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 Six: You'll Never Know What Hit You When I Get To You

"No, mine said exactly the same as yours," Buffy lied to Toni as they gathered the picnic things between them. "I think whoever made the eggs might have been a little bit bird-clock, you know what I mean?"

Toni made a grumbling noise of agreement and Buffy sighed with relief.

Bursting out laughing over the identical message Toni and Troy had received hadn't been the wisest thing she'd ever done. It had been the relief after so much built up tension. Thinking about it now though, it was a little on the creepy side - had the demon been in the cavern with them all along? She shuddered. No, they'd have known; it was just one of those uncanny coincidences that cropped up in her life on a daily basis.

Obviously some higher power, or possibly just a mutant rabbit, was trying to tell the two slayers something; something about love, and they didn't hold Troy and Toni in very high regard. Completely understandable in Troy's case, it actually made Buffy inclined to believe that the demon wasn't evil after all.

Buffy shook the blue checkered blanket out as Andrew and Willow packed the remains of the food into the basket. Xander took their litter to the nearest portable trash can and Giles went to say goodbye to the people he'd been talking to earlier. It seemed that the Easter Bunny was last on the bill for the town's Annual Easter Picnic and everyone was starting to make their way back to their cars to head home. It was almost dark now, with stars already bright overhead in the clear sky.

"Are you cooking tonight, Buffy?" Dawn asked as they took a slow walk back towards town with a few dozen other people.

"You want me to cook after you've been stuffing your face with picnic food all day?" Buffy asked, a little annoyed. She already had to speak with Giles about sexual stuff, keep Toni entertained and try not to think about Faith at all; she had enough on her plate.

"No, I don't want you to cook, I was actually going to say don't cook for me if you had given me a chance to finish," Dawn snapped back. "Christian and I are going out for a meal."

"Okay, back by eleven," said Buffy, her brain too frazzled by the day's events to worry too much.

"Uh-huh, see you later." As Dawn and her boyfriend split away from the group for his car, Buffy heard her say, "S'okay, she'll be way too busy by eleven to worry whether I'm in or not."

Embarrassed, Buffy didn't bother to shout a reprimand. She felt better when Toni took her hand as they walked along.

"If we are lucky, si?"

Buffy chuckled, "Si."

"We should order a pizza," Xander decided, an arm around his girlfriend. Melissa was being allowed to stay over too.

"Or Thai, I feel like noodles," Kennedy said.

"What about you guys, Giles, Faith?" Willow asked.

"All I require is a nice cup of tea," Giles informed them. "The beer they sold on that stall was revolting."

"I'm looking forward to a lump of scrambled egg and probably some kind of dodgy flat-pressed foreign sausage," Faith answered.

"Yum, can you save me some?" Xander asked.

"Sure, but it'll probably be cold by the time I get back from Rome."

Buffy kept her eyes on the dark road ahead of them and concentrated on Toni's hand in hers, not on what Faith was saying. She'd managed to forget for a little while that Faith was going away. Now she remembered again, but she wasn't going to let it get to her. In fact, Faith leaving for a few days was the best thing that could happen for them all. Buffy needed time to get over their time together in the cavern and that would definitely be easier if the brunette slayer wasn't around to remind her.

Despite what she was trying to convince herself of, Buffy's ears managed to turn down the soft conversation Toni was having with Melissa and Willow and tuned into the one Faith was having with Troy.

"If you are ready, we can leave as soon as we pick up your bag." That was Troy.

"Actually, babe, I haven't packed yet, I've been so busy all day with one thing or another. Won't take me long though," Faith promised.

"It is no problem, I will wait until you are packed and then we can go to my apartment to pick up my bag on the way to the airport. We must not delay too long though; we have to check in four hours prior to our departure time."

Faith didn't answer immediately and Buffy had to fight herself to not look her way. Eventually she said, "Probably be better if you go get your bag and stuff and I meet you at the airport."

Troy started to protest and stopped again before he'd fully formed a word; Faith had obviously just kissed him. Her kisses could do that to a person.

"I'll pack quicker if you're not there as a distraction anyway," Faith continued. "If you come up to my room with me, we might miss the flight."

"Buffy?"

"Mmm?" Buffy answered her girlfriend through gritted teeth.

"Okay, Fai, you have convinced me," Troy was saying. "Hurry though, I do not want to waste our vacation time, and any time not spent with you I will consider a waste."

"Well in that case..." Faith began.

Troy and Faith fell silent. Buffy felt her ears grow three sizes as she tried to listen.

"Buffy?"

"Mmm?"

"Oh, will you two get a room already; nobody wants to see that on the street," Kennedy barked.

"Buffy!"

Toni's pained shout finally shook Buffy out of her trance-like eavesdropping and she stopped on the pavement as everyone else kept walking around them and down the street.

"What? What is it?" She looked around at first, wondering what could have caused that kind of reaction from Toni.

"It is okay, I am fine," The Italian had pulled her hand back and was cradling it to her chest.

"Oh God, what did I do?" Buffy stepped forward.

"It is okay; I like that you want to hold my hand so tight, but you have obviously been working out," Toni, grinning, squeezed Buffy's bicep. She looked less sure of herself as she realized just how developed Buffy's muscle actually was.

"Is your hand okay?" Buffy asked, praying that she hadn't broken every bone in it. "I've been using those hand squeezy things, you know, to exercise your hands," she improvised. "Maybe I over did it."

Toni's hand slid around Buffy's neck and she was pulled into a soft kiss. "It is fine," she promised when she released Buffy again. "Although if you have some ice at home?"

"We have lots of ice, I think." Buffy went to take Toni's hand again, but thinking better of it, slipped an arm around her waist instead. "And if not, I'll make you some. How hard can it be to make ice - it's just frozen water, right?"

Toni chuckled, "I think you will make very good ice."

"Well, I'll let you in on a little secret: I've done it before - cubed ice even." Buffy grinned as, arm in arm, they followed everyone else home.

*****

As they all noisily entered the back door of the house together, Buffy seized an opportunity to pull Willow to one side.

"Can you keep Toni entertained for one minute while I scour my bedroom for slayer-giveaways?"

"I'll do it," Faith offered brightly. Too brightly.

"You've got packing to do," Buffy reminded her, shooing her away.

"I hate packing," Faith groaned. "Tell you what, Red can pack for me and I'll baby-sit Toni?"

Buffy scowled at her.

"S'okay Buff, I won't let her out of my sight. Now go before she gets suspicious," It was Willow's turn to shoo Buffy towards the back stairs.

She waited until Faith gave her a little grin and went through to the living room before leaving Toni with Willow, who offered to make tea for everyone as an excuse. Before she reached the stairs, Xander subtly stepped in front of her and prodded something into her stomach.

Looking down she asked, "Huh?"

Xander pushed a couple of heavy duty padlocks into her hands. "Security."

"Thanks." It was probably a bit extreme, but then she didn't want Toni to accidentally stumble across something she shouldn't while looking for a sweater if she got cold.

She went up the back stairs fast and darted up the landing to her room.

The first padlock took care of her weapons chest at the foot of the bed. If Toni was curious, Buffy could just tell her it was stuff she'd salvaged for Sunnydale. Toni was sensitive enough not to want her to open it and release bad memories.

Jumping onto her bed, she quickly but carefully removed the scythe from its hanging place and jumped back down to stow it at the back of her closet. The stake box Xander had made for her birthday followed it, along with a dagger she kept under her mattress and the crossbow she kept under the bed.

She was about to close the door when she noticed the pile of dirty clothes in the corner of the room. Grabbing those she chucked them in too, slammed the closet door and padlocked it shut.

A thought suddenly occurred which made her slap a palm to her brow, "Shit, Xander better have keys for them!"

Willow's outdoor voice came through Buffy's closed door, "And here are the stairs."

Shit! Buffy took a quick look around the room. It all appeared to be girlfriend-safe.

"And this is mine and Kennedy's room." Came loud and clear from the landing.

Faith-shrine! Buffy leapt over her bed and fumbled with the key in her bedside cabinet. Getting the drawer locked without breaking the key off, she pulled the slim piece of metal out of the lock and...

"And this is Buffy's room." Willow was still shouting despite being right outside.

Buffy jumped at the loud knocking on her door and threw the key over her shoulder. "Come in," she squeaked.

The door opened and Buffy took a look behind her. Shit, the window was open; she'd thrown the key out of the window!

Toni came in carrying two mugs of tea; Willow was behind her in the doorway making 'sorry' face.

"I wondered where you had gone to," Toni smiled, looking for somewhere to set the mugs down. "Willow kindly showed me the way."

"I, ah, yeah, my room was a mess, I just wanted to clean up a little before you saw it." Buffy cleared some space on top of the bedside cabinet, took the mugs from Toni and placed them there. "Thanks Willow."

"You're welcome." Willow disappeared in a hurry, pulling the door shut as she went.

Buffy let Toni take a look around the room while she stayed where she was in front of the window, the bed a barrier between them. "It's not much, but it's home."

"It is very nice, much nicer than my dormitory," Toni was admiring the pictures on the walls. Despite what Faith had said, there weren't any Nsync posters; just a tasteful shot of Justin Timberlake, looking especially dreamy, shirtless in a white suit.

"I like your dorm," Buffy spotted the previous night's panties by her foot and punted them under the bed. "It's cosy."

Toni turned to face her, her arms swinging loosely by her sides like she didn't know what to do with them. For the first time since Buffy had met her, Toni actually seemed a little unsure of herself. "Willow was kind enough to make us some tea."

Buffy smiled. "I know. Would you like to sit down?"

"Si," Toni started towards the stool in front of Buffy's vanity table.

"No," Buffy stopped her. "I meant here, on the bed." She patted her comforter.

Toni smiled and slipped her pumps from her feet before sitting on the very edge of the bed.

"You can make yourself comfortable you know," Buffy patted the bed again. "There's no point in being all refined now unless you plan on sleeping sat up like that."

She kicked off her sneakers and pushed them under the bed too before scrambling onto the duvet comforter and sitting with her legs crossed under her. By the time she'd stretched over to grab the two mugs from the cabinet, Toni had mirrored her position.

"That's better." She handed a mug of tea to Toni and gestured around the room with her free hand. "Let me give you the guided tour. Bathroom," she pointed to the door leading to the adjoining bathroom. "Remember to lock the other door so my sister can't barge in on you. Exit," she pointed to the door to the landing.

"Okay," Toni smiled. "Is there more?"

"Bed," she pointed down to it. "Very important feature of the room and one you'll hopefully enjoy."

"I'm sure I will."

Buffy sipped from her tea, thinking, 'Yeah, providing I don't accidentally say someone else's name while we're in it!'

"Fire escape," she said, pointing to the tree outside the open window; Toni gave a little giggle.

Buffy looked about her for more inspiration but her room really wasn't that big. "I guess that's about it. Any questions?"

"Si, does breakfast come with the room?"

Buffy chuckled, "Depends how early we get up. I still have work in the morning."

"Then, I think, we will not have time for breakfast." Their half empty mugs clinked together as Toni leaned in to kiss her.

Buffy tried to keep the kiss perfunctory, knowing full well that she was in desperate need of a shower before she got too physical with the other woman. Not just because she was dirty from the hunting and running and tunnel-sliding that had made up the majority of her patrol that morning . . . she was dirty for lots of other reasons too.

Toni's lips were addictive in their own way though. Faith's lips were high-priced cocaine; Toni's were Expresso Pump mochachinos. 'In other words', her tired brain tried to make sense of her own analogy, 'Toni-kisses are safe, legal and make me feel warm inside and Faith-kisses get me higher than can possibly be a good thing and will eventually be the death of me.'

It wasn't until she felt hot tea splash onto her ankle that Buffy opened her eyes. She broke the kiss, licking her lips happily with a little smile and pushing some hair gently behind Toni's ear.

"I have to go and speak to Giles," she said softly. "Will you be okay waiting here?"

Toni gave her another kiss on the lips. "I will be fine."

"I have a TV." Buffy pointed to the colour portable sat up on a shelf in the corner of her room. She climbed from the bed, found the remote on her floor and handed it to Toni. "I'll be as quick as I can and then we'll have the whole night to ourselves, okay?"

Toni nodded, not seeming bothered that she had to leave. She used the remote to turn on the television set as Buffy slipped her sneakers back on and left the room.

Buffy was just passing the door to the other bathroom, the communal one, when it opened and Faith walked out. Steam followed her into the landing and Buffy's breath caught. Not because of the steam, but because the other Slayer was dressed only in a towel, well two, because she had one wrapped around her hair as well.

"Hey B," Faith's voice was soft and surprised.

"God no!" Buffy put a hand over her eyes and tried to keep going for the stairs. This was not something she could deal with right now.

She bumped into something after another step and resignedly removed her hand. Faith had moved in front of her, but took a step back once Buffy was looking her in the eye.

"Chill out Twinkie, I only wanna say goodbye," Faith was smiling at Buffy's reaction.

"You know Twinkie could, under some people's rules, be called a pet name," she said quietly. Faith's shoulders were wet, looking shiny in the overhead light.

"Even if I only use to it annoy you?"

"Yep." Buffy watched a water droplet as it traveled down the centre of Faith's chest before disappearing beneath the fluffy towel. "I need to take a shower."

"Well I don't know about need, but it probably couldn't hurt."

"Why, can you smell me?" Buffy took a little worried step back. Distance probably wasn't a bad thing anyway, but she certainly didn't want Faith going off on her travels with her last memory being of stinky-Buffy.

"Not from here, no." Faith chuckled. "I'd have to get closer for that and this ain't really the place."

Buffy started to grin but bit her lip to make it go away; this wasn't the place for that either. She started to walk around the towel-clad woman, "I have to go and speak with Giles. Have a safe trip."

Faith's damp hand on her arm stopped her, "Buffy, we need to talk."

Okay, so Faith's damp hand paused her, but it was the words that stopped her, stopped her dead. Faith wanted to talk? Why here? Why now?

"We can't." Buffy motioned to her closed bedroom door with a nod of her head.

Faith realized what she meant and removed her hand and used it to play with the rings on her other hand. "Okay."

"There's nothing to talk about anyway, nothing that won't wait until you get back." Buffy told her in a whisper that wouldn't carry through the door to her bedroom. "I'm going to tell Giles everything about the rabbit, the affect it had and what it..." she ducked her head quickly before looking Faith in the eye again and going bravely on. "...what it made us feel and do. We'll get to the bottom of it while you're away and then if a chance hasn't already come up for me to slay it, we can do it together when you get back. It'll be a great way to finally put all this nonsense to bed once and for all," she finished with a forced smile.

Faith stared at her, but her eyes looked very distant as she stood there silently; almost like she was having an inner-struggle about something. Buffy was obviously interested in what that inner-struggle might be, but wasn't willing to hang around on the landing waiting to see which half of Faith won.

She was again about to walk away when Faith spoke up, "Okay, we'll do that, but there's something I really need to say now."

Buffy kicked herself, but there was no way she could walk away now without knowing what it was Faith wanted to say. "Go on then."

Buffy watched as Faith looked her dead in the eye and then found the floor more favorable; the silence stretched on as Faith shifted her gaze to the wall behind Buffy and then to her interlocked hands.

"Faith..." Buffy started to tell her to get a move on.

Faith looked up again and started talking, "Earlier...this morning, when..."

Buffy's bedroom door opened and the blonde slayer nearly took off down the hallway in response. That would look beyond worse though, so she stood her ground next to Faith, who had abruptly shut up, and smiled at her girlfriend standing in the doorway.

"Hi Toni," she said brightly. Her brain was on red alert, waiting for any sign that might mean an explosion of the atomic kind was about to happen in the narrow hallway.

"Hello. I thought I heard voices and so decided to investigate," Toni smiled at Buffy before turning cool eyes to the other slayer. "Faith."

"Toni, hey." Faith nodded at her and shifted so that she was suddenly seemed to be a foot away from Buffy. "We were just saying goodbye."

Toni nodded.

"Yeah, so I better go get dressed and finish that packing. I don't wanna keep Troy waiting. I want him nice and happy when I suggest joining the mile-high club." Faith winked at Toni. "Catch ya later, B." She swaggered down the landing to her room and kicked the door shut with her heel.

Only Faith could swagger in a towel.

"Do you think I should have told her that Troy is already a member of that club?" Toni asked with a smile.

Buffy gave an embarrassing giggle-snort before she managed to stifle it with her hand. "No," she said, still grinning. "This way she has something to do on the flight."

"She looks good in a towel, si?" Toni raised an eyebrow.

"Not as good as I do," Buffy promised, her heart pounding. "Which I'll prove as soon as I get back from speaking with Giles."

"I will look forward to it," Toni came forward and kissed her just as Xander's bedroom door opened and Melissa walked out.

"Oh sorry." Melissa didn't seem to know where to look. "I didn't mean to interrupt."

"No problem." Buffy planted one last quick kiss on her girlfriend's lips. "Where's Xander?"

"He has a meeting with Mr Giles. He said I should go downstairs and watch some TV with the others. Is that okay?" Melissa obviously felt a bit uncomfortable about being left to fend for herself in a strange house.

Buffy came up with a plan. "Very okay. In fact, why don't you two go down together." She looked at Toni. "That way you won't be sat up here on your own."

And that way, Buffy didn't have to watch how long she spent talking to Giles because she had a feeling it would take a while.

She so wasn't looking forward to that.

*****

"Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow..." The strange chant acted like an echo to the sounds of Buffy's fists hitting squidgy material.

When Buffy had first entered the training barn, tense and uncomfortable about the talk she had to have with Giles, he had immediately suggested some physical training to the take the edge off.

She had wanted to point out that it was physical exercise that had put the edge on her in the first place and that she'd already had more than enough of that for one day. It was the thought that she only had more to come that night that had Buffy taping up her hands; pounding on something for a while might make her tired enough to fall asleep before Toni could suggest anything else.

That and hitting something really hard seemed like a really good idea right now.

Buffy frowned as she punched. Punching bags weren't supposed to say 'ow' all the time, it was putting her off.

"Ow, okay, I'm going to...ow... go out on a limb here and...ow... say you're pissed off about something." The punching bag tried to shuffle backwards to get away but Buffy just followed, not letting up her punishing attack for a beat.

"I'm fine." Buffy insisted through gritted teeth.

"Hah!" Willow's lack of belief came from the bench behind Buffy, where the witch and Giles were sitting to watch.

"Ow...really...ow?"

"Yes really," Buffy insisted, throwing more weight into her hits as the punching bag started to annoy her.

"Okay, then I just...owie!...have one thing...for the love of God woman...to say: Liar liar pants on fireahhh!"

Buffy kicked the punching bag across the room. His yell was terminated when his back hit the wall and he slid down to his ass, panting.

"That's it!" Xander's face was blotchy red and he panted heavily as he insisted, "That's it. No more puffy suit! I am not being puffy-suit wearing guy any more!"

"Oh come on Xander, I didn't hit you that hard." Buffy pulled the grey tape from her hands and flexed her fists a few times.

This time when the noise of disbelief came from behind her, Buffy turned to look.

"Water?" Willow held up a bottle of icy h2o innocently. Buffy gave her an 'I'm on to you' look as she took it. Willow smiled sheepishly back.

"Well Buffy, you certainly seemed very virulent in you attack of... of Xander," Giles rose to his feet and paced a little, his hands behind his back. "Did you feel he posed a particular threat?"

Buffy frowned until she realized the Watcher was playing with her. She gave him a look too before uncapping her water bottle. She drank half of it down and poured the rest over her face.

"You told me to vent a little," she pointed to Giles. "You offered to put on the puffy suit," she pointed to Xander. "And you're here because..?" Buffy pointed to Willow.

"I didn't want to be left out," Willow smirked. "And I want to know what happened this morning."

"Believe me; you don't want to know what happened this morning." Buffy didn't know if having her friends there would make this easier or just even more embarrassing. It didn't look like she had a lot of choice in the matter though.

"Well whatever it is you're trying to hide, it's got to pretty special," Xander said, still sitting up against the wall because he couldn't move on his own with the suit on. "You haven't kicked me across the room since you were in college," he groaned with feeling.

"I'm not hiding anything," she insisted. "It's just... this is a little crazier than even we're used to. You guys might not want to sit in on this."

That had been the wrong thing to say. Willow leaned forward on the bench and Xander tried to get up, fell on his stomach and ended up staying there, his chin resting on his crossed hands. All they needed was popcorn.

"Well Buffy, I think it is quite clear you have something you need to get off of your chest, as it were, and if it is related to the demon we've been tracking for the past week I really think you should tell me." Giles produced a hard-backed black notebook from a pocket and took a pen from somewhere inside his jacket. "Would you care to start?"

"Um, no," Buffy tried.

Seeing their expectant expressions, she sighed with frustration and went to the door of the training barn. Opening the door enough, she peered out into the dark to make sure no one was lurking around; satisfied there wasn't, she pushed the door closed completely.

This shouldn't be so hard. It was work stuff after all. For eight years she'd reported to Giles after every patrol, there was no reason why tonight should be any different. Yeah, who was she kidding?

Buffy paced the width of the sparring circle and back again, her hands playing together in front of her chest as she tried to find the words. She noticed Giles was poised with his pen and turned to him beseechingly.

"Can we please not have a written record of what I am about to say?" she asked. "I really don't like the thought of future watchers reading about this after I'm dead and buried. I mean what if I come back again? They'll know, and I'll know they know, you know?"

Buffy groaned as Willow, Xander and Giles all answered at once, "No."

"Just put the pen away and I'll spill," she promised.

She waited until Giles reluctantly put the pen away and closed his notepad, grumbling about posterity.

"Right." Buffy walked behind the wooden vaulting horse, putting her an equal distance from all of her avid audience and took a deep breath.

"I found the demon this morning. Or rather, while I was looking for it in the woods, it found me."

"Did it attack you?" Willow asked in concern.

"Not exactly." Buffy thought back to the creature crashing through the dark woods behind her. "It just chased me... right into Faith."

"So you guys were together this morning," Xander said. "But what was she doing in the woods that early in the morning, I thought her shift was last night?"

Buffy looked down at the yellow canvas covering the horse. "She came to find me."

"Why?" Willow asked, "It's not like you two are particularly close anymore."

"And why is that anyway?" Xander chimed in. "What happened to cause the great divide?"

Buffy ran a hand through her hair. "That's really two whole separate conversations than the one I'm trying to get through."

"Yes," Giles agreed with her, thankfully. "Can we please keep this meeting on today's topic and save the gossip for afterward?"

"I don't know why Faith came to see me," she said honestly, because now that she thought about it, it might have been connected to the demon. Buffy had even thought at the time that it was weird, Faith catching a cab to come and find her at four in the morning. "She said it was because she missed me, but it was probably the demon's influence or something."

Oh great, why did she have to go and think that? Now that was another memory ruined for her. She turned the anger inside, it would wait until she caught up with the cotton tailed bastard and then she could pull his ears off and shove them up his...

"The demon's influence?" Giles asked. "You think the demon was in some way influencing Faith's actions?"

"Oh boy, you don't even know the half of it," Buffy muttered.

Giles smiled at her patiently, "Well not yet, no, but if you would care to start at the beginning; and avoiding segues into your disagreements with Faith might make this a little less painful than you seem to be finding it."

Buffy burst out laughing as she started pacing the room again. That was a good one. She'd have to remember it to tell Faith when she returned from Italy.

"Not gonna happen Giles, those two things aren't exactly separable." Giles frowned at her like he was about to interrupt. She held up her hand to stop him. "Okay, I'll explain."

With a little run up, Buffy jumped onto the vaulting horse. Sitting there with her legs hanging down, she began to tell of everything that had happened to her and Faith that morning.

"So you fell down together like in a big roly poly?" Willow interrupted almost immediately. "That must have been awful."

"Actually, the amount of times Faith and I roll down stuff together, I've gotten pretty used to it. It doesn't suck as much as you'd think." Buffy started to smirk until she saw Giles warning look and got back on topic.

A few minutes later, Xander interrupted her flow with a question, "So you're telling us you fell down a giant rabbit hole?"

"Essentially, yes," Buffy nodded.

"And was there by any chance a big dope-smoking caterpillar waiting at the bottom with the demon rabbit?" he asked.

"No, there wasn't. As far as I know the demon-rabbit wasn't even down there," Buffy rubbed a hand over her forehead in agitation.

"Well maybe he was late... for a very important date," Xander grinned up at her from the floor.

"I know how crazy this sounds," Buffy promised, "And it's about to get more so."

Giles whipped his notebook back out when Buffy told him what the demon-rabbit had said to Faith about her destiny. "I must have a record of this if I am to research it thoroughly," he explained.

"Okay," she conceded. "I'm not totally sure I got all the words right anyway, but that is definitely the gist of it."

Giles finished writing and placed the book back in his pocket, "Well, I'll start cross-referencing prophecies first thing in the morning. Of course we may not find anything if this demon was deliberately trying to mislead you."

"So what happened next?" Willow asked eagerly.

"Well, um, we were walking and talking and then we found the cavern," said Buffy slowly.

She'd missed out the bit about how she had started groping Faith the second she had woken up, but she knew that she was getting closer to the bit where she'd have to tell them worse stuff than that.

"And what did you find in the cavern?" Giles asked. "Was there any evidence of the demon using it as a lair?"

"Well you could say that," Buffy chuckled. "There were eggs, hundreds and hundreds of eggs."

"Like the kind that come out of chicken or like the kind that come out of a Suvolte demon?" Xander asked warily.

"Actually like the kind that come out of the Easter Bunny," Buffy said, and then grimaced at that thought. "Or maybe not out of it, but like the ones that the costume bunny was handing out at the picnic."

"Looked like?" Willow asked.

Buffy shook her head, "Exactly like."

"With messages about yellow snow?" Xander asked with a frown.

Buffy shook her head again, "With messages like this."

She bent down and pulled the tiny roll of parchment out of her sock and handed it to Giles.

"True love is for the courageous; if you do not jump, you can not be caught." He read aloud for the benefit of the other two.

"Well that's nothing like eating yellow snow," Xander pointed out the obvious.

"That's the message Faith got in her Easter egg at the picnic, I got one similar."

"And by similar you mean?" Prompted Giles as he handed back the parchment.

"As in something about true love slipping through my fingers if I'm not careful." Said Buffy. "And all the eggs in the cave, at least the ones we checked, all said pretty much the same thing."

"This is really weird," Willow looked earnestly at Buffy. "Why would a demon want to write you love notes?"

"Could somebody help me up please," Xander asked, straining his head back to look up at them. "Will's right, this is weird, and it doesn't feel like a lying on the floor like a beached whale kind of weird."

Buffy jumped down and walked over. Grabbing two handfuls of his puffy back, one giant heave later and he was back on his feet, wobbly but upright. "Thank you. So let's recap: the giant white rabbit lures you and Faith into his lair which is filled with hundreds of Easter Eggs all containing messages of love?"

"Yeah?" Buffy nodded.

"So that must have been awkward then," Xander continued. "For you and Faith I mean, with all the lovey-dovey-ness in the air."

"Oh, it was that alright," Buffy agreed. "And it was about to get worse."

Buffy continued the tale, her words coming faster and faster as she got to the good bit, so to speak.

"And then we... we gave in," she hung her head.

"You gave in?" Willow exploded in surprise. "You had sex?"

Buffy nodded without looking up.

"Faith too?" Willow asked.

"No Will, I was just doing myself while Faith was in the corner painting watercolors of the pretty eggs!" Buffy snapped, followed up quickly by a cringe. "Sorry Giles. I bet you don't want to hear this any more than I want to tell it, right?"

"That's quite alright Buffy, you needn't apologize, I understand this must have been a very stressful day for you," Giles smiled at her reassuringly.

"Oh yeah, having lots of Slayer-sex was probably really stressful," Willow chimed in sarcastically.

"It's not like I planned it," Buffy rounded on her. She was angry at herself as much as anything, but she couldn't shout at herself, not satisfyingly anyway. "And who said it was lots?"

"Was it lots?" Xander asked a little too cheerfully.

"Well yeah," Buffy admitted sheepishly. "But only because once we'd started we couldn't seem to stop."

"I didn't mean to judge, I get you were under demon-mojo." Willow semi-apologized. "It's just...what about Toni? What about Troy?"

"You don't we've thought of that!?" Buffy shouted at her. "We tried to resist. And I feel as guilty as hell about Toni, but it was... it's...Look, I'm not trying to defend what we did, but you weren't there. You'd don't know how it felt."

She felt like crying. They just didn't get it and they never would because they didn't understand how she felt about Faith and they didn't know how Faith had felt about her when she was sixteen.

"It's okay Buffy," Giles said to her gently. "I think I may have an idea of what demon it is you were dealing with. We don't need to hear anymore details."

"Well I haven't figured out what kind of demon it is yet, so Buff, I'm afraid I'm going to need some more details," Xander grinned at her. "So when you and Faith were having lots of Slayer-sex, how exactly did that go?"

Buffy pushed him angrily in his puffy chest and he fell over onto his back.

The combat suit saved him from injury and he lay there looking up at the barn roof. "Okay, I think I've heard enough now. Giles... why don't you tell us what kind of demon it is?"

"Actually, if I'm correct in my assumptions then I do not think we are dealing with a demon at all," Giles started.

"So what, it really is just a giant bunny?" Buffy asked dubiously.

Giles smiled, "I believe what you and Faith encountered is the physical embodiment of the Goddess Eostre."

"Not another hell-goddess," groaned Willow. "They're always so skanky and unreasonable."

"No, no quite the opposite in fact. Eostre was a divine spirit believed to be responsible for bringing the spring in each year," Giles explained.

"But doesn't that happen, like, naturally?" Xander asked.

"Well yes," Giles spared him a smile. "But some believe that it was the Goddess Eostre that started the ball rolling, so to speak."

Buffy was back to pacing. "This is all very interesting, but it doesn't tell me what this Rabbit Goddess is doing here, or why it's messing with mine and Faith's love-lives."

"Eostre is also a fertility goddess, hence the eggs she carries. It is her purpose to ensure the wheel of life continues to turn and that includes paving the way for, ah, consummation..." Giles hesitated long enough to remove his glasses and pull a handkerchief free from his pants pocket. "Let's just say She has a certain amount of power over people's desires. She has been credited with the conception of many of the world's greatest heroes." He added, like that made it somehow okay.

Xander suddenly craned his neck to look up at Buffy and then turned fast to stare hard at Giles, incredulous and amused. Buffy already knew she wasn't going like what came out of his mouth. "Are you saying that Faith may have gotten Buffy pregnant or vice-versa?"

"Christ Xander!" Buffy glared at him as Giles spluttered.

"No, that's not what I was saying..."

"Speaking of Christ?" Willow asked curiously.

"Ha! You can't push me over again..." Xander laughed. "...Daddy."

"No, but I can kick you in your puffy groin," Buffy told him, drawing her foot back to do just that.

"Buffy please," Giles stopped her. "While Xander may be having a tasteless joke at your expense, his theory isn't completely without weight."

Buffy's hands went to her stomach. "No, Giles, it is without weight, it's weightless, it has zero-gravity. There's no way we got pregnant, we were careful."

"You were?" Willow asked, sounding surprised.

"Yes, we used no sperm!" Buffy yelled, feeling a little spell of totally rational hysteria coming on. "You can't get more careful than that when it comes to avoiding pregnancy."

"Tell that to the Virgin Mary," Xander quipped.

"And again," Willow looked at Giles. "Is there a chance that the nativity scene is missing one very special visitor, like, a giant bunny?"

"Giles!" Buffy wailed to her Watcher, still clutching her toned stomach. She didn't want to be a single-mom and there was no way Toni would stick around if she had Faith's baby! And she'd thought all she had to worry about was the guilt!

"All of you, that's enough," Giles shouted over the top of them. "I never suggested that Buffy, or Faith, have fallen pregnant due to their... union this morning. While the Goddess Eostre has been attributed with many miracle babies...," he cut the red-head off before she could ask her question again. "No, Willow, I don't know about that one for sure; and I've also never read of any of those babies being born from same-sex couplings."

Buffy breathed a sigh of relief.

"Rumours fly around of course."

"Giles!"

"But I've never believed any of them," Giles quickly continued. "However, if Eostre has taken an interest in the two of you, and indeed in Faith's destiny, then it's possible she has something planned for you both." "Like what?" Buffy asked, dread pooling in her baby-less tummy. There was just no way having an ancient fertility goddess in her life was going to make things any better.

"Well, off the top of my head I have no idea," Buffy could see by Giles far-off expression that he was already halfway into deep research mode. "It's possible She was only interested in using the energy created between you when..." he coughed delicately. "Another possibility would be that She has a more long-term plan, perhaps one that involves a deeper connection between you and Faith."

"Like a love connection?" Xander asked.

Giles' expression was indecisive, "I'm loath to add credence to any theory at this time. The Gods and Goddesses, especially those of a more provincial nature such as Eostre, are well known for their mischievous toying with humanity. Especially the lives of heroes, a title you and Faith would certainly have held in the ancient world. I wouldn't rule out yet that She is simply amusing herself."

"So if it turns out that She is just playing me and this isn't all part of a big prophecy where I have Faith's love child, I can kill her, right?" Buffy checked, flexing her fists in anticipation of the beating she was going to give the eight foot rabbit.

"Well no, as well as being a Goddess, Eostre is essentially the spirit of spring. You can't kill a spirit; nor for that matter, can you kill a Goddess," Giles sighed. "If it was possible, and this is obviously mere speculation at this point, to kill the physical embodiment of her spirit..."

"The Easter Bunny." Xander gleefully reminded those who might have forgotten.

"...Then she would surely just embody another... uh, body. And I imagine she wouldn't be very happy with you either," Giles finished.

"What makes you think she's happy with me now?" Buffy huffed.

"How about the lots of Slayer-sex?" Willow offered. Buffy glared at her and the witch held up her hands submissively. "I was just saying."

"Anyway Buffy, I believe that until I find anything to the contrary we should assume that Eostre is simply playing a spring prank on you."

"But what if She's not?" Buffy asked. "What if it is more complicated than that?"

Her mind was racing on the prospect of this Goddess bunny having more long-term plans for the chosen two. Sure the love-stuff worked a treat for messing with her head, and maybe Faith's too, but if there was more to it than that then she had to know now before it was too late; or, before it slipped away into the night.

"Do you know something else you haven't mentioned?" Giles asked, interest peaked again.

"What if," Buffy looked at each of her friends in turn as she tried to think how to put her concerns. "What if it is about more of a... of a connection? Not a prank designed to mess with us, but something more serious. What if the rabbit knows something that we don't yet and getting Faith and I to... to do what we did, is its way of letting us know?"

"Is there something specific you have in mind?" Giles asked first.

"Not exactly," Buffy said slowly, thinking about Troy.

"When you say a connection, do you mean like the Slayer connection Giles mentioned; or, are we talking more of a hot-sweaty-sexy connection, possibly including the kinds of feelings that sometimes go with?" Xander asked next.

"I'm not sure," she admitted. "I just...with the notes and everything, I get the feeling this is more than just some goddess's idea of a joke."

"Are you sure you don't just wish that because you may possibly still have some small lingering feelings for Faith?" Willow asked cautiously.

Buffy glared at her friend, but softened almost immediately. "It's not impossible, but if I worry about that then we might never get to the bottom of it. Besides, I'm with Toni. I like Toni. I never asked for this Goddess to come into my life and mess everything up again." Buffy told them sincerely. "Maybe if Eostre does need mine and Faith's help with something, then the sooner we figure out what, the sooner we can help and the sooner I can get back to enjoying my connection with my real girlfriend."

"I'm never going to get used to you saying that, the girlfriend thing I mean," Xander smirked.

"I know; me neither," Buffy grinned down at him. "It's kinda nice though."

"What about Troy?" Willow had to ask; didn't she?

"What about Troy?" Buffy shrugged, not wanting to hear it.

"Well, say you and Faith find out what Eostre wants, and say it involves you and Faith having more of the sex and stuff, and say you manage to do it without ruining your relationship with Toni...?"

"I'm saying a lot here, Willow, but I'm not sure of my point, or more to the point, your point," Buffy hurried her up.

"Well what if Faith can't keep it from Troy? Do you even care if he finds out and their relationship is ruined?" Willow asked.

"Do you care more about Troy than me?" Buffy asked. "Come on, it's a valid question. You're always so eager to take his side against mine."

"No, of course not, but I care about Faith and for the first time since we've known her she seems happy, really happy and... and not at all psycho and that's a good thing, isn't it?" Willow asked. "If Troy makes her feel that way then shouldn't we be trying to save their relationship too? I'm not sure you're in that place."

Buffy huffed, "Yeah well maybe Troy isn't as good for her as you think."

"Why, because he's a nice, gorgeous, respectful guy with tons of money and his own castle?" Willow joked.

Buffy knew that the man had money, or rather his father did; she hadn't known he had a castle though. She shook her head, not wanting to ask for distracting details.

"Yeah, but where did the money come from?" she asked instead. "Does anyone know that?"

"It's none of our business, is it?" Xander shrugged somewhere inside the large suit, making it shudder hideously. "As long as he's treating Faith okay, then surely it's just a bonus that he has a castle. Do you think he'll let us go stay there?" He asked Willow, boyish excitement creeping into his voice.

"Maybe when they get married they'll have the wedding in Italy," Willow grinned.

"Married." Buffy repeated weakly. When was all this elopey-marriage talk going to end?

"I thought Troy's castle was in Greece?" Xander said.

"No," Willow corrected, "His mountain is in Greece, his castle is in Italy."

"But...but don't either of you think that Troy is just a little too good to be true? With the money and the castles and the...Wait, he has a mountain?" she asked, unable to stop herself. "Who has a mountain?"

"Well Troy for one." Quipped Xander. "Look Buffy, Troy's not too good to be true; he's just lucky enough to be born into royalty or whatever and Faith was just lucky enough to meet him. End of story."

Buffy sighed, contemplating her next words before speaking: "I don't know, you guys. I think, maybe, he's up to something, like a supernatural something."

"Really?" Willow asked, frowning. "Because he just seems nice and normal to me."

"Buffy this is a very serious accusation," Giles said, joining the conversation again after five minutes of scribbling in his notebook. "I appreciate your senses are more in tune with the supernatural than the rest of us, but unless you have specific proof that Faith's boyfriend is up to something I think you should be very careful what you say."

"Yeah," Xander agreed from his floor-bound position. "Troy's just... Troy. He's no more supernatural than I am and as you can see..." Xander wiggled backwards and forwards, "...not much with the super-anything. Like I said, he's just a lucky bastard and it's no wonder you're a little jealous; I am too."

Okay it was clear that Troy's mojo was at work on more people than just Faith here. Everyone was infected.

Taking pity with a big sigh, Buffy picked Xander up again and kept him steady as Willow went behind him to unzip the combat suit.

"Okay, say you're right and he is just lucky," Buffy began, trying to think how to make them see she at least had a point that was worth considering. "Then why is he with Faith? Since when do guys with all that going for them fall for people like Faith? I mean, someone as eligible as him could have the pick of the chicks, right? So why isn't Troy in St Tropes picking up Hollywood movie stars instead of slumming it here with an ex-con from the bad part of South Boston?"

"Buffy." Xander's low warning came at the same time as the barn door slammed open; in other words, too late.

Buffy spun around, feeling sick, her heart like ice as it hammered in her burning chest, knowing full well who was going to be standing there because she could feel it, somehow, she could feel her.

Faith stood in the doorway, a large duffel bag in one hand and the other clenched into a fist at her side.

Buffy stood frozen. How much had Faith heard? What was she thinking?

Faith ignored her completely, didn't even look at her as she said, "Just wanted to say... you know what? Screw this." Faith disappeared from the doorway.

"No!" Buffy shouted before tearing after her. "No, Faith."

Outside the barn she could see Faith striding fast up the path towards the driveway where car lights were waiting for her.

"Faith!" The brunette didn't turn around or slow down. Buffy raced up the path after her. "Faith, listen to me, I'm sorry, what you heard, I didn't mean any of that, I'm sorry," she was speaking so fast that most of the words ran together ineligibly. "Faith, please?"

"Fuck off Buffy. I mean it, I'm only warning you once."

"But what I said, I was just trying to get them to see something; I didn't mean it, that's not what I think." Buffy promised urgently. "You don't understand..."

A foot from the waiting cab, Buffy reached out to touch Faith's shoulder, to stop her from leaving at least until she had explained herself. Faith turned into her, grabbing the front of Buffy's tank top and swinging her around by the material so fast her feet left the ground. Her back hit the back door of the taxi hard enough to wind her, her feet dangling half a foot above the driveway.

"You're right B, I don't understand." Faith growled, pulling her enough away from the cab so that she could slam her into it again. "I don't understand how someone as transparent as you can fool me over and over a-fucking-gain!"

The solid metal of the cab must have hurt, but Buffy didn't notice it. As Faith gripped her top with shaking fists, she cried, "I'm not the one trying to fool you; I've only ever wanted to be honest with you, I just never know how..." Tears were streaming down Buffy's cheeks now as she saw the agony and betrayal in Faith's eyes.

"Yeah, well you seem able to be honest with your little pals in there..." Faith pulled her away from the door of the cab and slammed her into it again. "...Didn't you?" she shouted in her face. "Nice to finally know what you really think of me, huh?"

"Faith, listen to me, please?" Buffy let herself be shaken wherever Faith wanted, the only other option was a fight and that wouldn't help matters. "That's not what I think of you, not even close."

"Yeah well it seemed to slip off of your tongue easy enough and to be honest B, I got no way of knowing any more when you're telling the truth and when you ain't, so I'm gonna go with what my gut tells me: That you're a lying, cheating, using, manipulative, smug fucking whore - okay?"

Okay wasn't anywhere close to how Buffy felt as something deep inside her flinched at every single nasty word. "Faith, please..." she tried to bring her hands up to Faith's face, to cup her cheeks and make her listen, but Faith shoved her backwards hard, her fists clenching the material of Buffy's top just below her throat tight enough to make swallowing difficult.

Faith leaned in close so that even at the strange angle she was being held at, Buffy could clearly see her face - which was cold and detached now. No tears to match those pouring uncontrollably from Buffy.

"Sorry baby, did I say something to hurt you?" Faith asked, acidly. She was too close for Buffy to look anywhere else so she closed her eyes to get away from the mocking expression. "Open your fucking eyes, sweetheart! This is what you wanted isn't it? Me fucked up on you again!"

Buffy's eyes opened wide as she shook her head, "No, no, no, no." Her tears, her desperation and the near strangulation her shirt was causing made it come out in a hoarse whisper. "This is nothing like what I..."

"Shut! Up!" Faith shook her so hard her head smacked against the metal lip of the car roof. "I came out to tell you it wasn't the rabbit... when I said..." Now Faith's tears came, making her cheeks glisten and her voice catch as she slammed Buffy's shoulders against the cab again. "...It wasn't the fuckin' rabbit, Buffy, it was you! Are you happy now?"

Buffy was stunned and couldn't speak, not at first, not until Faith twisted her around and pushed her so hard she went down on the driveway on her ass.

"Faith!" She scrambled back up as Faith retrieved her duffel bag. "Faith, wait. Please, don't go, not like this."

Faith opened the cab door and threw her bag inside.

"Faith I'm sorry. Sorry for everything. Just please, let's talk." Buffy grabbed her arm, trying to pull her away from getting in the cab.

Faith spun around fast, shaking her off and pushing her away. "Touch me again bitch and I'll put you in a coma - see how you fucking like it."

Faith was deadly serious. Buffy hovered right behind her, wanting to throw her arms around her to stop her from leaving, wanting to drag her back to the house kicking and screaming to stop her from leaving, wanting to punch her out and tie her up to stop her from leaving, but Faith was deadly serious.

"Faith please, I'm sorry, I'll do anything, just..." Faith was in the taxi, slamming the door. "Please Faith. I love you too. I love... Faith? Faith!"

The taxi pulled away down the drive, slowly enough at first that Buffy could keep pace with it. She banged her palm on the window glass but Faith kept her eyes focused straight ahead. Buffy saw her lips move as she must have said something to the driver and all of a sudden the car sped up.

Buffy ran after the tail-lights, but within seconds they disappeared as the car pulled onto the main road and she knew it was too late. Stumbling, she fell to her knees and stared into the darkness.

"I love you."

No thoughts passed through her head as she knelt there, her brain was too far beyond help for thoughts. All she could see was Faith's tear-streaked face as she had yelled into Buffy's face and all she could hear was the memory of the raw pain in Faith's voice.

Eventually the chilly evening turned her bare arms to goose bumps and the gravel of the driveway bit into her knees sharply enough to invade her inner misery. Slowly, she wiped a hand across her wet face and got to her feet. Her brain was still blank of anything but the need to warm up. A cup of tea would do the trick. Tea and sympathy, except she didn't deserve the sympathy; she probably didn't even deserve the tea.

Buffy was turning back to the house when a flash of white caught her eye. Too weary and too miserable to really care, she just turned her head in the right direction and watched as the Easter Bunny hopped through the trees bordering the driveway. The path it was taking was going to pass Buffy a good fifty yards from where she was standing, but as it drew opposite her, it stopped and turned to face her.

This close it was easily an impressive ten feet tall, including ears. The Goddess Eostre snuffled the air in her direction, her pink nose twitching.

The Easter Bunny and the Slayer locked eyes - silently communicating.

Seconds later Eostre shook her head sadly, and with one last snuffly-sniff in Buffy's direction she took off through the trees so fast she was swallowed up by the darkness almost immediately.

With a last sniff of her own, Buffy turned back towards the house. She'd gone two steps when she realized there was someone in her bedroom window - watching either her or the driveway or both. The figure turned away as soon as they saw Buffy looking, but she didn't need a better look to know it was Toni.

How long had she been there? How much had she seen? Buffy grabbed her hair, pulling on it and barely resisting the urge to scream out loud.

Faith was in love with her and hated her, and was gone.

The Easter Bunny was mad at her.

Toni... well who the hell knew what was going through her mind.

There was only one thing Buffy knew for sure: Love on a Hellmouth never got any easier.


Continue to Part Seven

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