Disclaimer: This story is inspired by and adapted from a Korean film called Il Mare. The story premise, of 2 people who connect across time, belongs to Lee Hyun-Seung, although I have deviated from the story somewhat. BtVS characters belong to Mutant Enemy, Fox, The WB, UPN and others. I own nothing. I am nothing.
Distribution: The Mystic Muse http://mysticmuse.net
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Feedback: Yes please!
Author's Note: As with other time travel stories there is the eternal paradox that if one travels in time, in whichever direction, the course of history is inevitably changed therefore one can never return to one's original timeline to being the journey in the first place. It gives me a headache just thinking about it so I'll do my best to work around it.
Webhost's Note: Special thanks goes to Chris Cook of Through the Looking Glass, MKF and Artemis for the graphics, wallpapers and source coding. Thanks, Chris!
Summary: Willow and Tara find each other through time.
"Have we got everything?" Xander asked, struggling with a cardboard box he was sure was filled with the heaviest tomes imaginable, said box of course neatly marked 'Books study'. He grimaced at Buffy, equally struggling with similar boxes.
"Think so but let me go check again, ok?" Willow shouted as she ran down the stairs.
"Will-", Xander called out to the disappearing redhead, to no avail.
"I know, she's only checked everything 3 times," Buffy smirked. "Come on, let's just get the stuff into the van."
Willow looked around the small studio apartment, checking inside all the cupboards, the fridge and even behind the drapes. The apartment looked bigger now that all the furniture had been removed, the only remaining item was the cat basket with the cat sleeping soundly inside. She picked up the basket, gazed at the apple tree in the garden one last time, sighed a little sadly and closed the door behind her.
On the way out, she deposited the keys in the caretaker's box and an envelope written in her neat handwriting into her now former letterbox.
Buffy and Xander were leaning by the rental van, drinking water out of the bottles taken from Willow's fridge and furiously trying to keep cool. Dawn was skipping around, checking on the arrangements of the boxes in the van.
"Dawnster, please stop being so energetic, my eyeballs are getting tired watching you run around," Xander complained.
"Hey I have to make sure the boxes are loaded correctly," the teenager retorted good-naturedly.
"Yeah sure, and making sure you do as little heavy lifting as possible, I see through your evil scheme," Buffy interjected.
"Alright, everything's done. Time to go," Willow said as she joined her friends. "And guys, I really appreciate you coming by and helping out."
Amidst the "no problem's" the gang got into the van, Xander driving with Willow riding shotgun. The Summers sisters sat behind them.
"I can't believe you're moving out, we had some nice times here didn't we," Buffy reminisced as she adjusted her seatbelt. "Picnics in the garden, Scarr demon attack, not to mention plumbing adventures in the basement."
"Yeah I'll miss it too, but it's a little out of the way, you know, for work. Especially now I need to go into the office and show my face a lot more," Willow replied glumly.
"Oh the pitfalls of being a corporate bigwig, you have my utmost sympathies, not," Buffy said. "I wish I could afford to move into my own apartment as soon as I get my first job, then after just a year get a big promotion and move into an even bigger apartment."
"Buff, your house is bigger than both my apartments put together, why are you complaining? 'Sides you get good money running your classes," Willow grinned.
"But you don't have to share your income with an ex-vengeance demon who is a chronic penny pincher," Buffy replied back.
"Alright, this is where I step in, no talking bad about my wife, ok?" Xander interrupted the ribbing between his two best friends. "Will, lead the way to your new place."
Willow took a last look at the white stucco building, her home for the last year, and internally waved it goodbye.
Tara parked her car outside the brand new white building and smiled, a mixture of relief and trepidation. She was truly on her own two feet now.
She knocked at the door marked 'Caretaker' and at the muffled "Come in!" shouted from the other side, pushed open the door and entered the small office.
"Oh hi there, you moving in?" asked the small wiry man putting the finishing touches on several stainless steel letterboxes on his workbench.
"Yes, I'm in the basement apartment," she replied.
"Right, Miss-" he consulted a clipboard on the wall. "Maclay is it? You mind giving me your driver's license for verification?"
"Sure." She fished her license out and passed it to him.
"That's fine, here's your keys. I see you've already paid your deposit for them. Well, welcome," he smiled. "Do you need any help unloading?"
"N-n-no, thanks. I don't have a lot. I haven't bought a lot of my furniture yet, have to ration my paycheck," she smiled back as she collected the keys.
"I know the feeling. My wife's expecting our first and we're already seeing a big hike in our expenses," he said.
"Oh, congratulations. When's she due?" she asked politely.
"January. Hopefully the construction work on the street would have finished by then, don't want all that dust with a baby around," he replied.
"Well, don't let me disturb you any further, er-" she nodded toward the boxes he was working on.
"Oh God, where are my manners. I'm Paul," he said. "Yeah, I'll have these boxes put up by the morning. Can't have a new building without mailboxes right. Don't worry, you won't miss any mail."
"That's fine, I'm not expecting anything. Thanks again," she said as she bade her leave.
Over the next few days she heard other tenants gradually moving in as she settled in herself.
The first thing she did was to bless and protect her new home. She took 3 twigs of uncut rowan branches collected from a sacred circle in Scotland and tied them together using a red ribbon. She touched the talisman first to her forehead, then to her heart, then she kissed it. She carried it to all the rooms and repeated the blessing. Finally she walked backward through her front door and secured the branches above her door. To complete the spell she boiled water to make a cup of tea, swept thoroughly with a broom and burnt a scented candle at the center of the apartment for 3 days.
The next task she set herself was to set up her studio. Her drafting table and architect's chair were placed near the window on white sheets liberally splattered with dried paint, her adapted kitchen trolley that acted as storage unit placed next to the table, frames, canvases, brushes neatly in place.
She hung up a few paintings, the rest she stacked against the far wall.
Her only other furniture consisted of an inflatable mattress and a couple of rickety wooden shelf units. These took no time to assemble and then she was done.
She stepped back and looked around the studio apartment. She needed a table, some chairs, an armchair and may be more shelves. These would have to wait, but as the sun shone into her private sanctuary she could not prevent tears of happiness from forming, and she smiled the smile of the finally free.
"Home. My home."
She came back from grocery shopping with more food than was on her shopping list, it was never a good idea to shop on an empty stomach, she thought to herself.
She was trying to balance all the various bags in her arms and opening her letterbox to retrieve her mail. True to his promise Paul had put them up immediately but all she tended to get were circulars and bills.
She absentmindedly scattered the envelopes on her table when she went back to her apartment. The next hour or so was spent unpacking the groceries and making herself a late lunch.
As expected there was nothing interesting in her mail, until she came to a cream-colored envelope that was not stamped. It was addressed to "The Next Tenant at the Basement Apartment" in neat capitol letters and held a typed letter inside.
Dear Next Tenant,
First please allow me to apologize for addressing you this way, but I have no idea who you (in the singular and/or plural sense) might be, and New Incoming Tenant sounds too much like a rocket missile.
I am the tenant in the basement apartment before you. I am waiting for an important letter, and although I've redirected my mail at the post office they might miss it and still deliver it. If you do get any mail for me that looks kind of personal and is from New York, could you please forward to my new address below, I'll gladly pay for any postage incurred.
1778 Cedar Drive, Apt 4B
I hope you enjoy your stay, the apartment is great, especially in the summer when you can sit under the apple tree. The tree is as old as the building and according to a gardening website I found, an average apple tree will bear fruit after 3 years, so you should start seeing some fruit soon.
Again my thanks.
Willow Rosenberg (signed)
p.s. the plumbing isn't as bad as everybody will lead you to believe, just hit the washing machine gently at the side and it works like a charm. Also, the paw prints at the kitchen windowsill were already there when I moved in, I never got round to painting over them, you'll get used to them after a while.
Tara did not remember any paw prints on the kitchen windowsill and was a bit surprised at the mention of an apple tree. The construction crew had only just cleared the garden and she was contemplating what she wanted to plant, she had thought about apple trees and may be some rose bushes.
She glanced at the letter again and did a double-take when she noticed the date.
August 25th, 2004.
I'm afraid that your letter has reached the wrong address. This is Apt A, 225 Sherwood Place.
This is a brand new building and I am the first occupier, the garden is bare and the windowsills are in pristine condition, so you couldn't have been the tenant before me. If you can give me your former address I will drop your letter there.
Nonetheless I will look out for any mail addressed to you, just in case. A letter that is important enough for anyone to leave a specific note is worth the attention.
Tara Maclay (signed)
p.s. I hope that the date on your letter is a typo, and you're not really in 2004. I can see why, because "4" is just above "1" on the keyboard and it's easy to type it wrong, I do it all the time.
I really did live at Apt A, 225 Sherwood Place. And I can assure you I am firmly in 2004, are you saying you think you are in 2001? I hope this is not some sort of a prank, not by you, because you sound super nice.
Whatever seems to be happening, could you please look out for my letter? Many thanks.
With best wishes,
Really. I'm in 2001. 9/11 just happened and I'm still reeling from the shock. Not sure if I have the energy to play a prank. I'm sorry but it's been a difficult few weeks for me. I'll still look out for your letter, but somehow I doubt I will see it.
I'm so sorry. It seemed that when it happened, everyone knew someone who lost a friend or loved one in the attacks. It's as clear to me now as it was then.
If I'm reading your letter correctly, you live at the same address as I did but timeline-wise you're in 2001. To say it's interesting is the understatement of the year (whichever it may be). I can actually prove to you I'm in 2004 with newspaper cuttings, but that would not be a good idea if you are in 2001 for you to know what will happen in the future brings the risk of history changing.
If we are somehow connected across time, I'd like to find out a little more, since dimensional holes like this usually come with complications.
I hope I'm not scaring you, or sounding like big knowledge woman on inter-dimensional travels or such like. My friends and I have a little experience on usual phenomenon, so if you can trust me to do some research and get to the bottom of this. Naturally I'll keep you in the loop.
With best wishes,
This is my 5th attempt at putting pen to paper, I hope this one's more coherent and legible. I did get your letter and to be honest, I haven't been able to sleep or think about anything else since. I have so many questions but now I can't quite articulate them. May be you can do the research and I'll help if I can.
I do trust you, even if it's only after a few letters. Call it a woman's intuition. Are you and your friends into X-files type investigations? For some reason I picture you with a dog called Scooby- Doo going around busting up bad guys who dress up as ghosts or monsters, how crazy is that?
Willow was in deep contemplation and distractedly twirling a rainbow pencil around her fingers. Her laptop was open and running through a series of searches she had just initiated. In her other hand she held Tara's letters carefully, having taken them out of the protective folder she kept them in.
"Hey Will, isn't that taking different colored pens to a whole new level?" Buffy joked as she joined the redhead at the research table, towel round her neck from an hour's training at the back of the Magic Shop.
"Huh? Oh, this pencil? You'll never believe it, it's from Tara," Willow replied, holding up the multi-colored pencil for Buffy to see.
"Your penpal from the past sent you a 3 year old pencil? How? What? How?" Xander asked.
"Three excellent questions," Buffy interjected.
"We were doing some experiments, trying out the portal," Willow explained.
Is that what we are calling it now, a portal? Tara had written.
Magic letterbox sounds like a children's program, and we don't know how much of it is magic. What I'd like to do is to see what else is possible, Willow wrote back.
Willow, in true junior scientist mode, came up with a list of possible means of communication and scheduled daily experiments. She sent faxes, SMS, emails, IMs, even left text files on shared web folders, but none of those worked. The only method that worked was a buried box with a message from Tara, which of course would have worked under normal circumstances anyway, but Willow could not send anything back. They concluded that it was the letterbox that was the key.
They tried opening it together at a pre-arranged time. One time Tara even sat up all night watching it for clues. Another night Willow snucked back to her former home and removed the box, whispering a quiet apology to its current owner. But after a whole day of prodding and half a dozen reveal spells, she was none the wiser, the box just would not give up its secrets, silently sitting there impassively on her desk mocking her.
She returned it to its original position the next night.
Correspondence with Tara continued throughout. Sometimes long, heartfelt letters, sometimes just short notes. Both finding it easy, ridiculously easy, to open up to each other and talk freely.
Tara told Willow about her childhood, of farms and horses (yikes, no thanks, the further I stay from those arm-biting beasts the better, wrote Willow), of the joys of a good harvest and the hardship that followed a bad one, of a child's unconditional love for her mother, and of a teenager's despair at watching her mother slowly fade away with illness.
She was ill for a long while, it was hard to watch her just get weaker and weaker. I wasn't myself for a long time. There were things, thoughts and reactions I couldn't understand or even try to explain to anyone else. Thoughts that made me feel like I was losing it or I was some kind of horrible person.
Was it sudden?
No. And yes. It's always sudden.
Do you miss her a lot? Of course you do, I'm a dummy.
I miss her everyday. There is so much I want to do with her, to tell her. I want to tell her about coming to Sunnydale, about my paintings. And most of all I want to tell her about you.
I hope she's nothing like my Mom. She's never home, she travels around the world giving seminars on parenting but she never parents me. In the last 7 years we had may be 2 conversations that lasted more than 10 sentences. First time she ended up trying to burn me at the stake and the second time she threatened to disown me because I wanted to stay at Sunnydale for college.
Isn't that a good thing?
It should be. But I turned down so many other places, I think they were disappointed that I'd set my sights so low.
Where else could you have gone?
Oh well, anywhere. You know, Harvard, Oxford.
Wow. I can see your Mom's point, not that I agree on her approach, but why UC Sunnydale? You didn't want to leave home?
And so Willow told Tara about the hellmouth and fighting demons and vampires. She told of coming first in class every year, of being ostracized and bullied every day until Buffy came along. Then of the feeling of belonging, of no longer hanging on the margin, eventually discovery of her own power.
She expected shock and denial, instead she got a reply she was not looking for.
I felt it, the evil, as soon as I entered the city limits. I didn't realize it's as bad as a hellmouth.
You felt it? How? Aren't you afraid?
I, well, my Mom, she taught me about magick since I was small. Dad never liked us practicing, that's one of the reasons I left. But I'm here now and I don't intend to go back. I avoid dark alleys and I did a protection spell around my home.
Oh my god. You're a witch. I can't believe it, I've been looking and looking for another witch and when I meet one it's through a temporal fold.
Did you say another witch?
Yes. Yes. If you can see me I'm doing the dance of the happy little toaster, even though I'm normally a spaz on the dance floor. Promise me one thing, never invite anyone into your home unless you've felt their pulse or seen them in sunlight, ok?
I promise. Vampires not welcome at Casa Maclay.
I'm serious. Vampires are evil and nasty. And have the worst bad breath, it must be all the blood.
Are you saying you've been close enough to vampires to smell their breath? Willow.
I was bitten by a vampire once. Obviously I'm okay now, but I have a mark.
Did it hurt? God it must have hurt. How did it feel? How did you get away?
It was Harmony, whom I've known since grade school, she was Turned on graduation day. I knew her, that's why my guard was down, the band was loading their equipment but luckily Oz came back to look for me and he scared her off.
You've mentioned Buffy, Xander, Dawn, Anya, Giles. But not Oz, is he one of your Scooby gang?
Oz. Well, kinda. He's my boyfriend. Or ex-boyfriend. Or something. He's the letter I'm waiting for. I don't want to talk about him, do you mind?
Tara's heart fell at Willow's mention of a boyfriend. It was not a huge surprise, she had a good idea what was happening to her, every time a letter or gift arrived from her friend she was in 7th heaven. Willow was funny, generous, warm and elicited all sorts of happy fuzzy feelings inside Tara. Feelings that might easily lead to something more intense, if not for the impossibility of their situation.
Tara sighed and put the letter away carefully in her drawer. She had never felt so elated but yet so utterly powerless.
Willow took a deep breath and picked up the phone. She dialed the number slowly, hesitating at the last digit before punching it in just as she was in danger of getting cut off.
She counted the rings, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. She wondered if there was an answer machine.
At the thirteenth ring, unlucky thirteen, it was picked up.
Buffy had been through countless apocalypses, she had died, gone to heaven and returned, she had false memories implanted in her brain, and lost her beloved mother. Half the men she had slept with in her life had no heartbeat, one of whom she had to kill in order to save the world.
To say she had been through hell and back was not a metaphorical expression, it was a fact.
She ran her own business now, holding self defense and fitness classes in the converted space behind the Magic Shop. She graduated from college a year later than originally intended, but she was the probably first slayer to do so, she remembered Giles' proud tears at her graduation. She was fit, content in her own skin and in control of her life, there were very few demons she was not able to handle.
So she was surprised to find herself totally helpless as she watched her best friend relentlessly attacked by the omnipotent heartbreak demon. It was after patrol, she was perched on top of a gravestone while Willow was slumped with her back to another one.
"Six, seven years. Does none of it mean anything to him?" Willow choked, no longer bothering to wipe away the tears. "Granted, the last 3 was more a long distance thing, but after what we went through, with the Mayor and the Initiative?"
"May be she was just a visitor? Electrician? Yoga instructor?" Buffy was grasping at straws but she'd run out of options to comfort the redhead.
Willow shot Buffy a desperate look. "No, I heard him call out to her and I know the tone of his voice. It was intimate. I mean, it was 11 o'clock at night, a woman answered his phone and, and I don't think she's his yoga instructor, Buffy," she whimpered as her whole body shook with sadness again.
"There may be a reasonable explanation, Will. It's Oz, he wouldn't cheat on you."
"That's what I thought too, but look at the evidence. He never calls me. I leave messages. I write emails, letters, I get nothing back. When, if I manage to reach him and he says everything's fine but I was too dumb to recognize how distant he sounded. Like he was being all avoidy. I should have suspected, that jerk."
"I'm calling Angel to see if he's got any contacts in New York, dig around to see what he's up to. And if they find out it's what you think, they can break his door down and, and, I don't know, do you want him beaten to a pulp?"
"I don't want anything, I just want to understand," Willow wailed. "Why does it hurt so much? Does it have to hurt so much?"
Buffy moved from her sitting position to hold Willow close and gently stroked her head, offering what friendship she could, words could not comfort the distraught redhead tonight.
Willow's sobs slowly subsided, and she gradually regained some of her composure.
"I can't sleep, I'm up all night thinking back, running through scenarios, trying to pinpoint at which point I lost him. Was it before or after he decided to go to New York? Was he already unhappy with me before he left?" she asked, not expecting an answer.
"Sometimes it's better not to dwell on these things, Will. Dwelling leads to festering which leads to rotting, and we all know that's not of the good," Buffy pointed out.
"It's hard not to think about all the what-if's and if only's. If only I'd opened my eyes more, if only I would have gone with him," Willow sighed. "I'd make a wish to go back and try to make things right, if I wasn't so afraid Anya'd put Halfrek on the case and add one of their little twists."
"Will, you shouldn't think about it so much, there's not a lot you can do by thinking about the past. Plus no wishing," Buffy said.
Willow was silent, a thought suddenly clicked in her head. She thought about it more, frowned a little, then put on her resolve face.
"Yeah, no wishing, no spells either. I feel like I should be doing something, anything, but I don't know what I want to do yet," she sighed as she stood up. "But right now, we should head home, it's getting a little cold. Thanks for being here, Buff."
"You know I'll always be here for you, anything I can do," Buffy replied. "Let me walk you home."
Willow lit some lavender scented candles and did a series of cleansing breaths. It had been a tumultuous few days, and she was still reeling from the discovery that Oz was very likely cheating on her.
Her friends had been super supportive but she felt uncomfortable unburdening all her emotions onto them. Anya, predictably, offered to get D'Hoffryn involved, Xander looked like he was ready to hit someone at the drop of a hat, Dawn threw away her prized collection of Dingoes gig posters. Even Giles gritted his teeth more. With Tara though, it was different, she poured her whole heart out.
I thought it was hard when he left for New York, that I might have gotten used to not having him around, but it doesn't compare. It just doesn't.
When you've been with someone for that long, you become more than just "dating couple", you become so inexplicably part of each other. Then you read something funny in the newspaper and you turn around to tell him about it and all of a sudden you realize he's gone. That he doesn't want to hear your funny stories or ask about what you're thinking of anymore. It sucks. It sucks to the 90th level of hell.
Last night was rough, I couldn't breathe so I took a walk outside. I found myself wandering down my street, it was raining, the streetlights were kind of dark and I felt like I was walking through some kind of hell. Luckily I didn't come across any vampires, lucky for them, because I don't know what spell I would've unleashed on them. I looked at the stars in the night sky and I begged them to show me a way out of this horrible, horrid pit of darkness.
Then when I got home I sat in the dark for hours and hours. It feels like real physical pain, it really does.
I'm so sorry to be unloading my personal problems onto you, it's really not fair to you. Like you said in your last letter I should keep putting 2 feet forward and enjoy in the blessing that each day brings. Thank you for your blessing, I feel like you're my godsend.
I can be honest though and tell you that it's easier said than done, I so want to take your advice and not disappoint you, but sometimes I feel like such a mess. I don't want you to see this side of me, I mean, it's all I've been writing to you about, it's all me, me, me!
There is a happier Willow out there, it's just lost. Gone, with the passage of time.
But while I was sitting there in the dark, it occurred to me. I've lost that happy-go-lucky me, but you can still experience her. I mean, do you want to, see me?
I looked through my diary to see what I was doing the fall of 2001. Next week is Halloween and I remember clearly what we did. Dawn went missing and we found her parking with a vamp boy (I mean, ewww). The night before was Xander and Anya's engagement party, their first one, at Buffy's.
The night before, October 29th, we had been helping out at the Magic Box and we were all tired but we went to the Bronze afterward. It was a special night for the Dingoes, that's Oz's band, and I had to go on stage to kind of do the mc thing. It was before he left, obviously.
If you want to see me, that's the place and time to go. I know we agreed no contact and as little disturbance to the timeline as possible, but the me of 2001 didn't know you and if you were just one of the crowd at the Bronze, and if you don't talk to me or anything, I don't think there will be any impact.
What do you think? Are you shocked? I don't mind if you feel uncomfortable. But I'd really like to share the happy side of my life with you. May be I'm being selfish, trying to rediscover myself through you. You know I value your opinion, please tell me if this is a bad idea.
Tara straightened her skirt as she approached the entrance. She was feeling nervous, like, like a girl going on a first date, she had even taken special care to dress up.
Yeah right, as if she'd notice you. She won't recognize you even if you walked up and did a fan dance in front of her. This is stupid.
The Bronze was crowded and it took her a while to fight through the throngs of people to get a drink. She found a secluded, dark spot and a lone chair. A teenage band was playing garage grunge, people were dancing away on the dance floor or chatting away in groups. She felt like a farm girl trying to fit in, to be a big city girl, out of place, again.
Then the lights dimmed and she saw her. Willow. Small and perfect, delicate yet strong, and what red hair! She found herself edging toward the stage, she could not stop staring, and her heart did a backflip when she heard her voice for the first time.
"Like a lot of you here, I grew up at the Bronze, and as long as there's been a Bronze, there's always been the Dingoes," she started.
Someone in the crowd yelled out, "too right!" Another voice chimed in, "Devon's a cutie!"
She smiled and continued, "May be you're thinking, geez these boys are gonna be here till they're 50 and their hair's all gone and their skin's all wrinkled and still they'll play and play. Well I can tell you on good authority that they're going places, that's something I know all too well. Personally I'd prefer if they don't travel as much, but that's just me being selfish.
"Anyway, I'm here because tonight marks the 300th appearance of the Dingoes here at the Bronze. And the Management asked me to present a small token of their appreciation to the band on their behalf, so when they are rich and famous they won't forget where they started out. Now please put your hands together and welcome Sunnydale's very own Dingoes Ate My Baby!"
The crowd gave the band a resounding welcome while Willow presented a small plague to Devon, whom she gave a hug and a small peck on the cheek. The other boys she hugged warmly. Oz she kissed.
Tara swallowed hard, sighed heavily and took a sip of her water.
Willow had been feeling wiggy and on edge all day. At first she thought it was stage fright, but having taken drama classes all year, she had long conquered that fear.
It could not have been nerves about the band's award. Even though she had hung out with the Dingoes for as long as she and Oz had been dating, she never felt like she was a full fledged member. She was friendly with the boys, but had very little in common with them, Oz kind of kept that part of his life separate from the WillowOz part and the Scooby part.
In any case the feeling should have dissipated after the award, but if anything, it grew more intense. Her spidey sense were at Defcon 2, 3 at least (oh my god, I'm channeling Xander, she thought, amused and alarmed at the same time).
All she felt was, someone was coming, someone who would bring big changes to her life. It was not the usual wiggins about demons or apocalypses, this feeling was exciting, positive, and Extremely of the Good.
When she came off the stage she was overwhelmed with a huge feeling of familiarity that was so real that she thought she could see it. If she unfocused and let her mind move above the realms of consciousness, at the corner of her eyes she glimpsed blonde hair? she was not sure.
She wanted to reach out and touch this familiarity, this bond, but it was just beyond her grasp. Almost bordering on desperation she turned around and searched through the crowd for a sign.
While Willow was giving her speech, Tara had been helplessly drawn to the redhead and found herself staring at her friend? future friend? from the bottom of the stage.
Willow stepped off the stage as the band started playing, and almost stepped into Tara. They were so close Tara could smell her perfume, she wanted so much to touch her, her own arms were moving at their own accord, closer, closer. She could see goose pimples developing on Willow's arms.
The other girl stopped and spun around as if she was searching for something. Or someone. Tara quickly ducked behind a nearby pillar.
That was close, she sighed in relief as Willow walked away, still obviously deep in thought. Whatever physical reaction the redhead was eliciting in Tara appeared to be reciprocated. Or may be it was her wishful thinking.
She watched intently as Willow joined up with her friends. From her Willow's description she was able to easily identify Buffy, Xander and Anya. They talked, occasionally danced and generally had a good night out. When the Dingoes set finished, they were joined by Oz.
She felt like a voyeur, watching the gang together. A pang of melancholy hit her, as she remembered that she never had friends growing up, she was the freak who was taunted and bullied at school, ignored and humiliated at home.
How she ached to be part of this family, this group of people she already felt closer to than her own blood kin, even though none of them knew of her existence.
Tara seldom swore but this time she really felt that she had been royally fucked over by the fates.
I didn't tell you before because I wasn't sure I was actually going to go ahead with it, I was so sure that I would chicken out at the last minute. So please forgive me?
I went to the Bronze. Just like you said, I saw you and your friends. The answer to the burning question I know you'll ask is, yes, in 2001 you looked happy. Your friends were fine. Xander and Anya were already a bickering couple. Buffy looked okay, but there was no spark in her sad eyes. I remember you once mentioned something about Buffy "coming back". Does this have anything to do with her being sad then?
You and Oz were very much an item. I could see it in the way you looked at him, doted on his every word, leaned into his embrace. I didn't get close enough to hear you but from your body language you guys were very comfortable together.
I couldn't help it but I was insanely jealous. How I wished I was the one you were looking at, listening to, leaning on. How I wanted to touch you, to accidentally bump into you, to exchange some small words. It would not be enough to fill the gap in my heart right now but it would help take away some of the emptiness.
I want so much to-
She was shaking. Without reading the letter, she crumbled it and threw it vehemently in the dustbin.
She took out another piece of paper.
It was going to be a long night.
I didn't tell you before because I wasn't sure if it was the right thing to do, or if I could find the courage to actually go ahead with it. So please forgive me for not telling you earlier.
I went to the Bronze. Just like you said, I saw you and your friends. The answer to the burning question I know you'll ask is, yes, in 2001 you were happy and innocent and in love. Your friends were fine. Xander and Anya were already bickering old-timers. Buffy looked okay, but there was no spark in her sad eyes. I remember you once mentioned something about Buffy "coming back". Does this have anything to do with her being sad then?
You and Oz were very much an item. I could see it in the way you looked at him, doted on his every word, leaned into his embrace, that you guys were very comfortable together.
I wished I could have know you then, part of me yearns to be part of an accepting social group, to feel the warmth of a family unit, something that my own family was not able to provide. But it is not to be.
I'm not sure if I will venture again into the path of 2001 you, even though I will always cherish the last experience. It's simply too risky, we may inadvertently touch, or speak, or something, that will mess up an already confusing timeline. I know you want to hear some more about the happy times, but I think you will understand where I'm coming from.
I hope you are doing alright. I do worry about you. Try not to think too many unhappy thoughts, ok? I read this somewhere, it's about computer operating systems (right up your street!). Nostalgia for old systems is all very well, but the way to the future is not in the rear- view mirror. So keep looking on the bright side because it will always be better tomorrow.
Willow unfolded a large circular yellow cloth and spread it out on the floor of her living room. She gathered the ingredients needed for the spell St John's wort oil, 2 yellow candles and 2 bunches of yellow flowers, daisies, honeysuckle, dandelion and sunflower, tied together with twine.
She was a little nervous, it was the first time she did a spell in sync with someone. Well, technically not with with, because Tara was all of 3 years in the past. But when she discovered the Flower of Light spell and suggested to Tara that they should try it out 'together', Tara quickly agreed.
I'm sorry for being a selfish dummy and making you miserable, all I was thinking was me, me, me (again). I feel like I owe it to you to cheer you up and stop the dark thoughts. What about a spell? I read about this spell in one of the Magic Box's older volumes, it revitalizes spirits when days are dark and gloom settles upon us.
I'd love to do the spell, it sounds lovely. It's a Celtic spell, isn't it. The Celts had a great respect for nature, and their spells with flowers are always beautifully calming. Did you know that St John's wort is a symbol of the sun's healing and life-giving power? It's considered a king among magical plants and protects against negative influences.
Anya gave me a big discount on magic ingredients after I built an interface between her inventory database and her accounting system. Will you have any trouble finding what you need?
I think I'll risk it and actually get them from the Magic Shop, I'll go when it's quiet so I can keep a low profile and not bump into you. Oils and scents are fairly common, I'll pay cash and it'll just be another transaction. What do you think?
Should be okay. If we hadn't met like this you would probably have discovered the shop and gotten your magic supplies from them, so we're not causing unnecessary crinkles in the timeline (I hope). My goodness that's gotten me thinking about alternate realities where the mailbox doesn't work (except just as a regular letterbox) and we never meet but you might still have come into the Magic Box and I might have served you. This scenario is making me very sad.
Don't. Remember what I said about looking on the bright side? We're in this particular reality and we have the mailbox and I'm just so grateful that I have a magically inclined friend and now we even get to do a spell together, how cool is that.
Willow had been practicing magic since high school, and though her proficiency level had steadily increased, she knew that she could become more powerful if she had a spell partner. Giles tried to find time to teach her, but he taught like a Watcher training a slayer, she did not feel any of the specialness, the romanticism she had always associated with magic, when practicing with him. She also thought he was holding back because of the shadow of his Ripper past.
Anya taught her a little, but not having too much power herself, was too impatient to sufficiently nurture a young witch's inquisitive questions.
So she progressed in stops and starts. For every walk-through- Buffy's-mind spell there was a my-will-be-done fiasco. Potions still turned out soup. And she was still working on the ball of sunshine spell so it did not bring forth hammer-wielding trolls.
Now that she found Tara, she was not going to let a little matter of a time warp stop her.
They discussed and agreed on early evening, since it was the time of day with the most beautiful sunlight. At the appointed time, they spread the circular cloth on the floor and sprinkled the St John's wort oil around the circle, on the candles and rubbed a few drops on their palms.
Taking a calming breath, they sat at the center of the circle and placed one bunch of flowers on either side, at the edge of the circle.
The candles they lit and placed carefully in front and at the back, also at the edge of the circle.
Taking one full, perfect flower in each hand, they held it in each palm, focused on the glow of the candle and chanted:
"Oh healing light, surround me now,
Relieve my spirit's darkest hour."
They could feel the light from the scented candles flowing from the apex of the flame to the flowers in their palms, and from there they felt it permeating through their bodies. First their own, then a passage opened and the light flowed in a leisurely circle between them. There was no beginning, no end, just a continuous channel of light and sensations that brought both witches to a point of extreme euphoria.
They stayed in the circle for many minutes, meditating and allowing the light to spread fully to the entire circle.
To complete the spell they returned the 2 flowers to Mother Earth by burying them in a pot full of soil they had previously collected during a moon blessing to the Goddess. Before the next new moon they would bury the whole pot at a secret spot in their garden.
As soon as they broke the circle they immediately felt the difference. The melancholy that had hung over them was replaced by a heady feeling of being in tune with nature and at peace with themselves. There was also a feeling of incredible connectiveness with each other, as if they could just reach out and feel each other in the same room together.
"Beautiful," they said. Three years apart, but at exactly the same moment.
Tara was planting bulbs and shrubs in the garden, taking advantage of the last warm days of fall to get the plants in before winter. Not that California winters would create much of a challenge to a country girl used to winters of the harsh and bleak variety.
It all started when Willow reminded her one day that it was time to plant the apple tree. For someone who had spent very little time in a garden in her life, Willow attacked the gardening project with gusto, searching through the internet for tips and suppliers where Tara could buy seeds and seedlings.
Naturally she had the benefit of seeing the garden when it was matured and could tell Tara where the flowers, trees and bushes would go. She made a 3D model of the garden on her CAD software, and devised a monthly gardening calendar, all printed in color. All these she sent to Tara via the mailbox.
Tara regarded this with amusement. She really did not have the heart to tell Willow that, well actually, she grew up on a farm and horticulture was as natural to her as programming was to Willow. She planted by feel, gut instinct telling her where and when. Still she played her part in the project by studiously taking pictures of each stage of the process and sending them to Willow.
"Hello Tara," she looked up from her crouched position beside the rose bushes, a warm smile appeared on her lips when she saw it was the caretaker's wife.
"Becky, hi. How're you feeling today?" she asked.
"Like a big fat whale, which is nothing new. They tell you about getting big and the backaches and the lethargy, but they never told you about all the different kinds of cravings," Becky sighed as she sat heavily down in one of the garden chairs.
"What have you got Paul rushing out for this morning? I thought you get fewer cravings as the pregnancy progresses."
"See, that's the thing. I don't have a craving for food, I had a desperate urge for the smell of grass and soil."
"That's weird. But then, just as well, cos we've got the garden here."
"I know. Imagine if I lived in a high rise apartment block. Anyway, what are you planting?"
"Some shrubs, roses, and this apple tree. I think it'll be nice when the tree's grown a bit to sit under it with a nice book or a picnic. And when your daughter is older, it'll be big enough for Paul to build a treehouse in," Tara waved her hands in the air where she imagined the tree would be.
Becky smiled and rubbed her tummy. "She's not even born and we're thinking treehouses, but that's a nice thought. You sure I'm not disturbing you?" she asked politely.
"Of course not, it's nice to have company," Tara answered.
"That's because you never go out. You, missy, have no life. Why?"
"I'm quite happy being on my own, I don't get lonely."
"A nice girl like you should have someone to come home to," Becky said gently.
I already know who I want to come home to, but it'll be another 2 years before she starts living here and by then I'll have moved out.
She was spared the embarrassment of having to answer Becky's all too obvious prodding by the arrival of a small black furry bundle, which had jumped over the fence from the next property.
Her eyes widened as she recognized the newcomer, but she remained still and did not try to approach or distract it.
Then it noticed her, and with a flick of a tail, came up to Tara, brushed itself against her legs and started purring.
"Hello, you must be Miss Kitty."
After the Flower of Light spell Tara positively hummed with Willow. Every laugh she heard was Willow's. Every tender touch on her arms was Willow's. Every time she spotted red hair she thought it was Willow. She could feel her everywhere while she painted, while she did her laundry, while she was at the store. Inside her, around her, all over her.
and especially when she was in the shower. Unconsciously her hands would start exploring, all-over, everywhere. Warm hands softly caressing her breasts, brushing against her tummy and gently teasing her folds. Her eyes closed in exhilaration under the stream of hot water. Then a soft groan escaping her lips jolted her abruptly back to reality. She turned the shower to its coldest setting.
These were not okay feelings to have. She was so frustrated.
Willow was doing research on dimensional time travel. Initially she did a lot of reading on quantum mechanics, topics like relativity theory and multi-worlds theory, that described the physics of time travel. Although she understood the equations and hypotheses, none of them gave her answers that she was looking for.
So she turned to magicks. She knew there were spells that enabled people to travel to another time. Not alternate universes like the one created by Cordelia's Wish, but in her own universe, only another time.
Although if she traveled to that other time and interacted with people and even stayed there, she would have created another branch and what would happen to her original reality? Would she be able to return? Would it fade out of existence? What about the other paradoxes surrounding the whole concept of time travel? These were the questions in her mind, but not all she thought about.
All she thought about, every waking second, was Tara. She could feel the after effects of their spell, that left her breathless and yearning for more. More contact, more sharing of energy and more, more, more Tara. She wanted to sneak back into Sherwood Place and dig up the spot in the garden where Tara buried her flowers, even though they would probably have rotted away by now.
Buffy and Xander attributed her distractedness as Oz-related, but they did not realize those times she stared blankly into space was with a secret smile and not the sadness of a spurned woman. Anya would have noticed and questioned her relentlessly, but was too tied up with the post-Halloween, pre-Thanksgiving retail rush.
That time when Xander made a joke about too many girls and missing Oz, while he looked horrified at his inadvertent mention of his name, she did not bat an eyelid. No sweaty palms, no palpitations. She had not thought about him at all, since the spell with Tara.
That was one nifty spell.
"Are you sure you'll be alright?" Buffy asked as she threw her bag into the back seat of the Jeep.
"Of course. You know my views on Thanksgiving. It's never been important to me, but it is to many people, including your Aunt Arlene," Willow grinned.
"I can't believe it, we haven't seen her since Mom do you think she wants something?" Buffy mused.
"Probably just to see you and Dawn. You say she had to move to a bungalow after her hip operation? People get a different perspective on life after something bad happens to them, they want their loved ones near," Willow said.
"Yeah. Sometimes I forget there's a real world outside, where getting injured is a big deal," Buffy said wryly.
"Hey, don't go all melancholy slayer on me again," Willow said as she playfully hit Buffy on the arm.
"Nah, I'm good. Now, one last time, you promise to call Xand and Anya for us?"
"Yeah, yeah. I just hope I don't get an earful from Anya. You know what they're gonna be doing, second honeymoon and all."
Buffy laughed. Dawn skipped out of the house, gave Willow a whirlwind hug and threw herself into the car. In no time at all Willow found herself standing alone on the front porch of Buffy's house.
She was on her own in Sunnydale. Buffy and Dawn gone to Illinois to visit their aunt, Xander and Anya to Mexico for sun, sea and frolic.
Apart from house-sitting, she had precious little else to do.
All the more time for Tara.
They talked about what they were doing for Thanksgiving. Ira and Sheila hardly celebrated so the last few years were spent with the Scoobies. It took quite a bit of manipulation on her part to finally convince the others that they could and should go away this year. The clincher was when Angel graciously agreed to send Spike and Gunn over to help with patrol.
"It'll help them get over the past few months. It's been hard on them, the survivor guilt," the one-time broody vampire, and now dragon slayer, explained to a hesitant Buffy. "And you're not around to complicate matters with Spike. They'll just come in for a few days and be out, if Willow doesn't want to, she doesn't need to bother with them at all."
Privately he also told the slayer that he thought Willow sounded like she needed some alone time, she was probably feeling overwhelmed by the others' fussing over her constantly.
Tara had an offer to join Paul and Becky, but Becky's pregnancy had become harder and she had been confined to bed so the dinner was canceled.
Two witches on their own at Thanksgiving. Whatever should we do?
*Laugh* I don't know. May be, um, let's see, I know! Let's do a spell!
Spell sounds good. Any ideas? I was thinking we should do one that celebrates the plentiful harvest season and the coming of winter, because it's Thanksgiving afterall. That's the only time my Dad would let Mom giving blessings at our table.
I can do better. I found one that reaches out to nature itself, at once giving thanks to the fruits it has provided and at the same time allowing the spellcaster to connect with the earth. It's from the druids and uses vervain leaves that's been gathered under the rays of a full moon and imbued with the moon's power. You infuse it into 3 types of oil, use the infused oil in a ritual bath before giving yourself an all over massage with it. It's very powerful and the effects are supposed to last well into the next year.
Tara gulped when she read that. It was so enchanting, so sensual. It did not take a lot to imagine another's hands massaging the oil into her body. Willowhands.
Are you sure we're ready for this? It sounds, well, kind of intimate, she wrote.
The reply that came back was full of revelations.
Intimate is performing the spell together in the same room, on the same day of the same month of the same year. There will be side by side preparations with much anticipation, a joint cleansing bath and real, not pretend or phantom, touching. The operative word is together. This is just a poor substitute.
I can't stop thinking about you.
I know it's completely the wrong thing to be admitting, Tara, but I feel like I'm that close to exploding. I went by to the apartment and talked to Paul, it's still empty, which is why it's so easy for me to drop letters to you. I've been thinking of moving back so I'm closer to you. But I want more. More than just exchanging letters and gifts. More than me being in one place doing a spell and you in another place doing the same spell and pretending we are doing the spell together.
I want to see you.
Tara literally dropped the letter when she read the last part. Her heart was beating so wildly and she had to sit down before she fell. Here was Willow practically confessing that, yes, she felt the same for Tara as Tara for her.
She put the letter down on her desk. There was more but she simply could not read further. She deliberately made herself busy, turned the radio on very loud and did housework around the apartment.
Later, finally when she could not stand it anymore, she made herself a hot chocolate and with shaking hands, took up the letter again.
I want to see you.
Not just from a distance like you did at the Bronze. I want full-on meeting, talking and coffee, there'll definitely be coffee of a mocha-y goodness variety.
I thought of a way. Not a spell or time machine or anything fancy. It's quite simple actually but it'll be a lot harder for you than for me, so it's only fair that you make the decision. I should have no right suggesting it, but it's just gonna be on my mind and I can't get rid of the thought and then I'll be wiggy and you with your Mensa level EQ will just get worried.
Here it goes.
Make a date in your diary. If you don't have a diary, buy one.
December 12th, 2004. Sunday. A day of the New Moon. 3pm. I'll be at the Espresso Pump.
Tara pulled her cart quickly out of the way of the stray child she had almost run over. There were way too many people and she was not concentrating. She had forced herself to go out to the store, but had instantly regretted the decision when she got hit by the Thanksgiving scavengers.
It had been 3 days since Willow asked her out. And she was clear on that point, it was an asking-for-a-date thing. A bashful, angst-ridden, needy way of asking her, but given their surreal situation, remarkably sweet.
Her emotional clarity had walked, no it had hopped, skipped and jumped right out of the building on this one, after going through a veritable roller coaster of emotions that left her drained. She felt she was still strapped in under one of those hideous plastic padding, one minute slowly cranking up the first incline; the next minute hurtling straight down as if about to crash into the ground.
She asked herself, did she want to meet Willow, and the answer was yes. A "yes" that screamed and echoed and raged from every cell in her body. So why hadn't she written back already? What was wrong with her? She could say yes and then change her mind, there was plenty of time. Plenty was not a big enough word to describe the time she had.
Truth was, she wanted to meet Willow so much it was scaring her. The desire was consuming, throttling everything else in her life. She knew exactly what she would do if, at that moment, Willow walked in through the door and into her arms.
To intoxicate myself with the sensations that are Willow. To make her mine, to give myself to her.
So how was she supposed to wait, and keep the fire burning, for so long? Willow had weeks, but she would have to wait for close to eternity. Would she be the same person in 2004? Would the memories have faded away? Would she stand up to Willow's expectations? What would happen to her after Willow and future her met?
She mulled over the question as she quickly did her shopping and went home.
By then, she had decided to approach it differently. She was a simple country girl not usually taken with so many twisty thoughts, so she tried asking herself practical questions instead.
What did she have to lose? And the most important question was, if she refused, would she regret it?
Miss Kitty decided at that moment to jump into her lap and all of a sudden it became as clear as day. She grabbed a piece of paper and very quickly wrote
Willow was distraught. She drove by the mailbox everyday, and still, nothing from Tara.
I scared her off. Me and my big heartfelt declaration. Big and heartfelt and so very rash. And perhaps a little foolish. She hates me, she'll want nothing to do with me anymore. Way to go Rosenberg.
To add insult to injury, some twit (oh great, I'm channeling Giles now, or even worse, Spike, ewww) decided to open up the market for Ghora eggs again and, in their haste to get away, led the very agitated Mother Ghora out of her cave and into the residential areas. As de facto leader of the Scoobies (as in, the only one currently in Sunnydale), she had to mobilize the available troops to contain the threat.
Spike hooked up with some of his former poker mates and chased the Ghora back toward the woods behind the former Initiative base, where Willow did a risky teleportation spell to get it back to its lair. She was exhausted after the spell, which was way beyond anything that she had tried before, especially since she had no anchor and a very small margin of error to work with. Spike caught her before she collapsed and carried her carefully back to Buffy's house.
Her thought, just before she slipped into unconsciousness, was how much better if Tara were here to do the spell with her and how she needed to so not be in this bed because she had to get to the mailbox now.
She woke with a start at the sound of dropped china. She was still groggy and sported a splitting headache. A few minutes later, a clearly flustered Clem gingerly opened the door and peeped in.
"Hello Willow. Did I wake you? I brought you some soup, I'm not very good at making people food, but even I can reheat. Thank the heavens for microwave right?" he smiled apologetically as he placed a tray with the soup and an apple, cut up in pieces, next to the bed. Good old Clem.
"Oh Clem. You're the sweetest," she smiled back as he gave her a little wave when he closed the bedroom door behind him. Or tried to smile. It was like wires were attached to the ends of her mouth and each movement was accompanied by jerky pain. She took the tray and slowly sipped the soup.
Her mind was on one thing and one thing only, as soon as she finished the soup and the fruit, she slipped out of bed.
"Owie, headrush," she whimpered as she stood up then fell back into bed. She closed her eyes to allow the dizziness to pass, then tried again, this time slowly. She looked around to find her shoes. Spike and Clem had left her in bed fully clothed and her sweater and jeans were sporting the extreme wrinkled look right now. How little she cared.
She was reaching for the front door when a "Oy Red, where do you think you're going?" stopped her.
"I've got something I need to do," she replied curtly, turning around to find Spike coming out of the living room.
"You're not going out in your condition," he said.
"I'm just gonna zip out and be back in a tiff, I'll be quick."
"No way, not on my watch. The Slayer and Angel will have me for breakfast."
"Spike, listen to me. I need to do something very important. It.can't.wait. I'll take full responsibility," she said, resolve face in full operational mode.
He knew better than to push the issue. "Fine. But you're not walking, I'll drive."
Her hands were trembling so much she could not open the envelope. Why did Tara have use an envelope. Oh yes, letters usually go in envelopes, to protect them, or something. She really was not thinking well.
She could barely contain herself when she opened the mailbox and saw that it was not empty. It took her every ounce of self control to just take it out, put it in her pocket and return to the car.
She asked Spike to drive her back to her own apartment, intensely aware of the letter burning a hole in her pocket. He had been quiet throughout, if he thought it strange that she went through all that trouble just to get a letter out of a mailbox he was keeping it to himself.
Finally she pulled the paper out of its unyielding home. It was short, only one word. The most wondrous word in the entire universe.
They did not do the spell at the end. An unspoken agreement developed that they would postpone this spell until they could do it together. Really together.
Instead Tara asked Willow to share Thanksgiving dinner with her.
Willow, whose usual cooking methods were the phone and the microwave, discovered the hidden iron chef inside her and they cooked a simple pasta dinner using one of Tara's recipes. It did not make sense to go crazy on the one-person portion of turkey and trimmings. Tara did concede and taught Willow how to make a small pie, the remainder of which could be frozen for another day.
Usually setting the table for only one made Tara depressed, but this time she did not feel lonely at all. It was her first Thanksgiving away from home, and one of the best. She tucked into her dinner with abandonment.
"Hi. Sorry to keep you waiting."
"No, no, I've only been here like 2 minutes. Besides, you're the one who's had to wait years."
"Years, I know. Wow. I can't believe it."
She was transfixed, speechless. She's even more beautiful in person, the photos don't do her justice.
"I feel like we should introduce ourselves but it seems redundant and silly. Ah well, here goes. Hi, I'm Tara Maclay, pleased to meet you."
"Willow Rosenberg, the pleasure, believe me, is all mine."
And then Tara took her hand into hers and they shook hands. After the formality neither of them let go of the other's hand, once they had established their first touch, there did not seem any reason to let go.
"God, I don't know where to start," Tara laughed.
"Me too. I have so many things I want to say but now I'm totally blank," she agreed.
"Just let me look at you," Tara turned a little more serious and regarded her for a long minute, her blue eyes reading her, reaching deep down into her, touching her very core. She felt breathless.
A minute. Three. Six. She did not know how long they stared at each other. Tara's thumb traced little circles on the back of her hand. Eventually she did a little cough that brought both somewhat back to solid ground.
"What have you been up to? I mean, you know all about me up to this point, but I don't know anything about what you did for the last 3 years. Or am I not allowed," she joked.
"You're allowed a little. Well it's a little funny, cos you will get to know in time, so I don't want to spill too much," Tara replied, with a twinkle in her eyes.
"I mean. Okay, let me give you the short version without giving too much away. After we agreed on the date I went out and bought a 5 year diary, so I can put today's appointment in straightaway. Then I started a painting which I added a little to every day, so I'm reminded of you. It's the first thing I see every day and the last thing I see at night. It's beautiful, some day I'll want to show you," Tara recounted.
"I'd like that. What is the painting about?" she asked, curious.
"Um, well. I wanted to have a daily reminder of you, so, well, it's a portrait of you," Tara blushed as she replied.
"Me?" she asked with a stupid grin.
"Uh huh. But it's only based on the one time I saw you, at the Bronze. The rest is my imagination."
"Wow. I have a portrait. So then what?"
"So I have this painting I work on everyday and I'm here now and may be I get to finish it."
"It's so touching," she paused. "Almost, um, romantic."
They talked and talked, not a raging torrent of unfinished thoughts, but a smooth, natural flow between two connected minds.
"Do you want to take a walk before it gets dark and too dangerous?" she ventured.
"I'd like that."
Tara's left hand was entwined in her right, they walked as close as they could without tripping over each other. Their silence was companionable, they had all the time in the world to talk.
Tara's thumb was circling her hand again, causing her heart rate to rocket, so much so that she turned suddenly and pulled the blonde close, wrapping her other arm round her waist.
"I, I, Tara, can I ask you-" she said breathlessly.
"Way ahead of you," the girl of her dreams whispered.
And kissed her.
Their kiss was rudely interrupted by a college student careening into them, causing her to tumble in a heap of arms and legs.
"Oh my, I'm so sorry, are you hurt?" the clumsy boy stammered.
"No, it's fine," Willow groaned sullenly. She sighed and pouted to no one in particular as she picked up her backpack and climbed back to her feet. Just completely ruined my daydream, that's all. Stupid boy. Oh Tara. I can't wait for this afternoon.
She arrived deliberately early at the Espresso Pump, grabbed a mocha from George the owner and found a soft chair at the corner. To the other patrons she appeared to be a young woman anxiously waiting for a friend, or a date. How little they knew.
It was the most important day of her life.
She watched as other people come and went, feeling detached. People seemed to be moving in slow motion today. She looked at the other customers, trying to imagine who they were, what they were talking to each other about, where they would go to after their coffee. She idly wondered what her friends were doing.
Buffy and Dawn came back from the visit to their aunt with a carload of tupperwared goodies. Spike and Gunn returned to LA shortly before. Xander and Anya arrived back from Mexico tanned and with a different energy about them. Giles called to say he was staying in Bath a little while more to sort out heating problems at his house.
Hellmouth activities suddenly picked up at the beginning of December but the well-oiled Scooby research and demon-fighting machine smoothly sprang into action and the world did not end.
Correspondence with Tara reverted back to normal. Well, as normal as it could get before her inspired invitation. She updated Tara on the hellmouth activities, and Tara asked her opinion on whether to enroll into UC Sunnydale's Art program.
They talked very little about the forthcoming meeting, Willow was chock-full of anticipation, and having increasingly detailed and borderline erotic fantasies, but she was sensitive to the fact that it was a long wait for Tara, who must not be finding it easy. The only time it was mentioned was when Tara told her how odd she might feel if she received a letter from future her and Willow.
Willow's thoughts on the matter were uncharacteristically simple. It never occurred to her that writing to Tara would ever stop even after their meeting. She would spend the next few years in happy correspondence with the Tara of the past, perhaps even together with the Tara of the present, until the 2 Tara's caught up. With the Tara she was about to meet, her vision was even more simple.
Meet the girl, may be fall in love a little (or a lot), live happily ever after.
The red flags of warning about this undertaking were reasoned away or ignored. These were the facts: one, she was straight for as long as she had known about the difference between boys and girls; two, here she was, wanting to fall in love with a girl; three, it totally did not matter, as long as she and Tara had the rest of their lives together.
There were none of the usual Willow-styled analysis or internal discussion, she did not discuss with Buffy or Xander, her feelings toward Tara transcended the conventional realms of how a "normal" relationship should be. Besides, she reasoned to herself, how "normal" was being with a werewolf for the better part of 6 years.
The only thing she worried about was the small matter that the Tara she wanted to fall in love with actually lived in the past. It did occur to her that the Tara she was about to meet would not be "her" Tara, people change, circumstances change. She tried hard to imagine what their meeting would be like (fantasies about kissing Tara aside) but was completely and oddly stumped. She would just have to meet her to find out.
Which brought her back to the most important day of her life.
It was coming up to 3pm. She straightened herself and scanned the entrance for Tara's arrival.
5 minutes turned into 10, then 30, an hour. Then another.
People came and went. Bought their coffees, met their friends, hugged, smiled, argued.
Her emotions cycled through puzzlement, annoyance, panic, fear, anger, hurt, finally settling on resignation.
She isn't coming.
A thousand different scenarios went through her head at breakneck speed, none of them pleasant, all of them with the same end result. That for all her asking and planning and anticipating, this was not the day she would get to meet Tara.
Nothing felt worst. Not losing Oz. Not when Buffy died. Not facing the First.
She isn't coming.
A loud crash jolted her somewhat back to reality. When she glanced over at the bar, it was George and Mrs George putting up a new picture and accidentally knocking over a chair.
She was about to dismiss it and crawl back into her cave of unending misery when her eye was caught by the picture itself. Intriguing enough for her to gather her senses and walk over to study it more closely.
A sketch, and a very good one at that, of a black cat with white paws and yellow eyes. Its head leaning to one side, as if curiously observing what is going on around it. Its pose and expression were so familiar.
Miss Kitty. The cat that arrived out of the blue not long after she moved into the basement apartment and had stayed with her since.
Miss Kitty Fantastico. Tara's cat. Her cat. Their cat.
Her eyes widened and she almost gasped when she saw the initials at the bottom right.
She finally found her voice. "Mrs George, a new picture?" she asked the matronly yet always fashionable co-proprietor of the cafι.
"Oh yes, picked it up from the gallery on Main," Mrs George replied. "They're having an exhibition of works by local young artists."
"Thanks Willow. They have lots more, though only a few by this particular artist. You want another mocha?"
She looked at her watch. Almost six. It seemed pointless to continue to wait, yet she could not tear herself away. She would stay here, keep sentry until closing time.
Tara sat at the brand new version of the comfortable chair at the corner of the Espresso Pump, looking intently at the space on the wall which currently housed a poster of mountains and lakes. She took out a hardcover book and the letters neatly placed inside. From Willow.
I waited all afternoon and until it got dark. At the risk of sounding like a member of the bad poet society, my heart grew dark with the passing of the day.
I know 3 years is a long time and I shouldn't have set expectations like that, it'll only make the disappointment worse. But I can't help wondering what happened to you during this time? Perhaps you forgot?
I'd never forget a promise like this. Why didn't I show up? What changed?
I feel like I need to apologize profusely to you, but I can't, I'm sorry. It's just inconceivable that it's me, yet it surely was. Is. Will be.
Why would I not want to see you? I have been carrying that need inside me like a dull ache that will never subside. Right now all I want is to jump across the great time divide and into your world.
I feel so helpless.
They both returned to the Espresso Pump the next day, in their own times of course, painfully aware of their separation.
Willow took her laptop but ended up staring at the painting of Miss Kitty on the wall. Buffy asked about her when they met for their morning coffee, but she managed to pull off a fake smile and was thankful the demands of work took the slayer away. One click on her dock brought up her program, she made a table.
Aug 2001 Tara arrives in Sunnydale. I'm in Junior year at UCS.
We never met. She receives my first letter.
Oct 2001 Tara sees me in the Bronze. She does the spell with me.
Nov 2001 Tara agrees to meet me Dec 2004.
We're both in Sunnydale.
Jan 2002 Oz leaves. We fight the nerds.
Where is she?
July 2003 we fight the First. I graduate and move into the apartment. Is Tara still in Sunnydale? When did she move out?
Aug 2004 I move out. I write her a letter.
Oct 2004 I do the spell with her.
Dec 2004 she doesn't show up at our pre-arranged meeting.
The last positive proof of Tara being in Sunnydale was December 2001, their "current" timeline. The Miss Kitty painting was dated April 2002 so there was a high possibility that she was still in Sunnydale up till then.
Willow moved into the basement apartment summer of 2003, so sometime between April 2002 and July 2003 Tara must have moved out. What happened then? And what happened to Tara between July 2003 and December 2004? Did she stay in Sunnydale? Did they continue writing to each other? Her 2005 was Tara's 2002. Did it mean she would have to wait until 2007 to find out?
She decided to flex her research and hacking muscle, respecting the timeline be damned. Her thoughts grew intense and she quickly mapped out a project plan.
UCS had no record of a Tara Maclay ever enrolling into any program. The trail at the SSA and DMV grew cold after sometime mid-2002. Paul and Becky were out of town. The gallery was closed. She was about to dive into more detailed research when Scooby news distracted her.
The rest of Sunnydale's population went about their Christmas preparations enthusiastically. But neither witches mustered enough energy to get caught up with the vacation spirit. Willow used her Jewish heritage as excuse, Tara had few friends to ask her about her lack of Christmas-ness anyway.
Tara made it a habit to visit the Espresso Pump every morning to buy her coffee. She would sit at 'their' table for a few minutes, puzzling over her future self's inaction and not getting any answers.
She spent most days painting. The portrait of Miss Kitty was coming along nicely, after she got over the initial shock of being told what she would be painting before she even started the painting.
Some days she would visit the street where Willow would move to, but of course the building had not been built yet, the space was still an empty plot.
She lingered a bit longer than usual today, getting a second cup of coffee, watching the place thin out after the morning pre-work / pre- school rush for caffeine. She was about to pick up her bag and take her dirty cup back to the bar when she heard soft sobs behind her.
"-said it's only gonna be 4 years. Only. My god, that's like, forever," she heard a voice cry. A familiar voice, even though she had only heard it once before.
"It'll go by so fast and before you know it he's back. You've still got us, the gang, remember?" the other voice comforted.
"I know I'm being irrational, cos I'm usually pro-study gal. But why can't he transfer his credits? Why make someone already in Junior year start again?"
She turned around and saw Buffy lending emotional support to a clearly distressed Willow. It was ironic and unreal, how she instantaneously knew why the young redhead was upset. Oz had broken the news that he was leaving for New York.
She stood transfixed, at once seething at the musician, and on the other hand almost physically hurting to see Willow like that.
With a rush of adrenaline and courage she did not know she possessed, she turned toward the most important girl in her life. Temporal disturbances be damned.
"A-a-are you okay?" she managed to squeak out. Way to go to make an impression, Maclay.
Teary green eyes stared back at her, a flicker of recognition rapidly replaced by guarded confusion.
"Um, yeah. Just being a bit emotional," a tentative smile trying to appear on the tear-streaked pale face.
"She heard some sad news last night, but she'll be okay. Thanks," Buffy added.
There was nothing else much she could say even though so many words were on her lips. Parts of her screamed that she should stick around and befriend the redhead, but other parts recognized the slayer in full defender mode.
"Buffy, be nice," Willow said. Turning to Tara, "I'm sorry, my friend's just overdosing on the protective pie."
"Hey!" Buffy exclaimed. "I'm looking out for your best interest, and doing best friend duty. Otherwise you'll have to cry on the shoulders of Xander, Dawn or, god forbid, Anya."
"Okay, okay," Willow protested, but a glimmer of a smile appeared on her face. Tara thought it was the most beautiful sight she had seen all day. The more beautiful was when the smile was then directed at her. "Don't mind us, we're just a couple of crazy girls, you don't really want to be seen near us, it could be contagious."
"Oh no. I don't think you're c-c-crazy. But it looks like you're fine, so I'll be, um, on my way," Tara made motions to leave. As much as she wanted to spend time with Willow, she had probably overstayed her welcome.
I'm just a nice girl showing a bit of concern, a nice girl in a total stranger sort of way. Am I just a stranger to you? I thought I sensed recognition in your eyes, if only for a second. Was there a hint that deep down you know me as well as I know you?
She was stopped by the sounds of scuffling outside the cafι, a bzzzz followed by a thud. A few more bzzzz's and thuds followed. Car alarms started going off en masse.
Buffy was out of her seat in a tick. She told Willow, "Stay here, I'll go see. I smell nerds." To Tara, "Can you stay with my friend for a second, I just have to check on my, erm, car."
Tara arched her eyebrows at Buffy's remarks, but luckily it was not noticed by either Scooby. She smiled privately that Buffy had to hide being a slayer from her. But then she was a total stranger whom they met just a few minutes ago. That sobered her up a little.
"Sorry, she's not usually this bossy, wait, she is," Willow said. "Really, I'm okay, I don't want to hold you up."
"That's fine. I've got time," Tara replied. Lots and lots of it when it comes to you. Why didn't I show up when we finally get to meet officially?
"That's great. Do you want another coffee or something?" Willow asked.
"I'm good, I've had 2 already, any more and I'll be too buzzed to work all day."
"I know the feeling, I can't take too much caffeine, otherwise I'm even more of a spaz than normal. Oz says I'm one of those people with high caffeine absorbency level, sounds like a disease, doesn't it?"
"You friend's mind works in a funny way."
"That's my b-b-, Oz. And yes I can say his name, he's the reason I was brawling my eyes out earlier."
"Oh, I'm sorry for bringing him up."
"Hey, I was the one, not you, it's just, he told me some news yesterday "
Tara gave Willow a sympathetic squeeze on the arm, "You don't have to talk about it if it makes you feel bad, but if you do "
"Thanks," Willow sighed and looked away for a minute. "No, it wasn't the break up speech, he got a scholarship to NYU, it's a really good opportunity but it's 4 years."
Tara was about to commiserate the redhead with some clichιd remark about absence making the heart fonder when she was cut short by Buffy's return.
"Will, we gotta go. Trio's on the rampage. I'm calling the others." She rushed out again, without stopping for a breath.
Willow gave Tara a wry smile and a quick "Thank you" before running after Buffy.
Goddess bless you both. I can't believe not wanting Willow in my life. Nothing's making any sense.
Southern California had barely any seasons, it was hot all year round. In winter it might get cooler at nights and a jacket would become necessary.
Of course that didn't include that one time when it snowed. But that was Powers That Be versus First Evil stuff.
Christmas for the Scoobies had always been a festive family affair, they worked hard enough throughout the year and they deserved it. Giles returned from England bearing 'illicit' goodies such as foie gras, stinky cheese and utterly decadent Belgian chocolate, and proceeded to take charge of the Christmas feast preparation. They had long gotten used to turkey roasted with bacon strips on the breast, and Buffy and Dawn fought over the Paxo stuffing.
Xander and Anya announced that they were pregnant, which led to a flurry of demonspawn (or as Dawn called it, human-demon mixed race child) research before Giles finally declared that the child would be 100% human. The sigh of relief could be heard all the way to Wolfram & Hart's headquarters where what remained of Team Angel sat down for their first Christmas without so many dear ones.
New Year came by without further excitement and the gang settled in for another year of fighting the good fight.
Willow tried to be a part of the celebrations. At best, she quietly participated. At worst, she excused herself and retired back to her apartment. She felt hollow. She would trudge to and from work every day, occasionally helped with patrol, but she felt more like a Willowbot than real Willow.
She knew it was because of not seeing Tara that day at the Espresso Pump, but she would not allow herself to get angry at the Tara of the past. Her letters betrayed some of her depression, but she managed to cut most of it out, keeping to upbeat and neutral topics.
Winter turned to spring and though the weather got warmer her spirits did not.
Then, when she thought she'd hit bottom and was on the way up, Oz came back.
Walked in during a Scooby Chinese dinner at the Magic Box. Pushed open the door a little, just enough for the bell to do its tring-ling- ling chime, then stood at the entrance with his hands in his jacket.
Anya noticed him first, she being ever in tune with the ringing of the door chime. Then Xander, Giles and Buffy together. Willow was sitting at the research table behind the shelves and at their stilled movements, moved over and craned her neck to see what they were looking at.
A blast from the past.
She thought she was over him. She was over him, until the non-Tara non-meeting.
Xander was the first to recover.
"Oz, man," he said as he moved across the room and the two shook hands. "How've you been?"
His shoulders moved up and down a couple of inches. "Not bad."
His gaze passed over the group before it settled on Willow. Who had stood up and was doing her best to hold onto the last dregs of dignity she had left, her hands clenched once, then unclenched.
"What are you doing here?" Buffy glared at him.
His gaze did not falter from Willow's. "Can we talk? Tomorrow?"
"I have class in the morning, but I'll be free after lunch," her voice flat, as if answering on automatic.
"I'll meet you in the cafeteria? One-ish?" he asked softly.
She closed her eyes for a second, and nodded.
"Would you like to come in? Join in the consumption of lukewarm noodles?" Anya piped up. At the others' shocked looks. "What? He's back, and Willow's not slapping him, so all's good, isn't it?"
"I'll pass. I'm heading over to Devon's," Oz replied. "It's good to see everyone. Really."
They sat in pregnant silence while all around them college students went about their noisy daily routines, their lunches barely touched.
It isn't supposed to end like this.
"This is kinda awkward," she held back a nervous little laugh.
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't be putting you through this," he apologized.
"Oz, why are you here? I mean, it's your home town and you have as much right as anyone of being here, but what I mean is, is there anything specific you want to talk to me about?"
"I can't just leave things like that, I feel like I owe you an explanation."
"If that makes you feel better."
He winced, she was not making this easy.
"It's hard to live in New York, it's like people there have this special code of behavior that's completely baffling to outsiders. I was missing home, missing you. But believe me, I wasn't planning for things to turn out this way, the last thing I want to do is to hurt you."
She barely bit back the "but you did" that was at the tip of her tongue.
He continued, "You know how it is when you aren't looking, that's when life catches you unawares. You meet someone and despite yourself, despite none of it making any sense, despite every obstacle that's thrown in your path, you're still helplessly drawn together."
Three months ago she would have dismissed what he just said as a poor excuse by someone desperate to justify his infidelity. Her perspective had changed since then and what he said struck a chord. But it was not enough. Some nameless, unknown, force that mysteriously binds two people together forever, like soulmates? It was never as easy as that, was it? Was it?
"That's such a lame excuse, Oz. You were lonely and you needed someone? Guess what? I missed you too, I didn't go and hump the nearest warm body, or seeing that it's Sunnydale, a room temperature one. Doesn't what we had mean anything to you?" she spat.
"Of course it did, does!" he protested. "But it's complicated, I had trouble understanding it myself at first."
"What's there to understand? We were doing so well, then you decide to go to New York, which by itself is a good thing, even though I got all teary about it, the merits of a scholarship can't be beat. But you get there and you forget about everything that was us and you thought, hey why don't I try stomping on Will's heart, see if it breaks into a million pieces, that'll be fun. Oh and what about -," she ranted.
"You don't understand," he interrupted. "She, she Veruca, she's a wolf."
She stared at him like, no she believed him, the pieces began to click into place.
"And that makes everything alright? Okay, so you have that in common, but us, what about us, Oz?" she asked.
"I, she, we met and I could sense something about her immediately. I got better at the meditations to control my wolf and one moon night I went looking for her. I only wanted to help her, I didn't mean for things to escalate so quickly, it's like we couldn't control that side of us," he explained, painfully.
"Does it matter how-"
"Nearly a year," he replied, resigned.
"Memorial Day weekend?" she was almost afraid to ask.
"Yes," he could only nod miserably.
"Oh god. You jerk. You took me sightseeing and everything you said to me. And when I asked if you're ok you said everything's fine. All that time, as soon as my back's turned. That's as bad as, as "
"I know how it feels. I remember."
"Oh, so, what, this is payback?"
"No, no, no. It's not about that."
"Because I thought that was behind us, it was so long ago. And you know, what happened then, the fluke, it doesn't compare."
"I know, I'm not trying to justify myself or anything."
"I know what you want. You want closure, to make your little guilt- ridden heart feel better. So you've talked to me and what, you have my forgiveness? You know what, sorry, that isn't so easy to come by. I don't think we have any more to talk about."
"Fuck you, Oz."
She stood up, gathered her stuff and walked away. Did not look back at his incredulous face. Did not turn back at his half-hearted attempt to call her back.
While Willow told Tara the gory details about her talk with Oz, Tara did not feel comfortable telling Willow about her meeting with the young witch yet.
Some part of her was afraid that Willow would not approve of the contact. Afterall, they had agreed on that point, as well as the obvious ones like Willow was not allowed to tell Tara big world events, or winning lotto numbers or to have her pass anonymous notes to her younger self on test questions.
They had long given up trying to puzzle out why Miss Kitty did not stay with Tara, that was part of the big mystery of where Tara went between 'now' and moving out of the basement apartment and why she did not show up at their pre-arranged meeting. Willow was sorely tempted to intensify her research on Tara's whereabouts, since she was unsuccessful at her first pass. Both harbored fears that something bad had happened to Tara, or that she had met someone else in the meantime, but were reluctant to bring their trepidations into the open.
Eventually, after a week, Tara let Willow in on her little indulgence.
I've been staying later and later at the Espresso Pump every morning, so I can increase the chances of running into you. I try not to act too stalker-like, mostly it's been waves and nods whenever I do catch you. Nothing huge. Definitely not something you'd remember, I mean, you don't remember right? Otherwise it's bad, and doubly bad cos I'll have to stop.
I w-i-s-h I remember you (we have to be careful with the w-word, vengeance demons about) but I don't. Which is good from a do-not- disturb history point of view, but I'm kinda disappointed at myself, at what a doofus I was, how could I not have noticed you? I really was a clueless bumpkin then.
May be I should do something to catch the attention of the young Willow Rosenberg. What will it take I wonder? *smirk*.
Don't you dare! I mean, I want, but what will that do to the timeline. God how I hate that we have to forever be careful like this.
I know, sigh.
Tara, I've been thinking, and I'm not sure if I should bring it up, but, do you want to make another date to meet? I keep thinking may be you've just forgotten, or were unavoidably detained, or had to travel to Florence to receive an art award or something.
I don't think either of us can survive another disappointment like last time. Maybe survive is too dramatic, but for certain I don't think I can stand another round of suspense and then being let down by myself again. I think that there must have been a really good reason I didn't show up, something that in time we'll both come to understand. I know where you are, or will be from my perspective, if it was a simple matter of being out of town, surely I would have turned up at your doorstep already? It's been long enough. We've got to stop obsessing about this.
You have the uncanny ability to always say the right thing. You're right, of course. We'll just have to move on and see how it goes. Let's talk about a more pleasant topic, how is the Miss Kitty painting going?
Really well, she's a great model, she's got these really breath- taking poses. Have you tried lying on the floor and watching her while she walks toward you? She's such a tigress.
Oh, I just got a letter (heh, I receive other letters in the mailbox you know, normal letters) from the Arts Institute of Houston. I've been accepted for short course for young artists starting out in their career. It's 2 weeks starting just after Easter, supplies, food and accommodation paid for, I just have to come up with traveling funds and spending money. It's good isn't it? But that means I'll be out of touch for nearly 3 weeks, because I'm taking the bus and it's a day and a half. Do you mind?
Mind? Yes I'll miss you, that's a given. But it's a great opportunity! And think about all the news you'll have for me when you come back.
You weren't this enthusiastic when Oz left. I saw younger you yesterday and you still looked listless, like you've been crying again. I was on the other side of the street and on my way home so I didn't think it was appropriate to interrupt.
You're not Oz. I trust you.
I'm not sure how much I trust myself, Willow thought to herself. Since her storming out session with Oz, she had run into him a couple of times. Unavoidable, since they moved in similar circles, and Sunnydale was not that big a town. They were able to maintain civility toward each other, she had Buffy with her and the slayer was the one to give Oz her coldest, meanest stares.
More disconcertingly, once or twice she caught herself thinking about her ex-boyfriend. And not in an I-want-to-throw- silver-tipped-daggers-at-him sort of way, rather, it was a combination of affection, pity and a little nostalgia.
She was feeling ambivalent about this, on one hand she wanted to remain on some sort of friendly terms with Oz, on the other she was still very angry at him and did not want to let go of the anger just yet. But because she knew Tara was busy preparing for the course, she kept the confusion to herself and allowed the turmoil to stealthily fester.
She knew he was staying with Devon, so she was only mildly surprised to spot a new poster at the Bronze promoting a one-night-only special Dingoes reunion concert next Saturday. The gang wanted to be sensitive and did not push her, but in the end she was the one who raised the topic and suggested that they made it a night out.
"If we are to start trying to be friends, what better occasion than a Dingoes concert? Familiar surroundings, familiar faces. It'll be like old times, only we're not together. I'm just another face in the crowd, no baggage. And after so long, I genuine like their music, it's part of my childhood," she told Xander as they headed toward the Magic Shop & Gym to help Buffy and Anya close up.
"Yeah, it's hard to think about being a teenager without a trip back to the Bronze and a Dingoes gig," Xander agreed.
"Xand?" she started, after a few steps.
"How were you and Cordelia, after, you know?" she asked.
"You mean after we broke up, after she went to LA or after she became a higher being?" he countered. At her dirty look, he grinned and continued, "She got poor all of a sudden and then I paid for her prom dress. We talked a little when she was in LA but it was a 'how are you' tagged onto the end of a conversation about some demon or other. I guess we kinda grew apart."
"Do you think, do you classify her as a friend?"
"Not totally a friend, but not an unfriend either. Plus, Anya gets funny about Cordy, especially after the visions thing, I guess it's demon jealousy or something like that."
"I don't want Oz and I to become complete strangers. But that's kinda hard the way I told him to f- off, he only wanted to talk to me."
"Do you want to talk to him?" he asked again.
"I dunno, I suppose I'll have to, at some point, but I want to give it some time."
"At least make an effort before he leaves, ok? Otherwise I know you'll regret it."
"What, did he say anything to you? About me? And, leaving?"
"Yeah, we hung out a little, he asked me to help them with the set," Xander said. "As for leaving, you know he's only back to sort out some stuff, he'll go back to New York and this time I think it's for good. He's got, well, you know "
She looked a little wistful. At a basic level, she knew Oz was probably leaving his home town for good, to establish a new life with, with- her. She should wish him, them, good luck in the rest of his, their, lives. A tiny voice on her at her left ear was saying some strange things though, "if only", "it could have been you", "all the things you should have done, to fight for what's yours."
She shook away the devil on her shoulder. She wished Tara was around, she could do with some major pouring out of heart right now.
Tara put aside the almost finished Miss Kitty painting and started work on smaller pieces that she planned to bring to Houston as part of the course requirements. She had a few others in her portfolio already but wanted to bring more recent work.
She did not have a lot of time, but had plenty of inspiration. Within 2 days she had a series of charcoal sketches, with her subject in different poses, some close-up, some with a wider perspective, some capturing the innate stillness while others seemed to be bursting with energy. She laid them out on the floor of her apartment and tried to appraise them with a critical eye.
The charcoal really don't do your red hair justice.
At first she blanched at the 1 1/2 day bus ride, but realized it was her only choice. The train took just as long and was more or less the same price. Flying was of course the quickest but was almost $200 more expensive, so she decided to brave the buses. There was a lot she could do with $200.
She did research on the different schedules, aware that there were transfer stops between Sunnydale and Houston, and studied the different options carefully. Her aim was to find a schedule that did not involve transfers in the middle of the night, and that brought her to her destination at a reasonable hour, she had to find her way to the college once she arrived at Houston and did not want to be wandering the streets in the early hours of the morning. It was a Sunnydale habit.
She smiled at her thoroughness and planning. I'm becoming like Willow, who probably would have written a modeling program to find the optimum mode of transportation taking into account price, reliability, accident risk, travel time, number of interchanges, time of the interchange, number of layovers, departure and arrival times. She's so adorable, I have to tell her this when I get a chance.
She dragged her backpack in through the door of the dorm room which would be her home for the next 2 weeks, she was so tired from hours on the bus that she dropped the backpack as soon as she made enough room to step in and close the door.
Her nose wrinkled at the stale smell of the room, the furniture the wrong side of worn, and noted the broken mirror and cracked sink. She crossed over and opened the windows, hoping to alleviate some of the unlived-in smells, finding the cold air a welcome refreshment.
Despite the general ickiness of the furniture, she was literally falling asleep on her feet, so she quickly retrieved her toiletry kit, brushed her teeth, splashed water over her face, took off her shoes and jacket and was fast asleep on the bed within minutes.
Course literature in one hand, her portfolio in the other and supplies in her backpack, she wandered around the campus looking for the right room. She squinted in the morning light, still feeling tired, but resolutely headed toward what appeared to be lecture buildings.
The class she was attending was called Life Drawing: The Cornerstone of Art. She pushed the door to the classroom carefully and was pleased to see there were only a few people there. She found a seat by the side, greeted the other occupants but without eye contact and watched while the room filled up.
This was the first time, apart from high school class, that she had been in a specialized art class. At first she was a little puzzled at the terminology when the instructor started talking about the course content, that it combined observational activities with creative elements. In the first week students were to learn through repetitive practice of rendering and painting the object. During the second week, students would learn aspects of lighting, composition, observation and imagination, with emphasis on "rhythm and movement".
As long as she had painted, which was longer than she had been practicing witchcraft, she never actively thought about the process of visualizing and painting, she just painted. Now was her chance to learn about the disciplined and systematic approach to painting.
She knew this was an excellent opportunity and should be taking advantage of the course to absorb knowledge, learn from others and may be even network a little.
She just wished she was not missing Willow so much.
She planned on writing to Willow throughout the next 2 weeks so when she returned to Sunnydale Willow could read an account of what she got up to while at Houston. What she did not expect was how often and how much she had written already, that she felt her hands reaching for her pen and notebook at all hours, and when she was not writing, she would be composing letters in her head.
She wrote for Willow, and drew for Willow. The sketches she did the week before, the drafts she produced during the classes, the quick gesture outlines versus the slow contour outlines, they were all of Willow. She knew it was an impossible situation, all too aware that she was the one who in 3 years' time, did not meet the appointment. That something must have happened to cause such an about turn in her feelings towards the other girl. But right now, a hint of a thought about Willow and she found herself hopelessly caught up in the Willowcentric universe she had created for herself.
The voice of the instructor snapped her back into her current universe.
"This exercise will loosen you hands and minds and help you create energy. Don't overthink, don't get bogged down with details, don't do anything except let the charcoal flow onto the paper. Use your stick, not just the tip, use the side, the whole width, ok? I'm going to give you 30 seconds to sketch our model here, get as many outlines as you can. 30 seconds only, everyone ready? Go!"
It was exhilarating, and oddly liberating, not to have to think about what she was drawing, she felt herself relax and pictured the model with stunning red hair and pale, freckled skin. When the instructor shouted "Stop!" she had 3 very rough sketches already, she was surprised how quickly she had worked.
"That one on the left, it's very good. There's a lot of dynamic movement in that pose that you can use as basis for more detailed work," the instructor commented as he reviewed Tara's sketch.
The rest of the fortnight went by quicker than she expected, she had a whole stack of drawings, sketches, detailed portraits, even a few with Miss Kitty, that she was quite happy about. Especially most were of Willow, although there was a real life model in class, she could not get the redhead out of her mind. It was surprising how much she recalled of Willow's features even though she only saw her fleetingly, in the dark indoors of the Bronze and always briefly at the Espresso Pump.
Just a few quick glances, but you reached inside me so deep.
The instructor taught them more methods to build up their technical skills.
She had always painted by intuition, now that she was a bit more technical, she could see the improvement, how much tighter her drawings were, how much more energy they contained.
She could not wait to go home, to Miss Kitty, to Willow.
I am writing you this and all I can think is that you're all the way over in Houston and how much I miss having you around because I am so desperate for your insight and advice right now.
I suppose it started off a few days ago when I had a talk with Oz that was civil and polite for once. We caught up and even joked a little. He told me a lot of things. Like how hard it was for him to move to New York, how isolated he felt and how shocked he was to feel the presence of others like him there, wolves and demons and what-nots. New York doesn't have a hellmouth, but like LA, it's a large enough city to attract all sorts of unsavory types, plenty of potential victims there, it's so easy to disappear and so important to hold onto whatever they can find.
I asked him if that was why he chose Veruca over me, that they found something in common with each other, more so than what he and I had. That it wasn't enough to have a history together, having gone to the same high school, having survived countless apocalypses. Is his life, his future (one without me) better?
His response was, it's not a matter of better or worse, it's just a different path. No one knows what would have happened if we had made different decisions all those years ago, when he was about to leave.
Thinking back, why didn't I try harder to stop him then? I didn't put up much in the way of protest, maybe I was too accepting, too afraid of being clingy, too rational. He said he was leaving, I cried a lot of tears but never put up a fight for myself and what was mine. And why didn't I go with him? I could have easily gotten into Columbia. Instead I was so wrapped up in my self importance in Buffy's fight that it was just inconceivable for me to leave Sunnydale cos Buffy needed me so much.
Did it make him think that I didn't care because I let go too easily? May be it never occurred to me that I could lose him. Am I paying now for the choices, or non-choices, I made then?
He said life isn't all about sitting down and making a choice from a list of available options, it's not the SATs, sometimes you make choices unconsciously, sometimes the choice is made for you, sometimes there's no choice at all.
I feel like everyone who I care about ends up leaving, or is somehow taken away from me. The constants in my life all leave one way or the other. My parents were never here. Oz leaves outright, Buffy dies and is not the same person again when she came back, Giles abandoned all of us. And Xander, he has Anya.
And I never got a say in any of these, ever.
Even with you. I hate the fates and the stupid Powers That Be that gave us the precious means to discover each other, but have seen fit to curse us so we may never meet. I hate it that I finally found someone I have an unique link to and it turns out we are separated by a divide that cannot be overcome. And how unfair it is.
Life is all about the choices we make. The difficult part is, we have to know when to make them, sometimes we only have a split second to make one and we don't get a second chance. But all too often it's too late, and when you realize you've made a mistake, the worst mistake in your life, you can never go back.
Unless you have hindsight.
So I am making a choice now. I am consciously going to make an alteration to the course of time, the end result may be the same, it may be different. Yes it is grossly unethical and possibly wrong. But I've thought about it, and I don't think there's lasting harm. Like Oz said, there's no right or wrong, better or worse, just a different path.
Will you help me?
Will you let younger me know life is not all about staying on the hellmouth. That there are other choices besides swallowing her pain.
I'm not asking you to help get Oz back, just if you can talk to younger me, that she should open her mind up to other possibilities.
I can fully understand if you refuse, even to the extent that you want nothing more to do with me. You may see fault in my request that I could not. No matter what you think of me, believe me when I say that I trust you, that I will always save a special place for you in my heart and soul.
I know you must be tired from your trip, though I wish I can hear from you soon, again I trust you enough to write me when you can. Even a small note, a word, makes my day.
I apologize for how long it's taken me to write back. As you can imagine I came back from Houston with so much to tell you, which paled into insignificance once I received your letter.
I will be frank. My first reaction was disbelief, but over the last few days I've had more time to think pontificate and ponder, if you will.
The turning point in my thinking, amazingly, was when Miss Kitty ran over some spilled paint and over to the window sill, thereby making the infamous paw prints that you told me about. Then it hit me and I have to use the ton of bricks clichι.
You and I are already existing on borrowed time, that we are able to find a connection with each other is an anomaly. So who am I to preach to you about the ethics of changing time, the danger of the butterfly effect and all that. See, we are living proof of the irregularity, and we ought to take some credit for having been so careful, for setting rules so early on and trying to adhere to them.
The portal opened up at a certain time, and for a certain 2 people. We have up to now not explored on the reason behind that. Nor have we thought about how long it will continue to be open or whether it works for other people and other mind numbing questions like that.
May be everything that has happened so far that we struggled over, our initial contact, my visit to the Bronze, our non-meeting, me meeting younger you, Oz coming back, may be they were all supposed to happen.
I will help you.
I will meet up with younger you.
What I will say, I don't know yet.
I think I know her schedule well enough, I have an appointment at the art gallery next Tuesday, the first Tuesday after Beltane, I had hoped it's an auspicious enough occasion to help me get my paintings noticed. I think it's a school day, meaning younger you will be at the Espresso Pump with Buffy, so after the appointment I'll make my way over.
After that, who knows. May be after our conversation younger you will come to the same conclusion, may be something different will happen, but she will have a few more choices.
Whatever happens, I believe that our paths, the strange, twisted, cross-lined situation that we stumbled across, is coming to an end. It's probably better that way.
I know at the bottom of my heart that one day, for whatever reason, we will go our separate ways. Otherwise in 2004 you will know me. I was hoping that that day will be far in the future, that we have a good few months, or may be even a couple of years, before the inevitable happens. It looks like it is not to be. Sigh.
The reality is, there is no way that our story can continue. That it's not our time however much we desperately want it. Perhaps in another reality, but not this one.
Am I sad? I don't think there is a word that adequately describes my sadness. There are, simply, no words, to describe my feelings now.
My last request from you is this. If I am successful at the gallery next Tuesday, I will ask them to hold a series of sketches I made during my course. They are by no means the finished product but these are not meant to be completed they are intended to be a series of works in progress. I will ask the gallery to hold them in storage in your name until 2005, when you will come to collect them. It's my parting gift to you, and I hope you like them.
When I first moved into this basement apartment you said in your first letter that you wish that I enjoy my stay here. I have absolutely no doubts that I have, and my thanks to the goddess that I have been privileged to share a small part of my life with you.
I wish you the very best in your future.
Goodbye, Willow Rosenberg, and blessings.
Tara kissed the scented letter paper gently and folded it into the envelope. She opened the mailbox for what she believed was the last time and placed the letter reverently inside. Tears welled up in her eyes and her hands were shaking. As she closed the box and watched the letter disappear from her sight, she whispered her deepest desire to the winds.
"I love you."
Willow opened the door to the small modern art gallery on Sunnydale's main street for the first time in her life. Having been labeled as a scientist since a young age, art and its appreciation was not something she immersed herself in to a large extent. If it were not for Joyce's gallery, she would not have even set foot into one before now.
Her first impression was, how spacious it felt, though she knew the gallery did not occupy a large space. Wide open windows, high ceiling, distinct lack of pillars and sparse furnishings added to the sleek feel.
She looked at the pictures on the walls, she was sure they were arranged tastefully and to achieve maximum effect, but was a little bit overwhelmed. She looked slowly and carefully at each, trying to read and appreciate them, but only doing so-so.
Pretty colors, pretty patterns, but I have no clue how to describe them. All I know is this feeling of whether I like it or not.
Then she moved deeper into the gallery, to more secluded pieces. The lighting changed subtly, no longer bright and glaring, the inner section was all about understatement. The paintings there were more raw, more she searched for words and could only came up with subtle again. They seemed to move, to fill out, no longer just specks or lines of paint on pieces of canvas or paper, but telling real stories, real emotions, real movement.
She was awestruck at the effects, she had not expected to be so affected. One by one she drew her eyes along the various different works by different artists, none of whom she had ever heard of.
Until she saw herself.
Ten drawings. Charcoal on parchment, her dry inner mind described. Black on white, with very few strokes or, to her untrained eye, details, but so realistic. She had no real idea what she looked like to other people, and could only look at herself from photos or in the mirror. It was the first time she had seen herself from the eyes of another person, and she was blown away by how 3 dimensional it was, like another her was going to jump out from behind the parchment.
The series were arranged with the first six in two lines of three, then the remaining four in a square, with sufficient space between each set to maintain its independence, however close enough to the rest to signify its place in the order. There was a small difference between the portraits and herself, the series showed her a few years younger, though her fresh face already hinted at a depth and a certain amount of tragedy.
Buffy just came back from the dead, things were tense then.
The smaller set of six were rough, almost unfinished, in different poses. Some with more than one image on the same canvas.
The set of four had more detail and background, obviously at a further stage of "completeness" than the other ones.
The first was of her on stage, backlit and staring at a dark audience, a generous smile on her face. That night at the Bronze, the Dingoes' 300th concert.
The second was her half turned, a small frown on her forehead, eyes half closed and looking to the side, as if searching for something or someone. Her head cocked to one side, her left hand stretched out, trying to reach out.
The third was from a wide perspective, of her sitting at a table and chair, background recognizable as the Espresso Pump, a cup of coffee in front of her, with steam floating up, her hands wrapped tightly round the cup to keep warm.
The last one in the series was extreme close up, head only. In it she seemed to be staring straight at the observer with a meaningful grin and what appeared to be a hungry, almost lustful look that followed her even if she moved a little to the side. When had she ever looked like that?
She was transfixed, an indefinable shiver traveled up her spine and she shuddered at the unfamiliar feeling.
"A powerful series of sketches, don't you agree?" She literally jumped out of her skin when the voice appeared so suddenly from behind her.
She could only stare at the dapper middle aged man who had materialized next to her with a confused expression on her face, but her gaze was soon drawn back to the sketches.
The gallery proprietor had seen Willow come in, but had decided to let the young redhead look around at the paintings on display at her own pace. Ordinarily he would dismiss the younger woman as just a browser, her demeanor did not say "collector" or "art patron" or even "nerd with money to burn". However she did seem to be there for a purpose, but knowing people who came into galleries preferred to be left alone in their perusals, he had kept his distance until she came to the charcoal series.
The series of sketches had been included in the stock when he bought the gallery from the previous owners, with a note that they were not for sale, and were waiting to be collected by their rightful owner. It also came with a rather unusual request regarding timing of exhibition. He thought it was strange, but out of respect for the artist, and genuine appreciation of the work, had no qualms in complying to the request.
Many people had looked at, and asked about, the series, and his answer was always the same. He thought he should let the young woman know before she asked.
"Unfortunately they are not for sale, at the artist's request. If you're interested I have some other portraits I can show you," he said.
Willow turned and looked at him again, she was about to say something but had trouble forming words. She stood there, slightly wringing her hands together, a deep frown on her face, shook her head and turned back to the sketches.
He looked at the girl, and at the sketches, not understanding why the girl was so flustered.
"Look, Miss-" and stopped when he spotted the wild look in her eyes. She looked like she had seen a ghost.
Still she had not said a word.
He looked more carefully at her, and at the sketches, and back at her again.
"It's you!" he exclaimed, the loudness of his cry startling them both. "That's you in these sketches. I didn't recognize you at first."
She turned to him, still with that strange, wild expression, her eyes grew wider.
"You're the person I've been waiting for. Are you here to claim them? I have the documentation somewhere, let me go get them," he blubbered. Though he was expecting a visit like this eventually, he expected, well he did not know what to expect, but he was used to an older clientele and was unsettled at the unguarded, exposed display of emotion displayed by the young woman when she saw the sketches. He thought the series had just been loaned to the gallery for safekeeping, perhaps their owner was abroad or something like that. The redhead had obviously not seen them before although it was now abundantly clear that she was the subject.
When he retrieved the paperwork from the gallery files and returned to Willow, the redhead was more composed.
"Miss, do you mind coming with me to the office, there's some paperwork that needs to be signed," he explained.
She said nothing, but followed him to the office where he motioned her to sit at one of the gallery's modern designer chairs.
She sat very still, watching him struggling with the file, trying to retrieve what he was looking for. She had only a vague idea what he was talking about, something about claiming the sketches. She recognized herself in them, and was in complete wonderment at how lifelike they were, how Tara had captured her expressions, her energy, her very being. The signature at the bottom right had confirmed that these were done by one T. Maclay and dated 2002. These must be the unfinished sketches Tara made in Houston, and the gallery had been very kind to hold them for so long.
But the burning question in Willow's mind was, where was Tara? Why had she left the sketches and not touched them. Yes she said they were for Willow, but it felt like they had been literally left at the gallery and not touched.
Was Tara's letter really their last correspondence? Did Tara mean it when she said their joined path had ended? There was such a finality to her words that had ripped Willow's heart when she read them. Why did she make that stupid request? Why did she have to screw things up when everything was going so well? She was so racked in guilt and melancholy that she had not mustered up sufficient courage to write Tara and apologize. Then all of a sudden it was the 7th and it was the day Tara said she would speak to younger her and somehow she found herself at the gallery, still not having written to Tara. Part of her wanted to take back her words yet another part wanted to hear what happened at the talk, that was selfish and, so selfish, she could not forgive herself.
"Let's see what we have here. Forgive me if I seem unfamiliar, this came with the gallery when I bought it but I've not had the chance to review it thoroughly. Hmmm. The files say they were painted by Tara Maclay, do you know her?" he asked.
At her nod he continued, "They are to be stored at the gallery and not to be brought out for exhibition until 3 years from the date of this declaration, which means 2005. They are the property of a Willow Rosenberg of this address here, who will provide adequate proof of identity. The rest is legal jargon, if Ms Rosenberg doesn't claim the sketches within a certain number of years, etc. You are Ms Rosenberg, aren't you?"
She could only nod numbly.
He sat patiently as if waiting for her to take the next step. She was about to ask when it suddenly occurred to her, with a little "Oh" at her understanding, she took out her wallet and searched for her driver's license.
"Sorry. Yes, that's me. You want my driver's license?" she asked as she handed the document over.
He matched it against the name and address on his records and satisfied himself that the photo was indeed of Willow.
"There are a few more formalities to go through, documents to sign because there is no receipt and the lawyers will want to make sure all is in order and there will be no other claimants, do you understand?"
"Yes, it's kinda new to me, thanks for helping," Willow said, smiling nervously at her cluelessness.
"In the mean time, and perhaps afterward, how would you like to exhibit the series? Unless you have alternate arrangements, may I suggest that you consider leaving them here at the gallery for the time being?" he asked gently.
"Um, that'll be good, I haven't thought about what to do with them," Willow answered.
"They are excellent examples of Ms Maclay's early work, did you know her personally?" he enquired.
"A little," she said. A bit hard to explain that they had never met in person (well, they did meet, kinda, but thats too complicated) but knew each other so very well in other ways.
"Such a shame, she would have been very good. A life cut short, so tragically, and so young too," he said sadly.
"WHAT DID YOU SAY?"
Willow could not control herself. She was physically sick and was shaking all over. She could not breathe, a shudder traveled up her spine and exploded just below her neck.
She felt blackness closing in, she was a heartbeat away from allowing it to flood over her.
She staggered out of the gallery in a daze, the stunned and concerned owner following right behind her. She grabbed the nearest inanimate object, a lamp post, and held on for dear life. Nausea overcame her again and she felt bile rising up from her stomach. She tried to be sick but nothing was left, she had emptied the contents of her stomach several times over already.
Fragments of the newspaper cutting the gallery owner showed her echoed through her mind.
" senseless drive-by shooting just outside the bank, a few doors from the Espresso Pump "
" through the heart, it was instantaneous "
" perpetrators were never caught, though the police was looking for a white van with a spaceship design seen in the vicinity in connection with both the shooting and the bank robbery "
It hit her like a speeding bullet. Or a thousand ton freight train going at full speed.
She was on her way to see younger me. The white van, the robbery, shit! The nerds! The nerds shot Tara! Oh god, oh god, oh god!
She felt the blackness at the edge of her sanity again.
Then a sudden slap of realization.
I've got to stop her. The mailbox.
She ran and ran and ran, faster than she had ever run, faster than when she was chased by the deadliest demons. She would have flown if she knew how to fly. But still she was not fast enough.
She jumped in front of the nearest taxi and opened the door with such forcefulness it might have broken off its hinges. Almost out of breath she gave the address to the driver, who took one look at the desperate and petrified looking young woman and decided to shut his mouth and drive fast.
She managed to find a pen and a scrap of paper in her pocket, a receipt from the Magic Shop, she could not remember what. Her fingers were trembling so violently she was having difficulties writing. The words were all over the place, like the mad scramblings of a toddler just learning how to write, but just about legible.
She held onto the note with dear life, as if her entire life depended on it. And yes, her entire life did depend on it.
She's the most important person in my life.
The journey was the longest she had to endure all her life, even though it was no more than 10 minutes. She felt the seconds slipping away, and glared at the driver impatiently through the rearview mirror, even though he seemed to be breaking every traffic law already.
She jumped out of the cab even before it had stopped fully, hastily handing over a twenty to the driver and not bothering about the change. It was not the time to worry about things like that.
She tripped and scraped the bottom of her palms on the concrete pathway when she reached out her hands to steady herself. She thought her jeans may have been ripped too. But there was no time to clean the grime off, no time to tend to the broken skin, no time to wipe the blood off. Pain was not an option.
In her mind was one single task. Get to the mailbox, open the mailbox, put the note inside.
Her hands were shaking so much she had trouble with the catch, she angrily shook the box for being so unyielding, before finally negotiating the catch and got the door open. She struggled also to deposit the thin strip of paper, instantly regretting that she did not have a larger piece of paper, or an envelope or just something to make sure it did not get lost. In a moment of clarity, she put the pen on top of the paper to hold it down, wishing with all she had that it was sufficient.
She closed the catch of the mailbox and collapsed on the ground, totally drained and lacking in energy to even move. She knew she should be praying to God, the goddess and any other deity who was listening, to please get the note to Tara before she leaves for her appointment. To please please please not let Tara die. That she would never forgive herself ever, for causing Tara to die. But she was too exhausted to muster even a single word. It was all she could do to continue breathing and not pass out.
She did not notice the sky becoming suddenly pitch black or the mailbox becoming superheated as she sat limply on the ground. Or how in the next second it was back to normal again.
How she got home, she could not remember. She had no idea what time it was, how long she had remained in her fetal position on the couch. She did not even have the presence of mind to take off her coat and shoes.
How could she be so stupid. So selfish. Why did they have to take her away, so sweet and funny and wise and oh my god I'm going to be sick again.
She did not have the energy to go to the bathroom, but it did not matter, she had nothing left inside her and all that came out were dry heaves and wheezes.
She knew tears were not too far away but also knew that once the floodgate opened she would have a hard job stopping it. But right now, tears eluded her, feelings were jumbled up, all she felt was numb and dead inside.
She curled up further into the couch, as if wanting to retreat into a cocoon, away from the realities of the outside world. She did not hear the insistent buzzing of her buzzer, or the chiming of her doorbell.
In the hazy fog of her mind, she felt, rather than heard, her front door slowing opening, followed by a hesitant soft voice.
Shit! I forgot to close the door.
She leapt up suddenly from her crunched up position on the couch and almost fell over because of the speed of her action and the dizziness that followed. Her defenses all of a sudden rearing up and ready to attack whomever the intruder was, in her haste she had forgotten that it could not have been a vampire.
"Sorry, I tried the bell, and the door was open," the voice explained nervously.
Very slowly the figure came into focus through the fog and in the semi-darkness. She knew she was going to black out again as she tried to reach out behind her to find something to steady herself.
Even under the dim fluorescent lighting coming from the corridor she could see the radiance and splendor of the newcomer. If there was any hint of thought left in her conscious mind, she would deduce that she was seeing a ghost. As it was, she stood there, stupidly gawking at the figure standing awkwardly just inside her front door.
For a long moment, 20 seconds, a minute, they regarded each other with the shyness of a first real life encounter.
One of them had to say something. "Willow?"
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.
"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?"
"This is so easy," Willow remarked as they walked back from the diner.
"What is?" Tara asked under her breath, she was busy nuzzling Willow's neck, having thrown one arm round the redhead's shoulders and buried her head in her love's scent.
"Us. It's only been a couple of hours and here we are, like an old couple," Willow smiled.
"There's a few old couply things we haven't done yet," Tara's voice hummed from Willow's neck, sending some very nice tingles throughout Willow.
"Like what," Willow asked, feinting innocence.
"Oh you know, long walks on the beach, picnics in the park, movie nights, and me kissing the back of your ear like this," Tara leant in and blew softly at the back of Willow's ear before taking the exposed top half of the ear and gently sucking, delighted at watching a blush slowly build up across the redhead's features.
Willow swallowed several times. This woman, whose first touch she enjoyed only earlier in the day, was causing her stomach to do flip flops, her body to heat up considerably and she did not even want to think about her heart rate.
"You're, um, a little more forward than I thought," she squeaked, trying to suppress a moan at the sensation of soft lips sucking on a very sensitive spot.
"Anticipation and frustration. You don't like?" Tara purred. Then suddenly she jerked away. "Oh god, how can I be so self-centered. I've just been thinking about nothing else, but it must be too fast for you, I'm sorry."
Willow whimpered at the loss of Tara's touch, but by now she was slowly beginning to appreciate the small nuances of their situation. This was a Tara she had never lost, who had escaped a terrible fate, only to have to endure the anguish of having to patiently wait years to know what came next. If it were her, she would have probably lost her mind with the frustration.
As far as she knew, her memories were intact, not having been affected by the change in history, how long that would last, she had no idea.
The burning question was, how did they stand with each other? Theirs was a relationship that was old and new, strong and tenuous, familiar and alien. It was all too easy to misunderstand a word, a gesture, a sigh. Tara must have thought she was rejecting her, when all she wanted was to tease her a little. They would have to learn to read these little signs correctly. But they had time. Thankfully they had time.
"No, no, that's not what I mean," Willow protested, placing her hands in Tara's. Tara's momentary hesitation dissolved as Willow gave her a reassuring squeeze. "I guess it's taking me a little bit more time to process all this," she indicated as she saved her arms in a big circle about them. "About us. Like you said, it's all you've been thinking about-"
"You. You are all I've been thinking about," Tara murmured.
"See? That's what I mean. You've had time to think, but this morning I woke up and it was a nice sunny day and all I was concerned about was visiting an art gallery by myself and not coming across as a complete dork. I never thought it's possible to fit so much in a day, seeing your drawings, almost losing you," Willow had to stifle a rapidly building sob. "Then you, beautiful you you're here, and it hasn't sunk in yet."
"Are we going to fast? I can't stop touching you or kissing you, but it's kinda inappropriate really," Tara said.
"I don't want to slow down. It's just slightly busy up here," Willow pointed to her head. "But not more so than normal, it'll catch up quickly. Actually, I should let my brain do its processing in the background and concentrate on catching up with other things." She sealed her declaration with another kiss. A small one, but one that finally cemented her intentions.
By the time they reached Willow's apartment their desire for each other had ignited to levels neither witch had experienced before. They had not stopped kissing, except to breathe, or to negotiate obstacles such as gates and doors.
Willow had Tara pinned to the doorframe, one hand buried in long blonde hair while the other was desperately trying to retrieve her keys from her pocket and aiming for the keyhole, unsuccessfully as she was too distracted to marshal sufficient hand-eye coordination to complete the task at hand.
Tara did not help matters one bit. Trapped between Willow and the door, her hands nevertheless roamed freely along Willow's back and was slowly pulling Willow's shirt up away from the waistband of her jeans.
When she shifted her hips and it ground into Willow's center, Willow felt like her legs would collapse with the contact.
"Baby, just let me get the door open, please," she groaned.
The fog in Tara's brain cleared somewhat and she found enough sense to pull back, although she was panting and her eyes sparkled a deep shade of blue from the lust radiating from a spot just below her navel. She rested her head on Willow's shoulder and took a deep breath.
"Okay, I'll behave. Otherwise we'll never get the spell done," she grinned.
Willow sighed as her arousal subsided a little, and finally got the door open. They entered the place of their first meeting and savored the moment as their connection strengthened.
"Are you sure we should do the spell now?" she asked.
"Why not, since you've mentioned it already? I think we need some sort of meditative centering, it'll do us good. After everything's that happened today, I want some sort of blessing," Tara countered. "You have the ingredients?"
"Not many people can nonchalantly reach into their drawer and find vervain leaves gathered under the full moon and blessed by a druid priestess. But you're in luck, I'm one of those rare finds," Willow smirked.
"A rarity indeed. The more reason why I'm keeping you," Tara smiled, and gave Willow a peck on the lips.
"Trying to distract me again?" Willow giggled.
"I'm evil, but alright, let's get ready," Tara replied in her most serious tone under the circumstances, trying very hard to keep a straight face.
Willow looked around in her cupboard and took out a small jar of the infusion she had made a few months earlier, when they first talked about doing the spell. She had soaked the vervain leaves in freshly boiled water for 10 minutes. Then she strained, dried and added the leaves to a mixture of rose otto, sandalwood and sweet almond oils. Rose otto to calm the mind and sandalwood to promote meditation and to energize the mind and spirit. Almond to provide a base.
"So how are we gonna do the ritual bath?" she asked. A fraction of her mind had been mulling over this problem while walking back. She would love to share the bath with a Tara that's completely naked and glistening with oil and sliding up her own equally naked body, oh wow. But no, she was not sure if they were ready for something this powerful yet.
"I know what I want and I think I know what you want. But I also know it's far too intense for us, we've both been through a lot today. Why don't we have the bath separately then do the final anointing together," Tara suggested sensibly. I don't want to be sensible but it's better this way. Sigh.
"I guess," Willow sighed in agreement. "I'll get the bath and stuff ready, but you're the guest, so you go first. No arguments."
"Okay," Tara consented.
It was like old times. Each prepared their own bath carefully, with blessings to the goddess and emptied their minds and spirits while they soaked in the scented water surrounded by candles, as stipulated in the spell. It was tantalizing to know their love was just outside, it was easy to pretend they were doing this together, just like when they were separated by time.
After the bath, they dried themselves thoroughly with the fluffy towels from Willow's collection, and massaged the oil carefully from the ankle to thigh and then up their bodies and to their arms and hands.
When Willow had finished with her bath and returned to the living room tightly wrapped in a robe, she was pleasantly surprised to find that Tara had prepared a circle for the anointing ritual. Dried herbs and a quintet of blue candles marking the space.
Tara extended her hands and wordlessly invited Willow into the circle, where they sat with legs crossed and facing each other.
Willow placed the oil between them and dipped her fingers inside the jar, careful not to spill any of the precious infusion. She touched Tara's neck, then jaw, then worked slowly up to the blonde's cheeks, nose, eyes and forehead.
Tara in the meantime was mimicking Willow's action, with the same devotion and at the same pace. At first, their gaze never left the other, but as their mutual caresses traveled up to the eyes both closed them at the same time. Yet their hands never stopped.
They finished at the crown of the head, and with eyes still closed, breathed deeply as they felt the full effect of the blessing. They allowed the scent of their joining to wash over them, until they were immersed in the sensation. The soothing scent of the herb, the calming tranquility of the oil, and the impending sense of a sacred union: the unmistakable musk of intense arousal.
As the awareness grew and even before the spell dissipated fully Willow had peeled her own robe off with one hand and with the other ripped Tara's shirt down the middle exposing her breasts for the first time. Feeling a warm gush from her center at the sight, she immediately descended upon them feasting on one nipple after another.
Tara's shock at how fast Willow had pounced on her was rapidly compensated by wave after wave of pleasure as Willow touched and nibbled on her skin. Skin that felt like thousands and millions of nerve endings had decided to come alive at the same moment. She threw her head back against the couch and arched her body upwards, increasing the contact between her breast and Willow's mouth.
Willow moved down Tara's body, placing soft kisses at every inch of skin she came into contact with. Her hands had moved underneath Tara's pants and she brought her eyes up to ask the question.
Tara answered by lifting her hips and allowing Willow to pull her pants and underwear off in one swift action. Willow then happily stripped the torn shirt from Tara's shoulders and shook her own robe off completely, Tara as delighted as Willow when she saw the other's naked form.
Tara straightened her legs and physically lifted Willow so the redhead sat on her lap, legs spread either side and they finally made contact, skin against skin. She took a long, passionate look at her lover, and seeing the excitement mirrored in deep green eyes, drove their lips together in a hungry kiss.
Willow wriggled her hips and slid down between her legs, opening her completely, though all so willingly. And for a brief moment, their wetness mingled as Willow's pussy slid along her opening, causing a exhilarating tremor to pass through from their clits up to the tip of their fingers and toes.
Then before she knew it Willow had two fingers inside her and was pumping away insistently. Her hips moved in an urgent rhythm as she urged Willow to take her deeper and faster. Her fingers reached for Willow but were guided away, she groaned in frustration.
"Shh, honey, shh," Willow soothed. "Just relax and let me."
"But want together," Tara growled, not too coherently.
"Plenty of time for that later," Willow assured her.
"Promise?" Tara whimpered.
"Promise," Willow sealed her promise by increasing the tempo, by then Tara was reduced to impassioned begging as her climax grew into a crescendo.
"Don't stop, don't stop, right ther-ahhhhh!" she let out a blood- curdling scream that tagged on the end of her pleas as she came hard, faster than she thought ever possible.
Willow's thumb brushed against her clit with an almost feather-like touch and she screamed again, arching her body up and almost throwing her lover off, her fingernails leaving scratch marks all over the redhead's back and shoulders. Willow ignored the pain and guided Tara down from her peak tenderly, both overcome with emotion, marveling at how seamless their union was.
Tara still felt limp but she was all too aware of her own need for Willow, to take her, to consume her, to bask in her essence. She reached up and cupped her lover's face with her hands and brought their lips together, seeking and was immediately granted entry. She traced her hands over Willow's arms, down the sides of her breasts, and round to her ass. She brought her fingers close over Willow's sex and was rewarded by a sensuous moan and tell-tale flood over her hands.
But just as Tara was about to slide inside, Willow captured her wrists, pulled them above her head and rested them on the couch. She trapped them together with her hand, tightening her grip as Tara initially struggled. She stroked her lover's hair and kissed her hard, letting her love permeate through the kiss. Tara had this totally adorable crinkle on her forehead when she frowned and she kissed her there too.
Tara stopped fighting against Willow's hold and looked up at the redhead with large, questioning eyes. Willow shifted slightly into a semi-kneeling position astride Tara and lowered her drenched pussy onto the blonde's thigh. Squelchy, she thought amusedly. Tara smiled, having instantly understood what she wanted, stiffened her thigh to give more friction and she rode it, bouncing and rubbing and pressing down and leaving a pool of desire dripping down Tara's inner thighs.
In no time at all she felt her insides clench and her clit throb as she approached orgasm. She let go and climaxed with a piercing roar, Tara holding her tightly in a loving embrace as she shook and writhed for several very long, utterly blissful, moments.
Finally she was spent and she collapsed on Tara, completed sated and tingly all over.
They met in another kiss, this one relaxed and leisurely, quietly murmuring words of affection that only they could hear.
Somehow they made the move to the bed and as Willow flipped the duvet over, their bodies automatically became entwined and it was hard to know which witch began and which one ended. Sleepy with the endorphin rush, they snuggled up even closer and fell asleep in each other's arms, for the first time in the rest of their lives.
The big words had yet to make an appearance. Words like Love and Commitment and Forever. Yet they already knew deep within their souls what the answers were, it was just a matter of verbalizing them. They had been on a journey of discovery, but the real journey, the one they would make together, was only just starting.
This is like an Appendix. Thought I'd summarize the timeline and important events, it should make things fairly clear. There's a whole 2 years between June 02 and August 04 that we don't know where Tara is and where she's doing. May be we can leave it as one of those things that happen "off-camera", or it may become another fic. I dunno.
|Aug '01||Junior year at UCS. Glory happened. Buffy died and came back.||Moves into brand new basement apartment.|
|25 Aug 01||-||Receives first letter from Willow.|
|29 Oct '01||At Bronze with Scoobies. "Feels" Tara but doesn't know who it is.||Sees Willow at Bronze with Oz and Dingoes.|
|Oct '01||-||Does Flower of Light spell with Willow.|
|Thanksgiving '01||-||Miss Kitty arrives.|
|Nov '01||-||Makes appointment to meet Willow at Espresso Pump, Dec '04.|
|Dec '01||Learns Oz is leaving for NY. "Meets" Tara at Espresso Pump.||Runs into Willow and Buffy at Espresso Pump, offers kind words.|
|Jan '02||Oz leaves for NY.||Starts Miss Kitty painting.|
|Spring '02||-||Art course in Houston.|
|April '02||-||Agrees to speak to young Willow.|
|April '02||-||Finished Miss Kitty painting.|
|7 May '02||-||After
leaving sketches at gallery:
Timeline 1: is shot.
Timeline 2: has Willow's letter, goes home.
Timeline for Tara changes here.
|June '02||-||Writes to Willow but no reply, mailbox stops working. Falls ill.|
|July '03||Graduates. Moves into apartment.||Hmmm. Where is Tara?|
|Aug '04||Moves out of basement apartment. Writes first letter to Tara.||In Sunnydale. Checks name on Willow's new apartment.|
|Oct '04||Finds out about Oz cheating.||-|
|Oct '04||Does Flower of Light spell with Tara.||Out of sight in Sunnydale.|
|Nov '04||Asks Tara to meet her at Espresso Pump on 12 Dec.||Gallery has exhibition.|
|12 Dec '04||Tara didn't show up.||So hard, staying away|
|Jan '05||Oz comes back.||Resists temptation to slug him one.|
|April '05||Asks Tara to see younger Willow.||-|
|7 May '05 (am)||Visits gallery. Learns
of Tara's death. Runs to mailbox, leaves letter.|
Timeline for Willow changes here.
|7 May '05 (pm)||Tara is here!||Finally, I can see her.|
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