Gabriel pressed ‘End Call’ on his phone, and inexplicably found himself smiling.
There was absolutely no reason he should be smiling now, and he knew that – Armageddon had been averted only two days before, robbing Heaven of its holy victory over the demons, and it had been less than 24 hours since he had watched Aziraphale step unscathed out of a pillar of hellfire. Entire regiments of the Host were, at that very moment, returning weapons to their armories and uniforms to…well, wherever exactly those had been stored these 6000-odd years, and yet here he was, the Archangel fucking Gabriel, smiling in his office. And not just smiling offhand, no. Smiling as a direct result of a conversation with the entity that should’ve been his enemy – that was his enemy – Lord Beelzebub.
Weekly phone calls had been his brilliant idea, starting in the late 19th century, to complement their earthly meetings and increase cooperation between the two offices. He was very proud of himself for it, especially as he had noted smugly that Michael had taken up phone communications with her contacts Below shortly thereafter. The Prince had been less impressed – “Why you think I have zzzzpare time to zzpeak to you iz beyond me, zzzzome of uzz actually work, wank-wingzz” – but they had begrudgingly taken to the idea as the decades passed. They had never missed a call, not one, in over 100 years.
Today’s call, however, was the first that neither of them had expected to happen. The world should’ve ended. One of them (obviously Gabriel, Heaven was to win the war after all) should have been standing, victorious, on a ruined Earth, while the other…well, it didn’t bear thinking about too hard. Gabriel would be loath to admit it, but he was a little bit relieved that he wouldn’t have to watch Michael strike down Beelzebub with her flaming sword (the two Archangels had worked it out decades ago – they would each take the other’s demonic contacts, to avoid any awkwardness in having to dispatch a close coworker). He was also relieved to be able to ignore the question of whether Beelzebub would’ve stricken him down, if it had come to that (though of course they would, they are a demon after all, it’s in their nature). As angry as Gabriel was at the loss of Heaven’s victory, he could find this singular strand of silver lining.
But goodness, Gabriel had been angry. The past two days he had hardly been able to stay within his corporation, the full wrath of his angelic form threatening to burst through at any given moment. It was perfectly safe to expose his nature here in Heaven, of course, but there was a lot of extra paperwork where holy wrath was involved. Somehow, though, hearing the Prince’s equally enraged voice over the phone had soothed him. Hell sounded like it was in absolute chaos – something about ambient discorporation? – but there was peace in the ability to commiserate, to understand and to be understood. And so, Gabriel had let go of his anger for a few minutes, content to listen to his demonic counterpart buzz furiously into his ear, and felt the smile creeping onto his cheeks.
It wouldn’t do to keep that smile now that the call had ended, though. Gabriel exhaled deeply, closing his eyes and leaning back in his chair with his phone held to his chest. He found the quiet place in his mind where he kept thoughts of Beelzebub – their wicked grin the first time they’d seen a human step in dog shit; laughter when they’d somehow convinced him to taste kombucha, of all things; the accidental brush of their fingers when they handed him a file – and carefully tucked his relief in among them. And then he lingered a moment, eyes still closed, breathing in the warmth from his thoughts, knowing exactly what the power behind them all was but not allowing himself to name it.
Had he not lingered, he might’ve sensed the angels approaching his door before he heard their sharp knock.
Pulling out of his thoughts, Gabriel let his anger flow back. With a grimace, he moved to open the door, ready to put the fear of the Messenger into whomever was calling on him. Unfortunately, it’s rather difficult to put the fear of anything at all into the Metatron.
It had been millennia since anyone had seen the Metatron in a full-body corporation, yet here they were, stern and radiating divinity like a nuclear reactor. Behind them stood a blatantly panicking Michael, an uncomfortable-looking Sandalphon, and an absolutely blank-faced Uriel, along with a handful of the Metatron’s angelic guard. Oh, shit.
“Archangel Gabriel,” The Metatron’s voice boomed in Gabriel’s head, though they spoke at a normal volume. “You will accompany us. We have much to discuss.”
Feeling a queasiness rising in the pit of his stomach, Gabriel nodded, and fell into step alongside his fellow Archangels. The group maintained tense silence as they strode purposely through Heaven, heading toward the very corner where Aziraphale’s failed execution had been held. The layout of the area had been altered, however; now, a clear glass conference room stood where the hellfire had been, a half-circle of chairs facing toward an uncomfortable looking stool. Above the room hung an odd-looking golden object, rather like what the humans called a thurible, imprinted with brightly-shining Enochian words that he couldn’t quite make out. Gabriel’s queasiness intensified.
The Metatron led the Archangels into the glass room, directing Gabriel to the stool and the others to the chairs. Their guards stood outside at the door, though the meeting would hardly be private – the walls of the glass room did not nearly reach the vaulted, paned ceiling above, and Gabriel felt sure that whatever was spoken would echo perfectly into the rooms beyond. He grit his teeth.
“Now, Gabriel. You must have some idea of why I’ve brought us together today.”
Swallowing his anger, Gabriel forced his trademark false smile onto his face. “Perhaps, yes! But first of all, may I just say, it’s excellent to see you out and about Metatron! It’s been far too long.” He paused, but the Metatron did not respond, so he cleared his throat and continued. “I expect our meeting is something to do with the failed Apocalypse, right? That wretched Principality denied us our victory, and survived hellfire to boot, and now we’ve all…well, we have to think of what we should do next, right?”
The Metatron tilted their head, cold stare boring into Gabriel. Behind them, Michael’s lips were pressed into an impossibly thin line, while Sandalphon and Uriel sat perfectly still. None of the three would make eye contact with him.
“You’ve almost got it, Gabriel, but not in the way you expect. As the Voice of God, it’s my job to inform you that in fact you’re the wretched one, and not your Principality.”
Gabriel paled, and the Metatron laughed unkindly. “Yes, strange isn’t it? Aziraphale, bizarre little angel of the Eastern Gate, was able to pass the Almighty’s test and find favor in Her eyes, while you, Her Messenger, failed so spectacularly that you nearly brought all of Heaven down with you!”
His fists clenched at his sides. “I did not fail! I prepared for the war just as I should have! I followed the Great Plan that was written, just as the others did, just as you did, Metatron!”
The Metatron shook their head, another cruel laugh spilling from their lips. “Your faith must truly be weak, brother, to accuse your siblings before recognizing your own fault.”
Gabriel was shaking, though from fear or outrage he wasn’t sure. His voice, however, was clear and level. “My faith in Her is as strong as ever, Metatron. I am but a vessel for Her Word, a soldier of Her Will, and I have faith that Her Will was the Great Plan as it should have been carried out!”
The Metatron stood swiftly, and once again their voice boomed in Gabriel’s ears. “DO YOU DARE QUESTION WHAT I HAVE SAID? I AM THE VOICE OF THE ALMIGHTY, PURVEYOR OF HER WORD UNTO YOU, AND YOU SIT BEFORE ME AND IGNORE THAT WORD?”
The force of their voice had nearly knocked Gabriel off of his seat. He noticed how Michael, too, was cowering behind them. The Metatron sighed.
“Your faith is so weak that you question Her Word, even as I speak it to you directly. You sought to destroy Aziraphale, the only angel in the common ranks whose faith was strong enough to see through the Great to the Ineffable. And you so beguiled your fellow Archangels that they would have followed you, blindly, into a war which was against Her Will. For these offenses, Gabriel, you must be punished.”
Gabriel opened his mouth again to argue, but the Metatron held up a hand, and he found he could not speak. “You were designed to execute Her Will, as you have said, but your faith has left you. And without your faith, Gabriel, what are you? Certainly not an Archangel. Not an angel at all.”
The shaking returned, and now it was purely out of fear.
“You have heard that others, in the lower ranks, have lost their faith after being told to stand down. They have been sentenced to Fall, and will be expelled from Heaven at any moment. They will be rent from their Grace, plummet into the Pit, and join the hordes of Hell.
“But you are no common angel, Gabriel. Your faith should’ve been greater than anyone’s, save perhaps the others in this room. It is all the more deplorable, then, that you too should be cast out. You do not deserve the dignity of a normal Fall, to burn and heal with the other newly Fallen. You do not deserve to commiserate, to understand and to be understood.”
Gabriel’s body felt numb with panic as the Metatron spoke words that he had only ever thought. They took a step toward him, placed a hand on his shoulder, and said in a voice of absolute authority, “ARCHANGEL GABRIEL, I SENTENCE YOU TO FALL HERE, IN THIS ROOM, SURROUNDED BY THE GRACE THAT YOU WILL NEVER AGAIN DESERVE. ONLY AFTER YOU HAVE BEEN SUFFICIENTLY HUMBLED WILL YOU BE CAST INTO THE PIT.”
Gabriel felt something pierce him to his core, sharper than any sword and burning white-hot. He let out a cry and dropped to the floor. The Metatron withdrew from him, gesturing to the other Archangels to exit the room. Michael was the only one who looked at him as they passed, her eyes as terrified as Gabriel felt. She might be next he thought, before another wave of unbearable pain wracked through his body.
As the door shut behind the angels, he noticed that the golden object above the room was glowing brighter and brighter, Enochian script dancing across the gilded surface. It was too bright now to read, but as the warm light it emitted began shifting from comforting to irritating to agonizing, Gabriel understood. The writing was a prayer, a divine gloria, and the light spilling from the sphere was pure heavenly Grace. They meant to burn him, within and without.
He tipped back his head and screamed.
Gabriel had no way to know how long the torment lasted.
What he perceived to be his actual Fall was over relatively quickly. He had felt the Grace he carried with him, bright and warm and divine, shred its way out of his chest with the sharpness of a blade, and the fibers of his being – his true self, his core, what a human might call a soul – darkened and knotted, rupturing to expel any holiness left within. It had been hideously painful, and the floor around him was a kaleidoscope of ichorous splatters, first the shimmering gold of an angel, then the congealing black of a demon. His chest had contracted, pushing every bit of heavenly air out of his lungs, and when he next tried to inhale it had burned like a bitch. Coughing up ichor with a force that made him choke, he had the good sense to stop breathing.
At some point in the process, he felt his wings manifest and begin smoldering, an itchy sort of pain that he couldn’t scratch, couldn’t reach. When the flames reached the sensitive skin beneath his feathers, however, the itch transformed into a dragging, raking agony that he could feel in every part of his body at once. The smell was sickening, melting keratin and burning flesh. No matter how he twisted, he could not ease the discomfort in any way. Beneath all the physical sensation was also a crawling, as of many phantom legs brushing against his skin. It was unnerving and sharp, pinpricks on his already flayed flesh, and he had no idea where it was coming from.
As his Fall progressed, he found that the torture of the Grace suspended above him was much, much worse. The intensity of the holy light pulsed, sometimes withdrawing, sometimes flooding the glass room, and there seemed to be no pattern to its shifting. When it was strong, Gabriel could feel every part of him burning, and the pain was beyond excruciating. Not breathing, he couldn’t scream, so he was left to writhe in silence, dark tears streaming from his eyes and mouth pressed open without the relief of a cry. But when the light was soft… that was almost worse. The scalding transformed into a low sting, static electricity dancing on the skin, and he could remember the way it should feel, the warmth and comfort that Grace brought to angels, had once brought to him. He wept bitterly and unceasingly at the memory, clawing at his face and body with demonically sharp nails, tearing himself apart trying to escape the emptiness of knowing that divine Love would never be his again.
And somehow worse than all the physical pain, all the ghosts of his lost holiness, were the booming words of the Metatron clanging in his head like a blessed carillon.
You’re the wretched one, you’re the wretched one, you’re the wretched one.
The Grace’s light was low in that moment, and Gabriel’s silent screams did nothing to drown out the din of anguish in his mind.
Your faith must be truly weak, brother. You were designed to execute Her Will, but your faith has left you. And without your faith, Gabriel, what are you?
What are you? Without your faith, Gabriel, what are you?
Unable to gain satisfying purchase on the ruined skin of his face, Gabriel lashed out with his newly-clawed hands, striking at the glass of the room’s walls. It was perfectly smooth, nothing to grab onto or tear at, but it was a different kind of pain than the fire in his skin, and he rose, chasing anything to break up the monotony of his agony. Ichor smearing across the pristine surface, he threw himself against it over and over, begging it to shatter, to riddle him with shards. He continued this until the holy light intensified again, sending him back to cower and sob.
This cycle repeated a number of times, for what seemed like a small eternity. Eventually, Gabriel’s energy waned until it was barely a flicker of anger – all he knew was the absolute pain of his body, and the moldering self-hatred coating the inside of his skull.
You do not deserve the dignity of a normal Fall. You do not deserve to commiserate, to understand and to be understood.
You do not deserve dignity. You do not deserve to be understood.
The words pounded so desperately that he had begun to believe them. He didn’t deserve Her Love, Her Grace. He didn’t even really deserve to survive this, to continue to exist at the end of his suffering. He didn’t deserve anything.
What are you, what are you? And without your faith, Gabriel, what are you?
The grating sound of the glass door opening rattled through the room, and Gabriel cowered smaller into himself. He heard the Metatron’s vile chuckle, and their voice saying, “He is ready now, to be cast out.”
Hands grabbed him roughly, dragging him upright. He was carried rather than led from the glass room (which was more of a blackened-with-ichor room, now) toward an open balcony door. Through barely opened eyes, Gabriel thought he saw Uriel and Sandalphon, still and blank-faced as they had been before, but Michael was nowhere to be seen. No energy left to ponder this fact, he shifted his eyes to the open door, and to the Metatron standing on Heaven’s balcony, looking the same as ever. Their guards brought Gabriel to stand before them, and the Metatron wrinkled their nose in disgust.
“I must admit, though it has been a delight to watch your punishment be served, I’ll be happy to be rid of you, Gabriel. Your little demon Prince has been calling us nonstop for weeks, ever since you missed some sort of Earth meeting with them. It’s been extremely irritating, and not at all good for maintaining focus.”
Gabriel blinked his eyes open. Bee has been calling Heaven, looking for me? Are they worried about me? Something treacherously close to hope bloomed within him, and he winced at the sensation. He had thought there was nowhere fertile left to plant a seed of something as wonderful as hope, and it scared him to think that, possibly, the Lord of the Flies would see his undeserving nature and turn him away. No longer an Archangel, no longer with any power…what are you? what are you?
The Metatron rolled their eyes, easily following Gabriel’s facial journey. “Hopefully once they tear you apart themselves, they won’t need to call us. I’d tell you to have a good journey, but I’d really rather you didn’t have a good anything anymore. Begone, demon!”
The guards shoved Gabriel over the edge of the balcony, and he fell towards Hell.
The moment he left the atmosphere of Heaven, he felt a wave of relief rush over him. Though he didn’t need to breathe (as evidenced by not doing so for several weeks), it felt glorious to inhale deeply as he plummeted down. The sky between Heaven and Earth was richly blue, and although he was still in horrific pain, there wasn’t any new pain. It was the best he had felt in ages.
As he passed Earth, however, the relief faded. He knew in a matter of moments he would hit the ground in Hell, hard. He wanted to find Beelzebub, had to find them, immediately, but how could he explain himself? So much of their working relationship hinged on them being equals and opposites, two powerful bureaucratic beings managing their underlings, working without direct supervision, doing what they did best. Now, Gabriel was nothing (you do not deserve dignity, what are you?). Not only that, he was in horrible physical shape, even by Hell’s standards. He had always taken pride in the appearance of his corporation, and he couldn’t imagine trying to convince Beelzebub to take him in, to be with him, in this state. Despair crept in again.
No. No. He may not be the Archangel fucking Gabriel anymore, and he may have lost literally everything else, but he would not lose this chance. He would not lose the peace he felt around Beelzebub, the pocket of memories in his head that he had managed to protect throughout the whole of his torment. He would find the Prince, he would lie through his teeth about his Fall, and he would tell them how he felt on the slim chance they might feel the same. And if it killed him? Who in Heaven or Hell would give a fuck?
Breathing deeply, Gabriel could smell brimstone, and he knew he must be getting close. He reached within, and was surprised to find that his celestial power still resided in the same place, though now it was twisted and dark. Alright. Here goes nothing.
Grabbing ahold of as much power as he could, he wrapped himself up tightly, projecting onto the outside a form as similar to his angelic one as he could manage. The suit should be darker, of course (what demon would wear a light gray and lavender suit, ridiculous), but everything else was the same. Squeezing his ruinous body into the disguise was vividly painful, but it seemed to be holding, and just in time. The Pit echoed around him, and Gabriel had barely a second to brace before hitting the rocky floor.
Hell flickered as he stood, brushing dirt from his newly conjured suit, and he could’ve sworn he heard Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens playing somewhere above him, as if on an old radio. Within his folded-up body, he could feel his power gnawing on itself and on his very core, but he didn’t stop to worry about that. I don’t expect I’ll need to keep this up for very long anyway, he mused, trying to get his bearings and looking for the Prince’s aura. It doesn’t matter if it eats me away to nothing, at least I will have this, this one good thing, for a moment.
With a snap, he appeared outside Lord Beelzebub’s office, and knocked.