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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)IronbearFR1833190,3063016764,03029 Sep 0718 Oct 13Yes

"Practical like stuff... "

Chapter 5: "Practical like stuff... "

Her first impulse was to head back to the area of the Winchester's motel and start prowling. Dust or ash any licks she found, interrogating them first if possible. Get a list of local demon bars and trash them, showing the flag.

'No. She wanted to shake you up, girl, get you rattled and even more off your game. It worked,' she thought to herself. 'You're as rattled right now as you've been since you came apart on Angel way back when. The Usual is what she expects you to do now - make yourself an easy target.' Don't do it... never play the other guy's game. Kick over the table and deal your own.

She'd checked the bike over before leaving the hospital. Nothing that didn't look like it belonged there, no extra wires, and no hidden tracking devices she could see. Not that that meant much these days... they could make bugs nearly invisible, she understood, and if someone had the right equipment, they could track you by your cell phone as long as the battery was in. Bike didn't blow up, which was a plus - it was always good not to detonate - and she decided after giving it some thought that she wasn't going to worry about it.

Having Blondie self-called Deathdealer be able to track her wasn't necessarily a negative. Meant that if she was, she was close by where Faith could put hand to her as soon as she figured out the best way to deal with the bitch.

That little issue was a point of concern at the moment. She'd never heard of a vampire with body heat, and the gorgeous blond had definitely registered as a vamp to her slayer sense. Of some kind. There were obviously gaps in her knowledge, and that was a problem.

That which you don't know, kills you.

Also no sign that anyone had been at her rooms. No one more than the maid service, anyway: the beds were made up and bedding replaced. Nothing else disturbed. She opened one of the hidden compartments to her chest and took out several charms Willow had made that would close off a space, even a normally transient one such as a hotel room, and make it so that any supernatural entity below a certain power level would require an invitation to enter. In theory anyway... One shot usage, and there were only a limited number of them. Once activated, they were tied to the space until they were removed and became inactive.

Not all vampires required an invitation to enter, she'd discovered recently, but that wouldn't matter: with the room warded, even they would. In theory. And of course there is no difference between theory and practice, except in practice. She laughed and put them up on the door and windows, anyway.

It probably wouldn't do much against a vampire Familiar, but that didn't bother her. Even a slightly enhanced human wasn't going to worry her much. Not unless they came in numbers, trained, and heavily armed. And if they were that serious about it, she was screwed anyway.

No... Blondie, she suspected, had a different game afoot. Figuring out what game was the rub. Then turning it on her.

She looked at the room's clock and realized the hour for the first time. Too late to call Wesley, even if he wouldn't mind being woken up at almost 1am, her vague questions would keep until tomorrow. And if he was up and working... he needed to be concentrating on whatever business he was about, not getting killed because she'd split his attention. That left... ah. She flipped open her cell and worked through her contacts until she found the one she wanted.

"Perditions." Not the big bartender's voice. Must be his night off.

"Is the Thug in?"

"Ha. Only one person calls him that. Hang on." She held for a bit, fixing herself something to drink while she waited.

"Slayer." Vince's voice was cheerful. "Not even out of my town a week and already calling. Must be true love, at last."

"Yup. Been pining away for your scaly self. How'd you guess?" She laughed.

"Babe magnet. They just can't keep away," Vince chuckled. "So, what can I do you for? Business or pleasure?"

"Business," she paused for a moment. "Who do you know that would have an open contract out on me?"

"Huh. Who wouldn't? You bent an awful lot of people here, Slayer." He paused, thinking. "But this fast? No one knows where you are right now, unless you've gotten careless."

"Not that careless. I didn't leave a forwarding address." Faith frowned... that was something that had been bothering her.

"Hrrm. Let me think," She did, and waited for a time. "There were noises, all carefully quashed in the right places. You have a patron that it's not considered wise to piss off right now. I don't think even the Hellfire Club wants to get Wolfram and Hart's negative attention. Besides... they're not real unhappy with the world not ending, if you get my drift. It'd interfere with their plans for world domination and all that."

"Yeah. Bad for business and all that."

He snickered, "Yup. Only one I can think of is the old one WH themselves had out, and the one the Watcher's Council had before Jasmine."

"Both of those are closed, far as I know. Angel closed one, and the First closed the old Watcher's Council out. Permanently."

"So I heard," he snickered. "May they rest in peace. Why... what has you asking, kiddo?"

"Had an encounter with a lady vamp that said she'd picked up the open one on me. Calls herself a Death Dealer, or some such."

"Holy shit, Slayer. You're moving in rarified circles," he whistled softly. "Do me a favor and avoid my bar until you get this settled, eh?"

"Gee, thanks, Thug. Your concern is overwhelming." He laughed and she added, "What can you tell me?"

"Not much, kiddo. Supposedly heavy hitters within the vampire courts and councils. They usually deal with internal matters: settling blood feuds or icing rogue clan lords etcetera." He paused, "I've never met one or heard of anyone who has, and I'd rather keep it that way."

"Yeah. I'll try not to adopt her and bring her home for Christmas," her voice was dry. "Nose around quietly and see if you come across whoever put a price on me?"

"No worries. Would have anyway - bad for business having people think they can ice my friends." He said something she didn't quite catch to someone off the phone, "Watch your ass, kiddo. Don't die. You owe me another walk on the side o' the angels some day."

"No worries, Thug. I'm not that easy to kill." She clicked off and sat there staring through the wall for a time, finishing her drink. Finally, she loaded up the big Keith single action with sun-dog rounds, laid it and her sword in easy reach, then gave it up and went to bed.

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

(Day 3; Sunday, December 7, 2003)

"Yo, Watcher man?" She'd woken up late, better rested, and in a much better mood. Less rattled. Much better time to attempt the time differential between East and West coasts. And no slayer dream hints from the Powers That Be. Time to explore other resources.

"Faith!" Wesley Price swiveled his chair away from the computer screen he'd been engrossed in, and leaned back stretching. He glanced at the clock. "Still morning here, rather than 4am. There must be an Apocalypse."

"Ha. Very funny," she laughed. "I just woke up and got enough coffee in me to be conscious Still settled into the Marriott for the time being."

"Ah. Still on the East Coast then?"

"Philly, yup."

"Ah. Glad you called. I've been doing some digging around," He frowned, pausing. "Well, glad isn't the right word, exactly, as everything I have so far is negative, but... "

"No worries. And I know what you meant: glad I called, sorry you haven't found anything yet."

"Quite." He gave an apologetic ahem. "Not all medical facilities include photos with their accessible staff bios. And very few in medical school student lists. Of course... there's a lot of medical schools and training facilities for paramedics and similar, so that will take a long time to go through them all."

"Figured it wouldn't be that easy." Pause, "Thanks for trying, Wes."

"I'm not done yet, Faith. Barely started." He stated. "There's always high school and college yearbooks as well." The 'thanks' registered, "Ah... you're welcome."

"Heh. And the quick mind catches up to the funny conversation sounds on the other end of the phone after a time." She snickered.

"Ha. Quite," he gave a soft laugh.

"S'cool. Just started, and you have regular stuff to do too." She went on before he could speak, "I had a couple of questions on something different, anyway."

"Oh? Shoot."

"Ok... first off: what can you tell me, if anything, about a disembodied demon that apparently possesses people and kills them after using their bodies? Possibly may form attachments to particular families."

"Hrrm. Doesn't sound familiar. I'd have to do research," He paused, "Is this a curiosity question, or have you encountered such a thing?"

"You might say that," her voice was dry. She related the experience with the Winchester demon, leaving out the identities of the Winchester brothers and any non-pertinent details like that.

"Good lord, Faith." Wesley's voice sounded appalled. "And you say that you managed to evict it from possessing you somehow?"

"Yes. No. Ummm... more like 'the slayer essence in me took violent exception to being possessed', if that makes sense." Faith frowned, "Admittedly, I didn't have much Watcherness, but I was never told that being a slayer made one immune to possessions?"

"No. Or... rather, if it does, I wasn't aware of it either. However," he paused, probably thinking.

"However?"

"It has been documented that slayers are resistant to turning by normal demonic vampires. At least, original line slayers such as yourself and Summers - I have no idea if that extends to the newly Awakened." He paused to consider, "It is possible that that has to do with the slayer essence being similar to a possession. It may resist the addition of another occupant, as it were."

"Hrrmm... not sure if that scans, but it's a better theory than I have," Faith said.

"Doesn't scan?"

"It's hard to explain... " She paused, searching for terms she didn't quite have. "It doesn't feel like a 'possession' to me, and I'm on the inside with it. We don't swap places when the slayer part comes up to play, it's more like another... " she made a gesture she knew was wasted on the phone, "another aspect of me gets stronger. Always there, though."

"Indeed," Wesley's voice was curious. "I have to admit, I've never actually discussed the slayer essence experience with a slayer. And the majority of the entries in the Watcher's Journals deal with more practical aspects of the thing."

"Such as how to get the most mileage out of one before the shelf life runs out on us?" Her voice was sour.

"Quite. I do have to recall that you haven't had the best of experiences with the Old Watcher's Council."

"And the new Council doesn't have a great deal of experience with anything, yet." Faith laughed.

"Quite. I'll have to look into this for you, as I can," She could hear him making notes on the other end, "I do have to say that, despite the Exorcist movies and the Church's mythology, possession type demonic essences are actually rather rare, apparently. The majority of demons manifest physically on this plane."

"Hence the usual reliance on 'Beat, rend, kill' in Slayer Training?" Faith laughed.

"Ha. Yes." Wesley laughed softly, "I'll look into both things for you."

"Cool, thanks. Brings me to the next thing... " She paused to gather her thoughts, "Why is it that I was never told anything about other vampire breeds until recently? I mean, yeah, demons are heavily involved, but the job title is 'Vampire Slayer', an' all." She went on, "You'd think that would be important? But until I watched those licks burst into flaming ash and ran into Blade, that was the first I'd heard of it."

"Oh? That is odd... " He frowned, gathering his thoughts back from the unrelated subject he'd been immersed in. "Hrmm..."

She was quiet on the other end, although he could hear breathing. Letting him sort thoughts and pull up information from his memory, as she'd done before after asking his assistance in Jersey. Surprised him, honestly... this was never a type of conversation or relationship he'd expected to have with Faith. Not going by their previous history of interactions.

He wasn't surprised to find it pleasing to him. He was rather surprised that he was pleased to find himself falling back into the once familiar role of Watcher, and to a slayer yet... something he'd once prepared for but never had actually had much real opportunity to do in practice.

"I'm not certain, Faith," he said after a time. "I wasn't intended to be a field watcher, originally, and was far from prepared for the role when I was sent to Sunnydale to 'take over' from Giles. However, it is my understanding and recollection that my training was no different from that of any field watchers, and we certainly learned about all of the known breeds and varieties of vampire. Professional knowledge base, one could say."

"Would Giles' background have been any different? I didn't gather that B knew about anything except 'normal' dust-in-the-wind vamps." She paused, "If she did, she didn't say anything. Not that we had a lot of... professional talks that didn't involve hitting and pointy objects."

"Ha. Quite." He thought for a moment. "No, Giles' background and preparation and training would have been similar to mine, plus the advantage of years of field research. He would certainly have known. So should your original watcher, since Draaken breed are more common on the East coastal areas."

"She didn't have much time to go into very much depth," Faith voice was rather grim sounding.

"Ah. Yes. And you were dealing with Kakistos at the time, who was of Kaineron childer lineage." He nodded on his end, "Get the important items out while there's time."

"Yeah... " Her voice sounded thoughtful. "Hannibal suggested that watchers may not have wanted to complicate things for girls who weren't going to live long enough to use it."

That brought a long silence from him. Finally, "I wish that I could say that there weren't members of the old council who did think that way, Faith."

"Yah. Expendable resource. Two year shelf life. Aim, shoot, discard." She laughed and it was bitter. Her experiences with the Council had been particularly bad, and he grimaced at the memory. "Kind of the LAW rocket of the supernatural world."

"Giles certainly didn't think of his charges that way, Faith. Nor did Merrick, Buffy's first Watcher, from what I've read of him." Wesley said gently, "And from what you've described, neither did yours."

"Maybe." She sounded unconvinced, and not for the first time, he wished he could dig his father up, resurrect him, and strangle the bastard, as well as going back in time to slap his younger self unconcious... "So. Precisely to change the subject," her mimicry of his accent wasn't perfect but was decent enough to jerk a startled laugh out of him, "What are all of the various breeds, and how do I recognize them? Professional interest and all - since I'm going to be traveling a lot and don't exactly have a Watcher at hand all the time."

"Yes, quite. Give me a few minutes to think, please."

She laughed, "And we all know you're rusty. Should I call Fred if I smell smoke?"

"Ha bloody ha." She snickered. At least it was better than the bitter sound from a moment before.

"All right. Right then," he said after a time. "You know about what we shall call 'normal' vampires and their features and lineages, the Master, Aurelius and all. Tell me what you do know about the Childer of Drake?"

She did, and then he said. "Quite. Not complete, but it seems that Blade and Hannibal gave you quite a bit of the basics. I hadn't known about the Blood Pack and the hybrids before, nor about Dagon being dug up and raised." He paused... "We were rather distracted at the time, however."

"Rather." Faith said, dryly, and he laughed.

"Very well," he continued. "There are a number of vampiric entity types that get lumped into the overall category of 'Vampire'. However, the majority of them are demons of various kinds, or spirits, and extremely rare. A few to every culture it seems: African mythos', South America, Native American... As far as relatively common breeds that you are likely to encounter, which I gather is your main question?"

"Quite." She paused, "Although knowing about the rare ones couldn't hurt. What you don't know, kills you."

"Yes. Quite right." He cleared his throat, and took the phone with him to get a fresh cup of coffee. "There are three major breeds in North America and Europe that we are aware of, all from different Primogens as Blade called them. Two of them you know of now. There are also Oriental breeds, however they seem to stay almost exlusively to China, the Philippines, Japan, and Malaysia... unless you intend to travel far, they'll be extremely rare here. Possible to encounter one in one of the Chinatowns or Japanese communities."

"Not planning to head for the exotic Far East just yet," she laughed. "Although I would like to see Tokyo some day. I'll let the orient slayers worry about those, mostly. The third?"

"Childer of Lillitha and Kane."

"Lilith.. first demon?" She paused. "And Kane... Kaineron?"

"Ah, yes, and no. Kane: ancient, ancient mage and warrior, human once, but cursed. Not the same as the Kaineron of the Aurelius lineage. You sound somewhat familiar with Lilith."

"Not really familiar. Just bits and pieces of the legendry."

"Quite. Lilith was very near to an Old One, not precisely a demon. She became worked into the Eden myths and Genesis when they were adapted by the ancient Hebrews from the Babylonian and Sumerian mythos, but she actually predates all three by eons," he paused, taking a gulp of coffee. "Some of the earliest legends hold that she was an Old One who took human form. Others that she was a creation of the Old Ones as they were fading from this world. Doubtful that anyone knows for certain. What little is known is that she was powerful, supposedly had a thirst for life essences, and could become both human and extremely beautiful and seductive. She may have inspired a number of the seductress gods of various pantheons - or created them."

"And Kane-not-Kaineron?" she prompted.

"Kane was a human king and warrior-mage from the extremely distant past. Think Pangaea: the ubercontinent that predates continental drift and the splitting of the continents into the shapes they take now. Pangaea, Atlantis and Lemuria. He was cursed to become immortal and restless by the gods of his time, for reasons that unfortunately haven't survived. Although there are myths... He is possibly the inspiration for the Cain story in Genesis, and similar legends in other pantheons. He wandered the earth for ages, the death dealer, and became deeply immersed into the black arts, supposedly in attempts to break the curse upon him. Very powerful... he evidently did not survive the sundering of the continents and the destruction of the civilizations of his time, so probably not completely immortal."

He paused for a bit, and she could hear coffee pouring sounds again, and a sound as though of books being pulled from a shelf.

"He and Lilith had a dalliance, and supposedly became lovers. There were children born of that union, eventually, and at least one inherited Lilith's blood lust and Kane's immortality, powers, and affinity for the arts. And possibly Kane's curse... He also possessed the ability to infuse his essence into those that he killed, raising them to become somewhat like himself. Similar to a Kaineron vampire, but not demon ridden."

"And they told two friends, and they told two friends, and so on and so on and... " Faith laughed.

"Ha. Yes, quite. They do all seem to possess similar proclivities, don't they?" He snickered and continued, "They are generically known as Kindred, or Kindrel, and it is believed that they call themselves "The Childer of Kane", however that's not known. They tend to be extremely reclusive, and go to great lengths to hide and/or disguise their existence from humans. Some of them hunt Kaineron and Draaken from the belief that the activities of those present a lethal danger to all vampires from the potential to draw human awareness and knowledge to their existence Others leave them be for the most part, seeming to see them as a convenient cover for their own existence They organize themselves into clans based upon which of the original vampire Childer of Kane they're descended from, and have an elaborate hidden society rife with intrigue and Machiavellian politics. Each clan has certain traits. Some of them are very, very ancient, and powerful: they grow in power and strength the longer they survive. Some of them are mages, or have magical abilities. Various of the types of weres prey on them, detesting the unlife in them, and in Europe, there's been a millennial long hidden war between the two."

"'k. So... how to recognize and kill them?" Faith interjected. "Practical like stuff."

"Heh. Yes." He laughed, "You're unlikely to encounter one except by accident, as they avoid slayers like the plague, to coin a phrase. However, they are prevalent in San Francisco, I believe, and in Chicago and the Great Lakes cities. New Orleans as well, here in the US. More common in Europe, of course. And some clans do hire themselves out to other breeds and to demons on occasion as assassins, so it's always a possibility. There's one clan that specializes in assassination. Predominately of other vampires, but they're not adverse to taking contracts on particularly troublesome hunters." He paused for a moment, "Such as yourself and Summers, actually. I would imagine that the IWC would be causing massive consternation in various vampire societies."

"Wonderful," she remarked.

"Yes. Not the word I would have chosen, but it will suffice." He went on, "Wooden stake to the heart paralyzes them, rather than killing. Although that leaves them open to other means at your more or less leisure. Extremely old ones may be completely immune to that effect. Decapitation kills, fire, sunlight, and the claws/teeth of other undead and supernatural creatures. Blood and rest heals them. Extreme thirst or damage will make them hibernate. Damage them enough and they'll go into a frenzied berzerkergang before fleeing to hibernate. No natural body temperature, however they draw warmth from feeding, and when gorged become near human warmth. Would register on infrared or thermal as someone with a slightly lower than normal body heat, or someone chilled at that time. Some go so far in hiding from human sight as to only drink procured blood, or from animals. Not all are evil, and they don't lose their souls when turned, so a soul detection spell or charm won't identify them as vampire. Teeth, claws, enormous strength... usual vampire advantages. They can draw up on enhanced abilities the more they're fed, if they have them."

He paused a moment, "Let's see... Holy symbols, crosses, water etc don't harm them, unless the person was especially religious or superstitious before being turned. Or it's an especially powerful symbol, like a relic, or in the hands of a truly holy person. They don't need an invitation to come in. I don't know about garlic, but would suspect that's a myth, as is the running water thing." He scanned the pages he was on, quickly. "Hrrm. It says here that they can turn or embrace other supernaturals, but they generally don't. Against the Rules. And they seem to consider embracing a were as creating an abomination: it's a death sentence for both the sire and the childer."

"Hrrm. Societies... " Faith asked, "Do they create human thralls or familiars as Blade and Hannibal said Draaken do?" She heard pages turning.

"Yes, however they call them 'Ghouls'. They can partially drain a human or animal and then feed it their blood and partially turn it, the thrall becoming subject to the Sire's will and influence. Ghouls have greater than normal strength, some resistance to damage, and a milder form of both vampire thirst and healing. Tendency to berzerkergang, also. Hrrm... according to this, once they drink or are fed vampiric blood thrice, they become bound to their Sire and he/she no longer needs to dominate or enthrall them. Willing slaves. They're also suspected to be able to sire dhampir... they're evidently not completely undead according to their means of turning." He paused, "No mention of whether 'Ghouling' or 'Blood Binding' would work on a Slayer."

"I have no interest in finding out personally, thank you." She laughed, "You'll have to do your own empirical research."

"Hah. No no... not going there."

"Hah. See that you don't, Watcher. Watch from a safe distance." She added, "That sounds nasty. Don't recall either mentioning that those things apply to Familiars."

"Possibly not," he remarked. "Some additional strength and speed, perhaps, and a bit faster healing. There'd have to be some incentive for someone to Familiar themselves. But still need to be thralled or coerced."

"Ha! Vampire groupies, Wes." She snickered, "Vampire novel fans and gothies would line up for it. They think it's a 'tormented and romantic existence' to be a creature of the night, or bound to one. Until it happens to them... So would politicians: anything for power."

"Yes. Humans are rather odd creatures."

"Aren't we just? Hrrrm... " She was quiet a bit, evidently thinking.

"One thing," he said, and she made an inquiring sound. "Don't bank heavily on their inclination to stay out of human notice. There are always renegades, and often those who are turned who's sires don't inform them of the rules."

"Always," She sighed. Pause, "Can you compile a lot of this stuff, including on Draaken and the odd/rare types and put it together for me? Then you can do a file dump to my laptop at some point in the near future. Handy to have."

"Quite right." He considered. "Yes, should be able to. It may take a bit... unless Wolfram and Hart already has some or most of it in their computer files. That's possible: I'll have to check." There was a slightly longer pause on his end, then... "I suspect that the mind may be catching up to the odd conversational sounds again. That sigh and thoughtful silence suggests that this wasn't a casual question, yes?"

Sigh. "Yes. I mean, no, not casual."

"Ah. What prompts the curiosity into other vampire breeds then, if I may ask? And the round about approach?"

"Was hoping you wouldn't ask that," Faith frowned. "I think I may have had an encounter with a member of one of the assassin clans. Body warmth and all." She described her interaction with the blond vampiress.

"Good gods," Wesley was silent for a long time. Faith let him think. Or brood, as the case may be. Finally, "It might be to be expected, in a way. You are currently the longest lived slayer, even counting Summers, and have acquired a bit of a reputation. Stands to reason that that might attract the interest of a Kindrel Death Dealer, just as Buffy attracted the notice of a number of Kaineron master vampires."

"Was afraid of that." She paused, "I'm noticing that I'm not hearing the sounds of a panicking Wesley marshaling the troops and asking when you should get here. This worries me," she laughed.

"Ha. It is being considered, seriously." Wesley made a thoughtful sound, "What is giving me pause is concern that rather than being of assistance, we might instead give this assassin more things to use against you. Rather than taking care of yourself, you might end up getting killed from having to split your attention while attempting to protect us. She would know how to deal with Angel, as well." He paused, "You seem to have succeeded in obtaining her word to leave your other friends alone."

"In a very weird sort of way, this reminds me of Buffy trying to push out Xander in order to protect him. Only in reverse," Faith remarked. "You sound like you believe her word might be worth the blood behind it?"

"Rather apt turn of phrase," Wesley stated. "Yes, if she is what she claims. Certain of the various Kindrel clans place a high regard on their honor and their word. She would lose a great deal of face and status giving it to a lesser being such as yourself, and then being forsworn. It might cost her having to face challenge from others of her rank and clan to not lose more than merely status."

"Lesser being. I get all warm inside when you hand out compliments like that." Faith snickered, "Good thing I have a secure ego, huh?"

"Quite. However, I was certain you knew what I meant."

"Quite," Faith's voice was dry and Wesley laughed. "So she not only probably will keep her word, but she was serious about possibly trying to turn me, then."

"Possibly, Faith. While it is rare, there have been cases of past slayers being turned. It almost always creates an extremely dangerous threat that's hard to eliminate."

"No. Really?" They both laughed. "Actually, that's reassuring, Wes. It gives me an idea for a possible plan. I need to go eat, then prepare to hunt, and let this percolate and see if it develops into something."

"Indeed? Excellent. Do make certain you include an escape route. Plans generally are more survivable when you do." Wesley paused, then, "By the way: that hesitation was not a refusal to head out there with the cavalry. Consider it, and call if you decide that's best. Meanwhile, I'll set everything we have and that I can find on our FTP so that you can grab it at your leisure. I believe you still have the access?"

"Coolness. Yes, thanks. And I know, Wes, thanks." She paused, considering. "I may need some non-Apocalypse style muscle out here though. Legal Eagle type - a couple of... friend got themselves hooked into this with some weapons charges on them."

"Hrmm." She could almost hear Wesley frowning over that one. "I'll pass it along to Angel. We can probably have one of the affiliated firms Wolfram and Hart has on retainer there send someone to look into it for you."

"Thanks," Faith said, relived. "Really gotta run, Wes - that rumbling sound isn't thunder."

He laughed and said "Quite all right," into a dead phone a few minutes later. 'Watcher man, eh?' There was a comfortable and familiar sound to that that he found he rather enjoyed.

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

She had breakfast in the restaurant, and then lunch via room service. The rest of the day was spent noodling around on her guitar and thinking things through. By mid afternoon, she was pretty certain that what she had running around in the back of her mind didn't quite qualify as a plan, necessarily, but it had definite possibilities.

Figuring out the best way to bring it about and put it into action was a problem. Especially with having 'not getting dead' and 'not getting turned' being critical elements, from her point of view at least.

She killed the rest of the day with a long workout and a swim. One thing that prison had done for her: by the time she'd escaped with Wes, she'd been in the best shape she'd every been in. It was a way to burn time on the clock. She'd made a decision after to not let her condition slip any, keeping up the intense, almost brutal, workout routine she'd set for herself while inside.

The weight and exercise machines at the Marriott's gym weren't designed for someone of her strength, but maxed out all the way they'd do. She found herself missing the gym at Blade's. Not the only thing she missed there. Nothing to do for that now... No audience here, the gym was almost deserted except for her. No disgusted guys freaked out and muttering in her wake about the five foot five inch girl doing reps with more weight than they had in their bodies. Not that she really minded leaving guys wondering behind her about things like that. The capacity of people to rationalize away what they'd seen with their own eyes never failed to amaze her. Once she was gone, they'd forget, explain it away, or pretend it never happened.

Now though, she had an assassin after her and cops interested. Not raising any more eyebrows couldn't hurt. She made a mental not to start taking her workouts when the gym was empty for the near future.

It still didn't get her any closer to turning her vague idea into a workable plan. She grabbed a quick shower followed by a hurried meal in the hotel restaurant, then took a fast, careful patrol around her hotel before heading out. Nothing caught either her attention or her slayer senses, and she headed the bike out into the early darkness towards the hospital.

She did the same around the hospital complex and ER after she parked her bike, only slower and even more careful. No vanishing blonde there either that she could spot, and nothing niggling at the back of her awareness. If blondie was trying to raise her paranoia levels, she was doing a good job, Faith thought to herself.

She spotted O'Brien almost immediately on entering the ER areas, standing and talking to one of the uniformed officers there. No sign of his partner... but the younger detective almost certainly had to be around somewhere. Probably patrolling, much as she had been. She flipped a mental coin, shrugged, and headed over to him as he turned away from the patrol cop. Might as well, she was going to bump into him sooner or later here.

"Hey Five-oh," Faith quirked a half smile at him. "What's the what?"

"Checking in?" The saturnine detective raised his eyebrows at her with a sourly amused look.

"Hey - might as well," she shrugged. "Gonna see me when I pop up in ICU in a few minutes anyway, right?"

"Considering how much luck the hospital staff had keeping you out last time? Probably. C'mon, I'll walk you back," He stuck his hands in his pockets and trailed along with her, heading towards the back of the waiting area and the corridor leading back to ICU. "Seen your blonde playmate again?"

"No. Any word on the Winchester brothers?"

"Not really. Still critical," O'Brien shook his head. "The older one was conscious briefly earlier, according to the nursing staff, but went back under after a few minutes. No real change yet on the younger."

"That's good though, right? Means Dean's coming out of it a bit?" Faith sent a worried look up at him.

"Beats me," he shrugged. "They took a lot of damage, and the doctors aren't exactly sticking their necks out to give us a prognosis."

She frowned, shaking her head. She noticed there was a plain clothes standing across the corridor outside of ICU - he had that distinct 'cop feel' to him. O'Brien gave him a nod as they went by, confirming it to her mind. O'Brien gave Faith a vague wave in the direction of the Winchester's beds as he went over to ask the nurse some questions. She took it as a 'go ahead' anyway, and wandered over to Dean's bed, stopping by Sam's briefly to look down at him.

She brushed lank hair from Dean's eyes when she reached him, and stood gazing down at him, frowning. Worried and trying to sort out what was going on inside of her, as well. Nice guy all in all, and she'd liked him well enough - well enough to spend the night with him anyway. But she'd already figured out this wasn't a 'keeper', if there was even such a thing for her any more. They'd have been parting ways in a day or so anyway, even if he and Sam had stayed over another day or so...

So why the sick ache in her gut, looking down at the damage the vampire bitch had done to him and his brother? Sure - she was sorry that he'd gotten hurt by something coming after her. And once she figured out how to get a line on and locate the bitch, she was going to put paid to the blonde assassin for that. She hadn't quite figured out all the angles on this 'good/bad' thing yet, but she had figured out that you don't let things casually damage bystanders and get away with it. You don't let them trash people you like just to get a rise out of you either. But... she'd seen guys she'd bedded killed before, afterwards, and hadn't been this trashed over it. Sucked, yeah, and it pissed you off, but it happened - it was part of the territory.

Dean and his brother were demon hunters; it was a part of their territory now, too. Just like the three month to two year shelf life on a slayer: sooner or later they were going to go up against something bigger and badder, and it was going to be the death of one or both of them. If not the bitch stalking Faith, then something they found on their own, or the demon haunting their family.

'Gettin' soft, girl. Just like Angelus taunted you with when you were trying to put Angel's soul back in him,' she thought. 'Is this a part of the learning to be a good guy thing they forgot to mention?' She didn't have a map for this territory, didn't know if they made one even, and didn't know how to navigate it.

If the blonde Kindrel hadn't been lying through her fangs, she'd marked Faith and the Winchesters had only been a way to get Faith's attention. Best thing Faith could do for Dean and his brother was to get as far away from them as possible, if that were the case, and draw the bitch after her.

She found herself reluctant to do that, though, smart thing or not. And looking down at Dean and trying to will him to come awake and get better, it suddenly hit her that it had nothing to do with the vampire or the fact that he and his brother had probably gotten hurt because of her. Nothing and everything to do with the fact that she'd liked him enough to spend the night with him even after meeting his family's pet demon the hard way...

She'd woken up in a place like this once, scared, alone, and not quite sure what was going on or really where she was even. Only knowing that she hurt, and she was alone, and in a hospital. She didn't want someone she kind of liked going through that, waking up without any face or voice they knew around them.

And she didn't want to go off and never know for certain if they'd even woken up, or died here. 'Is it as simple as that?' Faith wondered. 'How the hell do normal people figure this stuff out, and why does it hurt so damned much?'

"You ok?" O'Brien's voice brought her abruptly out of the inside of her head. She raised her head absently to find the older cop watching her like a puzzle he was trying to figure out. 'Join the club, cop. You figure me out, send a clue my way'.

"No. Yeah. Maybe," she shook her head, and gave him a smile that felt like it was pasted on.

"Here," he handed her a handkerchief. "You're leaking."

She took it with a surprised look at him, then touched her cheek and brought her fingertips away to find them wet. "So I am. Thanks." She used the kerchief to wipe her face and eyes, crumpled it and started to hand it back.

"Keep it," O'Brien gave her a half smile. "Kind of a serious attachment for a one night stand, eh?"

Faith winced slightly, then gave him a sour look. "Yeah. I was just trying to figure that out myself." She narrowed her eyes slightly, "You always test people with a dull knife, Five-oh?"

His turn to wince slightly. "Yeah. Gets to be a job habit."

"Must be kind of rough on your friends," Faith gave a harsh laugh. "Never mind." She shook it off with a toss of her head, "You get anything out of the nurse?"

"A little bit," O'Brien nodded. He motioned at the bed, "Dean Winchester is supposed to be more or less ok once they get him stabilized, unless he has internal injuries they haven't found yet. The brother though... he had internal bleeding as well and they're low on his blood type."

"Crap," Faith looked over at the other bed, eyes dark. Something dimly remembered from several years ago joggled at her memory. "Hey... " O'Brien raised his eyebrows in a questioning look. "Can you ask if they can take from a donor?"

"Yeah. Why?"

"Something I think I overheard from when I was in a hospital last... my blood type's O-something?" She shook her head, "Can't remember. I don't get sick often. Something about a universal donor?"



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