In the beginning, Lucifer and Raguel believed in their Father unconditionally. Out of the whole host, they were the ones that loved Him most passionately, devotedly giving their whole selves over into His service. His duty.
Before Michael took over, Lucifer led the Host with his single minded passion, his drive- his utter devotion in carrying out their Father’s tasks to the best of his ability. This is something that Castiel remembers all too well. Remembers the days of practicing maneuvers, repeating drills over and over.
When Lucifer was in charge, he would have gladly immolated himself and everyone around him in order to make their Father happy. Joyous. Content.
Well… Almost, everyone…
There are still a couple of angels left that remember this. Those whose memories are vast and unfathomable. Those who have seen time and history pass them by in the blink of a human eye. Some still remember.
And then there are those like Castiel. Foot soldiers at the time, too lowly to ever fully know their older brothers and sisters. Nothing more than pawn in His greatest strategies, they nevertheless heard things. Saw things.
And Castiel still remembers seeing them walking back to the Garden after the three hundred year battle. Remembers seeing two of Heaven’s greatest warriors, awe and fear and such overwhelming love and respect warring in his very being
that he felt overwhelmed.
Lucifer was legendary in the Host, the brightest of His sons and Raguel was just as fearsome a figure as him, walking slowly, raggedly beside his striking figure- the general that fought alongside her troops, that led them into battle- swinging Father’s cherished sword against those that would dare defile the word of Heaven.
Castiel remembers seeing them and remembering the words passed down, echelon to echelon, troupe to troupe- fast and furious- ‘too close’, ‘too loyal to each other’, ‘too human
’- and in that moment, watching their wings intermingle- the flashes of red and black amidst the rolling turmoil of their beings, bright and dark mixing effortlessly together- Castiel remembers thinking that they were right.
Those that whispered in the hushed undertones of those that would never have had the nerve otherwise to speak to their leaders.
They were right.
If there was something, someone
that Lucifer would have placed above his Father- it was her. And in that moment, for the very first time in his existence- that moment in eternity, Castiel briefly wondered if his brother was right.
Buffy sprinkles the last of the herbs over the sage carefully, whispering the words of the incantation under her breath as she waits for the sun to set. In another lifetime, she probably would have been outside, sitting on the porch with a pink, frilly drink- sipping on it wistfully and talking about the pretty colors of the sunset while admiring her pedicure.
“That’s not true,” comes the very familiar voice of Balthazar, smug and happy with an undertone of thin tension running beneath it, “you’d still be you, even with god-awful taste in drinks. Crazy in a way that works and most certainly, likely to get us all killed…”
“Hey Bal,” Buffy smiles at the angel, striding confidently into the room, clutching a bottle of JD to his chest like one would with a newborn or something just as fragile and precious, “nice to see that you’re still your usual sunny self.” She watches him pour himself two fingers of the stuff into a shiny, new crystal glass that appears out of thin air- “isn’t it a little early to be drinking?”
“Remy,” Balthazar says with a disapproving look all over his borrowed features, “it’s almost like you still have that heavenly stick up your arse, even three thousand years later
.” He clucks passionately and tries to pat her shoulder which Buffy dodges easily enough and steps back, watching as he gulps down more of his whiskey, “You’ve got to learn to relax, old girl.”
Buffy says nothing to that, just watches Balthazar with a frown on her face. Watches him refill the glass again and again, until it seems that he loses patience with the whole endeavor and begins chugging back from the bottle, not stopping for breath until the whole thing’s finished.
“It didn’t work?” she finally asks, because damn
. They’re running on a schedule, and having to set up this
plan took weeks of planning. Redoing it is going to be a bitch.
“No,” Balthazar shakes his head and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, “it worked.” He surveys her with a manic smile that somehow manages to look even worse because of the grim glimmer of resignation in his eyes, “worked just dandy, like all
your plans, general.” He sneers a little on the last word, dripping disdain all over it like acid.
Buffy still says nothing, but gives herself a moment to feel the relief coursing thick through her veins. The hardest part is still coming up, but at least this time- she won’t have to redo the plans, she won’t have to find a new way of sacrificing loved ones, of lying to people that have started to matter
. She won’t.
She turns away and reaches for the duffle bag on the bed, filled to the brim with weapons, holy water- because though Faith might be all mojo filled now, Buffy’s still running on pure old slayer juice- and spare clothes.
“So you ready?” she turns back around and walks straight into Balthazar’s outstretched fingers, the ground ripping away from her in a faint flutter of wings as that old, familiar smell of ozone, of home
assaults her senses, Buffy opens her eyes to the barren wasteland of the desert.
Balthazar says nothing to her, standing tall and strong at her back and though he may resent her now, resent her still for making him do what he has promised never to do again- he still has her back.
“It’s still here,” she says staring at mankind’s oldest monastery, seeing the newer additions of cement and brick over the old stone foundation. The rocks that she had once placed here by hand, carried in one of her first human vessels, joyous and celebratory with her brothers and sisters. “They didn’t destroy it…” she trails off.
She had been so scared that humans would have destroyed this first oasis of theirs, would have built a Starbucks or something as equally inane as that in place of the first place of worship and she would have had to go digging in the foundations of capitalistic enterprise at its finest.
“Yes, well...” Balthazar shrugs annoyed, “nobody would let them, would we?”
He begins walking ahead, long strides eating up the desert sand like he’s floating in the air. An apparition, a mirage in the heat. Tall and impossibly blonde, clad in black- with a mercurial array of moods, he’s never going to be the same being that used to follow Buffy into hell because she wanted to go.
“Are you coming?” he yells over his shoulder and Buffy shoulders her bag, begins walking after him.
He may not still be the blindly loyal soldier that followed her like an insistent shadow, devout in his belief that she would do no wrong, cause him no harm- but he’s still Balthazar. Still just as loyal but willing to ask questions now, just as funny as he had been back then and damn Uriel insistence that he
was the funniest angel in the garrison. Still family.
And somewhere in the desert, seventy six miles to the east of Jerusalem, hefting enough blades to kill a garrison of her brothers- Buffy feels a little bit like her old self again.
Dawn drops into the sewers silently, crouching instinctively into the shadows and waiting to see if anything attacks her.
All the knives she has strapped on her feel cool against her skin, reassuring. She waits a beat and then begins moving deeper into the belly of the city, closer to the nest of beasts residing within, hungry, clawing and terrifying- she moves towards them without hesitation, without pause.
She stops as she reaches a fork in the tunnels and cocks her head, listening.
After a heartbeat, Dawn closes her eyes and reaches into that place within her, that place of warmth and energy, of endless creation
and thinks about where the monsters are waiting for her. Shivers work up her spine, like a thousand tiny electrical shocks have been shot up her neural pathways and Dawn shudders before stilling and whipping a blade out and thrusting just as she opens her eyes.
“Careful, little tree,” Azrael says in that infuriatingly calm voice of his, holding onto her hand with a steel like grip, “you could hurt somebody with that,” he nods over at the Enochian blade in her hand, “and you wouldn’t want that, would you?”
“Fuck you, asshole,” Dawn spits out and wrenches her hand away from his, knowing instinctively that he allows
her to step away.
“Maybe later,” Azrael laughs and falls easily into step with her, “you wouldn’t want the humans thinking that we don’t know how to separate business and pleasure, would you?”
Dawn snorts at that and flicks another glance at Azrael’s newest vessel. The man is tall, with graceful long limbs and a head of riotous black curls and almost glow in the dark green eyes. Though it may just be Azrael’s grace making them glow, making them shine like this in the darkness.
“Since when do you care about the humans, anyway?” she asks wryly and watches as Azrael shoots her an amused look from his clearly superior height.
Like a brief wash of color over the landscape, she thinks she remembers a small rotund man that Azrael had worn during the Roman empire. But that’s ridiculous, ridiculous- she knows, because she was gone
long before the Roman empire ever existed. Though she still remembers the man, remembers seeing how ill fitting the vessel seemed for Azrael who was Death incarnate, how wrong
“Why are you here?” she asks instead, because growing up in a slayer house- Dawn’s learned how to keep her thoughts to herself and her mouth shut on the important things.
Azrael shrugs and doesn’t say anything and Dawn’s getting too pissed off to say something so they just trudge on ahead in awkward silence.
Azrael always used to follow her down whenever she was on mission, silent behind her back- tall and strong, exactly like the human books would later describe him- unfathomable, endless and terrifying- the Angel of death personified. He always said that it was because she couldn’t protect herself as well as he could protect her, that she was meant for figuring things out with her mind
while Azrael used his strength and his power- killing without hesitation whether it was for himself or on Dawn’s behalf.
“Did Lucifer put you up to this?” Dawn finally breaks, hating that catch in her voice, that break that lets the weakness shine through. The misery. Fuck, she stops and catches her breath, doesn’t look at Azrael, keeps her eyes on her boots.
She misses her big brothers so much sometimes that it hurts like a physical pain, a gaping open wound in her soul that has never had the chance to heal and is being torn more and more each day- blood and sinew coming apart since Gabriel’s revelation, memories, one after another pouring in. Michael, Lucifer, Gabriel- Father, how she misses them.
“Ophriel,” Azrael calls, gently oddly enough, softly, “little tree… Will you look at me?”
“No,” Dawn shakes her head, hating how petulant she sounds. How young. “You don’t get to call me that any more,” she bites out, angry all of a sudden, so angry- and it’s better, anger, much better than that feeling of loneliness, abandonment and isolation- “you
chose to leave. You
left Az,” she chokes out and it’s horrible, this never ending roll of emotions, one after another in a confusing jumble so bright and jagged that it hurts, “you left me first, so you don’t get to do your old stalker thing anymore. You don’t get to follow me, call me any of your dumb old nicknames,” she sucks in a breath and this time, she meets his eyes when she backs away, swallowing the lump in her throat even as Azrael tries to get her to stop, brokenness and pain radiating through his Grace.
Dawn steps away, hating herself and hating him for being weak enough to show how much she’s hurting him, steps away still holding the dagger in her hands tightly enough to show Azrael just how serious she is, “you just, you don’t get to do any of that anymore…”
“Leave me alone,” she says into the silence and in the distance, she can hear the monsters roaring, a dull echo that moves through her bones and Azrael’s eyes turn humongous in the sudden flash of light within the tunnels and-
“Dawn, look out!” he shouts and she knows, knows what’s behind her and oddly enough- for that moment in time, frozen in the tunnels of a city entirely foreign to her- Dawn thinks she knows who’s come to kill her-
But Azrael steps in again, steps in like he always does and shoves her away, shoves her hard enough for her head to smack into the cement wall, hard enough to crack her skull probably and she watches, dazed as the blood drips into her eyes as Raphael stabs Azrael with his knife, twisting the blade as light begins to pour from Azrael’s wound and his mouth and his wide, terrified eyes.
“No,” Dawn whispers, eyes stuck on the horror of seeing Azrael stuck up like a butterfly, held against the wall by Raphael, “no, Az…”
“Run…” he meets her eyes somehow, even as she sees the bright flare of his Grace seeping through his wound, “run Raguel…” he says and chokes as Raphael shoves the knife even deeper, hilt first and slices
forward and Azrael screams a long, broken sound that shatters something within her, breaks it into a million tiny shards.
The tunnel goes astonishingly white for a second and when Dawn opens her eyes, the only thing she can see is the form of her brother’s vessel, slumped against the wall and her vision's going fuzzy around the edges and it all hurts, and Dawn failed, failed yet again and Buffy's going to be so worried
She tries to sit up but she’s so dizzy and she’s still not running anywhere near her capacity, still not running anywhere near what her power levels should be when she hears Raphael crouch in front of her and turns her head, because she’s never been able to look away even when she should, even when anyone else would and so Dawn doesn’t look away now, doesn’t look away from Raphael’s small, mean smile as he says- “hello little sister, it’s been quite some time.”