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 Eighteen: Just one Taste and You'll Want More

8th Febbraio 2004

Dopo molto l'insistenza, Troy infine ha permesso che me vedessi una foto. Ora vedo perché era così riluttante. Il colore dei suoi capelli, i suoi occhi, persino il senso sorride è così simile al mio amore perso.

Sono così arrabbiato con Troy. Ha saputo che non avrei accosentire mai se fossi stato informato della sua somiglianza perfetta vicina a Helena. Il mio cuore piange appena al pensiero di essere vicino a questa donna. Dovrei dirgli che più non sono interessato ad aiutarlo; ma, mi trovo più disposto di mai prima.

Buffy finished looking up the last word and wrote down its English equivalent in her notebook. Done! Then pushing everything from her knees to the bed with a sense of finality she rolled her neck a few times and stretched her arms, loosening the kinks that had built up since she'd been sat there.

She had a sip of her Pepsi as she checked Toni's alarm clock, and then with a bolstering sigh she picked her notebook back up to see what nonsense she had just taken two and half hours to make less sense of this time.

8th February 2004

After much insisting, Troy finally allowed me to see a photo. I see now why he was so reluctant. The color of her hair, her eyes, even the way she smiles are so similar to my lost love.

I am so angry with Troy. He knew I would never have agreed if I had been aware of her near perfect likeness to Helena. My heart weeps just at the thought of being close to this woman. I should say that I am not interested to help now; and yet, I find myself more willing than ever before.

"That can't be right," Buffy murmured to herself. She rechecked a couple of the more important words in the dictionary and they definitely looked right. "I get why Troy wanted me palmed off on someone as soon as possible, I must have been putting some serious crimp in his style, but that's a pretty low thing to do to his best friend."

She thought about looking for a photo album again - something she kept meaning to do - because now she had to check out this likeness for herself. The similarities must have been pretty remarkable to cause the emotion she sensed behind Toni's words.

Had Toni only fallen for her because she looked like the mysterious love of her life, the one that had gotten away? No, that was an even worse thought than the idea that she was only with her because Troy had somehow demanded it. Which, unsettlingly, this entry also kind of implied.

Buffy shook her head and sat back against her pillows. No, Toni was with her because she wanted to be. She knew it was real. The morning they had said goodbye at the airport... people could lie, for sure, but they couldn't fake what was in their eyes.

Helena suddenly had a big question mark over her head now. Buffy had taken everything Toni had told her about her ex at face value, not even considering there might be more to it, but perhaps there was. One thing stood out: when Toni had written this back in February, she sure as hell wasn't as over Helena as she had made out.

Buffy turned the page to the next entry, hoping to learn more, but her brand new jazzy pink slim line cell phone started ringing.

Smiling, she scooped it up from the bed and answered it. "Hey."

"Hey, babe, I'm downstairs."

"On my way."

Tucking the diary away safely, she walked into the main room, casually dropping the phrase book onto the computer table where Andrew had left it.

"Bye," she said, as she walked past the couch.

"You're going out in this?" Dawn asked, casting an annoyed glance at the rain-drizzled balcony doors.

They'd been complaining all morning about the bad weather keeping them indoors. Seeing as it was the first day since they'd been in Rome that the weather had been less than glorious, Buffy had told them to get over it. So now they were sprawled on opposite ends of the couch watching Roseanne reruns. It would be nice to know where they were for once, even if she wasn't going to be there with them.

"Wedding stuff beckons." Buffy was already going through the front door. "Don't wait up."

"It's only eleven am!" Dawn shouted after her.

Buffy smiled and kept going. Thankfully the elevator was working again and less than five minutes later she walked out onto a wet and windy street to see Faith leaning against the side of her bright red mini convertible with sunglasses on, like it was another scorching sunny day.

"Hey," she said, feeling her smile grow tenfold.

"Hey." Faith grinned easily back.

She didn't move from her casually sexy position and Buffy realized that despite the fact that the rain was matting her hair to the sides of her head and her clothes were getting soaked through, she'd been deliberately posing like that, waiting for her. Buffy hadn't thought her smile could get bigger; it did.

"So... can I drive?" Buffy asked hopefully.

"Sure." Faith chuckled, throwing her the keys. "Why not."

Eyes lighting up in excitement, Buffy caught them and dashed for the driver's door.

*****
Buffy giggled as she took a sharp and possibly illegal left turn, causing Faith to fall against the passenger door despite her sudden unusual dedication to wearing her seatbelt.

"B!"

"What?" Buffy put her foot down now they were on a straight road, planning on making it though the crossroads up ahead before the lights went red. "This is the way you said, right?"

"Yeah, but... could you try driving like a regular person?"

Buffy looked over to see her gripping the arm rest with one hand and the edge of her seat with the other. "I am! Could you hold the umbrella over me again? I have rain in my eyes."

"Well, if you'd stop flinging me around I'd be able to," Faith grumbled, trying to hold the umbrella up and hang on for dear life too.

"If you and Troy hadn't broken off the operating switch for the roof doing stuff I really wish you hadn't given me so much detail about, maybe you wouldn't need to use an umbrella every time you drive your car in the rain!"

"It was worth it." Faith smiled, and Buffy could tell this because her eyes weren't quite as on the road as they maybe should have been.

"Even THAT is too much detail," Buffy griped playfully and decided the road was more interesting now. Make that way too interesting! "Shit!"

The lights had changed. The cross traffic was crossing. She was going too fast to stop. This was not going to end well.

"Buffy!" Faith yelled, like she hadn't seen they were about to have four cars hit them side on at once, or maybe not all of them; they were only in a Mini after all.

Like that was reassuring.

"Oh God! Oh God! Oh God!"

Rain streamed down her face and she had to fight the urge to close her eyes. That stopped being an issue when Faith lost control of the umbrella in her panic and it fell down over Buffy's face.

"Shit!" she yelled again, accidentally turning the wheel sharply this way and that as she tried to get the damn thing from completely blocking her vision.

There was a harsh blare of horns that blocked out Faith's frantic swearing, and then the umbrella was yanked out of the way and instead of her life flashing before her eyes there was a clear road.

Buffy heaved a sigh of relief, her heart was still beating frantically, but she was smiling again now. "See. I keep telling people I'm a good driver."

"A good...?" Faith was staring back at the insanely busy crossroads. Now she rounded on Buffy. "You nearly killed us!"

"But I didn't."

"But..." Faith did some uncharacteristic spluttering, making Buffy smile wider. "Pull the damn car over!"

"No." Buffy swerved wide to overtake a scooter and nearly hit the car in the next lane. "Could you lift the umbrella up again? I'm getting kind of wet here."

"You're getting wet?" Faith all but yelled. "I am damn wet because you just made me piss myself!"

"Really?" Buffy wrinkled her nose.

"Well, no, but no thanks to you."

"Oh stop being a baby. I don't drive any worse than everyone else here," Buffy insisted, turning right without slowing down, merging with the rest of the crazy traffic heading under the Terminale Station railway tracks.

In truth she felt like she'd come home, as far as driving was concerned. Her awesome skills had found their brethren here in this fast-paced, no rules applied city of assertive drivers.

And Faith's Mini was way better than her Mom's old car. It went faster for one thing, and she could weave between traffic because it was so small, and it was cute. The only thing that would make it better was a roof, she decided, wiping rain out of her eyes again.

"Okay, B, skills like an Italian cab driver is not something to be proud of. Now pull over."

"No," Buffy said again.

Faith wasn't letting her behind the wheel of her baby again, so she was going to make the most of it. People generally never let her drive a second time for some reason. It's not like she'd ever killed anyone, and the only actual crash she'd been in had been as much the other guy's fault as hers.

Faith was now glaring at her.

"So where were we on the umbrella situation?" Buffy prodded.

"I'll give you the fuckin' umbrella in a minute!"

Buffy grinned at her, eyes off the road again. "Now, now, Faith, no need to be nasty. Ooh!" She slammed on the breaks. "That's the place we want."

Ignoring Faith nearly head-butting the dashboard despite her seatbelt, Buffy looked over her shoulder to reverse the car back a dozen feet. She also ignored all the honking coming from behind as she backed at speed into a space almost too small even for the Mini. There was a jarring bump as one of the back wheels mounted the sidewalk. Ignoring that too, Buffy turned the ignition off and looked at Faith triumphantly.

"See, I got us here safe and sound. I don't know why everyone's so convinced I can't do the driving thing."

Faith muttered something nastier than the umbrella comment and got out of the car; her legs shaky.

Buffy hopped out happily and locked the car, sneakily pocketing the keys after. On the sidewalk, she linked arms with a still seething Faith and dragged her a few stores down to the florist.

"Toni recommended a few places, but I called around and this was the only one prepared to deliver internationally," she explained as they entered.

The shop was empty but for the several hundred species of flora and one young, pretty assistant. It was warm and moist -- pleasant after the drive in the pouring rain, which had chilled Buffy despite temperatures still being in the eighties. The scent was almost overpowering but clean and fresh, making her think of rain forests and jungles and other exotic places she had never seen but had read were damp and flowery.

"I don't know why I need flowers anyway," Faith said, gazing around with disinterest.

"Because Troy said so," Buffy shrugged.

She had sat through a very painful wedding-planning meeting with both Faith and Troy the week before. As it turned out, where Faith was clueless, Troy had a pretty strong idea of what he wanted. His input had helped, giving Buffy some solid decisions to work with instead of vague ideas, but yeah, still painful.

He'd been on his best behavior, she'd been on her best behavior... and it had been more awkward than when they just didn't even try. Faith had been pleased though; happy they were getting along, and for Buffy that made it worth it. She assumed Troy felt the same.

"He wants white Irises for the temple and blue for the tables at the reception," she remembered.

"So if you know what he wants, why did we still have to come here?"

Faith was not getting into the spirit of this at all. Hardly fair when Buffy was trying her best to be excited about it like any good Maid of Honor should be.

"Because you still have to choose what you want in your bouquet," she said patiently. "And my bouquet if you want me to have one."

"Do you wanna have one?" Faith asked, finally looking around like she meant it.

Buffy shrugged and went to the counter to order the Irises.

By the time she'd ordered the amount she and Toni had worked out would be needed and arduously arranged for their delivery to the temple, Faith had picked out a bright orange flower that she liked.

"These ones."

"Really?"

They were a striking color but didn't look very wedding-y.

"Yeah, we'll mix 'em with a few of the blue Irises and that way they'll match your dress too," Faith nodded, happy with her decision.

"My dress is going to be orange?" Buffy asked with barely concealed horror.

"No, Spaz, it'll be blue."

Thank God, Buffy breathed easy again. She nodded at the flowers. "You're sure?"

"Yeah. They'll add a splash of color. All the magazines I read said that was important."

"Okay."

The girl from behind the counter was coming over to help. "You choose the African Marigold?"

"If that's these ones, then yeah," Faith said.

"For a wedding?" the girl checked.

"Yeah, why not?" Faith asked exasperated. "Either I get to choose my own flowers or I don't."

The girl gave a shrug of indifference and walked back to the counter, beckoning Buffy to follow her. She was about to when her cell phone rang. Waving Faith to go to the counter instead, she answered it.

"Hey baby."

Faith looked over her shoulder. Buffy saw her register it had to be Toni with a little eye-roll. Buffy grinned at her.

"Yeah, we're in the flower shop now. Almost done in fact."

Buffy fingered an impossibly soft rose petal as she listened to Toni. It was good having the best man as a girlfriend; it meant they could split all the hard work between them and have naughty conversations at the same time. Although not right now, obviously.

"So we can go there straight after here? And you're sure it's not worth shopping around like I did with the flowers?"

Toni assured her and then gave her some more of the arrangements she had made. That was another good thing. Even from Japan Toni could make appointments with the most elite places; the kind of places that wouldn't even give Buffy the time of day on her own.

"Next week? Did you pass all the measurements on right?"

Of course she had; but Buffy was amazed at how quick it was all falling into place now. Nothing was due to go wrong with this wedding apparently. Now that the ball was actually rolling, everything seemed to be going too smoothly to be true. Which was probably what always happened when you had enough money to throw at stuff.

"No, I doubt that'll be a problem. If it is I'll call you back later."

Toni said something that made Buffy giggle. Faith glanced over, rolled her eyes again and turned back to what she was doing.

"Okay, I'll call you later anyway. Yeah, I miss you too. Okay, bye."

Buffy closed her phone and put it back in her pocket.

"What? No 'Love you mooore?'" Faith smirked.

"Wanted to spare your feelings." Buffy smirked back and walked over to stand next to her.

Truthfully, she and Toni still hadn't exchanged that exact sentiment. She was pretty sure though that it was just the distance that was stopping Toni from saying it. Obviously, for her, it was a little more complicated than the mere miles separating them, but she had pretty much decided to say it back if Toni ever did and just hoped she could live up to it after.

"Don't hold back on my account, B. Ya know, seeing as you're planning my wedding an' all. Actually, I'm surprised you're not rubbing my face in it every second you get."

Buffy smirked. "Maybe I'm just biding my time."

They had to shut up while the shop assistant read their order back to them.

"Yes, that's everything. I think." Buffy checked the delivery address -- not that she could understand it, but it looked like what Troy had written down -- and then handed over her credit card.

Troy had given her the credit card too. For wedding stuff. And what else went on there that he didn't know about wouldn't hurt him. Unless he looked at the statements of course, but Faith assured her he had clerks for that.

"Ready for the next adventure?" she asked as she took the credit card back.

"More wedding stuff?" Faith groaned.

"You could always just not get married. That way you wouldn't have to do wedding stuff ever again."

"I just can't help wondering what I'm paying you for if I still have to do all this trudging around myself."

"You picked out a flower," Buffy reminded her. "One flower. And you didn't even put any selective reasoning into that, you were just lured by the bright color. You're like a toddler. Are you even sure you're old enough to get married?"

Faith pushed her through the door onto the street. "Yeah, you're not considering all the effort it takes to put up with your smart ass."

"That's true. I am very smart." Buffy laughed as they dashed through the rain back to the car.

"Quick; give me the keys!" Faith held up her hands for them.

"Very, very smart, in fact." Grinning, Buffy opened the drivers door and slipped in, slamming it gently behind her before Faith could get a hold of it.

"Buffy!"

"Quick, Faith, get in. You're getting wet." Buffy laughed, despite the unpleasantly cold wetness seeping into the seat of her jeans.

"Get in the passenger seat!"

"No." She slipped the keys into the ignition with one hand and grabbed the umbrella handle from the back seat with her other.

"It's my car!"

"And what's mine is yours and what's yours is mine."

"Since when?"

"Oh, since about around the time you stole my body for kicks." The engine roared to life and Buffy gunned it a few times just for the hell of it.

Realizing she wasn't going to win this one, Faith finally went around to the passenger side and hopped in.

"That wasn't for kicks. That was good solid revenge," she said as she pushed her wet hair back with her designer sunglasses.

Buffy shot out of the small space, fitting seamlessly into the flow of the heavy traffic without the umbrella slipping at all. "Revenge for what? I didn't do anything. How do I get to Via a Burillio-io Gataco-o?"

"Never heard of it. So it wasn't you up there on that rooftop sliding that knife in good and deep? Damn, B, shoulda told me sooner. I coulda burned up all that horny anger on someone else while I was in prison."

"No that was me. I don't think I pronounced it right. Toni was going to text me the address. Here, see if she has yet." Buffy managed to get her cell phone out of her pocket without losing her grip on the umbrella. "I wish people would stop honking their horns all the time. Is it really necessary? Anger makes you horny?"

"They probably wish you'd drive in a straight line." Faith took the phone. "I was feeling several different levels of frustration while I was inside." She fiddled with the phone, calling up the recently received message. "Come to think of it, I'm feeling several different levels of frustration right now."

"Well feel free to crawl in the back seat and take care of it, but don't blame me, I haven't stabbed you in years. And besides, I wasn't trying to kill you."

"It's the other side of the river. Take a left at the end of the road and try not to accidentally ram anyone off the side of the bridge. And talking of accidents, what? Wrapping your hand around my warm hilt that night caused deadly uncontrollable convulsions? Wow..." Faith laughed. "That came out even dirtier than I was aiming for."

Buffy chuckled, "Maybe I just wanted to thrust into you so bad I couldn't help myself." She wrinkled her nose. "Or maybe I'm just really sick. Besides, the knife caused you hardly any damage. It was the fall you took that nearly killed you. If you hadn't been so difficult for once, you'd have been fine." She signaled to turn left and had the feeling she'd been forgetting to do that all morning.

"Yeah, 'cause I'm sure feeding me to lover boy wouldn't have caused any harm. And speaking of sick, Tone wants to know what color panties you're wearing today."

Buffy's eyes went wide and the Mini swerved all over the place as she tried to snatch her phone back. "I can't believe you! Give it to me!"

"B! Two hands on the wheel! Or one hand at least. And would you look at what you're doing?"

"I am!"

"I meant the road!" Faith yelled.

Huffily, Buffy stopped trying to grab her cell back and concentrated on driving again, just in time to slow down before she rear-ended the last car waiting at the lights.

"I can't believe you read my private messages. That is so rude."

"First of all," Faith was grinning again now that the immediate danger had passed. "What's yours is mine, remember? Second of all, you gave me permission. It was in the same text as the address. So what do you want me to send back?"

"Nothing!"

"Yeah right. So the question is: Do I pretend to be you? Or do I let her know it's me, but still give her the color?" Faith grinned gleefully as the traffic moving again stopped Buffy from making another tackle for the phone.

And the two police men on the bridge stopped her from doing anything but driving as sensibly as she could. After all, she didn't have a license here. Or, for that matter, back home. Getting pulled over wasn't really an option. Buffy had never worked out if she was under Troy's protection too, but she clearly remembered that one of his rules was no clashes with the law, so maybe the police were the one thing around here he didn't have any control over.

"You don't know what color I'm wearing," she said through gritted teeth.

"Yeah I do. I can see up your skirt."

"I'm not wearing a skirt!"

"You want me to tell her that too?"

"I'm wearing pants!"

"Yeah, but Tone don't know that." Faith started typing in a reply.

"Stop calling her Tone! And don't you dare send anything back."

With sudden dread, Buffy cut her eyes to the right and flinched when she saw the look Faith was giving her. One of pity for the fool. Damn it, she'd used the magic word! Faith hit send. Buffy groaned.

"You know you forced me to do that, right?" Faith grinned.

"I know." Buffy groaned again. "What did you say?"

Faith just kept grinning. "Follow the road ahead when we get past the bridge."

"Faith?"

"It's a nice street we're heading for. What exactly are we gonna be doing there?"

"Faith?" Buffy whined, wondering whether to mount the pavement just to shake Faith from her sudden smugness. "Tell me, please?"

She needed to know if she was in trouble so she could prepare her defense before speaking to Toni later. Any other disagreement she had with her girlfriend wouldn't have called for any panic, but when Faith was involved...

There was a little jingle that Buffy recognized with horror as the sound of her cell receiving another text. Smiling, Faith read it. Quickly her eyebrows went up and her smile turned leerish. She nodded appreciatively.

"What did she say?" Buffy asked timidly.

"That if I ever pretend to be you again she'll kick my ass. Guess she knows you ain't got the balls to go commando. You want the next right, the one after that dress shop. She also said something about me not even thinking about your panties if I know what's good for me." Faith chuckled, still fiddling with the phone. "Like that's gonna happen... or not gonna happen, whichever... Pictures, score!"

Buffy pulled up outside a fancy restaurant and snatched the phone back, narrowly missing spearing her eye on an umbrella spoke. It was a front tire on the curb this time. She cut the engine as she looked at her phone, noting with dismay the photo Faith had been ogling. Toni was all kindsa naked in that one. She checked Faith had told the truth about the text message next - she had - and then backhanded the other slayer across the arm as she got out of the Mini.

"Hey! Ow!" Faith flinched away, laughing. "Don't take your shame out on me, girlfriend. If you're gonna have porn on your phone, at least have the balls to own it."

"I do. There is no shame. I just don't like you perving on my girlfriend." Buffy got out of the car and locked it up. Pretty pointless seeing as the roof was still down, but she did it anyway. "And I have the stones to go commando if I want to; Toni just knows that I wouldn't when I'm with you."

"Really? I have a hard time believing you'd ever leave the house without your underwear firmly glued on. No offense, babe, but you might have mastered the art of muff-diving, but you're still about as vanilla as a girl can come." Faith winked and then looked around the restaurant they were entering. "No pun intended. Man, me and Troy have eaten here a few times, this place is expensive! What are we doing here?"

"I'm not quite as inhibited as you seem to think I am, you know."

"If you say so." Faith shrugged.

"I could go change into something more commando-y right now if I wanted!"

"There's a restroom. Go for it."

Crap! "It'll be uncomfortable. I'll do it another time. When I'm wearing more appropriate pants."

"I'm wearing jeans too, B, and I'm not uncomfortable. In fact, I can highly recommend it." Faith wiggled her hips like it would help sell the idea.

Buffy groaned. "You're not wearing any right now, are you?"

"That's why I can give it my authentic seal of approval." Faith winked again. "So, you got any more excuses or are you ready to just admit you're chicken?"

Buffy stared at her, feeling her competitive side rising. She knew Faith was just pushing her buttons, but she still let it rile her every time. Because the riling just felt so good; like pure adrenaline sizzling just under her skin. She was as bad at backing down from a dare as the other slayer was, but luckily, the maitre'd finally came over, saving her from having to go in the restroom and take her panties off. Something she really didn't want to do, because, hello: panties invented for a reason. Not to mention Toni would kill her if she somehow found out.

Buffy introduced herself to the Maitre'd and explained why they were there, trying not to think about Faith's underwearlessness.

Faith frowned, confused, as they were lead through a door, along a narrow corridor and into a very white medium sized dining hall with French windows and lots of lace. "Uh, they know my wedding's not for another six weeks yet, right? And nowhere near here for that matter."

"Yep, they know. We're just here to discuss menus," Buffy explained, heading for a long table near the windows.

"So we're not actually gonna eat?" Faith sounded disappointed.

"Oh, we'll be eating, Effie." Buffy smirked, sitting down and beckoning with her finger. "Come over here."

Faith raised her eyebrows as she wandered over, leering playfully. "Thought we decided that was off the menu? But whatever."

"We're not eating that." Buffy rolled her eyes and resisted the urge to smack Faith again. After all, she only did it as an excuse to touch her and that just wasn't healthy.

"What's gotten into you just recently? You're hornier than a... than a... help me out, what's really horny?"

"Me!" Faith griped, sitting down in the cushioned metal chair next to her. "It's this damn wedding. The closer it gets the more I want to fuck anything that moves!"

"Okay, now I don't know whether to sit really still or jump around a bit." Buffy smirked.

"You could try helping me."

"So you want me to jump around?"

"No, Doofus. I meant you could talk me through it or something."

"I'm pretty sure you can do anything that moves without needing me to issue pointers."

"Are you deliberately being dense about this?"

Buffy nodded, because she was. She had to be. Being understanding would hurt and this whole wedding thing was torture enough without giving Faith advice on how to deal with her horniness. She was on her own there; just like Buffy was. There was only so much she could take. She had her limits and already felt pushed to them. This was just one best friend duty too far...

Except now Faith put her sad face on. Her eyes gloomy and doleful, her lips a dark red rainbow, her eyebrows unusually restive, her nose... okay, this was just getting silly.

Buffy sighed. "Have you tried... you know?"

"You know?" Faith frowned deeper.

"Doing it for... uh, like, you know?" Buffy asked, blushing.

"Masturbating you mean?" Faith was grinning again. "Oh sure, B. You're a regular vixen. You can't even say the word mastur...?"

"I can say it," Buffy interrupted her. "I'm just trying not to think it too hard in the context of you!"

"Good excuse."

"It's not an excuse!"

"Prove it."

"Fine. Masturbation. Masturbation. Masturbation. Masturba...!" Buffy gulped to a stop as she realized there were three waiters in the room with them, bringing trays of food to the table. "Oh God." She buried her head in her hands for a second, whispering, "You think there's any chance they didn't hear me?"

"Well you were pretty much shouting it." Faith was, unsurprisingly, laughing her ass off. "But, look on the bright side, they probably didn't understand ya."

"That's true." Feeling better, Buffy stood up ready to practice her bad Italian as she sorted out the arrangements for the afternoon. "Bonojono."

The lead waiter grinned at her. "G'day, how's it goin'?"

Buffy's face dropped; Faith's laughter ratcheted up a notch.

"You're not Italian?"

"What gave it away?" he asked, setting two heavily laden silver trays on to the table in front of her.

"Oh, the Australian accent," she said weakly and then pulled herself together, because hiding beneath the lacy tablecloth until he went away wasn't an option. Faith didn't even know what they were doing here, plus she probably wasn't going to stop laughing until sometime next week. "So, any chance you have really bad hearing?"

"'Fraid not. So it's lucky for you, you'se guys are such high paying customers." He grinned some more. "'Cause it means I'm not allowed to ask why you're so juiced on the word masturbation." He winked at her.

"I'm not juiced on it!"

"I am," Faith said, still laughing a little.

The waiter gave her a keen look. "In that case, how's about...?"

"She's the bride!" Buffy blurted.

"So that means you're not married yet?" he asked, casually hopeful.

She saw Faith give the guy an appraising look and liking what she saw. Buffy couldn't blame her. With his blonde hair, blue eyes and easy smile he was... hot. She was worried she might have to run interference here, considering Faith's admission earlier, but at least the natural jealousy she felt at the way Faith was looking at him would make it easier than if she'd been saving her virtue - such as it was - for just Troy.

"Not yet." Faith smiled. "But you're out of luck, dude. Any pre-marital naughtiness I have is gonna be with my Maid of Honor."

Buffy's breath caught in her throat, making her cough.

"No worries; she's a lucky woman, whoever she is." He winked before turning to Buffy again. "This is the range of starters we do, but if you have something specific in mind that ain't here, our chef''ll give it a go. We'll be back in a while with the main courses. These here are the wine lists." He handed over two menus backed in green velvet. "Take a look at these. The boss said you wanted two red and two white, so just point to what you wanna try and Gregorio here'll get them for ya."

Buffy was still spluttering slightly, but Faith was getting the gist of it now. A few moments later they were all alone again.

"Tasting session, B? Wicked." Faith pulled a random tray closer and tucked a fork into whatever the hell it was.

"Faith!"

"Yeah?" Faith asked, chewing.

"Pre-marital naughtiness with your Maid of Honor?" Buffy asked in distress, unable to believe Faith could chew so casually after saying something like that. "I'm your Maid of Honor!"

"I know. Had to say something to put him off." Faith finished chewing and picked up another forkful of the same dish. "This is not bad. Don't know what it is, but it's not bad."

"You couldn't have just said no?" There was still a certain amount of splutter in her voice.

"He seemed like a nice guy. I was trying to let him down easy."

"What about letting me down easy?"

"Relax, B. You know I didn't mean it. Try some food."

Buffy picked up her fork, but didn't do anything else with it. She was too upset to eat. And she knew that was stupid. They were past this, it was her that had made that clear, and things had been going great ever since she had. She and Faith were closer than they had ever been, ever, and that was great, but in some ways - ways she tried not to think about - that just made life so much harder. And little throwaway comments about pre-marital naughtiness made that harder sting.

Realizing Buffy was staring into space, Faith put down her fork and turned to her. "I'm sorry."

"What?"

"I'm sorry. I didn't think it would bother you. We've been messing with each other all day, all week in fact. I just..."

"It's okay."

"Well, obviously it's not."

"No, it is." Buffy said, and somehow Faith's apology made that almost true. "I'm fine, it's just, nothing, doesn't matter." She dug her fork into the same dish Faith was trying. "So where were we? Oh right, masturbation." She managed a smirk.

"Been there, tried that," Faith groaned. "Every second I'm alone or so it seems anyway."

"Really?" Buffy ordered herself not to think too much about that; and then, deciding she'd been doing way more taking than giving today, she smirked full-strength. "Well, how about thinking of me while you're doing it? That might take more of the edge off than Troy can manage."

Faith picked up her fork again, chuckling. "Been there, tried that..."

"Oh." Now Buffy couldn't help but think too much about it, and she didn't actually try and stop herself either. After a few moments, she asked, "How come you always win at this game?"

Faith didn't have to ask what she meant. "I don't. I'm just better at not letting you know when I lose."

"Right." Buffy nodded, not believing her for a second. "So where's Troy anyway? Why isn't he just boinking you through this difficult time?"

"Tunisia."

"Excuse me?"

"It's in Africa, I think." Faith shrugged and pulled another dish towards her, poking her fork into its leafy depths without much interest.

"He's gone away again? Already? Does he not like your company or something?" Buffy grinned.

Faith flicked up some red cabbage and it smacked wetly against her forehead. Grimacing, Buffy picked it off and let it drop to the table cloth.

"He's trying to get as much of his traveling done as he can before the wedding," Faith explained. "That way we get to spend a month in bed after with no interruptions."

Buffy grimaced again. "How come he travels so much anyway?"

"He's a busy guy."

"Busy doing what?"

Faith shrugged. "So are the invitations all done?"

"Aren't you curious?"

"Well, yeah, that's why I'm asking."

"Not about the invites. About what Troy's up to."

Faith sighed. "He's not up to anything, B. He's just doing his job."

"Well, what's his job?" Buffy pushed.

She hadn't meant to get into a big Troy conversation right now; in fact she'd been leaving those alone as much as possible recently because it felt like fate was sealed on that score. But Faith being so blasé about Troy's frequent flyer habits revved her curiosity right back up. Either Faith was trying to hide something from her or Troy was hiding something from Faith.

"I thought his job was being a student, with some archaeology moonlighting on the side?"

Faith chewed up a mouthful of salad distastefully and pushed the dish away from her. "Who eats this crap as a starter? It is, but he does a bunch of other stuff too."

"Like what?"

"Like, runs Rome for one thing, ya know, behind the scenes. Plus a few other places. And then there's his charity work..."

"He does charity work?" Buffy laughed, grabbing a different dish herself. "Like making soup for homeless people and rescuing stray kittens?"

"That and more," Faith said seriously. "His family has a lot of responsibilities around here, but he's the only one who really gives a crap anymore. Imagine it like if you, Red and Giles all gave up the Scooby business and Xander was left to do it all. He'd be running around trying to do his bit and all the shit he shouldn't ever have to do too, right? Well, it's like that, only bigger."

"Xander doesn't have god powers," Buffy said without thinking. Realizing what had slipped out, she looked up at Faith guiltily.

Faith cracked a smile. "He told me he told you. Glad he did. Keeping it a secret was getting to be a bitch."

"So why didn't you just tell me?"

"Not my place. So what do you think?"

"About you marrying a god?"

Faith nodded.

Buffy side-stepped the question. "So what's he god of, anyway?"

"Huh?"

"Well, he's a Greek god, right? They always have a designation, don't they? Like... like God of Wine, or God of Smart People, or God of War... Faith, please don't tell me he's God of War."

"Okay, I won't." Buffy's eyes went wide, Faith rolled hers. "He's not."

"So?"

Now it was Faith's turn to side-step a question. "Well, like I said, these days he's God of Pretty Much Everything."

Buffy had the sudden joyous feeling that whatever he was God of was pretty humiliating. Like he was the God of Carrots or the God of Head Lice.

"Why are you smiling like that?"

Buffy looked even guiltier now as she snapped her eyes back to Faith, but she didn't quite lose her smile. "I just really like this pickled olive thing."

Faith regarded her suspiciously but eventually said, "Like it enough to go on the menu?"

Buffy rolled the last olive in her mouth around her tongue - Faith watched her - as she decided. Finally squashing it between her back teeth, she said, "Nah. I vote for the first one."

"Still two more to try." Faith pulled the furthest dishes closer and deposited one in front of Buffy and one in front of herself. "Pick some wine."

"You're supposed to be choosing."

"You know wine better than me. Pick a few red and a few white and I'll tell you which ones I like the best."

"Good teamwork," Buffy murmured as she browsed the wine menu and forked up some of the starter in front of her too. Popping some in her mouth, she chewed and smiled. "Oh, this one's good."

"What is it?"

Buffy looked at the name tag stuck to the side of the dish. "Feta and Broccoli."

Faith's nose wrinkled. "What're the green bits?"

"Well, it's just a guess, but I'd say they're the broccoli."

Faith's nose stayed wrinkled, "Yeah, I don't think so."

"Why not?" Buffy asked in dismay. It was really good.

Faith just shook her head and forked in a mouthful of the slimy-looking dish in front of her. She groaned in appreciation. "Now this is the shit!"

"Yeah, looks like it." Buffy nodded.

"This is going on the menu."

"What is it?" Buffy asked. Faith snatched the name card away before Buffy could get a look, making her automatically wary. "Come on, what is it?"

"Try it." Faith had another mouthful herself and then held a forkful out towards Buffy.

"Not until you tell me what it is."

"Don't be a baby, just try it." Faith moved the fork closer and Buffy leaned away.

"No!" The smell was already letting her know she wasn't going to like it.

"Try it," Faith said again. "Seriously, you'll love it."

If she leaned back anymore her chair was going to topple over backwards. "Faith, grow up...!"

As she opened her mouth to speak, Faith pushed the fork closer and she felt the metal, warm from Faith's mouth, prod her upper lip. Strong fishy juice landed on her tongue and she almost gagged as she violently slapped Faith's hand away.

"That's... Faith!"

The force of the slap caused anchovies and vinaigrette to spray from the fork across the bright white table cloth. The fork shook, making the mess worse, as Faith giggled helplessly.

"Oh gross!" In the absence of napkins, Buffy lurched forward and wiped her mouth on the shoulder of Faith's expensive jacket.

"Uh, what's gross?" Faith asked pointedly as she leaned to one side and swatted Buffy away.

"You are!" Buffy insisted. "For putting those things near me, and in your mouth. How could you?"

Faith shrugged and ate another gigantic forkful. "They're delicious, and they're going on the menu."

"No, that's not fair." Buffy shook her head, still willing the taste from her mouth.

"I thought I got to choose the menu?" Faith grinned.

"Yeah, but you're the only person who likes..."

"Actually," Faith interrupted. "Your..."

Buffy re-interrupted. "Okay, you and Dawn are the only two people in the world who like anchovies."

"Actually..." Faith began again.

"No," Buffy said simply.

"They're on the menu, B. Deal with it." When Buffy harrumphed into silence with her arms crossed, Faith added. "You can have your stupid cheesy broccoli thing too."

Buffy looked hopeful. "Really?"

"Yeah, can't imagine anyone but you wanting to eat it though."

Buffy thought about it. Between the Feta and Broccoli and the nasty Anchovy Surprise, there might be a lot of guests going without a starter.

"Maybe we should get the first one too, you know, just to be on the safe side."

"Good call."

Smiling at each other, they both finished up their respective favorites. The doors opened again just as they were on their last mouthfuls.

"Everything going okay in here, ladies?"

"Sure." Faith grinned at the Australian stud and started giving her decisions.

Confident there was nothing to worry about on that front now - except for perhaps Faith only ordering the anchovy badness - Buffy focused on Gregorio and pointed to her wine choices on the menu. There were six altogether. Three were her favorites and the other three were the most expensive on the list. She wondered about the sense of wine-tasting when they had the car outside, but it wasn't like they were going to be drinking every bottle; just testing a mouthful of each to see which Faith liked best.

The waiters disappeared again, taking the used dishes and silver-ware with them. Once they were alone, Buffy stared at the streak of anchovies left across the table cloth and wondered what they must have thought.

"So the invites?" Faith prompted.

"Oh right. They're all done. At least..."

"All of them?" Faith sounded happily surprised. "Shit, B, you must have spent days doing them. Thanks. I owe ya one."

"Actually, I got Dawn and Andrew to do most of them," she admitted. "I bribed them with the promise of a night out clubbing."

"Cool."

"They're all ready to go. You can pick them up when you drop me off."

"Cool." Faith said again.

"I did notice one thing, though."

"What's that?" Faith fiddled with a fresh fork as she tilted her head to Buffy.

"They are all for Troy's friends and family."

"Yeah, so?"

"Well... what about yours?" Buffy asked uncomfortably. She'd wanted to bring this up for a couple of weeks but no time had seemed like the right time.

Faith suddenly looked uncomfortable too. "Well, you're coming. And Dawn and Andy know they're welcome, right?"

"I think they're wondering."

"Why they gotta wonder?"

"Well, they haven't actually written out invites for themselves." Buffy said gently.

Faith sat back in her chair, chucking softly and shaking her head. "So get them to write 'em! There's spare invites, right?"

"Fifty of them." Buffy nodded.

"Fifty?"

"We can do more," Buffy said quickly.

"Why would I want more than fifty spare invites?"

Buffy sat back herself now, biting her lip slightly as she figured the best way to forge ahead. Sitting forward again, leaning more towards Faith, she said, "You haven't invited anyone."

Faith blinked at her.

"Anyone!" Buffy stressed. "Except me, and I don't really count."

"You're the only one that counts," Faith said quietly, looking at her fork.

Buffy took a second to digest that comment, knowing it didn't really help, but basking in it anyway.

"What about Willow? Xander? Giles? Kennedy even?"

"They can come if they want. Be nice if they came even, but..." Faith shrugged

"So why didn't you want to send them an invite?" Buffy asked carefully.

"I don't wanna make them feel obligated."

"Obligated?" Buffy sat back in her chair again, not getting it. "They're your friends; they're supposed to feel obligated."

"Are they?" Faith muttered, still fascinated with her shiny fork.

"Well yeah, at least sixty percent of friendship is obligation, but because it's friends making you be all obliging, nobody notices..." Faith was looking like she was going to stab her with the fork. "What?"

"Are they my friends?"

She accentuated every word, but it didn't help Buffy understand.

"Are they...? Of course. Why wouldn't they be?"

The waiters trooped back in carrying the selected wine bottles and various main courses to try. Buffy spared them a glance as they set the stuff on the table. Faith didn't; not even when the hot Australian tried to catch her eye.

"Thanks," Buffy said as they left and pulled a couple of the dishes closer to them.

Faith ignored them and went straight for the wine. She seemed very tense now and the large glass of wine she poured for herself was probably a bad sign. Buffy twirled her fork in some spaghetti, but didn't eat any, waiting to see what Faith was going to say.

"Didn't think they'd want anything more to do with me."

"Why would you think that?"

Faith took a long swallow of her wine, and then another one. Buffy thought about telling her the point was to taste it, not drown in it, but another look at her downcast eyes dissolved the sarcasm.

"Faith, talk to me."

"It's no big deal. Send 'em invites if you think they'll want them. " Faith shrugged indifferently but Buffy wasn't buying it.

"Why don't you think they'll want them?"

"Why would they?" Faith asked irritably.

"Why wouldn't they?" Buffy countered, bending her neck trying to meet Faith's eyes.

"I left, B! I... left!"

Buffy nodded. "Yeah, I kinda worked that one out when I found myself living in Rome. Not sure how it's relevant right now though."

"Of course it's relevant. I walked away from them, no, I ran away from them..."

"I thought you ran away from me?" Buffy interrupted, her tone pure innocence.

Faith looked at her for a long time before answering slowly. "I did, I guess, but that makes it worse. I ditched them because of you. Xander and Willow are the only real friends I ever had; and I know how fucking weird that sounds considering it wasn't long ago we hated each other's guts, but its true. I never had friends that actually cared back in Boston, and I sure as shit didn't have any in prison, and those two... all they know how to fucking do is care, ya know?"

"I know," Buffy nodded, smiling. "It's caused me trouble more than once."

"And Giles. He gave me a place to live and a job when he really shoulda just sent my ass back to prison and I repay him by cutting out and disappearing for months. You can't tell me he's not pissed as hell at me. Why would any of them wanna come and celebrate the fact that I deserted them without a second thought?"

"Well, for starters, they'll be coming to celebrate your marriage, not the other thing. And besides, none of them are mad at you for leaving. They're just mad at me for driving you away."

"Really?" Faith gave a hesitant smile.

"Really. They know what happened, they saw what happened. They get why you didn't feel you could home again. Better than I do," Buffy muttered mostly to herself.

"So they think you're the psycho and I'm the innocent victim?" Faith smiled properly. "Cool."

"Thanks."

"Well, you did drive me away." Faith grinned and finished her glass of wine. "Hey, this one's not bad."

Buffy already knew that, it was one of her favorites after all. Remembering that, she finally poured herself a glass, but a smaller one than Faith's. One that was easy to down in one go...not that she'd meant to. Oh well.

"I didn't drive you away, your own insecurities did."

Faith stared at her with her mouth open for a minute, the retort easy to see on the tip of her tongue, but then she ducked her head. "Maybe it was a combination."

Wow, honesty for once. Buffy let her irritation go. She'd been hoping for an apology for being made to look the bad guy when she really wasn't... well not totally anyway, but this would do.

"So invites for the gang?" she said.

"Yeah, if you really think they'll wanna come. It's a long way."

"I'm sure Giles can put all the flights on Council expenses. If the people back in England query it he can always say there was an imminent apocalypse in Europe. He loves saying that anyway, and it's not like the rest of the Council actually take an active interest in them these days."

"Okay, so get Andy to write one out for Giles, Xander and Red, plus partners... that includes Ken then too, right? If she wants to come."

"Actually," Buffy smiled. "If Kennedy comes, it'll probably be to stop the wedding."

Faith frowned. "What? Why?"

"She thinks you should be with me."

Actually, now that the prophecy was changed, maybe she didn't care anymore, but it was still worth mentioning, just to see Faith doing goldfish face.

As always, she got it together quick. "Take a bigger slayer than her to make that happen. Invite her anyway."

Ouch! Buffy finally got around to putting the spaghetti in her mouth; with all the twirling she'd done it nearly didn't fit. Once she'd finished chewing, Faith reached out a thumb to wipe a blob of white sauce from the side of her lips.

"Ya eat like an animal," she teased, licking the sauce from her thumb. "Tastes good."

"How do you know I wasn't saving that for later?" Buffy returned, trying to cover the fact that the gesture had turned her on. "You don't pay me that much. You could have just licked my dinner off your thumb."

"Gee, sorry. Let me make it up to you."

Buffy was busy trying to twirl up some more spaghetti and didn't register Faith's thumb swiping through the white sauce until it was smeared from one side of her mouth to the other.

"Hey!" Buffy pulled her head back, licking it from her lips.

"What? I thought you wanted to keep some for later." Faith smirked wickedly, sticking her thumb in the dish again. "Here, have dessert too."

Buffy gasped as a blob of the warm, creamy sauce was flicked in her face. "Faith?" She flinched as another blob hit her. "What are you doing?"

As sauce dripped slowly off of the end of her nose, Faith started looking repentant. Sort of. "Sorry, B, my..."

Still looking stern, Buffy flicked her fork just right and a long piece of spaghetti sailed through the air. It hit Faith from left cheek to right eyebrow with a splat and it was her turn to look shocked.

At the direct hit Buffy began to grin. "You were saying?"

The spaghetti started sliding down Faith's face, leaving a creamy trail behind it before she had the presence of mind to pick it off. She held it up between her finger and thumb and Buffy watched her warily, wondering what she was going to do with it.

She didn't have to wait long. The spaghetti, still dripping sauce although most of it was on Faith's face, was thrown towards the top of her head.

"Not my hair!" Buffy was too late and the spaghetti stuck, blending in with the blonde and hanging over one eye like an errant strand in need of trimming. "You are so paying for that!"

"I am, huh?" Faith grinned evilly as she picked up the whole dish of Spaghetti Carbonara.

Buffy's eyes widened.

"Okay, let's be sensible. There's no need to take this too far, Faith. The idea is to taste the food, not wear it, after all. Just put the dish down, Faith. Faith? Faith! You..."

Faith darted forward and Buffy raised her hands high, hoping to stop most of it from landing on her head, leaving herself defenseless when Faith pulled the open collar of her shirt out and dumped the entire contents of the bowl inside.

"...Bitch!" Buffy yelled in disbelief, jumping up as the squishy food landed on her bare skin.

Sauce pooled in her bra and the spaghetti rolled or dribbled all the way down her tummy to fall and splatter on the carpet.

"Hey, B, you dropped you're supper," Faith laughed, pointing at it. "Better pick it up. Don't want you going hungry... Hey!"

Buffy discarded the empty risotto dish, laughing at the pyramid of rice balanced on Faith's head. "Not so funny now, is it?"

Faith grabbed a handful of the sludgy rice from her head and regarded it closely for a second before flinging it at Buffy.

"Ow!" Who knew rice could sting like that when it hit you full in the face.

"Nope, still funny."

"You're dead!" Buffy assured her, reaching for the first dish she could grab.

"Try it!" Faith grinned, also grabbing something from the table.

They went in for the attack at the same time. Buffy's chair was knocked backwards against the window, Faith's nearly tripped her as Buffy pushed into her personal space with a plate held high. Even as she tried to push her advantage, Faith somehow ducked around and deposited a large metal bowl over her.

Buffy went instantly on tiptoes, cringing as a handful of meatballs bounced off of her head and gloopy tomato sauce coated her hair. Faith looked shocked herself, trying and failing to keep her giggles in check as she looked at the mess she had made.

Shaking it off, literally, Buffy lunged forward again and tried to drop the contents of her dish over Faith, but when the brunette fought back, she switched tactics and gripped the front of her jeans. There wasn't as much give in the denim as there had been in her shirt, but she still managed to pour the lot in before Faith could break away.

"Ouch, ouch, ouch!" It was Faith's turn to go up on tiptoe, grimacing. "Roasted vegetables, kinda hot!"

"Still think going commando is so great?"

"Actually, aside from the burnin', feels nice."

Buffy rolled her eyes. "Glad you're enjoying it... 'Cause the soup is going in next!"

As she picked up the bowl, Faith made a grab for it too and the hot bean soup sloshed out of the bowl and over their hands.

"Give it!"

"I had it first!"

"My wedding soup - give it!"

Inevitably, it seemed, both their hands, slippery with soup, lost purchase on the bowl and it flipped into the air, drenching them both. For a split second they looked at each other in surprise, then down at the thick, orangey liquid dripping from their clothes... and then Buffy started pelting her with Gnocchi.

Faith shielded herself from the storm at first, but then realizing the doughy balls didn't hurt, walked into the barrage grabbing another plate herself.

"Oysters, B." Faith hitched her eyebrows a few times. "Not sure I wanna waste these on your head."

"Good!" Having run out of pellets and with no dishes left close enough to the edge of the table, Buffy had no choice but to back up. "'Cause I can safely say I don't want them on my head."

She wrinkled her nose at the slimy mollusks swimming in their shells and then thought 'Uh oh' when her ass hit the edge of the table.

Faith crowded her, whipping the plate away with a "Nuh-uh" when Buffy tried to grab it. "Think I'll make you eat 'em instead!"

"No!" Buffy leaned back over the table to get away, but that just gave Faith the opportunity to trap her there with her body. "Noooo!"

"Open up, B. You think my little problem's funny, huh? A tray of these and you'll be as horny as me."

"I already am as gah gaf guh..." Faith tipped the first oyster in and it was a case of choke or swallow. "... Ugh, I was talking!"

"What do they taste like?"

"Uh, not too ba ahh aff ulg... Faith!" Buffy struggled, trying to get away, but she was pinned to the table. "Do that aga agg ah gah... I hate you."

"No you don't." Faith grinned down at her. "Feeling horny yet?"

Buffy tried using her hands to push herself backwards across the table, but only succeeded in planting her palm in another slippery dish. "I was trying to tell you..."

As Faith raised another oyster to her mouth, Buffy preempted her and slapped her in the face with a big handful of lasagna. "Hah!" She rubbed the pasta sheets around gleefully, spreading the red sauce over as much of Faith's face as she could. When she let go, the pasta stayed there.

"As I was saying, I'm already as horny as you. Hornier. You're fiancé has been gone five minutes. I haven't seen my girlfriend since June. Do you have any idea how long it's been since I last had sex?"

The pasta sheet finally fell from Faith's face, flopping onto Buffy's chest. They both looked at it for a beat before meeting each others eyes. "Well, kinda, I was there."

"What? Oh..." Buffy had forgotten that in the heat and hilarity of the moment. "Right. Stupid me. So you know it's been a long time; and that's why you don't get to whine just because you haven't had any since yesterday."

"It was the day before," Faith said, like that made a big difference. "Besides, it's not like you're going without. You and Tone are having phone-sex and text-sex and cyber-sex all the time, right?" She didn't sound happy about it.

"It's hardly the same thing and you know it."

Plus, the thought of cyber-sex hadn't even crossed her mind. Toni's apartment had the internet. Did she have a web cam too? Because that had possibilities.

"I don't know, I expect her dirty talk is about as satisfying as she is in bed. Actually, probably more." Faith smirked.

Buffy made the mistake of not answering. She was trying to take the moral high ground, but Faith just saw it as confirmation.

"I knew it," she laughed.

Buffy rolled her eyes. "You know nothing."

"Know I'm gonna rub this lasagna all over your face now."

Buffy caught her hands and held them out to the sides. "Oh, yeah? How you gonna do that?"

Faith swooped down and rubbed her face over Buffy's. Their lips brushed together a couple of times, but she kept her mouth firmly shut as she tried to wriggle her face away and not laugh.

"Stop it!" She mumbled, not really meaning it but feeling it should be said anyway. "Or else."

Faith pulled away, but only an inch; she was still close enough to lick sauce from her nose should Buffy feel so inclined.

"Or else what?" Faith whispered.

"Or else..." Oh God, she was feeling so inclined right now. "Crap, I think those oysters are kicking in!"

Faith started laughing, but then stopped almost at once when she realized Buffy wasn't sharing the mirth. "Oh."

It wasn't the oysters, they both knew that. It had way more to do with the way Faith was leaning over her, pressing into her. The way they were looking into each other's eyes, warm breath on each other's lips.

"Why does this never feel awkward until it's too late?" Faith murmured.

"Because it never is." Buffy's breathing had picked up, Faith's matched it. "Until it's too late."

"Are you feeling awkward right now?"

"It's not high on the list of things I'm feeling right now."

"So it's not too late then?"

Buffy gave a small shake of her head. "Not yet."

"So we should...not?"

"Probably," Buffy said reluctantly.

"Do you want to... not?"

That wasn't fair, putting this decision on her. Buffy held herself still for as long as possible, but then couldn't help the barely perceptible shake of her head.

Faith didn't ask twice. Her lips tasted of lasagna and wine and forbidden memories and Buffy could happily dine from them forever. She opened her mouth to Faith's tongue and anchovies had never tasted this good before. It was embarrassing how quickly she lost her mind with Faith every time, but it was impossible to care when they were this close. Risotto fell from Faith's head onto her closed eyes like heavy rain as her sauce-sticky hands slipped roughly into Faith's hair.

They kissed for minutes before they had to break for air. Breathing heavy, staring into Faith's eyes, wanting to never stop, Buffy felt her conscience returning... and hated it.

"We never did get to finish our last time," Faith breathed into her ear.

'Oh God' Buffy closed her eyes tight, willing the strength to... what? Stop or keep going? If she didn't even know what she wanted...? No, she knew what she wanted, she just couldn't have it.

Faith was using her tongue to clean up the meatball sauce that had dribbled down her neck now and it felt so good. Buffy had seconds if she was going to stop this before she lost it completely... so what was she gonna do?

Sliding her hands around to Faith's cheeks, she pulled her into another deep kiss, feeling that 'jumping off a cliff' sensation she always felt when their lips touched. Exhilarated, terrified, free. It wasn't their most romantic kiss, but it was one of their hottest, and probably their longest.

She only pulled away when she felt Faith's hand slide between them, fingers sure of themselves as they pulled open the button on her jeans and started to slide the zipper down.

"No."

"What?"

Buffy opened her eyes to see the surprise on Faith's face. "I said no."

"Okay," Faith said, but didn't move her hand. "Why?"

"Because... as much as I want to follow those roasted vegetables into your pants right now," Buffy grinned shakily, "you don't get to have your Greek yogurt and eat me too."

"Really?" Buffy nodded. "Damn. Not even a taste?"

"Not unless you plan to take me away and love me forever," Buffy quipped.

Faith didn't even take time to consider it. "Well, that blows."

"If it bothers you that much..."

"You know I can't," Faith guessed what she was going to say and cut her off. "Just why'd ya have to go and pick this minute to decide we're over?"

"Excuse me?" Buffy scoffed. "Who decided?"

"Hey, I just said we could never be a couple; I never said we couldn't fool around from time to time."

"Yes you did!"

"Yeah, well what I say and what I mean aren't always the same thing. I mean, I'm getting married, and I love Troy; there's certain things I've gotta say or else it's all just bullshit, ya know?" Faith's hands slid to Buffy's waist under her shirt. She looked down, hesitating, before earnestly meeting Buffy's eyes again. "Then there's you. And sometimes, I think about never getting to kiss you or touch you or, ya know, see you naked again and...I can't even breathe. It's, I don't know, it's like I have a panic attack or something."

Buffy studied her face - still only inches from her own - silently for nearly a minute. "Okay, before I embarrass myself in any way, how much of that was you talking and how much of it was your pussy?"

Faith immediately moved back a little, looking hurt by the accusation. When Buffy just raised an eyebrow, she caved, grinning.

"Fine. I'm coming seriously close to giving a roasted parsnip the ride of its life here." She wiggled her ass slightly. "You can't blame me for trying for something better."

"I'm flattered, really," Buffy deadpanned.

"Hey, you're the one who said you wanted to be my mistress," Faith reminded her. "I've held up my end of the deal. I take you out, I give you money, I rent you an apartment." Faith squeezed her sides in a tickling way, making Buffy laugh and squirm against her. "So when are you gonna start acting mistressy?"

"It's Toni's apartment and you didn't want a mistress, remember?"

"Maybe I changed my mind."

"Maybe that's just too bad, 'cause so did I. I'm not scrounging for Troy's leftovers..."

"Hey!"

"...and I'm not being your wild ride on the side, either. I deserve better than that and Toni deserves for me to be better than that too."

"So this is about Toni?"

"Partly."

"You'd really rather masturbate over the phone with her tonight, than have the real thing right here with me now?" Faith asked seductively.

No, no she wouldn't. Buffy tried not to show any outward signs of the increasing tension between her legs. It would be so easy to give in; it felt natural to give in, to pull her shirt over her head, to lie back on the table, to wrap her legs around Faith's hips...

It would have been too easy, for Faith that was.

Smiling, Buffy put her arms loosely around Faith's neck.

"That's the thing, Effie. I could let you do me right here on this table, and it would no doubt be the hottest thing ever, but it wouldn't be real. When I call Toni later, and we're talking and laughing about, well, nothing really, just stuff and somehow we end up wading into sexy waters, it might not blow my mind... but it will be real."

Faith gave her an odd look, probably trying to suss out how serious she was. In the end, she gave a light grin. "So you really are willing to settle for second best?"

"I'm just following your lead, baby." She leaned up and placed a soft kiss on Faith's lips before releasing her neck. "Now move, I have spaghetti sauce congealing in my ears."

Laughing, Faith pushed away from her and looked up. "Aaaand, we have an audience."

"What?" Buffy turned sharply to see the waiters back, all standing just inside the door, staring in shock.

"What the hells been goin' on in here?" The head waiter stepped closer when he had their attention.

"Uh, I really don't think that's any of your business," she spluttered, going red as she tried to discreetly re-button her jeans.

"None of my... Look at the flaming mess!"

"Oh, that," Buffy brightened, joining him in looking around at the food... everywhere. It didn't take long for her to unbrighten again. "Um, okay, I can explain. We had a bit of a... a bit of a..."

""We're enthusiastic eaters," Faith said simply, reaching out and taking Buffy's hand.

She let herself be led across the room by Faith, more than happy to let her take point on explaining their regression back to kindergarten. Faith didn't even bother, she just stuck a hundred Euro note into the Australian's breast pocket.

"Should handle the clean up," she said. "Thanks for the feed."

He looked at the money and then at them as they kept going for the exit. "Hang on, what about the wedding?"

Faith let go of her hand, turned and jabbed a finger in his direction. "It's still on, right! So whatever you saw, or think you saw, just forget it. I even hear any rumors, I won't use a lawyer, I'll personally crush you like a bug, you got that?"

When he just stared at her, opened mouthed, Buffy murmured,

"He means what do you want on the menu, stupid."

"What? Oh right." Faith shrugged, glancing at Buffy. "Just put it all on there."

"All of it?" He exclaimed dubiously.

"Yeah, and then send your top chef guys over to cook it all on the day."

"I...I...I... okay," he stammered.

Buffy watched her as they made for the way out again. Occasionally food fell from their clothing or dropped from their heads to roll across the floor or be crushed under foot.

"What?"

"You were pretty fierce back there."

"Yeah," Faith smirked. "Well, you wouldn't even have second best if she picked up a newspaper tomorrow and read that Troy Athanasia's fiancé was spotted kissing a mysterious blonde woman."

"True." Buffy nodded her agreement. "In that case, thanks."

"No problem."

They walked out onto the wet street and hurried towards the mini. As they neared it, Faith body-slammed her against the side, nearly upending her into the pond-like back seat.

"Hey!"

"Not so fast, Blondie." Faith held her firmly with one hand and slipped the other deep into the tight pocket of her jeans.

"Oh yeah, 'cause groping a mysterious blonde in the street would never attract any attention!" Buffy groaned; hit with a fresh burst of intense arousal as Faith's hand probed the deepest recesses of her pocket.

"Not groping, fetching what's mine," Faith said.

Buffy felt something slide out of her pocket after Faith's hand. Then the car keys were dangling a few inches from her face and Faith had a triumphant look in her eyes.

"You've had nearly a bottle of wine to yourself," Buffy pointed out. "I only had a small glass."

Faith held her eyes challengingly for a few seconds but then quietly admitted defeat, "Damn!" She dropped the keys back into Buffy's waiting palm.

It was Buffy's turn to look triumphant as she unlocked the door and hopped in the soggy driver's seat. Faith's door was barely shut when the Mini screeched away from the curb.

"Wait! Wait! Wait!" Faith fumbled frantically with her seatbelt.

Buffy just laughed at her.

"Okay, seeing as I might die between here and your place," Faith said seriously, making Buffy look over. "I feel like I should make a confession."

"Okay," Buffy said slowly, bracing herself for whatever it might be.

"That panic attack feeling I mentioned, the one that hits me in the middle of the night when I've been dreaming about you... I wasn't just saying that because I wanted to fuck you. I mean, I was saying it because I wanted to fuck you, but, it's real, even if nothing else about us is anymore."

Buffy smiled softly at her, the rain hiding the tears in her eyes. "I get that feeling sometimes-" Every time she looked at her, for instance "-but it's not all we have. Our friendship feels pretty real to me these days too." She held out her right hand.

Faith took it, nodding and returning the smile, then her eyes widened dramatically.

"Buffy, road!"

"Oops." Buffy snatched her hand back from the tender moment to swerve the wheel back on course. "Sorry."


Chapter Nineteen

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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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