Angel flinched, but the hand made no other move.
"Come, now," she said.
Angel was virtually blind; the tissues were swelling, his nose began to run. His mouth hurt impossibly. "Wait," he said mushily, "I have a friend...she's waiting in the church. She's human. Can you...get her a cab home?"
"Yes," said the nun patiently, "It seems you have several human friends. I will send someone, as soon as you're in the nurse's office,"
Angel stopped. "No, I'm-"
"Badly burned," said the nun calmly. "Just come this way,"
Angel's eyesight was all but gone. He stumbled beside her; she gave him directions, up stairs and through hallways, guiding him by the arm. Finally she brought him through a door and into a room which smelled of disinfectant and plastic. She pushed him onto a stool and put him in the position of leaning back over something; he reached out and felt the cold porcelain of a sink. He heard the snap of plastic, and was handed a bottle.
"Keep a steady stream of this over your eyes," she said, "I'll make a call for your friend,"
Saline. It felt better, but he quaked slightly with apprehension. He had met her before, when they had looked for Father Fredericks. He hadn't gotten the most cordial of vibes from her. She had known what he was, on sight.
She returned and took the bottle from him, administering the treatment herself. After several minutes he could feel the skin beginning to heal, that deep, infuriating itch. He heard her soft intake of breath.
"Well, I've never seen it before," she said, "I knew about how you heal, but-"
"Why are you helping me?"
"Wait," she whispered. He felt her hands on his face, heard her whispering a benediction. Then an electric spidery coolness, light as powder. His eyes were completely clear. His mouth closed normally, his lips were no longer swollen. He had never healed that quickly on his own. He jerked his head away, staring at her.
"You-" he began, as saline trickled down his neck.
"YOU," she said. She fixed him with a wondering stare. "YOU have a soul. How is that possible?"
"I- how did you-"
"I could never...it would never happen for a demon. The Gift could never work that way..."
"You're a healer," he managed.
"Yes," she said, as if in afterthought, then, "But you must tell me how-"
"Cursed by gypsies," he said; he'd told the story so often that it was beginning to sound a little stale, even to him, "Fed on a favorite of the tribe. They returned my soul as a curse, so that I would regret all the suffering that I'd caused,"
She handed him a tissue; he mopped his neck. "And you seek redemption," she said.
"Y-yes. And I don't feed-"
"On the living," A smile moved across the old face, a smile rich with so much knowing that it glimmered like a jewel. "How old are you?"
"Two-hundred and forty-four,"
"Ahhh," she said, the smile widening, "Someone older than me. I'm ninety-three,"
Angel was genuinely surprised. "You-you move well," he muttered.
The nun laughed. "I'm Sister Judith," she said.
She gave a full, girlish laugh at the name. "Your existence, I imagine, is full of irony,"
He grinned at her. "You could say that,"
"Would you like some tea?"
They sat together in her office, sharing jasmine tea and occasional glances that required no qualification. She accepted him; she was experienced enough with human behavior to trust her own judgment, so seemed to have no doubts about him, or if she did, she seemed confident that she could handle herself. She was very wise, and very tough. Angel felt an ever-present tension begin to move out of his shoulders and neck, he felt fibers within him loosen. The pressure that he normally felt in human company seemed to have evaporated. He took another sip of tea and their eyes met again. The silence was comfortable. Angel hadn't enjoyed a comfortable silence with anyone in a long time.
Finally she spoke. "I wonder if you could help me,"
He cleared his throat. "I was eavesdropping on you, earlier,"
She smiled. "I know,"
"There's a lot you know," said Angel, "Isn't there?"
"I've been around a bit," she said lightly, "And I think I can trust you,"
Her eyes pinned his then, with bright blue. "One of the teachers here is an old friend. I'm afraid she's...she seems to have gone the way of fanaticism. I'm not sure. Something is wrong, terribly wrong. I'm afraid," she stared at him again, but Angel couldn't find the fear on her face.
"What do you think is going on?"
"I-" she set her tea cup on the desk. Her hand was shaking. She is afraid, he thought.
"I don't want to speculate, too much. But she-Sister Maureen-has been teaching what she calls "purity classes". With many academic or extra-curricular activities, you'll find students create social groups around their interests...but this group..." she sighed, closing her eyes, "This group frightens me. They seem to have closed themselves off to other students, and last week I was forced to call a meeting with parents and students to discuss behavioral problems with them. They put up a very effective facade, but...I can smell a bully. I haven't been fooled by one yet. Something about them reminds me of common thugs, or worse. I have no hard evidence, only suspicions. But I suspect that the two missing girls in the last year have a connection, and Sister Maureen knows something about it. She won't talk to me," she looked up at him, "It's the first time in twenty years that she has refused to talk to me,"
"What can I do?"
"You know the feeding habits of vampires, I'm sure. We seem to have a problem with them on a regular basis. Maybe-"
Angel was struck by a thought. "My friend...the one that was waiting in the church. She just graduated high school last year,"
One of her eyebrows went up.
He laughed flatly. "Oh, no, no, it's nothing like that. She's a friend. The gypsies saw to that, too,"
She blinked, slowly. "Perhaps," she said, "Perhaps sometime, we could have a long talk,"
"Or maybe more than one," he suggested.
They both smiled.
Angel shrugged off his coat and hung it up, carefully avoiding a beam of morning sunlight that was sneaking through the blinds. Cordy was gazing at him, round-eyed, from her desk.
"Where have you been?"
He thought about it. "Visiting a friend," he said, reaching for coffee.
"A FRIEND? You had an all-nighter with a friend? At a Catholic girl's school?"
"Everybody always thinks the worst of me," he muttered to himself, then, to Cordy, "A nun. Sister Judith. She needs help,"
"Wow. You and a nun all night. There's a non-party,"
"Something's going on with a clique of girls there, something bad. I need you to go undercover as a student and figure out what's going on,"
"Uh...NO," said Cordy, "Plaid is one of my worst colors, and I just got OUT of high school, thank you, I really don't need to be reliving what I HOPE is the worst time I'll ever look back on,"
"You've done it before. You went undercover as a writer-"
"Oh, yeah, to catch dismemberment guy. Yuck."
"Cordy, I just need you to pretend that you're a new student and join that group, so I can find out what's going on. If anyone can penetrate a social circle-" he began to add.
"Do NOT go there. You are the worst salesman in the world, Angel. You do that thing when you're trying to have a social-skill moment and I can see you coming a mile away!"
"That little thing you do with your head like you're looking at me sideways. You wind up for the pitch. It's SO obvious,"
"Then it must be obvious that I need your help,"
"OK," she nodded thoughtfully, "But I am NOT staying overnight at that place,"
"It's a day school,"
She let out a breath. Then, "And NO uniform."
Cordy walked down the wood floor of the old hallway, grimacing at the feel of wool on her knees. They engineered these skirts so that everybody looked like they had field hockey legs, it was so unflattering. Her eyes traveled expertly along the hall, spotting the alphas, the betas, the omegas of high school society, the little clots of girls milling behind a leader, or wandering on their own. Not that there was much time to wander. This place was run like a Gestapo camp.
The bell rang. This was it. Cordy slid into the classroom, barely avoiding being crushed in the doorway by a student who seemed eager to shut the door.
"Hi!" she said brightly to everyone, "Is this where the purity class is?"
An elderly nun ( looking just like every other nun, why didn't they get to at least wear a broach or something to break up the monotony?) regarded Cordy patiently.
"Purity classes require a background in other subjects. Perhaps next semester you could apply,"
"Oh, really?" said Cordy, "Because I was told that this was a good school because if you were really interested in something nobody would keep you from learning it. And..." she fumbled, trying to remember what Angel had told her, "And I'm getting pretty upset about all of the filth in society. I mean, society is filthy, you know, nobody's moral anymore, and...I think something should be done about it!"
"I'm sorry," said the nun, "Perhaps-"
"My parents-" squeaked Cordy, "My parents heard about you! And the purity classes! Which is why I'm here...in the first place. Your program is really...people really know about it. So I came to this school to take THIS CLASS,"
The nun smiled with a bitter edge. She was pinned, and none too happy about it. Oh, boy, Cordy thought, this is good. Let's make an enemy out of the teacher on the first day.
"We will allow you to monitor the class," said the nun, "But please do not interrupt, and save all questions for the end of the class,"
Cordy slid into the hideous wooden seat of the ancient desk and sighed silently. Undercover, she thought, just barely. I need a raise.
"I realize that I'm low man on the totem pole, here," snipped Wesley, "But I've gone through so MUCH garbage already. Isn't there some other function I could perform?"
"You know, most detective work is actually very boring," said Angel conversationally, "Following leads, cross-referencing, gathering intel, and most importantly, finding evidence," he met Wesley's eyes directly, "Without evidence we don't have a case at all. It's not going to be as easy as killing a demon and walking away, not this time. I'm meeting Kate to get more background on the two missing girls, and I need to know what was so attractive to a group of vampires behind an empty school building . The vampire mentioned 'leftovers', and I saw a dumpster,"
"But..." Wesley shuddered, "But what if it's grisly?"
"Then we'll know what we're dealing with. If all you find are orange peels and notebooks, then we'll have to look somewhere else,"
"Notebooks? Like, girls' diaries?"
Angel winced, and then looked at Wesley with a carefully blank expression. "I need you to go today. Make sure you aren't seen. The vampires were there just last night, so there may still be some evidence,"
Wesley had just left when the phone rang. It was Sister Judith.
"Angel," her voice held repressed panic, "Another girl is missing,"
Cordy wandered into the office at 6:30. Angel raised his eyebrows at her.
"I thought school let out at four?"
"I had to go home and lotion my legs. That cheap wool gave me hives. UGH,"
"What did you find out?"
"Well, I was only allowed to monitor the class. It's so geek-intellectual. But there is a creepy vibe,"
"Did you take notes?"
Cordy yawned. "Yeah. They're doing a translation of the bible in some old language,"
"Yeah...I think so. When did Greeks get all into Catholicism? I thought they were all about Apollo and stuff,"
"According to many scholars, the original translation of the bible was in Greek,"
"Oh. Well, anyway, most of the class was in English, so I do have a few notes,"
Angel peered over her shoulder. "Jezreel?"
"Yeah. Some wall. And they were talking about the meta-metaphysical something-"
"The meaning of the wall of Jezreel?"
"Uh...yeah, I think so. How did you know that?"
Angel began flipping through his King James edition. "The wall of Jezreel..."
Wesley minced through the doorway, holding a green plastic garbage bag at arm's length.
"What is it?" Angel straightened, and then froze. He gulped.
"All I know is, these are bones," Wesley was green.
"They are," said Angel, choking slightly; he could smell them. "They're human,"