Actions

Work Header

The Quiet Rebellion of Raphael Morningstar

Chapter Text

In the Beginning

“Raphael!”

The door to Raphael’s office swung open with a heavy creak. I should fix that, they thought. The force of the door hitting the wall behind it left a deep notch in of the soft plaster. I should fix that too.

Gabriel stormed through without waiting for a response, pacing around the small room once, twice before settling down in the chair opposite Raphael’s desk and resting his head in one hand, fingers steepled against his forehead. The archangel uttered a heavy sigh.

“I need your help.”

“Oh?” Raphael spoke the word with interest. It was the first word they had spoken all day. Words were a precious resource, not to be wasted.

“I have too much on my plate. The angels, they…they’re exhausting. Do you know how busy I am? I can’t waste time answering their questions.” Gabriel paused, allowing the other archangel the opportunity to shower him in praise for being so patient with the young angels for all of this time. Everybody knew how busy the archangel Gabriel was. And if you didn’t know you only had to wait a moment and he’d let you know, sure as sunset.

Raphael smiled politely, glanced down at the teetering stack of paperwork on their desk. Designs from the Almighty for the new worlds. Sketches really, outlines of an idea that was left to Raphael and the angels to bring to life. “What was it you wanted my help with, Gabriel? I have a meeting with the Almighty shortly.”

It was wrong to lie, they knew that, but watching Gabriel try and fail to hide his envy that somebody else had been granted a rare audience with the Almighty was too satisfying to resist. It had been a long while since Raphael had stood in Her presence; orders were relayed via the Metatron more often than not these days. Still, it was to be expected. It was a busy time in heaven.

“Take a few of them off my hands, the young ones. They don’t know what they want, say they need time to figure themselves out, whatever that means. We can stick them in your department, can’t we? Creation. It’s just following blueprints, after all.”

Why Gabriel had ever been chosen to supervise the undeclared angels was something that had baffled Raphael since time immemorial. It was a time that would shape the rest of their existence, those years spent experiencing everything heaven had to offer before they found their calling. They needed to be nurtured, encouraged to step into every role and try them on for size before deciding on whatever was the perfect fit. There was boundless potential in them and they needed that curiosity to be drawn out, not shut away. 

“Yes, fine.” Raphael held out a hand, waiting for Gabriel to pass them the thin files he had clenched in his fist. They leafed through the documents, looking down at faces that looked impossibly young, yet so determined at the same time. They get younger every creation, Raphael thought, or maybe I’m just getting older.

Raphael looked down at the picture on the front of one file: bright eyes, a smile that seemed as though it was hiding a tempting secret. There was an eagerness there, a curiosity that Gabriel would stamp out without a second thought.

“Good luck with that one,” Gabriel sneered, nodding down at the picture. “I’m this close to returning them to the Almighty as defective.”

“Leave them with me.” Raphael stood up and crossed the room to open the door. “Now, if that’s everything.”

The archangel Gabriel did not like to be dismissed. Raphael knew that, which was precisely why they took great pleasure in dismissing him as frequently as they could. He stalked out of the office, muttering something under his breath Raphael assumed was insulting, and slammed the door behind him.

Sighing, they ran a hand down the hinges of the door, the dent in the wall left by Gabriel’s violent entry, gentle fingers repairing the damage the archangel had left in his wake.

***

“You should go.” Raphael sighed, letting their eyes close in ecstasy as Lucifer’s fingers raked slowly across their scalp, tangled in their hair. “He’ll be here any moment. He’s bringing me my first new recruit.”

“Can’t help yourself, can you?” Lucifer laughed, and the sound was a lot like sunrise. “Patron saint of waifs and strays.”

“Patron saint of healing, thank you very much.” 

Lucifer hopped up onto the edge of the desk, leaning back dramatically and clutching their chest. “Oh, divine healer of the sick, you would leave me to perish of a broken heart?”

Raphael smiled, let Lucifer tug them closer, whispered one word as two sets of footsteps echoed down the corridor. “Tonight?”

“Tonight.” Lucifer jumped neatly off of the desk, gave Raphael one last lingering look before slipping out into the corridor.

“Lucifer.” Gabriel’s voice came then, hurried and dismissive. Inside the office, Raphael ran a hand through their hair, straightened the papers on their desk. 

Lucifer nodded curtly at the archangel before turning their attention to the angel slouching behind him. “Good day, little one.”

“Come here.” Gabriel grabbed the young angel by the arm of his robes before he had a chance to reply to Lucifer, who had waltzed off down the corridor without a backwards glance. “Raphael? Raphael!”

“I’m here, Gabriel, you don’t have to raise your voice.” Raphael swept their robes out to one side before sinking back in their chair, waving the archangel into the office. Behind him he dragged one of the angels Raphael had agreed to take responsibility for, the one he had deemed defective. 

“Do something with him,” the archangel hissed, gesturing vaguely in the direction of the young angel who glared at Gabriel’s back, looking at once fierce and hopelessly lost. “Do you have earplugs? You’ll need them. Doesn’t ever shut up.”

They stayed silent, the archangel and angel, until Gabriel had left them alone. As the door clicked closed, Raphael motioned for him to sit down. 

They looked at him with interest, at the spark of something indeterminable behind his eyes, the jut of his chin, the way he looked right back at them. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”

“From Gabriel?” the angel asked, slapping his hands down on the arms of the chair. “Great start.”

“From somebody a little above Gabriel’s pay grade.” Raphael laughed, their eyes flicking up for a second. The angel followed their gaze, wonder in his eyes as understanding dawned on him. Perhaps, Raphael wondered, all this little one needed was the freedom to express what the Almighty had given him. Four walls were not going to work, they needed a change of scenery, a place where he could stretch his wings and breathe.

They stood up, offering him a hand. “Come, troublemaker, let me show you something I’ve been working on. Let me show you the stars.”

***

“Very good.” Raphael nodded approvingly, took the glittering shard out of Crowley’s hands and turned it this way and that. They ran a finger along a smooth edge that emitted a single beam of pearlescent light. “This is beautiful work.”

“Is it ready?” Crowley asked, hands fidgeting in his lap. It was a nervous time, passing his work to the archangel to be checked over. He was still learning, made more mistakes than he was comfortable with. Still, Raphael always told him mistakes were part of the process, would lean close and remind him that the stars themselves were borne out of one of their own mistakes.

“What do you think?” Raphael passed the newborn star back to the angel and gestured up towards the sky above them. It was darker then, small clusters of stars beginning to spring to life and cast light that would begin its millennia-long journey towards the faraway chunk of rock that hadn’t yet been given a name but would, in time, become known as Earth. “Time to let it bloom, dear one.”

“Bloom.” Crowley smiled, clutched the star in both hands and hurled it upwards into the endless night. He shielded his eyes with one hand, watched it slowly quiver into life as it settled into the sky.

Raphael leaned back, looking across at the young angel who had been by their side for many months now. There had been a change in him, they realised, as if something dormant had unfolded itself. It was freedom, the archangel knew that, the freedom to dream, to create, to make mistakes without fear of judgement. They had seen heaven’s judgement crush too many spirits, steamroll over too many sweet souls that just needed a gentle hand to guide them. Lucifer joked that they were the patron saint of waifs and strays but Raphael wore the unofficial moniker with pride. They would always welcome the lost, would sit quietly by their side until they found themselves again. 

***

Calling Raphael quiet was like calling the stars bright or the sun a little bit warm. They were an archangel of few words; those they did speak were carefully chosen, turned over in their mind before being voiced. 

“There are too many wasted words spoken to fill the silence,” they had told Crowley once. He took the notion to heart. Didn’t manage to follow their example but, even so, he liked the idea of restraint. 

Even the way they moved was quiet, appearing out of the darkness like a silent shadow. Crowley hissed under his breath, clumsily hid something behind his back as he turned to greet the archangel.

“Should I ask what you’re trying to hide from me?” Raphael’s eyes flicked to the pale green light radiating from behind Crowley’s back. “Or shall I pretend I can’t see it?”

Crowley sighed, tossing it down onto the ground between them. It was a swirl of dust and stars, bathed in a green glow that seemed to flicker russet and gold under the light of the moon. “I have it in my head, I have it just the way I want it but when I try to pull it out it comes out like this. It’s wrong.”

Raphael knelt down, sitting back on their heels and scooping the new creation into their hands. They held it up, ran a finger through the tiny stars, marvelling as their hand glowed in the bright light. “What do you call this?”

“Nebula,” the angel sounded the word slowly, realised as he said it that it was the first time he’d spoken it out loud. “It’s not on the plans, I know. I’m sorry.”

“Dear one.” Raphael laid the tiny nebula down between them, cupped Crowley’s face with one calming hand. “You’re not in trouble. This is what creation is, bringing dreams to life. You do it beautifully.”

Crowley closed his eyes, let Raphael’s words sink into his skin. He had been under the archangel’s guidance for some time but it was hard to shake the notion that soon his time would be up and he would be returned to the life he had known before. There was no space for dreams under Gabriel’s command. There was a right way and a wrong way of doing things, and everything about Crowley seemed to be wrong. 

“Gabriel always said…”

“Gabriel is not here now." Raphael shook their head, standing back up and offering a hand to the angel. They gestured down at the nebula that lay at their feet. “Do you want to release it?”

“I’m not sure if it’s ready.”

Raphael bent low, picking up Crowley’s creation and passing it to him. “There’s only way to find out.”

***

“What, in heaven’s name, is a submoon?” Gabriel slammed a hand down on Raphael’s desk. The archangel jumped back at the sharp sound, fixed Gabriel with a tight stare.

“It’s a moon’s moon, Gabriel,” they replied, as if it was blindingly obvious. 

“What is it doing in our skies?” Gabriel picked up one of the rolled blueprints, unfurled it and swirled a hand in front of the neatly drawn designs. “Do you see a submoon here, Raphael? I don’t. Am I blind, Raphael?”

“Rather a lot of questions today.”

Gabriel massaged his temples, brought his elbows down to rest on the desk. “I’m very busy, Raphael. Very, very busy. I don’t have time for games. You’re supposed to be in control of them. All they have to do is stick to the plans. No funny business. No dreaming.”

“No dreaming.” Raphael repeated the words, looked up into the heavens as they prayed to the Almighty for the patience to withstand the rest of the conversation.

“I bring them to you compliant. A year with you and they’re wild. I can hear them, your lot, laughing in the corridors.”

“Oh no.”

Gabriel leaped to his feet, hands cracking down against the wooden arms of the chair. “Sarcasm, Raphael, does not become an archangel.”

“Let them live with a little joy, Gabriel, for heaven’s sake.” Raphael raised a hand, gestured vaguely around them.

“They are here to work, to serve the Almighty.”

“They do serve the Almighty. Joyfully.” It was foolish to engage with Gabriel, they knew that, it never led anywhere good, but Raphael was tired of the way he picked at the angels, ran them ragged until they forgot how awe-inspiring existence could be.

Joyfully.” Gabriel laughed, and it was a cruel sound. He picked up a roll of papers from the side of the chair, dropped them onto the desk. “Your next project. I expect you to keep a closer eye on them. No more submoons.”

***

“I’ve thought about it long and hard, and these are definitely superior.” Crowley took a bite out of the crisp, buttery biscuit to reinforce his point, a low moan escaping his throat as the sweet tang of vanilla filled his mouth. He nodded towards Lucifer, who had a stack of ginger and chilli rounds stacked up in front of them. “You have terrible taste in biscuits, do you know that?”

“Excuse me, little one.” Lucifer slapped him gently on the hand before turning to Raphael, who was nestled in their chair, happy to sit back and watch the comforting scene unfold. “I preferred him when he was too shy to talk back, didn’t you? Didn’t used to hoover up all the biscuits, at least.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that.” Raphael smiled, standing up to reach across the desk and push a sheaf of papers towards the young angel. “I think he needs a full stomach for where I'm taking him.”

Crowley sat up then, biscuit crumbs hastily dusted off of his chest and onto the floor. Everybody had heard rumours about the next project, the scope of it unparalleled, the complexity requiring decades of work. It was to be a new world, the next world, and this time it would contain beings who had only been referred to as them, inhabitants to fill the space with hopes and love and emotions yet inconceivable. The Almighty had been dreaming of them for a long while, the whispers said, had tasked Raphael with creating the perfect playground for them to thrive in.

“If you want to come with me, it would be an honour to have you by my side.” The archangel fell silent then, waited for Crowley’s reaction.

Crowley stared back in stunned silence, before bursting into a smile that began on his lips and ended in his eyes. He gulped out a laugh of disbelief, racing around the desk to fling his arms around Raphael’s neck in an unprecedented display of affection. It was not celestial protocol to hug an archangel. “I will make you proud, I promise.”

Raphael laughed, one hand coming to rest against his cheek as they stepped apart. “You already do, little one.”

Did he realise, Raphael wondered, that his was the first name I thought of? Of course he didn’t. While Uriel had pounded their fist on his office door the day the blueprints were delivered, offering all manner of bargaining chips for a place on the project, Crowley had stayed silently hopeful, had waited patiently for Raphael to make a decision. You see, Gabriel, the archangel thought with a wry smile, he does quieten down. Sometimes.

It was the perfect place for him, a fresh, empty space that he could decorate however he saw fit. There would be no rules, not under Raphael’s encouraging eye, nothing to stop his potential from flourishing to life. It would be beautiful, his work always was, deeply layered with a maturity and grace that always left the archangel delightfully puzzled. What depths, they wondered, did he pull such creativity from? On Earth, they knew, he would truly be able to bloom.

Chapter Text

“Raphael!”

The archangel jumped, startled by the voice calling for them. They had stood there in silence for so long, perched on top of the cliff, calling the ocean into being.

That won’t do. Raphael sighed, noticing a swell of water cascading over the nearby hillside after the interruption had cut through their focus for a moment. It took time, creation, absolute concentration. They swept a hand out over the ocean to push it back, to shape it properly. They tugged the coastline into its correct position, closed their eyes and let the current flow out of them, to take root in that stormy sea they had created.

They looked up at the moon. The tide. They smiled. What mysteries would that nighttime traveller inspire in the millennia to come? Of all the moons Raphael had gazed upon in their never-ending lifetime that one was, perhaps, the most beautiful of all.

“Raphael, where are you?”

The voice came again. The archangel closed their eyes, smiling. There would be time to finish the ocean later. Patience. It had become, over the years, the most important virtue of them all.

“I’m here, little one. What do you have to show me?”

The sound of frantic footsteps pounding against the soil, growing closer as a silhouette thundered through the night towards the archangel, something cradled between their hands.

“This.” Crowley brandished both hands out towards Raphael as he bent over, heaving deep breaths in and out. “I ran all the way. Exhausted. Is the air thinner up here? Shouldn’t matter, should it? Still, why did I run all the way?”

“Because you have something very important to show me.” They leaned in close, let the stars light up the creation the young angel held in his hands. Not so young, Raphael reasoned, correcting themself, not any more.

How long had it been since he had been ushered into their office, body language meek but face sullen, rebellious even then? A century? Two? Time didn’t register much down there on the blank canvas they were slowly transforming into a world, into something that grew, something alive. It could have been a week, it could have been a thousand weeks, or perhaps just a heartbeat.

What a shift there had been in that angel who now ran to show off their creations, who was so proud of everything they pulled into being, when once they had hidden the product of their imagination, ashamed of the flaws nobody else could see. Freedom, Raphael thought, that’s all he needed. That’s all most of them need. You are exactly the way you are supposed to be, angels, all of you.

“This is something special.” Raphael ran a finger along a velvet petal, deep scarlet, curled around its neighbour. A tight bud of deep red, flourishing at the edges as it began to unfurl, to show all the beauty it held within. “What do you call it?”

“It’s a rose.” Crowley pressed the edge of one finger lightly against a sharp thorn on the stem.

Raphael eyed the stem, noted the thorns with interest. “Beautiful and dangerous. It’s becoming your calling card, little one.”

“Light and dark.” Crowley smiled. “You can’t have one without the other, can you?”

Raphael looked up at the sky, that infinite darkness, peppered with a thousand pinpricks of light. All of those other worlds a testament to the truth of that statement. Light without darkness was nothing at all. “You do listen to me. Sometimes.”

“Sometimes,” Crowley echoed, then raised his hands and wiggled the rose from side to side. “I should finish this. There’ll be a whole garden by the morning. A thousand of them. A thousand thousand.”

“And I can’t wait to see them.”

The archangel watched him go, silhouette growing fainter until he wasn’t there at all, nothing but a memory.

***

“Keep your voices down,” Raphael hissed, stalking to the door and pressing it once, twice, just to make sure it was firmly closed. It was. It always was. They had been cautious for all of those years, knew well enough that privacy was the most important weapon they had.

“I’m just saying, the day that smug bastard takes a trip down to the underworld is the day we have a chance of heaven actually deserving the name.” Lucifer bit down on a biscuit to punctuate their sentence, reinforced the sentiment with a hard nod.

“I hope I’m there to see it.” Crowley sighed wistfully, reached for the never-ending biscuit tin. “If I’m working when it happens you’ll come and get me, won’t you?”

Don’t.” Raphael shot Lucifer a warning glare, eyes flicking to Crowley as he busied himself searching through the tin for the exact biscuit he was after. They were hard to come by, the particular biscuits he favoured, just another little way Raphael strived to teach him the importance of patience.

“I’m not leading anybody anywhere they don’t want to go.” Lucifer dropped their voice, leaning in towards the archangel. “Who am I to tell him what he is and isn’t allowed to do? That sounds exactly like something Gabriel would do, doesn’t it?”

“Not now,” Raphael whispered, shaking their head as they fumbled with the blueprints of the next oceans, stashing them in a drawer groaning with paperwork. When they spoke again their voice was louder and they leaned around Lucifer, catching Crowley’s attention. “I’m not telling either of you what to do, lord knows it would be fruitless, but do not underestimate him. He’s dangerous.”

“Yes, yes, we all fear the mighty archangel Gabriel. Not one angel in heaven shall overcome him, we know the stories.” Crowley flopped back against his chair, licking a biscuit crumb from his thumb.

“Not one angel, no.” And then the two of them shared a glance as Lucifer purred the words Raphael had been most afraid of. “But what about fifty? A hundred? He can’t overcome us all, little one.”

“Stop!” Raphael barked, fist tight in their lap. When they spoke again the word was softer, pleading. “Stop.”

The archangel reached out a hand to tuck a lock of hair behind Lucifer’s ear. Touch. It had always been the thing to help Lucifer see sense, to centre them, to remind them that there were some things worth being patient for. Raphael stopped just in time, their hand shrinking back as they remembered they weren’t alone. They shook their head bitterly. Foolish archangel.

“Please.” Crowley rolled his golden eyes, lazily unpeeling himself from his chair as he sauntered towards the door, tossing a withering glance over his shoulder as he paused in the doorway. “As if I haven’t known the entire time.”

***

Careful, Archangel. It doesn’t do to live with your head in the stars, who knows when they might be snuffed out.

Gabriel’s snarled words rang in Raphael’s ears as they paced down the corridor towards their office, head down, fighting to keep their expression neutral as they passed a cluster of angels who raised their hands with a cheery hello, Raphael, have a blessed day.

There’s nothing blessed about it, Raphael wanted to snap back. They shook their head in apology and offered up a prayer to the Almighty. It wasn’t Her fault. It was their own fault for letting Gabriel get under their skin. He’d become rather good at that over the eons and, to their detriment, Raphael was finding it harder and harder not to let it show.

Were they overly sensitive, cautious to the point of paranoia, or did Gabriel have an inkling? No, they realised, he couldn’t know. He couldn’t have kept that secret to himself for any amount of time, would have found a way to wield it like a weapon, to stamp out whatever madness it was that Lucifer was inciting under the cover of darkness.

Lucifer. Raphael sighed, swallowing a tight knot of emotion in their throat. Golden-haired and inferno-eyed. Would their journey lead anywhere except tragedy, except despair? When they walked through heaven’s mirrored corridors it felt impossible to believe in the freedom they had quietly cultivated over the millennia. There was nowhere to hide, not in heaven, where even a short walk to your own office left you exposed on all sides. But beyond heaven, in the stars, that was a different matter all together. Amongst the stars, Raphael knew, was where they could be free.

“Enough,” they murmured, whispering the words aloud as they continued walking. Don’t say it, don’t even think it. It was the only way to be sure. Oh, but how hard it was to keep that name from their thoughts. That one word, that beautiful name, enough to consume every moment from dawn until dusk and then on and on through the night. Forbidden, forbidden, forbidden. It was hopeless. Their love was hopeless. And yet, Lucifer, always.

“What are you-” Raphael stepped back in shock as they swung their office door open to find Lucifer inside, legs delicately crossed as they sat atop the desk, hands perched innocently on their knees. The archangel pressed the door closed, leaning back against it as they dropped their voice. “What are you doing here?”

Lucifer shrugged, eyes flicking towards the painting that had been mounted behind Raphael’s chair. “Thought you needed something to brighten this place up.”

Raphael turned to the painting, startled that they hadn’t noticed it the moment they entered the room. It was unsurprising really; Gabriel could have been standing there with Michael and Uriel on either side and they wouldn’t have noticed, not while Lucifer was sitting there looking like the picture of temptation.

A violent sea, tumbling waves turning over and over as they collided with a black beach, ebony sand cast up in frantic torrents as the water pounded the shore again and again. It was, at first glance, something dark, that treacherous sea tugging the viewer closer and closer until it was too late, until they would look down and find they’d taken a fatal step off of the cliffside. But then Raphael noticed the light, great beams of it filtering down from the heavens, illuminating the waves, softening them until they no longer seemed dangerous, until they felt like protection.

It’s us, Raphael realised, one hand coming out to brace against the edge of the desk as they took a step closer, eyes trained on the painting, pulling out every detail hidden by the hands who had brought the scene to life. The fear, the darkness, the light, and then the hope. It’s us, there on the canvas for everyone to see, in the only way that isn’t forbidden. “Lucifer…”

“It’s called The First Night on Earth. Think of me, won’t you, whenever you look at it?” Lucifer’s voice was soft and there was a sadness there, tucked between the words. “I’m so proud of you, of everything you’ve made.”

“I think of you always.” Raphael let their gaze settle on those eyes, so alive, so dangerous, and reached out a hand to cup the angel’s face. “When I make the stars, when I call the oceans into being; it’s all you, all of it.”

“And what when it’s complete? What is there left to do but sit and watch it slowly decay until, at last, we put it out of its misery and move on? And then we begin again and again and every time, my love, every time it’s the same pointless tragedy, the same war that will never end, not until it takes us all with it.” Lucifer rose then, taking Raphael’s hand and leading them around the edge of the desk, pressing them gently back until they took their seat. They looked so tired, so utterly bone weary that Lucifer felt a pulse of guilt for what they were about to ask. But there was work to do, and they couldn’t do it alone. They couldn’t leave, not while Raphael remained so resolutely loyal to heaven. Or, at least, the heaven they had known in the early days. “Come with me, please, leave it while you can still remember it like this. There are others, Raphael, who believe in the world we believe in. It doesn’t have to be like this.”

“My beautiful, eternal light-bringer.” Raphael leaned forward, whispered the words to Lucifer’s hair, felt the angel’s arms slide around their neck. They stroked golden strands back from Lucifer’s shoulders, the other hand cupped to their cheek. “I will not have you risk yourself, my Morningstar.”

“And yet, this is the greatest risk of them all.” Lucifer pressed their lips to the archangel’s. A kiss, soft and tempting. Raphael smiled against them. There was nothing more simple. Nothing more complicated.

“Patient Raphael.” The archangel laughed at their nickname, the back of one hand running gently down the centre of Lucifer’s chest, coming to rest in their lap, warm against their thigh. “Willing to risk it all for Lucifer the Rebel.”

“Patience and Rebellion. What a pair.” Lucifer smiled, leaned back against Raphael’s chest, let their head fall to the side as they stole one more kiss. “When we leave, there will be no need for secrets, no stolen moments. Just this, just love.”

“Lucifer.” Raphael sighed, one hand teasing out a knot at the tip of the angel’s hair, a tiny ball of gold that they unpicked with deft fingers. “It’s too dangerous. There will be a new world soon enough. You need to be-”

“If you say patient, my love, I’ll…”

“You’ll what?”

Lucifer held the archangel’s gaze for a moment, then quirked an eyebrow and pointed to the painting that hung behind Raphael’s head. They turned, following Lucifer’s finger. “How can I put this? You see that rock, that little rock down there in the middle? And you see that wave? That great encompassing wave that’s bearing down on it again and again until it can do nothing but surrender? You’ll be the rock and I’ll be the wave.”

“Is that supposed to be a threat?” Raphael asked, feeling something stir within them, a playfulness that had long since resigned itself to retirement in favour of duty and honour and bitter responsibility. They leaned closer, cheek coming to rest against Lucifer’s temple as they murmured the words. “Because I hope it’s a promise.”

There was a noise then, a sudden creak of a footstep from outside the door. It was a hesitant sound, something half-formed. Raphael pulled back, hand dropping from Lucifer’s face on reflex. Is this the moment, they wondered, as they had a thousand times before, every sound a siren, is this the moment we find out they’ve known all this time? Is this the moment we find out the cost of resistance, the price of sin?

“Hello?" Raphael called, leaning around Lucifer as the angel ran both hands through their hair, brushing it back, business as usual.

A knock, tentative and afraid, and then the door being pushed open excruciatingly slowly.

Lucifer tutted, as if waiting to be caught in the act was mind-numbingly dull. Raphael shot them a look.

“Stop it,” the archangel murmured. “We can’t get complacent.”

A head of white blond curls appeared in the doorway, framing a sweet face that already bore lines of worry cutting across the forehead, curving either side of a mouth set in a nervous smile, as if an apology was only ever a breath away.

“I’m so sorry to bother you, Archangel Raphael. Gabriel asked me to…” The angel fumbled then, awkwardly manoeuvring the rolled papers in his arms as if that would justify his interruption.

“Aziraphale.” Raphael smiled brightly, a sigh of relief escaping their lips as they met Lucifer’s eyes. “Please, come in.”

“Hello, little one.” Lucifer slid off of the desk, paced over to the young angel and circled him once, twice, as if they wanted to peruse every angle before passing judgement. “I’ve seen you before. One of Gabriel’s messenger boys, aren’t you?”

“Oh, I...well, yes, I suppose I am.”

“Such stimulating work, I imagine. Laugh a minute with Gabe, isn’t it?” Lucifer’s voice was dry to the point of cracking, and Raphael saw discomfort knot the angel’s brows together as he tried to calculate whether defying Gabriel or contradicting lawless Lucifer would garner a more severe punishment.

“Lucifer,” Raphael warned, a tiny shake of the head as Lucifer left them alone with a wink, before they turned their attention back to Aziraphale.

"What is it Gabriel has asked you to bring me, young Aziraphale?” The archangel took the roll of papers from Aziraphale. The little angel let go of one prematurely, looked on in horror as it slipped out of his hands and unfurled, the paper unrolling to reveal a blueprint outlining a sharp, towering mountain. Everest was the word scrawled at the top. He bent low to scoop it up, stammering frantic apologies as he pressed it into Raphael’s hands. Raphael felt something clench in their throat as Aziraphale bowed his head, flinched almost imperceptibly as the archangel raised a hand to lean against his cheek.

What have you done to him, Gabriel? Why is this sweet soul cowering before me? They had seen the way Aziraphale moved through the corridors of heaven, the way he rushed from office to office delivering messages, eyes down, as if he was trying to make himself invisible, as if hiding his gaze might shrink his presence somehow. I’m sorry, little one, I’m sorry that they’ve ever made you feel as though you should be something smaller than you are.

“Thank you for bringing these to me,” the archangel said finally, turning away to deposit the papers on their desk. When they turned back Aziraphale was looking up at them but dropped his eyes to the ground the instant they made eye contact. Raphael sighed, settling down behind their desk. “Aziraphale, would you sit with me for a moment? I won’t keep you, I promise.”

The blond angel eyed the door, then perched on the edge of the chair on the other side of Raphael’s desk, the same one that Crowley would sprawl over as he complained about an absence of his favourite biscuits.

“Indulge me, little one, what is it you like to do?”

As Aziraphale fell into contemplation that began with curiosity but ended in confusion, Raphael felt a flare of rage that they quietly folded back up, packed away in the dark corners of their mind. He doesn’t know. He doesn’t even know what it is that he likes to do. He doesn’t even know what makes him happy.

The archangel sighed, wondering what the young angel sitting before them might be capable of, if only they had a gentle hand to guide them, to encourage them to explore, to play, to take risks and win and fail all in the name of discovering who they were. Their thoughts turned to their own little protege, their creator of forests, their biscuit thief: is that how he might have ended up if Gabriel hadn’t cast him out of his remit, hadn’t deemed his curiosity defective?

“Can I ask you something that’s troubling me, Aziraphale?” At the sound of the archangel’s voice, Aziraphale shifted in his seat, leaning forward with a little nod, eyes widening as he watched Raphael unfurl that same scroll of paper he had dropped moments before. Raphael pointed to the peak of the sketched mountain. “Tell me, what do you think should lay at the top of this towering wonder? Should it be forests, deep pockets of snow, rivers that cut through the clouds? I simply cannot make up my mind.”

The angel considered the question for a moment, fingers gently tracing the sweeping outline of the mountain the lay in front of him. He opened his mouth to speak then closed it again, shaking his head as if he couldn’t bring himself to form the words.

“You think the rivers?” Raphael pondered, attempting to encourage anything from him, even a nod of confirmation. Anything, little one, there are no wrong answers. Not here.

“I… actually, Archangel, if you’ll forgive me… I think, perhaps, the snow. It would look beautiful, of course, can you imagine it shining in the sun? More than that, though, I think it would be living proof of the impossible being, well, possible. Snow up in the clouds, near enough touching the heavens? Snow in mid-summer? It shouldn’t seem possible, should it? There’s something of the divine in that, I think.”

“Yes, Aziraphale, you’re quite right. I would never have thought of that myself, thank you.” The archangel nodded slowly, picturing the frosted peak in their mind, realising it was the perfect intersection of whimsy and inspiration. The Almighty would be thrilled. An idea came to them then and they leaned closer to Aziraphale, a conspiratorial smile on their lips. “A mind like yours cannot be content to deliver somebody else’s messages for eternity, can it? I hear they’ll be looking for guardians for Eden soon enough, why don’t you think about it? You could see that snowy mountain of yours up close.”

“Do you really think so?”

“Somebody has to do it, why not you? I would feel safe with you looking after me, little one. I think you could be indescribably brave if you needed to be."

The angel looked up after a moment. Raphael caught two blue eyes searching their face, as if they were looking for the joke, as if a punchline at his expense was inevitable. And then, as tentatively as if it was the greatest rebellion he could conceive of, Aziraphale smiled.

Chapter Text

“It’s finished, Raphael.”

The archangel saw the tug of war in the angel’s face, the uplifted lips countered by two dark brows furrowed downwards. Joy and fear. A feeling they knew only too intimately.

“I mean, this one is finished. Not all of them. There’s so much more work to do, isn’t there?” Crowley gestured behind him, robes flaring out as he waved an arm in the direction of a sprawling mass of trees and leaves and flowers.

Life. That was what it was. Life, in its purest form. The forest was magnificent, a true work of art, a labour of love. It had taken a lot from him. Raphael didn’t need to see the crescents of purple underneath his eyes to feel his exhaustion. There was a tax to creation, of course. It would be folly to think dreaming a creation into tangible existence would come without a price. A small price to pay, though, exhaustion in exchange for such beauty.

“There is always more work to do.” Raphael nodded, laid a hand on the angel’s arm and tugged some of that exhaustion free, pulled it across to their own heart. A yawn, stifled with the back of their hand, and then a guilty smile as the angel narrowed his eyes.

“You’re not supposed to do that.”

You’re not supposed to do that,” Raphael mimicked, in a poor impersonation of the angel’s lazy voice. Crowley looked back at them, open-mouthed for a moment before they let out a joyful bark of a laugh, head thrown back as if they were inviting the moon in on the joke. A rarity, of course, a joke falling from an archangel’s lips. It’s not through choice, little one, that we are so serious all the time. It’s not the truth, either.

They fell silent then. Raphael could all but see the little angel tumble into anxieties about the future. There may be work left to do, yes, but despite the archangel’s gentle reassurance they knew it couldn’t possibly last forever. And what after the work was done? After the world was complete? Would they stay by Raphael’s side, continue their apprenticeship, learn the nuances of creation? Or would they be returned to Gabriel, to join his troop of workers who were all but an army?

No, Raphael promised, even if they couldn’t speak the words aloud. No, you will never go back to him, little one. Passed around like a commodity. I might not be able to care for you all but I can care for you, at least.

“Will you show me this place, little one? I have been so curious to see all that you’ve been working on.” A risk, of course, after the secrecy that had surrounded this latest project. He had worked at night, safely under the forgiving cover of darkness. They might hear a growl of anger radiate out from the thicket of trees, or a whoop of victorious celebration, but he had worked so privately on this creation, as if it might be something too precious to share.

“Raphael, it would be an honour.” Crowley smiled, and it lifted his face as it always did. He could look so drawn, so much older and more tired than his years should allow. Raphael worried about him more than the others, as if nothing but air and feathers lay inside that diamond exterior. Was it diamond, though, or glass? It looked strong, as though it could weather all manner of storms. A ruse, of course. He was something that could be shattered all too easily, Raphael could see it, had seen it the moment he had been pushed inside their office and cast aside as simply as if he was an apple that had gone bad, as if he was something rotting out from the inside.

Crowley didn’t speak as he led the archangel through a little gap between two towering trees, inviting them inside that space that was as private as any heart, and as sacred. They were to be, Raphael understood, the first being to ever truly comprehend the depth of this little one’s creation.

“A place to lose themselves in,” Raphael murmured, unsure if the words had fallen from their lips or had remained tightly inside. It was only here, they realised, in this world away from heaven, that they could ever afford themselves the luxury of being unsure. Freedom. Between the trees, underneath the leaves. He has created freedom.

“Ourselves, too.” The angel nodded gently, looked up at that thick knot of branches, a hundred of them twisting together to hold that canopy of fluttering emerald leaves aloft, shutting out suspicion and secrecy and the need to run and hide and deny. “I know self-indulgence doesn’t become an angel. Selfless, that’s what we are. But, I just…if I had a place like this, if any of us had, perhaps… Not in heaven, though, I know that. But I thought it might help them, at least. Everybody should have a place they can disappear into when the world feels like too much.”

He led the archangel on, walking deeper into the forest, through the dark winding paths between the trees that he picked his way through as carefully and easily as if he had walked them a thousand times. Which, Raphael presumed, he had. There was something new to see in every tree, a new shade of green to find in every leaf, some new flurry of life thriving beneath the carpet of fallen leaves on the ground. This place is a wonder, the archangel thought, as they knelt down and brushed a sweep of leaves to the side to discover a little cluster of red and white mushrooms, as bright and whimsical as if they belonged in another place all together, another world, perhaps.

This is the place that will show them everything that he is. Raphael followed behind the angel, watching as he turned this way and that, placing a hand proudly on the thick trunk of a tree that looked as though it had stood tall since the dawn of time, leaning down to trail his fingertips across a bare patch of earth, smiling contentedly as a spray of green stems emerged, heavy white flowers blooming to life and weighing them down, snow-tipped bells nestled amongst the darkness of the forest floor. A light in the dark, Raphael smiled, finding their thoughts straying, inevitably, to their own light in heaven’s creeping darkness. Your better world, my Morningstar, right beneath us this whole time. Look at everything one little angel can do. The two of you together? You could change worlds. There is so much of you in this place. I see so much of your influence in him. Do you see it too? Do you see any of me in him? Is he something of both of us, or am I trying too hard to will my dreams into existence?

They felt a flare of love as they wandered in the path the angel left behind, following his steps as carefully as they could, fearful of destroying some hidden beauty if they strayed too far from the path he laid out for them. They were overcome by the urge to take him by the hands, to stop and tell him how proud they were, how it had been an honour to help him bloom, to help him evolve into everything he was in that moment, to tell him of all the power they knew he held inside, of how he had shaped everything that world was to be, just by looking inside his own heart and letting loose all the beauty that hid there.

In the end, though, there was only one question they heard fall from their lips. It was, they realised some time later, after the joy they felt in the forest seemed like a distant dream, the only question that really mattered at the end of it all. “Do you know what love is, little one?”

The angel stopped in his tracks, turning back and casting a brief glance over his shoulder at everything that lay behind him, as if that answer might suffice. He shrugged then, looking down at his feet as if the real answer was a source of shame. “I… How would I ever know? I love this place, I love creating, I love watching my dreams come to life. I love the way the light paints a picture on the forest floor, and the way it changes in the blink of an eye. A thousand different paintings in a moment. I love the dance of a leaf falling to the floor, the way the colours change as it lives and dies and goes back to the earth, the new life that springs from it. Oh, and biscuits. I love those too. Is that love, archangel, the way I think it is?”

“Of course it is.” Raphael chuckled, thinking back to how many times they had returned to their office to find the lid of the biscuit tin ever so slightly askew, as if a little biscuit thief had snuck in (almost) undetected for a moonlit snack. “Maybe loving biscuits is the purest love of all. The most harmless, at least. What trouble ever came from loving a sweet treat after a good job well done?”

A shift then, infinite questions hanging unsaid in the warm forest air. Harmful love? How can love ever be harmful? Why do you look so sad, archangel? 

“We should be the wisest ones of all, the creators of worlds, the guardians, shouldn’t we? By all rights we should hold the answer to every question in the universe. Why don’t we? That’s the biggest question of all, I believe. She left us a few mysteries to ponder. To keep our minds sharp, perhaps. I believe there are some questions we aren’t supposed to know the answers to. Not yet. The best teachers will never stop learning, of course. I often wonder if we are meant to learn as much from them as they are from us.”

“Come, archangel.” Crowley took a step back then, brought a hand to Raphael’s elbow and guided them over a stray tree root that rose up from the ground. A hidden bump in the road. They ducked below an overhanging branch, spiked with black thorns, and then they emerged in a pool of dappled light where the air was at once crisp and cool. A clearing. A jagged shape that was a rough circle, where soft pillows of moss on the periphery gave way to tufts of silken grass, reaching up towards the beams of sunlight that filtered through the leaves that stretched high above them. It was, Raphael understood, the central point of the forest, though in that moment it felt as though it could have been the centre of everything there ever was, as if they had stepped through the trees and into another world.

They settled themselves down. Raphael perched on the edge of a fallen tree that lay across one corner of the clearing, and the angel leaned back on his hands, long legs sprawled out across the grass as he looked up, bathing in the sunlight, eyes closed as a small smile wound its way across his face.

“Tell me then,” the angel urged, little slashes of green poking out between his fingers as he curled his hands towards the earth. “Tell me what you know of love. Beyond biscuits, I mean. I understand that one well enough.”

Where to begin, Raphael wondered? With the truth. That is, after all, always the best place to start. They looked around, a glance over each shoulder, eyes narrowed to scan the perimeter of trees. An old habit. A lifesaving one, honed over the years from nothing other than necessity. They were alone. They were safe. Free, he thought with a smile, to speak the truth aloud. A luxury that should have been commonplace.

“I think, perhaps, if love is something that could ever be distilled into words, that there are four words we must hold dear when we think of love. Love is patience.” They looked down at their hands splayed across their knees, pale robes smooth under their palms. Restraint. That was what they had learned to exercise over the years, the only reason their hands still had the freedom to get lost in that flowing mane of golden hair. The feeling of warm skin beneath their fingertips, of the jump of a heart thumping against their palm. Patience, that was what it all came back to. Slowly, carefully. Look before you leap, archangel. Nothing spontaneous, nothing unplanned. Take each decision and hold it up, scrutinise it from every angle, imagine every eventuality. Is it safe? Are you sure? Are you really sure? What if the unexpected happens? Are you still sure? Yes? Now, and only now, you can go ahead. But keep one eye open, archangel, always. Be cautious. Be patient. And only then can you dream. “It is waiting. Endlessly. It can feel like an eternity, even a moment of that waiting. Maddening, really. But it is necessary, patience. Yes, little one, it takes great patience to love somebody. To really love them. To see their open wounds, to heal them, to quietly discover the scars they keep hidden. There is a thrill in rushing in, yes, but there are consequences to recklessness. Stay safe, stay patient. Love might be the most dangerous thing there is.”

“Patience.” Crowley mouthed the word, forming the two syllables as carefully as if it was the first time he had truly heard them. He might not have understood it, not yet, but he would begin to respect it soon enough.

“Then there is rebellion.” Raphael smiled, breathing out a little laugh that could only ever accompany an inside joke millennia in the making. They paused before speaking again, allowing their thoughts to roam to the sweetest rebellion they had ever known. Lucifer’s very soul was rebellion incarnate, that burning need to bring about change, whatever the cost. They feared for them, and they loved them for it. “The very essence of passion. The need to do better, to be better. Rebellion isn’t always marching into war, or disruption, or chaos. Rebellion can be as simple as running forth towards something bigger than what you believe you deserve. Love is, after all, the quietest rebellion.”

When Raphael looked back to the forest floor they found the little angel looking at them, an eyebrow almost imperceptibly cocked, a hint of a smile dancing on his face. He knew, of course he did, of the archangel’s nickname for Lucifer. Lucifer the Rebel. As if it would ever have been anything else.

“Patience and rebellion. Light and dark.” He hesitated. Was it crossing an unspoken boundary? No. Not in the forest. It was safe there, for all of them. “One can’t be without the other.”

“No. No, they cannot be.” Raphael sighed. How much easier everything would be if that wasn’t the case. “There is a little more left to say when it comes to love, if you have time for the words of an old, rambling fool.”

“Rambling? I don’t think anybody could ever accuse you of speaking too easily, archangel.”

Raphael tutted, inclining their head to look down at the angel. “You didn’t correct me on the old, I see.”

“Or the foolish.” The little angel beamed back at him, innocence betrayed by the glint in his eyes that archangel prayed he would hold onto forever.

Please, little one, never lose it. Never lose that spark. Never stop causing chaos in your own sweet way. Don’t let this existence weigh on you, don’t ever lose the magic of breathing, the joy of creation. Whatever happens, never stop loving every moment of life.

“Next comes hope. It is too easy to let go of hope but you need it. Perhaps more than any of the other words I have mentioned. You cannot love without hope, and you certainly cannot be loved without it either. It is a two way exchange, love. Give and take. You have to be ready to receive love before you can ever hope to give it. Love is not emptiness; it can never be a hollow thing. You cannot hope for another’s love to fix every ill in your world, little one. Sometimes you must love yourself back together. Love should be a conditional thing; hold that thought inside yourself always. Do not lose yourself to a fallacy that merely wears love’s face as a mask. Always look past the veneer. Know that it is truly love before you let it in. Love must always come with conditions. Love should see you flourish, it should see you become bigger than the sum of your parts, it should lift you up until you fly. It should never grind you down, or keep you hovering low in the sky, clipped wings in the sunset. There is a danger to unconditional devotion, remember that.”

The archangel paused for breath, to lean down and pluck a stray blade of grass from the ankle of their robes. They rubbed it between their fingers, peering down at the green smear it left on their skin, raised a finger to their face to inhale the earthy scent of life that it left behind in its wake. After a moment, they continued, losing themselves to their reverie on love and the enduring hope that underpinned everything that made them all persist.

“Don’t mistake my words, though. I may be an old fool but I am not foolish enough to be telling you that love is a smooth sea. Love is a churning ocean, and that is why we live for it, and why we would die for it. Love is everything there ever is, or was, or will be. It is every emotion we have a name for, and all of the feelings that transcend the words we have within our grasp. There will be times when the one you love could feel like an enemy, or your biggest frustration, or someone you are tempted to sacrifice to that churning ocean. But to love them even when you feel as though it is madness? That is hope, little one, and you cannot love without it.”

“And the fourth?” The angel’s eyes were bright as they leaned forward, keen to keep their interruption brief, to do nothing that might see the archangel fold back in, to keep those wise words hidden inside, as they had for so long. “You said there were four words we must hold dear. Patience, rebellion, hope…what is the fourth?”

“Kindness. It should be the easiest one of all, shouldn’t it? Yet it is the first to slip away, the first to be cast aside in favour of change, of progress. Kindness is the tie that binds all of the hundreds of forms of love the universe has bestowed upon us. It is the simplest form of love, to show kindness to yourself, to another, even to the world.”

As Raphael spoke, hands gesturing slowly through the air as if they were shaping words with their fingertips, the angel closed his eyes, let the archangel’s words wash over him, tried to soak them up and lock them inside. Words to remember when everything felt hopeless, when he needed to remember that love was worth risking it all, that there could be no life without love, even if, sometimes, the only love to be found was for a particularly decadent biscuit.

“It is so simple to be kind, little one. Never forget that all of us, every being in the universe, from the highest angels in heaven to the tiniest birds who sweep through the skies below, might be fighting a secret war, might be suffering in silence. None of us show everything we are to the world. Remember that, always. You will never regret a single act of kindness. Kindness feeds your soul; it keeps you soft, rounded. Don’t let the world turn you into something hard, even when it feels as though that is all it’s trying to do. There is no weakness in being kind. It can take great strength to show kindness to those who would never show you kindness in return. But everybody deserves kindness, little one, especially those who do not believe it is what they deserve. Be kind, and you will never be wrong. And if you are kind and the world tells you you are wrong? Then it is the world that is broken, not you.”

Silence then, the archangel and angel of creation lost to their own musings as they stared up at the sky, watched the way the sun fought to shine through the trees, casting glittering beams of light through even the tiniest gaps between the leaves. The sun, Raphael thought, it will always find a way to shine. Like you, my love, my lightbringer.

Next to them, the little angel turned his thoughts to love. To how it might feel to give and receive love so easily, to feel love so all-encompassing that he would risk everything he held dear in the pursuit of it. The thought alone warmed him. He decided he would like to love and be loved, hoped there would be time enough for it, in the end. He looked at Raphael. Like you, archangel. Like both of you.

Finally, he spoke. “You…the two of you. Was it always so simple, so easy?”

“You think anything we have is simple? Do you watch us through a different slant of the light? There is nothing, nothing I have ever known in all of my long years as complicated, as wonderful, or as terrifying as that golden-haired temptation.” Raphael laughed, too caught off guard at the angel’s directness to protest innocence. He knew, they knew that; it was pointless to feign confusion.

“I see them, sometimes, watching you when you’re not looking. That’s how I began to understand what love might be. It looked like…they look peaceful, Raphael, when they look at you. As if everything they have ever needed is in your eyes.”

Raphael swallowed tightly, looking away as they forced the racing of their heart to slow, to calm. You are safe, you don’t have to hide from him. He knows. He sees you both. He sees everything you have worked so hard so hide. Perhaps, at last, there is somebody you do not have to hide from.

Trust, it was hard to come by in heaven. But there, in the forest on Earth, looking at the little one they had helped to step outside of every limit that had been placed upon him, Raphael realised that it might be time to learn to trust again.

“You love each other, don’t you? That’s what it is. I see your patience with them, the better world they hope for, and the two of you, all the kindness you’ve showed me throughout these long years.”

“And rebellion, which one of us might that be?” Raphael laughed. Loudly. Louder than they had for centuries. How good it felt to speak candidly, lightly, if only for a little while. “Lucifer will be the death of us all, I’m sure.”

“You fell in love, archangel, both of you. The quietest rebellion of all, didn’t you say?” Crowley stopped for a moment, then gestured to the clearing around them, to the trees, to all of the secrecy that place held within it. “You can come here, you know. Both of you. Somewhere safe to be together. Somewhere you can breathe, where you don’t have to hide. We all need a place to come to where we can be everything we are, all of the things we cannot show to the world.”

Raphael stopped, leaned forward to lay an arm across the angel’s shoulder and then shook their head, embracing him in a hug. “I… Thank you, little one. Your soul has always been one of heaven’s kindest. See, one step closer to understanding the mysteries of love already. It has been a privilege to walk here with you today.”

As he rested his chin on the archangel’s shoulder, the little angel of creation closed his eyes and smiled.

Patience. Rebellion. Hope. Kindness. And at the end of it all, love.

***

“This is paradise,” Lucifer breathed, nestling closer to Raphael as they lifted one arm out at eye-level, turned their hand this way and that and watched as the light caught their skin. Flashes of warmth, of sunshine, and sunbeams turning everything they touched golden, like honey. Like fire.

Next to them, Raphael felt a swell of pride as they pressed their forehead to the angel’s temple, closed their eyes and willed their mind to commit it all to memory: that place, every mighty tree, every fleck of dust dancing in the sun’s rays; and Lucifer, beside them, a hand resting gently against their thigh, lips pressed to the archangel’s neck whenever they could tear their eyes away from every wonder the forest held within it. Two fingers pressed to the angel’s chin as Raphael tilted it up, caught their mouth in a kiss, unhurried for the first time, as if they had eternity to lay together beneath the sky, as if they had already broken free, found their better world, as if they had made it there, the two of them, together.

“He did a beautiful job. He’s special. That heart, Lucifer. What else could he do, in time?”

Lucifer nodded, smiling, inclined their head for one more slow kiss before they spoke. “He is, yes, but I didn’t mean this place. I meant being here with you, free, instead of locking ourselves away. This is the way we should be. This is what paradise is.”

Time passed by, as time is bound to do, and the sun rose higher in the sky as the angel and archangel lay, limbs entwined, beneath that safe canopy of leaves. Raphael stared up at the sky, felt the soft weight of Lucifer’s head resting against their chest, rising and falling as their heart beat slowly, steadily, eternally. I could lay here with you, sweet Lucifer, until the heavens fall and hell rises up to take this place. Until the sun burns herself alive, until the moon drifts onwards to a new home, until all that is left of this place is this forest, I will hold you close, my Morningstar.

The archangel heard Lucifer breathe words against their chest, letters lifted clear and whipped away by the wind. They sat up a little, brought a hand to the angel’s golden hair. “Hmm?”

“I love you,” they said. It was the first time they had dared to speak the words aloud. The first time either of them had. The first time was tentative, as if an arrow might sail through the trees and pierce their heart just for having the audacity to share their heart with another. The second time, though, their words were stronger, unshakeable in their joy. “I love you, you know I do, don’t you?”

The archangel sat up, a hand sliding to Lucifer’s head to lift them gently off of their chest. Misheard them. You must have. Stop, you fool, stop your heart before it pounds out of your chest and you go back to the stars. When they spoke their voice was barely a whisper, as if they were afraid speaking might wake them from a dream. “What did you say?”

“You didn’t hear me?” Lucifer asked, lips parting in a smile, breath hitching in their throat as they pulled themselves up and moved as easily as if they knew the steps to a dance that no other entity in heaven could ever hope to understand. When they reached the centre of the clearing they looked back at Raphael, just for a moment, eyes a blaze of flame in the sunshine, and then they looked up at the sky, cupping their hands around their mouth to amplify the sound. “I love you, archangel. I have spent an eternity loving you, and I will love you for the rest of my days, until every world in the sky stops turning. Do you hear me, all of you? Do you hear me in heaven? Look at us, the sun and the moon. Together, at last.”

“Lucifer,” Raphael breathed, climbing to their feet. They knew they should be afraid, that they should fear being overheard, but they were too filled with a rush of love and relief and the desperation to join the angel’s joyous cries, to shout it out to the sky. Yes, yes, me too, I’m in love, I’m in love with this lawless angel. Just try and stop us.

“We are safe here, my love. Nobody can hear us, no witness but the trees.”

“Who else do we need to bear witness but the trees?” Raphael smiled, joined them in the centre of the clearing, and they heard laughter echo around them both, a sound that had fallen from their own lips.

Then there was nothing but the two of them, rebellion and patience, hands gripping hands as they shouted of their love for one another again and again, falling against each other as they laughed, sentences punctuated with the sweetest kisses of all. Raphael felt a pinch in their cheeks, realised their smile was wide enough to feel as though it might split their face in two at any moment, as if happiness could be enough to tear them straight down the middle, as if loving and being loved in such perfect harmony might be a joy so fleeting it could fracture them beyond repair.

As a hundred declarations of love echoed around them, the words shouldered and amplified by the trees, Raphael reached up to tuck a lock of hair behind Lucifer’s ear, pulled them close and closed their eyes, listened to their words fade into the air as they felt the warmth of Lucifer’s body pressed so tightly to their own. How can it be that I’m holding all of the sun’s fire in my arms?

“Don't ever change, Raphael,” Lucifer whispered softly, the words filled with creeping melancholy as their chin dug into the archangel’s shoulder, as if they needed that touch to know that they were real, both of them. “There is no shame in patience. We should all think a little more, speak a little less. We should all be more like you. Perhaps heaven would never have lost its way if we were.”

“And what would we be without you?” Raphael murmured, pulling back just far enough to get lost in those eyes, golden flames in the sunlight that had held them captive since the very beginning. “What would this existence be without your light?”

Lucifer smiled but it was nothing but a flash, replaced a heartbeat later with a downward turn in their lips as they held one hand up between them, waited for their fingers to catch the light. “Look at her. She doesn’t need me any more. Putting her to sleep when the stars are ready for the night, waking her up to light the way each morning. What does it matter any more? She shines alone, just the way she should. She is beautiful now, with or without me. There is nothing for me here, Raphael. Nobody here needs me. Not any more.”

“I do.”

Another smile, and that time it lingered. They brought a hand up to the archangel’s face, ran their fingertips from their brow to their cheeks, down to the soft slope of their jaw, to lips that held all the tension of a thousand stolen kisses. “And I need you, gentle love of my life. I will not leave this place without you. We’re not the only ones, Raphael. There are others, so many more than you know, who want change, who will go in search of it, whatever the cost.”

Raphael sighed. It was done then, that moment of peace beneath the trees, now it was back to the same quiet argument they had been having for so many long, draining years. “It is safer to enact change from the inside, Lucifer. What you want, what you’re planning, it’s too dangerous. It can only lead to war.”

“We’ve been talking about change for a thousand years, Raphael. About the way things were, the way they could be again. The way they should be. But not here. This place is broken. There’s a sickness here. Sin.” They laughed, a sound as thin and brittle as a leaf curled and decaying on the forest floor. “Questions are a sin now. So is the truth. Look above you, look at the sky. A thousand other worlds. There has to be something better than this. Somewhere we can start again. We are not the only ones who feel this way. I know that he…”

Raphael swallowed, shaking their head, felt their hands tremble against their robes. It was merciless, Lucifer’s slow trudge towards doom, a fantasy so bright it could never lead anywhere but chaos. When the archangel spoke their voice brimmed over with protective desperation. “Not him, Lucifer, please. Leave him. Leave them. Leave the little ones. Do not make them promises built on nothing but your dreams.”

Lucifer looked up at them, eyes glowing as surely as a fire’s last embers. Dying slowly, but beautifully.

“They were our dreams once. Remember?”

Chapter Text

“What is it?” Raphael asked, because even heaven’s quietest archangel could grow weary of silence, particularly silence filled with unspoken schemes they knew they were on the outside of. They looked from Lucifer to Crowley, felt their heart sink as they took in their shared smile of satisfaction, of reckless hope.

“Our number grows, archangel,” Lucifer said. Their voice might have been cryptic but there was no secret hidden there. As if they would ever have been speaking of anything other than sky high fantasies of gathering together every angel who dreamed of something different, of a new beginning, and taking them far away, to another world where they could begin again. Properly, that time. Leading with kindness, with passion for life and love and creation, and every other spark with which She had brought them all into being.

Raphael looked down, fingers sliding down the smooth arms of their chair, carved by their own hands. They sighed. They knew, better than most, of the other worlds Lucifer spoke of. Of other heavens, other hells, a thousand celestial realms scattered throughout their universe. And what of the other universes? A hundred more, perhaps, or a million, an infinite number of times and places and even, yes, infinite universal architects. Did their Almighty know them, Raphael wondered, or did all hallowed deities walk a lonely path, passing close enough to reach out and touch if only they would look up, look out, and dream of what if there is more than me?

Each world was nothing but an experiment, one more test in the pursuit of paradise. Will this be the one? Does it contain all the elements to bring about perfection? In the never-ending balancing act, might this be the last world of all, the ultimate creation? No. No, of course not. Let it burn itself out then, let it freeze itself to extinction, let it die, but slowly. Because we can learn from disaster, can’t we? Mistakes. Inevitable. Necessary, even. An eternity of hope followed by inevitable demise could drive you to madness, Raphael understood, if only you cared. Neutrality. That was the key to divine creation, of course. Dream, design, delegate, and then move on. Always moving, always dreaming, never looking back for more than a glimpse. Don’t stay for too long or it will get to you, they will get to you, draw you in until all you can do is watch and pray and hope that these are the little ones who make it. That they are the ones who give themselves permission to believe their home is the paradise those so much older and wiser than them have been searching for for all of time.

“Raphael?”

The archangel opened their eyes, found fingers pressed to their palm, accompanied by Lucifer’s voice, that softness that was reserved for one, and only one. Raphael smiled, a quick nod of the head to bring them back to that moment. It had been happening more and more, drifting into a reverie of everything that lay beyond the stars, of what they might find if they ever did blindly follow Lucifer wherever they would go. A pipe dream, of course, nothing else. They couldn’t leave, not when Gabriel’s cruelty was a creeping dread. Because even heaven had dark corners in which shadows lurked. There were too many sweet souls who needed a foil for Gabriel and Michael’s sharp tongues, hard eyes. What would heaven become, after all, if everybody who dreamed of better times was to leave? The day kindness deserted heaven was the day it would become truly lost. And they had promised Her, hadn’t they? They had promised to look after Her new world, to keep the passion for creation alive. She had given them so much, how could they abandon the world She believed might be the one, after all that time?

“You have to stop this,” the archangel said, eyes roaming from Crowley to Lucifer. So similar. Every day you become more of them and less of me. “There are whispers. No. They are no longer only whispers, and you know that. Gabriel is…he is planning something. Please, both of you, stop this. Stop asking questions you don’t want to know the answer to.”

It was Crowley who spoke first, their creator of the forests, of the first life. “We know the answer, Raphael, and it’s change.”

Next to him, Lucifer nodded, and there was pride in their smile.

“We can’t change things like this. Change is gradual here.” Please, both of you, listen to me. I have seen this. I know how this ends. Please, don’t become like the thousands of honourable rebels of time gone by, snuffed out like nothing at all, reduced to whispered stories told by candlelight, legends of consequence.

Crowley swallowed, and there was worry in his eyes but determination in the set of his jaw, the smallest rise of his chin. That defiance was a mirror image of the teacher sitting to his left, who looked on, watching their own creation come into his own. “And what might have become of me, if you hadn’t wanted to bring about change, to bring a little more kindness into heaven, Raphael? What will become of the others, so many others who are just like me, if we all decide change must be gradual?”

Raphael looked away. It was the truth, they knew that. It was unparalleled loyalty to the Almighty that kept them there, for the most part, but it was fear, too. Because what if their great experiment went wrong? What if they did leave? What if they promised the world to a hundred young angels and led them into the stars to…where? To what end? To wander, alone, for eternity, searching for paradise that existed nowhere but in Lucifer’s beautiful mind? Was heaven, a flawed home, better than the risk of no home at all? But could heaven ever be home without you? They looked up at Lucifer, found them looking back, pleading, as if that moment was the last chance, as if it was the last time they would ever ask.

I can’t leave Her, or them, Raphael wanted to say. I love you, please, Lucifer, forgive me.

Though their words remained unsaid, there was something in their eyes that gave Lucifer every answer they needed, as if Raphael’s silence was confirmation, at last, of everything they had always suspected.

The angel rose from their chair and that sad smile twisted into a flare of passion, of words thrown out and instantly regretted but impossible to take back. “We don’t all have your patience, archangel. Stay in the old world if you want to, Raphael, die with it if that’s what you believe in. But there will be a new world and we will go there soon enough, even if we have to fight our way there, with or without your blessing.”

They left without another word, a beam of light fading as they disappeared from Raphael's office for the very last time. And then there was only Crowley looking over his shoulder, giving Raphael an apologetic half smile, and then he left too, trailing blindly in Lucifer’s wake.

***

Some Years Later.

Outside, the celestial sky raged. Inside, infinite angels sat and stared and waited for what felt like the inevitable conclusion to that pivotal chapter of heaven’s eternal history.

“You stand here before us, the betrayers of heaven, traitors to the Almighty. What punishment equates to everything you have done here?” Gabriel’s voice ricocheted around the room like a stray bullet, ripping through everything in its path. He stalked up and down the rows of angels on stage, meeting their eyes and looking for repentance, or fear. He didn’t find what he was looking for, found only rebellion, conviction in their belief of a better world. They were unshakeable, the rebels, would fall to Michael’s axe for eternity before they would ever bend their heads and seek confession.

Lucifer, as radiant as they had ever been, stood in the centre. They were, after all, the ring leader, the one who had quietly gathered an army who marched only for change, for the right to choose, for the right to leave that place, to begin again, to seek a new leader, one who believed in governing with kindness, with love and patience. The others fanned out on either side, flanking their unofficial leader in neat rows as if they were standing proudly in battle formation. But the battle, such as it was, had been fought, it had been lost, and now they stood on stage to receive their judgement.

What the judgement was to be, however, was the last question to be answered. Lucifer looked out at the audience of their peers: those who had quietly supported their plans but had been too fearful of repercussions to stand with them in solidarity, and those who had called them unholy, had called them selfish and ungrateful, those who had cried that they were dragging heaven into disrepute, that they had lost their way and must be corrected. The angel’s eyes were always moving, roving from face to face without settling in any one place for too long. There was one pair of eyes, however, that they refused to meet. They couldn’t risk finding disappointment there, or love.

Raphael saw their gaze flick back to Gabriel who stood in front of them, turned away as he addressed the audience. They saw the flash in Lucifer’s eyes, the headstrong confidence that laid there. Do what you will, archangel, they seemed to think. How can you banish me without that inevitable change you dread becoming a reality? Send us away, archangel, do it, and watch heaven tear itself apart from the inside out. Do you fear change so much that you would destroy this place over a few rebel angels looking for a new home?

Michael stood in the far corner of the stage, silent and foreboding, one hand gripping the axe that had cut them down, would cut down any and all angels who dared to question what Gabriel and, by proxy, the Almighty commanded of them.

The angels had gathered to watch the sentencing. There had been something of a trial, according to whispers, but it had taken place behind closed doors. Only a select few of Gabriel’s choosing had been present to hear the rebels plead their case, to hear Gabriel’s swift verdict of guilt to be shared between them, regardless of the role they had played in the uprising. The archangels were present. All of them had been summoned to play the part of jury. Except for one.

Raphael tasted blood on their tongue before the guilty had even taken to the stage. They had heard the verdict, knew that the only thing left to be delivered was the sentence. What would it be, they wondered? A lifetime of servitude in the lowest ranks? An eternity of penance? There was no precedent for this, no benchmark against which to weigh up a suitable punishment. Gabriel did not like to be challenged, they knew that, as every entity in heaven did. Change is gradual here. Still, Lucifer had believed so absolutely in their dreams of a better world that they were willing to lose everything to bring it into being. 

They had known Lucifer would be there, of course, front and centre, the poster child for the failed rebellion. Gabriel would make an example of them, Raphael knew that, was ready to pick up the pieces and help them rebuild themselves in the wake of whatever revenge the archangel had planned. What they hadn’t known for sure, had hoped so desperately they had been wrong about, was who else Lucifer had dragged into the rebellion with them. 

Leave the little ones, Lucifer, don’t risk them in this, Raphael had begged them in the forest on one of the hundred stolen nights they had spent there, dreaming and hoping and loving without fear. Don’t fill their minds with a fantasy we can never deliver. Don’t tempt him into this, please.

They had, though, of course they had. Raphael had feared it was true that day in their office, the last time the three of them had been together, that their little creator had fallen under Lucifer’s spell, because who could resist those promises of change, of paradise?

The archangel thought back to that very morning when they had been summoned, along with the rest of heaven, to watch Lucifer and their rebel army await judgement. They had peeled away from the crowd, crept into their office for a moment of calm before whatever would come after. The biscuit tin. They had found it exactly where they had left it, the lid pressed tightly closed. No midnight biscuit thief had come to disturb it. And then they had known for sure. He was safe here, and he was happy. How could you, Lucifer, how could you do this to them? To him?

Up on stage there was a shift in the ranks, and there he was: red curls falling below his shoulders and those golden eyes, all the changing colours of nature beneath the sunset. So young. He looked so young. Too young to be standing there, as Gabriel prowled amongst them, speaking of sin and judgement and penance.

Gabriel stopped then, back ramrod straight as a smile graced his face. The picture of divinity, if such a thing existed. Words fell from his lips, dripping in satisfaction, whispered but audible in every ear in the cavernous room.

“I always knew I would see you standing before me one of these days. Kindred spirits, were you? One happy little family of rebels.”

A falter then, in the little one’s face, a flash of millennia-old fear at the sound of that voice, ever more dangerous the quieter it grew. His eyes searched the crowd for anything, anyone, who might provide him any sort of comfort in those last moments before everything changed for every one of heaven’s angels, whether they stood on stage or sat in the audience, watching, waiting.

Raphael braced their hands against their chair, was halfway out of their seat before they sank back down, defeated. What can I do? What good would come of it? It is too late. The time for bravery has passed. You allowed this to happen to them. Cowardice hiding behind the pretence of patience.

To still their heart, to shoulder their guilt, Raphael forced their mind back to a conversation, one of so many that had taken place with only the moon and the trees as witness, back before the war that had never really had a chance to begin, back before they fell, all of them, at the hands of Gabriel and Michael’s divine army. It had been a moment of fragility, of last minute pessimism, as if Lucifer had already understood the folly they were about to lead ten thousand devoted followers into.

If anything happens to me, Raphael, they had said, voice low as they raced to say the words before they lost their nerve. If anything goes wrong, promise me you’ll stay, promise me you won’t follow me into whatever darkness awaits. Look after them, the little ones, and then, when it’s time, when it’s safe, take them far away from this place. Take them somewhere good, somewhere better. Promise me.

“There is no punishment, of course, befitting this most unholy of betrayals.” Gabriel took to the front of the stage, positioning himself in front of Lucifer, obscuring them from view, denying them one last look at freedom. “You wanted to leave this place, that is what you told me. You wanted to leave heaven. And I see no reason why I should not grant you that request. Let it be known, my family, that not one of you here today is bound to heaven. If you want to leave, I will not keep you here against your will.”

A rumble of confusion rolled out from the crowd and the angels on stage shifted in disbelief. Was he going to allow them to leave, really, after everything? Even Crowley, with all his innate distrust of heaven’s ruling forces, eyed Gabriel with interest, as the archangel looked over his shoulder, smiling good-naturedly as he took in their shock at the sentence he had delivered. The sentence that was, it sounded, like everything they had always wanted. They would learn that day, all of them, to be careful what they wished for.

“You will be leaving heaven today, all of you. You sought to leave in search of a new beginning, of a better world. There is one world who would be glad to give you shelter. A chance, as you always wished, to start again. A new name, a new family, a new home. For eternity.”

A shift then in Gabriel’s expression, a narrowing of the eyes, the interlinking of fingers as they began to tremble with excitement. One lone archangel caught it, while thousands of angels looked on in interest, jealous that they would not be discovering this new home along with those who stood on stage. Regret, perhaps, that they had not answered Lucifer’s call to arms, that they had declined to stand by the Morningstar’s side.

No, Raphael thought, felt a dark swirl of dread that began in their stomach and rose up and up until it was gripping the back of their neck. No. It's a trap. Where are you sending them, Gabriel? Please, no, don’t send them away. Give them penance, don’t give them exile. Please. I will never find them, not in all the wilds of the universe. They would have a second, maybe less, to put a stop to the madness. They jumped to their feet. Could they get there in time? Could they take Michael’s axe, bury it in Gabriel’s chest before he could finish whatever hideous punchline he was poised to share? They looked at the celestial soldiers stationed in each doorway. Were they armed? Could they disarm them all, one by one, in a second? As Raphael turned, prepared to fight their way up to the stage, to pull Lucifer free, whatever the cost, their frantic gaze settled on somebody in the crowd, seated a row behind them, and everything stilled as they took in the halo of white blond curls framing a face that was sick with terror, that looked so petrified with fear that even breathing seemed an effort too great to comprehend. And that was when Raphael knew that they wouldn’t move from their chair until Gabriel’s malice was complete, knew that had to keep the promise they had made to Lucifer that day in the forest. They had to stay, had to protect those souls who would be left, to guide them through whatever madness was about to infect heaven's realm.

Gabriel clapped his hands together, a sound as sharp and sudden as the crack of a whip against the night sky, and then they were gone, those rows of condemned angels, until only three figures were left on the stage: Gabriel, Michael, and Lucifer, the one who had set in motion everything that was to come.

The archangel’s voice sounded a moment later, as light and joyful as if they were announcing the date of the next divine conference. “They’ll give my regards to the underworld, I hope. The Lord of Darkness has been so very accommodating, after all.”

The underworld, the Lord of Darkness, no… As confusion gave way to understanding and realisation descended on the angels in the audience, horror filled the room, rising up from the rows of seats until it was everywhere at once, as if it was a fog, as if they might all choke on it. Screams came then, angels staggering from their seats and bolting for locked doors, and the sky turned black overheard.

She is here, Raphael understood. She is watching. Why isn’t She stopping this? Please, Mother, please stop this madness. Bring them back, please, I beg you. Don’t punish them for wanting more, don’t punish them for dreaming of better days. Don’t let them be cursed for dreaming of the same thing you do. How could you, Mother? Please.

Raphael looked up then, took in the empty sprawl of the stage where so many brave little angels had stood just a heartbeat before. In a flash, gone, all of them. Sent to...where? Hell? For the crime of curiosity? Gabriel looked back at them, holding their gaze for long enough that it could only be a test, then a smile spread across his face, as if the real show was just about to begin, and he turned back to Lucifer.

“Are you scared, Lucifer? What do you feel? Is it fear? Or regret? Ten thousand soldiers stood behind you, and every one of them is now bound to hell in your name. This is your doing, Morningstar. Do you understand that? Hold it close, traitor. In the dark pit of Satan’s unending hell where you will spend the rest of your days, never forget it. Everything that they must endure, everything that they will become, is because of you. And now here you stand, alone. So brave, even at the end.”

The angel’s face remained impassive, their eyes trained dead ahead, lips set in a straight line. Neither a smile nor a grimace. Gabriel’s breath was a sigh of frustration, and then they leaned in closer until wet lips were pressed to the angel’s cheek, snarling hissed words that, miraculously, could be heard creeping into every ear in the room. “And now, our grand finale, what to do with you, Lucifer? The Morningstar. The Lightbringer. She loved you, didn’t She? Right from the very beginning. The herald of the dawn, master of the sun. Everything She gave you was a privilege you never deserved. She gave you life, She gave you trust, She gave you beauty. And you betrayed Her. You betrayed this place.

“Your army will spend eternity serving hell, however Satan wishes. He is their Almighty now. But what will become of the fallen Morningstar? I’ve heard the Great Beast has something quite special planned for you, Lucifer.” Gabriel reached up to run a finger under Lucifer’s chin, a stroke of ice across their skin, the last touch they might ever know, and then ran a hand through their hair, those golden strands that shone like stardust even then, in the final moments before the end, and Raphael felt blood pool beneath their fingernails as they sank deeper into their palms. “That wild, wonderful imagination. That spark of light. If only you could have had patience to guide you. What a waste.”

Then Gabriel was gripping Lucifer by the neck, as if he could only be satisfied if he squeezed the life from them himself, as if he could only rest after he saw the light die in their eyes there, on stage, with all of heaven watching. Then, perhaps, they would understand his power. Only then would they all understand his devotion to the Almighty. 

For a moment heaven was plunged into darkness, as if the sun had been plucked from the sky. And then Lucifer was gone, and Gabriel was left gripping nothing at all. Confusion tugged his brows together for a heartbeat and then he barked out a laugh, hollow and cruel. Victorious, at last.

They sat in silence. They sat in awe. They sat in disbelief that the Morningstar was gone, that they had lost the mischievous trickster who had danced in the corridors of heaven as sunlight had poured over them, who had coaxed the sun from her sleepy bed each morning until she learned how to shine alone, who had travelled to the stars to light them, each and every one, after Raphael and their angels had called them into being.

They were one less. They were ten thousand less. There would be time enough to mourn. First, to safety. They rose as one, heads bowed, hands tucked neatly beneath their robes, and crept, single-file and compliant, towards those great towering doors, unbolted after a nod from the archangel Michael, who returned to staring, unblinking, at the place where Lucifer had stood just a moment before.

As heaven’s remaining angels poured into the corridors and began to breathe again, an archangel walked amongst them, silent and unreadable.