The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.
— Ernest Hemingway
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
Elise closed Wesley’s office door behind her, stopping to lean against it. She considered the former Watcher a close friend, having spent many hours in his company researching various subjects for her novels, and debating theories and philosophies regarding demons and prophecies, as well as sharing an interest in good brandy and aged cognac.
“Pardon?” Wes glanced up from the text he had been studying. Calmly he set the magnifying glass in his hand aside giving her his full attention. “Would you like to be a little more specific?”
“About Buffy. Specifically, about Buffy’s disappearance,” she explained, crossing the room to drop heavily in the chair across from his desk.
“I knew he was involved with someone, and I know you told me he needed time…”
“Ah. You found out about her,” Wes finished for her. “I should have guessed given the timing.”
“Yes and no. I didn’t press. He told me about her… the other night.” Running her hands through her dark hair, Elise met Wesley’s gaze. “I stayed over, and I woke in the middle of the night to find him with some pictures of her and some of her things.”
Leaning back in his chair, Wes clasped his fingers in front of him. He had noticed that Angel had become more withdrawn than usual in the last couple of weeks. Now that he thought of it, he should’ve expected as much given that it had been the one-year anniversary of Buffy’s disappearance.
“It’s only been a year. He doesn’t talk about it much, but I know he hasn’t forgotten her.”
Shaking her head, Elise made a soft sound of derision. “It was not the best way to end to a romantic evening.”
Wesley gave her a sympathetic smile. “You didn’t know.”
Elise chewed her lower lip thoughtfully, both of them silent for a moment.
Returning her gaze to Wesley’s, she asked, “It was… she was pregnant?”
“Yes.” Wes dropped his gaze. That bit of news had made Buffy’s disappearance all the more surprising, and that much harder for all of them to bear.
“I’ve heard Buffy’s name mentioned here and there, you know, hanging around the offices. And I knew he had been involved with someone. The rumors around here suggested he cared very much about her. I just never really connected the dots or I suppose, wanted to ask about the specifics.” She smiled ruefully, “Old lovers rarely make for good dinner conversation.”
“What did Angel tell you?”
“Not much. Remember we’re talking about the guy that the word taciturn was invented for here,” Elise sighed and picked up a crystal orb that was serving as a paperweight on Wesley’s desk. She rolled it around in her hand for a moment, studying the kaleidoscope of colors.
“He told me they were together, working here at Wolfram & Hart, for about three years. And that they had been trying – with no small amount of difficulty, it seems – to have a child.”
“Yes, she had miscarried before.”
“The day she finds out she’s pregnant again, before she even has a chance to share the news with him, she vanishes almost without a trace.”
“Yes,” Wes confirmed with a contemplative nod; they had all been baffled and saddened by her sudden disappearance.
“Damn,” she muttered softly, struck by the tragic story. “He really loved her, didn’t he?”
“Yes, I believe it was mutual.”
“Tell me about her.”
“I’m not sure.” Wes sat forward and shuffled the papers on his desk uncertainly. “I really don’t think he’d appreciate…”
“He’s intensely private, I know. But I’d like to know,” Elise entreated softly, her eyes wide and pleading. “And it’s obviously painful for Angel to talk much about it.”
Wes studied the lovely, dark-haired woman across from him for a moment. Even though he had known her only a few months, he found it difficult to refuse her request. He sighed. “What would you like to know?”
“Anything. Something. How did they meet? Who was she?” With a grateful smile, she kicked off her shoes and tucked her feet under her on the chair.
“Buffy was… she was the Slayer.”
“The Slayer?” Elise repeated with astonishment. She heard stories about the existence of the one girl in all the world destined to save the world from vampires and other creatures of the night from the many times she secretly perused her stepfather’s books or covertly listened in on his various meetings and phone conversations. Her journalistic and investigative skills were born then, and she began to keep her own little notebook of the various things she read or heard or saw during those years.
“Yes, the Slayer. Though she’s changed that now. Regardless, I believe that’s how they met, though most of what I know about those days is second hand. I didn’t come to Sunnydale until after much of all of it.”
“Well then, tell me what you do know.”
“Angel and Buffy… theirs was a powerful attraction from the beginning. From what I understand, they both initially tried to resist any involvement but were not successful. They fell in love, and, as you would expect, things grew increasingly intimate between them. On Buffy’s seventeenth birthday, they, uh…” Wes paused, uncertain how direct he needed to be.
“They had sex,” Elise clarified directly for him.
“Yes,” the former Watcher continued. “Only the very much unexpected consequence of that night was that Angel lost his soul.”
“Oh?” she murmured curiously. She hadn’t realized Buffy had been so young. And as for Angel’s soul… she’d heard veiled references about both Angel and Spike having souls – very atypical for vampires – but despite her natural curiosity about the supernatural and that particular abnormality, she hadn’t yet pried into the specifics.
“Yes, apparently a moment of perfect happiness was the trigger.”
“A curse, then?” Her brows drew together inquisitively.
“Yes, his soul was his curse. He was to suffer for all the heinous things he did as a vampire. By giving him his soul, his conscience – he would have all of the memories of the monstrous acts he had committed as a demon. That burden, the guilt, that was the way the gypsies chose to make him suffer.”
“And perfect happiness… lifted the curse?” Elise inquired, somewhat perplexed.
“Yes, interesting loophole, isn’t it?”
She nodded. “Very.”
“Angelus tormented Buffy for months after that, the demon as obsessed with her as much or more than Angel himself. When he attempted to release hell on earth, Buffy managed to stop him. They fought and she sent Angel to hell.”
“Hell… As in the hell?”
“Yes. Angel suffered horribly there, I understand. Time moves quite differently in hell dimensions; months would have seemed like years.”
“That’s awful. Only seventeen…first love… and to have things go so horribly wrong. It’s bad enough that the man she loved became a demon, but then to have to be the one to stop him from unleashing hell…” Elise shook her head. “I don’t even know how someone could ever get over something like that.”
“Quite.” Wes tipped his head in acknowledgment. “Angel returned, as you know, but they still couldn’t be together.”
“Willow actually resouled him prior to… just before Buffy sent him to hell.”
“He was in hell with his soul?” she questioned softly, thinking how much Angel must have endured, and how strong he must be to retain any semblance of the decent, warm person she knew him to be. She looked back at Wes and gave a long, low sigh. “And Willow… That must have been some powerful magic. She was what, only seventeen herself?”
“Right. Willow was quite good at magic, even then. And she had help – Jenny Calendar, actually one of the Kalderash gypsies, and a rather good practicing Wiccan herself, managed to recover the spell though she was not able to cast it before… well, before Angel killed her. The spell itself was lost for some months before it was recovered and cast, and consequently, Angel resouled. Make no mistake, Angel is as vicious and brutal a vampire – one of the worse perhaps – as has ever existed.”
“I see.” Elise glanced out the window for a contemplative moment. “So how was it that he returned? Hell dimensions, from everything I’ve ever read, are not something one easily escapes from.”
“I’m not certain,” Wes replied thoughtfully. “Mr. Giles, Buffy’s former Watcher, speculated that Buffy may have done something – either inadvertently or directly – that brought him back.” He shrugged. “No one knows for sure. If Angel knows himself, he’s never mentioned it.”
“So… what happened after his return?”
“They tried for a short time to have some sort of a relationship. I think Angel became increasingly convinced he wasn’t good enough for Buffy for a variety of reasons. Buffy’s mother, Mr. Giles, and Buffy’s friends, were all less than supportive of them being together. And, even more so, I think Angel also feared he couldn’t trust himself to be around her after…”
“After…?” she prodded gently when he trailed off.
“The Mayor of Sunnydale was planning an ascension.”
“An ascension?” Her eyes widened in surprise. “Was he insane?”
Wes smiled faintly. “Yes, actually I believe he was.”
“But there’s something else you haven’t told me because that doesn’t sound like a reason for Angel to believe he couldn’t stay with the woman he loved, especially after all they had already been through. He couldn’t trust himself to be around her because… it was about sex?”
“Well yes, there was that, but it wasn’t just the, uh physical intimacy… it’s all rather complicated. There was another slayer, Faith, who was working with the Mayor.”
“Another slayer? Wait a minute. I know a little of the lore here. What happened to ‘the one’?”
“Buffy technically died once. Actually more than once, but her second death was a bit later. When she died, of course another slayer was called, not taking into account the possibility that Buffy would be revived. But Kendra… she was killed by Drusilla, so then Faith was called. And now of course, Buffy has managed to share her power with the other girls that would have been in line.”
“Oh-kay. There’s quite a bit more of a story in all of that, but I’ll leave that one for now. Angel didn’t trust himself because…” she reminded, leaning forward and watching Wes with avid interest.
“To distract Buffy, and keep her from stopping the Mayor, Faith shot Angel with a rather debilitating poison – Killer of the Dead. The only known cure for this particular type of poison happens to be the blood of a slayer.”
Elise’s brows lifted and her nerves prickled.
Wes continued, “Buffy attempted to kill Faith for Angel, but Faith escaped. So instead-”
“Buffy gave herself to Angel,” she interjected softly.
The former Watcher nodded solemnly. “Neither of them have ever said what exactly happened that day, but I don’t believe Angel fed off her willingly as has been suggested.”
“Then what do you think?”
“I don’t know… Buffy was determined to heal him… she quit the Council over their unwillingness to help him at the time,” Wes said in contemplation, his gaze drifting over the objects on his desk absently. “It wouldn’t surprise me if somehow she forced him to feed or tempted him beyond his will to resist. He was quite ill when they were left alone… she would only have had to bring out his base demonic impulses.”
“Still, she risked her life for him,” Elise murmured, slightly awed. A vampire feeding wasn’t necessarily in control of their instincts. And to quit the Council… her stepfather had passed away years ago, but from the little bits she knew the Watcher’s Council was a centuries old organization that wouldn’t have allowed their slayer to ‘quit’. It simply wasn’t done. The Council would instead have made other arrangements for Buffy that were in many ways too unsavory to contemplate – unless, of course, they considered her too valuable, and had therefore made some sort of exception.
“Yes, and he, in turn,” Wes continued, “marked her.”
Elise’s caramel brown eyes widened, “That’s quite a bite.”
She knew the significance of marking in vampires; it meant she was marked for life as his mate.
“A significant one, no question.”
A knock sounded on the door. Immediately it swung open, Fred sticking her head in the room. “Wesley, Angel wants- Oh, Elise. Hi. I didn’t realize you were here! I’m sorry to interrupt you guys but Wes, Angel wants a conference. Something to do with the Sowell case. He said it was urgent, his office, ten minutes.”
The door closed again, Fred quickly darting to the Science lab to pull her own files on the case.
“I should let you work since, well, you are at work,” Elise said with a smile as she slipped on her shoes and rose to her feet. “Thank you for… well, all of that. You’ve been a tremendous help.”
“Any time,” Wes returned her smile. His eyes followed Elise as she left the room. With a sigh, he turned his attention to collecting his research on the Sowell case for the meeting ahead.
Knowing the Wolfram & Hart library as well as she did from the many hours that she had spent there, Elise went straight to the volumes she knew contained Slayer lore. Pulling them off the shelves, she curled up in her favorite corner with the various books, her laptop, a legal pad filled with scribbles, and a large toffee nut latte. It was there Angel found her several hours later.
Elise looked up and smiled, “Hey yourself.”
“Find something interesting?” Angel asked as he took a seat in a nearby chair.
“Maybe,” she replied with a small degree of apprehension. Casually she closed the heavy book on her lap, leaving the legal pad tucked between the pages to mark her place. “I’m trying to get some ideas for my next book.”
His gaze swept over the many stacks of books she had accumulated in her afternoon of research. With a faint smile, he said, “It looks like you found a couple of things.”
Elise laughed softly, “I may have found a few ideas, yes.”
Angel picked up one of the books nearest his elbow. “Demon Defenses and the War on Evil? I don’t think I’ve seen this one.” His tone was facetious as he flipped through the aged, worn pages.
“It was written by a rather obscure group of monks, probably 12th century, though some of it appears to be as late as the 15th. They’ve documented what they believed to be the ‘weapons’ created over time to battle the various evils of the world, though some of them… well, let’s just say I’m thinking the bit about bread being turned upside down as a portent of evil may have hurt their credibility just a little,” Elise returned with a chuckle.
“Maybe,” Angel mused, stopping suddenly upon seeing the word ‘Slayer’ written in dark, calligraphic script. Beneath the title was an elaborate drawing of a young woman clutching a cross in one hand, and some sort of scythe-like weapon in the other. He closed the book abruptly and set it aside.
“How are you doing?” she quietly inquired.
He shrugged, his feelings still too muddled for him to easily reply. His gaze lifted and he looked at Elise, though his expression was distant. After a moment, he took an unneeded breath and seemed to focus.
“Would you like to get out of here for awhile? Fred mentioned that there are still tickets available for The Geffen Playhouse tonight.”
“As nice as that sounds, I can’t actually imagine that you’re a Paint Your Wagon kind of guy, and if it’s I Am My Own Wife I can already tell you it’s way overrated.” Her smile was fleeting and impish. “But give me a couple more hours here – my editor will kill me if I don’t get her an outline of something by the end of the month for my new book, and I’d be glad to take you up on a ride home.”
“You could stay here… if you like,” he offered softly.
Elise studied him for a moment as he lounged across from her, tall, muscular, and powerful with dark, soulful eyes, the kindest of hearts, and the capacity to make her tremble like so few others she had ever met.
“I should go home,” she murmured instead, surprising them both. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be.” Angel answered with a faint smile.
“Another night perhaps.” she began, and then shrugged away the explanation she couldn’t quite give voice to.
It wasn’t that she was giving up on a relationship with him. It was most likely the touch of guilt she felt by her violation of something she knew Angel would consider sacred – his relationship with Buffy – now that she was thoroughly immersed in researching the woman he loved. She didn’t want to let the idea go though… her intuition was fairly screaming that this was a path that she had been somehow meant to follow.
“Of course,” he murmured, polite out of habit. He genuinely liked Elise, and enjoyed spending time with her… but he couldn’t have explained the bit of relief he felt by her reply. Perhaps it was just too soon.