NOTES and DISCLAIMERS: Mutant Enemy and the like own these characters, not me. Not profit garnered ever. For Glossing in the Fredficathon. Thanks to Katie and Mosca.



NITTY GRITTY DETRITUS


Today there is only Charles. Thirty-two days since Angel left and thirty-four days since Fred came to the hotel, only Charles has happened only twice. Fred doesn't have a large enough sample to be able to predict who will be coming in the morning or staying the night. Well, staying the night is easy – Charles and Wesley alternate so that Fred isn't sleeping alone in a huge hotel with 72 other empty rooms including the closets and the deserted kitchen and dining room in the basement.

While Charles or Wesley sleeps, Fred explores. You can't expect a person to feel safe when just about anything could be hiding ten meters down or six meters to the left. She spent twenty days making a coded map of every place she can hide on every floor. She drew it on the wall above her head. The most detritus is on the sixth floor, the most sheets without scary stains are on the fourth floor and the best place to hide is in the basement, past the kitchen and not the old freezer but the little closet which has a tiny opening that leads outside. Not that Fred has gone outside.

Charles is a good thing because Charles leaves the best things outside the door. And sometimes he stops and talks and he has a very nice voice. He left a TV once and a radio. The radio was better because there more parts when Fred dismantled it. She's remembering electronics now.

Fred presses against the wall and counts to twenty (using prime numbers starting from 37 because it's more fun that way) and then creeps to the balcony, hiding most of her behind a pole with only her head visible. Not that Charles looks up because he never does, nothing to be scared of, just little ol' Fred and she always hides in her room. Silly to think she'd be about, Fred thinks, and doesn't giggle. Sound gives you away.

She needs to observe. Only Charles comes in and isn't surprised that no one is there. This means there was coordination that Fred missed. Phone conversations have occurred. Charles doesn't check that the front door is locked, so Fred makes a mental note to do it after he falls asleep. You can't have just anyone walking in the door when there isn't someone in the lobby waiting with weapons. He presses the button on the answering machine which triggers the voices and if Fred could get her hand on binoculars or maybe a telescope, she'd already know if there were messages.

The phone rang three separate times while Wesley slept and in the twenty minutes before Charles showed up. Wesley didn't check the messages; he just patted his bag and glanced up before he left in the morning. Wesley is the only one who ever looks up specifically to see if Fred has come out.

The first message is Cordelia not talking about a vision, talking about money and bills and typing. Fred thinks 78 WPM, and remembers once she could type at 78 WPM. She turns against the pole so Charles can't see if he looks up even though the chances are only 7.6% he will do so casually, eyes wandering. She pictures the keyboard and makes her fingers do 'quick brown fox jumps over the lazy duck and was it a duck why would it be a duck.' She thinks she's slower now.

The second message is Wesley talking fast about werewolves in the park near the school, Charles will remember the school, he says. He goes on too long. The third message is a heretofore unidentified woman. So many people who aren't slaves wandering around now. The woman mentions werewolves, too.

She turns away and thinks about oatmeal, she can have real oatmeal now and not thistles and kalla berries. She should leave a note about that. Behind and below her Charles hums and mutters to himself. He is using the books. "Researching werewolves," Fred mutters. When he finally goes away to sleep, she plans to do the same. So many beasts she didn't remember now, wandering around like the people.

It wouldn't be a duck, it would be a dog. It's a sentence meant to use every letter in the alphabet. The current set up of the keys on the keyboard was designed to slow down typists because they were faster than the old machines but when the machines caught up with people, everyone was used to the inefficient way. It's a story she heard.

Charles calls out, "Here I come, Fred, I have tacos," and that's her warning. She runs back to her room as quiet as a pillatil and closes the door. He can't see through the door that she's observed but you never know. Hard to observe x-ray vision. She sits on the floor and looks innocent.

He knocks and says, "Fred? It's Gunn." Sometimes Charles, sometimes Gunn. She's keeping track of that, too. "I got you breakfast burritos. I know they're not tacos, but they're best for breakfast. That's why it's in the name." He laughs. It's not that funny, but it isn't smart to contradict people that much taller than her. "Okay, I sound stupid, but I got your breakfast. I might need to leave later, but someone'll be here tonight, keep those werewolves away."

Evening comes, she can see the sun set. She's heard a few more conversations. Cordelia has come in and brought lunch for Fred. Chinese this time. Someone named Oz is a good werewolf; someone has talked to someone named Willow briefly. Willow, Fred thinks, red hair, sad face, told the news that made Angel leave. Fred doesn't think she wants to know Willow better.

Tonight should be Wesley. Wesley brings books and pens. He falls asleep on the desk which is hard on the neck. She creeps to the best place for watching just in time, lucky break, to see Cordelia and Charles leave. She dodges when Wesley looks up. When she looks back because it's safe, he looks angry. "Foolish boy," Wesley says and leaves. He's locked the door but he's left her alone for the night.

She tries not to hyperventilate. She has many options. She could hide in the best hiding place in the hotel, be ready to risk outside. She doesn't want to go outside. "Wesley will be back," she says. "Of course he will. He had to go somewhere and get weapons, deal with monsters, but he will be right back."

There's someone in her room. Short, boy, brown hair.

She says, "Excuse me," and runs. She knows this hotel better than him, she thinks. Lobby, she thinks, weapons, something sharp and run him through, that stops everyone, even the priests.

He's right behind her, fast runner on those short little legs, lying to her, saying "Hey, don't worry, I'm not going to hurt you."

She grabs the first thing she can get her hands on in the cabinet and points it his way. He skitters to a stop before the sword pierces his lung and stops his breathing right there. "STOP," she says in her loudest voice. She screams and he backs up again.

"Hey," he says. "I'm not going to hurt you."

"Liar." She jabs with the sword and he dodges.

"No." He looks calm even with his hands up and his feet dancing away from her. "I don't want to hurt you. I just need to hide here, okay? Is Wesley here? Or Cordelia?"

"You know they're not." She tries to glare. That scary face Charles and Wesley can pull out in a second. Or Cordelia. Cordelia has a very scary mean face when she needs it, Fred has seen from above when Wesley or Charles says they don't want to clean something.

The boy nods. "I'm hoping to avoid them, that's true."

"Why?"

"Long story."

"I've got time. And a big sword." She keeps up the glare.

"Good point." He pauses. "Can I sit down?" He glances at the red couch.

She considers. "Keep your hands up. And I still might gut you where you stand. Or sit, as the case may be. And if I eviscerate you where you stand then you'll fall and be sitting anyway."

He nods again and sits on the couch. "I'm Oz. I went to high school with Cordelia, has she mentioned me?"

"She has not. She hasn't really mentioned anyone she went to high school with, though, to be honest. We don't talk much. I stay in my room and keep track of things from the balcony, she works down here and has her visions. So I might have missed it."

Another small nod. He's not a big talker which makes him different from everyone but Angel. He says, "I won't hurt you." He looks very insistent so she nods like she understands. He doesn't seem that threatening when he's not sitting in her room on her personal bed. "There are bad people trying to use werewolves for bad things. Not interested in joining that club. I am a werewolf, but I can control it. I just want to get out of town. If I can hide out here until morning, I'll be fine. I didn't realize that was your room."

"That's a very vague story." She sees something peeking out of his pocket. Plastic bag, tiny buds. She cocks her head to the side and says, "Is that weed?"

She keeps the sword with her as they walk upstairs, him in front. She explains that Wesley will be back at any moment so it's probably best to go upstairs. "Wesley will come upstairs to check on me so don't think you can take this sword from me and try to gut me. Wesley will gut you right back."

"No gutting," he says.

"And I'm confiscating your weed. I might share, if you really aren't going to hurt me."

She trusts people more than demons. She trusts short people more than tall people. She doesn't trust much but he really hasn't tried to hurt her or knock the ridiculously heavy sword out of her hands. She bets he could. She won't let him stay the night but he saw her outside the room and she doesn't want him to tell the others. What if they change the floor plans or block up her hiding places? Which they wouldn't, of course they wouldn't, but a girl has to be prepared.

She remembers that she liked smoking pot and she never did meet anyone too crazy back when she did that. Not crazy violent push you off a cliff into a Drokken gully way.

Back in her room, he sits on the floor like it's comfortable for him. That's also a good sign, he doesn't take up much space. She keeps the sword in her hand even though her wrist aches but she lays her hand down on the bed, pointing at him. He looks at the walls and says, "I like what you've done with the place."

"I'm a decorator," she says, giggling. "I'm starting to run out of space but I don't leave the room so I'll have to start moving furniture."

"I saw you leave the room." He doesn't say it like a threat so she doesn't stab him. "Should we keep that a secret?"

"Yes. A big secret." She holds up the baggie. "For this, we need a light. A fire. Do you have fire?" She could find it downstairs, she knows four places to get fire if she needs it and two places she could assemble all the materials but he doesn't need to know that.

"And rolling paper," he says, holding up a lighter.

Oz, his name is Oz like the wizard that didn't exist and couldn't do anything, rolls well. They each smoke one in silence and Fred decides it's okay to let go of the sword. She remembers how much she enjoyed this in high school and college. She tells him the story of the keyboard and the duck that should be a dog. He smiles a little at those. She says, "So what do you do besides hide out and leave town?"

"I play music," he says. "I get by." He reaches for the dismantled and rebuilt radio and takes it in his hands. He examines it delicately. Smart boy, Fred thinks, good thing she didn't go ahead with her first plan and booby-trap it and rebuild it as a weapon. He says, "Neat," and figures out how to turn it on. There's music everywhere.

She stares at the ceiling and says, "Do you like the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band? I used to like the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. We went to see them once when I was only sixteen."

He smiles. "They're not quite my kind of tango." He fiddles with the tuning and after a snap crackle pop, they're listening to the police scanner. "You really fixed this."

"Need to be able to hear what's going on," she says smiling. She hums Long Hard Road, she remembers that one.

"Because you never leave the room."

"I never ever leave the room." She stares at him. "Do you want to know how to leave here without being seen? I know three different ways, I could help you."

He keeps fiddling with the radio. "Thanks." From police scanner to Spanish to someone shouting about something political to quiet music with flutes. Fred knows it's flutes but she can't quite picture one. You blow, she thinks.

"You blow. To play a flute," she says. He doesn't even look up but he smiles. He puts the radio down and offers her another joint. "Do you know Sugar Magnolia?"

"It's a requirement, actually. But I gotta say, it's not my favorite song."

"What's your favorite song? Your absolute favorite song ever in the whole world? Or is that too hard to choose because, really, there's all those songs you haven't heard, songs that haven't been written and the possibilities are infinite though the combination of notes isn't? If you were wondering. We're going to run out."

"We're pretty far away from running out, though. I know it's a big number," he says, smiling.

"A very big number." She nods and says, "I could calculate it. There are a set number of variables and it's a really big number but it's not infinite. That's much harder to calculate."

He sits back against the wall. He's covering the string theory section of the wall. It makes her giggle. "It would be sad to have that number and be checking off each song as it gets written."

"I lived in a place with no music. No one sang at all."

"Sounds like hell," he says.

"Well, sure. But that's the way of it, walk the wrong way, open the wrong book and you end up a slave hunted like a cow and no one makes you a princess after a week unless you're Cordelia. I sort of wish they'd made me a princess. I could have had more comfortable clothes. Burlap is scratchy."

He points to where she's written that on the farther wall. "I see. And also, cows can climb up stairs, but they can't go back down."

"Yup." She grins. "This is nice. You're nice. Why are you hiding from Charles and Cordelia and Wesley? They seem really nice, too."

"You're hiding from them."

"I'm waiting for Angel to come back. He had to go because that Willow person told him bad news." She sighs. She's getting very hungry. When Wesley comes back and goes to sleep she can steal some things from the hiding place on the fifth floor where she keeps the back-up food in case no one comes into work.

"Willow?" Oz looks up at that and stops reading the walls. "I think I know why she came."

"Someone died." Fred sits up. "Did you know her?"

Oz nods. "She found a way to tell me, too."

"When Angel gets back, I'll know for sure it's safe to go out. When they can see me. Angel saved me from the monsters."

"He does that." Oz gets up and peeks out the window. It's covered so no one can see in and figure out where Fred is. He carefully replaces the covering because he's polite like that. "I can go now."

"Is it already morning?" She springs off the bed. "This night went by so fast, I'm really glad I didn't have to gut you." She stares at him for a moment. "Are you real? Maybe I just imagined you because I'm tired of waiting for Angel to get back."

"I feel pretty real." He shrugs. "Could be, though."

"Well, then, thank you imaginary person for the enjoyable night. I hope I imagine you coming back soon."

He looks down at the floor. "I wouldn't count on that. Unless I am imaginary."

"I'm not sure which I like better. If I'm imagining people then I'm even more around the bend than I already think I am and if I'm not then I guess you won't come back." She grabs the sword. "Let's go to the secret escape places, okay?"

"Okay," he says and puts the rest of the baggie with the rolling papers and lighter on her bed. "That's for you."

"Thank you very much!" They creep down to the basement and she shows him the best way out, not through the sewers but in the kitchen. "I won't tell you were here."

"I won't tell you were out of your room. Swear." He pats her arm and he fits himself into the small closet.

"I'm going to watch you to make sure you get out okay. It would be awful to be stuck in there and no one knows and no one even comes down here so it wouldn't matter that your body would start to stink after just a few days."

He smiles. "Thanks."

She watches until she sees him outside in the morning light. She makes sure everything is snug and closed and then sneaks back upstairs. Still no Wesley which is sort of scary. He should have arrived by now. She carefully replaces the sword in the cabinet and rubs off any fingerprints with a rag. Then she sits by the balcony until Wesley comes rushing in, sweaty and carrying a bloody sword. She runs straight back to her room and waits for him to bring her food.

THE END.

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