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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 Twenty Three: Maybe I'll Just Go

Buffy found Faith standing on the outside of a little wooden gate like the one out front. She pitched one cigarette away and lit another in the time it took Buffy to reach her.

"So that was pretty intense."

Faith looked around at her, the cigarette dangling from her lips. She took a deep drag before lifting her fingers up to catch and remove it.

"Was it?"

"Well, it was for me."

Faith started walking up the road. "Must come from all that living a lie you've been doing."

"What?" Buffy asked, the sentence confusing her.

"You heard."

Buffy started to follow her. "Yeah, I heard, but I didn't understand."

Faith spun around to face her, but kept walking backwards down the narrow cobbled street. "They all think you're so great 'cause you're gonna be the love of Tone's life and you don't even wanna be with her."

"Who says I don't want to be with her?"

Faith turned back around. "Sorry, my mistake. I didn't realize when you said you wanted me to leave Troy and run away with you, you were planning on taking Toni with us."

Buffy chuckled even though it probably wasn't the smartest thing to do. "Well I wasn't, but then you're not going to run away with me are you?"

Buffy said it as though it was already a done deal, but when Faith didn't answer, she wasn't having that.

"Well, are you?"

"You really think you can just leave her like that?" Faith sounded like she was suddenly on Toni's side.

"I..."

Honestly, Buffy hadn't thought about leaving Toni behind when she'd asked Faith to run. She hadn't thought about Toni at all. And if Faith had said yes straight away, they probably would have been in another country already before Toni had even crossed her mind.

"You say you love her, but you didn't even think about her then, did you?" Faith snarled.

Buffy watched the distance increase between them as Faith stomped along faster.

"I was too busy thinking about you! Isn't that what counts?"

"What counts is that you made a commitment to her! If you actually loved her you wouldn't just walk out on that for something that should have been dead and buried a long time ago."

Buffy stopped for a moment as that barb hit home, but then she started storming up the street after Faith.

"Yes, but we are not dead and buried! If we were this conversation wouldn't be happening."

"Not everything is about us, Buffy!"

"On the contrary, everything is about us!" Buffy shot back. "Every little dance we've done for the past nine months, no, the past five years has been about us!"

"Maybe in your head."

"In yours too."

"No, this is about me and Troy!" Faith stomped faster. "And the sooner you realize..."

"I thought it was about me and Toni?"

"I couldn't give a shit about you and Toni!" Faith snapped. "And, obviously, neither do you. If you did you wouldn't just be able to forget about her every time I'm around."

"I don't!"

"Coulda fooled me."

"Yeah? Well you're not fooling me!"

Buffy got close enough to grab Faith's shoulder and swing her around so they could have this conversation rationally instead of shouting in the street.

Faith had other ideas and brought her fist up as she turned. "Don't touch me!"

Ducking out of the way, Buffy waited until the fist had passed its zenith and then shoved Faith's arm hard to get her out of range.

"Are you drunk?" she yelled as Faith stumbled backwards.

"No!"

"Oh, so you just felt like taking a swing at me for no reason?"

Faith got in her face but kept her arms by her sides. "No, I had a reason. Your selfish ass is all the reason I need."

"How exactly have I been selfish?" Buffy met her head on, or rather chest on, as they bumped together. "Everything I do these days is for you!"

"I have something good with Troy. I have a real chance at being something good. Something better than I've ever been. I know me, Buffy, I'm a fuck up."

"No, you're...." Buffy began.

"Yes I am! And if you don't get that, you can't know me like you think you do. I always have been, I thought I always would be, but with Troy I'm not! He gives me a reason to be a better person."

"I can do that!"

"There you go again! You know I can't think straight with you. You know I screw up again and again when you're in the picture. You know you make me fuckin' nuts! Yet you still wanna insist that we get together? How is that good for me? How is that good for you? How is that good for anyone?"

Buffy stared at her, her breath coming fast and heavy. She felt the familiar sting of tears in her eyes but she didn't have an answer.

"I'm a fugitive, B. One bad domestic with you and the Feds are at the door and I'm straight back inside. I'm pretty sure one conjugal meeting a month isn't what makes a good relationship for you."

"You think I'd turn you in?" Buffy asked, aghast.

"Of course not," Faith said softly. "But I think the mushroom cloud of destruction we'd make would cause someone to call the cops."

"Then we won't do that." Buffy paused as reality caught up. "Or, okay, we'll move to somewhere really remote where there won't be anyone to see the mushroom."

"You really think you'll be happy living in the middle of some nowhere for the rest of your life?" Faith asked skeptically.

"Well, I already figured we'd have to move to the Moon so that Troy can't kill me."

Faith half-smiled. "He wouldn't do that."

"Actually he's already threatened to once or twice," Buffy replied casually.

Faith took a step back, frowning. "Then that's another good reason why this can't happen," she said, gesturing between them. "Bringing the total up to about fifty."

She turned on her heel and started walking fast again.

"You know, the reason why you can think straight around Troy, the reason why he doesn't screw you up or make you nuts is because you don't love him as much as you love me!" Buffy called after her before following.

Faith didn't answer until they'd reached the next corner. "I can live with that."

"Well, I can't!"

"Then fuck off, live with Toni, forget about me!"

"I can't do that either!"

They reached the car and Faith rooted in her pockets for the keys. "Then I don't know what to tell ya, B."

"Do you really think you can just forget about me?"

"No, I don't, and I'm not planning on tryin'."

Faith pulled the keys from her pocket so hard they slipped from her fingers and hit the road. Grumbling, she bent to pick them back up and lost her balance, falling against Buffy before she regained it.

"I thought you said you weren't drunk?"

Faith ignored her as she stood up straight again. "I don't need to forget about you to be happy. I probably wouldn't be happy if I forgot about you. But if you can't say the same..."

Buffy watched Faith walk around to the other side of the Mini, not knowing how to answer that. "I want you to be happy, Faith."

"But only if I'm with you."

"No! I want you to be happy no matter what, I just... I just know I can't watch if it's not with me."

"What about our friendship?"

"Your friendship means everything to me."

"Obviously it doesn't. If it did, it would come first. Get in the car."

"Are you sure you're okay to drive?"

Faith got in the car without answering. Buffy hesitated for a few moments before doing the same.

"What about my happiness?" She asked once she was buckled into the passenger seat. "Do you care about that?"

"I'm not the one saying I never want to see you again." Faith still seemed to be trying to find where to stick the key in. "I'm not the one telling you we can only be friends if you ditch Toni."

"Yeah, well, I'm sorry I'm not as perfect as you are," Buffy griped, already sick of this argument. No matter how long they continued this back and forth, she'd already lost, so what was the point?

Faith laughed. "That's a good one." She found the ignition and the engine literally roared to life. "Tell you what; I got an ultimatum for you. Stick around after the wedding and I'll make sure we can keep seeing each other, leave and I'll track Toni down and murder her."

"Don't even joke about that!"

"Who says I'm joking?" Faith put the car in gear and they started moving slowly down the street. "I already tried to kill one of your lovers. Can't say I'm sorry I failed where Angel's concerned, but I doubt Toni's ever gonna do anything that'll make me regret it."

"Okay, stop the car," Buffy said firmly.

Faith didn't. "So what's it gonna be, B?"

"You really think giving me a choice like that is gonna make me choose to be your dirty little secret?" Buffy snapped. "I know you're bluffing even if you don't and you even using that card just makes it easier to leave."

"Good, then I just did us both a favor."

Faith took the corner a little too quickly and Buffy was rocked against the passenger door.

"Slow down."

"I'm not going fast."

"You are for these bendy little village streets!"

"Whatever." Faith deliberately took the next corner even faster.

Buffy pulled herself up in the seat a little and gripped the hand bar above her head.

"Did you even think about going away with me like you promised or were you just saying that because you wanted me to do you?"

"What do you think?"

"I think the latter," Buffy said honestly.

"I haven't thought about anything fucking else! You think I want you to walk out of my life? Do you really think I can be okay with never fuckin' seeing you again? It makes me physically puke, B! I don't know what to fuckin' do! I can't handle the idea of being without you and I know I can't handle being with you! I'm going crazy here and you don't even give a shit." Faith slammed on the breaks and they screeched to a halt in the middle of the road, stalling and pitching them both forwards. Faith turned to her, eyes wild. "You don't give a fuckin' shit!"

Buffy rubbed the spot where the seatbelt had burned her. "I do. I give a hell of a shit, but I'm not gonna apologize for wanting to be with you and you alone. You expecting me to share you with Troy isn't fair."

"And you putting me in this situation is?"

"I'm offering you everything you've wanted since you were sixteen!" Buffy yelled across the car. "How does that make me the bad guy?"

"You don't know what I want," Faith yelled back.

"You want me!"

"Yeah, okay, you know what? You're right, I fuckin' do - more than you'll ever fuckin' know... and that's why I can never have you! I gotta keep the big picture in mind, and you kinda tend to cloud my judgment and... and blinker me. I can't see the big picture if I'm wearing blinkers!" Faith spelled out slowly.

The corner of Buffy's mouth curled up in confusion. "Okay, you lost me when you started talking about pictures."

Faith started the engine again and rammed the car into reverse.

"Yeah, well I'm not lost and I'm not gonna be, not again. Troy may not be you, but he's a sure thing, and that's all that matters from now on," she said as she twisted to look out the rear window.

Her right arm rest along the top of Buffy's seat as she began to zoom back the way they had come.

Buffy gave an incredulous huff of laughter. "You still have doubts that I'm a sure thing? And what are you doing?"

"I'm not talking about sex, but seeing as you brought it up - You're not actually fuckin' me right now."

"Well, you're driving right now," Buffy joked, hoping, in vain, to lighten the mood.

Faith slammed on the breaks again and shot her a brief, unamused look. "And I'm turning 'round." Facing the front again, she thrust the gear stick into first.

"You're going the wrong way?"

Buffy looked around, not having a clue which direction they should be going in. She didn't know the area in the first place and now all the backwards and forwarding combined with the harsh breaking was making her dizzy.

"No, I went the wrong way, now I'm going the right way, and I'm going to keep going the right way no matter what," Faith ground out, the gears grinding along in sympathy.

"Well, good," Buffy replied, nonplussed by Faith's ardency. "If you're sure you're going the right way then I'm happy."

"What?" Faith slammed on the breaks again.

Buffy winced, rubbing her neck. "Any time you wanna stop doing that is fine by me."

"That's it? That's all it took?" Faith angrily shot one question after the other at her. "Now you're happy?"

"Well, it's better than driving around in circles not knowing where we're going, isn't it?" Buffy shouted.

"I thought you knew where you wanted us to go?" Faith yelled back, crunching the car back into first and taking off again. "And you accuse me of mixing signals? Jeez, this is why I know I'm doing the right fuckin' thing!"

"Okay, now I'm lost even if you know where you're going!"

"That's right, Buffy, you lost! I'm gonna make the right choices this time, I am making the right choices, and maybe I'll never have time to make up for everything, but at least I'll know I'm on the right road."

Buffy stayed quiet through her short, nonsensical speech, but when Faith turned a triumphant grin her way, she couldn't helping asking, "What the HELL are you talking about?"

Faith ignored her and the car crept up to greater speeds. "I'm not taking the easy way out! I'm not giving up. I know what I have to do and I finally found the way to do it and you... you're just a temptation..." She was still yelling, but it seemed to be mostly for her own benefit.

"Faith, stop the car." Faith's ranting and the speed they were going was starting to make her nervous.

"...I choose you and the whole thing'll come down around my ass. I'll lose sight of it, 'cause, B, you don't get it, but when I think about you I can't think about nothing else and I... I can't let that happen."

"Faith, just stop the car until you calm down a bit, please."

Faith didn't seem to even hear her. "I figured you might even be proud of me or something stupid like that. When you wanted to stick around, help, I don't know, I figured you got it. That you could see my destiny clear as me, or at least trusted me enough to see it... Shoulda known better. Shoulda known you'd find some way to screw me in the end... but just not literally, right? Because that would be wrong."

"Destiny?" Buffy asked dubiously, but kept going before that could cause a tangent. "I do get it, okay? I know you're trying to do the right thing here, and I am proud of you for it, but you don't have to do it with Troy, or here. You can still paint the big picture and do things the hard way with me."

Faith shook her head fast. "No! If I could we'd be halfway to Mexico by now. Trust me, B; this is the way it has to be."

"No it doesn't," Buffy shot back. "You're just being stubborn!"

"Stubborn? If Angel was sitting here telling you he was gonna give up helping the helpless so he could run off with the love of his... with you, would you be trying to talk him out of it?" Faith shook her head again and her shoulders hunched up. "Actually I don't think I want you to answer that."

Buffy sighed and ran a hand through her hair as the Mini accelerated on leaving the village. The road ahead of them was long and winding with fields of dark green on both sides. There was still an hour or so of light left, but clouds were rolling towards them from Rome giving it a dull, surreal quality. Buffy thought she might have heard a low rumble of thunder but it could have just been the engine as Faith pushed the little car harder.

"Okay, fine. Just stop the car and we'll talk about it properly."

"We can't keep talking about it! I'm sick of talking about it! It doesn't help, it just fucks with my head more and then we end up back here tomorrow or the next day or next week having the same fuckin' conversation and I can't let you change my mind, so why the fuck do I keep giving you the chance to?"

"I'm serious now, slow down!"

Buffy was starting to panic at the way the car kept swerving across the road, veering closer and closer to the fields, with every bend.

"It's too late to slow down now, B. The wedding's happening whether you like it or not, and I guess you don't..." Faith seemed to be in her own conversation again. "... but that's too bad. You shouldn't have hung around this long. If you just wanted to try and sabotage it, you should've just turned up on the day and saved us both this shit..."

The back tires actually skidded a little on the dirt verge and Buffy yelled at the top of her voice. "Stop the fucking car now!"

Faith yelled back even louder. "Fuckin' make me!"

With a shriek of frustration, she tried to do just that. Gripping the parking brake, she pulled it up hard, hard enough to snap it off completely. That hadn't been part of the plan, neither had the not stopping. The back tires locked, making a nasty sound beneath the car and their speed was reducing but they were still a long way from parked.

"Stupid bitch! Now look what you did."

Furious, Faith took one hand off the wheel to knock Buffy into the passenger door. The smack didn't hurt, but the impact jarred her shoulder. Wildly she reached out, catching Faith's wrist and yanking on it hard, but not enough to move her out of the seat. Her hand on the wheel was jerked down with the sharp motion though, changing their direction at high speed. Faith stomped on the foot break and the car went into a sideways skid.

Buffy let go of Faith's wrist and covered her head, expecting them to roll. When a back tire burst with a loud bang she covered her ears too.

For the next few seconds the world was a spinning blur with a backdrop of Faith's extensive vocabulary of curse words. Then, with her heart pounding in her chest after one too many tilt-a-whirl flashbacks, the world stopped spinning faster than it was supposed to.

She waited a few more seconds before slowly lifting her head to look around. Everything was green. They'd spun into one of the fields bordering the road with enough force to flatten a stretch of the tall crops. Buffy didn't know what they were - coulda been corn, coulda been beanstalks - all she could see was the greeness of them out of every window except Faith's, which was facing the road six feet away.

"Damn," she bellowed, throwing the parking brake - or what was now just a useless metal bar with a rubber handle on one end - to the floor.

"What the hell were you thinking?" Faith rounded on her. "Ya don't fuck around like that when somebody's driving! Jesus, I know you ain't safe behind the wheel, but I thought I'd at least be safe if you stayed in the damn passenger seat."

"Safe? You call driving drunk while shouting abuse at me for no good damn reason safe?"

"I'm not fuckin' drunk."

"We'll you're not fucking sober!"

"If you were so concerned you shouldn't have got in the car with me."

"You think I don't wish I hadn't?" Buffy unclicked her seatbelt, hearing the swizz of it zipping back into place over the buzzing in her ears. "Trust me, Faith, there's not a single decision I've made in the last two months that I'm not really re-thinking right now."

The clouds amassing overhead were bringing with them early dusk and the light in the Mini was strange; dim and tinted green. Still, Buffy saw Faith's eyes flash with pain before anger got the better of her.

"No one's begging you to stay. Hell, I never wanted you here in the first place. Should have trusted my gut, my bad. Go on then, get out."

When Buffy just sneered at her, Faith leaned across the seats and started pushing her, her other hand trying to reach for the door latch.

"I said get the fuck out. Fuck off." Buffy grit her teeth, refusing to budge. "What the hell are you waiting for? Go. If you wanna go, just go!"

As Faith's fingers made it that extra inch to the latch, the door popped open and Buffy felt herself falling.

"Stop pushing me!" Buffy caught herself and shoved Faith back. "Get your hands off me!"

"I'll get my hands offa you when you get the fuck outta my car."

"You'll get your hands off of me right now if you don't want me to break them off."

The pushing continued, the confined space limiting the force they could use, but not their belligerence.

"Why are you still here?" Faith snapped.

"What do you expect me to do? Walk to Rome?" Buffy snapped back.

"Do I look like I care?"

"No, Faith, you never have."

"Yeah, well, I keep trying to care, but even that's never good enough for you."

"When have you ever really cared, Faith?" Buffy scoffed as she twisted away from Faith's hands again.

"I cared last week. I'd have done anything for you then, bar the one thing you already knew I couldn't... So, surprise, surprise, what did you want?"

"All you cared about last week was getting laid. Don't kid yourself it had anything to do with me."

Faith suddenly stopped shoving her and held her hands up as she sat back, smiling dangerously.

"Ya know what? Maybe you're right. I don't love you. I just wanted to fuck you. And now that you're making it boring, it's time for you to..." she leaned close enough to whisper viciously. "...get... gone."

Buffy yelled in rage, no words, just vowel sounds, as she launched herself across the seats, hands reaching for Faith's throat.

"How dare you fucking say that to me?" Buffy missed her neck but caught the sides of her head, smashing it back into the seatbelt attachment. "I am not just one of your little fuck-toys, and don't you dare try and reduce me to one just because you're too pathetic to handle your own life!"

Faith wasn't taking the attack lying down; well, she was lying down more or less, sprawled at an angle across the drivers seat, but she wrenched Buffy's right hand from her head, and shoving Buffy's left side at the same time, she forced her into the steering wheel hard enough to bruise a few ribs.

"I am handling my own life!" Faith kicked Buffy off of her. "And you wanna talk pathetic? You following me to Rome was pathetic! You pretending you love Toni so I'd wanna fuck you is pathetic! You acting like the perfect little in-law today was pathetic!"

They clashed in the middle of the car, both too incensed for anything more elegant than wrestling over the gap between the seats. There was more pinching than punching, more knee-ing than kicking.

"No, F, you thinking you have the right to be jealous of Toni is pathetic; and so is you being jealous 'cause Toni's family actually like me and Troy's can't stand you!"

That got her a punch, right between the eyes. Anyone else would have been knocked out cold; Buffy just fell back against the passenger seat, blinking stars from her vision. Luckily it cleared quickly because Faith was on her at once, throwing short, tight punches into her ribs.

"You should have stayed outta my life," Faith raged. "Nothing good ever happens when you're around."

Buffy tried to squirm away from the punches, but the quarters were too close. She did manage to roll Faith strongly to one side. She hit the passenger door, knocking it open wide, but Faith's grip on her shoulder stopped her from falling out.

"You wanted me back in your life!" Buffy shouted. "You said as much before I even came here. You weren't happy without me!"

"I was a damn sight happier than I am now!"

"You liar! You were crying in cupboards!"

"Yeah... and I was still happier than I am now!"

"You had plenty of chances to tell me to leave. Sorry if I mistook you telling me you wanted me to stay as a sign that you actually wanted me to stay. From now on I'll know to do the exact opposite of everything you say, just like you already do."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Oh, B, I just wanna be friends. Well, up until my stupid fiancÚ goes away for a few days and I get desperate for sex anyway, then we can be fuck buddies." Buffy was too mad to try for Faith's accent as she mocked her, but from the look on Faith's face it was working just fine without it. "Oh, B, I love you more than anyone ever, but not enough to actually be with you because I have to marry a guy I don't love so I can ride on his do-gooder coat-tails..."

That one earned her a head butt. It might not have hurt so much if it hadn't landed right on the burgeoning bruise Faith's punch had already given her. Dazed, but nowhere near down, Buffy gripped Faith under the arms and shoved her upwards as hard as she could. The back of Faith's head and shoulders collided with the roof of the car and as she fell back down Buffy brought a knee up sharply into her solar plexus, knocking all the wind out of her.

She lay rigid over Buffy for a second, unable to catch her breath, but as soon as Buffy tried twisting them around to get out from under her, Faith came back to life. Wriggling around, hands scrambling at the sides of the seat as she tried to stay on top.

Suddenly the passenger seat flipped back to an almost horizontal position, jarring them both. At first Buffy thought Faith had done it deliberately, but the curses coming from her and her effort to sit up in surprise suggested differently.

Buffy took the opportunity of a clean shot and punched her chin. That changed Faith's mind, and she threw herself back at Buffy with a fresh burst of wrestle-mania.

"Ever think I don't wanna be with you because I just don't love you as much as you want me to?" Faith bit out as they squirmed and thrashed about on the seat.

"No, because I already know the real reason. You're a stupid, spineless coward!"

As Faith gripped her hair tightly in a fist and pulled, Buffy dug her short nails into Faith's sides hard enough to draw small crescents of blood. They yelled in pain at the same time, Buffy doing the stupid thing and trying to pull her head away, Faith kicking out with both legs as she tried to get away from Buffy's twisting and scraping nails.

There was a bang and a snap that they both ignored as the tussle continued, but the loud 'vrrr'ing noise, followed by the blinding last rays of sunlight suddenly piercing the gloom in the car, made them pause and look around.

"Shit!" Faith pushed off of Buffy's head as she jumped to the driver's seat in alarm.

It took Buffy a second longer to realize what was going on, but when she saw the roof of the Mini convertible slowly easing back into the trunk, she started laughing. It wasn't a nice laugh; but then it wasn't meant to be.

Faith ignored her as she picked the plastic housing of a little lever from the floor and held it up. It had been broken completely off and the wire inside was snapped in two, one end dangling from the casing, the other just poking out of a new hole in the dash.

"Oh, not again," she groaned. "Fuckin' thing!"

Buffy laughed harder at her dismay.

"Would you shut up?" Faith snapped, punching her in the knee.

"What? You're allowed to get a kick out of my misery, but I'm not allowed to get one out of yours?" Buffy asked as she sat up.

"You are my misery," Faith muttered, turning the lever casing over in her hands.

"Poor baby," Buffy mocked, rolling her eyes. She took the broken plastic from Faith's unresisting hands. "So am I right in thinking this means your roof is stuck that way now?"

"What of it?"

Buffy shrugged, smirking nastily. "Nothing. I just wish I could be a fly on the wall when you tell Troy you broke your roof again, only this time... with me."

Faith glared at her. "I'll tell him that we were just fighting. He'll understand. Unlike your fake girlfriend, Troy trusts me."

"Wait..." Buffy laughed again. "I know why you're so sure he'll believe you. This is how you broke it off with him too, isn't it? There was no sex. You two were just having a fight and you didn't want to admit it to me."

"No, B." Faith leaned closer, her voice going seductively low. "He was fucking me. We were on that seat, naked as hell, and he was fucking me so hard I couldn't help myself. No one else has ever done me half that good." She cocked her head to one side, licking her lips slowly. "Know what I mean, B?"

The force of the slap turned Faith's face a sharp ninety degrees. Buffy was just sorry it didn't swivel all the way around.

Slowly, Faith turned back to face her, pink hand print glowing on her cheek in the dying light. She was still smirking. "I'll take that as a yes, then."

Buffy tried to slap her again, but Faith blocked it with the back of her hand. For a beat, they held each others' fuming eyes, then all-out slap-war broke out.

They were the hard, stinging kind of painful, and those were the ones that didn't land on the face; the ones that did were way worse. This was no spice-up-your-Saturday-night spanking fun, that was for sure.

They were both trying to block, squirm away and retaliate at the same time which meant at one point the end of Buffy's nose was swatted hard enough to bend it sideways, and in return she gave Faith's left breast a resounding smack - she couldn't stress enough how totally by accident that was, but she couldn't unfeel the hardened nipple her fingertips grazed either.

Faith grunted loudly at the impact, but from pain or pleasure, Buffy didn't know now. She did know that the two seconds she took to mull it over cost her a ringing ear and possibly life-long partial deafness.

The nipple had wrecked her groove, and with her burning ear too, she had to lean back and take a moment to regain it. Faith didn't give her a moment. Her longer reach was already proving useful and now, up on her knees, she leaned further across the seats to press her advantage, slapping at Buffy's head with both hands.

She'd never let Faith win by saying stop, but she did say "No!" as she leaned further back and realized the passenger door wasn't there to catch her. She gripped the shoulders of Faith's t-shirt in both fists as she fell, trying to stop herself. It didn't work so well and together they did a slow motion roll right out of the door.

"Ow!" Broken stalks and great clods of dry mud dug into her back as she landed in the field. Her legs were still in the Mini, sticking up over the seat. She'd had more dignified landings.

"Ow!" Faith said a split second later when she made her own landing, no doubt experiencing the same sharp and lumpy stuff that Buffy had.

She was stretched out, head to head with her, making a Faith shaped dent in the tall green crops - a crop-Faith. Buffy would have laughed if she wasn't so mad at her.

Really mad. Top of the scale mad. No problem bashing her head in with a sharp rock mad. Her arms were bent over her head, still clutching Faith's top in both hands. She let go and pushed at her shoulders as she tried to swing her legs out of the car. They had nowhere else to go though, so she had to settle for rolling herself backwards, pushing up with the back of her neck and her hands and not caring that she, by chance, kneeled on Faith's face as she came up right.

"Ow. Fuckin' hell."

Blindly, Faith threw her arm up to push her off and Buffy's eyes went wide when she was cupped right in the crotch. Faith didn't stop pushing and suddenly Buffy was riding her open palm like a saddle.

"Faith!" Scrambling to get off, but not in that way, Buffy hopped sideways, tripped on a snapped stalk and plunged into the green, making her very own crop-Buffy.

She could see bugs in there with her, an inch from her nose.

Maybe Faith had realized where her hand had landed and was embarrassed, or maybe she'd seen the bugs too, but she was already up and dusting off her ass by the time Buffy staggered back to her feet.

"Well, that was inappropri..."

"Don't..." Faith raised her hand as if to strike, but with the distance between them, it was an empty gesture. "Just don't friggin' say anything!"

"Don't speak to me like that."

"Look, B, all I wanna do right now is beat your face in; so just don't talk to me while I'm risin' above it."

"Trust me, the feelings mutual."

"I figured."

Buffy folded her arms angrily, but with difficulty kept her mouth firmly shut. Faith was right. A little time out was probably a good thing. She watched as Faith thrashed her way through the shoulder high stalks to get to the back of the Mini.

"What are...?" She began, but Faith glared at her so she closed her mouth again with an irritated sigh.

Faith popped the trunk, raising it to its full height so she could look inside. Then she turned suddenly and, much to Buffy's amusement, took some of her frustration out on the vegetation around her - complete with grunting and shouting - using feet and fists to clear herself some space at the back of the car.

When she had finished she leaned on the edge of the trunk and took a few even breaths as she calmed down and then started to root around in the hollow interior.

With nothing else to occupy her, Buffy walked parallel to the car so she could see what was going on. The sun was nearly down now and the low clouds coming from Rome were covering more than half of the previously clear sky. It would be dark before much longer and inside the trunk it already was save for the scant illumination provided by a diddy internal light.

"You're not gonna be able to fix the roof with that much light."

"Not trying," Faith growled, the small glow highlighting her livid expression.

"Then what are you doing in there?"

Faith didn't answer.

"There can't be anything that fascinating in an empty trunk," Buffy muttered.

Faith still didn't answer.

"Are you hiding in there or something?" she asked derisively, sure that would provoke a response.

It didn't.

"Stop ignoring me!"

"I've got nothing to say to you."

"So, that's your solution, you're just never going to speak to me again?"

"Yeah, that's exactly my solution."

"And you really think a solution that leaves you hiding in a trunk is a good one?"

"I'm getting the spare tire out, you fucking retard!" Faith shouted, lurching up from the trunk with the tire in one hand, lug wrench in the other.

She blinked a few times, and then said, "Oh."

Faith shook her head and then, kicking, stomping and battering the crops with the lug wrench, she made a path to the burst back tire on the other side.

"You're changing the tire?"

"Of course I'm changing the tire. It's what you do when one of 'em's flat."

"I just don't get why you're bothering," she said flatly. "You're not driving anywhere tonight."

"Like hell I ain't. I'm not spending any longer here with you than I have to."

"You're drunk, Faith!" Buffy snapped.

"I'm fine."

"You drove into a field!"

"That was your fault and you won't be with me when I leave so I'll be fine."

She pushed her way furiously through the stalks to the other side of the car. Faith was down on her knees, loosening the wheel bolts with the wrench.

"You're not thinking straight enough to drive."

"What? Because I don't wanna be around you I'm obviously not thinking straight? Personally, I think that means I'm finally thinking straight."

"Look, you can try and hurt me all you want, you're still not driving anywhere until you've calmed down."

Faith shot to her feet and Buffy took a step back in surprise, her butt bumping against the car.

Faith smirked at her reaction as she stood the spare tire up on end next to her and then half-squatted to hook her hands under the Mini.

Buffy looked on dubiously. There was no way Faith was going to lift the car. Sure it was compact, but it was still a car.

As Faith lifted with her legs, the car slowly rose to a forty-five degree angle. Faith didn't make it look easy - fresh sweat broke out on her face and Buffy could see her muscles straining beneath her t-shirt - except she kinda did, because there was the car, all jacked up by Faith.

"I coulda done that if I wanted to," Buffy muttered to herself.

"Yeah, well you didn't offer and I can't find the jack," Faith ground out. "You wanna switch the tires over, be my guest."

"I'm not getting my new clothes dirty fixing a tire we're not even gonna use tonight," Buffy huffed.

"Please your selfish little ass."

Faith shifted the weight on her feet and then carefully let go of the car with one hand to grip the ruined tire. A sharp tug got it off the wheel mount. It came free easily and she made as if she was going to throw it at Buffy.

Buffy stepped back, raising her arms, expecting them to be full of gritty, oily rubber any second, but with another smirk, Faith dropped it to the ground on its end and gave it a push. It rolled awkwardly over the crushed stems and fell on its side out of the way.

Faith took a second to adjust her hold on the Mini and then hefted the fresh wheel by her foot. She nearly lost her balance - the uneven clods of earth shifting under her feet - but regained it by slamming the wheel forward into the waiting well. The round peg didn't immediately fit into the round hole though and she had to jiggle it around, her hold on the car getting more precarious by the second.

"Oh, give it here!" Buffy snapped and fell to her knees beside it.

It took a moment, but with her other hand free Faith was able to lift the car higher again, giving Buffy more room to get the tire on properly.

"Done." She was about to stand up again.

"Nuts are in my pocket."

"I'm not putting my hand in your pocket."

"This thing's not getting any lighter, B."

"Should have thought about that before you picked it up."

"Buffy!"

"Oh, fine."

Staying on her knees, she grasped Faith's thigh in one hand - because even if they were in the middle of an argument there was no sense in passing up opportunities - and slid her hand into the tight pocket of her jeans.

"Hurry up."

"Sorry, just been a while since I put my hand in someone's pocket to grab their nuts."

Faith laughed without meaning to, but covered it with another harsh, "Hurry up!"

Smirking, Buffy extracted the four nuts and nimbly screwed them into place.

"Done," she said again and stood up, brushing off her hands as best as she could. "Do you have any wet-wipes?"

Faith set the car down gently and stood up, stretching her back with a soft moan. "This bitch is heavier than she looks. Glove compartment."

Buffy opened the driver's door and sat down to reach across for the wipes. "Right, now that's over with, any chance we can talk like rational adults?"

Faith ignored her as she put the trashed tire back in the trunk.

"Oh, don't start that again," she groaned, twisting in the seat to glare through the raised back window.

"Just 'cause we bonded over vehicle maintenance doesn't mean anything's changed, B."

"I know nothing's changed. That's where the rational talking comes in handy."

"No thanks." Faith slammed the trunk.

"What?"

"You can talk all you want. Gonna be a long night, have to entertain yourself somehow. I'm heading back to Rome so I won't be around to join in."

Buffy stared at her. "Stop pretending like you don't even care what's happening here."

"I don't."

"Oh, so suddenly you just don't care about me any more."

"S'not like I'm leaving a defenseless kid out here. You can take care of yourself. Get out of my seat."

"That's not the point!"

"Only a couple of miles back to Bracciano. I'm sure your new family would love you to spend the night." Faith sneered at her.

"Is that still what this is about? I can't help it if they liked me, Faith. They'd have liked you too if you hadn't acted like such a standoffish bitch."

Faith gripped the front of her shirt, and Buffy was standing up whether she wanted to or not. She went with it, figuring it was better than ripped clothes and once she was on her feet, she karate chopped Faith's wrist, making her let go with a yelp.

"I don't need Tone's family to like me. I don't need anyone to like me."

"Just as well."

Faith's eyes narrowed and Buffy nearly tripped as she was shoved sideways along the car. She was back before Faith could turn towards the door.

"Get out of my face!" Faith shouted, and she was shoved again, harder this time, but she still kept her feet.

"You are not driving until you calm down!" Buffy ran the three feet towards Faith and had an arm around her throat, pulling her back before she could slide into the driver's seat.

"Get the hell off me. I'm warning you, B, get the hell off me!" Faith pulled at her arm, but she was off balance and Buffy dragged her backwards easily.

She raised her foot, planning on kicking Faith in the back of her knee to make her go down, but it was tricky with the way she was fighting it and they both went down, landing hard on the stubbly car-crushed stalks.

Buffy's arm released automatically and Faith rolled away - still cursing at her - which meant at least a repeat of the wrestling fun wasn't on the cards.

They lurched up at the same time and Faith bolted for the car, but a spinning kick took care of that problem. Buffy winced as Faith's head snapped sideways and she went down to her knees again, but not much, and she had the drivers door slammed and was leaning against it by the time Faith was up and charging at her.

Buffy was ready for it, but it didn't stop the pain of a fist in her gut and a shoulder in her chest.

"Okay, ow."

Faith rebounded and was ready to punch her again. Buffy held up her hand.

"No, really, ow."

Faith stilled, looking like she was taking notice, but as soon as Buffy dropped her hand back to her chest, she punched her on the nose.

"Owww! For fucks sake!"

"I can't do calm around you anymore! Don't you get that?" Faith yelled, dancing around in front of her pain-filled eyes. "Everything about you makes me not calm."

"Don't you think that might mean something?" Buffy wheezed out, still rubbing her chest.

Faith laughed as she said, "Yeah, it means I can't handle being near you anymore!"

"Not what I was thinking!"

Buffy gingerly rubbed under her nose and checked her fingers. No blood, miraculously.

"I was doing fine. I was actually thinking we could make this work, but you had to go and ruin it, didn't you? You had to fucking push! Don't know why I'm even surprised. You always have to go that extra inch to make me crazy. Why, B? Why couldn't you just be happy with what we had?"

"Because what we had was a joke! We're meant to be more than that and you know it!"

"Bullshit! That's just what you want us to be."

"Don't you get it? You wouldn't be so freaked out about my decision if you really didn't know what you're throwing away."

Faith fumed quietly for a moment, taking short, shallow breaths, staring her down. "I'm not throwing you away. You're running away."

Was that really how Faith saw her brave stand?

"Better than the alternative," she said, with a one-shoulder shrug.

"The alternative being you sticking around and us being friends? If that's how you feel, you're probably right."

"Faith, I wanna be your friend, I really do, but..."

Faith threw her arms up. "No buts! If you really meant it there wouldn't be a but at the fucking end every time."

"But it's driving me crazy!" Buffy yelled. "And it's obviously driving you crazy!" She pushed Faith, but she just rocked on her heels. "I can't just be friends with someone who I can't stop thinking about. Can't stop dreaming about! I can't have girly chats with you about what a great kisser you are, or what a great kisser Toni is for that matter. I can't have sleepovers with you because... sharing a bed? Only one place that can go. I can't go clubbing or drinking with you because, well, that would probably lead to the same end; I know I'd certainly want it to every time. I can't even eat a meal with you without wanting to be the spaghetti you're slurping up!"

And then Faith was kissing her. It was hard, closed-mouth, almost painful, and very welcome. Almost enough for Buffy to forget herself and go with the moment. But, uh, no!

She pushed Faith back. "What are you doing?"

"Exactly what you want me to."

"I never asked you to kiss me."

"No, you're asking me to be more than friends." Faith grabbed her wrists and held firmly by her sides. "That's what I'm doing."

Faith kissed her again, shuffling her backwards until Buffy's butt was pressed to the top edge of the car door. She gave in for a few seconds, before turning her head swiftly to the side to lose Faith's lips.

"Stop. This isn't helping. Kissing isn't going to solve any of our problems. It's just going to make them worse."

Faith backed up, pissed off. "Well make up your fuckin' mind, B. You just wanna be friends, you don't wanna be friends; you don't want to be just friends? I don't know what the fuck you want anymore."

Buffy slammed both palms on the door behind her with a loud, metallic bang. "You know exactly what I want!"

"Hey, don't hit my car!"

Buffy gave her a questioning look.

"I mean it, leave her alone. Sick of you damaging her."

"It's just a car, Faith, and it's not even a real one. It's the size of the pedal car I had when I was five."

"Fuck you."

Buffy laughed. "Why are you so touchy about it? Surely you can't be that attached to a toy car?"

"You wouldn't get it."

Buffy shrugged. "Tell me anyway."

"That car... it... it's a symbol. I can go anywhere in it and..."

"What?"

"See, I knew you wouldn't get it."

"You didn't explain anything!"

"Fine! I passed the dealership one day and fell in love, okay? She just... I mean, look at her! I had to have her..." Faith smiled affectionately at her car. "... and I had to call in a few favors, but I got her. Now she's all mine... So quit hitting her!"

Buffy's eyebrows were up as far as they could go by the time Faith had finished her little story. Her mouth shaped a couple of responses before pure incredulity won out.

"That would be a heart-warming story... if it wasn't about a car!"

"Whatever."

"Nice to know you can follow your heart when it really matters though." she continued.

"Give me a break," Faith groaned.

"I was starting to think you didn't even have one, but your fuzzy little car story sure proved me wrong."

"Oh, get over it, Buffy. You wanna think I don't love you just 'cause I won't drop everything and run off into the sunset the second you ask, go right ahead. Personally I think if you really loved me you wouldn't be demanding I do it or else."

"Don't put this on me."

"It is on you, B. It all has to be your way. When I wanted more and you didn't, I backed off. Didn't I? I never pushed you on it once. And when you wanted more and I didn't, but you wouldn't stop pushing, I never held it against you; I never let it get in the way of our friendship, did I? Even when you turned up here I just let it slide..."

"Excuse me?" she asked indignantly.

"I'm talking about after I crushed your foot."

"Oh, well that's okay then." She rolled her eyes. "And you didn't let it slide. We made the decision together."

"Whatever! My point is I've been pretty friggin' accommodating when it comes to you this year. So don't pretend everything that is wrong here is down to me." Faith's voice started to rise again. "Now if you wanna run away from us because I can't give you exactly what you want, then fuck off... but if you want me? If you want there to be an us? I'm right here, B." Faith held her arms out briefly to the sides. "But I'm not gonna bow down to your ultimatums and I'm not gonna fuck up my life for you again."

"I didn't fuck up your life; you fucked up your life. And now you're fucking it up all over again and you're too stupid to even realize it. Who're you gonna blame when I'm not here, Faith, huh?"

"Go to hell."

"No thanks, I wouldn't wanna be stuck for an eternity with you."

Faith sneered. "Real nice."

"You don't deserve nice right now." With a sad shake of her head, Buffy added. "And you know what? I retract my ultimatum, because you don't deserve me either."

"Oh, poor little Buffy's sulking again 'cause she's not getting her way... what a surprise."

"Speak to me like that once more and I'll hit you so hard your ass will cause an earthquake," Buffy warned.

"Sorry, not scared. Hard to take you seriously when we both know the right word from me will have you beggin' on your knees for a..."

Faith landed on her back a few feet from where she'd been standing and didn't get back up. There was no earthquake, but Buffy's fist hurt. She tried to ignore it, using it to gingerly wipe the tears forming in her eyes as she took a deep breath or two. She felt surprisingly calmer already, detached even; it was surreal, but she was grateful for it.

She walked over to Faith's prone form, and although she didn't want to even care, she checked the woman was still breathing and had a pulse and stuff. She did, she was even starting to slowly come around already; so Buffy wasted no time in going back to the car and sliding into the drivers seat.

The keys were still in the ignition like she'd expected and the engine started on the first try. She was glad she'd helped Faith change the tire now. Used to having to get cars out of the tight spaces she'd rammed them into, she wasn't daunted by the enclosing stalks around the hood and the trunk.

She flipped on the headlights and they, and the sounds of the engine revving a little higher than was necessary, brought Faith groggily back to her feet.

Unexpectedly, the first words out of her mouth were, "Okay, I deserved that." Quickly followed by, "But get the fuck out of my car."

Buffy ignored her as she looked behind and shunted the car a few inches in reverse. She could have done with Faith being out for a few more minutes, but in some ways it was just as well - she'd been laying in the way to the road.

"What are you doing?"

Buffy still didn't answer, but she noticed that the lug wrench Faith must have accidentally left in the grass was now in her hand. She didn't honestly think Faith would use it on her, but she kept a wary eye on her anyway as she twisted the wheel hard and moved the car forward as far as she could.

"Where are you going?" Faith asked in a harder tone.

"I'm driving to Ciampino and getting straight on a plane to the States," she said as emotionlessly as possible. Dawn and Andrew could meet her there. "You got what you wanted, Faith, I'm getting gone as soon as humanly possible."

"No you're not," Faith said skeptically.

Buffy reversed the car back a foot, but kept her eyes on Faith - what did she care if she crunched the trunk on something? "You can believe it or not, I'll still be gone."

The car was turned towards the road now, but Faith was still standing in the way.

"You're not going anywhere. Not until we're done talking."

"We are so far beyond done, Faith. Move."

"This is what I mean, B," Faith said in a level voice. "I don't fall in line and you raise the stakes even higher. Just because I can't give you exactly what you want on your timeline, you wanna blow outta here like you fuckin' hate me or something."

"I'm blowing out of here because it's what you so obviously want. You never wanted me to follow you, remember? And I'm just gonna fuck your life up. And yes, Faith, that does make me hate you a little. So it's better for both of us if I just go."

"You're not going anywhere."

"You don't get a say in the matter." Buffy gunned the engine a few times. "Now move!"

"Why can't you just meet me halfway for once?"

Buffy took her foot off the gas. "You mentioned my timeline. Do I feature at some point in your timeline?"

"You feature in all my timeline."

"I meant just me," Buffy clarified. "Do you see a time now where it might just be you and me?"

In the beam of the headlights she saw Faith dip her head to stare at the ground. When she didn't lift it again immediately, Buffy knew she had her answer.

"That's not meeting halfway. You're just trying to manipulate me into doing what you want."

Faith looked up again, but she probably couldn't see Buffy beyond the glare. "Like you tried manipulating me, you mean?"

"I wasn't trying to manipulate you. Okay, I admit, I may have picked the timing I thought would best suit, but I never promised you anything I didn't intend to follow through on just to make you come with me."

"Sure did everything but."

"I was desperate," Buffy blurted out involuntarily. "I mean..." she gave up trying to cover up; Faith already knew the truth. "I thought you were worth the risk."

"You thought? So you don't now?"

Buffy sighed heavily before answering. "I asked you to run away and be with me forever. If that was really such a repulsive suggestion to you, you could have just said no. Instead, you chose to ignore me for a week and followed that up by being a complete bitch. So, no, now I really don't think it was worth the risk, but I took it already and, I'm sorry, but we have to live with the consequences."

"That's bull; we don't have to live with nothing."

"I'm not really into the whole Romeo and Juliet suicide pact thing, even with you, so I have to disagree. Now move out of the way or I'm gonna drive straight over you!"

"You're not driving my car anywhere!"

"Wanna put some money on that?" Buffy gunned the engine some more for emphasis.

"I could be over that hood and on you in a second," Faith warned.

"And the instant I see you move I'm gonna hit the gas," she bluffed. "I'm a crappy driver, Faith. Do you really wanna be my hood ornament?"

Faith called her bluff and moved, but not to leap into the car.

The close glare of the left headlight made her sudden grin sinisterly manic as she swung the lug wrench back like a nine iron and then it went dark as her perfect drive smashed it to smithereens.


Chapter Twenty Four

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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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