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Pyrrhic Victory

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Summary: Sure, he won the bets. He can dress Cordy and her friends up for Halloween. Then Xander realizes… he's stuck dressing Cordy and her friends up for Halloween. And… huh. Who's that shy, black-haired girl Cordy is spending all her time with..? X/f/f, C/f

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Star Wars > Xander-Centered
Star Wars > Cordelia-Centered
(Moderator)JoeHundredaireFR18427,96668227,21327 Jan 1114 Apr 13No

Chapter Three

Joe's Note: Did a bit of a different take on Tara's look here, inspired by a combination of where we're planning to take her in the future of this fic and her persona from Strictly Sexual. Which is a fun movie if you've got time to kill on Hulu some evening…

September 30, 2003:

     "You know what, I totally get that the alien clownfish schtick has sentimental value for you but I changed my mind. I want out." Turning around to face her, Xander opened his mouth to reply but Cordelia cut him off before he could get a word in edgewise. "Nuh uh. My turn to talk, because I'm about to make you an offer that you can't refuse."

     The two stared at each other for a long minute and then Xander gestured for her to continue. "Well? Offer away."

     Cordelia blushed faintly. "Right. Okay, you know how we have another quiz coming up in Algebra tomorrow? I want to do the same kind of bet as we had in English, just with different terms. If I win, we get to go free. Well, I get to go free and so do the Cordettes who lost bets to you. The ones who volunteered, that's their own business. And if you win, I'll let you pick any one girl in the entire school… anyone at all… and I'll talk her into joining the rest of us as one of your geek wankbait dolls for the night."

     "Hmm. A very tempting offer to be sure." Reaching up, Xander rubbed his chin briefly before shaking his head. "Except I think you've either forgotten - or are ignoring - your own hype, Cordy. You like to talk about how you're the hottest girl in Sunnydale High, and that your friends are some of the next prettiest girls here. But if that's true… tell me why, exactly, should I bet my control over the five hottest girls in school in order to maybe get a sixth girl? And that's being optimistic; we both know that if you won and I released the five of you, Mallory and Becki would be out too. So really it's me risking seven girls for the chance of an eighth. You like to pick on me, sure, but even you can't possibly believe I'm that stupid, can you?"

     Shit. Actually, she'd sorta been banking on him not realizing that very thing. Cordelia debated a few options before realizing she had no real effective counteroffer to make; despite the very long leash he was offering her - and each of the other girls - he still held final say over their costumes, making 'if you win then I'll wear' an exercise in futility. "Alright, what do you think is worth risking seven girls, then?"




     "Two and I'll set you up with one of them to boot. Or with one of my girls. Whichever." Xander's eyes widened at that and Cordelia knew she had him. He was the dateless wonder, whose diminishing pool of friends included a girl with a thing for a corpse and a supposed best friend who was abandoning him in favor of Buffy. His chances of getting a date on his own were non-existent, and here she was offering him not only the chance to acquire more fetish fuel for his Halloween plans but the opportunity to maybe discover what a social life was. "Do we have a deal?"

     Xander nodded and offered her his hand so they could shake on it. "Pleasure doing business with you. Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I need to go create some sort of survey for your girls to fill out. After all, I'm going to want to know a little something about each of them before I ask one out…"

     Cocky, much? Cordelia snorted as she watched him wander off down the hall, whistling softly to himself. Then something hit her and her eyes widened. Wait a minute. She had absolutely no clue what tomorrow's quiz was about. How the hell was she supposed to beat him and secure her and her friends' freedom? No panicking, she told herself. Don't panic. She'd just go find one of the Cordettes, get them to tell her, and then… and then go find Becki. Everything would work out fine.

     She hoped.

October 1, 2003:

     "Y-you know, Mama, when you told me things were going to be different once we got away from Dad… this wasn't what I was picturing." As her mother proceeded to have a good long laugh at her expense, Tara Maclay shot another look up at the bright orange letters that adorned the otherwise mundane, grey-sided building in front of her. Through the windows, she could make out a varied but overwhelmingly male clientele enjoying beer, fried foods, and an assortment of sporting events shown on huge flatscreen televisions… and busty waitresses in incredibly short orange shorts. "I know you're trying to m-make up for how he treated me by being supportive and all, but really? Hooters?"

     Shaking her head, Rebecca Baxter opened the door for Tara and followed her daughter inside. "Well, it's not an entirely selfless offer. Sure, I get to look like a cool, supportive mom by bringing you somewhere you can stare at pretty girls in small outfits. But…" Closing her eyes, she inhaled deeply through her nose before smiling. "Smell that? That's the smell of Hooters' hot wings, baby girl. And while you may be here for the breasts and thighs, I am most definitely here for the wings."

     Tara blushed brightly at that, ducking her head and letting her black hair slide forward to hide her flushed face. "Mama!" Scowling, she kicked the side of her mother's sneaker with her boot. "You're so mean to me sometimes." And personally, Tara associated the smell in question with her mother wandering the house whining or swearing profusely while chugging from their bottle of Pepto but to each their own. Crossing her arms over her chest, she blew her hair out of one eye and stared petulantly at her mother. "So in other words, you're using me liking girls as an excuse to come here and destroy your intestines."

     "Welcome to Hooters of Sunnydale. My name is Jessica." Okay, on second thought, maybe being used wasn't such a bad thing. Tara did her best to keep her eyes on the redhead's face - and her drool in her mouth - as the young woman gave them a smile. "You're both Passers, but we have more room in the back right now so unless-" Her mother shook her head, leaving Tara confused as the hostess was cut off, but she didn't have long to stand around pondering things. Marking something down, Jessica grabbed two menus and hugged them to her chest with one arm as she gestured for them to follow her. As they approached a pair of large wooden doors marked 'DO NOT ENTER, STAFF ONLY', she called back to them over her shoulder. "Just so you know, there's no violence and while most of our girls aren't the fighting type, we do have some damn big boys working the fryers. And they get really pissed if they have to leave something to burn so they can come out here and bust heads."

     The seemingly random warning actually made Tara look up from where she'd been watching the redhead's swaying hips, staring at the back of the woman's head in confusion. Did they really seem like the types who would… oh. Tara stumbled to a stop just inside the doors as Jessica held up one hand, watching with wide eyes as a woman walked past balancing a tray on each of her four hands, her hair a shocking bubblegum pink and her skin a similar, albeit more muted, shade. A tap on her shoulder made Tara look back at her grinning mother. "No, I'm using you liking girls as an excuse to come here, destroy my intestines, and chat with other demons. Hey, Frank!" Across the room, a chaos demon perked up and waved to them. "Did you ever find a new place to live? We're finally unpacked if you want the guest room…"

     'Frank' shook his head, pointing at the two demons he was sitting with. "Thanks, but I'm set. The three of us found this amazing house over on Revello Drive. The price was… to die for." The three demons broke into loud laughter as Jessica led them over, minimizing the group's need to shout back and forth. Seeing the disapproving look on Rebecca's face, Frank quickly explained himself. "We didn't do it, honest. Vampires got the last owners and then we picked it up fair and square. We're thinking of buying up a few more houses in the neighborhood and renting them out, actually. Sure we'd have to be really careful about who we moved in, but after that… it's like printing money. The houses are well built, most realtors sell fully furnished because they don't want to bother cleaning each place out after the last owner dies, and, well, we hear the Slayer's not too bright. I bet she'll never think to look for demons on her own block."

     "You actually moved in next to the Slayer? On purpose?" Rebecca let out a low whistle at that. "Well, remember to mention us in your will, okay? If you're wrong, I want your LP collection. Especially the ZZ Top ones. I'd miss you, of course, but if it meant I finally got a copy of ZZ Top's First Album…"

     Lifting a hand, Frank offered her a rude gesture that Rebecca laughed off before motioning for Jessica to continue onward. The redhead led them over to an empty table and set the menus down before smiling brightly at them. "Courtney will be over in a few minutes to take your order. Thank you for coming and we hope you enjoy your visit." And with that, she was off, stopping to chat at a few of the other tables before disappearing back out into the front.

     Rebecca could only shake her head in amusement as she watched the redhead go. "Vampires shouldn't be allowed to be that peppy. It's unnatural." That made Tara blink; Jessica was a what now? She couldn't be… could she? Then again, it was after dark and so the many windows weren't an issue, not to mention that she'd been able to sense the demon blood in Tara and her mother. And a vampire could pass as human to work the front half of the restaurant while still having the supernatural 'cred' to be accepted by those who would be dining in the back… and the strength to defend herself if something went wrong. Huh. The more she thought about it, the more sense it actually made. Tara was drawn from her thoughts as her mother reached out and tugged on a strand of her long black hair. "So I take it that your attempt to commune with Lady Clairol this afternoon didn't go too well?"

     Sitting back, Tara rolled her eyes at the woman's need to state the obvious. Ever since her mother had left her father, brothers, and the family farm behind and taken her to live in Sunnydale, her dirty blonde locks had been slowly darkening, finally ending up as black as coal. At first she'd lived in denial, trying to blame it on her transition from a mainly outdoors lifestyle to an indoor heavy one, but when a box of the palest blonde dye they could find failed to lighten her hair in the least… "I left it in for twice the recommended time and all it did was make me dizzy. It's official: the Hellmouth has something against blondes."

     "No offense, dear, but we are drawing on magic that's polluted by a portal to a hell dimension. I warned you that it would probably cause some sort of physical manifestation. You're one-quarter reptomammalian in case you forgot; black hair is nothing. Consider yourself lucky that you're not growing scales or something." Her mother had a point, Tara realized. A gross point, sure, but a point nonetheless. "Besides, if the dye had worked and you'd gone back to your old look? What would we have done with all your new clothes?"

     Tara shot a look down at her black t-shirt and blue and green plaid ankle-length bondage skirt before snorting. Like trading this look in for something… anything… else would be that horrible. It had been a bit of a gamble for her after she'd noticed her hair darkening: figuring there would probably be a clique of gothic girls at her new school, Tara had convinced her mother to invest in a new school wardrobe that would go well with her darkening hair and lightening skin. Except that had gone on to blow up spectacularly in her face: the goth girls thought she was too nice while the nice girls thought she was too goth, leaving her with a wardrobe of clothes that she still didn't feel entirely at home in and still a friendless wallflower. Not that she thought switching back to what her mother had dubbed her 'ren faire chic' look would help with the latter, but at least then she'd be a more comfortable wallflower instead of a black-clad, evil-looking wallflower.

     Even after a full month, attending public school still felt incredibly strange to Tara. But with her mother now working two jobs to make ends meet, homeschooling just wasn't an option anymore and so it was one of the sacrifices she found herself making in exchange for the new freedoms she enjoyed. She just wished that her first attempt at public schooling didn't involve the Slayer. Sunnydale High was home to more people each day than her entire hometown back in Kentucky. Dealing with that was nerve-wracking enough. Knowing that one of the teenage girls wandering the halls with her was a supernaturally empowered demon killer, on the other hand? That easily took things from nerve-wracking to downright terrifying. Sure, she wasn't too demonic looking - only the bone skewers on the undersides of her arms identified her as anything more than a normal human - but Slayers weren't exactly known for their reasoning abilities. More like their hacking, slashing, and staking abilities.

     Setting aside further contemplation of fashion, friends, and ancestral foes for later, Tara turned her attention back to the menu. Unlike her mother, she had no real desire to destroy her digestive tract with buffalo wings. Or buffalo chicken salad. Or a buffalo chicken sandwich. Which, when dining at a restaurant dedicated to toxic orange wings and girls in orange short shorts, didn't leave her many choices. Then one entry caught her eye. 'PHILLY CHEESE STEAK: Onions, green peppers, mushrooms, provolone cheese. We have a big steak in this one.' Goddess. What a horrible pun. Tasty sounding, but still a horrible pun.

     "Hello, my name is Courtney, welcome to Hooters of Sunnydale. Can I start you two off with something to drink?" The new voice made Tara jump and look up… and then the staring began. Oddly enough, it wasn't the waitress's obscenely large bust that her eyes were drawn to, either. As she continued to gawk, the blonde cleared her throat impatiently. "I don't mind if you want to stare, sweetie, but you do need to squeeze in some ordering somewhere. You're not my only table, you know."

     Neither the waitress's words nor her chest - and it was a very nice chest indeed - could distract Tara from… "Y-you're an elf."

     Raising her hand, Courtney held a finger in front of her pointed ear and slowly drew Tara's gaze across to rest on her face. Once that was accomplished, she shook her head and Tara watched in disbelief as the woman's blond bob abruptly darkened to a nice chocolate brown before growing out to touch her shoulders. "Actually, I'm not. I just play one on TV. Listen, you're not one of those ear fetish types or anything, are you? Because I'm fine with people staring at my boobs or my butt or my legs - I mean, look at where I work - but my ears… that's just kinda weird."

     "Well, a Sam Adams sounds great right about now. Tall. Because I think I'm going to need the big one if we're going to start talking about my daughter's sexual fetishes…" Letting out a squeak of embarrassment, Tara buried her blushing face in her hands at her mother's words. "And since she probably won't be doing anything other than blushing and wishing she could disappear for the next few minutes… Diet Pepsi for her." A few quick scratches of a pen against paper, the squeak of sneakers against the wooden floor, and then they were alone again. "Oh stop that. It's not my fault you couldn't just stare at her ginormous chest like a normal customer."

     Tara raised her head, staring at her mother incredulously. "Wait a minute. It's my own fault you embarrassed me? And it happened because I'm not a pervert?"

     Turning in her seat, her mother pointed out each of the waitresses working the back room before returning her gaze to Tara's. "The girls here are hired for one reason and only one reason, Tare-bear, and it isn't their IQ. She gets paid to let people stare at her chest. She's used to that. Her ears, obviously not so much. Probably because compared to everything else back here, pointy ears is nothing. But think about it, Tara. How would you feel if someone sat there staring at your arms?"

     Well personally she wouldn't be too keen on people staring at any part of her, but Tara understood what her mother was saying. "Uncomfortable." Seeking to redirect the conversation, she cast about for a new topic before deciding to go with the obvious. "So did you have a good day at work today?"

     "Eh, work was worky. I worked. Then I left as fast as possible." Shrugging, her mother picked up her menu and began perusing it again. Tara didn't understand why; they both knew she was getting a platter of wings. "And you? How was school today?"

     Looking down at her black nails, Tara absently inspected them for chips as she replied to her mother's question. "It was school. I learned. Then I left as fast as possible. I still haven't figured out who the Slayer is but I know she's in the building with me, which makes it really hard to relax and pay attention to what's going on in class. And nobody wants to talk to me because all the different cliques think I belong somewhere else."

     Her mother leaned forward, reaching across the table to grip her hand tightly. "I'm sorry, Tara. But you know why I had to go. And I couldn't just leave you there…"

     "Mama, he was hitting you!" Tara looked up, giving her mother's hand a squeeze. "I'm not blaming you for leaving. And we both know he didn't like me because I took after you. If you'd left me behind, he probably would have turned me into his new punching bag. I'm glad we left. I just miss having people to talk to." Even if they were her jerk of a father and equally unpleasant brothers.

     Rebecca sighed and pulled her hand away, resting her elbow on the table and planting her chin in her palm. "It's my fault. I should have seen the real him when I married him, if not earlier. He was a sorry little man who hated anything supernatural unless it was useful to him. He was hoping that I would give him boys that he could raise and then use against those who he thought were out to get him. Instead, I gave him three average sons and an extraordinary daughter who was the only one to inherit either my magic or my demonic traits." Tara smiled at the praise; she was still unused to it after so many years of her father's vitriol. "Back to the future, though… I can't do anything about your Slayer problem, but maybe we can do something about your people problem?"

     If only it were that easy. Tara sighed and shook her head. "Like I said, everyone thinks I belong in someone else's clique. I'm too scary for the normal girls, not scary enough for the goth girls, too sober for the stoner girls - and I'm pretty sure you'd make me miss Dad's whoopings if you ever caught me with drugs…" Holding out her arm underside up, Tara forced the tip of her bone skewer out. "And there's these, of course. Which is the real problem; even if I had some idea of how to move between the different groups and make friends, how would I keep them when they finally found out I wasn't human like them?"

     "Tara… sweetie… you do realize I went to high school, right? And I looked like I do right now?" Reaching up, Rebecca ghosted her fingers over her necklace, deactivating the glamour that hid her true appearance from the world. "Well, I looked younger at the time but you know what I mean. Greenish skin, skewers, et cetera. I had friends, too. A few boyfriends, even, much to your grandfather's annoyance. It's just a matter of finding the right people."

     Courtney's return with a twenty-two ounce beer and Tara's significantly smaller glass of soda brought a temporary halt to their conversation. "Alright, are we ready to order or do we need more time?"

     Closing her menu, Rebecca passed it to their waitress. "Given that today is Wing Wednesday, I think I'm going to have to just… wing it, Courtney." Both worker and daughter groaned at the bad pun, making Rebecca grin. "Give 'em to me 3 Mile Island, with bleu cheese. What about you, Tara?"

     After giving the menu one last looking over, Tara pouted. She was trying to watch her weight… but the entrees that 'Dr. Hootie' identified as being healthy were few and far between and not particularly appetizing looking at that. Finally, she decided to take a piece of advice from one of the few sermons that had actually penetrated her brain over the fifteen years her father had dragged her to church: sin and sin boldly. "The Philly Cheese Steak, please. Beef. Which doesn't make much sense because don't all steaks come from cows?"

     "Last time I checked, yeah. I've never understood the chicken option either and nobody's ordered one as long as I've worked here so… who knows? Maybe it's like putting a wild haggis dish on the menu and the bosses just did it for a laugh?" Shrugging, Courtney scribbled their order down before tucking the pad into the pouch hanging at her hip. "Alright, I'll get that right in. We're not too busy right now so I'm thinking ten minutes, fifteen tops."

     Courtney wandered off to serve another table, Tara tilting her head to one side to get the best view. Then something brushed against the back of her hand and she jerked her attention back to her bemused mother. "You are many things, Tare-bear, but I think we can officially say that subtle is not one of them."

     Instinctively Tara went to duck her head in embarrassment, only to halt when her eyes came to rest on the wad of money in her mother's hand. Her eyes widened as it was pressed between her unresisting fingers, and then grew even larger as she ran her thumb along the side and took in the sheer thickness of the bundle of bills she was holding. "Mama?"

     Rebecca gently closed Tara's fingers around the bills before leaning back with a self-satisfied grin. "It's for you, Tare-bear. To help you find the right people."

     "…I'm confused." Because according to what her mother had always taught her, those who tried to buy friends were shallow, pathetic people who ultimately ended up with lots of sycophants and fake friends but nobody who would actually stand them when they needed help. That, and Tara was pretty sure that 'buying friends' wasn't supposed to be literal, so she wasn't entirely sure where the overly large wad of bills came into things. Furrowing her brow, she began counting the money she held: mostly twenties, with a few tens mixed in. "And this is a lot of money…"

     "About six hundred dollars, give or take." Tara abruptly dropped the money, staring at it in horror. She knew how much money her mother made - or rather didn't make - and knew there was no way they could afford to spend this much money on anything, much less her lack of a social life. "Oh, don't worry, it's not mine. Your father probably won't even notice I took it from his not-so-secret stash until he goes looking for money to buy Christmas presents with. Just think of it as a great big 'screw you' for all the times he bought your brothers things but ignored you. And since it's also his fault that you didn't get to grow up a normal girl and learn how to play nice with others and make friends… all the more reason to spend it on this."

     While her discomfort with the idea of spending so much money on herself was starting to fade, Tara was still left with the fact that… "Maybe I'm s-stupid or something, but I still don't get why you're giving me all this money, Mama."

     Rebecca groaned and buried her face in her hands. "What's exactly thirty days from today, Tare-bear?"


     "Winner, winner, cheesesteak dinner! It's the one day a year when everyone is expected to come as they aren't and in your case, we can take that to a whole new level." Rebecca looked up, only to sigh at the confused expression that continued to grace Tara's face. "To quote the oversized man with the pink umbrella… 'Yer a wizard, Tare-y'. With that money and our magic, we can turn you into whatever you want for Halloween. Then you can sneak into a party or something, meet and mingle, and figure out how to make friends without any of them knowing they're dealing with the 'scary but not' girl."

     That sounded… brilliant, actually. Well, the sneaking part sounded a bit scary but maybe the courage to pull it off would come once she was safely hidden behind the anonymity of her costume. "And once I have some practice with actually talking to people who aren't you, I can go back to school and hopefully figure out how to make some friends. I get it now." Sure it wasn't a perfect or instant solution; she'd still have to make the friends and figure out how to determine who the 'right' ones were, but it was a path to a solution at least. Nibbling on her lower lip, Tara racked her brain to try and find an answer to the one remaining problem with the plan, only to come up blank. "Except… what should I go as?"

     Rebecca shrugged. "Whatever you want, really. Well, whatever you want within reason. No throwing a sheet over yourself and going as a ghost or anything. Hmm. Well, I dressed up for all four years of high school. Maybe you can reuse one of those ideas?" Tara raised an eyebrow at that and she began ticking them off on her fingers. "Elvish maiden… pirate wench… naughty cop… naughty nurse… maybe we could do some kind of naughty schoolgirl and give you some pigtails so you can't hide behind that hair of yours…"

     As her mother continued on, offering increasingly more risqué suggestions, Tara found herself staring at the woman in disbelief. The more time they spent away from Kentucky, the more she realized… she didn't really know Rebecca Baxter at all.

October 3, 2003:

     "Read it and weep, loser. Eighty-five. In your face."

     "Mmm. That is a very nice eighty-five, Cordy. And it is in my face." Reaching up, Xander grabbed the brunette's wrist and forced it down until that problem was corrected. Then he pulled a paper out of his pocket, unfolding it before handing it to Cordy with a smirk. "Just out of curiosity, can you tell me what this says?"

     Xander watched gleefully as the cheerleader snatched the paper from his hand, blood draining from her face as her eyes came to rest on the eighty-six that graced his quiz. "No! I studied so hard. I actually paid two guys from the chess club to tutor me. You can't have beaten me! It's… it's inconceivable!"

     Unable to resist such a tempting target, Xander affected his best Spanish accent… which, sadly, wasn't too different from his best Mexican accent, his best French accent, or his best Arnold Schwarzenegger impression. "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." That actually earned him a genuine, very feral sounding growl from Cordelia and Xander opted to take a step backwards for his own safety. "Besides, you're forgetting one thing: there's a brain in this school that trumps all others and she's the president of the 'We Hate Cordelia Club'."

     "Rosenberg." Cordelia's angry hiss suddenly had Xander fearing for his best friend's continued good health, and he found himself wondering if perhaps he should have kept that little tidbit to himself. Then, just as quickly as the rage had come, the fight drained out of Cordelia and she sighed. "Alright, who's it going to be? And remember, for the date thing… I quite carefully and specifically said my girls or one of the two new ones that you're going to make me go convince. I fit neither category. So you can't have me and I'm pretty sure Becki's boyfriend would be pretty pissed if you picked her."

     While he'd been caught off guard by the full extent of his success last time, Xander had actually sat down and prepared for the eventuality of victory this time and had a small list of names that he'd arranged in order of preference. Granted he was only allowed two of them, but if Cordelia couldn't convince one of his first two choices, he was willing to be gracious and give her alternate targets. Just because he knew the reaction would be more extreme, he opted to start with his second choice. "Meredith."

     He didn't need to use a last name or any sort of description. There was only one Meredith attending Sunnydale High and everyone knew her, from the loneliest nerd all the way on up to Cordelia. "Surely you can't be… wait, no, I'm not finishing that because I don't want to hear that stupid quote. But seriously? I thought you were trying to recruit hot girls or something. What do you want with the school pot princess?"

     "Well, I've already got myself a May Queen, so why not a Princess?" Xander waited for a beat but when Cordelia continued to stare at him incredulously, he shrugged. Explaining himself and his choices to her wasn't part of the bet. All he was required to do was supply the names and that was one of the two he was choosing to give her. Reaching into his pocket again, he pulled out the two remaining slips of paper with classes written on them and checked both before handing the one marked 'Hederan - Scout' to Cordelia. "All you need to do is find her, convince her, give her this, and tell her to find me or Becki. Think you can manage?"

     Sighing, Cordelia shoved his quiz back into his free hand before taking the slip of paper from him, stuffing it into her purse. "Please, school's been out for twenty minutes already. She's probably as high as a kite by now. I'll just offer to take her out for some munchies, then hold her hostage in the drive-thru until she agrees to do it."

     Xander blinked. While far from the most ethical method of securing her cooperation, he couldn't deny that it would likely be effective. And given that he wanted the blonde onboard for Halloween, did he really want to complain about Cordelia's choice of tactics? Granted it might come back to bite him on the ass when the girl sobered up and realized what she'd been tricked into… but he was getting pretty good at talking his way out of trouble. Cordelia was the one who was planning to prey on her while she was under the influence; he could probably deflect her rage back Cordelia's way. Mind made up, Xander had only two questions left for Cordelia. "Are you coming back to school when you're done?"

     "Yeah, I have practice with the girls. Why?"

     "Don't suppose you can pick me up some chicken nuggets or something, can you?"

     "…don't make me hurt you."

     "Cordy. Hey, Cordy. Cordy. You know what? Your hair is so pretty. Seriously, it's amazing. It's like God took chocolate and made like, really fine spaghetti out of it or something. Oh man. Some spaghetti would be awesome right now. Can we go to an Olive Garden instead? Is there one near here? I think they have some kind of never-ending bowl deal. That would be so awesome. A never-ending bowl. Imagine how high you could get with that?"

     Groaning, Cordelia checked to make sure the light was still red before letting her head drop to thump against the steering wheel. It could be worse, she told herself for the hundredth time; at least her passenger was a happy slash spacey stoner. She'd heard more than one horror story about a party that one of her friends' friends had attended and someone who had demonstrated the other end of the spectrum for them. "Sorry, the nearest Olive Garden is miles away. Hope the free McDonald's we agreed upon five minutes ago is still good enough." Meredith Palmer took a slow drag from the joint she was holding before shrugging laconically and exhaling a cloud of smoke that was quickly sucked out the window as the light turned green and Cordelia stomped the gas pedal. While she definitely didn't want to draw the attention of Sunnydale's supposed finest, the idea of her car's interior reeking of pot was even more terrifying. She had no idea how difficult it would be to get the stench of weed out of leather seats, but she had a feeling the answer was 'very'. "So, Meredith…"


     Despite her instructor's insistence that she always keep her eyes on the road, Cordelia decided to risk looking away so she could glance to her right and see if the girl was messing with her or not. "…seriously? 'Merry'? You let people call you Merry Palmer?"

     Nodding, Merry let out a little huff of annoyance as one of her blonde dreads slid forward to smack against her cheek. After batting it back out of her face, she took another hit before replying. "Yeah. Merry. You know, like as in happy? Cuz I'm usually a really happy person even when I'm not high." Something nudged Cordelia in the ribs and she glanced over again to find her passenger staring at her curiously. "What's so funny about my name? Because you're not the first one who's acted weird when I told them."

     Cordelia just shook her head, returning her attention to the road. No good could come of answering - or even attempting to answer - that question. "Anyways, Merry… have you thought about what I asked you on the way out of school?"

     "Huh? Wait, you mean that whole Star Wars, betting, Xander Harris conversation actually happened? Woah. I thought my mind was playing tricks on me or something. You're seriously dressing up because of some bet you lost, then you lost another one, and now you owe him me and a girl to be named later? Or two other girls if I won't play nicely?" Cordelia nodded and Merry broke into peals of laughter. "Holy crap, that's fucking hilarious. Were you like, high or something when you agreed to that? And who's your dealer? Because sure you're like, the rich girl and all and that's awesome, but I know a guy who can probably undercut your guy and then you'd have more money for clothes and stuff."

     Great. Now even the stoner was mocking her. Could her day get any worse? Cordelia sighed and threw on her blinker before making the right turn into McDonald's. "No, I wasn't high. I had this whole plan where I was assuming that he'd be a pervert and make me dress up as a hot half-naked superheroine or something like that. Evidently the loser didn't get that memo, though, and so I ended up stuck as an alien chick." She opted to leave out the Jesse connection; that wasn't really something the general populace needed to know. "And a bunch of my friends made the same stupid bet and two more volunteered on top of that. Before I knew it, there were seven of us. Then I decided to try and win our freedom while I still had time to get a real costume and… well, you know how that ended up." Pulling up beside the menu board, Cordelia's nose scrunched up in disgust at the options displayed before reminding herself that she wasn't there to fill her own stomach. "What sounds good, Merry?"

     Grinding her blunt out in the car's ashtray - and oh God, now she needed to power wash that too - Merry unbuckled her seatbelt and, ignoring Cordelia's sputtered objections, proceeded to climb across the center console and into the brunette's lap so she could get a better view. "Hmm. Uh, hello? Helpful worker person?"

     "Welcome to McDonald's, how may I help you?"

     "Um…" Dreads slapped Cordelia in the face repeatedly as Merry looked back and forth. "Oh wait, Cordy's loaded. I don't need to buy from the value menu. In that case I want the really big box of nuggets. And a large fry… and a chocolate shake. Also large." And with that, she proceeded to wiggle her way backwards before dropping into her own seat, smiling innocently as if she hadn't just massively violated Cordelia's personal space. "You want anything?"

     Cordelia snorted but resisted the urge to speak until after she reached up, pulling a long blonde hair away from her mouth. "Bleck. And yes. Yes I do. I want a shower. However, since we are currently in my car and not somewhere I can do that…" Actually, the shake did seem pretty tempting. Especially to help get the taste of Merryhair out of her mouth. "A large strawberry shake."

     A long moment of silence dragged on, making Cordelia wonder if the high school dropout behind the register was adding things up on their fingers, and then the speaker crackled. "Please drive around to the first window for your total." Great. They couldn't even operate the register and read off the number it added up for them. Only in Sunnydale.

     Sighing, Cordelia feathered the gas pedal and rolled them forward and around the corner, finding herself behind two cars waiting to speak to the same moron. Well, as long as they had time… "So, about Halloween…"

     "Huh? Oh, right, you need to convince me to do this so you can pay off Xander. Is this the point where I can blackmail you to get me to say yes even though I'd say yes anyways?" Cordelia narrowed her eyes and Merry held up her hands in surrender. "Nothing too bad, I swear. It's just that… well, I'm not made out of money. Even if I didn't have my little habit, I wouldn't be. So before I say yes, I want you to promise to help me pay for whatever he ends up making me wear. Help. I mean, I'll pay for what I can afford but I'm not like, selling one of my kidneys to do this." Cordelia sighed before rolling her eyes and nodding; she was already footing a bunch of bills, what was one more? Hopefully her parents wouldn't pick November to start finally reading her credit card summaries. "Okay. Cool. In that case I'm in. Well, as long as he doesn't ask me to cut my hair or anything. I like my dreads and so does my boyfriend."

     A car behind her honked its horn, prompting Cordelia to curse before rolling forward the whopping ten feet or so that she could. Then she went back to staring at Merry in disbelief. She was currently single but this grubby, brain-dead little freak had a boyfriend? What… the hell? Feeling morbidly curious, Cordelia decided to open herself up to further mocking by the universe. "Hey, I've seen you in my math class. That quiz on Wednesday? The one that Xander beat me on? What'd you score?"

     Merry stared straight ahead for a minute, mouth moving silently as she made a series of motions with one finger. "Um, if I'm remembering the right one? A ninety-seven. Why?"

     Waving her off, Cordelia noticed that the car in front of her had moved again and crept forward to close the gap. "Oh, no reason in particular. Just trying to figure out which method of suicide would be quickest and easiest. I mean, the school's biggest stoner is smarter than me and has a better social life. The world is clearly coming to an end. I want out before the fire and brimstone get here."

     "Oh. Can you wait until after you pay for my food at least? I didn't bring any money."
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