Recently, I signed up to participate in the "We Invented The Remix, Redux" fic writing exercise set up by the divine Victoria P.:

This was my entry--a rewrite of "Fix", by Benaresq:

My thanks to Benaresq for providing a lovely story for me to rework.

Disclaimer: The characters and setting ain't mine, they remain the property of their creators and owners.

Fix, Redux (Stages of Grief Remix)

Author: M. Scott Eiland

Original Story: Fix by Benaresq

Summary: "Willow can fix anything."

Rating: PG

Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer


I watch her as she works.

There were five vampires and a Naganis demon present when we attacked the nest last night--a bit more than a usual night's work. Giles dispatched the Naganis with a well-aimed handful of iron pyrite dust, which left us five pissed off vampires to deal with. The fight wasn't pretty, but no one died. The BuffyBot took a kick that sent her hurtling into a wall, where she crackled with random electricity, startling the vampire who had disabled her and making him an easy mark for Xander's stake. When the last of the vampire dust had settled to the floor of the crypt, we bandaged our wounds and carried the Bot home. After a few hours of exhausted slumber, Willow clucked over the damage to her ongoing project and laid her down on the bed that had been Joyce's, and which was now ours.

She separates the limbs from the torso with practiced, effortless motions. It's early July, and Willow's already had to make major repairs to the Bot five times. Warren ripped Spike off when he built the Bot--Willow says that April was constructed to be far more durable. April lies in pieces on the basement floor, where Willow has stripped her for parts. The Bot is stronger and faster than she was when Spike took delivery, but the cost creeped me out a little, and I once saw Xander looking uneasily at the sight of Willow calmly dismantling April's torso while her inert eyes stared ahead, oblivious to their owner's destruction. In the awful days after Joyce's death, Buffy told me about April's final moments and how sad it had all made her. I try not to think about how seeing her torn to pieces to maintain the deception would make Buffy feel.

Giles is at the Magic Box with Anya and Dawn--business has been good, and Anya has Dawn helping her with the inventory. It's easy work, and it keeps her busy doing something, since we won't let her come on patrol with us, and she doesn't want to be here to see the Bot repaired. She walked in once while Willow was making an adjustment on the Bot's left eyeball, and she turned ghost white and left the room without a word. She wouldn't talk to me about it afterward, except to ask me to tell her when Willow was going to be doing repair work. Willow never looked up, and never asked about Dawn's reaction.

Giles isn't talking to me much these days, either. He acts normal on the surface, but he's visibly aged in the last two months, and I know from talking to the others that he isn't encouraging heart to hearts. No one wants to talk about the body we left behind when we carried Buffy home. Damn it, doesn't he think we understand? Ben couldn't hold Glory back any more, and it took everything we had to stop her before Buffy died. It's nothing to brag about, but we all know why he did what he did. Hearing it from us won't help him--the person he needs absolution from isn't available for the task. He's talking about going back to England, and I don't know what we'll do without him.

Willow plugs the cable from her laptop into the datajack behind the Bot's left ear, and her fingers flow across the keyboard like quicksilver, bringing the screen to life with endless lines of complex code. It was magic that brought us together, but I love watching her coax miracles out of silicon, plastic, and electrons--it makes me feel as if I knew her in high school, when her talents in the realm of technology helped keep Buffy and the others alive in the days before Sunnydale High became the burned- out shell it is today.

She frowns as she spots a tear in the Bot's left forearm, and she mutters the mending charm that we worked out less than a week after Buffy died. The plastiskin shimmers and reforms. An elegant solution to the problem that the Bot was going to look like a patched up battleship if we didn't have a way to make clean repairs to the pale synthetic that mimics Buffy's skin tone so convincingly. Willow's wearing one of Xander's old T-shirts and a pair of cutoffs: she catches me staring at her and intentionally leans forward, letting me see the light perspiration that is beading just below her collarbone, trickling out of sight beneath the neckline of the shirt and between her breasts. Vixen.

I look at the Bot as she gazes blankly at the ceiling, and for an awful moment I am back in those horrible days when my mind was gone. For all of her malicious glee in telling me what the experience would be like, Glory left out the most horrific part of what was to come; namely, that there would be a little part of me that was fully aware of what was going on around me, and which would be absolutely helpless to do anything about it. I've lost count of the times that I've woken up screaming, reliving the moment when I betrayed Dawn to Glory and set into motion the course of events that has Willow sitting on our bed, tinkering with a perky automaton. Willow thinks I'm just remembering the madness-I haven't been able to tell her it was the clarity of the experience that torments me.

Dawn had a right to know, and on a night when the others were on patrol, I told her everything. I prepared myself for condemnation, and was startled when Dawn threw herself into my arms, sobbing. I held her, and after a few moments she looked up at me and quietly told me the unedited version of what had happened on the tower. She had told us what Buffy had done, but now she filled in the blanks of why Buffy had made her fateful choice, as well as the horrifying moments that had preceded the opening and the closing of the dimensional gateway. I felt relieved-we had been able to share secrets together: when the time felt right we could share it with the others. Dawn is an amazing young woman-Buffy would be proud of her.

Willow reaches for the can of lubricant and carefully applies it to the shoulders and elbows of the Bot. Its joints have a nasty habit of seizing up at bad moments, and Willow had to experiment with various remedies before coming up with the solution. Xander has commented that without Willow's work, the Bot would have more broken limbs than he's had. He said it with a smile, but I caught him wincing as he turned away. I'm sure he's hiding several injuries, without even considering the twenty-odd breaks, severe sprains, and other similar mishaps over the years that Willow has solemnly recounted for me while shaking her head in dismay. I've seen him with his shirt off-he isn't as scarred as Giles, but he's getting there, and he's less than half Giles' age. I mentioned my concerns to Anya not long ago, as we watched him carefully repair damage done to the back porch by an intruding demon. She looked at Xander with an expression that somehow managed to blend the pride of a teenaged bride with the world-weary sadness of someone who has seen four hundred thousand sunsets, then replied, "He won't listen, Tara. It's the way he is: you might as well ask him to stop breathing." She walked away from me and over to him, kissing him quietly on the cheek before departing, leaving him to watch her leave with a puzzled expression on his face.

I look out the window and enjoy the morning sunlight, which has for now banished the things that hide in the shadows to their lairs. I look farther out, thinking of a certain crypt, where a certain vampire was deep in the sleep of, well, the dead.

For most of the time I've been with Willow, I didn't spend much time thinking about what makes Spike tick. I knew not to trust him, and I resented him for the damage he had done to the friendship between Willow, Xander, Giles, and Buffy while working for Adam before Buffy caught on. If I had to guess (I've never had the nerve to ask), he probably never thought much about me, either. I wasn't really part of the obsessions that bound him to this place: his inconclusive skirmishes with Buffy that had set him to flight time and time again, only to return; the fatal final trip that led to his being crippled by a misguided marvel of modern technology, and the doomed love that left him broken as the object of his desire died saving us all. Perhaps it is that mutual detachment that has caused us to find ourselves sitting quietly on the couch where Joyce died, long after Dawn has crept upstairs to bed, and speaking of many things. Spike has a good sense for his audience, when he cares to use it--he has told me of midnight walks on the deck of a cargo ship with only the brilliant starlight piercing the darkness of the sky and the waves, of standing atop the Empire State Building during the great power failure of 1965 and watching as the shimmering headlights below moved fitfully through the darkened canyons of Manhattan, and of hiding from the daylight among the trees in the Amazon in the days after Dru left him. In turn, I've spoken of the sensation of summoned fire resting in the palm of my hand, the smell of ozone that swamp fairies attracted by outdoor spellcasting bring, and the low murmur of the souls of the dead that I heard as I watched over Willow's astral journey to discover the body swap that Faith had pulled on Buffy. As he listens, I see him watching me with a haunted look in his eyes, and I think of the moments that Willow has described to me, where he seems very human and sympathetic, before his native callousness rises to the surface yet again. Buffy's death has changed him: whether for better or for worse I cannot say. He guards Dawn with the quiet ferocity of a watchdog, and treats the others with polite indifference punctuated by acid barbs that have provoked half-smiles from them when he's looking the other direction. We are both still outsiders in very important ways, and for now that bond is enough to sustain our quiet talks that often last until the pre-dawn stillness signals the time for his departure to the crypt.

I hear a low hum from behind me, and turn to see the Bot directing a radiant smile at Willow as she calls out, "Time to kick a little vampire ass!" I wince: Buffy would have delivered that line-if she was inclined to do so-with fire in her eyes and a dangerous edge in her voice. The Bot sounds like she's about to go to Disneyland. Willow frowns, and I know that she is having similar thoughts. Her fingers move across the keyboard again, and the Bot's expression goes blank. I'll never understand why Spike chose this particular personality for the Bot: from what I hear, Dru wasn't exactly Miss Cheerful, and he rarely saw Buffy in a good mood. One of those mysteries I'll probably never get.

Willow looks dejected, and I walk over and sit beside her on the bed, reaching out to squeeze her hand. "Don't let it get you down, honey. You'll get the programming right sooner or later, and it would be a little creepy if she sounded too much like the re-" I stop in mid-sentence. God, I hate it when my mouth decides to work without my brain coming along for the ride. Willow flinches violently and turns away. I sigh sadly and whisper, "I'm sorry: that came out wrong, but it's true, Willow. You can make the Bot into a decent stand-in for the Slayer, but you can't make her Buffy. Buffy's gone-we're all just doing the best we can to preserve her legacy."

Willow turns back to me and I tense, waiting for an angry outburst. For all I've heard about her days as a quiet computer nerd in high school, Willow is a true redhead in every sense of the word. She surprises me by nodding and replying, "I know, Tara: I know. The Bot isn't going to replace Buffy." She closes her eyes in pain, and I am about to embrace her when her eyes open again, and I see the determination there as she adds: "Maybe we don't have to."

Oh Goddess, no. Not this.

We've never discussed it-the brief argument between us that sent me into the park for my fateful encounter with Glory. Willow accused me of not believing her "lesbian street cred." I didn't deny it: it was easier than dealing with what was really bothering me, and I've found it's easier to just let Willow go along her way on the rare occasions she goes on a rant. I'm not clueless: Willow's dropped enough hints over the last year that she hasn't stopped noticing guys can be easy on the eyes, particularly the guys who hang around this little bunch. Truth is, I was just glad that Buffy never showed any signs of wanting to give up guys other than trying on a wimple for fit: Willow's stories about their experiences with Faith had me wondering whether Willow's angry reaction to Buffy's brief closeness with Faith was more than annoyance at not being able to spend time with her best friend. No, what I was really feeling uneasy about was the missing book in my room, and the sight of Buffy and Dawn pale and shivering in their living room, telling us why and how Joyce had nearly come back for a visit. Dawn was close-mouthed about where she had obtained the spell, and Buffy didn't press her, but I noticed that Willow was pointedly refusing to meet Dawn's eyes, and she ignored my unspoken invitations to contribute to the conversation. Xander showed up then and fulfilled his role as Comfort Guy, but I knew. . .I knew.

I steel myself and lock eyes with her. "Willow, no. We can't. It's just wrong." Great. Really profound words, Tara. Why not just take a page from Faith-as-Buffy and announce, "It would be wrong!"

Her green eyes sparkle: she's expected this line of argument, and she's ready. Instead of replying immediately, she turns back to the Bot, connecting a few wires and sealing another torn bit of plastiskin. Without turning around, she whispers, "Buffy was killed by mystical energies, Tara: a lot of the usual rules don't apply. She was a champion: that opens other possibilities." Her hands stop moving, and she utters four words that simultaneously fill me with dismay and cause an awed chill to go down my spine:

"I've found a ritual."

There it is. The challenge: the basic issue that will undoubtedly determine my future with Willow, Willow's own struggle with her demons, and incidentally the future of the world. We've been fighting a holding action against the demon population of Sunnydale, slowly losing ground. None of us talk about it, but deep down we know that sooner or later the charade of the Bot will be revealed, and we'll have to deal with a horde of demons who know their tormentor is dead, replaced by an unreliable marvel of weird technology, a semi-reformed vampire, and a bunch of banged-up humans. Willow's words have caused me to feel a glimmer of hope for the first time since I saw Buffy's body lying in the rubble-I have to hold that hope at bay and do the right thing.

"Willow, bringing the dead back to life is an offense against the order of things. Even if we possess the power to do it, there will be unthinkable consequences if we even try. I've heard stories over the years-my mother even took the time to tell me some. We're living on a * Hellmouth *, for heaven's sake. If something can go wrong, it will. * We can't do this. *" I keep my voice calm with great effort, and watch her face. Her expression is calm, but I can see in her eyes that I'm not reaching her. I take a breath, and I let a pleading tone enter my voice as I add, "Willow, please. . .let this go."

Willow looks at me in silence for a few moments before beginning to speak again. There is no anger or sadness in her voice-only implacable certainty: "Tara, her soul could be trapped in some hell dimension. That gateway she fell through-it was connected to every other dimension in existence, and it sucked the life right out of her. Think about it: Buffy, the one who's saved all of us time and time again, trapped in a hell dimension, suffering unthinkable tortures, thinking we've abandoned her. I can't let that go on. I * won't * let that go on." She blinked, locked eyes with me, and asked quietly, "Will you?"

I feel a burst of anger. I love Buffy as much as if she had been my own sister: I owe my life and my love to her compassion and her courage. If it was simply a matter of risking or even laying down my life to save her, I'd do it. But this is more. . .if it was just a matter of saying "no" to Buffy, even if it was to save her from a monstrously unfair fate, I would. I could say no to Xander, who would and has faced horrors that would leave me a quivering heap of flesh to save Buffy or any of the others, and who is my brother far more than that useless lump of flesh living in the house where I was born. I know that Giles would never ask this of me, and if in a moment of weakness he did, I know I could say no to him, even as I mourned the terrible price that duty has exacted from him in lost loved ones in this place. I could even say no to Dawn, who * is * my sister-- blood and mystical origins be damned--and to who I owe a terrible debt of pain inflicted by a moment of involuntary madness: I might never have forgiven myself for that refusal, but I would have managed it. . .I know I would have.

But I can't say no to Willow-and she knows it. I will assent to this, and she knows it, though I will not say so at this moment. She sees it in my eyes and visibly decides to drop the matter, turning back to the Bot, not seeing my shoulders slump and the tears appearing in my eyes. A few more motions, and the Bot is whole again. Willow detaches the datajack, and the Bot opens her eyes and chirps, "All systems functioning normally. Way to go, Willow!"

Willow smiles: one completed task in front of her, one standing at the window with tear-filled eyes. Willow can fix anything.

Goddess help us all.