Here are my top seven completed fan fiction stories, along with my favorite seven works in progress. I will get to ten of each eventually, and I already have several stories in mind that I need to reread so I can write up recommendations for them, but I suspect fourteen recommendations will keep you reading for some time. The completed fics are vaguely in order of my preference, while the works in progress are listed alphabetically by author.
To be fair, I should mention my biases as a reviewer. I prefer long, serious stories with well-developed plots and where the characters I recognize and love from Buffy grow and change. Stories that are very short or fluffy won't make it to my list. Willow is my favorite character, so she's as central to any of these stories as she was in Doppelgangland or Something Blue, with the one exception of Season Noir.
I hope you'll enjoy them as much as I do.
This jewel of a short story is the perfect farewell to Buffy. Focusing on Willow, Tara, and Dawn, it tells the story of the summer after The Gift in a handful of moments where small changes made all the difference: A June night. A July morning. An August afternoon. It begins and ends with one of my favorite quotes from Ursula K LeGuin: "Love doesn't just sit there, like a stone; it has to be made, like bread, remade all the time, made new."
Tulipp has a superlative ability to deeply and compassionately understand the characters of Buffy, both their flaws and their strengths. While I'd read her work for her elegant style and beautiful descriptive writing alone, it's her command of character that allows her to write those small, often wordless, moments that touch me the most and that inspires me to reread her works. This story does not lead to any of the events of season 6.
Terra Firma by Tulipp
Willow returns with Dawn from their summer with the Coven in England after the events of season 6 (this story was written before season 7). Once again, Tulipp gathers up the discarded and underused threads of the past season's story and weaves them together in a new tapestry of surpassing beauty. We slowly learn to compassionately understand how each of the characters ended up where they were at the end of that season and how they can grow from there.
As with Bread, the major characters are Willow, Dawn, and yes, Tara; her return is a mystery whose depths we gradually explore throughout the course of the story. It also brings back my favorite villain of season 5: the wonderfully creepy Doc, who has his own past with a deeper connection to the Scoobies than you might expect. However, this longer story takes the time to deal with the changes in all the Scoobies; I especially like what we learn about Giles's history and how he both fails and succeeds in dealing with Willow's changes over the course of this story.
Chapter 6, "Breathe," is a wonderful and powerful story in itself, whose ability to deal with complex issues without dialog reminds me a bit of the episode Hush. However, my favorite chapter is the final one. The elemental imagery of the ending is beautiful, with each pair of element and person matching perfectly with the character's story and personality. The ending is more powerful emotionally than that of Grave, not only for Buffy and Dawn but also for Willow. As the title promises, it brings us, the readers, out of the storm that was season 6 to once again stand on firm ground, terra firma.
Tempus Fugit by lipkandy
In the Fall after season 6, the Scoobies are still trying to find a way to talk with each other and to rebuild their relationships. Willow's having a particularly difficult time after her return to England, as she lives in a house with Buffy and Dawn but finds that interacting with them is like walking through a minefield of old hurts and fears. Just as you think they can't have a more difficult time getting back together, the mixture of personalities grows in volatility as Faith returns to Sunnydale with a story about Cordelia having a vision about a world-destroying artifact which Buffy has just discovered. She wants to take it back to LA with her.
Buffy doesn't believe Faith and accidentally triggers the artifact, sending her and Willow back in time to season 4 where they exist in their bodies of that time, leaving Dawn in the present with the almost impossible task of getting Faith, Spike, Anya, and Xander, all of whom have substantial reasons not to trust or like each other, to work together long enough to figure out what's happened to Buffy and Willow and how to fix it.
Back in season 4, Willow warns Buffy that they have to do everything just the same as they did when they first lived through these events, for the smallest change could completely alter their present through the butterfly effect. That's easier said than done, not only for a Slayer whose diary only says "lunch" and "patrol" for every day, but also for a witch who has what might be a second chance at life and love. Buffy is also faced with the temptation of having a second chance with those she loves most. The scenes with Joyce are wonderful and deeply revealing about her character, allowing us to better understand how she felt about Dawn in season 5.
Of course, how they got to the past might kill them and their friends in the present, who need their help to face the demonic owner of the artifact who has come to reclaim his possession. For some, that might be a sacrifice worth making for a few moments of perfect happiness with those who have departed. Butterflies or no, changing the future is both easier and harder than you might expect, and there are no simple solutions to the problems of the present to be found in altering the past.
The author has a deep grasp of all the Buffy characters; her Dawn, unsure and hurt but determined to do what's right to save her sister and Willow, and Faith, who's striving to do what's right but whose feet occasionally slip off the road to redemption, are especially well portrayed, as are Buffy and Willow and their uneasy relationship with each other. While the events of the present feel like an episode of Buffy, the events of the past are a beautiful look at what could have been with the poignant knowledge that Buffy and Willow have to return to the present, one way or the other.
The ending is wonderfully complex and unexpected.
Sidestep Chronicle by Katharyn
The ultimate vampire Willow story.
It starts with Willow becoming a vampire, follows with her canonical staking, then continues with her subsequent resurrection at the hands of Wolfram and Hart in the place of Darla's resurrection of the Angel season 1 finale. This story shows all of your favorite characters from a different point of view: Faith who becomes Giles's surrogate daughter as Buffy did elsewhere though without losing her edge; a harder Giles who's had to see Sunnydale fall to the vamps, though he has Jenny Calendar to balance him; and Lilah who represents Wolfram and Hart's to the Mayor (what other law firm would represent the Mayor?)
And of course, a darker Tara who's become a vampire hunter after the loss of her parents. Tara comes to Sunnydale to work for the Mayor in order to destroy the Master, whom she blames for her loss. She knows it's a diabolical bargain, in much the same way that her use of the magicks is, but she can't help liking the man who acts more like a father to her than her own father ever did. She also finds a friend and perhaps more in Lilah, who comes to check on her for a mysterious prophecy held by Wolfram and Hart. Who and what the prophecy actually talks about is a wonderful twist, subverting all the expectations developed upon first reading about it.
Meanwhile, she meets a beautiful red-haired vampire, the parody of the girl of her dreams. Tara can't resist her and what they have is more than sex, but it's a lot less than love; their relationship's sure to get someone killed, perhaps including both of them, as Tara and Vampire Willow play an uneasy game of alliances with the Mayor, the Master (who is the scary villain he could've developed into if he'd survived Prophecy Girl), Wolfram & Hart, and the Council of Watchers.
Vampire Willow retains her predatory vampiric edge to a greater degree than canonical Spike does. Her revenge on Oz for staking her is scary; however, my favorite images are of her reaction to Tara being sick and how she ends up giving Tara a kitten as a "gift." Both are priceless. Despite their differences, neither Tara nor Vampire Willow can pull away from each other, though both know that it can't end well. I would've loved to have seen Buffy/Spike written more like this.
On Second Thought by Antigone
Willow chooses Oz in New Moon Rising because he needs her more, but she's still attracted to Tara. What should she do? Heartwrenching, terrifying, romantic, angsty, and sexy by turns, this story takes you through the full spectrum of emotion. This is a wonderful story of the relationships between the three characters and the unexpected darkness within one of them.
Answering Darkness by Sassette
The best attempt at redeeming Willow's magic addiction arc of season 6 that I've read. It underlays the bare metaphor of that arc with story and mythology that explains such a deviation from the canon of magic in BtVS in a satisfying and enjoyable way.. This is also the story that first got me to like Anya with the chapters about Anya and Tara's road trip, as Tara leaves Sunnydale to get some perspective by being away from Willow while going to find her mother's books which she thinks might hold the secret to what's happening to Willow. This story also reveals the secret of why Glory was so easy to defeat in The Gift.
Unexpected Consequences by Lisa Countryman
Another interesting take on Willow's magic addiction arc; I guarantee that you will not be expecting the consequences in this story. Lisa has a breezy, light style that's easy to read, yet emotionally powerful. The first few chapters are an emotional rollercoaster as Willow and Tara discover those consequences and what they might mean for not only their relationship but the world. The consequences are far more surprising yet sensible than magic crack. The middle isn't as compelling as the beginning or ending; in particular, Amy's arc with the Witches Council is an unwelcome distraction from the main story. However, the ending with Tara's three trials is incredible and it would be worth reading the whole story for those scenes alone.
Season Noir by Anna S
If you want something that feels and reads like an actual season of Buffy, this story is the one for you. It successfully creates that dark under siege atmosphere that season 7 attempted but never succeeded in creating for me. She also gives Spike a great reason to exist an ally of the Scoobies, while still maintaining that necessary tension between him belonging to the group and being an outsider. The tensions between the Scoobies are well written for the most part, and I think she does an excellent job of showing how this conflict changes all of the Scoobies.
Gods Served and Abandoned by Antigone
In the aftermath of Family, Tara learns that her family isn't through with her yet, and that she has a lot to learn about where she came from. Wonderful dialog, especially the banter at the Scooby meetings, and the characterizations of all the Scoobies are spot on.
The Truth of Deception by blameburner
An alternate season 4 where Tara works for the Initiative. A wonderfully ominous and creepy Maggie Walsh has rescued Tara from her family and taken her under her wing, having realized that witchcraft is as important as slayerness or science to achieving her goals. What happens when Maggie's most secret agent meets a certain redheaded witch?
Paths Diverged/Divulged by
After an alternate season 6 in which Tara still died, Willow goes to the Wishverse to find the Tara she met over three years earlier in JustSkipIt's earlier story Willow/Tara Season 3 Y'All. Flashbacks explain all you need to know about the earlier story, though it's an enjoyable read with a lighter tone than the dark one of this story.
The important change was that Willow's mother sent Willow to boarding school in Texas to get her away from the bad influence of that Summers girl, so Willow wasn't in Sunnydale during The Wish. However, she met Tara at boarding school, and Anya came to visit them for help in retrieving her amulet as in Doppelgangland, but this time, there were two doppelgangers, a human one of Tara in Texas and a vampiric one of Willow in Sunnydale.
Willow quickly discovers that replacing Tara isn't as easy as taking another one off the shelf (or rather, handy adjacent alternate universe.) While the two Taras were much the same in Doppelgangland, their lives have diverged dramatically in the three years since that time. Wishverse Tara may be alive, but she's gone through a lot that Buffyverse Tara hadn't experienced and those experienced have changed her.
Doppleganger Redux by technopagan
A rich, complex s7 story where Tara from the Wishverse visits Sunnydale to stop a terrible evil from crossing over into the Buffyverse. Beautiful writing. I'm still thinking about what Tara meant when she told Willow: "You're different now. I've always been yours, but now you're finally mine."
This story features the best descriptive writing of any fan fiction. The images of both Wales, where the story is set, and of the characters and their interactions are deftly drawn and simply beautiful. If you want to learn how to make descriptive writing come alive, this is the story for you.
It starts after season 6 with Giles in Wales, where he's been exiled to a particularly unimportant and somewhat uncomfortable post as Watcher. He welcomes Tara and Willow (this story was started before the end of season 6), who have come to visit to deal with Willow's issues with magic as well as their issues with each other (despite Tara's statement in Entropy, they can't "just skip it" forever) in a place that's supposedly safer than the Hellmouth.
But which may not be ... there's something mysterious in the woods and Cerys, a new Watcher with a secret agenda, arrives soon after Giles welcomes Tara and Willow into his cottage. Cerys is one of the best drawn original characters I've seen in fan fiction, being both well described and well balanced as to avoid taking the focus from the characters we already know. Tommo has a deep command of the Buffy characters as well, and her Giles is a delight to read and reflect upon.
The Edge of Silence by Triscuit
The best season 4 Willow/Tara behind the scenes story. It covers the same ground as the episodes (currently it's complete through the end of Superstar), but with a wonderfully deep look at Willow's discovery of her sexuality along with Tara's worries about her hidden past and her joy and love in her discovery of Willow. It includes some of the best original characters in fanfic in Tara's neighbors and friends. Jo and Dani deserve a behind the scenes fanfic of their own.
These are stories that I enjoyed, but that I either need to reread before making a full recommendation of them or that don't quite make it into my list of top fics. However, they're all quite good and I would recommend reading them.
Above, Between, Below by Twisted Minstrel
One of the most original and funny Willow meets Tara fics.
Tara Incognita by HonorH
Another good fic where Tara from the Wishverse meets Buffyverse Willow.
The Trial of Willow Rosenberg by Sam James
This medium-length story takes an intriguinging and different turn from anything else I've read about Willow post-season 6. In this fic, Willow goes on trial for the murder of Warren. It's a great fic for showing what Willow can do with her brains without the help of magic, even when she's pitted against Lilah Morgan who's backed by the resources of the best evil law firm in the state: Wolfram and Hart.