The sun turned its face into the hills; little slashes of orange bounced from the windows of the campus buildings. Angel walked between glances of light with stealthy grace. He'd had lots of experience dodging the remains of daylight. Sister Judith walked beside him easily until he was forced to duck as he crossed the grass; she lunged out to steady herself on his arm. Her sleeve fell back from her wrist and Angel had a quick glimpse of a neat, rectangular burn mark. It had been a deep burn, full-thickness. Angel had seen the technique used to erase tattoos used for magical purposes. He stopped. His eyes met hers when he heard Wesley call out to him.
Wesley was bracing himself against the brick wall of the church. Angel bolted to him.
"What's going on?" he said, taking Wesley by the arm, "Why are you-"
"Cordelia!" he panted, pulling away from Angel and pointing wildly, "Inside! It's locked! And they're-"
Angel pulled on the door once. He turned to the nun.
"Sorry," he said, and he jerked the door open. It sounded with a shattering crack, and splinters flew. He blinked at the large crucifix over the altar but he made it to Cordy, who was leaning over the velvet covered railing. He felt the brush of robes as Sister Judith rushed past him. He carried Cordy out. Wesley met him at the door.
"Check the church," Angel said, "Look for anything. I think I smell opium,"
"Yes, of course," said Wesley, who hopped quickly between the pews.
Angel lowered Cordy onto the steps. He checked her pulse. She blinked at him, then she began to cough. He supported her back, holding her upright. She bent and hacked.
"Does your chest hurt?" he asked.
She heaved some more. He didn't like the sound of the cough.
"Uh-oh," she said.
Cordy pushed away from him and crawled into the junipers, wretching. He was at her side again, holding her hair. He dug in his pocket for a handkerchief.
"Angel," she begged, "Just leave me alone for a-" she heaved again. He stood away from her. Wesley limped through the torn doorway.
"It is certainly opium," he said, "And other things. I took a sample from the censer. And I found this," he handed Angel a small sheaf of paper, copied print. Angel shoved it into his pocket.
"We need to get her to a hospital,"
"No, I'm OK," croaked Cordy.
"That smoke could have been even worse than narcotic, which is bad enough," said Angel, "I'm not taking any chances,"
"NO," said Cordy, her voice ragged, "Angel, just chill for a second," she sat on the steps of the church, the green tinge beginning to recede from her face, "I didn't breathe that much of it. Just hold on, OK?"
They all looked up as a police car, with lights spinning and sirens blaring, screeched to a stop in front of them. Two blonde officers, terse with anticipation, jumped from the car and made straight for Angel. He stepped in front of Cordy and Wesley.
"What the bloody hell?" said Wesley.
"We just got a vandalism call," said the taller of them, who glanced around Angel to survey the door, "Who did this?"
"I did," said Angel and Wesley simultaneously. "Damn it Angel," hissed Wesley in a whisper, "Let me take the fall for this one. You need to stay on this case,"
"I ripped the door off," said Angel, "I'll give you a full report right now,"
"You fit the description. Hey, I know you, don't I?" said the other officer, a shorter man, but with an identical tan, "Aren't you the PI without a licence?"
Cordy cursed under her breath. They'd have to do something about that.
"Let's go," Angel was cuffed and ushered to the police car. "We're going to call you two in to make statements," the tall one continued, then he paused to look them over for the first time, "Do you need any assistance?"
"Yes," said Angel, as the back door of the police cruiser closed.
"No," said Cordy and Wesley in unison. They were eyed briefly, then the cruiser pulled away.
Cordy looked at Wesley. "Is your ankle bad?"
"No, it's a mild sprain. Are you dizzy?"
"No, I feel OK," Cordy stood, pulling her cell phone from her jacket pocket. "I'm going to call a cab and get you back to the office. We need to ice that ankle. And then I'm going to have a talk with Sister Backstabber,"
Cordy marched into the office. She stood in front of Sister Judith's desk, struggling to compose herself. Sister Judith faced her coldly.
"You know what, Sister?" breathed Cordy, "I meet a lot of sociopaths in my line of work. I've decided the worst kind are female, because you expect women to act with conscience,"
"You know absolutely nothing-"
"About your side of it?" said Cordy, "Here's a news flash. I don't care. I want you to call downtown right now and withdraw all charges. If you don't, I'm going to tell them everything,"
"I'm going to have to ask you-"
Cordy seized a bible on the nun's desk and held it up in her hand.
"Is there anything in here about betrayal of a friend? What's his name? Judas? I guess you must have memorized those parts, huh? Because Angel thinks of you as a friend." The volume grew heavy and she let it fall onto the desk; the loud "whack" made both of them jump. "He just threw his usual stealth to the wind and dived right in with you, really trusted you. After all he's been through, everything he tries to do, you play him for a chump? I live by a different book. It's called 'Reality'. This particular reality being that if you don't-"
"Cordy," she jumped at Angel's voice.
"Hey..." she said, turning to him, then back to look at Sister Judith, "Uh..."
"She dropped the charges," he said quietly.
"Oh," Cordy's mouth tightened. She blinked. She looked at Sister Judith. "My bad, I guess," she frowned, "Sort of,"
"Could we...have a minute?" he asked.
"Yup. Yeah, sure," Cordy looked sheepishly at him, but she could tell from his suppressed grin that he'd heard enough. She left on tiptoe.
Angel took a chair. He and the nun surveyed each other silently for a time.
"You are going to have to make a choice," he said.
"Kate covered for me. I didn't give them anything. Not yet. But I'm going to have to soon. There's no un-ringing the bell,"
"For the record," she said, "I am sorry. I panicked."
"I know," he said, "But now I need to know that you've picked a side. And which side that is,"
She stood. She folded her arms, walked around the desk, faced away from him. Angel watched her, his face set with perfect calm.
"You know a lot about demons," said Angel.
Her lips tightened. "A bit,"
"Have much experience in that area? Personal? Professional?"
"I've been at a fair number of exorcisms,"
"You knew me on sight,"
"No," she said, "By feeling,"
"And you've studied some demonology,"
She sighed impatiently. "Yes, some,"
He peered at her from under his eyebrows. "And...that's it?"
She tugged on her left sleeve, unconsciously. She turned to look at him.
"I need some time," she said.
"We're out of time,"said Angel, "I'm taking Cordy off the case tonight,"
The door opened. Cordy's eyes were round. "Excuse me?"
Angel grimaced slightly.
"Sorry for the eavesdropping thing, but we are in private investigation," said Cordy, "And I am not pulling out now! We've almost got them, Angel!"
"You're out." he said, "That's it,"
"Now, just hold on-"
"He's right," said Sister Judith, "It's too dangerous,"
"OK...first of all, just because you're my boss doesn't make you the boss of me. I mean, totally. And do you really want this to go on?" she demanded of Sister Judith, "Seriously? How many more girls?"
"They'll be onto you anyway," said Angel, "You're cover's blown. Show's over,"
"You don't know that,"
Sister Judith's eyes darted warily back and forth between them.
Angel glared at Cordy. "No."
"I'll make a deal with both of you," said Cordy, "If I haven't made progress at the next meeting, if I can't get into a ceremony or something where we know we can get the evidence we need, then I'll bail. OK? But not now. I've already put in too much time," Angel opened his mouth, but she cut him off, "What if they don't know? What if we were this close and gave up, and then in a few months, there it is in another police report, 'girl missing'. It will be my fault, too. MINE," she lowered her chin, eyes fixed on Angel, "I've been a bitch a lot of my life, and I might be a teeny bit self-centered, but I am not a coward,"
"This isn't about you," said Angel.
"Yes it is!" she cried, sweeping her arms, "Just like every case we take on is about you. It's about your redemption. Well, this is about me. It's my decision to make. And you're just going to have to deal with that,"