Every mental act is composed of doubt and belief, but it is belief that is the positive, it is belief that sustains thought and holds the world together.
— Søren Kierkegaard
“Hi. Mind if I join you?” Fred asked, stopping next to the occupied table in the Wolfram & Hart cafeteria. In one hand she held a bag, and in the crook of her other arm, a stack of folders she had been preparing to read during her lunch hour. When she saw Elise sitting alone, she decided to revise her plans; some female companionship in a mostly male work environment was much more appealing.
“Not at all. I’d love the company, and I could use a break,” Elise replied with a smile, nodding to the chair across from her. She gathered the books and papers scattered across the table and put them in a neat pile.
“Working on a new book?” Fred asked curiously, looking at the notebook full of scribbles next to the sleek Mac laptop.
“Yes. Well, some plotting anyway,” Elise answered, jotting one last note before saving the file she was working on. She closed the laptop and pushed it aside.
“I really loved Dark Rising, though I was unable to sleep for days,” Fred offered as she unwrapped her sandwich. “It gave me chills. I know it shouldn’t after working here, given everything we see, but it still did.”
“Thank you, I think,” Elise replied with a chuckle.
“Oh, it’s definitely a compliment. It was a great book. What’s the subject of your next one?” The slender brunette inquired, then amended politely, “That is, if you don’t mind me asking.”
“My editor has the final edits for Dark Wolf so that will be the next one to actually hit the shelves. As for what I’m working on now… well, I’m actually thinking of doing something about a vampire slayer.”
Looking decidedly uncomfortable, Fred shifted and dropped her gaze. “Oh…uh… er, I don’t know if… if you know… oh.”
“Fred?” Elise interjected, searching the other woman’s face for eye contact, “I know about Buffy, and specifically, I know about Buffy and Angel.”
“Oh, thank Goodness.” The head of the Wolfram & Hart Science Division visibly relaxed. “I wasn’t sure, and I didn’t want to bring it up. Cause you know, awkward. I mean with you and Angel… well, you know, together.”
Elise gave the other woman a warm smile. “I know, but we all have our pasts, right? And they had a unique, though tragic, story, the little I know of it so far. I won’t publish what I write unless Angel give the okay on it, so I’ll show it to him first – once it’s done, that is.” She looked away, not entirely sure she meant what she said about giving Angel veto power over her idea… that would bear further contemplation.
“That’s really, really nice. And understanding too, I mean since you and he… well, I guess I thought the two of you… well, I don’t really know about you guys. How’s that going? It is… going, right?”
“Angel’s wonderful, really. He and I… yes, it’s going, but… right now I guess you might say we’re just playing it by ear.”
“Is that good? I mean, is that what you want?”
“It’s good. Definitely good,” Elise affirmed sincerely, no questions about Angel or her budding feelings for him. Still, she wasn’t entirely sure how he’d react about her book idea. Something told her it might be less than well received. “But about the book… something in my gut says this is a story I should tell… but I want to wait until… well, I have something done before I tell Angel about it. I know it’s a painful subject for him, so please-”
“Oh, don’t worry. I won’t say a word,” Fred interrupted with a hand gesture to indicate that her lips were sealed.
“Thank you. It’s not that I’m hiding it… exactly. I just don’t want to constantly rub an open wound, you know?”
After a moment, Elise asked, “You knew her, didn’t you?”
“Buffy? Yes, I did. I mean, only for about three years. She came to Wolfram & Hart after Sunnydale, you know, exploded.”
“I read something about that… That’s when Spike returned here as well, right?”
Only yesterday Elise had come across articles about Sunnydale’s rather abrupt disappearance from the California map, along with some annotations by someone at Wolfram & Hart about Spike’s return in ghostly form. How or when had he become corporeal? She planned to ask Wes who might have documented all of that information, but she had yet to find the opportunity to discuss it with him privately.
“It – Buffy staying here – was awkward at first,” Fred’s gaze slid away from the novelist. “But then everything worked out, and it was great, until, well, until she disappeared.”
Returning her gaze to Elise’s face, Fred lowered her voice to a whisper, “Well, there was Buffy and Angel being exes for one, then there was the whole thing between Buffy and Spike. And I thought Angel and Cordelia… well, I thought they would get together, you know, eventually.”
“Cordelia?” Elise’s brows lifted curiously. The bit about Buffy and Spike wasn’t a complete surprise. She had heard a rumor or two around the office about it; rumors that would bear following up on in the near future.
“Cordelia Chase. Oh, you probably don’t know about her. She and Angel… I guess some of us, well, I thought they were a couple.”
Picking up her pen and pad of paper, Elise made a note of the name; it was one that hadn’t come up before in her months around Wolfram & Hart. “But they weren’t?”
“No, they weren’t. And even if I had been right about them, it wouldn’t have happened. Cordelia was in a coma because some evil thing had taken over her body,” Fred explained sadly. Her memories of exactly what happened to Cordelia were so vague, and she often felt as though there were more to it that she should know or remember. Shaking away the unsettling feeling, she continued, “But anything I saw or thought I saw between him and Cordelia was more like friendship, or at best, a brother-sister type thing. That was pretty obvious after Buffy showed up here, as was the fact that Angel was totally and completely head over heels in love with her. Her being Buffy, I mean. Very different from how he ever was with Cordelia.”
Elise took a sip of her now tepid tea before adding another note on her pad of scribbles.
Fred took a bite of her sandwich, then continued thoughtfully, “But it’s not like they got together right away or anything like that. Mr. Giles, a friend of Buffy’s, along with some of the Slayers in training, stayed here for a few months before they went to England. Anyway, in those first few months Buffy and Angel would go out on cases together, and eventually it was clear they were more than just friends. They’d be holding hands, or we’d catch them kissing when they thought no one was around. Then one day there was a big argument between Buffy, Angel, Wes and Mr. Giles about Angel and his soul and how he- I guess they could or couldn’t.” The physicist paused and looked at Elise disconcertedly. “You do know about that, right?”
“That being Angel’s curse?”
“Yes. Good, because I wasn’t sure. I mean, I don’t know who knows what or what they think.” Fred stammered awkwardly, twisting her napkin between her fingers. “I don’t even know much about it myself.”
“It’s fine, Fred. I understand. Enough at least.” Elise smiled reassuringly. “Please continue. That is, if you don’t mind.”
“Okay. So, um, one night not long after that whole big argument, Wesley asked some of us – well, Mr. Giles, Gunn, and Willow anyway, to hang around Angel’s office. I was there too, well, because I thought I should be since everyone else was, especially if they were expecting trouble. I mean, they all had stakes and crossbows… so they seemed to think there could be. Anyway, Buffy and Angel were upstairs in his penthouse. Mr. Giles kept pacing up and down the halls, and every time the elevator doors would open, he and Wes would jump up nervously. They didn’t come out and say anything at the time, but I’m pretty sure they were worried about Angel losing his soul. Willow was there with whatever magic was necessary… Which, it turns out it wasn’t. Necessary that is.” Fred chuckled, “Of course, you know that yourself.”
“Yes,” Elise said, picking up her now empty teacup and looking at it thoughtfully. She wasn’t entirely comfortable disclosing personal details about her relationship with Angel, even more so in light of the current conversation.
“Anyway,” Fred continued, breaking the awkward silence. “Buffy stayed here when Mr. Giles left with the Slayer trainees for England. I guess Willow stayed because Buffy stayed. Well, that and Angel gave Willow a job as head of the Information Sciences department. She’s really amazing with computers.”
“Did it work out, the two of them working here together at Wolfram & Hart? Buffy and Angel, I mean?” Elise prompted, twirling her pen between her fingers.
“I think so. They seemed like a great team, though they’d argue pretty often during work.” Fred smiled and shrugged. “We all got used to that.”
“What do you mean, argue?”
“Oh, not like serious arguments, really. Both of them were strong, protective type people. He’d tell her to wait and she wouldn’t, or she’d tell him not to take such risky chances, and he would. Or it would be who was going on what case, or who was going in first. They’d fight about it, especially on the more dangerous cases, but then they always made up.” The slender brunette trailed off, clearly embarrassed. “I accidentally walked in on them once in Angel’s office after one particularly loud argument. I hadn’t been expecting… let’s just say, they might have argued, but there was a lot of passion in their relationship as well.”
“I’ve seen a photo or two of her. She was very pretty,” Elise murmured, uncertain whether she wanted to hear any more intimate details about Angel’s past relationship than she already knew.
“Yes, she was beautiful. She was also much stronger and more powerful than you’d think after seeing her because she was so petite. She trained harder than any of the guys. I don’t think any of them ever beat her in training exercises.”
“Do you mind if I ask… what was she like? As a person I mean?”
“Um, she was… she was strong. Funny, too. She’d make these comments before slaying something… you know, puns… sort of taunting the bad guy or demon. I could never do that, at least not like she could. It was like she was never really afraid. She had such confidence. She was crazy about Angel, too. You could just tell. And they were very sweet together. I never really saw Angel smile, or even laugh so much, as he did when he was with her. He was lighter, happier when she was around. It’s just so sad about her miscarriage… and then her just disappearing like that. For a while we all thought Angel was going to lose his mind.”
“It’s very sad,” Elise murmured softly, struck by the sense of loss she imagined Angel must still feel.
Fred nodded somberly in agreement. She nibbled absently on her food as she thought about the events of a year ago.
“So where is Cordelia?” The brunette novelist asked, reminded when she glimpsed the name she had written on the pad in front of her.
Sighing, Fred set the remaining bit of her sandwich down and took a drink of water before answering. “She died, three or so years ago now.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Elise replied sympathetically.
“Thank you,” Fred answered sorrowfully. “Cordelia… she was Angel’s seer, before we had all this.” She gestured to their surroundings. “She was also one of the first friends I had… here. When I came back from Pylea.” Taking a deep breath, she pushed away the horrible memories and changed the subject. “You know, she came from Sunnydale as well. She and Buffy even went to high school together! Small world I guess. Or maybe it just is when you’re involved with the demon world.”
“That seems true,” Elise nodded slightly in agreement. “Cordelia was a seer?”
“Yeah, she had visions for supernatural things, things Angel would follow up on. It’s how we got a lot of our work in helping the helpless back then, before Angel became the head of Wolfram & Hart.”
“Oh. And you said Buffy and Cordelia went to school together? Were they friends? Was Cordelia a seer then as well?”
“I don’t really know, but I don’t think so, about either thing. The few times Cordelia mentioned Buffy it wasn’t in a particularly nice way. In hindsight, I think maybe she was a little jealous of Buffy, and of Buffy’s relationship with Angel.” Fred paused and gave a small almost embarrassed laugh. “Of course, I had a crush on Angel myself when I first met him. He was my hero, and well… he looks like he looks.”
Elise chuckled. “Yes, he’s quite something, isn’t he? I can’t imagine too many women that wouldn’t feel the same way.”
“Maybe it’s the vampire thing and not being able to see his reflection for so long, but I honestly don’t think he’s aware of how attractive he is.”
“That’s true,” Elise acknowledged agreeably; Angel was uncommonly modest.
“As for Cordelia being a seer. I’m pretty sure she wasn’t one in high school. She got the visions from Doyle not long after she and Angel both came to Los Angeles. I don’t know much more, that was before my time. I’m sorry.”
“No, actually that’s a lot. You’d be surprised how sometimes the smallest details make the biggest difference,” the novelist said, waving back at Lorne who was waving at them from across the room. “I may have some more questions as I fill in the blanks. That is, if you don’t mind?”
“Ask away. I’ll try to help any way I can,” Fred returned cheerfully. “It’s exciting to think that I might be contributing to a published novel.” She popped the last bite of her sandwich in her mouth.
“Well, hello there, lovely ladies.” Lorne declared as he pulled up a chair. “Did I hear something about a published novel? Does someone have a new book in the works? Because I know some people over at Fox that I’m sure would be interested in some ideas for a new series, or a made for TV movie. One of their networks cancelled their best show so they desperately need new ideas. I’m sure I could hook you up, just say the word.”
“Hello, Lorne,” Elise said with a half-smile. The green demon had been offering for weeks to set up talks with some of his contacts in the entertainment industry; it had now become something of a joke between them.
“Hi, Lorne,” Fred greeted as she shifted over to make room.
“I’m just in the idea stage, so there’s nothing quite ready to pitch to your network contacts, if that was even in the realm of possibility, which it’s not.”
“Think about it though, my caramel apple dumpling. You have some great ideas – or so I’m told. As soon as I have some time to read, I’ll check it out for myself.”
“Okay, I’ll think about it,” Elise returned, her voice playful. She had a slight interest in turning her books into movies or television programs, but it wasn’t something she wanted to pursue anytime soon. Too many wonderful books had been turned into travesties when converted to the screen medium; it was as though something that could only be captured in imagination was lost in translation. There was also the fact that the author often ended up with little to no control or influence over the end result… though Lorne said with Wolfram & Hart behind the specifics of the contract, that wouldn’t be the case.
“Oh, you should,” Fred encouraged. “That would be so exciting.”
“Maybe,” Elise mused politely before changing the subject. “So Lorne, what’s the latest gossip from the entertainment world?”
“Well, there was this one little incident over at the Mondrian involving a certain tall, dark and hunkesque actor…”
“Marcus Hamilton left a package for you on your desk,” Harmony said immediately as Angel stepped out of the elevator and into the Wolfram & Hart foyer.
“More orders from the Senior Partners telling me how to run things, no doubt,” Angel replied sardonically, striding down the hall. “Do they ever send anything other than more ridiculous orders and demands?”
Keeping pace beside him, Wes smiled. “There’s the occasional mystical object or absurd, but still binding contract, but then that’s why they’re around, isn’t it? And it serves,” he added blandly, “to keep things interesting.”
Angel glanced briefly at his companion. “Things around here are interesting enough without their help.”
“If only one of these little gifts came with a clue as to their motives.” Angel said pushing open the door to his office.
“They’ll get careless eventually.”
“It’s been more than four years, and we still don’t know anything more about why they turned this place over to us,” Angel casually remarked, turning the package over in his hands before handing it to Wes.
“Maybe not, but we’ve done some good in that time. Even you have to agree with that.” Wesley examined the oblong parcel carefully.
“Maybe,” Angel murmured, his attention distracted as he shuffled through his messages and the other papers left on his desk with the mail.
“I think I’ll have the lab open this one,” Wes surmised as he turned and retraced his steps toward the door. “Afterwards, I’ll be in the library. I have some work to do on the Grabok demon case.”
“So how is Elise?” Angel asked without glancing up.
“She’s fine. Busy, it seems, working on some new idea,” Wesley casually noted. “You haven’t seen her?”
“No, not lately,” Angel replied, his expression shuttered. “Not since… not for a couple of weeks now. Would you tell her I’m still planning to see her for dinner tomorrow night? That is, if she’s still interested.”
“Will do,” Wesley said, opening the door.
“And let me know what you find with that.” Angel nodded toward the object in Wes’ hand. Several other similar such packages had wreaked havoc in the office. One had erased Angel’s memory temporarily; another had nearly turned Wes into a controlled zombie right out of The Manchurian Candidate, while another had paralyzed Spike for days. In all cases Marcus Hamilton denied knowledge of any effects, claiming he was simply the delivery person or that the material had been mishandled. “We don’t need another problem right now. The Sowell case is turning out to be more complicated than we expected,” Angel went on. “You do have the reports on the family?”
“I do. I still think the wife is behind it.”
“Agreed. Now we just need a way to isolate her and prevent further harm.”
“I still think it’s somehow telepathically cued. I don’t think she intentionally brings forth those malicious entities.”
“Maybe, maybe not. Either way we have to stop it.”
“Agreed,” Wes affirmed just as he slipped through the doors and down the hall.