Michael Carpenter, Knight of the Cross, travels to San Francisco at the prompting of God. There, he is greeted by the angel, Castiel, on recent events and why he is needed...
St Catherine's Church, San Francisco
"...and may God stand between them and harm, in all the empty place where they must walk. Amen."
Michael Carpenter - family man and construction worker to some, Knight of the Cross and soldier of God to others - raises his head from prayer as he kneels before an altar in an old-style church. It has only been a few days since he and his family moved to San Francisco - and it is his third visit to St Catherine's church, in the heart of the city. The burly man rises to his feet, brushes down the light jacket he wears over a checkered shirt and jeans, and turns to go.
The church itself is only small, with wooden pews on either side of the central aisle, facing a simple altar and pulpit beneath the shadow of a large crucifix on the far wall. It is not a Sunday, and there is no one else in the building, for now. Outside, traffic is mild for this time of night.
Michael reaches to a pocket to grab his cell phone.
There's no motion or sound to indicate the arrival of the plain-looking man in the rumpled trench coat. He's suddenly standing there, just at the edge of Michael's peripheral vision. His posture is straight, hands held at his sides, in a way that doesn't quite seem entirely natural. When he speaks, it's in a low, somewhat gravelly voice.
"Michael Carpenter. As always, thank you for heeding the Call."
Frowning slightly, Michael turns around to regard the newcomer with a curious gaze. A heartbeat or two passes and he lifts his chin in recognition - of 'what' has visited him, if not 'who'.
"Thank the Lord," he murmurs and falls to a single knee, head bowed. "I am His humble servant," Michael remarks in reference to their mutual 'boss'. Then he raises his head, expression grave, eyes focuses intently upon Castiel. "What's happened? Why are we here?" Castiel may recognise that the 'we' refers to Michael's family.
"As are we all," the man responds with a polite, if stiff, nod. "My name is Castiel. I come with news. You are, no doubt, aware of the situation in Chicago, wherein magic was disrupted? There is more to the situation than you may know. The 'dislocation' event came at the behest of the Divine. There is only limited information I can disclose, however: It is known that a group of unknown human agents, operating under heavily warded conditions, has been gathering magical energies in measures that have been virtually unseen since antiquity. An attempt at reaping the energies of this city was foiled only days ago, in part by your occasional associate, Harry Dresden." He continues to speak, his posture and tone remaining unnaturally fixed. "They plan to enact a ritual tomorrow night in the town of Beacon Hills, but its nature is unknown. Whatever they plan, it may be sufficient to transform the face of reality as we understand it."
Michael's face darkens as though a cloud had passed over it. There is no mistaking the tightening of his jaw and the determined glint in his eyes as he listens to Castiel's report. Then he rises to his feet once more.
Two seconds later, he utters a brief, wry snort.
"Good old Harry...and Poor Old Harry. Praise God he is well then - even Charity has been worried about him, and that's saying something." Two beats of the heart after that, and the man's face turns to stone once more.
"Whatever He needs, I will give. ...Where is Mr. Dresden now?" He shifts into more formal tones, as though preparing for ministry or official service. "Are you able to pass a message to him from me?"
"Actually," Castiel says in that rough monotone of his, "I can put you easily in touch." He reaches into the breast pocket of his coat, producing... a business card. "Harry Dresden has set up an office in town. And he has been working the case, along with certain other associates: two slayers, a good witch, a few human investigators, a hunter, and even... a must special child, who it seems was fathered by an angel."
There is a certain tension in his voice as he admits this last, the closest he's come to showing emotion, but his expression doesn't change. He does frown, then, and says grimly, "One of the slayers has vanished while investigating Beacon Hills, and even Heaven's Sight cannot find her. She must have been placed under very powerful wards. She may be safe... or in grave danger. All that is certain is that events are coming to a point tomorrow night... and we believe that human agents may be consorting with ancient extra-planar demonic forces. This could, very literally, result in Hell on Earth. Or worse."
Michael takes the card, examines it, and puts it in the breast pocket of his checkered shirt. Then he looks back at Castiel, one arm folded across his chest and the other resting the elbow upon it while he strokes his beard with his fingertips.
"I'm... not comfortable with some of the job-descriptions in this list of allies you've given, Castiel," he tells the angel in a firm, matter-of-fact voice. "Something tells me it bothers you too..." A long sigh escapes his lips and the hand that had been stroking his beard instead passes over his face, from brow to chin in an expression of grim resignation.
"It's no different from Chicago." The man nods and lowers his hands to his sides. "I'll do what must be done."
Castiel draws a long, slow breath, and gives a decisive nod. "Michael," he explains in that even way of his, "I will speak frankly with you. This is not, precisely, a Heavenly matter. The priority of Heaven is defense of human souls. It is not certain that this threat... will affect that aspect. However, we have been given leave to act via Earthly agents because of the potential loss of life."
He takes a small step closer, something in his eyes tightening. "I cannot directly intervene. It has been forbidden. However, I am allowed to find human agents--champions--to act. I have... confidence... in those I have found. Some are... like your friend, Harry... rough. Around the edges. But they are men and women of good character, and true. They seek to do what is right, even if they... may also need guidance. A good example to follow." Drawing another quiet breath, he raises his eyebrows.
"It may be that God requires your heart, Michael, as much as your sword."
There is an almost sharp intake of air through Michael's nostril's at the seraph's confession -- but no surprise. Whether from past dealings with angels -- or troublesome allies and friends like Dresden -- or perhaps a moment of insight into the angel's heart, Michael takes the revelations as one who had expected them.
"It's all the same," he eventually replies -- speaking mostly to the angel's last comment. "Charity saw this coming -- she's like that. You should meet her." The man lifts a hand to rub at the centre of his brow with his fore- and middle-fingers. "Thank you," he says lifting his head once more, lowering his hand. "And Him."
And the man's cellphone buzzes in his pocket.
Michael's words actually seem to bolster Castiel, bringing a smile--a stiff, awkward attempt a smile, from a being who is clearly not fully accustomed to a human form--to his face. He inclines his head, saying, "I would be only too honored to meet your family, Michael. Humans of faith such as yours... are rare. And you remind those of us who were not created to need faith... just how powerful it can be."
There is a weariness to the angel, too, something beneath the surface that speaks of a very long tour of duty. He seems no less committed to his cause than any other, but it is not the fire of faith or passion that drives him. He is a soldier who does his duty, neither questioning his purpose nor feeling zeal for it. He is as he was created to be.
When Michael's phone buzzes, Castiel raises a hand in a polite gesture of acknowledgment and steps away to one side to the man can answer with a measure of privacy.
"Hi, Honey," Michael says into the phone, and then pauses for several moments to listen. "...I know. I'll be home soon -- and we should talk." He pauses again and looks at Castiel.
"Directions," he says as though in answer to a question. Then, "Yes. That's it exactly." The man chuckles. "I..." and he chuckles some more. "What would I do without you? ...Right. Love you, too."
And down goes the phone.
"I missed the kids' bedtime -- I'll have to make up for it," he tells Castiel with a wry half-smile on his lips. "Charity understands, though." And with that he offers his hand toward the seraph. "Until next time, Castiel. Go with God."
Castiel heard just enough so that when he smiles, this time, it looks a shade or two more genuine, more natural. "Charity is a good woman," he says with an air of certainty over speculation. "You are a worthy pair. Please tell her I apologize for keeping you... but I'm certain she understands." Then, with a somewhat more formal air, he nods. "Keep faith, Michael Carpenter. Yours is a beacon in a troubled world." And then, with no more fanfare than the faint echo of fluttering wings, he's simply no longer standing there, leaving Michael alone in the chapel.