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Here’s the latest installment of Marking Time, hot off the keyboard (the last bit anyway).  Don’t faint or anything, but that’s two chapters in one month! ::gasp::

Decided to forego sleep to get the silly thing finished. Now there’s only one more chapter to go! Yay! ::almost ready for the big Snoopy Dance::

The final chapter is halfway written. With luck, I hope to finish it up over the holiday weekend and get it posted early next week. ::fingers, toes, legs, arms and eyes crossed. oh, wait. that’s giving me a headache::

Once the story is done and posted, I hope to be a bit more present in LJ land. It’s mostly been a choice of writing or LJ-ing, and I’m such a pathetically sloooow writer. ::sob::.

For those who missed the last chapter, you can find it and a lengthy recap of previous chapters here.

Hope you enjoy! I’m off to bed…soooo sleepy…


CHAPTER 25

Spike squinted into the mist as another massive roar filled the air. Multiple echoes made it seem as if he and Buffy were surrounded by a dozen or more unseen beasts.

“Definitely no bunnies here,” Not-Joyce confirmed. “Sorry.”

Spike snorted. At least she had the decency to look concerned. It was more than he could say for the other two.

This time, the roar approached deafening decibel levels. As it died down, Spike heard Buffy sigh. “Remind me what genius asked for big, mean and ugly? Oh, yeah. Me.”

“It isn’t too late to change your mind,” Not-Giles pointed out.

“I will if you will,” Buffy countered. Head cocked expectantly, she waited a beat. “No? Oh, well. Too bad. Guess we have to kill it then.”

Buffy shot him a look, and Spike nodded. As she pivoted away from him, he mirrored the move, easily falling into his third-favorite position with her. Back-to-back, they waited—swords at the ready, Spike’s vampire senses on high alert.

Then the tremors started, causing the void’s smooth ground surface to vibrate beneath their feet. Spike assumed it was a manufactured earthquake brought on by the watching conduits until he detected a rhythmic pattern to the shaking. Like steps…heavy steps…heralding the as-yet invisible approach of a lumbering juggernaut.

Tightening his grip on the sword, he scanned the area within his line of sight—looking left, looking right, even glancing upward as another unearthly bellow tore through the air above their heads.

Once…twice…three times his gaze skimmed over the Not-trio, touching briefly on them with each pass. The fog partially obscured their faces, but not enough to hide their near-identical expressions of avid interest.

On the fourth pass, it hit him. Straightening, he lowered his sword.

“Sod this. We’re not playing your game.”

Buffy twisted around with a questioning head tilt. But she remained silent, letting him take the lead.

Not-Giles raised an eyebrow. “Pardon?”

“You heard me.” With his best defiant sneer, Spike raised his voice—the better to be heard over the cacophonous roaring of the beast. “I said no. We’re not fighting your beastie. We’re not fighting anything you send our way.” He quirked an eyebrow at Buffy. “Right?”

They shared a long look as the slight crinkling of her forehead eased. She smiled, a determined glint sparking in her eyes. “Right.”

Spike smirked, hooking his free thumb through a belt loop as he turned back to the trio and cocked his head. “So here’s the thing. We’re not dancing your little jig anymore. You’ll have to get your jollies some other way.” Head up, shoulders back, he tossed his sword down, regarding them with narrowed gaze. “As I reckon it, that leaves you two choices—lose the two best fighters you’ve got or send us back home.”

Following suit, Buffy tossed away her own sword with a wry smile. “Yeah. Pretty much what he said.”

Not-Illyria responded with ill-concealed scorn. “You make a fool’s choice. The Beast grants no mercy. You will both die.”

A volley of snarls and bellows followed hard on her words. As it died down, Spike shrugged. “Then we die. But it’s our sodding choice to make, and if we go out, we go out on our own bloody terms. Not yours. And not Theirs.”

The ground around them started to shake harder than before, the tremors growing in intensity with each passing second. The two factions stared at each other, waiting.

Then Not-Joyce looked at her companions. “You know, I hate to say it…”

“Then don’t,” Not-Giles snapped.

But…” She eyed him with a stern glare. “…they’re not wrong. There’s a lot at stake here.”

“She is the one who demanded ritual combat,” Not-Giles pointed out, his tone more than a little aggrieved. “I don’t see why—”

A fresh round of thundering bellows interrupted him, drowning out the rest as they were bombarded from all directions.

When it finally ended, Buffy shrugged. “Changed my mind. Guess I’m just not in the mood to play anymore.”

Not-Giles shot her a peeved look. “Do you truly expect us to believe you’ll stand there and let yourselves be ripped to shreds?”

Buffy pursed her lips, as if considering the question. “Way I figure it, we’re both kind of past our expiration dates and living on borrowed time anyway. Plus maybe you were busy and missed this part, but I wouldn’t take orders from a bunch of stuffy old men in tweed suits either. It’s kind of a thing.”

“You’re bluffing,” he accused.

Spike raised an eyebrow. “Reckon we’ll find out.”

“Yes,” Not-Giles acknowledged coldly. “We will.”

An impasse had been reached, with neither side willing to blink. In the meantime, the increasingly strong ground tremors made it hard for Spike to maintain his balance, though the conduits themselves seemed maddeningly unaffected. And the ear-splitting roars were starting to set his teeth on edge. Spike felt his forced calm rapidly deteriorating.

It disappeared entirely as he glimpsed movement off to his left. The shape was indistinct but unbelievably massive. Even worse, he couldn’t tell how far away it was, which meant it could get even larger. Clamping his hand around Buffy’s arm, he jerked his head in that direction and watched as she followed the prompt. Her eyes widened.

Another trumpeting roar sounded…then ended abruptly, as if someone had pushed the “off” switch. At the same instant, the ground quakes ceased, and when Spike looked again, the mammoth shape had vanished.

“Well, I’m sorry, but this is ridiculous.” Spike followed the voice back to an exasperated Not-Joyce, who stood facing off against her companions’ accusing glares. “You know they’re right. We can’t afford to lose them, especially with you-know-what coming up. Which means all of this is just a big waste of time. You know how stubborn they both are. And even if they decide to fight, it won’t change anything, no matter what the outcome is. If they win, they get what they want and we lose. If they die, we still lose.

“Bottom line is, it’s already too late. The prophecy has been altered and their destiny is…undetermined…at this point in time.” She shot them a glance, and Spike was sure he detected an amused twinkle in her eyes. “In fact, something tells me it may well remain that way. All we can do for the moment is send them back and see what happens.”

“Destiny is not perpetually fluid,” Not-Illyria objected. “It has already been rewritten.”

“Yes, and I’m quite certain they’ll find a way to bollocks up that, as well,” Not-Giles added with a withering glare.

“Either way,” Not-Joyce said, “we’ve reached a dead end. I’ve sent the beast packing and it’s time to do the same for these two. So which one of you would like to do the honors?”

For several seconds, no one moved. Then, with a steely glare, Not-Illyria stepped forward. At the wave of an imperious hand, a door-sized portal winked into existence, a maelstrom of bright light pulsing and churning a few feet away from Spike and Buffy.

A bemused Spike regarded it with tilted head. “Got to say…seems a bit anticlimactic.”

His tone sharp with hard-edged sarcasm, Not-Giles gave them a sour look. “And what was it you expected, precisely? A brass band and the Queen’s Guard as escort? So terribly sorry to disappoint. Now leave. And do try not to let the portal hit you on the way out.”

With a final disdainful glare, he turned on his heel and strode away, vanishing into the fog. Not-Illyria regarded them coldly for a moment then followed.

Buffy looked up at Spike. “I don’t think they like us much,” she confided.

He gazed down at her. “Don’t rightly care much,” he said softly, a slow smile curving his lips.

“Oh, don’t mind them,” a cheerful Not-Joyce said, waving her hand dismissively. “They’re both sticklers for tradition and they get a little snippy if the rules are bent. But they’ll get over it. I happen to know there’s a pretty nasty apocalypse looming in the not-too-distant future. They’ll be happy enough then to have you back where you belong.”

She looked around. “Well, my work here is done. And for that matter, so is yours. Go on…off with you now.” She smiled, making shooing motions with her hands. “You’ve got some very worried friends and family waiting for you.” Glancing over her shoulder she rolled her eyes. “And I’ve got some not-so-happy associates waiting for me. Don’t suppose you’d like to trade places?”

When Spike and Buffy merely stared at her, she laughed. “That’s what I thought. Oh, well. Worth a try. Listen…do me a favor and try not to piss off the higher powers for a while, okay? There is a limit to what I can do.” Studying a silent Buffy, she softened her voice. “I know this is hard for you, honey. But know that she’s okay. And she’s very, very proud of you.”

With that, she turned and retreated, pausing briefly to give them a final look. Then, with a smile and a wink, she faded into the mist.

A pang shot through Spike as he watched Buffy brush away a tear.

“Buffy…”

“I’m okay. It’s okay. Really.” Drawing in a deep breath, she released it slowly, pressing the heels of her hands hard against her eyes.

Spike didn’t say anything. Just rubbed her back gently as he waited.

Eventually, she looked up. “Hey!” There was a forced brightness to her tone. “We just thumbed our noses at those Powers That Whatever and didn’t get struck down. What do you think that means?”

Spike snorted softly. “Means they need us, just like she said. Also means there’s a higher power at work here than even those tossers, and they know it.”

She stared at him.

“What?” He stared back.

“You mean like…” She trailed off, but he knew what she’d started to say.

“Yeah, I mean exactly like. There a problem with that?”

“No! I just…I guess I never thought vampires would believe in that sort of thing. You know…religion, I mean. Though I should have realized. With the soul and all.”

“Got nothing to do with the soul, love. Believed, even when I didn’t have it. Crosses, holy water…it’s a bit hard to dismiss the obvious when it’s burning a hole right through you.”

Buffy eyed him with furrowed brow. “You always keep me off balance. I hate that about you.”

“No, you love that about me.” Spike smiled, his voice soft. He couldn’t believe how natural it felt to say that. “Go on. Admit it. Keeps you on your toes.”

She pulled a grumpy face. “Yeah. Okay. Maybe. But it’s still annoying.”

“My middle name, love.”

She looked at him, head cocked. “Really? So that would be William The Bloody Annoying…and what was that last name again?”

“Oh, would you look at that,” Spike said quickly, craning his neck in the direction of the portal. “Think the bloody thing just faded a bit. Best we get along now before it’s too late.”

Buffy’s lips quirked in a half smirk. “All right, we can table this for later. But you are so not getting out of it.” She cocked her head. “Speaking of getting out of something…you were bluffing, weren’t you? About the whole no-fighty and then-we-die stuff?”

“Bloody right.” He nodded. “You?”

Oh, yeah.”

Smiling, she reached out and took his hand, fingers locking with his—just like the last time they’d gone through a portal together. His own hand tightened around hers and he could tell she knew what he was thinking.

“Don’t worry. No tricks this time,” she promised. “No side trips, no detours. It’s time to go home.”

He smiled at her and she smiled back. Then, suiting action to words, they moved in tandem toward the portal, diving into it side-by-side. Their transit through the void proved to be as chaotic and disorienting as ever, but this time there was no last-minute separation.

Instead, they exited the other side together, with a whoosh and a thud and a clanging, clattering crash.

Sitting up, Spike looked around, realizing they’d landed in what must have been Giles’ kitchen. He knew this because he and Buffy had obviously taken out a large pot rack on their way to the floor and were now surrounded by a dozen or more slightly battered pots and pans.

He also knew this because Dawn, eyes wide and mouth agape, was standing just a few feet away, a plate with a half-eaten sandwich dangling from her hand. An instant later she squeaked and dropped the plate, launching herself at Buffy and hugging her breathless as she started to babble.

"Ohmigosh, ohmigosh, ohmigosh…you’re here! You’re really, really here! I can’t believe it! It’s been so long, and I’ve missed you soooo much! We all have! We—“

Breaking off, she pulled back, eyes even wider than before. “Oh, wait! I have to…you know…” She dove in for another hug, then jumped up and ran to the kitchen door. Sticking her head through the opening, she hollered at the top of her lungs.

“You guys! You guys, they’re back! Hurry!”

Spike clambered to his feet, a bit less gracefully than he’d care to have anyone see. He started to reach for Buffy, but somehow wound up with an armful of still-babbling Dawn instead. His arms instinctively closed around her, holding her tight as his gaze locked with Buffy’s.

Then the rest of the world came flooding into the kitchen.

--------------------------

TBC in Chapter Twenty-Six


Date: 2011-06-28 10:06 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jacobs-muse.livejournal.com
Yay, they won! Think I like Not-Joyce.

Date: 2011-06-30 02:58 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] annapurna-2.livejournal.com
Yay, they won!

But of course...after all, they're Buffy and Spike! :-)


Think I like Not-Joyce.

Me, too. Heh. Thank you!

Date: 2011-06-28 02:29 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] slaymesoftly.livejournal.com
Ah, so glad to see it's going to be finished. I enjoyed this chapter - always a pleasure to see Buffy and/or Spike telling the PTB to stuff it. :)

Date: 2011-06-30 03:02 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] annapurna-2.livejournal.com
Ah, so glad to see it's going to be finished.

You and me both! It's been a loooooong time in the making. Hee!

I enjoyed this chapter - always a pleasure to see Buffy and/or Spike telling the PTB to stuff it. :)

Thank you so much!

Date: 2011-06-28 05:28 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rebcake.livejournal.com
Heh. Told 'em, didn't they? So, Buffy has been annoyed by the PTB out of her little Shanshu obsession, right? I think Spike made her see the light last chapter? No lingering doubts? Oh, right. It's Buffy and Spike, of course there will be all sorts of lingering things...

Date: 2011-06-30 03:03 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] annapurna-2.livejournal.com
Yep, that about sums it up. Hee! ;-)

Date: 2011-06-28 06:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cindergal.livejournal.com
Yay! I can't wait to read my story when it's all finished! ;-)

Date: 2011-06-30 03:11 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] annapurna-2.livejournal.com
Yay! I can't wait to read my story when it's all finished! ;-)

It's only taken a little over six years to write it. Sheesh, what's your rush?!

lol! Just kidding. I can't wait to finish it so you can read your story! I'm really glad you're still LJ-ing, if for no other reason than I can finally give you the finished product. Yay!

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