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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
KylieLFR131060,0767209,98726 Jan 1016 Feb 10Yes

Chapter Four: Angel


Life After: World On Fire


Chapter Four: Angel

“What has Jane decided?” Bruce asked as he deftly manoeuvred the Ferrari through the heavy traffic.

“She hasn’t made a decision yet, but she vetoed moving to Cleveland and leaving Alice here.”

“You expected her to do that though.”

“Yeah, that was a no-brainer.”

“What option do you want her to take?” He glanced at her, curious, as they waited for the light to change.

“I’m in two minds about it. In either case I think she’s going to have to combine both options, whether she or Xander realises it or not.”

“How are you dealing with your visitor?”

“It’s really weird,” she said. “Really, really weird. I haven’t spoken to him since graduation, so in many ways were now strangers, yet we can still read each other’s expressions—which is really freaky now that he only has one eye. It’s familiar but different at the same time. Like, we’ve sniped at each other since kindergarten. We made it an art form in high school, even when we were dating. I hadn’t realised how much I missed it.”

“You miss snarking at people?” he looked at her disbelieving. “You still do it, I’ve heard you.”

“Yeah, but I don’t do it the way I used to, I used to be more cutting. I suppose that because I was no good at fighting physically I had to excel at the verbal cut and thrust. I miss it in a way. I miss snarking at Xander the most, though. He always gave as good as he got, so he kept me sharp.”

“Alfred said that he and the Winchesters had a bit of an altercation.”

“Well, I said that there was less snark, not that there was no snark.” She smirked at the memory. “Xander’s way of dealing with things is to crack a joke, it helps him deal. Sam took offense to something Xander said, and you know how Dean is when it comes to Sam... We managed to diffuse the situation, and after Dean and Sam realised that Xander was from Sunnydale, and Xander realised who the Winchesters were, they started getting along better. They were swapping hunting stories when I left. Although I am a little surprised he didn’t insist on meeting you before I left the building. His protective streak has been indulged too much by a horde of teenage girls. ”

“I take it that means that there was no news about the demon?”

“No. Xander called Giles though, so if the Watchers have any record of it we should know tomorrow.”

“You don’t sound like you expect them to find anything.”

“I don’t. My luck isn’t that good.” She glanced out the side window. They were only a block from the Hilton. “Are you sure you don’t want me to go into Valley Girl mode? How Playboy-Bruce-Wayne are you going to be tonight?”

“I’m sure. And it shouldn’t be enough to annoy you over much,” he said, referring to the irritation that plagued her when she dealt with him in his playboy persona. Her ‘Valley Girl mode’ as she called it, annoyed him just as much. Though there were times it was a little amusing. “Thanks for coming with me tonight. I really didn’t feel like dealing with a socialite.”

“Don’t thank me yet, I could ruin your reputation. Bruce Wayne seen out with the same person twice?  They might start thinking that you’re settling down,” she teased.

“That would depend on who my next date was.” He paused then shot her a sidelong glance, a mischievous glint in his eye. “What are you doing next week?”

She grinned. He’s teasing her and there’s a genuine smile on his face. Despite the kind of week it’s been, tonight is shaping up to be a good night. “I’ll let you know when I do.”

He pulls into the forecourt of the Gotham Hilton and helps her out of the car—climbing gracefully out of a sports car in heels and a skirt is a skill she’s still relearning.  

The valet is too busy admiring the sleek lines of the car to notice her lack of grace. She can almost see him drooling as Bruce hands him the keys.

“You may need to get it detailed after you get it back,” she murmured as they make their way inside, smiling fixedly as they run the gauntlet of the paparazzi stationed at the front door.

Bruce’s hand sat comfortably in the small of her back as they entered the ballroom festooned with decorations. True to his word, the playboy persona isn’t at a level that drives her nuts, so when they’re set upon by the head of the organising committee intent on thanking Bruce for the very generous cheque received from Wayne Enterprises, she does her best to reduce the level of fawning that he’s subjected to. Thank god the woman hadn’t figured out who she is or that OSI had also donated.

He shoots her an amused look as they listen politely as the woman waxed lyrical about the large turnout. “I wonder how she would react if I told her that I’m not in charge of the charitable giving for Wayne Enterprises?” he leans down and murmurs in her ear.

“Who is?” she hisses back, doing her best to smile at the woman.

“Lucius.”

She considered the possibilities for a moment. “Nah, he hasn’t done anything to deserve this.”

“And we have?”

“You’re Gotham’s billionaire, my friend, I’m afraid you’re always going to be a target for the charities.”

“I wouldn’t mind that, but can’t they be a little more restrained in their thanks?”

Something in his tone caught her attention and she shot him a worried glance. They finally freed themselves from the organisers and worked the room a little before Cordelia claimed that she needed some fresh air and they escaped outside onto the terrace.



In a movie he had seen many years ago – Cordelia curled into the corner of her sofa beside him, Dennis floating a bowl of popcorn over – he had heard a comparison of the sounds of a cocktail party to a gaggle of geese. It was an apt description of the noise that surrounded him.  Glasses clinked and a Babel of voices almost drowned out the string quartet on the raised dais at the side of the dance floor. It all was a bit much for his sensitive hearing, he could feel a headache developing behind his eyes. 

Angel sighed. Why was he subjecting himself to this?  His conscience prodded. Because you get all stalkerish and can’t leave things alone. It was remarkable how much his conscience still sounded like Cordelia when it was sarcastic. And really Cordelia was the reason that he was here, taking refuge behind a potted ficus plant. Five years after she had died and he had had to cremate his best friend, he was still chasing ghosts..

Seeing that picture in the magazine, the woman who looked so much like her had shaken him. So here he was. With Cordelia...gone – he couldn’t allow himself to believe otherwise or he’d destroy himself with hope – he had to be sure that this woman wasn’t evil wearing her face again. He owed her that much.

As he’d had to come to Gotham to investigate Oracle Service Industries he had the perfect excuse to be in Gotham – just not here at this headache inducing party.  He could just imagine what Buffy – or worse, Spike – would say if they knew he was chasing Cordelia’s ghost.

So now he just needs to meet Bruce Wayne’s date – assuming he’s still dating the same woman.

He’s in luck as it turns out. At least he thinks he is. The woman on Wayne’s arm is a brunette, but her face remains hidden either by her hair or the crowd, and she and Wayne disappear onto the terrace before he can get a proper look at her.

The socialites have noticed their escape. With half an ear he listened to the catty comments as he crossed the room, trying to manoeuvre into a place he could see the couple. A particularly scathing comment about the mystery woman being a working woman caught his attention. He wouldn’t have thought that Wayne would need to hire and escort.

His misunderstanding of the comment was quickly corrected when a mature and rather handsome woman rounded on the blonde speaker.

“Some of us prefer to do something constructive with our time, Lucia.” The woman’s voice held a sharp edge that was more cutting than anything the blonde could come up with. “Actually, she owns her own company. You may have heard of it. Oracle Services? As in, Oracle Investigations in New York? You may have read the profile in the New York Times.” Her tone turned condescending. “Of course that does assume you can read.”

Oracle Services? Wayne’s date owned Oracle Service Industries? His stomach sank. Suddenly he had a bad feeling about this.

*_*_*_*

Fortunately there wasn’t anyone else out on the terrace, so Cordelia leaned against the railing of the deck. “Ok, what the hell’s going on with you?” she demanded.

Bruce looked at her in surprise. “What do you mean?”

She vaguely waved a hand at the ballroom. “Back there. There’s something bugging you—and don’t try to tell me it’s about the fires, there’s something else.”

He avoided her gaze, staring out into the lush garden below them while he debated on how much he could tell her without scaring her off. “I’ve been doing some thinking,” he admitted finally.

“About?”

“What I want out life. The faces we show people. Masks.”

“Masks?” She frowned. “I assume that you don’t mean literally, right?”

“Right.”

“Ok. ‘Cause, you know, it pays to check.”

He leaned against the railing and turned to face her. “What is it about the playboy thing that annoys you so much?” He knows what it is about the Valley Girl thing that annoys him, and he wonders if their reasons are similar.

She’s taken aback by the question and half a dozen glib answers leap to mind. She stops herself from using any of them. He genuinely wanted to know and she should give him a serious answer. The problem is with how to explain it. “I suppose it’s because I met you when you were just being you—well a more aggressive, somewhat darker you,” she told him slowly. “The playboy persona is just—it seems like a betrayal of yourself to pretend that all you care about is the parties and the girls and the good times, when you don’t care about those things at all.” She pulled a face. “And that sounds really hypocritical coming from me.”

Their reasons were the same. “You know why I do it.”

So why does it annoy you?  “I know why, but you’re not happy doing any of it. If buying hotels gave you a thrill, or dating the ditzes meant you had a good time then it probably wouldn’t bother me.” At least it wouldn’t bother her so much.

“Alfred is of the opinion that if I pretend to have a good time, I might have some by accident.”

“Alfred was of that opinion, but the experiment has gone on long enough that he’s not anymore.”

“You and Alfred really do—”

“—talk about you behind your back, yes.” She nodded. “We worry about you. We’re allowed.”

“I know.” It’s odd that. It usually annoyed him when people did that, but he accepted it from Alfred and from her. She can only assume he accepted it from Rachel, he’s never said and she hadn’t seen them together enough to be able to tell. He fell silent again, looking back at the garden. She assumed he was gathering his thoughts, she didn’t think that he found ferns and rhododendrons that fascinating. “The inanities have been irritating me recently. Ever since Rachel died.”

“That’s a long period of ‘recent,’” she commented noncommittally. This had been bugging him for more than a year?

“The Joker didn’t know Bruce Wayne, but he knew exactly how I’d react, how to play me,” he said so quietly she almost missed it.

She dislikes that she feels relief when she realises that he’s having a bit of an identity crises. It’s something that she can deal with, help a little with. “Most of who you are is there when you’re in the suit.” She wondered how he thought of it, how he kept things straight in his head. Did he think of Batman as a persona? Or Bruce Wayne?

“Only most?”

She hadn’t expected an answer so soon. “You don’t smile, or tease, or attend Board meetings – well, sleep through Board Meetings – or reminisce about spending hours staring at old maps when you’re in the suit. Batman is a lot of who you are and what you believe, but he’s not all of you.” Which is probably why she didn’t find Batman annoying, there was truth to him, where the playboy persona was completely fake.

“I’m not sure I believe that.”

“Well consider this then. You got the Joker in the end. He didn’t beat you.”

He looked at her thoughtfully. “What would you suggest I do to stop this irritating so much then?” He’s actually curious to find out what she’ll suggest, but she doesn’t give him any answers.  “Hey, despite the business name, I’m not actually an Oracle. All I know is that tonight the playboy thing isn’t irritating. The rest is up to you to figure out. For tonight though I can see what I can do to help minimise the gushing you have to deal with.”

Movement at the terrace doors caught his eye.

“I see I’m not the only one trying to escape.” Dr. John McCormack was an old friend of his fathers and the head of the Gotham Children’s hospital. He was an older man, who had a distinguished air about him. Until he smiled, a mischievous smile that made him look more like a small boy who was up to no good. That smile was in evidence at the moment.

“We were just getting some fresh air,” Bruce explained smoothly, the earlier contemplative mood nowhere to be seen.

“Hmhmm. Attack you en-mass, did they?”

“No. Not at all,” Bruce denied politely.

 John pulled out a pack of cigarettes. “Ah, then it was the gushing. Lord knows it’s enough to make me sick.”

Cordelia unsuccessfully suppressed a laugh, it escaped as a twisted sort of cough. She liked this man, she decided. She could see why Erin enjoyed sparring with him.

“Yes.” He nodded to her, his eyes dancing with amusement. “Elizabeth does get a little fired up by a large donation. It’s a part of what makes her so good at her job. Unfortunately it can also make her a little over zealous when it comes to showing her appreciation.”

“Her thanks were...effusive,” Bruce allowed diplomatically.

“You’ll be glad to know that we’re planning a telethon for next year. It may be difficult, even for Elizabeth, to be that effusive when thanking the entire city.”

“I’m sure she’d manage something appropriate,” Cordelia choked out, stifling laughter.

John grinned. “It will be interesting.” He held out his hand. “I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure of making you’re acquaintance, Miss...”

Bruce answered. “I’m being rude, I apologise, John. Let me introduce you.”

He made the introductions, and Cordelia shook the hand offered to her. “A pleasure to meet you.”

“I have to say the same, Miss Doyle. I’m glad to finally meet you. I understand that you’re the young lady who found our missing Dialysis machine a few months back.”

Cordelia remembered the case. It wasn’t often that she was asked to track down missing hospital equipment. “That was mostly my partner Gray, but yes it was Doyle-Oracle.” They had found it on a makeshift soundstage accompanied by an anatomy dummy covered in fake blood, and a ridiculously expensive camera.

“Erin has spoken very highly of you and I’d just like to express my thanks for the help.”

The fell into an easy conversation for a few minutes until John finished his cigarette—“A filthy habit I know, but I find at least one necessary for these events.”—after which they returned to the ballroom.

“Cordelia!” a voice called.

Cordelia looked over to see Erin Hunnicut approaching. The older woman was the head of Gotham Children’s Hospital’s Neonatal unit and someone that Hawkeye had put her in touch with months ago.

“I’ve been looking for you all over!” Erin hugged her in greeting. “I thought you weren’t coming?”

“Bruce changed my mind. I thought you were working tonight,” Cordelia said one the introductions were made.

“I was, but I spoke to my boss and managed to get the night off.” She grinned cheekily at John. “I am on call though, so I can’t enjoy myself quite like I planned, but it’s been nice getting out of the coat and scrubs.”

“You do clean up very nicely Erin,” John complimented.

“Why thank you, John.” She took the compliment as her due then turned to Bruce. “I’m about to be terribly rude and steal your date for a while, there’s someone who wants to meet her.”

Cordelia allowed Erin to link her arm through hers and guide her through the crowd.

“There’s someone who wants to meet me? Whatever it is, I didn’t do it.”

Erin laughed. “It’s nothing like that, dear. It’s a gentleman who’s been meaning to meet with you for a while. He’s a fan of your business; he heard me slapping down Lucia earlier and prevailed upon me for an introduction.”

“You smacked down Lucia?” Cordelia looked at the usually even tempered woman in surprise.  “Erin, you do know that I can fight my own battles, right?”

“Of course, but Uncle Hawkeye said I should watch out for you, and as your friend I reserve the right to defend your honour – assuming I don’t need to get physical. I’m no good with the fisticuffs.”

Cordelia couldn’t help but grin. “I promise not to rely on you for any physical altercations.” She and Erin may not be close friends, but as friendly acquaintances she and the older woman got along rather famously. Erin could usually be counted on to be in a good mood, assuming she hadn’t recently been dealing with a whole load of stupid, and had a wicked sense of humour. “I can still come to you for the patch up after though, right?”

“Of course,” Erin agreed. “Lucia however can find another doctor.”

“Will she be game to come near you again, after tonight?”

“Possibly not.” Erin grinned wickedly. “

In any case, after inflicting a rather inspired attack on Lucia – if I do say so myself – I was approached by a rather gorgeous man who wanted to meet you. I thought it might be a good idea to do that here, on neutral ground, rather than have him turn up at Doyle-Oracle later.  There’s not much that can happen with all of these people around.”

“That’s what you think,” Cordelia muttered.

They approached a tall man who was standing at the edge of the room, his back to them, examining a painting that was hanging on the wall.

“Here she is, I found her at last.” Erin reached out to tap the man on the shoulder. Cordelia’s skin prickled in premonition as she noted the details of his stature.

He turned and she suddenly found herself staring at a very familiar face. Shock and disbelief pinned her in place.

Angel looked at, her his face carefully blank, then slowly his expression changed until he looked absolutely flabbergasted. “Cordelia?”

The sound of her name unfroze her and she bit out, “Hello Angel.”

*_*_*_*

The shock was quickly replaced by a scalding anger that flooded her system. Much of it is unreasonable and misdirected, she knows this, but still it gains a hold so strong she can’t deploy her usual social mask to hide it.

She spun on her heel and made a beeline for the nearest set of doors a rapid clip—this is a bad place to be dealing with Angel and an even worse place to let her temper erupt.

She pushed through the doors, finding herself in what looks like a service hallway. It probably leads to the kitchens. She starts pacing up and down the hall, her breathing heavy, trying to gain control over this unreasonable anger.

“Dear God, Cordelia.” There’s wonder in his tone as he enters the hall and moves to embrace her. She stepped back and he stopped, entirely still. “Cordy?”

She’s never been a person who was physical with her anger, her weapon of choice always having been her tongue, but she wanted to hit him, to pound on his chest in fury at what had happened to Fred and to Wesley and to Gunn and for what he had turned Lorne into.

“Don’t talk to me right now.” She managed to choke the words out past the fury that is making her tongue stick to the roof of her mouth.

He looks confused. “What?”

“Don’t talk to me.” It came out more forcefully this time and he stumbled back as if she’d struck him.

 “How—What’s wrong?”

A bitter, hysterical laugh escapes her. “Do you know what it’s like to have to watch your friends die—needlessly die—and be unable to do a damn thing to stop it?” The bitterness in her tone is acid sharp. “Or what it’s like to watch one turn into a murderer? All because you asked? Because you sent them?”

It was only due to her long experience with him that she could see him pale further.

“Or how about to realise that after five years and all the hard work and hard lessons that you hadn’t learned the most important ones?”

He just stared at her dumbly. There’s more she wants to say, but she’s said more than enough for the moment. What she really needs to say to him is not something that should be broached in anger. What she’s already said has probably come out wrong. Sophie would probably be disappointed in her.

“I can’t talk to you right now.”

She pushed past him and he caught her arm, stopping her.

“We need to talk.”

“I know.” She shook her arm free of his grasp. “But right now I’m liable to stake you rather listen. I can’t talk to you right now.” The sound of her footsteps echo through the hall as she stalks back to the doors and re-entered the ballroom.

Almost immediately Bruce was at her side. He’d obviously been coming after her. “Erin mentioned that the meeting hadn’t gone well. Are you alright?”

“Yes. Fine,” she replied shortly, getting her breathing back under control. She pinned a tight smile on her face. “The person who wanted to meet me turned out to be an old friend.”

He was watching her carefully. “I take it the reunion wasn’t friendly.”

“No,” she confirmed. “Not that he got to say much, I’m too angry with him at the moment.”

“Is this a friend from Sunnydale or LA?”

“Both. It’s Angel.”

 “Do you want to leave?” he offered neutrally. He knew that Angel was a sensitive subject for her.

She considered it briefly then kicked herself. She’d never been one to run from what needed to be dealt with. The only reasons she wasn’t dealing with Angel now was that this wasn’t the time and place and the fury that still felt so overwhelming that she couldn’t deal with him reasonably. Leaving now would be stupid. Angel’s self preservation instinct should ensure that he kept his distance for this evening—she hoped—and they had only just arrived.

“No. It’s fine,” she assured him, collecting herself, bringing her social mask back into place. “He just surprised me.”

“All right.” He led her to the dance floor and drew her into his arms. His felt solid and reassuring and she felt herself begin to relax. “You were expecting to have the upper hand when you met again, weren’t you?” he asked after a couple of minutes. “I was expecting to be prepared, I don’t know about having the upper hand. It would have been nice though.”

“Maybe not the upper hand then, but the element of surprise.”

“Oh, I had that—you should have seen his face.” She felt the  anger drain away as laughter threatened at the memory. She was still pissed at Angel, but the immediacy of her anger had lessened in the face of her amusement at the thunderstruck expression he’d had when he’d recognised her. A giggle escaped her, turning into proper laughter.

Bruce broke into a rare grin that didn’t quite erase the concern in his eyes. They fell into an easy silence until the music ended and then start working their way around the room, greeting acquaintances, speaking with friends and doing their best to avoid being thanked by any of the charity organisers again.

“I could tell her that you donated,” Bruce offered sotto voce as they duck away from Elizabeth who’s speaking with one of the trust fund brigade.

“Don’t you dare,” she admonished. “Or I’ll tell her you donated under a subsidiary as well.”

“That’s blackmail.”

“Yes.” She grinned cheekily at him. “Is it working?”

She could feel Angel’s gaze following her and did her best to ignore him for now. She’d deal with him later.

A little later, on her way back from the bathroom, she encountered Jim Gordon, hovering near the buffet. He was barely hiding the fact that he’s bored out of his mind and miserable to boot.

He hadn’t wanted the job of Police Commissioner and even less wanted the socialising that went with it. Still she was surprised to see him here. When she told him so he grimaced.

“The Police Association donated.”

And he was here as their representative, right. Her gaze skimmed the crowd and she noticed Bruce was having a few words with Angel. Angel looked...thwarted while Bruce looked grim, which was not an expression she was used to seeing when he was at these things. Lovely, a pissing contest, just what she needed. “Where’s Barbara?”

“At home. We couldn’t get a babysitter.”

She checked her watch and took pity on him. “You know, this party has been going long enough now that if you slipped away, no one would comment.”

“I’ve got another twenty minutes before I can do that.”

She did the math. “You have an actual time you’re aiming for?”

“It’s a time that seems to work best.”

It’s so Jim Gordon that he’s managed to figure out exactly how long he needs to stay before he can get out of his own personal socially inflicted hell. “Jim, trust me—it’s safe to escape now.”

“You’re sure?”

“Positive. You’re presence will have been noted by now, and with everything that’s been going o—” The sensation of her cell vibrating in her purse interrupted her. She checked the caller ID and saw that it was Dean. Her stomach sank. He wouldn’t be calling unless it was important. She excused herself and stepped away from Jim to answer the call. “Dean, what’s happened?”

“It’s just come over the scanner that another fire’s broken out at the Admiral Docks. From what they were saying it’s taken hold pretty swiftly.”

“Thanks for letting me know.” She thought quickly, debating over the wisdom of going down there. She decided against it. “I’ll be home soon.”

She looked around for Gordon only to see him checking his pager. Most likely he was being informed about the blaze. Good. She located Bruce in conversation with a member of his Board. She joined them, interrupting at the first lull in conversation.

“Sorry to interrupt, but Dean called. There’s a fire at the Admiral Docks.”  Both men looked troubled at the news. “You have warehouses down there, don’t you?”

“Yes. And a private dock.”

They excused themselves and had the valet retrieve the Ferrari.

They were silent in the car on the way back to Doyle-Oracle.

“This doesn’t fit, does it?” she asked, breaking the silence.

“No. There’s no mob presence at Admiral Docks, it’s a private operation, not run by the Gotham Port Authority.”

“Non-union? That must have been a nasty battle.”

“It was. I wasn’t here at the time. There were some problems with the unions when the Admiral Docks were being redeveloped after the China Docks were opened, but an agreement was reached. Admiral hadn’t been anywhere near capacity for years. Most ships captains prefer the protection offered by docking in the river. Most of the shipping done from there now is for specific companies.”

“You’re going to go and take a look?” She asked the question but she already knows the answer. They’re assuming that this is related to the demon, but they could be wrong. It would take days before the fire brigade and arson squad could determine what caused it—or rather what didn’t cause it. Getting a firsthand look at what was happening could give them the information they need about the nature of the fire, days before going through the official channels.

“Yes.”

She just nods. “Be careful.”

“I will.”

*_*_*_*_*

The sight of Xander slumped over the table, snoring, greeted her when she entered her kitchen.

Dean was leaning against the mustard yellow counter, watching him snore, looking highly amused.

“You are a simple, simple man,” she chided him, kicking her shoes into a corner.

“The jetlag finally caught up with him a few hours ago, but he insisted on waiting up until you got home.”

“That must have made for an interesting night. He can get kinda weird when he’s sleep deprived.”

“He did sound a bit out of it. He muttered something about barbequing mayor snake, after we heard about the fire.”

She snorted. “Remind me to tell you about graduation some time.” She prodded Xander on the shoulder. “Hey Zeppo! Wake up!”

“Is math over?” he muttered groggily.

Great, he thought he was back at Sunnydale High. The devil of her conscience whispered in her ear. She smirked and leaned down and spoke in his ear. “Snyder’s looking for you dweeb boy.”

Xander reared back, looking around wildly and blinking furiously. “Where’s the troll?” He caught sight of her smirking at him. “Geez Cordy, that’s just mean.”

“Meanest girl in Sunnydale High history, remember? Now go to bed Xander, my table isn’t for sleeping on.”

“Had to make sure you got home ok.”

“You do realise I’m not one of your Slayers, right dweeb boy? I’m all grown up now.”

“You’re still one of my girls.”

It sounded really chauvinistic even if you knew what he meant, which she did, strangely enough. Still, she really shouldn’t be touched by his Neanderthal tendencies. “Aww. That’s really kind of... sickening actually.”

“It’s the way it is.”

“Xander?”

“Yep?”

“Go to bed,” she ordered.

He grinned sleepily at her. “’K. Goodnight,” he said and stumbled out of the room.

Dean shook his head as he watched Xander leave. “He’s insane, you realise.”

“He has been living surrounded by teenage girls for the last five years. That much punishment is bound to drive him a little nutty. Not that he was the picture of mental health to begin with.”

“Surrounded by hot super-powered women? Doesn’t sound like punishment to me.”

“Most of them are jailbait.”

That sounds like punishment.”

She shook her head hat him and poured herself a cup of coffee. “Is Alice in bed?”

He nodded. “Reluctantly, but yes. Jane’s in the living room watching some chick flick. Sammy crashed about an hour ago. It was a long drive.”

“You let him drive?”

“I do that occasionally.”

“You really didn’t have to come here, you know. I would have let you know if we needed the help.”

“Yeah, we did. Anything to do with this Yellow-Eyed bastard concerns us, and you’re a friend, we’re not about to let you face him alone.”

The question was long overdue. “Is there any chance that Azazel survived?”

Dean dropped into the chair that Xander had vacated. “If you had asked me that a week ago, I would have said no. We shot him with the colt. Everything that we’d been able to learn had indicated that that would do it. He certainly was afraid of it.”

“Bobby said something similar, only without the detail. Just that Azazel had been put down, and wasn’t about to get back up again.”

“Where did you hear that Azazel was involved?”

“A friend mentioned that something—or someone—had the Mob spooked. He’d been looking into a possible Mob connection to the fires.”

“It could just be the Bat that has them running scared.”

“Nah, this is different. Someone dropped Azazel’s name. The demon community are tense as well. Scuttlebutt gets around.”

“How reliable is your friend?”

“He’s reliable. I can’t vouch for the credibility of his source, though.”

“So it might not be Azazel that has the Mob’s panties in a twist? Maybe the demon you’re hunting?”

“Until tonight it did look like it might be targeting the Mob but hitting a lot of bystanders,” she admitted.

“A conclusion that they may have drawn. What’s different about tonight’s fire that makes you think the demon isn’t targeting the Mob?”

She poured a mug of coffee from the half empty pot and slid into an empty chair. “There’s no Mob presence at the Admiral Docks, it’s a private operation. I got that from someone who’d know if there were. Not much shipping goes through Admiral—apparently there are some odd currents coming off the Atlantic in that area, so most shipping use the river docks—China, Sheals and Liberty. The super-freighters use the Gotham Docklands so that they don’t have to navigate the river.”

“So either the Mob isn’t the target, or the target has changed.”

“So far all of the fires have been set either at the docks, or in the warehouse district near the docks,” she mused.

“Could it just be someone trying to cut Gotham’s shipping and freight links?”

“There’s no money trail to suggest it. There’s no developer looking to capitalise, and most of the docks themselves are owned by the Gotham Port Authority. Even if they undergo redevelopment, the contracts would be awarded by tender. Attempting to assure a favourable outcome would attract the Bat’s attention, which nobody wants. It’d be too difficult to make the payoff worth the risk.”

“What about operations outside of Gotham? Is there anyone that would benefit from forcing shipping away from Gotham into other ports?”

She thought about it. It sounded terribly diabolical. She wondered if Bruce had considered the possibility. “It’d be worth checking into.”

“Even if it does sound like a plot hatched by an Evil Overlord?”

“Especially then,” she assured him with a teasing grin. “I’ve met some of the soul-less evil that makes up Corporate America.”

“Point.”

“But then,” she sighed. “We may be wrong and this demon is what has the Mob’s panties in a twist. Either way we need to find a way to deal with it. As much as I hate dealing with demons blind, I don’t think we’re going to have a choice. This is starting to escalate.”

“So we need to find a way of neutralising a demon that can create fire.”

“And seeing as how he almost seems to be made fire and can make it shoot off his hands, we also need to find a way to make sure that we don’t end up barbequed if things go wrong.”

They contemplated the problem for a few moments before Dean commented. “That might be the difficult part.”

“Ya think?”

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