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No Time To Choose
Prequel to the House of the Setting Sun Series

Disclaimer: I don't own any of these characters, just the tangled webs I weave them into.
Rating: R
Timeline: Set immediately after Buffy walks away from Faith outside the Bronze, in Empty Places.
Summary: With time running out in the battle with the First, Buffy finds that having Faith back in the mix, along with her confused Spike feelings, is demanding more of her time than the enemy


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PART ONE
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Chapter One: All The Slayer Games

Buffy's fists rained down on the punch bag dangling from the basements center beam. She shifted her weight and kicked out at shoulder height. She was mad, way mad. Angry at Faith for leading the potentials into danger. Angry at Giles for letting them go. Angry at Dawn for going with them when she should have stayed at home safe. Angry at . . . She heard the door at the top of the stairs open and stopped her work out.

"H-hello, Buffy are you down there?" Willow called out.

"Yeah, I'm just getting some practice in, come on down." While she waited for her friend to descend the stairs, Buffy wiped the sweat from her brow with the back of her arm.

"I just came back to get some fresh clothes for Xander. They said I can bring him home this evening." Willow smiled as she swung round the bottom of the banisters.

"Oh that's great Will. I think they want to organize some kind of party for him upstairs. You'd better let them know what time you'll be back." She was pleased that Xander was coming home. The house didn't feel the same without him. His injury was something else she was angry about, although she could only be angry at herself. And that loony priest she thought, her expression hardening.

Willow looked at her best friend and saw the sadness in her eyes. It had been a rough couple of days for everyone, but she also noticed the look of raw frustration. She hadn't been a Scooby for so long without realizing when Buffy's fuse was burning down.

"Hey Buffy. It'll be okay y'know. It sucks at the moment but we'll get through this. We always do."

"Yes, but what if this time we really can't, Willow? Every time I think I see a way to end it a new player comes forward that's bigger and stronger than the last." Buffy had promised herself that she wouldn't let on to any negative thoughts in front of anyone. She had to keep strong to keep the others strong. It was hard to keep the act up in front of Willow though; she knew that even when her red-headed friend wasn't using her witchiness she could still read her like a book.

And Willow clearly had picked up on it. "Then we just have to find a way to keep getting stronger too. Don't give up Buffy, cause if you give up what are the rest of us going to do?"

"Live longer." Buffy turned to the wall so her friend wouldn't see the tears that were threatening to spill.

"Oh Buffy." Willow hugged the small blonde tightly from behind. "Something will come up. I mean, we've already got two Slayers instead of one now so that makes us stronger, right?"

Buffy gave a harsh laugh and pulled away, wiping her eyes. "Oh yeah, good old Faith," she drawled.

"What? What did she do now?"

"Oh it's not her, it's me. Well it's both of us anyway." Buffy turned back to look at Willow. "She took the girls to the Bronze and they kinda ran into a bit of trouble."

"Oh my God, is everyone okay? Did someone get hurt?" Willow was instantly concerned, fearing the worse.

"No don't worry, everyone is fine. In fact from what I saw they kicked ass. The potentials are finally showing their potential." Buffy's gaze slid to the ground. "I sort of freaked though and punched Faith."

"W-what?"

"She had it coming. No, actually she didn't, she just wound me up and with everything . . ." Buffy let the sentence peter out.

"You're wound as tight as you can go." Willow finished for her.

"Pretty much, but that's no excuse, is it? I mean, what she said tonight irked me enough for my fist to do the talking but this tension has been building ever since she got back."

"Well that's understandable. Things weren't exactly all raindrops on roses between you when she went to jail. You've just got to give yourself a little time to adjust to having her back." Willow stepped forward to take Buffy's hand. "She's here to help. She wanted to come."

"Oh Willow I don't doubt her commitment to the cause and yeah, as much as I hate to admit it, I'm glad she's here. We need all the help we can get. It's just that I keep getting the impression that all the old Slayer games that were so much fun last time Faith was around have resurfaced and she's changed the rules."

"I don't know what you mean."

"Like how everything she did was to try and get back at me for being the real Slayer." Buffy stopped when she realized what she'd said. Giving a little chuckle she added, "And when I come out with comments like that I'm not surprised," she added contritely. She started again, "I don't mean real Slayer, I mean the one who was already here. The one who everyone followed and listened to. Faith must have felt like a third wheel."

"Yeah but third wheels are useful if your riding a tricycle otherwise you'd keep tipping over," Willow interjected.

Buffy looked as if she was about to follow that tangent for a second and then mentally shook herself. "Okay, so let's just say I don't know how to explain it. I've been here going through all this hell on earth stuff while she's been lazing around in jail and now she turns up and suddenly she gets to be the cool Slayer who takes a bunch of underage girls out drinking. Even Giles didn't bat an eyelash and he still looks at me all disapproving if I go out for a few beers."

"Hey, how could they think Faith is cooler than you? Up until a little while a go Faith was an evil murderer . . . well okay, I'm sure to a certain sub-section of society that may make her seem a little cool but not to our girls. You've helped shape what they've become. They look up to you and respect you. The only reason Faith got elevated to coolness so quick is because she gave them alcohol," Willow stated matter-of-factly with a sharp nod of her head.

"Yeah, well it doesn't change the fact that I shouldn't have hit her." Buffy's shoulders slumped. "We're all here to fight the First, that should be our main priority. Not fighting amongst ourselves because of my insecurities or because Faith's . . ." Buffy realized that she was about to end that sentence with something petty and stopped herself before she became too much of a hypocrite

". . . a royal pain in the ass," Willow said, smiling at her friend.

"Yeah, maybe." Buffy smiled back.

"So are you feeling a little better now? 'Cause I really should get Xander's stuff ready and go get him. Hey why don't you come to the hospital with me? It would get you out of Faith's way for a while and I know Xander would love it."

"Nah, thanks Will but I need to train and work off some of this frustration before I forget myself and hit a potential instead of Faith."

"Oh you wouldn't, would you?" Willow looked horrified at the thought.

"Well, I don't know, that girlfriend of yours can be pretty cheeky." Buffy said, winking at the red-head.

"I know," Willow grinned, winking back. She gave Buffy a quick hug and turned to go up the stairs. "I'll see you soon."

"See you. Don't forget to tell Dawn to get that party organized. I think she's made a banner." Buffy called up the stairs.

After Willow had shut the door behind her Buffy resumed kicking and punching the bag for all it was worth. Her chat with Willow had helped but she knew there was more to it than she had let on. Having Faith back unnerved her. She should be used to the banter but she felt like she was constantly being caught off guard. She'd turned into one of those people who try to think up witty come back lines before an argument.

She swiveled and twirled around the bag dusting imaginary vampires. Training was important they should all be doing more training, not Bronzing it. Oh God she was starting to sound like mother again.

"Pick up your weapons and go to your room," she snarled through gritted teeth, beating the bag one, two, one, two. "Or my room, or the bathroom or any damn room that isn't already crammed up to the rafters." Smack, smack, smack. Dust particles glimmered in the light from the bare overhead bulb and the punch bag swung to and fro as she pounded it. She felt the sweat rise as her strength surged through her muscles and down her arms and legs.


Chapter Two

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Chapter One || Chapter Two || Chapter Three || Chapter Four || Chapter Five


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