Michael Carpenter had been a Knight of the Cross for almost all his adult life. Amoracchius-- and his mentor Shiro-- had come to him while he was still an apprentice in the profession that matched his name; he'd been just another young blue-collar worker going into his father's profession at the time. Unformed, unshaped; his work in God's name had been what made him into the man known as the Fist of God. It was unnerving, to be without that unshakeable purpose; he wasn't sure, yet, what would become of him in its aftermath.
His faith hadn't even been anything exceptionally profound at the time of his Calling. Like a lot of young men his age, he'd still attended his parents' church, still riding the coattails of their faith. All men-- and women-- have to step away from the truths they are raised in at some point, and choose what to keep for themselves; he'd still been working his way through that process. The only thing that had separated him from a thousand other Chicagoans just like him had been that he'd had a glimpse of what lurked in the shadows-- and he hadn't turned and walked away.
The next few decades had been difficult ones for him, stressful and often life-threatening. He'd never been able to put the kind of time into his house building business that would enable him to earn as much money as he should have; not that he'd felt the need for wealth himself, but it would have made the task of planning for his children's futures much simpler. He'd missed many of his family's important events, from birthdays to softball games and grade school graduation ceremonies. And he could count every one of the gray hairs he'd given his long-suffering wife, after following God's Call to a hundred battlefields, often with little or no notice.
Of course, he'd had his share of blessings, as well. Charity herself had been one of his early rescuees; he'd saved her from a cult trying to sacrifice her to the dragon Siriothrax. He'd seldom felt so blessed as he had the day she'd agreed to marry him; he couldn't have asked for a more perfect helpmate. She was a true partner, who not only loved him, but knew about both his jobs and was more than willing to help however she could. Seven bright and beautiful children had followed from their marriage. Michael had also made several stalwart friends he'd never have known if not for his arcane occupation: Shiro, Sanya, Father Forthill, and Harry Dresden among them.
He'd saved people-- so many people, both true innocents and the downtrodden who'd simply made a wrong turning in the course of their lives. No one deserved the fate the Denarians would gift them with; or the vampires; or any of the other supernatural predators who prospered by imposing their wills over those of vulnerable human beings. It was worthy work; he'd felt honored to be entrusted with it, and the looks of relief, or gratitude, or joy on the faces of those he helped-- they were more than payment enough for his efforts.
If given the same choice again, if presented with Shiro holding the haft of Amoracchius toward him a second time... Michael would take up the Sword again, no question. It was just that he'd never really anticipated what might happen to him after he put it down.
It wasn't for lack of expectation; he'd been aware that the end was coming for at least seven years, since Harry had inadvertently given Michael's Sword into enemy hands and Charity had gone into labor prematurely with their youngest son. He knew most Knights passed on their titles with their deaths; and he'd been feeling a kind of spiritual anticipation for awhile, as though God was warning him he should be bracing for a change. It had been almost a relief to lose the Sword to the Leanansidhe; an unworthy emotion given the stakes, but a fate that would have left him alive and whole to embrace his wife and children. After events had shifted, though, and the Sword had returned to him again, the sense of anticipation had returned with it-- and he'd subconsciously acknowledged he would not be given such a temptation again. He would perish in action, as most Knights before him had; and to that end, he'd regularly updated his will, spoken to Father Forthill, and spent a lot of his time in prayer.
Several times, he'd worried if this scenario-- Harry under Nicodemus' curse-- or that one-- the knowledge Harry might become a Denarian himself-- would be the one that would bring the end of his duty. From that perspective, the bullets that had seared through him as they departed the island had been overdue; in that last moment, he'd felt an instant of sadness, but no regret. Bearing a Sword meant sacrifice; his family knew that as well as he did. They and Amoracchius would be taken care of, and he'd died doing God's work. That was all that mattered.
But then he'd woken again-- to endless days full of weakness and pain.
For all of his faith, for all of the strong will Michael had spent so many years honing, he was only human. People forgot that sometimes. He went through the stages of grief just like anyone else did. And he was just as capable of shaking his fist at the ceiling-- well, as high as his shaking muscles could lift it-- and demanding an answer to the question: why?
There was no if about it; this time Michael was off the playing field for good. But it wasn't only his Knighthood he'd left behind. He couldn’t work, either; wouldn't be able to for many months, if at all. He'd taken damage to his spine along with his liver, his kidney, and even his heart; one of his legs had been permanently crippled, and he'd lost most of the sight in one eye. He could barely breathe without pain, days and weeks after it had happened, much less laugh when his children visited to try and cheer him up.
He couldn't smile at his wife without drawing her eyes to his bandages. Modifications would have to be made to his house for him to return home-- modifications that would cost an uncomfortable amount while his ability to bring in income was impaired. And, perhaps, worst of all-- he couldn't help.
Father Forthill had already been by, to explain what he could expect from the Church in future. In honor for his service, the Carpenter household would be protected from supernatural threats-- but no more. And not even that much, if Michael tried to reenter the conflict after he'd completed what healing was possible for him. He hadn't expected that; nor anticipated how much he'd miss the ability to act, after all the times he'd kissed his wife's tears away as he walked away from her. But the few times Harry or Sanya had stopped in to visit....
Michael was-- had been-- an active man. A decisive one. One who'd willingly gone when God called him, and trusted that He always had a reason for everything He asked of him. He'd never walked by a person in need without doing what he could to help. The prospect of never doing so again, of watching the supernatural conflicts just pass him by without lifting a finger in his friends' defense-- perhaps it would feel less galling once he'd had more time to adjust. But for now--
Darkness continued to stalk his city's streets, and he could do nothing about it.
Sanya had already had to fight a Denarian alone, without any other Swords available for backup-- and it had been a close battle, from what Michael had gleaned afterward.
And even the city's non-supernatural foes prospered-- led by the very man whose kidnapping had started the sequence of events that led to Michael's crippling. Marcone had not deserved the fate Nicodemus had intended for him, any more than the little girl Harry called Ivy had; but it was also true that his rescue meant crime continued to flourish in Chicago more than ever before, and that Marcone willingly used every means at his disposal, magical as well as mundane, to make that happen. Michael could do nothing to combat that influence, not even so much as volunteer at a soup kitchen, as long as he was having trouble even lifting a spoon to his mouth.
It would have taken a stronger man than he to face all that serenely. But who could he speak to of such things? The One he was fighting his anger at? Father Forthill, whose patient advice and commiseration would only point back in His direction? Charity-- for whom he'd always been the heroic savior to some degree? He loved her-- but that same human part of him that curdled angrily in his gut at his fate didn't want to tarnish that image she held of him.
"Tell me it'll get better, Lord," he murmured to the ceiling of his hospital room, tears glistening in the corners of his eyes. No burden greater than you can bear-- he'd meditated on such Bible verses before. But oh, sometimes it was so difficult to believe them.
"Help me to endure," he said again; then closed his eyes and thumbed the button for more medication.
He would be strong again tomorrow; for Charity, for his children, and for his friends. But tonight, he would indulge his need to rest-- and to grieve.