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 Four: Shiny Happy Feelings

At first, Buffy sighed impatiently as the seven or so demons attacked them in Troy's gym. They didn't have time for this; they had a picnic to get to and a phone call to find a secluded spot to receive in - although exactly what she was going to say to Faith after everything she'd found out today was anyone's guess.

All in all, fighting her way back out of the warehouse apartment was beyond inconvenient right at the moment. But then the first demon had come at her with a dumbbell raised high above its head and -- as she picked up a barbell from a bench stand and knocked the ugly yet well-dressed demon out -- it suddenly didn't seem like such hassle after all.

Trashing Troy's television and messing up his bed brought a certain amount of satisfaction, but trashing it using his minion's head's... just meant so much more.

"You okay?" she called to Xander as she took on three together in the centre of the gym.

"For right now? Yeah." Xander was dodging between equipment, trying to keep from being cornered by the two demons on his tail. He'd knocked one out with a solid punch early on in the fight, but had been forced to retreat when they ganged up on him. "But if they get their hands on me... I don't know, you'll have to ask me again."

Buffy chuckled under her breath, feeling the blood starting to pump around her body with a little extra fizz than usual. Her inner slayer was at the door, and with a grin, she opened it and mentally stepped aside.

The next couple of minutes passed in a blur as it usually did when she faced more than a couple of opponents at a time. No time for individual thoughts, only time to trust her body and her well-honed instincts.

And Xander - despite trying to stay out of reach of the two determined demons - was in no way useless when it came to fighting by her side, even if that happened to mean on the other side of the room right now. As she kicked a penguin-suited demon away, it stumbled onto the treadmill, and up popped Xander from behind it to turn the machine on high speed.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the demon trip on the fast moving conveyor belt and fall, just as Xander popped up again to drop a free weight on his head.

Not quite poetry in motion, but beautiful all the same.

And then suddenly it wasn't.

Xander's brief distraction had caused him to miss his move and the demons were on him, holding his arms easily even as he struggled. Buffy froze as she watched him overpowered and missed the dumbbell swinging towards her face.

Unfortunately, it didn't miss her and she fell to the ground stunned.

"Buffy!" she heard Xander yell, but it sounded quiet against the ringing in her head.

She was only down for a moment, the lights in the ceiling swimming around in front of her. It was hard to move, to get her brain to talk to her feet, but Xander was captured by Alfred the butler's ugly cousins and she couldn't just lay there feeling sorry for herself about the massive head wound.

She waited until she was swaying on her feet before she touched the side of her face. And yes, ouch, her cheek was split. There was a little blood, but it wasn't as massive as it felt from the inside. At least her face wasn't caved in.

"Xander." Buffy forced the sick feeling away as she focused on her friend. He was being held by two of the demons now and a third was pressing the point of a knife to his throat.

"I'm okay," he said quickly. "Are you okay?"

"The swooshy lights I could do without." She admitted.

Feeling more balanced, she took better stock of the situation. The rest of the conscious demons had surrounded her again, not that she was going to be making any sudden moves, when a sharp blade was bobbing in time with Xander's Adam's apple.

"We are very sorry for the inconvenience this is-a causing to you." The head butler spoke with an almost comical Italian accent as he walked between Buffy and Xander. "But unfortunately you have-a put us in a very difficult situation by trespassing here."

"Sorry to hear that." Buffy said wryly. "Well, if you just show us the door, we'll get out of your way."

"I am afraid it is-a too late for that, Miss Summers. You have-a disrespected Mr. Athanasia's property and-a broken his trust in you." He smiled at her. "If you had-a only made an appointment, si."

"So what now?" she asked, not liking his calm, inevitable tone. "You're just going to kill us both."

"No, that will not-a be necessary."

Buffy breathed a silent sigh of relief. For a second there she'd been a little worried.

"Your friend may live... providing you offer your life without a fight, of course."

And there went the relief.

"No way." Xander said firmly. "Even if Buffy was stupid enough to take that deal, I'd just fight you anyway."

"Xander." Buffy warned him to keep quiet. His fighting words might be nice to hear, but they weren't helping.

"Buffy, don't you dare..." The press of the blade against his throat shut him up, but his eyes burned into hers.

Buffy's blood was still fizzing with the power of the slayer and if that knife was moved away from Xander's vulnerable flesh for just a second, she was going to lay every one of these fuckers out, but until then her physical strengths were no use.

That didn't mean she didn't have other strengths, other sources of power.

"So what, Troy wants me dead now?" she asked derisively. "Does his girlfriend know about this? Because I'm pretty sure she'll be upset if you kill her best friend over a little breaking and entering."

"Mr. Athanasia is-a prepared to take his chances." The demon told her smugly. "And for the record, he has-a wanted you dead for quite some time. It is only his generous nature that has-a let you live this long. It is-a shame you will not get to thank him, si?"

"Si," Buffy sneered. "I'll be sure to send him a gift basket from the other side."

So Troy wanted her out of the way once and for all. It wasn't exactly a surprise; in fact it was kinda nice to have her suspicions confirmed. At least now she knew she wasn't just paranoid, and Xander had heard it too, so he could go back and tell the others that her reservations about Faith's boyfriend hadn't been fueled by jealousy. Well, not only jealousy.

"Okay, we'll do this your way." Buffy told the demon, relaxing until she was standing casually in front of him. "Let Xander go and kill me instead."

"Buffy!" Xander struggled some more, mindless of the thin line of blood showing just beneath his chin. "This is a really shitty time to lose your mind."

"Xander, enough. I've done this before, the whole self-sacrificing deal, remember?" Buffy said gently. "And it worked out okay the last time."

Xander was forced to stop struggling by another demon latching on to him, but his eyes were wide with fear for her.

"You are-a very brave, Slayer, you bring-a much honour to your famiglia." The head-demon pulled out a dagger from an inside pocket and stepped closer to her.

"Wait, hang on," she said suddenly. "Can I just quickly give Xander a message to pass on to Faith before you, you know, murder me in cold blood?"

He hesitated, but then nodded congenially a few times. "I suppose-a so."

"Xan..." she looked him solidly in the eye.

"Buffy, no," he said weakly.

"Xan..." she repeated, ignoring him. "When you see Faith next, tell her I'm sorry. Tell her I love her and I tried everything to keep our baby safe, but..." she tenderly rubbed her stomach.

"Y...wuh..." Xander was beyond the ability to make words now and it had nothing to do with the knife.

The demons holding onto Xander were muttering furiously to each other. The words 'how', 'wrong' 'mistake' and 'bambino' reaching her ears again and again.

"I guess some miracles just aren't meant to be," Buffy murmured sadly.

"Scuzi. I-a couldn't help but overhear...You are with child, quello benedetto?" The top-demon stepped forward reverently; his hands now clasped together in supplication and his voice a hell of a lot sweeter too.

All of the demons holding Xander were suddenly talking urgently on tiny brightly colored cell-phones.

The dumbbell, dropped near Buffy's feet earlier, was flying through the air and knocking the ingratiating demon out before he could even cry a warning. Another two met simultaneous Slayer strength punches to the face; their phones were still pressed to their ears as they collapsed.

The one with the wicked-looking blade trained on Xander was the quickest on the uptake, but Xander hadn't dawdled either and the two were fighting over who got to stick the knife in whom. It was risky, but Buffy trusted him to take care of himself for as long as it took for her to dispatch the final two demons in the gym.

One ended up caught in the sharp looking cables of the rowing machine and the other soon rocked back and forth on top of a giant pink exercise ball. By the time Buffy turned back round, Xander was wiping demon blood off of the demon's blade onto the demon itself.

"Are you okay?" Buffy asked, pulling him up by his hand.

"Are you pregnant?" he asked, his voice higher than hers.

"Nope," she grinned, rubbing her tummy firmly this time. "But now we know for sure Troy and Eostre are linked."

Xander gave a ragged sigh. "Right, and we also know Troy wants you gone, like, gone-for-good gone, so let's get out of here before any more of his demon wait-staff show up."

"Good idea."

They started down the stairs again quickly.

"And you're really not pregnant?" he checked.

She laughed. "Really."

Xander nodded as they walked through the trashed bedroom. He looked around it, observing the damage she had done, before asking cautiously. "But you are still in love with Faith?"

At first Buffy just pursed her lips and didn't answer, but then she was worried that Xander would trip and fall down the next flight of steps if he didn't stop staring at her.

"It's complicated," she finally allowed herself to say.

"What about Toni?" he asked.

"Okay, very complicated." She sighed as they reached the first floor and she lead the way back to the basement door. "But, right now this thankfully isn't about my love-life; it's about something way more important that we don't know the first thing about yet..."

"On the contrary Miss Summers, there is nothing more important than love."

Buffy jumped at the unexpected voice behind them and turned on the spot. At first she thought Troy was home, but instead it was a man a little taller, gangly and younger than Troy appeared to be. His charcoal grey Armani suit fit his leaner frame impeccably and his eyes - when he removed his designer sunglasses - were brown not blue. His black hair was shoulder length and straight and his pointy beard and thin moustache looked professionally trimmed.

"Oh I don't know, I think lots of people would disagree with you there." Buffy answered him casually as she took all this in. "The ones who prefer money and/or power, for instance."

"And which do you prefer?" he asked with a stunning smile, putting aside the mail he'd been opening.

"Oh I don't know, a little of all three would be nice," she said, flashing him a quick smile of her own.

"Ah, yes, balance." he gestured as if her answer was a revelation. "Balance is so very important."

"Okay," Buffy shrugged. She wasn't getting any ill-will vibes from him, but she had to ask anyway. "So are you like the second front? We made it past Troy's domestic staff alive and so now his lawyer is here to screw us for unlawful entry?"

The man burst out laughing, showing lots of white teeth and crinkly eye. "Well it's tempting, but my holy order does not permit me. However, if there is some other way I can thank you for taking care of the riffraff upstairs, please name it."

"How about your name?" she asked.

"Shouldn't sparing our lives have been top priority?" Xander asked warily watching the new arrival.

"Relax, please, I do not work for... Troy." He started laughing again as he reclaimed the mail he'd been leafing through. "I love the names he comes up with, something new for every century. Troy Athanasia," he read from an envelope, chuckling, his dark eyes sparkling. "Hey, I just got that. That's actually pretty clever."

"Hey, dude!" Buffy waved her arm in the air impatiently, trying to get his undivided attention. "Enough with the jolly stranger routine. Who are you and if you don't want to kill us, what do you want?"

"Just snooping around while you had the Goran's busy," he shrugged. "Speaking of which, what kept you? I've been waiting over two months for you to give me this opportunity."

He moved away from leaning against the pool table and Buffy followed him with her eyes as he walked around, inspecting everything, even doing a finger-check for dust along the kitchen counter.

"I didn't know his address," Buffy found herself saying, not knowing why she was telling him anything when his answers were as solid as shower mist.

"Really?" he was staring at the coffee table, well the ex-coffee table; it now was just a mess of smashed glass with a bedside cabinet in the middle of it. "Oh well, it doesn't matter, we still have time."

"What do we still have time for?" Xander asked amiably, leaning on the back of the couch like he was happy to chat for a while.

"Oh sorry," The charming foreigner turned from looking in the massive chrome refrigerator. "I meant Buffy and I, although I'm sure a smart young man like you will play your part. I can call you Buffy?" he looked at her now.

"No!" she told him, exasperated. "Not when you're being so cagey about your name. If it's embarrassing I promise not to laugh, but if you don't tell me, I don't promise not to hit."

His smile seemed less sure now as he left the kitchen area to walk back to them.

"Are you teasing? You don't know who I am?"

She shook her head slowly.

"I thought for sure Troy would have mentioned me by now, enough to whet your interest and spark your imagination at least." He said, thoughtfully stroking his stylish beard.

"Yeah, well don't feel bad, he's so caught up on Faith he doesn't tend to notice the rest of us..." Xander went red and added quickly: "Not that I want him to notice me or anything."

The stranger laughed some more and came close enough to pat Xander on the back. "You, my friend, are going to go a long way, but I wouldn't recommend taking short cuts by following his star."

Leaving Xander, he came within a foot of Buffy, put his hands in his pant pockets and looked her clearly in the eye. "Go on, take a guess?"

He smelled great, and somehow up close he was even hotter than he was from half a room away and Buffy knew... she knew she could trust him, with her life if necessary and he would never let her down. He'd be there by her side until the day she died of old age because he would never let anything else harm her; he'd do everything in his power to make sure she was happy, and safe, and loved and had the best life she possibly could. And she knew she would be all those things and have everything, because just being with him made every doubt disappear...

Buffy back stepped as fast she could until one of the many metal support beams bit into her back. Breathing deeply to rid herself of the beautiful feelings, she accused with complete certainty,

"Quantiaro."

He nodded slowly. "Powerful isn't it? And your aptly named girlfriend is being super-soaked in it every day."

"Toni," she asked, her head still fuzzy with the feeling of unconditional love.

He rolled his eyes with a slight smirk, "Yes, because there's a name that really evokes belief. Not that she doesn't have her uses. Which reminds me, the next time you see the lovely Antonella, tell her she was very clever. Having you dispatch my Krioseroes that night before I could find what I was looking for."

"Krisskrosses?" Buffy repeated, or tried to. "What the hell..?"

And then the word jogged her memory. One of the names on Giles' list of Toni's demon-attack possibilities sounded very much like Krisskrosses when she tried to pronounce it.

'Shit,' she thought with a sinking heart. 'All this time I've been blaming Toni for summoning them and it wasn't her.'

But in her defense, Toni had never once denied it, not even when Buffy had asked out right. Okay, maybe the word 'asked' was a little charitable.

"So I have you to thank for the bad conclusion to a great day, do I?" she asked, trying to keep her voice cocky. He thought she knew more about him than she did; if she hadn't already totally blown that allusion, then maybe it was something she could use later on. "You're a demon summoner? Don't they have rules about that in your holy order?"

"Yes," he grinned. "But they also agree to a certain extent to the end justifying the means. And believe me when I promise you, a little summoning, a little misdirection and a little near death experience for our friend Antonella doesn't even need justification when it comes to getting the Codex of Japheth back where it belongs."

"So what exactly is going on?" Xander had come to Buffy's side to glare at Quantiaro. "And what did you do to her just now?"

"Merely showed Miss Summers what we are up against." Quantiaro walked away again and Buffy instantly wished he was closer. Thankfully the feeling went away quickly.

"Why do you keep saying we?" Buffy asked. "'Cause no offense, you might be Mr Happy Feeling's Guy, but it gonna take more than that to make me fall in line with a complete stranger."

"Do you ever fall in line?" Quantiaro chuckled.

"Well no, but..."

"Then you can trust me," he said simply. "And it is not so much what we will do together, as what we can do for each other."

There were stirrings from upstairs, the muffled sounds of demons regaining consciousness. Buffy heard them clearly and while Xander didn't seem to yet, Quantiaro cocked his head listening for a moment.

"Regrettably, I must go," he said. "I can not afford for Troy..." he smirked as he said the name. "...to know I have been here at this time."

Bowing courteously he made his leave across the warehouse to a little red metal door behind the bar.

"Well what do you know," Xander said. "Warehouses do have back doors. Should we use it?" Buffy was already striding after Quantiaro. "I'll take that as a yes."

The day seemed even hotter than before as Buffy stepped out into the sunlight behind the warehouse. Quantiaro was just starting the engine of an old black Ferrari.

"Wait, you can't just go without telling me what it is you think we can do for each other," she called over to him.

He rolled down the window, pulling up next to them as he said: "It is simple. I'm going to help you find your balance and you are going to help me stop Troy from saving the world."

With a wink, he hit the gas and the car sped away, leaving Buffy blinking in his dust.

She frowned as his sentence sunk in. "I'm gonna what?"


Chapter Five

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