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 Nineteen: Looking For An Answer To It All

Buffy giggled as she looked first over her left shoulder and then her right.

"I can't believe I agreed to this," she whispered once her eyes were back on the computer monitor.

The whole screen was filled with Toni. There was hardly a glitch in the motion as she walked backwards, pulling her own computer closer to her bed in Japan.

"Agree to it... Buffy, you suggested it!"

"Okay." Buffy was still giggling. "I can't believe I suggested it!" She looked around again. "Hang on; I'm just going to close the curtains."

She swiveled the computer chair around and jumped up to dash across the room. She closed all the window curtains and the floor length one across the balcony door.

"Buffy, you are four stories up, no one can see in from the street!" Toni's laughter echoed from the computer speakers.

"I know," Buffy shouted. "But I'll feel more comfortable."

She came back to the computer chair and swiveled it around again. Her eyes went huge when she saw that Toni was already naked.

"Oh God!"

"Your turn," Toni purred, leaning back on her arms.

"Oh God!" Buffy repeated, grinning nervously. She fiddled with the belt on her robe and then looked around again. "I'm just gonna check I locked the door."

"You already did!" Toni cried after her, but she was already bolting away again.

It was locked up all secure and the chain was across, so even if someone had a key they couldn't get in without her help. Slowly, she walked back to the computer again.

"If you don't want to do this..." Toni began once she was sitting down.

"No, I do." She admired Toni's nakedness for a moment. "I really do. I just wish I'd asked Andrew to move the PC into your bedroom when I got him to set up the web cam."

"Relax, mia tesoro, you are alone; no one can get in... take off your robe."

Buffy smiled shyly, looking away for a moment as she steeled her nerves. "Okay."

With one last automatic look over her shoulder, she slowly started to undo her belt. Inch by inch her own nakedness was revealed and Toni sat forward again to watch hungrily. Buffy knew how she felt. It had been so long since they'd been together this way... okay so they'd never actually been together this way, but this was as close as they'd been to being together since Toni had left for Japan. It felt a little... a lot... weird to be undressing in front of a computer screen, but it was kinda hot in a kinky way too.

"You are so so perfect."

Buffy just smiled in response, but it gave her the courage to slip the robe completely from her shoulders.

They sat there just looking at each other for several moments, reminding themselves of what they had been missing. Eventually, Buffy couldn't help grinning.

"So now what do we do?"

"I... do not know," Toni admitted, smiling sheepishly. "I have never done anything like this before."

"Me neither, but it can't be that hard. Maybe we just... we just act like we're on the phone," Buffy suggested hesitantly. "But with the added bonus of visuals."

"Okay." Toni nodded slowly. Even more slowly she brought her hand up to cup her breast. "I am imagi... I am, uh... Do I have to describe what I am thinking if you can see me?"

Buffy frowned slightly. "I don't know. I guess that's pretty redundant." She thought for a second. "Here, let me try." She closed her eyes briefly as she cupped both of her breasts, playing her thumbs over her nipples. Opening her eyes again, she smiled at Toni. "I can't think of any dialogue right now, but is this working for you?"

"Si!" Toni grinned appreciatively. "Very much so."

"Cool, then let's just riff off each other."

"Riff?"

"Just do what I'm doing and we'll take it from there," Buffy clarified, fighting the urge to roll her eyes.

Sometimes the language barrier was just annoying, though that probably had more to do with her current self-consciousness and Troy's moron staff that she encountered daily than her girlfriend.

"Oh, okay."

Toni grasped and began to sensuously massage both of her breasts and there went Buffy's annoyance right out the window. She watched approvingly as Toni licked her fingers and then toyed with her nipples.

"You are not keeping up."

"What?" Buffy blurted, shaken from her staring. "Oh, right, sorry."

She licked the first two fingers of her right hand, circled her nipple once and then started to trail the hand downwards to make up for it. She was in the zone now; doing this, watching Toni do the same, she was horny and more than ready to follow this to its natural conclusion.

*Bling*

The computer made a funny noise and just as she was thinking 'Huh?' a small box appeared on the screen, and suddenly Willow was smiling at her.

"Hey, Buffy, thought I'd help you christen your... Oh Goddess!"

Buffy was already falling off the chair in an effort to scramble away and hide her nudity. "What the hell?"

"Buffy... Buffy..." Toni called out from the other side of the world, unaware of the intruder. "Are you okay? What are you doing?"

"Buffy! What are you doing?" Willow unconsciously echoed her.

"Oh God," Buffy muttered, trying to free her robe that was caught on the back on the swivel chair. "What are you doing?!"

"I, ah, I am rubbing my..." Toni began, obviously bemused by things, but maybe figuring Buffy had just gotten shy again.

"No!" Buffy shouted quickly. "Oh, God, please no!"

"What am I doing? I think what are you doing is a way funner question," Willow said with a giggle in her voice. "Care to tell me?"

A peek at the monitor showed her that Toni had stopped rubbing whatever she had been rubbing, and Buffy could guess all too well, and was leaning forward in concern. Willow's face was up close in her own little box, looking down and leaning this way and that as if she was looking through a window and not a web cam.

Trying to not to think about her best friend's eagerness to see, Buffy gave her robe one hard yank and it came free from the chair with a loud rip of the hem. Her face still burning with embarrassment, she pulled it on as fast as she could.

"Buffy, perhaps a glass of wine would relax you?" Toni suggested.

"Buffy, are you an internet stripper?" Willow accused playfully.

"That's a good idea and no!" Buffy answered both of them at the same time.

"Huh?" They both answered at the same time.

Buffy rolled her eyes and tied her belt extra tight before climbing back onto the seat in view of her own web cam once more.

Looking into Toni's confused eyes, she said, "Baby, can you hold on a minute? I have an unexpected guest."

"Ahh, I understand." Toni smiled now she realized what was going on. She sat back on her bed, still plenty naked, prepared to wait. "Approvazione."

"Did you just call me baby, Snookums?" Willow grinned at her.

Buffy rolled her eyes again, grinning herself. "No, I was talking to my expected guest, the one I was entertaining before you popped in."

"Toni, Faith or paying customer?" Willow waggled her eyebrows.

"Willow!" Buffy's eyes shot back to Toni, really hoping there was no way Willow's side of this conversation could carry over.

"Toni then," Willow surmised. "Well that's nice. I was worried all the... all the, you know, being in Rome and with Faith and stuff would ruin things between the two of you, but obviously it was a wasted worry, because here you are with the... the being without clothes."

"Yes, here we are," Buffy said pointedly. "I'm glad I was able to put your mind at rest, and not that it's not great to see you, but I am kinda busy."

"Is that Willow?" Toni suddenly asked excitedly. "Please say hello from me."

Buffy's eyes flicked from Willow's face to Toni. "You can't talk to my friends when you're naked!"

"Aww, is Toni naked too?" Willow cooed like it was the cutest thing ever.

Buffy shook her head at the ceiling. "This isn't happening."

Her cell phone rang as she spoke. She took a look at the caller id and muttered, "Any second now the Cheese Man is gonna knock on the door." Because, so far, this was kinda like a nightmare.

"Hang on," she said to the two people in her monitor as she answered the phone. "Hi. I don't wanna be abrupt, but now really isn't a good time."

"How come?"

Buffy thought about possible answers and then shrugged. "I was trying to have sex with my girlfriend via web cam and Willow decided to pop in, also via web cam."

"Cool! Were you nude?"

"Yep."

There was laughter on the line. "Wicked! Call me back, yeah?"

Buffy smiled. "Will do."

"Who was that?" Toni and Willow asked only seconds apart.

"Faith," she said as she put the phone down. Both of them looked disapproving, but she ignored it. "Look, Will, can I get back to you in a little while?" Her eyes flicked to Toni and she added, "Not that little of a while."

"Uh, you could, but this isn't really a social call."

"What do you mean?"

"I have some stuff you really need to hear; sooner rather than later, you know? And preferably in private." Willow shrugged apologetically.

Buffy sighed. Work stuff then. She'd been enjoying her break from that if she was honest.

"Okay. Toni, I'm sorry, but there's some stuff at home Willow needs me to deal with. Can we pick this back up later?"

Toni studied her for a few seconds before nodding. "Si. I am going out for dinner soon, but I will call you when I return. Unless you have made plans to see Faith later?" she asked a little suspiciously.

Buffy shook her head. "None that I know of. Who are you going out to dinner with?" she asked, just as suspiciously.

"A friend. Marco."

"Marco's a guy, right?" Buffy checked, hoping her light tone belied her qualms.

"Si."

"That's okay then." She grinned. "Call me when you get back. I don't know what time Dawn and Andrew are coming home, but I can always bribe them to go back out, far too easily in fact."

Toni smiled. "Ciao, cara."

"Ciao, cara," she echoed just before Toni disappeared from the screen.

"Oh, you two are just so sweet together!" Willow made an exaggerated gooey face. "Why can't you live happily ever after?"

"Who says we can't?" Buffy shrugged as she clicked the button to make Willow's box appear full screen.

"Um... I'm not going there." Willow grinned.

"Okay." Buffy shrugged again. "Where are you going?"

Willow took a deep breath. "You're going to like this... unfortunately."

Buffy frowned. "What am I going to like and why unfortunately? Toni says hello by the way."

"Oh, hey! Oh, I guess that's a little late. It is too late, right? Because you really don't want her to hear your reaction to this."

"She's gone. Least, far as I know. I don't really know how all this cyber stuff works. I just got Andrew to fit up the cam for me and tell me which buttons to press. She's not on the screen anymore, so I think that means she gone."

"And Faith? 'Cause she won't like it either," Willow said in a whisper.

"No, she was only on the phone, and I hung up, so I think we're safe."

Buffy's frown deepened as she considered what it might be that both Toni and Faith wouldn't like. There weren't a lot of things they agreed on. Not wanting her dead, maybe, but surely if this was about her dying, Willow wouldn't have taken so long to get to the point. There was one other topic.

"Troy," she said assuredly. "What about him?"

Willow nodded. "He's up to something."

Buffy waited for the revelation, but it didn't come.

"Yeah, I kinda knew that already. In fact I've been, dare I say, harping on about it for a while now."

"Yeah." Willow smiled sheepishly. "So's Kennedy. And that's why when we all thought the mystery was solved, and Rona was the pregnant one, we were gonna give up on the Troy angle. By 'we' I mean, me, Xander and Giles. But Kennedy insisted we keep digging even though we didn't see the point and it turns out... the Scooby Elders aren't all we think we are."

"Okay, I'm gonna say get to the point, but firstly, I'd like to say - you trusted Kennedy's opinion but you wouldn't trust mine!"

"Buff, don't get jealous. If it wasn't for you we wouldn't have been looking in the first place," Willow pointed out... pointedly.

"Fine," Buffy huffed. "So what did you learn?"

"Well, we don't know a whole lot yet, not the whole story, but we know enough to be worried."

"Like what?" Buffy urged, more than eager to know what was bad about the seemingly untouchable God.

"Bear with me." Buffy watched as Willow sorted through some papers in front of her. "Okay, first of all, you know we were tracing back over his whereabouts for the past year? We started when you found all those papers and files and stuff and it was a little suspicious, him following us across the country without us knowing why and all that?"

"Yeah."

"Well, none of that really gave us anything when we just thought he was following us. So then Kennedy came up with the idea of seeing what else was going on in those places while he was there. It seems most of the time there was nothing but us, but in a couple of locations, like that tavern where we stopped in New Mexico, there was a dig."

Buffy's nose wrinkled. "A dig?"

"An archaeological dig."

"I got what kind of dig you meant, Will. I'm just not getting the significance yet."

"Well neither do we entirely, but moving on, at least four of the points we stopped at there were also digs."

"So? He's an archaeologist. In his spare time anyway." Buffy reminded her. "Maybe he thought he'd get a little history in while he was following us."

"History is right. As in ancient history."

"In America?"

"America does have ancient history, you know," Willow said, exasperated. "Just no one seems to care about it. However," she added, "this wasn't American history."

"Then what was it doing..." Buffy began, confused.

"Well, that's what got us really interested. A spectre was dug up in Roswell. The believers out there are convinced it's an alien weapon, but experts from the museum have verified it as being of Ancient Greek design and probably about three thousand years old."

"Greek," Buffy breathed.

"That's what we thought. The artefact went missing about six hours after it was out of the ground. It was on the news, but we missed it. A, because we didn't know we were supposed to be looking out for ancient artefacts going missing; and B, because we were traveling across the country in a bus with no TV." Willow grinned. "Once we caught on to that, which incidentally, was about four days ago and that explains why I look so ragged..."

"You don't look ragged," Buffy assured her.

"Thanks, but I feel it!" Willow's grin got bigger, before disappearing. "There were no other mysterious relics in North America, despite the number of digs Troy visited, so at first we thought it was a bizarre coincidence, but then Kennedy remembered what Faith had said about the golden key..."

"I'd forgotten about that." Buffy pulled on her belt, even though it was perfectly tight. It felt weird having this conversation when she was nearly naked. She fidgeted a bit but tried to listen closely.

"Well, you remember he found it in England? If we've got the right golden key, it was buried in Tyne and Wear, near Sunderland."

"Where?" Buffy frowned.

"It's in North England," Willow clarified. "There was a dig there a few years back. Nothing was reported as missing, but the key is on the inventory sheet of items uncovered."

"So what does it do?"

"Huh?"

"Well, does it have any magic powers or anything?"

"It's a key, Buffy," Willow said with overstated patience. "It unlocks stuff."

Buffy watched her best friend through narrowed eyes for a moment before asking slowly and clearly. "What does it unlock then?"

Willow grinned, clearly thinking her answer something special. "Hades."

Buffy's eyebrows shot up. "I'm sorry, what now?"

"It's the key to hell. Or at least one of the hells. That is, if we got it right and this is the key we think it is. The inventory didn't have it listed as such obviously. They called it The Key of Plato, but we think that was mistranslated somewhere along the way from Pluto, who was the Roman god of the underworld." Willow paused for breath at last. "But if our research and hunches are correct, the key Faith saw is the key that unlocks the gates of hell."

"So Troy wants to unlock hell," Buffy muttered, mostly to herself. "I knew he was up to something!"

"Yeah, sorry for the not believing you," Willow said again.

"Don't worry about it." Buffy let her off the hook. "He has that weird personable aura thing going on. Everyone's infected, well, everyone except me, but it was probably just my jealousy that made me immune."

Willow nodded eagerly, happy to not be in the doghouse she obviously thought she should be in.

"It's strong, whatever it is. I mean, to be able to dupe all of us into thinking he's such a great guy. Even Giles."

"Even Faith?"

Willow shrugged. "I don't know. What do you think?"

"I think if wishes were horses then buggers would ride."

Willow laughed. "It's beggars."

"Oh. Spike always said buggers."

"Spike would."

Buffy nodded. "Point is though, I can't really tell. One minute I think she is under some spell of his, but other times she just acts like a regular person in love. She's not completely blind to his faults for instance, and she has slips or... or doubts, maybe, like you'd expect her to."

"Slips?"

"Just..." Buffy hesitated, not sure how much to give away. "... the occasional moment when she seems less into him... and more into me," she added in a rush, needing to say it, but not really wanting Willow's most likely reaction.

"Buffy!"

Yep, that was it.

"Look, she's marrying him, and I'm helping her marry him! I don't need a lecture on the do's and don'ts, okay? I just... I just think if she was under his control, slips like that wouldn't happen. Believe me, it kills me to say it, but I think they're real. He even told me the night I found them that he wasn't using mind control on her."

"Do you think you can trust him?" Willow asked sceptically

"I wanna say no, but, for a lying, conniving creep, he's been strangely upfront with me about stuff. The stuff he wants me to know, anyway. I think he was telling me the truth that night, because he wanted to rub it in my face. If he really was using some Jedi mind control on Faith, he would have avoided the subject rather than deliberately raise my already suspicious suspicions."

"Well, I'll start looking into mind control spells anyway. I already know too much about a few." Willow frowned. "But this isn't any of them."

"I don't think it's a spell," said a voice off camera, and then Kennedy had her arms around Willow from behind and was leaning down to look at the screen. "Hey, Buffy."

"Hi, uh, you haven't been there the whole time, standing quietly to one side, have you?" Buffy asked uneasily.

"No, I just got up. Why?"

"Buffy was naked a minute ago." Willow explained with a teasing grin.

"Will!"

"Naked, huh?" Kennedy gave Buffy's robe a look up and down. "I knew I shouldn't have hit the snooze button so many times."

Back to being bright red again, Buffy pulled on her belt once more and tried to push through the torturous embarrassment.

"Moving on... Why don't you think it's a spell?"

"Because I'm not under the impression he's the hottest thing since Adonis either; and I'm not in love with Faith, so no jealousy issues. Surely a spell powerful enough to make my lesbian girlfriend go ga-ga at the thought of him would take me down too."

"Well, that makes three of you and the only thing you all have in common is..." Willow began.

"We're all slayers." Buffy remembered something. "It's not just slayers. Guy-vampires don't like him much either. I had to help Faith fight her way out of a bunch the other night. They have a serious grudge against him, or well they did until we dusted them all. Their immunity may well be a jealousy thing too though, so..." Buffy shrugged.

"Can you think of anyone who's not a slayer or a boy-vampire that doesn't like him?" Willow asked.

Buffy shook her head, but Kennedy looked up like she had an idea.

"Toni."

"Huh?" Buffy frowned at the monitor. "Are you kidding? Troy's her best friend; of course she likes him."

"Yeah, but remember that day in the restaurant? The thing with the aftershave, for example? She doesn't gush about him. She doesn't think the sun shines out of his butt. She doesn't have any false impressions of him. That girl knows exactly what he's like - whatever that is - and is his friend anyway."

Buffy thought about it and began to nod. "I think you're right, but it's probably just because they've been friends for so long. Either way, I agree. Quantiaro has the same thing so I don't think it's a spell. I think it's him. Better to look for ways of removing a God's super-powers, Will, so we can try and disarm him that way."

"Right, I'll just look that up on the official 'Higher Powers' website, shall I?" Willow muttered to herself as she made notes on her palm pilot. "I'm sure they'll have a pull-down menu on removing their, you know, powers."

"I doubt we'll get that lucky, but there may be... wait, is that even a real website?" Buffy asked dubiously. Willow gave her a look that suggested otherwise. "Shame, that would have been useful... for so many things."

"Have you told her about Xander?" Kennedy asked her girlfriend.

"Haven't got that far yet."

"What about Xander? What happened to him? Is he okay?" Buffy asked in a rush.

"He's fine," Willow was just as quick to reassure her.

"Well, apart from a really sore butt." Kennedy shrugged. "And he's kinda worried about having to eat bugs..."

Buffy frowned at the screen as she came to her best guess. "Xander's been having gay sex with Dracula?"

Willow started laughing as Kennedy asked, "How did you get to that?"

"Sore butt, bugs... wasn't a big leap."

Willow was still giggling so it was Kennedy who finally told her. "He's on his way to Africa."

"Why Africa? What's in Africa...?" Buffy gasped, "Troy's in Africa!"

"Finally a leap in the right direction." Kennedy mocked her.

Buffy gave her a threatening glare, which was pretty much all she could do from Rome. "Why's he chasing after Troy? That's not safe."

"He's not going to engage," Willow assured her. "He's just going to find something."

"Willow tell you about the mysterious doodads yet?"

"Um, we got as far as golden key and spectre. Were there more?" Buffy began. "Hang on, isn't that a ghost? They dug up a ghost? Was he like a Greek Hus? Did they even have Native Americans in Greece three thousand years ago?" Hearing the last sentence as she said it, she sat back in her chair and held her hands up. "Why don't you just tell me the rest of it and I'll try not to ask any more questions that make me look like an idiot."

"And I thought Giles was only teasing when he said this investigation would go quicker with you in Rome," Kennedy muttered just loud enough for Buffy to hear.

Willow reached up to smack her girlfriend's shoulder and gave Buffy a grin. "It was a sceptre, like a staff of office kind of thing. There were some other items: an actual staff made of solid gold was brought from an antiques dealer in Chicago last February; a bow now believed to belong to the God Apollo was found and then lost in New Zealand a month later, a set of stone tablets that apparently have the wisdom of the Universe carved into them were found in Siberia shortly after that - and then promptly went missing too. A couple of months ago a trident was uncovered in a shipwreck off the coast of Rome. The ship that Troy said sunk around the time Rome was actually founded. Even more recently an apple was discovered in Turkey - that's also gone missing."

"An apple? What's so special about an apple?" Okay, Buffy knew that couldn't be a stupid question. "You can find them anywhere. Hey, I just found three on my coffee table!"

"It's a golden apple." Kennedy rolled her eyes.

"Oh. My three aren't made of gold; they're just made of apple."

"It's possibly the Apple of Discord. The apple that allegedly started the Trojan War," Willow explained. "Which, incidentally, is just a myth, but then so are you and Kennedy to the average Joe and you're both real enough. All of these items belong to myth and legend, but they're suddenly turning up all over the place this year."

Buffy nodded. "Troy's collecting mythical artefacts from all over the globe. Do we have any actual evidence that it's for more than archaeological glee?"

"No," Willow admitted. "At least, not exactly. Being mythical, though, means they're probably related to a prophecy; and the fact that they're all turning up this year probably means the big event is coming up. So Giles and I have been trawling through prophecy books trying to find something that matches... but so far no luck."

"That's not totally true," Kennedy said, pulling up a chair next to Willow and leaning closer to the web cam. "There's one that almost matches all our research, the one about the hero baby, but obviously we've already ruled that one out."

Buffy felt her heart sink, even though logic said it shouldn't bother. "How close does it match?"

"There are some bits that don't add up," Willow said. "Which could mean we've had our wording wrong from the start - which has always been a possibility - and what we thought meant baby actually means something else entirely; or its just a coincidence that the baby prophecy and the one concerning Troy are so similar."

"Not big on coincidences," Buffy said grimly. "We're gonna have to double check ourselves here. I don't wanna be chasing a wild goose when the goose we want is right on our doorstep. Can you guys get someone down to... where's Rona from?"

"We already tried to find her, but nobody knew where her home town was, so nobody knows where she went."

"LA." At Kennedy's mutter Willow turned to her in surprise. "LA," she said louder, irritably. "She's from LA and that's where she was going back to. She told me, Vi and Molly back in Sunnydale."

"Why didn't you say so earlier?" Willow sounded more put out by this info than Buffy was. "You could have saved us time, oodles of, even."

Kennedy shrugged, unrepentant. "Rona's sensitive about that sort of thing. She doesn't think her family's business is any of the Council's business. Remember she wasn't raised as a Potential; the first she knew of all this was when she nearly got killed by Bringers. I don't even know if she ever told her family that she's a slayer."

Buffy couldn't really argue with any of that, and it wouldn't do her any good if she could. The important bit now was to find her and find out if she was pregnant.

"LA still doesn't really narrow it down a whole lot though. Do you know her last name? I guess you could go through the phone book to see if she's listed."

"I know her address," Kennedy admitted. "But not her number."

"Probably best not to do this over the phone anyway," Buffy realized. "We won't know if she's telling the whole truth or not."

"So what's the address?" Willow asked her girlfriend.

"No." Kennedy shook her head. "She wanted it kept private, but there's nothing stopping me from jumping on a plane tomorrow to go see her."

"Not even me missing you?" Willow asked sweetly.

"I'll only be gone a day; and I'll call you."

"Every hour?" Willow asked.

"Every half hour," Kennedy promised.

Buffy had to look away as they kissed indulgently. When they didn't stop soon enough, she cleared her throat pointedly.

When that still didn't stop them, she said, "I know I wanted me some good old-fashioned cyber-sex this morning, but watching you two do it, wasn't really what I had in mind."

They broke apart, chuckling at her.

"I'll get the first flight out tomorrow," Kennedy said once she was looking into the camera again. "And I'll call Will with an answer as soon as I have one."

"Thank you. So you never told me why Xander's going to Africa?"

"Every search I did on the artefacts Troy's collecting mentioned a couple more items than what we can account for," Willow started to explain. "One is a set of scrolls written by Socrates - the ancient Greek philosopher - that were lost millennia ago. No one knows where they ended up, and considering where some of the other artefacts have been found, they literally could be anywhere. Giles has put out feelers through the Council to round up all and any rumors - because, you know, maybe a demon took them to a different dimension or some vamp hid them in a long-forgotten dusty crypt - but so far nothing has turned up. Which, we're assuming, means Troy doesn't have them either."

"I already told Giles I didn't want the Council working on this," Buffy griped.

"Yeah, well, you took two of our best researchers to Rome with you," Willow said patiently. "So we're working with what we have. The other relic, if you can call it that..." Willow grinned. "-is in Africa."

"Tunisia?"

"Good guess, but actually just outside. The lost city of Carthage. It's mostly just a tourist attraction now, but it used to be a big deal."

"Like?"

"Like London is a big deal, or New York is a big deal."

Buffy nodded, pleased that her best friend occasionally remembered to speak in ways she understood.

"Why might I not call this relic a relic?" she asked next. Her cell phone rang. It was Faith again. "Hold that thought."

She picked up. "Still not a good time."

"Aw man, I wanna come over!" Faith groaned down the phone.

Damn it, Buffy wanted to see her too. "Well, I'm busy now and I'm busy later, but I'm free in-between. Can you give me an hour?"

"No, 'cause I'm outside."

Damn again!

"Willow, Faith's here," Buffy felt slightly panicked.

She needed to get this information, but Faith obviously wasn't going to be deterred this time.

"Well, stall her," was Willow reply.

"I'm still having sex with Toni!" Buffy blurted the first thing she thought of into the phone and then cringed when Kennedy started laughing.

"Well, if Willow gets to watch, so do I."

"Willow's not watching!"

Now they were both laughing heartily at her expense and she glared at them to shut up. They didn't.

"In that case, you're not having sex. So what are you doing that you don't want me to know about?"

"Um, nothing," Buffy squeaked.

"Good. I'm coming up."

Faith hung up and Buffy quickly did the same.

"She's coming. Tell me everything quick."

"The last relic is a bird." Kennedy said. "And its in that place Willow just mentioned. And we think Troy wants it. And so Xander's gone to try and find it first. And then he's going to hide it from him."

Buffy was actually impressed with how quick Kennedy got the information across. It was probably a slayer trait - using short sentences.

"A golden bird?"

"Nope." Willow grinned again. "An actual real live bird."

"How is that a relic?" Buffy asked.

"Exactly. And we don't know. We don't even know what it is or what it supposedly does, but it's been alive for thousands of years."

"How's Xander supposed to catch a bird? Did he take a big net with him? Did he buy an English-to-birdcall phrase book at the airport?"

Kennedy rolled her eyes. "Is this what you call quick?"

"The bird has been in captivity since the crusades," Willow explained before bickering could slow them down even further. "All he has to do is find out where before Troy does."

"That's a pretty big gamble. How come Xander went anyway? Why not send a Slayer?"

"Xander found that bit of info," said Kennedy. "And he wanted to. He said he was more experienced in the 'discreet snatch and hightail' than any of the junior slayers were."

"And me and Giles agreed," Willow added. "He has a slayer with him though, for back up."

"Fair enough. Does he have my number here, just in case? I'm closer to Africa than you guys are."

"Yep." Willow nodded. "He's not gonna use it unless he really has to though, in case Troy finds out. Plus we figured you'd be pretty busy from now on with the wedding getting so close."

Buffy sighed at the mention of it, but said, "Not too busy to ride to the rescue if need be. Make sure he knows that. Was there anything else?" The doorbell rang. "Crap. That's her."

"Not really."

"Okay, cool. Thanks for letting me know everything. Although next time you might wanna call before just popping in," she added, still embarrassed at being caught the way she had. "I'll speak to you guys later."

"Hey, don't banish us!" Willow said plaintively. "We wanna see Faith."

"Why?" Buffy asked just as plaintively, her hand still on the mouse ready to get rid of them.

There was a loud knock at the door now.

"Because we haven't seen her for months," Kennedy said over the knocking.

"Fine," Buffy huffed as she got up from the swivel chair.

She re-tightened her robe before going to the door, fully aware that she wasn't exactly dressed for receiving visitors of the Faith variety. She resisted the urge to go to the bathroom and check her hair in the mirror though.

As soon as she removed the chain and opened the front door, Faith breezed past her.

"'Bout time." She stopped in the living room and looked back at her, or rather up and down at her. "Looking good, B. You dress down for me, babe?"

"I still have visitors," Buffy cautioned, pointing at the computer, knowing that although they couldn't be seen over here, they could still be heard. "They wanted to say hi."

Faith grinned with a mischievous look in her eye. "So I'm here. Booty call, as requested."

"Faith!" Buffy said impatiently.

"Oh yeah, babe, I love it when you say my name like that."

Buffy rolled her eyes. "Will you stop?"

Faith winked as she said, "No, baby, I can go all night."

Buffy walked close enough to whisper, "Not from what I've ever seen." And then dragged Faith in front of the computer screen before she could think of a comeback.

She still got it in though, grabbing the closest edge of Buffy's robe and yanking on it, exposing her completely just as they were in view of the web cam. "Hey!" Buffy clutched at her robe and punched her in the arm hard enough to deaden it.

Willow was giggling again, but Kennedy's eyes and mouth were wide open. Snapping out of it as soon as she realized Buffy was looking, she smirked.

"Guess hitting the snooze button was the right idea after all."

"Hey!" Buffy snapped at her now, but Kennedy just grinned back. "Well here she is." Buffy nodded her head at Faith as she retied her robe. "Although why anyone would want to see her is beyond me," she added, digging her finger into the soft spot below Faith's ribs.

Faith pushed her out of the way, and still rubbing her arm, sat on the swivel chair. "Hi guys."

"Hi Faith," Willow and Kennedy chorused together like they'd practiced it. "How are you?" Willow added alone.

"Five by five." Faith grinned, and for about the first time ever she sounded like she actually meant it. "Got me a sweet deal over here. Everything a girl could wish for, ya know? Plus some she might not," she continued playfully, hiking her thumb back at Buffy.

Buffy punched her in the back of her shoulder this time and Faith switched to rubbing that.

"So how have you two been?"

As Willow and Kennedy answered together and separately about life and work and college, Buffy took over rubbing her shoulder for her, without really thinking about what she was doing or how it might look. Faith seemed happy to let her do it, and Buffy let their conversation wash over her as she thought about all of the new stuff she'd learned in the last hour.

Like, if Rona wasn't the pregnant one, did that put her and Faith back in the spotlight? And if whatever Troy was up to had nothing to do with the baby thing, then what was he up to?

She didn't get far into her thoughts before Faith leaned forward away from her. At first she figured this was her cue that she was getting a little too friendly with the rubbing - although it was only a shoulder! - but then she realized Faith was putting her hand over the tiny web cam on top of the monitor.

"What's wrong?" she asked automatically as Faith turned to look up at her.

"Can you give us a minute?" Faith asked almost inaudibly. "I need to, like, apologize or something."

Buffy leaned down until her mouth was next to Faith's ear. "You can't do that with me here?"

Faith frowned a little. "I think it'll just sound more genuine, maybe, if you're not."

"Okay." Buffy nodded. "I can go get dressed while you talk."

She realized her robe was gaping open at the neck at about the same moment that Faith chose to look straight down it

"You don't have to do that," Faith murmured, looking for a moment more before meeting her eyes again.

Buffy pressed her hand to her robe - better late than never, right?

"Unfortunately, yes I do." Making sure the camera was still covered, Buffy gave Faith a kiss on the cheek, well it might have been closer to the corner of her lips, and straightened up. "Have a good talk. Just shout when you're done."

Faith nodded and smiled her thanks before releasing the camera and sitting back.

Buffy heard Kennedy asking what that was all about as she walked through to Toni's bedroom.

As soon as she had the door shut, she shucked off her robe and dropped naked onto the bed. Too much stimuli; far, far too much. She'd planned on having sex today and she was darn well having it! Rolling onto her back, she didn't bother with more foreplay than running her hand down her thigh straight to the wet place between her legs.

Sure she had a lot of stuff to think about, but that could wait awhile, and it was better to burn this tension before she spent an afternoon in Faith's company.

She rubbed herself to mental images of Toni's naked body as she let the murmur of Faith's voice in the other room lead her to climax.


Chapter Twenty

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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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