The first thing that assaults her senses is the scent of earth, of flowers in bloom, of green things growing. It's a riot on her senses and she grimaces in distaste. She struggles to get up but her body feels clumsy, heavy and it doesn't feel quite like her body.
"You should stay still."
The voice is mechanical. Cold and unforgiving. There's no sense of authority in the voice but it seems like a good idea since her body feels like a traitor. She tries to shift her head so she can see the owner of the voice but all she gets is a mass of confused signals: blue, shadows, dark, someone I should recognize but don't quite. Nothing quite computes.
Instead of worrying who's in the room with her, and she hopes she's in a room, she shuts her eyes and tries to remember how she got here. But it's all blank. It's like something is missing, something in her circuitry is missing. She pushes certain things away, things that don't feel right but do.
"Where are we?"
It doesn't even sound like her voice and she blinks her eyes only to find that they're painfully dry, they don't even feel like her eyes. What is wrong with her?
"I am not sure of this place."
There's a hint of something in that voice. The muscles of her brain try to put it all together but her head hurts just like that time when she drank all of that tequila. But that never happened to her. Did it?
"What's wrong with me?"
Her body feels different, so very different, heavy where it used to be light and light where it used to be heavy. However she feels something at the small victory when she manages to lift her hand up high enough to look at it. It looks pale and familiar, like it could be her hand. But there's also something wrong with it, it seems blurry and indistinct, like it could also be anyone else's hand.
"I do not know. I was not given that knowledge."
It's frustrating talking to her companion. The person, she thinks it might be a girl, but the voice is rough and deep, hoarse with something that she can't quite place, moves over to her. She tries to shift her head again so she can view her companion and all she gets is a distorted image that her brain tries to break down. She remembers Willow telling her once that the brain was like a computer. If that's the case, she wishes there was a tech who could fix her brain. She drops her hand to the ground when she realizes that she's still holding it up in the air.
"Spike should be here soon."
The name sounds like heaven but her body doesn't quite react like it once did. There was a time when the mere mention of that name would have sent her body into a frenzy of ecstasy. Now it just seems to ring hollow in her ears. Something is missing and she feels horribly empty. She tries to run through the things that she knows should be run through but nothing happens.
"Can you help me up?"
The other woman, shell of someone else, pulls her up until she's pressed flush against the person's chest. She can feel the rough leather of the woman's clothes. It's not soft or supple like the leather skirt she remembers wearing once, but can't quite recall actually wearing when she and Spike tore down a house in their passion. Was that her? Or was that someone else?
Her vision is blurry and distorted, not quite crystal clear like it used to be. She wants to ask her companion what her name is, what her own name is but she doesn't. If she can't figure it out from her memory (data banks) then maybe she doesn't know either name anymore. Although she's not quite certain how you could forget your own name.
"Are you comfortable?"
The question comes out clumsy like the other woman has never asked that before and she simply nods. Her body protests as she moves her neck in the slight motion. Is this even her own body? Somehow she's not so certain as she used to be. It's a clever facsimile if it's not her body. She pushes away the uncomfortable thoughts and presses against the woman behind her. Automatically, the woman's arms encircle her waist. It feels peaceful, right and so damn comfortable. Wasn't there a time when she thought only Spike could give her this? And then someone toyed with her programming. She can feel the other woman's heartbeat against her back and then she realizes that she can feel the steady thrum of her own heart in her chest.
"What am I?"
The other woman shifts slightly, it's enough that it jars her sore and unfamiliar body.
Before she can ask more, the door opens and she discovers that they're in some sort of garden. Her mind recognizes Willow. All things lead back to Willow. There's a mournful expression on Willow's face that tenses her body up.
"I can make the witch go away if you wish."
The other woman whispers this in her ear. She notices that the other woman's voice is rough and dark and there's something about it that sends a spike of pleasure through her. She thinks that if things were different, she could get used to that. Despite the fact that she thinks she'd rather not hear what Willow's going to tell her, she decides to be good.
"Buffy," Willow brokenly spits out.
She watches dispassionately as Willow kneels before them. She's Buffy but she's not Buffy. She's a robot built and designed to pleasure Spike and then reprogrammed to save Dawn. Instead of feeling an urgent need to fulfill her prime directive, she finds she doesn't really care about the whiny teenager quite like she used to. She quirks an eyebrow up and wonders what's changed.
"I'm not Buffy."
The words that tumble out of her mouth seem wrong. Not quite as mechanical as they should.
"You are and you aren't," Willow cryptically says.
The other woman's hands, tighten on her thighs. It's as if she's warning her to stay quiet, to listen to what this frail woman has to say before ripping her apart. But when she looks at Willow she can't quite see the frailty of humanity cloaking her anymore.
"Illyria, I think perhaps you should go see if Angel needs help," Willow orders.
"She can stay," Buffy-but-not-Buffy says.
"I have no desire to leave," Illyria says. "You will not order me."
"Fine," Willow tiredly says.
There's a rush of emotion in her as if she'd like to soothe Willow's upset. She almost reaches her hand out and brushes some of Willow's limp red locks off of her face, before she jerks against Illyria. She had never done that before.
"Explain," Illyria demands.
"I don't know how much you remember, Bu-buffy," Willow stammers.
This is pathetic, this display of weakness. She feels no desire to please, to soothe the red-head anymore, no desire to smile and lie that everything will be alright because she's here now.
"Start from the beginning."
A rush of words tumble out of Willow's lips. Every so often, she wipes tears away from her face, bites her limps and mumbles a string of words uncomfortable. The gist is rather simple: Buffy had come to LA to help Angel in his fight against Wolfram and Hart, Willow had brought out the battered robot out of storage because she figured having two Buffy's with a small army of Slayers would be better than one.
Of course there's an except in the story. And that would be having two Buffy's didn't quite work out like planned. Of course, they saved the day. That's what Slayers do. Of course, it wasn't without quite a bit of loss of life. There was a dragon and almost every single nasty thing that Wolfram and Hart could drag out of Hell to fight against Angel and his allies. Illyria mutter something that sounds like overkill to her ears.
At the end, something happened and Buffy was dead but not quite dead and the Buffy-bot was a lifeless robot. Yet it was Willow who saw a flash of light over their bodies. As she tries to explain what happened, Illyria shifts against her back. There's something delicious about the way it feels against her feverish skin.
"The witch is trying to say that as Spike would say you became a real girl."
And then it clicks into place. All of it, she's still a robot by program but she's not by design. The body that feels right but not right is the real Buffy's body. And she's the robot. But it doesn't make sense. Willow rushes about how this is probably some sort of metaphysical spell or the result of something she's done when she raised Buffy from the dead.
All that matters is that she's trapped in this shell of a frail human body. It might be the Slayer's body but it's not as strong as her own body once was.
"Leave," Illyria commands.
Willow's mouth opens and closes a few times before she stands up and does that. The courtyard reeks of growing things and of the scent of human fear that's pouring off of her body. Illyria shifts and she becomes more human looking, less dark and power hungry. She's not sure if she likes her the way she was before or the way she is now. Illyria gently lays her on the ground and looms over her. A chaste kiss is pressed against her lips.
"I can smell your desire."
It's the only explanation given.
"This isn't you."
"It is my shell," Illyria tersely explains. "My weak and frail human shell."
"I liked you better before."
She plucks at the cream coloured silk blouse and Illyria shifts again. Pale skin, hard leather covering her body, and inhuman eyes glare down at her. She pulls the other woman down and bites her lips with a bruising kiss. This is the first time that she can feel desire without being programmed to and she's not wasting this moment on talking about shells and who they used to be.
Their movements are clumsy and awkward, they barely know how to do this in their new bodies that used to belong to someone else. For a moment, when Illyria leans on her, pale luminous skin bared, she feels trapped in this body. She's never going to be who she used to be. She's never going to have to follow a program that was designed to make her act in one way. She shivers with the realization that even if she's trapped in a shell of someone else's body, she's freer than she ever was.
"I want you," Illyria says. Her voice husky and dark.
She leans up and drags her teeth along the column of Illyria's shoulder. It's all the encouragement that the other woman needs.
Afterwards, they lay in the dim courtyard and she wonders if this night will ever end. Not the moment but the actual night or if other things were broken when she was broken and shoved into Buffy Summer's body.