Okay, stop me if you've heard this one.
Trot down to Africa, meet big, dark and lurky in the cave, ask for my soul back.
Now, he ain't too happy 'bout it, being all demony himself, but he can't stop me taking the challenges.
Finally gonna give the bitch what she deserves, I tell him.
He gets a dark little chuckle at that one. She deserves far more than that, he tells me.
Yeah, like I'm surprised.
Are you willing to give her what she deserves? Give her friends what they deserve?
Hey, I'm not signing up for the vengeance demon schtick, I tell him. That's demon girl's thing, not mine.
No, he says. Again with that damn chuckle. No, I would not ask that of /you/...
Are you willing to give them what they deserve?
What *do* they deserve?
Oh, they know... They know...
Okay, I tell him. I'm not playing this game. I may be steamed at the Slayer, but I'm not gonna play minion on this. While Harris and Red probably deserve it... uh-uh on demon girl. /She/ deserved a lot better than she got.
So did Niblet.
Okay, I say 'he'. He could have been an 'it', for all I cared. Or a 'she'.
You misunderstand, he says. If you wanted vengeance, you could have called upon D'Hoffryn. Are you willing to give the Slayer what she truly deserves?
Yeah, I say. Hey, what have I got to lose?
I get through the trials - and a lot of fun *those* were, lemme tell you.
Anyway, I get through them. Make it to the end.
'You have endured the required trials' he says.
Yeah, like I hadn't noticed.
'Bloody right I have.' I tell him. 'So give me what I want. Make me what I was... so Buffy can get what she deserves.'
And it's right about then it hits me.
Oh God. Not William. Not turnin' into soddin' William the Bloody Awful Poet.
Yeah, great move, Spike. Now you'll be moonin' over the Slayer and wonderin' what the hell rhymes with "effulgent".
'Very well', he says.
And before I get to bring my well-reasoned argument up, he's reaching out and laying his hand on my chest. 'Your soul... and so much more... is given to you.'
The last thing I remember, I'm screaming my head off-
-and everything, mercifully, goes black.
The next thing I remember, I'm in the darkness, staring at this body lying on the ground. And I'm thinking, okay, who delivered take-out?
Okay, I wasn't thinkin' too clearly. Like that's somethin' new.
I reach down -
- and my hand goes straight through it.
Soddin' bastard's gone and turned me into a ghost. I get ready to give him a piece of my mind-
Only he isn't there.
Then it hits me.
Then it /all/ hits me.
You thought Round One was bad? We're gonna make sure you remember Round Two.
And, Jesus Christ, I /do/.
I remember everything I did, *everything*, over the last hundred and forty-odd years of my life.
Every. Last. Thing.
You know how they say your life passes through your mind when you drown? This was like that. That feelin' of someone assessin' everythin' I'd done, markin' it off on some cosmic tally scale.
Markin' me off.
And it was...
And I knew, in exact and precise detail, just how much of a monster I was.
Exactly how much.
This time, the blackness was a relief.
Okay. Spike and I felt I should take over at this point.
Spike felt he should, well... set things up for me.
Okay, before I get any further, you'll have to forgive me. I... wasn't exactly in the best shape at this point.
It's okay, pet.
It sounds so simple, now.
But it wasn't. It really wasn't.
In that one word...
...I can't say it. I just can't say it.
It's too much.
Begin at the beginning.
Or the end.
I'm looking at Willow's shirt and there's red all over-
-there's blood all over-
-there's blood all over Willow's shirt, and she's never going to get it clean, never going to wash it out, she loved that shirt-
Somewhere far away, there's a dull *thump*
Somewhere inside my mind, I realise it's me, that it's me collapsing on the floor, but all I can think of is how much Willow loved that shirt, and now she's never going to get it clean-
Then there's darkness.
And I see a light in the distance. A light at the end.
I move towards it.
I'm dying. Or dead.
And somehow, it's not the shock it should be.
I'm never going to see Dawnie grow up. I'm never going to write that book I wanted. Never going to work at a pet rescue centre. Never going to have a baby. Never going to see Mr Giles, or Buffy, or any of the others, ever again.
I'm never going to be able to tell Willow how much I love her.
Not until it's her time.
And there's a part of me that wants to stay behind, to tell her it's okay, baby, it's going to be okay, look, it's okay. I'm going to be with Mama again, to see Joyce again...
...Go on with your life. Find someone. Live. Not for me, but for you.
Live. Be Willow.
I have to go.
I'll be waiting.
And I'm going on, into the light.
Buffy always found it difficult to talk about it, what it'd been like when she was there.
But... she understood.
It's hard to describe, to explain, in...
There was someone waiting for me, just outside the light.
It wasn't Mama. Or Joyce. Or anyone I'd known.
Hello, he said bashfully.
He was sweet and shy and a bit awkward, like he wasn't quite comfortable there.
And I had the strangest feeling, like I'd met him before, but I'd forgotten his name.
Which was strange...
He was such a sweet man, and I wouldn't have forgotten someone like that...
Hello, I said. Are you Saint Peter? I was, you know, expecting someone...
No, he said. No, no-one like that.
You're not my... my soulmate, are you? I asked. Which would have been disconcerting, because, well, gay, and my soulmate turns out to be a man.
Except, in a strange way, I'm not sure it would have mattered.
Milady, he said, perhaps, in another life, perhaps...
Had I the words, I would have told you your beauty illuminated the world, the very stars, themselves, that your grace illuminated corners of my heart I had not even known. I would have striven over every word, striven to write something worthy of you.
I'm not... I began.
You do yourself an injustice, he said. You deserve all that and more. More than I could ever hope to give.
Why? I asked. Why can't we go inside?
We have been summoned, he said. We have been asked to go back, to return.
Return? I said. But...
I know, he said. Still, it is a call neither of us can refuse.
This is my doing, he said. It is my own actions that call us back.
Who... who are you?
William, he said. William-
The light winked out.
Warmth. Warmth beneath me.
Like... like lying on the beach on a warm day...
I closed my eyes, listened for the heartbeat inside me, listened for the sound of my own breath.
Then... I don't know how long... I realised I couldn't hear my breath, or my heart.
Dead...? Is that how I've come back? Dead?
No! God, no-
Only the ground beneath me, and the air around me, and...
...and where was I?
What was I?
My hands were resting against the ground.
Sand. Sand over stone.
No sound. Nothing.
I opened my mouth.
Sore... so sore... when did I last have a drink?
No... when did this body last have a drink?
Hungry. So hungry. I just wanted to find the nearest thing I could and eat it...
I started to stand up, almost afraid of knocking my head on something.
...pain shooting with every move...
How long had I been here?
I blinked, my eyes adapting to the dark.
Darkness, stone, all round.
A... a cave.
There was a figure, outlined against the wall.
...I could see right through.
I /was/ seeing right through.
Staring at me.
'H-hello?' I tried.
My voice sounded harsh in my ears.
It fell into place.
Spike? Ghost of Spike?
What happened to him?
What happened to me?
'Spike? Can you hear me?'
My throat *hurt* so much...
I barely caught it.
'...So many...' he repeated again. 'So many... so... the blood won't get off, will it? Never come off. Oceans of blood...'
He looked me straight in the eyes.
'Oceans, oceans... oh, so pretty, Dru, so pretty... but she won't like this, no, not at all.' His eyes blazed. 'Screw her.'
'Spike? What happened?'
'Screw her, screw you, screw me. Get right into her, get right inside her, get /inside.../'
I closed my eyes. 'Fiat... Fiat Lux!'
A tinkerbell light popped into existence over my hand.
Honestly, I hadn't thought whether or not it'd work - only that I wanted light.
But it did, and it lifted.
In the light, I could see the figure /was/ Spike. Was /really/ Spike.
In the light, I could see the clothes he was wearing.
The clothes I was wearing.
I realised he was staring at the light.
'So beautiful...' he whispered. 'A beauty effulgent...'
I looked at him.
Then down at myself.
You'd have thought the voice would have tipped me off.
Harsh and rusty... and about an octave deeper than I was used to.
No, it was the dangly thing between my legs that did it.
A man? A /dead/ man?
A dead man walking.
A dead man-
A dead man.
He focused on me.
'GET OUT OF THERE!'
He went for - went *through* - me.
I looked down at myself again.
Screaming I didn't belong there, I was dead and *gone*-
Screaming I belonged with Willow.
I belonged in the ground.
Begging them to tell Will. To tell her to throw the shirt away.
Screaming about Glory, trying to tell them she'd brain-sucked me again.
I didn't /belong/, couldn't they /see/? I didn't /belong/ here!
I wanted to go home.
I wanted to go /back/.
I wanted to /die/.
I was /dead/.
I was cold and dead and gone, and why weren't they listening?
/Why weren't they listening to me?!/
Didn't they see? Didn't they understand?
/I wasn't me./
This wasn't me, I tried to tell them. This wasn't me, this was Spike.
It wasn't me, not this cold dead body.
I was in there, but it wasn't me.
I was dead and gone. I didn't belong here.
I didn't belong-
When I woke up, it was night-time, and someone had thoughtfully tied me to the bed.
Spike - ghost of Spike - leaned over me, regarding me coldly.
'Finally. Sleeping Beauty wakes up. Bloody Hell, girl, you could give Dru a run for her money.'
'S-Spike?' I croaked out.
'Who'd you think it was, Casper the bloody Friendly Ghost?'
'Is... is it you...?'
'Yeah. Yeah, it's me.'
'Yeah, I know.
'We'll talk 'bout it later.'
I want to talk about it *now*, I tried to protest.
But I blacked out again.
When I woke up again, there was this little old woman sitting by the bed, a bowl in her hands.
They must have propped me up at some point, so I could drink, but I was still tied to the bed.
She brought the bowl to my mouth, tipped it to my lips.
I tried sipping at it.
She tipped it again.
It spilled into me.
It was warm and tangy and tasty, like Mama's chicken soup. Warm and satisfying and meaty.
When the bowl'd nearly been emptied, she removed it.
And I didn't want her to do that, I wanted her to keep it close, because I was so /thirsty/, so /thirsty/, and I hadn't drunk anything in so long-
She regarded me for a long moment.
Then she got up and left.
'Well, that was nice of them.' GhostSpike said, taking her position by the bed. 'Me, I'd've gone for something more filling, but I'm guessin' they don't wanna risk it just yet.'
'S-spike?' I managed to say. My voice... well, not so croaky now, but still sore, still hoarse.
'Yeah.' he said. 'Question is, who do you think /you/ are?'
'T-Tara.' I managed to say. 'Tara... Tara Maclay.'
His expression darkened, but his tone was still conversational. 'Good. Thought we'd lost you a couple of times back there - and you have no idea how happy that would have made me, back then.'
'S-same... same here.' I said. I tried to smile, but my mouth just wasn't up to it.
I lay back against the bed, feeling the blankets underneath.
'What... what's going on? Where... where are we? What... what happened?'
Spike gave me that assessing look of his. 'Guess we've got the time.' He sat forward. 'Easiest question first - we're in Uganda, small village in the back end of beyond. Cave not too far off home to a shaman, does stuff for whoever passes his tests.'
I remembered, sort of. Was that the cave... the cave I'd woken up in?
'As for what happened...' He snorted.
'...You wanted a soul.' I whispered.
'No.' he corrected me. 'Wanted /my/ soul. My old soul.' He snorted again.
'So... so how...?' I tried to ask him.
'Didn't think it through, did I?' he said. 'Said they deserved a lot more, and was I willing to give it to them? And like a bloody idiot, I said "yeah".'
My mind was still trying to wrap itself round this, but Spike continued.
'Turns out, what "a lot more" means is me getting busted out of my own body, while /you/ move in, complete with soul.'
'What...' I got out. 'What about your...?'
His face darkened.
'What do /you/ think? I'm still bloody here, aren't I?!' he snarled, leaning forward again, jabbing a finger at me. 'What /I/ wanna know is what the soddin' hell /you're/ doin' here! Thought you'd got back with witchgirl, doin' the whole loveydovey thing! The last thing I expect is to find *you've* moved into my body!'
He sat back, crossed his legs. 'And if you so much as get it scratched, you are gonna /suffer/.'
I couldn't help it.
I started laughing.
Painful and sore and hoarse, but laughter.
I just couldn't help it.
He looked so ticked off, sitting there, growling at me.
Like an angry terrier, and that was /so/ wrong of me, but I couldn't help it.
He looked so /funny/.
The scowl on his face only intensified, and I just couldn't stop.
Finally, when my voice was worn out again, he asked me again, the anger gone from him.
'I...' I tried to remember. 'There was... red... blood... there was blood on Willow's shirt... and then... then everything went... went numb, dark...'
My voice died.
'Blood.' I could barely hear what I was saying. 'Blood. She... she was... she was feeding me blood, wasn't she?'
'Cow's blood.' Spike said. 'Like I said, they didn't want to risk you gettin' a taste anythin' more.'
'I'm a... I'm a vampire, aren't I?'
'Comes with the body, love.' For a moment, it almost seemed like his eyes softened, and then he was serious Spike again. 'What happened to Red? You remember?'
'She was... I don't know... I remember... I remember someone saying something... someone saying something, a voice in the distance... I don't know.' I met his gaze again. 'Something... Something happened... happened to Willow, Spike...'
'Right.' Spike said. 'First thing we do...' He hesitated, as if he were reaching a difficult decision in his mind. 'First thing we do, you can walk, we're going back.'
'To... To Sunnydale?' I said.
'I want /answers/, love.' Spike said. 'Sunnyhell's the only place we can get them.'
'Spike...?' I said.
'I was...' I swallowed. 'I was... I was bad, back there... wasn't I? That's...that's why they tied... tied me down...?'
'Weren't the only one.' Spike said. 'Thing 'bout being a ghost... you gotta lotta time to think.'
There was so much behind that, so much...
But I didn't want to ask, and he didn't want to tell.
'Will...' My voice was thick. 'Will you stay with me?'
'I'm not going anywhere, love.' he said. 'We're together. Together till the end of the world.'
'Thank... Thank you.'
Then I drifted off into sleep.