"Are you going to play, or sit there staring off into space?" asked the robot double of Buffy Summers.
Kara Philips glanced across the table and gave an apologetic smile. "Sorry." She laid a card down, which made Dana's eyebrow rise.
"Hey, my game is Twister." She didn't mind Dana's words. In her experience, if the formerly psychotic vampire slayer gave an insult without throwing something at the same time, it was a term of endearment. Kara glanced to her left, where another of her opponents kept shimmering in and out of view. "Your turn."
"Hm." Tara McClay stretched --which was totally unnecessary for a ghost -- and looked around the mostly empty lounge of the Chicago Watcher's Headquarters. Also unnecessary, since she could always tell when living people were nearby. Kara realized the young woman must be stalling.
"So," she told Tara with a grin, "The spirit's willing, but the flesh is weak?"
"Ha ha." Looking triumphant, Tara concentrated on moving two of her cards, and a moment later a gasp of dismay went up from her three opponents.
"You're cheating!" Buffybot protested.
"Why would I cheat? It's not like I can do anything with that stack of nickels. You, on the other hand, can feed them into your nose and play songs."
Tara started to give the robot a good natured ribbing, backtracking from time to time to explain why something was funny, while Dana looked on with a bemused expression. Kara sat back, game forgotten, and pondered on how she'd come to be a part of this odd group of friends. There she sat with a ghost, a robot and a psycho -- and her just a normal girl. Well, normal until a year ago, when she'd felt that sudden surge of power flow through her like a supersized can of Jolt.
Strange. Had it been less than a year ago, when her life had been turned upside down? At the time she didn't make the connection between the CNN report of a California town that sank into a giant cavern, and the way she suddenly kicked ass in her martial arts class. Then -- then they showed up at the Indiana coffee shop where she worked: The wisecracking one eyed guy and his teenage girl companion, announcing vampires were real and it was her destiny to slay them.
She'd never have believed them if a crew of those selfsame vampires hadn't come walking in minutes later, proving their point that slayers didn't need to look for trouble -- it came looking for them.
"The cards have meaning," Dana was saying, staring hard at the ones in her hand. "They're like a family -- kings and queens, numbers for children, jacks for weird cousins ..." To either side of her Tara and Buffybot concentrated, trying to figure out if Dana's words gave any clues to her hand. Both could use their own unique senses to cheat, but both studiously avoided it.
Strange friends, Kara thought. Good friends, but ... she'd had her own friends, back in Madison. Normal friends, a guy who was maybe interested in her, a home, and a more or less normal father who sat at home and wrote books, and had never heard the term "watcher".
Until she trashed the coffee shop and accompanied Xander and Dawn back to her home, only to be attacked by demons. That's when she found out the slim teenage girl who’d walked into the coffee shop was a transdimensional key, and very popular with bad guys who wanted unlimited power.
Vampires, demons, slayers, balls of energy who looked like normal people ... What ever happened to worrying about the Homecoming Dance?
Buffybot made her play. "I'm down two dollars," she complained. "I think I need a tune up."
"A hydraulic blood transfusion," Dana suggested. "Or defrag your brain."
"Call Bill Gates," Kara murmured.
Buffybot gave her a quizzical look. "I've got OSX."
"Maybe you have a virus," Dana continued with a frown.
At Buffybot's panicked look, Tara quickly put in, "I'm sure you're just having a run of bad luck, Bottie. Andrew and Willow are keeping a very close eye on your systems."
"You're right." Buffybot agreed with a confident nod, but then she tilted her head and frowned. "Does a checkup require me to remove all my clothing?"
Dana shook her head vigorously, while Kara and Tara exchanged looks. "I'll talk to Andrew," Kara assured the spirit.
The spirit. Huh. The spirit, and the robot, once thought trashed, now brought back to life by magical energies. The crazed slayer Dana, whose overdose of supposedly curing magics had trashed the building, but returned both her and Buffybot to more or less normal.
As if anything could be called normal, anymore. By the end of that first week she'd added witches and ghosts to her list of new acquaintances, along with demons that haunted dreams and made people sing, stuffy Englishmen, dimensional portals, the undead, and Faith. Okay, so stuffy Englishmen might not fit on the list, but she'd never met one before.
"Kara?" Dana said, in that hesitant way she had when she thought she'd upset someone.
Kara focused, and realized the others were waiting for her to play. "Sorry. I was just thinking of everything that's happened."
"I understand," Buffybot said brightly. "It’s been a strange life. I was torn into pieces, stored in a box, probed by the government, and fixed by magic."
Tara nodded. "I got brain sucked and shot, so ... there you go."
Dana, staring at the table, spoke quietly. "I got tortured in a dungeon."
An uncomfortable silence followed. Tara started to reach for the young slayer, then drew back when Buffybot touched Dana's hand instead, grasping it firmly.
"I'm sorry." Kara felt idiotic. Why stir all that up, especially when Dana was so unstable as it was? "Um, I was talking about just the last year."
Dana eyed her for a moment, in a way frighteningly similar to the expression she'd had just before she blew up the gym. But before Kara could figure out how to work damage control, the other slayer gave her a sly smile. "Oh. Well, then, I cut Spike's arms off."
Buffybot and Tara looked horrified, but Kara drew a sigh of relief. She'd been spending enough time with Dana to know when the young woman was attempting a joke, and this one was actually kind of funny, in an icky way. Besides, she'd met Spike once, and it hadn't gone well. He'd been, in point of fact, a jerk.
A jerk vampire with a soul, which kind of fit the whole theme. Kara shook her head. "I was just wondering if my life's gotten better or worse, since I became a slayer. I liked our house, and I liked our little town. Now I'm on the fourteenth floor of a skyscraper, I have the shelf life of a teen pop sensation, and the father who's supposed to keep me out of trouble tells me to stay out all night and walk through dangerous neighborhoods."
The other three were silent for a moment, and Kara felt the blood rising in her cheeks. Why didn't she just shut up? But before she could tell them to forget it, Buffybot burst out, "But if you hadn't become a slayer, you wouldn't have been there to put me back together!"
Dana added, a good deal more quietly, "And if Bottie hadn't been brought to the headquarters, I would have killed people when I escaped."
Oh. Kara hadn't thought of it that way. Wasn't that what most people wanted? To change the world, make a difference? It looked like she done that by accident.
"What would you rather be doing?" Tara asked quietly.
That was the question, then. Making cappachino's for the people of Madison, Indiana? Sucking face with Jason? Playing loud pop music and shopping for clothes? Looking at college pamphlets?
Well, yeah. But she didn't need anyone to tell her there was more to life than that. Not anymore.
Finally she looked around, taking in the robot, the maniac, and the ghost. "I'd rather be playing. Give me all your eight's."
Tara just smiled. "Go fish."