The Prague Problem: Dealing with Drusilla's Mysterious Malady
In Joss Whedon's Buffyverse, vampires have a pretty sweet deal, provided they aren't stupid. All moral qualms disappear, allowing them to do anything or say anything they want completely free of guilt or regret. The aging process halts, and the vampire will remain as young and beautiful as the day he or she died in spite of hundreds of years, Kakistos and his hooves and the Master and "moving past the curse of human features" aside. This all ties into escaping the greatest fear humans possess: not the fear of death, but the fear of slow, inevitable decay. It's been said that if one wants to feel true sorrow, don't look at an old woman, but look at a lovely girl and think of what she is doomed to one day become. Vampires are excused from this horror of existence. They either are or they are not. There is no slow erosion of life in any form.
Vampires can, of course, be killed in Whedon's universe, but the form death takes the second time around is always fast. A stake to the heart kills in an instant; fire will incinerate the vampire in moments; ingested holy water will burn from the inside out in seconds; sunlight will fry them into ashes in less than a minute. Even "the killer of the dead," a highly unusual and rare poison that Mayor Wilkins unleashes on Angel, kills inside of a day at the most. To be a vampire is to be free of the fear of impending death since death, when it comes, will almost assuredly not give the recipient more than a few moments to contemplate his or her demise. But, there is an exception, and it has been the bane of fanfiction writers since season two: Drusilla's illness.
Drusilla, we are told when we first meet her, is slowly, painfully dying, a truly bizarre thing for a creature who is never supposed to be ill. Details are left very sketchy about how this has happened. Spike says that she was attacked by a mob in Prague, and it is later revealed that only a ritual involving the killing of Drusilla's sire will restore her to full health. The illness itself is marked by weakness, loss of appetite, and abdominal pain. There also appear to be bruises on her lower arms in some of the early episodes, though they do not seem extensive. Besides these very small marks, there are no obvious, severe injuries to her.
As far as the reasoning behind the writing of the show goes, introducing Drusilla as an invalid served many purposes: showing Spike's unusual tenderness for his lover, providing a reason for the pair to seek out the Hellmouth, allowing Angel's back story to be revealed, creating a parallel with Spike's impending convalescence, and engendering pity for a pair of evil character. These purposes succeeded in the storyline on the show, but the fact of Drusilla's illness as well as the incident that triggered it have perplexed fanfic writers.
One of the main problems writers deal with is vampire healing abilities. We've seen Spike beaten by both Glory and Buffy until he is nearly catatonic, yet he has been fully mobile a week later. The incident where a pipe organ was dropped on his head crushed his spine and managed to put him in a wheelchair, but he was healed in a few months, his condition markedly improving with each episode. Drusilla is not healing. We're never told how much time has passed between Prague and Sunnydale, and authors have placed it anywhere from directly before Spike and Drusilla's arrival in California to twenty or more years before, but we know she is deteriorating, not improving, during whatever time passes.
Whatever is happening to her is stronger than merely a physical attack by a mob. From what we've seen, vampires have phenomenal recuperative powers. Granted, there are limits to this, as seen in the episode "Teacher's Pet" with the infamous "fork guy" vampire who cut off his hand and replaced it with a metal claw. They can't simply reproduce a lost body part, but this does not seem to be Drusilla's problem. Provided she wasn't immediately killed, she should have been growing stronger, not weaker, as time progressed. But she doesn't. Therefore, sequences that involve a violent riot in and of themselves can't completely explain the incident. So, if a simple mob scene won't do the job in a fic, what will? There are several ways to deal with the Prague incident, and each one presents its own problems and benefits.
It's possible that the "idiot mob" in question wasn't all that idiotic. It may be that they realized exactly what they were dealing with and, instead of going after Drusilla with guns or clubs, they used magic. Drusilla may have fallen prey to a curse that, not unlike Angel's, was meant to cause pain rather than immediate death. This option holds many positive opportunities for writers. They have the freedom to pick an inciting incident that would cause Drusilla to make a group of people this angry, they can choose the exact conditions of the curse she is put under, and the problem of having a very large number of people physically fight a vampire in hand to hand combat is solved as the humans may not even actually have been in the same vicinity as Drusilla at the time the spell was cast.
However, there are some serious drawbacks to this scenario. Whedon's world is characterized by wilful ignorance of anything supernatural, so to have an entire mob of people recognize Drusilla as a vampire and have the skills to know how to deal with her in a way far more sophisticated than a wooden stake causes a problem. In Angel's case, the gypsies in question were culturally supposed to be aware of otherworldly matters, so there were no awkward questions about how they would know who he was or why they would have access to such an unusual and potent spell. The average crowd of Prague citizens would not have this sort of knowledge. Consequently, the mob would have to consist solely either of witches, warlocks, or other people who would know how to implement a very complicated spell, or would have to be non-human. In either case, the reason behind why it would take so many people to work the curse would need to be addressed as well as why they were all gathered together in Prague, of all places.
There is another possible way to deal with the mob without making them into a magic-savvy crowd: dumb luck. It's possible they may have had no idea what they were dealing with and just happened to stumble upon something bizarre enough to harm her. There are many ways of dealing with this option. On the show, demons have been killed, injured, and conjured by any number of accidents, ranging from hanging a possessed African mask on awall to opening a door and having a hungry werewolf pop out. Weird coincidences are okay. This also has the possibility of working comedy into the situation if that is wanted, but it does not automatically have to be funny.
Another example of the dumb luck approach could involve the use of one or more of the traditional objects, such as holy water or garlic, that harm vampires used in a way that results in Drusilla not being killed but, in effect, poisoned. This certainly seems to be the situation from her symptoms. Her body, instead of healing itself, is killing itself, a case not unlike cancer. Drusilla herself even alludes to this possibility when she becomes concerned that her hair will fall out. In order for this to work, the item in question has to be put into her system and trapped there, perhaps by having the entrance wound heal over and the substance spread through her body. This option works well in fiction as it does make logical sense and explains why she is unable to become well again, but there is the matter of figuring out how to have the mob introduce the toxin into her system and why they would do so in the first place.
Finally, there is one other possible way to deal with Drusilla's illness, and that is by having her not be ill at all. Since we have no outward signs of her illness aside from her own complaints, we have no actual medical proof that she is ill. Although she is supposed to be weak, she manages to slip outside on at least one occasion to hunt. Her pain attacks often seemed timed directly after Spike has said or done something to upset her, only to have him immediately come to her side, begging forgiveness, when he is given this reminder of her condition. Directly before the ritual with Angel, when Drusilla should be at her weakest, she still has enough strength to gleefully torture her sire for hours. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, the cure should not have worked (if it did work completely as opposed to just fixing her up for the short term, which is another avenue to pursue). In order for Drusilla to be healed, Angel should have died, but he survived. In spite of this, only minutes later, Drusilla is pulling Spike out from under the wreckage of the pipe organ and carrying the much heavier vampire in her arms as though he weighed no more than one of her dollies.
Why would Drusilla lie about being ill? First of all, remember that as a vampire she would have no moral problem with lying if it would get her what she wanted. There are many possible reasons why she might have desired the extra attention. The writer can deal with the possibility that her psychic visions told her Spike would eventually fall in love with someone else and she used her false illness in an effort to keep him close to her. It's possible that Drusilla knew that the only way to cure this kind of illness would be to use her sire and she schemed the entire ploy as an excuse to hunt down her long-missing daddy. Remember, too, that Drusilla's logic does not always make perfect sense to us. She may have been using the illness as a way to move fate forward down its path, and that path led to Sunnydale. Any of these options and more could be explored by fanfic writers.
There have been dozens of theories about how Drusilla became ill, and many of them have incorporated some truly inspired thinking. Even if a fic does not make perfect sense as far as the vampire canon on Buffy is concerned (and it doesn't have to, if Whedon's own choices are any guide… Darla becoming pregnant after being dead for almost 400 years, Spike's game of musical sires, and Angel's semi-elastic happiness clause are apt examples), it can still be a wonderful piece that explains things using slightly different rules and furthers character development as well as being an enjoyable and fascinating read. However a fic writer chooses to handle the Prague problem, the main focus should be delivering a believable catalyst for the DeSoto plowing over the "Welcome to Sunnydale" sign in season two.