"Do you still have it?"
"The Magic Shop receipt, that for once I'm so grateful to Anya for insisting that we pay for everything that I can kiss her."
"You'll do nothing of the kind."
"Kissing Anya. Kissage is reserved for me only."
"Really? Already? It's been, like, all of 10 minutes and you're claiming ownership."
They were still on the couch but the mood had changed so dramatically. Questions and doubts about what happened that brought Tara here were put aside as they relished in the glow of their newly forged, physical, connection.
"So what about that receipt," Willow smirked as she broke off contact for a second.
Tara was not yet ready to relinquish the feel of Willow on her lips and kissed the redhead again before popping their mouths apart. She reached into her messenger bag and retrieved a small laminated sheet containing the piece of paper in question. The paper was crumpled, a little torn at the edges and the writing had begun to fade. However the laminated plastic sheets had prevented further deterioration.
"I carried it with me for a long time, didn't want to let it out of my sight, at first in an envelope, but when it started fraying, I had it laminated," Tara explained as she handed the sheet to Willow.
"You know when I was in the cab after I wrote it I was holding onto it like my entire life depended on it. And it was. It's amazing, this morning it was all brand new and unmarked in my pocket and now, it's aged," Willow mused. "You never told me your side of the story."
Tara murmured sultrily, "Hmmm. I got distracted."
"You did," Willow agreed. And distracted Tara for a few more minutes.
A growl in Willow's stomach a few make-out sessions later announced her hunger, she realized she had not eaten anything since breakfast.
The clock told them it was nearly 8 o'clock and they debated whether to go out for dinner or stay in. Finally breaking away from more kisses they concluded that they would get very little actual eating of food if they stayed in. So they put on their coats, packed stakes and crosses, and ventured out.
Willow locked her door carefully and put her hand in Tara's automatically.
So there they were, at a secluded corner table in a diner not far from the apartment, once again tongue tied.
What sort of small talk do you make when there's so much to talk about.
Willow ordered grilled chicken, fries and a large chocolate milkshake. Tara opted for vegetarian lasagna and coffee. Their eyes caught again.
"So you got the note, then what?" Willow prompted.
"Let me see. It was clear that it was something very urgent and important, that made you write me in such haste. I even thought of going back inside and not venturing out all day," Tara began slowly.
"That could have been one option," Willow said.
"But I had the appointment at the gallery, and you note said that I should go home after the gallery, not skip it altogether. Now, with hindsight, I had to go to the gallery, cos I had to deposit the sketches, otherwise you wouldn't have been talking to the owner and not gotten to know about, about ... the news," Tara's teeth clenched as she thought about what might have been. She had not been able to utter the words of her "death" yet.
"Can't argue with that," Willow agreed, a shiver running through her, of a thousand what-if's.
"I took a bus home straight away, I avoided all parts of the main street, like you said," she said.
The waitress came by with their order and they ate ravenously, leaving conversation aside for a while. Willow was so hungry she finished her chicken and fries quickly and was picking at Tara's lasagna. She even slurped away her milkshake and ordered another soda from the waitress, having decided against coffee.
When the waitress came by to clear the dishes, she found 2 very full but happier witches.
Willow asked Tara the question that had been drifting in and out of her mind since Tara walked in through her door.
"Tara, how come you're here? I mean how come you know to come knock on my door now, today? As opposed to that time I asked you to come to the Espresso Pump and you didn't show up? Not that I'm not ecstatic that you're here, but why is it now the right time?"
Tara composed herself before responding. "I think I know, I've had time to think about it. But let me go back to 3 years ago when I picked up your note and went home after the gallery. I was still a little puzzled, but I wrote you a short letter to say I got the note and to say I was okay."
"Thanks," said Willow.
"But it came back, or rather, it never reached you. I opened the mailbox the next day, expecting a reply from you and my letter was still there," Tara recounted.
Willow frowned, a germ of an inkling grew silently in her mind.
Tara continued, "I wrote you letter after letter, but they never got anywhere. I was frantic. Totally hysterical at one point. I simply could not reach you, it was like all contact was gone," she gulped, slow tears coming to her eyes as she recalled her distress.
Willow reached over and took Tara's hands in hers.
"Shh, shh, it's alright. You're here now," she comforted.
"I know. But it was hard. I don't know how I managed to get through those first few weeks," Tara sighed.
"What changed?" Willow asked.
"I could think of nothing else. Nothing made sense. I let myself slip, didn't sleep properly, didn't paint, didn't take care of myself," she described in a small voice. "Then I got sick. Really sick."
"Oh baby," Willow sympathesized. Terms of endearment came so naturally that she did not realize it.
"Which was probably the best thing that could have happened to me then," Tara said. "I had a fever and was kinda out of it for a couple of days. But in my delirium I think I came up with the reason. I figured something bad had happened to prompt you to warn me so urgently, and we," she smiled warmly at Willow, "together, we avoided it."
Willow grinned widely at the "we" and took both Tara's hands and kissed the long fingers. A warm feeling spread from the contact into Tara's arms, body, and back out in a cycle to Willow. It was a slow burning sensation that left an ache in both women, wanting more.
Tara returned to her story, "I guess I realized then that somehow we changed history. And by doing that the power of the mailbox was gone, stripped. The crinkle of time had either corrected itself or become untangled again. Believe me, I was torn at that point. On the one hand I was happy because we'd avoided something bad, though I didn't know what it was. But on the other hand I was grief-strickened, cos it meant no more contact with you. For a while I thought I'd lost you forever."
"But you found me," Willow said.
"I found you," Tara repeated. "I'll always find you."
They gazed at each other for a long moment. Then Willow leaned across the table to give Tara a kiss, momentarily satisfying their need for each other.
"I took out all your letters and for the next few days, wrote down everything that will happen to us, with dates and as much detail as I could remember. I did a big brain dump basically. I was hoping the events in our timeline wouldn't be altered that much. And then I realized I had 3 years to wait," Tara said.
"So the first time I wrote you, when I moved apartments?" asked Willow.
"I almost went to see you, but it was too risky. I did go by your new apartment the day after to check the name on the door though," Tara grinned.
"Is that why you didn't meet me at the Espresso Pump?" Willow pouted.
"It sounds convoluted, the reason I didn't meet you was because I knew beforehand I'd stand you up. But it was so tempting, so tempting," Tara said as she brought her hands to Willow's cheeks. "It was like a watershed, I had to almost physically restrain myself, make myself stay indoors all day, cos if I'd been anywhere in the vicinity, I wouldn't have been able to stop myself from running to your side and throwing myself at you."
Willow smiled at the imagery and allowed Tara's hands to cup her face. She turned to one side and kissed the blonde's palm.
Tara continued, "If I'd done that, the timeline would have been screwed up. I knew what was going to happen December 12th, 2004. And bits and pieces of what happened afterward. The only date with a question mark was today, and I knew it's gonna be a Big Day. I did a lot of meditation over the next few years and it came to me gradually. I had to come. It was the right time."
"I'm so glad you did," tears were rolling freely down Willow's face now, but these were tears of happiness. Tara wiped them away carefully.
"So here I am," she declared.
"So here you are," Willow echoed. "Promise me you'll never leave me again?"
"Never," Tara promised solemnly.
They sealed the promise with another kiss. This time it deepened in passion and when Tara opened her mouth, Willow wasted no time in letting her tongue roam freely inside, leisurely exploring, tasting, reveling.
They broke off, breathless and flushed.
"We should-" Willow began.
"-get the check," Tara finished the sentence.
They walked back to the apartment, hands entwined, bodies as close together as possible without tripping over another.
"There's so much you need to tell me about what you've been doing these 3 years," Willow said.
"Lots. But can it wait, I'd really like to get back to your place now," Tara whispered in the sexy, evocative tone that Willow would learn to appreciate so well.
"Okay, but I have one last question," Willow breathed.
"You still want to do that druid oil anointing spell?"