Summary: Time is a jittery thing sometimes, and reality's funny. Cows can be princesses in outer space; foils and plastic can turn into sabers. It hurts to find someone you fear to lose. Wesley wonders if Fred ever would have told him.
Fandom: Angel: the Series
Pairing: Wesley/Fred, Illyria
Disclaimer: Joss Whedon's, not mine. And Star Wars belongs to George Lucas.
Original story: Rendezvous, by Karabair/ likeadeuce
Notes: This story was also inspired by another one of likeadeuce's Angel fics, Give in to the Dork Side.
Feathers, Lightsabers, and Lead (Rendezvous, Hyperspace Remix)
Wesley is sitting at the table in Fred's flat, staring at his hands. He is supposed to be packing her things into cardboard cartons. The task fell to him because everyone knew he would happily kill anyone else foolish enough to set foot inside. The task is his right. The task is frankly impossible.
Her coffee cup is in the sink, pale blue and upside-down. Her towel, purple and white striped, is hanging on the hook behind the bathroom door. It still smells like her shampoo. Her shampoo bottle is on the shelf in the shower, almost empty. There is a magnetic notepad on the refrigerator door with a shopping list. The third item from the bottom is shampoo.
In the refrigerator, there is a half-full carton of rancid cashew chicken, a slimy sliced apple in a plastic container, a can of Coke, and an unopened package of cheddar cheese.
Her tube of mascara is on the bathroom counter along with a square of toilet tissue with a black smudge on it. Her hairbrush is in the drawer. Her hairs are trapped it, and a hair elastic is wrapped around the handle.
Her alarm clock was set for 6:27, the last time it was set. A pink nightshirt and a pair of blue cotton knickers are the only things in the laundry hamper.
Wesley cannot touch these things. Could no sooner pack them away than he could kill Illyria. It's not enough, but it is something.
After he has sat and done nothing for a very long time, he forces himself to his feet and goes to find some things for her friends. If nothing else, he has to do this. It is part of the task.
For Spike, a shot glass from Texas. For Lorne, a Dixie Chicks CD. With every item Wesley puts into the box to take back, it feels as though he's killing her again. He's looking through her desk drawers for a nice pen for Charles when the photo album ambushes him. When his heart starts beating again, he puts the album in the box for himself.
It is some time before Wesley has the opportunity to get thoroughly drunk, wasting good Scotch. When he does, he opens the photo album, and--startlingly--finds himself able to smile at the picture of naked baby Fred in a sinkful of bubbles. The next photo is equally charming, of Fred in a red-checked sundress, elbow-deep in a basket of strawberries and grinning messily. A few pages after that, though, and Wesley's breath catches in the back of his throat.
Fred, probably about seven or eight years old, in a long white gown so lovely that Wesley is certain it was homemade. They simply don't make Halloween costumes of that quality, as her father's cheap plastic Darth Vader mask (worn above black pants and a black sweatshirt) attests. Fred's costume is perfect, or nearly so. White shoes, long white gown with wide sleeves, a silver (aluminum foil?) belt, and a gray plastic toy gun. Her cheeks glow with excitement or pink rouge or both, and dark pink lipstick looks adorable on her childish face, particularly with her partially-toothless grin. Her hair is perfect, too, done up in knots on either side of her head. She is an adorable, tiny Princess Leia, clutching her plastic gun in one hand and a pumpkin-shaped bucket in the other.
The photograph blurs, and Wesley reaches a shaking hand up to wipe his eyes. He turns a few more pages quickly--Fred dressed up for a school portrait, Fred with a Christmas present, Fred and her mother outdoors--and then stops at another Halloween photo. Fred with braces on her teeth, this time, grinning without a hint of self-consciousness. With another girl, in this photograph. The other girl is dressed like a rock star, or something like, but Fred is unmistakably Princess Leia again. This time, the dress is slightly different, she has a necklace of silver foil, and her hair is in a braid on top of her head. From the ceremony at the end of Star Wars, Wesley realizes with a smile.
He turns the page and laughs aloud. Fred as an older teen, looking like his Fred, dressed as Leia yet again--in the earlier-style white dress, with the buns on the sides of her head. Beside her is a spotty, gawky-looking redheaded boy dressed all in white with a poncho, looking ecstatic and giving the camera an enthusiastic thumbs-up. Wesley assumes it's another Halloween picture, on their way to a costume ball or something, until he notices the corsage on Fred's wrist and spots the caption written beneath the photo: Junior Prom - Fred and Steven.
Wesley stares for a moment, then laughs until he isn't sure he's not sobbing.
When he can breathe again, he takes a long drink and remembers a night he hasn't thought about in a long time. He doesn't remember much about that night, but he knows he didn't actually ask her if she was a fan of Star Wars. He just assumed. He wonders if she ever would have told him.
One of these days, she really should remember how to make time work in her brain again. Fred's so used to time having lead wings because she's not having fun. Tried to make it fly anyway, but with no reason, there was no acceleration, no liftoff, Houston we have a problem, just sinking. Stagnating. Slowly, like lead falls the same as feathers but doesn't fly as easy.
It's better now. Working a little, but there's still a short in her brain somewhere, or something, and it's. Inconsistent. Too slow sometimes, relativity speaking. Relatively. Flying right now, like it should 'cause she's happy, but it's been so long and she's been so still that twenty miles an hour seems like twenty thousand. Still in the car but red and white and orange light-lines outside the windows because the world is blurring by too fast, people moving, cars zooming, and--
And she's leaning forward and breathing slow and mentally reciting pi for awhile to relax because she's afraid she just might throw up all over Wesley's nice leather interior. And that'd be so embarrassing.
It's better, after (what feels like) a little while. Maybe being okay is like riding a bicycle, wobbly at first, but pretty soon, it'll be easy again. Though, come to think of it, Fred never was very good at riding a bike, what with all the gravel roads back home, and she's honestly not sure she remembers how.
She feels so stupid being a scaredy-cat like this. She's felt stupid so much lately, every time someone talks to her like she's four years old, and she hates it, and she hates that she acts like it, and she hates that she needs it. Fred wants to scream sometimes that goddamnit, she could have gotten a PhD, but the problem is, she's not sure whether she wants to say that to them, or to herself. Wouldn't be very polite, anyway, so she doesn't.
Right now, it helps that Wesley's beside her. He doesn't say much, but he looks at her sometimes like he cares how she's doing, like he wants to see if she likes the country station he's got the radio on, and he smiles a little. His smile's nice, real honest, a little bit shy. Even with the cars shooting by outside like sideways falling stars in space, in here, everything's all right for a minute.
Maybe for more than a minute. Wesley pulls to a stop in the parking lot of a diner, then turns to Fred and smiles, a little shyer than usual. "Do you want to come in?" he asks. "We can grab a bite, see my friend. It won't take long. Then perhaps we could go to a movie?"
"Ooh!" Fred grins as she remembers what thinking of sideways stars reminded her of. "Cordelia had this magazine?" she explains. It sounds like a question, maybe because she's so used to good things not being real if she pokes 'em much. "And it said...they did another Star Wars?"
"That sounds nice," Wesley says, and oh, God, he doesn't sound like she was crazy for asking, and maybe there really was. "Only that magazine might have been old?" His statement has a question mark sound at the end, too. Said so gently (she's not stupid clear through) that she can tell he's being careful around the crazy girl. Fred doesn't think the magazine was that old, not from-the-seventies-or-early-eighties old, but then again, she's not sure of anything anymore. "It's summer in America," Wesley says after a pause, "I'm sure there's something sufficiently explosive in a theater very close to here. Now, do you think you're ready to go in?"
Sufficiently explosive isn't the point, being home is, but Fred knows he's trying to be nice, so she forces a big smile and nods and gets out of the car like a normal person. She doesn't even flinch. Much. "I like this place," she adds, catching sight of the sign. It's a nice thing to say to a man when he takes you out for dinner, she remembers. The place is nice. The food is good. I like this song.
"You've been here, then?"
"Oh, yeah. I used to come here all the time with Nick," Fred says. She can't help giggling a little at Wesley's surprised look. Really, she was normal, once. "My boyfriend?" she says, teasing a little.
"Your--" Even in the weird orange lights in the parking lot, she can see him blushing. It's cute. He clears his throat. "I didn't, erm, know you had a boyfriend."
Fred rolls her eyes. What is it about being a scientist that makes men think-- "Sure I did," she says. "Lots. And oh, hey, are we close to Lubbock?" she asks, looking up at the sign again. "'Cause if we are, maybe we could go see--"
"Fred," Wesley interrupts, so very careful again that Fred knows she's messed up before he even continues. "We're in Los Angeles."
"Oh, right," she says quietly. She looks down at her sandals and resists the urge to pinch herself. "Silly. I'm here. I knew that. I was just thinking about--" She shakes her head and pushes her glasses up the bridge of her nose. "I'm sorry. I didn't used to be so stupid about things." Time's a jittery thing lately, is all. One minute she's a cow, and the next, she's back in high school, and it's so hard to remember where her feet are touching ground.
"No. Fred, it's understandable." Wesley's hand on her shoulder is solid, and she can almost feel its warmth through her sweater. His voice is so soft and light, though, it could float right through her skin, and she thinks maybe it does. Clearly, he's here to rescue her. "You've been through so--"
"Thank you, Wesley," she whispers, smiling at him even though she feels like crying because he's so kind, and she's not broken enough to not know she's broken. She reaches up and puts her fingers over his even though a real girl would kiss him right now. "Thank you for understanding. And for taking me out tonight." Even though he hasn't, yet, it's the right thing to do, to say you had a lovely evening. The food was great. I liked the songs.
There's a jukebox in the diner, and the air smells like air conditioning and french fries. Real fries, the kind that are covered with salt and grease and don't turn to sticks when you bite into them. Fred's tempted to ask Wesley if she can order some, but it's obvious (she isn't stupid, dammit) that he and Willow want to talk, and they don't need the crazy girl bothering them about potatoes.
At least they don't talk for long. Before Fred knows it, Wesley says it's time to go, and Willow gives her a hug and says goodnight.
They're across the parking lot and getting in the car before Fred remembers. "We forgot to eat," she says, giggling. "I meant to ask for fries, but--"
"Oh, sod," Wesley says, giving her an odd look. "We did, didn't we."
"Well, hmm," he says. He puts the key in the ignition but doesn't turn it. After a second, he gives a little start and turns to her, eyes shining. "I know! Let's rent a film instead of going to the cinema. That's how we could see the Star Wars one for you."
"Wesley! You mean there is one?"
"Of course there is. It came out...oh, let's see...at least a year ago, maybe two, I think. Surely it's available to rent by now," he says as he starts the car.
This time, out on the freeway, Fred sits up straight and watches the yellow lines dash and race in front of the car and shivers happily when all the lights whiz by sideways.
The movie is out, and Blockbuster has it, and it's called Episode I: The Phantom Menace, and Wesley chuckles when Fred clutches the VHS box to her chest and twirls around in the parking lot.
"Happy, then?" he asks.
Fred nods. "The only thing in the whole wide world that'd make tonight more perfect would be tacos."
"Well, then, we'll have to get some, won't we?" He smiles warmly at her, and Fred finds herself pushing her glasses up and looking away because she's afraid to look at this moment too close. She smiles at the window instead and can see her heart right there in her reflection, clear as day.
Wesley saw Return of the Jedi in 1983, the week it came out. Saw all three of the Star Wars films in one day, actually, since he'd missed the first ones when they'd been released--he'd been at home with tutors, and his parents wouldn't allow him to go. By Jedi, though, he was at school, and he took the train to London with some of the boys in his year to watch a special showing. He likes to tell people those boys were his friends, but anyone who knows him well knows better.
Rather predictably, he was prepared to be snobbish about the whole thing. Of course he'd done his homework, and on the train, he lectured about archetypes and the hero's journey until the other boys threatened to pound him. After that, he kept quiet and felt superior until the opening crawl seemed to fly right overhead, followed by a spaceship that looked terribly real.
His hands tightened on the arms of his seat when Darth Vader made his entrance.
Half an hour later, bugger being a Watcher, he wanted to be a Jedi Knight. He wanted to be Luke Skywalker and marry Princess Leia and have Obi-Wan Kenobi as his father.
Near the end of The Empire Strikes Back, Wesley decided that, if nothing else, he would take up fencing. It was perfect. He could secretly play at fighting with a lightsaber, and it would please his father. As much as anything Wesley ever did pleased his father.
Near the end of The Empire Strikes Back, he was more certain than ever that he and Luke Skywalker had a lot in common.
The other boys had whispered through the first two films, but they went utterly silent as Return of the Jedi began. Wesley watched it just as raptly, but he had to admit he liked it less than the first two. He didn't like that Luke--once so soft-spoken, sort of an everyboy--had become such a tough guy. Mostly, Wesley had to admit, because he knew he could never be like that. Could never go as close to the dark side as Luke did at the end.
Still, he'd been won over, and he stood and applauded as loudly as anyone when it ended.
As Wesley lies dying, for some reason, he thinks about the end of Return of the Jedi. He thinks about archetypes. About heroes and villains and the light and dark sides of the Force. About someone who commits horrible acts and then, at the end, when it matters most, gives his life in hopes that he will be redeemed.
If he didn't hurt so fucking badly, he might laugh because all this time, he hasn't been Luke Skywalker, after all.
He sees Fred, and smiles. He'll have to tell her.
Wesley likes a good space opera as much as any child of his era, but he has never exactly been a fan of Star Wars. He doesn't like to admit, however, even to himself, that he's enough of a fan to be annoyed at the idea of the new ones.
Fred, apparently, has no such respect for the past. She actually squealed when the first notes of John Williams' score rang out, and since then has shouted, clapped her hands, gasped, and cheered at all the appropriate moments, in between bites of her tacos. Wesley has to admit that he finds her enthusiasm endearing, if not contagious. And, if he's being honest, that Ewan McGregor boy doesn't seem to be half bad.
Onscreen, the two Jedi Knights land on a desert planet, and Fred turns to him, grinning. "That's where Luke's from!" she whispers. She punctuates this by slowly licking a dab of sour cream off her thumb and making a little hum of pleasure, and Wesley swallows hard.
"Oh?" he says, pleased to note that his voice is only a bit strangled. "So, is this--"
Wesley fights a smile as he sits back, slouching into the corner of his sofa. Fred perches on the other end, at the very edge of her seat, shoulders hunched tensely, though whether that's reflexive because she has food or because of excitement, Wesley can't tell. Her face is absolutely rapt in the bluish glow of the television screen. She finds her soda without looking down and takes a sip.
Wesley turns his attention back to the film and winces when a sturdy little boy asks the handmaiden if she's an angel. Whatever George Lucas' gifts are, the art of writing good dialogue is not chief among them. Of course--Wesley winces again--the cherub-faced blond boy is going to be Darth Vader someday. Precious.
Several moments later, he realizes he's been caught up in the admittedly thrilling race and hasn't heard the rustle of taco wrappers in some time. When he looks over at Fred, he's startled to see her sitting with a half-eaten taco dripping and forgotten in one hand, her cheeks wet and shiny with tears.
"Fred," he says, very softly, not wanting to startle her, "are you all right?" And then, when Fred looks at him with her eyes brimming and he actually listens to what the characters are saying, he curses silently. "Oh, Fred, I'm sorry," he says aloud. "I didn't realize-- I didn't know it was about-- Are you upset because they're--"
It shouldn't be possible for her lovely dark eyes to get any larger, but they do. Her lips press together and tremble visibly for a second before she smiles. "Wesley, I'm not crying because they're slaves. I'm crying because he's free now, like me, and this is real, and I'm so glad--"
She sets her taco down on its soggy wrapper, then reaches over to touch her fingers lightly to his knee. "I'm seeing the new Star Wars. I know there is a new Star Wars, and I could never, ever imagine this. Not with that race being so good!" She shakes her head, loosening a few strands from her ponytail. "This is real, Wesley. I'm here." Her grin makes him want to cry. She is, freely. "This is one of the best nights of my whole life."
Wesley lifts his hand, slowly, carefully, and brushes some of the tears from her cheek. Amazingly, Fred doesn't flinch. Just closes her eyes, eyelashes damp and vulnerable, and takes a slow breath, perhaps as if she likes it.
This, here, a film and tacos enjoyed on his sofa, in his apartment, was innocently intended. An act of kindness to a damaged, frightened girl. It's beginning to feel like it might be something else. Wesley wishes he hadn't noticed awhile ago that, beneath her unzipped cardigan and thin t-shirt, in the air conditioning, Fred isn't wearing a brassiere.
His hand is still on her cheek. Wesley opens his mouth to say something--what, he isn't certain--but Fred beats him to it.
"Mind if we rewind it?" she asks. "I missed that last bit."
Fifteen days after the film debuts, Winifred Burkle enters a theater in Los Angeles. She wears blue jeans, a t-shirt, and a thin cardigan sweater, despite the heat. She wears slender sandals that scrape lightly over the road, an unpleasant sound. Her hair is tied back in a ponytail. It makes her scalp feel tight and exposed.
She loathes herself for doing this.
She strides to the counter and gives the child there a pleasant look from beneath her eyelashes. She softens her lips into a smile. "One ticket to Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith."
She could be more convincing if she wished. She does not wish. The child is unimportant, pockmarked and flighty. He drops her ticket twice before giving it to her. He counts her coins back incorrectly.
She purchases a cola and a large tub of popped corn drenched with butter-flavored oil. After she finds a seat in the theater, she leans down and tastes a kernel. Winces when the grease coats her tongue and the roof of her mouth. The hull sticks in her throat. She is unsure what one is supposed to do with one's tub and cup in order to have a hand left for eating. A table would be useful.
It is only then that she notices the cylindrical indentation in the arm of her seat and realizes that she is supposed to place her cup there. Clever, she thinks, arching one dark eyebrow.
The beverage is preferable to the corn. She has drunk it before. It is sweet, with an aftertaste of caramel. She enjoys the way it makes her teeth squeak, like dying rodents.
The film begins. Illyria winces. Trite, amateurish music, jangling in her ears. The crowd roars approval. Ignorant, pathetic pieces of vomit, to be so easily amused. If Wesley were here, and alive, he might laugh at them with her. If Spike were here, he certainly would. But they are not; Illyria and Winifred Burkle have come alone.
Illyria can almost hear Winifred Burkle earnestly urging her to be silent, to sit and watch the screen and enjoy the sight of human playactors pretending to be warriors blowing one another up in outer space. Perhaps she is supposed to cheer.
It is all she can do not to gouge her eyes out with her fingernails and turn the bleeding sockets blankly to the screen. One could consider it "progress" that she hasn't yet gouged her young neighbor's eyes out. He is a human pup, barely as tall as her waist, dressed in a cape and waving a brightly colored plastic object Illyria assumes is intended to represent a sword. He hit her shoulder a moment ago, and she did not kill him. She has learned much. Wesley would be pleased.
The movie continues, and she grows bored enough to eat her popped corn simply because it is more interesting than the fictional events. The young, smooth-faced man kills an old man. The young man's wife is with child. The young man's superiors do not approve of him. An apparently intelligent metal object frequently makes annoying sounds. The young man's bearded friend goes somewhere to do something.
Soon, the young man inadvertently kills his one of his superiors, and the film begins to get a bit more amusing. Illyria laughs aloud at the foolishness of humans when he kills children to save his own unborn child, but she's the only one in the theater who does laugh, at that moment. Everyone else seems to find it exceedingly funny--or merely pleasing, she is not certain--when the short green thing saves itself. They cheer. The child with the plastic object that she now knows to call a "lightsaber" waves it aloft and shouts his approval.
The young man's eyes change from blue to gold. Illyria shudders at that, though she does not know why. Perhaps it is the stimulant in her beverage. She licks salt from her lips and drinks again.
There is a fight that is pleasing to behold. The playactors are graceful and surpassing skilled, for humans.
The young, smooth-faced man--Anakin Skywalker--loses the battle. He is injured. His comrade professes love and leaves him to burn, which is puzzling and inconsistent with what Illyria knows of human love.
Also puzzling is that Anakin Skywalker's new master saves him from death, which is inconsistent with what Illyria knows of the human concept of evil. Anakin Skywalker receives medical treatment and is given metal limbs to replace the ones he lost in the duel. He is encased in black clothing and armor.
The playwright is skilled. Illyria can almost taste Anakin Skywalker's fear as a mask is lowered onto his face. She understands that it is tragic indeed for a man considered handsome by human standards, and graceful in battle, and heroic, to become...whatever that crude monstrosity is.
The end of the film is saccharine and insignificant.
Illyria remains in her seat and considers killing the uniformed human who requests that she leave at once. She gives him coin instead, but he receives no pleasant look. He allows her to stay.
She watches the film again. This time, her hands clutch her knees. This time, when Anakin Skywalker's eyes shine gold, signifying evil, she knows why she flinches. She knows why her breath catches when Anakin Skywalker dies and Darth Vader takes his place. This time, when he is encased in the black shell, her own eyes sting. She blinks angrily, impatient, and feels a hot, wet tear fall onto her cheek.
Indeed, she has changed. Wesley would be pleased.