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


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PART NINE: 5th July to 23rd September 2004
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Chapter Thirteen: Don't She Wanna Make You Scream, Damn

What's the matter girl
Don't you think I'm good enough
This old heart's had a whole lot a breakin' down
She's got all these reasons in her head
~~~~~
Things got turned 'round
Don't know where I started from, damn
Can't eat, can't sleep
Could have been a bigger man, damn


Buffy woke up suddenly from larger-than-life dreams of Faith's body and Troy's threats combining together to make her feel like one sick puppy. Horny, confused and a little bit freaked at the places her subconscious could go when she wasn't keeping an eye on it, she wrestled with the giant puffy eiderdown duvet. Once free, she lay there, staring at the unfamiliar ceiling in the unfamiliar room.

"Where am I?"

Troy's bedroom, a more alert part of her said, noticing the framed doctorates in archaeology hanging on the wall and the immaculately pressed suit hanging from the door of a walk in wardrobe. It had very much a guy feel, a tidy guy maybe, but this place was streamlined and kitted out for bachelorhood. Faith's stuff, and there was plenty of evidence of her in the room, didn't break up this feeling, if anything it added to it. Her bachelorette lifestyle hadn't faded either when she began cohabiting.

It should have been comforting, the proof that even though they were living together, they hadn't yet merged as most couples did. It wasn't though. Even if Faith was settling for second best, and knew she was, it was all irrelevant now. She was with who she had to be with, and even though it might break Buffy's heart, a broken heart was nothing compared to a soul damned to hell for all eternity.

Buffy ran a hand over her face, rubbing the sleep from her eyes and wishing she had never been left alone with Troy the night before. She knew way more than she wanted to know, but still nothing of what was really going on. For all she knew, and it was a horrible thought but one she had to give time to, whatever Troy was planning to unleash on the world was worth risking Faith's soul for.

She was 'The Slayer' - inverted commas and all. She always had to make the hard decisions, and this wasn't even a new one for her. Hello, been there, done that, already sent one love of my life to hell.

'Could you have more than one love of your life?' Her brain slid away from the seriously nasty, needing a frivolous break from the big questions. 'I've died twice, meaning I'm officially on life number three, so yeah, new life, new love, totally possible.'

"And here I am back at square one, facing the same choices; but I've changed." She spoke quietly to the dust motes soaring and diving in the sunlight streaming through a gap in the curtain. "I can't be expected to make the same decisions I did back then. I can't keep choosing between right and wrong when the right involves the people I love the most dying or going to hell, or in this case, dying and going to hell."

Faith was a Slayer too; she could look after herself. And, according to Troy, she already thought she was going to hell anyway, so it wasn't like it was going to be a big, hot, pitchforky shock to her.

Buffy frowned. She and Faith had never discussed what came after. Faith knew Buffy had been somewhere she thought was heaven the last time she'd died, but she had never asked any questions, never shown much interest. Buffy had thought it was because Faith was always too much in the here and now to worry about the next life, but maybe she just hadn't wanted details. You couldn't miss what you didn't know about, something along the lines of ignorance being blissful. From what Buffy knew, which was by no means the whole story, Faith's life had been pretty hellish all the way through, and now, no matter how hard she had worked and would continue to work to make amends, she believed hell was all she had to look forward to in death as well.

Unless Buffy went completely against her nature and didn't butt in. If she left Troy to do whatever he wanted to do, and left Faith to be happy with second best, Faith would be taking the up-escalator instead of the down.

It wouldn't be so bad to stay on the bench this time; she had just scored a major win taking down the First Evil and closing a Hellmouth - how many Slayers had that on their resume, well lots now, but that was beside the point - would it really hurt to let the bad guys have their day just this once? After all, it was all about balance right, and being a good sport, and the playing not the winning counting...

There was a sharp knock at the door, stirring Buffy from her depressing thoughts and Faith poked her head in, smiling. "Thought you were awake; I could hear ya talking to yourself."

"Uh huh." Buffy pulled herself up against the pillow. Faith's smile was infectious, chasing all the bad thoughts away for now. "I was just..." she looked around for inspiration. "...talking to my foot. It's like it's growing a little head of its own, don't you think?"

She pointed to her bulbously bandaged foot and Faith came further into the room to take a look.

"Draw some eyes on it, sure." Faith gave a shrug. "How's it doing?"

"Why don't you ask it?"

Faith gave her a look. Buffy danced her foot around a little, inviting questions. Faith gave her another look.

Buffy smiled, "Sore, but better. I can actually move it without wanting to scream. Not sure about touching it though, that may still cause screamage."

"Guess we'll find out later. You ready for breakfast?"

"Absolutely." She was starving. Eager to eat, she held her hands out to Faith. "Gonna help me up?"

"Can do better; wait there." Faith left the room only long enough for Buffy to worry what better might involve. With Faith, who knew? When she came back in she was carrying...

"Crutches?" Buffy wrinkled her nose as she looked at them.

"Ran down to the hospital this morning and snatched these for you." At Buffy's wide eyes, she added, "From a cupboard, B. I didn't leave no old dude tottering on one leg or nothing."

Buffy grinned, "Well that's something."

"Try 'em out." Faith hauled her up by her wrist and handed the wooden crutches over. "Figured you could use 'em for a few days at least."

Buffy took them. They were a little tall for her, pressing a little too tightly under her arms for total comfort, but the gesture was so thoughtful that Buffy didn't mention it. She did a couple of practice lengths of the bedroom and then followed Faith out to get breakfast. By the time she had done a circuit of the table and taken a seat, she had the hang of them.

"Thanks, Faith. That was really nice of you."

"Actually, it was Troy's idea," Faith admitted, nodding at the man coming across the room to join them as she sat down.

"Oh," Buffy looked at the crutches with less enthusiasm, resting them against a vacant chair. "Then, thanks Troy."

Troy smiled as he sat down opposite her. "I merely suggested a walking aid may assist you while your foot is healing. It was Faith who took it upon herself to go straight to the hospital. Did you sleep well?"

"Like a log. That is one comfy bed you got there."

"Yes, we like it." His tone was friendly enough, but Buffy caught the inflection on we.

"Uh huh. So you said something about breakfast?"

"Hold ya horses, B. It's coming."

Buffy looked around expectantly, she could see through the kitchen door from here, but there was no food insight.

"Okay, where from exactly?"

Faith grinned at her just as the front door opened and the Pillsbury Doughboy, or a close relative, walked in pushing a laden trolley.

Buffy's eyebrows went up, and then her nose went up to as she caught wind of something delicious.

"Meals on wheels." Faith grinned at her expression. "Pretty fancy, huh?"

Buffy nodded, watching as Pillsbury took the silver lids off of several silver dishes and then bowed back out of the apartment.

"You always eat like this?" Buffy asked as Faith took it upon herself to load up both hers and her own plate.

"Only when Troy's home."

"I have said you are more than welcome to use the service when I am away." Troy said, piling his own plate up now that Faith had finished.

"Nah, seems like a waste of demon service just for me."

Faith tucked in and Buffy should do the same. It was delicious. Slices of Pancetta, mini Frittatas and hazelnut cinnamon rolls disappeared quickly.

"So, B, from the state of that motel room last night looks like you've nested. How long you been here exactly?"

"Just over a week." Buffy said between mouthfuls. "I've been trying to find you since we got here, but, for the size of this place, it's not easy to find."

Faith looked at Troy, as if asking permission for something. He gave a little nod and she continued.

"It's hidden, like, in a temporal fold or something," she shrugged, obviously not sure of her terminology. "You can only find it if you know it's here, otherwise, just looks like a big boring brick wall."

Buffy looked at Troy, "Why all the secrecy?"

"I have many secrets," Troy grinned playfully.

"No, he has many fans," Faith corrected, rolling her eyes. "For someone who spends his time digging up dead bones, this guy's like a friggin' rock star around here. And every single one of 'em is crazy as shit."

Buffy nodded, not doubting Faith, but feeling Troy's answer was closer to the truth for his reasons for hiding. His warehouse in Cleveland had been nondescript from the outside too, driving by you would never know the extravagance within, and he had no loyal screaming fans in America to avoid.

"Why didn't you call me?" Faith asked.

"You'd have hung up."

"Okay, texted then?"

"Cell phone died before I even made it off the plane and my charger was considered a terrorist threat. It's been Mission: Almost Impossible trying to get hold of Giles to sort the accommodation out."

"When you have finished breakfast, you may use the telephone." Troy offered, inclining his head towards the desk.

Buffy looked over. She couldn't be sure, but it looked a lot tidier than it had last night. Not that it had been messy before, but now there was nothing on it bar the telephone and an old fashioned compass. In fact the whole area around the desk looked as though it had been spring cleaned. Troy had obviously been busy before she woke up.

"Thanks, that'd be great."

"You are welcome. Please, as Faith's guest, make yourself at home."

Buffy narrowed her eyes at him, but only a little because she couldn't come across as too rude when he was being so polite. That would only get Faith's back up all over again. His face was nothing but friendly and guileless right now though; the expression she had come to associate with him before she had learned there was anything more sinister behind it.

"So when are you heading home?" Faith asked out of the blue as she finished eating.

"I, ah..." Buffy hesitated. After the friendliness so far this morning she hadn't expected to be turfed out so immediately. "I guess after I've called Giles."

"No, I mean, when you are you heading home, as in Cleveland." Faith clarified.

"Oh." That question was even more of a surprise. "I don't know yet. Dawn and Andrew are enjoying themselves," she lied. "And, I guess, with Toni being away for the summer there's not much reason for me to hurry back."

Why was she bringing Toni into this?

"Toni's away?" Faith sat up straighter, surprised. "All summer?"

Oh yeah, that was why.

"She's in Japan."

"You didn't say."

"You didn't ask."

Faith regarded her coolly for a moment before turning the same look on Troy. "You never said neither."

"I was not aware Antonella's whereabouts were of interest to you." Troy said, just as coolly.

Faith held his gaze for a beat and then busied herself with clearing the table. "Guess they're not." Plates clattered onto the trolley.

Feeling the tension, and for once not happy about it, Buffy excused herself. "I'm just gonna call Giles."

Using the crutches, she made it to the desk, picked up the receiver and then paused, not knowing what number to dial from here. "Uh, Faith?"

"I got it," Faith said, knowing the problem without asking. She came over and dialed for Buffy. "It ringing?"

Buffy nodded, smiling.

"We'll do your foot when you're done. I'm going for a quick shower." Faith left her to it.

Wondering exactly what Faith was planning on doing to her foot, hadn't she done enough already? Buffy waited for the line to picked up the other end.

"Giles!"

"Hello, Buffy, is that you? Do you have any idea what time it is?"

Buffy looked at her watch, "It's half past eight."

"No, it's half past two. In the morning."

"Oh. I guess that time difference thingy goes both ways, huh? Did I wake you?"

"As it happens, no. I've been rather burning the midnight oil researching your prophecy. Of course, you probably woke up the rest of the house, but no matter. How are you? We were starting to get worried. Is everything okay?"

"Uh, sort of. I found Faith."

"Oh, that's good news. How is she? Have you been able to speak to her yet about the prophecy?"

"Haven't really had the chance. Things have been kinda hectic." Buffy hedged, knowing Troy was still in the room. "I'm learning a lot, though, about Rome."

"Buffy, far be it from me to complain about you taking an interest in culture, but do you really think you have the time for that?"

Buffy rolled her eyes, and Troy chose that moment to leave the table and wander over. He flashed an innocent smile as he sat down to rummage through a drawer in the desk.

"Well, Giles, Troy and Faith are making me very comfortable."

"I'm sorry? Are you staying with them now?"

"No, just having breakfast with him. Right now."

"Oh, I see. He's listening, isn't he?"

"Yep."

"I understand. Well, be discreet. I'll just ask yes or no questions. Have you been able to ascertain if Faith is pregnant yet? Ah, oh dear, I'm not on speaker phone, am I?"

Buffy rolled her eyes again. "No and no."

"Okay, but it should be your highest priority from now on. What about him? Are you any closer to finding out his true nature? His ultimate goal? Anything?"

"Yeah, and the nature around here is really surprising." Seeing Troy look up, Buffy half covered the mouth piece to say, "Giles is a bird-man." Happy that she'd confused him, she continued into the phone, "Haven't had time to play any games yet, so no goals, and I probably shouldn't be racking up Troy's phone bill by talking about just anything."

"I think I understood all of that," Giles sounded mildly frustrated, meaning he wasn't as frustrated as she was. "I believe we are making headway on the prophecy at this end. Obviously now is not the time to discuss it, but it seems we had some of the language backwards. However, Mr Clydesdan is joining us again in a few weeks and he is rather an expert on..."

"No! I don't want any Watchers knowing about Faith and..." Buffy blurted out without thinking. Her eyes went wide and she only just got them under control as Troy looked up again. "... the wedding," she finished after only a slight hesitation. "They still think she's in prison and I don't want any of them seeing this as an opportunity to settle past scores."

Troy now looked really surprised, which at least meant he was buying her quick fabrication.

"I assure you, Buffy. Mr Clydesdan is as far removed from the old Council as I am, and I really believe he could shed some light on where we are going wrong. As for the wedding, well, despite what you said, we all believed you were planning on stopping it at some point."

"It crossed my mind," Buffy admitted. "But I'm not sure that's a good idea."

"Why not?"

"Yes or no, Giles?"

"Ah, of course," he paused, and sounded embarrassed when he continued. "I'm afraid I can't think of an adequate question."

"It's not that simple anyway. So any luck getting me a new credit card and the awesome apartment you kept babbling about before we left?"

"You mean the credit card hasn't arrived yet?"

"Would I be asking if it had?"

"But I sent it to the American Embassy three days ago with the address of your lodgings. Someone was supposed to courier it over to you."

"Well they didn't, and Dawn and I are running out of clean clothes. At this rate, Andrew won't be the only one walking around like he just stepped off the Starship."

"You'll have to go along to the Embassy and see if it is still there. If not it will take me a week to procure another one, but assuming they don't accuse me of identity fraud, perhaps it will be safer to send the replacement to Troy's residence, now that you've found it."

"No! I mean, I'm still trying to find my way around and I'd hate to lose anything because of that. What about the swanky apartment?"

"No joy yet, I'm afraid. The silent partner I told you about apparently isn't so coy when it comes to paperwork. He's frozen all of Allessi's accounts until he is satisfied. Satisfied with what, he isn't saying."

"Well, he wouldn't if he's silent. Any chance this benefactor is less bene and more... whatever the opposite of bene is... than every one thought?"

"Considering the good he has done, I find that unlikely, but..."

"But?" Buffy tried to peer at the folder Troy was flicking through without him noticing.

"Faith wasn't the only Slayer to make enemies within the Council. In fact, by your standards, she was barely even acknowledged."

"Thanks for that, Giles."

"You're welcome. So you will call as soon as you can to let me know about the credit card?"

"I'll get on it today."

"And you'll try and do it from a place more private so we can discuss your findings? And perhaps in the daylight hours?"

"I'll try." Buffy sighed.

"And how are you enjoying your holiday on the whole," Giles asked, finally dropping his Watcher-tude and remembering that he was her friend too.

"It's great. I'm staying in a crap-hole with two whiny kids, no money or clothes and, as of last night, I have a broken foot. So, so far, all the fundamentals are covered for an unforgettable vacation."

"A broken foot?"

"Faith's welcoming gift."

She heard Giles wince on the other end. "And what did you give Faith?"

Buffy couldn't help her sudden smile. "Well, I had a broken foot, so not as much as I wanted to," she said honestly.

"But you're both still alive and you've made up now?"

There was a commotion coming from his end and he didn't seem to hear Buffy's reply to the affirmative.

"What's going on?"

"The girl's have come back from patrol rather agitated. I must go. Give my regards to everyone and call again when you can."

"Okay. Bye."

"Is everything okay?" Troy asked as she replaced the receiver and picked her crutches back up.

"Uh huh. Thanks." She looked over her shoulder to make sure Faith hadn't come back into the room yet. "So we left a certain conversation a little unfinished last night."

"I do not believe we did," he said without looking up.

She leaned over the desk and placed the palm of her hand over what he was reading. The crutches took some of the menace out of it, but she felt she got her point across. "I'm thinking we did."

Now Troy looked up and smiled pleasantly. "Buffy, I have told you all I am prepared to. If you have questions, I am afraid they will go unanswered."

"I'll go to Quantiaro," she threatened.

"And then you will go to the volcano," he threatened back. "And a lot of good your knowledge will do you there."

She seethed quietly, staring at the top of his stupid head. How dare he? Who did he think he was? More importantly, who did he think she was? She didn't cow down to threats. She took threats and beat them until they cowed down to her. If he thought the idea of being sent back to that big, rumbly, hot pile of rock was enough to scare her into submission, he was...

...Absolutely right. Damn it. Just thinking about it had her breathing faster and tasting acidy-bile in the back of her throat. Thirty seconds of that had been enough, because she knew with no doubt that another thirty seconds and she would have been melting quicker than the Wicked Witch of the West in a tropical downpour; and molten lava was probably a less pleasant melting experience than water. She'd been to hell and could honestly say it wasn't as scary as the volcano had been.

Licking her lips nervously, just at the thought of a return visit, she was about to crutch her way back to the couch, but... there was one thought that did override her fear and she looked over her shoulder.

"You do love her though, right? Faith. She's not just a pawn. You are in love with her?"

He looked taken aback by her question, like it was the last one he had expected, and took a moment before he answered her. "Faith is very precious to me. I will do all in my power to protect her and give her a future she can be proud of."

It was a weird way of phrasing it, but then, he was a god, and you only had to read the bible to know they spoke funny. She held his gaze, still open and slightly puzzled, for a moment and then nodded.

"Okay, but if you ever stop doing that, I don't care how scary they are, your bully tactics won't stop me from kicking your ass."

"You have nothing to worry about." Troy was already looking at the folder again.

On the contrary, she had a lot to worry about, but right now she had a feeling she would be better off doing it without him knowing. She sat back down on the couch with relief, letting the crutches fall to the side, and rubbed under her arms. She wished she hadn't used the word scary, because that just gave Troy more leverage.

Like he needed more leverage! He already had her over a volcano. What now though? Nothing now, that was the point. It shouldn't have been so hard to accept. She had come to Italy with the intention of standing back and letting this wedding go ahead, and, after some indecision, had left the club last night with the same objective.

A lot had happened since then, but even while making love with Faith, she had been under the impression that that was just their unique way of drawing a line under them once and for all. She had meant what she said to Faith about being done with the chasing. They just made each other act stupid and crazy, and not even in a way they could laugh about later.

So why did learning that Troy was way more than he seemed, way more than she'd even suspected, make it harder? She had been no clearer on his ultimate goal last night than she was now, so that shouldn't effect her decision. And, surely, knowing Troy was going to make sure Faith went to a happy place when it was all over instead of a bad place was a reason enough to let things be, but... there were too many loose ends.

What about the prophecy? What about Eostre's interference? Surely if another goddess was meddling with their lives too, they should give them both equal consideration. What about Quantiaro? He seemed to think Buffy could foil Troy's plans, and she would choose to trust him over Troy any day.

Faith came out of the bathroom, waved a hello to Buffy and disappeared into the bedroom.

She looked happy again this morning. Like she had before she'd known Buffy was in town. Was that because she believed everything had finally been resolved between them once and for all? There was no way Faith could believe that; not after last night. Not unless she wanted to believe it. She probably did want to believe it.

The phone rang and Buffy looked up as Troy answered, speaking in a quiet, but unmistakably angry voice. When he saw her looking, he turned his back and lowered his voice even more.

'Way to make me suspicious,' she thought, holding her breath and concentrating to catch his murmured words.

She heard her name and then the word 'catastrophe' and was just congratulating herself on still being a thorn in his side when she heard her name again.

"B?"

She looked up guiltily, "Huh?"

"Ready to do your foot?" she asked as she set a white plastic tub of water by the foot of the couch.

Buffy grimaced. "Do what exactly?"

Faith held up a big wad of gauze. "Well, seeing as I ain't your pedicurist, how about we just redress those big, ugly wounds you got."

Buffy bit her lip for a second before answering. "Is it gonna hurt?"

"What do you think?" Faith knelt down in front of her feet.

"I think morphine was invented for a reason."

"You want me to run back to the hospital? I can probably find some lying around."

"As sweet as you performing grand larceny for me is, it's probably better if you don't." Buffy smiled.

Faith dropped her eyes to Buffy's foot. "An' probably better if you don't do that."

"Do what?"

"Go calling me sweet."

"Why?" Buffy grinned. "Does it mess with your tough Slayer image?"

Faith looked over her shoulder. Troy was just entering the bedroom, still on the telephone. Her eyes darted back to Buffy's before she pretended to be focused on what she was doing.

"I think last night took care of that," she admitted, pulling the adhesive strip from the bandage and slowly unwinding it from around the ankle. "I just don't want you getting any wrong ideas is all."

"What about?" Buffy winced with every movement Faith made. "You loving me or how hot we are together?"

"Both!" Faith looked sharply over her shoulder again. "Look, B, what happened last night..."

When Faith hesitated, Buffy sighed. "I know, one last time, can't happen again, yada yada yada..."

"No."

"No?" Buffy grinned.

"Well, yeah," Now Faith sighed. "But I was gonna say, I want you to know, last night... with you... it did mean something, okay? With you it always meant something."

"Yes, just not enough to put your heart and soul into it."

"It's not my heart and soul I'm worried about, it's my sanity. I'm trying really hard here, B, to make up for my past. And it's a lot harder since I skipped outta jail. All it takes is you pissing me off an' I see red like always and do something stupid, an' I'm right back where I was when I woke up from that coma."

Buffy found she was glancing at Troy now, this sort of conversation was supposed to be off limit. "So it's actually my fault we can't be together?"

"No, it's me."

Buffy looked up at the ceiling, grinning. "Wow, I was almost expecting the sky to fall down then."

Faith sneered. "Yes, Buffy, it's all my fault, I get that, okay, and that's why I know I can't be with you. I know what I'm like and I know I have no control switch when it comes to you, or maybe a 'no-control' switch that I can't turn off, whatever, I have a habit of going with my gut where you're concerned and my gut ain't all that."

"Aww," Buffy smiled again.

"Okay, not really looking for that reaction," Faith sighed, but she was smiling too, Buffy could see a dimple.

"Okay, how about this reaction: Get over it."

"It's not that simple."

"How can I make it simpler?"

"Maybe by stop making it so hard."

"How do I do that?"

"Jeez, B, I don't know. If I had a magic answer I'd have used it months ago." Faith whispered. "I need to get to a place where being with you won't push all the wrong buttons and make me screw my life up again. And I don't know if that's even possible."

"Maybe you just need time."

Faith shrugged.

"Faith, do you think you just need time?" Buffy asked slowly, careful to keep her voice low. "And, like, maybe after that time has passed, we could... pick this back up?"

All good intentions aside, all everything aside, if time was the magic ingredient, Buffy had to find out; and before Faith got married would be better than after.

"B, I don't know; I can't think about this..."

"Faith, from your gut, yes or no?"

Buffy held her breath as Faith looked up, dark eyes full of indecision as she hesitated to answer.

"Faith?"

Faith looked down again. "No."

"What?" Buffy half-chuckled, sure she had heard wrong.

"No," Faith repeated, only a little louder than the first time. She was unwrapping the bandages with Super-nurse speed now. "I'm sorry, but right now, I can't swear I'm ever... and I care too much to just fill you full of bullshit..."

"It's okay," Buffy said gently. "Faith, look at me. It's okay. You don't have to keep apologizing for... for whatever. If you don't feel it, you don't feel it, it's no big deal and, anyway, didn't we already cover this last night. You know, about how you and me are like a peanut butter sandwich, sure it's about as yummy as you can get, but it's dangerous, a health hazard, because of the...the...potential choking... and stuff."

Faith nodded slowly and Buffy knew she was looking at the faint finger marks around her neck. "I'd have gone for the loose marbles on a slippery slope to hell analogy, but yours works too."

"How does yours go?"

"Well, ya know, by the end of it we're gonna be in a hell with broken bones and hearts and shit. Plus we'd have lost our marbles."

Buffy smiled, not quite believing she was finding something funny at a time like this. "Also a good reference to our favored method of getting down slopes together."

"Exactly," Faith grinned. "I never have nearly as much fun breaking my ass as I do with you."

"I like landing on you." Buffy smiled softly. "Just because you're soft, not for any other reason."

"I like you landing on me," Faith said with a nonchalant shrug. "Just because you're hot and you kinda wriggle on top of me when you get up."

"And that's helping how?" Buffy laughed.

"I don't know, I just want us to be okay."

"We are okay. I shouldn't have even brought it up again. We're good, I promise. No one has ever been as good as we are right now. And I'm totally fine with your stupid... ha, did I say stupid, I meant, stellar decision to marry the man of everyone's dreams. Except mine, of course, and probably Kennedy's, but that's beside the point. Fine, was the point, as in I am and we are and that's great because I'm so so over you that it's not even... I can't even remember a time when I was under you..." Seeing Faith about to speak, Buffy raised her hand. "I swear, F, if you say last night I will gouge your eyes out with my thumbs."

"Wasn't gonna say a word."

"Liar."

Faith laughed, "Hypocrite."

Buffy studied her thumbnail. "I didn't think you were buying any of that."

"It means something that you tried though."

"This is just so hard." Buffy admitted, a little choked up. "It's fine when we're trying to be together; plain to the whole world why we suck as a couple then. So why do we have to be so good together when we're not trying to be together. Why is it that the more reasons we have for why it'll never work, the more I want to kiss you?"

"I'm sorry."

"Why? It's not your fault I'm crazy," Buffy chuckled, shaking her head in mock, well not all that mock, despair. I just... I just wish that I had a feelings dial and now we're done, and we are, I know that, I could just set it back on friendship and forget about all the other stuff that's happened."

"I'm sorry," Faith said again. "For starting all this in the first place."

Buffy smiled ruefully. "And I'm sorry I didn't fall for you in high school. I'm thinking the last five years would have been so much simpler if I had."

"Then I'm also sorry I didn't tell you how I felt back then."

"Yeah, I'm sorry about that too."

They smiled sadly at each other and Buffy could feel the tears coming, but crying was a bad idea. Once the tears came, they might not stop. She could take this. It was just another end, like the night before. How many ends were they going to go through before they both finally accepted it was over? Was it wrong that she hoped there would be more?

Tender moments where Faith didn't try and hide were so rare it was no wonder Buffy craved them, but they were hardly helpful when it came to letting go once and for all. She needed help in that respect, not hindrance. A crutch of the emotional kind to prop her up in times of weakness. Something to remind her that life still had its good points even when Faith's tongue wasn't in her mouth. There had to be something...

"Buffy," Troy called from the bedroom doorway. "Would you like to speak to Antonella?"

"Yes please!" She said it so eagerly it came out as one word.

Troy carried the phone to her, speaking rapid Italian - was there any other kind - into the receiver all the way. He handed it over as he reached the couch.

"She is very excited to speak with you."

Buffy just smiled, accepting the phone graciously and trying not to notice the sour expression her keenness had brought to Faith's face. She wasn't allowed to be jealous. If Buffy wasn't allowed to have it both ways, neither was Faith.

"Hello, Buffy, is that you?"

Buffy's smile at the sound of Toni's voice was genuine and it took her by surprise. She hadn't realized how much she had missed it, missed her. It might have had something to do with the twenty-four hours of pain she was having, but either way she let herself relax into the feeling like a bubble bath.

"It's me. Oh God, you have no idea how good you sound right now. I'm sorry I've been incommunicado-girl all week. How are you? Tell me everything?"

"Ah, Buffy, I am fine now, but I was so worried. I had so many miss calls from you and then an urgent message, but when I tried to reach you I could not. I call your home and they tell me you have left with no forwarding number."

"I'm sorry you worried. I wasn't ignoring you; I just haven't had my phone since I arrived."

Buffy looked down as Faith picked up her foot again, watching as she carefully pulled the bandage away from where it was stuck to the gauze beneath with blood.

"Since you arrived in Rome?"

"Uh huh." It wasn't like she'd expected to get that one past Toni; she was on Troy's phone after all. "So how's Japan?"

"It is lovely, but I had no idea you wished to visit Rome."

"It was a spur of the moment thing," Buffy hedged. "So how's work going?"

"Work is... okay. I just wished you had waited for me, Buffy, I would have liked to show you around my city."

"Getting grief off the missus?" Faith whispered, smirking as she dipped a cloth into the bowl of water.

Buffy gave her a stern 'shut up' look. "I would have liked that too, Toni, but there was this thing, and it came up, or happened, or something, and I had to come here." Buffy rubbed at her forehead, not knowing what to say or how to say it. "I did try and call first."

"I know. It's just..." Toni paused, probably not for dramatic effect, but it had it anyway. "...You went to see Faith, si?"

Buffy tipped her head back against the couch and closed her eyes. Faith was wetting the gauze on her foot so it would un-stick from the blood without hurting her. It did still hurt, like a bitch, but her uncharacteristic gentleness made it bearable. It didn't make this conversation any more bearable though.

"I did," she said eventually.

"Ciņ č scopare incredibile!"

Buffy resisted the urge to the pull phone from her ear, but she winced as the Italian tirade went on.

"You do know I can't understand a word you're saying right now, yes?"

Toni switched to English so fluidly it took Buffy a second to realize she could once again understand her girlfriend. "You think your funny sarcasm is the way to speak to me after this... this...THIS!"

"See, you don't even know what you're angry about..."

"I am angry that as soon as my back is turned you rush to see your slutty little ex!"

"D'you wanna let her know I can hear her?" Faith muttered, gingerly pulling the soggy gauze from the sliced parts of her foot.

"Somehow, not thinking she cares," Buffy muttered back.

"She is there right now, isn't she?" Toni shouted down the phone and this time Buffy had to pull the receiver from her ear. "You can not even be alone from her while you are the phone to me!"

"Okay, so she does care," Buffy admitted, and Faith smiled. "Toni, it's not like that, okay, it's not what you think. Yes, I can see how it looks bad, really bad, but its not, I promise. And I didn't rush here as soon as you left, I've only been here a week, and I did try to call you and tell you I was coming. And, notice please, how I haven't shouted at you for not answering any of the gazillion times I tried to call you before I left. Where were you, huh? You could have been doing anything, but I'm not accusing you, am I? Do you know why? Because I trust you!" Buffy finished, as high on her horse as possible at the imaginary insult. Or maybe just high.

Oh God, she was so going to hell. At least Faith would have company. Faith looked impressed with her right now, which nearly made her giggle, but she kept it together, not wanting to lose her fictitious high-ground.

"I am sorry, Buffy, it is just, you know how I feel about her..."

"Everyone knows how you feel about me," Faith muttered. Buffy shushed her.

"...and I can not help that it makes my blood boil in my veins at the thought of you with her."

"I know," Buffy said softly, "But you know she's my friend; and I don't give up my friends just because my partner doesn't like them. Same as I wouldn't give up you if Faith didn't like you."

"I don't like her."

Buffy glared down at her. Faith shrugged and went back to inspecting her foot with a faintly revolted look.

Toni was quiet for a long time, before fearfully asking, "Have you had sex with her?"

Buffy's heart started beating double time. "You know I have." Faith's head shot up in unhappy surprise. "But she's engaged to Troy now so it's not like it's going to happen again."

"That is not what I meant..."

Buffy cut her off before she could be more specific. "Did you know about the wedding?"

"Ah... yes, but, but, that is not..."

"You knew before me, right? But you decided to keep it to yourself. Why?"

"I did not want to upset you."

"I don't think that's the real reason, Toni. I think Troy asked you to keep it a secret and you went along with it. Again! Weren't you the one who said you didn't want us to have any more secrets and then you go a keep a huge one like that."

"If there is nothing between you and Faith why is it so huge?"

Buffy was ready for that one. "The shock maybe? If I'd heard it from my girlfriend, if we'd, I don't know, talked it through, I'd have gotten a little perspective on it and I might have handled it better. Why do you think I was trying so desperately to call you? I needed you to remind me why I shouldn't do the stupid thing and you weren't available."

Without looking up, Faith raised her palm for a high five and Buffy obliged her.

"I was hiking in the mountains," Toni said in a very small voice. "I didn't get your messages until a few days later. Sono spiacente che li ho guidicati, il mio amore. I just miss you terribly."

"I miss you too," Buffy said honestly. "And I'm sorry I upset you by coming here, but one of my best friends is getting married soon and I want to help, so I came."

"That must be very difficult, Buffy. You are very noble." Buffy let her smile show in her voice, "That's what I keep saying."

Toni chuckled softly and Buffy breathed a silent sigh of relief. The worst was over now, hopefully.

"So, we're good?"

"Of course. It is just... with so much distance between us my mind is conjuring too many worse case scenarios."

"Mine too," Buffy frowned a little. "And, just for the record, you're not sleeping with any Japanese whores are you?"

Now Toni laughed fully and it was nice to hear it, but didn't set Buffy's mind at rest on the subject. "So you are enjoying your vacanza in Roma? It is a beautiful city, si?"

"Uh huh. City beautiful, our room not so much, but we're dealing."

"Our? We?" Toni didn't sound jealous now, just confused. "Did you bring people with you?"

"Andrew and my sister are enjoying the vacationy goodness with me." Except not, because they'd been stuck in that tiny room for over twelve hours now. "We're in a youth hostel with one room between the three of us, which is kinda cramped, but like I said, dealing."

"But Buffy, that is terrible!"

"It's really not that bad..." Buffy started.

"No, you can not stay in such a place."

"Well we don't have any money right now and this guy who said he knew Giles..." No point mentioning the Watchers Council, Toni wouldn't know who they were yet. "...pointed this place out to us. It's dirt cheap, so all good for now."

"This guy," Toni spat the words distastefully. "Please, what was his name?"

Buffy didn't have to think too hard, you didn't forget a man wearing a leather dress, sword scabbard and sandals in a hurry. Although, now she thought about it, there were quite a few of those around here, but their guide had had something a little different about him. "Hermes."

Toni exploded in Italian and Faith looked up sharply, a question on her lips, and then quickly ducked her head back to Buffy's foot. She was applying some of the pink stuff Asklepios must have left behind, and it was hurting, but not as much as last night.

"You know him?" Buffy asked into the phone, she'd deal with Faith's apparent recognition later.

"He is my..." Toni hesitated like she did when she wasn't sure of the best translation. "You could say he is my uncle, although as you know my family is not that cut and dry." Actually, Buffy still knew next to nothing about her family, but didn't interrupt. "I will sort this for you, Buffy, do not fear. My apartment is standing empty and has three bedrooms; there is no reason for you not to stay there. I will just need a day or two to arrange it."

"Why a day or two?" Buffy groaned playfully. Everyone kept dangling these great apartments in front of her, but no one was letting her move in!

"The keys are in Bracciano and Troy will need time to move all trace... of... his..." Toni's hesitation this time made it obvious she'd forgotten who she was talking to for a second.

"Of his?" Buffy prompted.

"Artwork. He is very self-conscious of who sees his paintings."

"I didn't know he was an artist too." Faith looked up, nodding. "Anything he doesn't do?"

"Cook," Said Faith and Toni at the same time, making Buffy smile despite herself.

"But if you give me a day or two, Troy can collect the keys for you and clean the place up. It is the least he can do. You will be much more comfortable there. It has a swimming pool." Toni added; as if it needed another selling point.

"That would be awesome," Buffy grinned, already anticipating moving out of the hostel into somewhere cleaner, bigger... oh, to have her own room again! "Thanks baby... Ow!" Buffy pulled her foot back, wincing.

"Sorry," Faith muttered, gently pulling the foot back to her again.

"Is everything okay?"

"Just peachy." Buffy smirked at Faith who pretended not to see.

"Then I will leave you and make the arrangements. Take care, mio tesoro, arrivederci."

"You too, bye."

Buffy hung up after Toni and sat back against the couch cushions. She was sweating and not just because of the heat of the day.

"Crap!" she said suddenly as she remembered. "I was supposed to be breaking up with her!"

Faith snorted with amusement. "You could always call her back."

"But the apartment!"

Faith chuckled. "Holier-than-thou Buffy doesn't stay with a chick just because she wants her apartment."

Buffy chewed gently on her bottom lip, looking at the phone.

"Sides, like I said, Troy can hook you up. Sounds like he owes you anyway."

"Toni said something like that. Why does Troy owe me all of a sudden?"

"Hermes is a friend of his, plus he's kind of his 'go to guy' and big with the info-getting. Not much happens around here that UPS don't know about, and come to think about it, he paid Troy a visit last week, said something about making a guest comfortable." Faith sat back on her heels, staring into space. "Bastard never told me you were here," she said faintly.

Faith shook her head, dismissing it, and started cutting the gauze into squares. "So, if you wanna break up with her, go right ahead," she nodded at the phone. "But you worked pretty hard to keep her sweet; musta been a reason for that."

"No." Buffy picked up the phone. Buffy put back down the phone. "Yes."

Faith grinned. "Are you aware you have multiple personalities?"

"Yes," Buffy said again, grinning a little herself. "I know! You break up with her for me! That way, it won't be me that's sabotaging my happiness and when I regret it, I at least get the pleasure of blaming you."

"No problem." Faith reached for the phone.

Buffy batted her hand away, "Are you crazy?"

"No more than you." Faith shrugged, leaving the phone alone and placing the gauze squares on the three open gashes on Buffy's foot. "So if you take her apartment, that means you're sticking around for a while, right?"

"I want to, but..."

"But?"

"Well, I'm not gonna stick around if we're just gonna argue and fight."

"I don't want that either."

"So I guess it's up to you. I can stay, and help you with the wedding plans - 'cause lets face it, you're bound to be clueless." Faith conceded with a nodded. "Or, if you think it's going to be too hard - and you know what I mean before you act dumb - then I can get Giles to book us a return flight as soon as possible."

Faith spent some time carefully positioning the gauze before she spoke, "Why is it my decision?"

"Because I don't want to be here if you don't want me here. There's no point."

Faith looked up, meeting her eyes, "You really want to help with the wedding?"

Buffy swallowed the uncomfortable lump in her throat. "Yes."

Holding the bandage by Buffy's toes, Faith started ever-so-gently to wind it around her foot, delicately pressing the gauze back into place when they moved.

Buffy sat there quietly, half-mesmerized by how tender Faith was being as she tried to figure out what they'd decided. Was she staying or going? She didn't want to have to wait for an answer, but she had to give Faith a few minutes to think about it. Did she have to be so quiet, though? Just some indication on what direction her thoughts were going in would be helpful here.

Faith was fastening the bandage in front of her ankle when Buffy could take the heavy silence no more. She opened her mouth to break it...

"So, uh, Buffy, do you like wanna be my, um, maid of honor?" Faith asked so nervously she had to be serious.

Buffy's mouth hung open.


Chapter Fourteen

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Part Nine Quick-Jump:

Chapter One || Chapter Two || Chapter Three || Chapter Four || Chapter Five || Chapter Six || Chapter Seven Chapter Eight || Chapter Nine || Chapter Ten || Chapter Eleven || Chapter Twelve || Chapter Thirteen || Chapter Fourteen || Chapter Fifteen || Chapter Sixteen || Chapter Seventeen || Chapter Eighteen || Chapter Nineteen || Chapter Twenty || Chapter Twenty One || Chapter Twenty Two || Chapter Twenty Three || Chapter Twenty Four || Chapter Twenty Five || Chapter Twenty Six || Chapter Twenty Seven || Chapter Twenty Eight || Chapter Twenty Nine || Chapter Thirty || Chapter Thirty One


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