Mercenary Hearts 3

Part 3

University Library

After an earlier 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.

The redhead had related that Buffy and Xander had gone out for food, but Oz was meeting her at the library. Willow had grinned with pleasure when finding him already there. They exchanged a light kiss before settling down at the main library table, not noticing as she took her usual spot at a smaller table on the sidelines.

Tara settled comfortably in her chair and proceeded with what she did best: inconspicuously observing her surroundings- and right now, it was focused the group she’d become a part of since meeting Cordelia Chase.

Well, Tara didn’t really see herself as a part of the group. More like the really tiny names you saw at the last bit of ending movie credits.

There was history between Cordy and the group. The redhead, Willow Rosenberg who, like her, was a pretty accomplished Witch. Her boyfriend, Oz; who, she was told, became a werewolf once a month. And the petite blonde girl, Buffy Summers, who, she’d earlier found out, was a supernaturally enhanced being going by the ‘Official’ title of Vampire Slayer.

The one girl chosen to rid the world of vampires….and any other monsters she came across. Only there wasn’t just one girl currently. Not that any of them talked about it. Except for Cordy. Not much besides her name being Faith -and the pleasure she’d taken at the way the other Slayer had put Buffy’s nose out of joint; hating the fact that “She wasn’t that ‘special’ anymore”, as her friend succinctly put it. Unfortunately, Faith had subsequently left town under a very dark cloud.

Then there was Xander Harris: Cordy’s ex ‘Cheating Rat’ boyfriend, as she’d called him once in conversation. Watching the interaction between the two other girls and Xander had filled in quite a few gaps. It said a lot more to Tara than anything her friend had.

She was pretty certain that his worshipful regard for the Slayer and over-protectiveness of Willow wasn’t something new. Understanding to a large degree why *that* particular relationship had been doomed from the start. In Tara’s opinion, Cordy deserved more than coming third place. Hell, anyone did!

The Head Librarian, Rupert Giles apparently had two jobs: the one at the University -and the other as apparently being some kind of mentor. Formally known as a ‘Watcher’, he’d been sent to the High school with the ‘cover’ of Librarian. Thus, was ready for Buffy’s arrival in Sunnydale. A weird Title, ‘Watcher’, she’d thought at the time when it was divulged. Mister Giles- or ‘Giles’ as everyone in the group called him definitely did a lot more than watch.

His credentials were admirable: A vast knowledge of the supernatural. A Fighting Instructor, Research Guy’. A fatherly type figure who gave Buffy his support, and shoulder to cry on.

Meeting Cordy by chance in the halls of University in her second week had been nothing short of a blessing. Being painfully shy, Tara had stuck to her usual avoidance tactics and had 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 heavy come-on by one of the older students had quickly become unpleasant when she’d awkwardly turned him down. The aggressive vibes pouring off him had her cringing against the wall, inwardly panicking. Until divine intervention (well, right then, it had felt pretty divine) saved her.

A voice cool enough to freeze the air, had cut through the tense atmosphere in the deserted corridor and put the would-be groper in his place quick smart. Tara had watched with sheer relief and quiet admiration as the young woman reduced the 180 lb. jock to a quivering wreck.

He’d rapidly disappeared with his tail between his legs. She’d glared after his retreating figure before turning with a warm smile, asking her if she was okay. Recognition of her face came quickly to Tara, realizing that she’d seen her before- in one of her Psych Classes.

The others had seemed pole-axed when Cordy introduced her to the ‘Scoobies’ several weeks after becoming friends. The blonde, Buffy, had nodded a brief hello and had quickly taken Cordy to one side. Even from across the room she- and the others could hear every word.

It was fortunate for the group that the library had been deserted. News had spread like wildfire through the University halls the last couple of days, that a popular band had arrived in Sunnydale, and that they were doing a gig at The Bronze that night.

The Scoobies had found out pretty quickly that although relatively new, their friendship and loyalty was already near-unshakeable. Any friendship seemed unlikely where Cordelia Chase was concerned -according to the Scoobies.

They’d wondered how it was possible. They were so unalike. It was said in a way that only just missed being snide by what looked to be real confusion in their wide eyes. Tara turned it around by asking “Why? Aren’t you her friends?”

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

Xander Harris’ “’Are we suddenly in an alternative Universe?” comment had her zipping her lip, deciding to keep her personal opinions to herself. Seeing her closed expression, they’d wisely backed off.

Cordy had admitted to being a ‘total bitch’ through High School. One of the reasons she mostly put up with their lowly opinion of her.  Although she still had her moments. “Tact is just not saying true stuff. I’ll pass,” she’d added with a grin.

On the first of many times Cordy had invited Tara to her home, they’d spent quite a while chatting about their University Course choices. While the brunette had declared her Major in Theatre (Acting), and class in Psych, Tara had opted for Psychobiology, which dealt with the biological basis of behavior and mental phenomena.

Cordy admitted that though having a knack for reading people,  She’d chosen a Psych module in an attempt to change her ‘feel my pain’ mentality, in a bid to encompass others people’s issues. Her explanation led to Tara confiding about her own struggles – among other things, the crippling shyness that dogged her.

It was in that moment her friend had suggested she join one of her classes. Cordy had done it herself with Psych. Audit classes were offered at any level of study within the University. Students did this for a number of reasons, such as general interest, or to broaden their learning either within or in addition to their main discipline area. The only downside was that you didn’t receive an academic credit.

“Mister Barnes is mostly a pain in the ass,” she’d declared with a sniff.” But also brilliant at what he does.” At first Tara had been uncertain. Standing in front of a Class group sounded pretty daunting. But after reminding her that “Hey, we’re all new to it, and there isn’t a judge-y atmosphere. Just try it one time,” Cordy suggested, then shrugged, saying, “and if you hate it, you don’t have to go back.”

As it turned out, it hadn’t been too bad; each time after that initial attempt, Tara found that already her tendency to stammer had lessened in degrees.

After much contemplation, Tara also decided to take up Willow on her suggestion to join the Wicca group.  The girl had pestered her for several nights after first mentioning it, and seemed genuinely pleased when she’d agreed.

Cordy had asked if it was really what she wanted.  Knowing Tara wasn’t one to deal with a chatterbox like Willow Rosenberg -whose ability to talk anyone under a table was a given, she’d offered to step in. Tara declined, assuring that she definitely wanted to go purely out of interest in the group. She went on to point out that the rehearsal class had helped her ‘deal’ a little better in group situations.

It also gave Tara a feeling of some independence. As well as not wanting Cordy ever to maybe think of her as a crusty old barnacle stuck on a ship’s hull. A small grin touched her pretty mouth as she imagined the response to that thought. What with Cordy having Self-defense classes, as well as the weapons training she’d managed to guilt Mister Giles into agreeing to, several months before, it made sense to have her own interests.

Comfortable enough with solitude, Tara had no issues with spending her spare time just sitting quietly on the edges of social gatherings. Plus she saw Cordy more than she used to- since taking up the new class. She was actually thankful for the well-established ‘clique-yness’ the others had:  being too involved with their dramas and interests to think of pulling her in. That left plenty of time to observe them at her leisure.

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.

“They’ve run out of Rocky Road at the Ice cream Parlor?” Willow’s weakly witty comment broke the stunned silence.

***

Part Four

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