Notes and disclaimers: mutant enemy or real people, not mine. Nothing is true, no malice aforethought, no profit, no static at all ever. For Mosca's birthday. Thanks to Anna for beta magic. Title from a poem by Leonard Gontarek.



SALT ON THE LIP FROM THE SEA SOMEWHERE




It turns out what Fred needed to be corporeal and breathing and in full possession of her soul was a teeny little miracle made from a magical wish made on a mystical nexus at a garlic festival in Northern California where there was also a very unusual chemical reaction from a combination of soy and pesticides among other reactants. It was very unusual because it violated all the conventional laws of physics in this dimension. Even some of the unconventional laws Fred had researched at Wolfram and Hart.

This is what Giles had told her. She liked Giles, a little, but she was unsure about working for the Council. And even Giles made her a little suspicious. She was also naturally suspicious after being killed by her ex-boyfriend and employee.

Of course she had contacted Angel and Wesley and Charles but there was something about going back to Los Angeles. The something was she couldn't bring herself to do it. She'd tried, once, but she got off the Greyhound bus in San Luis Obispo and didn't get back on. Instead she went to a coffee house and spent two hours eating five different kinds of muffin, all vegan, like comparing the quality of each one was the most important thing in the world.

Instead she was back in her cave. She knew it, but it didn't make it any easier to walk out the door and get back on the bus.

Maybe it had been a condition of the confluence of events that brought her back to life, basically brand spanking new if new was considered exactly like she was at the moment right before she got infected with an ancient god and died. Plus she had her altered and unaltered twin memory intact up to the moment of death. She wasn't sure how she felt about that part. She wasn't completely sure how she felt about any part of coming back to life and it had been six months.

But she knew she had a job, a calling. And it worked out pretty well working for the Council. She still talked to people on the phone, the people she'd loved before. They acted like they understood why she was suddenly based in Oklahoma City.

"Okay," Johnny said. "Thanks for that incredibly weird story. But, um, why are you telling me all this?"

"Well, we have about an hour in here, so I thought it would help pass the time." Fred dug in her bag. "I also brought snacks. Do you want candy, or, um, a granola bar, rice cakes, ice cream bar, bottled water, vitamin water and oh, wow. I have Doritos." She held up the shiny bag.

"We have an hour? I don't have an hour." He got up and walked quickly to the door which didn't open.

"Oh, don't worry. I made this room, and it's not a room, actually. It's a pocket outside of time and space. Especially time. You're being stalked by someone who's using some pretty serious evil demonic magic to track you, and we're confounding their plans by temporarily keeping you safe and away from them. Hopefully, it will make his head plotz from worry about where you've gone and the Slayers can take him down easy."

"Why didn't you say that to begin with instead of talking about, about garlic?" He tugged on the door one more time, but like a smart boy, realized it really wasn't opening.

Fred smiled. "I waited until all the markers and signifiers were set. Kind of a distraction. Really, you don't have to worry. We'll be in here for sixty minutes but only fifteen minutes will pass in the real world."

"Really?" He leaned back against the door and smiled. "So could I maybe borrow whatever you've got doing this? Just for this season." He grimaced and then said, "No, never mind. I guess it's cheating."

"It's not cheating if everyone else is doing it."

"Are they? Is that how Buttle did it?"

"I don't know anyone named Buttle," Fred said. "And there's no way anyone else is using this, I just perfected it last week. Also, you seem pretty okay about being the target of a nefarious evil plan. Did you miss that part? You didn't even ask."

He shrugged and walked over to sit down on the floor next to her. "Can I just look through your purse and take whatever?" After she nodded, he put her purse on his lap and started digging through it. Digging was the wrong word, because he had a delicacy about it. Kind of like he was concerned he would be infected by something at any moment. Fred suspected it was the purse. She didn't like to bring her nice ones on jobs like this, you never knew when there would be demon goo, demon guts or worse, demon eggs.

He took the bag of rice cakes and grimaced again.

"You have a very expressive face," Fred said.

"Thanks?" He nibbled at the rice cakes. "I really want the candy bar. And the ice cream bar. Which you're eating right now."

"Sorry. You can have the candy bar?"

"Not until 2011," Johnny said with a very extended sigh. "So, who's got a nefarious plot against me? Is it Evan? I'd believe that."

"Someone from USFSA," Fred said.

"I believe that, too," Johnny said.

"I didn't get the name, sorry. They sort of just give me jobs to do. Which works for me, like I said. Mostly. I don't miss being in charge, let me tell you that. But I did enjoy ordering people around sometimes. What I like more is science, experiments, theorizing, thinking, hypotheses. And doing it in pursuit of good, making a real difference. I know the Council is after the same thing, even if they aren't my friends. Of course, my friends altered my memory and worked for Wolfram and Hart for a year, slowly being corrupted and lost. Except for Harmony who was already corrupt being a vampire. If she counts as my friend."

Johnny was just staring at her. She smiled and said, "They wanted you shielded and also untrackable and I did that. And since I'm no Slayer in a fight, I'm watching over you at the same time. What's funny is, not at same time is exactly how this is working."

"Since you're bad at fighting, you're working as my bodyguard? Wow, I feel so cared about." He sealed up the remaining rice cakes and put them back in her purse.

"Hey, I've got three weapons that could level this building in my purse," Fred said.

"Your purse? That you just let me dig through without warning me?" He stood up quickly and stretched out his back. "So if I work out now do I still get the benefit?"

"You totally do," Fred said. "But it's really only 45 minutes extra. Also, I have to say it's not like the Council doesn't care about you. But it's not specifically you, it's that you're an innocent and we don't want you eaten or disemboweled or used as a sacrifice."

"I'm not innocent," Johnny said. He looked a little put out.

"Not like innocent as in young and naïve and virginal, I mean, innocent like innocent versus guilty, demon or evil vs human and not generally evil. Or also innocent of the mystical world, but I don't really think anyone is like that. They're all in denial. Anyway, apparently, the Council have a lot of contacts in the figure skating world. Lots of Slayers, I guess."

"Aren't all the Ladies Slayers?" He was smirking and Fred understood it was sarcasm.

She still had to answer. "Not all of them. Not even one in twenty if you look at all the ones competing. And it's not like men's doesn't have mystically influenced competitors. Ones who are part demon, ones who've sold their souls or what have you." Fred had finished eating the candy bar and the ice cream bar. She wanted to say how neat it was that her plastic bag invention had kept the ice cream bar from thawing but then she tried to remember how much her little room that time and space forgot affected the temperatures of things. She'd have to test that. "Also, you only think you want more time in the day. It really just wears you out, stretches out your day so thin you can barely stay awake. If you try to fill the stretched out time with activity. I guess you could do all your sleeping then. I didn't try that."

"Sleep is the first thing I would have tried," Johnny said. He was starting to stretch again and it was beautiful, all the things the human body could do. Fred forgot that, especially when she wasn't dating.

"You're very bendy," Fred said.

"Thanks," Johnny said.

"Do you, do you know Ben Agosto? I know Wesley and Charles met him." She thought possibly Johnny was blushing but it could have been the position he was in with his head nearly touching his knees. "What do you call that position?"

Johnny laughed. "You're too innocent," he said.

Fred played with the hem of her skirt. "Do you think I should do it?"

"Do what?"

"I don't know. Stop working for the Council, go back to Los Angeles. Hook up with the new Angel Investigations and be with people I like. Not that I don't like my coworkers now, but it's more that awkward kind of coworker relationship where you know they don't want to spit in your coffee, but they never invite you out for pancakes on a Sunday morning."

"I'm not an advice person," Johnny said. "I don't really have coworkers, you know? I have teammates and coaches and most of those teammates are just people I see ten times a year and almost all of them annoy me. The other ones I'm skating against. So. I don't know. I think something's wrong if you're asking me."

"That's a kind of advice," Fred said. "It's probably just me being crazy again."

"I think you have a right to be," Johnny said. "Okay, I just had a scary thought and I need you to tell me something. And maybe you could lie? You have turned off this thing and gone back to real time already, right?"

"Absolutely," Fred said. "I'm not even lying. It worked every single time I did it." Which was only once, but no one needed to know that. Maybe she'd call up Charles and tell him about her day when they got back. Maybe she'd find a way to stay on the bus past San Luis Obispo when they were on the other side of the door.

THE END


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