Slight deviation from canon: still set in the main storyline, but there's at least one obvious diversion (Fred and Wesley don't get together). Maybe a few others.
Haven't written such a pure romance-type fic for a while, so I hope you enjoy! Fred/Willow, because who didn't love them together after Orpheus?
Set in S5. Spoilers for then, and all seven series of Buffy.
There'll probably be a second chapter, just to let any readers know.
They met on the night Kennedy left Willow. Not much happened; just two almost-friends meeting after a long time apart, catching up. Fred was the one that recognized Willow, that called after her, curious. And Willow was the one that smiled, glad of any distraction, that night.
They sat on a bench, outside, just talking, catching up.
Fred hadn't seen the redhead since the other year: the Angelus incident. Willow had arrived, given Angel back his soul, and left with Faith, using certainly impressive magic to do so. That much interested her; for all the demons they fought every day in LA, Fred had never seen magic used in that way.
For Willow's part, she was behind on the happenings in LA. She and Kennedy had hunted a nasty demon to the city, and dispatched it the other night. The plan was to leave together in the morning: not an option now. Kennedy had already left. They'd fought a few times: they were too different, and eventually they had to hit breaking point.
That didn't mean it hadn't hurt. It was nice to find some solace, some distraction.
"So… yeah, they stopped Jasmine, and that was it," Winifred Burkle continued, almost reminiscing. "Might not compare to Slayer-fying every Potential out there, but it was something."
"Sounds it," Willow smiled, facing the other woman. "Jasmine was kind of a god, right? That counts for something. Haven't really been that many gods in Sunnydale. Well, there was Glory, and sort of Osiris… And I guess the First was kind of an evil- You know, please, feel free to stop me, any time," Willow glanced away, a little embarrassed. Fred giggled.
"Nah," she said. "I like talking with you. It's relaxing. Osiris though? Isn't he Egyptian? How'd that happen?"
"Long story," Willow laughed, relieved her rambling hadn't proved too annoying. "It was a bad day. S-Someone close-," the redhead's voice sobered, as she stumbled over her words.
"I'm sorry," Fred said, interrupting quickly: "You don't have to tell me. Not if you don't want to."
"Mm," Willow said, smiling, grateful: "Thanks, Fred. It's a bit, um, not good-y."
"Sorry," Fred said, still tentative. Willow reached across, lightly grasping her hand, for some kind of comfort. It eased the scientist's instinctive guilt, somewhat. "So, um, Glory? Who was that? Or what was that, I guess?"
Smiling again, Willow began to relate the whole story. She forgot she was holding Fred's hand: Winifred too barely felt it. The closeness was nice.
Fred was a good listener, Willow reflected. Her eyes never left hers, and she nodded, slowly, making the appropriate sounds, when they were needed. A gasp, a cheer that dissolved to semi-self-conscious giggles, a sympathetic mew; she stroked Willow's hand, both amazed and pained by all the witch had apparently been through.
"Wow," Fred spoke, "Um, we didn't have much like that. There was the Beast though, that was pretty nasty."
"What was that?" Willow said, tilting her head.
So the story-telling continued. They exchanged tales, however small, almost competitively. When Fred mentioned the devil-like Beast, Willow mentioned the actual devil. When Fred spoke of living in a hell dimension, Willow mentioned resurrecting Buffy: and Fred mentioned saving Spike from hell. Willow did a double-take.
"Spike?" the redhead said, blinking. "He's alive? I thought he-"
"Died destroying Sunnydale?" Fred spoke: "He did too. Something about an amulet helped him though. Came back through it as a ghost. He's back to being corporeal again, now, though."
"Amulet?" Willow frowned, "I thought that was buried?"
"It was. Someone un-buried it. Guy called Lindsay, he was trying to distract us, and, um… That's about it. Sent us the amulet, then corporealized him."
The story-telling continued, until even their immense experience began to run dry. Slowly, Fred sighed. Her hand squeezed Willow's and, almost absently, she shuffled closer to the redhead, shivering in the cool night air.
Normally she'd have been home by then. Meeting Willow had delayed that; and though it was a welcome delay, it still meant the chill night had come on.
Willow jumped a little at the new closeness. It was far from unpleasant, just with Kennedy ever-present in her thoughts, she felt an edge of discomfort.
"So, um, you doing anything interesting nowadays?" Willow said, breaking the silence. Fred tensed, a little.
"Kind of," the nervousness she'd had when they first met seemed to be back. Tentative, she continued: "Have you heard of Wolfram and Hart?"
Unexpected, to say the least. Mutely, Willow nodded, hoping Fred wasn't going to say what she thought she would. Little else would explain her wariness, though.
"We got an offer from a dead lady," Fred spoke, trying to inject false levity into her confession. "She- We work officially as part of Wolfram and Hart now. We're- We're not like it was before, though; we use their resources, but we're preventing evil, not causing it. It's not…"
A moment's silence. Willow frowned, unsure of how to react.
Everything she knew about Wolfram and Hart was telling her to leave. Everything she knew about Fred was saying the opposite. While Wolfram and Hart were unquestionably malevolent, she couldn't believe the same of Fred. Though she'd met Fred for just hours, a year ago, the woman had made a strong impression.
But then, innocents could be caught up in evil. She'd seen it before. Fred might be good at heart, but Wolfram and Hart never would be.
""I-" Willow began, hesitating. What could she say to that? "Are you- Do you trust them?"
"Wolfram and Hart?" Fred seemed surprised. "No, no. No. Never, just- They've had chances to hurt us, plenty of chances. I've seen then- They, the Senior Partners, they can bring a person to a hell dimension in an instant. If they wanted to hurt anyone, they could."
"There are more kinds of hurt than just that," Willow said, voice a little softer. She wished she could get Kennedy out of her head.
"I know, but I- we're not going to…" Fred hesitated. "It's the resources. They've got so much, there. If we use them, use them properly, we can do so much good. Like, we've helped a werewolf live a normal life, we had something that could give a ghost a physical presence, we… we've done a lot, there."
"But, Fred," Willow gripped her hand, tighter, not quite sure how to phrase her question. "Are you sure? I mean, you're, er, not evil, are you?"
Their eyes met for a long second. Two seconds. Then each burst out laughing, almost at the same instant. One way to defuse the tension, even if unintentionally.
Smiling, Fred inhaled, shaking her head, still chuckling softly. Willow fell silent for a few seconds, a little sheepish.
She could trust Fred, at least. Evil could be overwhelming, she knew that from experience: but Fred wasn't like her. Fred could stand it; at least, she hoped to. And, hopefully, Fred would be willing to leave, if she needed to.
"And you?" Fred spoke, changing the subject: Willow noticed, but didn't really mind. "Done anything interesting? Gone evil?"
"Not for a while," Willow said, marvelling at how she suddenly felt able to joke about that. Her smile faded, though. "Not a good day for me though. Fight with my girlfriend, don't think we'll be getting better."
"Oh," Fred's eyes widened. "I'm sorry." A hand-squeeze.
"No," Willow shook her head, voice quieter, guiltier. "I didn't mean to make things all depressing. We were here hunting a demon. Now that's done… She's left. I'll have to, too. Leave LA, I mean."
"You can stay with me?" Fred said, before realizing what she'd said, and flushing somewhat.
Willow looked up, meeting Fred's eyes. She tilted her head, blinking, somewhere between curious and wryly amused.
"I said I was single," Willow spoke, "Not that I was looking."
"I know, I know," Fred said, babbling slightly, flushing further: "I didn't mean like- No, no, no-no, no. just, it's late now. If you needed a place to stay, I've got a couch?"
The redhead's eyes widened. "But- I thought… Last time I was here…"
"I geeked out and you thought I was flirting," Fred finished the sentence, smiling fondly. "Yeah."
"Oh," the witch said, hesitating. Then, she muttered: "Lesbidar, my-"
"Pardon?" Fred spoke, frowning; leaning closer to the redhead, not quite hearing Willow's words. The redhead shook her head, sighing.
"Nothing," a smile. Then, almost shyly: "So, mind if I hang around for a bit? Um, might be a little more than a day. Don't feel up to heading back to the rest; things could get awkward."
"It's fine," Fred squeezed the redhead's hand, again, smiling. "Take as long as you need."
Willow had been living with Fred for four days. A good four days.
The first day had been quiet. Getting into a routine; Willow had just one small bag of things to bring in. After that, she'd had only to learn a handful of minor rules: Fred's LA apartment wasn't too big, but it was easily large enough for both of them to live in, if they tried. Willow promised not to touch the sheets of almost indecipherable scientific text read and written constantly by Winifred, and she promised not to play with the small magical ingredients Willow had brought.
That first day, Fred had gone and come back from work, in silence. She knew Willow didn't really like her involvement with Wolfram and Hart, and she refused to antagonize the redhead.
It lasted until the second day, when Fred had come home later, especially shaken after an apparently bad day. Willow had leapt to comfort her: asked if Fred wanted to talk about it, and listening as the scientist babbled, venting gratefully. It was only as she'd finished recounting the science experiment gone-wrong (resulting in a brief, but virulent, epidemic), that she realized she'd broken her self-imposed taboo.
Despite her apology, Willow didn't seem bothered. Come the third day, Willow was asking how her day had gone. By the fourth, it had become an unspoken tradition. Fred got home, and Willow asked how work at Wolfram and Hart was.
For the first three days, there hadn't been much for Willow to do. She'd phoned up Giles, Buffy, the coven in Devon, and Marianne (one of the Slayers she and Kennedy had worked with), to let them know she might be hanging around in LA for a bit longer. That occupied the first day: after that, she searched Los Angeles idly for magical texts.
The last time a relationship of hers has ended, she'd resorted to learning more magic. While that had hardly ended well, it worked: as a result, she wondered what knowledge she could find in LA. There wasn't much. The third day, she practised every charm she knew, almost exhaustively. She still sometimes thought of Kennedy: and when she did, a spell always went wrong.
The third day, it had been Fred that came up with a plan to stop Willow going mad with finding distractions; making use, of all things, Wolfram and Hart. As part of the company, openly defying their clients couldn't end well: if anything, it would cause anger, and most of those that worked with Wolfram and Hart, were the kind of people and/or demons that you really didn't want to anger. Fred could still access their files though, and see who their clients were.
Some of the worst demons in America were on the list. Winifred could find their contact details, their addresses, and even their weaknesses (Listed under 'things to not bring to a meeting, under punishment of death, resurrection, and death'). The sort of thing any demon hunter might sell their soul for.
Fred had brought one such profile home. A demon that fed on pain: inflicted gruesome tortures on ay human, young and old, it could capture, often keeping them alive for days. A glutton, and a sadist even by the standards of its own kind.
The fourth day, Willow spent at work, again. Her kind of work. Using magic, but keeping a grip on reality, on herself; Fred helped with that.
The scientist had apparently been researching magic, while at work: she knew about the addictive effects it could have, especially for the more powerful witches, and had given Willow a small ring. It wasn't much: Willow suspected Fred had made it in the W&H labs, but it was grounding, something to stop her getting lost. A thin, silver Mobius strip.
That day had been spent finding, and healing the demon's prisoners. When the demon had broken in, she'd made it swear a magically binding oath to hurt no one unwilling: part of her had come close to killing it in a fashion at least as brutal as it did, but the sight of the Mobius strip on her index finger had stopped that.
"What'd you do at work today?" Willow said on the fourth day, at last giving a genuine, deep smile: more than the brief, impulsive, vague ones she'd made before. Her first one, really, since Kennedy.
"The normal," Fred said, finding herself grinning in return, collapsing onto the sofa, beside Willow. "No demonic viruses this time. I did have a nice talk with a sentient fish though."
"Really?" the redhead said, "Sounds like a good day."
Fred blinked. "Um, I was joking?" she hesitated, cheeks colouring slightly. "Didn't come across, did it? I keep wanting to be sarcastic. I blame Spike."
"Oh, don't worry," Willow chuckled, soft. "I grew up in Sunnydale, remember? I've seen weirder."
"Yeah, guess," Fred joined in with the soft laughter, briefly. "I mean, I've seen odd stuff too. Guess the fish was almost believable. So, anyway, how were things with you?"
"Fine, too," Willow still smiled, "Stopped the demon. It- It helped as well. And the ring. Thank you, Fred."
It was more solemn, more heartfelt than the scientist had expected, she didn't know what to say. She'd wanted to help Willow, but she hadn't expected the redhead to have quite that much gratitude.
She didn't know how to feel. A little amazed perhaps; but saddened, as well, at how much something like that seemed to mean to Willow.
Wordless, Fred took the witch's hand, gentle. Willow smiled up, relieved, before her eyes were taken by something to the side of the sofa: a wooden stand, on top of which lay a china pot filled with soil. Other than that, it was empty: it had been there since Willow had moved in, yet there had been no sign of anything growing there, or even anyone watering it.
"What's that?" she said, curious. Fred glanced to where she was pointing, and giggled, almost self-conscious.
"I like plants," Fred spoke. "Just, I never had the knack of growing them. That was my latest attempt. Didn't exactly go well."
A brief frown. Then Willow smiled, at reached across with one hand: waved it across the dry soil. Moments later, a small shoot pushed up through the dirt, gaining leaf and bud in seconds, before a flower unfurled before Fred's very eyes. She just stared.
"A thank you," Willow said, soft.
Two days after Fred had taken Willow to her house, to introduce her to her stuffed rabbit, Feigenbaum, Master of Chaos, Fred came home late. Willow had been pacing, worried: all the more so knowing where Fred had worked, and the danger she'd put herself in, passing information onto her. The redhead found herself genuinely afraid, on the verge of storming into the Wolfram and Hart buildings.
Only the ring, and the recently grown, well-tended flower kept her under control.
Well past midnight, Fred stumbled into her apartment; shaken, and sobbing silently. Willow's eyes widened, almost instinctively taking the scientist into a close embrace. Wordless, the witch held her, barely noticing how much time passed until, wearily, Fred tried to move to the sofa, read to sit, and rest. Willow still held her, comforting. She sat behind Fred, able to feel rather than see the fearful, pained tears of the woman.
"Shhh, shh," Willow murmured, soft, cuddle never stopping, "It's ok, Fred. It's ok."
Fred just shut her eyes, rocking gently, surprised at herself as much as anything. She'd faced death before, as she had that day; she'd faced so much worse before. Never before had she felt the need to do something like this, to just break down completely.
It helped though, it really did. Stop bottling things up, stop pretending. She felt tainted working where she did, felt sickened by how she almost felt friends with happy W&H employee Knox, felt appalled how she felt like she could live with it. Live working for Wolfram and Hart.
That day had just been the trigger. And she had a safe place, or at least a place that felt that way. Willow. They'd become close friends, in her time there: indeed, she was possibly Fred's only friend, with her limited free time. And good, she was so good. Fred closed her eyes, unable to express just how she felt, then.
Far from the corruption of Wolfram and Hart, far from the atmosphere she knew should sicken her, and sickened her all the more because it didn't, far from all of that, this was… Peaceful, that came to mind.
Willow's voice, murmuring soft, comforting words. Willow's arms, around her. Willow's breath against the back of her head. Fred felt light, inside. Somehow.
"It's ok," Willow murmured, still, voice almost melodic. Eventually: "Do you want to talk about it?"
"I-" Fred hesitated, so briefly. "I don't know why it- There was a vampire, he knew Angel. Wanted to hurt him: and tried to kill Wesley, Charles and me to do it. He didn't, but…" Fred inhaled, more shaken than anything. "I don't know why it- I've been through worse, just…"
"It's ok," Willow said again, softly insistent. "It's ok, Fred. There's nothing wrong with feeling like that. Nothing."
Fred inhaled, deeply: hesitant. More than fear, she felt ashamed. There was nothing that should have made her feel like that, nothing. She'd spent years in a hell dimension: that had hurt, temporarily broken her, but she'd put herself back together, stronger than before. Since then, little had genuinely scared her: less had made her cry.
And during the event itself, she hadn't been scared. Well, she had, but not like she felt now. It was only after, she'd been shaky, and-
Too much. Too much in her head.
"It was the vampire," Fred said, barely even muttering. She still shivered. "One of- he said Angel sired him. After he got a soul."
Willow shut her eyes, pressing her forehead to Fred's hair, gentle. Her embrace never ceased.
Maybe that explained her sudden fear? She'd always looked up to Angel; nearly idolized him crushed on him, years back. To find out, even with a soul, he made as questionable choices as the rest of them?
And of course, Wolfram and Hart. Always them. Now she had a place she felt safe, she wanted to stay there. Escape the choking, nauseating demonic firm.
And Willow- Everything buzzed in Fred's mind. Too much.
Almost unconsciously, Willow leant forwards, touching her lips to Fred's hair in a tender kiss. It could easily have been utterly platonic: yet Fred stiffened, jerking forward, escaping the embrace. Instantly, afraid, Willow started babbling.
"Sorry- Um, I didn't-" the redhead said, hastily, rambling: "I was just trying to be comforting. Helpful. Didn't mean to- It wasn't a- Um, you're a friend, but, I don't want to make anything awkward. Thought it would help, didn't mean to…"
Her voice trailed off. Fred had turned, a smiled starting to play at her lips. Willow rambling always amused her, always.
"Don't be sorry," Fred at last broke the silence, as it dragged on. She seemed nervous: not afraid, not upset, and more. Just nervous.
Traces of her old fear were visible. The scientist didn't try to interpret any of that, more intent on talking to Willow.
"I am, though," the redhead said again, arms by her sides, not even trying to renew the hug. "I didn't mean to- I know things were always awkward between us, and I keep thinking you… That was just as a friend though. Just a friend."
"Do you have to be?" Fred said, quickly, before she quickly lost eye contact, squeaking slightly.
"Um," Willow hesitated, not sure what had just happened. "I- Do you mean?"
"I don't know," Fred seemed fixated on Willow's shoulder, self-conscious. "I- Heart's all fast-beating, feels lighter, and I just want to grin despite everything. It, um, might be?"
Silence again. Willow stared at Fred, surprised, to say the least. She'd never seriously thought anything like that would happen. Never seriously. But…
"I don't know," Fred spoke, again, eyes nervously lifting to meet Willow's.
Fred had the next day off. To deal with the trauma of the other day, apparently. She was expected to have a lie-in: she just couldn't. She got up extra early, and worked, filling a fair few A4 sheets of paper with words, and diagrams, and thoughts.
Then, she walked into Willow's room, silently. Well, the sitting room: she sat on a chair, just beside the sofa, watching the redhead sleep. She was amazed either of them could sleep, after last night: and part of her mind wanted to blush furiously and run away after what she'd admitted.
The rest of her wanted to stay. And hope.
Willow woke up soon after, blinking blearily, jumping a little to see Fred watching her, the scientist biting her lip, tentative. Hesitant, the witch sat up, not sure what to make of Fred's presence. Until:
"I want you to kiss me," Fred said, simply but firmly.
Willow caught her breath, blinking. In her experience, Fred was normally the shy one, the quiet one. Not the one that would ask that, even after their discussion the other night.
"Um," Willow began, still only just waking up. "Um, why?"
"I'm a scientist," Fred spoke, voice much more confident than it had been. Ground she was sure of. "We do experiments. Figure out a hypothesis, run that experiment, and reach a conclusion from it. And I don't know how I f-feel about you, and I want to know. To be sure. Last night, you kissed the back of my head, and I felt like squealing. I want to know properly now. So kiss me."
She spoke with a completely straight face, completely firmly. Willow had to suppress the urge to giggle; it was rather cute, really.
"Really?" Willow said, unsure, feeling a little like it was all one big joke. Without even a blush or shiver though, Fred nodded, comfortable in the scientific aspect of it.
Slowly to begin with, Willow lifted a hand; cupped Fred's cheek, gently. She paused, meeting the other woman's eyes, still not sure why Fred seemed to want this so. Yet all she saw was curiosity, mingled, possibly, with a little hope.
More carefully, Willow leaned in closer, taking her time. If Fred was reluctant, she'd pull away; if not, they could each savour the moment, savour the feelings. She felt Fred's breath tickle her cheek, felt herself be unable to suppress a fond smile. Silent, she closed the gap between them, and let their lips meet.
For the first few seconds, Fred's hands hung uselessly to her sides. As it went on though, she couldn't stop herself; one lifted, to Willow's shoulder, then up, winding in that soft, red hair. Her eyes drifted shut, lost in the sensation. Lips, hair, hand.
One of Willow's hands cupping her cheek, the other echoing her own motion, and running through her head, stroking, strangely tenderly. It took Fred a few moments to realize she'd forgotten to breathe, and a few more to realize she didn't really care.
Possibly minutes later, Willow moved to pull back: Fred leaned forward, keeping their lips in contact for as long as she could, eyes fluttering open, just in time to see Willow's lips break contact. She mewled softly, almost disappointed, reluctantly straightening her back. It was a little longer before she stopped her hands caressing Willow's hair.
Willow tilted her head; a wordless question. It took Fred a little longer to catch her breath, feeling her cheeks flush slightly, and flushing further at the feeling. Before saying anything though, she pulled a pen from behind her ear, and scribbled something on the paper she'd brought with her.
"What's that?" Willow broke the silence, curious. Fred looked up from the paper, smiling at Willow.
"Experimental log," the scientist said, simply. "I need to keep a record."
"Can I see it?" Willow blinked, a little surprised. This was certainly new. A little endearing though; she found herself smiling, almost bizarrely; smiling further when Fred seemed a little flustered.
"N-no," the scientist shook her head, instinctively snatching the sheets back. Impishly, Willow smirked, waving her fingers to cast a small charm. The top sheet flew across the room, to her waiting hand.
Fred shuffled back, but didn't make any move to take the sheet back. Frowning, Willow glanced down at it, curious to see what the scientist had come up with. Almost immediately, the redhead started giggling.
The first column was marked 'activities', and to the right of it, there were four more. The first was headed 'C.G.', and the other three simply had numbers at the top, counting from one to three. Past there, all of the three rightmost columns were blank.
The first column on the left, however, was filled with so many suggestions. The first one was, naturally, 'kissing'. Below that, other activities were listed; from 'dinner', to 'handholding', to 'movie night'… As Willow's eyes reached the bottom of the sheet, her cheeks coloured.
Glancing up again, she skimmed the column 'C.G.', seeing a list of scores out of ten. In the row 'kissing', Fred had written 6/10: looking just right of that, Willow could see the only entry in the three numbered columns, a 9/10.
It took the redhead a few seconds to interpret the chart, and once she had, Willow felt like laughing. Oh, Winifred really hadn't been kidding, when she said she'd wanted to run an experiment.
"So, is CG the control group?" Willow said, smiling widely, looking up at Fred. The scientist seemed relieved; she'd expected a worse reaction.
"Stands for Charles Gunn, actually," Fred smiled again, hesitantly reaching out, for the paper: Willow gave it to her. "Boyfriend. Well, ex-boyfriend. Yeah, he is the control group though. You need one for any experiment though: otherwise how am I meant to recognize a baseline?"
"And the columns on the right are for me?"
Winifred nodded smartly. Willow hesitated.
"There are three of them," the redhead spoke, slowly. Fred nodded, unabashed, on firm scientific ground.
"There have to be repetitions," she said: "In any test, there could be outliers. Mistaken results: like, maybe we go for a meal sometime, and someone's slipped a narcotic into the drinks, I'd enjoy that a lot, but not for the right reason. So long as there are results to compare it to though, we can discard that one-off result, and take better average."
A brief pause. Willow blinked: she'd heard of some girls going for lesbian experimentation, but Fred was something else. Then, remembering what else she'd seen on the sheet, her face fell.
Fred hesitated, feeling a sudden pang at the look on Willow's face: she reached forward with one hand, to brush the redhead's shoulder, try to get her attention. Willow looked up, pouting slightly.
"I only got nine out of ten?"
Two 10/10 kisses later, Willow had at last been able to change out of her pyjamas. At Fred's suggestion, they were spending the day together: something Willow was very happy to do. Partly out of amusement at the scientist's experiment, but mostly out of how much she enjoyed the company.
The next experiment Fred wanted to carry out, was simple handholding. They wandered down the street that way, hand-in-hand; Willow squeezed occasionally, eliciting a small, delighted smile from Winifred each time.
They passed the bench they'd spoken on when they'd met just days ago. Willow had gestured to it; Fred had shaken her head, insisting they had too much more to do that day. Minutes later, and they were having lunch. Again.
"Do we really need to have lunch three times, today?" Willow said, taking her bite of a sandwich. Her second that day. Fred met her eyes, frowning.
"Of course," the scientist said, as if offended Willow had asked. "It's all part of the test. Three of each. Need to be sure."
"Oh," Willow hesitated. Well, so long as she had a smaller portion, and smaller dinner, probably. Smaller three dinners? It wouldn't surprise her. "Don't you think this is… a bit much?"
"Huh?" Fred blinked, hesitating as she sipped her drink. "Just being accurate. Need to remove outliers, and-"
"So you said," Willow spoke, smiling still; "But all in one day?"
"I've only got today off," she said. "I want to get this done. Need to know, you know; best to be sure."
"Sure of what? I mean, this was cute to begin with. Like, really, super-cute, but now, I don't know, still endearing, but it feels… I don't know."
Fred glanced up, not quite meeting Willow's eyes. "You… only want two lunches then?"
"Sure," the redhead laughed, soft. She reached across, to take Fred's hand. She jumped.
"We've already done handholding," she squeaked. Willow laughed again, gently, squeezing Fred's hand.
"Consider it a second trial. How am I doing anyway?" Willow made to lean forward, peering at the sheet; Fred pulled it back, hiding it.
"No, no peeking," a smile. Willow pouted: Fred rolled her eyes. "You're doing well though, if it helps."
"Thanks. What else is planned for today, then?" Willow said, hesitating briefly as she caught Fred's expression. "Not everything, k? It's sort of cute how much you're into this, but I don't think I could handle three dinners."
The scientist looked down, almost disappointed, before looking at the sheet. It took her a few seconds to decide on a plan.
"How about just two more things, today?" she sounded almost regretful. "Movie night, and spooning."
"Sounds like a plan," Willow smiled, squeezing Fred's hand again. She gained a smiled: Fred almost seemed surprised at how easily she grinned.
They made it home, not long after their second lunch. Fred had insisted on a detour, checking 'browsing the pet shop' of her list. She still didn't let Willow see her scores. They hadn't bought anything there, but each had spent a lot of time just peering at the kittens, smiling all the while.
Once back at Fred's apartment though, she decided to change the plan; movie night tomorrow. She fancied spooning. Amused, Willow obeyed, lying on the sofa; Fred lay beside her, in front of her, and shuffled back, close. Willow wrapped her arms around the scientist, gently, cuddling quietly; almost instinctively, she pressed her lips to the back of Fred's neck, briefly.
Instead of stiffening, this time, Fred mumbled something incoherent, snuggling back, her body pressing against the redhead's.
She almost felt capable of falling asleep, of just drifting off. It was relaxing; remarkably so. She felt comfortable, peaceful; safe. That was a new feeling. Well, maybe not new, but she hadn't felt that way for so, so long… So long.
Fred sighed, happily, content. Her hands lifted up, interlocking with Willow's; she lifted one of the redhead's hands to kiss the back, softly. She could feel Willow giggle. She did that a lot.
"Happy?" Willow spoke, almost dreamily. The witch was relaxed too, glad to have a chance to let her tiredness wash over her, after their day.
"Yeah," Fred said, breathing out slowly. And she was, really.
Strange, but she felt safe. She really did. Isolated from demons, and work, and all of that. But warm, very warm. Almost mesmerized by the sound of Willow's breathing, the feel of her heart beating regularly against her back. She was surprised she could feel that, really.
But this was perfect. She shifted a little, to lean her head back, feeling Willow's hair brush against her. Heaven.
"I'm confused," Fred murmured, softly, barely realizing she'd spoken. As soon as she realized she had, she tensed, slightly; before relaxing, yet again, at the feel of Willow's arms.
"Mm?" the redhead said, gentle. Fred sighed, unsure. Still, she felt safe, so safe. She could talk, speak, if she needed to. And she needed to, she really did, sometime.
"I'm confused," Fred said again, hesitating. "Really, it's- It's just… Everything. I don't- I- It's too much."
"Don't worry, baby," the term just fell past Willow's lips. The redhead stumbled slightly after that, but continued; "I'll listen, if you want me to. You don't have to, but…"
Fred shut her eyes, shuffling back, further, feeling protected. Willow's arms, Willow's breath, Willow's everything. More and more, it confused her; more and more, it felt like it shouldn't be helping, at all. Yet it did, so very much.
"It's everything," Fred at last spoke. "I felt- I was sure, of so many things. I thought I was good, on the side of good. Now I'm with Wolfram and Hart. Worse than that, I like it there. I've got friends there, and…"
The scientist paused, breath catching in what was almost a sob. It took her a moment to continue; and in that moment, she felt Willow's embrace, feel it change, shift slightly.
"More than that," she spoke, again. "Well before that. Demons weren't real, I thought that: then I spent years in Pylea, and- I became convinced that that was reality. That this, this was all… I was wrong then, as well. I…"
Another pause. Willow shuffled, a little, and as she did, her hands moved to turn Fred over, putting herself face-to-face with the woman. There were almost tears in her eyes; yet the sight of Willow's expressions softened them, somewhat. How did she do that?
"And even now, even here," Fred's breath hitched. "I thought I was- thought I liked, you know, guys. And everything- everything's just… Now I know that's not true," she gave a chuckle that was almost a gurgle, "And everything's… I want to be sure of something. How can I even tell that I like you? I've been wrong before. So wrong, so often, and- I don't know anything. And I want to, I-I need to. I need to be sure of something."
Tears, even as she stared into Willow's eyes. And the redhead was listening. Not bored, not mocking, not cruel; just genuinely, intently, caringly listening. It confused and comforted Fred even more.
The witch's arms moved; no longer spooning, no longer holding. One still lay, looped over Fred's back, but the other lifted, resting beside Fred's cheek. It made her shiver: yet Willow smiled, and she couldn't help but echo it.
"Be sure of this," Willow murmured.
She leant forwards, and touched her lips to Fred's, once more. Their first real kiss, their first that wasn't a result of some 'experiment', some desperate attempt for Fred to be sure. Lips meeting, touch lingering; and Fred returned it, just as keenly, just as passionately, just as urgently.
Fred's body didn't move. Arms by her sides, resting almost absently next to Willow. She felt her lips, and felt Willow against them, and felt Willow's scent. Felt her breath, her touch on her cheek; she just felt Willow. And it was-
Slowly, so slowly, Willow pulled back. Each, reluctantly, broke the kiss. Neither moved far though, each feeling the other's breath on their face in some wispy caress. Willow smiled, and Fred's lips responded in kind.
"Ok?" the redhead spoke. "Sure of anything now?"
"Yeah," Fred nodded, slowly, voice gentle. She inhaled, her eyes still wet, but no longer crying. It was hard not to smile. "Yeah, I'm sure."
And silently, she leant forwards once more, to again feel Willow's lips.
Fred's experiment-sheet had long since been discarded, on the same night the couch had been vacated. That one had been Fred's suggestion: she wanted to sleep in Willow's arms. No more; neither of them was ready for that, yet each found themselves content with what they had. Something neither had looked for, or even expected, but something that was all the more comforting for that.
Sometimes, the scientist cried. Willow was always there, to listen, to hold, and to help. Everything seemed to come back to Wolfram and Hart.
It wasn't that she hated her job: if anything, the opposite, and that tore her apart. It was the knowledge that she should hate it, the knowledge she worked for a company irredeemably evil, the knowledge that her co-workers, many her friends, might even support that evil; it was that which hurt.
"Quit," Willow said one day, softly, as Fred rocked in her arms. "If you don't- If it hurts you so much just quit. Just stop."
Silence for a few seconds. Fred was shaking her head, though, even before Willow had finished speaking. The witch didn't say anything else though, just holding, just comforting.
"It's better than the alternative," Fred eventually spoke, soft. She shifted. "I- I need to do something, something good. There, I can do it; even if it's just giving their information to you. I need that. Something to help me, something to- I'm good. Those need to be more than just words."
"We can find another way, baby," Willow murmured, gently; she lifted one hand, fingers idly playing with Fred's hair. "There needs to be one. It's not good for you to feel like this, all the time."
"It's not all the time," Fred spoke. "Just- there are bad days. Days I forget what's what. Who's who. Like, there's this guy, Knox. He's nice, we're, we're sort of friends. Then today he just asked me if I had a favourite demon, as if it was the kind of thing everyone had, something normal. And I can't believe I'm friends with him, I just can't- And I think I am, I still am."
Part of Willow felt out of her depth; felt lost. There wasn't much she could do, here, no matter how much she might want to. She couldn't say anything that would help, couldn't even think of anything to say. She wanted to, oh she wanted to, just…
Silently, her soft stroking of Fred's hair continued. She felt the tension begin to drain out of the scientist's body. That was nice, at least; that much was a comfort. If only she could do more.
"Just remember it's an option, Fred," Willow murmured, voice quiet. "You don't have to. Not now, not if you don't want to. But if things ever get too much, don't hesitate, please don't even hesitate. We can find other ways to hunt demons: like you did before, maybe. Before Wolfram and Hart."
Fred shifted, shuffling back into Willow. She wasn't as happy as these embrace normally made her, but she felt so much better than she had. Fred smiled; safety, she savoured the safety. Willow's arms were a stark contrast to the demon-filled labs she worked at.
"Please, baby," Willow spoke again, softly. "I can't bear seeing you hurt."
A pause. Each lay there, close; intimate. At least now, Fred reflected, she was sure of one thing. Even if that didn't help much with the rest of her problems, it was an anchor. Something to keep her in place, something she knew.
"Can we-" Fred began, soft, "Can we change the subject?"
Willow's eyes widened, briefly; a pang of sudden guilt. She kept doing that, kept accidentally prolonging any discussion of Fred's pain. She wanted to help, so much, but it felt like she wanted that too much. She didn't want all their time to be overrun with talk of everything and anything that made Fred like this.
"Sure, sure baby," Willow said, hugging Fred momentarily closer. "What do you want to talk about?"
"I don't know," a sigh. "How was your day, then?"
Days later, and things were better. Fred still suffered a few lapses, a few, pained moments where she wanted nothing more than Willow, and the protection of her arms. Those became rarer though, so much rarer.
As things went on, Winifred even came home smiling, some days. Not happy about working at Wolfram and Hart, far from it, but able to strike a balance. Work, work-socializing, helping Willow, and Willow-in-general. Work so very rarely took precedence. Not that work.
She was able to steal more client information, though. The top demons in LA stopped being a threat to anyone; an once that was done, Fred was happy. They still worked their way down the ladder, but those demons, ultimately, were less of a threat, even before Willow visited them.
So the scientist was happy. Doing good, at last: and having achieved something lasting, something memorable.
For her part, Willow was the same. Triumphant, and glad. Fred, and Fred's ring, kept her from losing touch with her humanity again. Plus, she went days without thinking of Kennedy: and when she did, she barely felt a thing. It had been so, so long since she'd ever felt that content.
Occasionally, Fred was home before Willow. She rarely worried though: while Willow's self-appointed task might be more openly dangerously, Willow was also much, much more powerful. She always came home without a scratch. Sometimes tired, sometimes weary; rarely harmed.
One such day, Fred was bouncing around their apartment, giggling and laughing madly while waiting for Willow. As the witch stepped in, the redhead blinked, a little taken aback as Fred bounded towards her, knocking her back against the wall with a hug.
"Hiya," Willow said, a little confused. "So, uh… What did you do today?" She didn't know quite what else to say.
"Killed a puppet," Fred said, conversationally, still hugging. "Well, demon-puppet. You?"
"Just a regular demon," a chuckle. "Puppet huh?"
"Yep," Fred kissed the curve of Willow's neck, before hopping back, leaving the hug. "Huge, fluffy thing. Had a horn for a mouth. Weird day."
"Sounds it," the redhead smiled. Willow followed the scientist, sitting down next to Fred, a wide smile on her face. "Do I want to ask? I mean, I've had weird puppets before, but that was a guy who'd been turned into one. Not an actual puppet-y demon."
Fred giggled. "Well, the one I got wasn't really a puppet. Rest of them were, or similar, though. Just a huge, round stuffed animal. It fluffed everywhere."
A moment's silence; Willow tilted her head, unsure.
"Are you joking, again?" she said. "I mean, I know there are weird things, but you did try to come up with something odd before, and…"
"Oh, no, no," Fred shook her head, grinning like a child, "This one's serious. Really happened. Ooh! I've got proof."
With that, the scientist hopped up, a little hyperactive, to reach into the coat that hung just by the door. She pulled out a camcorder, moving back quickly, to sit beside Willow. She didn't talk again immediately, fiddling with it.
"When'd you get a camcorder?" Willow said, surprised. Fred flushed, slightly.
"Um, today?" she looked up, giving a grin Willow know meant she was trying to seem innocent, without actually being so. "Money's good at Wolfram and Hart, and I really just needed to get one. You'll see."
Fred opened the flap at the side of the device, and tapped the screen, playing the video she'd taken earlier that day. She grinned massively all the while, holding it up to show Willow.
To begin with, the redhead wasn't sure just what she was watching. It took her a few seconds to place the scene as the interior of a building; a conference room, by the look of it. A few people were gathered in there; the angle wasn't the best to recognize them. She could tell Spike was there, by the shot of the back of his jacket, but no one else had any especially distinctive features.
As it went on, some sound was audible. The quality wasn't the best, but she could make out a voice, just about. A frown.
"Is that… Angel talking?" Willow said, slowly. "He sounds different."
Fred nodded quickly, eagerly, biting her lip, apparently suppressing laughter. A little confused, Willow turned her attention back to the screen.
"So, we need to find Smile Time, and break in. We need to- Fred? Fred, are you… is that a camera? I'm still your boss, you know. Stop filming me! Stop it!"
As soon as 'Angel' had noticed the camera, a shot of him at last became visible. Willow gave a sudden, open laugh; enough to make Fred jump.
"He's a… puppet?" Willow managed to say, laughing again at the sight of little-puppet-Angel jumping from his seat, desperately reaching out for Fred's camcorder, shouting, leaping comically.
Fred nodded again, shivering with suppressed laughter, smiling at the indistinct cries and threats on the audio. For a moment, Willow swore she heard Spike cheering Fred on.
"When did… How," Willow shook her head, mirthful still, before speaking through laughter: "Why is Angel a puppet?"
"The demons," Fred shrugged. "He'll be better soon. Who cares though? He was a puppet!" She laughed again: and just the sound of her doing so set Willow off.
After a few more seconds, Fred shut the camcorder, putting it down by the sofa, falling back, breathless. She made the mental promise to herself to never, ever lose that tape. She giggled still, at the memory.
Impressive, though. There'd been a time demons were huge, menacing threats. Now they were, admittedly still menacing, but embodied by puppets. Cute little puppets.
Plus, there was the tape confiscated from the Smile Time studio. With any luck, she'd be able to 'borrow' that, show the fight between puppet-Angel, and the top puppet-demon. Now that would be fun. They still needed to have a movie night, after all.
"You bought a camcorder just to record that?" Willow said, at last, breathless. Fred tilted her head, to face her.
"Wouldn't you?" A grin.
Almost two weeks later, and Fred lay in Willow's arms. Maybe she should be trying to sleep: she just couldn't. She was buzzing, grinning. So happy. For that reason, it was hard to stay still, and hard to just lay there; something Willow easily noticed.
The redhead was quietly patient though, to begin with. A tender kiss to the back of Fred's head, a gentle stroke of the edges of her hair. The scientist kept on as she was, ecstatic. Eventually, Willow's curiosity grow.
"Ok," Willow said, giggling gently, voice muffled slightly as she pressed her lips against Fred's hair. "What is it?"
"Huh?" Fred jumped a little, stiffening with a squeak. She shuffled; relaxing as Willow again kissed her.
"You're never this active," Willow said, voice low; still easily audible to Fred, as close as she was. "What's on your mind?"
A moment's pause. Fred shifted, getting more comfortable. Her cheeks coloured slightly, but she didn't turn, facing away from Willow. There was just something about her manner though, something about the sound of her voice, her breathing; Willow could tell she was smiling.
She'd become so used to those mannerisms. All those little quirks, noises, tones… Even just hearing Fred's voice, Willow felt as though she could place Fred's expression, and mood. And right now, Fred was happy. Really happy. That much, Willow was glad of.
"I've quit," Fred at last said, apparently a little self-conscious. "I quit Wolfram and Hart."
Willow's eyes widened. She'd… Wow. It was something she'd always wanted for Fred, since they'd first met; Fred was so good, so kind, she should never have been part of Wolfram and Hart. Especially now they'd started being together, started all of this. Seeing how Wolfram and Hart affected Fred…
"Two weeks ago," Winifred continued, lifting her voice enough for Willow to hear, "Well, almost two weeks. Two weeks' notice. Tomorrow's my last day, then I'm out, for good. I- it was going to be a surprise. Just, couldn't wait."
The witch smiled, fondly. That was Fred, all over; too amazed to say anything, Willow leant forward with another kiss. Fred chuckled happily.
"I was going to tell you when we woke up, day after tomorrow," Fred said. "I wouldn't get up, you'd say 'don't you have work to go to', or something, and I'd say 'no', and it was funnier in my head," her face fell, eyes still light. "Happening though. This time tomorrow, I'll be out. Free."
"Wow, um, wow Fred," Willow managed to speak, at last. Another hug; and she cuddled Fred nearer, smiling all the while. "Um, when- no, you said that. Um, why did you- what changed your mind?"
"The puppets," even now, Fred laughed softly at the memory. "Only reason I was staying, was to help you. Together, we stopped demons: my Wolfram and Hart knowledge, your witchy-mojo-stuff. I checked our records, and every big demon's gone. The worst demons left, apparently, were a bunch of puppets on a kids' TV show. And Wolfram and Hart. The only demons left to defeat- an I was working for them. I just… I couldn't do that any more."
There was a time that thought might have reduced her to tears, or brought her to the brink. Now, she saw nothing but hope, but gladness: and felt nothing except safe in Willow's arms. Winifred Burkle smiled.
"Good for you," Willow murmured, cuddling Fred closer. Then: "Really though, what were you wondering about?"
Fred squeaked again, shuffling; she leant forwards, hiding her face in the sheets. Willow giggled a little at the sight; Fred chuckled as well, though she didn't speak at once.
"What- um, what do you mean?" Fred spoke, at last, voice muffled. Willow smiled, absently stroking her hair.
"I know when you're hiding something," Willow teased. "That wasn't what you were wondering about. I know you. What is it?" Genuine curiosity.
A moment's silence. Fred hesitated, not lifting her head from the sheets. Willow hesitated, moving closer, lightly playing with Fred's hair all the while. That caress made the scientist giggle to herself, a little more at ease.
Still, she didn't speak, embarrassed. Willow fell silent for a time, just holding, embracing the woman, content.
"You can tell me anything, baby," Willow murmured. A pause
A few seconds later, and Fred spoke, shyly. Her voice was muffled, mouth buried in the sheets; still, her words were fairly clear. Willow still held her, all the while.
"I want to be with you," Fred spoke, soft. "Like, with you, with you. I- We've- I need to be close to you. Closer. I just…"
"Fred-" Willow began, a little unsure of how to react.
"Willow, I know, I'm sorry," Fred mumbled, "I- I don't know anything. Not about- I…" her voice trailed off. Then, more hopefully, bizarrely almost chirping: "Can we?"
Willow smiled. "Of course, Fred," the witch seemed almost amused: leaning forward to again kiss Fred's neck. A giggle.
"Th-thank you, Willow," she murmured, hesitating.
A few more seconds ticked by. Neither moved, Fred still lying in Willow's arms, the redhead's forehead against her, breath tickling her neck. Eventually, Fred shuffled.
"Aren't you…" She began, flushing. Willow chuckled.
"I was waiting for you," a fond smile. Fred shook her head, almost violently.
"No- no. I've… Never done this, like this. Um, with- You know. I don't know what I'm…"
Willow giggled. "Want me to teach you?" There was a new edge to her voice; a huskier aspect to her tone. It made Fred shiver.
Mutely, the scientist nodded: and Willow shuffled, moving beneath the sheets. Fred rolled back, momentarily nervous: anticipation warring with nervousness in her mind. Each was wiped away just seconds later, and she shut her eyes, squeezing them shut, losing herself in the sound, the sensation.
Something she was sure of. Fred smiled. She was sure, then, so sure. Just one more day, and all she'd have would be this. Just this.
Something she was sure of, certain of; more certain of than anything. Willow. That thought alone made her expression crack into a wide, beaming smile. Willow. Perfection. happiness. Something she was sure of.
And that was the day Illyria's sarcophagus came to Wolfram and Hart.