Everybody seems to be keeping secrets, and the Buffybot just can’t figure out why. Special thanks to amazing Ainon, my beta from fanfiction.net, who called me on several quesionable items. Also, to everyone who’s read, enjoyed, and commented.
Disclaimer: Other than OC Kara, none of these characters belong to me.
Buffybot climbed to her feet, brushed off a combination of Nevada dust and former vampire, then craned her neck to get a look at a tear in the arm of her blue silk shirt. “Ow! That stings. It never stung before.” She’d lost some skin on her left elbow, and the dyed lubricant designed to keep that skin a natural color now seeped out. It looked remarkably like blood.
Well, maybe the magical whammy Dana unintentionally gave her was still causing changes to her system. That would explain why she’d developed such a taste for strawberries, lately.
“Perimeter clear!” shouted Rona, forcing Bottie’s attention back to the job. She clutched a stake and made a quick survey of the Las Vegas area desert, but saw only the living -- unless you counted Tara, who stood nearby making a similar survey.
“Bottie --do you have a fix on everyone?”
Bottie’s enhanced vision caught Kara and Dana at the top of a dune, so far away that only thermal imaging could make them out. Kara limped a little as the two turned to come back, but otherwise neither seemed worse for wear. In the opposite direction, Rona strode through a haze of dust toward what had been the center of the fight. The rest of Andrew’s team remained scattered in that direction, but they’d taken care of the stragglers and were also headed back toward their jumping off point, where their watchers waited.
Wait a minute --watchers? “Tara, where’s --”
A loud groan interrupted her, and in an instant Bottie and Tara gathered over a prone body splayed out on the sand. “Andrew?” Bottie reached down, intending to lift the smaller man to his feet, but Tara grabbed her arm.
“He might be injured,” Tara explained. “One of the vamps got by you, a little guy -- he went after Andrew.”
“I caught a glimpse of him -- I thought it was a kid --”
“A phewet,” Andrew said.
“Andrew! You’re alive!”
“Bring the first aid kit,” Tara called. It caused the nearest three slayers -- Kara,
Dana, and Rona -- to break into a run, but their hands were empty of anything but weapons.
Bottie nudged Tara. “Andrew had the first aid kit.”
With another groan, Andrew rolled over, revealing the nylon first aid kit clutched in his hands. The side had been torn open, making Bottie realize the debris she’d noticed spilled across the desert was more than just litter. “Oh, Andrew -- I hope you didn’t break the ammonia tablets.”
“Nmphw.” Climbing to hands and knees, Andrew spit out a weed, then coughed up enough sand to make his own dune. “Did ah gid id?”
Bottie tilted her head. “I’m not programmed with that language.”
As if they’d timed it, three slayers skidded to a halt just in time to help Andrew to his feet. Dana looked him up and down, then took a hurried step backward. “He wet his pants.”
There was, indeed, a spreading dark spot on Andrew’s cargo pants. “Awahbah.” He spit out more sand.
“His canteen.” Gesturing with her crossbow, Rona pointed out smashed bits of green plastic in the ground’s Andrew-shaped indentation. “Whatever part of him landed on that is hurting.”
“Huuuhhnnn.” Andrew pointed weakly toward the wet spot. Then he cupped his hand and made a motion toward his mouth.
“I think he’s going to puke.” Dana took another two steps backward.
But a quick review of possible injuries, cross referenced with an index of facial expressions, led Bottie to a different conclusion, and with a feeling of triumph for being the first one to figure it out she handed Andrew her own water bottle, the one she usually didn’t use except to rinse out demon blood stains.
He spit out the first two gulps, then drained the rest without pausing to breath.
“Big mouth,” Kara whispered.
“It’s very hot,” Andrew finally said, sounding pretty much himself.
“But it’s a dry heat.” Pulling a handkerchief from her blouse pocket, Tara wiped sweat from her forehead. “Imagine what it must be like during the daytime.”
Bottie nodded, but before she could give them the next day’s predicted temperature, she noticed everyone except Andrew was giving Tara odd looks. Tara was sweating. Tara, the dead girl. Rona, the one among them who didn’t know about the spell that put Tara into a more or less living body, tilted her head and stared, mouth open.
Bottie glanced at her seeping elbow again, and had an almost overwhelming urge to go get a test done. But if it was blood, what would it mean? Would she have DNA? Would she be related to someone?
“Did I get it?” Andrew glanced around eagerly. “Did you see me go up against that huge, hulking half-demon? Mano-a-mano against the gigantic vampyre?”
Huge? Replaying the fight, Bottie accounted for all the vampires except one little guy, whose physical stature flirted with the “midget” category. At least, that’s the term Warren or Spike would have used; her original programming conflicted with her more recent learning curve for a moment, then she removed “midget” and assigned “little person”.
“You got it, Andrew,” Rona assured him. “Good thing, too; that nest was bigger than our intelligence led us to believe.”
“Yeah ...” Looking confused, Andrew continued to scan the ground nearby. “But I can’t find my stake.”
Bottie went to thermal imaging, and caught site of a stake at the base of a nearby bush. But before she could speak, Rona said, “It got caught in his ribs -- dusted along with him.” She gave the others a look that plainly said she was willing to trade hiding secret for secret.
“Oh. Yeah. Well, we’ve emerged triumphant in the --” Andrew took one step forward, then let out a gasp as his leg gave out from under him.
Kara was already there, keeping him from falling. “Hey, we’ve played this scene before,” She guided him toward the road. “I caught you at the motel last night, too.”
“Well, my blood sugar was low.”
They headed off together, Dana trailing behind and scooping up equipment as they went. Bottie exchanged glances with a bemused looking Tara, thinking that somehow she was missing something. “But, Rona --”
“Andrew gets one to his credit. We slayers can’t chalk up all the kills, can we?” Shouldering her crossbow, she headed off toward the other girls on her team.
“Come on, Bottie, let’s make use of some of this mess.” Tara started to lead her away, but the robot gestured toward the nearest bush.
“There’s a stake under the --”
“Leave it.” Smiling, Tara scooped up a bandage and tore it open. “We have plenty of stakes.”
Standing still while Tara bandaged her elbow, Buffybot pondered what had just occurred. It seemed some of Andrew’s closest associates implicitly agreed to hide something from him, but why? After all, it didn’t matter who killed the vampires, as long as they were killed. “I’ve been wondering something about Andrew.”
“What’s that, Bottie?” Tara finished her ministrations and then, because her flashlight had been broken in the melee, let Bottie lead her toward the road.
“Well, Andrew’s so good at organizing. He keeps our records, and makes sure we’re supplied, and helps with the weapons inventory. We couldn’t run headquarters without him.”
“Everybody appreciates that, and everybody likes him even though he can be really annoying and once stabbed his best friend to death.”
“So why does he keep insisting on field work? He’s not good at field work. He keeps getting hurt, and I don’t like it when he gets hurt.”
Tara was silent for a moment. Then she turned, looking Bottie in the eyes. “Some people don’t appreciate what they’re good at. Even if they’re very good at what they do, they want to do something else, instead --even if it’s something they don’t do well.”
“But doesn’t he know you don’t have to be a fighter to be a hero?”
“He’s getting there. He still blusters and tells tales, but he’s been getting better at directing the slayers, instead of charging in ahead of them. Meanwhile, give him this little victory, to soothe his ego.”
Bottie sighed. “Being real is really hard.”
“You’re telling me?” Tara reached up to pull on the right shoulder of her blouse, revealing a place where the material had been ripped open at the seam. An angry bruise was beginning to blossom on the pale skin beneath it. “Who would have guessed staking a three foot high vampire would be so hard?”