Author: Chris Cook
Willow Rosenberg sat as inconspicuously as possible in a faded old lounge chair, kept her newspaper at roughly eye-level in front of her, and tried not to stare too obviously at the blonde sitting across from her. Around them the staff common room of the school was abuzz with activity, as the other teachers did their best to fill up on coffee and conversation during the brief morning recess. Normally Willow would have been among them, busy as ever with her mind already on the next period's science class.
Just talk to her, she told herself. She's new here, go say 'hi', it's the friendly thing to do. Practically everyone else in the room has said hi. She took a deep, steadying breath. You already said hi earlier, when she walked past while you were opening up the lab. Remember? When she gave that little smile and a soft-voiced 'hello' and you went and fell head-over-heels? A wistful smile crossed her features. So if you keep saying hi, you're going to seem like some scary stalker lady obsessed with her! A worried frown creased her brow. You are obsessed with her, she reminded herself. Yes, but in a good way, in a 'you're beautiful and I'd love to get to know you' way, not a 'break out the telescopic lens camera' way.
Willow had heard, at one of those team-building seminars the teaching staff got sent to every now and then where they did 'trust exercises', that everyone's mind was divided between competing impulses. The speaker hadn't really thought the concept through, other than as a way to introduce the notion that they should all fall over backwards and hope their partner would catch them - which was not a good idea, as Willow's assigned partner that day had been the P.E. teacher, who she'd have been lucky to avoid being crushed by if he fell towards her - but the idea stuck in her mind. Often, like now, it seemed to have some merit, as her thoughts whirled back and forth, arguing and counter-arguing endlessly before reaching something approximating a decision.
"Talking to the woman a second time in one day does not in itself constitute stalking," Giles insisted.
"But we might scare her off!" Buffy argued.
"You're paranoid," Anya interjected, "face it, we couldn't be scary if we wanted to."
"We will be if we let you have control of the vocal chords," Buffy snapped. "Xander, back me up here - we need to bide our time, right?"
"Observe the boobies," Xander said vaguely.
"We're not just attracted to her because of her 'boob-'," Giles pointed out, clearly uncomfortable even saying the word, "her physical qualities."
"I am," Xander insisted, not taking his eyes off the view, "you handle the respect for her mind and enjoying her conversation-"
"If we ever have a conversation with her," Anya grumbled.
"-I'll appreciate her devastating sexiness. That's what I'm here for."
"Do you ever think about anything else?" Buffy asked. "All you do, every waking moment of every day, is appreciate everyone's good looks! Which, for your information, is called being a perv."
"Not true," Xander rounded on her, "I've never once thought sexy thoughts about Maggie Walsh."
"EW!" the other three said in unison, as Willow's imagination furnished an image of the stern head of the mathematics department.
Willow paused in the act of taking a sip of coffee, and wondered why on earth, in the middle of musing about whether or not to talk to Tara Maclay, the idea of Professor Walsh had popped into her head.
Ew, she thought.
The inner workings of Willow's mind resembled something Jules Verne might have built, had he had the annual budget of the Pentagon. Valves and gauges lined the walls, hydraulic pipes and pressure conduits ran this way and that, and these was a general impression of intricate activity going on in the brass-plated gadgetry that constituted the automatic processes of her psyche. A complicated arrangement resembling a television screen mounted inside a periscope set among the dials and levers showed a close-up of the newspaper Willow had just turned her attention back to, while the imagination - a strange collection of light bulbs and brasswork that lowered from a hatch in the ceiling like a chandelier - retracted, having delivered its mental image for the moment. On the other side of the room was the bulging filing cabinet of long-term memory, next to the desk where the short-term memory was stored in an impressively large pile of notebooks.
Rupert Giles had been the librarian of Willow's school, from kindergarten right through to her final year. In terms of her academic life Giles had been her greatest influence, a source of guidance and wisdom when she was unsure of what course to pursue, kindness and support when she felt overwhelmed by the demands placed on her. His example had led her to a career in teaching. All things considered, it was no surprise that her Intellect had taken his form.
Buffy Summers, Xander Harris and Anya Jenkins had been fellow students - Buffy was now a triathlete, Xander a civil engineer, and Anya had finished a law degree, acquired a position at a respected firm, and looked set to one day realise her dream of being a judge. In Willow's mind, Buffy - who had always kept Willow firmly in the real world, when she seemed likely to get lost in some esoteric pursuit - was her Self-Analysis, the part of her that double-checked herself, that kept an eye peeled for trouble when her other impulses were in full flight, oblivious to anything but whatever they were focused on.
Anya was Ego, which, had Willow been aware of the forms her various impulses had taken, wouldn't have surprised her one bit. The real Anya was not a selfish person as such, but she had a directness about her that many mistook for the same thing, until they got to know her and realised that her utter lack of pretence was actually a mark of respect for those around her. In Willow's mind, Anya was the part that spoke exactly as she felt, and pursued exactly what she wanted.
When she finally mustered the courage to come out, Willow did so first to Xander, her oldest and dearest friend. He had taken it upon himself to ensure that Willow never felt uncomfortable about her sexual orientation, which, in his appraisal of the situation, meant spending time at the Bronze sharing their mutual admiration for the female of the species. Unsurprisingly, when Willow's Libido had something to add to any internal debate, Xander was the form it took.
"Look," Buffy was saying, while Xander glared up at the imagination and turned his attention back to the view of Tara on the periscope screen, stolen over the top of the newspaper, "it's simple. We can't just go up to her and say 'Hi, I'd love to wake up next to you tomorrow'-"
"We would," Anya said.
"The lady does have a unique presence," Giles noted.
"She's hot," Xander confirmed.
"Okay, granted," Buffy acknowledged, "but if we act like some hormone-charged teenager, she's probably not going to be inclined to grace us with that unique presence, is she?"
"Being friendly is not a turn-off," Anya said flatly. "Show of hands, who wants to go over and say a friendly 'hello', and see where it goes from there?" She raised her hand.
"Count me in," Xander agreed, raising his.
"I think that's a reasonable suggestion," Giles said, "so long as we keep our wits about us, there doesn't seem to be a great likelihood of such an encounter ending disastrously-"
"We're agreed," Anya said, "Buff, do your caution thing by all means, but we're making our move." She strode imperiously over to one of the control panels and pulled a lever marked 'legs'.
Her mind made up, Willow set aside her coffee mug and walked around the table to where Tara was sitting.
"Hi," she said, hoping she sounded casual - not too casual, she reminded herself, don't seem bored or disinterested - "how's things?"
Tara looked up at her, surprised for a split second, then smiled and gestured to the vacant space next to her on the couch.
"Yes!" all four impulses shouted in unison, as Anya pulled the lever to the 'sit down' position.
"Things are good," Tara said, her voice soft - and oh so melodious, Willow thought to herself - "my first classes went well." She tucked an errant strand of hair behind her ear. Okay, Willow concluded, cutest thing ever, plus one. "Y-you're the science teacher, aren't you? Physics?"
"Oh yeah," Willow nodded, "physics, chemistry, biology, the whole deal-"
Just then the ball rang the end of recess, and there was a general motion among the common room's inhabitants towards the door.
"Oh, I have a class," Tara said, standing up, "I have to go. Thanks for saying hi."
"Yeah, me too," Willow said, trying not to seem unduly disappointed. "Um, see you around." Tara joined the procession out the door, while Willow deposited her newspaper on the table and went to collect her coffee mug.
"If someone hadn't wasted all that time worrying," Anya complained, "we'd have had a good five minutes more to talk with her. We might have a date by now!"
"I think that's a little presumptuous, actually," Giles said.
"We did it right," Buffy insisted, "we were calm, we were friendly, we didn't scare her. Okay, we didn't get much talk-time, but we've laid some groundwork, we can proceed from here."
"We'd have laid much more groundwork if we'd had time to say more than a couple of words," Anya grumbled. She paused as a thought struck her. "Who was it who thought 'melodious', anyway?"
"Ah, that was me," Giles admitted. "You must admit, the lady's voice is-"
"Guys!" Xander called. "Did you see that?"
"She waved at us!" he insisted, staring at the screen where Tara was just vanishing through the doorway. "She turned in the doorway and smiled, and did this little wave!" He pointed excitedly to a gauge marked 'reciprocated affection', on which the needle was wavering in the high area.
"See?" Buffy and Anya said triumphantly to each other simultaneously.
"I think we may conclude," Giles intervened, "that both your opinions were valid components in what may be filed as a successful initial approach. Now we simply need to consider what our next step should be."
"Chocolate," Anya said, crossing her arms.
"Flowers," Buffy shot back from the other side of Willow's psyche.
"Chocolate tastes good!" Anya protested. "Flowers just look pretty - and, before you say it, chocolate can also look pretty, if it's nicely-made. We'd be covering all our bases."
"It's too early for chocolate," Buffy argued, "unless it's her birthday or something like that, chocolate is an 'I want to date you' present."
"We do," Xander weighed in.
"I know we do," Buffy sighed, "but as a first step, flowers are our best bet. Flowers say..." she paused and raised a hand, like an actor delivering a soliloquy, "joy, and contentment, and... and polite affection. And there's a whole range, we can move from happy brighten-up-your-day flowers, which won't bother her at all coming from a vague acquaintance and co-worker, to something more deliberate like roses once we're sure we're making the right moves."
"Okay, let's say you're right-" Anya began.
"I'm always right," Buffy insisted, "that's my job, being the voice of reason."
"If you're right," Anya raised her voice to drown out Buffy, "I still think we should go with chocolates at an early stage. Okay, maybe not first thing, but soon - it'll show her we're not some bland, stereotypical creature with no originality. We're bold, we're daring-"
"We're hot for her," Xander suggested.
"-and we don't care who knows it!" Anya finished. "That kind of thing is romantic gold."
"In its proper place," Buffy stressed. "Giles, am I right?"
"I'm trying to concentrate," Giles pleaded, "we're in the middle of giving a chemistry lesson. Just this once, could you talk amongst yourselves and not distract me?"
"Exactly," Anya glared at Buffy, "this is a matter for the heart, not the head."
"Yeah?" Buffy shot back. "Well let's see what it's got to say, shall we?" She picked up an ornate speaking-tube from amid the confusion of Willow's autonomic systems and spoke into it. "Heart? Got anything to say?"
"Eight hundred and seventy-six million four hundred and fifty-one thousand three hundred and ninty-two," a fast-speaking monotone voice echoed out of the tube, "eight hundred and seventy-six million four hundred and fifty-one thousand three hundred and ninety-three, eight hundred and seventy-six million-"
"Our heart," Buffy said, replacing the speaking tube, "has no particular opinion on the matter."
"You know," Xander said thoughtfully, "we could... ask her out... for coffee?" Buffy and Anya looked up at him, surprised, and even Giles glanced up from the notebook he was reading out of, titled 'Chemistry for eighth-grade students'.
"That's... not a bad idea," Anya conceded.
"And not entirely related to nakedness," Buffy added. "How'd you come up with it?"
"Oh ye of little faith," Xander said reproachfully. Buffy and Anya simply stared at him, and he relented: "Okay, okay... coffee dates lead to real dates lead to hugs and cuddles lead to boobies... stop looking at me like that, it's what I'm here for!"
Willow finished drawing a molecular diagram on the whiteboard, and paused in the act of turning back to her class.
Hmm... coffee... there's a thought.
Suppressing a smile, she turned and asked, "Okay, who can tell me what's wrong with this boo- molecule?"
"Target sighted," Xander announced, steering the periscope screen like a submarine commander. The imagination dipped down out of the ceiling and projected a pair of cross-hair sights onto the view, making Xander jump in surprise.
"Who's doing that?"
"Sorry," Anya said, "it seemed appropriate."
"Okay guys, plan," Buffy insisted. "We can't just wing this, we'll get flustered and start babbling and end up talking about quantum physics, or frogs or something-"
"Please don't mention frogs," Giles said in a plaintive voice. One of the filing cabinets behind him emitted a noise something like a distant, echoing 'croak'.
"Right, no frogs," Anya agreed, shuddering. Her voice dropped to a whisper, "those creepy, floppy ears-"
"For the last time, that's bunnies," Giles insisted, "I'm our intellect, I know the difference between a bunny rabbit and... one of them."
"It's no use," Xander said, as Anya shook herself out of her unpleasant reverie, "she'll never get it."
"Just give me the vocal chords," Giles said, pulling a 1940s-style microphone from among the controls. "I'll handle this."
Frogs, Willow was thinking, bunnies... bunnies, frogs... why do I always mix that up?
"Um, hey," she said out loud, reaching Tara just as she was closing up the English classroom, the students having headed home for another day.
"Willow," Tara smiled, "hi."
"I was wondering," Willow said, returning Tara's smile with a widening of her own, "seeing as we were talking before, admittedly not talking exactly - about to talk, when the bell rang, so, you know, in a state of talkiness which would've been realised as actual talking, but for random circumstances outside our control-"
"Give me that!" Anya snapped, snatching the microphone away from Giles.
"-would you maybe like to go out for coffee?" Willow regained control over her babble.
"Um," Tara said, pushing aside her slight bafflement at the tide of verbiage that had just flowed over her, "s-sure... do you know any good coffee places near here?"
"Oh yeah," Willow nodded enthusiastically, "I know 'em all - coffee's my thing. Well, not my only thing, I'm not one-dimensional or anything, it's not like-"
"Thank you," Anya said, turning her attention back to the conversation as Buffy and Xander physically lifted up Giles and carried him back to his corner of the room, Buffy with a hand over his mouth.
"-yeah, I do," Willow said. "There's a place just a down the block that does great mochas."
"Mochas, huh?" Tara replied, her lips quirking into a lop-sided grin, amusement making her eyes sparkle.
"...uh-huh..." Willow said distantly.
"I'd like that," Tara nodded, "I have to grab a couple of things from my desk... see you by the main doors in five minutes?"
"...uh-huh..." Willow repeated.
"What're you doing over here?" Buffy asked, as Anya appeared beside her to help placate an irritated Giles, "who's running the conversation?"
"I handed it over to Xander," Anya said tersely, "we're just agreeing to coffee, he can handle it."
"Oh... so," Buffy tilted her head on one side, "how come we're just saying 'uh-huh' repeatedly?"
"We're what?" Anya said, looking over her shoulder. "Xander!"
Xander was staring into the periscope screen, murmuring 'pretty smile' over and over. Buffy's eyes widened, and she leapt the short-term memory desk and made a grab for the microphone as it fell from his hand.
"I mean yeah!" Willow recovered. "Yep, okie-dokey. Five minutes. See you there."
Tara's smile widened a moment, then she turned and headed for the offices.
"Okie-dokey?" Anya asked witheringly.
"Hey, I'm self-analysis," Buffy defended herself, "I'm not good at improvising."