"I'm sorry I'm late, did I make you wait?" Tara said as she took off her thin jacket and threw it over the seatback before settling into the elegant high-backed chair.
Willow smiled warmly. "No, of course not. Besides I have your book to keep me company," she replied, putting a bookmark into a thin paperback she was reading.
"Um, these are for you," Tara said shyly as she gave Willow a beautiful bunch of roses that took her breath away.
"Oh Baby, you didn't have to," Willow sighed as she smelled the scent of the flowers. "These are lovely, thank you.'
They were in public, at a restaurant, but still she leant over to capture Tara's lips in hers. Less than 48 hours ago her heart almost stopped when she learnt the news that the woman she loved, but never met, was lost to her. She remembered her own desperate journey to the fateful spot that would change her life forever. She was never letting Tara go, she would show the world how much she loved this woman, so what if the waiters were sniggering.
Tara returned her kiss, then smiled. "Well I did say I want to do this properly. Dates usually start with the giving of flowers, and I must say you're doing really well, cos it is usually followed by a kiss of thanks."
"I still think we're doing everything backward," Willow said. "Or at least in the wrong order. People usually go on dates first, then get to know the other, only then comes the kissing and the making love."
"Are you unhappy about the date, or the kissing, or the making love?" Tara asked pointedly.
"Oh no! I don't mean it that way, just ... well, it's just ... the timing of those (very enjoyable I must add) events is, well, you know, all squiggly-wiggly," Willow back-pedaled.
"Sweetie, everything about how we got together is unusual, but no less remarkable. And if you're going to start quibbling about the time element, might I remind you that you personally changed the history of time by yours--" Tara's voice hitched and her face turned from jovial to morbid as she recalled the reason. It was still a difficult subject for her to consider, let alone accept. She let out an involuntary whimper.
"Baby, it's alright, don't think about it. You're here, we're here, and you'll have me for always," Willow soothed.
Tara fought back a torrent of tears. "I was going to crack a joke about little I care about the exact order of events when the alternative is being d-d-dead. But it's not a very funny joke," her laugh was empty. The reality of her "death" was still too raw.
"May be in a few decades' time we'll find it funny," Willow said, and they shared a small smile.
"Willow, I mean it, I want to go for long walks on the beach, have picnics in the park and giggle our way through movie nights. I want us to have all the things people do when they fall in love, even though we've done that already," Tara said as she reached out for Willow's hands.
Willow could only answer with a stupid but satisfied grin.
The hovering waiter cleared his throat to attract their attention. They made their meal orders and turned their attention back to what was more important, each other.
"So, why is my book full of post-it notes?" Tara started.
Willow nervously fingered the book, fixing her eyes on the circular pattern of pens and lone flower on the dog-eared cover. "Erm, I was reading it, and I found so many passages that appeal to me, I want to go back and copy them down so I remember. I, well, this is the first time I've read poetry, really tried to read into them, cos of being a science major and not needing it to pass my courses. And it's amazing," Willow gushed.
"I bought this book in New York, on my way to Europe. For almost a year, I picked one or two poems to read every night," Tara reminisced with a faraway look in her eyes. To remind myself.
"I never realized how many ways there are to express love and passion, especially in those obscure times, and how they had to use ambiguous ways to say something simple," Willow said admiringly.
"Show me," Tara said.
Willow flipped to one of the many marked pages. "There are so many, but this one reminds me of, um, last night," she said with a blush.
"Read it to me," Tara whispered.
Willow swallowed, and read in what she thought would be an appropriate poetry reading voice.
"When you came, you were like red wine and honey,
Tara's heart was beating extra fast at the sound of Willow's voice. It didn't matter that the redhead stumbled over some of the words, the meaning of the poem painted a picture in her mind of their lovemaking the night before.
"Amy Lowell, poetry's equivalent to Monet, or so some say," Tara said. "The editor of that book must have liked her a lot, she included many of Amy's poems."
"What's your favorite?" asked Willow, handing Tara the book.
Tara opened the book immediately to a page she knew so well. "It's just one stanza, but it means so much to me."
"I count the days until I see you, dear,
Tears welled up in her eyes as she recalled how lonely and desperate she was during the years without Willow, knowing she could not establish contact yet, knowing that she had to go away, to protect her love and herself.
"Hey, no need to wait any more. No more counting of days, okay?" Willow gently wiped the tears away and gave Tara another kiss.
Tara took Willow's hand in hers and brought it to her still damp cheeks. "Thank you," she said. "Thank you for saving my life. Without you, I wouldn't be here, I don't know how I can even begin to pay that debt back to you."
"Love me. Be with me. It's that simple," Willow said.
"Yes." It was that simple.
"Oh!" Willow suddenly exclaimed. "I have to show you this one, it describes our situation perfectly. Let me find it." She took the book and furiously flipped through the marked pages, eventually emerging triumphant.
"No one's fated or doomed to love anyone.
"See? An accident, a freak of the time-space continuum, brought us together. It's all that mailbox, in a building we move into and come to love. It fits," she was literally bouncing up and down with excitement. "And written by someone I've actually met."
"You've met Adrienne Rich?" Tara asked, her eyes as large as saucers.
"Um, well, me and 300 other people. She came to UCS for a lecture and even kids from Sunnydale High were invited. Buffy and I went cos she thought there were vampires at UCS and she wanted to patrol afterwards," Willow explained.
Tara was about to make a funny remark about fresh blood (which, again, not funny, she thought to herself) when the waiter returned with their food. They even ordered a glass of wine each, to celebrate their date.
Conversation during lunch turned to less intense topics as they told the other more about themselves and learnt a great deal about each other. Small, but essential, matters such as favorite ice cream, shoe size and name of 7th grade English teacher. It was what people did on dates, even those who were already in love.
They had one stop to make after lunch and they decided to walk there, to savor the afternoon sun. And to establish the "walking on the streets together" part of their relationship.
How perfectly it felt, with their fingers entwined. Every so often one would turn to the other and ask for a kiss, a request that would always be granted. It was fulfillment.
It was during one particularly lengthy kissing session when a loud honk from a nearby vehicle jolted them out of the world they were creating.
"Willow?" Willow turned towards the questioner and realized it was Buffy calling to her from her Jeep. Reluctantly she disengaged herself from Tara's embrace, though keeping their hands together.
"Hey Buff," she waved to Buffy as she and Tara walked over to the Jeep, now parked at the side of the road.
"Did I see you doing what I thought you were doing?" Buffy asked.
Both witches felt the onslaught of embarrassed blushes. "Um, hey! This is Tara, Tara, this is Buffy," Willow introduced. When in doubt, avoid the question.
"Tara? As in inter-dimensional alternate time Tara? What's the sitch, Will?" Buffy asked, puzzled. "Oh, sorry Tara, it's nice to meet you."
Tara smiled. "Nice to meet you too Buffy, I've heard so much about you." We've met too, but you won't remember.
"No, no, this is our Tara. I mean, Tara from our time," Willow tried to explain.
"I thought you were mailing love letters to a Tara from 3 years ago, are you cheating on her ... with her?" Buffy teased.
"No! No cheating of any kind. It's a little involved and complicated and I'll tell you later okay?" Willow rushed. "Right now we're on a date and we have plans. I'll call you later and fill you in."
"Anyone with eyes this side of the road can see you're on a date," Buffy laughed evilly, recalling the very intense liplock she witnessed from her car. "At this rate you'll be crawling into each other's skins and giving each other so many orgasms you won't remember my number."
The look of shock on both witches hit Buffy squarely in the eye. "Buffy!" they said together.
Buffy had the decency to look utterly embarrassed. "And that was incredibly insensitive of me, sorry, I was having an Anya moment. Has Willow told you about Anya yet?"
"She described her, but I've yet to experience her," Tara replied.
"Oh, well, consider my boo-boo as a taste of what's to come," Buffy grinned. She was liking Willow's new -- friend? girlfriend? --; wow, how did Willow get a girlfriend this quickly? And girlfriend?
They bade each other goodbye, with the promise of phone calls, mocha binges and, in Willow's case, a promise to take Tara to the Bronze to meet everyone.
The new lovers were left alone again.
A short while later they buzzed the bell labeled 'Caretaker' and were greeted by the loud wail of a child, clearly in the throes of a tantrum. The front door opened to reveal an irritated man in his thirties, holding a spoon in one hand and a cartoon bowl in the other. His face instantly turned to joy when he saw who his visitors were.
"Willow! And ... Tara. Tara! My goodness it's been a long time," he laughed and gave both girls a big hug. "Becky! Look who's here! Come in, come in. Sorry, the place is a little messy, you can't help it with the little one."
"Thanks Paul," Tara said as they followed him into the caretaker's quarters, a place they both knew so well. She was about to ask about Becky and their daughter when with a loud squeal she was enveloped in a bear-like embrace from Becky.
"Tara! What are you doing back here? You know, we were so worried, when you left, and you didn't keep in touch," Becky admonished.
"I'm sorry Becky, it's been busy, and a little surreal, the last few years. But I'm back now."
"So what brings you back? And I didn't know you know Willow?"
And so they explained why they were there, and over cups of coffee and much laughter, caught up with their old friends.
A couple of hours and a few phone calls later, they hugged Paul and Becky goodbye, and made their way down the path towards the front gate.
"When do you want to move in?" Willow asked.
"The sooner the better. I like that larger apartment, don't you?" Tara said.
"I knew when I first saw this place, this was it, I can't believe I ever wanted to move away," Willow said.
"Fate. If you didn't move out, you wouldn't have written me that first letter," Tara's eyes grew misty at the thought of that first, tenuous, strange connection.
They laughed. It was good to laugh. They had all the time in the world to be together now. After all, it was time that brought them together.