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



Chapter Six: Back Into The Lion's Den

"The plans are laid, the trap is set and you can be sure the righteous shall fall. The dissent in the ranks is palpable. The Slayers are at each others' throats. The young girls are frightened out of their minds, as they should be. The time is ripe for your joyous sin."

"Yes Caleb, I can feel it. They are duly primed, but how can you guarantee they will find your surprise? Would it not have been better to just blow up their headquarters?"

"They will find it, make no mistake. They are drawn to it like flies to honey, and they will be squashed as such."

The First was once again strutting around in its favorite dead body: The Slayer's body. The preacher found this particular form to be an unbalancing cocktail of excitement and disgust. He wanted to feel his hand close slowly around her throat. Slowly choking all that vitality out of her.

The First could sense his thoughts, so closely were they joined now.

"No. Your time with the Slayer will come another day. I want to spend a while longer gloating. I want to see that smug smile wiped forever from her lips. Leisurely and painfully. You must make sure they are divided. The rogue goes bang. The other is left to the end. So she can watch her friends die." The apparition of Buffy smirked evilly and disappeared in a wink of light.

"As you wish, it shall be done," Caleb responded levelly and walked away into the gloom.

Spike, standing in the dusty darkness, let out a breath. Due to relief, not necessity. He had no idea how long he had stood there motionless except for his eyes. He'd sneaked into the shadows of the vineyard, the only goal in mind, to help Buffy. It wasn't until he was standing listening to the looney vicar and evil Buffy converse that he realized that this hadn't been one of his brightest ideas and the only probable outcome would be his shiny white arse even deader than it already was.

Hence the shaky breath. In his reckless desire to win the Holy Grail for his fair love he'd forgotten that he was dealing with the all-knowing, all-seeing, all-everywhere evil. The evil that could pop in and out at will, like turning on a television. An evil television.

Spike was convinced, as he tried to blend into the stone around him, that the First could sense him. After all it knew him intimately and not just because he'd been forced to serve its will for a few months, but because for one hundred and twenty-two years he had served it willingly. Surely all things evil aspired to the big man below. He'd just been another pawn in the First's ultimate plan ever since he'd been turned. Just like Angelus was. Angel was convinced it was the First evil who had brought him back from Hell. Buffy had other ideas on the subject but Spike thought it was all a load of tosh any way. Surely the important thing was that you were back, not how you got there.

He thought about all this as he lifelessly watched the Buffy-First parade around the room. That, he decided, was what he had a problem with. He was no pawn in anyone's cosmic chess match. Yeah he'd been evil for a good long while, but even when he'd been draining the rich red life force from a baby's brain stem and howling at the drunken power it made him feel, he had never spared a moments thanks for a higher being letting him do this. He did it because he could and because it felt great. And if praying gave you the same pulsing buzz as drinking warm blood straight from the neck all churches and temples the world over would be bursting at the seams with worshipers.

He'd stopped being truly evil long before he'd gotten his spanking new soul. Being around Buffy made it increasingly difficult to think really bad thoughts really naughty ones possibly, but that was a different story. So this scary Buffy shaped monster held no sway over him. The real Buffy could be much scarier when she was pissed. 'Boy, would Angel sans his soul love this though,' He thought. 'This is totally his cup of tea Hell on earth, end of the world shenanigans.'

Listening to the conversation being held on the other side of the wine barrels he gleaned a few more tidbits to add to the pot of nourishing nonsense that they already had. He wasn't sure of his next move. Did he make a try for Caleb or did he find this mysterious doodad that was Buffy's? Or did he get the hell out and warn Buffy some sort of trap was being set for Faith? He didn't really care if anything happened to the dark Slayer. In fact he kind of hoped it did; at least it would remove any chance of her hurting Buffy, but he knew his Slayer wouldn't see it like that, and even he realized they needed all the fighters they could get. If Faith was allowed to lead the girls into some sort of ambush then their army could be completely quashed in one blow.

He knew it was decision time when the First winked out and Caleb walked off into the murk. Choosing to warn Buffy before the worst could happen, he was about to creep back out - thanking his lucky stars he had remained undetected; obviously the First had no interest in him at the moment, it was too focused on the Slayers - when a chain gang of Bringers came through the entrance straight towards him.

He shot back briskly, enveloped by the gloom immediately, but it wasn't enough. They kept coming, at least twenty were now in the same room as he. He crouched down by a particularly dusty barrel and fought the urge to sneeze.

Caleb came back and began addressing his minions.

"I hope I can assume the task has been completed. Well boys congratulate yourselves on a job well done. Oh you can't, can you. Well never mind. The time will come when there will be reward enough for us all. Meanwhile we have more work to do. I want a dozen of you at that house of sin, waitin. When they come out, which they will, you follow them below the ground. I want no one getting out alive, you hear me? The rest of you stay here and . .."

Spike didn't hear the rest. There was no way he was going to be able to walk out the door with all of them here and he felt much too vulnerable where he was. So as quietly as he could he made his way along the edge of the rough stone wall. He was hoping if he could get further back he could hole up somewhere until the place was deserted again. He might even get really lucky and have the chance to surprise Caleb to death. Or as a third option, and if he was honest, the most appealing, maybe he would find a handy bolt hole and be able to get back to Revello drive. Spike knew almost every inch of the subterranean tunnels in Sunnydale. He was pretty sure if he could get below the ground he could find his way home.

He heard the footsteps of several Bringers striding up the pathway between barrels. 'They don't half move fast for blind buggers,' he thought casually as his eyes scanned his safest route. Then the luck once again threw him a bone as he spotted a trapdoor a little to the left of him. It was wedged open and the space below was black as tar. 'Perfect' he decided and swiftly flattened himself onto the ground and slid under the propped up wooden lid seconds before the Bringers stomped past.

Buffy walked along the deserted streets. 'Not just deserted because it was night time either' she mused, 'but because this is rapidly turning into a ghost town.' She knew she'd have to get stealthy soon but for the time being she strolled along with confidence; her mind, not surprisingly, on Faith.

"That girl has been nothing but a cart load of conundrums since the day I met her," she told the emptiness around her. "Hehe, cartload of conundrums, I'll have to remember that one."

She'd never known what to expect next with her dark counterpart. In the beginning that had been fun and enticing. The mystery that Faith wound around her had lured Buffy in to the point of craziness. Then disaster had struck and she had been scared and Faith had turned on her and the adventure had become increasingly dangerous until it was too late, and Faith was in a coma.

Buffy hadn't visited Faith when she was in hospital. A part of her had wanted to. Giles had left the decision up to her, neither encouraging her to go or suggesting she didn't. He merely offered her an ear to bend if she needed to talk. She hadn't taken him up on the offer. She couldn't cry over what she had done to Faith, just like she couldn't cry over everything Faith had done to her. It would take too long.

The rest of the gang had just been pleased that Faith was out of commission and were busy celebrating their triumph over Wilkins the Snake. Then it was time to start college and that took up all the time that slaying didn't. Then Riley had come along and Buffy had been able to put the past behind her once and for all. She no longer mourned Angel's departure and Faith, well, Faith wasn't going anywhere. The doctors believed she'd never wake up but Giles had told her he thought she would recover one day thanks to the Slayer healing abilities, but it could still be twenty years in the future if ever and Buffy didn't want to dwell on it. She was relieved she hadn't killed Faith and she wanted her to live, but the prospect of having her up and walking around any time soon wasn't particularly appetizing.

Then the worst, or the best, had happened and once again Faith had blind-sided her. She'd been caught up in battles with the Initiative and Adam, Riley was hurt and then all of a sudden, her bestest little Sis was back on the scene. Buffy had wanted Faith to be sorry for the trouble she'd caused, because then she could have helped her. She could have tried to make everything alright for the younger Slayer and maybe they could even have worked things out between themselves. When Buffy had seen Faith standing in front of the campus notice board she had been more than willing to forgive her everything, but Faith couldn't forgive Buffy and so round and round they'd gone again.

After the body swap fiasco she'd had enough. She wished she'd finished the job on the apartment roof. Threatening her mom, sleeping with her boyfriend and then running to Angel in L.A. with some manufactured sob story about how sorry she was. Buffy couldn't forgive, she didn't want to forgive, but she could forget and she did. For two years she barely thought about her sister Slayer. She couldn't. If something reminded her it made her mad all over again. A few times, during phone calls, Angel mentioned her progress, but Buffy just didn't want to hear it. She would normally end up being rude and putting the phone down. She had enough to deal with in her life without the memory of her failures.

The past year since she had returned from beyond the veil, Faith had often been on her mind. More as a poster child for 'This is your Slayer on a breakdown', than anything else, but still in her conscious thoughts. She could feel herself slipping into a wild state in an effort to feel truly alive. Slaying meant you could die any minute, so feeling really alive was kind of essential. It was what made it possible to see all the evil around you and still pun your way through the night. The dull, listless emptiness she'd felt in the months after returning, had been a living hell for her.

She wondered if that had something to do with Faith's devil may care attitude, as well. Aside from the fact that the girl was too scared of admitting she was scared and so hid behind walls of bravado several miles thick, and she had been more than a little nutty there for a while. But from what Buffy knew of the other Slayer's life in Boston, it had sucked. She barely even spoke about it. It seemed Faith had come alive the day she had been called and maybe that was why she went at everything with full slayage power and trampled most things under her feet.

The Slayer was wild, was abandoned, was uninhibited, Its very essence was primal. Humanity and society had moulded that essence over the years until it had churned out Buffy Summers, All-American good girl and one of the longest surviving Slayers. Faith had been made with the same press. She was the flip side of the coin. All-American bad girl and one of the longest surviving Slayers.

Buffy snorted at her thoughts. What did any of that matter now anyway? Faith was back and once again Buffy was captured by her allure. Whether for good or bad. She didn't trust her as far as she could throw her; actually she didn't trust her as far as Andrew could throw her. A part of her believed she'd come back because she was sorry, mainly because however nutty she may be, she wasn't the Caleb kind of nutty and Buffy honestly couldn't see her working for the First. And there was no other reason was there, besides revenge or redemption.

'So say I assume she's on the up and up, and she didn't come on to me as some big revenge plot. Why the hell did she? And why did I let her? And why am I upset that she didn't want to kiss me again when I gave her the chance? And why did I want to give her that chance? And why am I having so many why's?' Her brain ran through its list of questions that she had no answers for, just as the vineyard came into sight. 'And, just one more, why am I going crazy now of all times?' She silently added as she crept closer.

It looked as though the odds were in her favor at the moment at least. She could see one Bringer standing at the top of the steps and no other forms of life around. Because she'd spent the whole walk over thinking about Faith she still hadn't come up with a plan.

"Okay," she muttered too softly to be heard, "let's channel some of that primeval glory and hit 'em hard and fast."

She ran catlike up behind the Bringer and broke its neck before it realized she was there. Throwing its body down the stairs, she followed after.

Spike noticed the orange sparks flying up in front of him seconds before his enhanced vision adjusted to the dark.

"Okay, not so alone then," he muttered as he spotted the three Bringers balanced upon a chunk of rock. They seemed to be going at it with chainsaws or something similar. This was causing the sparks.

They leapt from the rock and advanced on him. "Oh bugger." Spike took a defensive stance as they pulled their long curved daggers free.

Faith let herself in through the front door. The living room was more or less deserted. A couple of injured girls were sat on the couch watching the television.

"Where is everyone?" She asked.

One of the girls, Clare, looked up at her. "Downstairs with Kennedy or asleep. The old guard are in the kitchen pouring over the books."

The other girl looked up, Faith couldn't recall her name at the moment, but she spoke with a soft Irish accent. "What are we going to do next? I don't fancy getting my neck broken like Molly."

"Hopefully no one's going to end up with a broken anything, but to answer your question, I don't know. Buffy's gone to see what she can do. Why don't you guys go up and get some sleep while it's quiet," Faith tried reassure them.

She wished someone would reassure her. She had a bad feeling about Buffy going off on her own, but that girl was stubborn. And right, but that wasn't going to make it any easier to explain it to the Scooby pack.

She wandered into the kitchen and leaned against the door frame.

Willow looked up first. "Everything okay? With you and Buffy I mean, I know everything else isn't okay, but then is it ever in Sunnydale?"

"Five by Five or as far from it as you can get," she said.

"So you sorted things out? 'Cause from where I was sitting it all looked kind of heated," Xander said.

"You were spying on us?" Faith began to get angry. 'Don't they trust me still, do they think I'm gonna beat on their precious Buff the second their backs are turned? Oh yeah, I did. Oh well.'

"No, no, of course not. We wouldn't do that. I meant when you were still in here, you know with the 'game playing' and the 'head messing' and the 'taking it outside-ing'. Just seemed kind of intense," Xander quickly explained.

"See, now aren't you glad me and Giles stopped you? Ya could have had an intense and heated Slayer on your back." Willow smirked, as she zipped through information on her laptop.

Xander got a dreamy look on his face for a second. "Yeah that would have been so bad," he drawled staring off into his private visuals.

There was a chorus of "Ewww's" as everyone in the kitchen pulled faces at his obvious thoughts.

Snapping out of it, but not all the way, he asked. "So was there anything worth spying on?"

"Dunno Xander, guess that depends what a sick puppy like you gets off on?" Faith leered at him.

The one eyed man shrugged. "Anything really, I'm not a fussy man."

"Figured," she sniggered, then turned her attention back to the rest of them. "We traded jabs, both physical and verbal, but we both live to tell the tale."

"So who won?" Dawn asked. She was having a hard time reconciling the memories she had of Faith from the past, and the real Faith, which was obviously more real. She knew deep down she should hate her for everything she had done to her sister, but she couldn't help being drawn to her. She was definitely more fun than Buffy, if you didn't think about the cold-blooded killer part. Buffy never took her to the Bronze.

"Uh depends how you look at it. She's off to see Caleb, so I guess she won, but then if the son of a bitch kills her, then I guess I win." Seeing Dawn's face drop, she mentally kicked herself, hard. "Oh no, sorry Little D, I didn't mean it. She's gonna be cool. You know your sister. If anyone can take out this guy it's B, right."

"She didn't do so well last time," Dawn whispered, going back to the book she had been reading.

Faith looked desperately around at the others but they just waited, pained expressions on their faces too. 'Damn that girl's got a lot of love for her around here, no wonder I was so jealous. Anyone would be.'

She leaned down over the table beside Dawn and put her hand over the book she was gazing at.

"Hey," she waited until the young girl looked up, "the reason she didn't finish him off the other night was because she had all of us getting in her way. B . . . Buffy is the smartest, quickest and - Well I want to say bestest, but then Red here would probably tell me off for damaging your English, or something, but you get my drift - fighter I've ever met. Plus she's got some serious hate for this guy and if I remember correctly that tends to give big Sis one hell of an edge. So the best thing we can do is get on with our studying so she won't be mad at us when she gets home."

Dawn smiled at her a little and went back to reading. Faith removed her hand from Dawn's book, pulled a chair out and sat down. Pulling some folders towards her, she also began to read. After a minute she looked up. Giles, Xander and Willow were all staring at her with small smiles.

"What?" She demanded.

Xander held his hands up in front of him. "Nothing, nothing."

Willow just smiled a bit wider and returned to her screen.

Giles felt he had to say something, even if it did mean embarrassing his one time charge. "I was just thinking that was a very nice speech. I'm sure it's not one you'd want repeated in front of Buffy, but still very nice."

Faith gave a little smile herself. "Yeah well I ain't good with the verbals like old Xander here, but I guess hearing B's speeches six times a day is starting to rub off on me."

There was silence in the room for a while as everyone got into research mode, then Faith spoke up again.

"And if any of you tell her I said those things, I'll kill you."

Everyone silently vowed to never breathe a word, because after all, this was Faith. And with Faith, idle threats could suddenly get very busy.

The fight hadn't lasted long, just enough to get the borrowed blood pumping through his veins. After downing one with a swift punch to the nose, he'd stood on its throat as he grabbed another by the knife wrist. Twisting its arm back and driving his elbow into its face, he managed to cause it to stab its colleague in the chest.

Unfortunately that hadn't been quite enough, but it had been artistic and he'd got one hell of a kick out of it. The scuffle only lasted a few minutes longer. Standing in the middle of the three corpses, he checked himself for damage. One long, bloody gash down his right forearm. That wasn't too deep though, mainly just a nasty scratch. His forehead had also been nicked, he felt the blood dribbling into his eye. Using one of the daggers he cut a piece of robe from one of the bodies. He pressed it to his head to stem the flow of blood.

Happy that nothing was unlife threatening, he took in his surroundings. There were lamps on the wall. Old fashioned things. He wondered if the light would draw attention from above but then reasoned that the scuffle hadn't so obviously no one was paying much attention. And the trapdoor was right out of sight. He risked it and held his lighter to one of the lamps.

It took a while to catch, but with some perseverance he got it lit. He was in a cave. 'Probably hollowed out by man to use as a cellar to the vineyard,' he thought as he turned around on the spot.

The light reflected off something sticking out of the lump of rock the harbingers had been working on. He stepped closer for another look.

"Or maybe it was to hide this baby." He whistled softly.

In front of him was a red and silver shiny axe. The handle of the axe was tapered to a point and made of good solid wood.

"I can see why he wanted to keep hold of this. It must be worth a bob or two," he muttered.

Reaching out, he put both hands on the long, sleek handle and lifted. Nothing happened. He studied it for a moment. It was just barely stuck in the rock. What he'd thought were chainsaws, were in fact high powered drills and they'd done their job. Around the rock, the ground was littered with pebble-sized blocks of masonry and a lot of dust.

He grabbed the axe again and tried to wiggle it backwards and forwards. It didn't move an inch. He jumped up on the rock. Grabbed the handle with both hands and strained upwards. Muscles stood out all along his arms. After a minute the muscles on his neck and back stood out as well. He stayed like this for five minutes, pulling with every ounce of his superhuman strength, then he relaxed. Breathing heavy because it seemed like the right thing to do, he slipped off the rock and slumped down against the far wall.

"Well that's a lot of good to us then isn't it?" He complained aloud. "The good guys get a fancy new weapon but we have to bring our enemies down here to kill 'em. Fat lot of good that'll do us." He fell silent again.

After a while he stood and went methodically around the rather small cave looking for any tunnels. Nothing. The only way he could get out would be to create his own doorway with one of the drills but considering that would bring a multitude of eyeless bastards down it didn't seem like a good plan.

He slumped down against the wall again, guessing he'd have to wait awhile. He knew he should snuff the light out in case it drew attention to him, but he didn't have the heart to. For a creature of the night he was getting awfully attached to the light. Another Buffy side affect.

Buffy followed the dead body down the steps. Before she reached the bottom she was rushed by three of the Bringers. Leaping high off the step she kicked two of them back and concentrated putting the third out of commission. As soon as it was writhing on the floor in the agony of its newly severed spinal chord, she quickly dispatched the other two as they hurried back in.

Standing up straight she faced Caleb. "I want what's mine now. I don't share with Bullies."

Caleb looked at her open mouthed for a moment. He hadn't expected this. She was supposed to be a broken little girl, sobbing alone over her failures while her friends went to their deaths. She'd just taken on three of his boys and she wasn't even breathing hard. He quickly pulled himself together, but not before Buffy had caught his look of perplexity and was smirking openly.

By all that was unholy and spoiled, God did he hate this girl. "You think you can come into my home and take what you want, girl? I've warned you about manners."

"Yeah well I guess I didn't think an evil preacher guy was a positive role-model," she shot back. Her eyes scanned the dark corners but she could find no trace of anything that might be hers to wield. Unless she wanted to become an alcoholic and wield a big wine cask.

"Well let me see if I can change your mind about that." Caleb lunged at her.

"You can try," she taunted and ducked easily under his arms.

His momentum carried him into the shadows and she quickly inspected the newly revealed area.

"Why you . . ." he snarled and sprang at her again.

She pulled her head back sharply and felt the whoosh of air as his fist sailed by millimeters from her cheek. He quickly swung with the fist and she leant back even further. 'I love seeing their faces when I go all Matrix on em,' she thought giddily. She allowed herself to tip backwards until her equilibrium shifted, then using her hands to support herself she kicked Caleb under the chin with both feet as she flowed smoothly over and flipped back upright.

The preacher, already slightly unbalanced from his wild swings, was thrown backwards with the force of the kicks. He recovered quickly though and Buffy was caught off guard when he began to laugh.

"What's funny? I haven't even delivered my killer punch line yet," she said, puzzled.

"Well it would appear I have you caged like the savage animal that you are," he sneered, closing in on her.

'Damn,' she thought but refused to give him the satisfaction of hearing it. She had flipped herself into a narrow path between to stacks of casks. The only plausible way out was through Caleb. He continued to stride nearer. His arms held out to either side to discourage her from trying to make a break for it.

"Don't you know it's dangerous to corner a savage animal?" She snarled and pounced.

Spike suddenly heard a commotion from above. The sounds of stomping feet resonated through the small, man-made cave. He didn't know if it was a fight going on above or whether it was just another boat load of Bringers coming or going.

He stood up and moved to the wall behind the trapdoor. This way if anyone should drop down Spike would have the advantage of them, by being behind them. He didn't douse the light, he wanted to see what was coming at him.

He was peering up through the square hole, he couldn't see anything but . . . He stiffened. His nostrils flared a few times. He knew that scent anywhere. Lavender and vanilla, it smelled better to him than blood and guts. Buffysmell. He breathed in deeply. Was she outside somewhere? She couldn't know he was here, so she must be here to take on the High Priest of Doom. Was she alone or had she brought the army with her again? He desperately wanted to go up there and make sure she was okay but was scared that if she was trying to sneak in and he jumped up and announced his presence, he'd get her killed. He stood in indecision for a moment, then leapt up and caught the edge of the hole in the cafe roof.

As he saw the blonde leaping straight towards him Caleb leaned forward and tried to envelope her in his arms, to catch her, throw her to the ground and kick the life right out of her. No more waiting, just another dead little girl. It didn't quite work like that. As he started to bend over to grasp her, she pulled her legs just that bit higher and ran up his chest. When her left foot found a solid purchase on his shoulder she launched herself upwards. Just managed to grip the topmost edge of the barrels and swung up to meet it.

Balanced catlike on the top, she looked down at a rage-fueled Caleb. "Thanks for the leg up," she offered and dropped down the other side. Almost on top of a trap door. A trap door to a secret room. A secret room where you might find hidden secrets. Hearing Caleb thunder round the wine barrels she dove for the opening, only thinking in mid air that it could also lead to secret hidden smelly sewer water -something she wasn't all that desperate to find, but, oh! Too late!

Chapter Seven

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