Leaving LA was the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life. Scarier even than Pylea, or letting go of my fairy tale fantasies of Angel as my white knight come to carry me away to his castle in the clouds. But I had to do it. I couldn’t stay around after finding out…finding out Charles had found somebody else. I knew Wesley still had feelings for me, but…
There was a time when Wesley and I understood each other better than anyone else in the group. But then Billy happened and then I fell in love with Charles and Wesley kidnapped Connor and fell in…whatever he fell into with Lilah Morgan. And suddenly we didn’t understand each other so good anymore.
I couldn’t stay. Everything was in so many little pieces, and none of us could touch each other without burning. Kinda like our group was an atom–once we started to split, the heat and the destructive force were just incalculable.
I know it’s chicken, running. But it’s hard to do anything else when the world just keeps falling out from under you all over again, y’know? But I couldn’t run home to Momma and Daddy because I knew that’s the first place they’d all look for me. I sent them a postcard of course, to let ’em know I hadn’t been sucked into another nasty hell dimension or somethin’, but I couldn’t go home.
I didn’t want to be found.
It was pure coincidence that I ran into Angel and Faith in New York. Well, okay, according to chaos theory nothing’s ever really coincidental so I guess you could say it was a pure iterating fractal that I ran into them…I’m babbling again. I’m sorry. I know I do that a lot but I just get so nervous and…
Yeah. Angel and Faith.
I don’t really know why I moved to New York–I guess after hell dimensions and demons and vampires and evil wormy-faced goddesses, Central Park muggers didn’t seem so scary anymore. ‘Sides, I can take care of myself a lot better than I used to. Maybe it was because New York City had faced an apocalypsish-type thing of its own, only at human hands, and survived. But whatever the reason, I took a job in the physics department at Columbia University, helping out with some of the professors. Screening carefully, of course, to make sure none of them were interested in inter-dimensional travel or magic or other demony stuff.
I live a couple of miles away from the University along one of the subway lines, so I usually take the train back and forth to work every day. And that’s where I saw them. I was just goin’ down the stairs when something came flying down right behind me–literally–and knocked me down. When I managed to pull myself up again, there’s Angel beatin’ the crap out of the thing with some help from a dark-haired blur of a girl.
I suppose if I’d just run back up the stairs right then and there, they never would’ve even seen me. But I guess I was in shock–things like that weren’t s’posed to happen here. It wasn’t fair–I came here to get away from it.
So anyway, I was still standing there staring like a dummy when they finally beat the thing, whatever it was. Just about everybody else’d run away, or crammed into the subway like they expected it to provide some sorta mystical protection. ‘Cept for silly old Fred.
‘Course what I did next was even stupider if I didn’t want to be noticed.
The girl that was fighting along with Angel gave the thing one last stab with this fancy-dancy knife and then turned around to talk to him slow enough that I could finally see her face instead of all that hair.
“Still don’t get how you knew a thing with wings like that would go underground, Babe.”
Angel probably would’ve answered ‘cept for my big mouth.
“Faith?” What was Faith doing in New York? Wasn’t she supposed to be in Sunnydale, helping out with whatever big fight was going on there?
I knew I’d been dumb, of course, when they turned to look at me in perfect synchronization.
“Fred?” Angel sounded even more surprised than I was to see Faith. Well, of course he was, silly. He had a lot more call to be surprised, since I was the one who up and ran away like a scared rabbit just when things were starting to maybe go back to normal.
Problem is, I was still scared. The minute he saw me, I turned back up those steps and ran. I guess since I’d only known Faith for ’bout a week, I forgot how fast Slayers are. I only got a few steps out into the open before she was in front of me.
“Fred–Fred, right? Hey, hang on for a minute…”
“It’s nice to see you, Faith, but I’ve really gotta go–“
She grabbed my arm. I guess I’d forgotten how strong Slayers are too. “Don’t–please, don’t–“
“What do you care? So you waltzed into our lives for a few days and put the make on every man within your eyesight, that doesn’t give you a say in my life.” Wow. I was angry, and I was angry with her. I didn’t know that before the words started pouring out. But I wasn’t surprised. I saw the way Charles looked at her, the admiring light in his eyes that he used to save for me. Before Faith. Before that other girl…
By this time Angel had caught up to us. That caught my attention. Shouldn’t he have been there before Faith? Aren’t vampires faster even than Slayers, if only by a little? And why did he look as if the fight had actually winded him?
“Fred–” he started.
“I’m sorry,” I blurted out at just the sound of his voice saying my name. Guess I still felt guilty about that big old crush I’d had on him when I first came back from Pylea. “I’m sorry I didn’t say goodbye but I didn’t think anybody’d really miss me. Wesley was all grieving over…and Charles had…and Cordy was still…and you were in Sunnydale and might not come back,” I finally managed to voice a whole thought.
“We didn’t come back,” Angel admitted. “We left the state pretty much as soon as Faith was well enough to travel.”
“We don’t have a whole lot of contact with the gang,” Faith put in, sounding almost rueful to my surprise. “But we hear enough to know they definitely miss you.”
“Last I heard, Lorne threw a karaoke party for pretty much every travel agent in town in hopes of picking up something from one of them,” Angel added.
I think I was so expecting him to say something about Wesley or Charles that what he did say didn’t register for a second or two. “…Lorne?”
“From what Wes told me the last time we talked to him, even after he and Gunn finally figured out you didn’t want to be found, Lorne never gave up. He’s probably still looking for you.”
Lorne did something like that? For me? Krevlorneswath of the Deathwok Clan…never gave up looking for a cow who’d almost cut his throat trying to get away from Jasmine? Okay, so I knew better than anyone that cutting his head off wouldn’t kill him, but that didn’t mean it wouldn’t have hurt a lot, and…
What I mean though is I always knew he wasn’t like your normal Pylean, but still…that was awful nice of him. Warm-fuzzy-inducing kind of nice. It made me smile.
“Look,” Faith suggested then, “if you really don’t want to be found, we’re down with that. We’re skipping town again pretty soon ourselves.”
“But–” Angel interjected with a fond glare in her direction. “–I’m sure if you would just let us drop a hint that we saw you and you’re okay the next time we talk to everyone–“
I knew what that look meant. It was the same way he used to look at Cordy when he was exasperated with her–sort of a “but I wouldn’t have it any other way” kind of exasperation. Oh. So that was why Faith was so determined to bring Angel back alive instead of just killing Angelus.
It made my heart hurt. Why was it Charles got his electric-shock girl and Angel got his Slayer and Wesley got his…evil lawyer…and I just got left behind? Okay, so Wesley and the evil lawyer weren’t exactly happily ever after any more than me and Charles, but that still left the other two. And no matter how badly I wanted to, I couldn’t go back and undo the things that made everything go wrong with me and Charles, and me and Wesley too I guessed.
“Don’t tell Charles where I am. Or Wesley…or Connor or Cordy,” I pleaded.
I noticed that I didn’t include Lorne in that list. I think Angel and Faith noticed too, but were nice enough not to say anything.
“Look, I’ve, um…I gotta get home before it gets too late…”
“Great, we’ll take you–“
I took a step back, shaking my head. “I’m sorry, I just…”
“Hey. I understand, even if he doesn’t.” Nodding decisively, Faith gave me a slap on the back that seemed friendly even if it was a bit too Slayery for a little thing like me.
Angel didn’t look happy, but he nodded too. Aw, screw it. He had that puppy-dog look on his face like he needed a hug, so I screwed up my courage real quick and stepped in and gave him one. A short one.
He was warm. Human-being, not-among-the-undead warm. And his heart was beating.
“Wow. I guess I…um…is congratulations the right word?”
He chuckled. “It’ll do. You take care of yourself, okay Fred?”
I didn’t see them again. I wasn’t really surprised, except maybe that Faith actually managed to keep Angel from following me home to make sure I was okay. I guess living for two hundred years, having a soul for a hundred of them and being all championy for the past five would make anybody a bit protective.
I didn’t figure I’d see anyone from LA again. What I figured was that Angel and Faith would make their postcard or letter or phone call or whatever and tell everybody I was okay, then Lorne would stop worrying about me and settle down like Charles and Wesley had. I really didn’t figure on coming home from work one night to get a lecture from my doorman about telling my friends to save the Halloween costumes for Halloween. Or on spending all the way up in the elevator trying to figure out what he was talking about. Or on coming down the hall to find him sitting outside my door humming “The Yellow Rose of Texas.”
Lorne. Not Charles or Wesley or even Cordelia, but Lorne.
Suddenly I felt shy. Guess that’s what happens when somebody never gives up on you. You feel kinda guilty for makin’ ’em try so hard.
He looked up at me and just started to smile so big the whole state of Texas–never mind the yellow rose–could’ve fit. “Heya, Sweet-Cheeks. I know you told Angelcakes not to tell anybody where you were, but since you didn’t mention me specifically by name he figured I have an alibi, or at least an excuse.”
It’s funny but I wasn’t scared like I was when I saw Angel and Faith. I was so happy to see a familiar face I couldn’t wipe off the big dumb grin that seemed to have attached itself to my mouth.
“No–I’m glad you came. You wanna…?” I shrugged vaguely in the direction of my door with the arm holding my keys. “My apartment’s a little more comfortable than the floor out here, not a whole lot but I do have an old sofa I found at a thrift store, and I’ve been gradually stocking up on furniture as I could find it…”
I didn’t think his smile could get so much bigger than it already was. “Sounds heavenly, Peach Pie.”
He stood up and as soon as he was on his feet, I just had to hug him. I threw my arms around him and didn’t let go for what felt like forever…guess I didn’t realize until then how much I really missed him.
But it wasn’t really forever, ’cause I finally did let go and let him in and then we just sat on the couch and talked and talked and talked for hours about everything. He told me about Charles and Gwen–but only because I asked–and Cordelia and Wesley and Connor and what was going on with them since I left and since Angel left. We talked about Pylea and how much we’d both hated it there, and I realized I’d never really talked to anybody about it before. I didn’t think anybody would understand, except maybe Cordy but not really because she was only a slave for a little while before she had the vision and they made her all princessy…but Lorne did.
I mean, sure, he was never called a cow or made a slave with one of those fancy collars and he never lived in a cave and all, but he didn’t belong there any more than I did. All the things he loves–music and laughter and compassion and all that sort of stuff–don’t exist in Pylea. And he might as well have been a cow for all the respect and love he didn’t get from his family, which is kinda funny if you think about it because you’d think that empath demons would have compassion, being able to feel what other people are feeling and all, but then again since his power only works when people sing and nobody sings in Pylea I guess they never used their powers and…
I’m rambling again. I do have a point, honest, I’m just not very good at getting there.
But anyway, somewhere along in the conversation, I just blurted out what I’d been feeling ever since before I left LA. That those five years in Pylea left me wrong somehow, and not just how I was scared to come out of my room for so long when we first came back. But that there was something so wrong with me that no one could ever really love me, not forever anyway. Sooner or later, I’d scare ’em all away.
I’ll never forget the look on his face when I said that–I never knew red eyes could be so kind, or so beautiful.
“Hey, hey, hey, Yellow Rose, don’t you get it?” He touched my face so gently I couldn’t breathe for a second. “You weren’t the problem, Fred. Practically every man in that town was in love with you, except maybe the Familiaritas Angelus with their Greek Tragedy thing for Cordelia. They weren’t scared of you, they were scared of what they were willing to do for you.”
My voice squeaked a little. “Really?”
He nodded. “Take it from someone who can read people like a book of sheet music.”
“I just…I always thought…” I’ve always hated it when I stammer, but I just so wasn’t expecting him to say what he did and all.
“You thought you weren’t worthy, and believe me I get that.” He smiled. “There aren’t a whole lot of boys and girls in this dimension who find the red, green and horns combination attractive. But Sweetie, not only are you pretty drop-dead-gorgeous on the outside, but you’ve got a heart that could model for Victoria’s Secret. So don’t ever think you don’t deserve to be loved, okay?”
I smiled back, suddenly feeling very shy as he pulled me into his arms and gave me an even better, even snugglier hug than the one I gave him in the hallway. “Okay.”
It was so nice to be held again that I probably could’ve dozed off right then and there, but Lorne let me go and got up from the couch. “All right, as much as I hate to break up the party, but you and I both need our beauty sleep, and I’ve still got to find a place to have it.”
I sat up straighter. “You don’t have a place to sleep?”
“I didn’t really think that far ahead–when Angel and Faith said they’d found you, I hopped the first train out of LA. Spent most of today offering voice lessons to every landlord and doorman within ten blocks of that subway station, with an on-the-spot audition. Did I mention that the man downstairs has a lovely baritone? Even if was almost like pulling teeth to get him to use it.”
That made me giggle. I’d wondered how he found me, since I didn’t let Angel walk me home and didn’t exactly give them my address–
“You can stay here,” I blurted out, surprising even myself just a little bit. “You can sleep on the couch and…well…” My voice dropped a little in embarrassment. “It’d be nice not to be alone for a little while.”
For a minute he just sorta studied me, which made me all sorts of nervous for no reason I could figure out. Then he smiled again and sat back down. “I’d love to.”
I bounced up so fast I probably looked like a skinny rubber ball. “Great! I know I’ve got an extra blanket around here somewhere, I just have to–“
I met his eyes just for a second and that’s when it hit me. To say I was shocked would be sort of an understatement seeing as how if you’d asked me a moment ago, after Lorne said that thing about not many people in this dimension being attracted to red-and-green demons with horns, I would’ve probably said I was one of them. Not to mention I’ve never been exactly good at knowing what I wanted, except maybe back in high school when all I wanted was another joint–boy am I glad I got through that phase, especially after reliving it because of that spell. And on top of all that, it was just plain crazy because if you think about it, technically we weren’t even the same species…
But after our talk and him being so nice and understanding, and knowing he came all this way to find me without even booking a place to stay…
All of a sudden I wanted him to kiss me.
Funny thing is, for all my chatter and rambling and babbling earlier, I couldn’t say it. I just stood there, looking like a big dumb goldfish with my mouth hanging open. Silly Fred, with all those big scientific words and fancy equations in my head, and I couldn’t even remember what a kiss was called long enough to ask for one.
“Fred?” Poor Lorne must’ve been worried about me, the way I just sorta stopped functioning like a normal human being mid-sentence. “Sweetie? Is something wrong?”
Of course that didn’t help–I knew he nicknamed everybody, but still, with this new variable floating around up there in my brain I couldn’t help but melt just a little to hear him call me “Sweetie.”
When I was little, Momma always used to say if you were having trouble remembering something, find a song that made you think of it, ’cause memorizing is always easier set to music.
“Fred? Okay, now you’re starting to worry me, Babe.”
Right. Music. Here went nothing. I started to sing. “People are talking…talking ’bout people…I hear them whisper…you won’t believe it…”
Lorne was off the couch by the time my voice faltered on the line, “they think we’re lovers.” He pulled me into his arms again, only differently this time, and looked me in the eyes as if he couldn’t quite believe what he was seeing. I swallowed hard. Then he kissed me and…wow. I kinda feel sorry now for all those people who don’t find green Pylean demons attractive, ’cause mine is an awfully good kisser.
And there’s something they don’t tell you in books about empath demons: when they’re kissing you…you feel everything they’re feeling. All of a sudden I knew why he never stopped looking for me; he’d been in love with me for a long, long time. Ever since Pylea. He just never thought I’d ever see him that way ’cause of the green skin and horns thing, so he stepped aside and let Wesley and Charles fight it out.
Funny–I wonder if he knows that it was all the fighting that finally made me stop wanting either one of them. Well…that and the Gwen and Lilah things, of course.
Now I wanted Lorne, and it didn’t matter even a little bit if we weren’t technically the same species. Neither were Aragorn and Arwen, or Sarek and Amanda, or Shrek and Fiona, or Beauty and the Beast, or…well, you get the idea.
When we let go of each other, he rested his head against mine, and even though I could feel the roughness of his horns against my forehead, it didn’t scare me or disgust me. To tell the truth, it was kinda exciting. Because I didn’t have to open my eyes to know he was there, that he was real. I could just…feel it. We stayed like that for a long time, just holding onto each other.
“Are you gonna be in New York long?” I finally forced myself to ask.
I could feel his smile against my cheek. “As long as you want me, Texas Rose.”
Now it was my turn to smile. A big, silly, stupid grin. “How about Happily Ever After?”
His arms tightened around me. “Sounds perfect to me.”
It’s funny, isn’t it? How life works out sometimes. After all that running away I did every time one of my fairy tale dreams came crashing down on me, all that looking for a happily ever after, my Beast…my Prince Charming…
My happy ending found me.