The car rolled down the street, shimmering in the early glow. Angel still found the light to be an odd sensation after so many years avoiding it like the plague. There was something hollow about only experiencing it through the protective glass though, like it wasn't quite there. He put two fingers on the glass contemplatively.
"This street?" Wesley asked.
Angel was shaken away from his thoughts. "Uh- Yeah, this is it."
Spike looked over his shoulder at the papers he was holding. "Melanie's the bird, right?"
"Right," Angel said. "Stop in the shade here."
Wesley parked the car in an available spot. Three doors opened, three doors closed.
It was a quiet neighborhood, and not particularly well off, by the looks of it. The buildings looked old and long unrenovated, with scant bits of graffiti and damage on the bricks. It wasn't deserted, but "crowded" might as well have been Chinese to those living here.
"Wait by the car," Angel told Spike.
He protested briefly, but acquiesced. Angel heard the click of a lighter as he walked away.
Angel and Wesley reached the door, exchanged a quick glance and a nod, then Wesley gave it three firm knocks.
They heard footsteps coming closer until reaching a stop. Then the door opened.
The two were faced with a woman looking to be in her late thirties. Her hair was blonde, straight, and evidently well cared for. The colorful clothes that covered her told the story of a woman who was nowhere to be seen in her tired, angry expression.
"Mhm?" she said.
Wesley looked flustered for a moment, but composed himself. "We're here about Melanie," he said. "Are you her mother?"
"Yes, wh- Oh you pieces of shit!" She walked backwards further into the house, pointing a finger at them. "You're police, aren't you!?"
"No, we have nothing to do with the police," Angel said, startled at the question.
"But you're here to tell me, right?" she muttered. "That she's dead?" The emphasis on the last word was shrill and harsh.
"What?" Angel said. "No, nothing like that."
"So she's alright then?"
"We wouldn't know," Wesley said. "Is she missing?"
The woman flared up. "You're goddamn right she's missing!" Her voice quieted down and she shook her head. "What are you here for, then?"
"Where did you see her last?" Angel asked.
"Thought you said you weren't police."
"We're not. But recently there have been people looking for girls like her."
"Like her?" she said, utterly unamused.
Wesley raised a hand, considering his words. "We believe Melanie may have… powers."
The woman scoffed. "And you're here to take her to Hogwarts are you? Piss off." She slammed the door.
"That went well," Wesley said.
Angel said nothing.
"A board game cafe?"
"That's what the papers say," Faith said.
Gunn chuckled. "Fair enough. Just not what I'd have guessed for a slayer."
"I think it makes sense," Fred said.
Faith didn't interrogate that further. "Well let's go find…" She checked the notes again. "Charlie."
"Cute name for a girl," Gunn remarked.
"Well, Charlotte, I'm guessing," Faith said.
They walked up to the door and went inside. Faith first, then Gunn and Fred behind her.
Around the room were tables, around which a variety of people sat playing cards, complicated-looking board games and fiddling with armies of small figures on large, painted landscapes.
It wasn't that Faith judged people for their interests, really, but the boredom that hit her looking at it all was aggressive and immediate. She shook her head and poked the shoulder of the nearest person.
He had a scraggly beard and was deeply focused on a card game against an older man in a uniform she assumed belonged to the cafe. He turned his attention to Faith.
"Hey," Faith said. "We're looking for a Charlie. Someone you know?"
The man nodded a few times. "Yeah, yeah. Comes in pretty often. Just look for the red hair, you can't miss it."
"They here today?" she asked.
"Don't think so," the man said, looking around. "Might be later," he muttered, focused once again on his game.
Faith turned back to the others. "Welp. Looks like our girl isn't here at the moment."
Gunn sighed exaggeratedly. "Guess we'll have to wait here. Maybe find a game and-"
"Nice and predictable. Let's make this quick."
Noah sighed. "Always one, isn't there?"
"There are three of them," Nasima said.
"Well, there are three of us," David muttered, staring ahead.
"It's just the big guy though. He's the demon," she said.
"So I'm not gonna murder people," Nasima said. "And they probably won't be happy with us staking their… friend."
Noah sighed. "Then we'll get him alone. Quick stake and we're gone. The others won't ever find out."
She rolled her eyes. "And we do that how?"
"I suppose we could check her workplace," Wesley suggested.
Angel sighed, flipping through the papers he was holding. "If she'd been coming to work after running away, her mother would know. I doubt we'd find anything."
"We could ask the bobbies. City has those, right?" Spike said.
"They wouldn't tell us anything," Angel replied. "Barely would when I had a friend there, no chance now."
"What happened to your friend?" Spike asked.
"Doesn't work there anymore. Other than that, couldn't say. She wanted me to get out of her life, and I did."
Spike shook his head. "Cocked that right up then, didn't you? Listen, birds only say that kind of thing when they want you but they don't want to admit it. Take it from me."
"Noted," Angel muttered tiredly.
The conversation stopped. Clear, pointed footsteps were moving quickly towards them. They turned.
"Good morning," came the voice. It belonged to a slender young man with brown hair and a neutral expression. He raised his fist slowly, as if preparing something.
"Wait, I know you," Angel said.
The man stared. "You- What?"
Angel walked closer. "Yeah, you've been killing high ranking demons in the city!"
He blinked. Then blinked again. "How the hell do you know that!?"
Whatever the man had been doing, he'd seemingly forgotten. His eyes were wide and his face slowly contorted in panic and anger.
"I asked first," Angel said, still moving closer.
The man raised a palm, ordering him to stop. "Who are you?"
Angel reached into his pocket and pulled out a black rectangle. "I'm Angel," he said, then clicked it in his hand.
"Wh- what did you just do?" the man asked, taking a step backwards.
"I just alerted Wolfram and Hart to your presence. Thought you'd enjoy some company."
"You-" he hissed, then turned and ran like hell. A few steps away, he seemed to turn liquid and disappeared into the shadow below.
"Where'd he go?" Spike asked.
"Shadowshifting," Wesley said. "Fast but low range. He'll be close by. Let's split and find him."
"Well if Wolfram and Hart know about the bugger-" Spike began
Angel stopped him, opening his hand to reveal only his black car keys inside.
"We find him," he said.
The three each picked a direction and started to run. The two vampires picked the rest of the street, still covered in shade, while Wesley went across the road.
Angel heard his footsteps under him as he ran, clicking steadily. He quickly realized they weren't the only pair. Turning on his heel, he saw two figures approaching, carrying stakes.
"I smell a dead vampire," David said. "Well, deader than usual."
"Round 2, asshole," Nasima spat.
Angel looked to find the others, but both were too far away to help. He braced himself.
Nasima rushed towards him alone, stake raised. David followed her, angry.
"Damnit, we planned this!" he said, then followed behind her.
Angel was prepared for the first stab, dodging it handily. He grabbed on to the arm she was holding the stake with.
She growled and kicked him in the shin.
He put a hand to her chest and forced her to the ground, looking up to see David just a second too late.
Angel staggered backwards from the blow. Just as he was coming to, another one came his way. He answered David with a punch to the gut, then grabbed him as he staggered.
The two men grappled, each trying to push the other down. David's eyes darted to the right. Suddenly, he shifted, surprising Angel by going around his body to restrain him.
Angel struggled to get free, eyes widening as he saw Nasima rush towards him.
She jabbed the stake into him. It pierced through his suit and embedded itself in his chest. Just above the heart.
He let out a pained growl as he fell and landed on the concrete below.
Nasima let out a relieved sigh as a smile crept onto her face. It quickly faded.
"He's gonna turn to dust now, right?" she said.
"I dunno, I've never killed one," David replied.
"And you won't today either."
He turned his head just in time to receive a punch to the face.
Spike shook his fist. "Too easy."
Wesley stood beside him, arms crossed. "Step away from him," he demanded.
Nasima exchanged a glance with David. She drew her knife.
There was a short silence before anyone moved. The four stared each other down, all looking sure they knew what was going to happen. They were all wrong.
The shadow on the wall beside them began to shimmer and move. Seconds later, a figure appeared from inside.
"Noah!" David exclaimed.
"Get out of here, you idiots!" Noah roared. "They've called for backup."
The two were bewildered but quickly complied, rushing across the road. Nasima cast a last, vengeful look back before turning away.
Noah waved an arm, creating an invisible shockwave that flew towards Wesley and Spike. They were sent flying back and slid along the ground. When they got up again, the attackers were nowhere to be seen.
Angel pushed himself to a sitting position, then struggled to his feet. The stake was still protruding from his chest as he stumbled towards the others.
Wesley groaned in pain. "I'm gonna need a new suit," he remarked, then suddenly got quiet as he looked at Angel.
"Likewise," he coldly said. He pulled out the stake and studied it in his hand. A few inches lower…
"As far as mornings go," Spike muttered, as he rose to join them, "I'd say it could have been worse."
Faith heard the door open behind them. She turned to find a man entering, looking absentmindedly at the shelves of games. He wore a suede jacket and had red hair that just reached his shoulders.
She walked over to him. "Hi, can I ask you something?"
He looked at her with a slightly confused smile. "Uh, sure."
"We're looking for a Charlie Davis. Is that someone you know?" she asked.
"Well, lucky you," he said. "You're looking right at him."