History

Written by: Michael K. Donovan

mike@vmp-canada.com

Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and all the characters that appear on the show are the exclusive property of Joss Whedon, the WB and Mutant Enemy, Inc.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: The character of Gabriel was introduced in a previous story I wrote entitled 'Divergent Paths'.

PROLOGUE: A FEAR OF THE DARK

Michael sifted through a pile of loose grave soil by the weak silvery moonlight. Damn it! This town was sitting on a Hellmouth, how hard should it be to find a little corpse fungus? Without it, he wouldn't be able to complete his spell. Then, how would he ever get her to notice him?

He sat back on the grass and sighed roughly. As usual, things were not going as smoothly as he had planned. Nothing ever did. If it wasn't bullies giving him a hard time, it was his father getting on his case about his hair, his clothes, his friends. Okay, he didn't really have any friends. But if he did, his Dad would probably have something critical to say about them. The man had enough to say about everything else in his life.

Maybe that was why Michael chose to dress in basic black and paint his face and wear silver cross earrings. At least people noticed him this way. The attention he got was not often positive, usually he just got beat up. Being ignored would have been worse. That was the main reason he had taken up the black arts. Magic made him different. It made him special.

Only no one really seemed to care. Until she came along. Willow was brilliant and sweet and nice. They had a lot in common, too. Like him, she was a budding wicca and more than a little different from the average person. Unfortunately, she had a boyfriend. But he would take care of that. Just as soon as he found some corpse fungus.

As he reached for a fresh clod of earth, a shadow fell across him and he immediately regretted risking a venture into the graveyard at night. His blood ran cold and his heart dropped into his stomach as he heard a low lion-like snarl behind him. Oh, damn! He jumped to his feet and ran as fast as his feet could carry him. A sharp-nailed hand clamped tightly around the back of his neck and jerked him from his feet. Michael's body tensed and he jammed his eyes shut fearfully as he felt the vampire pull his collar aside and expose his throat. It was bound to happen to him sooner or later. People in Sunnydale got killed by creatures of darkness all the time. Even losers like him were worth something, if only as a source of blood.

He heard a meaty thunk and the vampire released him, dropping him roughly to the ground. Scrabbling backward on his rear, Michael looked up to see what had happened. Silhouetted against the moonlit sky, a tall dark-haired young man squared off with the vampire like a boxer. The young man ducked under a violent swing and snapped three blindingly quick punches into the creature's face. Dazed, the vampire staggered and fell onto its back. The man dropped to one knee and slammed a sharpened stake of wood into its chest. The vampire burst into a cloud of ash and blew away on the wind.

"Uh, thanks." Michael rose to his feet and brushed himself off. Again, he owed his life to another person, someone who was actually competent. He wondered if it would be rude to just slink away home now.

"Don't mention it." The young man said, tucking the stake into his boot, "I hate vampires."

His voice held a hint of an accent. British maybe, or something else that sounded sophisticated. Michael got a better look at him as he stepped into a clear beam of moonlight. He was older than Michael by a few years, maybe in his early twenties, with sharp, handsome features. The stranger was taller than most of the jocks he had known from high school and had a better build, not bulky but well-formed. Michael felt an intense stab of envy strike his heart.

"It's pretty late to be hanging around a graveyard, don't you think?" the stranger observed.

"I was working." Michael answered darkly.

"You're a wicca." The stranger looked him over with a vague disdain in his dark blue eyes, "I figured as much."

"I-I have to go." Michael turned his back and started for the graveyard's gate.

"Wait." The stranger called, "My name is Rafael."

Michael slowed but kept walking. All he wanted was some fungus and a little privacy. Was that too much to ask?

He turned enough to be half-facing the newcomer, "Rafael, like the archangel."

"Yeah," the stranger hooked his hands into his pockets, "I'm looking for someone. His name is Gabriel."

Michael paused in mid-step. Gabriel. He knew the name. He was the one who was always with Buffy Summers lately. Another annoying pretty-boy. Another one of HER friends. What were the chances of two guys both named after archangels knowing each other? Michael didn't really care. For a short time he had tried to change his name to Nightro because he had thought it sounded exciting and cool. He had gotten beat up twice as many times that week.

"Why?" Michael asked, his eyes narrowed, "What's it to you?"

The black-haired man smiled to himself, "He's my brother."

PART 1: BUFFY'S STORY: LOVE AND FEAR

He closed his hand tightly over mine and nibbled softly alone the side of my neck. I leaned back, enjoying the feel of his weight on me. His fingertips stroked along my jawline and cupped my head, his thumbs brushing across my cheeks. He regarded me with warm, loving green eyes and I felt a surge of desire course through me. Gabriel, my love, touching me and looking at me like I was the only thing that mattered in the entire universe.

His eyes had a way of doing that to me, making me feel special and weak in the knees. I rewarded him with a deep kiss, tightening my legs around him as he wrapped his arms about my waist and lifted me off the floor. For an instant I held back, afraid my above average strength might hurt him, but I quickly relieved myself of that worry. He was the seventh son of a seventh son, with powers similar and equal to my own. A little rough fooling around wouldn't cause him any harm.

Gabriel grinned around the kiss and carried me to his bed. We'd been together on that bed dozens of times now, but never like this, never so close. His shirt was open in the front and I pressed my hands against the warm, smooth solidity of his chest, pushing the shirt off his arms and dropping it to the floor. The hem of my shirt inched upward and the skin of our mid-sections touched in a wave of tantalizing excitement. I could feel it now, the enticing tingle that occurred whenever we came close to one another. It was an indication that our particular natures were interacting on some unseen level. I didn't care why it happened. It felt like heaven.

I tangled my fingers into his thick, auburn hair and tugged his mouth close to me. He made a little growl unintentionally and buried his face in my neck. Aaahhh, God what a feeling. Incredibly tender, yet almost savage in its urgency. I wanted him, I wanted to take that next important step in our relationship, to know him completely. But something made me stop, a ribbon of uncontrollable, baseless fear that shot through me with the speed of a lightning bolt.

"I think we should . . .we should cool . . . off a little." I panted, pulling away from him regretfully.

"What's wrong?" his eyes were filled with concern as he looked at me. He reached out and stroked his fingertips softly along my cheek, his eyes dilated and hungry looking. When I had first met him, he had been closed off, distant from a life of constant change and upheaval. But now, I could see every emotion plainly on his face. He had opened up to me so much in the last few months, I felt like I could trust him with my life, more even. Almost immediately, I started to relax, the fear having passed as abruptly as it had come.

"Nothing's the matter." I answered with a desire-laden, shuddering breath. My heart was thumping wildly and my skin was tingling. I felt lightheaded and dizzy from the emotional rush. "Trust me. Everything is great. Maybe just a little too great, that's all."

My body ached in longing as I disentangled myself from him. I couldn't help but draw my fingertips down along his arms as I rose. I watched a shiver of excitement course over him in response to the teasing touch and smiled.

He stood as well, dangerously close to me. I could feel the enticing tingle of a thousand soft tipped needles caressing the front of my body as he grasped my arms and held me close.

"Are you sure you're all right?" he took my chin with thumb and forefinger and tilted my head up.His scent was intoxicating, a mixture of sweet spiciness and traces of my perfume. I loved that smell. It reminded me of how good we were together. I had to concentrate for a moment before I could remember what I was going to say.

"I just don't want things to go too far." I swallowed self-consciously and allowed myself to lay the palms of my hands against his bare chest.

"You know I love you, right?" he smirked a little to himself, as if the words were inadequate and small in comparison to what he felt."I know." I smiled at him appreciatively, taking pleasure in hearing him say it. I could feel heat rising in my cheeks. "But I want to make sure everything between us goes right."

"I don't think anything could be more right, Buffy." He circled around behind me, taking me in his arms and squeezing me, rocking slightly from side to side with his eyes shut and basking in our closeness. "But I guess we should probably leave soon, anyway, if we're going to meet the others at the Bronze on time."

I sighed, turning around in his arms, sliding the length of my body against him and then hooking my arms around his neck. I wasn't quite ready to let him go yet.

"You think you'll be safe in a public place?" I touched my forehead against his so that our faces were only a miniscule distance apart and gave him my best devilish smile.

His eyes brightened with a surge of desire and I heard his breath catch in his throat. He smiled, his mouth reaching instinctively for mine, but he restrained himself.

"I think we'd better get going." He released me slowly, reluctantly, and his eyes lingered longingly on me. "We're going to be late."

What's this? The old sex appeal couldn't be slipping, could it? I don't think so.

I nuzzled into the little hollow at the base of his throat. "All right, if that's what you really want." I purred, allowing the vibration of my voice to travel up under his chin. I felt a little groan rumble from deep inside his chest. Bingo.

"I . . .guess we could hang around a little longer." He gave me a gentle squeeze and kissed me softly on the lips. I giggled as he lifted me up in his arms again. Hmmm, victory is sweet.

We didn't make it to the Bronze until almost an hour later. I stopped him just outside the door to make sure we had both straightened ourselves up enough to be inconspicuous. No need to feed the local rumor mill.

He took me by the hand and held it up to his lips.

"I have something for you." He murmured softly. I wondered if he realized how his breath was like sweet torture across my palm. He dropped something small and metallic into my hand and closed my fingers over it.

"What's this?" I held it up at eye level. It was a key. His eyes warmed and he put both his hands around mine, unable to hold back a smile.

"It's yours." He pressed his lips gently against my fingers and grinned, "If you ever need to get into my place when I'm not around." He released my hand and straightened quickly, affecting a casual posture, "You know, i-in case you need some peace and quiet to do homework or something."

"Oh," Homework? He had to be kidding. I wrapped my arms around his waist and squeezed.

My own key. It was so sweet. I doubted I would ever need it, seeing as we were never apart anyway, but it was still sweet. I let him have one kiss as a thank you, but cut it off at that. I'd regret it tomorrow if we started making out right in front of the Bronze. Not that I wasn't tempted, but that was why we were already late. Really late.

Settling for giving me a kiss on top of my head, he opened the door for me and I walked in ahead of him. Willow spotted us and waved wildly from the table where she sat with Xander and Anya. I was a little surprised to see Anya out socializing. Little Miss Man-Killer had been sticking awfully close to Xander lately. I wondered if there was something going on there that I don't know about.

I felt Gabriel's hand slide caressingly across the backs of my shoulders.

"I'm going to the juice bar." He murmured into my ear, "Be back in a minute."I gave him a smile and he winked at me before disappearing into the crowd. Willow hopped out of her seat immediately and rushed up to me in excitement.

"What happened?" she blurted, "How come you two are so late?"

I tried to be obviously coy, "We got a little . . .distracted."

"What could be so distracting? I mean, I reminded you four times today and - oh." Her eyes lit up as she realized what I meant, "You and Gabriel were smooching? Did he do the tingly thing?"

She always got so excited whenever I talked about Gabriel. The first time they had crossed paths, he had saved her life and she never forgot that. If ever my seventh sweetie had a dedicated cheerleader, it was Willow. She liked sharing the precious details of my relationship with him. Ever since she and Oz had taken their relationship to the next level, I'd been getting the feeling that she was patiently waiting for Gabriel and I to do the same. It's kind of a girl thing. It's not much fun talking about primal passions with your best friend when her only experience triggered one of the longest, most painful times of her life. So I did my best to supply her with what I had. "Things got pret-ty intense." I alluded, smirking as she danced excitedly on the spot.

"Intense?" she peeped with a wide-eyed smile, "As in . . .hot?"

"Willow, the surface of the sun is hot." I smiled cryptically, proudly holding up the key he had given me, "This was scorching. Check it out."

"A key?" she raised her eyebrows in mild confusion.

"It's for his apartment." I explained giddily, slipping the little treasure back inside my pocket again. Maybe I'd put it on my chain or something later, "You know, in case I need to get away from the dorm for homework or something."

"You won't be doing homework." She reasoned cannily, pointing her finger at me and giggling, "Not with Gabriel around."

I shrugged and ducked my head in a display of mock guilt, unable to stop smiling. She had me cold, "We HAVE been getting pretty close lately."

"That's so great." She hugged me tightly, overcome with happiness for me. I squeezed her back, reminded yet again that I had the best friends in the world. "How close? Did you . . .?"

She let the question hang, not sure whether she should have waited for me to volunteer any information or not.

"We came very close." I told her, feeling a little troubled by the whole encounter, "I mean, I really wanted to. Everything felt so perfect, but . . ."

"But what?" Willow had that worried look in her eyes again, the one that reminded me of the look dogs get when they hear thunder or jet engines overhead. More fear of what it could be than fear of what it actually is.

"I was afraid." I admitted softly, "I love him and he loves me and I feel amazing when we're together. But, somehow, I'm still afraid." There was a pain in my stomach when I said that. I felt like there was something wrong with me. If everything else was so great then the problem had to be me.

She released me and made her 'stop worrying and get serious' face. I taught her that, back in the pre-Oz days when she used to pine after Xander. She had learned well, my little Grasshopper, and I had no choice but to stand still and accept the impending pep-talk.

"You shouldn't feel bad about this, Buffy. Don't rush things." She counciled, "You've had some bad history. N-not that that was anyone's fault or anything."

Good old Willow. Well, she always tries, at least.

"Look, I know this isn't the best time to bring this up," she apologized, "but Willy the Snitch has been hanging around. I think he knows something, but he wouldn't tell me what it was."

I cracked my knuckles and smiled, "And you think I can convince him to give it up?"

"Absolutely." She grinned, "You can be very diplomatic when you've got a hammerlock on a person's arm."

Looking over her shoulder, I could see Gabriel leaning against the bar with a bottle of juice in his hand. A slender female arm reached out and stroked a groping finger across his chest. Whoa, skank alert.

"Looks like Willy will have to wait. I gotta go mark my territory." I said as I released her and made a straight line for the little ho, whoever she was.

I wove through the crowd quickly and I saw the hand reach out to touch him again in an obvious female declaration of intent. She wasn't going to be declaring anything but a next of kin if she didn't learn to keep her hands to herself. To his credit, Gabriel seemed to be avoiding the majority of her flirtatious moves. But the look on his face bordered on elation. You'd think that we weren't just necking up a storm at his apartment fifteen minutes ago.

I slunk up to him and snaked my arms around his neck in a blatantly possessive way.

"Hi." I smiled, kissing him deeply and with flourish. Nope, no mixed messages here. When I finally broke away, he was smiling foolishly and looked a little glassy eyed. Good, because I put everything I had into that kiss. I snuggled against his side and fixed the offending tramp with my cattiest glare. She was tall, one of those wannabe model-types, but her nose was too long and somebody had taught her to apply make-up with a shovel. Underneath all those layers, she could have been a bulldog for all anyone knew. She returned my look with interest, but I was hardly worried. After all, Gabriel's arm was very distinctly around my waist.

There were two other people with her, a guy and a girl. The girl was another bimbo type, the kind that prowl around the Bronze just waiting to be picked up. Brown hair, slanted eyes and a little too much cleavage showing to be considered modest. Ok, so I am a little biased. But once a girl lays hands on my guy, she sort of waives her right to a fair trial, in my opinion.

The guy was tall and strangely familiar looking. He looked a little older, too. His face was very GQ model, almost too pretty for a guy, kind of like Antonio Sabato except with deep blue eyes. I didn't find him attractive, though. Something about him sent a chill up my spine. He seemed cold. Besides, while he did seem to have decent fashion sense, someone forgot to tell him that gaudy, trash jewelry was out. A pendant the size of a silver dollar with a cloudy pink stone in its center hung from gold chain around his neck.

"So, you going to introduce me to your friends?" I asked Gabriel pointedly. I planned to remind him what the words 'be right back' meant later.

Gabriel quickly gathered his wits and smiled broadly.

"Oh, sorry. Buffy, this is . . ." he indicated the blonde and paused. He couldn't remember her name. I smiled inwardly. She had to be eating her heart out.

"Michelle." She supplied for him with a bright, ultra-fake smile. She reached out to touch him again, but I shot her a warning look and she let her hand fall to her side. Right where it belonged.

"Right." Gabriel smiled apologetically and turned to the girl with the brown hair, "and this is Tina."

He was getting excited, like a little kid before Christmas, as he gestured at last to the black-haired guy.

"And this is Raphael." He beamed, "My brother."

My jaw almost hit the floor. A brother. Wow. No wonder he had looked familiar. Their faces had similar features, except that Gabriel was more of a boy-next-door type, less chiseled and unapproachable than his brother. I guess this shouldn't have been a big surprise. I mean, being the seventh son of a seventh son does imply at least six brothers. I was bound to meet the rest of the family, sooner or later.

"Um, hi." I held out my hand and he took it carefully as if trying to limit the amount of contact with me. My earlier creeped-out opinion of him just doubled. I had to give him a chance though, for Gabriel's sake, at least. But luckily, tonight we had business matters to attend to.

"Willy the Snitch has been nosing around." I murmured into Gabriel's ear, "We should find out what he wants."

"Think you could take this one alone?" he asked me with a touch of pleading in his voice, "I want to stay with Rafael for a while."

"Um, alright." I hesitated leaving him alone with them. Rafael didn't seem like someone who was big on encouraging the concept of monogamous relationships. Not to mention the fact that he was keeping company with the co-captains of the bimbo-squad. No, that wasn't fair. Gabriel was just happy to see his brother. I trusted him. It was just them I didn't trust. Besides, what was I? One of those crazy possessive girls like you see on TV?

Gathering my pride, I turned and left without looking back. I made a detour by the table and hooked Willow's arm, dragging her along with me. Just because Gabriel was busy didn't mean I had to go it alone.

It only took a minute or two to locate Willy. He stuck out like a sore thumb around this place. He was skulking in the shadows under the metal stairwell, nervously shifting from foot to foot in that endearing way he had. Not.

"You know Willy, men your age get put in jail for hanging around places like this." I noted with my best cheeky smile.

He jumped and whirled on me, looking like he was about to have a heart attack. Willow looked to me and raised her eyebrows.

"Geez, you scared the livin' daylights outta me!" he complained, clutching his chest, "You get your kicks trying to put people in their graves or sumpthin'?"

"Willy, I'm the Slayer." I reminded him for no small reason, "That's my job."

"Right." He didn't seemed impressed, "Just try and stick with the undead from now on, okay?"

"What's the word, Willy?" I cut right to the chase. The less time I had to spend on him, the less time Gabriel had to remain alone in trollop-land.

"What do you mean?" he evaded clumsily.

"Come on, Willy. Spill it. You wouldn't be hanging around here playing me-and-my-shadow unless you had something important for me." I frowned and cocked my head toward him, "Unless you really are looking to go to jail?"

"No!" he panicked, waving his hands wildly in denial, "I got something. Really, I do."

Willow and I looked to one another, then to him and waited expectantly.

"Well?"

"Someone's sniffin' around." He revealed skittishly, "Lookin' for vampire bones. I put the word out there ain't no such thing, but I figured you'd want to know about it anyway."

My blood turned to ice and I swear my heart stopped beating. He was wrong. There was one set of vampire bones in existence. The Master. Until the day I die I would never forget him or the fear that his name still carried for me. Someone was going to try and resurrect the Master again. And that meant the lives of everyone dear to me were at risk. Including my own.

PART 2: WILLOW'S STORY: REVELATIONS

Oh my gosh! Vampire bones. A resurrection ritual. That's the only reason someone would need the bones of a vampire. The look on Buffy's face was even more terrifying than thinking about the Master. Anything that could frighten her that much had to be ten times worse than anything I could handle. Willy looked even more uncomfortable now. I don't think he meant to upset her this much. Feeling sorry for him, I slipped ten dollars out of my purse and pushed it into his hand. It wasn't much, but it was more than he should have been expecting. Thanking him quickly, I put my arm around Buffy and lead her to a more private part of the club.

What a turn of events. First, she's practically glowing after getting all hot and heavy with Gabriel and then we hear about the Master and she gets totally somber. That's never good for a person. I looked at her drawn, expressionless face and wondered what she was thinking. It must have been horrible. Two years ago, the Master had killed her and the trauma had left some serious marks on her psyche. She had a bit of a therapy session with a sledgehammer the first time someone had tried to resurrect him, but I always wondered if that had been enough. Seeing her now, I doubted it.

"Don't worry," I suggested, trying to console her with a pat on the back, "Resurrection rituals almost never work. I mean, there isn't a single successful one on record."

I should never have said almost. Her frown deepened and she hugged herself tightly. Okay, it looked like I wasn't going to be able to fix this one by myself. Fortunately, I had other resources to draw on.

"Let's talk to Gabriel." I took her by the arm, "He'll make you feel better."

To my surprise, she pulled away from me and shook her head softly. Why would she want to keep this from Gabriel? The possibility of dealing with the Master again definitely had her spooked.

"He's with his brother." She muttered sullenly, "I-I don't want to bother him."

Brother? "His brother is here?" I asked, a little jazzed at the idea. Being an only child sometimes makes you want to experience the joy of siblings vicariously through your friends. Except most of my friends were only children, too.

"Yeah, his name's Rafael. They're over there." Buffy indicated, totally non-plussed. She was obviously not sharing in my sentiment. Oh, yeah, she was definitely having some issues over this Master thing.

I peeked through the crowd and saw Gabriel laughing and smiling with an older guy with short, wavy, jet black hair and nice, dark blue eyes. I had seen him when he had come in, but never imagined he was a relative of Gabriel's. One of the two girls I had seen with him earlier, the blonde that had been pawing at Gabriel, was gone and the other was practically glued to Rafael's side. Well, that was one less thing for Buffy to have to deal with.

"Come on," I urged, tugging on her arm again, "Gabriel will take you home. I'll head back to the dorm and see what I can dig up on resurrection rituals and call you in the morning. No one's going to find the bones before we do." For safety's sake, Buffy had buried the shattered skeleton herself so no one else would have any idea where to look. If I knew her, I'd bet that they were down pretty deep.

"Maybe you're right." She relented, allowing me to lead her toward Gabriel, "I should probably try and get some sleep."

The initial shock must have been wearing off. Weariness was setting in. I think a human's natural defense against negative emotions is sleep. I like sleep. My favorite time of day is first thing in the morning when it's all warm under the covers and there's still ten minutes before my alarm goes off. The best thing about sleep is the comfort that comes with it. And Buffy definitely needed some comforting.

"Look, I'll call you tomorrow morning. First thing." I hugged her again and she seemed to appreciate the support, "Promise."

"Thanks Will." She smiled for the first time since Willy had dropped the bomb, "I'll try to keep myself from going all to pieces until you call, okay?"

I watched as she cut through the crowd and approached Gabriel. He was caught up in conversation with his brother and hardly noticed when she tapped him on the shoulder. Hmm, odd for him, since he almost always seemed to know where she was, like he had a sixth sense or something. Oh, right, I forgot, he did have a sixth sense. He leaned down and they spoke to one another for a moment. He didn't seem thrilled with the idea of leaving, but I knew he wouldn't let her down. Just as I predicted, Gabriel gave his brother a hug goodbye and headed for the door, holding Bufy's hand. I hoped she would be all right.

I waited an appropriate amount of time before following them out. I doubted they'd be smooching or anything, but she probably wanted to be alone with him. I paused to consider whether I should tell Xander about the Master or not. He was sitting at the table and Anya was leaning across the table all dreamy eyed. No way, not with Evil-girl breathing down his neck. I'd make a point to call him tomorrow and fill him in when she wasn't around.

I went out the front door and turned down the main street toward home. It wasn't the most direct route, but it was definitely the safest and best-lit option. How did that saying go? An ounce of prevention . . .? Just call me Prevention Girl. Especially when getting killed is the thing being prevented.

I was almost halfway back to the dorm when I got this strange, scary feeling, like I was being watched. Oh, why did Oz have to go on that road trip with the Dingoes? This is what I got for being nice and letting Buffy and Gabriel walk home alone together. Which, through process of elimination, left no one to walk home with me. The feeling crept up on me again and I looked back over my shoulder. Nothing. Maybe I was just imagining things. Just in case I wasn't, I picked up the pace and withdrew my cross pendant from inside my sweater and let hang exposed on my chest. When it came to vampires, I liked to advertise my knowledge of their weaknesses.

I reached the walkway to the dorm and practically ran for the door. It opened on the first try. Thank God the security guard had left it unlocked. Relaxing now that I was in the relative safety of the dorm, I went upstairs to my room. My roommate was out for once and the perpetual party that seemed to always be going on appeared to have gone with her. My computer was still on; I had e-mailed Oz before going to the Bronze and forgotten about it.

Sinking down into my chair, I turned on the monitor and double-clicked my mailbox. A cute, cheery tune informed me that it was empty. Hmm, well, he had said that he wasn't even sure if he was going to be anywhere where he could get access to e-mail. Maybe he hadn't even received my message yet. It was less than a day since he left. He'd probably call me tomorrow night.

Okay, with my social responsibilities taken care of, I was ready to start researching the resurrection ritual. I went to a few of the usual websites, The Wiccan Circle, Abernathy's Archives, and a place aptly named The Crypt, but none of them had anything. I wasn't really expecting to hit paydirt on the first few tries anyway. The ritual was pretty obscure. The only reason I even knew about it was the previous brush we'd had with it two years ago.

Time to get down to business. I spent hours digging through loads of digitized information. Some of it might have been useful on other occasions, but most of it was junk. My eyes started to burn and sag shut. No, I had to keep trying. Buffy needed me. But I was getting so tired. I would just rest my eyes for a second and then I would throw myself back into it. Just for a second . . .

Birds were chirping outside and I could hear the wind rustling the leaves of the trees on campus. I opened my eyes and found myself under the covers of my bed, still dressed in my clothes from last night. Bright sunlight was streaming through the window. Darn it! I fell asleep! But how did I get in bed? The last thing I remembered was sitting at my computer.

My door opened up and the roommate from Hell bopped in to the beat of a blaring walkman. I don't care how much Buffy had been complaining. There's no way she was going to win in a who-has-the-worst-roommate contest.

"HEY, YOU'RE AWAKE!" my roommate shouted cheerfully, "YOU WERE SO ZONKED LAST NIGHT, YOU DIDN'T EVEN BUDGE WHEN I CAME IN! SORRY I HAD TO MOVE YOU!"

Well, that was one mystery solved. I squinted at her and made a motion for her to remove her headphones.

"WHAT?!" she hollered, then realized what I meant, "Oh. Hey a bunch of us are going down to this guy's place for jello shooters. Wanna come?"

"What time is it?" My head felt all foggy. I hadn't even considered looking at my clock, but it seemed way too early for jello shooters. Like three years too early.

"Ten after two." She answered with a shrug.

"Oh my gosh!" I jumped out of bed and went for the door. No, shower, I needed a shower. And clothes. Clothes would be a good idea.

"A Buffy . . . Summers called for you." She continued, "She's been calling all morning but I figured you needed to sleep it off, so I told her you'd call her later."

Oh, darn it! I had promised Buffy I would call her this morning. Why did I have to sleep in? I grabbed a clean sweater and a pair of jeans, piling them in my arms.

"You coming or what?" my roommate asked as I added underwear and a pair of socks to the pile.

"No, I don't think so. I'm still worn out from last night." I answered absently as I searched for a clean towel. Everything on my side of the room had been so neat and organized before she had brought her friends over. Now I would be lucky if I could find a bus in all the mess.

"You sure?" she attempted to coax me, having no idea how not-tempting her offer was, "You know what they say, little hair of the dog that bit you?"

"Um, right." I quirked my eyebrows and tugged my last clean towel out from under a pile of spilled books. Did this girl even know anyone who slept in for reasons other than being embarrassingly drunk?, "I'll pass."

"Suit yourself." My roommate shrugged and left the room to my utter relief.

It only took me fifteen minutes to get clean and ready, a personal best, I think. In another fifteen minutes, I was outside Buffy's door. She greeted me with a big hug and ushered me inside her room. Her roommate was nowhere to be seen. Good, this way we could talk privately. Buffy didn't look very good, but I didn't want to say that. It looked like she hadn't slept all night.

"I'm sorry I wasn't over earlier, but I slept in by accident." I offered by way of an apology, "How are you feeling?"

She sighed heavily and pushed her hair up out of her face in agitation, "I've been better. How did it go last night? Did you find anything?"

I wished I had some good news for her, but I didn't. I shrugged slightly and hoped I could find a silver lining somewhere on this dirty cloud. Buffy took this as a resounding no and her face fell a bit.

"What about Gabriel?" I asked, aiming to cheer her up if I could, "He's been around this kind of thing since he was a baby. Did he know anything?"

"I didn't tell him." Buffy walked quickly across the room and stared out the window.

Okay, now I was getting wigged. The two of them had been inseparable for months now and, all of a sudden, she's keeping secrets.

"Why not?" I asked.

"I don't want to get him tangled up in my problem" I noted a distinct tone in her voice that meant she wasn't entirely telling the truth, but I let it pass.

"First of all, it's not YOUR problem." I reminded her, "We're all here to help you, including Gabriel. Let him decide whether he wants to get involved or not."

Buffy had this habit of trying to protect everyone and sometimes it left her feeling alone. Gabriel wouldn't stand for that. One of the best things about him was that he would do anything for his friends and even more for Buffy if he could. I doubted there would be a force on earth that could keep him from getting involved in this once he found out.

"It doesn't really matter." She sighed, "He's not home. I've been calling him all day."

"Then why don't we go over there." I suggested, "You have your key, right?" I wanted to get her and Gabriel together for a little while, so they could talk this over. If anything could get her spirits up again, it would be him.

"I don't know, Will." She hedged, nervously. I could tell she wanted to go, but was uncertain about something. "He only gave it to me last night. I don't want to start spending all my time there."

Again, she was avoiding him. It was getting to be very frustrating, "What's bothering you, Buffy? Why don't you want to tell him about this?"

"It's not that." She shook her head, "Trust me, there's nothing I would love more than having Gabriel put his arms around me and tell me everything's going to be all right. But what if its not? What if the Master comes back?"

"He won't." I assured her, "No one knows where his bones are except you. Once you and Gabriel get together on this, it'll be over in no time." I took her hand and looked seriously at her, "That is, as soon as you tell him."

"I will. I will." She agreed with a deep sigh, "Just not when HE'S around."

So THAT was what this was all about. Her problem wasn't with Gabriel, it was with Rafael.

"Rafael?" I frowned, "He seemed nice enough to me."

"I don't know." She caught the edge of her lip between her teeth in troubled thought, "Something about him is wrong, Will. I don't know what it is, but he freaks me. Big time. But you should have heard Gabriel talking about him on the way home last night. He practically worships the guy. I hated his father. How am I supposed to tell him I hate his brother, too?"

"Maybe you're jumping the gun a little here. You did only meet him last night. Gabriel's whole family isn't bad. You like Giles, right?" I took her arm and lead her to the door, "So let's go over to his place and wait for him to get back. Then we can all figure out what to do about the Master."

She slipped on her jacket and smiled at me, "Thanks, Will. This thing with the Master really threw me for a loop. I'm sorry if I'm not acting like my usually stable self."

"Totally understandable." I assured her, following her out the door.

We had been waiting at Gabriel's apartment for almost three hours and Buffy was getting very agitated. I watched her pacing back and forth across the floor from my seat on the couch. I had a feeling I knew what was going through her mind. She would have to go out on patrol soon. Gabriel was supposed to be her safety net on this one and, as darkness approached, it was looking more and more like she was going to have to go it alone.

"Maybe I should just go ahead on my own." She suggested with a frown, echoing my thoughts.

"Wait a few more minutes," I cautioned her, "It's not quite dark, yet. Give him a few more minutes."

She didn't seem happy about it, but she took my advice and plopped down in a plush chair. Less than a minute later, I heard the door open and two people came in. Buffy catapulted herself out of the chair and met Gabriel under the room's entrance archway.

"Oh, hey, you're here." Gabriel put his arms around her and gave her an affectionate squeeze. The calming effect it had on her was almost instantaneous. Until she saw Rafael. I could see the tension crawl back up her spine as soon as she laid eyes on him.

Gabriel was smiling from ear to ear, while his brother hung back a little. Shy? No, guys like him didn't get shy.

"Hey, Willow," Gabriel waved to me, "This is my brother, Rafael."

Rafael crossed the room and shook my hand, a warm smile on his face and in his deep blue eyes.

"Hi." I said awkwardly, feeling a little tinge of pink rising to my cheeks. I didn't know what Buffy had been talking about. He seemed pretty cool to me.

Gabriel ran his fingers through Buffy's hair and turned her head up to look at him, "Would you mind taking patrol on your own for a bit tonight? Rafael wants to go to the Cineplex and catch a movie. I can catch up with you later."

She shot an uncertain glance in Rafael's direction, weighing her own fear against Gabriel's short-term happiness. I really hoped she wasn't going to try and do this alone.

"What's wrong?" Gabriel finally noted her discomfort, "Something big going on? If you need me, I'm there."

I was glad to see that, again, Gabriel had lived up to my expectations and flown to her side.

She hesitated then took hold of his hand, seeming to draw strength from the contact, "I'll explain it on the way."

Gabriel looked to his brother apologetically, "Sorry, duty calls. I'll make it up to you tomorrow, I promise."

Rafael nodded congenially, but said nothing. I started to get up, but Gabriel raised a staying hand.

"Feel free to hang out here if you want." He offered, "We might be back before you know it. You can help yourself to whatever's in the fridge. See ya."

I settled back into my seat as he and Buffy went for the door, hand in hand. I could tell by her sharp, exaggerated movements that she was still very tense about the whole Master situation. Rafael watched them, too. I stole a quick glimpse at his profile and wasn't dissatisfied with what I saw. No one could ever take me away from Oz, of course, but Rafael was interesting to look at, even from a detached point of view. The more I looked at him, the more his similarity to Gabriel seemed to pronounce itself. It was odd to think that there were seven of them. Thanksgiving must be crazy at his place. He sat down at the opposite end of the couch from me and sighed deeply, apparently absorbed in thought. The silence was more than a little uncomfortable.

"S-so are you from Scotland, too?" I asked in a weak attempt to break the ice.

He smiled at the question and turned toward me. The direct attention made me feel very self-conscious.

"No." he shook his head with a rare male grace, "When Gabriel went to Edinburgh to train under Uncle Gerritt, I went to Cairo to study sorcery. I haven't had the time to get very good, but I'm learning."

Sorcery? Cool! I would never have guessed from looking at him. He was a little too . . . buff.

"I'm into that type of thing, too." I revealed happily, "But more old school wicca, actually, than modern sorcery."

"Really. Tell me about it." He leaned over, appearing to be genuinely impressed, "Have you ever conjured up anything serious?"

This was new. Guys like him are never impressed by me. I mean, I'm Willow Wallflower, the girl who everyone refers to as 'nice' because they don't know what else to say. And here was this GUY hanging on my every word. I couldn't help but embellish a little.

"I've called up fire demons." I sniffed, like it was something I did every day. Actually, the one time I had tried it, I nearly burned down my Mom's backyard. And all I got to show for it was a pair of living flames so small that together they wouldn't have topped a birthday candle. But he didn't need to know that.

He reached into the inside pocket of his jacket and handed me a folded up page of loose leaf.

"What do you make of this?" he asked with a bright smile. I had seen Gabriel smile at Buffy that way. Rafael didn't actually . . .? No. The laws of human interaction forbade cross pollination of the classes. At the dawn of time, some all-powerful force had divided the world into two groups, the cheerleaders and jocks on one side and the geeks and nerds on the other. Raphael was closer to being one of the former while I was most definitely one of the latter.

I took the page from him and coughed accidentally as his fingertips brushed mine, in a move that I was almost certain was intentional. I couldn't believe this. I would never cheat on Oz in a million years. One mistake was more than enough, but I couldn't help but be curious. The cough got worse as I attempted to stifle it, the air pulsing out of my nostrils in short bursts. Oh God, what if I got a booger?

Clamping my hand over my mouth and nose, I sat back quickly, away from him and looked at the page. The text had been meticulously copied by a skilled and careful hand, definitely someone who was familiar with the Art. The words were unfamiliar to me, not Latin like I was expecting, but something just as mysterious. Arabic? Of course, Rafael had learned his craft in Cairo. My limited knowledge of the language told me it was some sort of location spell but prevented me from reading the rest of the spell. Fortunately, the words didn't have to be understood for the spell to work, just pronounced correctly. It might make a good addition to my collection if I could convince him to let me copy it.

"It's a spell to locate a someone's heart's desire." Rafael told me, "But one of the stipulations is that it can't be cast by the person who wants to use it."

I nodded in understanding. Some spells were like that, intended to encourage casters to use their powers for the good of others instead of in pursuit of selfish ends. Magic by proxy, I think they called it. At least now I understood why he seemed so interested in me. I knew there had to be an explanation. Still, it was a little disappointing.

"You want me to cast this for you?" I deduced, feeling a smidgen uneasy. I had learned the hard way not to cast spells I really didn't know anything about but, at the same time, I was excited over the prospect of new magic.

"I know it's a selfish thing to ask," he apologized, "but it's the only way I can do this. Of the seven of us, I am Gabriel's only full-blood brother. When I found out that our father was dead, I started looking for someone, a person who was very important to both of us."

He stood up and looked at me with a strange vulnerable seriousness, "Willow, I want to find our mother."

I was taken aback by that. To my knowledge, Gabriel had never talked about his mother. I didn't even know he knew her. From what Giles had told me, Gabriel's father had been a real playboy, always running around with some new girl. I guess he would have had to be to have fathered seven sons by the time he was seventeen. Gabriel never really seemed the same after his father was killed, I wondered how he would react if he met his mother. It would be so exciting.

"Sure, I'll help." I offered, "Do you have all the ingredients we'll need?"

"Right here." He grinned broadly and patted his jacket pocket.

Sitting down on the floor, Rafael took out a small jar filled with a clear, oily liquid and carefully popped the top off. Next he produced an unlit matchstick and dropped it in so that it floated parallel to the surface. I could already follow how the spell was supposed to work. The match would act as a pointer, like a compass, only linked to the target of the spell instead of magnetic north. Squatting down across from him, I stretched out my arms.

I laid my hands across his and reached out with my mind in search of the communion of souls that would be required for the spell. I started thinking about that stupid game, 'Blind Man's Bluff' where the blindfolded kid gropes about in the darkness searching for the other players. I felt like that kid now. I stretched out with my mind, expecting to find something and there was nothing. I probed around until I found his inner self. Surprisingly, the energy within him was very small. And cold. It was like he didn't have a soul at all. No soul . . .

I pulled back wildly in a panic the instant the connection began to assert itself. An instant was all it took for me to get a glimpse into who Rafael really was. Dead. Rafael was dead. Undead, actually, certainly not alive. And he was evil, as pure an evil as I had ever touched with my mind. But how? We had all seen him standing out in broad daylight. He should have burst into flames, but he hadn't. I could sense that some foreign power was guarding him from most of the restrictions of vampirism, something he had to keep close to his body, but I had no time to find out what it was.

I also saw the heart's desire he sought. He wasn't searching for his mother. In fact, he knew almost nothing about her. Her face was buried so deep in his memory that even he couldn't reach it. He was after the Master's bones. Just like Buffy had thought. His mind was consumed with it, to the exclusion of almost all else.

Only one other thing occupied his thoughts. Gabriel. His baby brother. And how he was going to kill anyone who got between them. Oh God, Buffy . .

I pulled away from him, my mind reeling from the startling contact, and stared at him in shock. He blinked in confusion and raised his eyebrows at me.

"Is something wrong?" he asked reaching over to steady my shaking hands.

I stood up quickly and folded my arms, pasting the most convincingly unconcerned expression I could on my face.

"N-no, no, everything's fine." I lied, attempting to seem casual. Oh God, what if he knew that I knew? What if he killed me right here?

"Come on then," he urged with a gentle smile, "Let's cast the spell."

His smile did nothing to comfort me. I knew what was behind it now. No wonder he gave Buffy the wig. I had to get out, go somewhere safe. Fighting down a wave of panic, I scooped up my jacket and inched toward the door. At least he didn't seem aware that I knew what he was. All I had to do was keep up the farce for another minute or two.

"What's the matter?" he frowned, rising and following me with slow, predatory steps. Oh gosh, predatory steps. . . he was getting suspicious!

"I, uh, didn't realize how late it was getting." Backing into the entrance alcove, I grasped at the only straw I had, "Lots of studying to do. Yup, big midterm coming up."

"It's September." He narrowed his eyes shrewdly. Oh, no, he was definitely on to me now. But panic forced me to react.

"I have a reputation for being boring. Ask anyone." I blurted, my back bumping against the solid door, "You can never start studying too early, that's what I always say. Guess I'm just a boring girl."

"Really." His eyes went hard and cold, without a trace of his earlier friendliness. There was a dark tone to his voice that sent a jolt of terror rushing through me.

"I have to get back to my dorm now!" I didn't wait for him to respond or even to see if he had heard me. I yanked the door open and bolted down the stairs, nearly falling headlong in my haste. He didn't appear to follow me and I didn't stop running until I was back on campus.

Panting from the exertion, I slowed to a brisk walk. Almost home now. I wondered if it might be a good idea for the 'Take Back the Night' program to start up a vampire division. Of course, I guess that would be Buffy. And Gabriel.

Oh, Gabriel. His brother was dead and he had no idea. What a terrible thing to have to find out. Buffy would know what to do. I hoped. I change directions sharply and ran up the steps to Stevenson Hall. I had only been to Buffy's room a few times since we started college, but I knew where it was. As I approached the door, it opened and a chipper, short-haired girl rushed out, almost colliding with me.

"Oh, hey," she beamed, "You're Buffy's friend. Willow, right?"

"Yeah, i-is Buffy home yet?" I tried to keep my voice from trembling. Shielding civilians from the truth of what lurked in the Sunnydale nights often saved a lot of explaining.

"No," the girl shook her head, "she usually stays out pretty late. I have to head down to the library but you're welcome to wait for her here if you want."

Gee, what a great thing to do. I would never leave one of my roommate's friends to stay in our room alone. Not that I really had any choice. Why couldn't I have a nice roommate like Buffy did?

"Thanks." I smiled as she let me into the room.

"There's a pad and a pen by the phone." The girl poked her head in through the door, "If you could just log any phone calls you make . . .? Bye." She disappeared down the hallway.

Log phone calls? What a great idea! I would have to remember that and mention it to MY roommate. Flopping down on Buffy's bed, I started to relax a little. I found a book on her nightstand and started flipping through it. Nothing to do now but wait.

Two hours later, a key rattled in the lock and the door opened. As I sat up to greet her, Buffy sprang across the room and grabbed me by the throat. I froze in terror, but when she saw it was me, she calmed immediately and let me go.

"Sorry, Will." She pulled her hands away and put them behind her back guiltily, "I've been pretty jumpy lately."

I nodded in understanding, rubbing my throat, "No luck on patrol?"

Buffy shook her head softly and sighed harshly, dropping into her chair. She was looking worse than ever. I think the stress was really getting to her.

"I told Gabriel what was going on." She seemed to relax a small bit when she mentioned this, "He offered to let me stay at his place until we take care of this, but I can't, not with Rafael there. The guy just creeps me."

A cold sickness gripped my insides as I remembered what I had to tell her. Reaching out, I took hold of her wrist and gave her a reassuring squeeze.

"Buffy, it's worse than you think." I slowly drew in a deep breath and held it for a moment, gathering my resolve.

"Willow, what is it?" she looked at me, deeply concerned. She knew I had something big to tell her.

"It's about Rafael." I whispered, my throat feeling like it would close over, "He's the one who's looking for the Master. He's a vampire."

PART 3: RAFAEL'S STORY: BLOOD IS THICKER THAN WATER

I stood outside the window to the girls' dorm room and heard every word they were saying. Damn it! They knew! Now there was no way I could get the foolish little witch to cast the spell for me. If only I'd had the foresight to force my old teacher to cast it before I killed her and took her book.

I rubbed the heels of my hands into my eyes and tried to calm the overpowering bloodlust that raged through me. Killing the two of them would have to wait. While the Obscurement Pendant negated most of the drawbacks of being a vampire, like casting reflections and, most importantly, the weakness against the sun, it did nothing for the need for invitation before entering a building.

But soon, I wouldn't have to worry about any of that. IF I could get someone to cast the damn spell for me. Without the spell, my chances of finding the Master's bones were next to none. DAMN! I wanted to kill something, anything, just to vent some of this bottomless rage I felt. The pendant repressed my body's need for blood, but my mind still wanted it. Yes, a good discreet kill would help me get the rage under control. Then I would be able to figure out what to do about my Slayer problem.

I stormed across the college campus, ready to pounce on anyone who was unfortunate enough to cross my path. No, here was not the place. If Gabriel got wind of what I was too soon, then it could ruin everything. Not that I wasn't sure his little Fluffy was going to run straight to him and tattle, but I wanted to play it safe. Best to continue to be careful for the time being.

I strolled along the empty streets for hours, scanning the night and finding nothing. Sunrise was not far away, but I still expected to find something. In any other place, it wouldn't have been a problem to locate a decent meal at this time of night. I got the impression that the town was empty. The people in Sunnydale were a little too aware of the danger of darkness. I would be much happier in a big, bustling city filled with unwary sheep-people. My eyes lit up as I caught sight of a convenient pedestrian and moved quickly to intercept. As I closed on the unfortunate boy, I realized that I recognized him.

Oh no, not HIM again! The scrawny, white-faced freak disgusted me so much that I almost turned away and spared him just to avoid him. But I quickly reconsidered. He might be some use to me, after all. I found him scrounging around in the slimy bottom of a roadside ditch. Was digging in the filth all this kid ever did? He jumped when he heard me approach, whirling about and falling onto his back. What a pathetic little runt, lying in the muck where he belonged.

"Oh, it's you again." He didn't sound thrilled as he stood up again and attempted to brush himself off.

"Get up." I commanded, dragging him to his feet by the scruff of the neck, "I have work for you to do."

"W-what are you talking about?" the skinny loser whined, "What do you want?"

My patience was wearing thin and I was running out of time. I would have to discard subtlety and do this the quick way.

"I'm going to make you a deal, little warlock." I snarled, allowing my vampiric face to show, "You help me and I might not rip your head off."

I wasn't even sure he had heard me, his eyes were so wide with terror. I tried again, holding him still and forcing him to meet my gaze.

"Listen to me." I used a calm, level voice so the little twerp wouldn't wet his pants or something, "I need you to cast a spell for me. In return I can help you get what you want. Revenge."

It was just a guess, but cry-babies like this always seemed to want revenge against those who were stronger than them, those who were better. The ones who had every right to walk all over them. And I was right. He calmed almost instantly and looked at me like we were allies, peers even. What a joke. But I had to have that spell.

"Spell?" he fidgeted uneasily, "I might be able to help. What is it?"

"A location spell." I informed him, shoving the folded up page into his hand and releasing him, "I know the words. All you have to do is repeat after me."

"O-okay."

I took out the small glass jar and handed it to him, the matchstick still bobbing about within.

"You want to do it HERE?" he looked confusedly to me. Just when I didn't think my patience could get any thinner.

"Yes, here!" I hissed, "What's the matter, are you too stupid to just repeat a spell that I'm going to lay out for you word for word?"

"N-no." he stammered, "I-I can do it."

Great, I had scared him again. I'd be lucky if the spell didn't go completely awry and destroy both of us.

"Are you ready?" I asked him, honestly unsure of whether he had the presence of mind for even simple spell casting, "Repeat after me."

Gripping both his hands tightly around the glass jar, I started to recite the spell. I wanted those bones so badly I could taste it. A Master vampire had few equals in the world. Its powers far outmatched any of its mundane kin. With those bones, I would transform myself into something that could rival the power of a Master. I would even be one step above with the Obscurement Pendant and I would rule the other vampires like a god.

The jar warmed under his touch and a faint glow infused it. I smiled to myself as the matchstick turned like it had been caught by a magnet and pointed unerringly northeast. The bones were almost mine.

"The old Restfield Cemetery is that way." The little goth freak noted in his weak, sniveling voice, "That's where your treasure is."

Treasure? Had he even seen enough to know what I was looking for? The Slayer's witch friend had seen far too much in the instant we had touched minds, but this little wretch hadn't even had the strength to see the plainest of things. Even as a warlock he was pathetic and weak.

"Are you going to help me now?" he asked timidly. But there was a tiny filament of strength in his voice that actually garnered him a microscopic measure of respect from me. The kid was so scared he was about to pass out and yet he still had the gall to expect my help. Vengeance is one hell of a motivation.

"After I get what I want." I said evenly, taking the mystically imbued jar from him, "Then you can have your revenge."

He seemed pleased with this, as would any short sighted ninny. For what reason in all the universe would I help him now that I had what I wanted. Oh well, if he wanted to believe it then who was I to disillusion him.

"Meet me in the graveyard tomorrow morning." I instructed him. He could at least witness my triumph before I destroyed him.

"I will." He smiled in excitement, happy to finally be a part of something big. A distinction he shared in the same capacity as the cattle at a slaughterhouse.

I watched him bolt off into the darkness and cradled my new treasure in both hands. Northeast, at the Restfield Cemetery. Already, I could see the approaching dawn inching over the eastern edge of the horizon. My plan was finally falling into place. With the pointer, I would find the bones. With the bones, I would become as powerful as a Master vampire. And then it would be time. I would make Gabriel into one of my own. His special nature would cause him to be reborn as a Master as well, and side by side we would rule the night.

The sun was already almost completely risen by the time I walked up the stairs to Gabriel's apartment. He would want to go somewhere or do something together, but I really didn't have the time. I planned to go for the bones now, while the location spell was still fresh and I didn't need him tagging along. I'd explain everything to him after the fact. Things might get too complicated before that. I didn't bother knocking before I walked in. Apparently, I should have.

The girl was there, as always. Didn't she ever go home? They were standing in the doorway to his bathroom and he had a bundle of clothes under his arm and a towel over his shoulders.

"Look, I don't know how to tell you this, but-" she stopped instantly as soon as I opened the door and shot me a quick glance before walking across the room and out onto the veranda.

Gabriel watched her confusedly for a moment before turning toward me.

"I'll be with you in a minute, okay?" he smiled.

Before I could answer, he ducked inside and closed the door. Within seconds, I heard the shower start. Damn, now I would have to wait until he got out before I could leave. If I told the girl my excuse, she would undoubtedly make it seem like I just took off without him. The bones had been buried for two years already. I supposed they could wait a little longer.

I wandered out onto the veranda and leaned on the railing next to the girl. Pretending to look out over the view, I almost chuckled to myself. Just being near me made her uncomfortable. I liked that. I could hear her feet shuffling nervously.

I was tired of waiting, tired of being around that annoying little girl. I made a silent promise to get her out of my brother's life for good once the spell was complete. She had already had too much of an effect on him. I think he had changed more in the last year than in the rest of his life combined. I hated her for that, so much that I would have killed her right there if it wouldn't have upset Gabriel so much. He was my brother. No one else had the right to get that close to him.

"You really like him, don't you?" I said, not bothering to look at her.

She paused before answering. "Gabriel's a great guy. We've been through a lot together."

"Really?" Through a lot? I wanted to retch. A few heavy make-out sessions hardly constituted shared life-altering experiences. Gabriel and I were a team, we always had been, and as soon as I completed my spell, nothing would stand in our way.

"I'd really hate to see someone hurt him." She sounded like she was trying to make some obscure point with me. What a joke.

I leaned against the railing, my knuckles tight and white with anger.

"You'll never be good enough for him, you know." I told her calmly, confidently.

"What?" she was understandably stunned by the bluntness of my statement.

I turned and looked down at her. This would have to be done with careful precision. "Gabriel's special. He's the seventh son of a seventh son. His gift was meant to be shared with the entire world. Not lost in an obscure little backwater town like this."

"And I'm what's trapping him, I suppose." She didn't even bother trying to hide her dislike for me. Which was fine by me. All this subterfuge was giving me a headache.

"You said it, not me." I smirked, "But let's face it. Slayers aren't known for their longevity. I've known him all his life. If he actually starts to fall for you, he'll get hurt." I liked that last part. I could tell that Gabriel was already hooked on the girl. Badly. But I wasn't going to pass up the chance to plant a little doubt in her mind. The look on her face told me that I had succeeded.

"So, you expect me to just turn away from him?" She was getting angry now. Time to drive the point home.

"It would probably be a good idea." I suggested, turning and strolling casually back inside, "I'd really hate to see someone hurt you." I didn't have to see her to know that having her own words thrown back at her like that had made an impression.

It was time to leave. I'd have to make it up to Gabriel later. Right now, I had business to take care of. I walked out the door and let it swing shut behind me. Digging the small, glass jar out of my pocket, I took a reading and turned in the direction of the Restfield Cemetery.

PART 4: GABRIEL'S STORY: LOSS

When I got out of the shower, Rafael was already gone and Buffy was sitting on my couch looking more depressed than ever. Why couldn't she and Rafael get along? I knew I shouldn't have left them alone together, but I was hoping they'd use the time to get to know each other better. I hadn't heard any shouting, but I guessed that they'd gotten into a fight.

"Gabriel, we have to talk." She said, rising and walking straight to me. She had started to tell me something before Rafael had arrived, but never got the chance. I wondered what was bothering her.

"What is it?" I stopped toweling my hair and focused my attention on her, enfolding her in my arms, "Are you still worried about the Master?"

She fiddled uncomfortably with her hands the way she always did when she wanted to say something important. She'd done it the first time she had told me she loved me. I had a feeling that this time she had something a little less pleasing for me to hear. She took my hands in hers and stepped back, looking up at me with a calm seriousness.

"It's about Rafael. There's something you should know about him." Her voice was tight and uneasy. The combination of her tone and her words got me more than a little nervous, "He's a vampire."

"I know." I nodded slightly. I had known since yesterday. It was kind of hard not to tell, but it didn't matter. He was still my brother and I would stand by him no matter what.

"You know?!" she sounded almost as surprised as she looked, "Why didn't you say anything?"

I inhaled a deep breath, fairly certain of what her reaction was going to be. "Because it's not important."

She almost hit the roof.

"Not important!?" she stalked back and forth across the room, fuming, "I guess when he starts killing people it won't be important either."

I was starting to get irritated. Why didn't she understand? He was my brother, the only full-blooded brother I had. I was closer to him than I had been to my father. Didn't she have any idea what that meant? Folding my arms tightly across my chest, I leaned back against the wall.

"My brother isn't going to kill anyone." I tried to keep my voice level, "We grew up together, he wouldn't do that to me. He loves me."

She stopped pacing and looked up at me with deep concern showing on her face. "He's not your brother anymore, Gabriel. He's just a demon wearing Rafael's skin. And he doesn't love you. When a person gets turned into a vampire, their emotions change, they get twisted. Love becomes selfish and possessive. It can get deadly."

She was speaking from experience, I knew. When Angel had lost his soul, he had made her pay dearly for her mistake. I wanted to comfort her, to tell her that she would never be hurt like that again, but her words had stung me deeply and I reacted with instinctive cruelty.

"My brother is not like Angel. He has self control." Ouch. Inwardly, I winced. It was a low blow, but I was upset and my mouth was getting away from me. Not to mention that I had some mixed feelings toward the near-legendary vampire. "We're brothers. We have a bond that can't be broken." I was shouting now, letting my frustration get the better of me, "You have no idea what that means."

"No, this time YOU have no idea." She had moisture in her eyes, which normally would have been enough to make me cave, but I was too angry and confused, "If Rafael brings back the Master, we could all be killed. He's not like any vampire you've ever known."

The fear in her voice was obvious, but in my anger, I overlooked it and lashed out.

"That's what this is all about, isn't it?" I jabbed my finger at her in accusation, "Your obsession with the Master! How do you even know Rafael's the one who's looking for him?"

"I just know, all right." She whispered, her voice low and tight with fear, "We have to stop him."

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. She was talking about killing my brother. She just couldn't see anything else but the quickest, most sure way of stopping him. This Master must have been some piece of work.

If Rafael really was planning to attempt to raise him, I would stop him. But I would do it my way. Alone. I grabbed up my jacket and slung it across my shoulders, jamming my arms violently though the sleeves. I jerked the door open and she grabbed onto to my arm to stop me. I paused in the doorway and glowered at her over my shoulder.

"Don't go after him." I warned, my voice taking on a chilling tone I hadn't heard from myself in a long time, "I mean it."

I yanked my arm free and let the door slam shut behind me, stalking angrily down the stairway. Damn it!

I pressed my fingertips to my temples and rubbed viciously. All my life I had been powerless, unknowingly controlled by my father. I had thought that with his death, I could finally take control of my life, but I felt as powerless now as I ever had. Everything was slipping through my fingers and it seemed like there was nothing I could do to stop it. How had things ended up so out of control? When I first found out that Rafael was in Sunnydale, I couldn't have been happier. Now, it seemed like the whole world had been turned upside down.

If Rafael was a vampire, then he had no choice but to be evil, it was a proven fact. But, as far as I knew, he hadn't killed anyone. And he was still acting kindly to me, not typical for a vampire. What if something had given him his soul back, like with Angel? Or had Buffy been right about a vampire's emotions becoming twisted and deadly? I wished I hadn't blown up at her like I did, but I wasn't about to let her rampant fear of the Master destroy my brother.

Rafael hadn't been gone from my apartment for very long and it did not take much time to find him. He was just about to enter one of the bigger cemeteries in Sunnydale with a shovel and a pick in his hands. I called to him and ran until I caught up with him. He looked at me with a mixture of surprise and satisfaction.

"You're not spending the night with Buffy?" he asked in a disinterested tone of voice while watching me intently.

"We . . . had a fight." I tried to ignore how he seemed to like hearing that. I couldn't really believe it myself until I said it aloud. Up until now, we had never even had harsh words with one another. The realization left a cold, hard lump in my stomach. "She thinks that you're the one who's looking for the Master's bones."

I looked at him expectantly. This was his chance to come clean, to put to rest my fears of what he might have become. He regarded me thoughtfully for a moment, rubbing his chin.

"I already know where they are." He said softly, "But I'm not trying to resurrect him."

I was shocked that he had kept this a secret from me. When we were growing up, there had been no secrets, we knew everything about each other. I felt betrayed and he knew it.

"Why, then?" I asked, my voice sticking as I spoke.

"You know what I am, don't you?" it was more of a statement than a question, "A vampire caught me outside of Cairo. She took me off guard and before I could do anything, I was already undead."

He looked at me serious and stricken, "The pendant helps preserve my humanity, but I don't know how much longer it will last. The need for blood gets worse every day. I don't know how long I can take it. There's a spell that will change me back, but I need the bones or it won't work. Will you help me?"

Some small part of me knew he was lying. The pendant was obviously protecting him from the sun, but a tiny logical fraction of my brain knew that the transformation to vampire happened instantaneously and could not be resisted. But I wasn't listening to logic anymore. I WANTED to believe him.

"Yes." I answered, following him into the graveyard.

He directed me to a secluded spot and stopped on the outer edge of an invisible perimeter.

"The ground here is consecrated." He explained, handing me a shovel, "You'll have to be the one to dig them up."

I obeyed wordlessly, losing myself in the mindless physical monotony. Somewhere under the earth was the remains of Buffy's greatest enemy and I felt a chill as I broke the tightly packed earth. In doing this, I could be setting free a nightmare. But I had no choice, I couldn't turn my back on my brother. I owed him too much.

After a few minutes, I was up to my knees with no sign of the bones. I almost didn't hear the crunching of the multiple sets of approaching footsteps. She was here. She had come, despite my warning, and she was not alone. Willow and Xander had were with her, hanging back a little and clutching wooden stakes nervously in their hands. Of the three, only Buffy seemed willing to meet my gaze.

I stepped out of the hole and gripped the shovel tightly with both hands, glaring angrily first at Willow, then Xander, and finally at her. I hadn't really expected Buffy to obey me when I told her to stay away, but I had hoped that she would at least take my feelings into account. Judging by the assortment of her typical weapons the three had brought, she hadn't.

Rafael circled along the edge of the consecrated ground and stood almost patiently just out of her reach.

"I told you not to come." I reiterated in a cold voice. My anger was mounting. I had trusted the three of them, called them friends, but now they were here to kill my brother. Another betrayal I had to endure.

"I won't let him revive the Master." She shot Rafael a quick glance then held my eyes with stalwart conviction.

"I won't let you kill him." I told her, my mouth tight with bitterness. I didn't know HOW I would stop her, but I meant to protect my brother.

"Then what do we do?" she looked sadly at me.

I could see that she didn't want to fight me and I was in agreement. There was nothing in the world I could want less. We stared at one another for a long moment. Even now, on opposite sides of an insane conflict, we shared the same thoughts. How had we gotten to this point? And where would it lead?

Rafael must have lost his patience or let fear get the best of him, because he reacted in a swift and desperate manner. Taking advantage of Buffy's distraction, he lunged forward and backhanded her across the face. Completely blindsided by the attack, she took the full force of the blow and went down like a ton of bricks.

"Rafael, no!" I scrambled to get between them, but my limbs felt like they were mired in cold molasses.

Rafael drove a vicious side-kick into Xander's chest that might have cracked some ribs if he hadn't partially blocked it with his arms. Xander flew back and fell over a solid gravestone. My brother went after Willow next, his face transformed in the way of all vampires on the attack. I had no idea what had come over him, but the rage that was obvious on his face was about to get Willow killed. I stumbled on a pile of loose dirt and fell to one knee as Rafael grabbed the defenseless girl around the throat and raised his other hand to strike. There was no way I would be able to make it to her in time to save her.

Rafael's head snapped back sharply and he lost his hold on Willow. As the auburn-haired girl fell coughing to the ground, Buffy drove a kick into Rafael's mid-section and smashed the heel of her palm against his face. Disoriented, Rafael fell, blood spurting from his shattered nose. His rage hitting its peak, he dove snarling for Buffy's throat.

This time, I was able to move fast enough. As he reached for her and she reached for him, I put myself between them and did my best to keep them apart.

"I told you he was evil!" Buffy clawed at him over my arm, searching for a clean shot at his heart, "We have to stop him!"

"She's crazy Gabriel." Rafael snarled, reaching for her throat, "She'll never let us be together. She's too selfish! Get rid of her!"

"Both of you, stop it!" I shouted, shoving them farther apart, "Now!"

Rafael turned on me and pushed hard against my chest. I fell for an impossibly long second, watching the two of them before I landed hard on my back. Rafael swept aside an efficient strike from Buffy and drove his fist into her gut. She doubled over and dropped to the ground. As she went down, her fingers hooked into Rafael's pendant and the thin chain holding it around his neck snapped.

Horror froze the moment. I reacted with a speed born of desperation, but he was already starting to burn from the sunlight by the time I threw myself over him. We both screamed hysterically as I did my best to smother the flames. His whole body was spasming in absolute agony, igniting faster than I could stop it and burning me in the process. I knew there was no way I could help him, but I still tried.

He gripped me by the shoulders as the flames ran up the length of his chest and looked meaningfully at me, his mouth gaping soundlessly and a bittersweet sadness in his dark blue eyes. My clothes were burning now, too, but I was too shocked to realize.

"Noooooo!" I wailed, clutching his fiery corpse against me. I felt a pair of hands desperately trying to pull me off him, but I blindly kicked them away. I had to save my brother. I just had to . . .

Wailing in fear and denial, I struggled desperately to hold his form together, as if I could have battled the sun and won. He was getting thinner, consumed by the light, and I heard him whisper one final thing before he slumped in my arms and stopped moving.

"Gabriel . . ." he wheezed in a tiny strangled breath. My name. The last word he would ever speak. Cold, numbing pain welled up inside me, drowning all other emotion. I couldn't feel the fire burning my skin, I could barely see anymore. Someone threw a long coat over me and smothered the flames, but I barely noticed. The world just turned dark and caved in on me. It was ironic that I was left with nothing but an armful of ashes. Inside, my heart was filled with ashes, too.

I don't really remember how I got home that day. I vaguely recalled having my burns treated at the hospital. I think Buffy may have lead me back to my apartment after that, but it was all a blur. I sat hugging my knees on the windowsill, watching the rain run down the window and looking out over the Restfield Cemetery, paralyzed with heartache, the same as I had for the last two days. The phone hadn't rung in a while. Maybe she had finally figured out that I wanted to be alone. A key turned in the lock of my front door. Maybe she hadn't.

I heard her enter the room, but I didn't turn around. She waited for a minute for me to notice her then just started talking. I couldn't really make sense of a lot of it, but I gathered that her mother had noticed how I had missed work and covered for me. And that she had sent soup over. Like that was going to make everything all better.

Buffy stepped into my line of sight and touched my arm. I flinched reflexively and looked up at her slowly.

"Gabriel, you have to talk to me." She whispered pleadingly, her eyes filled with concern, "Please."

She was afraid I was going to leave again, the way I had after my father had been killed. Back then, I was so overwrought I didn't know how else to deal with it. The pain had been unbearable. This hurt more.

"What is there to talk about?" my voice was barely a croak, having been used for nothing but crying for two days now.

"Well, like why you're being so distant, for one." She answered, reaching out to stroke my cheek, "I love you. I want to help you through this."

I leaned into the touch for an instant and then the pain resurged worse than ever and I jumped up, pushing rudely past her.

"You can't help me through this." I folded my arms tightly over my chest and hugged myself against the fear I felt inside, keeping my back to her. I hoped I knew what I was about to do. "You're part of it."

"Gabriel, I'm sorry about your brother, but you can't blame me for this." she was standing directly behind me. I prayed she wouldn't touch me again. I didn't think I could bear it.

"I don't." I told her. She didn't understand. She honestly had no idea what this was about. "I told you to stay away from him, but you didn't. And what happened was exactly what I was afraid of. How could you put me in that position?"

"I only went after him to stop him, Gabriel, not to kill him. It was an accident. I swear." She walked around in front of me and laid her hand gently on my shoulder. The burns were healing quickly, they hardly hurt anymore, but the pain I felt was not of the body.

My emotions were all mixed up, like snowflakes in a storm. I had hoped she would have waited a little longer before confronting me. I couldn't deal with anything right now. I shrank irritably from her touch. She withdrew her hand and stepped back, her eyes wide and brimming with tears.

"It's too late isn't it?" she whispered, her voice quivering in fear, "You don't you love me anymore, do you?"

"I do love you. So much that it hurts." I told her, but my voice was heavy with loss, "And that's my problem. Every time I look at you, I'm looking at the person who ended my brother's life. Every time I touch your hand, I'm touching the hand that killed him. By loving you I'm betraying him. And I just can't do that."

My insides knotted in agony as I saw the pain register on her face. I hadn't meant for it to happen, but it looked like she might finally have an idea of what I was going through. She wiped her eyes and sniffed, exhaling a controlled, shuddering breath.

"W-what are you s-saying?" her bottom lip quivered as she stared imploringly up at me. I could see a kind of fear in her that I had never seen before. Something told me I'd see the same expression if I looked in a mirror. I was about to make an earthshaking decision and under normal circumstances I would have been terrified. But I was so cold and hurt inside now that it almost didn't phase me. Almost.

"I need to be alone." I tightened my arms around myself, resisting the urge to reach out to her, "It hurts too much to be near you. I'll still help out with patrolling. But by myself." I swallowed hard and held out my hand, feeling lower than low and utterly miserable, "I'd like my key back."

She inhaled sharply and the flow of tears became a torrent. Her shoulders shaking with silent sobs, she unhooked the steel chain from around her neck and slipped the key off it. It dangled from her trembling fingers before she released it and let it fall into my palm. I closed my fingers over it very slowly and jammed my fist into my pocket.

I turned my back to her and stared out the window again, watching the Restfield Cemetery. Every muscle in my body was trembling. She waited there behind me, sniffling and weeping quietly for what seemed like forever. Why couldn't she just leave already? Couldn't she see I needed to be alone? I heard the door close and while I had anticipated the sound, it shot through me with startling sharpness. And then I really was alone.

Tears crawled down my cheeks like hot, salty poison and I couldn't stop myself from crying. But I was alone now, just like I had wanted. Alone, I could feel safe again, I could remind myself that I had done the right thing. I had done the right thing, hadn't I? Hadn't I?

EPILOGUE: A DARKNESS OF FEAR

Michael wrapped his raincoat tightly around his shoulders and resumed digging in the water-filled hole. He was tired and his arm muscles were burning. But he was angry and that was enough to sustain him a little longer. There was something down here, a prize that had yet to be claimed, and he meant to be the one to have it. He didn't even know what it was, but he knew it was important.

The metal tip of his shovel clanked dully off something solid in the bottom of the hole and he smiled despite himself. No one would make fun of him anymore. No one would disregard him. And no one would use him ever again.

Straining with his thin arms and slipping in the mud, he dredged up a heavy, metal strongbox. Panting with the effort, he managed to drag it up onto the edge of the hole. There was a thick, brass padlock on the front of the box, seized with mud.

He hit it with the shovel a few times, but it refused to give. Instead, he was forced to crack the latch. Kneeling greedily in the mud, he pushed the top portion open. What he found inside was less than he had expected.

Bones? THAT'S what everyone had been so worked up over? What a disappointment. He had been hoping to find some weapon of unimaginable power or riches beyond his wildest dreams. Instead, all he had was a pile of broken bones. Oh well, he thought, spilling the contents of the box into an empty backpack, at least it's something