Damned If I Don't, Damned If I Do
Part Three of The Damned Series


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PART TEN: 24th to 25th September 2004
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Chapter Six: Bella Notte

They had decided to hit Troy's palace first in the hopes that the sooner they got there the less chance there was that the alarm had been raised. It was a pretty vain hope, but it was worth a shot.

"Gas is low," Faith said as the scooter puttered through the back streets.

"Well, look on the bright side. Maybe we won't make it out of there alive so we won't have to worry about gas money."

Faith laughed as she pulled up right outside the main archway and they both thankfully jumped off the not-built-for-two bike and stretched their legs.

The arch, the doors beyond it and the two guards were all perfectly visible this time around. Buffy had a feeling it was down to Faith's presence and was hopefully a good sign. Still, she eyed the upper levels warily for any sign of attacking gargoyles. They were up there, nestled beneath the cornices, but none of them looked ready to take flight or be anything but solid stone decoration. Another good sign?

"So we're just gonna walk straight in?" she murmured.

"Gotta better idea?"

"No, but I was hoping you would have."

Faith led the way up the steps and under the portico. "Simoni, Ricardo, how's it hanging?"

Both guards looked blank but not unfriendly. "Miss Lehane, you are not staying in Bracciano tonight?"

Faith stopped casually just in front of them even though they hadn't tried to block her way.

"I was supposed to," she said, sounding pissed off. "Troy planned this big special night for me and everything, but Tone's Grams-" she shot Buffy an extremely angry look "-royally fucked up my wedding dress!"

"It wasn't Nonni! It was Benedetta!" Buffy improvised her part perfectly.

"Whatever. So I gotta get hold of Serena quick, like yesterday, 'cause she's the only damn person around here who can actually deliver, you know what I mean?"

Simoni and Ricardo made sympathetic growly noises. Buffy had never figured out if Troy's personal guards were humans or just demons that looked like humans, but even if they were human they were the surly sort of men who tended to sound like they were growling most of the time anyway.

"But Mr Athanasia...?" One of them asked.

"Troy's staying," Faith said. "Soon as I get things sorted with Serena I'm leaving B here to help her and then I'm heading straight back to Bracciano. Hopefully there'll be some of my weekend left." She shot Buffy another evil look.

"It's not my fault!" Buffy whined.

"Whatever," Faith said again.

"Our condolences for this unfortunate mishap," said the other guard. "Please, be going to the apartment and we will have someone call Serena for you."

"S'okay. I can do it when I get up there."

"We insist," said the other one.

Faith shrugged. "Okay, thanks."

Buffy followed her through the doors thinking, That was too easy, and then heard the snick snick of two rifles being cocked behind her.

"Damn, I actually thought it was working," Faith muttered.

"Really?"

"Okay, I actually hoped it was working." Louder, Faith asked, "There a problem, guys?"

"Please be going to the apartment and await Serena."

Buffy remembered Dawn telling her how the classy Italian had just stood by and watched as she and Andrew were attacked. Another enemy or another pawn?

Faith turned around slowly. "Wanna tell me why you need a gun to get me to do something that was my idea? What's going on here?"

Buffy figured their ruse was up already, but she kept quiet, turning also so she could see any move Faith or the guards made.

"We apologise for the inconvenience. Please go to the apartment."

"No, I don't think I want to now." Faith made to walk back out of the building. Buffy stayed by her side. The guns didn't stop pointing at them. "What? You're not going to let us leave now?"

Although neither guard spoke the answer was obviously no. Faith gave her a look and the message was clear; stupid, but clear. Maybe death by bullet was better than death by smiting anyway and at least they'd still be going together. And maybe if they ended up in different places, Buffy could do something really bad in heaven - vandalize a harp or insert dirty words into the Heavenly song - and get kicked down to the other place where she could be with Faith.

They went for the two guards as one - Faith stupidly just charging forwards while Buffy tried to put a bit of thought into it and jumped high into a spinning kick. The loud report of a gun froze her heart even as her foot connected hard with the head of her guard. She hadn't been hit and there was only one other person a gun was aimed at. As she landed back on her feet, she turned to the side expecting to see Faith on the floor, bleeding.

Faith hadn't been shot; in fact even now she was aiming a punch at her guard who, instead of taking the opportunity her recklessness afforded him, had his rifle pointing to the fancy ceiling, trying to back away instead of attacking her.

Buffy looked back at her guard. He was already aiming at her again from the floor. She kicked the barrel of the gun just before he pulled the trigger and she saw the bullet bite a hole out of the wall.

"Faith, switch guards!" she yelled, going by instinct.

Faith did so without question, firing a kick at the demon on the floor that he narrowly ducked. He rolled away from another kick and then scrambled backwards as she advanced with her fists ready, but never once did he raise his gun to her.

Meanwhile, Buffy punched her guard in the head once, but still only escaped a bullet between her eyes from point blank range by grabbing the barrel and pushing it up. Her ears rang with the bang of the gun and a bit of ceiling fell on her.

Buffy thrust the barrel of the gun forwards, catching the guard on the nose. He let go of it and staggered backwards and she took advantage by doing it again and knocking him out completely.

The gun now in her hands, she used the same trick on the other guard at the same time as Faith punched him in the side of the head and he too slumped back unconscious.

"Well that was easy," Faith said.

"That's because they're not shooting at you!"

"Yeah, that's weird."

Not to Buffy. She had a pretty good idea for why they weren't shooting at Faith - because they thought she was pregnant. They were protecting the baby.

"So now we just gotta get to the apartment."

Buffy nodded and they turned around. "Crap."

"Yeah," Faith agreed.

In front of them stood four guards, with four rifles pointing at them.

"Okay, fella's..." Faith began amiably.

Buffy knew it was a waste of time. All of the them looked pretty determined and while only one of them might end up dead, the other one sure as hell wasn't getting out of there either.

"Sorry," Buffy muttered.

"Why?" Faith asked, but Buffy wasn't listening to anything but her gut feeling now.

She scooped Faith up in her arms, holding her so she covered as much of her body as possible and ducked her head down behind Faith's too. Then she ran through the middle of the guards. A stock caught her on the shin but she kept going despite the stinging pain. As soon as she was clear of them, she spun around and ran backwards as fast as she could up the hallway.

None of them dared fire a shot, but they gave chase.

"You're using me as a human shield?" Faith yelled.

She sounded pissed, but she made herself as easy to carry as possible and kicked out at any guard that got to close.

"Yeah, but I can't run fast enough like this. Piggyback?" As Buffy turned to face the way she was going Faith swung herself around her body so that she was riding on her back instead. "Thanks."

As Buffy neared the grand staircase a number of guards - all carrying guns - came down it.

"Shit! Anyway you can wrap yourself all around me?"

"Nothing I'd like more, B, but kinda hard with the running and all."

"Okay, well try not to get so dizzy you throw up on me, alright?"

"Ditto!" Faith shouted as Buffy, still running, turned her back on the guards coming down the stairs.

A bullet whizzed past them. The guards chasing them, now in front of her, were all too busy running to have their weapons raised. As she saw them start to rectify this she risked turning again, just in time as it happened to miss tripping on the stairs.

She stumbled up the first couple as it was. Faith wasn't heavy, but she was cumbersome when trying to be twisty-turny at high speed. Luckily the guards coming down the stairs were now level with them, giving them less room to aim and less Buffy to aim at.

A second later they were past them and charging up the stairs. She could hear them shouting at each other in Italian but was too frenzied and out of breath to try and follow what they were saying. They made it to the top of the stairs and around the first two bends in the corridor without meeting anything else threatening.

Buffy would have missed the non-descript door that led off of the fancy landing if Faith hadn't yanked on her surgical bra straps like reins.

It was where they had to go, but it didn't take a second after charging through the door to realise that being chased down a long, narrow, featureless corridor was a bad idea. Especially when there was a guard at the other end too, just starting to raise his gun.

"Oh, shoot!" Buffy yelled, realising there was no place to dodge.

"Don't say that!" Faith yelled back. "The other guards are right behind us too!"

"Are they taking aim?"

"Not right now."

"Well, this one is."

She had planned to turn again and risk stumbling backwards over getting shot forwards, but Faith had a better idea and with her arms loosely around Buffy's neck, she swung herself around until she was riding piggyfront instead of piggyback. The guard by the elevator immediately pointed his rifle to the sky.

"B, turn!"

She did it without question and a bullet from the other direction sailed behind her back and dug into the elevator with the sharp sound of struck metal. That had been close! Faith slid around behind her again like clockwork as she completed the turn. They were at the end of the corridor and right in front of the guard.

Working seamlessly, Buffy grabbed his rifle in one hand and smacked the elevator button with her other while Faith pushed on her shoulders and lurched forwards to head butt him between the eyes. Without missing a beat she threw her legs out behind her next and sent the guard winning the chase crashing back in to the rest of his troop.

Buffy stumbled into the stainless steel chamber the second the door slid open and Faith pressed button A before the guards had untangled their legs and weapons enough to be any threat.

Buffy rested back, or rather Faith's back, against the wall, as she caught her breath. "That was... athletic."

"You okay? You didn't get hit or nothing?"

"Nope, you make a good human shield."

"And you make a good horsey," Faith said, squeezing her thighs around Buffy's waist.

Buffy twisted her neck around to look up at her. "I know you said being together would be a nightmare, but I didn't realise it was going to be the kind with gun-toting clowns and me in my underwear." She wrinkled her nose distastefully. "Someone else's underwear."

"You better have been payin' attention," Faith warned, waggling her eyebrows playfully and leaning down to kiss her. "'Cause there's still the French test on all this to come."

They were still kissing as the elevator doors slid open and they slowly pulled away, smiling indulgently, to find a gun pointed directly into their faces. It was just the door guard alone and he didn't look too sure on why he was pointing a gun at them.

"That's annoying."

"Uh huh." Faith agreed and kissed her again while reaching out blindly to wrench the rifle from the soldier's grip.

Buffy slipped her the tongue as she grabbed the guard tightly by the ruffly collar of his brightly striped uniform. Dragging him closer, she pulled him around herself and shoved him one-handed with enough force that he hit his head on the back wall of the elevator and slid down the shiny side until he was sitting on the floor.

Their synchronised performance faltered a little there when Buffy went to step out of the elevator and walked into the side instead, jolting them from each other's lips.

"Ow," they said together as the side of Buffy's head and Faith's left knee took the brunt of the unexpected impact.

Faith's knee had connected with the B button. They slipped out just before the doors closed, leaving the guard on the floor still trying to figure out what had just happened.

"When we tell this story, we'll say we did that deliberately."

"You're on." Buffy grinned at the thought of even being able to tell this story, rubbing the bump on her head. "Do you think there's any more guards up here?"

"Unless they planned this it's doubtful and I don't know about you but that mad dash felt more like chaos than a premeditated assault."

"So," Buffy mused, "all we have to worry about is the twenty or so guards down there riding up in the elevator to join us."

Faith leaned over her shoulder and started pulling at the metal doors, trying to push them apart. It was awkward because she was still holding the gun, so Buffy gave her a hand. Between them they forced the doors wide enough to see the empty elevator shaft behind.

"Is there like an emergency stop button?" Buffy asked hopefully.

"Probably, but I don't know where it is and chances are those goons down there know where the emergency unstop button is anyway. Hold the doors."

Buffy did so. Faith let go and put the gun, barrel sticking into the grove at the bottom, between the doors. As Buffy gradually let the doors close they wedged up perfectly on the rifle.

"That'll stop them coming up easy that way for a while."

"Okay." Buffy turned to the solid front door to Troy and Faith's apartment. "I don't suppose you have the front door key in your bag?"

Faith thought about it a second. "No, I'm pretty sure they're still in my car."

"Right. On three then?" Buffy winced as she readied herself to slam her shoulder into the door. She remembered all too well just how unyielding this door could be.

Faith did the count down, lining her own shoulder up with Buffy's so she could put her weight into it too from higher up.

Buffy ran at the door with her eyes closed, fully expecting to bounce back off it. Except, she didn't, on account of the door being unlocked and springing open with the slightest pressure - which meant the rest of the pressure behind their charge went into sending them into and subsequently over the back of the couch. Unable to stop their momentum - what with being upside down and all - they half bounced, half rolled off of the couch cushions to land on their backs and seriously shatter an antique glass coffee table.

"I think ya just dislocated my knee," Faith groaned as stacks of bridal magazines avalanched around them. Buffy rubbed it for her. "The other one."

"Oh." Buffy wriggled a little, feeling something bony dig into her back. "I can't reach it, it's underneath me."

"Ow! Ya don't say!" Faith pushed her off and, giggling, she went with it. "Watch the glass."

"I am." Instead of standing straight up and risking her bare feet, Buffy climbed back onto the couch and jumped over the back - more stylishly this time.

Faith copied her. "Okay, wait here for me and then we'll head out the fire exit."

Faith went into the bedroom and Buffy... fidgeted. She'd been in the apartment several times now while Troy was away but she'd never given in to the urge to snoop in case it pissed Faith off. It would probably be okay now, though. right?

She looked around, wondering where to start. Aha, of course! It was probably a waste of time. Troy had been revealed for the jerk he was, leaving his paper trail irrelevant, but she just couldn't resist the lure of his big, mysterious desk.

The top was as tidy as ever, only the blotter and nautical compass on there. She was planning on digging below the surface though. Her fingers closed around a drawer handle. It was locked but that was easily solved. With a sly little grin she yanked it towards her, forcing it open.

"B!"

She jumped back, hands up guiltily, embarrassed at being caught out.

"I wasn't..."

"What the hell are you wearing?"

"Huh? Oh!"

Buffy went red, realising it was the first proper look in decent light that Faith had had of the gross, saggy, stained underwear.

"They're not mine!" she insisted quickly. "I was wearing my dress. My beautiful, brand new dress! But then Troy started showing off in the dungeon and zapped me into this."

"It's nasty."

"You're not the one wearing them."

"No, but I'm the one that's gotta look at them."

"Tough. I'm not running for the hills naked just so you have something nicer to look at. Anyway, what about you? Since when do you wear frilly little nighties?

Faith looked down at herself with a grimace equal to the one she'd given Buffy's outfit.

"Troy bought it for me to wear tonight."

"And you thought it was just too nice to waste in bed?"

Faith smirked at her. "I thought I was just getting myself a sandwich. If I'd know what I was actually gonna walk in on, I'd have put on some pants."

Smiling, Buffy stepped around the desk to give the negligee a proper appraisal. Low-cut neckline, sheer white fabric, and short - always a good look on Faith's deliciously tanned thighs.

"You know, if I hadn't seen it all bunched up above your boobs while Troy got naked and boink-y with you... I'd think it was sexy."

"And if you hadn't been snooping around outside our bedroom you wouldn't have had to see us fucking," Faith countered, reaching around Buffy to slam shut the drawer she'd been about to pry in.

Buffy hesitated before asking, "Are you having second thoughts?"

"Second thoughts? I haven't had first thoughts yet, B. I don't know what the hell's going on. First Troy's acting weird, then you're there when you should have been here, then I walk in on the two of you fighting. Which, really, I'm not exactly that shocked at but why was everyone else there an... and penguins?" Faith rubbed her hands up and down her face. "And Troy wasn't messin' B, he was really gonna..." She trailed off, groaning into her hands.

"I know," she said gently.

Faith abruptly dropped her hands, demanding, "Why?"

Buffy took a deep breath, preparing herself. "Okay, I guess I can tell you everything now." She didn't really know where to start though. Her eyes dropped to Faith's belly, and she took another deep breath. "It all started when I found the Scythe, or... or actually it started thousands of years ago but..."

"You know what?" Faith raised her palms to get her to stop. "I don't wanna know."

"Really?" Buffy asked, relieved but surprised.

"Maybe... I don't know." Faith ran a hand through her hair in frustration. "But I don't wanna hear it right now. We're supposed to be running for your life anyway so story time can wait. We should both get changed and then we better get moving."

"So, you're definitely coming with me?"

Faith held up her passport. "Looks like."

Buffy moved closer, her hands instinctively stroking up the more grey than white now negligee as she did so. The kiss in the elevator hadn't come close to satisfying her need of Faith kissage. Twenty-four hours away from her lips was twenty-four hours way too long and what better way to remind herself all the running and fighting was worth it than with re-acquainting herself with the reason she'd gotten into this mess in the first place?

Faith kissed her back but it didn't stop her from mumbling: "We don't have time for this."

"Then stop me," Buffy mumbled.

Faith didn't even bother trying as she pushed her back against the desk, hands sliding into her hair. "Can spare five minutes."

"Yeah." Buffy's hands slid up over Faith's stomach. "Five minutes."

In hindsight Buffy knew fooling around with Faith in Troy's place was monumentally stupid, but in nowsight all she could think about was the breaking glass suddenly all around them.

"What the fuck!" Faith yelled over the crashing of it, looking around in horror.

Seeing the problem faster, Buffy screamed, "Holy crap! Get down!"

It wasn't clear who tackled who, but they hit the floor at the same time in each others arms and the gargoyle soared straight over the top of them. There were two, having come smashing through the windows from opposite ends of the living room. As the first flapped its stone wings once to gain height again, the second started an awkward hawk dive towards them.

"Okay, we gotta get to the roof!" Faith scrambled to her feet.

"There'll be more up there!" Buffy said as Faith pulled her towards the kitchen.

"We don't have a choice. It's the only way out."

They had to dive to the floor again in the doorway and large chunks of the wooden frame pelted them as the gargoyle hit the wall above.

"What the hell are they?" Faith asked once they were up and in the relative safety of the kitchen.

"Gargoyles."

"Them things the rain water comes out of?"

"No, that would be clouds. The gargoyles are the big concrete things flying around your living room!"

"Freakin' hilarious, B. Get up on the counter by the window." Faith pointed. "Over that side."

Buffy did so without question but her eyes went wide and her mouth went dry when a gargoyle swooped out of the darkness, heading straight for the window; huge granite talons first.

Thinking quick, Faith ripped the deluxe fridge from its moorings and whirled it at the window. It smashed through the glass, the gargoyle caught it in its talons and then Buffy watched as it dropped out the sky like a... well, a stone.

"Fuck, that thing was heavier than the Mini," Faith complained, rubbing one of her arms as she leapt onto the counter beside Buffy.

Buffy stepped aside as Faith kicked the rest of the glass out of the window instead of bothering to open it.

"Fire exit," she said in explanation as she swung herself out of the window and disappeared.

"What kind of fire exit leads to a roof?" Buffy muttered.

Leaning out, ready to follow, she was hit by a small burst of vertigo at the sight of the four storey drop. She was so not a fan of heights these days and the storeys here always seemed higher than the storeys at home! The dizziness dissipated quickly though and spotting the metal ladder on the side of the building she swung herself out and followed Faith as fast as she could.

She didn't dare look behind but she could hear the whistle of stone wings getting closer and dreaded to see what they were going to face on the roof. Unfortunately she didn't have to dread long because the ladder only went up about thirty rungs or so. Faith, accidentally or not, used her head as a leg up to boost herself onto the roof.

"You nearly kicked my head off of my shoulders," Buffy grumbled once they were both on the roof.

"Bigger fish, B. Or birds."

The sky was full of gargoyles soaring and swooping over the building. The breeze of their passage was nice though. The air itself was really humid now and clouds were piling over the sky, making the further off gargoyles harder to spot.

"Now what?" Buffy asked, trying to get her breath back.

"Now we somehow get back down." Faith took off at a sprint - and when you're a Slayer, that really meant something.

Buffy raced after her and they made it to the edge of the roof after only a few really near misses. She followed Faith in rolling over the low wall and then jumped to another flat roof below. Once across that, they bobbed under some metal railings and edged their way along a sloping ledge, ducking as stone monsters flew too close.

Another leap landed them on a metal dome and Buffy wondered how much of the palace she hadn't seen before - it looked sprawling from up here.

"How much further?" she panted.

"Nearly there," Faith promised. "Get down!"

Buffy did so just as a bullet zipped past her and hit the dome with a loud ping! Two more bullets hit the metal as they crawled around the edge as fast as they could.

"Where he's firing from? that's where we're heading."

"Oh, goody!"

Faith gave her a wide, dimpled grin before dropping down onto a corrugated iron roof and then onto a pyramid of glass. Almost as soon as Buffy followed her down - landing as lightly as she could for fear of going straight through it - a bullet shattered a large glass plane on the other side. Shards tinkled down into whatever room was below - a conservatory maybe, if palaces had conservatories - and after that there were no more bullets.

"Crasicion is gonna be in the shit tomorrow," Faith grunted as she ran gracefully up the slope of the pyramid.

"Why?"

"This glass is like a thousand euros a square inch or something."

Faith got her balance - arms out wide on top of the pyramid - and then leapt upwards. Again Buffy followed and her hands caught the edge of a metal bridge next to Faith's. They pulled themselves up onto the walkway, long and thin enough to be single file only. One end sloped downwards back into the mass of rooftops, the other upwards and away from them. Faith nodded her head in that direction and then led the way at a run.

There was a kind of iron tower at the end of the bridge, and as soon as their bare feet started making the metal ring, Crasicion the guard poked his head out of the doorway.

His eyes went wide but he didn't take more than a second to produce his rifle again. Luckily Faith didn't take more than a second to reach him either. Yanking the gun from his hands she threw it over the side and then smacked his head into the iron wall. He went down just like that. Obviously Troy had gone for quantity over quality when it came to minions.

They hopped over his body. On the other side of the tower began a metal fire escape. It wasn't like the safe fire escapes they had back home. This was a steep, narrow, twisty staircase of death-waiting-to-happen. Maybe Faith felt the same, because instead of bothering with the steps she leapt out over thin air and grabbed the central pole. She yelled for Buffy to do the same as she went down it like a fireman.

Buffy hesitated, not that there was time for hesitating but that was a really long way down to the ground. She was probably just as likely to break her neck if she took the stairs though, she decided, and made the jump.

The metal was cold but the friction burned her hands as she slid down the pole. She tried not to look down, but looking up just let her see the gargoyles still flying above her, getting closer and closer to the fire escape before veering off at the last minute. It wouldn't have been so bad if she had gone first, at least then looking up would have given her a view right up Faith's negligee.

She smiled, finding it funny that a look at Faith's nether regions could even take her mind off this, but she lost the funny quick when a gargoyle gripped the top of the fire escape in its talons and tried to fly away with it.

She screamed as the metal pole was pulled forty-five degrees away from the building, but she hadn't realised how close to the ground they were already. Her thighs landed over Faith's shoulders and then she fell the last five feet to the ground.

They were outside of the palace grounds now in one of the cobbled side streets. Once she was back on her feet, Faith grabbed her hand and they ran alongside the wall.

"Let's get back to the scooter and do a lap around the city. Maybe we can lose these things before we go to Tone's apartment."

"Okay."

They cleared the palace walls and ran into the plaza. Buffy couldn't see any guards. Not that she would have suggested slowing down if she had. A full-tilt escape was probably the only thing that would get them out of this alive. It wasn't full proof, but being cautious would just give Troy's henchmen more time to shoot at her.

They were twenty feet away and closing fast when the scooter exploded right in front of them.

They stopped dead as their only transportation turned into a flaming furnace and bits of burning scooter rained down around them.

"New plan?" Buffy squeaked, feeling the heat of it on her face even from here.

Faith rolled her shoulders, taking a step back. "We run to Tone's."

"Stop calling her Tone!"

"Why'd ya care so much?"

Buffy hesitated. "I don't."

"Good."

They ran.

Toni's place was usually ten minutes away on foot; they made it there faster than that. Buffy thought there might have been guards or demons waiting for them, but as far as she could tell as they ran up to the apartment block it was clear. Still, they didn't waste time with the elevator.

"S'pose you ain't got your keys either?" Faith said as they reached Toni's landing.

Buffy shook her head, but it wasn't a problem. Dawn and Andrew had forgotten their key a couple of times and Buffy had been pissed at cutting her time with Faith short to go back and let them in. So without Troy's knowledge - hopefully - they'd had a spare cut.

Pulling open the elevator cage, she felt around in the cobwebby space above and pulled the key free from the magnet she had taped there weeks ago.

"Voila!" She held the key up for Faith to see and then inserted it into the lock and opened the door.

The apartment was cool and dark. Nothing felt off to her senses, but she stopped for a second on the threshold just to give them some extra time to work with. Then she snapped on the living room lights and moved over to let Faith enter.

"Let's put all the lights on, check for demons, or, you know, giant stone nasties hiding in the closets, and then turn them all off again so we attract less attention."

Faith nodded. "I'll do the kitchen, you do Dawn and Andy's bedrooms."

They went their separate ways.

There was nothing in either bedroom that shouldn't be. She stopped a while in Dawn's though, looking around at all the stuff she had collected during their stay - clothes and dozens of souvenirs and keepsakes. She'd promised her sister she would make sure all this stuff made it back home safe and sound, but there was no way she could pack it all up now and take it with her, even if she'd had time.

"Kitchen's clear," Faith called through to her. "Think we got time for a beer?"

Buffy didn't, but the thought of anything cool, refreshing and alcoholic sounded good at the moment.

"Let's share one," she called back.

Faith followed her voice into the bedroom. She took a pull on the bottle and then handed it over. "Anything in here?"

"Only Dawnie's stuff."

"So that just leaves your bedroom." Faith started to turn away.

"I promised her I wouldn't leave any of it behind."

Faith turned back to her. "I'm pretty sure she'll understand why you did, B."

"Maybe."

Buffy looked around again, eyes falling on the pristine white ashtray with the etching of the Colosseum inside, the original paintings she'd picked up from the artists on the Piazza Navona outside, the complete set of Greek Tragedy's she bought from the stalls along the Tiber - she'd cooed over those for a week even though they were in Italian and she had to read them with a dictionary open beside her.

"It just feels wrong to leave it all after dragging her here against her will and then sending her home against her will."

Faith rubbed her shoulder reassuringly and then pulled her in for a hug. "Then we'll figure out a way to get it all back to her later."

Buffy wound her arms around Faith's waist and held her tight, relishing the fact that they seemed to have found a moment of peace in the madness of the night.

"Let's turn the lights off and check your bedroom."

Buffy reluctantly let go and they left the room together. Faith got the kitchen and living room lights while Buffy took care of Andrew's and they met again outside the master bedroom.

"Ready?" Faith asked.

Buffy grinned. "Ready for clean clothes, definitely."

Faith grinned too and then tensed, ready to push the door open. Buffy nodded and the door swung inwards. Nothing immediately sprang at them and she reached in to flick on the main light.

Nothing was in there. Faith closed the door as Buffy hurried to shut the thick drapes, keeping the light as contained as possible.

"Find your passport first," Faith suggested. "Just in case we have to bust out of here fast."

Buffy went to the bedside cabinet, mentally crossing her fingers that Troy hadn't been in here and snatched it. She breathed a sigh of relief to find it still nestled at the bottom of her new make-up case.

"I suppose you can get money out of your 'runaway fund' at this time of night?" she asked as she stood up with the passport in her hand.

Faith grinned as she took the passport and stowed it in her bag with her own.

"Wouldn't be much of a runaway fund if I couldn't access it whenever I needed to run away, would it?"

"So you have the card on you?" Buffy checked.

Faith's grin dropped away.

"Damn!"

"Sorry, B, I was gonna grab it..."

She took Faith's hand. "S'not your fault. Not like we were expecting gargoyles to smash through the windows before we were done. I'll call Giles from Toni's phone. He'll be able to help us. Maybe Willow can even teleport us home from here."

"She can do that?"

"I don't know, but it doesn't hurt to ask, right?" Buffy smiled, and handed over the beer.

"Sounds like we're almost home free, then." Faith grinned again as she took a sip.

"Sounds like." Buffy grinned too and then gripped Faith's hand so that could bring the bottle to her own lips for another mouthful. "We should get changed."

"In a minute." Faith twisted around so she could set the bottle on the side and then turned back to Buffy, pressing closer. "First..." she kissed her fleetingly, but didn't move far from her lips as she added, "Go get the phone."

"Tease!" Buffy grinned but quickly left the room anyway.

"I'll give you more when you get back," Faith called after her.

"Sure that's wise?" Buffy asked as she came back through the bedroom door with the phone in her hand. "Remember what happened last time?"

Faith cocked her head, listening, and then grabbed her wrist and pulled her close again. "I think if we run we can make it to second base."

Buffy smiled, throwing the phone behind them on the bed as Faith kissed her.

It was foolish fooling around right now, she knew that, but the incentive that she could be dead before sunrise just seemed to sharpen the intrinsic horniness she always felt around Faith.

Their kisses grew more fervent and she already had her hands under Faith's negligee when Faith started pushing her backwards towards the bed. She didn't realise where they were going until the backs of her knees hit the mattress. She started to say no but was on her back before she could pull her lips from Faith's enough to make the word count.

As Faith broke the kiss to urge her further up the bed, she managed to say, "No, not on here."

Faith paused, confused. "Why not?"

"It's Toni's bed."

"So?"

"It just doesn't feel right."

"So don't think of it as hers," Faith said patiently. "Just think of it as a nice, big, comfy bed."

Buffy nodded but as Faith leaned down to kiss her again, she scrunched her face away. "Sorry. Can't we just get on the floor? The carpet is really soft."

Faith sighed. "You had no problem letting me go down on you on here last night."

Buffy blushed. "I know but..."

"But?"

"But..." she said in a small voice. "...Toni was sort of here then so..." she trailed off.

"Well, you want me to call Tone, see if she can swing by?" Faith pushed herself up on her elbows.

Buffy wrapped her arms around Faith's waist, stopping her from putting any more distance between them.

"Don't be like that! You know why I feel this way."

"Yeah, you love her," Faith drawled mockingly.

"Yeah, I do," she said flatly, trying not to rise to the bait. "But I'm still here with you!"

"Because she refused to come with us," Faith sneered.

Faith was already reaching behind her and Buffy felt her arms forcefully pulled away and slammed onto the bed. She really hoped this wasn't about to turn into a physical fight. For one, they really didn't have time, and for two, she really didn't have the energy.

For those reasons, as much as it burned, she chose the higher ground. "Look, if it's that big a deal, the bed's fine, honestly."

Faith hovered over her for a moment, indecisive, but then pushed herself up until she was sitting astride Buffy's waist.

"You gotta choose, B," she sighed. "Her or me?"

"Excuse me?" She pushed herself up on her elbows indignantly. "You do not get to push me on this, F, not after what you've put me through in the last nine months!"

"I'm not trying to... for fucks sake!" Faith's hands thumped the mattress hard enough to bust springs. "I'm not trying to push you into anything, B, but I'm also not getting on a plane with you tonight if deep down you'd rather be with her!"

Buffy sat up properly but couldn't look at her. She didn't know what to say! Did she give into the temper tantrum just to get some peace and quiet, so to speak? Or did she stand her ground? She had already given in to so much, bypassed a number of her own principles, to get where she was now. Would one more be what it took? Or would one more be too far to come back from?

"You haven't chosen yet," she said without really thinking about it.

"I'm fuckin' here aren't I?"

"And so am I! And I've been here a lot longer than you!"

"That's not fuckin' true!" Faith leapt from her and the bed completely. "And it's not a fuckin' answer!"

Buffy followed her up immediately, better to get in her face. "It's you, Faith! It's always been fucking you! It was you before I even knew it was you and it's certainly been fucking you ever since I knew it was you!"

Faith was holding her breath as she glared and Buffy was vaguely aware of her fists clenching at her sides too.

"Always you, Faith. Now are you going to face up to it this time or use Toni as another fucking excuse to run scared?"

Faith's jaw tightened and now her breath was coming heavy and fast. After a few seconds of tooth-grinding, she snapped. "Call Giles and book the fuckin' flights!"

Buffy's fingers felt fumbly and it took her a second to grab the phone. She stood back up, taking a deep, silent breath before dialling their home number. Avoiding Faith's eyes, she held the phone to her ear.

Not hearing a happy dialling sound, she pressed cancel and then the redial button. Sniffing casually, she lifted it back to her ear. Still nothing but empty air.

"Okay, that's just not good."

"What?"

"You try it." She handed the phone over. "Maybe I'm doing something wrong in my exhausted state."

Faith studied the phone for three seconds and then dialled the number for Cleveland. Giving Buffy an irritable look, she put it to her ear. It took her less than three seconds to reach the same conclusion though.

"Dead."

"Dodo-like," Buffy agreed.

"Not good," Faith repeated her earlier assessment.

"Nope."

"We need to get out of here."

As Faith turned to go Buffy caught her by the sides of her nightee. "Wait, we need to get changed. We can't go to the airport like this!"

Faith put hands on her shoulders, ready to push her away, but then was reminded of what Buffy was wearing. "True. Okay, quick though."

Before she let go of Faith, she asked, "So, are we okay?"

Faith half smiled, half grimaced. "Sure, we're okay... for now."

"Sounds promising," she quipped.

"Same as we've ever been, B," Faith said, leaning in to give her a quick kiss.

The bedroom door was thrown open to smack hard against the wall and the two of them - primed by a week of sneaking around - shot guiltily apart.

"Ah, this is... interesting, si?"

Serena was standing in the doorway, dressed to kill as always. More so than usual, Buffy realised, as the sleek Italian drew an even sleeker silenced pistol out of her tiny designer handbag.

"Faith, please come with me." She always sounded to Buffy like the Italian version of a strict and slightly dour headmistress despite looking and dressing like a movie starlet.

Neither of the slayers moved a muscle, except maybe to stand more defiantly.

Serena waggled the gun a little. "The safety is on; please give me no reason to alter this."

With a heavy sigh Faith asked, "What are you doing here, Sez?"

"I understand there is a problem with your wedding dress. I am here to help you fix the problem, as you requested."

"Yeah, that was kinda what we call bullshit back home."

"Is this it?" Serena indicated the negligee with the gun. "Ah, I can see the problem, it is very dirty." She tilted her head to the side. "Alluring, though. You will look very sexy for Troy walking down the aisle; your legs are stunning."

"Stop looking at my girlfriend's legs!" Buffy snapped stepping closer, jealousy making her mindless of the gun.

"She is not your girlfriend, she belongs to Troy," said Serena.

"No, bitch, she belongs to me!"

Buffy stepped closer still, trying to get the measure of the snobby Italian. She'd never seen her fight, had no idea she liked to carry guns in her cute little purse, so she didn't know just how fast she could have the safety off that pistol.

"Um, excuse me; I think I belong to me."

"I meant with me." Buffy corrected quickly.

Serena smiled like Faith had said something stupid but amusing. "No, mi amiga, you belong to Troy. Now, come, we will wash your dress and there will be no more problem."

"The dress is fine, Sez," Faith said. "It's Troy that's not."

Serena didn't miss a beat. "Nonsense. Troy is waiting for you very anxiously."

"Maybe, but not because his heart is broken," Buffy began, this was the perfect time for a bombshell; especially if it gave them the distraction they needed to get out of there. "Troy's not anxious about you, Faith. It's what..."

Serena moved so fast neither Buffy nor Faith were ready for it. Buffy's hands flew up instinctively in surrender mode as the tip of the gun pricked the skin between her eyes.

"It think it would be unwise for you to finish that sentence."

"Why? What are you going to do?" Serena flicked the safety off. "Okay, stupid question."

"I believe you were warned of what could happen if you spoke of things that do not concern you."

"I think we're past the point of empty threats."

"You are tired of empty threats? Would you like me to make this one less empty for you?" Serena smiled as she pointed to the pistol with her other hand.

Buffy swallowed hard. It wasn't easy to bluff defiance when a bullet was only a couple of inches from your brain.

"I really do not want to kill you, Buffy."

"Then get the gun out of my face."

"Back away slowly," Serena said calmly - but then she was the one holding the gun. "Leave and lock yourself in the bathroom. Let Faith come with me without a challenge and I will tell Troy you were not here when I arrived."

"Is that the best you've got?"

"I think it is fairly reasonable since I was instructed to shoot you on sigh-guh!"

Buffy pushed Serena's arm one way and ducked the other as Faith slugged her in the side of the head with a solid wooden tortoise.

"You're right; this does make a good weapon." Faith hit the posh blonde with it again.

"She could have blown my brains out!" Buffy yelled, her heart hammering too fast.

"Yeah, but she didn't."

They didn't hang around to see if Serena stayed down. Running straight through the apartment and out the front door, they went down the stairs without looking back.

"Holy shit!" Faith stopped so fast when they hit the streets that Buffy had to side-step quickly to avoid her.

No wonder Serena hadn't felt the need to bring back up in with her, she'd probably figured that even if they made it out of the building alive, they wouldn't make it much further. It was monster mayhem.

Demons of the armoured red kind were loitering everywhere. Leaning against dumpsters and cars or sitting on restaurant tables kicking their clawed feet like bored school children. Gargoyles circled high above the buildings, pale craggy shapes lit from beneath by the street lights. A brace of the half bird, half feline monsters Buffy had seen back at the castle flew lower, better able to fit down the narrow streets.

"Troy has flying lion-monkeys too?" Buffy was fighting the urge to duck back through the doorway - Serena and her gun seemed the less stupid route to take now.

"They're Gryphons." Faith took her hand, obviously preparing to run. "And from what I've seen of their talons, we wanna stay the fuck away from them. Come on."

"Where are we going?"

"I don't know, but it's gotta be better than staying here, right?"

That much couldn't be denied, so holding hands tightly, they ran. They dodged around demons where they could, clotheslined one they couldn't and basically just ran like hell for the end of the road.

By the time they made it to the piazza the slow-moving demons were quite a way behind them, but the open space just gave the Gryphons a chance to spread out and mean business and, of course, brought the Gargoyles back into the game.

They took the most direct route to the street on the other side of the plaza - jumping tables and a fish-shaped fountain when they got in the way - but as they reached the entrance they both spotted the dark shape - wings filling the narrow street - hurtling towards them.

"Not that way!" Buffy squealed.

They backed out of the road and began to run another way but the momentary loss of momentum gave a Gryphon the chance to attack. Buffy screamed for real this time as sharp claws sank into her back and she felt her feet leave the ground.

Faith pulled hard on her hand, muttering sorry as Buffy gave another pain-filled yell, and then leapt high enough to punch the big bird in its soft, feline balls. It gave a shriek of its own and let go. Faith slowed her descent to the ground with an arm around her waist.

"Let me check your..." she began.

Buffy shook her head, already pulling her along again. "By the time you've checked to see if I'm gonna die, we'll be dead."

It didn't feel so bad now she wasn't dangling in the air by her skin anyway. Sure, there was the red-hot, burny pain of a few deep lacerations, but she'd had worse. Loathe as she was to admit anything good about it, the thick support straps of the hideous bra had taken most of the brunt, probably saving her from a punctured organ or two.

They charged down an alley as an alternative, dodging dumpsters this time instead of demons. Unfortunately that only lasted until they shot out the end of it. Several of the scaly armoured demons were lying in wait.

Buffy kicked one into the opposite wall and before the rest had time to react Faith sent a heavy dumpster sliding sideways towards them.

The next alley was darker than the last and the one streetlight in the middle showed more graffiti than Buffy had seen anywhere else in Rome. There were humans in here too; the first Buffy had spotted since leaving Toni's - most of them had probably had the sense to scarper from the demonic circus.

These people weren't the cream of Rome's society; in fact it would have been more accurate to think of them as the sludge that stuck to the bottom of the mug. At least one tried to grab her arm and she saw the glint of a blade from another before Faith slammed him out of the way. Still, she had the urge to warn them to get the hell away from here, just not the breath to back it up.

Heavy demon feet echoed in the alley behind them and somewhere overhead she could hear the screeching of gryphons.

At a narrow crossroads they turned right and up ahead was a club of some kind. It was probably safe to say it was not the kind that Troy had been taking Faith to all summer. Flashing neon signs turned the alley walls pink every few seconds and quiet Latin music came through its un-bouncered door.

"In there," Faith panted.

"Are you sure?" Buffy panted back. Just from the entrance alone she could tell it was seedier than the Fish Tank back in Sunnydale.

"You got a better idea? Maybe they'll run right past, and if not, we gotta better chance of losing them in a crowd than in these alleys."

Nobody stopped them running in and the cover-booth was empty. Pushing through heavy double doors they found themselves in a room almost completely dark save for tiny white lights dotted around the ceiling. They gave enough illumination that she could see Faith, right next to her, but anyone further away was indistinct and shadowy.

"Nice place you've brought me to," Buffy teased, as they made their way between crowded tables to the better lit bar area at the side of the room.

"Strip joint," Faith said.

"Strip what?!"

Faith grinned at her reaction and pointed over the heads of the patrons to the centre of the room.

Buffy could see now that she was looking for it. Up on a stage at the back of the room was a four piece band playing sexy music and three scantily clad girls were sensuously writhing and grinding to it around poles in the middle of the room.

"You brought me into a strip club?" Buffy wasn't sure whether to laugh or be shocked.

"Not deliberately," Faith reminded her. "Hey, you wanna score some free drinks?"

She stopped them in front of a table of guys their age and pulled Buffy close. Distracted because she was still looking around in awe, she was surprised when Faith kissed her.

Pulling away at once, grinning, and trying not to hear the excited calls from the table, Buffy scolded her.

"Pack it in. We're not here for drinks, remember?"

"Yeah, they probably wouldn't find your underwear all that sexy anyway."

"Hey, I could make it sexy if I wanted to."

"Then prove it. I'm thirsty."

Buffy looked down at herself and then back up at Faith. "Maybe if we ask nicely they'll give us water at the bar."

Faith gave her another once over and laughed. "Maybe you should let me do the asking."

Rolling her eyes, Buffy pushed her in the right direction.

They were standing in line when Buffy saw the commotion over by the entrance. It was hard to see in the darkness, but the people entering looked bigger than the average human and they were obviously looking for something as they pushed through the crowds, earning hostile shouts and starting more than one scuffle with the disgruntled patrons.

Buffy leaned over to speak in Faith's ear. "We've got company."

"Already?" Faith groaned. "I need a drink!"

"The restrooms are through there." She pointed to a sign on a door by the stage. "Maybe we can grab a drink out of the faucets and then climb through the window."

Faith nodded and they stealthily made their way to the door, both keeping an eye on the ruckus the demons were making deeper in the club.

Beyond the door was a long corridor lined with more doors. None of them seemed to be marked with a ladies sign. Women in bikini's or baby doll dresses or nothing more than three artfully placed tassels were lounging on chairs, but when Faith tried to ask one of them for directions in Italian, she shook her head and apologised in French.

"These doors must lead to dressing rooms." Buffy guessed. "We could duck into one of them and climb out of that window instead."

"Worth a try." Faith opened one on her side.

Buffy's eyes went wide at the couple having such boisterous sex on the bed they didn't even notice the interruption.

"Okay, not that one."

As Faith pulled the door closed, Buffy tried one on her side. "Oh God."

Inside a man was hanging by leather straps from the ceiling. Behind him a woman dressed like a cat lashed at him with a bullwhip. He looked startled to come face to face with Buffy, but it was his giant erection that made her slam the door closed with a shudder.

"Okay, I don't want to try anymore doors!"

"Prude." Faith laughed.

"Prude? Did you see...?"

"You mean you've never done that before?"

Buffy eyed Faith worriedly. "Please be joking."

Faith grinned and tried another door. "Okay, I'm joking."

Buffy wrinkled her nose. "You're not joking, are you?"

Faith winked over her shoulder. "Come on, this one's empty."

After what she'd seen so far Buffy was reluctant to go in until the door at the end of the corridor being forcefully opened changed her mind. She looked around as Faith locked the door behind them - and how she wished everyone else had been so kind! It wasn't so bad in here - no naked people anyway. The bed was made and looked clean, and despite a few outfits hanging on a rack and an array of mild torture instruments on the dressing table there was nothing overtly kinky about it.

The tray of complimentary drinks took Faith's attention when she turned away from the door and she grabbed the bottle of white wine and drank from it.

"Would have preferred a beer, but that'll keep me going a little longer. Here have a swig and then pick something to wear."

Buffy took the bottle. "I'm not wearing any of that!"

"B, we've probably got a minute until they barge through that door. We gotta blend in and fast." Faith went to the rack and started flicking through the clothes.

She could see that Faith had a point, but she still grumbled as she stripped off Troy's granny's underwear - or whoever it belonged to. She had to admit it was really good to finally get it off.

"Pick something nice, at least."

Buffy took a few long swallows of the wine and set the bottle back in the tray. When she turned back around, Faith was holding something up for her.

"I said nice!"

"It is nice."

One of Buffy's eyebrows went up. "It's all leather and zippers."

"It's hot." Faith pushed it into her hands.

"It has a zip-up crotch!" Buffy said in dismay.

Faith shrugged and started looking for something for herself. "That's what I said."

There was the sound of a door being slammed open, a scream and then some angry shouts in Italian.

"We got like zero time here, B. Just put it on!"

"It'll take me a week to get into it!"

It didn't, and it felt surprisingly alright once it was on. If only she didn't look in a mirror. If her Mom was looking down from Heaven right now, she'd be turning in her grave! She'd only just finished zipping up when they heard the door next to them crash open. Faith was naked now, but she hadn't found anything to wear yet.

In a controlled panic she snatched a leather mask - with almost as many silver zippers as Buffy's teddy-type outfit - and pulled it on.

"You've got to be kidding me!" Buffy muttered.

Faith zipped the mouth open. "Shush!" and grabbed a ping-pong paddle from the dressing table.

"You're gonna hit them with that?"

"Nope." Faith sat on the edge of the bed and pulled Buffy down across her lap, making sure her head was hidden from the door. "Not gonna hit them with it."

"Wha...?" As the paddle came down hard across her leather-clad butt cheeks, Buffy's breath rushed out of her, but she retained enough to howl, "You've got to be kidding me!"

"Shut up!" Faith hissed and spanked her again.

"That hurts you... uh, ow!" Buffy muttered as Faith did it again. "I'm getting you back for... ahhck!... oh, I am so getting you back for this!"

"Just try and relax. You might even enjoy it."

As footsteps clomped around outside their door, Faith started bringing the paddle down on her ass every second. Buffy closed her eyes, grit her teeth and concentrated on keeping her head ducked lower than Faith's knees. It didn't hurt so much now that the initial shock had worn off. It just made her butt feel all warm and tingly every time the paddle struck. Groaning slightly, Buffy shook her head and grit her teeth even harder.

The door handle rattled and then it was kicked open. As the door rebounded off the rack of clothes, toppling it with a clatter, Faith's masked head spun angrily to the intruders.

"Ehi! Io ho detto giÓ prenotato la sala per l'ora, assholes, allora pees off!" Faith snapped at them in a mix of Italian and English.

Buffy didn't dare look, but she could make out the odd word the demons said as they scanned the room. It sounded as if they were satisfied after a moment, but they didn't get an apology as the door was yanked closed again.

Buffy waited until they heard the next room being barged into before she whispered, "I think we fooled them."

"Ya mean I fooled them. You were just laying there."

"Hey, I had the hard part!"

"Yeah, looked hard." Faith smacked her with the paddle again, lighter this time.

"You can stop that now if you want."

"Ya sure you want me to?" Faith teased and did it again.

Buffy squirmed slightly. "You're the bullwhip girl, not me."

"There's a world of difference between bullwhips and a little light spanking, B. And I can't help noticing how you ain't got up yet."

As the paddle thwapped her again, she bit her lip. "They might come back."

"True, we should probably keep going for a while, huh?"

She could hear the grin in Faith's voice as the paddle started smarting her ass cheeks harder again. Buffy lay still for a moment, kinda of enjoying it although she couldn't figure why, but then, grinning, she realised how ridiculous she must look right now - draped over Faith's lap with her ass in the air getting spanked with a ping-pong paddle!

"Okay, you can stop."

"Sure?"

"Yep."

Faith gave her one last tap and threw the paddle on to the bed behind them. Buffy started to get up, but was stopped by arm across her lower back.

"Hang on just a sec."

"Why?"

Buffy felt a hand between her legs and then the oh-so-attractive crotch-zipper was being pulled down. "Faith, wait, no!"

It was too late. Oh, God, this was going to be embarrassing! Why hadn't she just got up? Buffy closed her eyes again tight as Faith's fingers slid inside the zipper and toyed in the slippery wetness she found there.

"Didn't affect you at all, huh?"

Buffy sighed, "Okay, busted, but it was a heightened situation and...and..." She sighed again - more dreamily - as Faith's fingers pushed easily inside of her.

"And?"

"And shouldn't we be running?"

"We have to give the demons a chance to clear out first, B."

That made sense, but..."This just feels..."

"Good?"

It was hard to shrug when trying to lie limply over Faith's knees, but Buffy gave it a go.

Faith's fingers slid out of her. "Not good?"

Buffy could feel the fingertips, tucked just beneath the metal zipper, still resting against her. They felt good just like that - good enough that her legs instinctively spread a little wider - they'd felt better a moment ago, inside her, but she was just too embarrassed to admit she was enjoying any of this.

"Don't you think it's weird that we're literally running for our lives and yet every time we get a second to breathe... instead of breathing we... end up getting our butts spanked, ya know, just for example?"

Faith laughed. "Love in the fast lane, Babe. Good point though, actually. You sure you're ready for us?"

Buffy laughed with her but it turned to a gurgle as the fingers searched deeper within the leather and found her clit. "Ohh...too late to turn back now."

"You sure?" Faith's fingers paused, teasing her.

"Yes! Now get on with it before I fall off!" Buffy wriggled against the fingers.

Faith started rubbing her again. "Gee, and you say I'm not romantic enough."

"We're in a strip club stroke brothel and I'm balanced over your knees like a naughty kid and..." Buffy raised her head as best as could to see Faith. "...you're still wearing the scary serial killer mask. I think the romance in this sitch was already long dead."

"You may have a point." Faith laughed again. "Quick and dirty it is then."

The arm tightened across her back, keeping her steady and then Faith raised a knee, pushing Buffy into a sort of sloppy tent shape. It was even less comfortable than before, and more embarrassing what with her ass being right up in the air now, but as Faith pushed a thumb inside her - so small yet so satisfying - and rubbed her clit harder, Buffy didn't really give a flying crap how stupid she looked.

"Oh yeah, that's good." Her voice came out shuddery, probably because she was shaking about on Faith's knees like a kernel of corn ready to be popped. "But when we tell the story... you can leave out the spanking part."

Faith laughed yet again. She was really enjoying herself in here! That was worrying, or would be, if Buffy could worry about anything right now but coming.

"The spanking's the best bit, B. The way your cute little butt was wriggling for the next one but your face was doing the whole mortified pouting thing."

"You couldn't even see my face." Buffy went red. "I mean, I wasn't wriggling for the next one at all!"

"You keep telling yourself that, Blondie."

"Keep up the wise talk, Effie, it's your turn next," Buffy countered gleefully if a little out of breath now.

"Yeah, I'll take my fuck without the bondage, thanks."

"Oh no you won't."

Faith started to say something negatory back but then the building came down around them.

I knew this was a bad idea! She thought as she was flipped onto the floor as Faith jumped up, but all she could actually say was, "Jesus, that's...!"

"Annoying?" Faith snapped, already backing away fast. "Yeah, I know. Get the fuck up."

"I was gonna go with big," Buffy said as she scrambled awkwardly to her feet.

Whatever it was had ripped the side of the building away. Rubble and debris covered the room and God only knew how they hadn't been killed by any of it landing on them - or maybe just one God in particular.

The thing was standing in the street outside, as tall as the buildings around it. Buffy hadn't realised they were so close to a main road but cars were just in front of them, swerving around the monster's feet in a panic, many of them crashing into walls or each other as they reacted with instinct rather than good driving sense.

They were the only thing that gave the two slayers, or Buffy at least, a chance to get out of this alive. The creature straight out of Godzilla but without the zilla part seemed to be confused by the mechanical commotion around its ankles and was staring at it rather than them.

"We gotta move, babe!" Faith shouted over the din of car horns. "Before it remembers why it's here."

"My legs are all shaky," she complained, not sure how fast she could run without a minute or two of recuperation time.

"Stroke my ego later. Run now!"

"I wasn't..." It was Faith's turn to carry her as she boosted Buffy over her shoulder and ran out of where there used to be a brick wall. "What is it?"

"You're the one who read all them Greek books."

Buffy stared at it as she bumped along on Faith's shoulder. Now they were on the move it had taken an interest again and came after them.

It looked very much like a cross between a troll and a bear, although a good five times or more bigger. It's features were vaguely human but it was covered in dark brown, matted hair, had a nose kind of like a pig's snout, tusks and whiskers a walrus would have been proud of and stubby horns that ran around it's forehead like an ivory tiara.

Its feet were the same size as the cars he came close to crushing as he ran, no, walked after them. How fast his gait was made little difference though, seeing as to walk a mile in his shoes you'd only need to take about six steps.

"Okay, I'm good." Buffy yelled over the noise of its feet stamping the road. "Let me down."

There was no way they'd outrun it with Faith carrying her, quick as she was. They might not even outrun it when they were both on foot come to that.

"We gotta get down side streets again," she yelled.

"Might not be a good idea. Not sure I know this area so well," Faith yelled back. "If we follow this road though we're bound to get to the centre eventually."

Buffy shook her head. "I'd rather risk getting lost in the bad part of town where he can't see us than get stomped heading for somewhere we know."

Out the corner of her eye she saw Faith shrug. "Pick a road then. Can't start our new life together stomped."

Buffy turned to grin at her and then turned further to see the behemoth still advancing. Its fists were raised ready to strike and she knew that even if it missed and hit the ground behind them the shockwave would knock them off their feet. She was as good as dead then even if the monster somehow had the brains to know he wasn't supposed to kill Faith too.

"That one!" Buffy ran for the street.

It wasn't as narrow as she would have liked, merely the first one she spotted, but it would do. Hopefully being out of sight would confuse the beast as much as the traffic had.

"So do you know what it is?" Faith asked, following close on her heels.

"I think-" Buffy stressed the 'think' because she was hardly an expert. "-it's a Gigantes."

"Any special powers?"

"The power to crush us into itty-bitty pieces with its little toe?"

"Any other powers?"

"I don't know, Faith! I think our best bet is to just keep the hell away from it so we don't find out."

Behind them, the corner of a building was smashed off. Screams reached their ears from inside and while they were still shivering from that the monster's shadow blocked out the streetlight, making the narrow road a whole lot darker.

"Jeez, B, Troy wouldn't smash up his city like this!"

"Obviously he would," Buffy said as neutrally as possible.

"No. He loves Rome. He loves everywhere! And he hates vandalism and property damage. Seriously, you should hear him talk about it. It's like nearly as bad as murder to him."

"Well, he doesn't seem too adverse to murder tonight either."

"I don't know. Neither of us is dead are we? I think he's just trying to scare us."

Buffy scoffed but said nothing as they ran out of the side street onto another main road. There was no side street directly opposite but, dodging cars, they headed for one a hundred yards down. They'd barely ran into it before they heard cars crashing behind them.

"How do we know - how does he know! - that people aren't dying in those car crashes because of his pet monster? That's murder too."

"Troy wouldn't do that!"

"He would, because he really wants you back!"

"Then maybe..." Faith did the worse thing possible then and stopped. "...maybe I should just go back to him."

Buffy skidded to a stop just in front of her. "What?"

"If he's killing people 'cause of me then I'm just as responsible. And I don't wanna be responsible for any more needless deaths, B. I've been down that road and I worked hard to come back the other way."

"This is not the same thing! You're not killing them, he is! Because he doesn't know when he's been beaten and he's a sore loser and a million other reasons that are not your fault!"

"But still, if I can stop this. . ."

Buffy grabbed her by the shoulders. "Think about it, Effie. Who do you really think you should be with now? Me, who was prepared to plan your wedding just so you'd be happy, or the God, who starts killing people when he doesn't get his own way?"

It hurt her that Faith hesitated, but the fact that she gave a nod afterwards and started running with her again made up for it.

Buffy breathed a sigh of relief. "Besides, Italians are used to crazy driving conditions. They probably all have marshmallow airbags and up-to-date wills."

"I'm gonna kick his ass next time I see him!"

"Good. I'll hold your coat..." Buffy grinned at her, but then almost lost her footing. "...Wait, how did I not realise you were still completely naked!"

"Because now's not the time for leering at me?"

A building was smashed down one side further back, but close enough to hear the screams from inside. Buffy tried not to think about them.

They ran out onto another main street. Buffy was torn between fearing for the drivers and fearing for Faith's modesty.

As they dashed into another side street, she shouted. "Why didn't you put something on?"

"When did I have time between fucking you to ecstasy and carrying you to safety?" Faith shouted back. "Anyway, I have my mask on."

"That hardly covers your girl-bits!"

"Your crotch zip is still open!"

"Huh?" She looked down and almost tripped again when she saw Private-Buffy on display for all of Rome to see. "Oh God. You could have told me!"

"I'm naked here!"

"But you're wearing a mask!"

"I swear to God, B, I'm gonna throw you to that thing back there if you don't start saving your breath for running, ya get me?"

Buffy shot her a nasty look but kept quiet anyway, running awkwardly as she tried to zip herself up without slowing down.

Walls were breaking behind them with too much regularity, but she knew they could get away if they played smart. Which meant she had to do the thinking and not Faith, she thought meanly. Staying to the side streets was working - she'd have been dead by now for sure if they wasn't - but all they were doing was stalling. They needed to be craftier about it.

She wasn't sure how though until they ran out onto another main street and she saw a little red M way down the road.

"Metro!"

"It's shut at this time of night."

"Yeah, but that thing is too big to follow us down there."

"They have gates, B."

"Yeah, gates that don't always go all the way to the top, F."

"Okay." Faith sounded like she was just humouring her, but Buffy ran for the sign anyway.

She almost slithered down the stone steps - slick from the sweat that had been dripped on them all day long - in her bare feet, but, hah, she'd been right. There was a gap just big enough for them to climb through at the top of the metal gate.

Once on the other side, they took a moment to catch their breath. Above them they could hear the thunderous roar of the Gigantes footsteps, but either it hadn't realised where they were hiding or Buffy had been right and it was too big to follow them down and was flummoxed for a few minutes.

"What now?" Faith asked.

Buffy leant up against one of the big maps and rubbed her hands over her sweat-drippy face. "Just give me a sec."

It was weird being down here when it was completely deserted. Empty and echo-y without the rumble of underground trains and the chatter of a constant crowd.

"Still recovering from, well, me?" Faith leered at her playfully.

Buffy smirked back. "Recovering from a whole lot of things."

Faith stepped closer, aiming to kiss her, but Buffy pushed her back. "No! No more fun until we're safe." Faith pouted a little. "It always ends in badness! You'll get your spanky-goodness when your ex stops trying to kill me."

Faith broke through her defence, grasped the back of her neck and pulled her in for a quick kiss anyway before saying, "You're not spanking me."

"What goes around comes around." The smashing of masonry up above filtered down to them. "Okay, time to move."

"Where?"

"Along the tracks." Buffy studied the map.

"Aren't they electrified?"

Buffy hesitated, not sure, but then shrugged. "There must be a maintenance ledge or something. Hey, look."

Faith looked to where she was pointing on the map. "We're only a station away from our place."

Buffy grinned again, bigger than before. "Exactly. You still sure Troy doesn't know about it?"

"Sure as I can be."

Buffy nodded. "Then let's go before Mister Gigantic up there figures out we're down here."

They jumped over the ticket machines and headed down the steps to the tracks; checking the line destinations to figure out which direction they should walk in. Then, they both looked into the dark abyss of the tunnel.

It was really dark.

Trying not to gulp - because they had no weapons and who knew what nasties Troy might have waiting for them this time - Buffy held out her hand for Faith.

"Are you ready for this?" she asked. "Our new life together starts here if you want it."

"Do you?"

"No, I'm just holding my hand out in case the cupcake express happens by."

Faith's smile was just visible in the muted platform night-lights as she took her hand. "Then let's do it."


Chapter Seven

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Part Ten Quick-Jump:

Chapter One || Chapter Two || Chapter Three || Chapter Four || Chapter Five || Chapter Six || Chapter Seven || Chapter Eight || Chapter Nine || Bonus Chapter


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