Disclaimer: I don't own BTVS or SPN. I just like to play with the characters.
Darkness penetrated the hallways, still alive with the smell of fresh paint. Buffy opened her eyes slowly, breaking a seal of coagulated goo crusted over each eyelid. Her single moan of pain escaped from her lips, only to die flatly on the ugly beige linoleum. She blinked once, twice, and pulled her forearms up underneath her chest, pushing aside stray particles of broken glass.They stuck to her cheek, her chin, her earlobe. There were chunks of it in her hair, standing out like snowflakes amongst ribbons of blond. Flying through a window was less than a pleasant experience, and how had he even managed such a thing? He’d thrown her off guard, literally. Clearly, Caleb was not all together human. Raising an eyebrow at the crack in the cement wall, Buffy pushed herself at last to her feet. Pain shot down one leg, enough to make her wobble where she stood, limp when she walked. Shadows played on the broken lockers, the open classroom doors. They seemed to jeer as she fumbled toward the exit.
Revolo Drive was barren, as empty as every other street in town. Now that the Hellmouth was on red alert, ready to pop open like a beer can (Yeah, a beer can of evil
), the happy-go-lucky, completely oblivious residents had picked up shop and run out of town. Some things had been easy to ignore over the years: mysterious plagues of insanity, missing persons, family members that turned up dead one day and oddly alive (but pale and bloodthirsty
) the next. The Bringers and Caleb and the high number of ooky deaths was too much, even for the people of Sunnydale. Only a few houses remained occupied-the sort of people that stayed during nasty hurricanes or after major earthquakes. They holed up in their homes, turned off all the lights, paced in front of the doors and windows with sawed-off shotguns. At the Summers’ camp, they did a lot of the same things, but with the lights on. It was easier to see the bad guys coming that way.
Squares of yellow light, punctuated with human-shaped shadows, spilled onto the dewy front lawn. Giles was still sitting at the dining room table, going over Caleb’s thick police file. In the living room, a few people sat on the sofas or paced around the room. Upstairs, someone sat on Joyce Summers’ old bed. Buffy gathered her arms around her, hugging herself across the chest. The back of her neck pricked just slightly, a feeling she had come to recognize after eight years as a vampire slayer.
“You should be inside,” she murmured authoritatively.
“Buffy Summers,” the man said without inflection. His voice was neither guttural, as in an attack, nor flat and devoid of feeling. It simply was. And what is was was unrecognizable. It wasn’t Spike or one of the girls. It wasn’t Xander or Dawn or even Caleb returning for a second round. Buffy turned, throwing her body level to shoot out one long leg in a roundhouse kick. It was a move that should have put her opponent off his guard, a move that should have hit his arm or shoulder or head depending on his height. Instead, the man grabbed her by the ankle and held on.
“Okay…” Buffy frowned, narrowing her eyes. She used his hand to kick from and threw her body backward in a flip, landing miraculously on both feet without so much as a sign of earlier injury. Putting up both fists, she glared at the man in semi-darkness. Light from the house revealed half of his dark figure, but he was hard to gauge.
His sharp blue eyes were unavoidable, as stunningly blue as an ocean or a sapphire or the sky on an incredibly clear California summer day. They illuminated the rest of his face like those annoying ultraviolet headlights. He had a clean-shaven face, but his eyes were tired and looped with an insomniac’s wrinkles. Dark disheveled hair framed his pale face. He wore a blue striped shirt with a collar, a couple of the buttons undone at the neck. The sleeves had been rolled up to the elbow, as though he’d been cooking dinner or moving something heavy. A pair of wrinkled khaki pants completed the look. Buffy cocked an eyebrow at the handsome but peculiar man.
“Okay,” she smirked, “Bible salesman?”
“Excuse me?” He asked, clearly confused.
“Hey, I get it. You’re a lackey. I don’t know what it is with this creature feature. He’s got a thing for the clean on the outside, mentally disturbed on the inside thing. Let’s just do the fight thing, okay? I want to take a nap.”
“The First…” The man frowned, twisting his head to one side.
“Big Bad, Bringers, Seal of Doom, yada yada.” Buffy shrugged.
“I am not here to fight you. I am here to help you, Buffy.”
“Whoa, whoa, unfair advantage. You know my name. I don’t know yours.”
His face seemed to crumble in on itself, like a building hit with a wrecking ball. The straight mouth fell down at the corners and the eyebrows drooped down over his eyes, shielding and shadowing them. His shoulders slumped and his arms hung loosely at his sides. From zero to sad puppy in two seconds, the bible salesman looked about as evil as, well, a bible salesman.
“I am Castiel,” he admitted flaccidly. “We were once acquainted.”
“Uh, okay,” Buffy muttered, screwing up her mouth. “Castiel, is it?”
“Yes. I am an angel of the Lord. I have been sent to help you.”
“Right,” she laughed, dropping her fists and letting her sore body enjoy the moment. “And I’m the Easter Bunny. Honestly, that’d be a better gig, you know? No more First, no more Sunnydale. I probably wouldn’t even get thrown through a window by a preacher with a bad case of misogyny.”
“I am familiar with this ‘First’ you mention. It calls itself ‘The First Evil.’”
“Yep, that’s him, the Big Bad. Just another day in Sunnydale, another apocalypse to squash, another thing to kill.”
“This is bigger than Sunnydale, Buffy. This is bigger than you, bigger than your Hellmouth. If you fail here, the world will not recover.”
“Hey,” she scowled. “I’ve been fighting the apocalypse for seven years. I think I can handle it without, what, divine intervention?”
“I have information that you will need to win this battle, Slayer. We should work together on this.”
“How do I know I can trust you? You don’t look like an angel. Shouldn’t you have, I don’t know, wings and a halo or something? Since when did an angel look like a Mormon?”
His hand flickered, a tiny movement cloaked mostly by the night. The stars went out like shorted light bulbs and the moon faded to black like the last reel on a movie screen. Buffy crossed her arms over her chest defiantly, but her eyes focused in amazement. The illumination from the windows changed from yellow to shimmering white, casting a hazy glow on the man in front of her. Two shadowed black wings extended from Castiel’s shoulders, spreading wide and glorious. The vision lasted only a few seconds, but it was enough to turn Buffy’s blood cold, to make her shiver like a leaf. The light returned to a dull yellow and the darkness floated away, bringing back the stars.
“So, you’re an angel,” Buffy breathed. “Can I get you a cup of coffee?”
Buffy pushed open the front door and removed her coat, scattering a few remaining chunks of broken glass on the floor near the banister. Giles looked up from his seat at the dining room table. Papers covered most of the table’s surface, sorted into some kind of orderly chaos. The watcher removed his glasses and cleaned them with his shirt before placing them back on the bridge of his nose.
“Good, you’re back, I’ve been going over this file and…” He paused to look from the Slayer to her guest. Castiel stood stiffly in the foyer, his arms hanging at his sides as if he couldn’t figure out what to do with them. His face had a look of determination and, at the same time, confusion.
“Castiel, this is Giles. Giles, Castiel. Did anyone make coffee?” Buffy pushed past them to the kitchen. Moving slowly and unsteadily, she reached for a cup from the cupboard and pulled the pot off the coffee maker. The dredges of caffeinated beverage were cold and stale, but a few tablespoons of sugar and a good nuking would be enough to bring it back to life.
“I’m sorry, Castiel, is it?” Giles blinked, removing his glasses a second time.
“Yes.” Castiel replied briefly.
“Buffy? Is that you?” Dawn called from the stairs. Her shoes echoed through the staircase to the kitchen as she ran down.
“In here, Dawn,” Buffy called back in reply.
“Where have you been?” Dawn called, stopping at the foot of the stairs to look at Castiel and Giles. Buffy returned from the kitchen, pouring the sweetened drink down her throat. In the warm light, they could see her scrapes and cuts, the pieces of glass that remained embedded in her skin.
“It’s no big,” Buffy shrugged. “A window got between me and Caleb. It couldn’t be rehabilitated.”
“Who’s the stiff?”
“Castiel, this is Dawn,”
“The key,” Castiel said briefly, looking at her.
“Not anymore,” Dawn shrugged. “I’m retired.”
“Buffy, who is this man?” Giles sighed.
“I am an angel of the Lord. I have been sent to help you in the battle with The First Evil.”
“An…angel?” Giles choked, rubbing his glasses a third time.
“Whoa,” Dawn blinked.
“I checked. Definitely of the winged variety. I’m going to make more coffee. This stuff is terrible. Giles? Tea?”
“No…no,” Giles stammered. “Coffee seems…more appropriate.”
When Buffy returned from the kitchen, she found Giles seated at the table over a large, dusty book. Castiel lingered in the corner like an apprehensive statue. Dawn hovered nearby, her arms crossed characteristically over her chest. Buffy set a few cups of coffee on the table, one in front of Giles, another by the edge of the table for the angel. Dawn raised her eyebrows hopefully for her own offering.
“You can have hot cocoa. It’s in the cupboard by the microwave.” Buffy frowned.
“Pass,” Dawn pouted.
“Not exactly a request, Dawnie,” Buffy nudged her.
“Oh come on! I’m part of the team!”
“I’ll fill you in later. Go.”
Dawn moped her way back up the stairs and her bedroom door slammed loudly. The house was quiet for a moment and only the sound of a clock ticking in the living room pierced the silence. Buffy pulled out her chair and sat down uneasily in it. Cradling her coffee cup, she raised her chin to look at Castiel. He was at once calm and anxious, his face a pale mask interrupted only by the strength of emotion in his eyes.
“So spill,” Buffy sighed, expelling a breath from her nostrils. “What do you know about The First?”
“It is a demon called Aeshma. Though quite old, it is neither the first evil nor the most powerful.”
“Aha!” Giles interrupted, his nose planted in the large book. “Aeshma is the demon of wrath, from the demonology of Zoraster!”
“Aeshma is a high ranking officer in the army of Hell. He commands many legions, armies that fight for him.”
“So, the Bringers…” Buffy murmured.
“Are a sect of human followers, imbued with certain powers gained from their pact with the demon. The race of vampires you encountered are another of Aeshma’s armies, a race of demonic minions. There are millions of these creatures under Aeshma’s control.”
“Millions?” Buffy squeaked. She set down her coffee cup.
“So what do we do? How do we kill it?”
“More to the point…what does it want from us?” Giles sighed, closing the book.
“We do not know what Aeshma wants. To find out, we would have to interrogate the demon itself, or perhaps one of its followers. To your question, Buffy, we must cast it back into Hell.”
“You make it sound so easy,” Buffy muttered.
“It will not be easy. We must find out its weakness.”
“Well, we don’t have any more time to waste. Giles, where are the girls?”