Woke up Burdened, Went to Bed Free
Disclaimer: I don't own any of the Drop Dead Diva characters. Not making money, just enjoying myself!
Summary: AU. Disregards Fred's lack of past. Stacey and Jane both know of Fred's guardian angel status. And one day, they decide to ask him how he died. This is a scenario I found satisfying.
Fred walked into the apartment and immediately felt outnumbered. He was outnumbered, all the time, but he rarely felt boxed in by Stacey and Jane. That is, until now. Both women were sitting on the sofa, an arm draped over the back and a leg on the seat cushions. And both women were staring intently at Fred with calculating looks in their eyes.
"Do I have something on my shirt?" He deadpanned, closing the door behind him and pulling the strap of his messenger bag over his shoulder to set the heavy load on the foyer table. "I don't think I like those looks, ladies."
He moved from the door to the kitchen, painfully aware Stacey and Jane were tracking him with their eyes. Even though he was aware of their scrutiny, he was still unprepared for their enthusiast bursting from the couch and beeline for the kitchen counter.
"So, Fred," Jane said lightly. "We've been talking." She met Stacey's gaze on Fred's other side.
The two had boxed him in physically now.
"Yeh," Stacey continued. "We have a question for you. I mean, you know so much about Jane and Deb and about me, but we know next to nothing about you except that you are Jane's guardian angel." Fred winced, wishing for the umpteenth time he hadn't agreed to telling Stacey his secret. Though, it did also feel good to be honest with his girlfriend.
Fred banished the thought and moved onto the dilemma at hand. He had never spoke of his past. Oh he had one – a distant one. He'd been alive once. Years ago. Not for very long, but it had happened. And not a day went by when he didn't think about it, even if only for a second.
"There's not much to tell," he said, dishing out a hefty slice of apple pie from the dish on the counter. "I died. I became a gatekeeper. I met Deb, she hit the return button and that's that." He pushed back, only to connect with Jane and Stacey's connected arms and hands behind him, holding him in place.
"Fred," Jane said, her lawyer-voice lowering to a cajoling tone. "That's not an answer. We want details. Lots of details. Where did you live, did you have a girlfriend? Where did you work? You know, details."
Stacey was nodding emphatically from his other side and added an excited "Yes, details, sweety."
But Fred had no reason to be excited. Or even remotely cheerful.
He looked between Jane and Stacey. Deb had been happy before she had died. And she had died in an accident. Instantly.
But Fred … he hadn't.
Hadn't died in an accident.
Hadn't died instantly.
And he certainly hadn't been happy in the days leading up to his death.
"I'd rather not," he muttered. "Can't a man eat in peace anymore?"
Jane frowned. "Fred, it's not like we're asking you to tell us your deepest, darkest secrets. We just want to know about your past. Know more about you. I mean, you owe it at least to Stacey, seeing as she's your girlfriend. Come on!" she paused before going on – "it's not something embarrassing, is it?"
Fred snapped. "No, it was slow and painful. Happy?"
He pressed back harder and broke their hold with each other, effectively freeing himself to move to the couch. He could have gone to his room, he supposed, but they were already following him like puppies with a bone and he knew they would have went right in with him.
"Wait," Stacey said. "Slow and painful? Did you die of cancer or something?"
He grunted back a laugh. "No, not even close."
She sat beside him and he couldn't help himself, he looked into her eyes and melted. As usual. "Fred," she said, putting a hand on his forearm. "If you really don't want to talk about it, we won't keep asking. It's obvious you don't really want to talk about it."
Those puppy dog eyes.
They got him every time.
"It's just …" he sighed. "Hard. It's hard to think about, let alone talk about. As a matter of fact, I don't know if I could tell you in words. I'd probably have to show you." He yelped when Stacey's fingernails dug into his arm. "Ow!"
"Show us?" She exclaimed. "How!"
Jane was on his other side again. "Yeh, how? Is it one of your powers? The powers you said you didn't have?"
He gulped. "Uhm, not a power, per se. It's just something we can do. Show you our memories if they could help you or something. I've never used it before. Well, I've never been a guardian angel before you either."
Stacey was oddly serious. It drew Fred and Jane's gazes. "DO it, Fred," she urged. "I want to help you carry this burden. I don't want you to be alone anymore. Ever again. Please, let me help you carry this memory."
Jane gripped Fred's shoulder. "It might help."
He looked from one to the other, apple pie plate hovering in the air in front of him. He set it down. Standing, he gestured for them to stay sitting. "This will be disorienting," he said by way of explanation. Moving around behind the couch, he rested a hand on each of them and took a deep breath. "Remember one thing," he said. "You asked for this."
And then they were gone – at least mentally.
The first thing the girls were aware of were the rolling hills of green stretching out in front of them. And then they saw the great stands of trees and the crisscrossed fencing speckling the landscape.
And then they became aware of a horrible noise.
The noise of war.
Fred stepped between them.
"Where are we?" Stacey whispered, staring slackjawed at the sea of grey and blue-clad bodies, the smoke, the flashes of fire and the flying debris from cannon fire. She flinched as a particularly loud percussion shot shook the very ground they were standing on.
"Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, July of 1863."
"Eighteen … " Jane murmured, shocked. "You…1863."
Fred let out a shaky breath at being back in this place. This place of death and destruction. It might have been a turning point in the Civil War, but it had been an ending point for him. And a violent one he had worked hard to put behind him. Not even 150 years could dim the memory.
"Yeh," he said. "Take my hands."
He waited until both women had taken a hand and then he moved them to where he had been positioned on that terrible July day. It was disorienting, but neither of them fell as they suddenly found themselves in the thick of smoke, rifle fire and explosions.
"You were a Civil War soldier?" Jane asked, her voice tinged with disbelief and awe. She would never have guessed this was his past. Never in a million lifetimes.
"Corporal Frederick Hansen," he replied. "I served with the 20th Maine under Colonel Joshua Chamberlain. We were positioned here, on Little Round Top. Were told to hold the line no matter the cost. It wasn't pretty."
Men were falling all around them with horrific cries of pain and anguish. The wails of mortally wounded pierced through the racket of the weapons of war. Jane turned to Fred. "Fred, take us back, we don't need to see any more. Take us back."
But he just shook his head. "I can't. The memory has to play out," he said quietly, not looking at her but at a figure in the near distance. A figure with the same stature and build as himself, dressed in the deep blue of a Union soldier, firing on the enemy between ducks to reload.
He was only vaguely aware when Jane and Stacey gasped. "That's you," Stacey whispered, suddenly grabbing Fred in a fierce hold. Her soft curves and warm breaths contrasted sharply with their hard, cold surroundings.
Fred could only nod as he watched himself being intercepted by Col. Chamberlain. They suddenly flashed closer and he could study ever speck of dirt on his memory-self. Jane was trembling and Stacey was mesmorized by her boyfriend in uniform before them.
He took a moment to study himself. Dirt and blood were caked on his neck from a bullet graze. He'd lost his cap and his dark hair was sticking out every which way, held aloft by sweat and more grime. They could hear what was being said, but Fred didn't need to hear it.
The words had doomed him.
"I need you to take a few good men, Corporal , and get this case back to our lines. It cannot fall into Confederate hands. It would be the ruin of the Union army throughout the territory," the colonel was saying as both men jerked down a fraction at the proximity of an artillery explosion.
Memory-Fred was shaking his head. "Sir, we'll never get through! They've cut us off from our lines!"
Chamberlain grabbed the young man by the shoulder and pulled him in close. The onlookers could barely hear them over the din. "You must," the colonel implored. "Listen to me, son, this case contains the positions of all our divisions in the state. If the rebels had this information they could move to intercept and we'd be lost. Do you understand? Do you know what this means?"
They could see the corporal swallow thickly. Fred was hard-pressed not to mimic his memory-self.
"Y…Yessir," he said. "I understand."
Chamberlain stepped back and gripped the younger man's shoulder hard. "God speed, Corporal."
Snapping a quick salute, which was crisply returned despite their hectic surroundings, the young man ran off toward three other young men firing away at the enemy soldiers who were far too close for comfort.
Jane, Stacey and Fred followed, missing the words exchanged by the small group, but not the passage of the case from the corporal to the smallest of the four men. "What's going on," Jane asked, always the scholar.
"Private Collier was the first to carry the case. I gave it to him as the smallest target. The plan was to hand it off if the carrier fell," Fred said before they found themselves sucked forward again just in time to see Collier fall under a barrage of bullets and another of the four pick up the case with Memory-Fred and the other man covering him as best they could.
Another zoom and the second man fell. And then the last. Until it was only Memory-Fred left.
Fred found himself standing just behind his memory-self as the man picked up the case and flung himself behind a tree just as a hail of bullets rained on the spot he'd been standing. The angel Fred flinched minutely as the bullets passed around him, Jane and Stacey, who were untouched of course.
He turned away then and Jane and Stacey were soon to see why.
A shot hit the young man in the shoulder, flinging him backwards and down. He appeared dazed for a moment before realization set in and he scrambled to his knees and then to his feet, a shaky hand clutching the case. He didn't bother with a weapon, he just ran.
And they were pulled along with him until another abrupt halt. Fred again turned away, leaving Jane and Stacey watching in horror as two more shots slammed into their friend's memory-self. One took him in the thigh and another in the gut.
He went down and stayed down, falling on top of the case. The confederates, by some miracle, ignored him and his leather charge. Soon the forest around them was eerily quiet. Jane and Stacey turned tear-streaked faces from the still figure on the ground to the still figure standing a short distance away, staring into the forest in the opposite direction.
"Fred," Stacey whispered shakily. "Fred?"
He turned toward them, his face void of any emotion at all. His eyes, however, told a different story. They held a level of pain neither woman had ever seen in the normally cheerful and goofy young man. For a moment, the three stared at each other.
Then Jane broke the silence. "So that's how you died," she said quietly. "But …" she couldn't help it. "You said slow … and painful …"
Fred pointed and they turned around again in time to see the formerly prone figure move.
"Oh God, " Stacey cried. "Oh God, no."
She turned and ran to Fred, flinging herself into his arms. He had no choice but to wrap her in an embrace as she sobbed into his shoulder. "Please, let's go. Please let's get out of here, I can't watch anymore," she cried.
He shuddered. "Stace, I can't."
She sobbed harder.
Jane wanted so badly to help the man on the ground wearing Fred's face – a face contorted in pain. He was gasping for air, seeming unable to get any in. Finally, he jerked himself over and released a little of the pressure on his chest.
But it revealed the rapidly spreading bloodstains on his union uniform. The blue fabric becoming blacker by the second as lifeblood seeped from the mortal wounds. She worked up the courage to speak again. "How long?"
Fred moved toward her with Stacey in hand.
Movement became perceptible in the near distance. Blue uniforms.
"Sir!" one of the blue-clad men broke off and scurried toward the sluggishly struggling corporal lying on the forest floor. "We've got a live one!"
Another man ran pell mell across the forest and fell to the ground beside the wounded man. "Corporal? Corporal can you hear me?"
A bloody hand flopped on the ground until it found its quarry.
"Sir," he whispered – or better yet croaked, as his voice was nearly gone. "S..Secret. Can't … can't …"
The officer laid a hand on the memory-Fred. "Shhh, son," he whispered. "I understand." He pulled the case up and, without opening it, stood. "Halloran!" Another man ran over, a rifle slung over his shoulder and corporal bars on his collar. "This must get to the general at headquarters post haste. Get it there or die trying, corporal."
He turned his attention back to memory-Fred and the man beside him trying futilely to stop the bleeding from the younger man's torso and thigh. Nevermind the still bleeding shoulder wound, he only had two hands.
Kneeling again, the officer pressed a hand to memory-Fred's shoulder as a wave of pain took his breath and he fought against it, arcing off the ground a fraction in his struggles. "Easy, son," he said. "Breathe."
Memory-Fred settled, but whether it was on purpose or just because the wave of pain had passed was anyone's guess. Except, perhaps Fred. He knew exactly, jolt by jolt, how this would go. How the pain was stealing his breath. How it was ripping through him like a bullet train through the countryside. How it would come in waves and in varying intensities.
He was completely surprised when he suddenly found himself back in the apartment, Stacey and Jane on the couch and his hands on their shoulders. It had let them go before he … before then. He jerked his hands away as if they'd been burnt, drawing the girls' attentions.
Both swiftly jumped from the seat as Fred stumbled.
"Fred!" Stacey cried, her eyes still full of tears and red-rimmed. "Sit."
They guided him to the couch and he fell into it. He was dazed and not responding to anything they said. Both were crying again. "Please, Fred," Jane pled. "We should never have done this. We should have left well-enough alone. Please, come back to us."
He responded, so softly they almost didn't hear him. "It hurts," he said.
They looked between one another, Jane and Stacey, and decided he meant his heart.
"Oh Fred," Stacey said, pulling him into her arms. He melted into her softness and warmth again, his eyes heavy and blinking back his own tears now. Finally. "Let it out."
And he did.
Let it out. Raged at the injustice of it. His sobs were wrenching and he nearly got sick from their intensity. But when it was over he felt … lighter. Lighter than he had since his death. Sure, he'd pressed the memories to a back corner over the years and he'd been cheerful and innocent and goofy. But they'd always lurked there, in the background.
Now, they were there but they weren't a weight. They just were.
He pulled back and swiped at his eyes with a small grimace. Looking at Stacey, he focused for a second on her black shirt. "I got you all wet," he said quickly. "I'm sorry."
She lifted his chin. "Don't be," she said emphatically. "You needed that. And if anything good can be said about what we just did, that would be it."
Jane handed him a steaming mug of chamomile tea. "Drink up, Fred," she said.
For a few minutes they sat in silence. Occasionally Fred sipped the drink, but other than the slight sound his swallows made, they were quiet. None of them knew how to break the silence. It was Stacey this time, who finally did.
"How long did it take before you … you passed?"
Fred put the cup down on the coffee table, taking a moment to compose himself. "A day." He sniffled and swiped his nose again. "They took me to the back of the lines, the field hospital. I never stabilized enough to transport to the hospital off the field. When I … passed …" he used her word, since died just felt so harsh, "Col. Chamberlain was there with me. So at least I wasn't alone."
He remembered that visit. The sorrow and guilt in Chamberlain's eyes. The apology. Him brushing it off as unnecessary before dissolving into a haze of pain and gasping breaths before finally his body failed him and he grew still.
The young man looked up again. "Yes?"
He cocked his head to the side. Jane continued. "Thank you for trusting us with this. For confiding in us. It feels right to share this with you. To know where you are coming from and what happened to you. We would joke about my death – death by grapefruit. I never even thought what you might feel about the joking. After seeing how terrible your death was, I don't think we'll be doing that anymore."
He nodded but said nothing.
They lapsed into silence again.
Stacey broke the silence this time. It seemed they were unable to help themselves, but Fred suddenly realized something. He didn't mind. As a matter of fact, he wanted to share himself with them. "How old were you?"
He sighed. "I was nineteen."
They gasped. "You were a baby!"
His "hey, I was not" didn't deter them from lamenting all that he had never ha d a chance to experience.
"No wonder you were so naïve when you came here," Jane said, trying to lighten the mood.
It worked and Fred and Stacey blushed.
"Well it had been more than 150 years, Jane," he said. "I was a little out of practice. Not to mention there isn't much time or place for that in the middle of a war and all." He leaned back, relaxing a little more to the relief of Jane and Stacey. "I had never liked a girl. I grew up on a farm and all I knew was farm work and then infantry training and then battles and marching and …" he looked at Stacey. "Until I met you, Stacey, I had never felt … attraction or love. I had no idea what I was feeling."
Jane smiled. "You should have heard him, Stace, he was clueless."
His exclamation of "hey!" was met by laughter and pillow projectiles.
And from that moment, as the pillows flew, Fred knew for sure – he had woken up that morning a burdened soul and would go to bed that night free and one of the luckiest men on earth.
A/N: WELL that's the end. It was a bunny that just wouldn't let go until I wrote it. I can NOT fathom why I like Fred so much in the series, but I just DO. I didn't like that he didn't have a past to speak of in the series. I thought he should have been a man who died and so presto, there you go. Instant past courtesy of ... me. If anyone reads, I'd LOVE a review.