Morning After
by Jennifer-Oksana

"Hey," Charles said, strolling into the hotel with four coffees, a chai, and a box of doughnuts. He looked different, Fred thought, trying not to think of Cordelia locked in the cage in the basement with Wesley keeping watch over her. Wesley who had been in love with the wicked witch of Los Angeles and had basically told Fred to suck it up and deal on the topic. But there was Charles and he was walking as though he'd had his spine adjusted and just like that, Fred knew.

He and Gwen. Gwen and him. They'd done something last night, the two of them. Had sex done something, and Fred swallowed hard, feeling her throat try to swell shut with tears.

"Hey," she said, half-waving. "How'd it go with you and Gwen?"

If she could process this new thing--Charles having sex with another woman, the two of them liplocked, Gwen's cleavage pressing up against Charles' chest--maybe Fred could sound less bitter. But Gwen. Another chesty brunette with nice lips and sexbomb style and ambiguous morals. They were apparently what men wanted. Heck, maybe Fred could get implants and go after Angel. They were the only really single people left at the hotel, thanks to all the skanky whores.

And Fred suddenly ached, thinking of Wesley standing guard in the basement. Wesley who was guarding his former best friend, the woman who had brutally murdered the strange and bad and complicated woman he'd loved. Skanky whore or no, that was hard, too hard to resent Wes for.

"We got it done," Charles said with a little smile, like he couldn't help it, and why not? Gwen was hot. Smoking hot. "Did some good. Had a lot of fun doing it."

"That's nice," Fred said, trying not to feel frozen. "Did you get the message?"

Charles nodded solemnly. "That's why I came back so early. I brought doughnuts. Made sure to get the chocolate long johns you like. Where's Wes?" he asked.

"Downstairs," Fred said, looking down. "With Cordy."

"Damn," Charles said. "That's gotta be rough for him. He doin' okay?"

It was funny, Fred thought, watching him walk toward her with the doughnuts and the chai just the way she liked it. It was funny the way she realized how perfect he was after she'd lost him. Charles Gunn was the kind of man any woman would be lucky to be with forever, and she'd given that up because? Because she didn't want to handle the complications. Complications like being too electric to touch. How had they handled that, Charles and Gwen?

"As well as you'd guess," she answered. "We were talking earlier about her. I--I never thought--she was so bad, Charles. How could he not hate her?"

On second thought, Fred didn't want to know. Didn't want to think about Charles taking off Gwen's clothes, kissing her naked skin the way he'd kissed hers. In fact, she didn't want to think about sex, period. Not Cordelia and Connor and the creepy incest vibe. Not Wesley and Lilah and the tragic yet pornographic vibe. Not Gwen and Charles and the sparkage. Fred had promptly decided she was going to become a nun after all this was over, and thus there would be less chance her heart would break thinking about all the sex.

"Love's not about good and evil," Charles said, handing her the box with a smile and Fred's stomach ached. He was going to fall in love with her, Gwen and her red lipstick. And part of Fred was glad, glad that he had found someone already in these bad bad times. Most of her wanted to rip the X-Woman rip-off's hair from the roots. "You know that. And I don't get Wes and Lilah, either. But you know, we didn't really get to see much of her when she wasn't playing the part of evil overlord. Maybe she was different with him. Maybe she gave him something he needed."

Fred nodded. "And what did Gwen need you to do?" she asked, trying to keep her tone light as she opened the box of doughnuts.

"Help her steal something so she could be normal," he answered, trying to sound casual. Charles knew she knew. He had to. She could see it in the way his eyes widened just a little bit before he stole his usual powdered-sugar doughnut from the pink box of sugared goodness. "A device. A LISA. I forgot what that stands for. It's some military thing that turns off the juice."

"Did it work?" Fred asked bluntly.

"Yeah," he said. "Fred--"

Fred shrugged. "It's not my business," she said softly.

Charles nodded. "That's true," he said. "It's not."

He didn't say it to be mean; Fred knew that. Charles was using the same voice that Wesley had used to explain to her that love--that whatever it had been with Lilah--was more than just holding hands, and moreover, that it was something Fred didn't understand. Still, there was the shock of hearing Charles tell her that, and it stung worse than the figurative slap Wesley had given her. After all, Fred didn't really want Wes. Even now, dating Wes was more a fantasy than a possibility. Charles? She had still hoped that maybe, maybe after all the crazy, there would be something between them...

"We should go downstairs," Fred said awkwardly. "To give Wes some backup."

Because that's what they did, right? Wesley had held all it in, not let it show how much it had hurt to wrap his dead lover in plastic or watch his bruised and broken slayer almost die. Charles had held back, not letting it show how much breaking up with Fred had hurt him. Angel was keeping it together right now, even though it was eating him up inside to think of Cordy being evil and sleeping with Connor. And now it was Fred's turn to be a big girl and not cry, not blame Charles for giving up on them so easily, not go and find Wesley and cry on his shoulder.

They kept it together for each other. For the world. And when they had some time, when Fred finally had time for herself--she'd cry then. But until then, she'd just have to pretend it didn't hurt that much.

Charles--no, not Charles anymore, Gunn--put his hand on her shoulder and smiled hopefully. Fred had to smile back at him. He was still going to be her friend, for all of that. And that was something.

"Yeah," Gunn said as they took their breakfast and headed down to the very center of all the problems. "He'll probably need it."


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