A/N: There isn't much music in this chapter. The snippet Sweet sings is from "Phantom of the Opera." I couldn't find a clip, but it's to the tune of "All I Ask of You," if you're curious.
Chapter 10: Unexpected Consequences
“Oh, good, Tara’s here,” Anya said, startling both her fiancé and the witch out of their musical daze. “Tell me, what do you think of these flowers as the table centerpieces? Willow thinks they’re too big, and people won’t be able to see each other across the table. But isn’t the arrangement just lovely?”
“I – uh,” Tara stuttered, her eyes flickering unbidden toward Willow. “I – I think W-Willow’s probably right,” she managed.
“Oh,” Anya pouted. “Well, I’ll get Buffy’s opinion when she gets here. Where is Buffy, anyway? We can’t really do this spell without someone to do the pounding once the demon is summoned.”
“Hey, did you guys hear the news?” Tara asked, taking a seat at the table while studiously avoiding the redhead on the opposite side of it. “Th-they found three more bodies last night – all spontaneously combusted.”
Xander sighed. “I’m really glad we’re fixing this tonight. All these people keep… and I feel like it’s my fault.”
“Well, you didn’t know what would happen, sweetie,” Anya reassured him. “I mean, how many musicals result in mass casualties?”
“Les Misérables,” Willow pointed out.
“Also Titanic,” Tara added.
“And West Side Story has a lot of death, as Spike so aptly pointed out yesterday,” Anya mused, beginning to change her mind.
“Hey, guys?” said Xander. “Not really helping here.”
“Sorry I’m late,” Buffy cut in, as she walked in the door. “I had to drop Dawn off at a friend’s house. I didn’t know how long this would take, so she’s spending the night.”
“What do you think of these flowers?”
Buffy backed away from the magazine that Anya shoved in her face. “I think they’re, um – pretty?”
“Oh, excellent!” the bride-to-be exclaimed, glossing over Buffy’s hesitation. “That’s two votes for yes and two for no – and since I’m the bride, I think my vote should count more, so that means pretty flowers!” She happily circled the picture and folded down the corner of the page to mark it for future ordering. “Speaking of the reception, Buffy, are you bringing a date?”
“Am I – huh?” she replied, distracted. “Where’s Spike?”
“Oh, is Spike your date?” asked Anya.
“Huh?” Buffy repeated, this time with wide eyes. “No! No, no, no… I just – uh, was wondering, um…”
She breathed a sigh of relief when the bell on the front door signaled a new arrival. The sight of Spike, however, caused a combination of shivers and heated skin that completely undid her. As if she hadn’t already been tongue-tied enough. She wasn’t sure which was more frightening: the idea of telling everyone about his chip malfunctioning, or the fact that Spike’s mere presence was turning her insides to goo.
“Hi, Spike,” said Tara shyly, but in a friendly tone that helped to break the tension. Willow and Anya echoed her greeting. Xander just rolled his eyes.
Spike nodded his acknowledgement to the ladies. “Am I the last one?” he asked.
“Giles is in the back, setting up the spell.” Willow gestured over her shoulder.
Spike glanced over at Buffy. “Think you best call him out here, pet?” He fixed her with a defiant look, challenging her to tell the others about the chip. He refused to be afraid of the Scoobies’ undoubtedly negative reaction, but he was anxious to see what Buffy’s response would be. He knew Xander, at least, would immediately call for his head – preferably separated from his body – and he wanted to know if the two nights they’d spent together had truly bought him a reprieve. She hadn’t staked him as soon as she found out, which was a good sign, but he wouldn’t rule out the amazing sex as clouding her judgment a bit. Letting him live while faced with her friends’ disagreement was a different story.
Buffy nodded hesitantly. “Yeah, uh, I’ll just… Giles!” she shouted.
Her Watcher hurried out of the training room. “What is it, Buffy?” he asked, with a slight hint of alarm.
“Uh, hi?” She waved to him sheepishly. Giles shot her a disapproving look and folded his arms across his chest, letting his heart rate return to normal.
“Uh, guys,” Buffy started. “There’s something, um… something…”
Spike saw her hesitation and realized the awkward position she was in. So, he decided to make it easy on her by smacking Xander upside the head. The boy let out a startled exclamation, and Spike yelped in pain when the chip fired, zapping his brain as his hand connected with Xander’s skull. Buffy fell silent, shocked and now even more frightened by this unforeseen turn of events. As everyone else tried to figure out what had just happened, the Slayer felt a terrible sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach.
Spike’s chip still worked.
Spike’s chip still worked, but it didn’t work on her. That meant… that meant… She didn’t want to think about what that meant. She didn’t want to think about what she was now, in what non-human form she might have come back.
As the pain passed, Spike processed what had just happened, and his eyes met Buffy’s with alarm. He’d only meant it as a joke, when he said that thing in his crypt about her coming back wrong. But maybe he’d been right after all. Maybe Buffy really did come back wrong. He shot a deadly glare in the direction of the redheaded witch who’d spearheaded the resurrection effort. What had she done to his girl?
Before he had the chance to rip her throat out, Giles spoke up, trying to get them back on track after Spike’s bizarre behavior. “What was it you were saying, Buffy?”
“Nothing,” Buffy said, after a moment’s hesitation. “It’s n-nothing.” She and Spike shared a meaningful look before she turned back to her Watcher. “Just, uh, everyone’s here. Let’s start the spell.”
Buffy handed Tara the necklace she’d forced Dawn to relinquish, the one that would summon Sweet again. Tara put it on and stepped into the larger of two concentric circles drawn in red sand on the training room floor.
“Now,” Giles said, explaining the process once more to the group. “Tara will conduct the spell from within the power circle. Once the demon is summoned, he should appear inside the inner circle – that’s the entrapment circle. He will be held there by the binding spell, but that does not mean the circle’s border is an impenetrable wall. Buffy will be able to enter it, to… extract information from this Sweet character. Do not get too close to the circle. If you cross it, he can grab you, and I don’t want anyone getting hurt. Is that understood?”
“What about Tara?” Willow asked, partly out of concern, but also with a hint of bitterness at not being the one chosen to do the spell. “Won’t she be vulnerable, being so close?”
“She should be protected, as long as she stays outside the entrapment circle,” Giles assured her.
“I can do this, Giles,” Willow insisted. “The two of us together would be –”
“Tara alone will be sufficient, Willow,” he cut her off sharply. He gestured with one hand, and Buffy took up her position outside the circle, ready to attack when the time came. Wordlessly, Spike stepped up next to her. The others stayed back, fanned out across the room, a safe distance from where the spell would take place, but all within arm’s length of a weapon.
Embarrassed by the argument between witch and Watcher, Tara glanced down at the text lying open on the floor in front of her and took a deep breath. She began to recite the spell, softly at first, her voice barely audible despite the silence that had fallen over the others. She wove the binding spell first, her words like threads, spinning an invisible web to ensnare the unsuspecting demon.
Once that was complete, she turned to the summoning spell and began to chant steadily. She felt the magicks swirling around her, reaching out across dimensions, sending out a signal. As the rhythm of her voice created a pulsing flow of energy, she suddenly noticed an inconsistency.
Her eyes swept around the room, finding Willow, watching her lips move silently as she fed her own magic into the spell from outside the circle. Reaching out to her ex-lover through the mental connection they’d been developing, Tara said silently, ‘Willow, stop.’
Willow’s voice echoed back in Tara’s head. ‘I can help. Let me just –’
‘Willow, you’re not helping,’ Tara snapped, struggling desperately to maintain the rhythm while also counteracting Willow’s influence. ‘You’re destabilizing the spell.’
‘No, if you just hold that line, I can beef up –’
‘Willow! Back. Off.’
Tara gave her an angry stare, about two seconds away from dispersing the magical energy she’d gathered and ending the spell entirely. But by then it was too late, and a swell of music began to rise, signaling Sweet’s entrance. The spell spiraled out of control, as Willow and Tara struggled for dominance. Sweet suddenly appeared in the middle of the inner circle, and the music cut off in an abrupt discordance as he looked around, his face falling when he saw who had summoned him. “You kids again?” he asked, annoyed. “I thought we were done here.”
“Yeah? Well, you were supposed to take the song and dance show with you when you left,” Buffy retorted, unaware that the inner workings of the spell were in peril.
“That wasn’t part of our deal, sweetie pie. I –” Sweet stopped speaking abruptly as he reached the edge of the binding spell and came to a halt. “What is this?”
“Couldn’t risk you carting off someone to be your queen again, could we?” Spike replied.
The demon gave him an appraising look. “Don’t worry, precious. It wouldn’t be you.”
Spike found himself mildly offended by that. “Oh, yeah? Way I hear it, most of the boys in theater swing that way. Figure, with that suit, you gotta be one of ’em.”
“Spike!” Buffy hissed. “Don’t taunt the demon.”
“You were doin’ it.”
“I pun, that’s totally different.” She turned back to Sweet. “Now we’re gonna bring the curtain down on this musical once and for all.” Spike rolled his eyes.
Sweet just gave her a melodramatic pout. “I gave you my music,” he sang sadly. “Made your songs take wing. And now, how you’ve repaid me – denied me and betrayed me…”
“Oh, shut up,” Buffy replied. “If you’re not gonna make the singing stop, let’s just make with the pummeling, shall we?”
She charged toward the demon, delivering a snap kick that knocked Sweet backwards against the far barrier of the circle. The force of it jarred Tara’s delicate hold, and before Buffy could get in a second blow, the binding spell collapsed.
“Oh, God, what’d I do?” Buffy whimpered, as Sweet lunged out of the circle and grabbed the closest person – Tara. Too weak from the magic to fight back, she was thrown over his shoulder like a rag doll, struggling ineffectually.
“Sorry, need a queen,” Sweet said.
Buffy and Spike charged simultaneously, trying to tackle Sweet to the ground and save Tara. But the demon gave them a Cheshire cat grin, disappearing with the witch in a burst of light. Buffy and Spike collapsed on the ground in a heap as their target vanished. Sweet’s disembodied voice echoed in the room. “Now, I gotta run. See you all in hell!”
Willow dropped to her knees. “Oh, God. He took Tara. Oh, God. Oh, God.” She covered her face with her hands. “It’s my fault.”
“What the hell happened?” Xander asked, clutching Anya’s hand as Buffy and Spike got to their feet. They all looked stunned at the sudden turn of events. They could scarcely believe that, moments before, Tara had been in the room, and now she was being whisked off to who-knows-where in some horrible hell dimension.
Giles watched Willow dissolve into a tearful mess. “I think I have some idea. Willow.”
The young witch looked up at her name. “I was trying to help,” she said, painfully aware of how hollow those words were beginning to sound. “I just wanted to – I was trying to help.”
“You interfered,” said Giles.
She nodded. “Oh, God, Tara. I’m so sorry, baby. I’m sorry…”
Buffy crouched on the floor next to her friend, wrapping her arms around Willow. “It’s okay, Will. We’ll get her back.”
“It is not ‘okay,’ Buffy!” Giles said harshly. “Willow interfered with the spell, and now it’s caused us to lose Tara. God only knows where she is or how to get her back.”
“We’ll figure something out, Giles,” Buffy replied, maintaining her confidence for Willow’s sake. “We’ll get her back.”
“Well,” Anya said, cutting through the tense atmosphere with her usual matter-of-fact tone. “I guess that means more research.” Sparing a glance at the distraught witch, she headed back to the shop with Xander in tow. Spike ducked his head and slipped out the back door.
“Buffy,” Giles said, his voice soft but firm. She looked up at him, then back at Willow, and nodded. She rose and followed him to the shop, leaving the redhead curled on the floor, sobbing as she repeated, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
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