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



Chapter Five: Kicking Back and Kicking Butt

Xander was on the open road now, a few miles outside of Sunnydale and heading east. He was feeling a disturbing mix of intense guilt at his actions and grim satisfaction that he'd got the job done with minimum fuss.

He risked a quick glance at Dawn; she was still sleeping the sleep of the recently chloroformed. He'd set her as gently into the passenger seat as possible and now she lay with her head thrown back on the headrest, mouth open, snoring loudly. It made her one-eyed friend smile and think what great blackmail material this would make if he had Andrew's video camera handy. Then the seriousness of what he'd done hit him again and he concentrated back on the road. Somehow he just knew that when Dawnie eventually awoke, it was going to take a lot to get her to see the funny side of this.

He heard her snort a bit and then groan, rolling her head around as she started to come to.

"Okay, here comes the hard bit," he muttered to himself, before turning to address Dawn.

Buffy backed out of the front door, silently willing Spike to stay on the other side of it and not push any further. She was also wondering where Faith was. She hadn't seen the other Slayer while they had been going over the plans. She really hoped she hadn't taken off on her own. She wasn't at full strength yet and Buffy didn't want to have to worry about her. That too was too distracting, better her be safely at home with the others so she'd be there when Buffy got back. Then they could talk about what Faith had seen, and Buffy could figure out how it had affected her.

Her thoughts were interrupted abruptly when she was tackled from behind. Something hit her hard on the back of her legs, over-balancing her so she started to fall backwards. She had time to think, 'Damn Spike and Faith, this is what I meant about distracting,' before the thing picked her up on its shoulders and slammed her towards the ground.

Saving her breath for struggling, she only let out a series of quiet squeaks and grunts. She felt her aggressor land on the concrete walk to her house. It felt smallish, but strong. 'It's going to carry me off somewhere,' she realized with a surge of fear. She swung her legs to either side of it, trying to kick it in the ribs - supposing this thing had ribs - or if possible, swing herself right off its back. The thing started thrashing underneath her and then threw her off, over its head. Her head smacked into the concrete, but that didn't take away from the relief she felt at getting away. In fact the little multicolored stars she saw just made it more of a celebration. Then the demon grabbed her around her hips, preventing her from getting up.

Shaking her pounding head to try and clear it a little she was startled into immobility when the demon said:


Andrew was gazing out of the big picture window at the two Slayers.

"Mr. Giles, Buffy and Faith are fighting again."

"Oh good lord, not again. I thought this morning's various fiascoes would have made them settle their differences."

"So should we, like, do something?" Andrew asked worriedly.

Giles and Willow glanced at each other.

"Nah, they have to fight it out between themselves," Willow advised, going back to her laptop.

"Indeed," Giles agreed, turning to his book in turn. Then as an after thought he added. "I never would have thought Slayers were so territorial. It opens up a whole new area of discussion."

"What the...?" Buffy struggled to sit up, but the thing...Faith? Still held her firmly.

Faith, realizing just who had tackled her, was in shock as well. 'Why on earth did B attack me?' she wondered in a daze. Then, becoming conscious of the position she was in, her head peering up between Buffy's legs - as in right between - she flushed a bright red and tried to disentangle herself.

Buffy also became aware of their compromising position. Hoping her blush was hidden in the darkness she looked at Faith, hovering just over her, erm, leg joining bit and tried to think of something to say. Unfortunately her mind had gone a complete blank, so she stuttered for a while until Faith was able to maneuver herself out from under her. Then she jumped to her feet, clutching at her dizzy head at the same time.

"S-s-sorry," she stuttered.

Faith looked more embarrassed than menacing as she asked. "Why did you jump me?" She winced at her choice of words.

"I didn't, I tripped. I didn't know you were going to be right there," Buffy told her a little indignantly.

"Well maybe if you'd been looking where you were going instead of day-dreaming about your new fang man, you'd a noticed I was there. Guess that's too much to ask." Faith knew she was being harsh, but her discomfort was insisting she be a bitch to save face. "I wasn't thinking about him," Buffy retorted. 'Okay, so I know how she's taking it then.' She walked torpidly to the steps and sat down. "I was thinking about you actually." "Yeah well, I'm not interested in a threesome," Faith said, then realized what she'd said and grimaced. "I mean, uh, I, uh. Whatever." She sat down on the steps next to Buffy.

Buffy couldn't help but smile at Faith's loss of composure. "I thought you were up for anything."

"Yeah, usually, but that doesn't include Blondie," Faith told her tightly.

Buffy went for broke, not knowing which answer might worry her more. "Which of us is Blondie then?"

Faith looked over at her. Was Buffy flirting or was she just laughing at her? She shrugged and said quietly "I don't do vamps, B."

"Oh F, you just haven't met the right one yet."

Faith looked over at Buffy again incredulously, only to find her laughing so much she had to hold her stomach. She was also still holding her head.

"Yeah, real funny. Did I hurt you?"

"I thought I hurt myself, with the whole back flip over you. Are you okay?" Buffy asked, concerned.

"Yeah, shook me up a bit, I admit. Being attacked from behind and all that. Didn't realize it was just a B-Monster." Faith smiled.

"Know what you mean, I thought something had deliberately tried to grab me and carry me off," Buffy told her, also with a smile.

"Nah, that was just me trying to shake your clingy dead-weight offa me." Faith chuckled.

"Hey watch what you're saying, s'not my fault I came down with a serious case of dead. And I was clinging to you because I thought you might eat me if I didn't." Buffy stopped dead, the position they'd ended up in still very much on her mind.

Faith chuckled nervously. "Yeah, you wish." She hated that everything she said now seemed to hold so much more weight than before.

"Yeah," Buffy agreed, still distracted by her thoughts.

Faith's head nearly spun three hundred and sixty degrees, she turned it so fast. "What?"

Buffy looked at her, startled. "What?"

They sat silently for a couple of seconds, staring at each other. Both wanting the other to speak first about what they were thinking about. As the seconds stretched into minutes, they realized individually, that they were both gutless wonders.

"Well I'm supposed to be on a mission right now. Looking for some old temple that's the answer to all our problems," Buffy said, deciding to change the subject to something safer.

"Really?" Faith asked, pleased for the change of focus, but slightly disappointed Buffy was going now.

"Well, between you and me, probably not, but it's the only thing we've got going for us right now. So I'm gonna go check it out," Buffy explained.

"Oh, you want me to come with?" Faith was loath to let Buffy wander off on her own again, and not just because of the danger aspect this time.

"To be honest Faith, I'd really like it if you could stay here and get your strength back."

Faith was ready to protest. "I'm fine, honestly..."

"Look, I know but...but I need to do this alone."

"Why?" Faith asked, not liking the whiny tone her voice took.

"Because I just do, okay?" Buffy was thinking of what she'd said to Spike. Even though she liked the thought of having the dark Slayer along, it wouldn't help her concentration much. She was thinking of this mission as more of a chance to get her head straight than actually finding out anything useful and having Faith along would distract her even more than Spike would. Because of the confusion and all.

"Yeah, okay, whatever you say," Faith said, feeling like she was being dismissed yet again.

Buffy noticed Faith withdrawing from the easy conversation and kicked herself.

"Look, I didn't mean I didn't want you along."

"So I can come?" Faith turned to her again, all enthusiasm.

"Well, no. But look, I'll see you later, yeah?" Buffy wanted to get out of there before it became even more awkward. She got up and started to walk away.

"Whatever. Maybe I'll find my own mission," was Faith's quiet reply.

Buffy heard it, but kept walking without giving a response.

The living room table was surrounded. Anya, Spike, Robin, Kennedy and Andrew were playing poker. Andrew had begged for Dungeons and Dragons but had been out-voted by everyone except Amanda. They were playing for quarters, much to Anya's disgust. She'd hoped to win big against the youngsters. Xander had spent years teaching the ex-vengeance demon how to play and she thought she was pretty good. She'd never realised, and Xander had never had the heart to tell her, that her face became a picture of fiscal pleasure anytime she was close to winning even the smallest amount, and worry lines creased her forehead if she thought she might have to part with any of her honest day's pay. Xander would have chuckled to see her now, a maniacal grin creeping over her face as she realized she just needed one more card for a full house, but he wasn't and that was the topic of their discussion.

Money clinked into a pot and cards were dealt as Robin voiced his knowledge on the subject.

"He mentioned to me that he and Dawn were doing another weapons inventory and they went outside, but that was over an hour ago."

"Maybe they went to the store. The girls all eat like pigs, there's hardly any left of what me and Anya, brought," said Andrew.

"Hey!" Kennedy exclaimed, slapping Andrew's arm, which was conveniently sat next to her.

"Ow!" Andrew whined, throwing his cards in in a tantrum. "Well you are."

"Boy's got a point," Spike said while sneaking a peek at Robin's cards over the principal's shoulder. "These girls are eating like they're already Slayers. I saw how much of that Doublemeat crap Buffy used to pack away. It wasn't pretty." He threw down his cards. "Full house!" He said proudly and gathered up the coins as everyone else groaned.

Anya, feeling particularly huffy that she had been beaten when she was so close, angrily shuffled the cards, flipping a few over her shoulder without realizing and brought the conversation back to the matter in hand.

"I don't think he was going to the store. Before he left, he came up and kissed me on top of the head and said "Take care, Ahn, I'll see you soon." That is not a typical going to the store farewell. I mean, a 'see you later' would have done." Anya finished dealing and picked up her cards, a little smile crept back as she saw how good her cards were.

Giles walked behind her on his way to the kitchen for more tea. Stooping down, he picked up three or four cards that had landed behind the ex-demon. "Anya, it would appear you are not playing with a full deck." He flipped the cards on to the table, with a flick of his wrist and continued on his way.

"Well we all knew that." Willow was sat behind her girlfriend, chin resting on Kennedy's shoulder, wondering just how unethical it would be to help her get some decent cards for a change. She chuckled before continuing. "But that's weird, because he did the same to me."

"What do you mean?" Anya asked, insulted.

"I mean he did the same to me. He came over, told me to take care, gave me a quick hug and a kiss, and left," Willow explained.

"A kiss, where?" Anya demanded, crossing her arms, her cards forgotten on the table top. Spike made sure he memorized them. So did Kennedy.

"On the head," Willow told her patiently.

"Well then I guess that makes it okay then," Anya told her. "Still makes it weird though."

"Why? He's my best friend, you know, however much you might hate that fact." It was Willow's turn to get defensive.

"I meant, Willow, him doing that to both of us."

"Oh." The wind went out of the redhead's trumpet and she sat back, "Yeah, it is, isn't it."

"We're facing what could be the end of the world. It's bound to make some people more expressive with their emotions. I'm sure that's all it is," Robin told them.

"Maybe," Willow and Anya said together, but neither looked convinced.

"Yeah," agreed Spike, "Xander's always been a pansy, this is just bringing it to the surface."

"Being able to express your feelings doesn't make you a pansy Spike, it means you're a real man," Andrew piped up, doing his best impression of a daytime chat show host.

"And what makes you think you know anything about that then, Andy?" Came a voice from behind them.

Everyone spun around to look and Faith held her hands up in front of her as she kicked the door shut with her heel.

"Whoa, guys I was just joking, Andy'll be a man someday. And with any luck you'll turn out to be as good a specimen as this." She strolled up behind Robin and ran her hands over his shoulder's. Bending down close to his ear, she whispered "Nice hand."

The principal was startled; he'd only had a few conversations with the other Slayer, but he actions were not unwelcome. Buffy had told him stories of the rogue Slayer and he had to admit to being intrigued by this attractive young woman.

Smiling up over his shoulder, he said, "Thank you. I would ask you if you'd like to play, but now you've seen my cards."

"Oh I always like to play Rob, but I'm in the mood for something a bit more energetic than poker." Faith looked up as Giles called her. Giving Robin a wink, she went through to the kitchen to see what he wanted.

Willow rolled her eyes at Faith's back while Spike gave a little nod to himself. Having Faith interested in Robin would keep her out of Buffy's way and Robin out of his, leaving him and Buffy more time to be in each others way.

Robin turned to Willow. "Is she always like that?"

"Yep, pretty much."

"Oh, so I should take it with a pinch of salt, right?" He asked, wanting to be sure before deciding on whether to make a move or not. He'd had hopes for something happening with Buffy at one point, but her association with the vampire sat next to him kind of quashed that. He was loath to get involved with another Slayer if this was a common trait.

"Oh I think you should take all the salt, as much as you can handle. That way she won't have time to pursue Xander."

Willow rolled her eyes again. "Anya, I don't think we should encourage Robin to get involved with Faith just because of something that Xander did years ago."

"Well, he seemed very interested in Faith and Buffy getting naked together, I just don't want him trying to get in the middle of them," Anya said with a pout.

Spike looked up but he said nothing. Andrew spluttered, Kennedy's face was a mixture of surprise and amusement, Willow groaned and dropped her forehead down on her girlfriend's shoulder.

Robin's eyebrows shot up. "Faith and Buffy, really." He chuckled. "Well I wouldn't want to step on anyone's toes."

"You wouldn't be. They're just friends...well mortal enemies too, but they're not like that," Spike said with conviction.

Everyone turned to look at Willow. She felt their eyes on her and looked up again.

"As far as I know. I mean they've both been acting weird, but I think that's just weight of the world on their combined shoulders stuff. It makes them a little tense. If it was any more I'm sure Buffy would have said something."

"Of course she would, Red. There's nothing more, believe me," Spike said again.

"Oh and how can you be so sure, William?" Anya asked.

"Well, me and the Slayer, we chat from time to time, don't we. I mean, we spent all last night locked in a cave together. I'm sure she would've mentioned something like that, don't you?" Spike babbled, he didn't want to give to much away about their rekindled romance without Buffy's say so.

"Still, it's an interesting visual," Kennedy said, receiving a slap on the arm for her trouble.

"No visuals involving my best friend please," Willow mock scolded her.

There was a sea of red wine sloshing around the floor. Broken barrels lay scattered in pieces. In the midst of the destruction stood Caleb, standing tall, his arms stiffly at his sides, his face turned to the ceiling, his eyes black orbs.

Suddenly his body slumped and he staggered but kept his feet. When he looked up again he had an huge smile gracing his cherubic features.

Buffy's voice came out of nowhere. "You are healed. My power has restored you to what you should be. Now go, kill the one who dared to lay a hand on you and bring me back the scythe. If we can not kill the dark one we will kill the light - permanently."

Buffy's body double flickered into view for a couple of seconds, then disappeared again.

"You are my faithful servant!"

"And I will serve thee." His voice was deeper than before and resonated around the building.

"So G-man, what's up?" Faith wandered into the kitchen and jumped up on the counter.

"Er Faith, yes I wanted to have a word with you about Buffy," Giles told her.

Faith was quiet for a moment, trying to gauge the Watcher's mood. "What's that then?" She asked at last.

"Well I can't help noticing that you seem to be arguing and fighting a lot."

"Not a lot," Faith said, thinking about it. "No more than usual anyway, it's all par for the course with us Slayers, you know that."

"Yes, well, things got physical last night and we, um saw you out the front a little while ago - fighting." Giles fidgeted with a teaspoon.

"Oh that wasn't fighting," Faith chuckled at the memory, "we just kinda tripped over each other. It was an accident. Y'know what a ditz B can be sometimes."

"Oh, well that does put a slightly different light on it, but my point still stands. This is a very trying time for Buffy and ..."

Faith jumped off the counter and stood in front of Giles. She could almost feel her hackles rising. "Look G, what goes on between B and I, is just that: between us. I don't need you getting in my face because your precious Buffy is getting her panties in a tangle 'cause big bad Faith is back, alright? She'll have to deal."

"Faith, it's not my intention to get in your face and I agree your disagreements are between the two of you and have nothing to do with me. You're both adults with your own affairs and I'm sure you will handle them accordingly."

"Well then Giles, cut out the Oxford English dictionary and tell me your point, because B thinks I'm still not fit for duty and I intend to make the most of her stubbornness." Faith was itching to get back to the gang. She was feeling restless and needed some fun to take her mind off of Buffy. Spike sitting in the same room wasn't going to help her forget, but she figured she could have her fun at his expense and that would make her feel a little bit better.

Giles could feel the tension pouring off the younger Slayer and wondered what had changed from this morning. If things were as fine with Buffy as she made out, what else could it be?

"Faith, obviously I picked a bad time to discuss this with you but I was just wondering if I could persuade you to undergo a few experiments when all this mess is over."

"Experiments! What kind of experiments? If you're gonna pull some Watcher's Council BS on me, then forget it. I remember the experiment you tried on Buffy's eighteenth, it nearly got her killed." Faith fumed, pacing the kitchen.

"No, no nothing like that. I assure you and this will not have anything to do with the Council as it once stood. This will be purely for my research purposes. I'd just like to study the relationship between you and Buffy. A chance such as this has never been known before. Last time you were in town we were all too involved with destroying the M...the current threat that there was no opportunity for outside pursuits."

"There is no relationship between me and Buffy," Faith said sullenly.

Her tone struck Giles as rather odd but he persisted.

"Well no. I meant, more the connection between two Slayers rather than yours and Buffy's personal one. There won't be any drugs or needles or hypnosis, I promise. Just some psych tests, a little bit of hide and seek and a couple of interviews both together and separately. Anything else that comes up I'll fully discuss with you first, of course."

Giles was really excited about this, but Faith wasn't sure. She trusted Giles, but she had a natural aversion to anything sociological and psychological. She been bombarded with both words since the first care home she'd been stuck in and prison was even worse.

"You mean like ink blots and card countin' and stuff?" She asked warily.

"Well I wasn't planning on taking you gambling, but in a way, yes. I want to assess just how in tune two Slayer's minds can be."

Faith nodded slowly. "And what does Buffy say to all this?"

"Well I haven't asked her yet. Events here obviously take precedence over my personal hobbies and I didn't want to distract her too much." Giles didn't meet the other Slayer's eyes as he said this.

"Oh but it's okay to distract my attention, because I'm not the real Slayer, is that it?" Faith was angry all over again.

"No Faith, okay I'll be completely honest with you, but only if you'll do me the same honor." Now he looked Faith dead in the eye.

She shrugged. When he stayed silently looking at her she sighed. "Yeah I guess."

"Things between Buffy and I have been a little strained of late. I made some decisions which she didn't feel were correct..."

"What, like trying to have Spike offed? Thought that was what the good guys did to vamps, but then I've been away a while." Faith wished Giles' plan had succeeded.

"...Yes, well, quite, but Buffy felt differently in this case and we've only just begun to get back on track. Obviously she is no lover of the Watcher's experiments and I feel if I asked her now she would flatly refuse."

"So what makes you think she'll change her mind if you ask me first? Won't she feel like second choice?"

"There is no second choice in this. I need both of you to do these tests. I believe if she knows you've agreed she will be more interested in my ideas. Firstly because if she feels you trust me she will be more inclined to and secondly I think she will agree to it just to spend more time with you." Giles watched Faith carefully to see how she reacted.

She sneered. "Yeah I don't agree. We may be on talking terms but we'll never be best pals or nothing. She's got half a dozen people in the next room she'd rather spend time with than me. Maybe you should ask one of them."

"Well obviously that wouldn't work. You are the only two Slayers," Giles reminded her.

"Well then I'll tell you what. You get Buffy to say yes, I'll say yes but I'm not giving her another opportunity to leave me hanging." Faith turned away and started to walk back into the living room.

"Faith I told you the truth, you promised you'd offer me the same courtesy," Giles called after her.

"And I will Giles, just later, okay?"

Giles was left alone in the kitchen. He took a sip of his previously forgotten tea, only to find he'd left the teabag in and it was now horrifically over-stewed. After their conversation that morning he'd felt certain he could count on Faith's co-operation and he knew that Buffy would be so pleased that Faith was sticking around and continuing on her redemptive path that she would be eager to help out. Giles was not delusional. He knew his research was not what Faith needed to do to help cleanse her soul, but surely by staying in Sunnydale she would carry on her slaying duties as well.

Something was going on below the surface. Slayers were such complex women and having the two of them together was obviously opening lots of wounds, but he knew they were as strong as they were complex and maybe his studies would actually help heal some of those wounds, once and for all.

'Okay, so far not getting any time here to sort my mind out,' Buffy thought as she dodged another blow from the crazy preacher. She was struggling. He seemed to have even more strength than before and he was way too strong before in her opinion.

This hadn't been the cake walk she'd been expecting. She'd met the old woman or whatever she was. Buffy had been disinclined to even believe she was real until she'd heard her neck snap. You just couldn't fake the sound of breaking bones; she'd heard enough of hers break over the years to know.

The mysterious old lady had imparted info that was basically useless, unless you knew where the bits fitted. 'Woohoo more research for Giles and Willow, they are so gonna love me.' She dropped to sweep Caleb's legs away, but he righted himself and delivered a vicious kick to the side of her head before she could bounce back up.

'The scythe was a weapon, but we already have weapons. Does she mean like swords and crossbows and stuff or the girls? 'Cause they're not really weapons. It's not like me and Faith can pick them up and throw them at the vamps.' She rolled out of the way of another kick, shaking her head to clear it. 'Don't think about Faith, you'll get yourself killed.'

Buffy jumped up and knocked Caleb under the jaw with the middle of the scythe handle. His head snapped back and she took the chance of ramming the pointy end into his chest. He may not be a vampire but she knew this worked for most things. He caught the tip just before it penetrated him.

"You'll have to do better than that, little girl."

He forced the handle of the scythe up, smashing her in the face with it. She felt blood begin to trickle from her nose. She staggered backwards, trying to will the pain away.

"You'd bedder nod ab broken dat!" She snarled, or tried to. She felt like someone had just pushed her face inside out.

He walked closer to her. Lifting the scythe he pressed its handle across her throat and pushed her backwards into a wall. "Let's just call it payback for putting a hole in my skull before. You didn't think I'd forget about that, did you?"

"Oh sorry, was that you? I actually had something important going on so I didn't notice you. Next time I'll say hi."

He punched her in the stomach hard. The air rushed out of her but she kept a grip on the scythe handle, just managing to keep it from crushing her windpipe.

"You can be flip now, little girl, but I think you're gonna find me pretty important while I'm choking the life out of you." Caleb chuckled.

"I hate when people call me a little girl. I mean I can drink, I can vote; how old do I have to be before I'm classed as a big girl? It's because of the short thing, isn't it. That's heightist and I don't like heightist people." Buffy brought her knee up hard into Caleb's groin, with full Slayer strength.

His eyes bugged out and his face went purple and he let out a strangled cry which turned into "You filthy whore!" Recovering in an impossibly quick time, he pushed on the scythe handle hard causing Buffy to cough and splutter. She felt her own eyes begin to bulge as she struggled for breath. 'At least if this is it, I don't have to decide who I'm going to let down. Every cloud has a silver...' was Buffy's last coherent thought before everything turned into squares of red and black.

Chapter Six

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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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