"This is pointless," Angel says. "Can't people just walk to my office?"
Fred smiles at him patiently and sets Angel's hands back on the keys. "What if they're in Singapore?" she says reasonably. "Come on, Angel. It's not that hard. See? This is even Outlook Express."
"We have enough money to fly them in," Angel argues.
Fred doesn't try to bash his skull in with the Powerbook, and she's not sure if that's because she's very fond of him, or because it's been three years to the day, and Cordelia is still dead. Fred's not exactly sure what to do with anniversaries like that; in their line of work, people keep coming back--it figures that when they wait for it, it inevitably doesn't happen.
It may be the reason everyone is trying to distract Angel today, with paperwork and ridiculous demons. Last time she saw them, Gunn and Wesley were having a heated discussion in Wesley's office. She only stood in the doorway long enough to overhear Wesley hiss, "That'll look entirely too homoerotic!" before deciding to teach Angel how to use his email.
"Yeah, but," she says with a strained laugh, "how wasteful, right?"
The drawl is still there, underneath years of Los Angeles wearing on her voice box. Sometimes Fred thinks about the library, and the book with leather binding, and then she thinks of nothing at all, just numbers and figures and Angel, six stories up in the big office staring out into the city.
Angel sulks. "I hate this color blue."
This time, Fred ignores him, and mouses over the "Send/Receive" function with her left finger.
"See?" she says cheerfully, clicking, "it's just that easy."
Bold-faced emails start streaming in, and by the hundred and twelfth one, Angel looks more than a little overwhelmed.
"How are there so many?" he asks. He looks terrified.
Fred blinks. "When did you last check your email?"
Angel looks at his hands, then his desk. There is a long silence before he asks, "How long have I had an email address?"
Fred decides she is going to go help Gunn and Wes, so as she leaves, she says, "This will be a while."
Harmony calls Wesley's office at half hour intervals, and it's never good news. Gunn drags his laptop in and camps out on Wesley's couch, and Fred pretends to look at lab results but counts fibers in her sweater instead. They are quiet together, and that is better than being sad by themselves.
"Do you think we ought to go get him?" Gunn asks, looking up from his spreadsheet.
Wesley hums. "No," he decides. "I think he has to do this by himself."
Gunn makes a face, and Fred looks away.
"He does everything by himself, English," Gunn murmurs.
It makes Wesley freeze, and when he looks up, Gunn is staring at the carpet, frowning.
Fred remembers when Gunn and Wesley used to fight, about which kung-fu movie or monster flick they wanted to watch, and Angel was being no help, just puttering around the Hyperion. She remembers the way Cordelia used to walk up behind them both and slap them on the backs of their heads and put on Sleepless in Seattle, and dare anyone to change the video. Gunn and Wesley both secretly love the movie, Fred thinks, but it's one of those secrets that's a secret because they like it that way--all five of them, a joke in the family.
Now, when Gunn and Wesley fight, Gunn throws it in Wesley's face. He calls him "English," like they are best friends, just to remind Wesley that they aren't anymore, not really. And Wesley gets a drawn, tight expression on his face, before he goes to the Wolfram and Hart vault, and reads through Lilah's things. Fred sometimes thinks that Wesley smells like her perfume when he comes back, hours later.
She says, "Do ya'll want to watch a movie?"
Fred and Gunn stare at her, and she stands up, too fast, twitching and nervous like she hasn't been in years.
"I'll go get Angel," she declares. "You two fight amongst yourself for masculine dominance."
Wesley and Gunn look at one another in surprise, and then look down at their shirts in concern.
"Jeez, guys," she mutters. "Are you sure you didn't do that homoerotic thing?"
Wesley glares and Gunn colors and Fred walks down the hall to Angel's closed office door, where Harmony is peeking in, golden hair a veil along her back.
Angel is still sitting at his desk when Fred walks in, unmoved from his spot earlier that day.
"Angel," Fred tries. "We're going to watch a--"
"I think someone's playing a really cruel joke," Angel says. He gestures at his laptop.
Fred frowns, and walks over. "What's wrong?"
Angel looks confused, disoriented. "It's these--emails. They're--they just--"
Flushing, Fred says, "Oh! Angel, they send everybody those penis enlargement ads. It's not, well, commentary, or anything--I mean, I just got four yesterday afternoon."
"Okay, yes, I was going to ask about those, too," Angels says, scowling, "but that wasn't the--" He cuts himself off in sheer frustration and points. "Look," he instructs. "Look at that."
Fred does. The email reads:
This place is so boring. It's so cruel. I can see the Lush webpage, but they can't deliver.
Angel says, "What do I do?"
Fred looks at the time and datestamp. Four days ago, she realizes, at twelve o-four in the afternoon--somebody's lunch break.
"Well?" Angel asks.
She doesn't know what to do. It makes her tired just thinking about it.
Before, once upon a time, Angel and Wes and Gunn used to round on Cordelia to ask her questions about things like this, and if she didn't know, she always lied very well about it. Fred isn't good at that, and she's not Cordelia; she can't be, and is tired of trying.
So she says, "Maybe you should just reply."
After careful instruction and twelve separate drafts, Angel writes:
Re: Subject: [none]
You can have them send it here and have somebody pick it up later.
PS, where are you?
It's the worst email Fred has ever read.
They watch Sleepless in Seattle in Wesley's office. Fred pretends she's crying about the ending until she realizes that the end really is the reason she's crying.
Six days later, there is a package from Lush sitting on Harmony's desk first thing in the morning, and Fred decides not to ask too many questions.
Angel hits the "Send/Receive" button six times a minute and Gunn and Wes are still sulking at one another, but over lo mein and manly posturing, so she decides to leave them alone.
But on the eleventh day when Angel looks wild-eyed and badly-coiffed, Fred goes through Angel's email logs, partially out of sheer curiosity, and partially out of concern. If this is a cruel joke, like Angel thought, then it is one someone intends to play through to the end.
Fred thinks that they must be trading love letters, that Angel will be telling Cordelia--or, whoever--all the things he didn't say while she was--here. Fred wonders what Angel must have felt, tapping out all those words letter by letter, fingers pecking across the keys.
But after Fred cracks the ridiculously simple password on Angel's computer ("championsrule"), she finds ordinary things.
Fred and Gunn and Wesley are all convinced I've finally found internet pornography. I always used to hate this thing, but now, I guess it's not that bad. I spent nearly fifteen minutes looking for the dollar sign the last message. I hope you are well.
And Cordelia, usually within a few hours, will say:
Maybe Fred and Gunn and Wes have the right idea. It's a big world out there, of shiny, terrifying things with leather and nipple clamps. Maybe you should branch, too; I saw the sparks between you and Lindsey. You love the computer, admit it. You're buying shoes like a woman right now, aren't you?
I am fine.
Fred is in a corner of her office crying when she realizes that Angel never asks if it is really Cordelia.
She wonders, in bouts of not-unwarranted paranoia, if it is actually some Big Bad, come to infiltrate Wolfram and Hart through one of their weaknesses.
At some point, she goes to www.powersthatbe.com. It says, "Error 403: Not authorized to view this webpage." Later, when she tries to hack it and manages to nearly get hit by a car, spill hot coffee all over her lap, and accidentally knock someone out with an industrial-sized buret all in a two hour span, she decides that maybe it's not worth it.
Fred watches Wesley and Gunn blink in surprise at Angel's improving mood, and she worries constantly, wringing her hands and staring at the laptop she remembers thinking might distract Angel. For once, she hates that she is right.
She realizes, four months into whatever this is, that she doesn't really care who or what or how. She just doesn't want to see Angel sad anymore.
Month six, Angel discovers the printer.
This becomes his biggest expenditure.
One night, Angel calls her at two AM, and when Fred rushes to Angel's apartment, she finds Gunn and Wes already there. The three of them are sprawled out on the floor of the living room, on Angel's expensive carpet in tatty jeans and sweatshirts, with hundreds of pages spread out before them, printed words across crisp computer paper.
Angel waves Fred over. "Come on. I know you guys wanted to read these."
Fred walks over carefully, stepping over and around piles of pages, worried that she might crease something, and then all of this might fall apart. She settles in a comfortable spot next to an easy chair and folds her legs underneath her, picking up the nearest page.
I am fine, mostly. Still bored. Thank you for the package, I smell so good I would totally make out with myself right now. By the way, nice haircut, and yes, it's all right if you keep putting gel in your hands and just "you know, bunching it up."
Tell Wes and Gunn they should just get married, it's getting old. C.
Fred strokes her hands over the words, and thinks she almost feels Cordelia there.
"This is really quite fascinating," Wesley says, hushed.
Gunn snorts, but does not look up from his pile of pages. "Wes, she thinks we're gay."
Angel snickers. Fred says, "Well, you two do--" and stops when she sees the expression on Gunn's face, which is somewhere between murderous and mortified. Wesley only looks vaguely amused.
"I've done pretty well for myself then," Wesley comments lightly. "First Angel then Gunn."
Fred gapes. Angel says, "It's not what it sounds like!"
Gunn grins, and says in mock disgust, "The wedding is off, English."
Wesley smiles indulgently, and turns back to Cordelia's emails. "I'd imagine so, Gunn."
It makes everything better, somehow, that they spend that day and a half camped together in Angel's apartment, eating Chinese food and reading Cordelia's emails. They are not so careful by the end of the session, and there are folds and fingerprints, one page stained light brown from coffee.
When Fred wakes up in an uncomfortable position to find Angel gathering up the papers, she sees Gunn asleep with his head on Wesley's leg.
In the kitchen, she asks Angel, "Do you think they really...?"
Angel pauses, and regards her from the corner of his eye. "I never really thought about it," he admits, but smiles. "I mean, if they're happy, right?"
Fred spends more time in her lab, with renewed fervor, and thinks about that: happy.
Spike hangs around Wolfram and Hart, tormenting Angel in between Final Fantasy tournaments with Lorne in the employee lounge. Eve is killed by a Mithar demon one week and no one really notices; Angel says, "Thank God," just as Fred says, "Everyone who sleeps with you dies."
Wesley and Gunn calm down, and one day when Fred is wandering around the hallways looking for something she sees Gunn leaning over Wesley's desk, strong brown arms she remembers from before curving around Wesley's space. She thinks that she might be watching their first kiss, in a way, even if they aren't touching at all, and blushes before hurrying away.
But Angel is right, and they are happy, and Fred is happy, too. Angel sends emails and Cordelia replies. Sometimes there are boxes on Harmony's desk in the morning: Lush or Steve Madden and book orders from Barnes & Noble, which disappear into nowhere with a puff of white, pearly smoke while Angel smiles indulgently.
"Are you still in love with her?" Fred asks one day.
Angel pauses at that. "I don't think you really fall out of love that easily."
Fred mulls the thought later, the flash of Gunn and Wesley together running through her mind, and reflects that she did.
Valentine's Day the next year is no anniversary, but Angel, Fred, Wesley, and Gunn sit around in Angel's apartment and watch Sleepless in Seattle anyway.
Angel burns the popcorn and Gunn keeps touching Wesley, like his fingers can't stay away, brushing along Wesley's shoulder or the cut of Wesley's hip. Fred and Angel trade knowing looks, but let it slide when they all settle down in front of the television.
Long after Wesley has fallen asleep, face pressed into the curve of Gunn's neck, Fred leans on Angel and breathes him in.
"Angel, will we be okay?" she asks. "We're all broken."
Angel laughs, very quietly, before he wraps one arm around her shoulders like the good man he is, and presses a fond kiss to her temple.
"But we're still running," he reminds her gently. "We're going to win, in the end."
"How do you know?" she asks, and all the fear she's been choking crashes down.
Angel sighs, sleepy and warm, voice melting away into drowsiness as he says, "Cordelia told me. Right before she left."
Fred sleeps, and dreams.
Of Cordelia and Angel, of Wesley and his books and Gunn, too. They are together and happy together, younger and sitting in the lobby of the Hyperion hotel. For no reason at all, she hears a baby somewhere in the background.
When she wakes up, she sees Angel, and Wesley and Gunn. They are together and maybe happy, but definitely happy together, older, and asleep in Angel's apartment. There is no Cordelia or the sound of a baby laughing.
Fred gets up, untangling herself from Angel's arm.
It's morning, and they are still helping the helpless.