Mercenary Hearts 1

Sunnydale University. 1999

“So… Could you tell me if we need to help you file for assistance?” The woman smiled in what Cordelia guessed was the “I’m-your-friend-trust-me’ look these people probably worked on constantly to get it just right.

“What do you mean by that?”

The smile quickly faded. Obviously, it wasn’t working this time. “Ah…assistance. Public assistance. Do you have a job?”

Cordelia nodded instantly; an expression of pride on her face.

“Yup. Got a job. I work at the cafeteria at the University. You ever been there? I’m the beverage girl. See, I get there really early in the morning, 6:30 am, and I start these big huge urns of coffee. And I make the iced teas. And the lemonade, too. And I have my afternoons all to myself ‘cause I get off around three. It’s great, to get off work, and it’s still like practically the middle of the day”! She finished breathlessly and then sat back, folding her arms tight across her chest.

“So you don’t need to apply for public assistance”. This caused a dark frown to crease Cordelia’s normally smooth brow as she glared.

“I just told you. I’ve got a job”. Narrowed eyes stared back. After years in her job, she was mostly used to antagonism. Then she blinked and finally broke contact, dropping her eyes to the open file on her lap.

“Let’s see… ‘Recently released from…Women’s penitentiary. Probation for a year…’ That’s what it says here, in your record”. Pointed out so calmly that Cordelia had to stifle the urge to yank the file from her and throw it across the room.

“Now, could you tell me about this attempt to steal the Christ Child out of the rectory of the University Lutheran—”

“Didn’t steal nothing”.

The young woman blinked rapidly at the vehement tone in the voice that interrupted her. “Sorry?”

Cordelia’s expression was tight with anger, defensiveness in every line of her body. “Who says I stole? I didn’t steal nothing … Anything.” She added reluctantly after a pause.


“That’s it for today’s rehearsal. Thank you, Cordelia, Tara. Very well done, now please remember, study, people!” Closing the book on his desk with a snap, Mister Barnes eyed his underclassmen with a stink eye before leaning down and grabbing the tattered old briefcase next to his chair. “I want this scene wrapped up by tomorrow afternoon. Get to it.” With a quick flick of his hand, he left the room without looking back.

Chairs scraped across the floor as students got to their feet and made a mass exodus to the open door.

“That was phenomenal, I wish I could just…” she shrugged before continuing, “forget everyone else was watching when I’m up there.” Tara took her time rising. Walking back to her desk, she slid her books and notes carefully into the hold all she’d pulled off the back of her chair.

“You were great. And like I’ve said before, just imagine everyone in their underwear. Works for me,” Cordelia’s grin turned into a grimace. “But then, maybe not such a good idea where Mister Barnes is concerned. Can I say eww.” Tara giggled, pushing in her chair before walking over to join the brunette at her desk.

Reaching out quickly to grab a book that tried to slide off the top in protest as things were stuffed into a large purse haphazardly, Tara held on to it until everything else disappeared, then handed it over. “What do you have planned tonight?” she asked as they made their way out of the now empty room at a more leisurely pace than the other students had.

Pulling a face, Cordelia shrugged with a sigh. “Dinner with mother and daddy,” her bottom lip pushed out a little. “They’re off to Sicily tonight. Business trip thrown in with a little sightseeing.” She shrugged again, outwardly unconcerned, but Tara picked up on the hidden pique.

“Didn’t they get back from Hawaii not long ago?” she asked, shifting her hold all more securely on her shoulder. Cordelia nodded glumly. “I’m sorry.” It hadn’t taken Tara long to become aware of the girl’s parent’s love of travelling- and their distinct lack of parenting skills.

In the months since they’d first met and become friends, they must have left the Country at least half a dozen times.  Cordelia blithely stated that it was ‘the norm’ and better than having abusive parents.

Tara’s own father had been a coldly authoritarian figure. The latent abilities that had been passed on by her mother, a powerful Witch, hadn’t helped. After her mother died, it became ten times worse. The stammer that became apparent whenever feeling threatened or anxious was just one result. Admittedly, after meeting the brunette and subsequently joining the same Drama Class, she found it had helped.

Cordelia shook off her mini funk, leaning over to nudge the blonde girl with a grin. “It’s not your fault my parents decided to ask me if I wanna go to Italy halfway through a semester.” The grin faltered for a second. “Dammit, I’ve always wanted to go to Sicily too,” she whined. Tara patted her arm consolingly, and then dug into her jean jacket pocket.

“Twinkie?” she proffered a slightly squished candy bar, and then grinned at first the look of horror, quickly followed by guilty greed as Cordelia took it, then Tara pulled out another bar and unwrapped it.

“Don’t think I won’t remember this when I’m as big as a hippo and have to buy two seats on the next plane I ever get to travel on,” she warned between bites. Tara giggled as they sauntered down the rapidly emptying corridor of Sunnydale University.


“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.  A boyfriend.

Fair enough, 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.

After 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.

But that hadn’t really bothered her. Had she been sending mixed signals? What was she supposed to say when he was obviously? No, don’t be stupid, we’re FRIENDS-? A bit harsh… but, sadly, true.

Giving herself a shake Buffy instead decided to change 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 going on – or not going on, soon. Just not 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 the 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 sit down with that in your pants?” Then shrugged and concentrated on the scene ahead.

“What’s up, scaly? Didn’t she like the idea of a date with ya?” Buffy quipped, eying the unconscious girl, one of the demons held close to it’s large, blue-skinned body while she worked out the best way to rescue her safely. Xander widened the space between them and sidled along the wall, his eyes never leaving the demons as he edged forward.

As soon as they’d heard 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. “We can’t risk a confrontation right now. Leave the sacrifice; we can get another one,” he ordered harshly.

Sacrifice? Buffy and Xander exchanged glances, then 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 his head and staggered, but still doggedly held on to the girl. Groaning in frustration, Xander jogged ahead and turned, blocking his quarry and hoping he could stave until Buffy had dealt with the other one.

Shaking its big head, the demon righted itself and then eyed the youth 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 lifted the girl and threw her over a large bony shoulder 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 abruptly twisted it 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.

Keeping hold of the arms she’d grabbed at the same time Xander had moved, Buffy steadied the girl, who was now slowly coming around, while Xander settled her feet on the ground. “There goes our ice cream pig out,” she grumbled.

Back / Part 2

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