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Authors Chapter Notes:
Buffy wants to give up, but is given a mission and admonished to 'TRY' by an unexpected visitor.
**
Thanks to Paganbaby for taking time out of her hectic life to beta this for me! Her suggestions and commentary that always makes me smile!


"You gotta get up and try, try, try..." ~P!nk, 'Try'.

**~**



Spike slept through most of the day, waking late that afternoon to find Buffy standing at the foot of his bed staring down at him with a contemptuous look in her eyes and a small pout on her lips. For a moment he thought for certain that she had snapped out of her stupor and was fully back. Perhaps the small breakthrough the previous night had breached the dam she'd been trapped behind, but then the look faded back to blankness, washing Spike's hopes away with it. After a moment, she turned away stiffly and headed for the bathroom.

“Buffy … luv,” he called after her, his voice gentle. “What’s wrong, pet?” he asked as he pushed away from the BuffyBot, who was lying motionless in the bed next to him charging, and sat up.

Buffy stopped, her back visibly stiffened even more, but she simply shook her head, her hair cascading back and forth over her bare shoulders with the motion.

Spike stood up, pulling the sheet off the bed with him to wrap around his waist and hopefully hide his morning – or late afternoon, in this case – stiffy.

He tucked the sheet around himself and walked up behind her. She hadn’t moved any further toward the bathroom. He could see most of her face in the mirror over the dresser. Beneath the mask of indifference she looked … hurt. Sad. Not that that was a really new expression on her face of late, but somehow it looked different this morning … errr, afternoon.

He settled a hand on her shoulder gently. “Buffy, please … talk to me, luv,” he pleaded, watching her face in the mirror.

Buffy bit her bottom lip and shook her head again, half-shrugging one shoulder – the one he had his hand on, as if to shrug it off.



C’mon you git! Figure it out! It’s what you bloody do! he admonished himself as he studied her face. There was definitely hurt in her green eyes – not just the miserable, dull sadness that had haunted them since Dawn’s death. Spike looked around the room, then back at the bed where he’d been sleeping when he first saw the look, and it hit him like a sledgehammer.

“You got it wrong, Buffy,” he blurted out at once, his voice defensive, his eyes wide with panic. “Didn’t … the Bot … wasn’t like that – not what you’re thinking. Just – her … its clothes were dirty from the basement at the Magic Box – needed t’ clean ‘em up if she … its gonna come out with us, yeah? That’s all it was … took ‘em off and washed ‘em in the sink after you went to sleep. Check for yourself – they’re hanging up in the bathroom drying.”

Spike put his free hand on her other shoulder and turned her around to face him. “I swear, Buffy – I’d never, never touch her ... it like that again.”



Buffy’s eyes didn’t meet his when he turned her around, instead focusing on something over his shoulder. She shrugged again. “No big,” she offered. Spike could tell she was trying to sound uncaring, but it was a forced nonchalance.

“It is a big deal, pet!” he argued immediately, nearly frantic for her to believe him. “I didn' touch the Bot … not like that. Not like you think.”

Buffy's eyes shifted to the now uncovered, nearly-nude female form lying on Spike’s bed – her nearly-nude form. Only a black, lacey thong and matching bra clothed the Bot as it lay with its eyes closed, a wire protruding from an open access panel in its side. Then Buffy let her eyes roam down Spike’s bare chest and down his body to the bulge the sheet around his waist was doing little to hide.

A single tear slid down the Slayer’s cheek. She made no move to wipe it away as she said again, “No big,” and pulled free from Spike’s grip.

“Buffy, please,” Spike began as she stepped away from him. Before he could argue further, the door to the bathroom closed with a click. The innocent sound was like the hammer falling on a gun pointed at Spike’s unbeating heart.

**~**

When Buffy emerged from the bathroom, she was dressed in jeans and a blouse, her hair pulled up in a no-nonsense tail. She sat down on her bed and pulled her boots on without a word.

“Buffy, luv … please listen t’ me,” Spike attempted to continue the earlier discussion. He’d also gotten dressed while she was in the bathroom and the BuffyBot was completely covered up with the sheet and blanket.

“Money?” Buffy asked flatly, looking at him with a stony expression.

“Yeah I got some dosh. You want t’ go out? Get somethin’ to eat? Give the sun a few more minutes and we…”

“Now. Alone,” she interrupted him. Her voice was flat and cold, but not quite the dull monotone of the previous night. “Cash?” she held her hand out toward him, palm up.

Spike heaved a deliberate sigh, pulled some bills out of his pocket, and slapped them down onto her palm.

She closed her hand around them and stuffed them down into her pocket.

“Buffy,” Spike tried again as she began to step past him toward the door. “I swear I didn’t touch the bloody Bot. I wouldn’t … not … not now. I know how it would make you feel, luv. I know it was wrong t’ even have it built, but …”



“No big,” Buffy repeated for the third time as she reached for the door knob.

“Buffy, I love you. Would never do anything t’ hurt you, luv. Ya got t’ believe me,” he pleaded.

Buffy swung the door open and late afternoon sunlight flooded in from the west. Spike jumped back and to one side, out of the path of the deadly rays.

“Do I?” she asked, her voice stony cold and unfeeling, before she stepped out into the light, pulling the door closed as she left the dingy motel room.

“YES!” he screamed at the closed door. “Yes! You’ve gotta believe me! It’s the soddin’ truth!” he continued, banging a frustrated fist into the steel door and denting it.



Spike roared with anger and frustration, and slammed his fists into the door a few more times, each one creating an impression of his knuckles in the steel. “Bloody barmy women! How do I end up with rat-shit crazy bints? What the bleeding hell is wrong with me!? What the fuck did I do to deserve these stubborn, ungrateful, tortuous bitches? Why do I even bother?!”

Spike leaned his back against the door and closed his eyes, trying to get his anger and frustration under control. He patted down his pockets, looking for his cigarettes. Finally finding them and his lighter, he lit one, taking a long, calming drag of the nicotine-laced smoke. 'Cos you love her, came the silent, unbidden answer to his question. She'll be the soddin' death of you, but... doesn't matter; no help for that now.
 
After finishing his smoke and running his hand through his hair enough to have it standing up on end, he pushed off the door and set to work getting the Bot functional. He still had a promise to keep: make sure Buffy was safe. There were things he couldn't fight, there were places he couldn't go; he needed the Bot to help keep his promise. Not that Buffy couldn’t fight, defend herself, but he hadn’t seen her lift a single finger to fight anyone since Dawn died. He hadn’t seen a single weapon, not even a stake, in her room when he’d packed her bag. He presumed the witch or the Watcher had 'crazy-Slayer-proofed' the place.

“Right …” he tried to assure himself. “Fire up the Bot.” He pulled the covers off the BuffyBot and blanched slightly. “Dress the Bot – then fire ‘er up,” he amended, heading for the bathroom and her now clean, if still a bit damp, clothes. “Hope ya don’t rust…”

**~**

“Spike! My handsome, hard-bodied love of my life! You’re alright! I thought that evil Glory-woman hurt you!” the BuffyBot exclaimed, a wide, bright-white smile on her face, when he flipped the switch in the panel and booted her up. "I have not seen you for fifty-six days, ten hours, and thirty-two minutes. I was so worried! Shall I get naked? It I cannot resist your sinister attraction – I want you to take me! Big Bad … take me now!”

She started to rise from the chair he’d sat her down in and come to him, but he put a hand on her shoulder. “Stay,” he ordered simply, pressing down lightly against her. “There’s not gonna be any takin’ … anymore.”

The Bot pouted, looking at him with luminous green eyes. “Spike? Did I do something wrong? Do you not like me anymore?”



“Like ya fine – it’s not you, luv, it's me."

The Bot's pout deepened and creases formed between her brows. "Cosmo says that's the phrase used 68.9% of the time when terminating a relationship with someone who turned out to be repulsive and/or mind-numbingly boring. Am I ... repulsive?"

"No! No ... it's not that," Spike assured her, waving his hands emphatically. "You're bloody gorgeous, luv."

"Then ... I'm boring?" she asked, her eyes beginning to shimmer with fluid.

Spike sighed dramatically. Another barmy bint, just what he needed. "Not boring, never boring, luv. I just need your help now, can ya help me?” he asked, sitting down on the bed directly across from the robot.

“Yes! I love you! I will help you with anything!” she vowed enthusiastically, the smile returning to her face. “Shall I help you remove your clothes? Shall I throw you down and rip them off your hot, tight little body?”

Spike winced at her words. “No. There’ll be no throwing or clothes removal. And don’t say ‘I love you’ anymore, got it?”

The Bot frowned, her pout reappearing, but nodded solemnly.



“And all those … special programs; we’ll not be needin’ them anymore so you can … delete them,” he continued.

BuffyBot’s face went blank a moment, as if thinking. Spike found it slightly disturbing how much that blank stare looked like Buffy had the last weeks. “In addition to the standard systems, I have seven sets of specialty programs: Fight Moves and Strategies, Slayer Quips, Sexual Positions, Sounds to Make and Words to Use During Sex, Sexual Games – Submissive, Sexual Games – Dominatrix, and Romantic Behaviors.

“In addition, I have the following specialized database files: Buffy’s Friends, Spike’s Friends and Enemies, Common Demons of Sunnydale and How to Slay Them, Most Romantic Poems of All Time, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Spike’s Favorite Songs and Bands, Spike’s Favorite Foods, Spike’s Favorite Drinks, Spike’s Favorite Compliments, Spike’s Favorite Phrases, Spike’s Favorite Places to be Kissed, Spike’s Favorite Places to be Licked, Spike’s Favorite …”

“Right,” Spike interrupted her. “I think we can do without all the ‘Sex’ bits, so just … delete those, yeah? Can you do that?”

The BuffyBot tilted her head to the side. “I cannot delete them. I can deactivate them.”

“Good – do that then,” he instructed her.

“You do not wish to have sex with me? I found it quite enjoyable. Was I not satisfactory? I’m very pretty and you are very handsome. We make a lovely couple.”

Spike blew out a breath. “You were perfect, luv, and you are very pretty. It’s just … we got a new mission – a different mission – and I need ya to help me with that now.”

The BuffyBot’s smile returned. “I am yours to command, my evil master. How may I best serve you?”



“Right – may want t’ deactivate the ‘Spike’s Favorite Phrases,’ too, pet,” Spike advised.

The BuffyBot frowned and her expression went blank, but after a moment her smile returned and she looked at Spike, giving him a firm nod of her head. “I am ready. Please relay the details of new mission.”

“We gotta protect the Slayer … the …errr other Slayer,” Spike explained. “Now … make a new file called … uhhh … ‘Gits We Don’t Trust’,” he instructed. When the Bot nodded, he began listing off all the people they no longer trusted. About halfway through the list he thought it would’ve been simpler to make a file of the people they did trust – that was a very short list indeed: Spike, Buffy, and the BuffyBot.

**~**

Buffy stepped into the beam of sunshine outside the motel room door and pulled the door closed behind her. The world was a haze of red, as if she were looking through a veil of blood. Her thoughts were fractured by the crimson tide of guilt that hung over her and she had a hard time forming full, coherent thoughts. Time passed strangely … speeding up and slowing down apparently at will. Sometimes it moved too quickly with large chunks of time simply missing – unremembered; other times, when the weight of her failure pressed against her chest, suffocating her, it moved much too slowly.

Her emotions were similarly erratic, crashing over her in waves of grief, anger, and guilt with just the barest of hints of reason attached to them. She felt dazed – as if drugged – her emotions and thoughts not in sync. She tried repeatedly to get the confusion to subside, but could rarely focus on any one thing long enough to succeed.

Hurts.
Pain.
Too much.


She leaned back against the warm, sun-baked steel of the motel room door and closed her eyes. She still hadn’t noticed the tear that had left a single trail of salty-dampness down her cheek.



Alone.

She heard Spike screaming, roaring in fury on the other side of the door, then felt each blow of his fists against the heavy steel.

Anger.
Danger.
Go.
Run.


She started walking down the sidewalk toward the front of the motel and the street. The street was wide and busy with cars. She looked up and down for a few moments, trying to focus her thoughts.

Hungry.
Food.




She saw a familiar sign – yellow with red – and headed toward it. There was no sidewalk; she walked on the grassy right-of-way of the busy highway. A car pulled over and stopped in front of her.

“Hey, sweet-cheeks! Looking for a party?! Need a ride?” a man called from the open window.

Walk.

Buffy, wrapped her arms around her torso protectively, ducked her head, cut the car a wide berth, and kept walking.

Ignore.

The car pulled away, tires squealing and sending dirt and debris flying into the air around her.

Jerk.

She made it to the diner and went inside. Buffy took a booth in the back corner and put her back to the wall so she could watch everyone coming in.

Danger.
Council.
Jail.
White coat.


The waitress came and put down a glass of water and a menu. Buffy drank the water in a few long gulps and shoved the glass back to the edge of the table.

Hungry.

She picked up the menu and opened it. She blinked her eyes a few times, trying to focus on the words.

Letters.
Words.
Read.




She couldn’t see them past the crimson pall that shrouded her vision. It all blended into red. Blood red. The color of death. The color of alone. The color of failure.

Failed.
Killed Dawn.
Blood.


“My, you were thirsty,” the waitress observed. “I’ll get ya a pitcher … unless you’d rather something else? Coffee?”

Buffy shook her head and fingered the glass. The waitress turned and picked up a pitcher of water from a serving enclave behind Buffy, filled the glass again and set the whole pitcher on the table.

Wet.

Buffy drank about half of the second glass, then held it against her forehead a moment. The beads of condensation on the outside of the glass felt good against her warm skin. She closed her eyes, trying to wash away the film of blood that occluded her vision and clouded her mind.

Cold.
Clear.


“Decide what ya want?” the waitress asked, pulling Buffy from her scattered thoughts. Buffy opened her eyes and set the glass of water back down, looking up at the waitress who was holding a small pad of paper and a pen at the ready.

Food.

Buffy pointed at a picture: A full breakfast with eggs, sausage, bacon, hash browns, and biscuits. Then at another picture of waffles topped with strawberries and whipped cream.

Dawn.

“Hungry t’ go along with thirsty,” the waitress commented, writing the order down. “How do ya want your eggs, dear?”

Yolk-y.

Buffy hesitated, blinked, concentrated hard. “Flip. Easy.”

The waitress nodded and took the menu back from her. “Be right up…”

Buffy scanned the patrons as she waited, trying to see their faces.

Watchers?

Everyone looked the same; all covered in blood; their throats cut nearly in two. Her heart began to race.

Take you away.
Crumbled cookies.
White coats.


If anyone looked back at her she glared at them until they looked away.

Prison.
Bars.
Alone.


She drank more water.

Deserve.

She went to the bathroom.

Forever alone.



Buffy stopped and looked at her reflection in the mirror. She touched the deep gash in her throat. She could see her spine. She moved her head back and forth and furrowed her brow.

Should've been me.
Dead.
Failed.


She pulled her fingers away. Blood dripped from them.

She went into the stall and peed. Came out and washed her hands. She watched the blood get rinsed away, but never actually fade. She stood there for a long while as the red gore swirled around the sink and flowed down the drain, but her hands were still painted with it.



Too much.

Leaving the water running, she went back out to her table. Her food was there.

Don’t deserve.

Tears stung her eyes as she looked at the waffles with strawberries and whipped cream. She pushed them across the table for Dawn. They were her favorite.

Eat.

Buffy looked up when someone slid into the booth across from her. It was her. She blinked and looked again. Still her. Only not. Her but not her. Happy her. Used to be her. Not her anymore.

Spike slid in next to Happy Her; Dawn was gone. She hadn’t eaten. Waffles in front of Spike. Dawn’s waffles.

Buffy looked back down at her plate as tears stung her eyes.



Hurts.
Alone.
Deserve.
Failure.


“Buffy … luv,” Spike began, reaching across the table for her hand. She didn’t pull away as he closed his fingers over hers, but stiffened visibly.

“Please don’t be cross. I swear nothing happened, pet. The Bot’s just helping watch over you. Nothing more,” Spike said softly. “Tell ‘er,” he instructed the Bot.

“Spike and I are friends and coworkers. We used to have sex, but now we don’t. It isn’t because I was unsatisfactory or didn’t give him bloody fantastic orgasms, though – because I did. I’m very pretty, I give brilliant blowjobs, and my quim is …”

Spike cleared his throat. “Might wanna skip that bit…”



The Bot nodded amicably. “I am now an operative in his mission to keep the Other Slayer safe. Operatives don’t give other operatives orgasms – not even hand jobs; it’s unprofessional. You are the Other Slayer. You’re very pretty – like me. We cannot trust Rupert, Red, That Git Harris, Demon-bird, the Watchers…”

“Thanks, pet,” he said, cutting the Bot off.

“Buffy, please believe me. There’s nothin’ in this world that could make me hurt you. I love you so bloody much. Just tryin’ to do all I can think t’ keep you safe. Give you a chance t’ … heal, luv – in your own time and own way.”

Buffy shook her head. She couldn’t look up at him. He was covered in blood; the gaping wound on his neck made her stomach twist painfully.

Go away. Alone.

“Don’t,” she whispered at last.

“Don’t what, luv?”

Happy Buffy gone. Deserve hurt. Alone.

“Don’t love me.”

Spike squeezed her hand and snorted softly. “Been tellin' myself the same thing for months, pet. Apparently it's too bloody late t' change. Drowning in you, Summers – got no escape.”

Buffy looked up finally. Tears glistened in her eyes as she looked from the Bot to Spike. “Love her. Happy Buffy.”



Spike shook his head. “I love you. Barmy Buffy.”

“Barmy,” Buffy repeated sadly. “Crazy.” She nodded. The crimson veil lifted slightly from her mind, thoughts spilled in like water over a dam. “Killer. Like Dru. Worse. Killed Dawn.”

“Not like Dru, and you bloody well didn't kill Dawn,” Spike assured her sternly, leaning forward in the booth so he could keep is voice from carrying and to be that much closer to her. “Not a killer. Never a killer, luv. A Champion. You’re not like Dru. Stronger, you are. So much stronger – the Slayer.”

“The Other Slayer,” the Bot interjected happily.

Spike took a deep, patient breath but didn’t correct the Bot. “Let me help you, Buffy. You can … make it through this. Get past …”

“No. No past,” Buffy interrupted him. “Too jumbled. Too much blood.” She pulled her hand out from under Spike’s and held both her hands up to show him. Blood dripped from her fingers, from her palms, ran down her wrists to her arms, flowed off her elbows, and pooled on the tabletop. “Too much blood,” she repeated, staring at her perfectly clean hands from which too much blood dripped.

She looked back at Spike with haunted, lonely eyes. “Love her,” she said again, gesturing with her head at the Bot. “Happy. No blood.”

Buffy slid out of the booth. She pulled all the money Spike had given her out of her pocket and dropped it on the table. Spike grabbed her wrist as she started to walk past. “The blood’s not on your hands, Buffy. It’s on mine. What happened was not your fault, luv. I should’ve … I … should’ve seen it comin’. I … didn’t keep my promise; didn’t keep ‘er safe.”

She looked down at him. His face, his clothes, his hair – everything was covered in blood. “Enough to drown us all,” she observed, pulling free of his grip and hurrying from the diner.

Spike frowned after her and slid out of the booth, picking through the money she left and taking back the extra.

“What are my orders? Shall I keep her under surveillance?” BuffyBot asked.

Spike watched Buffy disappear out the front doors and sighed. He couldn’t follow her around all night and make more money at the casinos too, and they were gonna need more money. “Yeah, don’t get too close. Just watch – help ‘er, defend her if someone attacks, otherwise keep your distance, yeah?”

BuffyBot nodded decisively and slid out of the booth. “I have several scenarios for stalking and observing demons which I am skilled at and can employ successfully,” she assured him.



“Right. Good. Don’t start any fights with anyone – if someone attacks, help her – but don’t go on the offensive. Be sure first before ya do anything t’ draw attention.

“If you lose ‘er, just come back to the motel and wait. You remember where it is … the room number?” he asked.

BuffyBot nodded again. “My memory capacity is extraordinary,” she informed him. “Paradise Lost. Room 117,” she recited before turning on her heel and following Buffy outside.

Spike sighed wondering if he’d lose both the Bot and Buffy in one night.

**~**

Buffy trudged through the deep pools of blood alongside the highway, heading away from the motel and diner towards the lights of downtown. Blood-red lights flashed in the distance, nearly blinding. Brighter than the sun to her eyes.

As she walked though, the veil of guilt-laden blood seemed to slip away further – allowing thoughts, coherent, full thoughts – to reach her for the first time in what seemed forever. It felt like a shroud lifting, allowing all the ideas in her mind to come pouring to the fore. Suddenly she knew what she had to do – it came to her, clear as a bell tolling over a silent, misty moor. It was the only way to get the pain to stop.

She found a dark, dank alley – her domain, a killer’s domain – and headed down it. When BuffyBot turned to follow her down the alley, Buffy stepped out from the shadows against one wall and was suddenly behind her pursuer.



“Do you love him ... Spike?” Buffy asked herself … or not herself – no blood – used to be herself, not anymore. It was a strange feeling, surreal, talking to herself. She was getting used to strange feelings – her whole life felt surreal. She couldn't help but wonder who the real Slayer was: Barmy Buffy or Happy Buffy. Maybe Barmy Buffy wasn't real at all ... maybe she was just a player in a nightmare of this other woman who looked like her. Maybe Happy Buffy would wake up, and Barmy Buffy would be poof – gone – a wisp of smoke, a forgotten memory of a dream.

Buffy shook her head, too many thoughts were bombarding her now that they had broken free. She needed to concentrate now; she knew the mission, she needed to get it done.

BuffyBot spun around and considered the Other Slayer a moment. “I was made to love him.”

Buffy nodded slowly, solemnly. “When I’m gone you stay with him, protect him. Don’t leave him alone. He’s no good alone – Love’s Bitch." Buffy snorted sarcastically. "He's the strangest vampire I've ever known – all with the love and devotion. He thinks he loves me, but it's not me, he just needs to love someone. You love him. Love him for me. The blood is on my hands, not his. Tell him.”

“I do not understand. We are keeping you safe. It is our mission. Where would you go that he would not be?” the Bot asked, confusion furrowing her brow.

“To Hell,” Buffy replied flatly.

“I can not process this response. Please restate your reply.”



“I’m broken,” Buffy explained.

“We will fix you,” BuffyBot offered. “I have many programs for repairing humans.”

Buffy shook her head. “Too late. Promise me you’ll tell him: not his fault. He … he did more than anyone, even when I didn't ..." Buffy halted, her voice breaking. She cleared her throat and gathered herself before continuing, "Even when I didn't toss him a single crumb. He tried harder than I had any right to expect. Just … just love him – for me.”

“I can follow your directives, but I still do not understand. What part of you is broken?” BuffyBot continued.

“My heart. My head. My soul …” Buffy replied softly, rubbing at her aching temples. “Drenched in blood. Everything’s … drenched in blood. It hurts so much.”

BuffyBot tilted her head and studied Buffy head-to-toe. “I do not see any blood, and I have excellent optics.”



“Keep watching,” Buffy muttered as she pulled the pocket knife – the thing she’d taken from her dresser drawer the night before – out of her pocket.

As BuffyBot watched, Buffy, using all her Slayer power, stabbed the knife into her left forearm and dragged it down through her flesh to her wrist. Blood spurted from the vein in a geyser of thick, hot liquid, covering Buffy with the crimson gore she’d been seeing for the last several weeks. She yanked the blade out and repeated the process on her right arm. She couldn’t stab the knife in as deeply due to the life-draining injury on her left arm, but she managed enough to start blood pouring from that arm as well.

Buffy looked back up at the Bot, who was standing stock-still, watching with confusion. “Love him for me. He deserves it,” Buffy instructed once again before vertigo overtook her and she dropped like a ragdoll to the dirty, garbage-strewn pavement of the alley, the knife still protruding from her right forearm.

“Spike said I should just watch – unless someone attacks, I should just watch,” the Bot recited her instructions, still looking confused. She fretted her bottom lip with her teeth, trying to process everything. “No one has attacked – I am to simply watch.

“But the new mission is to keep the Other Slayer safe. Excessive blood loss is deadly to humans. The Other Slayer is human," she reasoned aloud, still watching as Buffy's life-blood drained from her body, forming a slick pool of dark liquid on the ground beneath her.

The Bot stood watching, processing everything, trying to reconcile her conflicting instructions. "I must ask Spike what I should do; which directive takes precedence,” BuffyBot decided at last.

“Come. We will ask Spike what to do,” she told Buffy with a firm nod of her head, pleased with her decision. She leaned down and picked the bleeding, unconscious Slayer up and headed out of the alley, back to the busy Las Vegas street.

Before the Bot knew what was happening, people walking on the sidewalk began screaming. Someone claiming to be a doctor tried to wrest Buffy from the Bot’s arms, but she refused to let her go, explaining that she had to get back to Spike and find out what to do – which instruction to follow. As more and more people gathered around her, the Bot got more and more confused. Everyone was talking at once and pulling Buffy away from her. And then there were policemen and paramedics, and the Bot was forced to release her hold on the Other Slayer lest she injure her. She wasn’t to start a fight with anyone and draw undue attention … she needed Spike. She didn’t know what to do.

Then, just as she began to leave Buffy and go back to the motel to find Spike, she was ushered into the back of an ambulance with the Other Slayer, and the doors were closed. The siren rang in her ears as the truck sped through the busy streets toward the hospital. A man on the opposite side of the Other Slayer was working on Buffy frantically. There were needles and tubes and bandages, and a thick layer of blood coated everything. Buffy had been right, the Bot thought, there was blood everywhere.

“Identical twins, huh?” the man asked as he worked, chancing a glance up at the Bot.

BuffyBot looked at him dumbly for a moment. “Identical twins develop from a single fertilized ovum and therefore have the same genotype, are of the same sex, and usually resemble each other closely,” she replied.



“Right,” the man agreed, giving the Bot a strange look. “She should be alright. Never know, but think we got it in time,” he assured her.

“That is excellent news because our mission is to keep the Other Slayer safe. But I was not sure what action to take, because Spike said to only watch unless someone attacked, but she attacked herself. I was unfamiliar with this mode of action. Is it a common tactic?”

The man shrugged. “Common enough in this town, I guess.

“They’re gonna take her right into surgery when we get there. Someone will show you where to wait.”

“I should go to the motel and find Spike. He will know what to do,” the Bot insisted.

“Who’s that?”

“I love him. He said I shouldn’t say that anymore, but she said I should love him for her, so I will,” the Bot explained, tilting her head toward Buffy, lying unconscious between them.

The paramedic nodded sagely. “A love triangle, huh?”

The Bot considered this a moment before stating, “A triangle is a three-sided polygon with the sum of its interior angles being 180° … or it could be a percussion instrument consisting of a sonorous metal bar bent into a triangular shape, beaten with a metal stick. Spike is neither one of those; although he does enjoy music – but not music with triangles. Mostly drums and guitar played at 125 decibels or higher.”

“Right…” the man agreed, giving her another strange look. “Well … you can call him from the waiting room.”



BuffyBot smiled widely. “That will be acceptable.”

“Glad to hear it, Blondie…”

**~**

“Oh, could this get any more cliché?” Buffy asked the darkness as she looked around. “Tell me it’s an oncoming train,” she continued sarcastically, looking toward the only light she could see in the ebony blackness, a dot in the far distance. Nothing answered her. There was no sound, no movement, no feeling – just the light and the dark. The air around her seemed to absorb her words; it wasn't hot or cold, it wasn't humid or dry, it had no aroma at all. She knew she must be standing on something, but couldn't actually feel anything beneath her feet. "This must be what Willow was trying to teach me in that computer class: null ... absolute nothingness."

Buffy sighed and looked at the only thing she could see in the inky void: the small spot of golden light, which she gave even odds to being a train racing toward her. "Fine … I get it. ‘Move toward the light.’” And so she did.

It turned out to be a doorway into her kitchen back home; the light streaming into the darkness was sun shining in through the windows over the sink. Her mom was standing at the counter, her back to Buffy, pouring batter onto a hot waffle press.

“Mommy!” Buffy exclaimed in utter relief, racing around the center island to her mother.



Joyce set the bowl of batter down and turned around just in time to catch her daughter in her arms. “Buffy … my sweet girl,” Joyce murmured, wrapping her arms around her daughter and dropping kisses into Buffy’s hair.

“Mommy, God … I … tried so hard. I just couldn’t … I couldn’t save her. I’m so sorry. I let you down … I let Dawn down,” Buffy sobbed against her.

“Shhhhh … it’s alright, Buffy,” Joyce soothed, running her hand down Buffy’s long hair gently. “There was nothing you could’ve done. It was Dawn’s choice … you couldn’t have known. Shush now, sweetie. It’s alright…”



The two women stood there for what was at once an eternity and a blink of the eye; mother soothing the hurt away from her daughter. The embrace ended slowly, naturally … Buffy’s heart, if not mended, was at least temporarily bandaged. Joyce gave her daughter a reassuring smile, holding her at arm’s length a moment as Buffy wiped jerkily at her face and eyes to clear her tears.

“Sit down, honey. The waffles will be ready in a minute,” Joyce offered, waving a hand at the island. “I need to talk to you.”

Buffy took a deep breath and nodded before moving out of her mother’s arms. “Where’s … Is Dawn here?” Buffy asked tentatively, looking around as she took her normal seat at the island.



Joyce turned back around to get the waffles out of the iron. “No … that’s what I need to talk to you about,” she admitted.

Buffy fretted her bottom lip with her teeth, worry and fear settling back into her heart as she waited for her mom to continue.

Joyce brought two plates of waffles over to the table, then retrieved syrup and coffee creamer from the fridge, and poured them both cups of coffee. She stood across from Buffy to eat rather than sitting on her stool at the end of the island.

“Mom … just tell me,” Buffy begged, unable to stomach the idea of eating anything right then.

“Eat,” Joyce pressed. “You’ll feel better. You look so thin, Buffy. Have you been eating? Living on Coke isn’t healthy – you need to eat real food ... including vegetables, and potato chips don't count.”

“What difference does it make? Dead now. The good thing about dead is you don’t really need to worry about eating healthy,” Buffy retorted.



Joyce gave her that patient mom-smile that Buffy knew too well. “You’re not dead, Buffy – you’re unconscious. But if you keep on like you’ve been doing, you will be dead, and then Dawn will …” Joyce’s voice broke. She cleared her throat and took a drink of coffee to cover it.

“Dawn will what?” Buffy demanded, although she wasn’t sure she wanted to know.

Joyce cleared her throat again and met Buffy’s eyes. “Dawn’s not here because she’s … stuck. She can’t move forward or back – she’s caught between worlds,” Joyce explained.

“Caught? But why?”

Joyce took another slow sip of coffee; her hands trembled slightly. Buffy noticed. “Mom … please, tell me what’s going on.”

Joyce nodded and set her cup down; it clattered slightly on the Formica countertop before she could release it from her shaking fingers. “First of all, I want to say this again: What happened to Dawn is not your fault – it’s no one’s fault. She made a decision. It’s a decision that you would’ve made if you were in her place. She died saving the world – saving you and her friends – don’t negate or belittle what she did by blaming yourself. Her blood is not on your hands, Buffy. Not yours, not Spike’s … not anyone’s except Glory’s.”

Buffy looked down at her hands and began unconsciously wringing them together, as if to wipe the blood off.

“Buffy. You have to stop blaming yourself. Dawn still needs you – and burying yourself in a pool of blood-soaked guilt will not help her. Listen to me – believe me when I tell you this,” her mother insisted.

Buffy looked up at her mother, wanting desperately to believe her.



“Dawn still needs you, Buffy. You have to pull yourself together,” Joyce repeated. “You’re the Slayer – you can do this.”

Buffy’s brows furrowed. “How … how do I help her? She’s … gone. We buried her … next to you.”

Joyce drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly. “She’s no more gone than I am, but she’s … trapped in Limbo. She needs you to get her out.”

“I don’t understand,” Buffy interjected, searching her mother’s face for some clue.

“When the monks made her, they made her body out of you – your blood, Buffy – but they needed a soul,” Joyce began to explain.

Buffy furrowed her brow as she listened and watched her mother’s grave expression. “Okay … they needed a soul. Why didn’t they make a withdrawal from the ‘Soul Bank’ or buy one on eBay or whatever? No! Don't tell me! They don't have a PayPal account, right?”



Joyce let out a small laugh and shook her head. “They aren’t that powerful ... the monks aren't on the level with the Powers. They don't have an account at the ‘Soul Bank’ ... and I think eBay frowns on the sale of souls – no one wants to allow returns,” she joked. Then, turning serious she added, “They had to get it from … you.”

Buffy’s brows shot up.

Joyce quickly continued, “And me, and your friends … Willow, Mr. Giles, Xander – they took a little bit of soul from each of us to make it.”

“They took pieces of our souls? Isn’t that … of the bad?” Buffy asked worriedly. “Not to mention sort of an invasion of privacy!”

Joyce shook her head. “Souls are … fluid, they grow, they change … sometimes they shrink – sometimes they even die inside people. A baby’s soul starts out as a small little thing, just like the baby started out. It’s like a bright promise, a seed made from bits of the soul of the child’s parents. As the child grows, the soul grows with them – all of the child’s experiences mold it, shape it into … their own unique soul over time.
 
“The monks took all our memories and changed them, putting Dawn in them for us. Once Dawn was in our hearts, in our souls, they took a little piece of that from each of us to give her – we were all her parents in a way. She needed this so she would have her soul – nearly fully grown right from the start – not just a small seed,” Joyce continued.

“Okaaay,” Buffy drawled. “So what does that mean? That’s what’s trapping her? She has pieces of the souls of people that are still alive so she can’t move on?”

Joyce frowned. “Sort of…” she admitted. “The little bits that they took from most of us wouldn’t be enough to trap her. The problem is, the small chunks they took weren’t enough to create a full, teen-sized soul; they had to get more – a bigger piece somewhere, to ... fill it out.”

Buffy waited for the shoe to fall.

“From someone that loved her but wasn’t actually … using his.”

Buffy closed her eyes. “Spike,” she breathed.



Joyce nodded. “They took about half his soul from the ether and gave it to her to make up the difference.”

“That explains a lot actually,” Buffy quipped dryly, opening her eyes to look back at her mother over their untouched food. She steeled herself to ask the next question, clenching her fists against her thighs, and stiffening her back. “So what does that mean? Spike has to … dust in order to release the rest of his soul from the ether and, in turn, release Dawn so she can move on?”

“That’s one option,” Joyce admitted, looking away from Buffy uncomfortably.

Buffy nodded, the threat of tears blurring her vision. Why should she care? If it came down to him or Dawn, of course she would choose to save Dawn. Spike was a vampire, it was her sacred duty to dust him. It had always been her duty, her Calling ... and yet, she'd never been able to. She'd had her chances, even when he was evil and chip-less, and she'd always, always let him go. She'd had plenty of excuses after the fact, and always swore she would dust him next time, but ... somehow she never managed it.

She blinked her confusing, irrational tears back and asked in a hoarse whisper, “What are the other options?”

Joyce took another sip of her coffee, looking everywhere except at Buffy. She took her time, setting her coffee back down on the counter and clearing her throat uneasily before answering. “He could … have a child and Dawn’s soul would be pulled back – given to the baby. Basically she – or at least her soul – would come back to life. It would get her out of the state of Limbo she’s in; give her spirit another chance at life.”

Buffy stared at her mother a moment as the words and their meaning sank into her brain. “A … baby …"

"A baby," Joyce confirmed with a slight nod.

"Spike needs to have a baby..." Buffy restated.

"Well," Joyce hedged. "Not exactly, he's a man. There would need to be someone ... else involved. A girl ..."

"A girl ..." Buffy repeated. "... to have a baby … with Spike."



"Yes," her mother confirmed, picking her coffee back up and sipping at it uncomfortably, her eyes glued to the countertop.

Buffy studied Joyce as the weight of her mother's words settled onto her shoulders. "You want me to have a baby with Spike," Buffy muttered, utterly flabbergasted by the suggestion.

“Well … ummm,” Joyce began, sounding unsure, then she sighed. “Yes.”



“Mom … I know you've been busy with the being dead part of your life, but I think you've missed some key episodes of this program. Timmy's down the well and Lassie ran off with Rin Tin Tin. I hear they're living in a hippie commune in the foothills of some mountain range I can't pronounce, smoking dope, making little mutts, calling them Shep-ollies, and selling them for major bucks on Craigslist."

"Buffy, honey ..." Joyce began, but Buffy cut her off, tossing her hands in the air in frustration.

"Mom, I can’t take care of myself, let alone a baby! I couldn’t take care of teenage Dawn – couldn’t keep her safe, couldn’t handle anything after you …” Buffy’s voice broke and she couldn’t finish the sentence. “I … I … can’t,” Buffy rasped out, her chest and throat tightening in emotions ranging from simple, unmitigated fear to utter, bone-chilling terror.

“You can, Buffy. I have faith in you. I know you can do it,” Joyce encouraged her. “You’ll make a wonderful mother.”

“You do remember me, right? Buffy – your daughter who couldn’t even keep a gerbil alive? The girl that's killed every houseplant I've ever owned? The one that spends all her time in cemeteries? The one that’s living on borrowed time? The one that’s died once already and … and … tried to die again? I’m that Buffy. There’s no room for a baby in that … it would be … craziness.”

“Buffy … Dawn needs you. Limbo isn’t somewhere you want to spend eternity, believe me. You’re stronger than you know – you can do it. You can save her soul from … the darkness,” Joyce assured her again, her voice soft and cajoling.

Buffy pressed her clenched fists against her thighs and screwed her eyes closed tightly, trying to keep from exploding with frustration and rage. Hadn’t she done enough? Couldn’t she just rest now? She was so tired, so utterly exhausted. So tired of the guilt, of the fear, of the worry, the pressure. So tired of the weight of the world resting on her shoulders. How do you add a baby to that and remain standing under the strain? She could barely stand even now. She didn't even want to try to stand anymore. Hello! Can you say 'suicide'? Is anybody up here watching?

Then something else occurred to the Slayer. She opened her eyes, blatant defiance shone in the glare she leveled on her dead mother.

“In case you forgot, Spike’s a vampire. He's big with the undead method of birth control: his little ... swimmers are mostly just belly-up floaters ... kinda like that goldfish I had when I was three.

"So, duh! He can’t make babies!” Buffy informed her angrily, a small snarl of victory accompanying the words.

Joyce flinched at her daughter’s outburst, but tried to keep her expression neutral and her voice calm. “He can,” she said, keeping her tone even. “I … I made a … deal – with the monks,” Joyce continued. “If you … were to have … relations with him and at the … ummm … right moment … think about Dawn, the monks will … fix it – a baby would be made.”



Buffy stared at her, her mouth dropping open in shock. Her mother was not backing down. Her mother, who had been so dead-set against Buffy dating Angel, was openly telling her to have sex with Spike, a soulless vampire. Not only that, she was telling Buffy to make a baby with said soulless vampire.

“I couldn’t find any other way, Buffy,” Joyce continued quickly. “I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t think …” She paused a moment, then asked simply, “You love him, don’t you? I know he loves you.”



The tears that had been threatening spilled from Buffy’s eyes and dampened her cheeks. She dropped her gaze to the fists she had clenched in her lap, willing the flood, which had no basis whatsoever, to stop. In answer to her mother’s question Buffy shook her head, then nodded, then shook it again. “I’m … He’s … We’re…” she stammered. She took several deep, shuddering breaths and then looked up and met her mother’s eyes. “Mom, first of all, he's a vampire. I thought you were founder and president of the No Dating Vampires Club."

Joyce gave her daughter a patient smile. "No, honey ... that was Mr. Giles. I was treasurer."

"Mooom," Buffy moaned, rolling her shimmering eyes. "He doesn't even have a soul."

"No, but he has a heart, Buffy. He can love; he loves you – he loves you very much. He's changed, Buffy – he's no run of the mill vampire. You can't deny that," Joyce pointed out gently.

Buffy closed her eyes again, her throat tightened and closed up, an icy fist squeezed her heart, until she felt like she'd suffocate, unable to breathe. Her mom was right, Buffy couldn't deny Spike's heart, not anymore. She'd tried to deny it at first, tried to paint Spike with the same blood-soaked brush she had Angelus: a soulless monster incapable of feeling any true affection for anyone. But, it hadn't worked; Spike had proven her wrong too many times, proving her mother right. He had changed, over the last months especially. Spike could love, and for some insane reason, he loved her.

"I don’t know how to love," Buffy replied after finally forcing a breath into her lungs, her voice shaky and barely audible. "I … I’m … the Slayer. Love’s not … in the hand I was dealt. And babies aren’t even in the deck.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Joyce argued sternly. “I know you, Buffy – better than anyone. Your heart is full of love. No one is more caring and giving than you are, I’ve seen it too many times. You always put the safety and well-being of others above your own. I refuse to believe that being the Slayer could take that away – if anything, it would make it stronger. Why in the world would you think that you can’t love?”



Buffy shook her head despondently, tears swimming in her eyes. “I don’t know. I’ve tried but … it’s just … more than I have to give.”

“Honey, I wouldn’t ask you to give more than you have. I know it's in you, I know you can do it,” Joyce assured her. “Dawn still needs you, now more than ever. Will you … try?”

Buffy’s head drooped, her chin falling to her chest. She felt like she was drowning. It was too much – too much to ask. She looked down at her hands, opened her fists and studied her palms. Blood. Her hands were covered in blood. Dawn’s blood. She’d killed her sister. She’d failed her.

The never-ending tears continued to stream from her eyes as she nodded almost imperceptibly. God help her, she would try. She owed Dawn that much.

**~**

{{  Click here to hear Try by P!nk  on YouTube  }}

Ever wonder about what he’s doing
How it all turned to lies
Sometimes I think that it’s better to never ask why

Where there is desire
There is gonna be a flame
Where there is a flame
Someone’s bound to get burned
But just because it burns
Doesn’t mean you’re gonna die
You’ve gotta get up and try try try
Gotta get up and try try try
You gotta get up and try try try

Eh, eh, eh

Funny how the heart can be deceiving
More than just a couple times
Why do we fall in love so easy
Even when it’s not right

Where there is desire
There is gonna be a flame
Where there is a flame
Someone’s bound to get burned
But just becausze it burns
Doesn’t mean you’re gonna die
You’ve gotta get up and try try try
Gotta get up and try try try
You gotta get up and try try try

Ever worried that it might be ruined
And does it make you wanna cry?
When you’re out there doing what you’re doing
Are you just getting by?
Tell me are you just getting by by by

Where there is desire
There is gonna be a flame
Where there is a flame
Someone’s bound to get burned
But just because it burns
Doesn’t mean you’re gonna die
You’ve gotta get up and try try try
Gotta get up and try try try

You gotta get up and try try try
Gotta get up and try try try
Gotta get up and try try try
You gotta get up and try try try
Gotta get up and try try try

You gotta get up and try try try
Gotta get up and try try try


Chapter End Notes:
Can Buffy pull herself together long enough to accomplish the mission her mother gave her and save Dawn's patch-work soul from Limbo? Lifting the bloody veil of guilt from Buffy's mind may be more of a problem than Joyce realizes.




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