The Turing Test 4, by dutchbuffy2305
Thumbnail: Sex with Robots is More Common than Most People Think
Timeline: Post NFA
Big hug to my beta mommanerd!
Author's website: http://home.planet.nl/~dutchbuffy2305;
Feedback: Yes, please, loads of it, to email@example.com
Willow sat on the couch, drank diet Cokes and bided her time. She was going to pounce on Giles tonight and she was prepared to wait everyone out, even if she was not only jittery with caffeine, but also yawning every minute and yearning for her own apartment and soft bed with a vengeance.
At last Dawn let go of Xander, both metaphorically and literally, which fired a surprising amount of possessiveness in Willow, and announced her intention to go to bed. That led to a flurry of making up the spare bed for Giles and the decision that Xander would bunk with Willow, and while Dawn and Xander were getting sheets and pillows Willow saw her chance.
"Giles," she said.
Giles stiffened and slowly turned to her, the look on his face stating with embarrassing clarity that he saw right through her. Well, okay, maybe she wasn’t much for subtlety after one o’clock in the morning. Big deal.
"Willow," he answered.
Willow didn't intend to give up yet, even if he looked all reprovey and Watchery at her. Sheesh, she just wanted some information, not like that was a crime, was it?
"Giles, I promise I'll never say a word of this to anyone, not Buffy, not Spike, Dawn, Xander, anyone, ever. But I think I deserve to know! I started it. I designed the damn bot, even if Andrew helped. What exactly did you find out in LA?"
Giles folded his arms. "Willow, weren't you paying attention when Buffy asked us not to do this? I'm not going to say anything. I think we should respect her request. She deserves a little happiness."
Willow stubbornly folded her arms. She could play the body language game too. "And I don't deserve happiness? A little closure on what happened? It’s not as if I didn’t expend any effort on making Buffy happy, did I?"
Giles didn’t answer, but got up and left the room. Willow followed as Giles went into the hall to retrieve his carryall and then to the spare room, where Dawn was making up the bed.
"Thanks Dawn," Giles said. He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "I need sleep. Not as young as I used to be."
Willow rolled her eyes. "Aren’t we all?"
Dawn looked at her oddly and wished them goodnight.
Giles sat down and took off his jacket. "I beg of you, Willow. Not now. Any minute now I’m going to take off my shoes, and I advise you to be elsewhere by then."
"Giles! You're being unfair, and using foot odor to deter me is really not cool. I'm firm in the face of stinky socks! Your feet are not going to make me run away."
Giles sighed. “Willow, please take pity on an old, tired man. I do not want of fend off your questions."
"Well then don't!" Willow said desperately. "Don’t fend them off. Just answer me, okay? I need to know some stuff!"
"Willow, I have expressly waived my right to know stuff, as you put it so eloquently, in the face of Buffy's needs. Please do the same."
Willow put on her resolve face, because it was really hard not to give in if Giles looked like that. His face was grey and shadowed and his hands shook. He’d gotten these really old, hairy, wrinkly hands. She’d never noticed before.
No. She’d remain firm.
"I'll make it easy on you, Giles. I’ll provide the answers, and you can just say 'yes’ or 'no', or shake your head or something. That way you won’t have to feel you’ve been disloyal to Buffy."
Giles shrugged. "Go home, Willow. I’m not going to react."
"I think you discovered in LA that Spike is dead, the dead-dead kind of dead."
Willow looked hard at Giles' face. He cast his eyes down and started to undo the laces on his big brown brogues, but she felt quite sure that he agreed. Something in his body language said so,
"It’s a yes, isn’t it, Giles?" She was sure it was. “Okay, so Spikebot is really a Spikebot. Right?"
Again the subtle tells that she was right. She tested it by making a statement she suspected to be totally false. "Spike is the real, unliving Spike."
Yes! There it was the looking away, the infinitesimal shift of his shoulders away from her. Bingo. Spikebot was confirmed. The big question that remained was what on earth had possessed Buffy to pretend that he was the real thing? Buffy wasn’t insane or delusional. Willow had liked the challenge of making a robot to rival the one Warren made, but she hadn’t for a moment thought that he'd be anything more than a big vibrator that might not fit in Buffy’s nightstand drawer, but still didn’t do much more than that.
She stretched. A big yawn split her face. "Good night, Giles. I'll come over tomorrow and we can do some sightseeing together, okay?"
Giles looked at her with a defeated expression. His face looked even more fragile and creased. "Willow? You’re not going to go haring off, drawing conclusions I never confirmed, are you? Think of what we promised Buffy!"
Willow almost went over to ruffle his thinning, graying hair. “Of course not, Giles! What do you think I am? I’m Buffy’s friend. It’s my job to protect her against disappointments."
Willow turned and left the room. She ignored Giles bewildered "Willow? What are you talking about? Willow?" She waved a cheery goodnight to Dawn and proceeded to ferry Xander and his suitcases to Casa Rosenberg.
Xander folded himself in Willow's tiny car and stared at Rome in daylight as they drove themselves back to Buffy’s apartment. It was pretty, but it only made him ache for Sunnydale in a way that Africa’s dusty strangeness didn’t.
"Hey, Will, I didn't want to ask the Buffster, but what’s the deal with Spike? I thought he was dead, actually."
Willow waggled her auburn eyebrows in a gesture that was probably meant to convey volumes, but while Xander had gained the ability to speak a few words of Swahili and Kikuyu, he'd lost the ability to translate Willow-speak.
"The eyebrow twitch meaning what, exactly?"
"Oh Xander, are you blind? That isn’t Spike. It's ….oops. I'm not supposed to tell. I can tell you, though, but only if you swear you won’t breathe a word of this to Buffy and Spike and Giles and Andrew. Not a word to anyone, ever."
"Sure," Xander agreed. He had the strangest feeling that he was never going to meet any of his friends ever again, that the little red car careening over the Roman thoroughfares was on its way to somewhere unfamiliar.
Willow bent her head closer to his, which made Xander cast a nervous eye to traffic. It was more orderly than Nairobi, which wasn’t saying much, but he preferred a driver with her eyes on the road.
"It’s really a Spikebot, you know. Andrew and I made it for Buffy."
"It’s a robot?" Xander said and tried to remember if he’d caught any signs of robotness from Spike last night. He'd seemed just like the real Spike, all snarky and smoking evil cigarettes and mooning after Buffy. Of course, the new thing had not so much been Spike as it was seeing Buffy moon right back. It was a thing he'd suspected going on back in Sunnydale in spite of Buffy’s avowals that she was over him, but the observed reality had seemed kinda sweet rather than unnatural and sick. Like proof you could get used to anything, if you had enough time.
"Really? Poor Buffy. Does she know it’s a robot?"
"She’s like the Slayer, Xander. Of course she knows. She's not impaired or anything. But the thing is, see, that she doesn't want us to know. She asked Giles and me in so many words to pretend it was the real Spike. Can you believe that? I don’t get it. I mean, why? Having a robot that good is pretty special of its own accord; I see no need to pretend it’s the real thing. That only leads to sadness and dependency."
"Right. So I should still go along with that, with the pretend-Spiking of that robot? For Buffy’s sake?"
Willow nodded vigorously.
"Well, sure, I can do that for the Buffster. Not as if I noticed it wasn’t the real thing. I don’t have your robot detecting antenna, I guess," Xander said sadly.
He felt bad for Buffy. It must be horrible to be so lonely that you made a robot of your formerly evil, doubly dead, dusty ex-boyfriend and then to go and pretend it was real? Maybe she should get Prozac or something. Whoa. He shook his head. The Buffy he looked up to and had never quite given up the hope of dating seemed very far in the past. Poor Buffy.
Still, yesterday she hadn’t seemed to be poor Buffy. She’d seemed happy glowy Buffy, she with the widest smile north of the equator. He resolved not to follow Willow’s lead just yet but to be observey first. Let Buffy call her own destiny.
Willow must have been wearing something on her face, she guessed, because Andrew cringed the moment he caught sight of her. Or maybe he was just surprised to see Xander. No, that couldn’t be it. He’d seen Xander last night. She nodded at Giles and Buffy, who were having a coffee and talking about some demon Buffy'd vanquished, erm, killed, last night.
"Hey, Andrew!" she said.
"Hey Willow,: Andrew said meekly and tried to draw closer to Spike, but she was being ruthlessly girly today and forced herself in the narrow space between the two guys.
”Spike!" she said brightly. "I mean, Spikebot!"
Spikebot frowned mightily at her but held his peace. Which so proved he wasn't the real Spike, because he would have had a snarky expression just popping her straight in the nose.
"I'm confused," she continued. "I just can’t get it straight what to call you. Do you prefer Spike or Spikebot?"
"Don’t care either way, Rosenberg," Spike said curtly and made to rise but she held his arm, so that if he had a polite bone in his body, or adhered properly to his civility algorithms, he'd sit down again. He sat.
Willow left her hand on his. "Your skin is really a miracle," she said in a low voice. “It’s so lifelike. It's like I can actually see each individual hair. How did you do that, Andrew? Can you order fake skin like that or did you put all the hairs, or the nylon thread, separately?"
Spikebot looked puzzled. "What are you talking about, Willow? What the bloody hell's Andrew got to do with my body hair?"
A light went off in Willow’s head. Oh! The Spikebot himself wasn’t aware that he was a robot. He thought he was the real Spike. So Buffy didn’t want them to talk about it because it might hurt his little plastic feelings. That was so sweet. And now that she was thinking about it seriously, without the hurty feelings getting in the way, it was just like Buffy, who’d spent hours talking to the dying April bot. Willow was a bad, bad friend for forgetting about that side of Buffy. Of course that was the explanation for Buffy's weird request. Well, she was cool. She wouldn’t let on to the poor thing that it wasn’t real for one single minute. Not that it would be hard to deceive it, it was after all just a robot. A glorified computer program.
She patted the Bot’s lukewarm, creamily muscled arm.
"Never you mind, Spikey. You go over to Buffy and I’ll talk to Andrew."
The Spikebot rose, his movements oddly stiff. He held out his hand and looked at it. It was trembling.
"Buffy?" he said. His voice sounded uncertain and wavery.
Buffy looked up sharply from her cappuccino and sloshed half of it onto the saucer in her hurry to get to Spikebot.
"Spike? Honey? What is it?" she said, her voice sharp with worry.
Buffy was such a sweetie, really. Willow was glad she could feel that way again. It had been hard to see Buffy try to be all general and stern leader, and that had made Willow forget what kind of girl Buffy really was. She vowed to herself that she wouldn't forget again. Because there was no need for that general person to surface again. She, Willow, had made the easy life possible for Buffy with her awesome benign, stress the benign, magics.
She withdrew her attention from Spike and Buffy where they stood with their bright heads close together and focused on Andrew. Andrew quailed and tried to disappear into the couch.
"Andrew. I'm disappointed in you. I thought we were friends. What drove you to try and deceive me? Weren’t we partners? Weren't we like colleagues? You could have told me about it. Don’t you think you should have?"
Andrew's eyes shot everywhere but at her face. "Tell you what?" he squeaked.
Willow bent close to his ear. "That it's really a Spikebot."
Andrew swiveled his head and looked in panic to Spike and Buffy. Buffy was oblivious, but Spike lifted his face sharply and Willow again felt the uncomfortable impact of his blue eyes.
She forced herself to look away.
"What do you mean, Willow?” Andrew said and stared at her as if she was insane. "Tell you that it's a robot? That was the deal we made, wasn’t it, to create a robot together. In what way should I have told you about that?"
Yeah. He was right. Willow shook her head. She was all discombobulated by all her suspicions and the fantasy scenarios she'd been building in her head. Andrew hadn’t double crossed her at all! They’d set out to build a robot and they had. Simple as that. Whew, she'd strayed far of the straight track there.
"You’re right, Andrew," she said, forgetting to keep her voice low. "We set out to build a Spikebot and we did."
Buffy cried out like a dying demon. "Willow, noo!"
Spike looked down on her, such hurt and puzzlement in his face. "Buffy? Is that right? Am I a robot?"
Buffy took his hands in hers. Was it her imagination or did they really feel stiffer and harder, less bendy?
"No, Spike, you’re not. Believe me Spike, you're you, and I love you. You’re a vampire," she swore passionately.
The look in his eyes made her hurt all over. Her skin felt tight and uncomfortable and her throat was scratchy. She’d have given her life to never see him look like that. As if everything he believed in, the fundaments of his life, had been yanked out from underneath him.
He drew his hands away and held them up. "Am I real? Am I?"
"Yes, yes, you are, you are my Spike. Don’t listen to Willow and Andrew!"
"Willow," Giles said, and Buffy had never heard him be more Ripper-like and menacing, "What have you done?"
Willow cried out in shock. "Giles! I've done nothing! I haven't said a word I shouldn’t! Buffy wanted us to pretend that he…I mean Spike, is real. Really real. Right, Spike?"
"Really real," Spike echoed a faraway look in his eyes. He turned away from Buffy and walked over to the drawn curtains. Buffy felt petrified with foreboding.
"No, Spike, don’t," she called out.
She forced herself out of her immobility and threw herself after him. But she was too late. His longer strides had carried him over to the window and he flung open the curtains with a big gesture. The bright morning sun fell down on his outstretched hands and his face and he waited patiently. Nothing happened. No smoke, no flames.
Buffy’s heart constricted painfully. Oh, Spike. She would so have spared him this.
He turned, every movement stiff and unnatural, more like Virgil from Thunderbirds than the sleek vampire he’d been a moment ago.
"Buffy, I'm not burning. The sun doesn’t harm me. Doesn’t that mean I’m not real?"
Buffy's throat hurt for real now and tears sprang from her eyes in painful little arcs. "You are real. You are my Spike and you love me.”
She embraced him but his body was stiff and hard, his hair like nylon under her fingers.
"Spike?" she said, and tried to ignore the unyielding stuff under her hands.
He didn’t answer. He stood frozen in a doll-like posture, and his plastic eyes stared sadly into nothing.
Buffy sank down, sobbing so hard she thought her ribcage would burst open and give birth to her aching lungs like a newborn alien.
Giles had never seen anything as heartbreaking as the Spikebot standing there stiff and mannequin-like, his robotic nature evident in every unnatural angle of his plastic hands and fake hair. Buffy cried as if she would never stop and he stooped to take her into his arms. He hadn’t been there when she'd been forced to kill Angel, and at the time he'd regretted that more than anything. Now he was glad, because he couldn’t have borne to witness her break for a second time. He had to bear it; he'd failed so terribly before, not being there when she'd needed him the most, not supporting her when she'd tried to find a way to love Spike.
"Buffy, dear Buffy, I am so terribly sorry. I blame myself. I should never have allowed Willow to harbor a misunderstanding like that. I ought to have known she'd dig on until she struck gold. Or possibly lead. I’m so sorry. I acted like a tired old man instead of as your Watcher and friend."
Willow turned to him, her sweet face sullen and guilty. His fault. He’d driven her to it by his misguided attempt to obey Buffy to the letter, instead of acting to protect her as he thought best.
"I don’t understand, Giles. What have I done? I only did what I though Buffy wanted me to. I made the Spikebot for her with Andrew, and I tried to pretend that he was real, like she wanted. And now you act like I'm the worst person ever? I don’t understand!" she cried out.
Her cry was heartfelt. And yes, within her lights she had tried to act as best she knew. How terrible to be Willow, to intend well and to act wrongly so often.
Giles lifted Buffy up to the couch, her tiny body still shaking with raw sobs. He sat down next to her and held her close. The only thing he could do for her, because though he might will it, he could never cause a second miracle for her like the one he suspected Andrew had unwittingly made.
"Willow," he started, and noticed with surprise how hoarse his own voice sounded.
Andrew was crying openly, hugging the Spikebot and saying he was sorry. Dear Andrew.
"Willow," Giles said, sounding steadier now. "I will tell you what I think happened, and Andrew can correct me when I’m wrong. Andrew made a Spikebot for Buffy. But something miraculous happened when Buffy saw the robot for the first time. I cannot say if it was a divine intervention, a miracle, magic, something built into Andrew's algorithms. Buffy believed in Spike for a moment, and that was enough to transform the simple robot into the real Spike."
"Maybe it was the Shanshu," Andrew said, choking on it.
Buffy sobbed on desperately. Giles swallowed away his own grief, determined to be there for her this time.
“Shanshu?” he said, grasping at the diversion. “I think I’ve heard of that lost prophecy. What do you know about it, Andrew?”
Willow plunked gracelessly down on the couch. “There was a miracle?”
“I think so. I have no other way to explain it.”
Andrew said, “It must have been, Willow. I just made a robot. I used the Buffybot’s algorithms and tweaked them a little.” His eyes shone with tears. “I saw it happen. And I just knew Spike would want me to say nothing about it to anyone. Because I’m his friend. A true friend honor’s a request, even after death.”
A terrible silence fell. Buffy had stopped crying and the sun shone on relentlessly on the Spikebot’s white plastic flesh. The lock snicked and everyone sat listening to the sounds of Dawn entering the house. Something thunked down on the floor. Cloth rustled. The fridge door squeaked and there was gurgling and glugging. Footsteps approached.
“Hey guys,” Dawn said and stopped in the middle of the room. Her eyes zeroed in on Buffy’s huddled form.
“Buffy! What’s wrong with Buffy? Spike, why aren’t you…”
The Spikebot creaked to life. Dawn could hear whirring.
“You are Dawn,” the Spikebot said with a sneer. “The monks made you into Buffy’s sister. You are not real. You hair is shiny.”
“Spike!” Dawn screamed and threw herself on the stiffly standing robot. “Spike! Where are you! Come back!”
She pounded his chest with her fists but the bot didn't seem to be able to process this.
"Are you offering violence?" it said. "Please confirm or deny."
Dawn gasped and stepped back. Her eyes swept over Giles and Buffy, and then came to rest on Willow. Her finger pointed accusingly.
"You!" Dawn said. "What have you done? Did you magic him into a robot? What happened?"
"Why does everyone point at me," Willow said, her voice quivering in indignation. "It wasn’t my fault. What are you all thinking? It's not fair! He's a robot, so what! We knew that, didn't we? I don't understand what you mean by a miracle, Giles."
Dawn stamped her foot. This was so Willow. If she wasn’t overconfident, she flipped right to the other side of the coin and turned into a puddle of insecurity. "He was real, Willow. It was really Spike and now you've gone and made him go away. What did you say?"
"Nothing!" Willow yelled, her face red and her eyes suspiciously shiny. "I just admired the hair on his arm, I said it looked real."
Dawn stared at Willow, and when nothing more explanatory was forthcoming, turned away and threw herself at Buffy’s feet. Poor Buffy. She still didn't get what exactly had been going on, but the result was painfully obvious. No more Spike, back to Spikebot.
"Buffy, don’t cry. We'll get him back. He was really here, and we will make it happen again."
Buffy didn't react. Dawn contemplated kicking her but held off for now.
"Giles. Say something."
Giles rubbed his eyes tiredly. "I don't know what to say, Dawn. In fact, I'm starting to doubt the evidence of my senses. I admit, foolish as it may seem, that I too thought for a moment that it was really Spike. But obviously I was mistaken. This is clearly a robot."
"Don't you start, Giles. You think Buffy and I are idiots? It was the really real Spike, and something she did made it go all wrong." Her finger pointed unerringly to the guilty looking Willow. "See? The guilt’s dripping off her. We all thought she was cured, but she's doing evil magics again, just like before."
"Hey, hey, Dawnie," Xander said, and Dawn started. He'd been sitting so unassumingly on the couch that she'd forgotten he was there. "Don't let's point fingers. Willow did the best she could to make Buffy happy, didn’t she? I have no idea what happened, I'm at a total loss here, call me a car wreck and tow me away, but there's no point in laying blame. Let's concentrate on how to make things better instead."
Wow. Dawn's jaw dropped. This was Xander saying this? She looked at him again. He was all manly integrity and tan and tight fitting jeans. His eyes had gotten bigger and shinier too, or maybe his face was not so puffy anymore. That was so cool. She shook her head and concentrated on Giles again.
"Giles? No need to call a Scooby meeting. We're all here. We're gonna do research and solve this problem, right?"
Giles sighed. Dawn thought of kicking him. He looked so tired and defeated. He had no right to look like that. Someone needed to take charge. It couldn’t be her, could it? She was the youngest. She looked around at the others. Xander still looked just fine, all supportive and mellow, but not like a take-chargey guy. Willow just looked mad and guilty. Andrew looked uncomfortable and shifty. Check. Buffy was a sobbing puddle, Spike a robot. Oh, God, it was going to be her. The Scoobies sure looked less heroic when you weren’t' fourteen and so eager to get in on them.
At last, Giles shifted and coughed. "Yes. Of course, Dawn, We’ll get right on it. Um, Andrew, can you…do you have some sort of documentation? On how you made the robot."
"Well, duh. I have complete systems documentation. Logs. Everything."
"Could you…would it be useful to go through them? See if there's anything in there that might explain what's happened?"
"But Giles," Andrew said, "I didn’t program the robot to become real. I don’t know how. There's nothing in there that could tell you anything about that."
"I don’t know where else to start," Giles said, but he didn’t sound very confident.
"I'll download and print it,” Andrew said and took off.
"Willow?” Giles asked, so sad and weary. "Any suggestions?"
Willow shook her head. "You mentioned something about a prophecy? Where can I read it?"
"I don't have it,” Giles said. "Wesley Wyndam-Pryce wrote about it in a letter to his father, who brought it to my attention."
"But Wesley's dead. Everyone from Angel’s team is dead."
"I know,” Giles said. "We'll just have to start searching for a prophecy like that, then."
"I could raise Wesley from the dead and ask his ghost?" Willow said.
Dawn couldn't hold silent any longer. "But that is all going to take weeks! We don’t have weeks. Why don't we start with what Willow said? Maybe that was a spell? Why would Spike react to what Willow said? I talked to him, asked him if he was a robot, and nothing happened."
Andrew shrugged. "He was programmed to obey our voices, Willow’s and mine. We’re his makers."
Dawn stabbed her finger triumphantly in his direction. "See? That's the key! You said something, , and that made him alive. Willow said something thoughtless and it made him a toy again. That's the solution."
"But I don’t remember what I said!" Andrew whined. "I said lots of things to him all the time, so he could learn to process speech."
"Who cares? Start talking to him! Willow, you too. Say Nice, supportive things. Tell him he's a vampire, and a great person, and that's totally alive. Or, well, dead. You know what I mean."
Buffy rose from the ashes of broken Buffy and turned into flaming determined Buffy. She stood there, tiny, indomitable in spite of her red nose and swollen eyes. "That's right. That's what we're going to do. Start talking."
Dawn sat down, relieved. She was glad Buffy was being Buffy again. It was really hard work being her, taking charge and pushing and pulling at everyone to make them do things. It had always looked effortless, until the Potentials anyway.
Willow woke up, dragged from a deep, exhausted sleep by Buffy's hard hand.
"Willow. It’s your shift."
Willow took the cup of triple strength espresso and gulped it down. She'd get heartburn if she went on like this. Buffy was remorseless, her face bleak, her jaw set. The Buffy fights the hopeless fight against the First look. They'd been talking to the Spikebot non-stop since the, um, unfortunate accident, which was in no way Willow’s responsibility, even if she had inadvertently, possibly been the trigger. If.
She trudged to the living room.
"Spike. Wonderful, beautiful, unique Spike. You are not a robot, you are a vampire. A real, live, undead but almost alive- seeming vampire. You burn in sunlight. You love Buffy. You are definitely not a mechanical, computer driven thing. You are a person. The most glorious, wonderful, important, amazing vampire in the world. A vampire with a soul, set on this earth to help Buffy and her slayers in fighting evil."
Andrew's voice kept disappearing in the middle of a word.
Willow took another swallow from her espresso and waved at Andrews. "Hi. My turn. Go get some sleep."
Andrew flapped a weak hand and stumbled up from the couch. "This is gonna kill us," he said with his destroyed remnant of a voice.
Willow sighed. "I guess we can’t force a miracle to happen. We should think about this again. It isn't working. Maybe we should pray?"
Dawn entered the room, her face as stony as Buffy’s.
"Get to work, Willow. Here's a sandwich. You can have that in half an hour."
Willow deflated. Dawn was so angry with her, as if it was her fault! As if everything was her fault, while she was the one who'd built the damn bot in the first place.
Dawn didn’t answer and stomped out of the room.
“I’ll go get some sleep and then talk to Giles,” Andrew promised and left too, walking like an old man.
Willow finished her espresso, checked if there was enough water and started.
"Spike, most wonderful Spike, feisty vampire Spike. You should in no way take my words about your arm hair to mean that you are a robot. Because you aren’t. You are Buffy’s beloved vampire, and you will fight evil until eternity. Until death do you part, I mean. Not your death, oh no, because you are totally undead, but her death. Which I will not mention again, because it is still a long, long way of. Awesome, awesome Spike."
Buffy woke up face down in her pillows. When she turned over and raked the hair out of her eyes, her face felt hot and swollen, and everything ached. Reality stomped in on its great big boots, unable to wait just a few seconds so she could regroup. The weird background noise she heard, like football commentary on the radio, was someone talking to Spike. She waited, but she didn’t feel the tiny jump of hope her heart kept making all day yesterday. There was no point; it was over. She'd had a brief taste of what happiness might have felt like and now she had to get on with life as usual. It sucked, but there you were. Life generally did.
She trundled to the bathroom and tried to reassemble the destroyed face she saw in the mirror into something her friends might recognize as Buffy. Cold compresses and eye baths were only marginally successful, and surgery wasn't really an option in the next ten minutes. She covered herself in a layer of foundation and painted on happy colors and the eye and lip contours she remembered having. There. It looked like Older Sister of Buffy, but it would have to do.
Buffy stood in the door opening of the living room and watched Willow talk to Spike. Willow had her eyes closed and was moving her upper body backward and forwards in swaying movements, if she was praying. Maybe she was. Buffy was sure the words were directed to Spike and not to the Lord, but maybe the emotion behind it wasn’t that different.
"Willow," she said, but her voice was a croak. She cleared her throat and tried again.
Willow looked up, tired and wary. "I'm trying, Buffy, really I am. Andrew and I have been at it non-stop for three days, and we’re ready to go on as long as you want. Because we're kind of responsible in a not completely direct but more kind of indirect way in the sense that we made the bot and…"
Buffy waved her hand. "Never mind, Will. There's no point. Just stop and go to sleep. I've been thinking about this and I just want it to end. I need to move on and accept that Spike is dead and he’s never gonna come back, okay?"
There was a flicker of something in Willow's eyes. Hope, Buffy thought, but she wasn't sure.
"We'll go on as long as you want," Willow repeated, but it sounded much firmer and more willing now, now that she knew she didn't have to.
Buffy sagged down on the couch next to Willow and looked up at the Bot, who stood contemplating the outside view with that infinitely patient look he wore lately. For a second she knew that there was something of the real Spike still in there, for how could he look with such yearning at the pale blue afternoon sky if he was just a robot? Just as quickly the knowing vanished and turned into weary resignation. Robots didn’t yearn, didn’t dream of electric sheep and weren't woken up by Blue Fairies millions of years later. Or if they did, a fat lot of good it would be to her.
She put her hand on Willow's shoulder, and her heart ached at the looks that flickered across her friend’s face. Guilt, hope, a certain wiliness. Willow was really, really bad at taking responsibility, but who was she to criticize? Not Miss Perfect by any means.
"Let's get you to bed, Will. You must be so tired."
There were actual tears in Willow’s eyes. "Thanks, Buffy," she whispered and stood up on wobbly legs.
Willow wanted to walk away but Buffy stopped her and motioned her head in the direction of Spikebot.
"Just one thing. Can you shut the bot off? I want you or Andrew to take him away and put him a box or something. I don't want to be reminded of Spike anymore."
"Sure, Buffy. Sure. Just a sec."
Willow sounded very subdued, and it was kind of an important moment all of a sudden. Willow did something to the bot in his neck, at the hairline, just the spot where she had loved to rest her hand, where his hair was softest, where he looked like a slender little boy, even if he wasn’t with all those solid muscles of his. Buffy hadn’t been aware of any sounds, but when Willow did her thing, the silence in the room had a different quality, like a fridge suddenly shutting off and leaving the room ringing with not-sound. Buffy swallowed and reached up at the staring glassy eyes, as blue as the sky outside.
"Goodbye, Spike," she whispered and gently shut his eyelids, the lashes as long as the real Spike's. Willow waited respectfully beside her until she was ready with her last lingering look at the still plastic face.
"Hey, what are you guys doing?" Andrew's voice cut across the moment like a car alarm, the kind you just want to turn off as fast as you can. "I had this great idea while I was sleeping. We should change the responses of the bot to include Buffy's voice as his control input. That would be much more in tune with the emotional make-up of the bot and…."
"Shut up, Andrew," Buffy said gently. "I know you mean well, but it’s been enough. I need to move on, and go away from here and start my life. I don’t need to have a little sliver of hope waiting for me somewhere. Take out his batteries and put him away."
"But, Buffy, I…"
Buffy left the room. She went back to her bedroom and sat on the bed. Her hands lay on her jeans, small, square brown hands with a still neat manicure. She didn’t know what they were going to do in the near and far future, but she was going to find something. No more silly dreams of vampire lovers coming magically back to life. She'd have to build her own happiness.
He lay in his box and dreamed. He dreamed of black night skies dotted with lights, of running and chasing, endlessly. He never caught anything in his dreams. He dreamed of falling into depthless pools of darkest green, falling endlessly, never hitting bottom. He dreamed of reaching out for her, as far as his arms would stretch, almost touching her, but never succeeding. He would have liked to stop dreaming. He would have liked to end, but it never happened.
Occasionally his master would take him out and test him to see if he still worked. He walked up and down the storeroom and he always worked just fine. Light shone into his box through cracks in the lid, and so he knew that days passed. If you added up the days, you had time. If you divided them into hours and minutes, you had time too. His programming forbade him to ponder these paradoxes, but he thought of them as often as he could. Time could be long and short. For a robot a second was like a million years, and also the time between two moments of light hardly existed. He liked paradoxes.
For instance, there was love. Love meant…a series of silly cartoons shot by in his head. Love was caring for her, giving her flowers once a while, boxes of chocolate. He had his own opinions on love, though. He thought it was perhaps preferring the color of her eyes above all other colors. His programming called it green, but he could see every minute fleck of their colors, because he had millions of pixels just for her eyes and he knew there was gold in there, and brown, and grey, and that her pupils were black and surrounding her eyes there was white. He had seen those whites looking pinkish, almost red, and he knew that was the color of grief.
Robots did not feel grief, but he filed away grief with time and love and hate and all the other words that had such contradictory definitions.
The Master knocked on his box, which was the signal he was going to be taken out and tested. That was politeness. This was the twelfth time he was getting tested. There had been 364 times that light had shined in his box, and 365 nights. The Master activated him and he sat up. The Master held out his hand to him. He didn’t need a hand to climb out of his box, but he took it anyway. The Master ran through his checklist, but his heart wasn’t in it, the robot could hear it in his voice. The Master had given up hope. A bell rang. The Master left the room.
The robot turned to the window and opened the blind. He dreamed of nights, but he loved the day. The warmth of the sun shone on his plastic cheeks and he held out his stiff shiny hand into a sunbeam. He wished the sun would melt him into a puddle so he would never have to lie in his box again and dream of nights and stars and endless chases.
The Master was talking to someone. The robot heard a woman's voice and thought of love and green eyes. There was an odd sensation in his hand. A thin spiral of smoke curled up in front of his eyes, obscuring a narrow strip of his view of the sunny day. The spiral thickened and his hand jerked away of its own accord. There was a scorch mark on it and he brought the finger to his mouth to lick it. It hurt. When his tongue touched the burn he stilled and thought. Of choices and ending and being forever. Finally, after a last longing look towards the heat and oblivion within his grasp, he turned away and walked towards the voice