The world was dying; bleeding through the cracks of wrongness the Ice People had brought with them almost thirty years ago, now. A long, long time for the Earth to be dying. The cities were just skeletons of iron, steel, concrete and wood, all rotten and twisted, gnarly and decayed. Jensen didn't know how it all had been before, but walking through the abandoned streets, overgrown with grass, trees, bushes and weed, he could imagine how magnificent the buildings had been. How tall, how wonderful, how populated.
Where there were nothing but ruins now, he could imagine the beauty of it all. Imagination was all he had now, as there were not a lot of pictures of the old world, not much pictures of how it had all looked like. But when he closed his eyes, he could see. Feel. Sometimes, he could even hear echoes of people walking down streets; talking, breathing or just the taptaptap of their shoes on the concrete pavements. Could hear the car engines, honking and breaks squealing. He didn't really know how those noises sounded like, not really, but he could imagine. It wasn't that hard to imagine streets be clean and full of people and cars.
But it was all dead now. None of that existed anymore, people were scared and living in the old sewers or subway tunnels or up high in the mountains, secluded. Alone.
Everything was dead and one shouldn't be scared of death in this brave new world. Shouldn't be terrified of it, as people had been in the past, in that old world where birds still sang on tree branches and the grass was green and swaying in the fresh breeze – or that was what he heard anyway. Some of the people still remembered the old days. Some still spoke of them with a wistful voice and tears in their eyes. Talked about movies, music, internet that had connected the whole world once. Talked about television and radio and how they used to meet up in bars with a glass of beer or wine and how fucking awesome all that had been.
Jensen … hadn't known all that as he was a child of the here and now. He was a child of smuggling water bottles, stealing food, running for your life. Killing for your life.
Death was a mercy here, now. It was that one thing that people looked forward to, raised their hands up to the sky and screamed for. One should pray for it, be it quick and painless, or dragged out and hurting like hell.
But Jensen was terrified.
He didn't want to die, didn't want to leave this world, because he was used to it. Knew its tells, knew what made it tick, knew its nooks and crannies.
He didn't know where he would end up once he'd die. What if that world would be ... more terrifying than this one? Uglier? Scarier? More painful to be in, look at? He was terrified of death, he wasn't scared of life, like everyone else seemed to be.
He walked the streets of the city – it wasn't a city anymore, but ruins, ruins everywhere he looked - hunched on himself, hands stuffed in the shallow pockets of his black hoodie, eyes stuck on the ground, sneakers moving fast and efficient across all of the raised asphalt, all the holes and cracks in the pavement.
He didn't want to be seen. Heard. Noticed. Because he was scared of humans, he was terrified of them, as they were all killers, thieves, rapists and liars. Deceivers. No one could be trusted because they could either be the Icies or just ordinary humans that this world had corrupted and made them … even worse than the Ice People.
It was a Saturday. They still counted days, still counted years, still named the days in the week, even if names had lost their meaning and usefulness ages ago.
But somehow, the names of the days stayed.
Saturday. Some of the old folk told him how Saturdays were barbeque days. He didn't know what a barbeque was, but it sounded kinda great. Meat always sounded great. There wasn't much of it to have now, only if one was really, really lucky and knew how to use a bow or set up really good traps, otherwise meat was really hard to come by.
They mostly ate vegetables, fruits … things that they could grow indoors or could find outdoors. But searching for food outdoors was a risky business, one could get caught by the Icies or killed by humans just. like. that.
Jensen was walking down the same street he always did when he was returning from the sewers, where he had gone to 'shop' for food. The people down there ran a business of food and drinks; could get a lot there, for the right price of course.
He got six apples, two loaves of bread and even twelve pieces of some sort of salami – it looked pink, almost neon pink, but it was food - for two bottles of water. It was a good deal and the food should last him for two or three days, depending on if he'd go hunting or not.
He should make more arrows.
The wind was sharp and cold, whipping his face making him hide his neck in the hoodie and bring his shoulders up. Damn Friday rains always making the Saturdays windy, cloudy and cool. Stupid Fridays and their stupid rain.
The old sneakers he'd had for a few years now were taptaptap-ing on the wet pavement that was full of cracks where grass and other weed had started growing a long time ago. He had to be very careful where he stepped; he couldn't risk a broken ankle or a broken leg.
That … that would be certain death in excruciating pain, and that was something he wanted to avoid at all cost.
Really, Jensen wasn't one of the crowd. Death sounded horrible to him, death was what took his mom when he had been a baby and the woman who had taken him in and raised him until he was thirteen. Death wasn't his friend.
All he wanted to do was live and survive and throughout the years he had taught himself how to do so. A bow and a knife were his two best friends, he came upon a gun when he'd been fourteen but it ran out of bullets two years later and after bashing a man's head in with the butt of it, he'd left it lying there in the growing puddle of the man's blood. He missed that gun.
But he'd made himself a bow out of some bendy wood he'd found while trekking through the forest to get to the city and it was now his best friend. Arrows were easy to make and if the bow broke he could easily make another one.
The same went for his knife; all he had to do there was sharpen and clean it. Nothing to it.
And every night he fell asleep with the knife under his pillow and the bow hugged close to him like … a lover.
Jensen stepped over a crack in the pavement that was spewing out some high, dried grass and reached for his knife he always carried in his thigh holster; it was easy access and the feeling of its weight pressed so close to his body made him walk the dangerous streets with more confidence. His bow was strapped to his back, but whoever was following him was already way too close to reach for his bow and an arrow out of the quiver. The knife would have to do.
He pulled it out of the holster and spun around swiftly, the very, very sharp blade of the knife nicking at the man's vulnerable neck. There was blood already welling up from the cut and the guy stopped, raising his head up high trying to get some space between his jugular and the knife.
"What do you want?" Jensen hissed and pressed the knife even closer to the guy's throat, making even more blood appear.
The guy's voice was strained, which was understandable when one's neck was stretched so high and tilted back, trying to escape the knife.
"Well, you can't have my food."
He pulled the knife against the man's neck, barely avoiding the spray of blood that gushed out of the slit open throat.
The man had been one of them; one of the people who worshiped death, Jensen could see it in the guy's eyes. There was absolutely no fear in them and the stranger hadn't even flinched at the pain the two nicks had caused. Really, he did the guy a favor.
Jensen cleaned the silver knife on the man's threadbare shirt, slid it back into the holster, checked the food inside of his hoodie's pockets and turned around.
He needed to get to the house he was "living" in before nightfall.
Jensen had no home, nothing to call his own, not really, since staying at one place was dangerous. It would get him noticed, either by humans or the Ice People and he didn't want that. Both were fucking psychos, humans more so than the Icies and he really didn't need to run into them any more than he strictly had to.
He had to meet up with humans occasionally – even if he didn't like it – to get food and water and the Icies were ... still a goddamn mystery, even after so many years. He had met all of five Icies in his life, killing three of them while two … he ran away from. He couldn't … he had been too inexperienced to take them on. Too young. Too scared.
Fucking assholes was what they were. Everyone. All of them.
He shrugged his shoulders just to feel the comforting pressure of the strap of his bow and quiver. It was all there, just like his knife against his thigh. He was safe and he pulled the hood over his head again, hiding himself. No one needed to see him and if someone did, they'd be dead before they'd hit the ground. He was tired, which made him grumpy and he was hungry and sleepy too, which didn't make the matters any better.
Just a few more minutes and he would be able to lock himself into a pretty run down house and cross off another day of his 'life' list.
The house really was just walls that had tumbled down at some point but not all the way to the ground. They just kinda folded up and got stuck on one another, supporting themselves and the roof. When he'd seen it first, he'd walked right by, discarding it as something that could kill him in the blink of an eye. But then ... something had pulled him closer to the structure. He'd stood by a tree - spruce tree - that was growing in the front yard and just stared at the neatly folded walls, at the solidness of it all. It had felt safe, felt like he could go in and be safe, because everyone else would probably walk by it just as he had at first.
So he'd gone in and that had been five days ago, which was totally pushing his luck. Five days at the same place? It was just calling for something to happen.
He knew it, knew he should find a new place to live in for a day or two, but this house, these walls, the rooms inside, all the space that he could easily defend ... it was making him stay.
So he stayed and even now when he pushed the heavy stone block across the entrance, all but sealing himself into the house, he couldn't think of anything else but ... stay.
He hated the feeling because staying and living in something was dangerous, but so was traveling and moving ... there were times when he didn't know what was up and what was down anymore. Where left was, where right was, if there was an up and if there was a down.
He washed his hand down his face, wiping the weariness away, threw the hoodie off of his head and climbed the shaky stairs up to the second floor. He had done some repairs on the stairs, replaced some of the rotten and creaky wooden planks with new ones but there was only so much he could do, since nails and tools weren't really in abundance. Which was another reason why he always had to step over the hole in the fifth stair from the bottom up or the sixth one from the top.
The sunlight was still bright, coming from two small, round windows in the staircase, so he could see where he was going, but as soon as the sun would set, he would have to either just go to sleep or light a candle. And lighting a candle was like lightning a beacon to anyone who was foolish enough to walk around in the dark.
What was hidden in the dark could take a person away. Could eat him alive. People were disappearing, taken by the Icies or killed by the humans, who knew anymore. Who knew? Not Jensen, not the people he met. They all just told stories, rumors, tales ... there could be truth in them, of course, but anything anyone said had to have been taken with a lot of reserve. Lies were the truth, the truth were lies and nothing was everything, while everything was nothing.
All he knew was that he needed to be strong. He needed to be as strong as the woman who had raised him, had taught him to be. As strong as his real mom had been.
Alineja had told stories of his mother, had sat him down on her knee and told him how his mommy had been beautiful, how young but strong she had been. How his eyes were all hers and how his courage was all hers too.
Sometimes … sometimes he wished Alineja hadn't talked about his real mom at all, because all of her words were digging a hole in his heart and he hurt. He missed. He loved a woman he had never laid eyes on, but still felt so much towards her – so much love and admiration. So much hate too.
And then when his eyes started to fill up with tears, Alineja would stroke his hair with a gentle hand and whisper to him to go tickle his uncle.
He loved tickling his uncle, because then his uncle would laugh and laugh and then Jensen'd start laughing and the sharp pinch in his heart would just … disappear in laughter.
"Shit …" he cursed, because while all of his childhood memories were good, not great, but good, thinking about them made his breathing hitch and he couldn't … he couldn't do that. He needed to be strong.
He sniffed at himself while putting the food on the table top he had found lying around and had dragged into the room and placed it on the floor.
He reeked of sweat and blood and the shit of the sewers.
Another good thing about this house was the bathroom. Of course, it didn't have any running water and the toilet didn't work - he used the forest out back for that - and the ceiling had caved in just so that it went through the shower stall, but the bathtub ... the bathtub was still standing completely intact. No holes, no chipped porcelain, nothing. It had been really dirty when he had stumbled upon it, and a family of birds had made a nest in it. But he had scrubbed it clean as much as he could - couldn't really get rid of the mold in the right bottom corner, not without some heavy duty cleaners of which there were none.
But he had a bathtub. How many humans could say that? Not many, Jensen was sure of that. And sure it took some work to get it clean and sure, it took a hell of a lot more work to get it filled up with water, but he managed. In the five days he had been here, he had taken a bath once. And it had been so worth it - all of the pain of cleaning it, of getting ahold of enough water to fill it up. So worth killing a few water dealers.
He looked at himself into a mirror that he had found lying on the floor and had hung above the bathtub. Through the cracks in the glass he saw just how tired he was, how damn weary. There were dark bags under his bloodshot eyes, his upper lip was split, the scar on his forehead was healing nicely and by the time it would be all healed it would look kinda awesome, he supposed. And he would need to shave soon, his scruff was becoming a beard and he hated having a beard. All kinds of things could get stuck in there and begin to rot because he couldn't really wash every day - but for now, he was okay with the scruff. Rubbing his fingers through it and over his lips, he saw the blood stuck behind his fingernails. There'd been a guy down in the sewers giving him a hard time over how many apples Jensen could get for how much water and he had broken the guy's nose because the fucker tried to rob him of two apples. He needed apples to clean his teeth and everyone knew the price for apples, goddamnit.
Running his tired hand up his cheek to rest it over his eyes – covering them – he tried to un-see what he had seen, tried to forget what he had done.
He cursed, sighed and turned to his left to start pouring some water into the tub. There were four two gallon containers, two of them were already empty so he poured the other two into the tub. It wasn't all that much, but it would have to do.
He put the knife on the collapsed ceiling that made a very convenient shelf, leaned his bow to the side of the bathtub near where his hands would be and stripped, folding his clothes neatly and putting his boots next to them on the ceiling next to his knife.
There was no way to heat up the water and he hissed at the coldness of it as it hit his feet and then as he lowered himself in. At least the water reached up to his hips as he sat in the coolness of it, in the cold room, on the cold porcelain.
He extended his legs as much as he could - which wasn't all that much, he still had to bend his knees a little – leaned his back to the cold porcelain and sighed.
It felt so good; the softness of the water caressing his tight muscles, the cleanliness he could actually feel made him close his eyes and relax.
He breathed out. This … this was as close to happiness as he could get.
The water was warming up nicely with his body heat and he could feel it start to spread through his entire body like a wild fire, heating him from the inside out, making his tired and cold body nice and relaxed.
He was alone here. There were no people in his life that he could call friends, there was no one to share this with, no one to say 'uff, this feels so good' to, no one to flick water at.
He had no one.
He hid his face into his wet hands. He could feel the callouses on his palms, could feel the scars there from when he was still learning how to control his weapons, could feel just how strong his hands really were when he sunk his head into them and realized that his hands have killed. Just today. He'd killed again to fucking survive. He'd spilled so much blood in the twenty-three years he had been on this screwed up world, it could probably fill this entire tub and overflow it. But he did it, otherwise others would do it to him.
Kill or be killed. Jensen had been told that the previous life, before the Icies, hadn't been all that much better, the only difference was that now ... now you didn't get punished for killing.
The punishment was living and that was enough.
There was so much blood on Jensen's hands; he could feel it pouring down his trembling fingers. So much suffering, so much struggle, he felt it scorching his skin and he began to rock back and forth, sloshing the water with his movement. Faster and faster, back and forth banging his back on the tub, hitting his chest on his knees, but he felt nothing. He felt no pain, and tomorrow he would be wondering where the hell all the bruises came from.
But he couldn't stop; he had gained momentum and he couldn't stop. Couldn't stop pulling at his hair with his still bloody fingers, couldn't stop pushing the heels of his hands into his eyes.
There were stars starting to explode underneath the pressure, in the dark of his closed eyes and he could've sworn that he could see a whole different world under his eyelids. Stars upon stars that morphed into waterfalls of bright, colorful lights.
It was magic, how he could bring forth another world just by pressing his hands into his eyes. A world where there were no humans, no Icies, no one trying to kill him or rob him of apples, no one to kill, no one to run from. Nothing, but an endless array of stars.
When Jensen had told his uncle about the stars, the man smiled and told him 'they're a good place to hide, Jensen, but don't hide for too long or you'll get lost'. He nodded then and crawled into his uncle's lap, no need for stars then.
He fell forward, bringing his shins to the floor of the bathtub and his calves under his ass.
The water muffled his screams when he dunked his head under the surface and let go. Alineja was dead, his uncle was gone too and there was no one that would be able to hear him, no one at all to tell him that everything he ever did was because he had to and that it was all all right. All there was was cold water sucking in his screams, bubbles forming at the surface. He raised his head, took a deep breath and fell down again, into the water and screamed.
There was no one to listen, no one to hear, no one to make him stop.
If Jensen would've drowned, there would be no one to miss him. No one to mourn him. No one would ever find him and he would rot in this bathtub, forgotten and alone.
Raising his head up, water cascading in a stream down his face and between his legs, he breathed in. He would not allow for this world to eat him like it had his real mom. Like it had Alineja or his uncle.
He would not let this world win. He would not let the humans, nor the Icies win.
Pushing his hands up and down his face three times to chase away the lingering screams, water and tears, he laid his head back on the edge of the tub and looked up at how the ceiling was so close to just … falling right on top of him.
"If you fall on me, Imma kill ya." He murmured and listened for any sounds that would indicate the ceiling doing … something. But there was nothing. All quiet, all silent, just him here.
Always just him. Just Jensen versus the world. And a ceiling.
Placing his hands on his stomach, he sunk lower into the soothing water.
Always just him … his hands slipped lower, caressing his abs, left hand slipping to his balls, while his right one curled around his dick.
Always just him … he tugged on his dick a few times, the sound of the splashing water drowned in the sound of blood rushing down south, his other hand fondled his balls and then slid up to his nipples, pinching both of them a few times.
Always just him and him alone … he was close, he'd been on edge for days, not many chances to do this, not many opportunities to let go like this. His hips were hitching higher up, pushing his dick into his tight fist, up, down, up, down, in and out, in and out until he had to twist to the side and burry his head into the water when he came. A shout ripped itself out of his opened mouth and he tasted his bitter come on his tongue when he swallowed some of the water.
Come and dirt and blood and him. Always just him.
He lay there, turned on his right side, head out of the water now, catching his breath while still touching his dick. It was sensitive now, too sensitive border lining on painful, but he couldn't stop touching. This was maybe his last opportunity for something like this. Maybe … maybe tomorrow he'd die. Or maybe it would take weeks before he'd be able to get himself off again without being scared of making too much noise.
"Fuck, shit, goddamnit, damn it!"
Slowly, he let go of his soft dick and rolled over, getting his rubbery legs under him to try and get out of the tub. The water wasn't just water anymore and he really didn't want to lie in his own come.
Standing there in the middle of the tub, water dripping down his body into the dirty, brown soup still in the tub, he thought that yeah, that was a lot of dirt. But there was still some dirt that nothing could ever scrub clean.
There was dirt so deep in Jensen's soul, so deep in his head, in his heart, that nothing he would ever do would scrub it clean and make him all right.
He looked at his hands, and they were clean. No blood, no dirt. Same went for his chest and stomach, his thighs, his back … everything was sun-browned skin matted with freckles. Jensen wondered, sometimes when he looked at his fingers and his arms, if his mom had had freckles. Or his dad. Alineja never said, nor did his uncle, so he was in the dark there.
All he had of his real parents was a name and a t-shirt with an AC/DC logo on it. He hadn't known what AC/DC was but then his uncle had explained and … he wanted to hear a song from them. He wanted to hear music. Wanted to know why his parents had had that shirt. What had it meant to them?
He'd never know.
Stepping out of the tub, he dried himself with a towel he had found last month in some hut he stayed in up in the hills. He would have to be careful with it, not to lose it and not to overuse it because that would suck.
His clothes were where he had left them and he threw them into the tub, moved them up and down a bit, getting them nice and soaked. They'd dry over the night and maybe tomorrow he wouldn't have to walk around with blood stains and smelling of sweat. He ignored the fact that his come was also in that water, but … better that, than blood and sweat.
He put on his hoodie and some kinda sweat pants he had found in the same place he found the towel, but they were a bit too small for him, reaching only mid-calf. They would have to do and they were clean(ish).
Picking up the candle, he lit his way over to the room where he slept.
When he had found this house, he'd really hit jackpot.
The bed was a wooden plank; long enough for Jensen to spread out on, wide enough for him not to sleep on the bare floor if he rolled over in his sleep. There was a blanket; old, scratchy and half eaten by moths, and it offered no comfort, the wood was still hard and unforgiving on his back. But it was a bed in a place that he didn't have to share with sixty other people, listening to them breathing and snoring the entire night.
It wasn't safe, not by any means, but it was a place where he could get some rest, even if 'rest' was only one or two hours of deep sleep and the rest was just twisting and turning and chasing sleep while keeping one ear alert, listening to any sounds that didn't belong and the other half asleep.
The green apple was sour in his mouth, its juices running down his chin and he scooped them up with his finger. No food should go to waste. Ever, no matter how gross it looked like, no matter how sweet or how sour it tasted, food was food and it was like a new religion. Pray for food or pray for death.
Only two choices. This new world offered only two choices, and Jensen always prayed for the former.
Taking another bite, the last one, he looked at the wall across from where he was sitting on his bed. The candlelight was casting dancing shadows on the whiteness of the wall, flickering light that made them look huge with arms spread wide looking as if they were trying to devour him. Their fingers were as thin as a pencil, and as long as a snake reaching out for him, trying to touch him and …
… swallowing down the chewed meat of the apple, he lay down on the plank, blowing out the candle, snuffing out the shadows.
He didn't need any more things to haunt him.
He was a killer and a thief and he regretted nothing, he regretted nothing during daylight when other things were occupying his mind, but when night fell he could feel the darkness pushing all he had ever done, all the things that were wrong and bad down onto his chest, making it impossible to breathe. All the shadows the moon cast on the walls seemed like they were out to get him and drag him to wherever he had sent those poor souls when his knife made them bleed out or one of his arrows pierced their heart.
The nights were terror, pure and simple, and Jensen often spent them shaking and shivering from all the flashes of dead eyes, red blood and the wooosh of his arrows through the air.
But this night ... he was too tired. Full of food and sated and so tired, the fullness of his belly and the soothing feeling of the bath dragging him down to a world of dreams. If he would be lucky, the calm he was feeling wouldn't allow any nightmares to come.