Chapter 1: The Wooden Spoon
“Yeah? You and what army?” Spike taunted.
Suddenly, the slayer was behind him, whipping him around and slamming his back onto the kitchen island. She pulled a wooden spoon from the utensil canister as she came down with him, aiming it toward his heart.
“That would be me.”
The instant the handle of the spoon was pressed against him, it emitted a bright flash of golden light, momentarily stunning Buffy, Spike, Joyce, and even Angel, who was still standing on the back porch.
As the light faded, Joyce stumbled back, grabbing the door of the refrigerator for support. “What was that?”
“Magic,” Angel answered in an ominous tone. “He's done something...” He noticed the shocked look on the slayer's face as she slowly backed away from the kitchen island. “Buffy? Are you alright?”
The wooden spoon dropped to the floor as she stared at Spike. “What...?”
Spike pulled himself upright and rapidly glanced around the room with a look of panic in his eyes. One hand went to the center of his chest, grabbing as if he were searching for something that wasn't there. As his hand withdrew, he studied it, and then -locking his eyes on Buffy's- he slowly brought it up to shoulder height, palm facing out.
Her eyes widened and she stepped forward again, raising her own hand in a mirroring gesture.
They continued to stare at each other as their fingers interlinked, seemingly completely unaware of Angel's sputtering attempts to tell Buffy to back away and Joyce's quiet gasp of realization when she saw the look on her daughter's face.
“How...?” Buffy whispered.
“No idea,” Spike whispered back. “But I saw you run for the stairs.”
“I did... Months ago.” She released his hand with a flash of anger in her eyes. “Right after you called me a liar.”
He dropped his hand to his side. “The point, love, was to get you the hell out of there. Worked, didn't it?”
She turned away, visibly dissatisfied with his logic. “I hate you.”
“So maybe I just hate it when you're ri--” The reply was cut off in a choked sob at the realization of who was standing in the room with them. “Mom?”
As a startled Joyce was tackled in a slayer hug with enough force to knock her back against the front of the refrigerator, Angel's voice regained its strength. The side of his closed fist slammed against the door frame as he shouted, “What the hell did you do, Spike?”
“Nothing I know of,” Spike murmured through a soft smile as he watched mother and daughter embrace. “But whatever it was, it was worth it for this.”
Angel fell silent as he studied him through the invisible barrier. “Spike?”
“Are you sure? Something's different about you.”
“A few things.” Spike furrowed his brow. “And I think I'm drunk.”
“You certainly were a few minutes ago.”
Spike's eyes drifted to the two mugs of hot chocolate on the counter and back to Joyce as Buffy broke the hug to grab a paper napkin for use as a tissue. “...I know when this is.” He waited for the nose blowing noise to stop before addressing Buffy. “Love, your friends are at the factory.”
“Huh?” She tossed the napkin in the trash and surveyed the room, slowly piecing together the situation in which they'd found themselves. “Oh... We should get there before Cordelia stomps on the stairs.”
“Yeah,” he murmured distractedly. He was watching Joyce as she looked back and forth between them, deeply confused by the entire situation.
Buffy waved him on. “Just give in and hug her, already. We can explain later. You know, if we can actually come up with some kind of explanation for this.”
The hug he offered was much less ardent and forceful than Buffy's.“We've missed you round here, Joyce,” he said as he pulled away. “Especially your girls.”
“Girls?” she asked.
Buffy and Spike turned to each other with wide eyes. “Dawn!” they exclaimed in unison before rushing out of the room and up the stairs.
Joyce turned to face Angel. “Do you have any idea what's just happened?”
“A better question might be if I know who just possessed them. Because they aren't acting like themselves. You should invite me in.”
In the dark upstairs hall, Buffy and Spike stared into a room that would have been a guest room, if the furnishings weren't completely obstructed by storage boxes.
“She's not here,” Buffy whispered. “This isn't a dream or an altered memory, is it?”
“I think we're really here, love. Then.”
“Then,” she echoed. “In our old lives. Before... Well, before almost everything.”
“Or how long we'll be here.”
“Or if this is even our reality.”
They stood in silence for what felt like a long time, both still facing into the room that wasn't Dawn's.
“So what're we gonna do about it?” he finally asked.
“Get it right this time.”
For the second time in ten minutes, the slayer grabbed him and whipped him around, this time slamming him up against the hallway wall.
When Joyce came up the stairs in response to the noise, she only got as far as the landing before she stopped at the sight of her daughter and Spike holding each other tightly as they kissed in the dark beside the guest room door. She withdrew as quietly as she could, thankful she hadn't issued the requested invitation.
Elsewhere, in a place outside of time, a short man in a fedora shook his head as he approached the late Joyce Summers. “That wasn't what I was expecting.”
“What do you mean? You said you could provide her a chance to prevent some past mistakes if I gave your people a time and place. This is exactly what you asked for.”
“A freakin' wooden spoon,” he muttered as he took off his hat to rub his forehead. “The timing is all wrong, Summers. It's too late to change first impressions, but long before they've established an almost friendly loose confederation. In other words, they're clearly enemies already, but nowhere close to allies yet.”
“Nonsense. They became allies the first time she brought him into the house.”
“That was just for the night. It wasn't meant to last longer than that. Also, he was literally holding her friends hostage at the moment you hit them. ...With a freakin' wooden spoon!”
She frowned at him. “Why do I get the impression the spoon is what's really bothering you, more than the timing?”
“You said I could choose anytime I knew they'd be in the same place, didn't you? And you wanted an object I knew they both came in contact with at that time?”
“Yeah. As in, it could be just about anything. A chair, a door, a piece of clothing, a weapon, anything. Choosing a kitchen utensil is just... odd.”
She shrugged off the criticism. “I didn't have all that many memories to pick over. And what I do recall didn't have a lot of absolute certainty about things like who sat where or who closed the door, or anything like that.” She smiled. “But the wooden spoon? That was memorable. And certain. I was two, maybe three feet away when it happened.”
“There had to have been something else you remember that could've worked, and maybe at a better time?”
“I never saw them together all that much.” Joyce chuckled. “But isn't that at the heart of the problem you're trying to correct?”