Cordy bit her lip as she stared at the hymn book. There had been cookies and very strong tea before the singing, and she was a little dizzy from the sugar and caffeine. Ordinarily she would have turned the crap down, but, she had a job to do. The scent of candles and dead flowers seemed to bolster her anxiety. I don't know any of these, she thought, and I can't sing. Then it occurred to her, oh, yeah, cool, I can't sing anyway! If I'm tone deaf they'll never know that I don't know how it goes. Then, a sneaky little thought, deeper down: I'm getting good at this undercover stuff, I should be the girl James Bond or something. Why is it always JAMES Bond anyway? Wouldn't a girl be so much better at that? Especially a girl with my abs. She smiled gently at the visions of tanned men trailing after her, seeking tidbits of approval, as she sailed through gleaming foreign casinos. JANE Bond. How cool would THAT be?
She had this one last chance to get some good recon. Angel had been very adamant, that this was the last day of her investigation. He was worried. She'd insisted on coming, though. She knew she could do this. It was just hymns. And anyway, what could happen in a church?
The nun blew a note on a little round harmonica thing and the singing started. Cordy decided to make the best of it and bellowed out the words, broadly and joyfully wrong. She could feel them staring at the sideways, and decided to lean back on the volume. She concentrated on getting the words out correctly. Better not catch on to the melody line now, it would give her away. Always stick to the lie.
Cordy plodded through the hymn, remembering it vaguely from somewhere. When it was finished the girls sat in the pews. The nun had wandered away during the singing and now reappeared at the pulpit. She pulled out a sheaf of papers and began to pass them out. Cordy was given a photocopy of an original hymn. Nun creativity? Well, they must do something on Saturday nights.
The nun blew another note. Karen leaned next to Cordy. "Just listen at first, then join in when you feel it," she whispered. Cordy smiled politely. The singing began.
It didn't sound much like a hymn. It was more like a chant. The nun was lighting incense and the smoke began to drift among the singers. It was sickly sweet, and tasted a little like tar and college parties. Cordy was starting to get even dizzier. She wanted to cough, but suddenly she began to drift. She breathed deeper. She seemed to be floating. The tune was ethereal, light, and the words on the page danced, landed, danced some more. Cordy realized dimly that something was wrong.
Angel pressed his thumb on the small black button. He waited. The old-fashioned intercom emitted a fuzzy voice, "Angel?"
"Please come in,"
There was a grating buzz; he swung the heavy door open and started up the wide wooden stairs, flinching at the towering crucifix in the entryway. He had to shield his eyes against the heat of it. Sister Judith stood at the top of the stairs. She smiled at him. He smiled back, but she saw through it.
"You have bad news for me," she said.
"I'm sorry," he said.
"This way," he followed her down the hall to the small suite of rooms. He smelled tea.
Angel had kept one hand behind his back. He brought it out now, and proffered a handful of white, clove-scented carnations.
She took them with a warm smile. "Not an apology, nor flattery," she said, looking at them, "These are a gift of friendship," she gazed at him penetratingly, "And, perhaps, nostalgia,"
"Yeah. Yeah...you, uh...I knew you would understand,"
"How you must miss it, the little gestures of intimacy. Do you miss them the most?"
"I think so,"
"But there's more," she said, tilting her head, "There is someone. You gave these to me because you can never give them to her,"
"No," he said softly, "I don't think so. I think those really are for you. Gratitude. For...for understanding me,"
"I will kill you if I need to, " she said softly, almost tenderly, "Without remorse,"
He grinned. "Gratitude for that, too,"
They stared at each other.
"We must give ourselves the little comforts when we can," she said.
She poured tea. They settled next to each other in chairs and were silent for a time.
She sighed. "Tell me, now,"
"The teeth marks on the bones we found in the dumpster are human. The purity class has all the markings of a cult. I'm afraid I'll need to pull my friend out of the investigation, it's too dangerous for her. She's at the hymn singing now, but I'm going to pick her up early," he made a soft sound that resembled a sigh, "I think you have a cult on your hands, and a very dangerous one. You remember the passage from Kings? Jezebel, by the wall of Jezreel?"
She pursed her lips and stared into her tea.
"It-it can't be," her voice trembled.
"I'm afraid it is,"
"Are you sure?"
"We will have to take this from a different angle. I can't put Cordy in danger,"
"I'm going to hand the evidence over to the LAPD. I don't have any choice,"
"She's at the hymn singing now?"
"Yes. I'm going to go get her,"
"Wait," she said, swinging a cloak over her habit, "I'm going with you,"
Wesley glanced at his watch. Ten more minutes to twilight. His back always seemed to be in a cramp. Perhaps one day he'd have his own agency and HE'D be the one to do the charging in with the long, black coat swinging magnificently behind him, he'd be the one not crouched in the catpee-smelling juniper shrubs. A motorcycle went by on the street; the noise blanked out everything, deafening him. Bloody awful machines, when you weren't riding one. Perhaps they should make them quieter, but that would dampen the joy for the rider. Slowly his hearing returned, and he could make out a new hymn. Or was it a hymn? It sounded rather like a chant he'd heard once in a club in London, only this one without the electronic beats supporting it, just eerie chanting. A hymn? Surely not.
He shifted in his crouch and tentatively raised his head, squinting through the stained glass. Ah ha! There was Cordelia. Didn't she look fetching in the schoolgirl outfit; God knows how many nights that had kept him awake past ten, her in the little short, pleated-
Wait. What in the name of-
The chant had become a lower sound, a hum, but with an edge. Cordy was swaying with the others in rhythm, but the others looked...different. They were beginning to crouch, to lift their lips and produce snarling sounds. They were beginning to scratch at themselves with curled fingers, fingers clenched like claws. Cordy was being led down front by two hunkering girls. She was pushed into a kneeling position to receive the sacrament.
Wesley bolted out of the shrubs, cursing as he twisted his foot in a hole. He limped frantically to the doors and pushed. Nothing happened. He shoved with all his strength, but the doors would not open.
Inside, the snarling was escalating.