Give and Take
A/N: Thanks. Index and art in chapter one.
+Give and Take
In which the Losers teach Buffy three things and she teaches them one in return.
She resisted at first. Valiantly. Said that she’d survived two years surrounded by soldiers without them rubbing off on her and would survive the next two, too. And then another two. Because she’d been raised by a fine lady instead of in a barn.
Texas made a lewd comment about the ‘rubbing off’ he could and would do on her and got smacked in the nose for it.
That was during the first month, after Roque mocked her for saying ‘sucker’ instead of the alternative.
Three months in, they set the charges to go off in two minutes and then got delayed on their way out by one and a half minutes. They hit the truck running and Snake gunned it out of there, but the blast of the explosion still picked the tail end of the vehicle up and sent everything and everyone flying.
The barrel of Clay’s AK landed straight in her eye.
She shoved him off with enough force to land him on his ass five feet away, pressed a hand to her bleeding eye and took a deep, deep breath, “Ffff…”
Everyone held their breath. If they hadn’t, she probably wouldn’t have noticed what she was about to say. As it was, she growled fiercely and commanded, “Ffff…etch me something to put on that, would ya?”
Since she was glowering and they had all learned the hard way not to get in her way when she was, no-one pointed out what had just happened.
Six months in she let herself be goaded into playing Mario Cart with Snake and Texas, who hounded her all day, telling her that as a woman, she probably couldn’t drive shit (nevermind that they’d both gotten a taste of her driving before and looked slightly green and awed afterwards), that she was scared, that they were better, and she couldn’t lose if she didn’t play in the first place.
Personally, Clay was convinced it was the last bit that did it, because they were basically calling her a coward.
Predictably, seeing as how she had superhuman reflexes, she trounced them. Then she threw her controlled at Snake, stood, did a victory dance and crowed, “Take that, fuckers!”
And the best part? She didn’t even notice she’d said it until Roque clapped her on the shoulder and drawled, “Welcome to the team, bitch.”
Clay found Summers sitting in her room in the safehouse, curled up on the bed, staring at the opposite wall. He didn’t knock but stood in the doorway until she acknowledged him. There was a reason Summers had her own room whenever they had the space and it wasn’t just the fact that she was female.
Woman was vicious
when you surprised her.
Eventually she turned her head so her cheek was resting on her knee and looked straight at him. He came in, closed the door and leaned against the wall. “Cortez was your first, right?”
She nodded. Their latest op had gone sideways and Summers had been forced to kill a human to save the team’s collective asses. And while Clay had seen her hack into demons with abandon before, he’d never missed how she slowed down and only ever knocked humans out in a fight. She didn’t lose a single word about the rest of the team killing, but she stuck to demons.
First kill always screwed with your head. It was one of the reasons Clay was glad he didn’t run a normal unit. Everyone who landed in the Losers usually had a few kills under their belt. Summers had a few thousand, probably, but not human ones. It made a difference. And he sucked at talking people out of funks.
She shrugged. The movement was only half visible behind her shield of knees and arms.
“Feeling guilty about not feeling guilty?”
That got a reaction. She lifted her head and stared at him. It wasn’t a glare, or one of her threat-to-limb-and-life glowers but a simple stare. Looking at, and then right through, him. He was rarely more aware of how much she wasn’t quite human.
“For the past ten years everyone told me that killing a human changes things. Changes you. Irrevocably.”
Uh-oh. When Summers pulled out the big words, she was brooding. Usually she preferred to play dumb, even around the team.
“Did it?” Clay asked, carefully even and with an open expression.
She contemplated his question for a moment, but not long enough to not have thought about it before. Then she said. “No.”
He nodded, having expected nothing less. Summers was the kind that always came out on top, no matter what.
“Then what’s got the boys sneaking around like you’re a minefield?”
She snorted and finally relaxed, stretching her legs out long on the bed. “I don’t feel particularly changed. That either means the Council has been feeding me shit for the past decade, or that I’m already as screwed in the head as they said killing humans would make me.”
And, Clay knew without her saying it, she wasn’t sure which one she would prefer. Being lied to, or being cold. So he tactfully refrained from saying out loud what they both knew: that it was option B. She was simply a bit unhinged, a bit off center. Just like him and Roque. A bit too wild for the world.
Here, that was okay. Among the people she called family, it wasn’t. Sucked to be a wolf with sheep for friends. And there was nothing he could do (or wanted to do, for that matter) to fix her, or her problems. All he had was the tried and true method of soldiers everywhere.
He shrugged and pulled up the sleeve of his shirt, tapping the tattoo on his shoulder with two fingers. She frowned. “Are you asking me to critique your body art?”
He laughed. “No. I’m telling you to get some ink. Get the killin’ outta your system and move on.”
“Can’t change it anyway?” she inquired.
“Ink for every dead?”
“No.” Mostly because, in their line of business, they’d never get out of the tattoo parlor. Last week he’d set a bomb that had killed fifty people. “Ink for everything you need to remember.”
And then forget. Soldiers put ink on their skin so they wouldn’t have it on their souls. Turn the ugly and the hard-to-deal-with inside out and move on. Clay had a tattoo for everything big that had happened in his life since he’d joined the army. His first kill. His first op as a Loser. The first time he’d killed a child (ten years old and the stupid, stupid boy had had a gun, he’d had no choice). The first man dead under his command. He had a flower tattooed around the scar left from the first time one of his women had shot at him and a knife for Roque, who was so deep under his skin, ink had been the only way to get him out. Love, death, life and the Losers in a picture story on his skin.
Buffy frowned at him for a minute and then nodded.
Three hours later they returned to the safehouse and Roque pounced on her, shamelessly groping her with the excuse of looking for her ink. She tried to bat him off, but he refused to budge, saying she owed him because she hadn’t let him come with as she popped her ink cherry.
He hit pay dirt on her left hip and she rolled her eyes and pulled down her jeans, pulling off the saran wrap taped over her tattoo. It was small and simple, the black outline of a five-pointed star, a bit less than an inch in diameter, filled in with bright yellow.
It was a sunny, happy tattoo and it didn’t look like a kill mark. Clay, who’d watched her pick it out, kind of thought that that was the point.
It was Snake who came up with the fact that everyone in the team had some sort of dumb nickname, except Summers. She pointed out that both Roque and Clay were going by their last names and he could name his computer if he wanted, but not her.
To which Snake shot back that ‘Roque’ was bad enough to be
a nickname and Clay was ‘Boss’, which was also a nickname. Then he went on to try a hundred different nicknames on Summers, who endured until he suggested ‘Blondie’ and then coldly informed him that she had one already.
It was ‘Slayer’ and would he go and clean up the goddamn kitchen now?
After that, they all thought he’d given up.
Right up until he got laid up with a concussion and started rattling off names again. He didn’t stop until she threatened to kill him dead and solve all their problems in one go. She spent the next two days next to his bed, cleaning out his puke-bucket anyway.
And then he got dead drunk and tried again. She manhandled him into the kitchen, shoved his head into the sink and turned on the cold water until he promised to stop. She brought him a towel as a reward.
Because Snake was the most accident prone mofo Clay had ever seen, he broke his leg in the middle of the desert less than a month after that and med evac was three days out, with a lot of armed and angry enemies between them and the Losers.
They were running out of provisions and ground to retreat to and Snake was laid up and developing a hell of a fever. Summers was the only one who was holding up halfway well and she spent most of her time dragging Snake, who was babbling and well beyond coherency.
She tolerated it for a few hours longer than Clay would have before telling him, in an unusually gentle voice to, “Shut the fuck up or I’ll gag you.”
The answer was a simple, “Yes, Mom.”
He kept calling her Mom until med evac got there and pumped him full of shit to make his fever go down. A week later he was good to leave the hospital and Texas celebrated the occasion by ribbing him mercilessly for being a momma’s boy.
Snake just shrugged, pushed his sunglasses up on his nose and leaned back in his seat, grinning. “I don’t know. She makes us clean up our shit, looks after us and tells us when we’re being idiots. I say we call her Mom.”
Summers, way at the back of the van leaned forward and said, very quietly, “You are so lucky that you’re up there and I’m back here.”
They didn’t call her anything but ‘Mom’ for the next month.
“Goddamn it, Pooch, you can’t just turn the car around in the middle of a fucking op and risk your damn life for Roque when he’s being a fucking idiot. Fuck!” Clay yelled, panting.
Pooch, knowing better than to argue that they did not leave men behind
, simply stood there and took it. Clay would have done the same damn thing and everyone knew it. Roque had been about to be blown to kingdom come and there was no way he’d have made it out on foot. They didn’t leave people behind. But that didn’t mean heroics didn’t scare the holy fuck out of their usually fearless leader.
Pooch figured it was kind of like getting yelled at by your momma for pulling dangerous shit as a kid. Except that Clay was way scarier than Pooch’s momma had ever been. That, and Summers had the official Mom-position filled. Personally, the driver didn’t find her very maternal, but she sure as shit looked after them.
Had. Past tense. She’d left the unit a month ago. Maybe that was why Clay was yelling so much?
“…. and goddamn it, we’ve got rules for this sort of shit!”
“Damnit, Clay,” he finally piped up because seriously, even scared-yelling got too much after a while and fuck, he’d done what was right. They wouldn’t be standing here if Roque was a crispy shadow on a wall somewhere, would they?
No, they wouldn’t.
“I did what I had to do and fuck the rules on that one.”
Aaaand suddenly Clay was in. His. Face.
“No. No, Pooch, this is one rule you do not ignore, you got that. That one rule fucking sticks if I have to fucking tattoo it on your ass.”
“Don’t. Fucking. Die!”
Pooch nodded, wondering if the expletive had been in there when the rule had been coined. He didn’t think so.
He saluted anyway.