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


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PART SEVEN: 2nd June 2004
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Chapter Two: Family Connections

Buffy watched the rain trickle down the bus windows as it made its way from the campus shuttle stop to Murray Hill.

Toni was sitting beside her looking out of the opposite window, their hands joined discreetly between them in the safety of the backseat of the bus. They'd been comfortably silent for a while, ever since boarding the bus amidst a flurry of giggles and raindrops as they'd tried to get the big red, white and green umbrella down.

They could do that now, Buffy realized - enjoy the comfortable silence thing.

It was one of many things she'd noticed lately and it was slowly dawning on her that these were Big Things! Relationship-wise, anyhow. Like they were moving onto another level or something.

It had freaked Buffy out at first. She'd been so caught up in getting over Faith that she hadn't realised just how far she'd fallen for Toni. It wasn't until Faith was out of the picture that Buffy started to see the signs.

The L word was still a long way from her lips and Toni hadn't uttered it either, but surely the fact that Toni lying to her could hurt and confuse her so much meant they'd also come a long way from casual too.

Maybe she should take Faith's advice and grow a pair.

"Toni?"

"Si?"

"Have you spoken to Troy recently?" Buffy looked hard into Toni's eyes for any hint of mistruth.

"No, I told you I have not spoken to him since the night he and Faith left." Toni's eyes gave nothing away.

"Toni, I saw your phone...earlier, before the name disappeared." Buffy explained softly. "I know he called."

"Il mio amore, you are mistaken," Toni laughed softly. "It was my brother, Torre. He was calling to wish me a Happy Birth of the Republic day."

"Oh, my bad." Buffy stared out of the window again. "Troy/Torre, I guess they could look the same."

"Si," Toni squeezed her hand gently.

Buffy smiled briefly in response but it was wasted on the water trailed window. It was a believable mistake to make and she had only seen the caller id for a split second.

So why didn't Buffy buy it?

Well there was one reason she could think of. "Don't you think it's a little weird that Troy hasn't phoned you in six weeks? You're supposed to be his best friend; don'tcha feel neglected?"

"He is in a city he loves, doing something he loves with a woman he loves," Toni smiled. "I doubt he has spared me a single thought."

"And you're okay with that?" Buffy pushed.

"I am happy where I am too."

Toni got to her feet, gently pulling Buffy after her as she walked down the centre of the bus, the bright umbrella in her other hand. The vehicle pulled up to a stop as they arrived at the automatic doors and tripped down the steps.

Immediately Toni opened up the umbrella and sheltered them both from the drizzly rain. "Why are you suddenly so concerned with Troy anyway?"

"I'm not." Buffy looked about them at Little Italy. There wasn't much of a festival atmosphere going on; maybe the rain had kept people away.

"Have you spoken with Faith?" Toni gave her an unhappy look.

"No." Buffy hadn't spoken to Faith. She'd spoken to Faith's voicemail plenty and one time Faith had shouted at her, but Buffy hadn't gotten a word in before Faith had hung up again. So technically, Buffy wasn't lying. "Look, let's just drop it."

Toni shrugged, placing a hand on Buffy's back to herd her down the street. "Okay."

Buffy breathed a sigh of relief and let herself be herded through the Italian district of Cleveland.

While they ate here quite a lot on weekends, Buffy had rarely been down here during the daytime. It looked different. Tables and chairs sat outside many of the caffès, water dripping from the edges of table-umbrellas the same colours as theirs. Al fresco dining may be encouraged, but it probably wasn't going to be a popular choice today.

At the sides of the road, two men on tall step ladders were hanging a banner from the street lights; the words were in Italian, but Buffy could get the gist. It was all about the big day. Across the street, green, white and red flags were hanging out of the windows of the more patriotic apartments of a three-story brownstone building. The menu normally hanging on the wall outside Toni's favourite restaurant had been replaced with a large chalk board proclaiming the extra-special specials for Republic Day.

The street was ready for a party even if the locals weren't.

Toni squeezed her shoulder, bringing them to a halt. "I must first pick up some money."

"Is this a bank?" Buffy's nose wrinkled suspiciously as she looked into the narrow alley before them. Ten feet in a metal staircase zigzagged up the side of the tall building, but otherwise it was empty of anything but garbage bins. "Because I don't know what banks are like in Italy, but over here they have doors and stuff."

"No," Toni laughed. "Uncle Giovanni lives here. My brother has wired him some money he wishes for me to have."

"Oh, okay," Buffy frowned. "I thought you said you didn't have any family in the States anymore."

Toni laughed again. "You are very suspicious today, mia tesoro. I never said he was my uncle." She winked lightly. "Would you like to come and meet him?"

"I, ah, no that's okay," Buffy hesitated. She was feeling very suspicious and that probably wasn't the best mood to be in when she was meeting her girlfriend's family for the first time; or extended family, or someone else's family that she happened to be on familial terms with. "You go. I told Willow I'd call her this morning anyway; might as well do it now."

"Are you sure?" Toni gave her a long look in the eye, obviously not prepared to take her words at face value. Buffy was dead sure though and Toni gave a small nod as she picked up on this. "Okay, I will not be long. Would you like the umbrella?"

"I think I'd fall over trying to handle it alone," Buffy grinned. It was a giant thing, made for golfing; the only one Toni could get in those particular colours. "Don't worry about me. I'm gonna get rained on at some point today, no point being shy about it."

Toni chuckled, "I will be quick." She was gone before Buffy could nod in reply.

Despite the weather, Buffy had been feeling pretty warm since they'd left the bus behind. The mugginess had made her wish she'd even forgone the light white summer jacket she was wearing. With the umbrella walking swiftly down an alley with her girlfriend however, the splattering drizzle felt unseasonably cold on the top of Buffy's head.

Grimacing, she shot across the almost empty street, pulling her cell phone out of her bag as she ran. Ducking under the brightly striped awning of a closed butcher shop, she checked around her before hitting speed dial three and putting the slim pink phone to her ear.

She bounced on the balls of her feet lightly, her eyes glued to the alley opposite for any signs of Toni reappearing. As soon as the call was picked up she spoke in a rush,

"Will, I need your help..." Buffy grimaced again. "I think I've unwittingly become a moll!"

There was a beat of silence, followed by a voice very much not Willow's saying, "Okay... do you mean a little furry blind critter or a prostitute?"

"What? Neither!" Buffy snapped into the phone. "I mean like a gangster chick, you know, like married to the mob, except without the married part. I'm... going steady with the mob!"

"Yeah, you're not exactly Jennifer Tilly." Came the dubious amusement from the phone.

"Who? Nevermind," Buffy cut off any response. "Kennedy, where's Willow? Why are you answering her phone?"

"Guess we switched by accident this morning," Kennedy replied. "So what's bringing on your mollness?"

"It doesn't matter," Buffy told her ready to end the call.

"Discovered some of Toni's family connections?" Kennedy asked, a chuckle in her voice.

"Yes, actually, not that it's anything to do with you but... yeah, an uncle who isn't her uncle and a brother I never heard of before today," Buffy shook her head. "It's probably nothing; just me being silly."

"Probably," Kennedy agreed too readily. She sounded distracted and occasional bursts of background chatter could be heard.

Buffy's eyes narrowed, but she let the comment go. "I was actually phoning to see if there was anything new on Eostre; Willow hadn't finished translating the text from Shrewsbury when I left yesterday."

"Researching your sex bunny isn't really my area," Kennedy said, causing Buffy to wince and hope the younger Slayer wasn't sitting in class right now. "You'd have to call Willow for that."

"I did!" Buffy reminded her, teeth gritted.

"Fair point," Kennedy conceded. "All I know is that Willow was pulling her hair out over it last night; she didn't come to bed until late."

"That doesn't sound good," Buffy muttered to herself.

"It wasn't," Kennedy told her. "By the time she came to bed she was too frazzled to do anything but sleep. How come your mess is affecting my love life while yours continues to flourish, huh?"

"Sorry," Buffy gave a one shoulder shrug even though it couldn't be seen by Kennedy. "Although I wouldn't exactly say mine was flourishing right this second," she admitted quietly.

"Right, your Mollishness," Buffy could hear Kennedy rolling her eyes. "She's Italian. Family -- I mean regular family -- is really important to them, right? She's probably got brothers, sisters, aunts and uncle all over the place."

"Then how come I'm only just learning about them?" Buffy asked. "We've been together four months. Toni met Dawn on our third date!"

And then Kennedy said something surprising. "I've got a sister. Well, a half-sister."

Buffy paused, momentarily taken aback.

"Bet you didn't know that, did you?" Kennedy added.

Buffy shook her head and then remembered she was on the phone, "Uh, no, you never said."

"And we've been sharing a house for over a year now," Kennedy went on. "I know it's a little different, okay a lot different because you and I haven't shared pillow time..."

"And never will," Buffy made clear, smirking.

"Hell no," Kennedy agreed. "But just because Toni's not as open and forthcoming with her siblings as you are doesn't mean she's automatically hiding anything."

Buffy chewed on her lip while she tried to decide if she could trust Kennedy with what was on her mind. In the end, she decided she needed to tell someone and the Slayer brat was the only person listening.

"What if I said I thought she was lying to me about something?" She asked, carefully.

On the other end of the phone Kennedy groaned, "This has something to do with Faith, doesn't it?"

"What makes you say that?" She frowned at Kennedy's exasperated tone of voice. "I never mentioned her name."

"Because," Kennedy dragged the word out, "if you thought she was lying about money or mafia connections or how good you were in bed last night..."

"Ken!"

"...You wouldn't be talking to me about it." Kennedy finished calmly. "This is either about Faith or Troy; and if it's about Troy then it's about Faith anyway."

"What makes you think I'd come to you with Faith stuff?" Buffy hissed into the phone.

"Because Faith stuff is Slayer stuff. Forget the destiny bullshit the Easter Bunny put in to your head for a minute and think about it: Faith's been smitten with this guy since the day she met him. Now I don't know Faith as well as the rest of you, obviously, but Will told me she was the Slut of Sunnydale for six months back when you were all in high school..."

"Hey!" Buffy lamely defended Faith's reputation.

"Those were Willow's exact words," Kennedy insisted. "And we all know how many people she was bringing home each week before she met Troy. And then...bam, she's a one-guy woman! No overlap, no period of adjustment, no qualms whatsoever about giving up her freedom to hang on his every word. I don't care how good looking he is or how rich he is or even how nice he is - someone like Faith doesn't change her nature in the space of a day. Hell, it took me longer to fall for Willow and I fell fricken fast!"

Buffy's expression froze as she listened to Kennedy's thoughts on the subject. She had to admit she was a little spun. Not that she hadn't thought it all herself over the past six months, but she didn't remember thinking it so... efficiently. Also, it was weird hearing someone else say it out loud.

"I've been saying this for months, where have you been?" she finally asked blinking back to life.

"Actually, Buffy, you haven't said this once; at least not to anyone at home." Kennedy corrected

Buffy frowned as she realized this was true.

"Thinking about it really hard isn't enough," Kennedy went on oblivious to Buffy's expressions. "Besides, I couldn't have cared less about your destiny, so as long as Faith was around, ticking away like normal, I didn't think too much of it."

"Well you certainly seem to have put a lot of thought into it now," Buffy pointed out.

"Yeah, well, thanks to you Faith isn't around anymore, is she?" Buffy flinched. "And I don't like the thought of her being under his control where we can't keep an eye on her."

Buffy was silent long enough for Kennedy to say her name, checking she was still there.

"Yeah I'm here. Kenny, Toni is Troy's best friend."

"Yeah, I caught that bit of news," Kennedy said shortly.

"I've been trying to decide for months if that means anything, you know, anything bad and I can't."

"If you're asking my opinion, I hardly know her well enough to suss her out," Kennedy replied. "And I'm not even saying Troy's up to something, just that he sets off the bat-radar."

"Troy's up to something," Buffy guaranteed. "I don't have paper proof, yet anyway, but I overheard him talking... You remember the night we were all trapped at the club because of the storm..." Buffy caught movement in the alley opposite and a second later Toni emerged. "...Shit, I have to go. You like spaghetti, right?"

"Yeah."

"Cool, grab Will, throw on something Italian-ish and meet us at Il Convivo on Mayfield as soon as you can."

"Buffy, we both have college."

"Okay, Kenny, I don't think I've said this to you before, but... " Toni had spotted her and was making her way across the street. "...Please?"

"You're paying!" Were Kennedy's last words before the dial tone buzzed in Buffy's ear.

"Don't I always," she muttered, mustering a welcoming smile for her girlfriend.


Chapter Three

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