When Buffy wakes up, Spike isn't in bed.

He's nowhere to be found.

The sheets are torn back haphazardly on his side of the bed, but other than that, there's not a sign of him. Buffy searches the hotel; goes through all of the empty rooms, into the training room, the kitchen, checks the bathrooms, but there's not a trace. It's broad daylight outside, and she feels panic beginning to rise in her throat. What if something happened to him?

Finally after an hour of worrying, she calls Angel at the number he'd left for her.

"Yeah?" he answers after a few rings.

"Angel, Spike is missing," she says, words bubbling out. "I can't find him anywhere, he's not here, and-"

"Slow down, Buffy. What's going on?"

She takes a deep breath, explains to him in a slower, more rational tone.

"I'm really worried. Something could have happened to him."

"I'm sure he's fine," Angel reassures her. "Look. I have a meeting right now, but I'll try and get off early tonight, come back as soon as I can. In a couple of hours, all right?"

Buffy sighs. "Right. Okay."

After that, there's nothing to do but sit and wait. And wait. And wait.

The hours tick by, and she slowly feels as if she's losing her mind. She tries not to think about what could have happened to him, but she can't help it. Envisions him burning up from the inside, falling away to nothing but ashes and dust. At one point it makes her stomach turn, and she goes into the bathroom, heaves and retches until her insides seem to be turning out. The stress and dread of it all is just too much.

And then.he comes back.

Right through the front door, carrying a blanket in his hands, even though by now it's dark enough outside that it isn't even needed. The moment Buffy sees him, she rushes over, hugs him fiercely.

"Spike!" she cries out, clutching to him, relief flooding through her. "Oh god, you're okay. I was scared to death that something had happened."

"Yeah." His shoulders stiffen, and he moves abruptly out of her grasp. "Something did."

Buffy studies him carefully. "What do you mean?"

"I know what happened." His voice is tight. "Between you and Angel."

"Oh." Her arms drop to her sides.

"You weren't even going to tell me, were you?" Spike's voice is full of hurt and righteous anger.

"Oh, I'm sorry! At the moment, I was a little preoccupied with wondering whether or not you were alive," she retorts peevishly. "What the hell was that, Spike? You got pissed at me, so you thought you'd just run off and not tell me where you were? I thought you were fucking dead!"

"Technically, I have been for-"

"Shut up. That's not what I mean."

"Yeah, well, would it even matter to you if I was?"

Buffy stares at him in disbelief. "How can you even ask that? Of course I would care!"

"How am I supposed to think that?" he snaps. "You tell me that you love me, that you want to be with me, and then you turn around and start macking on him again? How am I supposed to believe you?"

"Because-because it's true!" she responds, the desperation thick in her voice. "Spike, I love you."

He stares at her for a moment. "No, you don't."

This time the words feel like a slap on the face, and Buffy actually recoils, watching as he begins to ascend the stairs. Snapping out of her shock, she quickly follows him. Catches up to him at the top of the staircase and seizes him by the arm. He stops and turns, looking at her coldly.

She gives him a pleading look. "Don't do this."

"What am I supposed to do?" he demands.

"Come with me," she blurts out.

He stares at her in bewilderment. "What?"

"Come with me," she says again. "We can go to England, stay with Giles."

"You're out of your mind." Spike shakes her arm off, continues down the hall.

"No, I'm not!" Buffy maneuvers in front of him again. "Spike, listen to me. I want to be with you."

"Don't say that," he says, and his voice sounds so unhinged. But he is unhinged; he's flying off the fucking door. "You're just going to make this harder."

Confused, she catches his arm again. "Make what harder?"

Spike shrugs her off again and heads into the room. Goes to the closet and grabs a duffel bag, beginning to throw clothes into it. Buffy watches, mouth hanging open as she realizes what he's doing. In a panic, she rushes forward, snatches the clothes from his hands and flings them onto the floor.

"Buffy," he starts to say, but she cuts him off with a shake of her head.

"No." She looks back up at him with wild, fierce eyes. "No. You're not doing this. You're not going. You can't. You can't."

"I have to," he says huskily.

"No, you don't!" Buffy is furious now. "You don't have to go anywhere."

"Yes, I do." Spike swallows painfully hard, and it feels as if he has sandpaper caught somewhere in his throat.

"Why?" she demands. "Why would you leave?"

"Because it's best for all of us," he tells her quietly. "You want him, and you deserve him."

He doesn't tell her that he is, for once in his life, getting the distinct impression that maybe, just maybe, he deserves better, too.

"I thought-I thought you loved me," Buffy says, and the raging fury eminating from her fades for a moment into nothing but confused distress. He turns away when he can no longer bear to look into such angry, betrayed eyes.

"I do," he assures her. "More than anything in this world." It's true. Oh, god is it true. What he feels for her he could never put into words. He knows there could never, will never, be anyone else for him. And that's why he has to go. If he stays. it will kill him. It will kill them both.

"Then why?"

"All I'll ever bring you is pain." His voice trembles, and he struggles to hold it together. "I'm not your one. I'm not enough. If I stay, it won't be real, and I can't do that to you. You deserve happiness, even if that means being with someone else. You don't deserve pain. You deserve more."

"Where do you get off telling me what I deserve?" she fumes. "I know what I want, Spike, and I want you. I'm in love with you. I don't care if that means it's going to be difficult, or complicated, because newsflash? My life is already complicated. It'll always be that way. Will having you in it make it even more hard? Yeah, probably. I know that. But it's worth risking the pain."

Spike gazes into her eyes, and seeing her open, honest face, he thinks he can feel his heart breaking. He reaches out to set a hand on her cheek. "I'm sorry."

"No!" She bats his arm away. "No! You don't get to do this! Don't you apologize, don't you fucking apologize to me!"

Buffy punches him once, hard, in the face. He doesn't react. She begins to beat her fists against his chest, pummeling him, angry tears rolling down her face in tiny rivulets. He doesn't try to defend himself, just stands there and takes it. It's nothing less than what he deserves.

"You're just like the rest of them!" she accuses lividly. "Angel, Riley, Giles- All of you, you all think that you can just decide what's best for me and just get up and leave! Well, you know what?" She shoves him away. "If you can't handle it, I don't want you here anyway. Go then. Just go. And don't come back."

Spinning on her heel, Buffy whirls around and flees the room, and moments later he can hear the resounding bang of a slamming door further down the hall. He stares at the empty space where she had just stood, vision blurring, throat tightening. Finally he turns back to packing with shaking hands. He has to do this, no matter how much it hurts.

**

Buffy doesn't know what to do.

She's torn between going on a rampage and ripping everything in sight to shreds, and throwing herself on her bed to curl up in a fetal position and sob her heart out. She paces back and forth for a few minutes, wavering between each option, and finally sits down on the edge of the matress and grabs a pillow, proceeding to scream into it. When she stops, she's disappointed at how short-lived her satisfaction is. Her frustration builds up again and when she looks down, she realizes that she's torn the pillow straight down the middle, the downy feathers scattering across her lap. She flops backward and hugs the remains of the pillow to her chest, staring at the ceiling and trying not to cry. Too much.

It isn't fair. She's supposed to be an adult now. A summer spent of self- discovery, and she'd been so sure that her newfound independence had shaped her into the woman she was now. And now that she finally knows what she wants, she doesn't know how to keep it within her grasp. Her cookies are fully baked, laid out on the counter and ready to be devoured, but now the one person she wants to eat them has gone on a hunger strike.

God, she needs a new metaphor.

She is left a sobbing heap next to the bed. God, it hurts. She cries on the ugly carpeted floor. Simpering and vastly lonely, she cries until her left eye throbs. And she cries because underneath it all, in so many ways, she did fuck it up. He's the one thing that means anything to her anymore, and she's letting him just slip away from her. It's her fault that he's leaving like this, her fault that he's unable to believe her, because she never could stop pushing him away.

And she didn't even get to show him how much she loved him.

**

"You're leaving."

Angel stands in the doorway, watching as Spike stuffs his few belongings into his bag. Some clothing. A pack of menthols, a book.

"Off to see me go then, mate?" he asks sarcastically.

"You're a stupid bastard, you know that?" Angel steps into the room.

"Well now, that's good to know. Thank you for that vital piece of information." Spike doesn't look at him.

"Spike, you don't get it, do you?" A furious glare from Angel. "You have everything I've ever dreamed of. You have the love of the most amazing woman either of us have ever met. You win, okay? You. Fucking. Win."

Spike opens a drawer, pulls out the amulet. It'd been the only thing to come back with him.

"No, I don't fucking win!" he retorts angrily. "I'm tired of this. I'm tired of being unable to measure up. No matter what I do, I'll always finish second to you." Suddenly, the rage is too much, and he pivots, hurling the amulet at the wall. It instantly shatters and splinters all over the carpet. "Do you think I can't tell? The amulet, the prophecy, the fucking Shanshu-the whole goddamn kit 'n kaboodle, it all belongs to you. Not me. All I've ever been is a fluke."

Angel stares at him unflinchingly. "That isn't true."

"Damn right it's true!" Spike shouts. "And I'm not going to stay here and pretend that it fucking isn't."

"You are such an idiot!" Angel roars at him. "Are you blind? She loves you. She really loves you. God, even I can see it. She's covered in it. You make her happy." His eyes become shadowed and dark. "I can't do that for her anymore."

"Well, it doesn't matter. I'm not enough for her," Spike replies quietly. "If I can't have all of her.I can't handle living like that. Did it once, and I'll never do it again."

"Don't. Don't throw it away. Don't make the mistake I did and walk away. I love her enough to let her go." Angel pauses and stares at Spike. "The real question is, do you love her enough to hold on?"

**

Buffy looks out the window into the rainy night. She's been staring out it for the past half hour, waiting. Preparing herself.

Yet when she sees the sight of a yellow-haired figure moving down the driveway, it still comes as a shock.

Spike is leaving. He is really leaving.

Something in Buffy suddenly snaps. She can't do this, can't let him go. At least not without him knowing. He has to know that when she told him she loved him, she meant it. That she still does. If he still decides to leave, at least he'll know. If she doesn't tell him, she'll regret it forever.

So she runs. Down the stairs, through the lobby, out the double doors, bursting onto the sidewalk.

Her legs cover the ground at a neck-breaking speed, and after years of running through cemeteries on uneven grassy footing, the pavement is sure and solid beneath her feet. The rain pelts down on her in blinding torrents, but it doesn't matter, all that matters is catching him in time, because if she can't, then he could be gone forever, and she can't let that happen, because-

She reaches the corner and turns too sharply, tripping over a crack in the concrete. She goes flying and lands sprawling on the hard ground, hands and knees scraping harshly against the cement. The stinging pain doesn't slow her down. She scrambles to her knees and desperately searches the street for a familiar figure, a glint of black leather and blonde hair, something, anything. But there is nothing.

Buffy is too late.

"Spike!" she calls out, her voice ringing out in a hollow echo through the empty darkness. "Spike!"

She shouts his name desperately, words snatched in the stormy winds and shoved back into her mouth, and it is all in vain, because it is too late. He's not here. She's too late, she's missed her chance, her one shot is gone, he's not coming back, she's lost him all over again and now he'll never know- The sobs erupt from her, racking her body, and she holds her sides for fear her insides will come spilling out.

There's nowhere to go now except back to the Hyperion. She'll have to explain to Angel that he left, and she can't stay in L.A. She's going to have to leave. She'll have to call Giles and make arrangements to return to England, talk to Dawn about what happened, pack her things and-and-

And she's going to have to live out the rest of her life knowing what she could have had, knowing that she's lost his love once again, forever left to remember how she'd let him just slip away into the night.

The rain is still coming down as she staggers to her feet, wrapping her arms around her cold, shivering body and beginning to trudge back toward the direction of the hotel. She stares at the ground and walks down the road numbly, eyes closed as she stumbles along. She's almost halfway there when she hears it.

"Buffy."

She looks up and gasps. It's Spike. He looks like a wet, bedraggled puppy, hair sticking in all directions due to the rainwater, and it drips off of his face and soaks into his clothing. He drops his duffel bag onto the ground without a word. They stare at each other for a few silent moments. Words without a sound are coming from his eyes, and she gazes into them, letting herself drown in the pools of dazzling azure. Spike is her rain storm. Just one look into his eyes and she can feel the freedom of standing in a shower of the sky's tears. He makes her feel alive.

And then she throws herself into his arms, pulling him into a tight embrace. Clutches desperately at him, burying her face in his shoulder. She cries harder as his arms wrap around her waist and draw her close to him.

"I can't do this," she whispers into his neck. "I can't, I can't let you go."

"I can't either," he responds through ragged breaths. "I was going to go, but I got to the corner and. I had to come back to you. I can't do it. God help me, Buffy, I love you too much."

She holds him with all of her strength, thinking that it'd be impossible to let go even if she wanted to. Spike pulls back and gazes at her, her cheeks red from running, eyes sparkling dark green, hair wet and wild, and rain streaming across her face like tears cried by angels. She cradles his face between her hands, leans into him and kisses him deeply, hungrily, full of the words that hang unspoken between them. Their lips melt together, tasting of rain and love. Full of love, burning and true.

"I love you," murmurs Buffy into his mouth.

Spike smiles against her lips. "I know."

And this is where they are left, kissing in the rain, molded together by fate and tragedy. They are part of the world, one small joy in a universe of sorrow. And oh, she knows, this kiss is more than a kiss; it is an epiphany of all love coming together for one final embrace, a bearing of peace and passion or whatever the hell she believes in. Because they are hope.

They are the only hope.

~*~Fin