The blonde goddess smiled softly in acknowledgement.
At the smile, Willow sprang instantly into action, ran across the room and launched herself into Tara. The thought did not cross her mind that wrapping her arms around someone who strictly speaking she was meeting for the first time may not be so, ah, appropriate.
"It's really you? You're real! You're here!" she cried.
"I'm here," Tara smiled.
Willow could feel the smile through the thin fabric of her shirt. Then she suddenly realized the proximity and intimacy of their position and let go of Tara apologetically. She stayed a hair's breath from the other girl though, not willing to relinquish their closeness.
"Oh god, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to squash you but you just walked in through my door when I thought I'd lost you forever a-a-and why did you walk through my door? I mean, I don't understand, I thought you were, were-" Willow stopped, unable to continue.
Tara looked at the face of the person she loved from afar and had waited for 3 years and tenderly traced the redhead's jawline with her fingertips. She noted the red eyes and wrinkled clothing. Looking further around her, she saw that there was no light inside the apartment. Willow must have been lying on the couch in the dark.
"Sweetie, have you been crying," she said matter-of-factly.
"No, no. I felt like I was on the verge of crying but it just won't come," Willow whispered. "I was so scared."
"You want to talk about it?" Tara asked gently.
Willow took a deep breath before she answered. "I think we need to, I have so many questions and I'm sure you do too. But first let me clean up a little, will that be ok?" Tara nodded. "Just make yourself at home, I'll be quick."
She switched on the main lights and finally took off her coat and shoes. She guided Tara toward the couch and watched the other girl sat down before rushing off to the bathroom.
She had been a Scooby long enough to know that anything was possible, so she deliberately made herself not think about why a supposedly dead blonde witch was doing in her living room, to all intents and purposes looking very alive. She was no vampire or zombie or ghost, but what else, if she was real, or from this reality, she was not sure.
When she was done she turned around and studied Tara carefully for the first time from the cover of the bathroom. The blonde was looking at one of the magazines on the coffee table and seemed familiar with the contents. She looked a little older than the photos that the Tara she corresponded with sent her through the mailbox. She did not appear to be someone who traveled through time or dimensions, dressed casually in a V-neck sweater and jeans.
She made her way to the kitchen, exchanging a smile and a nod with Tara on the way, and returned to the living room with two glasses of water. She settled down next to Tara on the couch, not touching, but maintaining a close distance.
Tara put down the magazine and suddenly they were overcome with shyness.
"So," they said together, which caused a bout of embarrassed laughter.
"You first," said Tara.
"No, you first, please," begged Willow.
Tara acquiesced and took a sip of the water.
"Where do I begin? It's been a while, you know," she sighed.
"Okay, I gotta stop you there, sorry. I need to know. Where are you from? No, what I mean is, when are you from? Cos I can't figure it out," Willow interrupted. She just told Tara to tell her story first, and now she was barging in with her own questions, how rude.
Tara did not seem to notice as she nodded in understanding. "Oh, I get it. I'm from now, I mean 2005. I got your note, the one you wrote on the Magic Shop receipt, it was almost illegible and all but I got the message, of how important it was that I went home straight after going to the gallery and avoid the bank and the Espresso Pump."
"I was distraught. I had to tell you and the paper was so small, my hands were shaking so much ..." Willow shuddered as she thought back to earlier in the day, amazingly it was still the same day.
"Something was going to happen wasn't it, something bad?" Tara wondered.
"What? Oh, of course. You couldn't have known. Um, how can I say this. I went by the gallery this morning and saw the sketches," Willow explained. "They're beautiful. Thank you by the way."
"I had a good subject," Tara reminisced.
"Anyway the gallery owner was giving me stuff to sign and he wanted my driver's license, which was all so strange, but I remember you saying you're leaving them for me so I figured they need to verify my identity or something. But then he made an off-hand remark and my world fell apart," Willow said, her speech slowing and she ended with a whimper.
"I'm almost afraid to ask," Tara whispered.
Willow was having an internal debate of what to tell Tara. She herself was still in shock, not having fully absorbed the news of Tara's shooting. And now a very much alive version was sitting on her couch. When she spoke her voice was trembling and she had difficulty getting the words out.
"You were shot. There was a bank robbery and you were walking past and one of the bullets, god. It was so senseless."
Tara's heart skipped a couple of beats when she heard Willow's words and she felt weak, she was glad she was sitting, otherwise she was certain her legs would have buckled under the shock.
"S-s-shot?" she echoed.
"Straight through your heart. You didn't make it," Willow sobbed.
Oh my god.
Tears were streaming uncontrollably down Willow's face now, it was the first she allowed her emotions to wash over her, her sobs and cries shivering through her frail frame.
Tara was also weeping, and she melted when she saw how distressed the redhead was. Instinctively she reached out and enveloped the smaller girl in her arms, holding her tight.
Minutes passed. Time stopped. The only sounds were of cries, from whom? It did not matter, the sounds punctuated the stillness of Willow's living room. Both girls reeling from the emotional bomb that mercilessly exploded within them.
"I'm making your sweater all damp," eventually Willow's tears subsided and she returned to some semblance of sanity.
"That's alright, I don't mind," Tara said softly, her hands starting to stroke Willow's back in comforting large circles. Willow reacted by leaning closer, almost forcing Tara to lean back further into the couch.
"I guess you got my note, huh," Willow said, after a while, finally what Tara said earlier had sunk in.
"I was just about to head out and after my last letter I didn't expect anything, but it was a habit ..." Tara said.
"I have to say this, I thank the gods and goddesses for your force of habit," Willow rejoiced. Then she looked up and their eyes met. She could see the sparks behind the deep blue flare up and felt the same sparks tingling across her skin.
She shifted up further, her body sliding up Tara's, their faces pulling closer.
Tara moved her head a little lower, approaching Willow's. Then for a fraction of a second, she hesitated.
But Willow was already there and their lips met in a slow, soft caress.
There was still a lot to talk about, but for now, it was time for another sort of bond to form.