Should've, would've, hadn't of... didn't.
Chapter 25: "Should've, would've, hadn't of..."
(Day 13; December 17, 2003; Eastern State Penitentiary, Fairmount Avenue between 21st and 22nd Streets, 1:42am
On a clear night... you can't quite see forever, not from the top of the central guard tower in the old abandoned prison. And the night was anything but clear, Faith reflected.
Still, you could see far enough. Especially if you weren't quite using your eyes. Even with the broken clouds and the city haze, the partial moon gave off enough light for slayer vision to penetrate even the deeper areas of shadow inside the walls of the old penitentiary. Faith closed hers, relying on other senses than slayer vision...
It was like having a third eye open up inside of her. Balanced lightly on the balls of her feet on the very peak of the old stone and steel guard tower, the light breeze furling the long coat behind her like a cape, she sent her awareness deep into herself. She could almost hear Master Caine's voice in the background of her mind, walking her through the familiar meditation drills. Deep, slow breaths. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Sink deep within to that still small place inside... Where there's pain, embrace it. Where there's hate... accept it. Where there's rage... pass through it. Where there's fear... feel it. Where there's darkness... pass through it. It's yours - it is you: let it flow, flow through it. It flows out with every breath... and you sink through it to the center.
. That still, quiet place behind the navel where there's emotion that doesn't touch, feeling that isn't felt, sounds that aren't heard, sight that's not seen. The place where the frozen moment lives, where time slows and awareness expands. She could reach but not hold it; never hold it for long. Always too hyper, even on the inside to hang onto peace and stillness for very long. No matter - can hold it long enough for now. She expanded her inner sense outwards from that center and looked with more than sight over the surrounding area.
She'd never been able to do this before, it was something she'd only recently discovered in herself after The Pits, and never had had time to really experiment with it. It was like the slayer sense that allowed one to feel the vampiric or demonic essence in things, only extended and clearer. Something the Pit had awoken in her? Or the prolonged Orpheus and magic aided exposure to the Dreamways? Or yet another manifestation of slayer abilities that only developed as a slayer became older and slowly grew into herself? Wesley had no answers fo her: very few slayers had ever survived as long as her and B had. Little was known about how a slayer developed if they made it past the 'normal' two to three year maximum. She wondered if Buffy had begun to discover these things within herself, or if it was only her. Probably never have a chance to ask now, not after their last abrasive conversation - no matter, let it go...
Her range wasn't far, but within it... she could sense the presence of the people around her like ripples. O'Brien, Gunn, Dean, and O'Brien's people as small ripples. Blade as a large one, darkness shot through with gold, as though someone had dropped a big rock into the pool. King and Christine as larger ripples as well, but smaller than Blade's. Christine's was hazy and undefined as though something were attempting to block her presence from awareness. As indeed, something was... Dark spots tinged with light marking Vince and his people. Splashes that were darker still far out at the edges of her awareness marking hunting vampires and the occasional demon - the hunger attached to the ripple sense proclaiming them for what they were. And one other... one similar to what she'd seen of herself once through Caine's inner sense: a swirl of darkness and light and power, evenly and yet uncertainly mixed. This one was hazy as well, like Christine's."Yeah, I know: you're not a combatant." Faith nodded. "No worries, Angela - do this, then get yourself clear. Stay indoors and warded. And thanks for meeting us here." Angela Basset nodded back, sighing heavily.
"The least I can do. You and yours are fighting for this place, after all. It would be a betrayal of the Invoked Spirit to not attempt to assist, even if only in small ways." The healer looked over the small group, "You merely wish an Avoidance, as I used to visit your friends in the hospital?"
"Yeah. Two of them, if you can." Faith said. "How long will they last?"
"For two people?" The healer considered for a moment. "As long as I am conscious, then until I release it. Or until something is done that draws attention to the person wearing the Avoidance, thereby breaking it." She drew a powerstone from a small pouch at her waist, concentrating for several long minutes, then looked up, nodding.
"That's it?" Faith asked.
"All there is," Angela smiled. "As I said before, it is concentration and a focusing of energies through Power and Will, not Ritual."
"Yeah, I remember," Faith nodded. "Just that I keep expecting magic to need lots of time, chanting, and all sorts of ritualistic shit."
The healer nodded. "On occasion, and for some types. Well... if that is all, I'll be taking my leave then. Do remember to stop by when all is done so that we can settle up." Without a backward glance, she turned and made her way back to her vehicle.
"Wicked." Faith gathered up her two companions with her eyes. "Let's get 'er done, then, shall we?"
The place was
haunted, she realized. Not just rumours in the paranormal communities: she could sense other presences in and around the ancient prison, wispy and insubstantial. Oh well... as long as they kept to themselves tonight, no makey. She had enough on her plate right now without ghost hunting."Well, would you get a load of this?" Gunn's voice came over the ear piece, sounding like a kid that just unexpectedly discovered a candy store. "Hey - you guys come up here. Main administration level in the old gatehouse."
Vince had sworn the small headphone radios were untraceable, unjammable, and the encryption on them was unbreakable through most means when he'd handed them out earlier. When she'd asked if they were magic, he hadn't answered, merely shrugged and gave her that fey, toothy grin of his. Oh well. If they worked, cool. If they didn't.. it wouldn't matter, really. Not for this.
"What is it?" She'd beat the rest of them there by moments, looking around once inside the doorway. Monitors and control equipment everywhere, and microphones.
"Not sure, exactly, but it's got power still. I think it's controls for some sort of main monitoring station.... but the labels are a bit odd." Gunn's fingers hovered over the console as he examined it.
"Control center for the Terror Behind the Walls Halloween stuff, and the historical tours and exhibits." O'Brien's voice came from the doorway. "Lights, special effects, you name it."
"Really?" Gunn's voice was delighted. "Cool.... you mean they leave this stuff up all year? Figured they'd take it down after tourist season." He found the button he was looking for and lights and monitors came on as various systems booted up.
"They used to. Then they redesigned the Halloween haunted tour stuff so it was seperate from the historical displays, and made it permanent," Hogan stated.
"I've seen that evil look before, once, Gunn. What you got in mind?" Faith cocked her head.
"Hey - we got no idea how many guests our Elora bitch is going to bring with, if any, right?" Gunn grinned. "Assuming she comes in when you do your thang at all. So... if we need it, I think we got us an equalizer and a distraction right here."
"Ready made spook show for the spooks, huh? You're an evil man, Mr. Gunn," Giambione said in an approving tone. "Is there power to everything?"
"Hrrm... " Gunn puzzled at the displays. "Seems to be. It can even control the automation." He glanced around, "And all of the cameras seem to be able to be tied in here."
"Cool." Faith looked around the room, nodding. "And a heavy steel door with a massive lock that can hold from the inside... Looks like you found yourself a job, Gunn." She smirked.
Gunn looked at her curiously, then made a face as her meaning sank in. "Crap. You mean you want me to lock myself in the control room here?"
"Hey, finders keepers an' all." That half grin slid over her lips. "Give you something to do that won't aggravate that shoulder. Angel will never forgive me if you get dead."
A bit over five hours to dawn yet. Plenty of time for this. Perfect place for it too, she thought, in far too many ways. This place bore little resemblance to the Women's Maximum Security facility at Stockton. That was its only saving grace... the only thing that made it even remotely possible for her to set foot inside those forbidding walls. She could feel the claustrophobic weight of them pressing in on her, the steel of the bars crushing inwards, from the moment she stepped through the front gates. Could hear the clang and slam and cacophony of hundreds of voices and televisions and radios and shouts and catcalls that were the almost constant background noise of prison life. Hanging on to the fact that she was slayer, and she could leave any time she wanted to, really - the only reason she was in was because she wanted to be. Needed to be. Funny... she hadn't felt much like a slayer inside, walking into Stockton. She'd felt like a little girl...'So that's what Gothic horror looks like,' she thought, gazing upon the stone walls, high towers, and imposing gatehouse. 'They just don't make prisons like this any more. Thank gods.' Hogan had done something to make sure all the security and whatever night personnel the place had would be gone by the time they pulled up and walked over from where they left the vehicles. He didn't say what - forged warrant, police request, sheer effrontery and bullshit - and she hadn't asked. And all thought of asking fled from her mind when she came to a sudden stop before that gatehouse, frozen and swallowing hard.
'I'm a Slayer. I can do this.' But she didn't take a single step beyond that point. Couldn't. Frozen in place.
Eastern State didn't look like a modern prison. It looked like something out of the dark ages, or from one of the film noir movies she'd always loved, like she used to watch on that tiny TV back in that crappy room back in Sunnydale. Hell... might be out of. She seemed to recall that this place had shown up in more'n a few films over the years. Some bit of trivia from some place.
"You all right?" A hand clasped her by the shoulder, warm and reassuring. Yanking her back from a downward spiral of memories and despair that she suddenly realized had almost swallowed her. She looked up to see O'Brien watching her with concern in those tired eyes. Felt the connection that had grown between them like an electric current - the connection that shouldn't be there: should have shattered like glass after the only real contribution she'd made to his life was causing him to kill his lady. Should have... and hadn't.
"No." Faith closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Her shiver had nothing to do with the December cold. Grabbed that hand and squeezed, careful that slayer strength didn't crush that fragile lifeline. Opened them again. Took a step forward. "But I will be. Five-by-five, right?"
Just walls. Just stone. Just memories. Just ghosts. Nothing to worry about.
One step at a time, Faith. Put all that stuff on hold. Infinity hold. Get 'er done. She gave him a shaky grin that felt like a rictus, and took another step forward. "See? Nuthin' to it, right?"
Let it go, let it flow. Gone. And screw it. Time to end this part of the dance.
She could feel deep within herself the connection to the Valdris blades, gossamer thin and strong as cable. She reached for it, drew on it, and drew them to herself from whatever non-place they went to when they went away. Green flames crackled around her fists and they came from not-there to here-and-now like eager hounds, or a falcon to the glove. She arched her back, raised hands and blades over her head, wrists crossed and back of the hands outwards in a challenge so ancient she couldn't begin to explain even to herself where it came from.
And then she drew upon the slayer essence and everything she was, everything she'd felt, and everything that was inside herself; drew her aspect about her like a cloak, focused it through the essence of those hell-forged, soul bonded blades, poured the power of the slayer essence into it and sent it outwards into the night like a wordless shout.Slayer. The Thing That Hunts claims this place and everything within it. Mine. Under my protection. Begone... or come and challenge for it.
All across the city, lesser predators became very still and very quiet.
Somewhere, far out beyond the edges of her perceptions, she felt an answer.
Wicked. Come get some, baby. The inner stillness broke and she surfaced from within it as though from deep waters. A half grin slid across her lips and she sent the dark blades to wherever they waited between callings.'I'm waiting, bitch. Let's dance.'.................................................................................
She came over the wall, silent, and nearly invisibly fast, stopping in the center of the walkway leading to the roof of the rotunda. Faith watched lazily as she froze in place, statue still. She could almost feel the blonde vampire extending her senses in all directions. Faith grinned and stuck two fingers in her mouth and whistled.
"Over here, Blondie."
There was an almost invisible blur of movement that Faith was only able to track with slayer eyes, and Elora was standing below her and fifteen feet away. The blonde looked up at Faith leaning against the rail on the small ledge of the central tower like an indolent gargoyle and smiled, beginning to take a step forward. "Slayer."
"Ah." Faith raised the big Keith single action, thumbing back the hammer. "Close enough for now." The blonde shook her head, smiling, and Faith lowered the muzzle until it was pointed at her. "Wouldn't. I'm fast enough to track and hit you. And what's in here won't even leave ashes."
Elora cocked her head and looked up at her. Faith had picked the best spot available: against the railing of the main tower where nothing could approach from behind or to the side, and almost twenty feet off of the roof where not even Elora could climb to her before the heavy handgun picked her off. "It seems we've been here before, only reversed. I believe the phrase I'm searching for is 'Come on down and join the dance'." She made an inviting motion with her arm, a mocking expression on her face.
"All in good time," Faith said, looking her over. "We're on my time table, not yours." Elora appeared to be as fully healed from their last encounter as Faith was, although she had noticed that her movements didn't seem as fast as they had at the beginning of the parking lot fight.
"That could be amenable to change," Elora glanced to the edge of the rooftop, then back up to Faith's position. The *cha-clack* sound of a pump shotgun from behind her and some slight distance away cut across her words. She turned lazily to see Detective Christine Meadows standing easily off to one side of the closed rooftop door holding a 12 gauge, one of the MP5's hanging from its sling across her chest. Elora stiffened slightly as her senses registered the slayer essence coming off of the other woman.
"You a gamblin' type of gal?" Faith's voice was amused. "Bet you don't make six steps."
There was a sound of an automatic weapon firing in precise three round bursts from the courtyard. A shotgun's heavier thump joined it a moment later. Faith could picture Gunn gleefully calling out targets for the others from his position in the control room.
"You seem to have a penchant for not working alone," the blonde vampiress remarked. "Surprising, given your history."
"Door doesn't lock. She's here to make certain nothing comes up those stairs that isn't supposed to. Stopping you from leaving is a side benefit." Shrug. "And the rest're down there to make sure your minions don't crash the party while they're busy being taken out."
"*sigh* And good minions are so hard to find. Even if they are street Kindrel," the blonde mused. "They're not here to interfere. Merely to make sure that you don't leave before our business is concluded."
Faith grinned. "Great minds think alike. So do ours." She gave the blonde a hard look, "I'm regretting now that I spent so much time making sure I was up to one hundred percent. How many people you drink to get you back up to health?"
"Only one. Your policeman's lady friend." Elora met Faith's flatly disbelieving look without flinching. "There's a great deal about our kind that you're as yet unaware of. I gave up feeding on humans three centuries ago, mostly."
"Your word on that, I suppose." Faith's words were as mocking as her voice wasn't.
"Of course." Elora answered the tone, not the words.
"Then... ?" Faith made a gesture encompassing the other's restored form.
Elora gave her a considering look. "I am an assassin of my kind, a dealer of Death. I hunt and feed only upon those of my kind, except to create childer, as do others of my kind. And occasionally upon the Childer of Dagon, when they foolishly draw my attentions." If she was aware of the second slayer's eyes boring holes in her back, it didn't show.
"And Kaineron?" Faith's voice was curious. Even with her slayer senses at full extension, she wasn't detecting a lie behind the embraced slayer's words.
"The demonic essence causes those to taste foul," a revulsed expression crossed the blonde's face. "Those, I merely kill."
"So I've heard," A slight smile tugged at Faith's lips. At the blonde's eyebrow lift, she added, "Something that Spike said once."
"Ah. Your Souled Kaineron," the other nodded.
"Not mine. B's." Faith laughed. "I -"
"I know. You don't fuck corpses, merely kill them," Elora said and Faith laughed.
"Yeah, something like," she agreed. "There was a time, once, when the darkness almost swallowed me and I almost became the slayer essence... but it didn't happen."
"That was what drew me to you, you know," she remarked. Faith raised an eyebrow. "Your time in the Dark. There have been other Slayers between us who turned dark... but none who embraced it as fully as you did."
"I was sick. I got better." Faith replied, her tone flat and uncompromising.
"I know," Elora said simply. "And that was attractive as well. Not many can turn away from the Dark once it is embraced."
"As you couldn't?" Faith's voice was soft.
"Perhaps." Elora smiled. "Attempting to redeem me, Slayer?"
"Naw." Faith shook her head. "Too late for that, and I wouldn't if I could. Kendra was right and I think you know it: it wasn't my darkness that attracted you, it was the turning away. You came after me looking for an ending, as I once did with Angel." She paused, "I'm trying to understand."
"Kendra... " Elora's eyes widened slightly. "The dream... ?"
Faith nodded, "Yup. S'all about the dreams, not the blood." She cocked her head, "Angel did me a favor: he knew that what I was looking for wasn't death, it was life. I'm going to do you one."
The blonde gave her a curious look, "Give me life? Too late for that."
"No. An ending. And an escape."
"Pay forward Angelus' gift of Life with a gift of Death," a delighted look crossed the blonde's face. "There's a warpedness to that that's appealing."
"Isn't there just?" Faith laughed and Elora joined in after a moment. Faith's eyes went cold, suddenly. "You should've taken my offer. And I'm glad you didn't."
"So, you're going to shoot me dead?" Elora gave the handgun an amused look.
"Naw. Not me," Faith straightened on the small ledge, standing easily and looking down. She lowered the hammer on the single action. "Gonna end this," Faith remarked, spinning the revolver into its holster. She looked down, coldly, bonelessly relaxed and suddenly looking ancient and deadly. "Way past time to end this, I think."
"Yes," Elora nodded. She took three long steps backwards. "You do realize that you're not a match for me? If we hadn't been interrupted in that parking lot, you would have been mine."
"Should've, would've, hadn't of, didn't." Faith drew her aspect about her and the slayer essence came completely to the surface. Her eyes flashed gold for a moment, and the wickedly curved Valdris blades came into her hands with a crackling flare of green flame. She regarded the slayer-vampiress for a moment... "I took these from the corpse of a General of Hell not too long ago, a full Hellspawn, after I cut him in half. As far as Big Bads go... "
Faith crouched suddenly and then her legs straightened and she arched up and forward, somersaulting to land lightly in a crouch on the rooftop walkway below, "You don't rate." She straightened, stepping forward.
Whatever Elora was going to respond with as she stepped forward as well, cut off abruptly with a startled expression that turned suddenly to shock. She looked down at the sharp tenting to the front of her bodysuit, then up at Faith with a betrayed expression. Moments later she began to burn from the inside out as the UV head of the arrow ignited her heart and her insides...
Faith ambled up to her lazily as she burned, holding her eyes. "Told you once: there ain't no Rules to this game." She thought she registered amusement in the green eyes just before the flames took them and ashes tumbled down along with the UV arrow. She lifted her head and nodded across the yard as Abby raised a clenched fist to her from her perch atop of one of the guard towers along the side of the prison wall, the second avoidance spell broken when she took the bow shot.
Faith looked down at the ashes again, sadly. "And I don't play fair. You really should
have taken my offer."
"Are all vampires stupid?" Christine asked, a satisfied expression on her face. It didn't put paid for Nikki or the other people dead, nothing could... but at least the blonde wouldn't be killing anyone else. She reached into her shoulder bag and took out a carved wooden box, and walking over, began helping Faith to scoop Elora's ashes out of the snow and into it before the winds came up and took them.
"Not stupid." Faith shook her head. "Just arrogant. Has the same effect, sometimes... I should know."
"Do you need me to help finishing this?" Christine asked. "If not... I should go down and help O'Brien and the others."
"No... " Faith started to shake her head, and paused. A strange expression passed over her face and her eyes went distant. She put her hand to her temple, swaying slightly. "No... " She swayed, then slowly fell forward. Christine caught her before she fell into the snow and ashes, her eyes open and unseeing...
Author's Note: Yes, Eastern State Penitentiary is a real place, and it is located in Philadelphia. It also really is host to a number of historical tours, as well as the Terror Behind the Walls haunted houses tours. Supposedly, it's also really haunted as well. The layout is more or less as I described, as you can tell from the small map on the main site (first link). Have no idea if there's a central control room for the historical displays and the haunted house effects in the main gatehouse where the administrative offices were, as I decribed, but it wouldn't surprise me. The Old Penn Ryan Manor and the Bolton Estate are real places also, and are also supposedly haunted. They're just kinda fire damaged in this universe now.
I also have no idea if any of them really are haunted, but it wouldn't surprise me much if they were...
Note also: If you check carefully back through the preceding chapters, I really did leave subtle clues that Abby didn't actually stay behind in Jersey when Blade and King came down. This wasn't a deux ex machina - I just didn't see a need to overtly telegraph what Faith had up her sleeve or what she was setting up during those phone calls... Don't worry: all will come clear later. ;)