This story is in roughly the same neighbourhood as City of Angels, but set later in the continuity. It was written for Azarias, who asked for Eroica. I took the liberty of bunging two and a half more fandoms into the story, just 'cos.
Aziraphale and Caphriel (in slightly modified form) are from Good Omens. This particular interpretation of Heaven is from Neil Gaiman's short story Murder Mysteries. Baruch is from Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials books, simply because he was a convenient angel whose name started with B. The Iron Archangel is, in another life, a machine-mad, uptight German NATO agent called Iron Klaus, and he is from Eroica.
The inspiriting interest was "non-standard uses of tent-pegs".
* * *
* * *
There was never much noise in the Hall of Being, no matter how busy it got. Even in the midst of the mad hustle of completing the universe, the designers maintained a reverent quiet -- a quiet that might almost be said to be superstitious, if Superstition hadn't still been in the working stages. All the same, it was an emotion very like it that kept the designers' voices respectfully low as they toiled over their great work. You didn't shout with a baby universe in the room.
Quiet was nothing new for the Hall of Being. But there was an eerie quality to its silence now, without the background hum of a million million angels working wing to wing.
Half-finished models of the world that was to be spun gently in space, or lay on their sides, abandoned by their designers. Aziraphale hunkered down behind one -- a draft of a Nebula, scrapped when the designer decided it wasn't big enough -- and tried not to shudder.
The angel beside him wasn't having any problems with that. He was looking over the edge of the Nebula, keeping his head low to avoid the Enemy's catching sight of him, and there was a gleam in his eyes.
Eyes that were growing greener as the blood-edged days of the war slipped past, and every angel became more and more itself. Aziraphale couldn't remember what his name had been before the war -- he hadn't known him as anything other than a vague figure in another department, absorbed in odd, sharp-edged ideas -- but it didn't matter. Aziraphale suspected that whatever his name had been, it probably wasn't his name anymore.
The angels called him the Iron Archangel, after one of the projects he had worked on before the Darkness had come, and the great work was suspended. Aziraphale had no idea what Iron was supposed to be, but the title was oddly fitting. There could be nothing but Iron in the way the Archangel now smiled.
He was enjoying this, Aziraphale realised for the thousandth time. The thought still came as a shock. But after all, what could you expect from an angel who had been one of the principal designers of War, before he had been demoted to Weaponry? He probably felt right at home in the horror and destruction that had engulfed the Silver City.
"Are they coming?" Aziraphale quavered. He had been working on Books when the war began. Horror and destruction were things he'd only read about up till now. He wished they'd stayed that way.
"Four of them," said the Iron Archangel, with grim satisfaction. "Former Seraphim, with swords." He ignored Aziraphale's squeak. "Where is B?"
"Baruch?" said Aziraphale. "I think I saw him duck behind a prototype Mountain."
"And D is down, and C -- " The Archangel paused, and a vicious sneer distorted the classically beautiful line of his mouth. "He will wish he had followed D when I am done with him."
"I'm sure Caphriel hasn't really defected," Aziraphale protested.
"Then you're an idiot," snapped the Archangel. "Shut up. I don't care how well-meaning he was, or how much genius he contributed to your joint projects. He betrayed the Name when he started hanging around Lucifer. He is one of the Enemy now."
"He didn't know what he was doing," said Aziraphale weakly.
"That is no excuse," said the Archangel. He looked at the object in his hands consideringly. He'd swiped it from one of the galleries they had passed in their pursuit of Caphriel. Aziraphale had never seen the like before, but the Archangel called it a Magnum, and the loving way he handled it worried Aziraphale. The Iron Archangel never looked like that over anything nice.
"At least we have weapons," said the Archangel. "You remember how to use your pistol?"
"I suppo -- yes," said Aziraphale hastily, at the Archangel's glare. Aziraphale could only vaguely remember the Archangel's barked instructions, and he wasn't sure he'd got the gist -- it seemed such a peculiar thing to do with an object, nothing like reading a Book or feeding a Duck -- but he'd rather go into combat with a fallen Seraph not fully understanding how to use his weapon than risk another of the Iron Archangel's glares.
"Gut," said the Archangel. "I will distract the Seraphim. When I give you the signal, fire at them. Don't try to get all the heads, if you take out the upper two it should be enough -- "
"Wait," said Aziraphale, his consternation overcoming even his fear of the Archangel, "wait, do you mean to say we're going to fight them?"
"If you have any objection, you know where you can go." The Archangel's tone was freezing as Snow, or Solid Carbon Dioxide. The threat of exile usually silenced any protestations on the part of the angels recruited by the Iron Archangel, but Aziraphale was too distressed to be daunted by it now.
"They're Seraphim! Four of them! We only have an Archangel on our side, and B's just a Virtue, not to mention on the other side of the room, and I'm only a designer, I don't know anything about fighting. They'll slaughter us!"
Aziraphale ran out of steam abruptly at the look on the Archangel's face, but for a wonder, he didn't get yelled at. The Archangel merely gave him a long stare, and then said,
"We have only an Archangel on our side, true. But, Herr A . . . it's me."
He leaned forward. Aziraphale shrank, curling into the Nebula as if it could protect him.
"I'm here," said the Iron Archangel, "right beside you, and I have a gun I spent eternities working to perfect before the war. There are four Seraphim with swords over there, and they want to kill you. But let me tell you, what they want to do to you is nothing to what I will do to you if you do not go out there and fight like an angel."
He smiled, wide-eyed and cheerful.
"Now ask yourself," he said, "who are you more afraid of? Those bloody traitors on the other side of this thing -- " he tapped the Nebula, which parped in tiny indignation -- "or me?"
* * *
Aziraphale was pressed up against a wall, waiting. The Iron Archangel had disposed of B's -- no, Baruch's -- fate in a similar fashion. Aziraphale wondered how the Archangel was going to tell Baruch what he was supposed to do. He probably wouldn't need to intimidate Baruch into doing his duty against the Enemy -- Baruch was newly promoted to Virtuehood, and no more than a glance from one of the higher orders was needed to make him skip to their command -- but he would have to communicate the plan to Baruch without alerting the Enemy. Perhaps he thought he was going to force the plan into Baruch's mind from across the length of the gallery through sheer force of will. Aziraphale wouldn't put it beyond him.
He thought of the Archangel's terrible eyes, and tightened his grip on the pistol.
Then he thought, Wait, he didn't tell me what the signal was . . .
He really ought to have had more faith, Aziraphale reflected later.
In any event, the next moment he knew what the signal was.
Of course the Archangel wouldn't need to tell Baruch, thought Aziraphale as he pushed off and charged around the wall, pistol swinging up as if he'd worked on Weaponry all his life. Baruch would know the minute his ears started bleeding . . .
Aziraphale had never heard a fallen Seraph sing. There were four of them now, and voices made to lift in glorious hosannas were warped by the endless rage of the Darkness. The singing of the Seraphim was a roaring like a great fire; it was a piercing shrill that scythed clean through the mind; it was a wild, aching, cosmically out-of-pitch wailing that spoke of depths of despair and hatred that Aziraphale could not conceive.
There might have been gnashing of teeth in there. Aziraphale's ears were too blasted out for him to be able to tell.
The noise was bad enough, but the sight stopped Aziraphale's willing feet in their tracks.
He was a designer, he thought feverishly. His hair was whipping around his head from the wind raised by the beating of many wings -- too many wings, six per nightmare, and yet not enough, because he could still see the heads through the whirling hurricane of feathers, and the faces that should have been shining with the grace of the Name were filthy beyond imagining.
He was just a designer, thought Aziraphale. The thought ran around his head, dully repetitive, followed by a conga line of fears: he was a designer. He shouldn't have to see things like this. He wasn't made for it. He couldn't deal with it.
Before the horror the Archangel stood, his gun aimed dead centre at one of the many foreheads, his wings spread and still against the storm. He was smiling -- not the bright, terrifying simulation of friendliness he'd turned on Aziraphale when threatening him, but a fiercely joyous smile, as if looking death in the eye was precisely his idea of a good time. His eyes were genuinely happy, and wholly forgetful of self. There was no fear in them at all.
Barely knowing what he was doing, Aziraphale brought up his gun and ran forward.
The Name must have been directing the bullets -- perhaps the Name was in the bullets, for they hit their targets beautifully, and had more of an effect than Aziraphale thought mere chunks of metal ought to have had on Seraphim. In the scrum, Aziraphale was conscious of Baruch shooting pointy sticks at the Enemy, using what looked like a very basic stringed instrument. He shrugged when Aziraphale glanced at him, mouthing philosophically, "Nothing else."
Good chap, Baruch, thought Aziraphale, in the small, peaceful part of his mind that wasn't engaged in the battle. He would make a good Virtue if he survived this.
Baruch dropped with a thud behind something large and yellowly pulsating that an incompetent junior designer had tried to pass off as a Tree. Aziraphale felt as if his heart had jumped up his throat and was strangling him. He wasn't sure if the fear was more of facing the Seraphim with less one ally, or of being left alone with the Archangel if they won the battle.
He crouched behind the defective Tree and found himself looking into Baruch's wide eyes. Baruch was bleeding from the temple, but he seemed otherwise unhurt.
"I've run out of arrows," he said, incomprehensibly. "But there's only one of the bastards left. The Archangel's alone out there. Go!"
Aziraphale rolled out of hiding again, fumbling with the pistol, and looked up to see the last Seraph standing over him.
Aziraphale brought up the gun and squeezed the trigger with fingers numb from terror.
He realised several things in one eternal second: that pistols did not have an inexhaustible supply of bullets, and his supply was finished. That the Iron Archangel was having the same problem; Aziraphale could hear him snarling fruitlessly at his gun. That the fallen Seraph was leaning over him, the Darkness wafting off him like an evil smell. That his time was up, and he could do nothing but commend his soul to the Name and hope there was a place beyond the Silver City he could go.
I'm never going to get to finish Books, Aziraphale thought suddenly, and the pain of the thought was worse than any of the others.
The demon giggled, and stretched its arms towards him. Aziraphale closed his eyes.
I hope, he thought in the darkness, I hope Caphriel doesn't --
"Idiot!" roared the Iron Archangel, and the giggling stopped, cut off abruptly. Aziraphale's eyes snapped open just in time for him to see the dead Seraph, its eight eyes open in surprise, fall forward.
An iron hand clamped on the back of his neck and dragged him out of the way. The demon crumpled on the vacant ground.
Aziraphale was free, but he was staring an enraged Archangel in the face. He wasn't sure he didn't prefer impending death.
"You fool!" bellowed the Archangel. "That was the most incompetent display I have ever seen! Why didn't you kill it?"
Aziraphale found his voice, and dragged enough of it out to say,
"I ran out of bullets."
"Then you should have used something else!" The Archangel dropped him, turned, and kicked the limp body on the floor. It rolled over. There was something embedded in its chest.
"That's never a weapon," Aziraphale said faintly.
"No. It's a Tent-Peg," said the Iron Archangel. "Anything can be used as a weapon. That's the first thing you learn when you work on Weaponry."
He was simmering with fury. Aziraphale really ought to have been a great deal more frightened than he was, but he couldn't seem to work up the energy. He felt like he'd gone through fear and come out the other side. Nothing more could happen now.
That must have been why he said,
"Well, I wouldn't know. I didn't work on Weaponry and I'm glad I didn't.
"Books," continued Aziraphale, drunk on the truth and heedless of peril, "are much better."
The blast of fury came from the Archangel, as expected.
"Only an idiot like you would think that!" bellowed the Iron Archangel. "If that's the way you feel, I'll send you to Earth! There are no weapons there!"
"All right," said Aziraphale recklessly. "I don't mind. It can't be worse than this. Nothing could be worse than this."
He'd been trying not to think about it, but at his own words the image of the fallen Seraph's dreadful face rose in his mind, and a swell of misery overcame him.
Caphriel was like that now. Caphriel, who'd been a decent chap, whatever the Iron Archangel said about weak moral fibre and foolishly impressionable minds. He'd been a talented designer -- nothing on a grand scale, but clever in his own way, and Aziraphale had always been able to talk to him. And now he was that. It didn't bear thinking about.
Aziraphale couldn't stop thinking about it.
"With claws," he realised he was hiccupping, but could not stop, "and fangs, and wriggling things in his eyes. Like the Seraph. Caphriel'll have them now, just the same. And his face, oh the Name. And he had such a nice smile. He was such a dear boy."
The Iron Archangel stared down at him. From this angle his face was cast in dramatic shadow, and Aziraphale couldn't make out anything of his expression.
"If it weren't for you lot and your ideals," said Aziraphale. "You and Lucifer -- you simply don't think. We can't all go blasting after Seraphim with whacking great Magnums. We can't all spit at the Name and make it look stylish. Some of us just want to get on with our jobs and not be bothered. And now you've filled Caphriel's head with all these ideas, and he's gone and fallen, and he'll hate it, I know he will. He'd have been all right if you'd only just left him alone."
"Don't associate me with Lucifer," said the Archangel. "I'm absolutely opposed to him!"
"But you're like him. You're all the same," said Aziraphale. "Champions and nemeses. He thinks he's a hero too, I expect. You never think of the effect you have on everybody else. On the little people. You never think."
He was exhausted. He sat on the floor, with its trails of blood and feathers, and looked up at the Archangel, waiting for the reckoning.
It didn't come.
"You think C -- Caphriel -- would agree with you?" said the Iron Archangel.
"I don't know," said Aziraphale, too tired to be anything but honest.
"Then you can ask him when you go to Earth," said the Archangel. "He will probably turn up eventually. I would send him there if I were his superior."
He turned on his heel and stalked off, shouting for Baruch, though of course he didn't use his name. Aziraphale watched him go.
Earth, he thought. He had been dreading exile for so long that the sensation of relief he now experienced surprised him. At least he would escape from the Iron Archangel there. Any world that didn't have an Iron Archangel in it had to be an improvement.
There weren't weapons on Earth yet, but there would be in time. But there would be books there, too. In time, there would be everything on Earth.
Maybe, thought Aziraphale, maybe even a lost friend.