Out of the corner of her eye, Buffy sees exactly the sight she’s been dreading. A flash of punk-pale hair. A covert flap of leather disappearing round the edge of the one crypt she’s been avoiding all week. A Spike-shaped shadow cast in moonlight.
Her shoulders droop. She should have known.
Stopping still, Buffy clenches her fists as her anger starts to rise. Spike was the last thing she wanted to deal with now. She’d let him go, but she should have known he wouldn’t take her seriously. But what could she do? Coming to his cemetery was always going to be risky; but despite whatever was rocking her private life, she still had a duty to patrol and with his state of mind, she couldn’t expect him to just clear the place out for her. With a world-weary huff then, she steels herself for the inevitable and stomps after her stalker to remind him once again that their thing, their whatever it was, it’s over.
And there he is. Monochrome beautiful in the silvery light. Sculpted and unreal. He lifts his chin, a defiant and proud creature of the darkness.
But there’s more. In his arms a young girl no older than her sister struggles, the hand over her mouth stifling her screams. Her eyes are wide with terror.
“Let her go! Buffy’s tone is tough, slayerly, brooking no nonsense. It gives away nothing of the betrayal that lances her heart.
However, instead of releasing his victim and pretending that this was an unfunny joke all along, Spike’s only reply is a smile, one that spreads across his face like a gash as his fangs drop and his demon surges forth. He gives Buffy a long look, challenging her not to believe, then sinks his teeth deep into the poor girl’s neck.
Stunned, Buffy babbles, “How? How can you do that?” She has so many questions; the same ones that once led to a house falling down. This time she though she doesn’t have time to ask them; duty takes over and out comes her stake.
Freeing the girl is simple. In theory. Buffy lunges forward, bring her boot down sharply onto Spike’s knee, but his leg is like iron and she feels the shock all the way to her hip. He should be rolling away by now, giving her a string of British expletives and some that he probably made up all on his own, but he just keeps drinking.
The girl is starting to fade, her eyes flickery with blood loss. Buffy tries again, this time with a roundhouse kick that catches him square on the cheek. The kick works; the girl slumps forward and he staggers back into the side of the crypt.
“Are you okay?” Buffy reaches for the girl, but she ducks away.
She clamps her hand to her neck and looks at Buffy as if she is the freak. “Just leave me alone!” she shrieks before shakily taking off into the night.
“I’d get to the hospital!” Buffy shouts to her retreating back. Some people just aren’t grateful for the rescuing. The girl is out through the cemetery gates before Buffy can even tell her to take care or at least get a dressing on the wound, leaving Buffy alone with her Spike problem.
Pursing her lips for a truly epic chewing out, she turns to her ex. “What the hell are you doing? Did the chip stop working?”
Spike says nothing. His grin is bloody now. Rivulets run and drip from his lips. He takes a step forward…
Then his head falls off.
“Spike!” Buffy screams, otherwise frozen with the shock. The previous couple of minutes are suddenly forgotten as her heart tears into two. “Oh my god, Spike!”
“What is it? Buffy!” Spike’s voice comes from behind her, but he can’t be there, he’s, he’s-
She turns. Spike really is there; his fingers, usually so clever and nimble as they ran over her skin, are fumbling with the buttons of the shirt he’s thrown on. His feet are bare. He’s looking all too hopeful, but right now all she feels is relief.
And puzzlement. “You… you aren’t dead! Ugh… More dead.”
“You alright?” He’s as confused as she is. “Or have you finally gone round the twist?”
Buffy nods dumbly. Waves her hand to where her vision in the moonshine had met his grisly end. “But you were right there and…”
When she looks again, Spike’s lifeless eyes stare back at her from the grass, the face slack and frozen in that nightmare grin. His head has rolled to the edge of the neatly tended bushes, threatening at any minute to tumble back into the thorny clutches of the roses. His body… well that hasn’t moved. It stands there, twitching slightly, looking about as confused as a headless copse is capable.
“Bloody hell.” Spike’s face – the real Spike’s face, she assumes– can only be described as ‘a picture’. “It’s a robot. I‘m a sodding robot.”
Buffy crosses her arms. She wants answers and she wants them snappy. Anything to cover up the shock of the concern she’d felt. Her hands are still shaking; she’d thought she’d lost him for good. “Did you do this?” she accuses the real Spike. “Is this some kind of sick joke?”
Spike looks affronted as he collects some chains from behind a sarcophagus. “Of course I bloody well didn’t.”
But the prosecution isn’t so easily put off. “It’s not like you don’t have a spotty record. Maybe you were planning to go all Terminator on me. Or maybe this is some new twisted sex game you’ve invented. Well, I can tell you right now; I’m not playing.”
Spike drops his eyes as he slips the chains around the robot’s chiselled torso. “I wouldn’t do that, luv. Not again. Learnt my lesson, din’t I? There’s nothing quite the same as the real thing.”
To distract from her blossoming blushes, Buffy tries a different tack, one that won’t lead to more moping and that small itch of guilt she’s been ignoring. She tips her chin at the robot. “Does it still work?”
Spike gives her a dark glance, then runs a hand down the robot’s back over its duster, which she can now see isn’t leather at all, but a cut-price vinyl imitation. When he reaches the base of its spine, something clicks faintly under his fingers. “I think there might be a reset button… Ah.”
The robot jerks straight and Buffy is very glad Spike thought to chain the thing up first. It growls and snaps at them both as it pulls unsuccessfully at the chains. It fixes its eyes on her, but now it’s obvious it’s an automaton. Its eyes do not live, or even unlive; these baby blues are manufactured, constructed on a workbench not in a womb. Nothing about the machine is quite fluid enough to convince anyone it was ever human; if she listens carefully, servos hiss and whirr when it moves; there is a mechanical tick where a heart should be silent.
The fangs extend again, descending telescopically from lacquered canines. The eyes switch suddenly to yellow. Then the skin shifts, the metal plates that form the skull under the synthetic skin rearrange themselves, reconfiguring into something like a demon’s bumpies. It’s all very clever really, but not clever enough.
“So where did you come from?” Buffy starts the interrogation. If she is the good cop or the bad cop, she’s yet to decide.
The robot just rolls back its lip in an uncannily familiar sneer and snarls.
“Doesn’t say a lot does he?” Spike is clearly unimpressed. “No one thought to give me a voice chip?”
“If only I could say the same for you.” It’s bitchy and low and rather unkind considering the place they’re at, but she’d thought she’d seen him die and she still needs to get back on track, otherwise she will be back to using him again the moment she lets this façade fall.
Spike looks pained and she feels that niggly guilt again, but she has to keep strong. “Do you think it was Warren?”
“Buggered if I know.” Spike shrugs. “Who else would it be?”
“I don’t know; you’d think there would be a long line for a Spikebot.” She is being sarcastic, but now she’s had the idea, it has a certain appeal: Spike, just the good bits without all the messy parts, like the demon and the clingy devotion and the unwillingness to get a better haircut.
“Why bother,” he hits back, oblivious to the direction of her reverie. “when you can use the real thing?”
Ouch. The retort lands right on its target. Buffy pouts, but she knows she deserves it.
Spike circles the machine; assessing his metallic double rather than continue with their bitchfest. “You really thought this thing was me?” he frowns. “It’s creepy.”
“From a distance!” It had been dark and she’d only caught a glimpse.
“My head doesn’t just fall off!”
Who’s pouting now? She thinks before muttering, “If only.” Spike seems to pretend he hasn’t heard and starts turning out the robot’s pockets. “What are you doing?” she asks.
“Looking for clues. Aha!” Indeed, half a dozen poker chips tumble into his hand.
Buffy smiles, possibly a little too softly and definitely with too much affection, but still a little be proud of his detective skills. “You got lucky.”
But Spike isn’t listening and he doesn’t get to press his advantage; his rant really starts to get going, “Teeth! These belong to Teeth. He’s bloody well set me up!”
Buffy taps her foot, trying again to harden her façade and expecting an explanation without delay.
“It’s a bloody liberty!” Spike’s ire though is nothing less than hypocritical at this point. Turnabout is fair play and everything. “It’s theft. That’s what it is,” he rages. “Of my face! I ought to bloody sue!”
What the courts would make of a vampire filing a suit against a shark-headed crime lord over the use of his likeness on his robotic doppelganger is anyone’s guess and Buffy is half willing to try it out just for kicks, but for now calming Spike down is probably a better idea.
“It’s got my bloody face!” he continues. “It’s a right fit-up. Wait ‘til I get my hands on that fishy bugger.”
The fit-up is elegant, she has to agree. And if not for one faulty connection, it might have worked, even if the machine has none of the quality of Warren’s usual work. But then to smear Spike’s reputation it doesn’t have to be any more than a killer in the dark with his face. The robot does the dirty work while Spike gets the blame and a stake through his newly-broken heart. Teeth might not get his kittens, but he’ll keep the other players in line.
“Spike!” she tries again, this time yanking his arm to get his attention. “We’ll deal with it.” Yeah, they’ll get that slimy sharkman back for giving her the shock of her life.
Spike calms - a little. “I bet he knew what those eggs were too.”
“Eggs?” She shakes her head, was there something she was missing here? “What eggs?”
He swallows, taking a deep breath as if preparing himself to get into a conversation he’s been avoiding. “The Suvolte eggs, luv. I owed him a couple of tabbies, but the debt got a bit bigger.”
She groans, she knows what’s coming next. “Don’t tell me, you ended up owing him a couple of Maine Coons?”
“Four,” he admits. “Young ones. Right hard to come by.”
Ugh. She can’t believe she’s right. She didn’t think it was possible for her life to get any weirder than it already was.
“So he offers to help me out,” Spike continues, “asks me to look after the eggs. Never once tells me what they were, but I’m in no position to question him. It was only meant to be for a couple of days.”
This does makes some sort of sense now, she thinks. “Then he uses this robot to pose as this ‘Doctor’ Riley said was making the deal when it’s really him who’s the mastermind.”
Spike jaw is tense now, as if he’s about to start throwing punches.
“We’ll deal with it,” she repeats.
He nods and jabs a thumb in the direction of the robot. “And what about my replicant here?”
Buffy makes a big play of musing for a moment. “I can think of a few uses for it; maybe I’ll take it home and see if it really is better than the real thing.”
Spike looks gutted; but, as the robot had earlier, he lifts his chin proudly anyway. There is still some of his old sparkle left in his eye. “I doubt that.”
Okay, Buffy admits, maybe he does have a point.