Open 'Til Midnight
Characters: Fred POV
Spoilers: Thru Angel S5.
Setting: Sometime early S5.
Summary: Eat late even great.
Author's notes: I have a bizarre fascination with Fred's obsession with tacos. And a crappy job. This happened. Tacos like flowers. Betaed by Manda, who rocks my world.
"Trust me. Tacos everywhere - and - soap!"
- Cordelia Chase, Angel 2x22, "There's No Place Like Plrtz Glrb"
"I'm seeing someone."
- Willow Rosenberg, Angel 4x15, "Orpheus"
Whenever the responsibilities and cavernous laboratories Wolfram and Hart had dumped on her got to be too much, Fred retreated underneath Knox's desk and traced patterns in the shapes of equations on the metal and plastic undersides, until the noise of the lab and the beauty of the numbers lulled her into sleep. Every time she woke up, Knox's legs were still in front of her, barricading the outside world from hurting her. When she was finally ready, she would tug his cuffs until he shifted out of her way, grinning, as she emerged, sleepy and calm, from her sanctuary.
He'd peered at her curiously the first time she crawled out from under his desk, as though he didn't quite comprehend where she had appeared from. Knox had been at lunch when she'd crept underneath, and Fred seemed, to him, to have materialized as if she'd been Alice down the rabbit hole. But he didn't think too much of it - it was just the way Fred was.
Everyone at Wolfram and Hart, Knox included, thought her tendency to hide when life became too much was a residual effect of her time in Pylea, the same as her fondness for huge amounts of Taco Bell at every hour of the day and night. Fred knew it wasn't - it's just something she's always done. When she was a kid in Texas, eating real tacos from grimy roadside Tex-Mex places, driving from San Antonio to Austin in the backseat of her father's Cadillac - even then, as a kid, when the world got to be too much for Fred, she crawled underneath something and went to sleep until everything made sense again.
Somewhere in the back of her mind, in that place in the brain where reality turns into fairytales, Fred felt like she was Sleeping Beauty - if she went to sleep, eventually a beautiful prince would find her and kiss her waking and sane. She thought the Angel Investigations crew, dragging her out of Pylea with them, had been her sort-of prince. One of them would be the one who would save her and wake her from her awful dreams. Charles didn't work out, but she doesn't hold that against him. It was clear now that they weren't right for each no matter how hard they each tried. Wesley might have been that man, if not for the whole she-wasn't-interested thing. Fred thought about finding a prince while she curled against the cool space-age plastic of Knox's desk. If she could manipulate the equations in her head well enough, her prince would appear on a horse or a vintage sports car as a reward. Everything was cause and effect for Fred, because she was, at heart, a scientist.
On Thursday morning, Fred retreated to her cave early in the day, after the vat of green goop that was supposed to be, well, non-explosive exploded all over the lab and several of her employees. It was supposed to clean the highly reflective, highly slippery demon blood (that Angel had tracked last week and was causing bruised tailbones and sprained wrists in the lobby) off the floor, but something seemed to have gone wrong.
When their hands started turning scaly, she shipped them off to Medical, called the janitorial staff, sent Knox to find out what went wrong, and crawled between his legs and his lab chair to think it over. She was lying on her back with her feet on the side of the desk, visualizing the Fibanocci series and pondering whether or not she could have solved Fermat's Last Theorem before that (whatever his name was) guy did it, if she hadn't been trapped in a demon dimension. She'd spent too much time trying to find her fairy tale and not enough with the numbers that had always been there for her.
She had just decided that she could have solved Fermat, and faster than that guy, when Knox's legs moved. Knox's legs did that a lot when Fred was under his desk. They got up to walk across the lab or stretch or simply move so someone else's legs could replace them and look at whatever the rest of Knox had been working on before the legs got up. This time, Knox's legs got up, and someone else's legs moved into view without Knox's going away. Legs without a telltale hem of white coat around the tops, so Fred knew it was someone not from the lab. Maybe it was Wesley. Well, she didn't want to see him. Wesley never made things blow up. Okay, Wesley never made things blow up not on purpose. She wasn't in the mood for a lecture about carelessness when playing with demonic chemistry.
Between the thunka-thunka of the machine on Knox's desk, and the whoosh-whoosh-whee of the one beside his desk, she couldn't really make out the conversation. Fred returned to thinking about Fermat and Fibanocci and disregarded the legs, which was easy for about three minutes, and then the legs squatted down and a face appeared with them. Less easy.
Especially when Fred recognized the face. Willow Rosenberg.
"Move over," Willow said, pushing at Fred's legs. Fred felt frozen to the spot. To have someone she liked, she respected, someone she, well, maybe, had a little bit of a crush on, find her underneath a desk hiding from the frightening green goop was somewhere between wearing a collar and being a slave and spilling her coffee on Angel at the morning meeting on the mortification scale. Definitely closer to the collar side of things. "I brought you tacos." Willow extended a Taco Bell take-out bag, spotted with grease. Fred sat up so quickly that the top of her head crashed indelicately into the bottom of Knox's desk. As she tried to regain her emotional and physical balance, Knox poked his head under the desk, as well.
"Burkle. Quit shakin' the research with your big brain." And then he was gone again.
Fred gaped at Willow, who was carefully arranging herself against the opposite side of the desk from Fred. "Tacos," Willow said, grinning at Fred and extending the bag to her. Her teeth looked very white in the shade of Knox's legs, and her hair was glowing, reflected onto the metal behind her. Fred took the bag and looked into it, still speechless. At least a dozen hardshell tacos were at the bottom, underneath a heaping handful of hot sauce.
"Are they all for me?" That was not the smooth line Fred hoped to hear come out of her own mouth but her brain to speaking filter seemed to be broken, and Willow just laughed.
"I was hoping you would share." Fred blushed. Willow giggled. And Fred decided that she had to say something else.
She passed the bag of tacos to Willow and started unwrapping her own pile, taking huge bites of food between questions. "Why are you here? How are you here? Why aren't you in London with Buffy and Giles and the Council? How did you find me? Are you still seeing someone? Will you see me?"
Willow's face broke into a smile again. "Wesley said your run on sentences had gotten a lot less pointless." Fred smiled sheepishly - but she couldn't be embarrassed by things Wesley would say to her face, as well. "To answer your questions, in order, I'm here to see about Spike. I'm supposed to help you guys figure out why he's not in his body anymore and why he's haunting Angel, who is apparently sleeping poorly because of it. I'm not sure what you mean by how I'm here, except that I flew on a plane on the Watchers' Council's expense account. I'm not in London because I wanted to be here. I found you by asking Angel where your office was, and when he didn't know, by asking someone in a white lab coat, who brought me to Knox, who is just a darling, by the way. I'm not still seeing anyone. That's why I brought you tacos."
Fred, mouth still full, blushed again. "Why did you bring me tacos?"
"So you would see me."
"They're a bribe?"
"Think of them as the equivalent of flowers, only with lettuce and tomatoes and meat and cheese and crunchy shells." There was a beat. "Wesley told me you liked them."
"Oh. Okay." Fred looked down at her lap and the empty taco wrappers on the floor beside her. Willow was still eating calmly across from her, watching without staring, and she seemed to be content to sit underneath a desk with Fred and eat tacos, which was sort of an amazing thing in and of itself. "I don't have a tongue ring," she said suddenly.
Willow spluttered taco across the floor and turned redder than the tomatoes they were eating. "How did you ... I didn't ... I mean. Um."
There was a twinkle of mischief in Fred's eye when she glanced back up, though she was still blushing around her ears. "Dawn told me. When you guys were here before you were here. I mean, before you, personally, were here now. When Sunnydale fell in. Dawn told me when you guys were here then."
Silence filtered into the tiny space between them. "Do you want my last taco?" The paper crinkled under Willow's fingers. Fred peered at it as though it was a alien life form that Knox had brewed under his microscope so she wouldn't have to look at Willow and humiliate herself some more. Willow sighed. "This isn't how this was supposed to go."
Fred considered and grabbed the taco before Willow could take it back. Mouth half full, she mumbled, "What do you mean? You brought me tacos. We ate them."
"I mean. I mean it wasn't just the flowers. The tacos! I mean the tacos like flowers. I brought you tacos like Wesley brings Angel flowers. Because I like you. Not just like you, like like you."
Still chewing, Fred said, "Wes brings Angel flowers? What kind?"
"Today when I saw him Wesley had lilies Š but that wasn't the point! And between you and me, we're never going to get to the point, either. Wes pointed out to me that my run-on sentences were less pointless, too! And he said it with this stupid grin like he either just got laid in the boss's office or he knew that I had tacos like flowers, and Š" Mid-tirade, Willow threw up her hands in disgust, narrowly missing the bottom of the desk with her knuckles, closed the distance between herself and Fred, and kissed the scientist, whose mouth was still full of taco.
Fred squeaked. Then she choked. Willow pulled back and flushed again and started scrambling for excuses. "I'm sorry, I didn't ask, I didn't ask if you were seeing anyone, you probably are, you're so smart and pretty and I saw how Knox looked when he said you were under the deskŠ"
She was silenced by Fred's mouth on hers, jolting Willow back against the cold plastic of the desk. Fred's hands went up to the redhead's face and tangled in Willow's hair, and her tongue licked lightly but insistently at the corners of Willow's mouth. In the seconds it took Willow to regain her composure, Fred had crossed the space between them and was straddling Willow's lap, the empty taco bag crushed between them, leaving grease spots on Fred's lab coat.
They kissed for several minutes, eyes closed, finger tentatively tracing faces, cheekbones, lips and ears - so engrossed that they missed Knox's face appearing in the opening of the desk, breaking into a grin, and disappearing to be replaced with his legs settling on to his stool.
When they finally broke apart, Fred was panting and Willow's hair resembled a particularly messy bird's nest. "Wow," Fred said. She pretended not to hear Knox's barely suppressed snicker; she wondered if she could punch his knee without Willow noticing. When she trained her thoughts back to Willow, the witch was still slightly cross-eyed and smiling in an oddly fuzzy sort of way.
"Wow, indeed," said Willow, and pulled Fred back to her.
Knox endured the soft kissing noises and more and more insistent murmuring of names for twenty three minutes and seventeen seconds before he couldn't take it anymore. Shifting his balance, he peered underneath his desk and stifled another smirk.
Clearing his throat, he asked, "Are there any more tacos?"
Fred didn't even break the kiss as she pulled her left hand from Willow's hair, planted it firmly on Knox's face, and pushed him away.
He laughed all the way out of the lab.
Feedback always welcome.