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


PART NINE: 5th July to 23rd September 2004

Chapter Twelve: He's Got Her Whole World In His Hands

Buffy sat watching as Troy poured generous shots of Campari and Vermouth into two highball glasses. As he added soda water to each the ice tinkled and fizzed.

"An Americano," Troy said, handing one of the glasses to her. "To make you feel at home in this strange country."

"Thanks." Buffy accepted the glass, looking into it suspiciously for signs of poison. She couldn't see any, a sniff did nothing but burn the insides of her nostrils, but she still didn't try it until he did. "Ack."

"You do not like it?"

"No, I do." Toni had introduced her to Campari months ago in Cleveland. "Just strong. Whooo." She blinked the water from her eyes.

"I thought after consuming so much whiskey you would like it strong."

She'd had two mouthfuls! Well, just one really, with two swallows.

"That was thoughtful of you," she said carefully.

"Buffy can we speak as men?"

She thought about that. "Well, you can. I'd need an operation first, and, no offense, but I really don't want to talk to you that badly."

He smiled, endlessly patient with her as always. God, it made her mad. "May we speak as equals then?"

Buffy sipped her drink, pretending to ponder. "We can give it shot, but, Slayers, demons, not really so much with the being equal. I speak good, you speak evil; something always gets lost in translation."

Troy watched her over the rim of his glass. "You think I am a demon and here you are with the use of only one foot, and yet you do not fear me. Is that wise, do you wonder?"

"Well, again with the no offense, but as far as demons go, you're kind of lame. No claws, no horns, no loud roary voice or big stompy cloven paws, and you've got it all wrong in the looks department. If you want fear, you gotta look ugly. You jump out on me in a cemetery, I'm gonna be more interested in laying you than slaying you; if, you know, I didn't actually know you."

Troy's eyebrows had been comically rising the longer Buffy went on. When she punctuated her speech with a slurp of her cocktail, he broke into a smile.

"That's how Faith and I met," he said wistfully. Buffy rolled her eyes. "But tell me, would you feel the same if you knew I could kill you with one breath?"

"Tic-tac's are good for that," Buffy suggested with a smile.

"I could stop your heart with a click of my fingers."

"No you couldn't."

"Yes I could," he insisted indignantly.

"Prove it," she challenged. He raised his hand. She raised her's quicker. "Wait! Didn't exactly think that one through. Prove it on someone, no, something, other than me."

"I do not perform parlor tricks." He told her, taking a drink.

Buffy grinned smugly. "I knew you couldn't really do it."

He leaned forward, clicking his fingers in the air between them.

The tightness in her chest was immediate, the room spun, the glass slipped from her fingers as her vision blurred, she made a gagging sound, the overhead lights turned into a thousand dancing sparkles. Her left arm hurt, her foot didn't. If there was a white light, but she hid behind her hands, did that mean it wasn't really there?

She was aware, in some sixth sense out of body way, of Troy clicking his fingers again. The relief was also immediate. She was gasping for air but she didn't need to, and the clawing at her chest was redundant too, so she stopped.

Troy was holding her glass, not a drop had spilled, and he was looking serious.

"What part of not me...?" She began furiously.

"Anything else you would have believed to be a trick," he said, and she knew he was right.

That didn't make it any better though.

He handed her back the glass and while he was leaning towards her, she punched him. It hurt her hand. He sat back, not in the least bothered.

"Now perhaps you will believe that I do not want you dead; if I did, you would be."

"What the hell are you?"

"That is not important."

"Maybe not to you, but you're not the one who has to put you down."

"You would destroy your friend's happiness simply because you do not like me?"

"No, I would never do that." Buffy told him levelly. "I can wait until you break her heart and then I'll kill you with her blessing."

"And if I don't break her heart?"

"I don't consider that a real possibility, considering what you have planned," she bluffed.

While he remained sitting, Troy drew himself up, his face tensed and he glanced at his neat desk again.

"You are mistaken, Buffy. My plans for the future will not hurt Faith in any way; she is far too precious to me."

"What are you?" Buffy demanded.

"You could not comprehend."

"Try me."

"I am the youngest of the Golden Age, the oldest of the New Way. I have lived forever, I will live forever, I will always be. I am opportunity, I am providence, I am here and I am timely."

"You're a Hell-god?" Buffy realized, and then groaned. "Trust Faith."

"I am a what?"

"It makes sense now." Buffy finished her drink in one mouthful and chucked the glass to him for a refill. "You with the good looks and the smooth charm and the creepy weird power of making people feel special, right up until you suck their brain anyway."

"Why would I wish to suck anyone's brain?"

"I don't know, maybe they're a Hell-god delicacy. I've gone toe-to-toe with a Hell-god before, and, as you can see, I'm still here to tell the tale. So don't think you can't be stopped. Something I've learned over the years? Anything can be stopped. And Hell-gods are top of the list of things that need to be. Stopped, that is."

Troy rose to his feet, but not to get her a drink. "Stop calling me that! I am no such thing. Unless you consider Hell a place on Earth, and if you did, I would in fact agree with you to some degree. The underworld is not my concern, however, and I have no wish to bring its influence into this realm any more than is strictly necessary."

"So, if you're not a Hell-god," Buffy started slowly, feeling her way through her next thoughts. "That would make you just... A god?"

Troy looked unusually meek; his eyes turned downward, his gaze on the empty glasses in his hands.

"Wow," she allowed, more impressed than she wanted to admit. She'd never met an actual god before, well not one without giant floppy ears and a penchant for carrots.

Troy went to fetch them both another cocktail. "I prefer not to talk about it."

"What?" Buffy laughed at him.

"I have already revealed too much."

"You're not The God, are you?" Buffy asked, smiling. "Because if so, you're a bit of a let down."

Troy's hands slammed down on the cabinet, making Buffy jump.

"Your insolence is grating."

"I hear that a lot."

"I am trying to be reasonable with you, yet I am beginning to wonder why I bother. I knew you to be like this, it is why I had almost given up hope of ever fulfilling my destiny. However, things are different now, and you will accept this or you will lose Faith completely. There is no other choice for you. And, understand, I am only offering you this much because Faith's happiness is so important to me."

Buffy took the full glass he was holding out and sipped from it, watching him with narrowed eyes. "What if I refuse to accept or lose Faith? I could tell her what you've just said to me, and I could tell her how you, you know, nearly killed me to show off. I'm thinking 'no sex before marriage' might be the least of your worries then."

"I think not. In fact, please tell her. The more jealous you appear, the less she wants you around. I believe she is worried that your neediness will tempt her to give in to her baser impulses."

Buffy almost grinned, thinking he was too late to worry about that. It had already happened; and then she realized exactly what he had said.

"Excuse me? Baser? There's nothing base about me, you're the... god." She pulled a face, drank some drink. "Okay, maybe I'm a little closer to the base than you, but not in a bad way."

"She will always choose me. You know this. Your presence is a constant reminder of her downfall. I am the face of her salvation. It is, as you would say, a no-brainer."

"She's with you because she thinks it will save her soul," Buffy realized in horror. "And you're using her desire for redemption - her noble and totally worthy desire, might I add - to...to pull off your own shady deeds. And you say you're not evil?"

Buffy tried to stand up, it was less easy without having a bottle to hang on to, but she was pissed enough that she was going to do it, and once she had, she was going to march, okay, hop out of here to find Faith. Hopefully she was already on her way back and Buffy would bump into her outside. Then, she was going to tell Faith exactly what Troy had just admitted. Faith had to know, right now, what was going on, and if she did lose her forever over it...

She didn't want to think about it, it would be horrible, but it wasn't going to stop her. This was too big. It was bigger than her feelings anyway. It was Faith's whole future.

She made it to her foot just as Troy stood up and pushed her gently back down, sitting beside her on the couch.

"Faith does not know this..." he began.

"I figured that," she said, pushing him away and trying to stand again.

Troy continued with a faint urgency. "She sees me as a stable path; it is true, as one who can help her achieve a greater meaning in this world."

"She has a greater meaning. She's a Slayer!"

"And she has misused that power to such an extent that she knows there is no bright future awaiting her in death. She has accepted this, but chooses to fight for a better world anyway. She believes I can help her in this, that I can help her make amends, but she does not think..."

"You're a lying asshole?" Buffy snapped, pushing him again just for sake of pushing him.

"She does not think I can do anything to change her fate," he corrected her. "She is wrong, Buffy."

"No, you're wrong!" she said, not getting it.

Buffy made it up again and hopped a step towards the door, only to have her foot catch in the blue blanket that had fallen on her first attempt to stand. She stumbled to her knees and the pain flared in her foot and shot up her leg, making her cry out.

Troy followed her to the floor, kneeling by her side, but didn't try helping her up. She would have probably punched him again if he had.

"I can change her fate, Buffy. I can save her soul."

Buffy sat up, wincing, as she digested what he had just said. At length, she asked, "What's the catch?"

"Firstly, that she can not know."

"Why not?"

Feeling like an idiot on the floor, she begrudgingly let Troy help her to her foot and back to the couch.

"Partly, she may choose not to accept it and, as such, damn herself to an afterlife even worse than she can imagine. It is not possible for humans to grasp the true nature of Tartarus; the brain simply will not permit such darkness within it."

"You said partly. What's the other part?"

"There are others, more powerful than I, who would stop me. They believe that Faith is not worthy of such a gift, and at present time, I am not strong enough to thwart them should they decide to stand against me. If Faith did not refuse me, but instead grew complacent in her search of redemption, they would see this and strike her down before I could change their minds. My fate, I fear, would be worse."

Again, Buffy sat mulling. In her silence, Troy made more drinks, but when one was offered, she waved it away. She had to think clearly, and the Campari was strong. 'Strike her down' sounded heavy, and conjured up visions of mad gods throwing lightning bolts from mountaintops.

'Troy has a mountain,' she remembered. 'In Greece.'

This was all getting very weird, even for her. She liked her gods like she liked her women, psychotic and skanky. Troy wasn't skanky, and she had a feeling he wasn't as psychotic as he was sounding.

"Seriously, therapy, look into it," she said to herself, before saying to Troy, "So, unbeknownst to Faith, she's getting a one-way, all paid, ticket to heaven when she dies, but only if she never finds out?"

Troy nodded.

"Again, what's the catch? What do you get out of this deal? Don't get me wrong, I think Faith's soul is totally worth you risking your hide, I just wanna know why you do."

"You do not need to know."

"Yes, I fucking do."

"No. All you need to know is what I have told you. In addition, I have only told you this much so will see how dangerous it would be for Faith if you try to get between us. Do you understand?"

Buffy glared at him.

"Do you understand?" he repeated, fiercely.

She did, but she didn't like it. She nodded anyway, feeling sick.

"I have no issue with your friendship. It is important to Faith to have you in her life and I respect that. However, if you can not live with that alone, you should leave."

Buffy said nothing.

"I am trying to be nice to you, Buffy," he said through gritted teeth. "Please understand that I do not have to be."

"Don't do me any favors... whoa!"

...Extreme motion sickness made her throw up all over the side of the mountain. A shaking mountain, which didn't help settle her churning stomach. She looked around in a daze, or tried to, it was hard to see. The air was black with ash that burnt when it floated against her skin. She looked upwards fearfully and saw the orange-red glow of molten lava streaming downhill at a pace she knew she couldn't outrun, let alone out hop.

With a cry that was instantly choked off with lung-searing smoke, she tried anyway, managing to half jump, half roll a few feet, with tears streaming from her stinging eyes as her smashed foot hit the rock again and again...

She rolled off the couch, hugging her bad foot with her hands, and kept on rolling for a few moments, trying to get away from the lava, before she realized she was back in the apartment.

"You bastard!" she yelled, still shaken from the hallucination.

Except, she could still smell smoke and looking down she saw the red dress, her skin, the white carpet beneath her, were all covered in soot.

"You bastard," she yelled again, now even more shaken. "You actually sent me to an erupting volcano!"

"That was me doing you no favors," Troy said grimly. "Now, this is me doing you one."

...The bath water was warm, and came up to her neck. Her bandaged foot was sticking out so as not to get wet, and she had to admire his attention to detail if nothing else. She was still wearing her dress and underwear and the water was black with ash before she had even finished looking around the strange bathroom.

The door opened and Troy walked in, so she supposed she must still be in his apartment. He carried some of Faith's clothes and set them on the toilet seat before casually leaning on the towel rail.

"The soap is behind your head."

She twisted her neck to look, found it and picked it up. "Thanks."

"I do not like you, Buffy; but I wish you no harm. Nevertheless, I will not allow you to jeopardize either my or Faith's future. If you try again, I will not bring you back from the volcano, and," he smiled like it was a big joke. "I will place you nearer the top."

"Would you mind getting out?" she said, not looking at him. "Only I'm trying to bathe."

"Of course." He started for the door, but turned back before leaving. "You can have a good life without Faith, you know? Toni loves you very much, and I know you have already thought what it would be to spend your life with her instead. Was it so bad a notion?"

He left without waiting for an answer.

Buffy's eyebrows rose as she thought of Toni. With all that she now knew of Troy, where did that place her girlfriend? How much did she know? And how deep was she in all of it?

They were good questions, but she had a gazillion already, and right now none of them would take form enough for her to figure out an answer to them. The only thing that seemed clear was that if Faith's soul was hanging in the balance here, and apparently it was, she had to tread very carefully from now on.

Also, volcanoes bad!

She didn't stay in the bath long, but she did empty and refill it once so she could get rid of the sooty water and therefore avoid streaks. After that came the hard bit, the drying herself and dressing herself bit. Not normally hard, but she still couldn't put her bad foot to the ground, and after her little trip to Mount Vesuvius it was hurting like a bitch all over again, slowing up her usually graceful movement and causing her to take the odd time out of any movement to grimace in pain.

Eventually she was dressed in some of Faith's work out clothes, that were, unfortunately, freshly laundered and didn't smell of her, but maybe that was for the best considering.

She hopped out of the bathroom just in time to see Faith coming through the front door.

"You got changed." Faith sounded disappointed, and it was sharpened by the way she suddenly looked around the room for Troy. He was over the by his desk and looked up as she spoke. "Good idea, you were a bit grungy there, B."

"Yeah." She started to hop back to her couch and Faith came to help her. "Troy was kind enough to run me a bath."

"Told you he was a good guy." Faith went to give him a kiss hello. After those three minutes of torture was over, she turned back to Buffy. "Lil' sis and Andy are all caught up to date. Took long enough though. They wouldn't even open the door to start with. I said I'd get you back there in the morning, and they said if I didn't they were calling Giles." She shrugged, not bothered. "Dunno why the hell you're all staying in that tiny little room together, though. You boinking Andy now?"

Buffy gave a tiny laugh, and it felt good. After what she had learned in the past hour, she had thought she would never laugh again.

"Hardly. There were some issues, at customs. I lost my credit card. It's only temporary, though. Giles is sorting it all out."

"Troy can probably hook you up with somewhere better in the morning, right babe?" Faith asked, turning to him as she stretched her arms above her head.

"No, that's okay," Buffy said before he could answer. "We're used to it now, and I don't want to put you to any trouble. Anyway, like I said, Giles is sorting it."

"Fai, Buffy's foot is giving her much pain. I think she should take our bed tonight, so she can rest it properly." Troy said suddenly.

"Where're we gonna sleep?"

"On the couches."

"Really?" Faith didn't look happy with that suggestion. "But that's a great big bed; it's wasted on just one person!"

"You can always sleep in there with her. If you feel you will not be comfortable on the couch," he said, too casually.

Faith did a deer in the headlights impression.

Buffy said, "I'm sure you can handle one night on the couch, Faith."

"Yeah, I guess."

"Okay, then, I accept," she said to Troy.

Obviously, he was trying to make sure she wasn't in the room alone with his desk. While it made her curiouser than George, she couldn't do anything about it tonight, and sleeping in a nice soft bed as opposed to the, okay, the couch was soft, but it was still a couch, and if she was in their bed, they couldn't be doing anything in it.

Faith helped her into the room, silent apart from the odd murmur about her foot, and where to hop. Troy came in to collect some things and left again before they had made it to the bed.

"You want me to change the sheets?" Faith muttered, glancing at the crumpled bed.

"Yes." Buffy smiled. "But it's late, so let's just pretend you did."

"Okay." Faith pushed the covers out of the way and helped Buffy sit down. She could have swung her own legs into bed, but Faith helped her anyway, being extra careful with her bad one. "Sorry I hurt you."

"Sorry I hurt you," Buffy said quietly, and the look Faith gave her showed that she understood what she meant. "Thanks for going to see Dawn."

"No problem." As Buffy lay down, Faith pulled the covers up to her chin. "Sweet dreams, B."

"You too, F."

With the things she had to dwell on and the scent of Faith and Troy all around her, Buffy had no illusions of getting any sleep. She was wrong. With her exhaustive day, the champagne, the whiskey and the Americanos, and the little pocket of just Faith she managed to find on the duvet assailing her nostrils, she was asleep almost before Faith closed out the light with the door.

Chapter Thirteen

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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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