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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 Six: Multiple Duplicity

Ever since Buffy had found out she wasn't about to be the proud mother of Faith's little hell-spawn, she'd been making good on her intentions to do everything she'd nearly not been able to do for the next however many months the average mystical pregnancy generally lasted.

Not that she'd tried the smoking, 'cause yuck! And she hadn't tried the prescription drugs either because she didn't have any and it was getting late so the pharmacy would be closed. Plus, she had a feeling she'd be guzzling plenty of pain killers in the morning, so that part was covered.

What she had tried was the alcohol. She'd tried lots of alcohol, and currently she was only two short of trying everything on the cocktail menu at least once. It was fun and with every fresh glass placed in front of her, she silently toasted her luck - which for once seemed to be working for her, not against her - as she drank it down.

Of course, it would have been better if Faith had been there to celebrate with her. It wasn't that Toni wasn't great and all, but she couldn't talk to Toni like she could Faith. Not about mystical forces or hero overlord babies or how it felt when the two came together to disrupt your life.

At least Faith would be able to tell Troy, because he knew about the slayer stuff already. So Faith telling him she'd accidentally gotten knocked up by the woman he despised whilst under a magickal aura of horniness brought on by the Easter Bunny wouldn't come as too much of a shock to him.

He was probably already knitting little cloven booties.

With a sniff, she lifted her glass to be greeted with a mouthful of air. Huh? Pulling it back she peered into the bottom to find it was empty. That wasn't good enough. She was starting to get all thinky and she didn't want to. Thinkiness would lead to thought-having and she couldn't be having thoughts about Faith, thousands of miles away, carrying her ch...

"Okay!" Buffy asked the table as she fished in her pocket for money, "Another round?"

She couldn't dig down very far into her Levi's with the way she was sitting down, so she stood up unsteadily, giggling as she wobbled a little on her feet.

"Buffy, are you drunk?" Kennedy was eyeballin' her, grinning. She was drinking herself now, but she'd been sticking to low-alcohol beer all night so that she could 'Stay sharp!'

"No," Buffy shook her head. "Not drunk, just enjoying myself."

She tilted a little too far to the front and had to put out an arm to stop herself falling chest first onto the table. Their dirty glasses rattled as the table wobbled.

"See? Perfect reflexes, so not drunk." Buffy repeated as the pink cowboy hat she was wearing slipped from her head to the table. She victoriously pulled some money from her pocket and held it up as her eyes landed on the hat. "When did I put that on?"

Kennedy plucked the money from her fist. Buffy turned to look as she felt it slip from beneath her thumb, but by then the money was already walking to the bar in Kennedy's hand.

"How come your hat's all squashed anyway?" Willow picked the hat up from on top of several glasses and turned it over in her hands to take a good look at it. "Didn't they have any unsquashed ones you could buy?"

"There was an accident. According to a snotty bystander we were being a little rambunctious. I don't even know if I know what rambunctious means..." Buffy looked around, suddenly realizing someone was missing. "Where's my girlfriend-shaped Toni? She was here a minute ago."

"Uh, I think her phone rang again," Willow shrugged. "So I take it you're enjoying your lack-of-bun-in-the-ovenness."

"Oh yeah," Buffy nearly stepped back into a waitress carrying a food-laden tray, but Willow grabbed her wrist and pulled her back the other way. "I tell ya, there is nothing like thinking you're pregnant for an hour and half to really... freak you out."

"I can imagine." Willow nodded. "Why don't you sit down?"

"Because I can see better up here," Buffy explained, her eyes scanning the blurry shapes that she was pretty sure were people drinking and eating all around her. "Gotta stay focused. Gotta stay sharp." She winked at Willow; there was a chance it wasn't as subtle-looking as she was going for.

"Why, so you can make fun of my girlfriend's diligent attitude to her professional responsibilities?"

Buffy frowned at the long sentence, "I think so."

"Just don't forget that you asked her to do the sniffing around in the first place." Willow handed her back the cowboy hat. "It's not her fault she's good at it."

Buffy 'pffted' that idea with a loud sarcastic exhale and then startled slightly in response to hands sliding over her baby-free, alcohol-full stomach.

"Ciao, bella." Warm, Sambuca-sweet breath hit her ear beneath the garish brim of her cowboy hat.

"There you are." She allowed herself to be pulled down to sit on Toni's lap before shifting herself around a little so that she could see both Toni and Willow. "You seem awfully popular today."

Toni smiled and took Buffy's hat off of her head. She fiddled, trying to un-dent it. "Well it is a big day."

Buffy grinned, gesturing grandly as she announced, "Yeah, The great La Flester Della Lareplica..." Something had gone a little wrong there.

Kennedy came back to the table holding a tray of four drinks just in time to catch her mistake. "The what now?"

"No, mia tesoro, it is like this..." Toni, giggling softly, started to pronounce it properly for her.

"I give up!" Buffy sagged. "The one time I fluff it has to be the one time people bother listening."

Taking her still dead-looking hat back, she stuck it on her head and pulled it low over her eyes in protest.

Toni tipped it back up again with a fingertip, using the same fingertip to stroke down Buffy's nose to her lips. "Va bene, Buffy?"

"I'm okay." Buffy playfully kissed the fingertip before pulling the hand down so that she could hold it with both of hers. "I'm just not gonna bother practicing all those big Italian words in front of the mirror anymore."

She picked up her Campari, toasting Kennedy with it. "Did I get any change?"

"No, you owe me a buck-fifty," Kennedy shrugged, sliding into her seat next to Willow as she took her beer from the tray.

Buffy burst out laughing, red liquid sloshing about in her glass.

"Are you sure you want to drink that?" Willow eyed her glass, but shrank away from Buffy's suddenly irritable look.

"Yes, I'm sure," she started. "Unless of course you have any other baby-shells to drop. Is there a tiny minute chance that I might be soon laying a pterodactyl egg?"

Kennedy's glower was actually a good thing this time, in so far that it helped Buffy's brain catch up with her mouth. She shouldn't have said that. Just because Toni was behind her and Buffy couldn't see her, didn't mean she was gone. She was sat on her lap for heavens sake!

She turned on said lap now and sure enough Toni's mouth was about to form the word 'What' in a sentence that could only finish something like: ...the hell are you talking about?

Buffy's brain went blank.

"I just meant that you're already pretty drunk - as you just demonstrated with your speaking of words that make absolutely no sense - and that maybe drinking more of the fancy foreign liqueurs isn't the best idea." Willow covered for her as best she could.

"Maybe you're right," Buffy conceded and went to set the drink on the table, but changed her mind and had a little sip before setting it down and pushing it away from herself.

She didn't like being told she'd had enough, but even she knew she could be risking blurting stuff out like that and that wasn't good. She'd feel so much better if she could just talk all of this out with Toni; if she could just tell her about Eostre and the prophesy and her brief brush with mom-hood.

Yeah, she'd feel better for about ten seconds, about the exact time it would take Toni to hear the words Faith and baby in the same sentence and dump her.

She sighed, leaning forward to see out of one of the small grubby windows. "It's dark! When did it get dark?"

She turned back in time to see Kennedy look at her watch. "It's not even nine yet. I guess the rain made it get darker earlier."

Buffy wondered if Kennedy was planning on patrolling tonight. Hopefully not. Even though the younger slayer had been sticking to lite-beer all day, she was still a little too wet behind the ears to risk slaying with a buzz.

Buffy certainly wasn't patrolling tonight. It was going to be mission enough to get home as it was.

"So if we're done drinking, what shall we do now?" Willow asked

Toni was casually stroking Buffy's inner-thigh just above her knee - a total, one-hundred percent innocent gesture - that was giving Buffy all kinds of inspiration for what she wanted to do now. It wasn't exactly a group activity though, at least not when she did it. It was more of a duet performance than a quartet.

Now what was the quickest - and least obvious - route to waving goodbye to Willow

and Ken and heading back to Toni's dormitory? It had been a long traumatic day and she could think of nothing she wanted more than to fall into bed with Toni for a nice, comfortable...

Something vibrated sharply under her butt and, grunting in surprise at the sensation, she shot to her feet. "What the..?"

A ring tone could be heard now and Toni dug into the pocket of her pants as soon as she could to retrieve her cell. Buffy recognized the tinny tune, but couldn't think for a second who it belonged to.

Toni hit the button to cut the caller off without even bothering to answer it and slipped the cell phone into her bag instead. "I have answered the phone enough today, si?" she said when Buffy looked at her curiously.

Buffy wobbled after having jumped up so fast. Her feet weren't feeling particularly decisive and she'd had to side step three or four times to stay upright. Now she side-stepped back the way she'd come and let her hand rest on Toni's shoulder for balance.

"We could do something else," Willow suggested. "Something to stretch our legs a little perhaps?"

"Like dancing in the rain some more?" Kennedy didn't look that impressed with the idea.

"We could go to a club?" Toni smiled. "There are a couple in the area that have very good music for dancing."

Buffy was about to agree, thinking dancing might be just what she needed to burn off some of this alcohol, when someone else remembered her lies for her. Toni in fact.

"Ah, but I forget, you must get back for your sister."

Buffy was about to ask what she meant, when she remembered the excuse she'd fabricated earlier. Well that sucked. She had no reason to want to go home alone now that her imminent future wasn't going to involve gaining ten pounds and eating jalape˝os in strawberry ice cream or whatever crazy craving a pregnant slayer might have. It sucked big time actually, but she'd made her own bed so now she had to go sleep in it.

She really did have to go home at some point anyway. She needed her uniform for work tomorrow and she'd only brought a day's worth of clean underwear. It was really about time Toni gave her a drawer. Maybe while they were having their serious talk this weekend, Buffy could bring that up too.

"I don't have to go home right this second," she told Toni, taking her hand as everyone else stood up too, ready to leave.

"Well how about we walk Toni home?" Willow piped up eagerly. "You know, to save on bus fare."

"Will, she doesn't actually live in the big shiny building," Buffy rolled her eyes.

Ever since Willow had found out Toni was enrolled in the management school at Case Western, she'd been going gaga over seeing the futuristic Weatherhead headquarters.

Buffy had seen it already. It was different, that was for sure, but it wasn't worth the geeker joy shining from Willow's eyes like nerdy bat signals. At least she didn't think so.

"I know that," Willow defended herself. "But it's not far, I just thought..."

"I actually live very near to there Willow," Toni said as they walked closer to the door of the noisy bar. "I would be happy to walk the extra couple of minutes to show you the building. It is indeed magnificent."

As they walked out onto the still hopping street, Toni let go of Buffy's hand to walk closer to Willow. The two began discussing the history of the building, leaving Buffy and Kennedy to bring up the rear side by side.

Kennedy looked as excited by the campus tour as she was. Buffy shrugged a shoulder, trying to convey 'But what can we do?' as she hiccuped.

As they walked along the street, dodging people left and right, Kennedy called, "Can we at least get a coffee before we have to walk miles?"

The duo ahead looked back and Kennedy gestured to one of the many cafÚs still open, their lights inviting in the ever darkening evening.

"Good idea." Buffy enthusiastically backed her up. "I could probably use something to help me sober up a little for the trek."

"Si," Toni seemed enthusiastic too as she turned on the spot, heading straight for the nearest coffee shop. Maybe she didn't want the night to end so soon either.

Before they'd even chosen a table outside, a formerly dressed waiter rushed out to wipe which ever seats they chose free of lingering rain drops and take their order.

"Wow, good service." Willow remarked as they sat down.

Buffy ordered last, "I'll have an Amaretto latte please."

"That's not going to sober you up much," Kennedy pointed out.

Buffy just shrugged with a smile. She didn't really want to sober up yet, even though it was probably a good idea. She was enjoying the buzz too much, and plus, if she had to walk around a soggy university building in the dark, a little drunkenness would go a long way in making it more like fun.

"I must just use the restroom." Toni stood again, excusing herself politely.

"Oh, me too!" Willow jumped up and went after her, probably so they could talk more tech-stuff than out of any real desire to pee.

Buffy smiled; her best friend seemed to have a little crush, if not on Toni then on her college. She sat back in her chair, content to just chill for a while in the open air.

Something was different.

Not the music - car stereos still blared from up and down the road. Not the people - they were still dancing like they were in the best club in town. Something though. Buffy looked around trying to figure out what.

"At least it's stopped raining," Kennedy observed, leaning back in her own metal chair.

Buffy grinned, realizing what it was that had changed. "It's stopped raining!"

"That's what I said." Kennedy probably rolled her eyes. It sounded like she had, but Buffy couldn't be bothered to focus enough to watch.

Buffy's silly smile stayed on her face as she turned it to the heavens and saw the swift moving clouds reveal more and more faintly twinkling stars. It was warm now, even though the sun had already slipped under the horizon, muggy even after the wet day. Taking off her little white jacket, she placed it over her lap.

"Y'know, that shirt really does make you look like a Muppet," Kennedy pointed out.

"I know," Buffy nodded unfazed. "But Toni likes it and this is her big day after all."

"And the bright pink hat doesn't really go with it."

"And once again I refer you to my previous statement," she chuckled.

"So this is it?" Kennedy asked; her tone more significant than before.

Buffy sat up straight and looked at her. "What is this 'it' you are speaking of?"

"You and Toni."

Buffy was still blank.

"You're not pregnant," Kennedy continued, sounding exasperated. "Which you think is good, and believe me I get that. I'm in no hurry for the big C."

Buffy had thought she was catching up, but now she was lost again. "I was only joking about the smoking."

"Children," Kennedy rolled her eyes. "I've got no wish to face that challenge for a long time, so I totally get why you freaked out, but you know as well as I do that you scoring the blue line on your test means that Faith probably scored a pink on hers."

"Your point?" Buffy shrugged, not wanting to think about it.

"That you can drink all the Grappa you like, but it doesn't change the fact that at some point you are going to have to make a decision. And the harder you fall for Toni, the harder that decision is going to be."

"So you think I should just dump Toni tonight. Just in case Faith is pregnant, and just in case she might want to get back with me - not that we've actually been together for real in the past anyway," Buffy huffed.

Kennedy was about to answer when Toni and Willow came back outside. Their drinks arrived at the same time, meaning all Buffy could think on were her own words.

Toni and Willow were still gabbling on a mile a minute about their courses and Kennedy was now playing a game on her cell phone, obviously not interested in making small talk with Buffy. That was fine with her, she'd had enough big talks with Kennedy today to last her a life time.

It had been a long day and she was tired. Her feet were aching slightly and she wished she could just slip into bed right now without any of the rest of the stuff she still had to do in the middle. Yawning, and hiccuping at the same time, Buffy put her hand over her mouth and leaned far back in her chair just in time to see a shower of colorful stars as a firework exploded high above.

Willow and Toni's conversation washed over her. Toni's voice was as sexy and alluring as ever even when she was talking about Corporate Social Responsibility and its impact on the Global Marketplace or some other thing she was studying with big words and lots of acronyms all over the place.

'What is Faith doing right now?' she wondered as she let her mind drift pleasantly on the sea of booze in her system. 'Is she having the time of her life? Has she really moved on from us... from me, for the final time? Did I really do her a favor by being the biggest bitch in Bitch County? Or was that just Troy's little twist of the knife?'

She asked her silent questions of the stars above - both natural and gunpowder - but wasn't all that surprised when she didn't receive any answers.

Maybe she wasn't receiving any answers because she wasn't directing her questions at the right person. As far as Buffy knew, God himself had never given her any divine instructions, but there was another deity she'd met recently that should be more forthcoming.

'Eostre? Goddess Easter Bunny? If you're listening to this, do me a favor and tell me why the hell you did that at Easter. Are we your Chosen Ones, Faith and me? I mean, really . . . think about it. Do you really want us to be the parents of this hero? It's gonna get Faith's psychotic temper tantrums and my funny nose - is that really what you want for a hero, not to mention is it fair to the kid?'

Again, there was no sudden burst of knowledge in her brain. Eostre wasn't listening either. Well, why should she be? The Spirit of Spring was probably off watching Faith - the prideful, completely without-a-clue, mom-to-be.

Toni's phone rang, startling Buffy from her mellowness a little but she didn't show it. She rolled her head along the back of the chair until she could smile at Toni who was already reaching into her bag for her cell phone, shooting an apologetic look at Willow for the interruption.

"I will just be a moment," Toni promised, dropping a quick kiss onto Buffy's cheek before leaving the table. The familiar Sirtaki tune could still be heard for a few seconds longer until Toni turned a corner into an alley way and answered the call.

"I wonder who..." Kennedy began.

"It's Troy," Buffy said and then did a little double take at how sure she was. "It's Troy," she repeated slowly. "Hence the Grecian dance hall favorite. That means it was Troy this morning, except I didn't know it then, I suspected, but I didn't know. How come I do now?"

"Slayer instincts?" Willow asked.

"Nah, I think it's more like rabbit intervention," Buffy sighed. "Eostre works in mysterious ways and pretty useless ones so far too."

"You want to hear a suggestion you probably won't like?" Kennedy asked, putting her own phone away she continued without waiting for an answer. "You should be listening to that conversation."

"Eavesdrop on my girlfriend you mean?" she asked mildly.

"Buffy, this could be just what we need. Just by hearing her side of the conversation, you might find out enough to blow the case wide open," Kennedy insisted.

"Excuse me?" Buffy smiled at her. "Are we still Slayers or are we FBI agents now? And even if I wanted to listen to her private conversation, how would I? Use sucker pods to climb up the side of the building and hover just above her head?"

"You could always just say you wanted to keep her company," Willow shrugged. "After all, she just walked into a dark alley on her own at night and this..." she gestured to the crowded streets. "...is prime hunting ground."

Buffy sat up straighter, her eyes on the alley entrance. She hadn't thought of that.

"Bit suspicious," Kennedy shrugged. "Her walking in there without a thought for how dangerous it could be."

Buffy shook her head, "No, she just doesn't know there's anything to be scared of - outside of the general rape, pillage and murder, human stuff anyway."

Should she listen? Was that really the best plan here? So far it was the only plan they had, but wouldn't it be better to wait until a plan that didn't involve her spying on her girlfriend came up? The question it really all boiled down to though was: How much longer could she go without knowing all the dirt there was to know on Troy? This answer was easy: Not that much longer.

"So Buffy, are you going in there or are you just going to stare at the entrance until she comes back out and we've missed the opportunity?" Kennedy asked, jarring her from her thoughts.

"Yeah," Buffy stood slowly from her chair. "I'll go make sure she's okay."

She didn't want to eavesdrop. That was the quickest way to hear something you didn't want to. Look at what happened to Faith. If she'd announced her presence at the training barn door instead of just standing there listening, Buffy would never have said those terrible things.

"I'm jumping to conclusions again," she muttered to herself as she walked slowly towards the alley, half-hoping Toni would have finished the call by the time she got there. "There could be a perfectly reasonable explanation for why she lied about Troy calling this morning. I need to stop being suspicious and talk it out with her and then I'll know - one way or another."

She reached the edge of the building where Toni had disappeared and paused, listening hard for Toni's voice. She smiled grimly when she heard it, raised in anger as she spoke into the phone.

"... I can not help if she becomes suspicious, Troy!"

Aha, she'd known it! Buffy sent up a silent prayer of thanks to Eostre.

"...Buffy is a considerably intelligent ragazza; it is not a surprise to me that she finds Faith's absence questionable... I have tried to allay her fears, but I can tell she is not convinced... neither are her friends..."

'So does that mean there is something going on or not?' Buffy frowned.

"...Si, va bene, maybe you do not have any influence on Faith's decision to distance herself..." Toni was saying from deep in the alley. "...But maybe you would agree that to telephone me every few hours is unwise if you wish me to keep up the pretense that I have not spoken with you..." There was a pause, quickly followed by, "...If Buffy called but a few hours ago then now is the time for discretion, idiota!"

Buffy realized that she was leaning as close to the brick of the building as she could, straining her ears so she didn't miss a word, and that it probably looked highly suspicious to all the people wandering past. She turned so her back was to the wall and tried to lean nonchalantly. By the time she was still and listening intently again, she'd missed a little of the conversation.

"...Si, I have not forgotten, although I am beginning to regret I ever agreed... You forbid me to do what you have done and I see no reason why. Surely it would make your task that much simpler..." When Toni spoke again she sounded chastised, almost humble, "... I do not propose that my love is..." Another pause, Buffy held her breath. "...That is none of your concern...Troy, you have my word that I will do all I can to help you in this; I will uphold my promise, but you must hold yours also... Buffy must..." Toni stopped speaking unexpectedly and then Buffy heard her cursing her phone. "Maledetto battery!"

Buffy chuckled. Troy wasn't having a lot of luck with phone calls today. Hopefully he'd get some kind of complex from the thought of everyone hanging up on him. It took her a few seconds to make her decision, and she honestly didn't know if it was the right one or not, but she - they - had come too far today for her to just scurry back under her rock.

"Why don't you grow a pair!"

She stepped out into the mouth of the alley, knowing that as Toni turned around she would see her backlit by the street lights.

Toni turned as she was stuffing her cell phone into her pocket. She didn't look happy and then she saw Buffy and looked even less happy.

"Buffy, how long have you been there?"

"Long enough to know we need to talk about a few things," Buffy tried to smile, but the complete lack of friendliness on Toni's face made it a rather wavery attempt. "Unless of course you just want to break-up right here in this alley. Do you?"

Toni walked slowly towards Buffy, "No, I do not; but I can not tell you what you want to know either."

"Why not?"

"It is a confidence, between friends, si? I can not tell." Toni walked past Buffy and out onto the street.

Buffy turned to her, surprised by the rebuff. "That's it? Troy said keep mum, so you do? What about not keeping secrets from your lover, isn't that in your ethics code somewhere?"

"I would never ask you to betray Willow or Kennedy's trust," Toni nodded towards the table where they sat. "Please do not ask me to betray my friend."

"Willow and Kennedy aren't doing anything to make you suspicious!"

Aside from convincing her to call Faith and take pregnancy tests anyway, Buffy cringed. 'Look at me in my beautiful hypocrisy. If we make it far enough to have the big serious relationship talk this weekend, am I even gonna mention the possibility that I might soon be a single parent?'

Somehow she didn't think so; definitely not unless there was absolute proof by then.

"So you've been in contact with Troy all along then?" The anger she thought she should be feeling just wasn't coming. Yes she was upset by Toni feeling the need to lie to her. Angry too, she supposed. But mostly she was just pissed off with being proved right.

She'd known there was something going on with Troy and she'd known that somehow Toni had a piece of it, or was a piece of it, but she didn't need it proved to her! Now she had to do something about it other than hatch nasty plans against Troy that she knew even in the glee of conception -- plan conception, not hero -- she'd never see through

Now it looked a lot like she was going to have to do something productive, and she had a feeling that something was going to involve Faith. Possibly rescuing her from a fate worse than...well, ending up with someone who loved her and had a castle, a mountain and a ton of cash.

Yeah, Faith really needed rescuing from having the time of her life.

"On and off, about once a week." Toni admitted quietly, bringing Buffy out of her reverie. "And you; have you spoken with Faith many times?"

Buffy looked up, surprised. "No, I haven't spoken to her at all." Toni gave her a dubious look. "Okay, I've tried, like, a zillion times. Oh, not really a zillion but, you know . . . a bunch of times. But she only picked up once and she slammed the phone down again before I had a chance to say anything."

"I am sorry," Toni said, and she sounded it too. "I'm sure she will have a change of heart. I have seen you together, I doubt this will last." Now she sounded bitter as well as sorry.

Buffy made another hasty decision before she said, "Doesn't matter, I'm with you now."

Finally, Toni smiled, "And I am with you." She walked closer and Buffy stepped into her embrace. "And I promise you, Faith is in no danger with Troy. She is very important to him and I believe he loves her more than even he may realize. Whatever her future holds, I assure you that she will receive only the utmost care and consideration from Troy."

"Okay," Buffy let her chin rest on Toni's shoulder and closed her eyes as they hugged, but she pulled away quicker than what she normally would have.

She did actually believe everything Toni had said, that wasn't an issue; it was what Toni wasn't saying that was making Buffy uncomfortable. "Let's grab the others and go see this amazing example of architectural brilliance before my feet fall off at the ankles."

As they walked back to the table, Willow and Kennedy gave her inquisitive looks; they probably thought she'd been caught out. She gave a subtle shake of her head before slipping back into her white jacket and grabbing her alcoholic latte.

She threw back the now cold drink in one mouthful, feeling the need for slight intoxication more than ever. As she felt the fresh burst of alcohol hit her cheeks, she said, "Come on then, if we're going to see this thing might as well do it now."

That was the last thing she said for a while. Willow and Toni more than made up for her quiet spell as they went back to their conversation from before. Kennedy kept shooting her little glances, knowing something was up with her. Buffy didn't return the glances; she just kept her eyes on the road ahead and Toni.

The festivities stretched all the way down the road. Outside every Italian owned or themed establishment people had congregated to celebrate. Toni seemed to be loving every minute of it, calling to people Buffy had never seen before and pointing things out to Willow that amused her.

Buffy scuffed her feet along the street and watched her from behind. What did she do now? She didn't want to break up with Toni, but... No, she really didn't want to break up with her. And if worrying that Toni wasn't being completely on the level was enough for Buffy to issue the marching orders, they'd have split straight after St Patrick's Day.

So what then?

Did she bury her head in the sand? Keep what she had heard, however vague, to herself and hope that it would go away? 'Cause that always worked so well. Mind her own business and let Toni get on with hers? That would have been easier if she hadn't heard her name and Faith's while she was eavesdropping. Whatever Troy was making Toni cover up had to do with one of them at least. That kind of made it her business, didn't it?

As they cleared the block, a skyrocket whooshed up right in front of them, coming from the park. Buffy jumped a little, but looked up in time to see the pretty sparkles explode high above.

Chances were high that the people responsible for this little display had neither the license nor the age for this to be legal. High pitched whoops and gruff shouts sang out from the trees and for a second Buffy halted, trying to sense any threat amongst the sounds of kids enjoying themselves.

Every possibly threatening shout was followed by girly laughter, convincing her it was just cavemen and bimbos that were running around in there. Still, she felt on edge now and the squeals of laughter, distant music and bangs from above scraped across her senses so much that she wanted to yell at everyone to stop it. Stop it and go home. To leave the night to her, so she could walk and brood and sulk without having to see happy people at every turn.

Kennedy glanced her way again and Buffy looked back this time. From the look in the younger Slayer's eyes, she was feeling exactly the same antsiness as she was. Which didn't make any sense because Kennedy's love life was all peachy'd up.

She was about to ask what was wrong, but then she didn't need to as she realized her change in mood had nothing to do with Toni -- at least not right this second -- and everything to do with her body's slight but insistent early warning system.

Rolling her shoulders, she gave Kennedy a tight nod and carried on walking.

Two minutes later they entered the black shadows of the Red Line viaduct. Shouldn't there be lights under here? She didn't know, she'd never come this way in the dark before. Buffy hurried her steps to catch up closer to Toni and Willow. Kennedy, on her right, did the same.

"It is very..." Toni began as Buffy laid a protective hand on her back, but the rest of her words were cut off by a train rattling above them.

They were out on the other side and back in the orangey glow of streetlights by the time the noise of the train had completely faded away.

Buffy looked around and counted to four. Yeah, they were all there; no one had disappeared in the dark. She and Kennedy shared another look. Willow and Toni continued to talk and walk, oblivious. Willow wasn't na´ve, of course, but she couldn't sense the deeper shadows in the darkness like a slayer could and it was better now that she didn't start acting all nervy, because then Toni would want to know why.

The further they walked from the bridge, the more the weight seemed to drop back and away. Maybe whatever had been following them had given up and decided to go back and pick off the people still dancing in the street. Maybe they'd sensed 'Slayer' and decided they weren't that hungry or angry after all. Buffy felt comfortable enough now to risk blowing her cover with a quick turn of her head.

Nothing back there as far as she could tell.

She breathed a sigh of relief; she'd had too much booze to be slaying and she had much better things to do with her time. Like moping over how Toni had to go and prove her right just when Buffy had decided she was wrong.

"This will be a shortcut," Toni announced as she turned off the street, heading up a narrow path across a lawn.

There were trees dotted around, but not really enough to block Buffy's view of the area. The path was short and moments later they walked between two blocks of apartments or offices -- difficult to tell in the dark -- and she was more interested in what might be going on at ground level.

"Ah, here we are!" Toni pointed in front of them.

Willow's mouth dropped open, "Wow, I've seen pictures, but it's even more impressive in the metal."

Buffy gave it a cursory glance. It looked more like a giant aiplane meal to her; or popcorn done the old fashioned way in a pan with the tin foil expanding over the top. Impressive - a little, wow-worthy - not really.

"Be even more impressive in daylight," Kennedy was looking about nervously. Buffy wondered if the younger slayer was sensing something that she hadn't. "Why don't we come back then?"

"No, hang on. Can we take a walk around it?" Willow asked Toni. "The outside, I mean."

"Of course." Toni led the way. "Although the inside is even more remarkable in some ways. Maybe another day we can meet for lunch and I could show you around."

"Oh, okay," Willow grinned. "How about one day next week?"

"Did your girlfriend just ask my girlfriend out?" Kennedy sounded halfway between startled and menacing.

"Certainly sounded like it," Buffy smirked.

"Well could you ask her not to?"

"No," she chuckled. "If Toni wants to meet up with Will for some boring building-seeing then I'm okay with that. Why, you're not feeling threatened are you Kennedy?"

"No, it's just..." Kennedy sighed. "If Willow wants to go look at boring buildings, I'm happy to tag along. Toni might need a substitute for doing the stuff you don't find fun enough, Willow doesn't."

"I've already had the tour, thank you very much, inside and out!" Buffy snapped at her. "Toni wanted to show me weeks ago and so I came and we had a picnic by the lagoon after. I've known how interested Willow was in this place for a while; same as I know she's applied for two separate faculty positions at Case Western in the past month and is waiting to hear back. So my question is, Ken, how come the first time Willow is getting to see this building is now?"

And cue the scream!

*****

Buffy had been so busy making with the snippety that she hadn't noticed Toni and Willow walking far enough ahead to be out of sight.

Racing in the direction of the scream, which had been quickly followed by a shout of her name, she thudded around the side of the silvery business school. Up ahead, in the shadows beyond the light poles, two big, horned demons were advancing on their back-stepping girlfriends.

"Buffy!" It had been Willow calling her name the first time, 'Bet than rankled Kennedy', but this time it was Toni, looking at her from around one of the demons, her face almost comical in it's disbelieving terror.

Except not comical because her girlfriend was about to get eaten by a... something big.

"What are they?" Kennedy shouted as she dashed for the other-worldly pair too.

"Dead demon meat." Buffy shouted back as she launched herself into the air to kick the closest demon in the head.

Toni's scream had pierced through the alcohol still in her system and she was two steps from sober now . . . but that wasn't quite close enough. Having misjudged her jump, she sailed straight over the demon's head - a good couple of feet higher than any self-respecting head should be in her opinion - and landed in the arms of the second demon.

"Not quite what I had in mind," she admitted as the second demon held her with ease - his stubby crocodile-esque mouth open in surprise revealing lots of shiny sharp teeth.

"Buffy!" Toni squealed again.

A look over her shoulder showed that the first demon was still advancing on Toni and Willow. Kennedy had obviously taken a hit - a powerful hit - and was scrambling to her feet about twenty yards away.

"You can put me down if I'm getting heavy," Buffy told her demon as she started to struggle, but the thing was over its surprise and holding her tightly.

"What should I do, Buffy?" Willow called and then squealed as she was grabbed up by the first demon.

Toni joined in with the screaming as she too was grabbed and lifted up. The demon stood there, roaring something and shaking both women until their knees knocked while showing a distinct lack of effort.

"Okay, I asked nicely!" Buffy grabbed the tusks on either side of her demon's mouth, one in each hand, and pulled them hard to the left.

Nothing!

She pulled them hard to the right.

Nothing!

"Okay, now we're just dancing," she griped, letting go and instead putting all her strength into a double-handed punch underneath its broad chin.

It bit its own tongue with the razor sharp teeth Buffy had spotted and dropped her while it squealed through its nose. As Buffy landed on her feet, and then her knees because her feet wouldn't hold her right away. She spotted Kennedy running in again to tackle the big guy who was holding their loved ones captive.

Kennedy managed to lay a punch to his snout, which really pissed him off, and then she was flung backwards - by what Buffy didn't know. It hadn't looked to Buffy like the demon had even touched her, but there she was on her ass twenty feet away again.

Buffy was back on her feet, the ground feeling more secure now as her adrenaline wiped away the last vestiges of booze. She turned and kicked her demon in the stomach while it was still wailing about its tongue, and as it fell backwards she noticed the extra arms it had as all four flailed for balance.

"And I thought Kennedy had just learned to fly... backwards," Buffy punted the underside of the demon's chin, snapping his teeth into his tongue once again. There were still juddery squeals coming from behind her as Toni and Willow were shaken like rag dolls. "Will, use some magick or something!"

She was delivering one last triumphant knock-out kick to Croc's snout when she heard Kennedy scream out Willow's name. As Buffy spun to see what had gone wrong, Willow slid down one of the shiny slopes of the futuristic building's walls and fell towards the ground.

Now Toni was being shaken by four arms and it was a cry of anger that came from Buffy as she covered the distance between them.

Toni tried to call for help - her eyes probably too blurry from the constant vibration to see help was already on the way - as Buffy barreled towards the creature. Seeing it take one hand off of Toni and lift it to strike, Buffy dropped to her knees and slid the rest of the way across the soggy grass. Stretching her feet out at the last second, her sneakers made solid contact with the being's thick ankles and it toppled over on top of her.

Lucky it had four arms really, because while it kept hold of Toni, it used the other two upper limbs to brace itself from the floor - the only thing that stopped Buffy from being squashed beneath it.

"Buffy, what is happening?" Toni cried, as she struggled uselessly in the demon's two handed grip.

"Just...a...gas...leak!" Buffy tried, her words coming after every punch she landed on the demon's stomach from beneath. She wriggled out from under it, saw across the lawn that Kennedy was helping Willow to her feet, and turned to kick the demon between its short legs. She probably connected more with its thick tail than anything sensitive, but it roared anyway. "Kids on drugs maybe," she added to Toni futilely.

"Let her go and I'll let you live," she told the thing as it righted itself.

"Tutto il dado!" It roared back at her. "Pensate che possiate convocarli ed ottenere non vivere mai...!"

"No comprendi what you speaki!" Buffy realised reasoning wasn't going to work here, so it was back to the violence again.

'Punch, punch, punch, duck the big webbed hand thing, punch punch punch. There it goes off balance a little. Another punch to the tummy, and another one...'

"Oops, sorry," she winced as she hit Toni's leg by accident. "Could you keep still?"

Not that it was Toni's fault; the way the demon was now using her as a human shield to block Buffy's attacks.

Buffy hit with her left, and then she hit with her right and then she just stopped caring about tactics, went postal on it's scaly ass and didn't stop until Toni was released and sobbing a metre away and the demon was pretty much just a... well a dead demon with gooey bits was the best way to describe it really.

"You okay?" she asked Toni gently as she crouched to wipe greyish looking blood and stuff from her fists.

Toni just stared back at her, eyes frighteningly wide.

"You'll be okay," she meant it as more of statement this time, but it came out unsure enough to be a question.

Once her hands were as clean as they were going to get, she crawled away from the downed demon to where her pink hat had fallen off in the fight, but not any closer to Toni, she wasn't sure how welcome her closeness would be.

"It's over now...dead," Buffy felt like she was speaking to a child scared of the monster under her bed, which in all fairness was exactly what Toni looked like. "You're safe..."

"You dare to call the great Magnusza to this vile dimension and then you refuse to sacrifice yourself as is the ancient way?" The rough, only half understandable, shout came from behind Buffy who turned on her knees to see the second demon, her dance-partner, conscious once more coming for her.

"Hey buddy, I think you got the wrong gal," Buffy stood up quickly, watching the approaching demon. "I haven't summoned anyone today. I'm trying to cut way back, see." She patted her stomach and was still patting it as one of them webbed hands came around and batted her to the side.

"Not a fan of the dietary-humour then," she panted as she was already rolling gracefully to her feet, almost as gracefully as she'd flown through the air in the first place. The thing was reaching for Toni. "NO!"

Buffy was in a sprint, then jumping high -- no missing this time, hands grabbing the fat tusks even as they were striking down -- her momentum kept her flying and she jabbed her knee into the back of his neck as gravity insisted she return to earth once more.

CRACK

"And the head comes clean off." Buffy remarked to no one as she threw it at the toppling body and shook her hand free of . . . well, nothing. But the act had been gross enough to warrant the gesture.

Buffy's head was spinning like a rubber duck in a maelstrom and she had to bend over, resting her hands on her knees briefly while she took a couple of deep breaths. Her hat must have fallen off during the fight, it was laying on the grass a few feet away. She scooped it up again and used it to flap the moist air at her face to cool down.

Willow was down on the ground with one arm around Toni. She answered Buffy's enquiring gaze, "I'm fine, floating makes for unbroken bones and I got an aerial look at the building," she grinned.

Kennedy was standing over the first demon; the one Buffy had beaten to death. "I wouldn't want to be the monster who messes with your girl." She rubbed her ass. "Can't believe it got the jump on me twice."

"Yeah, well, we don't train you to fight things with multiple arms so don't feel too bad." Buffy offered, but her eyes were on Toni as the shaky girl rose slowly to her feet with Willow's help. "Maybe I should get Giles to put it on the syllabus."

Kennedy forgot the demon and turned to Toni too when she realized she was up. "So what do you know about demon summoning, because that demon looked like he was roaring at you?"

"I... I..." Toni looked shell-shocked enough to begin with; Kennedy's question pushed her closer to actual clinical shock.

"Kennedy." Buffy warned in a low voice.

Kennedy ignored her, ready to get in Toni's face and repeat her question. It was understandable that she didn't want to let it go considering the demon had gone after Willow too, but Buffy wasn't about to let her turn on Toni.

"Kennedy, stop," she put a hand on Kennedy's shoulder and pushed her, fairly gently, away from Toni. "You're not going to turn this into a blame-fest because you got your pride and your ass hurt, okay? Random attacks happen. This area is full of cemeteries and demons can be just as bad at remembering faces as humans - let it go." Hoping Kennedy would just trust her for once, she gestured to the dead bodies. "Could you get these guys out of here, please? I saw a skip around the other side of the building. I'm just gonna walk Toni home, it's only five minutes away, and then I'll meet you at the campus cab stand down the road."

Kennedy stared defiantly from her to Toni.

"In case you didn't catch it - that was me pulling rank." Buffy turned away without waiting for an answer and put her arm around Toni's waist. "Come on," she said softly.

Retracing their steps, they were almost back on the street when Buffy spoke, "So... should I be explaining what just happened back there, or asking you what just happened back there?"

"Buffy, I..."

"That demon was speaking Italian," Buffy cut her off. More lies would just weave this mess even tighter. "I didn't have a clue what the words meant, but I recognize how it sounds now. Now, maybe, they were just here for La Festa della Republicca..."

"Or maybe I called these demonios to Earth to attack myself?" Toni asked sarcastically.

"Or maybe you called them for another reason and demons aren't the most scrutable business associates," Buffy corrected, frustrated. "Look Toni, I know something more is going on and I'm really trying to give you the benefit of the doubt here, but..."

"You are giving me the benefit of doubt, how gracious of you Buffy!" Toni pulled away from the arm around her waist and stormed across the road.

"Toni." Buffy started to follow but had to stop for a car. As soon as the road was clear again she ran across and caught up with Toni on the sidewalk out front of her block of dormitories.

"I am not the only one full of surprises today," Toni turned to snap at her. "You tell me you have no unusual strength, even when I have clearly seen it many times, and yet you can break a monster's neck with little difficulty. Should I offer you the same consideration of doubt and assume that luck was merely on your side tonight?"

"Okay, so we're both liars; but I'm getting the impression you knew I was lying whereas this is all news to me."

"And now you are lying again," Toni said quietly.

Buffy looked away, up the road, at nothing really, just away from Toni. "I haven't lied about my... gifts... through choice. I have a duty, a sacred duty that has to come first, before everything else. You've been lying to protect Troy - that's way worse."

"What I do for Troy has nothing to do with us!" Toni insisted, stepping closer. "It is a separate thing, a favor for a friend, that is all. It will only affect our relationship if your jealousy over Faith allows it to."

"I'm not jealous." Buffy shook her head.

"Stop lying!" Toni said, maybe louder than she'd meant to judging by the way she looked around afterward.

Buffy cast her eyes around, but apart from a few cars on the road there was no one around to hear their argument. Their first, as far as Buffy could remember, if you didn't count the early bickering over how often Faith's name popped up in conversations.

"Your alternative lifestyle however," Toni continued, calmly, "is something that affects us greatly."

"Slaying isn't a lifestyle; slaying is just... something I have to do. A part of my life I can't get away from."

"And yet you were not intending to tell me of this part of your life," Toni started angrily, but then she softened, "Forgive me; I feel I have been very foolish. I had hoped by now, and it seemed as much today, that I would soon be out of her shadow. But this... this part of your life that you could not share with me is what bonds the two of you together." She didn't look at Buffy as she shook her head, her dejection crystal clear. "If you wished to hide it from me forever..."

"I was going to tell you this weekend," Buffy interrupted. "What I said earlier, that we needed to talk, I didn't just mean you."

Silence apart from the cars. Buffy took the time to look into Toni's eyes, trying to read what was in them.

Eventually Toni chuckled, softly, nervously, "And now I feel even more foolish."

"Look," Buffy reached out gently to take one of Toni's hands, stroking her thumb over the back of it as she spoke. "I don't want to fall out with you. I kinda like you too much for that... and I feel pretty foolish too 'cause it's taken me so long to realize. But, obviously we've both been fooling each other as well and that's not how it's supposed to go when you're into someone - at least, not if you want it to last."

Toni's expression was enigmatic as she gave a slight nod; Buffy was just pleased she was looking her in the eye again.

Clearing her throat, she carried on, "So, I propose we start fresh, this weekend. I'll come by Sunday and we'll have the talk and then, I guess we'll see where we stand afterward."

Toni's eyes dropped to the ground, "I feel like today started with so much promise and now... and now I am afraid I will lose you."

"I don't give up that easily," Buffy said as she tugged Toni's hand a little and walked her up the path to the main door of her block. "Not on important stuff."

They stopped again by the double glass doors.

"Will I not see you before Sunday?" Toni asked, her hand slipped out of Buffy's but she stayed close to her.

"No," Buffy smiled regretfully. "I think maybe we both need to think before... I'd rather wait until Sunday, if that's okay?"

"Of course," Toni nodded.

"Okay."

Buffy was about to reluctantly walk away as Toni leaned in quick and kissed her on the lips. She pulled back just as fast, breathing heavy, her eyes locked on Buffy's.

"I am sorry, I..."

Buffy cut Toni's words off with a kiss of her own, as urgent but not as brief as Toni's offering. She kissed her thoroughly, committing to memory just how nice it all was.

Gazing into Toni's eyes after, Buffy so didn't want to walk away. The idea didn't exactly fill her with good vibrations.

'But it's the right thing to do,' she thought, as she gave her girlfriend one last smile and with a deep resolving breath, headed back down the path.

Once on the road, Buffy started to sprint towards the taxis.

Willow and Kennedy were in the process of hailing a cab and by the time Buffy caught up with them they'd scored. Buffy piled into the backseat after the other two and slammed the door shut.

Kennedy gave the driver their destination and then looked at her expectantly, "So?"

Buffy exhaled slowly before saying quietly, "Oh yeah, she's in it up to her neck. The only thing is, 'it' could be anything at this point."

"But we know it's not good, right?" Kennedy was leaning forward so she could see past Willow.

"No, we don't. It might be something completely harmless. But we do know it's something Troy doesn't want me finding out about, sooo I want to stick my nose in anyway," Buffy smirked. "You guys cool with that?"

"Uber," Kennedy settled back in her seat, obviously pleased with Buffy's decision-making for once.

"So you think Troy was behind the demon attack tonight?" Willow asked from the middle.

"I don't know," Buffy's tone turned cagey. "There are a lot of cemeteries around there; it's not impossible those guys just wandered our way and got pissed off at the first human they saw."

The demons were Toni's doing, she was sure of it; her way of making Buffy come clean about her calling. Something she'd probably known Buffy had been hiding from her since Faith blabbed to Troy months ago. How Toni knew about demons and demon summoning was more interesting to her, but she wanted to figure it out on her own, definitely without Kennedy's help.

"Well for now let's say it wasn't random," Kennedy began. "If Troy was behind it, and Toni's involved with Troy's plans, then Toni knew we were going to get attacked by demons and didn't say anything."

Buffy shrugged.

"So is it over between you two now?" Willow asked, pulling a sad face. "'Cause that's a shame. You were just starting to be happy."

"No, it's not over," Buffy told her. "Not yet anyways."

"But with the demon summoning?" Willow pointed out.

"Who hasn't accidentally summoned a demon at least once before?" Buffy shrugged again. "Well, except me."

"And me," Kennedy added.

"Okay, that just leaves me in the car which is as bad as just pointing your finger at me," Willow huffed. "So she gets the benefit of the doubt..."

"No," Buffy over-rode her. "That phrase - not a favorite of hers apparently. She gets... something else. The chance to explain what happened tonight and what's going on in general, or at least the chance to come up with a really good reason why she gets to keep quiet about it."

"There is a reason good enough for that?" Kennedy asked..

"I hope so," she admitted. "Because I've already got the impression she doesn't want to tell me. I overheard part of her conversation with Troy earlier and something definitely smells of Anchovy pizza. I confronted her, sort of, and she told me it was none of my business."

"Nice!" Kennedy sneered.

"No, she didn't put it quite like that. It was more that she told me it was Troy's business and she wasn't gonna divulge his business to me. She did say it wasn't anything that had to affect our relationship though," Buffy started chirpily before adding in a more morose tone, "but I don't necessarily believe that."

"This business, does it involve Faith?" Kennedy asked.

"I think so." She looked down at her hands, even though she could only see them every couple of seconds or so in the flashes of passing street lights. She knew what one of them was going to say, because she was thinking it herself, had been since Toni had walked out of that alley.

"So are you staying in the game because you're falling in love with Toni or because you think figuring out and then exposing Troy's plans might somehow be your way back to Faith?" Kennedy asked.

Buffy looked up at her in surprise, "Okay, I was expecting you to ask me how I can manipulate my girlfriend to get Troy-info, not that."

"Well you can answer both questions if you like," Willow said quietly.

It seemed like they were playing good-cop bad-cop with her all of a sudden. Willow obviously wasn't prepared to push in the way Kennedy was, but they were definitely together on this.

Buffy sighed. "Answer to the second question: I don't know yet. I don't want to manipulate Toni at all, but... as Kenny pointed out this morning, Faith is one of us and... and I'll do my best Sunday to figure out what Troy has planned for her." She took a breath. "Answer to the first question: There is no way back to Faith for me. She's made that perfectly clear and - and here's something I never thought I'd say - maybe Troy is right and she's happier where she is now. I think I should respect that," she added quietly.

"But what about the prophesy?" Bad cop was back. "If you mean what you just said, sooner or later you're going to have to make a choice: Your girlfriend or your baby?"

Willow laid a calming hand on Kennedy's arm to get her to back off a bit as she said, "That's not true, I know Toni and Faith don't get on too well right now, but surely if there was a little person involved who's only crime is having two mommies who don't know when to keep their pants zippered up tight..."

"Mystical fertility forces." Buffy interrupted her firmly. "We had no more control than Ken and Barbie do when some nasty little boy comes along, takes all their tiny clothes off and smooshes them together!"

"...they could put aside their differences for the sake of a happy family?" Willow continued, ignoring Buffy's outburst.

Buffy shook her head wearily, "No, I wish you were right Will, but I think Kenny's probably closer to the hitting the nail's head."

"And that leaves the question," Kennedy asked, and to her credit she did seem to be trying to speak on tiptoes. "Which would you rather be - a single mom or a deadbeat dad?"

That she didn't know. It was too big a question and the answer was based on too many variables.

Turning from her friends she stared out of the window, watching the dark scenery blur past, but could feel both of their eyes on her for a few minutes more. Kennedy finally sat back again with an impatient sigh, but Willow kept stealing glances her way for the remainder of the silent journey.

The rain had started again and Buffy focused on the droplets, looking golden in the sodium lights, as they streaked sideways down the glass. In her hands, her cowboy hat was becoming even more squashed.

So she had until Sunday to get her head together. Right now that didn't seem long enough, but on the other hand, she was still wishing she'd chosen to stay the night at the dorms and talked this whole mess out immediately.

She didn't want to be alone tonight. Being alone would just leave the reins to all the thoughts she was trying to keep silenced right now. The ones about pregnancy prophecies and stubborn-as-hell slayers who refused to answer their phones.

Perhaps she should put it all in a letter and post it to Troy's castle. She sighed, letting her forehead rest gently on the cool window glass.

Or, if things didn't go as she hoped on Sunday and Buffy found herself single again regardless of what she wanted, maybe a holiday in Italy would be just what she needed to cheer herself up.


Chapter Seven

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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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