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 Seven: It's All About The Chase

Game time!

The two words kept repeating themselves in Buffy's head, as if her brain was trying to spur her into action with the threat of madness.

Still she stayed hidden behind a white marble pillar.

It hadn't been part of the plan, to hide like this.

On first spotting Faith, she'd jumped from her seat, transfixed - she wasn't alone, half the club was staring too - as Faith casually checked the place out from the top of the steps.

Buffy's mind had blanked, forgetting even that her legs were dripping with champagne, as she took in the long awaited sight of her fellow Slayer. And then, slowly, she started to smile. She'd found her! Now all she had to do was make her way through the crowd and say Hi; the rest would sort itself out.

Faith suddenly looked straight at her and Buffy felt an overwhelming sense of overwhelminess. She sat back down in her chair so fast she left her brain flapping in the air above her. Because a lack of brain could be the only reason for swiveling around in her chair - mindless of the fact that it was all soggy now - and shielding her face with her hair.

Her new friend was apologizing for the accidental drenching, but Buffy barely heard her over the panic of her own inner-voice. Had Faith seen her? Was she marching over to ask what the hell was going on?

A minute or more passed without any confrontation and Buffy risked a look. Faith was at the bar, Troy's arm loosely around her and showing no signs of having just seen a ghost from her past.

Buffy allowed herself to breathe regularly again, questioning her behavior. As in: 'Hiding, why am I?' She hadn't spent all that time on the death-plane and then a week sharing a room with Dawn and Andrew just to skulk in the corner and check Faith out. Not that checking her out was bad - God, she looked good!

'Maybe,' she'd thought weakly, 'just sitting here is okay.'

She was with friends; well, kinda, so at least she didn't look like a stalker. And Faith was bound to notice her sooner or later. When she came over to demand answers, Buffy could act totally surprised, like it was mere coincidence that they just happened to be in the same place at the same time - a place only three thousand miles or so from where Buffy was supposed to be.

"Fancy seeing you here..." Buffy tried the words out under her breath before shaking her head. Even if Faith was shaken enough to buy it, she'd just get mad that Buffy had come all the way to Rome with no intention of looking her up. Plus, if Troy saw her first and managed to catch her off-guard, she might be dead in a dumpster out back before she ever got a chance to speak to Faith.

Eventually, Buffy had stood up shakily and slipped onto the dance floor, shaking her thang all the way into the middle. Dancing alone, she did her best to look lost in the heavy beat of the music, but she followed the couple with her eyes as they left the bar and came to dance themselves.

Unwittingly, they'd also headed for the middle and Buffy found herself slinking further and further back out of sight until she'd ended up behind this pillar.

Game time!

She knew it was time to act, to set in motion her good intentions, but she was suffering a little stage-fright. As much as she was dying to jump out in front of Faith and yell 'Surprise', if only to see her expression, the 'What next?' question kept stalling her.

Faith and Troy were now just beyond the pillar Buffy was using as a cover. There were other dancers between them, but if either focused their attention in her direction only a smoke screen would keep her concealed.

Buffy was captivated, glued to the spot, her heart pounding as Faith danced just a few feet away, close enough to hypnotize with the sway of her ass and roll of her hips. She swallowed, half-smiling, as she got her first good ogle at Faith in months. It had been way too long. Faith looked, well, she looked...

Her blue jeans were so ripped they had a laddered effect. Her top was a white string vest that glowed otherworldly under the ultra-violet laser lights. Lots of tanned skin showed enticingly through the small holes. To complete the ensemble her best slaying boots - only loosely laced - were stomping the dance floor, severely putting at risk the expensive footwear of the rest of the clientele.

She looked as scruffy as hell, but God, did she look hot with it.

"No, not hot!" Buffy scolded herself, sidling around the pillar for a better view. "Best friends do not look hot! She just looks scruffy; really scruffy, so scruffy I'm wet with... with disapproval."

Faith's hair was an inch shorter than Buffy remembered, straightened so that the ends wisped instead of curled, and lighter, sun-kissed. Her dress sense may have had Gucci turning in his grave, but there was no denying Rome looked good on her.

Okay, this wasn't getting her anywhere she needed to be.

She shifted her gaze to Troy - the visual equivalent of a cold shower. The jerk looked as good as he had the last time Buffy had seen him, all perfect sculpted body and handsome chiseled face. He was laughing, lifting Faith's hands in the air as he danced her in closer. Faith was laughing too, her eyes sparkling, her skin flushed, not just with the dancing; there was an inner flushiness there too. Faith was glowing!

Buffy watched, her heartbeat harder than the House music playing as Faith's hands dropped onto Troy's shoulders, stroking them lovingly before sliding into his black curls and pulling him down for a kiss.

Turning away and leaning back against the cool pillar, she swallowed her heart back down. If anyone thought she was weird for her sudden stop in the middle of a song, she didn't care. There were tears in her eyes, mingling with perspiration. She blinked hurriedly, not because she wanted to see, because if anyone asked her now if she was okay, she'd lose it for sure.

A horrible realization had just hit her, and it had taken her breath away, but it was one she was going to have to face sooner or later. She was supposed to be the brave one, the one who didn't get scared and run at the first hurdle. Maybe she hadn't lived up to that where Faith was concerned, at least not to an extent her moral self could respect, and perhaps this was her punishment, or perhaps it was just another hurdle.

Either way, she had the usual two choices she always seemed to have: Face it head on and deal with the shit as it was thrown, or, head home and never speak of it again, knowing forever deep down that she wasn't as good as the person she pretended to be, wanted to be.

Faith was happy. Capital H all the way through to capital Y, and why? Because of Troy. It was sickening, but there was the evidence right there! It was obvious in her eyes, her smile, her body language, and it wasn't just Buffy noticing it, every girl - and more than a few guys - who passed too close shot dirty looks the Slayer's way. Envy easy to read in their twisted expressions, longing to have just an ounce of what Faith evidently had.

Was it because of Troy's demonic pheromones? Had Faith been soused in it for so long she was completely sozzled? Or was Faith just... happy?

If you love someone, let them go.

The saying had never made much sense to Buffy. Why would you let the person you loved go, unless of course he was a vampire two hundred and change years older than you? Now though, maybe she understood it. If Faith was half as happy as she looked here with Troy, even if it was a spell, how could Buffy want to ruin that if she truly loved her?

A couple of tears fell despite her efforts, and she let them wash some of the immediate pain away. Her resolve was back, only slightly tattered for the time being, and it was time to act before it disappeared again.

She rounded the pillar confidently and locked eyes with Troy. She just had time to see his Mediterranean blue eyes go wide with surprise, before the flickering strobe light returned with a vengeance.

She ducked back behind the pillar, breathing hard all over again.

"What am I doing?' she kicked herself. 'Did I expect him not to see me when I went over to say hello? Go!'

She left her hiding place again, but with the strobe it was a second before she spotted Troy and Faith. They were dancing away from her.

Buffy did her best to push through the crowd after them, determined to announce her presence without a delay that would give Troy the chance to stop her, but there were more people on the floor now, more people everywhere.

A few times she went off course and lost sight of them completely. By the time she'd cleared the dance floor, the strobe had ended and she clearly saw Troy giving Faith a piggy-back up the steps towards the entrance - which, coincidentally, also happened to be the exit. He was making a dash for it, with Faith - who was laughing and clinging to his back like a sexy limpet - none the wiser.

Not gonna happen!

Buffy was accosted at the foot of the steps. She'd seen her new friends there as she rushed over, and with her head down, was planning on running straight past.

"Buffy! Buffy! Where did you go?" The woman she'd first spoken with outside greeted her fondly, stepping in front and grabbing her hands. "Come dance with me now."

"I'm sorry, I can't," Buffy didn't put much feeling in it as she tried to extricate herself and keep going.

The woman started dragging her back towards the dance floor. "Of course you can, come with me; I have been waiting all night!"

"I really have to go," Buffy apologized. "But next time..."

"No, not next time..."

She'd been pissed at the thought of losing precious seconds, now she was losing precious minutes.

"Okay, not next time either." She roughly pulled away, causing the other woman to stagger and almost go down. "Sorry."

Some more of the Slavic beauties were glaring at her in surprise. Not caring, Buffy pushed straight through the middle of them.

It took her another minute to squeeze past the stream of people coming in. It was dark when she finally burst out onto the street. Buffy spotted her prey heading fast towards the far end.

"Not doing much to warrant the blessing I was about to give you, Troy," she muttered as she followed as fast as she could in her shoes. "Knew you were stupid."

They rounded a corner and Buffy put on a little extra speed until she had them in sight again. This road was wider, and mostly pedestrian although Scooters were parked everywhere. There were still a lot of people around, but they had a more touristy vibe.

Buffy felt overdressed to be walking here, and she was aware that the back of her dress had crinkled a little from the spilled champagne. She couldn't shake the feeling of a walk of shame - inexplicable, considering it was still the night before and she had done nothing to feel ashamed for -- but with every clomp the too big shoes made on the sidewalk and the way her damp dress was riding up her thighs on a journey to her ass, she felt wrong to be amongst all the conservatively dressed Japanese tourists snapping away with their digital cameras.

She was gaining on them. Troy didn't look back to see if she was following. If he looked back, Faith would have no choice but to look back too with the way she was riding him.

There were horses at the end of the road, horses with carriages attached. Buffy had seen them around the city, mostly outside the Colosseum. For a price they took tourists for romantic rides around the hot spots.

Troy dropped a giggling Faith into the one at the front and climb in after. Once he was comfortably seated he did look around, picked Buffy out of the crowd and smiled. She knew he had nice smiles, this wasn't one of them. He turned back to Faith then, wrapping his arms around her and kissing her passionately, but still had the presence of mind to wave at Buffy as the carriage pulled away.

Red hot with anger and spluttering with disbelief, Buffy kicked off her shoes, scooped them up - because she couldn't be dealing with Dawn's wrath if she just left them - and sprinted barefooted after them.

By the time she was level with the tail-swishing, ear-twitching horses lined up, the sound of hooves was fading into the city noise as Faith was trotted away from her. Buffy wasn't going to catch them on foot, not if she still wanted skin left on them at the end anyway.

She jumped clean over the side of the lead carriage. "Hi, I'm commandeering this vehicle for Slayer business. You good with that?"

The... jockey, maybe? Horse-guy anyway, that she was addressing, turned in his seat to look at her in surprise.

"Did you hear me?"

"I hear you," he nodded. "I not understand you, but I hear you."

"Follow that Slayer!" Buffy yelled, pointing.

The guy turned to look, took his time scanning the street, and turned back with a smile and a clueless little shrug of his shoulders.

Buffy took a deep breath, reminding herself that he hadn't decided Italian would be his first language just to piss her off, and, with great difficulty, did not kick him from the front seat to take over the reins herself. Something that was all about the restraint she was showing and nothing to do with not knowing how horses worked.

"Come on, go, they're getting away!"

The driver was finding the insane American highly amusing; right up until the insane American gripped him by his equine-scented white shirt and pulled him almost into the back of the carriage with her.

"I don't want to hurt you, Giggles." She spoke with a slow menace, keeping her hysteria below the surface. "Partly because I don't like hurting humans, but mostly because I don't have a lotta horse experience, or driving experience for that matter, and I think trying to put the two together is going to end up with me smashing my way through a barn and re-emerging with a chicken on my head. I know what you're thinking, or would be thinking if you were understanding any of this: there are no barns of chickens around here. It doesn't matter, my luck will find one. So unless you want your pretty carriage covered in chicken shit, follow those fucking horses!"

She let go of him and he brushed down his shirt, unhurriedly turning in his driver seat, "You want I follow Emile?" he asked, pointing after the carriage now halfway down the road.

"Please."

He flicked the reins, clicked his tongue and the horses started to move. Buffy settled back in the seat, happy that she was not going to lose Faith tonight, at least, not before she'd spoken to her. Troy thought he was so clever, making a romantic getaway like that, but Buffy was right behind them now, well, behind them anyway.

"You've never done the whole high speed car chase thing, have you?" she guessed.

He glanced back over his shoulder, smiling, "Perdono?"

"Chase, you know, chase?" Buffy thought for a second before deciding a little finger puppet theatre was called for. She walked the first two fingers of her left hand through the air to the side of him so he could watch, and then walked the first two fingers of her right hand after them.

"That's chase," she explained. "And high speed is..." She did the same, except this time moved her right hand fast enough to catch up to her left hand. "You need to go faster!"

He grinned over his shoulder. "Do my babies look like racehorses?"

Buffy shrugged, horses were horses.

"No, my babies, they good Carriage horses - look smart, clip-clop, steady as she go... si?"

"But his horses are galloping," Buffy pointed out helplessly.

"Ah, but Signora, that is Mr Anthanasia..." he paused, perhaps for her to swoon, when he saw she was just impatient, he continued. "The horses, they love him, they will do anything for him. Even splinter they poor legs for him, if he ask."

"We're going to lose them!" Buffy groaned as the carriage up ahead turned a corner a minute before they did.

"You should have faith."

"That's what I keep saying," Buffy muttered under the noise of the horses trotting over a bridge. The lights of Isola Tiberina reflected in the dark river on the right.

Up ahead, Troy and Faith were getting further away as the traffic lights to join the heavy flow of cars on the other side of the river turned red. Buffy cursed. This was ridiculous; she was never going to catch them now.

Buffy fumbled in her pocket for her purse, drew some bills out without looking at what they were and handed them to the jockey over his shoulder.

"Thanks, but Troy's horses have obviously been eating their super oats and, no offense, I can run on my hands faster than your babies can on their hooves."

She leapt out of the carriage the same way she'd leapt in - without bothering about the door. The lights were still red, but the through-traffic was heavy enough that she didn't worry about being mown down.

Timing it just right, Buffy darted in front of one lane of cars - causing some new horns to join with the almost constant symphony of honking.

"I'm gonna kill Troy!" she ground out through her teeth as she dodged back and forth with the next lane before making it safely across. "So not caring about Faith's happiness right... Shit!" She jumped vertically, pulling up her feet to avoid them being crushed by the front of a blue Pinto.

Landing on the hood, she didn't know who was more surprised: The little old lady with the Slayer suddenly perched in front of her wind shield, or the Slayer who was suddenly balancing precariously on a car and going sideways - from her viewpoint - at thirty miles an hour - and heading for certain death if she didn't get out of the old lady's angle of vision fast.

She leapt up again to land on the roof of the car like a cat, a cat with two legs anyway. "Just." This was even more perilous than the hood had been. "Want." Buffy leapt again, landing on a car in the fourth and final lane of traffic. "To kill..." she squealed, tap-dancing on the roof of the car to keep her feet with the sudden change in momentum. She jumped clear, hitting the pavement in a roll and coming back up on her feet, "...Troy!"

Several people were on the sidewalk waiting to cross. She'd barreled through the middle of them when she jumped and now they were all looking at her. She wasn't about to care; her life had been one big side show ever since she'd been called, but did had to do a quick double-take at the three Mime's silently clapping her with white gloved hands.

"Thanks, I do all my own stunts." Buffy looked up the street to see Troy and Faith rumbling around a corner. "Hell no, you're not losing me after that!"

She continued her pursuit, her bare feet slapping the still-warm pavement. Shit, she'd left Dawn's shoes in the carriage! She ran as fast as she could until her lungs were burning and then she ran some more. They were on winding side roads now. There were people and scooters everywhere, but no cars to dodge. She had no idea where she was, passed no landmarks that she recognized from her sightseeing search.

At last she turned another corner and there was the carriage slowing down to turn into a narrow arched gateway. She put on a fresh burst of speed and reached the turning just as the decorative iron gate clanged shut.

Damn! She slammed her hands against the bars of the gate in frustration. Damn!

"Faith!" She pulled on the bars, straining her arms, but nothing. "Faith!"

There was no answer to her calls and she took a step back, running one frustrated hand though her sweat-damp hair and pulling the back of her dress down a little with the other. She lunged forward, slamming the gates again - they didn't even rattle.

Frantically, she looked for another way in. Twenty yards away there were wide marble steps leading to an archway. It had to be the front door. She took those steps in one jump, her feet stinging as she landed.

She was under the arch when she noticed the two old fashioned rifles pointing her way.

"Damn."


Chapter Eight

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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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