It all started when the Buffybot realized Christmas was coming.
It was hard to miss, what with all the decorations people began putting up around the Watcher’s Headquarters. (Some of the slayers had started calling it the Slayer’s Headquarters, since they outnumbered the watchers by about twenty to one.)
Not to mention that big snowstorm that blew through Chicago in early December. Even Giles had been affected: Bottie caught him humming “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas”, although when he realized it, he clamped his mouth shut and turned red.
But Bottie didn’t really know much about Christmas. Vampires didn’t much like that particular holiday, what with all its Christian imagery -- rumor had it that once, at a Christmas party in which the religious spirit was especially strong, a vampire had been toasted by a pine wreath. That didn’t seem likely, but when she’d asked Spike about it he got mad and changed the subject.
Spike was the reason Bottie didn’t know about Christmas. She’d been created for him, and for the most part her original programming contained only what he thought was necessary. So, no Christmas, or Hanukkah, or Easter, although she knew a great deal about British football and beer.
So she went into the computer lab one night and Googled Christmas. Even at her rate of learning, it took over three hours before she was satisfied that she had a pretty good idea of what Christmas was all about, and she spent six more hours surfing around, taking in history, tradition, and TV specials. She liked the Charlie Brown one, the best.
Finally she shut the computer down and stretched, not only because she was programmed to but because her joints really were stiff. It was 2:32 a.m., so she was careful not to make too much noise as she padded through the dark hallway.
Much to her surprise, she saw someone else coming the other way, a dark haired female dressed in Hello Kitty pajamas. “Hi, Dana!” Bottie called, keeping her volume turned low.
“Hi, Bottie.” Dana looked a little evasive, as if she’d been doing something she shouldn’t have, but Buffybot knew the other girl often wondered the halls at night, when the nightmares waked her. “What are you doing up so late?”
“Research. Say, how did you know I wasn’t Buffy Classic?”
Dana smiled. “Buffy classic?”
“I’m trying to be original.”
Dana considered for a moment, then shrugged. “Buffy wouldn’t be up this late -- at least, not inside. And she wouldn’t be in the computer lab.”
“Oh.” Turning, Bottie accompanied Dana on down the corridor, and gave her friend a sidelong look. Dana didn’t have that haunted expression she got when she’d been having the nightmares, but still ... “Kara’s still in Vermont, isn’t she? Would you like me to sleep with you tonight?”
“No, thank you.” Stopping at her door, the slayer turned and gave Bottie a hug. “I’m all right, and you need to charge up.” Dana had the strange ability to tell when the robot was ready for a recharge.
“You’re right -- well, have a good night, and Merry Christmas!”
Halfway through the door, Dana froze. “Merry Christmas?”
“Oh -- I guess you haven’t really celebrated Christmas either, have you?” Bottie wondered if she’d committed the cardinal sin of bringing back bad memories.
“Not since I was real little.” Dana looked down for a moment, then brought her head up with that expression she got when trying to be brave. “But we can celebrate Christmas together this year, can’t we?”
“Yep! What do you want for Christmas?”
“Me?” The slayer puzzled on that for a moment, then shook her head. “I don’t really need anything. Just to be here with my friends, I guess. And fudge.” She gave Bottie a little wave, then disappeared into her room.
Buffybot’s “room” was just off the computer lab, a place the size of a large closet that contained everything she needed -- a slab to lay on, a power coupling, and a terminal for getting computer updates. Usually she used her downtime to defrag her hard drive and run maintenance software, but this time she elected to stay on, pondering Christmas, and other questions she hadn’t considered before.
It turned out to be for the best that Bottie didn’t spend the night in Dana’s room. Sometime in the early morning hours Kara, Rona, and Tara returned from their assignment in Vermont, and when Bottie arose she learned Rona had been kept overnight in the medical room.
“You look terrible,” Bottie told Kara when she joined her and Dana at the breakfast table.
“Hello to you, too,” Kara grunted, before going back to spooning grits into her mouth. Her hair was a tangled mess, she sported a bruise on one cheek, and a large bandage covered the left side of her neck.
“You got mucus all over your sheets,” Dana complained. “It smells like cat pee in there. Couldn’t you have showered before you left Vermont?”
“It wasn’t mucus -- I washed the mucus off as soon as we killed the Angorrah Demon, so it wouldn’t burn my skin any more. That’s just the after smell, like a skunk.”
“I’ve never smelled a skunk,” Dana countered, “and I’m sure going to avoid them now.”
“But Rona’s all right?” Bottie asked.
Kara nodded. “She got a little overspray in the eyes, but Giles says her vision will come back fine. Tara got sprayed too -- do you know, she actually felt it for a minute? It was so strange: She screamed and disappeared, and it took her fifteen minutes before she could come back. Why would a ghost be effected like that?”
“She’s more than a ghost, now,” Dana said with a frown. “She’s something else.”
“Well, I’ll bet she wished she was just a ghost again yesterday.” Kara pushed her plate away. “You know, when I heard we were going after an Angorrah Demon, I kept imagining some big fuzzy mohair monster that we could just unravel like a sweater. Turns out it could spray this -- stuff -- twenty feet.”
“Mucus,” Bottie supplied. “Very caustic.”
“And where were you when we needed you?”
Bottie felt bad about that, even though she’d been left behind because the others had to catch an emergency flight to Vermont, and there’d only been room for two. She momentarily imagined Tara riding on a wing of the Southwest Airlines jet, but shrugged the image off. No one really knew how Tara got around, now that she was much more solid than the average spirit. Somehow she’d not only managed to get to Vermont, but she’d brought weapons with her.
“Well, it ended okay.” Kara patted Bottie’s arm, apparently taking the robot’s silence for self recrimination. “Rona’s going to be all right, and the demon’s in three pieces, and I’ll change my bed covers after breakfast.”
“Use Fabreeze,” Dana suggested.
Taking that as the end of the conversation, Bottie learned toward Kara eagerly. “So, what do you want for Christmas?”
Kara looked surprised. “I don’t know. I got the iPod last Christmas, and I’m here with all of you, doing something important ... what else do I need? Maybe the ‘Bewitched’ DVD.”
“Don’t mention that around Willow,” Dana warned. “She hates that show, just like I hate ‘Saw’.”
Robin gave Kara the day off from classes, and despite her assurances that she was all right Kara didn’t feel up to hitting the gym, so Bottie spent the day with her in the lounge, playing Sims2. They were there when Tara hurried in just after lunch, and glanced quickly around. “Has anybody seen Kennedy?”
Vi, who was reading “Mists of Avalon” in one corner of the room, glanced up. “She’s in the gym, teaching defensive tactics to the newbies.” Vi was supposed to be teaching that class, but the cast encased foot she’d propped up on the coffee table made the reason for her absence obvious. She’d thrown a sweeping kick at a vampire, and hit a fire hydrant, instead.
“Thanks.” But before Tara could leave, Buffybot called to her.
“Do you know who I am?”
Tara gave her a blank stare. “You’re Bottie.”
“How do you know?”
Now Tara looked at her as if she’d asked the dumbest question in the world. “You’re with Kara.”
“Oh. Wait, one more thing!” Tara had already moved back into the hallway, so Bottie hurried to catch up with her. “I wanted to ask you about Christmas -- oh, wait. Do you celebrate Christmas?”
Tara smiled. “Of course I do.”
“But you were a wicca, and ... and now you’re a ghost ...” Bottie paused, trying to decide if she was intruding into forbidden areas. The whole afterlife question was so confusing. “I just mean, since it’s a Christian holiday, I thought you might not observe it.”
“There are many mansions in Heaven, Bottie.” Now Tara’s smile became a little wistful, as if she was thinking about something far away. “Who knows? There may even be one for you.”
That brought Bottie up short. She’d known that she couldn’t exist forever -- she was mechanical, and no mechanical thing lasted forever, even with the skills of Willow and Andrew behind her maintenance. But she’d never considered the possibility that there might be anything beyond the end of her physical life.
She had enough questions to chew over as it was, so she decided to put that one away for now. “What do you want for Christmas?”
Tara shook her head. “I don’t need anything for Christmas, Bottie. Just to be here, with all of you.”
Buffybot had been programmed to think she -- and by extension, the original Buffy -- was very materialistic. As a rule, the other slayers did pay attention to what they wore, and their hair, and their makeup. But, as she wandered the headquarters asking questions, she discovered most of the people here hadn’t made themselves a Christmas list. Many were working on what to get for their friends, but as a group they operated at a higher plane, where they were concerned with defending the world, and surviving while they did it. That left out a lot of the smaller things -- perfumes, jewelry, other accessories. Music and books seemed to top the list, for those few who’d been able to wheedle such lists out of their friends.
Of course, Bottie couldn’t exactly go shopping, anyway. She wasn’t a salaried worker -- Giles had offered her pay, but she’d rejected it under the theory that as long as she was supplied with power, maintenance and something to do, she had no needs. Now she was starting to regret that decision.
Lost in thought, Bottie hadn’t seen Xander come into the computer lab. She leaped up and gave him a hug. “Xander! I thought you were in Africa!”
“Came home for Christmas. And for hugs -- all sorts of yummy female hugs around here.”
“Thank you for calling me female! But how did you know I wasn’t Buffy One?”
He blinked. “You’re so ... bouncy.”
“Bouncy. Um, energetic, chipper, lively -- like a Mexican jumping bean, only prettier.”
“Thanks, I guess. So, Xander, what do you want for Christmas?”
He grinned. “A plane ticket to -- oh, wait, I already got that, and here I am. So, my present came early.”
Although not unexpected, the answer irritated Bottie. “That’s what everyone says, but it doesn’t really help me. I mean, what can I do to get presents for everyone? In a way, this is my first Christmas, and I want to give people what they want. But even if I had money, all they seem to want is to be together.”
Xander plopped into a nearby seat, and paused to consider the problem. “Well ... you could make something for everyone.”
“Remember last year, when Giles showed up with all those fancy stakes with the slayers’ names on them? Something like that.”
Make something. But what everyone wanted, it seemed, was to be together. How could she make that?
To be together. As a present. A made present. There was a possibility ...
Startled, Buffybot looked at Xander, and realized she was no longer standing straight. She’d leaned against the nearest desk, arms crossed, head tilted to one side as she thought through her idea. “Oh. Sorry, Xander, did you say something?”
Standing, Xander approached her with the attitude of a man who’d just seen a UFO. “Bottie, I could swear I just saw a gleam in your eye. A ... spark.”
But she ignored that, her mind skipping ahead to all that had to be done. “Xander, do you believe in miracles?”
“Huh? Uh ... yeah. Yeah. I do.”
“How would you like to help me perform one?”
She explained her idea. By the time she was done, Xander’s eyes had glazed over. “We’d have to hook you up to an extension cord. Because, even with my help, you’ll have to work night and day to get this done in three weeks.”
Bottie just grinned. “I love a challenge.”
When Bottie and Xander entered the shop, they found Jason already there, carefully sharpening a battle ax. The young blonde man glanced up, then smiled widely. “Xander! It’s great to have a little extra testosterone around here. Hi, Bottie.”
Bottie stopped short, hands on hips. “How did you know it was me?”
Jason looked puzzled. “You look just like Buffy, only more roboty.”
Before Bottie could protest, Xander rested a hand on her shoulder. “So, Jason, what are you up to?”
“Oh, just a little maintenance.” Jason’s father, a marine veteran, survivalist, and conspiracy theorist, had trained Jason to use and repair just about every weapon known to man, before they had a little falling out involving vampires, demons, and a destroyed coffee shop. “Rona bounced her ax off a steel post and a concrete block wall, so a little sharpening was in order. Guess she was having a bad slay day.”
“Yeah, I heard.” Xander was glancing around the shop, and Bottie realized he was figuring out what equipment and supplies they would need. “What about Kara’s sword?”
“Ruined. It looks like a 1963 Voltzwagon left in a swamp.”
Jason, Buffybot realized, would make a very useful addition to their project. “Jason, how good are you with your hands?”
Jason dropped the ax and jumped back, staring at the robot with wide eyes.
“She means,” Xander put in, “how good are you with using tools?”
“Oh!” Red faced, Jason crouched down to pick up the weapon. “Pretty good, I guess. Why?”
Bottie looked at Xander, who nodded. “Three weeks until Christmas,” he reminded her. “We’ll need the help.”
“You’re right. Jason ... you’re about to become Santa’s little helper.”
Jason just stared.
There were two more thing that had to be done, so, while Xander and Jason started gathering supplies, Bottie hurried to the classroom. Richard Philips sat behind his desk grading papers, shaking his head at something he read on one of them.
“Hi, Bottie. What can I do for you?”
He hadn’t even looked up. She sounded just like Buffy, didn’t she? “I need a picture of everyone.”
Now Richard did look up. “In the world?”
“No, I mean all of us. Didn’t you take everyone’s picture at the beginning of the year?”
Smiling, he slid his computer keyboard out from under his desktop and typed something into it. “I know what you meant, and yes, it’s up to date.” He slid a disk into the computer. “What do you need it for?”
“A special project.”
“A Christmas project?”
“I can’t say.”
“Ah.” Richard sat back and crossed his arms. “You know, after my wife died I gave up celebrating Christmas, for a few years.”
“When people are grieving, they do stupid things. Finally I realized that if she’d been there, she would have smacked me, so when Kara was three I dug the decorations out and started all over again.” He pulled the disk out and handed it to her. “Nothing’s more important than family.”
For reasons she couldn’t understand, Bottie leaned forward and kissed Richard’s forehead.
“Have fun, Bottie. I’ll see you later.” Richard bent back over the papers, still smiling.
A few minutes later Bottie found Giles on the phone, looking as if he wasn’t in a very good mood.
“I understand what you’re saying, Angel,” Giles said into the receiver, after gesturing Bottie in and holding one finger up. “But the fact remains, somebody did place a long distance call from Watcher’s Headquarters to Wolfram and Hart, and that naturally concerns me.”
He listened for a moment, then shook his head. “No, our lines aren’t recorded. I’ve been making discreet inquiries, of course, but no one admits to making the call. The worst part is, it seems to have originated from my office, at about 2:15 on the morning of December third ...”
The time and date jogged Bottie’s memory, and she realized that was about the time she’d finished her research into Christmas. About the time, come to think of it, when she’d encountered Dana in the hallway ...
“No, I don’t think that’s funny. You wouldn’t either, if someone called the Watcher’s Council from your personal phone in the wee hours ... well, what about Spike? No, I don’t know why anyone here would call Spike, but he’s the only other person that might have a connection.”
Dana wouldn’t call Spike, Bottie thought. Would she?
“Very well. Let me know what you find out, would you?” Giles hung up the phone and sat back, then glanced up at his visitor. “And what can I do for you?”
She started to wish him a Merry Christmas, then realized this was her chance to fool someone into thinking she was the real Buffy. She tried to make her face more serious, lowered her voice, and dropped into a chair like she’d seen Buffy do in Giles’ presence. “Xander’s back, and he’s got a special project he needs to work on -- but it’s something that requires some privacy. We need to quarantine the machine shop for, oh, about three weeks.”
“I see. Have you discussed this with Jason?”
“Jason’s going to be helping us with it. Don’t worry, it’s not dangerous -- just kind of time consuming, and a surprise.”
“Well, it is that time of year. I’ll see to it that the necessary warnings are posted. Now, one more thing ... why are you trying to fool me into thinking you’re the flesh and blood Buffy?”
“It was a good attempt, mind you ...”
Bottie wasn’t sure herself why it seemed important. “I was designed to be just like Buffy, but I’m not! How can everyone tell the difference?”
“Ah. Well ...” Giles rested his elbows on the desk, and laced his fingers together to rest his chin on them. “Buffybot, you seem to be developing ... emotions.”
He nodded. “You were programmed to be cheerful all the time, but since you received that magical powerup from Dana I’ve seen you happy, sad, upset, even angry a time or two. Remember when Willow ran all those tests on you last month? She was trying to determine what was causing it. It’s almost as if you’ve received a spark of humanity, somehow.”
Hadn’t Xander mentioned a spark? “But wouldn’t that mean I’m becoming more like the real Buffy?”
“Yes, but you’ve never been in love.”
In love? “I don’t understand.”
“Buffy Summers had a difficult childhood.”
“But -- she was spoiled.”
“Quite.” Rising from his chair, Giles looked out over the cold Chicago skyline, hands clasped behind his back. “Her parents had marital difficulties all through her childhood, and they compensated by spoiling her. I suspect they even competed to see who could give her the most ... things. She did indeed grow to be self centered, and when she was called to be the Slayer she wanted nothing to do with it. Not because she was afraid, but because she was being called to do something that didn’t involve personal gain.”
Bottie stared at him. She’d always thought of Buffy as some kind of paragon, which was hardly surprising, now that she considered it.
“When her parents got divorced, she suddenly found her standard of living lowered. In addition, she was facing a future of battling evil instead of pampering herself, and she resisted the idea with all her might. When I met her, she was cheerful, bouncy, energetic -- because she still thought she had the world on a string.”
“So it was ... responsibilities? But I have responsibilities.”
“That was just the beginning.” Now Giles turned to look at her. “She fell in love. I’m no psychiatrist, but she clearly has a tendency to fall for men who are no good for her. Angel, Spike, the Immortal, that bloody idiot in college ... I can’t speak for the others, but with Angel, right or wrong, she truly, deeply, fell in love. Then she had to kill him. Then he returned to life, but her second chance vanished when they realized they could never be, and he left Sunnydale.”
“That’s ... sad.”
“Yes. And all this changes a person. You have a bounce to your step, a sense of constant optimism, that pervades every room you enter. You haven’t been hurt -- not like that. I hope you never are, which is something I’d not have worried about just a few months ago. Buffy may someday find true happiness, but I doubt she’ll ever have that innocent joy that you still display.”
Bottie felt something roll down her cheek. She wiped it away, and saw wetness on her fingers. “My optic lubricant is overflowing!” She looked at Giles. “Do I need maintenance?”
“No, Buffy,” Giles said with a sad smile. “I believe you’re quite healthy.”
The Christmas tree, a huge blue spruce, was decorated to within an inch of its life, and placed near the lounge windows so it could be seen from other buildings nearby. Someone had strung a huge “Merry Christmas” across the far wall, so it could also be seen from outside, and between the two was every form of holiday decoration anyone could imagine. Folding chairs had been brought into the room because, with the exception of those who had families to go home to, all the slayers and their assorted support staff had gathered in this one room.
It was crowded, to say the least.
Buffybot made her way through the gathering, exchanging greetings as she went and passing out red Santa hats. She supposed the outfit she’d picked out -- a long, red, fur trimmed coat and green tights -- was a cliché, but she was far too happy to care what anyone thought about it.
Dana huddled in the far corner of the room, safely on the other side of the snack table from the crowd, snogging on fudge. Tara stood beside her, looking down at the table with an expression of longing.
Bottie playfully grabbed Kara’s arm as she passed. Kara couldn’t return the motion, as she was trying to keep her new copy of “Bewitched” hidden from Willow, who stood nearby with Kennedy.
In fact, everyone had a present, thanks to Willow, who had arranged a secret Santa exchange. Better one gift for each than each person trying to figure out how to afford hundreds of gifts. The whole thing had worked out great. Just the same, Bottie was confident that her present was going to be the talk of the season.
She finally reached the far wall, which had been covered by a tapestry. A Christmas themed tapestry, of course, full of candy canes, snow flakes, and angels. Many people had remarked on how colorful it was, and congratulated Buffybot on her creative skills.
She looked to her left and right. Xander and Jason, standing at each end of the massive tapestry, nodded that they were ready.
“Can I have your attention, everyone?” She got their attention, thanks to her built in volume control. In fact, some of the closer people winced.
Richard, who was standing between Kara and Giles, called out, “Tone it down, will you? It sounds like you’ve already had too much eggnog.”
“I’m just kidding, Bottie; I’m the one who’s had too much eggnog.”
When the laughter died down, Bottie said, “I’m glad everyone liked the tapestry, but it’s not the present -- it’s the wrapping.”
With that, Xander and Jason pulled the tapestry down.
It took a long, quiet moment for everyone to process what they were seeing.
The entire wall was covered by a wooden display case. Inside the case were hundreds of faces -- not photographs, but exact likenesses of the slayers and all their supporters, carved carefully into wooden reliefs.
Buffy and Faith were in the center, side by side. Around them were what Giles called the support group: himself, Xander, Willow, Tara, Dawn, Andrew, Richard, Jason, Robin, and even the demon who had appeared out of nowhere a month ago and been given a job as the building’s janitor, Clem.
Bottie, after some thought, had put herself with the larger group: line after line of slayers, gathered in alphabetical order around those in the center. finally, at the bottom and lined in black, were the five slayers who had died since the destruction of Sunnydale, all in the battle that had first brought them together.
“Whoa,” Faith murmured, from where she stood in a corner with Robin.
Nearby, Clem cried, “Hey, it’s me!”
A murmur swept the room, and those in front had to fight from being crushed as the others moved forward for a closer look. It wasn’t just that it was everyone’s picture -- it was the remarkable likeness, the way the images had been so carefully carved and polished that they looked almost like pictures themselves.
“Buffybot ...” Giles stood gazing at the mural. “This is ... this is remarkable.”
“It’s brilliant”, agreed the human Buffy.
Beside her, Dawn added, “It’s the best Christmas gift ever.”
Beaming, Bottie looked out over her friends and explained: “It’s family.”
Buffybot was tired.
Well, her batteries were low, which to her meant tired. She shuffled toward her cubbyhole, intent on getting a few hours “sleep” so she could help clean up the remains of the party in the morning. But she found Kara, Dana, Tara, and Willow standing outside the door to her room.
“You didn’t get a Christmas present, Bottie,” Kara said.
Bottie just grinned. “Yes I did -- when I saw everyone’s faces, after the tapestry came down.”
“That’s true,” Tara agreed, “but that was a present for everyone. In addition, we each had a secret Santa present, and I drew you.”
She stared at them, nonplussed. “But I don’t need anything.”
“It’s not always about need,” Dana said, and before she knew it, Bottie found herself drug toward the dorm areas.
“But I have to recharge soon,” Bottie protested, to no avail. The group stopped in front of Tara’s room, which had only recently been constructed. Kara opened the door, and the others led Bottie inside.
It was pretty much what the robot would have expected, except that there were two beds. Bottie looked around, seeing a rollup desk, a loveseat, a recliner, and two lamps. “It’s very nice,” she said uncertainly.
“This one’s mine.” Tara pointed to the bed on the right, which had a bookcase type headboard on it.
Willow grabbed Bottie’s arm and turned her toward the other bed, which had strange, gleaming, metallic rods sticking up like some kind of ultramodern gate at both head and foot. “This one is very special. When the power button is switched on, a current runs through these, and through the springs, and charges -- you! Without the need for plugging in.”
Bottie stared at her.
“You deserve a room,” Kara explained. “Not a closet.”
“So,” Tara added, “you’re now my roomie. I hope you don’t snore.”
“But ...” There was a strange, heavy feeling in Bottie’s chest, that she couldn’t define. “Why would you do this? It’s not something I needed.”
“It’s not about need,” Willow told her.
Dana nodded. “We’re family.”
When everyone enveloped her in a group hug, Bottie felt a warmth that she hadn’t noticed before. Body heat, she told herself. That strange leaking from her optical lubricants came again, too, but she didn’t feel like she needed maintenance.
In fact, she concluded, she had all she needed.