“You’re a vampire,” Cordy says, and she can’t believe she hasn’t thought of vampires until she saw Angel tonight, so she rambles for a bit, hoping to distract Russell, she’s been so busy between the starving and the worrying and the auditioning—
Russell clears his throat. “So you’ve met one of us before? And survived?”
“Did you not hear me tell you about the Hellmouth?” Cordy rolls her eyes, walks toward a curtain and holds her self still.
“I’m the Slayer,” she says holding her hands in fists, and hoping.
It’s a large enough pause, and Russell draws back, so Cordy runs out of the room.
Oh my god I’m climbing the stairs what am I thinking, I am going to die a horror movie cliche and no one will even know, she thinks as she runs down the hall.
“Whoa, watch out!”
Cordy looks up at the bulk-the man-she’s run into, and a pair of very friendly blue eyes.
“Hello, salty goodness,” she murmurs.
“What’s with the running?”
Cordy let’s out a breath, takes a chance. “Vampire.”
The man blinks once. “Okay, come with me.”
He pulls Cordy into a room, and when she looks around, everything is dusty and wrong and not the house she came into. She doesn’t have time to think when the man snaps a leg of the chair, and then puts his hand to his ear.
“You got what we need, Parker? Good. Get out, I found a civilian and will follow in about ten minutes.”
Cordy tenses, “Are FBI? Cop? Mercenary?”
The man grins, and wow, he is super attractive and Cordy clears her throat.
“Something else,” he says.
He breaks the chair leg five more times and discards two pieces. The other three are sharp edged.
“Stakes,” she says.
The man twirls one in his hand, and then holds it out to her.
“Ever actually dusted one?”
“A few, in fact. I went to high school with the Slayer, and that’s the second time I’ve mentioned her tonight and I feel really weird actually talking about it.”
“Okay, just one the house?”
“He had a limo driver, but I haven’t seen that guy since I walked in the door.”
“Okay. Eliot, by the way.”
Something flashes across his face, but it’s gone before she can say anything. He nods once, and pulls the door back, a stake in each hand. Cordy follows and they walk down the hall back to back. They make it to the bottom of the stairs when Russell attacks.
Cordy knows this is the point where she should run, but she holds her stake steady and watches Eliot fight off half of Russell’s blows, and take the others without a sound. When Russell steps back, Eliot feints with one hand, and as the vampire moves, throws with his other. Dust.
Eliot looks at Cordy and grins. “I dated a Slayer.”
Cordy blinks and tries to do the math. It doesn’t sound right, unless of course, Eliot had met Faith at some point before she came to Sunnydale.
Something snaps, and part of the ceiling falls inwards.
“Think the house was tied to him?”
“Must have been.”
Cordy nods, and they run out of the house, and into an unmarked van.
“Cordy, that’s Hardison riding shotgun, Parker is driving, welcome to Lucille, let’s get out of here, now.”
The van tears away from the house, and Cordy watches it collapse in on itself. It looks old, misused, and not the piece of art she had entered less than an hour ago.
She looks around the back of the van. There’s a lot of electronic equipment.
“It’s about an hour to home base, if you want to rest,” Eliot says.
“Okay, that sounds good,” she says, and closes her eyes.
Eliot insists on feeding them all while Hardison sets up his display. Parker sits next to Cordy and stares at her for the whole time, occasionally petting Cordy’s hair, and asking if Cordy can pick locks, or make pancakes or what other special talents she has.
“Well, I once talked two vampires out of eating me,” she says.
Parker nods. “I usually just stake them, but I could see how that could work for Hardison.”
“Hey,” Hardison says. “I would talk at them until you or Eliot came along and then staked them.”
“So what exactly do you do?” Cordy asks.
“I’m a thief. But I’m also the mastermind now? And Hardison hacks stuff, and Eliot’s a retrieval specialist, but mostly he beats up people, and we all grift here and there,” Parker says.
“But only to bad people,” Hardison says.
“For people who have nowhere else to go,” Eliot says.
“So you commit crime to help the helpless?” Cordy asks.
“Something like that.”
“Huh. So what’s the plan?”
“We take you home, wherever that is, and you take a card and call us if you need anything. Then we all go to bed because we have to be up early to avoid lines at the airport.”
“You know I could just hack us past the TSA,” Hardison says. “And then we could sleep in.”
Cordy blinks, “Wait, what’s the TSA?”
“Girl, have you been hibernating?”
“No. I may have just graduated high school, but I had a 3.9 GPA and was like, 15th in the class of Sunnydale High ’99.”
All three of them stare at her in silence.
“Hardison, turn on the news,” Eliot says.
Cordy turns her head to the screen, and it’s so clear and busy and there’s a date on the bottom, and it’s June 13, 2015, and she lets out a breath.
“I suppose if I call the operator they’ll tell me the same thing. Or changing the channel will prove that this isn’t prerecorded.”
“Yeah. It’s definitely 2015.”
“I guess the dating a Slayer thing makes a little more sense now.”
“You are that Cordelia,” Eliot says, “Buffy said that you’d disappeared after—oh.”
“So. What did I miss?”
“I don’t even know where to start. I could try to summarize the last 16 years or so if you give me a couple hours. And I guess I’m booking and extra seat on the flight home. We could cover the highlights when we get back to Portland,” Hardison says.
“Okay. My last name is Chase, and I guess my parents are out of jail by now—tax evasion—so it’d be nice to know where they are, not that I could explain this.”
“Okay. First order is getting you some stuff.”
“Between you and Parker, I’m sure you have something that fits me.”
“I can do better than that,” Parker says and walks out of the room.
“Where did she go?”
“She went to acquire you some things,” Eliot says. “If she actually buys them, it means she likes you. If not, it means she really likes you.”
“First thing you gotta understand is we ain’t normal.”
Cordy laughs. “I grew up next to a Hellmouth. What’s normal?”
The next morning there’s a small suitcase by her door, and a purse on her nightstand. When Cordy goes into the bathroom, there’s a few toiletries, and either she’s a heavier sleeper than she remembers, or Parker is a great thief. Considering how quickly Eliot had killed the vampire last night, she’s betting on the latter.
The smell of coffee and food drive her to the main room.
“Didn’t know how you take or if you take coffee, so I got black with stuff on the side,” Hardison says. “And Eliot found what he calls ‘decent’ muffins, but they look damn good to me.”
“Damn it Hardison, they came out of a freezer and were probably baked three weeks ago! The blueberries are definitely not fresh,” Eliot says.
Cordy smiles, “I don’t care if the blueberries were freeze dried, it’ definitely better than most of what I’ve eaten since I got to L. A. ”
“I don’t want to know, do I?”
“No, you don’t.”
“Any food allergies? Dislikes?”
“I’m good with pretty much anything.”
Eliot nods and takes his coffee and muffin to the sitting area, and begins writing notes, with the occasional mutter of rosemary and lamb and mushrooms.
Parker shakes her head and Hardison’s smile grows wide.
“Don’t tell him I said this,” Hardison says, “but he’s not a cook. He’s an artist.”
“Oh. So, lots of exercise then?”
Parker nods, “Thieving burns calories. Sex too.”
Hardison closes his eyes. “Parker, we—“
“I know what sex is. And I must not be having the right kind, because I burned more calories as a cheerleader.”
“You know what? I’m gonna go help Eliot with.. whatever it is he’s doing,” Hardison
“Hi. I say the first thing that comes to my head a lot,” Parker says.
“Me too,” Cordy says. “So are both your boyfriends embarrassed by sex talk, or just him?”
“Not in private. But they both like flirting, especially Eliot. He says it’s helpful for practicing the grift, but I think he just really likes to flirt. And how did you—“
“Please, I just got out of high school, if there’s one thing besides vampires I know how to spot, it’s when people are in a relationship. It’s cool.”
Parker smiles. “They get kind of weird about it, but they grew up normal, so it’s harder for them.”
“It’s too bad, though,” Cordy sighs. “They are totally cute.”
“Mine,” Parker says. “But you can flirt with Eliot, because it’ll fluster him and it’s super fun to watch.”
“Deal,” Cordy holds out her hand, and Parker shakes it.
“Somehow I get the feeling that handshake wasn’t good,” Eliot says.
Cordy puts the…what did Hardison call it? Cordy puts the tablet into her purse, and leans back into the seat. She plays her part throughout the airport, she’s Eliot’s younger sister, and apparently they have money.
When the get in the van, Eliot drives, and she rides shotgun. She looks out the window and thinks about everything she’s missed, and knows that the presentation Hardison put together can’t even begin to cover it. At least her parents are okay. She’s already decided not to contact them. It’s not like they tried to stop her from going to L. A. and then after their arrest, they sent a letter basically divorcing themselves from her life.
They get back to what they call ‘home.’
“You live in a restaurant?”
“Above,” Hardison says. “and it’s a brewpub, I’ll have you know.”
It’s early enough in the morning that it’s all closed up. Cordy follows them through the employee only door, then up to their apartment.
Eliot takes her suitcase to one of the bedrooms, and she sits at the kitchen table, watching settle in. Which means checking all the locks for Parker (and Eliot,) pulling food out of the freezer for Eliot, and checking all the security camera feeds and other electronics for Hardison.
They make their way back to the table.
“So, the Hellmouth collapsed, my parents are out of jail and not even looking for me, and everyone I know is either dead or scattered to the wind. But there are like, thousands of Slayers now?”
“And Willow did the spell?”
“That’s what they told me.”
“And when did you see them?”
Eliot looks at Hardison, who looks at Parker.
“It was right after Nate and Laura left,” Hardison says.
“Yeah,” Parker says. “And there was the job where I broke my ribs, and then you guys freaked cause I healed in like, two weeks.”
“Wait minute, you’re a Slayer?” Cordy asked.
Parker shrugs, “One of them. I’m not like, part of the official group because I don’t hunt demons full time, but I’m aware of them, and they are aware of me. If we find someone or something that needs more than what we can handle, I pass it along.”
“Okay. So who’s left?”
“Well we only met Willow and Buffy—“
“And Dawn,” Hardison says.
“Right,” Eliot continues, “But she talked about her mentor Giles a lot.”
“And Xander, remember, we’ve met him, he’s our contact in Portland,” Parker says.
“There were a lot of people in Cleveland, so I can’t say,” Eliot says
“Okay. I want to hire you.”
“Well, I’m pretty much the definition of helpless, so I want to hire you or contract you or whatever it is you do to get paid.”
“Oh, we work on an alternative revenue stream,” Hardison says, “which means you don’t have to pay us. What is it that you want?”
Cordy laughs. Sixteen years have passed, and she’s not even sure how she got here, and everything that’s happened, she just laughs until she cries, and it’s Parker who puts a hand on her shoulder and rubs up and down.
“Not sure we can get you back there,” Parker says. “But we can help you live here, however you want to do that.”
“I guess since Xander is here, I could see him. Or we could call Cleveland. I really need a familiar face or voice or both.”
“We can do that,” Parker says. “Let’s go Skype a Slayer.”
Eliot’s in the corner the kitchen, and he has this strange smile on his face. He’s on the phone, and laughing.
Hardison is on the couch and there are pages of, well, whatever, on the bank of TV screens. He’s typing on his laptop, and occasionally making notes as he switches the screens in what seems to be a random order.
Parker is sitting on the counter, eating a bowl of cereal and pointedly ignoring the occasional glare from Eliot.
Cordy gets the feeling this is probably a typical day for them, so sits in the chair near Hardison and tries to make sense of what he’s researching.
“Yeah, call me when Dawn gets back to you.”
Eliot hangs up the phone and glares at Parker again.
“No, it won’t ruin dinner, and you know it,” Parker says.
“That ain’t what I was gonna say,” Eliot says.
“So how was Buffy?”
Eliot rolls his eyes and sits in the chair opposite of Cordy.
“She’s fine. Has her research team on things.”
“Things?” Cordy asks.
“Just seein’ what they’ve heard about time portals.”
“And making sure she was feeding herself,” Parker says.
“And that she doesn’t need any help with anything,” Hardison says, and smiles when Eliot growls at him. “Eliot is one of those rare people who is actually friends with all of his exes.”
“Just ‘cause I treat people right don’t mean it’s weird,” Eliot says.
Cordy grins, “I’d love to be a friendly ex-girlfriend.”
Eliot blinks, and turns slightly pink, “Well, I mean, I, uh…”
Cordy laughs, “Oh you are going to be so much fun.”
“Damn it, Parker, did you tell her to flirt with me?”
Parker hums to herself, one corner of her lips slightly upturned.
“I’m sorry what was that?”
Eliot growls again.
“Okay, Hardison,” Parker says, “presentation time.”
Hardison stands up and clicks a button. All the screens turn to an old picture of Russell Winters.
“Okay, I figured I’d start with what I know about Russell Winters first. I found 13 different aliases dating back to the Gold Rush with his picture and family tree alone. Looks like he owned that property in various ways for a long time so the portal you came through probably stood just as long. I’ll wait for Dawn to confirm.”
Cordy sat back in her chair. It reminds her of sitting in the library, and talking about whatever monster of the week they were setting out to defeat.
It reminds her of home.
Later that afternoon, Cordy is going through the suitcase of clothes Parker stole/bought for her, genuinely happy with most of the choices. (She’s not sure why Parker thought she needed a t-shirt with a bunny on it, but it’s super soft, so she doesn’t complain.) Then she hears a familiar voice coming from the living area.
“So what’s all this about time portals? You didn’t really go into much detail except ‘It’s important Buffy,’ and ‘You owe me a favor.’”
Cordy puts a hand on her mouth, because Buffy’s impression of Eliot is fairly spot on. She must be on that Skype thing Parker was talking about.
“Parker,” Eliot says. “I had reasons to keep certain things out. Wanted you to get the info without bias.”
There’s silence and then Parker is at the door of Cordy’s room.
“I suppose it’s time to bring me out, huh?”
Cordy follows Parker out into the living room. Buffy—she’s looking down at a book or something, and she’s cut her hair, and she has a small scar next to her right eye, but the half-smile on her face is just how Cordy remembers it.
“Hey Buffy,” she says.
Buffy looks up. “Holy shit.”
“I sort of came through a time portal and missed, well, everything?”
“Yeah. Lots to tell.”
“I heard about your mom. I’m sorry, she was cool.”
Buffy nods. “Hey Dawnie, come in here.”
“What, I—Cordelia? How? Oh my gosh you came through a time portal.”
“Got it in one.”
“Okay, well I guess I’ll give you the lowdown. So, time portals, not very common, of course, something used by vampires who for whatever reason wanted to hide out in a previous era or get something from a previous era that they buried for safe keeping. Usually involves blood rites and at least one dog. I, uh, definitely would not recommend it. By killing Russell, since his blood had to activate it, you effectively closed the time portal.”
“I see,” Cordy says.
“If you wanted to come to Cleveland—“ Dawn looks back at Buffy.
“You’d be welcome here,” Buffy says. “Or I’m sure Giles would love to see you, he’s in London.”
“I’ll keep that in mind. I need to get used to being now first.”
“Promise you’ll visit Xander at least, he can catch you up on whatever Hardison didn’t find.”
“I will. I have to make sure the knucklehead is taking care of himself don’t I?”
Buffy nods, “Yeah he still needs help sometimes. Don’t. Don’t be a stranger, ok? I’ll make sure there’s not too big of an apocalypse if you do decide to come here.”
“You have small apocalypses?”
“Occasionally, it’s a nice breather from Ascensions and Chosen Ones and First Evils.”
Somebody Cordy doesn’t know comes up and whispers in Buffy’s ear.
“Gotta go, one of the newbies just came in bleeding and I have to figure out why.”
“Talk to you later. Make sure she sleeps, Dawn.”
Dawn nods, and the screen goes blank.
“Well. That was surreal. So when do we go see Xander?”
“Tomorrow. I called him while you were in your room. He thinks I have some Slayer-y type information to pass on,” Parker says.
Cordy tries to think of what she can say to him. A part of her still loves him a little, in that hey we used to be together once upon a time way. For her it’s been a few months since graduation, and for him—
For a minute she thinks about telling Parker to call and cancel the meeting, she doesn’t want to see him, or any of them, she wants to be starving in her apartment with her whole life ahead of her.
She lets out a breath. She’s going to see Xander tomorrow, and then she’s going to figure out what to do after that.
“Nice car,” Cordy says.
It’s a bright orange Challenger with black stripes, and Eliot is leaning against it and looking at his watch.
“No, you don’t get to drive it,” he says.
“I bet you say that to all the girls, and you’re always wrong,” Cordy says.
Eliot closes his eyes and pinches his nose. “I’m going to kill Parker. Look, I’m—“
“Oh, I know you’re taken. Don’t worry, no illusions here. But I have to keep in practice with someone, and Hardison is a bit too much like my ex-boyfriend.”
“Still gonna kill her..”
Parker and Hardison emerge from the side door of the brewpub. Hardison looks at his watch.
“Two death threats before lunch? Slowing down, El.”
Parker is lugging Cordy’s suitcase.
“Just in case,” she says, and puts it in the trunk before climbing in the back of the car.
Cordy gets in the car, and leans back in the seat as Eliot pulls onto the road.
“Now,” Hardison says. “You have a full background now, all your paperwork is in line, and I’ll have a copy of your birth certificate and Social Security Card in about two weeks. I kept your first name, since that’s easy to remember. You also have enough money to keep you for a few years, until you figure out what you want to do. Go to college, go back to LA, got to Cleveland, it’s all doable. Your fake parents are dead, and I’ve uploaded your general history to a tablet so you can learn it if you decide to be out in the real world and need a story.”
“Wow,” Cordy says, “you this thorough with all your clients?”
“They’re always satisfied,” he grins.
She laughs as Eliot grips the wheel tighter. “Thank you.”
She takes the tablet from him, and spends the next thirty minutes reading about her ‘life.’
“Here we are,” Eliot says.
Cordy looks up. There’s a small house next to a larger building that looks like a school from the outside. There’s a small sign that says Harris Construction, Main Offices.
For some reason, this is what feels the most unreal.
Eliot and Parker walk up to the door of the bigger building and walk in.
“Are you okay? Is this too fast?” Hardison asks.
Cordy shakes her head, but she can’t speak.
Hardison takes her hand in his, and squeezes it.
“Whatever you want to do, it’s cool. We’re cool. It’s a lot in just three days, so if you tell me to go get Eliot and Parker we can all go home and have grilled cheese sandwiches and watch movies all day.”
Cordy smiles, “You just eased them into loving you, didn’t you? Waited them out until they realized it was too late to leave?”
“I want to do this. I need to do this.”
“Okay girl. Eliot and Parker have had enough time to let him sit down.”
She smiles, and they go inside.
“Oh hey Hardison,” the woman at the entrance desk smiles, “Go right on back.”
“Thanks Charlie,” Hardison says.
“Charlie was one of the potentials they picked up in Sunnydale. She hates fighting, but hates her family even more,” he continues as the walk down the hall, “so when Xander moved to Portland she came too.”
“Ah,” Cordy says before they stop at the door.
Xander Harris, President and CEO
She smiles, an opens the door.
“Someone’s come up in the world since I last saw him,” she says as she walks in.
Xander stops mid sentence, and pales.
“Not a prank,” he whispers.
Cordy bites her lip, because his eye and there’s a little bit of gray in his hair, and he’s lost weight and dresses way better, but it’s Xander, and there’s a picture of the five of them on his desk, one of the rare group pictures they had from high school, and it begins to hurt to think about the time difference and—
He’s standing in front of her and his hands are clenched by his side.
“Sorry, I just, I saw you three months ago, and now, and hi, Xander.”
He hugs her then, and she knows she’s crying by the time she hugs him back.
She pulls away. “Guess the fancy office and the nice threads mean you’ve been taking care of yourself.”
“I do okay. Guess LA sucked so bad you had to jump through a time portal.”
“You know me, I always do what I think is best for me.” She laughs, “You have a ton to tell me.”
“I saved the world with the story of a crayon,” he grins.
“The sad thing is that I know that somehow it’s true.”
“So, um, since I’m the owner, I could take the rest of the afternoon off.”
“Meet me at my house, and I’ll feed you lunch. And I promise it won’t be remade or from frozen, so don’t give me that look, Eliot.”
Eliot nods once, and Xander sees the four of them to the door.
“That’s his house there,” Eliot says. “Built it himself.”
Cordy looks at it, then back into the office. Then she looks at Parker.
“I’ll go get your suitcase,” Parker says.
Before they leave, Parker hands her a card. “Just in case. I think you’d make a great grifter, if you wanted.”
Three days later
“So you run a real business, but also stand as a wayward home for Slayers, too?”
“Yeah. I mostly get the ones they find who don’t actually want to be Slayers, but can’t go home. It’s nice to have someone who knows what you are, but also is normal too. Dawn says I’m the best at listening to teenage girls, but mostly, I think I’ve seen more than enough of Hellmouths and apocalypsi and magic. I’m still good in a fight, and I can recognize most demons and vampires, and I go to Cleveland twice a year, but I’m part time.”
“I get that,” Cordy says. “It’s why I moved to LA. I knew that if I stayed in Sunnydale, I’d probably end up dead or I don’t know, birthing some demon child that took over the world. I’d love to go visit everybody, but I’ve travelled through time. I think I’m good on the supernatural world.”
Xander laughs. “So what do you want to do now? College?”
“Ew, no. I’m good at school, and I like taking classes, but I definitely don’t like the idea of spending the next four to five years learning to do just one thing.”
“I don’t know. I think I might like to help the helpless.”
Cordy sets her suitcase on the sidewalk and leans into Xander’s truck.
“You sure you don’t want me to wait?
She shakes her head. “I’m okay. I really am. I promise to visit and annoy you as often as I can, at least until I know you have someone taking care of you.”
“I take care of myself.”
“Sure you do.”
Xander smiles at her. “Charlie takes care of me.”
“Ha. I knew it.”
He rolls her eyes at her. “We’re just friends.”
“Please. She would totally date you.”
“It’s okay. We’re okay. I’m going to be okay.”
He nods, and the truck pulls away.
Cordy turns and knocks on the side door to the brew pub.
“I know you know I’m here Hardison, so open up.”
It’s Eliot who opens the door, and grabs her suitcase. “You should have called.”
“That would have ruined the surprise,” she says.
Parker and Hardison are on the couch, with papers spread across the coffee table.
“So before we get into all the question-y stuff I have something to say,” Cordy says.
“Okay,” Hardison says.
Parker smiles at her, and somehow Cordy knows she knows exactly what’s going to happen next.
“Here’s the thing. You guys make a pretty good team, but I bet it would be better with a couple more people. I mean, three people can only be in so many places at once. Plus having a younger member in the crew would probably help with some cons. I’ve taken a few acting classes, and while I only did like, the one commercial where I was in the background, I’m a quick study. Plus from what I can see, your organization system sucks, and you need someone who is a people person, so I’ve decided that as of today, I’m hired as a junior partner in Leverage, Inc.. We can discuss time off and bonuses at a later date.”
She holds out the business card Parker gave her.
Hardison and Eliot blink at her. Then look at Parker.
Eliot sighs. “Going. To. Kill. You.”
“She ain’t no thief, who is going to teach her to grift?” Hardison asks.
“I’m sure we can get Tara and Sophie to runs some classes. And we can all help until she develops her own style,” Parker says.
Eliot sighs. “Guess I could teach you some hand to hand. You were a cheerleader right?”
“Good, means you’re ahead of where Hardison was when I started with him.”
“Hey,” Hardison says.
“Good, that’s settled.”
They argued for about an hour, finally picking a client and eating dinner while doing preliminary planning.
“Okay then, it’s settled. Let’s go steal a whale,” Parker says.
“In the morning,” Eliot adds.
“Or maybe a couple days to set things up,” Hardison says.
“You’re ruining the moment,” Cordy laughs. “But bed sounds amazing.”
They wish her goodnight, and she closes the door to her room. She changes into sleep pants and her bunny t-shirt, and sits on the bed.
“Welcome home,” she says, and turns out the light.