Damned If I Don't, Damned If I Do
Part Three of The Damned Series
PART TEN: 24th to 25th September 2004
Note: This is a bridge chapter between parts ten and eleven. And if it was a Scrub's episode it would probably be called "Her Story."
BONUS CHAPTER: I Was Blindfolded, But Now I'm Seeing
"I finally know just what it means to let someone in. To see the side of me that no one does."
The sleek, black limousine was a part of her father's fleet; the only vehicle moving through the grey streets of Rome that morning. It ghosted up beside them with just the sound of wet tires swishing through the gutter puddles.
Buffy did not look up. A dozen demons could have leaned out of the windows with machine guns and she would not have flinched, would not have dragged her eyes from her endless staring match with the sidewalk.
She had not spoken a word since leaving the bridge.
Toni tugged on her hand to get her to stop walking and opened the back door of the big car. "Our transport to the airport."
Buffy nodded and got in.
Toni followed her, glad to finally be out of the teeming rain. "You are not concerned it may be a trap?"
Buffy looked around as if only just realizing she was in the limousine and then shrugged. "Why would you need to trap me? You already have me."
Toni smiled at the statement, although she did not like the dull tone with which it was delivered. "A trap of Troy's."
Buffy sat down on the wide leather bench seat along the back. Her feet dangled an inch shy of the floor so she pulled them up, hugging her shins tightly. Toni sat down next to her. The childlike, defensive posture made her hesitate briefly before wrapping an arm securely around Buffy's shaking shoulders, as much for warmth as comfort.
The car pulled away from the curb. It wouldn't take long to reach the airport with the city streets empty. Troy would call off the curfew soon now that he had Faith back but hopefully they could make good use of it first.
"Is it?" Buffy's words came out croaky and she was rocking ever so slightly under her arm.
"I am sorry?"
"A trap. Is this a set up? He's had his big finish and now he's getting you to clean up after him?" Buffy asked forcefully, turning sharply towards her, making her arm fall away and slither down the back of the seat. "Are you my escort to the gas chamber?"
"What gas chamber? Buffy, you will be safe soon. Troy has what he wants..."
Buffy's fist shot out in an unforgiving sideways punch, cutting Toni's words off as the seat leather split in two around a deep dent.
"How?" she demanded. "How did Troy do this? Everything was... And then... Did he plan all of this somehow? How do I know he's not pulling the strings even now? Is the driver a Goran? Let me see his face. If its Felacio I'm gonna..."
Buffy lunged for the sliding glass partition. Toni pulled her back; sure she would have no problem smashing it with one punch.
"He is not a demon, Buffy, he is human, I promise you."
Buffy shook her off and pushed her across the seat to arms-length. "And just how much are your promises worth, Antonella?"
Toni sat back, worried by the coldness in Buffy's voice, the indiscriminate anger in her eyes. "I don't understand..."
"Don't give me that crap! Look out the window - that's how much influence Troy has. He can bring Rome to a standstill in a few hours! And we both know he owns you for some reason."
"He does not..." she began indignantly, but again Buffy didn't let her get the sentence out.
"You were supposed to stay there, at the castle, and talk to him. Calm him down. Make him see sense. Or at least buy us enough time to escape! You told me you could do it. I trusted you, Toni! Did you just forget that or did he simply tighten the reins once we were gone, re-activated a chip in your head maybe? Whatever it is he does to turn you into his pathetic little minion again...?"
Incensed, Toni slapped her face, hard enough to turn her head to the side. She felt guilty instantly even though it was richly deserved but before she could even think to apologise Buffy caught her wrist and yanked it down to the seat between them as she slid threateningly closer across the leather.
"How did you find us? Our apartment, how did you know where it was? Has Troy known all along? Or were you following us right from the start last night? Tell me how you knew where we were?!"
Toni was trying to pull her arm away from Buffy's grip but despite her re-surging strength Buffy's anger was lending her twice that.
"I could feel you!" She shouted, frustrated. "As soon as I entered the city I could feel you and that whore. Your love was lighting up that hole like a psychic flare! That is how I found you."
She grunted as her wrist was twisted almost to breaking point. "Don't call her that!"
Toni ignored the pain she was in and laughed. "After everything she has done? After what she has just done? She left you, Buffy; your precious Faith walked away from you without a backward glance and still you put her on a pedestal!"
"That's your fault! If you hadn't turned up, we'd still be together. She never would have walked out. You planned this, you and Troy."
"Planned what?" Toni snapped incredulously.
"I don't know all the details," Buffy wailed. "He sent you to keep us occupied while he travelled to Rome or something."
"Yes, because it is true that I would get to Rome quicker on foot than he could get here in a car. It was a masterful plan, si."
Buffy sneered at her sarcasm and pressed deeper into Toni's personal space.
"You came to split us up. You knew just being there would cause an argument between us." Buffy sounded surer of herself now. "Putting doubts in our minds that weren't there until you showed up! You know Faith has a tendency to run when she feels cornered..."
"You are blaming Faith's cowardice on me too?" Toni shook her head. "I tell you now, Buffy, that I did none of the things you are accusing me of, but even if I had, Faith would still be a fool. She could have been with you for the rest of her life and she chose to run away from you instead. Does that not tell you anything?"
Buffy managed to not hear a word she said. "If I had gone after her I could have talked her down, made her see sense, but you stopped me!"
"I stopped you from getting killed!"
"You stopped me from getting in Troy's way!" Buffy seethed, pressing her back against the door as she growled in her face. "That's been your job all along, right? Keep me distracted with lies and... and sex so that Troy can get what he wants. And you think you're not his lackey?"
Toni grinned up at her. She had tried to keep calm and let Buffy rant, aware of the anguish and heartbreak Buffy was feeling right now at Faith's defection. However, any second now Buffy was going to snap her wrist and although it would heal almost immediately, that would not stop the initial sharp burst of pain. Buffy's words alone were causing her more than enough of that.
So she grinned cruelly as her voice became colder, older and more powerful. "I am so much more than that. I agreed to seduce you because I owed Troy a favor and I imagined you would be an enjoyable and challenging way to return it. Unfortunately I was only half right."
Buffy pushed her back against the door and Toni deliberately slid down it until she was lying almost flat out on the bench seat. With her free hand she gripped a handful of t-shirt and held Buffy over her.
Toni leered. "Well, you are indeed enjoyable but far too easy to be a challenge."
"You..." Buffy began, struggling on top of her, but unless she was prepared to rip her t-shirt, she was not going anywhere yet.
"How long did it take me to convince you, my love, to not run after her?" Toni could not seem to stop the mocking tone of her voice now that she had started. "Three minutes? Five? You could have still caught up to her but after just a few words you chose to let me seduce you again instead."
"I didn't choose, it just happened!"
"It happened because you wanted it to happen. It must have been something you truly wanted deep down. A reason not to go after her..."
"A way of blocking out the knowledge that she would not be back. An excuse to fall back on. Someone to blame. Me to blame!"
"No," Buffy said, weakly this time while still struggling. "It wasn't like that. It just, I just... you just..."
"I did not force you into anything, did I?"
"No but you still made me!"
"How did I make you if I did not force you?"
Buffy suddenly went calm, contemplating something. Toni waited warily beneath her, wondering what was going to come out of their mouths next.
"Well that's the million dollar question, isn't it, baby!" Buffy finally said when she had worked out whatever was running through her head. "How did you make me?"
Toni had loosened her hold on the t-shirt while Buffy had been quiet and now the Slayer had no problem yanking on both of her wrists and pinning them to the car door.
"You've been brainwashing me all along! You've been using your powers of love and lust and stuff to make me fall for you! It's all falling into place now. Why I was attracted to you so quickly. Why even though I should've broken up with you months ago I could never do it. Why I still love you when I should hate you. It's not you I love though, is it, Toni? It never was. It's just your stupid god powers of likeability that you've been using to keep me in line for Troy! God, I'm so stupid!"
Toni stared up at her, feeling Buffy's hot tears splash her face.
It would have broken her heart to see Buffy so upset if right now her heart was not already breaking from all the things Buffy had said. She did not know how to respond. Her first instinct was always to comfort Buffy but right now she could not feel less like comforting the callous blonde. Buffy sounded so sure that Toni had no real feelings for her - and obviously she felt her own feelings were no longer real either. It hurt to know that after everything she had done, everything she had said, it all meant nothing to Buffy.
Toni felt tears in her own eyes but she blinked them back furiously, not prepared to show any more emotion in front of this girl.
"Well, don't just blink at me. Come on, baby, deny it, lie to me. I know your dying to."
"I have no idea what power you are talking about."
"See, I knew you could..." Buffy began with mocking encouragement.
Toni showed her some of the power she did have then, pulling her arms down from where Buffy was pinning them, she rolled to the side and gave Buffy a small push, depositing her easily on to the floor between the seats. She sat herself up, glancing out of the window as she made a show of straightening her clothes and hair. They were passing big signs for the airport now; it would not be much longer before they were there.
Buffy was just sitting up indignantly when Toni stood, swooped down, picked her up in one hand and shoved her into one of the comfortable leather single seats opposite.
It happened so fast all Buffy managed was, "Whoa."
Toni sat back down on the edge of the bench. "You have had your say, now it is my turn."
"Nothing you say will..."
"Shut up!" Surprised, Buffy did so. "After your outburst I am no longer sure how much I care if you love me or not, but in Bracciano I went against Troy and declared myself your champion and I intend to remain so until you are out of danger. Now you do not have to love me, or even like me, but while I am putting my existence on the line for you, you will fucking respect me!"
Buffy swallowed at that, slightly pacified.
"Grazie. Now, as to the nature of my power. I can incite lust and desire in the most celibate of mortals because I can... feel what they need to let go of their... their inhibitions."
"What the hell are you talking about?"
Toni hadn't explained this to anyone in a long time and it was more awkward than she remembered, partially because of the way Buffy was staring at her, detached and unimpressed.
Toni sighed, she would have to demonstrate. "I know that when you were on top of me a minute ago you were aroused by it."
"I was not..."
"Yes, you were. And you were embarrassed by it and that made you angrier, which, curiously, aroused you even more. You liked trying to dominate me and... you liked not being able to even more."
Buffy's face was red. "That's not..." she shook her head.
Toni smiled, inappropriately enjoying herself. "You are becoming aroused right now."
"How are you...?" Buffy glared at her. "Stop it!"
"I have an empathy with all the highs and lows of love and desire. Your affection, jealousy, happiness, grief, devotion, betrayal, lust, passion and heartbreak all resonate within me, Buffy, and when those feelings are strong enough I am affected by them on more than just an academic level."
"And you use it to manipulate people like me fall in love with you," Buffy said coldly.
"No. I can inflame feelings of desire no matter how deeply they are buried in a person's soul, but I cannot make anyone fall in love if they do not already feel it. I am not Cupid and I have no powers of, ah," she tried to remember the word Buffy has used, and smiled when she did. "Likeability."
"Sure you do. You all do. Troy has it, Quantiaro has it, obviously you must do too."
"I must do?" Her smile turned sad and she felt her stomach sink at the deep memories triggered. "You are so sure it could not possibly be just me that you fell in love with?" After a lengthy pause in which Toni hoped futilely that Buffy would refute that statement, she continued. "Asamai can exude a sense of calm and well-being that draws people to him, all angels can, but Troy has no such inherent gift."
"But everyone loves him!"
"Troy has spent over three thousand years living amongst humans. He has learned your ways and how to influence your emotions to such a degree that when he does it, it is unnoticeable. It helps that he is handsome and charming but mostly it is like a magic trick based on sleight of hand."
"I have not been so... sociable."
"Why not? You're easily hotter and way more charming than Troy." Toni smiled even though it had obviously not been meant as a compliment. "How do I know you haven't been influencing people all over the place for centuries and now it's just one more thing you're lying to me about?"
Toni looked at Buffy's knees, feeling her smile disappear. "I suffered... loss, early in my existence. It made me reticent in the company of others. Troy has been my only real friend since that time."
"What about your family?"
"All but my father shunned me."
"Because they felt I had betrayed them."
And now she had betrayed Troy too. Once she had taken Buffy to safety, and Buffy no doubt took her leave of her, she would be truly alone. It was not a nice thought and her returning powers were but a small token of comfort at the moment.
"Why?" Buffy asked again.
Toni shook her head, not in the mood to answer any more questions. The limousine was travelling swiftly down the cloaked link road leading to the secret runway now. She could see her father's black jet waiting for them.
"Besides," she said, getting back to the point but looking at the jet rather than Buffy. "I did not have my powers when we met so I could not have used them to seduce you, even if the need had arisen."
It was a baiting question and Buffy opened her mouth to bite. However, the car pulled to a smooth stop before she could think what to say and Toni opened the door and stepped out, leaving Buffy to gape after her.
When Toni came back through from the cockpit she caught Buffy strapping herself tightly into her seat and crying messily. She watched her unnoticed for a few moments before leaning into the tiny toilet cubicle for a box of tissues.
When Buffy saw her she sniffed loudly and wiped the backs of her hands over her red eyes. "Sorry."
Frowning, Toni knelt down in front of her, set the box of tissues in her lap and then plucked one herself to gently dab at Buffy's wet cheeks. "What for?"
Buffy sniffed again. "I guess me crying over Faith isn't really something you want to see."
"I prefer you crying to fighting with me," she said honestly.
"Gee, thanks." Buffy gave her a small smile and tore a tissue from the box herself to wring in her hands. "Sorry about that."
"No you are not, but you will be." As Buffy cocked raised an eyebrow, Toni realized how that must have sounded. "That was not a threat." She smiled herself. "I simply meant that you are too upset and angry to feel sorry yet, but I am sure you will, given time."
Buffy nodded and lifted her tissue to blow her nose noisily an inch from Toni's face. Toni jerked her head back away from it.
"Sorry," Buffy said again.
"Now that one I believe," she said and Buffy chuckled soggily.
This was an ex-fighter jet and the seatbelt was of the complicated variety, fitting around the waist, the chest, over both shoulders and even around the thighs. Most people only bothered with the waist clasp but Buffy had fastened every single strap tight.
Toni tucked a finger under one of the thigh straps, "I thought I told you to be ready to run, just in case."
"And you're crazy if you think I was going to stand around waiting by the door when this thing is taxi-ing down the runway." She tugged on one of the shoulder straps herself. "They put these in here for a reason, ya know."
Toni's smile grew, glad that Buffy had calmed down enough to joke.
"So are we good?" Buffy asked and then blew her nose again.
Toni waited until she had wiped her nose and removed the tissue before leaning in with a hand on Buffy's knee.
"Of course we are good, cara." She stroked the side of her finger down Buffy's damp cheek tenderly. "I love..."
"No." Buffy shook her head with another sniff. "I meant with the pilot. He's not gonna blow us up or fly me straight to Troy?"
"Oh." Looking away, she stood so that she could sit in the seat next to Buffy. "Yes, we are good. I know him. We are safe."
"Good." There was silence for a moment and then Buffy muttered, "I didn't mean we weren't. I just can't think straight about us right now, okay?"
Toni gave a stiff nod, staring out of the small square windows on the far side of the plane. The rain had stopped and the clouds were lifting, patches of blue sky showing between them. The sun was still absent but it was giving some of the fluffier white clouds golden edges. It was pretty but Toni would have preferred to see at least one silver-lining instead.
The jet had paused at the end of the runway but now it began to move again.
"Toni?" When she didn't answer, Buffy went on hurriedly. "Even if you're mad at me right now is there any chance I could hold your hand? Please? Like now!" she squeaked as the jet really began to tear along.
Toni bit back a smile and held her hand out, wincing a little when Buffy grabbed it as tight as a gryphon's bite. Buffy screamed as the jet finally rocketed into the sky.
They had been in the air for half an hour before Buffy finally began relaxing enough to undo a few of her straps.
"It was just really fast!" she was saying again. "Like one minute we're down there and then we were up here. I wasn't expecting it. Normal planes are bad enough, nobody warned me about super-planes."
"Then you were very brave considering," Toni said, playfully condescending.
Buffy gave her an 'excuse me' look and as Toni smiled, let her own smirk grow. She held up the miniature bottle of vodka she had just finished. "We got any more of these?"
'These' were what had finally calmed Buffy down and put a smile back on her face, so Toni nodded agreeably and went to fetch some more from the kitchen cubicle.
All of her father's planes were designed for comfort as well as speed. All eight seats in the passenger compartment turned into beds; there was an entertainment centre, a shower room, and a very well-stocked kitchen. The only thing they didn't have - because the flight was on such short notice - was an in-flight stewardess, so the better food would remain uncooked. Toni took some packets of potato chips and peanuts through with the half a dozen mini bottles of hard liquor awkwardly held between her fingers.
Back with Buffy, she used her foot to press the button that would make the lipped table drop down in front of them and placed the drinks and snacks onto it.
"You've obviously been here before."
"Not necessarily this one but I have been flying on father's planes since he has had planes. The technology is upgraded every few years but it is all essentially the same." Toni took the seat beside her again and opened one of the bottles of vodka for herself.
Buffy ripped into a packet of salted chips with vigor. "Oh man, I can't even remember the last time I ate!"
She shoved a whole handful into her mouth at once and grinned blissfully at Toni as she chewed them.
"We can get something more substantial as soon as we land." Toni watched her eat fondly until one bag of chips had been devoured and another was opened, then her expression turned sombre and she stared down at her little bottle.
"What? Me spitting crumbs stopped being a turn on already?" Buffy quipped with her mouth full.
Toni chuckled but she still didn't look up. Now she was the one with too much on her mind. She knew she had to bring Faith up again and their fight in the limousine could not be left as it had been but she was loathe mentioning either and upsetting or angering Buffy all over again.
She tried telling herself that Buffy needed to talk about it, that she needed to rant and rave about whatever was on her mind concerning Faith; it was the only way she would truly come to terms with what had happened and the only way Toni would find out where she herself stood with Buffy now. She felt too tired to begin it all again so soon though. She may have only been half human, but it had still been a very tiring twenty-four hours for her too. She had only arrived from Japan at this time yesterday and already she was back on a plane going somewhere else. She had not even had time to let her jetlag set in. Not to mention Bracciano to Rome was a long walk, especially in the rain.
Still, surely it was better to say something now than worry about what was going to happen when they landed for the rest of the flight.
As it happened, Buffy beat her to the conversation-opener as she moved on to devour a packet of chilli flavored peanuts
"So where are we going anyway?"
Toni instantly tensed at the question of their destination. This would certainly bring the subject of Faith back up, whether she was ready for it or not.
"Greece," she said as nonchalantly as she could and then downed her mini-vodka in one.
"Greece!" This time Buffy's echo bounced off of the walls of the plane. "Are you joking? How is that hiding me?!"
Toni turned in her seat. "It will be the last place Troy will think to look and you already have accommodation booked there. Neither of us have enough money to go anywhere else, Buffy."
"But we're not due to go to Greece for over a week anyway. Were you just planning on sleeping on the beach until the villas are available?" Buffy paused for a moment, before adding in the same semi-distressed tone, "Because actually, if it's warm, I might not mind that."
Toni smiled. "Paulo, the pilot, has some cash for us, courtesy of my father. We will try and get one of the villas you have booked early and if not we will stay somewhere cheap until we are able to move in."
Buffy was quiet for a while and Toni waited patiently until she was ready to say what was on her mind. "I don't think I wanna go to Greece."
"I know," she said gently, "but trust me; it is the safest place for the next few days. If necessary we will be gone before Troy and Faith arrive."
"Trust you?" Buffy gave a bitter chuckle and then an apologetic smile before asking seriously, "Do you think they're still going to get married?"
Toni sighed before answering. "I think it will be better for Faith if they do."
"How can you say that?" Buffy was hurt.
"Because if they do, she will be the wife of the most powerful man on the planet. If they do not, she will simply be the expendable incubator of his unborn son."
Clearly not happy about it, Buffy nodded slowly anyway, then she looked Toni dead in the eye. "How could you have gone along with this?"
Toni held her stare and took her time answering. "As I said, I owed Troy a favor."
Toni just shook her head.
"All you need to know is that before I met you I agreed to this because I wanted my powers back. After I met you I went along with it because I wanted you."
"You're wrong," Buffy said slowly, making Toni tilt her head slightly. "If you want me, I need to know everything."
Toni's lips quirked up in a tiny smile as she let herself hope. "Are you saying...?"
Buffy cut her off. "All I'm saying is start talking."
Toni nodded and took another vodka miniature from the row of bottles. How much of herself was she prepared to give up without a straight answer from Buffy? She had always told her she would tell her everything when she could, but she had meant about Troy's plans, not about herself. She hadn't talked about her past, her history, with anyone but Troy for other two thousand years. Creating a fake history when she had first met Buffy and remaining faithful to it throughout their relationship had been much easier than being honest now would be.
The way Buffy was looking at her, though, her hazel-green eyes so open and expectant, the way she reached out to touch her hand and the soft exasperated way she said her name, "Antonella?" with a tiny but encouraging smile. How could she not take a risk if it meant even the smallest chance of getting to see that smile, look into her eyes, feel her touch for another day or two or a week or a year? She would never understand how Faith had walked away.
"What... what did you want to know?" She took a couple of deep swallows of her vodka.
"Wow," Buffy gave a soft chuckle. "You're really nervous." Toni shot her an embarrassed frown. "It's okay. I find this helps." Buffy said and took hold of Toni's hand tightly, although thankfully not as tightly as she had during take-off. "Now, let's start small. How did you lose your powers?"
Toni choked on laugh and a mouthful of vodka. "That is what you consider small?"
"Yep," Buffy grinned. "I played this game with Faith once and, trust me; I'm just easing you in. I won't even start on the sex questions until you've had a few more of those." She pointed to the bottle.
Toni laughed, shaking her head and taking another sip.
Buffy waited until she had composed herself before asking, "So?"
"My powers were stripped from me by Zeus and Jupiter."
"Okay. Now you get a question," Buffy said as she opened another bottle for herself.
Toni frowned, "Why?"
"It's how we get to know each other. Right now my turn again."
Toni was confused now. "But I never asked a question."
"Yes you did," Buffy smirked, "you asked 'why?'"
Toni grinned, already feeling more at ease, until Buffy asked her next question.
"What did you do wrong?"
"I am sorry?"
"No, you have to answer my question before you can ask another one," Buffy grinned as Toni rolled her eyes. "Why did two powerful Gods strip your powers?"
Toni looked away as she answered. "I told you, they thought I had betrayed them."
Toni half turned back to her. "Should it not be my turn now?"
Buffy nodded, "I'm going to give you that one because you're new to the game, but for future reference, you kinda have to answer in anecdotes, not short sentences."
"I will try to remember that. Do you think you will ever be happy without Faith?"
Buffy's mouth dropped open but she was grinning incredulously by the time she answered. "Uh, low blow. I only found out I wasn't going to be spending the rest of my life with her a few hours ago!"
"You ask me difficult questions, I ask you difficult questions. It is how the game works, no?"
Plus she desperately had to know the answer. It was one she had been asking herself for six months now.
Buffy narrowed her eyes. "I am so asking you a bunch of sex questions before you're drunk!"
Toni smiled and just waited for the answer, making Buffy seriously think about it.
"I don't know. I want to be. I thought I would be until we started our little thing but now I'm not so sure. I hope I can be though." She squeezed Toni's hand and then switched gears quickly. "So, why did they think you betrayed them?"
"Because I did. What 'thing'?" she shot back suspiciously.
Buffy's eyes flashed with guilt but she covered it by shaking her head. "Nu-uh. You don't get away with three words. How did you betray them?"
Toni heaved a big sigh and then swallowed the last of her vodka. "I went against their wishes. They discovered I was going to undertake a dangerous task and they called me to council to forbid me, as was their right. I went forth and did it anyway. I broke several laws. They were very angry and stripped me of my powers as punishment."
"Congratulations," Buffy began dryly. "You just managed to use lots of words and still not tell me anything revealing."
Toni grinned, but quelled it quickly as she asked, "What thing?"
Buffy took a big mouthful of her whisky, pulled a face and then answered quickly. "Faith and I have been seeing each other for the past week... and a bit."
Toni stared at her hard. "So your relationship was not just rekindled last night when you ran from the arena?"
"That's two questions."
"I do not care!"
Buffy sighed, "I didn't think you would. No, it wasn't last night. We rekindled the weekend before when we were in Bracciano for the dress fittings. We were going to keep seeing each other, behind everyone's backs, but then I found out the prophecy was taking place last night and I stormed the castle and screwed everything up."
Buffy looked like she was about to start crying again and so Toni squeezed her hand hard and snapped - to get her attention, and because she was angry. "Your turn."
Buffy blinked at her, taking a moment to focus on what was going on again. She sniffed, drank some whisky and nodded. "What did you ask their permission for?"
Ha, that was the one question she could not squirm her way around, probably, she would try.
"I needed to go to the underworld, to save a soul."
"Really? Whose soul?"
Toni shook her head, "No, my turn. Are you going to stay my girlfriend or not?"
They stared at each other defiantly, neither prepared to answer before the other did.
It was the pilot who finally broke the silence over the tannoy system, "We'll be touching down in five minutes, Miss Mancini."
They both swore and Toni looked out of the window. She had been so caught up she had not even realized they were descending. She knocked back her vodka as Buffy did the same with her whisky and then she started to clear the debris from the table and take it quickly back to the kitchen.
Buffy was securely strapping herself in by the time she returned. Toni sat back down and fastened her own waist strap.
"I think I'm a little drunk," Buffy admitted as the she got the straps mixed up and tangled around her.
"That will probably help with the landing," Toni assured her, and seeing the ground getting closer, offered Buffy her hand again. "But not the boat trip."
"Boat trip?" Buffy squeaked and then nearly squeezed her hand blue as the jet swooped down much faster than the average plane and the wheels hit the tarmac with a jolt.
"Okay, it's hot," Buffy complained for perhaps the tenth time since they had left the airport.
"I know," Toni said, bored by the observation now. "Another hour and we will be there."
"Another hour?" They had been walking more than hour already. "I thought you said we were taking a boat!"
"We will be. When we get there."
Buffy wiped her sweaty face with her equally sweaty arm. "Couldn't you just have got one of your dad's fancy limo's to pick us up at the airport?"
Toni shook her head. "We are no longer under my father's protection and it would have been too dangerous to take a normal taxicab."
"So we have to walk for hours in this heat?" Buffy griped.
"It is not that far."
And truthfully it was not that hot either. Buffy must have experienced greater temperatures than this when she lived in California, but apparently her time in Cleveland had dulled her memory. Toni did not care if she complained all the way there - she had already started to block it out - but it bothered her that Buffy was suffering, and that her skin was probably burning in the twenty-five degree heat.
They had not stopped at the airport long enough to buy sun cream; in fact they had not stopped at the airport long enough to go through passport control, sneaking out the back way as they had.
"I'm getting sunstroke!"
"You are getting a hangover."
There were houses on both sides of the dusty street here and as they passed one with children playing in the yard, Toni stopped and called to them. She spoke to the little boy in Greek, asking his name and what he was playing. Three minutes later she had purchased his floppy straw hat for an extortionate fifteen euros and walked on.
She handed the hat to Buffy, who took it gingerly. "How clean do you think this is?"
"As clean as you are right now."
Buffy glanced at her reproachfully but put the hat on her head and pulled the floppy brim low over her eyes to block out the glare of the sun. "Doesn't help with my hangover," she muttered.
Toni smiled. "We will be there soon, mia tesoro."
Arriving at the dock, they were told they would have to wait at least an hour before someone was available to take them across the bay.
Buffy had disgustingly emptied her stomach once in the roadside scrub and now, after a bottle of mineral water, was remarkably chirpy as they sat opposite each other sharing a plate of food and a couple of beers.
Toni could not help but keep smiling at her, even though she was still angry about her cheating with Faith and would probably never get over the sight of several packets of chips and some chilli nuts leaving her girlfriend's mouth at high speed to splatter... everywhere. There were some things about having a girlfriend she had not missed in the last two thousand years; holding their hair while they were sick was definitely third or fourth on that list.
She shook her head, willing the image away, and smiled at Buffy again who toasted her with an inch of gyro before popping it into her mouth.
"Are you feeling better?" Toni asked again, just to be sure. She did not want to get on a boat with a sickly Buffy.
"Uh huh, these are amazing," Buffy said, covering her mouth with her tissue as she spoke.
Toni gave her another indulgent smile. "This is just greasy diner food. Wait until we go to a real restaurant."
Buffy nodded, swallowed her food, took a sip of her beer, and then fixed Toni with a serious look.
"Okay, as much as I have that 'first day of vacation' feel right now and, thanks to you, a full tummy again finally! We were kind of in the middle of something on the plane."
Toni looked out over the sparkling waters of the bay. "Si."
"So did you wanna answer first or shall I?"
Toni smirked as Buffy groaned but accepted her decision.
"Are we still together?" Buffy sighed, taking another sip of her beer and wiping her mouth again before answering. "I don't know, you tell me...?"
"Okay then, yes we are," Toni said, trying to hide her uncertainty behind a confident smile.
Buffy smirked, "I hadn't finished."
Grinning slightly, Toni made a gesture for her to go on.
Buffy's smirk slipped away as she gathered her thoughts. Toni tried keeping her confident smile, but she was tensed inside, waiting for what she had always been sure was coming.
"What I said in the limo...about how I should feel about you..." Buffy was choosing her words carefully; adding to Toni's growing unease. "I meant that. I should have broken up with you back when I first found out you and Troy were up to something. I shouldn't forgive you just like that after all the lies you've told. I should... hate you," she said quietly, "for deliberately coming between Faith and I."
There was silence for a minute apart from the calling of gulls, the lapping of waves and snatches of conversations borne on the warm breeze. Toni knew better than to try and fill it.
If this was it, she would accept that. That did not mean she would not make her case for as long as felt she had one, but she was not going to beg for another chance. She had fallen apart in front of one woman and saw how much good it did not do.
"But I didn't break up with you, I have forgiven you and... and I think I do hate you, a little bit, but I love you anyway. I can't help that." Buffy said honestly.
"Then, this is a good thing?"
"Not if I only feel this way because of your powers!" Buffy said in a heated whisper. "How can I be with you knowing it might all be lie? I mean, all be a lie again, or still, or... see? If you hadn't been lying to me all along, this conversation would be so much easier!"
"It has nothing to do with my powers," Toni promised. "It is true I could perhaps seduce you easier now than I could before but I cannot make you like me if your heart is not already in it."
Buffy gave her a coy smile. "I don't remember you having any trouble seducing me the first time."
"That is what I do not understand," she admitted. "Why you fell for me, and how I fell for you? That is a mystery; it should not have been possible."
"Falling for me is a mystery?" Buffy asked, smiling.
Toni chuckled. "No, it is a miracle. I should not have been able to fall for anyone. It was part of my punishment. To spend the rest of my existence without..." she hesitated for a moment, choosing her words. "...without love."
"Gee, Mapanos was right, that is really harsh."
"You have spoken with Mapanos?" Toni asked, surprised. She had suggested Buffy try and call on the balance spirit but she had never thought Mapanos would answer.
"The goat?" Buffy asked. "Oh yeah, we had a big chat while I was tied up in Troy's dungeon." She grinned. "He had lots to say about you for instance."
"Like what?" she asked, intrigued.
"No way," Buffy laughed. "Surely it has to be my question by now?"
"I thought we had dispensed with that format."
"Apparently we have, because now you get three questions to my one!"
Toni gestured at Buffy with her beer bottle. "You may have a question, cara."
"Thank you." Buffy picked bits of red and green peppers off of the plate, popping them in her mouth as she thought about it. "If you haven't been able to be in love with anyone... how do you know you're really in love with me?"
"Ah," Toni relaxed. "I thought you were going to ask about my trip to Hades."
"Oh, shoot, I meant to," Buffy realized, sitting up straighter.
"Too late," Toni sing-songed, eager to put off that conversation for as long as possible. She played with the label on her beer bottle and then took a sip as she tried to decide how best to answer. "Who was the last person you were in love with?"
Buffy eyed her warily before slowly saying, "Uh, you?"
Toni rolled her eyes. "Other than me. And before Faith," she added, seeing Buffy about to reluctantly say the other slayer's name.
Buffy frowned but didn't need time to think about it. "Angel, why?"
"He was your boyfriend some time ago, si?"
"I guess, although more like five years than two thousand. What's your point?"
"That you had other boyfriend's afterwards. William the Bloody and, uh, Riley?" When Buffy nodded, she continued, "and possibly more I do not know about, and you did not feel as if you were in love again until Faith."
Buffy did not look happy now. "Is this going somewhere?"
"How did you know you were in love with Faith but not with Riley?"
"I did love Riley." Buffy's frown deepened. "But with Faith... with Faith... look, are sure you want to talk about this?"
"I'm sure I do not want to talk about it, but please, to illustrate my point I need you answer the question."
Buffy shrugged. "With Faith it was different, is different. I knew because I couldn't stop thinking about her when I was awake and couldn't stop dreaming about her when I was asleep. Every time she spoke to me - and we were living together so we're talking about really exciting conversations like who was going to do the dishes or whose turn it was to write up the slaying rotas - my heart, like, literally skipped a beat. I mean, I couldn't even answer right away sometimes because the smile on my face wouldn't give enough to let me get intelligent words out. When she was out with Troy I used to lay awake waiting, making up excuses to go down and see her when she came in. I couldn't get enough of her. Even when we were bickering all I wanted to do was kiss her stupid. I practically stalked her for a while." Buffy chuckled, "One afternoon I even hid in the bushes by the front porch so I could get some photos of her."
Buffy had a far away look in her eyes now and such a warm smile on her face that it was breaking Toni's heart. She swallowed down her bitter reaction, not wanting to ruin this moment for Buffy.
Buffy snapped out of it on her own. Her eyes had lost their look of wonder for one of guilt as she looked back at Toni.
"That all ended when I started see you, though."
"Yeah, well, mostly. We both sorta decided... I mean, we never actually really talked about it, but we stopped spending so much time together after that. It was just easier, ya know?"
Toni just nodded.
"So that's how I knew I was in love with her," Buffy said quietly with a one-shoulder shrug. "Now you get to tell me how it's relevant."
"I have not been in love for a very long time. There has been no one else in that time that I have felt remotely attracted to. It was just not possible for me to be. When I met you... from the first moment I met you... Do you remember? We were at that restaurant and you were expecting me to be a man?" Toni smiled as she recalled it. "You were hiding behind Faith, looking petrified, and when I stood to shake your hand you... you were still so nervous but you were brave enough to smile, and shake my hand and even compliment me..."
Now she was the one with the faraway look in her eyes.
Buffy cleared her throat gently but asked slightly dubiously, "You knew you loved me then?"
Toni shook her head. "I knew something was different about you then. That you made something different happen to me than any woman I had spent time with in two millennia. When you kissed me that night I knew my... my task..." She dipped her head, not able to look into Buffy's eyes as she talked about her duplicity. "...was not going to be the empty duty I had expected. At the time I thought it a blessing, I would be able to..." she trailed off uncomfortably.
"Enjoy your work?" Buffy asked, sarcastically.
Toni nodded, smiling sheepishly. "But at the end of the night, when you would not have sex with me because you did not want to hurt me." She laughed softly. "Well, I admit, at first I thought it was funny, in a not very kind way, but then you took my number and you kissed me goodnight and... and then I realized it was both a blessing and a curse." Smiling, she shook her head sadly. "It has remained that way ever since."
"Why?" Buffy asked softly.
"I was required to seduce you in as cold and detached a manner as possible. Troy chose me for this particular task because I could not fall in love, could not develop emotional attachments. I was supposed to do exactly as he wanted with you and to report back to him in a rational, clinical way." She smiled. "What I was not supposed to do was walk around for three days with my phone in my hand so I would not miss your call."
Buffy grinned. "It was two and half days."
"It felt like five. By our first proper date I knew I had somehow developed feelings for you. By our second I knew it was not my imagination and by our third." She smiled again, remembering their third. "By our third I was already coming up with ways to hide how I felt to Troy."
"Would it really have mattered if he'd known how you felt?"
"Si. I could not deliberately plot against you if I cared about you. Could not willingly see your heart broken without remorse. Could not report back to him on you and Faith, knowing what I could tell him would put you in grave danger." Toni paused, thinking of some of the things she had done in the past six months. "He could not know that I would do anything to save you from pain."
"And yet you still went along with it," Buffy said without sympathy.
"To not go along with it would have meant Troy banishing me from you."
"He couldn't banish you from me! I know he's got a whole lot of power, but he couldn't have stopped us seeing each other if we wanted to."
Toni shook her head. "Do you really think he would have risked me telling you all? I have known every inch of his plan since long before he set it in motion. No, if he had suspected how I felt for you earlier he would have made sure I could never see you again. And I am sorry, il mio amore, but I was selfish."
"Selfish for wanting to keep seeing me?" Buffy asked, and then nodded, frowning. She pushed the plate away, drained her bottle of beer and then said, "Yeah."
"I knew I was truly in love with you at the La Festa Della Repubblica Italiana celebrations," Toni said quietly. "When you were sitting on my lap in the pink cowboy hat. It was the best and worst moment of my existence."
She risked a smile at Buffy, who didn't notice, although she was nodding while staring at the table top.
"I don't know when I fell in love with you but I realized I was when Faith was standing in front of me in a hot as hell green bikini," Buffy said sombrely.
Toni was not sure why but she burst out laughing. Buffy looked up, startled by her reaction and slowly cracked a dubious grin.
"That is a good sign, do you not think?" Toni asked, still chuckling.
Buffy chuckled too, although she still sounded unsure. "I guess so."
Toni watched her for a moment as their amusement died away. Buffy looked solemn again immediately. Toni had hoped that by telling her side of things, of how much she loved her, Buffy's doubts and sadness would fade away.
Before she could think of something else to say someone across the dock called the fake name she had given. She looked up to see a dark woman in yellow waterproofs beckoning them over.
"Are you ready?"
"I'm not the greatest boat person ever," Buffy admitted.
"Ah, you will be fine. The crossing will not take long."
Buffy nodded, and then grinned in that way that meant she was nervous but determined to make light of it. "Does Greece have a lot of sea monsters? Ya know, just out of slayer curiosity."
Toni shook her head and squeezed Buffy's shoulder reassuringly for a second. "No, Poseidon will not let any sea monsters on his turf."
"Poseidon?" Buffy asked, her eyes going wide in dismay. "Am I right in thinking that's Troy's uncle?"
"Merda," Toni said beneath her breath. She had not thought of that. "It will be okay," she added more confidently than she felt. "Just try your best not to think of him and he will not know we are here, hopefully."
"Try not to think of him? How about you try not to think about elephants invading your underwear drawer?"
"Why would elephants be invading my underwear drawer?" Toni saw the problem immediately. "Damn. Okay, now we must both only think about elephants invading my underwear drawer!"
Buffy rolled her eyes with a smile as they reached the boat.
The woman in yellow helped them both onto the brightly colored fishing boat, taking their money with barely a real glance in their direction. Hopefully that was a sign that they would not be recognised. It could also be a sign that the woman knew who they were and was trying not to give herself away. Since the mention of Poseidon Toni was feeling unusually paranoid. She chose to think for the best though because going by sea was still the better choice. To go by land would take longer and public transport would offer too many opportunities for Troy's spies to find them. One quick boat trip was nothing compared to that.
Buffy grimaced and sat down quickly on the gently rocking boat, tugging Toni down after her.
"This could be worse. I was expecting a tiny little rowing boat."
"So you are not scared any more?"
"Not of the boat, no. Just of the... elephants and underwear," Buffy grinned through her grimace.
More people boarded. Toni watched them sidelong as they took seats on the opposite side of the boat to them. Tourists, French. She listened to their conversation for a minute before deciding they were no threat. Some Greek men boarded after that and sat close to them, but again after some observation Toni was sure they were interested only in getting home after a morning's work.
"We will be safe soon," she promised Buffy quietly.
A few minutes later the boat pulled away from the dock. It did not go fast but it was not long before they were out in open water.
"So, my question, si?" she began.
"You're still thinking about that?" Buffy asked, staring down into the water.
Toni tucked a finger under Buffy's chin and pulled her face around. "It is better than thinking about the alternative, no?"
Buffy nodded in acquiescence. "Go on then."
Toni thought about what she wanted to ask, and then she thought about the thing that would distract Buffy from the watery depths the most. With an inward sigh, she asked the latter.
"When did you and Faith first make love?"
Buffy looked at her sharply. "Seriously?"
"You really want to know that?"
"That is why I asked."
Buffy shook her head. "No, I can't... you won't like it."
Toni sighed outwardly this time. She had already known she would not like it. From Buffy's response she knew she really would not. Still, it was guaranteed to take Buffy's mind and her mind off of anything else.
"You said sex questions were a part of this game. I asked one, so answer it."
Buffy's eyes were still big with surprise, but she said, "Okay, then. But you can't be mad at me."
"Would you care if I was mad at you?"
"Of course I care!"
"Then I will not be mad at you."
Buffy nodded, looking her right in the eye. "Easter." Then she looked away across the water again fast.
Toni smiled although it hurt; they had been together a couple of months already by then. "That is not an anecdote."
"No, it's not."
Buffy fixed her with a slightly crazy stare. "Why do you keep asking questions about Faith?"
"Why do you think?" She snapped, without meaning to. She tried to think of a way to cover it but Buffy got there before her.
"Of course I am jealous!" Toni spoke over her and then realized how loud they were speaking.
She looked around; no one seemed to be interested in them. Plus they were speaking fast. Providing none of the passengers or the three crewmen were fluent in English there was every chance they would not be understood.
She lowered her voice to whisper all the same. "But that is not why I am asking."
Buffy whispered too, "So why the hell are you asking?"
"I was trying to take your mind off of the boat and... everything else! I thought a happy memory..." She let the sentence peter out and sat back against the side, shaking her head. "Forget it."
"Oh." Buffy ran a hand through her hair and then scrubbed both hands over her knees a few times before saying quietly, "You didn't really wanna know then, right?"
Toni did not bother to hide the sarcasm as she said, "No, my love, your first time with Faith is something I have always wanted to know about. Please tell me."
Buffy glared at her, uncompromising. "It was great. The red-hot, completely naked, horny-wet kind of great. Plus there were Easter Eggs." Toni glared back, trying to keep everything but her eyes impassive. "I did things with her that morning I'd never done with anyone before. The whole experience was mind-blowing. Then she told me she didn't love me... Is there anything else you need to know?"
Toni flinched away but said, "You knew she loved you."
"Not then I didn't," Buffy said sullenly. "And now it's pretty obvious she didn't love me all that much anyway."
Toni bit her tongue but then, looking away again, muttered, "You know that is not true."
"Do I? How do I know that exactly? Was the clue how she chose him over me the first time or should I put my faith in how she chose him over me the second time? God, why couldn't I have just let her go?"
Seeing that she was drawing looks from the other passengers, Buffy stood abruptly, angrily brushing Toni's comforting hand away, and walked to the back of the modified fishing boat. Toni could see her knuckles whitening as she gripped the guard rail. Buffy was doing her best to cover it up and hold herself steady, but the slight hitching of her shoulders gave away the fact that was crying again.
Toni let fifteen minutes pass before joining her at the back of the boat. Buffy felt her approach as Toni's arm brushed her elbow and she quickly brushed flat palms over her damp cheeks.
"Sea spray," she lied weakly.
Toni simply nodded, folding her arms on top of the guard rail and bending over until her chin was resting on her hands. The bay was a beautiful mediterrean blue around the boat but right behind it was a churning mass of green and white waves. It was only the passage of the boat but she could all too easily imagine it as the arrival of something else. Talking about Faith here was a bad idea, she realized, just in case anyone was down there listening.
"It is your question, cara," she said after a while of listening to Buffy sniffing quietly.
Buffy opened her mouth to speak and sobbed loudly instead. She pressed the side of her hand to the bridge of her nose and clenched her jaw tight so no more would escape. After a few seconds of scrunching her face up, she admitted defeat and allowed herself to cry again.
Through her tears, she asked, "Fine, tell me how to get over her?"
Thanks to her resurging powers, Toni could feel every ounce of the heartache she was going through and it was devastating. She wanted to take her in her arms, hold her and comfort her but as she raised her hand, before she could even place it on her back, Buffy flinched away and began to cry even harder.
So she just watched her, sympathetic tears in her own eyes, and let her cry. There was nothing else she could do.
There was no flash storm out on the water and nothing rose from the depths to capsize the boat. They docked without incident a couple of hours later on the other side of the bay.
"I can see the cabs from here!" Buffy was going through another uncooperative, cold phase.
"We must not risk being seen in the town until we are sure we were not followed."
"Why not? Surely being seen in town would put anyone off from killing us, or me anyway."
"Do you really believe a Krakos demon cares if there are a thousand witnesses to your death?"
"I think you're just trying to keep me hidden away so you can have me all to yourself."
"Si, because your company is so enjoyable right now!"
Buffy stopped, hurt by the rebuff, but Toni continued to trudge through the sand.
"You are welcome to take your leave of me if you wish. I, however, am walking to the villas."
Buffy stomped, as much as you can stomp in soft, shifting sand, along beside her in silence for a while.
Then, "Tell me about the underworld and no avoidy tactics this time. Just tell me the damn truth for once."
There was too much icy hostility in her tone to allow the question to be simple curiosity. Buffy was verbally jabbing at her to take her mind from Faith; perhaps she was even hoping it would go beyond verbal attacks. She had that look in her eyes again, like in the limousine, that she might lash out physically at any moment, and she knew now that Toni was a fairly even match for her.
Toni, perhaps selfishly but mostly because she was tired and simply wanted to get to the villas, refused to rise to the bait and instead gave her what she wanted at face value.
"Helena and I were together for ten years..."
"What? I didn't ask about Helena!" Buffy snapped.
Toni stared at her, frowning. Was she jealous or just being argumentative?
She cocked an eyebrow. "Do you wish to hear about my trip to the underworld or not?"
Buffy tried to stare her down but gave up first with a huffed, "Fine, whatever."
"Helena I were together for ten glorious years, and we were very happy, but she was the Slayer."
As Buffy turned to her curiously, Toni paused, waiting for the questions to begin.
In the end, Buffy just shook her head, irritably muttering, "Everyone has a freaking type!" before going back to staring out across the bay.
Toni frowned as she continued her tale. "She was Rome's greatest warrior at that time, and she had no choice but to fight at the forefront of the Battle of Allia. She survived through-out, leading the Roman army in its eventual victory just outside the city."
She had been speaking matter-of-factly, recounting it as if reading from a history textbook - the textbooks that had never mentioned Helena's name! - would make it easier. It was not working and she stumbled over the next few words.
"S-she was... was cut down, from behind, just a few days later... by a Roman."
Buffy stopped staring indifferently at the water and turned to her, confused. "Why? If she saved the city?"
"I have never discovered the full truth. I imagine either her Watcher was forced to do it, or a soldier was instructed to. A woman with that much public military power could not be allowed by the Senate."
"So your girlfriend was murdered, that really sucks, but what does that have to do with you losing your powers?"
Toni shrugged. "I wanted to bring her back into the world of the living. There are ways, some easier than others. Gods do it for each other all the time."
"I thought Gods couldn't die."
"They can't, as a rule, but they can be banished to Hades."
"But Helena wasn't a God, she was human. Well, as human as me anyhow, right?"
Toni blinked back some tears. Helena had died so very long ago and it still hurt so much to think of her.
"Si. She was human, but despite the way she had died she was still in essence a hero. It should not have been impossible to bring her back."
"But it was, right?" Buffy guessed.
Toni shook her head. "No. I found a way to do it. But as I told you, the senior Gods forbade me to go through with it. But... I loved her so much, Buffy. I went to Troy, I did not know him before that, but I knew of him - he had been shunned many years before and was known as a... a rebel, I suppose - and I asked him for help. We... cut a deal, I suppose you would say."
"He helped you bring Helena back to life if you helped him with me?"
"I did not know it was you at the time, obviously, nor did I really know any of the details until much later; but in spirit, yes that was the deal. He helped me deceive the other gods long enough for me to carry out my plan."
Toni gestured away from the shoreline and they began to walk across the beach rather than along it. Hopefully by taking this route around the outside of Plāka they would avoid meeting many people.
"The resort is on the outskirts of Litochoro, just a mile east of the mountain. With any luck we should be there in under an hour now."
Buffy looked relieved, but was not deterred. "Which was?"
Sighing, Toni gave up trying to change the subject. "I wished to travel to the underworld, find Helena's soul and lead her out. If I could protect her soul as far as her grave, then with the correct ritual, I could return it to her body and she would be restored to life."
"You make it sound easy."
"It was not easy," Toni said quietly, remembering. It had been dark and painful and terrifying.
"But you did it?"
She nodded. "She returned and for a few days we were as happy as we had been before her death. Happier, for we knew how lucky we were to have a second chance."
"What happened after a few days?"
Toni shook her head. "It is not important."
They were walking along the side of a road now, not much more than a farm track. Occasionally a car passed and she turned her head to make her face less visible just in case. Mostly the only sounds were their sneakers on the asphalt, the chrr-chrr of birds in the trees and the buzz and whine of insects around them. It was peaceful and foreboding all at once.
"How can you say it's not important?" Buffy finally exploded with curiosity. "She died! You brought her back to life! Anyone else would think that was a good thing but... wait, she wasn't in Heaven was she?"
"No, Heaven as you know it did not exist then. There was only Hades and Tarantus and the only true difference between the two was that in Hades you were not physically tortured every day for eternity."
"Sounds like a pretty big difference."
"Hades is no more pleasant than earth and without any earthly luxuries." She forced a smile Buffy's way. "You would hate it."
Buffy smirked at her. "So if your plan worked and everything was all happy and joyful again, what made it go south?"
"Troy could only offer me cover while I was actually executing my plan. As soon as Helena was alive once more, her soul was missed. Hades went to Zeus. Zeus, of course, knew exactly who was to blame. He and Jupiter came to me the following week to exact punishment. They gave me a choice: be banished from the mortal plane, be stripped of my powers or send Helena back to the underworld. At the time I rejoiced, I had expected so much worse, and this was an easy decision to make."
"You chose to lose your powers."
"Si. It was the only way I could still be with Helena and that was all I had wanted from the start. For me, this felt like no punishment at all."
"Ohhh," Buffy said as she thought she understood. "But without your powers you couldn't love her anymore!"
Toni shook her head regretfully. "No, I was a little concerned of that when I first accepted my fate, but as soon as it was done I knew I still loved her. Nothing had changed."
"Then I don't get..."
"For me. Nothing had changed for me! But..." She still could not look at Buffy, embarrassment filling her as much as grief; and anger at Helena, anger that was never buried as deep as she thought it should be after all this time. "... Apparently I changed. I did not change! But she thought that I did. I was no longer the person she fell in love with. I could no longer give her...!"
Toni stopped speaking, biting her lip to stop the angry tears from falling.
"You couldn't feel lust anymore?" Buffy whispered.
"I could... I could feel lust but according to her I could no longer..." she trailed off again.
She had begun walking faster and now Buffy caught her arm and made her slow down. When Toni was determined to keep striding along, Buffy pulled on her arm to make her stop completely. She did so but refused to meet her eyes. Buffy simply slipped her hand down her wrist until they were holding hands.
"We don't have to talk about it anymore if you don't want to."
"There is not much more to talk about. We stayed together for nearly a year but I knew I was not making her happy any longer. I found out she was sleeping with another woman two months before I found the courage to mention it to her. I eventually hoped that by forcing a confrontation we would talk and work things out." she chuckled bitterly. "She told me... she told me she thought we should just be friends!"
Buffy laughed and when Toni looked at her again, hurt, she hurried to explain. "It's not funny, its just, when I finally tried to tell Faith how I felt, that's exactly what she said to me. Women, huh? We should have both stayed straight."
Toni gave her a pained smile and started walking again. "It was devastating and I tried to cut her out of my life. With my powers gone I expected my love for her to eventually fade away but Zeus and Jupiter had added a clause to my punishment that I did not know of, and if I had at the time, I would not have refuted. My fate was not to never love again, but to only love one woman for the rest of my existence: Helena. So after a while I gave into her plea of friendship. I was her closest friend for the rest of her life. She told me everything of the highs and lows of her future relationships, shared everything with me except for her heart and body. And I loved her and wanted her, needed her, with every ounce of my being every day for the rest of her life. That was my true punishment, you see."
Buffy said nothing, but squeezed her hand gently and did not let go as they walked.
Toni had left Buffy outside and entered the resort's main office to sort out their accommodation by herself. It had gone more smoothly than she had expected and she had not even needed a cover story. Her father, or perhaps more likely, Nonni, had called ahead and altered the wedding bookings. As soon as Toni had hesitantly offered her name - watching carefully for any untoward recognition and ready to run if any such was shown - she was simply handed a key and several leaflets about the resort's facilities.
Back outside she sighed in relief and answered Buffy's worried look with a smile.
"I think we are okay, for now at least," she said, motioning for Buffy to follow her down the tree-lined walkway. "The man behind the desk did not seem unduly interested in me. They perhaps think we are just wedding guests arriving early."
Buffy frowned but didn't comment. She had been quiet again for the past half an hour. Not sullen, exactly, but obviously lost in her own thoughts. As Toni had been also, after the conversation about Helena, things felt a little strained now.
Toni read the little map the receptionist had given her to avoid the awkward silence. The resort was quiet, the summer season was almost at an end despite the heat that still prevailed, and most of this end of the resort had been pre-booked for the wedding party anyway. This was a good thing; the less people vacationing right next to them the easier it would be to spot anyone who might be out to harm Buffy.
Their villa was at the end of a row of three, right on the edge of the property, nicely secluded by tall trees and bushes.
Toni unlocked the door, and as a precaution said, "Wait here, just for a moment."
It was cool and even quieter inside. She checked all five rooms before beckoning Buffy in.
"I can take care of myself, ya know," Buffy said gruffly as she entered. She looked around and said sarcastically, "Nice!"
It was not that bad. Sparse, but clean. There was an old fashioned television in the corner. A three-seater couch against the far wall. A low wooden coffee table. A plastic dining table like the kind that came with patio furniture and two matching plastic chairs. She followed Buffy through to one of the bedrooms. There was a bed and a wardrobe. Buffy sighed and walked straight back out.
"If you do not like it, tomorrow we can use some of the money the pilot gave me to book into a hotel in town, but this is safer and easier for now."
"It's fine," Buffy said, and sighed again. "I just don't want to be here."
Toni stood in the living area as Buffy looked into the other bedroom and found it exactly the same. She walked into the kitchenette next. Looked into the cupboards and found them bare. Looked into the fridge and found six small bottles of mineral water and a complimentary bottle of white wine. Toni sighed when she pulled out the latter.
"Do you think there's a corkscrew to go with it?" Before Toni could answer, Buffy continued, "Never mind, it's screw top. Classy."
With the bottle in her hand, she came back out of the kitchen and pointed to the only door she hadn't tried yet. "Bathroom?"
"I'm gonna take a shower." When Toni started to follow her automatically, she turned by the door. "Alone. I'll see you in a little while."
When the door had shut behind her, Toni closed her eyes and ran a hand back through her hair. She felt as if she needed that wine as much if not more than Buffy right now. She sat down on the couch and stared at nothing. What did she do now? Was it really safe to stay here? Even with her powers she could not defend Buffy any better than she could defend herself. She was working on the assumption that her very presence would be a deterrent to most of Troy's allies but that would only hold until Troy upped the stakes. If he said that she should be taken down as well - he could not have her killed but he could have her incapacitated for a while - then Buffy would be helpless.
It remained true, though, that everywhere else would be just as dangerous, and at least here, if things turned out as she expected them to, Buffy would be safest in the long run.
Her cell phone rang, almost as if he could hear her thoughts. She thought about ignoring it, but that would inevitably prove counter-productive.
"I know where you are."
"I never doubted that."
"You are very foolish, Antonella."
"No, I am not."
There was a pause and then, "No, perhaps you are not."
Toni reluctantly stood from the dubious comfort of the couch and walked back out into the heat of the day, pulling the door shut softly behind her.
"The wedding is back on?"
"Of course it is. Did you doubt that?"
"We would not be here if I had. So Buffy is safe now?"
"What makes you think that?"
"Troy! You have what you want! Faith came back to you willingly!"
"With no help from you!"
"I did what I could," Toni said quietly, knowing it was both true and not true. She could have done more, but she had done as much as she felt she could.
"You were going to help them escape together!"
She did not bother asking how he knew that. Maybe Faith had told him, or maybe he just knew. It did not matter. Denying it would only make him angry. Him being angry with her was not a problem but if he decided to take that anger out on Buffy...
"I am sorry, but I could not, and will not, betray Buffy any further."
"Ahh, how sweet. I take it you are enjoying the return of your powers, then?"
"It has nothing to do with that. Promise me you will not come after Buffy!"
Toni seethed silently. She no longer had any bargaining chips. "Please?"
"You should not care so much, Antonella. Her heart is with Faith, that will never change."
"I know that! I have always known that!"
"Then if you know she is only going to break your heart, why do you wish me to spare her?"
Toni hesitated, but only for a moment; after all he must know by now. "Because I love her."
"You are a fool. She will never love you back."
"I said I know that."
Troy chuckled. "You know, now that your powers are returned to you, there is a way around this."
Toni swallowed hard but did not say anything.
Troy laughed again, seeming to enjoy her discomfort. "You could easily persuade her to love you. Exert a little influence. Ensure she never loves anyone but you?"
"I cannot do that."
"You are a goddess of love, Antonella; it is well within your powers."
She swallowed even harder, remembering what she had told Buffy earlier that day; more lies, but not one she intended to ever use against her.
"I will not do that!"
"Why ever not?"
"Because I love her! I understand the concept of not manipulating the woman you love is foreign to you but..."
"I have not manipulated Faith, you know that. She is with me because she chooses to be."
"She chooses to be because she is scared you will kill Buffy if she is not! She is with you because she loves Buffy, not because she loves you!"
There was a pause. "That is not true."
"Of course it is true! If you truly loved her you would see that, and you would let her go."
"Do you want me to let her go?" Troy asked, suddenly angry. "Do you wish for me to release her from my apparently evil clutches so that she can be with Buffy? So that they can live a life together without me... or you, Antonella?"
Toni was silent for a moment, warring internally, before saying quietly, "No."
"Then we are in agreement. Faith still wishes to have Buffy at the wedding. It is not ideal but I am not an evil being and so will spare Buffy's life as long as she does nothing to disrupt the nuptials. I trust the love you feel for her will help you to ensure she does not."
"I will try."
"You will try very hard, or you will spend the rest of your existence in love with two dead girls."
Toni took in a harsh breath that hurt her lungs; she felt tears pricking her eyes again. "I thought we were friends, Troy?"
"So did I, Toni, but who betrayed who first? I will be in touch."
The line went dead and Toni closed her phone angrily before slipping it back into her pocket instead. She ran both hands through her hair. This was a mess. She would never be able to convince Buffy to stay for the wedding but to not do so would be tantamount to signing her death certificate.
She could apply some of her... gifts to the situation. Convince Buffy, at least until the wedding was over, that she was completely over Faith. She would not though, because it was wrong, but also because it would mean never stopping. What would she do after the wedding was over? Tell Buffy it had all been a dream? Pretend she had nothing to do with it? Even if Buffy believed her - and she would not - she would have to deal with Buffy's grief that Faith was married afterwards. It would be too easy, too tempting to never cease the charade. No, she would never do that to Buffy.
Which left only one thing she could do.
After taking another minute to centre herself she walked back into the villa. The bathroom door was still shut. She could hear the water running on the other side of it. She knocked once but went in without waiting for an answer.
Buffy was in the shower but only her lower half was in the spray, her back and head were resting against the tiles, out of the water, and she was just lifting the bottle of wine to her mouth as Toni entered.
She glared, pulling the bottle away just a little as she said, "I thought I said I wanted some privacy."
"You have had your privacy, now I want some wine."
She reached into the shower, her arm and shoulder getting wet as she snatched the bottle from Buffy's slippery grip.
"Hey!" Buffy tried to grab it back but slipped and had to grab the shower screen to steady herself.
Toni ignored her and dropped the lid of the toilet down so that she could sit on it.
"Troy has just called me," she said over Buffy's protests and then sat back wearily and took several gulps from the bottle.
Buffy stopped complaining. Still holding onto the screen as if it was a comfort blanket she eventually asked, "What did he say?"
Toni looked at the watermarked ceiling, wishing there was an easier way to do this, but after all the lies that she had told, the only thing that was left was the truth.
"The wedding is back on."
She did not get a chance to say anything else before Buffy burst into noisy sobs, tears mingling with the shower running over her head. She hid her face behind the shower screen but the sounds of her distress carried in a strange way, echoing in the small bathroom.
Toni took another drink from the bottle, her face emotionless, and then she stood, slipped off her shoes and stepped into the shower. Buffy fought her to begin with, but Toni pinned her against the tiles and held her until Buffy was clinging desperately onto her shirt and crying into her shoulder.
When she had calmed down some, Toni pulled away just enough to hand over the now watered down wine. Buffy glugged it and Toni took it back when there was just a few inches left in the bottle.
"Faith still wants you at the wedding," she said quietly.
"No!" Buffy whimpered, biting Toni's shirt.
Toni let her cry for a few more minutes, holding her tight. "I am sorry, but you have to be there."
"Why? Did Troy demand it?" Toni didn't answered and Buffy pulled her head back. "He did?"
Toni could not look at her. "He wants Faith to be happy. He..." Now she did look at her. "Buffy, if you cannot do this... I will run with you right now. I will keep you safe."
"Yeah, you'd love that!"
Toni slammed Buffy back against the tiles so hard her eyes rolled back. "I do not love any of this! What I would love is for you to feel for me half of what you feel for her! I have accepted that is never going to happen but do not think that this is a good time for me. I have lost my only friend in the last few days, and for what? So you can throw snide remarks at me when I try to help you?"
"Get out of my shower!" Buffy said through gritted teeth.
Toni shoved her sideways across the tiles, although in truth there wasn't much room in the little cubicle to shove anyone anywhere.
"You have had your shower, now this is my shower." And she started to pull off her already soaking clothes one-handed.
Buffy watched her until she was naked, eyes travelling up and down her body, but just as Toni was about to make a snide comment of her own, she barged past her and stepped out into the bathroom proper.
She wrapped the only towel around her body before reaching back into the shower and snatching the bottle of wine back. Toni expected her to storm from the bathroom, but she sat down on the toilet instead, putting her head in her hand.
"I'm not running! Why the fuck should I run?"
"I do not think you should," Toni said as she washed with the cheap complimentary soap. "Troy has guaranteed me your safety if you attend the wedding without disrupting it."
"Yeah, he's guaranteed that before."
"And then you almost ruined his ritual and stole the mother of his child," Toni said more casually than she felt. "This is his way of giving you another chance. He does not want to kill you," and she really did believe that, as mad as she was at him. "He does not believe in killing people. However, I do not believe he will give you a third chance."
"Is that really what you think? Or are you just saying that because he told you to?"
Toni fumed quietly. "That is really what I think, but feel free to test it if you wish."
"How can I be there, Toni?" Buffy asked desperately, coming over again to lean on the outside of the shower screen. "How can you expect me to do that? How can he expect me to do that? How can she?"
"I do not know." Toni slicked her wet hair back and reached out to take the wine bottle. It took a few tugs but she finally got it out of Buffy's grip. "But I do know that if you do this you will be free. You will not have to spend the rest of your life looking over you shoulder. You will not..."
"I hate her for making me do this. Actually, right now, I just hate her, period!"
Toni smiled grimly. "That is a good start."
Buffy had taken the only towel with her when she had left the bathroom, so when Toni wandered into the first bedroom she was naked and still dripping wet. Buffy's eyes lingered on her as she looked up, but her expression wasn't particularly friendly.
Sitting on the edge of the bed, she pulled the towel from her own body and threw it at her. Toni used it dry herself rather than cover up.
"We don't have any clean clothes," Buffy muttered.
"We still have some money." Toni looked at her watch and then out of the window. It was perhaps an hour from being dark. "We can buy some new clothes in the morning."
Buffy nodded, now not looking at her. "I don't have anything to sleep in," she said, sounding irrationally shy.
Toni watched her for a moment, before sighing inwardly; about to say the last thing she wanted to say. "I can sleep in the other room."
Buffy nodded again and then, still making sure their eyes did not meet, she got beneath the bed covers.
Toni finished drying off and then wrapped the towel around her, figuring Buffy would appreciate it. She didn't leave the room yet though.
"I think we should talk. About what it is you want to do next. About..."
Buffy cut her off, "I don't wanna talk about it any more today. I'm too tired and too... you know."
Toni gave a resigned nod. "In the morning then."
She watched Buffy snuggle down under the covers before turning away sadly to go to the other room. She was halfway through the door when Buffy spoke again.
She looked back over her shoulder, "Si?"
"Can you... will you stay with me, tonight I mean." As Toni just kept staring, not sure of what she was asking, Buffy added in a whisper. "I just don't want to be alone."
Toni crossed to the bed and slipped under the covers without saying a word. She knew Buffy was only using her for comfort but had she not wanted to be in this bed tonight, next to her, anyway? How would arguing Buffy's motives make her feel better? She lay on her back, trying to relax and ignore the itchy feeling of the damp towel against her skin.
Buffy lay stiffly next to her for a few minutes before rolling onto her side and resting her head between Toni's shoulder and breast. After another minute, her arm snaked over Toni's waist to hug her.
Toni smiled and held her. This was nice. After a while though it became obvious that Buffy was tensing not relaxing and her breathing, rather than becoming even as she neared sleep, was becoming more erratic and hitching.
Toni hugged her a little tighter as she asked, "What is it?"
"I can't stop fucking thinking about her!" Buffy mumbled angrily against her collar bone. "Every time I close my eyes I see her, them, on that bridge."
Toni closed her eyes and tried to push past the hurt and jealousy. After another minute Buffy shifted her head until she was looking up at her with watery eyes.
In a small voice, she asked, "Make me stop thinking about her, please?"
Toni squeezed her eyes shut tightly this time, forcing her own tears back inside. Eyes still closed she scooted down until she had found Buffy's lips with her own.
A few minutes later Buffy pulled the towel away from Toni's body and threw it to the floor.
Continue to Part Eleven
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