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 Four: The Number One Consequence of Sexual Activity

Buffy's hair whipped along behind her as she raced down the street towards Il Convivo, so did Toni's as she was pulled along by her hand at breakneck speed. The giant umbrella Toni was holding flayed around at head height - nearly taking out more than a couple of innocent shoppers as Buffy dodged around them.

Her feet kicked up puddles as she ran; soaking the bottoms of her jeans, and Toni's boots kicked them up too, also soaking the bottoms of Buffy's jeans. Her soggy-sneakered feet were going to resemble Shar Pei puppies by the time she got home, but it was exhilarating and she couldn't stop - or want to stop - the giggles as Toni squealed at the dozen or so collisions they narrowly avoided.

She couldn't believe she'd forgotten about Willow and Kennedy! Well, she could believe it considering what had happened to make her forget, but that didn't make it okay. It was over an hour ago that she'd spoken to Kennedy on the phone and the other slayer had mentioned her own doubts about Troy.

That she couldn't believe she had forgotten. Since when did Faith-stuff slip her mind so easily? Oh yeah, since Faith had pulled the big baby routine again and ran away without giving Buffy a chance to explain herself... again.

Faith couldn't actually tell someone she loved them unless she was spitting the words in as nasty a way as possible in that someone's face - or unless she could blame what she obviously saw as a weakness on some outside influence like a rabbit demon.

Or there was always the attractive option that it wasn't Faith that was screwed up, but Buffy's love that was cursed. It wouldn't be the first time she thought it, what with her track record, and this was the second time being in love with Buffy had pushed Faith over the border to Crazy town.

Over the past six months, maybe a lot longer than that actually, Faith had been laying down panic sensors all around her. For every metaphorical step Buffy took closer to her, another alarm had started to go off in the brunette's head. At least that was how it seemed to Buffy. When Buffy backed off, the alarms stopped ringing; when she got closer again they were set off again. Being in that cavern, at Easter, when everything had been... well whatever it had been, the Easter bunny must have cut the wires to the those panic sensors. But it didn't take long once they had their clothes back on for Faith to get them all rewired safely, and when she had come to the training barn to tell Buffy that she loved her - they must have been deafening! It was no wonder Faith hadn't heard what she was trying to say.

Except Faith had heard her, hadn't she? And as much as she'd like to blame it on sound distortion or a ringing in Faith's ears due to all the warning alarms - it all came down to the fact that Buffy was being a bitch because she was jealous of Troy and Faith heard exactly the wrong thing just at the moment she felt brave enough to say the words and... it broke her. Or something. It did exactly what Buffy had been hoping to avoid and the very thing that was scaring Faith into Troy's arms in the first place.

As Buffy dashed around the corner with Toni swinging out to the side, waving the closed umbrella like she was in some kind of clown sidecar, Il Convivo came into sight - the Italian flag style sign easy to spot.

"Will!" she yelled as she spotted her friend and Kennedy about to walk away. "Willow!"

The red-head and her lover stopped as one, looking back towards Buffy. They began walking back to the restaurant and reached it at the same time as Buffy checked her sprint in front of the door.

"About damn time." Kennedy didn't look happy.

Toni's momentum kept her going until Buffy's arm was at full stretch and then she poinged back against the blonde, just making Buffy's giggles worse which seemed to make Kennedy's glower worse. Glower was a good word for Kennedy, she decided; she definitely had a knack for glowering.

"I'm sorry we were late," Buffy apologized. "We got... well let's just say there were some distracting influences. How come you didn't wait inside out of the rain?"

Kennedy was the wettest of the two; her loose hair was dripping and the bright blue soccer shirt she was wearing was dark with moisture. Nice of her to dress up. Willow was sensibly wearing a hat... hats! - Buffy grinned, thinking of her new found love for hats. One look back at Kennedy though, drove the thought right back out. Glower Girl really didn't look happy.

"Well, we tried that," Willow just looked a little damp and not half as bothered by their lateness as Kennedy. "But then they said we had to leave if we weren't going to book a table and we figured you guys would have already booked a table and there didn't seem to be a lot of point in getting two..."

"I did not even know you were coming," Toni interrupted, seeming happily surprised. "But now I know why Buffy wanted the table booked for four."

They were still holding hands. Buffy held the hands in question out in front of them a little so she could see them clasped together. Yep, definitely still holding hands.

Look at her holding her girlfriend's hand all out in the public like this! Buffy beamed around, proud of her unexpected bravery. No one took the slightest bit of notice.

'Screw you, Faith. I can be out and proud, see? I just needed a run up,' she thought.

Squeezing Toni's hand, she let them hang between them again. "I didn't tell you?" she asked, as she realized that she in fact hadn't.

Toni had even asked her about the extra two seats she'd booked, but Buffy had changed the subject without answering. She couldn't admit that she'd asked Kennedy to come along to suss Toni out! She didn't even really want Kennedy to suss Toni out; Buffy was doing that fine on her own... sort of. She'd just... she just desperately wanted someone to say she was stupid to have doubts, to insist that Toni was completely on the level and that Buffy was just trying to sabotage her own happiness.

That way, maybe she would stop trying.

She needed a second - and official slayer - opinion that Toni was good for her; some outside validation that she was doing the right thing by not jumping on a plane to Italy in search of Faith.

Toni was just smiling at her, the look in her eyes making Buffy think she'd forgotten the question as soon as it was asked.

She smiled back, but spoke to her friends, "Well, why didn't you just claim our table?"

If they had, then they might still have one, as it stood they were probably out of luck.

"We tried that too," Kennedy... glowered. "But the reservation wasn't under Summers."

Realizing they were all still standing out in the rain for no reason now, Buffy gestured for the door and tugged gently on Toni's fingers to get her out of the loved-up daze and moving. "Well of course not, it's under Mancini."

As Toni took the lead, opening the door and heading into the cosy restaurant, Buffy was towed after her. She looked back over her shoulder though when all she received were blank stares and silence.

"You know, Toni's last name? Does it ring any bells?"

"Seeing as I've never heard it before, not really," Kennedy switched to a more sarcastic turn of phrase as she rolled her eyes.

"But Willow knows it," Buffy turned a hopeful look to her.

"Never heard it before in my life." Willow promised, grinning.

Buffy pouted, trying to decide if it was weird that her closest friend didn't know her girlfriend's surname. Probably not; as long as she knew it herself Buffy, could see no problem.

"Well now you know it." Her smile came back and she stepped up to Toni's side, almost but not quite snug against her. "Did we lose it?"

Toni turned her head to the side after an Italian exchange with one of the owners - Signora Patrelli. She didn't usually work out the front like this, but obviously it was that busy today that all the staff were pitching in wherever they were needed.

"She gave our table to someone else," Toni explained, crestfallen. "She said there is a two person table available, and there will soon be another, but that if we would all like to eat together we will have to wait a long while."

Crap, if only she'd asked Kennedy to meet them after they'd eaten. Now she was in an awkward position - ruin Toni's nice special-day meal out in her favourite restaurant or ditch her friends for as long as it took to eat.

It wasn't like she was really ditching them though; there would be another two person table opening up soon apparently and Buffy could still pay for their meal from across the room. She struggled with her conscience for a minute before turning pleading eyes on her best friend, trying to completely ignore Kennedy's warning glare.

Willow read her immediately; "We can always take the second table..." she began, perhaps just as happy to be eating alone with Kennedy in the romantic restaurant.

"No, Buffy," Toni shook her head and turned to speak to Signora Patrelli again. When she turned back to Buffy she said excitedly, "Margarita has said she will give us an extra two chairs. There will not be a lot of room, but we can all sit together at least."

Buffy looked at Willow again and the red-head shrugged in compliance. "Kennedy?"

"All I want to do is eat." Kennedy assured her. "All I've wanted to do for the last hour is eat!"

"Good, that's settled then," Buffy smiled and Toni turned back to accept Signora Patrelli's offer.

Buffy followed Toni who followed the plump Italian owner across the room, weaving in and out of the other tables until they reached the window. With some difficulty, Margarita Patrelli pulled the small solid looking table away from the window. Buffy knew she could move it easily with one hand behind her back so to speak, and almost did just that, but caught herself in time. If Toni was already suspicious of the amount of strength she possessed, giving her demonstrations probably wasn't the best idea. At least until she'd decided how best to tell Toni of her secret.

She saw Kennedy's fists clench and unclench too, obviously feeling the same frustration at the slow progress the table made across the floor. Eventually it was where the Signora wanted it and she called for a couple of chairs.

By the time they were all seated, they were the centre of attention as everyone in the small restaurant had turned around to see the fuss.

"Nothing like blending in." Buffy smirked, holding her menu up to hide behind and accidentally knocking Willow's from her hands. "Oops, sorry."

Willow bent to pick her menu back up, "S'okay, it's just a little cosy." As she sat back up the top of her head hit Toni's elbow and they both hissed in pain.

"I am sorry Willow, are you okay?" Toni raised her arm, rubbing her elbow and smacking her menu into Kennedy's forehead. "Oh no!"

Kennedy sat back in her seat at the unexpected slap of the plastic against her skin. "Shall I just punch you?" she asked Buffy, her voice full of exasperated amusement. "Not as creative, but the sooner we get this slapstick over with I can order."

"I think punching maybe a little severe," Buffy grinned, putting her menu down before she could do anymore damage; it wasn't like she had to look at it to know what she was going to order. "Couldn't you just stick a breadstick up my nose?"

A plate of breadsticks appeared on the table as if by magic. It wasn't magic; a waiter had brought them and now he waited for them to order.

"Ah, Andreas," Toni smiled at him before glancing at Buffy.

Buffy nodded encouragingly and Toni began to order for the both of them in Italian. It was just a show; she knew Andreas the waiter could speak English as well as she could. So could Toni for that matter, but she still preferred to use her native tongue. Buffy quite liked it too.

"You guys come here a lot?" Willow was taking off her hat and coat, wisely standing back up to do it. "I guess you must do if Toni knows what you want from a nod."

"About once every couple of weeks. It's nice and not usually anywhere as busy as this." She looked around to see every table filled. "I was pretty adventurous to start with but now that I've tried everything, I always seem to have the same thing."

Kennedy was ordering now and while she had to ask Willow what she wanted, after that she gave their order in a perfect Italian accent. It blew Buffy's lame attempts out of the water.

Impressed, Buffy smirked at her, wondering if the other Slayer was feeling competitive. Maybe Faith hadn't been jealous of Toni, she'd just felt the need to be better.

"So what kept you from meeting us on time?" Kennedy asked.

"Uh, we were distracted by...there was this shop you see, and it had hats and we sorta...got distracted by them." She felt the blush in her cheeks as she shared a secret look with Toni. Except not so secret because Willow and Kennedy were both staring at her. She cleared her throat, "We bought them!" She lifted the carrier bag by her chair leg to prove it.

"So I left classes unattended to stand out in the rain like an idiot because you were off buying hats." Kennedy covered her glass as a waiter went to pour wine into it. "I'll have a coke please?"

"I am sorry, but like I said, there was this distraction..." Buffy started earnestly but it trailed off as she met Toni's eyes again and they sent a warmth through her. "And then..." she began but it was just an involuntary throat spasm and she had nothing to follow it up with.

"You were distracted by hat-buying?" Willow asked, clearly clueless.

"Uh huh," Buffy answered, but again her brain wasn't really in it as she smiled slowly at Toni, letting it creep up over her face as she wondered if they had time for a quick trip to the restroom before their meals arrived.

"Hat buying - there's a euphemism I haven't heard before." Willow remarked dryly, getting a laugh from Kennedy.

Okay, so maybe her once clueless-on-such-matters best friend wasn't so clueless any more. Shaking off her mild embarrassment, she sipped her wine and turned a proper sorry-face to Kennedy.

"I'm sorry I made you wait out in the rain and I'm sorry I dragged you out of classes."

"No, we wanted to come, that's why we arranged it," Willow said, her eyes shooting to Toni. "Remember?"

Buffy nodded like she was supposed to.

"Besides, it's sweet really, you two so caught up in each other you forget about the rest of us." Willow teased.

Buffy smiled shyly because it was true and pinched Willow's thigh under the table. Not hard enough to hurt, but hard enough to warn.

"It's nice," Willow insisted, still with that same teasing edge. "I forgot how cute you get when you're all in love..."

She jerked her knees to the side just as Buffy was reaching for one to inflict serious pain on and slammed them into Toni's. Toni jumped in surprise and pulled the wine glass away from her mouth before she could crack a tooth on it.

"That was Buffy's fault!" Willow said at once.

"I never told you to leap about in your chair," Buffy shot back. "Are you okay?" she asked Toni.

"Si," Toni dabbed her lips free from wine with her napkin. "It was just an unexpected jolt. No harm done."

Buffy had meant was she okay about what Willow had said, not done, but she let it go.

"And I am very pleased the two of you decided to join us today." Toni continued, looking from Kennedy to Willow.

"Really?" Kennedy grabbed a breadstick and started munching, keeping her eyes on Toni.

She reminded Buffy of Faith in that moment, not just because of the breadstick but the glint in her eyes too. Kennedy had gone to work, her assignment the sussing out of Toni.

"So what in the name of fun can we expect from today, Toni?" Willow asked, sipping from her own glass of wine and still keeping her knees as far from Buffy as she could.

"Well, if I am honest, I am not sure. In Rome there will be military parades, fireworks and dancing in the streets. Here, however . . ." Toni gave a small shrug as she looked out of the window at the wet afternoon.

"I had hoped it would be fine today," she continued. "La Festa Della Repubblica does not get enough appreciation as it is. The rain will keep home some that may have come out for the celebrations. It would be different were it The Feast of Assumption; people would revel in the streets in driving snow for the feast."

Buffy caught Toni's sour tone and raised an eyebrow, "And I'm taking it the Feast of Assumption isn't quite your cup 'o' mocha?"

"It is too..." Toni pursed her lips and waved her hand around a little. "...Hail Maryish for me perhaps?"

"Hail Maryish?" Buffy teased her. "Someone's been spending way to much time with... well, me. Not that I'm complaining," she added. "So forgive me for shameless stereotyping, but I thought all you Italian types were big on the religion?"

She wasn't big on religion herself, maybe because she always seemed to have to deal with the dark side of it.

"There is more than one religion, Buffy." Toni winked, sipping her wine.

"True." Buffy nodded.

So did that mean Toni was a Buddhist or was she more into the The Sisterhood of Jhe? Her nose wrinkled; she had to stop thinking like that. She had Kennedy here now to think like that if someone had to.

Their meals arrived then, all steaming hot plates of yumminess. Buffy was almost digging her fork in before Andreas had set her pile of Spaghetti Cabonara down in its place.

The young waiter snatched his hand back. Chuckling, he said something to Toni in Italian.

"What did he say?" she asked before popping her fork into her mouth.

"That I am very lucky," Toni smiled coyly, "and that he wishes he could find a woman with such a fine appetite."

Buffy almost choked on her spaghetti. "They know about us?" she asked in a surprised whisper.

"It's hard to miss, Buffy." Willow said matter-of-factly before Toni could answer.

"That's okay though, right?" she looked at Kennedy automatically, without being sure why.

"Yeah, we're not so big with the secret underground society now Buffy," Kennedy rolled her eyes. "They even let us vote."

"What?"

"She means it's okay to be open about being gay," Willow explained. "No one's going to put you against a wall and shoot you for it... or if they do at least you can sue them for discrimination after."

"That's a comforting thought, but completely irrelevant to what I meant."

What she'd meant was: was it okay to feel the way she was now? She'd been attracted to Toni from the night they first met, which was a while ago now, and it was perfectly possible that feelings she was having right now had naturally grown from those first seeds.

All of a sudden, though, she had a pressing need to make sure she wasn't under the same mojo as Faith was. Was she acting out of character? Well, yeah, she was happy and in a relationship that wasn't killing her a little bit inside every day. But again, was it natural or was it mojo?

The conversation quieted as everyone tucked into their meals. Their plates bumped together continuously on the small table and more than once a wine glass nearly toppled. Halfway through, Toni stopped Andreas on his way past and asked for another bottle of wine.

"Are you sure I can not tempt you?" she asked Kennedy. "If you are worried that you are underage, do not. I am also but it is like family here. As long as you do not drink more than you can handle they will not mind." She added in a hushed voice.

Kennedy gave her a tight smile, "I think I'll still stick to Coke, thanks. I'd rather keep clear-headed. So much to observe today, I don't want to miss anything."

As Andreas came back with the bottle of wine from earlier, Toni asked him for another Coke in English and then turned to Willow sitting next to her.

Willow quickly held up her wine glass, "If I miss anything, Kennedy can always tell me about it later." She smiled eagerly.

Toni refilled her glass for her and then Buffy's and her own.

Kennedy had to stop eating to quickly gulp down the remainder of her first drink as Andreas brought a fresh Coke over. There was only enough room for her to have one glass on the table at a time.

"So Toni," she began as she picked her knife and fork up again. "Where about in Italy did you grow up?"

Buffy looked warily at the other Slayer as Toni answered. Kennedy wasn't known for subtlety, but hopefully if she was about to give Toni the third degree she'd practice some for once.

Toni paused with her fork half way to her mouth to answer politely. "I was born in a small cittą called Sabina. It is about... two hours south of Roma. I spent my formative years there."

"Oh, what was that like?" Willow asked.

Buffy couldn't tell if she was in on the whole interrogation thing, but either way her guileless curiosity should water down Kennedy's inquisidor approach.

"It was...beautiful, in a troubled kind of way," Toni smiled nostalgically like she always did when Buffy asked her about home. "I was not long there, however. As soon as I was of age I went to Roma for schooling, spending summers with my Grandparents or with Troy in Bracciano."

Buffy got on with her meal, listening quietly. She knew most of this stuff already. Andreas stopped by the table with a wooden bowl of garlic and mozzarella bread wedges; she beamed at the cute waiter and helped herself to a couple while everyone else was engrossed in the question and answer routine.

"So did Troy live near your Grandparents?" Kennedy asked.

"He has family there, si."

Was that a side step of the question? Buffy didn't know. Personally, she never asked about Troy because she didn't particularly like talking about him. She didn't dare look Kennedy's way to gauge her reaction in case it was obvious.

"We used to swim in the lake together; press wine with our feet; there would be music and dancing in Heracles Hall all summer." Toni said, her eyes far away.

"Heracles Hall?" Buffy looked up from swirling a wedge of tasty bread around in the remains of her Cabonara sauce.

She'd heard about the lake, which sounded too romantic to be true, and the wine pressing, which sounded kinda fun providing everyone washed their feet first. Halls were a new one though.

Toni's gaze came back from rural Italy and settled on Buffy's again, her eyes shining. "At Castello Athanasea-Enas - Troy's place."

Buffy smirked at the Americanized way Toni downplayed her best friend's castle.

"Oh yeah, his castle!" she rolled her eyes. "I always forget that boring part. Who needs a castle anyway? If you've got that kind of money to spend why not go for a nice mansion in Bel Air or Beverly Hills - I mean, wall to wall grey stone? So a millennia ago. Not to mention it'd be a bitch to keep warm with all those dozens of little rectangle-y archer windows all over the place. And soot marks from the oil rag lamps? - they don't come off unless you rub them with a wire brush right away, you know..." Buffy trailed off, looking at the three bemused eyes fixed on her. "Of course that's just my opinion."

She was sure it was a very nice castle really, even if it was Troy's. In fact considering what Buffy had seen of Troy's taste so far (including but not limited to Faith) the castle was probably nicer than any Bel Air mansion.

"It is true, the castle may be no more than a fancy now," Toni admitted with a smile. "But the Saracens who were turned away from our shores in defeat a thousand years ago would probably admit it had its uses - not ones they appreciated obviously."

"So where were your parents while all this partying in castles was going on?" Willow grinned at her. "They didn't mind you around all that wine pressing with rich boys?"

Buffy's knife scraped her plate as she glanced up at her friend, but it was too late to warn her.

"Mia madre died when I was very young," Toni held up her hand to Willow's instant apology. "It was a long time ago now, I was very young. There were... circumstances."

Toni went to sip from her wine glass, found it empty and seemed at a loss as to what to do now. She had gotten like this the first time Buffy had asked about her mom too. Not in floods of tears or anything, but awkward and unforthcoming. She pushed her half full glass of wine across the table, offering it to Toni.

"I am fine, il mio amore," Toni assured her, pushing it back the other way with a grateful smile. "But thank you."

"All part of the Buffy-girlfriend service." Buffy winked before looking up to catch Andreas's eye from across the room. She was just signaling for him to bring a bottle of wine over by shaking her hand in the air - which he somehow miraculously understood - when Toni started explaining about her dad.

"My father, Mercutio, is a merchant for one of the oldest trading companies in the world. He has been traveling for as long as I can remember and will probably still be doing so for many years to come. He has an apartment in Roma which he uses when he is at home, but during my schooling I was there far more than he."

"You came here with him though, didn't you," Buffy remembered.

Mostly Toni's dad seemed a lot like her own... as in absent, but he had at least bothered to take his daughter when he moved countries for a semi permanent length of time. This was more than Hank Summers had done when he'd flitted off to Spain without even leaving a forwarding number.

"Si," Toni nodded. "But I was at a boarding school in New York while my father traveled the country on business."

"Where you met Helena." Buffy added to prove that she remembered. Toni hadn't spoken of her first love again since the night they had met, but that was probably because she didn't want to give Buffy an opening to talk about Faith.

"Uh," Toni looked puzzled for a moment like maybe she'd forgotten she'd even told Buffy. "Yes, that is correct."

"I went to a boarding school in New York for a little while too," Kennedy surprised everyone as she reached for one of the garlic and mozzarella bread wedges that Buffy was trying to devour by herself.

"Hey, maybe you went to the same one and didn't even know it," Willow chirruped.

"Maybe," Kennedy shrugged. "Where'd you go?"

"I, ah, The Montpelier Academy for Girls."

"Never heard of it," Kennedy shrugged again. "So how long have you been here now?"

Toni was starting to work it out.

Buffy cut Kennedy a look. "What's with the interview?" she tried to sound casual. "Let Toni at least finish her lunch before you shine the giant spotlight in her face."

"Just being sociable," Kennedy smiled at Toni. "I went to the Charon, but I was only there a couple of years. Boarding school was a little too restrictive for me."

Kennedy turned to Buffy, giving her an 'Is that better?' look.

"So you were really were a boarding school brat?" Buffy smirked at her, remembering something Faith had said about it ages ago.

"When my mom remarried, my step-dad paid for me to go to the same school as my sister." Kennedy explained to the table at large. She'd finished her meal now and sat back, looking squarely at Toni again. "So are you an only child?"

And she was back to the interrogation, but at least she seemed to be attempting subtle. Not very good at it maybe, but trying.

"No, I have many brothers and sisters," Toni said before putting her last forkful into her mouth and chewing.

"Really?" Buffy sat forward surprised. Toni had mentioned one brother, that was it... and that had only been this morning. Unless, had she mentioned them before and Buffy just hadn't been listening?

Toni finished chewing, swallowed and sat back in her chair; looking at Buffy. "Yes, but I do not see them often. When we are all together we squabble like children." She looked like she was about to say more, but didn't.

"Did you tell me this already?" Buffy asked, feeling guilty.

"I would not have thought so," Toni smiled at her. "We are not close anymore. I do not talk of them often."

Buffy relaxed, also resting back in the chair. She let her sneakers slide over the carpet, nudging Willow and Kennedy's feet out of the way, until they were gently nuzzling Toni's boots beneath the table.

"Okay, that's good. Not that you guys aren't close is good, just that me not remembering if you'd told me something as big as that would be not good," she clarified.

"Any hobbies?" Kennedy asked next, she cast a sly glance Buffy's way as she added, "Mine include graphically mind-blowing digital warfare, martial arts and... Willow."

"She means her PlayStation," Willow explained, smiling affectionately. "For the graphically mind-blowing digi-maflip, not for me."

"Yeah, got that," Buffy grinned.

They'd all finished eating now and everyone looked as stuffed with yumminess as she felt. Did she have enough room for dessert? They did the greatest Tiramisu here, but she'd really gorged on the garlicky bread. Maybe they'd wrap a piece up for her to eat later.

Toni was thinking over the hobbies question and Buffy waited patiently to hear her answer, wondering if it would be what she assumed. She knew Toni liked eating out, not just Italian restaurants but anywhere; she liked the epic blockbuster movies, the ones with all the hype and the special effects, the ones that never did as well in the box office as everyone expected them too.

They'd watched Titanic together not long after they'd started dating and Toni had cried at the ending and then didn't stop talking about Jack and Rose and the damn boat for hours. She'd cried at Gladiator too when they rented it, and Romeo and Juliet, and Moulin Rouge and... Star Wars! - the first one, the one Andrew insisted he hated and Toni adored and Buffy, well, she'd read the latest Marie Claire from cover to cover twice that evening. She'd looked up to watch the fight scenes; they were pretty cool.

In fact the only bigger-than-life film Toni hadn't liked one bit had been the Brad Pitt one they'd seen a few weeks ago: Troy. Buffy had expected her to love it, that's why she'd gotten them tickets even though the very name made her want to chew on her own eyeballs rather than watch it. Toni hadn't liked it. She'd been tense and snarly at the big screen the whole four hours - it had felt like four hours anyway - muttering to herself about timelines and there being such a thing as historical accuracy.

It had been comical even if Buffy was out eight bucks for the movie. What else did Toni like other than eating and overblown films? Ooh, there was the thing Buffy did with her tongue...

"I do not think I have a hobby in the classical sense," Toni told Kennedy. Buffy listened too, not in case it revealed anything sinister, just because. "Or maybe there are just so many things I enjoy it is hard to pick one. Yes, I would say my hobby is... living," she gave Kennedy a bright smile, obviously pleased with her answer. "And tortoises."

Buffy was smiling at her until that last statement sunk in. Tortoises? "Huh?"

"How're tortoises a hobby?" Willow asked, echoing Buffy's thoughts exactly.

Toni shrugged, "I like tortoises."

"Aren't they pretty much just little slow moving shells with little turd-like heads that pop out to bite now and again?" Kennedy asked, not impressed.

"Mine are not so little," Toni countered.

"You actually have one as a pet?" Buffy asked, chuckling. It had to be in Italy, maybe with Toni's grandparents, because she certainly hadn't seen any walking around her dorm room. "Does it have a name like Shelly?"

"No, they are not pets." Toni said gently. "Tort..."

Toni's cell phone rang, playing a tinny version of Queen's 'Don't Stop Me Now.' That meant it was her dad. Buffy didn't know why she'd chosen that ring tone for her father, but then Toni had a different tune for practically every number listed on her cell. It had seemed pretty crazy at first, but there were benefits - like if it just rang as a normal telephone would, it was most likely to be a telemarketer and they could safely ignore it.

"I am sorry; I will not be long." Toni apologized as she grabbed her phone and left the table.

Buffy watched her walk out of the restaurant to stand in the rain, pressing the button to activate the call and speaking into her phone. For a second she could see the wide, happy smile on Toni's face but then she turned away from the window, against the wall to keep the worst of the rain off and Buffy smiled fondly at her huddled shoulders for a few seconds.

"So who do you think that is?"

"It's her dad," Buffy rounded on Kennedy. "And could you knock it off a little bit? I asked you to try and get a bead on her motivations, not go all Slayer Inquisition on her!"

"I didn't ask her anything I wouldn't ask anyone I was trying to get to know," Kennedy said calmly. "And anyway, she seemed fine with it. She's probably pleased someone finally cares enough to ask."

Buffy glared at her. "I care!"

"Then how come nearly every one of her answers came as a surprise to you?" Kennedy leaned to the side as a waitress -- Buffy didn't know this one's name -- started clearing the plates from the table.

"Okay, I suck, I know that," Buffy hissed as soon as the waitress had left them. "I wasted my time mooning over Faith; write IDIOT on my forehead if it'll make you feel better because I know I am one. That's of the past though; I know I have a good thing with Toni now. A pulse-racing, dizzy-making warm syrupy good thing that I probably don't deserve. So please, Kennedy, will you at least give her time to catch her breath between questions before she becomes suspicious?"

"Yeah, because that could be counter productive," Willow agreed. "If she gets suspicious she's gonna clam up completely."

"Or, she's gonna get mad and dump me; which I think we're all agreed, would be way worse." Buffy played with her dessert spoon, still looking through the window at Toni. "Anyway, I'm pretty sure we're barking up the wrong tree."

"So now you don't think Toni's up to anything?" Kennedy ran a hand back through her hair, her eyes fixed on some distant faraway point. Maybe she was counting to ten, or maybe she'd gone to her happy place in an effort to escape Buffy's company. "Did you have an epiphany while you were hat-buying or something?"

"No, we kinda got disturbed before we got that far," Buffy grinned regretfully. "But yeah, something has changed. Not just today, maybe for the last week... or even two, I don't know. I can't pinpoint an exact moment when I decided Toni was on top of Faith..."

"What?" Willow and Kennedy asked at the same time.

Buffy shook her head, annoyed. "Not physically, I mean..." she paused as the actual physical image came to her. There would be oil, and bikinis... wait, why would there be bikinis..? Forget the bikinis, just the baby oil and Faith and Toni fighting... no, wrestling for the honor of...

"Buffy?"

"What?" Buffy said quickly when Willow's voice pierced her fantasies. "I wasn't thinking anything."

They were both looking at her. Toni was still outside on the phone.

"I had a dream this morning and in it I was all but begging Faith to give me another chance - another another chance and do you know what she did?" Willow and Kennedy both shook their heads with varying degrees of interest. "She pushed me off the mountain!"

Her friends shared a look of incomprehension before staring back at her.

"I also think she might have done something bad to Eeyore, but I'm still trying to figure out the significance of that part. The point is: Faith pushed me off the mountain and when I opened my eyes Toni was there to catch me. Faith has been pushing me away for six months now and Toni has been trying to pull me closer for nearly as long. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm done fighting against both of them now. If Faith wants me gone, I can do that, and if Toni wants me closer? Well I can do that too."

"I'm confused," Kennedy was also playing with her spoon and she pointed it at Buffy now. "Because what you're saying actually makes some sense, but I don't think it's what you really want."

"Honey, if Buffy says she's over Faith, that's a good thing," Willow stressed. "Please don't try and change her mind."

"I'm sorry, it just seems like suddenly you're more worried about ending up with no one at all and that's why you want to call off the background check on Toni." Kennedy crossed her arms and laid them on the table now.

"No, that's not true, I still expect to screw this up and end up alone." Buffy rolled her eyes at herself. "I just don't think Toni being in league with the devil - or Troy, as he is currently calling himself - is how it's going to end up screwed!"

"But you said yourself Toni's been acting suspiciously," Kennedy retaliated.

That was true, Buffy had to admit. Little things did keep sounding the warning bells. Up until now these little things had been enough to stop her from being totally open with Toni; how come now they weren't?

"Do you guys think I'm under some kind of spell? Is it possible Toni's put the love-whammy on me just in the past week?"

"Why would she bother now if she hadn't before?" Willow asked before considering the question. "Does she make you wanna shoot principals or lay down in front of trains... or use magick to make her more gender-compatible?"

Buffy thought about it. "No."

"Does the thought of her rejecting you make you feel like killing her so's no one else can ever have her?" Willow asked next.

Buffy thought about that. "No."

"Then you're probably not under a love-spell, at least not one we've come across yet."

"Which is good for you, but doesn't change the fact that Toni might be up to something." Kennedy reminded her.

Andreas finally came over with a fresh bottle of wine curbing the conversation before Buffy could answer.

"You might as well leave the bottle," she smiled at him, making a little room for him to set it down. "Save you walking back and forth over and over."

"Of course." Andreas smiled politely.

"Just how much are you planning on drinking?" Kennedy asked, eying the bottle as Buffy lifted it to refill her glass.

"Not much more," Buffy admitted, she was already feeling decidedly merry even without the alcohol. "But a bottle doesn't go far between three of us and I'm off work for the day; normally I'd be butt deep in dirty dishes right now."

Buffy watched Andreas until he was far enough away to resume their conversation. She checked outside first - Toni was still talking on the phone. She must have been getting soaked and Buffy thought about taking the big umbrella out to her, but figured the phone call couldn't last that much longer.

"Say there is something, we don't know it's a supernatural thing Toni's up to. Maybe she really is a mob assassin or maybe she's wanted all over Europe for pulling the biggest bank heist in history. Neither of those, nor a thousand other - human - things fall under my jurisdiction. It's not fair of me to feather Toni with the same brush as Troy just because she's known him forever." Buffy said quietly as she topped up Toni's glass for her and then Willow's.

"Tar." Willow corrected as she took a sip of her wine.

"You're welcome," Buffy took a sip of her own wine. "Am I not making any sense here?" she asked when Willow chuckled.

"I don't think she comes across as evil," Kennedy conceded with a little shrug. "So we give your girlfriend the benefit of the doubt and concentrate on Troy."

Buffy nodded.

"I still have to talk to you about your sex bunny..." Willow started.

"Will people stop calling it my sex bunny?" Buffy rubbed her forehead. "It was Faith's sex bunny too."

"We're talking about Troy first." Kennedy ordered.

Buffy looked at her indignantly. Someone was getting too big for their boots since they'd been brought into the loop. She'd have to come up with some ways to quash that once the day was over. It made her sad Faith wasn't here - riding Kennedy had been one of their favorite things to do together in the short spell where they'd been 'best friends'.

Kennedy didn't back down from the look. "What's this proof you said you had on the phone?"

"Oh yeah," Buffy lowered her voice even more. "At the St Patrick's Day party I heard him talking in the men's room, the next morning about an hour before we all left. He was talking to someone called... Marco. And I think he was talking about the storm. I got the impression Marco had started it... with magick."

Buffy happened to glance away from her friends as she whispered her information surreptitiously and saw that Toni was no longer huddling against the wall outside. Her eyes darting around she saw her emerge from the little corridor leading to the restrooms. She'd obviously been drying off.

"He called it 'Montevorte's storm'," she added in a rush as she watched Toni make her way back to their small table by the window. "And from the way Troy was speaking, he wasn't happy with someone called, uh, Quantiaro... I think."

Willow finished typing into her tiny new Palm Pilot thingy just as Toni slipped back into her seat.

"I am so sorry I took so long," Toni leaned across the table to put her hand over Buffy's for a second. "Did I miss anything?"

"Not so much," Buffy smiled back. "Is your dad okay?"

"Si. Shall we order dessert?" Toni signaled for the menus before anyone had a chance to answer.

Enough time had passed since their first course that Buffy felt able to tackle some tiramisu and so she did so, trying not to think about all the extra training she'd have to do tomorrow to burn off the rich, calorific Italian dessert.

"So, Toni, I have a serious question," Kennedy began as she lifted a spoonful of pink ice-cream to her lips; Buffy winced, wondering what was coming now. "And I think you're probably the only person I know who might be able to clue me in."

Toni smiled, "I will do my best."

"What's Troy's deal?"

What the hell? Being blunt and upfront was all very well, but in Buffy's experience it normally provoked responses that couldn't be further from the truth if they tried. She saw Willow's eyes open wide as a chunk of pineapple from her fruit salad lodged in the witch's throat.

Toni's eyes narrowed for the split-est of seconds, her brow furrowed and then her smile came back, a little more strained than before. "I am sorry?"

"Troy!" Kennedy repeated. "I think I have a right to know his secret seeing as my lesbian girlfriend has fallen madly in love with him..."

"I have not!" Willow interrupted. "I just think he has nice eyes," she added more quietly. "And nice teeth, and you know, general niceness."

Buffy gave her best friend an extremely hurt look. How dare Willow think Troy was so... nice?

Kennedy smiled in an 'I told you so' way to Toni before continuing. "And she's not the only one. Everyone else seems to think he's the hottest thing since jalapeno pizzas were invented too. How does he do it? I mean, I've smelled his cologne and it's not that good."

Toni's unexpected peel of laughter startled Buffy into dropping her fork and staring at her girlfriend. Okay, so she'd been worried that Toni might be suspicious or guilty-looking or even offended on her friend's behalf - but she hadn't expected completely and utter hilarity.

"Everything okay?" she asked wryly as Toni set her spoon down in her bowl of chocolate mousse and reached for her napkin to dry her watering eyes.

"Oh, si, it is just..." she started laughing again.

Buffy, and everyone else, waited patiently until she'd calmed down again.

"It is just that I cannot wait to tell him Kennedy does not like his cologne," she giggled, confiding, "I thought I was the only one." She wiped her eyes again seeing Kennedy frowning at her. "Troy is a charming, powerful and beautiful man - people are drawn to him; they always have been. And when he touches you it is like being touched by an..."

"Angel?" Willow asked, looking like she could believe it.

Toni chuckled, "By an overwhelming force of... love for oneself. I believe he exudes so much confidence in himself that it comes out sympathetically in those around him. When he touches you it is like you are the something more, something greater than what you are. He can make you feel as invincible as he feels. It is a unique gift."

"Are you speaking from experience?" Buffy couldn't help herself as she felt the big green jealous giant rise in her chest. "Has he touched you?"

Toni's smile was still playing around the edges of her mouth as she looked Buffy dead in the eye. "Do you really want to know, mio teresa?"

No, now that she came to think about it, she didn't, but now she already did! "Was it at least a long time ago?"

"A very, very long time ago." Toni promised softly, pushing her dessert bowl out of the way so she could reach over the table to take Buffy's hand. "I can not even count the years."

Buffy relaxed. It wasn't like she didn't have a past, and it was a past with plenty of boys in it too. And Toni and Troy had been best friends since they were little; it was totally understandable that they might have had a little non-important fling when they were hormone-crazy teenagers - like Willow and Xander had. It wasn't worth getting uptight about.

Logic aside, her stomach still burned with the thought of them together.

"Women love him, and men also," Toni shrugged, speaking to Kennedy again now. "Many find him irresistible."

"He sounds a little too good to be true," Kennedy pointed out.

"On first impression, maybe," Toni nodded, picking up her glass of wine with her other hand. "But he has his weak points and his darker side as you say."

Buffy's ears pricked up. "Really? The way you were just talking I figured he was some kind of divine being incapable of human flaws," she huffed.

Toni coughed into her glass and Buffy felt bad for making her laugh with her mouthful. Not that she'd been trying to make her laugh, but obviously her chagrin was amusing for all.

Toni setting her glass back down and smiling at her cemented Buffy's belief. "If the Gods created humanity in their own image, then would it not follow that the Gods are as flawed as humans?"

"I guess," Buffy shrugged. "But I thought the whole point was that God couldn't be defective or wrong because he's, like, the epitome of right - right?"

"I think we are talking about two separate people," Toni ran her thumb over the back of Buffy's hand.

If Buffy and Toni holding hands and taking up half the table bothered either of her friends, they didn't show it.

"So what brings out his darker side?" Kennedy asked. "Because all we've ever seen is his fluffy side."

'Not me' thought Buffy. 'I've had a few close up looks at his dark side.'

Toni had one-handedly gone back to eating her chocolate mousse and so it was a few moments before she answered Kennedy.

"I'm sure you will find out for yourself in good time," she eventually answered.

"Not likely considering he's run off to Italy with Faith," Kennedy said steadily as she swirled the last of her melted ice cream around in the bottom of the glass bowl. "Unless kidnapping my friends is what you mean by a darker side."

Buffy schooled herself not to react while trying to send telepathic messages to Willow and Kennedy to reel it in. This line of questioning may not make Toni suspicious, but it would piss her off.

Toni looked like she was about to say something, possibly scathing, but stopped herself. "I believe they are on vacanza, ah, vacation."

"It's been a pretty long vacanza," Willow pointed out. "They've been gone, what, six weeks now?"

"If Troy has kidnapped her then she is a very lucky girl." Toni was looking down at her bowl, scraping her spoon around the side to get the last of the mousse out. "To have his attention to such an extreme, to have his affection for you to be so strong that he must have you all to himself is something that countless women have yearned for and none, so far as I know, have gained." She put her spoon in her mouth.

"Lucky Faith." Kennedy said wryly, her eyes glinting again. The cogs were going around in her head so fast Buffy could almost see smoke coming out of her ears. "So he's a bit of playa then?"

Toni chuckled as she dabbed her lips free of the pale brown mousse. "Si, Kennedy, he is a playa." She mimicked her, laughing again before continuing. "He can be as thoughtless of people's feelings as he can be as thoughtful. He can be arrogant and self-serving and a bastardo. He is single-minded in his goals and obsessive about his work and frequently people do not measure up to his expectations of them. He will think nothing of dismissing those people from his life."

Buffy smiled, she'd waited so long to hear Toni talk like this - pointing out all of Troy's faults for her to inwardly gloat over. The only thing better would be if Troy was here to hear what his best friend was saying about him.

She'd all but ignored her Tiramisu after the turn the conversation had taken, she was the only one not finished, but now she had her appetite back and she tucked her fork in once more.

"Troy loves women. He enjoys their company and he enjoys their bodies, but he is capricious... ah, fickle - you understand, in all the years I have known him - he has never been interested in formal relationships."

"And does Faith know this?" Willow asked, looking worried. "Because she seems really into him and I don't think she's gonna be so pleased if she finds out he's cheating on her."

"Ah, but that is just the thing Willow," Toni began and Buffy somehow knew exactly what she was going to say. "Faith is different."

Yep, that was it.

Buffy pulled her hand gently from Toni's so that she could sit back in her chair, lift the bowl of Tiramisu in one hand and fork it into her mouth with the other, trying to pretend she couldn't care less that Faith was different. Besides, it wasn't like this was new. She already knew Faith was different - different to anyone she'd ever met. Was it that big a coincidence that Troy thought so too?

"I have never seen Troy like this before, and while I understand your concerns for your friend, I think you worry needlessly. I have no doubt in my heart that Troy loves her very deeply, although I can not understand why," she muttered the last part mostly to herself, before shaking her head slightly and continuing. "Wherever she is right now, you can be sure he is taking the most wonderful care of her and that she is having the time of her life. There is no one better to be Faith's consort in Roma. He has spent much time there and has many associates - she will be living like a queen." She looked out of the window with a little frown at the weather. "And right now she is probably dancing with him on the Spanish steps by the light of a full moon..."

"Okay, that was a fun story." Buffy's bowl clattered onto the table as she dropped it and pushed her chair back. "But I need the bathroom and then I think we should get the check and go have some crazy full-moon fun ourselves. Or not, what with it still being daytime and overcast, but it's about time we started celebrating La Festa della Repubblica..." she pronounced it perfectly again, still no one congratulated her. "...Or else I'm just wearing a shirt that makes me look like Kermit the Frog for nothing."

"Why does it..?" Toni began.

"It's not easy being green." Buffy looked down at the frog-colored shirt she was wearing especially for the day. "Kennedy will explain. Will, come to the rest room with me?"

"I don't really..." Willow began but then caught Buffy's look. "Oh of course, yeah the wine - goes right through me." She grinned at Kennedy as she stood up. "Back in a minute."

Buffy lead the way across the room, smiling at Andreas and Signora Patrelli as she passed them, to the rest rooms at the back. They weren't very big - two stalls, two sinks and a hand dryer.

As soon as the door closed behind Willow, Buffy began.

"Christ, why does Faith have to be so fucking different? I mean, it sounds as if Troy's been using and abusing women his whole life - why can't he do that with her as well?"

"Buffy," Willow said softly.

"Okay, I know - not my problem anymore." She leant back against one of the sinks. "I'm all about Toni now, promise. It's just... Arrrgh!" She slammed her fist into the hand dryer, accidentally hitting the button and making it impossible to hear or be heard while the noisy machine did its thing.

By the time it had stopped, she was seeing the funny side, a little. "Okay I'm done. I just couldn't listen to any more of Toni's gushing over the guy. I know they're best friends and all, but I don't even speak that highly of you!" she grinned.

"Gee, thanks." Willow grinned back but it fell away too soon for Buffy's liking.

"What?"

Willow took a deep breath. "I need to speak to you about Eostre and I can tell you now you're not going to like it."

"What?" Buffy repeated nervously.

"You might want to sit down." Willow pointed at one of the toilets.

Buffy didn't move from the sinks. "What Willow?"

"Giles found a prophesy..."

Buffy groaned; she hated prophesies.

"... about the Goddess Eostre and he thought, or rather worried, that it might have something to do with your encounter with her. So he showed it to me and I looked for any connection I could find on the occult sites - there's thousands of them if you know the right keywords to use - but we didn't get a whole lot of joy, so he called Wesley and asked for his help and he, luckily, has these nifty new books, or old books, that can call up just about anything and he faxed us copies of what he found and then Dawn helped translate because they were in some funky ten thousand year old language and...

"Will, get to the point - if we spend too long in here they're gonna think we've got the runs - or that we're hat-buying," Buffy hurried her up. "Just tell me the prophesy?"

"In a nutshell?" Willow asked, and Buffy nodded. "Well it took a long time to narrow the dates down but if we're right in the year two thousand and five - next year - there will be born a hero that will be the world's greatest ever champion... we think, the word for champion is very similar to the word for overlord - which doesn't sound quite so fuzzy, but we're going with champion for now."

"What does this have to do with me?" Buffy asked, frowning.

"Eostre - the Easter bunny - has a thing for heroes remember? For helping out with the conception of them, as in getting the happy couple together so they can make a little hero baby."

Buffy laughed. "Willow, how many people do you think are gonna have sex this year, how many people across the world do you think are having sex this minute? Troy and Faith are probably having sex right now on the Spanish steps under a full moon!"

"Yeah, but we don't know Eostre is involved with any of them." Willow said calmly.

"I don't care," she shook her head. "This is ridiculous. You can't possibly think Faith and I are the proud parents of this champion overlord. That's... ridiculous! Unless the prophesy actually says the rug rat will be conceived in a magickal cavern in Cleveland on April 11th..." Yes, she remembered the exact date - it had been a big day, what with the Easter picnic and all, "...then I think you and Giles and Wes and Dawn have got it wrong for once."

Willow didn't look relieved like she was supposed to. "It doesn't say that, at least that we know of, but it does say something else."

The serious tone of Willow's was starting to get to Buffy despite the ludicrous subject matter. "What?"

"The child will be..." Willow hesitated for a moment. "Do you mind if I sit down?"

"Willow!"

"The child will be borne of Slayer's blood, the wielding of the Sagaris making it so, and the son will be heir to the greatest mystical dynasty in Earth's history." Willow said in a rush. "And that's a pretty direct translation if you were wondering."

'The son!' Buffy's butt slipped from the sink and Willow was still talking but it was harder to hear her from the floor. 'The Easter bunny mentioned to Faith something about fighting the son.'

That was a link between them, the rabbit and the prophesy - a tenuous one maybe, but right now it was screaming at her.

A thought came to her. "What's a sack of rice got to do with anything? I've never wielded rice to fight anything. I didn't even know you could fight anything with rice." Her racing brain babbled away but deep down she knew the next words out of Willow's mouth were going to be the ones she couldn't refute. "Except maybe pigeons."

"We think..." Willow joined Buffy sitting on the floor which was cleaner than any public restroom she'd ever been in - it was possibly even cleaner than their bathroom at home. Buffy looked around at the spotless floor, wondering if they could get whoever cleaned this place to come and do their house.

Willow reached out to touch her hand, getting her attention as she spoke again. "...it means the Scythe. You know how Giles has never stopped researching it? Well, he's pretty sure now that it's a mystical Sagaris, a Scythian weapon, which is where we got tripped up with the original classifying. The guttlestop wasn't spelling out the type of weapon, but where it most likely came from. So, the prophesy is basically saying that the Slayers that used the scythe - the Sagaris, I mean - are the ones that are gonna bear this hero."

Buffy jumped back to her feet to pace the four steps from hand dryer to door. "No, see, 'cause it could mean that because you wielded the... the thing to bring out every potentials inner-slayer that it made it possible for two other Slayers to get jiggy with each other and have this miracle child."

"Yeah, I didn't so much wield as just lay my hands on it," Willow got slowly to her feet. "I mean, it might mean that, we're still working on a full translation of the text. There's a lot that still doesn't make any sense." She admitted. "But Buffy, from what we do know already - chances are the prophesy means you."

"No," Buffy shook her head.

This wasn't happening. Xander joking about it had been enough to freak her out, now with Willow saying it might be a serious possibility was beyond freak. It was... whatever was beyond freak and then some.

"Buffy it's been six weeks since you and Faith..." Willow trailed off uncertainly.

"Went at it like rabbits?" Buffy glared at her before raising her hands in the air in frustration. "I hate them now! I used to think rabbits were okay, ya know, not that I ever had a real one, but Thumper, Roger, Bugs - they seemed like great guys. Now I think of bunnies and I want to pull a Glenn Close on them."

Willow had been looking down at her feet, but she met Buffy's eyes again now choosing to ignore her babbling. "We have no experience of supernatural pregnancies but Wesley has."

"Wesley's been pregnant?" That was enough to focus her, and made her feel a little better too.

"No, not Wes," Willow smiled, obviously enjoying the funny imagery too. "Cordelia; years ago now apparently. They aborted it before she reached full term, that's how come we never heard about a little baby Cordelia demon, but it proved that supernatural pregnancies don't follow the rules."

"For instance?" Buffy asked. She put her hand on her beautifully toned belly and tried to imagine it swelling to the size of a beach ball.

"You're probably not going to get nine months to decide on names. Wesley said he's done years of research on the subject, because of what happened to Cordelia, but he was in the middle of something when we called and he couldn't recall all the details there and then." Willow gave a little shrug. "He's going to try and track down the notes he made and get back to us."

The definition of insanity was to do the same stupid thing over and over and expect different results. Faith had told her that once. Whoever had come up with it in the first place had obviously never been told that they were more than ninety-five percent likely to be carrying their same-sex ex-lovers supernaturally conceived hero of the twenty-first century spawn.

Because this, right now, what she was going through - this was insanity.

She grabbed Willow's hands and held them. "Okay, say just for a minute I humor you and believe it's possible that I could be carrying Faith's ... now what the fucking hell do I do?"

Willow pulled her 'I-have-no-idea' face. Buffy groaned.

"Faith hates me and I don't mean she's just a little pissed off, I mean she hates me! Which hurts like hell if I'm honest, but there's nothing I can do that won't just make matters worse. I've accepted I've just got to let her go. Obviously us being in love is a very bad idea, just like she said it would be. Toni... she's not bad for me. I don't even care if Kennedy turns something up about her that doesn't particularly smell of roses - we'll deal and we'll work through it because the idea of being in love with Toni isn't bad - do you know what I mean?"

"You're in love with Toni?"

"No, I'm not. I'm not there yet, but I think I will be, one day." She lowered her voice to barely above a whisper. "Six weeks ago... I feel terrible saying this, but... six weeks ago if Faith hadn't split... If I hadn't said what I said that made Faith split... I would have walked away from Toni without a second thought. I'm not saying I wouldn't have felt bad about it, but all the girlfriend-guilt in the world wouldn't have stopped me from being with Faith."

Willow squeezed her hands in response. "And now?"

"Now I want to make this work, and if that means Faith never coming back to Cleveland so be it - we'll probably both be happier. I want to see just how far I can go with Toni before I screw it up and she moves to LA or rejoins the army or... dies from 'Giant sun burning in chest' syndrome."

"Ah, one of the rarer syndromes," Willow nodded.

"I've got a strange feeling that carrying Faith's lovechild is gonna screw things up no matter how I handle it, making this the end already." She didn't want to lend any weight to this crazy theory, she was still pretty sure that the prophesy had to be wrong or misinterpreted, but it didn't stop tears pricking in the corners of her eyes.

"You know there is one other way the prophesy could be interpreted which would make you not the mommy." Willow started tentatively.

"There is?" Buffy released Willow's hands and ran her fingertips under her eyes, wiping away a few escaped tears. "Well don't you think you should have told me the other one first, save me some of this panic? What is it?"

"You could always be the daddy."

Buffy thought about how much that wasn't making her feel any better. Toni probably wouldn't be very pleased with that either, plus as far as she was concerned, Buffy and Faith hadn't been together since before Valentine's Day. Toni finding out otherwise was not going to go well for Buffy.

Daddiness had to have upsides when compared to momminess though.

"Do daddies get stretch marks?"


Chapter Five

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


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