Author:  Meltha

Rating: PG-13, though very, very mild

Feedback:  Yes, thank you.

Spoilers:  Through Season 6's finale, "Grave"

Distribution:, the Bunny Warren, Fonts of Wisdom, and Sudden Shifts.  If you're interested, please let me know.

Summary:  Buffy jumped through the portal and died, but what happened next?  The final chapter.

Disclaimer: All characters are owned by Mutant Enemy (Joss Whedon), a wonderfully creative company whose characters I have borrowed for a completely profit-free flight of fancy.  Kindly do not sue me, please, as I am terrified of you.  Thank you. Dedication:  To the all the lovely people who have sent me feedback, to everyone who has waited for the chapters, and especially to those beautiful people, the Snert Slayers. Part 21

Drusilla had smiled and wished Darla well, knowing the spirit was going on to perfect bliss and wanting to lessen her worry over her departure, but after her old friend was gone, she couldn't help her sadness.  For once, she allowed herself the indulgence of being every bit as unhappy as she actually felt, and she remained sequestered inside her garden for two full days in solitude.  William had, of course, wanted to stay with her, but she had very politely but firmly stated that she wanted to be alone.  He also missed the sometimes sharp-tongued woman whose candor had been so refreshing, so it was with a heavy heart of his own that he went to Sunnydale to see how things were faring with Spike.

Buffy had told the vampire that the kiss would never be repeated, but William had begun to doubt her words.  Uneasiness festered around his heart as he watched Spike in his crypt, an expression on the demon's face that suggested he knew things were not going to turn out well but that there was little hope for anything else.  Spike was many things, but stupid was certainly not one of them. 

It was the shove that did it, both physically and mentally.  William was stunned beyond belief at exactly how little Buffy was behaving like her former self.  Granted, she'd always beaten up Spike for information, but he did have a point in this instance.  Something was happening between them, and they needed to talk about it before things went out of hand, an idea that was at least half William's.  But when the vampire had tried to return the push and succeeded without feeling any pain, William's face went ashen.

The chip was dead.

A thousand thoughts came crashing around his head as he tried to understand what had happened.  Had there been some strange side effect from Willow's amnesia spell that had lulled the gizmo into silence, or perhaps the contraption had simply run down on its own?  Spike seemed almost as puzzled as William was.  Whatever the case, if the chip was gone completely, the soul's chances of interfering with the vampire's choices were much, much slimmer.  Unmuzzled at last, the demon howled in delight at being free again, but William pulled with as much power as he possessed to reign in the destruction it wanted to cause.  There were still thoughts in the back of Spike's brain, feelings that suggested he didn't want to be what he had once been, and William used them as much to his advantage as he could.

Spike's first hunt in two years was a battle between the two of them.  Instead of simply cornering the woman and immediately killing her, he was suffering his first true pangs of conscience in a century.  William concentrated all of his effort on swaying Spike, the attempt draining his energy severely.  At length, the soul felt he would have won a complete victory had it not been that the vampire was so entirely sure that there was no possibility for him to ever fit in anywhere again.  As it was, William was reasonably certain in the moment before Spike's fangs grazed the woman's neck that he wouldn't leave her dead.  But then it happened -- mind-numbing pain that shocked both of them.

"I don't understand," William mumbled through his exhaustion.  The fight had sapped his strength mightily, and he was fighting to remain conscious. 

Then, a horrible thought grew in his mind.  It wasn't the chip; it was Buffy.  Her soul had eroded so far that she wasn't even being read by the chip as human anymore.  Of all the people in the world that Spike could hurt, the one person the idiotic piece of metal had decided to ignore was William's beloved.  When Warren confirmed this for Spike, William shuddered and tried with all his strength to hold back the tide he knew was coming, but it was like trying to put out an inferno with a glass of water.  There was no way he could stop it.

When the confrontation occurred, William was there.  He saw the fight, heard the cruel words they hurled at one another, saw the house collapsing around them.  His influence had dwindled away to almost nothing.  It was the demon who lay with Buffy that night, and it was the soul who stood above them in the dust of the destruction, too stunned to move, too horrified to turn his eyes away from the scene, too much in pain to even cry out.  He had been Buffy's lover, and he knew perfectly well what was happening below him had nothing to do with love for her.  There was no tenderness, only a strange, self-destructive violence.

With a heavy heart, William left.  Strong as the spirit had been throughout the loss of her, he couldn't bear the thought of watching her wake up in the arms of his demon.  It would be a pale mockery of their own love, a love she couldn't even remember now.  He didn't blame her for that, of course, but it didn't make the agony any less for him.

It was well past noon on the next day when Drusilla found him in his study, the sunlight looking pale and sickly as it slanted through the large window.  He had no reaction to seeing her standing there and remained staring out at the moors beyond, his figure preternaturally still.

A glance told Drusilla everything.

"So, it's happened, then," she said.  It wasn't a question.

A dim nod was William's only reply as he continued staring at the tall, gray grass waving in a strong wind that had begun to pick up.  The sky was growing darker, and the air took on the quality of a brewing thunderstorm.

"And Buffy?" she asked, afraid of the question.

"Almost no light left at all, the last time I saw her," he answered in a deceptively even tone.  "Dru, I'm tired.  I miss her."

"Yes," she agreed softly.  "Yes, I know."

A few moments later, the two were sitting on the couch, his head resting on the curve of her shoulder as she gently stroked his back.  There were no tears from either of them, just silence.  Outside, the storm began to wail.

It was to be several days before William regained enough strength in any sense of the word to return to Sunnydale.  What he saw did not encourage him.  Buffy had simply given up, and Spike, though unwilling to admit it, was doing much the same.  The vampire's one and only dim hope was that she might grow so weary of life that she would willing join him in the darkness, an idea he put forward time and again, though in truth Spike knew that if she became part of the shadows she would no longer be the woman he loved.  As little as William liked his other self, he couldn't help commiserating a bit with him on that point:  the woman they both loved certainly seemed to have disappeared without a trace, and the listless, often pointlessly cruel girl who had taken her place was sometimes nothing but a stinging reminder of their losses.

There were still occasional moments when William was able, through sheer determination, to break through Spike's defenses, but they were problematic at best.  The crowning blow that had put up the final barricades between the two and made William's interferences almost entirely impossible had been the incident with Katrina.  Being outside of the time loop and perfectly able to see that "Katrina" was no more than Jonathon in a skirt with a glamour floating around him, William obviously knew Buffy was in no way responsible for her death.  Upon learning that Buffy had decided to turn herself in to the police, a decision that didn't make any sense on a logical level and would almost certainly destroy what was left of Buffy's spirit inside a cell, he had exercised as much influence as he could over Spike to tell him that he needed to stop her.  Throwing the body in the river had shocked him, but if Spike had not shown up at that moment outside the police station, Buffy would have walked in too early to learn the identity of the girl and put two and two together.

As it was, she was otherwise occupied for a good while.  As Spike was slowly pummeled, unresisting, into the ground, his face reduced to a pulp of blood and shattered bone, an unspeakably moment happened for William.  His own soul was in such distress that Drusilla heard its call and was instantaneously by his side.

"It's gone," he realized as he looked at Buffy again.  "Dru, it's gone."

In that darkened alleyway, Buffy's dim soul was guttering like a candle flame in a draft.  As she continued to beat the unmoving body beneath her, her soul flickered, then went out.

Drusilla's eyes widened enormously.  "No.  No, this isn't happening.  We won't allow this to happen."

Instinctively, she grabbed William's hand and gave every last ounce of her strength towards concentrating on reigniting that spark, guiding William to do the same.  Time seemed to possess no meaning at all, and it felt as though hours passed before Buffy walked dazedly out of the alleyway.  Still, they had managed to succeed.  Fluttering weakly around the Slayer's heart like the smallest, almost invisible spark was the fragment of soul they had managed to rekindle.

Spike was not the only being to lie broken on the filthy ground of the alleyway.  Both William and Drusilla, utterly spent, had collapsed senseless to the pavement, completely insensible to the world around them.  It was several hours later before William, the first one to stir, was able to send himself and Dru home again to fully recover, and as the soiled brick walls faded away, he saw the vampire slink painfully on his belly towards a manhole cover, just escaping the first deadly rays of the sun.

Days passed in Drusilla's garden without a word from either of them.  Harmony occasionally stopped by, having heard the gossip about what had happened, but nothing she could say or do would help them to mend any faster. 

"This is so not good and depressing and stuff," she complained loudly as she watched the limp bodies of the two in their hammocks, their eyes glazed.  "It's, like, scary."

Deciding she'd done enough, the girl popped into a different reality and proceeded to have a pedicure and watch Pretty Woman six times on a loop until she felt better.

It was well over a month before Drusilla and William recovered.  Checking Sunnydale after being away for so long was a sobering experience as they realized Xander and Anya's wedding had flopped and the woman had decided to become a demon again.  Worse yet, though, were Drusilla's latest portents, most of which surrounded Willow.  Although the redhead seemed under control, something was not right with her, and the seer felt in her heart that it was going to get worse.

To William's surprise, Buffy had ended things with Spike, and this time it looked like she might mean it.  While Buffy's soul seemed to be strengthening a bit in the absence of the constant violence, the effect on Spike seemed to be a strange loss of stability.  William was floored when he walked in on the vampire and Anya, and perhaps even more so when Spike outed his relationship with Buffy in front of the others.  It smacked of desperation, and desperation and demons did not mix well.

Nothing, though, could have prepared him for what happened next. 

Dawn's suggestion that Spike speak with her sister had been well intentioned.  The conversation had even begun well enough, with Buffy at least not denying what had happened between them.  But the snap, the sudden, complete break when Spike realized that she would never tell him she loved him, that she had never loved him, that the only thing he had been to her was something, not someone, to have sex with, was uncontrollable.  In that moment, that dawning of realization, the demon took total control. 

William fought with it, of course.  He pulled every mental string he could think of, tried every trick of control he had ever learned, but his own revulsion over the attack that was happening before him was so great that he could do nothing, no more than Darla could usually control her other self when she had been split.  In the end, it was Buffy who saved herself.

But William did not back away.

Fury coursed through the soul's veins as he saw the tiniest of windows open in Spike, a small part of him that was feeling guilt.  That, the soul could use.  Anger unlike anything he had ever felt spurred him on, lashing the vampire with a force like tidal waves.

"You piece of scum!" he yelled with every fiber of his being.  "You worthless excuse for a being!  You dared to even think of touching her that way?  Her?  You don't have the right to have her see you, hear you, know you exist!  Murderer!  Demon!"

Spike was reeling from the onslaught:  a demon experiencing guilt, an utter anomaly.  He had no more idea what to do with it than he would have known how to live on Mars. 

Meanwhile, William's rage had grown no less, but it had grown deadly calm.  He didn't care if it was impossible.  There was no way he would ever allow that thing to be near her again, and that meant one of two things.

"Dru," he said in a perfectly controlled voice as he materialized at her side, "is there a way to kill him?"

"William," she said as his memories of what had happened were opened before her like a book, "oh, William, I'm so sorry.  But there's…"

"Don't tell me there's nothing I can do!" he erupted loudly.  "There must be a way!"

Drusilla shook her head firmly.  "No.  There's no way to kill him."

"Then I'll bombard him with guilt until he does it himself," he vowed quietly. 

"It won't work," she said softly.  "The guilt is there now, yes, but to move him to suicide?  I think he'll shut down again before it becomes that much.  He's done it in the past."

"Wait?  Spike's, like, feeling guilty?" Harmony asked from behind him where she had gone unnoticed until now.

"Harmony, now is not the time," William began impatiently, but she interrupted him. 

"But, that means he's feeling a negative emotion from his conscience," she reasoned.  "It's in there, or it's waking up, or whatever."

"What?"  William asked, startled.

"And it's his emotion, right?  I mean, you didn't try to hurt Buffy.  You don't feel guilty, do you?"

"No.  Angry, yes, but not guilty," he said, wondering where this was going.

"Well, this new guy, Kwami, was just turned in Africa.  We were talking, and he used to live in this village called Ramkana that worshiped some big demon mojo guy who could anchor souls, but only if the recipient and the soul were both okay with it," Harmony said in a rush.  "Doesn't exactly happen too often.  Like, once."

William's eyes shifted to Drusilla.  "Have you ever heard of this?"

"No," Dru said in surprise.  "Harmony, are you quite sure that's what he said?"

The blonde nodded her head vigorously.  "Well, that and that the one soul who tried it actually wound up breaking apart into little pieces and ceasing to exist because he didn't pass the final exam or something."

"So it's never been done successfully?"  Drusilla asked.  "William, you'd better think about this before you do anything…"

He was gone.

"Rash," she finished to the empty air.

William was already in Spike's crypt, and with the level of interdimensional assault the vampire received, he was very quickly on his motorcycle and on his way to a village in Africa that he'd never even heard of before.  He would do anything, anything, if it meant he could simply get away from the terrible weight of grief that hung around his heart like lead.

As William stood by while Spike fought the necessary battles with the demon, continuing to batter him ceaselessly with rage, Drusilla suddenly appeared, begging the soul to reconsider and stop for a moment to think about what he was doing. 

"William, she was able to stop the attack.  If he ever tried to do anything like that again…"

"No.  The idea that it's even possible that he might, it's too terrible.  I love that woman more than anything in this universe, Dru, and I'm not going to let something that looks like me, sounds like me, and used to be me ever have the opportunity to hurt her again, not when there's even the slightest chance I can stop him."

"But what will happen to you?" she asked worriedly.  "You know you won't remember Limbo.  You'll wake up with nothing but Spike's memories.  The price of succeeding, if you even do, is going to be taking every crime he ever committed upon yourself.  You'll still be you, but this time, you'll remember it as though you were the one trying to rape her!"

William paused for the briefest moment, then a determined glint set in his eye.  "If it's the difference between me having to go through hell or her being attacked again, I'll take hell.  Gladly."

Suddenly, Drusilla's form shimmered slightly, and as Spike slumped to the cave's floor, having passed the final test, a second Drusilla faded into being before William.  Everything else stopped as time came to a complete standstill.

"William," the second Drusilla intoned softly, "that isn't me."

Confused, he turned his gaze back to the first Drusilla, peering at her closely.  Her form rippled slightly, changing into something else entirely, becoming a twin to the strange demon who lived in the cave.

"Congratulations," it said in a croaking voice.  "You have passed the test.  You still wish to re-enter this being?  Once said, there can be no turning back."

He looked at Drusilla, and a sad smile lit his eyes.  "Tell Harmony thank you for me, will you?  I'm going to miss you, old friend."

"And I you," she said in a trembling voice, "though I'll never be far."

She kissed his forehead gently, then he turned back to the demon.

"Yes, I am certain."

It nodded, then walked over to its duplicate and merged into one with it. 

"Very well," it quietly purred as it laid a hand against Spike's chest.  "We return to you your soul."

As the bright light that was William flooded back into Spike's body, accompanied by screams of agony, Drusilla couldn't hold back a sob as she saw her dearest friend leave her for good, not for a realm of happiness but for untold years of guilt and shame that he had done nothing to earn.

"Dru, we've got a problem," said a terrified voice next to her ear.  "I think I messed up.  Bad."

Harmony's fear was so great that Drusilla was pulled with her to the Buffy's bower in the plum orchard.  The bed on which the unmoving form of the Slayer usually lay was completely empty.

"She disappeared," Harmony said in quavering voice.  "I was just here, checking up on her like I though William might want, and just, poof, she vanished."

Drusilla stared at the vacant spot for a full minute before she realized what had happened.

"You didn't do anything wrong," she said, and Harmony was stunned to see that Drusilla was smiling broadly.  "You did nothing wrong at all!  Something finally went right!"


"Buffy's soul.  It was bound to William.  Don't you see!  When William left, Buffy's soul went with it," she called happily.  "I'll show you!"

The two souls were suddenly in a newly dug grave in one of Sunnydale's highly populated cemeteries.  With tremendous joy, Drusilla took in the sight of Buffy and Dawn scrambling up the side of wall of earth, both of them…

"Whole," Drusilla breathed softly.  "Once William left Limbo, her soul was released, so it went back where it belonged.  Harmony, she's healed!"

As the once again complete soul of the Slayer walked through the early morning light with her sister, as the lasting effects of Willow's spell subsided now that the damage had been undone and the witch was able to be herself once more, as Spike, now inhabited by William, began to stir in the African cave, Drusilla caught Harmony's hands and began to dance in a joyous ring with her as the world began its slow journey back to the way things should be.  The way promised to be dark, and what little Drusilla's Sight could foresee of all this said that the coming times would not be easy, but one thing was certain.  Hope had been reborn.

"So," Harmony asked conversationally, "celebration chocolate sundaes?"

Drusilla laughed whole-heartedly for the first time in a very long time.  "Yes, dearie, I believe so.  With marshmallow fluff and sprinkles."

As Limbo closed around Drusilla and Harmony once again, the sun rose on a world full of endless possibilities.