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 Fourteen: All I Ever Wanted Was a Little Extra-Ordinary

It was mid-afternoon now and Buffy was deep in the shadow of the formidable Castel Sant'Angelo. Tourists were everywhere, but most of them stayed on the main street heading either to or from the Vatican and, by comparison, the plaza around her was almost empty.

After deliberately ordering a salad when everyone else was ordering three course lunches, Buffy had escaped the ristaurante under the false pretense of practicing with her crutches while doing a little bit of window shopping. She was pretty sure she hadn't been followed, but that didn't stop her from checking both ways as she waited for her call to be answered.

"Hello, Rupert's school for exceptionally yet strangely talented young women. May I take your order please?"

Buffy frowned. "Xander, do you have to answer the phone like that?"

"Buffy? Is that you? Hey everyone it's Buffy!"

"Calling from Rome, not really got time to say hi to everyone."

"Not even a communal hi?"

"Fine! Hi! Now could you get Willow please?"

"You don't want to speak to me?" Xander sounded hurt.

"No, I do," Buffy quickly reassured him. "I want to speak to both of you, but I only have so much change in my pocket."

"You want me to get Giles too?"

"No! This is really more of a private best friend talk than a father figure, mentor type talk."

"Cool, I love private, best friend only talk. What's the goss?"

She heard him shout for Willow to hurry up and get the other line as she shoveled some more coins into the slot and checked around her again. There was a click as the other line picked up.

"Buffy, is that really you?"

"It sure is."

Willow laughed, "Wow, look at you all cosmopolitan, calling us from Rome. What's it like? Did you slay any Roman vampires yet? Are you fluent in Italian punning? What's the weather like?"

"Windy today." Buffy said as her hair fluttered in her face and her skirt was tugged this way and that in the stiff breeze; and lucky her she was stood in some kind of wind tunnel. "And Rome is... getting more complicated by the hour."

"You found out what Troy's up to?" Xander guessed. "How bad is it?"

"No, forget about Troy, he's small fry, I have much..." Buffy hesitated. They were so going to yell at her. "...other news."

"Good news?" Willow asked.

"Or bad news?" Xander finished.

"You decide." Buffy took a deep breath, before blurting it out. "I'm going to be Faith's maid of honor!"

If anyone had chosen that moment to drop a pin in the Cleveland area, Buffy would have heard it through the phone.

"I'm guessing 'Did you hear me?' would be a stupid question?"

Willow finally broke their silence. "How did this happen?"

"She asked and I said yes." Buffy smiled, remembering the moment. "I don't know why. No, that's a lie, I know exactly why. It was this big intense quiet moment... I couldn't not say yes."

"Did you at least try?"

Buffy twisted around, leaning heavily against the clear plastic side of the phone booth so she could see in nearly all directions at once.

"Well no, but you didn't see her, Will. I've never seen her like that, except once maybe, when she got it into her head that we'd make great best friends," Buffy rolled her eyes.

Okay, so note to self: Faith looking vulnerable equalled Buffy agreeing to stupid things.

"She's opening up to me again, giving me another chance to make this work. What, am I supposed to throw it back in her face again? How many more of those do you think I have left?"

"Just so we're clear, do you mean another chance at friendship or another chance at something else?" Xander asked carefully.

"Our friendship, of course."

"But...but why?" Willow sounded distraught. "It doesn't make sense. Didn't you only find her yesterday? Isn't this too soon? Shouldn't there be, like, a schedule for these things? And why did she ask you anyway? Giles said she broke your foot. Why would she break your foot and then ask you something so special like that? Do you think it's a trap?"

"Ya done?" Buffy checked when Willow paused for breath.

"I'll let you answer those while I make a list of all the other reasons why this is crazy."

"She asked me because I'm her best friend. She's getting married in a little over two months, kinda making it way late for this decision - I don't think she was actually planning on having bridesmaids at all."

"What changed her mind?" Xander asked.

"I showed up."

"And naturally, who's a better choice for bridesmaid than the woman you know is madly in love with you."

"Xander, she doesn't know anyone else here, and it's not like Willow and Kennedy are offering."

"And that's why you're doing it?" Xander still sounded sarcastic. "Because there isn't anyone else? Well, I bet Will won't mind jumping on a plane and taking over if it gets you off the hook."

"Uh, actually..."

Buffy spoke over Willow's nervous rejection. "No! I'm doing this because she wants me to and because I want to. And as for it being a trap, it doesn't make sense, but..."

She looked around again. She had crossed the river before looking for a phone booth, but it wasn't really far enough away to make her feel totally safe.

"...That might be what Troy has in mind. For Faith, I mean. He needs her around for something and what better way to keep her around than to marry her."

"Yeah, but what does he need her around for?" Xander wanted to know.

"Don't know yet, but he's made it damn clear he doesn't want me getting in the way of this wedding, so I'm thinking whatever he's planning is going down then."

"Like a wedding night surprise?" Willow asked, sounding worried again.

"I really don't know."

"So that's why you agreed to be her maid of honor!" Xander brightened up. "This way you can keep an eye on things from the belly of the beast, and you'll be right there to stop it."

"No."

"What do you mean no?"

"I mean no, Willow. I'm not in it for the fun of getting my sabotage on. I don't think Faith's in any immediate danger. I can't say the same for the rest of the world, but unless I find out for sure, I'm not ruining Faith's big day."

"What?" Her best friends demanded in unison.

Buffy rubbed her forehead, scrunching her eyes closed. "Guys, I'm not gonna do that to her. I'm not preventing the wedding. I'm helping with the wedding. I'm in the wedding party. Oh God, I'm in the wedding party! I'm gonna be right up there, with the vowing and the 'I do'ing and the kissing of the bride! What the hell am I doing?"

"No, Buff, it'll be alright," Willow was quick to reassure her.

"I don't know," Buffy couldn't get her breathing to slow down as it all sank in. "I mean, I have to do this. I want to do this for her, but... what if she wants me to organise a bachelorette party for her? I'll have to order her a stripper! Do I get a man or a woman and does it really matter seeing as I'm going to kill any person who strips in front of her anyway? And the wedding, the speeches! I can't tell stories about Faith's wild past! She'll get disowned... or arrested... or struck down!"

"Struck down?"

"And there is just no way I can convincingly say I always knew she'd meet Mr. Right and settle down and be happy forever! Not when Troy is Mr Right! He's not Mr Right!"

"Whoa, okay, Buffy, calm down. You don't have to do any of that if you don't want to," Xander said soothingly. "Faith will understand if you tell her you've had time to think about it and you're not so sure it's a good idea."

"Yeah, Buffy, she'll just be happy you're there. She must get this is a pretty weird situation for you - even without the evil."

"For the last time: I'm not pulling out!" Buffy said, frustrated with them.

Sure they meant well, and she'd known they would freak, but she had called them for support of the 'You can do it' variety, not this variety.

"Why not?"

"Because it meant the world to me that she asked. It made me go all..." she smiled sheepishly. "...gooey inside."

"You should definitely not be doing this," Willow said quietly. "You said yourself you're going to be right in the thick of it. It's only going to cause you pain."

Buffy huffed, but didn't argue.

"You're not going to let us talk you out of this, are you?"

Willow was starting to sound resigned, which was at least a step closer to supportive. Buffy tried to nudge her the rest of the way.

"No. And I get that it's weird, I'm sure she does too, but who cares? Since when do any of us hide from weird?"

"Hide? It's our first choice of breakfast foods," Xander quipped, unintentionally helping her case.

"Exactly, but we don't do it alone. We do it together. The three of us helping each other to chow down on the chewy bits of strange and the crunchy bits of crazy. Right?"

"Right," Willow said slowly, cautious about what she might be getting herself into.

Xander just ploughed straight in, "You want all of us to be her maid of honor? Is Faith okay with that? Will I have to wear a dress? Faith wouldn't make me wear a dress, would she? I could wear, like, a nice man-tuxedo in whatever color the dresses are. Unless they're pink. If I'm gonna wear a pink tuxedo, I might as well just wear the dress..." He trailed off when he realized Buffy was laughing too hard to hear him now. "Hey, I helped! I did help, right? That's laughter I hear, not you choking on barf at the thought of me in a dress?"

"You helped," Buffy assured him, still chuckling. "I just need you guys to remind me now and again that I can do this. I mean, I know I can do this, but I also know there are gonna be days when I forget that. That's where you two step in and jog my memory of all the fun this is supposed to be."

"Fun?" Willow asked dubiously.

"Yeah, fun. I'm gonna be a maid of honor, that's totally cool, right? A big occasion and all. It's flattering to be asked something like this. If you had just asked me to be your maid of honor I'd be doing cartwheels of pride and glee right now."

That had done it. Willow sounded all soppy as she asked, "You would?"

"Of course; and this shouldn't be any different. Faith and I have talked and we're totally just doing the friend thing from now on. That's why this is so important."

"Okay," All of Willow's reluctance had melted away now. "So when she asked you and you said yes, was there squealing? Only, squealing is kinda a requisite for these things, but Faith isn't really a squealing kind of girl. Did she... did she whoop or... or yeehaw?"

Buffy laughed, before confirming, "There were no squeals, no woohoos, no hollering and...yeehaws?"

"It's a perfectly legitimate way of showing excitement and pleasure; and Faith is a bit of a cowboy. She must have done something to mark the occasion."

"There was a sigh of relief. I think she thought I was gonna say no. And there were tears." Buffy had bawled like a baby in fact, which had been pretty embarrassing, and it had been really hard to convince Faith through all the blubbering that they came from a happy place. "And then I gave her a hug, well sort of."

"What's a sort of hug?" asked Xander.

"Well, she was just picking up my crutches for me - Giles told you about my broken foot, right? - and my foot was sticking out between us and when I leaned over, you know, for the hugging, I accidentally kicked her in the stomach and she, I think accidentally, bonked me on the head with the crutches. It was great comedy, apart from the double pain. And by the time she'd finished laughing and I'd finished wailing in agony the moment was over and Troy was coming back in the door."

"What does Troy think of it?" Xander finally asked.

"Well, he's taking us all out for lunch to celebrate, so... I have no idea. Dawn and Andrew are over the moon to be eating a proper meal again though. We've been living on pizza and paninis all week with the occasional hotdog thrown in to add some variety; and when a hotdog is your idea of variety..." Buffy left it there as she checked up and down the shadowy piazza again.

"You let him take you out to lunch?" Xander was surprised. "After he tried to have you killed? And you left Dawn alone with him?"

"Dawn's fine. She's under his niceness spell still apparently. She was all swoony when he came to the hostel with me to pick her and Andrew up. I swear, this is the only time since we've been here that she hasn't been sulking over Christian!"

With some dismay, Buffy realized she was down to her last handful of coins. She would have to hang up soon, which was a shame. She missed her friends and she hadn't touched on half the things she'd wanted to.

"I think you're missing the important bit of what I said," Xander pointed out. "The 'He tried to have you killed' bit."

Buffy frowned, "Actually, come to think of it, that hasn't even come up. I've had a couple of private chats with him... boy, have I... but he never mentioned our breaking and entering."

"That's suspicious," said Willow.

"Everything about him is suspicious. Any luck on figuring out those papers we took?"

"Nothing. He was definitely following us across the country, but as to why, no idea." Willow went into business mode. "There's no evidence that he tried to make contact with any of the other Slayers though, so it's a safe bet he had his sights set on Faith all along."

"What about the file on me?"

That had been worrying her more than anything. Well not more than anything in the grand scheme of things, but it was right up there on the list of troublesome half-facts they knew about Troy. Quantiaro hadn't shed any proper light on it either with his cryptic non-answers.

"Sorry, not yet. As far as Giles can tell, you've never come up against him in, like, a different guise before, or anyone who might've been associated with him. All the records I've found are so conflicting it's hard to make out what's true and what's a cover."

The phone started to beep and Buffy had no more money.

"I have to go. I'll call again as soon as I can get my hands on more cash."

"Buff, wait!" Xander said with unusual urgency. "I don't like you being over there on your own with him. Dawn and Andy aren't gonna be any protection if he turns nasty."

"He said he doesn't want me dead," Buffy hurried to reassure him.

"Well, that's big of him."

"Do you at least have any clue what kind of demon he is yet?" Willow asked. "Something more for us to work with on the research front."

"Actually, I do." Buffy smiled, relishing what she was about to say. "He's a..." The phone went dead. "...Damn!"

*****

"I can't believe they don't have it!" Buffy stomped out of the American Embassy as best as was possible on crutches. "How do you lose an envelope?"

Faith walked along easily beside her. "They probably get millions of envelopes a week, not surprising one or two fall between the cracks."

"Well, why does mine have to be one of the fallen?"

Buffy wasn't in the mood to be consoled, not even by Faith. Although she was pleased the other Slayer had agreed to come with. Troy had taken Dawn and Andrew to a special cinema for the afternoon. Buffy had been dubious about what made it so special, but apparently it was because it showed flicks in English. Buffy had gone to check it out, just to make sure, and was satisfied nothing dodgy was going on.

"And I used up nearly all of our money on that phone call earlier because I thought I was getting the card," she continued angrily. "Now I have about enough on me to pay for the room tonight and then that's it."

Faith dug into her jeans pocket and pulled out a small wad of cash.

"Here," she said, pulling out a few notes and holding them out.

"What's that?" Buffy asked, eying them.

"A loan."

"I'm not desperate enough yet to take Troy's money," she said pompously, but she still kept looking at it.

"It's not Troy's money, it's mine." Faith waved them under her nose.

"No offense, but since when do you have wads of cash to wave around?"

Faith grinned. "Since I started earning serious dollars back in the States. I've still got some left from my party arranging days and it's not like I have to spend much over here. Troy covers everything for me."

"So why do you have..." Buffy took the money awkwardly and counted it. "Two hundred Euros on you right now?"

"I went to the ATM while you were in line." Faith pointed back towards the Embassy. "Took it out of my runaway fund just in case."

Buffy stopped. After a couple more steps Faith stopped too and turned to face her.

"Runaway fund? You planning on running away with me?" she asked with only a half-joking smile.

Faith smirked, "In your dreams, Twinkie."

"So why do you call it a runaway fund?" Buffy asked more seriously. "Something here you might have to run away from sometime?"

"No, it's just a name," Faith shrugged and started walking again. Buffy had to step it up to keep pace with her. ""S'what I used to call all the cash I stashed back in Boston, and well, I used that to actually run away with. Now though, well, it don't hurt to have some cash that's just mine, ya know? I'm not expecting Troy to turn into an asshole anytime soon, but that don't mean I'm gonna risk getting stuck like my mom was."

Buffy pondered whether or not to ask what her mom had gotten stuck in, but before she could Faith asked,

"What phone call?"

"Oh." Buffy hadn't meant to mention that aloud. She stuffed the notes into her pocket as she said casually, "I, uh, called home when I went window shopping."

"Didn't you do that this morning?" Faith indicated that they had to cross the road here and they both stopped to wait for a break in traffic big enough for Buffy to get across in her handicapped state.

"Yeah, but..." Oh well, she might as well tell the truth. "I called to tell them about what you asked me." She blushed for some reason.

"About the maid of honor thing?" Faith sounded surprised.

"Yeah. That was okay, wasn't it? I didn't think it was a secret and I was kinda excited."

"Sure, it's fine. I just didn't expect... I figured you'd be trying to find ways out of it, not rushing off to tell the fam."

"Why would I want out?" Buffy maneuvered a crutch so she could lay a hand on Faith's arm. "I'm really touched you asked me."

"Really?"

"Yes, really." Buffy smiled.

Faith smiled back, relaxing. "So what did they say?"

"Well, they weren't too sure at first. What with our history..."

"And our present." Faith cut in as the gap they wanted opened up and she led the way to the other side.

"Precisely, but when they realized I wasn't doing it to get in your pants, they came around."

Faith kept pace with her across the road, despite the line of cars already bearing down on them.

She looked at Buffy, grinning. "You mean that's not why you're doing it?"

Buffy shrugged, not easy with crutches holding her arms up. "Well I thought about it, but then I checked the list of maid of honor duties and turns out it's not on there, so... I guess not."

"Pity."

"Yep."

They grinned at each other.

"So you really are cool with it?" Faith checked.

"Very cool."

"Wicked."

They walked along the sidewalk in comfortable silence apart from the noise of the crutches tapping the pavement, and they'd picked up a squeak from somewhere, but as far as Buffy could see, they didn't have any oilable parts so she'd have to put up with that. Faith seemed to know where she was going, which was good, because Buffy was sure she had never come this way in her sight-seeing, city-scouring search for Faith last week. She picked the emptiest parts of the pavement to walk along, so there were less trendy business men and stylish business women for Buffy to dodge, and was generally being as sweet as pie. It was amazing the difference that Buffy not coming on to her made in Faith's attitude. The thought made Buffy smile, but she kept it to herself.

"It's pretty weird, though, right?" Faith suddenly asked.

Buffy chuckled. "Oh yeah, but we can handle it."

"And it's not like it's stupid, just weird."

"Well, it's a little stupid, but not necessarily in a bad way."

They shared another look and laughed.

"Hell, we've always done stupid shit together."

"True, and we do it really well, too."

"So this'll be fine."

Buffy nodded, "Totally."

Faith nodded too. "Cool."

They rounded a corner at a busy crossroads and the hot wind cut across them, making their hair stream out.

"Ow, shit, road-grit in my eye!" Buffy tried to lift her hand to her face automatically, but she was encumbered. "Stupid things!"

"Want me to grab your crotch...?" Faith winced in embarrassment.

"What, out here on the street?" Buffy laughed, dabbing her fingertip at the corner of her watering eye.

"You know what I meant," Faith sighed, taking the crutch from her and keeping her steady with a hand on her waist. "This is gonna be harder than we're giving it credit for, isn't it?"

"Faith, see the funny," Buffy demanded as she wiped under her eye and blinked the grit out. "Or else yes, this is gonna be hard. Too hard, and we can't let it get like that."

"I can see the funny fine," Faith insisted, handing back the crutch when Buffy was ready for it. "It's the sexy I can't see. Or the unsexy. Last night really fucked with my head, B."

Buffy chose to think about that as they started to walk again instead of just saying the first thing that came into her head. After a dozen or so paces, that was what she said anyway.

"Are you having second thoughts?" she kept her eyes forward.

"Not about marrying Troy, no," Faith said quietly. She kept her eyes forward too. "I'm sure about that, but, I admit, you being here makes it harder to be sure that I'm sure, ya know?"

Buffy didn't, so she stayed quiet.

"But..." Faith licked her lips, struggling to go on. "Last night was... I don't know what made it different to the other times, but..."

"You were letting yourself love me. Letting me love you."

She surprised herself with how understated she made that sound. She wasn't trying to sway Faith towards her; she was just stating a fact. It kinda felt good too.

"I guess."

Unexpectedly, Faith took her arm and veered them off to a café. She pulled a chair out for Buffy and then sat down opposite.

"The thing is, B, you're a temptation..."

Buffy smiled, "I've been called worse things."

"Yeah, but, I don't know how well I can handle it."

A waitress arrived and Faith ordered beers for both of them. Buffy hung her head and waited until she was gone.

"You've had a change of heart, haven't you? I won't say I'm not disappointed, but I get it. I feel like an idiot for telling everyone, but they all said this would happen so..."

"No, B, that's not it. I just... I'm gonna sound like an ass saying this, but... I need you to promise you're not gonna try anything."

"Did Troy put you up to this?"

"No, I haven't even discussed it with him. This is me asking, and it's important."

"If you're so sure marrying him is the right thing, F, nothing I do is gonna change your mind."

"You don't get it! This is scary fucking shit I'm getting into here."

Buffy's eyes bored into her, wondering how much Faith really knew of Troy and his plans for her. Maybe this was where she would tell all and Buffy could figure a way out of it for her.

The beers arrived and again she waited until the waitress was gone again before answering.

"Oh yeah, like what?"

"Like marriage, B!" Faith sat forward, her bottle clonking on the table top. "Like being someone's wife! I don't know if I can do that. I'm not exactly the cookie-baking, feather-dusting, good-little-house-wifey type, ya know? What if I suck at it?"

Faith took a few deep breaths and had a swig of her beer. Buffy didn't interrupt her, mostly because she was a little shocked by the unexpected outburst. It hadn't even occurred to her that Faith might think about this stuff.

"So I'm pretty much freaking out every other day, and when that happens I have a tendency to do stupid shit. And if you're here, being all temptationy or whatever, I don't think we have to guess too hard what the stupid thing is gonna be, do you?"

"I don't know whether to be flattered or insulted," Buffy said, frowning.

"Don't be either, because I really want you here, but if you can't promise me you won't try anything, I'm sorry, you can't be here; not until the actual day anyway."

Buffy played with her beer bottle, thinking that over. Faith waited patiently.

"If it's so hard, so scary, why are you going through with it? Why not just tell him it's too soon and just keep dating him for another fifty years or so?"

"Because scary is a rush, you know that! And besides," Faith gave her a soft smile that came close to breaking Buffy's heart. "Once the big day is done, all this nervous shit'll be over and I've already told him he's gonna be spending the rest of my life making me happy. And trust me, B, I got him well trained in how to make me happy."

"I don't doubt it." Buffy gave a wry grin.

"So..." Faith's eyes were deeply imploring. "Promise?"

Buffy tapped a tune on the underside of the table with her fingertips, stalling for time as she looked into Faith's eyes. "What about if you get all temptationy and start trying it on?"

"You smack my nose with a fucking newspaper."

Buffy laughed. "Okay, I promise."

Giving Faith a relaxed smile, she leisurely uncrossed her fingers beneath the table and reached for her beer.


Chapter Fifteen

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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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