"Tell me a story," Willow said.
"Okay," Tara said, looking up from the book she was pouring over with relief. The relief faded when she found Willow's gaze completely intent on her. She blushed and looked away. "What kind of a story?"
"Any kind. It doesn't even have to be a story, you can just talk to me. You've been so quiet lately. Ever since that demon attacked you the other night when you were fetching that book. I mean, I understand, being a demon punching bag is no fun at all, but..."
"I know," Tara said, and brought her book over to the bed. She lay down beside Willow and propped the book up on the pillow. "I've had a lot to think about."
Willow wrapped an arm around Tara. "I just want you to be able to talk to me. About anything, whatever you're thinking about."
Tara pointed at the page she'd been studying. "I've been thinking about demons," she said.
"You don't have to, Buffy will track down—"
"But I want to. I want to think about demons. Buffy has enough to do, she has to worry about Glory, and this is my problem."
"It's not your problem," Willow said. "Just because—"
"Willow, it is my p-problem. Because..."
"It's our problem," Willow said. Tara shook her head. "All of us. You know that. We're all part of the family."
"I—" Tara flipped to the next page of the demon book and studied the line drawing of a humanoid demon, with only slitted cat eyes and hairy ears to reveal its demon nature. She touched her ear reflexively.
"There's something you're not telling me," Willow said slowly. "Tara?"
"No, I don't— I mean—" Tara looked everywhere but Willow, and then sighed and met Willow's eyes. "You're right."
"I'm right?" Willow said, surprised. "But I don't want to be right. Being right about you holding back isn't good." She paused, then said hopefully, "Unless you're going to tell me everything now?"
Tara sat up carefully, cross legged on the bed facing Willow. Willow mirrored her posture, seriously preparing for a long drawn out talk.
"I know you don't like it when I don't tell you something," Tara said. "Like I didn't tell you about my family until they showed up, but Willow, I'm not used to telling anyone anything. After my mom died, I never had anyone to tell. Until you. I'm still figuring it all out."
"You're never going to figure it out if you don't do it," Willow said. "I'm trustworthy, I promise."
"It's not that, it's j-just—" Tara shook her head, and her hair fell across her face. "It's j-j-just..."
Willow waited expectantly. Tara looked up, opened her mouth, couldn't find the words. Her mouth shut with the words still locked inside, but at least she didn't look away. "Can I tell you a story?" Tara asked earnestly.
Willow's face fell, all her expectations overturned.
"I think you'll like this story," Tara said. She put her hand on Willow's knee. "Please?"
"Okay," Willow said, grudgingly. She flung herself petulantly down on the pillow next to the demon book. The book bounced.
Tara closed the book and lay down next to Willow, her lips next to Willow's ear. She spoke softly. "Once upon a time there was a duckling. Or at least, she thought she was a duckling, but everyone told her she was a very ugly duckling."
"This sounds familiar," Willow grumbled.
"Let me go on, you might be surprised."
"I hope so," Willow said.
"She swam in the pond with the other ducklings, and they ran away from her. They called her names, like 'demon' and 'witch'."
"Witch isn't bad name," Willow said indignantly, sitting up half way.
"It is when you're just a little duckling," Tara said gently, dragging Willow back down.
Willow let herself be pulled, but not quieted. "Little ducklings grow up, and find out that the bad names they were called aren't so bad after all. And that's how they become swans," she said, turning to look at Tara. "And live happily ever after."
"Maybe," Tara said, very quietly. "I'm not sure."
"But you're a wonderful witch," Willow said. "You can't think—"
"Shhhhh..." Tara said. "I'm telling a story."
Willow subsided with grumbling noises. Tara gently reached out and nudged her head until her ear was right next to Tara's lips. Then Tara continued.
"The little duckling's mother comforted her when she came home from school crying, and taught her spells that she said had been in the family for years. She told the duckling that there was a difference between being a witch and being a demon. She told the duckling not to listen to anyone who told her otherwise, and the little duckling believed her."
"See?" Willow said. "I told you—"
"I did tell you," Willow muttered, shifting restlessly.
"But the story isn't over," Tara said. "There's still a lot more about demons..."
"That's not important, it's the happily every after that's important," Willow said. "Can we just skip to the happily every after?"
"But the d-demons are the whole p-point of the story," Tara said. "If there weren't any demons..."
"Shhhh..." Willow said with a smile. "I can tell you how it ends. Buffy kills all the demons—"
Tara made a whimpering protesting noise, then covered her mouth.
"—No, you're right. How about this: the ugly duckling becomes a powerful witch and kills all the demons herself. We'll get started tomorrow."
"No buts," Willow said. "If this is something you need to do, then I'll help you. The demon that attacked you won't know what hit him."
"Willow, I w-wasn't telling a story about k-k-killing demons. I was t-telling a story about growing up with demons. Sometimes you don't want to kill the demons. Sometimes your mother is the demon, and—"
"Oh, Tara." Willow was all compassion, but a little tiny bit impatient too. "You're not still worried about your family's silly story about demons, are you? You're not a demon. Your mother wasn't a demon. You know better than that, you're stronger than that. I know you are. You're not going to let their lies affect your life."
"But what if—"
"No what ifs."
Tara took a deep breath. "Willow, it's t-t-t-t-true." Tara forced the final word out by sheer force of will. "I'm a d-d-d-d-" She couldn't say it. She looked down.
"You can't be a demon, you're the human I love more than anything in the world. Tara, Spike vouched for you, and if there's one thing we all know about Spike, it's that he doesn't do anyone any favors. There are no demons except the one we're going to kill. Right?"
Tara sighed and gave up. "No, Spike doesn't do any favors," she echoed.
Willow picked up the book on demons and flipped it open. "Have you identified the demon that attacked you?" she asked briskly. "We need to figure out its weaknesses."
A note arrived in the mail the next day:
My place. Wednesday night after midnight.