Chapter 2: Bounce Factors
November, 1999 – September, 2000
Buffy’s world was a blur of flashing light. Moments of her recent life reeled past her in rapid reverse, vague, colorful images between sharp, white flashes. The effect was dizzying, slightly nauseating, and she struggled to stay on her feet... until she realized she was no longer standing.
Spike was suddenly glad he'd skipped breakfast. That mug of pig's blood he’d been wanting would certainly have been threatening to return, and he was feeling a little lightheaded. The flashing light and picture show had gone on just a bit too long, and he was beginning to worry something was wrong, when he suddenly had a new concern. He was lying flat on his back and had no idea how he had gotten there.
When the flashing stopped, Buffy was straddling Spike’s body on a cold crypt floor, kissing him. Her thoughts were panicked. Oh shit! Did Willow screw up and only send us one year back? That’s not far enough! Wait. Willow screwing up a spell. This is familiar… Ooooh! I know when this is. This is early enough. Too early, actually. But did my time's Spike land in this moment with me? Going to have to test that... carefully, just in case he didn't.
She pulled away from his lips just far enough to whisper, “Were we really engaged?”
Spike’s reply came with a near-silent chuckle. “Once upon a time, yeah,” he whispered back.
She sighed in relief. “Good. It's you.”
“Guess we still are. Never officially broke it off.”
“It was implied!” She hissed, her face still positioned just above his.
“Well, it looks like it's back on... But we're gonna have to 'imply' it off again.”
“Play it from memory,” Buffy murmured, ending the awkwardly positioned conversation.
They were perfectly still for a few seconds, lips millimeters apart, listening to the fight taking place a few feet away. When the scuffle suddenly stopped, Buffy took the cue. She pulled herself up into a sitting position. She was still trying not to focus on the familiarity of the kiss, instead putting all her concentration into her performance. “Eeeww!” She spat to the side and wiped a hand across her mouth, trying her best to look completely disgusted. “Spike lips! Lips of Spike!”
Spike followed her lead with an equally disgusted look and some spitting of his own. “Oh, bloody hell!” They rolled away from each other, climbing to their feet separately.
Across the room, Anya and Xander stumbled into standing positions and turned breathlessly toward the door. Buffy stole a glance to marvel at the sight of these younger versions of her friends, then followed their gaze to Willow... a younger Willow, but still Willow. Buffy made no attempt to 'act.' She glared openly at the witch, projecting on her all the irritation and emotional confusion the older version of Willow had triggered by dropping them into that particular moment.
The five of them headed back towards Giles’ apartment to check on him. Anya and Xander marched down the street with Willow between them, both still fuming over the incident. Spike opted to hang back a few yards with a cigarette. Buffy walked with him, keeping a firm hand around his right bicep, giving a passable impression of dragging Spike back as a prisoner.
“I’m going to kill her. She timed this bounce on purpose,” Buffy hissed so low only he could hear. “This hint-dropping, Willow style.”
“You don’t know that,” Spike murmured against the filter of his cigarette. He took a long drag and turned his head away from her on the exhale, the smoke drifting off to his left. “Could be she didn't know when she was dropping us, just guessed at it. Not like she's usually spot on with her spells, is it?”
He raised an eyebrow, daring her to attempt to counter the point and knowing she couldn't, this day of all days. She let the matter drop without another word.
They walked in silence for a few minutes, neither willing to discuss the kiss, let alone risk being overheard. Their thoughts were drifting into memories that had not yet happened and emotions neither was prepared to deal with. They were almost glad they didn't have the option of doing so.
Willow, Xander, and Anya were already entering Giles’ apartment when the two stragglers stepped into the courtyard. Spike brought them to a stop just out of sight of the watcher's door. “What did you do with the ring?”
She removed her hand from his arm and pulled the silver skull off her finger. “I think it’s supposed to be in my pocket by now. I know it eventually ended up hidden at the bottom of my weapons chest.”
Spike raised an eyebrow. “Didn’t chuck it, then? … But not in the jewelry box?”
Buffy shrugged. “Can’t explain it. Can’t explain this, either.” And she shoved the ring into his coat pocket with the letters.
He gave her a look of surprise. “Getting sentimental, are we?”
“Maybe. Or maybe I'm just returning it to its owner.”
Spike reached into the pocket and retrieved the ring. “No need to change this if we can find it later, love. Weapons chest will do fine.”
“You don't want it back?”
“Hasn't been mine for a few years. Gotten used to it being gone. Glad it didn't end up in a rubbish heap, though.” He studied the ring, watching the silver catch the glare of a nearby streetlight as he turned it in his hand.
Buffy squinted at him, still unsure how to interpret some of Spike's quieter moods. I'm not the only one getting sentimental about that ring, she thought. Seeing that Spike had wandered off into his own thoughts, she cleared her throat to get his attention. “You're right. It hasn't been yours for a long time.” She snatched the ring from his grip and thrust it into her own pocket. “There. Happy?”
Spike raised an eyebrow, but remained silent.
“I can return it to you later if you want it.” She took his arm again and gestured toward the apartment. “We really should--”
A blinding flash of light cut off her words.
The stench of sweat and latex filled the closed room. He seemed oblivious to it. She knew immediately where and when she was, but her body was out of her control. As her brain angrily rejected the entire situation, her hand left a fresh set of scratch marks down his back.
When the flashing stopped, Spike found himself on a street corner, just south of the UC Sunnydale campus. Alone. “Bugger,” he muttered. He had hoped they’d land together on each bounce, so they could at least keep tabs on each other. He kicked open a nearby newspaper box and stole a paper. The date under the banner failed to trigger anything specific in his memory. He had moved forward about five months, but that was all he knew.
A group of young coeds brushed by him, holding a crying girl in the middle of the pack, making whispered conversation as they passed. Spike took off in a run as soon as he heard the words “party” and “Lowell House,” suddenly very aware of where Buffy had landed.
By the time he’d been thrown back on to the sidewalk by the invisible force field for the seventh time, his rage was visible on his face.
“What are YOU doing here?” Xander asked from behind him.
Spike kipped to his feet and tried to come up with something to say while his face morphed back into its human mask. “Um… Didn’t you ask me to help?”
Anya tapped the tip of her sword impatiently on the sidewalk. “He did. And you left, anyway.” She glanced at Xander’s red, angry face. “My guess is, Xander thinks you should have stayed gone. But then, Xander is occasionally difficult to understand…”
“Ahn, please,” Xander cut in. He narrowed his gaze on Spike. “You serious about helping?”
“Fine. We need the help. We won’t have much time in there. But we get to them and then you get gone.” He waved his machete at the vampire. “Understood?”
Spike held up his hands in surrender. “No problem, Superman. Won’t be your sidekick longer than I have to be.”
“Just so we’re clear on who the sidekick is.” Xander smiled in satisfaction.
Buffy could hear muffled movement outside the door. She hadn’t heard it the first time she’d lived through this night. Of course, she hadn’t been listening for it then. At least now she had the comfort of knowing Xander was coming for her, would soon release her from this very strange prison with her ex-lover, and set her free to locate… well, her other ex-lover, but that was beside the point. While her body ran on its forced auto-pilot, she listened. Xander would open the door any moment, any moment now.
The doorknob clicked as it turned. The spell was broken. Before the door was fully open she pushed Riley aside and brought the sheet with her as she came up to a sitting position. “Xander!”
The door opened the rest of the way to reveal it wasn’t Xander behind it. Buffy gasped at the sight of Spike in the doorway. He stood with his eyes lowered, having known what he would find when he opened the door. The flood of emotions pouring off him crashed into her in a wave. She shuddered, surprised at the feeling. Her voice was a faint whisper, “Spike... No...”
“Come on, Buffy,” Spike murmured dejectedly. “You should get out of here.” He turned and walked out of the building without another word.
By the time Buffy returned from her extremely long shower, everyone had left her dorm room save Willow, who was sleeping soundly. She sighed in relief. No more conversation. No more lying. No one to keep her from sneaking out. She dressed as quickly and quietly as she could.
Spike’s crypt was trashed. She’d forgotten that. The rifle butt sized hole in his TV spoke pretty clearly to what had happened. She glanced around, sensing Spike was close, but not seeing him. Automatically, she moved toward the hatch in the floor, but a voice startled her before she reached it.
“Nothing down there yet, love.”
Buffy whirled around to see Spike emerging from the darkness in the far corner of the crypt.
He took a swig from the bottle in his hand. “Figured you’d be too tired to go visiting tonight. Thought we’d see each other on the next bounce.”
She sank into a sitting position on the floor, pulling her knees up to her chin. “You weren’t supposed to be there. You changed that,” she said quietly.
Spike wandered over to where she sat and dropped down beside her. “Yeah, well, seemed like the thing to do.”
“Why? I mean you knew you couldn’t get me out any sooner than Xander did. You didn’t have to go in there and see... You didn’t have to come for me.”
“You know why.” Spike took another swig. He held the bottle out in offer to her, but she waved it away. They sat in silence for a few minutes, each in their own thoughts.
Buffy let loose a snicker, catching his attention. “You know, he’s not nearly as satisfying as I remember. I guess my standards have changed.”
He made a vain attempt to mask his surprise with a smirk. “Need a little monster in your man, do you?”
Buffy glared at him, but her eyes lacked the menace she was trying to convey. “Shut up, Spike,” she said reflexively, though her tone was light. She grabbed the bottle from his hand and took in a large gulp of whiskey. “Blech!”
“Not like you to say things like that,” he observed.
“And it’s not like I can go have a girl chat with Willow... especially now. No one knows who we are anymore. No one knows what we’ve been through, what our lives have been like. No one can. It hasn’t happened yet.” She took another swig from the bottle, punctuated with another disgusted expression. “Kinda sucks.”
He took the bottle back. “Guess we're hiding more than ever.”
“Yeah... It’s too late for a Plan C, isn’t it?”
He saw about to reply when he caught sight of her playful grin. She was teasing him again.
She gazed into the darkness as her mirth faded. “I think we can make this work, Sparky,” she whispered. “But we need to trust each other... a lot more than we have tonight.”
Spike absorbed the mild reprimand. “Guess I should have let Harris take care of it.”
Buffy nodded and pulled her knees closer to her chest. “I wish you had… But thanks anyway.”
Spike held up the bottle in a mock toast. “You’re welcome,” He replied bitterly. He swallowed a mouthful and stared into the darkness with her for a minute. “Captain Cardboard is around for another year, right?”
“Only until December, so about 8 months.”
“Bloody hell. That’s long enough.”
“Agreed. When we stop bouncing, we need to figure out what we can get away with changing.”
Spike smirked at the implication of her statement. She was talking about unloading her tin soldier early. Maybe he wouldn’t get stabbed with a plastic stake this time around. And maybe...
His silent contemplation gave her thoughts time to wander. “We need a place, somewhere to talk where no one will look for either of us. We can't risk people walking in on our conversations.”
“Or catching us talking at all, you mean.”
“Yeah, that too. Any ideas?”
Before he could reply, they were both overwhelmed with bright flashes of light.
Spike found himself outside Giles’ apartment, lighting a cigarette while wearing a suspiciously military-looking outfit. He instantly recognized the situation, and glanced in the window to be sure. Willow was hunched over her laptop at the watcher’s desk, a stack of discs beside her and Tara at her shoulder. This was during his last real attempt to betray her, just before they stormed the Initiative.
He searched his memory for something he could change small enough to go unnoticed, but big enough to make it less of a close call for her. He couldn’t think of anything off the top of his head. But he realized she probably could, so he stomped out his cigarette and took off toward the university.
He tracked her scent to her dorm room far too easily for comfort. There was slayer blood in the air. He gave the door a quick sniff to assure himself she was alone before he knocked. “Buffy? You hurt?”
A tired voice replied. “Come in, Spike.”
He entered the room to find her sitting on the edge of the bed, still wearing her jacket. He knelt before her to survey the injury to her forehead. “Bandages?”
Buffy smiled gratefully and directed him to a cabinet across the room. “I came to halfway across campus. I know I was walking here. I’m still trying to remember all the details, but I think--”
A knock sounded at the door, interrupting her. Their eyes met in panic, both mouthing ‘Angel’ as her memory and his senses caught up with the situation.
“Closet? Window?” Buffy whispered, as low as she could manage.
“He’ll already know I’m here.” Spike tapped his nose significantly.
“Shit. We wing it, then.” She lifted her face to the ceiling. “Sorry, Wils. I hope this isn’t too much of a change.” She opened the door.
“Buffy, are you alright? I sensed--”
Buffy sighed to interrupt him, ready to have it over with. “Angel, you can come in, but--”
He charged through the door before she could finish, spinning around behind her to see Spike still standing by the cabinet, the first aid kit in his hand.
Buffy rushed to close the door and get between them before Angel had time to react to the visual confirmation of what his nose had told him. “Angel, don’t go crazy. Spike is…” She furrowed her brow for a microsecond, trying to come up with something to say. “...just here to help with my injuries.”
Fortunately, Spike caught on to the idea quickly and took over. “Saw her stumbling across the campus, walked her back so she didn’t embarrass herself by tripping on her own feet.”
Angel threw a confused glance at Buffy, noting her bruised and bloody forehead for the first time. When he returned his gaze to Spike, there was nothing in his eyes but suspicion. “So out of the kindness of your heart, you helped an injured slayer home. Why am I not buying that?”
Spike shoved the first aid kit into his grandsire’s hands. “Fine. You take care of her. Was just looking to help things go a bit easier on the girl.” He started for the door, sneaking brief eye contact with Buffy, hoping she got the message.
She met him at the door. “Spike, I doubt there’s much anyone can do to make this day easier. I’ll just see you at Giles’.”
“Not right off, lo- Slayer. Somewhere else I gotta be just now.” He tried to look casual, as if what he was saying was not the least bit significant.
But it was enough for her to remember. “We’ll just see how it goes, ok? I’ll, um, see you later.”
Spike nodded, understanding. She either didn’t know what to change, or their witness was keeping her quiet. They would just have to play their roles until the next bounce, and hope this wasn’t the last one.
Buffy opened the door to usher him out just as Riley was reaching for the doorknob.
“What the hell?” Riley raised his pistol with a shaky hand and pointed it alternately at Spike and Angel. “Both of you, get the hell away from her, right now! Buffy, why is your room full of soulless demons?”
Both vampires opened their mouths to object. Buffy quickly pivoted around to face Angel. “Not now, Angel,” she commanded as she completed the turn and brought her heel down hard on Spike’s toes.
The steel toe caps of his boots protected him from the impact, but Spike got the message. He snapped his jaw closed just as quickly as Angel did, and hoped his grandsire didn't notice.
“Spike, I think you should go. I have my hands full here. Riley, put the gun down and we can talk.”
Riley pushed his way into the room, slamming an angry shoulder into Spike's as he passed. Spike sneered at the man, but said nothing. He only gave Buffy a worried glance as he exited the room.
Her response was a quick nod that she hoped was reassuring as she closed the door behind him.
He lingered in the hall, shamelessly eavesdropping on the conversation through the door.
Angel muttered, “He seems different.”
Buffy was just slightly too slow in responding. “Oh, it’s because he can’t hurt humans anymore. He has a microchip in his head, care of the U.S. Government.”
“Ok... that’s weird enough, but not what I meant. There’s something else.”
“Not really worried about Spike right now, not with the two of you all bloody and beaten and giving off strong vibes of having done that to each other.”
Spike shook his head as he walked away, glad Buffy would be the one to deal with those two, but dreading returning to his grisly business with Adam. Fortunately, he didn’t have to. He had just exited the dormitory when his vision was overcome with flashing white light.
Buffy was running through Restfield Cemetery, hot on the heels of her prey, when Spike intercepted her.
She slid to a stop just before slamming into him. “Damn! Spike, what do you want this time?”
Her response caught him off guard. He gripped her shoulders and peered into her eyes, worry etched across his features. “Buffy!”
She pulled away, her face curled into a mask of disgust. “Yes, I’m Buffy. And again I ask, what the hell do you want?”
He took a step back, realization dawning. “Oh. Um, nothing. Just saying hello.” He inched away from her, backing out of her path as she delivered an irritated eye roll.
“And now I’ve lost him. Spike, I swear, I think you exist just to ruin things.” She took off at a jog, hoping to catch up with the vampire she’d been pursuing.
Spike remained where he was, fear sinking into his bones. Buffy hadn’t made it through this bounce. Something had gone wrong. He watched her weaving around the headstones, still searching for her lost target.
She was near the top of the hill when she came to a jerky, stumbling stop. She stilled, gauging her surroundings. Then she began turning in a circle, peering into the darkness for the owner of the familiar signature on the edge of her senses. “Spike?”
Relief washed over him as he moved toward her, smiling broadly when she caught sight of him and strode to meet him. “Buffy?” He asked again when they were face to face.
“Yeah.” She squinted at him, taking in the worried look in his eyes and the smile that clashed with it so obviously. “What’s wrong? I do have the right vampire, don’t I?”
“Yeah, love, you do. But a minute ago, I didn’t have the right slayer. Think you were a little slow getting here this time.”
“Oh. I hope I didn’t slug you in the nose.”
“No, just insulted me and went on your merry. Gotta say, I don’t fancy that Buffy as much as I used to.” Spike gave her a wry grin. “Worried Red had screwed it up there for a minute.”
Buffy scoffed. “Willow mess up a spell? Never!” She held up a hand. “Oh wait, I’m having a flashback to the first bounce… Yeah, we’re lucky we’re still in one piece.”
He chuckled with her, feeling himself relaxing as they talked. But his expression sobered quickly. “Not showing up at the same time's not good. Think we changed too much already?”
She dwelt on that for a moment. “No, I don’t think so. What little we’ve changed so far should have no bearing on whether or not she does the spell to send us back. Besides, we haven’t been together at arrival since the first bounce. We may not have gotten in at the same time since.”
Spike nodded, accepting that. “So, time to figure out when we are, then?” He studied the sky. “Stars and temperature say it’s summer, but that’s all I know.”
Buffy surveyed the graveyard. “And this looks like any random night in my life. We aren’t going to get any information here. Home?” At his nod they started off in that direction at a casual walk. Then a thought occurred to Buffy: “Mom is there!” She took off running, Spike on her heels.
He grabbed her arm, pulling her to a stop at the end of the driveway. “Love, it’s late. Your mum is probably asleep. And you need to be calm and normal when you see her, right?”
Buffy nodded reluctantly. “But don’t you want to just sneak in and see her? We wouldn’t have to wake her. And we have to check on Dawn’s room. I remember from that trance thingy I did that it was a storage room before she arrived. And we need to find a calendar, or a newspaper, or something.”
She was pulling him toward the house as she spoke, but Spike dug in his heels. “You don’t want me to go in there with you, love.”
“Cause you smell like solider boy. I'm guessing you were with him right before you went out.”
“You think he’s here?”
“Or somewhere else, wondering why you disappeared in the middle of the night.”
Her forehead creased for a moment before she went into motion again, this time headed for the tree below her bedroom window.
Understanding, Spike followed her lead. They looked up to find Buffy’s bedroom window wide open. Spike climbed up the tree, to just below the window, listened for a moment, then jumped back to the ground. “He’s up there. But I don’t hear any other heartbeats. No Nibblet, no Joyce. Possible your mum’s out of town?”
Buffy strained to remember her last summer with her mom, through the fog of merged memories the monks had created. Giving up, she shrugged. “Buying trip for the gallery, probably. I really don't remember, but she was gone a few days a month, usually.”
They were interrupted by a quick succession of white flashes. When it stopped, they were standing exactly where they'd been a moment before.
Buffy glanced at their surroundings and then at her clothes. “We didn't bounce. I'm in the same outfit I was in a minute ago. And we're still standing here. Is he still upstairs?”
“Yeah, the wanker's still--” Spike stopped in mid-sentence, suddenly overcome with laughter.
Buffy began giggling at almost the same time. “Oh my god. What were we thinking?”
“We weren't. But the way you sputtered and swore at finding yourself drinking with me in the dark... Just priceless!”
They covered their mouths to muffle their laughter, enjoying the new memory they'd created as they bounced through time. Catching her breath, Buffy whispered, “Were we really like that?”
“And worse, love. And worse.” Spike shrugged. “Guess Red's done with her part?”
“Probably. If we were going to get that memory before we finished bouncing, it should have been in the bounce right after it happened... Right?”
He nodded toward the open window above them. “Think we got a li'l loud, love. He’s stirring. You'd best get up there.”
“We still need a place,” she whispered as she reached for the first branch on her familiar trek up to the window.
“I’ll work on it. Find you tomorrow night if we don't bounce again.” He gave her foot a boost. “Get some rest.”
“Yeah, you too. It’s been years since we’ve slept.”
Spike shook his head at the bad joke as he watched her disappear inside the house and walked away, trying very hard to not focus on the fact that she wasn’t alone in her bed.