Mercenary Hearts 2

Part 2

Main Street, Sunnydale

“God, I don’t think I have room for ice cream after that,” Buffy groaned, rubbing her middle soothingly as she walked out of the Pizza Parlor.

“If that’s your way of saying you want me to pay for the cold creamy goodness, forget it.” Xander gave her a warning look as he shrugged into his jacket. “I got the pizza,” he reminded. Buffy rolled her eyes before poking him in the ribs lightly with her elbow, grinning at his exaggerated ‘ooph’.

“And here was I thinking that the man was supposed to buy.”

His chest puffed out a bit: she called me a man “The man only buys when it’s a date.” The grin slipped a little as awkwardness worked its way to the surface. “This isn’t a date – is it?” Mentally kicking himself for making it a question, Xander gave a quick sideways look and flushed a little when wide startled eyes collided with his.

Her on-off relationship with Owen ended weeks before their high school had been reduced to a pile of blackened stone. Being a slayer meant secrecy and broken dates, to name but a few issues when it came to having a normal life. And it seemed boyfriends were definitely out.

Xander was unique. He’d been in the know from almost as long as her arrival in Sunnydale. Buffy wasn’t quite sure if her feelings had evolved from best friend to…maybe more?

His weird relationship with Cordelia had admittedly, not sat that well with her. Hello? Who could blame her? Queen C, the Bitch from Hell. Self-proclaimed boy slayer.

Then being caught swapping saliva in the depths of Sunnydale library of all places – with Willow… A one-off, her friends had later insisted. A crazed moment when faced with a horrible death by the hands of a vampire that had invaded the school while they were alone researching together. They’d hid in the stacks. Thankfully Buffy and the others had returned from patrol before he found them, but they’d been caught macking by an anxious Oz and Cordelia who’d rushed ahead as Buffy dealt with the vampire.

Oz had, fortunately for Willow, forgiven her. Unlike Cordelia, who dumped him and made him suffer for ages. A teeny tiny part of her sympathized. If her Owen had done it, she doubted she would have reacted differently. Still, there hadn’t really been a need to drag it out so long.

She loved Xander. But wasn’t IN love with him… Had she been sending mixed signals? What was she supposed to say when he was obviously waiting for an answer? No, don’t be daft, we’re best friends, A bit harsh, maybe…  but true.

Giving a mental shake Buffy instead changed the subject. “So what flavor ice cream are you gonna have?” She plastered a big smile on her face and deliberately ignored the stifled sigh that left him.

Xander kicked a bottle lid absently while he attempted to shove down the urge to confront the abrupt shift in atmosphere between them. He knew they’d have to talk about whatever it was that was that was going on – or not going on, soon. Just not right now. Lifting his head, he turned to respond when something caught his eye. “Uh oh, trouble.”

Buffy instantly followed his gaze and stiffened as her eyes locked onto two shadowy figures several meters away down the dark alleyway they’d been about to pass. Reaching round the back of her jeans, she pulled out a stake and changed direction. Xander followed closely with a frown and whispered,; “How did you manage to sit down with that in your pants?” Then shrugged and concentrated on the scene ahead.

“You see what happens when you overdo the cologne? You guys never learn.” Buffy quipped, eying the unconscious girl held close to one of the large, leather-skinned bodies while she figured out how to safely rescue. Xander concentrated on widening the gap between them and sidled along the wall, his eyes pinned on the demons as he attempted to get behind them.

On hearing her voice, both demons had turned to face her; the one holding the girl stepped back until his cohort was almost in front of him. He sniffed the air and grimaced. “A slayer,” he hissed gutturally.

The one who’d taken up a protective stance half turned his large head to flick a quick glance behind him. “Let’s go. Leave the human,” he ordered harshly. The other held the girl closer. “But we need sacrifi-”

“Fogd be a pofádat! idióta” he snarled at his companion, then turned to face her. “We do not wish for trouble, Slayer”.

 “Then put the girl down and back off,” she suggested with a slight shrug. The one holding the girl glared defiantly then quickly threw her over his heavy shoulder. Buffy sighed. “Ookay, if that’s the way you want it,” after exchanging a quick glance with Xander they both moved as one.

Xander looked around the dark alley for something to use as a weapon while the Slayer charged the empty handed demon. Just as he spotted and grabbed a length of rusty pipe, the other demon had started to make good his escape with the girl.

Checking quickly behind him and finding that Buffy was still busy with the other demon, Xander weighed up his choices and then decided a slightly injured victim was better than a dead one and ran forward, swinging the heavy pipe.

The demon grunted loudly as the metal caught the side of its head, but it still doggedly held onto the girl. Groaning in frustration, Xander jogged ahead and turned, in the hope of blocking his quarry and stave until Buffy had dealt with the other one.

Shaking its big head, the demon eyed him for a moment through lidless eyes before its thin lips spread into what was obviously a sneer but looked more like a grimace, revealing small yellow and very sharp looking teeth. It shifted the girl into a more secure hold and then advanced.

Xander gulped, but refused to budge. Pipe at the ready as the demon got closer, one of its large hands curled into an impressive fist.

His anxious eyes sought out Buffy’s’ whereabouts and he swallowed thickly when realizing she was too busy fighting to come to his aid. His split second distraction cost him. The demon was now only a foot away and he raised the pipe to shoulder level, wondering how the hell he’d be able to use it to its full potential with the girl in the way.

And then a small pair of hands appeared either side of the demon’s head, which was abruptly yanked in the opposite direction with a sickening crunch. Relief filled Xander even as he rushed forward when the large figure began to crumple to the ground, managing to grab the girl round the waist before it hit the floor.

Surprised brown eyes met wry green when he lifted his head. “Thanks. For the help” he added.

“No probs. The other scaly ran off. What a wuss.”

Keeping hold of the arms she’d grabbed at the same time Xander had moved, Buffy steadied the girl, who was now slowly coming round, while Xander settled her feet on the ground.

“So much for an ice cream pig out,” she grumbled.

****

Chase Mansion

As Cordy sat at her vanity applying makeup, her thoughts drifted. Initially wondering how Tara was getting on at the Library. She hated leaving her alone with Buffy and the rest of the motley crew.

Not that she was worried that they’d ever hurt her. A few nights after introducing Tara, she’d cornered Buffy in the Library bathroom. Had told her she’d better not take advantage of her sweet nature by roping her into group patrols. And under NO circumstances were any of them to suggest she’d make great Bait or ask her to do it.

She hadn’t liked that at all, and hotly asked how Cordy could possibly think she’d even consider it. Under her cynical gaze coupled with the lift of a single fine brow, Buffy had at least the grace to look uncomfortable. Then spoilt it by saying “Anyway, it’s different.” She’s not you.  The unsaid words hung between them like a dark pall. Then she gave a quick nod and promised before stalking out of the bathroom.

The others had been openly stunned when Cordy first arrived at a meet with her a few weeks after striking up a surprisingly easy friendship. It wasn’t that hard to imagine what went through their minds: chalk and cheese. Good and Evil. She’d noted the furtively shared glances.

Buffy had offered up a tight smile before hurriedly pulling her into a far corner, her face now showing a scowl. “What the hell are you doing?” she’d demanded in a harsh whisper.

“You think I’d bring someone here if they weren’t already in the loop?” She’d asked with an arched brow. “Trust me. Tara knows that monsters under the bed actually exist.” Cordy then went on to reveal that a few days earlier, her friend had saved her life out in the university car park. “I’d be vamp chow right now if she hadn’t come along.” Her voice raised enough for the others to hear every word.

She explained how her arms had been full of books. Totally unprepared for the sneak attack. Luckily for her she’d arranged to meet Tara at her car -and Thank God she’d come in time to scare off the vampire with a ‘really impressive’ Sunlight spell.

Willow, who’d listened with interest as their discussion played out, immediately turned her inquisitive eyes on Tara. “You’re a Witch?” After the hesitant nod of confirmation, her earlier pale smile had widened with real warmth.  Admitting to ‘dabbling’ herself, Willow went on to ask if she’d heard about the local Wicca group run by some of the older students…

Fair enough, it had created more than a twinge of jealousy watching the redhead attempt to draw her friend into a conversation. But she’d damped the feeling down. It wasn’t her place to choose Tara’s friends. Even if one of them happened to be Willow Cheating Rosenberg.

After initially sizing Tara up, thankfully Xander hadn’t followed it up by trying out his pathetic chat-up lines. Her friend had been through enough traumas in her life without him adding to them.

After explaining her on-the-outside-looking-in place in the group dynamics, Cordy had admitted to not exactly making any effort to be truly accepted. The only connection originally had more to do with the guy she’d been dating at the time. Her friend’s eyes had widened in horror when told of her unofficial job title, the first gig shortly after joining the Scoobies as “Xander’s girlfriend”.

Cordy had been bluntly honest from the start with Tara regarding her not so pleasant past behavior. A Stuck up little rich girl with no real care for anyone but herself, her clothes, and her car. Not to mention taking her affluent life for granted. Yep, she’d been titled Queen Bitch for a reason, and had been very proud of it.

But then it had almost all changed. Pre-Graduation, personal family issues had brought with it a few home truths. Finding out that her parents had been close to ruin; thanks to their ass-wipe Accountant being caught with his hands in the till things had taken a scary turn. Luckily for them, an IRS Audit picked up on it.

Said ass-wipe ended up doing a long stretch in prison, and most of the missing money had been retrieved. Cordy’s grandparents had stepped in being mega-rich and had helped clear the owed taxes.

But it had taken several months of uncertainty before it was sorted out. Having no-one to talk to about it had brought home to her both her serious lack of real friends, and the fact she was a really horrible person. Talk about having an epiphany. A pity it had to have taken that to turn her life around.

The best thing she’d ever had in her life was true friendship- with Tara McClay.

Part Three

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