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



Chapter Five: Hate is Such a Tricky Little Thing

"Well forgive me Faith if I don't seem too convinced after you've just kicked me around for ten minutes," Buffy snapped from her position trapped under Faith.

Faith's knees were still wedged below her rib cage making it impossible for her to sit up. She was feeling an incredible sense of deja-vu. At least the only difference was that the grass was softer than the concrete in the basement. She wiped her arm across her eyes to dry them.

"Yeah well I'm not sorry about that part. It's about time someone put you in your place. I'm sick of you thinking you're better than me. I've made mistakes, but who the hell hasn't?" was Faith's reply.

"I've never killed anyone; well not intentionally, anyway."

"And you think I did?" Faith snapped.

"No, I know you did, doing the Mayor's dirty work. That professor and God knows who else we never found out about."

"There was just him," Faith said quietly, looking out into the darkness. "And some demons."

Buffy started wriggling, trying to get up. Faith didn't even seem to realize; she was too busy looking at something only she could see.

"Will you get the hell off me!" Buffy shouted.

Faith began to talk but her voice was a grey monotone compared to her impassioned rant of minutes before.

"I can't give back what I took away from Allan and Lester. I can't make it up to them ever. Maybe I can't make it up to you either, but I can try. I don't even care if you hate me forever anymore but I still wanna try and give back some of what I took. That's why I came here. That's why I'm here to help and that's why I'm not going anywhere, until one way or another this war is over. So you better get used to it."

"So far you're only making it harder, Faith."

Buffy spoke the words softly, but the truth in them rang out loud and clear. Even Faith knew it. She'd thought the same thing herself an hour ago.

"Yeah well things just kind of spiraled out of my control," Faith admitted.

"Is that what made you kiss me earlier?" Buffy asked. She was looking up into Faith's shadowed face, but the brunette was still staring off into the dark.

"You kissed me back," she muttered indistinctly.

"Yeah but you started it, it was your fault."

'Okay that was mature Buffy, and why am I even mentioning this?' Buffy thought. 'Especially when she's still sitting on me. Uh, because she's sitting on me.'

"Does it really matter now?" Faith finally looked down, sounding annoyed. "We're back to hating each other again, right? Any chance at repairing what meager friendship we once had has just been blown out the water. So let's put it down to biological warfare and move the hell along." She suddenly realized she was still straddling Buffy. "Sorry," she mumbled, getting up slowly. "I didn't mean to wail on ya like that. You just pissed me off."

"Well it doesn't matter, if we hate each other again, does it?" Buffy tried for a scornful tone, but her recent tears had made her breath hitch in her chest. She just sounded pathetic. She unsteadily made it to her feet. Nothing broken but she'd be sore tomorrow. She took a step closer to Faith and before she'd even registered her presence, Buffy had thrown all her weight behind an uppercut aimed at Faith's chin. Faith flew gracefully through the air, landing towards the front of the house.

Buffy smiled contentedly, strolled over to the other woman and offered her hand. Faith didn't take it, just lay there looking up quizzically, waiting for Buffy's next move.

Buffy shrugged. "What? Did you think I was going to let you get away with trying to kick my teeth through the back of my skull? You know me better than that, F."

Faith took the proffered hand and yanked herself up. "So, that it? Are we cool now? Can we get back to the mild animosity that usually works so well for us?" Faith asked, rubbing her chin.

Buffy shrugged again. "I guess." She glanced at her watch. "It's late, or early. Depending which side you're facing, I suppose. Can you see the troops get fed and that?"

"Uh sure, where are you going?" Faith asked as Buffy began to walk across the front lawn to the sidewalk.

Buffy turned around and walked backwards. "Uh, duh, where've you been? I'm going to tea at the reverend's."

It took Faith a second on the uptake then she was striding forward after Buffy's retreating back. "Oh no you don't. We talked about this. You're not going in there on your own. I'm coming too."

Buffy turned around again, maddened. "Faith, I've got this, okay? You go in there and read some bedtime stories or something."

"Buffy, why are you so determined to go alone? You could get killed. It will be safer if we're together."

"And Faith, if you're not plotting some big revenge, and I'm mostly giving you the benefit of the doubt here because I'm too tired not to, then why do you care if I go alone?"

The two Slayers had sub-consciously squared off again, trying to glare the other down.

"Uh, I just said - You might get killed, as in you might die. Again," Faith explained it slowly, condescendingly.

"So why would you care? We hate each other again, don't we?"

"Yeah, I guess. No. I don't know . . . Do we?" Faith sounded confused.

Buffy almost felt sorry for her, but she couldn't do this anymore tonight. The mix of emotions that had been boiling inside her since the confrontation with Faith at the Bronze earlier in the evening had left her feeling wired and frustrated and itching to kill something. Without answering she started to walk away again.

Faith leapt forward and swung her round by the shoulder. Buffy's back made contact with the rough bark of the tree that stood in the center of her lawn. For the third time in less than half an hour the air was knocked from her and she sagged against the tree for a moment. Long enough for Faith to move in close with one hand on Buffy's collar bone and the other resting on the tree behind her head.

"Now, I don't want this to turn into another fight, but friends or enemies, you're not going back in there alone. We need you not dead. I need you not dead." Faith's breathing was labored from swinging Buffy round with such force.

Buffy was having the opposite problem of not being able to breath at all. Their eyes had locked as soon as Faith had stepped forward. They held each others' gaze steadily.

"I thought you didn't care?" Buffy squeaked. Faith's eyes were intensely dark. She couldn't look away, but she was afraid she'd drown if she didn't. 'Whoa, Faith's got thrall.'

"I care!" was her blunt reply. Buffy's eyes were drawing her in. The light that filtered through the curtains of the house and the street lamp close by worked together to bring out the hazel flecks. Just like they had earlier in the basement, not long before she had kissed her. 'No Faith, keep it in your pants, this is a serious situation,' her mind counseled. 'Damn right it's serious, I'm about to kiss B again,' the other half of her brain crowed. But she didn't, she didn't move a muscle.

Neither did Buffy. Her mind was on severe babble mode and it was all she could do not to scream out loud at it to shut up, but then that might break the spell they seemed to be under.

'Oh my God, Faith is going to kiss me again. She can't, it's not right. We've got evil to kill and things and . . . and . . . she can't just throw me around a bit and then expect to kiss me. So why don't I stop her . . . because she's standing in front of me that's why. So why don't I throw her around a bit and see how she likes it? No, that would just make me even more hor- I did not just nearly think that! It's this God-damn tree, it must be, this is the tree that Spike and I . . . God no, don't go there either, but we did and now I always think of it as the sex tree and now it's going to happen again, but with Faith . . . no I did not just say out loud in my head that I'm going to have sex with Faith against this tree . . . or anywhere else for that matter. How wrong is this? Oh, let me count the ways . . . Will I please shut up . . . why hasn't she kissed me yet!'

As Faith calmed herself and concentrated on bringing her breathing back under control, Buffy's grew more ragged. It sped up until it was matching her heartbeat. Short and sharp, inhale and exhale. Faith's head inclined slightly towards her, pupils dilating as she watched Buffy's do the same. Buffy's mouth opened imperceptibly wider and her tongue slipped out to wet her dry lips.

In the minute that passed that felt like hours Faith thought back over their really crazy evening. And she couldn't believe what she was about to do next. It went against all her instincts but some opportunities were to good to pass up. Smiling warmly, she forced herself to blink and break the spell.

"What are you waiting for, B? For me to kiss you?"

Buffy blinked quickly and spluttered: "Er . . . No. I . . . er . . ."

"I'm not gonna do it, B. That's one thing me and your vamp agree on." Faith dropped her arms to her sides but she didn't step back or break eye contact. The stare was mildly less intense.

"What's that?" Buffy asked, her brain still rapidly trying to catch up with the proceedings.

"You're not going to use me like that. I won't be your next ticket into the dark."

"That's not . . . that isn't . . ." Buffy looked down at her feet then back up into Faith's eyes. "Why? Isn't that where you've been trying to lead me ever since we met?" Her voice held no accusation, only curiosity laying on a bed of desire.

Faith was impressed. She had expected either excuses and cover up lies or at the very least - anger. She hadn't expected total honesty. The least she could do was offer it back.

"Because I was wrong. You've got to stay in the light. The world needs for Buffy Summers to be the light and I'm not gonna be the one to deny it. Did you forget again I'm a white hat now?" She chuckled softly

"So how come it's okay for you then?" Buffy asked.

"Where were you, B? It wasn't okay for me. But I guess it's all part of the balance. I'm the dark to your light. It's what keeps the world turning."

"I wanna swap for a bit," Buffy pouted.

"I think you'll have to go see the Powers That Be about that, but trust me on something. The dark might be a nice place to visit, but you wouldn't wanna live there."

Buffy chuckled, reaching up she tucked a strand of dark hair behind Faith's ear. "I don't know what we are Faith, but I don't hate you, okay?"

Faith nodded and then blinked quickly before the tears in her eyes spilled. 'What am I crying for, big wussy baby.'

"And I still have to go see Caleb. I know I'm right about this Faith and I just need you to let me get the job done." Buffy tried to sound reassuring.

"Buffy, I can't let you go alone. I don't wanna be awkward about this but if something happens to you and you're on your own, I couldn't live with myself. I couldn't live with those guys in there, because they'd kill me. Let me help. It's what I came back for." Faith pleaded with her eyes for Buffy to see reason.

Buffy took a deep breath and ran a hand through her hair before speaking again.

"Okay Faith, listen to me please. I don't know how this is going to turn out. I don't know any more about this than you do, or Giles does. I have moments when I think Andrew knows more than I do. What I do know is that there is a bunch of teenage girls in there," she pointed at the house over Faith's shoulder, "discussing the merits of Maybelline over Revlon and their favorite sandwich toppings. They haven't got a clue and they're expecting me, us, to take them through this unscathed. You and the gang, you know what you're getting into. You might not like it but you knew the risks when you signed up. They didn't. They came looking for protection and now I'm asking them to fight things I'm terrified of. And as you pointed out earlier, they are scared beyond measure."

"I get all that B, but I don't understand what it has to do with the here and now."

"It's simple. If they're that scared now, how much more frightened would they be, how much less chance would any of them have of living through this, with no Slayer to lead them?" Buffy finished quietly.

"What!" Faith exploded. "You better not be saying what I think you are."

"Yes I am. You know what this guy is like. You don't want me to go alone in case he kills me. You've said it often enough. Well what happens if he does get lucky?"

"Well there'll be two of us, that's the point."

"We were both there the other night and that didn't help. We can't risk it. We can't leave them alone," she pointed again, "so we can't both risk death."

"Then I'll go. You stay and lead. You're better at it than me anyway. I'll go and waste Caleb or die trying." Faith put a manic face on. "Come on! You've had three years of big bads that I've missed out on. Let me have him."

"No, sorry Faith, this creep has knocked me out twice. He hurt Xander. He made me look bad in front of the potentials. It's personal now." She chuckled as Faith started looking grumpy again. "But I promise you, the next scary thing that wants to kill us all and end the world? He's all yours, I'll even hold your coat."

Faith smiled. "So are you gonna go now?"

"Guess so, no time like the present."

Faith surprised herself and Buffy for the third time that evening when she pulled the smaller woman into a fierce hug. After a second's hesitation Buffy returned it. Faith pulled back almost immediately, acutely embarrassed. "Sorry, dunno what came over me."

Buffy grinned. "Well it's been a strange night."

Faith smiled back, then stepped away from the tree. Buffy was just about to walk away when the brunette stopped her again with a hand on her arm.

"What I said earlier, about Willow and Xander and that. I didn't mean it. I was just sounding off again. They're pretty lucky to have the Slayer as a best friend." Embarrassed again, she looked down.

Buffy leaned over and kissed the younger woman on the cheek. "A Slayer, not The. I'll see you later, yeah?"

Faith looked back into her eyes. "You better!" She warned.

She watched as Buffy strolled off, then suddenly remembered something. "B."

Buffy had reached the sidewalk but turned around again to face Faith.

"Remember the first rule of slaying."

Buffy smiled as she felt the cogs of distant memory begin to turn.

"Don't die!" Faith finished, with a grin.

Buffy grinned back. "Gotcha."

Chapter Six

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