It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.
— Rose Kennedy
Elise slowed the car and scanned the building signs until she spotted the one for “Ugly’s” bar. Parking her beloved Porsche Boxster just a short distance away, she eyed the group of young men loitering just beyond the end of the block and momentarily wished she had taken a cab or perhaps borrowed a less conspicuous car to make the trip into this neighborhood tonight.
On seeing the address, she had known it wasn’t one of the better areas of Los Angeles, but it seemed the night brought out more of an unsavory element than she had anticipated. Too many years of tracking demons and questionable characters on research expeditions for her writing made her largely immune to dangers for herself; however, the Boxster was an innocent. With a resolute sigh, and a quick prayer the car be spared from harm, she reached for her bag and got out. Pressing the button on the key, the lights on the vehicle flashed indicating it was locked.
Ignoring the wolf-whistle behind her, she crossed the street and entered the run down building. The bar was small and dingy, and smelled faintly of both puke and alcohol. Trails of smoke hung in the air over a couple of the occupied tables, despite the no smoking ordinance imposed on the bars and restaurants in Los Angeles. From the looks of the clientele, breaking that bureaucratic rule was unlikely to be a concern.
Elise received curious glances and interested looks from a few patrons as she wove her way around the tables and took a seat at the bar. The bartender set the beer glass he had been filling in front of the elderly man leaning heavily on the counter. They exchanged a few words, the bartender refusing to take the money clutched in the man’s fist. After another few words, the bartender made his way to the opposite end of the bar where Elise now sat.
“Can I help you?” Taking the cloth from his shoulder, he wiped down the counter in front her.
“I hope so,” Elise answered with a friendly smile. “I’m looking for Xander Harris.” Her statement was politesse, as she knew by the eye patch and the description she had found the very man she was seeking.
“Do I know you?” Xander asked warily. Attractive women were extremely rare in Ugly’s, even more so when they appeared to be refined, educated, and dressed in the latest fashions from Fred Segal. If nothing else, dating Cordelia had taught him to recognize certain labels; the perfectly tailored pantsuit on the woman across from him would have made the former Sunnydale Cheerleader green with envy.
“No, no you don’t,” Elise spoke quietly. “My name is Elise Seymour.”
After a moment, Xander tossed the cloth he had been using to wipe down the bar aside and stuck his hand over the counter. Maybe for once in his life, he’d get lucky. “Xander Harris. And I hope you won’t take this the wrong way, but you don’t exactly look like you belong here.”
“No offense taken, Mr. Harris,” Elise replied as she shook the offered hand.
“Call me Xander. Mr. Harris makes me feel like my old man,” Xander returned with a shrug. “So what can I do for you?”
“Well, first I’d like a gin and tonic. Junipero if you have it,” Elise said pleasantly. “And a few minutes of your time.”
“No Junipero in a dive like this. I have Beefeaters, Bartons, and some Tanqueray here. One of those do?” Xander pointed at the bottle behind him for her perusal.
“Tanqueray is fine.” Elise nodded, tucking a stray strand of dark brown hair behind her ear.
Pouring a double shot in a glass of ice, Xander topped it off with tonic and slid it across the counter.
“So I suppose it’d be too much to ask that somehow you’d heard of Xander Harris, the good looking but modest barkeep here at Ugly’s, and that’s what brings you down here?”
“Actually, I have heard of you,” Elise said with a smile, her eyes meeting his over the rim of her glass just before she took a sip of the clear liquid. “Actually, I’m a writer. Horror novels mostly.”
“Well, I don’t read so much anymore,” Xander replied, pointing at the patch over his eye. “Tends to give me a headache. And I’ve had my share of horror, thank you very much, so the little reading I do is usually limited to the type that involves pictures. And I’m really not so sure I’m flattered that you’re a horror writer, and you’ve heard of me.”
Elise laughed. “Actually, I’m doing some research for my next novel and was really hoping you could help me. It’s a vampire novel. Actually, it’s about a vampire and a slayer.”
“Uh-huh,” Xander murmured warily.
“I’m basing it off a real slayer, Buffy Summers. I understand she was a friend of yours.”
Xander drew back, the friendliness and warmth gone from his expression. “Sorry, can’t help you.”
“You are Xander Harris from Sunnydale, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, the one and only as far as I know, but I’m still not going to talk to you about Buffy,” he returned coolly.
“Are you sure? I’d just like a few min-”
“Yeah, I’m sure,” he interrupted brusquely. “Completely sure.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” she murmured with disappointed. She mentally chastised herself for her bluntness and impatience; she should have been more tactful. “I really was hoping to talk to her friends. You know, find out what she was like.”
“Yeah, well, you’ll have to talk to someone else,” he said coldly. “Buffy was my friend. I don’t even know you.”
Elise studied him for a moment before reaching in her purse and pulling out her notebook. She scribbled her name and phone number on a piece of paper and slid it across the counter. “I understand. If you change your mind, please give me a call. I really would love to talk to you.”
Xander stared at the piece of paper for a long moment before he reluctantly took it and shoved it in his pocket. Without looking back, he moved away down the bar and began putting away the freshly washed glasses.
Placing several dollars on the bar to pay for her drink, Elise sighed regretfully and made her way out the door. Well, there were still at least two more people she wanted to talk to.
She was in the bedroom packing, but she heard the knock on the door as if she had been waiting for it. She padded through the house to the living room and peeked through the side window at the car out front before she unlocked the door.
“I wasn’t expecting you to come by,” she said with a small smile as she opened the door.
“I got your message.”
“You could have just used that new fangled phone thingie,” Elise replied leaning forward to kiss him lightly in greeting.
“I know,” Angel returned with a shrug. “But leaving the country sounded like something we should talk about in person.”
“My aunt Flora, Charlie’s only sister,” she said as she closed the door behind him. She avoided looking directly at him as she continued, “Has taken ill. I haven’t seen her in almost four years, so I thought I should go.”
It was only a partial lie; her step-father’s sister wasn’t in good health and hadn’t been for years. True too, the last time she seen her had been at her step-father’s funeral almost four years ago. But that wasn’t the reason for her trip to London… it was merely a convenient excuse. In all honesty, she doubted she’d make it to Hampshire to see Flora at all.
Walking down the hall toward the bedroom, she continued, “She’s a hoot. She was involved in British intelligence during the war, so she always has these amazing stories.”
Following her, Angel stopped just inside the doorway. His brows lifted slightly in surprise at the two enormous suitcases on the bed. “Just how long did you say you were going to be gone?”
“Only a couple of weeks,” she returned, glancing over her shoulder at him and noting the direction of his gaze. “Oh, I’m not a good packer. I take one of everything, just in case.”
“Looks like you’re taking two of everything,” he noted, smiling faintly as she examined two pairs of shoes that looked identical to him before dropping them in the suitcases, one pair in each.
“Then I’ll have at least one when the airline loses my bag,” she countered half-jokingly as she crossed the room to scoop up a pile of shirts. She divided them between the two bags, just as she had the shoes.
“Take the Wolfram & Hart jet,” Angel offered solicitously. “You’ll get there faster, and you won’t have to worry about that.”
“No,” she answered almost too quickly, unwilling to draw attention to her destination. Not that anyone at W&H couldn’t find out easily enough, but there was something about blatantly using their resources that didn’t feel quite right. Still, unwilling to admit the real reason for her trip to Angel, and feeling bad about not being completely honest with him, she turned and gave him an apologetic smile. “I mean, thank you, but no, I couldn’t. I already have my outrageously expensive, non-refundable ticket on British Airlines.”
“And you’re leaving tomorrow?”
“Yes, my flight is at 9:20 tomorrow night.” There wasn’t really a reason to rush, but once she had made up her mind to go talk to Buffy’s former Watcher and her sister, she hadn’t wanted to wait. Her experience had taught her to plunge ahead and follow her instincts; the result was often some of her best writing.
“I’ll drive you to the airport then,” Angel asserted politely, though still maintaining the reserve that had been present for the last few weeks.
“That would be nice,” she answered, her eyes meeting his across the cluttered bed. She was suddenly aware of the intimacy of the situation – the lateness of the hour, the soft sounds of Etta James coming from the other room, lingerie she had been about to pack clutched in her hand, and the two of them, alone together in the dimly lit bedroom.
“This is a bit awkward,” she said finally, breaking the silence.
“It is,” he agreed with obvious relief.
“You know, I didn’t think I’d ever meet anyone that I thought I might be able to fall in love with. Mind you, I’m not saying that’s what this, us, is, but I think… there may be a possibility that maybe it could happen someday… eventually… maybe…” Her voice when she spoke held a guarded apprehension.
“But maybe not just yet,” he finished softly. He more than understood her apprehension, and perhaps even more pertinently, his own feelings of confusion and reluctance. Despite liking Elise and having found some measure of transient comfort from his loneliness and grief in her arms, he wasn’t over Buffy, and he wasn’t sure he ever would be.
“But not yet,” she agreed, her voice only a whisper of sound. She hadn’t expected him to answer otherwise, but a small, sinking feeling of disappointment still settled in her stomach. She had never expected to find love again, but Angel – being with him – had given her hope that it might be possible… someday.
“But that’s not to say that we don’t have something.” he recanted apologetically as he crossed the room to stand next to her. It was a weakness, he knew, offering comforting platitudes instead of being completely truthful, not wanting to hurt her more than he probably already had.
“You don’t have to explain, Angel,” she murmured, looking up at him. “I understand.
He brushed a stray hair back from her face. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be,” she said with a brief smile. “Besides, there’s no need to rush into anything. I mean, there’s no hurry, is there?”
“No, there isn’t,” he agreed.
“When I get back from London we can figure all this… us, I mean, out,” she suggested. “That is, if you want.”
“We can,” he said softly, bending his head to brush a kiss on her lips. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Without another word, he turned and walked away, leaving her comforted, and hopeful, and yet disappointed all the same. Her trip to London and her upcoming book would change things between them irrevocably, she knew that. It was entirely possible that the only thing they’d have to figure out would be if they were still friends, much less lovers.
Sighing, she returned to her packing.