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



Chapter Four: Thoughtful Distraction

Which was the first warning Buffy had that Faith was up and in the door way. Springing back away from Spike, she knew it was too late to act casual and even if Faith hadn't seen them kissing, from the disarray of their hair and clothes, it was quite obvious either a full on smooch session had taken place or a tussle.

Faith had seen them kissing, so that was irrelevant. She felt the air go out of her already patchy sails as she stared at them in open mouthed shock. 'I guess I did read that completely wrong then,' she thought, pleased she'd found out before she made a fool out of herself. It was a small mercy though and didn't really make her feel all that much better.

"Hey Faith," Buffy said.

Trying for normal, sensing on instinct that this could possibly be - make that most likely to be - an awkward moment. The way Faith was staring at her meant it couldn't be anything else. She looked back towards Spike to see him grinning from ear to ear, but it wasn't the wicked grin of victory over Faith she'd been expecting. He was looking straight at Buffy, his eyes warm and crinkling at the edges, it was probably the same grin she would have been wearing if it had been anyone else interrupting them.

It was Faith though. Buffy looked back at the dark Slayer. She had closed her mouth and she looked less taken aback. Now her mouth was a hard line. The shutters that had lifted from her eyes earlier had been dropped back down. Buffy knew without looking that Faith's fists were clenched at her sides. Buffy realized with aching clarity that Faith was officially closed for business. Especially if that business had anything to do with her.

In a high sing-song voice that Buffy knew was fake, Faith said. "Sorry to interrupt, I just needed a drink and everyone seemed to have forgotten me. Go back to whatever you were doing." She gave a little shake of her head and walked off down the stairs.

Buffy gazed after her, wanting to follow but figuring it would be pointless. She looked at Spike. He reached for her again, but she rested her hand on his chest to stop him. Not pushing him away, just not allowing him to come any closer.

He brushed some hair off of her face. "Is that it then, Luv? Were you just using me to make her jealous?" There was no harshness to his voice, just sorrow. As if he had been expecting it all along but for a little while at least had dared to believe otherwise.

She looked him right in the eye, her heart breaking for him and for herself. "No, I wasn't using you, I thought I was, but I wasn't."

"So what does this mean? Are we, I mean is there hope for us?"

"I don't know if there's hope for any of us," she said softly, looking back towards the stairs. She was talking about the weird triangle she had somehow found herself in, but it was an eerie echo of their situation, which was lost on neither of them.

Turning back to face him she added. "This isn't really the best time to be discussing our love lives. We should probably wait and see if we still have lives when this is over, to be in love with." 'Good save,' she thought, 'vague but not discouraging.'

He wasn't in the mood to let it go, and who could blame him,? He'd been on standby for that kiss all year. "But when it's over, if we're still around to appreciate it, is there a chance . . ." He left the question open, it would make a refusal easier to take.

She looked him in the eye again, reached up and cupped her palm around his cheek. He leaned into her hand like a purring cat, 'or maybe more like a purring panther, all sleek lines and glossy coat. Ooh'.

"Your coat's downstairs," she told him, remembering.

"Is that a polite way of saying no chance? Because I have to say there are nicer ways of letting a bloke down."

He started to step away and she giggled, which caused him even more affront.

"No, I meant really, your coat's downstairs. I borrowed it last night, remember? Or this morning. It's all starting to roll into one," she told him with a smile at how goofy he got when he was offended.

"Oh." This mollified him slightly. When she gave him a short, tender kiss on the lips, this mollified him even more. He gained a little of his grin back.

"You're very confusing, you know that?" He told her.

"That's cause I'm very confused," She said, chuckling. Then she continued in a more serious tone. "I never had a choice in getting to know you, Spike. What with you being a vampire with a Slayer fetish and me being a Slayer, it was natural our paths would cross, but I never wanted you in my life. You forced that - you and the Initiative, but over the years I've realised that you aren't like the others. I don't know what makes you different, but I've watched you care for Dawn, I've watched you help my friends and I've seen you change from soulless monster who wanted me dead to a soulless friend who just wanted me to be happy. Even though you did go totally the wrong way about it," she couldn't help adding. "And I feel I pretty much know you now, Spike; I know the demon inside you, and what makes it tick." She paused for a moment, making sure she had his rapt attention, which she did. "And when this is finally all over, I really want to have the chance to get to know the man inside you, and that is a choice I am making, William, cause I think he is worth knowing."

Spike was thankful vampires couldn't blush because just then he was feeling an irrevocable pull back to the days when he was a bigger geek than Andrew and he didn't want to put Buffy off straight away. Instead he shrugged off-handedly and smiled. Looking cool, even if he was feeling like a soppy girl inside.

Buffy hadn't finished yet. "But right now all I have time for is defeating the First, or else all this talking is just a waste of time we don't have. We get through this, we'll have all the time in the world to work out where we go from here."

He couldn't argue with any of that. So he shook off his impatience at wanting his girl now and followed her into battle mode. "Right, where do we start?" He asked as she lead the way downstairs.

"That I don't know. Hopefully Willow or Giles might." She called to them as she reached the bottom of the stairs and they both trailed through from the kitchen. Both of them were looking crumpled and tired. It was the look you got after hours upon hours of research.

"Please guys, tell me you have something positive and then you can get some rest," she asked them.

"Ah, who needs rest," Willow said. "I'm young, fit and healthy, I can go days without sleep." She punctuated her sentence with a big yawn.

"Well I'm not and I can't," Giles retorted, taking off his glasses and rubbing at them wearily. Then he gave Buffy a little smile. "So it's just as well we have come up with something useful."

"Oh thank God!" Buffy rejoiced.

"Yes, quite," Giles agreed. "It seems that there is a small temple to the back of the vineyard. It has been overgrown for years. Its probable the owner doesn't even know it's there. We had a stroke of luck because Xander remembered coming across it one day when he was searching for a lost baseball."

"Yeah. It was creepy. All covered in Poison Ivy and stuff, dark and full of bugs. Even in the middle of the day. Not a recommended picnicking spot. The place had that kind of aura about it, like it had been forgotten about years before," Xander told them.

"What do you know about auras?" Willow asked skeptically.

"Technically nothing, but you know that feeling you get when you feel like you're being watched but there's nobody there? Picture that and add one hundred. That's how it felt."

"Right, and we're sure this is the place we're looking for?" Buffy asked. There was no time left for goose chases left. She could feel the time they had left slipping away from them.

Giles took the floor again. "As sure as we can be. It certainly warrants looking into."

"And what exactly am I expecting to find there?"

"Uh, information on the scythe, possibly another inscribed stone, hopefully something anyway," Giles told her, knowing it was hazy and knowing it was all they had. The Watcher was also feeling the stress of impending battle. He wondered how many days they had left, or, shuddering, how many hours.

"Hey maybe we'll find a handy instruction manual. 'How To Kill The First For Dummies'," Xander joked, earning him a disapproving look from Giles and a giggle from Willow.

"Well hopefully I'll find it. You're not coming," Buffy told him.

"What? I have to go. I have to show you where it is," Xander protested. "It's really dense and prickly out there. You know, I don't have to fight I can just chop things down for you, I can still do that, I'm not totally useless." He was hurt, feeling pushed to the outside because of his injury.

"I know you're not useless, that's why I have a separate mission for you," Buffy told him seriously.

"Ooh a solo mission. What is it?" He asked, excitedly.

Willow and Giles both looked on, waiting to hear what Xander's job would be. Dawn approached. "Hey is Xander going to go all 007 on us?" She asked.

"Not exactly," Buffy said, a shade awkwardly. Then to Xander, "Can you come into the kitchen and draw me a map to this temple place? You guys and Dawn, please see if you can find anything else. Time's running out fast and I still don't think we have enough."

After Xander had drawn a map showing the rough location of the creepy place out behind the vineyard, she outlined her plan to him. He was less than keen to begin with but eventually, as always, Buffy managed to convince him it was all of the good.

With that cog started in motion, she prepared for her own mission, which wasn't easy when she had no idea what to expect when she got there. In the end she just grabbed the scythe and was about to go out the front door, when Spike came out of the living room.

"Are you sure you want to go alone?" He asked, not for the first time.

"Yes, I'll be fine, this is strictly recon. I'm just going to have a look. If there's something useful in this place then I'll find it, but I personally think we're clutching at loose straws here," Buffy confided.

"Yeah well, they're pretty much all we've got to clutch at the moment." He looked at the floor and then back up to meet Buffy's eyes. "Look, about earlier . . ." he began.

Buffy cut him off. "No, not now, Spike. We'll talk later, okay?" She started to back out of the front door. She couldn't have another 'us' talk right then. She needed to focus, that's why she wanted to go alone in the first place, having him along would just be too distracting. So she backed away, her hands held up in silent supplication, pulling the door closed behind her.

"I was only going to say sorry!" He softly told the block of wood now barring his view of the beautiful Slayer. He'd remembered hearing about Caleb's trap when he was in the vineyard, and felt guilty for blaming Faith, and nearly causing more trouble for both Slayers. After all, Buffy had proved who she wanted, the least Spike could do was cut the dark Slayer a little slack.

When Faith had stormed out the house earlier it was with the annoying realization she had nowhere to storm off to. The town was almost empty of human and demon life. Only the stubborn or stupid few remained. She wondered what category their little band of merry men and women fell into. She didn't fancy wandering around town on her own. It would be all too easy to get jumped in her current weak state and if Buffy was right about Caleb being desperate to off one of the Slayers before the final battle commenced, then this would be a perfect time for him to do it.

She also knew that to be away from the noise and bustle of Slayer central right now, although an attractive idea, would only give her time to think about what she had seen and how bad that made her feel, and dwell on it and mope on it and end up so worked up and angry she'd do something she'd later regret. Like give in to her desire to knock B's teeth out and make her eat them. Or shove Andrew's oven gloves up his ass. Or, and the most likely, high-tail it in to the hills, as far away from Stuffy and her Booby gang as she could. The name made her chuckle and she felt slightly better.

Sitting down on the top step of the porch, she lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply. The nicotine rushing into her lungs calmed her more. "I can do this," she muttered to the darkness around her. "It's not like it wasn't what I expected anyway, right?" She listened to the sounds of the night birds, calling to each other. Birds didn't have to worry about apocalypses or the girl of their dreams sucking face with the undead, again. All birds had to worry about was getting up early enough to catch their frickin' worms.

Faith flicked the butt of her smoke away from her and thought back over what she had just...thought. Was B the girl of her dreams or was her messed up head just being a tad melodramatic? She reasoned that if dreaming about B every night for as long as she could remember constituted the fact, then the answer was yes. A lot of those times the dreams were drenched in blood and normally included the dead staring eyes of the deputy mayor and a backing track of Buffy screaming "Nooooooooooo". Sometimes she would dream about something else entirely, something totally unrelated to B or Slayerhood, or Sunnydale, only to have the blonde Slayer pop up in unexpected cameo roles - like as a bus driver, or a school teacher from her past or beating up that annoying cheese man. She'd always turn up but always kept just out of reach. Those were the worse ones, because everything would feel fine until she woke up and then she'd be left with the lingering taste/scent/feel of Buffy and it would stay with her all day.

She had constantly expected to have another shared dream with B, like they had when she was in a coma, but each dream was so vivid and intense that she didn't know if they were or if she just wanted them to be. There had been one dream, a recurring one she had a couple of times a week to begin with and then just occasionally up to now.

In it, Faith is on her knees, staring up at Buffy, who is holding her blood covered knife out to her. Buffy speaks but it doesn't come just from her mouth, it's more like surround sound or something. "You can have it back now," she says, "I've had my fun, now it's your turn." Faith whispers, "Fun." But again it comes from everywhere. Buffy walks up to stand in front of her, leaning over. "Share, share, that's fair, right?" The blonde whispers back. As Faith reaches gingerly forward for the knife handle, Buffy swings it back, underhand, and with a forceful forward stabbing motion, she plunges the knife into Faith's stomach. Buffy looks at the wound with a happy chuckle "Psych!"

The first few times she experienced the dream she awoke in a cold sweat, shaking and shivering. Staring wildly around for Buffy, anticipating an attack but not knowing where it might be coming from in the darkness of her cell. She didn't know if Buffy had ever shared the dream, but it still chilled her to the bone to see the blonde smiling and laughing while the blood gushed from her stomach.

Even thinking about it now when she was wide awake made Faith shiver. She rubbed her stomach where her thin black tank top covered a thin white scar and lit another cigarette.

She could hear talking and planning going on inside the house. She had half expected Buffy to come after her, but obviously the blonde was still to busy making out with her vampire. The vampire who had tried to rape her, the vampire who had been killing people again not long ago. The vampire who was still more important to Buffy than she was. She slammed her fist into the porch boards and felt them buckle. She resisted the urge to carry on until she made a nice big splintery hole. B probably wouldn't look too kindly on her breaking up her house and Faith needed somewhere to stay until this was all over.

Until this was all over. What would she do then? Well either she'd be dead or she'd be stuck with another big decision. Another set of crossroads in her life for her to navigate. She could probably stick around in Sunny D. Despite the knot of resentment she was feeling right now, she knew that on a friendly level things were okay enough between her and the gang for her to stay. And this place was the closest she'd ever come to having a stable home. Okay, so it was bought and paid for by a wannabe big snake, but in his own twisted, demon-aspiring way, Mayor Wilkins had been the most stable and nurturing parental figure she'd ever had. Except her first Watcher of course, but thoughts about her just created even more nightmares, so best left alone.

She didn't know if she wanted to be here any longer than necessary now though. If she had to see Buffy and the vamp being all lovey-dovey with each other she figured she might accidentally stake him. Stakes were dangerous weapons after all; he might trip over his own feet and fall on one of hers, if she held it out just right, that is.

No, probably better to take the friendship B was offering and then get the hell away. That way she couldn't screw it up all over again, and she wouldn't have to look at the pair of them.

She could go to L.A. She was pretty sure that Angel would be glad to have her. It couldn't hurt to have a Slayer patrolling those mean streets and that hotel of his was sure to have a spare room, probably a couple of dozen in fact. That way she'd be far enough away to not have B shove her love life in her face all the time, but still close enough to Sunnydale that she could be here in a few hours if she was needed.

'Why the hell am I planning my new life around Buffy Summers? I should just get out of California all together. Put the last five years behind me once and for all. Start fresh with all the laundry washing skills I learned in prison,' she chastised herself.

She contemplated heading back to Boston for a few moments, but there was even worse memories there than there was on the Hellmouth, plus she was no longer used to the bitter winters they had there. They didn't even know cold in California.

There was one other option she didn't want to think about, it was the most obvious choice and the least appealing.

So there she had it. Four paths she could take, four paths with up sides and downs. Whichever one she chose she knew it wouldn't be all plain sailing, she would have problems whatever she did, but which route would lead her out the other end the least scathed by her experiences and which one might send her spiraling back down to hell.

These were deep thoughts for someone who had always favored action over contemplation and she was so caught up in them, she didn't even hear the door open behind her.

She grunted in surprised pain as something collided with her back. She tried to jump up but was prevented by the same something landing heavily on the back of her neck, pushing her head forward. She felt her balance begin to tip as her assailant used all its weight to try and push her down the steps. With an angry grunt, which was muffled from the angle her neck was bent down at, she threw her arms out to protect herself before her head hit the concrete walk. Struggling to sit up as soon as her hands and knees hit the ground with a jarring thump, she could still barely move. Her attacker was moving around on top of her, trying to force her head into the ground, wrapping its legs around her to stall her movement.

Wriggling with all her strength now to try and break free from whatever it was, she felt a little tingle of fear at the unknown, and redoubled her efforts. Eventually she was able to throw herself backwards, forcing the demon to slither forwards over her head. Grasping it around the middle to stop it from moving, she looked up to see what she was dealing with.

Chapter Five

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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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