Knox liked watching Winifred. Fluttering around the lab with her ridiculously clunky glasses and far too girlish outfits, he could stare for hours without her taking notice. Brilliant though her mind was, it distracted her from practicalities. Eating, sleeping, missing employees, Fred forgot them all when she was focused. And while it made his job easier, Knox appreciated it for other reasons as well. Far more than her supposed friends did.
They couldn't understand how her flightiness was her greatest asset; tipped her over the edge between intelligent and ingenious. How her theories and formulas worked because she was able to draw together so many seemingly unrelated elements, twisting them into something workable.
"Ms. Bur - Fred," Knox paused; flashing what he hoped was a disarming smile and holding up his hands in a mock defensive gesture. "I know. I know. One of these days I'll remember. I just wanted to let you know the test results are back, and it looks like Spike should be able to remain on this plane of existence indefinitely. We haven't been able to find an alternate means of making him corporeal, but he's stable."
Fred's entire demeanor had brightened after the indefinitely. It made the time wasted coddling the rude and verbally abusive vampire less irritating. If it weren't for Fred, he'd have had that Thing sent to the New York office. A couple of days under one of the scientists there, and Spike would either have proper respect or he'd be sent to the Hell he so obviously deserved.
"Spike'll be glad to know that. Not that he wants to be ghosty, and we're going to fix him, but I don't think he saved the world. That should mean something."
"I don't know much about Hell, but I'm not planning my next vacation to one. Which is possible to do since Wolfram & Hart is cross-dimensional, but most humanoids don't seem to like it. And just so you know, at Wolfram & Hart we refer to restless spirits as the corporeally challenged, not ghosts. At least, that's what the last memo said."
Fred nodded with an almost grin and tucked a small bit of hair behind her left ear. It was usually the left, unless she was fidgeting. She was less consistent then.
"You're my boss, and you're doing a great job, but I was thinking that maybe you should take some time off. Get out of the lab. Sleep in a real bed." He looked down, trying to appear nervous. It wasn't hard to do with her. "I can do this without you for a few hours. Really, go get some rest."
He leaned closer to her, putting his hand on her shoulder, connecting. It should disturb him how easy it was to do. Not like acting at all.
He saw the faint lines gathering around her eyes and edges of her mouth. They were just shadows, whispers of what was to come, but after reading her dossier, he could see why they were there. He wanted to ask her about Pylea. Wanted her to tell him about college, Texas, and what it felt like to have someone love you so much they'd kill for you, betray everything they were to protect you. There was nothing he didn't want to know about her, but he couldn't ask. Couldn't let her know just how thorough their records were. One day he would have that freedom. He'd make sure of it.
"All right, but I'll be back tomorrow morning. Don't turn all evilish while I'm gone, and keep at least three people working on Spike."
"I won't change a bit, and I'll put everyone we can spare on it."
The weekly meetings were the worst part of Knox's new job.
It wasn't the obsessive plotting that bothered him. Creating a controlled situation, testing the possible variables, and getting a preliminary report on the possible outcomes - that was his strongest area, his purpose. It was the only time he felt completely and totally in control, the one situation in which his superiority over the others was obvious.
Knox didn't really mind the inconvenience of the gatherings. The building was nondescript, dusty, and forty minutes away. Dust mites and other substances, which remained happily unidentified, did nothing for his allergies, but Knox was determined to make it through this little test with all of his body parts intact. So he was willing to drive for forty minutes and try to run a decent lab in a building that was about the size of the average Wolfram & Hart bathroom. Besides if they were - when, when they were successful, the payoff would more than compensate for any temporary inconvenience.
The problem, or more specifically Knox's problem, was Eve.
He'd been raised among the elite of the company. Attended the private schools, went to a Wolfram & Hart funded college, and joined the London office three days after graduating. He'd spent his entire life surrounded by insufferable, money-hungry, sadistic beings. He was used to that. Knox understood them, felt comfortable around them the way he never did around "good" people, but she was different.
"It's nice of you to make it," Eve glanced at her watch and raised her eyebrows as he walked in the door. "Good thing none of us had anything better to do than wait for you. If we'd actually had important business, you being twenty minutes late might've been inconvenient."
"I had work to do. Some of us have to hold an actual position." His friendly science geek demeanor didn't work with her, but his loathing for her increased every time she caused him to break it. He just had to keep reminding himself of the fundamental truth that she forgot - no one stays on top forever in this company.
"Or maybe you were too busy doing other things. Taking advantage of the position's perks." Eve moved closer to him, the unnerving smile set on her face as her gaze drifted downward. Knox wondered, and not for the first time, if she was human. "So how is sweet little Fred? As pristine as when I last saw her?"
Knox wasn't going to let her get to him. Not today. He turned to Wesley's assistant, Greg. "So, how are things advancing with Wesley?"
"As planned. We're keeping him busy with deciphering prophecies, so he'll be out of the way for some time. The suggestions we put in during the memory block are making him morally ambiguous. If things can't be accomplished that way, Ms. Morgan has agreed to help, but I don't think we'll have a problem."
"I thought she refused." Knox said, glancing at Eve. More things she had forgotten to mention to him; she seemed to be making a habit of it lately.
"Well," Eve began before Greg had the opportunity to speak, "it appears as though her afterlife isn't quite what she imagined. She was under the impression that we wouldn't have as much affect on her once she was dead, or as much control." Eve's lips lifted into a mockery of a grin. "She's been disabused of that notion, and she's back on the team."
"Good to know." Knox refused to let himself imagine exactly what had been done to change Lilah's mind. She had been adamant on only one thing, her unwillingness to be used against Wesley.
"Besides, I don't think we'll need her. It has already started affecting them. Fred seems to be the only one not responding to it." Eve didn't look at him, but she didn't need to. Fred was the only one left to worry about. Fred was important. She was either with them, or she was to be eliminated. It wasn't something he could forget.
"It's taken care of. Things are under control."
"Are they really?" Eve asked. She didn't wait for a response before starting the meeting.
Knox let his eyes drift around the room. Took in all the monitors. The former members of AI couldn't shower, eat, or sleep without at least three cameras watching them. Angel working out in his private gym, Charles arguing with another lawyer over a case, Wesley reading the Hirfiotrusy Prophesies, and Fred sleeping in her small bed. He didn't understand why she had the one from the Hyperion sent over. He'd have to ask her about that some day.
Knox hit the end button for the fifth time and snapped the phone shut. He was acting as foolish as a teenager. It was only Winifred. He saw her everyday at work, and she needed to eat too. It's not like he'd never asked a girl out for dinner before. No reason to be nervous or whatever he was. No reason at all. It was eight o'clock. She was probably hungry, and she shouldn't have to be alone. Okay, redialing.
"Hello, Wolf - er, my home. The home of Fred. This is Fred." She still sounded tired, her voice quieter than normal. He should've insisted that she get some rest before this.
"Hi Fred, it's Knox. I just wanted to see how you were doing."
"Oh, I'm doing good. Better than good, great even. You know, sleeping, taking a bath, normal people stuff. I was thinking of coming back into the office tonight, and getting some work done. Not that you didn't work hard while I was gone, I'm sure you did. No one knows more about that atom neutralizer than you. I could write a book based off of what you've taught me in the last month, and your theories on photon collision and its impact were groundbreaking. I'm all awey. I'm just used to doing things like this myself. I'm the Science Girl."
Fred was undoing the tie of her robe, the side of her breast already visible when Knox forced himself to look away and shut off the monitor. He might want to see her, but it wasn't right for him to see her.
"I'm at a friends house, but I'm leaving now, and I thought you might be hungry. Maybe we could pick up some dinner together and do something else, if you're up for it." No need to fake the geeky ineptitude here. He was becoming pathetic.
"My stomach actually started to do the gurgling thing a few minutes ago, and there's nothing worse than being hungry. Well, maybe there are a few things that are worse. I've seen Grimodt demons, and the smell is enough to...but not eating is bad too. Do you like Mexican food?"
Knox let out the breath he had been holding. "Love Mexican food. If someone could turn Mexican from eating the food, I'd be tan and speaking Spanish."
A faint giggling was the only answer, but he could hear the rustling of clothes being removed. Focus.
"So, I could pick you up in an hour, if you think you could be ready then."
"An hour sounds good. I can be ready in an hour. Well, I'll probably be ready in less than an hour, but it'll give me time to do other stuff that people do when they're not killing demons or working on cures for diseases."
"Good. Really good. I'll see you in an hour. At your home. You're in 106, right?"
"Yep, 106. Right on the door."
"Okay then I'll see you then, in an hour, at your apartment."
Knox shut off his phone and walked out of the building, locking the door behind him. He was going to fix this. He'd keep Fred alive and safe.
"No, the professor should've been able to get them off the island within weeks. They had everything they needed. They should've spent less time sunbathing, and more time building a proper floatation device. Do you know what they could've done with the amount of natural resources they had?
"You're right. He was very imprecise." Knox said, moving his hand under Fred's arm, supporting her.
"If it was us, we'd have had everyone home much quicker, and -" Whatever Fred was going to say was cut off when she stepped off the curb, almost falling into the gutter.
"I think you had a few too many daiquiris." Knox said, catching her.
"Maybe, but I don't go out much - or at all. It-s not easy trying to run the lab, and cut down client lists, and help the werewolf girl - I wonder what happened to her - and Spike, and try to be normalish. I'm a busy girl scientist, and Angel counts on me. I know he doesn't say anything, but he needs my help sometimes. He's just busy. We're all really busy."
"I can't imagine it's an easy job for him, but I'm sure that'll change once he understands how things work."
"Yeah. Angel will figure it out, kill the bad guys, and save the crazy cave girl. It's what he does. Why did we stop?" Fred wobbled, looking around her.
"This is your apartment."
"It is, isn't it? My apartment is huge and the walls are really white. Like a hospital with nice furniture."
"You could always have the walls painted." Know said, removing the keys from her purse and unlocking the lobby door.
"Its not the same, Knoxy. I can paint the walls but it's still different. I can't just walk downstairs and see everyone. Well, their apartments are in the same building, but they don't I can't it's just different now. We were like a family once. A weird demon killing family with a brooding vampire uncle, but still a family."
"It'll work out. Things are just hectic right now. None of you have ever worked in this kind of situation before. There's bound to be a period of adjustment. Just give it time. Family is still family, even when you don't talk to each other. That's what makes them different from friends."
"You're right. I am going to go right over and tell them that we need to start spending more time together because we are still family, and that's what Cordy would want. Or," Fred said, sagging into his arms. "I could do it in the morning. Mornings are good. We're all in the office, so I can tell everybody at once. First thing tomorrow that's what I am gonna do." The slur was cute.
"Sounds like a good idea to me. I'll let your assistant know when I get in the office. And hey, that's me, so I already know. Your schedule is clear, so you tell away."
"I will." She was so tiny, fragile seeming. He had to remind himself of the things she'd done. It took courage, resourcefulness, and the kind of survival instinct that a W&;H employee would envy to make it through a hell dimension and Jasmine's rule unscathed.
"We're here," Knox said, using his free hand to gesture to the door.
Fred was looking at him, her head tilted to the side, lips parted and hair mussed. Her big prey eyes were partially closed, and even though he knew it was a bad idea, could feel the wrongness at some gut level, it didn't stop him from tilting his head down and brushing his lips against hers. More like a caress then a kiss, or at least, that was what he'd intended. He didn't expect Fred to twist her fingers into his hair and open her mouth, deepening the kiss.
Fingers pressed firmly into skin, he hadn't imagined it would be like this. Warm, encompassing, and - she wouldn't do this if she knew - perfect. Their bodies were moving together, and it took all his reserves to push her away.
"Tomorrow. If you still feel this way I'll see you tomorrow." Their lips so close together, he knew she could feel the breath of his words against her skin.
He walked away before she could answer him. This wasn't love. He wouldn't allow it to be, but it was something.
Fred's arms were wrapped around her midsection as if she was protecting herself from a blow. Her eyes hadn't moved from the body on the floor.
The girl's legs were twisted, her body broken. It was as if someone had been trying to claw their way into the body. Knox had seen worse.
"He was good. I know he was good. He died to save the world. It just it doesn't any sense." Fred whispered.
He hated having her see this, but there was no other option. She was too attached to the vampire. Steps had to be taken. They were necessary.
"I'll find him. I'll handle it." The menacing tone issued from Angel's throat was enough to make Knox feel a small pang of regret for what was about to happen to Spike.
"Angel, you shouldn't go after him alone. To do this - who knows what mental state he's in, what he's capable of?" Wesley's voice still held a faintly horrified edge. It was one thing to see someone murdered, but it was another to know it was done by someone you'd accepted, albeit grudgingly.
"I'm not going to leave him out there to do this to other people. It's my responsibility. I should've never allowed him to get back his body."
Knox moved forward, covering the dead girl with his lab coat. He'd been the one to hire her, knowing full well they would kill her. A small blond replica of Buffy, it hadn't taken anything but the security tapes of Spike murdering her to get Angel ready.
"Are you all right?" Knox asked, moving slowly towards Fred, hands outstretched.
"I'm fine. I - I had a talk with her yesterday. She wasn't getting in her paperwork on time, and she was taking two-hour lunches. That shouldn't be the last thing you say to a person. It isn't - this isn't right."
Knox moved forward, wrapping his arms around her and pressing her head against his chest. "I know. It isn't, but your friend is going to find him and figure out what happened. It'll be okay."
He didn't want this to be so hard for her, but he knew it would only get worse. Angel was going to kill Spike, and within hours they should discover that Spike's amulet was missing. From there it would relatively easy for them to decipher they amulet's ability to control the person whose essence it was connected to. A Wolfram & Hart enemy eliminated, another reason for Angel to flagellate himself. It was almost too simple.
Fred's body was relaxing, melding into his. It was to be expected, these painful reactions. It was like a dying animal. Right before its last breath, there was always that push, that last reach for life. Fred had struggled for Spike, and while noble, her fall was inevitable. She couldn't save herself, and she didn't save him. It was all for the best; that, Knox is sure of. This would make her stronger. Able to handle the day Angel finds out his son is dead, and AI has nothing left but each other and this place.