It's the life we lead...
Chapter 27: "It's the life we lead..."
(Day 15, Friday, December 19, 2003
Crap. There are times when waking up is the last thing you want to do. As Faith drifted back to awareness, everything from the previous night's dream battle flooded into her memories. She groaned under her breath and did her best to sink back into slumber. No go - her body seemed to have well and truly decided she was rested enough. 'Don't want to go to school today. Learning experiences suck,'
she thought. 'Did I really swallow a vampire whole in the dreamways?'
Her inner awareness told her that she had. She could feel Elora's essence, buried deep inside of her, darkness, hunger, power and all. Double crap. 'Yuck doesn't even begin to cover this,'
ran through her mind. 'Doesn't matter than she was attempting to do the same to me and it was me or her. I feel ill. No - I feel unclean, in a way that I don't think I ever have before.'
Faith squeezed her eyes shut, hard, hoping the memory would go away. It didn't. 'I usually have to commit slayer dreams to memory so I won't lose details. Not this one... I think it's been burned into my mind. How the fuck do you deal with something like this? Can you deal with something like this?'
It wasn't so much the essence or the memories of the hunger. It was the memories that came with the blonde vampiress' absorption. Faith wasn't a stranger to having dual sets of memories. She'd never told anyone - especially not Dawn - but she'd always had both sets of memories surrounding Dawn: her original set without Buffy's little sister, and the implanted set after Dawn had appeared. Initially her original memories had been supplanted by the magical ones, as, she'd gathered, had everyone else's. The original ones had begun reappearing to her slowly via slayer dreams while she was in prison... gradually gaining in strength until they returned to their original clarity while the false memories faded in strength, becoming a kind of dual echo that she could access and compare if she concentrated for a second. It had almost convinced her for a time that she really was
going insane... until she'd managed to sort out what was happening.
Not that the awareness altered in any way how she viewed the younger girl. Never would. As far as Faith was concerned, magical origin or not, Dawn was as 'real' a person as herself, and that person was pretty damned likable. More real in some ways... it didn't matter how she'd come about. Not like Faith had much room to talk about anyone else's weird life...
This was similar in some ways. Elora's memories and personality was like an overlay in her head existing side by side with her own. Distinct, and background like compared to hers... but feeling like they were and always had been a part of her, now. All she had to do was concentrate for a moment, and she could recall, see, and feel what it was like growing up in a 12th century court, being called (like being called a second time), and later, being embraced and turned. Not quite like having multiple personality disorder, as she understood it: this wasn't a separate personality she swapped places with when some mental switch was flipped. It was like having a second person, or a shade of a second person, coexisting in her head.
She only hoped that they would fade over time, become less distinct and more distant as the secondary memories of Dawn had. Or maybe they'd integrate with her own. Gods... she hoped not... she didn't think she could handle slowly becoming some sort of Faith/Elora melding.
Whatever had happened in that fight at the end... Faith realized that she had won, finally. Somehow. Examining the remnants of Elora in her mind, there was no 'person' attached to them. Memories, a reflection, and... 'essence' for lack of a better term. No volition, consciousness, or sense of 'self' attached to the Elora part of her mind. Thank gods...
She wondered what had happened to Elora's spirit, if that was the proper term. Had it gone on to whatever? Been destroyed or absorbed into hers? That was a disturbing thought. That would make for a peculiarly gruesome sort of murder. Killing. Whatever. Accurate as it might be, 'self-defense' didn't quite cover something like that.'Enough, Faith. If you'd lost, it would have been your gruesome sort of murder,'
she told herself. 'Elora's memories make it clear that she had every intention of doing this to you: absorbing your mind, self, soul and everything you are into herself while she took over your body. Yeah - it was a desperation thing on her part prompted by your... assassinating her, but the intent was there.'
It didn't quite help. It still felt foul. Something else she was going to have to learn how to live with.
Oh well. Enough. She rolled onto her back and pushed herself to her elbows slowly. No clock, but her time sense told her it was around mid-morning of whatever day it was. 'How long was I out this time,'
she wondered. The smells and sounds of the place told her she was back at Blade and Hannibal's temporary headquarters in the junkyard. She could hear movement outside of her room and recognized Abby from the sound and weight of the footsteps. No other movements... either Blade and King were out, or deep asleep somewhere a bit too far for her hearing.
Smells of coffee and other things came to her. Her stomach rumbled and she told it to shut the fuck up. It refused. Groaning, she sat up the rest of the way and swung her feet over the side of the bed. She found her bag and saddle bags in the room at the foot of the bed. None of her weapons, or her coat, but she figured they were probably out front, along with the gearbox she'd left here. She hoped her bike had made it back... She pulled on a pair of jeans and a clean t-shirt and went out.
Outside in the main room, she leaned against the door jamb where Abby was putzing about in the kitchen area at something. "Coffee Goddess. Hey."
"Hey yourself," Abby gave her a slight smile and a long searching look, her hand out of sight beneath a counter. After several minutes, she gave a short nod as if satisfied about something, and leaned against the stove, bringing her hand out to push hair back from her eyes. "Glad to see you're among the living again." The smile went fully genuine, reaching all the way to the eyes this time.
Faith gave a rueful nod inside her head, realizing the other girl had been searching her with slayer sense as well as eyes. Didn't blame her. "Yeah." Faith cocked her head, "There was doubt... ?"
"For a bit there, yeah." Abby nodded. "Coffee? I'm working on some breakfast here in a bit."
"Water first? Not sure my stomach could take coffee right now," Faith said. She took a stool by the breakfast bar, leaning her elbows on the counter. "How long?"
"Over two days. It's early Friday afternoon." Faith winced. 'Not again... '
Abby noted the wince and gave her a sympathetic look, "Thrashing, fighting, and mumbling or screaming for almost a day and a bit, then you fell into a more normal sleep finally."
"Gather we won?" Faith asked. She saw her coat, gear, and weapons on one of the workbenches, but didn't get up to go look them over. Later for that.
"Iffy. Winning, is more like it." Abby took eggs and other breakfast makings out of the fridge after opening and handing Faith a cold bottled water.
"What happened after I... " Faith made a vague gesture, "collapsed?" Faith drained about half the water greedily, resisting the urge to pour the rest over her head.
"Lots. Blade and I worked our way up to where you went down and got a fast brief from the blonde cop. Then we aborted the op and fought our way out and clear, and split." The sound of crackling butter came from the stove after a few minutes. "We weren't sure what happened... so we got clear and Blade, King and I took you to your healer friend."
Faith nodded. "My bike?" She winced. Great. What had shaped up to be a nasty fight... and the main casualty on her mind was a motorcycle. Miss Sensitive, she wasn't.
"Out back. Hannibal rode it away while we took you in Blade's car. I recovered mine the next day." If Abby thought anything off about Faith's priorities, she didn't say. She knew how Faith felt about that bike. Faith nodded, feeling absurdly relieved.
"Everone else make it?" Then again, it may have just been that it was easier to ask about the bike - because this one was the question she didn't want to hear the answer to...
"Almost." Abby's voice went soft. "They lost the bearded cop, Carson. Two of Vince's men didn't make it out, either."
"Crap," Yeah, definitely not what Faith had wanted to hear. Safer sticking to the bike. She felt like punching something, but there was nothing in reach that she wanted to break. "What happened?"
"Turned into a hell of a fight, almost. Every vamp that wasn't leaving town seemed to be converging on Eastern State. We left just before the bulk of them got there." She shook her head. "Gunfire got the cop. Vince didn't say what happened to his people, just that they weren't coming out."
"Yeah... sounds like Vince. Crap." Abby set two plates heaped with scrambled eggs on the counter, coffee, and a couple more bottles of water. She came around and sat on the other stool over and they both dug in.
After taking the edge off of the hole in her middle, Faith ventured, "Blade and King?"
"Out hunting. So are your cop friends." Abby refilled both coffee cups, then turned back to her food. "Let's see... your friend Gunn had to go back to LA: he said he'd be back tomorrow or the day after."
Faith nodded. "Dean?" She hated to ask...
Abby sighed. "He went back to the hospital. According to O'Brien, he and his brother checked out later that day and no one's seen them since." She shook her head, "I don't think anything happened to them. They took Dean's car."
Faith nodded slowly, digesting that. "Yeah... " She shook her head, keeping her eyes down so Abby wouldn't see her blinking. "I don't think he was dealin' real well with our.. my style of doin' things." Crap. Again. "No big." Faith shrugged. Abby looked at her, nodding. "Both moving different directions anyway."
"Right." Abby said.
Faith scowled, "He'd of been leaving the next day if all this hadn't blown up."
"Yup." Abby nodded.
"Smart ass." Faith frowned, and scraped the last of her eggs up.
Abby examined her friend with some concern. She'd been moody with them before, yeah. Not... shaken and withdrawn like this, though. "You ok?"
"Over Dean?" Faith shot her a look, then shook her head. "No... I'm ok on that. Or will be."
"No... not over Dean so much," Abby propped her chin on her hand and looked at her. "Over whatever happened to you."
"Ah." Faith took a swig of coffee and looked away. "No. Not."
"Talk about it?"
"No." She sighed. "Need to, yeah. But... no."
"All right." Abby left it alone for a moment, then, "If not to me, maybe to your friend Dawn when you call her. Or Wesley."
"Dawn?" Faith brought her head back around. "Oh crap... was supposed to call her."
Abby grinned. "Yeah. She's left a number of missed calls and voice mails on your phone over there." She nodded toward the bench with Faith's gear.
"Arg. I'll call her after I catch up on things." Faith frowned, then gave Abby a direct look. "Not tryin' to close you out, ok? Just have some things to sort." She made a frustrated gesture, and curled her hand into a fist and looked at it. "Our vampire bitch did something after you killed her. Yanked me into the dreamways... tried to take me over. Got pretty close... " She looked away again.
"Gathered some of that from what your healer said."
Faith nodded. "She didn't make it. But it got pretty ugly in here... " She tapped her temple.
"Well, it's an open offer, whenever you do get it sorted."
"Thanks. Will." She threw Abby a grateful look and was quiet for a time. "What else has happened?" She asked finally, changing the subject.
"Lots... " Abby trailed off, looking thoughtful. "Between you, Vince, and the places King and Blade hit, we put together a pretty good list of Familiars and ghouls. Blade, Hannibal, and your cop friends have been taking them out the past few days. Blade, King, and Vince took down two more blood factories." She paused, "Aside from people dying, passing out, bailing out, or taking off for their day jobs... it's actually been kind of entertaining." Abby grinned suddenly.
The grin was infectious: Faith found herself grinning back despite her mood. "Entertaining. Girl, you're as warped as I am."
"Damn straight," Abby laughed. "Like I'm going to cry over Familiars getting iced?" She raised both eyebrows and shook her head. "Declaring open season on vamps and familiars in the demon underworld was a nice touch. Vampires of all breeds have been migrating out in trickles and droves the last few nights. A few of our contacts have said they've been showing up elsewhere all over: New York, Jersey, Baltimore, DC... "
"New York?" Faith blinked. Damn, she really hadn't thought parts of that through... "Shit. I need to call Vi and warn them... "
"Relax," Abby put a hand on her arm as she started to bolt out of her chair. "I already did. They've got patrols on alert. And Vi and some of the girls are down here helping with hunting down the remaining vampires."
"Ah." Faith sat back down. "Cool." A thought occurred to her and a curious expression crossed her face. "Who'd you get to cover for you in J-City?"
"Charlene." At Faith's blank look, Abby frowned and added, "Newer girl, don't know if you met her? From Miami."
"Hrrmm... think so." Faith considered, "Yeah. Vaguely. Huh, ok... right build and height, change the hair, your clothes, give her a bow and gear... yeah: she could pass for you."
"Yup. As long as she didn't have to show the flag anywhere I'm well known. And not much call for that lately." Abby shrugged.
"Vi probably wanted to see me. What'd you tell her?"
"That you were working something out, and you'd make contact when you got clear of it," she stated. Faith frowned slightly, shaking her head.
"Bet that went over well."
"Our op." Shrug. "Keep telling them that we'll work with the IWC, but we don't work for them." Abby made an indifferent gesture. "It'll sink in some day. Or it won't."
went over well, too." Faith shook her head, grinning. Sigh. She'd known she was going to need to have a long discussion with Vi, setting up to deal with the aftermath. Just hadn't realized it would be this soon... "Still need to talk to her." She didn't make an immediate move to get up and do so, though.
"Whenever you're ready," Abby shrugged again, unconcerned.
Abby raised an eyebrow, surprised. "For what?"
"Dropping everything and coming down. Covering my rear." Faith waved a hand aimlessly. "Everything."
"I didn't do that much." Abby smiled. "Watched over the hospital, then followed you around waiting for the signal, or for a clean shot." The smile disappeared and a furrow appeared between her eyebrows, "Got to that bar too late. You were already coming down and vampire bitch was gone."
"No. Not your fault," Faith shook her head. "And it was a lot."
"All right," Abby nodded. "Welcome. Still... you'd have done the same if we needed your help. We're friends. It's not a contest, Faith. It's just something you do."
"Yeah... " Faith studied the other girl. "Dawn and I were talking... seems like just the other day. About how neither of us are real good at this 'friends' thing yet." She trailed off, looking past the kitchen, and shook herself out of it. "I'm not used to people who don't want something, or who aren't interested in what they can use me for. She's never able to be sure if she's real, or if people are just seeing her as Buffy's sister they need to be nice to." Faith shrugged, "I always dealt with it by not getting too close, and moving on before any connections got made. I... I'm not sure how she deals with it."
Abby watched her friend's face. She nodded and said carefully, "You didn't move on from us. Stayed, made connections."
Faith snorted, "And look what that did. Got you guys swept into an apocalypse and almost killed. Hell, I helped warp your life before we ever even met. Before I ever even knew you existed."
"If you hadn't, what would have happened? Gates would have opened and we'd have been swept into it without knowing what caused it." Abby shook her head. "And with no one there to stop it."
Faith shrugged it away, angry for no reason she could pin down. "Yeah? How about here? I got Dean and his brother almost killed because of something that was after me. O'Brien's people swept up into a war, and he had to kill his former girlfriend because the thing after me killed and turned her. One of their partners killed backing me. How many people dead in that restaurant? Or the bar?" Her voice was rising and she found herself half standing over the stool, fists clenched.
"Hey." Abby reached out and took her by the hands and wrists. Faith attempted to yank them back, found them held solidly. She kept her eyes down, not wanting Abby to see the killing glare in them... "It's ok. You need to hit me? Go ahead. I'll let go so you can."
"No." Faith sank down onto the low stool again, shaking her head. Abby kept hold of her hands. "Don't know what I need. Not that... "
Abby was silent for a time, watching her. "It's the life we lead, Faith. The war was already here. O'Brien and his people were already in it, without knowing it. You think they'd have dropped it after finding that blood factory, whether you were here or not? They'd have kept digging without knowing what they were getting into - and been killed, turned, or made into Familiars."
"Maybe... " Faith trailed off, still not meeting the other girl's eyes.
"No maybe. I've talked to the man when he was here to check in on you. O'Brien doesn't blame you for all this... why should you?"
"Because... " Faith trailed off again, shaking her head.
"Listen to me." Something in the other girl's voice drew her eyes up to Abby's, in spite of herself. "I got into this because I wanted to, long before you guys did whatever you did that Called all of the Potentials. My family died before I got into it. My father died because of all this. Drake and his people killed almost all of us and practically wiped out the Nightstalkers because we went after them and screwed up - didn't cover our backs enough. You're not the only one that loses people, and sometimes it's not your fault. It's a war, and the bad guys hit back."
"Your father... that was the other Whistler that Blade talks about?" Abby nodded. "How do you deal with it?"
"By realizing it happens, and making it costly. By not letting them dictate to you what you do and who you are. Not letting go of those connections... because we can't do it alone." Abby was silent for a moment, "I found Hannibal shortly after he took the cure and we hooked up. We found Blade after Whistler was killed. We're family now... all we've got. You have Dawn, Wes, us, Angel... even Vi and your beat up old cop." She shook her head, "It's not using people to let them in when they want to be there."
Faith stared at her for a long time. She finally unballed her fists and wove her fingers through the other girl's, gripping them hard. "I'm scared, Abby... " It came out almost in a whisper. She'd expected the admission to cost her more than it had.
"So am I. Most of the time." Abby gripped her hands back.
"No. Not like that... " Faith shook her head. "That bitch did something to me. She pulled out every memory I had, all the dark spots, pushed into all the broken places. Was trying to find cracks to slip in through so she could snuff me out so she could take my body. I... I finally ended up... not fighting. I took her in, and then I... swallowed her, like. Not sure how. Everything she was, all of her essence, memories, mind, hunger, darkness... made her a part of me. Murdered her like she wanted to murder me." She paused, then continued, "Now she's in here and I'll never get rid of her." Her eyes dropped, "I had two darknesses now: hers and mine. I'm afraid that shadow of her'll take me back to what I used to be, and I won't be able to stop it..."
"Then we won't let you go," Abby said, simply. "We'll deal with it."
"That easy, huh?" Faith stared at her. "You don't know what it was like. I'm already a danger to everyone around me. If I go back to that, it'll be worse: I'm stronger now. Deadlier."
"Not that easy, no." Abby stared back. "Blade deals with something like that every minute of every day. If he doesn't take his injections, then there's always the chance the thirst can take over and he'll become what he fights. What he was... Hannibal as well. The cure didn't take away the thirst, or the memories. It's always there."
"You're not alone," Abby slid off her stool, standing, and pulled the other girl up, putting her arms around her. Faith fought the embrace at first, resisting, and then relaxed into it. "We'll make it, Faith. One way or another.".................................................................................
"You've got quite a bit of nerve crashing in here without an appointment, Lieutenant," Deputy Commissioner Rawls stated. He glared at the somewhat overweight, balding Major Cases head. O'Brien he ignored completely except for including him in his next statement: "I could push for ousting both of you, if I care to, considering all of the.. borderline criminal activity Major Cases has been involved in the past several days."
Hogan smirked and plopped down in one of the comfortable visitors chairs in front of the Deputy Commissioner's desk. He considered putting his feet up on the desk, and decided leaning forward aggressively was the better option. "Now, Rawls. You wouldn't care to go doing anything like that."
"Why not?" Rawls leaned back, steepling his fingers in front of him and studying the Lieutenant. "Hey! What are you doing?" He half raised out of his seat as O'Brien locked the door behind them.
"Kevin's just making sure we won't be disturbed, Commissioner," Hogan said in a placating tone. "Have a seat. I think you're going to want to finish this discussion."
Rawls glared at him again, but eased back down, straightening his tie. "What's on your mind, Hogan?" He paused as O'Brien set an open folder down on he desk blotter in front of him. "What's this?"
"Look through it. I think you'll find it fascinating." There wasn't an ounce of humor in Hogan's smile.
Rawls gave him a sharp look, and began going through the photos and documents in the folder. When he reached the crime scene photos of the blood factory, with closeup shots of the plainclothesmen's tattoos, he slowed, looking across the desk at Hogan and O'Brien suspiciously more and more often as he continued.
"All right. I can see that Major Cases has something pretty explosive here," Rawls said. "Bad publicity for the department if nothing else." He glanced down at the folder again, closing it. "What has this to do with me? There's regular channels for these cases."
"Oh, I'm sure it'll all come clear." Hogan took out a stack of additional photos from his briefcase and set them, along with a small sheaf of papers on top of the closed folder. At Rawls' glance up, he said, "Photos of an assortment of similar tattoos. Almost all of them from various members of plainclothes, Vice, and several other departments. A few from some of your colleagues that have put in abruptly for 'extended leave' the last few days." He smiled like a heavyset shark. "At least one of those matches the tattoo you're wearing."
"You can't prove... "
"You might want to take a glance at the papers along with those photos, Deputy Commissioner." O'Brien's voice gave the title an ironic sound. "You'll notice they're a pretty lengthy list of people in various positions in the police, Mayor's Office and the courts with similar tattoos to yours and those."
"Yeah. Fancy that," Hogan leaned back in his chair. "Along with who they're tied to. Several of your... patrons... were pretty damned forthcoming with us shortly before they decided it wasn't in their best interests to be around any longer."
"If you have talked to any of those, you know damned well that there's not a damned thing a court or Internal Affairs can or will do about it." Rawls' smirk wasn't as certain as he'd wanted it to be.
"Who said anything about the courts?" O'Brien said in a mild tone. "Courts aren't involved in this. IAD has some of their own problems."
"Then what do you want? Blackmail?"
"Of a kind, Commissioner, of a kind." Hogan's voice was as mild as O'Brien's. "All of your patrons and their associates are busily either leaving the city or... falling apart on you." Hogan smiled. "Pretty soon, all you're going to have is an ownership mark and no owners."
"You're bluffing." Rawls didn't beieve that even when it came out of his mouth. He'd seen all of the various reports from the last several days, and already found that almost none of his contact numbers were answered any longer.
"Try me. Go ahead, call around. Go make some visits." Hogan leaned forward. "When you find out what we already know you're aware of, then we'll talk again. Assuming you decide to stick around."
"What do you want," he asked again.
"Pretty simple, really. You're going to do whatever it takes to make sure that Major Cases and Major Crimes Division isn't bothered by any of the fallout from the events of the past several days. We'll be having a similar discussion with the Commissioner and a few judges here and there. Otherwise... " Hogan's eyes went suddenly cold. "Otherwise, were going to have a long talk with those two FBI Agents who've been poking around since they arrived yesterday, and an awful lot of photos, files, and tape recordings are going to find their way into their hands. You'd be amazed at what turns up out there in the dark, you purely would. Catch my drift?"
"Have a nice day, Deputy Commissioner Rawls," O'Brien gathered up the papers, photos and folder. "And you be sure and be careful at night. There seem to be a lot of wild animal attacks for some reason, lately."
"We'll be in touch," Hogan levered himself up out of the chair and went out the door following O'Brien.