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Damned If I Don't, Damned If I Do
Part Three of The Damned Series

Disclaimer: I don't own any of these characters, just the tangled webs I weave them into.
Rating: NC-17
Summary: If you go down to the woods today you're in for a big surprise.


PART SIX: 11th April 2004

Chapter One: The Hunter and the Hunted

Buffy yawned as she approached the fence separating the wood from the grassy common ground. She could see street lights from the small town she'd just circled behind her, but none of the houses backing onto the common were lit yet. Not surprising; it was still early - not much past four-thirty in the morning - and who would be up at this hour if they didn't need to be?

She yawned again. She'd been out here since three, taking over from Kennedy who'd taken over from Faith at ten the night before so that Faith could go spend the night at Troy's apartment in Cleveland.

That wasn't strictly fair of Buffy. It wasn't like Faith was shirking her duties. All three of the combat-experienced Slayers had sat down three days ago when the new demon had made itself known and figured out a rota that suited them all. It was just luck that Faith had pulled the early shift for Saturday while Buffy had to kiss Toni goodnight at eight pm if she wanted to get her standard five hours sleep before going hunting.

Toni had been okay about it, or she hadn't asked too many questions anyway. Buffy didn't actually know if her girlfriend minded her cutting short - to the point where it might be better to call it canceling - their regular Saturday night date, and Buffy hadn't asked. If she had asked and Toni decided to make a song and dance about it, it wasn't as if Buffy could say: 'Well okay then I won't cancel,' was it?

The problem: it was just one more thing she didn't know about her girlfriend. Her steady girlfriend, who she saw at least three or four times a week including the regular Saturday night slot where she stayed in the Italian's dorm room.The steady girlfriend who could still be evil or just have a terrible taste in best friends.

And as she was being fair, she still didn't know if Troy was evil; she just suspected it, a lot.

Buffy flicked her flashlight on and bent to check the muddy patch on her side of the fence. She had to shine it about a little, but sure enough right at the edge of the puddle was the back half of a long thin foot-print. She didn't need to see the front end of the large print to know it was the same kind they had been tracking for these last few nights. How many things out here had feet that were three feet long and a half a foot wide? Actually, if there was more than one, she didn't want to know.

"Toni's not evil," she muttered as she stood up and shone the flashlight into the wood beyond the fence. "If she was evil I'd know about it by now. I'd have seen the remains of the ritual chicken sacrifices in her closet or something."

There was nothing to see in the darkness but beat up vegetation. She shone the torch upwards, wincing as she realised just how high up the young trees were damaged by the demon that must have crashed through them earlier. The thing had to be somewhere between eight and ten feet easy, although some of the sightings suggested it was taller than that! And that was the biggest of the problems, well the supernatural problems anyway: no one, or at least not a Slayer, had gotten a good close up look at it. Far off looks, yeah, they'd all gotten a few of those out on patrol. But in the dark, it was hard to judge details from a distance.

Buffy had already skirted all around the edge of the common after meeting Kennedy at the top of the town's main street and seen no sight of it yet. Save for the occasional footprint like the one she was standing next to. Kennedy had reported other footprint sightings on the other side of town where she had focused her search, which meant their demon was certainly getting around tonight.

With another yawn she tucked the flashlight into her coat pocket and climbed over the wooden fence. Standing on the other side of it, she blew on her cold hands to warm them a little before pulling her light back out. It may have been part way through April but at this time of the morning it was still really cold out there. There had been rain overnight too, making the air feel damp and her sneakers were already wet and coated with short grass stems. She supposed she should feel lucky that at least the rain had stopped before she started her shift, so to speak. Maybe Faith got drenched.

She smirked, and then smiled at her immaturity.

Flashing her light above her, she checked out the evidence of broken branches and battered foliage. Whatever had come through there had come through fast, that was for sure.

She started walking along the track made by the demon, taking her time, figuring she'd hear it long before she saw it.

It was just that all she had at the moment was the immature inner one-up-slayer-ship she indulged in. She didn't dare jab at Faith aloud anymore because everyone would be on her case to 'Get over it!' The problem was, everyone thought she should be getting over something that wasn't at all the issue. It was no longer about simple jealousy; if Troy was evil then the fate of the whole world might depend on Buffy getting someone to believe what she'd overheard.

Of course telling someone what she had overheard at Matrix would be a step in the right direction, but she was too scared of alienating people for nothing. People being Faith and Toni; the Joint Chiefs of Troy's fan club. The two people she wanted to alienate the least, although it would probably be difficult to spot any alienation between her and Faith just at the moment; it wasn't as if they could speak much less than they already were.

The crescent moon was almost down and here in the woods, it didn't provide Buffy with any light anyway, so she kept her flashlight on and held it in front of her so she wouldn't trip over any of the branches that had been broken from the trees. There were a lot of them littering the ground. Last night this had been little more than a rabbit track through the trees, this morning she could walk through it with her arms spread and still barely touched twigs with her fingertips.

Somewhere up ahead, this gently downward sloping track would come out onto the main road and the other side of the main road was made up of more woods until they reached the lake some ten miles or so away. Assuming this demon wasn't Aqua-man, that still left a lot of ground to cover and traipsing around cold, dark, damp woods at night like a little wild child Red Riding Hood was losing the appeal it never had in the first place. It had minus-appeal now, especially when the alternative was to be snuggled up in bed with her honey.

Maybe her honey wasn't snuggled up though; maybe she was in the closet sacrificing chickens. Maybe that was why she never seemed too bothered when Buffy couldn't come over, because it gave her time to catch up on all her neglected satanic rituals.

Maybe she should stop reading Willow's Wicca's Weekly magazine.

Did she want Toni to be evil? Of course she didn't. She liked Toni; she didn't want to have to stop seeing her because their careers were incompatible.

"Toni is not evil!" she said aloud.

It might even be easier for Buffy if Toni was evil. At least it would make the conversation about her own secret identity that much easier to begin.

"So you're evil and you sacrifice chickens, no problem: I'm the Slayer!"

Buffy put on her best Italian accent, the one that made Toni cringe and throw pillows at her. "You are not!"

"Si, I am," she went back to her normal voice, "And now that I know you are evil, I want you even more, so how about a break-up f..."

Something crashed behind her. Something big.

Buffy shut up, spinning around to face the way she had come.

She was deep into the woods now and there was no way out except to follow the demon's path of destruction. Not seeing anything behind her yet, Buffy started moving again towards the road, wishing she'd brought her sword with her. All she had was a stake and a dagger, probably not much good against whatever had made the noise. It had sounded like a whole tree falling down. Was it possible it was just a regular animal? A bear scratching it's back or something?

Then again, fighting a bear with just a stake and a dagger didn't sound like a great idea either.

Nothing was following her and the noise had stopped, so Buffy slowed down enough to not risk tripping on the broken branches.

She tried to remember what she had been talking to herself about:

"Toni's not evil." She reassured herself again. "And the sex is already hot. Hot enough anyway; I'm not complaining."

Troy, on the other hand, she couldn't be so sure about. Not the sex thing; she really didn't want to know about that and anyway, she'd done a great job of convincing herself that he was terrible in bed and that was why Faith had started flirting with her again. Not that Buffy let her, or flirted back, since the night they had all been trapped at Matrix. She wasn't letting Faith have her cake and eat it too, and she'd promised Toni the following morning that things between her and Faith were totally over. She wanted to keep that promise.

Troy being evil though, that was the question on everybody's lips. Well, only hers really, because she hadn't told anyone else what she suspected.

Surely if Troy was evil then Faith would know about it. They'd been together since New Years and they spent way more time together than she and Toni did. They'd been on weekends away together, and over the past month since Buffy had been in total avoid mode, Faith had practically lived in Cleveland with him. Troy had even been invited to a Sunday family meal two weeks ago! Imagine her delight. It wouldn't have been so bad if Toni could have made it too, but she'd had coursework and Buffy had left it too late to get out of it herself. She'd been forced to sit there and endure his company for three hours!

Not her greatest idea of fun.

So if Troy was evil, then Faith would surely know about it and that left two options: He was evil and Faith was not only condoning it, but hiding it as well or... he wasn't evil, just up to something and with a weird handle on the English language.

He couldn't be slayed for that, unfortunately.

She'd spent many an hour this past month trying to piece together the bits she'd overheard of Troy's conversation. She'd written it all down in a notebook which she kept in her locked bedside cabinet... along with her still unused Christmas present from Faith. She'd even gone so far as to look on the net for the name of Troy's apparent arch-enemy: Quantiaro. It had turned up nothing, not a single entry - which in itself might have been a bit suspicious - but Buffy wasn't exactly sure how.

She'd looked up Troy as well, but that had had the exact opposite result of turning up literally thousands of results. Most of them about Ancient Greece, wooden horses and really bad Brad Pitt films. She would have had a go at looking through Giles' books, but there were so many of them that she wouldn't have had a clue where to start. Only having a first name to go on didn't help either; she couldn't pronounce Troy's surname, let alone spell it!

There was another crash in the undergrowth. It sounded quite far away, but Buffy stopped again, looking back into the darkness. Something was definitely moving back there somewhere, but with out night vision goggles, she probably wouldn't see it until it was right in front of her, and that was of the bad. She couldn't fight something of this demon's size in an area this closed in with trees and bushes.

Getting up high, actually into a tree, was a possibility. She could drop on it as it came past, but one: she'd rather have a clearer idea of what she was dealing with; -- what if she went for the head and this particular demon could only be killed by stabbing it in one of it's freaky big feet - and two: it might run past her a few feet to her left or right and all she'd be able to do was watch. By the time she got back down the tree it could be long gone.

She'd dealt with big demons before, but not in a long while.

It was definitely coming closer, now. The crashing was getting louder, and if she really strained her eyes she could see a blurry white blob surrounded by shaking trees. The rustle of wet leaves was getting pretty loud over her head, and there was a really low 'thump thump' sound that sounded like a nice steady heartbeat echoing through the woods. Buffy had a feeling it was the things feet hitting the ground, and her heartbeat was anything but steady.

The road! If she could get out on to the main road then that would give her space to head the thing off and kill it; or at least get a damn good description to give Giles when he woke up.

She waited a few more seconds, just to make sure the thing was really coming her way, and then she took off down the sloping track. The bouncing beam of the flashlight was just confusing her so she flicked it off and shoved it deep into her pocket, praying she wouldn't trip and break her neck on a fallen branch.

The thing was gaining on her; the crashing noise a solid sound now that got inside her brain in some primal 'shit a tree is gonna fall on my head' way and Buffy ran faster to stay ahead of it.

She had to stay calm. So far there were no reports of this demon eating anyone in the area. Whole fields of crops had been destroyed and there were a few reports of livestock being squashed but at the moment, the locals seemed to be putting it down to freak weather patterns - they sure seemed to have a lot of those in Ohio - and vandals. So there was a chance this was one of the rare herbivore species of demon. Apparently they existed but Buffy couldn't remember ever meeting one. She'd be happy to keep it like that considering how big this one was!

Crap, she tripped, somehow kept her feet, but staggered badly almost into a tree. She braced a hand against it for half a second while she checked behind her, ignoring the rising panic. Well, she ignored it until she actually saw a tree, a small one but still, go crashing to the ground under the body weight of the bright white demon running into it.

Suddenly it stopped dead. Had it seen her? The sound hadn't died away altogether, as behind the monster the fallen flora settled itself. Another closer noise crept past the roaring in her ears. A car! She couldn't be too far from the road then.

There was no point running for the road without the demon behind her though; logic overruled panic. It didn't appear to be in too much of a hurry right now. Buffy couldn't make out any features but it looked to be balancing quite comfortably on two legs and snuffling the air. Was it trying to smell her? Maybe she'd assumed it was a vegetarian too soon.

Just as Buffy started to get her breath back the demon jumped into action again, back on four legs and bounding straight for her.

Double crap!

Buffy took off again, cursing the darkness. This thing really did cover ground fast! She passed a tall thin sapling seconds before it crashed to the ground, the top of it actually overtaking her. Hearing a snuffling noise from behind, she put on an extra burst of speed. She bounced off a tree as the track veered to the right but she didn't slow down. With a sigh of relief, she heard the demon smack into the tree with a crunch and a loud rustling of wet leaves high above. She'd managed to put a little bit of distance between them before she heard the thud-thud of its huge feet following her again.

Buffy looked behind to gauge just how much distance, and as usual picked her timing brilliantly. The second she turned her head she ran straight into another tree. Or so she thought until the tree yelled in surprise and both her and the yelling tree flew to the ground. Thanks to the speed with which Buffy had hit the not-a-tree, they went rolling over and over together, down the gradual slope, until they smashed painfully through a wooden fence. They came to a stop in a pile of wood, mud, and torn up roots.

Buffy half sat up, looking back up the slope just in time to scream "Demon!" Flattening herself over the other person, she waited for agonizing death by trampling and so was completely surprised, again, when the demon leapt high, a good six feet, into the air, sailing over her and her tree-person and landing effortlessly in the center of the road. It jumped up and down a couple of times, and looking over its shoulder, it winked at her!

Buffy's mouth gaped, her brain refusing to believe what her eyes had just seen and it ran off again, leaping into the woods on the far side of the road.

Looked down, for the first time she registered who her tree-person was, and all thoughts of the demon vanished like a popped bubble.


Chapter Two

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