Is Love in the Air? by DoofusPrime
Notes - This is a Valentine's Day Angel story, taking place shortly before the season 5 episode "Smile Time", which actually had a V-Day reference at the beginning. You don't really need to be familiar with the episode to read the story though. Anyway, enjoy!
Going Out, Staying In
When Winifred Burkle thought of romance, sitting on a cold stool in the middle of Wolfram and Hart's Science Division laboratory and staring into a microscope was not the first thing that came to mind. Chocolates came to mind - or sitting on a couch in front of a crackling fire, wrapped in the arms of a lover. Not that Fred sat on a couch wrapped in the arms of a lover every Valentine's Day. As a matter of fact, she couldn't think of a single Valentine's Day she had spent in that situation.
It was a pretty lame holiday, really.
The microscope offered a glimpse of a chemical droplet placed on a slide, but as Fred peered at its hidden structure, the molecules began to blend together in a dull mass. She blinked, trying to make herself focus. The work was tiring her. It was a Saturday, and although working on Saturdays at Wolfram & Hart was a regular occurrence, she felt a little resentful that they would be expected to show up on Valentine's Day. But, she thought with a wry smile, their CEO could be a cruel taskmaster.
Fred looked up from the microscope to give her eyes a moment of rest and noticed Knox staring at her as he sat on his own stool, a hand cupped idly on his chin. She gave him a nervous smile; they were alone in the lab, as afternoon had given way to evening and their coworkers had already left. Now that her attention was away from her work for a moment, Fred noticed it was unusually hot in the room. The metal stool was no soft couch, but if Fred imagined hard enough, sitting in the muggy lab was almost like being near a crackling fire.
Okay, she thought to herself. Nice try, Fred, but not really.
Even if she had been sitting near a crackling fire and in the mood for romance, Fred had no interest in wrapping herself up in Knox's arms. She gave a sigh and slumped her shoulders a little as she began to wonder why she was letting herself get so morose.
"Something wrong, Fred?"
Knox leaned forward a little with a look of concern, but Fred shook her head.
"Nothing's wrong. Kinda hot in here though, don't you think?"
"This Sloggoth Demon deterrent is going to take longer than I thought," said Fred. "I'm having trouble perfecting the formula. I guess we can put a test sample in a spray canister and try it out, but I'm pretty sure the only thing it would do is make them sneeze a few times."
"That's okay," said Knox. "I'm sure you'll get it. Besides, I don't think this is very high on the list of Wolfram & Hart priorities. Sometimes I get the feeling they just keep us busy down here when they don't need us to help deal with some crisis. Am I right or am I right?"
Fred smiled; she had gotten that impression before. But then, it was nice to be working on something that didn't need to be finished in a few hours so it could be used to prevent the world from ending, or some other catastrophe from occurring. Fred didn't regret choosing the life that she led now, but it was dangerous and demanding. She was happy to take a change of pace when she could get it. She just wished that Angel could let them get a day off once in a while when there wasn't anything too important going on.
"How's the dispersal grenade coming along?" she asked Knox. "Did you manage to get it to shoot out those little barbs like Angel wanted? Non-lethal barbs?" she added, emphasizing the 'non' part of the sentence.
Knox looked over at his work station as a sheepish frown stole across his features.
"Um, no. I guess I forgot to start on that."
"Maybe you should then."
Knox stammered for a moment before getting out of his stool with a clatter. "Definitely," he said. "I'll let you get back to working on that formula. I have to get some stuff from the supply room anyway. And maybe someone was messing with the air conditioning again - I'll crank it up a little while I'm gone."
Fred watched Knox leave for a moment, trying to make sense of her feelings towards him. She couldn't deny that she had found him attractive when she first started working in the Science Division, and he did have a bit of a dorky charm going. But she also couldn't deny that those feelings were now missing. She had given him a chance, but there was no spark. Not to mention that there was just something about Knox. She couldn't put her finger on it – something off, was the best way she could put it. Maybe it was something about that last date...
A hand fell on Fred's shoulder, and she let out a squeak as she started with fright, knocking the microscope on its side with a clatter. "Knox," she said in irritation, "I thought you just-"
She looked up to see Spike standing beside her.
"Sorry about that, pet," said Spike as he glanced at the microscope, then down at her with a grin. "Expecting someone else, I take it?"
Fred righted the microscope again, putting the slide back into place. She didn't know why she was bothering, since the chemical droplet had fallen onto the table and been contaminated. "What's up Spike?" she asked she fumbled with the equipment and got ready to prepare a new sample.
"Well, seeing as it's Valentine's Day, and seeing as I just messed up your work there, I was wonderin' if you wanted to go out for a drink or two. Paint the town red and all. Um, not literally," added Spike as he realized some of the unfortunate associations Fred might make when a vampire like himself used a phrase like 'paint the town red.'
"What? Are you asking me out on a date?"
Spike coughed nervously and looked around to make sure they had no company.
"Maybe I am. What of it?"
Fred had not been expecting her work day to end with Spike asking her out on a date. As a matter of fact, she had spent the day waiting nervously for Knox to ask her out on another date, despite the fact that she had tried to suggest she wasn't interested in him after their last one. She got the impression Knox needed to be told more directly, which she hadn't gotten around to doing yet. Maybe Knox was waiting until they both got off work to ask. She looked over at the door where Knox had left to get some supplies; he wasn't back yet, but he would be returning at any moment.
"A date?" she asked Spike again.
The vampire looked down at her with crinkled eyebrows.
"Yes. A date, alright? I'm asking you out on a date."
Fred thought about the proposition. She and Spike had a certain connection after he had asked her for help with his little invisibility issue, and she did have a certain attraction to him on a physical level. The bleached blond hair and bad attitude were somehow corny and attractive at the same time. But she couldn't deny that she had been feeling a much more immediate attraction to someone else lately. Someone non-vampiric. Still, Fred found her thoughts being crowded out by the pressing knowledge that Knox would be coming back soon. And maybe forcing her into awkwardly rejecting him if he did end up asking her out. Maybe Spike interrupting her work was a blessing in disguise.
"Okay, sure," she said as she left her stool and grabbed her purse from a nearby table. "Let's go out!"
"Great! I was thinking maybe we could-"
"Come on, quick!" said Fred as she grabbed Spike by the arm and led him out of the lab. Spike stumbled a little before catching up to her unexpectedly brisk pace.
"Well, you're a bit more enthusiastic than I was expecting. Er, not that I'm complaining," added Spike as he found himself nearly dragged out the lab.
Fred looked both ways before entering the hallway; fortunately, Knox was nowhere in sight. As they walked hurriedly in the direction of the stairway, she couldn't help but feel a sense of relief. And maybe going out with Spike would be fun, too. It had to beat a night alone at the apartment, eating ice cream and sitting on her couch with potted ferns as her only company.
Wesley nodded to several Wolfram & Hart employees as they passed him on their way out of the law firm. He was planning to leave himself after he touched base with Angel. Not that he had any interesting plans for the evening. As he turned a corner and entered the lobby on his way to Angel's office, he began to idly wonder whether Fred and Knox had any plans for the night. Wesley lost his train of thought when he ran smack into Fred.
"Oh, hello there," said Wesley with a slight frown as he noticed that Spike was standing beside Fred, his arm grasped tightly in her hand. "I was just about to pay a visit to Angel before I-"
"That's great Wesley, but me and Spike gotta go!"
Fred spoke in a hurried voice, looking back over her shoulder.
"In a hurry, are we? Where are you two going?"
Fred jerked Spike's arm and pulled him into the elevator after pressing the button. Wesley stared at the two of them for a moment with a rising sense of confusion as Spike gave Fred a pat on the back and winked in his direction just before the elevator doors closed.
Were they going out for Valentine's Day? Wesley felt a twinge of jealousy at the thought, although they had left in too much of a hurry to let him know what was going on. And, despite the way Angel disliked Spike so intensely, for some reason the bleached-blond vampire did not bother Wesley the way Knox did. Spike was less slimy, somehow. He wore his obnoxiousness on his sleeve. Although he had to admit that maybe he only found Knox obnoxious because of the attention he slathered on Fred.
"Something wrong, Wesley?"
Wesley noticed Harmony for the first time as she left the receptionist's desk, handbag tucked into the crook of her arm. She seemed even more overdressed than usual, wearing enough pink to decorate a baby girl's room. She was probably going out for the evening, which was not surprising. Even as a member of the undead, Wesley imagined that Harmony would not be stuck alone on Valentine's Day.
"No, nothing is wrong. Did you hear anything about Spike and Fred going out tonight?"
Harmony's normally cheery expression disappeared briefly as a flash of irritation stamped itself across her features. "No, I definitely did not," she said. "Blondie bear likes his women with more curves, Wesley."
"I see. So where are you going tonight, Harmony?"
Wesley turned in the direction of Harmony's pointed finger to see Lorne coming down the stairway into the lobby with two female companions in tow. One of them, an older woman, had a portly figure and chubby, rosy cheeks fringed with brown hair, which cascaded down in shining curled locks. She wore a large white coat with thick fur trimmings which extended almost to her feet. As he took in her flamboyant look, Wesley was surprised to find the image of an overweight human poodle spring to mind. Beside her stood the other woman, a slim girl in glasses and a gray business suit holding a clipboard.
"Wesley!" exclaimed Lorne as he pulled Wesley into a bear hug. "Leaving already?"
"It is getting fairly late, Lorne," said Wesley as he glanced at his watch.
"Oh, I know, I'm just surprised. Normally you're such a workaholic – got any hot V-day plans tonight, you charmer?"
"I'm afraid I don't."
"That's too bad," said Lorne. Harmony joined the group, and he gave her a smile and a pinch on the chin before motioning to the two women accompanying him. "Wes," he said, "This is Madame Bouffant and her assistant. Miss Bouffant is an up-and-comer in the opera scene, and a valued client of Wolfram & Hart. Ladies, this is Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. He works in the Research and Development Division. He's good with the magical stuff, too – now don't get bashful, Wes, you know you are!"
Madame Bouffant extended a hand, palm downwards, at which Wesley stared blankly for a moment before realizing she was expecting a kiss. He took her hand and gave it a peck.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, ah'm sure," spoke Madame Bouffant in a cultured southern accent.
"Hello," spoke her slim assistant in a monotone voice. Madame Bouffant gave her assistant a sharp look, as if she had interrupted, before returning her attention to Wesley.
"My green friend here shall be accompanying me an' my assistant to a few little soirées around town tonight. I don't suppose you'd like to tag along with us?"
Judging by the woman's appearance and Lorne's general sociability, Wesley felt confident in guessing that 'little' was not the best word to describe any parties they would be attending. Lorne's social scene was a little too loud and vibrant for his tastes. "Thank you for the offer," he said, "but I have to decline. By the way, if you don't mind me asking, are you from France?"
"Certainly not," laughed Madame Bouffant. "On account on the name? It's jus' for the sake of the opera. Appearances mean everything in the entertainment business, as ah'm sure your dear friend Lorne here can agree."
Wesley smiled politely as he caught a brief glimpse of what looked like a scaly tail swishing back and forth behind Madame Bouffant, just barely protruding from the long white dress coat she was wearing. Apparently, Madame Bouffant had to worry about her appearance more than most entertainers. Perhaps that was one reason Wolfram & Hart enjoyed her as a client. Lorne noticed Wesley staring at the flicking tail and gave him a wink.
"Well," he said, "We're off for a little partying. Oh, I'm so excited!"
Madame Bouffant gave him a gleeful titter before the group moved on. The assistant nodded curtly at Wesley, and Harmony blew him a kiss as they left, chattering and laughing amongst themselves. After they disappeared, the lobby was plunged into silence; most everyone else in the law firm seemed to have left already. Wesley finally finished his walk to Angel's office and gave the door a knock.
Upon entering, Wesley nodded to both Angel and Gunn, who were sitting at opposite sides of Angel's desk. Wesley took another seat beside Gunn.
"How's the M'vol'nick case going?" asked Gunn.
"Quite well. Finished, in fact. I wrapped it up about half an hour ago."
"Well, Gunn and I have everything wrapped up already," said Angel. "Nothing new on the horizon for now. Still nothing new on Eve or Lindsey. I guess seeing as it's Valentine's Day you guys can both get out of here."
Wesley and Gunn both nodded, but as Angel sat back in his chair, neither one of them moved. Wesley found himself counting seconds as the three of them sat around the desk in silence. Angel raised an eyebrow at the two of them after a moment.
Wesley coughed. He was not actually sure what was up, really – just that he didn't feel like going anywhere. The thought of sitting alone in his apartment with a bucket of ice cream came to mind, and somehow it made staying at work seem almost exciting in comparison. Not only that, but seeing Spike and Fred together had been strange enough to stick in his mind, and the image refused to go away.
"I gotta admit I don't really feel like goin' home," said Gunn. "I've been in a bad mood all day, what with it bein' Valentine's Day and all. I had a good Valentine's Day once when I was first going out with Fred, but usually it just gets me down. I've been distracted all day, actually – it's like I kept forgetting things. I couldn't focus on my lawyer stuff."
"Lawyer stuff?" asked Angel, raising an eyebrow.
"That's right, lawyer stuff. What's with the look?"
Wesley exchanged a smile with Angel as he thought about Gunn's complaint. He didn't know about the lawyer stuff, but he couldn't help but share Gunn's feelings about the holiday. Normally he just ignored it, as Wesley was the kind of person to be more absorbed in his studies than in romance, but today had definitely been weighing on his mind. Probably, he reasoned, because of Fred.
"What about you?" asked Angel. "You look bummed out too. Same reason as Gunn?"
Wesley nodded sheepishly.
"Well jeez guys – it's just a stupid excuse for corporations to sell you cards and candy. What, are you guys in high school or something?"
"That ain't fair," said Gunn. "How do you even know they're preoccupied with Valentine's Day in high school, anyway? They didn't have high school in England in the 16th century, did they?"
"Ireland, Gunn. 18th century. I'm not that old. And I know all about the kind of stuff they obsess about in high school from talking to Buffy. Not to mention that teenagers are pretty much the same no matter what time period you're talking about."
Gunn shrugged noncommittally. "Can't argue with you there, I guess."
The trio fell into an awkward silence again, until Wesley remembered that they were done working and could go home. He noticed a change in Angel's expression as he got up from his seat, Gunn following his example. As Angel frowned and stared vacantly at nothing in particular, Wesley got the feeling that bringing up Buffy had brought some memories back. He was about to excuse himself when Angel held up a hand.
"Hey guys," he said.
Wesley and Gunn stood still, waiting for him to keep going with his thought.
"You know, Valentine's Day does suck, doesn't it. Do you two want to hang out here a while?"
Wesley stared at Angel as if he was asking a trick question.
"Yeah, why not? I figure I'll just be brooding over things all night otherwise. Might as well have some fun, right?"
Gunn looked at Wesley, as if confirming that he was not imagining things, and Wesley shrugged his shoulders in response.
"Never thought I'd hear that comin' from you," Gunn finally said.
"I can have fun sometimes."
"If you say so."
"Whatever. We can go up to my room – I have drinks up there."
"You do?" asked Wesley.
"Yeah, a whole liquor cabinet. Eve showed it to me when she was giving me a tour of the place for the first time, but I keep forgetting about it. Might as well use it tonight."
Angel got up from his desk and approached the elevator leading up to his room. Gunn, who seemed to have momentarily perked up at the prospect of alcohol, joined him. Wesley followed behind them. Having a few drinks sounded like a good idea. He would have preferred to be out with Fred, but since a certain platinum-topped creature of the night was out with her for some bizarre reason, he was happy to spend some time enjoying a little well-deserved relaxation with his friends instead.
Notes - There will be a few more chapters to go, so I guess even though the story is set during Valentine's Day, it will last a bit longer than that. Ah well! Let me know how you like it so far.