First comes the jealousy. Hot, seething jealousy as Spike watches Buffy fall into Angel’s embrace, to kiss him like the night before meant nothing. He wants to step forward, to say something, but words won’t come to him, not when he’s so vulnerable and unsure about his place in Buffy’s life. Not when she can just throw him away without a second thought when his sire comes to town.

Then there’s defensiveness, because Buffy can’t believe that Spike saw the whole thing and has the nerve to question her on it. She sees his hurt, feels his insecurity, but in the end, that long-dormant need to shield her relationship with Angel crops up again and Buffy is arguing with Spike, explaining that she and Angel have something real and untouchable. Spike tells her to leave his basement, and in the back of her mind, she’s terrified at this, at losing Spike again, especially when half of what she’s saying about her and Angel isn’t even applicable anymore, but she storms off anyway and shares her room with Faith that night and the next.

Stubbornness follows, and Spike knows that it’s handicapping him. He should come to Buffy, at least to pick up that trinket that Angel brought. He should find out why Angel didn’t stick around for the battle (and maybe stick in some not-so-subtle barbs at Buffy’s absentee “love of her life”). And yet he can’t face her again, not after their argument. Since the soul, he guards his heart just as carefully as she does, and now that he’s finally lets her in again, she’s left the place in turmoil. He can’t let her do any more damage. So he watches as she puts on the amulet before the battle and suppresses his urge to step forward and take it from her.

The pain is next. It comes first when Buffy glances over at Spike, who’s looking pointedly away from her, his eyes downcast, and she thinks about how she’s muddled that up. She cares about him too much to let it end like this, especially when she suspects that this might be her death. But she forcibly pushes those thoughts from her mind, focusing instead on the battle when it comes and the First’s taunts and the Turok-Han’s blows. And then the amulet activates, and all she can feel is endless agony that feels like being burned alive.

Terror, that’s what this is, Spike watching his lover in pain. And suddenly, it doesn’t matter that they’ve been fighting or that she’ll never love him, because she’s hurting, and he can’t let that happen. He dodges the fatal rays of sun, though he’s smoking just from being in their proximity, and makes his way to her, to link their hands and whisper to her that she can’t leave him now; and finally, she tears off the amulet and follows him out of the school. He risks the flames to make it to the school bus, half-dragging, half-pulling a weakened Buffy along until they’re finally in the safety of the vehicle. Below them, the Hellmouth crumbles, and Spike knows that they got out just in time.

Buffy can’t help but feel relief as she stares down at the ruins of the town. Of course, she sorrows for the loss of Anya and the potentials who died fighting for Sunnydale, but now it’s over, and she’s finally finished. Willow suggests that they stop at the Hyperion to regroup, heal, and make plans for the future, and Buffy agrees with a measure of apprehension, glancing back worriedly at the bus where Spike is safely ensconced from the sun. They’ve finally reconnected after they both nearly burned up, and she’s not willing to ruin that so soon. But Xander, who doesn’t know about what happened with Angel two days previous, tells her that it’ll be all right, and she listens to him because really, they’ve got nowhere else to go.

Now there’s awkwardness, and Spike doesn’t know what to say. Buffy is sitting beside him- well, above, really, since he’s on the floor and she’s on a seat- and trying to act like nothing has changed in the past few days, like they’re back in the relationship they’ve had all year, and Spike is willing to play along until she mentions that they’re headed to LA and Angel now. Then there’s a long, tense silence, and Spike can’t say anything at all because he knows that whatever he says will come out wrong. He closes his eyes to end the conversation, and he waits until she heaves a sigh and gets up before he relaxes.

Buffy is exasperated, of course, because she’s finally had enough of Spike’s jealousy and insecurities. Granted, she hasn’t done much to assuage them, but it’s not her job to coddle him and after all they’ve gone through today, she’d think that he would realize that there are more important things than giving her the cold shoulder. So she determinedly avoids him during the ride to LA, spending time with her friends and sister instead. They’re actually taken aback by it, since she hasn’t done much of that at all this year, not when Spike gave her everything she needs, but she brushes away their protests and their concerned questions and tries to be the old, happy Buffy again. She even ignores the sting of their recent betrayal in favor of embracing their old relationship.

The first thing he feels when he walks into the Hyperion is surprise, which is surprising in itself, because he thought that it would be inadequacy. But it isn’t, not when Buffy walks into the hotel, her head held high with victory, and sees Angel again. And Spike prepares for what he’s going to see with dread, but when Angel runs to Buffy, his expression joyful and relieved, and bends to kiss her, she turns away so that his lips touch only her cheek. And that leaves Spike taken aback and perplexed, wondering what has changed for them in the past few days. He knows it can’t be him, not after this strange impasse that he and Buffy have reached. So what is it?

Buffy hates the longing, the urge to go to Spike and try to work things out. They pass each other in the halls of the hotel, sit close together during meetings, but they can’t meet each other’s eyes anymore, or even have a conversation. She knows that the whole incident has spiraled out of control, knows that if they had just resolved it when it had happened they wouldn’t be trapped in this situation- though she’s also certain, when she thinks back to it, that had Spike worn the amulet he would have been dust by now, so at least their quarrel has saved his life- but now there’s nothing she can do or say to change it. And so she curls up on her lonely new bed and longs for Spike.

Exhaustion, that’s what this is, and Spike has had enough of it all. There’s nothing keeping him here anymore, not when Buffy herself has finally completed the mission he’s been helping her with. And the awkwardness between them has finally been noticed by everyone else, too, so even Willow and Faith, who used to speak to him face-to-face, now avoid his gaze in the halls. When Buffy and Giles decide that it’s time to head to England to rebuild the Watchers’ Council, Spike tells them- not Buffy, because he still can’t quite bring himself to speak directly to her- that he’ll be staying in LA. Angel might irritate him, but he’s still family, not to mention the only connection to the side of good that he has left. So he’ll help Angel- and from the corner of his eye he sees Angel shaking his head vigorously- on the LA front and leave the watchers to take care of the rest.

Horror, shame, sorrow…they all come to Buffy when she realizes that Spike is serious, that he’s really given up on her and he isn’t going to keep going. This is it, the last chance they have to break from the situation they’re trapped in, and she knows that this time, Spike isn’t going to be the one to do it. Which means it’s up to her, and the only thing she can think of doing is to run to him, trap him in her embrace and kiss away all the anger and jealousy and insecurity. She confesses the words he’s always wanted to hear to him and watches as his eyes widen in surprise and disbelief, as Giles shakes his head in amusement and Xander mumbles that it’s about time, as even Angel gives her a grudging smile. She forgets them all, though, when Spike responds in kind, swearing his forgiveness and apologies to her, and promises to never think of leaving her again.

And then there’s only love.

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