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


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PART ELEVEN: 2nd to 5th October 2004
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Chapter Ten: Just In Case There's Just One Left

Toni's eyes followed Buffy as she furtively darted towards the restrooms after Faith. Her heart had been sinking all evening no matter how many ways she had tried to lift it again. This sudden plummet was deeper than the rest but she was stupid not to have expected it. Hadn't she been surprised not to find them engaged in copulation outside earlier after all?

As she artfully avoided another kiss from Serena by pressing their cheeks together instead, she smiled sadly at the entrance to the corridor, hoping she was wrong and that Buffy would re-emerge sooner rather than later.

She should never have accepted Faith's invitation to join them tonight but it had taken her by surprise and at the time all she could see was a way to be near Buffy. It had seemed preferable to not seeing her for the entire evening. If a part of her had also clung to the notion that her presence would distract Buffy from the other woman she was now berating herself for giving in to such a foolish thought. If anything it had simply confirmed Buffy's unshakeable attraction to Faith in ways Toni was unfortunately sure she would never be able to erase from her memory.

She considered taking Serena for a walk in the woods and doing something to wipe out the image of Buffy and Faith together for a while at least, but she expelled the idea immediately. Dancing with Serena may be a necessity but the thought of taking this charade any further than that was unappetizing and, besides, she thought with a resigned sigh, she could not stand the thought of hurting Buffy in such a way.




The room was small and kinda grungy with a single hanging light bulb and a bare window whose only cover was the chairs and tables piled haphazardly in front of it. Buffy had placed one of those chairs in the middle of the room but she hadn't really thought of any preparation beyond that. Luckily the DJ was playing a provocative Britney Spears track right now. It carried easily into their locked room and Buffy was doing her best to work with that.

Would have been easier if she'd ever done work like this before.

"Just so you know, I'm flying completely blind here," she said as she slowly inched her top up her body, hips gyrating to the beat just a foot or two from Faith.

Faith was sitting on the chair, legs sprawled comfortably in front of her and a big grin on her face that hadn't left since Buffy had first pushed her into the chair.

"Wouldn't know it," she promised.

"Really?" Buffy asked hopefully as she pulled her top over her head, twirled it in the air once and then threw it at Faith.

Faith spluttered as the top hit her hard across the face. "Well if it makes you feel any better, I'm blind too now."

"Shit. I knew I couldn't do this." Frowning, Buffy stopped her supposed-to-be enticing dance. "I should have just hired someone."

"Are you freakin' kidding me? Don't stop! This wouldn't be half as hot if it was anyone else."

Buffy smiled shyly. "Really? It's not just lame?"

Faith laughed softly. "Definitely not lame. Come on, girlfriend...strip for me."

Still smiling, feeling more confident now, Buffy let her hips find the rhythm of the music again. Slowly she trailed her hands up her thighs, taking her short skirt with it, giving Faith just a flash of her expensive almost see-thru panties before dropping it again. Reaching for the zipper on the side, she ever so gradually eased it down, loving the look of anticipation in Faith's eyes.

By the time she was reaching behind her for the clasp of her bra she was having all kinds of fun.




Toni's eyes were still on the corridor but she had been released from dancing with Serena when Kennedy had pointed out that for a non-couple they were dancing way too slow for the music. She couldn't have agreed more and had gladly palmed Serena off on the young Slayer and the others.

Serena was still too filled with love at the moment to remember what she had been doing before. It would wear off soon enough but by then Toni would have hopefully done all the damage control that was needed.

She was sitting at the bar now - having a triple straight vodka to try and quell the emotions coming from Buffy somewhere deep within the corridor - while she looked at Serena's phone.

Her last call had indeed been to Troy. It had lasted ninety seconds, plenty of time to tell him what she was seeing. She thought about it for a second but there was really only one option. She knocked back her drink and ordered another and then, with one eye on the corridor and the other on the dance floor, she hit the button to redial.

"Serena, what now? I am busy."

"It's not Serena. It's me," Toni said in Italian.

"Ah, Toni, my dear friend. You are at the party, no? Are you enjoying yourself?"

She frowned at how drunk he sounded. "No, not at all."

"I am very sorry to hear that. But maybe after tomorrow you and Buffy can have your own party, yes? You will have much to celebrate. A new life for us all. A new life for a new life. Yes?"

"Troy, what did Serena tell you?"

"Ah, she is so very uncompromising. I told her to let Faith enjoy herself and I am sure if you were also there she was not enjoying herself all that much anyway." So she had told him everything. Typical. "Faith really does not like you for some reason, Antonella."

He started laughing and she rolled her eyes. "The feeling is mutual. So if you don't mind that Faith is...dancing with Buffy, why have Serena here to report back to you?"

"I do not care if they dance. I do not care what they do as long as Faith is at that altar tomorrow. Serena is there to make sure Buffy does not convince Faith to try and run away with her."

"And if she does?" She already knew the answer, but she had to ask.

"Serena will make sure they don't get very far." He laughed again. "Or at least that your girlfriend doesn't anyway."

"You've ordered her to kill?"

"Serena is an expert shot. Buffy will not suffer," he promised with drunken benevolence. "And if you are doing your job properly, my friend, the issue will never arise."

"It will not arise, but I no longer do this for you, Troy," Toni said adamantly. "I do this for Buffy."

"You are doing this for yourself," he countered. "But no matter, it is all the same in the end. Can you believe we have made it this far, Toni?"

"It is not like you to be so awed by your own success."



Toni nodded silently. As soon as the wedding vows were spoken and the sacrifice offered, Faith wouldn't be able to leave him. She would be bound to him for the rest of her life. You didn't divorce a God. Even if she ran away then it would be for nought; she would be found immediately and punished. Not necessarily by Troy but by the Higher Council. You just weren't allowed to embarrass an Immortal like that.

Oh well.

"So how is your bachelor party going?" She could hear Xander and Andrew calling on the other end of the phone, asking him to say hello to her from them.

"It is excellent, thank you. The Americans have some rather funny ideas about the ritual but they have proved not to be without merit. I had never drunk a yard of ale before. Now I have drunk three. It would be nice if you were here to enjoy it with me."

She chuckled despite herself. "I almost wish I was. At least you have strippers." She had ordered three for him herself as part of her Best Man duties. "Well, have a good night, my friend. Try not to be to hungover in the morning. I would hate for you to fall down the mountain on your way to the temple."

He laughed again. "Have no fear, Toni; I will meet you at Nonni's bright and early. Give Faith a kiss from me."

Not too early she hoped as she said goodbye and closed the phone. If Buffy was staying at Faith's for the night, she wasn't planning to stop drinking until she passed out.

With his last words in mind, she frowned, downed her drink and called for another.




The wooden chair broke as they fell off of it together and into a pile of searching hands and lips.

"I'm supposed to be stripping, just stripping," Buffy said breathlessly as Faith's hands raked burning trails over her neck, back, shoulders, everywhere.

"Stripping good," was all Faith could manage as she rolled Buffy on top of her for just a few seconds and then back under her again.

"Yeah, but you weren't supposed to strip too!" She would have laughed if she'd had the breath to do it, and if she wasn't otherwise preoccupied with raining wet, open-mouthed kisses over Faith's tits.

"I still have my panties on," Faith shrugged, using both hands to hold herself up while her dexterous knees spread Buffy's legs to slide down against her.

Buffy took a second from sucking on her nipples to look up and ask earnestly, "Why exactly?"




"Are you okay?"

Toni looked over as Willow perched awkwardly on the bar stool next to hers. She nodded as she finished her drink. As the barman came over automatically to refill her glass, she asked for one for Willow as well. Not that she really wanted company right now.

"Only you seemed a little all on your own over here, yunno what with you being all on your own," Willow persisted.

"I am fine, Willow," she lied, putting her drink in front of her. "I was just taking a moment to call Troy to see how his party is going. After all, I organised it for him."

"Oh, Troy," Willow said quietly. "Uh, Xander and the other's they're, uh, not causing trouble or anything."

Toni smiled faintly, reading between the lines. "They are perfectly safe with him. Although I cannot guarantee they will not have hangovers the size of Russia in the morning." Less amiably she added, "His quarrel has never been with Buffy's friends."

"Just Buffy?"

She shook her head. "I cannot talk about it with you."

"Okay, I get it." Willow sipped her drink, pulled a face at the strength of it but then seeing Toni watching took another sip in case she took offence. "So, in the spirit of not talking about it...is Faith really pregnant?"

Toni sighed. "I do not know."

"But she could be?"

"She had unprotected sex with Troy; I would say it was a possibility."

Willow seemed to notice Toni's shoulder was getting colder and colder. "Sorry, I'm just the curious type, but I can sit here and be quiet too."

"You do not have to sit with me, Willow. I am sure you would rather be dancing."

"No, I do...I mean, I want to."

Toni raised her eyes to the nicotine stained ceiling and guessed, "Buffy has asked you to keep me entertained while she is gone."

"No! She's not gone. She's just...not here at the moment," Willow finished with a grimace.

Toni turned to her fully, taking pity on her. "I know where she is. I know what she is doing. It is fine."

"How can it be?"

Toni shrugged and drank her drink in one big swallow. "I have had a lot of vodka. And tomorrow night this will all be over. And..." she smiled slightly. "...I punched Faith on the nose earlier; it helped...a little."

Willow suddenly grinned. "I always used to want to punch Faith on the nose." Reading Toni's look, she hurriedly added. "Oh, not because I wanted Buffy, just because I didn't like her."

"What stopped you?"

"She's a Slayer."

Toni smiled. "You know, I can teach you a few moves that will make that insignificant."

"Oh, but I don't want to punch her any more."

Toni's smile turned to more of a wild grin. "Indulge me?"

"Uh, okay, sure."





Buffy lay on her back, panting hard and looking around, wondering how they'd gotten to the other end of the room. Sure it was small, but not that small.

"We should go back in a minute."

"Sure, in a minute." Faith was lying next to her, also on her back, also panting hard.

Only their hands were touching, fingers entwined.

"Willow threatened to turn us into baby elephants if we didn't get back in twenty minutes."

"How long's it been?"

"Dunno. Half an hour?"

"I don't feel like a baby elephant," Faith said. "Wanna risk another ten minutes?"

Buffy laughed. "Well, I do like baby elephants."

Faith rolled to her knees and then moved over Buffy, trunk to tail. "Good, 'cause we haven't done this in a while."

Buffy gave a breathy groan as Faith lowered her mouth to her pussy and her head fell back as her hips went up.

"Hey, they don't call this meal for two for nothing, ya know," Faith said playfully, voice muffled.

"Sorry." Buffy chuckled and raised her head to bury it between Faith's legs.




Toni glanced over as Willow looked at her watch for the third time in two minutes.

"Are you late for something?"

"Buffy should have been back by now."

"Oh."

It was somehow more painful to know that Buffy had missed her deadline than to think that she just hadn't had one in the first place. Obviously she was really caught up in whatever she was doing.

All Toni could feel was a gentle pleasure-high coming through. It was worse than the frenzied heat she had been able to feel ten minutes ago. That she could put down to spur of the moment action. This had more in common with languid, naked Sunday afternoon sex and it was making her far more jealous. Only she should get to share this kind of enjoyment with Buffy! Buffy shouldn't want to share this kind of enjoyment with anyone but her!

She took a deep breath, trying to calm down, but seeing Willow still watching her expectantly, she accidentally snapped out, "What?"

"Oh nothing!" Willow blushed and took another sip of her drink. "I was just thinking if you want me to turn them into baby elephants I will. I can always change Faith back before the wedding."

"What?" Toni asked again but more jovially this time.

"It's not fair that they're doing this to you."

"No." Toni sighed. "But it is not fair what I did to them either."

"What did you do to them?"

Toni shook her head and drained her glass yet again. It was just as well Buffy was staying with Faith tonight, she would never be able to get her fingers up after this much alcohol. She scoffed at herself and started laughing. Aware that Willow was watching her with intense concern now just made her laugh even harder over the whole stupido mess.




"Okay, we really have to go back out there now." Buffy sat up but felt too weak still to actually go and look for her clothes.

"Yeah." Faith was lying on her stomach, one arm under her face, and not looking like she was about to move any time soon. "Or we could..."

"No," Buffy said firmly. "I have to go and find Toni. We've been in here ages!"

"Fuck Toni."

"I intend to as soon as your wedding is over."

"Not tonight? Does that mean I performed well enough earlier for you to stay over?" Faith asked with a grin.

Buffy shook her head with a smile and came clean. "There was no threesome clause. She just wanted me to move in with her."

Faith sat up fast. "What? And you're staying over so that means you agreed?"

"You've been living with Troy for months," she said mildly and decided now was a good time to get up and find her clothes.

"Yeah, but..."

Buffy pulled on her panties and picked her bra up from the table it had landed on. "She's moving in with me. In Cleveland."

"But what? I mean..." Faith dropped her head into her hands.

Buffy finished clasping her bra and reached for her skirt that was hanging over a table leg.

"It's not like it's a big deal. We're not going to be seeing each other after tomorrow anyway."

"No...I guess not." Faith stood slowly and started looking for her own clothes.

Buffy busied herself with zipping up her skirt, pulling on her top and kicking the remains of the chair under one of the tables. She couldn't look at the expression on Faith's face right now. And it wasn't as if it was her fault it was there.

She waited until Faith only had her pants left to put on before going to give her a kiss. "I'll meet you out there. And...I'm going to dance with Toni for the rest of the night."

"Guilt getting to you?" Faith asked snidely.

"Yes. We can't let the others know I'm staying with you tonight so when we get back to the resort, don't say anything. We'll just wait for everyone else to go in and then walk back together."

"Okay." Faith pulled her in for one last kiss before releasing her and turning away to pull her leather pants back on.

Buffy smiled sadly at the back of her head for a moment before unlocking the door and leaving.




Toni suddenly jerked her head away from the conversation she was having with Willow. She felt like a snake feeling the vibrations of her lover coming up the corridor. Seconds later Buffy appeared and Toni smiled even though she wanted to be angry.

Willow looked around and saw Buffy too. "Oh, there she is."

Toni nodded. She didn't move from her stool and called the barman over to order a drink for Buffy. She spotted her at once and walked straight over to them.

"Hey, Will." Buffy locked eyes with hers. "Hey."

Still smiling, Toni handed her a drink. Buffy took it, had a sip and then placed it on the bar, eyes not leaving hers once.

"Serena?" she asked tentatively.

"I have spoken with Troy; we do not have a problem." Not that particular one anyway. They still had plenty of other problems ahead of them.

Buffy smiled warmly. "Thank you. Sorry, I, uh, you know, disappeared."

Toni shook her head. "Willow kept me well entertained, as you wished."

"Yay me," the red head said quietly.

Buffy shot her a grateful smile and then suddenly Faith had joined them, shooting her daggers.

Toni smirked and, acting on slightly drunken instincts, she hopped off of her stool and leaned between Buffy and Willow to kiss Faith soundly on the lips. Faith froze on impact but Toni held the kiss for several seconds before she pulled back.

"Well, I wasn't expecting that," Willow murmured and Buffy was open-mouthed with shock.

"Troy asked me to give you that," she said off-hand and then finished her full drink in one gulp. Seeing everyone still looking at her in surprisse, she smiled and took Buffy's hand. "My dance?"

"Uh, what? Oh yeah, totally."

Buffy let her lead her all the way to the dance floor, still acting a little stunned. "You kissed her."

Toni shrugged, falling into step with the music, keeping hold of Buffy's hand as they danced. "Troy told me to."

"It's a pity he didn't tell you to slip her the tongue then," Buffy grinned, her eyebrows jumping suggestively.

"Well, I was saving that for you, but if you prefer."

Grinning, she started walking back to the bar but only got as far as their joined hands before Buffy pulled her back.

"No, I want it." As their bodies bumped lightly together, Buffy tilted her face up, smiling, waiting.

Holding her cheek lightly with her fingertips, Toni bent and kissed her lightly on the lips. Impatiently, Buffy tangled her arms around her neck and held her there as her tongue sought to deepen the kiss when Toni was reluctant to. As usual it didn't take her long to give in where Buffy was concerned and for several minutes they stood in the middle of the flashing dance floor kissing unashamedly. Once they had resumed dancing, Buffy kept her arms around her neck and Toni wrapped her arms loosely around her waist.

"Why aren't you mad at me?" Buffy asked eventually, still looking up at her.

"I am."

"Oh. Only usually when you're mad at me you're, you know, madder."

"I could shout at you if you wish, slap your face, call you names? "

"All perfectly reasonable under the circumstances."

Toni stared into space over Buffy's shoulder. "Have you heard the phrase: 'Give me the strength to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference'?"

Buffy shrugged. "Sounds vaguely familiar. What about it?"

Toni shook her head and laughed a little. "I do not know but it popped into my head unbidden this afternoon and will not leave me alone."

"But things are going to change." Buffy sounded a little worried. "After tomorrow."

"Si." Toni dropped a kiss on her forehead and held her a little tighter. "I hope so."

Buffy's attention was taken then by Serena glaring at them.

"Is she jealous?" Buffy asked with a laugh. "Am I going to have to fight her for you?"

Toni smiled, but asked seriously, "Would you?"

Buffy seemed to detect the question wasn't a joke and pulled back to give her a curious look. "Of course. I'll kick her ass all over this joint if she tries to kiss you again."

Toni gave her a smile for the sweet sentiment, but it would have been sweeter if Buffy had stayed to do that before instead of taking it as an excuse to sneak off with Faith.

"There will be no need." She danced them over to Serena whose glare intensified and was very obviously meant purely for her. Toni pulled the cell phone from her pocket and held it out. "Troy says to do your job and stop bothering him needlessly."

Fuming, Serena snatched her phone back and took a step closer to them. Toni straightened her stance a little, staring back with a provocative smile.

"And, okay," Toni let Buffy whip her away across the dance floor, turning her head to keep her smile on Serena for a few more beats before dismissing her in the blink of an eye and kissing Buffy thoroughly. "Not jealous then," Buffy panted afterwards.

Toni smiled more widely. "No, she is angry with me and most likely also with herself for allowing me to get inside her." Seeing Buffy raise an eyebrow, she added, "Not literally of course. She succumbed to me when she really should have known better."

"Ouch; I can see how that would sting," Buffy smirked.

Toni nodded. "Exactly."

They had been dancing for a song and half when Toni felt fingers tapping the back of her neck to get her attention. She looked down with a smile.

"I thought your power didn't work that way?"

Confused, she asked, "I am sorry?"

"You told me you couldn't force someone to want you, that it had to be already inside them somewhere."

"Ah." She need not panic; she had done nothing wrong after all.

"Yeah, ah. Serena's never come across as harbouring any deep down feelings for you before."

"I believe what I actually said was that I could not force you to want me."

"And is that true?" Toni found she couldn't answer and Buffy stopped dancing. "Antonella!"

She tried to gauge how angry Buffy actually was. She sounded annoyed but had not pulled free of her arms.

"I have not coerced or manipulated your feelings in anyway. It is true that I could," she admitted "But I have not and will not ever use my gifts in any way you would find reproachable."

Buffy cupped her cheek so that she couldn't look away. "How do I know I'm not just accepting that because I'm under your spell now?"

Just as seriously, Toni said, "Do you truly think if I was exerting any power over your desires you would have been doing what you have this week? Do you think it is my desire for you to be off fucking her while I wait for you alone like a fool?"

"No," Buffy said so softly Toni couldn't hear her over the music. Buffy's thumb stroked over her cheek. "What does it feel like?"

Toni shrugged, starting to feel uncomfortable with the look Buffy was giving her. "I do not know, you would have to ask Serena for details."

"Toni?"

"Like you want to take off all of your clothes and feed me grapes," she joked.

"Why won't you tell me?"

'Because I know why you are asking', she thought. 'And if I do it, I will never know the truth.'

"It is not something I can describe in words."

Out of the corner of her eye she saw Faith sitting alone watching them. For the first time Toni could recall she looked truly sad, devoid of her usual fire and spirit and resigned, at last, to the fate that awaited her.

'Ask me now and I will do it,' she thought. 'Ask me now and I won't be able to deny the chance of keeping you with me tonight.'

Buffy didn't, perhaps sensing that she was probing into a dangerous area. With the next track the music was mixed expertly from fast to slow, there wasn't much of the night left. Buffy's arms tightened around her neck again, her head resting comfortably on her shoulder and Toni held her close, determined to enjoy the last few songs in her arms before she had to say goodbye.

"Just so you know," Buffy began cheerfully. "You don't need special powers to make me want to take off my clothes and feed you grapes."

Toni smiled down at her. "We will feed each other grapes."

"Okay." They danced in silence for a while. "So tomorrow's going to be pretty hectic."

"I imagine so."

"I'll see you when I come for my dress though, right?"

"Perhaps not. I will have to spend most of the day with Troy."

"But you could come by the villa for a little while to see me."

"I think it would be better if tomorrow we both concentrate on our respective duties."

"Okay, I'm hearing you don't wanna see me tomorrow," Buffy said, slightly put out.

"I always want to see you." She just didn't know if she could be what Buffy would need for her to be tomorrow. "It will just be a very busy day. You will have things you need to do for Faith. I do not wish to distract you from that."

Buffy grinned at her. "What if I want to be distracted?"

Toni glanced over at Faith again. The woman's dark eyes were still soulfully watching their every move. Buffy followed her gaze and frowned faintly when she noticed Faith's attention.

Toni felt like a distant spectator as she watched Faith's eyes light up across the room as Buffy's gaze met hers. The way they could not seem to look away, immediately entranced with one another, was unfortunately painfully familiar to her now. Faith smiled, shifting in her seat as if she was suddenly more comfortable now that Buffy was looking at her. Buffy smiled softly back, looking for all the world as she if she had completely forgotten she was currently dancing with someone else - her girlfriend no less.

Toni turned them, easing their eyes away from each other and, with a light touch of her fingertips under Buffy's chin, tilted her head back for a kiss, trying to pull Buffy back to her for just a little while longer. Buffy responded with the simplicity of a long-term lover but that made it worse. The emotion that was normally in their every kiss was missing, erased by whatever thoughts of Faith that were currently filling her.

As the DJ announced she was about to play the last song for the night it became even more obvious that Buffy wasn't really with her right now. Lips sliding away to her ear, Toni let their heads rest together before breathing out her name like a plea.
Buffy didn't have to ask what was wrong.

"I'm sorry," she whispered, burying her face against Toni's collarbone. "Please, can we just dance?"

Toni held her tighter until she couldn't take it any more. "It is not me you wish to dance with."

"Of course it..."

Ignoring her, she was already lifting her hand to wave Faith over before she could change her mind. Faith stood and came over uncertainly, obviously not sure why she had been beckoned.

"Toni, I do want to..."

Toni gave her a kiss on the lips to silence her. "It is my hope we will have many more opportunities to dance with one another." She shook her head sadly as she continued, "But this is not our dance."

As Faith reached them, still looking vaguely lost, Toni stepped away from Buffy and gestured them towards each other, managing to force out one more smile before turning on her heel and heading for the bar.

Willow and Kennedy had just come off the dance floor to get one last drink as Toni was ordering another triple vodka. Willow came to stand beside her bar stool.

"That was nice of you."

One elbow on the bar, Toni sprawled back on her stool and watched the pair dancing. "It was selfless and stupid."

"But selfless is nice."

Toni just shook her head. "It will all be irrelevant tomorrow."

"She will get over her," Willow promised. "It might take a little while but...but she will get over her eventually."

"No, she will not," Toni said with the tortured smile of pure certainty and swallowed her drink in one hit.




(Soundtrack: Far Away by Nickelback)

Buffy stepped closer, feeling nervous although she didn't really know why. If she was any judge of Faith's moods these days though, Faith was feeling just as unsure about where they had suddenly found themselves. They might have had a habit of dancing a little too close than others might have been comfortable with but that was always for the illicit thrill of rubbing up against each other when they shouldn't have been. It might not have been very romantic to put it like that, but that's exactly why it was okay. This, on the other hand, had a whole lot of romantic potential. In plain view. It just wasn't them.

Still, Buffy would be lying to herself if she denied the thought of just one decent, tender dance with Faith wasn't everything she wanted out of life right now. Plus Toni had made the sacrifice; it would be rude to turn it down. So she gamely wrapped one arm over Faith's arm and back, lightly gripping her shoulder in her palm while taking hold of her other hand and holding it between them as she had earlier, only this time she didn't hesitate about holding it close to her, between her breasts.

Faith raised an eyebrow. "You're leading?"

"Sorry, forgot you were the one with the ballroom dancing degree." Buffy smirked. "Be my guest."

"It's not a degree," Faith mumbled embarrassedly as she smoothly took control.

Buffy smiled but quit her teasing in case Faith used it as an excuse to stop. "This is nice," she said instead.

"Yeah."

"Pity we won't get to do it again." She hadn't meant to voice that aloud. The last thing she wanted was any tension between them right now.

Faith just kept moving them slowly around, gazing deeply into her eyes and Buffy, thinking she hadn't been heard anyway, relaxed some more.

Until Faith said, "No reason why we can't."

Buffy chuckled. "Well sure. If you have music in your bedroom I suppose we can dance like this all night."

"No. I mean, yeah we can if you want. Although I've got a few other things planned for tonight too." Faith smirked briefly. "But I meant some other time too. It's not like we're really never going to see each other again."

Her heart sank a little. "Faith, we're not."

"Why not?"

"You know why not."

"But...you were angry before, I get that, but we're okay now, right?"

She nodded. "We're okay."

"Then there's no reason we can't still hang out sometimes."

"There's every reason. I can't see you after the wedding, Faith. I just can't."

Faith was quiet again for a moment, just that deep gaze trying to pull Buffy's soul out through her eyes.

"I can't let you go, Buffy."

It was Buffy's turn to just stare at her hopelessly. "You have to. I have to. We don't have any choice."

"Who fuckin' says?"

"Faith, don't do this," she pleaded. "Let's just enjoy the time we have left. Please?"

"How can I enjoy it when I know every second is a second closer to the time when you're gonna walk away from me?"

"I was not the one who walked away!" Buffy felt herself getting annoyed, which was the last thing she wanted to feel right now.

Faith nodded quickly. "I know, I know. I just..." She took her hand from Buffy's waist to run it through her hair, clearing feeling anxious. "I just can't stand this."

"And you think I can?"

"I said we should never have gotten involved," Faith sounded angry.

Buffy matched it. "And I said you should never have agreed to marry Troy!"

"So we were both right! Doesn't exactly fuckin' help us now though, does it?"

"What do you want me to say, Faith?"

Faith didn't even hesitate. "That we'll give it a few months and then just casually bump into each other somewhere."

"I'm not saying that. I'm not doing that!" There were tears in her eyes now. It didn't make her feel at all better that she could see them mirrored in Faith's. "Once you say 'I do' we have to be done."

Faith's face went blank for a moment as she got lost in some inner-conversation between her brain and her impulsive nature. It wasn't much of a surprise to Buffy which side won but what it actually produced shocked her.

"Then I'm not saying 'I do'."

"Faith..."

"I'm not doing it...I can't do it if...if...I can't do it."

As much as it was killing her, Buffy tried to speak calmly. "Effie, you're just freaking out again. It'll pass..."

"I'm not!"

"It's too late." Her voice rose. "You've left it too late! You get married in less than a day! Even if...? It's too late!"

The gears turning at high-speed in Faith's head were almost audible and then her arms tightened around Buffy excitedly as she divulged her hastily hatched plan. "I get the feeling Serena's going to walk me all the way to the front door. Instead of coming back with me, you can skirt around ahead and when we get to the darkest part of the resort, where those bushes are, we can jump her together. We got away from her once before and that was when she was expecting it. We both have money on us; we can take your rental car and be at the airport in an hour."

"Faith, no," she said weakly.

"I'll call Angel on the way. He can use Wolfram and Hart's jet to come and get us. We could be out of the country before anyone even knows we're missing." As Faith became more animated, silent tears began pouring down Buffy's cheeks. "His law firm is evil as hell. It can do anything!"

"Faith, please stop!"

"We can get fake identities and disappear in LA. No one will ever find us, B!"

"It won't work, you know it won't!"

"It will! We have resources here we didn't have in Rome. We can actually get away this time. We can be together, Buffy! I'll make it work, I swear, I don't care what I have to do, I'll do it so we can be together."

Buffy wanted to believe in everything she was saying so badly. Every ounce of her wanted to agree with this plan. To get excited about it like Faith was. But she just couldn't. Not again. It was a pipe dream born from separation anxiety. They would get caught or Faith would change her mind again. And there was Toni. She couldn't do this to Toni. She couldn't do this to herself. She couldn't do this to anyone.

"No. It's too dangerous. All of my friends are here. Troy would have an all-he-could-torture buffet right on his doorstep. I won't put them in danger like that just because you can't make up your fucking mind."

Faith cupped her cheek, resting their foreheads together. "Come on, B! I know you wanna be with me, and... I thought I could do it but I can't...I love you too much not to be with you."

It was everything she'd wanted to hear for so long but it was too late. As she slid her own palm over Faith's cheek her tears were less of the silent kind now. She was sobbing hard; it was a wonder her words weren't coming out as mangled as her heart felt.

"No, Faith, I can't."

"You can!"

"I... I would have done it. I'd have done anything, left everyone to be with you but...but I don't know how I survived you breaking my heart last time. I know I won't survive it again."

"I'm not gonna let you down again, B, I swear," Faith said wretchedly.

She shook her head. "I can't. I'm sorry, baby, I just can't do this. It's too late," she said again and pulled away from Faith just as the song was ending. Faith held onto her tight. "Please let me go."

"No, stay. We need to talk about this, Buffy!"

"There's nothing left to talk about, Faith. We're over; don't you get that!"

Even though to Buffy it felt muffled by her tears, something in her voice must have come through loud and clear because Faith let go of her, hands falling to her sides as the tears finally began to roll down her cheeks too.

As the lights came up, signalling the night was ended, Buffy scrubbed her hands over her face trying to hide the fact that she was crying. It was an impossible feat because the tears just kept coming. Had she really thought she was all cried out over Faith? Because she had been so wrong. Still concerned about people seeing the mess she was in, she turned to run outside.

Faith took a step after her. "Where are you going?"

"I don't care!" And she didn't. She just had to get away, from the lights, from her friends and most of all from making the biggest mistake of her life with Faith.

"Buffy. Buffy!"

Faith called after her a few more times but Buffy didn't stop until she was in the woods bordering the taverna. Hidden in the deep dark from everyone, she leant her forearms against a tree and buried her face in them, crying her eyes out.

She didn't know how long she had been there when she heard the crackling of twigs behind her as someone approached. She spun around fast, expecting it to be Faith and ready to tell her to fuck off if only to save what remained of her own tattered sanity.

It was Toni. She had been coming cautiously through the trees but when she saw Buffy's sudden movement she came towards her more confidently.

"I was not sure it was you."

"It's me," she croaked, throat sore from crying so hard.

"I did not mean to cause you distress. I thought you would wish to dance with her."

Toni sounded so upset on her behalf that Buffy tried to smile. She failed miserably but she did try. As soon as they were close enough, she stepped into Toni's comforting arms.

"It's not your fault. This one was all Faith."

"What did she do?" Toni sounded almost scared to ask.

Buffy took a deep, calming breath and thought about ignoring the question but surely she would only want to do that if she was actually considering going along with Faith's crazy plan.

"She asked me to run away with her tonight." She felt Toni stiffen against her. "Obviously I said no."

"Serena's orders are to shoot you if you and Faith should try to run," Toni said woodenly.

"That's okay. Faith has a way around that." Toni glared down at her. "I said no!"

Toni softened, running a hand up and down her back in a soothing gesture. "Why did you say no?"

Buffy buried her face back in her chest, her wet cheeks dampening the warm skin above Toni's top.

"A million reasons. Because it wouldn't work. Because she's only asking because she's freaked out. Because it's too dangerous. Because of you."

Toni kissed the top of her head. "No other reason?"

If she had been sober and less emotionally distraught, she might have put some thought into her answers for Toni's sake, but the best she could handle right now was honesty so she heaved a sigh against her and admitted softly.

"Because if she let me down again I don't think I could cope. I don't want to be with someone who makes me feel like I might stop coping at any moment. It's too hard."

"But is it not that passion that makes her irresistible to you?" Toni asked quietly.

That one Buffy didn't answer. "Is the donkey here yet?"

"It arrived as I was coming to find you. We do not have to take it though. If you would prefer to walk..."

"No, it's okay. I feel a little less emotionally unstable now. Thanks to you." She managed a smile this time. "I didn't mean to run off like that. I just couldn't face crying in front of everyone."

"I understand."

She let Toni take her hand and lead her back out of the woods to where her friends were waiting around the donkey. Willow offered her a soft 'Hey' and Dawn lightly squeezed her arm but they all had more compassion than to ask then and there why she had run off.

Faith was standing a few feet away, having a cigarette. Buffy felt her eyes on her and looked over with a small smile, but she didn't let it linger and climbed into the cart still holding tightly to Toni's hand.

The cart ride thankfully wasn't silent, with everyone else still drunk enough to chatter away excitedly about the night. Buffy didn't say a word and she was hyper-aware that Faith was only giving quiet answers any time she was addressed directly.

It wasn't long before they were back in front of their villas. As everyone else peeled off, shouting goodnight, Buffy stayed put with Toni at her side. Faith was standing in front of them, hesitating, with Serena just a few feet behind, still sending Toni evil looks.

"So," Faith began.

Buffy didn't have a clue what she might say at this point, but cut her off anyway. "I'll see you tomorrow. I'll come by around ten-ish so we can start getting ready."

"So you're not staying over?" Faith sounded distraught and completely not bothered that Serena was listening.

"I don't think it's a very good idea, no."

"But..."

"Goodnight, Faith."

She walked away then and went into their villa. She was crying again before Toni had the door shut. Dawn was still in the living room and came over in alarm but Buffy fended off any comforting gestures and bolted into the bedroom. She heard Toni murmur something to her sister about everything being okay and she wanted to scream that it wasn't; it wasn't okay! Nothing was okay! She should be running away with Faith right now! It was the only thing that made sense, except it didn't make any sense! She was doing the right thing by sinking numbly onto the end of her bed and letting the tears fall, but why did it have to hurt so much? Why did doing the right thing have to feel so wrong?

Toni came in and shut the door quietly behind her. Still without saying a word, she came to the sit on the end of the bed too and enveloped her tightly in her arms, rocking her slightly in an oddly comforting gesture before encouraging her further up the bed so that they could lie down together. Buffy did everything automatically, to the point where she was lying in bed with Toni fully clothed without really knowing how she had got there.

"I'm such a bitch."

Toni chuckled, her chin was tucked into Buffy's shoulder and the sound reverberated in her ear. "Scusi?"

"I shouldn't be crying about this in front of you!"

"Call me selfish but I would rather you were crying about it in front of me than laughing about it on plane with Faith."

Buffy chuckled through her tears. "I'm sorry I keep putting you through this."

"I am sorry I put you through this in the first place."

Buffy just nodded at that. Toni's role in all this felt a long way from important when she was crying in her arms. "It's just...no matter how bad I know we are for each other...how stupid it would be to run..." she trailed off without finishing her thought.

"You cannot help loving her," Toni softly filled in the blanks and for a second Buffy could have sworn she heard tears in her voice too.

"You don't have to be so understanding about this. If you want to yell at me...yell at me."

"You are here with me. That is all I need to be understanding." Buffy just sniffled in response. "Except that you are not really here with me right now," Toni murmured.

"I am." She wriggled onto her side to face Toni, her cheeks still so damp they were probably going wrinkly. "I want to be...I...I could be," she added with a tiny amount of hope.

She gazed at Toni with big, tear-filled eyes. She didn't really know what she was asking for here but if there was even just a small chance that maybe Toni could take this pain away... Buffy understood her reluctance to express her power back at the bar, but now, surely, it couldn't do them any harm. It could only make things better.

"Buffy." Toni said tenderly, shaking her head.

"Please, just...I don't know." Buffy wriggled even closer. "Make it stop. Make it so I can only think of you. That's all I need, baby. I just need you."

Toni closed her eyes and Buffy thought that was a no but then she moved her head across the pillow until their noses touched. She brought her hand up to trace a delicate pattern across Buffy's cheek as she opened her eyes again.

"Relax."

"I can't!"

Toni smiled her special little smile as she purred, "Believe me, you can, my love. I will take care of you. Just let go for me."

It wasn't working. This was her last resort and it wasn't working! Buffy felt the tears begin again until something flickered in Toni's eyes. A light, just for a second, like pale pink flames dancing around her pupils. It was cool.

Buffy smiled and ran her fingers through Toni's hair.

"I am only doing this once."

Buffy managed to frown and smile at the same time. "Only doing what once?" she asked as she rolled languidly on top of her for a kiss.


Chapter Eleven

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Part Eleven Quick-Jump:

Chapter One || Chapter Two || Chapter Three || Chapter Four || Chapter Five || Chapter Six || Chapter Seven Chapter Eight || Chapter Nine || Chapter Ten || Chapter Eleven || Chapter Twelve || Chapter Thirteen


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