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


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PART THREE: 20th January 2004
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Chapter Four: Great Unexpectations

It was 1:45 when Buffy finally called goodbye to Polly and Doreen and escaped the Diner. She tried not to think about the hour and a quarter she was going to be docked; after all it wasn't like she could help it.

The day outside was bright, clear, and very cold. Snow still covered the ground around their camp, but here in the city it was little more than a slushy inconvenience.

As Buffy wended her way between shoppers and workers to get to the bus stop, she went over the plan she'd devised since the mysterious phone call.

So she wasn't allowed to tell anyone. She could live with that. There had been altogether too much togetherness just recently anyway and it wasn't like everyone else didn't already have plates full of life-stuff. That much was obvious from the way they had all just brushed her feelings for Faith under the carpet. Back in Sunnydale her friends finding out she was in lo...

'Okay,' she told herself, 'let's not get carried away. It's not like I want to spend the rest of my life with Faith. It's just lust; it will pass...eventually.'

Either way, back in Sunnydale a revelation such as the one dropped on their heads at Christmas would have at least been cause for an intervention or ...something more than nothing. Their attitude was bordering on negligent.

Okay, so she wasn't thinking about the plan; she was thinking about Faith. She shook her head hard, garnering looks from the queue around her.

Okay, concentrate.

So everyone was too busy to worry about her sanity, and they obviously weren't putting in a great deal of effort on her birthday either. 'There must have been some kind of mix-up. There's no way no one would have gotten me a present, is there? I know I said I didn't want a fuss, but presents aren't fuss.' The upside meant she would have no trouble heading out at seven tonight on her own. She and the other two resident Slayers rarely patrolled together anyway these days. The ground they had to cover each night was large and it was just quicker to go their separate ways.

So that wouldn't be a problem. She did wish she could share this with either Faith or Giles, but until she knew exactly what she was dealing with, she wasn't going to risk it. This guy, or whatever he was, had been watching the house earlier. For all Buffy knew he had cameras; it had been done to her before, or there could even be bugs in the rooms. No, until she knew what she was dealing with, she'd play his game and keep quiet.

If she got to the alley and found that the phone guy was a demon, she could kill him for threatening her sister and then go and get drunk somewhere for her birthday. That sounded like a plan that could involve a little Faith too. Buffy could phone her when she was done with the meeting.

If the phone guy wasn't a demon, his voice hadn't given a lot away so she couldn't be sure, then he could very well be military. Maybe Riley was trying to get in touch? She did owe him a favour after all.

The bus pulled up to the stop with a hiss of brakes and a swishy sound of squashed slush and Buffy boarded with the rest of the waiting passengers. As she fought her way to a seat she decided it was time to take her drivers' test again. Who knew? She was older and wiser now; she might pass.

Safe in a comfy warm seat, Buffy set her mind back to a bigger problem than overcrowded public transport. It was mostly thinking that this 'Agent Fitzpatrick' could be an associate of Riley's that was making her go along with the plan on his terms. If Riley was trying to contact her for some secret mission, the worst thing she could do was blab to everyone about it.

Easily distracted, Buffy pulled a funny face at the baby leaning over its mother's shoulder in front of her and melted a little inside when the baby blessed her with a smile. Maybe riding the bus home wasn't all bad.

She waggled her fingers at ...it. Babies shouldn't wear green, it made for embarrassing errors in gender. It smiled again and she melted a little more. 'Oh God, please tell me I'm not about to get broody,' she silently prayed. That was the last thing she needed.

She would make a terrible mom. She'd drowned her Goldfish, stabbed her egg baby and neglected Dawn so she could go get naked in a crypt. Okay, so Dawn hadn't turned out too bad, but one out of three was not good odds.

'You have to go meet a mysterious whatever-the-hell tonight in a dark alley on your birthday and you're worrying about your parenting skills?' She chastised herself. 'I don't even have a boyfriend.'

Come to think of it, she'd never had a boyfriend she could have a baby with. Well, except Riley, but then he was probably sterile after all the stuff the Initiative did to him. Babies had just never been that important to her. Sure, she thought other peoples were cute most of the time, but one of her own - no thank you. Not until way, way in the future when medical science had found some way to make Vampires fertile.

The baby in front gurgled delightedly as Buffy continued to amuse herself by making faces.

Maybe it was way in the future already. She was nearly twenty-three - didn't pregnancy get more complicated as you got older? And now she wasn't romantically entangled with anyone that couldn't have babies... not that she was just going to go out and get knocked up, because that would be stupid and single mom-dom was so not for her; but maybe now that she wasn't the one and only any more it wasn't pointless to think about stuff like this.

Because babies equalled cute as the baby in front reminded her by gurgling some more and blowing tiny milky bubbles.

Buffy wondered how Faith felt about babies as the bus finally made its way through the small town where the Scoobies had made their new home. Probably not a lot, really. Not that it mattered at all, because if Buffy decided this was a plan she wanted to pursue; Faith couldn't get her pregnant any better than Angel or Spike could. Not that she was with Faith anyway, not like that, and nor did she want to be. The best friend's thing was... good. It was okay. It was...

She didn't love Faith anyway. So maybe she wouldn't turn down the sex, but she certainly wouldn't want to raise a child with the other Slayer, that was... 'Too much' didn't even come close. It was...

Buffy stared straight through the baby in front of her as thoughts of Faith and babies and domestic bliss swirled around in her head enough to make her dizzy.

The bus bumped the curb as it pulled into her stop, shaking Buffy out of her thoughts and jiggling the baby on its mother's shoulder too. The jiggling caused a hiccup which, as Buffy eyes opened wide in alarm, turned into a stream of frothy white baby-puke that landed in the lap of her work uniform.

Buffy jumped up in disgust at the mess. She wanted to wipe it off, but way more than that she didn't want to go anywhere near it.

"Fricken kids!" She muttered as, giving the mother the evil eye, she stormed off the bus before she gave into temptation and slayed the baby. She figured that even with extenuating birthday circumstances that would be frowned upon.

Crunching through the slowly melting snow, Buffy made her way up their long driveway surreptitiously checking the trees and bushes for intruders as she went.

When she reached the house five minutes later she'd seen neither hide nor hair of anything suspicious.

She let herself in and was overcome by a squadron of butterflies zipping around her tummy as the first thing she saw was Faith. She smiled brightly. "Hey."

Faith started to smile back, but her eyes landed on the mess down the front of Buffy's uniform and she frowned instead. "Demon?"

Buffy laughed, amazed at how something that had her so pissed a minute ago was now bordering on funny in the dark Slayer's presence. "Actually: baby. A human baby, not a demon baby."

Faith's frown deepened. "Gross!" Turning away Faith pulled her leather jacket on. Where was she going? "Go get changed before you make me hurl."

Buffy's smile dropped. Great now I make her sick. "Where are you going?"

Faith started sorting through the stuff on the coffee table looking for her keys. "Just into town, I won't be long." Keys found, Faith shoved them in her pocket and made for the door.

Buffy took a step after her. "If you give me five minutes to change, I can come with."

Faith shook her head and looked back at Buffy over her shoulder. "Nah, I'm already late. Besides kid-sister needs some TLC. I think she's getting worse, she keeps hallucinating stuff. I'd take everything she says with a grain of salt if I were you."

Faith had the door open now. Buffy continued to hover. She'd wanted some Faith-time before everyone started getting back from work and now she wasn't going to get it. Everything sucked.

"I made chicken casserole for Dawn, it's in the oven, help yourself." Faith told her. "But change first yeah, that really is nasty." Faith finally gave her a small smile as she indicated the baby slime and then she shut the door behind her.

Buffy blinked. "Faith made chicken casserole?"

******

Weirder and weirder. Buffy redid her eye make up in the bathroom mirror as she listened to Willow babble on about the classes she was teaching at the community college. The Wicca and her girlfriend had arrived back at the house at 5:30 as usual and they'd bought presents. Sort of. Kennedy had plonked a basket of muffins down on the kitchen table where Buffy had been eating her second plate of chicken casserole and proclaimed them to be for the birthday Slayer. Willow had placed a flat parcel down next to them. It was wrapped prettily and even had a pink bow.

Buffy had looked up at her quizzically.

"It's your birthday present." The witch had explained un-necessarily and pushed it closer to the side of Buffy's plate.

'Finally,' she thought, 'presents.' Her friends did care about her, they were just distracted. She could allow them that. She ripped into the gift-wrapping and revealed a plain brown envelope. Curiously she opened that too and pulled out a sheaf of papers. College prospectuses.

Buffy looked at Willow again, this time with an eyebrow raised for good measure.

Her red-headed best friend gave her a little smile. "I know it's not something you can wear or wield, but I just thought I'd put the idea on the table so to speak." She giggled a little.

Buffy had flicked through them as she finished her dinner. College wasn't something she'd thought about since moving here, like babies; except that idea was never going to end well. Even though Willow was working in one, a college not a baby, and Kennedy had been taking classes since October. Maybe she should think about it now though, and starting college again couldn't hurt her limited social life any either.

"So where are you going again?"

Buffy nearly poked herself in the eye with the tiny stub of black eyeliner as Willow asked the question. "I, uh, I'm meeting a few of the girls from work for drinks."

"Oh." Willow looked put out.

"It's just, well . . . they found out it was my birthday and they sort of insisted, and seeing as you guys had other stuff going on, I thought why not." God that sounded bitter. Buffy hadn't realised how much her friends' non-attention was getting to her. "I won't be late though."

"It's just," Willow fiddled with a tube of toothpaste, rolling the end over and over and squeezing the remaining paste further to the top. "I thought we could all do something together this evening. To celebrate. You know, play cards or watch a DVD or ...something." She trailed off, obviously as aware of how lame that sounded as Buffy was.

"Yeah well that sounds fun," Buffy deadpanned. "But I think I'll meet the girls for a while first." Okay so she'd been annoyed at having to go meet this thing on her special night, but now it actually sounded like the best offer she was going to get tonight.

Willow kicked her slipper at the carpet but Buffy refused to give in to her best friend's jealousy. If she'd cared all that much she would have put a bit of thought into tonight.

Xander's voice came from the other side of the bathroom door. "Buff, are you in there?"

"Yep." She replied as she started to fuss with her hair. It was a complete waste of time considering as soon as she left the house, she'd be shoving a hat on her head; but appearances were important and no one would believe she was going out for drinks tonight if she didn't spend an hour in the bathroom first. "Come on in Late-boy."

Xander opened the door and slipped in giving Willow a grin as he did so. Willow responded in kind, any signs of resentment completely gone. "Yeah sorry I wasn't here for your birthday dinner, I got kinda side-tracked at the site."

'Birthday dinner?' Buffy thought. 'I don't think even I was here for my birthday dinner unless they had it in the other room.'

"That's okay." She spotted a potential present half hidden behind his back. "Ooh is that for me?"

Xander's grin got bigger. "Why I believe it is." He held it out to her. "I wanted to give it to you this morning but I left it in the cabin at work. Sorry."

She shook her head to indicate that he shouldn't worry about it as she pulled the paper off. Inside was a wooden box roughly a foot long and half that wide. Her initials were carved into the top. "Xander, it's beautiful." She exclaimed as her fingers traced over the ornate B. "You just get better and better at this stuff."

Xander beamed at her praise and tapped a tiny clasp holding the lid closed. "There's more."

Buffy opened the box to find four carefully whittled stakes tied onto the black cloth interior. "This is great Xan, really. You must have put so much work into it." She fiddled with one of the stakes, noting the tiny leather straps that held the length of sharpened wood in its place.

Xander waived off the praise. "So are you going out somewhere? Because I thought a little party might be in order." Her one-eyed best friend pulled a party blower out of his pocket and blew it in her face. "See? I came prepared." He blew into it again.

Buffy giggled and playfully batted the end away from her nose. "Actually I'm meeting some friends for drinks, sorry." So much for her being able to slip out un-noticed.

"But we're friends," Xander persisted. "Why not have drinks with us?"

Buffy was starting to feel bad and it wasn't fair. She didn't ask for sister threateners to phone her and request her assistance, and it wasn't her fault that her friends had left it until now to show an interest and then got all hurt when she said she had other plans.

"You're going on a date!" Willow suddenly accused. "Who is he, or she? Is it a she?"

Buffy took a step back from the crazy lady. "Date? I don't have a date."

"Oh yes you do." Xander wheedled. "Come on, what's his name?"

"I'm telling you I don't have a date." Buffy insisted as she squeezed past her friends and out of the bathroom.

Xander and Willow dogged her heels as she walked to her bedroom.

"Of course you have a date, that's why you're all..." Xander stopped his teasing as he actually took a look at her 'date' outfit. "Buff, not that I'm criticizing, and I am definitely okay with you leaving stuff to the imagination when you're out with guys, but even I'd have picked something a little more slutty for you than black sweats and a black hoody."

Buffy stopped in her bedroom doorway and looked down at herself, pretending to be insulted. "What? This isn't okay? I was going for casual and comfortable . . . did I maybe overdo it a little? Should I have stuck with the fishnets and leather brassiere?"

"Only if you're planning on staying in with the rest of us after all." Xander quipped.

Willow shushed him. "You look really nice Buffy, and you're right. You shouldn't be trying to be all impressy. He or she should like you for who you are, not how much flesh you show. Right Xander?"

Xander just nodded amiably.

Buffy smiled weakly at them and grabbed her purse from her dresser. A quick peek inside showed her favourite dagger, two stakes and some holy water. All set then. She looked at the clock. It was half past six, which meant she had about ten minutes until she had to leave to catch the bus.

The three made their way down the front stairs together and Giles looked up from the couch, his eyes flicking away from the old Doctor Who episode he was watching. "Buffy, happy birthday again. Have you had a good day?"

No! "Um, yeah I guess it was okay. Doreen let me go a little early so I can't complain, and I'm just going to meet them now for a few drinks. I won't be back late though," she promised. She looked around, noting that everyone was there but Faith.

"Would you like a lift?" Giles asked her kindly, though it was obvious to Buffy he didn't really want to leave the television.

"No thanks, I'm good."

Dawn was huddled on the couch like she had been most of the day with a blanket wrapped around her, totally absorbed in the Doctor's anguish. Buffy looked at her with affection. Her sister was so doped up on cold medicine that she was more asleep than awake right now. "Dawnie, are you okay with me going out for a little while?"

"Mmhmm, just enjoy yourself, but don't be back too late or the boogeyman will get you." The young brunette pulled an arm free from her blanket to scratch leisurely at the back of her neck. Something sparkly caught Buffy's eye.

"Why are you wearing the earrings Dad got you for Christmas to curl up on the couch and watch television?" She asked, genuinely curious. "I thought you said they were nothing but a payoff for deserting us for all those years, and that if he thought something all pretty and shiny was going to get him back in your good books, then he'd better start thinking cars."

"Yeah well, that all still stands but," Dawn looked Buffy's way for the first time since she'd come down the stairs. "Faith thought I might feel better if I dressed up a little."

Buffy mused this over. The blanket had fallen from around her sister's shoulders as Dawn had turned to her. "Okay, but is that my silk Froxx you've got on? 'Cause we've had this discussion about how I get to wear my new clothes first, haven't we? Especially when its one of the most expensive items I own." Buffy pouted. "Now you're going to get it all sneezy."

"Geez," Dawn dragged herself off the couch with a theatrical sigh, pulling the blanket fully around her again as she did. "I'll go change if it's that big a deal. I just wanted a break from my nightdress, but never mind." She started up the front stairs, still grumbling.

Buffy looked around at her friends. "Do you think I was the bad guy there, or the victim?"

Xander shrugged: "Maybe half a dozen of one and six dozen of the...no, hang on...half a dozen of one and a dozen of...no, wait..." He shrugged as he gave up on it. "You won. Isn't that what counts?"

Willow brought up her hand and made the fifty-fifty gesture.

"It's too expensive to sit around in and get all creased." Buffy reassured herself. "Where's Faith?"

"On a date." "Patrolling." Xander and Willow said at the same time.

Buffy looked between one and the other, knowing she only had seconds left if she wanted to catch that bus. "So has she taken her date patrolling or is she patrolling for a date? Because I speak from experience when I say neither will end very well."

In truth, Buffy didn't care which one of her friends was lying to her because whatever Faith was doing, she obviously thought it was more important than her new 'best friends' birthday, and that was what hurt the most.

Giles kept his calm gaze on the television as he answered her question. "I believe she had coffee plans with a friend and then she was going to do a quick patrol on her way back here. She insisted she wouldn't be late as we all thought we'd be doing something together tonight."

He didn't sound pissed off that their plan had fallen through; in fact, he was smiling ever so slightly, but Buffy felt awful all over again. Faith was rushing back here to spend the evening together and Buffy wasn't going to around. 'This isn't my choice guys, it's my duty,' she thought.

"Well I'll only be out for a couple of hours; maybe we can do something when I get back." Buffy smiled hopefully. "Right now though, I really have to go before I miss the bus."

"Have fun." Willow called mournfully after her.


Chapter Five

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