(An Angel/Xena/Hercules crossover fic, revised in November 2011)

Who overcomes
By force, hath overcome but half his foe.
John Milton, Paradise Lost. Book i. Line 648.

Thanks and Caveats: Inspired by a suggestion from TtH reviewer amusewithaview, this story applies some of the theological assumptions of the last three seasons of Xena (as well as in the fifth season Hercules episode "Revelations") to the Buffyverse, and particularly to the outcome of the AtS final episode "Not Fade Away".

I had to go a little more AU from the Xena canon on this one, so ardent Xenites are asked to repress all memory of the episodes dealing with modern-era incarnations of the main characters (from "The Xena Scrolls" to "Soul Possession," as well as the two 'Hercules-is-apparently-immortal-and-masquerading-as-actor-Kevin-Sorbo' episodes of H:TLJ), and pretend that the 6th season X:WP episodes "You Are There" and "Path of Vengeance" never existed.

In other words, in this version of the mythology we'll assume that Xena never fought Odin for the golden apples and Aphrodite and Ares remained mortal, with no noticeable diminution of the quantity of either love or war in the mortal world. (Just go with it, okay?)

Thanks to the nth degree are owed to my wonderful betas, missmurchison and keswindhover

Fiscal Disclaimer: I do not own Angel, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Xena: Warrior Princess, or Hercules: the Legendary Journeys, and I make no money from playing in their sandboxes.

Faith Disclaimer: The theological views presented in this story are not necessarily those of the author, Joss Whedon, Rob Tapert, or any other person in the real world. No actual deities or dogmas were harmed during the production of this fanfic.

Chapter One: "To Send a Message"

All hell broke loose.
John Milton, Paradise Lost. Book iv. Line 918.

Somewhere in Eternity, in a conventional representation of heaven...

The entity known as the Archangel Raphael stood at the edge of a precipice and looked down upon the mortal world. The swarthy, sturdily built warrior angel was focusing a significant portion of his vast attention on the city of Los Angeles, which seemed to be on the verge of literally going to hell.

Even more than usual.

On a plain behind Raphael stood rank upon rank of his fellow warrior angels, both male and female in appearance, arrayed for battle. They had each adopted their most 'old-school' form and garb in honor of the occasion, allowing their greenish-black feathered wings to fully manifest and attiring themselves in crimson kilts and gleaming armor, with swords drawn. Gone were the biker leathers, jeans, fatigues, and yellow track-suits (in honor of Bruce Lee) that many of them had affected over the past half-century. This was no time to try to blend in, or work incognito, or even be 'trendy'.

It had been several millennia since the hosts of heaven had last faced the prospect of open warfare on the mortal plane, and their excitement was palpable.

The Archangel Michael suddenly became visible on the precipice beside Raphael, his own wings fully extended and his silver breastplate dazzlingly bright. Michael's stern, beak-nosed face was lightened by the hint of a smile as he nodded to his brother archangel.

"The Word's been given," he told Raphael. "At the first hint of a breakthrough from the other side in force, we're cleared to go. All we need is for our earthly champions to provoke an over-reaction, annoy the enemy into crossing the line."

Raphael's somber face was transformed by a smile of his own. "I was reluctant to admit this for the first couple of centuries, but it looks like the Boss picked the right champion for the job, after all. I've never known a soul with a greater talent for being annoying."

"Well, his first incarnation did give him centuries to perfect the art of picking a fight, after all." Michael grinned with what - in anyone other than a holy archangel - would've been termed 'unholy glee.' "I imagine the Wolf, Ram, and Hart are discovering that unexpected side of the prophecy right about now. How fortunate for our side that they're such slow learners . . ."

Meanwhile, in an alley north of the Hyperion Hotel in Los Angeles...

The ensouled vampire known as Angel could feel the unearthly heat and smell the unmistakable stench of a massive influx of the armies of hell into his reality.

He'd paid a high price to stand in that alley, facing an impossible battle.

Fred, Drogyn, Wesley . . . one way or another, directly or indirectly, their deaths were his responsibility, adding to the tally of debts he could never repay, wrongs he could never atone for. In a very few minutes, Gunn would almost certainly join them, as would Spike (though even in this moment of truth, he'd never admit to feeling regret at the thought of losing Spike). Even Illyria was unlikely to survive this night.

And Lorne . . . ? Well, Lorne was lost from the moment he'd assigned the soft-hearted demon the job of executing Lindsey. Angel had seen something finally break in Lorne as he'd said those words.

His own death was a certainty. He had accepted that from the moment he'd decided to take down the Circle of the Black Thorn. He'd given up everything that had mattered to him - signed away his hope of earning back his humanity from the Shanshu prophecy, done despicable things, compromised himself on nearly every level - all in order to make this one, uncompromising statement in the name of humanity. To spit in the eye of the Senior Partners and their allies, and assert that the human spirit in this world was not yet ready to roll over and play dead for Evil.

Now, in this moment, he was morally certain of only two things: his soul would be paying for his sins in hell before the night was over, and his son Connor would be all right. He could live with that . . . for however many minutes he had left in this existence.

Watching the approach of that nightmare army, Angel smiled a little as he responded to Spike's request for a battle plan: "Well, personally, I kinda want to slay the dragon. Let's go to work . . . ."

Back in heaven, a few moments ago...

Michael turned to inspect the assembled ranks of his army and nodded his approval to Raphael, his second in command.

"Ah!" said Raphael, drawing Michael's attention back to the events unfolding below them. "I think it's almost time."

A brief shimmer of golden light on the edge of the precipice beside the two archangels was their only warning, before the figure of a beautiful woman appeared, with short brown hair, clad in casual slacks and a cardigan. "I think it's long past time for you guys to GET THE LEAD OUT!" the newcomer announced, sounding exasperated.

"Cordelia, this is no longer your concern," Michael reproved her. "Supernatural warfare is our work, not yours."

"Yeah, Mikey, but we both know that what makes this heaven is the total lack of bureaucracy," she said condescendingly. "Turf wars are SO beneath us! Now, do you want to stand here and argue about nonexistent interdepartmental politics with me, or get down there and kick some evil ass?" As if to make the decision for him, the being most recently known as Cordelia Chase shimmered out of sight.

Michael and Raphael traded long-suffering looks. "I think she was less trouble when she was blonde and wearing those gauzy pink draperies," Raphael observed, apparently at random.

"I CAN STILL HEAR YOU!" But Cordelia didn't bother to manifest visibly this time.

Michael merely shrugged and grinned at Raphael, before drawing his sword in the signal for the angelic army to launch their assault.

Back in the alley...

Angel raised his sword to meet the first charge of the hellish army, bracing himself for the impact. To his right, Spike was similarly positioned, with Gunn - gut-wounded, but still game - and his favorite battle-axe just behind. Illyria carried no weapons, but she seemed eager to rip apart their opponents with her bare hands.

However, in the final moment before the demon horde closed the last twenty feet to their battle line, reality seemed to shift and bulge at the seams. Any supernatural creature worth his salt (or his daily blood) could tell that a bubble of some different reality now surrounded their alley, extending perhaps a few city blocks beyond on all sides. Somebody, somewhere, was trying to contain this battlefield, keep it from spilling over into the rest of the city. 'Fine,' Angel thought with a mental shrug. 'We weren't planning on going anywhere else tonight, anyway.'

In the next instant, brief flashes of light - blindingly bright in the dark alley - blinked into existence in the open space before Angel's group and in the air and sky above them. A line of men and women in ancient warrior garb and sporting honest-to-god wings appeared on the pavement in front of them, facing the oncoming demon army. The skies above them suddenly seemed crowded with hovering ranks of more winged warriors, brandishing swords and bows.

A final figure appeared, a split second after the others, hovering about a foot above the pavement immediately in front of Angel. Unlike the others, whose attention seemed firmly focused on the enemy, the last winged figure was facing the survivors of Angel's team.

The stranger's blue-green eyes seemed to be alight with inner laughter, though his stern face was unsmiling as he said, "Hello again, Angel. Mind if we crash your party?"