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


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PART FOUR: 14th February 2004
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Chapter Four: Leaving The Door Half Open

Okay, she was obviously doing something wrong here if she was coming across as desperate in the eyes of her friends? Why else would her friends be insisting on setting her up all of a sudden? Was there something more going on here? Buffy had always meant to ask Anya if Cupid was real, and if so, was he evil like Santa?

Buffy contemplated these questions while listening to Faith expatiate on their 'date' that night.

It turned out that Buffy had heard the other Slayer correctly the first time, but as usual, it wasn't as straight forward as it should have been.

"According to Troy, Tony's been back in Italy for the past year staying with the fam, and he just got back to the States last week. Troy seems to think you'll love him, so I thought - what the hell, doesn't hurt to ask you, right?"

When had Faith climbed the first rung on the Stepford ladder? She was suddenly turning into a 'Troy says... Troy thinks...' drone. Creepy.

"Hang on a second. Do you think I'll love him?" Buffy asked sceptically.

"No idea, but from what Troy says he sounds like the catch of the century, 'course they've been best buds since way back whenever so he's probably biased, but the guy's Italian, right? They're all studs! Come out, have some fun. Maybe the guy's a dick and you just get a free meal out of him, but maybe he won't be and then...who knows."

Buffy ran a hand through her hair before saying anything. "Is this just about you wanting to experience double-dating or do you actually care if I might like this guy or not?"

Okay that was harsh, but this was definitely high on the fucked-up Richter scale. Faith knew exactly how she felt, she must do, and so what was with her playing match-maker? Did she want Buffy off her back once and for all and she thought setting her up with some European hunk was the way to do that? Or was she just trying to be nice and going the wrong way about it?

Faith was staring at her, her smile gone. "You know what? Forget about it. Stay at home, be alone. What the fuck do I care?"

Buffy was waiting for the other woman to get up and storm out, but she didn't. After the silence got unbearable, Buffy said: "This is just too much."

Faith downed the rest of her beer and got up for another. In an indifferent tone she asked: "What is?"

"Nothing." Resting her elbows on the table, Buffy let her forehead sink to her palms while she thought about the evening. Xander would be on a date and so would Willow, Dawn and Faith. Hell, Giles was probably eating mushy peas by candlelight right that second. Perhaps she was just being ungrateful. Faith was sacrificing her romantic evening with Troy so that she wouldn't be sat at home alone and once again Buffy had thrown it back at her. No wonder the other woman didn't want to be with her. She looked up, scrubbing her hands back through her hair at the same time and smiling weakly. "I'm sorry, is that invite still open?"

Faith eyed her suspiciously as she toyed with her bottle. "Dunno, depends on whether you're gonna cheer up or not? You've been in a shitty mood all day and I'm starting to get a little sick of it. Just tell me what's eating you and move on."

Buffy cringed back into her chair and looked away.

Getting up, Faith started to head out of the kitchen. She stopped at the swing door. "I'm meeting Troy and his friend at the restaurant, eight o clock. You think you might actually be able to enjoy the evening... be ready to leave at seven-thirty. But if you'd rather sit about and mope for whatever reason..." One shoulder lifted and fell and then the dark Slayer left the room.

Buffy crossed her arms on the table, rested her head on them and scrunched her eyes up tight. She was not going to cry. Crying was not an option that would help here.

With a few deep shuddering breaths that were muffled by the sleeves of her sweatshirt, Buffy got her runaway emotions back in the fold. Crying wasn't the answer, but she knew what was.

With one more deep breath, she squared her shoulders and set off to the bathroom. Right now, a three hour soak in a nice, hot, bubbly bath was the answer.

*****

"Buffy...Buffy...Buffy..." The chant of her name came in time with the pounding on the bathroom door.

Rinsing the conditioner out of her hair, Buffy continued to ignore it. Pulling her head out from under the strong spray of the shower she deftly wrapped her long blonde hair in a towel cocoon. Tightening another towel around her body, she sat on the edge of the toilet seat and began rubbing moisturizer into her skin. A long shower and then an even longer bath in the same day meant she needed all the moisturizer she could lay her hands on. No one had ever experienced clean like she was experiencing it.

"Buffy, come on! I only have an hour!"

An hour? Buffy looked around the warm, steamy room for a clock but they didn't keep one in the bathroom. Was that weird? Did people normally have clocks in bathrooms? There were two in most of the other rooms; maybe she should move one in here? Her watch was in her bedroom so no help there.

With a sigh of frustration, she gave in. "Dawn, what time is it?"

"Oh, so you are still alive. It's six-thirty; Christian will be here in an hour so would you get your butt out of the bath, like, now."

Buffy finished moisturizing and leaned closer to the mirror to check her eyebrows. They'd do. "We have two bathroom's Dawn. Quit bugging me and use the other one."

"I would, but Faith is..." Buffy pulled the plug from the bath and the gurgle of the water draining away completely cut off what her little sister was saying. Not in the least concerned, she grabbed her toothbrush and the paste and went about cleaning her teeth.

As the last of the water disappeared the banging on the door returned. Rolling her eyes heavenwards, Buffy finished with her teeth and unlocked the door. "S'all yours."

A very angry looking Dawn pushed past her without another word. Wow, someone was clearly taking their first Valentine's date very seriously. Buffy wished she could get up as much enthusiasm for her own.

In her bedroom, Buffy opened the doors of her closet wide and gave the contents a good, hard look. An abundance of beautiful evening dresses did not look back at her. It wasn't that she didn't have nice dresses; it was just that none of them seemed right. None of them fitted her mood. She just didn't really want to get all dressed up to be ogled by the complete stranger who would be buying her dinner.

Giving up for the time being, she went to her vanity table and sat down to apply her make-up. She took her time getting it perfect, choosing eye shadow a little darker than she usually used, lipstick a little richer.

Twenty busy minutes later she sat back and stared at her reflection. Hmm, not bad if she did say so herself, a little sluttier than she normally went for maybe, but not in a bad way.

Sitting there, sort of smirking at herself, Buffy suddenly realised the potential the night had.

So it was Valentine's Day and she was being, well not forced but pressurized, into sitting through a double date with the woman she...was extremely fond of, that should be a good thing. It didn't matter if Tony was a jerk or not, what mattered was that Buffy would be with Faith on Valentine's Night. What could be better? Well obviously Troy and Tony not being there, but life was full of little challenges like that.

She'd been given a gift here; she'd be a fool to waste it.

Re-vitalized, Buffy went back to her closet and one by one pulled out all her 'fancy restaurant' clothes. She slumped again. Why hadn't she bought anything new, just in case Faith asked her out on a double-date with some Italian hottie?

She stared at what was left in the closet and an idea began to form. She couldn't really put her evil third-wheel plan into action and still face herself in the morning, but she could see no harm in causing a little distraction; hopefully. Reaching into the closet she pulled out her favourite, if seldom worn, garments and smiled.

* * *

Buffy gave herself one last grin into the mirror, flicking her now wavy hair back over her shoulders and licking her lips to make the gloss shine.

Yeah, she was good to go. Tony wouldn't know what hit him, even Troy, as Faith-obsessed as he was would have to look twice. Faith, with any luck, would fair no better.

Giving her reflection a wink she left her bedroom with a bounce in her step.

Faith didn't even notice her until she was standing at the foot of the couch, where she was intently watching a sports news program. "I'm ready."

Faith looked up from the t.v. with a start. Her eyes seemed to glaze a little as she took in Buffy's outfit. "Oh, uh, nice, I mean good. That's good. I'll grab my coat."

Buffy smiled as the other woman all but darted from the room. Ever since they'd moved to Cleveland, or maybe just since she had been seeing Troy, Faith's femininity, which had always been straining just beneath the surface of her tough exterior, had broken free. Dressed as she was now in a thigh-length skirt of sparkly black and a skin-hugging deep red shirt that showed nothing but accentuated everything, Buffy was sure she had never looked sexier.

Aware that she was openly ogling Faith's butt, Buffy blinked and looked away. She was turning into some kind of sex-crazed pervert whenever she was around Faith these days. Oh God, she was turning into a guy! Looking down at her attire just confirmed that suspicion.

"Huh, never figured me for the butch type." She mused.

"What was that?" Faith came back through the swing door, coats in hand.

"Nothing, just deciding what to order." Buffy lied and took her coat from her friend. It was black and fluffy and really didn't go with her outfit. Not for the first time she missed the jacket Angel had given her back in her first year in Sunnydale. "You know, your coat would look better with what I'm wearing."

"Yeah, well I told you, you should have kept it. Too late now." Faith hugged her leather jacket a little tighter around her. "The taxi should be here in five. I'm gonna wait outside and have a smoke. You want me to bang on the window when it arrives?"

"No it's okay. I'll stand with you." Buffy pulled her own coat closed and snapped a few of the clasps together.

They stepped outside, their shoes crunching on the gravel driveway. It was a very cold night, but the air was still which meant at least they were saved the wind-chill factor that had made patrolling miserable most of the winter.

Buffy hugged her arms around her. "So where are we eating?"

"Uh," Faith delved into her cleavage and pulled a folded sheet of paper free. Opening it up, she read the name out.

Buffy gasped in surprise. "But that's like the most expensive hotel in the city. Only movie stars can afford to eat there."

"What can I say? Troy has good taste."

Buffy nodded, risking another glance at Faith's butt. "He certainly does."

* * *

The restaurant entrance was covered by a fancy awning, but there was no red carpet to walk in on, Buffy had been half expecting one. As they debarked from the taxi, Faith had the sudden urge to issue last minute instructions. Buffy wanted to point out that she had done the double-dating thing before, but after her earlier accusation decided it was better just to keep quiet.

"So when we get in there at least try and give the guy a go; even if he is a complete loser. I'm not saying laugh at lame jokes, but just don't go all feminist on him..."

"I'm not a feminist! Well I am, in theory, but I..." Buffy started to protest but Faith just kept on talking.

"Just don't automatically hate him 'cause he's Troy's best friend."

"What makes you think that I would automatically...?"

Faith cut her off again. "It's, well, I don't know, just don't." She looked away and straightened her skirt.

It seemed as though Faith was already anticipating tension between Buffy and Troy tonight.

The brunette grabbed her elbow and led her to the glass doors. "Just give this a chance, please Buffy. Troy put a lot of effort into organizing tonight."

Buffy frowned. "So this Tony wasn't exactly dying to meet me?"

"Well he's never met you before has he? But he'll love you, don't worry."

"Worrying a little bit." Buffy stressed as Faith propelled them through the restaurant doors.

On the other side of the doors, everything was elite. The foyer was decorated in plush reds and gold's, chandeliers hung in glittery brilliance from on high, landscapes of Lake Eerie hung in gold frames alongside black and white portraits of the stars that had stayed there. Even the Maitre d' wore a red uniform with gold trim. In fact it was so grand; it all looked a bit cheesy.

Buffy couldn't imagine that Faith found a place like this appealing; she'd always been more of a Doublemeat Palace fan. She suddenly felt slightly uncomfortable with her choice of outfit. Leather pants screamed something, she just wasn't sure it was elegance. It was too late to worry now though, Faith was already talking to the Maitre d'.

"We're meeting a couple of guys at eight. They should already be here. The tables booked under Abanasia,"

The guy in red and gold checked the open book resting on the dais. "Ah yes, Mr Abanasia and his friend have already arrived. If you would just follow me, please."

Faith followed him confidently, her sparkly skirt swishing around her thighs with her long strides. Buffy brought up the rear, almost hiding behind her friend.

After weaving between a few tables, the Maitre d' announced. "Here we are."

And then Troy's voice: "Fai darling, you look beautiful."

And then: "Fuck! Okay, wasn't expecting that. Tony?"

Buffy had nearly bumped into Faith when she had stopped so abruptly to exclaim her surprise, now she side-stepped to see just how horrifically disfigured her date must be to elicit such a reaction.

"Oh," Buffy searched for an appropriate follow-up word, there was only one that fit. "...fuck!"


Chapter Five

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