Chapter 19 ‘Antioch’
Drew pulled back from the kiss and then sat back on his knees. They looked at each other.
It had been a nice kiss, Jason reflected. But it had lacked the spark, the certain electricity he felt when he kissed Matt. It was at that moment that they both had a realization. A mutual epiphany if you will. They would never be more than best friends. But they would be that. The best of friends there could be.
* * *
Matt looked at the gun Mr. Parker had trained on him.
"I wouldn't risk it Matthew." Mr. Parker warned. "I'm well aware that normal bullets don't affect your kind. So I have special bullets prepared for just such an occasion as this."
Matt tensed in his chair but remained seated. "So you know what I am?"
"Oh yes, I know all about you and Heaven. I know all about the 'special attention' you people have paid to my family." He paused. "I even know about Sara's organization. Of course, none of them know I know."
"How?" Matt asked. This just didn't seem possible. How could Jason not have known about his father?
Mr. Parker reached out beside him, not taking his eyes off Matt and took a small card from off his desk. He flicked it and it flew easily through the air at Matt. He snatched it out of the air and looked at it. It bore one word:
"You're not the real Antioch though." Matt said quietly.
Mr. Parker smiled. "No, of course not. The original Antioch was dissolved by the council of heaven over thousand years ago." he stressed the word 'dissolved' so that it bore an accusatory tone. "But of course you knew that already. After all, your mother led the cleansing force."
Matt grimaced. "Heaven has fallen on hard times since my 'mother' gained office of chancellor."
The gun drooped a bit at this. "You mean you don't agree with what your mother has done?"
Matt shook his head. "Few in the council do. But she consults them less and less these days."
Mr. Parker looked slightly puzzled. He withdrew a small tape recorder from his pocket and held it in his hand so that the microphone was directed at Matt.
Matt stared at it.
"This will be the first time someone from the new Antioch has met with one of your kind." Mr. Parker explained. "I want it on record."
Matt could easily have destroyed the device from where he was sitting, but it troubled him that no one in the high council had known about the new order of Antioch. "Perhaps this could be a learning experience for us both..." he suggested.
Mr. Parker seemed to consider this for a moment. "What did you have in mind?" he asked.
"We trade information. I tell you something about heaven or our kind. You tell me something about Antioch."
Mr. Parker agreed quickly. He checked that the tape recorder was working. "Now then, since I already told you of the existence of Antioch, I believe it's still you're turn. How did Miriam become chancellor of Heaven in the first place and why hasn't she been replaced?"
Matt stared at the gun in Mr. Parker's hand. The man noticed his gaze and lowered the gun further. Then Matt looked at the walls.
"They're soundproof. Even for your kind." Mr. Parker assured him.
Matt sat back in his chair and rested his elbows on the armrests, his fingertips touching in front of him.
"The Chancellor is never elected. The position is passed on by the retiring Chancellor to their chosen successor." Matt started.
"So who gave it to Miriam?" Mr. Parker asked.
Matt shook his head. "That only happens when the chancellor retires. If the previous chancellor passes without choosing a successor however, then the position goes to their next of kin."
"No, Mine." Matt pursed his lips. "My father disappeared and the position went to my mother."
"Wait!" Mr. Parker exclaimed. "You die?"
Matt frowned. "That's a different question. It's your turn."
"What do you want to know?"
"Antioch." Matt insisted. "Tell me about it."
Mr. Parker took a deep breath. He considered ending it now, he had already found out a great deal so far. But he had the opportunity to learn more.
"New Antioch was founded during the nineteenth century. A group of excavators working in modern-day Israel found a series of scriptures telling of the kingdom of Heaven. At first they assumed it was a biblical reference, some cult that had developed during the first few years of Christianity. But then another team discovered a similar site in England. Then others were discovered in Russia, Egypt, France and Turkey." Mr. Parker paused, then continued.
"The scriptures they found proclaimed themselves to be from an underground organization called Antioch. They told of angels and of heaven. Each contained identical information, but scribed by different hands. It seemed impossible that such manuscripts could be real, that such sharing of information could have existed back then. So they were ignored. The scriptures were given to museums but were generally ignored. One of them found its way to the Washington museum.
"In the fifties and sixties, when the Pentagon was searching for clues linked to a number of UFO links--"
Matt snorted at this.
Mr. Parker grimaced but continued. "Someone rediscovered the manuscripts in the museum archives. Of course, the scriptures had nothing to do with the UFO's. Those were all hoaxes or part of an elaborate cover-up to hide US development of special aircraft. But the scriptures caught the attention of a few people. A small department was set up within the Pentagon to look into them further, The department, only about ten people then, tracked down the other manuscripts and studied them. They took on the name of the old organization that created the scriptures."
"Yes yes," Matt interrupted. "All that is obvious, what I wanted to know is how you kept it hidden from Heaven."
Mr. Parker looked a bit edgy but he continued. "The manuscripts told of a herb that they ingested to block Heaven from them. It prevented your kind from delving into their minds. New Antioch found the chemical in the herb and reproduced it. All the members take it so that they cannot be monitored by Heaven."
Matt interrupted. "But then why did it stop working for them and how come I could read--"
"Your turn now." Mr. Parker said definitively. "So Angels can die? You're mortal?"
Matt crossed his arms. "Yes we can die. No we're not mortal."
A moment of silence passed between them and then Matt continued.
"There was no evidence that my father died. He simply disappeared. Angels can be killed, the Great War is stark proof of that."
"Sorry, the Great War?" Mr. Parker asked.
"The first war. The war in heaven. When Lucifer and his followers defied the rule of heaven and were cast out. Many angels died then."
"When did that happen?"
"That was a great while ago. Before human history. It isn't relevant. But no angel has died since the Great War. Many have passed, but none have died."
"What's the difference?" Mr. Parker inquired.
"The current council of Heaven has only existed since two-hundred Anne Domino. The previous council consisted of only the biblical angels, Gabriel, Michael, Rafael, that lot. But then they passed."
"I still don't get it." Mr. Parker persisted. "They all died?"
Matt shook his head. "They passed. One day, Heaven woke up and the old council was gone. They had simply vanished. It wasn't the first time a council had vanished. It's happened all they way back to the first kingdom of Heaven. Ever since the Great War. The time of it is irregular too. Sometimes it's a thousand years, sometimes ten thousand, sometimes a few hundred. When it happens though, a change in ruler ship comes. A new council is set up. My father was the first chancellor of the new council. He disappeared shortly after the birth of my sister."
Mr. Parker looked at Matt in awe. "Angels have children?"
Matt laughed loudly. "How else would we reproduce?"
"I don't know... I thought you were all created by God or something."
Matt shrugged. "Angels have existed since the beginning. Before there was life on earth, there were angels in Heaven. We don't know how we got there, maybe we were made, maybe we evolved. But we reproduce. Not very often though. So how come the first Antioch was discovered and how come I could read your mind when I came in?"
The change of subject was so sudden, it took Mr. Parker a moment to register it. "That's all you're going to tell me?" he asked.
Matt nodded. "On that subject. Now my question."
Mr. Parker furrowed his brow. "The original Antioch was betrayed from within. One of their number used his knowledge to contact Heaven. He made a deal with your mother and sold out the rest of his brethren. The chemical still works. It allows surface thoughts to be read, but we can choose which pieces of information to release into readable form. Here," he said, "try to read me again."
Matt did. He concentrated and touched upon the surface of the man's mind. Mundane thoughts passed between their minds. Thoughts such as observations of the room, considerations for dinner that night, Christmas gifts for his children. But when Matt pressed deeper to reach his inner thoughts, he met a blank wall of darkness.
"You see?" Mr. Parker prompted.
"You can tell when I'm probing?" Matt asked him.
"Yes, it's another attribute of the chemical. It makes us aware when someone attempts to tap into your thoughts. Your turn again."
Matt blinked. "That's it?"
"What more can I say? You asked and I told."
Matt cursed under his breath and forced himself to focus. He mustn't let things like that happen.
Mr. Parker broke the silence that had fallen. "We know all about your eugenics project through the ages, but I want to know why. Why are you doing it and why my family?"
"Jesus." Matt said simply.
"We wanted to create another Jesus or at least something similar." Matt tapped his fingers on the armrests. "The last council created Jesus. They did it instantly, Immaculate Conception and such. It worked, they got their Jesus, but then they lost control."
"What's that supposed to mean, 'they lost control'?"
"They created Jesus to fix the old religion, which they felt had become distorted, to put it back on track. They wanted another prophet, but they didn't take enough time in doing it. Thus the new religion started. We wanted to create the Second Coming. But we wanted to get it right, so we spent hundreds of years sorting through human DNA to create the new Jesus. Somewhere along the line though the project changed. One Jesus would never be enough for the whole world, and there are too many nonbelievers these days anyway. So we set about breeding humans that would have traits we wanted. They would reproduce and spread these 'better people' so when the time came, we could release a collective Second Coming.
"And it's not your family, it's Elizabeth's family. From her father, through her to your children." Matt continued. "The project was abandoned because the traits we wanted tended to subside within a few generations. Only a few lines continued, and these tended to grow stronger. We couldn't explain it. Elizabeth's was one such bloodline. She had no real powers, but she was more in tune with people's emotions. What really drew us to your family was your son."
"Jason?" Mr. Parker asked in surprise.
"No. Your first son, the one Jason doesn't know about. Marcus."
* * *
Jason and Drew had moved to the couch. They sat in uneasy silence,
still not sure where they stood with each other.
Jason chewed his lip. "As long as we're being truthful here..." He stopped and 'ummed' a few times. Drew looked at him hard.
"Matt's not human." Jason blurted.
Drew laughed but when he realized Jason wasn't laughing, or even smiling, he stopped. "So what is he then?"
Jason looked around, as if he was worried they were being watched or listened to. Then he whispered, "He's an angel."
Drew tried not to laugh again. "I thought you were an Atheist."
"I am!" Jason pouted. "I just... Look, things have happened lately. I've seen things; I've done things that most people would never believe. Matt tells me he's an angel, and I believe him."
"So you've converted?" Drew asked. "You saw some shit you couldn't explain and Matt told you he was an angel, so you decided it must be true and converted?"
"No!" Jason hit his fist on the couch. "It's not like that. I still don't believe in God. If God existed, he wouldn't need angels to do his work." He looked back at Drew. "I can't explain things, but I know they're real. You remember back at college? That last night before I left?"
Drew nodded slowly. "The beer burnt the pot..." he stopped as he remembered how the name 'Matt' had been burnt into the table.
"I did that. I don't know how, I didn't even mean to. But I know that was me."
Drew was now looking at him in openmouthed shock. "Have you always been able to do shit like that?" he asked.
Jason shook his head. "No. Matt took me somewhere, I walked along this thing and it changed me. It made me faster, it made me stronger. It made me better."
Drew sat in silence for a few seconds, then, "Are you human still?"
Jason was struck. He'd never even considered the fact that he wasn't. It had never even occurred to him. "I think I am," he said after a moment. "Maybe just a human with benefits."
Drew thought some more, and the more he thought, the less it made sense. Not the fact that Matt was an angel or that Jason had powers. What didn't make sense to him was that whatever Matt had done had changed Jason.
"Jason, I don't think he did change you."
"What?" Jason asked, perplexed.
"Well," Drew began to explain. "You remember that night, when you almost got hit by the car? And you came back with cuts and bruises?"
"And, in the morning..." Jason finished for him, "they were gone. Oh god Drew! What am I?" Panic tinged his voice. He had to find Matt, he had to ask him. What was taking him so long? What was going on with his father and Matt, where were they?
* * *
The gun that had been resting loosely in Mr. Parker's hand, barrel pointed to the floor, was suddenly trained back on Matt's heart. "Was it you?" he spat. "Did you kill Mark?"
Matt shook his head and stared at the gun. "No we didn't." Matt paused but since the gun was still trained on him, he continued quickly. "He had stronger senses that Elizabeth, so we watched him and monitored your family. His powers never fully developed though, and it drove him mad. That's why he commit suicide. And it was suicide. There was no heavenly involvement."
"But it was you people who started the whole thing. It was you people who gave him his powers that killed him." Mr. Parker accused, his voice rising with emotion.
"Let me finish!" Matt held his hands up in a very human gesture. "We watched him, but more closely we watched your daughter, Sara. She had more promising powers. We were too busy watching her to see what was happening to Mark before it was too late. However much stronger Sara's powers were than Mark's, they amounted to little. But your second son. Jason. He was the wonder. The powers of the bloodline seemed to grow in each child. We watched him and Sara, and then there was the whole fiasco with Damien. He should never have been given such responsibility with Sara after what happened to Marcus." Matt's hands clenched and unclenched a few times as if he were struggling to control his emotions.
"That explained nothing. It was you people who were responsible for Mark's death." Mr. Parker turned the safety on the gun off.
"Haven't you been listening?" Matt almost shouted. "It's not us anymore! The line should have dissipated. Their powers didn't even follow a pattern. If their powers were growing with the bloodline then it should have taken dozens of generations for powers to develop. Not twenty years."
"So what do you want from my son?" Mr. Parker asked icily.
"Heaven wants to make sure he lives and that whatever is happening, happens. But Miriam seems--" He was cut off by Mr. Parker.
"What do YOU want from my son?"
Matt paused. Was it all right to tell him? Jason had introduced him as 'a friend.' Could it be that Mr. Parker didn't know his son was gay?
"I asked you a question, now answer," snapped Mr. Parker.
"I--" Matt's voice trembled and failed him. "I'm in love with him." He hung his head so Mr. Parker couldn't see his face. Matt heard a click and imagined Mr. Parker turning off the safety and aiming the gun at his lowered head. Then there was a heavy clunk. Matt looked up.
"Then I suppose I can count on you to watch over him." Mr. Parker said quietly as he set the empty gun down on the desk next to the clip. Matt could see the heads of each bullet had been replaced with a glass-like capsule. Each was filled with a reddish glowing liquid that seemed radiate a combination of anger, hate and fear at Matt.
"Jason hears none of this, you understand?"
Matt swallowed hard and nodded. He had to find Jason before this day got any weirder.
* * *
As Matt stepped out of the small study, he felt the mental presence of Ophiel, The Watcher. He quickly emptied his mind and felt The Watcher's gaze pass him by. Mr. Parker hadn't lied; his study was sound and sight-proof even for angels.
Jason and Drew turned towards him from where they were sitting on
"We need to talk," Jason and Matt said in unison.
Drew tuned on the TV and dutifully ignored them as Jason took
Matt's hand and they went up back to Jason's room. Jason sat down heavily on the edge of his bed. Matt stood at the end of the bed, his head resting against the bedpost.
"Matt I've been going along for a while now, not really knowing what's going on." Jason looked at him pleadingly. "I need to know what's going on. I need to know why people are after me. I need to know what I am!"
Matt let out a long breath. He was going to end up breaking a lot of rules today and divulging a lot of information.
"I don't know Jason."
Jason waited for more.
"I don't know what's going on, I don't know why so many people are after you, I don't know what you are."
Jason stared at him and his lip slowly started to curl.
"You don't KNOW?" Jason hissed. "You don't even know what's going on?!"
Matt was taken aback. Jason was angry at him? Why?
"W-what's that supposed to mean Jason?" he asked softly.
Jason's voice was rising in volume. "You're an angel and you don't even know what's going on? What the hell?!"
Something in Matt snapped. "What, you think that just because I'm an angel, I bear 'Heavenly knowledge'?" He shouted, almost sneering the last two words. "You always expect me to know everything Jason, well let me tell you something. We're all as fucked up as you are. We don't know what's right or wrong, we don't know what we are, we don't know how we got here. None of us have ever spoken or seen God. None of us even know where to start looking for him."
Jason went pale. He hadn't meant to upset Matt, but clearly he had. "Matt," he whispered. "I'm sorry! I didn't mean that, I--"
Matt sagged. "I know," he said, just as quietly. "I'm sorry. It wasn't your fault." He sank heavily onto the bed next to Jason. "I'm so lost and confused now. Miriam banished me from Heaven."
Jason covered his mouth. "Matt I had no idea, I'm so sorry!"
Matt fixed him with his piercing ice-blue eyes. "Don't be," he smiled. "I was dying up there without you."
Jason wrapped his arms as far as they would go around Matt's barrel chest and hugged him close. Matt seemed like a cowed child to him. The angel's head sank 'till it rested on Jason's chest.
"I'm sorry I don't have the answers you need Jase."
"shh." Jason soothed him, rubbing his back gently. "It's OK. We can figure it out some other way."
Someone knocked at Jason's door softly and his father's voice carried in. "Is everything OK Jason?"
"Yeah--" Jason choked. "Everything's fine."
"All right." His dad called back. "I was thinking it might be fun
if you kids all went to get the tree this year."
"O-OK, Dad. We'll be down in a minute."
They listened to the patter of footsteps of Mr. Parker descending the stairs.
Jason and Matt stood slowly.
"I think if Sara is going maybe I should--" Matt started.
"I don't." Jason insisted. "I meant what I said earlier. I want you to be part of this family, I don't ever want to let you go." He pleaded with his eyes. "I need you now, Matt. Please?"
Matt took Jason in a deep embrace, his larger form wrapping around Jason as if to protect him. "I love you," he whispered softly, his face pressed into Jason's head.
Jason nestled his face into Matt's chest. "I know."
* * *
Jason had quickly pulled on a winter jacket and a pair of gloves and Matt had woven his liquid fabric into a long black trench coat that trailed just an inch off the ground. He'd also abandoned the fancy white shirt for a tight black shirt and black trousers. They met Drew, Scott and Sara in the hall downstairs. Jason and Drew exchanged a quick look and then smiled. The corner of Scott's mouth twinged with a smile to see them on good terms again. Sara glared at Matt at first, then steadfastly refused to acknowledge his presence.
They piled into Mrs. Parker's Landover as snowflakes started drifting down on the cool December air. Drew stared at Matt's bulging chest and arm muscles through his shirt and Jason nudged him so he'd close his mouth. They shared a look and Jason winked. They clambered into the car, Jason squeezed in between his best friend and his boyfriend. Matt's hand sought out his and they're fingers entwined.
And so it was, two days before Christmas, that the five of them set out to claim a Christmas tree.
* * *
And so it was that Miriam watched them pull out of the driveway. She perched on the top of a lamppost, her icy eyes darting around the Parker residence. She took a mighty leap and landed lightly on the roof of a nearby house. Running, she followed the path of the Landover across the roofs of houses until they reached the edge of town and houses gave way to trees. Her bare feet touched down on the cold ground, the rain from the previous night had long since frozen and the snow was quickly collecting.
Without pause, she continued her dash after the car, flicking between trees, weaving and darting so not even a twig brushed her. Long after she had lost sight of the van, she continued her mad pace. Then she skidded to a halt. She sniffed the air and a wicked smile split across her marble face.
"Damien," she whispered before taking off again after the car.