Special thanks to seneca, for her undying encouragement, patience and general loveliness of spirit, and to Lex, for her writing, first of all, and also for her generosity, and for being my senses when she was in Ireland.
Buffy hooked her headset on and blushed a little; what would Angel think, seeing her like this? But he'd never eaten McDonald's, so he wouldn't make fun of her. What was she thinking? He wouldn't anyway. She speed-dialed Willow.
"Hey, Will," she said.
"Hey! Are you booted up?"
"Hold on," Buffy turned on her computer and took a sip of chai from a paper cup. She'd bought it at the corner coffee stand. "I'm addicted to chai, Will,"
"Gives me hives," said Willow.
"How's your thesis coming?"
"A little slow at this point. I'm vacillating,"
"Oh," grinned Buffy, "Don't worry, I won't tell anybody,"
"Are you online yet?"
"Almost. Is it pretty there?"
"Oh, it's unreal. You know that old song about how 'all the leaves are brown'?"
"Just completely untrue. They're gold and orange and red...it's incredible. I should be used to them by now but I grew up with palm trees. Still gets me,"
"OK. What are we doing?"
Buffy typed the hyperlink for the Honing Systems Corporation and sent it on the instant message window.
"I'm doing a new working model for their systems integration" said Buffy, "That's where you find the first cracks...can you help me hack into their mainframe?"
"Sure...gimme the hidden user ..."
"Yeah," Buffy typed it in and sent it, "And here's the supervisor password,"
"How easy was it?"
"Way too. These people need my help," said Buffy, "Hey, how's the tour going?"
"Oh....you know...good , I guess,"
"Are you being the whiney girlfriend?"
"I shouldn't be...if anybody's groupie-proof, it's Oz...but still..."
"I know how you feel..."
"Anyway, it looks like they're going to make Spin. Not the cover, but a feature, so he's happy. And I'm happy. How long now, for Angel?"
"Wow," Willow sighed. Then she said, "Hey, that's weird,"
"Well, the link to their systems integration program is down,"
"Doesn't mean the system's down necessarily,"
"No, but it does mean it's not being monitored..."
"Or they might be working on it. Can you get me in the back door?"
"Hold on....here it is..."
A link appeared on Buffy's screen. She clicked and waited.
"Sweet!" she cried, "What would I do without you, Will?"
"Got something good?"
Buffy giggled, "It's amazing....they spend so much on all of these systems and then skimp on integration. It's like leaving a door hanging open. Not to mention, it looks like one of their staff surfs up a lot of porn on company time,"
"Are you gonna show up with a copy of their internal network map?"
"Yup," Buffy giggled again. She sighed, "And I bet they spent sqwat on encription softwear. You know, I really should hook up with a rep from one of those companies. I could sell a small fortune in encription,"
Willow started to giggle. Willow's giggle was extreemly contagious and Buffy found herself starting to join in without a clue as to why.
"What?" said Buffy.
Willow tried to speak and then burst out again. Buffy was mystified.
"WHAT?" she asked, laughing.
"I was just having this flashback..." Willow cholked.
"Yeah," Willow caught her breath, "Of you in high school, thinking you were a little-brain,"
Buffy thought about this. "Well, I'm no big-brain, Will,"
"Bullshit," tittered Willow, "Encription softwear! If somebody had told you-"
"It's just another toy," said Buffy.
"Well, sure, you know that now," said Willow, "But I'll never forget the day you got your SAT's back. I thought you were going to pass out!"
"It was a shock," said Buffy.
"It shouldn't have been," said Willow, "But the way we teach people is all wrong. School is all about assimilating facts, which I'm good at. But there are other ways to learn. You have to engage people. Remember the first time you tried program trouble-shooting?"
"That is so easy," said Buffy.
"Not for most people," insisted Willow, "For most people learning is pretty passive. All you needed was a problem to solve, a reason to solve it, and you were slammin'. You didn't even know that program. You'd never worked a program before. Remember, you were up all night until you found the flaw?"
Buffy felt vauguely embarassed. She didn't respond.
"You have a genius for trouble-shooting. It's so cool,"
"It's NOT genius,"
"It's pretty damn close,"
"Willow, do you realize how much you're swearing lately?"
"When we're seventy I'm going to call you up and say, 'fuck' and you'll keel over and die,"
Willow was giggling helplessly.
"You are so giddy when you aren't getting any," said Buffy.
Willow's laughter gradually trailed off.
"Speaking of which," she said lightly, too lightly, "My thesis,"
Buffy frowned. "Uh-your thesis? What about it?"
"Well, I've been messing around with endorphin research,"
Buffy took a sip of chai, speaking into the cup, "Yeah?"
"Endorphins...you know...the chemicals produced by the brain after intercourse, during childbirth, occasionally in extreem pain-"
"Uh-huh," said Buffy absently, slipping a floppy disc into the drive hitting "save".
"Well, it looks like some endorphins are only produced...during intercourse,"
"Well, can I ask you something really personal?"
Buffy laughed. "Of course. There's something I didn't tell you?"
"Well, it's about you and Angel,"
"Did you guys ever-mess around before you actually, you know, DID it?"
"And did he ever-did he ever-"
"Yeah," sighed Willow, relieved.
"But he only lost his soul the night you guys went all the way,"
"I thought you knew all of this,"
"I have to be sure. You're sure?"
"Why, do you think he was faking it? I'm positive he wasn't,"
"OK..." Buffy could hear the blush in Willow's voice, "I just needed to be absolutely certain,"
"Willow, is your thesis going to be about my sex life?"
Willow was silent.
"Endorphins can be very helpful little messengers. They can tell someone to not be depressed, they can motivate positive behavior-"
"So during the Q and A part of your presentation are you going say your motivation was not to help mankind, but to 'get my friend laid'?"
"No, of course not. But I really think endorphins are the key. Happiness, that's what endorphins do, they alleviate pain, they lift the mood. There's a whole cocktail of them that gets released into the bloodstream after orgasm and the research I've done strongly suggests that there's a very specific cocktail for each situation. Intercourse is serious intimacy, it propagates the species, so it makes sense that the endorphin rush from that would be more intense than...other activities. Nature would design it that way,"
"I'm still with you, Will,"
"So...if the endorphin release can be modified, then-"
"Oh, wow," breathed Buffy, "Then happiness can be modified. You're designing a blocker, aren't you? For Angel,"
Willow paused. "Well, it could really help people to have more information on mood hormones anyway,"
"But isn't everybody different? I mean, even if Angel were human, wouldn't his brain chemistry be different, say, from mine?"
"Yes. That's where the testing would come in,"
Buffy was silent, thinking about this. She looked out the window at the row of pastel Victorian buildings, gently misted in morning fog. She finished the rest of her tea.
"Do you think he'd do it?" asked Willow.
Buffy looked at the thick letter on her desk, with the postmark reading, "Eire".
"Oh, yeah," she said.