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[BtVS] Hellmouth Chronicles 2/?: The Deals We Make, pt 1

Title: Chapter 2: The Deals We Make, pt 1
Characters: Anya Jenkins, Buffybot, Rupert Giles, Spike, Tara Mcclay, Willow Rosenberg, Xander Harris
Rating/Warning: FRT
Word Count: 3,895
A/N: Though there is more than the usual POV switching, hopefully I won't have to do this very often.



The cemetery was filled with the sounds of running footsteps and heavy panting. They seemed to do more running and panting than slaying these days, that was for damn sure. While Spike was all for everyone doing their part, he was getting tired of constantly being slowed down by the people that were supposed to be helping him. They were well-meaning and all, but it was better when he was alone, or when it was just Willow with him. Well, it wasn't so bad when the watcher tagged along, but Willow's little girlfriend just had to go.

Granted, his dislike of her possibly had to do with more than just her inability to fight, but it was still true. It was like patrolling with a less capable, less determined version of the Willow he had first met. If he was inclined to be brutally honest, it mostly had to do with the fact that she was Willow's girlfriend and tended to get a bit clingy whenever he was around. Not that Red had ever given her cause to get that way. He on the other hand? It's possible he did once or twice just to stir up trouble when he was bored. And if there was another reason, he wouldn't admit that, even in his own mind. After all, a bloke never knew when Willow might pop in his head for a conversation.

For her part, Tara really didn't care for the slaying. She only did it to be with Willow; it seemed like the only way she could spend time with her these days. Either Willow was out patrolling with Spike or she was fixing the Buffybot. Tara tried hard to be understanding – after all, Willow only did this to make sure they were safe – but she just wanted everything to go back to the way it was before. She knew she got in the way some of the time and, yeah, her spells were nowhere near the level of Willow's, but she didn't think that Spike should look at her like she was always a nuisance.

She also didn't think Spike should act like she was the third wheel when he intruded on her time with Willow. While she knew that Willow didn't think of Spike that way, part of her couldn't help but worry that her girlfriend would realize one day that Tara just wasn't what she wanted. She tried to keep that feeling hidden, but Willow seemed to pick up on it anyway and tried to reassure her. However, her reassurances always seemed to stop short of cutting the amount time she spent with Spike. Not that it worried Tara. Not in the least. And maybe, if she repeated that enough, she would start to believe it.

Giles seemed to remember that, once upon a time, patrolling with a rag-tag crew of amateurs had worked, and worked well. Had his memory gone rosy and soft in the wake of his slayer's death? Because now… now it didn't work at all. Oh, he could hardly complain about Willow and Spike; they both possessed and used important skills and weren't exactly bad hands at slaying. It was the others – Xander, Anya, and especially Tara – whose presence needed to be seriously rethought. Though he did not want to be the one to broach the topic with Willow. She was prickly and difficult in her grief. Perhaps he'd pay Spike to say something since, oddly enough, when she could be reasoned with it always seemed to be Spike who managed the trick.

Willow was focused on the here and now as she stood on top of the tallest crypt she had been able to find. She watched as Spike, Giles, and Tara chased down an overweight vampire. When she saw her three friends stop and rest she debated if she should let the vamp get away. The matter was settled, however, when the vampire they had been chasing circled back toward them. As much as she hated to interrupt Spike and Giles laughing together – a too rare occurrence these days – it was a matter of life and death.

"Guys, heads up. The vampire's circling back towards you, six o'clock. Try to drive him back towards the Van Elton crypt."

As he watched the vamp they were hunting running around as it did a half decent impersonation of a headless chicken, Spike found it all too easy to relate to the bastard. Bloody hell if he was about ready to give up for the night. It was so easy to get frustrated on the nights they all patrolled together, and tonight was no exception. It didn't help when he could hear the equally frustrated tone of Willow's voice in his head.

"Left, make him go left!"

Throwing his arms out to the side and looking in the direction he knew Willow was, he started to ask how exactly they're supposed to do that when an ax flew by his head. When he saw the blade sink into a tree and scare the fledgling vamp he turned an impressed look on Giles. Though the former watcher was still panting, he looked very determined to go on and get this over with. It reminded Spike why Giles was one of the only two humans he had any respect for right about now. That didn't change the fact that, when they caught up to where the vamp was fending off the Buffybot, the fight turned out like a bad Three Stooges skit.

Elsewhere in the cemetery, Xander hadn't fared much better, but for different reasons. He knew the reasoning behind having Willow talk in their heads, even agreed with it. It still gave him the wiggins, though. He knew he should just go along with it, but he couldn't just not be freaked out by it. Anya was the only one who didn't look at him like he was an idiot when he said something about it, and for that he was grateful. She was someone he could count on to understand why he sometimes started to act like an inexperienced, wet behind the ears newbie during patrol.

As for Anya, she only patrolled because Xander did, and she enjoyed being the one to get his little quirks. That and fewer vampires meant more people alive, which meant more people who could potentially shop at The Magic Shop and give her money. But mostly it was just to be with Xander.

As the vampire held Giles pinned to the fence with his own weapon, the biggest thing going through his head was that he was getting far too old for this. It didn't help that Spike appeared prepared to simply not help him. After hearing Spike give an answer of some sort – to Willow, he assumed – Giles felt the fledgling back away from him and saw him burst into flame, turning to dust a few short seconds later. When he looked up he saw Spike with a cigarette in one hand and the other held out to help him to his feet. What little of their customary arguing they managed was interrupted by Willow ordering her troops – them – off to another battle. Yes, definitely getting too old.

Buffybot was very content. She was doing what she was programmed to do. Pulling back her stake from the dust cloud that used to be a vampire, she grinned and executed the rest of the programming.

"That'll put marzipan in your pie plate, bingo!"

She wasn't sure why the others failed to find it amusing or why they questioned Willow about it. However, she did step in to defend her. After all, Willow was her best friend and the one who always fixed her when something went wrong. No one seemed to pay attention to her at first as they walked away, however Willow did give her an opening for a knock-knock joke. It got a bit difficult to follow when everyone decided to join in, but she wanted to help prove that Willow had done a good job fixing her programming, so she did her best to continue the joke.

"If we want her to be exactly she'll never be exactly I know the only really real Buffy is really Buffy and she's gone' who?"

Nobody answered, but that wasn't unusual.

The next morning Willow faced down the dark and more than slightly dusty area under her and Tara's bed. Normally she didn't spend much time staring at the potentially demonic dust bunnies that had taken up residence in her room, but she currently had no choice. One of her favorite lucky rings was missing.

Granted, there was no proof that the ring was lucky per se</em>. However, if she concentrated on finding a missing ring, it helped calm the butterflies that had taken up residence in her stomach when she woke up and realized what day it was. Today was the day they were sending Buffybot out to look for a job. Looking for the ring kept Willow from once again contemplating how very wrong that seemed to her; therefore, the ring was lucky. Circular logic, yes, but it worked for her.

She almost asked Tara if she had seen the ring, but then decided against it. The past five months, everyone had started looking at her like every little thing that she couldn't find was potentially something that didn't really exist anymore. Everyone, that was, except Spike.

Willow pushed back to her feet with a sigh, turned around, and was faced with the door that led to what once had been Dawn's room. And, of course, when she saw that door it led her to think of Dawn, which then led her back to trying to figure out why Spike still remembered bits and pieces of the glowing ball of energy-turned girl-turned glowing ball of energy again. Yet another thing that the search for the (possibly) lucky ring helped her to not think about.

Fortunately, her train of thought was interrupted by Tara as she crossed between Willow and the door. As she joined her girlfriend on the way to the kitchen, Willow neatly tucked her troublesome thoughts away. Apparently not fast enough, if the look of concern on Tara's face was any indication.

"You doing okay?"

While Willow was, in general, feeling very far from okay, she knew that now was not the time and this was not the person she could vent all her frustrations to. So she gave a nervous chuckle and threw out a reasonable sounding excuse for her distraction. She didn't hate the promise of pancakes she got in return, that was for sure.

Walking into the kitchen she saw the Buffybot and greeted it as if her heart didn't break a little every time she saw it. Willow suggested that they go over the bot's programming as she began to fill up her breakfast plate. She felt a pang of irritation when Tara interrupted.

"Again? You've done enough, sweetie. She's either ready to face this thing or she's not."

The irritation came both from what Willow felt was Tara's casual disregard for her need to make sure everything worked out well and from the fact that her girlfriend insisted on referring to the bot as a she. Willow was aware of the hypocrisy of getting mad over such a small thing when she was constantly holding conversations with the bot as if it were not only a real girl, but as if it was really Buffy. However, some lines Willow felt should remain firm so that they could remember the bot was just a temporary place holder until they could get the real thing back. Referring to the bot as if it were real to each other was the line she chose.

About to go on as if she hadn't heard the interruption, Willow paused when she saw the stack of sandwiches in front of Buffybot. Turning to Tara to make sure she had the girl's attention, she then looked toward the stacks. Willow couldn't help but smile as Tara's eyes got big and her mouth dropped into a rounded ‘O' of surprise. There was also a part of her that was hoping for a sitcom moment of bubbling cuteness involving Tara wrestling away the sandwich makings from an eternally grinning Buffybot. Instead she was treated to a calm and in-charge handling of the situation as Tara both stopped the bot and explained what had happened.

"Oh! Oops. Um, she wanted to help, and I got her started, but then I forgot to un-start." The last word Tara said in a firm tone obviously meant to make it clear she was giving the bot a command.

A part of Willow wanted to smile at seeing her girlfriend trying to adapt to having the bot in their lives, while another part was irritated that she didn't leave the care of Buffybot up to Willow. She knew it was unfair; Tara was working so hard to be understanding when most people would have packed up and headed for the hills by now. Knowing that, however, didn't stop her from wanting to lash out. Soon</em>, she thought, soon everything will be back to the way it's supposed to be.

As she was getting the tea bags from the cupboard, she heard the door open. When she turned, she saw Xander walk through the door, toolbox in hand and a contented smile on his face.

"House of chicks, relax. I am a man, and I have a tool."

Internally, Willow had to giggle. Really, how did he expect them to respond to that? They were saved from having to come up with something when Xander spotted the large pile of sandwiches the Buffybot had made. Digging into one, he explained that he had brought the soldering wire that Willow needed for the bot's tune-up. Before a comfortable silence could really descend, the phone rang and Buffybot's head shot up.

"I'll get it!"

The peppy voice really has got to go</em>, Willow couldn't help but grumble to herself. As Tara blocked the bot's way, Willow picked up the phone. It was Anya on the other end and a mix of relief and anxiety ran through her. The anxiety mostly let up when the former demon told her that she had the urn they would need. Feeling very good, she didn't even hesitate to pass along Anya's cutesy terms of endearment for Xander and she found herself smiling at his response.

The feeling didn't fade as she listened as Tara explained to Buffybot why she shouldn't answer the phone. However, a pang of almost guilt ran through her as they talked of the upcoming ritual they would perform without really talking about it. It wasn't that they really tried to hide it from the bot, it was simply that they didn't want her to accidentally let slip to Spike what they were going to do. Willow firmly told herself that they just didn't want to get his hopes up. She was also pretending that she was not half afraid he'd not only try and talk them out of it, but that he would get mad they had gotten this far in the planning without telling him.

As she and Xander sat down to work on Buffybot's tune-up, Willow thought about bringing up her objections to having the bot get a job again. She decided against it since they had already had this argument a few too many times for her taste. She had to wonder if maybe she was holding back for another reason. Sending the bot out to get a job just made it seem like they had resigned themselves to living with this pale, man-made imitation of their best friend. It was like the others didn't think she would be able to get things back to the way they should be or like they didn't want things to go back to normal.

Still, since this was going to happen regardless of her opinion, she would be sitting in Buffy's car just a block down from the Doublemeat Palace listening in thanks to the transmitter she had installed in the bot just in case. Willow didn't bother to examine too closely why she felt the need to hide the existence of the transmitter and her, perhaps</em>, overly-cautious spying from Tara and the others. It was just something she needed to do for her own peace of mind and she would prefer to avoid another argument. Especially when they should probably be a bit more grateful that she kept such a close eye on things in order to keep disaster at bay.

As Willow listened in on Buffybot's job interview Anya was in her shop – technically not her shop yet, but it soon would, or could, or might be – and so she should have been happy. It was her happy place, after all. However, there were feelings getting in the way of her happiness. Feelings she wasn't allowed to talk about because they made other people feel in ways they didn't want to or weren't ready to. Nothing was normal and nothing was settled so her happy place didn't make her feel very happy at all.

This sucked.

"Anya, this register report for January looks a bit off. Pull the files again."

She knew she should grit her teeth, smile politely, and do as she was asked. Xander had explained this to her many times. However, it was impossible to do when Giles was in what was (soon to be) her shop not acting as if it was (soon to be) no longer his shop. It was confusing and unbearable and she couldn't stop herself from trying to find out what was going on.

"Are you mad at me?"

The question came out of the blue for Giles and he couldn't even begin to fathom where Anya had gotten the idea that he was angry with her. Of course, he was even less able to understand how it devolved into a pathetic slap fight over a bloody Ramadan effigy of all things just a few moments later. His humiliation was complete, of course, when Xander Harris of all people had to be the one person in the room to retain some semblance of sanity and maturity. He was too old and too tired for this. However, he was not too tired, nor too old, to hear bits and pieces of Anya and Xander's conversation from just across the room.

He understood why Anya was so snippy and confrontational – could hear her explain it to Xander – but he had his doubts that Xander truly comprehended how much of Anya's problems were a result of simply not understanding the world around her. She might look like a normal young woman, but it had been thousands of years since she had been human and what she had seen of the mortal world didn't help her with the mundane task of knowing when to say what she felt and when to hold back. Part of him wanted to sit these children down – Xander, Anya, Willow, and Tara– and explain to them that they were going to need to grow up and learn to understand the world beyond themselves. However, he wasn't sure he had yet mastered that feat himself.

He felt a sharp pain in his heart and felt his breath catch when he heard Anya say Buffy's name. He couldn't listen any longer, even to bits and pieces of this conversation, not with where it was going. He was still having a difficult time moving beyond his personal pain.

That night, as Spike looked on from a rooftop, Buffybot did an almost passable impression of an actual slayer. Well, right up until some vamp in an alley got in a lucky shot with a beer bottle. Unfortunately he didn't realize that something was wrong until the vamp was stuttering out that she was a machine and then the damn thing was walking into stacked barrels like some eight-bit Italian plumber.

By the time he'd made it down to the alley, the vamp had already got away while the bot was still knocking into those damn barrels and spouting off idiotic one-liners like a bad parody of a ditzy slayer. He just knew this was going to bite them in the ass somehow.

In Xander's apartment, as she sat staring at the last known Urn of Osiris, Willow knew she should feel more excited about having the urn and less annoyed at how Anya had gotten it. She wanted to blame it on Anya being annoying, but had to admit to herself it was just an extension of the growing feeling of doom she had. There should be no doom-y feelings of any kind. She had the spell memorized, knew they had the ingredients, and knew they had what it took to do this. She just had to bury her guilt, worry, anxiety, and any other doom-like feelings and soldier on.

"It's the one. Which means it's time."

She knew Xander would stall, would flail at the last minute; he wouldn't be Xander if he didn't. It wasn't that he was a coward – she liked to pretend to herself she thought this way all the time – it was just that he wasn't foolishly brave most times. But she couldn't let him stop this from happening. Buffy was in Hell and didn't deserve it, the Buffybot wouldn't fool people forever, and it was just too hard for her to hold them all together alone. She needed Buffy back because she wasn't cut out to be the leader, wasn't cut out to always be strong. They needed Buffy and Willow couldn't let anyone stop this from happening.

Spike tried not to let his frustration show as he made his way up the stairs toward Harris's apartment building, the Buffybot spewing fawning compliments after him. He remembered specifying that he wanted her to say those kinds of things but he couldn't for the unlife of him remember why in the bleeding hell he would. In his head, he knew that he had loved Buffy, but he couldn't feel it in his heart. Maybe her death broke something in him. On his darkest nights, he thought it had something to do with Dawn the Glowing Key being gone now had something to do with it. Whatever the reason, he tried not to take it out on the Buffybot, or on Red when she couldn't stop those glitches, or on Glinda for being… Glinda. He didn't always succeed, but he did try.

When he and the bot neared the door to Xander's apartment, Spike heard what sounded like an argument about to start. Reaching back, he put his hand over Buffybot's mouth to forestall any of the comments she would likely make and just waited. There was a time when he would have looked for the perfect moment to walk in and stir up tensions even more. Those days, however, were gone and now he was more likely to wait and figure out the best way to calm tempers. When he heard Xander mention raising the dead, he began to realize that it might just be his temper that would need calming. Willow's voice just confirmed it.

"It's time we stop talking. Tomorrow night… we're bringing Buffy back."

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