The night after the trial-- after the wearing battle to save the apprentice wizards at Warden Luccio's boot camp, and the revelations that had awaited him about his daughter's fate upon his return-- Michael Carpenter knelt at the side of his bed, hands clasped over the hilt of his sword.
He'd been the Fist of God for more than half his life. He was a Knight of the Cross, and since the day he'd first taken up Amoracchius his faith in God had been unshakeable.
Admittedly, that wasn't as much of an accomplishment as it might have been for another man; unlike most believers, Michael had been given concrete proof of the Almighty's existence. He was concrete proof to a small but significant minority: those in the know about the supernatural forces at work in the world. The wizards, vampires, Denarians, and other entities of power he'd encountered in the pursuit of his arcane occupation may not have chosen to worship the God Michael served, but they could not in all honesty deny that He existed in some form or another.
Faith was built on more than simple knowing, though: it was, as they said, only half of the battle. Obeying and trusting: those were another order of difficulty altogether. Especially for one whose life was more than just an example: an ambassadorship for the power of Faith.
He'd once told Harry that the Lord would never give him a burden greater than his shoulders could bear. Michael still believed that; but he'd never suspected, either, that the Lord had such an estimation of Michael's own strength.
He was an honest man. He made every effort to do the right thing, as best as he could, as often as he could. And he loved his wife. Passionately, intensely, with admiration for every facet of her mind and body. Charity was his support, his helpmate, his lover, and the mother of his children. And yet-- there was a part of him that hadn't been hers since he'd met Harry Dresden.
And worse: that part of him knew that if he had it all to do over again, he would not wish to change that.
In the few seconds their souls had been bared to one another at their introduction, Michael had learned many things about the younger man. Harry was not a Christian, and had no interest in becoming one; he had a quick and defiant temper, wielded more power than Michael believed should ever rest in one man's hands, and had killed a man with that power when he was only sixteen. But there was also a strength in the wizard's character, a largeness of heart and a determination to protect those less fortunate by whatever means he had at his disposal that had resonated with Michael more strongly than in anyone else he'd ever met. And there was also a loneliness in him, a longing for fellowship that had made Michael's own soul ache with sympathy.
Harry had needed him. As much as Charity had, when he had slain Siriothrax to save her all those years ago. It was both as simple and as complex as that. He had felt no hesitation, no prompting from Above to reconsider his actions; when Harry had offered his hand in friendship-- after whatever he'd seen in Michael's eyes, and equally accepted-- Michael had taken it without question.
That first case together had soon multiplied into many. They didn't meet often enough to call it "frequent", and rarely saw one another socially, especially in those first few years, but together Knight and wizard had solved numerous cases neither could have effectively handled on their own. Harry's presence kept the other two Knights of the Cross, young Sanya and Michael's mentor Shiro, from having to back Michael up quite as regularly as they had before. In return, Michael had been able to go to their aid more often, trusting that his city-- and his family-- would be well-protected in his absence.
Harry had never violated that trust-- not intentionally. And yet-- neither had their association been without its share of pain, or reasons to worry. How far did intent matter, before trust was broken?
Charity would have said-- it had been broken already. Every time he and Harry met, Michael went back to his wife more bruised, bloodied, and weary than was usual, even for his divinely ordained occupation. It was a side effect of the caliber and quantity of the enemies they'd faced-- but Charity never saw their successes, she saw only the pain Michael brought back into their home. She refused to see Harry as anything but a dangerous intrusion upon her family, and would never forgive him for it.
Perhaps that would change, now that Michael's friend and his wife had fought at one another's side to save Molly in his absence? Charity's story had awed him; from a damsel in distress when he had met her, she had become a warrior to reckon with in her own right. But Harry-- to save Michael's daughter, a girl he hardly knew, he had risked everything and done things no other mortal had ever dared.
For Michael's sake, he had stormed Arctis Tor, Queen Mab's citadel-- the heart of Winter itself.
Rash, unquestionably. Somewhat dubious in method: after all, part of the reason that rescue had been necessary could be laid at Harry's own door. But his motives--
"Greater love hath no man," Michael had told him, afterward.
Than this, the verse continued: that a man lay down his life for his friends. From the Gospel according to John, chapter fifteen, verse thirteen, spoken by the Lord Himself. Love: this is my commandment, that ye love one another as I have loved you, declaimed verse twelve.
Did Harry technically fall outside that commandment? Michael sometimes wondered. Was that why he'd never felt any overt guidance, one way or another, regarding their friendship? Did the wizard's abstention from the community of the Church exclude him from those whom Christ's words addressed? Ultimately, however, the answer didn't matter; hearts couldn't be ruled, and Michael's had spoken long ago. The real question he should have asked was, what did God expect Michael to do about it?
More than once since meeting Harry he'd turned the pages of his Bible to the First Book of Samuel, chapter eighteen. "When David had finished speaking to Saul," it read, "the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul." However sexualized the concept of love between members of the same gender had become in modern culture-- nearly as much so as love between members of opposite genders-- such relations were not necessary for deep intimacy to form between two individuals. Michael and Harry had saved one another's lives on more than one occasion, and offered comfort in times of emotional need; none of that was at odds with Michael's faith.
The problem-- and the reason he was up again, praying so late at night-- was whether or not, as Charity might protest, he had allowed that bond with Harry to outweigh and damage the commitments he held in other areas of his life.
He'd left his wife and infant son on what could have been their deathbeds five years before to follow Harry into a gathering of vampires. He'd stayed by Harry's side when his wife began to recover, leaving Father Forthill to watch over her while he guarded his friend, despite her vehement displeasure. Harry's involvement in the search for the Shroud of Turin two years afterward, while helpful, had resulted in the death of Michael's mentor, and a replacement to take up Shiro's blade had yet to be found.
And then there'd been-- and still remained-- the matter of the Coin.
"I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan," the story of David continued in Second Samuel, chapter one. "Greatly beloved were you to me," the Scripture mourned. And so Michael had felt, watching from the side of the house as a Blackened Denarius had flown out the window of Nicodemus' limousine onto the lawn at Harry's feet: that the end of an era had been reached, and that nothing thereafter could ever be the same.
And yet-- for nearly three years, he'd sat on that knowledge. For those same three years, despite every effort on Harry's part to minimize contact between them, he'd refused to consciously consider the possibility that the wizard could have been corrupted. When they'd run into one another just after Michael had received the Call to Oregon, he had spoken to Harry exactly as he would have before, asking him to look after his family-- despite the fact that he'd seen the apprehension in Harry's face, and been fully aware of the reason for it.
An objective observer might have said that he should have told Sanya what he'd seen long since. That he should have retrieved Fidelacchius from Harry's possession, no matter what Shiro had wanted. If Harry succumbed to Lasciel's influence, the first person he sought to kill would surely be Michael-- and Michael couldn't even imagine how a duel between them would conclude. He should have told Charity, too; Harry could easily become a danger to her and the children-- if he had not already. If Harry had not been keeping his distance, would Molly's dabbling in darker magic have gone unnoticed for so long? If he had never picked up the Coin, would he have turned the spell that summoned the phobophages back against its presumed caster so carelessly?
It was dangerous, and reckless, for Michael to keep the secret to himself.
He knew that. So why did he feel no urge to speak?
Whatever reasoning he manufactured for himself-- the duty of the Knights to save the holders of the Denarii rather than persecute them, the fact that Harry had only become one to save Michael's son, the latest revelation that Harry had shielded and buried it rather than wield it-- the fact remained that Michael simply couldn't bring himself to do so.
But did he hesitate to speak because he was channeling the will of God? Or did Michael hesitate because he was blinding himself to the truth? He knew better than anyone else that he was only human, and could succumb to the temptation to believe what he wanted to be true as easily as anyone.
He'd felt the pressure of imminent retirement once before, after all. When Harry's fumble with Amoracchius had led to the weapon's capture by the Leanansidhe, Michael had done all he could to offer immediate assistance, then had bowed out of the next action Harry was planning. "Maybe this is how He is telling me I need to be at home now," he'd said, apologetically. "If I had the sword, maybe I'd feel differently."
Not five minutes later,Thomas Raith had tumbled in at Harry's door, carrying Amoracchius.
On the other hand-- not five minutes later, Thomas Raith had tumbled in at Harry's door, carrying Amoracchius. If the Lord hadn't wanted Michael Carpenter to continue working with Harry Dresden, would He have arranged events in that manner? Would He have maneuvered Michael and Harry in a position to reinforce one another before the White Council, so many years later, and assign Michael's daughter as Harry's apprentice?
Or had all the things that had happened-- the clasps of hands, the weight of one another's wounded bodies over weary shoulders, the clashing of blades and magic against their foes, the sight of his youngest balanced happily on Harry's hip and his oldest curled safely in the back seat of Harry's car-- been in spite of, or even just independent of, rather than in pursuit of the Lord's will for them?
If it was required of him, he knew he would fulfill the warning he'd just given: if Harry ever changed, if he accepted Lasciel's offer, Michael would be there. Whatever it might cost him, if the Lord so directed-- he would slay his friend and accept the consequences.
Perhaps that was the true cause of the conviction he would soon lay down his Sword? Because the moment he raised Amoracchius against his friend would surely be the last he ever wielded it.
...No! He refused to believe that; with faith, nothing was impossible. Had it not been Harry's own leap of faith on Michael's behalf that had saved Molly? Perhaps it truly was as he'd speculated to Harry: that the Lord had sent Michael on his latest mission not as a roundabout way of ensuring his daughter's survival, but as a way to protect Harry himself. Until and unless Michael felt convicted otherwise, he would have to trust there was a solution that had simply not yet been revealed.
He was a carpenter and Knight of God; he was Charity Carpenter's husband; he was the father of seven children. And he was the friend of Harry Dresden, whose soul still drew him as strongly as it had the day he'd first seen it.
God knew what was in his heart. Michael would just have to continue to accept the rest as it came.