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Life is a Road...

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This story is No. 4 in the series "Oh, the people she knows...". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: Looking into her birth records takes Faith not to Boston, but to Philly, of all places. A chance encounter leads to more mystery and deadly dangers... (Update to add cover art)

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Supernatural > Faith-Centered
Marvel Universe > Blade
Television > Night Heat
(Current Donor)IronbearFR1833190,3063016865,99029 Sep 0718 Oct 13Yes

Conversational Interludes 2.0...

Chapter 29: "Conversational Interludes 2.0 - Objects in the mirror may be closer than you care for..."

Faith scrolled through the list of missed calls on her phone, frowning. Outside of the messages from Vi that she'd already returned, there was nothing there she really wanted to bother with except for one...

*ring* *click* "Faith?"

"Hey D."

"Hey! What's going on? Got kind of worried... " Dawn's voice sounded concerned.

"Usual. Fell over at the end of the big fight scene, been out of it for the past couple o' days." Faith sighed, "Gettin' kinda tiresome."

"I'll bet. You all right?" Dawn paused, "What happened?"

"Huh. Long story... you busy, or you have time to talk?" Faith settled in a bit more comfortably.

"Have time, have phone, have attention span. Shoot."

"Cool." Faith proceeded to fill her friend in on the events since the last call they'd shared, interrupted only by Dawn's occassional questions for details.

"You're getting trickier," Dawn said, finally. "Was a time you'd have just charged in."

"Get older, you adapt." Faith laughed softly. "Charging in almost got me killed by the Beast, once. And blown up in Sunnydale. Tryin' not to make the same mistakes more'n twice."

"Ha. Good plan." Dawn's voice was thoughtful. "So... the vamp attacked you in your head after Abby took her down? And you passed out, hard... ?"

"That's the basic."

"Heh. And the long version is... ?"

"Complicated." Faith paused, "Can we save that one for a future conversation? Gots a lot I need to sort out from that. It's... hard to describe."

"Sure. As long as we have the future conversation." Dawn agreed. "Huh. Rest of it explains what little I've gleaned from the on-line news and various sources."

"Gleaned?" Faith frowned, "Figured Vi would have filled you in via reports?"

"Naw. Kind of out of the loop over here." Dawn said. "Whatever reports Vi's made are probably going directly to Giles."

"Watcher Girl's out of the loop? That sounds... odd."

"Not so much. And not 'Watcher Girl', yet." Dawn cleared her throat, "Student. Buffy's sister. Research assistant. Translator Girl. Not really a part of the Inner Circle yet."

"Crap, D. That sucks." Faith was shocked. "Knew B was overprotective, but I figured you had more going on in the rebuilding thing than 'Translator Girl'."

"No big. Sound of me shrugging," Dawn stated. "Have gathered from around that there's discussions over the amount of human damage there."

"Huh." Faith processed that for a bit. "Not so much in human casualties. Vampire Familiars and Ghouls... I told you about the blood factory earlier."

"Yeah. Ugly." Dawn's voice was quiet. "Since you were down, you were out of it for all of that stuff?"

"Yeah. Can't say the idea of vamp enablers getting theirs bugs me, but I'm happy that part got left to O'Brien's people and the others." Faith replied. "Don't like killing humans even if they are Familiars."

"Good. You don't need to go back there," Dawn's voice was relieved. "Not that I thought you would."

"I know." Faith grinned. "But." She paused, thinking... "Huh. Discussions, eh?"

"Haven't you talked to Vi yet?"

"Yeah. We set up a meet for tomorrow." Faith frowned. "Ok... explains why they wanted to have it at a Council Safe House, I'll bet. And why they didn't care for it when I insisted on the Marriott's conference room. Thanks, D."

"Me? I didn't say anything." She could hear the grin in the other girl's voice.

"Right." Faith snickered, "But you didn't say a mouthful."

"Not me. Nope." Dawn laughed. "Hey - I'm glad you called me," she added.

"Yeah, hey - can't leave my bud hanging too long, right?" Faith grinned, then added, "Look... I need to process some of this. Mind if we pick this up again later?"

"No worries." Dawn replied. "Umm... try to stay conscious for awhile, huh?"

"Brat." Faith laughed. "Will do." She hung up and closed the phone gently, thinking.



Everything done that could be done for now, she finally managed to fall into a restless and wired early sleep. And naturally, fallen headlong into the Dreamways again. Figures...

Standing in the apartment Wilkins had given her back when, looking out the wreck of the big window she used to love. Last time she was here in a dream, it'd been just after Buffy had jumped to her death from Glory's tower and her and Ghost-B had had a weird (weird even for the dreamways weird) dream conversation over B's death, Dawn, and Keys. Those nights had been filled with endless dreams of free-falling into infinite darkness, never hitting bottom before jerking abruptly awake...

She lifted a hand and ran it gently over the wrecked window frame, careful of the shards of glass. "Wonder if this is ever gonna get fixed in here?"

"Maybe if someone would cease waiting for the carpenter and do some of their own repairs," a voice said from behind her. "It would be." Faith turned casually, half expecting to see Echo-Buffy despite the difference in voices.

"Elora," Faith said, without a trace of warmth in her tone. "Bad enough having one bubbleheaded blonde echo in my head - I have to have two now?"

"You were the one that choked me down despite my best efforts," the former slayer turned vampiress remarked. "Allow me the minor vengeance of troubling your sleep like a bit of undigested spiced fowl," Elora smiled easily and turned back to the closet.

"Like I have a choice?" Faith shook her head with a sour expression, and wandered over. She noted in passing the second bed next to the first and quirked an eyebrow. Her breath caught in her throat at the sight of the framed picture over each bed. Two glamour head shots from left and right angles... herself in different outfits, only looking more gorgeous than she'd ever imagined was possible.

"Choices made, all you have to do is live with them. Choose, and choose again - and yet un-Chosen they're not." There was a rustle of hangers from the closet and the blonde turned gracefully, eyes alight. "There." She clapped her hands."Big sister's almost ready to step into little sis's clothes." She stepped aside, turning and gesturing like a bizarre parody of a real estate sales-lady showing off the closet space.

Faith stepped over to take a look, curious in spite of herself. One half of the big walk in was filled with stuff that looked like hers: leathers, dark jeans, midriff tops and t-shirts. The other... the other side held things that she could see herself looking good in, but never buying for herself. Sexy, yet softer and more stylish items. Casual and more... girly, somehow. Several pairs of jeans, and lots of tees in brighter colors than faith favored these days.

She shook her head, running a hand over a dark blouse. "Little sis has tastes more like Cordelia."

A rumble of thunder drew her attention back to the window. She looked over her shoulder, surprised to see how quickly it had darkened both within and without. "Storm is coming," Elora commented.

"No shit, Sherlock." Faith turned to face the window. "Obvious, much?"

"Sometimes that's what it seems to take," the blonde replied with a slight smirk. Faith found a half grin curling up the corner of her lips almost against her will. She moved slowly back to the broken window beside Elora, glancing at the two beds as they passed.

"Moving in, huh?" Faith shook her head. "Make yerself at home."

"Not for me," the blonde's eyes looked... sad? Faith noted. "I have the unwelcome guest room."

"Ok... " She looked out the window over what used to be Sunnydale, frowning at the thunderheads piling up in the distance. "Man. Don't want to be standing here when that breaks. Gonna be a monster."

"Yes." Elora nodded. "And you'll be the one to break it."

"Huh." Faith's mouth twisted slightly. "Ever mention to you that I hate this cryptic prophesy shit?" She made a negating gesture, "Never mind. Doubt it's your fault, anyway."

Motion and color caught Faith's eye, drawing her gaze to the building roof across the street where a massive screen was showing a film of some sort, like one of those building TV's in some sci-fi show. Her eyes narrowed, noting the screen was divided into three parts, three separate sets of scenes. Herself... herself... and some dark haired woman she'd never seen before. She found herself reminded oddly of Harmony's bank of infinite lives... then something else about them caught her attention.

"They're all moving backwards," Faith raised her hand, pointing at the monitor. "Like running a DvD in reverse."

Elora nodded solemnly. "One and one are thricefold, catseye blinks three into one, and stormbreaker shapes the flow upon itself breaking all. Powers walk the winds and all the Queen's horses can't close the gates behind them."

Faith stared at her, eyebrows raised, "Don't suppose you'd care to drop more of a hint on the short bus student?"

Elora shook her head, smiling. "Not necessary. You're never as slow as you pretend, and you always find your hints where you need them."

"You're almost as annoying as Drusilla," Faith remarked. A sudden crash of lightning, distant and yet sounding like it was right outside the window made them both jump. "Whoa. Nice," Faith grinned at the taller blonde. "Always did like a good thunderstorm."

"I suspect you'll love riding this one." Elora nodded. The rooftop TV went dark along with the city lights in the wake of the lightning.

"So... " Faith examined her new mind roomie carefully. "Guess I'm stuck with you now, for keeps?" The other woman nodded just as carefully, her eyes dark. "Don't suppose you'd care to just quietly integrate into the back of my head, no fuss, no muss?"

"No." Elora gave a musical laugh. "I plan to be a royal bitch about it. Kicking and screaming all the way."

"Figures," Faith laughed as well, finding herself oddly pleased with that. "Can't say I blame you. Went the other way, I'd of been a royal pain in your brain as well."

"I know," Elora grinned. "It would have been interesting." She lifted an eyebrow, "As it is... you have a lot to learn from what's left of me. And from others."

"Like how to ride the storms?" Faith quirked her eyebrows back at her former adversary.

"Among other things," Elora nodded. "Those whom the gods would destroy... " The room and the blonde slayer-vampiress began to fade around her as Elora's words trailed off...

"... they first make mad,"
Faith murmured, then her eyes flew open. "Fucking wonderful. Been there, gots the ticket stub and the hand stamp. No thanks." She rolled over and looked at her small travel clock, and then rolled out of bed and onto her feet. Not likely she was going to want to go back to sleep for awhile...

.................................................................................

Blade was laying out a hand of solitaire on the lounge coffee table when Faith wandered in trailing her guitar from one hand. "Can't sleep?" He glanced up as she plopped onto the sofa, guitar on her lap.

"More like 'don't want to'," she stated.

"You've been sleeping for days, yeah," he nodded slightly. She flashed him a grin at the out he'd offered her.

"Yeah, that too," she agreed. Blade raised an eyebrow slightly in invitation, but Faith shook her head. "Talked out for now. Later, maybe?"

He nodded. "Poker?"

"Spades?" Faith set the guitar aside carefully, and slid over to the table.

"Sure." Blade gathered in the cards and began shuffling.

Hannibal wandered in, yawning. "Can't sleep either?" Faith asked.

"Nope. All this commotion in here keeping me up," King smirked back. He went into the kitchen and came back out a few minutes later with a couple of coffee cups, handed one to Faith. "Poker?"

"Spades."

"Cool." King took a seat at an open end of the table, "Deal me in."

.................................................................................

(Day 16, Saturday, December 20, 2003)

'Deep breath, Faith. You can do this,' Faith couldn't help an involuntary sigh as she got out of the SUV any more than she could the reflexive glance to the top of the Marriott parking garage that Elora had sniped at her from. Hard to believe how nervous she was about this. Faith felt she should be used to the feeling by now... nervous seemed to be gettin' to be her middle name. Not happening though: she wasn't. Hell. She could deal with cops. She dealt with prison. She dealt with facing down a vampire prince and his court. She even dealt with having to be the one to tell scary-ass Blade that she's one of the reasons his adopted little sister is a slayer...

So why does facing a Council Representative and a room full of other slayers for a post-op briefing make her want to run-not-walk out the nearest door and vaporise?

'Unresolved issues, much, Faith?' Went through her head, bringing out a reluctant half grin. 'Naw, not much.'

"Nervous? You?" Abby gave her a mock astonished look as the three of them headed in. Faith's expression grew wry.

"Moi? Ha!" She snickered. "Can walk into a bar full of demons, find the toughest thing in there and stare it down. But going to pow wow with my former co-workers makes me squirrelly." Faith rolled her eyes, "Shows that much, huh?"

"Nah." Abby gives her a measuring look and shakes her head. "Someone blind who doesn't know you would never be able to tell."

*snicker* "There's the answer - we'll poke their eyes out first."

"Extreme, but effective." Abby's ready grin flashed at her.

"Yeah. But... no. I'll be ok." Faith shakes her head. "Need to learn how to do this sometime. May as well be now."

"Worst demons are the ones in our heads," Christine remarked from Faith's left. At Faith's sideways look she added, "Something Obie said once."

"Tell him thanks ever so," Faith shook her head. "Rather have my demons outside where I can put steel to 'em." She nodded after a moment, "He's right, though." She shifted her shoulders uncomfortably, smoothing her jacket and unconsciously brushing a hand behind her hip where the hilt of her sword should fall - and didn't.

Christine caught the gesture and smiled. "Feeling half dressed? It's a meeting with your former associates - not a raid on a demon bar." Faith was wearing a more businesslike version of her usual leather ensemble: dressy leather slacks, shirt, and jacket rather than full length coat and combat leathers. HD dress style boots rather than her usual kickers.

Faith snickered with a rueful expression, "Been remiss. Remind me to fill you in on my other dealings with the former Watcher's Council." She shook her head, "The two ain't always that far apart."

They were silent the rest of the way in and down the halls to the escalators. On the second floor, Faith didn't need Abby's soft "My my," or Christine's slight stiffening to alert her to the two slayers flanking the doors to the conference room. She felt them, along with the others before they were halfway up. Faith nodded. "Show time," she murmured back.

Both girls were hard eyed and relaxed, slouching either side of the doors like a pair of lionesses. Eyes flicked across the three women walking up to them casually, noting hidden weapons and carriages. The dark haired, doe eyed girl to the right of the doors nodded easily with a slight smile. "Faith." Both girls had earpieces in marking their comm links.

"Liss'. Rachel," Faith nodded back, coming to a stop just slightly beyond step-and-reach distance. "I see Vi brought the first team, hey?" The auburn haired girl to the left returned the nod. Faith noted the large gear bag by her feet and narrowed her eyes slightly.

"Faith," Rachel said. "Looking good." She stepped forward slightly, one hand out. "Going to need to take ya'll's weapons before you go in," the Dallas girl added.

Faith glanced down at the hand curiously, then back up to the Texas girl's eyes. A slow smile came across her lips and she said, "You're going to want to pull that hand in and rethink that before it comes off at the shoulder." The dark haired girl, Lissette, went suddenly unrelaxed at that, straightening slightly.

"Rather not let you go in armed, Faith," Lissette said.

Faith shrugged, still smiling. "Cool. Then we back up and head out the way we came in, and you guys can have your meeting without us." She gave a slight nod, nonthreatening, "Have fun."

"Two at four," Abby murmured from behind and slightly at Faith's left still. Faith nodded again slightly, eyes narrowing.

"Maybe you should have a word with Vi, Rachel" she suggested. "Else this is gonna get loud and real abrupt, real fast." The slow smile went to a full grin that didn't quite touch the eyes. "And we won't be the ones with the cop problems after it does." She tamped down firmly on the Elora part of her mind that relished the idea of a confrontation and locked it away. 'Amateur hour,' she thought. 'Abby and I were really here for shit, there'd be a blur, loud noise, and four corpses on the ground. Someone needs to mention to Vi and G that the 21st century is here.'

Rachel locked eyes with her for several long moments, studying her. After a bit, her eyes flicked over Christine, noting the blonde woman's stance and the shield case hooked onto her waistband. She nodded once, finally, then nodded past Faith's shoulder and stepped back, hand going to her earpiece.

Faith took a step back as well and waited.

"All right, go on in as is," Rachel said after a few moments. She shrugged and gave Faith a 'no hard feelings' look.

"Works," Faith gave a slight nod. Her voice came out low and amused, "Can open the doors for us and go in ahead. Open 'em all the way back - give you something to do with your hands." A hard look came into the other girl's eyes at that and her chin came up slightly. Faith met her eyes evenly and held them, "Only way it's happening, Tex. I decide to leave, and you and the two mini-slays behind won't even slow us down."

"Never thought you were one to run, Boston," Rachel's head cocked slightly as the younger girl studied her.

'Don't do this, Tex. You really don't want to go there,' Faith projected, meeting the other girl's eyes. Anyone who thought testosterone poisoning was an exclusively male domain needed to spend time studying slayer dynamics. Didn't help that with rare exceptions like Christine and Abby, the typical newly called slayer was usually in their mid-to-late teens. Take the normal hormonal imbalances and insecurities associated with teenagerhood, and then throw in a sudden massive surge of sheer power and predator essence - and stand way back. Working with other slayers was less personal interaction than pride dynamics. 'Not even pride dynamics: we're solitary hunters. Another slayer is automatically challenge or competition,' Faith thought. 'Makes sense that the exceptions are people like Abby and Chris who're used to working in group or pack settings.'

"Good you didn't think that, Tex," Faith stepped forward, eyes narrowing and the old could-give-a-fuck grin sliding across her lips. "I'm not." The younger girl's eyes widened, just slightly, as Faith crowded into her personal space and let the slayer essence in her rise fully up to the surface. Rachel swallowed slightly, involuntarily, possibly remembering past training sessions with the darker slayer. 'That's right, kid. You're not top predator in the room, and neither your backup by the escalators nor your partner can move fast enough to stop me. Back the fuck up, good girl.'

She thought for a moment that either Rachel or Lissette was going to push it anyway... and then the Texan took another step back and opened the doors with an exaggerated invitational movement. She and her partner went in ahead of Faith's small entourage, pushing the doors back all the way to the wall.

Faith nodded and went in past, eyes sweeping the conference room and noting with amusement the small gathering inside. Having met Rachel and Lissette outside, seeing the four other members of the Wild Bunch inside the conference room didn't surprise her, nor the presence of Kori Ishikawa, their defacto leader now. There was a slight twinge - ruthlessly suppressed for now - that once her instinctive thought would have been 'Faith's Wild Bunch'. No more, she guessed... have to get used to thinking of them as 'Kori's' now. She gave a short nod to the Japanese-American slayer from Miami. Likewise, she'd expected Vi's presence... but the other member of the entourage was a surprise.

"Vi." She threw the red headed woman a smile, receiving a nod and a return grin, albeit a small one. "Giles!" Faith's eyes lit at the sight of the older man. "Figured you'd be long back in London by now?"

"Faith," the Brit gave her a nod and a small smile. "No, not quite. I've been... still a bit wrapped up in overseeing the transition of administrations in the New York school, I'm afraid."

Faith caught the sidelong and bemused glance that Vi shot him at that. "Uh huh. Translated: you been puttering about getting under Vi's feet for the past week or so and joggling her elbows," Faith sent him a bemused look of her own. "Mostly becuz yer enjoying bein' in the field more than bein' stuck in Watcher's HQ gradin' papers and changing Andrew's nappies." Giles' presence explained that of Reginald Pemberton's; one of the current Council's more powerful and rising Warlocks. The young mage-slash-bodyguard was one of Giles' constant companions whenever the older man left Council grounds these days.

"I beg your pardon?" Giles stared at her. "Preposterous. I'll have you know that there's an enormous amount of work to be done... " He broke off glaring at Faith and Vi's understanding expressions and removed his glasses to begin his reflexive polishing ritual.

"Uh huh." Faith nodded somberly. "And you're in Philly because... ?"

"He said something about not allowing us to head down here without Proper Watcher Supervision," Vi stated.

"Oh, bollocks." Giles gave both of them a pained look that almost - but not quite - disguised the slight smile he was carefully hiding. "Fine. Quite. Have it your way. I will admit that I am finding it refreshing to indulge the inexplicable taste for field work I somehow managed to acquire during my previous tenure."

Faith stared at him for a moment, then looked at Vi with her eyebrows raised.

"He said that he is rather enjoying getting his hands dirty out here," Vi translated.

"Ah. Quite," Faith shook her head, giving Giles a look of mixed exasperation and affection. "Coulda just said so, G." She grinned at his expression and added, "Good to see you, even under the circumstances." Giles acknowledged that with a slight nod, putting his glasses back on.

Vi motioned for Rachel and Lissette to take their positions outside again, pulling the doors closed behind them. Faith took a position standing by the conference table across from Vi and Giles with her trio. She pulled out a chair and turned it, propping a foot on it and leaning forward with an elbow across her knee, Chris and Abby standing on either side of her. "Have a seat," Vi invited.

"I'm comfy," Faith stated. "Ok... first things first." She accepted a briefcase from Christine and set it opened on the table. Taking out a pair of CD cases, she set them across the table before Vi and Giles. "Elora Ménard. Kindrel Vampire, assassin, former Slayer. Cross her off the books and put paid to her. You'll find digital copies of a number of gaps in the Watcher's Journals from her time period on those CDs."

Giles gave her a long look, then nodded. "You managed to finalize her then?"

Faith shook her head. "Abby killed her. I set her up for it. Blade, King, Vince, and O'Brien's people dealt with her minions and backup. Joint effort all the way." She paused, "We managed to recover at least a part of her remains. I'm making arrangements to have her family located and the remains shipped to them for proper burial."

"I see. Is there any assistance we can provide in that?" At Faith's negative gesture Giles picked up one of the CD cases. "And the source of these, for verification purposes?"

"Naw. You don't get that." Faith shrugged. "Verify them with whatever sources you have or care to, cross reference them with other records, take them at face value, or round file them. Up to you." She ignored the slightly shocked intake of breath from one of the younger slayers at the perceived discourtesy to Giles' status.

"Without knowing the source and its veracity," Pemberton said, "It makes it difficult to judge the authenticity of these... records." Faith turned an expressionless gaze on him. His precise tone and dandified appearance reminded her far too much of Wesley Price in his original prissy incarnation for her to ever have warmed to Reginald. Further, he was from old Watcher family stock, as he'd taken pains to establish when Giles had located him. Not something geared to endearing him to Faith...

"Pity, that. Guess you'll be round filing them then." Faith dismissed him utterly from consideration and turned her regard back to Giles and Vi. "Second, but not least: Giles, Vi - meet Detective Christine Meadows, recently awakened Slayer. Cristine, Dr. Rupert Giles of the International Watchers Council, and Vi Sorenson of the Kendra Young School for Gifted Women." She met Giles' eyes and held them for a moment, "Christine's been filled in on her abilities and what they entail, as well as on the IWC et cetera." She received a slight nod from Giles before he turned his attention to the blonde detective. 'Contract filled, Giles,' she thought. 'Now we move on to the good stuff.'

"Pleased to make your acquaintance, Ms. Meadows." Giles inclined his head in greeting rather than stand and lean over and across the conference table to shake hands. "I'm certain that we'll have a great deal to discuss once our other business here is concluded."

"Possibly." Christine returned the nod courteously, but kept a noncommittal expression. "I'm certainly willing to hear you and Ms. Sorenson out." She paused a moment, "Any extended discussions will have to take place with the rest of my squad present, however."

"That would be more than somewhat irregular," Pemberton interjected. "Discussions between the Watcher's Council and Slayers is business best kept between the parties concerned."

"That's going to go over well," Abby remarked, drawing a sharp look from Pemberton.

Giles gestured sharply, cutting across whatever rejoinder Reginald had in mind. "Quite. We'll work that out as needs be, Ms. Meadows. While we have more than a few reservations over involving civil authorities in the supernatural," he raised his hand forestalling interruption, "You'll find that we are amenable to working with the established support that new slayers have already in place." Christine relaxed slightly, nodding.

"Especially when that established support is already somewhat aware of the supernatural and will be attempting to deal with it regardless of the Watcher's Council's views on the matter?" Faith quirked a half grin, ignoring Pemberton's dark look and enjoying Giles' slightly exasperated one.

"More a matter of accepting when a fait accompli has been engineered and there's little to be done about it, Faith." Giles' expression was bland.

"Better to ask forgiveness than permission, G." Faith's return grin was unrepentant. "And O'Brien and Hogan's Major Cases Squad were doing their best to deal with a vamp infested city long before I dropped in their laps or our little Sunnydale party dropped the slayer bomb on Christine here. And doing so with no knowledge of exactly what they were dealing with or how to go about it." She met Giles and Vi's gazes evenly. "Doing so without flinching away or going into denial, either, like a few other people I remember once did."

"You seem to be taking a rather cavalier approach to engineering a situation that can have a profound impact on everyone involved, Miss LeHane," Pemberton stated.

Faith looked across the table at him. "Nah. I'm treating it with all of the gravity it deserves, Reggie." There was a pregnant moment while he proccessed that and came to her intended meaning. Christine grinned and Abby snickered as his face darkened.

"Now see here... " Pemberton began. Vi caught his eye and shook her head.

"Enough, Reginald. When Faith is baiting you, lunging for the hook like a starving bass isn't the way to deal with it." Vi suppressed a smile and shook her head at Faith. "You have to admit, Faith, the arrangement that you proposed over the phone with me is a major change in the way that we prefer to do things."

"Shrug. Better get used to it, Vi, Giles." Faith stated. "I remember sitting in on a lot of meetings several months ago where the phrase 'The Rules have changed!' was bandied about freely. We didn't just change the rules. We kicked over the table, broke out a new deck, and dealt out a brand new game - while leaving all of the pieces of the old table and the previous cards scattered across the room." She regarded the red haired slayer and Giles, "We just didn't think it through all the way."

"And you have?" Pemberton asked in a dry tone. The three women looked at him from across the table.

"At the time? No more than anyone else did," Faith stated. "But I'm working on catching up on my thinking, fast. Gettin' tired of having things bite me in the ass when I don't expect them." She glanced at Giles and nodded, and turned back to the mage. "Chris didn't ask for us to gift her with slayerdom. But now that she's in, she's not going away, and you're not going to separate her from her partners, I don't think. You guys decide to not adapt and deal, they're going to go ahead dealing with things as best they can with whatever resources come to hand - and they'll do it without you. Just as Abby and Blade's people will." She turned her gaze back to Giles, "Just as Xander and the rest of the Scoobies would have if you'd taken B and left the 'Dale to its own devices... as they did when B ran off to LA for several months." Giles nodded.

"The Watcher's Council and the Slayer have always been the front line in dealing with the supernatural for millennia," Reginald stated.

"And you've done such a good job at it, too." Faith said, deadpan.

"My father was on that front line for decades," Abby interjected before Pemberton could respond to Faith's gibe. "He died on it. Blade's been on it since he was a teenager. King was a casualty of it long before he started fighting the war. I've been on it long before I was Called." She gave him a hard look, "High as my regard for Faith and any number of slayers I've met is, neither the Watcher's Council nor the Slayer has a lock on that front line. You don't get to have it all to yourself." She snorted, "You never did: you just managed to delude yourself into believing it."

Faith cocked her head slightly, watching Pemberton's face darken. Interesting shade of maroon Abby had him developing there.

"We've been having to deal with what our department calls 'serial exsanguination murders' for almost ten years now," Christine added. "And doing so unknowingly with interference from supernatural agents embedded in city and state government. We have a chance to have a city relatively free of that, for once." She shook her head, "We're not going to let that go just because you disapprove. It would be useful to have access to IWC resources... but we'll do without if needed."

"You... " Pemberton glanced at Giles for support, only to catch him in the process of swallowing a rather Ripperish smile. "You seem to be enjoying watching Miss LeHane and her compatriots triple team me here, Rupert," he said accusingly.

"Why yes, I suppose I rather am," Giles admitted. He exchanged looks with Vi sitting next to him, then met Pemberton's outraged gaze evenly. "I spent most of my adult life watching the old Council dictate terms to the Slayer and use its influence to attempt to dictate terms to the rest of the world in order to safeguard its prerogatives. It is rather enjoyable to finally watch slayers turn that status quo upon its ear - even if I do seem to find myself on the receiving end of this by association."

"I might note that you're destroying any possibility of presenting a united front in setting the tone of policy discussions here," Pemberton stated. Giles sighed.

"Oh, do belt up, Reginald." Giles gave him a deceptively mild look. "I rather don't wish to remind you that you're here in a support capacity, nor that it is mine and Ms. Sorenson's jobs to negotiate Council policy in dealing with both unaffiliated slayers and with the general public. You'll have ample opportunity to have your input on those policies when they're placed before the Council for discussion, rather than in the field." The look that he sent Faith had 'please don't throw gasoline on the fire' stamped on it as clearly as if he'd sent a telegram.

Carefully strangling her inner smartass, Faith nodded carefully and gave Giles a bland look. Giles turned his attention to Faith's companion after a brief skeptical glance.

"We'll attempt to hammer out something we can all live with, Ms. Meadows, in the full discussions with all concerned parties present. I'm certain you'll discover that I value results over formalities," Giles said, getting a nod from the detective. "However," he turned his gaze towards Faith, "While the results are of interest to me, we do find some concern over your methods in this."

"Concerns? And methods?" Faith raised an eyebrow.

"I believe that what Giles is referring to are the high numbers of human casualties involved in your private war against Philadelphia's vampire infestation, Faith." Vi gave her an even look. Faith registered Kori and the four Wild Bunch members shifting positions subtly without bothering to look.

"Ah." Faith gave Christine an amused glance. "Too bad I lost Cordelia as a fashion advisor. I dressed for business when I should have been dressing for a trial."

"Not exactly a trial, Faith," Vi stated. "Merely questions."

"Heh. You had two slayers on the door with orders to disarm us before we came in, until I suggested that might get abrupt. And two others closing off the escalator, just in case." Faith sent an bemused glance across the room. "Four more inside, plus magical assist if needed." Faith locked eyes with Vi, "Not what you need just for friendly questions."

Giles removed his glasses and began polishing them, the familiar habit drawing Faith's gaze from Vi. "You must admit, Faith, that the casualties of the last several days do raise some concerns."

"Can't say that I must, Giles," Faith shook her head slowly.

He looked at her from under his eyebrows, carefully. "I have to say: all things considered, that's not a response I had really anticipated from you."

Faith nodded carefully, "Two main points here. One, with the exception of people killed by vampires or their minions, no actual humans were involved. I got nothing I care to admit to."

"Oh? And the other point?"

"Multipart, Giles," Faith said, regarding him evenly. She ticked off on her fingers, "One) I've done nothing I'm going to answer for. Two) You have no authority, legitimate or otherwise, to call me to account. Three) You have no ability to call me to account."

"No ability?" Korinne 'Kori' Ishikawa broke into the discussion for the first time, stepping up to the table behind Vi. "You've always been good, Faith. But you're not that good."

"Good. Bad. We're the girls with the guns," Abby responded, deadpan. She gave the Japanese-American girl a level stare. Kori narrowed her eyes, looking across at her.

"Army of Darkness marathon?" Faith shot Abby an amused look.

"What can I say? It was on cable the other night," Abby grinned, not taking her eyes off of the oriental slayer.

"*ahem* Let's table the bicep flexing in favor of the business at hand," Vi didn't raise her voice but the command tone in it caused Kori to - reluctantly it seemed - relax slightly and step back with a slight nod. Faith gave Vi an impressed look. "Let's clear away some of the more confrontational aspects of this. I don't believe we'll be needing all of us in here: Kori should be a sufficient presence and the rest of you can take up stations outside the conference." Vi won the brief eye contest with Kori after a moment and the other slayer motioned for the other four to leave the room and wait outside.

After they'd left, closing the door behind them, Vi raised her eyebrows at Faith, "You say you've done nothing to answer for?"

"Not exactly, but close enough." Faith slid the open briefcase around and took out a folder with a sheaf of papers and photographs. She slid the folder across to Vi, saying, "Might want to go through that. Exception of bystanders killed by vamps, everyone taken down has been Familiars or ghouls - vampire servants involved in enabling or helping to cover for the type of atrocities in those photos." She gave Vi and Giles a hard look. "You might want to claim them as 'human'. Be my guest." She saw Vi pale looking at the set of photos from the first blood factory.

"Regardless of their affiliations, slayers don't kill human beings, Miss LeHane." Pemberton stated, flatly. "It is an inexcuseable breach of the codes that slayers operate under, as you should well know."

"Where do you get that from?" Christine asked, not in challenge precisely, but in a curious tone.

"Combination of several thousand years of Old Council policy combined with pop-philosophy ala Buffy Summers and encoded into Watcher Mythology," Faith remarked. Her flat stare made Pemberton hunch uneasily. "Don't bother looking for evidence of deep thought in it."

Pemberton flushed and Giles gave Faith a reproving glare. "That was uncalled for, Faith. And you of all people are aware that there is basis for the admonitions against slayers taking any except non-human life, regardless of the rationale."

"Huh." Faith regarded him expressionlessly for a moment. Then her left hand flickered and suddenly the big Jackal pattern knife stood quivering out of the surface of the table between them. Both of them ignored Pemberton's gasp and sudden recoil backwards. Faith met Kori's eyes across the room, holding herself perfectly still so as to not give further provocation. "How does it feel to have just been demoted to 'non-human' by policy, Kori? You're a legitimate target for any slayer."

"Hardly a reasoned rebuttal. And not a counter to the established principle," Giles responded. She had to give him credit for sparing that knife only the barest of glances before locking eyes with her across the table.

"That says different, Giles." Faith met his gaze without flinching - something she might not have been able to do several years or even several months ago. "Dramatic? Yeah. But that's the counterpoint that you can't ignore or wish away no matter how much you'd like to. Unless you can honestly say to me that Summers went through a breakdown directly from sticking that blade in me with lethal intent, or that the Watcher's Council sent a hit team out to drag her back for trial for that action... then your 'Principle' is merely a guideline." Her voice dropped to just above a whisper and the Boston drawl got slightly thicker, "And I'm the one person you can't bullshit with your answer."

"Do the actions of several years ago serve as a justification for actions and principles for today, Faith?" Giles asked mildly.

"That's called an evasion, Giles," Faith replied, just as mildly. "Example, not justification. Until recently, we have a limited pool of life examples for slayers taking human life. Me, and Buffy. There bein' history between us don't invalidate the example." She held his gaze dispassionately, "I'm waiting."

Giles sighed, but didn't break gazes with her. "No. I cannot honestly tell you that. Are you happy, now?" He seemed to suddenly grow older, and wearier, before her eyes.

"No. And I didn't do it for happies." Faith shook her head, her eyes dark. "Dredging up that crap doesn't make me feel good, and hurting you with it don't make me happy. But I ain't gonna let you feed me or them a line of principled bullshit when that sits between us making it a lie." She dropped her eyes to the knife, "That makes it a guideline, not a rule - and a pretty fucking flexible one at that."

"Perhaps it is less of a 'guideline' than you care to believe?" Giles gave her a steady regard, his face expressionless.

"Accidentally killing Alan Finch pushed me over an edge I'd been heading for for a long time. If it hadn't been that, then something else would have shoved me across it - if not then, then later. Killing deliberately after that didn't help, but it didn't cause it: I was already broken long before that." Faith gave Giles a bleak look, "Coming after me with intent evidently didn't push Buffy across that same edge, and she didn't do it for any more noble reasons than me doing that professor. Something we both know. Neither of us were on the side o' the angels in that fight on that roof." Neither Faith nor Giles felt inclined to smile at the inadvertent pun. And they both might as well have been alone in the room for the moment.

Rupert Giles gave an abrupt nod. "Quite."

"Yeah." Faith sighed, and drew the blade easily out of the table top and sheathed it under her jacket. "So maybe it's not as black and white as 'slayers don't kill humans!' *bounce bounce perky smile* and all that crap. Not unless you're prepared to look Kori, or Vi, or Abby dead in the eye and tell them 'Sorry. Slayers aren't human for our purposes'." She gave him a bleak look, "Bit more complicated than that, huh? Kinda like real life."

"Or as real as this life ever gets?" Giles gave her a ghost of a smile, somewhat ruefully.

"I can tell you: when you're looking over a blade watching the lights go out of someone's eyes, it gets pretty damned real. Don't matter if it's human or demon." Faith snorted, softly. "Suspect you know that from experience."

Giles winced slightly as an image of the life going out in Ben's eyes under his hand, from that night beneath Glory's tower, flashed unbidden across his mind's eye. "Quite."

"Probably a bit late here to point out that Faith was unconscious from injuries following Elora's death until mid-yesterday," Abby remarked. "Any Familiars and ghouls taken out, she had nothing to do with." Abby left it unsaid whether or not she and Christine had any of those deaths to their credit.

Giles and Vi gave her a sharp look, then one to Faith.

Faith shrugged, "Said I had nothin' to answer for here. Several times. I ain't much in the alibi business." She inclined her head in the direction of the opened folder in before Vi. "'Specially not when I would have cheerfully gutted anyone responsible for enabling those three blood factories, so-called-human or not."

"I'm not certain that I can say I'd blame you," Vi admitted.

"Probably past time that you guys re-examined that 'principle' and took a hard look at it," Abby interjected. "Hundreds, or thousands of new slayers. Some of them are going to be active cops like Christine, who've killed on the job." She gave the blonde woman a nod, "Or soldiers. Mercenaries. Or regular people with - or without - concealed carry permits who've had to kill in self-defense. Or otherwise. Hunters like me who've had to kill Familiars. Time to maybe toss out the bubblegum philosophy and take a hard look at it before it bites you in the ass?"

Giles winced again, "I am going to maintain that I truly detest yours and Faith's categorization of this as 'bubblegum philosophy', Ms. Whistler."

"Pity, that. Suffer." Faith grinned at him. "Whatever is come up with is gonna have to take into account human evils that are mixed in with what you deal with."

"*ahem*" Pemberton's throat clearing drew several pairs of eyes to him. "While I agree that this is something that needs to be addressed, there is a larger point that Miss LeHane brought up." He gave Faith an even look. "Specifically: your assertion that the Watcher's Council has no legitimate authority to hold you accountable."

Faith gave him a flat stare. "You don't. Deal with it."

"I'm afraid that I quite disagree." Pemberton matched her flat look with one of his own.

"Wah."

"Faith?" Giles softer interjection drew her attention. "Perhaps if you were to elaborate on your reasoning somewhat beyond 'wah'?"

"Be a bad moment for me to give you a blank look and ask you to translate that into English?" Faith raised an eyebrow. "Sorry. Reggie there raises my hackles without trying. And 'wah' is all the 'elaboration' he rates from me."

"Be that as it may," Giles shook his head slightly, and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Pemberton isn't the one asking for an elaboration. I am."

"So you are," Faith paused, considering. "Do you mind if we take it as given that the old Watcher's Council gave up any legit right to hold anyone else accountable for anything? On any grounds: legal, moral, or ethical?"

"Hrmm." Giles considered that briefly, then nodded. "Stipulated." Everyone ignored Pemberton's almost reflexive glare.

"Good. Saves a lot of rehash." Faith took a deep breath. This would be the first time she'd attempted to vocalize things that she'd spent months thinking through since the final days in Sunnydale and the initial arguments over rebuilding and reshaping the Council. "Much as I hate to admit it, we're on even shakier ground there than the Old Council. Me included. For you, or I, or anyone who was involved in this thing to claim that right is more than a bit criminal. For you or I to claim a right to pass judgment on say, Abby or Kori there is like a rapist calling his victim to account." And didn't that just draw a number of shocked expressions? Giles and Vi were the only ones out of the IWC group to consider carefully and then give equally reluctant nods.

Pemberton gave her a slightly boggled look. Giles cut across whatever he might have been tempted to say smoothly, drawing himself a grateful look from Faith. "Do go on."

Nod. "We conspired to commit spiritual rape on hundreds or thousands of women and girls. The old Shadowmen only did one at a time - they were pikers in comparison," the corner of Faith's mouth curled up in a sour half grin. "Not us, boy. We did it big. Rationalize it every way we want, we gave up any claim to higher moral or ethical ground with that. We can't even see high ground from where we went." Faith's grin went all the way across, but stayed sour. "Kinda makes a mock of my redemption trail, hey? They don't build an amends big enough for that one."

Giles gave her a careful look. "I shan't bother with the defenses that you've already considered and no doubt discarded." Faith gave him a sharp nod. "I'll merely point out the very small mitigating factor of building a choice into this Calling."

Faith snorted and gave him a look. "Did we? Even if the Called get the full choices speech in their heads, rather than the short version of 'Are you ready to be strong?', how many of 'em are going to have context to understand the choice bein' offered?" She shook her head, "Naw. It don't work."

Giles took off his glasses and merely stared at them in lieu of polishing for a long moment. "I gather that this reservation is something you've been wrestling with for quite some time?"

"Oh yeah." Faith's eyes went distant for a moment. "Ever since it was first brought up," she admitted.

"You didn't voice those reservations at the time it was proposed, however."

"Who didn't?" Faith raised an eyebrow. "Both Xander and I did. We just didn't do it in open house like the Rebellion, with allo' you as an audience." Giles winced slightly, as did Vi. "Praise in public, condemn in private an' all."

"Quite," Giles nodded, sighing. "If I may ask, what response did you receive?" Faith just looked at him in reply. "Ah. I see."

"All fairness, I didn't exactly have an alternative idea." Faith sat abruptly, straddling her chair.

"You had a difficult choice to make with very few options, against an adversary of almost unimaginable power," Pemberton stated with a gentleness that drew a startled look from Faith. He raised an eyebrow back at her with a sardonic air. "Yes, I am quite aware that you consider me to be an insufferable prick who is firmly mired in many of the sins that made the Old Watcher's Council the dangerous relic it was, Faith. I would, however, like to hope that I am not a complete and utter prat."

"No matter how vain a hope?" That drew a short laugh, and she gave him a nod. "You couldn't be, else Giles wouldn't have offered you the position."

"Thank you for that. I am certain I'll continue to prove to be an insufferable prick - it is a part of my job description." She gave him the short laugh back, nodding. "This doesn't completely answer my initial question and qualms. If the Watcher's Council has no legitimate authority to hold you - or any other slayer - accountable... then who does?"

"Hard question, ain't it?" Faith gave him a considering look, and then turned a thoughtful one on Giles. She poured herself a cup of coffee from one of the carafes on the conference table and took a long sip while thinking it through. "IWC is disqualified for lack of a moral standing. No rights, only responsibilities there. Normal law can't do it except at the very extremes: I was in prison for two years because I wanted to stay, not because they could hold me. And what passes for Rule of Law as far as I can tell is on grounds as questionable as we are, even for dealing with regular people." She gave Pemberton a measuring look, "Don't get me started on Higher Authorities. I don't see any evidence that God or Gods are interested, and I wouldn't trust the Powers That Be to smack a puppy on the nose with a rolled up newspaper."

Giles snorted, "Given what little I am aware of of their track record, I am forced to agree."

Faith paused, considering... "Lack of ability applies to the IWC as it stands also. Even considering that I don't think you were completely serious, Vi... if you had had real reason to call me on the carpet here and I didn't care for it, the three of us would have cleared this room like wolves going through a sheep paddock. No offense, Kori."

"None taken." The oriental girl cocked her head with a slight smile. "I question your certainty of that, however."

Faith raised an eyebrow, seeing herself in her mind's eye as she could deal with that, if she wanted to...

Her hand blurred to invisibility and Kori found herself looking down the muzzle of a 10mm Kimber before she could react beyond blinking. The Japanese girl paled, frozen.

"Suggest you don't." Faith shook her head slightly and put the auto back into the small of her back holster. "Six of you, counting you and Vi? Second and a half after my hand moved there'd have been three, and a second later there'd have been only me, Abby, Chris, and Giles." She met Giles and Vi's eyes in turn. "Apologies. But I hope that made my point... ?"

"Ahem. Quite." Giles pinched the bridge of his nose. "Do please find a different way of making it next time, however. I would like to make it to the end of the week without a coronary."

"Sorry." Faith looked chagrined. "Don't coronary on us G. We'd miss you... "


Faith blinked and forced the impulse down and away, hearing Elora's laughter in the back of her mind. Definitely going to have to take time out to sort out her new dark sister. She smiled inwardly and bit down on a skewed impulse to ask 'I'm sorry - are the voices in my head bothering you, lady?' Instead she gave Kori a lopsided smile and said, "Question away, Kori. I ain't in the proving business - not to you, not to anyone." She grinned, "Not unless you want to kick this all sideways yourself... ?"

Kori almost took an involuntary step back from the ferocity in that grin, then caught herself and stopped. "Might don't make make rights," Faith said. "Don't be confusin' ability to kill with right to make someone submit to your authority. They ain't the same."

"Down kids. Don't make me break out the rolled up newspaper," Vi shook her head, not bothering to hide a glare at the both of them. "Ok. It is a hard question. So... where does it leave us?" Vi asked.

"I'm accountable to myself," Faith said, carefully. "As fucked up as they may be, my ethics are the only ones I can trust." She paused... "Doesn't mean I'm real comfortable with that realization."

"To borrow an idiom, at the risk of 'kicking this sideways' myself," Pemberton broke in, "I should point out that you yourself aren't one of the Potentials... wronged in the mass Calling. You were called in the traditional fashion via Kendra's death at Drusilla's hand."

"So I'm subject to the self-assumed authority of the Old Watcher's Council? The one that was wiped out by the First?" Faith raised an eyebrow. "Guess again. Makes me an' B descendants of the original girl you guys raped with a Primal Essence. Makes you an' Giles descendants of the original Shadowmen and heirs to their act, if you want to carry that through. We can multiply that debt through infinity until we come to the sum total of fuck all, and it still won't give you any authority in my eyes." She gave Pemberton a hard look, "You had none the first time when you guys tried to haul me off in chains for Finch's death. I'd of been within self-defense to have killed that team. You had barely any the second time in LA when you came after me with guns: me goin' rogue gave you just barely a pretext at self-defense." Faith grinned at him, "Preemptive self-D. Think if'n you ask Chris, the law calls that assassination. Old Watcher's Council was no better than I was when I worked for Wilkins."

"We're going in circles here and accomplishing nothing," Giles put in. "Faith is correct, as much as it surprises me to admit it," he said dryly. Faith flashed him a grin. "Rehashing the history of the previous Council/Slayer relationship leaves us with very little ground to stand on."

Permberton acknowledged that with a slight nod, surprising Faith again. "I'm forced to echo Ms. Sorenson's query: where does that leave us?"

"It leaves us in free fall," Christine suggested. "Moral, legal, and ethical free fall. That's where vigilantes always end up: when civil authority is corrupt or inadequate and there's only your own codes and ethics to rely on. Like it or not, as it stands, what we're dealing with is a vigilante situation."

"You have to be able to count on vigilantes to be responsible for themselves," Abby stated. "And everyone's done a pretty good job of eradicating anything resembling a sense of personal responsibility in most people over the last century or so." She gave Giles and Pemberton a merciless look. "Guess that means it sucks to be you. You have to count on people like me and Blade to rein ourselves in."

"Lemme tell ya: that free fall is a very scary place to be," Faith nodded. "No limits except what you place on yourself. I have... some experience at it." She exchanged a small, tight smile with Giles, who nodded back.

"Ok. The one thing that we can agree on is that we're going nowhere fast," Vi stated. "I'm going to suggest that we table deciding the question of 'legitimate authority and responsibility' for now - people have been arguing about that since Locke and before and still haven't settled it." There were nods around the room. "If this checks out," she passed her hand over the sheaf of papers and photos, "Then in my view, there haven't been any 'crimes' committed to be settled, regardless of whether or not the IWC has authority to adjudicate them. What we need to determine is what happens next."

There were reluctant nods from around the room, including one from Pemberton. "Works," Faith said, "for now."

"I believe that you had a proposal that was mentioned?" Giles looked across the table at her.

"Yeah... more a rough idea than an actual Plan," Faith nodded. "I was working harder on stayin' alive and figurin' out how to deal with Elora there for awhile than I was on planning the aftermath. But... " She shrugged.

"Understood." Giles said. "And you did an excellent job of dealing with a dangerous opponent and staying alive while doing so. I can't promise that the IWC will be amenable to your ideas for the aftermath," he gave her a slight nod, "However that certainly buys you a great deal of credibility for having them considered seriously."

"So in English that means I bought myself enough rope to hang with?" She gave him an innocent expression.

"Quite. However - I was speaking English."

"I can fill in the 'you bloody prat' on my own, thanks," Faith snickered at Giles' expression. "Works. Ok... " She paused to gather her thoughts. "Ok. I've put this out as a rough idea with everyone else involved and it seems workable." There were nods from Christine and Abby, and she continued. "Between us, we've pretty well broken up the vampire power base in this city: both the Vampire Nation's and the Kindrel Courts, as well as their political support. I understand that Prince Santos took my advice to get out of Dodge completely. You guys since you've been here have been mopping up the street Kindrel and Draaken and normal vamps, I take it?"

Vi and Kori nodded. "Surprisingly slim pickings, all things considered."

"Amazing how fast licks vaporize when a Senior Slayer gives the other demon populations an unlimited hunting lisence on them, no questions asked," Abby said in a mock dry tone. "Might want to keep that in mind for future tactics."

"There's going to be a lot of the smarter licks of all breeds migrating to other cities. Surviving ones, anyway," Faith said. "Going to have to pass the word for everyone to stay on their toes and deal with the influx."

"So we've noticed," Vi said. She grinned abruptly, "Whatever went on here that first night, you guys did manage to terrify a lot of vamps."

Faith nodded, flashing her a quick answering grin and went on, "Blade's people are going to be setting up a Nightstalker's group here as a part of their rebuilding. Vince is taking over... some vacancies that have popped up in the local demon underworld. He can keep the demonic activity in check once he gets things established. And as long as they manage to keep their jobs, O'Brien and Chris' people can handle the... semi 'Official' end of things." She paused, "What I'd like to see is for the IWC to act as support on both the research, resources and combat fronts: set up a slayer and Watcher presence here to work with the other groups. Possibly the full Wild Bunch along with a mage and a couple of Watchers... " Faith gave Vi a considering look, "You guys are getting stretched too much to open another school or HQ, but a squad of slayers could help keep a lid on things. I like the idea of a vamp free city and we have a real good start at creatin' one."

"Who would be in overall charge of this association?" Giles asked.

"Does it matter?" Faith lifted an eyebrow. "Work it out between you guys over the course of future meetings. It'll probably take a number of 'em just to get the basics hammered out." She shrugged, "Hell: stay indy and just coordinate when you need to work together. O'Brien and Hogan are going to stay in charge of the police end, anyway. Blade, King, and Abby aren't going to let anyone take over the Nightstalkers. Doubt Vince'll share charge of his people and activities. Work it out." Faith grinned, "Or screw it all off on pissing contests. Up to you."

"We'll try to avoid the pissing contests, if we can,' Vi said. Faith nodded.

"Ok... I know that you don't care for Angel's people right now, but you should know: Gunn and I are working to set up legal assistance for O'Brien's people if they need it." Faith threw that part out, flat, and let it lay there. "You don't have to work with that if you don't care to."

Giles looked somewhat as if he'd bitten into something sour, but he nodded. "We'll deal with that issue if or when it arises." Faith figured it was as good as she was going to get and nodded again, not pushing it.

"What role do you plan on taking in this?" Pemberton asked with a raised eyebrow.

"Absent," Faith matched the lifted eyebrow. "I have personal business elsewhere."

"You're planning to set all of this in motion and then move on, leaving others to finish?" He gave her an odd look.

"Gee, it sounds so bad when you say it that way," Faith grinned. "I fell into this on the basis of a one night stand and then a contract with Giles. Now that those are taken care of... I'm going to fall out of it and move on. Not without making every effort to set things up so my friends aren't left alone holding the bag," she inclined her head to Christine, "but I didn't sign on to be Philly's resident slayer. Elora hadn't targeted me, I'd of moved on without ever getting involved." Faith met Pemberton's gaze evenly, "You gotta problem with that, Reggie, I suggest you deal with it. Or don't."

Permberton flushed slightly, "That would seem to be at odds with your professed codes of personal responsibility."

"Bite me," Faith said sweetly.

"*ahem*" Giles cleared his throat, taking off his glasses to polish them once again. "Let us also table the juvenile arguments and concentrate on how this can best be worked out, shall we?" His glare was met with reluctant nods from both participants. "I believe that Vi and your compatriots can handle discussions over the details for now, Faith. I would like to speak to you privately for a bit, if we may?"

"Sure thing." Faith stood easily. "Take a walk with me?"

.................................................................................

"What's on your mind, Giles?" Faith glanced sideways and up at the angular figure strolling beside her down the Marriott corridors. She paid no attention whatsoever to the two mini-slayers trailing along behind them like shadows.

Giles didn't answer immediately, instead continuing to stroll with hands in pockets, looking down at the corridor flooring. "You've grown quite a bit, it seems. I find myself rather ashamed to admit that I hadn't noticed this before."

"All of twenty now. All growed up and everything, yup."

He glanced sideways sharply at her, "I hadn't meant merely physical age, Faith."

"I know," she grinned back, then sobered. "What do you want me to say? Yeah: I'm not the same fucked up little girl I was in '98. I'm a somewhat differently fucked up older girl now."

"That's.. not quite the description I would have applied," he gave her a quizzical glance.

"No. Nice of you to say, but... no." Faith gave him a direct look, then turned her eyes back up along the hallway. "That freefall thing? I'm starting to realize just how screwed up I really am. And that I'm the only one who can take responsibility for me becoming something else."

"That's a rather frightening awareness to come to, isn't it?" Giles remarked.

"Sounds like you've been there," Faith chuckled softly.

"Quite." The older man sighed heavily. "I would that I could say I've mastered the process, however I am afraid that my actions over the last few years in Sunnydale give lie to that fantasy."

Faith nodded silently.

"You didn't have to agree quite so quickly, you know." Giles remarked with a ghost of his old, dry humour.

"Sorry. Part of the redemption thing." Faith gave him a ghost of her familiar half grin. "I'm making an effort to not lie to myself these days. Not padding someone else's corners kinda goes along with." She gave him a more serious glance, "We both made major fuckups along the way. I don't see any point in beating that horse to death. Just... learn from it and move on."

"Yes, quite. Easier said than done, I'm afraid."

"Someone once told me that 'easy' and 'simple' aren't the same things," Faith said. "This were easy, it wouldn't be a problem."

"Yes. They are completely different things." They walked for a short time in silence, and when it was broken again, Giles had moved to a different subject, "You were unconcious for over two days, Ms. Whistler said?"

"Coma girl, that's me." Faith nodded and gave him a wry look. "Starting to wonder if it's getting to be a habit... I went down hard for three days after the Pit, two days here plus the time I was out after Elora threw me into a lamppost."

"Were you injured this last time?" His glance was concerned.

"Not exactly... " Faith couldn't help the sardonic twist to her smile nor the amusement to her voice, "All in my head, more like. Just... " she shrugged. "It wasn't just a physical fight, and it took a lot out of me." There was a finality to her tone that suggested that was all she was going to volunteer.

Giles nodded, then after a short time said, "I would like once again to ask you to come back to the Council." He glanced at her as they walked, "Your... rather hard won maturity gives you rather surprising insights that would be invaluable to us."

"Counterpoint to the Pembertons and Buffyisms?" Faith sent him an amused look, "No."

"I am prepared to both argue the point and to offer incentives for you to consider," Giles said, gently.

"And at the end of all the arguing and incentives... answer's still 'No'." Faith stopped and turned to face him. "Might be invaluable to you... but it'd be the death of me inside. No. I don't have a place there any more." She added softly, "Don't think I ever did."

"I see... " Giles shook his head. "Or rather, I don't. You could make a place for yourself, if you wished to."

"Yeah, well... that's the thing. I don't wish." She shook her head, "If you want to remake that thing, you're going to have to fight that one on your own. My 'insights' aren't unique. I still have a limited shelf life, and I don't want to spend it beating my head against walls when there's valuable things I could be doing... " she gestured to the row of windows they'd paused before, "out there."

"More valuable than attempting to build something that might make amends to large numbers of young women for what you consider an act of wrong?" Giles gave her a quizzical look.

Faith was surprised to not feel a flash of anger at that. She gave a soft laugh, instead. "An act I argued against. Not going to have it put off on me alone." She gave him an amused look, "That's a conversation you need to have with Red and General B."

Giles winced slightly. "Belatedly?"

"I wasn't going to say," Faith stated. "I'll make my amends for that thing as I come across opportunities. Not gonna do it as part of the Watcher's Council."

Giles opened his mouth to say something else, then closed it and nodded abruptly. "Very well." He gave her a careful look, "I would ask that you don't work against us."

"Not planning to." Faith shrugged and turned to continue their walk, "If the IWC comes in conflict with me, it'll be because you took actions that caused it. Not because I went to war with you."

"That's not quite what I had in mind," Giles said dryly. "I had rather more in mind that you don't prejudice newly Awakeneds against us when you run across them."

"Hrrm. Tall order." Faith snorted softly. "Not planning to. Am going to lay things out for them as I see it, the whole history an' all, including spelling out that whether they want to associate with you is their choice, along with any alternatives I can think of. We owe them that choice."

"We are giving them a choice. That, I believe, has been the entire thrust behind our redesign." Giles stated in a mild voice.

"Hobson's." Faith remarked in an equally mild voice.

"Beg pardon?" Giles blinked at her.

"Hobson's Choice." Faith said, glancing sidelong at him. "In the sense of: a choice in which both options are undesirable rather than a choice with only one option." She shook her head, "New slayers have a choice: join the IWC and become active slayers with all that comes with, or don't, and be a demon target along with their friends and families, unsupported. Which is what it boils down to."

"T... th.. that's not quite... " Giles sputtered. he trailed off with an affronted look when Faith continued to regard him with a bemused and patient expression. "Is that really how you see what we're doing?"

Faith nodded. "Don't forget: while I was with you guys, that was my main job - running acrost country giving the pitch to new slayers we discovered before something nasty ate them and their families. And that's exactly what a newbie slayer with no support system is: a demon magnet. Happy meal with legs, as Spike would say. Err... would have said." Damn - she'd almost forgotten that 'Spike is back' was a topic that's off the conversation list. Doubtful that Giles would make a leap from her slip of phrasing, but still... "S'a choice that ain't a choice, G. Join up and get a short and violent life fighting evil, or don't and try to not get et. Best o' luck an' all."

"Hrrrm." This time it was Giles that paused and turned to give her a long regard. He couldn't help but reflect that the Faith he'd first gotten to know would have been jittering and pacing and doing her best to distract or avoid a conversation like this one. Not merely giving him a grave and rather unsettling regard while waiting to see what he would respond with. 'When did she manage to become so disconcertingly centered? And why did I not take the time to notice after she came back... ?' After a time, Giles sighed again and said, "I do see your point, Faith. And yet I find myself unable to see an alternative. We have had our hands full with merely attempting to locate newer slayers and rebuild."

"Yup." Faith nodded. "And not enough hands to do it with." She smiled slightly, "Ain't accusing you, Giles. Am just pointing out things to consider if you guys are serious about wanting to do this different and right."

"I see," Giles nodded. "You have given this some deal of thought, it seems. These are not just off the top of your head observations."

Faith looked away, then back. "You get a lot of time to think, out on the road. Get tired of considering my screwups all the time," she flashed that cocked grin at him. "Entertains me to consider other people's screwups on occasion."

"Ha. Quite." Giles nodded. "Would it be out of line to ask if you have considered any alternatives?'

"Out of line? Why?" She gave him a surprised look. She shrugged, "You might not like my ideas."

"I'll take that risk."

"Some," She nodded. "Ever think about getting Red - or some of the other mages - to design something to mask the slayer essence for girls who don't want to join up? Give 'em a reasonable option?" Faith quirked an eyebrow, "It's also occurred to me that Robin might not have been completely off base with his 'alternative council' he was secretly politicking on." At Giles dark look she held up a hand, palm out, "Not his execution or attempts, just the concept. Seems like not having any competitors is likely to lead you to the same road the Old Council was on: thinking you have exclusive rights over slayers. Especially when you have Pembertons around who still think that's a perfectly natural state for things."

"The first is something to consider," Giles said finally. "The latter... if we are stretched in attempting to set up one redesigned Watcher's Council, we can hardly spare the resources to set up... franchises."

"Didn't say it was doable," Faith nodded. "Just that it was an idea." She shook her head, "Not something I'm interested in either."

"Does that mean that I shan't be seeing a rival Faith's Watcher's Council on our horizons?" Giles asked with a slight smile.

"Ha! Not likely. Gonna do my best to forget you said that so's you don't jinx me with it," Faith laughed. Her eyes narrowed after a moment, "Doesn't mean the thought won't occur to someone else. There's a lot of demons who know what Slayers are, and a lot of mystically attuned people as well. Vacuums attract filler."

"So it seems," Giles nodded, frowning. "Shall I trust that if you encounter any such efforts, you'll inform us of them?"

Faith considered the question, then shrugged, "You can trust that I'll check it out thoroughly and make up my own mind about them. Best I'll commit to."

"That... " Giles paused for a long moment, thinking. "That is sufficient for me," he nodded. "It may not be sufficient for other members of the Council."

The corner of Faith's mouth curled up into a half grin, "Wah. Don't give a rats." After a moment, Giles gave a sharp bark of startled laughter that soon had both of them snickering.

"Oh good," Giles managed after a few moments. "For a time there you had me somewhat concerned that you'd been replaced by an Alternate Universe Faith. I'm glad to see that not all of your basic attitudes have changed."

"Nope, still me." Faith snickered, "And if it had, would I be the Evil Twin or the Good Twin?"

"Hrrmm. As I recall," Giles took on a bemused expression, "When that Wish caused an alternate universe to leak over, Willow's doppelganger had a propensity for leather, studs, and vampirism." Faith nodded, remembering what she'd heard about that incident afterwards... "So by that logic, your Evil Twin would no doubt have tendencies to pink and fuzzy rather than leather and sex appeal." He peered down at her over the top of his glasses, "Safe to say that you must be the Good Twin."

"Oh, that's just evil, Giles." Faith laughed, "Now I'm going to have to scrub my brain to get rid of images of myself in Hello Kitty Wear."

"Yes, well. I'm happy to do my part for the cause," he replied.

"Giles?" Faith's voice and expression went suddenly diffident and she glanced away. "Know I said there wasn't a point in beating that horse, but there's a question I have to ask you."

He gave her a considering look. "Yes?"

"Why?" Faith straightened her shoulders and met his eyes directly.

Giles blinked. "I beg your pardon?"

"Why?" She made an impatient gesture, sharp and almost harsh. "Not making any sense, I know. This is... harder than I thought it'd be." She stuck her hands in her back pockets, and looked away. "Had a lot of time to think in prison, and after. Too much, maybe. I kept coming back over and over to something, though, and it kept not making sense." Her voice was quiet enough that he had to almost strain to hear the next part. "I wrote you from prison while I was in Stockton."

"Oh." The sentence was like a punch in the stomach, sharp and startling. "I'm sorry. I never recieved a single letter."

"I know." She flashed him a quick grin and a sidelong glance. "Never mailed you one. Xander... " She shook her head: she wasn't going to delve off into her and Xan's letter exchanges and visits while she was in.

"Ah." he gave her a quizzical look, "I'm afraid I don't understand."

"My line, G." She turned to face him again, looking up. "I don't understand. I don't understand why you shut me out shortly after I ran to you guys from Kakistos after Diana was murdered. Don't understand why the Watcher's Council could send assassins after me when I fucked up - but they couldn't send me a Watcher before that. Don't understand why evil Wilkins was the only one who gave a shit that a 16 year old didn't have a decent place to stay outside of the Quick-Stop In-and-Out and regular meals - but the so-called adult Watcher who was supposed to take care of slayers couldn't. Don't understand why I was left to fall out the cracks until there wasn't anywhere left to go except for evil-fucking-Post who just wanted to use me to get to a magical glove. Or why a fucking vampire was the only one who didn't give up when it all went sideways." She jerked her chin upwards slightly, eyes boring into his. "I mean... I can understand B, and the rest. We were fucking teenagers - we're supposed to have our heads up our asses. It's in the job description. Joyce? She had a daughter of her own to take care of. She tried, though... But why you?" Giles noticed she was blinking rapidly, despite the even, soft tone of her voice. "Kept wondering if it was me. Was I that bad a slayer? That obvious I was already fucked up beyond salvage? Keeps coming back to thinking it was something with me, because you shoved me out to arms length and never looked back. I mean... I know I fucked up - don't need anyone to tell me that... but you turned away long before all that. Tossed me off to fucking Wesley, who any moron could see wasn't ready to handle a puppy, much less a slayer. Why?"

Giles shook his head silently, and looked away for a long moment. He was aware of the dark eyes still resting on him, waiting and relentless. "This is going to sound trite and inadequate, but it wasn't you. It was what you reminded me of." He turned back in time to see her hunch slightly as if struck.

"Yeah. Makes sense," Faith nodded, slowly. "Ripper and your dark youth. You couldn't stand being reminded of yourself."

"I... " Giles shook his head and looked away again. "Yes. There is absolutely nothing that I can say to you to make up for that. Nothing that I can do to make that right. I looked at you and saw someone as dark and as wild as I was, and heading down the same path. And I couldn't make myself deal with it. It reminded me of the drunken, brawling, womanizing killer that I was and almost didn't pull myself away from being - and I couldn't look past recoiling from that long enough to even make the attempt." Spoken aloud, those reasons sounded even more woefully inane and petty than they had when he'd battered himself with them in his head over the years.

"Yah. I get it." Faith's mouth twisted in something that might have been a smile. "Easier to throw the wildchild away than to risk looking in the rearview mirror. Objects may be closer than you care for." It was Giles' turn to hunch as if from a blow. "No big. I figured out a long time ago that grownups are just as fucked up as everyone else. I just wanted to know why." She nodded.

"I am so terribly sorry, and that is such a soddingly inadequate thing to say, Faith." Giles looked at her miserably. "There were a number of times on the Hellmouth I felt I was teetering on that same knife's edge back to there - and in trying to balance I failed you in helping to find your own." He paused, "But you were not irredeemably broken or beyond salvage. It wasn't you."

It had been what she'd guessed at during those long hours spent puzzling at it in her cell, what she'd wanted confirmed - and it felt like ashes to her, hearing it. Faith shook her head, numb inside.

"Yeah. 'Sorry' doesn't really do it on the big things, does it?" Faith nodded. "Do it this way: save the 'sorry' and just make sure you build it so that the next me doesn't fall through the cracks. I'll work on makin' sure I don't fall through again."

Faith turned on her heel and headed off slowly back in the direction they'd come from, hands still in her pockets. "We outta head back, I guess."

"Very well." After staring through Faith's back for a long moment, Giles moved off after her.

"Oh. G?" Faith paused and turned slightly to look back at him. "It's ok if you guys decide not to work with what we're setting up, k? Just... " She paused. "Don't hurt my friends if you decide against it. No threats, no promises, just - don't do it."

She turned again and continued on back towards the conference room.



Author's Note: The last part of Faith's conversation with Giles was inspired by a short bit from a fic titled "Four Questions" by NWHepcat - Credit where credit is due. It seemed so in character that I drew on it for inspiration for both the gist of the conversation and Giles' reasoning. I always wondered why Giles handled that situation as badly as he had, and Whedon never really filled in any of the gaps in series context. On the off chance that NWHepcat happens to run across and read this: thanks, and I hope you like what I did with the inspiration...
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