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 Five: Street Party

When they finally emerged from the restaurant it was to a different street than the one they had left a couple of hours ago. The rain was still raining, in fact it hadn't lessened a bit, but people no longer seemed to care. At least no one who looked under twenty-five seemed to care.

The area was busy now, not with cars but with people. Someone had turned on their car stereo and left all the doors and the trunk open so the sub-woofery speaker things could do their business. It was loud dance music that blared from the vehicle - some kind of hard house with pounding beats and a techno-y rhythm. It wasn't Buffy's usual choice, but it didn't suck.

Around the car, a beat up German import of some description - hey she didn't know cars, if someone would let her drive one once in a while she might make the effort to learn - was an ever expanding crowd of kids dancing.

It was like watching Fame as street theatre.

Not all of the dancers were kids either; there were plenty of men and women close to her own age shaking their booties on the asphalt.

The tables belonging to the various caffès were more or less all filled now too. A lot of the older generation were making good use of them, huddling over the tables so that they were sheltered under the large umbrellas while they sipped their fancy Italian coffees and watched the younger generation enjoy themselves.

It would all have been so surreal if Buffy's surreal quota wasn't already filled for the next year!

She couldn't be having Faith's baby; and for that matter, Faith couldn't be having hers either. It didn't make any sense. Why would Eostre pick them? They were hardly ideal candidates for parenthood. At least not together. Which was gonna work out pretty well seeing as they'd split up before the baby had even been born... no, they'd split up before the baby had even been conceived!

If she was pregnant - and she wasn't - but if she was, would Faith even want to know? Would she believe she was the baby's other biological parent, or would she believe Buffy was just feeding her a line to get her back?

'Yes, this is a trap Faith. This is me trapping you into being with me forever. Wasn't it clever the way I got magically impregnated by you just so you'd feel too bad to leave me?'

"Shall we dance?" Toni had to shout to be heard this close to the musical car.

"I, ah..." Buffy had been startled to hear her at all. She'd been so caught up in her thoughts that she hadn't even realized that she'd walked so close to the car holding Toni's hand. "Maybe we should get a drink first?"

Toni looked agreeable, but Buffy caught Willow's eye over her shoulder. The witch was shaking her head no. Before she could ask why, Willow rubbed her tummy and made a little rock-a-bye baby motion with her arms. Toni didn't see a thing, but Buffy still frowned angrily at Willow.

"Would you like to go to Chescas?" Toni asked, meaning the bar down the street. They often went there for drinks after they'd been out for a meal.

"Uh, how about we get a coffee instead?" Buffy shrugged. "Help keep us warm for the dancing in the rain?"

"Okay," Toni started heading for one of the numerous caffès on the street.

Willow was shaking her head furiously again, but she left out the actions this time.

"Not even coffee?" Buffy couldn't believe it.

"I am sorry?" Toni was aware she'd missed something, but she didn't know what, thankfully.

"I think we should dance, here, until Kennedy gets back or else she might not be able to find us. And anyway, dancing in the street looks like fun and... and coffees full of caffeine and that's not good for you so I heard... somewhere."

Buffy hadn't even realized that Kennedy was no longer with them. "Where did she go?"

Toni pulled her closer to the car to dance and she did so automatically, her body instantly falling into sync with that fast song even though her mind was far from focused. Dancing was normally something she did to relax, but she couldn't see herself getting very relaxed tonight. Especially if she wasn't allowed to touch any alcohol.

She found herself getting a bit pissed with Willow for letting her share three bottles of wine with them earlier. Why hadn't she said something before? Kennedy had made a comment about how much she was drinking, but Buffy had thought that was the Slayer side of her talking.

This was fucking ridiculous! She wasn't pregnant, and she was letting Willow scaremonger her into thinking she was. It didn't matter how much she drank today because there was no baby in her tummy that was going to get drunk if she did!

Still, she didn't feel so much like a beer now.

Willow danced along with them, smiling cheerfully and looking around at everyone else who was dancing. Everyone seemed to be in great spirits. Willow had never said where Kennedy had gone. Buffy had a bad feeling in her gut. What was the other slayer up to?

It was late afternoon now and the sky was dark because of the rain. It would be a while before proper night time darkness fell, but still it was easy to spot when a car tried to drive down the road, the headlights slicing through the dancers.

There were even more now; at least another dozen must have joined the crowd since Buffy and the others had and the car had to move slowly to avoid mowing anyone down.

The dancers parted like the Red Sea to let it pass and a few knocked on the windows, either because they knew the people inside or because they just felt like it. Buffy didn't know, but she watched the car as it moved beyond them and parked at the side of the road. More people than should have been able to fit in the small car jumped out and suddenly there were even more people dancing.

This would have been so much fun if she hadn't had other stuff on her mind.

Buffy watched Toni. She was wearing her red trilby again, singing along to the fast paced lyrics, laughing with Willow about something and dancing her ass off. She looked so good, so happy and carefree.

How would she feel if she knew the content of Buffy's brain right now? Would she stick around? Would she believe her if Buffy told her that it didn't change the way she felt about her, or would she not be able to see past the fact that Buffy was carrying Faith's child?

Not that she was. This was all going to sort itself out. Giles would realize he'd made a mistake, or Wesley would or Dawn would suddenly remember she shouldn't be able to read ten thousand year old languages and they'd get someone else to translate and it would means something entirely different.

How could Dawn read ten thousand year old languages anyway? Okay, so they were paying good money for her to go to that hoity-toity private school, but really - how much of their curriculum was likely to involve languages that only five people - at a guess - still even knew existed?

That was a mystery for another day though because her brain was already full with problems.

Kennedy finally arrived back as a troop of scooters weaved their way through the crowd, beeping their horns loudly in a way that seemed to be more about making noise and celebrating than warning people to get out of the way.

Buffy saw Kennedy whisper something in Willow's ear - she couldn't hear what over the music and the beeping - before shoving something tightly wrapped in a brown paper bag into the witch's over-sized hand bag that was swinging wildly from her wrist as she danced.

Buffy cocked an eyebrow but either they didn't notice her curiosity or they just weren't going to let her in on the secret. Toni's hand curled around her neck before she could shimmy over to them and ask, and she found herself pulled into a loose embrace.

"Va bene?"

"Yeah, I'm good," Buffy put her hands on Toni's hips and they danced that way for a while. "So is this more of what you were hoping for from today?"

"Si, but I would have preferred it without the rain." Toni lifted her face up to the sky and water drops bounced off of it.

Buffy lifted her hand to Toni's cheek, wiping away the drops, not that it made a lot of difference. "Maybe it'll stop soon. I mean it's June; summer should make an appearance sometime."

"Will you come back to mine tonight?" Toni smiled seductively at her. "After all, you must still be... worked up."

"Oh, I am." Buffy smiled back, about to take up the offer, but... she knew she couldn't.

Too much was pounding around inside her head and she had to get answers, or at least hear what she'd already been told by someone else. Giles. She trusted Willow implicitly and knew that she was just as smart as Giles, but he was her Watcher and that counted for a whole lot.

"I'm sorry, I promised Dawn I'd be at home tonight. To spend some quality sister-only time," she added in case Toni suggested coming back to hers. "I'll make it up to you on the weekend though."

Was that true? She couldn't know right now, but she had a feeling the weekend was going to involve a bunch of really difficult conversations, even if Buffy could get the prophesy disproved by then. It was time, she decided, to tell Toni the truth about herself. If she was serious about being serious about Toni, then that was the next logical - and fair - step.

She let her head rest on Toni's shoulder for the moment - wondering why it was always at moments like this, when things should have been going so well - that things cropped up to drag her into another unholy mess. Not that this was unholy, not like most of the shit that floated to the surface of her life. Unless, of course, you counted having a child out of wedlock.

More scooters drove through the crowd, beeping, and one came a little too close to her and Toni for comfort. Buffy had to break the close contact with Toni to step out of the way. The guy, who wasn't wearing a crash helmet, saluted her in apology as she glared at him.

Toni was laughing, seeming to enjoy it all, and threw herself back into dancing alone.

"This isn't so bad, if you ignore the fact that we're all soaked to the skin." Kennedy had joined Buffy, dancing close but not as close as Toni had been.

"Yeah well, we can't get much wetter now I suppose, might as well just enjoy it." Buffy agreed. "Where'd you go earlier?"

"Willow wanted me to do a little shopping for her."

It was weird in a way; Kennedy wouldn't back down to either her or Faith, or anyone else they lived with, but she was more than happy to be Willow's lapdog. Obviously the benefits she offered were a little different.

"Did Will tell you about the prophesy?"

"Yeah," Kennedy nodded. "On the way over here. You need to call Faith."

"Uh what?" Buffy pushed wet hair from her face as she glanced quickly at Toni. "Why would I want to do that?"

"I never said you wanted to," Kennedy said, getting in her face as much as possible while still staying under the cover of dancing. "I said you need to."

"Why would I need to do that." Buffy shook her head. She was not phoning Faith again. "Do you know how many times I've tried calling her since the night she left? I called forty-three times in the first twenty-four hours! And all I got was her voice-mail over and over."

"She would have been on a plane for most of that time, what did you expect?"

Buffy hadn't actually thought of that. She'd been too frantic in her attempts to reach the other Slayer that she'd hit the speed dial button every time she managed to escape Toni for a couple of minutes.

That hadn't been easy with Toni staying over and all, but Buffy had managed to get away with nothing more than a little light petting and some snuggling before claiming exhaustion and pretending to go to sleep.

At the time she had felt no guilt or remorse that she'd come in from seeing Faith off with a tear streaked face and a vacant expression, and she had barely responded when Toni welcomed her at the bedroom door with a comforting hug and soothing words, letting her know it was all going to be alright.

Apparently Toni had seen almost everything from the window and knew they'd had some kind of argument. Thankfully she hadn't been able to hear it too. It hadn't been clear to her whether Toni was genuinely sorry that they'd argued and Faith had took off or whether deep down she was quite pleased about it. Either way, she'd said and done the soothing things and hadn't pushed for more than Buffy felt up to giving when they finally made it to bed.

Wow, it was like the guilt and remorse had been laying dormant just under the surface and now it was erupting all over her. How could she have spent the night laying in her girlfriend's arms when all she'd been able to think about was Faith?

Laughing with Faith, fucking Faith, loving Faith, fighting with Faith, losing Faith.

Slipping out of the bed to her bathroom as soon as she was sure Toni was fast asleep to phone Faith.

Buffy had been keeping Toni at arms length -- well maybe not a whole arm, just a fore arms length -- because she had vague suspicions that she may be involved with the same thing as Troy and it was her that had been living a lie half the time. About Faith and about her calling! She was such a hypocrite.

"Why don't you grow a fuckin' pair!"

That's what dream-Faith had challenged her with that morning and Buffy knew it was about time she started taking the advice to heart. Or maybe nicer words of advice that meant the same thing.

She'd been a passive idiot since Christmas, letting herself be controlled by Faith's whims and fancies. Letting herself be caught up in the brunette's continuous drama. Even now, with Faith five thousand miles away, Buffy was still conducting her relationship with Toni with Faith in mind. Worrying that Toni was somehow in on a plan to ...what? Make Faith the happiest woman alive? At least that was how she seemed when she was around Troy.

Meanwhile, Kennedy was still dancing practically on top of her waiting for a response.

"Okay so maybe her phone was off for a good reason that first day, but I tried a lot the next day too and the day after that and she still wasn't picking up. I tried at least five times a day for a month with no joy. Really no joy." She emphasized.

"Why'd you stop?" Kennedy asked.

"She picked up?" Buffy remembered.

"And that still didn't make you happy?" Kennedy shook her head.

"She wasn't exactly pleased to hear from me."

"Stop fuckin' calling me, bitch!"

Buffy winced as she mentally replayed the harsh words growled down the phone to her. Faith had sounded cold, detached. Like she had no emotion left as far as Buffy was concerned. Totally different to the venomous spitting from the night she left.

"Are you surprised?"

Buffy stopped dancing abruptly to give Kennedy a death-glare.

"Willow told me what she heard, why she never came back." Kennedy hiked a thumb over her shoulder in the general direction of Toni and motioned for her to get moving again. "Maybe you had your reasons for saying what you did, that's between you guys, but you didn't honestly expect her to be cool with you the next time you spoke, did you?"

"Well no, but a chance to explain might have been..." Buffy started swaying to the music again half-heartedly.

"Buffy, men get to be clueless about the women they've slept with - you don't."

"I'm not clueless... Why, what's the difference?"

"Duh, you and Faith are both from Venus."

"We are?" Buffy shook her head, her brain was starting to hurt... more. And today had begun with so much potential. Well look what happened when she realized her potential: she fell pregnant and ended up taking relationship advice from Kennedy. Really weird relationship advice.

"Look, the point is, Faith made herself more than clear the last we spoke. She doesn't want me calling her any more and I'm happy to oblige. I don't need to hear her scathing insults on the phone to live a full and happy life, thanks. So, no, I'm not phoning her."

"You have to tell her!" Kennedy insisted.

"Tell her what?" Buffy said stubbornly, trying to dance away from Kennedy now and away from the conversation.

Suddenly, strong fingers closed around her wrist and Kennedy was dragging her out of the main body of the crowd. Buffy tried to resist, without making it too obvious, but in the end it was easier to go where she was dragged. She waved a hand at Toni, who looked over in surprise, and forced a bright and brittle smile, pretending she wanted to be dragged to the side of the road. Willow was watching too and she knew she could rely on her to come up with an excuse.

Kennedy stopped on the sidewalk once they were clear of the dancing mass, but, seething, Buffy turned the tables on her, twisting her hand so she now had her fingers clamped on Kennedy's wrist. Buffy barely felt any of the resistance the younger Slayer offered as she dragged her with extreme ease into the gloom of the nearest alley.

"Hey!" Kennedy shouted, trying to pull away once they were out of sight.

"Hey your fucking self!" Buffy flicked her arm out, letting go of Kennedy at the same time so the girl stumbled across the narrow alley and into the wall. "Don't you ever do that to me again!"

"Or what?" Kennedy pushed herself off of the brick wall and sauntered the few steps to Buffy.

Buffy smiled. "Me and you, we've never actually had a fight before, have we Kenny? I mean, yeah, you've been an obnoxious little brat pretty much twenty-four seven and I've verbally slapped you down a couple of times, but we've never gotten... physical before, have we?"

"No, so?" Kennedy crossed her arms - bad move, not leaving her arms free - but there was a hint of uncertainty now in her usually defiant voice.

"So you picked a really dumb time to piss off Mama bear!" Buffy pushed Kennedy's chest one handed and sent her flying backwards into the wall again.

Kennedy stayed on her feet, unhurt but shaken. All the cockiness had drained from her face leaving behind surprise and maybe a little bit of awe at how easily Buffy had done that.

Buffy folded her arms over her chest and watched her, half expecting to have to deflect an enthusiastic charge - except this wasn't Faith.

Kennedy stood up straight once more and made a show of dusting off her soggy blue soccer shirt. "Mama bear?" she asked, looking Buffy dead in the eye once more.

Buffy let her cool expression crack enough for a smirk to break through.

"You have to phone Faith," Kennedy repeated slowly. "She has to know what is going on."

"We don't know there is anything going on." Buffy pointed out. "All we've got is a vague prophesy translated by someone who hasn't even finished high school yet."

"Okay, she has to know what we suspect. It's only fair she's as clued in as the rest of us, as you are. After all, this is her life that is about to be upturned all to hell too. You can't keep something like this from her."

"If you think she should know, then you phone her." Buffy said, pretty reasonably she thought. "Maybe she'll pick up if you call."

"She won't, I've tried. Not today," Kennedy added as Buffy's eyes widened. "But since she's been gone I've tried a few times. So's everyone else I think. But it wouldn't do any good for me to phone her today anyway. She needs to hear this from you. She won't believe it from anyone else."

Buffy laughed. "You really think she's going to believe this from me? From anyone? 'Oh guess what Faith, I'm carrying your baby!' No, somehow I think she's gonna come down on the side of skeptical and then laugh in my face...or my ear, I suppose."

"And what if it's Faith that's carrying your miracle sprog? Don't you think she should be given a heads up that it's a possibility? She could be doing anything in Italy. You can guarantee she's still smoking twenty a day. Do you want your kid to grow up short?"

"Actually yeah," Buffy shrugged. "When I eventually have children, which is not going to be right now because this all impossible, I don't want them getting too big to handle, and in case you haven't noticed I'm not exactly six feet tall. Neither are you for that matter."

"You're not taking this very seriously." Kennedy sounded surprised.

"Oh I am," Buffy promised. "But that doesn't mean I necessarily believe it and it also doesn't mean I want to phone Faith and talk to her about it. She's a big girl, and she's the one who ran off. If I got her pregnant then she'll have to find out for herself - she's welcome to get in touch about child support payments if she wants."

"What about Troy? Do you really want him raising your kid as his own?"

Kennedy hit the low blow and despite Buffy's flippancy, she felt the impact of it deep in her gut.

That was how it would go, she realized. If this prophesy came true and it was Faith who pulled the short straw, she'd never know the child was Buffy's unless she had it pointed out to her. Why would she? She was in a legitimate relationship with a man and accidents happened. Why wouldn't she think it was his?

She tried to swallow the queasiness in her throat but it wouldn't go. Kennedy was thankfully being quiet; just standing there gazing at her with something that looked suspiciously like sympathy. It was creepy. Buffy turned half away, staring at the wall.

"Do you think this is true?" she asked, her voice coming out choked. "This prophesy - do you think it's possible for either of us to be carrying the others baby? A baby that's going to grow up to be the world's greatest champion?"

Kennedy shrugged. "I think you know a lot more about prophesies than I do. Do they normally come true?"

Buffy didn't even have to think about all the prophesies she'd come across since being Called. "Yeah," she said quietly. "At least the ones to do with me always seem to."

"Then..." Kennedy said gently. "I really think you need to call Faith."

Buffy nodded absently, her mind so busy racing with what she was going to actually say that it took her a second to find which pocket her cell was in. When she pulled it out and flipped it open she hit speed dial one without giving herself time to think any more.

Kennedy stayed quiet, leaning back against the damp brick wall and Buffy bit her lip, heart pounding hard enough to cause your average mortal cardiac arrest as she waited for the line to be picked up.

She hadn't realized she was holding her breath until it came out in a whoosh as Faith's voicemail message clicked into life. With a shaky hand, Buffy hit 'end call' and the speed dial button again before lifting the phone back to her ear.

"No answer," she stated the obvious. Kennedy just nodded, as tense as Buffy was herself.

When the familiar message came to her ears again, she had to fight the urge to throw her cell into the wall beside Kennedy. She unclenched her fingers from around the flimsy plastic - it wasn't her phone's fault this was happening, and breaking it into little pieces would only satiate this exasperation within her for a minute or two.

"Third time the charm." She started the call again. "And the last time. I'm not spending all day in a damp alley listening to her voicemail..."

There was a click as the line was picked up and Buffy almost swallowed her tongue.

She waited for Faith to say hello with bated breath, but when there was only silence on the other end Buffy realized she was going to have to speak first.

"Faith? It's me, uh, Buffy." Jeez, could her voice be any shakier? She cupped a hand around the back of her neck, massaging the tenseness there. "Please don't hang up, at least not yet. I really have to speak to you."

"Ah, yes, but Buffy it would appear that Faith does not wish to speak to you." It was Troy!

"I, ah..." her blood ran cold as she tried to shake the fogginess from her brain. Think dammit, you're more intelligent than him, you have to be! "Troy, hey! Um, how are you?"

Kennedy pushed herself away from the wall, equally as startled as Buffy. Buffy gave her a 'What the hell do I do now' look.

"I am very well thank you. Yourself?"

"Uh, I'm okay."

What the hell was she doing? She wasn't supposed to be exchanging pleasantries with the enemy! Logically she knew being polite was the only chance she had of getting Troy to put Faith on the phone, shouting the odds would just make him hang up, but it wasn't really logic that was ruling her tongue so much as cluelessness.

"That is good."

"Uh, is Faith there?" Buffy tried, shrugging her shoulders a little at Kennedy who was watching the phone in her hand like a hawk even though she couldn't hear Troy's end of the conversation.

"I am afraid not." Buffy couldn't tell from his smooth, accented voice whether he was lying or not. "Is there something I can help you with?"

"Not really. It's really important that I speak with her, as soon as possible. It's..." Buffy winced, deciding to go for broke. "It's work related... Slayer related."

Kennedy's eyes opened wide, but Buffy waved her into keeping quiet. She could explain that Troy already knew once she was off the phone. This was the only thing that might get him to put Faith on the line. Whether because he respected her sacred duty or because he wanted to manipulate it didn't matter - just getting her on the line was what mattered.

There was silence on the other end of the phone.

"So please, if she's there, could you put her on or at least tell me when would be a good time to call back? This is kinda world in peril stuff and the sooner I speak to her the better."

"Buffy, Faith is no longer a part of your fight against the darker forces in this world."

God, she hated his calm voice, especially when hers couldn't be further from calm. "What do you mean? She's turned her back on her duty, she's turned evil again, what?"

"No, she still slays to protect humanity, but she forges her own path now. I am sorry to say, but Faith no longer needs you and your friends to fulfill her destiny. You hurt her very badly Buffy, but in the end it was a blessing. Your heinous indiscretion gave her the strength she needed to realize her own worth. I'm sure one day she will thank you in person, but for now she chooses to distance herself and I must respect her wishes."

"No, you're not listening. I need to speak to her and I need to speak to her now. So you can either put her on the phone or have her call me sometime today or else... Or else I'm hopping on a plane to Rome first thing in the morning and I will speak to her when I get there!"

"Buffy, my friend, if you feel this strongly for Faith why is it so hard for you to respect her wishes as I do? Do you not want her to be happy? You know that coming here would upset her even further and yet you would do it anyway? Please, put Faith's feeling first and I promise one day she will come..."

Abruptly his voice was cut off and silence echoed down the phone to her. Had he hung up mid-sentence? A beep in her ear made her pull the phone away to look at the display.

"Crap!"

"Did he hang up?" Kennedy looked ready to burst with frustration at only hearing one side of the conversation. "What did he say?"

"No, my credit just expired." Buffy shook the dead phone. "He called me his friend!" her mouth twisted in distaste. "And made it quite clear I wasn't getting to speak to her."

"What else did he say?" Kennedy asked as Buffy slipped the useless phone back into her pocket and ran her hands through her hair, grabbing it and pulling hard enough to hurt a little.

"That Faith is no longer Slaying for us, but for herself, and that she's better off where she is and that if I really like her I'll respect that." Buffy briefly recapped as she released her hair and slumped.

Please, put Faith's feeling first and I promise one day she will come...

Had he been about to say 'Come home' or 'Come around'?

Was he right? If you love someone set them free and and if it's meant to be they'll come back to you. Was that how this was? Did she even care any more?

Fine, she could respect Faith's wishes. In fact, nothing would make her happier at this point than to put the infuriating brunette out of her mind once and for all and let her get on with hew new life in Italy. Buffy had her own life to get on with.

"So I guess we're not going to find out if Faith's the pregnant one that way then." Kennedy mused.

"Crap!" She actually forgotten about that thanks to Troy's annoyingness. "Well if it is her then she'll find out on her own soon enough once she starts showing. I just wish I was gonna be there to see the look on their faces when it comes out with blonde hair and green eyes."

With that, Buffy turned on her heel and left, leaving Kennedy to follow her.

It had been a lot quieter in the alley way. They could still hear the music but it wasn't quite as deafening as it was when Buffy hit the street again. It had been a lot drier between the two tall buildings too, and while she hadn't had time to dry off, the rain suddenly pouring onto her again was a bit of a cold shock. Shivering, she made her way back through the throng to Toni and Willow.

"Hey." She nodded to Willow as she slipped into Toni's arms for a brief hello hug, instantly loving the warmth pouring from the dancing woman.

She pulled away reluctantly, and stayed close enough that she had to look up at Toni to see her face. "Are you having a good time?"

Toni had had to slow her frenzied dancing down when Buffy had hugged her and she kept up just a slow swaying motion now, her hands coming to rest on Buffy's shoulders. "Molto, mia tesoro."

"And you're not feeling too soggy?" Buffy asked playfully. Toni was as drenched to the bone as she was.

"I am!" Willow piped up merrily, coming to stand closer to them.

Kennedy's arm was around her. "And I'm only wearing a t-shirt."

Toni turned to Kennedy with a big smile. "Si, and it is a fine shirt. Tell me Kennedy, are you a fan of Italian football?"

"A.C. Milan." Kennedy nodded. "But my step-father is clueless when it comes to soccer and so this is what I got for my birthday."

"Ah, we are rivals!" Toni replied delightedly. "Let us go inside and get dry and I will tell you why Internazionale are so much better."

Buffy, as clueless as Kennedy's step-father, looked at Willow as their respective girlfriends winded their way through the crowd to the door of Chescas, not even caring whether they were following them or not.

Willow shrugged helplessly as they did follow. "This is why I'm against Giles agreeing to get cable sports."

Another couple of scooters threaded their way through the masses with the now common accompaniment of horns beeping, and they cut Buffy and Willow off from their partners for a moment or two. By the time they made it through the door, Toni and Kennedy were already at the bar, ordering drinks, shaking rain from their hair and talking up a storm about soccer clubs Buffy had never heard of.

"Okay," Buffy took off her coat to hang on the wall hooks by the door and hung the carrier bag still containing her squashed pink cowboy hat on there too. "I've got a feeling we're about to sit through a conversation that would be so much more fun if I was allowed to drink... Please let me drink?" she turned to Willow with a pout. "It might even be good for the spawn - a drink will relax me and fetuses like that, don't they?"

"Spawn?" Willow asked as she took her hat and coat off too. "Is that what we're calling it? I think most people just go with 'Bump.' It's more affectionate, don't you think?"

"Maybe, but this is Faith's kid we're talking about. Spawn is way more accurate."

"At least you've accepted it." Willow shrugged.

"Not by a long shot," Buffy shook her head. "It's just that trying to find the funny is the only thing stopping me from jumping in front of one of those scooters out there."

"Well I have something that might help you accept it."

"What?" Buffy asked, unable to believe anything might make this even a teensier bit easier to accept.

Willow still had her bag on her arm and she opened it now to show Buffy what was inside. She saw the brown paper wrapped parcel nestled amongst purse, keys and other odds and ends that Willow felt were necessary to carry with her.

"Uh, Will, last time someone gave me a surprise present about that size it turned out to be a big... you know." Buffy made a hand gesture that she hoped implied vibrator so she wouldn't have to say it aloud with so many old Italian men around.

"Whisk?" Willow blinked at her.

Buffy rolled her eyes. "What's in the box, Will?"

"Let's go to the bathroom while they're deep in the throes of soccer rivalry." Willow looked about for the bathroom and Buffy realized she wasn't gonna find out until she did as Willow asked.

"This way."

She lead the way right to the back of the dark, almost dingy, bar. It was busy with everyone who wanted to celebrate but didn't want to risk drowning to do it. Every table was overflowing with people. Banners hung above the bar. It was noisy, but warm and dry; and thankfully when they finally made it to the ladies room - it was deserted.

"Okay, whatcha got?" Buffy asked, letting the door swing shut behind her.

Willow pulled the wrapped box out of her bag and handed it to her. Buffy ripped the brown paper off, saw what it was and threw the box back to Willow.

"Hell no!"

"Buffy!" Willow handed it back to her.

"Will, it's a..." Buffy looked at the box in horror.

"I know, it's a pregnancy test kit." Willow said calmly. "You use them to find out if you're pregnant. Consider it an early Christmas present from me."

"Yeah, I don't want it. Get me a sweater from Bloomies instead." Buffy tried to hand it back again.

Willow refused to take it and she got that stern 'you will do as I say' look on her face.

Buffy rubbed her forehead. "But Willow!"

"You realize you could have done it by now, or at least the hard part which I assume is peeing on the wand." Willow did take the box now and pulled up the flaps to open it. She peered inside for a moment before tipping the box and unloading the contents onto her other hand. She separated them, handing the instructions to Buffy while she took a closer look at the white plastic stick.

"Heh, wand. Alacazam, alacazog... I turn you into a great big frog!" Willow grinned as she waved the little plastic stick in Buffy's face, but it vanished with startling speed as she realized what she had said. "No, not a frog, no frogs, uh...dog, I meant dog!"

Buffy snatched the wand from her. "You couldn't just magick the sprog away?"

"Do the test, Buffy. Whatever the outcome, you know you'll feel better for knowing." Willow got serious on her again. She took everything from her except the test wand and gently steered her towards one of the stalls. "I'll be waiting right here."

Buffy looked at the wand for a moment and then back to her best friend and she knew the terror she felt was showing on her face. This made it real. This was going to put an end to her finding the funny once and for all. She was going to enter the stall the victim of a screwed up prophesy and come out a mother-to-be.

"You're not alone, Buffy." Willow promised, reaching out to gently squeeze her arm. "Whatever happens you're not going to be alone."

With a deep breath, Buffy nodded and entered the stall, flipped the lock and prepared herself to pee. v "Okay so far so good," she said softly, but loud enough for Willow to hear, as she held the white wand where she could pee on it.

Nearly a minute had passed, and her thighs were starting to ache a little with the way she was holding herself off the toilet, and still nothing.

"I can't go," she hissed. "My bladder is as nervous as I am!"

"Just... try and relax." Willow's voice made it evident she knew how lame that advice was.

Buffy bit back a nasty retort though and tried to relax, breathing evenly through her nose and thinking about all the glasses of wine she'd had earlier. Maybe another thirty seconds had passed when she heard the sound of water rushing from the faucet into a sink.

"Is that any help?" Willow asked.

"No," Buffy groaned. "...Oh wait... hang on..." She smiled triumphantly as she started to pee, but "...shit, I'm missing it!...Not my fingers though!" she grimaced.

The trickle dried up and she knew she'd have to just hope it worked with what she'd gotten. She couldn't stay like this for much longer and now she really wanted to wash her hand.

Quickly pulling her jeans back up she exited the stall and automatically handed the test stick to Willow as she rushed to the sink. "Okay, that was harder than the actual getting pregnant part."

"Gee, thanks." Willow held the damp wand away from and tried to hand it back the second Buffy had soaped and rinsed her hands.

Buffy shied away. "No, I can't!"

"What do you mean: you can't? You've done the hard bit."

"No, Will, the looking at the result is the hard bit and... I can't." Buffy walked to the back of the restroom and crossed her arms, hugging herself.

Willow kept the wand in her hand but passed the instructions she was still holding to Buffy. "Find out how long we have to leave it, oh and what color it goes would be useful too."

Buffy quickly scanned the small print - it was all small print - and found what she was looking for. "Three minutes. Christ that's ages!" she winced and studied the writing again. "Pink for go. Blue for sanity. There should be a line."

"Well it's been a minute and half already." Willow tried to reassure her and looked at her watch to time the other ninety seconds. "It won't be long now."

Buffy just nodded, unable to speak from nerves. The silence in the small room became stifling even with the noisy bar right outside the door and this restroom was not anywhere near as clean as the one at Il Convivo. The smell was starting to make her feel nauseous or maybe that was the onset of morning sickness!

"Okay it's time." Willow finally announced and looked at the stick. She smiled, "Buffy, take a look!"

"No!" Buffy pressed herself back against the tiled wall.

"Buffy!" Willow walked the few steps to her and thrust the wand under her nose.

Buffy closed her eyes tightly. "Just tell me!"

"It's blue! It's negative."

"It is?" Slowly she opened her eyes and looked down at the small determinator of her future. There was a thin blue line in the box. "It is," she repeated softly.

Tears welled up in her eyes and she had to take a big shuddery breath to stop herself from crying. "I'm not pregnant."

"No," Willow agreed. "Which is kinda what we were hoping for right?"

Buffy nodded slowly.

"And yet..?" Willow asked uncertainly.

And yet... she suddenly felt empty, like the thought of carrying Faith's baby had filled her with some kind of... well dread obviously, but something else too. And now that was gone.

She sucked in another lungful of the stale air and blew it out again noisily. Wiping her eyes, she gave a little huff of laughter. "Can I blame it on hormones even if I'm not actually pregnant?"

"Not so much." Willow gave her a lopsided smile. "Are you okay?"

Buffy nodded once, then again with more strength. "Yeah, I'm okay." She smiled at Willow. "I guess for a millisecond there I got caught up in the romance of having Faith's illegitimate devil-child..." she frowned as the sense, or lack of, behind that statement caught up with her. "...But believe me this is what I wanted, this is definitely what I wanted."

Taking the wand from Willow for a closer inspection she started laughing again, the relief bubbling out of her. "I have my life back. More importantly, I have my alcohol consumption rights back!"

She chucked the wand in the trash can and quickly rinsed her hands again, Willow followed suit and when they were both done, Buffy linked arms with her.

"Let's go find our gorgeous girlfriends and get very, very... drunk!" she giggled, pulling Willow from the restroom.

"Sounds like a plan." Willow giggled along with her.

"And take lots of prescription medicine!" Buffy laughed.

"Maybe we should leave that until after we sober back up," Willow cautioned.

"Okay, and then we'll take up smoking!" Buffy felt delirious with the relief as they made their way across Chescas towards the bar.

"Okay, sweetie, if you take up smoking I'm gonna find a spell so that I can knock you up myself."

Still laughing, Buffy spun Willow around so that she could give her a big old bear hug.

"I don't have a bun in the oven." She sing-songed into Willow's ear, grinning.

Pulling away she power-walked up to where Toni and Kennedy were still standing and pulled her girlfriend into a sexier version of the hug she'd just given Willow.

"Do you know how awesome I think you are?" she whispered huskily. "I don't think I tell you that enough."

Toni seemed a little stunned, maybe because Buffy had never actually said that before, but she didn't look put off. Quite the contrary as she wrapped her own arms around Buffy's waist and pulled her closer.

"I think I want to fall in love with you, Buffy." Toni said quietly, bringing her hand up to softly cup Buffy's damp cheek as she gazed at her with bright, slightly worried eyes; as if she was shocking herself with the sudden revelation.

Buffy licked her lips, smiling unsurely, but she didn't look away from Toni's eyes. "I think... I could live with that."

It may not have been quite the answer Toni was looking for, but she smiled anyway and met Buffy half way when she leaned up on her toes for a soft kiss.

Her baby-ordeal wasn't completely resolved yet. Buffy knew that as soon as they got her alone, one of her friends would mention the fact that this meant Faith was probably pregnant, but right now that was a problem that seemed a long way away. About five thousand miles away. Toni was right here and maybe Buffy didn't love her yet, maybe she never would feel more for her than she did right now - maybe Faith had broken something in her too and this was the closest she could get to love from now on - at the moment it still felt pretty close to winning the state lottery.

There were bangs, whistles and crashes from outside meaning either a bunch of the scooters had crashed or someone was letting fireworks off in the street. Closer to home, a phone was ringing insistently, but it was just your average ringtone - someone wanting to sell them home insurance maybe - it made Buffy smile as she held Toni close and kissed her some more.


Chapter Six

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Part Seven Quick-Jump:

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


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