Fred stared in the mirror over her bedroom dresser, fingering the plastic casing of an old Sony Discman. Tape, she thought. Scissors and tape. Maybe a paper clip. Glue. Model airplane glue! Charles used to have some of that, right here in the dresser. When she touched the drawer, her fingertips stung, reminding her again of their rawness.
Fred closed her eyes, and willed herself not to look at the shirt on the bed. That shirt with HER blood on it. SHE who had no name. SHE who seemed so pure and beautiful that everyone in the Hyperion had spontaneously decided to worship HER. And Fred was the only one who knew the truth.
All right, Fred thought, picking up the CD player again. Let's not get overdramatic. She flipped open the battery case, then shut it. She knew that wasn't the problem; she must have checked it a hundred times. Maybe the rotting flesh of the creature's true face means nothing. Fred was a scientist. She knew that decay was neutral. Maybe this was a truly benevolent creature, using a harmless glamour spell to hide an unfortunate deformity. And maybe it's just a coincidence that all my friends are falling in line like sheep? Wesley and Charles were falling in line when, for the last few months, if one of them said it was day, the other would say night. Just on general principle.
No question, everyone was acting weird. Just like on that old episode of the Twilight Zone where they treated the beautiful people like they were ugly. . . Or like that story about the town, where everything was perfect except that they tied up a little kid and locked him in the closet and if you wanted to stay there you had to pretend. . .
"I think you've been reading too much."
"Wesley!" Fred dropped the Discman onto the dresser and jumped, whirling around at the sound of the unexpected voice. Wesley stood in the doorway, an unnaturally calm smile on his face. The expression looked foreign on him, as odd as the strategically rumpled shirt he was wearing untucked -- more GQ than his usual J. Crew. Where did Wesley even get a shirt like that? He leaned forward, hand gripped around the moulding to catch himself. Pushing some loose strands of hair behind her ear, Fred attempted to laugh. "You're the last person I ever thought would say that. Why??" Thrusting her hands behind her back so that he wouldn't notice their constant, automatic motion.
"The whole Lady Macbeth routine. Out damned spot?" The blissed-out smile settled even deeper onto his face, and he strode into the room and sat lightly on her bed. "Don't apologize, we all found it quite endearing. I only came up here to make sure you weren't still, what's the word --?"
"Obsessing? No, now I'm just. . ." Just trying to act like Wesley sitting on her bed, minus an engraved invitation, was the most normal thing in the world. She walked toward him and dropped the Sony on the bed. "My obsession has progressed anyway. Now I'm trying to fix this. I think this it used to be Connor's. Charles bought it for him – before. I don't know why I just – picked it up." After hours of scrubbing, she had to be doing something with her hands. To slow down would be to feel the worn nubs of her fingernails. "I've been trying to fix it. I keep thinking, if I had a gum wrapper or a paper clip or . . .I keep asking myself, 'What would MacGyver do?"
Excitement added to the baseline bliss on his face, and for a moment, it was like he was the Wesley she knew again. "Aengus MacGyver, thane of Dundee? The twelfth century warlock who drove the demon scourge out of the Highlands?"
"No, um. . .MacGyver MacGyver. Richard Dean Anderson." She tried to match his smile, and knelt across from him on the bed. Which felt weird, but against all the weirdness of the day, it wasn't much. To his blank look, she said. "The Phoenix foundation? He solved crimes and. . .fought the Russians?" Doing her best to disguise the motion, she reached behind her shoulder and knocked down everything that was hanging on the side of the bed. Two drying bras, and other lacy unmentionables. Wesley might be under a spell now, but hopefully he would be better soon. He had to be. And if he remembered not only being on her bed but seeing her underwear, he would probably never look her in the eye again. "It was my favorite show growing up. MacGyver was kind of the reason I wanted to be a scientist."
Now, Wesley frowned. "They made a show about a nuclear physicist fighting the Russians?"
"No, he just. . .he could fix anything. This one time?" She heard herself babbling, but Wesley nodded along, as though it were profound. "MacGyver escaped from a locked room with like -- a mirror, dental floss, and stick of gum. Or maybe it was a locked car with a highlighter and a breath mint. So. . ." she concluded, looking down at the Discman, "I guess I was just thinking. . . SHE is here. And she's making everything perfect. And I couldn't stand to think of anything being broken when –" All right, that sounded insane, but in the general background noise of insanity, who would even notice?
"Of course." Wesley's smile shifted a little, and suddenly, his manner was a lot more familiar to her. That soothing, low-in-the-throat tone. The way you talk to the crazy girl. No! she thought. I'm not the crazy one But then how did she know? Of all of them, who was the one with the history of entirely non-enchanted insanity? She remembered how it started, in Pylea, that the worst part was not the starvation or the fear or the hunger – all right, those were bad, but the worst part was being the only person who felt that it was strange. And for a moment, she had a beautiful thought. Maybe I am crazy. Maybe everything that is happening here is as wonderful as it seemed at first, and maybe I am the crazy one. She looked down at the Discman again.
Wesley grabbed the player off the bed, lifted it over his head, and chucked it across the room. Banging against the wall, it shattered into bits.
"Wesley?" She turned to stare.
"It was upsetting you. When worldly possessions interfere with happiness. . ." Wesley shrugged. "They need to go."
"Of course. It's just like she would say. She- um – Her –"
"She who has no name, because no name has yet been discovered that could encompass her greatness." And he gave Fred another smile.
"Uh huh." Fred nodded. They had people who smiled like that on campus at Rice. A few too many for her liking. She used to see them in the amphitheatre handing out the New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs . . .the Old Testament apparently having too much sex and moral ambiguity. That was one of the reasons she had been determined to get out of Texas for graduate school. She started to rise, but Wesley grabbed her hand.
"Fred." He gripped her hand with the intenisty of a man imparting a deep secret. "I was just thinking," he said, "about the altar of St. Agnes."
She swallowed. "Is that, um -- some kind of mystical artifact?"
"The parish church. In Sussex. Near my father's – near my home. When I was a boy."
"I didn't know you were Catholic." He still held her hand – hard -- and Fred gave in, sitting beside him again.
"Church of England," he answered. "Father was in the Council and I'd known from a very young age – I can't even remember when. It must have been since I was able to learn anything. The true nature of the world. Histories of the demon age."
Belatedly, she understood what he meant by 'The Council.' "Your father was a Watcher, too?" Thinking Wesley doesn't talk about himself. This is different. General nostalgia for merry old England, yes. 'This is something that actually happened to me in the past,' no.
"Was. Is. I was, he is. Retired, but quite alive. Father never shielded me from any truths." Putting on a solemn, slightly ominous voice, he said, Things that go bump in the night, son, they are real. And that never frightened me. You might think it would, but it didn't. Just hearing him say that he knew it. It must have meant that everything was all right. You understand?"
He looked at her intently. On top of everything else, it seemed, the hotel-wide happy spell had gotten Wesley to tell her more about his past in five minutes than in the previous two years she had known him. Part of her felt uncomfortable, as if hearing a confession from a drunk at a party; thinking that he would be sober in the morning and sorry he told her. Yet another part of her, a stronger part, wanted to hear it. "I think so," she said, and nodded for him to go on.
"It was just so strange. Because in spite of all that, we went to that church every week, and sat on the family pew. We paid offerings, took communion. My mother sang in the choir. And then one day -- I was eight years old, maybe seven. I remember sitting there, listening to the organ, and I thought, 'Somewhere there's a lie. What the vicar is saying, or what my father is telling me, it doesn't – square, doesn't come together. I can't make it all fit." Then he turned his head for a moment and sputtered in laughter. "I was seven! What kind of person has a spiritual crisis brought on by the intersection of incompatible belief systems at the age of seven?"
Fred reached out and placed her hand on his shoulder. "Only you, Wesley." The muscle of his arm tensed under her touch, and there it was again, that lucid penetrating look, and for a moment she almost shivered. Because suddenly she wondered if she had ever seen him before. As she placed the man she knew as Wesley – the men she knew, almost – together with the image of the lost little boy that he had been, he seemed to come into focus for the first time.
"And see, here's the thing," he went on. "Sometimes I swear that I haven't been happy since. Maybe for a minute, an hour, an afternoon here and there. But never – not true happiness, not really." As he spoke, his eyes traveled down to where her fingers rested on his shoulder. Then he looked quickly up. "Do you think it was a sign?"
"A sign?" she repeated.
"That something was missing. That I knew – that I've always known – something is missing. Only I never knew the name for it." She felt almost burned by the intensity of his gaze, as he said. "Love."
"Wesley." She spoke weakly, yet she didn't move her hand. Charles had always insisted that he was attracted to her and – there had been that time, of course in the office – but she had thought that was about Lilah, and his confused feelings and. . . "Wesley, I don't know."
"I do." He lifted Fred's hand from his shoulder and gripped it. "Her love, Fred. Don't you feel it? It's all around us."
"Oh! HER love." For a moment, she felt great relief. And then. . .well, the opposite of relief. "Of course, yeah, you know?" And why had she never taken the time to perfect a crazy brainwashed cult member stare, so that she could fake it if necessary? Laughing, she spread her hands. "All around!"
Two sharp knocks rapped at the door. Fred almost jumped and turned to see Connor.
"Hi, Connor," said Wesley cheerfully. "I broke your bloody radio. It was bothering Fred."
"That's cool." And if Wesley's smile was unusual, the boy's was bizarre. It still freaked her a little to be around him, honestly. She didn't have a good idea of what he was capable of, and she wasn't sure she trusted him at all. Yet here he stood, bouncing on his feet, grinning and looking for all the word like a normal teenager gathering his friends for a game of pickup basketball. If not for the huge axe in his hands, he would almost be endearing. "Gunn tagged the location on a demon nest behind a pawnshop in Reseda." He punched the air. "Want to come? I'll have your back."
"Purging the demon scum." Wesley nodded in agreement. "I can't think of anyone I'd rather have behind me in a fight." To Fred, he said, "Don't you think Connor is showing exceptional promise with large weaponry? Clearly, you and Gunn did a fine job of training him."
"Hey!" Connor spread his hand. "If we glory, we only glory in HER. Also, dude? You are some kind of wicked shot with that gun. Besides. Who would Angel and I rather have beside us than the man who set all of these events in motion?"
"Me?" said Wesley. "That's ridiculous. I give all the glory to –"
"No way, man. If it hadn't been for those prophecies, and you hadn't kidnapped me like that? I would never have been with Cordelia, and without Cordelia, we wouldn't have Her." He made a gun with his finger and pointed it at Wesley. "You are totally her instrument, man."
"I –Thank you," Wesley stammered. "I never thought of it like – I was only doing what I thought was best."
"None of that false modesty crap, okay? We are all elevated by her glory. Has Angel ever thanked you for kidnapping me?"
Wesley scrunched up his face, as if he really had to think about. "I'm not sure."
"Well, he should!" said Connor. "I'll make sure that he does." His eyes turned to Fred. "Angel will do that. He understands."
And because his piercing blue eyes seemed to call for an answer, Fred nodded. "That would be nice." Thinking, And after that happens, Wesley, maybe you can thank the girl who gave you that enormous scar on your neck. Thinking this was all getting completely insane, that she had to get out of here and go – where? But Connor had given her the answer, Cordelia. She would find Cordelia, and then --
"You should thank Wesley, too," said Connor. "You're looking at a real hero." He twirled the axe. "Do you want to come?"
"Umm. . ." Wesley's eyes stayed on Fred a moment too long.
Before he could say anything, Connor laughed. "Say no more. We'll be back soon. Take care of him, Fred. Remember – I'm the father of the divine glorious one, and I say this guy's a hero." Then he made something between a purr and a growl in his throat and, waving good bye, he took care to pull the door shut.
Fred turned to Wesley. "All right, that was disturbing. I don't really know what he meant by –"
"I think. . ." Wesley ran a hand down her arm, stopping at the base of her elbow. "I think that Connor could see how I --" And his eyes trailed down where her hair fell down across her shoulder. Reaching out, he took the ends in his hand. "You're very pretty. Have I ever told you that you're pretty?"
Fred swallowed, remembering, You can't be coming in here day after day waving it in my face like this. . . What do you think it's like for me with you smelling the way you do? "No," she said. "Not really, I don't think so."
"No, no of course not. I've always thought so." He closed his hand around the hair, leaning closer. "But of course." Shaking his head. "Fear of rejection. Lack of sexual confidence. Questions – Is she too good for me? Am I enough of a man for her? And I suppose, just plain old bloody inertia – getting up every morning, believing this will be the day, only –" He raised a hand to her cheek. "It's so much easier to say, this is not the day. But today. . .I'd really like to have sex with you." Fred bit down on her lip until it bled, to keep from laughing or choking or crying out. But Wesley leaned in as though he didn't hear anything odd in his own words. "Would you like to have sex?"
"With –" And she just managed enough composure to say, "You?" Shocked not just by his question, but by the part of her that was screaming, Hell, yes! Because for the first time in two days, her hands weren't shaking, she wasn't scared, and, all right, she was scared, but he was so blissful, so confident, she could let herself get lost in that, and he smelled good and there was something very Zen about his whole attitude, and she had known this guy at UCLA who was into tantric sex which was probably not exactly the same thing but dear God if she was looking for a cure for the nervousness and anxiety and fear that overwhelmed her, she could think of a lot of them that would be worse than a two-hour orgasm. Except – "Wesley." She guided his hand off of her shoulder. This isn't real, she wanted to say. It's all pretend and you're not really here and if you were really you and you knew you were saying this to me, you would probably commit ritual suicide and God whenever I fix this and make it all right, I really hope that you don't actually remember anything that happened because your brain will probably explode. Instead, to his expectant eyes, she said, "Don't you think that concentrating on specific – relationships with – certain people – at this point will – distract from – our love for – Her?"
All right, Fred Burkle, you have to work on your crazy talk.. But Wesley, to her surprise, nodded along. "Yes. Of course--" Then pulling back from her, he blinked. "No," he said. "No, I don't think it is. I think that every act of love reflects on, and magnifies the love around it. I think --" And he leaned in, and she knew he was going to kiss her, and she needed to make it stop because this wasn't really him, and it wasn't fair to either of them, and any second now she was going to stop, and she would go to the hospital and see Cordelia and she would find that man. Any second, she was going to stop kissing him, to circle her fingers around his wrist and pull it away from her breast. . .from the slow circular motion over her breast. Any second, she would ask him to stop, and she would get up, and she would leave and go to the hospital and find Cordelia and find that man who had attacked Her, the secret sharer who might give her the key to exposing this supposed goddess for the fraud that she was.
It wasn't tantric, but it was very very nice. When they were finished, Wesley kissed the top of her head, and wrapped his arm around her waist, and fell asleep, almost right away, with his face buried in her hair. She felt the rhythm of his breathing, and then she rubbed her hand through the stubble on his cheek, and she slid out of bed, and put on some clothes. She would go to the hospital now, and find out what she needed to do. Then she would come back, and she would tell Wesley and together they would make a plan, and the world would see the truth and good would triumph and everything would be all right.