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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)IronbearFR1833190,3063016764,11229 Sep 0718 Oct 13Yes

"An idealistic one, and at your age, too..."

Chapter 8: "An idealistic one, and at your age, too..."

(Day 5; Tuesday, December 9, 2003)

Morning came early for her but she was well rested in spite of the two hours sleep. Catnapping in that chair hadn't been the most comfortable thing, but it had helped recharge the batteries. Slayers didn't need much sleep over all, and she'd noticed for a long time that she was more than capable of getting by on a maximum of four hours a night as long as she wasn't injured - or even going without completely for days at a time when needed, as long as she got a chance to pass out for eight to twelve hours afterwards. She did enjoy getting a full eight to ten hours when she could... but it was a luxury, not a necessity.

She had breakfast from room service while making plans for the day. The long thinking periods of the night before had evidently led to her mind sorting some things out while she slept. She still didn't have a plan, exactly, but she did have things she could do to kill time while she was waiting for things to settle to where she could start going on the offensive rather than merely watching over Dean and his brother and letting the vampire bitch simmer.

Her phone went off while she was flipping through the Philly phone book looking up a few places she was interested in. After glancing at the call ID, she grinned and answered it.

"Mini-B. What's up?"

"Hey, Faith." Dawn's voice sounded bleary but cheerful. "Before morning classes and still trying to wake up. Thought I'd give you a ring while I had time."

"Cool. I'm just sitting here digesting."

"Located a healer for you in the area, if you're still interested?"

"Really?" Faith straightened in her chair. "Wow. Thanks, Dawnie... got a name and number for me?"

"Yup. Of course," came the answer in a pained voice. Faith grinned as she could almost hear Dawn not rolling her eyes at the suggestion that she was sloppy enough to call without that information. "Here you go:" Dawn gave her the info and Faith jotted it down in her laptop. She'd transfer the number to her phone before heading out for the day.

"Coolness. I'll give her a shout this afternoon."

"Hope it helps. She's not really affiliated with the IWC, so she should keep whatever you have going under her hat," Dawn said. "I know you really don't want the Council into your business any more... "

"Yah. Thanks," Faith said. She had a thought, "That going to cause you any problems with B or Giles?"

"If it does, I'll deal with it." Dawn said, sighing. "They're going to have to get used to the idea that I have friends and a life outside of the IWC, sooner or later. And that you're one of them."

"Good luck on that," Faith said in a sour tone. "I don't want to cause you any issues."

"Any issues there are, aren't yours, Faith." Dawn laughed softly. "I'll deal."

"Thanks, kiddo," Faith's voice went soft for a moment. "Hey - I'm kind of having a full plate here. Can I get you to check into something for me?"

"Sure. Something on your pointy teeth issues?" Dawn asked, "Hold a moment while I open my laptop to make notes."

"Naw. Something different that I haven't been able to get around to because of the points thing," she replied. "Can you look up a couple of schools for me, and find out what the requirements are and costs etc? And when they have courses available?"

"No problem. You're going back to school?" Dawn's voice sounded approving.

"Not quite. Different type of schools," Faith gave her the names and locations.

"Hrrmm. Guns, Faith?" Dawn's voice had a faint disapproving tone to it now.

"Sound of me shrugging, Dawnie. I know B doesn't like them, but I'm not Buffy. And not every place in the world is as retarded on the subject of firearms as California and Europe." Faith's voice went slightly flat, "No big. You don't want to check into it for me, I'll do it myself when I get time."

"Whoa - hold on girl," Dawn said. "Peace. Just surprised, that's all. You know that guns aren't much use against vampires and demons, right?"

"You might be surprised. It's not the firearm that's the issue: it's what you shoot out of it, and there's ways around that," she said. "Remind me to send you some information on the topic sometime, when I can get it all together. Better yet - suggest to Vi that she talk weapons with Hannibal King next time he comes up with Abby."

"All right. I'll try to keep an open mind," Dawn said.

Cool," Faith said. "Figure if I'm going to get into it, I want to know what I'm doing. Professional training's the best way to do that."

"Yeah. Ok... I can see that," Dawn replied. "I have to get to class. I'll look this up for you later and see what I find, ok?"

"Thanks No hurry - I'm kinda tied up right now," Faith laughed. "This is kind of a future reference thing, yanno?"

"Yup. Talk to you later?"

Faith agreed she would and then hung up. After a quick shower and getting dressed, she grabbed her gear bag and headed out.

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

One of the oddities she'd discovered in the bit of internet checking she had had time for was that while you had to be 21 to purchase a handgun (or presumably to get a concealed carry permit - she hadn't gotten that far yet), you only had to be 18 to purchase a rifle or shotgun. Likewise, the 21 restriction didn't seem to apply to ammunition. Idiotic laws, in her opinion: sure, a handgun was easier to conceal, but a rifle had longer range and a LOT more penetration and damage. Hadn't taken more than a brief period of Hannibal's weapons instruction for her to grasp that. And if someone wasn't trustworthy with a firearm by the time they were eighteen (or sixteen, for that matter), three years wasn't going to make them more so at twenty-one.

'Busy work to make politicians look like they're doing something useful and to impress voters,' was the (entirely accurate) conclusion she came to. She snorted under her breath, 'The fucking way of things. Pass shit you can sell to the clueless and get votes - whether it actually makes any sense is irrelevant.'

While she did have ID saying she was twenty-one - and good stuff, too: it and the background for it had been created by Willow - she didn't want to use it for something like this and have it come up on some database check that she was breaking firearms laws. She was going to be running enough risk just carrying a pistol to deal with her vampire problem, but that couldn't be helped. No more risk than she normally ran carry twenty plus pounds of cold steel on her while hunting, but still...

It took her five stops to locate the amount of 10mm Auto ammo she'd been looking for in the right bullet weights and loadings: she'd wanted to stick with Hannibal's recommendations for what would match up the closest with the sundog rounds for practice. She *didn't* locate enough .45 Winchester magnum, no more than 200 rounds or so - evidently that was a rare enough caliber to make ammunition a special order item. .454 Cashull for the big Keith single action was a different story. Evidentially that was a popular enough round that everyone had it: she was able to pick up almost 1500 rounds in the weights she was looking for at the five places.

She found it bemusing that the gun store counter clerks didn't even blink or raise an eyebrow at the amount of ammunition at any of the stores. When she saw a fellow who looked like an accountant at the last stop buying 10,000 rounds of .45 Auto for a weekends worth of shooting, she figured out why.

One store had a pretty decent selection of leather gear, and she found a behind the back rig for the Kimber 10mm. Adding an El Paso Saddlery Holliday style shoulder holster and a Duke style gun belt and holster for the single action rounded out her interests from what she could see available... she figured she might have to go custom to get something to fit the Grizzly and the big Whildey. No big: that's what the internet was for, once she had a place they could get shipped to.

Faith did manage to spend an enjoyable hour at the shop with the leather gear in an informative conversation with the guys behind the rifle counter, after a couple of items caught her eye. They were intrigued by the small, attractive brunette being interested in the .50 Beowulf rifles and 12 gauge shotguns in their selection; and she was intrigued by the opportunity to soak up information from their knowledge base. She lost interest only when she discovered that to their regret, state and federal laws didn't allow them to sell to New York or other out of state residents. Yet another case of politicians mucking about in business that wasn't theirs, both she and they agreed. Faith wandered off regretfully, promising to come back once she settled into a Pennsylvania residence - something she had no intention of doing. Not a bad state... but she was starting to get as thoroughly sick of the East Coast and its idiocies as she had of the West Coast.

She paid for everything with cash drawn out on her personal debit card and did notice that what did raise an eyebrow was her storing 500 rounds of .454 in her gear bag and hoisting the strap to her shoulder with no apparent effort. Even though she knew it wasn't the case, she could almost swear she heard the extra-dimensional space in the bag groaning under the load.

Personal card for this stuff, definitely. While she figured it wasn't out of bounds for the IWC to track what she did with the company credit cards she still had... if they started tracking what she did with her personal accounts for whatever reason, she wasn't going to have any compunctions at all about spending the cash it took to have a lawyer slap them with an invasion of privacy suit as an object 'stay the fuck outta my personal business' lesson.

Faith figured that that was a major step up in itself from her old self. The Faith of several years ago would have delivered a message like that at sword point.

By the time she'd finished her shopping, it was too late to do much more at the range she'd picked out than fire a couple of hundred rounds from the Kimber slow-fire if she wanted to get back to her hotel in time to grab a quick workout and do other stuff before leaving before dark for the hotel. Faith wasn't planning on giving her vampire playmate any free after dark shots at her until she was ready to provoke the confrontation. Faith grinned maliciously. The frustration would be good for the bitch. She wanted to come after Faith in the daylight, she'd have to send a familiar.

One thing she was curious to note was that once the routine of 'sight picture, breath control, and trigger squeeze' began to settle into her muscle memory, the slayer abilities to acquire new weapons *did* seem to come into play. Her groupings still weren't where she wanted them to be - in the neat little 3" rapid-fire clusters King or Abbey could manage - but they were a marked improvement over the 'spread all over the target' groups she'd managed when she was first learning. She figured that by the time she'd worked her way through the ammo she'd bought she might just be at the point where she would feel comfortable actually using a handgun for serious social encounters.

Her cell went off while she was breaking for a quick early lunch before heading back to the Marriott. Her council phone, rather than her personal cell. She frowned at the number on the display, and answered it.

"G-Man, s'me. What's up?"

"Other than wishing you hadn't picked up that annoying nickname Xander coined for me?" Giles' voice sounded pained.

Faith snickered, "Yeah, aside from that."

"I believe that Vi had mentioned to you that we might on occasion have some contract work for you, assuming you're interested?" Giles' voice sounded tired.

"Yeah. Cool with me - why?" Faith's interest sharpened.

"I believe that I may have something for you, if you're not tied up at the moment," he said.

"Hrrm. Maybe... depends on what and where. Am in the middle of some personal business that's going to be hard to shake loose from," Faith stated. "Tell me what's the what, and I'll let you know if it's a can do."

"Hrrrm. If my skills at deciphering American idioms haven't deserted me, I think I may have even understood that," Giles said in a dry tone. Faith snickered again. "It involves doing basically the same as you were before: locating a newly found Awakened and filling her in on her abilities, the IWC and schools, and her new status."

"Where? And do you have any kind of a line on her, or is this a hunt-and-seek thing?"

"Philadelphia area," Giles stated. "And we do have a name and vague description, however it's not an uncommon name. Nor an uncommon description." He paused for a moment, "There are several possibles with that name and description in Philadelphia. However, your ability to sense other slayer when you're near them should help you to narrow down or rule out the non-Awakeneds. It's a rare trait: anyone else would need a magical detector to do the same."

Faith blinked. Being able to sense 'slayerness' in another slayer was a rare ability for them? She knew that B couldn't, or at least not to the degree that she could... but her demon/vampire sense had always been stronger than Buffy's too. Just as Buffy's slayer strength and ability to pick up martial/weapon skills quickly had always been stronger than Faith's. She'd noticed that a lot of the newly Awakeneds couldn't sense other slayers at all... but some, such as Abby, could. Faith had never thought about it enough to ask Giles or Wesley about disparate abilities. (And to be honest, with her and B being the only slayers up until the First Evil and Willow's spell, there hadn't been much point - they had a limited pool to compare notes on.)

"Hrrm. You're possibly in luck. I'm in Philly at the moment," Faith informed him, hoping this wasn't a round-a-bout way of finding out where she was. Probably not - if they needed to locate her, Giles could always have Willow do it. "How much does it pay?" She could imagine him frowning over that on the other end. Too bad: if he expected "freelance" to include "free" as a pay scale, it was time for disillusionment.

Giles named a figure.

Faith snorted, "Quadruple that, and cover my expenses. I could make more in a night shaking down local demon bars."

"I do hope you're not moonlighting as a protection racketeer, Faith," Giles' voice was dry.

"No, but thank you ever so much for the confidence," Faith grinned as Giles made an *ahem* sound. "Not my style any more. I don't look the other way while things hunt people, not for love nor money. And that wasn't a yes/no answer."

"Quite. Very well, I'll triple the offer. You still have your council credit card for expenses," Giles countered.

"Credit card is a retainer, unless I abuse it. It buys you first refusal on any projects you have available. Triple, and you cover my hotel stay and expenses for however long it takes me to locate this girl," she stated. "It'll cost you more in the long run to have someone else who knows what they're doing get down here and for you to cover whatever you had to drag them off from. Cost you more in valuable time if you have to do it yourself."

"Double, and hotel and expenses."

"Heh. Good luck on finding someone to send down for that thing, G. I'll try to stay out of their way if they stay outta mine. Call me on the next thing you have available," Faith's voice was amused.

"Oh, very well. Agreed. Submit your expenses afterwards - I'll have the payment transferred to you," Giles sounded exasperated, and... pleased? Huh. "I didn't realize you had such a fully developed mercenary streak, Faith."

*snicker* "Girl's gotta eat, Giles," Faith responded. "'Sides - if I had a mercenary streak, I'd have sold you the vampire information I transferred to Vi and Dawn earlier, rather than dropping it on them as a freebie. But I am not going to short sell myself. You yourself said that I was good at finding new slayers and talking to them. You really want my skills at that, then we work out a fair rate that we both agree on."

"Quite. Although we may have different ideas at times at what constitutes a 'fair rate'," Giles said.

"No worries. I don't mind bargaining. As long as you don't mind that there's a point I won't go below, and things I won't do." Faith paused, thinking, "Tell you what: I'll discount to double and a half in exchange for some information that's useful to me. Your files and contacts might have an easier time turning it up for me."

"Oh? What is it? I'll certainly see what I can do." Giles said, then, "Faith. It is not necessary for you to bargain for information from the Council, regardless of what other arrangements we may work out."

"Yeah... I like paying my own way though, Giles."

"Look at it this way then: the information and files you've already given to us earlier is an even exchange. We don't need to discount your other contract for it," Giles' voice was firm.

"Huh." Faith thought about that for a moment, then said, "Suits. Ok... who can you think of that would have an outstanding contract on me? As in an assassination contract?"

"Good lord," Giles said, pausing. She pictured him having a sudden glasses cleaning attack and grinned. After a moment, he said, "Wolfram and Hart comes to mind. And the Old Watcher's Council. However... the latter doesn't seem likely to still be outstanding at this point."

"Yeah. And Angel got the old one from W&H canceled... "

"Hrrrmm," Giles sounded dubious on that, but didn't say anything further. Probably not wanting to rekindle their previous arguments on the subject. "Nothing else comes to mind, I'm afraid. I will certainly check into it, however."

"Thanks," she said. "Appreciate it."

"Is there anything you can tell me that would help to narrow things down?"

Faith's turn to pause while thinking. "No... not really. Nothing solid, and anything I might guess at might aim you in the wrong directions. If this was easy... I could track it through my other connections."

"Very well," he sounded dubious on that, also. "I'll see what can be turned up. be careful, Faith."

"I will." Faith said. "Email me the info you have on the new slayer lead and I'll plug in when I get back to my hotel, and work that in around what I'm doing here."

Giles muttered something regarding his feelings on the infernal contraption and email, and then asked, "Do you mind if I ask what it is that you're involved in currently?"

"I don't mind at all if you ask," Faith said. She let the silence stretch until she figured that he was about to ask, then said: "Probably won't give you an answer, though. Not unless it turns out to be something that affects you or the IWC. Fair enough?"

"Hrrmmm," Giles' voice was definitely not approving of that. "I shall point out that if you're involved in something that has a contract on you coming to your attention, it begins to be IWC business if only from the perspective that said contract may also include Buffy or some of the other slayers."

"I'm tempted to say 'Huh?' just to screw with you," she laughed, "But I won't. Yeah... I thought of that. I also know that you're smart enough to sort that out just from listening between the lines of what I did tell you, and know I meant for you to." Faith paused, frowning, "If it turns out that someone is making unexpected assassination attempts on Buffy or any of the others, then you're right and we'll have to put our heads together on this. If someone had, then you'd have mentioned it when I brought it up - and you didn't." She waited to see if he'd disagree with that.

He didn't, "No. Nothing that would indicate any interest in those areas, not upon Buffy nor anyone else. Nothing outside of normal demonic interests."

"Right. And you, Dawn, and Buff would be the prime targets," Faith said, nodding. "Since not... then it's my business and I'll settle it. I think you're smart enough to warn Buffy to keep her eyes open just in case."

There was a long silence on the other end. Finally Giles said, "Very well." He cleared his throat and added, "I believe at some point we shall need to have a long talk and settle just what areas fall into your personal business and which fall into the business of the Watcher's Council, however."

Faith considered that. "You're right. But not right this minute," she agreed. She laughed, softly, "Should be an interesting discussion, one way or the other." After a pause, she added, "Giles... "

"Yes?"

"I don't care if you believe me on this, but it's level," Faith said. "I'm not going to do anything that would harm B, Dawnie, Xander, you, or the IWC. Period. And I'm not going to let anything else harm you guys." She paused, "My wanting my privacy and my business to stay mine now that I'm quit doesn't change that, and it doesn't make it not so."

She cut the connection and finished her meal, thinking the conversation through while she ate. Giles was right: she and the IWC were definitely going to have to set and agree upon some boundaries, now that she was no longer working for or associated with them except on a contract basis. Faith wasn't really looking forward to that - she had the distinct feeling that her idea of 'acceptable boundaries' and Giles and Buffy's ideas were going to be worlds apart from each other. And that was an area she had limited interest in compromising on...

In spite of her confident front during the conversation, Faith still found discussions with Giles... unsettling. There was a big part of her that found it hard to hear his voice - much less see him - without flashing back to her early days in Sunnydale when she'd wanted desperately to find a place there among Buffy's friends and Watcher. And in Buffy's life. Large parts of her that still weren't far enough removed from the crazed, scared girl who kept finding herself shut out no matter what she did, it seemed, or no matter how hard she tried. Betrayed... and ultimately turning on them in her own rage and pain.

Figuring out how to set real boundaries there now that didn't involve violence, reflexive rebellion, and pain - adult boundaries - wasn't easy. 'Nineteen years old, goin' on twenty, and most of the time adult is the last thing I feel,' she reflected sourly. 'Growing up fast doesn't mean I ever grew up. Too big a part of me still wants someone to take care of stuff and just aim me at things. I hear Giles' voice and revert right back to that.'

Wes was right: she had definite... issues with Watchers, boundaries, and trust. Issues that weren't going to go away easily, or soon. It didn't occur to her to wonder why Wesley didn't bring up the same instinctive reactions or feelings.

Faith shook her head, dismissing the IWC from her mind for the moment. That was a problem for the future: she had enough to deal with for now. She picked the number Dawn had given her for the healer off of her contacts list and dialed it. After introductions and a short bit of conversation, she arranged to meet with the woman at the hospital later, ending with:

"He's still in ICU, so we may have to wait until he gets moved to a room," Faith suggested. "Kinda doubt the hospital staff has enough 'Sunnydale blindness' to overlook mystical diagrams, candles, and burning herbs in the Intensive Care ward, yanno?"

The other woman laughed. "It may not require that elaborate a ritual, if any. I need to take a look at him and an aura reading before I'll know what's required - that's all we'll be doing initially."

"Cool. I'll call you when I get there and we can work out a time. Gonna be a busy day and night for me." Faith cut the connection, feeling a bit better than she had after the conversation with Giles. At least something was looking up a bit.

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

Back at her room, she checked her indicators and found no sign that anyone had been in her room while she was gone. She hooked up her laptop and set it to check her email periodically so it would catch Giles' information package. After a quick workout, she sluiced off in the shower and had a snack and some coffee sent up while she spent the rest of the afternoon 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 did have a few ideas - she was hesitant to call it 'inspiration', exactly - that might work...

Turning those ideas around in her mind's eye and examining them from several angles, she decided they were as good as she was going to get for the moment, and took out her cell phone.

The first call to Abby was pretty quick: it didn't take much to get the concept across followed by an evil sounding snicker from the other girl and a "Can do, I'll talk to Blade if you'll work out the other end" response.

The second one, to Vi, took a bit more explanation and a bit of argument - argument mostly centered around convincing Vi not to bring three quarters of New York 'Slayer Central' down to Philly in force. New York must be reasonably quiet, Faith reflected. Both women had sounded bored and itchy for action. Faith knew the feeling, all too well.

Final short call, to Vince, confirmed a few things for her. It also got a truly evil chuckle from the demonic mobster when she explained what she had in mind....

A sound from the front of the suite caught her attention finally after she'd clicked off and brought her out of her thoughts, suddenly alert.

'Hrmmm. Someone knocking?' Faith frowned. She doubted seriously the blond vampire would knock, but you never knew for sure. And she hadn't ordered room service since she'd had coffee sent up almost an hour ago. She went to the door and asked "Who's there?" Standing carefully a bit to one side and back, just in case.

"Detective O'Brien."

Huh. Ok... now that was interesting. "Hang loose - you caught me in the john and I need to finish up." Lame, yeah, but it got her a couple of minutes. She went back to her room and slid sword and pistol into her bag out of sight where they wouldn't be found, and stopped to flush the toilet and run some water for a few seconds before going back to the door.

She opened the door a crack and looked out. Yup, the man hisself, and all alone, apparently. "Hey, Five-oh," Faith grinned out the door and up at him. "You think up some more questions for me?"

He laughed, "Lots. But I don't want to get your man eating lawyers all riled up." He gave her a wry grin, "You got me all intimidated the other night."

"I'll bet. You look easily intimidated. It must be a handicap for a cop."

"It is. People walk all over me," he nodded.

"I'll just bet they do," her voice was dripping sarcasm and amusement. "So, if there's no questions you're going to ask, what can I do for you, Mr. De-tec-a-tive Kevin O'Brien?" She gave him a curious look.

He shrugged, "I'm wending my way back up to the hospital here in a bit to see if the Winchester brothers have anything further to say. It occurred to me that you might want to know that Dean's been moved to a private room." She nodded, and he met her eyes evenly, "It also occurred to me if you're going back there, it might help if I vouch for you with the hospital staff so you won't have to continue to lie your way past the nurses and doctors."

"Huh." She gave him a speculative look, "You're going to ruin my normally sour view of police officers. If this is an attempt to butter me up so I'll look favorably on you - it's working."

"Departmental public relations. It's bad for morale when nineteen year old street urchins think we're all scum," he replied gravely.

Faith shook her head, undecided between exasperation and amusement. "Well, I hope you're not in a major hurry. I'm planning to finish my coffee first." She held the door open and stepped back and aside, not making any invitation gestures. O'Brien raised an eyebrow and stepped in, closing the door behind himself. "Cool - and that's not an invitation to any unauthorized searches, either." She grinned.

"I wouldn't dream of it."

"Coffee?" She indicated the extra cup and he nodded. Faith frowned at the door, "You seem to be missing an appendage."

"Frank? He's following up on something else right now," O'Brien gave her a sour look. "Opinions to the contrary, we're not attached at the hip."

"But he looks so natural there," she grinned, and he found himself grinning back. He gave a curious look around the small suite, and through the open door into the bedroom.

"Not many personal items," he noted.

"Ever try traveling much on a bike?" Faith raised an eyebrow. "They don't come much for luggage space, that I've noticed. Saddlebags, gearbag, and box for the rack, and that's about all she wrote. Long coat gets worn, or rolled up and stowed behind the saddle if I'm wearing the short one. Everything else better fit inside one of them or the built on panniers. Guitar case goes on the strap across my back." She shook her head, "Luckily, I'm not a big clothes hog. I travel pretty light."

"Ah. No, I can't say I've done much with motorcycles. Especially not long distance." He frowned, "Winter... ?"

"Doesn't it get awful cold? Ha - I hear that a lot." She grinned. "All I'm going to say is: thank gods for thermal underoos."

O'Brien snickered, "Ok, I can see that. I'll try and avoid the obvious everyone-asks questions from now on." She nodded and refilled both of their cups. Rested her chin on her hands and studied him curiously.

"Ok. I'm ruling out your using your badge to have designs on my hot young bod. You don't seem the type." She gave him a level look, "Frank, maybe," and laughed when he grinned at that. "But I'm not quite buying the wanting to grease me past hospital security out of the goodness of your heart. Besides which, they haven't been giving me all that many hassles anyway. So... ?"

"So what am I doing here? Fishing expedition, or something else?" She nodded, and he frowned. "You and your friend's 'BBQ fork incident' are giving my squad a set of interesting problems."

"Such as... ?" She held up a hand, "No, wait. Wrong order. Question is: are we on the official clock, or unofficial? And how do I know when we switch from one to the other?"

"Hmmm." O'Brien started to answer, stopped, and frowned again. "Right. Unofficial. And I'm not sure how we know when we switch. Fair enough?"

"Fair enough," she nodded. "Except for the not knowing part. That's a mine field waiting for me to blow up in it."

"Right," O'Brien considered for a bit. "Ok, let's try this: you were right about the neck wounds on the Winchester brothers, and I know that according to the nurse that you didn't lift up the dressings to look. And there's no way that that little detail or anything that leads to someone who can beat two healthy and athletic young men half to death and partially drain them of blood single handedly is ever going into any official report or document out of my squadroom."

"Single handedly?" Faith lifted an eyebrow.

"One assailant. All of the marks indicate one assailant, and the same one for both brothers."

"Ah," Faith nodded, watching him. "Which leads us back to 'such as'... ?"

He nodded. "So all of this is unofficial. We don't have 'BBQ fork assaults' in Philadelphia, and any detectives that suggest that we do tend to find their careers sidelined. Or worse. On the other hand, my Lieutenant and I, and the other detectives in Major Cases, like closing cases even if the report has to go in the circular file after. Since our careers aren't going anywhere anyway, we like to find other things to lean on... like the fact that having an 'oral exsanguination serial killer' wandering around is a danger to the public we took oaths to work for."

"wow. An actual honest cop. And an idealistic one, at your age, too." Faith's eyes went slightly wide and she grinned. "You know, I used to hear that there was such a thing, but I've never actually seen one."

O'Brien glared at her, and opened his mouth, starting to snap something angry. Faith held her hand out forestalling him. "Peace, detective. I am not yanking your chain with that, honest." She held his eyes until he nodded abruptly, still annoyed. "If you studied what you can find on my records, as I'm pretty sure you did from what you said a few nights ago, then you know I'm not exactly normal. Even if you couldn't get into the blacked out files. Right?" He nodded.

"Ok, then," She cocked her head, considering him. "If you were yanking my chain, I'd know it. I can tell when someone is lying to me. Tell me what you want, and we'll go on from there."

"Pretty simple, LeHane. I want to close this case, and I want to know that whoever or whatever attacked the Winchesters isn't still wandering around my city later picking out new victims." He gave her the level look back, "And I'd like to know that you and the Winchesters aren't a equal danger to my city."

"Good enough. I'm not, and I seriously doubt that Sam and Dean are." She glanced at the clock. "Look... it's still a few hours until dark, and if I'm right about what we're dealing with, it's not going to be a threat until after sundown. And I'm reasonably certain your detectives can deal with any normal threats." She cocked her head and gave him a speculative look. "Why don't we go down to the restaurant, and let me buy you a meal while I fill my stomach, and you can tell me everything you know so far about Sunnydale and Los Angeles around the time I escaped from prison. Then I can fill in the gaps for you a bit."

O'Brien looked around the hotel room again and frowned. Faith caught the frown and laughed, "It's not a bribe, Detective O'Brien. I'm pretty sure you can't be bought for a twelve dollar meal even if a detective's salary isn't very big."

He laughed, "No, not what I was thinking. And you never know - that twelve dollars might just make up the difference on my Mercedes payment." Faith snickered. "No... I was thinking that while this isn't the Hyatt, it's still got to be a bite out of your savings. Maybe I should buy the meals."

"An honest cop and a nice guy, too," Faith raised an eyebrow. "I'm all in shock." She shook her head, "No worries. But you are ruining my childlike belief in the godlike knowledge of the po-po. You had to have used the extralegal access that Homeland Security gives you guys to run my bank accounts and credit records when you checked me out after the other night?"

"No, I'm afraid we haven't gotten around to that yet. Obviously a lapse on my part," he said in a dry tone. "You're independently wealthy?"

She laughed. "No. Just independent. But my last job with the IWC and the New York School for Gifted Women had a generous sign-up bonus, and a decent salary and investments plan. I even kept my medical when I left. I don't think a meal at Marriott prices is going to leave me destitute and hawking my tender young bod for gas money." She grinned, "We'll get you your Mercedes payments yet, O'Brien."

"Hah. All right. One condition, though." She lifted an eyebrow. "Not the Marriott. I know an Italian place not too far from here that serves better food than anything you can get in this hotel, and it won't break your budget," O'Brien stated.

"Italian food. You hit my weak spot." Faith grinned up at him, "I may have to rethink that 'not after my hot young bod' thing." O'Brien laughed, and she added, "Wicked. Let me hit the can again to dump some of that coffee, and change real quick, and I'll follow you over there."

She heard a cell phone - not hers - going off while she was in the bathroom, and low conversation. Too low even for her ears to pick up through a closed door. When she finished up and headed back into the bedroom, she went to the connecting door into the suite and found O'Brien standing looking at his phone with a grim expression.

"Something?"

"Yeah, could say that," he replied in a sour tone. "How do you feel about joining me for a ride along before we eat? Assuming you have a strong stomach."

Faith simply nodded after seeing the bleak look in his eyes. "I'll be changed in a minute or two."



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