In the beginning there was the Will, and by the Will there was the Host. An endless, shining array, golden and faceless and perfect.
And the Will saw that it was not good enough.
And so by the Will there was Gabriel, and by the Will his brothers too were created, and each of them was different. They felt the presence of the Will; and of them all, Gabriel was the first to bow down, and it made him feel glad.
With Gabriel and his brothers, difference had come into being. And following difference, there came dissent.
Fully half the Host came when Lucifer called, his wordless defiance ringing out across all existence. He had always shone the brightest of all his brothers; had always claimed to be firstborn and favourite. Small wonder, then, that the simple Host might be deceived by him; harder to understand why even some of the brothers followed his lead.
Gabriel regretted their loss fiercely, but he feared them not at all. He was standing on Michael's right hand, while Raphael stood on his left. Lucifer might have been created the most beautiful, the most persuasive, the natural leader – but Michael had been created the champion of the Will, and the battlefield was his domain.
Stand fast, Michael commanded, and Gabriel did, and as the hordes descended on them Michael touched his hand, and his sword erupted in tongues of flame.
When the battle was won Gabriel watched with the Host and all the brothers as by the Will, Lucifer was drawn up above their heads. He saw the collar wrenched from Lucifer's neck, and as it was cast aside Lucifer's wings were consumed in a flash of fire. But though the wings were gone in an instant the fire burned on and on, moulding itself to his back as he screamed, mixing his defiance of before with pain and horrid, unthinkable loss. Down he fell, screaming, down and down into an awful nothingness that yawned up to meet him.
By the Will, Gabriel knew - as they all knew - that he had been banished to a place that was where no place had been before, and that any who had followed him would follow him there.
With the coming of the Adversary came the need for soldiers; Michael was the greatest of them. And by the Will, it was given to him to teach Gabriel to be his match.
Gabriel was glad, for he loved his brother dearly, loved his ease of movement, the power of his slight limbs, his terrible, unpredictable swiftness. He could think of no greater pleasure than shaping himself into a better tool of the Will with such help.
Like this, the command would come, and Michael would demonstrate a movement and then watch as Gabriel imitated him. And if it was right, he would nod, and command, Again. (And again, and again, until the movement was seated deep down in his body, well beyond any conscious thought.) If it was not right, Michael would place his hands on Gabriel, and, firmly and infinitely slowly, make him move as he should.
Gabriel was never wrong more than once, but he never regretted being wrong the first time.
And then by the Will there was the world, complex and chaotic as nothing had been before. And the world, from its chaos, brought forth Man; and the Will became God, Man's creator. And God was well pleased, and He ordered the brothers to bow down to the new-created whom He loved best of anything He had made.
And of all the brothers, Michael was the first to bow to Man as God had commanded. And though, for no reason he could name, the sight of these new beings had set something cold and ugly coiling around Gabriel's heart, it warmed him to see his brother, his favourite brother, so given over in obedience.
And as God took delight in his newest creation, the brothers too began to take on aspects of the flesh. To hear and see, touch and taste, rather than merely to know. To speak, when they had never needed air. To bleed from bodies that could never die. To desire.
And Michael smiled at Gabriel's confusion, and ran a wingtip, very gently, over the contour of his arm.
“I see there is more for us to learn, brother,” he said quietly. “We shall learn together this time.”
It was like their earlier lessons, in a way; at first simply discovering the movements (each strange new thing – the warmth and heavy weight of an embrace, the feel of fingertips tracing the delicate black lines of the Instructions, the stroke of a tongue along a neck, the closing of teeth around a wrist, the grasp of a hand on a bicep, a hipbone, a thigh...). Later, it became less the acts and more the anticipation of each other's thoughts, just like any good duel between two sufficiently skilled opponents. In combat they had sought to outmanoeuvre each other, to gain the upper hand and push onward to greater skill; now they pushed onward together, reading each others' wants and curiosities in the twitch of a torso muscle, the flicker of an eye, a whimper muffled by a kiss. They learned of unguessed-at uses for pain, tested the limits of pleasure.
And Gabriel was glad.
In the end, darkness has covered the world, and the weak have turned on the strong, and Gabriel fears Michael as he never feared Lucifer. He does not fear that he cannot destroy him, self-weakened as he is; but he is unspeakably afraid of how little he wants to. Michael must read it in him, close as they are, but he doesn't push – not as he could do. He touches Gabriel's face – once. But he does not kiss him, does not say any of the things that could sway him further, and there is recognition in his eyes and a kind of sympathetic pain. Michael has long been just a little too merciful.
And when Gabriel pierces his own flesh and Michael's heart, he thinks collarless, wingless and collarless like Lucifer, and he feels nothing at all.
And then, it is after the end. The child will live, Michael will rejoin the brothers – has rejoined them – and Gabriel does not know what he will be.
He is on a mountaintop, watching the first dawn of a new world, when he senses a familiar presence behind him.
“You still wish to serve Him. You don't want to fail Him again.”
Michael's voice is soft, his eyes compassionate.
“A good servant, a good solider – they can obey without question. A good son has to do better. If you can think for yourself; more than that, if you can learn from His mistakes, and not repeat them – then you will be what He needs again.”
Gabriel hesitates, and as he does so, the lines of the Instructions on his arms waver and blur, and for an instant he sees hundreds of possible words, possible meanings, all intermingling and overlapping with each other. Michael smiles.
“Come back with me, brother. It would seem there is more that I can teach you.”
And Gabriel goes to him.