by Jennifer-Oksana

She hasn't smoked the ganj since she was nineteen years old, which is how many years ago now? Five in Pylea, two in LA. Seven years. It's thus been seven years since Fred stopped toking, and the smell of the reefer is comforting. Reminds her a little of home in San Antonio; back when she'd come home from UT on the weekends to smoke up with Matt and Andy and Levon and Joey and Boomer. They'd watch X-Files reruns that Boomer taped with all the commercials cut out, because everyone knew that commercials were how They convinced you the truth wasn't out there, except in McDonald's hamburgers.

Nowadays, Fred wishes it were that simple, though for the most part, the guys were right. There is a big conspiracy of folks out to get you, though no matter what Joey's dad said, it isn't the International Jewish one. Joey's dad was a big-time John Bircher, and even when Fred had been pissed about the stupid things Joey's dad said, she couldn't get Joey to stop saying them. Of course, the guys would be surprised to find out the conspiracy is real and that Fred Burkle, little Fred, has joined it, but that's neither here nor there.

Fred misses her guys, and her world, and is relaxed by the smell of the smoke in the air, so she walks through the party and looks for people she might like. Knox invited her yesterday, but the minute they'd walked through the door, he'd seen some fellow geekanerds and disappeared. So Fred's on her own, not that she minds all that much, and everyone looks a little goofy. Like Willow said, the problem with stoner parties is that everyone's a stoner.

So when she sees this guy, a little guy strumming a guitar and wearing his hair in blue spikes and an Adult Swim t-shirt, it's like a little bell goes off. The bell of approval: this is the guy she's been looking to talk to all night. And so Fred takes a cup of the red punch, which is clearly Everclear-based, and sits down on a grungy white couch covered with a purple velveteen drop cloth.

"Hey," she says with a smile. "Cool guitar."

He looks up, and for a second, Fred thinks he's sniffing her, but that's crazy. Couldn't be. Too creepy to be for real outside of the office, and when he smiles at her all low-key, Fred's tensed-up endocrine system calms down. She's seeing things. Wolfram and Hart paranoia getting to her.

"Thanks," he says. "Oz."

This is apparently his name. Or maybe the guitar's, but Fred decides to play it chill and assume it's his name. "Fred."

He chuckles. "Cool. You play?"

"Oh, no," she says, shaking her head. "I had some friends back in Texas who did. My friend Matt played. He wasn't very good, but he liked playing. I always thought it was to get girls, but he said the music was the thing, man. Maybe that was to sound cool. Do you think he was trying to sound cool?"

Oz shrugs. "Deep bonds between a man and his guitar. Not for me to judge."

Fred realizes that Oz doesn't need to judge cool; he is cool. It's not an act, or a thing, or a phase. Cool oozes up from his soul, and she's just so hyper-freaked out by this party that she needs to borrow some. After all, this is the first party she's been to in ages, and definitely the first one she's been to alone since getting a girlfriend.

In fact, this is Fred's first party as a bona fide lesbian, and here she is, flirting with this short guy who's cute, but is more cool than cute. What would Willow say if she saw her babbling like this? Flirting like this?

"Hey," Fred says, taking a long drink of her red punch. "Do you have any, um...well? I'm a's been a while since I smoked and I'm kind of freaking and I need to like, chill, because I keep thinking crazy things and, do you know where I can....?"

"My friend Dev stocks his parties with all sorts of refreshments," Oz tells her. "He's the guy over there."

"Thanks," Fred says with a genuine smile. Oz is so very cool and she's so very uptight and so very in need of a joint. Dev appears to be more than giving with the weed, and when she takes her first hit in seven years, she's not disappointed.

"Direct from Mexico," Dev tells her proudly. "It's good, huh?"

"Yeah," Fred says with a giggle as she takes a second and third hit in quick succession. "Thanks. Your friend Oz told me you stock your parties with refreshments."

Dev nods. "Mi casa es party casa," he says as Fred wanders back to where Oz is strumming his guitar. This disappoints Dev a little, but he sees a blonde girl and forgets Fred. Fred is enjoying the slight buzz, and hopes that Knox and his friends didn't see her toke. Because that would be the wrong example to set as the head of the science division at Wolfram and Hart, what with her moral responsibility thing.

Shit, who cared if they did see her? The evil lawyers could get her off. The only good thing about working with evil lawyers was that they could break the law to keep their people out of prison.

"Better?" Oz asks.

"Yes, please," Fred says, leaning her head against the shredded couch armrest. "Dude, these people had a fucked-up cat."

"His name's Spike," Oz says. "He's like, twenty pounds and might actually be a small dog named Bubba."

This is, in fact, the funniest thing ever, and Fred starts laughing. A cat-dog named Bubba! Oz is so cool that he makes the absurd funny. Maybe he writes for Adult Swim. Definitely he does. And plays guitar. If Fred didn't have the Best! Girlfriend! Ever! she might have to give Oz her number, because he is cool.

"You're great," Fred says, hearing a serious rise in her Texas accent. Damn it, she sounds like she's fifteen and high again. Next thing she knows, she will be talking about how the black oil is only a mystical container for alien consciousness and that Scully is hot when she shoots her gun. "If you were a girl, I might take you home to meet my girlfriend. Oh, shit. Did I say that out loud?"

Oz chuckles again. "Maybe I'm psychic," he says, waggling his eyebrows like a swami of psychic power. He's kind of sweet, this Oz.

"No," Fred says mournfully. "I have no inner monologue when I'm high."

"That's possibly dangerous," Oz says, watching her as he plays his guitar.

"I know. That's why I gave up smoking," Fred explains with another giggle. "Well, actually I gave it up because I got sucked into a hell dimension by my evil professor, but I stayed given up because now I work for this big ol' do-gooder firm fighting evil and you know, yelling, I work for Wolfram and Hart as their newly lesbian science overlord is kinda embarrassing. Oh, shit. Shit! I just said that. Can you help me unsay it?"

Oz closes his eyes and hums something in Hindi. Fred thinks it's Hindi, anyway. He does it for a while, and maybe he can help her unsay the things she's said. But then he opens his eyes.

"Sorry," he says. "Still said."

"It's okay," Fred says. "You won't tell anyone, will you?"

"That you're gay?"

Fred shakes her head. "That I work for an evil law firm," she says. "I'm cool with being gay. Well, sort of. I like my girlfriend a lot a lot a lot. Her name's Willow, and she has red hair and this smile that melts you--"

"Like a warm chocolate chip cookie," Oz finishes. Fred blinks. Maybe he wasn't joking about being psychic. Sometimes people don't joke and she thinks they are and it's all bad. "I know Willow. We used to go out, back in the day."

This is a surprise. "Well, that just makes it a very small world," Fred says, feeling embarrassed. "'re from Sunnydale?"

"When it existed," Oz says with a nod.

"I'm sorry it imploded," she says. "I'm...oh, hell. I'm really sorry. But I guess that's why you're not surprised about evil law firms and stuff. And, um, ex-straight girls going gay and not telling anyone."

He nods and smiles a little, and Fred's fogged-out brain remembers suddenly. Oz. The guitarist. The werewolf. Willow's first time. The best boyfriend of all time, and she's just been prattling on and on and on to this guy. She can see the wolf in his incisors now, and maybe it wasn't so smart to be so comfy with a stranger just because of vibe.

"I can see why you two get along," is what he says. And Fred tries to smile, because he's a werewolf and he's Willow's ex and she's babbled to him while high. Can't be good. Just can't be. Loose lips sink ships and all that good stuff.

"We're talkers," Fred says. "Are you mad at me?"

"Waste of time," Oz replies. Apparently complete sentences are also a waste of time, and Fred wishes she'd never thought Oz was cool. He is cool. Very much still cool, but it's just a mess that she's met him like this at a party she went to without her girlfriend. "You okay?"

"A little uptight," Fred admits. "You're Willow's ex-guy, and I'm just here and babbling and it's kinda awkward."

Oz nods. "Maybe," he agrees. "Willow and I were a long time ago. Wounds heal. There's a new girl, a new guitar, a new vibe. You and I don't have to talk about Willow."

This is wisdom. Fred recognizes it the way she used to when Matt suggested she and Levon chill when they were arguing about where Area 51 really was, or when she'd stare up the stars in the back of the truck and know there were a thousand, thousand universes where near-Freds were doing the same thing. She thinks maybe she could use a beer, maybe Johnny Cash covering Nine Inch Nails.

Johnny Cash is dead. That's messed up. Levon's probably devastated. Really. Levon loved Johnny Cash. He had all of his Aunt Donna's records of Johnny Cash and wouldn't let Boomer shoot them from the back of their pick-up.

Fred misses them. All of them.

"Do you know how to play Ring of Fire?" Fred asks, rubbing her eye. "And does Dev have beer that's not Natural Ice?"

"You mock the Natty Ice?" Oz asks, lifting an eyebrow. "We have Red Stripe in the ice chest. And I can play the Social D cover of Ring of Fire. It's not the Man in Black, but who is?"

Fred crosses her arms over her chest. Thinks that Willow was right not to come with her. Thinks that she's glad to have a girlfriend, but that maybe she needs friends even more. Oz might be a start.

"Thanks," is what Fred finally says. Because Fred? Can also be cool.


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