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


PART NINE: 5th July to 23rd September 2004

Chapter Sixteen: Can't Keep Believing

Don't cry to me.
If you loved me,
You would be here with me.
You want me,
Come find me.
Make up your mind.

31 Gennaio 2004

E cosý il mio viaggio sta circa per cominciare. ╚ emozionante, ma non sono sicuro che cosa da prevedere. Sono stato detto pochissimo di che cosa l'anno prossimo terrÓ per me ed io possono sperare soltanto che fossi uguale alla sfida avanti. ╚ tempo di verificare la veritÓ delle parole della storia e di sperare che suo segua in natura.

Devo prendere un appuntamento con la stazione termale al dei Papi di Terme prima che trasmetta per me.

Buffy thrust the powder blue diary out to arms length and stared at it, then pulled it to within an inch of her nose and likewise studied the text. When her eyes began to cross she blinked, frowned at the page, gave it a shake and then turned the book upside down before giving it some more intense scrutiny.

Strangely enough that didn't convince the words on the page to learn English either.

Sighing, she dropped that book onto her lap and picked up the phrasebook instead. Now that Andrew and Dawn were allowed out it was getting harder to swipe the little book from him - he had nearly refused to go out altogether tonight because he couldn't find it - but easier to find time to work on the journal.

Not that extra space was actually getting her anywhere. It had taken her nearly a month in real time to translate a month's worth of Toni's diary entries and so far most of them really hadn't been worth the trouble. Notes on places she had eaten, films she had seen, friends Buffy had never heard of and many references to a family Buffy had yet to meet. Troy's name was scattered here and there, the entries mentioning when he had called and where from, but rarely what about.

The entry she was currently frowning at was for the last day of January, two weeks before they even met, and she couldn't help wondering if it was going to be worth the effort it would take to translate every single word and wrestle again with grammar she didn't understand or if she should just skip ahead to the night they met.

The phone rang in the silent apartment and Buffy jumped so hard that both books went flying into the air. Guiltily she gathered them up again into a pile and pushed them under the couch, just in case Toni would somehow be able to see them all the way from Japan when Buffy picked up the receiver.

She looked at the clock as she got up to fetch the cordless phone, realizing just how long she had been in translating hell, and picked up her glass of wine on the way back to lie on the couch.

Only when she was comfortable again did she press the talk button on the handset.

"Ciao cara," she said affectionately.

Toni's greeting flowed rich and warm into her ear, bringing a reflexive smile to her face.

"I'm very good," she answered Toni's question. "I have a glass of wine in my hand, I have your gorgeous apartment all to myself and I have you to talk to. I don't think this night could get any better."

Buffy had a sip of her wine while Toni asked why she had not gone out with Dawn and Andrew.

"Just wasn't in the mood. No big reason or anything. I'm having some quality me time, or I was, now I'm having some quality us time."

There was a reason, and it was a big one. She was going insane, like really, really. She was trying to plan a wedding with over a thousand guests when she didn't have the know how to plan a wedding with five guests. She could guess the basics, but when it came to details and the whole making things happen part, she was clueless and the only person she knew who had practical wedding-planning experience tended to do a kind of verbal flinching thing that could lead to anything from passive-aggressive rejoinders to really bad jokes whenever she asked anything.

Faith was no help whatsoever; she was the opposite of help. She didn't seem to know anything about anything. She had no guest list, no menu, not even times and dates; she was even sketchy on the location. It was like none of this had even occurred to her before Buffy arrived. Except for the dress. She was still panicking about not being about to find the perfect one, which was ridiculous considering she looked stunning in anything.

Faith's constant disorganization, casual acts of affection that seemed to come so naturally to her when they were in the 'Best Friends' zone and just her general air of sexiness was starting to get to Buffy big time. She was snapping at her for little or no reason and wanting more and more to put her hand through a brick wall whenever Faith looked away for a second.

That was why she had refused to see her today. It was why she had agreed without any argument to Dawn and Andrew heading off to see the eternal city at night. And it was why she had immersed herself in Toni's diary for the afternoon and why she had been looking forward to this call all day.

"So you are all alone?" Toni asked with a hint of mischief in her voice.

"All, all alone," Buffy said, her eyes lighting up. "Why?"

What Toni said next had her smiling even wider than before, and blushing slightly because, well, just because.

"Hang on, don't you want to tell me about your day first?" she asked, just to be on the safe side.

"No, my day is not that interesting." Toni chuckled warmly. "Now, il mio dolce, close your eyes."


Dusk was falling outside the open balcony doors as they finished their conversation; well, some of it had been conversation. Buffy's breathing was still a little irregular and even with the evening breeze blowing into the room, she felt sticky with perspiration.

"You will make sure to speak with her about this?" Toni insisted.

"That's not why I'm doing it, baby." Buffy's short, floaty, weather appropriate skirt was rucked up above her waist; she unrucked it now and flapped it to circulate some air. "Sure the money wouldn't suck, only so long you can live on wine and crackers after all, but this just seems, I don't know, cold."

"It is not cold, it is good commonsense," Toni countered. "You are providing a service, and giving it that personal touch that a stranger could not, you deserve to be compensated. I know Troy was planning on hiring someone before you and Faith came to this arrangement, why not kill the two birds with the one stone and have him hire you?"

"I'm just not sure Faith will see it like that." Buffy picked up her glass of wine again to combat the dryness in her mouth.

Toni said something derisive in Italian, Buffy could tell by the tone. "It is your decision. I suppose I would just feel better about the time you are spending together if it was a business deal."

"I'll ask her." Buffy promised. "But I'm not gonna push it. And you don't have to worry about the time we're spending together, it's purely platonic. Faith's focused on the wedding and I'm focused on getting this wedding prepared. There's no time for hanky-panky even if we wanted it. Which we don't. From now on, you get all my hank and all my pank."

"I do not know these words." Toni giggled.

Buffy grinned. "Let's just say you're the only one who has me ripping my underwear off and flinging them across the room." As Toni giggled harder, she raised her head from the arm of the couch to look around. "Speaking of which, I should probably go and find them before someone else does."

Once Toni had said goodbye and ended the call, Buffy let her head drop back down. The panty search could wait a few minutes seeing as she was still all 'home alone'. So that had been unexpected, but not un-nice. And relaxing. She was very relaxed right now, which was a good thing because relaxiness was not in high supply these days.

Staring at the ceiling, she wondered what to do now. Get back to the translating was probably it, but she wasn't really in the mood to uncover Toni's (possibly) dark secrets after spending such a pleasant hour on the phone with her. Her feelings for Toni were all still unhelpfully up in the air right now. One minute she was sure she was the best thing that had ever happened to her and that it was just the unfortunate timing that had made her ever think otherwise, the next minute she was just as sure she was only clinging to this long distance relationship because it was long distance and, well, a relationship; because she needed someone that was hers. This particular minute was definitely of the former variety and just lying there basking in that was as good a thing to do as any.

She was just thinking of searching Toni's cupboards for photo albums, because she wanted a picture to stare longingly at, when the phone rang again. She picked it back up from the floor, smiling, pleased that Toni had thought of something else to talk about.

"Hey, baby, want some more, huh?" she greeted playfully.

"Want some more what?"

Buffy sighed; she had forgotten in her dreamy state that Toni wasn't the only one who knew this number.

"What's up, Faith? Finally decided what color napkins you want for the dinner?"

This was not an 'out there' question. It was the kind of crap Faith had been bugging her with all week. It was par for the course, she supposed, but if Faith could just make one definitive decision it would go a long way in making the rest more sufferable.

"What's eating you? Did I catch you with your fingers in your panties or something?"

Buffy laughed, and for once didn't blush. "Nope, not wearing panties."

"Oh." Faith paused and Buffy laughed again as she imagined - hoped - what was going through her mind. "What's so funny?"

"Nothing. Just in a good mood. So why did you call? I thought we'd agreed a day off from planning the wedding of the millennium?"

"Figured you haven't slayed since you've been here and you might be feeling the lack."

"Not really." Buffy stretched languidly on the couch. "I'm on vacation, remember?"

"You sure? 'Cause if you did, you could, like, right now."

For the first time Buffy realized that Faith was almost whispering. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing. I just found some vamps when I was patrolling and figured I'd bring you in instead of keeping them all for myself."

"Well I appreciate the thought, but I'm really comfy on this couch. Maybe another night."

Faith sighed heavily. "Okay, well, it was nice knowing you, B. You want any of that junk in my room it's yours, give the rest to Goodwill or whatever, and tell Troy..."

Buffy sat up, laughing. "Faith, what's going on?"

"I told you, I found some vampires."

"Yeah, that happens sometimes when you're patrolling for them. Doesn't usually lead to you giving me your last will and testament over the phone though."

"Don't usually find this many at once."

"How many?"

"Uh, hang on." Buffy could hear Faith counting under her breath. "Nine that I can see, but I can feel more in the bushes. So, you wanna help me out?"

"Not really," Buffy lied; she was already up from the couch and heading to her bedroom to find some clean underwear. "Nine's nothing. I have faith in you."

Faith sighed again, even more noisily. "You're gonna make me beg?"

"Pretty much," Buffy said as she finished redressing.

"Okay, I'm begging, but not because you're a better slayer than me, just because this is a two Slayer job." Faith ground out. "How soon can you get here?"

"You tell me. Where are you?" She listened to the address of a cemetery as she looked around for something to use as a stake.

"Get the cab to drop you at the north gate and when you walk in follow the path to the left. You'll should either see me or hear me pretty soon after that."

"Can't you just meet me at the gate?"

"Think my new friends might have a problem with that, babe."

"They know you're there?"

"You could say that."

"I'm on my way." Buffy hung up the phone and grabbed the nearest pointy wooden thing to hand.


The cemetery was dark and spooky and Buffy felt right at home as she hurried along a gravel path. She couldn't see any vampires, but her senses were screaming that she would find some soon. They were right. As she followed a left fork in the path and rounded an ancient-looking crypt surrounded by trees, there they were, all growly and menacing.

And there was Faith, right in the middle of them.

As the other Slayer's thankful eyes stupidly telegraphed her approach, several of the yellow-eyed undead turned to growl at her instead. So, having lost the element of surprise, Buffy resorted to swagger.

Crossing her arms, she casually called: "Turns out Italian cemeteries are just like the ones we have back home. Grass, headstones, badly dressed vermin."

"Glad you could make it," Faith called back.

Buffy knew she could do nothing from back here. Well, she could, but if she took on the one closest to her, that still left eight or so to pounce on Faith. She had to get closer, so they could fight back to back.

"How come you're still alive?" she asked conversationally.

"They gave me three lifelines."

That meant they wanted to play with their food. "So you phoned a friend. Did you ask the audience yet?"

"Yeah. It was unanimous." Faith gave her a cocky grin. "They want me dead."

"Okay. So you have one left... take away two of the answers."

Buffy lunged forward and staked the vampire closest to her, even before it poofed she was swinging around and staking the first one to run at her. By the time the dust had settled Buffy was next to Faith. The growling intensified, and there were a few false starts, but none of the vamps charged at them. Two slayers were even more intimidating than one.

"Or problems, whatever." Buffy grinned at Faith. "I think you downplayed the sitch a little."

"I said I found a lotta vamps."

"You never said you were surrounded!"

"Didn't wanna worry you."

Buffy rolled her eyes. "So what do they want? Other than to kill you, I mean. 'Cause if they just wanted you dead, you either would be, or you'd be fighting for your life about now. A stand-off like this usually means they have bigger plans."

"I'm pretty sure I'm a message. And the only reason I'm still breathing is because I dusted all the ones who got close enough." Faith pointed her chin at various points around her. Buffy couldn't see any remains on the dark grass, but she didn't doubt that they were there.

"But if they want you dead, why not just bundle you and have done with it?"

"They don't just want me dead."

"Oh, you're that kind of message." They wanted to turn Faith. Buffy had had a similar 'message' sent to her in the past. "Who's the message for exactly? Me? Because I'm here now, so they can just tell me what they want without killing you to do it. Hang on, is that why you called me? Because it's not that I'm not happy to save your bacon, but dragging me into the hornets nest like this is a bit off."

It was Faith's turn to roll her eyes. "Buffy," she gestured at the vampires, "meet the 'We hate Troy' club."

"Oh." Buffy looked around, a large grin slowly growing. "Ooh, can I join?"

Some of the vampires snarled and took a threatening step closer.

"I don't mind being the janitor." Buffy offered generously.

"B!" Faith pushed her, hard enough to make her stumble forwards.

Her accidental advance was seen as an attack and all of a sudden vampires were everywhere, even more everywhere than before.

"What?" Buffy defended herself verbally even as she defended herself physically. "I'm a joiner."

"You're an asshole," Faith grunted out as she fought three on one.

"Oh, like you're always gushing with how much you love Toni." Buffy knocked two fiends back with a round house kick and grabbed a third by the neck so she could pull him close enough to stake.

"That's different."

"Always is."

"You don't even love Toni!"

Buffy stumbled as a right cross caught her chin. "You have no idea how I feel about Toni," she snapped, rubbing her jaw angrily.

"Do you?" Faith asked, spinning around.

Buffy glared at her. "Don't start with me, Faith."

"Or what?"

"Mi scusi, lei Ŕ non dovrebbe essere la lotta contro di noi?"

Buffy cocked her head at the vampire who'd spoken so politely. "What did he say?"

"He wants to know why we're standing here arguing when we should be fighting."

"We're only having a little disagreement; I'm hardly going to punch you for it."

Faith blew out a frustrated breath. "Fighting them, B, not each other."


"Rain check?"


They both jumped back into the fight and she forgot Faith then for a minute, as much as she ever could anyway, while she concentrated on staying alive herself. Faith was swearing somewhere behind her and then there was the beautiful sound of a couple of vampires dusting, but a look over her shoulder showed that more had taken their place. Faith had underestimated with nine, but they'd already staked a good few. Their numbers were decreasing, just not very quickly. Buffy wielded her weapon like the pro she was and dwindled them down further.

"Are you stakin' with a turtle?" Faith asked incredulously.

"No, a tortoise."


"It's a wooden ornament." Buffy explained.


"The tail's all pointy."


"And the shell part is good for... bashing heads," she grunted as she demonstrated.

As the stunned vampire staggered back, Faith kicked him forward again. "Are you selling them or something?"

As the vampire came back towards her, Buffy turned the tortoise and staked him. "No."

"Then quit it with the infomercial, I'm trying to concentrate here."

"Sorry," Buffy muttered sarcastically. "Am I the only Slayer who can multi-task?"

She blocked jabs, threw punches, and at one point threw an entire vampire. Was it wrong that she was enjoying this so much? Slaying wasn't supposed to be enjoyable and most of the time it wasn't. She did this out of duty, not for the thrill, because getting your kicks from violence didn't suggest the healthiest state of mind. Right now though, with the blood pumping and the dust swirling around her and the grunting and cursing coming from Faith... it felt way too good.

'Can't have sex with Faith without feeling guilty. Can't slay with Faith without feeling guilty.' She ranted internally as she used the wooden tortoise with more finesse than the thing should have allowed for. 'Is there anything I can do with Faith that doesn't make me feel guilty? Other than planning her stupid wedding, of course.'

She took an Italian loafer to the nose and was suddenly looking up at the stars. "That hurt!"

"B, you okay?"

"What do you think?" The vampire that had floored her was looming now, grinning around his fangs as he prepared to drop to his knees and bite her. "I'm fighting for my life because of your freaking fiancÚ."

'And why do I think this won't be the last time,' she added to herself as she boosted her legs into the air and caught the vampire by the neck with her feet.

"It's not his fault."

"So whose fault is it?" She flipped the vampire over her head and rolled upright again. "Why don't they like him?"

"They're vampires."

"Vampires with a surprisingly good judge of character," she agreed.

"Toni's a psycho!"

"What?" Buffy laughed at the abrupt digression.

"You think Troy's so bad? Your girlfriend is a jealous psycho."

"So I have a type, so what?"

"What's that supposed to mean?"

Buffy staked another one before bothering to answer. "That I always seem to fall in love with jealous psychos." She watched Faith go flying a few feet through the air. "You good?"

As a vampire jumped after the fallen Slayer he embedded himself on one of her stakes. She had two stakes, which didn't seem fair when Buffy was making do with a wooden tortoise.

"She's having us watched, ya know?" Faith said as she scrambled back to her feet.

"No she isn't." Although Buffy didn't believe it for a second, she found herself looking around at the dark cemetery anyway. "Did Troy tell you that? Because it's probably just his way of keeping you in line while he's gone."

"I didn't need anyone to tell me. I've seen the guy with my own eyes."

"Sure you have."

They were down to two vampires a piece now and the bone dry grass of the cemetery was heavily sprinkled with the dust of the dead. Not much longer and Buffy could go back to the apartment, take a shower to get rid of the sweat that was covering her from top to toe and leave Faith to her delusions.

"Fine, don't believe me."

"I don't. Why would she?"

"Uh, because she's a jealous psycho."

Buffy shook her head, deciding to let Faith think what she wanted. She knew that if she was being followed, she'd know it by now. Maybe Faith had seen someone suspicious hanging around, someone like Quantiaro for instance, but she had also been prone to bouts of paranoia once upon a time and Buffy had enough on her plate to worry about.

Pushing one of her vampires away, she grabbed the other by the back of his head and pulled his face down to meet her rising knee. The borrowed blood from his broken nose felt gross on her bare skin, but before she had time to dwell on the ick, the other was back and trying out the same move on her.

"Hey! NO! Don't!" She yelled as her hair was pulled nearly hard enough to give her a bald spot. "Think of the wedding photos!"

"There will be no wedding!" The vampire growled in accented English.

"Oh yeah, we'll see about that," she told him as the tortoise tail made its mark. "Why do I keep doing that?"

"Maybe secretly you're really happy for me and Troy," Faith called over sarcastically.

"Yeah, that must be it," Buffy said equally sarcastic as she engaged one on one with the broken-nosed vampire. "You never told me why these guys hate him so much."

"You notice how they're all male?"

Buffy hadn't really thought about it, but... "Yeah?"

Faith laughed, "He used to have a thing for female vamps."

"Oh. Doesn't that bother you?"

"I guess you could say I have a type, too."

Buffy chuckled. "So these guys are all spurned lovers? Damn, I really am on the wrong side."

Faith laughed as she finally managed to poof another of her combatants. "Well don't switch just yet."

There were two vampires left; as they realized this, they seemed to remember the age old adage, the one about it being better to live to fight another day, and with a quick glance at each other they turned and took off across the cemetery grass.

"Hey!" Buffy shouted after them.

"Come on!" Faith gave chase.

With no hesitation, Buffy followed her. "I'm so glad you called; there is nothing like running after evil in hundred degree heat."

"Gee, Buff, I'm real sorry I interrupted nap time for a life and death struggle." Faith called back.

"I wasn't napping."

"Well ya sounded pretty out of it when I called."

"I was, but not because I was napping." Buffy grinned as they rushed past trees and jumped over bushes to keep the two runaways in sight.

"So you really were flicking the bean?" Faith turned her head long enough to leer at her.

"I can only guess what that means," Buffy admitted. "Toni had just called."

"And talking to her can have that effect?" Faith asked doubtfully.

"Let's just say the best man isn't as shy when it comes to phone sex as the bride is." Buffy smirked.

"The best man can kiss my ass," Faith grumbled as she vaulted the cemetery wall.

"I prefer it when she's kissing my ass." Buffy jumped over it too, landing on the sidewalk next to Faith. "And I didn't mean that in a suck-up kind of way, I meant it in a sexual way, just so we're clear." She winked and started running again.

It was a few seconds before Faith caught up with her. "You're into rimming?"

Okay, she didn't know what the hell that was either, but she turned her head to grin at Faith anyway. "You betcha."

It was always going to be a difficult situation. She loved Faith, who loved her, but also loved Troy, and that's who she'd chosen, and that had left Buffy floundering for longer than she wanted to admit. The time for floundering was over. Did Buffy still want Faith? With a fiery passion. Was she ever gonna get her? Extremely doubtful. Should she want to get her, considering what Troy had said about Faith's soul (and let's not forget the volcano!)? A resounding no; even if it killed her to acknowledge it.

Toni on the other hand... Buffy wanted her still, this afternoon had proved that if she'd been in any doubt, and she hadn't been. She didn't have to get her, she had her. Would it endanger anyone's soul to be with her? No gods, goddesses or anyone else for that matter had said so.

Thinking of it like that as she raced through the streets of Rome, it seemed stupid that she'd even had to have this conversation with herself so many times before. Faith and her were done, romantically, end of story. No matter how temptationy Buffy could be, and she was sure she could be very if she wanted to, Faith was still dead set on marrying Troy in nine weeks.

'I have more self-respect than this," Buffy thought as they hit a busy patch outside a couple of clubs and had to dodge between people to keep the vampires in sight. 'Don't I? Shouldn't I? I'm pretty sure I did once.'

"B! Cut left, there's an alley. We'll sandwich them."

As soon as Faith shouted Buffy spotted the alley she meant and headed for it while Faith continued to chase. It was narrow and pitch black and she didn't even see the dumpster until she bashed straight into it. It rolled noisily across the cobbles one way as she rebounded the other way rubbing the front of her head.

"I hate this city!" she decided as she felt her way around the big obstacle and ran on towards the light at the end. "Even the garbage is out to get me."

She shot back out into the street just in time for Faith to run right into her.

"Oof!" The air was knocked from her again with the impact and together they hit and slid along the road. "Faith!"

"What the hell?" Faith angrily scrambled back to her feet. "You were supposed to stop them, not me."

"You think I did that deliberately?" Buffy shot back. "Why weren't you looking where...?"

"Come on." Faith swooped down, grabbed her elbow and dragged her back to her feet. "They make it to Piazza di Spagna and we've lost 'em for sure."

The vampires now had a small lead, but not enough to make Buffy worried about losing sight of them. If they split up and had the sense to go unfangy, that might be different, but right now the ugly, running duo stood out on the quiet, dark streets. The chase was almost pleasant.

"So did you decide what color you want the napkins yet?" Buffy asked as a way of opening up the wedding talk.

She needed to find an around about route to asking Faith what Toni had mentioned and she wasn't planning on sticking around for long after these two were dust.

"White," Faith grunted.

"White? All that dithering and you settled on white?"

"You want me to change my mind?"

"No, no, white it is. White's good. Won't match your dress, but..."

"Didn't know they were supposed to match my dress. Anyway, who says they won't?"

"You're wearing white?" Buffy asked surprised.

"Why not?"

Buffy didn't mean to laugh, but she did anyway. "Because white's for... for virgins."

It was a stupid rule anyway, and one Buffy suspected at least ninety-nine percent of the brides who wore white broke, but Faith acting virginal...? Buffy laughed harder.

Faith cuffed her shoulder without breaking stride. "Well, I am a virgin when it comes to all this wedding shit. Besides Troy wants me to."

"Fine, whatever, at least that's two decisions made." Buffy looked around as her sandals started hitting dark grey cobbles instead of asphalt. "It's getting busier."

"Told you. We better do this."

"Any chance all that wedding talk lulled them into a false sense of security?"

"They don't speak English, B."

"Right. Okay. You ready?"

"Born ready, babe."

Like one jungle cat with two bodies, they surged forward and leapt. Their aim was perfect, their strike deadly, there was only one problem.

"Ow, shit!" Faith recoiled from the sharp painful feeling of their heads banging together. "You friggin' idiot!"

"That was my guy!" Buffy pushed her. "You were supposed to go for the other one."

"No, you were." Faith pushed her back. "That one was mine."

"No. That was the one I had in the cemetery. Obviously it's the one I'm gonna go for now."

"I had him in the cemetery!" Faith countered. "You had the other one, the one whose hair was doing the flicky thing."

"I don't remember any flicky hair thing." Buffy turned impatiently to the kids staring at them. "What is your problem?"

"You were having group sex in a graveyard with strangers and you ask what our problem is?" Although the snooty girl spoke in perfect English she had an Italian accent and a nice long nose, perfect for looking down.

"Great, now people can understand me," Buffy groaned. "And... How did you get to group sex?"

"B, Flicky hair guy's gone."

"We better start looking and hope we get lucky."

They were about to start walking when snooty girl and a couple of friends stepped in front of them.

"Wait, are you Faith?" she asked excitedly.

"Who wants to know?"

"It is. It is." One of her friend's said, nudging Snooty in the back over and over.

"What's going on?" Buffy asked, as Faith groaned and looked embarrassed.

"I can't believe it!" Snooty was practically bouncing with joy. "This is very cool. Can I... can I, get your autograph, please?"

"You've got to be kidding me?" Buffy rolled her eyes.

"What do you want my autograph for?" Faith was trying to back away but the thrilled girls just followed her.

"Because... because you're her! I already have Mr Anthanasia's, wait..." The girl produced a small, fat book from her handbag and was flipping through it. "Here... see?"

She thrust the book right under Faith's nose. Buffy figured she was lucky she didn't end up eating it.

Faith pushed the book out of her face. "I don't have a pen."

Suddenly three glitter pens were produced and pointed at her; one had feathers sticking out of the end.

"If you could sign under his, it would be very cool, si!" Snooty had turned into Geeky really quickly.

"I don't know."

"Faith, just give your fan what she wants so we can go." Buffy shook her head, finding the situation funnier now that Faith obviously didn't.

Faith snatched one of the pens and scribbled on the book. "There ya go, now get lost. We're tryin' to work here."

"Can you sign my arm?" Another girl asked, holding it up.

"What? No! You got all you're getting."

They finally started to walk off.

"Will you sign my bra?" Another girl called to them.

Faith stopped, smirking. "Well, I guess anything for a fan."

She started to turn around, but Buffy grabbed her arm.

"Don't you dare! She's, like, fifteen."

Faith gave a leery grin and waggled her eyebrows, but didn't turn back.

"Tell Troy we love him!" Snooty squealed after them.

"That happen often?" Buffy smiled as the teenage girls were lost in the crowd behind them.

"Not that. I've been asked to have my photo taken with people before, usually guys, and usually Troy's there too. I've had a few journos hassle me when I've been alone before, but threatening to jam their pencils up their asses usually makes them piss off quick."

"You're not a fan of the limelight?"

"Can't risk it." Faith said simply.

They were walking leisurely through the crowds in the square, mostly because they didn't have a choice, but they were both scanning all sides intently for the vampire.

"Uh, I told Toni I was planning the wedding with you."

"Bet she loved that."

"Actually she was really helpful."

"In what way?" Faith asked dubiously.

"Well, she gave me a list of caterers and florists and stuff for starters; to save us time seeing as we don't know our butts from our elbows around here."

Faith stopped looking around and looked at Buffy instead. "Really?"

Buffy nodded. "And she said a friend of her Grandmother's could probably make you a dress if you can't find one you like. She only charges two hundred Euros plus material. I don't know if that's good or not, but I know Anya paid over a thousand dollars for her dress."

"Money's not a problem."

"I know. We just thought if you can't find one you like; maybe designing your own is the way to go."

"Tone'll probably tell her Nana's friend to fuck it up so I look like crap."

"She wouldn't do that." Buffy snapped.

"Yeah, if you say so."

"I do."

"Okay, fine, I'll think about it."

"Good." Buffy suddenly grabbed a young man that was standing by the fountain and spun him around.

"That's not him," Faith said absently as the man spluttered at them.

"Sorry." Buffy released him. "Do you think he's still here?"

"I think he'd probably try and lose us in this lot. He looks the right age to blend in."

"I think you're right. How did you know you hadn't just stumbled on a gang of vampires having a night out? Is your Italian really getting that good?" Buffy wondered if she could somehow disguise Toni's diary entries and have Faith translate them for her instead.

"It's not bad, but they've sent death threats. Once they surrounded me and started heckling, it wasn't hard to figure out." Faith grinned. "Troy gets fan mail, I get death threats. Nice, huh?"

"That sucks."

"Vamps wanted me dead long before I hooked up with Troy."


"What really sucks is that thing strolling around here, laughing at us trying to find him."

"Yeah it'd be pretty funny if he was following us around in circles as we look for him..." Faith gave her a look. "Well, not the funny kind of funny, obviously, just, you know, ironic."

Faith turned on her heel to look into the crowd behind them. With a heartfelt groan, she started walking faster.

"He's there?" Buffy asked in surprise.

"No, not him."

Buffy turned to look and started giggling. The Italian teens from before were following them at what they probably thought was a discreet distance.

"All I need is a bunch of kids thinking I'm the fuckin' coolest thing ever," Faith griped.

She was putting more effort into losing her following now than finding the missing vampire.

"Oh, don't act like you don't love it," Buffy teased.

"Do you really want impressionable kids watching when we finally dust this motherfucker?" Faith asked hotly.

"Well they were too stupid to realise the last one disappeared right in front of them, so I'm not too worried."

Buffy was a little jealous, not that she would ever admit that out loud, nor did she really want random teen girls following her around. But why did all the impressionable kids they knew hero worship Faith? Buffy had done way cooler and slightly more law abiding things, but no one wanted to follow her. Even the newbie Slayers back at the house in Cleveland spent more time asking when Faith would be coming home than taking any notice of her helpful lectures.

"Have we lost 'em yet?" Faith was staring stubbornly ahead now, the vampire could be standing right next to her and she wouldn't see him.

Buffy looked over her shoulder. "Nope. One of them has a camera out now. Maybe if you gave them a quick photo shoot they'll stop."

"Very funny. Maybe if I kick their asses they'll stop."

"Well, yeah, if you wanna get arrested for child abuse before your big day."

"You could kick their asses. You're not a wanted fugitive; you'd make bail before the wedding."

"I don't love you that much."

Faith grinned at her. "You wouldn't go to jail for me, B?"

"Not for beating up children, no."

Faith pointed in front of them. "Blue shirt. That him?"

Buffy shook her head. "Nah, he didn't have a collar. It was more of a t-shirt with buttons."

"No, he had a collar. It was a button down."

"No it wasn't."

Faith shook her head. "This is useless. We can't even agree on what he was wearing, let alone what he looked like."

"Well, he had fangs and yellow eyes; that should set him apart from the crowd." Buffy knew she was reaching. If the vampire was still around, he would be looking like any of the other college students and tourists hanging out. "Let's just keep looking. Why's this place so busy anyway?"

Faith shrugged. "Dunno, always is. Let's go up the steps."

Buffy frowned at the idea. "That's a lot of steps."

"You getting old on me, Girlfriend?" Faith gave her a challenging grin.

"Steps it is." Buffy moved towards them.

"Race ya to the top!"

"We're supposed to be..." Buffy tried to be the voice of reason, but Faith was already off and running. "Damn!"

She seemed to spend more time dodging sideways to avoid people sitting on the steps than making progress to the top and Faith, even though she was having to do the same, always seemed to be a few steps ahead. By the time she reached the top of the one hundred and thirty eight steps - she hadn't counted, she just remembered from Andrew's guide book - she was panting like a dog in a hot car and was only a little gratified to see that Faith was doing the same.

"And what did that achieve exactly?" she asked breathlessly.

Faith bent double until she stopped wheezing. "Gotta give up the smokes." When she straightened back up, she pointed down at the square. It looked beautiful from up here. "Thought a higher vantage point might be useful."

Buffy had to give her that one. She checked out the crowd below and gave a little sideways nod. "Okay, it could be at least half a dozen people that I can see. Which would be fine if we had half a dozen slayers here."

"There's one in the city, far as I know. Bumped into her a few times patrolling. Don't have her number though."

"Your fan club is heading up."

"Good reason to go back down then." Faith started down the steps a good deal slower than she'd come up them.

"So all that exercise was a waste of time then."

"Exercise is its own reward," Faith quipped.

Sighing, Buffy caught up with her. "Toni was a little surprised by one thing."

"Can you not talk about anything but her tonight or something?" Faith grumbled.

Buffy ignored her; she had to bring the subject up somehow. "She just thought it was a bit odd that Troy hadn't already taken care of most of the wedding arrangements."

"That's my own stupid fault," Faith sighed. "He said he'd get his staff to take care of it all, seeing as he's not gonna be around much for the next month to help, but I didn't want a bunch of demons organising my wedding. So I told him I was a party planner and could handle it just fine by myself. And you know what I found out?"


"Well, other than that Troy has far too much confidence in me for my own good, planning a club night where you just hire a band, hang a few posters and pay the bar manager, ain't nothing like trying to organize a wedding."

"Really? I'm shocked!" Buffy grinned.

"And that's where you come in," Faith grinned back at her.

"Yeah, that's where I come in," Buffy repeated softly, gearing herself up.

"Oh, which reminds me." Faith dug into the back pocket of her brown leather pants, she must have been baking inside them. "Here." She handed over a wad of folded fax paper. "Troy's guest list. Just under nine hundred names. Apparently when we're done with the invites we just gotta hand them over to Hermes, he'll make sure they get where they gotta go."

Buffy opened the pages to take a look at the names. "It'll save us postage, I suppose."

"That and some of his family are...Inter-dimensional."

Buffy chuckled, "It's going to be just like Anya and Xander's wedding. Except hopefully Troy will turn up." She wrinkled her nose. "Did I really just say 'hopefully'? Okay, and what do you want me to do with them?"

"Well..." Faith smiled and hooked her arm around Buffy's pulling her closer. "I was kinda hoping that you'd be able to figure out some way of writing out the invitations which doesn't give me getting hand cramp."

"You mean like me writing them out?"

"Well that's not really thinking outside the box, but if that's how you wanna do it."

Buffy pulled her arm away, she didn't like Faith so close these days - meaning, obviously, that she liked it too much - and gave the brunette a slight push on the shoulder, making her go down the next few steps quicker than she had intended.

Buffy skipped down them to join her. "Fine, I'll see what I can do." This was a job for the helper monkeys if ever there was one. "Just one thing, Genius, you still haven't gotten the invitations printed yet."

"I thought you were doing that."

"Time?" Buffy poked her between her shoulder blades. "Date?" Poke. "Place?" Poke. "Any of this sound familiar?" Poke. Poke. Poke.

"Fine, jeez, quit poking me." Faith hopped a few steps away. She pulled her shiny blue cell phone from her pocket and sent a text message.

"What design do you want? What do you want the invitations to look like?" Buffy asked next.

"I don't know. What do you want 'em to look like?"

Buffy shrugged. "Thick, creamy card with the words 'Only kidding!' embossed on the front in swirly silver lettering."

Faith smirked at her. "Yeah, okay, creamy card and swirly silver lettering, that sounds classy, right? I think I'll choose my own words though."

Buffy shrugged again.

"So you think you can get those printed up for me?"

"Get me the info; I'll see what I can do." Buffy promised, wondering if it wouldn't be a good idea to make some kind of wedding folder to keep track of all this stuff. "So, there was one other thing."


Buffy hesitated, "Well, Toni thought, seeing as I'm helping so much, maybe you could... pay me? You know, as a wedding planner-type person... or something."

"I knew she wasn't doing this out of the goodness of her heart." Faith shook her head and stopped on the steps, they were about halfway down. She fixed her eyes on Buffy. "Is that why you're doing it? For money?"

"You know its not. It's just... I don't have a job, Faith! And so many credit cards have been lost between Cleveland and here they won't even give Giles the application forms anymore."

"I can give you more money."

"You might need that."

"Well, Troy's loaded and it's not like I'm gonna let you starve while you're here." Faith pointed out.

"I'm not gonna take hand outs from Troy," Buffy said adamantly. "But, I don't mind taking wages from him. Actually I do, but Toni reminded me that pride comes before a Wal-Mart wardrobe in last season's colours. He'd have to pay his demons if they were doing it."

"Yeah, okay, whatever," Faith frowned as she pulled out her wallet. "I just thought you were doing it because you wanted to, that's all."

"Faith, I am. And you can say no, I'll still do it. It's just..."

"Toni got inside your head this afternoon as well as your pants," Faith finished for her.

Buffy dropped her eyes to the white steps. "Well she is a business major."

"Yeah," Faith shrugged it off and pushed a wad if bills into her hand. "Well, take that for starters and I'll tell Troy to put you on the payroll." She pulled out her cell phone again.

"If it's gonna cause problems between us I'd rather just forget it," Buffy said, sliding her hand over Faith's shoulder to stop her from walking off. "It was just an idea. I could always get a job as one of those tour guides. Toni said they're always hiring and I think I'd look good dressed up like an ancient Roman."

Faith smiled, turning into her touch, causing Buffy's hand to slide to the back of her neck. "Leather dress and a sword? You'd look hot, B, and probably make a fortune in tips."

"Right; I'll do that then." Buffy tried to hand the money back.

Faith waved it away. "No, I like your scheme better - and you can tell Tone I know it was a scheme too. I don't want thousands of horny tourists ogling your legs and shit all day long. I'd rather keep ya close." Faith leaned back to look at Buffy's legs, there was plenty to see below her short skirt. "So I can do the ogling."

Buffy smiled at her, shaking her head slightly. "You think I'm really easy to play, don't you?"

"No," Faith shook her head. "I just think I spent a lotta years practising how to play you, and it's finally paying off."

"Well, playtime's over," Buffy reminded her without a hint of the regret in her voice that she was feeling inside. She unhooked her hand from Faith's neck and linked their arms again. "And if Toni's good business judgment is a scheme, then what you just tried to pull is way schemier."

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"'Course you don't."

"You gonna enlighten me?"

"Nope, just know that it's not gonna work."

"What's not going to work?"

"You getting the better of Toni!" Buffy said impatiently. "She's not even here and you're trying to outdo her for my attention. Give it up, F. For the next month or so you get my body, she gets my mind, so deal with it... Okay, that came out wrong. You want me to nutshell it down for you: I made my choice too, her name is Toni, maybe you've met her. So you can pretend you want to ogle any part of me you like; it's not going to make me forget about my girlfriend. I've spent enough time forgetting about her," she added mostly to herself.

Of course, she'd probably change her mind in the morning, or maybe the next time she blinked, but eventually it would change back again, and the fact that she meant it right this minute was enough to make it convincing. Not that it did convince.

Faith laughed. "Fine, B, keep deluding yourself if it helps, but we both know who you were really thinking about when you were strummin' earlier..."

Buffy ripped her arm violently from Faith's and started to run down the steps.

"Buffy! Wait! I was only joking." She heard Faith shout, and rolled her eyes, not slowing down. Then she heard, "Oh shit!" and knew that Faith was now running after her.

Mr Flicky hair Vampire was down in the piazza, just at the foot of the steps; and staring up at him like a love struck teenager was the snooty leader of Faith's fan club. In slow motion it seemed, he stroked her face with one hand and offered her a white flower with the other, it was like something out of a romantic painting. Buffy just really hoped she'd picked the right guy out of the identity parade of hundreds this time, because he was leaning in to do something to her neck, and she wasn't gonna get the time to ask "Please, sir, are you a Vampire?" first.

"F?" She didn't dare yell out Faith's full name and warn him.

"Think so," Faith yelled back, which wasn't a lot of help, but she had to go with it.

She did an inventory: Blue shirt, buttons, no collar - the boy turned sharply, suddenly aware of someone barreling towards him - yellow eyes, sold!

Buffy's flying kick - which was awesome if she did say so herself - carried her down the final five or six steps and her sandal connected satisfyingly with his face. He flipped over onto his back, but was already rising again by the time Buffy landed on the cobbles.

She didn't give him time to find his feet however, before kicking him in the teeth. As he went over again, the girl who had very nearly been his supper decided to get involved, on his behalf.

"What are you doing? You mad woman! Leave him alone. Leave him alone! I'll call the polizia!"

Buffy ignored her, really wishing she would go away. She had no stake and at some point her tortoise tail had snapped off, probably when Faith had sent her skidding down the road earlier. She hoped it wasn't a priceless antique or anything. The shell part was still good though. Ducking low under a roundhouse kick from him, she popped up behind and knocked him on the back of the head with it. He staggered forward, right into Faith, who grabbed him by the front of the shirt and spun him around so hard when she let go he crashed into the wall ten feet away.

"Oh Madre di dio." The girl whispered. "Faith, what are you doing? Do you need any help?"

"I get verbal abuse, you get devoted assistance," Buffy grunted as they took turns punching the vampire. "Am I the only one who thinks the world must be spinning backwards this year?"

"Yep. You're the only one."

"Okay, okay, I surrender!" The vampire finally shrieked. "I will tell you everything."

Buffy and Faith stopped their attack and looked at each other.

"Did we ask him something?" Buffy asked.

"Not that I'm aware of." Faith shrugged.

"You didn't?" Now the vampire looked even shiftier than before. "Oh."

He abruptly tried to make a sharp exit between the two of them, like that was ever gonna work. Buffy tripped him, Faith dragged him back to his feet by his flicky hair.

"So what is it you think you know?"

"It's probably the secret password," Buffy joked. "You know, so I can go to all the club meetings and stuff."

"You got a secret word for her, dead stuff?" Faith shook him. "You really should let her be a part of the gang. No one hates Troy like she does. You should probably make her president or something. She could teach you bloodsuckers a thing or two."

"Oh yeah, you hate him?" The vampire sneered at her. "No woman hates him. What makes you different?"

Buffy's tone matched the vampire's. "He fucked my woman and now she's obsessed with him."

"Buffy!" It felt good to shock Faith.

"Ahh, joina the club," the vampire said miserably, making Buffy giggle. "He does that to us all. My girlfriend, Allicia." He sobbed as he said her name.

"First off, I was not your woman," Faith spluttered at her. "Second off, I'm not obsessed; I'm in love."

Ignoring Faith, Buffy spoke only to the unhappy creature of the night; he kind of reminded her of Spike after Drusilla had dumped him.

"My girlfriend, Antonella... They did it a long time ago, but she's still all Troy this, Troy that... It drives me nuts, you know?"

He couldn't nod with the way Faith was holding his hair, but his expression conveyed that he did know. "That is how it takes them. Wait, your girlfriend is Antonella Mancini?" he suddenly devamped and smiled, and she could kinda see why Faith's biggest fan had been infatuated at first sight.

Surprised, Buffy automatically smiled back. "Uh, yeah. We've been together six months now. You actually know her?"

"I wish," he smiled bashfully. "I did some work for her cousin a few months back and he mentioned she was dating a Slayer. You are lucky, she is very beautiful."

"Time out!" Faith shook the vampire again. "Toni screwed Troy? When the hell did this happen?"

Buffy grinned. "You didn't know?"

"Would I be asking if I did?"

"You're not jealous are you, Faith?" Buffy asked with a perceptive little smile.

"No! Of her?" Faith spluttered. "I don't think so."

"No," Buffy rolled her eyes. "Because you've never been jealous of Toni."

"Damn right I haven't! Nothing to be jealous of." Faith let go of the vampire and took a challenging step closer to her.

"So you're not in the least bothered that she screwed the love of your life, I take it," she asked innocently, before sneakily adding, "Oh, and your fiancÚ too, of course."

Faith sneered at her. "Troy was probably drunk when they did it. Gotta admit he wasn't that picky before we met."

"Oh really?" Now Buffy was taking a step closer and she kicked the vampire in the kneecap to stop him from sidling away. "You mean like I wasn't before I met Toni?"

Faith tried to stare her down as she came another step closer. Once she was right in Buffy's face, she smiled roguishly. "No, like you have been ever since I rejected you."

Buffy thrust her chin up defiantly. "Oh, you're comfortable going there?"

"Looks like."

"I will just..." Faith caught the vampire before he could inch out of range and smacked his head into the wall. He staggered, dizzy, for a moment before plopping onto the cobbles on his butt with a dazed look on his face.

"Okay, well for someone who rejected me, you sure are easy to get into bed!"

"You've never had me in a bed!"

"No, but I've had you pretty much everywhere else!"

'Gonna have you right here in the strada if this goes on much longer,' Buffy realized as the heat continued to build between them.

"What can I say?" Faith sneered. "I felt bad about leaving you stuck fucking Toni."

"Well, you really shouldn't have worried, Faith. I've never had it so good!"

"Except me."

"Way better than you!"

Faith laughed, "Yeah, I don't think so, Twinkie."

Buffy rolled her eyes at the confidence this woman possessed in her sex-skills, not that she didn't have the goods to back it up, but, still, a little modesty didn't cost anything.

"You might know what you're doing, Faith, I'll give you that, but actually loving someone and caring for them and taking the time to find out all the little ways you can make them purr with pleasure - and not jumping up and leaving them high and not-so-dry because your boyfriend is coming home - go a hell of a long way to making it perfect."

"Yeah, okay, B, so now you're trying to tell me you love her." Faith shook her head in a pretense of weariness, her eyes told a different story. "When are you gonna stop using her to make me jealous? I already told ya it doesn't work."

"When are you gonna realize I'm through with trying to make you jealous?" Buffy smiled. Faith was so jealous.

"So you expect me to believe you really do love her?" Faith scoffed.

"You can believe whatever you want to believe, Faith. I'm sure it'll make you feel better than the truth." Taking a slight chance, Buffy leaned in that extra inch and kissed Faith on the cheek before stepping back from her personal space altogether.

"Now, if we're done here..." Buffy swung the battered tortoise by her side. "I'm gonna head back to Toni's big bed and hope she visits me in dreamland."

"Yeah, better hurry, or you might miss some business advice, or, you know, some fantasizing about me."

"Uh huh. Or some totally forgetting about you in favor of fantasizing about Toni."

Faith shook her head, smirking, "You're trying too hard."

That was true, but it was for a good cause.

"You really think I'm gonna be jealous when you're making it so obvious? Subtlety, B; a little goes a long way."

Buffy jumped up and down, waving the tortoise in her frustration, "Faith! Are you even listening to yourself? If you're not jealous, why are we still having this conversation?"

"Okay, fine, we'll stop having it." Faith crossed her arms sulkily.

"Okay," Buffy smiled, "I take it back, you're obviously not jealous."

"Damn fuckin' right, I'm not," Faith muttered to her feet.

Buffy chuckled at her. "Glad we got that sorted out. Now I'm heading home for a nice cold shower."

"Wait..." Buffy did, Faith hesitated before asking her question. "I know I got no right to probably ask this, but, if you had to choose...you know, would you choose her?"

Buffy felt her insides go squirmy and her smile and all other traces of amusement fell away. "Is that relevant?"

"No, it's just a question," Faith shrugged, not really meeting her eyes.

"Okay," Buffy forced her smile back in place. "Well, goodnight."

She started to walk away.

"No, it's relevant." Faith called after her as she changed her mind. "Would you?"

It sounded so innocent, so unexpected, but surely Faith was as sick of this merry-go-round as Buffy was. Buffy looked down at the cobbles, not even knowing what the right thing to do here was, only knowing that she was definitely sick of not knowing, and maybe the time had come for taking a stand. If it was the wrong one... well, she didn't know what the right one was, so what difference did it really make? When she turned back around to meet Faith's silently waiting anxious eyes, she had a 'take no prisoners' look of resolve on her face.

She walked purposefully back to Faith. "Ask me to run away with you, right now."

"What?" Faith frowned, obviously thinking she'd heard wrong.

"Go on." Buffy insisted urgently, stepping closer, close enough again that she was all Faith could see. "You still have money in your account, right? Ask me to spend the rest of my life with you and we can be out of here by morning. The Watchers' Council can get us a flight anywhere and we can hide forever if we have to, just the two of us. You just have to ask."

"No. What? No, I'm not..." Faith looked seriously confused.

She tried backing up, but Buffy just followed her without any pity; this was ending one way or another right now.

"You want me to offer to make an honest woman of you first, is that it?" Buffy smiled. "'Cause that is so not a problem."

Faith bumped into someone and looked around, realizing a crowd was forming, people here loved street theatre. She looked nervously back at Buffy again, "What?"

"You want proof? A gesture? Okay, it's a little embarrassing with so many people around, but what the hell, right? I think you're worth it." Buffy smiled again as she went down on one knee in front of Faith, hyper aware of the new crowd, the vampire watching them dizzily and Faith's fan girl gang still hovering.

"A little embarrassing?" Faith hissed down at her. "What the fuck are you doing?"

"Something I should have done months ago. Something's missing." She looked around herself and clicked her fingers. "A ring."

She pulled the emerald oval ring off her own middle finger and reached for Faith's left hand. It was like she was reading from some inner script even though this whole thing couldn't have been more off the cuff. Perhaps it was because she actually believed everything she was saying that made it come so easily to her. Including what she was about to say next.

"Faith, I know we redefine the word catastrophic when we're together and we're a match made in hell and we'll probably never truly get over our past no matter how much we want to, but, I don't care. You're everything that makes me glad I was ripped out of heaven and I wanna spend the rest of my life with you. So... will you marry me?"

Faith was just staring at her, looking scared. Buffy kept tugging on her left hand, trying to pull it forward so she could slip the ring on the right finger, but Faith kept pulling it back just out of reach.

"What are you doing?" Faith asked again, her voice low and menacing. "Get the hell up!"

"Not until you answer the question," Buffy said through gritted teeth.

"No, Buffy. You know the answer is no! I'm already engaged in case you forgot."

"Oh yeah, I remember," Buffy stood up again, nose to nose with her counterpart. "To the guy who threatened to kill me if I ever made a move on you again. Oops; guess I must really be serious about you if I'm prepared to risk my life in such a public display of my feelings, huh?"

"Don't be ridiculous," Faith scoffed. "He wouldn't threaten to..."

"Actually," Buffy cut her off. "To his credit he was a little more creative than that, but, trust me, the end result would have been the same. But, he has nothing to fear; I'm no threat to him, am I? It doesn't matter what I do or say or how much I'm prepared to risk to prove I love you, it's not enough to make you be with me, is it?"

Faith shrugged her shoulders, looking around uncomfortably. "We've been over this."

"Yes." Buffy agreed, before leaning even closer. "So tell me why my feelings for Toni matter one little bit to you?" she snapped. "Why do you care, Faith?"

Faith flinched back in surprise. "That's a stupid question."

"Does it hurt you to think I might love her?" When Faith didn't answer, Buffy carried on. "Well guess what, Faith? You can actually do something about that. Which is more than I can say about you and Troy. You're choosing not to do something about it and that's not my fault, so don't blame me for not being all piney and single over you."

"It's not a choice."

"It damn well is a choice. Free will, F. We both know you have it in spades."

"What is that supposed to mean?"

Lesson over, Buffy backed off. "That you never used to be so cautious about taking risks to get what you wanted."

"I've got what I want," Faith bit off angrily.

Buffy nodded slowly. "Good. I'm happy for you. I'll see you tomorrow."

She walked away again and this time Faith didn't call her back, even though Buffy was begging in her heart that she would. Tears stung the corners of her eyes, but they were blinked away, and the noisy voice in her head asking 'What the hell did you just do?' was ignored. She'd done what she had to do, same as always.

Same as always. She was the strong one. She made the hard decisions. She always had to be the one to end the damn dance before someone got seriously hurt.

Two hours later she was in bed, with a mug of white cocoa on the wooden bedside cabinet beside her and the diary and phrase book discarded on the covers in front of her.

She'd cried, she'd dried her tears, and then she cried some more, but she knew she'd done the right thing with Faith. The final nail had had to be hammered into the coffin, and in many ways she was pleased she had been the one to do it before Faith had by getting married.

It was a shame it sucked so hard, but that was just the way life was.

The apartment was very quiet. Buffy had intended to call Toni after her pity fest was done, but Dawn and Andrew had returned from their night on the town, eager to tell all, and by the time she had listened to them and got them off to bed, she just didn't have the energy.

She picked up the photo of Toni and the tortoise she'd plucked from the front of the fridge and let her eyes settle on her girlfriend's face. The Vampire had been right, she was beautiful.

"I love you," she murmured in the silence. "I just don't know if I'm in love with you. But if you want to give me any definitive answers tonight, I'm listening."

After a few moments of gazing at the photo in what was at least a semi-lovesick way, she raised her eyes to the 'Pooh' poster across the room. This one wasn't the same as the one in the dorm. It had a very cute looking Piglet waving in front, but that wasn't who Buffy tilted her head at.

"You've been awfully quiet since I've been here," she said softly. "Do you have any answers? Are you even still taking an interest? Or have you given up on me too?"

Eeyore stayed silent, but she had a feeling there was more intelligence behind his eyes than a cartoon drawing should allow for.

"Okay then," she sighed, and picked up her notebook. "Let's see if this has any answers instead."

31 January 2004

'And so my journey is about to begin. It's exciting, but I'm not sure what to predict. I was told very little of what next year will for me and I can only hope that I was equal to the challenge ahead. It is time to verify the truth of the words of history and hope that its follow in kind.

I must make an appointment with the spa at the Spa Popes before transmit to me.'

"That's a no, then," she sighed.

Chapter Seventeen

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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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