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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)IronbearFR1833190,3063016764,02529 Sep 0718 Oct 13Yes

"Not playing by the rules... "

Chapter 6: "Not playing by the rules... "

"Here you go," Detective Giambione handed her a plastic bottle of Sunny Delight from one of the nearby convenience stores.

"My hero," Faith smirked. "A cop being nice to me. I'm all freaking out here." She batted her eyelashes at him. She was lying on an ICU bed at the moment with a large band aid on her inner arm from where they'd extracted blood, and feeling almost as woozy as the time Angelus had started to drain her.

Giambione smirked back, "We're softening you up for the rubber hoses later. More effective when you're lulled into a sense of false security."

"It's working. You can't believe how falsely secure I feel."

"Good. Hate for the effort to go to waste. A dollar and nineteen cents on a cop's salary is a lot of money," he looked pointedly at the orange juice. "I'll have to put in overtime now."

*snicker* "I'll pay you back, honest." She gave him a wide-eyed and earnest look, "Just as soon as they let me up I'll go knock over an ATM."

"Stop that," he laughed. "You're not supposed to warn me of prior intent. I'll have to arrest you."

"Ooh. With like, handcuffs and everything?" She almost snorted orange juice out her nose at his expression.

"I give up," he rolled his eyes slightly. "I'll let Obie deal with you. He's better with delinquents"

"Quitter." She frowned, "Obie?"

"O'Brien. Obie for short." His turn to frown, "You'd probably best stick to O'Brien until you know him better."

"Ah. No worries," she gave him a mischievous look. "I'm going to come up with my own ways to annoy him. No fair stealing yours - that's cheating." Faith's eyes sobered slightly, and she glanced at the younger Winchester's bed. "Hope this does some good."

"Can't hurt," he shrugged. "You planning to stick around here for awhile?"

"Not going anywhere. They want to check me in a bit, the nurse said, and take some more blood later if they think I can survive it." Faith made a face. "After that... there's a waiting area up the hall a bit with a good view of the ICU. Figure I'll park myself there until morning." She lifted an eyebrow at him, "Why? Want to make sure where I am so I won't walk in on you ransacking my rooms?"

"Ha. No - just wanted to know where you'd be in case we need to lay hands on you for some reason," Giambione laughed, handing her the other bottle of SunnyD. "Later."

"First handcuffs, now you're getting grabby," she shook her head. "I'm going to make you buy me dinner before you go any farther."

Giambione laughed again as he wandered off, presumably to find his partner. Faith lay there nursing the OJ and brooding as the wooziness wore off, waiting for the ICU staff to get around to deciding they could drain her again. Worse than freaking vampires. She wasn't going to let them know that she'd recover from the two pints or so of blood loss a lot faster than they thought - it kept her where she wanted to be anyway without having to dodge the nursing staff.

Once they were done with taking blood, some time later, they cut her loose to free up the bed and left her to her own devices after making certain they had all of her information and cell phone number in case they needed more. True to her word, she found herself cooling her heels in the small waiting area off to one side of the corridor leading to ICU. Evidently, O'Brien or his partner had said something to the plainclothesman parked nearby about her, for beyond the occasional nod or hello, he paid her no mind when she went into or out of the ICU ward.

Even with taking the occasional patrol around the hospital and grounds, and spending time looking in on Dean and his brother, she could tell this was going to be a long night. Next time, she decided, she'd bring her laptop or something to read. The little waiting area had a television on a wall mount, but after a quick run through of the cable channels, she gave up on it in disgust. She found a chair that gave her a decent view out the door to the doors of the ICU, crossed her legs at the ankles in front of her, and settled in to watch and wait.

With little else to occupy her, she found herself worrying at the puzzle presented by Detective O'Brien and his partner. It was obvious to her that the tall detective knew more than he'd gathered from his partner's crime database check - listening in on the phone call and conversation between them with slayer hearing had told her that much. Several of the tidbits he'd dropped during the hallway questioning had confirmed that for her... at some point, he'd obviously decided to make a project out of researching one Faith LeHane and her background.

Whatever he'd run across doing that, it didn't seem to have prejudiced him against her for some reason. Interesting. While not exactly friendly, the tall cop was less hostile than guarded and cautious towards her. His partner, Giambione, seemed to have decided on a somewhat guarded friendliness of his own. O'Brien also hadn't seemed surprised by her mention of the Winchester's neck wounds. Apparently, odder than normal crimes and assaults weren't something that his Major Cases squad were unfamiliar with. 'So... have you had a rash of BBQ fork murders in Philly, detective?' Faith wondered. 'And are you feeling me out trying to do the same thing I am with you - trying to decide if I'm enemy or possible ally?'

She didn't have the feeling that he was sizing her up as a potential easy solve for his problems, and that both surprised and disturbed her a bit. Non-hostile cops were outside of her experience.

Her cell phone going off was almost a welcome relief from the circles her mind was running in. She wasn't having much better luck figuring out O'Brien than she was her vampire stalker. Or herself, for that matter.

"Yo," Faith said, flipping her TracFone open.

"Faith?" Dawn Summers' voice, both cautious and a little hesitant. Hesitant?

"Hey, Little-D? What's up?" A surprisingly pleasant thrill at the familiar voice went through her, along with a slight wince of guilt - she hadn't remembered to stay in touch after leaving NYC and Blade's like she'd said she would.

"Not much. Taking a short break from studying and thought I'd give you a shout," Dawn paused. "I didn't hear from you after the big Apocalypse passed on us."

"Aw, crap. Sorry, Dawnie," Faith sighed. "I was out of it for a couple of days, and then it took me longer to wrap up getting out of New York than I'd planned."

"No big, really."

"I said I'd call, sorry. I just... forgot." Jeez, that sounded lame to her own ears. "Got wrapped up in things."

"It's ok," Dawn said. "No big. So... where'd you end up? And how goes the journey?"

"Philly for now. And it kind of dead ended on me while I deal with a few things here."

"You sound a bit distracted. Did I catch you in the middle of something?"

Faith choked down a wild impulse to laugh hysterically at that. "You... could kind of say that," she started snickering helplessly, unable to stop for a minute.

"Ummm... you want me to let you go and call later?"

"No... " Faith got the snickering under control, with an effort. "Sorry. Just... with everything right now, that was just a really unfortunate question, timing wise."

"What's up?" Dawn sounded about halfway between bemused and exasperated.

Good gods... where to begin on that one? "Cooling my heels right now in a hospital," she began...

"Christ! Are you ok?" Wow. Bemused to concerned in seconds flat.

"Yeah! Whoa - calm down. I'm ok," Faith shook her head. "Just... having a problem that has fangs, and some acquaintances of mine got blindsided by it. I'm kind of keeping a watch on their hospital room at night while I figure out what to do about it."

"Ah. Tell me about it?" There was still something in the younger girl's voice Faith was having a hard time pinning down.

"Yeah... lemme figure out where to start," Faith paused, then launched in and laid things out from her arrival in Philly.

"Wow. And crap." Dawn's voice was sober, "Demon hunters, possession demons, and vampire assassins. Was kind of hoping you'd get a break after all that crap with Robin, and then New Jersey and the Pit. So this vamp trashed your friends just to get your attention?"

"No joy, I guess. A peaceful vacation doesn't seem to be in the cards," Faith laughed a bit sourly. "And, yeah... or so she says."

"Ok, so how'd this vampire assassin know to pick up on you there?" Dawn asked. "You didn't tell anyone that you were headed to Philadelphia next, right?"

"Huh... " Faith gave a long startled pause. "That's... a damned good question, Dawn. I am having an off-my-game week. And, no... " She frowned, thinking. "Wes. Doubt he'd sell me out, or Angel. No one else I can think of."

"Four days... five to six maybe," Dawn's voice was thoughtful. "That's not a lot of time to spot you and get someone there to deal with you, with no advance notice. Possible that someone spotted you and sold you to her?"

"Possible... " Faith's voice was doubtful. "Only thing I can think of, right now, maybe. I haven't really been doing any hunting or prowling the vampire and demon haunts since I got here, but... possible that a Familiar spotted me and gave me over."

"Hrrmm. Let's give that some thought and see if anything comes to mind," Dawn said. "Anything I can do to help? Or that we can?"

"Ha. I'm trying to picture giving my suspicious cop, O'Brien, a group of mini-slayers and watchers running amok to deal with on top of me. The mental image is making my brain hurt," Dawn snickered at that, and Faith laughed. "You, maybe... nose around a bit and see if anyone's heard anything about this open contract on me she mentioned?" Faith paused, thinking, "Maybe if you know of anyone in Philly who does healing magics?"

"Can do. I'll check if there's any Healers there we know, too," Dawn agreed. "So... your demon hunter. What's he like? Spill all."

"Hrrm. Good looking. Kind of nice in spite of the bad boy thing. Not bad in the sack," Dawn giggled at that. "Don't know him that well, otherwise."

"Anything special there?"

"Ahh... yeah. Maybe." Faith frowned, "Not a keeper though. Going separate directions right now."

"Ah. Not just scratching the itch though, from the sound of it."

"Dawn! I'm a bad influence on you, I can tell," Faith paused while Dawn was giggling, "Started out that way, a bit. But... I don't like things using my friends to get to me. S'not allowed."

"Yeah. Agree. What's the plan, the usual?"

"Yup. Locate, lure her in, and ice her. Just as soon as I figure out the details," Faith agreed in a dry tone. Oh. It suddenly hit her what the diffident and cautious tone in the other girl's voice had been. Younger sister of the other slayer, who'd been pushed aside and/or basically ignored by big sis to protect her. Who'd gotten to be kind of friends and confidantes with the other older slayer - who'd apparently milked her brain during a crisis then dropped abruptly out of contact and dumped her afterwards, to all appearances. After being a friend when Faith needed her. Crap...

"Heya, Dawnie?" Her voice was soft.

"Yeah?"

"It is a big, and I'm sorry. Won't happen again," Faith said. "I'm not real good at this friends thing yet, y'know?"

"Yeah... " The other girl's voice was soft too. "I know. Me neither, really."

"You?" Faith's voice came out surprised. "I don't get that."

"Hey - grew up on the Hellmouth, right? Even if most of my memories of growing up there aren't real, they're still real in my head," Dawn laughed. "Home of the dysfunctional relationship, remember?" She sounded thoughtful, "Moving there like I remember would've broken up what few friendships I had in LA. Xander and Willow were buds, but they were Buffy's friends: Xan and Will were more like another big brother and sister. And after things did get real... between Glory and everything else up to the First, mom dying, Buffy dying and coming back, things were kinda weird at best." She snickered, "My only real close friend was a psychotic vampire with a stalker fixation on my sister and an anti-violence chip in his head."

"Hah. Yeah... I guess so." Faith laughed, "Not much of a basis for figuring out this life thing, huh?"

"Yup. Maybe you're not the only one who isn't real tightly wrapped sometimes," Dawn's voice went soft again. "I have a lot of acquaintances, it seems like. Somehow you're the only grownup friend I've made so far that's mine, you know? Not Buffy's friend who's just nice to the kid sis."

"Huh. Yeah. Me too... " Faith did find herself surprised by that. "Angel, for me, but that's different. Complicated. Vi, maybe."

"Complicated, yeah. Good word. Like me and Spike."

"Yeah. Look... " Faith paused, thinking. "Can't promise I'm always going to be good at this, y'know? But you kept me sane that week or so after Robin and I went smash and I was trying to deal with the Pit an' all. Means a lot. I'm not gonna just drop off and dump you." She laughed softly, "I may lose track a bit when things get hairy on me though. "

"No worries. Maybe we can figure out this friends thing together?" Dawn paused, then, "You have to make sure not to die on me though, you hear?"

"Yeah. Working on that one."

"Serious. Don't let trying to protect your friends make you forget that they want to help, too," Dawn said. "If you need help there, call someone."

"I will. If it does get too hairy... I'll give Blade and Abby a shout. Maybe Vi." Faith nodded into the phone. "Why don't I give you a call tomorrow after I get up if I can remember how the time thing works, and I'll fill you in on what happened after we last talked from Jersey City, all right?"

"Sounds good. Don't worry about the time difference - if it's late, I'll probably be up studying anyway. Be a good break from the books."

"Good deal," Faith said. "Think I'm going to take another patrol around the ER and grounds here. My butt's going to sleep planted in this chair."

After they made their good byes, Faith stood and stretched, then did just that. Still nothing off around the place. Maybe blondie had meant it when she gave her word that Dean and Sam had no more danger from her. Faith was still going to feel a lot better about it when they recovered enough to be moved to a room that could be warded.

Coming back through the crowded ER, she slowed a bit, something niggling at the edges of her awareness. She glanced around casually as she headed slowly across the to hallway leading to ICU. There, maybe... another plainclothes cop leaning on the counter talking with one of the desk nurses. He had that look to him that spelled 'police' to her, plus something else she couldn't quite figure. She spotted one of the ICU nurses from earlier and veered that way to lean over the desk next to the plainclothesman, asking the nurse if there was any change in the Winchesters, or if they needed any more blood from her. Listening in on the cop's conversation with the other nurse all the while.

Getting a negative response to both questions from the nurse, she headed back to ICU and her waiting area, frowning.

The earlier cop by the ICU doors had been replaced, evidently. Instead, there was a huge, very black detective with a mustache leaning against the wall. Nothing 'off' about this one. He felt pure human to her slayer sense, and non-evil, or as close as she could ever tell with people.

"Man. They grow them big down here," she stopped in front of him before heading into the ICU ward.

"They grow them small where ever you're from," he grinned down at her. This one could almost give Blade a run for his money in the tall-plus-muscles department.

"Hey - dynamite comes in small packages, guy." She cocked her head looking up at him, quirking a smile. "You one of O'Brien's people?"

"Yeah," he said. "You'd be the Lehane girl, right?"

"Got it in one," she leaned forward, and added softly, "You see the badge in the suit talking to the desk nurse, just past my shoulder?"

His eyes flicked casually in that direction and back to her, suddenly alert, "Yeah, baby?"

"He one of your people?" Faith gave him a serious look when he shrugged, "He was asking the nurse up there a lot of questions about the Winchesters."

"Hrmmm... " He glanced over her head and past her again, then back.

"Dunno. Just seems kinda 'off' to me," Faith shrugged, "Might want to pass that on to O'Brien?"

He nodded and she stepped past him and into the ICU, wondering if she'd just done the right thing, or made a major screwup in alerting the big cop. Trusting her instincts that O'Brien both knew more than he was saying and that she was reading him right was unfamiliar territory, and something that could blow up on her badly.

But ignoring a cop that gave off a faint whiff of vampiric taint to her senses could blow up even worse, and dealing with something like that was so far out of her job description it wasn't funny.

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

Dean tossed in his sleep a few times while she was watching him this time, mumbling incoherently at times. His eyes never opened and he didn't wake up, but she could see eye movement under his closed lids that indicated he was dreaming. Progress, maybe. She hoped. She stroked his brow and spoke to him softly for a bit, and he eventually stopped tossing and turning and went deeper to sleep.

Back in her chair, she leaned back and watched the rest of the night without incident, dozing at times. She saw the 'off' feeling plainclothes cop leave after awhile, and when she went to the doors to watched, he seemed to drive off from the hospital and leave the lot. He didn't come back that she saw or sensed. Patrolling the grounds and ER didn't turn up anything threatening, either.

By near morning, she was bored, restless, and past ready to kill something. Inactivity was something that had never sat real well with her. She'd much rather hunt than wait over a watering hole for game... problem was, she didn't have a good idea where to start hunting. In an unfamiliar city with a dangerous predator hunting her, running amok blindly tearing up stuff and beating the bushes was a good way to get dead, fast. Telling herself that didn't help.

And there was also the consideration that playing a waiting game and letting her stalker pick her own time and place to come after Faith was a good way to get dead, too...

Faith didn't care much for any of her options right at the moment. And she needed more information before she could create better ones - information she didn't have. Where and how to get it was the question.

A bit less than a hour before dawn she took a last patrol, and decided that it was probably safe enough at this point to leave and head back to her hotel. Assassin bitch could show up at this point and do something to the Winchester brothers if she were inclined to not keep her word, but she'd be cutting it a bit close to sunrise.

Back at her hotel, she puttered around a bit unwinding. Still too wired to sleep, and too close to daylight for vampire hunting. She hooked up her laptop and checked to see if Wes had set up the files he'd promised. Finding them uploaded, she grabbed them and set them downloading while she thought on her problem. Looking at the files, something Wesley had mentioned gave her a germ of an idea. 'Enemy of my enemy may not be my friend,' she thought, 'but they can be damned useful at times. Hrmm.'

She had a damned good idea of the hours Blade, King, and Abby kept, and knew that someone would be awake over there. She thought about it a bit more and dialed the number of the compound from memory. Abby picked up the phone after several rings.

"Yo, Abs. How goes?"

"Faith? Hey!" Cool - Abby sounded glad to hear from her, at least. "What's up?"

"Usual," Faith grinned into the phone. She suddenly remembered how much she'd enjoyed her time with the odd trio of vampire hunters. "How's you?"

"Pretty good, all in all. We've been working on putting the Nightstalkers back together after Drake wiped most of them out. Otherwise... it's been a bit dull since you wandered off," Abby laughed. "It's good to hear from you."

"Hey - don't knock dull. Dull is good sometimes."

"Is that the voice of experience?" Abby asked.

"Umm.... welll... " Faith laughed. "Let me get back to you on that. Next time I see 'dull', I'll try it and let you know."

"About what I thought. Usual - that means you're up to your eyebrows tearing up demon bars somewhere?"

"Something like," Faith agreed. "Got a question for you: I'm checking into a vampire problem, and could use some intel. You happen to know of any major vampire bars or haunts in Philly and where they're located? Or possibly some of the bigger Draaken players out here?"

"Philly? Not offhand. Blade probably would, but he's out hunting still... " Abby said. "You need it right this second?"

"Naw. If you can turn up something... can email me the names and locations, maybe?"

"No problem. Huh... " Abby's voice grew thoughtful. "Anything that you need a hand with?"

"Possible. I can maybe give you a shout if it's more than I can handle myself?"

"Do that. No 'maybe' to it."

"Good deal." Faith chatted to the other slayer for a bit, then clicked off with a promise to call back sometime soon.

Pulling the mess of files back up, she continued to read through until she wound down enough to start feeling sleepy, finally. When she caught herself yawning and having to reread something for the third time, she decided it was past time to call it quits for the night. Giving the files a quick glance over, she bundled up everything that didn't have a Wolfram and Hart identifier on or in it, which was the majority, then set them uploading to her own web storage and shot emails to Vi and Dawn with a download url and a note to check and grab them in a couple of hours or later for reference.

Might as well spread the joys, she figured, and went to bed.

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

(Day 4; Monday, December 8, 2003)

Six hours of sleep, and plenty well rested. Dreamless sleep at that, or mostly so, which was interesting. Meant that whatever she was wrapped up into wasn't apocalyptic since the Powers weren't taking enough of an interest to send her cryptic hints... merely life threatening.

Faith decided upon reflection that that really wasn't all that reassuring.

She grabbed a shower, then followed it up with an hours workout in the hotel gym followed by breakfast. She went back to reading through the materials Wesley had sent, frowning and thinking things through in context with the current situation. Useful, not a great deal of immediate help, and raised a number of interesting and disconcerting possibilities when placed in context with any number of other bits of information. 'Too many blue sky pieces, Faith,' she thought. 'Need to find something that the rest of this clicks around... ' There were times, she reflected, that it would be handy to have a real, full time Watcher so she wouldn't have to puzzle through things herself. But that'd mean getting tied back in tighter with the IWC than she cared for right now...

Her cell went off while she was worrying at things. She picked it up, frowned at the display, then grinned and took the call.

"Abby?"

"Faith. Good morning?"

"Morning, anyway, for me at least. Hold the 'good' for now," Faith said in a dry tone. "What's up?"

"Check your email when you get a chance: there's a few possibilities for you to run down on what you were asking about," Abby said. "Starting places anyway, at least on the players - they tend to move around."

"Cool, thanks." Faith thought a moment, "Can reciprocate. You have Skype?"

"Sure. Whatcha got?" Abby read off her Skype ID and number.

"Catch a file package, then. Hang on... let me get a transfer set up." Faith pulled the laptop over and added Abby's ID to her user list, then started the transfer running after Abby ok'd her on her end. "A bunch of stuff Wes sent me that you guys might find useful. Most of the Draaken stuff you probably already have, but there may be odds and ends of things you don't in it. And there's a lot of info on the standard demonic Kaineron vamps, plus bits on some of the rarer types." She paused, "And something that may be new to you guys as well."

"Cool. The demonic vampire stuff will come in handy: we've been seeing a lot more of them lately." Abby stated. "Calls for some differences in tactics and knowing which kind you're dealing with."

"Drawn to the baby Hellmouth," Faith said. "Figures. Demons are drawn to demonic power sinks."

"Yeah. Luckily, our normal vampires tend to hunt them as much as we do."

"Get a couple of Master level ones migrating in to the Hellmouth, and that can get interesting." Faith mused, "They can breed like rats once that happens."

"It's already interesting," Abby laughed. "Between that, the turmoil we spread shaking up all of the demon bars out here, and Vince's little demonic gangland cleanup op, things have been hopping a bit. Blade said that if he'd known how much chaos you left in your wake ahead of time, he would have left you for vampire food." She paused, "I think he was joking, though... "

"Blade jokes?" Faith said in a wondering tone, then snickered. "Wow. Do you have that on film?"

"On rare occasions he does," Abby said, her voice dry. "It's hard to tell sometimes."

"I'll bet. Well... at least no one dropped you in an active Hellmouth with one stuffy old British fart and a couple of high school kids for backup," Faith laughed. 'Speaking of... did you decide to get in touch with Vi after I left?"

"Yeah. We set up a meet on neutral ground and got things going, then agreed to visit the school and council building. Your friend Vi seems ok," Abby laughed. "Rupert Giles and Blade struck sparks off of each other a bit, though. You should have been there."

Faith snickered, "I'd have paid good money to see that meeting." Abby laughed and agreed that it was choice, and Faith added, "Giles is generally ok, but he has a tendency to not deal well with things that fall outside of his concepts of 'how it is done'. He does adjust though, and his heart's usually in the right place." She paused a moment, considering, "Not always certain about his judgment. Suspect he has some of the same problem I do: he's field people at heart, and administration's not something he always copes well with."

"Maybe," Abby sounded dubious.

"Well, once he and Vi get finished sorting out the issues Robin left behind, he'll head back to England and Vi will be the one you'll be dealing with."

Abby snickered, "She and Hannibal hit it off pretty well."

"Hey, there ya go," Faith said. "Maybe you can get King laid over there and unwind him a bit. Win/win, y'know?"

Both women laughed, then Abby asked, "So, what have you got going in Philly?"

*sigh* "Almost wish you hadn't asked," Faith said. "Not quite sure yet, but it's nasty." She gave Abby a brief rundown of the situation.

"Ok... " There was a long silence on Abby's end of the conversation. "Out on the edge with no backup. Not good, Faith. Want us to set things out up here to run without us, and then head down that way?"

"Almost the same thing Dawn asked me," Faith sighed. "Yes, like nothing better. And no... not just yet."

"You have a tendency to lone wolf things until you're sure just what you need help with, don't you," Abby stated. "It's going to get you killed one of these days, Faith. Sooner or later things will snowball on you while you're figuring them out, and it'll be too late to shout for help."

"Yeah... " Faith said. "Not disagreeing. Thing is... I have cop issues too, and I'm not sure I want to drop you guys in the middle of them until I'm sure they won't become your cop problems when I do."

"Cop issues, huh," Abby said. "Cop issues, or Familiar issues?"

"Cop, definitely Maybe both," Faith paused, thinking. "I'm pretty sure O'Brien and his partners are clean and level. But right now, neither of us are completely sure about each other. Don't want to send things all pear shaped until I know whether he's enemy or ally - that's a damned good way to make an enemy when you don't have to." She paused, adding, "And I'm pretty sure there's at least one familiar involved. I seem to have gotten more sensitive lately: I can kind of sense when something is 'off' about someone, and this guy definitely has the taint."

"Hmmm. Tell you what. I'll talk to the others, and we'll set up so we can head down at a moments notice," Abby said. "Remember what you taught me: rule number one is 'don't die', Faith. You can't sort anything out if you get killed on us."

"Yes mommy. And I'll be sure to dry behind my ears, too." Faith's voice was dry.

Abby laughed, "Yeah yeah. I know: I'm telling the pro how to steal sheep." Her voice sobered, "Pros get killed too, Faith."

"Yeah. Thanks," Faith's voice softened. "I know. Catch up on the stuff I sent over... this may call for slightly different tactics and hardware than what you guys are used to. When I have targets, I'll give you a call."

"Do that," Abby agreed. "Take care of yourself, ok?"

"Will do." Faith clicked off the phone, feeling both unsettled and oddly comforted by the other girl's concern. Having other people worried for her wasn't something she was used to, still. Strange feeling for her.

'First Dawn, now this. I'm definitely getting soft,' she thought. Problem was... she seemed to have misplaced the ability to recapture the old 'don't need nobody' edge somewhere along the way, and she couldn't manage to convince herself that recapturing it was a good thing.

Speaking of Dawn, she'd promised the younger girl a call last night. Might as well... nothing to do right now except assassinate the clock until darkness fell. They managed to kill the rest of the afternoon into the early evening catching up on the closing of the Pit outside of Jersey City and events afterwards. And in catching up on things at Dawn's end. Faith finally ended the call after noticing the time and remarking that she needed to get some food before heading out. She cut the connection with a vague feeling of regret, realizing that she was enjoying the casual conversation and closeness more than she'd expected. 'Yup, definitely getting soft,' she thought.

She took some things out of her kit and stashed them around her coat for armaments, then headed down to the hotel restaurant to grab a meal before heading out for the night.

Dark had fallen by the time she finished and started out to her bike. Early darkness - there was still a very faint glow over the horizon as she exited the hotel.

Not early enough... she heard a faint ripping sound through the air with a sharp *twang!* following a moment behind it. She was already moving, throwing herself forward into a flat diving roll as the sound of shattering safety glass came from nearby the spot she'd just left. 'Crossbow' her mind registered even as she was rolling to her feet and taking a fast, long step to put a vehicle between herself and the direction the bolt came from. 'Above and behind where I was standing,' went through her mind as she moved to the front of the SUV she'd ended up behind. Cocking and loading sounds came to her as she was moving, fast ones. Vampiric speed.

She risked straightening to throw a fast glance in the direction the cocking sounds had come from, and another bolt slammed into the roof of the SUV, six inches to the left of her head. There - top of the parking garage just past the restaurant.

Faith straightened the rest of the way and stepped around the front of the vehicle, ready to dodge in either direction. "Missed me," she remarked, regarding the blonde vampiress three stories above her.

"I hit right where I was aiming, Slayer," the blonde said, matter of fact. She continued to cock and load the crossbow while regarding Faith, and walking casually along the edge of the parking garage rooftop parallel to her.

"Playing games?" Faith snorted. "That'll get you killed, lick."

"You're the one playing games, Slayer. Mis-playing them." She had the crossbow loaded now, holding it casually in one hand, butt resting on her hip. Modern design, a Barnett, Faith noted. One hundred and eighty five pound draw, over 400+ feet per second, self-cocking. "Hiding in your warded hotel room by day, taking advantage of my word to lurk in the Winchester's ICU ward at night... not playing by the rules."

"Why don't you come down here and we'll discuss it?" Faith laughed, making it scornful. "Ain't no 'rules' in this." Fifty feet to the parking garage entrance from where she stood, maybe sixty. Unknown distance to the stairwell from inside, and three flights up. The blonde 'Death Dealer' had picked her spot nicely. Slayers were capable of feats of agility that would make an Olympic gymnast croak from envy or give up in disgust, but a three story leap upwards wasn't one of them. No real hand holds to jump to and use to launch herself up, not without getting picked off by that crossbow while climbing.

"All in good time, as I said before," the blonde stated, calmly. "This is show and tell: incentive time. I can reach you whenever I wish, and I can escalate the incentives until you decide to stop hiding and come after me."

"Oh, don't sweat the small stuff, bitch," Faith said, moving forward a bit. "I'll come for you in my own good time, not yours." The huntress was too far out and up for a throwing spike or stake: she'd be gone before it hit. No gun... she regretted deciding to leave those hidden while she sorted out O'Brien, not wanting to deal with firearms hassles. A single sundog round would end this. Maybe, Faith thought... she still wasn't that great a shot, and hadn't had much time for practice and training.

"I have other business besides yourself, Slayer. I'm not interested in your time table." While the blonde was talking, Faith took another step forward, then another, closing the distance slightly. She palmed a UV-grenade while her hand was hidden behind her trailing leg and thumbed the arming switch, stepping forward again. 10... 9... 8...

"We've established neither of us care about the other's concerns," Faith snickered, stepping forward again. 5... 4... The crossbow came level and fired, aimed dead on for her this time, not to one side. Her left hand blurred and she caught the bolt out of the air just behind the head, stopping it dead inches away from her left eye.

Faith flipped the crossbow bolt and threw it back at almost normal crossbow velocity. She stepped in as the blonde sidestepped it predictably, bringing her right arm up and pegging the UV-grenade at the vampiress, hard and fast. "Or, I can come up and we can talk, I'm easy," she said, running flat out for the parking garage entrance.

The grenade went off ahead and above her as she reached the entranceway, a brief burst of concentrated sunlight lighting up the parking lot and the side of the Marriott as it burst. She heard a horrible scream shortly after as she paused just inside, eyes blinking away flash spots and searching for the stairway. Faith headed for the stairs, fast, low and cautious, taking out a pair of throwing spikes as she ran. They were waiting for her on the third level, as she'd almost expected them to be, by the landing leading up to the rooftop. Two of them moving in from the sides, right and left, one part way up the stairs waiting to block and grab her if she made it past the first two.

Vampire fast, or maybe a bit faster than normal vampires. The two at her sides lunged in, claws reaching and fangs agape, blurring as they closed on her. A throwing spike caught each one in the heart as she went past and between them, silvered steel with an ironwood covering over the first five inches past the point. They made shocked choking sounds at the impacts and were falling as she went by. 'Paralyzed, not dusting, as Wesley described. Kindrel like the blonde,' she thought, taking the stairs three at a time to meet the third one. 'Finish them later, if they're still here.'

Number three hesitated, just a split second of it, evidently not expecting her speed, or not expecting her to make it past the first two so easily. Idiot. She went under his reaching arm as he struck at her, blurring as she moved. The twelve inch blade of the big Moeller bowie wasn't as good as a sword for this, but with slayer strength behind it it would do the job. His head came apart from his shoulders as she spun two stairs above him and her right arm and hand came across at neck height. His body and head came apart seconds later as whatever animated his body left it and corruption caught up with his dead flesh.

There was nothing except dust and rot on the stairs behind her as she burst out onto the roof level, diving forward and left as she did and coming up with blade in one hand and another spike in the other.

Nothing on the roof level, either. Faith moved cautiously to the last place she'd seen the vampiress, senses alive as she went. No sound, and no dust or decay in the vicinity where the grenade had gone off. Not enough wind up here to have blown it away this fast, not tonight. Her heightened senses picked up a faint scent of burnt flesh and hair a few yards from where she'd last seen the blonde assassin, and that was all. 'Bitch has more lives than a cat,' she thought, and a wolf's smile passed over her lips. 'But at least she can be hurt. Next time... '

Too many places for the blonde to have gone from here, and no real way to track her. The hotel wall where the roof parking level butted up against it was easily scaled by a vampire, and if she'd gone the other way while Faith was running up the stairs and dealing with her minions, a three story drop was nothing to vampiric strength. She examined the area carefully, making sure the blonde wasn't lurking anywhere in the vicinity, recovered the spent UV-grenade, and headed back down the stairwell.

Both minions were still where she'd left them, collapsed motionless on the concrete near the stairwell. She glanced around cautiously as she went down to them. No traffic here at the moment, foot or vehicle. Good. Someone had evidently taken a dislike to the only security camera focused on the stairwell area and the Marriott hadn't replaced it yet: it was bent on its mount aiming at the ceiling, and the little red light was dead. None of the other cameras on this level covered this spot in their arcs. She grinned, moving to the two paralyzed minions and examining them.

A quick, sharp chop with the big bowie across the neck disposed of one of them, and she recovered her spike before he came apart in decay. She smashed the other one's knees with a boot and then bent him backwards, breaking his back for good measure, before jerking the spike out and squatting on her haunches a few feet away, regarding him.

He gasped and contorted, then focused on her with a glare, gnashing his fangs. "You bitch!"

"Now, now. Language, chuckles," Faith said, holding the bowie casually as she looked him over. "You'll heal, if I let you live long enough."

"You are so fucking dead, it's not even funny."

"Gee. I'm not the one with broken knees and back who has a slayer looking at him," Faith smirked. "Talk to me. Or I drag you up to the hotel roof, put this back in, and leave you for sunrise," she flipped the spike in her left hand.

"Fuck you," he snarled at her, and snapped his fangs futilely.

"Whatever," she stood easily, and flipped the spike into a throwing grip, regarding him dispassionately.

"Wait!" He choked out. "What do you want?"

"Your blonde bitch playmate have a name?"

"You let me live if I tell you what you want?"

She just looked at him flatly, giving him no promises. "I'll kill you if you don't. I understand that sunlight's a hard way to go."

"Elora. She calls herself Elora," he choked out, like the words hurt him.

"Where can I find her? And what does she have planned here?"

He laughed, harshly. "We're just hired muscle. She didn't tell us anything like that." He made a sour face, "Promised us the blood of a Slayer. Yeah, right."

"Elora, huh?" Faith cocked her head, "There a Master of your kind in this city? Or a Prince?"

"They don't have much to do with us street kindrel. Except to hunt us down and kill us," he shook his head and winced. "Santos is Prince of the Kindrel courts here," he added finally as she continued to regard him. "I don't know where he lives... "

Faith nodded, and then stepped forward leaning down. Her arm blurred and his head came off. "Thanks." She left his dust moldering on the floor and headed down and out to her bike, senses alert and watchful. Nothing bothered her this time, and she started the big BMW after checking it over and took off for the hospital.



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