Part 7:


"I hate this," Buffy murmured as they broke their hug, staring up into Angel's eyes.

"I know, Buffy, but ..."

"I know, I know. We both need some time."

It was shortly after dusk, about a week after their little foray into Buffy's mind. Angel was packing up his things for the return to LA.

"I'm just a phone call away," he told her, brushing his hand across her cheek. "If there is anything, or even if you just need to talk, call me!"

"I will."

They had spent many hours talking already. Talking about themselves, about Buffy's new state of being, of what it meant for them.

Of the 112 minds inside of her, not counting herself and Anne, most were gone now. While the prospect of death due to Buffy's self-destruction had intimidated them, none of them were particularly happy with this kind of half-life either. So most of them had deleted themselves from her personality grid, choosing to go on to whatever afterlife might wait for them, leaving the void filled with only herself, Anne, and about half a dozen others that weren't ready to go yet.

One of the ones who had gone on was Riley. Buffy had talked to him before he left, trying to understand why he had betrayed her the way he did. Hearing his thoughts, knowing what had gone through him during that time, she wasn't sure that she forgave him for it, but she couldn't find it in herself to hate him, either. So when Riley deleted himself from her mind she waved him goodbye, wondering where all those minds might be going now.

Among the ones who decided to stick around for the moment was, unfortunately, Maggy Walsh. Buffy had been very tempted to hit the delete button herself. As primary personality of Adam One she could do that. She might do it yet, but for the moment she had more important things on her mind.

Like her and Angel's upcoming separation.

It wouldn't be permanent this time, that much they agreed upon. But Angel had built himself a life in Los Angeles and couldn't just abandon it. And Buffy had to admit that his time apart from her had helped him grow. The perpetual shadow of guilt that had always clouded his handsome features was still there, but it seemed lighter than before.

As for the Hellmouth, Faith was quickly growing into her role as the one and only Slayer, even to the point of having accepted Rose McNamara as her Watcher. From what Buffy had seen these first few days they should work well together. Rose was a woman of sheer infinite patience and had enough humor in her stuffy British exterior to click together with the formerly rogue Slayer.

So theoretically that left Buffy free to do whatever she wanted.

Her first impulse had been to accompany Angel to Los Angeles. He would certainly not have said no. After going through the last few weeks, believing her dead, finding her again, then again fearing she might be gone, he was quite sure that living apart from her was not something he would be able to do for any length of time.

Most of his arguments for leaving her in the first place no longer applied. Buffy wasn't human anymore, so a normal life, whatever that might have meant to a Slayer, was not an issue. Anne had confirmed that she would not age, though with increasing control of the Adam One form she would be able to fake it. She would never be able to have children, either.

There was still the curse, of course, but upon seeing their heartfelt reunion Willow had promised to do her best to find a way around that. Tara, Willow's new friend, had promised to help as well, so with two witches on the job that might just be a matter of time.

Time Buffy would need to get used to her new state of being. No matter how much she wanted to get back together with Angel on the spot, she knew that she had to figure out herself first. She was Buffy, that much she knew now. Deep inside she was still the same girl she had always been. Everything else, though, was up for discovery.

"I miss you already," she told Angel, clutching his hand.

"This is only for the time being." He smiled at her. "Come to LA when you're ready. Or call me and I'll come here."

"I know."

They shared one last kiss, a seeming eternity with the world outside completely unimportant, then they parted. Angel climbed into his black convertible, waved, and then he was gone.

~I miss him, too,~ Anne said.

"You would." Buffy smiled wistfully. "You're patterned after me, remember? How could you not miss him?"

~I think I'd like him even without your feelings and memories to draw on. He's yummy.~

That caused Buffy to laugh. Having Anne inside of her 24-7 was something she was almost used to already. The AI had turned out to be a great companion and that had nothing to do with the fact that they were, essentially, of one mind. No matter their many similarities Anne was her own person, was busily developing her own quirks and knacks, essentially going through digital puberty in a matter of days. She was, after all, only three weeks old.

~Have you thought some more about college?~ Anne changed the topic.

Sunnydale College had closed down due to the explosion of Lowell House, giving its students a very early spring break. Classes were due to start again a week from now, though, and Buffy still wasn't sure whether she should return.

"What can they teach me anyway?" she asked Anne as she made her way toward the cemetery for her patrol. Faith or not, Sunnydale had enough graveyards for both of them to cover without taking Vampires away from each other. "I mean, I do have all of Maggy Walsh's knowledge to draw on in here, not to mention everything the 111 other minds knew."

~Maybe, but having that information in your database is not the same as knowing it.~

"You sound like a teacher yourself now. I certainly never sound like that. Do I?"

~Only when it comes to slaying, don't worry. You still have another week to decide about college, so don't rush it.~

There was silence in her head for a while, but then Anne spoke up again.

~Hey Buffy!~


~I just found a time-delayed message that Colleen left for you.~

Colleen Wing, the mage that had worked the magical part of the 314 experiment, had also decided to leave for the unknown. Buffy was a bit sad about that, as the witch had seemed to be a rather nice person. If one disregarded the fact that she had participated in the 314 experiment in the first place, of course.

"What does it say?"

~It says ... oh!~

"What? Something bad?"

~I don't think so.~ Buffy could have sworn that Anne was smirking right now.

"What is it then?"

~Okay, here goes: Honestly, why would you want two amateur witches like those girls to work on your loverboy's curse when you have one of the most complete databases on magical spells right here at your beck and call. Just take a look at the folder I have marked ... Gypsy Magic.~

Buffy almost stumbled.

"You mean ...?"

~Think you might want to take Angel up on that phone call a little sooner than planned?~ Anne asked playfully.

"Let me think about that for a second or two."

The local Vampires were quite relived when they saw the Slayer running away from the cemetery as fast as she could. Now if only they could stay out of sight of that other, dark-haired Slayer everything would be ...

"I love being the Slayer," Faith shouted.

Or not.