Fredful

~ solo by Mad Poetess

I got the invitation in the mail a month or so ago. Mama and Daddy said I should go, even if the wedding was for people I don't know, except from letters and e-mail and pictures. After all, those letters and things come from Cordelia and Lorn and Gunn and Wesley and even Angel sometimes, and David tells me all about them when he comes to visit, so it's kind of like knowing them anyway. Spike and Xander.

Cordelia's always complaining about how they've ruined her best boots with something squishy and purple they fixed up to fall on Angel when he came in the door, or Wesley saying that Spike helped him translate something that probably saved the world, again, but tried to bribe him not to tell Xander, because he's got an image to maintain. I don't even understand what it is Spike tried to bribe him with, and I'm not sure I want to. Something about boysenberry ripple ice cream, and only storing it in their own refrigerator from now on. And Xander just took Wes aside later and said he knew all about it, but he'd do his best to make sure Spike lived up to his end of the bargain. At least they'd try to label which ice cream was theirs.

They sound... silly. Fun. Nice. They're handsome, in their pictures, in the little movie clips Cordelia sends. They make funny Disney videos of Wesley with elephant ears, and little anime versions of themselves chasing each other around and having sex in weird places, and crusading against the evil overlord Angel who unjustly declared that they can't be naked in the lobby when there might be clients around. Even Daddy thinks they're funny, except he thinks Angel should win, sometimes, since he's really a Champion, and Daddy says it's kind of like making fun of John Wayne. You can do it in private, you almost have to sometimes, but it's still not quite right.

I'd like them. I know I would. Mama doesn't have to convince me I'd like Spike and Xander, or that it doesn't even really matter if I would, because it's a chance to see my friends. The ones I haven't seen in person since I came back to Texas. The ones who rescued me from the place that I call Pylea when I talk about it, but still just call it the Bad Place, in my head. The ones who made a space for me in their world, in their hotel, in their lives, and were even willing to stand up to Mama and Daddy to protect me, which is braver than anything they ever did to get me out of the Bad Place. The ones who, even when I left them, told them killing things in person wasn't the life for me and I missed my family, missed home, missed Tex-Mex with the Tex part in it, that L.A. just can't do -- they still arranged with their rich friend to give me a job in Research and Development, where I can do... just about anything.

Including making a version of my monster-killing guillotine that also toasts and slices bread. David actually asked me to design one like that, and it was another thing I just didn't ask about. Not with the amount of funding he's giving me, not when we were having dinner when he asked and I was more interested in trying to make sure I remembered to eat with my fork and not my hands, and not... well, I had other things on my mind. I liked David, and I didn't want to look like a goof, by asking something stupid that I should probably already know. And besides, I just knew the explanation was going to be... silly. Very, very silly.

They introduced me to him, even if they did think it was just going to be about a job, and not about him flying out here almost every weekend to see me, now. I know how special that was, even if they don't know, because I asked him not to tell them. Not for a while, not unless he has to, even though it's almost like lying, and I know it's not right. They're my friends. I know everything they've done for me. I know how good they are, and how nice they are, and how funny and great to be with and smart and generous, and I know Mama at least thinks I'd be better off going back with David some weekend, just packing a bag and going.

I'm perfectly happy here, with my folks, with my work, with David coming to see me. With Cal, my best friend from high school, who never even blinked an eye when he asked where I'd been, and I was so surprised to see him that I just blurted out the truth. Heck, he never blinks an eye now, when I read him bits of letters from the gang, over omelets at the Waffle House. I think he may even get more fun out of the naked pictures of Spike and Xander, than I do.

Mama thinks seven years is enough, though, long enough for her and Daddy to have me back and hold me close, and she doesn't want me to go away, but she thinks it's selfish to keep me here, when I could be helping them in person, instead of just designing demon-killing toasters and dimensional stabilisers for them. She thinks I miss them, and she's right -- but I didn't go to the wedding. I didn't go back there. I didn't see them. I won't see them. I can't. Because I know something they don't know.

Which is silly, because everybody knows something other people don't know, unless you sing for Lorn. Then he knows things you know, and conversely, you aren't somebody who knows something nobody else knows, because he knows everything about you that's worth knowing, at least right then. It's neat, and kind of scary, and sometimes I wish I had, so somebody would know the things I know. So somebody would understand.

I didn't sing for Lorn, though. I knew, sort of, even then, that something wasn't quite right. Not like making fun of John Wayne in public, or like fish tacos, or whatever it is Spike and Xander do with boysenberry ripple ice cream, but really not right. I told them all I was too nervous to sing in front of people, back then. That all those years in Pylea were just too much, where music hurts their ears and they hurt you back for it, even when you're just trying to go to sleep in the hay, even when you're just tired and lonely and scared and hum a lullaby your mama used to sing to you. I don't know if Lorn believed me, but everybody else did. How could they not? I was scared to leave my room; of course I'd be scared to sing to a guy who looked just like the people who kept me in in chains or on the run for five years. But it wasn't that. I was scared, but not of that, not that way. I was scared that I'd done something terribly, terribly wrong, even though I didn't make a mistake.

I'm the first person to admit I'm not perfect - I'm flighty and geeky and hard to understand sometimes, and I don't like to eat anything that's ever touched broccoli - but I know I didn't get my calculations wrong. I mean, I was distracted; who wouldn't be, with the chance to go home, with brave men on horses, with Cordelia wearing that halter thing with the gold that made me think of Princess Leia and then wonder if that was a real story or just one I made up in my head to keep me company, and with maybe, just maybe, not being crazy after all. But I didn't mess up the math. I never mess up the math. Everything else, but not the math.

I know I did it right, even if I was distracted. By people who looked like home. Talked like home. By Angel, even when he wasn't being a monster. He's easy to be distracted by, so big and tall and dark and heroic, and such a complete dork for thinking nobody noticed that he was always checking out Gunn's butt. Not that it wasn't worth checking out, but the way Angel had to smooth back his hair and pretend he was just worried that Gunn might have been attacked by those bloodsucking Gorbnar bugs that like to get you when you sit down in the grass... And then he had to check out *everybody's* butt, just to be sure, not that it looked like he minded that either, or that anybody seemed to mind being checked.

And Gunn, he's distracting too. He's got such a nice smile. Mama even thought he had a nice smile; she made those little comments she makes, before we left, about how polite he was, how he put that severed monster head away when she got icked by it, and didn't let Angel talk him into playing basketball with it, even though it looked like he really, really wanted to. She thought maybe. But Gunn only ever looked at Wesley; even she could see that, even though Wesley was mad at him about what happened when we went to Caritas and I didn't sing, and only looked back when Gunn wasn't looking.

And Wesley was the most distracting of all, when we were in the Bad Place. You'd think it was Angel, but no. Angel was my hero, but Wesley was the one I could talk to. He was the one who understood the concept of getting home, of opening the portals, even if he couldn't understand the equations. He understood, when I told him that everything, everyone, is a variable, and you just have to write it down, on the wall or in your head, and factor them into the equation, to come up with the right solution. He might not have been able to do the math, but he could read the books, in Pylea, and he could talk to me about what we were doing, and he could explain it to everybody else in words that didn't sound crazy. Wesley didn't think *I* was crazy, even when I did, and that was almighty distracting. But I still didn't get the math wrong.

It's just... they were so much like home. So real even when I wasn't sure they were real. So good, when I hadn't seen or believed in good in so long. I thought they were all a story, Cordelia in her metal bikini and Angel watching Gunn watch Wesley watch Angel watching... Lorn singing at the top of his lungs every time it looked like one of his relatives was going to say boo to me. But they touched me. They put their hands on my arms. Angel picked me up and carried me away from danger. Cordelia brushed my hair out of my face and said she knew a good stylist, and Lorn caught me watching Wesley watching, and whispered to me that Wes used to do that for a living, and they're all big mooks for thinking nobody notices them doing it. His breath tickled my ear.

They touched me, and they made me believe they were real, no matter how silly they were. Because they were, as real as Pylea, as real as me. So Wesley translated, and I figured and scribbled and put all the equations together in nice neat order. Wesley read me the priests' books. We sat in Angel's car, all of us, and Wesley gave me the variables for the world he recognised as home, and I plugged them into the equation, and the portal opened, and there we all were. On Earth.

And when we got to that big hotel, there was nobody there but us chickens, and a message on the answering machine, from somebody named Buffy. Thanks for the info, Wesley. Sorry you guys missed actually showing *up* to help us save the world this time, but I thought I should call and let you know it worked, anyway. She sounded tired, but not really mad, and Angel smiled, when he heard her voice.

That wasn't what made me sure that I was wrong (though not about the math). Even though Buffy is a ridiculous name, it didn't make me positive that things weren't right, not completely. Just made me giggle a little, and wonder, and try not to think about it. I'm sure nobody noticed that, since I was doing it all the time. See a news report with a different President on it, giggle and look away until somebody turned off the tv. Hear somebody talking about mad cow disease, giggle and finger my neck until I could be sure there was no collar there, until Wesley reminded me it was something that happened to real cows. That stuff was wrong, but right, too. I understood that it was just things I'd missed. The world changes, in five years.

I wasn't sure until later, after I didn't sing, and Cordy convinced Lorn to take the next round of Try To Get Fred Out Of The House Before She Starts Quoting The Shining. I wasn't scared to go out with him, at least not any more than I was just plain scared to go out. I think that's when he might have figured out I'd been lying, when I'd said I was scared to sing. When he took me out in Angel's car, during the day, he laughed, and said hell yes, Angel would mind him borrowing it, and if I thought he gave a Gorbnar bug's dinner about whether Angel would mind... He even got me to laugh, without the giggle, when he pointed out that it wasn't like Angel could use it right then, not without better sunscreen than you can buy on a Champion's salary.

Then Lorn said maybe I didn't need taco huts or ice cream or internet cafes -- all those little things that would remind me of home but let me realize time had moved on while I was gone, that the others had been taking me to. Maybe what I needed was a real shock to the system. To prove once and for all that I really wasn't dreaming, and the Bad Place was really gone. So he took me to the place that had made *him* sure he was really in another world. Morrie's.

I didn't have a problem with the sex toys. I mean, I giggled, but see above for why I wasn't worried about anybody thinking I was crazier than usual, for that. I didn't have a problem with the videos of vampires and witches and wendigos doing things you didn't used to be able to get even on the pay cable channels, at least not in Texas. I didn't have a problem with the demons trying things out in the aisles, or the humans not seeming to care that the demons were there, or Lorn whispering to me that it was a big secret, and don't tell anybody back at the hotel, but if I wanted a discount on anything, I might mention Angel's name to the man with the forked tongue behind the counter. There might have been a little more giggling and looking away than usual, but I thought, hey, this is L.A. Things change fast.

Then the life-sized duck waddled out from the back room, and handed me a coupon for two dollars off enchanted, strawberry flavoured, glow in black-light, musical condoms, and I knew right then, I would never sing in front of Lorn. Ever.

I knew something was... well, not wrong. There was nothing wrong. It was right, all of it. Sweet and silly and so much better than than the Bad Place. People hurt, here, but they don't go on and on hurting. Bad things happen, but they don't happen forever. There's still monsters. There's still people who do horrible things, but sometimes they even get forgiven for them. God, I hope they -- we -- get forgiven for doing horrible things. I have to believe we do.

Mama says I should go see them, even though I missed the wedding. I made sure I missed the wedding, made sure I was stuck so deep in my newest project that it took other people's hands on my shoulders to guide me to the fridge to get something to eat, and other people prying me away from the computer to put me to bed at four in the morning. Other people. My mama and daddy, who thought I was dead and gone, lost forever, for five years. Mine. My daddy, who says Mama is right about letting me go, even though he'd keep me with him forever if he could -- because he thinks they'll hold me back. Make me into a child again, and he says I'm better than that. My mama, who sings those songs to me when I go to bed at night, those songs that I wasn't allowed to sing in the Bad Place, and sometimes I sing along, because I can. Because I can sing, without getting my head cut off. Because I can sing to her, without her knowing things that only I know.

I know it's wrong. Not the world, not them. Me. I'm wrong. Mama and Daddy don't notice, or if they do, they don't say. They think I'm more serious than I used to be, because of where I was. Because of caves and demons and having to write everything down that was in my head so I could make sure it didn't get away. They don't understand that I was always this way. Always, when you got beyond the nervous giggles, I was worried about the formulas, and the application in both theoretical and real space, and how many worlds there really were, out there. Not just other places, magic places, but other earths. Where things were different. Better, maybe. Where people didn't get beat up for loving somebody the wrong color or the wrong sex or the wrong religion. I used to think, maybe there was an earth like that. At least one where it didn't happen as *much*, and people weren't so scared, all the time.

My parents think I changed, and I did, but not enough. They think the world changed while I was gone, and it did, but not this much.

Wesley gave me the variables. I wrote the equations, but Wesley gave me the numbers to plug into them. For home. For the place where Angel's first human love is still alive, and going out with another vampire now. With a soul, like Angel, but a girl. A world where Angel loves Gunn loves Wesley, and they all stood up in the wedding of another vampire, without a soul, who loves Cordelia's ex-boyfriend so much that he wouldn't hurt people anymore, even if he could. The place they came from. Where love is stronger than fear, and vampires and porn magazine owners skate naked together through the grand ballroom, sliding around barefooted on ten gallons of grape slushee, according to Cordelia's last e-mail. To celebrate the fertilization of piranha eggs.

I won't go back to see them, because it's not this place that's wrong. It's me. I'm the wrong Fred. Somewhere, there's a world where my mama, my real mama, much as I love her, would never have pointed out how nice and polite Charles Gunn was. Not because she would have minded, but because she knew how hard it would be for us, if there was ever an us. There's a world where my best friend in high school got hit and punched and kicked so hard that his face turned purple and his left arm got broken in three places, because the police chief's son and a bunch of his friends found out Cal had a crush on another boy. His parents moved away, took him away somewhere and he only wrote that once, to say he was sorry he didn't get the chance to say goodbye.

If I go back to L.A., if I look them in the face, they'll know. Or -- okay, maybe they won't know. Angel and Wesley and Gunn are pretty good at being clueless, and if I stay away from Cordelia... But I don't want to stay away from Cordelia. I like Cordelia. I love her letters and e-mails and how much she pretends to think she's surrounded by dorks when she loves them all to pieces. I don't want to stay away from any of them. Not even from Lorn, who made me realize the truth. But if I see them, someone, sometime, will realize it too. They'll see that I don't belong, and it's not that hard to travel between the dimensions now, not since we cracked the equations, created the stabilizing spells.

Somewhere, there's a Fred who came back to a world where nobody skates naked on grape slushees, or raises piranha as their children, or lets three men get away with loving each other, especially when one's dead and one's black. I'm sorry for her. I am. I *am*. But if I see them again, they'll know, and they might send me back. To my real mama and daddy, yes, but to that world where things aren't nearly as bad as the Bad Place, but... Not as good as here. No matter how strange and silly and improbably gay this place is, to the point where David says he feels like he ought to hire a fake boyfriend just to fit in, I don't want to go away.

I know it's wrong. I know I'm a horrible, horrible person, for not telling anyone, but I like this world better. I want to stay. Maybe she's okay, that other Fred? Maybe she's found somebody who cares, and makes that world better enough than the Bad Place, for her to live in it. Maybe she doesn't realize, anyway. Maybe...

I didn't go to the wedding, but I did send a present -- a dimensionally transcendental toybox. You can fit it into a carry-on bag, but when you open it, it's big enough for half the stock on the shelves at Morrie's, and it only weighs as much as it looks like it should weigh, when it's shut. Cordelia says they love it, even though they were too stupid to open it before they went on their honeymoon. I didn't go after the wedding, but I did tell them I'd take one of the baby fish, when they come. David can bring it, when he flies out on one of his 'business trips.' I can be part of their world, a little bit, even if I can't be there.

Maybe, if David asks me to marry him, like I think he might be trying to fumble his way up to doing, I'll invite them all. Even Lorn. And I'll sing at my own wedding. Maybe.