Disclaimers: Everybody sing along; They're owned by Joss, Mutant Enemy and WB. Plus a cameo by characters owned by Aaron Spelling. "A vague disclaimer is nobody's friend." --Willow
Pairings: Buffy/Willow, Oz/Amy, Piper/Leo
Feedback: But of course. Jim_D_Means@prodigy.net Be warned, however; all flames, especially from the Tara lovers out there will be laughed at derisively and deleted.
Archives: Just spell my name right.
Author's note: This is in response to the "Coming Home" challenge.
Summary: Willow returns to Sunnydale for her class reunion, eight years after a cruel betrayal tore out her heart. Can an old friend help her heal at last?
Warning: Characters die, and not just someone everyone hates like Riley. Angst aplenty, but I play you out with violins at the end(I.E., a happy ending). Also, some serious Tara-bashing.

<><><><><><><><>

Together Again For The First Time
By Kirayoshi

<><><><><><><><>

In every heart there is a room,
A sanctuary safe and strong,
To heal the wounds of lovers past,
Until a new one comes along.

I spoke to you in cautious tones,
You answered me with no pretense,
But still I feared I said too much;
My silence is my self-defense.

And every time I held a rose,
It seems I only felt the thorns,
And so it goes, and so it goes,
And so will you soon, I suppose.

But if my silence made you leave,
Then that would be my worst mistake,
And so I'll share this room with you,
And you may have this heart to break.

And this is why my eyes are closed,
It's just as well for all I've seen.
And so it goes, and so it goes,
And you're the only one who knows.

And so I'll choose to be with you,
As if the choice were mine to make,
And you may make decisions too,
And you may have this heart to break.

--Billy Joel
"And So It Goes"

<><><><><><><><>

April 12, 2009

Willow drove her Beemer past a highway sign that read, "Welcome to Sunnydale", and smiled sardonically at the thought.

"Yep, Sunnydale, California. Home sweet Hell."

She considered making a U-turn on the spot and heading back for San Francisco. But no, she had to face her demons, she knew that. Ever since her best friends from SF, the three Halliwell sisters, all witches like herself, had learned about Willow's class reunion, they had been on her case to go, to touch base with her friends

"C'mon," Piper had said, leaning into the chest of her husband Leo. "Maybe you'll find and old boyfriend."

"Or girlfriend," Phoebe interjected brightly, only to be slapped on the side by her eldest sister Prue. "Owiee! Hey, Prue, you know she swings the other way!"

"Yeah, but you don't need to be rude about it," Prue snapped at her sibling, slapping her again.

"It's okay, Prue," Willow answered. "I do swing the other way. Actually that's 'did'. I haven't swung in any direction since--since college."

"Don't worry about it," Leo commented. "We're just concerned about you. How about that best friend you've told us about, what was her name, Sunny, Bunny..."

"Buffy," Willow corrected the whitelighter.

"Yeah, you should look her up. You need to get out more. You've been working way too hard since you started your software company."

Willow had to agree with Leo; for the last few years, since the founding of Willtronix, she had lived only for her work. She was now one of the most successful new faces in the software business since Microsoft was split up. And their new DOS system, WillPower Version 3.0, was pulling in more sales than Microsoft 08. And every night, she came home to a condo occupied only by her cat, Piawacket.

Willow finally gave in to the wave of friendly concern, and agreed to go to her class reunion. She wasn't looking forward to it. She knew at least one face that wouldn't be there, and she knew that it was her fault.

<><><><><><><><>

Eight years ago

Buffy and Willow met Giles at his apartment after he had called them. Willow had kissed her girlfriend Tara goodbye and promised to meet her that night and watch videos (although they both knew that the videos would be forgotten in the wake of their now legendary kissing marathons). "Hey, Giles," Buffy greeted the ex-watcher. "What's the what?" Giles said nothing, only giving the girls a pained expression.

Willow, at first sharing her friend's cheery disposition, suddenly serioused up. "What is it, Giles? Another demon out to open the Hellmouth?"

Giles said nothing for five seconds, then he only spoke in a harsh, agonized whisper; "Xander was found in Anya's apartment today."

Buffy grunted a laugh. "Yeah, what are the odds?"

Giles turned to her and snapped at her; "He's dead!"

Buffy and Willow fell quiet, unable to believe what Giles had said. "The paramedics say it was a massive coronary," he continued, clearly shocked by the news himself. "And Anya wasn't at the apartment at the time of death, she was visiting a friend on the other side of town. There's no explanation for his death. I'm sorry I can't tell you more."

"Oh my God," Buffy whispered, as she looked at her friend. Willow and Xander had been friends for all of their lives, long before Buffy moved into town. The news of his death had struck with the force of a Mack truck. She found breathing difficult, and started to gasp helplessly. Buffy immediately held her, comforted her, consoled her as best as she could. "Don't worry, Wills, we'll find out what happened."

Later, at Willow and Tara's dorm, Buffy helped her gather Wiccan supplies. Willow had located a divination spell in one of Giles' tomes that could possibly find evidence of who or what killed Xander. "We'll need my atheme, some sacred earth, and some fresh newt's eyes. My atheme is somewhere in the closet, left hand side," Willow instructed Buffy.

"What's an atheme?"

"A knife," Willow answered. "A silver-handled knife, the blade's about four inches long."

Buffy rummaged around the closet for the knife, when suddenly she pulled out a shoe box. She opened the box, thinking it was Willow's, and maybe contained her atheme.

She looked at the contents of the box, when suddenly Willow snatched it away from her. "Don't, Buffy," she said hurriedly. "This is Tara's stuff. Off limits. No touch."

"Oh, sorry," Buffy grinned sheepishly. "But it just contains some old dolls. No big."

"Dolls?" Willow asked. "What kind of dolls?"

"Doll kind dolls," Buffy answered, puzzled. "White cloth, yarn hair, no clothes, kinda homemade looking."

"No," Willow whispered to herself. "She wouldn't--" Betraying her curiosity, she glanced at the dolls. She picked up two dolls, one with red yarn hair and labeled 'Willow'; one with yellow yarn hair, and the label 'Tara'. The two dolls were bound together by a red silk ribbon, wrapped around their waist.

"No, no, no," Willow murmured, "she wouldn't have--"

"What?" asked Buffy. She saw the look of sudden fear, of revulsion, of near panic in her friend's face. What was so scary about some dolls?

Willow dropped the box, and backed away from it as though it contained a freshly severed hand. "Sympathetic magic," Willow said, her voice tinged with fear. "Often, if erroneously, called voodoo. Those dolls contain some physical part of a person--a lock of hair, or a piece of cloth cut from some clothing that they wore. A skilled witch can use the dolls to control others. And the red ribbon around these two represents a binding spell. A love spell."

"Love spell--" Buffy pondered aloud as she did the math. The realization came to her with an almost audible click. She grabbed the box quickly and looked into it again. "That means that--"

"--that the only reason I ever loved Tara," Willow stammered, the realization making her stomach lurch, "was because she put a spell on me!"

"Willow," Buffy asked urgently, afraid of the answer, "can someone kill with these?"

"Kill?" Willow stopped, and thought. "Well, yeah, stick a pin into the chest of one, and have your intended victim die of a heart--oh, no, please, Goddess, don't let it be--"

Buffy said nothing, but she pulled out a third doll. Short brown yarn hair. The label across its chest reading 'Xander'.

A long sharp pin stuck out of the doll's chest.

Willow jumped back from the doll, like Superman trying to escape a lump of Kryptonite. "No, no, no," she wailed, "Dear Goddess, NO!" She turned away in horror at these thoughts. The one she loved more than life itself a killer--and she still loved her--and the love was a lie, a thing born of black magic--but she still loved her---

"Buffy," she begged in agony, "if you ever loved me, please take the ribbon off of those two dolls." Buffy immediately complied, unraveling the ribbon from the Willow and Tara dolls, collapsing the spell that held Willow bound to Tara with it.

Willow started to breath normally, although the memory of having once loved and made love to a woman capable of murder left her with a desire to vomit. Not just murder, but the murder of her friend.

"Willow?"

Tara stood at the doorway, seeing the two friends and the dolls on Willow's bed. She contemplated the situation quietly, as Willow seethed.

"Why, Tara?" she cried. "Why did you kill Xander?"

"He was making you unhappy," Tara answered sweetly. "He never approved of us, you know that."

"Yeah, and right now I agree with him!" Willow shrieked. "He was my friend! You killed him!"

"Just back away, nice and slow, Tara," Buffy demanded. "You're going to answer for this. No one kills my friends and gets away with it!"

"I'm s-sorry you feel that way," Tara said, falling back onto her old nervous stutter. She pulled an object out of her book bag. Another cloth doll, with long yellow yarn hair. "You n-never really ap-proved of us either, d-did you?" She squeezed the doll in her hand, and suddenly Buffy's chest tightened, and she couldn't breath. She gasped for air, desperately trying to reach for Tara.

"DROP IT, TARA!" Willow screamed at her once-lover. She grabbed the 'Tara' doll from her bed and pulled at its right arm. Suddenly, Tara's arm flung back, dropping the 'Buffy' doll. Buffy dropped to the ground, and inhaled sharply, breathing normally again in seconds.

"Good--work, Wills," she gasped, removing her doll from Tara's reach. "Now I'll pin her down and--"

"No need, Buffy," Willow growled so sharply that even the Slayer was shocked. "She's not going anywhere." She held the doll's arms in her right hand, and the legs in the left. Tara was effectively pinned to the ground, unable to move her limbs. "Do you know, Tara," Willow spat out each word as though it were poison, "how much I want to rip this doll's head off right now?"

"Don't do it, Willow," Buffy warned.

"Why the hell not?" she snapped back at her friend. "She killed Xander! She tried to kill you! I got an idea, you take one leg, I'll take another, we'll make a wish!"

"No!" Buffy glared at Willow. She held out her hand, saying, "Give me the doll, Willow. You're better than that. You're better than her."

Willow stood fast, grabbing the doll. She pleaded with her eyes, begging silently for the chance to avenge Xander. Buffy stood her ground, silently demanding the doll. "Don't worry about Tara, she'll be taken care of. I've learned a few things about the Wiccan groups and local covens around here. They'll make sure she's punished properly. Make sure she'll never hurt anyone again."

Willow trembled and finally handed the doll to Buffy. As she started to let go of the doll, Tara, freed of the paralysis that held her captive, lunged at the doll, grabbing it from Buffy's hands. "N-no you d-don't!" she shouted, taking the doll in her own hands. "I'll d-decide the time of my p-passing. G-goodbye, Willow. It was fun while it l-lasted." She twisted the doll's head sharply, and her own head twisted away, with an audible crunch of vertebrae against vertebrae. She instantly collapsed in a lifeless heap, dead of a broken neck.

<><><><><><><><>

Two days later, funerals were held for Tara and Xander. Buffy, Willow, Anya, Giles, and Joyce attended Xander's funeral. Xander's parents were absent, and Buffy was incensed that they would abandon their son even at his death.

No one attended Tara's funeral.

Two days after the funerals, Willow transferred her college credentials from UC Sunnydale to UCSF. Buffy tried to talk her out of it at first, but Willow decided that she needed to get away from Sunnydale. Her love had betrayed her, and it cost her the life of her friend. She had to get away. Finally, Buffy helped her pack, and saw her off at the airport. Willow promised to keep in touch with Buffy, and for a few months she did. The letters came weekly, then monthly, then occasionally, then not at all. Buffy hurt for her friend, and for losing her friend. Willow hurt as well, but couldn't tell anyone about it. Least of all Buffy. She had to let go. Let go of her past, burn her bridges behind her. No going back, no looking behind her.

She graduated from UCSF with a major in computer sciences, and was offered a job at a major software firm. She rose rapidly in the ranks, designing several popular application software packages, including her own DOS system, WillPower. This became the foundation of her own company, Willtronix. Soon, she was a major player in the computer field. She could afford the finer things, and treated herself to a BMX, and a condo overlooking the San Francisco Bay.

And, except for the Halliwell sisters, she had few friends in the Bay area. And she didn't want any. Her friends had a tendency to get killed.

<><><><><><><><>

Present day

"Ladies and Gentlemen of the Class of '99, Wear Sunscreen!"

The reunion dance was in full swing at the recently rebuilt Sunnydale High School auditorium, starting with Baz Lurhmann's "Sunscreen" song, and taking off from there. Willow Rosenberg stood alone, against the wall, hoping that she would go by with minimal pressing of the flesh. No such luck.

"Hey, Willow," a familiar voice said. Willow turned around, and found herself face to face with a page from her past. She didn't recognize him at first, in his conservative suit and tie, with sandy brown hair instead of the mood ring colors he sported in high school. But his lopsided Han Solo smile and quiet demeanor were still there. "Oz," she greeted. "Good to see you."

"Good to be seen," he answered. "But I stopped being called Oz in 2005. Call me Daniel."

"The Artist Formerly Known as Oz," the woman next to him said. "How are you, Willow. Still casting spells?"

"Amy?" Willow asked. "Amy Madison?"

"Amy Ozbourne, these days," Amy answered, cuddling closer to Daniel. Willow looked at the two of them, amazed.

"So," Willow asked, trying to avoid the subject. "How did you get un-moused? And when did you two--" She pointed back and forth between her friends.

"Oh, the spell finally wore off six years ago," Amy announced. "I kinda swore off the magic since then. Shortly after that, I ran into Daniel, and, well, we clicked."

"Hey," Willow smiled, shaking their hands. "Congratulations, both of you." She kissed her old boyfriend on the cheek. "So what are you two doing?"

"I've been named the head of the music department here at Sunnydale High," Daniel announced. "Amy's teaching chemistry."

"Well, sounds good," Willow said. "Glad you didn't give up the music."

"I guess we don't have to ask what you've been doing," Amy quipped. "All the school computers use WillPower startups."

"I'm glad they work for you," Willow answered. "I guess you could say I've done well for myself."

Daniel looked at his wife, and asked, "Do you mind if I--" he pointed at Willow.

"No problem," Amy said, turning away. "Don't go stealing my husband," Amy laughed at Willow, and mingled with the crowd.

"So, Willow," Daniel asked. "How's Tara?"

"Tara?" Willow was taken aback by the question. She didn't want to relive that nightmare, but she didn't want to lie to a friend. She simply chose not to volunteer any information. "Uh, Tara died eight years ago. Yeah, real bad, not good, very dead..."

"Willow," Daniel quietly halted her babbling streak, "I know about Tara. Buffy's here."

"She told you?" Daniel nodded. "About Xander?" He nodded again. She felt the tears well in her eyes, but managed to choke back any sobs. "Tara made me feel filthy," she confessed. "After her, I couldn't look at anyone again. It's like Xander died because I loved someone else."

"No, Xander died because Tara was obsessed," Daniel confronted Willow. "There was nothing you could have done, she used her magic to control you. It's not your fault."

Willow tried to smile at her friend's reassurances. She found herself thinking of one thing. "Where's Buffy?"

"Last I saw her," Daniel said, "She was over by the punch bowl, chatting with Giles. And yes, she is hoping to see you."

"Yeah," she said dubiously, "probably to throw a glass of punch at me for not keeping in touch."

"Give her more credit than that, Will," Daniel chided her. "She'll still be your friend if you'll have her."

"Yeah," Willow sighed. "She'd be safer if she didn't." Willow looked over toward the punch bowl, and there she was. Her hair a few inches shorter than she remembered, her body fuller, yet still as beautiful, her face still as lovely as it had ever been. The dapper Englishman chatting next to her sported a little more grey at the temples than she recalled, and a bit more of a spread in the middle, but his tweed jacket and polite yet generous manner still distinguished him.

As she considered her options, leaning heavily toward running for the door, she heard a section of the Baz Lurhmann speech song still playing on the P. A. system;

"Work hard to bridge the gaps
In geography and lifestyle,
Because the older you get,
The more you need the people
Who knew you when you were young."

She finally decided to deal with her demons. She approached the refreshment table and the two long lost friends. She overheard Giles say to Buffy, "When are you going to get away from that dojo of yours and visit your mother and me?"

"Next Saturday, I promise," Buffy answered. "Geez, you're a worse nag now than before you married Mom."

"I just want to see my stepdaughter, that's all," Giles scolded affectionately.

"Hey, guys," Willow timidly interrupted. "How goes it?"

Giles and Buffy looked at their old friend silently for a few seconds, then Giles opened his arms and embraced her. "Willow," he declared happily, "the sight of you is good for sore eyes. How have you been, child?"

"Fine, Giles," Willow answered. "How are you and Mrs. Summers?"

"We're doing well," Giles answered. "Joyce wanted me to send you her love when I saw you here. She appreciated the crystal sculpture you gave us for our wedding."

As Giles let go of Willow, she leveled her gaze at Buffy. "Well," Willow said, feeling as though she were about to be offered a blindfold and a cigarette, "either hug me or slug me, which is it?"

"Out of those choices," Buffy answered, smiling, "I'll take hug." She took her old friend in her arms, and for a second, it was as though no time at all had passed. Willow luxuriated in the embrace of her dearest friend in all the world. The one whom she should have loved, instead of--she couldn't finish the thought. She didn't deserve her love, not after Xander. She knew that, she had made her peace with it.

But oh, she still longed for Buffy to feel for her as she felt for Buffy.

Giles coughed slightly to get their attention. "I'll just go and see how Daniel's doing," he offered as an excuse to leave the two old friends alone.

After he was out of their field of vision, Buffy asked Willow, "So, how's the world treating you these days?"

"You know how it is," Willow answered. "Another day, another ten grand. It's good to be the CEO."

"I see you grew your hair out," Buffy commented. "When I saw you again just now, it was like when we first met after I moved to Sunnydale."

"Yeah, I've been wearing it this long for several years now."

"I kinda liked it shorter."

"Yeah," Willow answered, testily. "So did Tara."

Buffy said nothing for a while, fearing the increasingly awkward silence. Hastily, she added, "But it looks nice this way, too. Makes you look younger. Look, I'm sorry I brought up--"

"Don't worry about it," Willow said. "It happened, I have to deal with it."

"You wanna head outside? More privacy? We can talk more freely there."

"Sure." Willow smiled slightly as Buffy took her hand, and escorted her to the terrace outside the auditorium.

As they walked in the night air, Willow asked, "So, what have you been doing?"

"Well," Buffy started, "Five years ago, Giles and I finally succeeded in sealing the Hellmouth, so this town's been vamp-free since. Just before Mom and Giles married, I opened my own karate dojo. I teach martial arts for a living now, and sometimes give phys-ed classes here at Sunnydale High."

"Sounds like you got your life together," Willow admitted.

"This from a Fortune 500 member?"

"I'm not there yet," Willow argued. 'I'm no Bill Gates."

"You're gonna be, Wills. I have a sense of these things. Trust the retired Slayer." She was quiet for a few seconds. "You still miss him, don't you?"

"Every day, Buffy," Willow was feeling more melancholy as she spoke. "The last few months, he had been avoiding me. He didn't like Tara, and by the time I realized he was right, it was too late."

"Hey," Buffy answered, "for what it's worth, I didn't like Tara all that much either."

"Yeah," Willow sighed.

"Really. When I saw the two of you together, just before we had that big blow-out over her, before our final round with Adam and the Initiative? Remember that? When I saw her, my Slayer senses were giving off a low level buzz."

Willow stopped walking and looked Buffy squarely in the face. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"I kinda chalked it up to jealousy at the time," Buffy admitted.

"Jealousy?" Willow repeated. "What did Tara have that could make you jealous?"

"You," Buffy said simply.

Willow stood by silently as Buffy continued with her confession. "You once said to me that I couldn't accept that you and Tara were together. And you were right. Not because I had a problem with you being with a girl. Because I had finally lost you." Buffy turned her head, as though admitting a secret shame. "It was right about the time the agony that was my relationship with Riley was grinding to its inevitable end. I had finally realized the real reason my relationships were screwed. It was because I only had one true love in my world, and I had found her a long time ago." She faced Willow as she finished. "It was you all along, Wills. You were the one I loved. The one I still love."

"Oh Buffy," Willow breathed. She had wanted to hear these words for so long, and now that she heard them, she was at a loss for what to do. She took Buffy's hand in her own, and started to say her peace; "Shortly before I left for San Francisco, I had found one more of Tara's dolls. This one had brown hair, and the name 'Oz' on it. I shuddered when I thought what she would have done to it. To him. I also read up on what she had done to me. I found out that that kind of sympathetic magic can affect someone physically, or manipulate emotions, but it can't change certain things."

"You mean it can't make your boobs bigger or something like that?" Buffy asked.

"I mean," Willow continued, "that it can't affect things like height, appearance, or sexual orientation. I realized that although she made me fall in love with her, she didn't make me gay. She just brought out what was inside me all the time. That's when I knew that I had to leave. I felt used by her, and I guess that if she used me, anyone could use me. So I decided that I'd never be used again." She looked at Buffy's face again.

She saw the sadness and caring in her friend's eyes, and it moved her heart toward her. But she still held back. She couldn't say all that she wanted to say to her. What her heart had longed to express for so long. "I guess that I shut myself up so hard, convinced myself not to love anyone else, so I couldn't be hurt again, I'm sorry, Buffy, I can't say it to you, I can't say 'I love you'. I do, I always will, but I don't know if I can risk it again."

"Hey," Buffy placed her hand on Willow's arm. "You don't risk, you don't win anything."

"Well, maybe after I lost touch with you in San Francisco, I thougt you'd be mad at me."

"Mad," Buffy said, suddenly serious. "Yeah, I was mad. I was mad at Tara for hurting you. At her spells for tearing your heart apart like she did. But I was never mad, never could be mad at you. I will always be in love with you, Wills."

"How can you be so calm saying this?" Willow asked. "My stomach's doing flip-flops right about now."


"Hey, under this calm exterior, my insides are training for the Olympic gymnastic team. I think my stomach's got a chance for a gold medal in the uneven parallel bars, but my heart's a sure bet for the floor excercizes." The two women shared a laugh at this unusual image.

"As Xander would say," Willow said between gasps, and Buffy joined with her as she finished the sentence; "Scary Visual Place!" They laughed anew, rejoicing in their familiar closeness, the newly rediscovered connection that no time nor distance would sever. Willow melted into Buffy's arms as though it were the most natural thing in the world.

"Buffy," Willow admitted, twining her arms around Buffy's back. "I never want to let this end."

"Then don't," Buffy murmured against her hair.

"Buffy," she reluctantly tried to break off the hug, but Buffy held her fast and would not let her go. "Buffy, I've never been, and I'll never be, closer to anyone than I am to you. But I can't--I can't say--"

"You don't have to," Buffy leaned back slightly, and took Willow's face in her hand, turning it to her. "I want you to understand something, though. My heart, for all intents and purposes, is yours. No one else will have it but you. You may end up breaking it, you may end up not wanting it. That's the risk I'm willing to take. I trust you to care for my heart, because I know you will never willingly hurt it."

Willow smiled at her dearest friend, and said, "You're nuts, you know that, don't you?"

"It's been brought up," Buffy admitted. "Usually by my mom at dinnertime."

"I never want to lose you, Buffy." Willow held her tighter.

"Believe me," Buffy vowed, "if I have anything to say about it, you won't."

Willow looked at Buffy suddenly and asked, "You don't have any dolls back at home, do you?"

"Only Mr. Gordo," Buffy grinned. "I could cast a spell on him, but why would I want to fall in love with a pig?"

The two friends laughed and laughed, hugging and holding, not caring who saw them.

Willow's planned three day stay in Sunnydale was extended to two weeks, then three weeks, after which she began to shuttle back and forth between Sunnydale and San Francisco on a regular basis.

Three months later, Buffy relocated her dojo to San Francisco, and moved in with the woman who had consented to be her wife. The woman who was now able to love and be loved again. Because she took the risk to come back to her old home, Willow and the woman she had always loved were finally together as they were meant to be.

Together again. For the first time.

FINIS

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