AUTHOR: NICKLE (aka BRENDA)
SUMMARY: The Fang Gang goes undercover at Angelus’ favorite playground.
POSTED: 30 Jun 2004
CATEGORY: Adventure / Angst / Humor
CONTENT/PAIRING: C/A in AtS S2-ish, No Darla, no baby.
WARNINGS: None Listed
FICPIC CREDIT: Califi
The air was thick and still, and faint scents of hyacinth and jasmine wafted through the air along the open corridor. Heat seemed to shimmer off the adobe walls even late in the night, as if the old walls had stored the heat up to dole out in doses in the dark. A small breeze fluttered long trails of fern against the walls, brushing against dark adobe clay…clear and clean….until one saw the bloody handprint that smeared at one corner, just above the half-wall. The handprint seemed to crawl down the wall, and trails of blood slid down from it in small rivers to flow into the large pool of blood upon the sidewalk. Face down, in the middle of the pool, lay a still body.
One hand lay open and empty, reaching out in a last cry for mercy….in the other hand was clasped a large wooden crucifix. A bloody wimple lay crumpled nearby, and a long strand of rosary beads lay atop the wimple, matted with blood. The discreet sign at the gate read, “The Order of Our Lady of Grace. Founded 1893.” The adobe walls held silent prayers, intoned over the years, and the Order of Our Lady of Grace had just given one Sister to her eternal life.
Cordelia held her head, trying to keep it from pounding right off her shoulders. Angel crouched beside her, holding her against him as she calmed down.
“Easy, easy, Cordy. I’ve got you.” Angel’s voice was low. “Breathe, Cordy….you’re ok now.” Cordy leaned into his strength and held her hands over her face, trying to keep calm. The timbre of Angel’s voice was a balm to her scattered senses.
“It was…it’s……um…a woman….laying down….in blood. Oh God, Angel, she’s dead…she’s already dead.” Cordelia looked up at Angel. “Why would I see it now? She’s already dead…”
“It’s ok, Cordy, you’re ok.” Angel thought a moment. “Maybe we’re supposed to go anyway….did you see….”
“Yeah. It’s an old building..” Cordelia closed her eyes, trying to remember. “A mission, maybe? Um….The Order of Our Lady Of Grace”
Angel was still. “A convent?”
“I think so…I….yeah….yeah…that’s it…..the woman is holding a cross, and her hat….”
“Whatever…it’s laying beside her….and there’s a bloody necklace…”
“Not a necklace. Rosary Beads.”
“Yeah. They’re laying on the hat.” Tears began to fall down Cordy’s cheeks. “Oh, she was so scared, Angel. She prayed…..” Cordelia closed her eyes again. “…and she prayed, and she begged. It….it laughed at her. It got off on the prayers.”
Angel held her close to him, rocking her gently as he thought. This one could be really ugly. He needed to take care of Cordy and then get Gunn and Wes….
“Angel…” her voice was a whisper. He looked down at her. Her face lifted so that her gaze, reddened with tears, met his. “It was on purpose. It chose a nun on purpose. It…” she shuddered a bit and Angel gripped her tighter. “It…grows stronger….gets….uglier…with the killings……it needs innocence…and…” her brow wrinkled. “Piety. It needs Piety.” Angel thought a moment and nodded. He rose slowly, bringing Cordy with him as he stood.
“Ok. I’m calling Wes and Gunn. I may need to stop by Lorne’s on the way…”
“Angel, it’s past midnight.”
He looked down at Cordy, his jaw clenching as he saw the traces of fright still in her eyes. “Yeah, well, evil kinda punches its own clock, Cordy. Besides…” He smiled, trying to ease her shock, “I work best in the dark.”
Cordelia nodded, biting her lip. Sad fact was, this happened all too often at night. Angel was right, evil seemed to like to slither in the dark, unnoticed until it enveloped you in its embrace, too late to escape. Too late for the nun, at least, lying in a pool of her own blood.
Angel walked to the desk and punched in Wesley’s number, glancing at Cordelia as she slumped back, her eyes closed. “OK, yeah. No, no need for that. Just call Gunn and meet me here in a few.” He looked at Cordy again. “No, she’s ok. I think this was a rough one.”
Cordeila choked out a laugh. They were all rough. No one seemed to get that. They were all rough, and they all shocked and terrified her, and she was helpless when they gripped her. She hated that the most; feeling helpless. She looked up as Angel set the phone down. Her voice was quiet and a little scratchy, as if she had been ill.
“Are they coming?”
“Yeah, ten minutes. Listen, we can deal with this..”
“No. No. I’m not staying here.”
“OK, then, go home and rest.” Angel walked to the cabinet against the wall wondering if this was the time he’d get lucky and she’d actually do what he said. Not that he had much hope, but today could be the day….
“No. I’m going with you. This was….this was a young girl, Angel. These are women. I think a woman needs to be there….” She broke off. Angel sighed, knowing she was right.
“Alright. Just…keep back.”
Cordelia grinned a tired lift of her lips. “You mean, stay back 10 feet at all times and keep my eyes lowered and don’t speak unless spoken to?”
“Hey, could you do that? Because that sounds…” He broke off as Cordelia whacked him on the head as she walked over to her desk to pick up her bag. He smiled back a little, and Cordelia seemed to draw in a breath of strength as he looked at her.
“I can do this, Angel. Not fragile here.”
“Nope. Not at all.” He stood there, watching her, and felt his world tilt ever so slightly. No, nothing fragile there, but a human heart. And he, of all creatures, knew just how fragile it really was.
Twenty minutes later, they were zipping down 105 towards El Segundo, each quiet and lost in their thoughts. Wes and Gunn seemed to sense the unease that gripped Cordelia and had left her alone. Looking out at the passing inky night, she was grateful for their consideration, but felt their comfort lay around her like a warm coat. The top of the car was down, and a warm thick breeze lifted her hair gently off her neck.
Angel glanced over at her as he drove, worried that this was too much for Cordy to deal with. He had listened to her carefully, and her vision was best left out of reality. Having to face it in all its bloody actuality was going to be hard on her. He casually took her hand in his as he drove, holding it tightly. He smiled slightly as he felt her fingers curl with his, gripping his hand.
The Mission was dark and silent. Cordelia stood by the car and looked at it, unease prickling at her spine. Angel walked forward and turned to look at her.
“You want to stay here?”
“Um. No. No, I’m coming.” And she walked alongside Wesley, towards the Spanish-style building. They entered through an opened iron gate and looked around. The night was thicker and darker than usual because of the new moon. The courtyard was shrouded in the deepest of night, and the only way they could see the body of the nun lying on the sidewalk was the low light coming off the sconces along the walkway. As they watched, a nun wandered through the courtyard and stopped, stock-still, as she spied the crumpled body. A muffled shriek sounded as her hand lifted to cover her mouth and she turned to run, screaming, “Help! Mercy on us all….Help!”
Evil had come to the Sisters of Our Lady of Grace; an Angel had arrived to deliver them.
If joy seemed to lift its spirits in the air; then sorrow weighted it down, making the air at the convent heavy and stifling. Cordy shivered, feeling the tension, and watched the nuns milling about, a muffled sob heard here and there. An arm draped about her as if to warm her, and she looked up at Angel and smiled sadly.
“They’re so….connected to each other. I don’t know them, but they seem stronger because they’re together.”
Angel nodded absently, looking around. He’d seen enough sorrow and destruction ….hell; he’d caused enough sorrow and destruction in his time, to know that this was heartfelt and deep. The soft clink caught his attention, and he looked out at the nuns to see several of them drop to their knees and clutch rosary beads in pressed hands.
The praying, the genuflecting, the ritual. He had learned it as a child, and scorned it as a young man, then tried to destroy it as a demon. Holy sites always brought a feeling of…nausea…to him. Nausea, followed by a headiness and a flash of bloodlust that he had, over a period of years, managed to tamper down. He braced himself and pushed the memories to the back of his mind. Cordy looked up at him again.
“What is it?” Her voice was soft in the stillness.
“Um. Nothing. We’re not going to get a closer look; they’ve already called the police.”
“If you will all come with me, I can see to it that you get the investigatory leeway you require.” Cordy jumped at Angel’s side. He gripped her closer reflexively, and they turned to face a small, elderly woman in a faded bathrobe and Garfield slippers. She looked up at them from her small stature and nodded, as if confirming something to herself. “Please, come with me.” And she turned and walked back towards an open door, slowly.
Wes looked at Gunn and they followed, keeping to the shadows, with Cordy and Angel behind them. The woman led them down an indoor corridor to a small office, tucked into a remote corner of the hallway. They all crammed into the small space and Angel pushed Cordy down onto the one chair that faced the wooden, scarred desk. The woman sat behind the desk, facing them, and Cordy got a good look at her for the first time.
It was a gentle face, lined with soft fine wrinkles. Her eyes were clear blue, and soft wisps of grey hair had slipped out of a neat braid down her back to frizzle around her face. She sat facing them, and they all stood at attention as if she had commanded it. She looked across the desk at Cordy and smiled, a sad, resigned smile.
“You have been sent to help us, yes?” Cordy looked up at Angel as he gazed at the woman. “You four. You have been directed here to war against this evil?”
No one spoke for a moment, then the woman nodded. “Forgive me. I am distraught in a difficult time. I am Sister Bertha, Mother Superior of The Order of Our Lady of Grace. I have hoped of your arrival before now, but now will have to do.”
“I don’t understand…um…Sister Bertha.”
“Please. Sister Bert.”
“All righty. Sister Bert.” Cordy looked up at Wesley, who glanced back, confused. She looked back at the elderly nun. “We weren’t really expecting to be here….we just…heard…sort of….of some kind of trouble….”
“Evil. Evil has come in and has settled down in our community. You have come to master it, and to repell it from our presence. I was told of this.”
“You were told we were coming.” Angel’s voice was calm. “Who told you?”
She smiled at him gently. “I was told by one who lives in the night and wears his heart brightly. I told of the forces that have arrived here; forces that I cannot bring myself to tell about to the church office. Who would ever believe me?” She met Cordelia’s gaze. “But I found someone who did believe me, and who knew that of which I feared, and he told me to not be concerned, that four warriors would receive a sign, and would come to our aid. I knew my prayers would be answered. You are here. Donum do Angelus.”
Cordy’s eyes went wide and she turned to look up at Angel, who remained still behind her chair. “It means ‘Gift of the Angels’.” Angels’ voice was flat and he kept his gaze locked on the nun. “Is this the first murder you’ve had?”
She looked down at her desk. “No. Two weeks ago Sister Cecilia was found dead in the rose gardens. It remains unsolved. Last week Sister Luisa was found in the belfry. The blood….” Her voice trailed off as she stopped to compose herself. “Forgive me. Most of us had not witnessed that degree of…..harm….before. I knew that we were dealing with something beyond a madman. I have felt…an evil presence. I am also not so young a woman that I am blind to some truths about the world. I knew we needed help.” She rose and walked two steps to the filing cabinet, opening it and pulling out the top drawer and reaching clear into the back to pull out a small pink card. She handed it to Wesley, who was closest to her. He took it and his eyes widened before he passed it to Angel.
“Caritas. The Finest in Entertainment. Ask for The Host.” Angel looked up at Sister Bert as she sat back down.
“I was given this once, and saved it. While praying, I suddenly remembered this card. I went for a visit.”
Cordy barked out a laugh. “YOU? You visited Caritas?”
“Oh, my, yes. That Lorne, he’s a dear. He makes a mean seabreeze.” Cordy’s mouth fell open and Gunn gently reached down and tapped it shut. “He and I talked at length, and of course I sang….”
“I know I’m gonna regret this…” Gunn muttered. “What did you sing?”
“Draw Near and Take the Body of the Lord.” They all nodded and murmered, ahhh. She went on, oblivious. “He was a most astute young…um…man. He told me to not worry, you would soon arrive.” She smiled gently. “My prayers were answered.” The smile faded from her face. “Tonight, this was Sister Bernadine. She had only come to our order three weeks ago, I am afraid I didn’t know her very well yet. I will, of course, need to call her parents. She was so very young….” Her voice tapered off as her face seemed to weather and age with the thought of the duty she faced.
Angel had been silent and still, and his voice was low when he spoke. “We need to be able to investigate, Sister. We need to be able to talk to the nuns…” but Mother Superior was shaking her head.
“We are a cloistered order, Mr…..Mr…….”
“Angel.” He shifted from one foot to another as if uncomfortable.
“Angel. Really?” Sister Bert peered up at him. “Isn’t that a coincidence….anyway, we are a cloistered order. We interact little with the outside world, especially our younger girls. I am afraid that any outside interference would be looked at with the utmost of suspicion.” She tapped her fingers a moment on the ancient desk. “I do think, however, that with discretion, there is a way to provide access without damaging the unity of our order.”
“Undercover work? Of course.” Wesley nodded. “That makes perfect sense. How could we…”
“We have been without our Father Confessor for several months now.” The nun’s lips tightened just a bit. “We are a small and self-sustaining order, and the church has other priorities than establishing a new office of Confessor, at least for the time being.”
“A Priest?” Wesley nodded. “We can do that. I suppose I could serve in that role. It would be for, what, a few days at most. We can use my newness to explain my separation from the order. I’m finding my way around and getting settled.”
Mother Superior nodded. “I had hoped for an outcome like this. It will be comforting to have a man around, and this will give access to your friends…” She smiled at Gunn and Angel. “You can slip in and out, aided by our new Father.”
They all sat there, thinking a moment, then Cordy spoke up. “Ok, apparently we’re all on board with the lying to the kind sweet nuns, but what do you want me to do?” Silence met her question, and she looked up at Wesley, who looked at Gunn, who looked at Angel, who pressed his lips together and glared down at Cordy. She looked back and forth between the three of them. “What?”
Wesley straightened his collar while looking in the mirror. “You know, there’s a certain…mystique about the priesthood. A panache, if you will. I think I could have suited this collar well, had that been the path I chose.” He chuckled. “Except for that bothersome celibacy requirement.”
Gunn sat, watching him, bored. “And, how exactly would that be different from your life now?” Wesley glared at him in the mirror just as Angel rose, impatient, and walked to the bathroom door.
“Cordelia?” He knocked on the door. “You have to come out sometime.”
“No I don’t.” Her voice was calm with a stubborn thread to it that Angel had heard many times before. He leaned in towards the door and jiggled the handle warningly.
“You know I can break this lock.”
“I know you won’t.”
He lowered his head and softly thumped it against the door. “C’mon, Cordy. We’re not going to laugh.”
“Speak for yourself.” He turned to glare at Gunn before turning back to the door.
“Cordy. You know this is necessary. I know you don’t like it. Hell, I don’t like it. But this is what we have to do to help those women.” He paused. “Those sweet, kind, helpless…” the door jerked open and he stopped, looking down into Cordelia’s face. Her face framed by the white and black cloth of the wimple that sat crookedly on her head.
“That is so low. That is….what?”
Angel stared down at her, nearly speechless. It was as if all his terrifying nightmares and his best dreams had come true in one fell swoop. Cordelia Chase, glaring up at him while wearing a nun’s habit. He felt something fleeting, a primal bloodlust, shoot through him like a speeding bullet. He tampered it down with the ease of long years of practice, but an unsatisfied shimmer niggled at his conscience.
“Is it that bad?” Cordelia looked up at Angel, then down at her body draped in yards of black. “I mean, I know it’s silly, but do I even look kinda…”
“Yeah.” He cleared his throat, hearing the hoarseness as he answered. “I mean, yes, you look fine. Doesn’t she look fine?” He turned desperately to Gunn and Wes, wanting to pull someone, anyone else into the conversation.
Wes smiled as he stepped forward. “Why yes, Cordelia, you look…..lovely. Quite beautiful. Possibly the prettiest nun that has ever donned the habit.”
Cordelia gave Wesley a look as she crossed to her desk and began rummaging through a drawer. “Thanks, Wes, and also, ewwww.” Wes looked offended and turned to the mirror to glare at her reflection as he continued to fuss with his collar. Gunn grinned and stood up, hands in his pockets.
“Damn, Barbie. Gotta hang with English, here. More hot nuns like you out there, a lot more fillin’ the pews come Sunday.”
“Ok, we’re going to have to put an ixnay on using the words “hot” and “nun” in the same sentence, guys. I’m already waiting for lightening to strike me; don’t set yourselves up to get hit, too.” Cordelia finally straightened up and slammed the drawer shut. “I give up. I can’t find my favorite lipstick anywhere.”
“Cordelia. Don’t think that’s gonna be a problem hangin’ out with the sisters. Don’t think Max Factor does a lot of business with the gals there.” Gunn grinned up at her. “No makeup, hon. How will you get by?”
Cordelia grinned at Gunn as Wesley spoke up.
“Enough of that. We need to work on our plan.” Gunn nodded and handed them each their cell phones.
“Made sure these were charged. Doesn’t seem like the good sisters have too much in the way of modern communication, so wanted to make sure these were primed. The rectory, where Wes will be staying, is in the back of the grounds. Pretty easy for me and Angel to slip in tonight after dark.”
Angel, who had remained silent while trying to not stare at Cordy, spoke up. “Cordy, we kinda came up with a reason for Wes to look for you….to need you in his office. You’re going to be his general secretary. It won’t seem odd for him to escort you back to your quarters at night, or for him to call you for assistance.” Cordy nodded, her expression resigned.
“A whole ‘nother freakin’ occupation, and I’m still a secretary.” Cordelia sighed. “There is no justice.”
“Yes. Well, it is a way for us to be seen talking and not be suspicious.” Wesley looked at Cordy. “Besides, you don’t really have to do any actual filing, typing, or answering of the phone, so it won’t be too different from your work here.” Cordelia made a face at him and he grinned before leaning down to pick up his duffle bag. “OK. I’m going to pull the car around, Cordelia. Meet you out front.”
“Hey, wait up. I wanna get straight with you on me and Angel…..” Gunn’s voice faded away as he trotted to keep up with Wesley and they disappeared out the front door. Cordy watched them and took a deep breath before turning to face Angel. He sat, comfortably slouched against her desk, hands in pockets. An oppressive silence settled between them before she finally looked away.
“Well. Any last minute words of wisdom?”
“Keep to the other nuns or Wesley. Don’t go anywhere alone.” Angel seemed to bite the words out.
“What is your deal? I thought this is what you wanted….”
“No, it’s what works. It’s what we have to do. You’re the gal here…you get the nun gig. I just…I don’t like the idea of you being right by the danger, and me not right by you.”
Cordelia was touched. “Angel, you will be right there, I know it. You’ll be a cry for help away, and I’m good with that. And hey, since when have I been all brave and fearless?”
“I don’t know, but you are, suddenly. You don’t know much about what really goes on, but you know enough to be scary.”
Cordy grinned at him. “Sure it’s not just the hot dress and the whole Bride of Christ thing that has your pants all twisted?”
Angel didn’t even smile back. “No. They’re not…twisted.” He shifted a bit uncomfortably.
“Oh, c’mon. You’ve had a wicked wedgie ever since two nights ago when I first had the vision. This whole convent-church-catholic-cross thing. What is that about?” Angel looked down, silent. “You’ve always kinda joked about the nuns and the convents…what is that?”
He looked up at her. “That, Sister…” His eyebrows rose.
“Mathilda.” Cordy’s chin shot up. “Mathilda is the Patron Saint of Queens. I thought it was appropriate.
Angel smiled slightly. “Sister Mathilda. That conversation is for another night. When all this is done….” She looked at him expectantly. “I probably still won’t tell you. But I might.” She kept staring at him, her expression not changing. He rose and put his hand on her back to guide her to the doorway, pausing to pick up her bag. He winced a bit. “Um, Cordy, what are you bringing?”
“Stuff. You know. Blowdryer. Face Cream. PJams. I had to get new ones, ya know. Granny jams. And Granny underwear. Because I don’t think my stuff would go over big with the Sisters….” And Angel’s mind raced to places he had successfully avoided before….to places where Cordy slowly stripped off the habit to reveal her latest Victoria’s Secret purchase. And even he knew that was just wrong. He was jolted back to the present with Cordy grabbing the bag from his hand. “….and a couple of books and one of those itty bitty book lights. That’s all. Not like they’re gonna have a tv or anything…oh….ask Lorne to tape Survivor for me, ‘k?”
Angel looked around as she hustled to Wes’ car, throwing her bag in the back seat before climbing in beside Wes in the front seat. Angel leaned down to Wes. His voice was low, almost a whisper. “Keep your eyes on her. Don’t let her be alone.” Wes looked up and nodded imperceptibly.
“All right then. Gunn. I’ll have the gate at the back open for you and Angel tonight. I’ll give you a call and let you know the schedule so you’ll know when is best.” Wesley grinned. “Bless you both. See, I’d be good….” Cordelia rolled her eyes and they pulled off from the curb, leaving Gunn and Angel watching as they drove off. Gunn’s voice was thoughtful.
“Don’t care if lightning strikes me or not. You put a nun like Cordy up at mass every Sunday, pew’s be filled.” He grinned. “Sister Cordy.”
“Sister Mathilda” Angel’s correction was said in a low voice as he watched them disappear down the street.
“Sister Mathilda.” Sister Bert sat behind her desk, her hands folded across the neat white blotter. “Interesting choice.” Cordy grinned at her.
“Um….family name?” Sister Bert didn’t move a facial muscle. “OK. I liked the whole Queen thing.” Cordelia nodded. “I admit it. Looked up names online, and found a Saint’s page, and there it was. It was fate.”
“Well, then. I’ve arranged for your room to be at the end of the hall; just around the corner is the exit to the gardens and the walkway to the rectory. It should be easier for you to come and go. No one else knows of the reason for your presence. I felt in this case, a small lie would be understood. Mr. Wyndam-Price and I have set up a situation where you are on call to assist him in secretarial duties. But dear…” Sister Bert walked past Cordelia and paused at the office door. “I have allowed that it will be suspicious if you do not have other duties in addition to those, so I have taken the liberty of placing you in the choir…”
“Oh, Sister Bert…” Cordelia gave a small laugh. “You put me up there to sing, people will take money out of the plate. Really. This isn’t a good…”
“Nonsense. Everyone has a song to sing, Cordelia…er….Sister Mathilda. The beauty of the voice is in the beholder who hears it.”
“Well, alright. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” And she followed Sister Bert down the old Spanish-style walls to the choir room.
Fifteen minutes later, Cordelia sat again across from Sister Bert who sighed and pulled out a clipboard to look over the schedule. Cordelia sat, resigned, and kept her hands folded in her lap. Her ears still rang from the mumblings of anger from the Choir Mistress.
“Notice I’m not saying I told you so.” Cordelia broke the silence.
“Yes. Your restraint in not bringing it up at all is admirable.” Sister Bert spoke without looking up. “Alright. Sister Luisa was an assistant to the cook. You should serve in that capacity well; you will only be needed for an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening. You will be done with your duties by 7:00, leaving you plenty of time for your…investigations.”
“Um…I’m really not much of a cook….”
“Cordelia. All that is required is a steady mind and willing hands. Trust me. You might find that you enjoy it.”
Later that evening, Sister Bert left the kitchens after dinner and sighed, Cordelia trailing along behind her. They walked out into the dimming light of dusk, and sat silently on a stone bench that faced a quietly gurgling fountain.
Sister Bert was silent for a moment, staring into the cascading droplets of water. Cordelia finally spoke. “Again, faced with the need to say…”
“Yes, you did.” Sister Bert’s voice was amused. “You did indeed tell me so. I begin to wonder if you’re here to help us…or if you’re here for us to help you.”
Cordelia leaned back, stretching her legs. “I can do stuff. I really can. Just, not…you know…nun stuff.”
“Child, cooking is not nun stuff. That is pure survival.”
“I’ve managed.” Cordy grinned. “So, where does that leave me?” Sister Bert looked at her a long moment and swept her hand around.
“Sister Mathilda, I believe you have the option of laundry service, or gardenwork.”
Cordy groaned. “I’ll take the gardens. That, I think I can do. Kinda.”
Sister Bert smiled; looking off to admire the rose bushes that lined one stone wall. “I find my greatest content out here, in the gardens. We raise our own produce, you know. We try to be as self-sustaining as possible. That is good work, and those gardens are extensive. But here….here I hear God’s voice in every noise.”
Cordelia didn’t know what to say so she nodded and looked at the bushes, too. Sister Bert went on. “I know it seems silly, but out here…I feel more as if I’m in God’s house than in the chapel.” She chuckled and rose. “And if that keeps me out of heaven I’ll just have to live with it.” Cordy sat, watching her. Sister Bert smiled down at her.
“I have evening duties at the chapel. Why don’t you take this opportunity to meet with Mr. Wyndam Price?”
Cordy nodded. “I will. Thank you, Sister.” The nun turned and walked away and Cordy rose, watching her as she turned to go to Wesley’s temporary office.
Darkness had crept in and Cordy shivered in spite of the warm sultry evening. The walkway was deserted, and the feelings of comfort and warmth that had engulfed her while talking to Sister Bert drained away. Now, an itchy edge seemed to rub at her conscience, and she looked around, feeling panic beginning to well up in her throat. Spinning around, looking up and down the deserted corridor. What was that?
Catching her breath, she held still. Something cold.touched her. Not her flesh, but…her soul. Something touched her soul. Something cold and evil and sharp. She looked around frantically.
Standing halfway between her quarters and Wesley’s office, she tried to decided whether or not to go on, when a whispered hiss seemed to flow over her body, through her head, and away. Cordelia spun around again, batting at…nothing. Nothing was there. The dim lights along the walkway blinked on, and Cordelia looked all around her into the night and felt her heart racing. It was here. It had touched her. She picked up her skirts and ran the rest of the way to Wesley’s quarters, running as if the jaws of evil were nipping at her heels.
Cordelia ran down the walkway, feeling an almost gentle tug at the flying skirts of her habit. She reached down and snatched up the fabric in her hand and felt a lick of fear race up her spine as she touched something cold and wet….clawed….reaching for her. A jagged pain lanced through the calf of her leg as she screamed out.
“WESLEY!!!!” Terror poured through her, icy and sharp. “WESELY!!!!!!!” Another sharp pain ripped through her shoulder and she pitched forward, falling to her hands and knees onto the cool brick walkway.
Nonononono…..she chanted in her head as she rolled to one side and kicked out violently, hearing a soft hiss flit by her ear as she connected with something solid. She wasn’t aware of the pounding footsteps coming closer, only of the chill of the air about her, as if whatever the demon was, it was frozen and icy.
Suddenly, strong hands gripped her and yanked her up and off her feet, swinging her up into solid arms. She opened her eyes and almost sobbed with relief at seeing Angel’s face, hard and implacable, as he held her to him. His voice was low.
“Wesley. Take her. Get her back to your quarters. Lock the door. Gunn, go on ahead and watch out for any of the Sisters. Keep ‘em from coming outside.” He didn’t even spare a glance at Cordy as he handed her off to Wesley and strode off, pausing to take in a cool scent in the air. He stood, still, and took in the fetid scent of evil that wafted through the air. The hairs at the back of his neck stood up, and he growled, almost a sound of deep pleasure as he took off towards the fountain in the center of the courtyard.
He loped up to the fountain and stopped, carefully sniffing the air of the night. It was here. It was still here, and it wore malevolence like humans wore skin. Angel could smell it….could feel it. Hell, he could taste it. A chilled puff blew across the back of his neck and he spun around, but the demon drifted away. Angel knew that whatever it was, it was gone for the time being.
He carefully walked around the fountain, then the diameter of the courtyard. Finally, he walked the walkway, slowly, checking the air as he moved through the open space. He finally stopped and looked into the night, braced as if on guard. A small cough had him spinning around, and he relaxed as Sister Bert peered at him from a doorway. Her face was pale and her eyes huge.
“It was here, wasn’t it, Mr. Angel?” He didn’t bother to correct her, he just nodded. She seemed to gather herself up. “Was anyone hurt?”
“Cordelia. I need to go to her….” He looked around, frutstrated, then back at Sister. “Damn. You need to be inside, Sister. Gunn and I will keep watch out here. Don’t come outside.” She started to speak and he waved her off. “No. I mean it. It’s out here, and it’s hungry. Do you understand that?”
She looked at him a moment, then whispered, “What is it? What is this thing?”
“You were right earlier, Sister. It’s evil. You can’t see it because….you’re….well, because your heart is pure and pious. Cordy told us.” He remembered Cordy’s words. “It needs innocence and piety. It feeds off that.”
Sister Bert thought about that. “How does Cordelia know?” Her voice was strong, but fear laced through her tone. “Is she familiar with this?”
Angel flexed, and scanned the courtyard. Whatever it was, it was gone, at least for now. He weighed his words carefully.
“You called us warriors, Sister. And, we kinda are. We….we fight against evils like this. We all bring something different to the fight. Cordelia brings….guidance. She’s guided.”
Sister Bert looked up at him, her eyes wide. “Of course she is. It is her gift.”
Angel snorted. “Kinda a crappy gift. Oh, pardon me.”
“That’s alright, Mr. Angel. I assume she bears a burden for this gift?”
“More than you could know, Sister.” He shook off the after effects of the moment and tried to smile at her. “You really should be inside. I’ll go back and check on Cordelia. I smelled…I mean, I could see that she’d been scraped up pretty bad. I need to go….”
“Of course. Let me get my bag and I’ll go with you. She may need medical attention, and I can provide at least a cursory….”
“I really don’t think that’s a good idea, Sister.” Angel shifted impatiently. He wanted to be able to talk to Cordy without an audience. But Sister Bert had already disappeared into the darkened recesses of the room and reappeared a moment later, clutching a lidded basket with a handle. Angel sighed and gently took the basket from her and motioned her to walk on. They made their way down the walkway and encountered Gunn, who stood braced, holding a double sided axe in both hands. Sister Bert stopped, eyeing the axe with a narrowed gaze.
“Oh dear.” She looked at Gunn. “I do hope you know how to use that, Mr. Gunn. It looks quite dangerous.”
“Yes, Ma’am.” Gunn shifted from one foot to another, glancing at Angel. “I’m….experienced…with this thing. I mean, I can, you know…use it if I need to.”
“And….you’ve had to before, haven’t you?” Sister Bert calmly looked into his eyes. He nodded.
“Yes, Ma’am. It’s the truth. I’ve had to use it before.” She held his gaze for a moment and nodded, patting his arm as she walked by him.
“Carry on, Mr. Gunn. We’re going to tend to Cordelia. Come along, Mr. Angel.” Angel stalked on after her, ignoring Gunn’s wide grin as he saw the basket swinging from Angel’s grip.
They entered Wesley’s quarters and stopped, seeing Wesley leaning over Cordy, who lay on the sofa. Wesley had gently tugged the habit off and Cordy lay wearing white boy shorts and a matching tank top. Blood oozed from a jagged cut on her leg and Wesley held a bloody cloth to her shoulder, murmuring to her softly as he cleaned the wound. Her eyes were closed and tear tracks glistened down her cheeks as she tried to breathe calmly. Sister Bert cleared her throat gently.
“Mr. Wyndam-Price, perhaps you and Mr. Angel should step outside. This isn’t at all proper.” Angel heard a soft choked giggle from the sofa and looked around Wesley to see Cordelia looking up at Wes.
“Yes, Wesley must be proper.” Cordelia’s tired voice held a thread of amusement. Sister Bert gently pushed around Wesley and peered down at Cordy’s leg, pursing her lips as she reached for the basket from Angel.
“I am sure this is all well and good for you, but in this place, different rules apply. Gentlemen, outside, please.” Angel shoved his hands in his pockets and looked at Cordy, his eyes stern. She smiled gently.
“It’s all good, Angel. Go on. We’re fine.” Sister Bert turned to look at them expectantly and they gave up, turning to leave the small room.
Outside, the crickets chirped in the increasing dark of the night, and the air was awash with the gentle salt of the sea. Angel leaned against the wall and stared off into the night, his fists clenching in his pockets as he remembered how frightened Cordy had looked, and how fresh and sweet her blood had smelled as he lifted her to him. She could have been killed. It had been close. He shuddered, closing his eyes.
“She’s tough.” Wesley’s voice was amused.
“Yeah, I know. She’s been through worse; she’ll be fine.” Angel’s answer was almost automatic.
“No, not Cordy, Sister Bert.” Wesley chuckled. “She had you and me scrambling to obey. I bet she runs a tight ship here.”
Angel nodded. “She’s…..” He thought a moment. “She’s true to this. Her heart is strong.”
Inside, Sister Bert gently taped a layer of padded gauze over the tear in Cordy’s shoulder and then quietly began cleaning the wound on her leg. She was silent for a moment while she worked, and Cordy closed her eyes blanching as fresh tears fell down the smooth plains of her cheeks. Sister Bert looked at them briefly before continuing to clean the jagged cut on her leg.
“Dear, perhaps it’s best if you let Mr. Angel and Mr. Gunn….”
“Oh, no.” Cordy’s eyes snapped open. “No you don’t. I get enough of that from Angel. Not you too. I’m here, and I’m staying.” She raised up onto her elbows and narrowed her eyes at the nun. “That…thing…took me by surprise and now…well…..now, I’m just mad.”
Sister Bert clucked softly as she smoothed antibacterial cream over the cut gently. “You are stubborn, child. I would imagine you have to be, bearing such a difficult gift as you do.”
Cordy’s eyes grew wide. “Angel told you….”
“Mr. Angel told me nothing. It was guesswork on my part. He did acknowledge that it is difficult for you to bear, that it is taxing upon you.”
“Well….not so bad that I’d ever turn away from whatever evil I had to face to help you. That’s this gift, Sister. It helps people. How can I not use it for you and for these women? You can’t ask me to stop. Not now. I owe this thing now.”
Sister Bert sighed. “I would imagine Mr. Angel has conversations like this with you often?”
Cordy laughed, flopping back onto the sofa. “More than you could know. I drive him nuts. And I’m good at it. Now, that’s a gift I embrace.” The nun shook her head as she gently taped another padded gauze bandage over the cut.
“Two immovable objects. It must be entertaining to watch the two of you. It must make your relationship quite unpredictable.”
“Relationship? We don’t have a relationship.” Cordelia giggled a little loudly. “I mean, you know, he’s a friend. I’m a friend. Two friends. Kinda like, oh, two friends…..” Her voice trailed off as she realized she was babbling. Sister Bert ignored her as she gathered up her supplies and placed them precisely into the basket.
“Of course, dear. You know that more than I do.” She turned to face Cordelia. “But I am serious. I am displeased that those who came to help us have come to harm.”
“It’s ok, Sister. Really. This hardly hurts at all.” Cordy smiled brightly up at her, and she shook her head, pulling a blanket off the back of a chair and draping over Cordy’s body.
“Get some rest, Child. I assume Mr. Angel will want to watch over you this eve. I will make excuses for you to Sister Mary Rose in the gardens tomorrow morning.” Sister Bert paused at the doorway as she clutched the basket to her tightly. “You’re a terrible liar, Cordelia. I know that hurts horribly.” Her eyes twinkled. “Good thing you never took to the stage.” And she was out the door. Cordy groaned and lifted her arm to cover her eyes as pain lanced through her with the movement. She lay there, quiet, as the door opened and heavy footsteps sounded, walking to the sofa to stop just by her.
She lifted her arm from her eyes to see Angel as he knelt by the soft, looking down at her with worry in his eyes. She grinned up at him, tired and worn out. “Why, Mr. Angel. You look concerned.”
Angel traced the drying tear tracks gently. “I am. And worried. You could have been…” he broke off. His hand tightened.
“I could have been, but I wasn’t. C’mon, Angel, it’s what we do.” She snuggled down under the blanket. His hand was cool on her skin, and it felt good.
He brushed his hand over the down of her cheek and looked into her eyes. “It knows you now. It knows about you, and about your gift. It’s going to want you. It’s going to hunt you.” He made the words raw and plain, wanting to scare her. And he did. He saw her brow wrinkle as she thought about it, he could smell fear swell in the scent that was unique to her.
“You don’t know that.” Cordelia sat up, turning gingerly to sit on the sofa, facing him as he knelt. “I mean, it wants purity….and piety. I sensed that. It feeds on it.”
“Cordelia…..” He rose and walked to look out the small window by the front door. “I know this thing. I don’t know exactly what it is, but lemme tell you what happened tonight. It was evil and wandering and it wanted something…..beautiful. It wanted something beautiful and….precious….and……” His hands fisted without his realizing it as he spoke. “…pure. It wanted something pure. So it comes here, where innocence has a whole new meaning, and it thinks, jackpot. Bingo. Dinner is served.” He looked back at Cordelia; she held still, her face pale. “And it gets a bonus. It gets to take the innocence and break it. It feeds fear into this place. It gets power from the fear and panic that it creates.”
He turned again and looked out into the night, unable to watch her as he talked. “So, this demon has gotten lucky and scored himself a couple of treats. Nice, sweet, innocent nuns. Their very….purity….makes them taste richer….finer. Their flesh is ambrosia to him, addictive and delicious. So he comes here to find more tonight. And he finds it. Something sweet, but a little different. This one has a power….it has a light. If he can take that innocence…that flesh…that light…..he’ll dine like a king. He’ll have found something he can use. Something no one else has….something he ruined, and he created.” The air was thick and still between them. He didn’t look at her as he continued.
“It’s happened before. There was a young girl, like you, burdened with a gift of vision. She wasn’t strong like you, though. She was frail, and frightened. She decided to hide in a convent, rising up her life to be a Bride of Christ.” His eyes seemed to empty of all feeling, and Cordelia shivered at his flat tone.
“Her heart was good, and she had nothing but the purest of souls. But a demon happened to see her one day, and he smelled her very soul. He decided to make her his. And he did. He took her, and he took everything dear to her, and he made her as…foul….as soulless…as evil as he was. He did it because he could.”
Silence stretched between them. “And the demon didn’t stop with her. He looked around and thought….so much to break….so much pure strength to destroy. The demon was amused. Underneath the black robes….under the prayers….within the blessed walls….it was still flesh, and when he got done with each one….innocence had been given over to evil. To him.” Angel’s tone was matter of fact. He felt Cordy’s gaze on his back and he slowly turned to face her.
“I know this thing, Cordy. I know him. I was him. And he’s had a taste of you, and he wants more.”
“Drucilla.” Her voice was a scratchy whisper.
He nodded. “That’s who I was, Cordy. It’s who I am, just right there, on a leash. I don’t deserve to be in a place like this, where all is good and hope and light. But here I am, and here you are, and fuck. What should be a haven is a trap for you.”
The only sound in the room was the muted ticking of the old mantel clock. Cordy looked up at him, silent, lost in her own thoughts. Angel waited, tense, for the words of condemnation.
“I don’t know what you want me to say. Gee. Everyone should have a hobby?” Cordy’s voice was dry. “Angel….you could sit here and tell me every single thing you ever did when Angelus ruled, and I’d still never get it. I’d never understand, or even begin to know all that you did.” Angel looked at her, his expression bleak. “C’mon, Angel. What part of Scourge of Europe did you think I didn’t get?”
“So here’s the deal. I think about Angelus every freakin’ day. I look at you, being brave and kind and noble…” Angel snorted. “Yeah, noble. You don’t have to fight this fight but you do. So….everyday I tell myself…the past was bad, your past is….way beyond horrific. But this is now. Everyday, I stand right there with you, and the only thing that matters is who you are at the end of the day, not who you were last century, or last year, or even last week. You’re a work in progress, Angel. I wanna see what the finished work will be.”
Angel looked down at her, sitting there, wrapped up in the old comforter, and he felt something loosen in his chest. He crossed to her and scooped her up, turning so that he sat on the sofa and she sat across his lap. She looked at him, shocked, then slowly leaned in and rested her head against his shoulder. The blanket shifted off her shoulder, and he looked down at the white strap of her cami-tank, sliding down her tanned shoulder, over the thickly padded bandage. He breathed in her scent, noting the fear that was dissipating with each calming beat of her heart.
“Granny underwear, huh?”
“Well, yeah. If Granny’s a stripper.” She giggled softly, resting against his shoulder. A wave of warm comfort overtook her, and Cordy felt herself slipping under to sleep. “I don’t think the nun thing goes back to Angelus, you know.”
“You don’t?” Angel’s voice was calm; he could tell she was about asleep.
“Nope. I think you’re just a big ol’ perv.” Her voice was low and slurred.
He grinned, leaning his head back as he felt her body relax into slumber. Hmmm. He wasn’t a perv. Just because he had dreams about a certain seer slowly stripping off a nun’s habit….swaying hips and bare legs….climbing over him…..
He shuddered. If he wasn’t doomed to hell before, he was sure bound for there now. Perv thoughts and all.
The wooden stairs were rickety and old, and they creaked a protest at his weight as he climbed the spiral flight slowly. The belfry was cool in the late afternoon, and Angel thought of the reason that anyone would be in a belfry. It was to send a message. Someone went in the belfry to send a message by ringing the bells. Maybe it was the time of day, or maybe it was to send joyous news. Maybe bad weather was approaching. Here, maybe it was time for mass. Or evening reflection. He stopped and let memories drift through his mind…memories of another time and place, and the echoing ring of bells, covering shrill screams and pleas for mercy.
He had held cooling flesh in his hands and had drunk his own kind of communion in another belfry. He had desecrated it with an act of evil violence that seemed to hum through his veins just at the mere memory. Before last night, he had just wanted this case over with. The very depth of the evil he had brought to innocence rested in his gut like a rock. He was edgy and had to tamper the turmoil down within him, feeling it simmering up near the surface of his consciousness.
That was yesterday, before some dickwad of a demon had taken a shine to Cordy. Now he was just pissed. No, make that enraged. He had given up on the little mental plug on the hole in his inner wall that held his demon at bay. He had found Cordy, battered and cut, flailing out with her legs at some unseen presence that was toying with her, and all restraint had crumbled. Now, he had a mission beyond…well…the mission. He had a bloodlust for whatever had harmed Cordy. He was on a hunt much different than the one he had come here for.
He would still serve the mission; no getting around that. But this time, that jagged tear of bloodlust would find satisfaction, too. Because some little poseur of evil was about to find out that it had the Scourge of Europe on his ass.
“Mr. Angel. You are investigating?” Sister Bert’s voice gently disrupted his thoughts. Startled, he looked down around the spiral stairs and saw her staring up at him.
“Yeah. Was just looking at the place where…” He paused.
“Right. Sister Luisa. Just taking a look at the…scene.”
“The police were here and disturbed much; I’m afraid there’s not much else to see.”
Angel thought a moment, looking at faint traces of a recent smear on the wall near the railing. He sniffed, leaning in closer to the small, almost unseen shimmer on the wall.
“I’m not the police, Sister.”
“No, indeed. You are not.” Something in Sister Bert’s voice caught his attention and he looked down at her, his gaze unreadable. She met his stare placidly, and they were both silent for a moment.
“Something you want to say to me, Sister?” Angel’s voice was almost a challenge. He didn’t need this right now. One hint as to who and what he was and she’d kick his ass right out into the waning sunlight of the late afternoon. And he’d let her. It would only be appropriate, and a dark voice in the back of his mind laughed and mocked him for his resignation.
“No. No, not at all, unless you wish to tell me that you’ve solved the caper.” Her voice was calm.
“This isn’t a caper, Sister.” Angel turned back to the wall, brushing at the surface with his fingers and looking at the dusted pads of his fingertips. “A caper is finding Aunt Mary’s pearls. This is…..” He brought his fingers to his mouth and licked slightly at the tips. “This is….” He paused, and then looked at her, lost in thought. “This is a Gholian Demon. It’s….” He sniffed at his fingers again. “But they’re not invisible. What the hell is that about?” Sister Bert looked as if she wanted to ask him something but just then his cell phone rang, startling him. The notes of Pop Goes the Weasel played a tinny tune as he fumbled it out of his pocket and flipped it open, trying to answer it.
With a sigh, Sister Bert walked up the last few steps and gently took it from him, pressing the send button and handing it back before stepping back down. He looked away as he answered, trying to recover lost respectability.
“Yeah. In the belfry. Sewer. No. Looking at one of the sites……yeah, I did. A trace of blood….demon blood. I know it. It’s……you do? How? Oh. Well, I’ve run into Gholians before, and they were never invisible. This has to be a spell. Call back to Mrs. Chang’s shop and see what she’s heard. Yeah.” His voice dropped. “How’s Cordy? Yeah, that’s for the best. No, don’t tell her anything…let her rest. You know how she….yeah. OK. Let me know what you hear, Wes.” And he looked down at the phone, frowning a bit before tentatively pressing the end button. When the screen winked out, he grinned at Sister Bert before casually shoving the phone back in his pocket.
“Ok. We’re in business. Now all we need to do is….” He stopped, realizing how much Sister Bert had been let in on.”
“Now all we need to do is turn the warriors loose.” Sister Bert smiled sadly. She turned to walk back down the circular stairs and Angel followed slowly. They both stopped at the bottom and looked at each other a moment, silent. Sister Bert finally sat on a small bench just inside the door and looked at him over the rim of her glasses. “I gather that you don’t travel in the light, so to speak.”
“If only you knew.” Angel’s mutter hung in the air.
“Hmmm. I suppose so. There are, of course, all kinds of explanations for that. None of which are possible to most minds.” Angel met her gaze, lips pressed together. She went on. “Of course, that….gholain demon….that doesn’t exist, either. So, here we are, faced with all kinds of impossible things.” She looked out the front door. “And the day isn’t even done yet.”
“Sister.” Angel’s voice was low. “You keep calling me a warrior….but….I’m not. Warriors choose to do what they do. I have to do this.”
“Nonsense. No one makes you. You did choose. You choose every day.” She looked at him a moment. “Will you laugh too hard if I say that you and I have similar jobs?” Angel raised his eyebrows at her as a grin tugged at his mouth. “We do. We do a work that few can understand, or appreciate. It is, of course, a choice for us both, but it is also a calling. We’ve been called. No one can know how difficult it is, to answer that call. To give yourself to a life so….” She thought a moment. “So solitary from what others are used to.”
“Maybe.” Angel leaned against the wall, looking down at his feet for a moment. “But you….you came here with a clean slate. You came here with a pure heart. Me….” He picked his words carefully. “Me….I came a little late to the party. Before this, my life was…..it was a life of evil. It was beyond what you think of as evil. And before that, before evil came to me, I was a waste. So, how much are we really alike, Sister? How similar are we now?”
Her voice was hard. “We are alike in every way. Children of God. Believers of what we know to be true. Everyday we both rise and fight a fight few seem to want a part of. And we both forge on. There is recrimination in all you do, Mr. Angel. There is sorrow, and there is need. And we both prostrate ourselves upon altars…mine an altar of the church, and yours….an altar you have made to the greater good.”
Angel looked at her, feeling a kind of gentle warmth creep through him. He looked away, chuckling a little nervously as feelings he was frightened of and unused to began to filter through….a faint peace….a small glimmer of self forgiveness.
She looked out the door again, thinking. “You and your friends. You all fight on the same side as women who hide behind walls and offer up a life of service and prayer. We all just call our lives different things.” She grinned, a small, tired grin. “And when the day is done, if my day is done today, or next week, or years from now, I shall know that I fought every single day to meet my calling, and I will know that whatever my reward or place is in an afterlife, I will go there fearlessly and content.”
They were both silent a moment. Angel finally said in a low voice, “You really believe that.”
“Yes. Of everyone.” She chuckled a bit. “I wouldn’t worry about Cordelia. I have the feeling she will be fine. And she’s a lot stronger than I think you give her credit for. She’s not fragile.”
Angle started, remembering Cordy saying those very words to him just a two nights ago. He grinned slightly at Sister Bert. “No. Nothing is going to happen to Cordy. Heaven doesn’t want her and Hell’s afraid she’ll take over.”
Sister Bert laughed gently and rose, walking to the doorway. Without looking back, she stopped and said in a near whisper, “Bless you, my son. And all that you do.” And she was gone into the gathering darkness.
Angel waited till just after dusk and walked along the outer walls, silent and watchful, till he reached Wesley’s quarters. He pushed the door open and walked in, looking around till he spotted Cordy, sleeping on the sofa. She had on an old t-shirt of Wes’, and the comforter wrapped around her snugly except for one long tanned leg which stuck out of the cozy folds. Angel grinned and crossed to her, kneeling and looking at her peaceful face for a moment. “She’s not fragile.” Sister Bert’s words echoed back to him as he raised one hand and stroked her cheek, soft and downy. Her eyes fluttered open and she grinned sleepily.
“Hey. You have got to get Wesley to give you some of this percocet. It’s great stuff.”
He grinned wider. “Good dreams?”
Her eyes popped open and he noted a fine flush poured over her face. She twisted and sat up, brushing at her hair that tousled around her face. “Um..yeah…ya know….me…at Niemans…with a brand new no limit card….that kinda thing.”
“Yeah. That kind of thing.” Angel echoed. She hadn’t been dreaming about Neimans. He was sure of that. He could sense her agitation, and smell…oh god, he could smell her arousal. He held the smirky triumph off his face. “A shopping thing.”
“Well, yeah. What else would I dream about?” She seemed flustered, and she leaned forward to get up and grimaced….feeling the wound under the bandage at her shoulder pull apart. “Ugh. I need to change this bandage…”
“I will.” Cordy looked at him. “C’mon. I’ve been paying attention as you did it to us….I can be a nurse.”
Cordy giggled. “Nurse Angel.” He grinned and rose, getting the supplies that Sister Bert had left behind. He sat back down beside Cordy on the sofa and gently turned her to the side so he could get at her shoulder. The t-shirt hung off her slightly, but not enough to pull the collar back.
“Um….Cordy….you need….you need to pull the shirt off. Over…something.” She looked at him before looking away and gently tugging the t-shirt up and over her head, making a face at the stretch of the wound. Angel sat, looking at the sleek line of her bare back as she tugged the comforter up over her chest, holding it to her as she waited for Angel to touch the bandage.
“Angel?” Her voice was quiet.
“Yeah. Yeah. Hang on.” He lowered his head, which turned out to be a mistake in the calm down plan when his eyes rested on the tracings of the tattoo at the small of her back, peeking out at him over the waistband of her white cotton bikini panties. He mentally beat himself as he reached for the bandage at her shoulder and lightly tugged at it.
“Just rip it away, Angel, I’m a fan of the get it over with theory.” He grinned slightly. That’s it, honey. Just face it and deal. And he ripped it off her skin. She didn’t even flinch. “Thanks. I think that’s better.”
Angel gently cleaned the wound and dressed it, both of them silent throughout. Finally, Cordy broke the silence, her voice husky.
“So…hear from Wesley?”
“Oh. Right.” Relieved to have something besides her fine ass to talk about, Angel told her about finding the trace of demon blood and Wesley’s research. “He’s calling Mrs. Chang. If an invisibility spell was cast, it would have gotten back to her.” Cordy nodded. Angel gently taped the last edge and held his hand still at her back. He felt her pulse quicken and her body stiffen up just slightly. He laughed to himself, a giddy feeling he was unused to. Nieman’s my ass. She’s dreaming about me. He stroked her bare shoulder gently. She stiffened even more and slowly turned around to face him.
Holy cow. Angel. Nurse Angel was sitting there, touching her like…well, like not a nurse. Not a nurse was sitting there and touching her shoulder and she felt as if she were going up in flames. And he knew it. When she could finally meet his eyes, they were squarely on her face, intent and dark. “Angel?” Her voice was an incredulous whisper. He leaned in just as she turned more…leaning in towards him.
Her mouth….it was lush and firm and he wanted it right then, at that moment. He leaned in, taking in her scent…her warmth, and felt a whisper of breath against his mouth as he watched her eyes slip closed……
A shrill, frantic cry ripped through the silence of the night. Angel jumped up and Cordy followed, letting the blanket fall she grabbed at Wes’ t-shirt and tugged it back on. Angel ran to the door and opened it, peering out into the night and sniffing intently. Turning to Cordy, he growled, “Stay here.” With a stride out of the small house, he was gone into the night. Cordy stood frozen for a moment before looking around frantically for her shorts.
Angel loped through the grey night, all senses alert and on edge. He could feel the malevolence, chilled and sharp, wafting through the night. Another weaker cry reached him, and he broke into a dead run, heading for the gardens in the middle of the courtyard. A feral growl and hiss sounded from a bed of flowers, and Angel approached the broken blooms slowly as he felt the demon rise and drift away. Footsteps sounded pounding on the sidewalk behind him and he turned in time to see Cordy barreling towards him, concern on her face. Angel grabbed at her and tried to turn her away but he wasn’t quick enough for her to not see the crumpled and lifeless form that lay staring into the faintly shining stars with sightless eyes.
Cordy wasn’t even aware of her knees giving way, or of Angel supporting her weight as he turned her away and walked her back several steps. The crushed rose petals fluttered down in tatters around the body like a rain of blessings. The heart did not beat. And on Sister Bert’s face was gentle contentment.
The air was thick and heavy and silent, except for the low whimpering that hummed in the night, broken and sad. Cordelia held tightly to Angel’s arm as it crossed over her stomach, holding her back from the garden. Her feet lifted completely off the ground as he picked her up and hauled her to the walkway, shielding her from the sight of Sister Bert’s crumpled form among the crushed flowers. Angel held Cordy to the cool stucco wall, and she looked up at him, her face pale with shock. With a start, she realized the whimpering came from her own throat.
“Shhh. Cordy. It’s still here.” Angel’s voice was hard as he looked over his shoulder into the dimly lit night. “I can feel it. Somewhere out here. It’s waiting.” He looked down at Cordelia, who shivered at the intensity of his gaze.
“For…..” her voice caught. “Um. Not for me.”
“I don’t know. I’m not taking that chance. Come on.” He pulled her away from the wall and tugged her quickly along the path back to Wesley’s quarters, not speaking at all. Cordelia blindly let him lead as she stumbled behind him on bare feet. Her mind was almost blank with grief and shock. Oh god. Ohgodohgodohgod. Sister Bert. Sister Bert loved life, and loved her calling, and loved the gardens, and Sister Bert was….
Cordelia began to cry softly, tears trailing down her cheeks. Angel spared her a small glance before herding her into the small cottage. He pushed her in and stood in the doorway, looking at her intently.
“Lock the door behind me. Don’t let anyone else in.” He stared down at Cordy, willing her to be strong.
“Where are you going?” Cordy’s voice was dulled with pain.
“I’m going to move…..I’m going to take care of Sister Bert. We need to take care of this now, tonight. If they call the police in again, we’ll never get another chance to get this done.” Cordelia looked up at him blankly. He sighed and rubbed his eyes. “Look. Just stay here for a while. I mean it.” He shook his head as Cordelia opened her mouth. “No. I meant it, Cordy. Stay here.” Her jaw snapped shut and she nodded, biting her lip. He looked down at her a moment. They both stood, wrapped in grief together, feeling the weight of a loss holding them still. Angel finally turned and began to pull the door shut as he left. “Lock it, Cordy, and don’t open it for anyone but Wes or Gunn or me.” And he was gone, the door clicking firmly shut behind him.
Cordelia froze…..eyes wide in the still of the room. She didn’t even turn a light on. With dull eyes she flipped the lock and stepped back…hearing the softest of chuckles in the silence.
“Everyone has a song to sing, Cordelia…er….Sister Mathilda. The beauty of the voice is in the beholder who hears it.”
The wisdom of Sister Bertilda. It had been gentle, and lovely, and kind. And then something had heard Sister Bert’s cries as it had struck her down. And Cordy was sure that the beholder had thought Sister Bert’s cries were beautiful in their terror. Cordy stifled a sob deep in her throat as she turned slowly in the darkness. What had come here was evil, and was hungry, and had fed on the Nun’s grace and the simplicity of her soul. Only because it could. That was the only reason Sister Bert was dead. Because some evil had seen and coveted goodness. Coveted goodness…just like…..her brow wrinkled.
“And it gets a bonus. It gets to take the innocence and break it. It feeds fear into this place. It gets power from the fear and panic that it creates.” Cordy thought a minute. Angelus. He had been talking about Angelus. Angel had talked about evil, and how it loved innocence. How evil loved to take innocence and warp it with…..fear. It needed the fear. She blinked. She didn’t have fear right now….she had…..
“Anger.” Wesley’s voice was calm but Angel could hear the underlying thread of sorrow in his tone.
“Gholian Demons are driven by their anger…but are almost powerless in the face of a greater one. Kind of their glass jaw.”
They sat with Gunn quietly in the back of the small chapel, where they had brought Sister Bert and placed her gently on the altar. Angel leaned forward as he sat on the pew….his elbows on his knees…his head hanging down. Gunn sat in front of him, staring straight ahead at the calm resting face of the sister…her eyes closed forever. He nodded without moving his eyes.
“Anger. Check. Really not a problem right now.”
Angel didn’t move or comment. Wesley sighed and reached into a dufflebag and brought out a small orb. Cradeling it gently, he continued in a low tone. “An orb of Scheinlan. Talked to Mrs. Chang. Last week, her store was broken into and ransacked. Only thing missing was..”
“One orb of Scheinlan.” Gunn’s voice was dry.
“No, actually. What was taken was a Drakanian talisman….circa 10th century. Interesting thing about that…”
“Wesley.” Angel’s voice held no emotion at all.
“Oh. Sorry. In anycase, the Gholian took the talisman and tainted it to make himself invisible. Mrs. Chang told me that any number of spells could have accomplished this…the Gholian probably found it somewhat easy to make himself not seen. Without the exact spell, we could be completely screwed…except…” He hefted the orb. “Mrs. Chang assured me that this orb, when cast on the one who tainted the talisman, would break the spell. He can be seen.”
Angel spoke, again without looking up “And the last thing he’ll see will be me.”
They all sat there quietly a moment. A lethargic sorrow seemed to grip them. Finally, Gunn rose with a sigh and turned to face them both. “Ok. Let’s get this thing voted off the convent. I’m ready to nail some demon ass. How do we get it out so we can jumbo his mojo with this orb?”
Wesley shrugged. “Well, that’s the thing….we need to draw it out, but Gholians are somewhat fearful of anything they perceive can overcome them. It will never appear to us….it needs a target….something it wants…something…”
The back door to the chapel opened and Angel rose as they all looked to the open door, to where Sister Mathilda stood in all her glory, her black habit fluttering around her, the wimple askew on her head, a more determined look on Cordy’s face than Angel had ever seen. “It wants this. Let’s offer it to it.”
Angel strode to her, yanking her in and closing the door behind her. Glaring down at her, he spoke through clenched teeth.
“Just once…can we pretend you listen to me? You are not doing this. I won’t let…”
“Don’t. Don’t even finish that one. You can’t stop me. I’m it. I’m the bait. You know it.”
Angel towered over her, practically baring his teeth. A dangerous energy seemed to flow from him as he stared at her….willing her to back down. The room seemed to shrink down to the two of them, and he vaguely felt Wes and Gunn shifting nervously as the weight of his anger settled on their senses. Angel glared at her, his eyes rimmed slightly with a yellow-gold glint. Her own gaze never wavered as she looked up at him.
“Back off, batboy” Her voice was calm. “I’m it. I’m the last cookie in the jar. You know we can’t send any of the other nuns out there. I’m what you’ve got. Sorry if that rubs your whitey tightys the wrong way, but I’m doing this. Deal with it.” Angel glared down at her, a muscle twitching in his clenched jaw. She stared back up at him, unyielding, and he finally sighed and looked down a moment at his feet. Her voice softened. “He tried to kill me, Angel. Me. He likes fear? Lemme introduce him to Miss Pissed as Hell.”
Angel raised his eyes and locked his gaze on hers. Some kind of silent unspoken message passed between them, and he closed his eyes a bit before turning to Gunn and Wes.
“Ok. This ends now. We end this thing right here. We’re going to take him in the garden; that seems to be his favorite.”
Gunn spoke up. “He could be anywhere…maybe we should…”
“No.” Angel’s voice was firm. “Trust me. He’s marked his territory. It’s the garden. He’ll be there.” Gunn started to speak and Cordy broke in, her gaze still on Angel.
“The garden.” She nodded at Angel. “See? I listen.” He held her gaze a moment longer and then turned to Gunn and Wes.
“The Garden. Let’s go.
The only sound louder than the constant hum of cicadas in the inky night was the thud of Cordelia’s heart. She sat on the low rim of the fountain in the center of the garden…clearly lit by the mellow glow of the full moon above. Her body was tense, and sweat beaded under the tight rim of the wimple as it rested on her head. Her eyes held to the spot of crushed flowers where they had found Sister Bert, and she had a fleeting thought that the Sister had found her way home from her favorite chapel of all, the garden. There had to be some comfort in that. She had yet to find it, but Cordy was sure it was there.
A ripple of wind blew across her face, welcome in the heat of the night. She knew Wesley and Gunn were nearby in the shadows, quiet and still. And she could feel the intense gaze of one vampire lurking nearby. She shook her head slowly. Even dead the man made his presence known. She felt his gaze as it swept over her, intent as a caress. Soft as a stroke…..she sat up, startled.
There it was again…a soft stroke….this time with a sibilant hiss so close that it blew into her ear, sending ripples down her spine as she stood up, screaming as the hiss turned into an evil chuckle…wrapping around her and hissing into her other ear. Her arms raised up as if to ward off an attack and she felt a sharp claw rake through the folds of her habit, down her arm, the sound of tearing cloth sharp in the night.
Pounding footsteps sounded as Angel burst out of the shadows…his feral gaze intent on Cordelia as she screamed and batted at the air. Gunn came charging out of the open darkened doorway, the huge axe swinging as He leapt to Cordy’s side, the light of battle in his eyes. One arm swept around Cordelia and shoved her behind him just as Wesley appeared into the glowing moonlight, clutching the orb in one hand and reading a chant off of a small piece of paper held tightly in the other hand.
With a roar, Angel leapt in from the other side of the fountain, boxing the demon in between him and Gunn. Wesley chanted louder, approaching closer and closer, and a glowing energy seemed to suffuse the darkness with an eerie candescence.
Cordelia cringed as an unearthly guttural sound welled up from the night….and the axe flew from Gunn’s hand and landed several yards away. Angel seemed to fly backwards and landed on His back, crumpled on the stone walkway. Wesley read on, determined, as Gunn flew back past Cordy and slammed into a column at the walkway, falling to the ground, dazed. Whirling around frantically, Cordy spied the axe lying in crushed flowers and ran to it, bending to pick it up.
Just as her fingers touched the smooth steel handle she was knocked over….her gaze rising in a panic to meet Wesley’s, who chanted faster and faster, the orb glowing in his hand, hot, searing the flesh of his palm. Frantically, she kicked out as she felt something cold and clawed, grasping at her…pulling her back. Stretching, she grasped the end of the axe and pulled it into her hand just as Wesley shouted and threw the orb through the air as it exploded, sparks popping up into the dark night.
Rolling to the side, Cordy looked up into the night as the sparks seemed to shimmer briefly before her sight was blocked by the huge demon that appeared in her line of vision. She heard Wesely groan loudly and the thud of him falling to his knees just as she kicked out and rose up, facing the demon with the axe poised in front of her. With an angry roar the demon swiped at her, claws extended, and Cordelia raised her arms to swing back at him when suddenly she was gripped from behind and swung back behind Angel, who easily took the axe from her hands.
The demon roared again and looked around, realizing he was visible. Gunn rose to his feet shakily and slowly stalked towards them….boxing the demon in at the fountain. Looking at them all, the demon hissed and focused on Angel, stalking towards him on powerful legs. Angel braced his body and raised the axe, swinging easily at the scaly body just as it launched at him. Searing pain stroked at him as the demon clawed down his chest and he jumped back, missing with the swing of the axe.
Cordy held still, not wanting to distract Angel as she watched him battle the beast…axe swinging back and forth between them. Gunn circled the demon slowly as it fought with Angel…hissing and spitting as Angel faced it down, his jaw clenched as his hands gripped the axe tightly. She drew in a sharp breath and the demon turned to her suddenly, as if it had forgotten she was there. It seemed to brace itself as it looked at her, and she backed up, her eyes blazing. All of a sudden, Angel roared, the sound echoing in the night, as the axe swung through the air in a clean arc and sliced through its throat.
The great hulking body seemed to hover a moment before the head rolled off, the body crashing to the soft flowered grass with a thud. The head rolled to Angel’s feet and stared sightlessly up at him, dead eyes forever caught in an expression of…….fear.
Cordelia sat in the next to the last pew in the back of the chapel, her gaze fixed up to the alter. Her wimple lay on the seat beside her, and she stared blankly ahead in the calm silence, the weight of the last few days on her like a heavy blanket. Her mind felt almost numb with weariness and grief. Grief for a woman she had only just met, and didn’t know very well, but who somehow had known her. Sister Bert had, in just a few days, tapped into her heart and had seen Cordelia clearly, better than Cordy saw herself. Cordelia had felt warm around Sister Bert. She had felt….mothered. She had felt safe. All this from the gentle soul that lay on the alter, silenced and cold.
Fear had driven the demon to kill and feed on innocence, and anger had conquered the fear. Cordy sighed to herself. Sister Bert had lived in a world where her favorite chapel was a garden and where hope and light had shone on her every single day. Cordy’s world was the dark, where fear and pain drove them along in their mission. To walk in Sister Bert’s world had been…..warm. Even dealing with the demon hadn’t chilled the sense of gentle strength and warmth of the simple souls that lived here.
And now she would take off the habit and step out of the convent and back to her life, almost as if there had never been a Sister Bert in it. Cordy shook her head. That wasn’t true. Her life was different, even if just a little. She smiled to herself, thinking of the Sister’s words to her the first day. She was learning to sing her own song.
The door behind her opened and closed quietly, and a measured tread sounded behind her; footsteps that carried to just behind her as someone sat in the pew just behind her. She didn’t move, and all was quiet for a moment. When she spoke, her voice was low and calm.
“Did you take care of it?”
Angel’s voice was even and soft, almost as if even he knew the sanctity of the small chapel and respected it. “Wes and Gunn are burying it now. Hard part was moving it. Son of a bitch…” his voice trailed off for a moment. “Um…it was heavy. Interesting, kind of, ya know how human bodies are bone and muscle…”
Cordy held up her hand without looking back at him. “Angel. Ewwww. So not wanting a demon anatomy lesson.” Angel fell silent and they both sat there a moment. “So, what do we do about Sister?”
“We leave her here. We’ve already moved her once, we just need to keep her here so they’ll find her.” He sighed. “Kind of a symmetry that they find her here anyway.”
She nodded, not moving her gaze. Her hand absently picked up the wimple and she rose, turning to face him. “Perfect symmetry. Kinda perfect that you’re in here too.” Angel looked startled. Cordy smiled a bit. “Do you remember what you told me? It wanted something beautiful and precious and pure?”
Angel nodded, his gaze bleak. He knew she was talking about the demon and about Angelus. Two of a kind. She knew of Angelus before this, but now she really knew him, and understood who he was. And things would never be the same.
She looked at him a moment and stepped out into the aisle, turning to look back at Sister Bert one more time. Her eyes traveled over the still body, and her gaze narrowed as she saw the rosary clutched in the still wrinkled fingers. Something almost like a prayer drifted through her mind and she turned to the door at the back and stepped to it, slow measured steps out into the dark of the night. Angel turned and followed her, and the door clicked softly shut behind them.
Cordelia held the wimple loosely in her hand as she looked up into the night, lit by the soft glow of the moon. “It’s almost morning. You need to get inside.”
Angel nodded, lifting his head to the night. “Yeah. Morning is coming, I can smell it.”
Cordy grinned. “Umhmm. That and that streak of light on the eastern horizon. Kinda a big clue.”
He looked down at her a moment and smiled a humorless twist of his lips. It would all change now that she understood. “Yeah, a big clue.”
“I’m good at clues. I’m a trained detective. Ok, a detective.” She laughed softly. “Ok. I’m a girl with visiondar. But don’t need a vision to know what you’re feeling, or thinking.” Her eyes held his intently, as if trying to hold him still with sheer will.
“Angel, someone wise and gentle told me recently that we all have a song to sing. I guess some us just sing ‘em in different ways. Your song…everyday…..it’s a freaking anthem. That was who you were, and this is who you are. And everyday you try to….rise above what life dealt you. Everyday. I see it. You came in here and faced evil and beat it. But not because it was your job, or your calling, or even because you thought you just had to. Because a man who went through his weird life so unfeeling….” She reached and pulled up his hand before he realized what she was doing, and looked down at the freshely singed perfect shape of the crucifix in his palm. “….wouldn’t take the time to make sure that Sister Bert was holding her rosary.”
Her gaze raised back up to his, and tears glistened in her eyes. “You’re a good man, Angel. You’re not my hero, or my champion, or up on any pedestal right now. I can see you clearly. And you’re a good man.” He stared down at her, and they felt held by some tight bond, almost magic in its strength. She seemed to shake herself gently and smiled up at him. “Go. Get inside. We need to meet with the sisters and get our stories together and call the police. We’ll be home later.”
Angel nodded and turned to walk away, his mind too overcome to respond coherently. Cordelia watched him go, and turned towards the garden for one last look before she headed to the cottage to change. The air was pungent with the aroma of trampled crushed flowers and grasses, and she inhaled the scent deep into her body, holding it like a memory.
She closed her eyes, and a smile tilted her lips as a stray thought crossed her mind…..Angel cleaning her wound…Angel’s face when she came out in the nun getup. She looked down. Sister Mathilda may be leaving the convent, but this little outfit was going right into Cordy’s closet. She had a feeling that she had a new mission in life now, and maybe a little divine intervention would help her along the way.
She was beginning to think she had her own gift of the angels, and that is was time to open that gift and try it on for size. A good man was hard to find. And she happened to know of one,