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Saving Jay
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“I skipped breakfast to make it here. You don’t mind?”

They’d left the city behind when Doctor Diaz swung the car into a drive-through and parked up. He’d been mostly quiet during the journey (ever since a brief and furious text communication on his wallet, actually), offering just a few pleasantries that Cay let flutter over her head. Her insides were all squirming so she didn’t mind that the adults paid her little mind, and she was equally glad of a chance to stretch her legs -- once she’d pleaded with her best doe eyes for the privilege. Half of her was desperate to race as fast as possible to wherever Jay was, while the other half was terrified of what they might find.

She sat on the hot curb to drink the shake Diaz brought her (she wasn’t hungry), watching the doctor and the pastor from the corner of her eye as they loitered by the car. Convinced he was suitably distracted, she pulled the wallet from her pocket and shot a quick message to Natalie.

Where the hell did you go?? I’m okay, and I know what I’m doing, I promise. I don’t think evil assassins stop for a late breakfast. I even got Jay some pie.

Raul Diaz leaned against the car and watched the girl typing away on her phone. Probably he should have concocted some pretext for taking it off her, but he probably should have sedated her too, just in case. Her abilities were dangerous, a poison that should have killed her by now, and yet Cayli Carpenter had survived the Sickness for so long he’d been convinced it meant something. That theory was lost to dust now, and he did not even know what cured her in the end. 

Opal might be curious; such specimens were difficult to come by, least of all with the sort of parental support the Carpenters were willing to give. But of course that was not why he had been tasked with bringing her to the research facility.

Diaz might have stretched the truth about Jay Carpenter’s predicament, but the man was beyond doubt a complete psycho. Andres had never deserved the meaty mess left of his body, and Diaz never blamed Zacarías for the vengeance that burned in his heart. Family was a debt that must be paid. His jaw tensed. Discomfort sank the pit of his stomach, threatening a shake to his hands as he retrieved a cigarette packet from his suit pocket. He offered one to Jensen before he put them away and lit up.

“She’s a sweet kid,” he said. “I remember my daughter at that age.” The brief smile on his face faded as those memories surged. Sacrifice for science was the noble endeavour he’d built on that grave; a vow to rid the world of such heartache as his family endured the day she writhed and screamed and died in his helpless arms. Everything precious burned in pursuit. He exhaled a trail of wreathing smoke, glancing at where a gold band once circled his finger.

He’d sold his soul more times than he could count in an effort to right his world, and never found peace. He understood why Zacarías wanted to do it. But as he watched the kid’s bowed head, her fair hair aglow in the shimmering sun -- the perfect picture of health; as he recalled how many times he had sat by her hospital bed and squeezed her small hand while the fear filled up her eyes, and he waited for a last breath that never came… knowledge of the hell he would drag her to sat uneasy.

Signs farther along the highway told them their destination. Jensen knew the area. He drove these highways himself, and a mental image of every hospital in the region populated his mind’s map. They passed exits that he hoped would be their detour. When finally the majority of likely turns were ignored, his growing anxiety seized the Gift to his control. A sign far in the distance told him what he feared. They were leaving the metro. They’d been on the road quite a while. 

He was grateful for breakfast. Cayli’s demands were enough to detour even the most hardened of hearts, and the doctor yielded in the end. A few moments alone between them was surprising. The normally chatty Jensen fell easily into conversation. “My children are still young. I have no idea if they are destined to the same fate that took so many other innocent souls. I am so sorry for yours.” He replied, knowing that if either of his boys were in Cayli’s place, he would move heaven and earth to save them, which was why he owed so much to Cayli. The past-tense with which Diaz described his child struck sadness between them. So many children that died from the sickness, and Jensen had no idea why some survived and others perished. He himself was one of the lucky ones, though it was possible he would succumb eventually. In the meantime, he could do nothing to make up for the hurts he inflicted upon Gabriel and Malachi, and it was unknown if their relationship would ever be healed, but he could save another child. 

He took a breath and spoke on faith, “You don’t need to do this, doctor. Whatever is obligating you to your course of action, we can undo it. I understand that when we are desperate, we make decisions that are so easy to justify at the time.” He turned to Diaz with a gaze that said he was trying to reach into the depths of darkness stirring in his soul, “All can still be made right. I can help you. Let the poor child go on with her life. What if she was your child? You would not have doomed yours to the same fate.” He didn’t describe it plainly, but the tone that deadened Diaz’s expression meant he understood what was implied. They climbed back into the vehicle soon after without any further detours. Jensen quickly updated Natalie with their status.

At his side, Cayli was a marble statue of serenity not unlike the expression sometimes draping Natalie with chill emptiness. She was a strong woman, but he did not want whatever frayed the edges of her soul so badly that it retracted deep inside to be Cayli’s future. When life and death hung in the balance, the problems Jensen wrestled with seemed miniscule. He longed vaguely for the anonymity of his motorcycle helmet. 

A distant smile flickered his expression as he leaned toward Cayli. The story was for her alone despite the close proximity of riders in the van. “When I was your age, I was saving money to buy an old motorcycle and fix it up. We lived in the country, and even though I didn’t have a license, I would ride it around anyway,” he realized he had her attention. It was a distracting story not unlike the kind that he would tell a patient awaiting surgery who was scared to death just waiting around for it to start. 

He showed her some pictures from his wallet. A young Jensen posing on a motorbike. “I talked my folks into letting me race at 18. There’s Jessika in the background,” he pointed her out standing on the edge of a dirt-track alongside other spectators. She had a big smile on her face. Jensen did too, but his focus was the bike more than anything. Maybe she’d seen one of them tucked away in the garage.  Stories flowed like water. He was a natural storyteller.

A change in direction grabbed both their attention. A small town rolled around them and quiet filled the van once again.

“A motorcycle? Get out.” Her mom would probably blush embarrassment for the amount of incredulity in Cay’s voice then. But she beamed bright as she leaned in to look at the pictures. Had the pastor really just admitted to driving without a licence? The distraction scooped her up somewhere pleasant. Jensen seemed pretty ancient, even though he was probably not far off Jay’s age, but the story shaved years. He looked happy in the past. “Will you teach me to ride?” she pleaded hopefully. “When this is all over?”

Jensen kept her occupied the rest of the journey; in fact Cayli didn’t pay much attention to the world beyond the car until they reached a town, when her nose pressed close to the window, confusion spreading like someone spilled icewater in her chest. This didn’t look right. This didn’t look right at all. The squat building was surrounded by fencing. A few men with guns peppered the perimeter, and as they rolled past a guard post a bored soldier glanced at Diaz and his ID before they continued through. Cayli’s mouth stuck dry when they entered the building, and she glanced at Jensen for reassurance. It didn’t look much like a hospital inside, though neither was it as dated as the rest of the neighborhood suggested. It wasn’t where she expected the doctor to take her, though, that was for sure. The wide entrance hall felt more like a school.

“Doctor Diaz, can I see my brother before we start the tests?” She thought her ribcage might burst from the pressure inside, her heart a jack hammer. Fear pinched worry to her brow as she tried to put some context to her surroundings. She’d played the scenario of their arrival in her head a hundred times on the journey south, but she’d never realised she would feel so scared. “I just need to see he’s okay. He is here, right? I just need to see him please.”

“Of course, Cayli, of course.” Diaz squeezed her shoulder gently, and smiled the kind smile that did make her feel somewhat better. But there was a sheen of sweat on his brow too, and something slithering behind his gaze that stole him a thousand miles away. He was distracted. Cayli breathed deep as he spotted a woman in a lab coat coming towards them. Diaz made a gesture that bid her to wait while he strode to meet her. She did not look happy, and his knuckles were almost white over the handle of his briefcase. They huddled some distance away, voices low.

Cayli looked up at Jensen, worried as the doctor left them standing there. The pastor wouldn’t let anything happen to her, she was sure of that, and remembering his promise sparked a familiar bolster of bravery. Jay was here. And she was going to find him. Steeling herself, she pulled the power around her, catching the barest muffle of Diaz’s low voice. "We’re scientists, not murderers. I need to speak with him.”

Her eyes widened. The doctor returned, pressing his hand against the back of her shoulder. Cay’s feet shuffled in the direction he led, uncertain if he meant to fulfill the promise to show her to her brother, or something more sinister. She swallowed dryly, peering wide-eyed into every doorway (all closed). A frown pierced her brow as she caught sight of a trio of children intersecting a hallway ahead, just a moment before she was steered into a room. Laboratory equipment surrounded them. Cayli blinked.

“Just wait here.” Doctor Diaz’s smile was perfunctory. When he closed the door softly behind him, she was sure she heard a lock click in place. There was a panel on the wall; far more high-tech than the system she had broken into at the casino. Her blue eyes bounced to Jensen a moment before she tried the handle. Nothing.

She stood back. Fear swirled in her guts, but it was sheer determination holding her young face rigid. “We have to find my brother,” she said to Jensen. Saying it aloud fortified her. She’d already asked nicely, and the doctor had looked more rattled than in control of the situation. Jay wouldn’t wait for fate to snap him up. Nor would Cay.

She ignored the lab equipment and the worrying question of what the hell it all meant. Instead she arched her neck and searched the ceiling. They had to have alarms in here, right? The power flooded in as she chewed her lip, casting her thoughts back to those lessons on the grounds of the James’ mansion. Mostly the exercises were benign, but Natalie never stopped her pawing all through that app. Some of the complexities of the things she'd done in Africa made Cay dizzy.

A fire would trip the alarms and release all the doors. The patients, or whoever else was here, would have to be trooped outside to safety, and that would include Jay. But the threat had to be real, and it had to be done quickly. That was a lot of pressure. The power squished through her grip, tangling red threads that didn’t quite want to go where she urged them. Frustration edged her rush. She knew she could do this! But it was surprise more than victory that witnessed the giant ball of flame burst into tremulous life. As the net of her control began to snake free she realised she should have warned Jensen.

“It’s me!” she gasped, just as something snapped. The force knocked her back. Smoke roared a thick sheet, and the power ripped loose. An alarm blared shrilly and Cay clapped her hands over her ears, flinching. The lock released with a whoosh just as something sparked and crackled amongst the equipment on the far of the room. She grabbed blindly for Jensen and burst from the room, sleeve pressed up against her nose. “We need to find him, let’s go!”

It was instinct that gripped Cayli’s hand in his own. He stroked her knuckles when his tongue was lost for words, but the connection held like an anchor. He’d not leave her side. The Gift rolled within his limbs, but he did not act on it. Everything was heightened as a side-effect. All the tension within sharpened thorns in his skin, yet somehow his footfalls were true and steady. Truth be told, he was terrified.

But he refused to let Cayli see it. 

He smiled for her when she looked to him for comfort. You’re safe with me here, his eyes whispered. He prayed the promise would hold in the end. The building throbbed with an energy he’d never sensed before, as though the very walls were about to burst from tension leeched into the mortar. The doctors convened, voices low, and he heard every doubt-filled word Diaz shared. The ‘him’ mentioned chilled his own heart as it implied someone to whom they all answered. Jensen did not want to know who that was.

They were holed in a room brimming with machinery that dizzied Jensen just to comprehend them all when a chill of sudden a/c iced his skin. A crackle snapped his ears and he gasped as orange and red flared their faces. A moment later, Cayli snatched his hand and they ran to the hall. “Cayli!” he cried and looked over his shoulder, but before the Gift could contain the fires, she pulled him toward the search.

written with @"Jensen James"
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Alana’s snarl was unhappy. “Why is the doctor helping him? I thought he was meant to be punished,” she said. Her father looked up casually, stony expression chiseled marble.
“Here is the lesson, daughter,” he replied. “The worst punishment is not always death and suffering. The worst is powerlessness. If he is unaware and delirious, we extract no justice.”
Alana pondered these words while the doctor strung up tubes and bags. The invader settled to stillness soon after, but Alana left unsatisfied.

Jay woke to warmth trickling his leg. It took him a moment to realize he’d pissed himself. Probably not for the first time. Another moment to realize he was not in the chair. Everything ached. Face a swollen bag. Arms burning. Wrists throbbing. But the ache streaking his chest was indescribable. He barely wanted to look when epiphany shot adrenaline like lightning. His eyes flared disks, neck twisting. A medic’s tube trailed his arm. What the hell? he thought, wrenching it free in one swift yank. Saline and blood leaked fresh. Legs of lead curled beneath, and he cried in defiance just to push to his knees. Standing was probably out of the question. The power was an empty void, still. But now was not the time to wonder if it would ever return. His heart pound with fresh hope. He was alone! The cables were discarded. Buckets of water were empty. The ties broken. Blue-eyed man gone. Amengual gone.

He literally crawled to the door, breath frozen in delicate hope of escape. His hands were shaking when he pushed it gently open. The creaking pounded drums in his ears. So fucking loud! Hope was fanned ever so slightly soon after. Nobody was out there. Okay. A plan. Stop and make a fucking plan. He needed a weapon. He needed to fucking stand on his own goddamn feet. He needed to calm the fuck down. One mission at a time. He breathed. Just breathed. First, move. Anywhere.

Like some cockroach uncovered, streaked with black and just as filthy, he all but fell up the stairs when an alarm sounded shrill warning. He froze. Tensed for attack.  Was that about him?!

With one hand thrown across his abdomen, the other holding the aching arm, he stumbled… crawled… climbed the old stairs. People raced about at the summit. He pulled himself to stand, emboldened by the chance at escape, but his legs were sacks of water pulled across sinking sand. It wasn’t easy to walk.

One step and a blur in white smacked hard. Jay fell to his side,
“Oh my god, I’m so sorry,” the woman said, only to gasp when she realized who – or what – she just ran into. She offered him a fearful hand upward, but Jay clamped down hard on the attached wrist and wrenched her forward. Her yell was drowned in the chaos of the fire alarm. The lights went dark afterward. Sunlight became a rare commodity breeching windows spaced far apart. The white flicking of hallway strobes caught wild in both their eyes.

“Where’s Amengual?” He demanded, sneering against the woman’s struggles. It took little effort to fling off Jay’s grasp, and she ran away a moment later.

Suddenly, doors opened methodically all around him. He gasped and scoot backward, hiding around the edge of the staircase, when row after row of children were led single-file through the corridor. None hurried except the frantic-coated individual in the lead. Fright and fury bonded deep to the bone. Nobody looked at him.

The shadows of bulked soldiers passed in the distance. He had to get out of sight. The hall was too long to traverse quickly, so he managed to fall into the nearest room. Empty. Windows to escape, but he was too weak to turn the lock. He was searching for something to bust it open when an angelic voice broke the storm.

He had to be hallucinating. But fearful that it wasn’t real as much as it was, he turned and beheld the most beautiful face he’d ever seen. “Cay?” he asked, voice nearly gone.

His baby sister stared at him only a moment before she broke into one of those infectious, victorious smiles. All teeth and hair, he used to tell her. He fell to his knees like her presence finally burst the last of his strength. “I brought you pie,” she said in sing-song humor. She started to run forward when another silhouette loomed suddenly behind. “Watch ou-“ Jay said.

A swing and Cayli stumbled. Jay was spent. Tears streaked his face for hope promised and terror replaced.  Alana hovered. A small handgun was aimed, but like a miracle, Cayli recovered. She grappled Alana. The gun flew from reach. The two entangled with girlish roars of might and fury. Cayli swung out just like Jay taught her all those years before. But Alana hooked an arm around Cayli’s throat, crushing it.

Jay would crawl through lava to get to her. But his limbs wouldn’t move. He tried. Dammit. TRY! Move! Tears streaked failure. Cayli’s blue eyes bulged. She wriggled and fought. Alana was the stronger, though.

A little bubble of chill slicked his bare arms, and the gun was pushed into Jay’s reach. The Power. Cayli’s power. He snatched it up and aimed. The room blurred. Cayli and Alana blurred. He raised the pistol. The kind he gifted his own mom. The kind Zacarías might gift a daughter. It was tiny in his palm. Aim taken. He had to hold his wrist steady with the other hand. But the floor was rocking. His baby sister was choking to death. But Alana was a child too. He’d crawl through lava to save her.

“I saved you,” he whispered in defeat, chin quivering uncontrollably. The gun fired. Both girls crumpled to the floor.
Only darkness shows you the light.

Two messages pinged Natalie’s wallet during the journey, both scanned despite the wheel beneath her fingertips. She was mostly quiet, absorbing the plan as it coalesced around her, interjecting only when she found it necessary to clarify or question. Axel warned of contingencies; of the likelihood that the getting in would pale in difficulty compared to the getting out. She wondered if he would even stick with them that long, once the shit inevitably hit the fan. Truth was, Natalie never imagined it would be simple.

Lawrence mentioned guards at the perimeter and an ID checkpoint. Forged papers might smooth their entryway -- at least for her and Xander. The details argued themselves out. Meanwhile, the fact their destination was a school drilled down deep away from Natalie’s thoughts. The wider picture circled like a preying wolf, nipping at her conscience for the attention it deserved. She felt the weight of Azu’s ghostly stare. But she couldn’t save everyone. It was going to take a miracle as it was, and she’d never believed in those.

By the time they neared the facility, smoke plumed above the surrounding houses. An alarm was wailing in the distance. Natalie’s heart sank. The engine idled a slow crawl while they moved close enough to take in the whole scene. Ribbons of docile children were being led out of the building, the only yells those of the adults corralling them into neat lines. There seemed to be confusion as to the cause, and of the failure of the system to contain the fire. Doctors took hurried inventory, counting heads. Soldiers turned inwards, like the threat came from within.

Maybe it did.

Fear dug fresh roots as her gaze rose to the clouds of smoke sheeting dark across the sky. She could already feel the lick of heat against her skin, banding her chest with the discomfort of memory like shackles. If the others spoke she didn’t hear it. She just swerved the car around. 

The front entrance was useless, now, but maybe the chaos would serve enough of a distraction for a less delicate method. 

No one sane would breach the fenced perimeter to break into a burning building.

When she parked up her eyes closed a brief moment. The gun Jay had given her still hung heavy and cold inside her jacket, but she’d never truly considered she might need to use it. No other hesitation marred the decisiveness with which she opened the door and stepped out. The plan, fool’s hope that it had been, was in tatters before they even started. “Someone needs to stay with the car,” she said, though she didn’t search the faces of those with her. She wouldn’t blame them for bailing. Even Axel. 

This side of the building an empty playground sat beyond the fence. No guards appeared to hover. Shards of air sharp as the blades which scarred her wrists sliced the fence, enough to force entry without leaving a gaping hole. Natalie stepped through without waiting to see who would follow.
She offered to drive, but Natalie insisted. Instead, Lawrence became navigator and worked with the car’s system to load directions to the school. She shuffled Xander to the backseat alongside Axel. One time she looked over her shoulder, she chuckled it herself. It was like looking at a before-and-after commercial.

It also gave her time to whip up some half-baked back story to explain her two new colleagues, and utter a few prayerful sacrifices to the gods of fate and fortune that it actually worked. Laurie could bullshit with the best of them, but they were quite a motley group.

Alarms went off in her own head as much as the school when they arrived. The pealing sound pulled them outward, and as Axel warned, their best laid plans were already trod in the dust. Xander tugged her sleeve before she left. “Be careful, Laurie,” he said with more concern than she’d ever seen him express. That was saying a lot after Africa. She nodded, “keep the car ready. Here’s my gps signal. I’ll tell you where to pick us up when the time comes.” Her orders laid, she hurried through the severed fence not without marvel for the feat of these channelers and their powers.

She watched Axel as much as she did Natalie for entirely different reasons, and only one of them had to do with his chiseled ass. They were a pride of lions hurrying in for the kill, and a flush of excitement sped her own steps. “Door.” She gestured, “This way,” and attempted to find their way inside without using the portals out which were shuffling rows of kids.
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Dr. Opal Von Stein | Zacarías Amengual

The angle of her jaw tilted sharply when the drug lord entered the office without a simple preamble. She loathed this man and all that he represented, but she needed his patronage more than ever. Like always, she did not inquire as to his methods because they obtained results – for her and for Orion – but that was not the reason for her distaste. He expected things of her, behaviors far inferior for her station as a scientist and doctor, and when his dissatisfaction was keenly felt, it was repulsive. He treated her like a child. She wouldn’t stand for it.

“I don’t want any more of your little projects in my facility. It is too much for us to handle. Yesterday there was a power surge that nearly wiped out an entire week of data collection.” She watched with a curl to her lip as though monitoring the journey of a cockroach creeping the linoleum. He settled into her chair, flat stare that chilled her to the bone.

“You will deal with these challenges, Opal. This one is special.”

She sniffed derisively. The project was recovering in one of her precious spare beds, stinking up the room. They were precious resources. That medicine wasted on the walking-dead. Not to mention she herself had to be the one to place the intravenous line.

“Tell me about the Oculus,” he said, lifting a biometal band from her desk and turning it in his hands. Made of copper, the fibermetal was flexible as cloth until an electric charge was placed through the meshwork. A small flick of a nano-lithium, biosourced battery and the metal flexed into shape harder than steel, fixed into the shape it held prior to the electric pulse. In that regard, it maintained any shape desired. For their purposes, it was formed into a circle.

“We’ve successfully retrofitted the Oculus to infuse a constant transdermal pulse of serum. This will eliminate the need for regular injections so long as the Oculus is flush with the skin. Think about nicotine patches of old. Put it on the skin and the drug will be absorbed, but with an upgrade, of course. It won’t rip off like a shitty bandaid.” She smiled proudly. The technology was originally designed to replace mesh and balloon angioplasty for opening clogged arteries. The electrical potential was derived from the human bioelectricity conversion, so once placed, it was indefinitely sustainable.

Zacarías was legitimately impressed. Opal smiled as he attempted to lay the oculus along his forearm. She shook her head. “No, my recommendation is at the throat. The participant will be less likely to want to take it off. It will feel like a necklace or a collar, familiar to them.” She started to summon one of their participants to demonstrate for their patron, when he interrupted.

“And the channeler will be perfectly compliant. Docile? Forever?”

“As long as the Oculus is worn, yes. Meek as a lamb.”

Zacarías stood, slipping the prototype device into a pocket. Opal blinked, he was a lot of things, but he couldn’t just take her stuff! She stood when the fire alarm blared.

A rush of heart rate and she leaned over her desk, summoning security information about their environmental monitoring system. The fire was coming from one of the laboratories. She gasped and hurried, but Zacarías was already gone. She didn’t care. She had to save her work!
The ferocious teenager pulled him out, but a flood of people quickly wrenched her grasp free. When he next looked, a dozen heads spilled and none of them golden tresses. "Cayli!?" he cried, searching and turning. A minute inside and he'd already lost her. Fear washed as he twisted this way and that, seeking frantically for her face, pushing aimlessly in any direction. 

One of the doctors emerged with a line of kids in tow. He danced out of their hurried way, pressing flat to the wall. Strikingly, most of the faces were deadpan disinterested in the alarm. Some put hands to their ears, but frightened, pale eyes were not among their expressions. The doctors, on the other hand, waved and pleaded that their charges hurry. What was wrong with these children? He had to find Cayli before whatever happened to them happened to her next. 

Oddly, out of the teenagers present, one scurried in the opposite direction. She crossed Jensen's path, pushed him from the way, and hurried onward. Most out of place than the fact that she was delving further into a burning building was the determination set to her face. She was not the mindless zombie-blank teen like everyone else. She wore designer shoes and trendy clothes. 

He pulled his wallet and sent a group message. "I've lost Cayli," knowing she was unlikely to check her messages at a time like this. 

Room after room he checked were empty. Laboratories, dormitories, bathrooms, storage closets, nothing. Ominous stairs led downward, and a creepy chill pulled his imagination to the bowels of the building.  

He was about to descend when a familiar face rushed by. Dark-haired and menacing, he recognized the visitor to Ascendancy's ball in Moscow. Zacarias Amengual was the drug lord that wanted Cayli, Jay, and Jessika. Jensen pressed himself to the wall, hoping he wasn't seen by the madman.

He was Cayli's danger, so he followed behind. There wasn't time to tell the others.
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Axel Miller

Trust me.

Honestly, if the custody chick signed her name in blood, it wouldn’t ease the chasm digging presently into his chest. In route, the conversation focused on plans and strategy, but Axel stared out the window. Land rolled by, brown and endless. The ghost of a memory filled the seat at his side. Once upon a time he would die for Carp or any of them. They’d give his life for his. Unspoken oaths walked them through ravines brimming with death. They emerged unscathed, or so they were told. Many fared worse, and what reward awaited them stateside? Carp’s discharge and Axel’s divorce. A vault filled his bank account, but the keys were held hostage. All the money in the world couldn’t buy a way out of bondage. The cartel needed his skills. Jessika needed his cock.

Brown, endless expanse converged into something. A small town where nobody and nothing could hide. Houses filled with people impossibly ignorant but approving of the shit going down right under their noses. For the greater good, they told themselves at night. Lies were something Axel understood.

He came alive on those quaint streets. Everything in him tensed with excitement. A rush that coiled every muscle tight. He saw everything as it rolled around them. The spaces between houses they could run. The trees to use as cover. The open spaces sure to be carnage zones. The obstacles forcing their paths. He burst from the car in one smooth motion, weapon ready to wield against any standing against them.

The smell of smoke on the wind. The heat of a scorched landscape. The weather was soon to turn hot. That meant sunshine would blind the eyes of the untrained. The building itself was impenetrable without the bombs and grenades of his typical carriage. They would be forced through windows and doors. A shit plan. Fuck he needed more fire power. Three to protect, he quickly pivoted, checking their status, “Stay behind me where ever we go,” he ordered.

With that, his feet dug into the dirt and the group advanced. The fence was the first obstacle, one he planned to round. He could scale it easily, even in a suit, but the women would be unable. A moment later, the fence was breeched and his eyes widened with surprise. Natalie cut through the barbs heedless of their clawing at her clothes and hair. He followed quickly after, “Can you do that to the wall?” he asked, pointing at the building. If they could avoid doors, their chances at survival increased dramatically.
Only darkness shows you the light.

She glanced up at the brick walls, contemplating the question. Memory sparked and fizzled against her skin, firing a panic that threatened to seize her limbs. Every instinct baulked from the thickening scent of smoke. “No,” she said. No extraneous explanation followed, though behind the glaze of her eyes she was thinking of the heavy dustfall in the tunnels below Moscow. The building was already burning, and she would not risk aiding its collapse. Not when she knew where Jay was likely held, if he was here at all. “But to get us out? Maybe.”

Laurie found them a door. Axel’s warnings pierced, but not very far. The corridor split, and Natalie’s gaze lingered in the opposite direction to the one chosen. Her chest already banded tight, railing against the cloying air, but it was that single moment’s decision which brought a grimness to her expression. They didn’t have time to sweep the school under Axel’s protective wing, and Natalie had an advantage the others lacked. “I’m going to get Cay. Go find the basement. Find Jay.” The words felt like barbs; to leave that task to another. But the decision was made, and she turned without waiting for acknowledgement.

A sense of other channelers muddied her awareness, confusing what should have been a simple task. Yet it was still the best clue she had to navigate the chaos. She ignored distant clusters, presuming the recklessness of Cayli’s intentions, until a lone channeler flared delicate recognition and slowed her pace to stillness. The door was one of the only flung wide open. 

Natalie’s stomach sank. 

Blood slicked a widening pool as she dropped to her knees to untangle the bodies inside the threshold, her heart in her mouth. Her body shivered cold despite the burning heat as she searched for a pulse in either girl. Blood roared in her ears. Even the shrill alarm seemed distant. Then Cay took a sudden breath, clawing at her neck. Comfort was rarely Natalie’s first instinct, but her arms wrapped without thinking, stalling the first confused sobs as Cay’s eyes widened and the immediate past caught up and took a bite.

 Where was Jensen? 

“Are you hurt? Can you stand?” She smoothed back gold hair, tugging Cay’s gaze away from the dark-haired body beside them. Realisation must have still stung, because the girl suddenly struggled. A string of words punctured from her aching throat, lost beneath the siren’s wail. The confines of Natalie's world narrowed to a single moment and a single task, it took her a moment longer to realise it was not the dead girl at all claiming Cayli's attention.
As the girls collapsed, so too did Jay crumple like a sad sack of meat. He sat motionless against the wall, energy and focus extracted to nothing. The gun gripped tight in his palm performed its job well. The shot was true, he himself didn’t need to look up to know. Cayli would shrug off the dead girl and find her feet eventually. Jay just needed to sit and rest a minute. His limbs were lead. His feet iron. There was no moving. In fact, maybe a quick rest would be the trick. Cayli would nudge him as soon as she was up. All the blood would probably scare the shit out of her, but she was tough. She’d seen animals slaughtered. She knew blood; she’d be okay. Tough kid. 

Strange thing was that he didn’t remember laying down, but the floor felt great. His head was a bowling ball, and voices hovered like dreams. Just a little sleep would do wonders.
Only darkness shows you the light.

Axel was full-on scary. The way he moved, like a lion stalking prey, and Lawrence’s nerves flushed to sheer thrill. It was the kind of electricity that carried her into battle reporting, but also the kind that drove poor Xander crazy with worry. Laurie learned enough over the years to walk out of the hottest places with her skin intact. One little school wouldn’t be any different. If anything, she had the advantage having been inside before.

A nod in agreement and she left with Axel to find Jay. They hurried toward the stairs, only to find a familiar face along the way.

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