Mercenary Hearts 5

Part 5

Clearing in the woods.

Rising lithely to his feet the stranger reached out to help her up. Amusement danced in his dark eyes. Cordelia’s blush of mortification intensified and she roughly pushed the large pale hand away, her lovely face scrunching into a deep scowl. Jerk!

Climbing to her feet with as much grace as she could manage, Cordy attempted to ignore the tall, black-clad man standing a little too close for her liking and quickly tugged down the skirt that had twisted around her waist like a gauzy rope. Thank God!  For 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.

This is all Buffy Summers fault, she thought resentfully. If the annoying girl had given her more notice, displaying her panties to the world- well, him and God knows who else, would never have happened.

Then she looked up. Just her luck: Tall, dark and sinfully handsome to boot, from what she could tell in the semi-darkness. Any other time, Cordy would have appreciated the sight of salty goodness- a rarity in this town, but at this moment all she wanted to do was cringe with embarrassment and smack the smirk off his full lips.

“Thanks.” Her begrudging gratitude caused the smirk to widen into a sizzling smile that made her blink hard before looking away. Hoo boy!  The guy must have been front of the queue when God was handing out the goodies.

“Glad to help,” Angel eyed the young woman with open appreciation. From the top of her glossy head to the tips of her perfect toes, she fitted every one of his fantasies. Her rumpled appearance and flushed cheeks only added to the becoming picture, bringing illicit thoughts to his head.

When he’d turned from snapping the demon’s neck and saw her sprawled out so enticingly, the urge to slide his hands up legs that seemed to go on forever had been difficult to quash. The need to touch was still strong, so he gave into it, running his fingers innocently along the hot flush of one cheek. Appeased for the moment, he asked, “Are you hurt?”

For a second, Cordy unconsciously leaned into the cool touch. Then her eyes widened in shock. What the hell am I doing?! One touch of those fingers and her knees had turned to jelly. Sheesh. With a huff, she knocked his hand away, shook her head and took a step back. Only my dignity, she thought with chagrin, recalling the first words he’d uttered and opened her mouth to rip into him.

Lucky for him, a short, sharp scream caught her attention. Cordy broke eye contact with him, and looked around his large body just in time to see one of the demons attempting to herd her now-alone friend towards the trees.

“OHMIGOD!” she cried, moving forward to push the dark-haired man out of the way. Then she froze as a blond guy appeared out of nowhere and jumped onto the demon’s back. “What the…?”

“That’s a vampire! ” Sheer disbelief colored her tone. Her brow scrunched up in shock and confusion. She watched in horror as the demon still edged closer to Tara even as it struggled to dislodge the vampire on its back.

“This is just GREAT! First demons and now vamps are joining in.” She took a second to glare up at the hulking figure still blocking her way and with an angry huff tried to slip around his unmoving body.

A powerful arm hooked her waist before Cordy had taken two steps, swinging round and depositing her back to her original spot. “He’s with me,” Angel replied vaguely, keeping hold of her wrist, and again blocking her way.

Cordy tugged at her arm and glared up at him. “With you?”  Shaking her head in growing anger and confusion, the move dislodged the clip that had been holding her hair back. Broken in the tussle with the demon, it released its tenuous grip and the glossy strands fell to surround her flushed face.

Angel’ gaze was instantly drawn to it, his nostrils flaring as the scent of apples enveloped him. A low sound of appreciation escaped his throat and caught her attention.

Did he just…? Cordy could have sworn she’d heard purring- then gasped. For a split second, she was almost certain she’d seen a flash of fang. Jeeze, now she was seeing things. Putting it down to oxygen deprivation to her brain earlier that was affecting her, she shrugged it off and instead narrowed her gaze, tugging again at her captured arm.

“Well, if he’s your friend, shouldn’t you go help him out?” she asked pointedly, and peeked around him again. Even with the vampire on its back, the demon was still making ground towards Tara, who’d belatedly remembered the sword in her hand and was waving it in front of her haphazardly. “We so need to learn how to use those things,” Cordy muttered anxiously, now tugging in earnest.

Angel flicked a look behind him and shrugged, seemingly uninterested. “He can hold his own.” He grabbed her other wrist quickly when she gave up pulling and instead started clawing at his hand.

“Lemme go, you big bully, I want to help her.” The demon roared when a lucky swing of Tara’s sword-nicked it’s face causing it to increase its efforts to dislodge the vampire who was raining punches down on its thick skull.

“You’ll be of better help keeping out of it,” Angel shifted to avoid the swift kick she aimed at his shin, a grin stretching his mouth. Feisty! He was really starting to like this little spitfire!

“Your friend will be okay,” he assured her- then cursed under his breath when the blond vampire was abruptly thrown across the clearing. After giving itself a violent shake, the demon turned its attention back onto Tara, who had backed into a tree and was cornered.

“Maybe not,” Angel muttered under his breath and moved so fast, Cordy blinked in shock before shouting worriedly, “Tara! Run!” She breathed a sigh of relief and an ‘ewe’ when Tall, Dark and Unfairly Yummy appeared behind the demon and removed its head effortlessly with a sword pulled from beneath his long leather duster.

After rescuing the gorgeous brunette, Angel kept her in his sights. He’d been impressed with how she’d defended herself. Not bad for a human. No match for the demons, but quick on her feet and flexible…boy was she flexible!

He had salivated at the thought of how that could come in handy in other ways. He’d had to force his thoughts out of the gutter and concentrate on the fight at hand, taking care not to hurt the humans that kept getting in his way.

The chaos continued, fast and furious for several more minutes, then after a lucky punch from the demon he’d been fighting had knocked him to the ground, it had taken off, along with two others – one injured by a bolt sticking out of its scaly shoulder. He dusted himself off as Spike tore out the throat of one and the Slayer, with the help of the two male youths finished off another.

With intense irritation, the vampires watched their marks scatter.

Now their second confrontation and only five killed and one injured between them, thanks to the  humans who’d mostly got in the way. What the hell they were doing there? He wondered with a dark frown… The slayer, yeah; both vampires had been aware that a slayer resided at this particular hellmouth, and had hoped to avoid bumping into her for obvious reasons.

Slayer blood gave off a different scent to normal humans. Potency and power. With vampires’ preternatural sense of smell, it wasn’t hard to miss. Especially for ones like themselves, who had a few centuries tucked under their belt. Fresh out of the grave, blood was simply blood. Nothing else really registered. They often missed it – to their misfortune.

But in all his long unlife, he’d never heard of one actively working in the field with humans in tow. Although she’d managed to kill two of demons, which narrowed down the numbers he and Spike had to deal with – but with the reckless help from the humans? Weren’t slayers supposed to keep a low profile? What the hell was the world coming to? Angel wondered shaking his dark head in disgust.

Several days earlier, after finding Spike who’d been shoved down a derelict elevator shaft at the New York Warehouse, the fall knocking him out cold, Angel had pulled him out, and then both had impatiently waited until the cover of darkness to continue their pursuit in Spike’s Desoto. Earlier overhearing their discussion, they knew where to look.

What they hadn’t expected was the sound of fighting- and the sight that met their stunned eyes. Slayers, depending on their experience would have picked up on them regardless. But vamping out hadn’t helped, judging by the wary eyes of the others now aimed their way. Just fucking great.

Angel walked over to retrieve his sword, but before he could grab it, a booted foot appeared in his line of vision and slammed down on the bloodied blade. He sighed silently and rose to his full height, backing up and leaving the weapon where it was. Equally wary brown eyes lifted to connect with the cold green of the Slayer.

“Who the hell are you? – And more importantly- why are you helping us?”

 

****

 

Spike appeared next to his partner in a blur of movement that made the humans jolt in nervous surprise. Buffy remained steady, used to their unnatural speed, but her eyes flicked from one to the other vampire warily.

“Who said we were helping?” Spike drawled “You just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.” He added with a casual shrug and pulled out a crabby pack of cigarettes, shook one out and lit it with a silver lighter showing signs of wear on its engraved surface.

They faced off in the now eerily quiet clearing. Buffy headed her group, who now congregated tightly behind her.

Angel eyed the crossbow that the redheaded youth, who didn’t smell quite so human at closer quarters, had now levelled towards them- also taking note of the stake that had appeared abruptly in the Slayer’s hand. “We’ve been after that particular clan for a while.” He briefly explained that they’d originally tracked the demons to New York a few days before following them to Sunnydale.

“Good thing we showed up.”

Buffy’s back immediately went up at his scathing tone. “We could have taken them without your help,” she responded coldly, even though inwardly she knew that was debatable, but they didn’t have to know that. At the same time, it hit Buffy that these two were the reason her vampy tinglies had set off earlier.

Angel looked at her expressionlessly for a long moment before glancing around him pointedly. “She would have been dead by now.” He gestured to Cordy, who scowled and folded her arms tight, but kept her mouth shut because, unfortunately, it was true. “Those two whelps were having a bit of trouble taking them on,” Angel indicated Xander and Oz with a jerk of his dark head.

“Trying to babysit Little Red Riding Hood didn’t help them much, either,” Spike suddenly commented much to Willow’s horror.  He heard a stifled snikker from a certain brunette at that. “Little cutie over there was left alone,” he added, and winked casually at Tara who found herself blushing like a preteen. She ducked her fair head and looked at the soft grass beneath her shoes.

Angel raked a hand through his dark spikey hair, unconsciously drawing Cordy’s eyes. Her gaze then dropped to get a better look at his face. Although hard and pretty expressionless, she could see clearly an edge of violence in those almost black eyes. No revision on her initial thoughts; he was gorgeous.  But the whole being a walking corpse and blood sucking demon didn’t sit at all well …Pity! A small, disappointed sigh left her.

Watching him beating the crap out of one of demons earlier had been quite a turn on. For such a powerfully built guy, he’d moved with a feline grace that drew her admiring eyes. But it had been one hell of a shock when seeing his handsome face morph into ridges and fangs when the demon had got in a lucky punch.

Just her luck, she thought sourly. The only decent male around for ages and he had to be not only full of himself, but a vampire to boot. Somebody up there surely hated her.

Angel pinned the Slayer with cold, hard eyes. “I get why you’re here, Slayer, but bringing along humans? You’re either new to the gig or just plain stupid,” he chastised coldly.

A collective gasp echoed, and then Xander stepped forward, his youthful face twisted in defensive anger. “Back off, Dead Boy, it’s none of your business how we do things around here.”

Buffy swallowed the guilt as she thought how Tara had been separated from the rest of them in the midst of battle. She’d been so busy fighting- demons that had been pretty hard to kill, mind, that she hadn’t noticed at the time. Their human frailty wasn’t lost on her and it was a worry that still plagued on and off.

But she knew from past experience exactly what they’d say or do if she told them not to accompany her on patrol. They’d done it before, and if she’d hadn’t have come across them when she had, Willow would have been dead- or undead after they’d been attacked by a small group of vampires. Better they were with her rather than worry they’d follow regardless of her demands.

Quashing her emotions on the subject for now, Buffy hardened her own gaze. The vamps had a valid point, but ‘No way Jose’ was she going to admit that to them. Instead she folded her arms and attempted to stare them both down.

It was so easy for these two interlopers to say that- not that she could understand why they’d helped- or why she was still standing there listening instead of staking their asses. Why the hell would these vampires have even the remotest feelings about anything but the kill- of humans?

“How I work is none of your business, Fangy,” Buffy dropped her arms; one hand came to rest on her hip, the other unconsciously fiddled with the stake even as she eyed the two vampires with mistrust.

“What I wanna know is why you even helped us?” she lifted a hand when Spike opened his mouth to reply, “Yeah, I get it, blah blah woof woof, – but why not us- me? I am The Slayer; your natural enemy,” she reminded them unnecessarily.

“We’re here to kill a few troublesome demons, luv. Nothing more.” Spike could see no reason to tell her that they were contracted out. They’d found long ago that Mercenaries weren’t well-liked. Plus the fact it wasn’t any of her damned business.

On seeing her mouth open, he raised his hands in mock surrender and took a step back, his expression now reflecting growing boredom. “We’ll be off now.  Got some escapees to find.” He added, half-turning with the strong need to put as much distance as he could between them.

The girl and what she stood for brought bad memories back to the surface. The face of the last slayer he’d killed still bothered him. What had once become a kind of personal quest back in the day, now…? Not one of his best moments, that was for sure.

But Buffy wasn’t finished. She’d seen what was under those human veneers. Would have sensed it even if she hadn’t. They weren’t acting like any vamps she’d ever come across and that made them even more dangerous in her book. Unknowns had too much of an advantage in her line of work.

“If you know what’s good for you, you’ll get out of Sunnydale and not look back,” she warned.

Spike turned back and looked at her with a lift of a dark brow. Buffy absently noticed the scar running through it. He didn’t bother to reply this time; his expression unreadable. Angel, equally poker-faced responded instead. “Once we finish what we came here to-”

“This is my territory,” Buffy butted in abruptly and took a step forward. “I can deal with them. Go back where you came from or I’ll deal with you now.” It wasn’t a threat and both vampires seemed to turn into stone. The tension on both sides racked up and Buffy swallowed thickly.

And then Angel relaxed and let a slightly unpleasant smile touch his mouth. Buffy’s breath hitched. “We don’t want trouble, but …” Cool confidence oozed from him as he shrugged offhandedly; unspoken words hung in the charged air between them, and it gave her grudging pause for thought.

Each and every one of them sported bruises. Buffy could see no other choice but to retreat. She’d seen them fight. It had taken all of them to kill two of those uber-strong demons. And the third one she’d faced had pretty much kicked her butt. She’d managed to break one if its arms and Xander had put an arrow in its shoulder… Most of the time her friends were busy concentrating on not getting killed due to the number of Demons.

The two interlopers had taken out three demons with relative ease. More powerful than the average vamp, these two – especially the dark haired one. She’d bet her life on it that his large, imposing body was finely honed with muscle. The brutal yet efficient methods they’d used told of years; maybe centuries of fighting skills. Hell, just looking into those deep brown eyes that seemed to hold a lifetime…

The last vampire she’d come across with that arrogant look in his eyes had been Luke, and he hadn’t shown half as much skill as the ones facing her now. Buffy had beaten him. By the skin of her teeth. It had taken several days for the bruises he’d inflicted on her to fade.

Unlikely she’d walk away Scot-free this time. Yes, Buffy decided grimly. Retreat was the best option. For now. She took a step back and slowly lowered her stake.

The vampires widened the gap between them, and after briefly eyeing the contemplative Slayer, Angel flicked his dark gaze over Cordelia from head to toe. This one was worth hanging around for. Even without the business that brought them here. He admired her fire…amongst other things.

It probably wasn’t the time or place, but he let a slight, sensual smile touch his mouth as he caught her defensive gaze. “Maybe see you around.”

The pure male appreciation in that look had Cordy tingling right down to her toes, but she rolled her eyes and shoved aside the accompanying shiver that ran along her spine under his hot appraisal. “Not if my stake sees you first.” Her face flushed with irritation when a soft, deep chuckle floated through the air even as they stepped back and then seemingly melted into the darkness.

Part Six

Posted in TBC

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