Funnier in Latin

Title: Small Comforts
Author: Jen'fer
Rating: PG-13
Spoilers: Set end of AtS season 2
Summary: Fred comforts Willow
Disclaimer: All things BtVS and Angel belong to Joss Whedon.

The silence that ensued could only be described as stunned. She'd heard that phrase so often it had almost lost its meaning. But in the heaviness of the air, the slowing of the world's spin, the absolute absence of words or movements or anyone else's audible breathing, the impact hit Fred, and she understood the meaning of those words, "stunned silence."

She understood the meaning of the other words, too, the ones the girl on the sofa - Willow, he'd called her - the words Willow had said. "She's dead." She understood not only their literal meaning - someone named Buffy had died - but that it was the literal meaning of the words that caused the stunned, stunning silence.

Fred had turned at once to Angel, as soon as the words had dropped from Willow's lips, because even though she didn't know who Buffy was, clearly the words were meant for him. "She's dead," was what Willow had said, but what she'd meant was, "She's dead, Angel." Not that it made any difference whether she added his name. Because whether Willow said it or not, her words had been for Angel. And no matter what Willow said, Buffy was dead.

Angel hadn't reacted. Or rather, he had reacted strongly by turning to stone. He was just standing there, eyes staring forward, but Fred didn't think he was seeing anything. Nothing outside his head, anyhow.

The harsh stillness had seized them all, even Fred who didn't know who Buffy was. Or had been. She didn't think she should keep looking at Angel the way she was, but she was almost afraid to turn her head again, afraid the sound of her hair brushing across her back would disturb them all. So she continued to look at Angel as he stood there not speaking or moving or breathing. Of course, he didn't have to breathe. Fred wondered if it would be appropriate for her to hold her own breath, too, for a moment of silence, of respectful, absolute and utter silence. Because the one thing she could hear in the stunned silence was her own breathing, a light ~whooshing~ in and out. She was afraid that if she held her breath she'd end up gasping for air trying to hold it too long, and it wouldn't be right for her to be the one to break the silence -

Then Willow did, with a sob that burst straight from her heart. It was another moment before the others broke through the immobilizing weight of their silence. Then Cordelia said, "What?" and again, "What?" before going quiet again, her hand to her mouth. Wesley started to sit down right where he was, and Gunn moved to help him to a chair. And Angel remained a statue of pain going blank.

Willow's weeping filled every corner, chasing the last remnants of silence away. Fred shifted her attention to the young woman on the sofa and, because no one else seemed able to, crossed at once to sit beside her. She reached out a tentative hand, and no sooner had she touched Willow's shoulder than the girl turned to her, reached for her; Fred drew her close, rocking her gently.

The bed was too soft. After all that time in Pylea dreaming of soft beds, it turns out they were too soft for Fred to sleep on comfortably. After tossing and turning for awhile, she gave up the idea of sleep. She looked out the window and became so enamored of the stars, constellations she hadn't seen in ever so long, that she decided to get closer to them. She didn't bother with shoes or a coat as she unlatched the window, pulled it up and climbed out. She made her way up the fire escape and had swung her leg over the edge to drop herself onto the roof before she realized someone else was already there.

"Oh!" she said. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to disturb you." She paused, one hand still on the metal ladder. "I just thought I'd come up and look at the stars for awhile," she explained. "I couldn't sleep."

"It's alright," Willow said, dabbing at her eyes with her fingertips. "I couldn't sleep, either."

"I don't suppose any of them are sleeping," Fred said thoughtfully.

"No," Willow acknowledged. "I don't suppose they are."

"Do you want me to go?" Fred asked, gesturing back at the fire escape.

Willow shook her head. "No. I thought I wanted to be alone for a bit, but..." Her voice trailed off before she continued, "Please don't go." And before Fred could say anything, Willow burst into tears again. "I'm sorry," she said turning away, her words muffled by the hands she was hiding her face in. "You don't have to stay."

Fred went to her once, hushing her gently as she enfolded Willow in her arms. "You cry all you want, and I'll just be here," she said reassuringly. As Willow clung to her, Fred rubbed her back, providing all the physical comforts she could to ease the shaking body of the girl in her arms.

Willow cried wordlessly for awhile. Then, face buried against Fred's neck, she whispered, "I couldn't save her."

Stroking Willow's hair, Fred asked rhetorically, "Buffy?"

Instead of nodding as Fred expected her to, Willow pulled back and moved a step away, looking up at the stars. "Tara," she said, sniffing and wiping her face with her hands, sobs subsiding abruptly as she spoke the name.

Once again Fred understood, hearing all the words unspoken around the one that had been spoken. Once again, she closed the distance between them, resting her hand on Willow's shoulder without forcing the girl to turn to her. "You can tell me about her, if you - I mean, do you want to talk about her?"

Her back to Fred, but not shaking off the hand on her shoulder, Willow shook her head, and then nodded, and then was quiet. Fred felt her take a deep breath, gathering herself. "She was my, girlfriend." Willow's breath hitched, but she continued as the welling tears slowly spilled over and down her face. "My lover." She inhaled again, as if preparing to tell Fred a story; but in the next moment she merely exhaled.

"Yes," Fred said softly. "Sometimes breathing is enough. Sometimes it's all we can do."

"Sometimes," Willow agreed. She turned her strained and tear-streaked face from the stars to Fred, her eyes searching Fred's; and again Fred held her arms out, offering Willow the small comfort of a hug. As much from sheer exhaustion as from the succor of the embrace, the tension began to drain from Willow's body and she leaned more heavily on Fred. "Can I sleep with you tonight?" Willow asked softly, tilting her head to look at Fred. Then hastily and more loudly, she added, "Not like that! Just, to sleep in your bed?"

"Of course," Fred answered, pressing a tender kiss to Willow's forehead. Willow smiled at her with a gratitude Fred wasn't sure she deserved for surely anyone would do the same; and Fred smiled back.

Fred led the way and Willow followed her down the fire escape and through the open window. As they settled under the covers, Willow once more curled herself into the comfort of Fred's body and drifted into sleep, and Fred soon followed, finding that the bed was no longer too soft.