“So,” Fred frowned slightly, soft brown eyes intense. “However Billy’s putting the mojo on people, the power seems to be in his blood. Which means it could also be in his sweat, or his saliva, or even his touch.” Fred straightened up, turning to face me.
I kept looking at the microscope, doing my best not to look at her. I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to look away again if I did, with Fred looking as pretty as she did tonight, her mind as captivating as it was tonight. We seemed so in sync when researching, anticipating each other’s thoughts, maybe, just maybe, Fred was…
Oh, who was I kidding? Not myself, that was for sure. She’d decided to leave last week for all of five minutes with her parents, and I’d already been missing her. No, I was long past the point where I could lie to myself about my feelings for the fiercely intelligent, brave, strong, pretty, and slightly concerned looking physicist frowning at me.
“Wes?” She waved her hand in front of my eyes. “What is it?”
“Oh!” I turned away from the microscope and smiled sheepishly. “Sorry, yes, you’re right. I was just thinking about… how dangerous Billy really is, if you’re right. I mean, depending on the concentration of saliva or blood or skin cells required to trigger a reaction, we could be looking at a potential weapon of mass destruction if Wolfram and Hart decided to weaponise it.”
“Oh God.” Fred’s eyes widened. “You’re right! They could just have him dribble a lot or transfuse blood, then mix it in with the water supply or something in a specific area and… instant bloodthirsty mob. I dealt with enough of those to know they’re not fun.”
I felt a pang of sympathy for Fred, an image of her fleeing through Pylea, hiding in ditches or caves from pitchfork wielding Pyleans springing to mind. Nobody deserved to be made to feel so afraid, hunted. Least of all Fred. “Well, for whatever reason, Wolfram and Hart don’t seem interested in that, or they wouldn’t have let him off the premisses.” I smiled reassuringly. “Hate-water won’t be coming to a city near you any time soon.”
Fred giggled, sitting back on the desk. “Hate-water!”
I bent over to look at the microscope, hoping to spot something interesting I could flag up. Maybe earn myself some points. “Do you know where Cordelia is, Fred?”
“I…” Fred sounded hesitant. “I think she went… out.”
I mentally kicked myself. I should have been expecting Cordelia to go out looking for Billy. It wasn’t as if we could have stopped her but… damn. “I don’t suppose she mentioned where?” I said hopefully. Maybe it was a normal errand, or she was going clothes shopping to take her mind off things.
“She just said an errand.”
“She’s probably going after Billy.” I sighed, leaning away from the microscope to rub my forehead. “Damn.”
“She’ll be fine.” Fred smiled reassuringly. “Angel’ll probably get to Billy first anyhow, what with his super speed and super senses, and all.”
“Yes, probably.” I nodded, letting out a breath. I turned to Fred. “You want to take over microscope duty for a bit? I could do with some tea, it’s been a long day.”
“I’d love some tea!” Fred grinned, scooting over into my chair as I made to pick up my teapot. “Milk, four sugars, please!” I blinked, thankfully out of Fred’s sight. Four sugars. Oh my. Alright. Two brewed cups of tea later I stuck my head round the door into my office.
“Would you like some rich tea biscuits?” I asked.
“Yes please!” Fred called out, eyes glued to the microscope, jotting something down on a page of notes. I carefully put her cup of tea down on the edge of the desk, rich tea biscuits on the saucer and sat down in one of the chairs on the visitor side of my desk, stirring my tea absently.
Fred, not looking up from the microscope, reached out blindly towards the desk, fumbling for a biscuit. That had disaster written all over it. I reached over the desk to take her hand - marvelling at the softness of her skin - and guided her to one of the biscuits. Oh God, I’d just taken her hand, I hope she wouldn’t mind, that she didn’t-
“Thanks.” Fred flushed slightly, still looking through the microscope. “Could you… umm… help me dunk it?”
I chuckled and picked up her tea cup, holding it directly below the biscuit. “Down about five centimetres.” I advised her. Fred dunked the biscuit and ate it. “Thanks!” She looked up from the microscope and smiled at me. I smiled back.
She gasped. “Oh God, I’m in your chair!”
I blinked. “Pardon?”
“I’m sorry!” Fred leapt up. “That’s your chair, the boss’s chair, I was just… you were gone and now you’re back so obviously you should-”
“Fred, you can sit there.” I smiled at her warmly. “It’s fine.”
“Oh.” Fred blinked, then smiled, brushing some loose strands of hair behind her ears. “Thanks.” She sat back down.
“Mind if I take a look at those notes?” I asked.
“Sure, go right ahead.” I stood up and moved round the desk, examining the list.
I began to read aloud. “Humanoid, functional epidermis… what’s this?” I asked, curious.
“A list of qualities I think Billy’s demon parent might have, based on what I’m seeing in the blood.” Fred looked up at me. “I figured… I could do the science bit and you do the demonology bit? Me being the scientist and you being the demonologist.”
“Sounds good.” I glanced over Fred’s preliminary list of estimated qualities one more time, then went to grab some books.
+ + + + + + +
“This is very peculiar.” I frowned, rubbing my chin thoughtfully.
“What’s the problem?” Fred asked.
“All the demons that match your profile…” I mused, leaning back in the visitor chair (much less comfortable than my chair, which Fred was still occupying). “They’re all benevolent.”
“That’s weird, I guess.” Fred frowned. “Like Lorne’s species? Capable of good or evil?”
“Yes, possessing a soul.” I nodded. “So it’s possible one of them is Billy’s demonic ancestor but then…”
“Where’d the special evil ingredient come from?” Fred mused, leaning on the desk, expression thoughtful. She blew a strand of hair out of her face absently. “Unless it was from the human side, which would be depressing.”
“That is quite possible.” I agreed. “Just… odd.”
“Odd.” Fred smiled. “I’m sure if you told me when I was packing up for college that in a couple of years I’d be working for a detective agency specialising in supernatural affairs and demon incidents I’d consider that odd. Now this feels normal, and the only thing that’s odd is the oddness of the particular demon, not the fact that there is a demon… which is odd. It’s odd how the nature of odd changes, wouldn’t you agree?”
I took a moment to run through Fred’s line of reasoning again and nodded. “I would. If you told me a year ago that I’d be running this outfit, I’d have probably laughed and offered to sell you a map to the fountain of youth.” Fred giggled. “I don’t have one, sadly.”
Fred stopped giggling and frowned at me. “Is it real?”
“For five dollars, I’ll tell you.” I grinned and Fred rolled her eyes.
“That’s just mean, trying to take advantage of me like that.” Fred swatted my arm playfully. “And one of your own employees too, for shame.”
“If I made you employee of the month, would you forgive me?” I smiled.
“Probably.” Fred admitted, smiling at me. Then she frowned. “What time is it? I’m feeling kind of hungry.”
“It’s…” I checked my watch. I blinked. Wow. Time really did fly when you had amazing, engaging, beautiful company. “Much too late to be working.”
“I like that time.” Fred leaned back in my chair, closing her eyes. “That sounds like a nice time for it to be.”
I bit my lip, Cordelia’s words swimming back into my head.
“Wesley, if you wanna get to know Fred better, maybe the next time you have her over for an intimate dinner for two, you won't ask the rest of us to come along.”
I swallowed. Fred was hungry. We’d been working together for hours. It was only natural - hell, it would be normal - to ask if she wanted to grab dinner somewhere. I could make it casual, easy, normal, no drama, all I had to do was ask if she wanted to grab dinner.
“I was wondering if… maybe… you’d like… that is, we could…” I was stammering and out of control. Oh, dear. Fred opened one eye and looked at me, confused. I lost my nerve. “… order in some pizza?” I suggested.
“Sounds great!” Fred smiled, sitting up. I breathed a sigh of relief. “No Hawaiian though. Deal?”
“Absolutely.” I smiled. “Sounds great.” Now, where had we left the menu the last time we ordered?
I wandered out into the lobby, feeling a pleasant sense of anticipation. It might not be an intimate dinner, but we’d worked together all evening and now we were going to have a nice meal together. Well… takeaway pizza. But nice takeaway pizza. If I could find the blasted menu.
I began rummaging under the counter, smiling triumphantly when I found the menu abandoned on a shelf. I blew some specks of dust off it and stood up. “Fred, I found the-” I blinked as Gunn walked into lobby. “Gunn.”
“You found a gun?” Fred wandered out of the office, then smiled welcomingly at Gunn. I felt an irrational pang of jealousy. “Hey Charles!”
“Hey, you two.” Gunn let out a puff of air and collapsed on the sofa. “Hospital was a bust. Nothing interesting. You two?”
“We’re looking into Billy’s demon lineage, but nothing conclusive yet.” I informed him.
“On the bright side,” Fred wandered over to lean against the counter beside me. “We figured out Billy infects people via touch. Or through blood or bodily fluids. No sonic resonance or doom glare.”
“Man, that’s boring.” Gunn rubbed his eyes. “Still, sounds more fun than what I was doing. Which was nothing. Why am I wiped when I did nothing?”
“Doing nothing’s very tiring sometimes.” I shrugged.
“Charles, if you’re hungry,” Fred nudged me lightly with her elbow. “We’re ordering pizza!”
Gunn perked up. My stomach sank. It was obviously irrational to be cross. Fred hadn’t known that I wanted it to be just the two of us, Gunn obviously couldn’t have, it wasn’t like it was his fault… but I felt a pang of disappointment none the less.
“Sweet. Hawaiian?” Gunn said hopefully.
“I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that.” I said archly, opening the menu on the counter.
“I’ll do the same, as a personal favour.” Fred noted, then turned to me. “What are you in the mood for?”
“How are you with spice?” I mused, eyeing the Diavolo.
“I love spice.” Fred beamed. “Diavolo good?”
I blinked and nodded. “Yes. Sounds good.”
“What about you, heathen?” Fred glanced over at Gunn. “What’s your preference?”
Gunn sighed good-naturedly. “Four Seasons alright with you puritans?”
“Sounds good.” I nodded.
“Yep, I reckon two will be enough.” Fred nodded. “As long as we get-”
“Garlic bread.” We said simultaneously.
Fred grinned at me. “Spooky.”
“Yes, I’m a mind reader, did I not mention?” I smiled. “Think of a number between one and ten.”
Fred blinked. “Aren’t you going to tell me what number I thought of?”
“What do think I am, a mind reader?” I raised an eyebrow. Fred rolled her eyes, smiling good-naturedly.
“Boo!” Gunn yelled from the sofa. Fred, at least, seemed amused.
“I’ll call them.” I walked over to the phone and started dialling.
“I’m gonna go get changed, I smell like a hospital.” Gunn sighed and started walking upstairs.
Fred was still studying the menu. I slowly pulled it down the counter towards me. Fred trailed along the counter, eventually bending over my shoulder to keep reading it. Her hair brushed against my shoulder and I breathed in without thinking. She smelled fruity and fresh, like the first day of springtime.
“Good evening, I’d like to place an order?” I spoke clearly into the phone, trying unsuccessfully not to think about how intensely incredible Fred smelled.
“You have us on books, we’re the Hyperion Hotel?”
“Oh, right. Sure, what’s the order?”
“One large diavolo pizza, one large four seasons and two portions garlic bread.”
Fred tapped my shoulder insistently and I glanced over to her: she was tapping the dessert section on the menu insistently.
Ice cream! She mouthed, putting both hands together in the universal symbol for prayer. Pleeeeease?
“Oh, and one chocolate ice cream.” I added.
“Done. We’ll get it over there. Cash on delivery?”
“Sounds good.” I set down the phone.
“Thank you!” Fred bent over to kiss me gently on the cheek, smiling sweetly. I rubbed the back of my neck, feeling myself flush. Fred, thankfully, apparently didn’t notice. “You want a coffee?”
“I’ll stick to tea, thanks.” I smiled weakly.
“Oh, right! I forgot we had the teapot still full. If there’s enough could you pour me one?”
“Thanks!” Fred followed me into the office and I poured her a cup of tea, then one for me. Fred carefully dropped two spoonfuls of sugar in my tea and started stirring. I put four spoonfuls of sugar in her tea and stirred it in.
“Miss Burkle.” I held up her cup. “Your tea.”
“Mr Wyndam-Pryce.” Fred grinned and held up my cup.
I hesitated a moment. Oh, what the hell. I slowly, carefully, lifted her tea cup over to her mouth. Fred smiled broadly and reciprocated.
“Three, two, one, sip!” Fred said. I tilted her cup forwards, praying I wouldn’t spill hot tea down her front. Thankfully, I managed not to mess it up. The tea tasted lovely. “Yum. Thank you!” Fred smiled, licking her lips to catch some stray drops.
“Thank you.” I realised I was smiling dopily. “We should probably swap cups though…”
“Probably best.” Fred smiled sweetly and we exchanged cups. My fingers brushed hers for a second and I felt an electric charge race through me. I tried very hard not to think about how lovely Fred looked when she was smiling, like she was right now. How beautifully her chocolate-brown hair framed her face. The light sparkling in her soft, warm eyes. Her lovely, soft lips.
Well I mean, I didn’t know they were soft but they looked…
I had to get out of this office before I did something very unwise. I kept smiling and turned around, heading back into the lobby…
Where Gunn was standing having watched everything. Not that there was an everything, nothing had happened, we’d just had tea! One sip thereof! He raised an eyebrow at me. “You’ve changed.” I remarked.
“I did say I was going to.” Gunn smirked. “Hey, Fred.”
“Hi!” Fred smiled, looking puzzled. “What’s up?”
“Oh, nothing. Just being friendly.” Fred shrugged and walked over towards the sofa.
Gunn winked at me and headed towards the counter. I swallowed. First Cordelia, now Gunn… this was definitely getting out of hand. Very fast.
+ + + + + + +
“C’mon, be serious!” Fred laughed, eyes sparkling.
“I assure you, I’m being serious.” I couldn’t help but smile. “It’s my favourite.”
“And to think, I respected you.” Fred shook her head disbelievingly. “Chamber of Secrets over Goblet of Fire?”
“Goblet’s my second favourite.” I shrugged. “But Chamber of Secrets has a special place in my heart.”
“But the Goblet has the quidditch world cup!” Fred started counting things off on one hand. She actually put down the slice of pizza she was eating which - given how covetously she’d been hoarding pizza thus far - told me how strongly she felt about this. “Other schools of wizards, more information on the ministry, the trials, the best villain, and dragons!”
“The Basilisk was a much more intriguing magical creature than the dragons.” I argued. “Chamber of Secrets gave us the Floo network, Polyjuice potion, and our first glimpse into another common rooms! And it ramped up the tension much more than the Goblet did! The creeping dread of the attacks, paralysis, Hermione being taken out of the equation, the terror of being trapped in the chamber itself, the final showdown with Riddle… I grant you, Barty Crouch Junior is the more impressive villain of the two, but he was never actually threatening to kill Harry or anyone else! Riddle almost killed Hermione, Harry, got Dumbledore evicted from Hogwarts…”
Fred frowned. “I suppose it’s a tolerable choice.” She said reluctantly, and picked up a pizza slice. “But I still think Goblet is better.”
“Goblet does have its share of excellent moments.” I skilfully dodged her assertion. “And it sets up the next book perfectly. I really can’t wait.”
“I can’t believe I missed all the previous release days.” Fred sighed unhappily, then perked up. “How do you feel about a bookstore visit when it comes out? We can be those people waiting in line at midnight by the shops for them to open and start selling it!”
“That sounds amazing.” I answered honestly. Fred smiled broadly at me and started munching down pizza again. My, she could really eat. I had no idea how she was going to eat the ice cream too.
“Alright, I’m out.” Gunn stood up and dusted himself off, rolling his shoulders. “I’m tired, full, and ready for some restful sleep.”
“We haven’t even had dessert yet!” Fred frowned. “Why not stick around?”
“Nah, it’s better if I hit the hay.” Gunn turned to me. “Let me know if anything develops?”
Was there a double meaning there? Probably not. “Sure.” I nodded. Gunn nodded approvingly and we did our signature handshake.
Gunn pulled me in to pat me on the back at the end and whispered in my ear. “Fortune favours the bold, my man.” Then he winked, backed off and walked upstairs. “Night, Wes! Night, Fred!”
“Goodnight Charles!” Fred waved as he left, then sat back down on the sofa, eyeing the remaining crusts critically. Fred turned to me. “Want to share the ice cream?”
“No, don’t worry.” I waved a hand dismissively. “You don’t have to.”
“I know I don’t have to.” Fred smiled. “I asked if you wanted to.”
My stomach rumbled insistently. “Sure. Thanks."“You’re welcome.” Fred tossed me a spoon and started digging in. I followed suit.
I thought carefully as I mechanically ate ice cream. Fred was certainly - as I’d opined to Cordelia - extraordinary. Completely. Intelligent, funny, sweet, engaging and - obviously - very beautiful. Especially in that delightful purple dress. And tonight had been… well, wonderful. I felt like we’d really hit it off working together, and that the meal had been pleasant. Even though Gunn had been there, he’d mostly stayed out of the conversation in favour of giving me knowing looks and winks whenever Fred’s back was turned. I’d tried to include him several times, but he’d barely responded, feigning tiredness. Fred and I had talked almost non-stop, discussing science, the best libraries and bookstores to be found in LA, our favourite classical works and - ultimately - we’d clashed good-naturedly over which Harry Potter book was best. And Fred had asked me to go pick up the next one with her when it came out. Perhaps I should just wait for that. It could only be, what, two years away at the most? Then I wouldn’t have to try asking her out myself which was… unlikely to go well.
It wasn’t like I was inexperienced with women. There’d been Virginia, and countless dates in bars, but Fred… Fred was different. Special. I felt tongue tied whenever I was around here, like any charm or suavity I might usually possess vanished for the duration of our conversations, replaced by bumbling awkwardness and shyness. Fred’s spoon clinked against mine inside the ice cream bowl and she started, babbling out an apology and pulling out a chunk of ice cream, smiling slightly at me.
Oh God, I couldn’t wait two years. I wasn’t sure I could wait another two minutes. I needed to ask Fred out. What had Cordelia said? An intimate dinner for two. Dinner. Yes, that would work. We’d had dinner before - admittedly with other people there -, I knew we could make conversation without it being awkward, I could cook something nice… yes. Dinner was the way to go. Some pleasant food, uniquely pleasant company, talking into the wee hours of the morning… yes. I just had to… ask. Ask beautiful, sweet, intelligent, wonderful Fred whether she’d want to go on a date with me. I swallowed. Well, if she was going to say no… I suppose there was no point dragging it out.
Fred scooped up the last spoon of ice cream and stuck her tongue out at me slightly. “Finders keepers.” She declared and ate it, licking some leftover residue off her lips. My throat suddenly felt very dry. My mind had gone blank.
“Let me get that. You get the boxes?” Fred picked up the ice cream tub and walked towards the bins. Right. Cleanup. I swiped the pizza boxes and binned them, wiping my face with a clean napkin. Fred followed suit.
“So, what are your plans?” Fred hopped up to sit on the counter, looking at me expectantly. “For tonight?”
“Oh, I don’t know.” I floundered: if I didn’t have plans, did that make me boring? “Probably go home, read a little, mug of tea, bed.”
“Sounds nice.” Fred nodded. “Think I might stay down here and read.”
She lowered her voice conspiratorially. “Don’t want to stay in my room too much, make y’all think I’ve relapsed.” I chuckled. “I’ll probably use your chair. Since I know how comfy it is now.” Fred smiled at me.
“And what if I’m not okay with that?” I raised an eyebrow.
“What you don’t know won’t hurt you.” Fred smiled sweetly.
She was so perfect.
I took a deep breath and steeled all my courage. Resisting the urge to fidget or lean on the counter, I removed my glasses and set them down on the counter as quietly as I could. Fred noticed, tilting her head curiously.
“Fred?” I swallowed. I resisted the urge to fidget.
“Wes?” Her brow furrowed slightly.
“Can I… that is…” Oh, I was already making an ass of myself. I tried to refocus. “… I was hoping to ask you a question.”
Fred hopped down from the counter and walked closer to me, eyes searching mine curiously. Oh, she had such beautiful eyes. “Go right ahead, Wes.” Her voice was soft and hypnotic, her gaze warm and affectionate.
“Well…” How on Earth to go about this? “I… ah. I had a great time. The other night. When you came over for dinner.”
“I had a great time too!” Fred smiled warmly. “It’s been ages since I really got into the nitty-gritty of science with someone, had a deep conversation about it. Well, I mean technically now it’s only been like an hour and then before that a day, but yesterday before dinner it had been ages! What’s so funny?”
I blinked myself out of the very pleasant trance I’d gone into listening to Fred babbling happily, realising belatedly that I had a very silly smile on my face. “Hmm? What? Nothing!”
“You’re smiling at me all weird.” Fred frowned, then gasped. “Oh no, do I have sauce on my face? Or some food in my teeth?” Fred shut her mouth and frowned thoughtfully as her tongue quested for a non-existent bit of food lodged somewhere.
“No, no, nothing like that.” I shook my head. Fred looked relieved and stopped searching.
I swallowed. “Anyway. Ah, as I was saying, I had a really great time.” I felt like it was a thousand degrees in here and I was walking on superheated eggshells “And I was wondering if you might be interested in doing that again?”
“Oh, of course!” Fred smiled. I blinked. Had it really been that- “You know me, always up for a group meal!” Fred beamed.
Was that her way of turning me down politely? Giving me a safe exit to avoid embarrassing both of us? Or had she just not understood me? I licked my lips, resisted the urge to take the cowardly way out, and pressed onwards.
“Actually, what I meant was… would you perhaps be interested in dinner if it was… just the two of us?” I held my breath.
Fred looked confused. Not a good sign. “Why would we… oh.” Fred’s eyes went wide as saucers. “Oh! Oh. Right. Umm. Wow. That’s… can I have two minutes to think?” Fred bit her lip, lovely eyes still wider than normal, looking quite nervous.
I felt a stab of pain. Fred was working out the best way to say ‘no’ politely. Of course she was. How could anyone as perfect as her do anything else when faced with unwanted advances from someone like me? “Of course.” I nodded. “Whatever you need.”
“Thanks.” Fred nodded and walked into the back garden. I failed to resist the urge to count the seconds, dread steadily gnawing away at the inside of my gut. How was she going to say it? I didn’t want to hear the words.
And yet I did, so I could be sure. But I didn’t, so I could live in the blissful world where there was still a one percent chance Fred might return my feelings.
One-hundred-and-fifteen seconds later, Fred hesitantly walked back in from the garden and slowly, hesitantly walked up to me, stopping only a couple of feet away. Fred bit her lip, looked at her feet, brushed some loose strands of hair behind her ears and breathed deeply before looking at me.
I braced myself.
“Sorry,” The classic beginning. “I’m kinda rusty at this, five years in a cave…” Fred made eye contact, still chewing gently on her lower lip. “So I just wanted to double-check that this would be a date, right?”
She wanted to be sure she had to say no properly. To know that she had to use her carefully thought out, infinitely kind and considerate ‘no’ speech. Maybe I should just say no, save us both the trouble. I wanted to.
But I couldn’t. I couldn’t hide how I felt about Fred.
So I just nodded, not breaking eye contact. Then the impossible happened.
Fred smiled. A slight, shy, very pretty smile, accompanied by a surge of warmth in her eyes as she looked at me. Fred straightened up slightly. “That’s very flattering.” Fred blushed pink and I think it was the most captivating, beautiful thing I’d ever seen. Could she possibly… “And very sweet, and oh, right, I have to say ‘yes’, don’t I? Yes.” Fred nodded and her smile widened slightly.
Had to say yes. Oh, God, of course. I was Fred’s boss, I shouldn’t have put her in this position, much less after an evening working together, much less literally in our place of work. She felt forced, coerced, this was awful, I was terrible, how could I have been so stupid?
“Fred,” I shook my head, swallowing and speaking clearly. “You don’t have to-”
“No, no, not like that!” Fred cut me off, shaking her own head firmly. “That came out wrong! I mean…” Fred’s blush deepened. “I’d just already thought ‘yes’ immediately when you asked and then I was getting confused wondering whether I’d agreed to a friendly dinner or an intimate dinner, and I would have said yes to either so it wasn’t really a question for me, but I kinda had to know, then I got caught up babbling and I realised too late I’d never said ‘yes’ so I had to actually say it… so I guess what I mean to say is yes. Yes. Dinner sounds lovely. The two of us.”
“Oh.” I blinked. She’d said yes. Fred had… said yes. I’d just come out and asked and she’d… oh, my. I smiled wider than I thought I had in years. “Brilliant. Wonderful… are you sure?”
“Yes! Absotively!” Fred laughed and she sounded as beautiful as she looked. She smiled at me affectionately and I felt my heart rate speed up quite dramatically. “You’re very sweet. How can you be so brave and yet so nervous?”
How indeed. “I wish I could say that you’re very intimidating, but I don’t really have that excuse to fall back on.” I grinned.
Fred smiled shyly, taking a step closer and dropping her voice. “Then what is your excuse?”
“You…” Words failed me. I searched for a second to adequately describe what I was feeling and couldn’t. “… mean a great deal to me.” I finished, swallowing. That had been very lame, hadn’t it?
But apparently it hadn’t been a total disaster, because Fred’s smile widened and she went slightly pink. “You mean a lot to me too. So…” Fred bit her lip. “Are you umm… free tomorrow night? For dinner?”
“Absolutely.” I nodded vigorously.
“Oh!” Fred gasped, looking apologetic. “I just remembered, I have a condition! Sorry.”
Oh, God. What had she forgotten? “Go on.” I felt my whole body tense without me instructing it to.
“You already hosted and cooked and all last time, so how would you feel about maybe going out this time instead?” Fred hesitated, then ploughed on. “Y’know, to a nice cosy… romantic restaurant or something. Save you from cooking, and we can get dressed up a little… if that’s alright?”
“That sounds a great deal better than alright to me.” I admitted, relief washing through me as I smiled.
Fred smiled back. “Super! Could, umm, you make the reservation? And maybe… surprise me?”
“Of course.” I smiled, feeling slightly dazed. I was booking a restaurant. For Fred. And me. To go out together.
On a date.
“Is there anything you’d like me to avoid?” I asked quickly, eager to avoid a faux pas. What if Fred had an allergy I didn’t know about? Or hated the smell of cheese? Or-
“Anywhere with small portions.” Fred said earnestly. I couldn’t help but chuckle and Fred giggled in response, face lighting up. “Or without desserts.”
“Sounds sensible.” I nodded.
“Great!” Fred nodded. “So… tomorrow night?”
“Tomorrow night.” I nodded. “Splendid.”
Fred giggled, then looked reluctantly at the stairs. Her ears went slightly pink. She looked at her feet. “Would you help me clean up the office?” Fred blurted out. “Just quickly help me put away the slides and the microscope…”
“Yes, of course.” I nodded eagerly. I didn’t want to go home yet.
Going home meant leaving Fred.
Fred led the way into the office and began gathering up the slides and other scientific paraphernalia while I returned my demonology books to the bookcase. I walked back to the desk to find Fred fiddling unsuccessfully with the cables for the microscope, trying to take them out.
“Let me help you with that.” I offered, hand questing down to gently twist the cables out… and purely by accident, coming into contact with Fred’s hand. I felt an electrical charge race through me. Fred’s hand lingered on top of mine for a moment, then wrapped around mine and squeezed gently before pulling away. I felt a rush of warmth flood my system, looking up at Fred.
She smiled at me, nervously. I smiled back. Fred’s smile got less nervous, and she gently pried the cables from my grip. I picked up the microscope and walked it over to its place in the cupboard, suppressing a gasp when Fred leaned over my shoulder - putting me in close contact with her luscious hair again - to return the cables. Fred stood up behind me and I closed the cupboard door.
“I think I’m gonna go get some sleep.” Fred hesitated. “If… if that’s alright?”
“Of course it is.” I hesitated. “I’ll see you tomorrow?”
“I should hope so!” Fred smiled widely. “… Goodnight, Wesley.”
“Goodnight, Fred.” I smiled in return. “Sleep well.”
“You too.” Fred turned on her heel and slowly walked up the stairs, waving at me as she left my field of vision.
Alright. I had a restaurant reservation to make. And an outfit to figure out. And chocolates to buy.
And I probably needed to start coming up with a good way to thank Cordelia.
+ + + + + + +
“And you’re sure you’re alright?” I asked Cordelia, sliding a cup of tea over to her.
“Like I told you last night, fine.” Cordelia nodded. “Not a scratch on me. Billy fought Angel, Lilah killed Billy.”
“I still can’t believe Lilah saved you.” I shook my head. “I mean… I suppose she was only doing it to get vengeance, but still.”
“I’ll take accidentally helpful over purposefully giving me third-degree burns any day.” Cordy said cheerfully. “Angel’s the one who needs to rest up, Billy gave him a couple of bruises to remember. Everybody back here was fine?”
“Yes, we’re all good.” I nodded. “We were able to narrow down Billy’s lineage, identify how his power worked but… well. Bit of a moot point now, I suppose, isn’t it?”
“You never know.” Cordy shrugged. “Could be thousands more like Billy in other hell dimensions, ready to invade our world.”
“What a charming thought, thank you.”
“Wes?” Fred stuck her head round the door to the office, smiling.
“Hello!” I smiled at her. “What is it, Fred?”
“I was thinking about maybe popping round to the shops, grabbing some supplies for a sandwich. You want anything?”
“Far too much to make you carry it all.” I stood up. “May I join you on your expedition instead?”
“Sure!” Fred’s smiled widened. “Sounds swell! Lemme just go grab my bag!”
“Wesley.” Cordelia looked up at me once Fred was gone. “Just ask her out already. Please.”
“Already taken care of.” I checked Fred still wasn’t back and whispered. “Thanks for the advice.”
“That’s what I do.” Cordy smiled, dropping her own voice. “In which case, it might interest you to know that Fred expressed an interest in going clothes-shopping with me this afternoon. For dresses.”
A new dress? “Oh.” I blinked and smiled. “Wow.”
“Tell me you arranged something nice, rather than stupid.” Cordy raised an eyebrow. “It’ll make me feel so much better.”
“Dinner.” I made to leave. “At a classified but suitable location.”
By the time Fred and I had walked - very slowly - to the shops, we both agreed we were too hungry to shop for ingredients, go back to the hotel and then make a sandwich before eating anything. Fred smiled at me over her toasted sandwich in the cafe. “If you want, I’ll accompany you round the shops after we’re done eating? Help you get all that stuff you wanted to buy?”
“About that…” I smiled. “I may have slightly been exaggerating when I said there were a lot of things I had to purchase…” Fred raised an eyebrow.
“To say there were one or two things…” I leaned in and whispered conspiratorially. “Would also be an exaggeration.”
Fred’s answering smile was a perfect beam of sunlight.
+ + + + + + +
I waited in the lobby, drumming my fingers on the counter. I checked my watch: 6:57. Fred wasn’t late yet. She wasn’t late. She’d be down soon. I had no reason to worry. I had no reason to think she’d seen what a colossal mistake she was making by settling for me and call off dinner. No reason to think any of those things.
“Wesley, please, you’re stressing me out.” Cordy sighed from her position on the sofa. “Seriously, stop. It’s fine. You look nice.”
I examined myself one more time: I’d showered, dried and brushed my hair, then changed into a nice shirt and trousers, plus a jacket. “Are you sure?”
“Yes.” Cordelia sighed. “Look, Fred’ll be down any minute. She’s probably upstairs, freaking out over one curl of hair that’s fallen out of place. I was out shopping with her remember, she’s just as nervous as you are.”
Cordelia gave me a meaningful look. “Nervous, and excited.”
Although nervousness was the primary item on the agenda on the moment, I was also intensely excited. Buzzing with anticipation. I’d reserved a table. This was happening. Fred and I were going on a date. Assuming she didn’t call it off.
I heard soft footfalls behind me, drew a deep breath, and turned around.
I blinked, then smiled broadly: Fred looked magnificent. Her hair had been pinned up carefully, only a few tiny ringlets escaping the elegant do-up to frame her face (she looked all the better for the little hint of messiness, the cute chocolate-brown curls escaping the pins' grasp) perfectly. It hit me very suddenly that Fred had applied makeup, of course she had because this was a date, but I hadn’t ever seen Fred wearing proper makeup, and I hadn’t been prepared for the vision of loveliness. It looked like she’d used a little eyeliner, some blush, and some shiny pink lip gloss, combining to perfectly bring out her beautiful chocolate-brown eyes and make her look like she was glowing. Dainty silver earrings sparkled in the light and an equally dainty silver necklace hung around her neck, nestling perfectly in the hollow of her throat. She was wearing a long red dress with a cinched-in waist and a sweetheart neckline that perfectly accentuated her slender, artful figure. She was impossibly beautiful.
Fred had dressed up like this for me?
“Good evening.” Fred smiled shyly, looking me up and down. “You look handsome.”
“Thank you, Fred. Good evening. You look…” I shook my head and smiled broadly. “Impossibly beautiful. You’re a vision.”
“Thank you.” Fred glanced between me and the door. “Is it time for us to… y’know…”
“First, I have something for you.”
Fred’s eyes lit up. She looked surprised. “For me?”
“Yes. I almost got flowers…” I leaned over the counter, withdrawing the purple box of chocolates - with a blue bow on top - with a flourish. “But I thought you might appreciate these more.”
“Oh, wow!” Fred reached out to take the box the box from my outstretched hands, examining it., smiling goofily. “Thank you!”
Fred blinked. “I didn’t get you anything! I’m so sorry, was I meant to-”
“Don’t be sorry.” I murmured, taking a step closer and reaching out to rest my hand on top of hers. “You’re all I need.” Fred smiled up at me, flushing a delicate pink.
Cordelia coughed from behind me and I felt myself blush too. “Get a restaurant!” Cordelia grinned at us. “Don’t worry, I’ll put Fred’s chocolates in the fridge.” I removed my hand from on top of Fred’s and she put the box down on the counter.
“Thank you, Cordy!” Fred looked at me expectantly.
“I have no further surprises, I’m afraid.” We began to walk towards the exit.
“So, are we walking or driving?” Fred asked.
“Driving. Don’t worry.” I smiled reassuringly. “We’ll be there soon… and the view will be worth it.”
+ + + + + + +
“You know,” Fred grinned at me. “I do remember specifically asking for somewhere without small portions.”
“Well,” I smiled right back. “The beauty of a Tapas restaurant is that the dishes are small, but you have so many that it doesn’t matter. And you get to try a little bit of everything.”
“And share it.” Fred picked up a croquette and bit into it experimentally, chewing thoughtfully. She gave me a thumbs up and pushed the dish over to me.
The croquettes were delightful. Everything about tonight was. “Did I also mention the desserts are not small?” I offered.
Fred swallowed and smiled. “Okay, then. I forgive you.” She eyed the last croquette covetously.
“I’m very glad.” I held out the last croquette to Fred.“We can split it?” Fred offered, voice ever-so-slightly reluctant.
“I’ll just have some extra chorizo.” I waved the croquette around invitingly. “C’mon, it’s right here. Just begging to be snapped up.” Fred giggled and reached out to take it.
I snatched the croquette away. “You tease!” Fred gasped. “Don’t you dare eat that now!”
“I won’t, I promise.” I smiled. “But I’m not handing it over.”Fred frowned. “Then how am I supposed to…” She flushed slightly, apparently getting it. She smiled shyly and leaned in to bite the croquette. I slowly moved the croquette away from her, maintaining an even distance, until Fred lunged forwards suddenly to grab it between her jaws and wrest it away, a triumphant gleam in her eyes. I couldn’t keep a stupid smile off my face. Fred swallowed. “Yum. Tastes like victory.” Fred smiled sweetly.
I laughed and started on my half of the calamari. “This is all so good!” Fred exclaimed a few dishes later. “How have I never done Tapas before? It’s great!”
I resisted the urge to punch the air, settling for a happy smile. “I’m glad you like the restaurant.”
“I love it.” Fred sipped at her sangria - another thing I’d introduced which she’d proved partial to - and smiled at me. “So…”
“So?” I raised an eyebrow.
“What’s your favourite colour?” Fred asked.
I blinked. “At this exact moment?” Fred nodded. “Right now I’m torn between two equally wonderful colours.”
“And what are they?”
“I’m struggling to decide between the red of that dress…” I made eye contact. “And the chocolate-brown of your eyes. I think the brown wins quite handily.” Fred flushed slightly.
“But now there’s a shade of pink in contention…” I mused. “What’s your favourite colour?”
“Purple.” Fred frowned. “Sorry, I don’t have a way to cleverly work in a compliment.”
I chuckled. “That’s absolutely fine. Why the sudden urge to know my favourite colour?”
“I just…” Fred tilted her head and smiled. “I want to get to know you better. Figure out what makes you tick.”
“I’m an open book.” I smiled. “Whatever you want to know.”
We traded questions after that: Favourite books, films, home-cooked meals, scientific figures, historical leaders, recent scientific articles…
I was very surprised to look down and see that we’d completely emptied every dish on the table. “Would you like to order some more?” I asked.
“Just dessert, I think.” Fred smiled conspiratorially. “Otherwise I think I’m going to burst at the seams!”
“I doubt that, somehow.” I resisted the urge to eye Fred’s petite figure. “I think your brain uses up enough energy in a few hours to make use of all that food.”
“That would explain a lot.” Fred nodded. “In which case, you’ll be all out of juice in fifteen minutes or so.”
I tried to avoid laughing at Fred’s implication. “I’m… I’m not smarter than you, Fred. That’s preposterous.”
“Preposterous?” Fred’s eyes gleamed. “Hmm. Besides, even if you weren’t, I think you worry enough to make up the energy gap.”
I hesitated. “Good point.”
“Can we get the chocolate cake to share?” Fred asked, perusing the menu. “I mean, assuming you don’t have-”
“Chocolate cake sounds lovely.” I smirked, leaning in. “As long as you promise not to eat all of it.”
“You’re a beast.” Fred flicked a stray bit of chorizo at me, which plinked off my nose onto the floor.
“Ah, damn, you’ve rumbled me.” I shrugged. “I actually really need your help saving a rose that I have stashed in my apartment, petals slowly falling off. If you don’t help me, I’ll succumb to a terrible curse.”
“So I’m Belle then. Excellent choice.” Fred smiled broadly. “What’s the curse?”
“It involves being steadily ground down into cynicism.” I mused. “And returning to my apartment each night to bemoan a lack of engaging company and drink tea.”
“That does sound awful.” Fred mused.
“Without milk or sugar.”
“Oh, God!” Fred gasped, acting shocked, then giggled. “That is a truly despicable curse.”
“Well,” I smiled. “It’s a good thing I feel thoroughly cured.”
Fred smiled at me shyly.
+ + + + + + +
“It’s a very lovely view.” Fred murmured, leaning forwards on the railings of the rooftop terrace to gaze out over Los Angeles. All lit up in the darkness below us. “On top of the world.”
I smiled, standing beside Fred and admiring her shining eyes. “Yes. I know the feeling.”
Fred smiled at me, going slightly pink. “Wesley,” She turned to face me, expression curious. “Why did you ask me out?”
I blinked. “Do you really need to ask?” Surely, Fred must know? There was no way she couldn’t be aware of how perfect she was. That was impossible.
Fred shrugged and smiled shyly. “Kinda why I did.”
I swallowed and drew a deep breath. I had a lot to say. “When I’m around you… it’s not like being with anybody else. I feel like everything falls perfectly into place, like I’m where I’m supposed to be.” Fred was watching me intently, eyes soft and warm as ever. I took that as a good sign and pressed on. “You’re engaging, like my mind only ever seems to run at full capacity when you’re around to challenge me. You’re funny without trying to be, you’re the kindest person I know and by far the sweetest: you’re like starlight. You’re so elegant and lovely and full of life. You’re breathtakingly intelligent, by far the smartest person I’ve ever met. And…” I swallowed, feeling myself flush.
“And?” Fred asked quietly, both hands moving over to squeeze both of mine.
Spurred on, I kept going. “You’re impossibly beautiful.” I murmured, shaking my head disbelievingly as I admired her. “The colour and shape of your hair, your flawless skin, your warm, soft, beautiful eyes. When you look at me… you make me feel like I’m the only man in the room.” I’d said it. Everything, or almost everything, that I felt. Now I just had to see what Fred thought.
Fred slipped the fingers of her right hand out of mine, then moved them upwards to gently stroke my cheek. I shivered at the feeling of those impossibly soft fingertips tracing my cheekbones, my jaw, before her hand came to rest flat against my face, lovely and soft and warm. I felt my heart beat faster. “Maybe that’s because you are.” Fred murmured softly. “Pretty much all the time. The only one worth noticing.”
“Fred,” I whispered. “Why did you say yes?”
Fred smiled nervously. “You’re smart, you’re funny, and handsome. You’re so sweet, and kind, and endearing… you’re a born flatterer, which doesn’t hurt. The way you look at me, talk to me, touch me… you make me feel like I don’t have to try and stop babbling, or pretend to be interested in silly things, like I… I can just be myself, and you’ll still care just as much…”
“Fred,” I said quietly, not breaking eye contact. “Never pretend to be anyone else… you’re better than all of them. In every way.”
“Everyone?” Fred chewed her lip. “In the whole, wide world?”
“By far.” I murmured.
I felt something in the air change. It felt charged suddenly, crackling with energy. Fred’s hand holding mine and her hand on my cheek both impossibly warm, making my heart pound faster than I think it ever had. I realised belatedly that I had a free hand and transferred it to the small of Fred’s back, eliciting a shy smile. Fred drew a deep breath. “Wesley… if I’m not allowed to pretend to be anyone else… then I shouldn’t be allowed to hide the way I feel… especially about you…”
Fred removed her hand from mine, closed her eyes, and brushed her handful of stray curls behind her shoulders. Then she looked up at me, eyes wide… imploring? I moved my newly free hand up to stroke her cheek, reminiscent of the way she’d stroked mine. Then I leaned in slowly - giving her plenty of time to turn her head or pull away - and kissed her.
Her lips were soft. Warm. Eager. Perfection. “Was that… what you wanted?” I murmured afterwards, her forehead resting on mine, Fred’s answer was probably belied by the wide smile on her face, by how bright her eyes were shining. I was sure both those traits were mirrored in me.
“Yes.” I felt one of Fred’s hands shift to behind my head, and she gently tugged me forwards into a deeper kiss. I wrapped both my arms around her, drawing her gently into a close embrace. I stroked the back of her neck gently, tenderly and Fred responded by slinging both her arms over my shoulders, pulling me tight against her.
It felt like a long time later that we stopped kissing for more than a moment to catch our breath. Fred rested her forehead on mine, lips swollen, breathing rapidly, cheeks flushed, more beautiful than ever before. “Wesley…” She almost whispered and the way she said my name sent shivers up my spine. Nobody had ever said my name like that before.
“Fred…” I murmured in response, lifting my head to press a soft kiss to her forehead. Fred’s smile widened and she kissed both my cheeks in response.
“It’s not that I don’t love the view…” Fred whispered, hands bunching in my shirt, not looking at the view behind her at all. “But… how would you feel about… maybe… going somewhere… y’know… private?” She almost whispered the last words.
“Is it what you want?” I asked gently. Fred nodded. “Then I love the sound of it. Back to the Hyperion?” Fred nodded and smiled eagerly.
I took her hand and slowly tugged her across the terrace. She giggled, keeping step with me and I wrapped one arm around her waist. Fred gave me a dazzling smile in response, pressing a swift kiss to my cheek as we walked. It was with great effort that I resisted the urge to stop where we stood and kiss her until neither of us could breathe any longer.
+ + + + + + +
I parked in the car park at the Hyperion and switched off the engine. “Thanks for driving me back.” Fred smiled sweetly, toying with one curl of her hair.
“Well, I was considering just leaving you there.” I smiled. “But on second thoughts…”
“Mmm…” Fred leaned over. “Better show you why it was worth driving me home then…” Kissing in the cramped confines of the car was difficult. There was far too much in-between us to hold one-another properly, the angle was awkward for both of our necks and it was hard to manoeuvre properly.
I wouldn’t have traded it for anything else in the world.
I heard fumbling noises coming from over Fred’s shoulder and opened my eyes to see her blindly groping for the door handle. I opened my door behind me and waited for her to catch up. She did, breaking away gently to slip out of the car, beckoning me with one finger, then blushing as if embarrassed at doing so.
We walked together to the hotel entrance, up the stairs until we were right outside the doors to the lobby. “Well, this is home.” Fred bit her lip.
“It is indeed.” I murmured, kissing her.
“Mmm.” Fred smiled. “Is this the part of the story where you kiss me goodnight and go home?”
“I rather think it might be.” I responded, feeling a pang at the thought of leaving Fred. If she wasn’t here anymore then… then this could all have been a dream.
“I think I’d prefer the story,” Fred wrapped her arms around me and put her mouth to my ear. “Where I invite you in to share some delicious chocolate I just came into possession of. What do you think?”
“I prefer that story too.”
“Wesley,” Fred grinned at me. “Would you like to come in and share some delicious chocolate I just came into possession of?”
“Very much.” I smiled, and let Fred lead me inside, into my office.
+ + + + + + +
“Open wide.” Fred smiled broadly at me. I complied and she popped the chocolate in my mouth. “How’s that one?”
“Hmm.” I mused. “Like chocolate and orange…”
“Ooh! I love those ones! Give me one of those!” Fred smiled, opening her own mouth wide. I reached into the box, picked up one of the requested chocolates and gently placed it inside Fred’s mouth. She smiled at me happily, eyes closing as she bit down on the chocolate and let out a contented hum, shifting slightly in my lap. She was most definitely a wriggler.
“You know,” I kissed Fred on the cheek. “Never have I been more glad that I didn’t buy a girl flowers.”
“And I’ve never been happier to not receive them.” Fred murmured, voice hushed. “Chocolates were a much better call. I can’t eat flowers.”
“No,” I agreed, proffering another chocolate. Fred smiled sweetly and opened her mouth. “You need to catch this one.” I grinned. Fred nodded, her gaze intense and determined.
I tossed the chocolate carefully, aiming just to the right of her mouth. Fred darted sideways and caught it between her teeth, grinning as she bit into it and swallowed. “So easy.” Fred smiled.
“You think I was going to make it hard for you to eat chocolate?” I raised an eyebrow. “I hate to break this to you, Fred, but my primary goal here is to make your evening as wonderful as possible.”
“Well then,” Fred tapped my chin and leaned in. “Why aren’t you kissing me right now?”
I leaned over and kissed her. She tasted a great deal more chocolatey than I remembered. “You taste like chocolate.” I managed between kisses.
“So do you.” Fred responded, eagerly squeezing me. “Why do you think I’ve been feeding you chocolate, rather than keeping it all for myself?” I laughed happily.
“Although,” Fred mused, forehead resting on mine. “You taste like the kind of chocolate that’s warm and zingy, and makes your heart go pitter-pat…”
Fred blinked and blushed furiously. “I said that out loud, didn’t I?”
“Very much so.” I confirmed, kissing her gently. “You make my heart go pitter-pat too. Beat faster than it ever has before.”
Fred flushed. “Considering all the fighting you do, I’m not sure that’s physiologically possible…”
“Trust me.” I kissed her tenderly. “It is. You’re impossible like that.”
Fred looked at me with such raw affection that I felt my heart melt. “I don’t think anybody’s ever called me impossible in a nice way before…”
“I just did.” I kissed her on the cheek. “You’re also special. And beautiful. And sweet. And funny. And wonderful.” Every compliment punctuated with a light kiss. Fred leaned in and kissed me properly. When she pulled away, I felt very pleasantly dizzy.
Fred yawned languidly, stretching both arms above her head. “I think you’d better get some sleep.” I smiled.
“Are you sure?” Fred bit her lip. “I can stay up if you want, I’m not that-” She yawned again. “-tired.” She finished, blushing.
“Promise me.” I stood up slowly, taking her with me. “That you’ll get a full night’s sleep.”
“I promise.” Fred kissed me chastely as we made our way over to the stairs.
“I feel I should warn you I’m being entirely selfish.” I smiled roguishly. “I want you fully energised tomorrow.”
“I think I’d quite like that too.” Fred beamed. “Will I… see you in the morning?”
“Count on it.” I kissed Fred as long as I could, one hand on her back, the other cradling her head, refusing to come up for air until I absolutely had to. “Goodnight Fred.”
Fred blinked several times, swaying unsteadily. She smiled at me. “Goodnight, Wesley.” She kissed me tenderly on the cheek and slowly made her way upstairs, glancing back frequently enough to make me want to melt into a puddle. As she left my sight she sent me one last smile and blew me a kiss. I blew her a kiss in return.
I stroked the place where Fred had kissed my cheek and made my way home, smiling every step of the way.
+ + + + + + +
I tilted my head back, basking in the early-morning sunshine, and smiled.
I couldn’t remember ever being this happy. Couldn’t remember ever being close to being this happy. I was going to get to see Fred soon. Probably in a few hours: once she was awake and dressed and down for work. She was a late riser, regrettably. That was fine: I could wait a couple more hours to see her. Just about.
I’d woken up early today, and been so excited that I hadn’t been able to sleep again. So, I’d decided to walk to work today. Even walking instead of driving, I was still going to be early. Very early. That was fine: I could get a head start on my work for the day, make sure I was nicely ahead later on, so I could have a longer-than-usual lunch break, or maybe finish up a little early… both of those opportunities sounded very attractive.
My phone started buzzing in my pocket and I flipped it open: my smile widened. Fred was calling. She was awake already? That was unusual. I answered before it had rung twice.
“Good morning, Fred.”
“Good morning Wesley!” Fred giggled, sounding very happy. My heart swelled at the sound. “How did you sleep?”
“Magnificently, thank you. And yourself?”
“Great, thanks! Really great.” A pause. “I really, really enjoyed last night.”
I smiled, dropping my voice to a murmur. “I really, really, really enjoyed last night.”
Fred giggled. “I hoped you might say that. I’m also hoping you’ll say yes to something else…”
“Yes.” I supplied helpfully.
Fred laughed. “I haven’t asked for anything yet!”
“I trust you not to have too cruelly taken advantage of me.” I smirked.
“Oh I have most cruelly taken advantage of you.” Fred’s voice was a conspiratorial whisper. “I was asking you to go out to breakfast with me, and you said yes like a big sucker.”
“Oh, my…” I murmured. “Forced to go out to breakfast with the most wonderful woman in the world, however shall I cope?”
That set Fred off giggling again. “So… you normally don’t get to work for a couple more hours, right?”
“Hmm. I can probably be downstairs and ready to go out in an hour, if that’d be most convenient for you?”
I shouldn’t tell her I was going to be at the Hyperion any minute now. I’d come off as clingy or overly-keen or… better just to roll with it. “Whatever works best for you, Fred.”
“An hour then?” Fred suggested. “I think I should be up by then!”
“Sounds perfect.” I smiled. It really did: just one hour to get through, then breakfast with Fred? What a perfect way to start off the day. “Seen you then. See you soon, that is.”“I’ll be counting the minutes. See you soon, Wes.”
“Goodbye!” I smiled. The line remained open.
“Are you going to hang up at some point?” Fred murmured, voice soft and teasing.
“Under no circumstances.” I replied. “I will stay on another hour if I have to.”
“It’d be awful mean of you to make me hang up first…” Fred sighed. “But if you insist, I suppose I’ll just-”
I hung up, grinning. Then I waited. The indignant text arrived less than ten seconds later.
Fred: I can’t believe you hung up on me! You pig!
Wes: You were asking me to…
Fred: You’re mean.
Wes: How about we say breakfast is on me? To make up for it?
Fred: I’ll consider it.
Wes: What’s your facial expression right now?
Fred: Pursed lips, one raised eyebrow.
Wes: You look gorgeous.
Fred: Thank you xxx
Fred: I forgive you for hanging up on me.
Fred: Just this once.
Fred: See you in an hour? <3
Wes: <3 <3 xx
I stashed my phone in my pocket as I approached the Hyperion. I just had to wait one hour for Fred to be up and ready, and we’d be out the door. I smiled contentedly, walking up to the lobby doors…
Fred was sitting on the sofa. Facing away from me. Fully dressed. Toying with her phone. She was awake. Very early. Much earlier than normal. Much earlier than an hour from now. I realised with a start that Fred must have gotten up early in her excitement, called me, been eager not to show she was too excited, and set a later time. Just like I had.
I crept through the lobby doors and snuck up behind Fred, planting a kiss on the back of her neck. “Good morning, Fred.” I smiled.
Fred spun around, shocked look on her face. “Wesley!” She smiled broadly. “You’re early!”
“Confession: I was much too excited to stay in bed, and very eager to see you again, so I may have got up and come to work early…” I smiled sheepishly.
Fred’s smile broadened, and she walked up to me. “Same here! Well. I mean, the getting up part, going to work’s kinda easy for me since my work is my home and all, not that that means getting up early was any less of a sacrifice and not that home is less homely for it although I wouldn’t mind a kitchen and… can we go out for breakfast right now?”
“On one condition.” I smiled. “We both agree to stop hiding how excited we are about this - deal?”
“Deal!” Fred smiled. “Sounds perfect!”
“Better than perfect.” I replied.
“Nothing’s better than perfect.” Fred gave me a funny look.
I leaned in, brushing away a few curls of hair to whisper in her ear. “You are.”
Fred went bright pink. “Oh that’s sweet! I mean, it’s also incoherent because the definition of perfection is for something to be as good as it is possible to be, and if you’re as good as it is possible to be then logically you can’t improve on that, and even if we assumed that ‘perfection-plus’ as I’ll call it was possible then I seriously doubt I’d be it when there are so many other…” Fred trailed off and flushed pinker. “Oh, I… in future, can you please stop me when I do that?”
“But I love it when you do that…” I murmured and kissed her deeply. Fred responded enthusiastically, arms wrapping around me. “And you did say yesterday that I made you feel you don’t have to stop babbling…”
“Rewarding me for babbling with a kiss certainly helps…” Fred smiled. “By the way, I love it when you do that. Do that again.” I smiled and obliged her, stroking Fred’s cheek gently, my other hand wrapped tightly around her, her arms twined around my back.
“Breakfast?” I murmured.
“Five more minutes.” Fred smiled and gently pulled me back on the sofa.
Twenty minutes later, I slipped my hand through Fred’s as we emerged from the hotel, squeezing gently.
Fred squeezed back.
I squeezed back.
Fred squeezed back and giggled. “Stop that.”
I squeezed back. “No.”
Fred squeezed back. “Please?”
I squeezed back. “Why?”
“It’s awfully distracting.” Fred smiled up at me. The sun caught her eyes perfectly, making them sparkle like twin stars. Her brushed-but-still-slightly-messy-and-all-the-more-gorgeous-for-it hair glowed softly, and her teeth shone bright white in a perfect smile.
It hit me very suddenly that I was in love.
When had that happened?
“On one condition.” I smiled.
“Go ahead.” Fred drew to a stop, rubbing her nose against mine. Oh, I loved it when she did that.
“I’ll stop distracting you, if you promise to keep distracting me.”
“Deal.” Fred kissed me, then started tugging me forwards. “C’mon! I want to get breakfast! Can we share pancakes?”
“Whatever you want.” I promised.
“You should be more careful about saying stuff like that.” Fred grinned. “I’ve been told I can be quite demanding.”
“Everything worth anything is.” I pointed out.
Fred laughed, treating me to a dazzling smile. I had a really good feeling about this. I was so unbelievably glad I’d asked Fred out to dinner two nights ago. If I hadn’t… well. Who knows how long I might have had to wait to feel this happy?
“Fred…” I said over pancakes.
“Wesley?” Fred rubbed her bare foot against mine gently and I shivered despite myself.
“Remember how we promised not to hide how excited we were about this?” I said hesitantly.
“Very recently.” Fred smiled, leaning in to bat my nose gently. “What is it?”
“I love you.” I said quietly.
Fred smiled shyly, brushing some hair out of her face and flushing. “Can I have two minutes to think?”
I smiled. “Of course.”
Forty-five seconds later, Fred leaned over the table to kiss me without any preamble. She smiled at me, eyes shining. “I love you too.”