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Between Love and Duty

The sacrifices made by one in service of the other

By Liz MutchPublished 12 months ago 6 min read
Then Satan First Knew Pain by Gustave Doré, from John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1884)

Raphael didn’t quite know what to think of the scene that greeted him as he landed in the rocky gully. Above, the violent noise of battle still raged, the majority of combatants apparently oblivious to the fact that their two commanders were no longer on the field with them.

“What happened?” he demanded, half in anger, half in panic, as he dropped to his knees beside Lucifer, who lay in a twisted collapse of wings, limbs and spilled weaponry.

“I stabbed him,” confessed Michael from where he sat slumped against a rocky pillar, his face pale beneath the ash and blood that streaked across it.

“You did what?!” exclaimed Raphael, catching Lucifer’s writhing shoulder in an effort to prevent him worsening the wound to his abdomen. “Why?!”

“These things happen,” said Lucifer, his voice understandably choked with pain but his tone also for more flippant than Raphael would have expected given the betrayal Michael’s confession implied.

It was certainly more blasé than Michael anticipated, the younger of the Lord’s two warrior-angels flinching away in his own pain at the remark.

“These things do not just happen,” said Raphael as he encouraged Lucifer to shift his arm away from the stitching of his armour, taking note of the various nicks and slices to both wing and limb as he did so.

“They do in battle,” said Lucifer, coughing up the mouthful of blood that had been disturbed with his movements. “Especially when the main plays are choreographed.”

“No!” snapped Michael. “We choreographed things so this wouldn’t happen!"

“You were holding back your strikes,” said Lucifer, sighing in relief as Raphael removed a warped plate of his armour. He gave a breathy chuckle as the healer-angel started swearing at the resultant escape of blood and ichor before groaning again in renewed pain as Raphael pressed his thigh into the wound.

“It looked like a sparring match.”

“So your solution was to deliberately turn into a lunge?” said Michael, his voice a dangerous growl that until this point, Raphael had only heard directed towards the servants of Apollyon. “I agreed to fight you, not be your executioner!”

“Which is why I turned,” said Lucifer, twisting his head back in an attempt to look at Michael. “Why I fell. You weren’t supposed to follow me down.”

“You’re my brother!” exclaimed Michael, the rumble of thunder that accompanied his pronouncement so well timed, Raphael wouldn’t be surprised to learn that their tête-à-tête wasn’t as secluded as the two warrior-angels were clearly assuming.

“That’s why I fell,” said Lucifer, coughing up another mouthful of blood as Raphael manhandled him on to his back so as to properly deal with the wound to his abdomen. “Raphael, make it look slipshod.”

“Excuse me?!” exclaimed Raphael, his gaze shooting up from his close examination of exactly what damage Michael’s sword thrust had wrought to their brother’s body.

“A betrayer would not receive the best his Lord had to offer,” said Lucifer. Raphael scowled at him, not at all happy with the instruction.

“And when I have such a creature before me, I will bear that in mind,” he said. “At the moment, all I see is a loyal Lord Commander who has ever been afforded the best of whatever is in the offing.”

Lucifer gave a wet chuckle as a blood bubble burst in his throat.

“Slipshod is the best weapon available,” he said, rolling his head to spit his mouth clear. Doing so saw him catch sight of the sword that had dealt the ill-fated blow and Lucifer reached for the still bloodied blade. Raphael yelped as the stretch pulled the stab wound wider, blood and ichor leaking in rivulets from where he had just sealed with thread.

“When asked,” said Lucifer, pulling the sword to him and resting the grip and hilt against his chest, twisting his neck to once more look at Michael. “Tell others that you came looking for the sword I stole.”

“I don’t care about the sword!” cried Michael, abandoning the rocky pillar and kneeling beside Lucifer, tears joining the blood and ash on his face.

“You have to,” said Lucifer, switching the hand holding the sword and reaching for Michael’s hand with the other. Michael was helpless to refuse the beseeching reach and Lucifer pressed their entwined fingers around the grip.

“Why?” asked Raphael from where he was carefully pulling Lucifer’s skin back together with as rough-looking stitching as his healer’s pride allowed. His tone was part inquisitive, part furious, as his two warrior-angel brothers spoke details of a plan that he had no knowledge of.

Though given the way Michael was reacting, Raphael was willing to stake his reputation on stating that Lucifer had different orders and intentions, at least for what was to happen in the aftermath of the battle that was slowly quieting above them.

“We swore an oath to Lord and Prince,” said Lucifer, tightening his grip to Michael’s hand. “We have a duty to our people. To protect them from the violence and destruction Apollyon will wreak if left unchecked. You have to make them think I have committed the ultimate betrayal.”

“By claiming more care for a sword than the brother it impaled?” asked Michael.

“Not sure our people will buy that,” said Raphael, echoing the disbelief that was clear in Michael’s voice as he snapped the final loop of thread to Lucifer’s wound. Resisting the urge to cover the injury with a protective binding, he grabbed what remained of the warrior-angel’s undershirt and hauling him into a seating position so he could examine the damage to his wings to ensure it really was as superficial as it initially looked. “Even without public declarations, everyone knows neither of you hold no other closer to your heart.”

“Which is why a rumour will be spread,” said Lucifer, flexing his wings so that Raphael could examine the fade seam from angel-down to daemon-leather. “That I desire to unseat our Lord and Prince. Set myself in their stead. The battle raging above our heads was to be my show of strength.”

“A battle you’ve made a show of losing,” reminded Raphael, Michael flinching again as the two warrior-angels continued to hold the sword against Lucifer’s chest. “Shouldn’t Michael be dragging you back in chains if that was the case?”

“The General can exact the Lord’s justice on His behalf,” said Lucifer, making sure he had eye-contact with Michael as he spoke.

“I will not be your executioner!” Michael repeated, furiously yanking his hand away from the tangle around the sword grip and his own wings flaring as if preparing to take to the air should Lucifer keep pressing.

“Banishment,” Lucifer said, as if offering a compromise. Lowering the sword to the ground beside him, he reached out for Michael’s wing, his fingers already flexing in a soothing manner before touching the feathers. Michael keened at the touch and curled forward into Lucifer’s lap, his shoulders shaking with silent sobs.

Raphael was not liking where his thoughts were wandering as he moved back round to kneel in front of his brother.

“Lucifer, what are you planning?” he asked, his own voice becoming tight with fear. “Why must you appear before our enemies broken and bloodied, stripped of rank and title? Why must our people believe you hate them so? Why must they hate you in turn?”

“Apollyon gains in strength and followers,” said Lucifer, running his fingers through Michael’s wings, gently undoing some of the twists and snarls that their fight and subsequent mountainside tumble had induced. “No other, aside our Lord and Prince, has the strength to keep him at bay. Michael, you know this.”

“I was to stand at your side,” choked Michael. “When the final battle came, I was to stand beside you as your second. Not across the battlefield as your enemy.”

“And you will,” said Lucifer, coaxing Michael out of his curl and once more placing the bloodied sword in his hand, refusing to let the younger warrior-angel recoil this time as he slipped a necklace from around his neck and over Michael’s head. “But until that day comes, lead and protect our people as the compassionate General they love and trust. Defend them against the incoming darkness.”

“Brother!” breathed Raphael as the two younger angels watched Lucifer’s countenance dim and tarnish, Michael’s growing brighter in contrast. Lucifer pulled both of his brothers into a strong, and entirely too brief, embrace.

“Always,” he promised, pressing a kiss to their temples before shifting away from them both and staggering to his feet. He gave small, startled, chuckle as he realised that he had lost his sandals at some point during his fall. “And I look forward to the day that I can declare that with the love and revelation such an honour deserves.”

“You will be held to that, Lord Commander,” said Michael, his voice cracking as it both hardened in resolve and broke in anguish.

Above them came a resounding cheer as the battle finally ceased, the blast of Uriel and Gabriel’s trumpets clearly relaying exactly whose was the victory. Lucifer smiled as he crouched to collect his shield.

“Clean your face, General,” he instructed. “Your audience awaits.”

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    LMWritten by Liz Mutch

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