She was a pretty girl. That was the first thing Angel noticed about her. The second thing was that she was young. Very young. She was only 15, and sitting there with that lollypop in her hand, she looked even younger. She primly placed her sweater over her legs, swinging them freely like a little girl.
A man approached her, wearing a suit despite the California heat.
"Buffy Summers?" he asked.
The girl, Buffy, looked up.
"Yeah? Hi! What?"
"I need to speak with you," he said.
The girl's forehead creased.
"You're not from Bullock's, are you? Cuz I totally meant to pay for that lipstick."
"There isn't much time," said the man. "You must come with me. Your destiny awaits."
"I don't have a destiny," she said. "I'm destiny-free really."
That made Angel smile, a little. He should know better than anybody – nobody could escape their destiny.
"You are the chosen one," continued her watcher. "You alone can stop them."
"Who?" asked Buffy.
She didn't shriek, or laugh, like some would. She just stared at the man with her large, doll-like eyes. Then she tilted her head to one side.
Angel told himself that as soon as he did what Whistler wanted, he would go back to his lonely, tortured brooding. But there was something about this girl-child that drew him. He felt an almost overwhelming urge to protect her from what he knew was coming. Hers would not be an easy life, and she was such a small and delicate thing, so innocent. And he had always been attracted to innocence.
He watched her for the rest of the day from the shelter of the tinted windows of the car. The girl, Buffy, walked around in a daze, trying to absorb the truth – she was the Slayer. The one girl in this generation who could stand against evil. Evil like him. But Angel found it hard to believe that she could fight vampires. She was so fragile. Her watcher didn't seem to be much help in assuaging her fears. Angel felt only contempt for the overweight fusspot who had been sent to her. He didn't understand his young charge at all.
"Feel like lurking some more?" Whistler asked.
"She seems like a nice girl," Angel replied, ignoring the sarcasm in the demon's voice. "It doesn't seem fair to spring this on her."
"So you're staying then?"
Angel really, really wanted to blow this guy off, to swat this fly that was buzzing around his ear and keeping him from the solitary brooding that he had perfected over the decades. With effort, he tamped down his annoyance.
"I'll stay," he said.
Whistler nodded knowingly.
"Her watcher is taking her out tonight for her first slaying."
"I'll be there," said Angel.
Her first slaying was a mess. She had raw power, but was completely untrained. Not to mention she seemed to have a distaste for rumpling her clothes.
The vampire almost had her. She had lost her stake, and was dodging now. The vampire caught her arm, and flipped the tiny girl onto her back, ready to kill her. Without thinking, Angel tensed to spring, to rescue the girl. Whistler laid a hand on his shoulder.
"Not yet, Hero. She's got to do this on her own," the demon said.
Buffy had spotted her stake by now, but it was out of her grasp. With a grunt, she shoved the vampire off of her.
"Ick," she said, scrambling for her stake.
"Ick, ick, ick."
She looked down at the wooden stake in her hand as if unsure of what to do next. The vampire lunged at her but she sidestepped him, flipping him over with a cleverly landed blow. Angel was impressed in spite of himself.
She had to stab the vampire several times before she found his heart,
"Ok, not the heart," she muttered to herself when she stabbed his gut with her trembling fingers.
Angel tensed again, purely out of habit. Whistler's hand on his shoulder kept him in place.
Finally, Buffy hit her mark, and the vampire exploded into dust all over her.
"Ew, ew, ew!" she yelped, scrambling backwards so that she tripped and landed on her backside. She stared with wide eyed shock at the ashes strewn over the ground.
Angel hid his smile. It was going to be a long road for this princess, but he could definitely see her potential.
Her watcher could see it too.
"You see?" he said. "You see your power?"
Buffy looked like she most definitely did not see.
"I've got things to do," Whistler said, glancing at his watch. "You want to come with me?"
Angel shook his head, keeping his eyes on Buffy, who was trying desperately to brush vampire dust off her clothes.
"I think I'll watch her some more."
"Meet you back in the sewers."
Angel felt very self conscious following the girl back to her house. Her watcher dropped her off, and the teen took a deep breath before stepping through the door. Angel settled himself into a nearby tree.
Hers didn't seem like a very happy home. Her mother was upset and angry at her for staying out so late, and then began to fight with her father as Buffy made her way upstairs. In her bedroom, Buffy took off her jacket, still filmed with a coating of vampire dust, and went into the bathroom to wash up.
Angel didn't need his vampire hearing to hear the sounds of her parents' arguments echoing through the house. Buffy could hear them too. In the bathroom mirror, Angel could see tears well up in her pretty eyes. Eyes that he knew in his heart should never know such tears.
Buffy took a deep breath, and brushed her tears away. She reapplied her makeup, and marched out of the room with a false smile plastered on her face.
Angel felt something. A tugging in his chest. Something drawing him to this girl, this Buffy. A desire to help her, to make her life easier; to make sure she never cried again. He wanted just to be near her, to see her smile. The tug in his chest grew stronger.
He thought it might be his soul.
Whistler was late. Angel sat in the dark of the sewer, playing with the ring he wore on the middle finger of his right hand. It was a nervous habit of his, something left over from being human. He hardly ever thought about his ring nowadays, but now he took the time to squint at it in the dim light. It had been given to him by his parents on his fourteenth birthday. A silver band, with two hands cradling a heart, and a crown overtop.
Hands for friendship.
Crown for loyalty.
Heart for love.
Or so they said. He also remembered the tradition – worn away from you it means you are available. Worn towards you means you are taken. In two hundred years, most of that time spent with Darla, Angel hadn't even given the ring a second thought. He twisted it around on his finger.
"She's going to have it tough, that Slayer," said Whistler, coming down the sewer passageway. "She's just a kid, and the world's full of a lot of big, bad things."
Big bad things like me, thought Angel. He remembered the tug he had felt earlier. The desire to keep her safe.
"I want to help her," he said.
Whistler looked at him, a little surprised.
"I want… I want to become someone," Angel continued.
Whistler gave him a long, hard stare, and then turned away.
"Geez, look at you," he said. "She must be prettier than the last slayer."
Angel looked away. That wasn't it. She was pretty. But it was something more that drew him to her.
"The more you live in this world, the more you see how apart from it you really are," continued Whistler. "And this is dangerous work. Right now, you couldn't go three rounds with a fruit fly!"
This was true, Angel knew. He was weak with hunger, not in a position to help anyone. He twisted the ring around, and then slid it off his finger, contemplatively. The tug on his soul grew stronger. He wasn't sure if he believed in soul mates, but he knew that whoever that Buffy girl was, she was something special.
"I want to help her," he said. "I want to learn from you."
"Alright," said Whistler, with satisfaction.
Angel looked at his unlikely guide, and then allowed himself a dry smile.
"But I don't want to dress like you."
He pushed himself up off the wall, and started walking down the sewer. Whistler made a smart-mouth response, but Angel wasn't listening any more. He was looking down at the ring in his hand. With resolve, he slid it back into his finger, the heart facing towards him.