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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)JoeHundredaireFR18427,96668226,17227 Jan 1114 Apr 13No

Chapter Four

Joe's Note: You're probably noticing that I scrapped Tara's stutter here. To be blunt, to write an effective stutter you need to come up with consistent rules and I lacked the time to A.) rewatch Season 5 to see what the writers did and/or B.) create rules based on real world speech impediments and possibly impose them if the writers had fucked up. Which they probably did, since Whedon and his minions are notorious for their lack of research. So if you really want it, I wrote what she's saying. Just add a little back in like she had in Season 5, and enjoy. And if the lack of s-s-stutter really affects the readability of her scenes that much to you… I'm probably doing something wrong.



October 4, 2003:



     Sifting through another rack of costumes, Tara sighed. While she had a bit less than four weeks to go before Halloween, not knowing what she wanted to dress up as was making their trip to Los Angeles largely an exercise in futility in her eyes. How could she go about looking for the right costume when she didn't even know what she was looking for? Her mother had offered several suggestions but none of them seemed quite right for her. None of these costumes seemed right either. Maybe she'd be better off just staying at the house to hand out candy?

     This was the last store on the block and her mom had directions to two more stores a few minutes away before they called it a day and headed home. But if anywhere was going to have something that caught her interest, Tara thought, this would be it. Not only did the store have the regular assortment of cheaper Halloween costumes available for purchase, but they also offered higher quality costumes that could be rented for the evening. All kinds of fantasy and science fiction outfits were available and judging by how detailed they were, she was pretty sure most of them were legally licensed replicas. Not the typical knock-offs that you found in most stores or sewing patterns.

     Dismissing the last Lord of the Rings costume in the fantasy section, she moved onwards to the science fiction area. Pausing as she heard a familiar voice, Tara poked her head around the end of the aisle and saw Cordelia Chase of all people standing in the superhero section admiring… unless her vision was suddenly failing her, Tara was pretty sure that was Catwoman's current costume. Or at least it was the costume Tara remembered the character wearing as of when her father had threatened to cut her brother's allowance if he didn't stop wasting it on 'those faggoty picture books of his'. Thoughts of her former home life were abruptly and thoroughly shoved from her mind as the mental image of the cheerleader as Catwoman popped into Tara's head. Wow. She was going to look so sexy. Not that she didn't look sexy most of the time, but black PVC definitely trumped both Cordelia's normal clothes and even her cheerleading uniform in the sexiness department.

     In an effort to keep herself from devolving into a Homer Simpson-worthy droolfest, Tara pushed those mental images away and moved onward towards her destination. It was her secret shame, and a rather surprising one given she'd grown up without cable or a decent local movie theater: she was a sucker for all things sci-fi. Her eyes swept back and forth, easily cataloging props and costumes from assorted television shows and movies. Nearest to her was a bayonet-equipped laser rifle from the original Battlestar Galactica that hung beside a few copies of the Colonial Warrior uniform worn by Apollo, Starbuck, and Boomer, which in turn hung beside some sort of very blushworthy red dress that was tagged simply with '6' and no further details. Tara shrugged; not that it mattered. There was no way she'd ever wear something like that in public. Or private, for that matter. They'd also managed to assemble a complete costume for Chiana from Farscape - clothes, wig, body paint, the works - along with several others from that series and most of the mains from Andromeda. But they were just a small fraction of what the store had to offer, serving as a buffer between Fantasy and the multiple aisles of Star Trek and Star Wars products.

     After a quick game of 'eeny, meeny, miny, moe', Tara decided to start with the Star Trek half of things. She was pretty sure that her costume, if it even came from this store, would come from the other side of the sci-fi section but it never hurt to explore all one's options. How the place had gotten there hands on fairly authentic Borg and Klingon Defense Force costumes, Tara had no idea, but neither was available for women making it a moot point even if she was interested in them. They did have Bajoran militia uniforms for women - mostly red like Nerys's but also some grey and brown - but if she was going to put the effort into any sort of fancy prosthetic makeup, it'd be for more than just a slightly funky nose. And she didn't have enough holes in her right ear to pull off a proper Bajoran earring.

     "Psst. Tara." Jumping a bit, the black-haired girl looked over to find that her mother had somehow snuck up on her and was holding out a very familiar blue velour minidress. "What do you think of Nurse Maclay? Or…" Digging through the rack of costumes, she emerged with a red version. "Yeoman Maclay? You could even add some pointy ears like that waitress's… 'not wanting to be my friend would be illogical'. Or you could add green skin to that black hair and be an Orion. Oh! Or you could be really unrecognizable… we could do blue skin, a white wig, and use magic to make some animated antennae for you."

     Tara tried to picture herself as an Andorian but couldn't quite manage it. An Orion wasn't any better, while the Vulcan had some potential but again fell into the same category as a Bajoran: work for not much result. As for the uniform itself… "It's cuter than the new Starfleet uniforms, but that doesn't take much. Um… why don't you put both back for now but we'll keep the red one as a maybe option for if we don't find anything better?"

     Shrugging, her mother obeyed before eyeing Tara critically. "I'm really starting to feel like you're not taking this seriously, Tare-bear. But that's fine. Just remember that handing out candy is a one-woman job. Costume or not, party to crash or not, I'm tossing you out on your witchy little butt for the night. So either figure out a costume so you can follow the little plan we came up with or… well, Frank runs kitten poker nights on Fridays. Doubt he's gonna cancel because it's Halloween. You can go spend the night with him if you want."

     As her mother walked away, Tara shuddered. Any naïveté she might have harbored about the fate of those kittens had been shattered in one nausea-inducing conversation with her mother's friend. Straightening up, she marched towards the Star Wars section with renewed determination. Because while the idea of dressing herself up and trying to force her way into the school's social scene still scared her, the idea of playing poker for kittens was so much worse in her book. Upon reaching her destination, though, she found herself faltering as her determination melted away to be replaced by unadulterated awe. They had everything a Star Wars geek could ever want here. Latex prosthetics for a number of different alien species, an army's worth of blasters, lightsabers, Jedi robes, and dozens of assorted pieces that an enterprising person could use to cobble together a costume to wear along with the blaster or prosthetics they picked up here. "Wow. This doesn't look like authorized replicas, this looks like someone stole it from the set. I wonder how they got it?"

     "Actually, you wouldn't be entirely wrong there." Even after being spooked earlier by her mother, Tara still couldn't keep herself from jumping at the sudden voice behind her, spinning around to discover a girl with blue-streaked black hair and a plethora of piercings standing behind her. "Sorry about that. I was just coming over here to replace a few items that had been brought up to the counter and then abandoned and heard your question. I'm Caroline."

     "Sweet Caroline? Oh? Oh? Oh?" As soon as she realized what she'd said, Tara blushed brightly. "I'm sorry. It sounded funny in my head, but you probably get it so often that it's not anymore."

     Caroline let out a little snort of laughter and shook her head. "Not really, no. I mean, I don't get it much. It was definitely funny. But that song's what, thirty-odd years old? Not many people our age even know it."

     Pushing up on her toes, Tara looked around before pointing over at where her mother was browsing in another part of the store, Caroline looking in the indicated direction. "Mama's from Boston and so the first thing she did after we got out here was buy the deluxe baseball package for our satellite dish so we could watch Red Sox games. And they play it at their games." Tara hit the mental rewind button and skipped back a minute or so to the beginning of their conversation. "And how was I not wrong? Did someone actually steal this? Because if it is stolen, I don't want to buy it for obvious reasons."

     "Huh. Learn something new every day. And I mean it's actually from the set. Kinda." Caroline slipped past her and walked toward a rack full of Jedi robes, putting one back onto the rack before continuing on. "Basically, Lucasfilms realized that with the Internet and all, nerds won't just make high quality costumes for themselves these days… they'll make them and then make money off other nerds by selling more. So they decided to undercut the nerds by letting a few costume companies at their patterns. We buy from one of those companies. And then we decided to pay a few nerds with metalworking skills to beef up our lightsaber supply, and the latex prosthetics are… well, those are a long story."

     That prompted a snort from behind Tara, making her jump yet again. And considering how often she was in places with other people around and behind her - school mostly but an increasing number of stores as her overworked mother began trusting her with more and more errands - she really needed to work on that. "Guy wants to bone girlfriend while she's blue with headtails, guy makes headtails, guy realizes he can sell headtails to other people. And then he realizes Togruta and Twi'lek are really similar and begins making both. There's some sort of squid person in the works too, but he didn't finish it in time."

     Caroline raised a pierced brow as she shot a curious look over at Tara… or rather over her shoulder at where Cordelia was standing behind her. "Evidently not that long. Although considering I thought the girl who came in with Joe when he dropped these off was his little sister… gross. Wait, just making sure we're talking about the same girl… five and a half or so, brown hair, wireframes..?" Cordelia nodded, provoking a shudder from Caroline. "Yeah, thought that was a sister. Eww." Pushing onward, she gestured to the display around her. "Anyways, is there something I can help you with? Either of you, that is?"

     Considering she didn't have the faintest clue what she was going to be for Halloween and Cordelia was… well, Cordelia? Tara gestured for the brunette to precede her; her only experience with Cordelia's notoriously sharp tongue was watching the cheerleader verbally eviscerate others and she had no desire to change that today. Cordelia, however, just shook her head before waving Caroline off. "Nothing yet. If you want to not hover, though, I'll flag you down when I'm ready to go so you can get your commission off me."

     "Actually, we all work for hourly wage here. Mostly to keep us from clinging to customers' asses in hopes of getting money off commission. So you can flag down anyone you want; I'm just the one who knows this section best because I spend the most time back here organizing it." Unhooking two lightsabers from her belt, Caroline returned them to a rack of others before wandering off.

     There was a moment of long, awkward silence as Cordelia stared at one of the latex Togruta prosthetics and then Tara decided to speak up. "So, um, Cordelia. Catwoman or a galaxy far, far away? Neither really seems very… you. No offense."

     Cordelia groaned, rolling her eyes as she turned to face Tara. "It's not. There's this whole thing with a bet, and another bet, and I lost both of them, and…" Trailing off, she narrowed her eyes at the dark-haired girl. "Wait a minute, do I know you?"

     "…you're kidding, right? Out of eight classes this semester, I sit near you in three of them. And we have phys ed together." Tara groaned as Cordelia stared at her blankly. "The really stupid blonde girl you hang out with thinks it's funny to call me 'Tara No-lay' because she thinks I'd have to pay a guy to pay attention to me?" Not that she wanted a guy to pay attention to her, much less do things with her, but that was none of Cordelia's business.

     Scoffing, Cordelia waved her hand dismissively. "You say that like you think any of us actually listen to what comes out of her mouth. Now that you mention it, you're kinda familiar but…" Cordelia snapped her fingers and then pointed at Tara as comprehension dawned. "The Not-Really-a-Goth Girl. We've been trying to figure out what your story is since you showed up but since none of us want to actually come and talk to you, we haven't gotten too far with that."

     Tara's lips quirked up at that. "You're talking to me now."

     "Well yeah, because you're right here and I butted in on your conversation with the human pincushion. It'd be pretty rude to ignore you now. And I could ask you what your story is now, but I can think of better uses for my time. Like…" Turning sideways, Cordelia gestured to the Togruta prosthetic she'd been staring at so intently. "Do you know what one of these is?"

     Was that a trick question? Was Cordelia looking for the literal - a latex costume piece - or the Star Wars side of things? Finally, Tara decided to risk it. "A Togruta. Which you know because you mentioned them by name. Is this your way of asking how much I know about them?" Cordelia nodded and Tara rolled her eyes; why hadn't the brunette just said so? Sometimes she didn't get girls and she was one. How sad was that? "They're this reddish-brownish-orange color mostly with some white and blue. The red and white combination comes from where they evolved; it's a natural camouflage pattern for the grass their pack animal ancestors used to stalk prey in. They have this cool passive echolocation power thanks to their montrals. They might be related to the Twi'lek but the book writers put that in as a 'scientists think' so they can change their mind later if they want. So… is that enough for you?"

     Eyes wide, Cordelia nodded slowly. "Plenty. More than I needed to know right now, actually. But you're from Sunnydale, know all this geeky stuff, have the same set of parts as me… you are so hired."

     Tara had come up with over a dozen ways Cordelia might possibly respond to her moment of geekiness. Mostly insults. That particular statement - or anything like it - was most definitely not one of them. "…what?"

     "Okay, the long story to go with the short story that got interrupted when I thought I didn't know you even though it turns out I do?" Cordelia began ticking off points on her fingers. "I made a bet with Xander Harris and the winner could dress the loser for Halloween. I figured I'd intentionally lose because I had no clue what to be for Halloween and he'd find me something good because boys are pigs and he'd want to abuse the privilege." She added a second finger. "My friends made bets with Xander to try and have an insurance policy; if I lost and they won, they wanted to be able to blackmail him into being nice with his costume pick or even letting me go. Except they lost too." A third finger went up. "Xander decides to stick us all with geeky alien costumes and now I have to dress up as a 'Jedi consular' Togruta." Her pinky followed. "I made another bet to try and free us all, and ended up having to talk two more girls into joining us because I lost that one too." Her thumb made five. "And now here I am, picking up stuff for me and Aphrodesia and talking to you. Now, I already agreed to pay Xander for his help with my costume but since he doesn't seem to want much money, I am totally willing to double-pay to have you as my helper too… or instead… whatever. I'll help or even totally pay for your costume, bring you around the rest of the girls, whatever. But you're like, a gift from the gods. You're perfect. You're like Xander but not a perverted moron with bad fash…" Trailing off, Cordelia looked Tara up and down before amending that. "You're like Xander but not a perverted moron. And since Becki, my only other Star Wars girl, is tied up with other projects for Halloween, I'm stuck with Xander if I can't get you to say yes. So… please say yes?"

     Idly, Tara found herself wondering whether Cordelia would keep or drop the 'not perverted' bit if she knew about some of the thoughts Tara entertained about the cheerleader, especially during phys ed. Then her mind shifted to more serious thoughts and despite the question having what seemed like an obvious answer, Tara found herself thinking about the offer. Sure, she wanted to make friends and be more social; that was the whole point of this crazy Halloween plan of hers. But did she really want to get sucked into the circle of fakeness and backstabbing that surrounded Cordelia? What would happen to her after Halloween? Would she be thrown away when her usefulness ran out? And how would her former pseudo-Cordette status affect her if she tried to make friends on her own from that point on? Tara decided to stall for more time. "Asking? Aren't you usually the one who tells people what to do?"

     Cordelia crossed her arms over her chest - and drat, there went a nice view - before raising an eyebrow as she stared at Tara calculatingly. "Would that get me anywhere?"

     Would it? She'd always been good at obeying orders but then again, they'd been coming from a man who wouldn't hesitate to backhand her if she talked back or just plain didn't move fast enough for his taste. So Tara just shrugged at Cordelia, a bit curious herself. "Maybe. Maybe not. You could ask and find out."

     "Fine. Say yes and be my helper for Halloween."

     "No."

     Cordelia's jaw dropped. "But you said…"

     Shaking her head, Tara held up a finger to cut the brunette off. "I said maybe or maybe not. Turns out not." Cordelia's mouth snapped shut, giving Tara a few more seconds to think about her answer before ultimately delivering it. After all, the next few minutes had the potential to affect her remaining two years of high school and maybe even the four years of college beyond that, seeing as how UC Sunnydale on scholarships was about the best she could hope for and a number of her classmates from Sunnydale High would undoubtedly end up following her there. "I won't be your helper. I am not a minion, an underling, a subordinate, or… if you have any other way of thinking of the Cordettes, put 'not' in front of those too. I will, however, be your partner. Mostly because I've seen how you treat the people at school, including your supposed friends. Either we're equals or you can ask Xander to paint your back on Halloween."

     A dubious look graced Cordelia's face through most of Tara's ultimatum, only to disappear in favor of a wide-eyed look of horror at her final words. "…I was just thinking of help with developing my costume. But wow, yeah, I definitely need a not-him helper for Halloween. Deal. Deal, deal, a hundred times a deal. Gross. Moving onward from thoughts that make me want to barf on my very expensive boots, do you actually need cash help with your costume? I mean, Lord knows I'm paying for enough other peoples'."

     "Tempted to say yes and pocket all the money that Mama gave me for one, but that'd be mean. So no, I can pay my own way." Pausing, Tara nibbled on her lower lip as she glanced down at the pasty stretch of arm visible between the strap of her black tank top and her blood red arm warmer. In addition to being a good bit paler than it'd been in Kentucky, it was a bit more fatty looking too. If she played this right, though, there was a chance she could get a bit of help with that. "But while I don't need money… I know cheerleaders work out. I used to do chores on the farm before we moved to Sunnydale and the change is killing me. But instead of going and paying for gym membership, maybe you can help me out there? I don't want to look like Arnold or anything, but if we can stop me from getting any flabbier, I'd be happy. Maybe even gain a bit of my lost tone back?"

     Letting out a low whistle, Cordelia closed the distance between them and reached out to grab the witch's bicep, squeezing gently. "If you've lost anything, I sure as hell can't tell. If more of my girls were in as good of shape as you, people would get dropped on their asses less often. But deal. We'll start with you coming to practice; I can put you through the same warm-ups that the rest of us do to stay in shape. And since - unlike them - you actually want to do it, you'll probably get some more out of it." Releasing Tara, Cordelia thought for a moment before perking up. "And if you want me too, I could probably even get one of my exs to show you around the weight room while we do the actual cheering parts of practice. You're totally Lance's type; just smile and he'll do whatever you ask him to. Makes a relationship boring fast, but useful here."

     Tara barely registered what essentially sounded like Cordelia trying to hook her up with some guy, mind busy trying to process the idea of spending time working out with the cheerleaders. Mostly because she'd passed the secondary, smaller gym a few times on her way out of school after tutoring sessions that ran late and seen the girls working out. All spandex and short shorts and sports bras and exposed flesh and… Tara shook her head, trying to keep from drooling. Oh, she was definitely at least a little perverted, but what Cordelia didn't know wouldn't hurt her. "We'll see. Now, you mentioned needing to be a Togruta Jedi for this bet you lost?"

     "I have to be a 'Jedi consular', yeah. Becki loaned us some of her books from the game and after poking through them with Xander, I was thinking maybe a Jedi Healer because it's the only thing I could find under consular that wasn't completely boring sounding." Frowning, Cordelia wandered over and fingered one of the Jedi robes hanging on a rack. "But unless I wear one of these - and I really don't want to because shades of brown so aren't my colors - I've got nothing. I mean, obviously I'd have a lightsaber but… what? The book showed what I'm hoping was an alien woman with a really big head, since there was a white coat over a really ugly seafoam dress that matched the flats she was wearing. So either woman or intergalactic cross-dresser, pick one. I'm personally guessing woman because I doubt the publishers would want to be that freaky, but cross-dresser could explain the bad fashion sense…"

     Trying her best not to snicker at Cordelia's rambling, Tara contemplated the brunette's conundrum. Barriss Offee's official movie costume was a blue-black cloak over a slightly darker dress with a belt, but Tara couldn't really see Cordelia wearing something that dark. Her hand rose, fingers tapping against her jaw slowly as she thought. "Well, even if you throw the rest of it away, white doesn't sound like an entirely bad idea. It's a very doctor color. Or healer color in your case. Whichever. And since Jedi generally like long, flowing outfits… what about a white dress or something? Or is that against the rules because we're after Labor Day?"

     "Totally legal; church, formal events, and costumes don't count. And it could work. Hmm. What about… a white dress, and then either a gold or silver belt that I could hang my lightsaber from? Oh, and obviously shoes because I'm not going to run around barefoot. Duhh. Probably not white unless I find something absolutely perfect on sale somewhere, since I don't own any white shoes except for sneakers and buying a pair of shoes just to wear for Halloween is a bit ridiculous even for me. Unless I got a really nice pair of heels and saved them for something formal down the road. I think my feet are done growing. Well, let's assume I'm going to wear shoes from my closet for now. That means I'm halfway done with my shopping here, since there's only two things I need to buy and I've already found my rent-a-headtails." Cordelia was forced to surrender her spot in front of the robes as a pimply, bespectacled boy elbowed her aside. Tara winced, waiting for the inevitable explosion of Mount Cordelia, only to be pleasantly surprised as the brunette contented herself with a glare before moving off to look at lightsabers. Edging around the boy, Tara joined her and watched as Cordy rapidly shuffled through what appeared to be utterly unorganized racks of hilts, some replicas of famous movie lightsabers and some completely unfamiliar to her. "No, no, no, looks like a giant vibrator, no, no… God, there are girl Jedi in the newest movie. I know there are; I've seen pictures. Why aren't there any nice, pretty lightsabers?"

     Joining her, Tara crouched down to examine the lower racks before conceding Cordelia's point; none of them really seemed very 'her', either. But a Jedi wasn't really a Jedi at all without a lightsaber. Standing up, she rubbed the small of her back as she looked around, eyes eventually coming to rest on the twin of the Togruta headpiece that she knew Cordelia was going to buy. And then suddenly it hit her: why not combine her own need to find a costume for Halloween with Cordelia's need for help figuring out the specifics of the costume that Xander had chosen for her? "Cordelia?"

     "Hmm?"

     "I know enough about popular girls and fashion to know that showing up for something in the same outfit is bad. But how would you feel about someone else being a Togruta as long as they're not a Jedi healer too?"



     As she slowly backed out of her parking spot, eyes darting up to the rear view mirror to make sure that the pair tall, thin boxes lying across the back seat of her Highlander didn't shift, Cordelia found herself pondering the deal she'd made and who'd gotten the better end of things. From a physical standpoint, definitely her. Sure, she'd ended up shelling out for Tara's prosthetic on top of her own but… well, the word 'invaluable' was tossed around a lot, but what else could she call Tara offering to design a custom lightsaber from scratch and then make it for her? Completely out of metal, even, unlike the bad plastic props most stores sold.

     Then there was the less quantifiable side of things. Was Tara's promise of helping her out with her outfit and the design and application of paint - both for her headpiece and her body - equal or greater than the crap she'd get from the Cordettes from bringing her around for practice? Granted she was the resident cheertator and her word was law, but she was still busy crushing dissent after announcing Merry Palmer would be joining their Halloween group. Would the girls be more accepting of Sunnydale High's resident Not-Really-a-Goth Girl after they got to know her, or would she just compound the problems that Merry had created for Cordelia?

     Flicking her turn signal on, Cordelia snorted as she waited for a break in traffic. Then she got bored and launched herself out onto Mono Street, flipping off a guy in a sports car who actually had the audacity to blow his horn at her before signaling again and making a quick left onto South Utah Street, cutting off a minivan that… well, they could afford to wait, Cordelia reckoned. After all, what important plans could someone driving a minivan possibly have?

     The more she thought about it, though… who cared what the other girls thought about Tara, Merry, or any other choice she made? She was the boss. If they didn't like it, they were replaceable. She wasn't.

     She was Cordelia Chase, damn it.



     "Do you think we should buckle it in or something?"

     Tara stared at the tall - or rather long, now that it was lying on its side - box that stretched across the back seat of her mother's Camry and shook her head. "It can't be that fragile, can it? I mean, if I'm supposed to wear it around for Halloween, it should be able to survive a bit of bouncing and wiggling on the drive home. Just don't drive like you're trying out for NASCAR or anything."

     Letting out an aggrieved sigh, Rebecca slammed the left rear door of the sedan shut. "If you insist. Before we leave, though, are you sure you don't want to get your paint here? There's no way for this to work out so you end up not needing it. The longer you wait, the worse they're going to gouge you."

     "I know, but I forgot to mention it to Cordelia before she left and I didn't get her number because I see her in class every day. Not that we have a cell phone I could use to call her and ask even if I had…" Her mother stuck her tongue out at that and Tara grinned; they'd gone from debating over Tara getting an after-school job so she could afford a cell phone and have some spending money to talking about her diverting some of her Halloween money to pay for one, but so far her mother was remaining adamantly anti-phone. Nibbling on her lower lip, Tara looked over at California Costume Collections. "I suppose I could buy paint for both of us and ask her to pay me back, but I don't have a picture on me and so I might not get a perfect match and she might not like it and could refuse to pay for it and so then I'd be stuck with twice as much paint as I need…"

     A piercing whistle cut off Tara and she looked over the roof of the car at where her mother was making a 'T' with her hands. "Okay, woah, slow down. Firstly, I have two words for you, Tare-bear: 'de' and 'caf'. Secondly, if it's that big a deal, we can take care of it later. When you told me you were working with her, I thought you were just going to be giving her some advice, not full on collaboration." There was a momentary lull in the conversation as they got in the car but as Rebecca started the car, she shot her daughter a look that Tara wasn't quite sure she liked. "So, speaking of Cordelia… is it just me or are you starting to develop a type? Tall, buxom, out of your league… granted Courtney's got a few sizes on your new best friend, but I'm not sure they make regular humans with her measurements."

     It took Tara a moment to process what her mother was saying and then her cheeks exploded with a blush red enough to rival a Coke can. "Mama!" Leaning across the center console, she punched the snickering woman in the shoulder. "First of all, telling me people are out of my league can't be good for my self-esteem. Second, I think she's pretty but I'm not in like with her or anything. Because you're right, she is out of my league. In more ways than one. She likes boys, and I was a girl last time I checked. She's a prep whose outfit today costs about what we spent on all my school clothes put together. She's pretty and I'm not. She's human and I'm the walking shish kebaber…" Her mother shot her a disbelieving look and Tara glared back at her. "For the record, Mother, she asked me for help and the only reason I even said yes was because I thought it would work well with your plan. If she's inviting me to hang out with the popular kids for the night, I don't have to sneak in. And I can even get practice socializing with her friends all month. It's win-win."

     "Well, I suppose the important part is that you believe that, sweetie." Tara huffed, turning to stare out the window. Her mother could believe whatever she wanted; Tara knew why she'd done what she'd done. "Alright, so, I also couldn't help but notice a conspicuous lack of costume being purchased. What exactly is your plan here? Or are you going out as an alien high school goth girl for Halloween?"

     Tara nodded albeit hesitantly; she had what she was pretty sure was a great idea, especially given what her and Cordelia had talked about for the cheerleader's costume, but given her mother's ability to embarrass her, Tara wasn't so sure she wanted to share it anymore. On the other hand, she wasn't stupid enough to believe she could hide anything from her mother for long, much less until the end of the month. Especially given that her mother - well, technically her father but her mother had been the one to steal the money and pass it on - was financing the whole thing. "Well… Cordelia's actually going as a Jedi healer because she lost a bet to this guy at school and so he got to pick her costume. Lots of white, probably with some silver. So I was thinking being a Jedi shadow and wearing black, just so our costumes are as far apart as possible for two Togruta? Maybe, um, in leather?"

     There was absolute silence in the car as Rebecca made the right turn out onto the street and began heading back towards the highway, silence that lasted until they made a left onto the onramp that led up to the 101… which Tara still thought was a strange name for a highway. 'The 101'. The hundred and one… what exactly? Dalmatians? A snicker shook Tara from her thoughts and she looked over at her mother curiously. "So… you spent some time chatting up a very pretty girl from your school, decided to coordinate your costumes, and now we're suddenly talking black leather. Are you sure we don't need to revisit 'The Talk'?"

     "Mama!"



     Staring at the odd brownish 'bodycast' in front of her, Mallory raised an eyebrow before looking over at where Becki and her boyfriend were bent over a sketchpad and whispering quietly to each other. "This thing better turn out to be useful, Joe. Otherwise, that's four hours of my life I'm never getting back…"

     Joe Kimble looked up from his work, staring at her over the top of his black plastic frame glasses. "If it wasn't useful, do you really think I would have wasted an entire day doing it? Most of us spent ten hours working on it; you escaped after the first four and got to spend the other six fooling around on your phone and talking to Rebecca. And I'm pretty sure you wouldn't have liked the alternative any better: sitting still for hours while I slapped plasticine clay directly onto your body and worked it into the shapes I'd need for the next stage's plaster molds. Especially when it came to do certain pieces." His words were accompanied by a pointed look at her chest.

     Nodding her head, Mallory conceded the point and went back to studying the couple as Joe returned to working with Becki. Not being one of the Cordettes, she'd heard little about 'the mystery boyfriend' that Becki used as an excuse to keep from dating anyone at Sunnydale High apart from 'older' and 'has money', but Joe definitely wasn't what she'd pictured. A bit over half again her classmate's age - twenty-five to Becki's sixteen - he reminded Mallory a bit of a grown version of the kind of boys the jocks liked to stuff head first into toilets. Which made sense given his six-figure income was derived from something involving computers that made her eyes glaze over but… well, what did someone like him see in a girl like Becki? Granted Becki was scary smart for a high school girl, but she was just that: a girl. On the other hand, what did Becki see in someone like Joe? She didn't strike Mallory as the type to be as shallow as Cordelia and date purely for money, but her boyfriend was dorky and not exactly the best looking… so what else did that leave?

     Actual feelings, maybe? But… how did things even reach that point? Mallory shook her head. Not her problem or business. Something that was her problem, on the other hand? "Just out of curiosity, how much longer until you tell me what I'm going as for Halloween?"

     "Well, Rebecca tells me that you're supposed to be going as a Jedi guardian. I've seen some of the concept art for the new Star Wars cartoon and they're actually giving Obi-Wan some… you don't care, do you?" Mallory shook her head and Joe sighed. What? She didn't. Unlike Becki, she wasn't a geek and was only doing this for the reasons she'd laid out to Cordelia: matching what the popular girls were wearing. Unless it had some direct bearing on her costume, she really didn't give a damn. "Long story short, we're going to be sculpting an outfit based on the armor the clones wear for you. Except more feminine, obviously. We have a few ideas so far but nothing concrete."

     Wandering over to stand behind Becki, Mallory peered down at what turned out to be a series of drawings. Some were halfway decent. Others… not so much. One in particular called out to her and she pointed at it. "That one. With the skirt. I want that one."

     Joe tapped the end of his pencil against the sketch in question before looking up at her curiously. She nodded in confirmation and he let out a hum before grabbing a new piece of paper. "Five pieces of armor for the right arm… gloves, now that I think about it… the torso armor… some bands of plastic to attach to the skirt… the skirt itself… you already have the bodysuit it'll go over, so that's no problem… maybe some opaque black stockings so we can do a bit of skin between them and the skirt… boots… armor to wrap around the actual shin since I don't even want to try making actual armor boots… maybe a pauldron and neck ring just to add a splash more color and cover up a bit more bare skin respectively…" Looking down at his list, Joe let out a low whistle. "Looks like I've got quite a project ahead of me. On top of finishing the Nautolan piece for you."

     Chuckling, Mallory leaned in and rested her chin atop Becki's head as she wrapped her arms around the girl's shoulders from behind. "And just think, if it wasn't for your girlfriend, you'd have a lot more free time and money this month."

     "Don't remind me. Becki doesn't know it yet, but I've already cancelled our next three dates to free up the time I'm going to need to finish this."

     "Hey!"

The End?

You have reached the end of "Pyrrhic Victory" – so far. This story is incomplete and the last chapter was posted on 14 Apr 13.

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