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Passato Recente

Spike lay on the cold, dark ground, his chest a mass of wounds. There was an eerie glow where his eyes should have been. "What the hell happened?" Buffy was alarmed at his condition. "Did he take on another hell god or something?"

"No, Buffy. Maybe you'll understand if you hear how that night affected him for yourself." Joyce pointed to a scene in Spike's crypt. Spike was obviously beside himself, alternating between despair and anger. Although just whom he was angry with was subject to question.

"This isn't the way it's supposed to be," Spike was saying to the skin-challenged demon, Clem. "It's the chip. It won't let me be a monster and I can't be a man. I'm nothing."

Clem was trying to cheer up the distraught vampire and reminding Spike that things can change, only to have Spike reply, "If you make them."

Buffy could see the bitterness in the words and the look of determination on Spike's face. He had a plan; she could see it. That didn't bode well, since Spike and plans were as unmixy as Buffy and emotional sharing!
"She thinks she knows me, knows who I am, what I'm capable of. She has no idea." Spike looked at Clem, his chin firm. "I wasn't always this way. It won't be easy, but I can be like I was before…before they castrated me. Before…," he trailed off as Buffy shuddered in fear of what Spike might have done. "Then she'll see who I really am."

"God, Spike, I do see," Buffy whispered to the phantom. "Please don't have done anything stupid.

"Mom, did he go get the chip out? Is that what he decided to do?" Buffy was frantic. If Spike had gotten the chip out, he could be highly dangerous. It was like Angelus all over again. Buffy knew she'd wait to see what Spike might do, just as she had with Angel. With Angel, it had led to terror and murder before Buffy realized she had no choice but to dust her lover. She wasn't sure if she could survive that sort of choice again. "Damn! That's one of the reasons I made vampires off limits!"

Buffy watched the strange, foreign landscape as Spike strode purposefully into a cave. She watched as he made demands of some unseen power. She hadn't seen Spike this determined, this cocky, in years. He was beautiful to behold and her blood ran cold with fear.

The next view was of Spike, battle ready attitude of Big Bad firmly in place. "It's not like you haven't been clear about it. This is a test. I don't get what I want unless I pass said test. That about the size and shape?"

Buffy watched in fascination as Spike's attention was captured by a rather large, human-looking demon who stood in fight stance. 'Piece of cake,' she thought and detected a similar reaction from Spike. Suddenly, the opponent struck his arms together and they burst into flame. "Shit!" Buffy wasn't sure if the word came from her mouth or Spike's.

Buffy continued to watch as Spike managed to defeat this flaming foe only to discover he was only part one of this test Spike had evidently signed on to take. The demons kept coming and Spike slew them one after the other. By the time he defeated a two-headed monstrosity, he was clearly tiring but still game. "Got any more ruddy tests for me, you ponce? I'll take anything you throw at me if it'll get me what I need to take care of the Slayer. SO you just bring it on," he taunted.

Buffy squealed as the scarab beetles massed over, around, under and into the screaming vampire.

Buffy tugged on her mother's sleeve in alarm. "What did Spike mean about taking care of me? It's the chip, isn't it? He's going to go all Big Bad again. We should have encouraged him to be good. He was trying so hard."

"Buffy, not everything is as it may seem. Think logically for a moment, dear. Why would he have some demon remove it after these battles and tortures? Why not just force a doctor to remove it in a nice hospital or clinic if that was his goal. Besides, what on earth good would it do Spike to have the chip out now? The chip already doesn't work on you. If he wanted to hurt you, he's perfectly capable of doing that and has been since your return."

"Well, yeah, but still…with the chip out, he could hurt my friends, become the evil vampire again," Buffy offered.

"He could have killed your friends many ways, many times over if he wanted them dead that badly," Joyce reminded her.

"True," Buffy admitted, "I heard of this one vampire the Initiative chipped who escaped after Spike did. He set up minions and just had them bring food in like the Master did when he was trapped. Spike could have done stuff like that too, I guess."

Buffy looked at Spike as he lay on the ground in the scene she had first been shown when given this last vision. He was a mess physically, hardly able to turn over.

Buffy could hear a deep, resonating voice speak to Spike. "You have endured the required trials." Spike looked as dead as his physiology tried to proclaim him, but he rolled over and pushed himself to his knees.
"Bloody right I have," Spike was saying to the voice. "So you'll give me what I want? Make me what I was, so Buffy can get what she deserves?"

"Very well," the demon intoned. "We will return to you…." A black clawed arm reached out and touched Spike near his heart. Light began to shoot into Spike, illuminating his eyes as if a nuclear fire had been lit. "Your soul."

As Spike screamed in agony, Buffy fell to her knees at her mother's side. "No! You idiot! Why would you think I want you to do that?"

Joyce smiled sadly as Buffy's mind reran the number of times she had thrown the words 'no soul' at him as proof that he was unworthy of any consideration, any hope, any love or companionship.

"Mom, this is like suicide. Spike won't even be the same!" Buffy was shaken to her core at the implications of Spike's actions. "Why would he think I want or deserve this?"

"Well, sweetie, he thought you'd never love him or forgive and trust him if he remained soulless, for one thing. As for what you deserve…," Joyce looked down at the vision of the screaming vampire with sympathy.

"Perhaps Spike felt that he did deserve to die for what he tried to do…and that you would wish it too." At Buffy's strangled cry, Joyce amended with another take on it. "Or perhaps he thought you might be able to let him love you if he had the soul? That will be a good question for you to ask him when he finds his way home."

"So he will be back then?" Buffy looked at Joyce with wide, teary eyes.

"In time. He is suffering greatly right now, Buffy. Paying for his sins in a very real way. He won't come out of this unchanged, but I believe he was enough William that he'll be close in time." Joyce decided it would be best for Buffy to be prepared. "He's a bit crazy at the moment, between the guilt and the self-loathing. Spike's finally agreeing with all the people who said he was 'beneath' them, each one that called him an 'evil thing.' His sins are great and his conscience is heavy, but he's smart enough to pull through this in time. Spike may need reminding that the past cannot be undone, but the future is an unwritten page."

"How do you know he'll make it back home, Mommy?" Buffy asked. "Should I go fetch him to be sure? I don't want him to walk into the sun or something like that."

Joyce smiled and drew Buffy into an embrace. "He'll be back because he loves you, dear."

"But what if he thinks I don't want to see him again?" Buffy knew that might be the only thing to keep Spike away for good.

"He promised to look after Dawn until the end of the world," Joyce reminded her. "The world hasn't ended yet. Even if Spike chooses to stay out of your way, he'll come back to watch over Dawn. In fact, he's thinking of hiding at her school to watch over her when he gets back."

"Stupid vampire," Buffy sobbed. "I think I'd better have that talk with Dawn before he gets back. The last thing he'll need is having his Niblet turn on him too. I've got a lot of damage control to do, don't I?" Buffy looked at her mother, hoping for encouraging words.

"Yes, sweetie," Joyce agreed. "Actually, you all do, and not just about your treatment of Spike. Spike has things to make up for as well, and so do all of your friends. None of you have behaved well lately. The nice part about being alive is you can try to make amends though. As long as there is love and the desire to make things right, it can be done."

"Guess I really do have to grow up, huh?" Buffy sniffed.

"We all do sometime," Joyce smiled. "You'll do fine. It will take time, TALKING, and love with a big dash of forgiveness, but I'm sure you're up to it. Remember, Buffy, love…give…forgive and your gift will come to you. Your gift is love and it's waiting for you to live happily ever after."

Suddenly, Buffy was back beneath the tree of her first dream. Her mother was stroking her hair and straightening the daisy wreath she had placed on Buffy's head. The breeze was gentle and the fragrance of flowers filled her senses. Buffy felt a peace she hadn't really experienced since her time in heaven. She felt loved. Maybe that was how to find heaven on earth: loving and letting herself be loved. Maybe Spike could give heaven back to her, if she let him this time.

She thought of what her mother had said and frowned for a moment. "I thought death was my gift?"

"Sweetie, you were upset, thinking of death as an ending, but I'm proof that love never ends. So is Spike, for that matter. Death is merely a change. In many ways, it's the beginning of a wonderful journey, one with no end."

Buffy mulled over her mother's philosophy and decided she liked that interpretation better than the vagued up proclamations of the Rasta Slayer. "Well, Xander DOES like to remind everyone that Spike is dead….and Spike's a pretty nice gift. Okay, I'll take that.

"Mommy, since I'm still asleep, will you stay and tell me another story?" Buffy was loving this moment with her so missed mom.

Joyce kissed Buffy's brow and shook her head. "Why don't you just wake up and live a happy story instead? I'll always be with you, even if you can't see me."

"Will I live happily ever after?" Buffy dared to ask.

"Que sera, sera," Joyce sung from the old song. "That is completely in your power. No one lives without sadness and pain, but you have all you need for great joy as well. Grab great handfuls of it and don't stop until you die. With Spike beside you, it will never be dull. You'll always be challenged, but the rewards will be worth it. You sensed that, even when you were hurting so badly. Follow your heart and you'll have as close to that happily ever after as anyone gets."

Buffy sighed and closed her eyes, content to rest in her peaceful dream and wake with a purpose once again. There were fences that needed mending and some gauntlets to be tossed. If she were going to be a grownup, she'd start by making her own choices where her heart was concerned. Xander would just have to learn to live with it.

Tomorrow no longer loomed dark and oppressive over her. It was the beginning of making things better for everyone. She could do that. After all, she was the Chosen One.

~fin