Mercenary Hearts 16

Part 16

Wicca Group (Weds evening)

Drippy tallow candles flickered softly in the darkened room creating rippling shadows of the small group that stood facing each other within a nine foot circle that was temporarily marked with thick white chalk on which had small rocks spaced out along the line.  The candles, just outside the circle, were positioned at the cardinal points on the compass: Water to the North, Air to the East, Fire to the South, and Earth to the West.

Tara watched intently as the High Priestess placed the cup of ritual wine on the center of the pentagram, which was beautifully hand painted onto a thickly woven cloth set in the center of the circle. She drew the sign of the pentacle over it in the air. When she reached out her arms everyone joined hands over the cup and chanted:

From the Earth sprouts the seed;

From the seed sprouts the plant;

From the plant sprouts the fruit;

From the fruit sprouts the wine;

The humans partake of the wine;

And will one day return to the Earth;

The cup was then held high.

May the Lord and Lady bless this wine

As I partake in part of the great cycle of life.

Pouring out a little of the drink into the libation dish, the High Priestess took a sip herself, and then passed the cup around with the wish:

May you never thirst.

She then placed the cakes in the center of the pentagram and drew a pentacle in the air over it and then they all chanted:

From the Earth sprouts the seed;

From the seed sprouts the plant;

From the plant sprouts the grain;

From the grain sprouts the bread;

The humans partake of the bread,

And will one day return to the Earth;

She lifted the plate high.

May the Lord and Lady bless these cakes

As I partake in part of the great cycle of life.

Some of the cakes were put into the libation dish. After taking a bite of one, she passed the rest of cakes around with the wish:

May you never hunger.

Then they all sat down in the circle crossing their legs, and eagerly partook of the simple feast. Tara relaxed and enjoyed the sensation of positive energy everyone around her exuded, and reveled in the subtle presence of the gods.

Glancing shyly around at the other members her eyes abruptly connected with Willows. She held her breath on realizing that she’d caught the other girl staring almost unblinkingly at her, an intense and oddly confused expression starkly written across her features.

Tara was almost certain that under the confusion there was also the tiniest speck of interest. Not that of a casual acquaintance, but something… deeper. It triggered an unbidden feeling in her solar plexus which surprised her enough to make her suddenly uncomfortable. As if sensing it, Willow hurriedly looked away.

Fact check: Willow’s not gay!  Tara reminded herself, a little shocked by the brief experience.  And, most importantly, she has a boyfriend that she’s obviously in love with.  A boyfriend who just also happened to return Willow’s feelings, as well as the obvious added fact that he was a really cool guy. 

And, hello?  The whole cheating thing that she’d done with another guy- namely Xander Harris of all people?  Cordy would flip!  Slightly shaking her head to clear it, Tara put it down to the stirring ritual –and an overactive imagination.

Later on when they quietly exited the building to find Oz waiting, Tara, feeling more uncomfortable and awkward by the second had rapidly made her excuses – an unfinished assignment was waiting for her. As she hurried to her dorm building, Tara was painfully aware that Oz was still watching her with brows raised in surprise. 

She overheard him ask his unusually silent girlfriend if anything was wrong. Willow mumbled something too quiet to catch but which must have satisfied his curiosity as they then headed off across the car park.

*****

Patrol. Cemetery (Weds night)

Buffy was out on patrol as usual- only alone which kinda sucked.  But as Giles had explained – yet again, it was ‘for the best given the circumstances’.  Still pretty boring not having her friends to talk to though.

An hour in and things were still quiet, which made it even worse. So far she hadn’t come across even a trace of a single demon or vamp. Swinging her arm casually, flipping her trusty stake she suddenly froze on hearing a short sharp scream.

Before Buffy had a chance to move more than a few feet in the direction of the sound, a girl suddenly appeared out of a nearby mausoleum squealing as a guy exited after her and quickly followed.  The flushed and giggling face of the girl and the thankfully ‘normal’ guy laughing breathlessly as he called for her to wait up had her swiftly shoving the stake out of sight in the back of her jeans waistband. 

They stopped abruptly on seeing her standing there, and then looked around curiously before giving her an odd look.  As they shrugged with rapid disinterest, hooking arms and went to stroll past her, Buffy asked them sharply “What the hell is wrong with you people, wandering around here after dark?”

After a shocked silence, the girl responded with an annoyed “Could say the same about you.” She went on to add with a sneer, “What’s wrong, blondie? Been stood up? Not surprised what with your choice of outfit.” The girl’s eyes narrowed as they swept over her casual clothes with mild disdain, mirroring the look Cordelia had often threw her way in High School.

Before Buffy could think to respond, the guy by the girl’s side chuckled a little uncomfortably. “Ouch, babe, talk about harsh. Come on, let’s go check out a few more creepy mausoleums,” he suggested tugging at her arm. They then walked off quietly laughing to themselves.  

Buffy stared after them with her mouth hanging open, stunned. Okay, bitch please! Anger flared hotly for a moment. Maybe she should just leave them to it. And end up being some vamp’s dinner and dessert? She let out a heavy sigh and pouted. But then, unlike those clueless idiots she was a slayer, and as such, it was her duty, no matter how mad she was, to protect them.

With a frustrated growl she began to follow after them, keeping an unobtrusive distance and quietly muttering angrily about how all cemeteries should really be fenced off and locked up after dark. To at least put off the majority of thrill seekers, as there would always be some who’d be determined to get themselves killed. Not only would it help shorten the long fatality list of the town, it’d make her job a lot easier to boot.

The soft cool breeze carried the sound of new voices. Buffy halted in her tracks as she recognised the familiar accent.  As quick as a flash she stealthily ran and hid behind a corner of a nearby mausoleum and waited. A few seconds later a pair of Shousace demons emerged from the trees at the far end of the boundary line. 

Leaning further forward Buffy attempted to listen to whatever they were saying while still keeping out of their sights. Then she nearly jumped out of her skin when a low voice suddenly spoke inches from her ear, “Fancy a workout?”

Primed for attack, Buffy whirled around. Stake held high she lunged before taking a good look at who she was knocking to the ground.

“Careful with that, luv, you might hurt someone,” Spike whispered with a grin as he stared up at her from his new position flat on his back on the damp grass, with Buffy pinning him in place with strong but slender thighs tight either side of his lean hips and a small hand pressed firmly against his chest.

Her arm which had been raised ready to deal a fatal blow faltered on realising who had almost given her a heart attack. She hadn’t even been aware of his presence, so intent on the approaching demons, and now she was royally pissed- at herself as well as the stupid vampire.

“You idio-!” quick as a snake he covered her mouth with his cold hand, at the same time bright blue eyes looked beyond her; a pale finger pressed to his lips. She instantly froze remembering the demons approach. Wrenching his hand away from her tingling mouth, Buffy lowered her stake and quickly followed his gaze.

When the talking continued without pause she breathed a sharp sigh of relief, glared hotly at Spike before agilely bounding to her feet and retaking her earlier position, not even realising that she hadn’t thought twice about turning her back on the vampire.

In the distance they both heard faint laughter. So did the demons, Buffy noted, and rolled her eyes. Just great. She glanced at Spike who now stood close to her side: Two against two? He nodded, catching on to her unspoken question. They waited until the demons passed then jumped out as one….

They fought well together, Spike admitted as they matched blow for blow until finally, both demons were stretched out on the ground satisfyingly dead. It crossed his mind briefly that killing hadn’t actually been the plan originally hatched out with Angel after the last fight had gone down.

What he doesn’t know can’t hurt, he decided. Then tensed as he sensed they were no longer alone.

“I thought we’d agreed to follow them and see where they went?” The sound of Angel’s annoyed voice caused Buffy’s spine to stiffen as her wary eyes latched onto his tightly drawn face.

 “They were about to chow down on two humans,” Spike revealed, making sure he got in first, fully aware of the stirring anger coming off both now-tense figures.

 “Well maybe if the slayer had done her job and taken them out of the equation, you could have tracked the demons after.”

 “I’m seeing two less demons to worry about. A win-win,” Buffy retorted tightly.  “I find them, I kill them,” she added.” That’s in my job description, too.” Folding her arms tightly across her chest, Buffy spread her legs slightly for extra balance, making it all too clear to the vampires that the slayer was more than ready to try and take Angel on if it came to it.

 “Only problem being the need to find where they’re hiding out.” Angel replied, ice coating every word.

“Oh? I see; what do a few dead humans along the way matter?” Buffy spat out, and glared into his rapidly darkening eyes.

“You’re putting words in his mouth pet,” Spike interrupted calmly, his muscles tightening even as he attempted to rid the thickness of the-now cloying atmosphere. He really didn’t want a confrontation with another slayer, even if he only ended up being a witness to one.

Buffy took a moment to turn her furious glare his way. “Butt out, Spike!”

He instantly raised his hands and stepped back. Sod it; let ‘em sort it out between themselves. He thought with resignation, pulling out his smokes and lighting one up. He ignored the stirring of mild anxiety in his gut, guessing Angel would have to man up and be the rational one. He was pretty good at that. Usually.

“Spike’s right. I meant that you should have concentrated on getting the humans out of harm’s way while letting him have a chance to track them,” Angel replied, his tone now deliberately losing its hard edge.

Buffy’s expression calmed to a degree and Spike let himself relax a bit- until she took a step forward.

“Just out of curiosity, Angelus,” she pointedly began, obviously hoping, but not succeeding to get a rise out of the vampire, “are you planning on telling us if or when you do find out?”

“I could ask you the same question?” Angel threw back at her, and she quickly frowned, obviously unsure of what her answer would be.

Angel folded thickly muscled arms across his chest, his pale face reflecting his cynicism. “Once we do find them, they’d no longer be a threat to either of us, so the point is moot.”

Buffy’s mouth dropped open, stunned by his sheer arrogance. “Wow! You really think you two could kill them all by yourself?”  Her temper visibly rose when he ignored her and actually turned his back on her! Jerk!

“Time to move,” he told Spike before heading off without a backward glance.

Spike sighed and shifted his feet before glancing almost hesitantly across at the still-fuming slayer. “Don’t take it personal, luv,” he jerked his head to indicate the rapidly disappearing figure. “He’s like that with everyone.” Dropping his finished smoke and crushing it beneath his heavy boot, Spike backed up. “See you around, and thanks for the workout,” he dropped a slight wink before turning to follow the other vampire.

“Ass!” Buffy muttered harshly; even as she shook off the slight tingle that had suddenly blossomed deep in her belly as she watched the lean vampire lithely stride away.

*******

University Grounds, Lunchtime. (Thurs)

The girls sat comfortably on the sun-warmed grass in the grounds of the university, leisurely eating their packed lunches.

As Cordy chattered lightly about her day so far, she noticed that Tara was more or less off with the fairies. “Okay, what’s up?” She eventually asked after the tenth time her friend had replied with a distracted “Uh huh”. 

Tara flushed a bit when her eyes quickly focused on Cordy’s half amused, partly concerned face. She hesitated, feeling a bit daft now in the cold light of day.

With a resigned sigh at the signs of growing impatience she quietly related the incident at the Wicca group meet. The weird look she’d received from Willow and the conflicted feelings experienced at the time.

Cordy’s mouth dropped open in shock. “Willow?!” Snapping her jaw shut Cordy thought for a moment with a slight frown before continuing. “Out of all the hot people you could crush on in the world, it ends up being Willow Rosenberg?”

Tara couldn’t help but laugh at the accompanying exaggerated pout.  “Hey, you had your chance with me,” she replied with a smirk.

“But as you said; I’m not your type, remember?” Cordy responded with a big grin.

They both laughed at the memory of the moment Tara had initially confided her interest in the fairer sex, and Cordy had candidly asked her if her interest included herself, stating she wouldn’t be surprised what with her being total eye candy. 

Cordy’s smile faded as she now asked “Did she…?” 

Tara instantly shook her head. “No, not a word.  Although…” she fiddled with a blade of grass before continuing. “I had a feeling there was a teensy weensy bit of interest- but she also looked really confused and a bit scared.” She let out a long sigh. “Anyway, it doesn’t matter. I’m not even going there. She has a boyfriend for a start. And he seems a really nice guy.”

“Oz is the best.” Cordy nodded, remembering his heartsick expression that night they’d turned up at the library and found Willow and her ex macking on each other while Buffy was taking out the vampire. It obviously hadn’t even occurred to them that the slayer wasn’t alone. But unlike her, Oz had forgiven his girlfriend shortly after.

He actually loved her, whereas it had brought home to Cordy that she didn’t feel the same way about Xander.  After that it was pretty easy to end the relationship. But she still hadn’t forgiven him for it, even now. I mean: Willow? She thought acidly. What did that say about her that he’d risk their relationship for a bit of saliva-swapping with that conniving little witch?

Cordy quickly shook off her temporary funk and concentrated on the present. “Maybe you’re just hung up on redheads?” She reminded Tara, who over a month earlier had been covertly checking out a girl at the Espresso Pump. “Even I could see what a hotty she was.”

Tara flushed a little on recalling the incident, color flaring when also thinking of her instant panic that had her grabbing Cordy’s arm and dragging her out of there.  The ‘hotty’ in question had caught her admiring gaze and had smiled sweetly, giving a definite wink.

Tara had known without a doubt for a long time that she was physically and emotionally drawn to her own gender rather than the male of the species. Trouble was, what with her severe lack of confidence and annoying shyness as well as being plagued with bouts of stammering, she’d never actually done anything about her stirring desires.

Then it suddenly hit home to her on just how much she’d changed from that painfully introverted persona to that of a more confident young woman she was now gradually turning into. 

But at the same time Tara also accepted that Willow was a definite no-no; Oz naturally being a very big factor. She’d never forgive herself if she somehow became the reason for any kind of fallout. He’d been there, got the T-shirt.

The cheating bit came in a close second. How could you even trust someone who’d do something like that, anyway? Thinking more on it, Tara came to the conclusion that Cordy could be on to something. Maybe she did have a thing for redheads in general after all?

With a twinkle growing in her eyes she grinned slyly and asked Cordy, “Fancy an espresso later?” then chuckled when her friend fell back on the grass and burst out laughing.

“Now that’s more like it,” Cordy eventually replied with a pleased smile, and they spent the rest of their lunch hour making plans for the coming evening.

TBC

Califi

nb: this is the last chapter fully finished -the rest are still drafts. My Muse is being very difficult atm, sorry. C x

Posted in TBC

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