Willow sat removed from the rest of the group, her leg bouncing nervously as she tried desperately to read the book in front of her. Eyes flickered to the right again and she bit back the urge to whimper. Pulling a notebook close and grabbing a pencil, she quickly scanned the group around her. "How come I'm the only one that can see you?" The question was a whisper that Willow worried was too quiet.
The booming answer she received made her quake.
"Because I have made it that way."
It'd been four hours since Giles had declared that 'Ho hum! Perhaps we were wrong and, ah yes, another End of Days is upon us. Anyone care for tea?' Well, maybe it wasn't worded exactly like that but Willow figured it might as well have been. The Scoobies had become a little jaded towards the whole Releasing Hell on Earth thing and while everyone was hard at work trying to map a course of action, Willow was trying to not have a mental breakdown.
After Giles' announcement a light haired man -- angel? -- dressed in a designer suit had appeared in front of Willow all booming and imposing and saying "You have made a grave error smiting down my Brother."
Willow had given a startled shriek and nearly fell from her chair.
Xander had laughed at the 'joke' and Giles had chided her childish reaction. "I know we've, perhaps, cried wolf one too many times but we must take this seriously, Willow."
It had been astonishingly difficult ignoring the imposing figure that, apparently, only Willow could see. Or sense.
Buffy hadn't batted an eye at the presence and Faith, even though her jaw was clenched tight and she refused to look at Willow, hadn't made any apparent acknowledgments either.
The angel, who'd walked away from Willow, began reading over Andrew's shoulder. "This is a waste of their time. No one is looking in the right areas."
Why was he continuing to talk to her? There was no way she was going to strike up a conversation with, as far as everyone else would be concerned, thin air.
"If you will not speak with me here take me somewhere you will."
Willow pushed aside the brief flicker of 'holy crap telepathy' and focused on slipping from the room unnoticed. She motioned for the angel to follow her as she made her way to the earlier abandoned magic room.
"I didn't know." Is the first thing that came out of Willow's mouth as she closed the door behind her.
The angel ignored her, moving around the room Willow used for casting. Sneering disdainfully at several objects before suddenly turning towards Willow. "There are 66 seals standing between the Salvation of Earth and the Eternal Damnation of each and every one of our Heavenly Father's Creations."
"66? Well, that's a--"
"Silence!" The angel boomed, pressing so close to Willow that she had to turn from the sickly sweet scent of its breath. "Nearly half had been broken."
"O-ok, so there's over half in tact. We--I can help. If there is only..." Willow trailed off as the angel began shaking his head.
"There are 600 Seals in place. We are trying to keep watch over many but you..." The angel turned and moved towards the remnants of Willow's earlier spell. Crouching, he trailed his finger along the still hovering motel, finally breaking the spell and causing the black goo motel to melt into a puddle on the map. "You trapped my Brother in a mortal form. Tore his Grace from his core and--"
"No! I-I simply--"
"His Grace was splintered already," the angel said as he drew a handkerchief from his suit jacket to clean his finger off, "a part housed within the Warrior our Father deemed saved from Hell."
"You broke a Seal today. Half the Seals have now been broken, you helped bring your race a step closer to Damnation. Castiel is now neither Human nor Angel. Within him resides neither Soul nor Grace. When the Vessel--"
"That you stole!"
"--perishes as will what is left of Castiel." A flicker of something flashed quickly across the angel's face. "You have damned him in the most unholy of ways. You will now work for us."
The angel grabbed Willow's arm and the next second they were standing in a room that Willow quickly recognized as the hotel room her and Faith had been at hours earlier. She stumbled back as the angel released her.
Willow spun towards the voice, "Guh! Guns!"
"Jesus," Dean cursed, lowering the gun but keeping his finger on the trigger, "What the hell are you thinking coming back here and who is -- goddamn, is that another frickin' angel?"
Castiel looked up as the presence drew closer, "Amabiel..."
Willow blinked, realizing Castiel was addressing the angel she'd come with. Looking between the two men, she couldn't help but be curious about the man who this newest angel had taken for a vessel. "So do all Angel's appear as suit-wearing handsome men?" Willow asked the brothers, in a weak attempt to break the ice, when Amabiel knelt to speak with Castiel who was huddled on one of the beds.
Sam smirked, "No, some are pretty redheads."
"A-are you hitting on me?"
"What?! No! I was just referring to -- no. There was another..."
Dean rolled his eyes at his brother before glaring at Willow, "You have some goddamn nerve showing your face here and making stupid little quips after what you did to Cas, witch. Y'know, we hunters, we tend to let the Don't Kill Human thing slide when it comes to witches. And after what you did to Castiel..."
"If you are quite finished," Amabiel said, rising to his full height, "I need you, Winchester, to inform the Witch of everything you've learned. I have brought her here to be of use to you."
Dean's eyebrows rose as he studied Amabiel. "Huh? I thought you brought her back to fix Cas!"
Amabiel barely acknowledged the brothers, glaring at Willow. "Castiel is beyond repair. To 'fix' him would be to smudge him out of existence."
"You guys wouldn't take him back in Heaven?" Sam asked incredulously, his fists clenching at his side.
Willow moved forward, trying to silence the man as she noticed Amabiel's glare turning on him. "Don't...don't yell at him."
"She's right," Dean agreed, "You wanna yell, you yell at her! What the fuck did she do to Castiel?!"
Amabiel flicked a brief glare Dean's way, "I ask you all to cease yelling. She has Fallen him."
"She turned him into a human?" Dean asked quietly, looking as if he wished to return to the other man's side.
"No. Castiel is neither Human nor Angel."
Willow watched Richard's face react to that news. His face paled and slackened, his eyes widened and he let out a quick catch of air as his lips parted the slightest bit. Shock and complete and utter loss. She'd never seen this look on Richie before. She had seen a similar one, though not quite as profound, at the funeral. God, she'd pushed the being residing within Richie that far.
Castiel glanced up at her, with Richard's blue eyes, when he realized he was being stared at and Willow quickly averted her gaze. Taking a deep breath she tried focusing her complete attention back on Amabiel.
Amabiel was speaking with Sam and asking that he pull out any and all research they'd complied in the last several months.
Willow slipped her gaze over to the other brother, who'd seated himself across from Castiel on the other bed, and realized he was busy staring at Castiel. Castiel had taken the news of his fate and had turned it into nervous energy. He was currently fidgeting with the dark blue tie that hung loosely around his neck.
"Just take it off."
Both Sam and Amabiel turned from the table to stare at Dean.
"We can get you different threads, y'know. Maybe something along the lines of, oh I don't know, casual?"
Castiel continued frowning at his tie.
Sam's mouth curled in amusement, "You wanna take him shopping? I think there's a WalMart a few miles north."
"You should hand over Castiel's previous Vessel's belongings," Amabiel gave a long blink and clasped his hands behind his back.
Willow felt her stomach drop and was sure her face had paled. "You want me to just hand over everything of Richard's?"
"Richard no longer needs them." There's an odd tone to Amabiel's voice and this horridly saccharine smile and Willow realizes she hadn't even begun to see the anger the angel held over what she'd done. "You tried, for many months, to bring him back. You were unable. Do you really think you'd be able to at this point?" Amabiel paused for a long moment, and Willow figured he had to know there was no way she'd vocalize her answer to that question. He gave another long blink and turned to Dean to speak, "Perhaps you should take Castiel out and introduce him to the pleasures of gluttony."
"You're banishing us to a diner?"
Amabiel grabbed a worn looking notebook and motioned for Willow. "You are welcome to stay but I plan for the Witch to read up on all you and your brother know."
"Right!" Dean eagerly hopped off the bed, slid his wallet into his pocket and scooped up his keys. He only made it a few steps before he stopped and spun around and gave a grimace at Castiel's clothes.
There was a moment when his hands hovered over the other man's chest before Dean just bit the bullet and went for it. The tie was tugged at perhaps too roughly before it was pulled over Castiel's head, rumbling his hair further. "C'mon, roadside diner, jackets off too," Dean muttered before pulling both the trench coat and suit jacket off at once, causing Castiel to stumble forward into him.
Sam stood by the door, shoes still in hand, just staring. "Dude, seriously?"
"What?" Dean questioned, moving Castiel back a few steps before tossing the coats to join the tie on the bed. "You wanna sit with Johnny Businessman?"
Sam just shook his head as he pulled his shoes on, "You've made us sit with worse."
Dean didn't reply as he stared at Castiel's crisp white shirt. "Sammy, gimme one of your tees."
"What?! Why one of my shirts? He's clearly your size."
"You're not going to lend a frickin' angel a shirt?"
"I like this shirt," Castiel said quietly, plucking at one of the buttons.
"Where's Willow?" Vi asked the room in general. "She was supposed to be teaching a computer class, like, 20 minutes ago."
Giles' frowned as he rubbed at his stiff neck. "I don't recall seeing her even leave." He glanced once around the meeting room that was still littered with people from the early meeting and a newer group of researchers before dropping his attention back to the folder in front of him. There'd been a mysterious plague that had wiped out a rather large Russian town nearly two months ago and Giles' was trying to determine if this was in fact another sign of the apocalypse.
"Maybe she's with Faith," Andrew said, around a mouth full of food, peering over the top of the monitor he was seated in front of. "They were hanging out earlier."
"Where is Faith?" Giles questioned as he again scanned the room. Both Willow and Faith were missing. Buffy and Xander were sharing a large index off in a corner and he remembered Dawn asking to be excused an hour back but somehow both Willow and Faith had slipped the room unnoticed.
Giles found Faith after a 20 minute search. He hated his surprised reaction at finding her in the main library but decided it was rather justified when he realized what she was reading. "Is that a Bible?"
There was a flash of guilt across Faith's face before she shrugged it off. "This book has it all, G. Violence, murder, sex, comedy... Except there's no high speed car chases through downtown Detroit, though I'm not finished yet, so..."
"I was just wondering if you knew where Willow was."
"What do you mean?" Faith asked and, much to Giles' surprise, seemed to bristle.
"Just that we can't seem to track her down. She didn't show up for a class she was supposed to be teaching."
"Is she missing missing? There signs of struggle?"
"Struggle?" Giles asked in shock.
Faith tossed the Bible down in front of her. "Do you believe in this sort of stuff? God and...and angels?"
Blinking at the abrupt change, Giles answered her, "To a degree, perhaps. In theory. Why?"
"Well, how does...how does everything else fit in all together with it? If there's some big guy kickin' back up in the clouds with his posse of do-gooders what does that make the PTB? Or that hellgod bitch that was after Li'l D a few back? Or The First?" Faith rolled her shoulders and continued on with giving Giles even a moment to think about forming an answer. "Has anyone been able to reach Willow? Any of the little witches we keep in the basement?"
Giles' narrowed his eyes and grabbed the chair across from Faith. "What do you know Faith. Why would we have already done something as drastic as a locating spell?"
"Do you remember the last person who disappeared from within our walls?"
It took Giles' a few moments before the name 'Richard' came to mind, and all but two seconds more to suddenly realize the connection. "Why would you think these are connected?"
"Red finally got a track on him earlier today and I went with her and...and she found him. Kinda. There was, uh... Red got angry though. Like putting the Hulk to shame angry."
"Faith, what happened? Everything. Now."
Faith gave a heavy sigh and picked the Bible up again. She flipped through it seemingly absentmindedly. A pages began to blur by as Faith picked up speed before she finally paused, tracing over a passage that Giles strained, unsuccessfully, to see.
Faith gave a low laugh and muttered what Giles thought was 'Faith and the Bible' before telling him. Everything.
Despite his best efforts, Giles was polishing his glasses by the time Faith finished speaking. "You believe Willow cursed an angel?"
"He was definitely something. I was getting vibes off him that weren't normal. If Red really did fuck over an actual angel..."
Finally, Giles nodded, placing his glasses back on. "I'll put together a team to check out this hotel." Giles had made it to the doors before he stopped and addressed the Slayer, "And Faith?"
"Tell no one about this." Giles looked back at the Slayer and watched the slight rise of her chin. "No one. Nothing until I can confirm this. Not a word about Willow."
"A-and why should they be in charge of operations?" Willow asked, twisting around in her chair to look at the angel gazing out the window. "Wouldn't it make sense if I brought them back to The Council? We, clearly, have more resources at our disposal."
"The Council's help is not wanted at this point in time." The curtain was dropped back into place as Amabiel turned back around to Willow, "And you are no longer reading."
"Sorry, I haven't done a cram session like this in ages." And she hadn't, not since Sunnydale. Reaching forward, she grabbed the can of pop she'd managed to obtain earlier after a bit of pleading. When she finished the overly sweet off-brand of cola she made a point of setting it aside and picking one of the books on the table up.
Amabiel wandered towards the bathroom this time, finally moving away from the two places he'd been pacing to and fro, the window and the table.
Willow watched as the angel slowly twisted the sink tap and smirked as she recalled the earlier bathroom shenanigans. After Dean had given up on getting Castiel out of Richard's white dress shirt, Sam had held a brief hushed conversation with his brother that ended in Dean loosing rock-paper-scissors. Three times. Dean then turned to Castiel and said things like 'dude' and 'odd pressure' and 'your man junk area'. Castiel had glared, explained he'd been watching over mortals since the beginning of time and was not ignorant to basic human functions and then called the brothers idiots. Sam had held his hands up in apology and the men finally moved towards the door with promise of a takeout bag, despite Dean's grumbling. Castiel had barely made it out the front door before giving a loud huff and stomping into the bathroom.
"You are not reading, again."
Willow's grin fell and she turned back to the notebook. "Well, this is a lot to take in. I'm still kinda hung up on the whole God and angel thing. And I'm just one person. Which brings me back to The Council. We have a full research staff and--"
"You also have an army of untrained children. We have no need for them."
"Yeah, well, an army of untrained children has adverted several apocalypses, thank you very much. In high school alone we--"
"Mere leaks." Amabiel finally pulled a chair out and sat for the first time since he'd popped into existence at The Council, "Do you really think something as significant as the End of Days would be left in the hands of a few mere children? What you faced, which I am sure was terrifying for you all, were but small cracks to the outer recesses of Hell."
"The First wasn't an easy fix." Willow threw back in anger.
"No, you are correct. I will allow you that."
"Castiel had mentioned I was touched by 'grace'. He was referring to that spell, right?"
"He was. The events over the Mouth happened far quicker than We had anticipated and then suddenly you were all running into battle. That spell would have ended your life, it would have imploded in on itself, drawing energies from all the wrong areas and leveled your city all the same."
"Lev-- While we were still in it?"
"Yes. You would have successfully sealed off the Mouth. It was thought that perhaps your group should be Saved for what would have been their willing sacrifices. Several of my Brethren came to your aid and helped."
"They shared their 'grace' with me? That--that's the only reason I was able to do that ritual?"
"B-but I nearly ended the world. How could I have the power to do that but not--"
"You are only a truly great caster when your emotions are running high which is, of course, the worst time to be casting. You've done some gravely stupid things, as the saying goes, in the name of love. Now, are you quite finished with these distractions?"
"I just... I just don't understand what you expect me to do here!"
It was nearly two hours later when Willow read her fill of the notepads and Sam's laptop. Within that time the three men had returned. A doggy bag had been placed at her side by Sam but after Amabiel made it clear that there was to be no more breaks Dean had happily taken it over to his bed and finished it himself. The hushed background noise the three created helped Willow finally settle in and plow through the rest of the material.
"Ok...so, uh, crazy idea here guys but when, uh, the, well, 'devil',"
"Lucifer," Amabiel hissed.
"Uh, yeah, him. Well he's going to need a corporal form, right? And he's not going to want just some random schmoe and because everyone evil loves being ironic there's probably been a lot of thought put into who gets to Host the grand poopah when he's released," The room had gone dead silent by this point but Willow was so deep in trying to fully form her train of thought that she paid no heed to the four sets of eyes staring at her, "There's probably been some dirty work done to determine who the Host should be and, because they're getting so close to the final end game, I bet my last five bolyeria eyes that the Host has been chosen." Willow finally turned her attention to the men in the room and was pleased to see they seemed to be taking her seriously. "I think if we're not able to be actively stopping a Seal from being opened then we should try tracking down this, um, 'host'."
Dean's voice was hard and quiet as he bit out one single word. "Why?"
"It's fun to think that maybe they'll try possessing another priest or something but been there, done that. And plus, hosting Lucifer himself? That's going to take a real nasty piece of work...maybe...maybe something not even, huh, fully human. Which makes what I'm going to suggest a smidgen better. I, uh, I think we should kill the Host."