Mercenary Hearts 2   1 comment

Part 2

Tara sat herself in a nice quiet corner of the University library and did what she did best – watched with interest as the group she’d become a part of since meeting Cordelia Chase, went through what she’d found to be their nightly routine.

Well, Tara didn’t really see herself as a part of the group; more of someone in ‘the know’ and willing to help when she could. More or less the role Cordelia played… which at first confused Tara, as there was history between her, the redhead, Willow Rosenberg who, like her, was a pretty accomplished Witch; the girl’s squeeze, Oz – who was also a werewolf on a full moon basis, and the blonde girl, Buffy Summers, who, she recently found out was a supernaturally enhanced being going by the ‘Official’ title of Vampire Slayer.

The one girl chosen to rid the world of evil vampires…. Only since she’d become friends with Cordy, Tara had heard there was also another- not that anyone one really talked about it. Even Cordelia hadn’t said much about the other Slayer, besides her name being Faith and the pleasure she’d taken at the time the other girl had arrived, and put Buffy’s nose out of joint. – And that the girl had left under a dark cloud.

Cordy had been pretty blunt about her own place in the ‘Scooby’ dynamics, although she had admitted to not exactly making an effort to be truly accepted – the only connection originally having more to do with the guy she’d been dating at the time. Watching the interaction between the two girls and Xander Harris had filled in quite a few gaps that had said a lot more to Tara than anything Cordelia had.

She was more than certain that his almost worshipful regard for the Slayer and over-protectiveness of the little redhead wasn’t something new, and could understand to a large degree why *that* particular relationship was doomed from the start. Her new friend, in Tara’s opinion, deserved more than coming third place. Hell, anyone did!

She’d met Cordy by chance in the halls of University on her second day. Being painfully shy, Tara had done her usual avoidance tactic and attempted to blend in, but being a pretty girl with soft blonde hair and lush curves obviously worked against the ability to do so. She’d filled out quite a lot in the time between High School and the first day of uni. A come on by one of the older students that had quickly become unpleasant had her cringing against the wall and inwardly panicking- until a voice cool enough to freeze the air had cut through the tense atmosphere of the deserted uni corridor and put the would-be groper in his place quick smart.

Tara had watched with relief and quiet admiration as the young woman reduced the 150lb jock to a quivering wreck before he’d rapidly disappeared with his tail between his legs. She’d then turned to asked Tara if she was okay.

The others had seemed pole-axed the first time Cordy had introduced Tara to them- a week or so after striking up a surprisingly warm friendship. An unlikely one going by the reaction of the Scoobies. Buffy had pulled Cordelia to one side and although her voice was lowered, Tara hadn’t been able to help but hear the admonishment which her new friend had let wash off her like water on a duck’s back.

“You think I’d bring Tara along if she wasn’t already in the know?” She’d asked with a raised brow. “Trust me, she knows ‘monsters under the bed’ isn’t just a saying.” Cordelia then went on to reveal that a small spell Tara had used saved her life out in the university car park.

“I’d be vamp chow right now if she hadn’t come along,” Cordy Explained briefly how her arms had been full of books at the time. The redhead, Willow, who’d watched silently from the sidelines, had immediately turned her inquisitive eyes on her.

“You’re a Witch?” After the nod of confirmation, Willow had visibly warmed to her, admitting to ‘dabbling’ herself and went on to ask if she’d be interested in joining a local Wicca group run by some of the older students…

The Scoobies had found out pretty quickly that her friendship and loyalty to Cordy was unshakeable. After several initial comments as they’d wondered how she and Cordelia could possibly be friends- that only missed being snide due to what looked to be real confusion on their expressions, were soon brought to a halt when Tara in turn had asked why? Weren’t they her friends?.

The disbelief on their faces when she’d added that Cordy, although only knowing her a short time, she’d found to have a warm heart and was ‘interesting to be around, had been disconcerting.

Xander Harris’ “Interesting isn’t the word that comes to mind” comment had her zipping her lip and keeping her personal opinions to herself. After that, they’d wisely backed off.

But Tara had decided to take up Willow on her suggestion and joined the Wicca group -after the girl had pestered her for several nights, seeming genuinely pleased when she’d finally agreed. Cordelia had bluntly asked if it was really what she wanted, knowing Tara wasn’t one to deal with someone like Willow Rosenberg and her ability to talk anyone under a table; offering to step in, until Tara admitted to agreeing purely out of interest in the group.

Not knowing many people, and what with Cordy having Self defence classes, as well as weapons training she’d worn Rupert Giles into agreeing to several months before, it gave Tara a feeling of some independence- as well as not wanting Cordy ever to think of her friendship not unlike that of a barnacle to a ship’s hull. A small grin touched her pretty mouth as she imagined Cordy’s response to that thought if ever she said it out loud.

But comfortable enough with solitude, Tara usually spent her spare time sat quietly, the times Cordelia was absent, actually grateful for the ‘clique-yness’ the others had; too involved with their own gossip and interests to think of pulling her in. That left her plenty of time to observe and absorb.

She noted that Oz, too, tended to sit back, only now and again making comments that held depth beyond his years. Oz mostly listened as Willow chattered almost constantly, jumping from one subject to another in a way that would have had Tara blinking dizzily if she’d have been taking notice fully.

Willow twittered a lot. At first it was pretty endearing, but Tara sometimes felt the girl wasn’t quite as ditzy as she outwardly appeared and that the twittering, almost childish speak was more of a habit she refused to grow out of.  Xander… Xander Harris at first came across as a bit bumbly, a major joker- especially when things were tense…but there was something there on occasions that reminded Tara of the saying ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’.

A lot of the joking around seemed to her to be deliberate at times, as if attempting to pull the Slayer out of her frequent funks. The young mans’ dark eyes unknowingly revealed his feelings where Buffy was concerned, but she either ignored it or was completely clueless- which was a shame in Tara’s mind, as his normality could possibly balance out the girls life in a good way.

Buffy Summer’s topics of conversation were mostly self-involved- but Tara could understand that to a point. The girl obviously had a lot of responsibility on her young and deceptively fragile shoulders, and Tara supposed that the world probably did sometimes feel like it revolved around her. She did think to herself sometimes that the girl would excel in Drama, and was tempted to suggest it whenever Buffy complained of her boring, ‘sucky’ life.

Rupert Giles, once Librarian at the now derelict Sunnydale high, had managed to acquire the position of Head Librarian, and ran the University Library like clockwork. It amazed Tara how he managed it, what with his extra curricular activities. But she supposed after several years of juggling his time, he’d got it down to a fine art.

After a meeting with the Wicca group, and nothing much else to do, what with Cordelia being out with her parents and her assignments done and dusted, Tara had agreed to accompany Willow to the Library and help with what she’d soon found was almost nightly demon research. Willow mentioned that Buffy and Xander had gone out for eats, but Oz was going to meet her at the library.

Her thoughts were wrenched to the present when the library doors crashed open. All eyes turned and widened as the rumpled state of the pair who stumbled in.

“Houston, we have a problem,” Buffy blew at a loose tendril of hair, her face a little bruised, and expression highly pissed.

“Don’t tell me they’ve ran out of Rocky Road at the Ice cream Parlour?” Willow’s weakly witty comment broke the stunned silence.

***

“From your description I may have an idea of what kind of demons you faced,” Giles spoke as he rose from his seat at one of the large study tables scattered around the vaulted library. “Hold on a moment,” he told them absently and headed off towards his office.

Buffy looked around with a slight frown on her face, until her eyes landed on Tara, who was still tucked away at a smaller, nearby table. “Where’s Cordy tonight?” she asked after a perfunctory smile and nod.

“She-she’s out with her parents- for dinner,” Tara replied, responding with a tight smile of her own, which dried up instantly at the resulting scowl on the blonde’s face.

While Tara was wondering why Buffy would ask in the middle of a mini crisis, the scowl deepened. “Damn; we could really do with her here tonight,” understanding dawned and Tara had to stop herself from rolling her eyes, Cordelia fashion. Giles, appeared carrying an old, tattered tome, and a newspaper

“I think it best that I remain here while you and the others go out on patrol.” He told them, sitting back in his chair and placing the book to one side. If I find anything worthwhile, I’ll call you- you have your cell, yes?” he asked, his already distracted eyes lifting briefly in time to see Buffy pull it out of her back pocket and wave it at him. “Good; make sure it’s turned on this time.” Buffy rolled her eyes before nodding.

“_And not smashed to smithereens accidentally,” he added pointedly, again looking up from the pages of cramped text.

“It’s not like I did it on purpose,” Buffy pouted. “Don’t forget, I get thrown around a lot in this gig.”

Giles cocked his head to one side before replying; “If I recall, the last time was when you happened to sit on it after fighting over a slice of pizza with Xander.” A flush stained her cheeks even as the pout melted into a grimace.

“Now back to business,” Giles added after a pause, opening the newspaper he still held and laying it open on the table. “ I saw an article in here this morning which may have some relevance on the situation…”

***

“Sorry that we have to love you and leave you, darling, but the flight leaves in three hours, and you know how they are at LAX about passengers arriving at the last minute.” Mrs Chase checked her watch even as she threw an apologetic smile towards her daughter in the back.

“It’s okay, mummy, I’m heading straight for a long bath anyway,” Cordy replied as she opened the rear door to climb out of her parent’s Jaguar. Her father reached over to pat her knee.

“Are you sure you can’t come along?” He asked, ignoring his wife’s reminder of the time. “It isn’t too late, sweetheart, I can arrange for a ticket to be held for you at the airport- you could meet us at our hotel tomorrow, or in a day or two?” Cordy shook her head, a warm smile spread her lips, brightening the evening.

“Sorry, Daddy, but I have way too many assignments to do to even get away for a weekend,” she leaned into the car and dropped a grateful peck on his cheek. “Don’t worry, I’ll be fine. Have fun, and don’t forget to bring me back a bottle of vintage wine, okay?” she gave his arm a playful squeeze, then leaned in to kiss the air next to her mother’s rouged cheek.

“We will, but you won’t be able to open it for another few years, darling,” her mother reminded her with a regal lift of an arched brow, missing the sly wink and stifled smile father and daughter exchanged.

A minute later the car pulled off, and Cordy couldn’t help but sigh longingly as she watched the taillights fade and vanish out of sight. With another heartfelt sigh and a pout that would have impressed Buffy Summers, she turned wearily towards the short flight of steps to her front door, then muttered an oath under her breath when the mechanical strains of “Who let the dogs out” broke the silence.

Reaching into her purely-for-decoration purse, Cordy extracted her cell and flipped it open. “y’ hello?” her eyes rolled. “I’ll just go cha- riiiight.” She closed the phone with a snap and glared at it like it was a rotten egg.

“No time for that! You’re needed pronto!” her voice rising in an exaggeration of Buffy’s. Shoving the cell in her purse, she dug out her keys. And about turned before stalking towards the garage.

“I Knew I should’ve gone to Baruch!”

***

Cordy eyed the dense trees that lined the side of the highway with misgiving before frowning down at her attire of floaty chiffon skirt and strappy silk top, grateful at least for the incongruous looking tennis shoes she’d found tucked in the recesses of the trunk of her car- as well as her decision to wear silk panties instead of the sheer lace thong that had tempted her eye when she’d got ready for the restaurant earlier.

Damn, “You shoulda let me at least change into something a little less ‘pet me, I’m available'”, she griped, flicking an irritated glance Buffy’s way after briefly sending Xander a killing glare when he commented snidely that available was good since they were trying to get the demon’s attention.

“Sorry, but time was of the needy type,” Buffy replied lightly, adding faux-sweetly. “We didn’t have time for you to go through you’re uber closet,” garnering an arched brow from Cordy

Catching Tara’s eye, and the slight ‘let it go, it isn’t worth it’ shake of her head, Cordy let out a calming breath; “So, what? Any idea where these big n scalies are gonna be? She asked.

Buff shook her head. “Nope. Not really- but Giles said he’d read in the Tribune that some teens were frightened off from this area yesterday.”

“But this is the hellmouth, Buff; things like that happen all the time,” Xander piped up. Buffy flipped the stake she always seemed to have on demand no matter the time of day, making Tara wonder if she took it in the bath with her.

“You heard what Giles said: the would-be attackers were ‘badly disfigured’- and it was still light when it happened, which rules out vamps” Buffy told them. “So I reckon here is a good place to start.” She turned to Cordy; “These demons were after a girl, – and you’re it” she added bluntly. Cordy grit her teeth. Although things were better since the High school blew up, there still existed an edge– moreso since she’d picked up on the more-than friendly vibes between Buffy and her ex.

She personally felt they deserved each other- plus the fact that it was obvious that Xander had it bad when he was her boyfriend- that was one of the reasons she broke it off with him- that and realising she wasn’t in love with him, and probably never would be.

Oblivious to Cordy’s thoughts, Buffy continued. “There’s a small clearing just past those trees. You head towards it.” all business now, she stepped back. “We’ll follow behind and watch your back.” She assured the brunette when seeing hesitation.

“What about my front?” Cordy muttered under her breath, turning away from the group and headed for the trees, wondering, not for the first time why she agreed to be permanent Bait girl. “Sounds so *not* like a well-thought out plan” she whispered nervously to herself as the clearing came into sight.

Buffy in the meantime, felt tinglies. Odd. Normally, she only got them when vamps are nearby. Oh well, two birds with one stake… she thought with a shrug…. and then a high-pitched yelp broke the semi-silence.

She rushed on ahead; leaving Xander, Willow, Oz and Tara trailing behind, her attention focussing on Cordy as she left the trees behind her. The brunette was struggling with a demon that looked identical to the two herself and Xander had come across earlier that night. She also noted absently that Cordy was doing pretty well at staving – and then she skidded to an abrupt halt.

“Well, crap!” the others caught up and stopped too. There was more than one. About half a dozen of ‘em, in fact. And they were surrounded.

“A little help here!” Cordy’s yelp shook Buffy out of her crap moment and she took a flying leap toward the struggling pair and landed on the demon’s back. The jolt caused the demon to lose his grip on Cordy, who instantly dropped to the grass and then rolled to her feet. The others spread out in a small semi circle.

Oz lifted the crossbow he’d brought along and waited for a clear shot, and as soon as the demon faced him, Buffy still on it’s back; took aim and fired. Willow winced and ewwed under her breath at the sloopy, cracking sound made as the bolt jammed through its eye socket. The demon died instantly and dropped like a stone. Buffy landed gracefully next to it, pausing to give it a hard nudge with her booted foot before throwing Oz a quick grin and then all hell broke loose.

The death of the first demon seemed to act as a catalyst. The remaining demons had been just as surprised to see the Slayer and the others as they were and had frozen in their tracks- until their comrade hit the ground.

Cordy took a step forward, about to make her way over to Tara, who now stood alone holding onto a crossbow for her, and brandishing a short sword but looking a little nervous about using it- then Cordy’s arm was captured in an almost crushing hold. The demon that’d grabbed her swung her round roughly but Cordy used the impetus to kick high and ram her heel into its gut. She grimaced when all that got her was a slight ooph. “I should’ve kept my kitten heels on.”

Hooking a foot around the back of one of it’s knees, she yanked hard, and then her mouth opened in a dismayed yelp when, instead of falling backwards, the demon, who still held her arm lurched towards her bringing them both down, with her ending up pinned between it and the ground.

A large scaly palm pressed down on her mouth and nose, and no amount of heaving or kicking moved the great hulking beast. Just as stars started to appear before her vision, the weight of the hand -and demon abruptly vanished.

Only vaguely aware of a sharp snap sounding a few feet from her, Cordy sucked in much needed air- then the sensation of someone- or thing hovering over her caused her eyes to flicker open … and found herself looking into a shadowed face… Dark, yet glittering eyes held a touch of leering appreciation as they flicked over her before lifting again to lock with her dilated gaze. The gleam of white teeth flashed for a moment and she blinked, still a little dazed.

“Nice panties,” a dark as velvet voice commented….

Part 3

Posted August 11, 2017 by califi in TBC

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