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 Three: New City, New 'Friends'

It had been a long flight - the three hour stopover in Amsterdam Willow had failed to mention not making it any shorter - but finally Buffy was allowed off the plane. She smiled with relief as she trotted down the rickety metal steps with the other passengers. It was light out, but barely, electricity was still needed to enhance the pale morning.

Another plane whooshed to a halt down the landing strip, making Buffy jump as her toes touched down on the tarmac - were they allowed to do that so close?

It was warm already and Buffy could feel the humidity in the air - and down the back of her black baby-T - as she hurried across the runway ahead of Dawn and Andrew to the long wide bus waiting for arrivees. Onboard the air was even stickier, with so many people crammed in tight. Gritting her teeth, Buffy tried to ignore the little girl standing on her foot and the umbrella poking into her back.

Nearly there now.

*****

It was getting ridiculous. They'd spent nearly an hour waiting to get through passport control and now Buffy was forced to go through this humiliating procedure.

There were three burly Italian men around her. One was holding a German Shepherd dog on a short leather leash, another was rummaging through her hand luggage and the third had just finished waving a vibrating wand thing all around her body. She wasn't sure if he was performing magick or if was this just another inappropriately forward Italian come-on, but he was the only one who seemed to speak her language, so she was trying to listen to what he was telling her.

Behind them, Andrew was back to reading his phrase book and Dawn was openly smirking at her sister's ordeal.

"What do you mean it was never on the plane?" Buffy finally challenged the security officer as she ran a frustrated hand through her hair. "It had to be on the plane."

"I am afraid it was detained for a security check and was found to be a terror risk." The guard explained in careful English. He was big, like Riley big, with buzz-cut short black hair and dark serious eyes.

"You thought my bag was a terrorist?" Buffy shook her head, trying not to get annoyed. "It's a suitcase! It doesn't even understand extremism; it just lives to carry clothes."

"Not just clothes, Signora."

He held up a scanned photo of her large pink holdall. Inside were the clothes she'd packed, her make up, her wash bag, her Scythe, her wallet...

Buffy's eyes darted back to the Scythe, sat in pride of place in the middle of her bag, the red and silver looking black and grey in the photo, but it was still easy to see it was a weapon. So much for the glamor Willow had supposedly placed over it.

"I can explain..." she started, but then paused. She could explain, but it wouldn't help her case any. She tried a less honest approach. "It's ceremonial, for religious purposes."

The security man nodded, "Si, it always is."

Buffy rolled her eyes. "Okay, you don't believe me, but it's still in Cleveland anyway, right? So why are you still detaining me? It's not like I'm dangerous without my... harmless replica kung-fu axe thingy."

The guy with his hands in her bag suddenly pulled out two finely sharpened stakes and held them up for his associates to see. The interrogating guard looked at her, his expression inviting her to try and explain that one.

Buffy was doing her best to come up with something plausible, when a bottle of holy water was pulled from her bag along with a cross.

"I, ah..."

At an Italian command, the sniffer dog started work. Buffy did her best not to wriggle as it invaded her personal space and then tried to invade even further.

"Do you mind?" she snapped, pushing the dog's friendly nose from her crotch. "What exactly do you think I'm stashing there?"

The English-speaking guard suddenly smiled at her, showing lots of very white but uneven teeth. "I really would not wish to hazard a guess, Signora, but if you would please just come with me..." Was he pulling rubber gloves from his pocket? "...we will soon be enlightened, si?"

"Oh, hell no." Buffy backed up; the German Shepherd followed her, or more accurately, her p... cat! She swiped his big head away again as she brought her arms up defensively. "Get those gloves away from me!"

Dawn, heaving a big sigh, swept regally in front of Buffy before any damage could be done. She held one hand up to the surprised security guards before flicking through the book she'd snatched from Andrew.

Before Buffy could ask 'what the fuck?' Dawn was speaking in slow, clear Italian. She had to keep pausing to look up certain words, but she had their attention, and, as Buffy squirmed away from the insistent dog again, Dawn made a comment that had all three guards laughing along with her.

*****

They finally left the airport, walking down the steps into a day so bright it hurt amid a sea of nuns. They must have been baking in their stiff black and white Habits. Many smiled and nodded to Buffy. Through gritted teeth, she smiled nervously back at them, puzzled by their friendly attention, until she realized she was still clutching her wooden cross - the only item she'd been allowed to keep from her collection.

They found a taxi easily enough and it was Dawn once again who managed to get them delivered safely to their hotel in the centre of Rome. It should have gone smoothly from there, except...

"What do you mean we can't have our room?" Buffy asked, beyond huffy now. "It's booked under Buffy Summers. That's me! Look, here's my passport." She showed it to the man behind the reception desk again.

"I have already explained, madam, that I will need to see the credit card with which the rooms were booked." The man explained again in snotty English.

"But the rooms are already paid for!" she fumed.

"Yes, but I must see the card with which they were paid for," he repeated. "I am afraid that otherwise I cannot allow you to have the keys."

"But the card's back in Cleveland along with the rest of my luggage!"

"That is most regrettable, madam." The receptionist sounded bored, and Buffy was sure if there had been anyone else waiting, he would have already dismissed them.

"Why didn't you keep your wallet on you?" Dawn hissed angrily. "Like any normal person."

"Because I thought it would be safer in my suitcase!" Buffy hissed back, just as angry. "I didn't want to lose it!"

Dawn rolled her eyes.

The receptionist seemed to finally take some pity on them. "Perhaps you have another card?"

"Well I know I don't, it took me long enough to get that one." Buffy looked at Andrew to see if he did.

He shook his head, "Mr. Giles said I had to put in a year's service before he'd let me have one. If we come back in two months..."

"Can we pay in cash?" Buffy asked desperately.

They had stopped at a Bureau de change on their way out of the airport to convert the dollars they'd been carrying to local money and her itty-bitty Hello Kitty purse was filled to bursting with Monopoly-style bills.

"Of course." The man behind the desk brightened and started tapping away at his keyboard. "That will be 214 Euros."

Buffy looked helplessly at Dawn and Andrew for a second, before turning back to the man. "Okay, well I guess we better all try and fit in one room. How much will..."

"Sorry, madam, that is for only one room."

"For how long?" Buffy squeaked.

"Tonight."

"Okay." Buffy bared her teeth in a strained attempt to grin reassuringly. "We'll be back in just a moment."

She pulled the other two into a huddle away from the desk. "I don't have that much on me."

"Maybe if we pool all our cash," Andrew offered.

"It's not worth it for one night," Dawn reasoned. "What if Giles can't get another credit card to us straight away? We'll be in an even worse situation tomorrow night."

"You're right," Buffy nodded. "We have to find something cheaper. Sorry guys, this wasn't supposed to happen."

"Yeah, well what did you expect when you planned it in, like, three minutes flat with no warning to anyone?" Dawn grumbled.

"Dawn, one day you'll be in love, and you'll get why I did it."

"I am in love, Buffy. Not that you cared when you dragged me all the way here."

"I have an idea," Andrew said over the bickering, and before Buffy could stop him he strolled back to the desk.

"Excuse me, my good man," he spoke up loudly, putting as much authority - and English accent - into his voice as he could find. "I am with the Council of Watchers. I am sure you have heard of us and know that our word is to be trusted, and I must insist that you give us the key to our room immediately!"

Buffy cringed, but couldn't pull her eyes away.

The man on reception stared at Andrew as if he'd suddenly forgotten all the English he knew, which was kind of funny considering Buffy was pretty sure he was actually English.

"I am afraid your Council does not have an account with us, sir, and so I can not help you. Good day now." The man disappeared through a door behind the desk and probably wasn't going to return until they'd gone.

Andrew walked moodily back to them.

"What did you think was going to happen?" Buffy whispered at him as he got closer. "The Watchers are a secret organization, nimrod!"

"It just seemed like it would have worked for Giles," Andrew whined.

"You are so not Giles." Dawn pointed out.

With no help left in the hotel, Buffy led the way back outside. The day was a scorcher and it was still only ten in the morning. At least that gave them plenty of time to find somewhere else to spend the night. Maybe they could even find Troy's place by then and he could put them all up. Now that would be funny.

Buffy wandered slowly down the sweltering street, having no clue which direction to head in. She was carrying Dawn's suitcase as she didn't have one of her own anymore. Behind her, Andrew was complaining that his bag was already getting heavy, but she wasn't gonna carry his too, even though she could have with ease. It wasn't like she was going to be borrowing his clothes for the foreseeable future.

There was a hiss as she passed a dark doorway and she turned fast, wondering what was attacking them already.

It was a man, and he wasn't attacking them, but he did call them closer with a motion of his finger. They all stepped warily towards him. The least striking thing about him was the dark glasses he wore in the deep shadow, and when he spoke, he addressed Andrew in a whisper.

"I could not help overhear, you are with Watcher Council, si?"

Andrew nodded nervously, looking Buffy's way for direction.

"Who wants to know?" she asked, stepping in front of Andrew.

The man ignored her and again spoke to Andrew. "I am Council friend, signor, I wish to help." He handed a slip of paper to him. "Go here, tell them Hermes send you, they will look after you, né?"

"Okay, thanks," Andrew smiled.

"You are welcome," Hermes nodded. "I must go now." He opened the door and went through it, closing it softly behind him.

"Well that was strange," Dawn commented.

"Yes, strange," Buffy agreed. "As in 'too strange to be true'."

"Why can't you just admit my plan worked?" Andrew was beaming with triumph, one step short of letting loose with a Nya na nana na!

"Because, I'm pretty slow when it comes to these things, but even I can see this has trap written all over it." Buffy took the paper from him; it was just an address, no name or anything. "And, oh yeah, he was wearing a leather dress, a red cape and sunglasses!"

"And did you see the sandals?" Dawn smirked.

"No, I was too busy keeping an eye on the sword."

Planning on following their new 'friend' for a little more conversation, Buffy gently eased the door open to peer behind it. Beyond was a courtyard. A big empty courtyard surrounded on all sides by old buildings with many doors and alleyways leading from it and absolutely no sign of Hermes.

"How can it be a trap?" Dawn wondered. "Nobody knows we're coming, do they? You really think that guy overheard Andrew in the hotel and managed to put an ambush in motion in the time it took us to walk outside?"

"Maybe not," Buffy admitted, but she still didn't like it. It seemed too easy, but maybe that was just because nothing else had been. "I guess we can at least check the address out and take it from there."

Another taxi ride later, and they were standing on a side-street. Scooters lined both sides of the narrow road, old buildings towered above them, and most of the establishments seemed to be either restaurants or bars. The road was completely in shadow and most of the sidewalk was crammed full of outside dining and drinking areas. The air was full of the sounds of people eating and horns honking.

"This is the place," Andrew confirmed, back in charge of the piece of paper again.

Buffy looked up at the high wide archway and through to the shadowy hallway beyond. It didn't look much like a hotel, but they were here now.

The stone hallway was nice and cool, but the only thing it held was a rack of tourist leaflets. There was a narrow staircase - also of stone, Buffy was starting to detect a theme here - leading up from a far corner and Buffy led the way up, tensed and ready to use Dawn's suitcase as a weapon if she had to. After all, she didn't have any others left.

At the top was an alcove with the smallest reception desk ever. The man behind it paid them no attention at all until Buffy was standing right in front of him.

"Buonogiorno," he said at last.

"Bunnyjerno," Andrew and Dawn both replied from behind Buffy.

Buffy hiked her thumb over her shoulder, "What they said. Hermes sent us," she added, cutting to the chase.

"Ah, you are Americano, si? How delightful." The man hopped to his feet, smiling widely. He was too old to be attractive, but he did have a nice smile and his dark eyes sparkled. "What is weather like there today?"

Buffy was caught off guard by the random question, "I, uh, don't know, I haven't been there today. Um, Hermes sent us," she repeated.

"Si, si, you are most fortunate, then. Hermes sent you for best room in the city," he smiled again and then turned away to fetch a key. "I have only one room left. Will be okay, si?"

"Uh, I guess," Buffy just really hoped it had at least two beds. She could handle sharing with Dawn, but she was not sharing with Andrew as well. "How much?"

The man smiled and placed the key on the tiny desk as he turned to a small receipt machine and started stabbing old fashioned buttons. "Will be 12 Euro a night for you."

"We'll take it!" All three of them said at once. Dawn snatched the key up for good measure.

*****

"Do you think we were too hasty?" Buffy asked as the three of them surveyed their room.

"I think I'm just glad to see a bed," Dawn admitted, throwing herself forward onto the double.

"It has satellite TV," Andrew bounced happily on the end of his thin single bed as he used the old remote to flick through hundreds of unrecognizable channels. "Cool, Charmed in Italian. Leo... I mean, Piper is so hot."

Buffy shook her head, actually glad for something to smirk about. The room wasn't that bad, she supposed. Small, sure, and cramped with the three of them, but it was clean and light and... cheap. It would do for the time being.

The double bed was nice and big and took up most of the room. A single bed had been rammed into the space at the foot of the double, meaning you could only get into it by crawling up from the end. There was a small cabinet for the television at the end of the single bed, and beside the double was a smaller table with a telephone. There was a large wardrobe built in above the bed and inside was a small grey electronic safe which allowed you to make up your own key code.

The wardrobe and the safe were the coolest things in the room, and it was a pity Buffy didn't have anything to put in either of them.

The bathroom was communal, and down the end of the hall. That sucked, but Buffy had checked it out and it looked sanitary. Hopefully they wouldn't be here long enough to see it not looking sanitary.

It was warm in the room, but Buffy found the aircon controller, turning it on and cranking it up. Then she went to the phone. She'd promised to call home as soon as they arrived and her cell battery was typically dead. She picked up the receiver as she read the instructions. Damn it, you needed a credit card. Lotta use that was then!

She knew she should really go back out on the street and try and find a payphone, plus a phone book to look up Troy's address, but it was midday now and she really didn't want to go back into the heat just yet. She felt like she'd already gotten a little sun-stroke just from the few minutes they'd been walking around.

She sat herself on the double bed, deciding to give herself an hour to rest; it wouldn't cut into her itinerary too much. Dawn was already fast asleep and Andrew looked to be almost dozing, his eyes were half-closed as he watched the television. The volume was low and the quiet female Italian dubbing reminded Buffy of Toni - it should have been a harsh reminder, but it was actually kinda soothing.

She reached into her small bag for her notebook, and, plumping her not very plumpable pillows, sank back against them. She opened the book to her recent translation attempts and read it back to herself...

Another new year. I can no longer count how many I saw. Time cut to size snacks that are forced to swallow again and again. Different people, different music, but the same beasts and the same dance. At least this year will bring changes, possibly even completion, and after so many years of monotony that can wait almost to embrace it.

It didn't make a whole lot of any kind of sense to Buffy, and she was sure she must have gotten at least a few words completely wrong, but she read the short paragraph again and again until her eyes blurred and then flickered closed.

Soon she was asleep, images of Toni dancing and flirting with demons invading her dreams.


Chapter 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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