All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered. The point is to discover them.
“Uh, hi. And yeah, I’m Elise. Elise Seymour,” she replied, still baffled by his sudden appearance and the fact that he knew her name. She still wasn’t entirely convinced she hadn’t gone from one bad situation to the next, but she was attempting to keep an open mind. “So, uh, how did you… uh…”
“Wesley called me.” Oz stated flatly, expertly shifting gears and guiding the car off the main thoroughfare and on to a less traveled and darker side street. “Said he thought you might need some help.”
“Ah.” Elise breathed with relief only to have her relief replaced a few seconds later with a sense of trepidation. “You, uh, work for Wolfram & Hart then?”
“No,” the former Sunnydale resident answered simply.
“Can I ask how you know Wesley then?” she prompted. Her color was high, and her eyes were still overly bright from her earlier fright.
“We met in Sunnydale years ago.”
“Oh. Oh! You know Angel then? And Buffy?” she asked, studying him curiously. Her interest in the taciturn stranger was growing by the moment.
“Yeah.” Oz answered distractedly as he watched the streets for his turn.
“Small world,” she offered.
He nodded. “Yeah.”
“What are you doing in London? That is, if you don’t mind me asking.”
Elise wrinkled her brow as a sudden realization dawned. Yeah, Oz. He was my first and only real guy relationship. Willow!
“You wouldn’t happen to be the Oz that dated Willow, would you?”
Glancing at her out of the corner of his eye, he replied, “Yeah, that’s me. You know Willow?”
She nodded. “I do, but not very well.”
They drove for a few minutes before Elise found herself fidgeting uncomfortably at the silence.
“Where are we going?” she asked as they wound their way through London’s city streets.
“I thought we’d crash at a friend’s place.”
“I’m staying at the Abbey Court hotel, over in Notting Hill. You can drop me there, that is, if you don’t mind,” she countered, tempering the last bit so as not to appear rude. She was grateful he’d shown up when he did, after all.
“I don’t think you want to go back there tonight,” he returned plainly.
Her brows lifted. “You don’t?”
“Unless you know for sure that whoever the guy was that was behind you doesn’t know who you are.” He gave her an expressionless look.
“Oh. Good point,” she agreed, disheartened.
“It’ll be okay,” Oz offered calmly. “And we’ll find a way to get your things if it turns out that you can’t go back.”
“Thank you,” she replied. Sighing, she ran a hand through her disheveled hair. “So, do you keep in touch with Angel or Wes or any of the others then?”
“Some, not much,” he said, glancing over at her briefly. They drove in silence for a few more minutes before he spoke again. “Wes told me you just finished up a book on werewolves.”
“Yeah,” she answered with a small smile. “It’s supposed to be published in a few weeks.”
“I’d like to read it.”
“I’ll be happy to give you a copy. Autographed, if you want. I mean, it’s the least I can do after you, uh, you know, saved me back there.”
“Cool,” he nodded, turning the car left and into a narrow alley.
“You’re interested in werewolves?” she asked, glancing out the window. They were in a run down section of London, but where exactly Elise couldn’t say.
“Um, yeah, I am. I mean, I am one, so yeah, interested.”
Elise looked at him, astonished. She thought she had keen eye when it came to identifying demons and other creatures – even those that on the surface appeared normal – but Oz had taken her completely by surprise.
“We’re here,” he said before she could collect her thoughts and make any comment about his surprising revelation.
Pulling the car up to a large metal overhead door, he got out. Elise waited as he opened the door then pulled the car into the dark building. He closed the door behind them with a loud crash.
She eyed the dilapidated warehouse skeptically as she exited the car and followed Oz to the back and up some stairs to what appeared to have once been offices. Probably where the shop foremen watched the factory floor, she thought, noting that it looked like an old textile factory of sorts.
Oz opened the nondescript door at the top of stairs, and Elise was surprised to find that the area had been converted into a surprisingly modern flat that looked like something right out of the pages of Architectural Digest. An off-white couch dominated the main living area, along with a large metal and marble table. A single blooming orchid plant sat in the center of the table. There were doors on the right to what appeared to be bedrooms and a bathroom. The kitchen was in the back corner of the room, the appliances and cabinets a gleaming stainless steel, the counter-tops an unusual blue. The floors throughout the flat were a rich, Brazilian cherry wood, keeping the place from looking too austere given the other, stark furnishings.
“Nice place,” she commented just as her gaze settled on the one thing that was a bit out of the ordinary: a cage with thick, heavy duty bars that set in the corner opposite the kitchen.
“Thanks. You want something? I think there’s some juice, or soda, beer,” Oz offered, crossing the room to the kitchen.
“Anything stronger?” Elise questioned with a sigh, sinking down on the couch.
“Uh, let me look.” Standing in the kitchen, he opened the lower cabinets and peered inside. He set one bottle on the counter, then another. “There’s vodka and some tequila. A couple of bottles of wine, but they need to be decanted.”
“Vodka, if you don’t mind. On ice, if you have it. Straight up, if not.”
Taking out two glasses, he filled them both with ice. He poured vodka in one, and orange juice in the other.
“If you don’t mind me asking, what did Wesley tell you that sent you to save my life?” she asked half-facetiously, taking the glass from him as he sat next to her on the couch.
Oz shrugged. “Just that a friend of his was probably getting into some trouble, and he asked if I wouldn’t mind stopping by. He also said that he hadn’t been able to reach you at your hotel or on your cell.”
“Oh!” she exclaimed. Reaching in her purse, she took out her forgotten phone and turned it on. Nine missed calls, four unheard messages. She grimaced guiltily.
“He gave me an address, so I went over to check it out. I can’t say I expected to see you come running like a bat out of hell out of there, though.”
“Me either,” she said on a deep exhalation of breath.
“Did you get a look at the guy that was behind you?”
“No, not really,” she replied just before taking a big gulp of her drink. After the events of the night, she wanted something to help steady her frazzled nerves. “I guess it could have been the security guard.” She couldn’t say for certain, but she didn’t think anyone had been sitting at the desk in the lobby when she raced by.
“Did he get a good look at you?”
“No, at least I don’t think so,” she said thoughtfully. “It was too dark in the stairwell, and I think he was too far behind me. And when I went in I tried to hide behind the people in front of me so he wouldn’t really get a good look at me then either.”
Oz nodded. “Seems reasonable.”
Elise gazed back at him, her brow furrowed in thought. There were so many questions that she wanted to ask bouncing through her mind, but combined with the harrowing events of the night, she couldn’t quite seem to form a coherent thought. She rubbed her forehead, as though it might help.
Oz stood abruptly and stretched. “It’s late. I’m going to get some sleep. The bathroom is through there, and there’s the bedroom.”
“Um, okay,” she said after a moment. After some rest she should be able to collect her thoughts; surely Oz would be around for a few days so she’d get another opportunity to pick his brain for information. Picking up her phone, she added. “I think I’ll give Wes a quick call and then do the same. Oh, and Oz? Thank you.”
With a nod, Oz left the room.
“Hello, Elise?” Wes answered on the first ring, his phone clutched tightly in his hand as he made his way through the Wolfram & Hart offices up to the library. The preliminary lab results were back on the unusual stone that had been in the package that Marcus had left on Angel’s desk. The stone itself was andesite, somewhere between 1,100 and 1,500 years old, and appeared, after extensive chemical analysis, to be benign. Now it was a question of deciphering the unusual etchings that covered most of the surface.
“Where have you been? I’ve left you several messages.” Despite the strict admonishment in his tone, there was considerable relief as well.
“I know. I’m sorry. Look, I did get into those offices, the ones belonging to the Council. I couldn’t just… not, you know, go in,” she admitted readily, albeit sheepishly. “But you can’t say I told you so. At least not yet.” She wasn’t quite ready to tell him about her dramatic escape from the office and subsequent rescue; he’d find out soon enough, and she’d endure the lecture then. And if Angel found out, no doubt she’d hear from both of them about her recklessness – which was definitely something she could put off indefinitely.
“Did you find something?” he asked, ducking into a relatively private alcove off the hallway.
“I found several files that look like a property transfers to a company called ‘Amaranthine Enterprises’. Most of them were signed by a Quentin Travers.”
Wes rolled his eyes in exasperation. “Elise, that doesn’t mean anything. As I told you before, it’s quite possible that the name is simply a coincidence.”
“No, I know. But listen to this. There was a phone number written on the file. Hold on.” Fumbling in her purse, she found her wallet and pulled out the paper. She read the phone number to him.
Puzzled, Wes asked her to repeat it.
Elise did as he asked, hope rising that she had found something of significance.
“That’s a number here at Wolfram & Hart,” Wes said flatly.
“Yes, I know,” she said with a touch of impatience. “That’s why I thought it was odd. Can you find out who it belongs to?”
“Are you sure you copied it down correctly?”
“Yes, I copied it down correctly,” Elise retorted tersely. “And check and see if there’s an Alex Smith there. That’s the other name on the contract. Maybe it’s his number, or maybe he works at Wolfram & Hart, too. The only other thing was some kind of mark or symbol. I can’t describe it, but I tried to copy it down. I’ll see if I can get it scanned and send it to you.”
Taking his pen out of his pocket, he copied the number down on the top of the stack of papers in his hand.
“Very well,” he replied as he studied the number he had written down, as if the digits themselves might reveal something interesting. It was admittedly curious how a Wolfram & Hart number might end up on a file halfway around the world.
“The other thing that’s odd?” she continued as she stood and crossed the room to the kitchen.
“Yes?” he asked, tucking the paper in his pocket and returning his attention to the conversation.
“The property deed or whatever it was. There was no address, no city or even a country. Just a name, ‘Eastwood Park’.” She turned on the water, rinsing her glass in the sink.
“What was that again?” he asked, uncertain if he heard correctly over the background noise.
“The property listed on the transfer. There-”
“No, not that part,” he interrupted, frowning. “The name. What did you say it was?”
“Eastwood Park. Do you know it?”
“No, not really,” he began, searching his memory for anything else that he could recall about the area. “It’s Falfield, near Bristol. But this time let me check it out before you decide to venture down there.”
“Elise, it will only take me a day or two to check this out. You can wait that long. As a returned favor for me, if nothing else.”
“Okay,” she murmured, acquiescing. Her instincts were fairly screaming to head to Eastwood Park first thing tomorrow, but since he asked, she would wait. It was a show of restraint that she wouldn’t make for just anyone, and for a fleeting moment she wondered at the ease of her capitulation. She must be overtired, she thought. “But call me as soon as you find anything, okay?”
Angel walked across the rooftop until he reached the edge. It was one of the few places at Wolfram & Hart where he felt that he could get even a small measure of respite from the seemingly never-ending stream of evil that crossed his desk. As he knew all too well, it didn’t stop there. it seemed to permeate every aspect of his life.
Absently he stared out at the familiar lights of Los Angeles just as he had done countless nights before. He had spent hours in this same spot, long, painful hours, contemplating what might have happened to Buffy. He missed her still, and the fact that he had never found her set heavily upon him.
He had just lit a cigarette when the door behind him opened. Footsteps crunched across the gravel rooftop, as Wes strode over to stand next to him. The former Watcher stood there for a moment, looking at him.
Angel blew out a cloud of smoke, not yet acknowledging his friend’s presence.
“I didn’t know you smoked.” Wes said at last.
The vampire gave him a sidelong glance. “I don’t.”
Wes glanced pointedly at the lit cigarette in his hand.
“Well, not often.” Angel admitted awkwardly. He took another drag and exhaled. The smoke drifted off in the light breeze.
“The results on the stone are back from the lab. It registers less than .10 nanocuries per gram, so it’s not radioactive. It’s andesite, meaning it’s from a volcanic region. The lab is doing some sample matches now. The etchings are similar to those made by the ancient Nasca people in Peru – though of course those were on a much larger scale. Most of them even required aerial photographs to identify the pattern. It was quite fascinating, really. I’m working on interpreting the glyphs, I should have preliminary analysis in another few days.”
“I also interviewed Marcus,” he continued on. “He doesn’t seem to know anything about the origins of the stone or the stone itself. If he is to be believed, and Lorne seems to think he should be after getting him to sing a few bars of ‘Summer Wind’, then he truly just delivered the package without any knowledge of its contents or it’s significance. We’ll keep working on it, of course.”
“Good.” Angel answered distractedly.
Quirking an eyebrow at the surprising lack of interest in his findings, Wes inquired, “Tough day?”
Angel shrugged. “When isn’t it?”
“Some days are better than others,” Wes admitted easily.
“Better?” Angel snorted. “I guess it all depends on your perspective.” He stubbed the cigarette out on the nearby wall and flicked the butt away.
For a moment Wes was taken aback at the gesture, which was eerily reminiscent of Angelus.
“Don’t worry, Wes.” Angel smiled grimly. “I can’t lose my soul.”
“I am well aware of that,” his friend retorted equably. “I’m the one that actually convinced you of that fact, quite some time ago if you recall. Several times I suggested that you could have meaningful relationships now that the secret of the curse had been revealed. And when everyone else had written off any chance for you to resume your relationship with Buffy-”
He stopped abruptly, casting a guilty glance at Angel. “I’m sorry. I didn’t-”
“You can mention her name, Wes,” Angel replied flatly. “I’d prefer it to everyone acting instead like she never existed, like she was never here, never part of my life, of their lives. Like she never simply vanished without a trace-”
He broke off as Wes put a hand on his shoulder. “I’m sorry. We know that you miss her. We all miss her,” he said kindly.
It took him a very long time to reply, a rush of painful memories flooding his mind, all the ‘what ifs‘ and ‘should haves‘ that had haunted him this last year still fresh and raw. When he finally spoke, his voice was low and pained, “You don’t understand how I feel. You can’t.”
“Perhaps not,” the former Watcher admitted with a shrug, thinking for a moment of Lilah, and of his father. Dropping his hand he walked over to the edge and looked down at the currently empty sidewalk. “But we’ve all experienced some pain at the loss of a loved one.”
“I never thought it would come to this,” Angel said, looking off into the distance. “I thought I’d have to face losing her some fifty, sixty, seventy years in the future, not now. Not after only a few short years. If only I had known. I could have done things differently.”
“But we can’t know,” Wes returned, his voice soft. “That’s the mystery of life, isn’t it? Not knowing the future.”
“No, we can’t,” Angel conceded sadly, reminded of the words he himself had said to Buffy years ago. It had been at the docks, when he had been about to leave Sunnydale with the arm of The Judge to keep Drusilla and Spike from reassembling him. It had also been the night that they had made love for the first time, an experience so profound he remembered every moment with vivid clarity. Their connection had grown stronger that night, even without the vampire ritual of blood exchange. The demon had felt it in the months that followed – that constant tug at his heart, and his gut, and his blood, and his very soul. It was an unrelenting reminder of his humanity and of his soul, and it had chafed Angelus sorely. It chafed him, even as it enticed him as strongly as it ever had his souled self.
Shaking away the memories, Angel returned his gaze to Wesley’s face. “If anyone knows that you can’t dwell in the past, it should be me. But I can’t forget.”
“You won’t,” Wes assured him. “No one expects you to, either. We can’t control what happens to us in this world, particularly when we’re sitting on the very precipice of evil, but we will always have our memories. You and Buffy had something very special; nothing will ever change that.”
Angel nodded, the movement almost imperceptible. God knows he was far from deserving of even what little happiness he had been able to grasp, after all he had done. Perhaps he had been too greedy in wanting more.
“I spoke to Elise earlier,” Wes said as a segueway to the topic that had risen to the forefront of his mind during their conversation.
“Oh? How is she?” Angel asked politely. He had talked to her a few days ago himself, the conversation mostly about the sights of London. Curiously, she hadn’t mentioned her aunt at all, and he had forgotten to ask about her health. Next time, he mentally reminded himself.
“She’s fine. You haven’t talked with her?”
“A few days ago.”
“And she, uh, didn’t say anything about her visit?” Wes inquired curiously. All afternoon Wes had debated how much to tell Angel about Elise’s trip to London and her suspicions about the Watcher’s Council reforming, before finally deciding to keep it to himself – for now. Until he had time to research the name and number she gave him, all they had was improbable speculation, which was far from conclusive evidence of anything. And, he concluded, it would be Elise’s place to tell Angel about her research when the time came.
“Not really. She mentioned that she was planning on going sightseeing in London and to Harrods to do some shopping.” Angel looked at his friend quizzically. “Should she have?”
“No, no.” Wes reassured him quickly, hoping that no guilt of deception showed in his eyes. “I just wondered if she was having a good time.”
“Ah. I thought you would have asked her that when you talked to her,” Angel offered mildly.
“Oh, I should’ve. No doubt she thinks me quite rude now.”
Angel studied the former Watcher for a moment. “I doubt it.”
“She was visiting Westminster Abbey, and was asking me if there was any information in the library on paranormal activities there,” Wes offered as an excuse for his earlier conversation with Elise. “I suppose she’s looking for ideas for her next book. I believe she mentioned having an outline due to her editor soon.”
“And was there?”
“I haven’t found anything yet.” Wes returned with a shrug.
“Ah. Well, if there’s anything to find, you’ll find it.” For a fleeting moment Angel wondered if there was something more between Wes and Elise than friendship. He could see how there would be a connection between them, given their common background and shared interests.
“Perhaps,” Wes agreed noncommittally.
“How about a drive down to the pier? I thought I’d check out that Thorak demon sighting myself, and I could use some company.” Angel asked, changing the subject.
Nodding, Wes followed Angel toward the rooftop exit.