Taking Hold of the Future:
Sneaking Around


"So..." Buffy started, gripping one of Angel's hands firmly in both of hers as they headed back to her house after patrol.

"So... what?" Angel asked keeping his eyes firmly on the ground in front of them. He was just as capable of avoiding issues as she was, and Angel desperately wanted a little more time without arguments cropping up between them. And he had a feeling there *would* be arguments. Lots of them, as it got closer and closer to the Ascension and nothing had screamed at them 'It's time for Angel to leave.' Although, the mayor's biting commentary last night had come pretty close. Both of their nerves where strung tight, waiting for the blow, and unfortunately, they were falling back on old habits of avoidance and snapping at each other to hide their fears.

"So, are we done with the denial? Cause it seems like pretty much everyone has been there the last couple of days." Buffy sighed, hating that she was doing this. But, the tension had been there since Mayor Wilkens had dressed Angel down in the cafeteria, and their half hearted attempt to dismiss his comments hadn't helped any.

"Yeah," Angel sighed, slowing to a stop and turning to face his slayer. "I guess so. Let's lay it all out."

"Is this it?" Buffy asked bluntly, her heart in her throat as she studied his eyes carefully. "Is this what makes you leave?" She knew that the mayor had played heavily to Angel's own fears and concerns regarding their relationship, and was afraid that Angel wouldn't listen to anything she said to counter those fears.

Angel thought carefully for a moment, reexamining the emotions he'd been feeling since the previous night. "I don't think so," he said quietly, meeting her eyes so she could see what he was feeling. "I think it's part of it though." At Buffy's confused look, Angel tried to explain. "I'm getting the feeling that it's not just one thing that says it's time to go. I think it might be a lot of things, kind of like a build up, over time. Each time something goes wrong, or you get hurt, the tension coils tighter. And when it snaps, that's when I need to leave."

"I think I understand," Buffy frowned, not liking the pattern she was seeing. "All the little bad things, and the bigger stuff that's happened are kind of snowballing. Like when things were so mixed up when you first got back, and Spike's little tirade that made me leave you, and the First Evil's attack on you at Christmas, my reaction to the whole Faith thing, and now on top of that a major guilt trip from the mayor." Buffy's soul shivered in shame; too many of the events from the past year that had weakened him, and his security in their relationship, had come with no help from her. 'How many times did you leave him?' Buffy asked herself. 'How many times has he felt abandoned by you, felt that you don't love him? How many more people are going to keep playing on our guilt to keep us apart?' At that last thought, Buffy's mind froze. She stared into space, silently turning the idea over and over in her mind, thinking back over recent events, concentrating on the startling thought so closely she missed Angel calling her name.

"Buffy?" Angel's concern grew as he tried again to gain his girlfriend's attention and didn't get a response. "Buffy!" Thoughts of mind controlling demons, and witches with hypnosis spells, or vengeance minded Gypsies ran through the vampires mind as he shook Buffy sharply, trying to bring her attention back to him. When her hazel eyes focused again, Angel breathed a sigh of relief, and asked, "Are you OK Buffy? Where did you go just now?"

"That's it!" Buffy said, startling Angel. She grabbed his arms and stared up at Angel, her mind racing. "I think you're right Angel, it is a build up, of a *lot* of things, more than we think. I get the feeling that this has been building since even before you came back. I'd say even before then, but you'd tell me I'm reaching." Angel did look as though he was about to tell her that, but a glare from his girlfriend convinced him to at least listen to her theory.

"Angel everyone around us is hitting us right where it hurts, and they have been for a long time. Sure, you'd expect my Mom not to be happy about her 17 year-old daughter having sex with her much older boyfriend who turned around and stalked her. And, with Giles, there's the whole 'your demon killed my girlfriend and tortured me' thing. And Xander has always been jealous. But their reactions have been a little...extreme. Mom won't even let me explain what was happening with us back then. Giles, who knows the definition of vampires better than anyone, is taking this grudge thing a little too far. He was all supportive until they found out you were back, and then all of a sudden, I had 'no respect' for him, and everyone else was ready to jump on the bandwagon."

Angel winced, and Buffy gripped his hands tighter, hating that she was hurting him, but she needed to get this out. "Even Xander is being snarkier than usual. Then there's Willow. Willow, who knew everything about how I feel about you. She totally expected me to get over you, just like that!" Buffy snapped her fingers to illustrate. "She pushed me at Scott and even though I wasn't ready, I caved and went out with him. Spike comes along and plays on our fears about getting close again. The First Evil tries to convince you to kill me and instead you try to kill yourself..." Buffy's voice trailed off, hazel eyes searching Angel's deep brown ones. "Am I totally being paranoid here?" she asked plaintively.

"Well," Angel allowed, his thoughts turning her theory over. "You may be paranoid, but here on the Hellmouth, you generally have a reason to be."

"So, it's like everyone is being influenced by this horribly cruel 'all-powerful' guy who's goal is to make us miserable. The good guys are shoveling on the guilt, and the bad guys are paling on our fears. They *really* don't want us together." Buffy frowned, anger starting to snap in her eyes.

Angel moved quickly, hoping to distract Buffy before she decided to forcefully set everyone straight. "What about Whistler?" he asked. "He warned us so we would be prepared for the separation. And, he hasn't been on the Hellmouth to be influenced by anyone. I'm not even sure he *can* be influenced. I get the impression that his nature makes him immune to mind control."

Buffy's frown turned thoughtful as she considered Angel's point. "You've got me there," she admitted, still working on her 'conspiracy theory.' "OK, try this," she ventured slowly, trying to keep everything straight in her mind. "It's not necessarily a sadistic evil being that's doing this to us, it just feels like it because we won't be together. Maybe there are two 'influences' out there. The bad guys want us apart because everyone knows how much stronger, more dangerous, we are together. The good guys are being pushy and whiny because, like Whistler says, we need the time apart to grow, learn, kick more demon ass. Much as I hate to admit Whistler's right, about anything..." Buffy's voice trailed off and a light sheen of tears showed through her eyelashes as she peered up at Angel. "Things are really messed up between us right now. We really *do* need to get all the old garbage and hurt out in the open; we both know this. But, neither of us has made a move to start, so maybe it *will* work better if we aren't face to face."