COMING HOME S6.E18.x (set just before the final scene of Season 6 Episode 18, "Entropy")

Warnings: moderate sexual innuendo

Pairing: Tara & Willow

Willow, Tara, and other characters from the television shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel were created and are owned by Joss Whedon.

They had their problems, but every couple did.

The problems had many sources, some individual, others due to combining their particular individual idiosyncrasies in their relationship.

Her own were multiple and varied. She knew that from the start—the start not being the life she had made for herself here in Sunnydale, more specifically, the life she had begun the first time she lay eyes on Willow and felt her heart race with the flourish of its awakening—but from the very start, with Mama and Dad and Donnie in the rural town of Hillary, Alabama, where she had been born and raised and lived until she was eighteen.

When she was born, the town had been on the cusp of significant changes. It had for the century since its founding been an agricultural community, mostly vegetable and soybean farms, but in the past twenty years had been modernizing, moving out into the larger farming industries better subsidized by the state, livestock—chicken, mostly, but also pork and beef—and feed crops. Her own family had been caught in the transition. Their farm was the small, family-business type, raising table vegetables on the side while wheat was their main product. Much of their product was raised for local consumption, and "local" had to be understood in its strictest sense of Hillary and the surrounding towns within their county. A small chicken coop was used for eggs and poultry, but mostly for the family, neighbors, and occasionally for the bed-and-breakfast in town when their other suppliers closer into the town proper ran low. Their return seemed to become less and less every year as the competition grew but demand did not increase accordingly to accommodate both the small and medium-sized farms. Luckily—or unluckily, depending on your point of entry into the debate—the process of modernization had never completed in Hillary and the large farms, which of course included the corporate variety, never took root.

Tara learned at a very young age that she was a generational witch. The women of her family had talent passed on through their genes that, if honed properly, would make them adept magic weavers. It was not the big-spell power that Willow had. Rather, their talent was mostly of the earthy variety, channeling natural energies from their immediate surroundings to focused local effect. Her power, like her mother's, however, had been suppressed by her father, Donald Maclay, Senior, a very religious and superstitious man who looked on anything pertaining to the supernatural as perversion and blasphemy, something he was morally obligated to expunge—at the very least in the small community he had control over, the Maclay household. His moral obligation was a serious matter, a pact between himself and God, and justified any means necessary to execute. This included the use of force, physical and emotional.

Her mother had died when Tara was seventeen, the victim of ovarian cancer that had been caught too late to effectively treat even with the most aggressive chemotherapy on the heels of an emergency hysterectomy. By then, it made little difference that the Maclays had the cheapest kind of insurance mandated by state law for a family farm business as theirs to pay for her treatment. At least her denouement, once the diagnosis had been made properly, was quick, though painful. Less than six months after she'd told her family of her condition, Ruth Maclay passed. She had only been 44.

Though she loved Ruth with all her heart, was profoundly grateful for the love, kindness, devotion, and protection her mother had bestowed on her children throughout her life, Tara knew her mother had had her limitations and weaknesses. Her mother had been born and raised in Hillary before her, Donald just a couple of towns over in Fayton. The Maclay farm, in fact, had previously been known as the Anders farm, Ruth's father's farm. So, her mother had never left Hillary and it was that focused, small-town mentality that had limited how her short life had played out…

They had had a late spring cold snap so Tara pulled on her black leather duster, made sure her keys were in her pocket as well as the bottle of holy water and the short stake before pulling the door closed behind her. The walk to the bus station was not far, the path well-lit. She also had developed her capabilities as a witch and could now incinerate a vampire, possibly two if they came staggered, if necessary. She would make the trip despite the dangers of the Sunnydale night.

Tara had occasional moments of utter clarity reflecting on her life before Sunnydale, particularly thinking of her mother, when she dispassionately thought that Ruth should have led a very different life without Donald Maclay or, of course, Donnie or herself, Donald's progeny. She should have left Hillary, gone to university, even a community college, learned a trade, found a calling—anything, other than becoming the wife of a man so choked up in moral principles that he himself had once declared that the only joy he found in life was the closeness he had with his very demanding God. His family was only a means, an opportunity, to demonstrate his moral fiber to the Lord. Tara was not Ruth. What her father offered wasn't what Tara wanted or needed. So after Ruth succumbed to the cancer, Tara left her father's house as soon as she was able.

But Tara, since coming to Sunnydale, had learned to forgive her father his inflexibility. If her mother had been restricted by the small-town mentality of Hillary, her father was no less so. Her only concern was her brother. Living with Donald Senior but with a wild streak neither time nor their father's sermons had tamed, she was afraid Donnie would end up badly.

Willow and she had had numerous conversations, all starting with the premise of possibly calling her father to ask how things were going with him and Donnie, and see if his attitude toward his only daughter had softened at all. Most of those conversations, inevitably, ended with a vigorously argued debate over parental and filial responsibility and not becoming a slave to one's upbringing. Willow's position was predictable. Ira and Sheila Rosenberg, though ever supportive of their daughter's intellectual development and academic achievement, had taken a hands-off approach to their daughter's emotional upbringing. Yet, Willow had still managed to grow into a young woman who enjoyed making and receiving emotional contact. In fact, she craved it, needed it to live. Luckily, she had received it in the form of the friendship she had with Xander since they were five and, for the past six years, Buffy. Of course, there also had been Oz, who Tara knew could not be forgotten. Giles and Joyce Summers had provided it, too, so Willow did not go without through the time until the fates had delivered Tara to her and her to Tara, when the sweet chore of emotionally nurturing Willow had been gifted to the older girl. But the fact that her parents had passed on that responsibility left Willow resentful and with a lasting sense of disconnection from her parents.

The disconnect differed from her father and her mother. Her relationship with Ira, like many father-daughter relationships, hit the plateau of fatherly possession and protection of his little girl long ago and leveled off, unable to progress any further beyond that natural barrier. Her relationship with her mother, on the other hand, had always been stilted, to the point perhaps of being unnatural—something Willow had struggled to convey to Tara in advance of and after the occasional perfunctory holiday meal at the Rosenbergs, and the trademark awkward silences that marked the gathering of true strangers.

"I'm sorry you had to sit through that," Willow said softly. They were walking back to the bus stop to catch the bus back to campus. At Tara's raised eyebrow, she clarified, "The 'Sociology 101: Coalitional Politics in the Age of Multinational Capital' lecture. There was some new stuff in there. She must've brushed up on the latest journal articles when we accepted the invitation."

Tara smiled and shrugged. "Hey, at least I learned something. Who knew I had so much in common with transsexual prostitutes in New York City's meat-packing district?"

"And at-at least she didn't call Buffy 'Bunny' again." Willow frowned. "Though that's probably because she didn't mention Buffy at all."

Tara said nothing; she never did. Willow's parents treated her well enough, even if Sheila's attitude toward her daughter and her partner bordered on the clinical. She comforted Willow, but secretly, she compared Willow's parents to her father and thought, pragmatically, that there were worse home situations for a young person at odds with the typical accepted American social norms to be in.

Of course, Willow knew it, too. But still, it hurt, and ironically she reflexively became as detached as a daughter as Sheila was a mother. On the intellectual level, the only one she truly connected with her parents on, she knew she no longer needed them. It might be why she could not understand the reason behind Tara's occasional lapses into silence on particular days—days, Willow would find out, that marked Donald's or Donnie's birthday, or the day her mother passed. The latter Willow understood. The former, not so much. Willow reciprocated Tara's comfort and also tried to keep her silence as she watched her lover's futile meditations on the men of her family having a change of heart regarding Tara's place in their lives. But silence had never been Willow's strong suit, thus, the debates on parenting and familial responsibility those lapses inevitably engendered.

"I don't get it, Tara. I don't get why..."

What I could possibly still need from them that you can't give me yourself? Nothing, baby. But I have to at least try...

But it had never come down to following through. Willow was right. Donald Maclay had remained constant throughout the many years, constant as Biblical Job. Tara, however, had not.

The bus came and Tara boarded it. It was almost empty. Sunnydale's residents seemed to intuitively know that traveling at night posed certain hazards and avoided it if at all possible. The five mile bus ride normally took twenty minutes to complete. Tara paid her fare and took the first seat after the handicap section. She looked out the window, watching but not really seeing the lantern-lit campus grounds eventually recede in favor of the streets lined with storefronts in the city's downtown proper.

Looking back on the past three years, the changes she had undergone were enough to take one's breath away. Vampires, demons, hell-gods, and of course, magic. Of the last, not the Wiccan variety, which she had known since she was a girl at her mother's secret tutelage, but of the variety of love.

Willow, her partner in magic and love, had changed, too.

None of the others would have believed it with how quickly things had publicly escalated between them once Willow had come out to the gang, but it had taken some time before Willow started to open up to her about the things occurring beneath the surface of her playful, often child-like exterior. In fact, it took, perhaps, to Tara's twentieth birthday when her demon, her very last secret from Willow, was disproved that she fully realized Willow had demons of her own. They were of human origin but still in need of exorcism, and just as deadly if left to feed on their host. Even as intimate as they had been, and Tara knew it was impossible to have been any closer than the two had grown in their years together, Willow had kept her secrets from Tara, her darkest one the fear, so intense it threatened to paralyze her unless she forced it down and concealed it behind her façade of brave cheer, of not being good enough. Of failing, as a scholar to her parents, as best friend to Xander and Buffy, as a witch to the Slayer, a protégé for Giles, and as a lover and helpmeet to Tara.

So, what do you know, Tara?

I know I love her.

I know she loves me. She needs me.

She's changed because of me, as I've changed because of her. I need to take responsibility for that. Take ownership of us. There's no shame in it at all.

What Buffy had confided in her regarding what she had been doing with Spike, the shame she felt… That was never what she and Willow had. The physical aspect of love had been a central component of their life together. It had been from the very beginning, when the power of merely holding hands had generated the raw force that saved their lives as they scampered to barricade themselves in the Stevenson laundry room the night the Gentlemen had come calling. By the time Willow eventually came to the conclusion, a month later, that her feelings for Tara had developed beyond the limited satisfaction gentle squeezes of the shoulder or brief embraces as friends permitted, Tara was more than ready for the soft, at first tentative kisses, the extended contact of holding hands, and waking in the morning after a night of casting spells with the smaller girl snuggled close to her in her bed.

When they became lovers another six weeks later, there was just the smallest amount of shyness, of awkwardness when it came to their bodies. Their cycles had been close before, but then the months of constant sleepovers at Tara's after long nights of casting while Buffy had been engrossed with the Initiative had been enough for them to completely sync, so when it came time for Willow to bring her extra-flamey candle to Tara's door, it was the most natural thing in the world to share themselves physically, without hesitation or reservation.

After the normal period of fumbling as they became familiar with each other's bodies, the pace of their sexual life accelerated such that, two and a half years later, they had been physically intimate in almost every way imaginable. There had been the sweet times when the lovemaking had been almost a spiritual thing, the reenactment of the metaphysical merging of their two souls in the mundane act of physical coupling. Then there were the times when it had been about raw want, and Tara had desired nothing more than to simply crawl into Willow's body through the opening between her thighs and take up residence inside her, until forcibly evicted by the inevitable flood of Willow's sweet cum. And all the kinds of sexual intimacy in between. With toys and without. Fifteen minute morning quickies and weekend long marathons, public places where the thrill they may be discovered naturally expedited the achievement of their peak, public but out of the way places where they didn't care and took their time because it felt better that way, and the privacy of the various beds they called theirs over the past three years—her dorm room freshman year through the end of sophomore year when Glory destroyed it looking for her Key, the hotel room in San Francisco their first summer vacation trip together, the bed and breakfast in San Diego for spring break their second year, the one in Phoenix the last week of July their second summer (the summer Buffy was gone), the bed they made their own at the Summers house in Joyce's old room when they returned…

There had not been a single time it felt unnatural or wrong. Even though some of the episodes Buffy described in her secret affair with Spike may have been structurally similar to the crazier things Willow and she had done, there had never been the slightest bit of shame that would force color into their cheeks the way Buffy blushed hotly in her confidences to Tara about what she had being doing these many weeks with Spike…

…She lay on her back, her legs spread, Willow on top of her, also with legs spread but on her haunches and scissoring Tara's, rocking her hips achingly slowly. "Willow…"

"I just want to do it like this for awhile."

They did. Tara was feeling very flustered. Willow could be quite the little sadist when she wanted to be. "You know if we keep doing this, I'm going to burst into flames any second."

Willow ruthlessly continued rubbing at the same agonizing pace. "Hey, as long as it's a controlled fire. Not like Spike in the daylight smoking under his dumb blanket, barging his way into a meeting at the Magic Box." Willow frowned, hesitated.

Oh, this is not good. "Willow! Think of something else."

Willow gamely tried to continue. "Controlled fire, like with… scouts!"

"Boy scouts?" Not sure that's going to

"Uh… girl scouts?"

That definitely wasn't helping. Tara pushed up, because Willow had stopped. "Oh no, Willow…"

Willow tried to resume, but she was faltering. "Right! No girl scouts. Cause that's just… ick. Back up one page to boy scouts, then! With the… the controlled fire and being prepared, with stormproof matches and…"

It still wasn't quite right, and Willow's face was starting to scrunch up, her pace now erratic. "Not matches… rubbing… rubbing sticks?" Tara offered.

Oh, that did it. Willow burst out giggling, rolling off Tara, laughter shaking her whole very naked body and making her jiggly although not in a very sexy way.

Tara would've been amused at the sight of the mass of quivering Willow-flesh, if she hadn't been enjoying the previous feel of said flesh pressed deliciously up against her own still very needy body just moments before. "I didn't mean it that way! You couldn't concentrate on the 'rubbing' part instead of the 'sticks'?" Tara sighed. That's what she got for trying to help. They would have to start all over again. But first, they would have to wait until Willow, still wheezing for breath, got her mind out of the gutter. Or that particular street's gutter, anyway.

Thoughts of Spike were not the sexual incentive for Willow as they were for Buffy.

The bus rumbled past the street where The Magic Box was. Tara did not notice the commotion in front of Anya's store, focused on her destination.

So what do you know, Tara?

The lovemaking was Nirvana, the sex was often mind-blowing. It had been a big part of their life together, but of course, not the only part.

There were moments of sheer joy. Willow could make her laugh. She could do it without even trying. Her bantering with Anya, pretending to loathe the former vengeance demon and Anya's never-ending supply of inappropriate sexual innuendo and war stories of her glory days of vengeance, could make Tara laugh so hard, it was medically dangerous. They could both be rich women if they ever took it out on the road, a euphemism she kept to herself so as to not give Anya any ideas about kidnapping her girlfriend and dragging her on a cross-country tour of comedy clubs in search of the elusive Hollywood buck. Given Anya's penchant for the literal, it could happen…

"…I can't believe I'm even saying this. Yet again. I have zero interest in Xander's… man bits!" Willow didn't bother holding the door open for Anya and it almost slammed in the other woman's face as she followed hot on Willow's heels into the Magic Box.

"That's ludicrous. They're so delectable, how could any woman in their right mind have seen them and not instantly desire them?"

"Number one," Willow gritted, "I've never seen these sacred man bits." She cut off Anya before she could be interrupted, "For the last time, Anya, five year old bits are boy bits and do not count!" She stomped off to drop off the books she'd borrowed from Giles on the counter. "Number two, lesbian!" Willow gestured emphatically to where Tara was seated at the research table across the room. "Hello? Hot girlfriend, sitting right there!" Tara waved shyly, blushing at Willow's descriptive. "Ergo, natural immunity to the temptation. And finally, number three, lest we forget, me, all with the saneness. You, sorely lacking! Do the math."

"You? Sane? Ha! Talk about the witch's cauldron not knowing its own color!"

Willow looked about ready to explode when Tara delicately interceded. "Anya…"

"Tara, I can handle this!" Tara's eyes narrowed as Willow's inversely widened. Willow instantly knew she'd made a categorical error, a fact not lost on shrewd Anya. "But… so could you! Much better than me, in fact! So do! Handle it, I mean."

Not for the first time, Tara wondered if being the only adult who had a sibling—not counting Buffy, of course, until a year ago—gave her special insight and patience with these childish squabbles between the only-child Scoobies. "Anya, there's no need for this discussion. I can assure you that Willow poses no threat of taking Xander's… bits? Or, um, just Xander, from you. She has all she can handle with me. Willow will do nothing to jeopardize her access to Tara bits, which she most certainly will if she continues to allow you to bait her."

"This is so not fair!" Willow exclaimed in disbelief.

Tara turned to her. "And why didn't you ever tell me you saw Xander's boy bits?"

Anya's cackling laugh interrupted the lovers' exchange. "Whipped! I knew who wore the pants between the two of you. You!" She sneered at Willow. "So, Tara, give me some pointers on the fine and venerated art of withholding. Not the federal kind. I know all about that already." Anya grumbled under her breath for the hundredth time about her IRS C-notice.

"I hardly see the point, Anya. I can't see you ever deploying it on Xander with even an ounce of credibility."

Later, it took some time to calm Willow down. But you knew that it was all in jest. What I told Anya, I was really saying about myself. I'd never withhold myself from you, I never could, though I know now you were still withholding a part of yourself from me.

But it finally came out. Secrets can't be held forever. Not from the one you share your soul with…

…Earlier in the week, after the disastrous non-wedding, the coffee date interrupted by a still-devastated Anya, who they finally were able to calm down enough to feel comfortable letting her leave the Espresso Pump to continue their still tentative attempts to re-connect, at least as friends.

"I was a geek before you knew me, Tara. Before Buffy came and changed everything. A total nerd. Not Buffy's big gun. No badass Wicca. Not anyone someone like you would look twice at."

Willow, for such a huge brain, you're such a big dummy. "Do you think so little of me?"

"Oh Tara, that's not what I meant. I mean, I know you were shy, after your Dad and Donnie and… and losing your Mom… I know you'd just arrived here, your first time on your own, and hadn't found your confidence yet, but if you tried, after you did, you could've had your pick of girls. Why would you want me?"

Because I knew from the start that I was made for you. "I never wanted anyone else but you."

There was still doubt in Willow's eyes.

And what else?

Willow takes care of me.

Of course, it was mutual, but in every relationship, there are practical imbalances. Willow had, on most issues, been the first into the breach. The first to admit her feelings were beyond simple friendship, the first to initiate physical intimacy. The first to suggest living together, the first to suggest making a home for each other after graduation. She was the first to defend Tara, the first to put herself in harm's way to protect her…

"…Harlot! Pervert! You'll burn in Hell! Don't touch me with your filthy hands!"

Tara was locked in a corner of her mind, watching in abject horror as the words tumbled forth from one of her older demons, long ago denatured and bottled but freed anew after Glory's trespass ripped through the order of her mind. She could see but not react as they cut viciously through Willow. Afterward, a month after Willow rescued her, restored her, when Buffy's death had become a dull constant ache deep within the bones instead of the stabbing pain of a raw open wound, she had broached the topic with Willow.

"I know it wasn't you, Tara. It was Glory."

Not quite; the demon was hers, the fire and brimstone preacher she had invented from her childhood terror of her father's hurting words. But the anger and embarrassment were no longer there in Willow's eyes, so Tara thought it best to let it go and not correct her lover. The demon had left them both, more or less intact, taking the onus of shame with it. But that wasn't the demon that hurt Willow the most, she found out later. It had been the other one, the one that wrung its hands, ashamed of itself, chastising itself, for loving Willow. Willow was still afraid that that demon was right. I should have known.

But her protector was strong, and hid it well. And when she could no longer hide it, she had fallen to using magic to prop up her façade.

"Before you found me, I wasn't anyone special." She continued before Tara could interject or she could falter. "It's true. Then when I had you, all I wanted to do was tell anyone and everyone, yay me, look! I have Tara. I would've done anything to keep that. And I tried. But I did it the wrong way, and… and I'm sorry. Goddess, I'm so sorry. If I never get you back, at least I want you to know that I'm sorry, and I know you deserved so much better."

I changed her, too.

I'm coming home, Willow.

From the bus stop, 1630 Revello was just a half block away. Tara strode the familiar distance purposefully, her hands in her pockets. She reached the front of the house, the porch light lit but the windows dark. She lifted her eyes to the second floor, to their bedroom. The light was on. She walked up the porch steps and used her key to open the door.

So what do you know, Tara?

The day she had come out to Willow, a voice had called to her, as she struggled with the self-doubt acquired after 18 years of lessons learned in Hillary. It told her to trust Willow's nature. She had questioned it at the time, thinking it might be her mother in some form returned from the afterlife to give final guidance to her daughter. Being Wiccan, she knew such things were not impossible. But it had not been Mama. Two and a half years flew past, and the voice was still with her. It was her own voice, changed by finding Willow.

From the pain on Anya's and Xander's faces at their aborted wedding, from Buffy's death and restoration to the emptiness of lost heaven, from Dawn's forlorn look when looking through her photo albums of Joyce, from her own memories of Mama's abbreviated life, Tara knew. Life can be short—anywhere, not just in Hellmouth, USA. When you find the good kind of magic, when you find your true partner in casting it, don't let her go into the Nether Realm alone.

Tara noted the open weapons chest at the foot of the stairs but did not stop to investigate. She continued her way unerringly upstairs, to the first door on the right. The door was ajar, the glow of the lamp bathing her love in a warm yellow light. Willow, I'm home.