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


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PART THREE
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Chapter Twelve: Tying Up Loose Ends and Setting Some Free

"And you think it's that easy." Xander looked skeptical.

"In theory," Buffy squeaked.

"Believe me, easy shouldn't even be used near the same sentence as what you're asking," Willow assured.

"You can do it Willow, I promise you," Giles said.

Willow gulped and looked down at the scythe in her hands again.

"This is your big moment, Red. Time to take your place in the Hall of Fame," Faith encouraged.

"Did the coven have anything that could help?" Giles tried to steer the conversation away from ending in Willow getting stage fright.

"Uh, well it was the middle of the night in Devon, but they're gonna look into some spells and stuff and get back to me. I called Wes in L.A. too to see if he could think of anything but apparently they've got a few problems of their own at the moment, so I told him not to worry."

"Well as soon as it's a more reasonable hour over there, we can ring again with the new development, I'm sure they'll be able to help. Meanwhile I have a few old friends I need to look up. Faith, would you assist me for a moment?" Giles left the kitchen and Faith followed warily, she didn't notice Buffy watching her intently while pretending to be absorbed in her pancakes.

Giles only went as far as the living room before stopping to go through some piles of books. Faith stopped in the middle of the floor, arms swinging by her side, affecting a bored air. Andrew was still fast asleep on the couch.

"So Faith, have you thought any more about my proposal?"

"Not really, I've been a bit busy with dreaming up how to save the world. Why, did you get Buffy to agree?"

"Um no, I still haven't asked her," Giles admitted, shuffling books around.

"Well then my answer's still no." Faith went to walk back into the kitchen.

"Faith please, stay and hear me out." Faith did stop and turned back to face him with an exaggerated sigh. "If you won't agree to my tests, will you at least stay in Sunnydale? It will never hurt to have two Slayers on the Hellmouth and I know Buffy will benefit from having you around."

Faith snorted. "All me and B do is rub each other up the wrong way. She'll be better off with me gone, and so will I."

"What about what you said yesterday, about being there by her side, like you should be? Was that just so much drivel?"

Faith hung her head. "No it wasn't, and I'll be here by everyone's side until this thing is over, but then I'm out of here. I've got places to be."

"I'm sorry, my mistake, I'd just assumed you intended to fight by her side for longer than two weeks." Giles knew it was dangerous to goad her. She could attack or she could run, but he felt he would never reach the truth if he didn't try.

"She doesn't need me at her side. She's got you and Willow and Xander and all the rest if them. If this spell works she gonna have a hundred Slayers to fight by her side. She won't even notice I'm not there," Faith snapped.

"I think she would."

"Well then you think wrong." Faith pursed her lips, trying to keep the words in, and then let them out anyway. "You know she's screwing Spike again, don't you? Once all this is over, she'll be playing happy families with him and that's not a game I want any part of."

"Why?" Giles asked, knowing the answer already.

"Because it's wrong G, she's a Slayer and he's a vamp."

He hid a smile. "And is that the real reason? Is it enough of a reason to run away, put your friends and your calling behind you, forget about them"

"I won't be forgetting about nothing, and I'm not running away."

Giles looked at her more seriously. "So what is it you do intend?"


It was nine-fifteen. Xander and Spike had been put on weapons collection, repair, and getting ready for usage-ness. They'd been down in the basement for fifteen minutes and Spike had spent all of those laying on his bunk smoking. Xander had spent them trying to get images of the blonde vampire and Buffy out of his head. It was impossible.

Xander pulled open a dusty cabinet and began raking the weapons out.

"So Spike, do I need to have the big brother chat with you this morning?"

"What's that, whelp?" Spike blew smoke rings up into air and watched them dissipate before they reached the basement ceiling.

"You and Buffy, doing the horizontal, er...hustle," Xander finished lamely.

"We didn't hustle, we didn't foxtrot, we didn't waltz and there was no disco to speak of. We talked is all."

"You're kidding me. A drunk, upset Buffy comes to you for comfort and you expect me to believe you didn't try anything?"

"It's the truth, believe it or not. I don't care." But he did, just a little.

"But why? And don't tell me you don't love her anymore because I've seen the way you look at her. I perfected that look years ago."

"Honestly? It wasn't easy. She wanted it, I wanted it; it was a close thing, but she don't love me. She just wanted a shag 'cause she was drunk." Spike's voice was resigned, and slightly wistful at the memory.

Xander looked at him with a small amount of respect. "You know, that soul of yours might not be so bad after all."

"You don't know what you're talking about, it's bloody awful. Time was, I couldn't inflict any pain on the Slayer without giving myself a nasty headache, and that was bad enough, but at least I could give her a good see'in to once in a while. Now I can't inflict pain or shag her senseless, without feeling like a complete wanker. You tell me which is worse and which is better," Spike grumbled, grinding out his smoke with force.

"So not a great night for you then, laying next to the girl of your dreams and not being able to do anything about it." Xander found himself sympathizing with him.

"Best night of my life, mate." As is often the case with Spike his mood had swung back up and he lay back on the bed, a big, contented smile on his face. "Best night of my life."


"Well I think that went well." Buffy looked from Willow to Giles to Faith.

"Well none of them have run for the hills yet so; so far so good," Willow agreed.

Buffy had just finished explaining the plan to the potentials. It certainly wasn't the speech they had been expecting. They were spooked of course - who wasn't? - but they were good girls and they took this latest idea with a bravery beyond their years. Plus if the spell worked to plan, and the Hellmouth didn't kill them, they'd be getting one hell of a reward for their courage

Giles checked his watch, eleven o'clock. "Okay, well Willow and I had better get on with things. Make sure they don't have reason to regret their decision." He began to walk from the room behind Willow, giving Faith an encouraging nod as he passed.

She acknowledged it but had no intention of doing what he asked. He wanted her to talk to Buffy about her plans for the future before making any rash decisions, but she could see no point. They had too much else going on and her mind was made up.

She took a seat on the porch swing, looking over to where the girls were training in the backyard. Kennedy and Dawn putting them through their paces. She laughed at the sight of Andrew trying to keep up at the back.

Buffy followed her gaze and laughed with her. She felt really nervous, this was the first time they'd been alone together since the nightmare on the landing. Spike had taken her aside after breakfast and repeated his words from last night.

"You have to try, Pet. A little idiot once told me 'If love is there it will come out, you just have to have faith.'" He winked at her then and gone down to the basement for a smoke. She still couldn't believe he was playing matchmaker for her, but it was nice.

"So Faith."

"Yeah?" The brunette turned her gaze Buffy-wards.

"How about them Razorbacks?"

"Huh?"

"Nothing. So about last night..." Faith groaned, but Buffy pushed on. "...I'm sorry. I shouldn't have just barged in. I did knock, but obviously you didn't hear me and that's not your fault, it's mine. I should have knocked louder and I shouldn't have wigged when I saw you and Robin together. I mean, it's not your fault you don't have a bed of your own, but maybe when this pesky apocalypse is over we can sort the sleeping arrangements out a bit better. I don't know, maybe we can move Dawn's bed into the cupboard and you could take her room, or we could put an extra bed in my room and y'know we could just tie something around the door handle if we're doing something private. I mean with other people obviously, or y'know, not with. What do you think?"

"I think you musta got knocked on the head in our dream, or did Spike get a bit rough with the lovin' last night?" Faith tried to smile, but she knew it looked funny.

"Wha..? Oh, me and Spike didn't do anything last night. I just stayed down there 'cause you and Robin had my bed, and you're not into threesomes, remember?" Buffy felt no need to mention throwing herself at Spike. That was another thing she was finding hard to get her head around. Spike had never been big on the self-control before."

"Look B, you don't gotta lie about it. You and Deadboy wanna get groinal that's your own business."

'Okay is Faith deliberately being annoying? I just told her nothing happened,' Buffy thought, feeling frustrated.

"Faith, there is nothing between Spike and I. We kissed and that was the end of it. I was trying to tell you this last night before you threw your tantrum."

"Why? What makes you think I care? Wait, what?" Faith let Buffy's previous sentence sink in. 'So if she's not screwing Spike, what was all that about?' She looked thoughtfully at the blonde and repeated more softly this time. "What makes you think I care?"

"Don't you?" Buffy moved from perching on the railing to sitting next to Faith on the porch swing. "Do you?"

"You know I don't like you being with him. He's not good enough for you, you can do better than a bloodsucker," Faith said carefully keeping her tone casual.

"But who do you think would be good enough? You hated me being with Angel, you've already told me how little you thought of Riley and you hate me being with Spike." She smiled at Faith with a shrug, while thinking 'Damn, it's all starting to click into place, how did I not see this before?'

Faith lifted her hand and scratched the tip of her nose, let her hand drop back into her lap, shifted in her seat once, then again, before looking back up at Buffy with her mask in place. "Dunno B. Plenty more fish in the sea, I'm sure you'll catch one, one day."

"That wasn't quite the answer I was looking for, F."

"It's the only one I've got for you B." Faith went to get up. Buffy grabbed her hand and pulled her back down.

"Don't run from this Faith, please."

"B, let me go." Buffy didn't let go of her hand. "Dammit Buffy, what do you want from me? You want me to say I'm the only person good enough for you? Is that what your angling for, because I'm not and we both know it. I'm the worse person for you and you are for me. We'd kill each other within twenty-four hours."

"Fighting over the duvet," Buffy muttered. "You won't even give it a chance, give us a chance."

"I did give us a chance. I gave us a chance three years ago and you didn't want to know, and I gave you a chance two nights ago and you didn't want to know." Faith fumed quietly.

"Three years ago; okay I was blind, I didn't see it. Angel was there and I couldn't see past him, that was my fault, but you can't say you gave me a chance the other night. You've been as cagey as I have ever since and thirty-six hours doesn't count as a chance anyway, especially in the middle of an apocalypse. You've got to give at least, I don't know, seventy-two hours to be fair."

Faith grinned despite herself, but her heart was breaking inside.

"So what do you say? Am I worth the extension?" Buffy asked hopefully, squeezing Faith's hand tighter.

Faith's smile dropped. "I'm sorry, Buffy, I can't do this."

"Why not, Faith? I don't understand. I know you like me; what, is there someone else and you've suddenly developed a conscience?"

Faith frowned at her. "No. As it happens, I have plans; if I live through tomorrow, that is."

"So change them."

"I can't, things are already set in motion, and you know what? I better go pack." She took her hands back and stood up.

"Faith you only own what you're wearing," Buffy pointed out sullenly. "You don't have to make excuses to get away from me. If you're not interested, just go."

Faith stood there, looking down at Buffy. She didn't want to walk away, but this was for the best. Buffy didn't know what she needed right now. The battle ahead and the ones she'd already fought were making her act on impulse, on the sparks between them. She was mistaking the connection they had for something more, some kind of security blanket to soften the edges of this war. Faith couldn't live with that. She couldn't have a taste of Buffy Summers, only to have it taken away from her when Buffy realized she needed more than Faith could give.

"I'm sorry, Buffy."

Buffy didn't look up. Later she would be gracious, she would accept Faith's feelings and they would move on. Maybe they would never be great friends after this set back, but she could deal. Not just yet though. Right now she felt sore with wounded pride and broken hopes. So she didn't look up, or nod, or speak. She just sat there looking at her hands in her lap until she heard Faith shut the back door.


It was getting on for half-past one. The day had been dragging by so slowly for the girls that Willow had suggested a picnic on the back lawn. Andrew had risen to the occasion and after he and Anya had made another looting trip to the store, set out a wonderful spread. Everyone was out there now, tucking in and sunning themselves. Well nearly everyone...

Faith sat on the counter in the kitchen, the phone cradled under between shoulder and chin, her hands fiddling with the curly cord. Her eyes darted to the left and right, over her shoulder, checking all the doors to make sure no one was coming.

When the other end was finally picked up she spoke in a hurried whisper.

"Angel is that you? Yeah, it's me Faith, I need to speak to Wes...I'm good, except for the impending death and all...yeah I speak to B everyday, I'm living with her. If you want to know how she is call her on your own time...I'm kinda in a hurry here Angel...No I haven't lost my voice, I'm trying to be sneaky, you're not helping...Angel!...She talked to you about me?...huh?...Yeah we spoke, it's not gonna happen...Well that's kind of why I'm calling, I need to speak to Wesley...Let me speak to Wes first and then I'll tell you...Well why didn't you say that? Jeez Angel...I gotta go...No!...That's between me and B...no...no...I'm hanging up now Angel."

Faith put the phone down, chuckling to herself at how nosy the brooding vampire could be. He'd been spending way too much time around Cordelia, turning into a total gossip queen. It was kinda interesting though, that Buffy had discussed her, with the love of her life. That meant something, right? Of course all it did was make this harder than it had to be in the end.

Bad luck with Wes not being there as well, she'd just have to hope Giles kept up his end of the bargain and got her a ride to L.A.


The picnic was in full swing when Robin showed up, even Buffy was laying on her back in the sunshine smiling and chatting with Willow and pretending to have a good time. Faith had disappeared into the house a few minutes ago and Buffy was surreptitiously casting glances at the back door when a shadow fell over her.

"Uh hi. Glad you could make it." God, could she sound more chipper.

"No problem, I would have been here sooner but it took me a while to pack some stuff." He shook the big sports bag in his hand for emphasis.

"Uh huh, take a seat, grab an ant sandwich, enjoy the merriment of the last supper." She turned her attention back to Willow, obviously dismissing him.

He didn't go. "Uh, Buffy, about last night." He squatted down by her side and glanced briefly at Willow.

"S'okay, you can speak free in front of me, I know all about last nights debauchery," Willow grinned encouragingly.

"I see. Well I'm just going to say I'm sorry and leave it at that. It was rude of me to take those liberties in your house..."

"In my bed."

"Uh yeah, so I apologize."

"Okay," Buffy accepted and once again turned away from him.

His nervous cough caught her attention again. "Um I may be totally out of line here, and I know Faith said there's nothing between you, only it didn't seem that way last night and I just kind of wanted to check with you before I asked her out."

"You want to ask Faith out?" He nodded. "On a date?" He nodded again. Buffy burst into harsh laughter, the put-out look on Robin's face only making it worse.

"Buffy," Willow warned softly when she saw Faith coming back out.

Buffy calmed herself down and waved a hand lazily in the brunette's direction.

"Go for it. Have at her. Give it the good old college try." Then she closed her eyes and ignored him.

He gave Willow an embarrassed glance then moved away to chat with Giles.

"Well I always say stability is overrated," Willow told her friend. "Of course, it's not such an unattractive quality in a Slayer."

Buffy opened her eyes and Willow saw the tears nestled in there.

"Oh Buffy, why don't you talk to her? You'll feel better for it, I promise."

"No, I can really promise you I won't." Buffy sniffed, she turned on her side away from the main crowd and propped her head on her hand.

"So you really think it's better to send Robin to her for seconds?"

"That's not gonna happen Will, Faith doesn't tend to stick around the scene of the crime. That doesn't just apply to murder sites." They were both keeping their voices low to avoid being heard over the general chatter.

"But she's changed Buffy, you can see that, can't you? She's not the same big bad Faith she was when we were younger."

"In some ways. In others she's not so different."

"But if you like her, and I think I can now safely say you do, you have to tell her. You have to try, Buffy."

Buffy let out a frustrated snort as she sat up. "Why does everyone say that? When does trying ever work, all it does is waste your time and make you feel even worse when it doesn't pay off," Buffy whispered furiously. Willow was about to interrupt with more well-meant rubbish, but Buffy hadn't yet finished. "I did try Will, I told her how I felt, and she didn't want to know. She said she's got something better to do after tomorrow and I obviously don't figure in her plans. So that's it, I'm done making an idiot of myself over her. This week has been nothing but hell and that's not even including the First and Caleb. The sooner she's out of my life again the better."

"The Buffy Summers I know would never give up on love," Willow said quietly.

"Yeah, well maybe it's time I started to let go of the fairy tales, Will. I'm going to find Spike." Buffy stood, dusted the grass of her behind and walked purposely away.

Faith's eyes followed her progress across the grass and through the back door, her face overcast with uncertainty. Was she doing the right thing? Was she making the biggest mistake of her life by walking away from Buffy? Or would this just make things better for them in the future? She sighed with frustration and lit a smoke. Things just never got any easier when she was around Buffy. She turned her head and caught Willow staring at her, her brow was furrowed and she was biting gently at her lip. Faith decided that was exactly what she would look like if she was trying to turn her into a frog. Obviously the spell didn't work because after a minute of intense staring Willow shook it off and started speaking to Kennedy. Faith wondered if Buffy and the witch had been talking about her. She hoped not, she didn't need anyone else thinking she was the bad guy in all this.


Buffy found Spike in the basement, he was polishing swords and daggers with a white cloth, every now and then he'd change tactics and run a whet stone down them. He had a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth and looked more industrious than she'd ever seen him. He was even humming.

She stood at the top of the stairs watching him for a few minutes. The smoke curled up past his left ear and her gaze strayed to the arc of his strong neck and shoulder. It was so unfair. Here was a man who loved her and would do anything for her, he even got his soul back for her, and he was gorgeous and athletic and...and somewhere along the line he'd turned into her brother. Obviously not a real brother because the ick factor was way too high considering the things they'd done, but that was the bond now. She could see, even in this dim light just how hot he was but, after last night when he'd held her and soothed her and completely refused to take advantage of her, her feelings had turned into something deeper, something more comfortable, something more like...Xander! 'Oh how they would both love that comparison.'

"I know you're up there."

Buffy let out a little squeal and nearly fell down the stairs. She recovered quickly and walked down as gracefully down as she could.

"I know you knew, I just, just...thought I'd throw myself down the stairs for the hell of it."

He looked up and gave her a wry smile. "And did you enjoy it?"

"Not as much fun as I'd thought it would be, a bit like being a superhero, I guess." She sat next to him and began fiddling with a short sword.

"Having a bit of performance anxiety over tomorrow, luv?"

"Bit."

"But that's not what's bothering you." He spared her a quick glance over his shoulder.

"Can we not talk about what is bothering me? Can we just sit here and pretend there is nothing bothering me?" She asked.

"Sure."

The basement was filled only with the soft sounds of cloth and stone across metal for ten minutes. In which time Buffy huffed and puffed and grew more restless. Spike kept his head lowered to hide his expression.

"So I took your advice and it didn't get me anywhere, so thanks for that," she burst out.

He let his smile grow fully on his face, he knew his girl so well.

"Why don't you tell me about it?"


"Nice ride."

Faith fidgeted in the passenger seat. Robin wanted to tell her to put her seatbelt on but figured he'd be told to go to hell. Not like there was any other traffic on the roads anyway.

"No it isn't." He smiled.

"Better than nothing," she amended.

He nodded. She turned the stereo on. A blast of Vivaldi's Four Seasons nearly split their ear drums. Faith quickly fumbled with the off button.

"Sorry," she grimaced

He just smiled at her.

"Faith, would you like to...?"

"No."

"How do you know what I was going to say?"

"I've got a sixth sense for these things." She changed the subject smoothly. "So you think we can block all the tunnel entrances to keep the rats where we can see them?"

He shrugged in defeat. "Yeah, should funnel them up right into the school and into our paths. Lucky us."

"Hey, you guys are only second string. You might not even have to get off the bench if us girls smash them flat," Faith said confidently, cracking her knuckles and leaning back in her seat.

"I think I'll be warming up just in case." Robin swung into the school parking lot and shut off the engine.


"You think you got it?" Kennedy was curled up on the bed, her lithe figure wrapped around her lover's lower back.

"I don't know, I just want to be sure. It's not like I'm gonna get a second shot at this if the first one just ends up a big stinky mess." Willow leaned back against her and pored over her pages of notes.

"You know it, Willow, memorized after the first time you read it. You need to relax a little or else the magic might come out all wiggily."

"Wiggily?" Willow's eyebrows raised.

"Didn't you say your emotions can affect the spells you cast?" Kennedy asked, stretching her arm up to stroke the side of Willow's face.

"Something like that." She smiled. "I didn't think you listened to any of my magic talk."

"I listen, I just don't normally get it, so I pretend I'm not interested." Kennedy pulled Willow down for a soft kiss. "And now you know my secret, I'm going to have to do something to keep you from blabbing it," she murmured against Willow's lips.

"Maybe just for ten minutes then," Willow gave in.


"So pretty much everything is set then," Buffy said, looking around at her comrades.

"I believe so. Willow is still going over the spell. She spoke with Althenea again this afternoon and the coven are doing all they can from there, but they, like me, have no doubts of Willow's capability," Giles told the room.

"Basement's all blocked up..." Began Robin, but an excited Faith interrupted.

"And the school bus is outside, I convinced Robin to let me drive it back here. It was so cool."

"And by convinced, she means physically restrained me in my seat so I couldn't get the keys back." Robin laughed, despite the humiliating truth.

"Hey you're the one who was goin' on about seatbelts, I just wanted you to feel safe. Plus a little bondage fun never hurt anyone." Faith smirked and shot a quick wink B's way. She could feel the battle drawing near and she was slipping into Slayer mode. Her instincts keener, her senses sharper and the thirst for the slay increasing. How could Buffy not get off on this?

Buffy eyed her warily but chose not to comment on the wink. Let Faith have her games. It was time for Buffy to be the General.

"Good, about the bus, not the bondage obviously, um... Right. Did you find anything in Angel's folders about the amulet? What it's for? How it works? Do we need a spell to make it go? Or is it solar powered?"

"I'm afraid not Buffy. All we know is that it must be worn by a Champion at the time of the battle, by someone souled but more than human. We can not even trace its origin. It's a complete mystery, much as the scythe was." Giles apologized.

"Hey you want to go jump into bed, catch a few Z's, B? See if we can dream up some more answers." Faith waggled her eyebrows.

"Uh, no thanks Faith, I'm good." Buffy felt uneasy with Faith reverting back to flirting. Was it possible she'd already dismissed Buffy's declarations of, well, like, as unimportant enough to immediately forget? 'Faith sure knows how to make a girl feel special,' she thought sarcastically, but as always the show had to go on. "Guess we're drawing straws then, Faith, Spike."

The three superheroes walked down to the basement.

"Okay." Buffy started looking around for something she could break into three.

"You're not wearing it, Buffy." Spike stretched his hand out pleasantly. "Give the trinket to me."

Buffy turned back to him. "Huh? What?" She kept the amulet firmly wound around her hand.

"He's right, B. You're our leader, you can't be worrying about what that ugly necklace is gonna be doing."

"I can handle it," Buffy told them.

"Yes but you shouldn't have to. You've got enough on your plate. Plus it's unpredictable, for all we know it might turn the wearer blue, or make 'em start tap dancing or something. I'll do it. After a hundred plus years sudden smurfage doesn't seem too bad a fate."

"Why should you be doing it? If this thing is as unstable as you're saying, then I don't think it's a good idea to give it to the vampire recently known as insane. I'll do it." Faith held out her hand to Buffy.

Buffy looked from Faith to her hand then back to Spike when he spoke.

"Who are you calling crazy? I'm thinking Psycho Slayer wasn't a term of endearment, Pet."

"Oh and William the Bloody is really a nickname you want to catch on?"

"Duh, well yeah. When you're a bloody vampire."

They'd squared off now, Faith with hands on hips and just the correct amount of derision in her voice to rile him. Spike leaning forward into the argument, hands patting his pockets for cigarettes, that Buffy could see on the cot. She stood looking from one to the other.

"Guys?"

"What do you want the bloody trinket for anyway? Thought you'd want to be up at the front line with Buffy, showing off your Slayer fighting ability to the young lasses."

"We're all gonna be on the front line, Dumbass. Oh I get it, you wanna be wearing the sparkly doodad so no one mistakes you for one of the ugly bloodsuckers we're supposed to be slaying." Faith's smile was cold, but her eyes were dancing.

"Well if I did, it would be one of the little girls that made me not breathe my last, you wouldn't be up to the job." Spike licked his lips, waiting to see if she'd accept the challenge.

"Oh this is juuussst great. You two will fight over a necklace that for all you know could turn you into a fiery ball of death, but you won't fight over me."

Spike and Faith both turned their heads to stare at Buffy in surprise.

"What's that, Luv?"

"Huh, B?"

Buffy back tracked slightly. "Not that I want you to be fighting over me obviously, because that would be wrong and... no we'll just stick with wrong, but that isn't the point. The point is, am I really that butt-ugly and repulsive that you think this crusty old amulet is more interesting than me?"

Faith and Spike stared at the blonde Slayer in open mouthed shock.

"Oh fine, here then." Buffy threw the amulet into the air between them and stormed up the stairs, slamming the door behind her.

Faith and Spike both flung out a hand and grabbed a bit of the chain.

"She definitely shouldn't wear it," Spike confided.

Faith nodded, pointing to her head she make a twirly motion with her finger. Then tugged slightly on the chain. "Give it."

"No; you give it," Spike tugged back.

"You'll break it, and then Buffy will spank her bad doggy." Faith gave another gentle pull.

Spike shrugged and pulled his bit.

"You like the spanking huh?" Faith asked with a smirk while continuing their miniature tug-of-war.

"Doesn't matter what I like, it's you she wants to spank now." Timing it just right, he waited for her grip to loosen and snatched the chain away. "Thank you." He hung it around his neck.

Faith felt the chain be pulled from her fist but she didn't really care, she hadn't been that bothered about wearing it in the first place.

"Is there anybody she hasn't spoke to about this?" Faith asked in despair.

"Dunno who she's spoken to about it, but I know you're kidding yourself if you deny how much you want her. I can see it in your eyes, smell it on your skin and hear it in your heartbeat anytime you're near her."

"Freaking Vampires, that's like invasion of privacy or somethin'"

"But I'm right, aren't I? So what's stopping you? It can't be these plans you've suddenly got. You might be dead tomorrow so they're obviously not set in stone."

"Thanks for the cheerful reminder." Faith's sarcasm didn't faze him.

"I had Buffy. For a few sweet, painful months I had her, she was mine, but it wasn't real. Do you know what I would give to be in your position now? To have everything I had before, but know it was real, to know she loved me back? And you're prepared to throw it all away 'cause you gotta go see a man about a dog. Please, you don't deserve her love any more than I do if you're that much of a plonker."

"She doesn't love me," Faith replied in a small voice.

"You sure about that?"

"She hated me not long ago."

"Fine line between, luv. I should know, I walked it too." Spike finally located his smokes and flipped one over to Faith.

"Thanks." She lit it absentmindedly. "It's no good though. I still have to go, and I'm not just going to see about some dog. This is the rest of my life I'm talking about here."

"Can't you let Buffy be a part of that too?"

"Not really, not where I'm going. I don't see B as the type of girl who'd be able to handle being locked up twenty hours a day."

Spike nearly spat his cigarette across the basement. "You're going back to prison, voluntarily?"

"I figure I left voluntarily, I can go back the same way." Faith was staring into the tip of her cigarette, refusing to look at him.

"Why haven't you told Buffy?"

"Because the way she's thinking at the moment, she'll either try and stop me or she'll want to start visiting me and I don't want her doing either. She's better than the life I can offer her at the moment and I won't drag her down any more than I already did. If you tell her, I swear to God, I'll rip your heart out with my bare hands," she added vehemently, finally looking at him.

"No, I won't. You have my word, I think it's very gallant what you're doing and I won't interfere with that, but I do think you're a ruddy pillock to go shutting yourself up in that box when you could be with the woman you love, breathing the fresh, free air," Spike told her honestly.

"We wouldn't be free. I'm a fugitive, the only reason I'm not back inside right now is because the Hellmouth has scared all the cops off. Once things get back to normal around here, how long's it going to be before someone recognizes me and takes me in? I figure I go back on my own they'll go easier on me than if I'm caught three months down the line."

"You're a Slayer, they wouldn't take you in easily."

"You think Buffy is gonna be happy with me beating the crap out every cop that recognizes me? Do you think she'll be happy with the cops or the F.B.I. or the army banging on her door with search warrants? The only way would be to run and stay running and I won't ask B to do that."

"You could skip the country. I was thinking a nice long visit back in the old country would be refreshing after this. I'm sure Rupert will be wanting to get back to his ladies, he could put us up for a while." Spike's smirked a bit at that. "We could fix 'Bit up in a nice university, Christ knows she's smart enough for Oxford."

Faith smiled at him, really smiled. He was trying so hard to find a solution. "I appreciate the suggestion, but the Watcher's Council couldn't even get this face out of the country with all their special clearance, I don't think we'd have luck. Why do you care so much anyway?"

"I love Buffy, Buffy loves you. It's almost like we're family," Spike told her with a sarcastic smile.

She chuckled. "Well thanks for the chat, but I'm gonna stick with plan A. I have to do it. Giles is gonna help me when all this is over. You won't say anything?"

"Can't promise it won't come up sometime in the future, but I won't say anything until you're safely incarcerated again, promise."

"Thanks."


Buffy stood out on the front porch alone. The night was still and dark and smelled just the way late spring should smell. She took a deep breath hoping to calm some of the churning inside her. Which was silly because it would take a lot more than that to shake off the feelings gripping her.

Faith was still downstairs with Spike. 'Bet they're having a nice little chat about want an imbecilic drama queen I am.' Buffy knew she'd made a huge fool of herself in the basement but she couldn't find it in herself to care. She was still too riled by the humiliation of Faith turning her down. Of course she always knew it was a possibility, but she'd still never expected it. That's what you got for letting all this Chosen crap go to your head. Made you think you were so cool you could get anyone. Which, thinking about it, she pretty much had her whole life. 'Just not the one I want.' She leaned against the railing, staring out into nothing, trusting her sensitive ears to catch the opening of the basement door when Faith eventually let herself out. 'Won't be the Chosen One for much longer, if tomorrow goes to plan,' she mused. 'So I better get over this superiority kick pretty quickly, and learn not to chuck my rattle out of the buggy just 'cause a pretty girl doesn't wanna get naked with me.' She knew there was more to it than that with Faith, but by over simplifying it, she hoped it would ease the hurt. It didn't work.

On the upside though, at least this was taking her mind off of tomorrow. They'd prepared as best as they could and this was essentially the downtime period where they had learned over the years to do some normal-type stuff before the big fight. Even with seven years of practice Buffy still found it hard to shut down for this. She could feel the Slayer in her, the root of her power, gearing up ready for the fight. Her body felt healed and refreshed despite her bout with Caleb the night before and she couldn't wait to rip into the hearts of the Turok-han and take out her disappointment and frustration on them.

'Okay, not so much taking my mind off tomorrow then, Faith. Do you have any good uses? Really?' She banged her fist down on the railing and heard it split. Then she felt a hand on her shoulder and jumped, impulsively shooting her elbow back.

"Aarnch!" she heard as she spun around, already apologizing knowing it would be one of her friends.

"Oh God, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to...Oh it's you. Are you okay? You made me jump." She reached out to gently pull Faith's hand away from her nose.

"S'alright B, I'll live," Faith jerked her head away as Buffy went to touch her face.

Buffy snapped her hand back to her side. "Sorry." The sarcasm just came easy, she couldn't help it. 'Yeah and I know getting any satisfaction from that little trickle of blood is really low of me too, but who gives a rats ass.'

Buffy leaned back against the railing, arms folded across her chest, her face emotionless and waited for Faith to speak.

"I just came to say goodnight, I wanna get my head down for a few hours, get fresh for all that Slaying, y'know."

"You and Spike finished your little heart to heart then?"

Faith ignored that. "I was thinking if you wanted your room back I could sleep on the couch tonight."

Buffy softened a little. "You don't have to do that."

"I don't want to get in your way."

"Jeez Faith, there was four of us in the room before you got exploded on, I'm pretty sure we can both sleep in there without getting on top of each other." She turned her head to the side and muttered. "'Cause that would be soooo bad, wouldn't it."

"Slayer here, B. I heard that."

"I wasn't exactly whispering it, F."

"Look Buffy, I'm sorry if you've got a problem with rejection, but that just makes us even, 'cause I got a problem with blondes who won't get the message, and I'm not going to apologize for not loving you back."

Buffy pushed Faith backwards and her back met the wall of the house hard, causing a thud Buffy hoped no one bothered investigating. She pressed herself tight to the younger Slayer, melding their bodies together, preventing any air from passing in between. Buffy's lips hovered millimeters from Faith's as she hooked her index fingers into belt loops and pulled her impossibly closer while sinking her own weight forwards. She swam into Faith's dark eyes as the brunette's ragged breaths lifted strands of Buffy's hair and floated them in place.

Faith kept her hands gripped at her sides, nails digging into her palms hard enough to draw blood. She knew she should push Buffy away. Hell, she should beat the crap out of her for doing this, for forcing Faith into a situation where she could do nothing but sink into Buffy's eyes. 'Sink or swim Faith, don't get pulled in, you don't want to get dragged under.' She forced herself to close her eyes, but that just made her more aware of Buffy's breath on her lips, her hands at her hips and her body trying to push her through the wall at her back.

They hung there on the precipice, for eternity and a day. Faith licked her lips and nearly had an inner-body experience when she felt the tip of her tongue touch Buffy's lips too. Her eyes snapped open and Buffy closed the distance between their mouths, her tongue reaching out to hesitantly rub against Faith's.

This wasn't like the raw, desperate kiss they'd had in the basement. This was slow, gentle, with Buffy setting the pace, not Faith. For a few moments Faith held onto her reserve and simply let Buffy's lips move over hers, but then it became too much and she let go. Her lower lip danced a rhythm Buffy couldn't resist and didn't even try, until she felt Faith's hands tangle in her hair and then she pulled away.

Faith groaned at the loss of the kiss and then groaned for another reason entirely when Buffy shifted her weight, pressing a slender thigh firmly between Faith's. Faith leaned down, trying to recapture Buffy's lips, but the blonde stayed just out of reach. As much as she wanted to throw Faith down on the veranda and finish what she had started, this wasn't about settling their hornies; this was about something much more profound. The thing was to make Faith see that.

Buffy looked into her eyes, rocking her hips forward and eliciting a gasp from them both.

"Buffy," Faith breathed. "I...I...I can't."

Buffy placed a kiss on Faith's bottom lip; Faith moved to meet it but Buffy didn't linger.

"Can't is an improvement on don't," Buffy smiled and stepped back, giving the air free passage again. "You can take the bed, I don't think I'll be sleeping tonight after that anyway. I'll see you in the morning." She turned away and looked out into the darkness again.

Faith still had her back against the wall, her heartbeat was slowly getting back to normal, but she felt far from it. 'How can Buffy stand so casually, with her elbows resting on the railing, her feet crossing at the ankles, her ass pointing towards me? Okay that's not casual, that's downright devious. Damn, I'm so easy when it comes to her. All my big plans and big words and one sneakily positioned ass and all I wanna do is go over there and promise to stay with it - I mean her - forever.' Faith lit a cigarette, there was no was she was sleeping yet either. 'Would it really be so bad if we just did it once, like right now, just sorta like some kind of pre-battle tradition thing? They have those don't they? Probably doesn't apply to Vampire Slayers, probably just as well too, there's no way one night would be enough. I'd be breaking outta jail every night just to get some more.'

Faith watched Buffy from behind, actually she was mostly watching her behind, but when she could drag her eyes away she took in the rest of her. Maybe she should just tell her what she had planned, she figured she could probably count on Buffy for a few months of visits until she stopped wasting her time. 'Can't do it to her, anymore than I can take her upstairs now and screw her brains out, just 'cause she got me all horny with that kiss.' Faith's eyes drifted down to the blonde's rear again, it seemed to be dancing at her. 'Nothing wrong with screwing my own brains out,' she thought in a rush as she pitched the cigarette butt out over the grass and turned to open the door.

"Night B," she said hurriedly.

"Night F."

Buffy waited until the door closed and then sank her head down to rest on her arms with a muffled groan. Being that close to Faith had gotten her so worked up, and that was even before she kissed her. Pulling away had been the hardest thing she'd ever had to do, or so it had seemed at the time. 'Taking down Master Vampires? Pfft. Killing unstoppable demon machines? Pfft. Coming back from the dead? So not a problem. Convincing my lips to say see ya to Faith's...?' Buffy couldn't even finish the thought, she just groaned again.

Still it had been worth it. 'Damn, right it had been worth it.' Apart from the kiss itself, she'd gotten all the evidence she needed that Faith was at least reading the same book as her, a few more nudges like that one and it was only a matter of time until they were on the same page. 'I could feel her eyes on me when she was smoking, I was so convinced she was going to come up behind me and put her arms around me. That's what's supposed to happen when you leave them hanging like that, and Faith was so hanging I could practically hear her panting. Guess she's got more self control than I gave her credit for, or she's not so much a cuddler as a stare at your butt kinda gal. Well, as long as it's my butt she's staring at I can deal.'

Happy with these thoughts, she let herself back into the house and made her way to the basement door. She paused with her hand on the doorknob and leant her head against the wood, listening to the voices floating through the house.

'This is it,' she thought. 'One way or another, tomorrow my world changes.' She thought of the Potentials scattered around, trying to sleep but mostly tossing and turning or staring blankly at the ceiling and her friends researching and preparing, or if they were lucky, also sleeping. 'One way or another things will change for all of us tomorrow.' She was so grateful that they were still here, whether it be through a sense of duty, or friendship or just because they believed in the fight, they had no idea how much their being here meant to her, but if by some miracle they all scraped through this in tact she would spend as long as it took showing them.

She was about to enter the basement, but stopped when Dawn left the kitchen. The tall brunette flung her arms around her sister and they held each other tight.

"You know I love you right?" Dawn said.

"I know, and as much as I wish you were a hundred miles away and safe, I am so glad you're here."

"It would take more than a stick to keep me away."

"Huh?"

"Never mind."

Buffy pulled away and looked at her little sister in what she hoped was a lovingly maternal way and not just a mondo creepy way.

"When all this is over, I promise we're doing something cool. I mean can you even remember the last time we took a holiday? I say we go to Disneyland, or skiing; that could be cool. What do you say?"

"I say let's do it."

"Good, then it's settled. Now try and get some sleep. I don't want you getting bags." Buffy released her hold on Dawn and swatted her towards the stairs.

"Oh yeah, sleep. That should be easy." Dawn stopped just long enough to give Buffy a kiss on the cheek before grinning widely and disappearing up the stairs.

Buffy sighed deeply and went into the basement.

She reached the bottom of the steps and looked over to see Spike sat on his cot, the amulet in his hands, he was playing with the chain and looking deep in thought.

"You won then."

He looked at her with a smile that still made her melt and feel warm inside, just now the warmth stayed in her heart and didn't travel south, well not quite as much anyway.

He got off his bed and walked over to her, sensing her mood with no need for words. He reached out his hand to cup her cheek and she leaned into it.

"Long day, huh."

She nodded against his palm before replying. "Tomorrow will be longer. Hopefully. I mean a short day would be bad right, considering? So the longer the better."

He chuckled.

"Have you got a spare bed for the night?" She asked.

"I've got a spare bit of mattress," he replied, taking her hand and walking them both back to his cot.

They laid down, once Buffy was comfortable, Spike put his arms around her.

"This okay, Luv?"

"Uh huh, nice." Buffy fell silent for a minute, Spike was still fiddling with the amulet, turning it over in his free hand, the one that wasn't around his Slayer. Buffy turned her head up to look at him. In the faint light all she could see was his profile, but he seemed content almost, more relaxed than he had since coming back from Africa. Which considering what was penciled into their diaries for tomorrow morning, was quite a feat.

She ran her hand up and down his arm, in a light, nearly ticklish way and he looked at her with a smile.

"Thanks for everything."

"What's that now, pet? You're not going all soft on me are you?"

"I don't think I'd have got through the last few days without you Spike. Hell, who am I kidding, I'm not sure I would have got through the last two years. You've been there for me when no one else knew how, and Heaven knows I didn't make it easy for you. And I know things have been pretty strained between us most of that time too, but I'm glad you were there, and I'm glad you're here now."

"I wouldn't be anywhere else, Pet."

"Well I just wanted to say thank you, 'cause I know I don't say it enough."

He cast the medallion to one side and wrapped his other arm tightly around her. Kissing the side of her head, he said,

"Close your eyes, get some rest, we're hoping for a long day tomorrow."

Spike craned his neck back and blew out the candle behind his head and they lay in the darkness. Buffy taking comfort from Spike's strong, if somewhat cold arms and Spike taking his from the beat of Buffy's heart.

The minutes were threatening to stretch into hours when Buffy finally said, "Spike, I can hear you sniffing me, what is it?"

"Nothing Pet. You and Faith work things out, did you?"

"Not really."

"Oh, you just rubbed yourself up against her a bit then."

"Something like that, Spike."

She could almost hear his grin. "Spike."

"Yeah?"

"Go to sleep." Buffy smiled when she heard Spike's quiet little purr and then she too managed to doze off.


Chapter Thirteen

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Part Three 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


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