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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
KylieLFR131060,07672010,10526 Jan 1016 Feb 10Yes

Chapter Six: Confrontations

Life After: World On Fire

Chapter Six: Confrontation

“Well that was an experience,” Jane remarked as she entered the office of Doyle-Oracle. “I mean, I saw the books and Cordelia said, and I’ve seen some really weird things, but there really are demons. The fire-starter isn’t just a one off monster, there are others.” She felt was feeling a little shell-shocked. She had accepted that there were vampires — being chased by three of them was hard to argue with – but the belief in demons, at least peaceful demons, was something she had only grasped in an intellectual sense. Meeting actual demons in the flesh had brought it home as an emotional reality as well. It would take a bit of time to get used to. At least none of the demons she had met that day had tried to kill her or anything, which was a relief. They all had been wary of her though, shooting her assessing sidelong glances. The wariness had been mutual. She’d been feeling a constant itch and instinct had prodded at her to start killing...slaying. She’d also noticed that Dean had been tense.

“Yup, there are others,” Dean agreed, throwing his keys onto a desk. “Usually they’ll be trying to kill you. Gotham is a real anomaly with the number of the peaceful types. Not that I knew there was any peaceful types before meeting Cordelia.”

“Is that why you were so tense earlier?”

“Yeah. Normally when I see demons they’re trying to kill me, or Sammy. Standing around and chatting isn’t something I’m really comfortable with.”

“Right. So normally if I see a demon I should...slay?”

“With extreme prejudice, sweetheart.” He grinned at her, a slow grin that made her stomach flutter. Her face heated and she swallowed a groan. He was not a good choice for a crush.

A series of muffled bangs echoed throughout the building and she froze. “What was that?”

“Upstairs.” Dean took off at a sprint, taking the stairs two at a time. She followed closely behind. Where was Alice?

The question was answered as she reached the third floor. Alice was frowning in concentration as she watched Xander swing a sledgehammer at a wall.

“See?” he said. “You’ve got to get a decent swing up and put all of your strength into it.”

Alice nodded and swung the hammer she was holding at the partially demolished wall. It impacted with a solidly with a part of the wall frame.

“Not bad,” he complimented her. “Keep working.”

“Dude, did you get that from the trunk?” Dean’s question made Jane blink and broke her narrow focus on Alice. She blinked again. The wall that Xander and Alice were demolishing wasn’t the only wall under attack. Sam was swinging a sledgehammer at the opposite wall. They were all covered in plaster and dust, debris from an already demolished wall was piled in a corner and the floor looked like a demolition site, which she supposed it was. Dean moved forward to join his brother, while she surveyed the mess.

“What the heck are you doing?” she asked in consternation.

“Jane!” Alice spun around at the question, her face alight with excitement. “Xander’s showing me how to demolish walls!”

Uh-huh. She could see that. A more pressing issue was exercising her at the moment. “Alice, you’re demolishing our bedroom.”

Alice giggled. “I know! It’s fun!”

“But where’s our stuff?” On second thought, Alice wouldn’t be so worried about most of that. “Where’s Fozzie?”

Xander had lowered his sledgehammer. “Fozzie is safe, Jane,” Xander assured her. “He and all of your things are downstairs. We moved everything into rooms on the second floor before we dug out the sledgehammers.”

“We didn’t dig them out,” Alice corrected, frowning at Xander. “We went to the hardware store.”

“What happened to Sunday morning cartoons?” Jane asked weakly. She was trying not to imagine the trouble she was likely to get into from Cordelia for this. Cordelia might throw them out and Jane wasn’t ready to go yet. She’d just started to get used to the idea that they might be able to stay for a while.

Alice crossed her arms crossly. “They’re not on any more!”

“They cancelled Kids WB,” Xander explained with an annoyed frown. “I leave the country for a couple of years and they start cancelling institutions.”

“Does Cordelia know that you are demolishing her third floor?”

Jane spun around at the bemused question, her surprised gaze meeting that of a man in jeans, a shirt and jacket. Not quite business wear, but he was dressed sharper than most would be on a Sunday. He looked familiar, but she couldn’t place his face, which was irritating. “How did you get in here?” she demanded. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Xander step in front of Alice, putting himself between her and the stranger. Her estimation of him went up. The stranger must have noticed the movement as well, his mouth quirked briefly into a strangely amused smile.

His focus returned to Jane. “I have a key,” he said, answering her question. “But I didn’t need it, the front door was open.” He extended his hand. “You must be Jane. Cordelia and Alfred have both mentioned you.” 

She glanced warily at the proffered hand, then back at his face. He didn’t look threatening, but there was just something she couldn’t put her finger on. Instinct told her that it would be best to proceed with caution, the fact that he got past the wards be damned. He’d had mentioned Alfred, which worked in his favour. She had liked the older man when Cordelia had introduced them yesterday; he hadn’t made a fuss or asked a lot of questions. Memory flashed. She’d seen this man in the paper. Full realisation only took a few seconds. Oh geez, she was being rude to Bruce Wayne. She shook his hand. “Hi,” she managed to say in what mortifyingly came out as a squeak of embarrassment.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, I’m—”

“Bruce Wayne, I know.” Really she’d be wishing that ground would swallow her whole, but that would leave Alice alone with an overabundance of testosterone.

“Wayne?” Xander frowned. “Are you the guy that Cordy was out with last night?” Sam and Dean had moved to flank Xander so that together they’re presenting a wall of male Hunter with Alice peeking out from behind them.

Wayne did that lightening fast amused quirk of the mouth again. “Yes,” he confirmed easily. “I dropped in because I had some information for Cordelia. Do you know where she is?”

Jane frowned. Now that he mentioned it, where was Cordelia? She hadn’t seen her downstairs earlier and surely this ruckus would have gotten her attention if she was home.

“She’s not here at the moment,” Sam advised Wayne warily. He had met the man a couple of times, but he still wasn’t too sure about him. “She had someone she had to see. We could tell her you dropped by though.”

“Someone she had to see?” Wayne’s frown looked slightly worried. “Work related?”

“None of your business pal,” Xander advised warningly. “If Cordelia wanted you to know, she would have told you.”

“Probably having things out with Angel then,” Wayne muttered.

Xander startled. “Angel?” he yelped in surprise. “Captain Forehead, Angel?”

Wayne’s amused smile was more definite this time. “She didn’t call him that, but now that you mention it, from what I saw of him last night his forehead is somewhat prominent, yes.”

Xander began to curse under his breath. Jane shot an annoyed glare at him. His words couldn’t be made out, but his tone was unmistakeable and she didn’t want anyone swearing in front of Alice. Then his reaction caught up with her. Whoever this Angel was, it wasn’t good. “Who’s Angel?” she asked, concerned.

“Angel’s a friend.” Cordelia’s voice floated up the stairway, followed by Cordelia herself. “And my old boss.” She reached the top of the stairs and stopped in surprise. She took in Bruce Wayne, Jane, the wall of masculinity glaring at her and the demolitions. “Is there a reason you’re demolishing the third floor?” she enquired mildly of the men holding sledgehammers.

Xander didn’t answer. “Angel’s in town?” he demanded. “Deadboy?”

“Don’t call him that,” she reprimanded. “And yes. We had a few things to work out, so I went and saw him.”

“How did it go?” Bruce asked his voice studiously neutral.

“Fine. He’s still in the land of the un-dead and I don’t want to stake him anymore, so we’re good.”

That caught Jane’s attention. “Stake him? Angel’s a vampire?” She blinked. “Then why is you not wanting to stake him a good thing?”

“It’s not,” Xander muttered. He indicated to Bruce with his head, shooting a questioning look at Cordelia.

“Bruce is fine, he saw me stake a vampire the first time we met,” she dismissed. Then to Jane she explained, “Angel and Spike are both vampires. They both have souls, so they’re the exception to the whole ‘stake all vampires’ rule. Although, if either of them turns evil again I’ll declare open season on their asses.”

Dean grinned. “Does Spike know you’re planning on staking him?”

“Yeah, of course. So does Angel.”

“You have some very strange friends,” he noted.

“I know. I’m looking at few of them right now.”

Sam coughed to cover his laughter as Dean looked away and started to fidget with a hammer. Dean always seemed to come off second best when it came to crossing swords with Cordelia.

She turned her attention to Bruce. “I have some news about the fire last night,” he told her. “I went down there to check on our holdings.”

“Any of your property affected?”

“One warehouse. A couple of others had some minor smoke damage, but the rest escaped untouched. I spoke to the fire investigators this morning, and they’re pretty sure that this was a regular case of arson. They found matches and remains of a small amount of kerosene.”

“They have any idea who was responsible?”

“No. But they said that this one didn’t burn as fast as the other fires at the docks and it was brought under control and extinguished quickly.”

“Hmm.” Cordelia looked thoughtful. “So it wasn’t our guy last night.”

“Doesn’t look like it.”

“OK. Thanks.” She smiled.

“No problem,” he assured. “I had to go down there anyway.”

While Cordelia saw Bruce out, Jane watched the others relax. Xander shook his head and went back to demolishing the wall with Alice. Dean found a crowbar, and started to help Sam on the other wall. They were protective of Cordelia, she realised. They hadn’t made a fuss last night, but when faced with Bruce Wayne in the flesh they’d banded together to try and intimidate the man. Not that it had worked, which was a little surprising. They’d been radiating a menace impossible to miss and Wayne hadn’t even blinked. If anything he’d been a little amused. But he hadn’t made a move, almost like he’d respected their stance—even if he had found it amusing.

She ruminated on that until Cordelia returned. The idea that there might be more to Bruce Wayne than what was reported in the Business and Society pages took a little getting used to.

Cordelia surveyed the mess that now was her third floor as she stepped over a pile of old timber. “I’m going to ask again,” she said, her tone curious rather than angry. “Is there a reason that you’re demolishing the third floor?”

“They cancelled the cartoons!” Alice yelled over the noise.

“Oh, so you thought you’d take your frustration out on the walls? What did they do to you?” she teased.

Alice giggled nervously. “Nothing. But it’s fun.”

Xander lowered his sledgehammer again and turned to explain. “I found the plans you had for remodelling the place,” he said. “It doesn’t look like you’ve gotten any further than remodelling the office—”

“I had the elevator fixed,” she corrected.

“Really? Well, anyway I figured that I’d do a bit of—”

“Wait a minute,” Dean interrupted, staring at Cordelia. “The elevator’s fixed? It works?”

“Yeah,” she confirmed with a nod. “I had to get it fixed when Sam Garrett was staying. With her hip she couldn’t manage the stairs until her physio—”

“It works. You could have said something!”

She looked surprised. “You didn’t ask.”

Dean vented his frustration. “I’ve been hauling duffels and stuff up and down the stairs and the elevator works!” He pointed at her with the crowbar. “If I end up with back problems, I’m blaming you.”

Cordelia laughed lightly. “Your health insurance will cover it,” she assured him with a smile.

Xander looked at the Winchester’s in surprise. “You’ve got health insurance? How did you find a fund to cover you? We had a lot of problems with that at first.”

Sam pointed to Cordelia. “We got it as a part of working for her. In exchange for giving up the credit card fraud and getting our PI licenses we get paid and health benefits.”

Xander looked at Cordelia. “Aha! So that’s how you get the Hunter’s to work with you. You bribe them.”

“Yes.” Cordelia sighed playfully. “I tried appealing to their honour and better instincts. I tried begging. But in the end nothing works like better resources, money and health coverage.”

Xander shot a mock disgusted look at the Winchesters. “She seduced with bright and shiny presents. I’m disappointed in you. You could have done better than health insurance.”

“She threw in dental and a 401(k),” Sam advised, amused.

 “I think I’m working for the wrong people,” Xander told Alice wryly. “But back to the original subject. I think the plans that you’ve made could use a little tweaking, but either way the walls needed to be taken out anyway, so I thought I’d get started on it. You’d be surprised how therapeutic demolition can be.”

It was therapeutic Jane had to admit an hour later. They’d been advised by Xander not to demolish the walls he’d marked with red tape. Those were load bearers. Not wanting to bring the roof down on their heads, Jane had complied. It was something of a release, a good way to work out her frustrations and fears and tensions without harming anyone. She could use her full strength on the walls, not hold back. Finding out just how strong she was shocked her. It had surprised everyone else too, except for Cordelia and Xander who had seen such displays before. Dean had muttered something about super-powered jailbait that she hadn’t quite been able to catch.

By late afternoon they had knocked out all of the non-load bearing walls. Electrical wiring hung from the ceiling, the ends tied up into bundles to keep them out of the way. It would take longer to clear out all of the debris, but all of the larger pieces had been carted down to the dumpsters at the side of the building.

“Well,” Sam said, surveying the results of their efforts. “I think it can be safely said that we rock at destruction.”

“I thought we already knew that.” Cordelia smirked. “Remember graduation?” she asked Xander.

“Who could forget?” Xander shuddered. “I had nightmares about giant snakes for a week afterward.”

*_*_*_*

Later that night they gathered in the living room. Alice was watching one of the Harry Potter movies while everyone else was discussing the demon problem.

“We have good news and bad news on that front,” Dean announced. “Which do you want first?”

Cordelia debated briefly. “Good news first.” There was likely to be a lot of bad news, so why not?

“We aren’t dealing with Azazel.”

“What’s the bad news?” Xander asked.

“We still don’t know what kind of demon we are dealing with,” Jane sighed.

“How do you know it’s not Azazel?” Sam asked.

“We got a description of the Azazel that has been spooking the Mob. Word had leaked out to the demon community in Jerold.”

“Tall, lean, powerful, sharp teeth, bald head, horns and lots of scars.” Jane reeled off the description they’d received.

“A physical demon then, not Azazel,” Cordelia commented thoughtfully, considering the description. “It does sound eerily familiar though.”

“Yeah, it sounds like our fire starter,” Jane agreed. “But none of the descriptions mentioned fire or flame.”

Cordelia sighed. “So we might have been searching with an incorrect description.”

“On the plus side, it does mean that we only have to worry about one demon, not two,” Sam noted. “It also means that we don’t have to worry about dealing with people who are possessed.”

“Good point.”

“So where did the idea he was Azazel come from?” Xander asked.

“Who knows? We couldn’t pin that one down. It was a rumour that people – demons – picked up on and it spread, panic in its wake.” Dean said, shrugging.

“That could have been the point though,” Jane said thoughtfully. “If your sources can’t identify this guy easily, the demon sources probably couldn’t either. If it’s trying to cause a panic why not use the name of a demon who everyone’s afraid of?”

Cordelia caught her bottom lip in her teeth and considered that scenario. It made as much sense as anything else. Scary sense, but sense never the less.  “A demon who knows how to work the rumour mill? Has to have been a Wolfram and Hart client at some point. Either that, or...” The memory of what Joy hadn’t said. The hesitancy of the demon community to talk to her... “There are humans involved.”

What if she had misinterpreted their reluctance to talk to her? What if they weren’t trying to hide something a demon had done, what if they had heard about something a human had done, but knew that the authorities couldn’t – or wouldn’t – do anything about it? If the community elders knew it was something she couldn’t help with – at least not legally – would they tell her?

On the television GCN’s news logo suddenly interrupted the movie that most of them had been ignoring. Images of flames caught their attention. Xander fumbled for the remote control and turned the volume up.

“—Rootsville residents who choose to leave are being evacuated to Gotham Stadium. Authorities are advising residents who chose to stay to remain indoors and do their best to fireproof their homes.

“Gotham City Rail have advised that the White line is currently terminating at Rootsville Park. Further changes will be announced via Black line platform announcements and the GCR website.

“Motorists are advised that the Inner Gotham Ring Road is closed at Midtown Bridge in both directions, Rootsville Park eastbound and Haysville northbound. Motorists are advised to find an alternate route or take alternate transport—”

The announcer continued, but they muted him.

“Well, that’s not good,” Xander observed. “Rootsville? Where’s that?”

“Downtown,” Jane said.

“On the east side, it’s the suburb right next to the Gotham Docklands,” Cordelia added.

After watching the images of the fire brigade battling the fire spreading through Rootsville for a few minutes, Jane broke the silence as Alice climbed onto her lap. “So what do we do now?”

“There’s nothing we can do at the moment,” Cordelia replied regretfully. “Not in Rootsville, in any case, we’d just get in the way. I’ll do my normal patrol for tonight. Tomorrow we need to sort out a way to deal with this thing, whatever it is.”

“The standard slice and dice should work, don’t you think?” Xander proposed.

“Probably.”

“The problem is getting close enough to it to administer the slice and dice,” Dean pointed out. “I can’t say that I’m a big fan of being roasted.”

“Getting that close is closer than I’m comfortable with as well,” Cordelia agreed. “I might just stick with the crossbow and keep my distance.”

“That didn’t seem to do much damage last week.” Jane frowned. “It made him stumble back a bit, but he recovered pretty quickly.”

“It might be time to see what kind of damage a shotgun can do to it,” Dean mused.

Cordelia grimaced. During her time on the road with them, Sam and Dean had taught her to shoot, and time with Mike and Fi had refined her skills, but still, “I’m not comfortable with guns, you guys know that.”

“You don’t have to use one, princess, but if a crossbow won’t do the job you might need something with a bigger kick to it. There’s not much else in the way of options if you want to keep your distance.”

“We’d have to try something more traditional than rock salt,” Sam mused. “I think we’ve got some silver in the trunk.”

“It’s too soft,” Xander advised. “It just pancakes on impact. Although, if you can put silver in a bullet, it’ll often do the job.”

“You’ve tried it?”

“Yeah.” Xander was sombre. “In Africa.”

“If we’re going to break out the guns it might be a good idea to see if we can get it isolated. The last thing we want is a civilian in the line of fire.”

“I’m not sure that we’ll get the option, but if we could that would be the way to go.” Cordelia nodded. “Any idea how we do that?”

Sam slumped. “No. Not yet.”

*_*_*_*

“So, Deadboy’s in town, huh?” Xander asked as he and Cordelia walked back to Doyle-Oracle after patrol. The night was clear and cold, but even so he’d been rather surprised at how little demon activity there was. Only one vampire slayed for the night was a pitiful tally in his experience. Cordelia had explained about the Gotham demon population but he hadn’t believed that such a large city could be that demonically quiet until tonight.

“Xander.” Warning sounded in her voice. “Don’t start.”

“I’m not,” he protested. “I’m just a little worried. About you.”

“Why?”

“The other day you said that you had a few issues with Angel.”

She looked surprised that he’d remembered. “Yes.”

“He’s been awfully tight lipped about what happened in LA. I mean, we only were told the basics. Spike filled a few details in, but it’s not like he knew much.”

“No, he wouldn’t have.”

“So what’s going on there? Deadb—” He broke off as she glared at him. ”Ok, ok. Angel. Angle got all brooding-coat-king-of-pain when we mentioned you for months.”

“Brooding-coat-king-of-pain?” Cordelia repeated incredulously.

“Yeah. Riley called him that after he and Angel had their altercation in Sunnydale.”

“Riley?” She looked confused. “When did Riley meet—oh! Buffy’s Riley. The one Spike calls Captain Cardboard? I’ll have to remember that one.”

“Captain Cardboard?”

She shrugged. “It’s what Spike called him.”

“Anyway,” he grumped, annoyed on Riley’s behalf, “Even when Angel and Buffy were doing the awkward ‘we’re friends who work together’ thing, just the mention of your name would send him into a bad mood.”

“Spike told me a bit about that,” she said. “Whose idea was it for Buffy to be stationed in LA?”

He hesitated before answering. “Buffy’s,” he admitted. “She was smarting from her breakup with the Immortal. I think she might have just been after some assurance that she was...you know.”

“Yeah I do.” Cordelia sounded amused. “Though I don’t understand why she’d need the reassurance. Duncan McLeod loves women. I mean that in the best sense of the phrase, he adores them. He would have made her feel like a queen.”

“Maybe it was the fact that he loved too many women at once that was the problem,” he muttered darkly. He really should have been surprised that Cordy know about the Immortal, when Buffy hadn’t even told him the guy’s name. Strangely he wasn’t.

“Duncan?” She looked at him in disbelief. “I don’t believe it. The man’s a serial monogamist. He may get around a bit, but he stays faithful to whichever woman he’s in a relationship with.” She frowned. “Well, except for Amanda. But their relationship has always been...complicated.”

“Well from what Buffy said, she found a brunette in his bed.”

“With—”

“No. Just in his bed. Apparently looking like the cat that had stolen the cream.”

“That sounds an awful lot like Amanda. Did Buffy give Duncan a chance to explain when he turned up or did she just do that withdrawing into herself thing she does when she’s surprised?”

“I don’t know, she didn’t say.”

Cordelia groaned. “And I think I suck at relationships.”

They paused at a set of lights. “Speaking of which, let’s return to the original subject. What’s going on between you and Angel?”

“Nothing. We’re friends.”

“Uh-huh. So why didn’t you contact him? And why does he go all grim when anyone mentions you?”

“We’re friends.” She sighed. “We were best friends. After a few years we fell in love, but we could never get our timing together to see what we could make of it. Demons and apocalypses and Powers That Be kept interrupting. That’s it.”

“It sounds like dating on the Hellmouth,” he commented, unsure of what else to say. Angel and Cordelia as a couple wasn’t something he’d really considered before. He wouldn’t have thought that Cordelia would have been Angel’s type. Back then she would have been high strung and more than a little shallow. He wouldn’t have thought that Angel would be Cordelia’s type either. Not with all the brooding the vampire did.

“We never got to the date part.”

“So what are you going to do now?” Whatever miss-match there had been previously, now Cordelia was someone he could actually picture Angel with, and obviously there were still feelings there, no matter what she said. “Will you go back to LA?”

She looked at him in surprise and stumbled on the kerb. “No,” she said, catching her balance. “Why would you ask that?”

Well it wasn’t because he liked the idea. “I just thought...”

“My life is here. My business is here.”

“That could be moved,” he pointed out.

“Nah. I’ve got family here now. Alfred. Bruce. Jane and Alice. Gray. Gotham—as troubled as it is—is home. Angel and I missed our chance.”

“What if you got another?” He couldn’t seem to stop playing devil’s advocate. Really he needs to stop doing that.

 “It wouldn’t change anything.” She looked thoughtful for a few moments then she smiled. “I don’t want to change anything. I like my life right now. I like being able to help all these people without having to worry about the demon of the week. Angel had made it clear that he wanted me to go back with him and I told him no.  The paperwork, the lack of sleep, the phone calls at weird hours, having strange hunters living with me—It’s because I’m doing something that’s mine, that makes a difference, and I wouldn’t change any of it.” She paused. “Except for the being tired part. Once this demon is toast and I hire more people, the first thing I’m doing is checking into a spa.”

“And Angel?”

“He can’t come.” At his pointed glare, she smiled. “He was my best friend before all of this. I value his friendship. I wanted to stay friends, and we will.”

“So that’s it?”

“That’s it.  He’s headed home tonight. We cleared the air.”

He was relieved. He didn’t think that Angel was the best person for her. “So what brought Angel to Gotham in the first place?” he asked. “Did you call him?”

“No. Buffy had asked him to look into Oracle Investigations. A couple of the slayers had run into a couple of hunters who are working with me.”

“You had to know you’d run into us eventually.”

“I did,” she said. “I was just hoping that it’d be a little more on my own terms. By that I don’t mean running into Angel in the ballroom of the Gotham Hilton. I don’t like being taken by surprise unless it involves little blue boxes.”

“It’s a sad testament to my life that I understand that you mean jewellery by that,” he said as they rounded the corner of her street. He stopped momentarily. There was a familiar car parked out the front with a familiar form leaning against the hood. Deadboy. He groaned and started walking towards the car.

Angel pushed off of the car at the sound of their footsteps. His voice was warm as he greeted Cordelia, but cooled when he greeted him. “Xander.”

“Deadboy.” Xander ignored the glare that Cordelia shot him.

“Angel, what are you doing here?” Cordelia inquired. She pulled her coat tighter around her to ward off the chill. “I thought you were leaving tonight?”

“I am. I came to say goodbye. Although you should think about leaving for a while as well. Gotham is getting a little hot.”

“Yeah. Traffic is going to be a bitch with all the detours and evacuees on the road,” she acknowledged.

“Tell me about it,” he grumbled. “It took me an hour and a half to get here from the hotel.”

“God, you could’ve almost driven to Washington in that time.”

“I hope they catch whoever is setting these fires soon. I’d feel better knowing that the city you’re living in isn’t about to be engulfed in flame.”

Xander bristled at the implied criticism. “We’re working on it.”

“What do you mean?” Angel asked with a puzzled frown.

“There’s a bit of a problem with identifying the demon at the moment it’s slowing things down,” she explained.

“Demon? You know who’s responsible?” He didn’t look pleased. Whether that was because Cordelia hadn’t asked him for help, or because Cordelia was putting herself front and centre in going after it, Xander didn’t know.

“More like what’s responsible,” she corrected then rattled off the description. “I don’t suppose that you’ve ever heard of it? I’ve tried every source I can think of. Even the Ghostbusters hadn’t heard of it, and Egon and Ray have some pretty esoteric references, even by Watcher standards.”

Xander and Angel gaped at her. “You know the Ghostbusters?” Xander knew he sounded like a fanboy—like Andrew—but still—the Ghostbusters!

Cordelia sighed. “Yeah. I try to avoid speaking to Peter or Egon when I can though. Peter annoys me and Egon makes my head hurt. His language is so science-y and technical. Fred would love—” She broke off. “Fred would have been in her element,” she finished quietly.

At least Xander had a pretty good idea why she’d suddenly gone so sadly quiet. He’d met Illyria and Spike had told him that story one day over copious amounts of liquor.

Angel had also quietened. He looked thoughtful. “You know, it does sound familiar. I think I encountered one back before the curse. I almost didn’t escape. It’s a justiciar—no, Adjusticar—and they’re rare, or supposedly extinct. Before that encounter I had always thought that they were just a legend used to scare demons. I’m pretty sure that the fire is something to do with purification, but I can’t remember anything else.”

“There’s a demon trying to purify Gotham’s docks. Well, that makes sense,” Cordelia snarked. “It’s more than we’ve come up with, thanks.”

“You’re welcome.” Xander was slightly disturbed to see Angel smile. “Do you want me to stay and help with this?”

“We’ll be fine Angel.” Cordelia smiled. “As you said, Gotham’s getting a bit hot for you and I prefer my friends un-flambéed. I’ve got some of my guys here. And Xander,” she added, indicating to him.

“Buffy and Willow will be here in a day or so as well,” Xander added.

Angel looked offended. “Buffy’s coming? You asked for Buffy’s help, but you won’t accept mine?”

She scoffed. “Angel, Buffy isn’t coming here to help. She’s coming to make sure that I’m not going to kill Xander in his sleep.”

“Like you could,” Xander muttered under his breath. She heard anyway.

“Oh trust me dweeb-boy, I totally could if I wanted,” she assured him with a wicked grin.

Angel nodded in agreement, “She could, you know.”

Despite having been threatened by scarier beings than Cordelia, he felt a chill slide down his spine.

Angel let out a frustrated sound. “I told Giles you weren’t evil. Why is he sending Buffy?”

“He’s not,” Xander informed him. “They’re doing the protective friend thing. Giles actually calmed Wills and the Buffster down, otherwise they’d be here already.”

Angel looked at Xander in surprise. “They didn’t stress out about sending you to Africa, but they have a problem with you being in Gotham with Cordelia? That’s messed up.”

“That’s Buffy and Willow.”

Angel made a sound of acknowledgement. “Still, if you need me to stay...” He looked at Cordelia, looking indecisive.

“You don’t really want to be here when Buffy gets here, do you?” Cordelia teased.

“Not really,” he admitted shamefaced. “It’s awkward at the moment.”

“You did something stupid, didn’t you?” she accused. “What happened?”

“Nothing. It’s just—it was kind of awkward in LA and most of our communication now is by phone, which is fine, but in person it’s just really, really awkward.

She looked pained. “I’m sure that what I’m imagining is worse than what actually happened, but: You weren’t by any chance clueless and oblivious when she was trying to get your attention, were you, you big dork?”

He shifted uncomfortably. “I might have been deliberately so, yes. I’m not comfortable at being the rebound gu—hey! I’m not a dork!” he protested, offended.

Xander had to stifle laughter. Angel the dork. He’d have trouble looking Deadboy in the eye after this.

She laughed. “It took you a while to catch that. Yes you are. It can take a while to notice but underneath the growly broody-ness, really you’re a dork.” She smiled affectionately at him. “Really it’ll be fine, Angel. Go back to—what is it?”

Angel had been distracted and was examining the roof of the Doyle-Oracle building. “There’s someone on your roof,” he told her distractedly.

They all peered up. It took a few moments but finally Xander saw a dark shape move.

Cordelia frowned. “Hmm. Probably Jane or one of the Winchesters.”

“I don’t think so, Cordy.” Xander glanced up and down the street. “There’s no sign of the Impala, so I don’t think that they’re back yet. And what would Jane be doing on the roof at this time of night?”

Angel inhaled deeply. “I can smell blood.”

It was difficult to make out in the streetlight, but Xander thought he saw Cordelia pale. “Dammit,” she cursed and spun on her heel.

As he sprinted after Cordelia, Xander saw Angel dash around the side of the building.

*_*_*_*_*

Later, she couldn’t remember unlocking the door or sprinting up the stairs, but she could recall Xander coming up behind her, breathing heavily, as she fought with the fire door access to the roof.

The sliding latch finally unstuck and she heaved the heavy door open. She rushed onto the roof, around the air conditioning unit to where Bruce usually perched during their pow-wows. She froze at the sight of Batman and Angel in a standoff. It’s subtle, but she can tell from the way he’s holding himself that Bruce is injured, probably the ribs again. He had a stake to Angel’s chest, while Angel had Bruce pinned against the wall to the gable attic.

“Angel, let him go,” she commanded sharply once the initial shock left her.

Xander was gaping at the two men, but at her command, both he and Angel looked at her like she’s nuts. “Cordy? What are you doing? He’s wanted by the police.”

“I’m aware of that,” she ground out. “Now. Let. Him. Go.” She clearly enunciated the order as she approached the two men.

Angel hesitated for a moment, considering what she would do if he didn’t. From the tone of her voice it would be something dire and exceedingly unpleasant. Reluctantly he released the Batman, taking a step back to allow the man some freedom. He was still on his guard though, tense and wary. He examined the Batman. The man had probably looked better. The head to toe black body armour was heavily scuffed, the cape similarly scuffed and torn, with singe marks.

Cordelia had turned her attention to the Bat. “You can put that away, as well,” she said, indicating to the stake. He looked at her questioningly and she raised an imperious eyebrow. He slid the stake onto his belt as he gingerly straightened. The movement brought him partially into streetlight and a bruise could be seen forming on his jaw.

Good. This man was trouble and Angel didn’t want this man anywhere near Cordelia. Cordelia unfortunately, didn’t seem to share his misgivings.  She reached out to gently tilt the man’s head to get a better look at the bruise. “Are you ok?” The gesture spoke of familiarity and a level of intimacy that made Angel want to hit things. Preferably the Batman. He could see Xander tense at the gesture as well.

“I’m fine,” The Bat rasped. “We have problems.” Angel was surprised by the deep growl, and shuddered. There was something almost inhuman about it.

Cordelia didn’t appear to be effected. “I’ve noticed that Rootsville is on fire, if that’s what you mean.”

“What do you mean ‘we’?” Xander asked, having picked up on what Angel thought the most important word of the man’s statement. The boy had taken up a defensive stance.

“Don’t be an ass,” Cordelia snapped at them. “What do you think he means?” She turned back to the Batman. “Sorry about them, they’re...being pig-headed at the moment.”

“Have you ever heard of the League of Shadows?”

The rasped question sent a chill sliding down Angel’s spine. He had. Cordelia however, was shaking her head. “Nothing concrete. I’ve heard the name, whispered like they were the bogey man, but beyond that...”

“I’ve heard of them,” Angel said uneasily. “And nothing good.”

“They’re involved with the fires. They’re probably behind them.”

“So it’s not the demon?” Xander frowned. “Cordelia was saying earlier that she thought that there might be humans involved, but what’s the deal with the demon?”

Cordelia posited the answer, looking at Batman. “You think they hired it?”

“Or they recruited it. I ran into a couple of members I recognised tonight, in the old district.”

“The old district?” Angel asked, the same time Xander asked, “You recognised them? How?”

“The old district is a part of Rootsville down close to the docks that dates back to the mid 19th century. The roads form a warren of streets and buildings,” Cordelia explained. “So far it’s avoided the redevelopment that’s given most of the city its grid layout. It’s a good place to get lost in.” At Xander’s look of surprise at her level of knowledge she smirked. “Gotham City tours for the win.”

The Bat then answered Xander’s other question. “As for the League I recognised them because I trained with them for a while a few years back.”

Angel went still with shock. The Batman was member of the League of Shadows? That made sen—actually, that didn’t make sense. From what Angel understood the Batman was fighting against criminals, specifically against corruption amongst city officials and the Mob, but he didn’t take the hardline that the League was rumoured to. If the rumours were to be believed, the League handled things themselves, acting as judge jury and executioner. The Batman caught them then left them to the police and the justice system. All except for those five when the Joker was... His thought process ground to a halt.

That was the point. Batman wasn’t an executioner. So why would he have killed those people? Cordelia was comfortable with, him that much was evident. She must know that it wasn’t him that had killed those people. But why would he not try to clear his name? The fact that he was wanted for murder, with the whole city after him had to make things more difficult.

Suddenly he started. The scent under the blood had finally registered. He’d met this man last night while Cordelia had been in the bathroom. What the hell was Bruce Wayne doing?

“Why would the League be here now?” Cordelia asked, oblivious to his stupefaction.

“They want to purge Gotham. They’ve tried it before.”

“By setting fire to the city?” Xander looked sceptical.

“Last time was the fear toxin, wasn’t it?” Cordelia looked at Batman for confirmation.

He nodded. “It tore the Narrows apart and we only just managed to avert a city wide panic.”

Xander still looked sceptical. Angel sighed and explained, “The League of Shadows take a hard line when it comes to dealing with criminals,” he explained. “Crime cannot be tolerated and is something that they believe should be punishable by death. Rumour has it that they were involved in the Great Fire of London and at least one sack of Rome.”

Xander frowned. “Yeah, but they aren’t just going after the criminals. What about all of the innocents?”

“They don’t believe that there are any,” Batman rasped. “Not in Gotham. Crime and corruption is so rampart throughout the city that they’re considering all citizens accessories. They’re aiming for a clean slate.”

Xander was incredulous. “So they’re trying to start ‘The Great Fire of Gotham’?”

“The League are a little hypocritical when it comes to dispensing their brand of justice,” Angel explained dryly. “They have no problems with employing criminals or committing genocide to make their point. They don’t usually target whole cities though.”

Xander looked at Batman. ”And you trained with these people?” Batman inclined his head in affirmation. “You need to get some new friends.”

Angel agreed with that, even if he wasn’t too happy with one particular friend the man had made. Still, he couldn’t fault the man’s taste.

“I’ll take it under advisement.”

Cordelia re-entered the conversation. “So how do we deal with this League then? I doubt that calling crime stoppers is an option.”

“Leave the League to me,” Batman—Wayne—ordered sharply. “Can you handle the demon?”

Cordelia nodded grimly. “Yes.”

“Be careful. The League aren’t the type to take prisoners.”

“I’ll let everyone know.”

Batman nodded.

*_*_*_*
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