"He's threatening to release the Leviathan, sir."
"Damn it, we can't let that happen. Get me Puriel."
A moment and a flutter of wings later, the angel stood before Metatron. "You called, sir."
"We need a vessel."
Phil Coulson had, in many ways, had a modest life. After high school, he had joined the Army, where he had a mildly impressive, if not by and large unremarkable, career. He retired into a government job that was marginally less dangerous than the military had been, but he had his own office and minions for the first time in his life. He couldn't complain, even if he had been astounded when he'd learned that all of the things that go 'bump' in the night were real.
He'd learned the best ways to kill everything from buruburu to wendigoes—fire, usually, but not always—and how to keep himself from being possessed by a demon. He couldn't bring himself to sleep without his handgun in easy reach, but he had added a small bag of rock salt and an iron bar to his nightly arsenal.
He'd gotten used to weird in the Army and then thrown the idea of normal out the window after being recruited to SHIELD. Director Fury and Assistant Director Hill were weird even for angels, though. They passed out information in infinitesimal amounts if it wasn't critically necessary for the hunt. Even what he did manage to get out of them frequently wasn't enough to complete the job, so the shelves in his office had slowly filled with journals of information about the things he had run down in his career.
It was just like any other day after a hunt, with one exception: He had put a sigil on his door so no one would find or interrupt him. He had too much to get done in the next four hours, and he wasn't about to stay late again. He'd worked so many days and nights straight, he thought he might have forgotten what his cramped quarters four floors below looked like. He didn't expect the sigil to work forever; there were only so many places he could even go in a day. Someone would come knocking before the day was out.
He didn't have to wait long for that knock. He got up to open his door, pulling down the sigil in case it was Fury or Hill on the other side. He only had theories about who Hill was, but he did know that he didn't want to cross her—whoever she was, she was someone close to Metatron. It wasn't either of them, which was a major relief. Instead, it was the Russian, the Black Widow. He couldn't ever remember her name, no matter how hard he tried.
"Samael, what brings you to my office?" he asked, suspicious.
She stepped in past him and closed the door. "For the thirty-seventh time, Agent Coulson, my name is Natasha Romanov," she said. "Remember: There is a reason we still use our vessels' names. Not everyone in this building knows which of us is and which of us isn't. The only reason you do is because you have managed to advance within the organisation and somehow avoid becoming a vessel thus far."
"I'm sorry, Agent Romanov, but what does that have to do with anything? I have a lot to get done today, and I haven't had anywhere near a proper night of sleep in six months. I'd like to see my bed for more than five minutes tonight."
"Puriel requires your presence."
"Is it more important than the hunt I'm supposed to be preparing for?"
"Your hunt has been reassigned, Agent Coulson. This is a much more pressing issue."
"What? You can't! I've been gathering information for weeks! This can't go to just anyone!" He knew he was about to start shouting like he'd finally lost it, so he made himself stop. "Who's taking my hunt?"
Samael smiled then, all sharp teeth and intent. Phil could almost see the angel tucked away in the redhead. "That would be me. Put your studies in their place in your wall; I know exactly how to complete this task."
He sighed then, giving up. "Fine. Why does Puriel need me?"
"He needs to look at your soul. We need a man of your standard," she said. Before he could even think of a protest, Samael had already laid a hand on his arm and transported them both to the hallway just outside Director Fury's office. "Good luck, Phillip Coulson."
"Thanks for nothing, Agent Ro—" he started, but she was gone before he could finish. "Damn it, why do they always do that?"
The door of the office opened after Phil's first knock. "Agent Coulson."
"Agent Sitwell. Director. Assistant Director," Phil greeted them all in turn. "What can I do for you today?"
"You can drop the formalities," Hill said, closing the door. "One of ours has gone rogue. You're one of our best hunters. We need your help."
"Why do I have a feeling that this isn't just about me bringing someone in? Samael said you need to look at my soul. Why?"
Sitwell stepped forward. "We need to know if you are suitable."
"If I'm suitable for what? I know you can't possess me without my consent." Phil kept his expression blank and his tone even, but it was hard to quell his rising fear. Had angels found a way to take vessels without the vessel's permission? He hadn't heard anything about it, but he didn't think he would have. Even if it had happened, he was certain that Metatron and Hill would have taken steps to prevent that from getting out.
"We know who needs to be on this hunt, but he doesn't have a vessel," Hill said. She gave Fury a silencing look. "The two of you together would make a good team to accomplish our goal."
"And what goal is that?"
"We need you to hunt down Jehoel."
"Jehoel? As in, your angel buddy who's supposed to destroy idolaters? That Jehoel? Isn't that a little bit above my pay grade? Last time I checked—which was today, for the record—I hunt evil supernatural beasts. Oh, and, one more thing, I don't have an angel-killing sword!"
Director Fury stared at Phil for a long moment. The line between angel and man always blurred when that eye was turned on Phil. He wondered what was under the eye patch, if Metatron couldn't heal it or had chosen not to, and why. Metatron turned his attention after a moment and said, "Maria, if you will."
They stepped aside, and even though they were whispering, Phil could make out some of what was said. He heard Hill argue that they couldn't arm him with an angel-killing sword if he wasn't a vessel. He couldn't tell what Metatron's response to that was or anything else that was said, but he caught one phrase: the only thing he needed to put the last piece into place to figure out exactly which angel possessed Agent Hill.
He took those few moments to consider the offer. It wasn't the worst thing that could happen to him. Hell, if he made it through Ranger school, if he survived Metatron's fury, he was sure he could make it through just about anything—even an angel. He cleared his throat. "If you're done fighting over there, I'd like to say something."
They all turned their attention back to him. "What is it?" Hill—Seraphiel, if Phil was right—asked.
"I'll let you see if I'm suitable to become a vessel. But I won't make a decision until whatever angel you need a vessel for talks to me about it personally."
Metatron nodded and gestured at the chair in the middle of the room. "Have a seat, Agent."
Phil sighed softly and sat down, accepting the proffered leather strap as Puriel rolled his sleeve back to above his elbow. He wedged the strap in between his teeth and tried to prepare himself. It wasn't the first time he'd let someone touch his soul. Metatron had—twice. Surely Puriel couldn't be worse.
He hadn't been quite so wrong in a long time. Pitiless was probably the most apt description of Puriel that Phil had ever heard. The examination of his soul felt like it went on for days, but it was seconds at the most.
He had never felt so small, the lone man in a room of angels. Metatron, Seraphiel, and Puriel towered over him. In the moments that followed, Phil saw enough of the angels in their vessels to be appropriately terrified. He steeled himself and, after a few deep breaths, asked how he fared in this test.
Puriel didn't answer Phil directly. He looked at Metatron and said, "His soul is apposite. I will find Raziel."
Phil didn't have time to wonder who Raziel was before Puriel disappeared and he was dismissed back to his office. He sighed and went, hoping to finish up paperwork and get a decent night of sleep before he met this Raziel character. He didn't know how that meeting would go: it could be good, or it could be a disaster. He'd know after it happened.