I. Lucifer was grown from the seed of a photon, nested in the heart of a nebula. When he was no bigger than a white dwarf, God took Michael to see him. He let Michael hold Lucifer—just by the wing-tips, for Lucifer was still only boiling dust and hydrogen gas. But he was already so bright, so hot, atoms trying to fly in a hundred directions at once. ‘Michael,’ the Father had said, ‘this is your brother. You will have many brothers after him, and you will love them all, but not as you love this one, for he was first.’
In his more uncharitable moments, Michael thinks it may have been the cruelest thing his Father has asked of him.
II. The younger angels don’t remember a time before the War. They’ve never seen the Garden as it once was—green and full, angels wandering beneath the boughs barefoot, laughing. Once, when Michael is inspecting the eastern garrison, he tells one of the footsoldiers to re-make his bed, it looks like an ox got into the tabernacle.
Sir, I don’t—what is that?
What’s what, soldier?
Michael stares. Then, he exhales shakily, lowering himself to sit on the footsoldier’s cot. Well, he says, trying to find the words. (Words were always Gabriel’s gift, and Michael hasn’t seen him since Gabriel’s company departed for earth.) Before the beginning, there was us. And then…then there was everything else.
By the time he finishes, the whole garrison sits at his feet, listening. They are very young, and Michael loves them enough for his heart to break.
III. Haniel learns how to play “You Are My Sunshine” on a harmonica he borrowed from a baptist preacher in the 20th century. The sound is sorrowful, winding through the trenches.
IV. Michael is wounded, a gash running from his breastbone to his hip. He screams at the pain of it, shouting orders and obscenities as his men carry him back to the field hospital. Raphael is there, and at the sight of Michael he goes white, folding his hands together to keep them from shaking.
Michael slips out of consciousness at some point, but he remembers Raphael leaning over him whispering, Don’t die, please don’t die, you’re all I have left, please—
V. Zophiel still laughs every time she opens her wings.
VI. There is going to be a war, Michael had told Sandalphon, after Lucifer brought sin into the Garden. There is going to be a war, and none of us are prepared for what it will unleash upon Heaven. We were not made to be weapons.
Sandalphon had looked at him for a long moment. Thy will be done, brother, he said finally, and smiled.
VII. Michael had chosen Leliel as his batman for no other reason than she could make him laugh. She could make him laugh, and still, after all the blood and mud she had washed from his skin, after all the bodies they had watched carried past, there was light in her eyes.
VIII. They used to sing together. All the choirs of angels in one perfect fourth, shaking distant planets on the chorus. Michael missed that.
It had been one of the only times he was truly happy.
IX. Once, he comes upon a drinking party—a handful of lesser angels tucked away in a back corner of the trench, drinking foul wine they probably fermented in a galea. They are slightly drunk and stumble too late to their feet as he approaches, not quite managing to stay upright or stop snickering, nudging one another.
Soldiers, Michael greets them calmly. I trust you are having a pleasant evening?
One of them—Eremiel, or Nuriel, Michael can’t remember the youngling’s name—snaps out something (generously) resembling a salute and says, A very pleasant evening, big brother!
He immediately turns bright red, and stammers, Sir, I meant sir, I really meant sir, I swear it, big brother—
Eremiel or Nuriel looks like he would very much like to die, right now, and so Michael steps forward, and kisses his little brother’s forehead. Thank you, he breathes. Even if you know not why.
He leaves them there, to their laughter and terrible wine, feeling light enough that his wings just might carry him.
X. The End of Days comes and goes. Michael sits beneath the tree of knowledge and watches his brothers walk through the Garden, barefoot, laughing.
Somewhere in the Garden he can hear Lucifer, singing in perfect fourths.