A blanket of pitch black velvet had fallen over the city, the air thick enough to cut through. The small group working their way through the streets gleamed dimly with color from glowsticks and phones that still had battery remaining. Even through the thickness, the smell of alcohol and other, unidentifiable substances was unmistakable. They talked among themselves, conversation topics being introduced and promptly dropped as they simultaneously forgot what was being said.
The relative stillness of their buzzing was broken by the cocking of two guns in short sequence, a menacing prelude that wasn't lost on the group. They stopped, their blood running cold, as two shadows emerged from an alleyway close by.
"Alright ya' freaks, it's real simple. Put your hands up and you'll leave here breathin', got that?" said one of the figures.
The group nodded in graceless unison, and put their hands up as the figures approached, the guns held to their chests. Their visibly clammy hands were covering the handles with sweat.
The strike came too fast for a proper reaction, and sent one of the figures crashing to the ground. His partner was startled, but sprung to action, pointing the gun at their attacker, a young woman in her late teens.
"Stay out of this, kid. I'm not afraid to use this thing!" he shouted, his clacking teeth betraying the lie.
As the two stood, reading each other, the street echoed with the sounds of quick footsteps as the partygoers started running.
"Hey can't you listen!?" the man said, pointing the gun back at them.
Just then came a fierce punch to his jaw. As the pain ran through his body like wildfire, the finger he'd had firmly locked around the trigger slipped, firing a shot into the night, the sound of it being immediately followed by a ghastly scream. As the second punch landed, he lost all consciousness, a haunting black shroud coming over his eyes.
As the woman knelt over the body, the sudden quiet let her hear a mess of crying and shouting coming from down the street. Footsteps were moving towards her. Frantically, she rose, and disappeared into the night. In the distance, sirens screeched.
The room was horribly light, the midday sun gleaming mercilessly in through the wide windows. The figure that sat slouched over the desk in the middle of it stood in stark contrast, clad in all black, which matched his mood a tad too perfectly. He let out a deep sigh as he made himself intimately familiar with the surface of his desk. The past months had started to wear on him.
From a chair to the side of the room came an all-too-familiar voice. "What's all the huff about, mate? Seems to me like you've got it pretty good here."
Angel's head jolted up. "You know, Spike, your voice isn't something I was hoping to hear today."
Spike rose from the chair he'd claimed. "Oh, I am deeply hurt." The bleach blonde vampire dramatically put his hand on his chest. "Still caught up on your old bird haunting you?"
"She wasn't- She didn't- You know, why haven't I called security on you yet?"
Spike scoffed. "What security? You mean the guys who let a small army of cyborg ninjas in the building a couple of months ago? Yeah, real mark of excellence right there."
The sigh that escaped Angel's lips sounded like his soul was following it out. His eyes were closed, but he could see Spike's self satisfied smirk clear as day. As if to rescue him, he heard a call through his intercom. "There is someone here to see you, Boss."
Tired, he sat down and clicked to respond. "Someone? I wouldn't mind specifics, Harmony."
"Ummm, brunette, leather jacket, looks kind of skanky. She told me to say that you owe her for the last beating she gave you. Should I send her away?"
Angel's eyes lit up, much to Spike's amusement. "No, I'm coming down. I was planning on going out." He grabbed his jacket and rushed out the door, leaving Spike to his own devices. He scurried down the hallways, already happier than he'd been for a while. He got a few odd looks from his employees, but then again he was used to that. Finally, he stepped out into the lobby, his coat flapping rather less majestically than usual. And there she stood. Clad in black leather, hair dancing as she moved. A sight for sore eyes to be sure. "Faith!" he said, louder than he'd intended. She turned her head and smiled at the sight of him. Her face quickly turned though, revealing a hint of skepticism. He walked towards her with brisk steps, nearly bumping into several employees , before he found himself in front of her. They stood there for a while, none of them quite knowing what to say.
"It's good to see you," Angel finally said.
"Right back at ya', A. Been a little while." Her eyes darted around the room, hiding little of her uncertainty. "So... what's the Evil Incorporated thing about? I mean I did some stuff for this place, but we both know how I was doing back then. And you're running it now?".
Angel shifted his feet a bit. He was hoping for a nicer hello. "That's… gonna be a bit of a long story."
She raised an eyebrow. "I've got time."
He sat for a while, staring out the window. He'd gotten a lot of weird looks the way he was covering himself from the sun on the way, but people were used to stranger things on the streets of L.A. The milkshake in front of him remained untouched. Strawberry. Not that he'd particularly wanted one, but Faith said she'd feel weird if he didn't also get something. The silence was completely deafening. Finally he spoke up. "So what brings you to L.A?"
"That's what you're going with? After that thinking sesh I thought you'd have something just a bit more profound."
He stared into the table while biting his lip. Truth was, when he wasn't in dark alleyways, trench coat flapping like hummingbird wings, he had very little idea what to do most of the time. Vampires? Sure. Demons? Cool. Unspeakable eldritch horrors? Eat 'em for breakfast. People? Running to the hills before you could say 'social interaction'.
She sighed, ever amused at the vampire's antics. "Officially? Slayer duty. You've probably heard of Willow's little mad scientist bout, and these new ones are popping up like whack-a-moles so L.A's not a bad place to go looking. And I thought it'd be a good chance to check up on the old A-meister." Angel raised an eyebrow at that last comment. "Seriously, we've been so busy, everything's been a mess, and I'm just tired. I guess I wanted to see a familiar face. I mean Andrew called me to get me up to speed on the whole Wolf-Heart thing but he's Andrew. Thought he'd misunderstood or something."
"Well…" he stopped, unsure of what to say.
"Angel, this is big stuff. I understand why and all, but can you really trust all this?" There was clear worry in her voice.
His hands struggled to find purpose, fiddling uncertainly with each other as he thought. "I know, Faith, and trust me, this wasn't an easy decision. But-" he leaned forward a little, making eye contact with her. "Look, I fought these people for years. They were far stronger than us, in every aspect, it was a losing battle the whole way. We have a real opportunity here, to use all this power for some kind of good. It's not as exciting as being a champion on the streets, but it may be the best choice for us."
Cordelia's words echoed in his mind. "You just forgot who you are." Had he remembered? It had seemed like a great epiphany at the time, some release from all of this, but still he found himself here. He hadn't escaped, he hadn't changed. Same justifications, same routine, lacking the meaning he was once driven by.
"Look, man, I owe you everything. I'd trust you with my life. But this, it seems like a super bad idea. They've pulled you in with all these promises because they know they can twist you. I mean, are you happy doing this?"
He raised a hand to his head, then let it fall. "I want to help you with this. With the slayers. I can use Wolfram & Hart's resources, let me prove to you that I can make there's potential for good here."
She mulled it over, then nodded, slowly. "Evil business or no, you're still the Angel I know and… tolerate. Let's do it."
Angel threw the double doors into Wolfram & Hart open, theatrical as ever. Faith came in close behind and walked up to stand next to him, having stopped in the middle of the lobby. "Welcome," he said, making a sweeping gesture with his arm.
Faith turned her head a few degrees and eyed him. "I was here like an hour ago."
Angel seemed oddly in his own world after their talk, and barely heard what she said. "Come on. I wanna show you something."
She followed behind him, getting increasingly unnerved by the unending white walls and employees passing by. Suddenly, she spoke up "Hey, A, not for nothing, but is this place… safe, for someone like me? Like, at all?"
His face became more serious, wanting to reassure her. "You don't have to worry. I'm the CEO of "this place". You're my guest."
She opened her mouth as if to reply, then dropped it. If there was one person she trusted to lead her around the center of evil in Southern California, it was him. The hallways went on and on, like they were stumbling through a labyrinth, but Angel seemed to know his way around. Finally they stopped in front of a room. Angel opened the door and went inside, Faith close behind. Six people sat around the room at similar looking desks, all with frighteningly neutral facial expressions. "The research department!" he said, making another grandiose gesture with his arm. A young looking woman with glasses waved meekly at her, then returned to her computer screen.
"Real lovely office, A, but why did we go here again? I'm not exactly sure I caught… anything about that?"
"Well you're looking for potential slayers, right? Nobody can find them faster than these guys. There are upsides to running Evil Incorporated you know," he said, smiling at her, seemingly hoping to impress. He walked over to the leader of the department's desk and rested an arm on it. "So, I need to find some potential slayers. There are bound to be a few hiding around to-" he was cut off by a thin stack of papers getting shoved in his arms.
"This is all the data we've collected about them, including names, addresses, occupations, favourite foods, everything you'd care to know." he said in a complete monotone.
Angel was a bit stunned. "Oh. Well, thanks. Um, go back to whatever you were working on."
The man turned away and Angel walked over to the doorway where Faith had been standing, observing the episode. He shot her a somewhat dorky smile as he swung the papers around. "These guys are the real thing. Always know what you need before you even do."
"Uh huh. Can I see those?" Faith said.
"Sure thing." He handed her the stack, slightly disappointed at her lack of reaction. He finally had someone who wasn't embroiled in this mess to confide in, and she was echoing everything he was worried about. Everything she had been worried about. He had to show her the good here. He had to show her that Wolfram & Hart wasn't a lost cause. Otherwise, why had he done this?
She started rifling through the papers raising and lowering her eyebrows as she read. As she finished the last page, she immediately went through again, stopping at a particular section. "Here's one close by. Name's... Isabel. Wanna come check it out with me?"
Shaking himself from his thoughts, he nodded. "Of course," he said, earnestly. Their eyes met, and they smiled at one another.
They walked side by side down the hall, determined steps carrying them. The employees they passed on the way gave them odd looks, but not a lot their CEO did could surprise them anymore. As they passed another hallway, a voice came. "Faith?". They turned to find Wesley, standing facing an equally surprised Fred. They looked like they had been interrupted in the middle of something. "Didn't know you were in town."
She smiled genuinely at seeing him. "Hey Wes. Yeah, showed up on your doorstep like a stray baby in a real sweet jacket. It's nice to see you."
"It's… nice to see you too." Wesley looked down for a few moments, clearly deep in thought.
"Everything five by five in the brain department?"
"Huh? Oh, yeah." he muttered, unsure of what to say.
"Well, I'm glad to see you too!" Fred chimed in, breaking the awkward silence. Wesley looked at her thankfully.
"Freddie! Surprised you haven't married the Great Ensouler yet, considering the riveting display the last time I was in the ol' City of Angels."
Fred gave a slightly confused smile, trying to understand her meaning. Then it dawned on her. "Oh, you thought she…" She looked at Angel, who gave her a little shrug. She then turned to Wesley, who looked at her with raised eyebrows. "She wasn't-" She stopped when she saw everyone looking at her.
"So, what are you two up to? You look like you're in a hurry." Wesley said.
"Well, I'm kind of here on business, so we're off to find one of the new slayers. Angel's private Gestapo sniffed a few out."
Angel shot her a look.
"I see. Well you had better get going then I suppose," Wesley said, seeming eager to end the interaction.
"True. Nice to see you though!" She tried giving him a fist bump, but he didn't quite seem to understand before they'd already passed the awkward point. He did an uncertain hand gesture to her and walked away, Fred beside him.
"You notice anything off about those two?" Faith asked, when they were a safe distance away.
"Like… suspicious smiles? Get-a-room-iness?"
Angel's blank stare told her enough.
"Angel, I love you man, but you are dense as a rock." Faith smiled and shook her head.
She put an arm around his shoulder, startling him. "Well come on, let's get going! Helpless won't help themselves, eh?"