Leaving Home

Midorino Mizu

Gabriel was irritated. He hated being sent to Earth on missions.

The mission itself wasn't at issue; it was a simple retrieval, and not that difficult to accomplish.

But somehow, He had decided it could only be accomplished by one of his most powerful servants. He hadn't been particular about which one. Raphael had suggested that they draw straws.

Michael had insisted that they draw flame swords instead.

Gabriel had ended up with the smallest flame dagger in Michael's vast collection, and so he'd ended up on the day trip to Wakefield, Indiana, where he was now crouching in the dirt of someone's vegetable garden.

It wasn't quite the middle of nowhere, he conceded. He'd been to the middle of nowhere before; it was a wheat field in central Nebraska, and Michael had sent both he and Raphael there once when he was feeling particularly mischievous.

That stunt had nearly earned the warrior angel a visit with Lucifer, before he'd managed to convince Raphael that they weren't quite that angry with Michael.

He wasn't certain what it would take to be that angry, really. Lucifer was, and had always been, a frighteningly canny individual. In recent millennia he had apparently developed a warped sense of humor as well.

Now was not the time to contemplate the Fallen's particular foibles.

Gabriel checked the position of the sun in the sky. If everything was running according to schedule, then his mission should appear at any moment.

***

Caroline Corelli was going to a party. It was Elizabeth McGovern's sixth birthday party, and her mama was letting her wear her favorite white dress.

She was all ready, with her dark hair pulled back with a white satin ribbon and her shoes shined to a gleaming black. Elizabeth's present was wrapped in glossy paper and tied with blue ribbons (because blue was Beth's favorite color).

Caroline was simply waiting for her mother to finish her primping so they could go. She pouted slightly. She didn't want to be late.

She peered in the window again, and saw her mother curling her hair with the hot iron. She sighed. It would be awhile then, because she knew from experience that her mama would want to brush her hair and style it once she finally was done curling it.

Caroline didn't think she would ever be interested in hair.

With another heavy sigh, she glanced out towards the garden.

Their garden was mostly vegetables, because her parents thought that was more practical. So there were green beans and squash and tomatoes, all of which would be canned or frozen or simply eaten up by the end of the summer.

In the very back of the practical garden was a long row of sunflowers, their faces like bright suns. Caroline's daddy had brought home the seeds one day and told her that she could plant them in the space at the back. He'd told they'd get tall.

They had done that; everyday they seemed to grow a little bit.

Impatience forgotten, Caroline skipped towards the space in the back of her yard. She wanted to see if they had grown any today.

***

Gabriel remained crouched among the plants as he watched a little girl dance towards him, dark hair flying behind her, white dress billowing around her.

He understood now, he supposed, why God had been insistent upon an archangel for this job.

He hated it when the little ones got lost.

The girl stopped dead in front of one of the flowers Gabriel was hiding in, and stared up at it. "I don't know if you're any taller today," she said conversationally. "But you're very tall. Maybe Daddy will tell me why you grow so much when he gets home."

She then spun around, preparing to dash back towards the house before her mother could catch her scuffing up her best shoes, when she saw him.

He was kneeling in the dirt, but he didn't seem to care about getting it on his clothes, the way most grown-ups did. He had longish dark blond hair (her granny would have said that that was the sign of a no-good fellow), and the most beautiful dark green eyes.

He was very pretty, and Caroline said as much.

Gabriel pushed up his wire-rimmed glasses and smiled gently. "Thank you," he said. "So are you."

She was, reflected Gabriel. She had long dark brown hair that waved down past her shoulders and warm, liquid brown eyes. Her skin was perfect in the way that only children possess.

She brushed her hair back and beamed up at him. "My mama says that, too." She twirled in front of him, making the skirt of her white dress bell out. "Do you like my dress?" she asked. "It's my favorite. Mama's letting me wear it today, because we're going to Beth's party."

"It's very stylish," pronounced Gabriel with a smile.

The little girl giggled, and spun around the garden, letting her hair fly in all directions. Suddenly she stopped, and fixed Gabriel with a disturbingly penetrating stare. "Are you an angel?"

Dark blond eyebrows arched over Gabriel's eyes, and any doubt he might have had about Caroline's identity was banished.

Only the insane and the dead could see angels and recognize them for what they were.

Gabriel carefully kept his expression impassive. "Yes, I am."

Caroline's eyes, which had been warm and sparkling only a few moments before, suddenly became cold and hard. "I won't go."

"I'm afraid you will go, Caroline Corelli," murmured the angel. "You must go."

The six-year-old shook her head vigorously. "No! I'm promised Beth I'd come to her birthday party. She'll be six!"

"Beth has been six for half a year, Caroline. There's no party for you to go to anymore." He paused, and looked towards the house, where he could clearly see a woman with dark hair humming softly as she curled her hair and put on her makeup. "And I don't think you really want to put your mother through this anymore, do you?"

Caroline sniffed. "No," she said. "But I don't want to be dead."

"Very few people do," said Gabriel softly. "But eventually, everyone must die."

"I have to go then?"

"Yes."

Caroline started to nod in acceptance, then abruptly looked up at Gabriel, meeting his eyes with a piercing gaze. "Is Mama really going to be happier when I'm gone?"

Gabriel smiled down at the little girl. "In her heart, she already knows you are gone, Caroline. She'll be much happier once she knows you aren't wandering the world lost." He smoothed one hand down her silky, dark tail of hair. "You have to let her mourn you now."

Caroline swiped a hand across her eyes. "Okay, then, angel."

In the moment before he took her hand and transported them to Heaven, the tall blond angel said, "My name is Gabriel."

***

When James Corelli came home from work that day, he saw his wife dressed in her favorite plum-colored dress, with her hair curled and her nails painted.

Her perfectly beautiful appearance was ruined by the thin tracks running through her makeup.

The doctors had told him to accept what she said about Caroline as truth, that she would eventually realize the truth on her own. So James asked the question he asked every day when he came home.

"How was Beth McGovern's party, Laura? Did Caroline have fun?"

Laura Corelli was silent for a long moment, and then her dark gray eyes, red-rimmed from tears, met her husband's dark brown ones. "Caroline is dead, James." It was all she could say before she burst into tears again.

All James could do was hold his wife, and give thanks to whatever had released her from her delusions; to whatever had decided to give them another chance at living.

The two stayed in that position until well after nightfall.