it hurt them a little. At least I had painted over the cave paintings in my room. That's a positive step forward, right? I was living more like a person again but sometimes the urge to hide under the bed still got overwhelming.

I tried to push all those conflicting thoughts out of my mind. I just wanted to be normal for a little while, do something big and brave, like go out by myself, do something I used to enjoy. I needed to walk into the storm. To that end, I started perusing the weekender section of the paper and there was something that wouldn't be too scary, something normal, something that I could venture out of my cave for.

"What are you looking for there, Fred?" Angel asked, surprising me. I hadn't heard him coming into the lobby. I was usually so good about hearing people sneaking around, too.

"Oh, Angel! I was just checking things to do because, well, it's been so long since I've had something to do. I know that might sound a little silly with everything that's going on here but I..."

He cut off my ramble with a gentle smile. "Did you find something?"

"A gallery opening for fractal art. I love fractals." I bounced a little. "The math is so beautiful. It flows and whirls and the pictures they make are so organic, so thought provoking that I just can't even put it into words. Well, I probably could but then the explanation would be..."

"Want some company?"

I couldn't help grinning like a fool. I nervously twisted a hank of hair around my fist. Maybe I was wrong in my thinking Angel didn't notice me much. Maybe he did like me in that way. I felt like a schoolgirl, heart thumping at the thought of being with him. I couldn't look at him and say no. Besides, it'd be easier to be brave and go out there at night with Angel at my side. He made being brave look so easy. "Sure, I'd love that. I mean, if you really want to go. I wouldn't want you to think you had to come because I'm having trouble being by myself. Because, I'll be okay. I just don't really like being alone just yet but if fractals don't interest you..."

Angel clamped his hands on my shoulders. "It's okay, Fred. I like art. I don't know a thing about fractals but that's the fun thing about art, finding your own meaning in it. I'd love to go for the art, not because I think you need a baby sitter."

I sighed happily. "Good. Just let me get ready."

I don't know why exactly I spent extra time primping for the gallery. It wasn't a real date. Angel just wanted to see the art. I'm still not sure he thought of me as anything beyond a friend. Wasn't there that girl with the goofy name that he liked? Could I compete with his past? Isn't that always the question in a new relationship? Still, I wanted him to see me. I wanted to be someone other than the crazed girl he saved from slavery in another dimension.

I went through a half dozen outfits, some too slutty, others too prissy, all too big on me. All the dress clothes were Cordy's and she had way better curves than me. She kept wanting me to go shopping but she could be so demanding and impatient and I just wasn't ready. Finally, realizing Angel was probably pacing a hole in the lobby flooring waiting on me, I settled on a blue sundress with little white daises. I debated for a moment complimenting nature and filling out Cordy's dress a little better but that was so high school, wasn't it? Angel would wonder how I suddenly sprouted breasts. I was mostly comfortable with my body but a little more cleavage would be nice.

I felt a little disappointed when Angel didn't really react to my dress; typical man. I chattered as Angel drove. He just listened politely. I've always been a yammerer. I couldn't help it. It got worse when I was nervous. Sometimes, when I was mellow, it got better, like after I had just gotten done smoking a bowl, but Chronic was in my past. I can't even imagine Angel's reaction if he knew I was once a little bit of a pot head, back in school.

I shushed at the gallery. The place was quiet as church. I'd forgotten how quiet some galleries could be. Most of the noise would be where the food spread was and the artist sat explaining his vision again and again. The rooms where the art hung were far more silent, a soft undertone of classical music and hushed voices of people discussing the art. It was hard to stay inside myself. Even on Pylea, I'd talk even with no one to hear.

Angel paused in front of a rather scary fractal. It looked like a demon with a V-ed sweep of blue-green-gray that looked like a huge brow or maybe horns over two fiery orange, yellow and blue eyes set in a red face with jagged slashes of the eye color suggesting teeth. Angel was obviously deep in thought. He could be so sensitive. That was tremendously appealing. Did he know that? It made me feel even worse about something that happened a couple of days ago. I could see how humiliated he had been and I felt responsible for that.

"I think I beat this demon up once." He smirked.

I smothered a giggle.

"You understand the fractal math," he said, looking at me in awe.

"It's not as scary as everyone thinks it is," I assured him. "You just take the summation of the primary equation and let that numerical value flow into the second equation and into the third and so on."

He smiled sweet and goofy. "I'll take your word for it." He pushed on to another picture that looked a lot like ice on glass.

"Angel, I've been wanting to say I'm sorry," I blurted out, wondering if I was stirring up my very own storm. Well, it was better than waiting for it. I didn't want him to be resenting me over this.

His brow wrinkled. "For what?"

"I'm sorry that Cordy and Wes embarrassed you like that, the other day when you got back from seeing your fr...Buffy."

His eyes darkened. "That wasn't your fault, Fred. You weren't the one mocking me."

He had a point. I should hope I had outgrown acting like I was still in junior high. "I know but I was asking about you and Buffy because...well, I didn't know. I'm so new and I don't know everyone yet and she was obviously so important to you. I just wanted to know. I didn't in any way encourage them to act like idiots. That stuff wasn't funny when I was a teenager and it's less funny now." I hoped he believed I meant that. Had I laughed at Wes and Cordy's antics? I couldn't remember. I sure hope I hadn't but I tended to titter a lot since I've been back, all nervous laughter.

He smoothed a lock of my hair back. "Thank you. I'm sure that wasn't what you wanted to see. I expected better of my friends, believe me. As if my nerves weren't raw enough having lost her..." He swallowed hard, his eyes glistening just a bit.

"Saving me..." I whispered; he wasn't here when she died because of me.

He waved that off. "I lost her and then she came back to life. I can't even tell you what that felt like and to come back hearing my friends treating my life like a joke, that was painful. I don't blame you for that."

"I'm glad." I moved on, still trying to wrap my head around that. Buffy had been dead for months and now she was back. The Lutherans I grew up with would probably have been horrified at that. Dead is dead. The scientist in me was more upset than was what little religious kernel I might still carry around. Science didn't like things that totally blew the rules out of the water. Coming back from the dead did just that. Stuff like that belonged in fairy tales and old religious doctrines. It didn't happen in the really real world. I didn't like it. It made me uneasy in a deep down, bone-Jell-O-ing way. Life was supposed to have a beginning, middle and end. There wasn't supposed to be new beginnings after that, at least not in the same bodies we started out in. Not sure if I buy into reincarnation or even life after death. Maybe it was real but I sure wasn't ready for getting up out of your coffin and wandering around.

"Are you okay, Fred?" Angel asked.

I paused, looking at the fractal, which looked all the world like an erect red-tipped blue penis on a wavy sheet of red. "Um..."

Angel's eyes widened. "Is that what I think it is?"

"Probably." I moved on without answering, my face as red as the tip of that penis. "Nothing's wrong."

"I think it is." He caught my hand. "You can tell me, Fred."

"I was just thinking about you and Buffy...and trying to figure out how I felt about it."

He got a puzzled look on his face, a hint of armor going up. "Felt about what? Our relationship?"

I tried to lose myself in the fractal over his shoulder, something like jellyfish in a blue green sea. "I know it's none of my business and I don't really know much about it and I'm sure you are so happy to have her back even if you didn't bring her here or stay with her there...where ever. But, she was dead, right? You just don't come back from that."

"She did," he said, grimly, "I did."

"But you're a...well, you know what you are. That's not the same as coming back from the dead, not like this. It's creepy and I don't mean to say that to hurt you or anything. I don't even know Buffy, and I guess I should be happy for you and all her friends because you're happy to have her back but there's something wrong about it, unbalanced. Life works a certain way. Bringing someone back from the dead, that's just chaos, and not an understandable chaos like the pictures." I gestured to the fractal. "I know chaos theory. I understand it. I don't understand coming back from the dead. I don't think...I just don't think... maybe it's something that shouldn't be done."

Angel just stared at me. Was he mad? Oh god, he's mad, isn't he? There were people staring at me. They must have heard me. I looked at the nearest couple and said something Cordy had said that one time we were talking Pylea when she took me out to get tacos. "We're running lines for a movie we're going to be in." I tried to smile convincingly at the eavesdroppers. They just moved on uncomfortably. I wished I could run off. I found my storm, all right. I should have kept my big mouth shut.

"I know what you're saying, Fred, really I do. I know the forces Willow and her friends tampered with should never have been trifled with but in here." He tapped his chest. "That doesn't matter. What matters is that Buffy's alive and she has another chance not to die so young."

I bobbed my head. "I know that fear. I've lived it for five years. I saw so many young people die in Pylea." I paused, debating if I should ask my next question. What if he thought it wasn't any of my business? "You and she were really close though, even though she's supposed to kill your kind."

He ruffled his hair. I wished I could touch that hair. "She knew about me having a soul. That's what made the difference." There was something in his eyes that said that wasn't the only thing staying Buffy's hand. "If I had been any other vampire, she would have killed me. She's very good at her job. She's here to keep the bad things at bay."

"Like you do." I smiled, hoping he knew how much his saving me meant to me. "You didn't even know me and you saved me."

"It's what we do. It's part of the reason we can't ever be together even if we want to. It's more complicated than that. Curses are involved...and I don't want to ruin your big night out talking about that." He shot me an apologetic look.

I wished he would. I wanted to know Angel even if knowing made it clear I could never have him. I was feeling that now. My crush was doomed to be just that, an unrequited crush. "You still love her."

He wet his lips. "I'll always love her but I can't be with her."

"That's sad...and I'm sure you don't want your evening ruined by talking sad things either." I took his hand. "Want to see what kind of spread the artist laid out on the buffet...or maybe not since you don't...you know." That would take getting used to, a man who didn't eat. Okay he ate but not like real food.

He smiled softly. "We can check it out."

On the way, I got stopped by a fractal. It was a pink, green and blue swirl opening into a black void. I couldn't move, as if I were caught in the gravitational pull of that portal into nothingness. I started shaking, unable to breathe. Angel's hands closed over my shoulders and I nearly screamed.

"It's okay, Fred. It's just a picture, not a real portal," he said as if he could read my mind.

I turned away from it, crushing myself against him, burying my face against his chest. I tried very hard not to cry. "It feels real."

"You're never going back there, Fred. I promise you that," he whispered, holding me tight. "We won't let that happen."

"I'll die if I go back."

"You're safe, believe me."

Oddly I did believe him but I wasn't ready to let go yet. Finally, I peeled away from him but I refused to look at the fractal void. "I don't think I want the buffet any more."

"Want to go home?" He stroked my hair.

I nodded my head. Angel led me out of the gallery and into his big car. It took me awhile to realize that we weren't going to the hotel, at least not directly. He pulled off the road and the city lay before us a beautiful ocean of light.

"Mulholland Drive, it's a favorite place of mine," he said. "I find it relaxing here. It's easy to forget how ugly things can be when you sit here and just look out over the city. We can sit for a little while or we can go home."

"We can sit." I let my head drop back against the rest, feeling the night breeze on my cheek. "You must think I'm silly getting freaked out over a picture."

"Fred, you survived five years in hell. If that fractal made me think of a portal, I can only imagine what it made you feel." He patted my hand. "I don't think you're silly."

"I just wish I were brave like you."

"You are brave like me," he countered.

I shook my head, absently plaiting a portion of my hair out of nervous habit. "No, I'm not. I'm scared all the time."

He caught my chin, making me look at him. "Fred, the mere fact you survived years in Pylea proves how brave you are. It doesn't matter that you're scared sometimes. I'm scared sometimes, a lot of times, for myself, for my friends. It's not brave, if you're not scared."

I smiled, a tear or two escaping. "I never thought of it that way."

"I've been roaming this world for more than two centuries, Fred. I know about bravery and fear. They compliment each other. Bravery without fear is just foolhardiness that'll get you killed. That touch of fear, it'll keep you alive."

"I guess it did for five years."

We fell silent then and went back to watching the city from our bird's eye view. He thought I was brave. If he hadn't told me he still loved Buffy, I think my heart might be singing over that admission. Still, a love that could not be is not enough to sustain a man. Maybe I could be something more. Even if I couldn't, he thought I was brave. That might even mean more than the promise of being her replacement. It felt like I had passed through the storm. Bravery, that was real. Gazing down at the city, I felt the fear melting away and for the first time in years I felt at peace.

Requirements:

1) Female: Fred, just love her
2) One other person: Angel
3) Fic should take place after: Fredless
4) Two things you don't want: Angel/Fred smoochies A/C anything
5) Two things you really want: Fred's Angel crush and to hear Fred's perspective/viewpoint whatever on B/A, Buffy's death and resurrection etc. I can only imagine this would be weird to her. She might have lived in Pylea but in her world when people are dead they are dead.
6) Special quote: It's not brave if your not scared. Don't care who says it just want it in there.