PART ELEVEN: 2nd to 5th October 2004
Chapter One: It's Not Possible For Me Not To Care
Buffy lounged in the middle of the hard double bed. It was the middle of the day but it was baking outside; far too hot to leave the room. The water droplets from the cold shower she had only just taken were already drying on her naked body. It was definitely siesta time.
Besides, it wasn't like she had anything else to do. All the plans were finalised, everything that could be prepared in advance she had already reluctantly prepared over the past week. There was nothing to do now but wait, and sweat, and sleep, and try not to think about anything except what was right here and now.
Because thinking about anything else... not a good move. She had done enough of that in their first week here. Making impractical plans to rescue Faith from the decision she had made. Going over every single thing that she had said and done that last night in Rome for clues to Faith's decision. Blaming herself over and over for not cutting Toni dead when she had come to their apartment, as if that had been the cause. Faith hadn't been aware of what had happened between them after she had walked out, so obviously she would have gone back to Troy whether it had happened or not.
This wasn't her fault; she knew that now - after days of agonising over it - and feeling guilty was only hurting her, and her girlfriend.
Faith had made her choice; a stupid choice but it was hers to make. Maybe Buffy could even see why she made it, she'd probably thought she was doing the right thing - making life easier for her, taking away the threat to her life and all that - but ultimately she had only been trying to make her own life easier, more hassle-free, because Buffy would never have chosen a life without her, no matter how many obstacles were in the way.
Still, Faith had made her choice, and Buffy was done crying about it.
As if to prove her point, her cell phone - recently couriered over from LA by Angel's law firm - rang. She groaned but made the effort to roll over and grab it from the night stand - she was expecting a lot of calls in the next twenty-four hours. Seeing the name on the caller ID, however, she just hit the red cancel button, dropped it onto the bed beside her and rolled onto her back.
Even that small movement had made her start sweating. She ran her hands over her face, making her still damp hair stick up at the front, and closed her eyes again. This heat made her so sleepy.
She heard the shower shut off in the next room and the click of the door opening but she still didn't open her eyes. The bed depressed on one side and she smiled a little. Then the uncomfortable, lumpy box mattress made a boing sound and she was suddenly having another cold shower.
"Hey!" Her eyes flew open and a naked, dripping Toni filled her vision. "You're getting me wet!"
"One can hope."
Buffy rolled her eyes as she leaned up to meet Toni's lips halfway. When she lay back down, she pulled Toni with her.
"Lay on me, you're nice and cool."
They stayed like that for a while and it was nice and cool, until Toni started to dry off and then it got a little too warm for snuggling. It was still nice though, so Buffy didn't push her off. She closed her eyes again. A few hours sleep before they had to go to the airport that evening would be awesome because they probably wouldn't get much sleep later.
Toni obviously had other ideas as she kissed down Buffy's neck.
"Baby, it's too hot!" Buffy complained.
"On the contrary, I am nice and fresh."
"Yeah, but you're not normal," she grumbled, but offered her neck for better kissage anyway.
Toni bit her collarbone in response to that, making Buffy snort in amusement, before scooting down the bed like a commando in reverse as her lips traveled lower... and lower!
As a tongue licked into her belly-button, she writhed a little on the bed.
"You're insatiable since you got your powers back," she said, thinking back to the three times they'd already done something like this since waking up that morning. "Did you know that?"
"Doesn't that bother you?"
"No." Toni raised her head, smiling mischievously. "Does it bother you?"
She grinned at her. "Hardly. Just thought it was something we should talk about."
Toni leant up comfortably on her elbows, her hands resting on Buffy's hips. "You wish to talk about it now?"
"No, no," she said quickly, still grinning. "I think we've said enough on the subject for the time being."
Toni nodded and then moved lower still. Buffy arched a little against her mouth, eyes closed, one hand stroking Toni's damp hair and the other resting on the cheap sheet, ready to grasp it in her fingers when this went from good to oh-so-great.
Her phone rang again first. Toni didn't stop what she was doing as Buffy moved her hand further up the sheet to grab it. The caller ID was the same as before. She dropped it back to the bed without hitting cancel. It would go to voicemail after a few more rings anyway.
"Should you not answer it?" Toni's voice was muffled.
"It is her again?"
She tried to relax and forget about it but with the ringing continuing it was getting harder and harder. Where was her damn voicemail? After a few more rings, feeling how tense Buffy was getting, Toni's hand snaked further up the bed and grabbed the annoying thing.
Buffy thought she was just turning it off until she hit a button and held it - awkwardly within the confines of her thighs - to her ear.
"Baby, don't..." It was too late.
"Buongiorno," she greeted pleasantly enough.
Toni's tongue went back to lapping languidly between her legs as she listened to whatever was said on the other end of the phone. Buffy was up on her elbows now, staring down her body at Toni with wide eyes, but she didn't say or do anything to change the situation.
"I am afraid she is not able to come to the telephone right now."
As that seemed to provoke a lengthy response, Toni went back to what she had been doing, humming agreeably as her tongue registered Buffy getting wetter. They'd probably be having words about that later but right now Toni seemed content to just enjoy it, whatever the cause.
As Toni barely raised her mouth to purr, "Because she does not wish to speak to you," into the phone, Buffy's body seesawed; her head flopping back onto the pillow as her hips bucked up. She could hear the angry answer coming clear through the phone as Toni held it up a little while her head went down again.
When the tinny shouting had stopped, Toni said, "Wait one minute, I'll ask if she will reconsider."
She did no such thing, of course, just held the phone in her hand while going back to licking and sucking between her legs. Buffy had the sheet gripped in both hands; her hips were arching constantly off the bed and they'd barreled straight through oh-so-good and were heading straight up to oh-so-fucking-unbelievable.
She was fighting to keep her mouth shut, not wanting her happy-noises to travel through the phone, but then realized that the noises Toni was making on her own were traveling down a direct line already.
She groaned, trying not to care, but followed that with a sigh, knowing that she did.
"I better take it," she said reluctantly.
Toni looked up fast, surprised and a little hurt, her mouth shiny with Buffyness. "Now?" she asked quietly.
Buffy nodded and held out her hand for the phone. With equal reluctance Toni handed it over.
"Would you like some privacy?"
"No, you're good right where you are," she promised. "Just maybe take it down a notch..." she grinned. "...or eight."
Toni smiled, resting the side of her head against Buffy's raised thigh, and waited.
Buffy put the phone to her ear, not even caring that she sounded way out of breath. "Hi."
"Are you doing what I think you're fuckin' doing?"
"Hello to you too, and yeah, probably. Why?"
"Well... don't you think that's a little...?"
"A little perfectly natural? She is my girlfriend." There was silence on the other end of the phone so Buffy said, "As you just heard, I'm busy, Faith, so what do you want?"
"What do I...? You disappeared off the face of the earth, B! I've been worried sick and now I find you're just holed up somewhere fucking her!"
"Again, she's my girlfriend," she was prepared to repeat it a thousand times if necessary and no, not to convince herself. "And don't pretend to be all concerned. You know exactly where I am."
"But you just left!"
Buffy gave a harsh laugh. "I'm sorry. Was I supposed to go back to the apartment and wait for you after what I saw?"
"What you saw?"
"On the bridge!"
"When did you realize I had gone?" Buffy asked, hoping she wasn't about to be disappointed by her own decision.
Faith hesitated. "Uh, I went back to our place a couple of days after."
"A couple of days after!" Nope, not disappointed. "You bitch."
Toni gave her thigh a soft kiss and then crawled up the bed to lie next to her; obviously realizing she wasn't so much in the mood now. She laid her head on the pillow and wrapped an arm around her.
The line was quiet and Buffy was just about to hang up when Faith spoke again.
"I'm sorry. I didn't know what to do..."
"Yes you did, but you did the other thing anyway."
"I couldn't make you leave Dawnie, B, not for me! Your friends were bad enough but... she's your family."
Buffy put her free hand over her eyes, not wanting Toni to see the emotion in them.
"Okay," she said simply.
"Okay," Faith repeated hopefully. "So we're good?"
Buffy laughed again. "No, we're not good! If that was really how you were feeling you should have told me."
"You should have stayed and made me listen, not run off knowing I was waiting for you to come back. Do you have any idea how much that hurt me?"
"Sorry." Faith said again, making Buffy shake her head in mild despair. "I freaked out. I never meant to hurt you."
"Okay," she said again. "So, did you just call to apologise? ‘Cause if so, now that you have I've got things I want to get back to."
"What?" When there was no answer, she added. "Look, Effie, I'm naked and horny and I think Toni's starting to fall asleep from listening to us, so I really have to go, okay?"
"Buffy!" Faith snapped this time, making her grin inappropriately. Made Toni grin too. "We need to talk!"
"There is no us. You've made that quite clear."
There was something that sounded suspiciously like a sob and Buffy wondered where Faith actually was at the moment to be able to let go like this; maybe in another cupboard.
"I still love you," she said after a moment, her voice carefully restrained.
"But you're marrying him."
"But... but that doesn't mean things have to change," Faith said in a rush. "Can't we just go back to how things were before?"
Toni raised her head to look at her, sensing a change in the conversation by how stiff Buffy had suddenly gone.
"Hang on," she said tightly into the phone and then cast it aside. She sat up, dislodging Toni from her side gently as she turned to her. "I'm with you, okay? I want to be with you. Nothing's going to change that, but... but I have to take this call into the other room."
"I heard what she said," Toni whispered, looking worried despite Buffy's reassurance.
Buffy nodded, running a frustrated hand through her hair. "And I'll tell you everything that I say out there, I promise, but I need to talk to her alone."
Toni didn't look any happier, but she nodded. Buffy put a knee over her waist, straddling her for a moment as she kissed some assurance into her, and then unstraddled her, reaching across Toni's tummy to snatch the phone back up as she crawled off the side of the bed.
She grabbed a t-shirt, pulling it over her head as she left the bedroom for the villa's small living area before putting the phone back to her ear.
Pulling the door closed behind her, she said, "Faith, how can we possibly do that?"
Jeez, she hadn't been away from the phone that long. "Be together!" she hissed.
"Oh. Well, we managed it before. We'll just keep it to ourselves, sneak around when we get the chance..."
Buffy cut her off before she could add anything else. "No way! My days of being your bit on the side are over. I can't believe now that I gave in in the first place."
"Thanks a lot!"
"No!" Buffy snapped as she took a seat on the scratchy couch. "You don't get to play wounded victim here! Ever again! I did do it, and I did it gladly, and you messed it up. Not me!"
"You messed it up by coming to Bracciano!"
She took a second to accept that; after all, Faith still didn't know why she had gone to Bracciano. "Fair enough, but I was willing to give up everything for you. Everything! And you shit on that and went back to him, Faith. You went back to him! After everything we went through that night. You saw him try to kill me and you still went back to him!"
"I did it to help you!"
Buffy shook her head. "No, you did it because it was easy and you did it because it was what you really wanted."
Tears pricked her eyes when Faith didn't even try and refute that.
After a moment, Faith said, "I did what I knew was right and, yeah, I wanted to do what was right, but if you wanna believe that adds up to me wanting to leave you, that's your problem."
"No, Faith, it's our problem, and it's one we're gonna have to live with."
"If that's the way you want it, I guess it is."
"The way I...? Faith, what other way is there? Are you gonna leave him again, right now, and come find me?"
"No," Faith said sullenly.
"Then what way, Faith?"
"Like I said, we could just pick back up..."
"Faith, do you know what I did this morning?" Not waiting for an answer, Buffy continued. "I picked up your caterers from the airport and drove them to a hotel! Later tonight I have to go to the airport again to pick up a bunch of your guests and tomorrow morning I have to go back to the airport to pick up the flower arrangements and bring them back to my villa to put on ice so they're fresh for the temple. Do you have any idea how fast ice melts around here?!"
"I never forced you to be my Maid of Honor," Faith said, managing to sound even more sullen than before.
Buffy laughed in disbelief. "I'm hanging up now."
"No, B, babe, wait!" Faith said with enough urgency that she did wait. "I shouldn't have said that, I'm sorry. I really appreciate everything you're doing. I'm not quite sure why you're still doing it..."
"Like you said, I'm your Maid of Honor." Buffy shrugged. "And once Toni heard the wedding was still on... well, we were already here, so..."
The decision to pick her wedding duties back up hadn't been that easy at all. In fact, after the third shouting match Buffy had had with herself, Toni had forbidden her to do it altogether, totally prepared to do it all herself as well as her Best Man stuff if it saved Buffy that much emotional trauma.
That was what had calmed her down in the end and made her re-evaluate. At the end of the day, if the wedding was happening - and bearing in mind the prophecy was already passed - what did Buffy really have to lose by seeing this through to the end? Nothing, but she could gain a whole lot of satisfaction from knowing she had managed to put on the wedding of the century - maybe she could put it on her resume - and it also worked nicely as a final nail in the coffin kind of deal. Once Faith was married, Buffy never had to look back at what could have been again.
None of that had made it any easier to actually do the tasks she had to but in another three days it would all be over and she was so focused on the day after, that the rest of it was just happening on autopilot.
"I don't want to lose you!" Faith said suddenly.
"But what if..."
"Hear me out, would ya?!"
"Why should I?"
"Are you really saying you never wanna be with me again?" Faith wheedled.
Buffy sighed. "Is that all you're interested in?"
"Well, I was hoping, since you forgave me, our friendship was already back on track."
Buffy gave that little disbelieved laugh again. "When did I forgive you?"
"So we're not even friends anymore?" Now Faith sounded frustrated.
She sighed again and rubbed a hand over her face before changing ears. While rubbing her hot ear with her fingers, she said, "We'll always be friends, but I don't think I want to see you after the wedding."
"You know why not. It'll be too hard. For both of us. I can't spend the rest of my life pining for a married woman, Faith, and you shouldn't spend the rest of your life wanting anyone other than your husband."
"But... I love you."
"Stop saying that!"
"But it's true! I don't wanna... We didn't even get to say goodbye!"
Buffy knew she didn't mean with words, because they would get that chance at the wedding. She clenched the ‘who's faults that?' behind her lips and threw her head against the back of the couch instead.
"I love you too, Faith," Buffy whispered harshly, "but... it's over. You're getting married!"
"What about until I'm married?"
"What?" Buffy stood up in one fluid motion, her body taking over where her mind refused to deal. She paced towards the small, square, glassless window as she said again, "What?"
"We'll have two days..."
"You're not seriously asking..."
"Yeah, I am."
Staring out of the window at the dry citrus trees beyond, her mind went blank for a full thirty seconds, maybe a few seconds more. She tried to find the strength to tell Faith to go to hell - and it was there, she knew it was, deep down - she just couldn't seem to find it when she needed it.
"Just what are you suggesting?" she asked, subconsciously keeping her voice low so it didn't carry through to Toni.
"Just two days, me and you. Lots of maid of honor/bride stuff to do. Wouldn't look outta place, would it? Just two days of saying goodbye." Faith paused for a moment before adding hopefully. "Two last days?"
"Hold on a minute."
She put the phone down on the slim window ledge and then braced both hands on it. Sticking her head out of what was just essentially a hole in the wall, she breathed the calming aromas of the Greek countryside in and out a few times.
This was insane. She wasn't seriously considering this, was she? What about Toni? It all came back to the same thing though: Faith! And at the end of the day, two days was only two days.
After another deep breath she picked the phone back up. "I'm not seeing you after the wedding."
There was a pause and then Faith said, "Okay, but?"
She rolled her eyes; Faith could read her as well as she could read Faith.
"But..." she hesitated, not for long though. "...I want to say goodbye to you too."
Faith breathed what sounded like a sigh of relief on the other end of the phone. Then there was a few moments of silence as they both figured out what to say next.
"So, we're staying in the same villas as you. I'll come by tonight as soon as I get there."
"No. Toni will be here. Or actually, maybe everyone will be here, so yes. I don't know." And she really didn't. This was madness. "Just call me when you get here and we'll take it from there."
"Yes?" she asked into the pause.
"I love you."
Buffy groaned inwardly and then whispered, "I love you, too," before ending the call before Faith could say anything else.
She threw the phone across the room so it landed on the couch and then ran both hands through her hair. What had she just agreed to? And more importantly, what would she tell Toni about it?
The airport wasn't busy at this time of night; the arrivals board only half a screen, the kiosks selling leather handbags and camel coats empty, the security more interested in talking amongst themselves than looking out for suspicious luggage. The seats in the waiting area were mostly empty too, giving Buffy and Toni the room to sit two chairs apart.
She had been really excited about tonight, about the only thing she had been looking forward to in this whole week, but now it was subdued by the atmosphere that was hanging over them.
Buffy stared down at her overpriced coffee, shifting it around in her hands restlessly for another minute, before tilting her head until she could see her girlfriend out of the corner of her eye.
"Can we please sort this out before their plane lands?"
Toni didn't look at her or answer.
"It's going to be hours before we get to talk privately again."
Toni just slumped further in her chair and shrugged.
"I understand why you're upset..."
Now Toni looked at her, her expression cutting off the rest that Buffy had been about to say. She looked back down at her coffee cup.
"Well, as long as you understand, I should feel better, si?" Toni said sarcastically.
Buffy sighed. "It doesn't change anything between us."
"You mean it does not change anything for you. But when my girlfriend tells me she intends to cheat on me for two days, it does change things between us."
"But at least I told you!" It came out as a whine rather than a saving grace.
"Is that supposed to make me feel better too?" Toni asked incredulously.
Actually it was supposed to. After her phone call with Faith, Buffy had gone back into the bedroom and told Toni everything. No secrets, no lies, no going behind her back. Surely if she wasn't doing any of that then it wasn't technically cheating.
Toni hadn't seen it quite like that, and even after several hours of arguing and one very tense car ride spent trying to convince her, she still wasn't seeing it like that.
"What exactly about it is it that bothers you?" she tried. Toni just turned the incredulous look up a notch. "I mean, exactly. Is it because it's Faith or...?"
Toni spelled it out in an 'I'm-talking-to-a-moron' tone. "It is because you would rather be with her than me."
"No, see!" Buffy scooched up the two spare chairs until she was sitting right next to Toni. "That's not true. I'll still be with you! I'll go to bed at night with you. I'll wake up in the morning with you. It's just that when I'm not with you, I'll be with Faith. Which I would have been anyway, right? Because of the wedding prep."
"Except now you will be sleeping with her instead of preparing the wedding," Toni said coldly.
Buffy looked out across the arrival lounge and said in a small voice, "Not all the time. I mean, it's not like we can just ignore all the stuff that needs doing for Saturday. We'll probably hardly get in more than a couple of..."
"Buffy!" Toni sat forward with a shake of her head and a harsh bark of laughter. She set her elbows on her knees and dropped her face into her hands. "Please spare me the details."
After a quick check around showed no one paying them the slightest attention, Buffy leaned into her, one arm low around her waist, the other hand sneaking in behind her elbow to rest on Toni's thigh.
"I was going to say," she began softly, "more than a couple of hours of downtime. Which doesn't necessarily mean sex, by the way. I just want to hang out with her, spend some quality time before we go our separate ways."
"But you would like to have sex with her again," Toni whispered, her eyes still fixed on some distant point in front of them. She stiffened when Buffy took her time answering, and when she didn't end up saying anything at all, she pushed Buffy's hand from her leg and stood up. "Do as you wish, mia tesoro."
Buffy drooped backwards into the hard plastic chair, watching as Toni stalked towards the arrivals screen. Had she made the wrong decision agreeing to Faith's suggestion? Would it make any difference if she thought she had?
She gave Toni a couple of minutes of cooling off time before going to join her, throwing what was left of her luke warm coffee into a trash can on the way. Even when Buffy was at her side she refused to look away from the screen; it was probably giving her a stiff neck by now.
Buffy glanced at it too before she spoke, noting that the plane they were waiting for had just landed.
"It's two days, Antonella. Two days! Well, three if you include the wedding, but you're hardly going to have anything to worry about that day. And then she's gone. For good! I swear the last time I'm ever gonna see her is when she's waving goodbye from the back of a ridiculously expensive four horse carriage covered in pink silly-string with tin cans strung to the back of it!"
"You promise this?" Toni asked.
Buffy looked down at the floor but she didn't hesitate. "I promise."
After all, it was the deal she had made with herself. The only way to keep her sanity. See Faith for a few more days, with or without sex, and then she was done. For real this time. It was crazy to even contemplate anything else so she wasn't going to. Mapanos had been right; they'd had their day, their day was over, the world had turned and it was time to go with it instead of insanely fighting against it. She couldn't beat Troy anyway, and right now - after this fresh round of pain - she didn't even think she wanted to. Let them have each other, let them have their little family. Two assholes and a baby. They should make a film about it.
She only looked up again when she felt a hand on her shoulder.
Buffy's eyes went wide. "Okay. Really?"
Toni still didn't look happy, but she nodded. "But if you do not keep your word..."
"I'm keeping it!" she promised and then, barely caring where they were, she pulled Toni closer for a kiss.
Only a little one, though, because she still kinda cared where they were. The hug lasted longer though, and she wasn't breaking that no matter how many eyes might fall on them.
Toni returned it, holding her tight. "There are conditions, though."
"Uh huh," she said carefully, not prepared to blindly agree to just anything that Toni's jealous side might come up with. She was putting herself in a stupid situation, but that didn't make her completely stupid.
"Si. If we have plans, you must not break them to be with her."
"That's reasonable," she agreed, nodding against Toni's shoulder.
"You will be back at our villa by ten on both nights."
"You're giving me a curfew?" Buffy pulled her head back to look at her with a wry smile. "Are you my mom now?"
Toni gave her a stern look that did more to make her insides go squishy than make her feel reprimanded. "No, I am the girlfriend who is letting you sleep with your ex."
She nodded quickly. "Ten ‘o' clock curfew, got it, no problem." She ducked her head back onto Toni's shoulder to hide her grin. "Oh wait; Friday night's the bachelorette party!"
She looked up without moving her head, just catching Toni's eyes. Toni looked impassive until Buffy gave a little pout, and then she cracked, shaking her head resignedly.
"Tomorrow night you will be home by ten so we can spend the evening together alone."
Buffy let her see her grin this time and hugged her a little bit tighter. "Make it nine."
Toni finally smiled back.
Toni hesitated a little before nodding. "On Sunday you block Faith's telephone number from your cell phone."
Buffy regarded her for a moment, sussing out whether that was a deal breaker or not, and then decided she didn't care. It would make her life easier anyway. If there was no way Faith could call her then there was no reason for her heart to give that hopeful little skip every time her phone rang.
"I have no idea how to make my cell do that, but if you can figure it out, I'm all for it."
"Are you sure about this, Buffy?"
"I'd be sure even if I didn't have you," she said honestly. "And the fact that I do is just gonna make it that much easier. I just... I just need these last two days to say goodbye and then it's all about you and me."
Toni nodded again and then closed her eyes as she held her close, as satisfied as she could be with the situation. Buffy knew she was asking a lot, she wasn't an idiot. She just knew that if she didn't give herself these last two days she'd always - on some periphery level - be wishing she had. Now she didn't have to worry about that.
Something else she didn't have to worry about now was having Faith close, doing mundane wedding-y stuff with her, and going nuts because they weren't speaking, or touching, or making eye-contact. That was kind of what she'd expected from - and planned for - this week before their phone call. Three days of awkward hell. Stunted conversations and self-conscious rehearsal speeches. Sniping in salons and wild parties she didn't want to be at. Walking down aisles with hate in her eyes and raising a glass she wanted to smash in Troy's face...
Okay, those last two she might still want to do, but the rest of it would at least be a lot easier now. Hopefully. And afterwards? A fresh start back in Cleveland with her girlfriend and the rest of her life to look forward to. And she was damn well gonna make it something to look forward to.
She rubbed the side of her face against Toni's shoulder, pressing a soft, discreet kiss to her collarbone, making herself think about all the good that could come from shutting Faith from her life once and for all. Good things like this hug for one.
"Hey! You better be saving some of that for us!"
The shout, coming from halfway across the arrivals lounge, made Buffy grin and brought tears to her eyes at the same time. She gave Toni was one last squeeze and then broke excitedly away, practically hopping from foot to foot like a kid at Christmas.
Toni gave her an indulgent smile. "Don't keep them waiting."
Buffy nodded and then grabbed her hand. Toni may have been stronger and faster than before, but that didn't stop her from squealing a little as she was towed at high speed around rows of chairs, surprised cleaners and too-tired-to-notice disembarking passengers.
Not caring about the sign that asked people to wait behind the barriers, Buffy ran through the exit gap and straight into Xander. Literally. Letting go of Toni's hand, she picked him up in her excitement and swung him around.
"Uh, Buff, not that it's not great to see you too, but this is kinda embarrassing," he squeaked, looking over her shoulder at his girlfriend's amusement.
"Oh, shut up," she said affectionately as she dropped him back to his feet and gave him a proper hug. "There, ya wanted some, ya got some."
His arms enveloped her warmly as he kissed the side of her head. "Missed you."
"Missed you more," she promised.
"Uh, hello? I am here too, ya know?" Came a playful voice from behind her.
Buffy released Xander and spun around, grabbing Willow in a bear hug. "Oh, God, Will! You have no idea how good it is to see you outside of a computer!"
Willow giggled, hugging her back for a second before she started gasping for air. "Buffy!"
"Oh, sorry." Buffy pulled back a little, still grinning like an idiot.
There were tears pouring from her eyes but she didn't even care. She snaked her arm around Xander's waist again and pulled them both in for a quick group hug before letting go completely and wiping at her cheeks.
She was just starting to compose herself a little when she saw her Watcher walk around the corner.
"Giles!" She pretty much leapt the eight feet between them into his arms. "Oh, I'm so glad you're here."
"Um, yes, Buffy, I missed you too." He was wearing his own idiot-sized grin at her welcome but raised an eyebrow at her none-the-less when he realized she was dangling from his arms.
"Sorry," she said again, still smiling like a mental case, and hopped back to the floor. "It's just really good to see you guys."
She tucked her hand under his arm and pulled him over to the others. Melissa, Xander's girlfriend was there too, and Buffy gave her a quick hug hello. Not that she knew her all that well, but she was just feeling really huggy right now. Then she looked around.
"Okay, we're missing some people."
"Dawn and Christian are still in duty free," Giles told her. "They should be along any moment."
"And Kennedy and Andrew are still waiting for our bags," Willow said.
"We couldn't wait, though," Xander said, his excitement bringing a boyishness to his features despite the black eye-patch.
"Glad you couldn't," Buffy promised him. Noticing that Toni, although smiling, was standing a little out of the way as the welcome took place, she went and took her hand and pulled her closer, not wanting her to feel left out. "So how was the flight?"
As they started to tell her it had been fine, but long, Dawn and Christian came around the corner. There was no need for squealing, they'd only seen each other a week ago, Buffy ran to her anyway and gave her a hug.
"You okay?" she checked, as Dawn hugged her back.
"Angel treat you alright?" she joked.
Dawn nodded. "And Spike looked after us. He even came with me and Andrew to the hospital. How did things go on your end? You know, after you jumped?"
Buffy had spoken to Giles twice since the nightmare weekend about what had happened in Bracciano, but she'd deliberately asked him to keep things to himself. For one, she didn't want everyone knowing the mess she had made of things, and for two, she didn't want everyone being down on Faith for the decision she had made. Not right before her wedding. If they hadn't come on principal because of what had happened, it would have seriously hurt Faith. Maybe there was a part of her that hated Faith for the choice she had made, but that didn't mean she didn't get why she had made it and breaking the tenuous bonds of friendship she had with, by her own admission, her only real friends because of it just wasn't fair.
So everyone but Giles was completely in the dark, Giles himself was in the shade, and Buffy knew she was going to have a lot of explaining to do once the wedding was over. For now though, vague was key.
"It could have gone better," she admitted. "I'll tell you later. Is Angel coming?"
Dawn shook her head. "He already pretty much said he wouldn't give Faith away to Troy, but Willow called him yesterday to try and change his mind and Wesley told her they have some pretty heavy stuff going down so none of them would be able to make it."
Buffy nodded slowly. This was bad. She'd been counting on him to walk Faith down the aisle, and although Faith hadn't mentioned it after the first time, Buffy knew it was really important to her. There was still another option but that wouldn't be easy.
"Heavy stuff?" she asked, leaving that other worry until later.
Dawn shrugged. "Wesley didn't elaborate, but he said they had it covered."
Buffy nodded. She gave Christian a quick smile, because she hadn't even acknowledged him yet, and then turned to Kennedy and Andrew as they finally came around the corner.
She surprised herself by giving Andrew a hug, extricating herself quickly before he could return it too enthusiastically. She gave his head a look. There were stitches, professional ones this time, across his forehead.
"These are ready to come out."
"I know, I just haven't had a chance to go to the doctor, what with everything. Dawn said she'd do it when we got here."
"No, I'll do it," she said, rolling her eyes. "You're gonna have a sexy scar there, Andrew," she promised. "Girls are gonna love it."
"I'm off girls," he said adamantly. She raised an amused eyebrow at him. "Oh, that doesn't mean I've decided... I just meant, after what happened at the club... girls are just scary right now."
She grinned at him, letting him off the hook as she patted his arm. "I get that. Maybe you'll meet someone at the wedding."
She turned to Kennedy next, the last person to greet. "Are we supposed to hug?"
Kennedy shrugged. "I doubt it."
Buffy grinned. "Stop. I'm overwhelmed by all this emotion."
"Yeah, well I'm overwhelmed by all these bags." There were three of them, all big duffle bags, and she handed them to Buffy.
Buffy automatically took them, and then noticed Kennedy was now carrying none. With a quirked eyebrow she handed them all back again.
Kennedy finally smiled as she took them, muttering, "Worth a try."
Buffy gave her an eye roll and then patted her shoulder warmly - probably the closest they'd ever come to a welcoming hug - before turning and taking Melissa's bag from her and Christian's bag from him. The polite, private school kid tried to decline but she waved him away and went to join Toni again.
"So, we ready? It's an hour's drive to where we're staying."
"How are we all going to fit in one car?" Giles asked as they made their way to the doors.
"We hired a people carrier," Toni said, taking Giles' and Xander's bags with ease. Buffy didn't bat an eyelid, but everyone else did. "We decided it would be beneficial with all the travelling we will have to do with the wedding."
"Okay," Kennedy eyed her suspiciously as she walked along beside them.
Buffy ignored it for now, but she was going to have a word with Kennedy later and explain why she had to drop the attitude.
"Is no one going to offer to carry my bag?" Dawn asked a little petulantly.
Buffy looked over her shoulder. "You have a tiny little rucksack. Why do you only have tiny little rucksack?"
As Christian quickly took the small bag from her, she said, "All my clothes are in Rome!"
"Oh." Buffy tried not to feel guilty. "Didn't you have any clothes at home?"
"Not really, and not wedding-y type stuff."
Buffy looked at Toni, who nodded.
"There are some nice shops in the town. We can go and buy you something for the wedding."
"I don't have much money," Dawn griped.
"That is not a problem," Toni promised, making Dawn beam.
Buffy was happy with this suggestion until the future dawned on her. "Oh, I, uh, might not be able to make shopping tomorrow."
Toni glanced her way and sighed, but obviously decided not to make a thing out of it. "That is okay. Dawn and I can go together."
Buffy could feel several sets of eyes on her but didn't turn to meet any of them. Melissa, of all people, came to her rescue when she said,
"I'd like to come. I mean, clothes shopping in Greece. Probably won't get to do that again."
Buffy made a mental note to thank Melissa later as Willow then piped up that she wanted to go too, followed by Kennedy and then even Andrew.
Xander let the side down, when he asked, "What are you gonna be doing, Buff?"
She muttered darkly, "Wedding stuff," and thankfully no one dared push her for a deeper explanation.
Buffy had booked three two-bedroomed villas weeks ago so that they could all be close to each other in the days leading up to the wedding. Her support system, moral and otherwise.
Willow and Kennedy were sharing with Xander and Melissa. Giles had a room of his own and Andrew was sharing the other room in that villa with Christian, and Dawn was unfortunately in with her and Toni. Unfortunately because it meant no more walking around the place in just a t-shirt and no more adventurous sex, but it was still way better than the alternative.
Dawn had actually tried in Rome to convince Buffy that she was old enough to share a villa with Christian all by herself. Buffy had just laughed. In fact she had laughed for quite some time.
Right now, the welcome-to-some-place-none-of-us (except for Toni) have-ever-been-to-before party was in full swing in all three of them. They'd spaced themselves out as the recent arrivals unpacked and settled in, but the drinks were still flowing, the non-stop talking had yet to slow down and the reunion as a whole had a very holiday atmosphere to it.
Buffy was in her own room, trying to join in the merriment and make call after urgent call from the telephone by their bed. So far she wasn't having a whole lot of luck. Surely someone must know where he was?
Finishing up on another dead end, she indulged Toni the kiss she had been angling for the last few minutes. As their lips met she thanked her lucky stars that they had made up their fight before the others had arrived. Not just because it was nice to be all made up, but on top of that she would have had a hard time explaining to her friends why they were arguing seeing as not one of them knew her and Faith's recent situation.
Before her lips had even slid away from Toni's, Willow was hugging her tight from the side.
"I missed you," she said into her shoulder.
"Missed you too," Buffy said for the hundredth time, and boy did she mean it.
Life without Willow and Xander these past few months had been even harder than she'd expected it to be and she couldn't wait to get back to Cleveland and pick up her old life. And, at least eighty per cent of her really meant that too.
Buffy put an arm around Willow, giving her a kiss on the cheek, and then nearly strangled her with the phone cord as she leant over to accept a wine cooler from Dawn.
"Thanks," she said, quickly relieving Willow's choking and setting the phone back down. "Not too many for you though, okay? Not if you wanna go shopping in the morning."
"I've only had one so far," Dawn promised her. "Hey, come speak to Melissa, she wants to start a self-defence group for women."
Dawn grabbed her hand. Buffy touched Toni's arm, giving her a smile, before allowing herself to be dragged out of the door and through the humid night.
"She does? What does she know about self-defence?" Buffy asked as they went into the next villa.
"Nothing, that's why she wants to talk to you."
Buffy nodded and then was suddenly in conversation about it with Xander's girlfriend. They talked places, times and mostly cost. Toni came in at one point, gave her a kiss on the cheek and then left again. After that they talked about Toni and Xander. By the time Melissa excused herself to go to the bathroom, Buffy was pretty sure she'd agreed to set up a self-defence school for women and gay men but couldn't remember any of the details.
She couldn't help wondering who had been saying what to Melissa for the carpenter to think she was the ideal candidate for a partnership, but if it ever turned out to be more than just talk, at least she would get a job out of it. It wasn't like Doreen was going to give her her old job back after she had called in to quit with no notice, no doubt leaving them in the lurch at the busy diner until they found a replacement.
She spent another minute after that talking to Xander about how, yes, his girlfriend was awesome, and then she told him she was using his phone.
She had to stick a finger in her ear to hear what was being said on the other end of the line. It didn't turn out to be anything worth hearing anyway.
"Okay, thanks anyway," she said as put the phone down.
"Who was that?" Xander asked, replacing the empty bottle in her hand with a fresh one. Now that was service.
"I'm trying to find someone to walk Faith down the aisle."
"Giles?" Xander said like it was obvious, flopping down onto his and Melissa's bed.
She sat on the edge next to him. "As a last resort, definitely an option."
"I heard that."
She looked up to see Giles standing in the doorway and smiled. "I didn't mean it like that," she promised. "It's just that she wanted Angel, and he won't or can't do it, so there's one other person I wanna try before I hand you the reins."
"How flattering," Giles said, deadpan, before smirking a little.
"You know you'll be my first choice," she promised to appease him, and then pulled a little face when she realized she'd actually forgotten her own dad there for a minute. Just as well her getting married would never be more than a fantasy at this rate
Xander obviously didn't realize that as he sat up a little to look at her. "Oh, yeah, and when are you getting married?"
"I'm not, ever. But if I was, Giles would be the one."
He smiled at her. Xander just looked curious. "So you don't think you and Toni'll ever tie the knot?"
"We couldn't if we wanted to," she stood up, feeling a little flustered by the conversation.
She looked around for a distraction and found one in the form of Andrew barging past Giles into the room and grabbing her hand. She looked down at it.
"Uh, hello? Little more familiar than I like my Andrew, Andrew."
"Just come with me, I need your help."
Frowning, wondering what was wrong, she followed him. Giles stopped her just as they left the bedroom.
"I think I know who you are trying to contact. Give me a few minutes and I'll see if I can get you the number."
She nodded her thanks and then let Andrew pull her into Willow and Kennedy's bedroom.
"Tell her I saved the day!" he said, pointing at Kennedy.
Kennedy was half sitting, half lying on the double bed, looking amused.
"Saved what day?" Buffy asked, her frown deepening.
"I knew it," Kennedy grinned, sitting up properly.
"The day! Or night actually. Underground! When you rescued me!"
"If she rescued you, how did you save the day?" Christian asked guilelessly as he leant against the wall near the bed.
"Exactly!" said Kennedy.
Buffy had to think about it a minute but then, "Oh! No, he did. Sort of. I mean if he hadn't gotten kidnapped the day wouldn't have needed saving, but yeah, I guess."
Kennedy made a ‘how exactly' gesture with her hands.
"We'd never have gotten out of those tunnels in time to save Angel and Spike if it wasn't for Andrew's quick thinking," Buffy said distractedly. "I'm just gonna go find Giles."
"I told you!" She heard Andrew say as she left the villa.
Giles' villa was empty at the moment, apart from the Watcher himself. From the bedroom he saw her enter and waved her towards him. She leant on the doorframe, listening to him talk on the phone for a few minutes. He wrote a number down in the back of his Filofax just before he said goodbye and hung up.
He handed the thick black book to her. "For his last known address."
"Nice address?" she asked.
"A boarding house in Los Angeles. Not the worst neighborhood, but..." He left the sentence there. "Faith knows you are doing this?"
"Not exactly, but I sort of have her permission."
He nodded and stood up. "Well, you can use the phone in here. I'll go into the living room to give you some privacy."
As she was dialling the number, Willow stuck her head in the main door and called through to her.
"Buff, Toni says your phone's ringing."
"I'll be there in a minute," she called back just as the other end of her phone call was picked up. "Hi, I'm looking for Sean Lehane. Oh, really? Thank you!"
She spent another five minutes on the phone before hanging up and going through to the living area.
"Everything okay?" Giles asked.
Buffy smiled. "Yep. Uh, that is, you can afford a return flight from Los Angeles, right?"
He rolled his eyes good-naturedly. "I'll write it off against expenses... somehow."
"Then, yep, I think everything's good."
It was Kennedy who stuck her head around the door this time. "Buffy, Willow and Dawn want you to come see the wedding presents we got Faith."
"Presents?" Buffy's nose wrinkled. Then she had a thought. "Oh, wait, Kenny, I need to talk to you."
Kennedy came into the room suspiciously, glancing at Giles as if he could enlighten her telepathically about what was going on.
Buffy chuckled. "Don't look so worried, I just need your help on something, okay?"
Buffy approached her. She really didn't want to have to do the whole intimidating thing right now, but Kennedy had to know she was serious about what she was about to say.
So she didn't smile as she said, "It's Toni. You need to back right off. And I'm only going to say this once: please."
Kennedy stared at her suspiciously. "Okay. Why?"
"Because she's my girlfriend..."
"No, she was that before. I mean, why are you saying please all of a sudden?"
"We were right, you were right, whatever. She was in this up to her neck. She went to Japan to get some scrolls so Troy could complete the prophecy..."
"Then why...?" Kennedy interrupted immediately.
"Because the prophecy is done, Kennedy. And I'm telling you this is as a Slayer, not a friend, not Willow's girlfriend. Do you understand?"
Kennedy nodded slowly. "Yeah, but..." She looked at Giles for his input.
Giles nodded once. "I already know, and Buffy will tell the others, but she wishes to wait until after the wedding. Now that it is too late to do anything about the prophecy, I see no reason not to comply with this."
There may have been a hint of an accusation in his tone but they'd already argued this out over the telephone so Buffy ignored it and explained things a little more to Kennedy.
"The thing is, Toni was involved, but when it came down to it, she saved my life. She really came through, for me and Faith. She went against Troy, really pissed him off. He actually kicked her out of his castle because of it. They've only made up because of the wedding. My point is, you have to back off because... because Toni and I are going to be together now. Properly. Hopefully forever."
Kennedy took a deep breath, letting it out slowly as she digested it all. "Okay, but... what about Faith?"
"Faith made her choice. And yes, it was an informed choice. We talked about it."
"Really?" Kennedy sounded surprised.
Buffy looked away for a moment before resolutely meeting Kennedy's eyes again with a sigh. "Yeah. We really did."
Kennedy didn't need to know that after they had talked about it Faith had gone and done the exact opposite to what they had decided together.
"Okay." Kennedy nodded, looking totally onboard now. Which was a relief; Buffy had expected more of a battle. "We need to talk about the prophecy though. I mean, if it's passed, it's passed, but we still need to plan our next move."
"We will talk about it, probably lots, but not until after the wedding."
"So does this mean Faith's pregnant?"
Buffy grit her teeth for a moment before replying. "Probably."
"Does she know?"
Buffy shook her head. "I haven't told her. I doubt Troy has."
"But then shouldn't we...?"
"No, not until after the wedding." Buffy started towards the door.
"But we should..."
"Kennedy, that's enough," Giles said gently.
In the doorway, Buffy spun back to face her. "I tried, okay! I tried to tell her everything and she didn't want to know!" It was almost the complete truth. "And now there are too many risks involved. If she finds out this close to the wedding and reacts badly... Troy's family are already pissed at her and they don't take insubordination lying down. Believe me, I know."
Now Giles was looking at her curiously, but she shrugged it off. "Let's go look at these wedding presents."
Everyone was in the cramped living space of Xander and Willow's villa. Xander and Melissa were sat on the floor together against a wall. Dawn and Christian were also on the floor, next to a large pile of boxes in varying degrees of size, getting ready for show and tell. Willow was in the middle of the couch and Kennedy went and plopped down next to her. Andrew was on the other side of Willow, but he jumped up to let Giles sit down and went and sat on the narrow window sill instead, letting his legs dangle against the wall.
Toni - who looked up with a bright smile as she entered - had claimed one of the plastic patio chairs and was somehow managing to make it look comfortable. Buffy grinned as she picked her way through the bodies on the floor to her.
"Is this seat taken?"
Toni leaned back and gestured at her lap. "No, it is all yours."
"Thanks." Buffy sat sideways across her knees, one arm loosely around her neck. "So presents. Did you all buy them one?"
"Well, yeah, Buffy," Willow said, grinning at her. "It's a wedding; we didn't have a lot of choice."
"By that, should we assume you didn't buy them one?" Xander asked, also grinning as he crawled over to give her a beer before sitting back against the wall again.
"I'm turning up, aren't I? That's the best they're getting from me," she said more darkly than she meant to.
Kennedy was watching her closely. Buffy ignored it.
Toni gave her a comforting squeeze around the waist as she said, "Buffy planned the wedding as her gift but I have also ordered them something else."
"You have?" Buffy looked at her in surprise.
Toni nodded and then whispered in her ear, "A plague of boils for their honeymoon." As Buffy giggled helplessly, Toni added louder so that everyone could hear. "I only hope it will turn up on time."
Her reaction to Toni's whisper had caused not just Kennedy to stare at her; Buffy cleared her throat and asked, "So what did everyone else get?"
Dawn began to open boxes and everyone else started to say what they had bought. Buffy relaxed against Toni, just enjoying having everyone she loved around her. It was such a nice feeling after months of feeling kind of alone.
Careful not to spill her drink over her shoulder, she tightened her arm around Toni's neck, resting the sides of their heads together, and her other hand played with Toni's fingers in her lap. It was hard to imagine being happier right now. Okay, there was one way, but that was a bad way, and never gonna happen. Best not to think about it.
Gifts were shown to her and explained. Everyone knew Troy had more money than sense, so most of them were novelty items or inexpensive sentimental stuff. Troy probably wouldn't look twice at most of it, but Faith would probably love it all, even if she didn't actually ever show it. Buffy knew the biggest gift for Faith, though, would be just having everyone here. Even if she never really showed that either. That was why it was so important to keep all the crap that had happened between them over the past few weeks under wraps until after the wedding at least. She would never agree with this wedding, but that didn't mean she was prepared to do anything but make it awesome for Faith.
After that... after that... after that... Buffy shook her head. After that was something that would happen. It was even something she wanted to happen. It just wasn't something very easy to think about.
Sensing from her subtle headshake that Buffy was thinking more than listening to her friends, Toni turned her head slightly to look at her. The look in her eyes combined with the soft, concerned smile on her face was all it took to shunt Buffy back into the here and now. The here and now was good, no matter what the future was gonna hold.
Smiling herself, she kissed Toni, completely oblivious to everyone else in the room for the moment.
She vaguely heard Willow say, "Aww, I missed this."
Which was disturbing and funny enough to almost start her giggling again.
Dawn muttered, "Get a room."
Which was easy to ignore.
She heard Giles clear his throat as if they were doing more than just sharing a fairly PG kiss.
After that Andrew said, "Uh oh." Immediately followed by Kennedy muttering, "Oh, this should be interesting."
Why couldn't they just talk amongst themselves? Was her kissing her girlfriend really so out of the ordinary? Willow and Kennedy were all over each at home, all the time, and not always just kissing either. This was Disney compared to a few of their displays of affection.
It was the sudden scrambling of boxes being shoved into bags or behind the couch that followed that made her think maybe this wasn't just about the kiss. She frowned slightly but didn't actually pull away from Toni until she heard the clearing of a throat that definitely wasn't Giles from the doorway. Then she moved back so fast she left cartoon trail-lines in the air.
Faith was standing extremely uncomfortably in the doorway. "Hey, guys." She gave the room a little wave.
Nobody said a word; they were too busy staring at Buffy to see what she would do. As much as she had loved them five minutes ago, she hated them all right now. Nothing like a little pressure.
She stared at Faith for a few seconds. Damn, she looked good. When didn't she? But nobody should look that good straight from getting off a plane. Even though Buffy could see the freak-out going on behind her eyes, she still looked laid-back and self-assured and hot as hell to the casual observer. It wasn't fair because Buffy probably looked anything but laid-back or self-assured to her friends, or Toni, or Faith.
She knew this for a fact when Faith smirked at her and made her eyebrows jump suggestively.
A mix of rage and desire suddenly burned through her and she made herself look away, back at Toni. There was a controlled fear in her eyes and Buffy gave a slight shake of her head, hoping to dispel it, and then figured a kiss would work better.
It was Faith clearing her throat again that made her pull away once more, slower this time. She stood up and handed her bottle to Toni. She still hadn't said anything, neither had anyone else, and it felt like everything was suddenly going in slow motion as she stretched a little and then walked towards Faith.
She didn't know what she was going to say yet. Just seeing her brought all of the hurt back. Running through her mind was a backing track of all of Faith's promises, and super-imposed over Faith grinning at her now was the image of seeing her walk towards Troy on the bridge, her kissing him on the bridge, turning all of those promises to ashes without ever having to say another word.
Sensibly she knew she should just keep going straight past Faith, go for a walk until she had calmed down a little, but she couldn't do that with everyone watching with silent, bated breath. Not if she wanted to keep what had happened between them to herself.
She smiled, letting her eyes drop up and down Faith as she approached, checking her out. Thinking about all the things she was going to spend the next two days doing to her while desperately wishing she didn't want to. Why had Faith suggested it? How dare she make Buffy still want her after what she had done.
She wondered how everyone else would react if she just kissed her now. Toni already knew the deal, but just how shocked would everyone else be? How shocked would Faith be? Would she push her away and pretend displeasure or would her desire over-ride that impulse?
Buffy was so close now that Faith was starting to look uncomfortable again, but she didn't take a step back. She was obviously expecting a hug and held her arms out awkwardly to the sides. Faith was never a big fan of hugging, but even less so when there was other people around to see it. So being prepared to accept one in front of this silent, watchful crowd was a really big deal for her.
Her next words backed that up ten-fold. With only a tremor of nervousness in her voice, she said, "Missed you, B."
"Whose fault is that?" Her tone was light, but her eyes - that only Faith could see right now - were cold.
"I..." Now Faith hesitated and had the audacity to look hurt and confused.
If it was all a show it was gonna be a painful one. Buffy - body thrumming with the torn desire to leap on Faith and run far away - couldn't take the fake innocent look on her face anymore. Her fist shot out, punching Faith on the chin and making her stagger back a step. There was a series of gasps behind her. Buffy ignored them, staring levelly at Faith who just stared back rubbing her chin.
"Good to see you again, Faith," she said eventually, and brushed past her to leave.
Back in the villa, Toni casually stood up and sauntered towards the door, keeping her smirk in check until only Faith could see it. As she reached the doorway, she handed Buffy's nearly empty bottle to Faith - who took it automatically - and then followed Buffy out into the warm night with a definite jauntiness to her step.
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Part Eleven Quick-Jump:
Chapter One ||
Chapter Two ||
Chapter Three ||
Chapter Four ||
Chapter Five ||
Chapter Six ||
Chapter Eight ||
Chapter Nine ||
Chapter Ten ||
Chapter Eleven ||
Chapter Twelve ||
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Part Eleven Quick-Jump:
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