Two nights later Xander ran Cordelia to ground on the roof. She was seated on an old park bench that they had dragged and manhandled up the stairs earlier in the day, staring up at the stars, her breath visible in the cold air.
“Waiting for the Bat?” he asked as he sat down beside her, pulling his coat closer around him to ward off the chill. He’s still not quite sure how he feels about her getting cosy with a vigilante.
“No,” she denied quietly, “just escaping the phone.” Despite the fires and sudden lack of fire being the main story, the gossip columnists had latched onto the gossip coming out of the GCPD about Gotham’s billionaire. The phone had started ringing fairly early yesterday as the local columnists had sought a statement, and by mid day today it had been ringing constantly as the national rags had picked it up. The Gotham columnists had been fairly restrained so far, but then they’d actually met Cordelia, and had seen that she and Bruce were friends, so it hadn’t come as such a surprise to them. Besides, Gotham editors were loath to incur the wrath of Bruce Wayne, so they trod carefully.
They sat in silence for a few minutes. “You’re all packed?” she asked finally. They had a late flight out, now that flights into and out of Gotham had resumed.
“Giles and the guys are,” Xander confirmed. “I thought I might stick around for a few weeks, if you don’t mind?”
She raised a questioning brow at him. “I don’t mind, but why would you want to stay in the middle of the circus?”
He chuckled at her description. When she’d arrived back at Doyle Oracle in the very early hours with Bruce Wayne in tow, both in foul moods, and explained that the tabloid press were about to descend, his first instinct had been to get the heck out of dodge quickly. A lifetime of trying to avoid attention stuck, even when you didn’t need to worry about things like the Sunnydale PD anymore. Hell now they had permission to work freely in any of the UN nations. The Watchers Council had held an awful lot of power before the bombing and the IWC had built on that. But then he’d thought about it. With the Winchesters reluctantly leaving early yesterday morning at Cordelia’s insistence – having agreed that they couldn’t really afford the close scrutiny yet – Cordelia could do with some support. And dear god, but he needed some down time. Besides, he couldn’t just leave her third floor in the state it was in. His professional pride wouldn’t let him.
He said as much and a fleeting smile graced her face. “You’re welcome to stay whenever you like, Xander. But really when most people go on holiday, they don’t work. You don’t have to do anything with the third floor.”
He waved it off. “Don’t worry about it. I enjoy it.”
Silence descended again. “Have you told them?” she asked, breaking another period of comfortable silence.
“Told who, what?” he asked in confusion.
“The Scoobies. About Africa and the camp.”
The memories that haunted his nightmares stirred and he took a deep breath and tried to suppress them. “No,” he bit out.
He half expected her to flare up at him. Instead she reached into the pocket of her coat and pulled out a cardboard rectangle. She handed it to him. “When you’re ready to talk, that’s the number for Sophie Freidman. She’s our on call head shrinker. That way there won’t be a report back to the IWC.”
He stared at the card. “She’s used to the weird?”
“She is now,” she said dryly. “And the not so weird, like her father before her, her speciality is PTSD amongst combat units.”
“Civillian.” Her nose wrinkled. “You think I would have gone to an Army shrink?”
“You’ve used her?” he asked, surprised. “What happened to ‘only crazy people need their heads shrunk?’”
“You mean besides dying and then being resurrected in someone’s bathroom 8 months later?”
“Good point,” he admitted then frowned. “Someone’s bathroom?”
“Yeah,” she sighed. “It was fortunate, ‘cause at least the toilet was close when I needed to throw up. Though Piper was less than impressed to find a recently dead person had suddenly appeared in her bathroom.”
“Piper’s one of the Charmed Ones, isn’t she? I was wondering how you met them.” Paige orbing in earlier in the week had been very impressive.
“I made an impression,” she said wryly.
“I bet.” He slid the card into his pocket. “Thanks.”
Noise from the alley drew his attention and he stood and peered over the edge of the roof into the alleyway that ran alongside Cordelia’s building. A lanky dark haired man with what looked like a very expensive camera hung around his neck was adjusting his position. Xander returned to the bench.
“How long has he been down there?”
“’Bout an hour,” she sighed. “Before that it was a short blond with sunburn.”
He frowned. He hoped Bruce Wayne appreciated how much chaos he was bringing into her life. “Did the tabloids go this nuts over the models?”
“Nah. I’m the anomaly, you see.”
“You’re taking this very calmly.”
“I vented at Bruce the other night. Besides, there’s no use getting angry with my friends when it’s the tabloids that I’m pissed at.”
“Who are you and what have you done with Cordelia Chase?” he joked. This zen side to her was new.
She smiled. “She was replaced with Cordelia Doyle upon resurrection.” Mind you, the zen wouldn’t last long, but for now...she actually felt calm.
They fell back into silence. After awhile Xander started laughing. Cordelia looked at him questioningly.
“I wonder what they made of us carting a park bench up to the roof.”
She laughed. “I wonder what they’ll make of us carting all that glass up here.” Jane and Alice had not reacted as Cordelia had expected when she’d taken them aside to explain just how crazy things were likely to get for the next few weeks. She’d expected Jane to agree to go to Cleveland, taking Alice with her, as Giles had offered once he’d understood what would be happening. Instead, after a brief pow-wow and once assured that Riley could make sure that their ‘Cordelia the missing Aunt’ story would hold up to some scrutiny, the girls had perversely dug their heels in and begun making plans for the future and adding their own stamp to Doyle Oracle. Jane was talking about getting her GED and together she and Alice had tried to talk Cordelia into agreeing to a glass house on the roof. They’d cheated by getting Xander and Alfred on side first, then ganging up on her. A garden had been something that they’d been missing since they’d had to leave the house they’d grown up in. The second hand park bench was the first step of their plan for turning her roof into a garden.
Cordelia had gotten the message. She just wished that Bruce would.
It had been an unexpectedly constructive visit by the Scoobs. Not really what she’d had envisioned when Xander had first told her that Buffy and Willow would be descending.
The Green girls’ display of support yesterday morning had meant a problem for Giles, because he had to find a free watcher to come to Gotham to train Jane. Which was apparently an issue at the moment; or at least finding someone who wouldn’t clash terribly with Cordelia was an issue at the moment. Andrew was an option that had been briefly raised only for Cordelia to threaten bodily harm.
It was going to take Giles a few weeks to shuffle a few people around. That much they’d worked out yesterday, after Gray and Rogue had chased Cordelia out of the office, insisting she take the day off.
She had, sort of. Instead of remaining in the office ignoring calls from the media, she’d spent some time with Xander, Gerry and Alice – who had been been rather giddy at being allowed to take the day off school – starting to rebuild walls on the third floor. Mean while Giles spent some time with Rogue trying to get an overview of OSI’s operations, while Buffy had spent some time getting started on Jane’s training and Willow had geeked out at the systems that Riley and David had put in place.
She’d have to tell them that they’d impressed Red_Tree. Riley at least, would find that interesting.
For the most part an uneasy truce reigned between the former schoolmates, possibly out of a level of sympathy that increased as the phone kept ringing. Cordelia and Buffy had largely avoided each other, there were a multitude of things that lay unspoken between them, but neither of them were quite ready to have that discussion, so except for a short and awkward conversation after Cordelia had returned from meeting with Bruce and Angel last night, they hadn’t really talked. Cordelia hadn’t mentioned Angel’s presence in the city.
Oddly enough, she was more comfortable with Willow, after a conversation that had been made up of a healthy dose of babble on Willows behalf and very few words on Cordelia’s where very little had actually been said and much understood.
This morning while Xander, Rogue, Buffy and Willow had taken Jane shopping, Cordelia and Giles had sequestered themselves in her office, hashing out an agreement that would give OSI more leeway with the authorities, in exchange for help in tough situations and a place for Watchers and Slayers to ‘get away from it’ if they wanted to.
It was pretty much the same deal she’d been offering SHEILD, so she took it gratefully after it had been made clear that the IWC wouldn’t be able to dictate to OSI and that OSI would retain its independence.
The advantage of dealing with Giles meant that she didn’t have to get Toby to act as intermediary. Giles already knew what Cordelia’s tact was like and wasn’t offended by her bluntness.
After lunch they’d had lunch then spent a few hours jointly engaged in the communal building project the third floor was turning into. By the time they’d downed tools as the light faded, the third floor once again had studs and half the plasterboard was up.
It was rather ridiculous that one professional and a few amateurs were getting work done faster than the gang of professionals that Cordelia had hired to do the office had actually done.
Of course, none of the gang of professionals had been Slayers.
Oddly enough it had been the building work that had given Cordelia the sense of peace. Watching Jane lob fragments of plasterboard at Xander while Alice giggled helplessly, or Gerry carefully sliding the ice from his soda down the back of Rogue’s shirt, or her later retaliation of a trowel full of plaster down his shirt front—it was the sudden feeling of family that she had been missing for the last five years.
“I thought I might find you up here.”
She recognized the voice. Bruce. At least he was still talking to her.
She smiled her welcome and scooted up on the bench to make room for him to sit. “Yup. Escaping the phone.”
“And developing a minor case of frostbite,” Xander added dryly.
She poked him. “Wimp.”
“I’m from California, Cordy.”
“So am I,” she pointed out.
“Unlike the others, I haven’t spent much time in places with snow, like Europe. I’ve been in Egypt for the last six months, remember?”
“It’s not cold enough for snow yet.”
“You mean to say, it gets colder?” he demanded.
“Quite a bit,” Bruce informed him, taking the space she had offered. Cordelia nodded, entertained by the look of horror spreading across Xander’s face.
“Avoid Gotham in the winter, got it.”
“It’s not that bad,” she told him.
“Oh? And just how well did you handle your first winter here?”
“Just fine,” she informed him smugly. She’d had a chance to acclimatise. Her first winter in New York however, now that had been cruel.
Xander frowned at her suspiciously. “Freak.”
“Zeppo,” she shot back.
Xander grinned at her. He checked his watch. “I should go and say my goodbyes,” he said, standing. He nodded at Bruce and headed back inside.
She and Bruce sat in not entirely comfortable silence for a few minutes.
“I had an interesting phone call about you,” Bruce said, leaning back into the bench.
“One of the tabloids, claiming I’m the part alien offspring of Elvis?” she asked irreverently, recalling a rather silly conversation that Rogue and Xander had gotten into earlier about what the weirdest headline was likely to be from the circus that seemed to be circling Cordelia at the moment.
Bruce blinked at her in surprise. “Part alien offspring of Elvis? Do I want to know where that came from?”
“I’m not sure I
want to know where it came from.”
“Ok. Well, oddly enough, this phone call wasn’t from a tabloid. It was from Tony Stark.”
Well. That’s different. “Tony Stark. The billionaire tech head with the impulse control problem? That Tony Stark?”
“What did he want?” Really, her own ego aside, she very much doubted that he’d remember the one and only time they’d met. Unless a woman turning him down was so out of the ordinary. His PA, however, Cordelia knew she’d made more of an impression on. Mainly because she’d met Pepper Potts a couple of years after she’d met Stark, and because watching someone kill an Adlivun with one of your high heels wasn’t something you forgot.
“I’m not really sure.” Bruce was watching her with an intensity she found slightly unnerving. “When we first met, you indicated that you knew Tony.”
“Pfft.” She waved dismissively. “Hardly. Met him once at a party. He was three sheets to the wind and I was newly arrived in LA and thought I was it and more. He hit on me, I turned him down. I don’t know why you’re getting a call now.”
“He was fishing for information,” he warned. “He asked about Oracle Investigations.”
She frowned. “Hmm. I wonder...” Cordelia was nobody's fool, and she paid closer attention to current events than most people gave her credit for. She’d seen the Stark Industries tech that had been deployed in an attempt to capture the Hulk and seen the conflicting reports that had appeared at the time of Stark’s supremely stupid announcement that he was Ironman, live on CNN. Initially it had been reported that Stark had been on his boat, witness statements had been quoted about the party, and a story about a bodyguard floated. The story had only appeared in one or two of the blogs and maybe one print story, swept away by Stark’s announcement. It took some serious influence to arrange that kind of story. SHEILD?
Tony Stark might appear to have no reason to need to know about her, but SHEILD would be another matter. If they’d had eyes on Gotham in the last week, seen any of what had gone down...that coupled with her sudden appearance in the spotlight—yes SHEILD would be interested. Fury would be all too aware of what her response to visit from him would be, so they’d go via another route.
All of those meetings and they hadn’t taken her seriously? If they were trying to investigate her now, she wondered what they’d done to the notes they had taken during the meetings. Shredded them after writing her off as a crack pot?
She laughed quietly. Bruce raised a questioning brow. “I wonder just how much Fury hates me at the moment.” The amused twist to his lips told her that he’d figured it out as soon as she’d told him about how little contact she had had with Stark. “Probably not as much as he hates trying to get Tony Stark to play ball.”
He glanced down at the bench. “I don’t recall this being here before.”
“Jane and Alice have decided to turn the roof into a garden, complete with greenhouse. I’d told them I’d think about it. Buffy, Xander and Rogue took Jane shopping this morning and they arrived back carting this. Jane was practically daring me to say something.”
“She’s only known you about a week and already she’s taking lessons?”
Bruce shot her a wry grin which takes the sting from his words, “From the Cordelia Doyle school of negotiation, just go ahead and do it anyway.”
Well, when it was put like that...he had a point.
Silence fell again, more comfortably this time as they stared up at the stars.
After a while Bruce shifted and said quietly, “It might not be enough.”
She didn’t pretend not to know what he was talking about. “I know.” Angel in the suit only solved a part of the problem. “What changed your mind?”
He shrugged. “Couldn’t come up with anything else.”
“No,” he looked away from the starlit sky, to find her watching him closely. “I don’t trust Angel.”
She hadn’t expected him to.
“I do trust you.”
Suddenly she no longer felt cold. That was all she could ask.
“You really trust Angel to keep his mouth shut?”
She nodded. “Like Fort Knox.” Angel could be frustratingly closed mouthed, but as it worked in her—their—favour this time, she would refrain from saying anything to him.
"Then I'll trust that your faith in him isn't misplaced.”
She leaned her head against his shoulder and they stared up at the stars in silence—a rare moment of peace before plunging back into the chaos of their lives. It wouldn’t last of course, there was lots to do. Large sections of Gotham would need to be rebuilt, the mob was likely to try and take advantage, possibly hiring more vampires as muscle. There were going to be more helpless, hopeless and homeless to help now. At home things were changing as well, with Cordelia’s family suddenly growing, but then the best of her family had always been the ones she’d chosen, rather than the one she was genetically related to. Then there was the press, but maybe that wouldn’t quite be the horror story she had outlined to Bruce the other night. The main concern being that they would have to really sell the Bruce-Wayne-is-not-Batman story. The press may actually be useful in that regard.
But all of that was a concern for later.
For now there was peace, friendship and the stars. The rest could wait.