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Not that kind of help
Jensen took the train to work straight from John's. He cut it close as it was, and thankfully the Moscow metro system was famously punctual. He'd spent the good part of the ride with his forehead pressed against the window, staring into the blur of tunnel lights streaking by, and the rest of it rounded over in his seat and wringing his hands. He had a lot to think about.

He was thankful for the monotony of the night's shift. Forklift driving didn't require a college degree, but it was dangerous work, but it gave his mind the chance to focus on something else for ten hours. He'd barely noticed the passage of time until the horn sent him to a break room for a sandwich.

Come morning, he was worn out again. It was part of the reason he sought a job over third shift at all. The solemnity of nights were hardest when left alone with only one's guilt for company. His solution had been to work himself to exhaustion and collapse every morning without the energy to do more than shower off the grime. It worked too well, sometimes.

The day's sleep was fitful and restless. He tossed and turned and not just due to the ridges of an uncomfortable Murphy's Bed. He'd always been an animated dreamer, but nightmares were only a regular occurrences in the last few years, and they did not make for pleasant bedmates.. so to speak.

He meandered around the small apartment he did not call home but lived in nonetheless and went mindlessly through his regular morning's routine. Mindless because his attention was firmly plagued by wondering when exactly he was going to make good on the promise to himself, John, and God to fast and pray. He had to work again tonight, and he had no intention of not fulfilling the agreement with his employer to actually show up. God probably wouldn't be too pleased with someone breaking one of the Ten Commandments, lying, in order to stay home and read their Bible.

Although it was tempting. In fact, shortly after the shower, he hastily wrapped a towel around his waist and sat at the small desk that served as a kitchen table and started flipping through the three-hundred year old Cambridge Bible John had presented to him. Before he knew it, an hour had passed, his coffee cup was long ago emptied, and he was still in a towel.

It was an extraordinary book. He couldn't imagine anyone in the world who wouldn't appreciate it, no matter their affinity for religion, history, or knowledge. If nothing else, it was in pristine shape. If John used this Bible for his daily devotions, he'd treated every single crisp page with the reverence it was due. Jensen was almost nervous to turn a page for fear of damaging it.

There was a book, however, he could pour himself into without fear. His own Bible.

The night he fled Dallas, he'd not had the specific book he used on a daily basis, nor the book from which he preached, which were two very different things, in his possession, but he did have the Bible he kept in his car on hand. The car was ditched in Mexico City, three days after the... incident, and God Bless the poor people of the city, but it was likely stripped to a thousand pieces within twenty-four hours. A gleaming white Mercedes attracted dangerous attention south of the Border. There were many long hours where he'd white-knuckled it. So no other trace of his passage remained. Any belongings he'd left inside were long gone. Everything but this Bible and ten million in cold cash.

So with the Cambridge Bible unfolded alongside, Jensen just started reading. He didn't know what he was seeking. Answers, he supposed. To questions posed by John and those echoed in his own mind. He reread passages about angels appearing on Earth with a critical eye. He sought out the chapters in Revelation about the reign of the Anti-Christ. He tried to place himself in all of it somewhere, but the harder he looked, the more forlorn he became.

Frustration gnawed discomfort in his chest, and he flipped the cover of his car-Bible shut with more force than he'd meant. The thing teetered dangerously, then tumbled right through his fingers to the floor, landing in a loud, flat thump. A tangible consequence of an impure heart.

"I'm sorry,"
he told the book as he bent to pluck it from the floor.

As he was inspecting it, there was a rustling sound behind him, like wind blown through those closed shutters. No chill of outdoor weather washed onto his bare back, yet chills shot down his spine.

Stomach sank with tension, he looked over one shoulder, and his jaw dropped.

Appeared half-way in the room was a very normal looking man. He had thin brown hair swept across his forehead, the stubble of a thin, groomed beard spotted gray, who was dressed in a plain button down shirt untucked from his slacks. He was watching Jensen with a kind, but concerned, expression. It was his eyes Jensen would always remember. Like they knew every thought in his head, but loved him anyway.

Jensen shot to his feet. His chair skid backward. There was a flash of fresh air across his waist like he'd dropped the towel, but when his hands went to grope for the cloth, they found the slick nylon of running shorts instead. Kind of weird, but he didn't take much time to investigate the rest of his attire, but apparently he was ready to go for a long run.

The front door was still bolted from the inside. The window was closed, although the curtains were thrown open--no, they were tied back. Jensen blinked, briefly unsettled.

The gentleman put up a hand. "Be at ease, Jensen. You are dreaming, my son. This is a dream, but it is also real."

Jensen gaped. He'd always been an active dreamer, but this was an incredibly real dream. "I don't feel like I'm dreaming. Who are you?"
The curtain was closed again, and the Bibles, the car and Cambridge books, were both gone from the table. As was that cup of cold coffee. That, he rather wished was still there. His hands itched to ground themselves on anything.

"Let's say I am an Angel of the Lord,"
he clasped his hands before him, and a great wave of calm washed over Jensen whose clothes suddenly dissolved into similar attire as the angel's: an untucked button-down and slacks. Jensen's forehead wrinkled with wide-eyed shock.

The angel went on. "I have met you in this place to give you a message."

Jensen approached, feeling as though he'd been wandering in the desert his whole life and had yet to find water, and although hesitant to believe this was real, he feared this pool of water would turn out to be filled with shards of broken glass.

Jensen felt he'd hardly taken a step, but the next moment, the angel was standing right before him. In fact, it seemed the whole room shifted around him rather than the other way around. He placed a warm hand on Jensen's shoulder.

"You have gifts, Jensen,"
the angel's eyes burned bright into Jensen's soul, "spiritual and physical. Do not fear them. Draw upon them, and do the work you are meant to do. You are living in a wrinkle in time, but it is not the end. There are no ends."

The blood drained from Jensen's face. In his heart, he trusted this messenger with his very life, but doubt spiked fear behind the wrinkle of his brow. He shook his head, imagining falling from the grace of heaven and landing in everlasting damnation. He grew dizzy merely meeting the angel's gaze. He looked away. "I am not worthy. Why me?"

The angel cupped Jensen's face in his hands, as a father would of a fearful son, and drew his attention once more. That sense of calm washed over once more. "We may never know why one soul can sense the Light and others do not."

Jensen's eyes fell sullen, "how am I to know what I am meant to do?"

"Look inside yourself. Look to the Light."
The angel looked away, as though seeing far beyond these four walls. He nodded to watching eyes unseen, then there was another quiet howl of wind, and Jensen was suddenly alone.

He looked to his clothes and found the towel once more. The Bibles were back on the table, and the curtains were open again.

He gasped himself awake. Actually awake, this time.

He sat up in bed, half panicked and half elated. An angel of the Lord had appeared to him in a dream. Not bothering to dress, he practically lept up to make a phone call before he could talk himself out of it.

A woman's voice answered groggily. It was the middle of the night in Texas. Jensen remained quiet, and she spoke again with more earnestness this time. "Hello??"

Jensen's voice was calmer than he'd thought it would be. "Jess?"

"Speaking. Who is this?"
There was a hesitancy cutting across her groggy voice.

"It's Jensen."

A request for face to face came through almost immediately. Jensen suddenly regretted his hasty decision-making, at least he could have put on pants for pity's sake! He grabbed a shirt, a button-up ironically, and threw it on. He'd barely managed to step into shorts before Jessika's screen came through.

The light of a lone lamp shone in the background on her side of the call. Jensen didn't recognize the room she was in, but it had the standard decorations of a cookie-cutter hotel.

She was as disheveled as he, but only because Jensen knew what to interpret. He drank in the sight of her, and his heart wanted to sing, but he made himself sit still.

Likewise gazing into a screen of himself, Jessika threw a hand across her lips. She still wore her wedding ring. Jensen absently rubbed a bare finger. His was packed away in a box in the closet.

She'd always been a strong woman. He loved that about her. She could weep for joy as fiercely as she could grieve, but it appeared the last four years suddenly broke through the dam of her frayed emotions, and she squeezed her eyes shut.

"Please don't cry, Jess."
He urged, achingly. How badly he wanted to hold her.

Those big beautiful blue eyes opened once more. floating in a sea of bright red. "Jensen. It really is you? Oh, my God. Please! Where are you? What happened? Are you alright?"

Jensen cut her off, "I can't tell you where I am. But I am fine. I'm better than fine, actually. Jess-"

This time she gawked, "What! Why not? Are you in trouble? My God you are in trouble. The blackmail. Are you in jail? Does someone have you?! I swear I will--"

He lifted his hands, wishing he could imbue her with the calm as had that angel. "--Jess, I disappeared because... because I'm something more than a man. I thought I was possessed, and I ran half out of my mind with fear. But now I know the truth, and I don't fear it anymore. An Angel of the Lord came to me. I have something to do for the kingdom. I think... I think I am an angel, too."

It was still hard to believe, but it was also hard to argue with both John Smith and an angel coming to his dreams, like some prophet of the Old Testament. Those guys surely didn't believe it either.

Jess's face wrenched with pain. Her voice cracked one single, disbelieving sob: "Oh, Jensen. Please tell me where you are. I'll come to you, and we'll get you the help you need."

Jensen couldn't believe his ears. "I know it sounds crazy, Jess! If only I could prove it to you..."
he held out a hand and the familiar orb of light swirled into existence once more. Jessika barely glanced at it, and the confidence with which Jensen wielded the light into being wavered uncertainly. It winked away. "Jess-,"
he started, but she was now looking elsewhere, eyes darting fast across another simultaneously opened screen. She was searching for his coordinates. Then, in surprise, she mouthed a word that Jensen recognized: 'Moscow'.

His breath caught in his throat. Her gaze locked sternly onto his. Her mind was made up. "Jensen, stay where you are!"

Jensen shook his head, "Jess please don't come!"
Not into the belly of the beast itself! If John was right, the apocalypse was about to break, and Jensen was going to be in the middle of it.

"I'll be on the first flight."
Their connection was severed, and Jensen blinked horror at the after image of his wife. Angels. Demons. War. He felt like he was going to faint.

He powered down the Wallet and hastily threw belongings into bags. It looked like he would be taking John up on his offer to relocate. Jessika couldn't be with him. It wasn't safe!

And though Jensen did need help, he doubted it was the kind Jessika had in mind.
I'll take you up on your offer. Also, we should probably talk soon. Something happened

With a press of a finger, the message was sent to John, and Jensen bolted the door on his studio apartment with one last glance at the false wall that covered his folded-up bed. He thought about the young lady he met in the basements while maneuvering the second suitcase down the narrow flights of stairs. At the last minute, he'd left his things on the main floor and went on down to the room where they'd met. He was a silhouette in the door thrown open illuminating the room before him. However he did not flip on the light nor pass the threshold. "I'm leaving,"
he spoke to the emptiness, hoping the creature that haunted the space would simply follow him and leave the innocents in this building alone. With that, he was gone.

It was hard to argue with both John Smith and divine messengers in dreams. That night, Jensen did end up skipping work, but only because he spent the hours gathering all his personal belongings - the stuff that actually meant something to him, which wasn't a lot, he wasn't too attached to mismatched silverware after all - and hauling it all back to John's loft.

He'd probably be fired for skipping. His job wasn't great, but there were a hundred other men the company could hire to replace him in a heartbeat. Despite all his flaws, he was uncomfortable with the idea of lying about being too sick to work, but dodging his wife who was flying to Moscow for reunion he was fine with. Priorities, right?

As promised, John had left word with the building's management so he must have gotten the message or else anticipated Jensen's decision better than Jensen had himself. The doormen gave him a long, curious look, but nobody stopped him coming and going with a pair of suitcases - he didn't have a large wardrobe either and it certainly didn't fit in in this neighborhood. Though he'd worn his best shirt and jacket for the meeting with John that morning, he still drew a few judged looks from those passing by on the sidewalk. Particularly anyone walking a dog: the smaller the dog, the worse the look too.

It was later that night when Jensen was alone in the loft that he finally had a few minutes to sit and think. All evening he'd been so focused on moving out of his place that he hadn't the chance to actually absorb what was going on.

A suitcase was unzipped nearby, but the lid was only popped up. He had yet to actually unpack it. The lights were all off, but a perk of being in the top floor of a building capped with a loft apartment was an enormous wall of and ceiling of windows arching overhead. The city lights were enough to illuminate the room. That and the glow of an old laptop screen and visual acuity was not half bad.

He logged into their account information for the first time in four years. He'd avoided doing so all this time to keep his trail cold, but now that Jessika knew where he was, there was no point any more. It was only luck that the password questions and answers were the same as before, and that he actually remembered his mother-in-law's birthday.

From the account information, he found her ticket purchases. There was only one flight out of Dallas to Moscow on the airline, and only a couple minutes searching told him she could be in Moscow as early as thirteen hours after they spoke. Which meant she could be here in as little as four hours from now. And knowing her, she'd not so much as go to an airport, but try to go straight to his place. His old place. After dark. A tiny beautiful blonde walking around lost in Zamoskvoreche with a little wheely suitcase.

He grabbed a jacket and practically flew out the door. He was not going to let anything happen to her.
This part of Zamoskvoreche was not kind to the eyes. The buildings had seen revolutions, wars, and decades of Soviet management and post-soviet despair. If there was anywhere to remind an outsider that Moscow belonged to Mother Russia rather than the CCD, it was here.

The sun dipped below the crest of the buildings overhead, leaving lengthy shadows creeping across the street to where Jensen sat watching. After dark, the chill of night began to seep through his clothing, and he buried his hands deeper in his pockets, wishing he could draw his knees up closer to his chest than what these cement steps allowed. A wind had kicked up too, burrowing cold through his clothes and carrying on it the scent of car exhaust and urine. The latter namely from the homeless gentleman that had kicked Jensen out of his stoop the next door down. There was a code among the homeless, and apparently Jensen had overlooked the obvious, do not trespass, signs. He glanced down the sidewalk, and noted with a deflated sense of disgust, however, that the rats could go where they pleased.

He'd spent the better part of the last hour checking for messages: from John or Jessika. John he knew was involved in escorting his antiquities to their new home. Jessika... well she was probably snapping her fingers and hailing a cab right then, intent to shoot straight here.

Lights were starting to glow here and there in the black height of the building across the street. The small window that had been his was on the other side, but craning his neck backward, he tried to imagine which one housed young Katya and her family. A young girl in a neighborhood like this, she had to be tougher than she looked.

The roar of an approaching bus drew his sights down the street. No, Jessika would not be caught dead taking the bus, and she'd not have a single clue how the system worked either. The metro was out of the question too. Like he, she was a born and bred country girl used to wide open spaces. The closest she came to public transportation was a hired limousine. She'd arrive in a cab. Jensen would stake his life on it. His, but not hers.

As the sounds of the bus labored on, the exploding noise of street kids followed. He quickly made to black out the screen of his old wallet so it wouldn't light up from his pocket if a message came through. Then pressed as far back as he could while the homeless man that kicked him off his stoop ducked completely out of sight.

He recognized the kids, of course. One of them called the building home. A pimply faced kid who barely looked like a sixth grader but had the bulging arms of a steroid-shooting professional athlete lived on the first floor with his parents. Or at least, an older male and female that Jensen assumed were relatives. A second kid he recognized only by association with the first. They were together so often, Jensen originally assumed them brothers, but the identical t-shirts and shaved mullets gave all the boys the same contemptuous sneer. They all looked alike. Three more rounded the group out to five. Jensen turned up his collar, huddled over his knees, and kept an eye on them.

Body tight with alert, Jensen was suddenly aware he was not the only one laying low. A lady with a bundle across her chest like a tightly swathed baby started to turn onto the block, then quickly rerouted herself to go the other direction. A bolder gentleman in an ankle-length puffy coat cut across the street and continued on Jensen's side of the road. The kids meanwhile had gathered onto a bus bench, a couple draped over the back, a third laid out on the seat while another was coloring in the legs with what looked like a can of glow-dark paint. The fifth, however, had noticed someone who seemed quite undisturbed by their presence. He tapped his buddy on the arm and pointed out a half-humped old Babika lady with a scarf tied around her head, carrying a zippered dog carrier, and heading straight toward them.

The dog yelped a high-pitched little bark as she strolled on by the men, any one of whom more than capable of stripping her of every valuable she had without breaking a sweat. Unconcerned, or maybe she simply couldn't see well enough to know her proximity to danger, she strolled on by without a second glance. The yip of the dog, a chihuahua by the sound of it, was enough to turn a couple more heads, but to Jensen's relief, she almost made it without drawing their attention.

But she had a Wallet on her, and the second a cutsy little tune rang out, Jensen's heart leaped in his throat, cringing at the sound. That drew five long faces. She pulled it out of a pocket and answered in ... something not Russian or English ... and Jensen bit his tongue to stay where he was. A wealthy foreigner old lady in this part of town might as well walk with a target on her back.

She turned the corner, chattering on, oblivious that five guys were following in her wake.

It did no good, though. He didn't know what, but he had to do something for her. A moment later, Jensen was on his feet, and though physically smothered by the darkness of inner city night, he turned to the light that burned on the edge of his senses and drank it in. He was half way across the street when the subtle vibration of an approaching car turned his head, in time to view the pivoting beams of two headlights.

A cab pulled up just as he got to the sidewalk, and he knew in his heart that it was her.

He stared, heartbroken in the direction the old lady had gone, but the spilling sound of his name and the sudden attack of hugging arms plastered around his body kept him from chasing after.

he whispered despite himself, face nestled in loops of soft hair.

Edited by Jensen James, Nov 14 2013, 07:55 PM.
Hands gripped his hair until prickles of pain stabbed at his scalp. He squeezed his eyes tight and clung to her warmth, but it was as a corpse clawing at the bodies of the living, dreading what was to come. She kept saying his name, over and over again, as though saying it out loud made the realism all the more solid. "I'm so sorry" burned the back of his throat with bile. His legs wobbled as though he might drop to his knees and beg forgiveness. Not until Jessika's palms cupped his cheeks and pushed her sparkling sapphires before his own, did he finally move. He licked his lips, but uttered none of the things he dreamed of saying should this day ever come.

A sudden slap of pain exploded on his face. His neck twisted with the force. His vision watered. And he gently touched fingertips to a flamed jaw, blinking with shock.

Jessika slapped him.

His brows drew low, and his hands fell to his sides. Indeed there was a small suitcase left on the sidewalk, so he grabbed it and turned to lead the way inside. They should wait indoors while he called another cab. The street wasn't safe. That first group wasn't the only gang walking around here.

From the first step, he turned back. Jessika had her fists planted on her hips, staring accusation wounded by his lack of reaction. For a second, Jensen only looked at her. She was the same willow of a woman, elegant and lean. From her crown fell a cascade of golden curls teased thick and heavy. She wore a white pant suit. A lacy pink top crossed the line beneath the jacket. High heels had planted her face snug in his neck when he remembered cradling her cheek against his chest when they were both barefeet. He realized all the more how much he loved her.

But he wasn't in love with her.

He spoke firmly, but gently. "We should get off the stree--"
but pops of loud gunfire jerked his breath from his lungs. A wailing screech tore through the night, cawing chills through his bones.

The street was emptied, but both he and Jessika turned toward the direction it came. Fear shallowed his breathing to quick, panicked breaths. That screech was otherworldly, and images of black beasts hovering through basement walls clung to his ribs like pulled meat. "Jessika!"
He called to her, but she was transfixed. He hopped down the steps to grab her by the arm and literally pull her inside, but before they made it back to the door, more pops of gunfire erupted followed by the sprinting body of the gang kid that lived in the building with his 'parents.' He fell out of the alley and ran straight for them, unseeing of any obstacle, intent on escape.

Jensen pulled Jessika out of the madman's way, but he clipped her shoulder as hurled by. Jensen scrambled to keep her from breaking an ankle in the fall, but by the time he had her gathered in his arms, the building door was slammed shut.

Jessika gasped at herself, and started patting at her ruined white suit. Jensen let her go and turned this way and that, trying to control the urgency to run or flee ... something. But Jessika's shocked gasp won his full attention.

Then he saw the blood. All over her shoulder, from where the boy had knocked into her.

He ignored her protests and made sure that she was okay, then literally pushed her up the stairs to the door and shoved her suitcase in her hands. "Go inside!"
And he turned.

"Where are YOU going?!"
She demanded, disbelieving.

"Those were children over there! I have to make sure they're alright."
Five boys went down an alley, gunshots, and only one ran out? The other side was blocked by a drainage canal. Unless they were rainwater, they weren't going to escape through iron grates.

Jensen's gaze steeled Jessika to stay put, and he took off sprinting toward what was sure to be a horrific scene.

It was dark in the alley. Darker than it should have been. The street light overhead had died last weekend and was yet to be replaced. He thought about sending the orb forth to light his way, but his eyes adjusted, and the shadow of shapes took form.

Silence, but for some sort of suction sound, until his quickened footfalls struck like drums. "Everybody alright?"
He came upon someone curled over a lump on the ground. Was that the... old woman? He reached out for her shoulder...

A cold hand clamped down on his wrist. A mane of silvery hair whipped around a skull barely covered by a thin sheet of skin, and the eyes.. they burned sick and yellow, glowing from within. Jensen wrenched his arm free and nearly fell over backward. Blood glistened her mouth wet. His back slammed to the ground, and she leaped atop him.

The light. The orb of light burst between his hands and he chucked it at her chest. The strike flung her back, her face contorted with pain. She hissed, and with a great leap, sprang straight up. The whip of long wings fanned Jensen's cold sweat to a stinging chill.

Panting, he scrambled to his hands and knees. The pull of his powers heightened everything, and he saw true aftermath. Three bodies drained flat. A fourth clutching at his neck, gurgling.

He flew to the boy's side, and pressed his hands to the warm shreds that remained of his throat.
"It's okay. It's okay."
He kept saying, over and over again, but the boy struggled and cried. Red bubbled from his mouth and nose. Choking. Dying. The wide eyes of a child begged for help.

Jensen bowed his head as though to pray, but there wasn't room in his head for words: only the gift. His heart beat in the rhythm of the universe itself. It was peace and torment unlike a conflict he'd never known before. He was on his own with the child, if it didn't save him, nothing could.

He willed it to work. Willed his body to hold on long enough to finish, else be ripped apart.

Finally, it was done. His shoulders slumped, and when he opened his eyes, he beheld the impossible. The boy rolled over, spit out the blood in his mouth, and sat upright without a scar on his flesh.

The kid sprang to his feet, and Jensen aimed to follow, but he slammed the toe of his boot to Jensen's temple, and ran like a bat out of hell.
There was a sense of movement, gliding waves both beneath him and kicking around in his stomach. Bright lights rimmed the edges of squeezed eyes. He heard himself grumble something, but even he didn't know what he was trying to say. He was answered with a pat and the strong pinch of a needle biting into one arm. Could have at least warned him it was coming, but apathy washed with the warmth pushed in his veins and sleep took him.

...To be continued.
Continued at: Stranger than fiction (Guardian)

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