Mercenary Hearts 9

Part 9 

University Library (the following night)

A few small groups and lone students were scattered around the huge library tonight. Unlike Sunnydale High, it wasn’t closed off with the rest of the University, being a separate building and on a campus.

As Head Librarian, Giles’ time there was pretty flexible as there was always a member of staff around. Some nights, talking freely was difficult- but doable if they kept their voices low.

Tucked away from the main area, the Scoobies huddled around a table waiting for Giles, who was currently ensconced in his office. Willow, who was still chaffing over the scene in the car with Cordy and Tara had decided to broach the subject.

Buffy instantly made sympathetic noises, but Xander was for once, a bit quiet.

“I always imagine witches doing their thing away from the front lines” Oz responded after a bit of thought.

“What?” Willow was a little taken aback. Shouldn’t he be defending her? Girlfriend here, buddy.

“I mean, maybe that’s the just way Tara has been taught to cast magic spells,” he elucidated. “Is it easy to concentrate when a lot’s going on?” Oz seemed genuinely interested – and not judgey, which instantly nullified her imagined offended feelings.

“I don’t know. I’ve never done…” Cordelia had asked a similar question. Darn! Hung by my own petard. It was true, Willow had never magicked on the run, so to speak.

Then she remembered Cordy’s words when first introducing Tara to the group.  “But what about that night, you know, when Tara saved Cordy in the parking lot?”

Xander piped up, “Maybe it’s easier to do when you’re not the target?” Too busy trying to not get killed he added.

What little wind was left sucked out of Willow’s sails at his surprisingly sensible response. Starting to feel more than a little bitchy over the whole thing, she decided to change the subject. “Wonder what the plan is tonight?”

“I don’t care as long as it doesn’t involve research.”  The others were quick to agree with Xander.

*****

Giles joined the others armed with a book and a thick wad of notepaper. He placed them on the table and pulled out a chair next to Buffy. He was about to take a seat when the member of staff on duty tonight, called his name. “Excuse me a moment,” he muttered and headed over to converse with her.

Getting bored with non-action, Buffy rapped fingers rhythmically on the table top; halting when the librarian broke off her chat to send a stink eye her way. She really missed the days when they didn’t have to worry about ‘normal’ people interrupting their meetings.

She watched as Giles ended the conversation and made his way back with a mixture of relief and mild irritation.

“Problems?” Buffy asked, as he sat down next to her. She hoped their talk hadn’t been about her. It wouldn’t be the first time she’d attracted that woman’s ire.

”No. Ms Carling wanted reassurance that I would be present for the large book delivery due tomorrow. As if I’d forget,” he grumbled. “Now, let’s begin-“

Cordy and Tara took that moment to burst in through the main doors.  “Sorry we’re late,” called Cordy, who then paused when Ms Carling, who’d instantly turned to glare, shushed her.  Cordy silently mouthed ‘Sorry’.

Walking quickly over to the others and taking their seats, the brunette continued on, her voice dutifully lowered. “Rehearsals went on a bit longer than expected. He’s so persnickety!”

“I heard on the grapevine that Barnsey’s a real stickler,” Xander commented. “Likes to make life difficult for you poor college saps,” cringing with a cheeky grin when the others instantly reacted with ‘Hey’s, and got a slap on the arm for his trouble.

Unlike the others, Xander hadn’t gone to university, opting instead for the same career choice as his dad & uncle: construction. Although presently, still at the bottom of the ladder. But with his uncle as foreman, who was a decent guy- unlike his dad, he enjoyed the job.

Plus, he got to drive a truck, and often finished his shift around the same time as his friends. Growing up in a small town meant you knew – or knew of, practically everyone living there. So it wasn’t much of a surprise for him to have heard of Mister Barnes.

Giles cleared his throat and looked around the table, waiting for everyone to settle and fall silent. “I had a little free time today, so put it to good use.” He shuffled his notes then opened the heavy book he’d brought. The others wrinkled their noses in disgust at the strong musty odor emanating from its weathered pages.

“I managed to isolate the species. The descriptions you all gave led to a demon called Shousace.” He revealed. “Although they are – as you’ve personally experienced, especially strong, this seems to be their only advantage.” He added that while it was fortunate when it came to Buffy- or even the recently arrived vampires, that sheer strength was extremely disadvantageous to the ‘normal’ humans in the group.

“Interestingly, this particular species have never been sighted in the Americas before, preferring the temperate climes of Eastern Europe. Hungary to be precise,” he added and went on to explain that was also the language one of the demons had used. When Buffy asked if he’d found out what had been said, Giles nodded and translated: ‘shut your mouth, idiot.’

“A least I got the ‘idiot’ part right”, Xander immediately responded.

“So why are these shoesize demons showing up now?” Cordy asked.

Giles patiently pronounced the name with the use of phonetics. “Shoo-saySe”

“That’s what I said, duh,” Cordy rolled her eyes.

“Quite. Unfortunately, at present I have no idea why they’re here,” he admitted. Glancing at his notes, then to the open page of the book, he continued. “The oldest recorded Shousace was said to have been around 250 years of age.”

“What, it got friendly with a guy and told him it was his birthday?” Xander joked.

Giles cleared his throat. “Not exactly. One was captured in Hungary in the 17th century and interrogated. Can you all try to leave questions until after I’ve finished summarizing?” He looked over the top of his glasses reminding the youngster of an old geography teacher he once had.

“Shousace are not a sociable species – even towards each other. They’re loners. With their unique strength, I doubt they would need backup in their endeavors,” Frowning. “Which tends to make the current circumstances all the more disconcerting.”

“Understatement much?”  Willow shifted uncomfortably in her seat, shuddering as she recalled their earlier scary confrontation.

Giles went on to say that so far, all they really knew at this point was that they were were intent on acquiring at least one human for sacrifice. For what, they again had no clue. How many victims were they after? Was it age or gender-specific? He could only assume at present, that their preference seemed to point towards young females.

Oz frowned a little. “What is it with demons always going after girls? Doesn’t seem fair.”

“Well, it makes me feel glad to be a man,” Xander replied with relief.

Cordy gave an inelegant snort. “A man? Who told you that lie?” Even Willow snickered behind her hand at that. Buffy, on the other hand, suddenly became very interested in her hands.

“I wouldn’t be so judgmental if I were you, Cor. Skeletons and closets.” A fake glower darkened Xander’s face, which turned into a cheeky grin when she stuck her tongue out at him.

“If we can get back on topic, children, I’d be most thankful.”

In the ensuing silence, Giles continued on. “The demon has a thick and rather scaly skin, which makes it almost impossible to pierce – for those without some form of supernatural abilities.” Not that they really needed reminding of that fact.

“On the plus side, there are several weak spots we can all take advantage of.  Non-Slayers with the aid of crossbows only,” he warned before listing vulnerable areas: eyes, neck and joints.

“Well, at least we know what they are, and what bits to slice-n-dice” Buffy flashed an upbeat smile in an attempt to disperse the glum expression on her Watcher’s face.

He graced her with a faint smile. “We still need to find out if this… ritual or whatever it is that they are planning is something ongoing or new. Will it be advantageous to all demons, or specific to their own kind?” he wondered aloud.

“And more important, what will a successful endeavor mean for mankind? Or, if local, how will it affect the residents of Sunnydale – or indeed, the Hellmouth itself?”

“So… What’s the plan for tonight?” asked Buffy in an attempt to rid herself of the doom and gloom that hung like a pall above their heads. A bit of fighty action right now would shake it off, she thought.

“Please don’t mention books” Xander begged groaning under his breath when Giles confirmed his fears.

“Thank you, Xander. You’ve just reminded me of one in particular that would be most beneficial…” Unfortunately it was currently at his home, Giles remembered and frowned in annoyance. “But that could be remedied. “Um, Cordelia? ”

After handing over his house keys to the brunette and suggesting she take Xander with her, but under no circumstance let the boy into his house. Xander graced him with a puzzled and slightly hurt look. Giles reminded him of his annoying habit of carelessly handling his precious artifacts, and of what could possibly happen- yet again.

“But it was an accident!” Xander whined. “How was I to know it was an incantomethingy?” The Faery vase had luckily been short of a few of the required ingredients; otherwise he’d have had a vicious and uncontrollable imp running rampage through his house.

“Which is precisely the reason you will wait outside.” He turned his attention to Buffy. “You’ll go out on patrol as per normal- alone,” he added as both Willow and Oz had instantly risen to their feet.

Although Giles had no need to explain, it was still depressing to be stuck in all night. It was just too risky for the others until they knew more.

“Make sure to head back immediately if you come across anything relevant.”

“Sure,” Buffy nodded. “I might pop in to see Willy after I’ve swept the cemeteries. Maybe see if I can find out where those two new vamps are hiding out.”

“Please don’t do anything rash.”

“But I was only …” She relented after facing just ten seconds of Giles’ stern unblinking stare.

“You’re no fun.”

******

Outside Giles House.

Angel and Spike had come up empty after searching for the demons that ran off the previous night. As soon as the sun went down, they’d left the confines of the mansion and followed every lead until the trails went cold. No luck. After an hour they decided to split up.

Angel had decided to make another trip to Willy’s Bar. After discussing at length his last visit, Angel came to the conclusion that he hadn’t expressed his need for information strongly enough. Roughing up humans wasn’t something he did nowadays, but considering the little weasel owned a bar specifically for Sunnydale’s demon population he figured what the hell. Not like he didn’t know the risks of hanging around with creatures like himself.

As he cut through the residential areas he sighted two of the humans who’d been involved in the fight at the clearing on the outskirts of Sunnydale, the crossbow-wielding dark-haired kid, and the gorgeous brunette who had impressed him on so many levels.

They’d just exited a bright red Chrysler Cirrus. Angel’s lips quirked in humor on catching the personalized license plate: ‘Queen C’. Very appropriate, he thought as he took in her regal bearing as she walked gracefully from the driver’s side and joined the whelp on the pavement.

They were completely oblivious to his presence as with silent speed he slipped into the shadowed grounds of the house opposite, using an ancient maple as added cover. Then he watched.  Angel wondered for a second what the ‘C’ stood for: Christine?  Carol? Hmm, maybe not, he thought, guessing that her name would probably be something … unique?

Hands on curvy hips, she icily berated her companion for some slight, who instantly backed off raising his hands in the air with a grimace.  He then leaned against the side of the car as she turned and walked towards the small condo. Straightening up when ordered to, “Get your fat ass off my car, Xander Lavelle Harris!”

There was an air of too-close familiarity between them that surprisingly irked Angel. Were they a current item? On watching their interaction; their body language, he reckoned that was a definite no, but there was no denying the hints of a past relationship. The idiot must have done something objectionable to cause the edge of real anger threading her voice; the disdain barely hidden in her expression.

Angel wondered why it bothered him either way. After all, he’d only seen her twice. Not a stranger to brief flings with human women in the last 90 years. When opportunities arose to lose himself in the delicious warmth of their welcoming bodies, he rarely had a reason to deny his needs. In his line of work, he travelled a lot, which meant freedom to casually hook up then move on without looking back.

But this one…

He questioned depths of his sudden interest. She was beautiful, yeah. He’d seen many equally so in his lifetime. Her fiery temperament and almost fearless character drew him in.  Their shared moment a few nights before had been stuck on a loop in his mind since.  Especially after seeing the unsuccessfully-hidden disappointment in her face when realizing he was a vampire. But earlier, when her copper-rimmed hazel eyes had first met his, instant attraction flared despite her obvious chagrin, and the slightest hint of musky arousal when he’d briefly touch her face.

Everything about her drew Angel in like a moth to the flame. Was he willing to get burned? Hell, yeah!

If she was even willing to let him get that close.

Angel reckoned he just needed to find the right moment to test her barriers.  When it came to the inner workings of the gentler sex, his gut instincts were usually right.  Humans were generally oblivious to things that went bump in the night. Monsters only existed in movies and TV shows. But her awareness that vampires actually existed, and that he was one made for a difficult sell.

What if he did succeed in getting the girl? He had a strong feeling that this particular brunette would be a hard act to follow. Would he be able to walk away when his job here was done?

It was a question Angel needed to get his head around before even thinking of pushing this impulse further. Because this time it actually mattered.

Angel hung around a little bit longer, curious as to why she was there. Was it her home? That surprised him. He couldn’t imagine her living in that shabby looking building. It didn’t gel with the –surprisingly, demure cut of her obviously designer-labelled dress and the expensive car with customized plates.

After a few minutes, she emerged, quickly locking the door behind her. When she turned to walk back down the path he noted the tatty weathered book gripped carefully between fastidious fingers, and held it as far as possible from her as if it was a bag of dog crap.

“Watch you don’t drop that.” Xander Harris had quickly straightened up from his slouch, moving his resettled ass off her car. “Giles will have a cow if you damage it.”

“Pfft. How much more damaged could it get?” she replied tartly. “And God knows how many disease-ridden paws have touched it before he even bought it.” The youth let out a resigned sigh before taking it off her and pulling the passenger door open.

Angel watched with an amused grin until they’d both climbed in and the car peeled away from the house, and then he continued on to his original destination.

PART 10

Posted in TBC

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