I was fixing some of my stories and realised I'd never posted this here.

Disclaimer: I do not own either Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Supernatural.
Type: Het
Word Count: 19,565
Characters/Pairings: Buffy/Michael, Dean, Sam, Castiel, Bobby, Gabriel, Zachariah, Lucifer, Willow, Dawn, Faith, Xander, and Giles
Warnings: Character death
Spoilers: Spoilers through My Bloody Valentine. Some dialogue from various episodes is also used.
Summary:The war is over, and with the help of the slayers, the world is safe once more. Now, three months later the man Buffy only knew as the archangel Michael, is waking up.
Author's Notes: This was written for sncross_bigbang's second round.


It all started with a phone call. Dragging her hand along the surface of the nightstand, it took Buffy a few tries before she had the offending object lifted from its cradle and clutched in one hand.

"Hello?" Her voice was sleep rough and her mouth felt like it was coated in half dried glue.

"Buffy." Giles' voice, urgent and solemn carried over the line. She sat up, pushing her hair from her eyes. She checked her alarm clock and the red glowing numbers told her it was nearing two a.m.

"What's wrong?" Buffy asked, her heart clogging her throat.

"Michael's awake."

The words sent Buffy tumbling out of bed, blankets tangled around her legs and her pillows impeding her grip. The lack of any form of light did not help matters either. The resulting crash heralded Dawn's arrival and the younger Summers quickly flipped the switch by the door. Bright light flooded the room, and Buffy narrowed her eyes, looking up at her sister from her position on the floor. Dawn's hair was sticking up in the back, her pajamas were twisted around her body, and she stood, wide-eyed, chest heaving.

"Buffy, what is it?"

"We'll be there soon," Buffy forced out, hanging the phone up. As she faced her sister, her lower lip began to tremble. She took a deep breath, hoping her racing heart would calm to a steady beat.

"Michael's awake."

Dawn's jaw fell open, and she stood marble- still for a few seconds before rushing forward. She grabbed Buffy and dragged her from the floor.

"Then what are you waiting for?" Dawn asked, shoving Buffy towards her bathroom. "Go! Get dressed!"

The door clicked shut behind Buffy and she stared at it, unable to make her body move. The words he's awakekept running through her head, etching themselves on her skull. Her hands began to shake as her lungs purged themselves of air. Buffy had prayed for this moment, and as the months had passed, she had slowly resigned herself to the fact that he would never wake up.

Buffy tried to get her lungs to cooperate, nearly flailing as they seemed to close off even more. Her heart banged against her ribs causing her already tight chest to ache more. She clenched her hands into fist, holding them firm against her stomach. Closing her eyes, Buffy focused on her temperamental lungs. She needed air, so she would get it. Slowly, steadily she felt her chest easing, her lungs relaxing, and air moved freely in and out of her body. Her heart rate settled to a manageable rhythm.

Once her goal was accomplished, Buffy opened her eyes, prying her hands loose and away from her body. Going to her closet, she decided to wear 'the outfit'- a small red top and a long skirt with one side slit. It was the only one Michael had ever commented on. He'd been confused as to how she could fight in it, calling it ridiculous and impractical. She had rolled her eyes at him then, now, she just wanted him to notice it again.

Upon leaving her room, Buffy found Dawn standing, arms crossed over her chest just beyond her door.

"About time you stopped primping," Dawn grumbled, before grabbing Buffy's arm and dragging her from their apartment.

They reached the Council in record time, grateful for the lack of traffic at the late hour. Buffy clung to Dawn's hand as they made their way down to the hospital wing of the Council building, their hearts hitching in their throats. Their footsteps echoed in the silent hallway, and Buffy was surprised to see so little activity. She had thought such an event would have at least spurred the Watchers into research frenzy. So far, all they had come across was a few nurses and a few bored and injured slayers.

They met Giles at the private room they had set aside. Buffy bit her lip at his grim face, fearing the worse.

"Giles…"

"He's fine, at least that is what the preliminary tests show," Giles said, looking up from cleaning his glasses. Replacing them, he reached out and gripped Buffy's shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze. "They just got done getting him settled so he's awake right now, but there is something I wish to speak with you about."

"Giles-"

"Buffy, please, listen," Giles said, reaching out with his other hand to stop her progress. Buffy shoved her way past him, barging into the room. Her entrance startled Michael, and his green eyes widened before glancing briefly past her. He was wearing a t-shirt and a pair of grey sweats, a drastic change from the flimsy hospital gown she had grown accustomed to seeing him in. She watched as he swallowed. There was an odd look in his eyes she had not seen there before.

"Um, hey…" Michael's voice was rough still, but softer than she was used to. She took a few steps forward before stopping when he leaned back into the bed, an uneasy look settling over his face. "Think you can tell me exactly where I am? The others didn't say much."

"Michael?" Buffy said, her hands shaking along with her voice. He lowered his head, covering his face at her words. She could have sworn she heard him curse. "Michael…"

"Dean," he said, cutting her words off. He was giving her a sympathetic look and her heart shattered at her feet. "My name is Dean."

"Oh," Buffy replied, arms coming up to cross over her chest. Maybe if she squeezed her arms hard enough she could keep her ribs from cracking.

"So…" Dean said, eyes scanning the room. His brow furrowed as he took in the books and magazines piled on the over-bed table, the chair she had spent endless days and nights in, which still held her pillow and blanket. The stuffed angel bear perched on top of the wall mounted TV received a raised eyebrow. "Uh, where am I?"

"You're in a specialized hospital," Buffy said, carefully selecting her words. He turned his skeptical look in her direction.

"I didn't know hospitals specialized in treating former angel condoms." His words carried the challenge in his eyes and a lot of sarcasm. Then he shot a look at the badly concealed dagger and demon text, and if possible, his expression upped the sarcasm level.

"You…you know?" Buffy said, ignoring his tone, and cursing herself for forgetting to remove the dagger and the book. Dean rolled his eyes.

"I let the bastard possess me," Dean said. "So, yeah, I know. What I don't know is where the hell I am, or who the hell you are."

"This is the medical wing of the Watcher Council's headquarters," Buffy replied, her tone becoming business-like, her expression failing at being polite.

Dean sighed again. "Look lady, they already told me that part. What they didn't say was where the hell I am."

"Oh." Buffy swallowed and her jaw clenched. "Cleveland, Ohio."

"What day is it?"

"August 12th," Buffy answered. "You've been here for three months."

"Year?" This time Buffy heard a bit of fear in his tone and she felt herself soften.

"It's 2010," Buffy said watching as Dean's shoulders slumped in relief.

"Any chance I could get a phone?" Dean asked, and the worry in his voice matched the urgency of his gaze. "There are some people I need to call."

"Sure." Buffy nodded and turned towards the door. "I'll ask one of the nurses to bring you one."

His quiet 'thank you' followed her out into the hall. Seeing Giles' sympathetic face and Dawn's grief-stricken one, Buffy felt her resolve crack. Taking a deep breath, she pushed it aside. Now was not the time.

"He wants a phone," Buffy said, and she was happy to note that her voice stayed neutral.

"Of course," Giles said with a nod, turning to retrieve one of the nurses.

"Buffy…" Dawn said, the tone of her voice matching her tear-filled gaze. She reached out to place a hand on Buffy's shoulder, but Buffy sidestepped, catching Dawn's hand in hers instead.

"Come on," Buffy said, leading her sister away from Dean's room. "Let's go home, it's late."

Chapter Two

Buffy swiped her hand across her forehead. Mud and gore streaked across her skin and fantasies of long showers with scalding hot water danced in her head. This was the fourth time in a month some demon had tried to open the Hellmouth. They had been lucky today. Only a few were injured, and they were nothing serious. Buffy had thought that with the influx of new slayers things would get better. She had been wrong. Demonic omens were at an all time high, and after the disaster in Carthage, Missouri, Buffy had a feeling things were only going to get much worse.

"Go round up the girls," Buffy said to one of the other slayers. "We're done here for now."

The slayer nodded and ran off leaving Buffy standing before the dead shell of a demon. Scowling, Buffy kicked at the corpse.

"Stupid demons," Buffy grumbled her lips dropping into a pout. "I had plans you know."

"Slayer, we need to talk." The voice behind her was low, rough, and commanding. It sent shivers down her spine and made the hair on her neck stand. Turning, scythe clench in her hands, she found a man standing a few feet from her, his green eyes focused solely on her.

"Sure we do," Buffy said, bouncing on her toes. "Just tell me your name so I know who I'm slaying." The man's face went cold. His eyes appeared to fill with fire. He took a few steps forward, causing Buffy to take a few back. "Well, if you're in a hurry to get sliced and diced…"

"I'm no demon," the man said, stopping his progress. Thunder rumbled overhead, the sky darkened. When lightning flashed, Buffy caught a glimpse of fiery wings stretching out from the man's back. Her eyes widened and she sucked in a deep breath, her stomach sinking well past her toes.

"What are you?"

He raised his head, seemingly getting taller, and filling her line of sight. "I am Michael, and I'm an angel of the Lord."

Buffy swallowed, nodding her head. ""An – an angel of the Lord…named Michael? As in...the Archangel Michael?"

"Yes."

"Well, this is new."

Michael came forward. Now he was barely out of arms reach. Buffy shifted, taking in his appearance. He was not exactly what Buffy had always pictured angels to look like. His hair was short; he wore a plain t-shirt with a green button up shirt and a battered leather jacket over top. His jeans were worn, small holes already beginning in one knee. His boots looked sturdy and likely to contain a bit of steel. At a casual glance, the sword slung across his back was the only thing setting him apart from the rest of humanity. When Buffy looked into his eyes, however, she knew he was something other than human. Only Illyria had eyes like Michael, but at least she had the appearance to match it, most of the time.

"This is important," Michael said. The power and conviction in his voice made Buffy grip the scythe tighter.

"So speak," Buffy said, falling back on her old friend sarcasm.

"I require your assistance," Michael said. He completely ignored her tone. Buffy let loose a sigh.

"Let me guess, the world is ending again," Buffy replied with a roll of her eyes. "And you want me to save it."

"No," Michael said brief and to the point. Buffy's eyebrows shot up and her jaw dropped.

"Then you're here why?"

"Your scythe will be more effective against the demons crawling out of their dungeon," Michael replied. "These battles I can't attend to."

"You want me to play back up to your general."

Michael just stared at her, saying nothing for several long minutes. Then he raised his chin slightly, somehow emphasizing his larger size even more. "You will help. It's what you do."

Buffy settled one hand against her hip and favored Michael with a glare. "Look, I know you're probably new to humanity, but when most people want something, they usually say things like 'please' and 'thank you'."

"I am not most people," Michael said with a small grin. "And you are the Slayer. It is your duty to help."

"I know," Buffy said. "I read the mission statement."

"Good." Michael reached out a hand, gently pressing two fingers to her forehead. When she had finished blinking, Buffy found herself standing in the Council War Room; those who were sitting around the table stared at them with open mouths and wide eyes. Giles stood, eyes darting from Buffy to Michael in alarm, his hand wrapped around one of his dusty books. He looked as if he were regretfully contemplating throwing it at Michael, just in case he was evil. Plastering a wide grin on her face, Buffy widened her eyes innocently, and focused on Giles.

"Hey, Giles! Guess, what," Buffy said, sounding like the Valley Girl she still was. "The world's ending!"

"Oh, dear Lord."

"So who's Mr. There-Can-Be-Only-One over there?" Xander asked. He was standing slightly behind Giles and looked as if fleeing was becoming a temptation he wished to indulge in. The others in the room were eyeing Michael with suspicion. Not that Buffy could blame them, since they had just appeared out of thin air, Buffy covered in mud and blood, and Michael spotless with a single sword on his back. Michael just stared back, confidence showing in his expression and stance. The tense awkward moment grew, and Buffy shifted. He seemed content to stay silent, causing Buffy to groan internally.

"He," Buffy said, waving her hand in his direction, "is Michael. As in Archangel, comma, the."

Several mouths dropped open again and Buffy felt marginally better about her own reaction.

"You can't be serious," Giles said. "He…well, I mean…"

"Doesn't exactly scream angel, does he?" Buffy said as she settled into one of the chairs. She gently set the scythe on the table before her.

"How can you be sure?" Giles asked. A few of the other watchers snorted.

One of the aforementioned watchers, one of the few left over from the old Council, objected loudly. "This is preposterous. It is obviously a ruse of some kind! If an angel were walking the earth, our seers would know, or there would be a
prophecy!"

Michael drew himself up, his expression somehow going from mildly curious to Smite Now without shifting. Shadows seemed to shift behind him, while lights flickered emphasizing the sword slung across his back. His voice lowered even more, carrying an authoritative edge that had even the most skeptical person leaning forward to listen. "And it is written that the first seal shall be broken, when a righteous man sheds blood in Hell. As he breaks, so shall it break."

Buffy shuddered. She could feel her stomach trying to claw its way up her throat. "But the First—"

"Opening the Seal of Danzalthar would have only freed Lilith sooner than Azazel had planned. It would not have brought on the end of days," Michael said. "The Righteous Man still would have had to break in order for the first seal to fall."

"If the First Evil had succeeded with its plans, it would have ended the world," Giles protested. Michael shook his head.

"I never said opening the Seal wouldn't have ended badly for humanity." Michael shrugged. "It just wouldn't have been enough to start the apocalypse."

"How can you—" Giles fumed. "Good people died stopping the First and you act like it was nothing! You're supposed to be an angel."

"I do not serve man," Michael countered, the swirling green of his eyes darkening and brightening all at once into an amalgam of fury. His face hardened, and lights flickered around them.

"Get out." Giles' tone was all Ripper. As if the statement had loosened the tongues of everyone in the room, an eruption of voices began arguing in earnest. The few who believed what the man calling himself by the Archangel's name was saying tried vainly to be heard over those who were furious on Giles' behalf.

"Hey!" Buffy yelled, directing a heated scowl at every dissenter in the room and successfully intervening before Michael could smite anyone. "All of you, shut up! He's the real deal; I saw the big fiery wings and everything." Seeing the disbelieving looks, Buffy sighed and turned an impatient, pleading gaze to her former Watcher. "Giles, please."

"I don't have time to debate your pointless theories," Michael scoffed, eyes sweeping the room. "The Slayer will lead her army against the demons while I take care of the rest."

"Buffy." Michael turned to look at her, head tilted to one side, curiosity filling his gaze. She took a deep breath. "My name is Buffy."

"I know," Michael said as his lips quirked upward into the barest of smiles.

"Then use it," Buffy said. When Michael only lifted one eyebrow, Buffy sighed. "If you keep calling me Slayerhalf a dozen other girls will end up answering you."

"I'll be sure to remember that," Michael replied, clearly only humoring her.

"And what exactly is it you want us to do?" Giles asked. His tone could have filled the room with ice.

"I told you."

"Yeah, but it doesn't make sense," Buffy said, leaning forward and resting her arms on the table. "Couldn't you just do your whole smitey thing now?"

"I will do what I have to do," Michael answered. "Don't doubt that. For now, you must gather your slayers."

Before Buffy could speak, he was gone, only the soft rustle of what Buffy presumed to be wings signaling his departure.

"Damn it!" Buffy grumbled, slamming her fist down onto the table. "I'm buying him a bell."

"Buffy…" Giles said, retaking his seat. "You don't think he's telling the truth do you?"

Buffy sighed, running her hands through her hair. "I told you, I saw his wings, Giles. And unless he's like the one guy from that last X-Men movie, the wings are very much of the real, and very much of the threatening." She blinked after a moment and then scowled at Xander, who did nothing to conceal his grin. "I cannot believe I just made a veiled comic-book-movie reference. I hate you," she told him matter-of-factly.

Giles cleared his throat loudly to get the conversation back on track. "Did he say anything before coming here?"

"I was told what you were told," Buffy responded with a shrug before she repeated everything Michael had said to her. "We're supposed to take care of what happens backstage while he runs the show."

Giles glowered, his hand automatically reaching up to retrieve his glasses. The handkerchief appeared in his other hand as if he'd summoned it there, before frantically wiping the lenses clean. "Buffy, there is something that he isn't telling us. There must be, he was entirely too defensive!"

"Don't know, don't care," Buffy replied flippantly. "You guys make with the research. Start with St. Mary's Convent in Ilchester, Maryland and end with Carthage, Missouri."

"You think it's all connected," Giles declared his blue eyes bright with sudden knowledge. It was a firm statement, not a question.

Buffy nodded. "Seriously – a convent gets taken out by a blinding light; River Pass, Colorado had a river go all icky and polluted right before the townspeople went all militant on each other; and a whole town full of people got wiped out, Giles. Some big ugly is trying to get Bingo on its Apocalypse scorecard. It's time we start connecting the dots."


A week had passed since Michael's first visit. News had traveled fast in those first few days as Watchers rushed to confirm Michael's words and Slayers rushed to spread the tale. The coven was called, seers consulted, and informants interrogated. Now the core Scoobies sat in the living room of the apartment Buffy shared with her sister, pizza boxes and soda cans scattered everywhere. Buffy sat on the couch next to Dawn, hugging a pillow to her chest, her feet tucked up under her body.

"So, what's the situation? What have you all found out?" Buffy asked, eyeing Dawn, Willow and Giles. All three looked tired with half-circles of blue-black under their eyes. They traded looks before Willow sighed and leaned forward.

"We did some digging," Willow began her words coming slowly. "And it looks like this all started around September 18th of last year."

Buffy's eyes widened in disbelief. "That long? How did we miss that?" Buffy asked. Giles pulled off his glasses and began to polish the lens.

"We were busy with our own crisis," Giles said. Buffy bit her lip, memories of lost loves and the battles with Wolfram and Hart's demon army making a return visit.

"What's so special about September 18th?" Xander piped in, looking back and forth between everyone in their small group.

"Seems we missed a mass migration of demons to Pontiac Illinois," Dawn said with a shrug.

"What's in Illinois?" Buffy asked.

"We don't know," Willow replied, her tone bewildered. She flipped open a file and laid a grainy picture on the table. "But whatever it was, blasted half a forest to the ground."

Leaning forward, Buffy took in the felled trees that formed a circle around a single isolated area of the woodland.

"We also missed the Raising of the Witnesses," Dawn added, laying down another sheet of paper. "And the town that couldn't die, and a bunch of other obvious omens."

"What does this mean?" Buffy leafed through the papers, eyes skimming article after article. They should have seen this, they should have known, and she wanted to know why they hadn't.

Giles swallowed, looking as pale as the wall behind him. "It's Biblical."

Clarity dawned on Buffy as suddenly as if someone had flicked on a bright light in a very dark room. "That's why he's here," Buffy gasped.

"Who?" Willow asked.

"The Archangel Michael," Buffy answered. "He's here because Lucifer's free."

Chapter Three

Buffy sat primly in the chair next to the hospital bed, Giles standing to her right, while Dr. Gellar shone a light in Dean's eyes, asking inane questions Buffy knew were starting to piss him off. With a lot of reluctance, Dean had given them his full name, where and when he'd been born. He'd bluntly replied "I'm not allergic to anything," when asked his medical history. And when Gellar dared to question him of the identity of the current President of the United States, a very terse, very sarcastic "Sarah Palin"was the resulting answer.

"Well," Dr. Gellar sighed, replacing his pen light. "He certainly doesn't seem to be suffering any lingering brain damage."

"Heis right here, you know," Dean grumbled as he leaned back against his pillows. He tried to shift and winced, rubbing his thigh as his glare intensified.

Dr. Gellar shook his head. "There are a few more tests we'd like to run, but if all goes well, we'll start you on physical therapy next week."

"Thank you, Dr. Gellar," Giles said, shaking his hand. The doctor nodded, and then hurried from the room. Giles proceeded to prove how predictable he was, in both word and deed, and removed his glasses from his face. "Dean…if you don't mind…"

Dean sighed, closing his eyes for a few seconds. "Ask."

"How did you and Michael-"

"Come to share headspace?" Dean interrupted, his gaze blankly focused on the far wall.

"Well, yes."

"I said yes."

Giles exhaled noisily and put his glasses back on. "And that means?"

Dean shrugged. "Angels need permission to take a body for a ride."

"So anyone could have done this?" Giles asked.

Dean shook his head. "No. Only certain people can. It's got something to do with special bloodlines or some shit."

"So Michael approached you, and you allowed him the use of your body," Giles concluded, jotting down some notes on a small notebook he'd retrieved from his pocket.

"Ah, no," Dean said, rubbing a tired hand over his face. "I told the angels to go fuck themselves first."

"But you changed your mind," Buffy said, her hands gripped between her knees.

"Had no choice," Dean replied, sounding just as tired as he looked. When she caught his gaze, Buffy sucked in a deep breath. His eyes held grief she'd often seen in the mirror.

"What happened?" she whispered. Not even seconds later, the look vanished and Dean's face closed off.

"Thatis none of your fucking business," Dean said, voice cold. "All you need to know is that in the end, I said yes." Buffy lowered her head, her lower jaw clenched tightly in an effort not to snap at him – a battle she was losing very quickly.

"Of course," Giles said hastily, tapping his pen against the notebook. "So, how is it that you know about demons?"

His ire seeming to disappear, Dean shrugged and went back to staring at the far wall. "I was raised a hunter."

"Huh?" Buffy asked, eyebrows drawn together.

"My parents were hunters," Dean clarified. "I've known most of my life what's really out there."

"What about your parents?" Giles asked.

"No," Dean interrupted, his voice firm.

"But-"

"I'm tired," Dean murmured, looking towards the window. He closed his eyes soon after.

"All right," Giles hesitantly murmured, "We'll finish our talk later this evening." He picked up the notebook and made his way to Dean's hospital room door. Buffy stood and followed Giles out.

She didn't once look back at the man who was so very different from the one she'd thought he was.


Buffy avoided the hospital ward for three days after the failed interview. She was very proud of herself for the spectacular dodging, in fact, and had even managed to convince her friends that yes, actually, she wasvery happy that Dean was alive and well. Right now, though, she was just trying to avoid the chaos the day seemed filled with. Dean's brother had shown up this morning with a car full of people in tow, and everyone was trying to fill the walls with as much gossip as possible. She was just reaching her favorite spot on the Council grounds, a bench near the pond that few ventured to, when she heard his laugh.

Dean's laugh was lighter than Michael's was, and it sounded freer and happier than the Archangel had ever managed. She inhaled sharply and held it, then shook her head and reminded herself that breathing was a good thing before finally exhaling. Then she turned and tried to sneak her way back inside.

A high-pitched yelp that could not have possibly come from her sounded in the courtyard, and she jumped. The voice wasn't Michael's, nor was it Dean's, but it carried a familiar timbre they both shared. With her blinding Welcome, I'm the right arm of the Council!smile firmly in place, Buffy turned and was greeted by a hazel eyed young man, a full foot plus a couple of inches taller than her. Buffy had to crane her neck just to look at him. He also had a wide grin on his face and Buffy had to remind herself to breathe again.

"You have his smile," Buffy whispered, and she knew from the uncomfortable look she was getting, he'd heard her.

"Hey," he said, coming forward, holding out one giant hand. It enveloped hers and they shook, though he let go quickly. "Um, I'm Sam. I just wanted to thank you for, you know…looking after my brother. I didn't think I'd ever seen him again."

Buffy nodded, and tried to find her voice. "No problem. Besides, we couldn't just let any hospital take him, what with the mystical coma and all."

"Yeah," Sam said, voice soft and eyes still holding sympathy despite his happiness. Buffy hated him immediately.

"Hey!" Dean's voice called out from behind them. "Sammy! Get your ass back here. Cas brought pie!"

"I'll just…" Sam said, gesturing behind him. "Thanks, again." Then he turned and jogged off, his carefree voice drifting on the breeze to reach her ears. "I'm coming, jerk. And you had better not eat all of that! The doctors said for you to take it easy."

Turning to head back inside, she ran into the last person she ever wanted to see.

"How noble of you," Gabriel sneered. He had his arms crossed over his chest, and a smirk stretching his lips. She wished she could pummel it from his face, force him to feel everything she was. "I wonder what they would think if they knew the truth."

"Drop it," Buffy growled, jaw clenched and eyes narrowed.

"Or what? You'll slayme?" Gabriel laughed. "Please!"

"You've had your fun, now leave," Buffy snapped, her voice shaking in equal parts fury and unhappiness, along with her body. Gabriel lost his smirk, eyes narrowing as his expression hardened. Power rolled off him, reminding Buffy this was one being she could not tangle with.

"Do not ruin this for them," Gabriel told her venomously, his words a low growl.

"Since when do you care about them? Since when do you care about anythingthat doesn't benefit you directly?" Buffy asked, crossing her arms over her chest.

"I don't," Gabriel replied. Buffy had the feeling he was lying. "But I owe them. So if you ruin this, slayer or not, I will show you exactly what I am capable of."

With a snap of his fingers, Gabriel was gone and Buffy tried to blink away the stinging sensation in her eyes. Swallowing, she left, heading towards the lot where she had parked.

She didn't feel like working anyway.

Chapter Four

There were bodies all over the diner. They had been there long enough that the heater had helped the flies find comfortable places to swarm. A tray half full of ground meat rested on the floor next to a booth. Buffy had to wrinkle her nose up at the smell and the state in which the bodies had been left in. Food was packed in open mouths, smeared over blank faces, and down shirt fronts. A few bodies were surrounded by empty liquor bottles, and one woman, laying face up behind the counter, had hundreds of dollars stuffed into her shirt.

Michael walked around the dining area, gently lifting heads, sniffing various drinks, and disappearing briefly into the kitchen before coming back to Buffy's side.

"What happened here?" Buffy asked her voice unnaturally loud among the dead. She winced and refused to think of the half-fried man lying in the back.

"Famine was here," Michael replied. A curious look crossed his face. "But he's been banished. I wonder how…"

"What do you mean famine? Are you talking big bad demon, or something else?" Buffy asked. Michael nudged a body with his foot. It was one of four that were dressed in identical suits and ties.

"Famine is not a demon," Michael said. He leveled a steady gaze at her. "He's a Horseman. One of four."

The Slayer frowned at her companion. "One of four horsemen... One of –" Her brows shot up in sudden realization, and as she locked eyes with Michael, Buffy paled. "They're real? The Four Horsemen are real?"

"Yes." Michael bent down and rolled one of the suit wearing bodies over. He studied the dead man's face, brow furrowing in thought. "And there were demons with him."

"But…" Buffy's voice trailed off.

"He exploits humanity's hunger for food, wealth, love, anything that can physically or emotionally be filled," Michael elaborated, staring down at the Slayer blankly.

A green tinge colored Buffy's cheeks. "You mean like the couple who…ate each other?"

"Yes."

"Oh, ew!" Buffy groaned her nose wrinkling again and eyes scrunching up.

Michael stood, ignoring Buffy's disgust. He lifted one arm and spoke softly in a language Buffy didn't understand. Suddenly a man wearing nothing stood before them, a confused look on his face.

"Michael," the man's eyes widened, darting round the dinner. "Why did you call me?"

"You are assigned to this city, correct?" Michael asked. The man nodded, hands coming up to rest against his chest.

"Yes."

"What happened here?"

The man took a step back, and his bottom lip began to tremble. Despite his creepy appearance Buffy felt sorry for him. It was like watching someone scold an overweight puppy.

"He means with Famine," Buffy clarified, drawing the man's attention.

"Oh," the man sighed in relief. "Castiel and a friend of his took care of him."

"Really?"

"Yeah!" The man nodded eagerly, a grin spreading across his face. "They were really nice."

"Thank you, Cupid," Michael replied and the man vanished. Buffy eyed where Cupid had been standing, her jaw dropping open in disbelief.

Cupid? Buffy mouthed, her eyebrows furrowing. A shudder ran through her body. Definitely didn't want to see him again. Looking at Michael, she heaved a sigh and inquired, "So, now what?"

"Now we find Raphael." Michael raised a hand, snapping his fingers. The bodies vanished, the flies gone with the smell. The whole place looked like a professional cleaning crew hand spent days scrubbing every corner of the building. Taking a marker from the counter, Michael quickly drew a series of symbols on the floor before standing. He spoke in the same language as before, though this time he lowered his head and closed his eyes.

A tall, dark- skinned man appeared in a shower of sparks and lightning. His movements seemed measured, as if the form he presented could not contain the power within. Buffy was a bit awestruck. Then he spoke and she began to think that perhaps all angels were in desperate need of a Halls cough drop.

"Michael," Raphael greeted. There was an odd look on his face as he watched Michael-one Buffy wasn't quite sure how to identify.

"Raphael," Michael said with a slight nod of his head.

"Why have you brought the Slayers into battle?" Raphael asked, briefly glancing in her direction. "They are not needed."

Michael's face hardened. "Not even we can be in two places at once, Raphael."

"Why are you not fighting Lucifer?"

"In due time," Michael replied, taking a few steps towards the other angel. "I wish to gather us together. There are battles I can't fight, battles the Slayers can't handle."

"You wish to save this world?" Raphael tilted his head and Buffy swore she heard disgust coloring his tone. Her awe of the archangel died a fiery death.

"Yes."

"But why?"

Michael looked at Raphael and if he had been human, Buffy just knew he would have rolled his eyes. "This world and these humans are our Father's creation. It is what He wanted."

"They do not deserve to be saved," Raphael snapped.

"Raphael-"

"No, Michael," Raphael interrupted as he stalked forward.. "They do not deserve our mercy, and with our Father gone-"

"Wait a minute," Buffy said, bringing their attention to her. "Since when do you get to decide when the world ends?"

"Since our Father disappeared," Raphael growled.

"So Daddy's gone, and you decide the end of the world is a good idea? Buffy asked incredulously, her eyebrows hitting her hairline. "What are you, twelve?"

"You don't understand," Raphael snarled.

"Then start with the explaining," Buffy countered, narrowing her eyes and clenching her jaw tightly as she focused on the archangel.

"We are tired," Raphael said, a desperation filling his voice. "We just want it to be over. We just want it to be... paradise."

Buffy rolled her eyes and snorted. He whined worse than Dawn had at fourteen. "That's what heaven is there for!"

"Raphael," Michael broke in, an icy calm coating his words. "Gather the others. That is an order." And despite the low, relaxed cadences of his voice, Buffy flinched as she heard the underlying wrath. Clearly, Raphael had heard it as well.

"Of course," Raphael replied, his lips pressed tightly together. With a low bow, he turned and disappeared in a flash of lightening. Buffy barely resisted the urge to stick her tongue out at the space he had formerly occupied.

She turned and glanced up at Michael, catching a glimpse of something that looked like sadness lingering in his eyes. Any admonishments she'd been prepared to let loose in the aftermath of meeting his brother fled. Instead, she blinked once, and then averted her eyes from him, choosing instead to hold her tongue.


The next day, while going over research in the Council's War Room, a tall man wearing an expensive suit and tie showed up. His thinning gray hair was closely cropped and neatly styled. He was taller than Michael as well and the look he cast Michael was infinitely smug. He oozed smarmy attitude and the smile he wore made Buffy feel uneasy. She wanted to introduce him to her scythe but Michael had already told her it was useless on angels.

"Michael." His faux-cheerful voice was as unctuous as an oil spill.

"Zachariah." Michael's voice dropped lower than Buffy had ever heard it. His sword was resting on the table, holding down one side of the map they were looking at, and to Buffy's brief surprise, he casually moved his hand, letting it lay over the hilt. "You've spoken to Raphael, I take it."

"I'm surprised at you, Michael," Zachariah said, ignoring Michael's words. He lowered his head, shaking it as if disappointed. "I thought you would have been a bit more eager to fulfill your duty."

"If you recall correctly, I do not take orders from you, Zachariah," Michael replied, lifting his chin and narrowing his eyes.

"I never would have suggested such a thing," Zachariah denied. "I just figured you'd-"

"Toe the line you and Raphael have created?" Michael asked, head tilting to one side. "I follow our Father's orders, and I'll perform the duty He set out for me."

"Michael-"

"Are you going to fight me on this, Zachariah? Because I can guarantee you will not win."

Zachariah's face closed. All pretence at civility dropped from his manners. "The others will not go along with this."

"Then they will be dealt with in the same manner as Lucifer," Michael replied.

"Michael," Zachariah sighed, taking a few steps forward. "The prophecies-"

"Goodbye, Zachariah," Michael cut in, raising his hand and snapping his fingers. Zachariah was gone before Buffy could blink.

"Why that-" Buffy growled as she kicked the table. "What's his problem anyway?"

Michael's eyes showed his amusement. "Zachariah believes he is the one in charge."

"He reminds me of my old Principal, Snyder," Buffy grumbled as she sank down into a chair. "You should totally smite him."

Michael laughed, startling Buffy. It was low and soft, and caused the butterflies in her stomach to take flight.

"Zachariah has his uses," Michael said, still chuckling. "For now though, we must concentrate on stopping Pestilence."

Ignoring the sensation, Buffy leaned forward, eyes on the map. "So where is 'Ol Pesty going to strike next?"

Michael looked up at her words, a small grin still on his face. "You have a very odd way of seeing things."

"I'm told it's a gift."

"I find it refreshing."

Buffy ducked her head, her cheeks taking on deep pink hue. Her words stumbled over themselves when she tried to speak. "I, um, I- I think I heard the news talking about weird illnesses in Oregon. We could start looking there." Her smile stretched her cheeks, and she prayed he would follow her subject change. The look she received let her know he had not been fooled, but was allowing her this anyway.

"I think you may be right," Michael replied. He closed his eyes briefly and placed his hand on his chin. "And... I think I'll get Zachariah to check it out."

Buffy choked on her laughter.

Chapter Five

The corridors were quiet as Buffy made her way towards the medical wing. Most of the younger slayers were in class, learning the fine art of demon killing. She was hopeful her luck would hold. She'd witnessed Dean's workout that morning, his mood souring the room. He'd gone through his exercises by rote and hadn't even cracked a smile when his brother had tripped over his own feet. When she'd left to take care of her duties, she'd spent the rest of the morning worrying.

Rounding the corner, Buffy slowed her steps, her brow wrinkling. She could hear Faith's voice as it rang out from Dean's room. It was low, and husky, and held the same tone she used when she'd spotted a guy to spend the evening with.

"I like you better."

By contrast, Dean's laugh was light and free, a mile from the morbid feel it had carried this morning. Leaning against the door and just out of sight, she heard his reply.

"Oh, really?"

His voice had lowered, filled with a distinct rumble Buffy would always associate with Michael. He laughed again, and her hand clenched around the doorknob. She released it before she could crush it. Dean's voice carried the same sultry pleasure she was currently hearing in Faith's.

"He once turned all of B's clothes neon orange."

Buffy felt her face heat up. Her eyes began to sting as Dean's laugh reached her ears once more. Taking a deep breath, she grabbed the knob again, plastered a smile on her face so fake it needed a stamp declaring it to be made in China, and pushed the door the rest of the way open.

"Hey, guys." Her voice was just as bright and plastic as her smile.

"Hey, B," Faith said, gazing over her shoulder, smirk firmly in place. "I was just tellin' Winchester here about the apocalypse he slept through."

Dean was settled back against the pillows, looking worn and so pale his skin color matched the sheets. His eyes though, caught Buffy by surprise. They were clear, bright, and reflected the weak smile he wore. Buffy took a steadying breath, and crossed her arms over her chest.

"There's really not much to tell," Buffy said. Faith snorted.

"B," Faith drawled. "Outside of sinking Sunny D and killing the Beast, this was the only apocalypse I can remember that had some truly epic shit going down."

"I remember some of it," Dean muttered, eyes taking on a haunted look.

"You do?" Buffy asked. Faith shot her a warning glare. Buffy chose to ignore it.

"Yeah," Dean sighed. "After Carthage, well, I decided to let Mikey handle the rest."

"You were in Carthage?"

Dean shrugged and his voice hollowed. "We lost some good people there."

"Well, that sucks," Faith said, gaining his attention. She then stretched in her chair, tiny shirt riding up exposing toned skin. Dean's eyes tracked her movements, and Faith smirked. "Though I can't say I blame, ya, for skipping out" Faith said. "If I could've taken a vacation during the apocalypse, hell, I would have too."

Dean snorted while trying to swallow some water and choked a bit when it went down wrong. It hadn't helped that his eyes were still on Faith's chest. "I didn't know vacations involved an invasion of angelic body snatchers."

"Faith," Buffy interrupted, her tone catching both their attention. Faith rolled her eyes and stood, giving Dean a long, leisurely once over.

"Later, Winchester. Seems duty calls."

"Nice meeting you, Faith," Dean said, his eyes taking a similar route over Faith.

"Get some rest," Buffy said her voice having lost its edge.

She followed Faith out of his room, closing the door behind her. No words were spoken as they passed the nurses station and entered the elevator. The doors closed and the car just started to move between floors when Faith's hand shot out, hitting the stop button. A shrill alarm sounded as the elevator lurched to a stop.

"Faith!" Buffy gasped, reaching for the button. Faith knocked her hand away, and Buffy stared at her, half-angry and half-confused. "What the hell is wrong with you?"

"There ain't a damn thing wrong with me," Faith snapped. Her eyes narrowed and her posture became rigid. "I'm not the one acting like a jilted girlfriend."

Buffy shook her head. "I just think he needs to focus on getting better. What he doesn't need is a blow-by-blow account of the world nearly ending."

"Damn it, Summers," Faith snarled, running her fingers through her hair. "That's notyour decision! If the boy wants to have some fun and hear about the apocalypse, he will. He slept through half of it!"

"You call that fun? Listening to apocalyptic bedtime stories?" Buffy retorted. Faith settled on her back foot, hip jutting out with her arms crossed under her breast.

"For him? Yeah!" Faith answered matter-of-factly. "Fun is also flirting with anything with boobs, talking about his car, booze, food, and porn, too. You'd know that if you stopped looking for Michael every time you talked to him."

"I do not-"

Faith closed her eyes and slashed her hand across the air in front of her in annoyance, cutting Buffy off. "He's not Angel! This isn't a case of soul or no soul. Michael was only wearing Dean, not the other way around."

Buffy's hand shot out, hitting the stop button, her breath coming in short, angry pants. The alarm silenced, and the elevator began moving once more. When they reach their floor, Buffy turned, face set in a stony mask.

"Leave him alone," Buffy said. "Youridea of fun is the last thing he needs right now."

She left the elevator before Faith could answer, her footsteps echoing in the long hallway as Faith's words scorched her brain.

She spent the rest of the day in her office. Her inbox became empty for the first time, and her outbox was over flowing. She rearranged all her personal items—a plant Dawn had given her, a picture from last year's Christmas party, and her favorite coffee mug. When she looked up, Buffy noticed it was nearing four o'clock in the afternoon. Right on cue, her legs started aching, and her back begged her to stand. Stretching out her tired muscles, Buffy grabbed her jacket and lunch before heading outside.

The sun warmed her skin and a gentle breeze tugged at her hair. Birds soared across the sky, and sang from leaf-covered branches. She finally managed to reach the pond a few minutes later. Luckily for her, no one was around and she was able to sink down onto the bench, sighing in achy relief as she did. Finally, some quiet where she could feel sorry for herself without anyone around to bitch at her for it.

The sound of shuffled footsteps reached her ears, and Buffy cursed. Turning her head, she cringed when she spotted Dean slowly making his way towards her. When he looked up, Buffy caught the surprise in his eyes and knew he hadn't known she was there.

"Um, hey," Dean said, leaning on his crutches. He looked down, and carefully ran one foot through the grass. "Didn't think anyone would be out here."

"Hi. Shouldn't you be..." Buffy shrugged, waving a hand in his direction. "Well, you know. Resting?"

Dean laughed, and shook his head. "The walls started closing in on me."

"How'd you get past Dr. Gellar?" Buffy asked curiously. A hint of jealousy tickled the back of her neck and she felt her mouth forming into a pout. Dr. Gellar never let her roam when injured.

"Okay," Dean snickered, his humor making his eyes shine. "So I might have conned Sammy into covering for me."

"How'd he manage that?"

"Are you kidding?" Dean laughed. "Have you seen the puppy dog eyes? He could make demons repent with that look."

Buffy nodded, smiling despite her mood. "Ah, gotcha. All Dawn does is look at me like I've killed her puppy and she's currently planning to do the same to mine."

Dean laughed again, a low rumble that matched the grin on his face. He sounded so much like Michael then Buffy found herself wishing for a crisis so she could politely run off. Instead, she rooted around in her lunch, pulling out a container of yogurt and a spoon.

"She's younger than you, right?" Dean asked, easy grin still in place. He came forward and settled down under the tree next to her bench. She could see the wince he tried to hide as he stretched his legs out before him. His crutches came to rest on his right.

"Yep," Buffy said, popping the 'p' and darting her gaze to the ducks swimming in the pond. She ate a quick spoonful of yogurt. "She's five years younger than me."

"Sammy's four years younger than me," Dean added, his gaze also watching the ducks.

Buffy nodded, keeping silent. She ate more of her yogurt, her brain fighting for something to say. It remained stubbornly blank.

"This is awkward, isn't it?" Dean asked, head leaning against the tree trunk, eyes still on the ducks.

Buffy paused midway through bringing another bite of yogurt to her lips, before giving a soft sigh. Taking the final bite, she put the spoon back into the container before putting it away. "Yeah, it is."

"What was he like?" Dean looked at her, and Buffy turned a startled gaze his direction. "I don't exactly remember all that much besides bright light, and even more bright light."

"Oh," Buffy said, feeling a bit better. "Michael was…"

"He wasn't a dick was he?" Dean asked when she failed to continue. "Cause I met a few angels and let me tell you, 'dick' doesn't even begin to describe some of their douchey behavior."

Buffy couldn't help the snort. "Whiny doesn't really cover it either."

Dean chuckled at her words. "Met Teenage Mutant Ninja Angel did, ya?"

"He sounded like he needed to be on Dr. Phil."

"I always thought Jerry Springer was more appropriate," Dean replied.

Buffy laughed. "Michael was just different. He was calm, confident, so sure of himself and his mission. Illyria liked him."

Dean nodded, hiding his shudder by pulling his hoodie tighter around him. He'd met Illyria the other day. She'd let him know how saddened she was that Michael would not be returning.

"And later?"

"Very focused," Buffy replied, "and especially so right before a fight. And he always got this weird confused look on his face whenever we'd crack jokes, like he couldn't figure out why we were laughing when the world was about to get flushed."

To her surprise, Dean laughed, long and loud. "Cas used to get that look on his face all the freaking time."

"Cas?"

"Castiel," Dean replied, a wide smile on his face. "Man he was a dick when we first met. Told me if I didn't start showing some respect he'd toss my ass back where he found me."

"He's still around?" Buffy asked, and from the look Dean gave her, she'd failed to keep the hope out of her tone.

"He's not coming back," Dean told her firmly, his face filled with gentle understanding despite the blunt words. When she opened her mouth to speak, Dean raised a hand to stop her. "I'd have to let him back in, and to be perfectly honest, that's not going to happen. Ever."

"Cas-" Buffy started, stopping as Dean shook his head.

"Cas is a special case," Dean answered. "He died trying to help me prevent all of this, and when he got brought back, Jimmy wasn't with him."

"Oh."

She stayed silent while Dean stood, struggling to get his crutches under his arms. She didn't try to help, and he didn't ask. She just kept staring at her hands, her chest feeling like it was cracking open.

"I'm sorry." Dean's voice brought her head up. He wasn't looking at her. "When I said yes, I didn't think I'd be coming back. I knew what happened to the vessels of archangels, and Michael, well…we all thought I wouldn't survive if I said yes. So I'm sorry you lost him. I'm not sorry to be back."

Quiet settled over them, stealing what little comfort there had been.

Chapter Six

Buffy coughed as she took a breath. The air stung her lungs, and bitter tasting dust coated her tongue. More dust swirled around her, wind whipped across the town sending dirt and debris slithering across the road. Another zombie lunged for her and she swung her scythe, slicing the rotting corpse in half. It hit the ground with a wet plop of flesh - no blood would splatter out of something that had no blood to pump. The pieces twitched as if trying to pull themselves back together and a low moan came from the half with a head.

Buffy plowed forward, slicing through more zombies leaving a trail of twitching body parts behind her. Faith was near the center of the main road. She swung her sword in wide arcs, lopping off heads and severing limbs. She followed up with her dirk, taking out the ones who managed to creep in close.

"Man," Faith panted, slicing through another zombie. "Red really needs to hurry with the mojo."

Buffy kicked a zombie in the chest and cut its head off. "She's working on it right, Will?"

"Almost done," Willow called. She sprinkled more colored sand into a silver bowl. Striking a match, Willow closed her eyes and chanted low, her words barely audible over the groaning cries of the zombies. Buffy and Faith fought back-to-back, keeping the undead away from Willow and trying desperately to keep from being bitten. Light flashed, and smoke rose and almost as one the undead army fell with a bone crunching plop. Buffy sighed in relief.

"Now what?" She glanced around. The streets were covered with the half-rotting and fully rotted bodies of their former residents. She was not looking forward to the clean up.

"Salt and burn 'em," Faith replied. She cleaned off her sword and sheathed it. She kept the dirk held at ready.

"Salt and what?"

"Burn, B," Faith repeated. "Dead things can't come back if there's nothing to come back to."

Willow waved her hand and muttered some soft words. In a blink, the bodies disintegrated.

"Or…we let Red here take care of it." Faith shrugged. "I'm gonna go round up the girls."

She walked off before either of them could reply.

Willow began packing away her supplies while Buffy stood, guarding her back.

"So," Willow began. "Have you heard from Michael recently?"

Buffy cast a quick glance over her shoulder. "No, not recently. He's been busy tracking down Death."

"Oh."

"Why do you ask?"

Willow shrugged as she picked up her bag, slinging the strap over one shoulder. "I was just wondering. Doesn't he usually take part in the slayage?"

Buffy shrugged before heading out of the alley. "Nah. He's more of the Show-Up-And-Issue-Cryptic-Orders type, when he's not being the Must-Poof-Buffy-All-Over-The-World type."

Willow snorted. "Sounds like a few other people we used to know."

"Huh?"

"Nothing."

Buffy stopped, turning to face Willow. She rested on fist against her hip. "Nu-uh. That isn't your nothing face, Will. So, spill."

"Well, you two seem to spend an awful lot of time together," Willow said. "We hardly ever see you."

It was Buffy's turn to snort. "That's because we've been busy trying to stop the apocalypse."

"If you say so."

Buffy glared. "I do say."

Willow felt the corners of her lips twitch. "So, is he cute?"

Buffy rolled her eyes, but her grin broke free anyway. She began walking again. "Cute? No. Major hottie? Check."

Willow traded grins with Buffy as they finally reached the road. Guthrie seemed deserted, buildings and cars standing as empty sentinels over a town once filled with life. Their footsteps echoed as they walked. Due to Willow's spell, not even the stains from the butchered zombies remained. It was as if someone had scrubbed the streets clean, and was now awaiting new inhabitants to come and replace the dirt.

The further they walked the more decay they saw. Windows were gone, cars were overturned, and homes were nothing but broken shambles. Buffy could see the scuff marks in the grass from the fight but not the putrid mess of zombie guts. She heard Willow clear her throat, and tensed. Oh, boy. She should've known an intervention was coming.

"Buffy…" Willow said. She sighed, and then stopped, coming to stand in front of her friend. "You're not…well…"

"What, Will?"

"He's an angel," Willow said slowly, picking her words with care. "I just don't want to see you get hurt."

"He wouldn't hurt me," Buffy said, frowning. "You said it yourself, he's an angel."

"Real live angel or not, that doesn't mean he won't hurt you," Willow replied. Taking a deep breath, she placed a gentle hand on Buffy's shoulder. Buffy scowled, shrugging it off as she began walking away. "Buffy!" Willow closed her eyes and shook her head. "What happens when this is all over?"

Buffy stopped, but did not turn around. "We'll cross that moat when it comes."

Once back at their hotel, freshly showered and with books and empty cartons of food scattered around, they discussed their next options.

"Was it all Night of the Living Dead out there?" Xander asked. Buffy chuckled.

"Sorry, Xan," Buffy giggled. "There was no brain eating for these zombies."

"It was more like shuffle and groan," Willow added.

"Were the angels of any assistance?" Giles asked, placing one book carefully on a stack and grabbing another.

"No angels in sight for this," Buffy replied. "While it would have been nice, we took care of the zombie pride parade just fine on our own."

"They should help out more," Xander sniffed indignantly. Willow nodded and even Giles seemed to agree.

Buffy rolled her eyes. "Hello? They've got the big fights to take care of."

"And what do you call this?" Giles inquired, his brows furrowed and his voice draped in annoyance. "A whole town was turned into rampaging zombies by Pestilence. How was this battle not big enough?"

"Death was taking a tour of Asia." Michael's voice caused everyone to jump. He stood before the door, hands in the pockets of his jeans. He raised a single eyebrow when Xander's muttered complaint of, "Bell! Someone get him a collar with a bell!" reached his ears.

"Do you ever change your clothes?" Buffy asked, a small smile tugging at her lips. Michael graced her with a bemused look.

"These clothes are practical," Michael replied. "I do not need any others."

"So you're Michael?" Willow blurted out, her eyes shining in an academic interest that Buffy hadn't seen since their senior year of high school. When he transferred his questioning gaze from Buffy to her, she ducked her head and blushed. "Sorry! I-it's just you don't look very... angelic to me."

Michael nodded. "My true visage would burn out your eyes while my voice would bloody your ears. If you survived it, that is." He turned his attention back to Buffy. "I take it your mission was a success?"

"Yep," Buffy replied with a grin. "We kicked zombie ass and Will sent Ol 'Pesty to time out."

"And Death?" Giles' voice cut through the room. Michael favored him with a blank look.

"Banished, for now."

"So, uh... when exactly are you going to get your smite on?" Xander paused when all eyes turned his way. "I mean you're supposed to take out Lucifer, so why haven't you?"

"In due time," Michael said. There was an edge to his voice Buffy hadn't heard before. "It is not up to me to question my Father's will."

"People are dying!" Giles snapped and Michael's eyes grew cold as Buffy's widened in alarm.

"Giles—" She started to say. The chill that had suddenly leveled the room in silence stopped her, and she gazed at Michael in stunned, and frightened, awe.

"You presume to know better than my Father?" Michael asked, coming to stand eye to eye with Giles. His nostrils flared and his jaw tightened. "You, one unimportant little man playing at being God?"

"Stop it!" Buffy yelled, suddenly regaining her voice and forcing her way between the two, placing her hand firmly against Michael's chest. "We have a war to fight. Now is not the time for a pissing contest."

Michael looked down at Buffy once before he returned his gaze to Giles and demonstratively stepped back. Giles, for his part, blinked once in confusion before staring at the hand Buffy had not removed from the archangel's chest. He too took a step back, pursing his lips thoughtfully as he observed the look on the face of his former charge, before his gaze suddenly hardened. A look of primal, parental fury overtook the features of Giles' face as he returned his stare to the angel before him.

Michael eyed the Watcher indifferently, his eyes suddenly the churning green of a sea that was at once both stormy and calm. "You would do well to listen to your Slayer. She understands what is at stake." He favored her with a soft smile, and then vanished.

"What a poophead," Willow grumbled. Her shoulders slumped and she pouted. "I thought angels were supposed to be nice."

"He is nice," Buffy retorted, glaring at her friends, "When people aren't questioning his every move!"

Giles clenched his fists. "Buffy, he has yet to really do anything."

"Were you not just here? Didn't you hear what he said?" Buffy snapped. "He just took out Death. I'd say that was doing plenty."

"He only ever stops by to give you more orders," Giles yelled, slamming his hand down on the table. Books and stacks of paper rattled with the force of his blow. "And all you do is smile and jump however high he wishes you to. It's as if you're sixteen and face-to-face with Angel again!"

Buffy drew a deep, furious breath. She so did not need her very first relationship thrown her face again, especially not ten years after the fact. "Michael is quite literally Heaven's General, Giles! He's trying to save the world!" She could barely refrain from screaming.

"Is he?" Giles shot back. "Or is he simply following his own agenda?"

"So because you don't like him, and because I trust him, you doubt my judgment, yet again. Because after nearly fifteen years, I still clearly don't know what I'm doing, is that it, Giles?" Her former Watcher's face suddenly paled as she spoke. She looked toward Xander and Willow, who both averted their eyes. "Is that what all of you think? After everything we've been through, you still don't trust me? You do remember what happened the last time you doubted me, right?" In for a penny and out for a pound. If Giles was going to throw her past mistakes with Angel in her face, it was the least she could do for him as well. After all, it hadn't been that long ago when the three of them, and a group of others had tag-teamed her and thrown her out of her own home. She snorted in disgust. "I don't have to listen to it," Buffy snarled. Snatching up her jacket, she marched out of the room. The door slammed hard enough to crack plaster and warp the frame.

Arms wrapped around her waist, Buffy walked down the sidewalk. Their motel was the standard issue roadside dump with cracks in the uneven sidewalks and potholes waiting to feast on cars in the parking lot. The manager had been textbook sleazy with greasy hair and a keg-style stomach. The pool, which Buffy was surprised the motel even had, was more swamp than pristine lake. The deck chairs had somehow managed to survive, though, and Buffy settled down in one, watching as displaced tadpoles and frogs splash in their makeshift home.

Fluttering wings alerted Buffy that her solitude had ended. A shadow fell over her soon after, and she remained seated, quietly waiting to see what he'd do. She heard the scraping of another deck chair moving over concrete, and when Michael sat down his weight made the plastic creak.

"I thought you'd have left," Buffy whispered, drawing her legs up onto the seat with her and wrapping her arms around them. Her chin rested on her knees as she watched another frog dive into the slimy water.

"I did not go far," Michael said.

"Why?"

"Your Watcher is wrong," Michael said, ignoring her words. Buffy sighed and went back to studying the local wildlife.

"He's just worried," Buffy replied. "He doesn't see you the way I do."

"And how is that?" Michael asked his head tilted to one side.

Buffy shrugged. "You're one of the good guys." Her voice was matter-of-fact.

"You trust me?" Something in his own voice grabbed Buffy's attention and drew her focus to him. The look in his eyes was intense. He was leaning forward, brow furrowed, and studying her the same way Giles studied his books. It made her skin itch and her heart flutter.

"Yes," Buffy answered firmly, though the inflection she gave it almost sounded like a question. "You're the Archangel Michael, why shouldn't I?"

Michael favored her with a brilliant smile. His eyes crinkled at the corners, and a light entered them she had never seen before. He looked so human then, like a normal guy talking to a normal girl. It made her heart lighten, and Buffy felt her own smile stretching across her face. The only down side was the scent from the pond scum filled pool.

"I am glad that we met, Buffy," Michael said softly. A splash interrupted them and they witnessed a turtle paddling through the muck. Buffy gave a light little laugh when it dived again.

"I'm glad we met, too."

Chapter Seven

It was an odd sight, and one Buffy couldn't help giggling at. Bobby Singer sat at the table, a dusty book open in front of him and Giles in the seat next to him. Both were gazing at the text, discussing the monster within. Giles used big words only someone who had religiously read the dictionary understood, while Bobby talked like a typical redneck, and yet somehow they understood each other enough to argue. She heard snickering to her left and saw Dean, also seated by the table and slouched down in a chair, his legs propped up on another chair, right on top of the left, with his crutches under the table. Sam was sitting directly on Dean's left. His arms rested on the table, and his head was buried in his arms. His shoulders shook though no sound escaped beyond the occasional snort. Upon closer inspection, Buffy saw that Dean had tears in his eyes and shaking shoulders of his own.

"Listen, you damned overeducated idjit!" Bobby growled, his eyes narrowed and focused on Giles. "I don't give a good god-damn what your precious Watcher tomes tell you. Only something made of pure brass can kill a Rakshasa!"

Giles turned towards Bobby, glasses in one hand, the other planted on his knee. Buffy settled down in one of the chairs, leaning forward eager to watch.

"The Rakshasa are incredibly rare, and have never been spotted outside of India, much less in the United States."

Bobby leaned forward and growled out, "the boys took one out a few years ago. Damn thing was playin' at being a clown to get invited into kids' homes."

"That is-"

"True," Dean butted in, speaking up and bringing Bobby and Giles' attention their way. There was a massive, slightly smug grin on his face. Sam turned his head in his brother's direction, but refrained from lifting it. "Bastard was traveling around with a carnival of all things. Sammy killed it with the brass pipe from an organ in the funhouse."

"Really?" Buffy's eyes lit up. "What's the strangest thing you've guys have ever had to slay?"

Sam and Dean shared a look. Sam shrugged his shoulders and Dean nodded his head. No words were exchanged, but Buffy got the feeling an entire conversation had just taken place.

"The racist ghost truck," they both answered at once before looking at each other again and sharing a grin. Dean turned back towards Buffy.

"Ghost was killing black people in Mississippi and we had to fish the damn truck out of the swamp in order to burn the bastard's corpse."

Buffy nodded. "That's a good one! Bizarre, but logical, if the guy's body was still in the truck. Though nothing will ever beat the time Dracula showed up in Sunnydale." Buffy snorted and in a singsong voice said, "He made Xander his butt monkey!"

She looked toward the brothers. It was pretty funny watching as Dean's eyes slowly widened. Apparently, Sam thought it was funny, too. He had an amused look on his face.

"Dude!" Dean's voice held all of the excitement of a twelve year old on Christmas. "You killed Dracula?"

"Kinda," Buffy said with a shrug. "He kept coming back, but I kept stabbing him until he got the message and left town."

Dean sighed. "That's too bad. I would have torched the son of a bitch."

"Huh?" Buffy eyed Dean curiously.

"Uh, Dean?" Sam asked. "When did you get your hate-on for Dracula? You always liked those stupid movies."

"The movies, yeah." Dean waved his hand. "All the blood and gore…the brides," Dean's grin widened, "That was just awesome. The book however, was just wrong."

"You read Dracula," Sam said, disbelief filling his tone.

Dean shot him a nasty look. "You had to read it for class. We were in Idaho, and I had a broken leg. Dad was off on a hunt, and I was bored."

"Oh." Sam paused. "Oh, yeah, I remember that year."

"You should tell her about that haunted book convention you two stumbled on," Bobby interjected, a smug look on his face. Sam and Dean both shot a glare in Bobby's direction.

Buffy smiled. "A book convention? Do tell."

"No," Dean grumbled. "There will be no sharing of this story."

"You mean I can't even tell 'em about the Winchester Gospels?" Bobby asked, a wide grin splitting his face at their outraged looks. "Or how about I just tell 'em 'bout Becky?"

"Gospels? Becky?" Buffy's eyes darted from one person to the next. "Can someone please make with the 'splainy?"

"They are a series of books written about Sam and Dean by the prophet Chuck." Castiel's gravelly voice came from behind them, and Buffy turned to see him standing in the doorway. "Becky is Chuck's companion." At the frown on Buffy's face, Castiel corrected himself. "His... girlfriend."

"Thanks, Cas," Dean growled, slouching down in his seat. "As if the whole gospel thing couldn't get any more humiliating."

"You guys have an actual gospel?" Buffy's voice rose in pitch, with the clear hint of a whimpered at the end. "As in a Biblical gospel?"

"Yes," Castiel answered when neither Sam, nor Dean, seemed like they would. Bobby was too busy laughing at their expense to be any help and Giles looked like he not only wanted to go out and hunt down every book in said gospel, but also to also drag the aforementioned Prophet Chuck back with him.

"No fair!" Buffy whined, outrage filling her words. "I'm the Slayer! Why can't I have a gospel?"

"Do you really want the whole world knowing in exact detail everyone one you've ever slept with?" Dean asked, turning his head in her direction. Buffy's face burned and she shook her head. "Then be glad you didn't get one of your own."

"I don't understand." Castiel focused his attention on Buffy, head titled to one side. "Why would you complain when you are featured in theirs?"

"I'm in a gospel?" Buffy perked up and her smile brightened. "I'm in a gospel! And I'm not naked in it either!" She bounced up and down in her seat eagerly. "Can my part be called the Book of Buffy?"

Sam's head started hitting the table. Dean's head fell back against the chair and he closed his eyes tightly as he began to laugh.

"What?" Buffy asked with a pout, a faint trace of a grin on her lips as she looked at the two brothers. "It's only fair. Any time anything is written about me it's all death and world endage, and sacred duty, blah, blah, blah."

"Save the enthusiasm for when you've actually read Chuck's writing," Dean replied with a snort. "It will make you long for the doom and gloom of prophecy."

"Harlequin books have better writing than Chuck's books," Sam replied with a sound that could only be classified as a giggle.

"My skin mags have better writing than Chuck's books," Dean snarked back, easing his legs from off of the chair. Buffy blinked once and suddenly Castiel was by Dean's side, crutches somehow already in his hands while Sam helped his brother stand. "God, I need a beer." Dean paused, hand still resting on Sam's arm, the other now gripping one crutch and his brows furrowed thoughtfully. "And a burger with extra onions and lots of bacon." He shook his head and grinned. "Come on, Sammy, Cas. Sam, you're driving."

Sam and Castiel preceded Dean out the door, with Castiel holding the door open by his angelic will. As Dean approached the exit, he suddenly stopped and looked over his shoulder at Buffy, who was looking at the paperwork on the desk in dismay. As she sensed Dean's attention, she glanced up. Dean raised a single brow at her. "Got anymore cool stories?"

A grin so large and bright that it could have blinded him encompassed Buffy's face and she stood immediately. "I've got plenty, but only if you share some of yours."

Dean ignored Bobby's grumbled 'idjits' and grinned back. "It's a deal."

Twenty minutes later, they sat in a diner. It seemed Dean had a knack for finding relics of the past. This place was firmly set in the 1960's with Formica tables, linoleum floors, and vinyl seats. A row of stools lined the front counter and wide window allowed them a glimpse of the parking lot. Their waitress, who was all wide smiles and wearing a shirt cut low enough to catch anyone's eye, greeted them. Buffy gritted her teeth as Dean flirted with her, charming smile in place. She noticed Sam's eyes roll and felt a bit better. Castiel gave no indication that he was aware of anything amiss and certainly didn't seem fazed by Dean's antics.

"Hey, honey," the woman simpered. Her name was Wendy, as Buffy unfortunately discovered when she leaned down and nearly smothered Dean's face with her breasts. "What can I get ya?"

"I'll have your special, sweetheart." Dean's voice was smooth, full of charm and a certain amount of smugness. He was starting to remind her of Faith again and Buffy didn't know how she felt about this. She glanced down and away from Dean, frowning to herself. "And could you bring me a coffee and some pie to go with it?"

"Sure thing," Wendy winked at him, jotting down his order. "What can I get the rest of ya'll?" Buffy rolled her eyes and gave her order. Sam and Castiel followed suit even though Wendy's eyes never left Dean.

When she was gone, Sam reached across the table and smacked his brother, earning him a sharp glare.

"What?" Dean asked, rubbing his head.

"Do you really have to?"

"Dude, what are you talking about?"

"Wendy?" Sam gestured emphatically towards where their waitress stood, her eyes hungrily focused on Dean as she mentally stripped him. Dean's grin returned. Sam snorted in disgust. "I can't go anywhere with you."

"Hey," Dean huffed, his smile fading. "I've been stuck in a hospital room for months. If I want to flirt with the pretty waitress, I will."

Some of the levity left the table. Buffy cringed, and briefly shut her eyes. Castiel frowned.

"Dean…" Sam started, his tone matching the guilt in his eyes.

"Hey," Dean interrupted, leaning forward and flicking his brother's forehead. "None of that. We are here so I can eat real food, and tell Buffy all about the cursed rabbit's foot."

Sam's expression became outraged and even Castiel's expression lightened. Buffy snorted a laugh, earning questioning looks.

"I had a friend. Her name was Anya," Buffy explained. "She was terrified of rabbits."

Sam snorted. "Somehow, I can't blame her."

"This Anya... She has passed on?" Castiel asked, his eyes narrowed perceptively

"Yeah." Buffy's half-smile faltered a little, then returned a bit more forcefully, carrying memories of awkward conversations filled with blunt words and talks of sex. "She was engaged to Xander."

"Harsh," Dean said. Wendy returned with their drinks and left her number with Dean. Before he could pocket the napkin, Sam snatched it from his hand and gave it to Castiel. It disappeared into the angel's pocket a second later. Scowling at them, Dean slumped back in his seat and took a sip of his coffee.

"Do you know why she hated rabbits?" Sam asked all the while favoring his brother with a scowl of his own.

Buffy shook her head. "Nope. We never did find out."

Dean nodded and placed his cup back on the table. "Sammy's scared of clowns."

"Dude!" Sam yelled. "Dean's scared of flying."

"Planes crash," Dean shot back.

"He's got a point," Buffy said, failing to suppress her giggles.

"Gabriel once trapped Sam and Dean in his version of various television shows," Castiel added, taking a slow sip of water. Buffy's eyes widened and her jaw bounced onto the table.

"Cas!" Both brothers shouted at once, more shocked at the angel's sudden input than outraged.

"Tell me!" she demanded excitedly, leaning toward Castiel as her grin turned fierce. She had a talent for sensing good blackmail stories.

Castiel smiled back and started his tale. Their food arrived and they continued to argue over what really happened all through lunch. As they got up to pay, the bickering continued with mentions of people and places Buffy was going to have to bribe Sam into telling her about.

Buffy chanced a quick glance over her shoulder and smirked.

Seeing the furious, jealous look gracing Wendy's face was an added bonus.

Chapter Eight

The demons swarmed, surging against the small group of slayers. Buffy swung her scythe, killing the gooier demons, and trying to knock out the black-eyed ones. A scream off to her right let her know another slayer had fallen and she felt her heart shatter. Buffy didn't slow her moves, didn't let the ache show in her face, she just fought that much harder, hoping to minimize the number of condolence calls she would be making.

Thunder crashed overhead and lightning darted back and forth across the sky. The old barn burning behind them added its own hellish glow to the fight as the scent of burning hay and rotting wood filled the air. The demon before her wore the guise of a twelve year old girl, the pink dress it wore splattered with mud and gore. Buffy swung her scythe at the demon's head, snarling furiously when it ducked and her swing missed. Her foot slipped in the muddy terrain and she went down hard, her breath exploding inside her. The demon stood over her, smiling an innocent smile, eyes the color of pitch.

Thunder growled again, and lightning so bright it nearly burnt her sight flashed. Buffy closed her eyes as the sound of demons shrieking in pain echoed around her. When silence descended, her ears ringing in the aftermath, Buffy opened her eyes to see a man standing in the middle of the field. He was shorter than Michael and he was watching her with a smirk on his face and anger in his eyes. His brown hair and clothes were spotless despite the mess around him, and he was eating a candy bar of all things.

As she slowly stood up, she scanned the battlefield, seeing only her slayers standing. All that was left of the demons were smoking black scars on the ground. Buffy felt her stomach try to climb up and out of her mouth, and she spun back around to face the man in horror.

"What did you... Oh, God. You killed them all." Her horror slowly faded and suddenly she was overcome with blinding rage. "You killed them! There were still people in there, and you slaughtered them all!" Buffy screamed, bring the scythe up. The man before her smirked and tossed the candy bar wrapper onto the ground.

"So?" His voice was smug – cruel, almost – and Buffy swung the scythe, her full slayer strength behind the blow. His hand shot out, stopping her downward swing and causing her arms to buckle under the pressure. Gasping, she jerked back and let go of the scythe. The man swung it around in one hand, smirk still present. "You hero types are so predictable."

"Whatever you are," Buffy growled, taking a few steps towards the being. "I will kill you."

"Oh!" he taunted his grin widening as he laughed. "I'm so scared!"

Another flash of light heralded Michael's entrance. The man's eyes darted towards the new arrival, and narrowed. Buffy could feel the tension rising, and knew that if the man could have killed Michael with a look, the archangel would have been a smoldering pile just like the demons.

"Hey, bro," he greeted, voice filled with sarcasm. "Nice threads you've got. Looks good on ya."

"Gabriel," Michael spoke softly, taking a few steps towards the other angel. "It's been awhile."

"Wait." Buffy shook her head, stepping between the two. "You're Gabriel. The archangel Gabriel."

Gabriel nodded, and shrugged. He stuck his hand in his pocket and swung the scythe back and forth as a child would a stuffed toy. "Uh. Yeah."

"You just killed all these people!"

"I thought we already had this conversation," Gabriel replied, eyes filled with amusement. "Please don't tell me you're as dumb as you look."

"Gabriel," Michael intoned. His voice was low and commanding and filled with something that seemed to catch Gabriel by surprise. The smirk dropped from Gabriel's face.

"Don't take that tone with me, Michael," Gabriel growled. "I'm not the one taking things that don't belong to me."

"He gave me his consent as you knew he would," Michael countered, and Buffy cast a confused glance Michael's way.

Gabriel rolled his eyes. "And what did you promise in return huh? Safety for his little brother, or did you use tactics Zachariah would approve of?"

"I did what needed to be done," Michael answered voice steady and head held high. Gabriel let loose a disgusted snort and tossed the scythe down into the mud at Buffy's feet. She jumped and winced at the sound of impact.

"Then you're no better than the demons you fight." Gabriel disappeared a moment later, leaving Buffy confused and Michael glaring.

"Gather your scythe and your slayers," Michael ordered her, turning and walking away. "You are done here."

"Michael," Buffy called out, reaching for his arm. She barely managed to grab hold of his jacket, and the look he shot her as she did made her want to let go. She resisted, adjusting her grip to encircle his arm instead. "What's wrong?"

"This does not concern you." Michael jerked his arm free. His gaze drifted towards the horizon where Buffy could see lightning flashing as if playing a worldwide game of tag. "I must speak with my brothers. I'll contact you later."

With a flutter of wings, he was gone, leaving Buffy standing in the muck with some thirty-odd slayers. Sighing, she walked back to the scythe and picked it up, resting it on her shoulder before she pulled her phone free from her pocket. Hitting speed dial, she barely had to wait as Willow answered on the second ring.

"Beam us up, Will," Buffy exhaled, her voice telling of her exhaustion. A second later, a bright flare burst forth. When it dimmed all that remained were scorch marks, a burning barn, and churned mud.

Chapter Nine

When Buffy entered the gym, she spotted Castiel leaning against the wall, his vivid blue eyes tracking Sam and Dean's movements carefully. The brothers were taking advantage of the gym being nearly empty, using the equipment for a basic workout. Dean was carefully working his way through some parallel bars, making his weak legs move one shuffling step at a time. Sam stood at the other end. They were trading insults, wide grins on their sweat-covered faces. When Dean began to falter, Sam proceeded to question Dean's masculinity. Dean's face hardened with the promise of revenge. The laughter coloring his tone belied his words, but he kept moving, slowly making it to where Sam stood. He then promptly kicked Sam in the shins, laughing as his little brother yelped and went down.

Castiel never said anything, just kept his gaze on the brothers. The few slayers who were there kept their eyes on Castiel. Even with Sam and Dean present, (and Buffy knew more than a few slayers had crushes on them), Castiel still drew their gaze. The body he wore was human, but he was not. Most of the slayers remembered Michael, though they had not spent a lot of time with him. But for them, Castiel was present in a way that Michael never was – he was easier to approach, though he could easily scare off anyone too curious. He smiled a good deal more than Michael did, and he didn't hold himself as if he was above anyone. He was unfailingly polite with almost everyone, the exceptions being Sam and Dean. Since she'd already heard the brothel story, she had some idea why that was. They were his friends and he saw them as equals, unlike Michael who saw troops to command. In the end, Buffy wasn't sure what to make of him.

When she cleared her throat, he turned showing nothing but polite interest. "Yes?'

"Um," Buffy started, her voice faltering a bit. "C–Can I speak with you?"

Castiel nodded kindly. "You may."

"Outside? Please." She gestured towards the door. Castiel cast one last glance towards Sam and Dean, as though assuring himself of their safety and continued existence, before following Buffy from the gym. The hallway was empty, and with the door closed Buffy couldn't hear any noise from within. Castiel stood near the window, keeping watch.

"What is it you wish to speak of?"

"This whole vessel thing... how does it work?"

His expression softened. "Certain people, special people, are able to house an angel's essence. Some are better able to than others."

"What do you mean by that?"

"Jimmy." Castiel paused as he said the name. "He was able to house me with little harm done. I am a soldier, I received orders and I carried them out. Others, like Dean, are stronger. They can house the essence of an archangel, though most do not survive the experience unharmed."

"Who would these people be?" Buffy asked leaning against the wall.

Castiel let his gaze drift. "I know Dean has told you some things." At this Castiel sought her eyes. "People of a certain blood line are able to perform this task. Normal people, like you, would never be able to withstand the presence of an angel, much less an archangel."

She frowned in confusion, shaking her head. "I don't understand, Castiel. I'm a slayer... That pretty much means I'm not normal, doesn't?"

"That is, perhaps, true," Castiel conceded. "But you are not a vessel."

"You said people don't survive possession by archangels," Buffy quoted him, looking uncomfortable.

"They usually don't," Castiel replied. "Dean's recovery more than likely has to do with the fact he is Michael's true vessel."

Buffy frowned and wrapped her arms over her chest. "So he's Michael's only vessel."

"No," Castiel said. His voice was gentle. "There are others, but they would not survive Michael's presence for long."

"Oh."

A gentle hand briefly landed on her shoulder. "I am sorry you mourn his absence."

Buffy nodded, taking a deep breath and swallowing her emotions. "He's not gone. He just went home."

Castiel tiled his head slightly. "But he is not with you, and this causes you heartache."

"Dean has his life back." Buffy let loose a shaky breath before taking a step back. "That's all that matters."

"You don't mean that," Castiel said. His tone wasn't harsh, nor was he accusatory. He was simply stating a fact. "Though I do not wish you pain, I can't help but be happy that Dean is okay."

"I hate him sometimes," Buffy whispered, looking appropriately horrified at the words that had escaped her lips. Her eyes drifted towards the window in the door. Dean and Sam were now sitting on one of the workout benches, drinking water and laughing.

"I understand," Castiel murmured. Buffy brought wide eyes up. "Amelia is not very fond of me either."

"Who's Amelia?"

"Jimmy's wife."

Buffy gave a hollow laugh. "We're a pair, aren't we, Cas?"

"What do you mean by this?"

Buffy's smile was bitter. "You're stuck with the body of her dead husband, and Dean owns the body of the angel I love."

Castiel was silent as she returned her gaze to the two brothers. As Buffy's eyes alighted upon Dean, her guilt and bitterness at hating him for who he was abruptly swam upwards, and she ducked her head in shame. She couldn't begrudge him his happiness... even if it wasat the cost of her own.

Feeling a gentle hand grip her shoulder, Buffy looked up. Castiel's expression was kind and filled with a sympathy she felt she didn't deserve. Her lower lip trembled and she stubbornly refused to let the tears in her eyes fall. When his arm wrapped around her, she buried her face into his shoulder. Catching a familiar scent, his clothes carried the same scent of cheap fabric softener that Michael's had, she couldn't stop her paper thin barrier from crumbling and she finally let the tears fall.

"Then we indeed are a pair."

Chapter Ten

Buffy was sitting on her bed in their motel room. They had holed up in an abandoned motel just outside of downtown Detroit. There was no TV for her to surf and no lights because the demons had taken out the power lines. Candles scattered around the room caused shadows to dance along the off white walls. A walkie-talkie crackled on the cheap wood table, picking up signals from near and far. The city was nearly empty, though Buffy had no idea what had happened to most of the residences. A storm raged outside, wind driving rain against the building. Lightning flared behind the closed curtains. Crackling thunder followed a second later. The other slayers, forced to bunk up, two to a room, were under orders to stay in until told otherwise.

"He's no good for you, ya know." Gabriel's voice caused Buffy to jump. He was lounging on the other bed, quietly eating from a bowl of what looked like caramel popcorn. Buffy frowned, and then rolled her eyes and went back cleaning her weapons. "But then, you'd know all about doomed romances. Seems you can't just settle for a nice normal guy. There has to be some kind of forbidden love tragedy tied to the whole thing. You were, what, intimate with two demons before you decided to upgrade and fall for my brother?" Sitting up, Gabriel set the bowl down beside him, and leveled an amused look her way. "You do know Romeo and Juliet were complete morons, right? Not to mention teenagers?"

"Shut up," Buffy growled, picking up a dagger. At Gabriel's thoughtless mention of Angel and Spike, she had flinched in sadness before drawing a breath and shaking it off. Allowing her eyes to rest on the dagger for a moment, she briefly thought about stabbing him with it, but decided not to waste her energy. It wouldn't do a thing to him and she didn't want to have to clean it again. "You don't know what you're talking about."

Gabriel snorted. "Ya know, Buffy – Can I call you Buffy? If it wasn't for those pesky rules about not playing with the slayer, I would have had a field day with you."

"Excuse me?"

"Hello, archangel," Gabriel smirked. He wiggled the fingers of both hands around his head. "You are not in our jurisdiction, and the Powers get really pissy if we take notice of you guys."

"Right." Buffy gave an unladylike snort. "If that's true, then why did Michael approach me in the first place?"

Gabriel rolled his eyes. "Duh! The apocalypse. They don't want the world to end, so they don't care if 'ol Mikey is breaking the rules."

"Whatever."

"He's going to leave when the fight is over," Gabriel uttered, his tone no longer holding any amusement. Buffy turned, taking in his hard eyes and cold face. She swallowed, her mouth suddenly feeling like a fine layer of sand coated her tongue, and she trembled at the truth in his eyes. "And then you'll be all alone, just like always."

Wounded, and unable to understand just what exactly she had done that was so horrible that she had gained the Trumpeter's ire, something in her mind snapped, and she yelled, "At least we're trying to save the world! You just sit there on your cloud pigging out while we do all the hard work."

Gabriel's face darkened, and Buffy briefly thought maybe she should not have goaded the archangel, but she pushed that aside, holding her head high and let her righteous fury show in her eyes, even as her eyes glistened and her lower lip quivered.

"Don't presume to speak to me in such a manner," Gabriel snarled, his voice matching the violent storm outside. "You haven't earned the right." Standing, Gabriel locked his gaze with hers. "You'll tell my brother that I'll see him tomorrow."

With a snap of his fingers, Gabriel was gone, the bowl of popcorn left in the middle of the bed. She was still shaking, more with fury than hurt now, and cleaning a large wad of gum from her hair when Michael returned.

"Your brother is an ass!" Buffy screamed, stabbing Michael in his chest with her finger.

Michael raised an eyebrow at her trembling form.

"Gabriel," Buffy clarified, turning to stalk back into the bathroom.

"He will be fighting with us then," Michael remarked thoughtfully, his deep voice reaching Buffy's ears over the running water. She shut it off soon after.

"What is his problem anyway?" Buffy grumbled as she came out of the bathroom. She had a towel in her hands, rubbing her wet hair dry. She'd wash it later, if the rest of her clothes dried first. Gabriel had made them all wet and they were now hanging all over the bathroom. "It's not like he has any right to complain."

Michael had a far off look in his eyes. "He's upset with me."

"He needs to get over himself," Buffy spat, settling down on her bed. "Acting like a twelve year old isn't helping his case any."

"He left heaven rather than watch us fight," Michael replied. "He never wanted this war."

Buffy's lower lip instantly protruded. "He's still a jerky type thing," she said, sulking, her arms crossed over her chest. She thought, and then ultimately decided not to mention Gabriel's seeming hatred of her. Michael already looked disappointed enough that Gabriel was angry with him.

"You should rest," Michael suggested, sitting down at the table. Buffy watched as he pulled one of Giles' books close to him. The writing was in a language most watchers didn't recognize, but Michael could read it easily. "The battle tomorrow will be intense."

"Um, Michael," Buffy began, twisting the towel in her hands. He looked up at her, waiting for her to continue. "I just… well..." Buffy trailed off. Taking a deep breath, she leaned forward. Her lips met his in a brief, innocent kiss. His lips were soft, and he smelled like a rain-washed summer's day. The raw power running through him sent goose bumps trailing along her skin. When she broke the kiss, the look in his eyes had Buffy nearly spinning in embarrassment. Turning away, and with a quiet 'goodnight', she climbed into her bed and kept her back to the archangel.

"Buffy." His voice was softer than she had ever heard it. She felt the mattress dip as he seated himself carefully on the bed. His hand on her arm had her anxious gaze meeting his steady one. He cocked his head to the side, before a soft smile slowly found its way across his lips. It made him finally look... human. His hand trailed down her cheek. Leaning forward, he kissed her just as briefly as she had him.

"Goodnight."


The next day they walked through deserted streets, angels and slayers following behind them. Willow, her bright, red hair streaked with white, walked on Buffy's left, while Michael walked along on her right. Illyria and Gabriel followed on the other side of Michael.

It was eerie, how quiet the city was. No cars roared in the distance, no people walked the streets. Businesses were closed, shut up tight against the brewing storm. Thunder rumbled and the wind began to pick up, bowing trees to lie along the sidewalks and meridians. Buffy's hair lashed at her face, attempting to break free from the tie holding it back. Lightning flickered intermittently overhead while massive storm clouds swirled, slowly going from grey to green, and then finally black. They seemed to crawl closer to the earth somehow, while the center began to churn, looking as if a funnel would appear at any moment. The pressure in the air made Buffy's ears pop. Heavy drops of rain began to fall, and thunder shook the ground.

The gleaming tower of steel, concrete and glass that made up GM World Headquarters rose up, proud but desolate, on Buffy's left. On her right, the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan building held sentry. Ahead of them stood a man with his light blonde hair cut short, the clothes he wore were similar to Michael's. His skin was cracked and peeling and open wounds that were sluggishly oozing blood dotted his face and arms. The sight of him made the hair on the back of Buffy's neck stand on end. Black-eyed demons fanned out behind him, while the slimier variety roared, eager to begin their destructive campaign. They stopped a few yards a part, though Michael, Gabriel, and the other man walked several steps forward. His smile, gentle and serine, had Buffy gripping her scythe tighter.

"Michael, Gabriel." His voice was just as soft as his smile.

"Lucy," Gabriel said, smirk gracing his face. "Not looking so hot there, bro."

"I didn't expect to see you here, Gabriel," Lucifer replied. "I must say, I'm disappointed. I thought you of all our brethren would understand."

Gabriel shrugged, rocking back on his heels, his hands casually tucked into the pockets of his jeans. "I'm just here to even the score."

"Still following Michael's order, I see."

Gabriel snorted. "Yeah, right. If I could, I'd shiv his ass too. I'm just here to make sure he holds up his end of the bargain."

A dark look passed over Michael's face briefly, before he turned his attention back to Lucifer. "Back down." Michael's voice rumbled heavily along with the thunder. "There is no reason we should do this."

"This one speaks with the serpent's tongue," Illyria intoned, her icy blue gaze sweeping over Lucifer and his cadre with disdain as she came to stand next to Gabriel and Michael. "He wishes to take what was never his. I will not allow this."

"Why are you helping them?" Lucifer asked her, genuinely curious. "Humans, this world, they are all beneath you."

"It is you who are beneath me," Illyria spat, holding her head up regally. "And I will fight to save the world my Wesley died for."

Lucifer sighed. "Have it your way."

An ululating wail cut through the storm as demons rushed forward. Buffy swung her scythe, cleaving demons in half while other slayers fought their way through the mob. Spinning, Buffy took off the head of one demon, stabbed another, and suddenly came face to face with a grinning black eyed six year old. Cringing, Buffy barely missed the swipe of the demon's knife. She hefted her scythe, but before she could retaliate, Gabriel appeared behind the demon. With a quick stab of his sword, the demon died, the child going with it. Buffy brought hard eyes to the angel's cold ones.

"Keep fighting," Gabriel ordered before Buffy could speak, then turned and disappeared into the crowd and out of her sight.

Buffy spun, running towards a group of demons who had one of her slayers pinned. She reached a short scaly brown demon first, and quickly thrust the stake end through the demon's head. Back to back, Buffy and the other slayer cleared out the group, leaving a mess of demon body parts in their wake. Giving the girl a nod, Buffy ran towards where she had seen Michael last.

Hail started pelting the ground, tiny stinging missiles at first, then exploding to golf ball-sized moments later. Buffy ducked and dodged, fighting her way to a side street connecting the building to a covered parking garage. Settling against the wet concrete, Buffy scanned the area, nearly jumping out of her skin when a shotgun blast heralded the arrival of a middle-aged black man. He was dressed in soaking jeans, and a button up shirt. His heavy boots thudded against the road. The shotgun in his hands was obviously illegal, but the way he used it, cocking it with easy and shooting any demon stupid enough to follow, told her he was no amateur out for a thrill. He stood next to her, back angled away from her, eyes going from her soaked form to the scythe in her hands.

"Slayer, huh?" he asked, voice harsh over the howling winds.

"Yeah!" Buffy called back, nearly screaming to be heard. "You?"

"Hunter," the man replied. "Name's Rufus. Keep an eye out for the others. There's more than a few of us in this fight."

"I'm Buffy. I'll warn my girls," Buffy agreed, receiving a quick nod from Rufus. "You guys just make sure to stay out of our way."

"Not a problem," Rufus relied. Aiming, he fired again before taking off down the street. Buffy looked behind her, watching him turn left at the end of the road, before taking off herself, and turning right.

A loud crash caused Buffy to jump. She looked up wide-eyed as Illyria tossed another demon into the glass side of the building. Panels cracked, lines spider-webbing from the center of impact. The demon slid down the glass, leaving a gory streak behind. Illyria walked over, placed one foot on the demon's chest before bending down, and grabbing the demon's head. She pulled viciously upwards and the head separated from the body, blood gushing and splattering the ground. Veins hung like torn streamers from the neck, and a bit of white bone peaked out from the jagged meat. She dropped the head and silently moved on to her next target. Buffy tore her gaze away, only just barely bringing her scythe up in time to stop the claws of a red-skinned demon.

Before Buffy could follow through, the ground shook, glass exploded from windows, and the wind whipped hail, rain, and debris across the area. For every ground-quaking explosion racking the earth, lightning and thunder answered it ten-fold. Buffy managed to keep her feet, but the red-skinned demon wasn't so lucky. A piece of glass had ended up imbedded in its head, dark blue blood oozing around the object. The rain made the tiny scrapes on Buffy's skin sting, but she kept fighting, pushing the discomfort away to be dealt with at a another time. She found Gabriel again several moments later, bloodied sword in hand. He wasn't breathing hard, nor did he appear to be tired at all. Blood in hues of every different color created a tie-dyed pattern on his clothes, his face streaked with soot. When a Fyarl demon charged them he simply smirked, raised his hand, and snapped his fingers. The demon stopped dead, its eyes bugging out of its head before it started to expand. Buffy yelped and ducked, just in time to miss being splattered in the face with Fyarl innards.

When it was gone, Buffy groaned and shuddered in disgust. "Was that really necessary?" she asked, daintily wiping pieces of torn flesh from her shoulders.

Gabriel snorted. "Give me some credit for showmanship!" he called, stabbing another demon and burning a black eyed one from its host. Turning back to her, he said, "They're heading towards the Ambassador Bridge."

Buffy rolled her eyes and plunged into the demon mosh pit, Gabriel at her side. They cleaved arms, tentacles, and heads from various shaped bodies and when they made it through the other side, Gabriel grinned and snapped his fingers again.

When the world stopped rolling beneath her feet, Buffy looked up to see the large bridge looming before her. She ran, heading towards the center of it all and killing any demon that stood in her way. She darted under the first tower with little trouble. She could see Michael and Lucifer up ahead now, swords drawn, energy and fire crackling around them. The Detroit River rolled and churned beneath them, wind whipping the waves into an angry froth. Rain drilled into Buffy's skin, while hail struck with brute force. A waterspout spun over the waterway, more or less holding its position for the moment as its landlocked cousin slowly lowered the meet the ground.

"Oh, no you don't." Zachariah's harsh voice came from behind her and Buffy felt blood pool in her mouth as her organs tried to carve themselves to pieces. Minutes seemed to crawl on for miles while the world shook apart around her. Rain-washed away her blood in tiny pink rivers and when she finally lifted her head, Zachariah was standing before her, silver blade held in one hand. He casually kicked the scythe out of her hands and it clattered to a stop by the edge of the bridge. "I'm sorry, but I can't allow you to interfere."

Buffy tried to push herself to her feet, fury burning in her gaze. Zachariah smiled and kicked her in the side. She lost what ground she'd gained and slid along the wet concrete, leaving tiny bits of skin in her wake.

"Why are you doing this?" Buffy growled out, teeth clenched as more blood dribbled down her chin. Zachariah laughed and the bridge shook beneath her again.

"I can't let you ruin this for me," he said. She tried to stand again, and with a click of his fingers Buffy felt the bones in her legs snap. She couldn't stop the cry that flew past her lips. "And don't bother calling for Michael." The bridge bucked and swayed and some of the suspension cables snapped. "He's a little busy right now."

"I'm not." Illyria's cold voice preceded her fist connecting with the angel's head. The hit sent Zachariah crashing into the guardrail, denting it. "It has been too long since I've battled your kind, angel." Illyria paused with one hand on Zachariah's chest. "You shall do nicely."

"Old One," Zachariah ground out as he shoved Illyria back and gained his feet. He swung, arm bringing up the long dagger. Illyria jumped back, missing the sharp point. Her hand shot out, and the force of her hit knocked the weapon from his hand. It sailed over the railing, lost in the violent waters below.

"Hey, Zach," Gabriel's snarky singsong voice startled the other angel, and Illyria took the opportunity to strike again. "I'm home."

Zachariah shuffled back, mouth hanging open in shock. "Gabriel?"

Gabriel smiled and twirled his blade. He lunged forward fist connecting with Zachariah's cheek. The other angel flew back landing in Illyria's grasp. Gabriel followed a second later and sunk his sword into Zachariah's chest. Bright light erupted and Buffy clenched her eyes closed. When it faded, Zachariah was sprawled at Illyria's feet, the dark impression of wings burnt into the street. Illyria let out a feral howl and charged the demons coming up behind them. Gabriel stood quietly, head down.

Kneeling down, he gently closed Zachariah's eyes. "I never wanted it to come to this." Looking up, his face blank, Gabriel snapped his fingers, and suddenly the pain Buffy was in vanished. Standing she gave him a small nod and left him to grieve.

More of the suspension cables snapping as the bridge buckled had Buffy running. Soon she caught the sight of Michael and Lucifer standing a few feet apart. The two archangels charged each other, swords clashing. An explosion of lightning flared as their swords met, arcing out and into the sky. The bridge shook, tossing Buffy from her feet. She could see the outline of their wings rising from their backs, steady and strong in the savage storm.

Lucifer knocked Michael back a few steps. The one they called the Morning Star looked tired to Buffy's eyes, his body seemingly unable to hold its own weight. Michael raised his hand and power that caused the air to shimmer forced the other angel from his feet.

Lucifer was torn, bloody, and unable to move fast enough. He could only watch as Michael raised his sword; face twisted in a snarl, and rammed it down into Lucifer's chest. There was a look of shock, betrayal, and heartbreak on the light-bringer's face, before a blinding beam of luminescent white rose up and exploded out of the angel. Buffy shrank back, closing her eyes and covering her ears. A high pitched scream added to the storm's fury. She could feel warm blood trickle down her earlobes before a shockwave knocked her from her feet. When she looked back again, ears ringing, Lucifer was dead. Buffy could see the partial impression of massive wings imprinted into the pavement on either side of his body. Standing, she took a few steps closer, the rain now nothing more than a steady down pour. Buffy watched as Michael stood and pulled his sword free.

"Michael..." Buffy whispered her voice as timid and tentative as her steps. He turned, looking at her with impassive eyes. "Michael?"

She later thought she saw something like regret suddenly appear in those eyes, but she couldn't be sure. Before she could reach him, his eyes rolled up in his head and, sword falling from limp hands, he toppled backwards, hitting the ground with a harsh crunch.

"Michael!" Buffy screamed, running forward. She fell to her knees, her hands fluttering over his body. Gripping his shoulders, she shook, taking no care of her strength. "Michael!"

His head flopped with her movements, but his eyes stayed closed. Letting go of his shoulders, Buffy frantically checked his pulse, breathing a sigh of relief when she found one.

"Buffy?" Willow stood a few yards behind, eyes going from Michael to Buffy.

"We need to get him back to the Council," Buffy said, voice hard. "Now."

Willow nodded her eyes wide with worry. Gabriel showed up a second later, expression flat as he looked at Michael's unconscious form. Before Willow could start her spell, Gabriel snapped his fingers and when the world stopped spinning, Buffy found herself sitting in the Council's hallway, right outside the medical wing. Michael's head was still in her lap. His sword was nowhere in sight.

Standing on shaky feet, Buffy awkwardly hefted Michael's unconscious body in her arms and ran through the doors, startling the staff.

"Help him," Buffy gasped, just as she lost her own fight with gravity and nearly collapsed.

Doctors and nurses rushed forward and swarmed around them. An orderly brought a stretcher over, and as one, they settled Michael onto the soft surface, nudging Buffy out of the way. They pushed past the frantic Slayer, taking Michael and their flurry of activity through the gray double doors marked Medical Personal Only. As they disappeared from her view, an awkward calm descended around her, and all Buffy could hear was the deafening ringing in her ears. She jerked out of her thoughts when a small hand settled on her shoulder, and her sister's worried face filled her vision.

"Come on, Buffy," Dawn said gently, steering Buffy towards the exit. "You need to get cleaned up, and then we can come back and see how he's doing."

"How did you…"

"Gabriel told me."

"But-"

"I'll stand watch."

Finally tearing her eyes from the doors Michael had disappeared through, Buffy gave Dawn a grateful smile.

When she returned, Dawn led her to a private room. Monitors beeped in time with his heartbeat, and his chest rose in a steady rhythm. Buffy sat in the chair next to his bed, her small hand grasping his larger one. He looked pale and impossibly small in the hospital bed. An IV was attached to his other hand; a tube ran down his nasal cavity. Fragile was not a word Buffy ever thought she would use to describe Michael, but here he looked as if one touch would shatter him. She didn't bother looking up when the door opened and closed behind her.

"Well?" she asked her voice hoarse. Gray light filtered in through the window, attesting to the slow crawling hours she had endured waiting.

"He's perfectly fine," Giles informed her as he moved to stand at her side.

"Then why…"

"They don't know," Giles replied. Buffy turned wide eyes in his direction. "We'll keep looking."

"Get Gabriel," Buffy said, her eyes flat and her voice matching. Giles sighed.

"I don't think that is a good idea."

"If you won't summon him, I will."

"Buffy-"

"Summon him!"

"No need," Gabriel intervened. He was leaning against the wall next to the window, eyes focused on Michael. He walked over to the bed, and reached forward, laying a gentle hand on Michael's shoulder. He drew back a second later, finally raising his eyes to Buffy.

"Fix him," Buffy pleaded her voice hopeful as she pointed at Michael, arm trembling.

"No."

"You have to-"

"It's not up to me," Gabriel murmured gently. "It's up to him now."

Then Gabriel vanished, only the soft fluttering of wings signaling his departure.

Epilogue

The ride over had been long, the Impala carrying a shroud of silence the whole way. Neither Sam nor Dean felt like speaking, and music only felt like an unneeded distraction.

They had gotten the news last week. Buffy had been killed leading a rescue mission against a group of demons bent on sacrifice a couple of teenagers. The only bit of comforting knowledge, if one could even call it comforting, was that as she had gone down, she had taken the demons with her.

Sam and Dean had been on the other side of the country at the time, and as a result, they had missed her funeral, though Dean wasn't sure their absence had been a bad thing.

Now he stood in the open field behind the Council building, sunlight warming his back. Shadows danced across the ground as wind twirled through branches. His weight was resting on the oak cane in his hand.

It was a simple slab of polished granite, empty words carved in an emotionless memorial. The eternal flame burning in the top danced and waved in the slight breeze. There was no body below – Dawn had told them, through her sobs and sniffles, that her sister's body had been cremated in order to ensure that she could not return.

The dagger in his hand clinked softly against the stone as he let it drop, and Dean straightened up with a quiet groan.

"Kinda poetic, don't ya think?"

Dean turned his head. Gabriel was leaning against the tree off to his left.

"Surprised to see you here," Dean replied, shifting his weight as his hand gripping the top of the cane tighter. "From what I heard, you weren't exactly her biggest fan."

Gabriel shot Dean a half-smile.

"How are the legs?" Gabriel asked, titling his head to the side.

"Gabriel," Dean sighed, feeling tired.

"Fine," Gabriel huffed with a roll of his eyes. "I'll leave you to your ritual martyrdom."

When he was alone, Dean sighed again and turned back towards the headstone. The elegant letters simply read 'Buffy Anne Summers - Hero.' Dean closed his eyes briefly.

"Take care of her, you sanctimonious bastard," Dean said softly. His eyes were on the blue sky, knowing a certain archangel could hear him. "She deserved better than she got and she sure as hell deserved better than you."

Turning, Dean left, heading back to where Sam and Castiel waited.

They still had work to do.