Phoning It In
As Xander and the Halliwells walked towards Breaker Avenue, Piper explained to Phoebe why she brought the cell phone.
“I don’t know if that’ll work,” Phoebe said. “I mean, every other time we’ve tried it we’ve been holding hands or close together.”
“Only one way to find out,” Piper said. She dialed and got Leo on the second ring. “Hi, sweetie,” she said.
“Hey. Everything okay?”
“No, there’ve been some complications . . . “ Piper trailed off.
“Complications?” Leo said.
“I’ll explain later. Put Paige on, would you?”
Very reluctantly, Leo said, “Okay.”
A second later her recently acquired younger sister picked up the phone. “Hey there. Whatcha need?”
“Your cooperation.” Briefly Piper explained what she had in mind.
Paige said, “You think that’ll work?”
“Only one way to find out. You in?”
“Good,” Piper said. “I’m going to keep the line open, okay? Hang by the phone.”
“Consider me hung,” Paige said.
Piper put the cell phone back in her pocket and said, “Now it’s up to you.”
“Oh, I don’t know if – hold on.”
“You have something?”
“I think so – but I’ll need to work a little. Go talk to Xander.”
The young man, full of irritable energy, was bounding ahead of them. “Whoa there, tiger,” Piper said. “Not gonna help us any if we get there before Buffy and Spike do.”
“Easy for you to say,” Xander snapped. “Your fiance’s not in danger.”
“No, but HER boyfriend is,” Piper said, annoyed.
“Sorry. Sorry.” Xander held up his hands. “Every once in a while I revert to being a complete knucklehead. This seems to be one of the whiles.” After a second, “Growing up --you’re older than me, right?”
“Not THAT much,” Piper muttered. “Why?”
“Because every time I think I have this thing called maturity figured out, I go and do something like take a cheap shot at a friendly witch, or summon a music demon for shits and giggles, or something.”
Piper grabbed his arm. “You summoned a music demon?”
“We were the world’s biggest production of Rocky Horror. Let’s just say that I’m glad he DIDN’T make me go through with the wedding plans.”
Laughing, Piper said, “I don’t want the details, do I?”
“Trust me,” Piper said, “It doesn’t get easier. A while back, not long after I found out about Paige, I went on something of a demon-killing rampage that ended up with me becoming a Fury and nearly killing her – and a few other people into the bargain. All because I couldn’t bring myself to admit I was angry at Prue for dying.”
“Prue is --?” That’s right, Xander wouldn’t know.
“Prue was my older sister, and kind of our born leader. She was killed by demons -- it’s been hard getting along without her, really.” God, she missed her. Even that illusion the urn had created had been heartbreaking in its untruth.
“I hear you, there,” Xander said. “It’s the line of business we’re in. One of my best friends was killed by a vampire – god, nearly five years ago. A teacher we were all close to was also killed by a vampire about a year later. And last year Buffy died fighting a renegade god named Glory.” He didn’t sound battle-hardened. And – five years? He couldn’t be more than 21. Suddenly, Piper was substantially more impressed with the job Buffy and her friends had been doing. She’d been cognizant of her status as a Charmed One for barely three years, and she’d been a lot older than 16 when she’d found out.
Then something struck her. “Buffy – died? But then –“
“That’s why she was crying about heaven,” Xander said. “We brought her back a couple months ago. From Heaven. We thought it was hell.”
“Let me guess,” Piper said. “Willow’s idea.”
“Yeah,” Xander said. “Can I tell you something? She’s starting to worry me a little. All this magic she’s doing – she’s not being very careful. Or she’s outright lying to us. She told me and An and Tara – that’s her ex- girlfriend – that the spell was safe. It wasn’t. And since then –“
Sighing, Piper said, “Keep an eye on her. She’s really starting to worry Phoebe and me, the way she tosses around her magic like that. Doesn’t seem like she’s evil –“
“She isn’t,” Xander said firmly.
“But she’s far from good, right now. She could be dangerous – to herself, to others. The power magic can give you can be a tremendous thrill. It takes a lot of self-control not to just use it to make things easier on ourselves.”
“But you manage.”
“We have to. The Source is watching our every move, trying to kill or corrupt us. ANY witch. And – well –“
“I get what you mean,” Xander said. “Trust me. I’m worried too.”
“Piper?” Phoebe called.
Piper nodded to Xander, and dropped back to join her sister. “Got it?”
“I think so.” She told Piper – and Paige, via the cell phone – what she’d come up with.
“Not a moment too soon,” Piper said. “Because unless I’m misreading the signs, that’s Breaker Avenue ahead.” And sure enough there was an office building standing there saying, “Breaker Plaza,” and as they got closer, they saw the matching street sign.
“And look, there’s one of our charming play dates,” Phoebe said, recognizing one of the demons from earlier standing about fifty feet down the block. As soon as he saw them, he took off running back down the block, vanishing into a gigantic warehouse right by the waterfront.
The Halliwells and Xander took a deep breath and walked down. When they were maybe twenty feet from the doorway, Tarquin came outside. Noticing Xander, he said, “I told you to come alone.”
“If we’d come alone we’d still be wandering the Sunnydale night,” Phoebe said. “This guy was nice enough to guide us.”
“Well, now he can be nice enough to stay outside,” Tarquin said. “Do you have the marnox root?”
“Right here,” Piper said, holding up the bag.
“Good. Now, follow me –“
“Hold it,” Xander said. “If you think –“
“Xander,” Phoebe said, spinning to face the young man. “It’s okay. You got us this far. We can handle ourselves.” She rolled her eyes slightly upwards.
“Gotcha,” Xander said, though he still looked unhappy. “I’ll just get going then.” He turned and walked down the block.
Then the Halliwells followed Tarquin inside the warehouse.
Xander had seen why Phoebe’d looked up. After the Halliwells and the demon were safely inside the warehouse, Xander nodded to Buffy and Spike, who’d been watching the whole thing from above. Because shouting out to them would have been a really stupid idea, Xander communicated by gestures the question of what he should do.
Buffy mouthed back, “Keep an ear out,” and then she and Spike vanished, presumably to go see if they could find a way of getting inside the warehouse that didn’t involve plummeting twenty-five feet onto a concrete floor.
Xander wouldn’t have that problem; of course, if Tarquin had locked the door, he might have a little trouble actually getting inside . . .
He scoured the area and found a metal rod by the edge of the water, then stood back and waited to attack.
* * * * *
Buffy and Spike listened quietly to the exchange between Tarquin and the Halliwells, and after they vanished saw Xander look up. After she told him to keep his ear out, she and Spike went back and searched the roof.
There weren’t any convenient skylights, but there was a locked door. Just before Buffy was about to kick it down, though, Spike held her back, put a finger on his lips and instead reached down and snapped off the knob.
Damn. She should have figured that out for herself. Spike made an elaborate bow and gestured for Buffy to go inside first. Sticking her tongue out, Buffy made ready to scope out the area when Spike grabbed her arm and whispered, “Don’t stick out that tongue at me unless you’re prepared to use it.”
That wasn’t worth a glare. Buffy fiddled with the door and finally managed to pry it open. It opened quietly, a blessing. The door led to a steep metal staircase, which led to a catwalk about fifteen feet over the floor. Once they crept down the stairs, they could see the situation unfold beneath them. Tarquin – who’d resumed his demonic form when he’d reentered the warehouse – was looking through the contents of the bag containing the marnox root, Anya and Cole were tied to a support post, and the four other demons, fearsome looking critters all, were standing at attention behind Tarquin. Two held wicked-looking knives, while a third had a nasty-looking set of claws. The other one just kind of stood there.
Tarquin was saying something about there not being enough marnox root in the bag.
The next words out of his mouth came through quite clearly.
Pointing at Anya and Cole, he said, “Kill them.”
* * * * *
When Phoebe and Piper entered the warehouse, Tarquin said, “Shut the door.” Phoebe did so. Then, once they’d gotten towards the center of the room, he told them to stop and toss over the bag with the marnox root.
As he bent to pick it up, he pointed to Cole and Anya, tied to a column about fifteen feet away. “See them?” Phoebe and Piper’s eyes darted over. “They’re still alive,” Tarquin continued. “Belthazor! Anyanka. Show them you’re still alive!” At that – pretty much confirming Spike’s suspicions from earlier—Phoebe got ready to go for the cell phone at a moment’s notice.
“My name is Cole,” he shot back.
“Anyanka?” Tarquin said.
“Anya,” she said. “Get it right.”
Tarquin ignored the ex-demons’ display of bravado and turned once again towards the Halliwells. “There. Are you satisfied?”
“Yeah, they’re alive,” Phoebe said.
Impatiently, Tarquin said, “Then slide the bag over here on the floor.”
“Boy’s seen too many movies,” Phoebe muttered, then put the bag with the marnox root down, and kicked it over. Of course, being a small pouch and not a gun, the bag just kind of skidded to a stop about five feet short.
Tarquin bent over to pick it up and began testing it with his hand, checking the weight, Phoebe guessed. While he was distracted, Phoebe slipped the cell phone out of her pocket, while Piper did the same with the vial of the vanquishing potion. Then the jet-black demon shook his head. “No,” he said. “No. Some of the marnox root is missing.”
Then, to the three demons behind them, Tarquin said, “Kill them.”
Right then Phoebe yelled, “Now!” and held up the cell phone. In unison, the three sisters chanted:
Let no knife or blade or claw
Or anything that’s sharp at all
Hurt any hostage here today
In any form or any way!
A nimbus of golden light shot towards Cole and Anya, who were struggling to get free of their bonds, and surrounded them just before one of the demons stabbed Cole.
Or tried to. The blade bounced off. “It worked, Paige, gotta go,” Phoebe said to the cell phone, and tossed it to one side as Tarquin whirled and charged.
He was brought crashing to the ground by a blur with blonde hair leaping from the walkways above. Buffy and Tarquin smashed into the warehouse floor; they wrestled around there for a second until Tarquin threw the Slayer off and got to his feet. Unfortunately for Piper – and the potion she held – the demon had tossed Buffy into her, knocking her down and sending the vial clattering across the floor.
Tarquin came over, shrugged off a couple of blows from Phoebe, and, as Piper made the gesture to try to freeze the demon, Tarquin backhanded her into the wall. She crumpled. As he drew back his fist to hit her again, Buffy and Phoebe grabbed him at the same time and threw him away. After bending down to check on Piper – she was breathing -- Phoebe asked Buffy, “Can you hold him off?” Buffy nodded. “Good. I have to go find that vial.” She ran off to look while Buffy started slugging it out with the demon.
Spike, meanwhile, had sprinted down the stairs and had taken two of the demons by surprise, breaking one’s neck and the other’s arm. He was in the middle of wrestling with him, while another kept futilely trying to stab the nearly free Cole and Anya.
This left the third free to come after her, and while it didn’t seem very strong, who knew what powers it might have . . . beyond fangs and claws? The first time it ran at her she levitated; the demon swiped at her, missed, and as it passed she gave it a quick kick in the back of the head. It ended up face-first against the wall. When she landed, she scrambled around looking for the vial – it had ended up somewhere around here – and almost missed the demon coming after her again.
Then she forgot about looking for the vial, because the demon was doing its level best to slice her into pizza topping. Not for the first time that evening she envied Buffy her strength; the Slayer was taking some blows from Tarquin that would have ripped her head off. Not that Phoebe was a novice or anything, but man could she have used the force behind some of those punches.
Kick, punch, dodge, block . . . it got to the point where she was beginning to feel a little like Daffy Duck as Robin Hood, when all a sudden the demon fell into a heap at her feet.
Xander stood there with some kind of metal rod. “Hey,” he said. “Looked like you could use the help.” Then he looked over and saw the demon going after Cole and Anya and started to move towards them.
Phoebe grabbed hold of his wrist. “They’re okay,” she said. “We cast a spell on them – they can’t be hurt by anything sharp.” Then she pointed to the ground. “I’m looking for a glass vial,” she explained.
“That potion you were making,” Xander said, catching on.
“Yeah. It’s the only thing that can vanquish Tarquin.”
So she and Xander scrambled around looking for the vial. Meanwhile, Buffy was holding her own against Tarquin, who wasn’t used to an opponent who was as strong as he was. Spike was winning the fight with his demon, and Cole and Anya were doing whatever damage they could to their foe, who apparently hadn’t figured out that the knife WOULDN’T HURT THEM.
Finally Spike grabbed his enemy’s knife and slit his throat; then he ran over to help Cole and Anya. By this point, Buffy and Tarquin had moved to trading blows in the center of the room. Buffy was bleeding from a nasty gash on her arm, but one of Tarquin’s claws had apparently broken off completely, and one of his tusks was cracked.
“Is this it?” Xander asked, picking something the right size up from the floor.
Peering in to look at it, Phoebe discovered that, yup, it was the vial full of the vanquishing potion. She grabbed it and yelled to Buffy, “GET CLEAR!” This distracted Buffy for a second, and Tarquin took advantage of her distraction to send her reeling with a blow to the jaw. Then he spun to face Phoebe.
She reared back to throw the vial –
And Spike shoved the demon who’d been facing Cole across the room.
Xander yelped and jumped back; the demon narrowly missed him as it collided with another support pole.
But in jumping back, Xander jarred Phoebe’s arm –
And the vial smashed to the floor about a foot in front of Tarquin and began bubbling. As Phoebe began swearing and Xander made with the sorrys, Tarquin began to laugh.
He stopped when Anya jumped on his back and Cole grabbed his legs and began to pull. It took Phoebe a second to realize what they were trying to do; the floor was concrete, it wouldn’t absorb the potion easily. She came in and grabbed the other leg, and Buffy moved in front and started pelting the demon with blows. Spike stood by to make sure Tarquin didn’t try to run off.
Xander told Cole and Phoebe to keep their heads down and started cracking the back of Tarquin’s kneecaps.
And, eventually, he went down, onto the still-bubbling potion. As he began screaming, Phoebe yelled, “Get clear!”
Everyone rolled or scrambled clear – except Anya. Tarquin grabbed her ankle and rasped, “I . . . will kill . . . one of you . . . “ As he began to tremble violently, Anya tried to pull free but couldn’t.
As the demon exploded into magical fire, Cole dove in out of nowhere and yanked Anya clear. When the flame burst ended, Cole’s jacket was on fire, but a few quick rolls took care of that and apart from a few bruises he seemed none the worse for wear.
Xander walked up to Cole and said, “Thanks.”
“No problem,” he said as the both of them pulled Anya to her feet. “It’s like she was telling me earlier. We ex-demons have to stick together.”
Buffy and Spike made quick work of the two demons who weren’t technically dead, and then they all started their long walk back to the Magic Box.
Spike, in the mood for even more violence since he hadn’t been the one to kill Tarquin, walked in front, looking for things to maim and not having much luck. Xander and Anya were in an animated conversation about something, though they were holding hands, and Phoebe and Cole were doing more or less the same thing – of course, this being Cole, the conversation was a lot quieter.
That left Piper to talk with Buffy. “So,” she said, “I guess when we get back to the shop we’ll pick up our stuff and find a hotel.”
“This time of night? Only places still renting charge by the hour. No, you can come stay with me. It’s a big house. Um – are Phoebe and Cole actually sleeping together?”
“Not exactly sleeping,” Piper said, laughing, “But I think they’d behave.”
Buffy gave a half-smile at that – the first Piper’d seen all night. “Good. So we can put them in Willow’s room, you can take mine, and Will and I can split the couch.”
“If you think I’m going to make some excuse and try to turn you down, you’re wrong,” Piper said. “This has been a hell of a night.”
“Typical for Sunnydale,” Buffy murmured.
“Now that I think of it, about average for San Francisco too,” Piper said. “Though usually the demons we run into tend not to run around in packs.”
“Lucky you,” Buffy said. “Would you like to trade sacred duties?”
At that, Piper laughed. “No thanks. Sunnydale’s a nice place to visit, but –“
“You wouldn’t want to live here?” Buffy finished.
“Actually not what I was going to say,” Piper said. “I was going to say, but my husband and sister would die, so no thanks.”
“Yeah, right,” Buffy said, “Forgot that little detail.” Then, after a second. “What is it about people in our line of work? You’re married to a spirit of good, your sister’s dating an ex-demon, Xander’s going to marry one, Willow’s dated a witch and a werewolf, I’ve dated a vampire and Captain America, and ANOTHER vampire’s got the hots for me. And that’s not even mentioning Cordelia.”
Piper opened her mouth to ask – werewolf? Captain America? – but figured out she was probably better off not knowing. The question seemed serious, so she answered, “I’m not sure. Pressures of the work, I suppose. I was attracted to Leo before I knew he was a Whitelighter – for that matter, so was Phoebe. To Cole, I mean.”
“I didn’t know Angel was a vampire, I didn’t know Riley was a government agent, and Oz didn’t become a werewolf until he and Will were already an item.” Then, after a second, “But you’re probably right. Kind of hard to find someone normal given our dating pools.”
For a few minutes they walked in silence. Then Piper said, “Look, Phoebe and I have been meaning to talk to one of you more seriously about Willow.”
“What about Willow?” Buffy asked suspiciously as they rounded a corner.
“Her magic. The way she uses it.”
“Oh. She’s going through a bad spell right now, that’s all,” Buffy said. “Spike was right, back in the shop, though he wasn’t very nice about it. Tara – her girlfriend – just up and moved out a couple of days ago, and didn’t bother explaining why. She seemed really ticked at Will for some reason, but – anyway. She’s been a big funk since then.”
“This isn’t just about the funk,” Piper said. “She was practically out of control, back there at the house.”
“She saved our lives,” Buffy said, amazed. “Kind of hard to take on a half- dozen demons without doing some damage. Besides, what’s your 911 on the deal? She was killing demons. Kind of your line of work, last I heard.” The mood had suddenly just gotten ugly.
“She blew up the house in a fit of pique,” Piper said. “She conjured up a cell-phone out of thin air when we didn’t need one.”
“I didn’t notice you taking any moral stands when you cast that spell,” Buffy said acidly.
“Next time,” Piper shot back, “We’ll just let them die. Besides, Phoebe and I aren’t the ones who called the cell phone into existence.”
“No, you just took advantage of it,” Buffy said. “Let Willow do the dirty work and then sneer at her. This conversation is over.” She accelerated to catch up with Spike.
Piper muttered to herself, “Well, that went well . . .”
* * * * *
Buffy didn’t mention her argument with Piper to anyone, and the rest of the night went fairly smoothly, all things considered. Cole and Anya spent a lot of time exchanging war stories until Xander had to drag his fiancee off with promises that, yes honey, you can talk more to the nice ex-demon in the morning. Spike had peeled off before they even got home, and Dawn had long since gone to bed.
The Halliwells still wouldn’t give Willow any pointers, but they did let her tell them about some of the “cool spells” she’d cast and in return shared a few of their own anecdotes, carefully leaving out the details.
Listening to her stories only confirmed their fears, though. The sisters talked long into the night, and when Phoebe finally crawled into bed with Cole he rolled over and said, “What took you so long?”
“Sister stuff,” Phoebe said. “You wouldn’t be interested. Go back to bed – Cole, we can do that when we get home.”
“Just because Willow’s not getting any in this bed –“ Cole said jokingly.
Fixing him with a mock-severe glare, Phoebe said. “No means no, buster.” Cole threw his hands up theatrically and tried to go back to sleep.
The next morning, Willow woke up the Burchells’ demon, and Buffy shooed it out into the streets with the stern warning to stay the hell away in the future. Zebra-face didn’t seem inclined to argue the point.
Anya and Cole swapped tales of their demonhood for a few more minutes while everyone else made their farewells. There were handshakes and hugs all around, until Buffy told Piper, “Look, about last night, I overreacted a little. Friends?”
“I hope,” Piper said, then, looking at Phoebe said, “Ready?”
“Ready?” Then, in unison, the sisters said, “Willow Rosenberg, we bind you from doing magic,” and put all of their magical effort behind their words.
Everyone in the room could feel the spell trying to take effect. Without a word, Buffy stepped forward and socked Piper in the jaw. Cole and Anya ran across the room to get in between them. “Easy,” Cole said. Then he shot Phoebe a questioning look.
Before Phoebe – or Piper, rubbing her jaw as she stood up – could answer, Willow said, clearly thoroughly pissed, “Whatever that was –“ she telekinetically picked Phoebe up, spun her around head-to-toe, and dumped her back onto the Magic Box floor – “It didn’t work.”
Cole looked at Anya. “I had no idea.”
“I believe you,” Anya said. “Still, maybe you’d better get them out of here before we all start trying to kill each other.”
“Good idea,” Cole said. Then he gathered in the Halliwells and escorted them to the door, to Buffy and Willow’s angry glares. As he opened the door he looked at Anya. “Give me a call again if you ever want to hash out old times.”
“Same to you,” Anya said.
As they walked to the rental car, Phoebe muttered to Cole, “You could have helped us back there.”
“I did,” Cole said. “I stopped them from murdering you. What the hell were the both of you thinking?”
“She’s out of control,” Piper said. “Couldn’t you see that?”
“I could,” Cole said. “But couldn’t you have tried talking to her first? That’s a lot heavier-handed than you normally get.”
Phoebe sighed. “Xander was worried, Buffy wouldn’t talk about it – it seemed like something drastic had to be done.”
“Congratulations,” Cole said as they reached the rental car. “You’ve just severed ties with someone who might have been an excellent ally later, and damn near created an enemy. I’d call that drastic.”
“What I don’t understand,” Piper said, “Is why it didn’t work.”
Shrugging, Cole said, “Who knows. Maybe it’s the Hellmouth, maybe you said it wrong, or maybe she’s just that powerful. Or maybe it’s something simpler. Maybe,” he said, gazing back towards the magic shop, “Maybe it’s just that we’re all responsible for our own demons.”