Starts out pre-canon, with spoilers through season five. There's some violence, death and torture (also in reference to children), but none of it's really described in any vivid detail.

Oh, also there's a Lucifer/Gabriel pariring in here. Any other pairings involving Gabriel are up for interpretation, but that one's pretty clear. It's not the point of the story, but it is a very important part of it.


"Every single thing changes and is changing always in this world. Yet with the same light the moon goes on shining." ~Saigyo

He feels the urgency rise within him. There are no words to describe this feeling, he does not have the words to describe this feeling; it is unlike anything he has ever felt before. The only thing he knows for certain is that they need to be closer. Need to…

Their graces touch.

It is familiar, this feeling of grace against grace. He has felt it before. It is warm and bright, as it always is (as any brush of another's grace against his own will always be). Yet, at the same time it is entirely unlike anything he has ever known. This grace is different from any other grace he will ever know (has always been unlike any other grace). It is more. Always so much more.

The words are not enough. They are not right. They do not speak of why this time is so vastly different.

The touch of grace against grace (treasured, welcomed and filled with joy) sooths this nameless thing inside of him, this thing he does not quite understand. It is still there, inside him, this thing he has no name for, less urgent now with their graces so close to each other.

Grace touching grace, and it is still there; a slowly growing heat inside his own grace.

He still needs.

They move closer to each other. Closer than he has ever been to anyone, closer than he has ever thought possible. Grace slips into grace and a heat that matches his own rises up to greet him. His need… their need, matching each other, blending together and spiralling ever higher, fuelled by the other so close.

The need grows ever stronger as their graces meld into each other.

There is barely room for anything except the rising urgency of this wordless need. But inside the ever rising maelstrom of nameless desire, there is a moment of clarity.

For a moment… he doubts.

This thing inside his grace, this aching need matched by equal need, is nothing he has ever felt before. It is nothing he has ever witnessed, ever heard of. And he doubts. He does not know that this can be part of his purpose. How could he be made for things there are no words for, things that have never been before?

He cannot give voice to the word, cannot give name to new things. This is new, a thing without a name and he does not know if this is Father's will. (How can he not know?)

A sudden certainty rises within his grace. This is. He does not know where the certainty comes from (too close, grace to grace. Blended. It is impossible to tell), but it is enough. It is true.

He cannot go against his purpose, cannot do what he is not meant to do. (And so he does not.) He does not have the words, but this does not mean the words do not exist (they have not yet been revealed to him). This is part of him, this was made part of him and therefore it cannot be wrong.

The thing made of heat and need and urgency swells ever higher within him and the moment of clarity swirls away. It is drowned by this urgent, growing need within them.

Their graces blend together ever more, closer than he has ever been to anyone. Closer than he can ever be to anyone else. It is as if this is how it was always meant to be. As if they were created to become one being.

Everything else falls away. His voice rises in joy.

oOo

Gabriel makes his way through Heaven with swiftness and beauty (he can feel the adoration of the lesser angels as he passes). The ever present music swirls around him; it strikes his grace gently (as it always does) and rings out in pleasant harmony with it. He barely restrains himself from raising his voice to follow the joyful movements of sound.

He is going somewhere, and as much as it would please him to join his voice with the music of Heaven, he does not wish to be late.

He knows Father's love is constant and all encompassing, but somehow, in this moment, it feels almost like there is more of it than ever before (Gabriel is more in harmony with everything). He is certain his grace must shine brightly with his good cheer, but there is no reason why he should mind. No reason at all why all of Heaven should not be made brighter by his joy.

(The joy of one is the joy of all. As it should be.)

Father has expressed no disapproval. There is no doubt at all that the reason for Gabriel's joy is known to Father (everything is known to Father). Whether the rest of Heaven knows or not does not matter. Whether the rest of Heaven approves or not does not matter. They all follow Father's will. (They can do no else.)

Everything Gabriel is, is part of the purpose Father created him for. He does not know the full extent of that purpose (not yet), but he does not doubt Father. He cannot doubt Father. This joy, and the reason for it, is part of Gabriel now.

It is obvious that Gabriel has no reason to hide his joy; he would happily announce it to all of Heaven, to all of Creation, if the choice was solely his. Joy like his should not be hidden and Heaven is not a place of secrets.

But there is no hurry. This joy will not soon fade and there is time yet to make it part of the music that swirls around him. He will wait a while still.

(There is some pleasure in sharing knowledge only with the one most precious to you.)

Lucifer's presence shines brightly throughout the spheres, and Gabriel heads toward it. (It is where he needs to be.) Lucifer is more bright and beautiful than anything else in Heaven, save for Father. Even with his grace brightened with his immeasurable joy, Gabriel pales at the beauty of his brother.

Gabriel is ever thankful that if the others cannot behold Father, then at least they have his brother's beauty to inspire them. In nothing is Father's glory more apparent than in Lucifer's presence.

He stops far enough away as to not disturb his brother unduly. He knows Lucifer has not missed his approach (cannot miss it), but it is not for Gabriel to interrupt.

Like usual, Gabriel is not alone. He is not the only one who has come to watch (is never the only one). At least a few of the lower ranking angels always stop to watch for a while, before going about their tasks. He fully shares their delight at the sight.

Even though, unlike his younger brothers, Gabriel has the privilege of being able to stand in the presence of their Father, and gaze upon his visage; Lucifer, here, in this moment, in this dance of grace and power is always more beautiful than anything else he has ever seen. (Praise be to the glory of Father.)

It is a sight Gabriel has stood witness to, time after time; the Powers flying through their drills, his brother in the lead. It does not matter how many times he sees it; the sight never becomes any less beautiful. It is as it should be; these are Heaven's elite and their commander is the brightest of all the angels in Heaven, even more beautiful here, doing what he was created for. Nothing should be more beautiful than this, save for Father (that is different, nothing is more beautiful than their Father).

At the thought of his brother, warmth spreads through his grace and his clear, bright joy turns a shade softer.

After a time, Lucifer disengages from the rest of the formation and swoops down to hover next to Gabriel, his grace shining ever brighter in delight, and Gabriel's own grace can hardly grow any brighter than it is. Lucifer's grace brushes against his briefly in familiar greeting and the pleasant warmth inside his grace rises to something more urgent before Lucifer draws back.

"Gabriel," he says, and chords of amusement and affection weave together in his voice. Gabriel does not need words to answer him; the affection, warmth and joy he feels in the presence of his brother are clear in his grace (more clear to Lucifer than anyone else).

Gabriel does not try to hide it. Why would he?

For a moment they both watch the Powers in their dazzling flight. Lucifer's satisfaction at the sight warms him, and almost without realising, Gabriel moves closer to his brother. Drawn towards his brother's grace, it is almost impossible not to wrap himself up in it.

His grace stops just shy of touching.

"Their love for you is almost overwhelming," Gabriel notes.

"It is part of their purpose." Lucifer states the truth with simplicity.

It is the perfect moment to share what Gabriel knows, now more than ever. It is such a simple and natural statement to follow Lucifer's words. As it is mine.

The truth of it is suddenly so sharp and clear inside him, and the desire to make it known to everyone, to Lucifer, is overwhelming. In Heaven there is a name for every thing Father creates. There is power in words, in naming things, and Gabriel needs to make this real, now that he knows.

(He knew there had to be a word for this.)

The intent of the words Gabriel is about to speak gathers around them. An inescapable weight in the space surrounding them. The heaviness against his grace is almost unpleasant, but there is also something beautiful about this moment. The moment of uncertainty, where the words have not yet been made quite real, when anything might still happen.

Then, Gabriel feels their Father's wish for his presence. For a moment, unspoken words squeeze painfully at his grace.

"I should go back to training," Lucifer tells him, Father's will always as clear to him as it ever will be to Gabriel (Lucifer will ever be Father's favourite).

The intent of the words dies down, dissipates around them. "Yes," Gabriel's voice rings out into the space that just a moment ago was waiting for something entirely different. The word comes out with difficulty around the heaviness of intent that still lingers in his grace.

Their graces touch briefly before they part (regret at the parting, warmth, joy at the next time they will be in each other's presence). The words are left unspoken, the moment lost in the music of the spheres.

oOo

"Would not Lucifer or Michael be better suited for this?" Gabriel asks Father. He would not have picked himself out for this particular task, but since Father chose him he is curious to find out why. Father has chosen Gabriel and this means that, for some reason which Gabriel cannot see, this task must be best suited to him.

There is a reason for everything Father does, even when no one else can see it. If he knows why, he can better fulfil Father's wishes (he cannot go against them).

"The armies of Heaven are not needed for this. Not even a small part of them," Father says with fondness. An answering surge of knowing fondness rises within Gabriel.

Of course he knows Lucifer would have taken his Powers, would most likely have insisted that they need the training. Lucifer always says they need the training, even though each and every one of them are the finest warriors in all of Heaven. His brother will never stop striving to be better (it is why he is the best).

And Michael… Gabriel cannot picture his brother as anything less than the General he is; an order to him would likely be an order to mobilise the armies of Heaven. Michael has never been known for his subtlety, it is not his role to fill.

"It is not?" he asks, because he still cannot see why this is so. It seems to him like a task easiest fulfilled by more than one angel.

What is easy and quick and painless is not always right. He knows this.

"No, my son."

Father tells him no more, and so it is all that Gabriel needs to know.

The rest is for him to accomplish on his own.

oOo

For an instant, he feels the soul scream in pure agony as the touch of his grace sears it out of existence. In less than a moment it is gone, the only thing left are the small echoes inside his grace that will soon fade into nothing. The only evidence that the soul ever existed at all, are the faint memories of the vessel, now forever lost inside the vastness of his grace.

The vessel he has chosen is not strong enough to house both his grace and the soul that occupied it until moments ago. No vessel, save perhaps his true one, will ever be strong enough. It will not be long before his grace will consume the vessel as well, but it should hold up long enough for his purposes. That is all he needs of it.

He tries to make himself comfortable inside the mortal flesh, settle himself inside these boundaries that are necessary for him to stay on Earth, but his grace keeps straining against the confines, pushing against the limits of this self-imposed prison (it will not hold him for long). It is far from a pleasant feeling, but comfort is not necessary.

Perhaps next time, he will have the time to find something that fits him better.

Gabriel rolls his shoulders and takes a small step forward. He will simply have to make do with what he has.

oOo

It is so very easy. Almost too easy, he thinks. (It should be harder.) As always, Father knew exactly what he was doing when he chose Gabriel for this (when he made Gabriel). He expected no less, but even though Father is all knowing and would not send Gabriel to a task he is not able to fulfil, Gabriel still expected there would be more challenge to it. (He is not disappointed, the sooner he is done, the sooner he may return to Heaven.)

The vessel he chose for himself is a scribe (important, trusted; a subtle power). It is no great matter to gain access to the right ears; no difficulty at all to forge the right documents and make sure the wrong information gets to the right people. He is a scribe, only another scribe could ever notice, and they are only human.

It is not long before there is ample proof that there is a rebellion brewing.

It is only the beginning.

oOo

It begins with hushed whispers, but day by day… execution by execution, the whispers grow louder. The king has gone mad, they say.

There are impaled bodies at the centre of the market. The newest ones are still alive.

There always seems to be new ones, even before the old ones have had time to die. Sometimes you can't quite tell the living from those already dead. Too close to death all of them, and they don't move much at all, not more than the dead ones do, and they are all too quiet, whether dead or alive.

It is a blessing for those who frequent the marketplace. The quiet. So much easier to go about your business, to pretend that the bodies are not there, if they cannot give voice to their agony.

(The smell is unmistakable. The cloying presence of festering death under the bright, hot sun. The sweet, rotting taste of it on their tongues. No one can quite ignore it, but it does not stop them from trying.)

Not that any of them would scream for very long in any case; the midday sun is scorching (makes the stench so much worse) and thirst would drive them into quietness soon enough. But they do not scream, not once they are up there. Hoisted up high on those poles (not an easy thing to do at all), like some horrible mockery of a standard. They simply can't make a sound, save for some wordless moans; their own weight pressing their jaws shut as well as any binding could.

A long drawn out scream pierces through the crowd. He doesn't even need to see to know that another supposed insurgent is being executed. The blunt pole driven slowly through him as he screams, until he can't anymore. Until the pole pierces through his chest (and it must take great force indeed) and presses under his jaw, and he will never scream again.

The king is quelling a rebellion that never existed. Examples, warnings, to anyone who would dare rise up against the king. They never thought of it… before now.
The king is mad.

The people are right, in a way. Gabriel knows the things their king fears, knows the right words to whisper into his ear to drive him mad with it (rebellion, loss of power, torture, death).

He picks up an orange from one of the stalls. No coins pass from Gabriel to the vendor and no one notices. They never do. At least there are some small… enjoyments, while being confined to this chafing vessel.

He can feel how the thing is failing, moment by moment. How his grace keeps wearing at it, consuming it from the inside. A broken puppet made of flesh and bone.

"Azazel," he says, and turns around.

Azazel's vessel fits him far better than Gabriel's own current vessel does him (it is easier for Azazel); his grace lies calm and comfortable inside the man. Despite this, Azazel's grace still shines through brightly and even though the eyes of Gabriel's vessel cannot see it, it is unmistakable.

"Gabriel." The tone of Azazel's vessel is careful and Gabriel wonders if Azazel has not stayed too long on Earth; he can see the same emotion in his grace. There is no reason at all for him to convey his emotions through a vessel, not to another angel, not to Gabriel.

Of course, Gabriel already knows the answer to his own question. After all, he knows what his task here is.

"Orange?" He asks, holding the fruit out toward Azazel.

Somewhere beyond the crowd the scream dies out.

"Don't do this Gabriel," Azazel pleads and there is... pain in the voice. "Please."

Gabriel contemplates the orange in his hand. The peel vanishes and he breaks off a piece.

The taste is sweet and fresh against his tongue.

Azazel's grace quivers inside his vessel. "They have done nothing wrong. They don't deserve this Gabriel. They don't…" His voice dies down and he shakes his head quietly, his grace shines dully in mute plea.

"They sin against Father."

"They are human," Azazel answers. He isn't sure if even Azazel knows whom the disgust in his words is directed at. "All humans do, but they are not evil."

"I know," Gabriel tells him calmly and Azazel… deflates. He knows there is nothing at all he can say that will stay Gabriel's hand. It is far too late and it is not Gabriel's choice to make.

Judgment has already been passed. It is just.

There are things in Azazel's grace that Gabriel can't understand. Things an angel should not understand, things Gabriel has never learned the words for.

Azazel's words feel hollow. "I can't forgive you for this."

"As Father cannot forgive you for what you have done." The truth blazes in his grace and he wishes it was not quite so bright.

Azazel stares at him quietly.

Moments pass. People walk around them. Azazel turns around and walks away, and Gabriel watches him go. In quiet.

"I am sorry." The words fall quietly from the vessel's lips, and Gabriel is not sure why he says them.

There were unfathomable things swirling inside Azazel's grace. Things that are almost familiar. (They should not be.)

The king is mad, the crowd whispers around him. Soon, he knows, the whispers will become a roar.

oOo

Gabriel walks down a bloody road.

The streets are almost empty of people, live ones at least. There aren't many people left anymore. A scream cuts sharply through the darkness and dies abruptly.

There was a lot of screaming before, but most of it has stopped by now. Everything is quiet. Too quiet. A heavy, oppressing silence that is only broken by an occasional piercing yell, that cuts through the darkness. It only makes it worse.

A man lies on the ground. He begs for help; broken sounds in a voice gone hoarse. A dark figure in dirty, ragged clothes bends over him. A few quick movements, a flash of something, a glint of light catches a quick movement in the dark, and the man is alone again, his cries for help gone, just like his purse and his life.

Gabriel doesn't even bother trying to figure out what earthly use anyone thinks they could have of those coins now. They are human, and some things are not for angels to understand.

He walks on.

There is a quietly sobbing girl in bloody, torn clothes (the blood is mostly her own) and it is no great mystery at all what has happened to her, even if her soul was not screaming out its agony for everyone with the eyes to see. She knows she'll be dead before dawn. By now, she might not even care. And right next to her, a young boy slinks through the shadows that hold no secrets from Gabriel, a knife clutched in his hand, and his eyes rabid with fear long since grown into insanity.

Gabriel passes them without stopping. He doesn't need to watch; the conclusion is inevitable.

Over in the alley, a dead woman still clutches a crying baby in her arms, and he stops to watch for a moment. He does not need to watch for long before someone comes along and picks up the baby from her cold arms. The man (it is a man, though by the look in his eyes you might think him something else) takes the baby by its feet and swings it against the wall. Again and again. After a while, the crying stops. Sometime later, the man drops the bloody mess to the ground.

Gabriel can't quite decide if it was an act of random cruelty, or mercy.

Maybe the man just wanted silence. It does not matter much.

Gabriel walks on.

It takes quite a while before he is finally outside the city.

No one tries to stop him. No one asks him for help.

If they see him at all, they flinch and scurry away to die quietly in the shadows. They might all be insane by now (the few that are left), but they see him now for what he is, and they fear him more than anything else (as they should). It is far too late for them.

He turns and looks back over the city.

Smoke from the fires rises up here and there. The occasional scream still sounds through the city, but they are quiet, unenthusiastic things, like whoever makes the sound doesn't quite have the will to even scream anymore.

When he looks beyond what the vessel's eyes can see, he can still make out his brothers' graces in the city.

Why did they stay, knowing what would happen? (There's a limp thing in Azazel's arms and his eyes are hollow, it's like the grace lurking behind those mortal eyes is nothing more than emptiness, and there's nothing for anyone to see. The thing in his arms is a small bloody lump of flesh, that once had arms and legs and was alive.)

But his brothers' fates are not for Gabriel to wonder over. What will become of them is not part of his task.

Gabriel watches and waits. As the false dawn turns the horizon red, he feels the last life flicker out within the city.

Inside the city, someone screams. (Was a child, a son, a daughter. Is dead, dead, dead.)

The vessel's head snaps back as Gabriel's grace finally leaves the failing body. None too soon; the body crumbles to pieces as it slumps towards the ground, Gabriel's inexorable purpose no longer holding it together.

oOo

"It is done," Gabriel says.

Father says nothing at all.

oOo

"Gabriel?" Lucifer asks, and they are close enough now that Gabriel can feel the concern brushing up against him. It feels warm against his grace, almost too hot in places. "You have felt quieter since your return."

"Do not worry about me so much," he says, warmed by Lucifer's concern. "I am fine." It is true, there is nothing at all wrong. Still, his voice does not weave together with the music around them in its usual joyful dance, it slips in under it, in the quiet spaces here and there, almost like it does not want to be heard (like he is trying to hide).

"Are you really? I know you Gabriel," the certainty in Lucifer's voice is tangible and Gabriel cannot help but rise up to meet it, touch it. To be known in such a way… "Your last task still does not sit easy with you."

Gabriel regards Lucifer with surprise at those last words, there is no one (save Father, always Father) that knows him better than Lucifer (can ever know him better than Lucifer), yet he says this. Does he think Gabriel would ever doubt Father? (He cannot.)

"They were an abomination. They should never have been born. Father's will is just." Gabriel states that which needs no explanations with calm certainty, there is no room for doubt inside him. He cannot doubt Father; he is simply not capable of it.

"Yes." The word is slow and heavy and it feels uncomfortable in the small space still between them. "To go against Father's will like that…" A discordant note in Lucifer's voice hits Gabriel's grace and makes him shiver. It is not a pleasant sensation. Lucifer does not give words to the rest of his thought. Such actions are unfathomable and they need no words to know this. It is plain to see.

"Maybe…" Gabriel begins carefully, his voice still forming subdued patterns in the quiet eddies of the music around them. He does not want to hear that discord in Lucifer's voice. Does not want to make it worse with his words. "The others are not like us, Lucifer. They are not as close to Father as we are." Gabriel cannot understand it, cannot fathom how any angel could disobey Father.

But Father created the others. Created them capable of doing this. There must be some reason (there is always a reason). Gabriel does not know it, he does not need to know it to trust in it. To believe in it. To believe in Father.

"No," Lucifer agrees, his voice thoughtful, its harmony restored. "They are not."

Gabriel relaxes against the gentle warmth of his brother's grace and Lucifer wraps his grace around Gabriel (warmth, joy, peace).

He is content to be right here, right now. For the moment it is enough.

oOo

Once it is done, all of Heaven knows the fate of Azazel and those of the other Watchers (there is no way they could not, the screams still echo throughout Creation). But that of Azazel is by far the worst. Because his sin was greatest, so was his punishment.

Now that it is all done, Gabriel can see Father's wisdom in choosing Gabriel for his part in this. He could not do that which Raphael must (he is grateful he did not have to). And if Gabriel's task had fallen to Michael or Lucifer, the punishment would not have been enough (they would have been too swift).

(They would not know the things he saw in Azazel's grace.)

Raphael does not need to bother with a vessel as he descends to Earth, he is not there for mortals. He is not there to stay for any longer time. Gabriel sees him go, vengeance blazing around him, but he does not see what follows after (he does not want to).

He tears Azazel's grace from his vessel and rends it into bleeding pieces of pain and love and grace. Shredded by the unerring precision of a healer (no one else in Heaven could have done it. Raphael has always been a master of his craft). Pieces that are still held together, that are Azazel. And he is bound and buried (still bleeding love and pain and loss and bits of grace) deep and far away from the light of Heaven (from Father). So far that he will never see the light again.

Gabriel sees none of it, but it does not matter if he is there to bear witness or not. It is a thing so horrible, so vast, that none of them can ignore it.

They feel it.

When Raphael returns, the music of Heaven echoes strangely in his grace. And Gabriel cannot stand to listen to it for long (it makes him think of things he should not). There were things in Azazel's grace that Gabriel almost knows the names of, but this echo inside of Raphael is something he does not want to name.

"Give it time," Lucifer advises him, when they are away from the others.

"How much?" Gabriel asks and his voice is a heavy note that refuses to rise with the music around them. This was not a task for Lucifer, or Michael. This was all Gabriel and Raphael, and the others cannot know the things that echo inside Raphael's grace.

The only answer Lucifer gives is to twine their graces together. Close, close, close. And as everything else falls away, and they become one thing made of love and grace, Gabriel can still hear the echoes of Azazel's loss.

oOo

They do not speak of any of it. They do not talk of how the Watchers fell, or of Raphael's part in it. They never mention the changes it wrought on Raphael. How he stays to himself now, more than he ever did before.

(If they do not give it words, will it be less real?)

Gabriel knows that the lower ranks do speak of it. They talk of the sin of the Watchers. The warning that was given, the example that was set. They wonder at the reasons for the scarcity with which Raphael's presence is felt (can they not feel the strangeness of his grace?). But his younger brothers are different, and there are things they cannot sense, things they do not know. And so they speak.

They quiet in the presence of the archangels. Perhaps they do not dare mention it close to them, perhaps they think they should not speak of it. But of course, they all still hear.

There are whispers in Heaven. (There never was before.)

oOo

"Do you still think of your last task on Earth?" Lucifer asks once their graces have separated enough that there is a difference between Lucifer and Gabriel.

"Why do you ask?" He knows there is no reason why his thoughts should linger on it (still they do at times).

(There is no reason why Gabriel should not simply answer 'yes'.)

"I can sense your worry," Lucifer answers him, and the concern and regret cut through him with an edge that does not quite make sense. It makes Gabriel draw his own grace further away from Lucifer. (He does not remember if he has ever done so before.)

There is no reason for Lucifer to worry over Gabriel.

(Lucifer's grace is still so close and it would be so easy to lose himself in it.)

"Things are… different now than they were before," Gabriel gives his answer and the words fall around them in careful, measured tones, that do not dare disturb the harmony of Heaven.

A soft flicker of amusement hums briefly in Lucifer's grace. "They are."

The silence between them grows heavy and Gabriel longs to curl back into his brother's embrace. Longs to let any words between them dissipate into the music around them (they do not need words).

"I do not know what to make of it, Lucifer." His tone flows brittle and unsure. Worry and uncertainty that could break under the slightest touch. It is all Gabriel can say about it (there is nothing else to say).

The sadness in Lucifer's grace is too sharp.

oOo

In time, Raphael's presence becomes easier to bear. Gabriel does not have to hide the shudder inside his own grace when their graces touch in greeting (it is gone now). But he cannot tell if this is because that strange echo has lessened, or because Gabriel has grown used to it.

Just another note in the music of Heaven. It has become a part of it, incorporated into the whole. Gabriel still only lets his grace brush briefly against Raphael. A part of the music or not, but Gabriel has learned that there are things he should not know. (Things he does not want to know.)

He has always spent more time with Lucifer than with any of his other brothers, and Lucifer has always been ready to indulge Gabriel in this. Of course, Gabriel loves them all, but he has never shared Raphael's passion for healing (sometimes it is all Raphael seems to be) and Michael is… he is Michael, and there are things you do not approach the General of Heaven with (brother or not). And Lucifer is Father's favourite, is it any wonder that Gabriel holds the same opinion (they all do).

Now Gabriel spends more time with Lucifer than ever. When Lucifer is training with the Powers (and that is more frequent as well), Gabriel watches. When Lucifer converses with Michael (or sometimes Raphael), Gabriel waits. And when he joins together with Lucifer, for a moment, nothing else matters.

Father has not spoken to him since before his stay on Earth.

oOo

There is no one in Heaven that Gabriel knows better than he does Lucifer. And save for Father, there is no one in all of Heaven that knows Lucifer better than Gabriel does.

He knows this.

But even so, there are things that Gabriel does not know about his brother.

He watches the Powers in their flight, as always, and the determination that always radiates from Lucifer is more now than it has ever been before. He can feel it against his grace. Feel his brother's need to be better.

He watches Lucifer converse with Michael and does not hear their words, because they are not for him to hear. They are his brothers, they are archangels, but still, they are more than Gabriel or Raphael will ever be (there are things that are not meant for them). But as he watches, he recognises the anger that flares in Lucifer's grace, he knows him too well not to.

He sees Lucifer greet Raphael and as their graces touch, Gabriel knows the sharp and bitter sadness inside Lucifer. He has felt it before (it still feels wrong).

He does not know if Michael sees the same as he does. He is almost certain Raphael does not.

Lucifer goes to speak with their Father.

(Gabriel does not give words to the things inside his own grace.)

The song in Lucifer's grace is muted and Gabriel brushes against him in quiet comfort.

"Is everything alright with Father?" he asks, plucking out one question from the myriad of questions floating inside of him.

"Father..." Lucifer says, and Gabriel cannot sort out the plethora of notes that twist together in that one word. (He is afraid to.)

There are questions Gabriel wants to ask, things he cannot ask Father, because they do not speak anymore. (Why?) But he cannot ask Lucifer either, not when Lucifer's grace is tinted with emotions that Gabriel does not want to untangle.

"This is not how things should be." Lucifer's voice is a muted whisper, lost in music that is suddenly almost too loud.

"I know," Gabriel says quietly, and it feels like the words are ripped out of him, leaving behind open wounds. They fall like lead weights, too clear against the soaring music despite their quietness.

oOo

Gabriel is frozen in place. He cannot move. Cannot even make a sound, his voice unable to form a single word.

Lucifer's grace pulses brightly as it screeches in horrible discord with the Heavenly music (it cannot be).

"Gabriel," he says, his voice soft with tenderness and love. "This is not right," Lucifer says. Pleads. There is such terrible emotion in his voice. "None of it is." The anger is a bright and hot flash and it leaves Gabriel's own grace shaking.

The anger is gone in an instant and instead a horrible sadness twists around, and Gabriel cannot move. Cannot do anything.

Lucifer reaches out for him and he can feel the overwhelming heat and the terrible, terrible cold that twist and mingle inside his brother's grace and make it shine brighter and colder than ever before.

He is beautiful.

There is anger and fear and confusion and so many things that he struggles to name them all (once, he did not have the names). And Gabriel can feel them stirring inside his own grace (so close to Lucifer, always so close).

He wants to reach out to Lucifer, wrap his grace around his brother and never, ever let go. He wants to soothe that pain inside his brother, calm the anger. Wants him to be Lucifer again.

This cannot be his brother (he does not want it to be).

He wants to tell Lucifer that he is not doing this for Gabriel. Gabriel does not want him to do this.

Gabriel cannot move. Lucifer's grace brushes against him, sears at him, rips deep gouges in him, leaves wounds that Gabriel is certain will never heal (he can never forget).

"Gabriel," Lucifer says again, and now there is pleading and the hot rush of horrible anger in his voice. "Stand with me." And those words are a demand, not a plea.

Gabriel says nothing and Lucifer's grace is as cold as the emptiness of space, as hot as a newly born star. It winds around him for a moment, a cold reminder of what was once such warm and gentle love. A reminder of what was everything. So cold and terrible now.

Lucifer draws away. He leaves. All around the music of Heaven screeches against the brightness of Lucifer (so terrible, so beautiful).

Still, Gabriel cannot move. His grace is pulsing weakly, trembling in pain and horror unlike anything he has ever felt before.

Something new again. Gabriel thinks he does not like new things (and it is wrong, wrong for him to think).

He does not doubt Father. He cannot doubt Father.

oOo

The little angel that finds him later (how much later he does not know) is terrified, his grace is flickering in a way Gabriel has never witnessed before (angels are not afraid; they have no reason to fear). And still, as he looks upon Gabriel with horror growing ever stronger in his grace, Gabriel can feel the tiny swirl of compassion.

Compassion towards Gabriel. Pain at his pain.

"Don't be afraid," Gabriel tells the little angel. His voice is steady and strong and he can hardly believe that it is him. It feels like a lie (Heaven is no place for lies).

(Look at all the new things he has learned.)

But the little angel believes him (angels do not lie), and its grace grows steadier.

"You should see Raphael," the little angel tells him quietly. Its voice is almost lost in the horrible discord that is everywhere now.

Gabriel folds his still wounded grace tight around itself.

"I am… fine." Amusement swirls inside his grace (that cannot be right).

He can see the doubt in the little angel, small, but clearly there in its grace.

"But," he concedes, "I should find my brothers."

Michael. Raphael. By now they all know what is happening. The screech of discord around them cannot be mistaken. And Father's will blazes bright inside Gabriel.

Betrayal. Judgement.

Gabriel moves to leave (bleeding grace wrapped tight, shimmering bits of himself left behind). He moves to brush briefly, lightly against the little angel's grace in goodbye (in thank you). It is habit. Instinct.

The little angel's voice screams (pain, fear, horror). Gabriel did not think… did not realise. Habit, such ingrained habit. No touching anymore (never again). Too many things inside his own grace, too overwhelming for a little angel like this.

Suddenly, the grace tries to wrap itself around him. So small against the vastness of Gabriel. It tries to soothe things that are too great for it.

And this little thing is infinitely braver than him. Gabriel does not know how to deal with these things inside (doesn't want to know what they are). The little thing next to him is trying to make it better. To understand and soothe things that are alien, new and vaster than itself.

It trembles in pain and fear and still it tries.

Gabriel pulls away from it. He cannot deal with this now. Whatever these things inside him, they are not for lesser angels to know, and Gabriel does not have the time to deal with them now.

Father's will shines clear and bright inside him. There is no time for doubt.

It is all he has to offer.

He reaches out to the tiny angel again, this time he makes sure that the foremost thing in his grace is the brilliantly blazing purpose Father has given him. Given them all. It is not pleasant and it is not warm or joyful, but it is a steady purpose. Meaning. Something to believe in amidst the chaos of betrayal and fear.

They need belief, now more than ever.

It is but a brief touch, but the angel's grace shines brighter almost immediately. Still, beneath that now so much more brighter faith, is fear and horror. And worst of all, Gabriel can still feel the compassion aimed at himself.

"I must go now," Gabriel says and does his best to keep all of his grace with him, as he heads to find his brothers.

oOo

"Gabriel, you must let me…" Raphael's voice is steady and reasonable.

"No," Gabriel cuts him off.

"They will not heal properly if you do not let me treat them." Whatever Raphael feels about Gabriel's appearance, of what Lucifer has done to him, it cannot be heard in his voice and the only thing visible in his grace is that terrible purpose Father has given them all (it fills the empty places inside Raphael).

They are all wrapped so tightly inside themselves. They cannot afford any weakness now.

"It is none of your concern," Gabriel tells him coldly and does not try to hide the anger twisting in his voice.

He does not care if he has to bear the scars forever. Raphael will not touch him. Will not change him, heal him.

(Azazel forever torn into pieces, bleeding grace and light.)

Gabriel does not want to forget. Does not want to be healed.

All around them their brothers are being torn into pieces, scattered into non-existence, and in that moment all Gabriel feels is anger.

Anger at Raphael for suggesting that he give up anything that reminds him of Lucifer, at the thought of having anyone at all so close to him again. Anger at Lucifer for doing this, anger at Michael for being as unyielding as he is, anger at Father for…

Why? Why would Father want this to happen?

He feels the piercing scream and the echoing emptiness as another brother is torn out of existence, and he clings to his anger. He cannot show any weakness in front of the lower ranks. Not now.

Not ever.

"Let everyone see," he says and wraps pride and anger and burning purpose around himself, they will hold him together for now.

Perhaps seeing what has been done to Gabriel will strengthen the purpose of the others. Perhaps it will remind them why they are doing what they do, when their will falters.

And they will falter, Gabriel knows they will. (Brother against brother.)

He is an archangel. The Angel of Justice and that means something.

Perhaps the time will come when Gabriel will believe that again.

oOo

The others refuse to come near the Powers, and Gabriel does not need to wonder at the reason for this. They terrify him as well, now. Perhaps even more than they do any of the others.

But Gabriel does not fear the Powers because they were Lucifer's. No, he fears them because that bright and beautiful love they held for his brother has become such terrible obedience to Father's blazing purpose. Not a single Power follows Lucifer (how betrayed Lucifer must feel) and perhaps they feel the need to prove their loyalty to Father above all.

Perhaps this is what Father wants them to be.

And yet not a single Power loved (still loves) Lucifer more than Gabriel. No, they do not terrify him because they belonged to Lucifer. They terrify him because he understands them.

But the Powers need someone (they were made to follow) and since no one else will come near them, it is left to Gabriel to lead them.

Still, Gabriel does not fly with the Powers. He could not, even if he wanted to (he does not). He never trained with them, but he has seen them and he knows what they are capable of. He does not fight with them, since he would only be in the way (he cannot watch them for too long, cannot see them tear into brothers without a thought).

But he is there to tell them where to go, who to fight. To tell them which brothers should be destroyed forever.

And they do as he says (he can barely stand it).

Gabriel makes sure that Michael does not forget to make use of them; it is the only purpose they have now (they were Lucifer's and Gabriel cannot abandon them).

"Do you not see Father's purpose burning in them?" he yells at Michael. Because he has to argue with Michael about it. Because Michael does not trust the Powers now. "If they had some choice to make, they have made it. Look at them Michael. Look at them." The last words are a mere whisper. "They have embraced this purpose, they have become it. Whatever they once were Michael, they can be no other than this now."

And Michael looks, and he is many things, stubborn among them, but he is not blind.

"They are what they must be," Michael says and Gabriel takes it for the assent it is. "Why do you care so strongly?" Michael asks, and Gabriel is not sure if the question is even meant for him, it is so quiet. But still, there it stands between them and Gabriel cannot leave.

"Someone should," he answers quietly. It is enough.

He does what he can for the Powers, but he does not fly with them.

Gabriel stands alone. He fights alone. (In a way, it is familiar. In another, completely alien.)

There is no one to trick here, no clever words to hide behind. No one to do the dirty work for him. He would not, not in this. Not here.

He wraps his grace tightly around Bezaliel. He can feel the horror and the fear. Bezaliel does not stand a chance as Gabriel's far vaster grace surrounds him and rips him out of existence.

In his way Gabriel is just as terrifying, just as implacable as the Powers. In his way, he is so much worse. He is an archangel.

The lesser angels fear him even more than they do the Powers (they avoid him even more).

Gabriel's grace is still not what it used to be (Lucifer's touch so close, burning and searing and cutting so deep), it is still torn and bleeding and Bezaliel's dying scream tears at the ragged edges of those wounds.

He does not wonder why Bezaliel followed Lucifer, does not wonder why any of the Watchers do (Lucifer freed them). He spares a thought to Azazel and wonders if Lucifer managed to set him free as well.

Is it blasphemy, he wonders, to wish that he did.

Gabriel could never have followed Lucifer in this, not like some of the younger ones do. Like the Watchers do. Gabriel does not understand Father (none of them do, but Lucifer was always Father's favourite, was always closest to Father), but he believes (does Lucifer?).

Perhaps he does understand Lucifer (and Azazel and all the others), but Gabriel was never Father's favourite (is never so far from Father as the little ones) and he cannot doubt the same way. Now Father's will shines brighter than ever inside of him, it is easy to hide any doubts behind it, where no one can see them (not even him).

Bezaliel, who is no more, will scream forever inside Gabriel's grace.

oOo

There is nothing at all around him, and Gabriel's grace echoes with the silence. His wounds are screaming along with his now, forever, silenced brothers.

He wants to pray for them, but it is far too late.

"Gabriel," the little one says. Its voice is timid, but not for fear of Gabriel. This one does not fear him (all the others do).

"What is it?" he asks, knowing that his voice sounds too sharp. He cannot change it without giving away too much.

The little one flinches as Gabriel's voice cuts into it. Then its grace flickers with sadness. Maybe it would be better if this one was afraid of him as well. Not that this one is not just as terrified as all the others; underneath the burning purpose they all share now, it is trembling with terror (like all of them).

But this one is different than the others. It sees Gabriel like the others do not. It touched him, it remembers.

"Michael requests your presence."

And of course Michael would send this one. It seems his brother still has not grown entirely blind.

"What does he want?" Gabriel asks and tries not to let his voice cut so deep this time.

"I do not know," the little one answers. It is no different than what Gabriel should have expected.

"Very well," Gabriel says, and unfurls a very small part of his grace from the tight hold he has on himself.

They touch, briefly.

So much fear, and Gabriel does not let it feel any of his own. Not this time. And there, behind that, and behind the purpose that surrounds everything; compassion, love. Gabriel only has his gratitude to offer in return (he keeps a tight rein on everything else).

He leaves the little one behind. Gabriel travels much faster, and whatever Michael wants him for, he will probably want it with all due haste.

He does not possess the energy to engage in unnecessary arguments.

oOo

There are too many battles fought, too many brothers lost, before the blazing fire that is Michael finally manages to conquer the brightness of Lucifer.

Gabriel is elsewhere, extinguishing the light of other brothers (he is too powerful to be deployed against lesser beings), and does not bear witness to how Lucifer is cast down and imprisoned.

He feels it happen. They all do. It echoes through Creation.

For a moment they all stop.

Gabriel regards Sariel and is observed in turn. Their graces are touching and he can read the determination in the still soft swirls of music inside her grace.

The battle is brief. Gabriel's grace overtakes her. She does not scream and soon her music is only a memory that echoes inside Gabriel.

The war is over. Lucifer, the enemy, is conquered.

No one at all is rejoicing.

oOo

There are no bodies to mourn over. No bloodied remains, no torn wings. There is nothing. So many of his brothers are gone, their beings torn to pieces, burnt out of existence until not even an echo of them remains (they still scream inside Gabriel).

It is almost as if they never existed at all, but Gabriel can still remember them. He still hears the screech of his brother's voices, echoing distantly in the empty spaces in the music of Heaven. Those discordant sounds should never have been part of Heaven (it will never be the same).

Gabriel thinks he might never stop hearing them.

With all those soundless screams echoing inside him, it takes Gabriel too long to notice that there is only silence where Father's presence once was.

He looks, and Father is nowhere.

(How did he not notice that Father is gone?)

There has been too much to do. There is still so much chaos and hurt and... their war spread out over several planes of existence, and they did not notice Father's absence.

Gabriel does not know when it happened. Perhaps it was during the war, when they were all too busy. When Father's purpose burned so brightly in all of them that they were blinded to so many things. Or maybe it has not been that long, maybe it was after the war, now that they are all still distracted by the discoveries of all the things Lucifer has wrought on Earth before his defeat.

The only thing Gabriel can tell for certain, is that the silence has been there for a while. (He does not know how long.)

At least thus far, it seems that beside himself only Michael and Raphael have noticed Father's absence. Of course, they are the only ones allowed in Father's presence; they could not have gone ignorant forever.

Michael is hiding the truth from the others. Gabriel suspects Michael was aware of the situation long before he himself realised what had happened. It is not as if they talk of it. It is not as if they talk of anything now. And Raphael… he has no idea when Raphael knew. (Who knows what Raphael will do these days.)

The emptiness inside Raphael echoes louder than ever now, it is as if Father's blazing purpose has hollowed him out ever more and now that it is gone, there is only more emptiness (Gabriel cannot be around him for long).

It is only another thing that they do not mention now. There are so many things they do not speak of. Perhaps they are afraid that giving words to what is will make it more real, will let others in on the secret (when did Heaven become so full of secrets?). Gabriel, for his part, simply does not know what to say.

He does not know what to say to any of them anymore. There is too much quiet in Heaven now.

Everything is different now. They are all different.

oOo

Gabriel watches the Powers go through familiar drills and feels a shudder through his grace. He never thought he could find the sight anything less than beautiful.

He is the only one watching now.

There are fewer of the Powers now than there were before, Lucifer is not the only one missing. But those that are missing… not a single one of them Fell. Not a single one of them followed Lucifer.

They are beautiful, still, in their dance, but it is a mad, frightening beauty. They have proved their loyalty, their devotion to Father beyond the shadow of a doubt. The missing Powers are all Lucifer's doing, every single grace extinguished by Lucifer's touch. Watching them now, no one can miss what the war has done to them. (Gabriel is the only one there to watch.)

Mad, frightening beauty.

Gabriel watches them and the fear that coils inside his grace will not go away. (Will never go away.)

He isn't sure he recognises Heaven anymore.

oOo

There is no one to condemn Gabriel for the things that swirl inside his grace. They do not touch each other anymore, and no one sees the things inside him. (In any case, they would not wish to touch the jagged edges of Gabriel's scars and they are as effective as anything to hide the things inside him.)

Father is gone and there is no one to judge him. No one save Gabriel himself.

Gabriel wonders when he started fearing Heaven (despising it).

(When did he first doubt Father?)

But Gabriel is not Fallen, is not cast out and locked away. They will not touch him, they do not know. But Gabriel cannot stay in this mockery of what was once home, where the silent screams of things that do not exist reverberate inside his grace, in the empty places in the music that was once so beautiful.

There should be no lies in Heaven. He will not add to them.

(Do they notice he is gone?)

He leaves a trail of burnt out vessels, souls seared out of existence, consumed by Gabriel's grace. There are so many things screaming inside of him that he can barely hear the little souls as they scream their way out of existence. Their memories are lost between the echoes of silent screams.

Perhaps there is no one after him, but the vessels don't last long in any case.

oOo

The sand beneath his feet is filled with suffering. It screams it out and even mortal senses cannot miss it.

It is a whisper on the wind, a shiver up your spine. Pain so profound it cannot be hidden, tucked away and forgotten.

Gabriel remembers this place. (He should not be here.) There is only desert here now, empty and full of echoes. Nothing will ever grow here again.

Unhallowed ground.

But Gabriel can never forget what was once stood here. He can hear the echoes of condemned souls screaming in the wind. None of them will ever be free of this place. (Gabriel will never be quite free of this place).

What better place to make Azazel's prison? Buried deep and far away from light, and with his children's screams forever echoing just beyond his reach.

But these are only the echoes of old pain. Old suffering. Old death. So vast and great that it has soaked into the very stones of this place.

There is nothing here now. Nothing living, nothing dead. Nothing but the memory of suffering.

The skin of this young, little thing he is wearing, prickles.

oOo

Gabriel stands at the edge of the wide crater. It doesn't look like much now; the passing years have let green things creep back in. Wind and rain have worn away the sharp and jagged edges. But you can still tell that something must have fallen here once.

He can feel it echoing along his grace, even stuffed inside this aging mortal body.

He avoids places like this usually. Places where reality has worn thin and it's so much easier to slip from one world to another. There's too much risk of getting noticed by beings he would rather stay hidden from.

Yet here he is. It's a foolish thing, and he knows it. But even though the place itself means little, he needs to see for himself and this is the closest he can get.

This was the place of Lucifer's final fall.

It's still not easy to reach through realities, even for him.

He can feel the edges of Lucifer's cage, smooth and without a single crack. Perhaps if he leaned in closer, he could whisper through the walls.

He wants to. His grace trembles with the need.

He misses Lucifer.

He pulls all traces of his grace back inside his vessel. It has never felt more like a prison.

oOo

"Azazel," Gabriel says calmly, as he turns to face the other. What have they done to you? The words blaze inside his grace, but he hides them deep where there is no chance Azazel will see them (if he even can anymore).

He wonders if Azazel was trying to surprise him. It's a futile effort, even in the middle of a busy marketplace, filled with the heaving mass of humanity; Azazel's presence stands out like an oozing sore.

"Hello Gabriel," Azazel says, smirk plastered over his vessel's face, the eyes shining sickeningly yellow. Gabriel can see no light at all when he looks at him, only darkness and pain. A twisted, tortured thing that Gabriel once called brother.

His vessel's stomach roils. (He has spent too much time on Earth.)

"How did you find me?" There are people milling around them and Gabriel can see that there are at least a few that would do for a vessel, where consent would be swiftly given. I can still tear you into pieces and scatter them into the void.

Azazel scoffs and Gabriel can barely sense a flicker in what was once his grace. "The archangel Gabriel," he says with scorn. "You might be more subtle than the others, but you reek of grace, angel."

There is such hate in that word, angel. It's almost like Azazel has forgotten what he once was.

"I should destroy you." He does not let Azazel see the bitter, bitter sadness that fills his grace.

"You should," Azazel agrees, that scornful smirk still in place. "But you won't."

"What makes you so sure?"

"You're here, Gabriel. And you're running." He feels the dark thing that is Azazel pulse with delight (dark, twisted thing). For a moment Gabriel wishes that Azazel was still buried in his tomb, never to see light again (maybe he still is, there is no light here). "Word of advice, brother," Azazel says, his words mocking Gabriel. "You can't run forever." Azazel laughs.

Azazel's head snaps back and black smoke pours out of the vessel's mouth. Gabriel closes his own vessel's eyes and wishes that meant he couldn't see.

oOo

His breath mists lightly in the crisp, sharp morning air. A ray from the sun, that's barely cresting the horizon, peeks through the trees. As he walks through the ray of sunshine, the cold, sharp light blinds him for a moment.

The ground around him is covered in dew, it glitters coldly where the light hits it. His feet are wet from it.

He feels cold.

At some point a storm must have felled the pine. Its roots are sticking up and now form a small cavern that's filled with cold water. He sits down on the trunk. That's wet and cold as well, but he doesn't care.

His vessel's feet ache.

Gabriel has counted twenty seven sunsets since he last used his grace to affect anything on this world. It's been several days since he saw a single human.

The people living in these parts have never heard of Father, and if they (or whatever gods they worship) knew what Gabriel was, he would not be welcome in these lands. The only reason why they do not pay him mind, is because he wears familiar skin and does not draw attention to himself. (Tries so very hard not to draw attention to himself.)

The vessel he is in is healthy and fit, at the prime of its life, but after trekking through this vast forest to get to this place of nowhere surrounded by nothing, he feels... tired. If he wanted it to, his will can keep the vessel going until his grace burns it up from the inside out, but he's trying to be as quiet as possible in a vessel that can't contain him. His grace is bundled in tight on itself, forced as small as possible.

Some things bleed through. (He's trying to be too human.)

It's four vessels gone, since he saw Azazel. One quickly picked up and just as quickly discarded. The others saw some longer use.

There's no denying Azazel's words; he is running.

He's running, and if Azazel can find him, there's no reason to think Heaven could not. If they are of a mind to catch him, eventually, they will. Earth is not that large a place, and any of the other realms Gabriel might gain access to, if he wished, would not take well to Gabriel's presence.

But Azazel is right in other things as well (perhaps, everything). Gabriel is the most subtle of the archangels, and while he doesn't have Azazel's experience of Earth, he is not entirely without his own knowledge of the place (more now than ever before).

Part of the purpose Gabriel is created for is to deceive people (it is how he delivered judgment on Azazel's children). It has always been part of him, though he didn't always know why. Now, he decides, that skill will serve him, as it did Father before.

Of course, he knows that there is a vast difference between deceiving humans and deceiving Heaven itself, but Gabriel will learn. (He will have to.) He has learned too many new things already, if a few more are to be his downfall, then so be it. (He does not care. He does not.)

There are lands here, where Father's word holds no sway. He has seen beings that might just qualify for something very much like gods. But only at a glimpse, from afar, before he ran again.

They don't follow Father's purpose, do not follow Father's rules.

If he is to hide from everyone who knows him, he must do something none of them would expect. He must be something none of them would expect.

oOo

There is no way Gabriel could trick a god into saying yes (he is an archangel, he is absolute, but he is no god). He finds a tiny, little godling though and that is far more easy.

oOo

Gabriel has not kept count of the number of vessels he has inhabited since he left Heaven.

(He could name each one of them if he wanted to. He does not.)

There have been many. Male and female. Young and old.

Of all the vessels he has ever worn, this one is different. (So very, very different.)

The soul, it is still there. Bright and glorious. A part of Gabriel now, and still separate. And, it's different from the human ones Gabriel's presence has touched and consumed. (More real, more there, just so much... more.)

(He didn't know souls could burn like this.)

This is a god he has taken for a vessel, a young, small and inexperienced one perhaps, but still a god.

Somewhere inside his grace, Gabriel shivers.

He thinks, if he wanted to, he could subdue this one. Consume it, burn it out like he has all the others. He does not want to. (There are too many voices that do not exist screaming inside Gabriel's grace.)

It's angry at him, at first. (Of course it is.) For tricking it into agreeing to this. For lying to it.

He didn't lie, Gabriel points out. He can't, not when it comes to this (it's one of Father's rules, there is no breaking it). But trick it, yes, he did that. And for some reason he wants to explain. To tell it the reasons why he needed to do this.

He wants to justify himself (he never has before).

He never gets the chance. It... laughs.

It's a good trick.

How much does it (he, Loki, it insists) know? How much does he see?

Laughter bursts out of his mouth.

Enough.

A god.

oOo

When the first snows fall, he stands out in the woods in silence, for a time. His head is tilted slightly back and a broad smile is spread over his features. The soft, quiet snowflakes fall all around him, they dampen all sound and turn all visibility almost non-existent. It feels like he's in a world all of his own.

The snowflakes fall on his bare skin, he isn't wearing near enough clothes for a human to survive in this weather for any length of time. It takes a moment before the snowflakes melt against his too cool skin.

The snow is deep enough to cover his ankles now. He laughs in delight and lets himself fall to the snow covered ground.

Before, Gabriel never gave much thought to weather. He didn't care one way or the other.

The frost covered trees glitter brightly in the brief sunlight. The snow is hard enough to stand on. The clear, cold weather makes everything seem sharper, brighter. He recognises the sound of a birch exploding not too far away, and suddenly he realises what he never saw before; this body he's in loves the cold.

oOo

The old man's eyes roll back in his head and his back arches in a brief, but violent convulsion before he falls limp to the ground. Froth bubbles out of his mouth, and without showing much care Gabriel pokes at his side with one foot.

"That was... disappointing," he mutters to himself.

There's a hushed silence around them. It's teetering on the edge he realises, waiting to fall one way or the other.

Anger or fear.

One way or the other, violence is no more than a breath away. Either way, he doesn't care.

"The vision was too much for him. He is dead," Gabriel announces to the gathered crowd. His words are short and without compassion.

Somewhere there's a small whimper, a sob held back.

So, it's fear this time, he decides.

He knows the minds of these people (simple, easy things), he knows what they fear. He knows what they're thinking: What kind of vision would be enough to claim the life of the seer?

He's not surprised that they're afraid. (People almost always are around him. In the end.)

He doesn't tell them that this one had no real visions, that they had all been fooled by this one now dead. If they are stupid enough not to know a false seer from a real one, then Gabriel sees no need to educate them in this. It isn't his job to coddle them, or to teach them.

Gabriel's work here is done. The false seer has been seen to, has come to the end he deserves.

No one tries to stop him when he leaves. (They whisper in his wake.)

Loki sighs with boredom.

oOo

Gabriel has not bothered to measure the years he has spent in this land of cold and snow. How many revolutions this tiny little ball, made of dirt and water, has made around a much larger sphere of blazing fire, does not matter much in Gabriel's existence. And the people of this land don't care much about the passing of time beyond the change of seasons.

The change from the harsh, long winters, suddenly into spring and then the all too short summer, is vital to the survival of these people. The frantic rush to make everything ready just to survive the coming winter. It's the same year after year, and it's far too easy to just let the years run together in a sameness he finds almost comforting.

This body he now inhabits has passed into adulthood, but that is not much of a measure either. The body belongs to a god, and there's no reason why it should follow human rules. He doesn't know how fast little godlings grow into adulthood, perhaps, one day, they simply choose to.

(Why doesn't he know? Loki is inside him, part of him. He should know.)

He thinks he's grown attached to this often cold and harsh land. It has its charm.

The people here worship gods that Gabriel had never heard of before he came here. (Worship him now.) It is a faith so very different from what Gabriel knew before. There are so many gods, for so many different purposes (so many demands). There is no blind faith here. And there is always, always fear.

(The people fear Gabriel now. No, not Gabriel. They fear Loki.)

Gabriel has not felt a whiff of grace since he came here (since Loki). Has not felt the corrupted taint of what once was shining grace.

He still avoids the other gods of this land, it has not seemed worth the risk when there are still times when Loki rages against his fate inside Gabriel. (Gabriel doesn't think he could subsume the other anymore. If he ever really could.)

It's too easy. (Too boring, Loki insists.)

oOo

Muscles flex along bare arms, as the man crosses them against his equally bare and impressive chest, and glowers down at Gabriel.

Gabriel's hands break through the hard surface of the snow, to the soft powder beneath, as he pushes himself up into a sitting position. At least it seems slightly more dignified than lying sprawled in the snow.

He rubs at his sore chest and looks up in annoyance.

"Put on a shirt," Gabriel mutters none too quietly, and the man's scowl deepens for a moment before it smooths out into a grin. His blue eyes sparkle with it.

Gabriel follows the movement of the man's hand as he pushes a strand of matted, blond hair away from his eyes.

"I don't need one," the man replies. "The cold doesn't bother me."

"I'm sure it wouldn't dare."

The man just grins at Gabriel's words. (Maybe he has the right of it.)

Without another word he extends a hand down to Gabriel. With a small internal shrug, Gabriel takes the offered help and lets himself be pulled back up on his feet. He sees no reason to decline the offer, and as first meetings go, this has already gone badly enough; there's no need for him to make it worse.

"Sorry about that," the man says, and while there is a slightly embarrassed tint to his grin, he doesn't seem too sorry at all. "I don't like people sneaking around."

"I wasn't sneaking," Gabriel protests. "There wasn't any need to hit me."

"Maybe," the man offers. "But you do seem like the sneaking kind," he says in good humour. "And it was more of a shove in any case."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Gabriel asks indignantly. This one is all full off bluster and self-importance, and there's no reason for Gabriel to actually feel insulted at his words (his opinion is nothing to Gabriel).

"You are Loki, are you not?" the other answers like that explains everything. (Perhaps it does.)

"I am," Gabriel admits warily. He'll admit, to himself at least, that he has perhaps been too diligent in his efforts to stay away from others like him. "And who might you be then?"

A brief scowl wrinkles the man's forehead again, no doubt Gabriel's ignorance is an insult to him.

"I am Thor, son of Odin," he answers soon enough. It's more of a boast than an introduction.

Gabriel has heard of this one, as he has of most of the other ones (he can't live in this land and not hear about the others) and he supposes, it is reason enough for Thor's pride (as much as anything else would be).

"Well then, Thor, son of Odin," Gabriel says and doubts the other hears the slight twist to his words, that he can't quite keep out (he is still too much himself). "Could I interest you in a very good cup of mead?"

After all, Gabriel has heard of this one.

oOo

Befriending Thor isn't particularly difficult. For a being such as he, he's surprisingly uncomplicated. (Gabriel has only before to compare with, and that isn't quite right.)

It's not that Thor is stupid, nor is he particularly bright either. But he's easy in a way that Gabriel quite appreciates. So, he's prideful and hot headed, loves a drink and a fight, but Gabriel doesn't think he's a bad person (to the extent that he actually is a person, but Gabriel doesn't know what makes a bad god).

He doesn't really need to do much more than get drunk together with the guy, for Thor to declare him a friend (not something to be trusted, yet, but not far from it). Once he ends up fighting a troll or two by Thor's side, he's a comrade, and that's apparently much more significant.

Gabriel is surprised by how good it all feels.

oOo

At Thor's side it's suddenly not so difficult to meet some of the others. Thor's presence is all the introduction the others need, a label that identifies Gabriel, or Loki as the case may be, as one of them. Soon enough they accept him on his own (liking him is another thing entirely).

It doesn't take long to find out that none of the others are easy in the same way that Thor is. It takes a lot more work to get along with the others he meets. They're quick to take offence, and most of the time they all rub each other the wrong way.

Besides, he can't deny that it's fun to get the best of one of them.

oOo

"You put too much faith in prophecy."

"Do I truly, Loki?" The one still bright eye looks at him with something that feels like suspicion, or maybe derision. He isn't sure anymore.

"It's only the word of one seer, you can't base everything on that," he argues. He thinks, maybe the self-interest shines through. But that can't be much of a surprise to anyone who's heard the prophecy in question.

Odin sighs, his brow wrinkling in thought. "Perhaps you are right." His voice sounds tired. "But she spoke of things from my past, Loki. Things she could only know if she truly is gifted with the sight."

"Speaking words of the past is different than speaking those of the future," he says with conviction. (It has to be.) "The past is already gone and will not change, the future is yet to come. Maybe she is a true seer, but that still doesn't mean you can take her word for law."

Odin had shared the words of the seer with him, each one seeming more unlikely than the previous. He knows that that future can't be (just like Odin knows it will be, part of him mocks in quiet). He knows things Odin does not, there are things he can't be.

"I will not forget her words," Odin vows with the gravity of what, and who, he is.

"And you shouldn't," he agrees, there's not much else he can say. "Just remember that she's only human, seer or not." It's the best he can do, he thinks. He doesn't want anyone to take this prophecy too seriously. There are already too many things that are predestined in his existence, he doesn't need any more.

(He hasn't forgotten the power of words. Or that of faith.)

He doesn't need anything to make his life any more complicated than it is.

oOo

There's Thor's hand on his shoulder. A wide grin on his friend's face.

"Congratulations."

The word echoes strangely inside him, and he remembers the conviction he once held when Odin first told him about a certain prophecy. How sure he was that some things would never be.

Now, Sigyn is pregnant.

He thinks he's supposed to be happy.

oOo

The next time there is no congratulations. He wishes they'd never found out (wishes he hadn't been so stupid).

Besides, Thor wasn't too happy with him at the moment anyway. And there's never been any true friendship between him and anyone else, especially not since Odin's mind was poisoned by the words of that prophecy.

It's the prophecy that takes all of them away from him. Takes his children away from him.

This isn't how things are supposed to go.

(This isn't who he is.)

oOo

He doesn't like the way Christianity is spreading all over the world. It doesn't seem like too long ago when this land had never heard of the one true God. Now, it seems, His word is everywhere.

Oh, the people here haven't lost their fear of Loki (of any of the gods of this land). Not yet at least. But it's no longer the same as it once was. They don't worship him, or try to appease him the way they did before. If they do, it's a passing thing; old habits, old customs and soon they won't even remember why they do it.

The priests tell them it's superstition. They say Loki isn't real (that none of them are).

But here he still is.

There's no good reason for him to stay in these lands anymore. More reasons to leave than anything else. (He should have left long ago.)

The others don't look at him with any great fondness anymore, few of them ever did. And the feeling, now, is more than mutual.

Oh, he knew he'd played most of them one trick too many, but in the long run, humans really do get so very boring. Besides, no one can convince him that any of it was entirely undeserved. Even gods, maybe especially gods, need someone to stop them from getting too full of themselves. (They all have their functions, that one was his).

Not for a moment did he ever think they'd take it as far as they did. He wants to believe that if he'd known, he would have done things differently (he isn't sure). But it's too late now, Narfi is dead and while he was never much of a father to him, he doesn't want anything to do with his son's murderers.

(He can still feel Thor's hand on his shoulder. The faint echo of "Congratulations" in the air.)

Now that, on top of everything, the people are losing their faith, there's no reason at all to stay.

He'll miss this place, but it hasn't been the same for a while now.

oOo

"Loki?" she asks, sounding faintly concerned.

He realises suddenly that they've stopped moving. Reluctantly, he turns to look at her, painting a questioning look over his features as he does so.

"Is something wrong?" And it sounds like her curiosity is almost drowning out the worry. Even so, he can appreciate the concern.

"No," he says after a moment. He knows by the look on her face that his answer was far too slow in coming for her to be convinced. "I just thought I saw someone I knew, but I'm pretty sure it couldn't have been him after all."

The feel of the dark corruption that just brushed passed him still itches faintly along his skin. Faintly familiar, but he's sure it's nothing he has felt before (but close enough).

"Who did you think it was?" And now she's definitely indulging her curiosity.

"Oh, just an old friend," he answers. Let her think what she will of that. "But I don't think he'd have any business in India anyway." He gives that a moment of thought, before amending his statement. "Well, these days I guess we're all all over the place."

She nods slowly, before her nose wrinkles with distaste. "Sometimes I wish things were back the way they used to be, when everyone still knew their place."

"Hey," he says and grins at her. "In that case, I wouldn't be here. Now would I?"

"No," she answers him with an indulgent smile. He pretends he doesn't notice the touch of condescension. "But sometimes, Loki, I'm not so sure that would be an entirely bad thing either." Her smile takes away the sting those words might otherwise have carried.

They resume walking down the crowded street, the people somehow always managing to step aside just enough to avoid touching either one of them. Some things at least are still as they should be.

"I've been thinking," she says after a while. "I might want to go see this new world everyone makes such a fuss about these days."

oOo

The New World, as the humans have so quaintly named it at some point (it's no newer than any other part of the world), leaves something to be desired. There's nothing special about it, and people are still people, no matter where they are.

Still, a lot of the not-so-humankind follow in their wake. It's sad really, how many of them need humans around to be able to call a place home. And they migrate to this place for the same reasons the humans do; hoping to carve out a place for themselves in the world. Hoping that things will be better in this new world.

Things are getting lean for too many of them all over the planet, but it's all about adapting. Maybe it's easier to start anew in a new place. (He knows it is.)

Considering all the things that have decided to pay it a visit, the New World turns out to be a surprisingly lonely place. That's the problem right there though; there's too many different beings, from too many different places trying to co-exist in one place. After a while, one continent, no matter how large, doesn't seem quite enough. It's easier for all of them if they try not to get into each other's business.

It's all about keeping to themselves these days. And maybe that's how it's always been, with some few exceptions. Because there used to be some get-togethers, sure, some more formal than others, but it's not like they didn't always know that they don't play well together for too long. They're all too full of themselves and their own importance for that (they are gods after all, so why not).

The point though, is that back then, the things you were avoiding for the sake of neighbourly relations were – well not friends exactly, but possibly some very dysfunctional variation of family. They were things you knew at least, and felt some roughly shaped loyalty towards.

These days it's just avoiding things for the sake of avoiding things, and it's not the same.

What he really doesn't need to do (and still does) is travel all the way here to find out that people are still boring in the long run. He's known that for a good while. The difference with this place, to where he was before, is that here he doesn't really have the luxury of choice. No, the New World definitely isn't the fun place to be (he's not sure anywhere is these days).

He learns to make his own fun with people. He'd probably die of sheer boredom if he didn't. And still, it's just not the same.

The people call him Trickster here, if they know enough to call him anything at all. He's clumped together with all the other tricksters, all of them stripped of their individuality (soon, he thinks, he'll be a instead of the). And Loki doesn't mind too much really. He's still Loki to the others (will ever be if he has the choice).

He reads about the Norse gods when he has the time. And he does have all the time he can think of. There's nothing better to do than indulge his curiosity.

After a while he decides that it's a wonder, really, how much the humans get right and how much they get so completely wrong. After that it doesn't take too long for his curiosity to desert him.

There's things in there he doesn't care to think about too much.

(It makes him think of his little ones, all trapped in their own way. Cursed because of who fathered them. He curses Odin for taking prophecy to heart. It's all he can do.

At least they're hidden from such as he used to be. He hasn't forgotten what Gabriel did to ones like his children.)

Now and then he feels a shadow of corruption inhabiting one of the humans that pass him by. The corruption reminds him, faintly, of Azazel, but he is thankful that none of those wretched souls ever bare the slightest trace of grace.

(Did they destroy all but Azazel?)

Every time Loki feels those dark twisted things inside human bodies, he turns and gets far enough away that he can't feel even the echo of that dark taint crawling along his skin.

He wants nothing at all to do with them.

oOo

Maybe he grows complacent over time. Lazy with the easy avoidance of those corrupted souls that he can feel brush past every now and then. Maybe he forgets who he really is.

Loki smirks at the being in front of him. (The feel of the dark twisted thing so close to him is like sharp, naked blades against his skin; it's fire rushing up old wounds that will never heal completely.) "I've heard of you," he says.

He has. They might not meet too often these days, not on purpose anyway, but you always run into old friends now and again, regardless. And his new kin are gossips of the worst kind, after all. It's just good sense to keep up with the latest happenings. He's learned from past mistakes not to ignore the beings sharing space with him on this little ball of mud.

"Have you now," Azazel says with a little smirk of his own, like he knows something Loki doesn't. "I haven't really heard of you."

Loki thinks he means it as an insult. It's almost funny.

"Maybe I'm just better than you then," he says, and grins at the flash of annoyance that steals across Azazel's stolen face. "And, well, you have been running all over the place lately, making deals left and right. You were bound to leave a few ripples in the pond."

"I suppose so," Azazel consents. "Some things can't be helped."

"Ah, true," Loki nods. "For some beings," he adds after a beat, his face blank with false innocence.

"You have no idea what I am, Trickster," Azazel bites of curtly.

Loki plasters a grin over his own face with force, not letting it slip for a moment. He wonders which of them has changed so much from whom they once were, that Azazel cannot recognise him. (Which of them has fallen further?)

"Maybe so." He snaps his fingers, and lets the sharp stillness of the world around them melt into the frantic beat of time again. "You can keep this one," Loki says magnanimously as the dark haired woman next to them starts to slump towards the ground. "I don't think she'll be up to making any deals though."

Her faze is a mask of horror, her eyes pools of madness.

She whimpers quietly on the ground.

"See you around, demon."

oOo

Loki tries not to dwell too much on his meeting with Azazel. Thoughts like that don't lead to anything good. Besides, it doesn't take too long for most of Azazel's scheme to become apparent. Just a century or a few (he doesn't care to keep count) and that's not long at all to keep some thoughts at bay.

He's not entirely sure how he manages to miss all of it, at first. He tries to keep his ear to the ground, after all. He doesn't like surprises, not when isn't the one arranging them. But it's only when the Michael Sword turns up that he puts it all together.

Azazel is trying to find a vessel for Lucifer.

He knows what that means; he got a look at the script, same as his brothers. It's time for round two.

Suddenly everything is happening too quickly.

oOo

He can feel it when the gate to hell is opened. Those dark, corrupted souls spreading all over the world. But mostly they stay close by, crowding an already crowded continent.

In the grand scheme of things though, that's nothing. It's annoying at best to have all those new comers around, thinking they're something oh-so-special. In time they'd learn, and the beings who've been around the block a few times would be more than happy to show them if they ventured into the wrong territory.

No, opening a gate to Hell is nothing at all compared to the other shit the Winchesters set in motion. Dean Winchester is bound for Hell, and soon Heaven will have their Righteous Man.

He hears about Azazel's end at the hands of the Winchester's. For a moment he thinks they deserve all that's coming for them.

oOo

The way the little angel looks at him now is far from comfortable (disappointment and pity). Not that it's ever been comfortable exactly; ever since his little mistake with this one, so long ago, Castiel has always seen him far too well. But there used to be awe and admiration (compassion maybe, but never pity) and that was better than this.

It's not an easy road that Castiel has chosen to walk. And perhaps a part of him admires him for it. He could never quite get around to defying Heaven openly. And here he is, still dancing to their tune, doing his best to get the Apocalypse on track.

He wonders how much of Castiel's doubt was his fault. How much damage did he cause back then, when he accidentally showed Castiel things he wasn't meant to see?

Maybe he was there to set things rolling, but in the end, he's pretty sure it's all Castiel (and maybe, just a little bit of Dean Winchester). The little one was always so damnably brave, and far better than most of the Host will ever manage to be. Better than he'll ever be.

Castiel's song is muted now, and it's so long since he's really listened, but even so he can make out the strains that make him Castiel; the compassion and stubbornness and love (perfect and whole, even here, even now) and threaded through it all, so faint that he can hardly see it at all (so familiar, even after all this time, that he can't miss it), a note from Father's song (love).

He might like the Winchesters well enough, they're not so bad for humans. And he does kind of feel sorry for them for what's to come. But in the end, their opinion about him isn't worth a damn to him.

They don't know how futile their struggle is. They don't know how relentless Michael is. They haven't seen how brightly Lucifer burns with anger and hurt. They have no clue why he does what he does.

And in the end, they're just a couple of humans.

Castiel's opinion on the other hand, turns out to be maybe just a bit too important to him.

oOo

His own end isn't something Gabriel has ever given much thought to. Even at the height of the war, it never seemed a real possibility. He is an archangel, and archangels have never died.

There's a first time for everything, he supposes. (Angels don't die like humans do, there'll be no after for him.)

Lucifer's blade sinks into him (he hasn't felt his brother's grace for so long), ripping through old wounds.

Let me, Loki whispers inside of him, it's my turn now.

As he lets go, Gabriel feels Loki surrounding him, and for a moment he has time to wonder who was tricking who all along.

Then, there's only silence.

THE END