Chapter Two: Fire
Chapter 2: Fire
As it turned out, Jane wasn’t terribly difficult to find. From what Bruce had told her Cordelia had a pretty good idea of what part of the city she worked in, so she staked out the West Harlow Tri-Rail station until she’d seen her, then followed the younger woman at a discrete distance. She’d almost lost her a few times in the rush hour commuter traffic, but managed to keep her in sight until Jane ducked into a rundown warehouse near the China Docks.
When Cordelia approached the warehouse, dusk was falling and she could hear Jane arguing with a man inside.
“I’ve already paid you this month.” Jane’s voice carried a mixture of desperation and annoyance. “You’ll get your next payment next month, like we originally agreed.”
The male voice that replied was oily, and Cordelia took an instant dislike to the man. “The original agreement has changed, kid. Jimmi had to spend the other night taking care of the brat, so you owe us extra.”
“That wasn’t my fault! I was set upon by thugs! In your organisation’s territory I might add. Why should I keep paying you if it’s not going to give me protection?”
“You’re not paying us for protection, kid. You’re paying us to keep our mouths shut to Child Protective Services. And it’s a favour that we’re doing for you, but if you start causing us trouble, even this extra dough isn’t going to be enough to stop us cutting you loose.”
“Frankie, I’m not causing you trouble, so don’t threaten me, or I’ll go to your boss and tell him how you’re not keeping your word.”
Cordelia could hear the undercurrent of fear in Jane’s bravado, and Frankie’s earlier comment teased at her. She peered through a dirty window, squinting to make out the occupants in the fading light. A large man, whose whole demeanour screamed ‘born-to-be-a-thug’ was looming over Jane’s petite form, while a small child was hiding behind her. Dismay shot through her. Well, damn. Cordelia sighed. No wonder Jane had wanted to get away yesterday. Now she felt that she had no choice but to butt into Jane’s business.
Jane meanwhile was trying to glare Frankie into submission. She’d had a lousy day that had started with the vague notion that the stitches in her shoulder had become infected, continued with her being fired, and now meant she had to deal with Frankie shaking her down for money she didn’t have.
Frankie took no notice of her glare. He’d been an enforcer with the mob since graduating from stealing other student’s lunch money, very little intimidated him.
Jane fought back the urge to hit him. It wasn’t that she was worried about beating up Frankie so much as accidentally killing him. Her body had been doing all kinds of strange things lately, and Alice didn’t need to see that.
“Look, kid,” Frankie cajoled, in what he probably considered a reasonable tone. “Just pay us the money and we’ll continue to keep our mouth shut for now.”
Jane narrowed her eyes at him and her muscles tensed as her temper slipped its leash. Frankie was saved from ignominiously having the crap beaten out of him by a 5”5’ 80lb girl by the door banging open.
Jane started then froze as the woman from yesterday morning – Cordelia – stalked in like she owned the place. What was she doing here? How had she found her?
“Jane Green?” The woman asked in an officious tone, ignoring Frankie.
Frankie didn’t like being ignored. “Who are you?” he demanded.
Cordelia’s gaze remained steadily on Jane as she quickly flashed ID in Frankie’s direction. “Child Protective Services.”
Jane could feel Alice freezing in panic behind her as her own blood ran cold. What was Cordelia up to? She wasn’t CPS. Was she?
“Are you Jane Green?” Cordelia asked again and Jane nodded reluctantly. How had Cordelia found out her last name? Then she remembered the Drivers licence in her wallet. Damn. “We received a tip yesterday—”
“Look, lady, the kids are being taken care of,” Frankie cut in. “So you can just turn around and leave.”
Jane shot a surprised look at Frankie. Trying to be a hero and protect them from CPS? More likely trying to save his $500 a month, she thought cynically.
Cordelia’s voice was cool as a January blizzard. “Yes, so I’ve heard. Your friend Jimmi didn’t appreciate having to do any of the ‘looking after’ and called us.”
Frankie swore. Loudly and inventively.
“Watch your language!” Cordelia snapped as Jane hurriedly covered Alice’s ears. “Or leave.”
Frankie stepped towards Cordelia threateningly. Jane tensed and Alice gasped. Cordelia’s chin and eyebrow just lifted. “Please, I’ve seen scarier than you. Hell, I’ve dated
scarier than you.” Frankie made to grab her, but Cordelia moved faster and three seconds later Frankie was on the floor clutching his genitals. “Asshole,” she muttered, supreme disdain dripping from the two syllables.
It was sad considering how much trouble they were in right now, but Jane couldn’t help but enjoy the sight of Frankie writhing in pain. Alice let out a small giggle, before covering her mouth with her hand.
“I can teach you that later, if you want,” Cordelia offered with a small grin. Alice’s eyes widened and she looked at Jane questioningly.
“We’ll see.” Jane wasn’t about to commit to anything until she knew what the hell was going on.
Frankie climbed painfully to his feet and made his retreat, making vague threat of retribution on his way. Obviously $500 a month wasn’t enough to deal with being kneed in the balls.
“Good, now the little toadie’s gone,” Cordelia dropped the officious tone, “you two can pack your things, you’re coming home with me. Grab whatever you don’t want left behind.”
“No thanks,” Jane refused as politely as she could. “We’re fine.”
“No. You’re really not,” Cordelia contradicted. ”How long do you think it will take tall dark and thug-y to realise that his friend didn’t
call CPS, and come back? He probably won’t come alone, either. I know his type. Or what if he comes for ... uh what’s your name, sweetie?” she asked Alice. Alice considered her for a few moments before answering in a shy whisper. “Well it’s very nice to meet you, Alice,” then Cordelia returned to her point. “What if he comes for Alice when you’re not here? I probably don’t have to tell you what a horror show that could turn into.”
Jane winced. No, Cordelia didn’t need to paint a picture. Jane was well aware of the horrors that could be visited on the young and unprotected.
“Besides, I need to check your stitches. And we really do need to talk.”
“Stitches?” Alice asked, alarmed and stepping out from behind Jane. “Jane, are you hurt
?” Jane groaned. She hadn’t wanted Alice to worry, so hadn’t mentioned the injury. Besides she had thought that the wound would heal quickly, the last burn that she had gotten at work had been gone the next morning. But instead the wound now itched, and felt hot, and Alice was worried.
“I’m fine, poppet,” she assured her sister. “Really.”
Cordelia’s eyes narrowed momentarily. Then she appealed to Alice. “Alice, I’m going to need your help.”
“Me?” Alice was startled.
“Yes. You see, Jane was hurt the other night, and I had to put stitches into her, but they need to be taken care of. I don’t suppose you’d want to help convince Jane that you should both come with me so that we can take care of her, would you?”
“Alice,” Jane began warningly, “don’t you dare.” She didn’t need to be ganged up on. Blast the woman.
Alice just shot her the ‘You’re being stupid, and I’m ignoring you’ look. “You won’t hurt her?” she asked Cordelia.
Cordelia shook her head. “Absolutely not. We’ll check the stitches and make sure they’re ok. You can even watch. Then you can have dinner, and a bedroom all of your own if you want.”
“Dinner?” Alice’s eyes brightened. “Did Jane get that fruit from you?”
“Do you have vegetables?”
Cordelia looked surprised at the question, and Jane wanted the floor to open up. Anyone would think that Alice never ate properly, which wasn’t the case, Jane made sure of it as best she could, even if it meant that her own diet had consisted mainly of cold leftover burgers. “You like vegetables?” Alice nodded eagerly. “Even the green ones?” Alice nodded again. “Huh.”
“Jane doesn’t though,” Alice informed Cordelia as if imparting a state secret.
“Oh,” Cordelia glanced at Jane, “well that just means more for you then, doesn’t it.”
Alice turned to Jane and announced, “I say we go with her.”
“You have stitches, Jane. We need to take care of you.”
, Alice.” Resentment and frustration bubbled that Alice was arguing with her about this. It was her job to take care of her sister, dammit. Not the other way around.
“But you always take care of me when I’m hurt, why can’t I take care of you?”
“Because I’m older than you!”
“That’s a stupid reason.”
“I agree,” Cordelia cut in to add her two cents.
“I don’t,” Jane retorted, glaring at the older woman, then turned her attention back to her sister. “And I’m the one in charge of you, Alice.”
“Jane.” The hard note in Cordelia’s voice caught Jane’s attention and she swung around to face the woman. “I have no problems calling Child Protective Services if I think that Alice is in danger. And you not taking care of yourself won’t help Alice. So come with me. You won’t have to deal with the likes of Frankie, Alice will be safe, and we’ll see what we can do to avoid involving CPS, ok?”
“Please?” Alice begged, her hands clasped together under her chin.
Jane wavered. “Alice...” It all sounded so reasonable, but really the woman had just attempted blackmail. There was something about her that made Jane confused. Even thought she didn’t share her sisters skill of being able to size someone up almost immediately, instinct told her that Cordelia was on the level about both the offer to avoid involving CPS and also to call them if she thought Alice was in any danger. That kind of duality made her nervous. Rather like she was trying to hold a panther by its ears.
Cordelia’s cell phone rang and she excused herself and stepped away to answer it.
Jane took up the argument again. “Alice we don’t even know her.”
“I met her once
“And she tracked you down. Plus she handled Frankie—and I really want to learn how she did it.”
“I can teach you that
,” Jane said, resentful at her sister’s sudden admiration for a stranger.
“And,” Alice continued as if Jane hadn’t spoken, “she said I can have vegetables.”
“She did not,” Jane retorted.
Alice ignored her. “And you’re hurt.”
“Alice, really, I’m fine. What if she does call CPS? They’ll take you away.”
“You don’t know that. She already said she had no problem with doing that.”
“Only to get you to agree to go with her!” Alice was probably right. But still she wasn’t sure she wanted to take the risk. It would be much easier just to take Alice and disappear. She wasn’t that far off her 18th birthday. They really only had to hide until then. “Jane, please. I didn’t like it when you weren’t here and Jimmi stayed. I don’t want him to come back.”
“You said he didn’t hurt you,” Jane said accusingly, angry at herself that Alice had been made uncomfortable.
“He didn’t, but he’s icky and he gave me the creeps.”
Cordelia’s raised voice distracted them from their argument. “Why are you getting visions about me?” Both sisters looked over to where Cordelia was frowning into her cell. “If I’m in trouble why not send me the vision? It’d be faster.” There was silence for a few moments while the person on the other end of the phone spoke. Cordelia sighed. “Sadly enough, I do have some idea of what that means, Sam. I’ll call you back later once I’m home. Thanks.” She snapped the phone closed. “Ok, you two. Grab your stuff; we need to get out of here, now
“What’s wrong?” Jane demanded.
Cordelia brushed past them, headed for the corner they had a couple of old mattresses laid out. “You probably won’t believe me, but the building is about to catch fire.”
“How do you know that?”
“Jane, I promise I’ll explain later but right now we really don’t have time. Alice, where are your things?”
Alice showed Cordelia where her clothes were stored and Cordelia began shoving clothes into a school backpack. “Grab anything you don’t want left behind or destroyed,” she told the young girl. “Jane, that means you too. I’m not kidding.”
The urgency in Cordelia’s voice finally got Jane moving.
The smell of smoke reached them shortly after, while Jane was retrieving Alice’s stuffed bear, Fozzie, from where he’d fallen.
“Damn,” Cordelia muttered. “Time to go!” She herded Jane and Alice to the main door of the warehouse, and cautiously peered out. She jumped as a crash sounded from one of the old offices upstairs and heat billowed into the larger space below. “Looks clear, let’s move.”
Alice stuck close to Jane as they quickly left the building and began navigating their way out of the maze of warehouses that made up the area. Their retreat was made more difficult as more of the buildings, many with flammable cargo stored inside, caught fire. The flames were leaping quickly from building to building and taking hold with a preternatural rapidity. Flaming debris and exploding glass tumbled into the streets. Cordelia was calling 911 on her cell when movement caught Jane’s attention.
She glanced down an alleyway to see a disfigured man standing facing the entrance to a warehouse that Jane knew was in constant use. Fire engulfed him, pouring from his hands towards the warehouse. Jane stopped dead.
“What?” Cordelia turned back to her to see what had caused her to stop.
Jane just breathed, “What the hell?”
Cordelia followed her gaze. “Oh. Not. Good.” She pulled on Jane’s arm, “We need to go before it sees us.”
As if alerted by Cordelia’s words the figure turned to them.
“Jane, let’s go!” Alice squeaked in panic.
Jane pulled Alice closer to her and they slowly backed away, the slow retreat turning into something faster as the figure began to stalk towards them, and the flickering light from the fire illuminated a hideously scarred face, a bald head and...horns?
Cordelia moved to put herself between Jane and Alice and the ...monster. It paused, its head cocking as it examined them as Cordelia frantically dug through her tote. She extracted a pistol crossbow, swiftly snapped the arms into place, cocked the weapon, aimed and fired.
The figure stumbled backwards, clutching at its shoulder, and howling in pain.
“Move,” Cordelia ordered, pushing Jane and Alice in front of her, away from the injured figure. She cocked the crossbow again and kept it trained on the figure as they dodged the flying broken glass, flaming rubble and the intense heat heading out of the warehouse district. The fire engines closed in with alarms wailing just after Cordelia had let off the second bolt. In the confusion they slipped away and headed for the Tri-Rail station. None were in the mood to answer questions just then.
Cordelia had called Sam to let the Winchester’s know that she was ok while Jane was putting Alice to bed. Not before Alice had extracted promises of vegetables for the next day before allowing herself to be tucked in. As Cordelia hadn’t been in a mood to cook they’d ordered Chinese, but Alice refused to recognise Singapore noodles as having any meaningful vegetable component.
When Jane returned to the kitchen, she finally allowed Cordelia to check the stitches. The angry red skin surrounding the sutures concerned her a little. Infection wasn’t good, even with slayer healing. She cleaned the wound again and applied an antiseptic cream, before turning her attention to the minor burns that Jane had suffered from burning embers. Alice had been fortunate enough to escape injury, which relieved her greatly.
“I’ll make an appointment with my doctor Erin for you tomorrow,” she told Jane. “You’re probably going to need antibiotics. And you’re probably due for a check up.”
Jane suppressed a yawn then grimaced. “I don’t like doctors.”
“Yeah well, I don’t like slime, but I still have to deal with it.”
Jane pulled her top back down and turned to face Cordelia as Cordelia re-packed the first aid kit. “Why do you carry a crossbow? What is this, the Middle Ages? And what was the ID that you flashed Frankie? ”
“I just flashed him my PI license. Really quickly. As to the other questions...” Cordelia wondered how much she should say right now. She knew that Jane had questions. That as a Slayer it really was in her best interest to be fully informed, but still; “There are things out there that I deal with where the crossbow is particularly good weapon,” she hedged. “I won’t go into detail tonight. I only want to explain it once, and I’d rather you were alert enough to process it.”
It was probably a testament to how tired Jane was that she only gave a token protest.
“How long have you and Alice been on your own?” Cordelia asked quietly after a few moments, dreading the answer.
Jane was silent long enough that Cordelia began to doubt if she was going to answer. Then Jane sighed, “’Bout fourteen months.”
Well that wasn’t as bad as she’d feared. That meant that Jane had been a little over sixteen at the time. “Are either of you going to school?”
“Alice is. I made sure she kept going after our parents died. She’s in third grade.”
“No. Until today I worked at a Burger King in West Harlow.”
“That must have been difficult. Especially with Frankie fleecing you,” Cordelia commented neutrally. “Is there any family that’s going to be looking for you?”
“No,” Jane said, yawning again. Cordelia sensed that, while she wasn’t lying, she wasn’t telling her everything either. There would be time to draw the full story out of the girl later. “We’ll talk more in the morning then. You should probably head to bed as well. You look dead on your feet.”
Jane nodded agreement, and began to leave, before pausing at the door. “Cordelia?”
The hesitant word sounded as if it had been pulled kicking and screaming out of the girl, so Cordelia returned the tired smile. “You’re welcome.”
Once she was sure that Jane and Alice were both in bed, Cordelia headed downstairs and called Alfred from her office to let him know what had happened. She needed to speak to Bruce, but calling him at this time of night wouldn’t be a wise thing to do unless she was about to be horribly killed. The last thing he needed was her distracting him mid-fight.
She was surprised when she heard a familiar tread on the stairs less than twenty minutes later, while she’s trawling through the databases trying to figure out what kind of demon they’d run into earlier.
“You really need to start using the front door like a normal person,” she told him, looking up from the computer screen. As soon as she saw him, she knew why he had come in from the roof—he was in the batsuit.
“Alfred called and told me what happened. Are you all right?” The emotion in his voice is difficult to pick when he used that voice, but she thought she detected concern and worry.
“I’m fine,” she reassured him, suddenly very aware that she still smelled of smoke despite her earlier shower. “Tired and slightly singed, but fine. Mostly I’m just trying not to think too hard about what might have happened to Jane and Alice if I hadn’t been there.” It made her sick to her stomach to picture burned bodies being removed from the area because they’d gotten trapped in the flames.
He regarded her for a moment, as if he was trying to decide whether or not to believe her. Apparently he decided that yes, she was actually fine—or as close to it as she was likely to get under current circumstances—and sat stiffly on the sofa opposite her desk, his posture in the suit distinctly different from the relaxed and loose semi-sprawl he managed during his non-nocturnal visits. “Alice?” he asked, frowning.
“Jane’s little sister,” she explained. ”She seems to be a sweet kid—despite her strange obsession with vegetables. Jane’s been taking care of Alice on her own for more than a year while a creep by the name of Frankie tried to bleed her dry.”
He paused then asked, “You’re speaking metaphorically?”
“Yeah, of course.”
“Considering your normal prey, it’s worth clarifying.”
“Yeah, well. If you run into this creep or his friend Jimmi, feel free to beat the crap out of him, ok?” There was no real heat to the request, although she wouldn’t be sorry if it was fulfilled.
“I’ll keep my eyes open,” he replied dryly. “Although, you don’t seem particularly angry about it.”
“Oh, I’m plenty angry about it,” she assured him, “but I’ve already gotten some knee action in, so he’s probably not too comfortable right now. It’s taken the edge off of my desire to grind his bones to make my bread. Besides, we’ve got bigger problems. I think we ran into what’s been starting the fires in Liberty.”
“What’s?” He caught her word choice. “A demon?”
“Yeah. And not one I’m familiar with either.”
He frowned. Again. It was almost a permanent expression while in the suit. “Why would a demon be setting fires?”
“Why does anyone set fires? Money, thrills, likes flame, who knows? Besides, it’s not that it sets fires so much as is
fire. Fire engulfs it and pours off this thing.”
“The fire brigade is having problems containing this one,” he said distractedly as he mulled the information over. “It’s spread to Prosper and 5th streets. In the north they’re hoping to stop it at Third Avenue. All the flammables stored in some of those warehouses are making things more difficult.”
“The fact that it’d be a miracle if even half of them were up to code probably isn’t helping, either,” she noted, sighing. “There’s really no pattern to the fires?”
“Other than they’re all starting at the docks? Nothing that I’ve been able to detect,” he confirmed. “There’s nothing in the financials. No common owners, tenants, banks or insurance companies. And I’ve yet to hear of anyone interested in buying or developing the area. The only other commonality is that both areas are pretty much controlled by the mob.”
“Do you think that the Mob is the target?”
“If they are it’s a very indiscriminate way to target them. They control the area, but barely half of the property actually belongs to any of the families. And I don’t think it’s a faction war, it’s not one family affected then another, its all of them at once. Not one of them escaped some sort of loss.”
“It wouldn’t be the first time that the mob hired someone they couldn’t control,” she pointed out quietly, not wanting to prod too much as the memory of the Joker episode. She may not be the queen of tact, but that didn’t mean that she was completely insensitive. Or maybe it was just that she had actually learnt some diplomacy from Toby. Ghahhh, what a terrible thought.
“No, it wouldn’t,” he agreed, and she could almost see his mood blackening. “But from what I’ve been picking up, something has them spooked.”
Cordelia raised a brow.
“Other than me,” he clarified, sounding disgruntled at the idea. “I heard a name tonight, but it doesn’t mean anything to me. Maybe you or Gray might have heard of him. Azazel?”
Cordelia felt like ice sheeted over her. Azazel? That was impossible. Scary to contemplate and impossible. The memory of a dying demon muttering Azazel’s name months ago flared in her memory. She’d discounted the vague threats as a demon who hadn’t paid enough attention to the grapevine. But what if she’d been wrong? Could Azazel have survived whatever it was that Sam and Dean had done to him?
“He’s a demon. A powerful one. But he’s dead, or was supposed to be,” she explained, frowning in concentration. Something was wrong. She’d known that Azazel had been a major threat from her time in the higher planes, but the gossip hadn’t given her any information about his methods. Once his name had come up during their time travelling together Dean and Sam had filled her in on Azazel’s MO. Azazel didn’t take demonic form, he possessed people. What she had seen tonight would only pass as human to a blind person. What the hell was going on? Just how much involvement in the demon world did the mob have? Using vampires as muscle was one thing. Attracting the attention of Azazel—if it was
Azazel— was another.
“Do you know what this Azazel is after?”
She shook her head. “Not with the mob. And normally?” She shook her head. “I’d need to talk to Sam and Dean first. They’d have a better idea than me.”
“At least we know more than before. Will you tell Gordon?”
“I’ll call him in the morning.” Having the Batman filling Gordon in on supernatural events wouldn’t be a good idea. She liked Jim Gordon, but spending time in an interrogation room with him wasn’t her idea of fun. “Not that he’ll be able to do anything, but at least he’ll have a better idea of what we’re dealing with.” She glanced at the computer screen. The search results remained frustratingly empty. Either Riley and David had screwed up when designing the database and search, or the demon was something that they hadn’t encountered before. Since she trusted both Riley and David to have gotten it right—despite their arguments over the best way to code things—she was inclined to believe the latter; Which was downright frightening, when she considered the sheer amount of information the database contained about demons.
They had bought the Demons, Demons, Demons
database after the company that had owned it previously had filed for bankruptcy. Then they had added a lot of information from the Halliwell’s Book of Shadows, the contents of John Winchesters journals, and every detail anyone who would talk to them could remember from every demon, spirit and supernatural related thing they’d ever fought. Bobby Singer was also in the process of entering the information from his very extensive library into it as well. It may not have been as extensive as the IWC’s library of musty tomes, but it was still enough to make any watcher drool.
She frowned and her teeth worried at her lower lip. “So, what’s your next step?”
“See if I can shake any more information out of the mob. I’ll also keep trying to pick up a money trail. If they did hire him, the money has to be coming from somewhere.”
Following the money would be difficult—assuming that there was anything to follow. They were only guessing that the mob was actually involved.
“I’ll see if I can find out what type of demon it is. That may give us a clue as to what it’s doing here, and why.”
He nodded and stood. He hesitated before leaning over to slide a gloved finger down her cheek. “Do me a favour and be careful.”
“You too,” She retorted, more worried about him. She didn’t like it when he was injured doing his normal thing, if he was hurt during this it would be worse. “Unless you’ve become fireproof, if you run into it, keep your distance.”
Sleep refused to come as her mind kept going over possibilities. Around 5am she gave up in frustration and made her way back down to the office so as not to disturb Jane and Alice. She called Spike, but only got his voicemail, so she left a message for him to call her. She’d need to go over Jane’s options as a Slayer with someone from the IWC, and she’d prefer to deal with Spike rather than explain her resurrection to the Scoobies.
It was still too early to call Jim Gordon, Jo, Dean and Sam or any of her contacts that may have access to information to identify the demon, so she posted a request on the message board and crossed her fingers that someone who worked with Oracle Investigations had the information she needed. That done she tried to put the demon out of her mind and buried herself in Doyle-Oracle case work.
The rattle of keys outside the door dragged her attention away from the background checks and reports some time later. She glanced at the clock on the wall. Ten minutes to Eight O’Clock.
“You’re early,” she commented as Gray entered, carrying coffee.
“I wanted to get the Brookside background checks finished early,” he said, shrugging out of his jacket. “They want the reports by noon.”
“I’ve done a most of them—I couldn’t sleep.”
“I wasn’t going to say anything, but you do look a little like death on a Trisket,” he told her, a small smirk curving his lips, examining her with a concerned eye.
That was one of the things she liked about Gray, he had no problem teasing her. Her lips quirked and sarcasm came to the fore. “Aren’t you a charmer this morning?”
“Well, I checked my payslip.”
She grinned. “You’re about to hit me up for a raise, aren’t you?”
“I seem to have already gotten one, but I won’t say no to another.”
“It was worth a shot.” He grinned. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. You’ve earned it,” she told him. And boy had he.
Lynne Gray was in his early fifties. He’d been forced into retirement from the Chicago PD after being shot on duty had lead to him walking with a pronounced limp and a loss of dexterity in his right hand. He’d moved to Gotham after retirement to be closer to his eldest daughter, who had just given birth to her first child. Jim Gordon had recommended him when she had started to get desperate for a good investigator after Doyle-Oracle had started to take off. She still remembered the first words Gray said to her; “Call me Gray, I don’t answer to Lynne.”
He was a talented investigator, cool headed and even tempered, and had only freaked out a little when she’d explained about the vampires, demons and things that went bump in the night. He’d also taken her on faith and hadn’t demanded a demonstration. Over the last year he had taken on an increasing workload as they’d become more successful and she’d been distracted by recruiting and helping set up the other offices.
The situation with them being short-staffed had been eased by the various Hunters who had spent time at Doyle-Oracle recuperating, training or just taking a break from the hunt, but still, Gray had shouldered the majority of the casework with little complaint. A raise was the least she could do, now that she was finally in a position to give him one.
Thank God for David Nabbitt. He had shouldered much of the first year costs – including the ever increasing health insurance premiums for the freelancers – with barely a flicker of an eye. That’s not to say he had thrown money at her. She had had to justify each expense that had come out of his purse. He was generous and a little naive; he wasn’t stupid or a fool. Last month she had finally been able to take over paying the last of the ongoing costs associated with the freelancers, meaning that now she just needed to harass David for advice rather than money. For the day-to-day stuff, at least.
Doyle-Oracle itself was finally showing enough profit that she could also afford to hire more people. The difficulty lay in finding the right
people. Her luck with stumbling over people she could badger into joining up and helping out couldn’t continue. The people that she had stumbled over rarely lived in Gotham in any case.
“Any luck with finding Jane?” Gray asked, switching on his computer.
“Tracked her down last night,” she confirmed and explained what had happened. “They’re asleep at the moment. I’ll let them sleep in as long as I can.”
“Explaining all of this to them could send them running again,” Gray cautioned.
explaining it, could send them running.” She could remember all too clearly her discomfort and confusion at having things hidden from her after she had returned from her little trip to the higher planes. “And as a Slayer, Jane would be a target. If she doesn’t want to stay here, fine. But I’m going to do my best to make sure she and Alice are as safe as I can make them first.”
He nodded. As a father he was familiar with the sentiment, and he didn’t like the idea of Jane on the street either, especially with a young child in tow. “So what’s on for today?”
“I’m making calls and being Research Girl, for the most part,” she said, sighing. “We really need to find out what this demon is up to, and I’m not a fan of a confrontation until I know more about it.”
“What about the girls?”
“Besides doing the whole vampire and demon spiel, I’m taking them to Erin. Jane will need antibiotics. And some shopping is going to be in order. They’ll need clothes, and we’ll need more groceries.”
“Add coffee supplies to your list. We’re almost out,” he told her, and they turned their attention to work.
Cordelia had made nine phone calls by the time she woke Jane and Alice. She wasn’t in the best of moods; Spike still hasn’t gotten back to her, Bobby and Leo Wyatt both didn’t have any information, Dean and Sam are somewhat panicked and her body was demanding that she sleep, now
. She ignored it and made herself an espresso as she waited for Jane and Alice to drag themselves out of bed. They stumbled into the kitchen, stretching and yawning. While they helped themselves to Cherios and juice she debated the best way to do this. She had promised to explain today, but wasn’t sure how to broach the subject when her audience included a seven year-old.
She examined them while they ate. They were obviously related. Both had the same dark hair and dark eyes. Alice had a healthier weight to her than Jane, though both were on the short side. If she hadn’t already known, she would have guessed that they were a little younger than they really were. After breakfast Jane sat back, her jaw setting in a way that Cordelia recognised meant that she’s waiting for the explanations she was promised yesterday. Alice copied the pose, and was Cordelia’s lack of tact that prevailed and she just blurted it out.
Alice is obviously enchanted by the idea, but Cordelia isn’t sure if she understands, or just thinks that it’s some sort of fantasy story where her sister gets to be the hero.
Jane’s reaction wasn’t what she expected either. She didn’t question the existence of vampires or demons. “Slayer? Are you sure you don’t mean, Mutant?” she asks hesitantly, stopping Cordelia in her tracks. It honestly wasn’t something that Cordelia had considered and she can’t help but wonder why not. Maybe she was a little too demon focused.
“It’s possible,” she admitted. “But tell me, have you had any odd dreams lately? Heard any disembodied voices asking you if you’re ready to be strong?”
Jane’s expression changes at the question. “Just after Mom and Dad died,” she said in a small voice, and Cordelia wants to curse. It was great timing, just when Jane must have been vulnerable and desperate and trying to be strong for her sister.
“That’s the clincher. You’re a Slayer, not Mutant. You’ve been worried about the Mutant thing?” she asks and Jane nods. “As far as Mutant powers go, getting the Slayer ones would be pretty cool.”
“Even if I have a target painted on my back now?”
“That is a downside, yes,” she admitted. “But believe me some mutants have it much worse. I’ll introduce you to Rogue when she visits next.”
Jane considered that. “So what happens now?”
“You have a few options to consider. I’ve contacted a friend who works with the IWC and other Slayers. They’ll probably want to talk to you. There are things that you’re going to need to know that I can’t help with. They’ll probably give you a few options. For my part, you’re welcome to stay here. I really, really, really
don’t want you going out after dark on your own. That will change later, but until you’ve had some training, that’s rule number one.”
“What are the other rules?” Alice asked, her eyes wide.
“Hmm, let me think. Never invite anyone into your home.” That was a no brainer, but how to formalise the rules that had been formed more by experience and habit than being taken from a rule book? Although, perhaps actually writing a rule book might be a good idea. Basic Rules for Dealing with Demons. Volume 1.
They could make it the official handbook for OSI. “If you get covered in demon slime, wash it off as soon as possible. It’s hard to get out of clothing, but impossible to get out of carpets.” She’d discovered that the hard way. “If you can take a demon out from a distance, do so. Getting beat up to prove how tough you are is stupid.” Another one she had learned the hard way. Once she no longer had Angel around to provide the muscle, she’d had to get smarter about her hunting. Although she still preferred a crossbow to a handgun or shotgun. “Where possible, always take back-up. Things will inevitable go bad. It’s a bit like life in general. You have your good days, and your bad days, and the days that suck beyond belief.” Oh god, now she was getting philosophical. More coffee was obviously required. She made herself another espresso whilst continuing. “Oh, and rule number one for the IWC is ‘Don’t die.’ I have to admit that I’m a fan of that one.”
“It sounds pretty good to me too,” Jane agreed. “What about house rules?”
That was more difficult. She hadn’t really lived with anyone other than Dennis, whom she missed fiercely, and hadn’t ever really been in charge of a child before. Connor as a baby didn’t count because he hadn’t been capable of answering back when she was changing his diapers, and later—before her ascension—she’d really had no say over him. She could use the rules she imposed on Spike when he stayed, but ‘No drugs, No parties, No biting and take your bimbos elsewhere’ might not go down so well.
“How about, you keep your rooms tidy, put your dirty clothes in the laundry, and do exactly what I say if we’re under attack?” It’s all that she can come up with on the spur of the moment that doesn’t sound so dictatorial as to be ridiculous.
Jane and Alice exchanged looks. Jane shrugged. “Seems fair.”
“And the rest... the rest we’ll take one day at a time.”