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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
KylieLFR131060,0767209,74926 Jan 1016 Feb 10Yes

Chapter Three: Research


Fan Fic,Life After


Chapter Three: Research

The next two days are an exercise in futility on the demon front.

Bruce has had no luck with following the money trail. It’s looking increasingly like the mob hadn’t repeated their error with the Joker. With another fire blazing on mob controlled territory, it also appears that they may be the target of the fires.

For her part, she was starting to go slightly crazy with worry. Spike still hadn’t returned her call, despite her attempting to call him again. Bobby had come up empty after trawling through his library to be sure that they hadn’t missed anything, and there has been no useful response to her query on the bulletin board. She had done a couple of quick patrols, and the mood in the city is uneasy. The human population are concerned by the fires. The demon population are concerned with something else. There is a vague anticipatory feel about the mood, but most of her contacts can’t or won’t, tell her why, and the community elders are staying very closed lipped.

“They’re not talking to me,” she had frustratedly vented to Bruce, during one of their night time rooftop powwows. “At least, not about this. I know that some of them are uneasy with hunters using Gotham as a kind of Grand Central Station, but for them to clam up like this worries me.”

In the end a Pedaque demon called Joy had shared the rumour that Azazel might be in the city. “Generally it’s being kept to the elders, we don’t want to start a panic. But still, how long do they think they can keep it quiet? Honestly!”

Despite Joy’s disapproval at the way the community elders were handling things and her willingness to speak with Cordelia, it wasn’t something that Cordelia hadn’t already been aware of, and she got the distinct feeling that Joy knew more she wasn’t about to disclose.

On the home front things were going smoothly for the moment. Jane and Alice had had some kind of discussion—or argument that Jane may have lost—and had decided to stay. They’d settled on the story that Cordelia was their paternal Aunt, who had only just heard about the death of her brother and his wife. So far no one had questioned it. Jane and Alice were settling in surprisingly well, and on their best behaviour, although Cordelia was anticipating the first rebellion. She had too many memories of herself at their ages to believe that the good behaviour will continue indefinitely. She had to suppress the sudden urge to lock Jane in her room when she remembered exactly what she herself got up to at the age of seventeen.

 Alice has returned to school, her absence explained as illness when Cordelia has spoken to her teacher. Jane had been restless the first day, and Cordelia had found her checking the help wanted section of the Gotham Gazette the next morning. Right now Cordelia preferred to keep Jane close, so she had directed her down to the offices and asked her to help with the filing and answering phones.

Jane had been vastly entertained when Gray had informed her that the reason that there was so much filing to be done was because Gray had banned Cordelia from doing it.

“Why?” she had asked, a puzzled frown on her face.

“Because her brain works in incomprehensible ways,” Gray had muttered. “When I first started here I found the Anderson file, under ‘P’ instead of ‘A’.”

“For possession.” Cordelia explained then turned to Jane. “I’m not allowed to file because other people need to be able to find the files.”

Jane had thought it as funny as hell.

Saturday—the third day—is shaping up to be just as frustrating. The previous night a shipment of books that Cordelia had bought at an estate sale the last time she’d been in New York had finally been delivered, so this morning an impromptu research party has formed to see if they contain any pertinent information.

Alfred was helping out, having come over for their normal Saturday morning breakfast and found himself being volunteered. Bruce avoided the exercise by virtue of having an early business meeting, so she couldn’t badger him into helping. She can’t help wondering if he got enough sleep to be able to concentrate on the meeting, or if this was going to be another one he slept through.

They were gathered around the large table in what was charitably called the conference room, but in actuality is just a space they use when they need to spread things out.

Alice was on the computer in Cordelia’s office, engrossed in a computer game, while Jane was being introduced to the reality of demon research.

Most of it isn’t in English.

There are a few books in English, translations from the original, but most are in Latin. There are also a few in what looks like Arabic, which Cordelia made a note to get translated.

As it was the Latin was giving her a headache.

Jane examined one of the books, squinting at the letters that ran together. “Are your eyes supposed to bleed when you do this?” she asked, rubbing her eyes. “Did they never hear of punctuation? Or putting a space between words?”

Cordelia could remember having a similar reaction when she’d first started learning. She still did sometimes. “You should see some of the demonic languages if you think Latin’s bad.”

“It probably wouldn’t be quite so bad if most of the letters didn’t look the same.”

“Oddly enough, that you get used to.” Jane stared at her in disbelief. Cordelia smiled. “It takes a little while, but once you’ve learned what each letter looks like in the script it gets easier, and you can start picking out where the words break.”

Jane looked at the text again. “I don’t think I’ll ever learn that.”

Alfred chuckled, flipping pages. “You would be surprised what you can learn when you have to, Miss Jane. When I was your age I would never have thought I’d learn Burmese.”

“You speak Burmese?” That came as a surprise. Latin, Cordelia rather expected considering the era that Alfred would have gone to school in England. A European language like French or Spanish wouldn’t have been a surprise either. But Burmese was very out of the norm.

“Some friends and I worked in Burma for awhile. Speaking the language made things a little easier.”

Jane placed the Latin book back into the crate, and instead took one of the English books.

A pounding on the door interrupted their procrastination. Cordelia checked the time in reflex as she went to answer it. The office didn’t actually open on Saturdays so the blind was drawn over the door. It swung wildly as she threw the door open.

“We’re clo—Sam?” She stared up at Sam Winchester in surprise.

“Sorry it took so long for us to get here, we had to wrap up a job in Phoenix first,” he apologised. “Dean’s parking the Impala.”

“Ah—” she was having trouble getting her brain to start working again. She hadn’t been expecting the Winchester brothers to come back to Gotham so soon, especially not from the other side of the country.

“Don’t look so surprised, princess,” Dean said as he entered, sliding his keys into his pocket. “If there is even the slightest chance that this thing you’re dealing with is Azazel, of course we’d help.”

Right. She should have expected this really. Neither Winchester was the type to leave their friends hanging. Seeing as how it seemed to involve the demon that had tormented their family for decades, of course they’d want to be involved.

She led the way to the conference room.

Alfred had already met Dean and Sam, so Cordelia introduced them to Jane and Alice and explained what they’d been able to infer so far.

Dean made a beeline for the coffee pot whilst Sam pulled up a chair and reached for a book from the crate and read the title. “Tobin’s Spirit Guide.” He flipped to the publishing information. “Second edition?” He whistled his appreciation. “Where did you get this?”

“A deceased estate auction in New York. I suspect that the dead guy might have been a former Watcher. He had a lot of weird, rare and dusty stuff.”

“Or he might just have been really obsessed with the supernatural,” Dean commented.

“You mean, like us?”

“I wouldn’t call you obsessed,” Alfred said charitably with a smile. “Call it ‘being interested in the history and abilities of those you deal with’ instead.”

“See?” Dean said to Sam. “I told you we’re not obsessed. We’re—what he said.”

Sam just shook his head and returned his attention to the books, but Cordelia could see he was suppressing a smile.

They still hadn’t found anything pertinent an hour later when there was another round of banging on the door.

“I’m going to have to install a doorbell,” Cordelia muttered as Dean went to answer it. She glanced through the doorway to her office at Alice who was—judging from the sounds coming from her office—still engrossed in her game. Jane was frowning at an illustration of a victim of an Ajator. Jane had kept becoming distracted by the pictures and descriptions of the demons in the books—not that Cordelia blamed her. She could well recall becoming distracted herself, back in the day. Still did on some of the more gruesome ones. Woodcut artists apparently loved gore.

At least they were getting through the crate.

“This is a familiar sight,” a male voice commented and shock made her blood freeze in her veins. She knew that voice, even if she hadn’t heard it in years.

Slowly she turned to meet the man’s gaze; “Xander.”

*_*_*_*

When Spike had called him from Georgia – the country not the state – to beg a favour the last—the very last—thing he’d expected was Cordelia Chase.

He’d been saddened to hear of her death and had mourned her as a friend who had deserved better than to die in a coma after being possessed.

But death was a fact of life, especially of their lives, no matter how much they worked to reduce them. Other than the un-dead amongst them only Buffy seemed to be able to cheat death.

“I’m not going to be able to get away from here for at least a week,” Spike had said. “I’ve got a friend in Gotham that’s identified a Slayer. The kid’s going to need to know her options.”

Xander had been in Bath at the time, having just gotten back from spending six months in Egypt, was desperately in need of some downtime and he really hadn’t wanted to face an eight hour flight for a standard meet and greet when Faith was in Cleveland and so much closer. Spike had vetoed the idea immediately. “No. That wouldn’t end well.” Then he’d dropped the bombshell. “I like Faith, but she and Glow Brite don’t exactly get on. I’ve no desire to face the wrath of Cordelia Chase if this is handled badly.”

Just the mention of her name had been enough to shock him into immobility, his mind blanking. Beyond the news of her death, Cordelia had not been mentioned by name for some time. He had tried to get more information about what had happened out of Angel, but Deadboy had clammed up tighter than the proverbial clam and refused to discuss it. What little he did know was filtered through the grapevine. The only consistent story emerging from the various versions involved Cordy being possessed by a big bad and lapsing into a coma, never to awaken.

Spike continued oblivious to—or ignoring—Xander’s shocked silence. “Besides, you’re the only one of ‘em I can trust to keep his mouth shut to the others. And the only one she won’t stake me for sending in my place.”

Xander had still been stuck on the possibility that Cordelia was still alive to catch the obscured compliment. “Cordelia?

“Yeah,” Spike confirmed impatiently. “You know, the cheerleader you cheated on in high school.”

The comment was ignored as he focused on the issue at hand. “Cordelia—but—but how?”

Spike sighed over the international connection. “You’ll have to ask her that, she’s always been a bit vague on the details. Now, will you do it, or do I need to tell her to do her best with a Mini Slayer on her own?”

Xander’s brain was still catching up with his mouth. “Why me? Angel would probably be thrilled to see her.”

“She doesn’t want to see him.”

Wait. What? “I thought they were friends?”

“More than friends, based on what I saw at Wolfram and Hart,” Spike confirmed.

“Well, what the hell happened to her?” he demanded. “The Cordelia I know wasn’t afraid of telling anyone exactly what she thought of them. Good or bad—I should know!”

“She’s not ready to deal with Angel yet. You’d have to ask her if you want more details. Now will you do it?”

“How long have you—”

“Whelp this is an international call from Rustavi and I don’t have all day. I just need a bloody answer. If you have questions, go to Gotham and speak to her.”

Xander’s mind finally caught up and he considered the implications of her reluctance to speak to any of them. He mentally calculated how long it would take to get to Gotham. “Ok. What’s the address?”

He’d been on a plane five hours later.

*_*_*_*_*

He studied the shocked woman in front of him. Her long hair was pulled back into a low ponytail. Small lines had formed around her eyes in the years since he’d last seen her. Something in her eyes spoke of immense loss and she looked tired.

She looked wonderful.

Until she blanched.

“Spike?” she asked fearfully.

He shook his head, confused. “Xander. I know it’s been a while Cordy, but honestly, I don’t look a thing like—” Then he got it. Geez, she cared about the bleached wonder. How had that happened? “Oh. No. Spike’s fine. He’s just stuck in Rustavi for another week or two, so he called me.” She let out a relieved sigh then raised a brow at him. He noted a small silvery scar running down from the brow just on the outside edge of her right eye. “What? You’d rather he called Buffy?” he teased. The horrified look that passed over her face was all the answer he needed.

A choked cough came from behind him. “Who names their kid Buffy?” He ignored the question from the guy who’d let him in. He’d heard it before, and he wasn’t going to get into the whole mutant naming thing Joyce must have had going on at the time she named her eldest daughter.

“Research party?” he asked, eyeing the stacks of books on the table. All these old books and not a Watcher in sight, that was different.

“Yeah.” Monosyllabic Cordy was new. And very un-Cordy like.

The guy who’d let him in—he really needed to find out these people’s names—moved to place himself between Xander and Cordelia, while the other two men moved imperceptibly closer to her. The teenager—the Mini Slayer he assumed—was eyeing him warily.

The protective gestures surprised him, why would they think she’d need protection from him? He’d already told the guy who’d answered the door that Spike had sent him.

“Cordy? Are you ok?” he asked, trying to prod her out of her shock.

“Fine.”

She was still monosyllabic Cordy, so she wasn’t fine. The older man must have reached the same conclusion as he reached out and touched her shoulder. She shot him a reassuring smile that was as fake as Pam Anderson’s breasts. The man standing between him and Cordy started glaring at him and Xander sighed, exasperated.

“Oh for crying out loud! I’m not here to hurt anyone! If I was I would never have gotten in the front door. Not with those wards!”

He suddenly found himself the centre of attention.

“’Those wards,’” the younger man seated at the table said in an odd voice, “don’t stop humans from entering. Just spirits and demons.”

Xander blinked. They didn’t know what wards they had on the place? “Sure,” he agreed, nodding. “The basic ones do that. The others stop anyone with intent to harm from entering. Including humans.”

All heads swivelled to look at Cordelia.

“You can do that?” the Mini Slayer asked incredulously.

The question seemed to snap Cordelia from her shock. “What? Oh, no I can’t. I had some Furies lay the wards before I moved in. Although making an exception for Spike was a bitch– What?” she asked as she noticed the look on the younger men’s faces. “This is Gotham, it pays to be careful. Besides, demons and spirits aren’t the only things that can be evil you know. Humans can be just as awful.”

“Well said,” the older man agreed.

The Mini Slayer just looked thoughtful.

“I need to speak to Xander in private for a few minutes,” she excused herself, standing. “Just keep going, I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

Then she dragged him into an empty office. She flicked a switch and the glass in the semi glassed  wall went opaque.

“Cool.”

“Xander—”

He interrupted before she could start yelling at him; he recognised the tone. “Seriously Cordelia, are you ok? You kinda went into shock back there.”

“Yeah, well Spike didn’t warn me that he was sending someone else,” she snapped. “In fact he hasn’t called at all since I called him—three days ago—and I was worried. But no worries, apparently he’s fine, just interfering!”

“Of course he is. It’s Spike.” That seemed to cool her ire and she seemed to deflate. “It was a hell of a shock when he told me you were still alive, Cordy. Angel had told us you had died.”

“I did.”

He felt a chill run through him. “What happened?” he asked quietly.

She debated how to answer. She could be glib, or she could tell him the truth. Or part of it. Of all of the Scoobies, Xander was the one that only one that she could tell the truth to and not be subjected to pity or have what happened be blown out of proportion or minimised. It might even be therapeutic to talk about it. Sophie Friedman had been fantastic, but she hadn’t really gotten it—perhaps not even believed it—because she didn’t have the understanding of growing up on the Hellmouth.

“It took a while for the PTB’s to decide what to do with me,” she said finally settling on telling a condensed version; some things she really wasn’t ready to talk about. “Finally I’d had enough of the waiting room, so I made a deal so that I could get the hell out of purgatory.”

“Deals like that usually come with a gotcha, in my experience,” he commented. “What was involved in the deal?”

“I had to continue the fight, forevermore be an agent of the Powers – still part demon so the visions don’t kill me, but without a Champion. Beyond that, you don’t need to know.”  If she quits, she goes back to being dead, but that was something she had readily accepted, and not something she needs to tell him.  Not that she had needed the threat of death acting as a stick. She hadn’t been able to walk away from this since the vision coma after at the end of her first year in LA.

“Wow. Part demon? We really need to keep in touch more.”

Of all the things for him to latch onto. “Well it was a choice between part demon or dead Cordy. I kinda like being alive, but the decision had consequences that I won’t go into right now. But the big plus was it wasn’t a vision that killed me.”

“Why not let us know?” he asked. “That you were alive, I mean.”

“Does it matter?” She flopped down onto the sofa. “I can imagine that there was a bit of a party when you were told. Ding-dong the bitch is dead.” She can’t stop bitterness colouring her words, which she knows is misplaced, because that isn’t what she’s bitter about.

“That’s unfair, Cordy.” Xander frowned at her. “No-one celebrated.”

She knew that. She did. Despite her more uncharitable moments and opinions about Buffy and co, she knew that they weren’t usually deliberately mean. “But no-one other than the guys in LA cared really. And I was ok with that. What I’m not ok with,” her voice gained in strength and volume, “is you refusing to help Angel and the crew when Fred was—” she broke off, swallowing past the lump in her throat. “—dying.”

After the work she had put in getting Angel back on track, for the Scoobies to have pronounced judgement in that way had made her angry. Watching her friends die while she was powerless to do anything had infuriated her beyond belief. The resulting storm was probably what had brought the PTBs to the negotiation table so that they could get rid of her.

“Not one of our better decisions,” he admitted. “But from what we could see, Angel had fallen to the dark side, we weren’t about to risk our people.”

“Yeah, well I have a few issues to deal with in relation to Angel as well,” she muttered.

“Is that why you haven’t contacted him?”

“Partly.”

“Only partly?”

She sighed. “It’s one of the terms of the agreement. I no longer have a Champion. Angel’s involvement with the PTBs was under review at the time, so they made it a condition that I not contact him for a year. After that it depended on the outcome of the review.”

“How long have you been back?”

“A little over four years.”

“Four?” he yelped in astonishment. She could see him working out the math. “Cordelia, why the hell—”

“Xander, I have my reasons, ok?” She wasn’t going to get into her issues with Angel with Xander. They glared at each other for a few minutes before Xander blinked first.

“Fine,” he huffed, put out. “But how did you and Spike end up so friendly? And how long has he known that you’ve been alive?”

“He’s known since not long after I was resurrected, and we weren’t friends at first. When I first ran into him I damn near staked him.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

*_*_*_*_*

She’d been tracking a vampire through the nightclub scene of Sacramento. It had been a difficult job as it kept giving her the slip in the crowded clubs. Waiting for it to come out into the opening wasn’t working, she had decided that she’d have to stake him amongst the crowd of the club and hope that the crush of people covered up the dusting rather than waiting for him to leave and risk losing him again.

She had waited until the vampire was distracted, his whole attention focused on the young woman he was dancing with, then she’d pushed her way through the crowd, dusted him and turned to retreat, only to crash directly into a male figure. It had taken her a moment to identify Spike, who went as still as a statue. He had looked down to where her stake was trapped between them, pressed pointy end against his chest. She had barely been able to hear him over the loud music.

“Bloody Hell,” he cursed. “Watch what you’re doing with that.”

Considering that the last time they’d met Spike had bitten her, she rather liked where the stake was. Of all the people to run into, it just had to be Spike. Damn. She wouldn’t be able to appeal to his better nature not to run and tell Angel she was alive because she wasn’t sure he had a better nature—at least not when it came to Angel. “Spike,” she greeted neutrally.

“You’re supposed to be dead.”

“So are you.” As comebacks went, it wasn’t great, but she’d only been resurrected a month ago and was still having problems with the pithy comments.

“Yes, but you were cremated. Peaches didn’t want to take any chances that The Senior Partners had done something to you.”

She knows that playing devil’s advocate right now is a really bad idea, but she can’t stop herself. “Who says they didn’t?” His gaze darts to her neck. “Don’t even think about it,” she advised, pressing the stake more firmly against his chest. She really, really didn’t want a repeat of him trying to taste if she was evil.

He met her gaze challengingly. “You think you could stop me?”

Not without resorting to her powers, no, not if he got serious about it. But this isn’t the first time she’s bluffed a vampire. She let her mouth curl into a taunting smile. “You don’t think I was left unprotected when my Champion went off the reservation do you? The Powers may not have foreseen Jasmine’s interference in my life, but they did want to make sure I wouldn’t be helpless if there was a repeat of the Darla debacle.”

He narrowed his eyes at her. “Angel never mentioned anything.”

Angel had barely mentioned her at all—something that she had found annoying in the extreme at the time. Now it worked in her favour. “Who says that Angel knew?” She knew it was believable because she knew her Champion—at times he was hopelessly clueless, and ridiculously tight lipped.

He glanced over her shoulder to where the vamp she had dusted had stood. “You dusted my informant,” he told her, annoyed.

“Not my problem,” she said, coolly. “I get a vision telling me to dust, I dust.” And after seeing some of what this vamp had done, it’d been a pleasure to do so.  “Maybe you should get a better class of informant.”

“He had information about the death of a couple of Mini Slayers.”

Yeah, she bet he did, but that isn’t what caught her immediate attention. “Spike, did you finally tell Buffy that you were back in the land of the un-dead? I bet that would have been a meeting to see.”

He scowled at her. “No. Peaches was contacted by the IWC. I had nothing better to do, so I said I’d look into it.”

“Hmm. Well, maybe we can come to an arrangement,” she offered.

“What kind of arrangement?” he asked suspiciously.

“I can tell you who killed your Mini Slayers; and where to find him. In exchange...”

“What?”

She smiled a dangerous smile. “In exchange you tell no one you saw me.”

“That’s it?”

She can almost see the wheels turning behind his eyes. “That it,” she confirmed. “Although I’d best close a few loopholes first,” she added, knowing that he was considering the angles and how to get around it. Eventually he’d want to tell Angel, just to torment him. “I give you the information you need and you in no way communicate to anyone that you have seen, heard, smelled, touched, or tasted me,” her eyes narrowed as she threw in the last sense just to cover all bases, “or that you have heard or seen so much as a whisper of a rumour that I’m back.”

“Very thorough,” he complimented sourly, as a commotion started across the other side of the dance floor. Cordelia briefly glanced over to the ruckus. Illyria. She’d have to hurry this up. She may be able to negotiate with Spike, but that wasn’t an option with the Old One inhabiting Fred’s body.

“Do we have a deal?” she prompted.

“Deal,” he finally agreed reluctantly.

The crowd thinned and she stepped away from him. “The who and the where? Your informant. He’s dust on the dance floor.” 

Then she disappeared into the crowd before he could react.

*_*_*_*

“So how did you end up friends?” Xander asked with an amused grin.

“He nursed me through a bout of pneumonia.”

Xander laughed. “Spike? A nurse?” he spluttered.

“His bedside manner sucked. But then so did my doctor’s.”

*_*_*_*_*

The major downside to having been declared dead was the loss of her legal identity. It limited her employment possibilities to small businesses that didn’t require a background check or social security number. The fact that she had no references and had spent the previous year moving around a lot further narrowed her options, so for the moment she pretty much had a choice between waitressing or bartending. Here in New Jersey she was employed as a barmaid, complete with a rather humiliating costume.

She really shouldn’t have been working that night, not with a bout of walking pneumonia, but she’d been robbed the previous week and couldn’t afford to take the time off if she still wanted a roof over her head.

She’d coughed and wheezed her way through the first half of her shift when a familiar face walked in. She’s suppressed a groan. Just her luck. The doctor she’d copped when she went to the free clinic at Princeton-Plainsboro was about to become a customer. The man was abrasive, dismissive, arrogant and an asshole. It was a hell of an impression to make in less than two minutes.

“Scotch,” he ordered, leaning his cane against the bar in front on him, and dropping into an empty stool. “On the rocks.”

She poured his order and placed it on the bar in front of him. “Five dollars,” she’d advised, and coughed.  It was probably the cough that got his eyes off the low neckline of the costume and onto her face.

He recognised her, worse luck. “You’re supposed to be at home in bed, not making the rest of us suffer listening to you cough.”

“Yeah, well if I want to be able to afford those antibiotics you prescribed, I have to work,” she’d advised him shortly. “So quit bitching and pay me the five dollars for your drink.”

He’d paid up, but hadn’t kept his mouth shut, alternatively hitting on her and insulting her. If she had been feeling better she probably would have found it stimulating—he was good with an insult and it would have been a challenge—but she was in no mood to engage him, so other than fixing his drinks and taking his money, she had dealt with him by ignoring him. She should have known he’d take it as a challenge.

During her coffee break she’d escaped, stepping outside into the side alley for some fresh air and some peace and quiet.

Only to be attacked by a demon.

Her head impacted with the brick wall of the bar, leaving her seeing stars. She struggled, but in her weakened condition she may as well have saved her strength. She felt the familiar pressure build within her, releasing in a brilliant flare, moments after the demon howled in pain and reared back, releasing her. She fell to the concrete as the light dissipated leaving her exhausted and staring dazedly up at a vamped out Spike, who had been largely protected by the demon.

“When did you become a limelight?” he demanded, blinking rapidly.

“Hello to you too, Spike,” she returned, acidly once she’d caught her breath.

“What the hell was that?” A voice demanded, derailing the pending bickering.

Cordelia raised her head to find the source of the voice, although she had a sinking feeling she already knew who it was. Sure enough, at the mouth of the alley, leaning against his cane, was her tormentor. He was staring in horrified fascination at the now dead demon sprawled out on the pavement. He hadn’t appeared to have noticed that Spike was in grr face, at least not until he had shifted back into his human visage.

“And what was that with your face?”

Spike had looked questioningly at her. Well if she had to suffer... “Don’t look at me,” she’d wheezed. “I didn’t bring him out here.”

“You did, actually,” House contradicted as he limped into the alley to get a closer look. “I knew you’d be doing something idiotic like going outside on a cold night dressed like that while your respiratory system is compromised. I wanted to make sure that an ambulance wasn’t going to be necessary.” He looked her up and down. “Although,” he said, smirking. “I appreciate the view.”

She glanced down. The skirt of the dress had flipped up so that she was showing the world her underwear. Thank god it was clean. She flipped the skirt back down and clambered unsteadily to her feet, glaring at the two men. “You could have told me!” she hissed accusingly to Spike.

He shrugged. “I’ve only just gotten my vision back from the light show, besides, the view was rather spectacular.” He leered at her. “Does Peaches know you wear G-Strings?”

“Perverts, both of you.”

House stumped towards her and grasped her chin. Before she could react he had one of his hands running through her hair.

“Hey!” she protested and shoved him back, only to be rewarded for her outrage by a spasm of coughing that left her gasping for breath. When she could concentrate on something other than her breathing—or lack thereof—and her aching abdominal muscles again, she could hear Spike and House discussing her like she wasn’t there.

“—Pneumonia. And probably a concussion as well, now. She has quite a lump on the back of her head.”

“She need a hospital?”

“No she doesn’t,” she snapped. She didn’t have insurance at the moment, she couldn’t afford hospital.
They ignored her.

“Not if she rests, keeps warm and fills the prescription that’s in her purse. She should be fine then, although the cut near her eye will need to be taped.”

She swiped at where she felt the wet slide of liquid down her face. Blood. Great. Another coughing fit had her gasping and clutching her stomach.

Spike had taken the opportunity to bundle her up in his coat and get her to his DeSoto before she could protest—or even really catch her breath.

“Right, Glow Brite, where do you live?”

She had tried to tell him where to go—and not in the giving directions sense—but only started coughing again.

“Right, well you should probably avoid talking for a while then.” He’d gone back to the bar to retrieve her purse. He dug through it until he found her—fake—license. “God, what kind of hack did you get this from?”

She’d glared at him, but avoided speaking. It wasn’t worth the pain at this stage.

After stopping at a drugstore to fill the prescription, he’d taken her home, where she’d reluctantly invited him in and been rewarded by another coughing fit for her trouble. He’d gotten a pill into her and her into bed then made himself comfortable on her couch—in itself a minor miracle because it was the most uncomfortable thing she’d ever sat on.

The next morning she was awoken by a banging on the door. Her head was feeling woolly, and she still ached in the chest and stomach when she stumbled into the living room to open the door.

House pushed his way into the apartment.

“How did you—”

“I got your address from the hospital records,” he interrupted. He glared at a groggily bemused Spike. “Now why don’t you tell me what that...thing was last night?”

“Mutant,” Spike responded glibly, “on a rampage.” As explanations went at least it was better than ‘angry puppy’.

House had scoffed. “Mutants are human. That thing doesn’t have a human bone in its body, and the blood test results are insane.”

It was the one time she’d been glad to be sick. She had the perfect excuse to go back to bed and leave House to torment Spike with questions.

*_*_*_*

“That sounded like it might have been cruel and unusual punishment.”

“That’s what I had thought,” she agreed. “But when I woke up that night they were drinking together and sharing stories about the oddest and most disgusting cases.”

“And after that you became friends?”

“With Spike, not with House,” she clarified. “I’m not sure anyone’s friends with House, he’d make it impossible he’s so broken inside. But you know, after being spoon fed when things got worse before the antibiotics kicked in, I was feeling a little better disposed towards Spike, and he kinda grew on me. After that we kept in touch.” There was more to it, but she wasn’t going to try and explain the Christmas serenade tradition or the frustrated and drunken phone calls or the times she’d had to call him to get help with dealing with a vision.

“How long have you been in Gotham?”

“Just short of two years.”

“Have you seen the Batman?” he asked curiously. Almost like he was torn between admiration and ... dread?

She shook her head, exasperated. “I should have known that you would ask that.”

“What? You live in a city with a resident vigilante. I can’t be curious?”

She used the official line to avoid answering the question. “You are aware that he’s a wanted criminal, right?”

“Is that a no? That’s a no isn’t it? Ok. So...” He sobered. “Let’s get down to business then. Your Slayer.”

“Her name is Jane.”

“Jane, right. What’s her situation?”

Cordelia explained, including what she knew about Jane’s history.

“Is there any family that we need to be dealing with?”

“There’s a maternal aunt in Pennsylvania. But she wasn’t interested in taking the girls after their parents died. She wrote back to them to advise that they’d have to stay with the neighbour that had been looking after them, but the neighbour couldn’t keep them either. They ended up telling the neighbour that the aunt had changed her mind, and they disappeared onto the streets rather than risk being split up by CPS.”

“Hmm. So Jane’s smart. That’s good. Her sister could be a problem though. We haven’t come across a Mini Slayer yet who has been responsible for a child.”

Cordelia frowned. “In 5 and a half years there have been no accidental pregnancies?” she asked in surprise.

“We’ve had a couple, but they’ve had family to help support them, they haven’t been solely responsible. Plus by that time they were already trained, so they could leave the slaying behind without endangering themselves.”

“But you will still take her on and train her, right?”

“Of course we’ll train her.” He sounded affronted that she’d suggest that they wouldn’t. “That’s not an issue. The problem is that we’re not set up to take in a small child. And I’m not sure that I’d be comfortable with it if we were.”

“Xander Harris, babysitter for Dawn Summers, scared by kids. I wouldn’t have thought it. Besides, Alice is seven, she’s hardly an infant.”

“I’m not scared by her,” he denied. “I’m worried. What, with the mostly constant demon attacks and the sharp pointy weapons in the hands of hormonal teenagers.”

Oh. Well, she could see his point. “So what would you suggest? Jane probably won’t be willing to leave Alice, she’s very protective, and a little wary of strangers. It took emotional blackmail and a fire to get her to come here with me. I’ve had to be very careful not to push her too far in case she bolts again.”

“I bet that’s been difficult for you.”

“A little,” she admitted. “I’m used to badgering someone until I get what I want.”

He smiled at the admission. “Well,” he said, thoughtfully. “I can see three options. Jane and Alice both stay here and we get a Slayer and a Watcher to Gotham to train her.”

Cordelia grimaced at the idea. On the one hand extra muscle and people who knew what they were doing. On the other hand, Gotham wasn’t like Sunnydale, it didn’t actually need a Slayer patrolling, let alone two. For the most part the demon communities policed themselves and were peaceful. There were some problems with vampires, especially since the Joker’s reign over the mob combined with the Batman had caused some of the smarter thugs to reconsider their career choices, but that was pretty much it for Gotham on the demonic scale of things. At least on the bad demonic scale of things, with the exception of their current problem, of course. She also wasn’t sure that she wanted to have to deal with a fully trained Slayer even though she realised she would probably have to. She didn’t have a great track record with Slayers in general. A watcher on his, or her, own she could probably deal with.

“What are the other options?”

“We send Jane to Cleveland for training and Alice stays in Gotham.”

“Did I not just say that Jane won’t want to leave Alice?”

“Is it that, or do you just not want to have to look after a child?”

If looks could kill, he’d be lifeless on the carpet. “If I didn’t want to deal with them I’d have called CPS as soon as I suspected Jane was a runaway and knew her to be underage,” she snapped. He’d hit a little close to home. She’d been having small crisis of confidence in regard to Alice and Jane over the last day or so. After what had happened with Connor, surely she was the last person who should be responsible for kids—or teenagers. But then she’d look at Alice and the thought of her bouncing around in the system for the next eleven years brought every protective instinct she had to the fore. The child was bright and very friendly once she’d decided she liked you. Like her sister, Jane was also very intelligent and had a sharp mind, but was a little more thoughtful and wary.  Cordelia had been surprised to find herself liking Jane as well. She’d been willing to help her from the moment Bruce had brought her unconscious to her door, but she hadn’t expected to like her. She found herself dreading Jane going out on patrols, because from that moment on, she’d have less power to protect the girl.

Gahh. She’s gotten soft since Sunnydale.

“What’s the third option?”

“A kind of Summer school. She goes to Cleveland for the summer training sessions. It wouldn’t give her the skills as quickly as boarding would, and she’d miss out on a lot of the associated training, but she wouldn’t be away from her sister for as long.

Jane might agree to that, assuming that she knew that Alice was safe, but Cordelia wasn’t sure that she was comfortable with the idea at leaving gaps in Jane’s skill set. Sure there are things that she or Spike or one of the hunters could help with, but not in the same way, with the understanding of what it is to be a Slayer, to be able to consistently push her.  

“Option one. Who would you send?” The attractiveness of the offer depended on who she would have to deal with.

He considered the matter for a few minutes before shrugging. “I’d have to talk with Giles. I’ve been in Egypt for the last six months and I’m not familiar with all of the current Slayers and Watchers and who can be spared from where.”

That would mean that he would have to explain to Giles that she was alive. It wouldn’t be long now until it was widely known. She sighed. Most likely she was going to have to deal with Angel sooner rather than later, like it or not.

Well, Alfred had warned her.

*_*_*_*_*
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