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World On Fire

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This story is No. 3 in the series "Life After". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: Cutting off the monster's head doesn't always kill the monster. Sometimes, it just pisses it off. Gotham's going up in flames, rumour has it Azazel's in town and an enemy thought vanquished has returned. It's a not so ordinary week for Cordelia and Bruce.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
DC Universe > Batman
Multiple Crossings > Cordelia-Centered
KylieLFR131060,07672010,07426 Jan 1016 Feb 10Yes

Chapter One: Slayer


Fan Fic,Life After

*_*_*_*

Chapter 1 : Slayer

She ran.

It had been like this for a few weeks now.

Whenever she went out, she could sense them in the shadows—waiting, ready to pounce and shred her to pieces.

The scent of anticipation hung in the air, causing chills to skitter down her spine.  A low growl emanated from the dark shadows that obscured the subway entrance to the monorail. The sounds of her footsteps echoes as she slowed then stopped. Discomfort, heavy and aching, shot through her stomach. She turned.

And ran.

*_*_*

It was the frantic footfalls echoing through the night that caught his attention.  Blending into the shadows, he followed the sound to its source; a young woman, moving with stunning speed, with three men hot on her heels.  A few more moments allowed him to take in more detail, the most important detail being that at least one of the woman’s pursuers was a vampire.

He slid a wooden throwing knife from his utility belt, quickly judged the motion and speed of his target and released the weapon with a flick of his wrist.  His target burst into a shower of dust and ash just as he stepped off the building.

There was a snap of fabric as his cape extended, catching air and slowing his descent to something a little less bone shattering. He landed heavily, knees bending deeply to cushion himself from the shock. He moved smoothly and explosively into a run, moving to intercept the remaining two pursuers. He strongly suspected that they too were vampires, but as they weren’t in what Cordelia called “grr” face he couldn’t be sure, which necessitated using other tactics for the moment.

With a smooth practised motion, he un-holstered the grappling gun, paused a moment to aim, then squeezed the trigger. The line shot out and tangled around the legs of one of the nearest pursuer, who hit the pavement with a sickening thud, but not the normal grunt or violent exhalation of air.

That was confirmation enough.

A quick thrust a few seconds later and the vampire disintegrated to dust.

A high, panicked scream split the night then was cut short. The last pursuer had the woman pinned in the doorway of an abandoned shop front. The woman was struggling with desperation, but little skill. It wouldn’t work for long. Another flick of his wrist and it was over.

Leaving a young woman, traumatised and in shock.

*_*_*

She stared wildly at the spot where her attacker had just crumbled to dust.

Oh. God. It was real. They were real. This was her nightmares made flesh.

Movement caught her eye, distracting her before the horrors of her nightmares could take complete hold of her, only to have a different nightmare emerge from the darkness.

The Batman.

Oh. God. Ohgodohgodohgod.

“Are you all right?”

The low growl sent shivers down her spine.  She found herself nodding frantically without conscious thought. She pressed further into the doorway, trying to draw the shadows around her.

Away. She had to get away. “Uh-huh. Sure. N-no p-problem.” Now her teeth were chattering. Was it cold? She wasn’t cold was she?

Something wet was sliding down her arm.

Oh god, the Batman was going to kill her. Alice...

“Do you—”

She shook her head as the roaring in her ears drowned out the rest of what he said.  He took a step towards her, and she tried to take a step back, her feet tangling as the door at her back stopped her retreat, a doorknob digging into her shoulder. Pain bloomed then darkness took over.

*_*_*

It was a scream of frustration that woke her up.

Jane struggled for a few moments, trying to place where she was. The bed beneath her was softer than the mattress she normally slept on, there was no peeling paint on the wall and the sound of the silence was all wrong. This wasn’t her place. Panic sliced through her. Alice, where was Alice?

She rolled out of bed and pain stabbed her in the shoulder blade, causing her to groan. She took a couple of deep breaths and the pain receded.  She noted that someone had changed her into a pair of sweats that were a couple of sizes too large. Where was she?

Cautiously she opened the door to the bedroom. The hallway was empty, but she could hear a muffled female voice, which sounded like it was coming from downstairs. As she made her way downstairs the voice became clearer.

“—I hated having to be nice to these people! Diplomacy sucks!”

“That’s probably why you’re so bad at it,” a male voice noted distractedly.

“Thank god for Toby,” came the heartfelt mutter

“You owe him a bonus you know. Especially considering how often you made his job harder.”

“I know—” The woman broke off when she noticed Jane standing hesitantly at the bottom of the stairs. “Oh, hi. How are you feeling?”

“Hi,” Jane replied cautiously, giving a small wave. “I’m fine. Could someone fill me in on where I am?”

“Sure,” the woman agreed easily, “you’re at Doyle-Oracle Investigations in East City Park. I’m Cordelia,” the woman told her then pointed at an older man with greying hair who was tapping away on a laptop, “This is Gray.”

Gray shot her a quick smile and murmured hello before returning his attention to the laptop screen.

Jane cautiously shook the hand Cordelia held out to her. “Jane.”

“Is there a last name?”

“No,” Jane replied quickly. “Just Jane,” Jane replied quickly.

Cordelia gave a small tight smile. “Ok. Just Jane then. Feel up to breakfast?”

Jane’s stomach growled at the thought of food, and she nodded. “Um, yeah, I could eat.”

“Kitchen’s upstairs.” Cordelia said, leading the way.

After a bowl of cereal, toast and juice, Jane was feeling pleasantly full, and somewhat guilty that Alice wouldn’t be eating this well. Cordelia saw her eying the fruit bowl.

“Go ahead, take whatever you want.”

 Jane quickly grabbed a couple of apples and a banana before Cordelia could change her mind. “Thanks,” she muttered.

“You’re welcome. I don’t suppose you’d mind telling me how you ended up here?”

Jane blinked. Cordelia didn’t know? Then who had changed Jane into the sweats? She thought back to what she could remember of last night. “I was on my way home from work. Uh...there was, err...” How much could she safely say without ending up in Arkham? What would Cordelia believe? “There were muggers, and then...” Remembered terror flowed through her veins. “The Batman. He was there and then...it’s a blank until this morning.”

“Ok.” Cordelia was watching her thoughtfully. “Can you remember anything about the muggers?”

Other than one had a deformed face? She thought, but refrained from saying it out loud.“No. I was too busy running for my life.”

Cordelia considered her silently for a moment and Jane fought the urge to squirm. “You’re lying through your teeth,” Cordelia said, finally. “But it’s ok.”

Silence fell. “Where are my clothes?” Jane asked when she couldn’t take the silence anymore.

“In the dryer,” Cordelia told her. “They should be finished soon, but I want to take a look at your stitches before I let you go.”

“Stitches?” Jane asked, confused.

“In your shoulder,” Cordelia explained and indicated for Jane to turn around. “You had a rather nasty gash when we brought you in. It needed stitches.” Jane spun, and leaned forward, awkwardly pulling the sweatshirt up to her neck. She flinched at the first gentle touch, as Cordelia changed the dressing. It had been a long time since anyone other than Alice had touched her without intending harm.

“Ok, that looks ok.” Cordelia pulled the sweater back down. “You’ll need to keep it clean, and be careful not to rip the stitches. If you come back in a couple of days I can take them out for you, or you can go to your doctor.”

Not that Jane could afford a doctor, and coming back here could just be inviting more problems than she needed. She would have to sort something else out. Maybe one of the girls at work would be willing to unstitch her. Not that she was going to tell Cordelia that. She flashed a tight smile. “Thanks.”

Cordelia went to retrieve Jane’s clothes, and Jane took the opportunity to take a few more pieces of fruit. Alice would love these. Alice loved anything that wasn’t the cold burgers that Jane brought home from work. She was the only 7 year old that Jane knew that preferred fresh food to fast food. Unfortunately her budget couldn’t always stretch far enough to satiate Alicee’s appetite.

Cordelia returned, and handed Jane a neatly folded pile of clothes. Jane hugged the still warm clothes to her chest and went back to ‘her’ room to change. When she returned to the 70’s style kitchen, Cordelia was pouring coffee.

“Want some?” she offered Jane a cup.

Jane shook her head. “No thanks, I don’t drink coffee.”

The older women shrugged. “Ok.”

“Look—”

“Jane, could I—” They verbally tripped over each other. Cordelia indicated for Jane to go first.

“Thanks for...you know, the shoulder. And breakfast. But I really have to go.”

“I kind of got that,” Cordelia said. “Look, Jane could I get you to come back tomorrow? I’d like to keep an eye on your stitches. And I think that we might need to talk.”

Oh. No, no, no, no. This Jane doesn’t need. A do-gooder type that would contact social services is that very last thing that Jane needs right now, but she’s not about to antagonise the woman who stitched her up and fed her in the woman’s own house. “Sure.” Cordelia doesn’t look convinced, but handed Jane her purse and a calico bag that contains the pieces of fruit that Jane had appropriated earlier.

The bag felt a little heavy, and she checked the bag and noticed that Cordelia has added more to it. She felt her face flush red with mortification, but she’s not about to let her pride get in the way of decent food for Alice, so she thanked Cordelia and got the hell out of there. She had to get home to Alice.

*_*_*

“She was awfully young,” Gray commented as Cordelia descended the stairs to the office. “Do you think she’s a runaway?”

“Probably,” Cordelia agreed, “amongst other things.”

Gray eyed the door that Jane had just disappeared through then considered his boss. He’d worked with her for fourteen months. In that time he’d come to consider her a friend, but there were things he didn’t know about Cordelia Doyle.  He knew that she was attractive, intelligent—but tended to hide it—and that there was something driving her. She would on occasion drop details about her past, but direct questions usually elicited a flip and evasive answer. He had also come to recognise the look she got when she wasn’t about to let something go. “Are you going after her?”

“If she doesn’t show up tomorrow, I will.”

“Is this likely to take up a significant chunk of your time?” he asked, mentally assessing the cases they currently had. They weren’t overly busy at the moment, thankfully.

“It might, she admitted, “I suppose it depends on how freaked out she’s going to get.”

His boss was planning on full disclosure? “Are you sure that telling the girl about the supernatural is a good idea?” Gray knew that the knowledge wasn’t something everyone handled well.  “She seems to be doing ok living oblivious.”

“Yeah, I’d prefer to keep her in the dark too, but I don’t think that it’s going to be an option.”

Gray looked at her questioningly.

“I think she might be a Slayer,” she explained.

“Oh.” Gray didn’t like that idea. He had been informed about the Slayers when he had first started at Doyle-Oracle and had been uncomfortable with them from the first. The idea that some higher power turned children into warriors against their will just was abhorrent to him.

Cordelia agreed, “Yeah. Oh.”

“Well,” Gray said, pushing aside his disquiet at the idea of the young woman who had disappeared through their door being called on to take up arms. “If we’re going to be dealing with a Slayer, it might be a good idea to knock over as much of our current workload as we can before we have to start chasing her down.”

Cordelia groaned. “Gaah. That means I’ll have to catch up on the paperwork.” Not that she had anyone to blame but herself. She was the one that insisted that everyone working for OSI send reports on their hunts. Those on top of the normal bookwork for Doyle-Oracle and the additional paperwork for OSI, usually meant that she had a pile of papers on her desk.

Gray gave a short chuckle. Cordelia’s complaints about the never ending flow of paper work were legendary within OSI. “I keep telling you we should hire an office manager.”

“Hey, if you can find us an office manager who won’t freak out at the weird and the demon slime, then I’ll hire ‘em.”

“It is a tall order,” he agreed.

“I do actually know someone,” she admitted. “But I couldn’t get them to leave their current job at Mode.”

That surprised him. For more than just the fact that Cordelia had failed to talk or badger the person into doing what Cordelia wanted. “You think someone from a fashion magazine could handle our craziness?”

“Oh, believe me, Betty could handle it,” she assured him. She grinned impishly at him. “What I’m more curious about though, is how you know that Mode is a fashion magazine.”

“I have two daughters, remember?”

“Well, yes,” she admitted. “That would explain it.”

For the rest of the day they tried to wrap up their current workload. Cordelia sequestered herself in her office, between answering phone calls, forcing herself to plough through the pile of reports and the backlog of paperwork that had accrued on her desk whilst she had been in Washington. Gray finalised reports for the cases they’d completed and checked out leads on a few open cases. There was still a pile of reports left when Cordelia finally called it a night a couple of hours after closing, and Cordelia had to admit that they really did have to hire more permanent staff rather than rely on the parade of injured hunters that trickled through.

She was disappointed, but not surprised, when Jane didn’t show up the next day. She’d had some experience with runaways during the three years she had spent travelling before settling in Gotham. Well, it was time to chase the girl down.

She’d start with a cactus.

*_*_*_*

Cordelia rang the doorbell and leaned against the solid frame of the front entrance to Wayne manor. While she waited, she stepped back to examine the front facade. She had to admit it was more tasteful than her parents’ old mansion back in Sunnydale. And the workmanship was top notch—not that she’d expect anything else from people working for Bruce Wayne, but still, the crispness of the finish was extraordinary. She groaned when she realised that he had noticed such details. How sad was it that she was noticing things like this? She’d obviously spent too many months battling tradesmen while refurbishing the office.

“Cordelia,” Alfred greeted her with a please smile as he opened the door. “It’s lovely to see you.”

“Hello Alfred,” she said, giving the older man a quick hug. “All finished with the moving in yet?”

Alfred led the way through the house. “There are still a few boxes to unpack,” he told her. “I’ll be glad when everything is finally done.”

“I can imagine,” she said. “Moving isn’t one of my favourite activities, either.”

“And yet, you spent the better part of three years as a nomad,” Bruce observed as he joined them in the kitchen.

“That wasn’t moving. The suitcase was never fully unpacked. My definition of moving requires boxes,” she told him. “And you’re a fine one to talk. You were a nomad for seven.”

She placed the small box that she’d brought with her on the bench top.

“That’s not something else for us to unpack, is it?” Alfred asked, eyeing the box with resignation. Just when he thought he had located them all, another one turned up.

“No,” Cordelia said, shaking her head. “It’s bad manners to show up at someone’s house when they’ve just moved in and not bring gifts.”

“That kind of box I don’t mind unpacking,” Alfred said with a smile, opening the box flaps and peering inside. He looked back up at Cordelia quizzically. “Cake and cacti?”

“Cactus as a housewarming gift is something of a tradition amongst my friends,” she explained, a nostalgic smile curving her lips as Bruce reached cautiously for a pot that contained a cactus that had extraordinarily vicious looking spines.

“It is?” he asked as he tentatively tested one of the plants spiny points.

“Yep.”

“Well, then thank you, Cordelia.”

She grinned, and shared an amused glance with Alfred. Obviously Bruce wasn’t quite sure what to make of the plants. Or maybe it was just the fact that she was giving him plants that had him bemused. After all, the man had a perfectly good greenhouse out the back. It was about the only thing that had survived the fire.

Alfred offered her coffee, which she accepted gratefully, and the three of them made small talk over caffeine and cake, before she pitched in to help Bruce unpack books in the library.

She surveyed the room appreciatively. The room was well lit and comfortable, reminding her rather strongly of her apartment in LA.

Longing shot through her at the thought of her apartment at the Pearson Arms. She missed Dennis. She hoped that the new tenants were treating him ok. She banished the melancholy that threatened to set up camp, and glanced at the boxes stacked around the room. “Were you able to salvage all of these from the fire?” she asked, opening the nearest box and peering into it curiously.

“No,” Bruce replied, delving into an already open carton. “It was a total loss after the fire, although the greenhouse survived intact. I’ve been...collecting since then, you could say.”

She hefted a large hardbound tome out of the box. “Huh,” she said, reading the title engraved on the spine. The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine. She carefully flicked through the pages. The book was full of old maps. Weird, old, maps. “These would be a little out of date now, wouldn’t they?”

“That’s a replacement for one that was destroyed in the fire,” he told her, taking the atlas.

“The insurance company must have had a fit.” She’d been around enough old and dusty tomes to recognize a valuable one when she saw it.

 He grinned and nodded, “This is in a better condition than the one that was lost. My Great-Grandfather had bought it. He had an interest in geography and was in shipping, so charts and maps were his area of interest. I remember sneaking into the library as a child, and spending hours just leafing through them. The maps fascinated me. They were so different to modern ones. The differences in the way that the same places were represented I found fascinating.”

Psychology through cartography – apparently he had always been interested in what made people tick. She can’t help feeling pleased at the genuine smile on his face as he reminisces. It’s not something that she’s seen a lot of recently. Normally he’s so...serious. Or he’s in his Playboy guise, which was irritating more than anything else. And since Rachel Dawes’ death he’s been grimmer than normal, so it’s nice to see him starting to smile again.

He gently places the atlas with some other old tomes on a shelf. “Although, I probably should have saved the collecting until we moved back in.” He pulled a face and stretched. “It would have been easier on the back.”

Cordelia laughed. She didn’t bother mentioning that he could have gotten the movers to do the un-packing of these, as they had with most of the furniture, but she understood his need to control the details of his life too well for that. “Well that’s what I’m here for.”

Bruce turned the radio on, and they worked in companionable silence, shelving the books – including more old atlas’ – and other odds and ends that were to be displayed. The news was announcing that there was another fire down near the Liberty docks when the last carton was finally emptied.

“That’s the sixth one in two weeks,” Cordelia remarked absently, crushing the box.

“The fire service thinks that it’s arson,” Bruce said, sliding the last book in place.

“I heard. Gray has a friend on the arson squad that he’s been talking to. Apparently they’re having problems determining the... oh what did he call it? ... ignition source.” “You haven’t heard anything through your own sources?” he asked curiously.

“No.” She thought about the last few patrols she had done.  “Although there are a lot of jumpy demons out there at the moment. You?”

He shook his head. “No. I’m still looking into it.

“Let me know if you need any help?”

He nodded. “You’ll let me know if you hear anything.”

“Of course,” she assured him, feeling somewhat offended that he thought she wouldn’t. She turned the radio off and they made their way back through to the front of the house and she turned her mind to her other reason for coming. “Bruce, about the girl that you brought me—Jane—where did you run into her?”

“West Harlow, I think she was headed for the tri-rail station before she was attacked. Why do you ask?”

“She hasn’t come back so I can check her stitches,” she replied distractedly, busy locating West Harlow on her mental map of Gotham. “And the address on her ID is for Gotham Stadium, so I’m going to have to track her down.”

“How did the DMV not catch that as a false address?” he asked in surprise. “Or is the ID faked?”

“No, it’s real.” Cordelia had seen plenty of fake ID’s in the last few years, many that she had actually owned, she had gotten good at telling the difference. “Maybe they didn’t know the address of the stadium. If I hadn’t looked it up, I wouldn’t have known the address. It’s a landmark, people just know where it is.”

“Do you need any help finding her?”

She considered if for a moment. “Not at the moment. I don’t think having Batman locate her would do much for her mental state at the moment, considering how frightened of him you said she was.”

“Good point,” he admitted, remembering just how panicked the girl had become after the vampires had been dealt with. When they reached Cordelia’s Civic, he leaned against the hood. “What are you doing on Saturday?”

“Reading reports, probably,” she replied dryly. “There seems to be a never ending supply. Then I was planning on doing a patrol through the Haysville area of town. Why do you ask?”

“There’s a charity fundraiser for the Children’s hospital on at the Hilton, would you like to go?”

She stared at him in surprise. “You’re asking me? I thought that Hilda...Heidi...uh—”

“Hannah,” He supplied.

“—Right, Hannah was your date for that thing.”

“She was, but her sister is getting married in Miami on Saturday, so she can’t go.”

“Oh—well, ok.” She agreed, bemused. “I have my own invite, but since Erin wasn’t going to be able to make it I hadn’t been planning on actually attending.” Erin had also warned her about one of the organisers and that coupled with the weariness that had been a constant companion for the last couple of weeks and the pile of reports she still had left on her desk meant that she had decided to skip this particular benefit. But if Bruce needed the help... She tilted her head and shot him a teasing glance. “Do you need me to go full Valley girl for the occasion?”

“No, I think you can safely be yourself,” he told her, his lips quirking.

She nodded in agreement. “Ok. Good to know.”



He watched as the Civic pulled away and smiled slightly.

What he was doing may not be particularly wise. Not with the attention he attracted and the low profile she was trying to keep, but despite the cover that the models and dancers gave him, he had found himself increasingly reluctant to play the role of the playboy.

Rachel’s death and the lengths he’d gone to in pursuit of the Joker had forced him to reassess his life over the past few months. The idea that Batman was going to be someone who could be retired in a few months or years had been exposed as a fantasy in the light of the Joker’s reign of chaos. Batman was here to stay, which meant that he had to rethink his future.  

He hadn’t said anything to Alfred, but then Alfred was very sharp and knew Bruce well. Bruce had detected the occasional disappointment from Alfred and knew that he’d worked it out, but wasn’t about to abandon him to do this alone. Nothing short of death would get Alfred uninvolved, he’d just calmly ignore any of Bruce’s attempts to distance Alfred from his alter-ego, and continue as he was. Cordelia would also simply ignore him if he tried to distance her from this, but she’d be more...in his face about it. She’d probably call him a dumbass again, amongst other things. The frustrated ‘Dumbass’ she’d called him after returning from Harvey Dent’s memorial had stuck in his head, repeating every time he did something...rash.

In reality he didn’t want to distance himself from Cordelia.  She called it as she saw it and made no bones about telling him what she thought to his face. She had no problems with the fact that he spent most of his nights in body armour on Gotham’s streets, or the fact that what he was doing wasn’t legal and she didn’t get weird about the fact that he was wealthy – despite her odd ability to always tell who had the most cash on them and which pocket they had their money clip in. She had a different perspective to either Lucius or Alfred, and he had come to count on her as a sounding board, a friend.

Maybe more than a friend, but he hadn’t made up his mind about pursuing her.

He hadn’t approached his relationship with Rachel with any particular subtlety on his return to Gotham, and after she had found out about his being Batman, things had gotten slightly awkward. It hadn’t been fair of him to expect her to wait for him, to put her life on hold. As much as she’d cared about him, he knew that she wasn’t comfortable with what he was doing. He’d put her in a position he shouldn’t have. And he’d gotten her killed.

While he knew that those concerns weren’t an issue with Cordelia – or at least were less of an issue – he didn’t want awkwardness to colour their relationship, didn’t want to lose their friendship.  So he had to decide if the potential gain was worth the risk, or if they were better of keeping things as they were.

Another consideration was that she was trying to keep something of a low profile, and being seen with him would certainly draw a lot of attention to her. It had already started. They’d gone to the Gotham Business Bureau’s annual dinner together last month, after their respective date’s had cancelled at the last minute, and the next Monday a picture of them had appeared in one of the women’s tabloids, speculating as to her identity.

He liked that she had taken it in her stride rather quickly, other than her being annoyed that after all of the smoozing she had done that they still couldn’t be bothered to ask someone to find out who she was. She was practical – she couldn’t change it, so she’d dealt with it. But whether or not she could continue to deal with it was another matter. Especially if it started to escalate and started effecting her work.

So, taking it slow and seeing what developed was pretty much his plan at this stage. Less direct than he would have preferred, but there was a higher chance of it not blowing up in his face.

Beyond that he needed to find a way to keep both Alfred and Cordelia ganging up on him.

His mental snort sounded suspiciously like Cordelia, with Alfred stating in that tone ‘Of course Master Bruce’.

He’d have a better chance of sprouting wings and flying to the moon.



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