The slam of the cab door worsened his headache, and Wesley gave the driver the address in a clipped voice. He was angry, even more than he'd been when Angel had fired them. Both times, he'd seen how difficult the situation was, the shades of gray shadowing every side, but understanding did nothing to lessen the sting of Gunn's betrayal. He clenched his jaw, the pounding at his temples brought on by his own churning emotions and the slowly draining adrenaline from the battle.
"What?" He turned his head sharply, trying to make out Fred's face in the dim light that spilled from occasional streetlamps through the windows of the taxi. She'd pulled her seatbelt as tight as she could; it dug into her body like hospital restraints. Her arms were folded tightly across her chest, and her fingernails were white from the force with which she clung to her bare arms.
He leaned forward, trying to see her face, but couldn't see past her
tangled hair. A few long waves were clumped together by the same green
blood that spattered the bodice of her dress. He made a mental note
to ask Cordelia how to remove the stains.
Fred's shoulders heaved, and her fingers tightened on her arms. She was going to leave bruises. "I'm so sorry." There was a dangerous tremor in her voice.
"But what for?" He laid his hand lightly on her shoulder. She was cold, probably from shock, and small wonder. He frowned. As soon as they got home she needed a hot bath and some strong, sweet tea. He didn't want to make her uneasy-she still didn't seem fully comfortable with any of them but Angel-but something in the way she was holding herself filled him with a vague desire to help her somehow, to make her feel secure and warm even though Angel wasn't there.
"I-I messed it up," she whispered, rigid under his hand. "With the crossbow. In there."
"No, Fred." He kept his voice quiet. "You didn't mess anything up." She shook her head and hunched over as though to protect her stomach.
"But I did, I-- someone could have gotten killed! I almost…" She began to tremble. "I almost killed someone."
"I wasn't going to hurt him! I thought-"
"I know." He rubbed her chilled arms, tugging gently at her hands until she relaxed her grip, leaving little white marks where her fingertips had been.
"I never want to hurt him," she whispered.
"Of course not," he said. "Come here." He took her hand, drew it into the space between them, and cupped it between both of his, rubbing her thin, icy fingers. "Fred, look at me," he said. "Please?"
She turned her head, slowly, and met his gaze. Her eyes were wide, bright with more of the silent tears that streaked her face.
"Nothing that happened tonight was your fault," he said firmly.
"He was going to kill him," Fred whispered. "I couldn't let him-I couldn't-"
"Of course you couldn't. Of course not." He squeezed her hand. "You did well, Fred. You may well have saved Angel's life."
"I couldn't shoot him. He took it away from me." She tried to pull her hand away, shrinking back towards the corner again. He refused to let go.
"Fred. Listen to me." He gentled his voice. "He would have found someone in that bar willing to take the crossbow, and anyone else would have had no reason not to kill Angel. You delayed things enough that the Furies had time to lift the spell. You did well, Fred, I promise."
"He saved me," she said.
"He's saved us all, at one point or another."
A little smile flickered for a moment on her face. "You know how I feel, then."
He smiled back, feeling the cab pull up in front of the Hyperion. "Yes," he said. "I do." He glanced at the hotel through the window. The lights of the lobby shone warmly through the night, and for a moment he thought how appropriate it was for Angel to live somewhere beautiful and desolate, with warmth and life and company taking up only a fraction of the space inside. He was suddenly very glad that Fred was living there.
He paid the driver and opened the cab door. "Are you coming?" he asked, smiling. "You could stay there, I suppose, but you'd probably be more comfortable at home."
"Oh!" Fred fumbled for a moment, then unbuckled her seat belt. He got out and helped her from the cab, slipping his arm unobtrusively around her waist as they walked into the hotel. She leaned into him, sighing. She looked exhausted.
Cordelia met them at the door with an anxious frown and a flurry of questions. "What happened? Did the spell work? Where are Angel and Gunn? Is everyone all right?"
"No one was hurt," he said. "None of us, anyway. The spell worked just as it was supposed to. Angel and Gunn are all right, but they were still at Caritas when we left. I don't know how long they'll be." He sighed. "We'll talk about it later. It's been a difficult night for everyone." He felt Fred sway a bit and tucked her more firmly into his side. "Here," he said, leading her to a couch. "Why don't you sit?" She sank into the plush cushions of the sofa, letting her head fall back limply. Wesley drew Cordelia aside.
"I think she's in shock," he said quietly, not wanting Fred to overhear. "Do you think you could help her get a bath? I don't want her to realize she's got blood on her. Bring her downstairs when you're done, I'll make us something to eat."
Cordelia smiled. "I'm on it," she said, and then surprised him with a brief, tight hug. "I'm glad you're OK," she said softly before letting go.
"Yes," he said, surprised. "You, too."
She smiled at him, though he could see the traces of worry in her eyes. "I think I've got some bubble bath stashed away upstairs. I'll go take care of Fred."
"Thank you." Wesley waited until she and Fred had started up the stairs, and then went to the kitchen, stopping on the way to fetch the tin of biscuits he kept hidden behind a set of reference books in his office.
The ritual motions of making tea soothed him: the familiar gentle hiss of steam from the kettle, the scent of the leaves when the hot water hit them, the soft clinks of spoons and china, their comfort and familiarity godsends in such times. He put a generous handful of biscuits on a plate and added it to the tea tray before carrying the whole thing over to the reception desk.
He had timed it well; within moments Cordelia appeared at the head of the stairs, Fred following her, a little unsteady, still, but better. Her hair was damp and unbound, and she was bundled in a set of too-large sweatpants, thick white socks, and an oversized sweater with the sleeves rolled up-Angel's clothes, he thought, as Fred's current wardrobe was only appropriate for L.A. in the summertime. Cordelia must have gone scavenging. He smiled at them.
"Just in time," he said, and waved them to the round gray sofa near the weapons cabinet. "Here, sit. We'll all feel better after some tea."
They sat, Cordelia rolling her eyes at his belief in tea as a cure-all. Fred wrapped her hands round her cup and breathed in the hot steam gratefully. "That's nice," she said. "Thanks, Wesley."
He sat beside her, feeling the warmth of the tea seeping through the porcelain into his hand. "I know that tea is supposed to be a stimulant," he said, "but I've always found that it relaxes me."
"That's because you're weird," said Cordelia, yawning. She glanced at her watch. "Wow, it's not even midnight yet and I feel like I've been fighting demons all night."
"Are you staying here tonight?" Wesley asked.
"Yeah, I'm too tired to go home. I called and left a message on my machine earlier so Dennis wouldn't worry. God knows there's plenty of room in this place." She flopped over, lying across half the sofa. "If Angel doesn't get home in about fifteen minutes I think I'm going to go on to bed."
The sensation of his glasses being removed from his face woke him. He blinked the sleep haze from his eyes and sat forward a little.
"Angel?" he said, keeping his voice to a low whisper. Angel looked up quickly from where he was draping a blanket over Cordelia.
"I tried not to wake you up," he said. "I'm sorry."
"It's all right." He started to stand, but Angel stopped him, laying a hand in the center of his chest. It rested there, a cool weight. "Don't wake her."
He looked down at Fred curled up along the couch, her head on his lap and his hand threaded through her hair, and smiled. "We wanted to wait for you." He glanced at the front door; dim gray light filtered through the glass. "What time is it?"
"A little after five."
"You just got back?"
Angel shrugged. "I felt like walking."
Wesley laid his hand on Angel's shoulder, letting his fingers curve around it. He felt the dampness of morning mist beneath his palm. "You know that if you want to talk…"
Angel nodded, smiling one of his fleeting half-smiles. "I know." He finished tucking a blanket around the little ball Fred had made of herself in her sleep and picked up another from the floor. "Can you lift her head a little?"
He cupped her head and lifted just enough for Angel to slide the last blanket underneath her cheek, over Wesley's legs. He blinked muzzily, grateful for the added barrier between his body and the lobby's chilly air. "Thank you." He laid Fred back down on his lap. She stirred, and Angel stroked her hair back from her face, making small, soothing sounds. Wesley felt himself start to drift to sleep again and let his head fall back against the plush cushion of the sofa. He thought he felt the whisper of a cool finger tracing over his forehead, but then sleep reclaimed him and he knew no more until he woke, blinking into bright afternoon sun.