When the store has closed for the day, when the lip of The Crater is frosted over with starlight, when Sunnydale sleeps, Buffybot wanders the aisles. She runs her fingers over rows of Mr. Gordos and Puppet Angels, plastic Urns of Osiris, cloth bags of Vamp Dust that she remembers was dull and grey and choking—not this fine iridescence that works its way down into the grout of the tile floor, into the corners of the shelves. Buffybot looks through all the bins of resin stakes, searching for one whose heft feels right, whose surface is not too slick in her palm. She never finds it.
In the morning, the store will fill quickly—grandmothers who no longer need to be afraid, teenagers who Buffybot knows have never seen a demon or a hellgod and now never have to. They will pull the strings on Willow’s action figures and squeal when a recording of her voice repeats, “Oh. My. Goddess.” They will ask the price of sage and crucifixes and the Rupert Giles Fine Tea Collection and complain when the last copy of The Tale of the Vampyres is snatched up by someone else.
Through this all, Buffybot will greet customers. “Welcome to Sunnyhell,” she will say in the electronic approximation of Buffy’s voice. “We’re all gonna die.” Then she will smile and smile and her face will never tire because the delicate motors of her musculature were built to hold expressions indefinitely.
But for now, Buffybot is alone, the oldest toy among so many others.
She unlocks the front door of the shop and sits on the stoop, her knees hugged tightly to her chest. From beneath her, from the earth’s great scar, a faint thrum of music drifts up on the wet and heavy air. Buffybot has walked into the Hellmouth exactly once since it was destroyed, her grip tight on the cold metal banister, her feet halting and unsure on the miles of steps that took Xander’s old crew months to construct. She stopped halfway to the bottom with her back pressed into jagged rock and watched a steady stream of twenty-somethings with blue hair and replica marks of Eyghon wind down the stair before her and into the new Disco Dance Inferno; she watched them dance, confetti falling from the ceiling onto their flushed and sweating bodies, an endless drift of glitter that vaguely sickened her. Even though she could not force herself to descend farther, Buffybot knows that where the stairs end, the state of California has erected a monument to those who saved the world a lot; it is bronze and grotesque, Buffy’s shoulders stained with decades of gull droppings, Tara’s hair growing infinitesimally greener each time it rains.
The last time Buffybot saw the Slayer, she was much older than Buffybot expected. “We’re not the same anymore,” Buffybot said.
“We were never the same,” Buffy said and smiled for the cameras.
Once she was gone, Buffybot looked into the mirror for a long time at the warm honey of her hair that had not grown since she was made and unmade and made twice over again, at the dark curve of her eyelashes and the pink shine of her lips. She was perfectly beautiful—Buffy in stasis at the fullness of her youth. But beauty, the real kind, comes from change: the gradual erosion of bones and skin, the shifting planes of the face, all the ways that time marks the body. Buffybot knows this now.
Sometimes she trains just to allow herself the illusion of progress, but Buffybot doesn’t want to train tonight. She sits in the dark on the curb instead, waiting for the shadows to resolve into something more sinister. They don’t. Before dawn begins to pale the sky, Buffybot goes back inside.
“Goodnight,” she says to Illyria’s poster and to a pack of Fanged Four trading cards. “Goodnight,” she says to the Anya Christina Emanuella Jenkins memorial plaque affixed to the cash register. Buffybot pauses at the shelf of Mr. Gordos and removes one from its box, careful not to leave on the clear plastic packaging the fingerprints she cannot make. The pink plush is soft against her cheek.
Then Buffybot finally powers down and dreams, if truly she dreams, of all the ones and zeros that make her who she never was.