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 Five: They'll Tell You Everything You Wanted Someone Else To Say

Buffy grabbed at the back of Faith's leather jacket and tried to hide behind her again. Faith's shoulders were shaking as she was so very obviously trying to hold in her laughter. Buffy twisted the leather between her fingers until it was close to ripping.

Troy had stood to kiss Faith on the cheek and he clearly didn't understand what his girlfriend found funny about the situation. He gestured to the fourth member of the dinner party, sitting to his left. "Ladies, this is my good friend Toni Mancini. Toni, this is my girlfriend, Faith, and her best friend Buffy."

Buffy's sharp fingers dug into Faith's spine, but the brunette could do nothing but shake her head and wipe her watering eyes.

Toni stood and came around the table to shake hands. Buffy stared at the proffered hand and then slowly moved her gaze upwards until she was meeting her date's eyes. The thought: 'I'm dating a fricken model.' flashed excitedly through her mind for a split second, but then all that was left was 'Oh God, oh God, oh God.'

She couldn't stay trapped on repeat-o mode all night though. At some point she'd have to be brave, or she'd have to run really, really fast back the way she'd come and she wasn't sure she could remember the way through the table-maze. With one final dig in Faith's back, Buffy stepped out from behind her and shook hands.

"Hi Toni, it's nice to meet you. That's a...a lovely dress. Is it Versace?"

Toni smiled. "Yes it is; good eye. Is something wrong?"

Buffy shook her head, too innocently. "No, what could be wrong?"

Toni glanced to the side of them. "It's just Faith seems to be having difficulty breathing."

Buffy's elbow jabbed hard into the other Slayer's ribs. "She just gets a little... excitable in social situations; she'll settle down when there's food put in front of her." She moved fast to her seat, trying to ignore Faith. Oh God, why hadn't she just sat Valentine's out this year like she'd planned.

Toni regained her seat on Buffy's right and Troy, still looking baffled, pulled out Faith's chair for her. Should she have waited for Toni to do that for her? Had she come across to feminist-y already? Was that even possible given the situation? And, damn it, would Faith please just stop finding this so funny?

Toni lightly touched her wrist to get her attention. "I think maybe Troy didn't describe me very well. Were you perhaps expecting someone a little different?"

Buffy glared at Faith, sat on her other side, there had been no need to snort. Thrusting the vase of breadsticks under her nose to hopefully distract her, Buffy answered her date: "I wasn't...that is, you're more...um..." Or tried to answer.

"I think what she's trying to say is that she was expecting someone with a little more dick." Faith answered for her, stuck a breadstick in her mouth and grinned at Toni.

"Faith!" Troy and Buffy exclaimed together, Buffy turning bright red at the same time.

Toni hid a small smile behind her hand. "Well then I am not surprised you are surprised."

Troy was looking at Faith, totally bewildered. "But I thought...I mean you said..."

"Hey babe, I never said anything of the sort." Said Faith quickly.

"But you said that you and she had, had..." Troy noticeably struggled. "...relations."

Faith said what? Buffy looked at her furiously now. "You said that?"

Faith shrugged. "Maybe. I never said it was a big deal though." She nudged Troy's elbow. "I told you it was just a fling." She was already chuckling again. "Never knew you'd take it so seriously."

She was speaking to Troy, but Buffy knew it applied to her too. She had taken it seriously. She'd thought maybe there was a future for the Chosen Two, but hadn't Faith made it clear there wasn't back at Christmas. Buffy had spent the past couple of months waiting for the chance to prove her wrong, but it was starting to look like the chance wasn't coming. After all, it was just a fling.

Troy caught her eye from across the table; she lifted her head more and waited for him to speak.

"I am sorry Buffy for putting you into this awkward situation, you also Toni." He turned to his friend briefly before meeting Buffy's eyes again. "I believed you to be a lesbian; that is why I introduced the two of you..."

"I'm not a lesbian!" Buffy blurted, slightly too loudly to be overlooked by the tables sat close to them. She cringed down as people looked over and sent an apology by way of expression to Toni. "Not that that is in any way a bad thing to be, it's just that..."

Toni mouthed. "It's okay." just as a waiter in a red and black three-piece suit came to hand them menus. Buffy was pleased with the distraction, but Troy refused to be distracted.

"Yes, I regret my mistake. My intention had simply been to give you, both my friend and Faith's, a chance at what we have discovered." His toothpaste commercial smile must have near-blinded Faith, but she didn't seem to care as she flashed one right back.

Buffy hid her grimace behind her menu. This was probably the only time she'd ever get to eat here and Troy was going to make her barf before she could enjoy it. Bastard!

Troy somehow kept her gaze even though she really wanted to look away and stick her fingers down her throat. "Fai has told me how lonely you have been since arriving in Cleveland..."

This time Buffy turned her Faith-glare up a lot of notches. "I have not been lonely!" Okay so it was a lie, but how dare she!

"I never said..." Faith began, everyone was looking at her. "Okay maybe I did, but I had to say something," she carried on, exasperated, talking to only Buffy now. "He kept catching me hugging you! I needed to explain what was going on so he didn't think it was something more." Her eyes pleaded with Buffy's.

Buffy wanted to yell that it was more and Faith knew it, and felt it too, and how dare she put her into a situation like this, even by accident, and then find it hilarious when Buffy herself was mortified.

Before Buffy could voice any of this Faith had gotten up from the table. "I need the bathroom. If the waiter comes back order me the Cheeseburger with everything."

Buffy wanted to follow her but she knew it would have been both rude and inappropriate. Her eyes were drawn to Troy's again and she almost flinched in surprise. The look on his face made it clear in a heartbeat that he knew a lot more of what was really going on than he was making apparent. It said he knew how she felt about his girlfriend, oh yes indeedy, and maybe he even knew deep down how his girlfriend felt about her, however hard she denied it.

Buffy schooled her own features into something resembling indifference and turned away to Toni. She was feeling sorry for the beautiful young woman that had been unwittingly pulled into this mess, but again she felt as if her eyes were pulled back to Troy's and she caught her breath. Had he just winked at her?

She frowned; oh this was a new side she was seeing to Faith's perfect Greek God. All in a second she realised what was going on. Yes, Troy knew how she felt about Faith and this was his solution, or maybe his revenge!

"Touché." She said it quietly, barely a murmur. Toni didn't hear her, but Troy obviously did, he raised an eyebrow and gave her a nod imperceptible to anything but Slayer eyes.

Toni, who had been regarding the apparently silent staring match between her best friend and her supposed date, finally broke the atmosphere. "I think I should leave now. Obviously this is not what Buffy expected from this evening and I am loath to drag this uncomfortable predicament further." She stood. "I am sorry Buffy, I'm sure if we had met under different circumstances we would have been good friends, but unfortunately my amico occasionally has lapses in good judgment."

Faith had just returned from the bathroom and seeing Toni standing up, raised a quizzical eyebrow at the blonde.

Buffy ignored her. "Toni, no, please stay. I'm sorry for the way I reacted; I was just a little shocked. Faith led me to believe you were a guy, so, you know, shocked. Just a little."

"I thought she was, or would be!" Faith stressed as she took her seat again.

Buffy continued to ignore her and only look at Toni. "It's okay though. I'm... I'm not a lesbian, I don't think, but I guess I can definitely be sure that, uh, I'm, you know...bi-sexual or whatever, as in... Well you don't need details, but yeah... What I'm trying, very badly, to say is: Finding out that my blind date is a woman isn't a bad thing, just a surprising thing. Yeah, surprising, not shocking, but a nice surprise." Buffy paused to take a breath. "And if after all that you've come to the conclusion that I'm a moron and want to leave anyway I totally understand, but I'd like it if you didn't." She gave Toni a hopeful grin. She really had meant most of what she had said.

A sidelong glance to her left showed Troy looking smug and Faith looking shocked, Buffy still didn't acknowledge either.

"Buffy, I could never think you were a moron," Toni sat back down. "And let us have our sexuality play no part in this evening. We are all friends; let us just enjoy our meal as such, si?"

As Buffy agreed with a smile, Troy signaled the waiter. The guy in the red penguin suit came back and they all placed their orders quickly. Throughout Buffy noticed Faith looking at her; her expression somewhere between surprised and impressed?

Ordering over they sat back to await their meals and small talk was on the horizon.

"So, Buffy, have you always lived in Cleveland?" Toni asked, helping herself to a breadstick.

"No, I used to live in Sunnydale until last year, and then I had to move somewhere." Buffy answered with a chuckle.

"Why, is it a very boring town?"

Remembering that Toni had been out of the States for a year, Buffy bit back the defensive retort. "No, there was an earthquake. The whole town was swallowed."

"Oh, I am sorry, I didn't realise. I didn't mean to be insensitive."

"Don't worry about it." Faith answered. "It was boring most of the time."

Buffy nodded her agreement.

"On the contrary, Sunnydale was most extraordinary." Said Troy.

"You've been there?" Asked Buffy, surprised.

"Troy's been everywhere on his archaeological digs." Said Faith. Troy nodded.

Buffy watched his expression closely, not really trusting him at face value anymore.

Toni allayed her fears somewhat. "It is true. Troy was digging in the Pompeii dirt when he was only seven."

Buffy felt it was her turn to ask a question. "Pompeii's in Italy right? I thought you were Greek, Troy."

"I am, but I have been lucky enough to travel many places with my work."

"Even when you were seven?"

Troy nodded. "I spoke incorrectly; it is more of a vocation. The past is like a story to me; and one I will never tire of reading."

Buffy barely heard him. "So what brings you to Cleveland? I haven't heard of any archeological digs going on around here?"

"I come for many things: the academic opportunities, the museums, and the beautiful architecture." He grinned at Faith, showing off his pearly whites. "The Rock and Roll hall of fame."

The meals began to arrive and they all sat back to let the plates be set down.

"In truth though," Troy continued once the waiters had retreated. "I was only supposed to be at the University of Cleveland for one more semester before continuing my education at Harvard, but I met Fai and decided to stay here for the remainder of this year. Possibly in the Fall Faith will consider joining me in Boston."

What! Faith was leaving? Buffy looked at Faith so fast she heard her neck click. Faith looked as taken aback as she did. At least that meant it wasn't a done deal yet, but she did seem pretty infatuated right now. Who knew?

"Dunno about Boston," said Faith. "Not really somewhere I'm itching to get back to."

Troy smiled. "Well it is many months in the future. Maybe I can change your mind."

Faith didn't look all that convinced and Buffy would have to be happy with that for now.

*****

Buffy finished her fish, pushed her plate slightly away from her and grinned at Toni. "I know how you feel. My first week at college I felt like a complete outsider. All the students knew what they were supposed to be doing and all the teachers were sadists, some more than others. Willow, my best friend, she's been a brain since the day she was born so she fitted right in, no help there."

"How did you conquer it in the end?" Toni asked, sipping her wine.

Buffy smiled to herself as she remembered. "A friend gave me a talking to, and reminded me I was still me. And that college, at least the, uh, social side, was only as hard as I was going to let it be. After that I got my confidence back and it all seemed easier."

"Was that Xander?" Faith asked with a mouthful of fries.

"Who else?" Buffy grinned.

"He sounds like a good friend." Toni smiled. "Have you met him?" She asked Troy.

"Yes."

When he didn't expand, all three women looked to him. He shifted in his chair and used a napkin to wipe his mouth before he added anything. "I do not know him well, but he seems like an interesting man. Faith has told me many stories."

"Really?" Buffy looked at Faith.

"All good I promise. S'not like the guy has a bad bone in his body anyway."

"You never told me how he lost his eye." Troy remarked. It wasn't like he was asking, just stating a fact.

Faith lowered her head as she devoured the last of her fries. "Not my place to tell."

"It was an accident." Buffy supplied. "Wrong place at the wrong time."

Troy nodded. "That was most unfortunate."

"Yes, very unfortunate." Responded Buffy sarcastically. She felt Faith's eyes on her.

Toni changed the subject. "So Faith, where did you attend university?"

"Stockton Correctional Facility." Faith replied candidly, licking burger juice from her fingers. "The college of hard knocks."

Buffy was smiling at Faith's honesty, pleased that she didn't shy away from the question, embarrassed about her past. Prison was obviously nothing to be proud of but it definitely had, had a positive effect on the Slayer. Faith had arrived back in Sunnydale a mature, focused young woman, so different from the reckless teenager who had up-ended her life so many years before. Buffy also knew that Faith had worked hard for and received her GED while incarcerated, a revelation she'd tried not to act too surprised at. She'd also scored certificates of achievement in metal work, modern dance and Jujitsu; which she was now trying to teach Buffy. Faith probably only did it because she was bored, and not out of some wish to better her self, but Buffy was just pleased that she hadn't rotted away in that place. She'd kept herself together and gotten the best out of the situation that she could.

Sensing a shift in the atmosphere around the table, she shot her glance at Toni, assuming that the well-spoken Italian woman had been startled, maybe put off, by the fact that she was sharing her table with a criminal, but Toni was looking away from the table trying to summon a waitress. It was Troy who was staring at Faith, a mixture of disbelief and displeasure on his chiseled features.

'Guess all the surprises are coming out tonight'.

Faith looked back at him sheepishly. "Oh, I guess I left that bit out of the life story, huh?"

"How long were you...How long?" He was obviously choosing the least offensive of the questions he wanted to ask.

Buffy watched the exchange with bated breath.

"Not as long as I was supposed to be." Faith admitted. Troy raised an eyebrow.

Buffy kicked her under the table. Troy may have been her boyfriend, but from the look on his face at that second he may not have been for much longer. No need to be disclosing the fact that she was a fugitive. If this was the revelationary straw that collapsed their camel, who knew what he might say and to whom.

Toni turned back from ordering them another bottle of wine. "So what were you in there for, if you don't mind me asking?"

Faith grinned at her. "I don't mind you asking, but I think I should speak to the big guy here about it first." Troy's hand rested on the white linen table cloth and Faith covered it with her own. "Sorry I didn't tell you, but its not really something I like to brag about, you know what I mean? But if you want to go somewhere and talk it out, we can."

Troy must have been melted by Faith's smile just like Buffy always seemed to be. He turned his hand over and entwined their fingers. "It is okay Fai. Your past is in the past and we still have much to learn about each other. Right now the future we have together is more important."

Buffy had only meant to take a small sip from her refilled glass of wine, but somehow her throat kept working and when she set the glass back on the table it was empty. She wiped at the dribble that had escaped her mouth to slide down her chin and waved away Toni's concerned eyes. "I'm fine, just thirsty."

Toni smiled. "Then you should have some more." She refilled Buffy's glass for her again.

"Thanks." Buffy drank it halfway down with one eye on Faith and Troy's clasped hands. Couldn't they at least hold hands under the table so Buffy didn't have to see it? "That's a little better."

"Careful B." Faith murmured with a smirk. "You know what happens when you try to quench your thirst that way."

Yeah she got drunk and then usually tried to kiss Faith, or tried to get Faith to kiss her. Was that what she was referring to, too? Because she wasn't likely to be doing it now while Faith was all hand-hold-y with her boyfriend, was she? Plus she was on a date of her own so if anyone was going to be getting the benefits of a thirsty Buffy then it should be her date, surely.

"Yes," Troy spoke in conversational tones. "It would be a shame for tonight to end in violence."

At first Buffy was confused. Partly about how he kept hearing them when their voices were barely audible, but mostly about the violence comment. "Why would I be violent?"

It was Faith's turn to kick her under the table, a lot harder. "You know, because you know how you get when you've been drinking."

"Ohhh!" Buffy's hazy memory of New Year's Eve came back to her. "With the... Wrassling. I gotcha. Well I've gotten a lot better since then, Troy. Totally over my post traumatic stress."

"Of losing your home in an Earthquake?" Asked Toni, sympathetically.

"Uh-huh." Actually she'd meant 'Of losing Faith in a fit of denial.' Not that she was actually over either of the stressful situations; she was just learning to live with them. Like now, with her being on a date and doing the whole moving on thing with grace and maturity and okay she was going to have to chuck something flamey at them so they had to let go of each to catch it. Jeez, they were in a restaurant, enough with the touchy-feelies; people were trying to eat!

Buffy turned from their disgusting display of hand-holding to smile brightly at her date. "So Toni, tell me about yourself. Do you have any family living in the States?"

"Not any more. I did until last year, but then my father had to move back to Italy and I went with him to spend some time with my grandparents. They own a winery about thirty kilometres from Rome. It is a beautiful place, but very boring when you are fourteen. It was nice to go back as an adult to fully appreciate it."

"I'd love to go to Europe." Buffy sipped at her wine, trying to counter the gulping she'd done before.

"Since when?" Asked Faith, slurping from her beer.

"Since always." Buffy reassured her. "So what made you come back to the States alone?"

"I had already been offered a good place at Cleveland University, they allowed me to postpone it for a year and I didn't want to miss the opportunity altogether and so I came back. Besides I like America; the women are far more interesting than in rural Italy."

Buffy blushed lightly.

Faith burst out laughing. "I like you!"

"Thank you." Toni and Faith smiled at each other.

Buffy had to laugh herself when she looked across the table and saw Troy's face. Ooh did he look just a little bit worried there. Good. She couldn't help saying something. "Watch out Faith, I think your boyfriend is getting jealous."

This was normally the point where Faith exerted her independence by blowing the stunning Italian woman a kiss or something much more suggestive. However this was the new Faith, the Stepford Faith. Immediately she turned back to Troy and hooked a hand around his neck. "You got nothing to worry about babe. I would never take B's chick off her." She kissed him, enthusiastically.

Okay so Faith had volleyed that one back perfectly. Buffy fixed a grin on her face and turned once again to Toni, who rolled her eyes at the pair. "Shall we order dessert?"

"Yes please." Agreed Buffy.

Minutes later the blonde felt like she'd hit the jackpot when she spotted the 'Pears in Brandy', the dish Robin had introduced her to on their one and only date, on the menu. "I have to have that." She exclaimed excitedly.

Toni chose Belgian Waffles and Faith and Troy, once they had finished their Pg-15 display, ordered a big slab of chocolate cake to share.

All of their dishes arrived at the same time and Buffy tucked right into her Pears. With her mouth full of the exquisite fruit she used her fingers to indicate to Toni that she'd love another glass of wine.

The dessert was every bit as good as she remembered and she made yummy noises as she cut the pear slices in half and lifted them quickly to her mouth. So good was it that she didn't even care how much the couple sat to her left seemed to be enjoying their chocolate cake.

"Oops." She giggled as some sticky brandy syrup dribbled down her chin. Toni handed her a crisp white napkin. "Thanks."

"How'dya miss that mouth, B." Asked Faith with a chuckle.

"Always so funny, F." Buffy turned to glare at her friend, but seeing the chocolate frosting smudged around her mouth, just rolled her eyes instead.

Remembering her vow to spread the word of this yummy dish to the masses, Buffy scooped up a forkful. "Would you like to try some? It's totally delicious."

Toni smiled, obviously surprised. "Okay then." She lowered her mouth as Buffy lifted the fork up. "Mmm, gorgeous, oops." It was her turn to giggle as syrup dribbled over her lip.

"I got it." Buffy used a finger to capture the escaped juice and then realised how familiar she was being with an almost complete stranger. "Oh sorry." She sucked the syrup from her finger. "Brandy must be going to my head,"

"I don't mind." Toni smiled at her. "Would you like to try some of mine?"

"Seems rude not to now." Buffy grinned.

Toni scooped up some waffle and ice cream and Buffy leaned forward eagerly, she'd always loved Belgian Waffles. "Hang on, it needs a little of the chocolate sauce." Toni dipped it into the sauce before lifting it to Buffy's mouth.

Buffy chewed, swallowed and grinned. "We pick the best desserts."

"We do." Agreed Toni, smiling around another mouthful of her own.

Faith's fork scraped over her plate, catching Buffy's attention. "How's yours?" She asked politely.

"Light and fluffy." Faith pushed the plate away, even though there was still cake on it and wiped at her mouth. "What's yours like?"

"Oh try so..." Buffy stopped and looked down at her now empty bowl. "Or not. It was nice." She winced an apology.

"Would you like to try some of mine?" Toni asked politely.

"Nah, that's cool. I've had enough chocolate. So shall we move this party through to the bar? I'm suddenly feeling thirsty myself."

Troy quickly pushed the rest of his cake away and signaled a waiter for the check. When it arrived Troy counted out his and Faith's share while Buffy reached for her purse.

"Buffy, it's okay. I'll pay." Toni had already placed several bills on the little plate.

"No really, I couldn't." Buffy replied, still counting.

Toni reached across and stilled her hand. "Buffy I insist, especially considering you were only here under false impressions."

"Hey I said it was an accident, like how many times?" Protested Faith.

"Okay," relented Buffy. "But I pay next time, if there is a next time that is."

"I hope there is." Admitted Toni.

Buffy found herself kind of hoping there would be too. Toni was good company; and beautiful. As date's went, Buffy had, had worse. Finding out that her date was a woman was certainly freak-worthy, she'd just never assumed... But now she was here, she was kinda enjoying herself.

Once the check was settled they all went through to a bar area even plusher than the restaurant. Low tables were dotted about with small but comfy chairs spaced around them. Not many people were enjoying this area and soft music could be clearly heard above the scattered conversations. A waiter came to take their order the second they were seated.

"I feel like cocktails." Announced Toni. "Anyone else?"

"Oh I don't know." Buffy chuckled. "Cocktails on top of wine, not necessarily something that's going to agree with me."

"Buffy, be honest, does any type of alcohol agree with you?" Faith asked with a grin.

"I could drink you under the table any night of the week missy!" Buffy retorted before clamping her mouth shut. That had been the wine talking; why did Faith have to know her so well?

"That sounds like a challenge." Toni smiled at both Slayers, amusement showing in her eyes.

"Yes, they are rife with the sibling rivalry." Sighed Troy.

'You wish we were siblings, Buster,' thought Buffy.

"I'm game." Said Faith readily. She flashed her dimples at Toni. "You up for a little drinking competition, Tone?"

"Always, but I should warn you: My family was born with the finest wine flowing through their veins. You won't win."

"Yeah, well my mom had the cheapest whiskey flowing in her veins. It's like paper strangling a rock." Faith covered a fist with her other hand to demonstrate.

'We can't be doing this,' thought Buffy, 'my Mother had tea and milk flowing through her veins; this is not going to end good!' For the first time all night she empathized with Troy, he looked highly mortified too.

"We can not have a drinking contest here! This is the ..." He began.

Faith cut him off. "S'okay, we'll just have a few drinks in here to start us off and then we'll head to our room. They have room service, right?"

"You guys got a room?" Buffy focused on the new problem.

"Well yeah, it is Valentine's B."

Buffy rubbed at her forehead a little. "Well, won't it look a little, I don't know, like an orgy if all four of us go up to one room?"

"We could always get our own room." Offered Toni, standing up. "Then it won't look so suspicious."

"Oh, um," Buffy back-pedaled. "I don't know about that."

Toni had already walked away, most likely heading for the hotel reception, wherever that was.

With a resigned sigh, Troy ordered a round of Singapore Slings from the still hovering waiter, before excusing himself to go to the bathroom.

"Wow, she's eager, looks like you're in there, B." Faith smirked, as soon as her boyfriend had left the table.

Buffy looked in the direction Toni had gone, her fingers tapping out a rhythm on the arm of her chair.

Faith nudged her. "Look, it's not like you have to stay in the room. It's just for the look of the thing, right? You can still go home after we have a few drinks."

"I should probably go home now." Buffy didn't want to leave yet. She wasn't ready to say goodnight to Faith yet. That didn't justify her leading Toni on though.

"But it's still early! Come on; don't chicken out on this now. It was all your idea in the first place." Buffy didn't answer her. "What's up, I thought you said you were all bi-sexual now, or whatever. Was that just all talk again?"

Buffy looked at her. "What do you mean 'again'?"

Faith waved her question away. "Just stay, it's not like you have to screw her if you think it's too soon." She made finger quotes around the 'too soon'.

So Faith was daring her and mocking her all in the same breath; how nice. No way was Buffy letting the cocky brunette get the upper hand here. If she thought that Buffy was going to freak out and run away then she had another think coming.

She turned to Faith, leaning towards her slightly. "Actually I'm just a little stunned." She whispered. "I mean, she's really hot, right?"

"Yeah, what of it?"

"I'm just kinda surprised someone that hot is so, like, totally into me." She piled on the valley-girl gush, gave Faith a wink and looked out across the lounge.

She pretended to be absorbed in people-watching, but that didn't stop her hearing Faith's quiet mutter of: "You shouldn't be."

Buffy turned her head further to hide her smile.

*****

"Thanks dude."

Buffy watched as Faith slammed the suite door shut and wheeled the trolley into the sitting room. There were a lot of colourful drinks on there. Buffy counted. Maybe this wouldn't be so disastrous, there only looked to be about four drinks each.

"Hey babe, you wanna start with these or shall we open the champagne first?"

"Fai, we are not using $200 champagne for a drinking contest." Troy insisted.

"You are such the spoil-sport." Toni grinned at her friend.

Buffy breathed a sigh of relief. The three drinks they'd had in the bar along with the wine they'd shared with the meal were already giving her a nice buzz. It wasn't going to take much more before that tipped over to a not-so-nice buzz.

As an excuse not to pick up her drink yet she continued her inspection of what Troy had called the Presidential Suite. Made up of four rooms, all roughly the size if their spacious living room back home, it was a far cry from anywhere Buffy had ever stayed before.

The main door opened into a small entrance corridor which led to the living area. As well as the two cosily small double-seater couches, there was also a coffee table, dining table and chairs and a wide-screen, wall-mounted plasma television with what looked to be a complete home entertainment centre built around it. A real bar took up another corner of the room. Buffy wandered behind it and peeked into the mini-fridge. Wow, okay so she wasn't going to mention all the little bottles in there!

Walking out the other end of the bar Buffy opened up a door and the first thing she saw was the giant king-sized bed. Enormous bed plus Faith and Troy wasn't something she wanted to be thinking about, like, ever, so instead she walked to the fireplace and looked into the big poster mirror hanging above it. Her hair had kept its springy wave, but she fussed with it for a few seconds anyway. She pulled her lipstick free from her pants with a little difficulty, due to their tightness, reapplied and forced it back in. Looking around for something to blot with she noticed the box of tissues on the bedside table and grabbed a sheet of three-ply. With a mischievous smirk she dropped the whole box of tissues on to the floor and kicked them under the bed.

"Not gonna make things easy for you." She murmured under her breath. She eyed the vase of flowers on the window sill but decided dumping the water into the bed was talking things a little too far. For now anyway. She stole the chocolates from the pillows instead and shoved them into her pockets too.

Going back to the mirror she blotted her lips and left the bedroom through another door. It was a bathroom too worthy of any president. The double sinks straight ahead had a genuine marble counter encasing them and the toilet was pristine white with an equally blinding bidet. They had a bidet? Buffy just knew Faith was going to use it to wash her feet! The two things that caught the most her attention were the shower that must have been able to take at least four people comfortably, which made her think of the orgy idea again - not good, and the big spa bath that took up a quarter of the room. All in all it was very impressive.

Troy had spared no expense on making the night special for Faith and Buffy bet he was pissed that she had insisted on everyone coming up to carry on the drinking fun. Not that Buffy was going to complain. The sooner Faith kicked them out the sooner Buffy had to go to the room Toni had booked for them or leave alone. It was weird, she didn't want to spend the night with the Italian, but she didn't actually want to say goodbye either.

What she really wanted was Faith, naked, in the spa bath right now, with her, and bubbles - lots of bubbles; but that fling had flung. There would be no naked Faith in her future. There would be no Faith in her future at all if the other Slayer decided to head to Boston in the Fall.

A voice from the sitting room made her jump. "Hey B, what'cha doing? Come get your drink, you're falling behind."

Buffy, realising her urgent need to pee, walked over to the to-nice-to-use toilet and called back. "Just using the bathroom, out in a minute."

When she emerged she noticed the music had been turned on and that everyone was sat on the comfy couches with half full glasses in their hands.

Toni held a full one out to her. "This one is yours Buffy."

Taking it, Buffy sat in the unoccupied space on the couch next to Toni. Faith and Troy were on the one opposite. "Thanks." She took a small sip.

"You gotta do better than that if you wanna win."

"It's all about endurance F. I don't have to drink faster than you, just more than you." Buffy pointed out.

Faith shrugged and finished her glass.

"Good strategy Buffy." Said Toni, only sipping also.

Troy followed suit, obviously agreeing without comment.

Faith shrugged again and picked up her next glass. "I'll still win."

Buffy shrugged back, still sipping slowly. "So, Toni, what are you studying at college?"

Toni pushed some hair behind her ear. "I am majoring in Business, but I am also taking classes in IT and Japanese."

"Really? Japanese? Isn't that really hard to learn?"

"No harder than English actually, although the writing is more complicated."

"What would you want to learn Japanese for?" Asked Faith. "Isn't American and Italian enough?"

"Antonella's Father's company is mostly based in Tokyo and Kyoto. By learning the language now, she will have a head start when entering the business." Explained Troy.

Faith nodded. "Makes sense."

"Antonella, that's a pretty name." Buffy complimented. "I've been wondering what Toni is short for. Ever since I realised it wasn't Anthony of course." She giggled.

"Grazie, I am named after my Mother's Mother. It means beautiful flower or something like that. Is Buffy a family name?

"Yes it is actually, I am named after my Mother's cat." She grinned.

"Hey, how come you get to make fun of your name while the rest of us get punched for it?" Faith looked seriously put out..

"Duh, it's my name."

"I could make fun of it way better." Faith pouted as she stared into her glass.

"Ever thought that's why I don't let you?" Buffy smiled a second before Faith did.

"I think it's an adorable name." Toni drew Buffy's attention back to her. "Very strong."

"Strong?" Faith laughed. "It's Buffy?"

Buffy's foot shot out and connected with Faith's shin without her looking away from Toni. She ignored Faith's grunt of pain, she hadn't pulled any strength from it, but she saw Troy's slightly concerned eyes flicker between them.

'Ha, he thinks I'm about to start wrassling again,' she thought with a touch of delight. Forgetting her plan, she downed her drink. "Oops, wasn't supposed to do that." She stifled a burp with her hand.

Toni lifted another glass from the coffee table between the two couches and handed it to Buffy. "Another?"

"You'll have to have another one too, or else I'm gonna start thinking you're trying to get me drunk." Giggled Buffy, wondering if it was already just a little too late to worry about that.

"And how do I know that's not just a ploy on your behalf to get me intoxicated?"

Wow, she had a sexy smile, or was that the drink talking? Focus on Faith, no don't focus on Faith. Pretend Faith isn't even here. Focus on Toni, but not too much.

"You don't." Buffy grinned impishly.

The two almost strangers continued to smile at each other as Toni slowly lifted her glass to her mouth and drank the rest of its contents down.

"Yo B, quit making googly eyes for a half a second there, would ya."

Faith's voice startled Buffy and she was just about to explain that she was not in any way making any kind of googly eyes when she realised Faith was smirking at her. She settled for clearing her throat. "I'm sorry Faith; did you have something interesting to say?"

"Yeah, hurry up. I'm on my third already and I need you to fall down sometime this week so's I can get to the important part of the night." She leered playfully at Buffy and snuggled into Troy's side, her hand rubbing up and down his thigh.

Jealousy pierced Buffy and she could feel herself going green, which at least was a change from the usual bright red, but all of a sudden Buffy's brain grabbed a hold of her and shook. Faith was trying to make her jealous! She had no clue why, but if Faith was really as eager to get on to the important part of the night, why had she insisted on them all coming up for drinks.

Maybe Faith was just drunker than she wanted to let on and didn't think about how her over-share moment might have affected her friend. Or maybe she didn't care, because she didn't think it would affect her friend.

Maybe Faith was just messing with her; seeing how far Buffy would let herself be pushed.

Did Faith think she had been deliberately flirting with Toni to try and rile her?

Buffy didn't think that, that was what she was doing. She'd just wanted to have a little fun and maybe take the sting out of having to watch Faith and Troy be all coupley all night. Toni was fun after all and smart, pretty and attentive, but Buffy would have dropped her like a hot brick in a second if she could have just had Faith alone this evening.

She tried to imagine the big spa bath again, but this time she placed Toni amidst the bubbles. Yeah okay so she could picture that quite well, but that wasn't helping her figure out what Faith was playing at. Finishing her drink and starting another probably wouldn't help either, but she did it anyway.

Why was Faith suddenly pulling this crap? Was she not as over their fling as she wanted everyone to believe? Well obviously she wasn't, her birthday had been proof of that, but she'd certainly been pretending pretty well that she was.

Buffy didn't know what to do next. She certainly had no intention of leading Toni on, but she couldn't just sit back and let Faith think she'd won whatever game she thought they were playing now.

As Buffy sat there indecisive, Faith started to smirk. She probably assumed that Buffy was struggling not to jump up and knock Troy into next week, which wasn't that far-fetched an assumption if she was honest, but no, Buffy could rise to this challenge. There were plenty of ways to skin this particular cat and indifference, however feigned, would do the job just as well as pouncing on Toni or punching Troy would.

"Go ahead Faith; don't let us hold you up. The bedroom's right through there." She gestured to the door.

Troy looked eager to take the opportunity but Faith just remained lounged in her comfy position against him; her glass balanced on her thigh and her other hand on his thigh.

"You're not getting out of it that easy B." Faith smiled. "I go to bed, and you win."

'Not really,' thought Buffy. Outwardly she just smiled. Knowing Faith was trying to make her jealous pretty much erased all the jealousy she had been feeling. In fact as long as the pair didn't suddenly start going at it like rabbits, then she wasn't feeling all that phased at all.

For the first time all night Buffy wasn't itching to kill the man sat opposite her with his hand on...

Buffy adverted her eyes, before the glint in them gave her away. Okay that really wasn't a decent hand-resting place when they had company, but she wasn't going to take any notice. After all he was from Europe and everyone knew they were a lot more relaxed about physical stuff and ...stuff. Maybe having your hand halfway up your partner's skirt was just considered lukewarm over there.

Maybe she should put her hand part-way up Toni's skirt just to test the theory. It wouldn't be difficult. They were sat closer now, which made sense, what with them both reaching for the table all the time. Wow, where'd her drink go?

"That went down quick." She announced, hoping that by talking out loud she could banish all thoughts of hands up skirts, especially the memory of Faith's hand up her skirt that distant night at Matrix.

"I believe she's catching up with you Faith." Said Toni with a smile.

Faith smiled back at her. "Lucky for you."

"I don't know what you are talking about." Toni's tone was genial.

"Sure you don't." Faith turned Buffy's way. "Think you can handle it?"

At first Buffy thought that she was referring to Toni and was about to kick her in the shin again for being so rude, but then the other Slayer held up her remaining cocktail.

"I can take whatever comes my way." Buffy assured her, taking the glass with only a faintly shaking hand.

"Care to prove it?" This time there was no mistaking Faith's meaning as she let her eyes flick to Toni before almost subtlety winking at Buffy.

Troy must have finally caught on to something. "Fai, let me show you the view from the balcony. It is the most beautiful place from which to see the city at night."

"Yeah why not, sounds romantic." The couple stood up and Faith hooked her hand into the ass pocket of Troy's dress pants. Looking over her shoulder, she winked again. "Be good." They exited through the glass patio doors which made up one wall of the sitting room.

Buffy exhaled loudly, her fingers tapping her knee in time to the music. She knew she would feel uncomfortable right now if a) she wasn't three sheets to the wind, and b) Toni wasn't so nice, but even with these factors she still felt a little awkward. Especially after Faith's innuendos.

"So your friend Faith, she must be very special. She is the first girlfriend Troy has introduced to me for a long time."

"Oh she's special alright."

"Have you been friends many years?"

"Sometimes I think too many." Buffy stared at the glass of the patio doors, but all she could see was her own reflection.

"Are the two of you always so competitive?"

"No normally we're worse."

"Buffy, is something wrong?"

Surprised by the question, Buffy smiled at Toni. "No I'm fine, why? Are you okay?"

"I am enjoying myself very much, but you appear to be trying to melt the window with your eyes."

"What? No." Buffy ducked her head, chuckling self-consciously. "It's just..." She stopped, not knowing what to say that wasn't an outright lie.

Toni sat forwards, ran a hand through her hair and smiled. "Being friends with an ex can be very hard, si?"

"We're not really..." Buffy cut herself off again. "I guess. That's not it though, not really, but you know, with the competitiveness... We can sometimes seem a little crazy to other people."

"My first lover, Helena, was the most beautiful girl you could ever hope to meet. We met at fifteen, on my first day in an American school and we fell in love instantly." Toni's voice grew softer as she thought back to the past; she smiled at Buffy as she told her story. "I would have done anything in the world to make her happy. For three years we were inseparable; we had our life all planned, or so I thought. Unfortunately destiny had no interest in our plans."

Buffy leaned in, compassion in her eyes. "What went wrong? Did she die?"

Toni chuckled and took one of Buffy's hands in hers. "No, she fell in love with someone else and broke my heart. It hurt for a long, long time. Even more so for she insisted on us remaining close. She said she didn't want to lose me altogether and so for months I tried to be her friend, but it always felt wrong, do you know what I mean?"

Buffy nodded. Boy did she!

"No matter how hard I tried I could not let go of the love I still felt for her in my heart and began to believe that it would never work, but I couldn't leave for that would hurt her and that was something I never wanted to do." Toni squeezed Buffy's hand, her smile growing. "I thought I would never feel free from the trap I had set for myself, but then one day everything was okay."

Buffy leaned forward even more. "How? How was it okay?" If there was a magic cure for the way she felt about Faith then she needed a big dose of it now!

"It was simple, I met someone else. It wasn't the passionate love I shared with Helena but it was good and easy and gave me the time to heal. It gave me the distance I needed to see my relationship with Helena in a new light. It took a while, but I came to realise that we were always meant to be friends; that was our destiny. Our love was passionate but immature; it would never have survived our transition into adulthood even if another woman hadn't come along. The friendship we have now - that will last forever. Of that I am positive!

"I hope Faith and I can say the same thing one day." Said Buffy quietly. "'Cause right now I'm not so sure."

Toni squeezed her hand again. "You will. You just have to follow Faith's lead. Let go of your past and embrace the future you have together as friends."

Buffy wanted to do that more than anything. She was sick and tired of the constant, useless wanting, day after day. Faith had moved on, she kept telling Buffy that she had, but Buffy just hadn't been getting the message. She thought of the Valentine's day card she'd sent her, in the spirit of childish hope, and then the emptiness she'd felt when she didn't receive one back. Of all the stolen kisses over the past six weeks that had left Buffy needing more and Faith needing nothing. Of sleepless nights spent tossing and turning while her mind taunted her with a slide-show of Faith and her body betrayed her promise of friendship by keeping her wet with desire.

Buffy wanted to move on alright, she just hadn't had the opportunity. Until now. 'God, don't hate me in the morning for what I am about to do,' she pleaded silently. 'I am not a bad person; I just need a way to get some distance!'

Buffy had been so enraptured with Toni's tale that she barely had to lean forward any further before her lips touched the Italian's. She hesitated briefly, waiting for the other woman to pull away and accuse her of using her. She didn't though; in fact Toni didn't waste a second before kissing her back, her arms circling Buffy's waist to urge her closer.

Buffy put a hand on Toni's shoulder and leaned away again. "Hang on a second. I just gotta ask. That was a line, wasn't it? A very elaborate and finely detailed line, but still a line." Buffy smirked, pleased with herself that she had spotted it.

Toni smiled back at her, not in the least offended. "Everything I told you was true."

"Yeah, but it so was a line. You told me your story because you knew it would get me all fired up and make me want to kiss you."

"Didn't you want to kiss me before the story?" The twinkle in Toni's eye belied the pretend hurt in her question.

"Little bit." Buffy admitted with a grin.

"Then what are we waiting for?"

"Beats me."

The two women still hesitated, smiling diffidently at each other. Buffy giggled, Toni bit her lip.

Buffy didn't know who moved first, but moments later, they were kissing again.

The world didn't end and the sky didn't fall in, which were good things obviously and for the first time in recent memory: Buffy wasn't thinking about Faith.


Chapter Six

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Part Four Quick-Jump:

Chapter One || Chapter Two || Chapter Three || Chapter Four || Chapter Five || Chapter Six


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