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 Six: Out Too Far, In Too Deep

Buffy awoke in bed alone and after remembering the events of the night before, she started to freak out. What if Toni had decided to leave after all? What if... She sat up fast, kicking the sheets from around her legs.

Toni was at the window, sipping a cup of coffee. Buffy relaxed immediately on seeing her and even more when Toni turned to her with a smile.

"You are awake."

"And you're up. Why are you up?"

"I thought it best to be at least mildly alert in case Faith came for breakfast again."

Buffy chuckled, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. "Well, now that we're both alert wanna come back to bed for an hour?"

"I would love to but she will be here in twenty minutes."

Buffy looked at Toni's watch - still on the bedside cabinet - and groaned. She flopped back onto the pillows. "Wanna just come back to bed for ten minutes then?"

"It is your last day with Faith; do you not wish to embrace it?"

"Not as much as I want to embrace you right now," she said sleepily.

Chuckling, Toni came and sat on the bed. Buffy sat up again and stole a sip of her drink. She pulled a face; black coffee wasn't her favorite. Toni kissed her forehead as Buffy wrapped her arms around her, head falling drowsily onto Toni's shoulder. She sighed happily; she could so easily go back to sleep just like this.

And she actually must have done without realizing because the next thing she was aware of was Toni whispering in her ear, "You only have a few minutes to get ready now."

"I don't care," she mumbled.

"And normally that would please me but my right arm is going numb."

Buffy chuckled and with a lot of effort made herself sit upright.

"I'll get you some coffee and breakfast."

"Thanks."

She came a little more alive once she was alone and dressed quickly. It was just as well because before Toni came back she heard Faith letting herself in the front door and calling hello.

"Hey," she greeted as she walked from the bedroom to the bathroom. "Toni's just making breakfast...you might wanna duck."

She heard Toni laughing from the kitchenette as she closed the bathroom door.

*****

Nonni and Benedetta were sharing a villa. It was bigger than hers but nowhere near as big as Troy's. Benedetta's husband, a weather-beaten old man, was there too - Buffy hadn't even realized she had a husband - sitting on the couch complaining in Italian that he couldn't understand Greek TV. After pleasantries had been made and Buffy and Faith had both been given a big mug of sweet white wine, the husband was ushered out of the villa. He went gladly.

"He will go to the nearest bar and be happy," Benedetta said cheerfully, even though it was only nine-thirty in the morning. "So are you ready to try on your beautiful dresses?"

"It's what we're here for," Faith said and Buffy just nodded.

"Strip, then!" Nonni commanded, clapping her hands together. "The bathroom is through there if you wish."

Buffy and Faith just grinned at each other and started to take off their clothes.

They hadn't talked about the night before at all. They hadn't had the chance for one thing. Once leaving Toni it had been less than five minutes before they reached Nonni's in the car. It seemed to be agreed that they wouldn't speak of it though, at least not until later. Buffy was over the guilt of letting Faith's fingers creep up her thigh in the middle of Troy's speech - if Toni had already forgiven her this morning then she wasn't going to dwell on it - and Faith seemed equally resistant to mentioning the way Buffy had run out of her rehearsal dinner after her fingers had crept up and... Yeah, okay, moving on.

Once they were both in their underwear Nonni and Benedetta carried the finished dresses through to them. Even covered in bulky clear traveling plastic Buffy was amazed at how awesome they both looked. There was a good chance that - thanks to this dress - she would never again look as good as she did on Faith's wedding day. And that was a weird and unsettling thought.

Buffy put hers on carefully - there weren't any pins it now but it just seemed wrong to rush it - and let the two old women help her as they saw fit. Once it was on she admired herself in the mirror Nonni had propped against the couch as they helped Faith with hers.

They'd just finished zipping her up when Angelina appeared breathlessly in the doorway. "Benni, Nonni, come quick! Troy has ripped his suit!"

Benedetta grabbed her sewing kit. "I told him to wait!"

"I will put that boy over my knee!" Nonni griped as they both bustled out of the villa with promises that they'd be back very soon.

Buffy gave into the urge to laugh as soon as they were gone.

"You think Troy ripping his suit is funny?" Faith asked with a raised eyebrow.

"Actually, yeah, but not as funny as the thought of Toni's grandmother spanking him over her knee."

Faith smirked. "Yeah, okay, I gotta give you that one." She nudged her out of the way of the mirror to take a look at her dress. "Maybe it is too short."

"Faith, you look gorgeous."

"I look gorgeous nude, doesn't mean I wanna walk down the aisle in my birthday suit, ya know?"

"Okay, Miss Modesty, what about if we get you some stockings to go with it? White ones." They were already standing close so when Buffy turned to her they were more than close enough for Buffy to run her hands up the outside of Faith's legs. "Ones that come up to here and then a... a lacy white garter-belt to keep them up... maybe."

"You have a seriously weird fascination with my thighs."

Buffy licked her lips. "Not that weird. Have you seen them?"

"Won't white stockings make me look like a hooker?"

"Yeah, a really hot hooker."

Faith pushed her away playfully. "Okay, dirty-old-man-Buffy, come back to Earth, 'cause this ain't helping."

"I can't help it," Buffy laughed. "Your dress just screams 'ravish me'."

Faith turned seriously to the mirror again. "But is that really what I want on my wedding day?"

Buffy took a deep breath, composing herself, switching from lecherous lover into Maid of Honor mode.

"Seriously, Effie, you look fantastic. And mid-thigh isn't that short. Look, bend over."

Faith grinned at her. "Yeah, right."

Buffy rolled her eyes. "I mean it, bend over."

Faith touched her toes, warily looking around her knees.

"I can't see your underwear so it can't be too short."

"Okay, thanks." Faith straightened back up, but not quite fast enough and yelped, "Buffy!"

"Oops!" Grinning, Buffy withdrew her hand from under the back of the dress.

"I'm not complaining," Faith said, turning to her. "Just wasn't expecting it. Stupid of me."

Buffy smiled and glanced out of the window. "How long do you think we have?"

"No idea."

"I know how wrong this sounds but I kinda wanna do you in that dress before you walk down the aisle in it to marry Troy."

Faith was eying her up and down. "Trust me, I'm on the same page, but I was thinking it would be even more wrong to wait until tomorrow, ya know, like just before you walk down the aisle in front of me."

Buffy grinned but shook her head. "I like the way you think, but once we say goodnight tonight that's it."

"Oh come on, Toni won't ever know!"

"Actually she probably would, but it doesn't matter because it's not Toni's decision."

"So it's yours?"

After another glance out of the window Buffy pressed closer to her. "Yes. I wanna enjoy every single second of today with you but once today's over..."

Faith nodded slowly. "We're over."

"Yes."

"And there's no way I can change your mind about that?"

"No."

"Really?"

"Very really." Buffy ran her hands up and down Faith's sides. "But we have all of today."

"Should probably make the most of it then."

Faith's lips were very nearly on hers when Nonni came through the front door. Buffy quickly moved her head to the left and pretended to be checking out the neckline of Faith's dress. Damn, they were so good at this now; almost seemed a shame to stop it.

"No, seems fine," she said, stepping back.

"What is wrong?" Nonni rushed over, sounding more worried than Buffy had ever heard her. Obviously the wedding was getting to everyone.

"Nothing. Faith thought she felt a pin still in there, that's all."

"Yeah, something was sticking me, but B fiddled and it feels better now."

Buffy blushed needlessly as Nonni breathed a sigh of relief. She came over to check for herself though and after a minute's searching actually found a pin in the shoulder. Even though it was pure coincidence, she held it up triumphantly.

"Thanks. So what the hell was wrong with Troy's suit?" Faith sounded every bit the overly concerned bride - maybe she was. "Is it okay?"

"Yes, Angelina over-reacted," Nonni said calmly. "It was just the sleeve of his jacket that ripped an inch on his watch strap. Benedetta is fixing it now."

Faith breathed out a noisy sigh. "I'll be glad when the wedding is actually over."

Nonni smiled benevolently. "Do not worry, child, every bride feels the same. I was so nervous on my wedding day that I pee'd in my bridal underwear."

Okay, too much information. Pulling a face, Buffy went back to looking at herself in the mirror.

"Doesn't B look beautiful in her bridesmaid dress, Nonni?" Faith said softly.

"Indeed. Very beautiful."

Buffy ducked her head, smiling bashfully. She'd been waiting for Faith to say something about it, but was surprised by just how much it meant to her when she finally did.

"Thanks. Okay, we should probably take them off before we get a chance to ruin them." Buffy didn't want Faith to take the dress off, but she couldn't see her in it for much longer without doing something she shouldn't in front of Nonni.

"You must wait for Benedetta."

"We would, but we have like a gazillion things still to do today," Buffy said.

"Yeah," Faith backed her up. "And we know they fit now, and that's all that matters, right?"

Nonni insisted they wait a moment until she had least checked them over, before helping them both out of the dresses.

Benedetta came back just as they were finishing getting dressed. "Ah, ah, ah!" she said.

"Sorry, but we gotta bounce," Faith said, cutting off anything else. "But thanks, really. The dresses are unbelievable." Buffy was surprised when Faith actually gave the old Italian woman a quick thank you hug and a kiss on the cheek. "I really appreciate it. Thanks."

Feeling like she should follow in Faith's footsteps - weird - Buffy gave Benedetta a hug too and said thanks.

Nonni insisted on one as well and Buffy grinned as she returned it. "Tell my grand-daughter to come and visit me later, si?"

"I will," she promised.

As they were walking to the car Faith asked, "So what are these gazillion things we have to do?"

"We have to go and find my phone."

Faith waited a beat and then asked, "That's it?"

"Well, this afternoon we have to meet with the catering guys and at some point we have to pick up the cake."

Faith waited another beat. "That's it?"

As they reached the car Buffy turned to her. "Tell me, would you have preferred to spend another hour in there talking to them or would you prefer to spend that hour somewhere... alone?"

Faith grinned. "Fair enough. So, you wanna find a nice quiet spot right now?"

"No, right now I wanna go find my phone."

Faith sighed but didn't complain.

*****

They had been scouring the area Buffy was sure she had dropped her phone in for ten minutes already. The horses - and they were just horses this morning - were just standing around. Every now and then one would whinny sharply at them, making Buffy jump a little, but none of them showed any inclination to charge around like maniacs.

"It has to be here somewhere!" she whined.

"Unless a horse really did eat it."

"Okay, you better start checking their poo."

"Why do I have to check it?"

"Because if it wasn't for your wedding my phone wouldn't have gotten eaten in the first place!"

Faith looked around at all the piles the horses had left around the paddock. "I'm not checking their shit. I'll just buy you a new phone."

"I don't want you to buy me a new phone. I want my phone!"

"What's so special about it?"

"It has... pictures on it."

Faith smirked. "I'll happily pose for more pictures."

"Not pictures of you!"

"Well if it means that much to you," Faith sulked. "You check their shit."

Buffy growled in her face, "Start checking their poo!"

Faith sighed in frustration but walked over to the nearest pile and kicked it apart. There was nothing in the middle but more horse crap. She walked to another and did the same. Just before she could kick the third she called to Buffy.

"Found it." Buffy hurried over to where she pointed and looked down at the broken shards in dismay. It hadn't been eaten but it had obviously been trampled, probably by a unicorn the night before.

"Damn."

"You owe me some new shoes," Faith said, wiping the ones she was wearing off on the grass.

"No I don't, but you owe me a new phone."

"I thought you didn't want me to buy you a new phone."

"I didn't want you to, but now I need you to."

"Whatever." Shoes as clean as they were going to get, Faith asked. "So what do you want to do now?"

Buffy looked at her incredulously. "Go shopping of course."

*****

Litochoro didn't have the greatest shopping centre ever but it was way quicker than driving into the big city. They found a shoe shop straight away and Faith replaced her soiled canvas shoes for some brand new ones that looked exactly the same. It took a little longer to find somewhere that sold cell phones but when they finally did Buffy chose a model like her old one. She knew how to use it, for one thing, plus it was one of the cheapest ones. Faith refused to buy it point blank and instead chose one like hers, at least three times the price.

"I don't need to get the internet on my phone, Faith. If I need to access the internet I call Willow."

"It has a camera. You know you want that." Faith waggled her eyebrows.

"This one has a camera!"

"Yeah but this one has more pixels. Good for those close up pussy pics."

"Shut up!" Buffy looked around the store, embarrassed. "Anyway, do you even know what a pixel is?"

"Nah, but it must be good. 'Sides, you can listen to music on this one too."

"I don't want to listen to music when I'm on the phone! I wouldn't be able to hear what the other person is saying."

Faith rolled her eyes and grabbed the box. "If I'm buying I get to choose, so deal."

Sighing, Buffy followed her to the cash register.

Faith's phone rang while they were waiting in line. She checked the caller ID and muttered, "Who's that?" She answered. "Oh, you." She chucked the phone over, muttering, "How'd she get my fuckin' number?"

Bemused, Buffy caught the phone and put it to her ear. "Hello?"

"Buffy, your friends and I are in town for lunch again and they were wondering..."

Buffy smiled. "You mean you were wondering."

"...If you would like to meet us," Toni finished as if she hadn't spoken.

"Actually, we were going to..."

"If you have other plans I understand. It is just that Willow mentioned calling you and I did not have good reason to refuse."

Willow! On the one hand she didn't want to be anywhere near her best friend if she was in the mood to pull magical pranks. On the other hand, refusing to join them might give Willow the green light to pull a bigger rabbit out of the hat.

"Hang on just a sec," she told Toni before covering the mouthpiece of the phone. "The guys want us to meet them for lunch."

"You mean Tone does," Faith said irritably.

"No, I honestly believe she's just a go-between right now. Come on, Faith. We're already in town. We only have to stay an hour. We'll still have the rest of the day."

"Sure, fine, whatever," Faith said as she reached the front of the queue.

Buffy grinned and took her hand off the phone. "Yeah, baby, we'll meet you. Ten minutes okay?"

When they arrived at the restaurant her friends were already seated at a large table outside. Buffy automatically dropped into the spare seat between Willow and Toni, giving Toni a hello kiss on the cheek. There was another spare seat between Kennedy and Andrew.

Buffy heard Faith murmur, "Hell no." and then the other Slayer put her hand on Willow's shoulder. "Hey, you two budge up a seat so I can sit next to, B."

"Why, Faith? I'm comfy a-and my drinks right here in front of me," Willow said brightly.

"There's a space here," Andrew patted the chair as if Faith hadn't seen it yet.

Faith leaned down to Willow ear and spoke so only she and Buffy could hear her. "I'm asking nicely, Red, move or I'll move you."

"But, I'm..." Sighing, Faith bent further to slide a hand under Willow's knee. "A-actually the view from that seat is better." She pushed at her girlfriend's shoulder to get her to move up a seat.

Kennedy moved along without comment but glowered at Faith once she was sat down again. Faith ignored her and stole a sip of Willow's lemonade before passing it over. Buffy tried not to smile over the whole thing as she set a small box on the table and started excitedly taking out her new phone. She might have insisted on getting the cheaper one but secretly she was happy Faith had been more insisty about getting this one. So pretty, so many buttons!

"You could not find your old phone?" Toni asked.

"We found it... in pieces! So I made Faith buy me a new one. Do you like it?"

She handed it over while she looked eagerly at the instruction booklet. Then she frowned; it was all Greek to her, like, literally. Oh, well, she'd figure it out. She took the phone back and started pressing buttons to turn it on. In the end, Faith chuckled and reached out to do it for her.

"It looks very expensive," Toni said.

Buffy froze. It hadn't occurred to her that Toni might have a problem with it but of course she would.

"Wasn't that much," Faith said easily, reaching out to take one of the menus propped up in the middle of the table. "'Sides, Troy and I were talking last night about what to get you guys as a thank you gift but we couldn't come up with nothing that wasn't lame. Guess now I did."

"What does Toni get?" Buffy asked absently.

Faith looked deep into her eyes, saying softly, "You."

Buffy held her gaze for a beat before clearing her throat and turning to smile at Toni. "Doesn't really seem fair. I get this awesome new phone and you just get me?"

Toni smiled. "It's fair."

Now Buffy got lost in her eyes until Giles called over a waiter and Xander said, "Hey, Buff, give us a look at your new toy." And just like that the odd moment between the three of them was forgotten by everyone else. She reluctantly handed her phone to Willow to pass around and satisfied herself with pulling the accessories from the box. Toni took her hand to hold under the table, making the job a little harder, but Faith seemed happy to help her out.

"Carry case, hands free kit, blue tooth ear piece, charger - you'll have to get an adaptor when you get back to the States, B. Hey, Xan, what games are on it?"

"I'm still trying to figure out how to switch the language. It's all in Greek!"

"I'll do it," Willow - resident tech expert - offered. Xander handed it back around the table and she fiddled, pressing buttons for a while. "Wow, it really is all in Greek."

Buffy tutted and held her hand out. "Give it here? I know how to do it."

As the phone was passed back everyone watched her with curious amusement, waiting to see what she would try and expecting her to fail as they had. Without even looking at the screen she handed it to Toni.

Grinning, Toni scrolled through to 'settings' then 'language' and then 'English.' She chose it and then reached across the table to give Xander back the phone, all without letting go of Buffy's hand.

"That was cheating!" Willow griped playfully.

Xander just said, "Cool, Tetris!"

As Kennedy, Andrew, Melissa and even Giles all sat up straighter with excitement, Buffy sighed. "And I just lost my new phone for the foreseeable future."

Toni squeezed her hand gently as she asked Faith, "So what do the two of you have planned for this afternoon?"

Seeing the answer in her eyes, Buffy gave her thigh a soft punch. Faith grinned and grabbed her hand, interlacing their fingers as she said something about cakes and caterers. Buffy wasn't really listening; too busy subtly looking under the table. Now they were both holding her hand. She had no hands left for herself!

It wasn't that big a deal, she supposed; no one else around the table could see, so she let it go. It became a big deal when her lunch was set on the table in front of her though. As everyone else tucked in hungrily - Toni and Faith both just using a fork - all she could do was stare at her plate.

She tried pulling her hand from Faith's, but it just made her hold on tighter. So feeling guilty but telling herself it was her and Faith's day after all she tried pulling her hand free from Toni's. She just gripped tighter too.

Buffy sighed and muttered, "Come on, guys, someone has to let go." They both acted like they hadn't heard her. She was going to start eating from the plate like a dog in a minute, see how they explained that one. "Please?"

"I'm letting go soon enough," Faith muttered with her mouth full.

"That was your decision," Toni murmured. "This is mine."

"Don't I get a say in this?"

Before either of them could answer her, Giles asked, "Not hungry, Buffy?"

"Actually, very hungry. I just need to use the bathroom first." She stood up and they both let go of her hand before they could be seen. "Oh, no, false alarm." And she sat back down and grabbed her knife and fork triumphantly before either of them could latch on again.

She was just raising the first forkful to her mouth when two hands came from opposite directions to land on her thighs. She groaned, did her best to block them out and got on with eating.

"So, Buffy, we're going to the beach after lunch," Andrew told her enthusiastically.

"Really?"

"Yeah, we were talking about it on the flight," Xander said. "How we used to take living so close to the beach for granted in Sunnydale."

"Yeah, we miss it now that we can't just go," Willow agreed.

"And we only made it down to our very own private beach a couple of times this summer," Kennedy said, "Thanks to all the research you didn't stick around for."

As Buffy shot her a warning look, Faith asked, "What research?" Luckily she found a better thought right after. "You have a private beach?"

"We have a private beach," Buffy said. "Comes with the cabin by the lake."

"I'd forgotten about that."

"So, do you guys wanna join us?" Andrew asked.

"What, this afternoon?" Buffy glanced at Faith. "I don't know if we have time."

"I'm sure they have many wedding tasks to take care of," Toni said with only a little sarcasm showing.

"Actually that sounds like a blast," Faith said much to Buffy's horror. "Can't remember the last time I went to a decent beach."

"We don't have bathing suits," Buffy tried.

"Neither did I," said Giles, "but I was able to buy some nice shorts in a shop along the road."

Oh God, Giles in shorts again and an afternoon on the beach with Faith, Toni and her friends! She wasn't sure she could handle all that.

Kennedy grinned at her, "Come on, Buffy, it'll be fun."

Yeah, maybe for you, she wanted to say. Having said that, Faith in a bikini...

"Fine, but we only have time to stay an hour." Hearing Toni sigh she put down her knife and covered the hand on her thigh as she turned to her. "You okay with this?" she murmured.

"With more time with you? Of course." She didn't look that happy about it though. More time with Faith attached probably wasn't her idea of a great time.

Buffy figured it was decided now though. She went back to eating. After a few moments she was aware of Faith moving away from her. She glanced over but although she could see her gradually drawing away, Faith herself didn't seem to be aware of it. Not until her arm had to be almost stretched to keep a hand on her thigh. Bemused, Faith lifted her butt off the seat and pulled it closer to Buffy again. This happened three times before Buffy looked over to see the mischievous glint in Willow's eyes.

"Stop it," she muttered, looking back at her food before anyone could ask what she meant.

Willow did stop. Another minute of peaceful eating went by before Buffy's thigh started getting really hot. Just as she was about to mention it, Faith snatched her hand back so hard it hit the underside of the table with an "Ow!"

"Are you okay, Faith?" Melissa asked, concerned.

"Yeah, something just burned my hand." She shot a glare at Willow. So did Buffy.

"What is going on?" Giles asked.

"Nothing," Buffy and Faith both muttered.

"Yep, nothing," Willow said way more cheerfully.

Faith sensibly kept her hand to herself after that and lunch didn't last much longer anyway.

"So, B and I better go buy something to wear on the beach." Faith stood up and chucked enough Euros on the table to cover everyone's lunch.

"Kennedy and I will come with you." Willow stood up too.

"We will?" Kennedy asked, not looking all that excited about it.

"Yeah, I need to buy some sunscreen anyway."

"You already bought a..." Seeing her girlfriend's expression, Kennedy stood up. "Oh, yeah, you mentioned that."

Buffy put her arm around Toni's lower back. "You wanna come too?"

She smiled but said, "No, I am sure it will not take five of us to buy you and Faith bikinis."

Buffy grinned and lowered her voice. "Sure? You can help me try them on."

Toni nodded. "I am sure."

Buffy wasn't sure whether to be pleased or disappointed. "Okay, we won't be long."

The swimwear shop wasn't very big but they had managed to cram a lot of stock into the small space. It made it seem crowded and hard to get around in a group. Faith went one way on her own, Kennedy stayed near the door checking out the sunglasses, leaving Buffy and Willow to look around together.

"You can stop the party tricks anytime you want, Will."

"Not gonna."

"We'll be alone again in an hour, doing whatever we want, so there's not really a lot of point."

"There's all kinds of point."

"It's a few more hours, Willow! If Toni can give us that, why can't you?"

"Because Toni's only thinking of the next few hours. I'm thinking of the next few months!"

"But I'm not gonna see her again after tomorrow."

"Does that mean you're going to stop loving her?"

Buffy sighed. "Of course not, but it won't matter after tomorrow."

"Yes it will, Buff. The first day might not seem so hard, but the first week will, and the first month? I know what you're like when you lose someone you love, a-and Toni won't have to deal with that because you won't let her see, because I know you love her too, but me... us, we're going to have to deal with it, so anything I can do now to soften the blow later... It's better for all of us."

Buffy just shook her head. She was still trying to only focus on the positive side of this all being over in a couple of days. If she started thinking about what it really meant, about really never seeing Faith again... She knew it was coming but the longer she could block it out, right now that was what was best for everyone. Of course, that just meant that Willow was right.

She didn't acknowledge it though as a scarier more imminent worry surfaced. "Tonight at the party... You can do what you like this afternoon, I don't care, but tonight... please don't try and keep us apart. It's not like we're going to be alone anyway; all of you guys are going to be there, but Toni isn't and... please, Willow, this is a really big deal for me. She's getting married tomorrow and tonight... I know this sounds ridiculous but tonight... it's about me and her. We need this to let go."

Something in her voice must have gotten through loud and clear because Willow's expression changed completely. "Okay, Buffy, I won't... tonight's special, I get that. But this afternoon," she smirked again. "is fair game."

Buffy rolled her eyes, but - hey, what the hell. As long as Willow left tonight alone she didn't care what she pulled this afternoon, and if mysteriously sliding chairs and hot hands was the best she could come up with, they had nothing to worry about anyway.

"Hey, B, found some. Come try them on."

She walked over to where Faith was waiting by the changing room and took the proffered turquoise bikini. It wasn't bad; it would go nice with her tan.

Faith walked into the single changing booth and winked, "Come on."

Grinning, Buffy followed her and rebounded painfully off of a hard yet invisible wall. Rubbing her stinging nose she put her hand out and met the same barrier.

"Damn," Faith muttered and closed the curtain to get changed.

From deeper in the store, Buffy heard Willow chuckling. Damn, indeed.

*****

Once they were all settled on towels on the beach, Buffy picked up Toni's wrist to check her watch.

"Okay, we have to pick up the cake in two hours, so we have to leave here in an hour and a half at the latest."

"Sure, just let me know when that is," Faith said, not paying much attention as she rubbed tanning oil into her legs.

They were spread out in two haphazard lines. The line closest to the sea went Kennedy, Willow, Faith, herself and then on the other side of her, Toni. Above them by a few yards, Andrew, Giles, Xander and Melissa had their towels spread out. Dawn and Christian were apparently still having lunch with their new not-vampire buddies and were going to join them later, probably after Buffy and Faith had left. There were other people on the beach but the season was nearly over so it was nowhere near crowded.

Not that Faith probably would have cared if it was as she said, "Okay, not getting tan lines this late in the game," and shed her red bikini top.

Giles and Xander immediately averted their eyes.

Buffy just stared at her in shock. "Here?"

"What's the big? Anyone who shouldn't be looking, ain't." She pointed her thumb behind her to Xander and Giles. She looked around Buffy. "Although you should probably keep your eyes to yourself too."

Toni just chuckled, shaking her head as she looked away.

"Not joining me this time, B?"

"You two sunbathed topless together?" Kennedy sounded amused.

"It wasn't like that!" Even though it had been in the end. "It was just sunbathing."

"Did I say otherwise?" the younger slayer laughed.

Buffy ignored her, looking from Faith rubbing oil over her breasts to Toni's...well, breasts.

Catching the look, Toni shook her head with another chuckle. "No. You can if you like, though," she added in a purr.

Buffy smiled bashfully and shook her head, turning over so that she was lying on her tummy with her head resting on her arms.

"Gonna cream on my back, B?"

"Not until we're alone..." Shocked at herself, she raised her head in alarm but the beach was having its usual affect on people, making them all a little dreamy with dull-responses. "What?"

"I asked if you were gonna put cream on my back," Faith laughed.

"Oh. No, get Kennedy to do it."

"Get Andrew to do it," Kennedy muttered, sleepy already in the hot sun.

"Get Xander to do it," he murmured.

"You're not doing it!" Melissa said before Xander had time to do more than open his mouth.

He shrugged. "Get Giles to do it."

"I'm not doing it!"

"Jeez, it's just a back! B, come on!"

"Oh, for the love of the Gods!" Toni crawled over, snatched the bottle of oil from Faith's hand and pushed her until she was laying on her front. The fact that Faith's face landed in the sand didn't bother her a bit. She uncapped the bottle.

"Why do I get the feeling this is going to hurt?" Faith whined.

"Because it probably will," Buffy snickered, then seeing what Toni was doing, added, "Baby, don't, it's her wedding day tomorrow. No dribbling rude messages on her back in oil."

"What--?"

Toni pushed her face back into the sand. "Fine!"

She poured the oil over her back and then started rubbing it in. In less than a minute Faith's eyes were wide and her mouth was hanging open.

"Hey!" Buffy caught Toni around the waist and rolled her over her body, back onto her own towel. "No doing that either!"

"No doing what?" Toni asked innocently.

Buffy kept an arm around her waist and rested her head on Toni's shoulder. "Your powers are dangerous!"

Toni smirked and muttered, "But she will not doubt my prowess in bed again."

That was probably true, but it would just make Faith try harder later. Buffy couldn't see a downside so she kept her mouth closed.

They had been lazing in the sun a little while, when Faith rolled to her side to face them.

"Hey, B, you're staying at mine tonight, yeah?"

"I am? Why?"

"You're my Maid of Honor. You're supposed to."

"I am? Why?"

"You have to make sure I don't freak out and run away in the night."

"That is a Maid of Honor's main duty, Buffy," Giles said, not realizing what he was getting her into.

Buffy looked up at Toni who met her gaze silently.

"Yes or no, baby?" she asked softly into her ear.

"I can not make this decision for you, Buffy," Toni said just as softly back.

"You can."

"But I will not."

Buffy knew what that meant; she was supposed to choose. Staying over would be nice. The thought of it actually thrilled her. She hadn't spent the whole night with Faith more than a couple of times and tonight being their last night, she couldn't think of a better or more fitting way to spend it than wrapped around each other.

Toni's eyes were all anxious and trying to penetrate her soul though and Buffy just couldn't do it to her.

"Sorry, I can't. I don't wanna leave Toni alone all evening and all night." Keeping her arm around Toni's waist, she looked over her shoulder. "But if you're really worried I'll happily tie you to our couch for the night."

Xander grinned. "Kinky rope play, I like."

Buffy wished.

"Why won't you see each other all evening?" Andrew asked.

Faith lay back with her hands linked behind her head as she said casually. "Because my party has a very select guest list and Tone... now how can I put this politely...? Tone sucks ass."

"For the last time, her name is Toni," Buffy snapped over her shoulder.

Faith held her hands up in apology. "I'm sorry, To-nee sucks ass."

"You are just jealous because of whose ass I am sucking," Toni said, her eyes closed and a smile on her lips.

Faith frowned when she realized she didn't have a handy comeback for that.

"Whose ass are they talking about it?" Andrew whispered sotto voce. Giles simply reached up and cuffed the back of his blonde head.

"Okay," Buffy said, hoping to leave the last few minutes behind them. "Getting the cake and seeing the caterers won't take long. I can be back at ours by five. Wanna meet me there?"

"Si."

"Cool. That'll give us three hours together until the donkey comes."

"Donkey?" Faith asked.

Buffy chuckled.

"Donkey?" Willow sat up as she repeated Faith's question.

Buffy laughed louder but still didn't explain. It would be a good punishment for her best friend's meddling. As Willow lay back down only the sounds of the waves and Kennedy quietly reassuring her girlfriend that donkeys weren't all that bad disturbed the peace.

Thanks to the baking sun Buffy was almost asleep when Faith said: "B, wanna go for a swim?"

"No," she murmured.

"Come on, we can race. You know how you like to lose."

"Effie, no." It was obviously just a ploy to get her away from Toni, so she added for good measure. "I'm comfy!"

She heard Xander mutter to Giles, "Effie?" and although the nickname was perfectly innocent she felt as if she should avoid any questions.

"Okay, a quick dip. Very quick. We'll race out to that orange buoy and back. That's it."

"I'm up for a race," Kennedy said, sitting up.

"No you're not," Faith said firmly and, standing up, started striding to the shore line.

Buffy gave her an apologetic look as she stood up but didn't refute Faith's statement as she hurried after her.

Faith waited until they were both waist deep before plunging into the waves and heading for the buoy. Buffy was surprised, she hadn't thought this was really about racing, but she didn't let that slow her down. She had been taught to swim in a pool in Los Angeles at three years old, so she was no slouch, and the slayer enhanced that big time. Still, as Buffy blinked salt water from her eyes and reached up to grab the orange float, Faith was already there, bobbing around with a big smile on her face.

"I win!" she sing-songed.

"Good for you," Buffy grumbled, ready to swim back.

Faith grabbed her arm. "Wait."

"What for?"

"We're kind of a way out."

Getting her point, Buffy looked towards the shore. Her friends were just vaguely human shaped blobs on the beach.

"Think they won't see us?"

"Don't really care if they do." Faith swam around the buoy until she was in front of Buffy. Her arms slid around her while her legs kept kicking under water to stay afloat. "Do you?"

Buffy looked at the beach again and avoided the question. "Since when are you all not bothered about being discreet? Holding my hand at lunch? Making a big deal about the sun tan oil. Private swims? Asking me to stay over? You haven't even ripped me a new one for telling Willow about us."

"Only got two hands, B, only so many holes I can fill." Faith waggled her eyebrows.

Buffy slapped her shoulder and tried to keep things serious. "It's almost like you want our friends to know."

Faith just shrugged, not meeting her eyes. Buffy put a hand on her cheek and turned her face until she had no choice.

"'Cause frankly, B, I couldn't give a fuck about what anyone else knows or thinks they know at the minute."

"Why not?"

"Because I'm really losing you tomorrow," Faith said. "This is really it... and not a lot fuckin' else really matters to me right now."

Buffy just nodded. The sting of salt water in her eyes had very little to do with the sea they were bobbing about in but she couldn't show any weakness right now. Faith would capitalize on it in a heartbeat and Buffy couldn't blame her; she'd done the same to Faith loads of times that year, but she also couldn't let it happen. Deep down, despite all her promises to herself, to Toni, she knew her resolve was hanging by a thread. If she didn't stay strong she would end up seeing Faith after the wedding, in secret if she had to, and from there it would be all too easy to slip back into cheating territory.

"You're really okay with that?" Faith sounded surprised. She'd obviously expected her soft admission to break her down.

"More okay than I am with the alternative."

Now Faith nodded. They tread water silently for a minute.

"I'm never going to stop loving you, you know that, right? What I have to do now... I have to do it. I got no choice any more, but it doesn't mean..." Faith brushed the wet hair out of her face as she sighed deeply, looking embarrassed as she went on. "...You're the love of my life, Buffy, nothin's ever gonna change that. Even if we never see each other again I'll always feel this way and I really think you should stay with me tonight 'cause Tone...Toni will get over it but I might not if I don't get one last night to fuc... uh... hold you in my...uh..." Faith paused again, clearly struggling for balance between crude and corny. "I need one more night feeling your skin on mine and one more morning waking up next to..."

Buffy kissed her before she could go any further. A salty-wet clash of lips and tongues that felt as deep as the water around them. Faith's legs wrapped around her, meaning she was treading water for the both of them. She didn't care. If they drowned out here right now she would die happy. The kiss went on for a while and Buffy was very aware that Faith was still topless. It was a good awareness.

As their lips parted slowly with a series of light little pecks, Buffy had never felt more content, right up until the moment Faith shouted in her ear.

"Shark!"

"What?" Buffy started laughing, assuming this was Faith's way of getting herself out of the soppy moment, until she saw the very real terror in Faith's eyes. "What?" she repeated, eyes nervously scanning the water.

Faith hadn't been kidding. A dorsal fin was coming towards them fast.

"Oh God, oh God, oh God!"

They were both saying it as they turned in the water and tried to swim for shore. Panic had overtaken them though and Buffy couldn't speak for Faith but her own arms and legs had forgotten how to work in water. She was mostly just trying to run and jump through it and it wasn't getting her away fast enough.

"Stop thrashing, B! It attracts them."

"So what's the alternative? Stay still and wait for it?"

"We're not gonna be fast enough to get away anyway. Quick, get fucking behind me."

Buffy shook her head. "No, you get behind me!"

"B, don't argue, just do it!"

"No, you just do it!" She had wet, clinging hair over her eyes now; it wasn't helping. "Why should you be the one who dies?"

"You got your whole life ahead of you!"

"So do you!"

The fin was five meters away now. It wasn't moving as fast as she'd thought but it was cutting through the small waves like a sharp-toothed blade through warm butter.

"Are we really arguing about who ends up shark-bait?" Faith was back-pedaling through the water, eyes never leaving the fin.

"Is there anything we don't argue about?" Buffy demanded, doing the same.

"Fuck!" Faith yelled at the top of her voice and for a second Buffy thought she'd been bitten until her right fist powered down into the water and connected hard with the shark's nose.

The sea went calm, the only sound was Faith whimpering to herself - a noise Buffy never wanted to hear again, it reminded her of the time they had faced Kakistos together - and her own ragged breathing as they watched the dorsal fin sink slowly beneath the surface like a submarine's periscope. A minute later and it re-emerged upside down - that is, the shark was belly up and drifting slowly away from them.

"I think you killed it."

"Good." Faith's voice still sounded shaky.

Buffy peered at it. "It's a lot smaller than it looked the other way up. Do you think it was a baby?"

"Not really giving a shit, B."

Buffy peered at her. "Are you okay?"

Faith shook her head, wiping her wrist over her mouth. "I don't like sharks."

Buffy swam to her and tried to give her a comforting hug but Faith just pushed her away and swam backwards out of range.

"Okay, let's just get back to the beach."

She waited for Faith to nod and turn herself around to head back before starting to swim for shore herself. That had been an interesting fifteen minutes. First Faith's declaration of undying love - which very nearly had broken her, she was almost pleased about the shark's sudden appearance now it was dead - and then, obviously, the shark attack itself.

Why had it come straight for them? There were other people in the sea, some even as far out as they had been. Maybe sharks just weren't that discerning when it came to dinner but for some reason it felt like more than that to Buffy. Like it hadn't just happened upon them out looking for a bite but had instead targeted them deliberately. It was probably just the timing that had her thinking that - the fact that it had interrupted a very tender moment between the chosen two - but her mind couldn't help flashing back to Toni's warnings of Poseidon and how pissed he might be at her on Troy's behalf.

They made it back to the beach without getting bitten in half, which was nice. Faith stopped once her feet were on the packed wet sand, bending over with her hands on her knees for a minute as she tried to collect herself. Buffy put a hand casually on the back, the most she felt comfortable with in plain sight of the others. When they finally rejoined them, Faith fell face first onto her towel and stayed like that, worn out from the panic. Buffy sat down more genteelly and leaned over to give Toni a quick kiss.

"You're dripping on me," she muttered.

"Oops." Buffy smiled but when Toni didn't return it she sat up straight again and muttered, "Sorry."

"Enjoy your swim?" Willow was smirking.

"Not exactly," Faith groaned, her face still pressed to her towel.

"Oh. Really? Why?"

"There was a shark!"

As everyone else's faces registered instant concern, Buffy noticed Willow's smirk just grew a tiny bit. It gave her a sinking feeling.

"S'okay, I killed it."

"You killed my endangered shark?!"

"Willow!" She'd known it wasn't a coincidence.

Faith was up on her knees in less than a second. "Your fuckin' shark?"

"Whoops!" Willow sensibly scooted away on her butt - probably not far enough though. "It's okay, it was harmless!"

"Harmless?" Faith shouted.

"The species has never been reported to attack humans..." As Buffy had to move like lightning to catch Faith's swinging arm, Willow moved almost as quickly until she was nearly sat on an alarmed Kennedy. "It wouldn't have hurt you!" she promised quickly.

"How the fuck do you know? You a shark expert now?" Faith shook off Buffy's hand and turned to push her away.

"I was just trying to..." Willow began meekly.

"I know what you were tryin' to do, bitch..."

"Hey!" Kennedy snapped, trying to get between Faith and her girlfriend.

Faith gave her a one handed shove that planted her ass firmly in the sand a few feet away and reared up over Willow again.

"You've no right to be setting sharks on people! It's none of your damn business anyway!"

"You're not gonna be the one who has to pick up the pieces, Faith!" Willow snapped despite the fact that Buffy could see her shaking a little.

"You think I'm fuckin' happy about that? You think I wanna cause pieces?" Faith gave Willow a sharp push that sent her over into the sand.

Kennedy was up and coming for her, but after hearing Xander mutter anxiously, "What the hell are they talking about?" and looking like he was ready to rumble on Willow's behalf too, Buffy did the only thing she could think of to halt impending disaster and jumped on top of Faith.

Faith's face landed squarely in the sand again - which was an accident - and she wriggled like wild animal beneath her, but Buffy kept her pinned.

"You're taking her side?" Faith shouted, spitting out grains.

"No, I'm taking your side," she said firmly and then murmured soothingly. "I'll always take your side but you have to calm down." Then she fixed Willow with her best glare. "And you have to apologize, right now."

"But I..."

"Will, I know it's just 'cause you care about me, but you took it too far. Way too far obviously. Now, say sorry."

"I'm sorry, Faith." Willow sounded sincere but she couldn't help adding, "But it was only a little shark."

Faith thrashed beneath her a little more, arms outstretched like if she just wanted it bad enough she could reach Willow's neck from here. Buffy kept her where she was. As Faith gradually calmed down, Buffy looked around. Everyone looked somewhere between shocked and totally freaked - she figured a few of those looks were because certain minds were starting to figure things out. Toni was the only one who's expression was impossible to read. She didn't look angry or concerned - if anything she looked confused - but Buffy had no idea why; if anyone knew what was going on it was her.

Faith broke the silence by quietly saying, "My uncle got ripped in two by a Great White in Hawaii. They never found his bottom half."

"Oh my God, Faith, I didn't know. I'm so sorry," Willow said shrilly.

Buffy eased up on her back and slid an arm gently under her chin to hold her.

"S'no big, I never knew him or nothing. But after my dad told me I had nightmares about it for a year and half after." Faith sat up, wiping sand off of her face and understated, "Sharks freak me out."

"I'm so sorry," Willow said again in a murmur.

Faith shrugged. Buffy's arms were still around her and she leaned back into them like it was the most natural thing in the world to be hugged by her like this, while topless. Remembering this fact - thanks to the bare breasts pressing against her arm - Buffy reached for Faith's bikini top and handed it to her.

Faith put it on quickly as Buffy said, unwittingly, "Okay, show's over. We have to go get a wedding cake."

"I don't really feel like getting a fuckin' wedding cake, B," Faith muttered under her breath.

Without thinking, Buffy affectionately kissed the side of Faith's head before getting to her feet. "You say that now but you'll regret it tomorrow when you don't have any cake to eat."

"Fine," Faith drawled, sounding hard done by. She was on her feet too when she turned to look down at Willow. "You know I wouldn't-a hurt you, right, Red?" Even before Willow's skeptical look could fully form Faith was correcting herself. "Okay, that's bull, but I'da felt bad about it."

Willow smiled. "I really am sorry, Faith."

Faith just shrugged again.

"See you guys later," Buffy said as she turned and started walking beside Faith back to the car.

They were almost there when she realized she hadn't even looked at Toni as they left, let alone given her a proper goodbye.


Chapter Seven

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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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