He wasn't sure exactly what he'd expected, but either oblivion, if he was lucky, or some kind of hell dimension. What he got was a memory of heat and pain, then a blank white nothing all around him, filled with light.
For a while he lay there, confused, bewildered, until suddenly it occurred to him that he was definitely dead, but apparently he was still somewhere, and he might want to find out where.
He wasn't sure what he was lying on, but it supported him just fine as he clambered to his feet. He was surrounded by featureless whiteness, and apparently his spirit or his soul or whatever was of him left after the sun burned him up had more or less the same taste in clothes as he'd had. Jeans, boots, his duster... the blue shirt he'd once worn when he was trying to figure out how to be the new, souled version of himself. Hmmm.
It didn't seem like the place was exactly teeming with people or spirits or whatever else he would've expected to find.
On the positive side, no screaming or wailing or gnashing of teeth either, no firepits, no bright red demons with horns and pitchforks. If it was a hell, it was a quiet one.
Not silent though, he realised. He could hear voices, faint and yet familiar, and he started towards them. The whiteness he was walking on was like moss, firm yet springy under his feet, and it extended as far as he could see. He couldn't even tell how far that was - the whiteness was so blank, so complete, that it gave him no sense of distance.
At least the voices gave him something to aim for. As he drew closer, the familiarity increased; there was something comforting... God, he wasn't sure what it was, except that he wanted, needed to get to those voices. Without conscious thought, he started to run, his coat billowing out behind him. He still couldn't judge distance or speed, he just knew he was running full pelt, and gradually getting closer to something that felt like... home.
He ran harder, faster than he knew he could run, and he was out of breath (which didn't seem right), but still he kept running, and there was laughter and the light grew more intense and something exploded even brighter in the midst of the whiteness, and suddenly instead of featureless white, his surroundings resolved themselves into some kind of room. Still white, still shining, and huge, but definitely a room, with three figures on the far side, gathered around some kind of table, laughing together then turning towards him, and if he wasn't already dead several times over, he was sure his heart would've stopped.
He stood stock still, blinking rapidly. At this distance, he couldn't make out their features properly in the blinding light, but he knew, he knew, and when he had recovered from the shock, he started walking again, walking towards that sense of home.
He paused when he got close enough to see their smiles. They were bathed in light, dressed in colours bright as jewels, and he was oddly grateful for the blue of his shirt. He was a raven expecting to roost with tropical birds, and he regretted all his black.
There was something different about them all, something that made him nervous to approach even though he knew with complete certainty who they were and that they were waiting for him. He knew, as if someone had dropped the knowledge directly into his mind, that he was welcome here, but he felt unworthy and out of place, couldn't bring himself to close the gap, to properly join them. Maybe he was just here to say his goodbyes - maybe to apologise for the times he'd failed them. And really, he was glad the Powers were giving him the chance, even if part of him thought it was cruel to give him a glimpse if they were going to take it away.
He took a deep breath. "Joyce." For a moment he smiled at her, wasn't sure if his voice was going to let him continue. Then guilt hit him. Damn soul, he thought, without any real heat. "I'm sorry, I should've- I should've looked after both of them better." He caught Buffy's eye over her mother's shoulder. "I'm sorry."
Buffy gave him that smile he'd missed for decades, the one that said all was forgiven, that reminded him she was much kinder and had more grace in her than he ever did deserve.
He smiled back at her, unaccountably shy, but oh, so grateful to see her again, and more so that she seemed happy to see him. After a second, overwhelmed, his gaze returned to Joyce.
"You looked after them both so well, William," she assured him, with a look of gratitude.
He started. How did she know his given name?
"We've been waiting for you for a while."
Somehow the way Joyce answered his question before he'd actually asked it felt quite natural.
Dawn pushed herself off from her perch and made her way towards him. He gaped as he got his first proper gander at her in this place.
She managed to look like the elderly lady he'd watched breathe her last an hour or so ago (was it just an hour? Or years? He couldn't work out the passage of time any better than distance) and like the child of fourteen who didn't know she was a mystical ball of energy, and like every version of herself in between, and through it all a shining green light twisted and glittered and wove. It was dizzying.
Then, as she drew closer, she resolved into a young woman in her early twenties, and it was that version of Dawn who pulled him in close and hugged him hard.
"Thank you," she murmured in his ear. "Thank you for staying with me until the end."
He shut his eyes tight against the tears that were threatening to fall and hugged her back fiercely, no longer needing to be careful of her fragility. She smelled real and alive and healthy, not of a nursing home and medication, and he'd never forgotten but it had been such a long time. "Least I could do, Little Bit," he whispered, his voice breaking slightly.
She let go of him but grabbed his hand, pulled him in closer to... well, it was a kitchen island, now he looked at it properly, with Joyce and Buffy leaning on it, like they were back at Revello Drive. He glanced over to where Dawn had been sitting and yes, it was the counter where he'd sat and laughed with Joyce about amphorae.
Heaven as the Summers kitchen? Well. It sort of made sense. Insofar as him not having red hot pokers stuck up places he didn't want to think about right now made any sense at all.
He looked at the other Summers women as he settled himself against the island. Joyce was just as he remembered; a kindly woman with a gentle, sincere smile, with none of Dawn's dazzling light show or the way she managed to seem all ages at once, but still, she was lit up with warmth and something else he couldn't quite put his finger on. She was somehow exactly as he expected and at the same time younger, her face full of health and happiness.
No worry, he realised suddenly, no fear. He was sure there was something else to it, too - as if she was flushed with youth at the same time as being the age he remembered - but no longer having the burden of being a single mum to two girls who were constantly in danger, well... it suited her.
He looked at Buffy last, swallowing hard as he got his first up close view. Sixteen, twenty-one, the venerable Slayer at forty in her last battle. All his memories of her shimmered and danced across her face, and he found himself staring at her open-mouthed. He'd always remembered her as his golden girl, sunlight personified, as glowing, but his memories had not done her justice. If Dawn glittered and Joyce shone, he didn't have words for Buffy. She was gleaming, glimmering... effulgent.
She smiled as she settled into the Buffy he held closest to his heart, the woman who'd forgiven the unforgivable and been the first person since his own mother to express any faith in him. "Hi, Spike."
He smiled back at her, shook his head. "Hi, Buffy." It was beyond belief and the most natural thing in the world at the same time. It was Buffy. He felt something in him relax as he basked in the thereness of her. "Long time no see, pet."
Her smile widened into a toothy, amused grin.
He finally managed to tear himself away to look around. Still more of the kitchen seemed to have melted into being from the glowing whiteness, and he realised with a start that there was a steaming mug in front of him. Hot chocolate. Little marshmallows. "So, knew I was coming, then?"
Dawn squeezed his forearm. "I was the advance party," she said with a grin. "Knew you wouldn't be long." There was a definite note of 'Well, duh,' in her voice, as if she'd had absolute faith he'd be following.
Granted, she'd been right that he'd had no desire to stay alive once all his girls were gone, but he certainly hadn't been expecting to score a reunion.
"I still don't understand... how'd I end up here?"
Dawn frowned. "Where else would you go?"
He thought back to those weeks at Wolfram & Hart, and shuddered. "The, uh... the other place."
For a second she just looked at him as if he was talking gibberish, then her eyes flashed. "No! You're a hero, Spike, you're a champion. How could you ever think you'd end up in hell?" Tears welled up and she suddenly looked like a teenager again, like the lass who'd clung on to him and wept because her sister had died saving the world.
He chucked her under the chin. "'Preciate your faith in me, love, but..." He looked back at Joyce. "Think maybe they're just lettin' me say g'bye."
"No!" Dawn's vehemence made him smile despite himself. "You're here to stay. He's here to stay, right?" she demanded of Joyce and Buffy.
He couldn't seem to look at Buffy again except to catch a glimpse out of the corner of his eye. He had a feeling this could all be ripped away at any moment, and he both wanted to look his fill, just in case, and didn't want to torture himself. After all these decades, she still knocked him sideways.
So it was Joyce he addressed as he went on, though he couldn't properly hold her gaze either as he spelled out the truth of it. "Not sure how a few years fightin' with them lot and a few decades keepin' an eye on Dawn make up for... well, everythin' else. 'M not... qualified." He was muttering, he knew, but there was part of him loath to draw attention to the fact he shouldn't, he was certain, be here. That this was a mistake, a mistake that would be discovered and rectified any minute now.
"He's here to stay." Buffy's voice, firm and calm.
He still couldn't bring himself to look at her, didn't feel worthy, but she sounded like she knew what she was talking about. He studied Joyce's face for any hint of doubt or a lie. "But..."
"I think you underestimate yourself, William. Besides..." Joyce paused, and her eyes were sparkling with mirth and joy.
The three Summers ladies looked at each other and shared a grin, but it was Joyce who leaned over the counter and took his hand. "I think the Powers knew you were needed here."
Buffy huffed out an impatient noise that drew his tentative gaze, and rolled her eyes, hard. It was comforting how familiar the expression was, even in this radiantly, blindingly happy Buffy. "For... for us, you dope."
He blinked a few times. "You wanted me here?"
She nodded. "Of course."
"Oh." He blinked some more. "Really?"
Another eye roll, and a smile he couldn't help returning.
Buffy moved around the island, and he couldn't take his eyes off her as she approached. Again he saw her as a fresh faced girl, as a college student, as a broken young woman, as the leader she'd grown into, as the strong, confident Slayer who'd gone down fighting to the end, and everything in between, and he couldn't pin it down even as she grinned and nudged her shoulder affectionately into his.
"Drink up," she said. "We've got so much to show you."
He'd been so captivated by the three of them, it wasn't until Buffy gestured towards the window (and when had that appeared?) that he saw green and blue and the sunlight streaming in. He looked down at his hands, and noticed they showed a distinct lack of flammability. "Oh," he said again. No wonder I never made it as a poet. S'posed to be good with words.
He glanced up. She was no less shining and bright up close, but he was starting to think he could just about bear it. "Yeah?"
She touched his cheek with her fingers, so lightly, so gently. "It's okay. You made it. Everything's okay now."
He felt his face crack in the kind of grin he'd thought he'd forgotten how to make. "Can we rest now, Buffy?" he asked, hope rising in his chest.
Her smile grew still wider and more brilliant. "Yes, Spike. Yes, we can."
~ fin ~