“I think that’s it.” Subdued triumph from Willow.
“Can I state for the record how much I hate this? It’s a perversion of her memory!”
“Xander, he’ll hear you.”
“And? Is bleach boy’s sexbot really our only option? It’s sick.”
“He’s having such a hard time. I think we should be kinder to him.”
“It’s hard on all of us, Tara. Excuse me if I don’t care about Spike’s feelings right now.”
He smoked silently on the porch. He would go in and offer to test the bot’s reflexes. And try not to think about what it would cost him.
Spike staggered backward, his nose a bloody ruin. He smiled grimly, gesturing for her to attack again.
“Jesus, Spike, knock it off.” Xander sounded both disgusted and horrified at the same time.
“Just seeing what she can dish out. The whole purpose of this exercise, yeah?”
“What she can dish out, or what you can take? You’re doing a great job of ramming your face into her fists.”
“Do you want to see what she’s capable of or not?”
Tara clasped Willow’s hand tightly and averted her eyes.
Buffybot blinked in confusion. “Should I disengage?”
He shook his head. “Again.”
He climbed in through her window gingerly, every muscle fiber screaming in protest. The physical pain of the beating hadn’t blunted the sharp edge of agony in his heart. Pity, that. He cast a long shadow in the moonlight on the motionless figure lying in bed across the room. He thought she was asleep or in stasis or whatever the hell robots did when they weren’t walking and talking and pretending, but he heard a rush of electricity and the whirr of motors as her eyes opened.
“Do you want to ravish me?”
“Quiet, now. Just let me hold you.”
“I slept with Spike last night,” Buffybot announced at breakfast.
“Oh. My. God. Okay, that is just not acceptable!”
“We’ll speak to him, Xander. He’s just trying to deal with his grief.”
“Has everyone gone insane? Why do you two keep making allowances for him?”
“I think I displeased him,” Buffybot interrupted. “He did not wish to have sex with me. He just cried all night.”
“Did I do something wrong?” Buffybot asked.
“No. He misses the other Buffy. You remember her?”
“The other Buffy.” She frowned in concentration. “Yes, I remember. Poor Spike.”
“Poor Spike,” Tara murmured.
“Goway,” Spike mumbled thickly.
“Thought you might want some blood with your”—Xander glanced at the bottle in Spike’s hand—“bourbon.”
Spike looked up, focused. Two Xanders. He blinked. Three. Shit.
“The girls wanted me to make sure you were taking care of yourself.”
Spike lurched unsteadily to his feet. “Let’s go, then.”
“It’s dark. Have to walk you back.” Pause. “She wouldn’t want you out there alone.”
Xander stared at him hard. “I think I could use some of that, too.”
Spike mutely handed him the bottle.
They drank together in silence until it was light again.
He closed his eyes and stroked himself, thinking of her, the scent of her hair, the soft curve of her breast, the feather-light touch of her lips, but those thoughts brought no release, just infinite, unfulfilled longing, stretching out before him like a vast, empty sea. His hand slowed, stopped, and still he thought of her. Imagined the feel of her, warm and alive in his arms, the sound of her voice when she said, “Come in, Spike.” When he knew she trusted him.
He let the dark, heavy tide of sleep pull him under. And he dreamed of her.
Buffybot tossed Spike a stake, and he drove it forcefully into the heart of the last remaining vampire.
Anya brushed dust from Xander’s shirt and coughed. “Well, that was—”
“Bracing,” Giles finished. “Yes, there seems to be a rise in activity. Unsurprising, really, considering the irregularity of our patrols these last weeks since…”
Willow cleared her throat awkwardly, glancing from Giles to Spike.
“Ah, yes. Thank you for your help, Spike.”
Spike shrugged. “Just happened by.”
Willow ahemed again loudly.
“I don’t suppose you could help us out regularly, could you?”
Spike’s eyes widened in surprise, but he nodded.
“Geez, Spike, you’re a mess.”
“He’s the dead one, yeah?” Spike jerked his thumb at the now-headless demon behind him. He swiped at a deep gash on his cheek and coughed up blood.
“What’s with the ‘Thelma and Louise’ routine?”
Spike raised his eyebrows.
“When you fight, you act like you’re gunning the engine over the cliff. Like you don’t care if you live or die.”
“The others, they don’t want something bad to happen to you. And I don’t think Buffy would-”
“I’m just saying—”
“Stop. Talking. Now.”
As if sorry fixed anything.
Dawn put the deck down on the table and ducked her head.
He stared at her quizzically. “Don’t you want to go again?”
Two fat tears rolled down her cheeks, and her thin shoulders started shaking.
“They’re gone,” she wailed, flying into his arms.
He patted her back awkwardly. “Shhh, you’re okay.”
“I’m not okay, I’m not okay!” Frantic, she beat his chest with balled fists.
“I’ve got you. Not going anywhere.”
The blows stopped. “You won’t leave? No midday walks or suicide missions? ‘Cause you act like—”
“No, Petal. I won’t leave you. Promise.”
“Okay.” She exhaled. “Okay.”
So he went on. Almost without meaning to. Became aware of days stretching into weeks, weeks into—oh, God—months without her. For the first time in a hundred years, he truly felt like a dead man. There was still blood and fags and whiskey, the feel of his fists on flesh, the sound of bones breaking, but none of it brought real pleasure.
He would do her work, though, keep his promises, protect the people she loved.
He watched black and white images flickering in the darkness, watched Dawn doze nearby. Another day without her. Day 148, nearly done.