Word Count: 2,335
Spoilers: general season two
Summary: AU. Wolfram & Hart rescue Fred from Pylea. Lilah gets to babysit.
Author's Note: Written for queensmoot's awesome prompt for this comment ficathon. This was way too much fun.
Between this and Bethany all those months ago, Lilah's apartment is starting to feel like Miss Morgan's Home For Wayward Girls. At least Bethany could grasp the concept of sitting on the sofa.
Not Winifred Burkle. Nope, Wolfram & Hart's newly acquired lunatic genius finds herself a nice corner of wall and floor and folds herself into it. Arms around knees, rocking back and forth, big shining Bambi eyes taking in the room like it's fairy land, or maybe hell. Some gratitude for getting her cute little (Lilah assumes – she hasn't had much chance to look) ass dragged out of Pylea.
What Lilah is thinking can be more or less transcribed as Fuck this nurturing female bonding bullshit, why the hell would they think I'm the best person for this, they have MET me, right?, what this company needs is a sexism in the workplace seminar complete with an admonitory decapitation or two; what Lilah does is put on her kindest expression (needless to say, it's rusty) and sink down onto the floor.
"Winifred," she says gently, and runs her fingers through long brown hair that, in five conditioner-deprived years, has developed the general consistency of seaweed (her Unholy Winter Solstice bonus had better kick ass this year), "sweetie, is there anything you need? Something to eat, or drink?" She's got scotch and a vast array of takeout menus. "Maybe a shower?"
"Showers!" Winifred yelps. Like a deranged puppy. Or a squirrel, or something. Lilah's not great with fuzzy animals. "Warm rain, all in one place; like Hawaii in your bathroom, right?" She giggles, an all-over-the-place sound. God, this one is a special degree of unhinged.
Lilah latches onto the most promising part of this statement. It's kinda what she does. Hawaii. Surely a corporate jet and a four-star beachside hotel isn't a lot to ask in the grand scheme of things, when you're breaking in a new evil genius. That's not the sort of work you do by halves, right?
"W-why did you rescue me?" Winifred asks, totally interrupting Lilah's vision of bikinis and lounge chairs and drinks with umbrellas. "Who are you?"
"I told you," Lilah says, looping some seaweed-hair around her finger and resisting the urge to pull. "I'm from Wolfram & Hart, and we were just – appalled to find out that you were living in such terrible conditions. Such a waste of a bright young mind."
"Oh! Well!" Winifred blushes like she's just been crowned Miss Brainy Texas. "It's nothin', I just – I mean, I was good, I think I was good, but I'm not sure if 'bright' would be the – it's just – would somebody bright read out of the wrong book? I read out of the wrong book." That manic sparkle in her stills, suddenly; it's sudden and disconcerting as a power outage. Lilah stares right into Winifred Burkle's eyes, and it's not all hearts and flowers and complex equations. She looks like what she is: starved, beaten, sleek as a fish, all bony ribs underneath the burlap and the willingness to chew her own arm off if it means getting out. Calculating. A survivor. She'll bash your head in if that's what she needs to do.
Lilah's getting the feeling this is going to pay off after all.
"Yeah, about that," Lilah says, her fingers starting again through Winifred’s hair, getting the hang of it, "my people have been looking into it. Don't you worry. We'll make sure that someone speaks to ..." Careful, careful. This part's tricky. The essential win, if she plays it right. "Winifred, did you know a Professor Seidel?"
"Yes! He was my -- but -- why? Y--you know him?" There, again. Uninvited darkness in those Bambi eyes. Just a hint of it.
"Never mind all that right now," Lilah says, leaving suspicion there to marinate. Patience is a virtue, but hey, you can’t hold that against it all the time. She stands up, holds a hand out. "Let's get you cleaned up, okay?" Because there’s no way in hell I’m letting you track five-years-in-a-demon-dimension dirt all over this apartment, roomie. "How 'bout a nice warm bath? Lots of bubbles?"
"Bubbles," Winifred repeats, like she doesn’t even know what to do with that concept. She lets Lilah lead her up. "Th-thanks, Ms. Morgan."
"Oh, please," Lilah says, "none of that Southern hospitality. It's Lilah."
"Lilah," Winifred repeats with a sigh. She’s standing now, like a big girl, but she’s forgotten to let go of Lilah’s hand. Lilah can feel every bone in her grip; it’s not as fragile as she’d expected, this hand. But it’s very precise. One false move and – well. You fill in the blank. "My gosh, that's pretty. After – ya know, hearin' 'cow' so much. Not a lot of pretty names. Lilah." The second time, she drags it out. Like the sound has a taste, and it’s one she likes.
"Thank you," Lilah says – see, she is capable of being sincere – and smiles. This is more like it.
“You can call me Fred,” (Wini)fred adds. “Everyone does.”
“You don’t look much like a Fred,” Lilah observes dryly.
“Yeah, well.” She smiles, sheepish, looking – oh – positively harmless. “I—I guess I’m full of surprises.”
“Fred,” Lilah says, “I don’t doubt it.”
Lilah leads Fred into the bedroom first, retrieves a short, silky blue robe from the recesses of her closet and gives it to her. She turns her back so that Fred can change in private – ever so gallant – and watches in the mirror. The girl’s all sick angles and protruding bones, but hey, nothing a few weeks of five-star restaurants can’t cure. Lilah will be forced to accompany her, naturally; let the poor little thing out in the big bad world all on her own? Never.
Yeah, Lilah is definitely starting to like this gig.
Fred lets her Pylea rags fall to the floor, no doubt giving the carpet a lifetime of new trauma to work through. She takes the robe from the bed and just holds it, letting the silk play through her fingers. Maybe Pylea’s stamped all those quaint civilized notions of modesty out of her, or maybe the silk just feels that good. There’s something artistic in the sight. Lilah’s tempted to grab a camera or a seventeenth century painter, preserve this magic moment for ages to come. Wild Mad Girl Discovers The Orgasmic Glory Of Clothing Items That Weren’t Designed With The Intent To Hold Potatoes.
“Oh!” Fred says after – Lilah’s not sure. She wasn’t exactly keeping an eye on the clock. “Bubbles. Bath. Right. I’m sorry, I just – got distracted.” She shrugs into the robe, ties the sash firmly. To make sure Lilah doesn’t get an eyeful, maybe. It’s kinda sweet.
“No worries,” Lilah assures her, reaching for a shoulder to steer her by. “Bathroom’s this way, kiddo.”
“I’m not a kid.”
Lilah’s first instinct is to laugh it off, but she looks at Fred – really looks at her – and knows that it’ll lose her major points. Fair enough. Who wants to be talked down to after they’ve survived five years in hell?
“Sorry,” she says; it even comes out sounding true.
Once she’s apologized, Fred dissolves back into spazzy Texan sweetness. “Oh, that’s all right. I just –” Then she sets sight on the bathroom, and coherent speech is no longer an option. Lilah watches her run one hand along the ledge of the sink, turn the ‘hot’ dial on and off so she can see the water run. Her feet are calloused, dirt in her toenails, looking wrong as wrong can be walking on pristine white tiles.
“Ooh!” Fred exclaims, “toothpaste!”, like she’s just remembering it now. “You know how when you’d forget your toothbrush – sleepin’ over somewhere, or something like that – you’d have to just put the toothpaste on your finger and use it for brushin’? That’s what I did, kinda. When I was – there. Except for I didn’t have any toothpaste either, so it was kind of – but I’ve always been real good about dental hygiene; my parents used to tease me because I was the one tellin’ them to floss all the time. Do you have floss?”
“Cabinet behind the mirror,” Lilah says.
Fred pulls it open, and her breath hitches like she’s being ravished.
“God, it’s all so beautiful,” she sighs, dusting her fingers over a tube of Aquafresh, “and ordinary.”
Usually, Lilah wouldn’t take kindly to the ‘ordinary.’ She’ll let it slide this time.
“Let’s get you into the tub, sugar,” she cajoles. She can’t help it: all this cutesy southern drawling is sending her impulse to sardonically nickname into overdrive.
“Oh, right,” Fred says, and laughs. They’ll have to work on that laugh before she’s brought out among the other boys and girls. It’s disconcerting. A real shiver-sender. “The bath.”
Lilah goes for the tap, but before she can even touch cold metal, her wrist is gripped. Quick as lightning. Her heart does some undignified but justifiable things; leaps, threats to stop, that whole deal.
“Wait!” Fred says. With her fingers circling Lilah’s wrist, well, it’s not like Lilah has much of a choice.
Note to self: no sudden movements around this one. No matter how cuddly she looks.
“Can I do it?” Fred finishes, with all the menace of a five year old in pigtails.
“Sure,” Lilah says, using her free hand to loosen Fred’s fingers; gently, but Fred blushes. “I’ll find you some bubblebath.”
“Thanks,” she says, “Lilah.”
She’s got a pretty smile on her. An evil genius (in the making) who looks like a Disney princess. This one’s going places.
“Just drawin’ myself a bath,” she sing-songs over the steady, domesticated roar of the water. She perches on the side of the tub. “You ever wonder why they say ‘drawin’’ for baths? Like it’s a picture?”
Maybe it could be a series, Lilah muses as she looks under the sink; Naked Wild Girl Reacquainted With Society, Sent Into Sensory Overload. “Can’t say that I have.”
“That’s just me, then. Wonderin’ things. I can’t ever seem to turn my brain off. My thoughts have thoughts.”
“Nothing wrong with that.”
“Sure,” Lilah says, and throws a smile over her shoulder; Fred catches it eagerly. “What’s better than an ambitious imagination?”
“Hmm,” is all Miss Chatterbox says, but she snuggles up to the idea like a kitten under generous fingers. Lilah wonders if she can get her to purr.
“Lavender or wisteria?” she asks, holding up two bottles.
“Wisteria’s too wistful,” Fred answers, suddenly quite the authority, “so that wouldn’t be right. Not for a night this good.”
“Lavender it is,” Lilah says. She takes a seat next to Fred on the edge of the tub, lifts the cap off the bottle with a snap. Fred flinches at the sound.
“Shh,” Lilah coos. More instinct than anything, and not exactly maternal, but it still surprises her. Fred seems to relax, and Lilah feels a little stab of satisfaction. Good kitty. Here’s an anecdote for you: when Lilah was young, all she wanted was a pet jaguar. Impractical, sure, but. She loved the idea of something big and soft and lovely that could eat the faces of people who pissed her off.
So really, this could be a dream come true.
Lilah pours some bubblebath into the water, swirls it around with one hand. It’s the closest to manual labor she ever really gets. Strands of hair that have been steadily escaping over the past few hours hang in her eyes. It’s been a long day. Even hairspray powered by unicorn blood extract has its limits. She sits back up and tucks her hair behind her ears, not in the mood to start pulling out bobby pins. Not when she’s in the middle of such an important task already.
She toys with the idea of apologizing for looking like such a mess, just because she’d like to see what her new girl wonder will do with that one, but—
“God, you’re so pretty,” Fred says. She sounds even more serious than she was about the toothpaste.
Well, well, well.
Maybe Disney Princess’s dreams aren’t of the Prince Charming variety.
“Sorry,” Fred says, all big eyes and embarrassment with Lilah looking at her. “You don’t say things like that. I don’t, I mean. Humans don’t. It’s only – it’s been such a long time since I had somethin’ nice to look at. You know, unless you think green skin and horns are nice, not that they’re not, exactly, but, ya know, not exactly my thing, personally. Not that I’m racist! Please don’t tell anybody – but no, who’d you tell? Who would care about what old Fred thinks? But. Gee, you’re a sight for sore eyes. With your face, and your hair, and your – um. Never mind. That’s all I meant.”
“Thank you,” Lilah says. Fred’s bare knee brushes her nylon-shrouded one, making her feel suddenly, criminally overdressed. Lilah reaches for the sash of the bathrobe, and tugs. Lightly. Ineffectually. Just hinting. No sudden movements. “You’d better get in before the water gets cold.”
“Right,” Fred says, her doe eyes distracted by the sash and Lilah’s fingers; she is a curious little thing, “’cause it can do that. If it’s left too long.”
“Wow,” Lilah deadpans, “You really are a science genius.”
“Shut up,” Fred orders, nervous but giggly around the edges, like they’re girlfriends at a sleepover and the pillow fight’s about to begin. Feathers flying.
“Oh, Fred,” Lilah says, “here’s a tip: if you want me to do that, you’re gonna have to figure out how to make me.”
“I’m a good figure-outer,” Fred answers. Teaching her a thing or two about doe eyes in the process. (Such as: they can make promises that have nothing to do with baby bluebirds and sugar. Maybe some spice.) “Ambitious imagination, and all.”
Lilah thinks this could be the start of a beautiful friendship.