A small ray of sun streamed in from a gap in the curtains, hitting Buffy's face as she lay on the couch. That brightness on the other side of her closed eyelids, accompanied by the conviction that she was being watched, prompted the petite girl to do something anyone that knew her would have said was impossible; Buffy Summers, Slayer, voluntarily opened her eyes, wide awake before seven AM.

Buffy blinked in the morning light, taking in her surroundings. Remembering her talk with Angel the previous night, Buffy smiled and pushed herself into a sitting position. A movement of to one side caused her to tense and scan the room carefully. When she was Whistler in a chair near the courtyard entrance, she relaxed only slightly, unable to believe she'd missed sensing the demon's presence. "What are you doing here Whistler? It's a little early isn't it? The ascension's not for a couple of months."

"I'm not here about that, thank goodness. It's someone else's mess," Whistler replied, shaking his head in disgust. "Renegade slayers. Jeeze." The short demon approached carefully, indicating a small bag and a cup of what smelled like hot chocolate on the coffee table. "I got after the grouch went to bed, and watching you sleep wasn't my idea of fun either. I went out to get something to eat, and seeing how Angel doesn't have anything to eat, brought you back something."

"What is this, a peace offering?" Buffy asked wryly, taking a careful sip of her cocoa. Peering into the bag, she pulled out a blueberry muffin and a chocolate donut, and started on her breakfast. Whistler winced a little, turning away to start pacing. Buffy sighed. "Why do I have the feeling you're bringing bad news?" wondered aloud.

"It depends on how you look at it," Whistler started. Buffy raised her eyebrow and just stared at him. "OK, as *you* look at it, it's bad news. But it's one of those unavoidable things. It's kind of like a prophecy, only not. I just thought I'd give you and my man Angel a little advance notice this time around."

"You're not making any sense Whistler," Buffy complained as she finished her breakfast. "What do you mean 'it's kind of like a prophecy, only not.'" She suppressed a shudder at the thought. Prophecies always seemed to be nothing but trouble.

"Well, prophecies are supposed to give you an idea of what to expect, right?" Whistler explained, wanting to avoid the point for as long as possible. "They're written by dreamers, seers, religious figures, and madmen mostly, so they don't make a whole lot of sense. How one turns out affects what the next prophecy is, gives you a clue to what's coming next. Only you and Angel and the rest of your merry little band are mucking things up something fierce by beating them out. By getting out of absolute prophecies, by disproving long held truths, but proving long held disbelief, and beating the odds time after time."

"And this is bad how?" Buffy asked with a sharp laugh, her eyes trained sharply on the demon before her. "I thought the goal was to stay alive as long as possible."

"Oh it's not bad, and you are, we just never thought you could," Whistler answered without thinking. His eyes widened with horror as Buffy made a strangled sound and tried to push her self to her feet. Realizing his mistake, Whistler scrambled to recover. "No no no. Not we in the inclusive sense, we in the demon sense, and I always warned them not to underestimate you, especially after meeting you." He breathed a sigh of relief as Buff subsided, though she did disentangle herself from the blanket that had hindered her previous move to rise. "You've faced so much and survived, and keep getting out of prophecy after prophecy, sometimes at an alarming rate. Before we met you, we were sure it would take a couple of slayers to get this far into the lore. After all, you were supposed to be killed by the Master." Looking at Buffy's angry face, Whistler added, "I'm not making this any better for myself, am I?"

"Not really," Buffy said, frowning. She hated remembering the feel of the Master's teeth in her neck, and the helpless feeling she'd had when she could seem to fight against him. "I get that we've gotten pretty deep into the prophecies, and that you thought it would take more slayers and more time to get there. So, stop digging yourself in deeper and just spit it out Whistler. I probably won't do any permanent damage."

"Only if I'm really lucky," the little demon muttered under his breath as he resumed pacing. He had no problems spitting the news out to Angel; they'd become friends of a sort while getting the vampire ready to help Buffy. Whistler knew Angel wouldn't really hurt him. Buffy was another matter entirely. She barely knew him, and associated him with the biggest heartache of her life. Part of her probably wanted him dead just for telling her how to close Acathala. Plus, there was the whole demon/slayer relationship; she killed, he died. Still, the way Angel was acting, he would fight this to the very end, and Buffy would have no warning as to what was coming. She deserved more.

"The point I was making is that things are really in flux right now; we don't know what's coming after this ascension thing and don't have a clue as to what to prepare you for. There is only one thing we know for sure, and the whys and hows are totally obscure but facts are facts. You and Angel each have stuff you gave to do, accomplish. But, it's different stuff, and you each have to do it on your own, as in without help." Whistler took a deep breath and turned to face the Slayer, his body tensing for her reaction. "So, Angel is leaving."

An instant later he was struggling for breath, his ever present bowler tipped over his eyes. "You want to repeat that?" Buffy asked dangerously, getting right in his face. He shook his head frantically before she stepped away, only to begin pacing in front of the fire, her movements agitated.

Whistler stayed where she'd pinned him to the wall, his hand going to massage his neck where she'd grabbed him. "That's quite a grip you've got Kid," he managed to choke out. Moments later, he had recovered and moved to stand behind the chair he'd been sitting in before, wanting an obstacle between them. "Don't kill the messenger kid. If it wasn't for me, you probably wouldn't know until it was a done deal."

"Angel's leaving," Buffy said flatly, her arms snaking around her waist, trying to hold her emotions in as she tried to wrap her mind around the idea. "Where's he going? When you said 'without help' what *exactly* did you mean?" All of a sudden she froze mid step as Whistler's last words hit her. "If you hadn't said anything I wouldn't have known." Buffy slowly pivoted to face him, anger sparking in her hazel eyes. Her body was primed for action as she asked, "Do you mean that Angel knows? That he *knew* he was leaving when he sat *right* there," Buffy pointed, "and told me he wasn't going anywhere?!" Her voice rose as she finished speaking, her tiny body vibrating with fury. Whistler's silence was a damning conviction, and the Slayer shrieked with rage. Buffy went with that feeling, once again burying the pain deep within, as she started stalking towards the darkened bedroom.

Every movement screamed 'Slayer on the Hunt,' and Whistler knew Buffy had serious mayhem, if not murder, on her mind. Seeing the turmoil she was in, and knowing Buffy would regret hurting Angel in the end, the demon took his life in his hands and stepped between her and Angel's room. "Calm down!" he pleaded, waving his arms frantically, trying to distract her. "He only found out last night, and he's fighting this tooth and nail!" An odd look crossed Whistler's face. "Or should it be fang and claw? Anyway, the talk you two had last night was more important."

Buffy growled at Whistler, not appeased by his words but now calm enough to at least listen. Encouraged by the fact that he was still standing, Whistler continued. "He doesn't want to leave, so he's in denial, big time. Thing is, he's gonna end up leaving, no matter what, and a whole lotta the potential reasons are *not* good for the home team. For some reason, you two can't be together right now. Limited contact only until something happens. So I figured, if it's gonna happen, a little advance notice might be appreciated." Whistler relaxed a moment when Buffy finally backed down and returned to pacing, though he could practically *see* the anger and hurt radiating from her in waves. "And if Angel leaves on his own, after talking it out with you, of course, it might be the best thing for both of you."

"Not you, too?! How on earth could Angel leaving ever be considered a good thing?!" exclaimed Buffy, throwing her arms up in disgust and dropping on the couch. She leaned forward to rest her elbows on her knees and dropper her head to her hands. "If you have a point, please get to it," she finally whispered, surreptitiously wiping tears from her eyes. They had worked things out last night, only to get hit with an unavoidable separation? And Angel hadn't told her? Buffy couldn't decide if she wanted to go home and have a good cry or go destroy a practice dummy, but she'd be damned if she'd break down if front of Whistler.

Whistler crouched in front of Buffy, organizing his thoughts before beginning. "I know you don't want him to go. Believe me, he doesn't want to leave. There's a lot of unresolved issues between you two though. I've no doubt you love each other despite the odds, the situation, and the past. But Buffy, Angel's been back for six months, and mostly healed for the last five. And you still haven't really talked about what happened. I mean sure, from what I hear you had a little mini confrontation when the idiot tried to get a suntan at Christmas time, and you had a nice talk last night, but they really only treated the symptoms. You guys have to talk about what happened last spring."

Buffy tried to jerk away, a grimace of pain on her face, but Whistler grasped her arms firmly, stopping her. "A relationship can't survive with secrets and lies being told by both parties. And you are lying if you tell me you're over what Angelus did to you, and Angel is not spilling about what he knows and remembers about his vacation in hell. NO one knows what you did last summer, and Angel never said anything about your new boyfriend. You have to talk about these things, or misunderstandings are gonna keep occurring."

"I know we need to talk about it," whispered Buffy. "I *need* to talk about it, and Angel's the only one I can really open up with. I could probably share a lot with Willow, but she was there when it happened, and she already knows most of it." Buffy raised her head, no longer caring if Whistler saw the tears that were now freely running down her cheeks. "But Whistler, I can't hurt him again." Pain and guilt could be heard in every word, her earlier anger temporarily forgotten. "I've hurt him so much, and that's the last thing I ever wanted. I mean, I sent him to Hell! He's been punished enough, and it was for something that he had no control over! I know I can't talk about it without feeling the pain, and the fear again, and that will hurt him. He'll feel guilty when he sees those feelings in my eyes, and I'm not fool enough to think I could get through that discussion with a mask on."

"So don't do it face to face," Whistler offered, wondering anew where this girl got her strength. As a slayer she got physical strength to fight demons, and mental strength to help fight the denizens with hypnotic abilities. But, emotional strength was something else. Most slayers hardened themselves, cutting themselves off from their emotions as the handbook taught to survive night after night of killing and violence, living a lonely existence. Buffy, however, only used a mask in times of extreme duress. She had faced so much, and had still survived the trauma inflicted on her with compassion and concern enough to worry about how her feelings affected others. Buffy's quizzical expression brought him back to their conversation.

"What if you guys worked things out while Angel's out of town? There's always the phone, or letters. I bet that little redheaded witch could even set up e-mail. That way you get to tell him what you were feeling, and don't think he won't know you're still hurting, but he won't have to actually see it." Encouraged by the Buffy's thoughtful look, Whistler continued knowingly. "And maybe he'll be able to tell you about Hell, and his nightmares without worrying about seeing the guilt in *your* eyes."

"It might work," Buffy allowed, grudgingly as she turned the idea over in her mind. "I could send my diary with him; it explains everything. I might even be able to sneak him a copy of Giles' Watcher Diary, if you think that would help?" At Whistler's encouraging nod, Buffy continued. "If I asked, Will might be able to help too; she was probably the most observant of all of us after Jenny died. But I'm not sure I want her to know." Buffy looked up at Whistler's perplexed expression and explained. "This is deeply personal stuff, just between me and Angel. I don't know that I want everyone to know what's going on. The last thing either of us needs is more pressure."

"OK," allowed Whistler. "This is up to you two. But, there are some other advantages to Angel's departure." Whistler just shook his head as the hurt look returned to Buffy's face. "This is an excellent time for Angel to start making amends." Buffy made an indignant noise, but Whistler rushed on. "Not that he has anything to make up for. He can't and couldn't control the demon. But, you and I both know he doesn't accept that, and maybe he never will. He *needs* to do something to make up for what he considers his sins. Helping you out was a start, and it makes him feel like he's accomplishing something good. But right now the tension between you two, along with the knowledge that you're strong enough to take care of most of these problems alone kind of lessons the impact against his 'debt.' If Angel comes with me, I can set him up in his own little hot bed of demon activity. He alone would be responsible for the consequences. That would go a start to lightening that load of guilt my man Angel carries around."

Buffy sighed sadly. The garish little demon had her right where he wanted her; Buffy would do just about anything to help Angel stop hurting, and Whistler knew it. "I'll think about it," she whispered, knowing she'd agree. Now all she had to do was convince Angel. "It's just that I'll miss him so much!" Another thought occurred to her and she straightened up with a jerk "Alone! What if he gets in over his head?" Buffy's voice was panicked, imagining all sorts of horrible things. "What if he needs my help?"

"Right. It's not like he's survived two and a half centuries or anything," Whistler said wryly, remembering his conversation with Angel. "Besides, I never said 'no' contact did I? I said 'limited' contact. If he *really* needs help he can ask for it in most cases, same as you. There are some things he has to do on his own, but you get the picture." Whistler smiled, relived. If he hadn't been able to win Buffy over, well, the alternatives were ugly. They ranged from someone convincing Angel he was bad for Buffy, making him leave town, to her death at the hands of some demon, freeing Angel to stalk the earth with revenge on his mind. "He's fighting this because he doesn't want to leave, so you guys will have to talk it out." Whistler warned, before a sneaky smile slipped onto his face. "No one knows how long he'll be gone, or where to, but I've got my own ideas, and a *little* influence. You might be surprised." Whistler sauntered back to his chair and added cryptically, "And I might just get some contacts working on a little present for you two, for when this separation is over." Buffy looked ready to wring straight answers out of him, but he just shook his head and smiled before glancing pointedly at his watch.

Buffy frowned and glanced at her own watch. No time to go home and change; she'd have to get her change of clothes for Giles' office, and do without the books she'd left at home. The Slayer stood up and glanced around the room, grabbing her jacket as she prepared to leave. She paused at the door, turning back to tell Whistler, "I still don't like you very much. You never bring good news. But, I'll think about what you said. Tell Angel I love him, and that I'll come see him tonight after my first sweep." She took a few steps out the door before turning back to say, "Whistler? If you're wrong about this being necessary, if I'm loosing him just because, I *will* kill you."

Whistler nodded in acknowledgment, and then the slayer was gone, running to make it to school on time. He stood there for several moments, going over their conversation again, making sure they'd covered the main points. Then Whistler just sat in his chair, staring into the future, trying to see if what he'd accomplished that morning had helped.