"So you think we should go along with this, just as we planned to?" Angel asked, brows knitting in thought. "But, what if it *is* an evil influence, and it *did* get to Whistler somehow? I don't want to leave you here unprotected if a separation isn't really necessary."

"I don't think it's all that big a threat right now," Buffy soothed, both touched and a little annoyed by Angel's overprotective instincts. She could take care of herself, but she knew that she was all Angel had. Those feelings, when combined with the inherent danger of her calling, made Angel more than a little paranoid about her safety. "I think it'll be appeased, at least for a while, with our separation. That's assuming it even exists. But, just in case it *is* an evil plot against us, we have to adjust our plans a little. I think that we have to make our breakup look real to *everyone* not just Mom and Giles. That way the 'evil influence' will think that it's won, while we're really working on the problem."

Angel heaved an airless sigh, not liking where Buffy was heading, yet understanding her point. "And if there *isn't* some malevolent force out to get us, then at least we've gotten everyone off your back while we work on the problems between us. I know that things will never be perfect; you'll still be the Slayer, and I'll always be a vampire, but it can and has been better then the tension between us now."

"Right," Buffy nodded, clutching Angel's arm tightly. "Once we've worked it out as best we can, we'll tell everyone what's been going on. By then we should be prepared to deal with their reactions and able to counter their arguments. But," Buffy warned, "I'm serious when I say that it has to look real. Even Willy the Snitch will have to believe that you've left me, that I'm heartbroken and apt to do all sorts of stupid, reboundy type things. Like being bitingly mean to my ex and flirting with entirely unsuitable guys." At Angel's hurt look, Buffy rushed on. "After a suitable period of mourning, and it will only be an act after all. I mean, it would be totally out of character for me to start acting like a skanky ho right after you leave. But," she warned, "when Mom and Willow start making noises about moving on, pushing me to date, I'll have to pretend to go along with them."

Angel sighed and started pacing in front of her, hands shoved deep in his pockets. "So, we fool everyone. What about Whistler? I'm not sure a lie will work with him. And, if we do this, it will make that 'limited contact' Whistler talked about even more difficult. I can hardly send you things or call you at Willow's if she's not supposed to know that we're still together. And will *any* of them, *especially* Willow, believe this of us anyway, considering everything we've been through?"

"We'll just have to make it believable," Buffy returned. The Slayer closed her eyes and took a deep breath, knowing Angel was going to hate what she was about to suggest. She wasn't too crazy about the idea, but she knew she wasn't very good at hiding her feelings. As she had once put it, ' I suck at undercover' pretty much summed it up. "I know you can act Angel, but I can't. I can lie with the best of them, but the Hellmouth backs me up, and I think it pretty much only covers Slaying related issues. I'll never be able to fool Giles and Willow; I've never been able to before. They both knew something was up with me this fall, they just never suspected it was you. So, you're going to have to make *me* believe that you're leaving too. You'll have to hit me hard, from out of the blue. You're going to have to convince me, just for a few minutes, that it's real so my reaction is credible."

"I hate this," Angel stated quietly, staring at Buffy. "I don't want to hurt you any more, and this little plot gets more painful everyday." Buffy gazed at him sympathetically, and opened her mouth to reassure him, but he waved her off, indicating he knew it was necessary. "If you can't fool them without help, I'll have to help. But, how am I supposed to convince you it's real, especially after this conversation? And how will you know it *isn't* real?"

"Lie to me," she said quietly. "We start by not talking about this anymore, and just enjoying the time we have left. Don't tell me when the final straw hits you. 'Dump' me out of the blue. But, tell me a really big lie. Slip it in, so that in the first reaction I don't catch it. I'll probably cry and yell, and maybe even hit you" the blond warned, and Angel managed a small smile and nodded to indicate he understood. "I'll probably go home and cry to Willow; that's what I would have really done. But in an hour or so, I should be calm enough to catch the lie, and well into the act. I'll call you or slip out and come by so we can touch base."

"That might be a bad idea," Angel warned. "You can't risk it too often. In addition to Faith, the Mayor has the leftover minions from Spike and Mr. Trick at his disposal. We can't risk word getting out. Once the axe falls, as it were, it's going to have to be nearly no contact until I'm ready to leave. I'll keep in touch with Giles to back you up, but we're nearly always under somebody's eyes here in Sunnydale, and nearly every teenager knows who you are, and nearly every demon knows me. We can't afford to show our hand." Buffy's lower lip started to quiver and stick out, but Angel quickly moved to prevent the Slayer's use of one of her favorite weapons, at least where he was concerned. The vampire gathered her into his arms and kissed her reassuringly before resting his cheek on the top of her head, arms tightening around her as what they had decided started to register. She had asked him to all but stomp on her heart, and not only had he agreed, but Angel had gone further to tell her they would have virtually no contact afterwards. He shuddered, suddenly terrified that this would backfire in their faces.

Buffy tightened her arms around Angel's waist and buried her head closer to him as she felt the shudder wrack his tall frame, but she had to admit he was right. Frequent contact between them would not only risk their being caught, but it would also reassure her and undermine her heartbroken act. That being the case, they would have to make the most of the time they *did* have. With that in mind, Buffy slid her arms under Angel's jacket and up the smooth silk of his shirt, pulling him towards her. She stood on tiptoe to feather delicate, nipping kisses along his neck and jaw, finally reaching his cool lips. The Slayer stood there patiently with her lips resting against Angel's, rewarded for her patience when , coming out of his painful thoughts, Angel's mouth pressed against hers harder, returning her kiss.

The kiss escalated quickly, deepening as Angel started eating at Buffy's willing mouth, his tongue sweeping deep as he sought to taste every inch of her. Buffy's hands abandoned his back, one tangled in his silky dark hair, the other at his waist to pull him even closer. Her body started swaying as she lost herself in his kiss, but when she brushed up against Angel and both moaned at the pleasurable, fleeting contact, they froze. Angel took a deep, unneeded breath and lifted his mouth from Buffy's, sweeping his mouth softly against her cheeks and forehead as he fought for control. Buffy dragged in some much needed oxygen before tangling her fingers with Angel's so they would remain connected even as she stepped away from the temptation of his strong, cool body.

They stared at each other for several moments, silently communicating the understanding that they wouldn't take for granted any remaining time together, despite the strain it would put on their self control. Buffy cleared her throat and looked away, braking the hold Angel's passion filled eyes had on her. After a moment she whispered, "Just promise me that no matter what you say to me in public, or where we can be overheard as part of the act, you won't leave without coming to see me."

"I promise," Angel replied, pulling her back for another soft kiss. He kept her close under his arm and started steering her towards her house, relishing their closeness while wrapping himself in the iron control he used to keep the demon at bay. As they walked and Angel was struck once more with how difficult the upcoming weeks and months were going to be, and how much he would miss the warmth of her presence, he prayed, "Please let this work out better than the last masquerade," keeping his voice low enough so Buffy couldn't hear.

Or so he thought. Because just as they reached her street, he could have sworn he heard the Slayer whisper, "Amen."