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 Fifteen: Stop Before You Get Me Started

"Oh my God, Buffy!" Dawn squealed as she ran from room to room of the beautiful apartment. "Look at this place!"

"I am."

And she was, and smiling slightly as she did so. The place was smaller than Troy's, which was probably to be expected, but what it lost on acreage, it made up for in charm. And something essentially Toni-ish that she couldn't put her finger on, but it had to do with a warm and welcoming vibe that was just missing from Troy's grand palace.

"Dibs on the master bedroom!" Dawn suddenly called out from down a cool, shadowy corridor.

"I don't think so." Buffy went to have a look herself.

"Why not? Dibs is dibs, I called first, so..."

"My girlfriend's room..." Buffy's eyes went wide in appreciation as she looked through the doorway. "My girlfriend's gigantic bed; means dibs are automatically mine."

Buffy stepped further into the room. Despite being twice the size and decorated with an air of an eighteenth century noblewoman, it still managed to look almost exactly like Toni's dorm room, right down the to the disordered clutteryness.

She picked out one of the framed posters on the wall and rolled her eyes before giving Eeyore a stern look. "You and me are having a talk later."

The unanimated animated character mocked her with his silence and Dawn looked at her funny.

Buffy walked back through to the main room of the apartment. Dawn followed her reluctantly.

"There are two other bedrooms to choose from. Instead of giving me evils, why not pick the best one of those before Andrew makes it up the stairs?"

"I don't get why Toni is still your girlfriend anyway." Dawn grumbled. "I thought you were cutting her loose 'cause you can't stop pining for Fai..."

Buffy nudged her sister hard in her back, almost pushing her over altogether, as Faith and Troy came in the front door. "Go pick a room, now."

She smiled brightly as they came in, Faith looking around like she'd never seen the place before, which she probably hadn't. Whatever Troy had been storing here, it was probably something he didn't want his fiancÚ seeing. Buffy was planning on looking into every nook and cranny later for evidence, but she wasn't really expecting there to be anything left to find.

Buffy didn't have an answer for Dawn's question anyway, even if she had cared to give one. Every time she convinced herself she genuinely wanted to be with Toni, a little inner voice said, 'No, you're just weak.' And every time she gave into that voice and admitted she was just too weak to break up with her and face the next few agonizing months alone (theoretically, seeing as Toni would be in Japan for at least another month yet), that little inner voice changed its tune and said, 'No, stupid, don't be so hard on yourself, of course you genuinely like her.' She hated that little inner voice, not least because to her it still sounded like Faith most of the time.

Right now she had compromised and decided she genuinely wanted to be with Toni because she was weak, and because she had the most gorgeous apartment on earth. Buffy had only been here for ten minutes and she already knew she never wanted to live anywhere else.

"Is it to your satisfaction?" Troy asked, seeing her looking around again in wonder.

"Yes," Buffy nodded. "And it's so clean. Did you wield the feather duster yourself?"

"I have demons for that."

"You should start a cleaning company."

Troy smiled easily at her. "What makes you think I haven't?"

Faith dropped three duffle bags by the paisley print couch as she flopped down on it. "I have two questions."

"Okay," Buffy smiled.

She hadn't seen Faith for over a week seeing as she'd gone to Bracciano with Troy to pick up the keys. Buffy had assumed they would only be a day or two, but they had decided to make a vacation out of it. Faith hadn't contacted her again until last night. It was really good to see her now.

"First, how the hell did you manage to buy three bags worth of clothes in a week?"

Buffy's smile grew. "It's a gift."

"And why the hell did I just carry them all up three flights of stairs for you?"

"The elevator isn't working?" Buffy offered innocently.

Faith rolled her head along the back of the couch to stare at her upside down.

"Don't look at me like that. You grabbed them all out of the trunk; I figured you wanted to carry them."

Faith scoffed and sat forward to look for the television remote. "She got a whoosiemaflip on here?"

"A whoosiemaflip?" Buffy asked.

"It is a box that can read signals from every satellite channel in the world. It allows you to watch the appalling American television to which your nation and many others have become addicted." Troy answered. "And no, I'll have one sent over."

"So what do you like to watch, Troy? Boxing, Fox hunting, Arnold Schwarzenegger movies?" she asked, thinking of Quantiaro's comment about blood-sports.

"I prefer drama," he said simply, and then, as a shy afterthought, he added, "and Hugh Grant films."

"You like Hugh Grant?" Buffy asked, and there was enough sarcastic surprise in her answer that she figured it best not to admit she did too.

"Don't get him started," Faith groaned pleadingly as she flicked through the Italian channels trying to find something with English dubbing.

Buffy wasn't about to and Andrew finally coming in the front door saved her from having to.

"You could have helped me!" he pouted at Faith.

"I was already carrying three bags, dude. You only had two," she said without looking at him.

"Well someone could have," he whined, not quite looking at Troy. He dropped his and Dawn's bags and looked around the apartment in awe.

"Wow."

"Isn't it?" Buffy agreed, looking around herself again.

The apartment somehow managed to be both cosy and cool, a welcome relief from the heat of the day outside. The summer was still in full swing over here and sometimes felt even hotter than Sunnydale ever had. Light, pale yellow curtains blocked the direct sunlight coming through the large windows and longer curtains of heavier material turned out to be hiding large sliding balcony doors.

Buffy unlocked them with the little key already there and pushed them along to let a nice breeze into the room. She stepped outside, entranced by the size and beauty of the balcony and walked past a dining set to lean on the wrought iron railings for a moment. Up here, on the fourth and final floor, the traffic noise, such as there was on this quiet back street, could hardly be heard.

Someone came out behind her, and she turned her head, hoping it was Faith. It was Andrew and he repeated his earlier assessment.

"Wow!"

"Step up from the hostel, isn't it?"

"It's a step up from everywhere." He moved to stand by the railing with her and made the mistake of looking down. "Oh." He stepped back again. "Wouldn't want to fall down there."

Buffy had fallen from higher, but she agreed all the same. "Quick way to go splat."

Pushing herself from the railing she walked back inside away from the heat.

"Got any beer?" Faith asked as soon as she was in the room again.

"We've just moved in."

"You didn't bring any with you?"

"Did you see me bring any with me?"

Faith sighed, her eyes never leaving whatever it was she'd found on the television worth watching. Something about dogs as far as Buffy could tell.

"There's beer in the fridge," Dawn called through from the kitchen and then appeared carrying five bottles of lager.

"Did your demons stock the fridge too?" Buffy asked, hoping they had so she wouldn't have to buy any food.

Most of the money Faith had loaned her had gone on clothes and board; there wasn't much left now. She didn't want to ask to borrow more, but after speaking with Giles again, it wasn't looking like she'd be getting her new card in time to save the three of them from starvation. She was actually wondering if she would have to get a job over here, something cash in hand she wouldn't need a working visa for. She was planning on asking Faith about it at some point.

"I did not tell them to," Troy said. "The beer is most likely Toni's, but I am sure she will not mind you drinking them."

"She's your girl, what's hers is yours, right?" Faith asked hopefully as she gestured for Dawn to hand her a bottle.

"I guess I can replace it later," Buffy shrugged, not prepared to deny Faith what she wanted.

Dawn handed the bottles around, saying to Andrew as he took his, "I'm taking the bedroom with the seahorses and Buffy's having Toni's, so yours is the other one, okay?"

"Do I have a choice?" he asked seriously.

"Well, duh, no. That's the only one left."

"Then I'll take the other one," he agreed upbeat, like he had had a choice.

If he felt anything like Buffy he was just happy to be having a room of his own again. Buffy took her bottle, if everyone else was having one... Then she realized Dawn still had a bottle in her hand.

"And who is that one for?"

"Me?" Dawn asked optimistically.

"You're seventeen," Buffy pointed out.

"But the legal age in Europe is eighteen!"

Buffy waited a beat, but Dawn's expectant look didn't change. "You're still only seventeen!"

"Give her a break, B, she's on vacation."

"Fine." Buffy sighed. "But go easy, okay? You get sick even once, you're not having any more."

"Thanks. And I won't. I'm not stupid enough to get drunk."

"Famous last words." Buffy and Faith said at the same time. They shared a smile.

Dawn tried to twist the cap from her beer. "Ow!"

"What?" Buffy then saw the bright red mark left on her sister's hand. "Did Toni put a spell on these to stop you drinking them?" she asked Troy with a chuckle.

He rolled his eyes. "Toni does not do magic. You just need a bottle opener."

"Stupid European beer," Dawn muttered, catching the metal opener as Faith flipped it to her. Apparently she carried one in her pocket; Buffy wasn't all that surprised.

"But you do magic, right?" Buffy asked, as offhand as possible.

"I do not need magic."

"But..." Buffy tried to remember the name of the mystical storm that Troy's lackey Marco had started on St Patrick's Day. She couldn't. "... You might not need it, but you do it if something that does need it comes up? Like once in a blue moon, maybe, or once in a freak weather occurrence?"

Troy's eyes were narrowing at her, but it was Faith who sat forward and glared. "What's your problem now?"

"No problem," Buffy promised, holding her hands up in peace. "I'm just trying to get to know your fiancÚ better. After all, we're gonna be practically related soon. I was just trying to show an interest."

"Yeah right."

"It is okay, Fai," Troy said calmly. "Buffy is right. We should be better friends."

That was so not what she meant! She wouldn't be any kind of friends with him ever, but she knew that he knew what she was getting at. He knew she knew he was somehow behind the storm - although, if she remembered correctly, he hadn't been very happy about it - and he didn't want Faith knowing.

"Yeah, I can see that happening." Buffy saw Faith's eyes roll as she turned back to the TV.

"Magic is a corruption of the Earth's natural resources. It is not without its uses, but for every use there is a price far higher than any mortal should want to pay," said Troy.

"But you're not a mortal."

Troy didn't flinch, but his eyes narrowed all over again. "This is why I am not stupid enough to use it."

"So you never use it?"

"Not in the way you mean, no." He placed his unopened bottle on a tall bookshelf filled top to toe with romance novels. "Faith, it is time we left."

"Why?" she asked, not moving.

"I have things I must take care of."

He said that a lot, Buffy realized, wondering just what he was taking care of all the time.

"Like packing?" Faith looked over the back of the couch at him.

"Yes. My flight is chartered to leave very early in the morning."

"Going somewhere?" Buffy asked suspiciously.

"Obviously." Troy didn't even look at her.

She'd clearly pissed him off, but maybe he didn't dare vamoose her to a volcano with everyone around. She didn't push it though, and as it turned out she was going to get what she wanted without having to.

"You really need me to come watch you pack?" Faith asked.

"Well, no," he said cautiously, evidently thrown by her question. "I had just assumed."

"That she would want to watch you pack?" Dawn asked, innocently bemused.

Troy smiled at her benevolently. "No, that we would be leaving together."

Faith dug into the pocket of her navy blue Capri's and pulled out her car keys. "Take the Mini, babe. I've got to talk some wedding shit with B and drink the rest of Tone's beer. I'll walk home in a few."

Troy caught the keys as Faith threw them to him. "You will be home before I leave?"

He didn't look Buffy's way, but he sounded a little worried. She schooled her lips to not smirk.

"I'll be home before you go to sleep," Faith promised, smiling. "Not gonna miss the last night I have with my man in hell knows how long."

Troy smiled back at her, relaxing, and went to kiss her goodbye. Buffy found herself inexplicably staring until Dawn jolted her out of it.

"Can we go out? We've been cooped up in that hostel for two weeks. I want to go explore our new surroundings. And it'll be educational." Dawn added as a selling point. "This area's all historic and whatever."

Toni's apartment was on the back streets between Piazza Navona and the Trevi Fountain and it was a far nicer area than where they had been, which had been all hostels and pokey little shops covered in graffiti and always smelling slightly of pee.

Buffy shook her head. "We can't. You heard Faith, we have wedding sh...stuff to discuss."

"I meant just me and Andrew."

"I don't think so, Dawnie. It's still all too new. We don't know what threats might be out there. I'm not happy about you just wandering around."

"There will be no threats." Troy said immediately. "They will be fine."

"How can you be so sure?" Buffy asked dubiously.

"Because I can promise you no harm will come to them while they are in this city. They will be under my protection."

"We're under your protection now?"

"They are under my protection," Troy corrected her, and while he smiled teasingly, Buffy had a feeling he was serious about the distinction.

Buffy looked at Faith, who realized and looked back. "He means it, B. They've probably been under it since you guys arrived. Which you never told me about," she threw over her shoulder at Troy, but with no heat, making Buffy think they'd already had this conversation in Bracciano. "They'll be as safe out there as they are in here."

"Okay, you can go." Buffy agreed, although she still wasn't entirely sure about it. "But be back before it's dark, okay, please?"

"Cool!" Dawn excitedly downed the rest of her beer, much to Buffy's displeasure. "I'm just going to change my top."

"Oh, me too!" Andrew picked up his bag and disappeared to find his bedroom.

Buffy finally opened her beer and took a long swallow of it. "You really promise they'll be okay?

Troy nodded. "You have my word."

She wasn't sure why she should trust his word, but she did, and the idea of having the apartment to just herself and Faith for a few hours didn't suck.

Troy stepped closer to her with a set of keys in his hand. "This one is for the door downstairs," he explained, singling a key out. "And this one is the door to the apartment. And this one is for the roof."

"Why do I need a key for the roof?" Buffy asked as she took them from him.

"The swimming pool is up there." Her eyes lit up, she'd forgotten there was a pool. "The little black one is for the garbage area. Collection is on Thursday's."

"Thank you."

"There is a grocery store along the road where you will find all your basic needs. I trust you will take good care of the apartment for Toni?"

"Of course I will."

Dawn and Andrew reappeared, changed and ready to go.

Troy gave Faith another goodbye kiss, this one Buffy didn't feel compelled to watch, thank goodness, and then he nodded for them to follow him. They did so eagerly.

"There will be a few ground rules to your protection," he explained to them as they went through the front door. "One, you will not fall afoul of the law..."

Buffy didn't hear any more as the front door shut behind them, but number one sounded promising and she could quiz them for the rest later.

Once they were alone Faith turned the television off and Buffy looked at her with an eyebrow of inquiry raised. "So?"

"So." Faith twisted on the couch, holding her beer in her lap. "You ever plan a wedding before?"

"Me?" Buffy laughed. "Oh yeah, I'm a regular wedding guru thanks to all the times I've been married."

Faith jumped to her feet fluidly, not spilling a drop. "I have ten weeks, B. Ten!" She started pacing. "We have no caterer, no flowers, no guest list! Not that I need to worry about that as I only have one guest anyway. Which is you, by the way. You are coming, right?"

"I'm your maid of honor," Buffy reminded her, chuckling. "I think it's safe to say I'll be in the vicinity."

"Yeah, 'course. Then there's vows! I ain't honoring and obeying anyone, B, and his traditional vows are all in Greek. I'm gonna be too nervous to speak in English, let alone learn a bunch of foreign gibberish."

"So romantic."

"And dresses?" Faith was actually pacing in fast circles around her now. Buffy was going dizzy just trying to keep her in sight. "I can't find anything in the magazines that won't make me look like a pampered shih-tzu and I'm too shit scared to go into any fuckin' boutiques to look for one. And Serena? She's just as bad! I make a suggestion and she looks at me like I'm a friggin' hooker or something."

"A hooker?" Buffy wrinkled her nose, wondering who Serena was. "Just how suggestive were you being?"

"Pretty Woman, B. Keep up!"

"I'm trying! Gah!" When she nearly tripped over her own feet, Buffy lunged forward and grabbed Faith's arms to keep her still. "Is this one of those freak outs you were talking about?"

"This is just the warm up."

Faith looked around distractedly, and then found what she wanted in her pocket. Drawing a cigarette from her packet, she patted herself down for a lighter. Buffy gently took the white stick from her mouth before she could find it.

"You can't smoke in here."

"Who says? It's not your apartment."

"Toni doesn't smoke, so I'm gonna go out on a limb and say she doesn't want her furniture and curtains getting all stinky."

"I'll go out on the balcony."

"Wait. I have a feeling if you need a cigarette every time you start freaking out about this, not only will the wedding never get planned, you'll be dead before the big day anyway. Let's find some paper and pens and then we can sit out on the balcony together and make a list of everything that needs doing."

"Okay." Faith looked around, still agitated. "Uh, where do we find pens?"

"Good question, you check in here, I'll go through to the kitchen."

The kitchen had a cramped feel, not because of its size, but just because there were so many modern appliances on the uneven lemon yellow work surfaces. Pots and pans hung from the walls like bunches of tin grapes that matched the grape-bunch shape of the clock. If there was a pen anywhere in here, it was hiding in the butter dish or somewhere and Buffy wasn't going to find it without a lot of luck and a three hour search.

She checked the fridge to see what was in there, but no luck. No food, no pens, just lots of beer. Which wasn't totally unlucky. She grabbed a couple of bottles, shut the door again and a photo stuck to the front by a Colosseum magnet caught her eye.

"Wow. That's one big tortoise."

Buffy's nose wrinkled as she looked at Toni squatted down next to the mammoth chelonian with her arm around its shell. It was bigger than her! A quick check of the kitchen floor thankfully turned up no bowls of giant tortoise food. The last thing she needed was to walk into the bathroom and find that thing splashing around in the tub. Did tortoises swim or was that just turtles? If big Shelly here got in the ocean there wouldn't be any room in there for the water! It was a cute picture of Toni though, with her hair pulled back like that, just a pity she had such a weird taste in pets.

Buffy met Faith in the corridor between the bedrooms. She handed over a bottle. "Do you like tortoises?"

"Don't think I ever tried them. Troy tricked me into eating friggin' snails recently though; bastard." Faith used her opener on both bottles.

Buffy smiled and left it at that. "You found some paper." She nodded at the sheaf of white foolscap Faith was holding.

"It was on top of the printer in the living room. Can't find a pen though."

Buffy pushed open the door to Toni's room, there was bound to be one amongst all the chaos. As she started to poke around here and there, Faith followed her in, sipping from her beer.

"Nice bed."

"Toni's."

"Figured, what with it being her apartment and all. Tried it out yet?"

"No, figured I'd save that for bedtime, be traditional for once."

Faith wandered around it as if it was a car she was thinking of buying, looking at it from all angles. Dropping the paper and her beer bottle onto one of the wooden bedside cabinets, she pressed her palms flat to the comforter, pushing down in a springiness test. Buffy watched out of the corner of her eye as Faith suddenly jumped onto the bed, boots and all, and lay star-shaped in the middle.

"Good," she decided, smooshing her head back into the pillow until it made a comfortable dent. "Firm."

"Get up." Buffy ordered.

"Why?"

"Because that's Toni's bed!"

"I know, but she's not using it." When Buffy just glared at her, Faith asked, "What's the big deal?"

"I just don't think Toni would like you and me being on her bed.

"We're not on her bed." Faith sat up slowly, staring hard at her and Buffy blushed as she realized she'd accidentally given away her thoughts. "I am. You scared you won't be able to resist joining me? 'Cause I know I'm pretty irresistible, but you gotta dig deep, B."

Turning away from Faith's smirk, Buffy kept looking for a pen.

"No, that's not what I meant. Or it is, but I meant you wouldn't be able to resist me. I can resist fine, but you were freaking five minutes ago and you said that would make you... volatile. I'm just trying to preempt your volatility so you don't embarrass yourself...Hey!"

Buffy was pulled backwards on to the bed by Faith's arms around her waist. She didn't have time to struggle or keep her feet as her hands flailed about, nearly sending Faith's beer flying off the side. She tried to grip the edge of the cabinet to stop herself from being rolled over, her back flush to Faith's chest, but whatever she grabbed came away in her fingers and she found herself facing the opposite side of the room to the one she had started on.

"Damn me and my volatility," Faith chuckled next to her ear.

Buffy twisted in the loose arms around her waist and in great economy of movement brought the sheaf of papers down on Faith's nose. "Bad girl!"

"Jesus!" Faith's head smacked back into the dent in the pillow, stunned by the surprise more than anything. "I was just fooling around!"

"I know," Buffy said, grinning sheepishly. "I just fortuitously found the paper in my hand and it was too good an opportunity to pass up, ya know?"

"I get it." Faith muttered, rubbing her nose with her palm. "Next time I find myself with a baseball bat near your head; remind me of this conversation, will ya?"

"Did I hurt you?"

"Only my pride. Well, that and my nose."

"I'm sorry." Buffy reached out to stroke her finger lightly down the bridge of Faith's nose. "You look a bit like Rudolf the red-nosed Vampire Slayer, but there's no swelling to speak of."

"It's just a little boo-boo, B." Faith smiled. "Be all better in a minute."

"Want me to speed it up?" When Faith didn't answer, Buffy leaned in to place a soft kiss on the tip of her nose. "Better?"

Faith shook her head against the pillow, smiling. "Nope, still stinging."

"Huh? That's weird. They're obviously not warmed up properly."

Faith laughed as Buffy opened and closed her mouth, working her jaw and smacking her lips a few times. Grinning herself, Buffy leaned closer again to give the tip of her nose a more lingering kiss.

"Okay, did it work that time?"

"Yeah," Faith smiled. "That one worked."

"Good, 'cause the next step was going to be frenching your nose and that would have just been awkward."

Faith laughed again and Buffy smiled down at her, not even really aware that she had hardly leaned away this time, not noticing the way her fingers crept back to rest on Faith's cheek.

"You don't think my nose is worth it?" Faith teased.

"As noses go, it's pretty sexy," Buffy teased back, and just what kind of teasing were they really doing here? "But if I'm going to stick my tongue in an orifice, I can think of better ones..."

Faith actually blushed this time, but not as hard as Buffy did.

"Just to clarify, I meant this one." Her thumb traced under Faith's bottom lip.

"Okay, sure."

The way Faith sighed the words so softly made them sound like an invitation and even though it was a stupid move, Buffy's lips wanted to accept. Little by little she drew compulsively closer, fighting with herself all the way, but knowing full well which side of her was going to win. She was almost there, her lips parting as Faith's did, her eyes closing as Faith's did, when the sheaf of paper smacked her upside the head so hard she toppled right off the edge of the bed.

"I wasn't doing anything," she insisted quickly, spitting out carpet fluff.

"Sure you weren't," Faith panted. "And now you'll think twice about not doing anything again."

Buffy couldn't help grinning as she rubbed both sides of her head. One where the paper had struck and one where the floor had.

"You know, all emotional heartache aside, I don't think I truly understood just how physically painful the next ten weeks could be."

Faith's laughter came down to her. "Still wanna go through with it?"

"Yeah, but you better ask again once the concussion goes, just to make sure." Buffy spotted something cylindrical under the bed and grabbed it. "Hey, I found a pen!"


Chapter Sixteen

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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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