The girl leaned toward the misty mirror, trying to put on lipstick. She stopped and looked behind her nervously, then out the window, into the night. Her parents were late. She gulped. Her hands shook; she dropped the lipstick in the sink and it rolled, smearing red on the white porcelain. She picked it up, holding it indecisively for a moment. Four other girls suddenly closed around her.
"You're a mess, Rachel," said one.
"A disgusting mess,"
"We're always cleaning up after you,"
"One mess after another,"
"I-I'm sorry I'm not the best guard," she said, trying for a flippant tone, "But not everybody wants to be in the WNBA,"
The tallest of them grabbed her shoulder, spinning her around.
"You went and told the Mother Superior that we were picking on you," she said quietly, "And she had to call our parents. And there was a meeting, Rachel,"
"Y-you-" Rachel stammered, fingering the ruined lipstick helplessly, it was coming off on her fingers, "You're doing bad things. Everybody knows it,"
"Knows what?" a stouter girl, smaller and with solid arms, twisted a handful of Rachel's blouse, "That we are the Chaste? That we believe in purity? While sluts like you-"
"I'm not a slut! I'm a virgin!"
The tall one began to laugh, and the others joined. "Rachel," she said patiently, "There are many kinds of purity. Spiritual purity, physical purity. We know what you've been reading. WE are pure. YOU are filth. It's time for you to get cleaned up," she turned to the other three, "Let's clean her up,"
"Clean her up," hissed another girl, and then another; a chorus began to take hold, a chant. "Clean her up, down to the bones, clean her up, clean her up, down to the bones, clean her up, clean her up..." they chanted, herding Rachel toward the showers. Standing behind them in the drifting steam, an elderly nun waited until the girls had silenced Rachel. She slipped out of the locker room and closed the door. She leaned against it, waiting.
Angel closed the delicate ancient text of Tei Wang Gung Bing-Fa and set it down on his desk. He rubbed his eyes. Strategy number 7, "create something from nothing". A memory drifted through him, of the Korean war: the Chinese, banging on cans at night to deprive American soldiers of sleep. After a time the Americans became used to the noise, and the Chinese eventually launched a successful attack under cover of the noise of rattling cans. What would Buffy have renamed it? "Starbucks Syndrome", maybe. He could see her big, clear eyes gazing up at him, hear her voice saying, "There's a Starbucks every two feet, right? So a brand new Starbucks isn't going to set off any 'gee, that's ominous,' alarms," He smiled, and then the smile sank and disappeared. Angel cleared his throat, staring at the clock on his desk.
"Coffee?" Cordy's head appeared in the doorway. He jumped slightly.
"Huh? Oh, no, thanks,"
"I know," she said brightly, "How about some AIR? I mean, I know you don't breathe, but air can be very good for the attitude. You're either fighting your brains out with some gross demon or sitting THERE buried in some gross old book. Let's just walk! No night club, no social pressure...I mean, I'm sure you used to LIKE something. Like, the ocean, maybe? Sea air?"
"Great. Because I feel like a walk on the beach, and since my romantic life is non-existent I'd be mugger-bait, but YOU could take me. I'll even let you buy me an ice cream,"
Angel rubbed his forehead. "Sure,"
All said, it was a nice walk, with Cordy's chatter in the background having an almost calming effect; it kept him from thinking actively of other things, and he liked the smell of the sea, rich and old, an old friend. He knew it well. The waves rolled in with a soothing pulse, but beneath the surface war was raging, the eternal Hell of eat-or-be-eaten. Humans dreamt of peace, of long nights by a warm fire, of stories well told, things that other creatures did not trouble themselves with. Vampires, so much more human than they liked to admit, dreamt of the same: safety, comfort, satiety without too much effort. Was it natural? Was it worth it? Buffy's voice, in his head again as it so often was: "Are you getting all existential-y?"
Cordy huffed audibly. "Well?"
Oops. He had drifted. "What?"
"God, Angel, why do undead men have to be so much like alive men? The attention span is exactly the same! You're all retarded!"
"Re-tar-ded. What did I just say?"
"That all men are retarded?"
"That we need to redecorate the office! That whole recreate-the-18th-century look is way over. We need some color. Something in a floral SOMEWHERE,"
They had wondered down a few sidestreets, and were strolling through some sort of campus. Angel had seen the sign before: St. Agnes School For Girls. It was close to the church where he and Wesley had gone to look for Father Fredericks.
"Oh, MY God," said Cordy.
"Yuck. An all-girls school. Hell on earth,"
Angel stopped in his tracks, listening. "Stay here," he put his hand on Cordy's shoulder, then hesitated, "No. Don't stay here. See the church up ahead? Get inside and wait for me there,"
"I'm going to wait for you. In a church." she said, with flat disbelief.
He glared at her. "Now."
Angel slipped softly between two hedges behind a large brick building, listening. An argument, in whispers:
"St. Patrick wanted to stop just such a thing when he first went to Ireland! It can't be true, Maureen! Tell me it's not true-"
"I see a woman with flagging faith,"
"No more than you, if you think God's hold is so tenuous that it must be fortified in such a way! You can't be doing it!"
"You can't be stopping me. Stay out of my way, Judith, if you won't help me. I'll make clean the way,"
"You can't mean it...you aren't well, then-"
A growl interrupted the two elderly nuns. One screeched, pushing the other into a hedge, and ran for the back door of the building, miraculously closing it behind her. The other was left to fend for herself as a threesome of vampires sauntered into view. Angel bolted from his hiding place and was stung severely in the eyes; the nun was swinging a bottle of holy water with her thumb over the opening, backing slowly toward the door. She held aloft a large wooden cross in the other hand. She's done this before, thought Angel, as he hurled himself onto the back of one vampire and staked it. The weight of the demon went out from under him abruptly and he went to the ground with a small grunt.
"Come on Sister, hand it over," snickered another vampire, who had managed to grab the nun from behind. She brought the cross down on his arm; it sizzled. He howled and released her. Angel blinked furiously; the pain of his burns was beginning to surface. She had got him full in the face, and did the same now to the other vampire, who stumbled back. Angel staked him quickly. The nun reeled, turning to run, but the last vampire had not given up; it leaped onto her back, throwing her onto the ground. Angel seized him by the neck, lifted him, and tossed him away.
"Hey brother," said the vampire, from the ground.
"No brother of yours," said Angel.
"There's tasty leftovers around here," it coaxed, "On the dark-of-the-moon nights. Fresh ones. You could have a taste, and you wouldn't have to kill. I'll show you where,"
"You'll show me your dust," said Angel, and proved it. He stopped, leaning over, and groaned. A small, frail hand touched his shoulder.
"Come with me,"