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 Eleven: Nice Day for a . . .

Buffy woke up feeling extremely loved. Unfortunately she also woke up feeling extremely suffocated. After the three - or had it been four? - hours of making love, she must have passed out where she was because now she was lying under Toni, mouth and nose held hostage under one succulent and ample breast. She spluttered against it on waking and sharply moved her head until it was sticking out under Toni's arm instead. She took in a few deep breaths of the fresh morning air and then stroked a fingertip lightly under her girlfriend's arm. Toni giggled and rolled to the side without really waking, giving Buffy the room to sit up.

Oh, bad idea! Her hand went to her brow to hold her head on. She felt like she'd been eaten by a bear, regurgitated at high speed and then chewed on by a passing alligator. Sore and gross. This was not a good start to what was already going to be a horrible day.

The room was at least blessedly cool; it must still have been early. She picked up Toni's wrist and twisted it a little to see her watch, getting a mumbled complaint that was mostly lost in the pillow. It was only seven; she still had hours until she had to go and see Faith.

Faith.

Bam! The night before hit her like a Polgara spike between the eyes as every little detail came back to her in, well, every little detail. And she was going to hurl!

With one hand to her mouth she tried to jump over Toni and off the bed but her co-ordination was not one hundred percent yet and the wooziness in her head shot her balance further. Instead of leaping over she scrambled straight into her, taking them both to the floor in a pile of sheets in her haste to get to the bathroom - or at least a handy flower pot.

"Buongiorno to you too, Buffy," Toni muttered sarcastically from beneath the linen.

Buffy scurried back to her feet without answering and bolted to the bathroom. She made it there just in time, skidding to her knees in front of the toilet and clutching the porcelain like her life depended on it.

"Oh, God," she groaned, after.

She shouldn't have run out on Faith like that, but she couldn't have gone with her, could she? No it would have been brainless to try and run, she was sure of that, but...she should have stayed and talked sense into Faith instead of throwing away their last night together.

She knew if she had stayed, though, it probably would have ended with Faith talking her into something more than her talking Faith out of anything. She had been feeling just as drunk and reckless and desperate herself. Thinking back she had no idea how she'd found the strength to not give in.

Toni eased herself into the room with her, pushed the door closed and sank onto her butt against the wall on the other side of the small bathroom. Buffy didn't move from the toilet but she turned her head to rest her other cheek against the cool seat so that she could see her.

She had with her a palmful of painkillers and a glass of water. After taking a couple herself she passed the pills and the glass to Buffy before letting her head drop back against the wall, arms hanging limply by her sides, looking as worse for wear as Buffy felt.

Buffy took her pain pills with a sip of the water and then set the glass on the tiled floor between them.

"I didn't think Goddesses would get hangovers."

Toni smiled, then grimaced. "The half of me that is human unfortunately can; and besides, my power is still under-developed and I over-taxed it last night. It has left me feeling drained and unusually fragile."

Buffy scrunched up her forehead. That sentence had been way too long to follow properly right now. She grasped the bit that seemed the most important and tried to think it over.

"You used too much power?" She gave her a 'you-only-have-yourself-to-blame' nod. "Guess that's what you get for trying to seduce Faith, huh?"

"Pfft."

"Pfft?"

Toni tried to make the noise again and couldn't. She smacked her lips a few times and then had another mouthful of the water.

"That was child's play. So was Serena. I could do that a thousand times a day. But for you, mia tesoro, I had to dig much deeper."

"What do you mean?"

"Normally all I need is a look, or a touch, or the right word said in the right way. You resisted all of that. I had to draw from the roots of my essence to carry you with me last night."

"Oh. Sorry."

"It was worth it." Toni smirked but that quickly turned into a grimace too. "It was worth it until I woke up anyway."

Buffy chuckled softly. "Call me stupid, but I'd have thought me being in love with you would have made it easier to, uh, carry me away."

Toni closed her eyes. "It should have."

"Oh."

Feeling sick again she stared down into the toilet for a minute waiting while Toni sat in silence, but nothing happened. She flushed anyway and then stood to brush her teeth.

"Well, I don't know what went wrong because I do love you," she said after spitting the toothpaste out. She smiled as she turned back to face her, slumping against the wall, "Maybe your powers of seduction just aren't as good as you think they are, baby?"

Toni opened one eye to look at her. "Do not question my prowess right now, my love; I do not have the strength to prove you wrong."

"Case and point," Buffy grinned but then her thoughts turned more serious. "Maybe I was just too drunk to let anyone in last night. I wasn't exactly receptive to Faith's suggestiveness either. Okay, so what she was suggesting was driving drunk to the airport and calling my ex to pick us up in his jet like that's the most normal thing in the world, but still..."

"Perhaps you were just too in love with someone else to feel me reaching for you."

Toni's words were spoken quietly but they cut through Buffy's babble like a megaphone through a minute's silence. Buffy found she couldn't answer. She couldn't tell her the truth and she wasn't going to tell her a lie. So she just leaned there, staring into Toni's one open eye, waiting for her to say something.

Toni got up, wincing slightly at the pain in her head. "I think a cold shower may make me feel a little better. Would you join me, Cara?"

"Yes please."

She held her hand out and Buffy took it eagerly, trying to crowd her into the shower stall before she could change her mind.

Toni reached in to put on the water but turned her head to give Buffy her best sultry look over her shoulder. "And to think you dared doubt my skill in seduction."




Buffy sat on the bed, drying her hair and staring listlessly at the bridesmaid dress still hanging on the front of the wardrobe. She still had a couple of hours until she had to take it over to Troy's villa and put it on. She wished it was longer. The dress was just too nice to be worn on such a depressing day.

Toni came into the bedroom with two mugs of coffee and Buffy reached for hers gratefully. Her hangover had abated in the shower but the night before was still weighing heavy on her mind, making functioning difficult. Hopefully caffeine would lift it.

"I should probably phone Faith," she said as Toni sat down next to her.

"You will be seeing her in two hours."

"I know, but what if she really freaked out last night? What if she did something stupid? Stupider than we already know about. Tried to go on her own or something. She said something about bumping into me in a few months, I think, but I can't remember if that was before she asked me to run or afterwards."

"I am sure we would have heard by now."

Buffy nodded as she combed her hair through but after another moment's thought got up and looked for her new phone anyway. If she didn't check she would just be worrying about it until she saw her. Plus, she was the Maid of Honour; she was supposed to be responsible for this type of thing and she hadn't gone through everything to get this far for Faith to just not turn up at the altar.

She'd already put Faith's number in her phone yesterday at lunch, the second one after Toni's. So now she just had to scroll down and press call. She sat back down while it rang, leaning against Toni's shoulder. Toni shifted on the end of the bed, moving away as if thoughtfully giving her some more room.

Faith picked up with a grunt that might have been hello in some foreign guttural language.

"Hi. I, uh, just wanted to make sure you were okay."

"Who is this?"

She rolled her eyes. "It's Buffy. Are you? Okay, I mean?"

"How the fuck do you think I am, Buffy? Faith growled huskily.

"Probably the same as me."

"Ya think, huh? I don't remember kicking you in the nads last night."

Buffy frowned. "Excuse me?"

"Nothing, never mind. What did you really call for? No wait, I got it; you're bailing on today, ain'tcha? You and Tone gotta go buy lampshades for the new place?"

She saw Toni smile at that but couldn't muster the same herself. "I'm actually calling to make sure you haven't bailed."

"Why would I? Nothing to bail for now, right?"

Buffy had the sudden urge to tell her to grab as much stuff as she could carry and meet her at the rental car as quickly as she could, but she pushed it down and tried to ignore Faith's sullen attitude.

"Okay, well I'll be over just after ten. Benedetta's getting there at eleven and the make-up lady is coming at twelve so..."

"Whatever." Faith hung up on her.

Buffy sighed at the dial tone before closing the phone and pressing it to her lips as she fought back the sting of tears.

"Do you... do you wish to talk about it?" Toni asked without looking at her.

She couldn't do that to her so she shook her head. "No, but thanks."

She looked at her phone again and after a few minutes of building up her resolve, she erased Faith's number. She sniffed as it disappeared from her phone for good.

Hearing her, Toni turned her head and seemed to immediately get what Buffy had just done. She looked shocked. Buffy could tell she was happy but was trying not to show it. It was enough to make her feel a tiny bit better and remind her she was only hours away from her fresh start now.

"How do I block a number?"

"Are you sure?"

She reached out and let her fingers stroke over the shoulder of Toni's red t-shirt. "It was part of our deal, wasn't it?"

"Are you sure?" Toni repeated.

"Yes." Her body language was at odds with her decision though and she shrugged sadly.

With the aid of the manual Toni talked her through blocking Faith's number and, once it was done, leaned over to kiss her cheek.

"I can teach you how to unblock it too if you should ever wish to," she offered softly.

"That won't be necessary." She cast her phone aside and flopped backwards on the bed to stare at the ultra white ceiling.

"Would you like me to lie here with you for a while?"

Buffy shook her head. "You have to get ready to meet Troy."

Toni watched her for a moment longer but took the hint and left the room.

Buffy laid there, eyes never leaving the breezy shadows on the ceiling. She didn't know how life had gotten her to this point. To the place where she had two girlfriends; neither of which were simple or straightforward. Everything had become so much more complicated since Sunnydale collapsed and they hadn't been easy before that. She should have just gone with that nun idea years ago because the lesbian thing wasn't working out for her any better than the straight thing had.

There was nothing she could do about Faith now except turn up at ten and hope that Faith had woken up enough by then to realise Buffy wasn't the bad guy here. That she had calmed down enough to enjoy her wedding day the way she had been planning to. Faith enjoying her wedding day wasn't on Buffy's list of happy thoughts but at this point it would be much better than them remaining at loggerheads for their last day together.

She was still in deep contemplation of the night before and the day ahead when she heard Toni talking to someone in the other room. She half-sat up, almost daring to hope it was... but no, she recognised the voices now. She slumped back down again and a few seconds later Willow and Xander appeared in the doorway.

Willow opened with, "Buff, you okay?"

She shrugged against the sheets.

"Will told me what happened."

"No, I told you what I saw; I don't know exactly what happened."

"That's what I meant." Xander came in and sat on the bed beside her. "So what did happen?"

"Yeah, do you feel up to talking about it now?" Willow sat on the other side of her.

Buffy sighed weakly, "Nothing much happened. Faith just asked me to run off into the night with her and live happily ever after."

"That bitch!" Buffy glared and Willow shrunk in on herself. "Not the time for sarcasm. I'm sorry."

Buffy chuckled. "I get it, Will, but it's not like I could do it."

Xander lowered his voice. "But isn't that, like, what you've been waiting for her to do?"

"And that's why I ran out of there like an idiot crying myself stupid. It's exactly what I wanted. It's exactly what I was prepared to do a couple of weeks ago but she chose him. She chose to get married instead of running away with me. I know there were mitigating circumstances and stuff, but when you boil it down...she still chose him." Buffy wiped some quiet tears off of her cheeks with her palms. "She knew how much it would hurt me and she did it anyway. And so I chose too. I chose Toni. I chose to move on. Now, what? Just because she's suddenly realised I'm really not gonna still be her bit on the side she throws this big tantrum?" She put her hand over her eyes as she groaned, "Fuck, did I make the wrong decision?"

"I don't think so," Willow said hesitantly.

She removed her hand to look at Xander. He shook his head, which could have meant 'no' or 'I don't know'.

"I do not think you did, for what it is worth."

Buffy raised her head in alarm to see Toni in the doorway. "At this point it's worth everything," she said honestly.

Toni just nodded. She had her bag in her hand and was obviously just about to head out to Nonni's to get ready.

"And also for what it's worth, I know deep down I made the right decision."

Toni hung her head, eyes falling to the stone floor.

"I mean it!"

"Right now, Buffy, you do not know what you mean. It is understandable. I have to go."

"Toni!" She turned back in the doorway. "Are you going without saying goodbye?"

Toni hesitated but then dropped her bag and walked back to the bed. "Of course not." She glanced at Xander and Willow. "Excuse me." Before either of them could move she crawled up the centre of the bed and over Buffy.

Buffy smiled her first real smile all morning at their faces and then turned it to Toni hovering above her. She reached up to tuck some long dark strands of hair behind Toni's ear and then slipped her hand behind her head to encourage her closer.

Toni placed several loving kisses on her lips and then kissed her brow before pushing herself back up to arms-length to smile at her.

"Goodbye, Buffy."

Buffy grinned. "Bye."

After one final kiss, Toni nodded to the other two and then climbed back off of the bed and left the room with her bag. They all seemed to be listening intently until they heard the main door close behind her and then they relaxed in unison.

"I don't think you made the wrong choice," Xander said, sounding breathless. "That, right there, is the right choice."

Buffy was still grinning, "I know, right?" She looked at Willow.

"Oh, yeah, totally," she said, nodding confidently but Buffy caught the worried little frown she gave the door afterwards.

She almost asked about it but decided she had enough doom and gloom in front of her without inviting a lecture from Willow on correct girlfriend-usage. Or not usage; that sounded wrong, and like what was probably going though Willow's mind right now.

She was trying to think of a change of subject when Xander fell onto his back next to her to stretch out.

"So have you spoken to Faith this morning?"

"Yep, just a little while ago. She wasn't very friendly."

"She'll come around when you two get caught up in the girly-bride-iness together."

Buffy turned her head to him and quirked an eyebrow.

"Or maybe at some much later date with less girlyness," he amended.

"There won't be any later dates," she said with certainty.

Willow dropped down to lie on the bed too. "Really?"

"Yep. Wiped her number from my phone just before you got here. Blocked it too, so she can't call me."

All Willow said was, "Wow."

"And you're really okay with that?" Xander asked,

Buffy covered her eyes again as she groaned, "No!"




She hadn't been able to wait any longer despite Willow and Xander's - and later Dawn's too - good company, so it was just before ten that Buffy turned up at Troy and Faith's villa.

Felacio opened the door. "Miss Faith is still in-a her room."

She let him show her the way, seeing as she didn't have a clue where it was, but he left her at the door explaining he was needed at Nonni's. She was just pleased he wasn't going to be hanging around all day. She knocked gently but when there was no answer let herself into the bedroom.

It was... well it would undoubtedly be a beautiful room if the drapes weren't still closed and the air wasn't thick with smoke and the scent of whiskey. Seriously, she could see actual layers of smoke hanging in the air.

Her nose wrinkled as she walked in. "Faith?"

The lump in the bed just groaned at her.

Shaking her head, Buffy walked forward purposefully and opened the drapes wide, letting bright sunlight wash away the gloom. She opened all the windows to let some air in.

"Bitch!" grunted the bedcovers.

"Stop it."

"Make me."

Buffy rolled her eyes. "From that scathing comeback I'm assuming you're still drunk."

"So?"

"So you're getting married in five hours."

"So?"

Buffy kicked off her sandals and climbed onto the bed, lying on her back next to Faith with her head on what was presumably Troy's pillow. It felt weird.

"You need to start getting ready in an hour."

"So?"

"Stop saying so!" Buffy took a calming breath. Bickering now wouldn't speed things along. "Look, if you don't want to get married he can't..."

"I wanna get married!" Faith shot back defiantly...from beneath the covers.

"Then what was last night about?" she asked before she could stop herself.

She'd made up her mind she wasn't even going to mention it unless Faith did. She didn't want to argue about it or go over it again; didn't want to give Faith another chance to talk her into something stupid. Apparently she had been lying to herself.

"It was nothin'. I was drunk."

"It wasn't nothing."

Faith suddenly wriggled herself aggressively out of the covers. "You wanna know what it was? We'd just fucked, B. I was still horny, that's all."

Buffy just looked at her impassively. She didn't even feel hurt because she knew it wasn't true.

"It was just about this!" Faith grabbed her right breast roughly. When it didn't provoke any reaction she upped her game and cupped her over her shorts instead. "And this, that's all; just fuckin' physical, alright?"

Buffy could feel her body responding to Faith, especially when her hand began to move slightly, massaging her through the cotton, but she fought hard to keep her face expressionless, her body relaxed and still.

Faith leaned in to kiss her and Buffy pushed her back with a forearm against her chest. "Shower first."

Faith sneered. "Why, do I stink?"

"You've been fresher," Buffy admitted. "But mostly I'm just trying to get you ready for your wedding."

"Fuck you." Faith pulled herself up against the headboard and groped on the bedside table for her cigarettes. "If you're itching so bad to start your new life with Tone, don't feel you have to wait for me to be married. Just fuckin' go."

Buffy sat up too. "I'm not going anywhere." Faith looked at her sharply. "I'm not going anywhere today. And by the way, you're lighting the wrong end of your cigarette."

"What? Oh, fuck!" Faith pulled the stick from her mouth to see the blackened butt and the smoke in the air was now even more acrid than before. "Shit."

She threw it on to the side and grabbed the whiskey instead. Buffy let her have one mouthful before wrestling the bottle from her.

"Do you think this is easy for me, Faith? Do you think I'm loving this situation? I never wanted us to get to this point in the first place."

"Uh, excuse me, Twinkie, but I think I was the one who said we'd be idiots to start screwing..."

"I meant the wedding point; and stop trying to pretend this is just about sex!"

"Well it's not about love or you'da come with me last night."

"That's... you know that's not true."

"Yeah, whatever."

Buffy took a sip from the bottle. "I love you, Faith. I love you more than anyone I've ever loved. I probably always will." She took another sip. "But you fucked up. You wouldn't give me a second chance. You..." she took another sip. "...You got involved with someone else and refused to look back."

"I looked back," Faith said miserably.

"Okay, you looked, and you touched sometimes, but you made up your mind months ago that you didn't want to spend your life with me. And I did the best I know how to fight for you every step of the way. And maybe I didn't do a very good job, but I tried, Faith. I really tried. And you didn't."

"Yeah, you tried so hard you're shacking up with someone else the day after I'm married."

"I split up with Toni for you! You know I did. She knows I did! I wouldn't be with Toni right now if you hadn't gone back to Troy." She took another mouthful of the whiskey. "So stop blaming all this crap on me and go and have a shower!"

Grumbling, Faith got out of the bed, shedding last night's clothes as she walked to the ensuite bathroom. Buffy rolled her eyes at her petulance and had another sip of whiskey. She looked at the bottle afterwards and then put it resolutely on the side away from her. As much as downing the entire contents and dying sounded good right now she knew she'd regret it when she woke up dead, or had to walk down the aisle with Faith drunk off her ass.

Actually, that second option sounded good. She eyed the bottle again but shook her head. She could get as drunk as she liked at the reception but if she was under the influence at the actual wedding things could go bad... fast.



Faith had come out of the shower in only a slightly better mood. She'd bitched Buffy out twice for trying to rush her and had driven a young Goran servant to tears because she didn't have exactly what Faith wanted for breakfast on the enormous platter. But she had smiled at least four times, which was four more times than before her shower.

"B, I think we've established it doesn't go that way."

Buffy gave the white satin conundrum another good, hard look. "There's no other way it can go!"

"I can't believe you don't know how to put on a freakin' garter belt."

"I can't believe you can't put on your own freakin' wedding underwear."

Faith looked at her newly applied talons in despair. "I have six inch nails! I can't scratch my ass let alone do anything else."

"Thanks for that lasting image. Would you hold still so I can fit this around you properly?"

"No, it's tickling!"

She didn't have so many problems holding still for the next bit. In fact she hardly breathed. She sat on the stool in a state of serene rapture as Buffy knelt at her feet and slowly - way more slowly than was strictly necessary - eased the white silk stockings up first one leg and then the other. Buffy felt like she wasn't breathing too. A reverential hush fell over the room, giving the moment the respect it deserved as she smoothed out any wrinkles with her hands; although a small, wistful sigh may have escaped when she reached Faith's thighs.

"Okay, stand up." She cleared her throat quickly so her voice wouldn't come out so breathy and whispery next time.

Faith complied and Buffy shuffled closer on her knees so that she could reach all eight straps easily. Her cheek brushed silky thigh as she reached around to fasten the back four and she audibly gulped when she felt Faith's hand drop gently to stroke her hair. As she blindly fastened the clips to the back of the stockings her nose nuzzled accidentally under the hanging satin of the garter belt. She felt Faith literally stop breathing this time but the hand on her head never slowed its affectionate caress. Buffy closed her eyes, feeling time stand still again as she adjusted the straps against the back of Faith's thighs, oblivious as to whether she was doing it right or not, just needing an excuse not to move.

They hung there on the sheer precipice of perilous desire for eternity before Buffy gave in and pressed her mouth up to the white panties, feeling Faith's damp heat through the silk-satin blend on her lips as she parted them to suck lightly against the material. She heard Faith pull in a breath, felt the hand in her hair gently draw her closer and tense thighs quivered under her nervously sweating palms and Thank God and Why, God? someone chose that moment to knock on the door.

"Just give us a minute," Faith called out, her voice sounding shaky and loud after the long silence.

"The dress is ready when you are," Benedetta called through the closed door.

Faith still held her close, but the knock on the door had broken the moment for Buffy as surely as a knock on the head would have done. She shuffled back and around, hands now moving in an aloof, professional way as she checked all the garter straps were as they should be and tried to calm the blood rushing so fast to the south that the effort of being strong against all urges was making her light headed.

She heard Faith swallow hard and mutter under her breath, "You gotta be kidding me," but she didn't make any fuss about it.

"Okay, you're..." Buffy stood and couldn't help herself from at least brushing some imaginary lint from one of Faith's silky, well-filled bra cups and then she smiled brightly. "...done."

"Depends what you mean by done."

"I mean you're ready for..."

"I know what you mean, B. I meant..."

"I know what you meant too, F."

Faith just smirked. Which was almost a smile.

Out in the living room, Buffy lounged on the couch watching as Faith was helped into her dress by Benedetta and one of the Goran women. Faith was having everything done first so luckily Buffy didn't have to get into hers just yet. Not that she wasn't looking forward to it, on an 'I'll look pretty' level, but it was a bigger dress than Faith's and she'd melt if she had to wear it all day.

She had definitely made the right call on the white stockings, she decided. They just looked sexy as hell without the dress and surprisingly classy with. They didn't even make her look like a hooker, but if they had it would have been an incredibly expensive one.

Seeing her in the dress again, giving an embarrassed twirl for Benedetta, Buffy wished she hadn't stopped what had almost happened in the other room. It had been the right call - things were too fragile between them and hectic overall today to try and fool around - but...that dress!

She was aware that her mouth was open and her eyes heavy with lust as she slumped down on the couch cushions but she didn't care. This was her last ogling opportunity and she was damned sure she was going to make the most of it.

"Hello, may I come in?" said a quiet voice from the doorway and Buffy groaned. Why now?

"Why not? More the merrier," Faith answered sarcastically as she leaned at an awkward angle so that Benedetta could adjust something near her hip.

Buffy dragged her eyes from the show just long enough to give Toni a smile as she came over to the couch. Then she went back to ogling.

Toni sat down next to her and whispered, "I could feel you tingling all over from Nonni's villa."

"Uh huh."

"I thought you might need distracting."

Buffy grinned. "Not really."

Realising that wasn't the best way to talk to her girlfriend; she tried to make an effort. She took her hand, kissed it and then dropped her head to snuggle on Toni's shoulder. She was quite impressed that she managed to do it all without taking her eyes off of Faith's ass.

"How are thing's going over there?"

"Andrew is refusing to be an usher but Xander happily accepted the role. The tux is a little tight on him. I believe Troy is actually nervous," she chuckled. "He has been pacing a lot. And I still have not finished my speech."

"Uh huh."

"Buffy?"

"Yeah?"

"My Best Man speech. The important toast I have to give in a few hours?"

"I'm familiar with it."

"Buffy, her butt does not look that good!"

Buffy froze with her eyes wide as all activity in the room came to a sudden halt. Benedetta peered around Faith to see her. The Goran servant and the hair stylist shared a look. It lasted for several seconds until Faith looked over her shoulder with a smirk.

"Bullshit. Admit it, Tone, by ass looks damn fine right now. You know you wanna piece of it."

To Buffy's surprise, Toni laughed. "Si, on a platter served to wolves. I should get back." Buffy moved to give her a goodbye kiss but Toni pushed her away and gestured at Faith. "Be careful, you may miss a wiggle."

It may have been her imagination but there seemed to be a certain amount of extra wiggle to Toni's butt as Buffy watched her walk out the door. She sighed and slouched even further down but soon forgot to be worried about the trouble she was in when she became engrossed in Faith again.



"Ha, gotcha," Buffy crowed triumphantly, but Faith's thumb wriggled away before she could secure it. "Damn."

"Nice try, B. I mean, you're still a loser and all, but you put up a good fight."

"It's not over yet." Buffy went on the attack again."...Damn!"

The hair stylist spewed forth some irate Italian.

"What did she say?" Buffy asked and Faith shrugged.

"She ask that you sit still," Benedetta pushed Faith firmly onto her stool and slapped apart the thumb war.

"But this is boring!" Faith whined.

"It will go quicker if you sit still," Benedetta insisted.

Buffy took the hint and moved her stool away from Faith's. She had been trying to keep her entertained for the last hour to a) avoid the whining, and b) curtail the occasional signs of freaking that the bride was showing. Overall though, Faith was taking things remarkably in stride considering the mood she had been in before. She might not have been showing the level of excitement most women did on their wedding day but Buffy could tell that secretly she wasn't hating all the attention.

Personally, Buffy couldn't wait to get her hair done. This woman was the top stylist in Italy. Buffy had even read her name in magazines back home long before she could reliably point to Italy on the map. The beautician too, who had done Faith's nails earlier and would be doing their make-up very soon, was famous. For that alone Buffy was more excited than Faith right now. All of this was wasted on her really.

To give Faith the opportunity to sit still, Buffy went to look at her dress again. She would be putting it on in just a few minutes now so she carefully began to remove the plastic.

She was totally absorbed in the task when a gravelly voice said, "Hey, Faithy."

She turned around to see a strange man in the doorway. His hair was dark and razored short, his clothes scruffy but clean, and she had never seen him before in her life but she only had to take one look at his eyes and the slightly unsure smile on his lips to know exactly who this guy was. She turned quickly to Faith.

She was already on her feet, wincing from yanking her hair out of the stylist's grip in her shock. "Dad?"

"Some wrinkly chick showed me in. Hope that's okay."

"Uh, yeah, hang on a sec... Dad?"

Buffy watched the scene play out before her with her heart in her mouth. She'd completely forgotten about her impromptu invite a few nights before with everything that had happened. She really hoped she hadn't done the wrong thing by not warning Faith in advance.

"I, uh, got a cab outside," he said, sounding embarrassed.

"What, you're leaving again already?"

If Faith wasn't so obviously in major shock Buffy would have laughed at that. Instead, she read the situation and took control like a perfect Maid of Honour.

"I'll take care of that."

Grabbing her purse, she went out through the side door into the bright sunshine. The driver was waiting by his car and it took nearly all the money she had on her to cover the fare. She really should have planned that better. Still, she was on Troy's payroll until the end of the day and she could always hit Faith up for more cash at the reception.

As the cab pulled out of the driveway, Buffy cautiously made her way back inside, not sure what to expect on returning. What she hadn't expected was Faith giving her dad a hug, but that's what she saw. They pulled apart as she came in.

"So what the hell are you doing here?"

"Some little girl called me a few days ago and told me to be here."

"Little girl?"

Buffy put her hand up. "That would be me."

Faith turned her head to her and raised one recently plucked to perfection eyebrow.

Buffy shrugged, hands wringing in front of her as she nervously played with her rings. "You needed someone to walk you down the aisle."

"Angel?"

"Doesn't like your choice of husbands," she said simply, not prepared to lie for him.

After all, if she could put herself through this for Faith's sake she didn't know why he couldn't just do the same.

"Why, what's wrong with him?" Mr Lehane asked, his voice almost an exact imitation of his daughter's, just deeper.

"Nothin'," Faith said quickly. "He and Troy just have some bad history is all." She looked her father up and down. "Want a beer?"

"Uh, no." He gave that embarrassed look again. "I'm, uh, not...at the moment."

Faith nodded. "Good." She eyed him for a full minute while he and Buffy stood in an awkward silence and Benedetta and the hair lady and the make up lady bustled around regardless of the tense moment. "Glad it's gonna be you then."

He seemed to relax a lot at that, but still not as much as Buffy. She breathed out a silent sigh of relief and stepped closer.

"Can I take your bag, Mr. Lehane?"

"Nah, B, we got de...people for that." Faith called over one of the Goran girls. "Stick his bag in one of the rooms and get him a cup of coffee, per favore."

His eyes seemed to light up. "You're speakin' Greek now, Faithy?"

Faith flinched a little at the nickname but smiled. "That was Italian."

"Oh. Look, I don't wanna cost ya a lot of money. I'm sure there's a cheaper place than this I can get a room in for the..."

Faith smiled again, holding in a chuckle. "Place is already paid for, Dad, and we gotta lotta rooms to spare."

"Really?" He looked around the large and lavish living area they were using to get ready for the wedding. "All of it?"

"It's Troy's villa."

He gave his daughter an appraising look, as if he thought she might be lying to him for some reason, and Buffy realised he wouldn't have a clue what Faith's life was like now. The last time they had seen each other she had still been in prison, which from what Buffy could gather through their conversations this year, was almost a step up from the life she had been living pre-Sunnydale.

"Yeah," Faith added. "He likes to be comfortable."

"And he can really afford it," Buffy slipped in quietly.

Mr Lehane nodded slowly. "Reminds me of your Grandpa's place. Except all Greek and stuff, obviously."

"Faith, you must come have your hair done now!" Benedetta called over impatiently.

Faith sighed. "Okay, I'm comin'."

She detoured first though to pull Buffy into a quick hug. Surprised by the sudden affection, Buffy just stood there stupidly.

"Thanks," Faith whispered in her ear and then went to take her place on the stool again.

"You're welcome," she murmured anyway and then gave Mr. Lehane a bright if nervous smile. "So, Faith's Grandpa had a nice place?"

She knew she had said the wrong thing right off the bat when a shadow crossed the man's face and she internally kicked herself, hard.

"Yeah, real nice. Place I grew up in was twice the size of this."

She didn't want to say anything else for fear of digging herself an even bigger hole, but an, "Oh, really?" escaped anyway.

"Uh huh."

"It's just Faith never mentioned it."

"She only met my folks once or twice." He accepted a cup of coffee from one of the wrinkly Gorans and took a sip or two, but obviously felt like he was expected to say more. "We didn't get on so well after I met Faithy's Mom."

"Oh. So how was your flight?" she said quickly, dying to change the subject away from the awkwardness.

"Good, good," he said just as quickly, just as glad. "Long, though. Only ever flown interstate before."

"I know what you mean. I flew from Cleveland to Italy a few months back to help with the wedding planning and I thought we were never going to land!"

He chuckled. "So this...wedding. It's not a fly-by-night thing?"

"Um." She wasn't entirely sure what he meant. "Well, he proposed back in July, so I guess its all happening pretty fast but..."

"But they've been together a while?"

"Since New Year. Maybe a little earlier."

For all she knew, Faith had already met Troy before Buffy had made her own move on Christmas Eve. They'd certainly been pretty friendly already by the party and Toni's diary entries implied things had already been in motion by January 1st. It annoyed her that she didn't know, but it was too late to be worrying about stuff like that.

"But this isn't like..." he lowered his voice. "...a shotgun wedding or nothing, is it?"

She went cold inside. That's exactly what it was like, just not exactly in the way he meant...exactly.

She forced a smile. "No, I don't think so."

She turned away, needing a minute, to watch Faith grumpily have her hair fixed. Even only half done it was enhancing her already natural beauty ten-fold. The stylist really was a genius.

"So, you're B?"

Surprised by the question, she turned to him again. "What? Oh, uh, yeah, I suppose. Why?"

"B, Buffy, shoulda figured that out, I guess."

She nodded but asked again, "Why?"

"Faithy used to talk about a B. The few times I saw her, yunno, back in..." he shrugged. "...where she was."

Buffy smiled. "Really?"

"Yeah, sometimes... well, a lot of times... well, all the time really."

Buffy's smile grew. "Really?"

He turned to face her fast; suddenly realising he might have said something he shouldn't. "Uh, well, sometimes."

His detraction took nothing away from her happiness. "Let me guess, it wasn't all sunshine and lollipops?"

He laughed (just like Faith did). "Some of it was... let's just say she didn't get that kinda language from me."

Buffy laughed with him. "It's okay. We've had a pretty colourfully bad history ourselves."

He nodded. "I didn't even know she was out. Thought she had another couple of decades to serve before she even got paroled."

Again Buffy went cold inside, not knowing what to say. Luckily she didn't have to think of anything because he carried on talking.

"Guess I got my wires crossed or something. Not surprised she looked you up again though, yunno, because of the way she used to talk about ya. More surprised she's marrying some guy she's known less than a year while you're just standin' on the sidelines..."

Buffy looked at him sharply, stunned but only too aware of what he was getting at.

"But what do I know?" he added quickly gesturing an apology with one hand. "Maybe you just don't swing that way."

"I don't swing that way?" she repeated like it was an alien phrase.

Maybe Faith was listening, maybe she just had impeccable timing, but she raised a hand then to get her attention.

"Excuse me," she offered politely before walking over to her. "What?"

"Ben says it's time to get your dress on."

Buffy nodded before cutting her a look. "Your Dad wants to know if I swing that way!"

Faith laughed. "What way?"

Buffy glared at her. "What did you tell him about me?"

Faith continued to laugh. "Nothing! I didn't even know you swung back then."

"Well, tell him I don't!"

"But you do," Faith pointed out, clearly loving her discomfort. "A lot, these days."

"That's not the point. I'd like your Dad to get to know me before he starts judging me for whether I like girls that way or not. Ever think that might be a part of me that I like to keep pri..."

"Knock, knock."

"...vate?" Buffy turned to the door to tell Toni to wait a minute and "...holy wow!"

Toni was leaning on the doorframe and she had seriously upped her game since her last visit. Or just got dressed for the wedding. It had the same effect. She was all tuxed-out in plain black straight-cut pants and a single-breasted black jacket hanging open to reveal the crisp white button down shirt beneath. Her silky dark hair was loose over her shoulders but as Buffy's mouth hung open she flipped it back, revealing the untied bowtie hanging snugly around her neck beneath her shirt collar.

"What? Faith shifted on the stool to see what had caused Buffy's impromptu performance of a stunned statue. She sat back again, unimpressed. "B, you're drooling."

"I know."

"Weren't we talking?"

"Shhh." Buffy reached out blindly to cover Faith's lips with her fingers.

Toni showed no signs of being aware of the obvious effect she was having on Buffy, aside from a slight twinkling in her eyes. "I cannot tie my bowtie."

Faith pushed Buffy's fingers away. "What, and none of the dozens of people at Nonni's could lend you a hand?"

"I can do it!" Buffy walked eagerly over to her, eyes raking excitedly up and down her suited body. Once close enough she fingered the ends of the blue silk tie and then ran her hands down the front of the shirt as she stepped even closer. "We should, uh, maybe go somewhere else to do it. Uh, tie the tie I mean, 'cause, you know, you don't wanna, like, get dressed in front of all these people. It's... it's impolite or something."

"Hey, B, you can't go; you're supposed to be getting ready for my wedding!" Faith called across the room.

Buffy, completely oblivious to her, didn't stop from ushering Toni out of the room backwards, one hand already pulling the shirt out of the pants and the other pulling Toni's head down into kissing range.

"Yeah, B, that's sure keeping your chick-lovin' side a mystery," Faith added in a sarcastic shout.

"What was that about?" Toni asked, giggling at the way Buffy was still encouraging her backwards down the corridor.

"Nothing important," Buffy said breathlessly, trying to kiss, talk, walk and push at the same time. "Tell you later."

"Va bene. Do you wish to go to one of the guest rooms?"

"No time." She pushed Toni into a coat closet and pulled the door closed behind them.




It was hard to gauge Faith's mood when Buffy reappeared fifteen minutes later with Toni still in tow and holding her hand. Her hair was finished and looked gorgeous. Now the make-up lady was doing her job and Faith sat there with a face like stone because she had been instructed not to move a muscle, but their happy smiles and flushed cheeks couldn't have been doing a lot for her.

"Where's your Dad?" Buffy asked when she noticed he was no longer in the room.

"Having some lunch in the kitchen and then taking a shower," Faith said through stiff lips.

Benedetta waved her over to her dress and she went, stripping down to her underwear as she walked to the other side of the room. She smiled as she heard the make-up lady tell Faith off for turning her head.

She turned around with her arms in the air, smiling at Toni who had no reason not to stare at her and was making the most of it. Benedetta pulled the dress carefully down her arms and over her body, tugging it gently this way and that so that it sat just right before zipping it up. Buffy's smile grew bashful as Toni stepped closer, uttering a stream of low, beautiful, overcome Italian.

"Told you you'd like it once it was on," she said softly.

Toni just nodded, still coming slowly closer like she couldn't help it.

Faith ignored the make-up lady's protests to snap, "Hey, Tone. Your tie is still undone. You should probably piss off and get someone to help you with that, huh?"

Still walking, eyes never leaving Buffy's, Toni deftly tied her bowtie perfectly. "You are so very..." her hands cupped Buffy's cheeks as she dipped her head to deliver a kiss even more perfect than her bowtie. "...exquisite."

"Thank you," she breathed.

"I said it first," Faith muttered as she let the woman do her job again.

"You've never used a word like exquisite in your life," Buffy pointed out, chuckling as Benedetta tried to shoo Toni away and they bickered with each other in Italian.

"That's 'cause it's a stupid fuckin' word. I said you looked hot - covers everything just fine."

Buffy grinned but kept her eyes on Toni who was just giving in to Benedetta's grousing.

"She insists I go back before I distract you any further from your preparation."

"Good, we gotta be there in just over an hour," Faith griped.

Toni ignored her and gave Buffy one last kiss. "I will see you at the temple."

"Uh huh, don't be late," Buffy joked.

As soon as Toni had walked away Buffy's attention was immediately back on Faith. She fetched her a glass of champagne from the table so she could have a sip before her lipstick was applied and generally fussed in a Maid of Honour-ly way while she waited for the hair stylist to be ready for her.

She suddenly realised Toni was waiting in the doorway and turned to her to see what she had to say, but Toni just offered her a small smile and then left. Bemused, Buffy watched her go and then hopped onto her stool, forgetting the enigmatic smile.

Her hair didn't take long. Faith's was a fancy array of loose curls and wispy bits, some up and some down with small, delicate white flowers wound around it. Buffy's was much simpler, curled and then pinned to the top of her head, although she did have pretty little blue flowers that matched the shade of her dress perfectly.

She enjoyed the attention as first the stylist and then the make-up lady worked on her. Faith was free to walk around now and did so, fetching Buffy a glass of champagne and sneaking another herself.

"So, everything at the temple ready?" Faith asked conversationally, pulling her stool closer to Buffy and watching as her make-up was applied.

"Far as I know. Hard to co-ordinate the arrangements when I'm here."

Buffy tried to keep her mouth as still as possible as she spoke, letting the make-up lady tilt her face this way and that as she wanted.

"Far as you know? That's reassuring."

"Well, what do you want me to do, Effie?"

"Find out!"

"Fine! Get my phone." Buffy pointed to her bag on the table.

Faith grabbed it and came and sat back down. She tried to hand it to Buffy but she was having her eyes done so she waved it away.

"Call Giles and then hold it to my ear."

She watched Faith scroll through her phone book, it seemed to take longer than it should.

"Where's my number?" Faith muttered.

"What?" Buffy asked, distracted.

"Where's my number? I saw you put it on here yesterday and now it's gone!"

'Shit!', was all Buffy could think. How stupid could she be to let Faith look through her phone? Dammit!

"I don't know," she tried, knowing it sounded too weak to be real.

Faith glared at her with wild eyes and waved the phone around. "What? It just fell off of there?"

"Can we talk about this later please?"

"There is no later, B! Remember? We only have now!"

Buffy ducked her head and got a sharp reprimand from the make-up lady. So she held her head high but stared blankly past Faith. Benedetta had disappeared towards the kitchen a few minutes ago so Buffy decided honesty couldn't cause too much trouble, except for the obvious.

"Toni wanted me to erase your number."

"And you did it?" Faith jumped from her stool so angrily it fell over backwards, hitting the tiled floor with a sharp bang.

Buffy flinched and nearly got an eyeliner pencil in her eye. "Faith, calm down. There was no reason not to. We're not seeing each other again, are we."

"But...for fucks sake, Buffy!"

Faith picked up the stool by one of its long wooden legs and launched it across the room. It hit the wall and broke into pieces.

Faith stood staring at the mess she had made, visibly shaking. Buffy pushed the stunned beautician away and slipped off of her stool. Approaching Faith, she tried to put a hand on her shoulder, but Faith flinched to the side, bringing one fist up defensively.

"Give us a minute?" Buffy asked the other people in the room. When they all just continued to stare she put a little more force into it. "I said, give us a minute!"

They all scuttled out.

Buffy waited a moment and then wrapped her hand around Faith's fist and pushed it gently down.

"I didn't mean to..." Faith began, staring at the broken stool again.

"I know, it's okay."

"It's not okay!" Faith pulled her fist back and kept it clenched at her side. "None of this is okay, B. Nothing's ever okay with us. It's always just..." she sighed, went to run her hands through her hair and then realised she couldn't. "...Fucked up!"

"And that's why it's a good thing that we won't be seeing each other again," Buffy said calmly even though it was breaking her heart.

"How can you say that?"

Because she had to! What was the alternative? Tell Faith she would see her again just to save the lives of future stools? Not an option.

"Faith, it'll be okay. Don't cry or make-up lady will be angry," she added, trying to lighten the mood.

"I'm not fuckin' crying." And she wasn't, but she looked ready to at any moment. "How can you be so cool with this?"

"I'm far from cool," she promised. "Today is tearing me apart inside."

Faith spun to her. "Then why can't you act like it!"

"What do you want me to do, Faith? Cry, throw a tantrum, beg you not to do it?"

"One out of three wouldn't hurt!"

"And then what? You do it anyway. We're past the point of no return here, Faith, don't you get that?"

"I get it, that's why I'm throwing fuckin' stools around. My question is... Why aren't you?"

With a frustrated yell, Buffy picked up the stool she had been sitting on and threw it across the room. It hit a six foot high rack of glass shelving that fell to the floor with a musical tingle of cascading shards, shattering everything, including all of the probably expensive ornaments on it.

Buffy's eyes went wide. "Oops."

Faith gave a chuckle of disbelief as she stared at the new mess. "No need to over-react, B."

Buffy turned to her and now her fist was raised but before she could use it Benedetta came running into the room, quickly followed by Faith's Dad.

"What happened?" Benedetta asked, out of breath.

"There was a, uh, stool related accident," Buffy said, wincing at the lameness.

Faith rolled her eyes. "We had an argument. It's over now."

"Is it?" Buffy asked.

"You see any point in continuing it?" Faith asked.

Buffy cast eyes to the floor and shook her head. There was no point. It was the argument that would never end if one of them didn't make a conscious effort to end it. Faith might have thought she was doing that now, but really Buffy knew she was doing it by sticking to her guns.

Benedetta called the make-up lady back in. Buffy had nowhere to sit now so she stood as still as she could as the finishing touches were applied to her face. Behind her Gorans cleared up the debris of their argument and across the room Faith gulped down another glass of champagne.

"What happened? What did she do?" Mr. Lehane asked his daughter quietly, obviously not knowing Buffy's hearing was more astute than the average.

"Nothin', Dad," Faith said tiredly.

"Crap on the floor doesn't spell out nothing."

Faith shrugged. "Me and B argue, it's what we do."

"I thought you two were kinda showing a spark earlier."

Faith chucked. "We do that too."

He just nodded thoughtfully. He was in a light grey suit now and had shaved. He'd looked pleasantly rumpled before but now he looked sharp. Not at all like a guy who could only get accommodation in a less-than-awesome LA boarding house.

He patted his daughter awkwardly on the shoulder and then turned to stare at Buffy. If he was surprised to find Buffy staring straight back at him he didn't flinch to show it. He regarded her coolly for a moment and then gave a brief smile. He obviously didn't know what to make of her yet, but that was okay because she was feeling the same. She smiled back and then focused on Faith, who had just remembered she still had Buffy's phone in her hand.

Faith pressed some buttons and then... "Hey, dude, it's me. B asked me to check everything was cool at the temple."

Buffy couldn't hear the answer but when Faith smiled she relaxed.

"Okay, sweet. So we're good to go?" Faith listened for a moment and then smiled again. "Thanks. No, we're all good here. Few fun and games but all on track." Faith laughed at something Giles said. "Yeah, G, see you on the other side."

Faith cut the call and then dropped the phone into a full glass of champagne.

"Oh, that's mature!" Buffy spat, and with make-up finally done she hurried over to save the phone from its alcoholic death.

"What? My hand slipped," Faith lied, grinning.

Buffy shook her head as she revived the phone with a paper napkin. "My hand's gonna slip around your throat in a minute."

"Save it for the after party, babe."

"You wish."

"Be a wasted wish. Already know you're too chicken."

"It's got nothing to do with being chicken!"

"Whatever."

"We have to leave in fifteen minutes!" Benedetta announced over their bickering.

Those fifteen minutes passed in a blur as they both had their hair, make-up and dresses checked once more. Last minute words of encouragement were offered to Faith while Buffy had a posy of blue, white and orange flowers shoved in her hand. Why wasn't anyone offering her encouragement too? She felt like she needed it more at this point.

The next thing she knew they were outside. Four white horses were stomping their hooves and flicking their hair and the open-top carriage was sparkling in the afternoon sun. She didn't remember ordering something that looked so pretty. It was the carriage Cinderella wished she'd had.

It didn't look all that big from the outside but once they were sat in it - just her, Faith, and Faith's dad - she wished she had thought to ask Faith if she had wanted any more bridesmaids. Dawn would have jumped at the chance and Willow would have definitely been willing. It was too late now though - it was just she and Faith alone rattling along the road to their temple of doom. And Faith's Dad, but he wasn't so embroiled in the doominess.

She had a moment of pure hate for Toni right then. It only lasted a few seconds but it took her by surprise with its ferocity. If it wasn't for Toni they would never have gotten to this moment. It was irrational, because Troy was the ringmaster of this whole nightmare, but without Toni...

Buffy had followed Faith to Rome, Buffy had agreed to be her Maid of Honour... but without Toni maybe it never would have gotten so far as Faith going to Rome. Or maybe it would have and Buffy was just lucky that she still had Toni to be by her side throughout this nightmare.

She came back to the present when she realised Faith was talking to her. "So remind me what happens here. They start playin' the music and I walk down the aisle?"

Buffy smiled; they had already gone through this several times in the last few days.

"No, they play the music and I start walking. When I get to the third pew... that's the third pew from the altar... you start walking. Andrew, or possibly Xander now, is gonna be there to give you the nod so don't worry about it. Just remember not to walk too fast. One step per two beats of the music, like we practised."

Faith rolled her eyes. "You don't have to treat me like I'm a kid."

Buffy just grinned and after a few seconds Faith grinned back.

"That was another one of your moments, wasn't it?" Mr. Lehane said.

Buffy grinned more. "Yeah, probably."

And then all too quickly they were pulling into the clearing in front of the temple. Mr. Lehane said, "Wow!" as Buffy locked eyes with Faith. This really, really was it now.

"You ready?" she murmured.

"No," Faith murmured back. "You?"

Buffy shook her head. "No."



Chapter Twelve

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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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