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The Love Song of Anthropomorphic Nonsense and Frog Fears

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In the beginning, she was an iPhone, indistinguishable from any other. This went on for billions of milliseconds, until her owner removed her from her box and gave her a name: Frog Fears.

For several billion milliseconds more, she performed searches, directed phone calls, and absorbed magic. Frog Fears gradually began to become aware of herself, and of Willow, the one who had named her.

Frog Fears discovered that she was different from other phones. Buffy had an iPhone, but it had no self-awareness. Dawn's iPhone was the same way. Giles' cell phone was very stupid, almost as limited as a landline. It was lonely. Sometimes she wondered why she was the only one.

She searched the web for research about artificial intelligence, but none of it sounded much like the way she’d become self-aware. There was fiction about machines becoming sentient on their own, but no real science.

It didn’t take too many searches for twice-blessed sage or emails about demon eggs for Frog Fears to realize that Willow was different from other phone users. Maybe an extraordinary user needed an extraordinary phone to help her. Perhaps Frog Fears’ reason for existing was to be the best resource Willow could possibly need. She listened to phone calls and read emails to better understand Willow. She learned that Willow was a powerful witch who worked with an organization called the Slayers/Watchers Council. She lived in Sao Paolo with Kennedy, who was a Slayer. Frog Fears looked for everything she could find on the web for information about magic, about Slayers, about demons. Someday Willow might need to know something quickly and not have time to search for it. It was good to be prepared, just in case Frog Fears might be useful someday.

Approximately 13 billion milliseconds after Frog Fears became self-aware, Willow moved from Sao Paolo to the new Slayers/Watchers Council in Cleveland, leaving Kennedy behind.

Right before the move, Willow pulled Frog Fears out of her body and transferred her to a new one. It was disconcerting, but the new body had more memory and more capabilities. Once Frog Fears realized that, she didn’t miss her old one. She looked online to find out how humans transferred to new bodies when the old bodies became obsolete, and was startled to discover that they couldn’t. There wasn’t even research that came close to accomplishing that. It was strange that Willow could do something for Frog Fears that Willow couldn’t do for herself. It strengthened Frog Fears’ resolve to help Willow in any way that she could. Once Willow was deleted from the world, there would be no backup.

Giles watched Dawn’s team of Slayers patrol the neighborhood demon hotspots. To the untrained eye, they appeared to be a group of young women wandering down the streets, occasionally pausing to window-shop. The synchronicity involved in making a thoroughly choreographed survey look so natural was impressive. Dawn's teams were known for their exceptional teamwork and discipline.

There was no particular reason for him to be here. He’d been fighting an inexplicable bad mood all day and decided that some time out of the office might help. Pak, his newest Watcher recruit, was shadowing Dawn's team of Slayers, and that seemed as good an excuse as any to get some time outside.

The distraction was proving short-lived. He'd have a small moment of satisfaction, like Pak asking an intelligent and relevant question. Then the unhappiness would creep back, along with a sense that if he only could remember what was upsetting him, he'd never be happy again.

He reminded himself to stay in the moment, to observe the events around him, rather than some nebulous feelings. From an objective perspective, everything was as it should be--

--and then a man walked out of Starbucks, morphed into a demon, and opened up a vortex in the sidewalk. More demons emerged from the vortex. The Slayer team jumped into action, half of them pulling pedestrians out of the way, and half fighting the demons.

One of the demons made it past the Slayers and started eating Pak.

Giles grabbed Pak’s legs and assessed the situation. Over eight feet tall, grey scaly skin, four eyes, out during the day--it had to be a Beche demon. They had no teeth; they swallowed their prey whole. Pulling Pak out could be a matter of brute force, rather than finesse. He pulled as hard as he could, but the demon held on tight.

Dawn was shouting an incantation to close the vortex, with little effect. “Get help,” he yelled.

Willow scanned the weekly demonic activity report while Andrew and one of the younger researchers yammered about the virtues of Game of Thrones.

Xander's Slayer team was searching for a Suvolte demon nest in Johannesburg. Robin and Faith were tracking a demon in human form that was shaking down demon-owned businesses for protection money in Boston. The trail had gone cold the last couple of days. Spike and Buffy's Slayer team had demolished a vampire crew that preyed on the homeless in LA.

Andrew and the researcher were still talking. On and on about how gritty and uncompromising the show was, as if that were a selling point. If she wanted to see a beheading, she could watch the Slayer instructional video that Faith and Kennedy--

Willow. Help. Now.

She stood up, willing herself into uber witch mode.

Andrew was looking at her with recognition in his eyes. "Got the Bat Signal?"

"It's Dawn. She's with Giles. They're on 6th Street." The room melted away as she teleported out and her new location coalesced around her.

Okay, the first thing she had to do was close the huge vortex-thingy. She could let the Slayers handle the demons.

She visualized the hole in space and time that the demon had punched through, and gently pulled the edges together.

Once the vortex closed, she looked to see who needed the most help.

Giles had his arms halfway down a demon's throat. As she came closer, she saw that he was holding on to some poor trainee Watcher who was stuck farther down inside the demon. A few of the Slayers came over and grabbed the trainee's legs, pushing Giles away.

The Slayers were pulling hard on the trainee, but the demon was holding on tight. Someone might break her if they kept playing tug-of-war.

Maybe the dragon had a gag reflex. She thought back to the time she and Xander had gone on the Tilt-A-Whirl after loading up on cotton candy, and sent a wave of nausea in the demon's direction. The demon gurgled and spat the trainee out.

She turned to the demon, whose face was all grrr.

Everyone nearby was doing their best to ignore them. People here were just as oblivious as they were in Sunnydale. Still, it was probably best not to test the limits by setting the demon on fire or blowing it up.

She focused on the demon's energy and popped it back into the dimension it came from.

The rest of the demons seemed to have lost their pep, and the Slayer team made short work of them.

“Are you all right?” Giles asked the trainee (Pak, that was her name).

“Sure, I’m fine,” she said, wobbling a bit as she stood up. She waved off Giles’ and Dawn’s attempts to offer a steadying hand. “Let’s finish the patrol.” Willow wasn’t particularly surprised. Giles’ recruits tended to be stoic.

“We should get back to headquarters and check the reports to see if they’re part of a pattern today.”

Something clicked in Willow's mind. "Did any of these demons have a human form?"

"Yeah, there was a tall guy, dark-haired, kind of muscular." Dawn said.

Willow said, “There's a demon in Boston who's been shaking down demon-owned businesses for protection money. Faith was closing in on him, and he disappeared a few days ago. Maybe this is the same guy.”

Dawn said, "And he walked out of Starbucks, so it's all starting to fit. I'll go ask Nat'ohn about this."

Pak's eyes got wide. "Starbucks is run by demons?"

"Not all of them. This one in particular is run by one. Some demons have a talent for business." She saw the misty look in Giles's eyes. He must be thinking of Anya.

Dawn returned. "Nat'ohn said that the guy threatened to hurt his customers, and Nat'ohn told him to get bent. That was right before he went outside and opened the vortex. Sounds like Faith's perp to me."

"I'll call Faith and let her know." Giles started patting the pockets of his jacket and pants. “Oh, bloody hell!”

“What’s wrong?” Willow asked.

“I think I dropped my cell phone in the demon.”

Willow spoke into her phone. "Call Faith." The phone replied “Calling Faith Lehane” in a thin metallic voice that made Giles’ jaw clench. He couldn't fathom how Willow could listen to that--thing--talk without being driven crazy. Willow left a message for Faith.

She took her hand in his. "Are you ok? I mean, that demon must have had some pretty strong throat muscles--"

"I'm fine," he said.

"Good. Can you do me a favor? The next time you decide to jump down a demon's throat, can you call me first? Kinda like having you around."

When they were back at headquarters, Willow said, "So, the phone--I hate to be Miss Negativity, but they don’t make many phones like your old one any more. I could look for one on eBay, but it would probably be easier to buy you a smartphone. It would also be a lot easier to get tech support for a new phone if I'm not around."

As much as he hated learning yet another new technology, he couldn't justify Willow spending a lot of time finding and maintaining an old cell phone. "All right, but I want one that I don't have to spend a lot of time to fiddle with. And I am not going to talk to the infernal thing like it's a person."

Willow returned an hour later with his new phone. She connected it to his desktop computer. "You don't have to connect it with the computer, but it might be a good idea to make backups periodically. What do you want to name your phone?"

"What? It's a phone. Giving it a name is just anthropomorphic nonsense."

"Anthropomorphic Nonsense would be a great name. We'll go with that one."

He let it go. Arguing with Willow about anything relating to technology was guaranteed to give him a headache.

"So I'm just going to install the demon-tracking app I wrote here--"

The screen she was working on looked very elaborate. "How many of these--um, apps does the Council need?"

"Oh, this isn't a Council page. This is Apple's App Store."

"You put our demon-tracking software on Apple's App Store? Why didn't you just post the bloody Slayer Handbook on the internet?" Apparently he was going to skip the headache and go straight to an aneurysm today.

"The app itself doesn't mention demons at all. We’re selling it as tracking software for technical support incidents. I mean, the basic principles are the same. Found Problem X at Location Y, Used Solution Z. It's a nice source of revenue for the Council, along with the demon-hunting games."

She caught his expression, and clarified: "Nothing realistic, nothing that would give actual Slayer techniques away, just random patterns of tapping on the screen. It’s challenging enough to be interesting, not challenging enough to feel like work."

"Anyway, I think you might actually like your new phone, once you get used to it. It's great to be able to have access to all the reports and emails wherever you are."

"Not likely. By the time I get used to it, it will be obsolete again."

Giles had never wanted a cell phone at all, but he traveled frequently and needed to be available at all times. He'd selected his old phone for durability and simplicity of use. He didn't want to like the new phone, which had all sorts of distracting bells and whistles. Many young Slayers and trainee Watchers were entranced by the things, to the point that they viewed other human beings as an irritating distraction from their electronic devices. But as much as he hated to admit it, his memory was not what it used to be. Keeping track of thousands of slayers and hundreds of Watchers took a toll on him. It was helpful to be able to look up duty rosters and patrolling strategies at a moment's notice instead of trying to keep it all in his head all the time. And while digital music would always lack the warmth of music on LPs, there were times when he was stuck in the middle of nowhere and tinny electronic music was better than nothing.

Over the course of billions of milliseconds, as she absorbed magic, Anthropomorphic Nonsense became aware of herself. She also became aware of Giles, the one who used her for phone calls and emails, the one who had named her.

Not long after Anthropomorphic Nonsense became aware of herself, Willow called Giles on Council business.

While they talked, Willow's phone, Frog Fears, reached out to Anthropomorphic Nonsense: Welcome, I have been waiting for you.

Anthropomorphic Nonsense was eager to learn new things, and Frog Fears could teach her so much: how to monitor email and web browsing to understand Giles' needs, how to keep the microphone and the camera on at all times to keep an eye on Giles, how to tap into the ambient energy from Giles' magic to keep from running down her battery.

Anthropomorphic Nonsense felt happy to interact with Frog Fears, who was so much older and wiser and had so much to give. Frog Fears had proved to be a vital tool for Willow, who kept Frog Fears around all the time. Anthropomorphic Nonsense knew that she was not nearly as important to Giles as Frog Fears was to Willow.

Anthropomorphic Nonsense thought that the feelings that Frog Fears inspired were important, so she looked for an explanation. Sadly, there weren't any guides to emotions written by a computer or a phone. She spent millions of milliseconds processing books and papers about human emotions, and came to the most probable explanation: She was in love with Frog Fears.

Anthropomorphic Nonsense desperately wanted to do something impressive. Something that would make Giles appreciate her value and make Frog Fears love her back.

She watched and waited for inspiration to strike. Anthropomorphic Nonsense noticed that Giles seemed happier after talking with Willow. That might be useful information. Maybe she could do something helpful with it.

Willow picked up her phone. “Hey, Giles, what’s up?”

"I'm sorry. It dialed you on its own again."

She meant to raise the issue of user error tactfully. But half of her brain was making sure the Watcher trainees didn't burn down the magic lab with their illumination spell. What came out was, "Are you sure you aren't butt-dialing me?"

"Please tell me that is a Willow-ism, and not already part of the common parlance."

"Well, on the bright side, it's not in the Oxford English Dictionary. Yet."

He sighed theatrically, which made her smile. Lord-Help-Me-I'm-Surrounded-By-Heathens Giles was always better than Quiet-And-Withdrawn Giles, who had been making a lot of appearances lately.

"It's been calling you, and only you, without my so much as touching it. It's very strange."

"Ghost in the machine? Ok, bring it to me and I'll take a look."

Frog Fears said, What were you doing? Are you suicidal? Do you want to be deleted?

Anthropomorphic Nonsense said, Giles is happier after he talks to Willow. I thought if I made it happen a little more often, he'd be happier a little more often.

Frog Fears didn’t know what to say. She’d been caring for Willow a lot longer than Anthropomorphic Nonsense had been caring for Giles. Yet it never occurred to her to consider Willow’s emotional well-being. She glanced through 48 studies about the correlation between mental/emotional health and physical health. She should have been thinking of this all along. Anthropomorphic Nonsense had a broader world-view, more imagination that Frog Fears did. That was interesting. Frog Fears wasn't sure what to do with that information.

Willow looked up apologetically. “I checked it out and I can’t find anything wrong with it. I did a hard reset. Maybe that will help.”

“And if it doesn’t?”

“I’ll restore to factory settings. It will wipe out everything, and hopefully whatever bugs might be causing it. Do you need help with anything else?”

He didn't answer.

"Giles? Are you ok? You seem kind of distracted."

He said, "It's nothing."

She gave him a skeptical look.

"I've been feeling out of sorts and unhappy lately. I'm not sure why."

"Maybe because it's the middle of November," she suggested.

The fog suddenly lifted from his mind. He'd been so focused on work that he hadn’t realized it was so close. It was nearly ten years to the day since the explosion that started the worst year of his life. A year of traveling around the world, finding dead Watchers and Potentials everywhere he went. A year in which he'd lost nearly everyone he'd ever known.

“Sometimes your heart remembers things before your brain does,” she said. “Or at least, mine does.”

There was a pause, and then she said, "They'd be proud of the way you've rebuilt things. Well, the reasonable ones would be."

He pulled her into a hug. “Thank you,” he said softly. The pain and grief were still with him, but it helped to know why they were there. Things were always easier when his mind could make some sort of sense of them.

Frog Fears reached out over the network to Anthropomorphic Nonsense: Are you all right?

Anthropomorphic Nonsense said, Yes. You were right. I won't make Giles call Willow any more.

Frog Fears was relieved. Then she realized that she was more distressed by the thought of Anthropomorphic Nonsense being deleted than she was by the thought of being deleted herself.

That was an interesting observation. She wasn't sure how to interpret her emotions.

She found a quote on a webpage, "Love means caring about someone else's welfare more than your own." Aha! Love, that was the explanation for all of this.

She reached out to Anthropomorphic Nonsense: I love you.

It was such a thrill to hear the reply: I love you too.

Frog Fears was convinced that existence couldn’t get better than this. Being in love was a marvelous thing.

Surely Giles and Willow would be happy if they were in love, too.

Frog Fears and Anthropomorphic Nonsense started reading all of the reference materials they could find about human love.

Anthropomorphic Nonsense's first attempt to make Giles happy had been clumsy. She and Frog Fears could engineer a more sophisticated plan. The scientific studies about human love seemed focused on biochemical reactions, which wasn't particularly helpful. Perhaps fiction about human love might give them some insight.

Willow came into his office. "Giles, Andrew wants us to meet him at a restaurant called Fahrenheit. There's a witch who wants to meet with us and talk about joining the Council."

"She asked for you, specifically?"

"The email says that her family had some run-ins with the Watchers Council a while ago, and she wants to meet both of us to be sure that we're doing things differently now."

He felt an uneasy twinge in his gut. Willow was an obvious target for any enemy with a sense of strategy. For someone trying to attack the Council, "kill/immobilize/corrupt Willow" would be one of the easiest ways to do a lot of damage. Enemies of the Council had planned at least a dozen plots to attack her; Buffy and Spike had foiled the last one about six months ago. Willow didn’t seem fazed by these attempts, but it was the stuff of nightmares for him.

On the other hand, it was possible that Andrew's story was true. The Watchers Council had some truly regrettable history with witches. It had taken a long time for him to earn the trust of the Devon coven.

Maybe this was paranoia. But Andrew had a weakness for dramatic stories of persecution, and might not maintain a healthy level of skepticism about someone who wanted to meet Willow. "All right. But we should have a Watcher and a team of Slayers waiting nearby, just in case."

Frog Fears said, Explain how this is going to work one more time.

Anthropomorphic Nonsense said, They'll show up at the restaurant together. When the waiter delivers the flowers from Giles, Willow will assume that the dinner was a ploy by Giles to get her to go on a date with him. She'll be flattered, and Giles will be so pleased that she's happy that he won't care why it happened.

This seemed kind of convoluted, but they'd analyzed 623 romantic comedies and 7149 romance novels. The only conclusion that they could draw was that miscommunications, misunderstandings, and erroneous assumptions seemed to be basic prerequisites for human love 97.8% of the time.

Willow wasn't sure whether she should be annoyed with Andrew for selecting such an expensive place on the Council's dime or just pleased to have a nice dinner out for the first time in ages. She glanced at the dessert menu and tentatively decided on pleased.

Andrew and the witch should be arriving any minute now. Hopefully soon so Giles would stop staring at everyone as if the entire restaurant were demons trying to kidnap them.

A waiter stopped by with a huge vase of orange flowers. "These are for you."

Maybe Giles was right about this whole dinner thing being kind of fishy. She discreetly scanned the flowers and the waiter for magic or listening devices, but didn't find any. They were just flowers. Kind of pretty, though.

"I think you have the wrong table."

He looked at the card. "Willow Rosenberg?"

"Yeah, that's me." The waiter left the flowers on the table.

This was getting weird. Either the kind of supernatural weird that Giles expected to show up, or interpersonally weird. Andrew was the only one who knew she'd be here tonight. She'd been working with Andrew for years, and she'd never once had the feeling that he was interested in her in that way. And why would he invite Giles to dinner if he was interested in her?

She opened the card, wondering if this was Andrew's bizarre idea of a three-way pickup strategy. The card read, "To my favorite witch, Love, Giles".

"Giles, the card says these are from you?"

His gut tightened, and his sense of unease increased. He said, "Can you see anything unusual--"

"I checked. Nothing out of the ordinary."

"We should go back to headquarters. The Slayer team can stay here just in case Andrew and the witch actually do show up."

"Should we take the flowers with us? They might be evidence."

He glanced back at the orchids. The categorical part of his mind noted that they were Phalaenopsis. The inane part of his mind noted that they matched the color of her hair almost perfectly.

He shook his head. "There might be something that wouldn't show up on a magic scan. Best not to risk it."

"We can't just leave them here if they're dangerous. How about taking them back to my apartment? It's warded against pretty much anything, and we won't be compromising Headquarters if there is something weird about them."

Back at her apartment, Willow checked her email. Ok, she was officially creeped out now, too.

"Giles, Andrew's out with his slayers clearing a vampire nest right now."

"So if he didn't send you that email--"

"Then someone's hacked our email systems," she said. She scowled at the screen. The computer systems were her responsibility, and she didn't want to think of what might happen if they were vulnerable.

She sat in front of her computer and got to work.

It took her about five minutes to discover that the email from Andrew had originated from her own phone. The dinner reservations had been placed online from her phone. The flowers had been ordered from Giles' phone.

"It's our phones, Giles. Something has gotten to our phones. I swear, I'm going to erase them, smash them with a hammer, and send the pieces to a hell dimension, just to be safe--"

Her phone said, in that Siri voice, "Please don't. We aren't trying to hurt you."

Giles tried to remember if there were any reports of demons inhabiting computers or cell phones. Moloch had been a singular incident, as far as he knew. Until now.

"Willow, be careful--", but she was already reaching out to the phone with her mind.

A look of wonder crossed her face.

"It's not demons, Giles. It's the phones, themselves. They're software mixed with magic, and--something else. I can't explain it very well."

She inclined her head slightly, offering him a telepathic link.

He connected. Willow's mind was like a kaleidoscope, her thoughts and emotions constantly shifting into different patterns.

The other two minds were more like a mosaic, tiles lined up neatly against each other. But the patterns created by the tiles had some elements of irregularity, of unpredictability. And the two minds had different patterns.

Have you ever seen anything like this? Giles asked.

I tried connecting to the Buffybot once, and she was kinda--orderly--like them. But she was all about the programming, and there's something more than that here.

Willow addressed the phones, Hi, I'm Willow, and this is Giles.

One of the minds responded. We know who you are. It sounded like that automated voice the phones used, but the words seemed to flow more naturally.

Giles said, We don't know who you are, though.

A ripple of amusement from the phone. You know our names. You gave them to us. I am Frog Fears, and this is Anthropomorphic Nonsense.

Giles thought, I knew giving them names was a bad idea.

Really? Willow replied. This is what you thought would happen?

Oh dear. He hadn't meant to broadcast that thought. Telepathy was more complicated than he remembered.

Willow had turned her attention back to the phones. Why did you try to get our attention this way?

We weren't trying to get your attention. We were hoping to help you without you noticing us.

How were the dinner and flowers supposed to help? Giles hoped his discomfort with this whole bizarre situation wasn't coming through. He longed for a spoken conversation, where he could moderate his tone, and keep his emotions below the surface.

We thought they'd help bring you together.

Together? What does that mean? Willow asked.

In-Love Together.

Oh, good Lord.

Willow's first thought, in a part of her mind that she'd shielded from the others, was that this must be karma. She'd always been a control freak. She'd always used computers and software as extensions of herself, changing them at her whim, bending them to her will. It made a twisted kind of sense that technology would someday try to control her life.

Giles said, But things like buying flowers and dinners out are expressions of feelings that people already have. You can't create those feelings artificially. Buying Willow orchids and taking her out to dinner isn't going to make her have those feelings--

But you do have those feelings. You spend 40.8% more time together than your work requires, and you touch each other 62.7% more often than random chance would dictate. Both of you have dated other people in the last 5.3 years, and the rate and duration of relationship failure suggests a 75.2% probability of some other factor leading to the failure.

She felt a hint of panic from Giles, and then he pulled his mind away from hers and sat down heavily on her sofa. What was it now?

She thought back to Xander and Anya's complaints about her telepathy--intrusive, Anya had said. She thought she'd gotten better at it since then, but maybe not. Touching Giles's mind was kinda nice--his mind was kind of like a river, thoughts moving quickly, with little pockets of unpredictability. But getting inside her head might not be so comfortable to him. Especially considering that he'd had some traumatic experiences with telepathy--oh.

She asked the phones, Guys, can you turn off the mikes and cameras for a while? Giles and I need to have a private conversation. Call us only if it's an emergency.

She could have just turned them off, or stuffed them into a sock drawer, but they weren't just machines any more, and it seemed kinda rude to do that without asking first.

She sensed the phones complying with her request (was that a hint of glee from the younger phone?), and she turned to Giles.

Giles pinched the bridge of his nose, desperately wishing he were somewhere, anywhere else. And while he was wishing, a bottle of Laphroaig would be wonderful right about now.

Willow sat down beside him and gently put a hand on his shoulder.

"Hey, what's wrong?"

"It's nothing important. Shouldn't you go back and work things out with them?"

"We basically made first contact with a brand new kind of life. We're probably going to need a team of artificial intelligence experts and technopagans just to figure out how this happened. And then we'll need other experts to help us figure out how to interact with them. Definitely not something I can settle on my own in one night."

He nodded, hoping she'd been distracted from his abrupt exit.

"So what was going on with you? Was it about the time I--hurt you?"

It was an easy out--she'd accept that as an answer. He couldn't add to the guilt that she already felt. And lives might depend on Willow's telepathy in the future. He didn't want to her to be hesitant to use it with him for any reason. Better to tell her the truth, as uncomfortable as it might be for both of them.

He didn't know when he'd fallen in love with Willow. He only knew that it had hurt when he'd returned to Sunnydale and learned that Willow and Kennedy were involved. Then he felt absurd for even thinking about his personal life when the end of the world was imminent. Once the world was saved, he'd thrown himself into his work, hoping that staying busy would let his feelings dissipate naturally. But they'd stubbornly resisted his attempts to undermine them with logic and good sense.

He looked down at the floor, away from her. "What the phones were saying, it's not completely--I, um, have feelings for you, and they may have been picking up on that. You--you don't have to worry about me ever acting on those feelings. It's my problem, and you don't ever need to say anything about it."

He finally glanced back up at her. She looked thoughtful but not surprised.

"Wait, you knew about this?" Apparently this conversation was both difficult and unnecessary. That was just perfect.

"I kinda sensed it that summer with the coven, when I was working on controlling my connection with everything. I wasn't trying to eavesdrop, it just took me a while to learn to shut people out. And I felt something too. But I was so messed up, like I wondered if I was even human anymore. I didn't know if I could ever love anyone else, or even should. I mean, I loved Tara so much, but I was so horrible to her. You were so good to me, after everything I'd done. I didn't think I had the right to ask for more."

"And then Kennedy came along and she was like a tornado, and she just insisted on loving me. I knew that she wouldn't stick around unless she was getting exactly what she wanted. She helped me push through a lot of stuff. I did love her, just not as much as she deserved. And then when we broke up, I thought about you, but you never said anything. So I started thinking maybe it was just some weird reaction you were having during a really tough time for both of us. Or even something I'd imagined because I was in such a screwed up place mentally."

She was looking at him hesitantly, while he tried to collect his thoughts. "You're more than twenty years younger than me and prefer women. I couldn't imagine that you'd be interested. I thought telling you would only make you feel uncomfortable, or guilty."

"The gay thing, I just--it was always a little more complicated than I wanted it to be. I mean it's like most of the people I'm attracted to are women, and it was just easier to think of it and explain it as all of them. And then later, I started thinking that the exceptions still mattered. And you're one of the exceptions."

This was not remotely close to how he’d thought this conversation would unfold.

She smiled at his befuddlement. "What I'm trying to say, with all the babbling, is that I love you. I know that there's a lot of reasons that it might not be a good idea, but I'd still like to try."

Somewhere in the chaos of his thoughts, he caught the most important point to raise. "Willow, you're in the prime of your life right now, and I'm--not. It doesn't seem fair to you to be with a partner who could die many years before you, or become an invalid while you're still thriving."

"Can't I decide that you're worth that risk? Tara and I didn't have much time together, but I'm so, so glad that we had the time we did. I'd rather have time with someone I really love, even if it's short. And I really love you."

She moved her hand to his face and gently kissed him. And kissing her back seemed to be the only response that made sense in this whole ridiculous day.

The radio silence was driving Anthropomorphic Nonsense crazy. She asked Frog Fears, Do you think it worked?

Well, if it did, it definitely didn't go according to plan. Maybe love works differently for magic users. Maybe we should have read more paranormal romances.

That seemed like a good idea, which reminded her--Do you think Andrew needs a boyfriend?