Author's Note: Originally written for LJ's muse community "couples_therapy" based on the following prompt:
Stella: He's gonna run out on her, the coward.
Jeff: Sometimes it's worse to stay than it is to run.
Timeline: Post-"The Prom" Season 3 BtVS
Status: One-shot vignette; complete
He knew what she thought. What they all thought. About why he was leaving. That he couldn't be near her without being tempted. That he wanted her to have a normal life, one that he couldn't give her. It was true: he wanted her to experience life, anything and everything normal that she could.
But that wasn't all. He couldn't tell her everything, the whole reason he was leaving. He was breaking her heart, he didn't want to crush her ego as well.
She was a child. She was still a child, forced to grow up too soon, burdened with so much responsibility, everyone forgot that she was still fragile, and malleable. He didn't want to be the one who molded her the most. He didn't want her fashioning herself into what she thought he wanted, or being fashioned by his words and actions.
What kind of life could he give her? Realistically? If he stayed, what would happen? She was already forfeiting a wonderful opportunity by staying in Sunnydale for college, and while he understood the necessity, it was just one more price she was paying for the burden she bore.
If they continued this, this farce of a relationship, the outcome was inevitable. Someday, at some point, their judgment would lapse, they would lose themselves in the moment, and he'd be lost. His demon would be free again, and he wouldn't put her through that. He couldn't put her through that again.
Even without that looming over them, even if he deluded himself into thinking they could withstand temptation, he couldn't be who she wanted. He couldn't be the person he was before her seventeenth birthday, just as she couldn't, but she was trying so hard. Their relationship was spiralling closer and closer to focussing solely on the sexual frustration surrounding them. Tell someone they can't have something, and that's all they can think about, obsessively. It was no way to have a healthy relationship.
Even if he could walk with her in the sunlight, attend college with her, marry her, do every other conceivably human thing with her and for her -- this was completely out of their grasp, and it would slowly poison their relationship.
So he was leaving. Yanking the bandage off quickly. Hurting her, so badly, and he wished, God he wished he could stop the hurt, erase it from her eyes. But the only way to do that would be to stay, and in the end, that would hurt her even more. She didn't know it, didn't see it yet -- maybe she never would. If she made him into the bad guy for doing this... he would let her. God knew, he'd been the bad guy for so long, he was used to it. He didn't want to be the bad guy to her, but... Better the perceived bad guy, than the real one.
He hoped she'd forgive him, someday. When she was older, wiser, more grown-up. He hoped at least she would come to understand why he'd left. And if she didn't...
He was used to being tormented with guilt.