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


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PART EIGHT: 4th July 2004
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Chapter Two: Fact-Based Anomalies

The knife quivered in the wall, and the magazine it was pinning fluttered in the breeze from the open window.

"Shit!" Kennedy's hand was still in the air, but her fingers were empty now.

Buffy quickly hid her own hands behind her back. "Sorry, it slipped."

Xander was the first to stop wincing at the magazine and turned his concern from the two-dimensional happy couple stuck to the wall, to Kennedy. "You okay?"

"No blood, that's a good sign, right?" The younger slayer unsteadily slid from her stool, one hand patting her left ear. "And the heart attack obviously didn't kill me."

"Buffy!" Willow squealed belatedly, jumping from her chair to check on her girlfriend.

"Sorry," Buffy's voice was very quiet. She stared down at her feet; figuring hangdog was the way to go here.

"Excellent aim," Giles leaned over the counter for a better look at the picture of Faith and Troy. "That is, I presume you deliberately aimed for... for there. Although between the eyes or... or the heart would have been a more efficient killing strike."

"Ha, you got him right in the..." Dawn laughed as she stood up to get a better look.

"Dawn!" Buffy scolded.

"Well you did."

Buffy cringed, "Yeah, but not deliberately! I didn't really aim; I just saw them and threw. Him and Faith them, not his, you know... them," she clarified.

"That makes me feel tons better," Kennedy shook her head and leaned over to pull the knife free from the wall.

"Anyone else think we should call Troy and warn him never to come home?" Xander quipped. Buffy glared at him. "Or maybe I should just move to Italy too," he added, trying to discreetly cover his boy-parts.

Andrew had retrieved the magazine from where it had fallen onto the counter and flipped it onto the table. The happy couple smiled up at Buffy and she fought the urge to rip it to shreds. This was exactly what they'd been looking for - assuming it wasn't all made up by some hack journalist - and destroying it because she was jealous probably wasn't the mature thing to do.

So she should read it. Read all about the hottest new couple in town. Except not this town. An Italian town. Maybe it was Rome. Buffy couldn't tell from the picture. She could tell they were just coming out of a club - a club exclusively for pretty people by the looks of the crowd - and that Faith did look a little disheveled... in a totally sexy way. More 'dancing-all-night' tousled, than 'pulled-through-a-bush-full-of-demons' messy.

Faith's eyes looked merry and bright, meaning she was at least a little tipsy, but you could also see from her stance that she was fully in control there. If a vampire had happened past, Faith could have staked him without staggering. To anyone who didn't know Faith, her hold on Troy's arm might have looked like she was clinging to her big strong boyfriend for protection, but Buffy could tell Faith was just showing him off for the camera. Her body language and smile screamed: Look what I got!

For a split irrational second, Buffy had the notion that Faith was intentionally screwing with her again. That this was somehow more revenge for not living up to Faith's surprisingly high standards of her.

'Look what Troy's got, B - don't it make your eyes wanna burn right out of their sockets?'

'Why yes Faith, it does...'

Reaching out, she pushed the magazine across the table with her fingertips. "Someone read it out to me, please? Before I start destroying evidence."

*****

"... and it looks as though Mr Athanasia..." Dawn was reading the article.

"Athanasia.. That's his surname?" Buffy didn't look up from what she was doing. "It sounds familiar now you mention it, but I could've sworn Faith pronounced it Abba-nasia, like the pop group. I remember finding it funny at the time, but then thirty seconds later Tony turned out to be Toni," she smiled as she remembered. "And then, for a while, it was just Faith laughing."

"The pronunciation of his name probably varies from region to region," Giles mentioned, not sounding particularly interested. "Th and bu sounds can be transposable in southern Europe."

Buffy shrugged. "Okay. Andrew, put it on the board."

Andrew jumped up, found his magic marker amid the clutter on the table and wrote the name down.

"...has finally met his match in the bedroom." Dawn continued. "On a recent ski trip in the Alps, the couple emerged only once from their luxury suite - allegedly for a large supply of Swiss chocolate body paint, Italian ice cream and a super-sized box of the type of shield that was almost certainly not used during the Trojan War, despite the popular brand name... "

Buffy nearly filleted her own finger instead of the fish she was preparing for the grill. "Okay, that's got to be paragraph nine - skip down."

"But what if we miss..." Dawn began.

"Skip! Down!"

"Fine," Dawn grumbled. "...Rumor has it that Athanasia has truly fallen for the mysterious American woman - known only to his friends and associates as 'Faith' - almost surely breaking many hopeful hearts across the world. Those close to the internationally renowned archaeologist are starting to wonder just what it is about 'Faith' that has him acting so wildly out of character."

Buffy finished taking the bones out of the last of the fish and set them aside while she made the marinade. "They're implying she's a fake or a con artist or a..."

"Porn star," Xander supplied.

Buffy thought about the picture she still had on her phone and smiled to herself, saying nothing.

"Actually, they're not so much with the implying," Dawn frowned at the page.

"Go on," Buffy groaned.

"Faith - reportedly 21 - first appeared on the scene in January and most - if not all - were surprised to learn that she was still on the scene in February..." Buffy huffed in agreement and Dawn paused again. "Do you want me to read it or not? ...Athanasia, widely known for his playboy ways and lavish lifestyle, has dated a string of supermodels, movie stars and royalty over recent years, prompting many to ask: Just who is Faith?"

"That's not good," said Xander.

"Well no, but it's not trying to be great American literature," Kennedy defended her magazine.

"I meant: people trying to figure out who Faith is - not good."

"Also, internationally renowned?" Willow asked. "Isn't he a little young to be renowned anywhere, let alone internationally?"

"Well he did say he takes his vocation very seriously," said Giles. "And his field isn't the largest. It's possible he has made quite a name for himself simply by turning up at so many dig sites over the years. And of course his wealth and age would make him more interesting to the average Joe as it were than many other hard working -- but less fortunate -- archaeologists."

Buffy heard the squeak of a marker pen and looked over her shoulder to see Andrew writing: internationally renowned, on the board. She turned back to placing the fish into the bowl of marinade.

"I can Google him now we have his surname," Willow realized, and Buffy heard the tapping of the laptop keys.

Dawn started reading again: "As they left Roba Caldo's opening night, it is easy to see just how happy these two are, and one can only assume that Athanasia is finally ready to settle down. So is that wedding bells we can here? Well nothing has been confirmed as of yet, but as the couple prepare to make the trip to romantic Bracciano for the Fourth of July weekend, it's certainly not without weight. The couple will stay in the ninth century castle belonging - since its construction - to the Athanasia family..."

"Eureka!" Willow startled everyone as she punched the air above her head.

"What is it?" Buffy turned to look at her.

"I'm not sure." Willow was moving her mouse wheel at supersonic speeds and her eyes were reading whatever was on the screen just as fast. "But it looks like a... fan club?"

"Fan club?" Buffy repeated weakly.

"Remember how I told you about the Doogie Howser forums?" Willow's eyes didn't leave the screen.

"Sort of," Buffy gave a shrug.

"Well this is like that. A place where Troy's fans can congregate to talk about him, swap stories, swoon over how gorgeous he is, that sort of thing."

"Are you sure it's the same guy?" Kennedy asked. "I mean it's not like he's a TV star. If he was, we'd know about it."

"It's him. There's a gallery." Willow's eyes got swoony for a second before she cleared her throat and looked up at them all. "Most of the posts are in Italian or Greek. I guess he's more famous in Europe than he is here and that's why we haven't heard of him."

"But he's an archaeologist." Buffy whined, slumping back against the cupboards. "Just a nerd with a trowel. How come he has so much recognition in the world of normal people?"

Willow shrugged. "Do you want me to feed some of these into the online translator? Maybe that'll help us find out why?"

"Later. First, do you have enough to run a check on him? Get a bit of background more useful than how many rich people he did before Faith was unlucky enough to cross his path. A date of birth, criminal history, any known connections with the underworld, that sort of thing?"

"Just give me a minute," Willow nodded.

"So am I not reading any more?" Dawn asked.

"Yes, just read it in your head." Buffy told her. She couldn't listen to any more about how great he and Faith were together, or how much fun they were having. "If you come across anything actually important, let me know."

With a sigh, Dawn went back to it.

The kitchen was peaceful again for a while, with everyone working on something. Buffy was feeling more energized now that they had the elusive starting point, but with still so little information all she could do was channel that energy into the picnic preparations.

She was nearly done with everything she could get ready in advance and was just watching Andrew take his fairy cakes from the oven when a quiet beep came from her pocket.

Frowning with guilt, she pulled her cell phone out, expecting it to be Toni wondering why she had never replied to the first text.

It wasn't. Faith's name flashed up on the screen instead and Buffy hesitated as her heartbeat picked up, her hands trembling slightly with anticipation.

Faith hadn't been in touch in a month, and Buffy's few attempts after Toni had left had not been acknowledged by either Faith or Troy. After trying on four or five consecutive days (okay it was six, but who was counting?) with no luck she'd given up.

If the way to winning Faith's heart lay in hundreds of voicemail messages, Buffy should have won it already. So until she could come up with a better way to prove her love for the obstinate, bloody-minded slayer, she was just sitting back and waiting for the brunette to contact her like she had the last time.

Like she had just done now, too.

Buffy glanced around the quiet kitchen for a second to make sure no one was looking before she cautiously pressed the button to call up the text message. She had no idea what it might contain, but seeing as the last one had a wet and naked Faith in it, she didn't want to risk her face giving her away if this was more of the same.

She was almost disappointed when just plain text showed up on the small screen.

'Lose Tone 4 an hr, 6 tonite. Yr time. Want 2 speak 2 u.'

Buffy felt bubbles of warmth float throughout her body. Faith wanted to speak to her! Faith wanted to make sure she was alone so that they could speak without interruption! Faith thought Toni was still in Cleveland?

Considering Toni had been in touch with Troy all the time she was pretending not to be, wasn't it a little weird that she wasn't still in touch? And hadn't she even told him she was going to Japan for six weeks?

Faith wanted to speak to her!

"Who was that?" Kennedy asked from the other side of the kitchen.

Buffy realized she'd been grinning widely at the message and schooled her features into something less excited. "Toni," she lied.

"How's she getting on over there?" Xander asked.

"Oh fine," Buffy replied absently.

She scanned the message again, but no little kisses had magically appeared after the text. Was that a sign that Faith didn't want to talk about nice stuff? Could she be pissed off that Buffy hadn't made any grand gestures yet? Was she phoning later to find out when exactly grand gestures were scheduled to begin?

Faith wasn't the sort of girl who would put kisses after every single text or possibly any message unless she was drunk. Like she had been the last time she had left a message, the time when there had been kisses.

Toni always thought to text a kiss at the end of the message. Sometimes the message was just a kiss, Buffy expected those were the nights she was out with her colleagues at something called a nomihoudai - which sounded like the alcoholic equivalent of an 'All you can eat' restaurant. Toni could drink a lot, but as Buffy knew, she could get pretty tipsy.

"Got it," Willow said softly and Buffy gave her attention that way again as she pushed her cell back into her pocket.

"Got what?" she asked.

"His college transcripts. Except they don't make sense," Willow continued still speaking softly.

"Don't tell me they're in Greek too?"

"Nope, all plain English, but... he's attended more than U of C."

"Well I knew that. He said once that he was somewhere else before being transferred here, and then he was getting transferred again to Harvard in the fall. I think Toni said it was something to do with the course he's taking - he gets to go wherever the archaeological hotspots are." She rolled her eyes. "If you can call them hotspots when they've all been cold for a thousand years or more."

"No Buffy, I mean, he's been to way more than that. Even allowing for a different college every semester, and that would be pretty unlikely, the list is still too long. There are about twenty-five universities here, and the dates go way back on some of them."

"So he's a hacker, or he knows a hacker, and he's gone in and bumped up his resume?" Xander asked.

"Maybe," Willow shrugged slightly, but from her face it was easy to see that she didn't think that was the answer.

"How far back are some of these dates, Willow?" Giles was showing an interest again now.

Willow pulled a face as she looked for the oldest one. "You're not going to believe this but, 1952 - the University of Queensland, Australia. He was studying Art History."

"That's impossible." Buffy pointed out. "He's twenty-one. He wasn't even born in 1952, let alone old enough to go to college."

"I told you that you wouldn't believe me," Willow shrugged.

"Buffy's right," Giles agreed. "But maybe it's his father's records Willow has found, or some other older relation who happens to have very similar interests to Troy."

"If so, someone has really mucked about with this database," Willow carried on reading, her eyes big with wonder. "In 1979 he was at a college I can't pronounce the name of in the Dominican Republic and in 1965 he was at the University of Paris."

"I still think he went in and messed with it," Xander stuck with his theory. "Maybe Buffy's right and he is up to no good. If Faith's told him Willow's a computer wiz, then maybe he thought ahead and decided to throw us off the scent."

"I have problems with thinking he's that clever." Buffy didn't really; she just wanted to get the jibe in.

"Well he might be that clever, but I'm cleverer." Willow grinned as she wrote something down on a piece of notepad paper. "This is the current address for him, here in America anyway."

Buffy took the slip of paper and read it. "Thanks, this will come in very handy."

"Time for some good old fashioned B and E, followed by some heavy snoopifying?" Xander grinned.

"Yup," Buffy grinned back and slipped the address into the opposite pocket to her cell phone. She had a feeling if it beeped again, she'd be taking it out fast and she didn't want to lose the paper in the rush. "Andrew, can you finish up for me here? There's just the shish-kebabs left to make up. I was gonna leave it 'til the last minute so the salad on them doesn't go limp, but I don't know how long this is going to take."

"Of course Buffy. It will be an honor to be your sous-chef."

"Great, everything's here... somewhere." She looked at all the different tubs of stuff and then at the pile of washing up she'd created. Oh well, business came first. And she always hated the clearing up part.

"If we're believing this, he was in Japan two years ago." Willow looked up from her screen apologetically. "He was on staff at a historiographical research institute."

"I don't even know what that means, so why the sorry face?"

"Well, Toni's there now and that's sort of another link between her and his badness. If there is badness."

Buffy shook off both the link and the implication that Willow still thought all this was in her head, despite the evidence piling up. Whatever magical persuasion thingy Troy was using to convince everyone he was one fab guy... Buffy wanted some of it. Life must be so much easier when no one thought you could do wrong.

Kennedy jumped off of her stool, clapping her hands. "Well come on, lets get this crime over with. Maybe we'll find that evil post-it note you were talking about."

Buffy smiled at her. "No offense, but I was actually just planning on taking Xander with me. The less people engaging in criminal activities in broad daylight the better."

"Me?" Xander sounded surprised, which wasn't a surprise. Since Sunnydale he'd rather been on the sidelines of the family business.

"Yeah, well you have experience and we work well as a team when it comes to the snoopifying." Also it would be something to take his mind off of Anya, she hoped. Looking at his brightly colored shirt, she added. "Change into something less attention-grabby though."

"Okay, just give me a minute." He disappeared up the back stairs in a hurry.

Kennedy had sunk back onto her stool, looking put out, but not making a thing out of it. Buffy softened slightly; after all, she'd been expecting an argument from the brash slayer and not getting one made her day a little brighter.

"Kenny, this is just re-con, it's not like you're missing out on actual slayage. As soon as it is actual slayage, you'll be there," she promised. "But right now I need to do this fast so we can be back in time for the picnic."

Kennedy just shrugged. "Yeah well, we leave at four, so you had better be fast."

As long as she was back by five-thirty in time to find herself a nice secluded spot by the lake, Buffy would be happy.

"We will." Buffy glanced at the clock, it was just after noon. "Giles, keep going on Eostre. Whatever is going on with Troy, we can't let him take all the attention. We now know less about her than we do him."

"I never stopped." Giles assured her, tapping an open book on the Germanic divine. "I for one find the Spirit of Spring manifesting to two slayers as a symbol rooted in western culture in order to manipulate your desires to such an extreme that the end act may have resulted in the conception of one who will save mankind from itself infinitely more interesting than Faith's love life." He did a little Giles smirk.

"The way I see it, it's all about Faith's love life." Dawn sat back, having finished reading the article. "It's only who she's loving that's different. In your favorite she's loving Buffy," she said to Giles. "And in Buffy's favorite, she's loving Troy. Either way, it's all about her." "That is not my favorite!" Buffy stopped gathering her stuff together to glare at her sister. She was about to follow through and say the other one was her favorite, but everyone still thought she was happy with Toni.

"I meant your favorite mystery; out of our two current mysteries, finding out what Troy is up to is your favorite."

"Well I'm glad you explained that, Dawn," Giles looked flushed. "For a second there I was concerned you actually thought I enjoyed probing into Buffy's sexual relations..."

"Ew, no, ew." Buffy started to walk autonomically towards the back door. "Too much, can't hear, must leave."

"Buffy wait a moment," Giles called her back just as she'd reached the safety of outside.

She hesitated, not sure whether to just keep going. Xander would be back down any minute and the sooner they set off the better. Giles' tone held a familiar note though, one that meant something else had just occurred to him, and normally when something occurred to Giles, it was something she needed to know.

She turned back to face the kitchen, but to make sure they were quite clear on how distressed she was, she pointed a finger at him as she instructed: "Okay, but never in a jillion years do you use 'probe', 'sexual' and my name in the same sentence again -- promise?"

Giles looked a little sick himself as he nodded, "I emphatically promise, but something just occurred to me -" Ha, she'd known it. "- Dawn is correct. Both of our current concerns seem to revolve around Faith. Do you think it's possible the two are somehow linked?"

'In my world right now, everything links to Faith, so yeah - possible,' she thought.

Shrugging she said, "Let's start looking for the link then, too. Let's investigate anything connecting Easter Bunnies to arrogant Adoniseseses... good-looking jerks, and see what turns up."

Giles nodded, Dawn sighed, Kennedy picked her magazine back up and Willow gave her a bright smile before going back to her laptop. Buffy had a feeling she was just going back to join Troy's fan club forum, but who knew; maybe the answers they needed were to be found in the realm of online geekitude.

"Tell Xander I'll be waiting by the car?" she asked, before walking out again. She had better things to dwell on than Willow's bad taste in z-list celebrities.

Pulling her cell phone free of her pocket once more, she quickly retrieved the message Faith had left, pressed the button for reply and texted back:

Okay, speak to you at 6.

She deliberated over whether to or not, but as Xander came through the back door - meaning she was out of time - she added an X and hit send.

Buffy jumped into the passenger side of the jeep with a smile on her face. She was about to go and break into Troy's apartment so that she could turn it upside down looking for clues and then, later, Faith was going to call her.

So far, for a day of planned mourning, it was turning out okay.


Chapter Three

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