Sweet Little Girls

Author’s Email: minervacat@livejournal.com
Pairing: Wesley/Fred
Spoilers: through “A Hole In The World”.
Summary: “I've loved you since I've known you. No, that's not—I think maybe even before.”
Feedback: Yes, please.
Archiving: My site and Not A Pretty Girl; anyone else, just ask.
Author’s Notes: Written for the Fredficathon, for naughtyelf, who requested Wes/Fred, when neither was seeing anyone else, and a happy ending. I have to admit that I fell down on the happy ending thing, for which I apologize sincerely. It's not unhappy, though, so I hope it suits anyway. Betaed by Sid, without whom I would lose my head, and Manda, without whom I’d forget Wesley’s name and likely my own; they kept this story from totally consuming my soul and reminded me where I left, oh, gaping plot holes and total discontinuity hanging about. I <3 them.

“Sweet little girls
Love their friends ‘til it hurts
Or until they can find them another”

- the Proclaimers, “Sweet Little Girls”

The trip to England – her prize for writing the best essay on what it meant to her to be a Texan, and wasn’t that funny? They sent you to another country for writing about how much you love your own, and she didn’t pretend to understand the whys of it, she was just excited to be doing this important research – wasn’t just Winnie’s first trip out of the country, it was her first trip outside of Texas, anywhere, and it’s unsettling. She tried hard to be sophisticated, something beyond a too-smart girl from a sleepy Texas town, but you can’t escape your past; at least, that’s what her mom says. Still Winnie wanted to do her best this trip, to appear brilliant and charming and cosmopolitan. That’s how the British people on her daddy’s black and white television seemed, anyway: sleek and shiny and so, so smart – everything Winnie wanted to be at 18, and everything she feared she wasn’t.

But when the plane sets down at Gatwick and she stumbled, blinking and sleepy, out of the tunnel, she could hardly focus on the shyly good-looking young man holding a sign that read “Winifred Burkle” in neat but vaguely unsteady lettering. She nearly ran him over, her eyes searching past him for Wesley Wyndham-Pryce, the man that the Cambridge summer program was supposed to send to meet her from the plane. With a name like Wesley Wyndham-Pryce, she was searching for someone in his fifties, graying and lined with distinguished sorts of wrinkles and maybe a beard, and not the freckled, bespeckled boy in front of her.

“Erm,” said the boy in an accent as crisp as Winnie’s father’s was slow and sugary. “Are you Winifred Burkle?”

Winnie stopped in her tracks, turned behind her and considered the man – the boy. He had the damp sign clutched in his left hand and his right was pushing his glasses up his nose. He was wearing a suit that might have once been sharp but was now a mess of wrinkles and damp linen from the heat of Gatwick airport. Winnie watched his hands tug at his collar as if by their own volition and felt the overwhelming urge to blurt out that he could take off his tie if he really wanted to; she knew it must be hot, for him to be dressed like that.

She stared for a long moment, stared at his right hand stretching at the starched shirt around his neck for what felt like days, and blinked, slowly. Everything suddenly felt thick and gelatinous, as though she was swimming through something like her mama’s lime jello parfait, and she shook her head sharply, trying to refocus, but all her mind could see was this boy-man in front of her. “Winifred?” he said again, and smiled.

“Yes,” she said, drawing out her words and meeting his eyes. Warm and friendly and endlessly blue. She was 18 and she was going to college in the fall. Wasn’t this the perfect chance to reinvent herself? “Call me Fred.”

Wesley Wyndham-Pryce had known for many years that a girl would be his undoing. Not a woman, mind you, not in love, but a girl – a Slayer, his Slayer, because at 19 he was still presumptuous enough to think that as soon as he was fully trained, polished and exactly what a Watcher was supposed to be, he would be shipped out and assigned to the active Slayer, wherever and whomever she was. And every Watcher knew the inevitable – the Slayer you watched would eventually be killed. You couldn’t let emotion flood that, of course, but Wesley could see it in the faces of his father’s colleagues; the three or four Watchers who had actually lost a Slayer in the field had a haunted look behind their eyes. They moved a little slower when a new Chosen One was called. Something in them died a little.

Wesley was prepared for this. Prepared to have his heart broken by a girl, but not for love. Never love, not for the men (and the women, Wesley’s mother always added) of the Watchers’ Council.

Which is why he was entirely unprepared for Winifred Burkle, the summer of his nineteenth year. His father had pressed the money, and the train ticket, into his hand at the beginning of the week and insisted, “You will accompany Miss Burkle back to Oxford, won’t you, Wesley? After all, the train trip will give you the chance to acquaint yourself with your research partner.” There wasn’t any way he could insist that yes, he certainly did have better things to do than chaperone a mere child, from Texas of all ridiculous, uncivilized places, across the better part of England, and then watch her for the rest of the summer, and so he went. Three hours by train, and that summer it seemed like there was no part of England that could manage to grab a breeze and stay cool.

By the time he’d reached her gate at Gatwick, A28, – miserable little shitehole, he thought, and Bloody Americans, can’t fly to Heathrow like polite company would – the sign he’d carefully crafted on the train was damp and the ink was running, and he was sure his tie – silk, and brand new – was trying actively to strangle him. If this was indicative of what this new summer program was going to be like, Wesley wanted no part of it. If he’d been home, he would have been working, but at least he would have been working in the garden, and possibly without a shirt, not sweating to death in an airport terminal.

Wesley was resigned, waiting for Ms. Winifred Burkle, to what his summer would be like; this new program, intended to help the Watchers’ Council tap those young students who had the skills and potential to help fight the good fight, would likely result in a mess of altered memories after unfortunate security breaches, and possibly a handful of unusual deaths. He still wasn’t sure how the Watchers’ Council had rigged essay contests all over the United States to produce the winners they wanted, but they had, and each of the Watchers-In-Training had been assigned one potential Watcher. Winifred Burkle was his charge, tapped for a proclivity for languages and nearly inhuman skills in physics and chemistry.

Wesley fidgeted as her plane landed and debarked, twisted a finger against his strained collar. He searched the crowd for a mousy girl with thick glasses, finding no one who matched his mental photograph of one “Winifred Burkle”. The tall, thin girl with the face of an angel was the last one off the plane, blinking sleepily at the sunshine pouring through the windows of the terminal. She staggered away from the door and towards him, and Wesley thought that he should at least make a wager that this was his charge. The summer would be … interesting, he thought, to say the least, if this is her.

“Erm,” he said, cursing his inability to sound like an adult. “Are you Winifred Burkle?” A long moment passed, in which she locked eyes with him and they both stared openly at each other. Wesley swallowed with difficulty and could not manage to repress that streaked through his mind. This is the most beautiful girl I have ever seen. He swallowed again and nearly choked on his next words. “Winifred?”

“Call me Fred,” the angel said.

Dear Mama:

I know I said that I would write every week, but they’ve just kept us so busy since I arrived that I haven’t had a single minute to sit down and start a letter, much less finish one. But I’m having a wonderful time, and they’re taking very good care of me! I’ve been assigned a boy named Wesley Wyndham-Pryce (isn’t that just the most British name you’ve ever heard? He’d be laughed right out of El Paso if he turned up back home with a name like that!) and he’s helping me find my way around the college and Oxford in general. The other interns and I are kept fairly separate, because we all have our own special projects, but we have language classes together, and they seem nice enough. Sometimes we go out to the pubs together after class – don’t worry, I’m not drinking! – but mostly we just hang out at one of the flats that the college has provided for us.

I spend most of my time with Wesley, though, working on our research project. I’m sorry, I can’t tell you anything about it, but it’s one of the most creative chemistry experiments I’ve ever seen, and I doubt I’ll work on anything this exciting back in the States, not even in graduate school when I’m grown. We had to sign all kinds of security releases, though, and so all I can tell you is that Wesley is wonderful. He’s very funny and brilliant, and he’s really cute, and he gets so flustered whenever I talk to him that he drops things on the floor and walks into doors. Your little girl is all grown-up, Mama – she’s making boys walk into walls just by smiling at them!

He’s a perfect gentleman, Mama, so don’t worry about me. I don’t think anything will happen, but that doesn’t mean I can’t have a little fun. :)

The language classes are wonderful, too, nothing like high school at all. We have Latin and Greek, and we actually get to translate real texts. And there’s Sumerian classes, and some in languages that are so ancient that they don’t even have names we can pronounce anymore! Isn’t that funny? The language has evolved so much that we can’t comprehend what the ancient people were saying. It seems funny, that I would end up here because I wrote the best essay about why I’m proud to be a Texan, because there’s absolutely nothing like this at home. But I can’t complain, since it’s wonderful anyway.

But I know you’re laughing at me, going on about my classes, so I’ll wrap this up. Wesley’s taking me on a boat ride up the river today, to celebrate our one day off this week, so I should change my clothes and go to meet him. IT’S NOT A DATE, MAMA, so there’s no need to look at me like that. Yes, I can see that disapproving face, but I promise you he won’t take advantage of me and I’m not a little girl anymore. I can take care of myself. You trusted me enough to let me come over here; trust me on this one. If anything happens, you’ll be the first to know. I promise.

I’ll see you in six weeks. Give Daddy my love.

Love and kisses,
Winnie Fred (that’s my new name. What do you think? :))

To: Roger Wyndham-Pryce, Senior Watcher
From: Wesley Wyndham-Pryce, Watcher-In-Training
Re: Burkle, Winifred.

Winifred is progressing at an admirable rate. Her progress in Sumerian is not as quick as her progress in Latin or Greek, but she displays natural instincts for finding translation patterns and she works more efficiently than most of her classmates. She is also displaying a natural predilection for demon languages, particularly Fyarl – she seems to find them no more complicated than basic equations in Physics.

In terms of our research, it’s coming along twice as fast as I expected it to. If we had half the resources of one of the larger demonic firms, sir, we would be four times as far in the project. She is not only truly a brilliant mind in both chemistry and physics, but her work methods are exactly suited to the Watchers’ Council. She manages to collaborate with coworkers without smothering them or without departing too much from the team spirit of the research. Her mind is logical and fine-tuned to detail, she thinks on her feet, and she is able to approach problems from many different points of view while at the same time retaining her own opinions

Ms. Burkle has been a pleasure to work with professionally, as well as personally. She is an engaging, bright and creative young woman. I would highly recommend her for a research position following the completion of her formal education, although I suspect she will never be hardy enough for field work.

She is currently performing at an “Excellent” rating.

Dear Mama:

Now, don’t worry. I know you will, but I thought I’d say it first, and maybe save you the trouble (it would be the first time you didn’t worry, though, and I’d be sorry to miss that!) of actually bothering to worry. So don’t, okay?

But I’m in love. I can just see your face when you read that; you’ve got one hand pressed to your chest and your mouth is open just a little bit, and when you sit down at the kitchen table, the chair will scoot back loud enough to bring Daddy runnin’ in from the backyard. Don’t let him go dashing for the shotgun, though, because it’s really nothing to worry about.

I told you about Wesley Wyndham-Pryce, my mentor here? Well … well, I suppose you get the point. Now, Mama, he’s only a year older than I am, and he was raised so very well; he’d never lay a single hand on me, so tell Daddy to stop calling the travel agent for plane tickets to England. I know he is. It’s just … Mama, it’s just that I feel as though I’ve known him forever – better than I know you, or Daddy, or even any of the cousins, even Jess or Bethie. I didn’t believe in this sort of thing, you know me, Little Miss Rational Science Girl – but now I guess I do, because I feel that way.

I thought I loved Bobby Lawson, and I probably did, in the way that a 16 year old girl can love a 16 year old boy. But somehow, I know that this, what I feel for Wesley, this is bigger. It’s something that I couldn’t have stopped. Even if I hadn’t come to Oxford, and I know that’s what you’re thinking, “We shouldn’t have sent her over there, now look what’s happened”, this would have happened.

This is something bigger than our day-to-day world, I think. This was something that was fated to happen.

I just thought you should know that it had.

Love and kisses,

“But Father …”

“Wesley, how many times must I tell you,” Roger hissed at his son. “When you are in the office, I am not your father.” He peered at the camera mounted at the corner of the ceiling, as if daring Quentin Travers to reprimand him for his son’s impertinence; he refused to be held accountable for Wesley's poor conduct today.

Wesley turned sullenly to stare at the window. “Mr. Wyndham-Pryce,” he spat, tossing the words over his shoulder. “It is my recommendation that you will do Ms. Burkle more harm than good in altering her memories of this summer. She is an exceptionally bright young woman, and I have no doubt that a woman of her intelligence would certainly know how to hold her tongue on matters of importance.”

“Your affection for this girl has clouded your judgment, Wesley,” his father replied. “You cannot let that happen if you hope to one day guide an active Slayer. And regarding Ms. Burkle, her memories will be altered as has been the plan for the entire summer. You cannot expect an American girl of her age to keep silent when faced with impressing a young man. She will return to Dallas and run her mouth about all those incredible things she encountered here in Oxford at the first available moment, and then where will the Watchers’ Council stand? Her failures of discretion would be on your head.”

“Please, sir, refrain from speaking of Ms. Burkle’s virtue that way. She has given me no impression that she would ever sink to such a level.” The set of Wesley’s chin indicated that he wanted his father to take him seriously; Roger merely glared back with no apparent compassion or respect.

“You knew that this was how it was meant to be.” If Wesley closed his eyes tightly and clenched his jaw, he could almost pretend that there was a hint of sorrow in his father’s voice, hidden underneath the apparent scorn. “You learned long ago that there was no room for affection in your life, and yet you feel it for this girl who may or may not be of use to us, Wesley. A report from you, clouded by puppy love, is hardly the recommendation that Ms. Burkle needs to get a job with the Watchers’ Council, in the field or no.”

“I would sooner leave the Watchers, sir, than let you tamper with this girl’s memories.”

Roger moved to stand behind Wesley and his son’s back stiffened even further. “May I remind you, Mr. Wyndham-Pryce,” Roger said slowly. “That this is not your business to be meddling in. If you insist on behaving this sentimentally over a silly, uncultured teenager, then I will have no option but to alter your memories as well. These are your choices, my good man, and you must make one: step aside and let the Council act in the manner it sees fit and retain your pleasant memories of this girl, or continue to act as though you were a petulant and spoiled child and lose her forever.”

“You can make her forget me, father, but you cannot make her forget that she loves – not even the Watchers have that technology, to erase emotions. I will remember her, and she will remember that she loves, and someday I will find her again.”

“You are welcome to think whatever you like, Wesley.” Roger paused, and the silence settled between them for a thick moment; Roger knew that Wesley would have no choice in matter – his memories would be altered with or without his consent. Only the hitch in Wesley’s deep breaths cut through quiet of the situation. “But I will tell you this for the final time: that young lady is not worth your time. You have bigger and better things in front of you. Find her, say your goodbyes, and deliver her to Mr. Travers as planned. There will be no more argument.”

Wesley turned and stared, brows furrowed, at his father. He tilted his chin up and considered the ceiling, briefly, before closing his eyes and summoning every inch of nerve he’d gained this summer. “Yes, Mr. Wyndham-Pryce.”

Fred curled into a chair in the kitchen where her mother was scrambling eggs at the stove. She pulled her bathrobe around her shoulders and shivered despite the overwhelming heat of Texas in August; she already missed the damp chill of Oxford mornings and she’s only been home since last night. She’d fallen straight into bed when they got home from the airport and felt surprisingly good this morning. The nagging feeling that she was forgetting something, that she’s had since she got on the plane in London, still itched at the back of her mind, but it was fainter – almost as though the thought had decided it wasn’t important to be recalled.

“Mornin’, sweet pea,” her mother said, turning away from the stove and smiling affectionately on her daughter, who’d grown up so much over the summer. “Sleep good?”

“Mmmmm,” said Fred. “Yes. This bed is so much more comfortable than the one in my flat. It just seemed … too small.” Is there a reason that it felt too small, she suddenly thought. Was there someone with me?

“Strange beds always seem too small, Win – Fred.” Her mother was trying so hard to use Fred’s new name, and Fred couldn’t help but giggle whenever her mother stumbled gamely through it. “Or maybe,” her mother said with a wink. “Maybe there was someone in it?”

“Oh, Mama,” Fred protested. “Of course not.” She blushed anyway, though, and thought hard for a moment. “Nobody at all.”

“I just thought, from your letters, that maybe Wesley …”

“Who’s Wesley, Mama? I don’t know anyone named Wesley – what a silly British name.”

“I understand, Winnie,” her mother said, turning back to the stove. “Never mind I asked.”

Fred stared at her mother’s back, startled by the conversation that she’d just had. Something in her mind wanted to explain it to her, she was sure, but the harder she thought, the further the itch slipped away. She frowned briefly, once, before her mother set a plate of eggs and biscuits in front of her. “Eat up, sweet pea. You must be starving.”

Oh, well. It must not have been important, anyway.

“He was threatening you. He pointed a gun at you, Fred … so I shot him.”

“That was a signal. OK? Is that … clear enough for you?”

“I've loved you since I've known you. No, that's not—I think maybe even before.”

Feedback always welcome.