I take a deep breath, hold it for two counts, and exhale slowly. I'm standing outside of Spike's bedroom door, trying to work up the courage to raise my damn hand and knock already.

I've been standing here for two agonizing minutes. I had no idea exactly how long one hundred twenty seconds were before I was staring at the smooth polished wood and brass handle and counting heartbeats.

Another deep breath. If I don't knock soon, he might open the door for whatever reason and see me standing here, and which will be worse? With that thought in mind, I raise my hand and lightly rap my knuckles against the grain.

A slight rustling noise later, he's standing before me, one hand on the door, his tall body leaning against the door frame, clad in nothing but loose cotton pants and a lop-sided smile.

"Got a minute?" I inquire, my heart pounding in my chest. He says nothing, just opens the door wider and stands aside so I can come through. I settle on the end of the bed and tuck my legs underneath me. He closes the door behind me and perches on the edge of the bed, watching me curiously.

"Thanks for the rose," I say hesitantly, gauging his reaction.

His eyes flicker to mine for a brief moment. "I'm just returning the favor," he replies casually, but in that instant our eyes locked, I caught more than nonchalance.

"It's more than that, Spike, and we both know it," I correct him gently. "You can tell me, if you'd like, but even if you don't, I know there's more."

He lets out a shaky breath and runs his hand through the thick hair I love so much. "What can I say? That I'm learning the reality is preferable to the dream? That every day I look around and find new reasons to live life instead of exist in it?"

"That's a good start," I agree, "if it's the truth." He lays back, staring at the ceiling, and I feel a sense of déjà vu sweep over me.

"It is. Being here, with Ed and Jet, and especially you... it's... I don't know. Healing, maybe." He fists his hands in his hair. "I'm not very good at this," he says helplessly.

I laugh a bit at that. "It doesn't matter. I know what you're trying to say."

He sits up suddenly, turning to me and taking my hands in his. "Faye. I'm so sorry, Faye." He's staring at me so intently that I can almost feel the heat rising from his gaze. "You've been in this place. You needed your friends and I wasn't here. I'm so sorry for not being here."

I'm shaken by his apology. Only once before have I ever heard him speak with such sincerity, and that's when he walked away to find out if he was truly alive. And now, he's directing that emotion to me, rather than at me, combined with a vehemence I'd never known him to express verbally.

His eyes are pleading with me to say something. He thinks he needs my forgiveness, but he doesn't. One day he'll see that.

"Spike, you were here with me whether you knew it or not. You're never far from where I am, " I reply, dropping all the masks so he can see me. I won't hide from him any more. I can't, and even if he doesn't feel the same this is something I have to do.

His palms are warm and slightly rough, callused from continuous gunfire recoil. The fingers curl around mine, tightening just the slightest bit. If I weren't so tuned in to his body, I would have missed it.

"Faye?" he whispers, almost as if he speaks normally, I'll disappear out of his life forever.

I release a breath and stare into his eyes, losing and finding myself over and over again in his depths. "I'm in love with you, Spike. I loved you before I knew who I was, and I love you now."

It's that simple, that complicated, and now that it's said it can't be taken back.

One of his hands leaves mine, reaching up to brush a stray hair from my cheek. He tucks it behind my ear and moves his hand around slowly to cradle the back of my head. And then his lips capture mine and the heavens crash down around us.

I've been kissed many times, by many men, but I've never been kissed like this.

I don't have to worry about waking up. We both know this isn't a dream.

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A week later, he knocks on my bedroom door and I know what he's going to say before I even see him. "Come in," I call, standing by the window watching the rain.

The door opens and closes, his footsteps move closer as he maneuvers through the dark room and his strong arms wrap around me from behind. "It's really coming down out there," he remarks to my amusement.

"Way to point out the obvious, Cowboy. It's monsoon season." I can feel his answering chuckle vibrating against my back as I lean into the embrace. We watch the sky together for several moments, and when he speaks again, his voice is subdued.

"Jet says we're flying out tomorrow."

I close my eyes to calm myself. My voice doesn't waver when I answer him. "I figured as much. You know I'm not going."

Spike sighs and tightens his arms around me. "You know I have to."


I know that he's still seeking his answers, and until he is whole he can't give himself to anyone. I know, and I understand. He said it best. He has to learn to live for himself before he can live for anyone else.

This week has been the most wonderful of my life. There's a fragile peace in Spike's eyes that makes me want to laugh, cry, dance, and spin. It makes me want to explore this gift called life and enjoy it fully. It gives me courage.

I love him enough to let him go.

He's never said he loves me. Once, that would have worried me, but not anymore. He's still learning to love himself, and although I have very little patience with anything else, for this, I'll wait. The rewards are worth it.

But Gods, I'll miss him.

I turn around in his embrace and rest my head on his chest. He strokes my hair with one hand and whispers, "I'll visit when I can, and there's always the communicator."

I smile against his shirt. "Who knows? We may run into each other on a bounty hunt."

He gives me one of his patented smirks. "Yeah, so I can bail your ass out again."



I look into his face and see the longing there. I know he doesn't want to go. By his expression alone, I can feel all of his doubts and fears coming to surface. He's thinking how simple it would be to stay here instead of continuing his journey. It's the easy thing to do, but what is easy isn't necessarily what's right.

After all we've been through, I want this to be right. We both deserve it.

"I'll miss you, Spike," I whisper, "but I understand why you have to go."

He lowers his face to mine, so that our lips are almost touching. "I'm not gone yet."

There is none of the frantic rush that usually accompanies the first time. There is only Spike gently leading me to the bed, lingering caresses, whispered words of love, and the rain beating at the window while outside a storm rages.

I burn every detail of that night into my memory, not wanting to miss a single second. I trace every inch of him, learning the secrets of his body while sharing mine. I breathe in his scent as he opens his soul to me.

His hands are gentle as they slide over my skin, and joy mingles with sadness as we cling to each other in the ultimate celebration of life. When the wave crashes over me, I drown in the essence.

It tastes of sweat and tears, and through it all, the rain.

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The first rays of dawn peek through my window, shading the room with greys and goldens. I know it's only a matter of time before Jet wakes and rouses his 'crew'. The minutes are winding down, and if I concentrate hard enough I can feel them slipping through my fingers.

"Can't sleep?" Spike asks from next to me in a near-whisper.

Of course I can't. Who would choose to spend these last precious seconds in slumber?

"I want to see the sun come up," I say, rolling over to face him. His eyes are closed, lashes fluttering against his cheek as he reaches up and plays with the ends of my hair. I scoot closer, needing to feel his warmth.

The greys and golds give way to sunlight, and all too soon we can hear Jet knocking on Spike's door down the hall.

"Up and at 'em, Spike! Time to start loading!"

He slips his arms around me as we listen to Jet's footsteps recede and I press my face into the curve on his neck.

"We've got to get up now," he murmurs, kissing my fingertips.

"I know."

Jet pounds on Spike's door again, louder this time.

"I guess he doesn't know I'm in here," Spike says, sounding amused. I lean over and give him a kiss.

We sit up slowly, wanting to prolong the moment. I comb my fingers through his dark hair, trying to tame the wildness.

Jet pounds a third time, bellowing now.

"Oh, for heaven's sake!" I leap from the bed, snatch my robe on, and open the door. "Don't give yourself an aneurysm, Jet. I can assure you, he's awake." Spike snickers behind me and the sound carries easily to the hallway. Jet turns toward my door, taking in my disheveled appearance and the knowing smirk on my lips. A tinge of pink appears on his grizzled cheeks and he mumbles something about checking the ship before shuffling off.

"Don't give me time to be maudlin or anything," I mutter sarcastically to no one in particular, before stepping back into Spike's arms and closing the door behind me.

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This is it. Everything's been loaded onto the Bebop and I've already said my farewells to Ed and Jet. They're already on board, giving us the privacy for our goodbyes.

I'm not crying, although it's taking tremendous force of will. I know that the slightest show of weakness on my end will change his mind. This is something he needs to do alone, and I'll do whatever I can to make it easier for him.

He's looking down at me, his shoulders hunched and his hands in his pockets. "Faye..." he begins, before I silence him with a finger to his lips.

"No regrets," I say, and he gives me a one sided smile that makes my heart race.

"No regrets," he replies, and I can tell he means it.

"When you find yourself out there," I gesture to the sky, "come back and find me here."

He nods. "I'll be back, Faye. I promise you that."

"I know. I trust you."

One last embrace, one last kiss, and he is walking away from me. He's almost to the ship when he turns back to face me, his suit jacket slung over one shoulder, a cigarette between his fingers.

"I love you, Faye Valentine," he calls. "No matter who you are."

Unshed tears are clouding my vision, but I raise one hand in an answering wave.

And then he is gone.

I stare up at the sky, smiling and crying, watching until there is nothing more to see. "See you, Space Cowboy," I murmur before going inside. I know he'll be back. It may be eight days or eight years, but he'll keep his promise.

He loves me enough to return.

He loves me enough to let go.


A/N: Wow! I grudgingly started writing this fic the morning of 5/14-- knowing full well that I would be leaving for a two week vacation on 5/19. I didn't want to write it, to be honest. Why? I wanted to do it justice. There are very heavy emotional themes in CB, and I was pretty sure there was no way I could tell the story-- and tell it well-- with just 4 days to write.

However, I knew that if I didn't write it, I'd think about it constantly, which would defeat the entire purpose of taking a nice relaxing vacation. So, I wrote.

And wrote. And wrote some more. I pulled a thirty-two hour stretch at the keys, drank two twelve packs of coke, countless pots of coffee, and smoked three packs of cigarettes. I forgot to cook dinner, slept for four hours, and wrote some more. I pushed aside everything to complete this story.

It is now 1:07 AM on 5/17, and it is done. Three days. I'm still reeling.

This story is very dear to me, and I'm both thrilled and surprised by the wonderful reviews it has gotten. I want to say thank you to everyone who took the time to read this meager offering, and special thanks to the reviewers. I really hope you'll forgive me for not including the traditional fairy-tale ending, but Faye and Spike have a long way to go before they find 'happily ever after'... if indeed such a thing even exists. Maybe loving and being loved in return are as close to the fairy-tale as they are meant to be.

Somehow, I don't think they mind.