No hours have ever passed as slowly as the ones I spent waiting for Michael to come off the respirator.
It was a good thing I still had battle-related duties to keep me busy after the doctor finally told us he was going to survive. I'd been so relieved I could hardly form the words to thank the man... but also near-paralytically distressed that I wouldn't be able to be there at Michael's bedside when he woke. I knew he wouldn't be alone with Sanya and Daniel there to watch over him, but that didn't really soothe my need to see him with my own eyes. I don't know what I'd have done if I didn't have Wardens to debrief, a little girl to cuddle, a coin to drop off, and a mob boss to beard in his lair to distract me.
Not that those duties didn't add their own extra weight to my worries. I hadn't liked Luccio's inferences about the consequences that could result from giving a child Archive human attachments, but that didn't mean she was wrong. Just that I couldn't stomach the alternative. I'd been where Ivy was; and more importantly, I had somehow ended up as secondary father to seven little ones of my own. Ivy fell right between Alicia and Amanda in age; I couldn't help but see their smiling faces when I looked at her, and no force on this planet could have stopped me from offering her the same care. And then there was the other bomb Luccio had dropped in that conversation: the one about my wizard's Sight beginning to mature.
I sat in my patchwork car for a long time after Murph drove me over to pick it up, forehead resting on the steering wheel as I flailed over that little revelation. It explained the sense of familiarity I'd felt on the island, sure. But it also explained something else I'd written off before Marcone's kidnapping, something that stuck like a knife in my gut now that I knew what it meant. Stars and Stones. If I'd realized beforehand....
Michael's fairly ripped, but he isn't a polished muscle-bound statue like Sanya, and he's approaching middle age faster than either of us would like to admit. His body's not perfect. His chest hair's more salt than pepper these days-- something I've teased him about more than once, cradle robber that I've made of him-- and he's got plenty of scars from nearly thirty years of fighting the Good fight. But that night, as I'd run my hands over the strong, solid back and flanks of the best human being I knew, I'd thought I'd felt thickened tissue where there'd been none before. Jagged scars, like those left behind by bullet wounds.
They hadn't been there the next time I'd checked, though, and we'd both been more than a little... distracted... at the time. I'd chalked it up to some kind of misfire in the still damaged nerves of my left hand and put it out of my mind. If I'd known that was foresight rather than imagination, though, could I have prevented him from getting shot at all?
These are the kinds of questions that can drive a man crazy. I might as well have asked myself whether I should have ignored Gard's avid expression and gone on up to the helicopter before Michael as he'd suggested. But if I'd done that, he'd have had to face the Denarians alone in my place, and I would lost him for sure. And if I'd tried to warn him beforehand about the wounds he might take... he'd just have told me he had faith in God's plan, and that he could no more let me go to the island alone than I'd have been willing to let him do the same.
We usually tried not to risk our lives in the same conflict. But in this case... the Denarians had been trying too hard to divide and conquer, what with all Nicodemus' hints about Lasciel's shadow. Michael had had faith in me-- though much good it had done him-- and we'd ultimately decided we'd better face this particular danger together. I didn't kid myself that I was a better helpmate in general than Charity had been, but I could watch his back against the Nickelheads.
At least this was the last time we'd face that particular problem. When I finally put myself back together enough to head for St. Mary's, Father Forthill assured me that Michael and the children would still rate Heavenly defenses... as long as he stayed out of the fight from then on. Sort of a reward for dedicated service.
And put in that perspective... if I was going to kick myself about ignoring prophetic warnings, there was another, much older one I should've kept in mind. Michael had told me seven years before that he felt God was warning him he'd have to lay down the Sword soon, but apart from the brief period when my faerie godmother had got her hands on it, I'd written that off as just his paranoia talking. Denial, paging Harry Dresden; come in, Harry. We were extremely lucky he was still alive at all. I'd seen what had happened to his mentor with my own eyes.
Hell's Bells, I still had Shiro's sword in my keeping. And... now I had Michael's, too. Though I feared that one might mostly be on hold until Daniel was ready.
Unlike Molly, Michael's eldest son hadn't taken well to acquiring another parent after Charity's death, even an ostensibly cool one who slung fireballs and played Arcanos with werewolves. We'd hashed out a truce after awhile, under which I backed him to Michael when he insisted on taking over his mother's forge and he didn't object when the littler ones started calling me Daddy Two instead of Uncle Harry. But at some point after Mavra bulldozed through the Carpenters' lives, he'd decided that his goal was to follow in his father's footsteps, no matter how dangerous it was. From the few words we'd exchanged that evening, Michael's brush with death hadn't changed that at all.
I hoped Michael's Patron had other plans for him. But he was one determined kid, far more aware of consequences and mortality than any seventeen year old should be. I remembered what that was like. And I was proud of him, even if he didn't want me to be. I just hoped we could get him to wait a little longer-- until after college, at least-- before he took up the fight.
I didn't think I could take being shut out of yet another hospital room, and it would be years before that wasn't the first thing I thought of every time I fought beside a Knight of the Cross. Or either of the Carpenter children in the line of fire-- I could hardly stop training Molly, even if Daniel changed his mind. My conversation with Uriel in the hospital's chapel had soothed my anger and grief a little, but not that much.
Maybe that was part of why I was so lenient with Madam Demeter that evening; she knew, and I knew, that she was a viper in the mob boss' nest, but I couldn't say she didn't have reason to be. Marcone might have become what he was as a result of her daughter's sacrifice... but so had she. She blamed him for the destruction of her family. And on a purely cause-and-effect level, she wasn't entirely wrong to do so; he hadn't fired the shot that felled Amanda Beckitt, but he'd been the target. The fact that he'd ultimately made life more livable for a lot of other children as a result of his guilt over the incident didn't make him any less a criminal, nor take away the years she'd spent believing her daughter dead.
I was a little more rational on the subject of our kids than Michael, but only a little. Only a very little. What had happened to Michael-- and Ivy-- had mashed a lot of those protective buttons, and while I respected Marcone for putting Ivy's safety before his own, this was a case of and, not or. If I gave either of them a pass, I felt I had to give it to them both.
Dealing with Demeter had been last of my self-assigned tasks, though, besides figuring out what was up with my tingling hand. The hamster wheel of worry in the back of my mind kept chanting Michael's name, over and over, and anything that could keep me distracted until I could see him sounded like a good plan. I sat in the Beetle for another long moment, contemplating whether or not I should drive over to the old apartment and wake Bob up for a look; I'd left my lab there to keep him and the other dangerous ingredients of my art away from the children.
Stars and Stones, the children--
A jolt of grief struggled to break through the emotional numbness I'd been clinging to, and I swallowed hard. I'd been selfish. For all my worrying about Michael and the rest of our family, I'd entirely ignored the fact that the younger ones hadn't seen either of us since things got hairy. Charity's mother had brought them back after Murphy called Daniel; they were waiting for me. It was high time I reassured them that their dad was alive and they were still safe and loved.
Whatever Uriel had done to me could wait. I pointed the Beetle toward home.