Not nearly as well equipped for it...
Chapter 18: "Not nearly as well equipped for it..."
"Huh." Vince was looking at her after she'd finished with more'n a little of that fey light she'd seen in his eyes after the fight at the Pit. "Don't think I ever heard of anyone who went four rounds with a Death Dealer and walked away. And a turned slayer, to boot." He regarded her thoughtfully, "Think the slayer powers carried over?"
"If not, then near enough as don't count," Faith said, rubbing the back of her head with a rueful expression.
"You sure you're up for another round?"
"Snicker. Almost the same thing Blade asked, Thug." Faith's expression went distant. "No, but it don't matter. Ain't gonna play her game. Gonna kick over the table and play mine."
"I know that look, Slayer," Vince grinned. "Last time we did that thing, we created a new Hellmouth."
"Yeah, but it sure beat the fuck outta the alternative, din't it?" Faith raised an eyebrow, grinning, and they both laughed.
"That it did, that it did." The demonic mobster shook his head, "Not exactly a walk on the 'side of the angels' this time, kiddo, but it'll do." He looked at her, "Where and when?"
"Still working on the 'where' - I have a couple of pieces I need to find first." Faith stretched, "When: couple of days we get started, once I'm back up to 100% or near enough. Then we rattle cages and do to the vampire hangouts here what Abby and I did to the demon underworld in J-City."
"Kill shit and break things, huh? I'm there with that. Never did care for licks."
Faith started to say something in response, but her phone picked that time to go off. She looked at the display and made a face. "Hold that thought - I need to take this one, I guess." She put her finger over her lips in a 'shush' gesture and flipped open the cellphone.
"Good afternoon, Faith. I received your message from yesterday."
"Afternoon yerself. Cool - then you know the scoop."
"Yes, I believe so. I was a bit concerned when you dropped out of contact for several days. I gathered, however, that you'd completed your contract. Well done."
"Well... hold the well dones for now, Giles. I still need to give her the Speech and pass along pertinent details an' all." Faith paused, "Dropped off the radar 'cause I've been in the hospital the past several days - had a go 'round with my vampire babe."
"Good lord. Are you... never mind. Silly question," Giles managed to sound both concerned and exasperated at the same time. Cool - maybe some day she could get 'completely discombobulated' out of him. Faith grinned. "You're in the hospital - of course you're not all right. How bad?"
"Easy Giles. Put the glasses down and step back so no one has to get hurt," Faith laughed. "I'll be up and out in a day or so. Coulda been out yesterday, except I wanted to make sure I got back up to full speed somewhere relatively safe."
"Unexpectedly prudent of you, I must say."
"Thanks ever so, G," Faith's voice went dry. "You've been a bad influence on me - I'm gettin' careful in my dotage. And trickier."
"Ha. If it's 'trickier', you've been learning from the wrong aspect of my personality, I fear."
"Naw. I like
Ripper." Faith snickered, "He's your better half."
"Hardly," Giles laughed softly. "I gather the encounter is responsible for the delay in making contact with the young lady. Understandable."
"Yeah... partly. I'd be taking this one slow anyway. It's a bit stickier than normal." Faith paused again, "I'll get it done, don't worry."
"Quite. Would you like for me to send someone down to assist? Someone used to dealing with the authorities and credentials."
"Huh. No... best not. I have a bit of a rapport with the locals in question," Faith stated. She bit down hard
on the impulse to suggest that she didn't need her hand held and she cleaned up perfectly well for dealing with the 'authorities', thanks. Giles was being a lot less difficult than she'd expected - no need to antagonize him... "Rather not spook them by introducing an unfamiliar element into the mix, y'know? The rapport could go sideways too easy, still."
"Yes. I could see how that could be the case even with the rather... sparse nature of your email report," Giles' voice was dry also, but not bad humoured.
"You mean you'd rather my next one had like, words and shit in it?" Faith snickered. Giles made an exasperated sound, and she added, "If I can pull this off, you'll get a lot more out of it than just a mini-slay. If I can't... you won't need to pay me." She left unspoken the implicit 'Because I won't be around to spend it'
"Lets hope it doesn't come to that," Giles stated. "Very well. Considering that you've had a great deal of experience with dealing with first contact encounters, I'll defer to your instincts for now."
"Coolness." Faith raised an eyebrow. "Let me call you back when I have things settled - I'm in the middle of something right now."
"Very well. Carry on, Faith." Giles clicked off from his end.
"Huh," Faith remarked, eyes distant. That went better than she expected. Either a trap, or a sign that the Fates were about to drop a hammer on her...
"Giles?" Vince remarked, bring her back. "Thought you quit the IWC, Slayer?"
Faith quirked the half grin at him. "Contract work. Freelancer now - I'm juggling a lot of balls these days. Icing licks don't pay for hotel rooms."
Vince nodded. "Back to non-paying business," he grinned. "You sure about these cop friends of yours?"
"Sure? What's 'sure' in this business, Vince?" Faith gave him a dark look. "I think O'Brien's level, for what it's worth. And I trusted you on a lot less, with a lot more... " She shrugged. "I'll know for as sure as I can
get pretty soon, I think."
"Take your word for it. *You* I trust." Vince grinned, dismissing the matter. "Ok... gots nothing on who had the contract out yet. Best I can do is who hasn't: none of the J-City powers who's cages you rattled - although a lot of them woulda liked to - and not the Hellfire Club. It's either something old we're not lookin' at, or you pissed off a player somewhere who's playing it cute and close to the vest." He cocked his head, "Seems to be just you, though. No rumors that anyone else in your circle's bein' targeted, for what that's worth."
"You sure about that?" Faith lifted an eyebrow, making her tone light.
"I'd repeat back what you said earlier, but I'm afraid you'd hit me," Vince sniggered and Faith laughed. "Naw. Not sure sure. But it's the way to bet right now. Not everyone's as hard to take out as you are: there'd have been unmistakable indicators, you catch my drift."
"Right. Good... " Faith nodded, looking thoughtful. She could come up with one possible, but there wasn't any way she could crunch it that made it add up. Have to keep it in the back of the mind for now...
"Right. I'm going to mosey. Have business to do and a few friends to kill." Vince looked her over critically. "You're warded you say, and I have guys watching the entrances and exits. You should be ok here until you move out. But be wary."
"Always, Thug. And... thanks, hey?"
"No probs, Slayer. Don't die - it'd make my life a lot
less entertaining." The demonic mobster ambled out with his hands in his pockets, whistling. Whistling that damned George Michaels 'Faith' tune, the smartass....................................................................................
Dean rapped on the door and walked in while Faith was frowning distractedly at her laptop display and waiting for Wes to return her call. She turned to the door, hand reaching automatically for a weapon, and froze when she saw who it was. He nodded to her and closed the door, leaning up against it with his arms crossed.
"Hey," she said, relaxing. Faith gave him a small glower, "Just walking in like that's a good way to get dead, guy."
Dean gave her a startled look, then waved a hand in apology. "Sorry. I know that, jeeze. I was a bit distracted."
"Deep thoughts?" Faith snorted and gave him a frankly disbelieving look and turned back to the display.
He stared at her, then a half-grin stole across his face. "I guess I deserved that." She made a noncommittal sound. "What're you working on? More vampire research?"
"Taking a break from that." She clicked on the touch pad and frowned at the display, "Ghosts of the Prairie. Trying to find a specific type of place in the Downtown or South Philly area."
"Ah. Interesting site." He looked around the room for awhile, then finally settled his gaze back on her. Unfolding from the door, he stepped forward and set something on the bed next to her laptop. "Not much, I know. Something I saw at the hospital gift shop."
Faith looked at it. A small white stuffed bear wearing a black 'I Heart Doofus' t-shirt. She shook her head and glowered up at him from under her eyebrows, "Kinda dangerous handing me another birthday thing. I might go off again."
"Thought about that," he nodded. "It's not really a birthday thing. More of a peace offering."
"Ah. That's ok then," Faith picked it up and looked at it. "Not really a stuffed animal kind of gal."
Dean looked at her, eyes quizzical, "You're not making this easy."
"Any reason why I should?" Faith lifted an eyebrow and matched him look for look.
"Well... no," he admitted. He took a deep breath, "I was being kind of a dick last time."
"Kind of?" A half grin started twitching at the corner of Faith's mouth in spite of herself. She tamped it down carefully. Damn, he saw it - a matching one started with his. She picked up the bear and looked it over, then set it on the bedside tray, "What makes you think I heart doofuses?"
Dean shrugged. "Best I could do. They didn't have a 'Hi! I'm an asshole!' bear." Faith snickered. He gave her a considering look, "I owe you an apology."
"Sam made you do this, right?" Faith raised both eyebrows and gave him a knowing look.
"No!" Dean shook his head, then met her eyes ruefully. "Not really. Unless you consider telling me I'm an idiot and then not talking to me for the next day 'making me'."
*snicker* "Knowing Sam? That's probably more effective than him beating you up." She looked at him expectantly and waited.
"What?" He stared back. "Oh. Jeeze." Dean took a deep breath and said, "I apologize for giving you a hard time over this the last time we talked."
"Huh." Faith crossed her arms over her chest and gave him a considering look. "On a scale of one to ten, I'll give that a seven. Four, normally, with bonus points for not choking on it." She paused, thinking, "Additional point for the bear."
"Hey!" Dean glared at her, then thought about it a minute and grinned. "Ok, guess I deserved that."
*sigh* Faith shook her head, suddenly tired of yanking his chain. "No... you didn't. I'm being a dick now myself, and I'm not nearly as well equipped for it as you are." She looked out the window for a bit, then met his eyes again, "Mutual. And I really don't want to fight right now. What I said came out different than I heard it in my head, and I don't know how to take it back."
"Yeah... look," Dean spread his hands, then started at them. "If it wasn't for you, Sam probably might not be alive right now. You didn't have to stick around after we were attacked. Nor hunt up that healer, give blood, or find us a lawyer." He looked at her, "That counts way more than my ego getting bruised."
"I did have to. My fault you guys were attacked," Faith stated. "Like I said... I couldn't move on after that."
"If we hadn't met, then we might have been attacked looking into something while we were here," Dean shrugged. "And it's even up, anyway: if you hadn't met me, our family demon wouldn't have attacked you. We're just lucky you had something extra that kept it from being a lot worse."
Nod. "Wasn't gonna mention that," she said. "All right. Even up?" She gave him a flat look, "Even though you know I'm not going to back down on blondie being my kill and my responsibility?"
Dean looked out at the snow for a bit, then shook his head and looked back. "Can't say I'm happy about that, but yeah... I understand it." He gave her a hard look, "As long as you let us back you up."
"Fair 'nuff. Said I wasn't going to keep you out of it. Just not on the front line, right?" Faith put her hand out. Dean gave it a puzzled look, then grinned and took it and they shook. "Deal."
"Deal." He said. "Besides, we're family now."
"How you figure?"
"You're Sam's blood brother - you gave him blood." Dean looked thoughtful, "Blood sister?"
"Ah. Don't think it works that way," Faith hid a small grin. "Think you have to exchange blood."
"I'll let you convince Sam of that. I've used up my quota of 'You're an idiot''s from him for this week," Dean said. "He's stubborn."
"Hah." Faith laughed, then frowned, looking distracted. "May be something to that. Slayer blood has odd properties... I don't know much about what it might do giving it in a transfusion and/or infusion. Aside from helping him heal faster." The frown got deeper, "If there'd been another option, I wouldn't have done it. But they were out of his blood type and it was the only way to keep him alive until a healer could get to him."
"You mean like giving him extra abilities?" Dean stared at her.
"Maybe... probably not?" Faith shrugged. "Slayer blood has mystical properties. Vampires and a number of demons consider it a delicacy. It's useful in a number of magical rituals." She gave him a slight head shake, "Don't know. Doubt anything permanent, unless he has mystical properties of his own that you know of?"
"Hrmm." Dean went distracted for several minutes. "Not that I know of, aside from our family demon connection. Not going to worry about it," he shook his head again. "It saved his life."
Faith nodded. They were both quiet for a time, watching the snow. Finally Dean shook himself and asked, "What kind of a place are you looking for?"
"Hrrm. Somewhere to lead blondie for the showdown. Doesn't have to be mystical, but abandoned and with a reputation for being haunted or eerie would help," Faith said. "Need to have room to spread out, and need to keep the innocent bystanders out of the way after I draw her in."
"Trap, maybe? You think she'll come after you alone?"
Faith made a derisive sound. "Naw. For all of her talk of being honorable and 'Rules', she's a vampire and a former slayer to boot. She'll do what's most effective, just as I will." She gave him that half grin and added, "I'm betting she'll have minions to keep any allies I have occupied while she goes after me."
"Which gives us the backup thing," Dean nodded distractedly. He stared at the laptop for a few minutes, thinking. "Hit a search engine and enter 'Eastern State Prison' and 'Philadelphia Hospital at Byberry'. Either of those might do."
"Huh." She pulled up two Google windows and entered the search terms."Advantages to having demon hunters in the family. I may have to let Sam do his blood sister thing," she remarked. She spent some time hitting various websites and Wikipedia and reading. "Huh... are either of them really haunted?" Faith looked up at Dean with an inquiring expression.
"Hard to say," he frowned. "Not so we've been able to discover, but we haven't checked into them ourselves. They were on a list of possibilities for us to look at before we went on to New York and then Ohio."
She nodded and frowned, then tapped the screen with a fingernail. "The prison, I think. Perfect location, and it's in better repair than Byberry. It's embarrassing to break your leg on rubble before you ever get to the fight." Dean snickered and Faith grinned at him. "Don't laugh - I've seen it happen." Faith's eyes went distant for a moment, "And it suits my sense of irony."
"Prison was where I started rebuilding myself. Fits that it's where I make it clear that I'm not going back to that," she nodded. "This is the missing element I've been needing. Lure her there, and you guys pick off the minions while I set the Big Bad up and deal with her."
"Alone?" Dean raised an eyebrow.
"Not completely," Faith said. "I don't play fair."
"Good. As long as I get to see her dead," Dean nodded. He cocked his head and looked at her, "We good now?"
"Hrrm." Faith gave him a considering look, "We're better, I think. We can work on good after we're out of here, if you still want." He nodded and she added, "Get Sam later and we can find a movie to watch or something and shoot the breeze."
"Yeah, sounds good. I've already seen that all research and no play makes Faith a weepy grouch," he ducked as she laughed and threw the bear at him. He grinned unrepentantly and leaned against the door again after putting the stuffed toy back in place.
"I'll grouch yer ass," she growled. A thought crossed her mind, "Hey - Gunn fix your O'Brien issues? I keep not asking Five-oh because things get in the way."
"Mostly," Dean sighed. "No charges. Just an irritated chewing out from O'Brien and his partner. But I doubt we're going to get our gear back, or at least most of it aside from the car."
"Heh. Get used to it: cops get grabby when it comes to other people's weapons. Amounts to legalized theft, but there ya go." Dean gave her a sour nod. "At least there's no BATF. Trust me: it's a lot easier to replace hardware than it is to replace two to ten years."
Dean shrugged, "Yeah. Gunn's going to see about getting the legal firearms and weapons turned back over, but he said about the same thing.".................................................................................
"Hey, Wes," Faith said into the phone. Dean had left after an hour or so, and she was still brooding on the conversation.
"Faith. You sound distracted - did I catch you at a bad time?"
"Huh? No." Faith replied. "Just... a lot on my mind right now. Whatcha got?"
"Very little," Wesley admitted. "Faith... where did you acquire the image that you sent me?"
"The tattoo?" At Wes' confirming sound, she said, "My cop friend caught the guy breaking into my former hotel room. It was on... the inside of his wrist, I think."
"Hrrm." Faith could hear the frown in the voice. "Do they still have him in custody?"
"No. They had to release him."
"Pity, that." There was a pause on the other end, "Do you happen to know what he was posing as?"
"FBI agent, name of Hagerman, I think," she said, automatically, then frowned. "Posing as? Odd question. What do you know, Wes?"
"Very little, I'm afraid."
"You said that before, Wes. What's 'very little' mean?" Faith put a slight edge in her voice. It wasn't difficult....
"*sigh* It means that I vaguely recognize the symbol, however I don't have much information on it or what it represents - merely enough to arouse my intense curiosity." There was a long silence on Wesley's end of the line. "I believe it is associated in some way with the second branch of the old Watcher's Council."
"Huh? There was another branch?"
"Several of them, actually."
"ok... " Faith processed that one for a bit. "So what does this other branch do?"
"I'm afraid I can't tell you that, unfortunately."
"Wes... " Faith's voice went soft and dangerous. "This is my life you're screwing with. Again. Can't, or won't?"
"Can't. As in 'I really don't know anything about them' can't," he said. "The Watcher's Council was a very secretive society, as I'm sure that you noticed, and the various branches were secretive even from each other. I only discovered that there were other branches by accident - it wasn't advertised."
"Huh. Accident?" Faith rubbed her eyes. She could feel her headache coming back...
"Quite. One of the members of the... first retrieval team sent after you in Sunnydale had that sigil. I believe that branch may be associated with the Council's special ops units, however I was never able to ascertain this, and when I attempted to... I was slapped down rather harshly. It was one of the things that eventually led to my being fired from the Council."
"Ouch." Faith nodded to herself, "So... can't you find out anything through your sources?"
"Attempting to, however... rumour has it that one of the other branches was destroyed almost completely well before the First destroyed the full Council organization - including the various side branches, as near as Giles and myself could determine. There seem to be no surviving records pertaining to the various other branches." He paused, "I haven't had time yet for any extra dimensional sources to turn up anything, if it indeed exists."
"Ok, so Giles doesn't know anything either."
"No. He was genuinely surprised when I described the sigil on the one fellow - he'd never seen a similar mark on any of the Council's operatives." Wes gave a harsh laugh, "Afraid that we rather wrote it off as an individual quirk at the time and didn't pursue it, except for my inquiries. Obviously a mistake on our parts. It wasn't until my trial and forced retirement that I began to believe that there was more to it than that, and by then... "
"By then you didn't have the access or resources to follow up further, yeah," she finished for him. "Sorry I went all killer Faith on you there for a minute."
"Quite. And no apologies necessary," Wes stated. "You can see why my interest sharpened at the thought that this chap might be in custody where he could be laid hands upon."
"Yeah." Faith frowned again, "I'll feed him to Blade, and Vince. Maybe we can arrange to have him shipped to you in a box with airholes so you can ask him some pointed questions."
"That would be most appreciated," Wes laughed softly. "Do remember the airholes, please." He paused, "I'll keep digging, in the meantime."
"Thanks." She was quiet for a long time after he cut the connection, staring out the windows unseeing. Thinking about Council hit teams, Cruciamentum drugs, and chains....