He can barely see in front of his face, cannot feel his own fingers touch his skin. It is cold and black, and the tears that fall unbidden from his eyes freeze on his cheeks. The frost snaps at his nose and lips. It feels nothing like sweet kisses and tickling finger licks. Then again, this is blackness. It is not supposed to feel like anything warm at all.
He does not know how long he wanders. His back aches and drags him down. It is hard to move his feet because doubt clutches at his knees and pulls him under the falling of his heartbeat. The black is suffocating and he sobs. He cannot breathe. He is the only one left. He must be.
It’s a slow process, but eventually he cannot feel his legs. He knows they are moving because he can feel something that was once air and wind wriggling through his greasy hair. He pats his thighs just to make sure they’re still there. They are. He cannot hear his footsteps. They’re muffled by ash, he thinks. He can’t smell the dust anymore. He’s gotten used to the filth and the fire.
He stumbles farther and farther into nothingness. The blackness does not loosen its crushing grip, and even though he knows that it has been a long time since he has seen the light, he cannot bring himself to accept the darkness. Walk, walk, pause. Breathe, sob, choke on ash that he is not sure exists, repeat. Is he even alive anymore? He doesn’t know. Surely this isn’t living. His throat constricts at the thought of death, of this eternal blackness.
It has been a long time since he has seen Heaven, but he remembers that It does not look like this. He has not walked the Earth for so long that he has forgotten Heaven.
For a moment he thinks he can feel something aside from the blackness. And it hurts. By all things holy it hurts like nothing else he has ever felt. Longing, pain, desperate pleading, every emotion he has ever felt wells to the surface like magma bursting the earth and belching thick into the sky. Hope. This is what hope feels like. Pain. He doesn’t believe in hope anymore. It is taken away from him too quickly for him to feel it for long. He knows better than to hold on.
But there it is again, all that unholy brilliance in his heart and lungs, strangling him more effectively than any ash and blackness would ever deign to do. He tries to squash it because he knows better but it doesn’t go away.
Leave me in peace, he moans without breath. Not even Hell could pierce this darkness.
Hope is a blissfully ignorant creation. It hates him, he decides, but it doesn’t matter. He can feel it threading through his skin, splitting his hair and barbing smokey wire around his throat so that air twists like fire through his lungs. Leave me be, he screams. But Hope does not listen. It does not care that he does not want it, that it will do more harm than good. Hope is like water, necessary for life but fully capable of murder.
He falls to his knees, unable to move because Hope is wicked. He has to keep moving but it won’t let him. He needs to move, he cannot stay still for too long because who knows what’s out there? It is no place for him to stop but it doesn’t really matter anyway. He cannot see, cannot find shelter, cannot cannot cannot cannot. Helpless. His broken fingers curl in the ashes, and he burns his palms on sparkling embers. The burn reminds him of the sun he’s almost forgotten.
Please, he begs, let me go, let me die, let me pass on, please just leave me be. He is desperate. Hope is desperation. Hope is cruel.
He presses his face to the ashes. Not even dirt will drown his tears, and it cakes his face in a mask of muck and past experience lost forever. He cannot recall who he is, even with history soiling his cheeks, and Hope has fled in the face of this new terror. He cannot remember his name. Apathy swallows him whole. What does it matter anymore?
Barbed wire holes suckle greedily at bitter air and he rolls in the ash, soaking up past present future happenstance and searching. So consumed with desperate desperate searching is he that he forgets Hope and chill and blackness because maybe, just maybe, he can find himself hiding in the dirt. But he can’t. Hope is cruel.
He lies on his back, broken shards of memory and stone skewering his mottled skin and begs again. Please just leave me be. Hope touches him too much. Optimism has no place here in this world of black and cold and lost things that elude even him. He no longer holds his flaming sword to light his way. Even the righteous have been forsaken by their god, God, who has lost even His way in this darkness.
He cannot feel his lungs or his shoulders, his arms and skin prickle just beyond his comprehension. He has long since lost his wings to the blaze expelled when the sun burnt out. Only his beating heart resounds throughout his blood, just barely. Slowly slowly. The drum beats slow and steady, but he is waiting for it to stop. He will lie there forever, if only to be there when his heart faltered, missed a step, and finally fell apart. He’s waiting.
He closes his eyes. It makes no difference whether they’re open or closed. He still tears and he stills sees darkness. Everlasting, never fading darkness . . . something soft whispers along his fingertips and he flicks it away. Ash is fluttering in Hope’s wicked wind. He cannot bare to think it something else. He is not that cruel to himself.
The whisper is back and unwillingly deterred. Leave me be to die. The whisper ignores his plea. It returns, multiplies in a sense, crawling along his lips and hands. It tastes like cloves. It has been a long long time since he has tasted cloves. He has not tasted cloves since the Morning Star was cast from Heaven. Hallucinations. He must be dying.
The whispers will not leave him alone. They sidle along his skin, giggling and laughing like sprites. He has not heard laughter in many years. Not since the blackness came and his hearing left him with his sight and his taste. But the cloves are sweet on his tongue and there is laughter in his ears. Hallucinations, but this time he is not so sure that he is dying and more settled on the idea that he is finally going mad.
More and more whispers until he is covered head to toe and suddenly he believes that this cannot possibly be his imagination. Madness is plausible. He wonders if madness will let him see light again. He opens his eyes.
Crawling all over tattered and sooted ancient linens are millions of fireflies. Their laughter is buzzing and the cloves are something sweet on his lips and close in scent. He is a mess. His broken skin is gray and his hair must have been a color other than black and crusted brown a long time ago. He is glowing.
“Have even the angels fallen beneath the blackness?” The words are not his and they dribble like sweet ambrosia down his throat and his breathe screams from his lungs in great heaving sobs because he knows that God-damned voice and he could not love it any more than he did in that moment. The nectar-voice sighs and he hears more than feels a burning hot hand gently brush the lightning bugs from his face to touch his wet skin.
“I suppose I cannot be surprised. After all, you never slept well in the dark, did you, Mika’il?” And he never will. The voice smells like cloves and sounds closer than he knows he should have liked but the voice is shining and luscious and he wants to hear more. More from the Morning Star.
“Please . . .”
“Yes, Mika’il. I am here.” He does not know what he begs for, but the voice does. The lightning bugs scatter, and light spills like the sun in the darkness, illuminating broken things that he will always remember and a man whose face he never once forgot.
“Light Bringer . . . Lucifer.” The man smiles a smile that holds all the brilliance of Heaven and cynicism of Hell combined and the hand on his forehead touches his lips and brushes tears of awe from his eyes.
“I am He, Mika’il.”
“Hope is cruel,” he says and Light Bringer hums softly and leans in to kiss his frosted skin.
“Yes, but I am here.”
“Are you?” Light Bringer cups his face and the fireflies swirl in rising eddies of glimmering tides.
“Hope is cruel but even El cannot make me disappear. Not as He is, lost in the apocalyptic world and mourning His muddy, disobeying children.”
“Please,” he sobs and Lucifer spreads ripped white wings that sparkle in the blackness. Even nothingness fears Hell. He is wrong to think that Hell cannot pierce the black. Hell is blacker than black.
“I am here, Mika’il. I am here.”
“Is that all you can say?” But Light Bringer is already lifting him from the ash in solid hot arms, cradling his frigid body to the furnace of his chest. The fireflies chase through his feathers and tease at the blackness that cannot touch them.
“It is what you need to hear, Mika’il, and I am willing to accommodate.”
“Are we the last?” He is afraid to know. Light Bringer does not answer, and that is answer enough. Tears spill out again and his weeping rattles like chains in light that cannot kill grief. Light Bringer holds him tightly as he strides, strong and tall through the black that fears to touch them, and the lightning bugs sing songs that he does not understand but appreciates nonetheless.
“I will always be the last, Mika’il.”
And the lightning bugs skate through the holocaust rubble and he sobs in the arms of Hell for the comrades he has lost and the archfiend that is now his messiah.