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Okay, this was supposed to be the penultimate chapter of Marking Time. Thing is, it got a little long so I had to break it up into two parts. I hope to finish up the next part, which should be the new penultimate chapter, over the weekend so it’s ready to post next Sunday or Monday. After six long years, I’m sooooo close to wrapping this puppy up! ::valiantly resisting the Snoopy Dance::

In the meantime, it kicks off with the usual recap. Hope you enjoy!

Recap: Buffy gets a mysterious summons from Giles that takes her to his estate in England. There, she finds Spike who, along with Illyria, was teleported out of the NFA alley in the midst of the big battle. Only hitch is, he’s in an unexplained comatose state, which may or may not have something to do with the infamous Shanshu prophecy.

Buffy finally figures out the quickest way to wake him up. (Any guesses as to what that would be? Heh.) But Spike’s a little pissed off that Buffy put her life at risk to do it, and Buffy’s pissed that he’s pissed. So…surprise, surprise…they’re not really talking to each other the way they should be. Which makes rescuing Angel and Gunn from an alternate dimension just a wee bit tricky, but those stubborn kids are gonna give it a shot anyway.

Shortly after arriving in the alternate dimension, the two get a little…um…distracted. Then Buffy says something stupid and Spike says something stupid and…well, I think you can see where this is heading. And then things really heat up...literally...when that pesky NFA dragon shows up. But that's nothing compared to what happens once Buffy finally tracks down Angel. It's deja vu with the Angel kissage, though Buffy's heart isn't in that relationship anymore. But good luck convincing Spike of that when he sees them and storms off. So this time it’s Buffy who’s chasing after Spike, but that doesn’t work out so well, and now they find themselves at a bit of a stalemate.

In the meantime, daylight strands them at an inn and tavern (since Spike and sunshine aren’t mixy things) where a newly shanshued Angel and a fully recovered Gunn have been living for months with a local family. While Spike catches up with Gunn, Angel and Buffy have a long heart-to-heart. Angel realizes Buffy loves Spike and wants a future with him. And Buffy is convinced Spike’s mysterious coma was actually part of the Shanshu process and that her attempts to wake him up have prevented him from becoming human.

Buffy feels a wee bit guilty and starts avoiding Spike, who knows something is up but isn’t having much luck cornering his slayer. Angel thinks Buffy wants a human Spike. Spike thinks Buffy wants a vampire Angel. Buffy dreads having to tell Spike that he’s lost his Shanshu because of her.

Before anything can be resolved, Angel and Gunn rush off to hunt down a band of demon raiders, also sucked into this dimension when Angel and Gunn were, leaving the way open for a long-overdue discussion between our two hard-headed blondes. Because it’s Spike and Buffy, more arguing, misunderstandings and revelations ensue, ending with Buffy’s big confession.

But just when it seems they’re about to get it all hashed out, those pesky raiders attack, eventually overpowering a badly outnumbered Buffy. When the ruthless raider chief threatens to slice and dice the slayer, Spike has only one choice left. To charge out into the lethal light of day in a hopeless attempt to save her. Buffy’s agonized yell is the last thing he hears as he starts to burn.

Only guess what? The sun stings a bit, but Spike’s not really on fire. Which means he and Buffy can stand in the harsh light of day indulging in their favorite pastime—arguing with each other. Much to the annoyance of the raider chief, of course, who thinks they aren’t taking him seriously enough. But Angel does, and pretty soon the raider chief is history. Which leads to even more arguing and…uh-oh! This time Spike really is burning.

Gunn gets the bright idea to contact the Lupwa in hopes this trio of mystical healers can tell them what’s up with Spike. In their cryptic way, they seem to confirm Buffy’s belief that Spike was the intended recipient of the Shanshu Prophecy…until she messed things up. But the only ones to know for sure are The Powers That Be and they’re not talking. So Buffy’s feeling pretty guilty. Until she spots Spike and Nareetha getting a little too flirty, making her a jealous woman with a mission.

So Buffy stakes her claim on Spike (figuratively speaking). Then they hash out even more stuff and it finally seems like they’re getting somewhere. Until Buffy decides to ditch Spike and Angel and hunt down The Powers That Be to bargain for Spike’s hijacked humanity. That’s when she finds a trio of conduits serving as representatives for the TPTB—conduits who just happen to look a whole lot like Giles, Illyria and Joyce.

Spike shows up just as Buffy’s about to make the Big Gesture. They argue some more, until she makes it clear she’s done baking and Spike is “The One” who gets to take her out of the oven. The conduits, however, beg to differ as Not-Giles informs them that Angel, not Spike, is her true destiny…


Inwardly seething but holding himself in check, Spike watched as a grim-faced Buffy stepped forward, her voice slicing through the fog like a finely honed sword.

“Guess again, Jeeves.”

Not-Giles regarded her with raised brows as the swirling fog ebbed and flowed between them. It cast an eerie pink glow that made it difficult for Spike to gauge his expression. “I beg your pardon?”

“You can beg all you like, but you’re wasting your breath. Angel’s not my destiny.”

“Too bloody right he’s not. She’s made her choice and isn’t your Golden Boy,” Spike growled, taking a stance at Buffy’s side. If the sodding Powers That Wanked thought they could tell him to jump and he’d ask “How high?” they were delusional. If they thought they could take Buffy from him now that he understood how she really felt, they were suicidal.

“It is written,” Not-Illyria stated, her tone unyielding. “You do not choose.”

Buffy shrugged. “I don’t care if it’s spray-painted on the backside of the Head Powers That Be, himself. Or herself. Whatever. If Spike’s destiny can be unwritten, so can mine. Ergo…sorry, not happening.”

Engulfed by a wave of lusty admiration, Spike dropped the Evil Eye he’d aimed at Not-Rupert, gazing instead at Buffy. “God I love it when you’re all, ‘Up Yours.’”

Their eyes met, locking in silent communion. Not-Giles cleared his throat.

“I fear you fail to comprehend the full gravity of the situation.”

At first, Spike thought she would ignore him. But after a few beats, Buffy smiled and turned.

“I comprehend just fine. You’re the one who’s a few fries short of a Happy Meal if you think I’m leaving Spike to go back to Angel. Yes, I loved him. But that ship sailed a long time ago.”

A fierce thrill ran through Spike. It barely had time to register before he found Buffy facing him again.

“Spike, I get that you just made your big Declaration of Independent Destiny and all, but…I have to be sure. You really don’t want this prophecy?”

It was an earnest question. It deserved an honest answer. Fortunately, he had one.

“I meant what I said, love. Had a lot of time to think these last few weeks.” He shrugged. “Maybe too much. But I finally got it straight in my head. I don’t want to be Prophecy Boy. Don’t fancy anyone, least of all that lot, pullin’ my strings.” He stared into her eyes. “That said, I would do it…for you. If it’s what you wanted. And I’d be happy with it, knowing that. But not for them. And not for me. ’Cause it’s not what I want anymore.”

Buffy inched closer, invading his personal space, and Spike was more than happy to let her. She raised her hand, fingers brushing his cheek.

“Then it’s not what I want either.”

Before he could respond, she whirled to face the three conduits again. With an “oh well” gesture, she shrugged. “Okay. Kind of thinking this whole thing has been a big waste of time and energy. Emphasis on the big. Sorry. Bad, Buffy!” she chided herself. “As for the other, we’ll just agree to disagree, okay? Now all you have to do is send us home so we can get back to our thing, and you can get back to your thing, and we’ll all just…do our things.”

Not-Giles regarded her dispassionately. “Yes, well…as much as I regret to say it, that’s simply not possible.”

Buffy frowned. “It’s really scary how much you sound like Giles. And it’s insulting that you expect us to believe that.”

Not-Illyria stepped forward. “You suffer an inability to understand. It has never been a matter of ‘can not.’ Only a matter of ‘will not.’ You treat your destiny with contempt. You view it as a hollow reed that can be bent or broken to your will. We refuse to help you reject your path.” She cocked her head, alien eyes fixed on Buffy. “You will be returned. The vampire will remain here, in this place.”

Buffy’s mouth dropped open. It didn’t really surprise Spike. He’d already seen the proverbial handwriting on the wall. She, however, was clearly shocked.

“You can’t do that!” she protested.

“We can. And will.” Not-Illyria countered, voice and face devoid of all emotion.

Buffy’s eyes narrowed, and Spike watched as her expression went from stunned to determined. She faced them with folded arms, the air around her practically quivering with iron-willed defiance. “Fine. You want to play hardball, so can I. If you’re sending me back without Spike, then you’ve lost your Slayer. As of now, I’m officially retired.”

Not-Giles raised an eyebrow. “That would have been an effective threat, perhaps, when only one of you existed. But now, there are thousands.”

Spike snorted, feeling compelled to state the obvious, even though he didn’t hold out much hope. “That may be, but the next time the big apocalypse looms, who do you want taking care of business? Some slayers? Or The Slayer?”

Spike fancied he saw a slight flicker of something in the other’s eyes, but his expression remained predictably detached.

“And while we’re on the subject,” Buffy interjected, “you might have noticed you’re not exactly crawling with Champions. So why would you want to sideline one of your biggest? It’s stupid you’re even thinking about this. You need Spike! He’s important—not just to me, but to you. You had big plans for him, remember?”

“That was true before,” Not-Giles acknowledged. “But no longer. The vampire has removed himself from the equation. And your stubbornness has left us with no other choice.”

Spike sighed, chin dropping to his chest. Then he reached out, taking hold of Buffy’s arm as he gently turned her to face him. “Buffy…love…maybe you should—“

“No!” She responded instantly, fierce tone mirroring her expression. “I left you to die before. Don’t ever expect me to do that again!”

Her sudden vehemence caught him off guard. Spike squinted at her. “Is that what this is? You feeling all guilty? Don’t be daft, love.”

He instantly realized it was the wrong thing to say. Her expression turned even more thunderous.

“It’s not daft! It’s totally un-daft! In fact, it’s so un-dafty it couldn’t possibly get any un-daftier or it would just be a whole new level of un-daftiness!”

Her tone soothing, Not-Joyce spoke up. “Buffy…sweetheart, you—“

“Don’t!” Spitting out the word, Buffy rounded on her. Up until then, Spike had watched his slayer go out of her way to ignore her mother’s doppelganger. But now she glared daggers at her. “Don’t you wear her face and call me that. You’re not allowed.”

Not-Joyce nodded, acknowledging the order with a sad smile. “Understood. But it’s not that simple. There are things you don’t know. Things we can’t tell you. You’re the Chosen One, and there are great forces at work in your life.”

Buffy rolled her eyes. “Really. Gee, never would have guessed.”

“That’s enough, young lady.” Not-Joyce eyed her with a stern expression. “I know it’s difficult, but sarcasm won’t help.” Then she sighed, her expression softening. “The point is, this is something you can’t escape. It’s your calling. You are The Slayer. You will be for as long as you live. You may try to deny it, but we know you’ll never be able to turn your back on it. You’ll never look the other way and pretend evil doesn’t exist and that demons live only in nightmares. Not because of your destiny, but because of who you are. It simply isn’t in you.”

She raised a hand, heading off Buffy’s response. “I know you’ve run away before. I also know you’ve wanted to give up—to let others take over where you left off. But you came back. And you didn’t give up. And you won’t. Ever.”

Buffy opened her mouth then stopped. Spike watched as her expression turned sulky. “You can’t be sure of that.”

“Yes, she can,” he interjected softly. “Face it love, the lady may not be your mum, but she’s got your number.”

Several seconds ticked by. Buffy bowed her head, taking an intense interest in the fog that swirled around her feet. When she finally looked up, she’d clearly reached a decision.

“I’m not leaving here without you.”

“Appreciate the sentiment, love, but it’s not like they’re giving us a choice.”

“There’s always a choice. You taught me that.”

Spike sighed. Even though she sounded confident, something in her expression told a different story. It was time for him to take the bull by the horns. Or the slayer by the shoulders. He gazed down into her face as she stood there, waiting.

“Buffy…we’re together now, yeah?”

“Yep,” she agreed.

“Equal partners, right?”

Her response was a bit slower this time, and slightly wary. “Right.”

“With equal say.”


He gripped her shoulders tighter, silencing her protest. “Either we are, or we aren’t,” he insisted. “Which is it?”

She eyed him with narrowed gaze, lips pressed together in a tight line. “Don’t think I don’t know where you’re going with this. It’s my life, Spike!”

“Yes, it is. But it’s not your choice alone anymore. It’s ours. You made it that way when you made us a couple. That gives me a say, too.”

Buffy stared. Then made a face. “I don’t like this equality thing. Can’t we just go back to the way it was before?”

He answered with a quirked eyebrow.

More seconds dragged by as they stood there, seemingly at an impasse. Then, clearly frustrated, she shook her head. “Spike, I know what you want me to do. But think about how you would feel if it were the other way around. Could you leave me?”

And there it was—the thing he’d dreaded. A simple truth he couldn’t argue his way around. She knew it, too. She even had the nerve to gloat a little, albeit silently,

Just as silently, he conceded defeat. “Then what’s the plan, love?”

She smiled. Then frowned. “Wait…there’s supposed to be a plan?” Then grinned. “Kidding. Of course there’s a plan.”

She kept her gaze on Spike but raised her voice to address the others. “We demand trial by combat!”

Even if he’d wanted to—and he buggering well did not—Spike couldn’t suppress the huge smirk that spread across his face. God, how he loved her. They were two halves of a bloody whole.

Not-Joyce, however, didn’t look as thrilled. “Oh, dear…” She shook her head.

Not-Giles frowned. “Out of the question.”

“Why?” Buffy challenged, planting hands on hips.

“Because the decision is made. There is no appeal.”

“Oh, please! There’s always a trial or quest or something the heroes can undertake. Don’t you people ever watch the movies?”

“Clearly not. And, clearly, you are mistaken.”

“Actually, that’s not completely true. There is a precedent.” Not-Joyce shrugged when Not-Giles turned his head to glare at her. “You know it as well as I do. And I don’t think They would appreciate it, if we went around changing the rules just because it’s more convenient.”

She turned to address Buffy. “What did you have in mind, honey?”

Spike nodded encouragingly as Buffy shot him a quick glance. She shrugged. “I don’t know. Something big, mean and ugly? I mean, we’d be more than happy to fight bunny rabbits, if you like, but shouldn’t you guys be the ones deciding that? Seems like if we’re going to do this, you might as well get your money’s worth.”

Not-Illyria stepped forward. “As you will.”

The fog in front of Spike rippled, as if a stone had been tossed into a pond, then solidified into a gleaming sword suspended in mid-air, its hilt only a few inches away from his hand. A darting sideways glance showed him Buffy eying an identical weapon that had materialized in front of her.

Before they could react, a strange whistling sound came out of nowhere, low at first but rapidly growing in intensity. It transformed into a full-throated howl as gale-force winds blew up around them. Amidst the wildly swirling fog, Spike and Buffy latched on to each other, bracing themselves against the tempest as it threatened to knock them off their feet.

At the center of the maelstrom stood Not-Illyria, motionless except for blue strands of hair whipping across her face. The twin swords were also unaffected, remaining fixed in the air, as if embedded inside invisible concrete.

Buffy shouted something, but the words were swept away. When Spike shook his head, she let go of his arm long enough to point at the swords. This time he nodded. Locking arms, they bowed their heads against the wind and struggled in tandem to reach the suspended weapons.

A journey of mere inches seemed to take hours, yet Spike realized no more than a few seconds could have passed before their hands wrapped around the twin hilts. The instant they made contact, the winds died away. An eerie silence fell.

Spike tugged on the sword, expecting resistance, but there was none. The weapon moved easily, as if sliding smoothly from its invisible sheath.

As if on cue, a massive roar sounded. It reverberated around them, through them, like echoes bouncing off unseen walls.

“What the bloody hell is that?” Spike demanded, his gaze darting to and fro but unable to penetrate the dense walls of pink fog closing in around them. Mirroring Buffy’s move, he raised his sword in readiness.

The voice of Not-Illyria sliced through the mist. “It is The Beast That Walks Between Worlds. A thing feared by all dimensions. Cities quake at its approach. Nations reek with the rancid stench of despair. The very mention of its name leaves entire universes trembling in abject terror, crushed beneath the weight of utter hopelessness.”

A second roar sounded and Spike drew in a steadying breath. “Yeah. So in other words…not a bunny rabbit.”


TBC in Chapter Twenty-Five

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