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 Five: Deep Sea Diving In a Raincoat

"Oh this is bad." Buffy pulled a face as she stood on the very edge of the crowded common with Faith. She raised her hand in an awkward answering wave to Toni as she watched the stunning Italian get to her knees on a blue and white checkered blanket, waving freely. Did she have to be so happy to see her?

Faith nodded, "Yeah." And then she was striding away from Buffy towards Toni, Troy and their friends.

What, that was it? Weren't they going to corroborate stories or at least come up with a reason why they were arriving scruffy and disheveled to the town's Annual Easter Picnic...together?

"Faith." Buffy trotted after her, picking her way through the multitude of multicoloured blankets scattered over the common. "Wait a minute. We need to..."

Faith either didn't hear her above the general chatter of the crowded common, or she was ignoring Buffy.

They were a third of the way across the common now and everyone Buffy held near and dear, and Troy, were sitting on the other side of the large, usually deserted, open ground behind the town.

Buffy followed the route Faith picked out between the blankets and wished she would slow down. Why were they rushing to their doom anyway? She ran a hand through her wildly messy hair as she stared at the flap of denim fluttering in the breeze that had once been Faith's back pocket. They were a mess and everyone else around them seemed to be dressed in their Sunday best as if they'd all come straight here from church. Which, with it being Easter Sunday and all, was totally possible.

Buffy reached out in a quick motion and, grabbing the flap of pocket, she pulled it hard, ripping it straight from the seat of Faith's pants.

"What the fuck?" Faith turned angrily to stare at Buffy. They both noticed the critical hush that descended over the closest of their fellow picnic-ers - many of which were either over sixty or under ten. Faith looked around uncomfortably, before adding, "I mean, what the heck?"

Buffy held the flap of pocket up sheepishly. "I thought no pocket was better than broken pocket."

Faith huffed in amusement, turned and set off again, "Come on."

"Faith hang on." Buffy started to tuck the flap of denim into the pocket of her sweatpants, but decided the evidence might later prove to be incriminating. She dropped it to the ground instead where it lay on the grass like a miniature version of the other picnic blankets. "Don't you want to stop a minute and work out what we're going to say?"

"And the longer we stand here in the middle of everything, conferring, the more suspicious they're going to become." Faith waved a hand in the direction of their friends and partners.

Faith was right, but it didn't stop Buffy's guilty feet from wanting to turn and run towards the big bouncy castle she could see. Bouncing into the orange depths of the inflatable fortress and hiding there seemed like the only sensible course of action.

In front of them, Troy had turned from talking to Giles to gaze lovingly at Faith and Toni had stood to greet Buffy, her smile warm and eager.

"I can't kiss her in front of all these people," Buffy muttered to herself, quaking inside at the thought of everyone's attention on her and her girlfriend while they kissed hello.

"Way to be out and proud, B." Faith laughed, looking around at her. "And while we're on the subject of kissing girls - your lipstick is a little smudged. Well, when I say a little..."

"I'm not wearing lipstick," Buffy frowned. "I had to leave the house too early to worry about make up." She touched a hand to her lips as she spoke.

"Even more reason to wipe the crimson berry off them now then," Faith pointed out, still chuckling. "And I'd do it quick if I were you."

"Oh... crap!" Buffy scrubbed the back of her hand across her lips as subtly as she could, pretending to look around and take everything in. There were a lot of people there. Everyone who lived in the small town must have come and they must have all brought guests from out of town. "Is that better?" she asked.

Faith turned her head again quickly to look. "Yeah."

Buffy ran her nervous hand through her hair again, pulling free some tangles as they made their way closer and closer to the big checkered blue and white blanket of doom. "Have you at least got a plan to get us through this?"

"Yeah," Faith turned her head enough to wink. "It's called: Follow your lead."

"Hey, that's not fair," Buffy hissed at her angrily.

It was too late for Faith to answer so she settled for giving Buffy a grin as she dropped to her knees next to Troy and gave him a fleeting kiss on the lips.

"What is not fair?" Toni asked, looking between Buffy and Faith with a small bemused smile.

"Oh...um...nothing." Buffy smiled guiltily at her girlfriend.

Her guilt grew as Toni leaned in to peck her on the lips and Buffy leaned back to avoid it. A hurt look flashed across Toni's face quickly followed by a flash of anger as her eyes flicked over to Faith.

"We were meeting at one, si? What happened to delay you?" she asked, looking at Buffy again.

The question sounded amiable enough, but Buffy wasn't sure she could trust that.

"I was out jogging and I... twisted my ankle." She hadn't put any thought into that answer; she'd just said the first excuse that came into her head. She was thankful that she was at least dressed for jogging, making the lie a little easier to swallow. "I had to hobble back really slowly," she continued. "Didn't know I was walking quite that slowly though." She forced a chuckle out. "Have you been here long?"

"A while." Toni looked down at her ankles. "Which one did you hurt?"

'Eenie meanie miney mo...'

"My left one." Buffy lifted it a little, when she put it back down on the grass she made sure to keep all of her weight on her right leg. "It's feeling a bit better now."

"I guess that counts you out of the egg and spoon race and we were relying on you for a Scooby victory against the townsfolk." Xander was lying on his side on the blanket with his head propped up on one elbow; his girlfriend Melissa, the fawn-haired carpenter, sat behind him with her hands resting on his hip.

"Egg and spoon?" Buffy asked, but gazing around she saw what he meant. On one side of the common there were no picnic blankets and a starting line and finishing line had been established using bright orange traffic pylons. Some kids were already racing each other up and down.

"So Faith, did you join Buffy on her jog?" Toni asked pleasantly.

"Something like that," Faith nodded. Buffy inwardly groaned.

"You went jogging in the same clothes you wore clubbing last night? Were they not uncomfortable?"

Buffy jumped in before Faith could say anything to make it worse. "Faith wasn't jogging with me, we just bumped into each other a few minutes ago." Faith could follow that lead and come up with her own excuse for where she had been all morning. "Hang on, how do you know what Faith was wearing last night? Did you two see each other?"

"Troy telephoned me yesterday evening after you had left and when he realized I was spending the evening alone, he invited me to join Faith and he." Toni explained.

"Why didn't you tell me?" Buffy asked Faith.

"Haven't had a chance yet, what with only bumping into you a few minutes ago and you complaining about your bad ankle constantly," Faith shrugged. "Sorry."

She didn't sound sorry to Buffy, but then that might have been because she was lying through her teeth.

"So what have you been doing all morning, Faith? You look very exhausted." Toni wasn't letting up on the passive-aggressive pleasantries and Buffy was worried that Faith would get bored with the lying and blurt out something along the lines of "I was eating your girlfriend" just to see the look on the Italian's face.

Buffy didn't want to see that look.

Weighing up the pros against the cons, Buffy crossed her fingers behind her back that no one was looking, and kissed Toni 'hello.'

She made it a long hello, only relenting when she heard a woman saying conversationally, "Oh my goodness, that's two women over there, Frank." There was a male grunt in reply and then the woman added, "Little Stevie, cover your eyes!"

Buffy, blushing, pulled back and took a quick look around them. Her friends were snickering at the shocked faces of some of the other picnic-ers, except Faith who had ignored the show and was talking quietly with Troy. Of the townsfolk, aside from the handful of shocked faces, most people just looked mildly amused at her embarrassment.

Buffy looked back at Toni, smiling a little. "Now that I have your undivided attention, I'm glad you came today even though I wasn't there to meet you."

Toni nodded, smiling too, all thought of Faith apparently forgotten. Buffy wished she could say the same for herself. "You must take the weight off of your ankle."

Toni moved out of the way, giving Buffy room to sit down, and then she sat down next to her and gently picked up Buffy's left foot. "Does it still hurt?"

"It's not very comfortable, but it's better than it was a couple of hours ago that's for sure." Buffy lied, pleased her girlfriend was studying Business and not Medicine.

"It is not too swollen." Toni said. Taking off Buffy's sneaker, she began to softly rub the ankle.

"No, I heal pretty quickly - it's a family blessing." She saw Faith roll her eyes over the big wicker picnic basket sat between them.

"So what's in the basket?" she asked, keeping her eyes away from Faith.

"You name it, we got it," Willow promised. "Of course it would have been better had you been around to fix it, but you couldn't because you were out... jogging, and so we had to rely on Andrew, who...who did a good job." She rewarded the young blonde man a bright smile for all his hard work.

"It's okay Willow, I know I'm not a Master Chef like Buffy, but my Funnel cakes kick her Funnel cakes asses all around the kitchen." Andrew finished smugly; he was sitting cross-legged in a corner of the blanket between Giles and Dawn's boyfriend, Christian.

Obviously no one had worked out yet that most of their meals came out of little plastic microwavable trays. "I've never made a Funnel cake," Buffy told him, slightly amused.

"Maybe not, but that's only because you're intimidated by my incredible pastry skills." Andrew insisted.

"Okay," Buffy shrugged. "So do you have any Funnel cakes in the basket?" Her stomach was still protesting its hunger. She hoped Toni couldn't hear the totally gross gurgling coming from it.

"As a matter of fact." Andrew beamed as he got to his knees to look through the basket. His face dropped, "Hey who ate all my Funnel cakes?"

Giles, who had been quiet after his initial greeting, swallowed loudly, brushing crumbs from his hands. "I'm sorry, I wasn't aware we were supposed to be saving any. I thought it best to finish them off before they went cold." He wiped at his mouth with his handkerchief, hiding his smile.

"Well were they as good as Andy's making out?" Faith asked.

"Oh yes, quite superb. Excellent job Andrew."

Buffy pouted at her Watcher. "What is it with you and pastries, Giles?" she asked. He'd always been the first in the doughnut box; well, second after Xander who got first dibs for making the run.

Giles smiled at her. "I believe there are still sandwiches, and Andrew cut up rather a lot of fruit."

Buffy didn't feel like sandwiches or fruit, she needed something more satisfying, something she could really sink her teeth into.

"I need something real, ya know." Faith said before Buffy could say anything. "I'm going to the rib shack over there." She pointed behind them to where a large barbecue grill had been set up; Buffy had wondered where the yummy smell was coming from. "You coming B?" Faith asked as she bounced up to her feet.

Buffy's mouth watered at the prospect, but... "No, I think a sandwich will be enough for me." She smiled at Toni, who was still massaging her completely fine ankle.

"Okay," Faith walked off towards the grill area.

Buffy glanced quickly at her retreating back as her stomach let out a particularly lengthy gurgle. Toni looked at her tummy and then back up to her face, mildly horrified and Buffy gave a strained grin. "Sandwich, now, please!"

*****

Six peanut butter and jelly sandwiches later and a handful of Faith's fries, subtly stolen while neither Faith nor Toni were looking; the hunger was starting to wane.

The awkwardness in her gut wasn't. Everyone else seemed to be in wicked high spirits too, which only seemed to highlight Buffy's less than lofty mood. She wasn't sulking, oh no; she knew she had no right in the world to be sulking, but there was too much going on in her head for her to settle and enjoy the Easter Picnic.

What had happened between her and Faith that morning?

Did Toni really believe that they had arrived together by coincidence, or was the previous ankle-rubbing just the prelude to a clever revenge plan?

Why had Faith not told her she had spent the evening before with Toni?

And what exactly did Faith see in Troy anyway?

Buffy frowned as the young Greek simultaneously stroked Faith's hair and carried on a conversation with Willow about Italian archaeology. Toni had joined the conversation too, and Buffy was pretending she was interested by nodding when everyone else did and saying "Mmm," a lot.

Faith was lying on her tummy in front of Troy playing Uno with Xander, Melissa, and Andrew. Troy stroking her hair like a favourite dog didn't seem to bother her in the slightest; in fact, when he stopped to emphasize a point with some hand gestures, she head-butted his knee lightly, smiling, until he continued.

Buffy had some hand gestures for him.

Giles was sitting a few blankets away, talking to some locals. Buffy wanted to get him alone and ask him a few questions about their Easter Bunny, obviously leaving out all of the sex-details. She'd already decided that if she couldn't get around mentioning the affect the demon had had on them, she would just say they were strong enough not to give in to it. She didn't want to come out and say she needed to speak to him though, because Faith and Kennedy would instantly get interested. Right now, she wanted to have as little contact with Faith as possible and she certainly didn't want Kennedy knowing anything about it at all.

Buffy wondered what was going through Faith's mind right now. She seemed to be completely engrossed with the card game and the stroking, but surely inside she wasn't as calm as she looked.

The feelings of intense horniness had left Buffy the second Faith had taken back her proclamation of love, bringing her crashing down to earth in a gut-wrenchingly painful way. However, even now a couple of hours later and with her girlfriend sat by her side, Buffy could still remember every single touch and kiss that they had shared. Surely Faith could too, so why wasn't she going as insane as Buffy felt?

"Anyone know where Dawn went?" Buffy asked, suddenly realizing her sister and Christian were no longer sitting with them.

"Bouncy castle," said Kennedy without taking her eyes from the course text book she was reading. "Why don't you go and join them if you're bored?"

Toni instantly turned her head to Buffy in concern.

"I'm not bored," Buffy assured her. "I just don't quite get the fascination of little stone huts that were built five hundred years ago." She shrugged apologetically.

"It was fifteen hundred years ago," Troy corrected her with a smile that grated her nerves.

"You said five hundred a minute ago," Buffy argued.

"Yeah but he meant five hundred as in the year five hundred." Willow helpfully explained. "As in the beginning of the sixth century."

"Oh, right, sorry. You're right, that does make it more interesting," she said with a roll of her eyes. "My bad."

Toni gave her a quizzical look.

"You wanna play Uno, B?"

"No thanks, F."

"Why do you always refer to each other with your first initials?" Toni asked, taking Buffy's hand.

"We don't. Not always. And anyway, she started it." Buffy squeezed Toni's hand gently. Toni looked at Faith for an explanation.

"It's a term of whatdoyoucallit . . .?"

"Endearment?" offered Willow, being too helpful now.

"Yeah that," said Faith, twisting her neck to grin cockily at Toni. "Sets us apart from the crowd."

"I see," Toni paused like she was thinking about something.

"Got something else to say, Tone?" Faith asked casually.

"Don't call her Tone!" Buffy muttered, fearing where this conversation was going. Should she kiss Toni again? It had certainly changed the flow of the conversation last time.

"No, il vostro tempo verrā." Toni smiled.

"Sorry Tone, don't speak Italian - Took me a week to learn how to say 'hey' in Greek. What did you say?"

"I said 'I miss my friends'. I have been feeling homesick and seeing the two of you such good friends, it makes me think of the people I left in Italy." Toni cast her eyes to the blanket, a sad smile gracing her gorgeous lips.

Buffy didn't know what to say. She'd never thought about Toni being homesick or missing her family. She put her arm around her girlfriend now, pulling her in close, determined later to make it up to her. Boy did she have a lot to make up to her. But she'd start with this.

It made sense now why Toni had gone out with Troy and Faith the night before. She knew Toni had friends in college, but she had thought she was going to be spending Saturday night with Buffy right up until the last minute and probably all of her on-campus friends already had plans on date-night.

Kissing Toni lightly on the cheek, Buffy vowed to be a better girlfriend in future. Maybe next weekend they could go to an Italian restaurant in Cleveland. She knew how lame that sounded, but it was a start; she could come up with better ideas later.

"So how do you say 'Hey' in Greek, Faith?" Xander asked with a grin.

"Yiassou." Faith didn't even look up, but Buffy could see the self-impressed smirk on her face.

Troy leaned down to place a kiss on the top of her head. "By this time tomorrow you will be able to say much more than 'Hey' in Italian," he promised her.

"I can speak Italian," Buffy piped up, even Toni sat up to look at her in amusement. "I can."

"I am sorry Buffy, please, how do say 'Hey' in Italian?" Troy asked her, his eyes twinkling.

Buffy saw the trap she'd set for herself and bit her lip, but with everyone watching she had to continue. "Ciao."

"How long did it take you to learn that one, Buffy?" Kennedy asked as everyone's expectant faces relaxed into grins.

"I know more than that," Buffy defended herself. "I know Arriveiderci and Gucci and cappuccino..." she trailed off with a groan. "Languages are not my thing, okay, but...but Faith's running away to Rome tonight and she wasn't even going to tell anyone!"

Buffy's childish attempt to get the attention away from her worked like a treat; just not in the way she'd hoped.

"You're running away from all this?" Xander asked sarcastically, gesturing to the picnic avec lots of old people. "Have you gone mad?"

"You're running away to Italy? How romantic," gushed Melissa.

"The city of amore," Andrew breathed, smiling dreamily at Troy.

"The city of pizza," Faith corrected. "And, you know, amore too," she winked up at Troy.

"So are you two eloping?" Kennedy finally put down her textbook and took an interest, taking her time to appraise Troy in a big-sisterly way which would have been funny in any other situation.

Buffy felt herself go green, for several reasons, but feeling sick was at the top of the list. The peanut-butter and jelly she'd consumed earlier swirled around in her tummy looking for a way out. She saw Willow looking at her questioningly and managed to shake her head in an unbothered way, and she knew that if she could fool Willow into thinking she was fine with the conversation, Toni would be fooled too.

Was that the explanation for what had happened earlier?

Faith had mentioned something about the sexual tension still playing mary heck with their feelings; maybe what she'd really meant was that she wanted one last roll in the hay before she settled down for good?

What if there had been no magic sexually inspiring cavern; maybe it had just been a cavern? And what if it had nothing at all to do with the Easter Bunny demon? Buffy hadn't seen it down there, only Faith had. What if it had all be a clever ploy to get Buffy's pants off one last time in a way that Buffy could never blame her for?

What if all the orgasms had knocked something loose in her brain and Buffy was now ready to be shown her nice new padded bedroom?

"Not that I'm aware of," Faith said after a moment, looking up at Troy with a sweet, slightly teasing, smile.

Troy was smiling back, and said cryptically, "A wild heart can not be tamed by shackles."

"No, but it's a good way to keep one in one place," Buffy muttered under her breath, wondering if she could shackle Faith later and make her miss the flight.

"So why are you going to Rome?" Willow asked, obviously trying to turn the flow of the conversation before Buffy slayed on the spot.

"There is a dig at the mouth of the River Tiber, believed to date back to the twelfth century BC." Troy explained to her. "I am hoping to learn much there."

Buffy sat forward. "Twelve BC as in twelve hundred years before Christ?"

"Yes, although it is not necessarily accurate."

"But we're talking over three thousand years ago?" Troy nodded, looking annoyed that his conversation with Willow had been interrupted. "Wow, okay that's a little interesting - why weren't you talking about that before?"

"Why, won't there just be dinosaur bones and stuff down there?" Faith asked, not looking convinced. "I thought you were all into Roman burial sites at the minute, looking for..."

"Humankind goes back hundreds of thousands of years, Fai," Troy cut her off quickly. "Although not human civilization," he added with a grimace.

"Oh," Faith couldn't have looked less bothered about her mistake.

Buffy perked up; the way Troy had just cut Faith off was very interesting, not to mention unprecedented.

"Did you believe dinosaurs were wandering the earth a mere three thousand years ago Faith?" Toni asked, her smile not altogether nice.

"You mean they weren't?" Xander chuckled nervously. Buffy saw him glance between Faith and Toni as she did the same.

"Never really given it much thought, I got better things to do than waste my time on the past," Faith shot back. "No offense," she added quickly to Troy.

He looked mildly put out, but covered it with a smile, "Sometimes in the past we can find answers to the questions we will face in the future," he said softly.

"Well you keep digging for answers and I'll copy yours." Faith ran her hand through the black springy curls at the back of his head, gently pulling him around to look at her. "If that's alright with you, of course," she smirked.

"Of course." His smile grew wider and more relaxed as he gazed into her happy eyes.

"So Troy," Buffy began, Faith's response bringing memories of their shared past flooding back to her, a time both too painful to dwell on and . . . well, painful pretty much summed it all up. "What answer is it exactly that you're hoping to find in the mouth of the tiger?"

"I'm sorry?" Troy asked, politely turning to her again.

"You mean the Tiber," Toni corrected her with a giggle. "It is the river that runs through Rome."

"Okay, there then," Buffy shrugged. "What's so special about this particular place that you have to drag Faith half-way around the world for?"

Troy looked confused, "I am not 'dragging' her any where. Faith made her own decision to accompany me, a decision that delights me but was most unexpected."

"That's not really answering my question," Buffy pointed out, not wanting to give any thought to Faith's apparent inability to live without the Greek hunk, whatever she claimed to the contrary. Why else would she be going to Italy? It wasn't like Faith was culture-girl or anything, and she wouldn't care to know a designer label unless one bought her a beer.

"And what was your question again?" he asked genially. Was he trying to exasperate her into shutting up?

"I'm just wondering what kind of answers you're hoping to learn from this particular trip."

"Well, I don't know yet. The site is very, very old and many ages of man have settled there." Troy told her. "An old... colleague of mine has uncovered part of a ship that is believed to date from circa twelve hundred BC. This discovery could possibly end century's worth of speculation about the founding of the city of Rome..."

Buffy was the only one not really listening as he jabbered on, her keen ears only on the listen-out for any keywords that might help her figure out what he was up to. So far the only thing at all suspicious was his hesitation over the word colleague. It wasn't the hesitation of someone not sure of his English, but of someone who was using a word they really didn't like the taste of. Buffy would bet money that Troy's 'colleague' was either a rival in the archaeological field, maybe a fellow student who'd gotten better grades than he. Or he was a rival of a completely different kind?

Quantiaro.

The name burned in her mind. If she could find out what Quantiaro was planning, she could find out why Troy was so desperate to stop him.

"How long will you be away?" Toni asked, the sound of her girlfriend's soft voice bringing Buffy back to the conversation.

"Ahh, I could be there many years and not get bored, but Faith, I fear, will not feel the same." He smiled, brushing Faith's cheek with his thumb. "And so, it will be a short trip."

"You know I have commitments here, big guy. S'not like I can just drop them all and move indefinitely to Italy." Faith said, sounding like it wasn't the first time they'd had this conversation.

"Ochi," he agreed, and the look he sent Buffy turned the warm spring afternoon freezing.

"Ouchy indeed," she muttered.

He obviously considered her one of Faith's annoying commitments, but she knew that wasn't the case. Faith was talking about the slaying, possibly her party planning and maybe even the home she'd made for herself with them all. She definitely wasn't talking about her though.

"Ochi means no," Toni explained, having missed the cold look her best friend had given Buffy. "It's Greek."

"Right, gottcha," Buffy nodded at her. Back to Troy, "All this digging you do, ever found any buried treasure?" she asked conversationally. "I mean, old ships might be fascinating to you, but personally - I'm more of a chest of gold doubloons kind of girl."

"No."

"You mean: ochi." She corrected with a sardonic smile.

"I mean, I am not a glorified treasure hunter," he said, blue eyes hard as ice. "I take my work very seriously."

"So you've never found anything of value," Buffy asked, genuinely surprised.

She could remember digging in the garden, back when she was seven or eight and living with her mom and dad in LA. She'd been digging for worms for a school science project and over the course of an afternoon she'd found three dollars and a nickel - she'd felt rich when showing her dad her horde. If Troy had really been going on archaeological digs since he was a boy, wasn't it a bit odd he had never turned up anything he could take to the bank.

"I have found things of great value to the foundation of discovery, but my work involves mud huts, middens and battlefields that were drenched with blood millennia ago. Not royal palaces or pirates' watery graves," he answered her tersely.

What was he getting so upset about? She'd only asked. That was what she got for showing a smidgen of real interest for once. What did Faith see in him again?

"Hey, what about that old key thing hang..." Faith began.

"Simply a key I exhumed in England," Troy spoke over her, leaving Faith blinking at him in surprise. "It is worthless aside from decorative value."

"But I thought you said it was solid gold," said Faith. "Not that it looks gold to me. You ever hear of black gold, B?"

"No, it is not gold." Troy said quickly. "It is actually an alloy of many inexpensive metals." He gave a chuckle that sounded nervous. "It's is pretty though, yes? This is why I have kept it."

Buffy's brain jumped all over his answer, gleaning every possible bit of information from it she could. She didn't get a lot from his words, except that he had a key of black gold from England that he didn't want anyone to know about. His reaction was everything though - it was definitely the reaction of a creep with an evil secret.

She looked around at her friends, expecting to see the same suspicions showing on their faces, but all she saw was genuine interest in his stories, and, in Andrew's case, adoration.

Willow started to cheerfully ask him, "So where abouts in England were...,"

"Come ha visto la chiave? Che altro siete stati trascurati con?" [1]

Toni's sudden Italian outburst took everybody by surprise, completely cutting off Willow's sentence and making Buffy sit up straight and stare at her girlfriend.

Troy apparently understood her; he answered her in English, his voice soothing, his eyes warning, "It is okay, Antonella."

"Non č giusto, Troy. Che cosa se scopre che cosa č!" Toni shot back, apparently not soothed.[2]

Troy shrugged, and answered Toni in her native tongue, "Allora le cose saranno avanzate che avrebbero gradito, ma non proporranno un problema. Andiamo a Roma questa notte." [3]

Buffy looked from Toni to Troy to Faith, for any clue as to what they were arguing about. Buffy's Italian was terrible, as she'd already proved. She couldn't understand what Toni said even when she was speaking slowly, so this rapid exchange of heated words was way beyond her.

Faith glanced at her, also at a loss as to what was going on. She mouthed, "Any ideas?" to Buffy who could only shake her head in bewilderment as Toni spoke to Troy again, her voice rising as she became more impassioned.

"Il vostro girlfriend forse stupido ma la miniera non č!"[4]

Buffy could practically feel the exclamation mark at the end of Toni's sentence and winced even further from her girlfriend. "Uh, Toni?"

"Uh yeah, so...looks like the races are starting over there, and I've got my spoon." Xander spoke up over the arguing pair as he grabbed the table spoon from a tub of coleslaw and got to his feet. Licking it clean, he asked eagerly, "Anyone else?"

Everyone else jumped to their feet too and began talking at once.

"Oh yeah, Kennedy and I are going in the three-legged race," Willow grinned, pulling the small slayer up after her.

"It's a pity there isn't a three-eyed race," Xander said to his girlfriend as he put his arm around her and lead her away. "We'd be a sure thing for sure."

"I'm gonna find Dawn and Christian on the bouncy castle," Andrew announced hurrying off in that direction.

Buffy and Faith watched them all go and then on some invisible cue, they began to inch away from their partners and towards each other, stopping when they were close enough to talk in low voices. The arguing friends didn't even seem to notice.

"Faith non č stupido e nessuno č lei che si infastidisce penosamente quanto Buffy." Troy sounded like he was getting angry now too. [5]

"Guess they're arguing about us then," A corner of Faith's mouth lifted in amusement as they heard their names mentioned. "Are you getting any of this?"

"Ha pensato che i dinosaurs fossero di intorno tre mila anni fa!" Toni gave a derisive chuckle.[6]

Buffy was watching the argument like she was watching Wimbledon, her eyes going from side to side. She shook her head now as she said, "I think dinosaurs means dinosaurs, but other than that..."

"Great," Faith rolled her eyes. "She's taking a pop at me in Italian so I can't defend myself."

"I think he's probably defending you," Buffy replied with a smirk.

Troy's voice was barely below a shout as he leaned in to Toni, but most people were now watching the races on the other side of the common and taking no notice of the four of them. He said something that sounded more like Greek than Italian. [7]

"Okay they're not speaking Italian now," Buffy mused as Troy switched languages.

"Greek probably," Faith shrugged. "And before you ask, no, I don't understand a word."

Apparently Toni could speak Greek too, as she did so now, icily.[8]

"Ed una parola da me Antonella e voi non potrā ripetere mai qualche cosa..." Troy switched back to Italian and once more his voice was almost mockingly calm. At the end of his sentence he snapped his fingers in front of Toni's face and smiled.[9]

Toni's eyes narrowed at her friend.

"Maybe we should go and give you guys some privacy," Buffy said in the uncomfortable silence that fell.

She started to rise to her feet, Faith doing the same next to her, until Toni rounded on her angrily. Buffy gulped in shock. "Or not." She quipped uneasily.

"Your ankle," Toni growled at her, before making an attempt at lightening her tone. "I'm sorry, il mio amore, you should not walk on it yet."

Buffy plopped back down on her butt, "Good point. But you two could always take a walk and try and clear the air," she suggested, her voice bright enough to blind passers-by. "You obviously have some issues."

Toni looked like she was either going to deny the argument had ever happened or at least play it off as unimportant as she smiled at Buffy, but Troy stood up next to the blanket.

"Excuse us ladies, but for once Buffy has made a good suggestion. Toni, come and talk to me while I purchase some beverages."

Toni stood up reluctantly and the two of them headed off towards a stall selling beer, sodas and bottles of water.

"Get one for me," Faith called after them.

"Hey, what do you mean: For once Buffy has a good suggestion?" Buffy called after them. "I have lots of good suggestions!"

"B, leave it. At least they're gone for a while," Faith flopped over on to her back, looking exhausted.

Buffy looked down at her and realized that they were alone on the blanket. In fact there were quite a few empty blankets around them too, making them even more alone.

She cleared her throat and pulled a strawberry from the tub of fruit in front of her, studying it rather than eating it, as an excuse not to look down at Faith. "So that was pretty intense."

Faith let out another sigh and shrugged, her shoulders rubbing against the checkered blanket. She'd removed her leather jacket when they'd arrived and her cotton shirt was creased from being used as a mattress earlier. Faith had tried to make it less noticeable by unbuttoning the bottom and tying the shirt-ends together under her breasts.

Faith's stomach had ever so slightly caught the sun during the picnic, tingeing her previously pale midriff with a little pink; Buffy bit into the strawberry and looked away to see her girlfriend across the other side of the common, near the beer stall with Troy but neither of them were in line. It was hard to tell from the distance and with people in between them, but Buffy thought they were still arguing with each other.

"Maybe they..." Faith began, and hesitated bringing Buffy's eyes darting back to her. Faith moved her arm so that she was just shielding her eyes with the palm of her right hand. "Maybe they know," she said, her voice low.

Buffy looked back over at Toni and Troy, panic rising in her heart. "How could they? Did you say anything to him?"

"Yeah Buffy, I told Troy we were screwing underground all morning, and so now he's yelling at Toni," Faith said sarcastically, shaking her head.

"Yeah, you're right; if you'd told him that he'd probably be yelling at me, wouldn't he?" Buffy realized. "Well that means they can't know, then, or else why aren't they yelling at us instead of each other?"

"So why do you think they're going at each other like a couple of foreign Pit bulls?" Buffy noisily exhaled while she came up with her best guess. "I think Troy was being an ass to me and Toni didn't like it," she said honestly.

"He was being perfectly nice to you," said Faith. "You just can't see past the Troy-shaped chip on your shoulder."

"Oh actually Faith, I think he could have been a little bit nicer," Buffy replied. "You just can't see it through your Troy-tinted spectacles."

"Toni called me stupid a couple of times," Faith pointed out. "That wasn't very nice of her, was it?"

"How do you know - I thought you couldn't understand anything?" Buffy asked. It was odd the way the two of them were having an argument about their partners in such a pleasant friendly way; neither of them raising their voices for once. They were just telling it like it was and it was...oddly enjoyable.

"It takes less than a genius to work out what stupido means, B." Faith grinned.

Buffy gave that some thought, nodding sagely, "Okay, I'm obviously less than less-than-a-genius, but I did get dinosaurs." She grinned.

"Good for you," Faith's smirk slowly eased into a real smile.

Buffy smiled back down at her, before raising her eyes to the cornflower-blueness of the sky. "When did things get so crazy?" A baffled chuckle trickled past her lips as she looked back to Faith for an answer. "I mean...how did we get here?"

Faith rolled to her side and propped her head up on her hand so that she could tilt her face up to see Buffy without the sun in her eyes. "Do you mean here-here?" She waved a hand around, encompassing the picnic. "Or here-here?" She asked more softly, waving a hand between them.

"If you have the answer to either one, that would be good," Buffy smiled.

"Do you think anyone else knows?" Faith asked quietly. "Do you think any of them could tell?"

Buffy didn't know whether Faith was asking out of curiosity or some worry that one of their friends would let it slip to Troy or Toni. Only one way to find out though...

"I don't know, maybe Willow, but I doubt it." Buffy shrugged. "Are you scared someone will tattle on us?"

"No," Faith responded quickly. "Nothing like that. I'd just love to know what they're all thinking right now. They knew full well that you weren't out jogging this morning, and as soon as Toni said something about me still being in the same clothes, Xander, Willow and Dawn were eye-balling like there was no tomorrow."

"They did? I didn't realize, I was too busy freaking out." Buffy admitted.

"Yeah well, I was fine until they all made me as paranoid as hell, and then I started freaking out too!"

Their matching grins spilled over into quiet giggles that wouldn't stop until they made a conscious effort to look away from each other.

"How do you think Troy would react if he found out?" Buffy asked.

"Honestly?" Faith ran a hand back through her hair, pushing it away from her face before making the fifty-fifty gesture. "There would probably be lots of shouting in gobbledygook, and then, if I didn't ditch his ass for giving me a headache, he'd be alright."

"Really?" Buffy asked, surprised.

Faith gave a one-shouldered shrug, "Yeah. You heard all that bullshit about wild hearts running free - he really believes all that, but... he really doesn't like you, which is where all the yelling gobbledy..."

"Yeah, I get it," Buffy sighed. At least Faith was now openly admitting Troy didn't like her... Wait, how did that make things better? Now if she went to Faith with any evidence that Troy was evil, Faith would be even more inclined to think she was just trying to slur his universally adored good name.

Buffy twisted on the blanket so that she was sitting with her legs crossed Indian style, leaning back on her hands and looking over to the man in question again.

Troy was pacing now, gesturing wildly with his finely manicured hands, while Toni appeared to be ranting back, one hand pointing at him angrily... she actually looked kind of hot, very hot even, all fiery and passionate and sexy. Buffy found herself wishing for her to land Troy a punch on the nose - Toni certainly looked like she wanted to.

"What do you think Toni would do?" Faith asked after a minute or two of comfortable silence between them. "If she knew about us this morning?"

"Oh she'd be gone," Buffy said, completely convinced of this. "There'd just be a feisty Italian-shaped hole right there." She pointed to where Toni was standing. "It would be arrivederci time."

Faith lifted her head to look over at the pair. "You don't think she'd want to work it out?"

"I think what she'd want would be to walk me off a short pier in a pair of uncomfortable yet affordable concrete boots." Buffy sighed, knowing she had nothing that would go with concrete boots.

"And me?" Faith asked with a chuckle.

"Let's just say, it wouldn't be pretty," Buffy smirked at her.

"Well you've always got the truth to fall back on if all else fails," Faith reminded her, rolling onto her back again. "Just explain it was all the damn Bunny's fault and there was nothing you...we... could do to stop it."

"Is that the truth?" Buffy asked quietly, sitting forward again so that she could look down into Faith's eyes. "I don't know what happened down there Faith."

"It was the demon," Faith said slowly. "It did something to us or...or the air in the cave... to make us... horny."

"Why though? Why go to all the trouble of luring us into the pleasure dome just for the sake of that?" Buffy asked. "There has to be more to it, a bigger reason for why some floppy-eared demon wanted us to...have sex," she finished in a bashful whisper, smiling down at Faith, her eyes twinkling at the memory of said sex.

"Maybe," Faith bit her bottom lip for a second. "But you agree that whatever it was all down to the demon though, right?" Buffy didn't answer, but Faith carried on talking anyway. "I mean, we weren't ourselves down there - something was controlling us, making me act differently and feel like..."

"Like what?" Buffy asked when Faith paused, looking uncomfortable.

Faith looked straight up into the sky above them and took a deep breath before she answered, "Like I was sixteen again."

"What do you mean?" Buffy didn't get it. What did Faith being sixteen have to do with anything?

Faith lowered her eyes from the darkening blue to meet Buffy's.

"You were sixteen when you first slept with someone?" Buffy guessed. Faith gave her a look that plainly said 'Hell no', Buffy tried again, "No...you were sixteen when you...came to Sunnydale," she remembered.

"Which was when you met me," she added slowly. Her heart beat seemed to slow down and speed up all at once as thought about what that might mean to Faith.

She wasn't sure if she was right with her train of thought or if Faith was about to laugh at the size of her giant ego. Faith stayed quiet and let her eyes drift heavenwards again, and Buffy nodded at her rightness.

"See, I knew this was about more than just sex," she said triumphantly.

"What makes you think it wasn't all about sex when I was sixteen?" Faith grinned, but she didn't look at her.

"Because if it had been, I think I'd have known about it a lot sooner; you weren't exactly shy about showing an interest back then, with guys anyway."

"I showed you plenty of interest, B."

"Yeah, the bad knife-to-my-throat kind. As I recall, you actually showed more sexual interest in my boyfriends than me most of the time," Buffy frowned. "What was that about?"

"It might have skipped your notice, but there was about a year or so there where I wasn't exactly thinking straight. What can I say, fucking your boys made sense at the time - or trying to fuck in Angel's case - I regret it now," Faith sounded as sincere as she ever had and Buffy didn't even know why she'd brought it up - it was probably the damn rabbit's fault.

"S'okay, water under a bridge under a ton of Sunnydale now," she promised.

Faith sat up, "Hey, if you want I'll let you take Troy for a spin - even it up a little."

"Please tell me you're joking," Buffy pleaded, blanching at the thought of being intimate with that jerk.

Faith shrugged, looking across the common to where the jerk was. Buffy followed her gaze. It looked as though Toni and Troy had finally resolved their differences and were now in line at the drinks stall.

"So how did it make you feel this morning?"

Faith's soft question pulled Buffy's wide eyes back to her. That was kind of a direct question, maybe she was making up for the lack of interest in past years. Buffy stumbled and stuttered as she tried to describe how she'd felt in words that made sense,

"I, uh, well it was... I mean, obviously it was good, and... and new, a lot of it was new, uh, for me and, well, us... I guess, and the...the kissing, with, uh, you is always...What?" Faith was looking at her like she was on crack.

Faith, in a move that completely surprised Buffy, slipped her hand into hers, entwining their fingers comfortably as she chuckled at her. "I was asking how did the demon make you feel, Spaz-attack? Did it send you back to 1999 too?"

Buffy curled her fingers around Faith's, "No, no I was twenty-three, possibly a slightly younger twenty-three, but still in the year of the Monkey, which would be this year, if we were in China, but we're not so...yeah."

Why was Faith holding her hand, all out in the open like this? Okay so their joined hands were actually hidden between their bodies with the way they were sitting so close to each other, but... Why were they sitting so close to each other, all out in the open like this?

A quick look showed Toni and Troy still in a big queue; they'd be a while yet.

"So you never actually said how you did feel in 1999?" Buffy pointed out.

"Like I could take on the world and win," Faith explained simply with a smile.

"And what would you have won?" Buffy felt shaky despite the lingering warmth of the sunny day. She hoped Faith couldn't pick up on it through their touching, not touching - holding, hands.

Faith smiled at her, "Probably something resembling this mornings little boink-fest," she admitted. "Except, you know, without the part where we stopped..."

Buffy squeezed her hand while nudging her in the ribs with her elbow. Faith, grinning, kept on talking,

"And a parade, of course. Angel's head on a spike out the front of my new Palace..." That earned her a much harder nudge causing Faith to giggle. "Doublemeat, of course, to curb the munchies during all the boinkfesting."

"Boinkfesting is not a word," Buffy was giggling too despite trying not to.

It was just that this was a different fluffier side to Faith, one Buffy had caught snatches of during their brief close friendship earlier in the year, but this was even different to that - because there was hand-holding.

"Course it is, it's German for: 'Lots of sex.'" Faith waggled her eyebrows.

They both settled down, the way they were looking into each other eyes making Buffy feel brave and nervous all at the same time.

"Sounds like a good life," she offered, her thumb lightly stroking Faith's.

"Nah, you wouldn't like it," Faith shook her head with a wry smile. "There would be a noticeable lack of any kind of snuggling."

"Well, with a body like yours," Buffy joked. "Who's gonna wanna waste time snuggling?"

"True." Faith gave a little grin, making Buffy wait a beat before she added, "You're pretty smokin' yourself, B."

"I am extremely smokin', F," Buffy corrected with a grin of her own.

Faith nodded absently, her grin slipping away, "Yeah, but I'm not sixteen anymore."

"Does that matter?" Buffy wasn't even sure what she was asking here. This conversation had completely taken her by surprise. Not to mention the touchy-feely thing their hands had going on. She thought about mentioning that their hands seemed to be snuggling just fine together and maybe Faith could learn the art from them, but she didn't want to say anything that might put this current contact into jeopardy.

"Yeah it matters. Things are different now, you know that," said Faith.

"So what are you saying exactly?" Buffy asked, leaning forward even more for better eye contact. "Why are we sitting here, talking about this?"

Faith hesitated over answering, but she didn't look away.

"Hey Gals, what's shaking?" They both startled badly at the unexpected voice.

As Xander flopped belly first next to them on the blanket, Faith pulled her hand back fast and discreet. Buffy missed it immediately, but didn't show it as she sat back; placing her hands in her lap, and turned her attention to her out-of-breath best friend.

"Hey, did you win?" she asked him, trying to sound like she cared about the answer and that her mind wasn't really racing with all the things Faith hadn't had a chance to say.

"No, dropped my egg on the starting line. Those things really go splat if you don't get a chance to pre-boil them," he griped cheerfully, staying on his stomach as he reached into the sandwich tub. "Melissa and me came in a close second in the wheel barrow race though; she can run really fast on her hands."

"Uh huh," Buffy nodded. "I'm pleased for you, Xan."

Willow plopped down on the blanket next to Faith, looking hot, sweaty and happy, "Kennedy and I won the three-legged race!" Wincing, she pulled her dark green cord pants up her legs, showing off minor rope burns on her left ankle. "Or should I say, Kennedy won, and I just happened to be attached to her."

"Where are your better halves anyway?" Faith drawled, looking about for them.

"Getting something to quench this fire in my chest hopefully," Xander had trouble swallowing his sandwich and chewed disgustingly while he tried. "Ack, from now on I'm only running for life-threatening situations or topless supermodels - anything else, not worth the cardiac distress. What about your honey's? Did they get so mad that they both spontaneously combusted?"

"Nah, they went for a walk to cool off, and get drinks also," explained Buffy. "Sorry you guys had to sit through that; honestly, they're normally the best of friends, right Faith?"

"Yeah, something musta crawled up Toni's ass and taken a good bite, that's for sure." Faith shrugged.

Buffy felt like she ought to be defending Toni, and somehow blame it on Troy, but they'd all seen Toni start it so she kept quiet for once.

"It's okay, it was kinda like watching the European version of Jerry Springer - except without the chair throwing or the naked pole-dancing or Toni confessing she's really a man..." Willow babbled until she became aware of Buffy's expression, shutting up she offered an apologetic smile.

Faith bust up laughing and Buffy dug her finger into Faith's bare side, making her wriggle away from the blonde, still chuckling.

"I promise you Will, Toni is no man, even if she does have more stones than Troy could ever hope for," Buffy grinned.

"That makes as much sense as your taste in women," Faith retaliated, reaching her arm up to flick Buffy's earlobe, making it sting enough to start her eyes watering.

"Youch, F!" Buffy rubbed her earlobe with one hand, and slapped at Faith's flicking hand with the other. "Did I hit a sore spot?"

"No, but I'm gonna." Faith tried to flick Buffy's ear again, but Buffy kept her hand away with a series of playful slaps.

"What happened to you two this morning?" Willow asked, smiling, making Buffy freeze.

"Yeah, you two are all...What's the word, Willow?" asked Xander.

"Friendly," supplied Willow.

"Yeah, that's it. So what gives?" Xander prodded them some more. "Did you re-bond over some serious slayage?"

Buffy, and Faith, slowly retracted their hands and nonchalantly moved further away from each other.

"Yeah, something like that," said Buffy. "We found the demon's lair, we think."

"We were starting to get worried," said Willow. "And then Troy and Toni showed up together and we couldn't tell them we thought you were out slaying and so we just had to tell them you were out and, you know, they didn't like that." She finished with a grimace.

"Did you tell them we were out together?" Faith asked cagily.

"Well I started to," said Xander, "but then Kennedy stepped in and said she was pretty sure that you - Faith - had gone to see someone in town about some work, and that you - Buffy - had gone to the gym early and had probably forgotten the time."

Buffy looked at Faith, relief showing in her smile and it was reflected back by the other slayer. She realized now that Kennedy was the only one who would have known that she and Faith were together because Faith had told her as much the night before. Hours ago, Buffy had been pissed that the new Slayer hadn't relayed the message given to her, but now she just wanted to kiss her.

By the look in Faith's eyes, she felt exactly the same, "Little fish come good for once," she muttered.

Buffy nodded.

"So was it there? Did you slay?" asked Xander.

Faith shook her head, "No it was out."

"So what happened?" asked Willow. "And how come you two are all fuzzy-wuzzy again after weeks of Cold War-like tension?"

"We're not fuzzy..!" began Faith haughtily.

"...wuzzy, that's ridiculous!" finished Buffy, just as haughtily.

Willow and Xander shared a look of surprise at either their denial-y outburst or the way she had just finished Faith's sentence for her in a spookily natural way.

Buffy cringed inside. Please let a distraction swoop down and save them from further questions on this very sensitive topic. Anything would do, a big bird, a tornado, a vampire, a ...

"Fai, my dear, I have brought you a beer. Is that what you wished for?"

Buffy saw Faith jump at her boyfriend's voice right behind her and she looked up to see Troy and Toni standing there, each with two plastic glasses of frothy golden beer.

'I'd have preferred the big bird or the vampire,' she thought, smiling as she took a glass from Toni and made room for her to sit next to her on the blanket.

"Sorry we were so long," Toni apologized.

"No worries, you two all friends again?" Buffy asked.

"Si," Toni smiled sheepishly. "We are sorry if we ruined your afternoon with our disagreement; it was silly of us to fight."

Kennedy and Melissa had rejoined them now with their own handfuls of drinks.

"So what was it about, the fight?" Buffy asked Toni as Willow and Xander greeted their partners.

"Nothing worth bringing up all over again, I promise," said Toni.

"Well it must have been important to make you lose it like that," said Faith.

Toni smiled dismissively, shaking her head, "Not really."

"So you're just, what ...crazy?" Faith asked casually.

Toni gave Faith a hard smile, her stylish eye-brows dipping low over her eyes. She licked her lips as if she was about to unleash another Italian tirade, but said nothing, merely nodding a few times before looking up as Dawn, Christian and Andrew wandered over.

Buffy cuffed Faith hard on the back of the head as soon as Toni's attention was off of them for a second. Troy saw her, but as Faith only chuckled at the blow he obviously decided not to make a thing out of it.

"That was the exhausting kind of fun." Dawn, out of breath, sat down on the blanket, pulling Christian down after her. "Do we have any water?"

Andrew collapsed between Buffy and Faith, making them both have to scoot away from each other to give him room. Buffy glared at the idiot, but he didn't notice as he clutched his tummy and complained about bouncing-sickness. As she looked up again, she was sure she caught Troy smirking at her, but he turned his head and it could have been a trick of the fading light.

"Buffy," Toni caught her attention, "I was thinking, as our time together last night was short, perhaps we could spend this night together instead."

"Um," She saw Faith glance over, making her hesitate a little before answering, "I don't know, it's a nice idea, but I have work tomorrow. Staying in Cleveland wouldn't really be practical."

This was a out and out lie seeing as she worked in Cleveland and having to go from Toni's dorm room to work would take about forty-five minutes less bus traveling time than going from home to work, but Buffy wasn't too sure whether she wanted company for the night.

She had a hell of a lot to think about, stuff she really shouldn't be thinking about while lying next to her unsuspecting girlfriend. To add to that, she felt too guilty to be having sex with Toni and that was what she would be expected to do if she went home with her. Not that Toni wouldn't respect her wishes if she said she wasn't in the mood, but so far Buffy had never said those words to Toni and she didn't want the discussion that would probably follow if she said them tonight.

It was better for everyone if Buffy just blamed her unwillingness on work and made it up to Toni some time in the week when she had her head together again.

"I was actually thinking that it might be nice if I stayed with you tonight," Toni grinned. "I have never even seen the inside of your bedroom before. I am starting to think you have something you are trying to hide from me."

'Only a weapons chest, a big, shiny red scythe on the wall and my Faith-shrine.' Buffy thought in alarm.

Not that she really had a shrine to Faith. Just a photo taken of them together at Buffy's birthday party and another of just Faith, sitting on the front steps, smoking as she sat alone, in her leather jacket, brooding on something, completely unaware that Buffy was sneaking around the side of the house to get the photo. Two photos didn't make a shrine, not even two photos and a giant vibrator made a shrine. It was more of a private collection hidden in her bedside cabinet.

"Trust me, Tone, I've been inside her bedroom hundreds of times and it ain't anything special, right B?" Faith smirked. Buffy coughed. Toni looked less than amused. "Bed's nice and big," Faith continued, winking at the Italian, "but other than that it's just your average girly den of hairspray and N-Sync posters."

Troy was shooting daggers at Buffy, why she didn't know, considering it was his girlfriend that was winding Toni up and not her, but he was nevertheless. She tried to focus on Toni, who was probably trying to kill them all with the power of her mind.

"You're right, a visit to Buffyville is long overdue," she agreed. "But I don't know if tonight would be the best night. Giles gets a little funny about us having guests over, because of the students all over the place." Buffy had told Toni weeks ago that they were running a private school for gifted children so this was a perfect excuse. "Giles doesn't think it looks very professional."

"What do I not think looks professional?" Giles finally rejoined them.

"Uh, having people stay over night on short notice," she told him, knowing he would probably go on a carefully worded rant about how they couldn't have just anyone traipsing through at all hours of the night when girls were returning from slaying. It was something all of the residents had heard more than once. This would get her completely off the hook with Toni.

"Well you're right of course," Giles smiled at her and then turned to Toni. "But I think we can make an exception just the once. After all, all of the girls have gone home for a short Easter break."

Damn, she'd forgotten about that.

"Although, there are some things I must speak with you about in private before you retire for the evening," he continued. "If it's not too inconvenient?"

"No, that's fine," she told him, running a hand back through her hair. As she turned to look at Toni, her eyes met Faith's again but she didn't let them linger. Forcing a big smile, she announced, "Looks like you're going to get a night-pass to Buffyville after all."

"I am very much looking forward to it," Toni grinned and leaned in to kiss her lightly on the lips.

Buffy met the kiss with one of her own before leaning back with a much more natural smile. This wouldn't be so bad and actually being with Toni would probably make her forget about thoughts of Faith that would only drive her crazy for no reason anyway.

There was a long drawn out squeaking noise at the back of the common where it was bordered by the woods. Buffy turned fast to look, half expecting to see a giant mutant mouse there. There wasn't but there were three or four men standing by a gap in the fence.

One of them held a megaphone to his mouth, "Attention people of Wendigo Hollow," he shouted through the device. "I think we're about to have a very special visitor."

A ripple of excited kid-chatter flowed through the crowded common, followed by a wave of adult-shushes. Buffy didn't like it. The expectant looks on everyone's faces made her think of films such as Independence Day - the scene where all the morons were eagerly waiting to welcome the aliens...

There was a crash of something big in the woods; Buffy rose slowly to her feet.

...Only to get blasted by the alien gun ships and blown to smithereens, whatever the hell a smithereen was, before they could even say hi. These people tonight were more likely to be squashed to smithereens than blown to them, but Buffy was pretty sure that however you got there, once you were smithereens - you were toast.

The sky overhead was now a deepening blue, with less than hour of daylight left to go. Not a good time to be outdoors with who knew how many demons and vampires living in and around the town. The commuter belt for the Midwestern Hellmouth was a growing goldmine for amoral real estate companies ever since Sunnydale had collapsed under the weight of its own evil.

"Do you we think we have a problem?" Buffy hadn't even noticed Faith was standing next to her until she spoke.

"I hope not," she muttered back. "But I don't like the way that guy with the megaphone looks like Snyder." She could see something white coming through the trees towards the gap in the fence and Buffy didn't know whether to shout RUN or not.

"Here he is, kids!" The guy shouted through his megaphone just as a six foot white rabbit jumped from the trees. All of the children squealed with excitement and several of the parents cheered or clapped.

"No fuckin' way," Faith looked from the demon to Buffy and back again. "No fuckin' way!"

"It can't be..." Buffy took a step forward.

The demon was bouncing slightly up and down on long furry feet, a big basket of brightly coloured eggs hung over one arm and he waved the other back and forth over his head in greeting.

"Is it..?" Buffy asked Faith.

"No fuckin' way," Faith didn't seem to hear her as she stared transfixed on the giant rabbit.

"I can almost hear Anya's ghost freaking out," said Xander as he watched the rabbit too. "Speaking of which, when did you two develop bunny-fear?"

"Its not what it looks like," Buffy hissed to him as they watched the rabbit hop amongst the blankets, letting the children take eggs from his overflowing basket.

"So it's not a guy dressed up in a big bunny costume then?" he checked.

"No, I can't explain how I know, at least not right now," Buffy spared Toni a quick glance. "But that... thing is the demon we've been tracking."

"Are you sure? Because it looks like a guy in a costume," said Xander as the demonic bunny hopped closer to their blanket. "You can see the guy's shirt sticking out between the body and the head, look."

Buffy looked closer as the demon hopped in a full circle to make sure he'd gotten all the kids over there. Xander was right, she couldn't tell if it was a shirt, but there was definitely red material where there should have just been continuous white fur. Maybe the demon was wearing a red neck tie for the occasion?

"Uh, Faith?" she asked.

"Damn," Faith relaxed next to her. "Can we just go and hit it a few times anyway - for therapy?"

"Probably not a nice idea in front of the kids," Buffy reasoned. "We could always follow it back into the woods though."

Faith laughed, and said quietly so only Buffy could hear, "No offense, but I think if we go back into the woods tonight, I'm just gonna need more therapy." Giving Buffy a wink, she lost interest in the fake bunny and dropped down astride Troy's middle to give him some attention.

Buffy knew she should probably give Toni the same thing, after her little weird spell, but Faith's words had had an effect on her that she couldn't shake off immediately; and so she stayed standing, willing her body to think about totally unsexy things while she stared at the damn rabbit.

It looked so much like the demon that had chased her through the trees and then jumped high over the top of her that morning, except that now it was so close she could easily see that the nose and mouth were made from stitches and the eyes were just holes, incapable of winking.

The real demon was still out there somewhere; maybe it was down in the mysteriously disappearing cavern right now, watching a little girl-on-girl action captured by the caves secretly hidden cc-tv cameras. 'Don't think about girl-on-girl action!' Or maybe it had already moved on and was out squashing cows and confusing horny Slayers in another place entirely.

The rabbit-guy had reached their blue and white blanket now, Buffy expected him to keep going as there were no children with them, but he stopped, hopped a couple of times in place before chucking four eggs out of his basket in quick succession.

Buffy caught hers first and held the smooth pink egg in both hands, gazing at it with worry. 'What the hell?' She looked up to see Faith, Troy and Toni also holding the exquisite Easter eggs and then looked up further to see that the bunny-guy had already hopped on to another family teeming with kids.

Troy and Toni looked comically confused by the eggs in their hands as they studied them, everyone else wore similar expressions. Xander looked a little put out that he hadn't received an egg.

Faith... looked as wary as Buffy.

"Is it chocolate?" Toni asked.

"Yes, I mean I think so," Buffy corrected herself.

Toni smiled, obviously feeling lucky to get an egg, and bit the top of the egg off. "Mmm, it is very delicious," she purred.

Buffy gave her a half smile, the egg still resting in her hands, and watched Troy take a bite of his next.

"Ah yes, it is very fine chocolate," he agreed. "Far better than what is made in this country."

"What's wrong with our chocolate?" Buffy asked indignantly, watching Faith nibble the tip of her egg.

"Sir," Troy broke off a chunk of the egg and handed it to Giles.

Giles looked at the offering for a beat before taking it and popping it in his mouth, "I'm afraid Buffy I must agree with Troy, uh, may I try some more?"

"Of course," Troy broke off another chunk and as he handed it to Giles, a piece of parchment fell to the blanket.

Buffy's eyes followed it and then met Faith's; silently they agreed not to draw attention to it.

"What was that?" asked Willow. "Something fell."

Buffy groaned to herself as Troy looked down to see what she meant and found the parchment immediately. As he was unrolling it, Toni spat a similar piece out of her mouth. Apologizing for her manners, she picked it up for a closer look.

Buffy locked eyes with Faith and as one they broke into their eggs, both knowing what they were going to find. Something spookily creepy was going on here.

Buffy unrolled her message, 'Love slips away into the night, if you do not reach out and catch it.' She frowned, more of the cryptic.

Raising an eyebrow at Faith, the other slayer motioned for them to subtly exchange notes while Troy and Toni were still reading theirs.

She read Faith's, 'True love is for the courageous; if you do not jump, you can not be caught.'

Her friends were starting to ask what was going on now, but Buffy was too busy staring at Faith again, who was staring back at her. They shared freaked-out expressions. What did this mean? How was this happening? What in the hell was going on?

Buffy's heart was hammering inside her chest as they turned to look at their partners.

"What does this mean?" asked Troy, still staring at the small parchment with a look of complete bewilderment.

"I do not understand the joke," said Toni, looking up at Buffy, as puzzled as her best friend.

"Um, what..." Buffy discreetly pushed Faith's cryptic mumbo-jumbo into her sock, out of sight, as she looked at her girlfriend with as much innocence as she could muster. "What does it, uh, say?" she asked, nerves screaming.

"Yeah, babe, what's on yours?" Faith sounded a little shaky as she turned to her boyfriend for an answer. Buffy couldn't see her note anywhere meaning Faith had hidden that too.

Toni and Troy looked at each other for a beat, appearing completely confused and then at their respective partners.

As one, they read, "Do not eat yellow snow!"

"Huh." Buffy and Faith said in unison, before they both came down with a serious case of the giggles.


Key to Italian/Greek used above:

[1] "How does she know about the key? What else have you been careless with?"
[2] "No, it is not fine! What if she learns its true meaning?
[3] "Then things will be further advanced that I would have liked, but it will not pose a problem, we will be in Rome tonight."
[4] "Your girlfriend may be stupid, but mine is not!"
[5] "Faith is not stupid, and neither is she as painfully annoying as Buffy."
[6] "She thought dinosaurs were around 3000 years ago!"
[7] "Let us not forget who has dominion over whom."
[8] "Do not pull that dominion crap with me, my brother. One word from me and your plan will never come to fruition. "
[9] "And one word from me, Antonella, and you will never say anything... ever again."



Chapter Six

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