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 Wesley 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 sightless 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.
OK. There are reasons for it ending the way it did. Sorry about those wanting some nun smut, but honestly….ewwwww. But the nun getup could be habit forming for Angel. *Jeeze, I slay myself* And there could be further adventures, only titled with something I can actually pronounce