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 Nine: Take Me By The Hand, Take Me Somewhere New

Faith must have run as soon as she was out of sight. Buffy could hear her feet echoing on the stairs. She had to go after her. They couldn't split up now! Couldn't Faith see that? It was asking for trouble. They had to stay together until they were out of the country. They had to stay together forever, that was the point, even if forever only lasted two weeks.

Strong, determined arms encircled her waist before she could leave the apartment and give chase. She struggled against them. "Let me go."

"No." Toni dug her heels in, pulling her back into the apartment so she could turn them around and use her back to push the door closed. "You can not follow her out there, Buffy."

"I can't just let her leave!" Buffy pushed at the arms around her, but Toni fought against her to hold on.

"She is not the one with a warrant out for her death!"

"But Troy could still catch her, kidnap her, drag her off somewhere and I'll never see her again!"

"Faith is not stupid, she will be careful."

"Not if she doesn't want to be."

She was calming down a little, hysteria morphing into good solid anger at Faith's careless attitude. Just because she needed a little space to get her head together, whatever that meant, it made it okay for her to just run out like that? Never mind that they had a plane to catch; probably the most important flight either of them would ever take.

With the anger burning in her, Toni's arms were starting to be too restrictive. Actually, they were very restrictive, that was the point, but they were unnecessary now and she tried to shrug her off irritably.

"It's okay. If she wants to run off and think then that's up to her. I'm not gonna run after her and beg her to come back. You can let go."

Toni gradually did let go. "I am sure she will be back very soon."

"Oh, you can bet on it, 'cause now I'm gonna run after her and drag her back here so I can kick her selfish ass!"

Buffy darted around her and charged for the door. Toni reacted even quicker somehow and body-slammed her, front first, into the wall beside it.

"Ow," she groaned, her cheek pressed against the rough plaster. "Have you been working out?"

Toni's low chuckle was right by her ear.

Buffy tried to push away from the wall, but while she felt Toni have to shift her feet a little for better leverage, her girlfriend certainly had no trouble keeping her there. That shouldn't have been possible, but then had she seen her throw Faith across the room like she was a tennis ball too.

"Seriously, what's happened to you since last night? Did you get bitten by a radioactive penguin or something?"

Toni chuckled again, but still didn't give her an answer. Instead she just leaned more comfortably against Buffy's back. Holding her wrists against the wall and resting her chin on her shoulder.

Buffy turned her head just enough to see her out of the corner of her eye and hitched an eyebrow. This had suddenly gotten a little cosy.

"Okay, you really can let me go now," she tried. "I've completely lost the urge to run out there and get myself killed."

Toni smirked. "I do not believe you."

"Oh, come on!" She gave a frustrated little chuckle herself. "Let me go!"

"I do not think so, no."

"So what? You're just gonna hold me here until Faith comes back?"

Toni thought about it for a moment and then shrugged against her. "Si."

"Faith won't like it if she walks in and finds us like this."

Toni's nose brushed her neck as she nuzzled into her hair. "Tell me, am I supposed to have a problem with that scenario?"

Buffy's forehead hit the wall with a soft thud as she groaned with extreme feeling. Exactly what she was feeling was all a little jumbled and confusing but that just made it all the more extreme.

"I thought you were going to be good!"

"Good? How?" Toni placed a soft kiss on the side of her neck. "I agreed to help you and Faith run away together. I never agreed to give you up without a fight."

Buffy groaned again. "I thought it was kind of implied."

"When?" Toni purred into her ear. "When you said you were not breaking up with me or when you kissed me?"

She kissed the side of her neck again as she slid her hands down to Buffy's elbows and then down underside of her bare arms. Metal zippers jangled quietly as her hands stroked down the sides of the bizarre leather teddy.

Buffy remained leaning against the wall, feeling helpless to do anything but, and not just because of the way she had no choice in the matter. She cursed internally as Toni's hands settled comfortably on her hips, fingertips applying just enough pressure to encourage her snugly back against her and her breathing got noticeably deeper in response.

She didn't lift her head though, despite being suddenly all malleable, and she didn't say anything. What could she say? Oh, sure, 'No', 'Stop' and 'You're dumped' were all good words but they weren't exactly the ones on the tip of her tongue right now. Besides, Faith had stormed off all with the not caring, leaving her with Toni...

Okay, if she had to justify to herself, she probably shouldn't be doing it. Toni's hands slipped around to teasingly stroke up and down her leather-clad abs and Buffy forgot what she had just thought.

"I missed you so much, mia Cara," Toni breathed into her neck.

"Me too," she murmured honestly, her butt accidentally pressing back against Toni as her body reacted to the words, the warm breath, the almost but not quite innocently touching hands. "But we shouldn't."

"Why not?"

"Faith."

"We can be quick."

The words surprised a chuckle out of her, but when the hands slid unerringly upwards, she gave in to groaning again and scrunching her eyes shut.

"That wasn't really my point."

"I know."

Toni's hands stayed on her breasts and even if she'd possessed the strength to resist this before, it was gone now; double-gone when soft lips returned to leave little light open-mouth kisses from behind her ear down to her shoulder.

She shivered pleasantly and was accidentally encouraging more full-body contact by the second as she rhythmically pushed backwards against Toni. When the twin breast zippers were suddenly released, letting the cool apartment air in to perk her already plenty perky nipples, she actually gasped and smooshed her hips firmly backwards, feeling Toni's rich happy-moan against her damp neck more than hearing it.

Oh, God, this was really happening, wasn't it? Why couldn't she be less happy about that? Okay, Faith, time to come back. Come back right now! Now. Now, dammit! Okay, if you're not back in three minutes, this is happening. You've been warned. Toni's fingers squeezed between the metal teeth to tease her nipples. Okay, two minutes! Two minutes... two minutes before... The fingers went away and Toni twirled her around, and Buffy felt the wall press into her back instead. Okay, time's up!

Toni grinned at her and Buffy grinned back, but as Toni swooped in eagerly to kiss her, she put her hand up.

"Wait!"

"We do not have time to wait."

Toni did pause though, breathing heavily. Well, panting really. Buffy made the mistake of looking down at her heaving chest, and even despite the bright green poncho it caused another thread of arousal to trickle through her. She steeled herself, feeling determined about one thing at least.

"Tell me who you are first."

Toni chuckled impatiently, her fingers edging back between the zippers. "You know who I am."

"I really don't." She leant her head back against the wall, not denying Toni's touch but keeping her lips at bay. "I know I love you. I know I..." she sighed almost painfully as she admitted "...want you really bad right now. But I have no idea who you are."

Her words fanned the fire in Toni's eyes and she growled, "After," as she tried to surge forward.

Buffy pushed her away just enough to make her point. "Now. Please?"

Toni sighed and moved her hands up to Buffy's shoulders. She wanted to tell her that wasn't necessary but then she would probably never get her answer. Besides, it wasn't as innocent a gesture as she had thought, she realized, as Toni pulled open the zippers up there as she asked:

"Where should I start?"

Buffy smirked. "With the short version. And you can leave out the bit about the tortoise racing, I already know about that."

Toni looked confused for a moment, but then chuckled softly before she started to talk, fast.

"My father is Mercury, God of trade, commerce and profit, and also holding the highly respected post of Messenger, but my mother was a mortal, kidnapped from Sabina by Romulus' army when she was but a girl and chosen by Mercury because she was so beautiful."

"So you're..." Buffy frowned a little. "...half a god? What do you call it, a...?"

"Demi-Goddess," Toni nodded. "Si. But my mother died young, as I have told you, and I had, what was then, the unique privilege of being raised by my father alone. He could not bear to abandon me, you see, because he loved my mother so much."

When Toni paused, Buffy waited a few moments before giving the conversation a little nudge. "So you were raised by your dad...?"

"He nurtured my powers and gave me instruction in them. Taught me right from wrong, you would say. But the older I grew the less he was around. As a... a teenager, I suppose, I did not want to accompany him on his every voyage and I was left to my own devices a lot in the burgeoning city of Rome. It was a scandalous place, even before the empire began." After several moments of stroking the bared skin of her shoulders, she moved her hands down to Buffy's sides again. "It was not a place a young woman with my power should have had as her playground. If I had not been seduced by Sappho in a tavern half a mile from here I would probably have a thousand or more descendants by now."

Buffy grinned, "You met Sappho? You have to tell Willow that story."

She was a little surprised that she was taking this so much in stride, but then maybe once you'd heard Angel's backstory everyone else's was a little less shocking.

"No. It was not really her; at least if it was, she lied about her name." Toni pulled on the silver tabs resting against Buffy's ribs, releasing the zippers there. "But I did meet a woman, the most beautiful woman alive, a woman who brought my power to heights I had never known existed; who showed me it was not just a tool but something exquisite to be enjoyed and worshiped and basked within."

Buffy gave a short surprised laugh at the intensity in Toni's tale. "What the hell kinda powers do you have?"

Toni drew herself up proudly; obviously she had been looking forward to getting to this part. "I am a Goddess of Love; my powers lie in the acts of love."

Somehow it was anti-climatic. "Really?"

Toni's shoulders slumped at the reaction. "Really."

"So like romance and poetry and..." she let the sentence peter out, frowning a little.

"Sex, si." Toni sighed and eased herself back with an exasperated look. "And I can now safely assume that Faith was telling the truth."

"What?" It took Buffy a moment to figure out what she meant. When she did, she shook her head fast and took Toni's hands. "No! Faith was just trying to hurt you. We're good together. You know that."

"But not as good as Faith?"

The conversation had gotten uncomfortable. "You're both good in different ways. You bring... different skills to the table." She winced inside, blushing outside as she added, "But you both, you know, get the... job done."

"Do you mean that?" Toni suddenly looked very shy.

Buffy squeezed her hands. "Really; at this point, why would I lie?"

When Toni still looked doubtful, she pulled her close. "Come here." She kissed her. "See?" She kissed her again. "Convinced yet?"

Toni nodded slowly, her nose brushing Buffy's. She was the one to lean in next, her enthusiasm growing again. When Buffy didn't pull away or tell her to wait, her hands slipped inside the side zippers to caress her back and pull her closer still.

Buffy knew she should do one or the other, but apparently she wasn't going to. There was still the fact that Faith would be back any second now though, and that they had a plane to catch in less time than it would take them to get to the airport. She could blame missing it on Faith's untimely disappearance but only if she was ready to go when the other Slayer came back.

"I need to get changed," she said between fiery kisses. "Do we have time for a shower? I mean, me... do I have time for a shower?"

Toni chuckled against her lips. "No, but there is a shower on the plane. I'm not sure if it is big enough for three but..."

"Don't tease me like that!"

"Sorry, I did not mean to give you false hope." Toni grinned and pressed her back tightly against the wall as they kissed again.

"Help me get this thing off," Buffy said the next time she could talk, pulling at the leather gear. Even with all but one of the zippers undone she could barely make it budge.

"Certainly!" Toni eased the now loose leather away from her shoulders and started to tug it downwards. "But are you sure that is wise? Faith will walk through this door any moment."

Buffy looked at the door, a foot to their left, and then back at Toni with a shrug.

"Since when do you care?" That earned her a scorching kiss. "Besides, you're just helping me get changed."

"Of course." Toni pulled the leather over her hips and ass and gave it a hard push to the floor. "I am just being a good girlfriend."

"Exactly." Buffy grinned as she kicked the garment away from her feet. "But you might wanna tone down the girlfriend stuff around Faith."

Toni just ignored that and kissed her instead.

Now what was she doing? Tonight was supposed to be about making a new start with Faith, about being a one-woman woman again, but things had gotten away from her and she'd just ended up switching. Now she was cheating on Faith with Toni! Everything was suddenly upside down. Was she really okay with this?

Toni pressed the length of her body to Buffy's, hands gripping her ass as she rocked their hips together, her tongue not giving Buffy's a moment's respite. Buffy's skin was damp from being trapped in the leather so long and Toni's poncho was cold and uncomfortable so she pulled it up, breaking the kiss just long enough to pull it off of Toni's head. As their lips met again, she dropped it and brought her hands between them to work each of Toni's shirt buttons quickly undone.

Apparently she was really okay with this.

It couldn't last. She couldn't be with them both indefinitely. That never would have worked in reality even before everything had changed. Just a little bit longer wouldn't hurt though.

She slid her hands inside the open shirt, caressing the bare skin of her stomach, her back, the material of her bra. Her hands remembering how Toni liked to be touched even after all their time apart. This was so different to being with Faith - not worse, or better; just different. It was hard to believe Toni was related to the gods; she felt too real, too warm, too human, too easy to love.

This couldn't end good. Buffy was trying to listen for footsteps on the stairs outside but it was hard enough with the way Toni was playing with her breasts. When one of her hands headed south, it was completely impossible.

"Bedroom," she said, thinking that would buy them a few more seconds of jumping apart time at least.

"No," Toni countered, barely giving up purchase of her lips.

"Kitchen then," Buffy insisted, pushing her back a few steps.

"No."

They grappled, still kissing, with Buffy pushing her backwards and Toni pushing forwards. Two steps forward, three steps back; story of her life. So was what happened next, she figured, as they fell sideways over the inflatable chair.

The chair made loud squeaking noises as they rolled around on it, but now that they were down Buffy didn't have the resolve to make them get back up again. She spread her legs for Toni's hand instead and shoved her own into Toni's jeans without wasting time undoing them; one eye on a the metaphorical clock and the other firmly focused on Toni's face as they screwed.

It felt like only seconds before Buffy was bucking up against her, not even noticing the way the squeaky plastic pulled painfully at her hair as her head writhed around in pleasure. Dropping her hips to grind against Buffy's hand, Toni followed her moments later.

They slumped together with melty limbs, both breathing hard yet still managing to kiss sloppily. The chair squeezed out from under them, sending them a further six inches to the floor. Buffy almost made a joke about hardwood, but realized that Toni wouldn't get it and saved her breath.

"That was different," she panted instead.

Toni nodded, her lips nuzzling Buffy's neck. "My powers are slowly returning."

"And that makes..." She wasn't quite sure how to finish that sentence without insulting Toni. And after that, the last thing she wanted to do was insult her.

Toni nodded again, understanding and not seeming offended. "I have been stripped of my powers for over two thousand years. Until I met you I had forgotten what it was even like to be sexually aroused, let alone loved."

Buffy didn't frown; there were far too many endorphins rushing through her for that, but her brow did crease a little.

"I thought you only got your powers back tonight."

Which in turn also meant the prophecy must have been successful, but she couldn't think about that right now. She would have to talk to Faith about it later though; or actually, maybe now she could get Toni to explain it all. That would be a fitting punishment for the part she had played.

Although that would mean Toni was really coming with them. It wasn't something Buffy was against, but Faith wasn't going to like it at all. Having said that, where was Faith? The law of her world said that Faith should have walked in right about the time she had let Toni get her naked, or at least when they'd fallen on the chair together already half way to ecstasy.

She must have been gone for over half an hour now. That didn't bode well. Causing them to miss the plane by a few minutes because she was freaked out was one thing, not turning up until they should have been boarding the plane? That had a whole different worse connotation.

What if Faith didn't turn up at all?

She felt the panic rise in her again, but all of that had gone through her mind so fast that Toni hadn't had a chance to pick up on her change in mood yet. She still lay comfortably over her, lips pecking her shoulder, neck or cheek between words as she answered her question.

"I did, but you awakened something in me long before it should have been possible."

"Yeah, I'm a regular miracle," she said distractedly as she rolled them over.

"What is wrong?"

"I need to get dressed."

Buffy hopped to her feet and headed for the bedroom without looking back, missing Toni's sigh and disappointed eyes.

As she went through the clothes she and Faith had left there, more interested in what was the easiest to pull on than whose were whose, she heard Toni walk into the bedroom behind her.

"Sorry to be so abrupt," she said without looking around. "But Faith should have been back by now."

Toni leaned on the doorframe. "I'm sure she will be back any minute."

"She wouldn't deliberately make us miss the plane." She pulled on a pair of her jeans and one of Faith's tank tops. "She's in trouble. Either one of Troy's demons has kidnapped her, or something else has her," she added, thinking about Troy's anti-fan club vampires.

Toni was silent for a moment before saying quietly, "Or perhaps she has just chosen not to come back."

When Buffy turned and glared at her, she added,

"Out of love. She knows that to spend your lives on the run would not be what is best for you."

Buffy shook her head as she grabbed her sneakers and sat on the edge of the cot to pull them on. "No, she wouldn't do that to me."

Toni was suddenly kneeling in front of her. "Buffy, I understand how you feel, but... things have gone too far now. Faith should be with Troy."

"No!" she snapped, pushing her away.

Toni wouldn't be pushed far. "I do not say this to hurt you."

"Well you are!"

Toni looked away. "I know, but Faith will not be taken by force. Troy would not allow it. Faith is more than sacred to him now. So if she is not here..." She didn't finish.

Buffy wanted to cry, could feel the tears right behind her eyes, but she wasn't gonna give in to them, because that would mean believing what Toni was saying. She was numb though, unable to move just yet, and staring blankly at a point somewhere to the left of Toni's ear.

Toni gently took her hands. "You must still leave the country until Troy has calmed down. Please, cara, come with me now."

It seemed to take Buffy a long time to answer, and when she did it was miserably. "I can't leave without Faith."

"You can!" Toni let go of her hands to cup her face, forcing Buffy to look her in the eye. "I know this is hard for you. I know you are hurting. But we can still be together. I can help you through this." She paused, swallowing. "I love you, Buffy, please...come with me."

Buffy met her eyes for the longest time. Feeling everything Toni was saying and not, for once, feeling the need to doubt her motives. She stroked her palm down Toni's cheek and then smoothed her knuckles along the line of her jaw.

It would have been so easy to say yes, to leave this mess behind once and for all. But as much as loved Toni, she knew her heart belonged somewhere else.

"I can't, I'm sorry. I have to find Faith."

She stood up again, looking around for her stuff, but there wasn't any stuff here that she needed. This apartment had never had the chance to turn into anything more than a shell for sex.

Toni stood too and began quickly buttoning her shirt.

"You don't have to come with."

"It will be very dangerous for you out there. I cannot let you go alone."

Buffy hesitated, not sure if finding Faith with Toni in tow was the best idea, but in the end she didn't dispute it. Going by the look in her girlfriend's eyes it would have been futile anyway.

That thought led quickly to an unpleasant one. She debated the merits of saying something inside her head but by the time they'd reached the busted front door, her brain had decided yes.

She turned to Toni, the regret in her eyes completely real. "Look, I do love you okay? A lot. But I need to say this."

Toni just waited apprehensively for her to go on.

"I'm with Faith now. What we just did was great, and if I'm honest, I wouldn't be anti doing it again, but... but I'm with Faith, first and, uh, foremost. Do you understand?" she added gently.

Toni looked at the floor, but nodded. "I understand."

"So when we find her I don't need you making any innuendos or taking little digs..."

"I said, I understand!" Toni yanked the door open and stormed out ahead of her.

Buffy sighed. She'd forgotten for a second it wasn't Faith she was talking to. Not that she would put the same behavior past Toni in different circumstances. She took a deep breath, wishing she didn't always have to take the route that made her life more complicated. She was pretty sure she never meant to, it just always seemed to happen anyway. Finally, panic over-ruling pissed off girlfriends, Buffy caught up with her at the top of the stairs.

Buffy was surprised when they left the apartment block that it was nearly light outside. Inside, thanks to the small windows, it had still seemed very dark, and in truth it wasn't much better outside thanks to the still heavy rain. The grey clouds were definitely taking on a pre-dawn tinge though.

Thankfully the thunder and lightning had passed, but Toni hadn't thought to grab her poncho and Buffy hadn't had a coat at the apartment anyway, so they were both soaked in seconds. They huddled for a minute or two in a doorway a block down from where they had emerged as they tried to decide where to look first.

"The phone booth is just down there." Buffy pointed, it was just visible another block down thanks to the faint light inside.

"If she was only using the telephone, she would have been back before now," Toni said needlessly. "She said she was going for a walk too. Where does she like to walk?"

Buffy shrugged. "She normally drives everywhere. But around the centre maybe."

Toni frowned at the rain, but then said, "This way." And headed out of the shelter of the doorway.

Buffy followed her, a little lost once they passed the metro station. There were no moving cars or scooters at all on the streets, which made it seem really spooky. Now and again she spotted demons lounging in doorways and above them she caught sight of dark shapes wheeling around the sky that probably weren't harmless birds. Toni ignored them all and she tried to as well.

It didn't take as long as she expected before the landmarks started getting familiar. Fifteen minutes perhaps. She'd always thought their apartment was further out than that.

"What do you see in her?" Toni asked out of the blue.

"I'm sorry?"

Toni didn't repeat the question and Buffy told herself she only had to think about it because it took her by surprise.

"Well, she's hot, for a start. Who wouldn't want to be with her?"

Toni gave her a side-long look and she felt irrationally defensive.

"It's more than that! She makes me laugh, she makes me feel safe, she makes me feel dangerous, she challenges me every step of the way. She fills me with confidence without even realizing it; she pushes every single one of my buttons because she knows I can handle it even when I don't. She's opened doors in my psyche that I never even knew existed and then makes me go through them! She's damaged me more than anyone I've ever loved and yet she's somehow turned that into something I crave..."

"Okay, you can stop now," Toni said with a grimace.

"Thanks," she risked a smile. "Because that last sentence wasn't going anywhere good."

Toni gave her a strained smile.

So far they'd walked past the Spanish Steps, skirted the Colosseum and taken an eerie walk across a completely deserted Piazza Venezia with no sign of Faith. With every step they had taken there was more evidence of the danger Toni had mentioned. More demons watching them, definitely gargoyles and gryphons in the sky. She was even pretty sure, although she never got a clear look at them, that several Goran had been following them for the last twenty minutes. None of them attacked though, and Buffy could only assume that it was Toni's presence that kept them at bay.

Now they were standing under the deep portico of the Pantheon, taking a little breather out of the rain, and Faith wasn't here either!

"Can you not feel her?" Toni asked.

"Only when she's touching me," she said absently, looking around, hoping to catch a Goran out.

"I thought you might have some kind of Slayer connection."

Buffy looked at her, slightly surprised, before she realized that surprise was redundant in this situation.

"We do, sort of, but it doesn't work like that. If she's in life-threatening danger or feeling some really strong emotional pain, my insides can feel that - even from the other side of the world. But if she's not," Buffy shrugged. "She could be in the next room and I wouldn't know it."

They were quiet for a moment, both thinking.

"So, this is the Pantheon, for all Gods," Buffy said casually. "Do you have a shrine in there?"

"I am a Demi-God."

"So, no shrines?"

Toni shrugged uncomfortably. "I have shrines."

Buffy grinned at her but left it at that.

It was Toni's turn to say something annoying. "So if Faith is in the deep, emotional pain you think she is, shouldn't you be able to feel her now?"

After a hard glare, Buffy actually thought about it. "I don't know. I've never actually tried to use the force."

"So try," Toni said simply and walked a few steps away as if giving her the room to do it.

"As a Demi-Goddess, shouldn't you be omnipotent and just be able to know where she is?" Buffy grumbled.

"Maybe I just do not want to tell you."

A glance at Toni proved she was joking, which was just as well for her. Figuring what the hell, Buffy gave the idea a go. She took a deep breath and centered her mind on Faith - although how that was any different to the last hour she didn't know.

In less than a minute, she nodded her head and said, "Towards the river."

"You can really feel her?"

"No, but there's a whole lot more demons on that side of the square than any other."

"In that case we should go this way." Toni started walking away from where Buffy had nodded.

"But...?"

"Can you fight through that many demons?"

"Probably not."

"Then it will be safer to take the long way around."

Buffy had to give her that one. They headed down a narrow side street. She was aware of a couple of demons following them and there were probably more ahead, but not in the same numbers that had been guarding the roads to the river.

"What are you going to say when we find her?" Toni asked.

"Well, first I'm going to tell her she's an idiot, and then I'm going to kick her ass for being an idiot, and after that... I don't know. I suppose the plane will be gone by now."

"It will wait but the longer we take to get to it, the more chance there is of us being stopped before we can board." She looked longingly towards a corner of the Piazza Navona as they hurried past the square. "I have not been home in eight months."

"I kept it just the way you left it."

Toni gave her a small smile before getting back on topic. "Even if we manage to board without incident we may be hijacked once in the air. If Troy has time to supplant my father's pilot with one of his own..."

"We'll have to take that chance. Even if we do get a rogue pilot, they aren't going to risk Faith's life. And once we land again we can fight our way out if we need to. Faith and I are a pretty formidable team together and you're..." she gave her girlfriend a look up and down before continuing. "...suddenly wicked strong. What does a goddess of love need with super-strength anyway?"

"I used to have to beat suitors off with a stick and there wasn't always a stick handy, so..."

"Really?"

"No, Buffy," Toni chuckled. "It is just part of the divine package. Besides, I am not that strong, just stronger than..."

They were about to step out onto a main street again when Toni tucked her hand under Buffy's arm, pulling her back into the deeper darkness of the side road.

"What is it?"

"Troy's guard."

"More demons?" Buffy peeked out, looking around.

She could actually use a little slayage right now. All this creeping around was frustrating. Not being able to find Faith was frustrating. The situation with Toni was frustrating. The rain was getting really frustrating - she was soaked to the bone now - and so was the staticky feeling in the pit of her stomach brought on by their ever present demon shadowers. Yep, getting to beat a couple senseless definitely sounded like a good idea.

So she was disappointed when Toni pointed and said, "No, his personal guard."

She looked and saw the brightly striped uniforms and, more importantly, the rifles they carried. They were on the long river road now and the clown-soldiers seemed to be clustered around each of the bridges in sight.

"They're stopping me from crossing the river," Buffy muttered.

Toni shook her head. "They are guarding Troy."

Buffy looked deeper through the rain. The Castel Sant'Angelo was just a dark, fat mass in the gloomy sub-daybreak light. The wet, plinth-bound angels that looked out from that bridge glistened and shone surreally in the streetlights and in the middle of them stood Troy.

"Okay, so we know where he is."

He was alone, staring down at the water. There were guards at the other end of the bridge but none on this side. Dressed impeccably in a suit, the bastard didn't even look wet, apart from his hair and that just managed to make him look sexy - from a completely objective point of view, obviously.

"Why's he just standing there?" she wondered.

"He's waiting."

"For what?"

Toni hesitated and then, obviously unhappy about doing so, gestured further up the street.

Faith was walking along on the other side of the road, dripping wet and clearly miserable. Her head was down and she didn't appear to be heading in any particular direction, just letting one foot fall in front of the other.

Buffy started, heart dropping like a stone, the second she saw her. She was ready to run to her but Toni caught her arm.

"No! She's about to walk into a trap!"

"You will be shot before you make it across the road!"

Faith had made it to the foot of the bridge now and looked up, perhaps by chance, to see Troy. She stopped; it was easy to see the surprise on her face even through the rain. Troy apparently hadn't spotted her yet. She looked down at her hands, back the way she had come and then at nothing for a few moments. Eventually, with a heavy sigh, she walked onto the bridge.

"Faith!"

If the other Slayer heard her, she didn't show it. Buffy pulled away from Toni and ran. If she got hit with a bullet now she probably wouldn't feel it anyway. Toni ran with her, shielding her from one side at least. By the time she had made it across the road, Faith had reached Troy and they were conversing too quietly for their voices to carry.

Buffy stopped, swallowing hard as she watched them. It was too late to shout 'trap' and she didn't know what her next move should be. So she waited for Faith to tell him to go to hell and turn away, because when she turned away she would see her and everything would be okay again. They might be back at square one as far as running away was concerned, but that didn't matter, they'd manage. They could manage anything as long as Faith turned around and walked away.

Her lungs were hurting from holding her breath but it became inconsequential when Faith's hands slid over Troy's shoulders and she leaned up to kiss him. It's just a kiss goodbye. She wouldn't do this to me. It's just a kiss goodbye. Except it wasn't stopping! He even had his arms around her now, holding her tight. Raindrops stung Buffy's eyes but she couldn't close them or pull them away, certain that if she didn't Faith would eventually have to look around, see the pain in them and come back to her.

They were talking now, and then kissing again, talking and kissing. She heard a weary but genuine laugh from Faith and it hardened her heart more than the kissing had. If it had been strained or sarcastic it would have meant nothing, but Faith only laughed like that when she meant it. She was only supposed to laugh like that with her. It was a true signal of her feelings, far more real than the kissing or embraces.

Faith had made her choice. Good for her.

Buffy took a step back, bumped into Toni, felt Toni take her hand, all without being able to drag her eyes from the couple on the bridge.

Eventually, swallowing against the bile burning her throat, she said coldly, "Let's go. We have a plane to catch."


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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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