Disclaimer: Other people own the characters mentioned here. Not me. No money is being made, no infringement is intended.

Notes: This story has been sitting around for a long time, waiting for me to end it. The toasters are TeriMum's fault. The entire concept of the Shadowlands belongs to Alicia McKenzie.

Dedication: To TeriMum, thank you for the inspiration.

Fifty Second Capacity

by Ana Lyssie Cotton

He had long since forgotten his last name. Once or twice, he caught glimpses in his dreams. Rosenberg, Summers... But they weren't right. He knew that, but couldn't remember why. Sometimes he found himself crying over nothing. Maybe it was the diamond engagement ring in his pocket.

Echoes of his past life, places he'd known, people he'd loved.

Anya haunted him, though. Even without her there, he could remember her. Sometimes as she once was, dark brown hair and awkwardness. She used to tell him of the curses she'd enacted. He'd been bored.

Things change.

Worlds end.

People die.

Another universe melted into his, and he found himself standing on a rocky beach, the deep green of the sea pounding up to splash the rocks in foam and brine. He sat and watched them for a long time, marvelling at the power, and wondering how easy it would be to just walk into the water and never return.

Someone else had once thought that, maybe not in this world. Another. Green hair was clotted with seaweed and pebbles, discolourations bloating limbs into something horrible. He shook himself from his reverie and went towards the body that the ocean had disgorged.

He knelt, carefully smoothing the hair away from her face. She might once have been pretty, but grey skin had left her with a deadness that wasn't attractive.

She was breathing. Shallowly, her chest moved. Just enough to escape his notice at first. But she coughed, and he realised she was past shivering, the cold had taken her so far.

Quickly he pulled his trenchcoat off, found in some distant shift where everyone wore them, and wrapped it around her. He pulled her into his arms and moved back from the water's edge, realising they were both soaked in spray now.

He wondered if he could remember how to make a fire.

--

She woke. There was nothing but cold and wet. Nothing made sense anymore. It hadn't for a long time. Something crackled nearby, and she thought she smelled woodsmoke, but discounted it as sensory deception. But she wasn't rocking anymore, and she became aware she was no longer floating in the sea.

The cold was slowly ebbing away, replaced with a soft warmth. Her skin still felt wrong, gritty, like someone had rubbed salt into it--well, of course they had, idiot.

Sea water is usually salty.

It came to her that she wasn't very coherent, and really should be dead. Or not-awake.

But that seemed something far away, and so she opened her eyes.

Night sky stared down at her, millions of stars flickering and dying far away. Nearby sat a figure, hunched over a small fire that burned merrily and sent out waves of warmth.

After a long time of just watching him, she decided to speak, since speech was good, and he might be able to tell her where she was.

Or maybe not, since the shifts tended to leave everyone guessing their location.

"Hello?" Salt water had been inhaled at some point, but her throat had apparently recovered. She only sounded like a frog, not like a howler monkey.

"You're awake."

"I'd hate to think this was a dream." She coughed, "Er, I don't suppose you have anything to drink."

He rummaged in something she couldn't identify--possibly a backpack. A moment later, he moved over to help her sit up. She winced as scrapes along her back protested the movement. He held a cup to her lips and she sipped carefully, the water sliding down her throat wetly. It tasted flat and stale, but so much better than the sea water she'd been drinking the last time she'd been conscious.

Sated, she caught his hand and, pulling it away. "Thanks."

"You're welcome." He released her, letting her sit under her own power, and moved back to the other side of the fire.

"I'm Lorna. I... Thank you for saving me--I mean, I'm guessing you did, since I didn't have this coat before, and...."

He stayed silent for a moment, then nodded, "You're welcome."

"Um... who are you?"

"Xander."

"Ah." She settled carefully against a rock, wincing under her breath as pulled muscles began making themselves known.

"Why were you in the sea?"

"It appeared--I'd been running through a field with a...friend. And..." She blinked, eyes smarting as tears began forming. "Oh, god. Alex."

He blinked at her. "Who?"

"My friend." She felt the tears begin to slip down her cheeks, "He was next to me when the shift hit."

"And he's gone into the sea."

--

Xander watched the woman curl forward, her knees drawing up as she cried softly. Alex. It struck him that he might once have been called that.

Alexander...

Awkwardly he moved over to her and patted her on the back. It had been a long time since he'd had to comfort someone crying. The last had been Buffy. Right before the shifts had started, the ferocity ripping him away from everyone he loved.

Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away. He snorted. Dwelling on the past was sure to send him into tears himself.

Hadn't he cried for them? Maybe long ago, before he learned that tears just made it harder.

She slowly stopped crying, only the occasional sniffle echoing in the quiet hollow. Finally she raised her head and looked at him. "Thank you." She half-grinned, "I keep saying that, but it's true."

He sat next to her and sighed, "You're welcome."

"I'd begin again, but I don't think it would help." She looked up at the stars above them, "I used to envy people who were normal."

"Huh?"

"I'm a mutant, Xander." She raised a hand and pointed it at the rocks across from them, then winced, "Well, if there was any iron around, I would be."

"Cool." He blinked. It had been a long time since he'd said that, "So, you're the mistress of magnetism, like Magneto?"

"Like..." She blinked at him, "Uh, yeah. That would be right."

"Now, I could reveal my true geekness and uncoolness by rattling off his RPG stats, but I think I'll decline."

She laughed.

The sound echoed around them, infectious and silly. He chuckled, finding himself drawn to the laughter like an addict scrabbles for those last coins under the sofa cushions.

"You're laughing. That doesn't make sense. Why do you laugh?"

The voice was incredibly familiar to Xander, and he stood, turning to stare at the young woman who stood on the edge of the small hollow. She was dressed in a pink sweater and a short grey mini-skirt, with dark socks and black high-heeled boots. Her blonde hair caught the firelight, glinting like gold. Her face was puzzled as she looked at them.

"I know you." She pointed at Xander, "You're my friend, Xander." She smiled happily and hopped down to stand next to the fire. "We go to school together."

"Buffy?"

"Yes. I'm Buffy." She pointed at Lorna, still sitting, her face confused, "Who is that?"

"This is Lorna, she's also a friend."

"I don't remember her, she must be new." The Buffybot smiled and waved, "Hello, Lorna, our new friend."

"Lorna, this is, uh... How can I say this--well." Xander shrugged, "This is Buffy, but she's not real, she's a robot."

"I'm not real? I feel real. The vampire I killed last night was real. And you look real, Xander. So we must be real. Yes, I'm real." The bot smiled and sat down on a boulder.

"Buffybot, it's nice to see you--where did you come from?"

"There was an explosion. And then things changed. But there are still vampires to kill. And I'm the Slayer, so I slay." The bot replied perkily.

Lorna chuckled, "Slayer?"

"Yes, the vampire Slayer. Would you like to see my Kung-Fu moves?"

"Uh, no, Buffy, just stay sitting for now," Xander directed hastily as the bot started to stand.

"OK. I think I like this you, Xander."

"This me?"

"Yes. The last you whined and didn't believe me about the vampires."

"OK." Xander raised both hands, "Let's not talk about other mes."

"What will we talk about then? I know!" The Buffybot perked up, "Let's talk about Spike! Isn't he dreamy?"

"Uh, no. We're not talking about Spike."

"Why not?" She pouted, "I miss him. He got lost when the other world came."

Up until now, Lorna had been silent. Now she broke in, curious, "Who is Spike?

"Spike is a fri--no, wait, an enemy--no..." Xander tilted his head to the side, considering, "You could say that Spike was an ally. Not really on our side, but not really against us."

"Spike is fun!" The Buffybot informed them. "And I miss him a lot."

"We are so not going on a Spike-hunt."

Lorna chuckled, amused, "Why not?"

"Because I hate Spike."

"Xander!" Buffybot stood, her hands on her hips, "That's not a nice thing to say. Take it back."

"OK, I don't hate Spike. I loathe and despise him. But, he's been there, sometimes."

The bot sniffed, "You don't like Spike. You're stupid."

"...says the robot who was programmed to love a vampire. Yeah, that's really going to make an impact."

The bot stamped her foot, "You're a doodoo-head, and I don't think I like you anymore."

Xander blinked, "Y'know, I get the feeling Warren wasn't one for bad language."

"Swearing is uncouth."

Lorna snickered, "She has a point."

"Thank you, new friend, Lorna." The bot beamed at the green-haired woman. "Do you want to help me look for Spike now?"

"Why don't we wait for daylight, Buffy?" Lorna suggested carefully. "That way, we'll be able to see him."

"Not if the sunlight gets him first," Xander muttered.

The bot tilted her head to the side, then smiled, "OK!"

--

The day dawned cold, colder than it had been the night before, and Lorna realised as she opened her eyes that the world had changed again. Snow coated the ground, gleaming in the early morning sunlight like newly minted quarters. She squinted, and tried to locate her two companions, or the fire, or, anything.

Xander lay nearby, curled into a ball. With a start, Lorna realised she was still wrapped in his coat, and she crawled over to him and covered them both with it. The Buffybot appeared to have either left in the night, or been zapped away when the new landscape appeared.

He mumbled, then snuggled into the sudden warmth without waking.

She wondered what would happen to them. Food was probably scarce in this cold wilderness, and the shifts would come again.

Not that it mattered, really. They were like some piece of lint lost in the lint filter of the universe. She snorted at the analogy, and decided to get up and do something useful.

Once she'd stood, she nearly fell again as the circulation returned to her arms and legs with a rush she wasn't expecting. Bruises dotted her arms, and she was willing to bet her legs were just the same. And her back. And her front. Her hair was a matted mess of salt and dirt and sand, and she wrinkled her nose.

Her clothes were also salty and crusty, she realised. With a grumble, she pulled the shirt and pants on, shivering in the chill air and cold material.

"You're awake!" A chirpy voice announced, and Lorna turned to find the Buffybot watching her eagerly.

"Barely."

"Good. We can go find Spike now."

"I think we'd better wait until Xander wakes up."

The bot sighed, "Xander doesn't like Spike."

"I got that impression, yes." Lorna raised an eyebrow at the bot, "You're going to suggest we go without him?"

Beaming, the bot nodded, "I knew you'd see it my way, once you understood."

"We can't, though. We need to stay together in case another shift comes."

"Oh, it will. But Xander doesn't need us. We need Spike."

"You need Spike. WE need to stick together."

"But I don't want to be stuck to you. I can't fight if I'm stuck to someone. Although I have fought Spike when we're--"

Xander sat up, coughing loudly. Lorna raised an eyebrow, "I don't want to know, do I."

"No."

"Drat. You're awake." The Buffybot hrmphed and pointed at the sky. "It's morning now. Let's find Spike."

A shift hit, then, stopping any conversation as they were popped out into the middle of a rainstorm. They were soaked in seconds. It was that nice summery-type rainstorm, though. So, much lightning and rain, but little cold. Lorna found herself dancing around in it, arms outstretched.

Xander was standing by the bot, watching her in amusement as he folded his coat over one arm.

She was a fey creature, suddenly. Full of life and light that shouldn't exist in this ever-changing plain of surprises. But he realised he sort of liked it, especially since she seemed to take him for just a man, and not as the screw-up.

"Spike doesn't like rain." The Buffybot announced, "I don't think I like rain. I'm getting all wet. Water isn't good for me."

"Here." He draped the coat around her. "We'll go looking for ass-man in a bit."

"Ass-man?"

"Spike."

"Oh. Spike has a nice ass. I like to watch him bend over."

"I *so* did not need to know that."

"It isn't relevant information, but I like telling people."

"That's nice."

Lorna came back to them, panting from her exertions, "Are we ready?"

"Do we have to?"

She chuckled at Xander, "We did promise."

"You promised."

"Yes." Lorna tilted her head to the side, "Do you want to stay alone?"

"No."

"Then we go." She looked at the bot. "Can you find him?"

"Yes. I have a sense of where he is. I think it's because of our undying love and devotion."

Lorna clapped a hand over Xander's open mouth. "Lead the way, then."

--

"Hissst, hisssst. What hass it gotss in itss pocketses, Preciouss?"

Spike listened to the sound, his eyes closed as he breathed. Not that he needed to, but it helped keep most from figuring out he wasn't human. And whatever this new thing was, it sounded like something that might make a good meal. Anything was better than rats and squirrels.

"We shall ssee, Preciouss. Yess. Nassty Bagginss. Throwing Preciouss away. Well, we ssaved uss, didn't we, Preciouss."

Thin slimy fingers touched his bare arm, and Spike fought not to flinch. They caressed, then flittered towards the pockets of his pants, intent on something. He fought down a growl. The last of his smokes were in there. And he wasn't about to give those up.

Whatever it was, this thing was a thief. He hoped that would be enough as he opened his eyes and punched at the hand scrabbling in his pocket.

Empty air echoed with a cry of pain, and he stared. Whatever it was, it wasn't visible.

"Great, just bloody great. C'mere you horrible thing."

"It hurtss uss, Preciouss, it hurtss. Poor Smeagol, it hurtss us."

Spike made a grab where the voice was issuing from, and his hand closed on a fabric-clad shoulder, thin and scrawny. And probably tasting gamey. "Even worse. I bet you taste like old gym socks."

"Tasste? Preciouss, it wantss a tasste. Nassty human hurting poor Smeagol. Gollum, gollum."

"Shut up." He shook the piece of nothing, "I'm only going to take a little taste. 'Sides, why should you care, you don't exist."

"We exisst, O Preciouss, we do, we do." The voice began to dissolve into hissing sobs, and Spike grimaced.

"God, I hate it when dinner makes a fuss. 'Course, the chase used to be nice, then they put this damned chip in my head. I can hurt you, though, it seemed to consider you bad." He began feeling along the shoulders, searching for the neck. "Or not huma---OWW!"

Spike stared at the blood on his fingers, and cursed. He'd released the creature in his shock.

"Let uss go, didn't it, Preciouss. Nassty human, hurting poor Smeagol."

"I'm the one who's supposed to bite, dammit. ARGH!" Spike threw a rock into the distance and flopped back onto his coat, sulking.

The voice moved off, whispering and hissing to itself, until it was lost in the background sound of woods and small fluffy woodland animals.

Spike hated this world. It changed too much, and there was no one around he could talk to--except the occasional bit of fluff that turned out to not be food, thanks to the chip. And he hated the fact that he'd nearly died several times in the sun, yet he couldn't find Buffy or Dru. Even Darla would have been welcome, at this point.

Part of it was the guilt, of course. Gnawing away at him, even giving him nightmares. Vampires weren't supposed to HAVE nightmares. It was most disconcerting, and gave him a whole new appreciation for the years he'd spent with Dru. Before...

Before Sunnydale. Before her.

How fair was it that two vampires fell for the same Slayer? And she went for tall, dark and broody, of course. It bit the big one, it really did. Of course, thanks to a certain curse, she couldn't have Broody. But she still wouldn't settle for him.

So he was alone. Friendless. Placeless. Homeless. And still there was the sense that he could find her. He just had to try.

But he didn't want to. He hated that she owned so much of him, his soul ached for her. He didn't have a soul, though. He was a demon. And demons are evil.

Sound from nearby distracted him, and he sat up again, listening.

Voices. He was hearing voices.

--

"Spike is this way."

"Are you sure this is the right change?" Lorna was looking around the jungle, doubtfully.

"Yes." Buffybot bounced onto her toes, smiling happily, "We're nearly there."

"Wonderful." Xander muttered.

They broke through a stand of trees and found a man watching them. Lorna judged him to be about the same age as Xander, except for his eyes, which looked old and knowing. He watched them approach, his face blank.

"Spike! I found you!" The bot bounced over to him and knelt in front of him. "Are you OK? Did you miss me? I missed you." She leaned in to kiss him, and found herself stopped. "Why don't you want me to kiss you?"

"Uh, yeah. Nice to see you, I'm sure." He looked over the bot's shoulder at Xander, "Great trick, huh? Use her to find me. What next, a stake through my heart?"

"Too easy. I'm more the, throw you out into broad daylight and watch you combust type."

"Big words."

"Hey! No one is immolating Spike. I like Spike. He's my boyfriend." The Buffybot bounced to her feet and smiled chirpily down at the vampire.

"I am not." Spike stood, "Look, kiddies, it's great to see you, I'm sure, but I bet there's worlds to save out there that need you. I don't."

Lorna raised a hand, "Hi. Remember me? I don't know what the two of you have against each other, but there's this thing about basic survival."

"Hello." Spike strode towards her, hand out, "I'm Spike. I'm the reason this place is such a fuck-up."

"Lorna." She shook his hand, "Nice to meet you. And you're not."

"I'm not?"

Lorna shook her head, "I can't explain right now, but you're not."

"Spike?"

He turned to the Buffybot, "Yes?"

"How can the changes be your fault? You're not a sorcerer, you're a vampire. You only suck blood, you don't destroy the universe."

"I let her go." With a sardonic look at Xander, Spike stalked back to his little nest of coat and sat back down. "And now it's time for you kiddies to toddle off somewhere else."

"Lorna's right." Xander said, "We need to stay together--gah. Did I just say I needed Spike? Somebody shoot me. Please."

"OK!" Buffybot started towards him, arm raised.

Xander backed away, "I was speaking rhetorically, Buff."

"Rhetorically?" She paused, looking confused.

"I don't really want to be shot."

"Oh." She dropped her arm and turned back to Spike, "I'm bored. Can we have sex now?"

Xander made a disgusted noise, "I didn't need to hear that. I really didn't."

"Buffy, pet, we can't have sex. Not now, not ever."

"Why not? Are you impotent?"

Lorna clamped a hand across her mouth, fighting back the laughter that bubbled up. Spike looked terribly insulted.

"No. We just can't. You're not her."

"Not her. Not who?"

"Buffy."

"But..." The bot tilted her head to the side, "I am Buffy."

"Yes, but not the right one." Xander said. "Not the one he knew."

"But I could be, couldn't I?"

"No." Spike shook his head.

"Oh." The bot stepped away from them all, and seemed to be thinking.

"Xander, I think we need to stick with Spike. At least having him around would give us help if we need it."

"Maybe."

"Hey, could you two not talk about me like I'm not here?"

Xander looked at him, "I'd much rather you weren't. That stake is sounding better and better."

"I know!" The Buffybot smiled happily, "You can all come with me while I search for my Spike."

"Another one?" Xander groaned, "I don't like the one we have."

"Hey. You don't have me. Nothing says I'm going to go with any of you weird people--"

"But we need--"

All three were silenced as another shift rolled over them, transforming the jungle into a city street, complete with a taxicab screaming its way towards them, horn blaring. Lorna lashed out instinctively, catching the iron in the car's body, halting it inches from them all. Spike was closest, and he stared at the bumper, paler than before.

"That was close."

"You can say that again."

"That was close."

"Buffy..."

"That driver should be made aware that he shouldn't crash into people in the street. He's a bad man."

Lorna caught the bot's arm. "I think he knows that."

"You stupid idiots! The hell are you doing walking into the middle of the road!" The driver was out of his cab, angry and loud as he stalked towards them.

Spike flipped him the two-fingered salute as they walked away, heading for the McDonald's that had appeared. Not that any of them had money. If this place took money. It was always difficult to tell.

Good thing it wasn't all that sunny out, or Spike's flipped salute would have been the last thing anyone saw of him before he became vampire flambe.

--

Kurt Wagner had never wanted to end up flipping burgers, but with the world changing so constantly, it was a steady job. Someone had to do it. It certainly was a far cry from the circus he'd grown up in, but he was a flexible lad, and burgers were easy.

McDonald's paid pretty much crappily, but it was enough to live on with a few roommates to defray costs. And he was going to night school, working on his Computer Science degree. He dreamed of the day he'd be in a fast-paced high-tech job. That's where the money was, baby.

Of course, he'd had to cut his long hair, and they sort of frowned on him dyeing it blue, but sort of let it slide as long as he kept his hat on at work.

No one commented on the slight deformities. Much. It was why he wasn't on the front counter--can't scare the customers. Three fingers on each hand. It was the same on his feet, and had been what made him such a great asset in the circus. That, and the fact that he had no fear.

Scott, the assistant manager recalled him from his thoughts, "Hey, Wagner, we need three Big Macs with extra cheese on 'em!"

"Extra cheese is not nutritionally sound." A female voice piped up.

Kurt peered under the rack, wondering who these people were, and blinked. They were a scraggly bunch, but the one who stood out was the green-haired woman. Next to her stood a dark-haired guy, and two blonds--a guy and a girl--stood behind them. It was the blonde who'd spoken, her voice so perkily cheerful. She and the bleach job were having a soft argument.

The blonde noticed him looking, and waved at him, smiling. He waved back.

"Wagner! Dude, stop lounging around and looking at her tits."

He blushed, and made himself busy putting together the burgers.

Just as they were handed over to the people in front of the counter, another shift washed over the McDonald's and it became a... McDonald's, with 60's decor and fringe.

Kurt stared down at his 'uniform' and half-choked. He was wearing bright orange and pink, with psychadelic accents.

"Trippy, dude."

"Hey, thanks for the burgers." The guy nodded to him, "Not sure about your uniform, but, OK, we can dig the neon."

The green-haired woman was staring around, startled, "Did the 60's just not die here?"

"Lorna, I bet there's a place where disco is still alive."

"Yeah, it's in your head," The bleach-job sniped. His voice was British, the snideness echoed by smugness.

"No, I'm remembering Willow telling us there was a dimension for everything."

"And we're getting the grand tour." Lorna noted. "Hey, Xander, we should find a booth."

"Good idea."

Kurt found himself drawn to these people, especially Lorna. As if he should know her, or them. Or maybe he didn't know anything, and it was just wishful thinking from someone in a dead-end job.

He took his break then, anyway, and headed into the dining area, insearch of them.

The blonde girl saw him first, and she smiled, "Look, it's the man who was staring at my tits."

Kurt flushed, "Actually, I wasn't, I was just... I'm sorry to intrude," he hurried on, noting the glare the bleach-job was levelling at him. The other two seemed only mildly interested. "I just, was wondering where you came from?"

"Here and there," Xander replied. "Who are you?"

"Oh. Sorry, I'm Kurt. Kurt Wagner."

"Kurt?" Lorna started, staring at him, "Wow. Um, I'm Lorna Dane, I knew you, or some version of you, once. But you were different, you had--"

"These?" He held up a hand.

"That, and, you were... blue."

"Oh." He reached up and pulled off his cap, and his hair cascaded down, bright blue and straight.

"It *is* you." She smiled and held out a hand, "Why don't you join us, and we can talk?"

"Um, sure..."

"This is Xander, and the other two are Spike and Buffy."

"I'm a robot. But I don't like thinking about that. It makes me sad. But Spike is here. I like Spike." The blonde announced, half-bouncing in her seat.

The others looked at her for a moment, then sighed collectively.

"Tell me we'll run into Willow soon," Xander muttered.

--

They didn't. They ran into three more shifts over the course of the next hour, then they seemed to have stopped for a time, and they all stared around themselves. The McDonald's had stayed McDonald's each time, but the decor always differed. Now it was a sort of pub-type motif, with high-backed booths and lots of wood and some brand-name signs.

Spike was grumbling, watching the humans eat. "When do *I* get food? When am I allowed sustenance..."

"If I had blood I'd let you suck mine. That would be so hot!"

He glared at the bot. "Shut up."

"But, Spike, don't you love me?"

"No."

"You're just saying that because you want everyone to think you're cool. You love me, and you like it rough and dirty, oh, you're SO strong, Spike."

Spike looked across the table at Xander, who was watching him with a mixture of disgust, amusement, and a slight dab of pity. "Why did you have to come after me?"

"We didn't choose to, dead-boy. The bot wanted you somethin' fierce."

"Oh, laugh it up, Xander. You'll get yours someday." He knew it was a lame come-back, but his mind was too busy trying to figure out how to get away from these people before the next shift hit.

"You wish."

Unfortunately for Spike, he didn't get away from them before the next shift hit. The McDonellson's melted into what appeared to be an appliance store. Except the appliances weren't on display.

Massive appliances walked through the aisles, inspecting the merchandise which consisted of humans. Some old, some young, most quiet and calm, as if they were used to this. Unfortunately, the hapless shifters were not. "They're machines." Buffybot said brightly.

"Uh, yeah. We got that." Xander replied, watching as a blender bent over to inspect his legs. "Anybody got any bright ideas?"

Lorna studied the appliances, then grinned, "They're metal."

"Yeah, and?" Spike wasn't looking pleased to still be stuck with them.

"I'm the Mistress of Magnetism, vamp-boy. Watch and learn." Lorna raised a hand and pointed at the blender still inspecting Xander. For a moment nothing happened. Then the blender gave a squawk and bounced into the air, spinning around and making more noise as it began flying around the room, dive-bombing the other appliances here and there.

The other appliances quickly fled the room, squeaking and squawking about spirits of the diodes and ghosts in the machine. The blender was the last to go, shuttled through the glass doors as they slowly swung closed. With a snap, the doors closed completely, a faint green around the metal handles.

"Better." Lorna dusted her hands and turned to the others. "How long do you think we have until they come back?"

"Don't know. But there's sure to be another shift before then. I hope."

"Xander, you're such a font of optimism." Spike stood and looked at them all, "Look, kiddies, it's been fun. But I've got better things to do with my time."

"Shut up." Lorna raised a hand, and looked towards the door. "They're coming back."

"I don't have to shut up. I'm the Slayer. I Slay."

They all looked at the Buffybot. Xander turned to Lorna, "You can't, y'know, fix her. Can you?"

"Parts are too small. Sorry."

"That's ok. I think I'm beginning to like her."

"You like me? That's good. You're my friend, Xander."

"Uh. Yeah."

"Hello? Killer appliances?" Spike snorted, "I don't know how any of you have survived this long."

"Shut up, Spike."

"Right. Fine. The only one in here with intelligence will be quiet." Spike pulled out a cigarette and looked around for something to light it with.

"Smoking is bad for you." The Buffybot pulled the offending cancer stick from his lips. "And it tastes yucky."

"Oh, great. What did Red do to you?"

"Red? I don't know anyone named Red. And she didn't do anything to me."

"God. Isn't there any way to shut her up?"

"You could kiss her, Spike." Xander grimaced, "It would be icky for the rest of us, but at least we wouldn't have to listen to her fawning all over you."

Spike raised two fingers at Xander, and hunched down into a chair with his coat wrapped around him.

The others went back to quietly discussing their options. Kurt was mostly silent, content to bask in the coolness factor that came from hanging around a green-haired girl who could control magnetism, a blonde who seemed a bit odd, Spike and his leather duster, and Xander.

--

"Atten-SHUN!"

The clatter of many feet snapping into place echoed in the small street outside the grocery store. The Sergeant-Major stalked up and down the row of shiny helmeted commandoes. "As you men know, there may be trouble. There may be death in this for all of us, but we shall survive, we shall be strong! For we are, the Crock-Pots of Doom!"

"SIR! YES SIR!" The lines chorused eagerly, porcelain faces serious.

Inside the store, Kurt and Xander were staring out the window at the troops in fascinated horror. Lorna was perched on a desk behind them, filing her nails while Spike dozed in his chair and the Buffybot paced around, muttering about staking the appliances.

"Crock-Pots of Doom." Xander snorted, "How come I've seen every kind of doom now? Shouldn't I just be able to die or something?"

"Everything?" Kurt asked, curious.

"Just about. I used to live on the Hellmouth. We had mummygirls, hyena possessions, giant bugs, apocalypses, and even bad dental plans. Oh, and some vampires, too."

"Wow." Kurt studied him, "How were the chicks?"

"The usual."

"Ah. Never got a date."

"I did, too. I dated the Queen of the Snobs, Cordelia Chase."

"For how long?" Kurt asked, mildly curious.

"Almost a year."

"Ah. Long, then."

"Yeah." Xander looked at him, "So, what did you do, other than work at the ever-changing McDonald's?"

"That's about it, sadly."

"Not even one date?"

Kurt shook his head, then grinned, "Something tells me that's going to change, though."

Lorna hopped off the desk and padded over to them, "Not to interrupt you, but aren't you supposed to be looking out for us?"

"Right." Xander looked back out through the window, "And we are. See? The commandoes are--"

"Coming through the window as we speak!" Kurt yelped, back-pedalling.

With a curse, Lorna raised her hands and aimed out through the glass at the fast-approaching crockpots.

Nothing happened. "Damn. They must be fully porcelain and clay."

"What do we do now?"

"I fight them." The Buffybot announced.

"No," Spike corrected her, "We run."

--

They ran. The universe changed. People lived and people loved and people died. And in the end, it never seemed to matter if you knew the people you were with.

Or perhaps, it was simply that life was too short.

-finis-