Just one night...
Chapter 31: "Just one night... "
(Day 19, Tuesday December 23, 2003
She'd wussed out in the end, letting Riley use his Homeland Security contacts and weight to quietly step on Doggett and Reyes and get them to settle for a witnessed, signed, and notarized statement and deposition from her in lieu of her sitting through an interview with them.
After all, as Riley had pointed out during his debriefing of her the day following their restaurant encounter, they'd already interviewed Hogan, O'Brien, Giambione, and the rest of the Major Cases squad - thoroughly - and there wasn't much that she could add on any of their major areas of interest. Riley grilled her endlessly for hard information and observations, veered away without comment from names and areas she made it clear she wasn't going to volunteer info on, and made it an as generally painless process as possible.
Riley puzzled her, and she found herself studying him quietly and circumspectly as he interviewed her for the details of the situation. She found herself coming to the rather startling conclusion that it wasn't an act: that while there were levels and layers to the man that weren't apparent just at a surface glance, with Riley Finn what you saw really was what you got. A fairly decent, open guy who knew what it was like to get beat on by life, but who seemed to still manage to hang on to that Clark Kent outlook...
That disconcerted her. In her limited experience - err, make that extensive experience - with men, she'd come to the conclusion that genuinely decent guys were a rarity that should be carefully collected and kept in a museum for curious onlookers to goggle at. She wondered how B had ever managed to let this specimen get snagged out from under her by Samantha Finn.
Then again, going by her equally extensive experiences with women, genuinely decent women were pretty rare as well. She doubted that Buffy qualified any better than she did... maybe it was more a matter of Riley being lucky to escape alive and only slightly mangled.
'Wussed out' wasn't quite accurate. 'Decided she wasn't able to cope effectively with Doggett and Reyes' was closer to the mark by that point. She figured that evading the FBI agents would come around to bite her at some point, but she really couldn't quite bring herself to care. After meetings with the IWC, strategy sessions with Major Cases, and too many sleep-broken nights filled with fragmented dreams where her mind would take out and run Elora's swallowed memories in an unintelligible kaleidoscope of imagery... she was honestly too exhausted to care.
The funeral and memorial for Colby Burn's partner, lost during the end of that vicious battle at Eastern State Penitentiary, was depressing enough. She'd gone with O'Brien and Giambione as a gesture of something, she wasn't quite sure what... solidarity perhaps? Or maybe as a gesture of respect for the bleak and clearly grieving Burns. She understood loss, especially in combat. Seemed like that was one of the few things she did understand well these days - too much experience at it.
It had seemed to her that every cop in Philly as well as the two visiting FBI agents, plus a few from surrounding areas and the State Highway Patrol, had descended in force upon the cemetary. Judging by the curious glances, more than a few of them wondered at the identity and presence of herself, Abby, King, and the forbidding Blade, but none approached them to ask. Riley's dress uniformed presence drew nearly as many curious looks, as did that of Vi and Giles, and just as few questions. She decided from the way that eyes would shift away whenever one of them returned a look that curious or not, no one really wanted to know...
She paid her respects and stood quietly by Burns and her friends in support, and fled as soon as it was circumspect to do so - wondering as she left if when she went there'd even be a grave, much less a service or anyone to remember.
Worse was the quiet, very small, and very exclusive memorial for Nikki Rimbault. Worse because it highlighted the absence of the official service and memorial she would never have... and somehow more fitting, limited as it was to herself, Tom Kirkwood, and the members of Major Cases quietly trading reminisnces of the woman they'd known. Them trading, her listening. That one reminded her far too much of the few equally private post death gatherings she'd been present for in Sunnydale and after, and hit her on a gut level in a way that the bigger service hadn't. Gather, grieve and remember quietly and in private, because in this war there usually weren't bodies to bury and no way to explain holding a memorial for the missing that you knew were never coming back.
Officially, Nikki Rimbault was listed as missing following the fires that burned Rimbault's Bar to the ground and the rioting of that night. Only the handful of people here would ever know different, and none of them would ever be able to say otherwise.
Except to each other... she didn't envy Hogan, O'Brien and Kirkwood the task of either mouthing the 'official' line to Nikki's son, or that of finding a way to privately let him know the real score.
Kirkwood carefully and unobtrusively avoided her at the memorial gathering just as he had ever since she'd thrown him bodily away from the thing that had once been O'Brien's lover and Kirkwood's friend, and she really couldn't blame him for it. It boggled her slightly that Colby Burns didn't avoid her or seem to blame her for his partner's death. Much.
It boggled her more, still, that O'Brien didn't seem to blame or draw back from her over Nikki's death. It scared her more than a bit to realize how much of a vacuum the sardonic older cop would leave if he had pulled away or pushed her off..................................................................................
(Day 21; December the 25th, 2003: Christmas Day
"Arrrrrrrggggghhh," Faith groaned, let out a satisfied belch and settled back into the sofa, crossing her feet at the ankles on O'Brien's coffee table. Stuffed full and comfortably relaxed.
Giambione looked mock-askance at her, and then turned the look on his partner. "You didn't tell me she was hollow."
"Why do you think I got six precooked smoked turkey breasts and five gallons of fixings?" O'Brien replied. "I've seen her eat before."
Faith smirked and gave him the finger. "Growing girl," she remarked. "Need my nourishment."
"And the nourishment of six small third world countries," Giambione smirked back at her and handed her a cold Dos Equis as he plopped into an armchair with a groan. "I think I lost fingers."
"Told ya to keep them on your side of the table," Faith accepted the beer and sank lower into the cushions.
"I did," he gave her an affronted look. "Someone
kept asking 'You gonna eat all that?' and stealing cranberries off of my
"They looked lonely. You weren't paying enough attention to them." She grinned.
Pre-cooked smoked turkey breasts. Canned cranberries. Deli stuffing, instant mashed potatoes, and packaged rolls. Store bakery pecan pie, cookies, and fudge for dessert and snacks. Pre-decorated and frosted artificial tree. Stack of assorted Christmas DvDs for later. O'Brien definitely wasn't going to make the lists of gourmet chefs or elaborate decorators any time soon. Faith couldn't remember having a more satisfying or enjoyable Christmas since that long ago one at Buffy's mom's house after she'd first hit Sunnydale.
the one at B's mom's, she reflected, and that was one of the few good ones she could remember. Beat pure hell out of a string of cheap lights and TV in a motel room, anyway.
Both detectives had elected to pass on the usual round of obligatory station house Christmas parties and Cop Bar parties; neither being in the mood for crowds, forced cheer, or socializing with colleagues. O'Brien had made a brief appearance at the Mid South Xmass party, Faith in tow, to drop off gifts and cards and exchange greetings. Frank had done the family thing on Christmas Eve (huge Italian family and multi-day event according to him) while O'Brien and Faith had opted for vegetating and watching the parades, Christmas Eve specials, and sports on TV. Giambione had joined them in early evening for dinner after putting in an afternoon appearance at the family, again, and they'd spent it eating, joking around, and generally loafing.
"Besides, you already did an early meal at your folks," Faith noted, swiping another forkfull of cranberries. "You couldn't be that
"Growing boy," Frank rejoined.
Faith snickered and eyed the front of his shirt, "Growing waistline. Another ten years and you'll look like Hogan."
"I'll tell Paul you said that," O'Brien remarked, leaning back and nursing his beer.
"Eeek. At least wait until he recovers from the tie, please," Faith gave him a slightly alarmed look. "Don't want to add any more years onto my probable sentence."
"That tie was
a crime of some sort," O'Brien agreed.
"Felony at least. But - he can use it for a night light," Frank snickered and dodged the cushion Faith mimed throwing at him. "Still, I invited you to tag along. You could have done your Amazing Locust Impression twice."
"I know. Wasn't in the right place for crowds of strangers," Faith nodded.
"Hey - ten minutes after my mom and grandma saw you and you wouldn't be a stranger."
"And fifteen minutes later," O'Brien remarked, "they'd have been sizing her up as your fiance and asking when you two were going to tie the knot and start churning out little Irish-Italian grand babies for them."
"You mean we're thinking about allowing Frank to breed
some day?" She shook her head sadly, "Is the world ready for this?"
"Your delinquent is picking on me again, Obie" Giambione said in an aggrieved tone.
"So? Make her stop."
"I would, but I'm pretty sure she can beat me up."
"Damn straight," Faith nodded seriously. She picked up the remote and aimed it at the DvD player.
"So... what're we watching first?" Frank settled back, looking content.
"Die Hard," O'Brien replied.
"Hey - it's a Christmas movie." Faith made a mock pouting face at Giambione's eye roll, "What?!? It is too: watch it and you'll see."Later...
Gifts exchanged and opened, dessert and coffee eaten and drunk, and Giambione had begged off finally to wander home. Or to wherever he planned to spend the rest of his Christmas night.
While O'Brien cleared empty bottles and debris to the kitchen, Faith wandered out onto the balcony of O'Brien's very narrow lot two story brownstone and lit a cigar, watching her breath fog as she looked out over the neighborhood. The blanket of snow made it look like a postcard, far removed from the normal dinge and grunge of South Philly.
About two thirds of the way through the smoke, she heard him join her on the small balcony. She flashed a glance and a quick smile his direction and returned to gazing off into the night.
"You know you can smoke in the house, right?"
"I know," Faith shrugged. "S'all right - I like the cold. Clears your head."
O'Brien nodded and draped her coat over her shoulders from behind, one handed. He handed her a steaming mug from the other, "Here you go: Irish Coffee against the chill."
"Mmm, thanks," she took the mug and held it under her nose, drinking in the heady aroma of strong coffee and good whiskey.
"No problem." He put one arm across her shoulders and settled in next to her, looking out over the street. Faith stiffened slightly, out of reflex, then relaxed against the warmth. O'Brien sipped from his coffee and they stood comfortably for a bit as the snow fell.
"Still auditioning, Five-oh?" Faith cut her eyes and a small grin up at him.
"Maybe?" O'Brien chuckled and then shook his head, "Nah. You're a twenty year old young woman who doesn't need a beat up elderly flatfoot for an adopted dad substitute."
"Right," Faith nodded. "And you're a fifty something year old cop who doesn't need a delinquent ex-con vampire hunting adopted daughter in your dotage."
"Right," O'Brien nodded back, then looked at her sharply. "Hey! Dotage?"
Faith smirked, "Ok... declining years?"
"Much better," he agreed.
"Right. Wouldn't work out."
"Not at all."
"Glad we got that settled," she said.
Faith laughed, softly. She went back to watching the snow patterns.
After a time, "Nickle for your thoughts?"
Faith laughed again, "Because of inflation?"
She considered for a bit, then said... "Ever read comics when you were a kid?"
"Yup. Superman, Batman, Justice League, Spiderman... Archies," O'Brien nodded.
"Ah. The classics," Faith grinned. "So that's where you got that Truth, Justice, and the American Way thing?"
"No, that's Frank's deal. I wanted to be Batman when I grew up."
"Cool. So you got your wish, huh?"
"Don't know," O'Brien said, musing. "Haven't grown up yet."
"Ha. Heard that," Faith nodded, looking out into the snow. She paused for a long time, finally taking a long drag off of her cigar before flicking it out into the drifts. "I liked Daredevil. Man Without Fear and all that shit, y'know? Thought that would be so cool to not be afraid of anything... "
She trailed off and was silent for a time. O'Brien made an encouraging sound in his throat, and let her thoughts flow.
"There was this one issue... can't remember who did it," She continued after a time. "Xander would know, I bet... he knows all that geek shit. Anyway... I think it was a giant sized Annual or something. Called 'Just One Night', I think."
"Uh huh," O'Brien looked down, watching her watch the snow.
"Anyway... the deal was, just one night, Daredevil would stress his radar thingy to the max and rush all over New York stopping murders on Christmas. He had kind of a vow to himself that, for one night - just one - no one was going to die in his city. Not one single person." Faith lit another cigar and stood contemplating the smoke for a long moment. "Was thinking about that... first time I've remembered it in years."
She paused again and he let her find her own time for whatever she was searching to say....
"All of this kinda reminded me of that," Faith gestured out over the snow covered neighborhood with her cigar. "Tonight, there's people that aren't
getting drained or turned out there. There's homeless people and run aways that aren't
getting snatched and dragged off to be wrapped in plastic and turned into bloodbanks. They may not have an easy time of it... some of them may freeze on the streets or die otherwise.. but just for now, they're not becoming food for things
"It won't last," O'Brien remarked.
"I know," Faith cut him a wicked look. "Cynic."
"Sorry," he replied and she snickered.
"You're right. It won't last... but just
for tonight, and maybe for tomorrow and a few nights to come, it will," she blew a smoke ring out into the snow where it was tattered by falling flakes. "Because of us."
O'Brien considered that for a time and couldn't find any flaws in it, "Good feeling, isn't it?" He said, finally.
"Yup. The best." Faith quirked a half smile, "Kinda like our Christmas present to them, y'know? And none of them will ever know about it."
They wre both quiet for a long time afterwards, contemplating and watching the snow.
Faith took a long sip from her whiskeyed coffee. "Neat house."
"My parent's house," O'Brien said. "I grew up here."
"Really?" There was wonder in her voice.
"Really," he nodded. "Devil's Pocket kid, born and raised. Paid off the mortgage and bought it after my folks died."
"Wow," Faith thought about that. "Continuity. That's kind of cool."
"Has its moments," he agreed. He was thoughtful for a time... "They started revitalizing the neighborhood a bit, last decade or so. Still a big Irish borough, even so." He paused, then, "So... going to be moving on soon?"
"Yeah. Life's a road and it's starting to call again," Faith shook her head, sighed. "Baltimore I think, next. Seem to recall I had an uncle who moved there... need to look him up if he's still alive and ask him some things."
"Not right away, though."
"Naw," Faith frowned. "Not for a few days, yet." She sighed... thinking. Faith frowned inwardly at the half memories. If her family had been normal Boston Irish, she'd have had freaking tons of relatives, aunts, uncles, granparents on both sides, cousins, and semi-cousins to draw on for tracking down leads on her possible lost 'sister' mystery. 'Instead, I managed to get the one where all of the members either died off early or scattered acrost the damned country without bothering to maintain contacts with anyone,'
she mused. 'Damned Halloran's couldn't even manage Boston Irish right.'
If it hadn't been for her court records, she'd barely have been able to remember her mom's maiden name from before her first aborted marriage. As it was... for all Faith knew, she *could* be related to O'Brien or even Riley somewhere way back. Damned sure couldn't prove it by her memories or family records. Not for the first time... she wondered if some of her memory hadn't
gotten knocked all screwy by the injuries leading to her eight month coma. There was always a kind of a... fuzziness... to her long ago memories of Boston, these days.'Screw it. Family is what you freaking make of it.'
Faith thought. 'And the hell with it. Life is a road. Tired of just bumping into people on it and moving on without leaving marks... '
She contemplated the cherry on her cigar for a time, "Y'Know? We could give it a try if you wanted," she said in a diffident tone of voice.
"We could?" O'Brien blinked and looked sharply at her, lost on the conversational curve.
"The adopted delinquent/adopted flatfoot thing," she clarified.
"Ah. That 'try'," O'Brien nodded. "I suppose we could, if you wanted." He made it sound diffident, casual, matching her tone.
"Well.... they say that 'home' is where when you go there, they have to take you in," Faith remarked. "Never had any place where they had to take me in - mom always wanted me gone." She took a drag off of the smoke and washed it down with the last of the Irish coffee. "Might be kind of nice to have a place to come back to for holidays."
"Send post cards to," O'Brien suggested.
"Letters even," Faith agreed.
"You'll have to buy your own groceries," he stated. "And if you get a puppy, you're cleaning up after it."
Faith laughed, tossing her head back, "Promise." She glanced sidelong at him, "But you get to put me through college."
"Oh lord," he intoned, mournfully. "There goes my pension."
"Damn straight. Should've gone for feeding me instead."
"Right. I think college is cheaper," O'Brien smirked, then groaned as she elbowed him in the ribs. "Ready to go in and finish the movies?"
"Might as well." Faith stuck the cigar in the corner of her mouth and stepped away to pull the door open. "What's up next?"
"That the one with the BB-gun?"
"Got it in one," O'Brien said. "Darren McGavin."
"Oh lord... we'll put our eyes out watching that."
O'Brien laughed and followed her in...
Author's Note: A Christmas present for Kiwikatipo, who was probably starting to think I was never going to post again. *smirk*
There is an epilogue and an afterword to follow this, which makes it technically still incomplete, but aside from those - this pretty well wraps up "Life is a Road". Story continues as soon as the next episodes are finished enough to post.