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Saving Jay
Jensen hurried, but following the back of a drug lord’s head was distracting. The man inserted himself into their lives like a parasite. Anger tightened Jensen’s jaw, none less relaxed by the last patter of innocent feet to depart the school. Smoke rolled along the ceiling thick, and Jensen hurried along all the faster.

The lab out of which Cayli sprang the first fires was drenched with sprinkler system, and as he hurried forward, the pools of water went unnoticed. He slipped and fell. Amengual ran out of sight.

While scrambling to his feet, a hand was offered, only for Jensen to find the piercing gaze of Axel at the end of it. He didn’t recognize the woman nearby, but there was no time for introductions. He pointed, “I saw Amengual go that way. Cayli and I were separated. If Jay is here, I can’t find him.”

At that point, the pop of gunfire flared their ears.
[Image: axel-1.jpg]
Axel Miller

Axel smirked, head shaking. Course the preacher was sprawled on the floor. He swept a hand out to help the poor schmuck to his feet. The guy was light as a feather. “What happened here preacher?” He stared, but Jensen frantically started pointing the other direction. The name-drop that followed yanked every chain of attention as could be hooked into Axel toward a new target. 

Jay be damned.  Amengual was here. Unprotected. And Axel had a big ass gun in his hand. It was almost too perfect. His own freedom rested in the chamber. One perfect shot and all his problems disappeared. He only needed to stay sharp and not get himself killed in the attempt.

Any and all amusement dropped like lead. He motioned for them to stay behind him so nobody was accidentally shot when the black rainstorm broke.  The pops of a small caliber weapon didn’t so much as make him flinch. If anything, the knife threading its way through empty corridors was honed to even sharper danger. 

This was the hour that Zacarías Amengual died.
Only darkness shows you the light.

It took a moment to untangle the desperate crawl and choked words, before the suffocating realisation dawned as Cay reached out for a scarred and broken heap by the wall. Blood seeped through Natalie's jeans where she knelt, still warm in a way that heaved her stomach before she wrenched her attention away from the dead girl. Her chest contracted as she watched Cay paw for signs of life, plucking the strings of an old melody like the vestiges of another life entirely. The girl sobbed and called her brother's name, and Natalie's jaw hardened.

Anger rose from somewhere deep and primal and relentless. Her nails dug rents into the flesh of her palm.

She did not allow herself to consider the possibility.

Neither of them could move him unconscious. They clearly needed Jensen, but couldn't afford to wait; not with the building aflame. The first tentative fingers of smoke began to roil against the ceiling, and soon the corridors beyond would be night black; even if he knew where to look to find them, it was too dangerous to try. Hope punctured as she crawled through the clean air to the wall. A locked security window hung above; a consideration for a moment's time. 

She pressed a hand to Cay's shoulder as she knelt beside. Her gaze skirted away from Jay's face. She refused to dwell on the blackened skin, or the raw oozing mass of his forearm; a fan to the fury robbing the gift of power. Frustration sank the ability further, hammering desperation in her chest as the moments trickled like sand. It was the silent promise of retribution that finally did it, settling enough determined calm to sear the light into her grasp. "Stay behind me. But watch the door for me, Cay." Though whether the teenager was aware enough to listen to the advice, Natalie was unsure. She didn't pause to spend the currency of time they did not have to spare. Fortunately she had never been squeamish. Necessity absolved concern for any discomfort the press of her palm might resonate, as she wove familiar threads ready to sink invisible deep. Her muscles already corded, unsure of how ruthlessly he might wake. If it even worked.
((uh, everyone moded with permission. Otherwise this would take a year to get through.))

The terror of chaos sewn, Zacarías ran through the burning building, seeking his daughter's silhouette in every room. Her watch led the way, but the smoke jumbled her signal. Sweat poured from his brow, and wet rings darkened his collar. Ash clotted his throat as he feared the worst.

A gunshot. He halted, eyes wide as moons. Turning, he sprinted, toward the sound, only to slide to his knees at the doorway. A girl's hand lay limp, fingernails decorated blue and silver unicorns. The hair, black as midnight, matted to tangles of congealing blood. Strings of his mother's tongue poured from his soul as he grappled her body close. How? Why!? He demanded angrily, but Alana's silence was deafening.

Then he sought her killers, and the devil within sprang to his eyes. He'd crush their skulls with his own hands. A daughter for a daughter: he rushed. Screams pulsed the air, hands thrown in tangles as the stronger of them grappled Cayli's wrist, wrenching her into his chest. His arms snaked her throat, crushing and squeezing as though the ferocity would reinvigorate his own child’s lifelessness.

Cayli was lost until a deep voice broke through this circle of hell.
"Drop the kid, Amengual," the voice commanded.

Zacarías paused, finding the end of a rifle aimed his way, but with the little girl held like a shield, he laughed despite himself. "Go ahead Axel, you traitor. Shoot us both and do me the favor. She has a thick skull," he laughed again. There was enough life left in the girl to claw at his arm, but he wrenched her neck aside, teasing her feet toward the door. Axel of course blocked it, and there were no other exits. "Or we can stand here and do nothing while we all burn to death. Either way, I am the victor."


The fucker was right, Axel realized. He had no clear shot without threatening Cayli's life. These rounds would punch right through her ribcage, though and drop the druglord instantly. It would only take a couple. Cayli's pain would be short. His jaw clenched, rifle steady as shoreline against his shoulder. The smoke was too close. His eyes already burned. They'd only have a minute or two left before the future Zacarías described came to pass.

Another night. Another girl was held hostage by another Amengual. That time the rifleman was Carpenter and Axel the witness. He remembered the moment that a flicker of hesitation flamed Jay's brow from the heartless meatsack of an operator to a human-fucking being. One shot ruined all their lives, Axel's included, and the loyalty of brotherhood was decimated. Now, he found himself in the same position, but this time the shot would be his salvation. He told himself not to look them in the eyes. Men, women, children: didn't matter. They were obstacles and enemies, not people. Not daughters or sisters or friends. Something to remove.

He silently told Cayli he was sorry, and refused to see the tears welling her eyes, when he realized a voice broke the demons wrapping his mind.
"Axel! You might get your beach, but you'll never find the peace you want," the preacher's voice stabbed knives in his mind, and Axel glanced the barest angle at his side. The man was nodding emphatically like he really believed Axel to be capable of something heroic.

Amengual saw his opening, and shoved Cayli into them. Axel caught her while the enemy sprinted into the smoke. As swiftly as Axel caught Cayli, he shoved her toward Jensen and chased after Amengual, disappearing likewise into the fires of their hell.

With nothing to wrap around his face, he hurried, choking, through the school, following the swirls of movement and the shadows of a silhouette ahead. The exterior door broke floodlight of sunshine and light-blindness, but expecting it, Axel cautiously approached the fresh air. He dropped to a knee, coughing, and searched the exterior yard, but Amengual was nowhere to be seen.

Frowning, he exited carefully, shoulders slumping with defeat, stifling coughs, but the man was gone.

Then he was falling into a spray of red. Concrete slammed his face. He barely looked up to find Amengual standing overhead, and denial gripped the seat of his spine as darkness painted the beaches he'd never see a charcoal black.


Gasps wracked his lungs. Brightness flooded lights into the bowels of a black mind, and Jay bolted upright. His heart raced, his head swirled. Woken from nightmares, he was shaking all over, but with jaw clenched and fists pawing for solid reality. He found golden tresses and pulled them close, burying his face in their downy safety. She was here. She was real. They were real. "I was really sure I was dead that time," he whispered. Slender arms wrapped him, but they jolted stings like a thousand bees stinging all at once. He winced and pulled away just in time to look around.

Jensen stood over Cayli, easing her to her feet. Jay grinned despite the horrors around them, specifically ignoring the dead body at their feet, and drank in the sight of the one still living. Jensen hurried close, but Jay lifted a hand, "I'm fine, preacher. Let me go," and he slipped from his grasp to cuddle up against Cayli. She touched him gently, hesitantly, and Jay looked down to understand why. Maybe he wasn't that okay.

He swallowed, kissing her gently on the top of the head.
Jensen explained, "The only way out is a locked window. The fire is too thick to navigate.” No problem, Jay thought, looking around. It was a simple wall. Be like knocking over a leaning-tower of red solo cups with a ping pong ball. Jay reached outward, only to find a well of nothingness. Memory of a sharp-chinned woman in a white coat returned, and he frowned. Frustrated, Jay grabbed a chair and lifted it like it was a bag of feathers. Funny how a few minutes ago he couldn't stand, now he was throwing furniture. Would have been a handy trick that one time he helped Anna Marie's grandparents move across the county. He thought for sure he was going to collapse from exhaustion by the end of that day. Grandma Marie probably would have not taken kindly to him throwing her chairs, though.

Luckily, before he tossed a chair through what would be a bloody mess of glass, he sensed the radiation of their doom pulsing from the nearby preacher. Funny how that power was such a familiar friend, but also one that wanted to destroy them all at the same time. Shit but he missed it. That was a good sign at least: he could still feel another power user.

"Knock out the wall, Jensen," he said, right as rain despite the red streaking his eyes, and a moment later they all climbed over the debris.

Fresh air and freedom greeted them. Jay was never so happy to see a blue sky and feel the sun sizzle his skin. Actually, he could do without skin sizzling for a while. He smelled like roasted pig. Strange how it hurt to breathe but he felt amazing. He smiled eerily at Natalie, who seemed more concerned than ever, and offered Cayli a hand as she picked her way through rebar and cinderblock. Apparently, there was some sort of car nearby. Jay was all for leaving as soon as possible.

They were steps from the building when an all too familiar chill crept the back of his neck. A moment later, a curtain of black rain fell. He grabbed Cayli, yanking her forward, away from the gunfire. They ducked around a shed. Someone was yelling something, but over his own heartbeat, he couldn't hear. Palms to his eyes, he thought frantically. It had to be Amengual firing at them. Knowing they'd come out the window, the murderer waited, looming and waiting for easy marks.

He peeked around the edge as sprays of wood took the air. Jay winced, but saw enough. "He's alone," Jay said, nothing his location, and seeking a path to safety. "Jensen? Can you take him out? Jensen?" he turned to get the preacher's attention but he was hovering over Cayli, a mass of power sizzling and churning like a storm.

Jay released a tiny hand from his own, finding it red with blood. He held it up, disbelief shooting broken vessels across his already crimson eyes, and looked to Natalie like she held the answers to this confusion.

When Jensen sat hopelessly back upon his knees, Jay crawled around them, oblivious to the pelts hitting the grass at their side, and beheld his baby sister’s. Cayli's eyes were blue glass. Her cheeks porcelain. Golden hair streaked with ash and blood; face frozen with fear. A cry shook the seat of his soul that stole the breath from his lungs. He put his palms to her cheeks. Dipped his forehead to hers. Hands snaked through the mess of hair always forever tangled.

At some point, he found himself on his feet, skin numb, and turned to leave them behind, only for a hand to grip his own. Whether it was Natalie's, Jensen's, or the ghost of Cayli's shell, he didn't know, but the hand stopped him. He tried to hold back the storm breaking within, but everything flashed floods through his mind, sweeping them all away.

The warmth of a watery embrace filled his soul, stitching together what was ripped at the seams, but never quite the same. Jensen’s power receded as he whispered, “he was walking dead, Natalie. I don't understand how he was standing."

Strength infused, the redness washed away. The burns smoothed over. The holes filled. The angry lines tamed to forks across his skin. What was wasted away was reformed, but when the man that was Jay knelt fresh over the body of a girl who deserved every breath Jay stole from fate, it wasn't to ask for forgiveness. He'd never ask such a thing. 

He peered around the shed again, but no gunfire sprayed fresh rain. Amengual moved on, knowing they were unreachable, but he was out there, somewhere. Somewhere to hunt.

They found Axel at the front door. Shot in the back. Jay knelt, only to mindlessly take the abandoned rifle and check it for damage. He didn't say goodbye. No mournful moments to remember a life lost. Just another silent promise as he counted the remaining rounds. He spoke to the weapon in his hands, refusing to look anyone else in the eye as he did, "I recommend you go to the car and get out of here if you've seen enough blood today."

He rounded the building like a ghost with a mix of caution and carelessness that promised deadly intent. The first person he saw went down in a flutter of white coat. Another white coat followed. Then a guy in a utility uniform. Hands were thrown up, cries pleading mercy, but they didn't last long.

Finally, they came upon the yard filled with mindless children. There was no hiding. His own gaze skipped from adult to adult, seeking one specifically, but for each that went unrecognized, he shot them down without a second thought. The kids just watched, dozens of witnesses careless to the evil walking among them.

Then she appeared. A woman that flung herself in front of the children with open arms like she was their salvation. "No more!" She demanded.  Diaz, Cayli's murdering doctor, hovered behind her shoulder.

He had zero regret sending Diaz to his grave. The woman, though, the director that shot him up with all those drugs in the basement, was another story. She screamed at the sudden noise, hands thrown over her mouth like she was truly horrified that all her doctors and staff were dead. She was the last one. Her and her broken victims.

Jay lowered the rifle and closed the space between them in seconds. She backed away, but he caught her up and locked her in the same grip Amengual once held Cayli. The same grip from which Jay liberated Alana all those years ago.  She struggled and squirmed. Jay wondered what Natalie and Jensen would think, but his world was already filled with darkness. Another shadow made no difference.

"What did you give me?" he asked.
"I won't tell you," she sputtered, and Jay's grip tightened.
"Tell me and I won't break your neck."
She was silent, not because her throat was crushing, but because she finally came to the right decision: "A serum that blocks the channeling sensors in your brain."
Smart girl choosing life. "How do I reverse it?" he asked.
"You can't," she replied, and panic gripped his chest. "But it will wear off in a day or so. That's why it had to be continuously administered."  He glanced outward while the woman twisted and writhed. All those children wore a matching device. Continuously administered. That's why they wanted Cayli. To experiment on her. Diaz wasn't giving her different cancer drugs, he was giving her different channeler blocks to find the one that made it permanent. Maybe--apparently-- they succeeded.

He shoved the director to her freedom, but when she stumbled to her knees, he raised the rifle at her back. He promised he'd not break her neck. One of many promises he'd made that day.

Empty eyes followed the woman to the ground, only to turn to those whom remained on their feet for guidance. Empty gazes sought him out, but there was nothing he could do.
Endless glass eyes. 
Endless promises broken. 
"I can't save you," he said to the void, chasms snapping inside. Raising the rifle, it ended quickly. They didn't even run.

The only thing that remained was the hot weapon in his hands, and Jay held it carefully a moment longer, seeking the horizon for Amengual just in case he witnessed his death aimed. Behind them the building consumed with flames.
Only darkness shows you the light.

When her knees skidded in the dirt, she wasn’t sure she was getting up again. The spit of gunfire and roar of flame caged the fear in her chest, but it was the crush of exhaustion that kept her on the ground. Every limb felt a thousand feet under, like the building they left behind really had flattened atop them. Natalie hadn’t forgotten the cost, but she’d hoped to ride the waves of adrenaline at least a little longer. Jensen’s stricken expression as he crouched by Cayli stole whatever fight remained, though. Her eyes half closed, regret burning like bile in the back of her throat. The world rushed on by oblivious as grief lodged in her scorched lungs.

Pain stung her vision, ignored. She recognised the grim set of Jay’s jaw; the hollow glaze of his eyes. She knew what it meant.

Jensen’s whispered question went unanswered. Natalie tracked Jay’s movements like a caged animal slipped the leash, not in fear of those teeth, but in grim acceptance of what she suspected would follow. He’d take those notches to his soul silently, each one another shovelful of dirt unearthed from the grave he trooped so dutifully toward. I was really sure I was dead that time. It felt like inevitability.

She glanced at the others, unsure if they understood. But no warnings perched on her lips, and no mercy swelled in her chest. The last of their innocence lay dead on the floor.

For a moment she tried to rally the energy to claw to her feet and follow, but abandoned the attempt when her gaze settled on Cayli’s body. She found herself tethered by the frozen mask of fear on her young face; nothing of the spirited girl remained in that cooling shell, and yet she could not leave her to the dark alone while Jay stitched the gape of this bloody wound closed. Her watery limbs crawled closer instead, surprised that even that much felt like swimming through cement.

She smoothed the hair from Cayli’s face. Closed sightless eyes. Stillness took residence, a dam against the storm beyond. Natalie pulled the gun into her lap, wondering if Zacarías would have the gall to return to gloat his victory, but it was the hungry flames that caught her gaze. Heat slicked her skin even at this distance. Something involuntary shuddered at the pierce of every distant shot. It felt like watching the world burn.
Rifle spent, ringing pelted his head, but the clouds of smoke coiled fog across his eyes. The dead lined themselves into rows at his feet. There was no need to even try to step carefully. He just stared. Shockingly, no fists pounded dead flesh. No curses for their evil. No yells of defiance like he wanted to kill them all a second time. Cold crept despite the sweat at his brow. The muscles of his legs strong and sure, he felt fine as he hurried back. Reason clawed its way through the frozen mush of his mindscape. Amengual was still out there. Though if he was smart he was long gone. Police, likely paid hefty money to mind their own business under any circumstance, could probably stall investigating no longer. Jensen, Natalie, Lawrence and Axel probably waited. Cayli –

– his chest collapsed craters.

Cayli needed help. His help.

He found them at the shed, unmoved as if their own feet were stuck in the grave. His were lead, sinking toward the fires he deserved, but the bones held for now. His silhouette stretched across her body. Exit wounds made a mess of her clothes. Jay looked no better, but he endured every panged breath where a tortured angel took his punishment.

He sank at her side. Black lines forked bolts across his skin, darkest at their epicenters, fading as they spread. Jensen's healing sealed the blood and knitted flesh, but the echoes remained. Barely perceptible scars ridged the inside of his arm as if the tattoo of his service was completely erased. Never existing at all. He glanced at the preacher, but unable to find eyes filled with sorrow, he could bare to look upon the living no longer. 

He scooped the girl into his arms, light as a feather. She’d lost so much weight this past year. Her head rolled limp toward the heavens. As did so many others. 

They found Axel on the way to the car. Numb limbs witnessed Jensen’s attempt at restoration, but the soldier was beyond saving. If not, perhaps, beyond redemption. Jay stopped briefly at the body of a man who never feared dying but was terrified of living alone. He’d be discovered along with everyone else today. Probably marked as a criminal for his affiliations with the cartel despite the heroic history.

Well. Heroes fell; no amount of gilded history could catch them all. He knew more than anyone. Farewell, brother.

He laid Cayli into the back seat with instructions to take her to a hospital in the city as far away from here as possible. But he didn’t climb in alongside. She was Jensen’s charge, now. His parents would need the preacher now more than ever. They’d blame Jay for her death, undoubtedly. And with one casket would lose two children. It was probably for the best. They lost Jay the day he enlisted in Des Moines. They just never accepted it.

He turned toward the horizon. Amengual was out there, somewhere.

Finally, he made himself look into the only pair of living eyes he could. Hers pulled like a fraying rope, but their depths were clouded with as much fog and shadow as his own. He didn’t reach for her hand, fearing the slightest hesitation she might avoid clasping hands with someone with so much blood on theirs. But he couldn’t leave without levying the silent plea.

Please come.
Only darkness shows you the light.

Silence reigned. Emotion drowned somewhere deep as she waited with the body, refusing to acknowledge the soft fluttering of kinder memory. Of Cay’s triumphant grin when she mastered a twist of the power, or of the gleaming mischief in her gaze before a sly quip. Heavy footsteps marked a return that did not quite capture Natalie’s attention away from those ghosts. This time when she watched Jay the brush of her gaze was superficial, skimming against the dark churning depths to tally the remains of his wounds. Fury was easier to nurture than grief, and the evidence of his torture kindled it. Enough to haul herself to her feet to follow the sombre parade back to the car.

Once there she lingered back, arms folded, struck by a sense of rootlessness that felt like an old and familiar shadow. She did not watch Cayli’s gentle transference to the car, nor listened to the quiet words that followed, like the sorrow was a contagion she wanted no part in -- or deserved no part in. Her soul sought no comfort from the chains of guilt cast about her own shoulders. She could have prevented this. She should have prevented this. Cayli should never have even been here.

A few steps retreated from the scene as the failure began to strangle, but if she felt that weakness she was not apt to show it. Her chest ached fierce from the smoke, threatening the iron of her composure like a dam ready to burst, at least until she buried it deep with a promise. She had walked away from Pavlo without regret, needing no retribution despite the scars he left. But not from this. Her burning eyes blinked. No tears fell. Her face was still.

When she turned she did not expect to discover the weight of Jay’s gaze seeking hers. There was no anchor she could offer for that storm, and she’d never sought to tame the darkness of him. Gunshots still echoed in her head, a sin she did not even try to measure. Truthfully she anticipated blame, and met the look unflinching of whatever judgement awaited despite the twist in her stomach. She’d risked everything to find him, and lost the thing most precious to him in the process. But no accusation followed, just a ragged battlefield of a question in those haunted eyes. It seemed he gave her that choice eternally, like he would always expect her to falter on the path behind. Kinder times might have seen her roll her eyes at the frailty of his trust in her, but no levity lightened her expression, nor uncertainty. They would find Amengual.
Continued at: Duality
Only darkness shows you the light.

Their grim reality permeated the car ride back to the city. Jensen stayed in the back seat, cradling the pale face of a fallen angel while she and Xander occupied the front. Laurie's soul was shuttered into survival-mode: not only for herself but for those in her charge. She was an aggressive driver normally, but today she struggled to keep the speed limit. 

Thoughts of what they went through pried its way into her mind, but she refused to dwell on them. She had to focus on the present, and that meant delivering a car into dangerous territories. She considered going to the police, or maybe driving straight to a local FBI building. The governor's house, which was what Jensen wanted, would smother their history to avoid the scandal of their bloody deeds. But how horrible was that idea? Delivering the body of a child torn to shreds to a mother and father? Nobody deserved to see the sights of what they all witnessed today. 

In the end, she exited the car at the entrance to an emergency room, went inside, and stood there in a strange sort of shock. Her appearance alone attracted attention as a nurse hurried to her side. It was with a grim announcement that she informed the staff of a girl shot and laying in the back seat of her car. Before she knew it, Cayli was taken away and the three of them were left to wonder what would happen next.

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