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World On Fire

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

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

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
DC Universe > Batman
Multiple Crossings > Cordelia-Centered
KylieLFR131060,07672010,02126 Jan 1016 Feb 10Yes

Chapter Five: Therapeutic


Life After: World On Fire



Chapter Five: Therapeutic

If someone went searching for information on the business that Cordelia and David Nabitt had started 18 months before, this is what they would find:

Initially registered as Doyle-Oracle Investigations by a C. Doyle of Gotham City, a month later the company name was changed to Oracle Service Industries, with Doyle-Oracle Investigations becoming the trading name for the Gotham branch of the company. Around the time of the name change, another branch opened in New York City. Both branches were successful, and two more branches had opened in following months in Miami and LA, with freelancers working throughout the country.

Oracle Services weren’t just investigators either. Poole Digital Information Services located in Washington DC specialised in digital security and Information Technology services.

There were several business names registered to Oracle Service Industries, not all were actively trading, but of those that were:

The rather unimaginatively named Oracle Investigations New York was run by a respected ex-NYPD detective by the name of Leonard Briscoe. It had been forced to relocate twice in twelve months due to expansion, and was the largest and most successful of the branches, although its size was relative.

Doyle-Oracle Investigations in Gotham City was a smaller operation than the New York branch, well respected and successful, with a curiously high turnover of staff.

Oracle Investigations Miami—who had gone on record with a small local paper as saying the name was purposely unimaginatively named to avoid arguments between the principals—was managed by Sam Axe who was ex-FBI and Special Forces, and Nate Westen, whose record before OIM indicated that he was a serial screw up.

Oracle Investigations Los Angeles was the newest branch, having been set up only three months ago, by ex-LAPD homicide detective Joe Friday and Sam Garrett, a former accountant.

Poole Digital Information Services was run by part-time treasure hunter Riley Poole. It had grown quickly to 20-odd employees, most working with small to mid-sized businesses designing and installing computer networks, cabling and infrastructure. It also evaluated and provided computer and network security.

Oracle Freelance Investigations comprised of an undetermined number of investigators across the country, but the administrative tasks appeared to be handled in Gotham City, most probably by Doyle-Oracle Investigations.


This was the information Angel had received when he’d asked Mike to dig up what he could on Oracle Investigations, one month previously.

The vague rumours had started a little over a year ago, filtering through the demon communities. Hunters across the country were starting to organise, becoming better prepared and informed.

At first Angel had thought that Buffy and the IWC were responsible and thought nothing of it until hearing of a Hunter freelancing in LA. That’s when he’d first heard the name Oracle Freelance Investigations – it had been typed neatly onto a plain white business card, with a cell number handwritten on the back. He’d only been mildly curious until Oracle Investigations opened in and word of mouth had spread that they offered their services to the demon community as well as the human, dealt with the supernatural, and were efficient, fair and friendly—provided that you weren’t into bringing about the end of the world and bathing in the blood of innocents, in which case they’d kill you without blinking.

The echoes of Angel Investigations had sent him into a funk that had lasted the rest of the day.

He’d attempted to get some more information about Oracle Investigations Los Angeles, and the business as a whole, concerned with the motivations of the people behind the scenes, only to be told in no uncertain terms to take a hike.

Sam Garrett—who had turned out to be a woman who handled her wooden walking stick with an unnerving degree of precision—was a Hunter forced into semi-retirement by injury, and wasn’t about to give out any information to a vampire. There was no help from her partners, either. Both were ex-LAPD and therefore weren’t about to play nice with the former head of the LA branch of Wolfram and Hart.

In retrospect Garrett’s “Just because the boss says hands off unless you turn evil, doesn’t mean we’ll ask how high when you say jump.” should have made him suspicious. At the time he’d just assumed that she’d been referring to the PTB’s.

Then Buffy had called, asking if he had heard anything about Oracle Freelance Investigations. They’d been hearing rumours and a couple of the Slayers had encountered some of the ‘investigators’ on hunts.

So he’d headed to Gotham to track down the CEO. That the trip would also give him a chance to check out Bruce Wayne’s mystery woman had been a bonus.

Of all the places that she could have chosen, Gotham was one of the safest cities in the country for demons, but one of the most dangerous for...well, everybody else.

Angel looked out at the Gotham skyline. Like this, at night, it was easy to imagine that Gotham was a clean city, with only the usual problems that plagued large metropolises. He, however, was only too aware of the extraordinarily high crime rate, the largely corrupt police force and the resident vigilante that dressed as a giant flying rodent.

From his vantage point on the balcony he can see the flickering glow of fire in the distance. Fire was also a problem for Gotham at the moment.

To find Cordelia Chase, alive and whole, swanning through the Hilton ballroom with the playboy prince of Gotham City had not been what he’d expected when he’d set out to meet the CEO of Oracle Service Industries. Even now, just remembering the first sight and smell of her, the realisation that it was actually Cordelia... He hadn’t expected her; someone who looked enough like her to give him a heart attack maybe, but not her.

His Seer, and friend.

He’d buried her five years ago, after cremating her body to ensure that the Senior Partners couldn’t tamper with her corpse.

Yet he’d seen her—striking in a silver evening gown—and felt her—her skin warm under his hand, not three hours before.

How long had she been alive? How was she alive? And why hadn’t she contacted him? He wasn’t hard to find.

In the months following the eradication of the Circle of the Blackthorn and the retreat of the Senior Partner’s army he’d liquidated what he could of the Wolfram and Hart assets in LA, before they’d put a stop to it. Then, after having been approached by a few ex-Wolfram and Hart employees that weren’t evil he’d set up a small legal firm that catered primarily to the more peaceful of the demon community. Not that he was looking to become a lawyer, he left that to his partners, but his reputation meant something, apparently, and it meant that he could do some good on his own terms again. The Powers That Be apparently approved. After years with no word, he’d been assigned a new Seer two years ago, an Ano-Movic demon by the name of Mike who’d already buried two Champions. Angel had barely spoken to the man for the first six months—the memory of his previous seer had been too raw.

And now she was here—alive and furious with him.

He’d been surprised by her anger—by the heat of her anger. Normally her temper was glacial, cold and cutting, not the inferno that threatened to erupt and scald him that he’d experience earlier.

The words she had flung at him weren’t entirely fair, but there was enough truth in them to make him exceedingly uncomfortable. At the time he hadn’t seen any other way, but after... Regrets, recriminations and what ifs were old friends.

He wondered how much time she would need to cool down, how much longer he would have to wait to approach her to get the answers to his questions.

He no longer had any concerns about the motivations behind Oracle Investigations. They were gone, replaced by the more pressing concerns regarding her well being.

Just watching her tonight he saw changes in her. She’d seemed more restrained.She had navigated the socialite of Gotham with grace and aplomb, yet he had noticed a tension to her  for most of the evening, disappearing only when she had been speaking with Police Commissioner Gordon, Dr Erin Hunnicutt—who had glared daggers at him for the rest of the night—and Bruce Wayne.

The billionaire seemed to be the odd one out. From what he understood, Gordon and Hunnicutt were both down to earth people in positions of authority who worked actively within the community. They both genuinely cared about improving Gotham. Whilst his family’s company had invested heavily in infrastructure and programs in Gotham since the man’s return to the city after a seven year absence, Bruce Wayne was the definition of playboy. Angel had even been aware of his antics in LA—Absconding off on holiday with the Moscow ballet and forcing the cancellation of 12 performances, swimming with two models in the fountain of the Gotham Jubilee hotel, and then buying the hotel even though it hadn’t been for sale. Fast cars, fast women and a party every night seemed to sum him up. Despite the money and the looks, he was the kind of man that Angel would have sworn Cordelia wouldn’t have been interested in. Not anymore. So what made her trust him?

Their brief encounter—sharp words and a warning—while Cordelia had been in the bathroom had given him little clue, other than to expose a vein of steel in the other man that rather made Angel nervous.

Of course the gossips at the party had cattily wondered what it was that Wayne saw in Cordelia. He wondered what they’d thought of the models and dancers while he’d bitten his tongue to stop himself telling them that Wayne’s interest in Cordelia was probably the best choice the man had made in his personal life for years. Even if the sight of them together made him want to—to borrow a phrase of Buffy’s—rip out the man’s ribcage and wear it as a hat.

The opening bars of Procal Haram’s Whiter Shade of Pale echoed tinnily through the room. He scowled at the tune. Anne had changed his ringtone again. He fished the cell out of the pocket of the coat which was thrown over the back of the hotel sofa. Checking the caller ID, he groaned softly, then answered.

“Hello Giles.”

“Angel.” In the last couple of years the two men had managed to forge a cordial relationship. It had been a long time since Angel had heard the level of unease from Giles that was evident now, but he didn’t beat about the bush. “Buffy informed me that she’d asked you to look into Oracle Investigations.”

Angel’s attention focused sharply. The timing of this was too coincidental. What did Giles know? “Yes,” he replied neutrally. “I’m in Gotham now, as a matter of fact.”

“Ah. Then you should know that I received some...interesting news a few hours ago.” Giles sounded hesitant, like he was searching for the best way to phrase what he had to say. “Xander called from Gotham last night—morning your time. Apparently Spike had asked for help dealing with a new Slayer that a friend of his had located.”

Spike? How was Spike involved in this? It was bad enough that Xander was in town.

“When Xander arrived he found Cordelia.” There were a few moments of silence and Giles apparently felt the need to clarify, “Cordelia Chase.”

“Giles? You’re a little late with your warning,” he advised. “I saw her a few hours ago.”

“Oh.” Giles was silent for a few moments. “How did she seem?”

“Beautiful. Angry. Alive.”

“Is she all Cordelia?”

Angel frowned. “What do you mean?”

“Are you sure she’s not evil?” Giles asked bluntly.

“What kind of question is that?” Angel found himself feeling somewhat outraged on Cordelia’s behalf. Despite that being the reason he’d initially sought her out.  “It’s Cordy!”

“It wouldn’t be the first time that something evil has come back with her.”

He had a point, Angel had to admit. Giles and the others at the IWC didn’t know the full story of what had happened, but he’d had to explain the basics about why Cordelia was dead. But seeing as how Angel hadn’t known that evil had piggyback ridden Cordelia on the return trip last time, why was Giles asking him now?

“What does Xander say?” he asked. It rather galled him to admit but he’d trust the boy’s verdict over his own on this. When it came to Cordelia he had a few blind spots.

“Xander said that it was just Cordelia, although there was something a little off that he put down to not having seen her for ten years.”

“He’s probably picking up the fact that she’s part demon.”

There’s silence on the other end. “And when,” Giles’ voice sounds very controlled, “were you going to tell us about that?”

“It wasn’t important.”

“I beg to differ. What kind of demon is she?”

This wasn’t going to sound good. “I don’t know.”

“You. Don’t. Know.” Angel’s pretty sure that there’s some heaving duty cleaning of glasses going on at IWC headquarters on the other side of the Atlantic right now. “Do you know how she became part demon?”

 “Sort of. It involved an out of body experience, a mercenary demon called Skip and—”

“Would this be the same Skip that had been working for Jasmine?”

“Uh. Yeah.” Suddenly he felt like a five year old being told off by his father. It wasn’t a pleasant sensation. And yes, in retrospect, their whole handling of Cordelia’s demonization was...lacking, but they had just been so happy that she was alive and that the visions weren’t hurting or killing her anymore that they hadn’t wanted to look a gift horse in the mouth.

“We’ll discuss this further later,” Giles said in a tone that portended a long drawn out examination of Angel Investigations past actions. “My immediate concern is, is she dangerous?”

“Yes,” he answered immediately. “But because she’s Cordy, not because of the demon thing.”

“Explain.”

“If she’s kept up with her previous skills, she’s wicked with a crossbow, proficient with a sword, competent with a stake, and her tongue should be registered as a lethal weapon.” And Giles could take the last any way he wanted, Angel thought in brief fit of pique.

Again there was a silence while Giles digested the information. “Xander said that she’s working for Doyle-Oracle Investigations.”

“Giles, from what I’ve heard, she owns Oracle Service Industries.”

There’s stunned silence on the line for a few seconds. “Really?” Giles sounded impressed. “How did she manage to get the Hunters to work for her?”

“I don’t know yet Giles, I haven’t had a chance to talk to her. A ballroom isn’t the best place to catch up on five years.”

“It’d be interesting to find out. We’ve been having the devils own time trying to get them to even consider working with us.”

“That is probably due to the reputation of the former Watcher’s Council for screwing over their people.”

Giles sighed. “Probably,” he admitted.

 *_*_*_*

“Do you think it’s just starting the fires? Or is it controlling them too?” Jane asked the question the next morning over breakfast. She was frowning at a copy of the Gotham Gazette.

Cordelia honestly hadn’t considered the possibilities before. “I don’t know.” She considered the question while watching Xander pour the last of the Lucky Charms into a cereal bowl. Her grocery bill this week was going to be horrendous. “The fires do seem to spread at an extraordinary rate.”

“That could just be because he moves around,” Jane pointed out. “The paper says that the fire last night was brought under control quickly. Would they be able to do that if he was controlling the fire?”

“It might not have been the demon that started the one last night,” Cordelia felt compelled to point out. At this point they were just assuming that the demon was responsible.

“Or he might not have stuck around to be able to control it. If it can control fire as well as start them, then that will make trapping it more difficult, won’t it?”

“I like her,” Xander enthused, pointing at Jane while looking at Cordelia. “Smart. Tough—as the bruises on my chest attest—” Xander had taken Jane through a sparring session yesterday to get an evaluation of her self-defence skills, “—which is good. But smart—which is better. She makes a good point. If this demon can control fire, it makes finding a way to make ourselves fireproof even more important.”

Cordelia shuddered at the image that leapt to mind. “Gee, ya think?” she retorted sarcastically.

“I could call Wills,” he offered. “She should be able to knock up some mojo that would do the job.”

“Nah, it’s ok. We have our own people who should be able to work something out.” It wasn’t that she was against asking for help, or using magic to do the job, but with Xander here and Giles doing research on their behalf and Angel a presence to be dealt with, it was beginning to feel a bit like Doyle-Oracle had become a subsidiary of the IWC, and Cordelia didn’t like the feeling she had of a loss of control. Perhaps she had spent too much time with Bruce. Besides, she’d had too many experiences with Willow’s spells getting screwed up, and no matter how much confidence Xander and Spike had in her, Cordelia still felt uneasy with trusting Willow’s skill. She’d call Piper once it was a civilised hour in California, and see what the Charmed Ones had come up with.

“I should warn you that Buffy and Willow are going to be coming to Gotham,” Xander told her once Jane had gone to get dressed and drag Alice out of bed.

“What?” Panic, sharp and instantaneous, spiralled through her. She really didn’t want to have to deal with Buffy and Willow on top of everything else at the moment. “Why?”

“Giles told everyone about you and Jane.”

“And Jane merits a visit from Buffy when you’re already here?”

“Not so much. No.” Xander looked embarrassed.

“Well I doubt they’re coming to visit me, we’re hardly friend—” He looked pained and the penny dropped. “They’re coming to make sure I’m not evil, aren’t they?”

Xander nodded reluctantly. “Giles called this morning. He conference called with the ruling council last night to discuss what should be done for Jane and to tell them about you. Buffy wigged a bit. She’s not too happy about Jane—or me—staying here. Not until they’re sure that you’re not going to kill me in my sleep.”

“Don’t they trust your judgement?” she demanded then recalled who she was asking about. “Oh, what am I saying?”

“Most the time they do,” Xander sighed. “But they’re my friends, and a little protective. And I have my history working against me.”

“Never mind that you survived two years in Africa just fine?”

He looked up from his cereal, surprised. “You know about that?”

She shrugged. “I kept an eye on you at first. Spike told me a bit about what you had all been up to once I was back.”

Xander stilled. “You kept an eye on me? So you know about—”

“Yeah.”

“Oh.”

They were silent for a few moments before Cordelia sighed, “So when can I expect to be dealing with Blondie and Sabrina?”

“You’ve got a couple of days. They were all for leaving immediately and teleporting here, but Giles managed to talk them into finishing up what they were doing and travelling by conventional means. Buffy is wrapping up a job in Florence. Willow is on her yearly retreat in Devon.”

“Well this is just wonderful.” Cordelia groaned and buried her head in her hands.

“At least I warned you.”

“Yeah, thanks,” she muttered. She raised her head to look at him. “I don’t suppose that Giles had any leads on our demon, did he?”

 He shook his head. “No. They couldn’t find anything that matched the description you gave. He’s emailing me a list of the demons that they did find that can create fire, though. I’ll forward it to you to check if you give me your email.”

“Xander Harris, computer savvy? That’s a bit of a change.”

“Well, I wouldn’t say I’m savvy.” He smiled. “But I can manage email and some surfing. Unless it involves weapons, in which case, I’m your man.”

“You still got that soldier thing going on?” She was surprised. She would have thought that Soldier boy faded long ago.

“A little,” he admitted. “Some of the skills came to the fore and then became ingrained after Africa. If you want to shoot it or blow it up, I’m the go to guy.”

A thought occurred to her and she smirked. “Remind me to introduce you to Fiona some time. You have a few interests in common.”

“Do I want to meet this Fiona?” he asked, eyeing her suspiciously. “Or is she someone you’re going to introduce me to as a punishment for something?”

She thought about it for a moment. “Could go either way,” she admitted then returned to the matter at hand. “I’ve actually found myself hoping for a vision. Something, anything, to identify this thing.”

“Who’s had a vision?” Dean yawned as he entered the kitchen. “Are you not telling me something Sammy?” he asked over his shoulder to Sam, who was behind him.

Sam’s hair was still damp from the shower. “You really need to get that water pressure fixed, Cordy,” he said, ignoring his brother.

She had a list of repairs and jobs that needed doing throughout the building. That one was under the heading It’s working, so it can wait. “It’s on the list,” she told Sam, then explained to Dean that she had been hoping for a vision. “The Powers That Be have been surprisingly mute on this one.”

“I was going to ask you about that,” Dean said, sliding bread into the toaster.

Jane returned with Alice and they all turned their attention to breakfast. 

“So what’s on for everyone this morning?” Sam asked, watching Alice drink the last of the milk from her cereal bowl.

“Cartoons!” Alice enthused excitedly.

“If no one needs me elsewhere, that sounds good.” Xander smiled his most charming smile at Alice, who regarded him suspiciously for a moment. “Do you mind if I join you? I haven’t been able to watch Sunday morning cartoons in ages.”

Alice considered him thoughtfully. “Ok,” she agreed finally, raiding the fruit bowl. “But we’re gonna need more cereal.”

“Definitely,” he concurred solemnly. Alice gave him a quick grin and headed for the living room.

“I have a few calls to make,” Cordelia said, pulling another box of Lucky Charms out of the cupboard and handing it to Xander. “And I need to get some book work done. What about you Dean?”

“Thought I might do a bit of a patrol through a couple of the demon communities. See if I can’t pick up any useful information and re-familiarise myself with the areas.”

“Research.” Sam shrugged. “What about you Jane?”

Jane blinked. “I don’t know. I was thinking about taking Alice to the park, but she seems to have made other plans.” There was a plaintive quality to Jane’s tone that made Cordelia ache a little for her. She sounded a little bewildered that Alice wasn’t relying solely on her any longer. Cordelia thought that that was a good thing, but could see how it would be a difficult adjustment for Jane.

Jane frowned in thought. “Do you mind if I tag along?” she asked Dean. “It’d be good to get a look at what I’m going to be dealing with from now on.”

He shot a quick look at Cordelia who just shrugged. “Sure,” he agreed with a shrug of his own.

*_*_*_*

Two hours spent wrestling distractedly with the accounting package printing invoices were enough to convince Cordelia that it was time to deal with her elephant in the room and an hour later she found herself standing outside Angel’s hotel room, trying to work up the courage to knock.

“Oh for god’s sake,” she muttered, annoyed with herself. She rapped sharply on the door.

Angel was shirtless and mussed when he opened the door and her stomach gave a kick. He looked just as she remembered from LA— Strikingly handsome even with bed head – and she wasn’t above appreciating the sight.

“Cordelia?”

Just the sight of him and she could feel the fury returning. “Hi. We need to talk,” she told him shortly pushing past him into the hotel room.

“I wasn’t expecting you so soon,” he said unnecessarily, closing the door behind her.

“Yeah, I know.” Her words are clipped as she kept a tight rein on her temper. “That’s kinda the point.” The anger isn’t as strong as it was before. Venting at him last night had done some good.

He watches her pace the room. “It’s really good to see you Cordy,” he offers sincerely. ‘Really good’ is a rather weak way to phrase it, but he’s having trouble formulating the words to express what he feels right now.

“I’m not sure if I can say the same Angel,” she told him honestly. “I’m still kinda— ”

“Angry?”

“—pissed at you. I know some of it is misdirected, but there you go.” She stopped pacing and eyed him warily. “You know this would be much more comfortable if you put a shirt on.”

He retrieved the dark blue shirt from the back of the chair and shrugged into it.

“Still with the dark colours, I see.”

“Yeah.”

“Some things don’t change.” She continued pacing.

Silence reigned again whilst she struggled to come up with a way to start this conversation without lashing out at him. ‘What the hell were you thinking?!’ wasn’t the way to start a rational conversation.

Finally Angel breaks the silence. “How are you alive, Cordy? Not that I’m complaining,” he assured, “but I had to bury you. Seeing you here now is... wonderful. And somewhat unnerving at the same time.”

She can hear the pain in his voice and it helps to lessen that anger further. She’d never been about to stay mad at him long when he was being sincere. She breathed deeply then exhaled. They might as well start at the beginning.

“I made a deal with the Powers,” she told him shortly. “They were taking too long to decide what to do with me, so I decided for them.” That’s not quite how it had happened but she was going to keep this as simple as she could.

He frowned. “I can’t see them just agreeing to that. Not based off of what I know of them.”

“You’re right. They didn’t just say ‘Oh hey, great idea. Here, have your old life back.’” Her sarcasm bit as she glared at him. “There were negotiations involved. And a few temper tantrums—”

“From you?”

“Not so much as you might think, no. Although, I threw the mother of all hissy fits when Wes was killed.” Her tone hardened. “And when Lorne shot Lindsey.” She resumed pacing. “There were conditions of course.” She scoffed. “One of them being that I wasn’t allowed to contact you until your review was done. And even then they would need to give permission. It was probably just as well. If I had been allowed to contact you then—” Her tempo and tone had increased. Thoughts of a rational discussion fled as the question she had wanted answered for years spilled from her. “What the hell were you thinking?!”

He flinched, as much from the words as from her volume. He doesn’t ask what she means. Her words last night still echoed in his head. “You sent me the vision,” he pointed out.

“The PTBs sent the vision, dumbass,” she snapped. “I just passed on the ability for you to have it. I doubt that they meant for you to go on a suicide mission to take the Circle out, otherwise your review wouldn’t have taken four years!”

He decided to get off this topic for a while to let her calm down a little. “You mentioned a review before, as well. What do you mean?”

She threw up a hand. “Your status as a Champion came under review from the moment you took over the LA branch of Wolfram and Hart. Initially they adopted a wait and see policy. They weren’t above prodding you on occasion through, which was why they granted my request to help get you back on track.”

“They told you that?”

“Yeah,” she said sourly. “They wanted me to understand what was at stake if I failed. The rest of the story I put together from overheard conversations, rumours and things they let slip.

“You sending Lorne to deal with Lindsey the way you did, didn’t go down well. And not just with me. Because of Lorne’s ability to see souls and destinies, in this dimension he has a link to the Powers.”

“But—”

She interrupted before he could verbalise his protest. “If he didn’t have the link, his abilities would have been the same as Landok’s. He wouldn’t have gotten the kind of information he did when people sang, he just would have been able to track them.

“But because of the nature of the link, as long as he remained innocent, despite whatever agreement was made with the Senior Partners, the Powers had first claim on Lorne.”

“Why? They never directly used him. And never said anything.”

“He probably didn’t even know. There was no reason for him to. They weren’t trying to manipulate him—which is a change for the Powers I grant you—just giving him the tools to do what he was already inclined to anyway. A lot of people need guidance, Angel. Sometimes a gentle word or two does a hell of a lot more good than a therapist.”

“Are you speaking from personal experience?”

“No,” she snorted. ”I needed therapy.” Seven months of it with Sophie Freidman. Another of Hawkeye’s extended family – god bless the man. “I have seen it in action though. And what you had him do to Lindsey endangered all the good he could do. He’s no longer innocent, and the Senior Partners now have a claim. It’s tenuous for the moment owing to them being so weak in this dimension, but when that changes, Lorne is in for a world of trouble.”

Dismay was writ large on his face and she almost felt sorry for him. “Is that why you’re so angry?”

“No. I’m just furious with you that you could ask him to do that. That your brilliant plan killed almost all of my friends. The PTBs reasons are something I found out later. An extra bonus, if you like. But that and your history of going off the reservation put your case straight back into review. I’m betting you haven’t had a seer for years, am I right?”

“I got a new one two years ago,” he admitted slowly. “Mike. He’s smart, but he’s no you.”

She seemed to ignore the compliment. “Huh. Three years in review then. I’m betting you were probably on some kind of probation for about a year after that.”

He frowned. Mike had said something like that when he’d first arrived in LA. Angel hadn’t thought too much of it at the time, assuming it to be more like a trial to see if he and Mike worked together all right. Wait a moment. “How did you know that it was a year?”

She exhaled. “I was notified that it was ok to contact you around about then,” she admitted.

He stared at her in disbelief. Ok. He could accept that she hadn’t contacted him at first because it had been forbidden to her, but a year? She had been allowed to contact him for a year, and she hadn’t even called? No post card? Nothing? “Why didn’t y—”

“I had other things going on Angel!” she snapped at him, annoyed. “And a few issues to deal with. Or would you have preferred me to stake you?” And she would have, because by that stage all of the issues she had tangled up in her head and triggered off an uncontrollable fury every time she’d thought of him. Not all of her issues were actually with him, but the fact that she hadn’t been able to rant at him and deal with the ones that were had made him a convenient target for her fury.

Angel appeared to decide that it would be safer to change the subject. “You said something last night, about me not learning the most important lesson.”

“I did, didn’t I?” She sighed and most of the annoyance drained away, taking with it most of the anger. She dropped onto the sofa.

“Are you angry about that, too?” he asked, watching her carefully.

“No. Not angry,” she denied. “Disappointed.” That was worse in a way. She’d been hopeful when she’d left him. That he’d get back on track and start living his life—un-death—but he hadn’t, not really. “Do you remember what I said? We take what we’ve got and we do our best with it?”

“I remember,” he confirmed quietly.

“I thought that you’d get it. Do your best to save those you can. Deal with the past then let it go and live in the present, enjoying what you have.”

He managed a tentative smile and sat down beside her. “Is that a new way of telling me not to brood?”

“In a way,” she admitted, smiling sadly. “Maybe I shouldn’t have expected you to get it, but I’d thought that you’d grown past Sunnydale.”

He frowned, puzzled. “I did.”

“In some ways.” She nodded. “But then Spike shows up and suddenly it’s just like you were in Sunnydale. All about Buffy. Living in the past. Hell, you and Spike went to Rome to try and separate her from the Immortal.”

“Buffy is always going to be important to me. And the Immortal—”

“I know. You’re wrong about ‘The Immortal’ by the way, but I know Buffy is always going to be important. I had front row seats to the saga that was your relationship, remember? I admit that at first I felt jealous, but that didn’t last long and I was just left feeling disappointed. She was a grown woman capable of making her own choices and mistakes. If things went bad she had Giles and the Scoobies to lean on. She didn’t need you riding in to rescue her, you needed to let go.”

“We reached the same conclusion, eventually.”

“I know. But the whole Buffy thing just drove it home. With the guys, Illyria and Wolfram and Hart to deal with at home, you chased after Buffy when no one had asked for your help. For you the past takes precedence over the present.”

Silence fell again. There was no anger left in her now, she’d had her say. All she felt now was wrung out, and lighter than she’d felt for years. She may still have issues relating to the whole Jasmine fiasco, but there’s a relief in having things out with Angel, with not having to be angry with him anymore.

“Hindsight is 20-20,” he said finally. “I have a lot of regrets about the way things happened, and the way things turned out.”

“I never thought you wouldn’t,” she told him quietly. “I know you. I was just pissed about the way you chose to handle it and what that said about how you had changed.”

He looked morose. “You really think I live too much in the past?”

She didn’t answer immediately. Instead she asked, “What do you think of your current crew?”

He frowned, puzzled as to why she would be asking. “They’re smart. All lawyer types for the most part. Not a patch on the old AI crew. It’s very different from what we used to do.”

“If it could go back to the way it was, would you want to?”

“Yes. In a heartbeat.” He didn’t have to think about it. To be able to turn the clocks back and have them all alive and healthy – and probably arguing with him – was something he wanted so much sometimes it ached.

“Then yes. I think you’re still living too much in the past.” The half smile on her face was an odd mixture of emotions. “You can’t go back. Deal with the past and move forward.”

He swallowed the lump that had formed in his throat when he realised what she was saying. She wasn’t coming back. “Take what you’ve got and do your best with it.”

“Yeah,” she agreed in a murmur.

He thought about what she’d built in the last 18 months. “You do that well.”

“Not so well.” She shrugged. “I was pretty pathetic for a few years. Even Spike took pity on me.”

He found himself chuckling slightly. “I meant Oracle Service Industries.”

“Oh. That. Well, yeah. It was getting depressing running into all of these Hunters. They do a great job under bad circumstances. Little back up, no organised research, not a lot of communication between them. It’s just them and their tenacity or obsession to drive them. And if they can’t hunt they became bitter, twisted people. It seemed like a good idea to try to see what could be done to channel their energies and help keep them alive longer.”

“But Doyle-Oracle?

“Oh for...” she huffed. “I was drunk! Jo and David ganged up on me! David was making stupid jokes about me being an oracle and Jo insisted that my name had to be on the business. Oracle Service Industries was registered after I sobered up and realised I didn’t want to saddle any other potential branches with my drunken naming episode.”

“Shouldn’t it be Chase-Oracle instead then?”

“Cordelia Chase is dead,” she told him flatly. “Cremated and buried, with a Death certificate and all. It’s a bit difficult now to go and say ‘Oops we made a mistake.’”

“The IWC would be able to pull some strings. And Angel, Robinson and Carter would be happy to handle any legalese.”

“Are your partners going to want to lynch you for offering?”

“Possibly.”

“Well, thank you. But no thanks. I’ve finally gotten all the problems with being Cordelia Doyle sorted out.”

“Was it sorted out legally?”

“Of course not,” she scoffed. “But it is official now. Besides, I’ve gotten used to it.”

“There are worse things than being known as Doyle, I suppose.”

“As a name, I can use it with more pride than Chase. Doyle didn’t escape to Mexico to avoid the IRS after all.”

“There’s a point,” he allowed. “But I kind of liked Chase.”

“Yeah, me too,” She admitted quietly.

“So,” he said after a few minutes of companionable silence. “Is there anything else you need to get off your chest? Just so that I don’t get blindsided by you again?”

She thought about it. “Yes, actually,” she told him slowly. She slapped him on the shoulder. “I was acting that out of character and it took you months to call me on it? What was wrong with you?”

She wasn’t truly angry, just annoyed. They’d already made it clear that they understood about what had happened with Jasmine being in control, but still, friends pulled each other up on that kind of crap.  

He looked puzzled for a few moments about what she was talking about. She saw comprehension dawn and his expression turned sheepish. “We sort of dropped the ball on that one, didn’t we?”

“No kidding.”

“I thought it was something to do with your adjustment with being back with us at first and I didn’t want to push. After a while, well...”

“Sometimes Angel, people need a push,” she advised. “It gets them moving.”

“I’ll keep that in mind in future.”

“You do that.” She tilted her head to look at him. “So, now that I’ve vented at you, are there any more questions?”

“Lots,” he said feelingly.

*_*_*_*
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