Tangled (in swelter)
by Scy

There was some possibility that it could have been hotter.

As a scientist, Fred understood how the tiniest shift in conditions could spoil an experiment. Weather wasn't a test, but she felt as though it was one she had to pass. To prove that she could handle a creak-creepy hotel and a new life. One that wasn't safe and ordinary.

Or close to home.

Her parents were clean, good people who never had to live underground and be grateful for earth. They wouldn't understand how dangerous it was had been to stand in the open.

She didn't know how to stay something about dangerous sunlight without the words snapping like broken reeds in her mouth.

She practiced saying she was 'alright.' Even if she still felt best indoors.

The Hyperion was good for that. All the efforts to restore it didn't make it any less a building with secrets. Truths that had to be sought out when it was quiet enough to learn the language of creaking floors and follow their directions.

Wesley, Cordelia, and Gunn didn't have the same connection to the building she did. To them it was an old building that they worked in and were sometimes more eager to leave than they'd admit.

To her, the further she went in her exploring, the more comfortable she felt.

When their steps faded out she was free to descend the basement stairs. There had been a few vigorous cleaning sessions down there since Angel had gotten back. That was nice, since there really were demonic dust bunnies. Their Latin name sounded more sinister. Fred had clobbered one with a broom and then gone looking for a reference on extermination.


Sometimes she wished there was just a little more light coming into the basement. Dirtied by old glass and the dust that spin lazily overhead. Then it might have been more like her cave.

But she didn't want that all the time. Sunlight meant pain and exposure for slaves and vampires. And she knew how to look through the dark for what other's wouldn't see.

Sometimes she even saw her company before there was something to say.

He didn't have to be obvious about checking up on her. If he thought she needed to know, then she would. Other times she guessed, he was watching for his own reasons.

She made sure not to mention it. If she said something to anyone else, it would be assumed that it bothered her. She didn't mind. It was nice being what Angel watched, and good to remember that darkness wasn't empty.


On days when it was hot enough to make arctic conditions seem preferable, Cordelia found a fan, book, and dared the Powers to disturb her. Wesley and Gunn had slipped out somewhere; ice and demons might have figured in their plans.

Fred slipped down to the basement. She unrolled an old oriental carpet out; feet catching on the raised lines of color and spread out her thoughts.

Below-ground was one place where she was able to bring her ideas together like mustangs corralled until they broke through the fences.

With everyone having 'perfectly good reasons to be elsewhere,' there was no question but that she should talk quietly to herself and go unnoticed.

She knew that she wouldn't be alone for too long. It was an established fact, just as the rug would be put away later if she forgot to do it herself. Not only that, but a myriad of other small details would be repaired, until the next time.

It was a quarter of an hour before she felt the air behind her shift as Angel moved to see what she was frowning at. If he'd been there earlier he probably had kept his distance. Some of her frustration had resulted in colorful patterns on the opposite wall.

He sat close enough to be companionable, but just beyond 'in her space'. Trying to keep from making her uncomfortable. Like she hadn't bloodied her hand and coaxed him back into her space in the first place. The rules were different in Los Angeles. Nobody lived in a cave, and boundaries had to be established and respected.

But she didn't need to refit herself to everything that hadn't worked in Pylea. Homecoming was turning into a slow process of sifting through what was necessary and what society wanted. In all honesty, Pylea had given her the skill to make quite determinations as to what she wanted and could have without risk.

Encouraging Angel to get comfortable wasn't dangerous.


Letting out a frustrated sound, Fred left off her figuring to struggle with her hair. Like so many other 'little things,' hairstyle had been deemed unnecessary for a cave dweller.

Being able to run and hide seemed more important than whether or not she could master a French twist.

"Maybe I should cut it," she mused, aware that Angel was watching her.

"Why would you do that?"

"Because it gets in the way."

"You just need to brush it out of your face."

He reached out and pushed a strand behind her ear.

"That way it doesn't interfere wit what you're doing."

"I made brushes in Pylea out of sticks and smaller twigs."

Angel looked at her the same way he had when she'd explained 'bark tacos.'

"Traditionally a comb hurts less due to its components, but I didn't have plastic, rubber, or conventional glue."

She ran her fingers through the tangles.

"And I don't have a comb on me."

"Hang on." Angel shifted, and she heard boxes being moved around on the other side of the basement.

"Do you have candles or something?"

She hadn't seen Angel smoke, but he carried a lighter. More puzzling details that she added to her list.

Like the fact that he kept combs in the basement of an old hotel. Not every box had been opened when she got inquisitive; there had been an old steamer trunk that she was sure outdated the hotel. Its lock was left alone.


He was intent on her in a way that reminded Fred that Angel wasn't really tame. It just so happened that most of his natural instincts were collectively ignored or channeled into helpful violence.

There was nothing casual about letting someone else wield a brush on one's hair. Probably because there was the imminence of melting into a softer state and wanting to know who would be leaned on.

But she wasn't about to mention; however offhandedly, that only her family or a girlfriend had done this before.

Better to close her eyes and let Angel learn the waves cascading down her back.

The comb was somewhat dulled by time but still lovely. Its teeth looked to have been made out of bone, the handle, wood. Angel used it like he'd done this nightly for someone.

To ask would have brought an interruption, and she'd waited for other insights longer.

As her eyes closed in something longer than a blink, she wondered how long she'd been awake. The heat had been pressing down all day until everyone folded into someplace cool.

Without design or discussion Fred had arranged herself in front of Angel with little distance between them. As she inhaled she could smell him. There was the faint scent of some flower; probably something he took care of in the garden, and spices. The sharpness of iron turned over on itself as she breathed. She wondered what she smelled like to him.

Dirt, chalk, paint, and whatever else a vampire could sense.

She might even ask him. 'Winifred' would have wondered and not said a word, but she wasn't that girl anymore. Not the one who theorized only with paper and pen. Who never thought to distrust and who would nod understandingly when someone said they 'knew better.'

Angel let her sidle around 'proper ways of doing stuff' as though it was secretly amusing in a way that he didn't care to let anyone in on.

The grime on her knuckles brushed off under pressure. She'd had to reacquaint herself with bars of soap and water that came out of a tap at exactly the temperature she wanted. The boundaries between 'clean' and raw' were blurred by lather and steam. On an especially uncertain day Angel would wait in the hallway and knock when he smelled blood.

For the moment he was only aware of what she was doing.

The comb slid through her hair more easily; tangles damp from perspiration, knots parting under his attention.

This was the sort of companionship that she claimed. The absence of others led to interludes of being not-alone with someone who didn't ask her how her pieces fit together.

Alone, she got the lilt of his voice close to dawn.

When the chill of concrete and age became pronounced, a small amount of stealthy movement granted Fred the right to pillow her head against Angel. He accommodated her after minutes of waiting to see that she was deliberate in her choice of positions. While he never mentioned it to the others, she thought he might enjoy the hotter days just a little bit.

She longed to have one who understood wrapped around her as daylight's warmth faded. No matter how 'well' she was supposedly adjusted, the sun's zenith was rarely anything but an unforgiving time. Too many secrets were dried out to hard truth that left nothing to be savored later.

Night was different. Things came slowly; as though they had waited for a time and matured to the point of revelation.

'To all appearances appropriate' applied to the most complicated disguises. Like the way she felt in his arms. Light and yet bound to a being that could make things permanently interesting. A freedom that they made together.


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