Special thanks to cagd of fanfiction.net, who challenged me to write a story about lilacs, and to the Good__Evil LiveJournal site, which put out a challenge to pair two BtVS/AtS characters into one of several "stranded together" scenarios. Killing two birds with one stone, here. Thanks to ainon for the beta.
LILACS AND MEMORIES
Tara McClay wandered among stands of lilac bushes, breathing in the scent of purple and white blooms. Soft grass cushioned her bare feet, while a light breeze swirled her skirt, and scattered strands of hair across her face.
From behind the nearest bush, she heard a soft, feminine voice call her name. She moved closer, and saw Willow and Kennedy sitting on a blanket, a picnic basket between them. “We’ve been waiting for you,” Willow said, patting the blanket. “Come, sit down -- we’re getting hungry.”
Tara let herself be drawn forward, but hesitated even when Kennedy also smiled invitingly. Something was wrong. Didn’t she die before Willow met Kennedy?
“We have fresh apples,” Willow added, gesturing toward an apple tree that suddenly appeared, incongruously, in the midst of the lilacs. “I didn’t have time to make pie, but there are brownies, and fruit salad, and veggies with a nice dip. Aren't you hungry? It’s close to dawn.”
Glancing up, Tara saw the sun’s disk through high, thin clouds. Actually, two suns, side by side. “But --”
“It’s all right.” Willow gestured again, this time toward a small fawn that had wandered into sight. “Everything dead is alive again -- at least, a little.”
Feeling the familiar old shyness, Tara tried not to stutter as she turned to Kennedy. “Is it okay with you?”
“Hey, I brought you back to life, didn’t I?” Kennedy grinned. “Besides, I’m having nostalgia!” She looked like Kennedy, but spoke in Buffy Summers’ voice.
“Wh -- what?”
“I’m having nostalgia!” the girl repeated cheerfully, still sounding like Buffy. “Can you smell it?”
Tara opened her eyes, and felt the rustle of fast-food wrappers beneath her feet. A flash of passing headlights blinded her and she looked away, her gaze resting on Buffy Summers, who flashed a wide smile from behind the steering wheel. “Can’t you smell it? Seriously, I’m having nostalgia!”
A moment of panic gripped Tara, as she remembered the standard joke about Buffy’s driving: “She drives like I spit -- very badly.” “Buffy, watch the road!”
The other woman turned her attention back to the two lane highway, a stretch of now empty pavement illuminated by their Impala’s headlights, and Tara realized there was no immediate danger. She scooped up a bottle of tea from the cup holder, trying to wash the taste of sleep from her mouth, and as she sipped she realized one part of the dream was still there -- she did, indeed, smell lilacs. “What -- where are we?”
Buffy rattled off a longitude and latitude, then added helpfully, “Utah. Utah has many canyons, and a Great Salt Lake, which is really a sea because it’s salty. And it has many Mormons -- Utah, not the lake. But polygamy is illegal.”
For a moment Tara stared at her, until the fuzz began clearing from her head. “Buffybot?”
Right. Bottie -- mission -- me still dead, in a magic shell -- like describing a morbid candy. Craning her neck, Tara glimpsed the shadows of two slayers sleeping in the back seat. Kara was stretched out, her head thrown back, snoring softly. Dana, having recovered from her panic attack at being trapped in the safety belt, was curled into a fetal position, her head on Kara’s shoulder.
“Are you all right?” Buffybot asked as Tara turned back around.
“Sure, just ... weird dream.” And how.
“Oh, I’m sorry! I heard you speak, so I thought you were awake -- that’s why I offered you the apple.”
Well, that explains part of it. “Actually, an apple sounds good.” She took the fruit from the plastic bag between them and bit into it -- mostly because she still hadn’t gotten the taste out of her mouth, and it looked like they had a few hours to go before a morning toothbrush stop. Being resurrected in a new body had its disadvantages; knowing it was a magical construct didn’t make her feel any better, considering how such powerful magic once almost destroyed Willow. “How long until we reach Las Vegas?”
Bottie shrugged cheerfully. “No idea.”
“But -- you knew exactly where we are.”
“Yes, I know where we are; and I know where Las Vegas is; but I have no idea how to get from here to there.”
“No Mapquest, huh?” Tara said sympathetically.
“We were doing okay until we tried to find a way around that pileup instead of waiting for it to be cleared. I figured if we kept going west we’d connect with the interstate again, but you’ve been asleep for three hours and all we’ve come across so far are very small towns and farms. And lilacs! I can tell you we’re on US 6, though.”
“Well, that narrows it down; there can’t be too many US 6’s.”
“Nope. Don’t worry, we’re still going in the right direction: If you go west, eventually you hit the west coast.”
“Thus the name.” Tara wasn’t sure that was the best possible plan, but she and Bottie were the only two in the car with driver’s licenses -- and, although both were fakes, the robot had the advantage of a good sense of direction. “Bottie, what did you mean by feeling nostalgic?”
“Well, remember that time in Fort Wayne, when we dusted the two vampires at the mall?”
Tara, who’d started munching on the apple, just nodded until she realized Bottie’s attention was on the road. “Um-hm,” she mumbled through a mouthful.
“There was a line of lilac bushes right beside the convenience store where we stopped afterward. I catalogued the scent, and when I smelled it again just now, it made me remember how much fun we had there, and that made me smile. Nostalgia!”
Tara had seen the bushes, but that was before Kennedy’s dubious experiment landed Tara back in a living shell -- and smell wasn’t a sense ghosts retained. Still, she remembered the stop there well: It was one of the few times she’d seen Dana smile. “But Bottie ... how can you be nostalgic? What kind of emotions did Warren program into you?” She shuddered a little, and hoped the robot didn’t notice. Thinking of Warren did that to her.
“Oh, only what Spike wanted: Happiness, desire, and unconditional love. But Spike also told Warren to make me as much like Buffy as possible -- I heard them argue about it after Spike found out how much I like to kill vampires.”
“I can see how that would bother him,” Tara murmured.
“Then I got broken, and Willow fixed me with magic!”
Tara winced. She should have known, considering how much Willow was toying with magic back then, that repairing a machine as complicated as the Buffybot would make her ex-lover turn to the magical arts. “So you got hit with magic twice, including what you drained out of Dana when her curing spell went wrong.”
“Three times. Warren used a little magic when he created new robots.”
That made sense -- it helped explain how Warren could turn out such complicated creations in his basement workshop, and might also explain how the Three Nerds ended up together. Tara suppressed a surge of panic at the thought of how many other robots might be out there -- surely Warren didn’t have time to make more than a few. Wow. What possibilities. “You and I ... Frankenstein’s,” she murmured.
“What?” Bottie glanced over, looking offended. “I don’t have a flat head and bolts in my neck!”
“You’ve been watching old horror movies with Xander again, haven’t you?”
“My favorite is Dracula, with Bela Lugosi.”
“Willow likes The Wolfman.” I wonder why that never bothered me? I guess I didn’t make the connection until now. “My point is, we’re creations both of the gods and humans. You’re a machine that’s been given life, and I’m a spirit that was given a human shell again.”
But Tara wasn’t alive, not really. She ate, and breathed, and slept ... but she could feel the shell wrapped around her, like wearing a tight bodysuit all the time. Sometimes, for an instant, it felt too tight or too loose, as if adjusting itself, and every now and then her sense of touch failed -- a constant reminder that she was as artificial as the robot beside her. If anything, Bottie was now more alive than she was. Although thankful for this second chance, it made Tara sad to think that she could never be a real woman.
“We’re both living beings inside constructs, I guess.” She dropped the apple core into a trash bag and stared at her hand, experimentally flexing her fingers.
When she looked back, Bottie wore the biggest grin Tara had ever seen -- even on the Buffybot. “We’re like -- twins!” Bottie reached out to grab Tara’s hand. “That’s so cool!”
“I hadn’t thought of it that way.” She’d been thinking of it exactly that way, but obviously not from the same angle as Bottie. “Watch the road!”
One hand still on the wheel, Bottie turned her gaze back on the highway. “But it’s true. We both died and were brought back to life, and we’re both not really alive, and we both have magic in us.”
“Well ... yes --”
“You know what else is great?” Bottie jerked a thumb back to take in the sleeping slayers. “Why do our friends accept us? Because we’re different? No -- because we’re the same, where it counts.”
Tara thought about it for a moment, and then found herself also smiling. “You’re right, Bottie -- in all the ways that matter, we are alive. That’s real magic.”
“Ooh -- I like that. You should write it down.”
“Me too. And when I remember, I’ll think about lilacs and apples, and friends.” Then Bottie suddenly straightened, and hit the brakes. “That sign said Provo. We’re going the wrong way.”
“Maybe there’s another highway going through Provo that will take us in another direction -- that way we don’t have to double back.”
“But I like this direction.” the robot pulled into a driveway. “We get to go back over that great section of highway again!”
Only Bottie could see that as a good thing. But what the heck -- as Bottie turned the car back toward the east Tara saw the glow of predawn on the horizon, and decided taking the time to watch the sunrise wouldn’t interfere with their mission.
“Let’s wake up Dana and Tara,” Bottie suggested, as they set out again.
“We’re heading back toward the Lilacs! Friends should share the nostalgia.”