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


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PART SIX: 11th April 2004
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Chapter Two: I'm Down on the Floor and I Don't Know What I'm In For

"B."

"Faith," Buffy repeated.

Faith winced a little, lifting a hand to a fresh graze on her cheek. "We really gotta stop rolling down things together."

"We really do." Buffy agreed. She'd completely forgotten the freaky demon they'd almost been squashed by; there were more pressing matters to contend with, like the way she was pressing against Faith. "We really, really do," she repeated.

Reaching up, Faith plucked a long thin twig from Buffy's hair and showed it to her. "Nice of you to make the effort for me, B."

"Well, if I'd known in advance you were going to stand in the dark and make like a tree, I'd have used more product." She ran a hand self-consciously over her messy hair a few times, pulling free more forest floor debris and straightening it a little. "I should get up."

"Probably," Faith agreed.

Buffy had actually been talking to herself, but never mind. She got swiftly to her feet and helped Faith back to hers. They both brushed the crap off of their clothes.

"Kennedy didn't let you know?" Faith asked.

"About what?" Kennedy hadn't said much at all when Buffy had found her at three that morning. Aside from exchanging a few words about the demon they were looking for, Kennedy had been too eager to get home for conversation.

"I told her to tell you I'd come find you this morning." Faith was down on one knee inspecting one of the long demon footprints.

Buffy looked at her watch. "At a quarter after five? Aren't you normally still snoring into Troy's pillow at this time?"

"Yeah," Faith sighed, still kneeling by the footprint. Buffy watched as she ran a hand through her hair and stared off into the dark woods. "But I needed to talk to you."

Faith needed to talk? That got Buffy's attention alright. What about? Was she breaking up with Troy?

Or was she about to reveal that he was evil, and she'd been covering for him out of misplaced loyalty, but she just couldn't lie to her anymore. Buffy would tell her how stupid she'd been to cover for someone who wanted to destroy the world, and Faith would throw Angel in her face, but eventually, after they'd beaten each other into pulp-like pieces, they'd have make-up sex and live happily ever after.

Or, even better, she could stay with Toni and Faith could get a taste of what it was like on the other side of the fence. Hah!

"So...?" Buffy prompted when Faith didn't say anything else.

Faith stood up fast and came back to where Buffy was standing on the edge of the road. "So, that demon, the one that was chasing you - we think that's our mysterious crop-killer?"

Hang on a minute...

"That's what you wanted to talk to me about?" Buffy asked. "The demon?"

Faith shrugged. "Sure."

"Really?"

"Yeah."

Okay, that was disappointing. It didn't make sense though. Why would Faith get a taxi from Cleveland at this time of the morning just to talk demons? Maybe she was just having trouble getting started.

In fact, Buffy could help her out there. If she told Faith that she already expected her boyfriend was evil incarnate, and gave her reasons, it might make it easier for Faith to open up.

As they stood on the side of the road, Buffy thought of a few ways to start that conversation. Nope, wasn't happening.

"So I think it went this way." Buffy pointed to the trail of broken trees leading away from them on the other side of the road.

"Okay." Was that relief in Faith's voice? "Let's try and stay behind it this time."

"Good plan."

Together they crossed the road and climbed over the fence into the woods where they followed the track side by side. Early birds were starting their days with a little song and the Slayers were getting treated to it in stereo. It would be getting light soon enough.

Faith was the first to speak: "So, I didn't get a very good look at it, what with you being on top of me at the time, but," she paused long enough for Buffy to look at her. "Am I going crazy or is our demon what I think it is?"

Buffy thought back to what she had seen of the thing coming at high speed towards them, and of the image burned into her memory of the thing winking at her. What had that been about?

Reluctantly she admitted: "If you're going crazy then I am too, because I definitely think it's what you think it is - assuming we're thinking the same thing, of course."

"Well, what are you thinking?" Faith prodded.

"What are you thinking?" Buffy shot back.

She wasn't going to be the first one to sound crazy, because that's how it would sound. It couldn't have been what she was thinking; it must have been a trick of the light, or the dark, or maybe she was just tired from getting up so early.

Faith changed the subject, obviously as convinced of her craziness as Buffy was.

"How've you been?"

It hurt deep inside that Faith had to ask that question; surely living together should have made questions like that superfluous.

Buffy kept those feeling to herself, answering casually: "Good, mostly...mostly good, you know."

Faith nodded. "That's good."

Buffy nodded. "Yep, all good. You?"

Faith was still nodding: "Yeah, I'm good. Really good as it happens."

'Great,' thought Buffy sarcastically.

"Except, you know, for missing you and stuff." Faith went on, not noticing Buffy's double-take. "I mean, I understand and all, after what I said to..."

"Whoa, go back. You miss me?" Buffy asked, in shock at the simple statement. "I mean... you miss me?" Faith was looking really uncomfortable now, but Buffy didn't care. "Let me just make sure I understand this correctly: You miss me?"

They'd stopped on the track, but now Faith started walking again. "Yeah, I can't remember why though."

Buffy was all grins now; this was so totally Faith's intro into the whole 'break-up with Troy' story. "I'm sorry, it's just you're not generally the type of person who says things like that, you caught me by surprise." She lengthened her strides to catch up to Faith again. "I miss you too."

Faith didn't say anything.

"I said I miss you too."

"What do you want, a medal?"

"Well yeah," Buffy said, like it was obvious.

Faith huffed out a laugh. "Sorry, I'm all out."

Buffy looked about them as she feigned indifference: "So, was that the big thing you wanted to talk to me about - or was there something else?"

"I, uh..." Faith hesitated for ages, finally she added: "No, that was it."

Buffy still didn't believe her, but it wasn't like she could pick Faith up and shake the truth out of her.

"Okay, well, I'm glad you came all the way out to the woods in the middle of the night to tell me you miss me, 'cause I really should talk to you about something too."

Buffy noticed the birds had fallen quiet. They were probably heralding doom in preparation for the way as she was about to court it, but she took a deep breath anyway and began. "I guess it's my fault we haven't been spending much time together."

"Well I won't argue," Buffy pushed Faith's shoulder playfully but the other slayer hadn't finished. "But it's not like I've been around much either."

"Well I guess it's natural; you've been spending a lot of time with Troy."

"No more than you have with Toni," Faith responded defensively.

That wasn't strictly true, but Buffy let it go. "I just said it was my fault, didn't I?"

Faith shrugged. "Yeah, well, you don't usually say things like that; took me by surprise." She mocked Buffy's words from earlier. "Okay, come on, spit it out. What do you need to talk to me about?"

"It's about Troy and Toni," Buffy bravely started.

Faith cut her off. "I don't know if another double date is such a good idea right now. The picnic this afternoon is gonna be bad enough."

"No, I wasn't talking about another...you're coming to the picnic, both of you?"

"Yeah." Faith said, like it was no big deal.

"It's just you said you weren't going, so I assumed you...weren't going."

"Yeah, plans kinda changed." said Faith with a soft little chuckle.

"Oh." So Faith and Troy were coming to the town's Annual Easter Picnic on the common. It was going to be like Sunday lunch all over again. At least Toni could join them this time.

"If this afternoon goes well and nobody gets any blood spilled, we can arrange something sometime." Faith was still talking about a potential double-date. "Something physical though." Buffy looked at her sharply. "Not that kind of physical. I meant something like . . . I don't know, bowling or something."

"So, something with minimal risk of us actually having to speak to one another," Buffy had no intention of going through with this, but she pretended to think it over. "Why can't we just go to Matrix? It'll be busy and loud, in fact we wouldn't even have to stay together the whole time we were there. Or does Troy not like it there?" she added slyly.

"He'd go if I asked him."

"Oh, I just thought maybe he didn't like clubs, what with the way he was acting the last time we were all at Matrix together." Buffy glanced Faith's way to check her reaction.

She looked a little puzzled, like she couldn't think what Buffy was talking about. A sign of some kind of mind control perhaps, like a memory wipe spell?

"Nah, he loves dancing." She eventually said. "It's just he'd prefer to go clubbing some place like New York or, or Rome, than a small town dive like Matrix."

Faith had side-stepped the veiled question about Troy's behavior a little jerkily, but she'd done it and the only new information Buffy had picked up was that Troy was a club-snob.

"Yeah, well who wouldn't," she griped. "But I doubt Toni and I can afford to fly to somewhere like that; the cab fare to Cleveland's expensive enough."

"Well like I said, let's see how today goes first before we start making any plans." Faith stopped walking to listen and Buffy stopped with her. Shaking her head at the silence, Faith walked on again. "It's getting light, you think our demon's gone to ground?"

Buffy shrugged; if they kept following the track it had left they might find its hideout. "So Troy really doesn't like me then?" she asked, going for broke.

Faith looked at her for possibly a second too long before answering. "What makes you think that?"

'Because I heard him say it,' she thought before saying out loud, "Just a hunch."

"He likes you fine; he just gets a little jealous is all."

"Really?" Buffy pushed.

There was that pause again. "Sure."

They walked on in an uncomfortable silence for a minute or two, both looking around them at the trees as an excuse not to look at each other.

"Toni's way more jealous of me, than Troy is of you," Faith finally blurted.

"No she's not."

"That's crap."

"No it's not."

"Then how come you've barely said a sentence to me in the past month?" Faith asked validly.

"You haven't been around much to say a sentence to," Buffy pointed out.

"So if Toni's not the jealous one, maybe it's you." Faith seemed to be spoiling for a fight all of a sudden.

"Yeah, that's it," began Buffy sarcastically. "I'm jealous because I want Troy for myself, how did it take me so long to realise it?"

"That's not what I mean and you know it."

"Oh, get over yourself, Faith." Buffy snorted, pissed off with it all now. "If you just came to find me to drag all this up again, you shouldn't have bothered. You want to know why I haven't been around much? This is why. We can't be friends and you don't want to be lovers, so I guess we'll just have to live with missing each other from now on."

It was history repeating all over again. It was true what they said, love didn't care about gender...it was all crap.

Despite meaning every heartfelt word of her little rant, Buffy didn't stop walking at Faith's side.

"Why can't we be friends?" Faith asked angrily, also not changing her pace in any way.

Buffy laughed harshly. "Because Troy's an evil jerk and Toni wants to rip your eyes out every time I accidentally mention your name, and I mean accidentally - seeing as she's banned me from using it!" she snapped.

"So you admit Toni's jealous!"

"Of course she's jealous, Faith! She caught me with my hand in your pants, and then you told her you still have feelings for me and she already thought I was in love with you before all that! If she wasn't jealous, I'd be worried." Buffy felt herself starting to grin, it was all so insane.

"Jeez, B, I only asked," Faith was grinning too. "No need to get your panties in a twist."

"Yeah, well it was a stupid question." She'd just realised that Faith hadn't said anything about her calling Troy evil. Had her ego only heard what it wanted to, or had she deliberately ignored it. "You only made a thing out of it to push my buttons."

Faith chuckled. "I made a thing out of it because I wanted the white elephant out of the room, or the woods in this case." She turned around to look into the trees behind them, still walking next to Buffy, only backwards.

Buffy looked up at the broken trees above their heads. The sky was a beautiful pale blue now over the mangled branches. It was going to be a hot day, which dashed Buffy's hopes of the picnic being a wash out. The track ran pretty straight, at a right angle to the gradual slope to the lake, following the contours of the hill in a direction that would eventually pass maybe four or five miles north of their house. She'd never been this deep in to the trees before because normally it was next to impossible. Even now the leaves were falling; the brush was thick enough on either side of the damage to discourage woodland walks.

"Well whatever's in these woods is white, but I don't think it's an elephant." Buffy kicked at a fallen log. "It's probably, I don't know, burrowed or something now that it's light." she added.

"Dunno, elephant makes about as much sense as..." Faith turned back to face the way they were walking again, shaking her head a little. "Something that big can't have hidden itself away that quick," she complained.

"Yeah, but you saw how fast it moves. If it didn't try to hide and just kept going, it could be twenty miles away by now." Buffy stopped to look around. "The tracks lead that way." She pointed to where the trees were thinning out; they'd walked as far as the edge of one of the few farms in the area.

"Yeah I know, so?" said Faith, not getting it.

"So if it left the trees behind then it might have things on its mind other than hiding."

"Like causing more chaos."

"And squashing," Buffy added.

They looked at each other for a beat before running for the open ground beyond the trees. A jump over another wooden fence later, they stood side by side in a large field of cattle. In the distance, there were squat looking buildings and weirdly shaped vehicles of red and chrome gleaming in the sun.

Buffy let out a sigh of relief. "Well, no squashed cows."

"A plus, I guess, but at least a trail of big hamburger patties would give us a clue which way to go."

Buffy wrinkled her nose, but Faith had a point. In the trees it had been easy to follow in the demon's wake. Now out in the open, if it really had been going at twenty miles an hour, it could be absolutely anywhere.

"Should we just come back tonight, after the picnic?" she asked.

"I can't, I have plans."

Going over Troy's again, no doubt. Buffy couldn't believe she thought they were breaking up; like that was gonna happen in a million years. He obviously had some kind of hold over the other Slayer, magic or otherwise, and Buffy would get to the bottom of it. Just probably not today.

She looked around the field - or would that be pasture - she wasn't all that well up on her rural turns of phrase. "Well it's not here. Where do you want to look now?"

Faith looked about too. "Where would you go if you were it?"

"A cabbage patch?" Buffy offered.

Faith gave her a bemused look.

"Hey, I saw what you saw."

"You got a better look than I did; you were blocking most of my view." Faith reminded her.

"Yeah, but I had my eyes closed for most of the time."

"So do you really think it's the...?"

Buffy cut her off with a wave of her hand as she spoke, "Faith I don't know, but if it is..."

"What?"

"I need a vacation.," Buffy finished and started walking along the fence, mindful of the cows. She wasn't too sure how dangerous cattle were, but surely Cowboys didn't just carry guns so they could shoot each other.

Faith went quiet, which was fine with Buffy. Talking would just lead to her saying things and then Faith would say other things and then things would have been said and...

Faith couldn't stay quiet for long though. "Speaking of vacations...I'm, uh, going away tonight."

Buffy turned to her in surprise. "Going away where?"

Not Boston surely; Troy still had months before he changed schools and as far as Buffy knew, Faith hadn't said yes to that yet anyway.

Faith smiled at her. "Italy."

That was even worse!

"What?" Buffy stopped, staring at Faith's back as she kept on walking.

"Italy," Faith repeated. "Rome in fact. Can you believe I'm goin' to actual Rome?"

"No!" Buffy answered truthfully. "I mean, why? How long are you going for?"

Faith turned back to her. "Troy's going on a dig for Spring break, figured I'd tag along. Last time I took a vacation it wasn't exactly five-star service if ya know what I mean."

Buffy walked up to her slowly, her head spinning with this news. "But when did you decide all this? You're going tonight? As in today, only later?"

"Yeah," Faith shrugged.

"Then how come I'm just finding out now?" Buffy shouted. "Does anyone else know or were you just planning on flitting off at midnight, leaving us all in the lurch?"

"Hey, chill, I'm not leaving anyone in the lurch. I'm just going on vacation, and Giles knows. I didn't want to tell anyone else until I told you, although I'm now wishing I'd skipped that part and just got straight on the plane."

"Yeah, well why didn't you then?" Buffy stomped off.

She noticed Faith wasn't following and stopped, looking over her shoulder at the brunette Slayer in irritation. Seeing Faith just standing there frowning, Buffy turned to face her, crossing her arms and adopting a similar expression.

"You know, you're something else," Faith shouted across the twelve foot of grass that separated them. "You hardly speak to me for a month and then you get all shitty because I didn't ask your permission to go on a holiday!"

"Don't be stupid, I never said you needed my permission. It just might have been nice to run it by me before you started applying sun block."

"When Buffy, when was I supposed to run it by you?"

"We live in the same house Faith, I'm sure it wouldn't have been that difficult to find five minutes."

"You're right, I'm pretty damn sure I could have found five minutes; in fact I probably could have found a couple of hours. But what would've been the point? As soon as I'd' a said hi, you would'a been gone. Why waste my breath?"

"So I'm a waste of breath now, am I? Great, thanks." Buffy looked away from her counterpart. "He's really done a number on you, hasn't he?" She muttered to herself.

The thing was, she couldn't even be that mad, not rationally anyway. Buffy had made herself scarce recently and he was Faith's boyfriend, however much she hated that fact. At least he was until she found a way to prove he was up to something evil or that the smarmy charm he'd used to brainwash Faith into falling for him was some kind of aspect of a demon.

Buffy was at a loss, every time she opened her mouth to say something that sounded even a little bit negative, Faith assumed it was because she was jealous, but right now Buffy didn't have anything positive to say

So much for the white elephant being gone. The elephant would always be with them.

"Why do you even care I'm going away? It's not as if you're gonna miss me; you're clearly scared to be in the same room as me these days in case Toni finds out." Faith ranted.

"I just told you I miss you." Buffy hands went to her hips.

"It's easy to say it."

"What do you want from me?" Buffy didn't think Faith even knew what she wanted, but she asked anyway.

"I don't want anything from you." That was a lie.

Buffy stared at her in silence, hoping to goad her into saying something more.

"Whatever." Faith sneered, raising her palms to Buffy in a dismissive gesture before turning on her heel. "I've got packing to do."

Buffy watched her walk purposefully away. One step, two, three, four, fi...

"Faith!"

The brunette waved over her shoulder without stopping.

Buffy watched her walk back to where they'd originally jumped over the fence until she disappeared back into the trees. Her feet wanted to follow the other Slayer, these days her feet always wanted to, but she refused to give Faith the satisfaction of that. How dare she get pissed at Buffy for never being around and then just walk away? And how dare she go on vacation with that asshole?

Buffy turned around angrily and came face to face with three sandy coloured bovine beasts. They were even bigger close up. One took a step towards her.

"N-n-nice Moo-cows," she stuttered. She was pretty darn sure that she couldn't beat up one of these guys, which was bad because they looked pretty darn intent on beating her up, and they were going to do it while they carried on chewing their lunch!

"We're all good, guys, I'm not here to steal your milk or anything, just passing through."

Another one came closer, blinking long lashes lazily as it studied her.

"Okay, your field, I get it." Buffy backed up and the cows followed her all the way until the wooden fence hit her back.

Not daring to break eye contact in case they decided to charge, she climbed over the low fence and stood facing the mini herd. Feeling safer on the opposite side, she addressed them again:

"You better hope that rascally demon doesn't come back this way, because I won't be able to save you from over here."

A cow leaned its neck across the fence, and Buffy, not realising it was just reaching for leaves, backed up again fast. Thorns caught in her coat and leaves tickled the sides of her face as she tripped in loose earth, and as she tried to keep her feet she fell backwards... and kept on falling.


Chapter Three

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