God is not supposed to be able to become ill. She is not supposed to be able to die. She is not supposed to be found by her archangels coughing up mysterious black liquid onto the floor of her chambers at 9:31 PM on a Tuesday night. It’s unheard of! Unthought of! It simply doesn’t happen! So why was Gabriel now sitting in a hallway, hands covered in black sludge the likes of which he had never seen before, heaving uncontrollably? Because God herself was freaking dying and there was nothing he could do about it.
He buried his face in his tar-covered hands. The smell was sweet like ichor, but beneath that scent there were the sharp, metallic tones of blood. One whiff of it told Gabriel all he needed to know. She would be gone soon. The leader of Heaven would be gone.
It wasn’t going to be the end of the world, of course. Hell and Asphodel still held strong, and there were millions upon millions of gods and goddesses out there who filled millions upon millions of roles wherever they were most needed. The Void’s heart would beat on, blissfully unaware of the fact that one of its first four children was on her deathbed, and most mortals would never bat an eyelash, having no clue that a deity had fallen at long last. No, the universe wouldn’t end. It would go on as always, ticking like clockwork. The only universe that would end would be Gabriel’s little universe. The one that was his daily life. The one that was almost all he’d never known since the dawn of time.
Hopelessly, Gabriel allowed himself to fall over onto one side and flopped a wing over his face so he wouldn’t have to look at anyone ever again. Some part of this put him on the same level as mortals, a feeling which was uncomfortable and incredibly unfamiliar. When families cried in the waiting rooms of hospitals, knowing there was nothing they could do and that it would be only a matter of time before their loved one perished, surely it must feel like this.
“Gabe,” a voice said softly from above him. Gabriel didn’t need to look to know it was Uriel. Uriel had a distinct voice that sounded like several bees trying to speak by buzzing their wings. “Gabe, I need you to get up.”
Gabriel took the wing off from over his eyes and rolled over to look at Uriel. The dark mass of tiny, swarming shapes looked down at him with thousands of itsy bitsy eyes he couldn’t see without looking closely. He knew better than to take the hand Uriel was offering him. Of all the archangels, they were the most fragile. One gust of wind and they’d take hours to get all their parts back together and reassemble the swarm. Besides, Gabriel’s own hands were still covered in that goop God had been spitting up. He wasn’t exactly keen on getting it all over his friend.
Struggling to his feet on his own, Gabriel did his best to wipe the tar off his hands and onto his white robes. He failed. It was staining his hands now, drying on his claws and seeping into his skin. It would be several very good handwashes and an entire bottle of soap before Gabriel would be able to get it off. Looking into where he figured Uriel’s eyes should be, he smiled awkwardly and halfheartedly. “What can I help you with?”
Uriel buzzed for a second, as though they’d forgotten why they were there for a moment, looked around the hall, and then looked at Gabriel again. “Come with me to Micheal’s quarters. We need to talk,” they said. Before Gabriel could respond, Uriel swept off down the hallway in the direction of the quarters that Micheal called home. Gabriel had to speed-walk after them in order to keep them in his sights.
Behind the dark oak doors to Micheal’s room sat the other five archangels. Micheal herself was perched on the foot of her bed with a fidget cube in hand that she was clicking rapidly and turning over in her palms. Like Gabriel, her digits were stained black with the sludge God had coughed up. Next to her stood Jophiel, who had been the one to help get God to the infirmary and was thus covered in the most black tar out of anyone else in the room. He had a bucket of water and several washcloths which he was using to scrub away as many of the stains as he could.
Raphael sat on a plush chair across the room and was hugging a crying Camael to his chest. Zadkiel, who was a bit too big for any chairs, sat on the floor and petted the extremely soft carpet on the floor in the same absentminded way one might pet a dog. His many eyes stared off in varying directions, focused on random little things.
The whole room and all of his coworkers felt strange and alien to Gabriel. Everything from Zadkiel’s unblinking stare to how hollow and nervous Micheal’s eyes looked put him on edge. He wanted to scream at Uriel and tell them these surely weren’t the other archangels, but he knew that wouldn’t help. They were all scared, and he knew he was no less strange and hollow-looking than the rest of them.
After what felt like eons of silence, Micheal stood up and tried to put on her cheerful go-getter personality again. “Alright, team. Listen up,” all heads in the room turned to her, watching her with big, frightened eyes. From the way her hands trembled as she held her fidget toy, Gabriel could tell she was more terrified than she wanted to let on. With a deep breath, she continued. “As we all know, God is…” Dying? Already dead? Rotting? “Unwell. It is up to us to decide how to handle the situation until she is better,” Micheal paused again, the last part of the sentence on the tip of her tongue, but too afraid to say it. Her hands clenched her cube, knuckles going even paler than they already were. She didn’t want to speak the words. “And to figure out what to do in the case that she does not make it.”
The silence in the room from the other archangels could not have possibly been more deafening. Even Camael’s sobbing had stopped, replaced by wide eyes and quiet tears. Everyone knew God was on her way out, but hearing the possibility that she could die spoken out loud was a whole other thing. It stripped their tongues and throats of words.
At long last, the silence was yet again broken by Jophiel. “Should we tell the public? We don’t want panic, but their leader is dying, don’t they deserve to know?”
“It wouldn’t hurt to hide it for a bit while we formulate a plan for what to do,” Uriel pointed out, ever the maker of wise choices. “Ultimately, it would harm the public less if we do.”
“So we lie?” Camael sniffled out, drying their remaining tears.
“No,” Raphael said, shaking his head. “We only tell half-truths and hide what we know for now. A time will come when we can tell the whole of Heaven, but right now we need to keep things under wraps.”
Zadkiel turned to him, folding his hands in his lap. “Knowing how chatty some of the staff are, we only have a limited amount of time to figure out what we’re going to do. I’d give us about a week or less before somebody blabs. We need to move quickly.”
“One week?!” Raphael exclaimed in a mixture of shock and anger, throwing his arms in the air and causing Camael to unceremoniously fall from his lap. “How are we supposed to rearrange Heaven’s entire political system to fit the absence of God in one week?!”
Gabriel gripped the sleeves of his robe and spoke for the first time since he’d stepped into that room. It was hard to do, his mouth was dry and felt terrible, but he knew someone had to say what he was about to. “I don’t know,” he commented softly, causing all heads in the room to swivel and turn towards him. He looked at the floor and then back up into the worried, sad, frightened, and angry faces of his coworkers and sighed, “But we have to try.”