Jensen's head was spinning again, his brain feeling like it had dissolved into a puddle of brain mush, his right side was throbbing now, his hands were shaking, he seriously thought that he was going to puke and the man was still talking.
Lies. Lies. Lies. And lies that felt so much like truth that Jensen did puke, but all that came up was water and some more of the apple he had eaten god knew when.
He was hungry. He was starving. But just the mere thought of food made him upchuck again.
And the man kept on talking.
Calm, slow, soothing voice, never raising it, never lowering it, just a steady cadence that was making Jensen's whole body vibrate with anger, fear, deceit, love, family, pride.
He couldn't take it anymore; couldn't take the warm sun on his tight-feeling skin anymore, couldn't take this feeling like he was going to explode from everything the man had told him.
"Okay, okay shut up!"
The Icy snapped his mouth closed and didn't even argue. Jensen guessed that the man was coming to an end of his speech.
"All right, so let me get this straight..." he washed his hand down his face and turned to look at … Jared.
"Your name's Jared, not," he took a deep breath and looked directly into Jared's eyes, "Sam. Not Sam."
"Yeah, not Sam."
"So you're the Jared, the," he swirled his finger in the air, "the man Asshole one and Asshole two were looking for. Uncle Sam, Jared … fuck, no wonder those two yahoos thought I knew you. Knew where you were."
The man actually had the nerve to look sheepish.
"And … and you're one of them, Alineja was one of them ..."
"Yes. Alineja, she … she was my baby sister. She … I … when Jamie died, when your mom died, I took you to my sister and we took care of you. I promised to your mom that nothing bad would ever happen to you. And I tried so hard to keep that promise, Jensen, I tried."
"Did you …" he shifted on the log, trying to find a better position to sit and look at … Jared … and not feel as if he was going to barf again, "… kill my mom?"
"I didn't kill her, I could never kill a human, unless provoked."
Jensen nodded, because he knew how that was. He had killed too, but only when he had to, when he had been challenged or provoked. It was just that, lately, it had seemed that he had been provoked or challenged a whole lot of times.
Humans were getting worse and worse as time went by. Meaner, harder, more driven to fight or die.
"I found her when she was giving birth to you and ... afterwards ... she died. I was just ... there. I heard her screams and I had to go look. I couldn't just walk away. And there she was and," he smiled, remembering, "she was beautiful and had freckles, just like you have and she was brave and had spunk, just like you."
"Why did you let her die?" he whispered, suddenly not able to find his voice.
"I couldn't help her, there was nothing I could've done. There was nothing anyone could've done. She was bleeding too much, she gave too much."
"Shut up, please just ..."
"She died holding you. She loved you so much, kept saying that you were her beautiful baby boy..."
"Shut up, please shut up."
Something slithered down Jensen's cheek, something wet and warm but he didn't raise his hand to wipe it away. If he'd have done that, then he might've just lain down on the ground and started wailing, the whole nine yards, but he couldn't do that. Couldn't get weak like that, because danger was all around him. Perhaps not in the form of – Jared – anymore, but other Icies or humans or nature itself.
No one was safe anywhere.
"She died, listen Jensen, she died and she gave you to me and I brought you to Alineja. I stayed with you two for as long as I could. For as long as it was safe."
"Shut up! Shut the fuck up, just shut up."
He was going crazy. He couldn't listen to this anymore, it was too much. His mom and Jared was there and then Alineja died and Jared wasn't there and his mom ... he didn't want to listen to how his mom loved him, how she had died ... he was going crazy.
"Jensen, man, listen to me..."
"Fuckin' just shut up!" he covered his ears, pushed his palms as hard as he could trying to cover himself with silence. He'd scream if he didn't know that would attract danger.
He couldn't take it anymore. Couldn't listen … he couldn't deal with all of this right now. Not after spending his whole life in deception, pretense. Being tricked by Uncle Sam, well Jared and Alineja, to believe that they were nothing but humans. But no, they had been Icies all along. He had been living with two Icies and he had never even noticed. There were tells, there were signs that humans used to spot an Icy and … he had been so blind, so thick. He had never seen what had been right at his nose. What a dumb-ass.
Not one Icy. But two. Two of them and they'd raised him.
He couldn't breathe. In the whole wide forest there was just no more air for him to fill his lungs with.
"Jensen, calm down and breathe. Calm down …"
"Don't … don't … do … that … on … me!" he gasped, waving his hand in the air, struggling to catch his breath.
"I have to, 'm sorry. We don't have time for you to take another nap, okay? So come on, just listen to me and calm yourself down."
Jensen didn't want Jared to use his Ice People mojo on him, didn't want to feel the serenity and calm emanate from Jared. He didn't want to be mind-fucked into calming down. He didn't want to be touched.
But he was. His breathing was starting to calm down, his synapses were starting to function as they should, his mind began to swim in such beautiful stillness he felt drunk in the best possible way. He squeezed his fingers around Jared's that had caught his hand and were holding him.
Just one second. One squeeze. One moment of feeling like he could let go of everything and sink into the same feeling he had always had when he had been a child.
Family. Love. Trust. Need. Peace. Silence. Warm touch whenever things got too much, too fast.
Jared's hand felt exactly like it had all those years ago, in all of those days spent walking holding hands so that he wouldn't get lost, all those nights when the world seemed the scariest and the darkest and he'd climb into his uncle's – Jared's – bed and the man would curl up around him, making Jensen lose himself in the warm embrace.
Vaguely, he thought that if Jared would've let go, he would hit the ground and knock himself out. Which, and he had to admit Jared was right, could be dangerous.
He needed to get his shit together, he couldn't get lost in these memories, these feelings. Not right now, when he was in pain and Noah was probably still somewhere, looking for him. For Jared.
Get a grip.
"Fuckin' let go of me …"
He shook his hand, making Jared let go. He didn't want to, the tendrils of repose already wrapping around every nerve ending his body possessed and he couldn't have that. He needed to stay alert, vigilant of more lies, of more trickery from Jared.
The man, and Alineja, had been fooling him for years. Thirteen years he had been living in a lie.
But the lie was what had kept him safe. Kept him alive. Kept him loved.
He stumbled up from the dead tree trunk and hit Jared again, this time his right hook connected with the man's jaw, splitting Jared's bottom lip.
Jensen watched as blood - green and thick - welled up from the wound and ran down Jared's lip, down his chin. But when Jared licked at it, the split stopped leaking and sealed up. Just like that.
Just like fucking that.
He gaped, jaw actually hanging loose, catching flies.
Green blood he knew about, because the three Icies he had presumably killed but who were apparently only playing dead, had bled some green sludge too.
But he hadn't … stayed there long enough to see the Icies heal themselves.
Oh God, oh God, oh God …
"Fuckin' stay away from me, stay … don't … don't …"
He stared at the closed wound; it was still there - a bit red – it just looked like it had been made three hours ago and not three seconds.
Jensen's eyes widened and he swayed on his feet, because this was proof. This was ... actual in his face proof. If before there was still some hope, a sliver of hope that all of this, all of this was just an illusion, a hallucination, a dream, a nightmare, something his brain conjured to make him deal with whatever was happening out in the real world … this completely shattered that hope into tiny bits.
"You are one of them. One of them and, and ... fuck, it ... it makes sense now."
It all made sense now.
He looked up and saw Jared still sitting on the log, the split lip just a red memory of a bleeding wound, there was still some green blood on Jared's chin, but …
… damn it.
"I," he swallowed and sat back down on the log, "remember all those times I took a bath and," he looked down at his bruised knuckles that were bleeding red, not green, "and you were there and your," he laughed, "your eyes reflected the water, the, the colors, when the sun hit it and ... fuck you!"
Those were memories that brought him happiness, he remembered how impressed he had been when his Uncle Sammy's eyes made all those crazy colors, and how he kept on asking if his eyes were doing the same. His uncle Sammy was a magician and he wanted to be just like him. Those were happy memories and now ... and now they weren't anymore.
"I'm sorry. We, Alineja and me," Jared hung his head and shook it, probably remembering all those years, his baby sister, him and Jensen, travelling throughout America, trying so hard to keep what was theirs, safe, "we didn't want you to know who we were. We wanted to keep you safe, keep you away from everyone, protect you."
"Bang up job you did there, Uncle Sammy, oh sorry, Jared, because Alineja is dead. Where the fuck were you!?"
"I had to run. I had to, they found me and I couldn't get to you. I'm so sorry."
"The Icies killed her," Jensen spat out, sure that spit hit Jared in his face, "they tore out her ... her spine." he whispered, because remembering her screams and the Icy pushing his entire hand into her back, yanking out her … her spine, those were memories that made so many of his nights full of nightmares. Or even sleepless.
Jared nodded: "Yeah, it's our heart crystal, the one giving us life."
"It's our life crystal, it..."
"No, just shut up, I don't wanna know, I don't wanna ... just ..."
He really did want to know, wanted to know how the hell to kill these Icy sons of bitches, but couldn't make himself listen to it. Hear it.
He could still hear Alineja's screams in his head, could still see the Icy's whole hand inside of her and could see her spine … in the Icy's hand.
When Alineja had fallen to the ground, he'd run. He'd run to the forest and never looked back, even though he'd spent so many years after that seeing that happen over and over and over again in his dreams.
He'd woken up so many times, screaming for his uncle, yelling for Alineja, but there had been no one. No one had ever answered his calls except some wild animals somewhere out there in the safe distance from the broken, little wild hunter.
"You ran." He meant it as an accusation and he didn't even flinch when Jared shuddered and closed his eyes, clasping his hands together between his knees.
"I had to run. I had to leave you two. It was the safest thing, or so I thought."
"You thought wrong, because maybe if you'd still been there, if you'd … fought … Alineja would still be alive and…"
"I know that Jensen! She was my baby sister and now she's dead! Because of me! She's dead because of me and there is nothing, nothing I can do about that! She was …" Jared swallowed "she was my baby sister, Jensen. And I miss her. And I missed you. But … I thought I was doing the right thing."
Jared's voice was tight, as if someone was squeezing his throat and he blinked, as if his eyes were burning. Jensen had never seen him cry, didn't know if he even could.
"So … we both lost, huh?" Jensen didn't know what else to say, didn't really know how to comfort someone, didn't really know how to … be warm to someone, because all those feelings and knowledge had been ripped from him alongside Alineja's spine.
"Yeah, yeah kid, we did."
They both nodded to the truth of that and looked between their legs, down to the ground.
The day was starting to get warmer with every inch the sun made on the sky. It would be a hot day, bright with only hints of clouds. Some of the old folks had told him stories of ships that had travelled up on the skies. Airplanes, they had been called, and how people would board them and sit in them while they flew across the sky for miles upon miles.
He couldn't really imagine that, flying up in the sky. It was reserved for birds of prey and clouds, the sun and the moon and the stars, not humans. Pfft.
"So … you ran too, hmm?"
Jared's voice didn't come out of the blue to him anymore. The man's presence was always there in the back of his mind now, that frustrating calmrelaxstill feeling that, when he had been a child, was just how it was. But later, he discovered the truth.
So, really … if he hadn't been such a moron, he could've connected the dots sooner and realized who his uncle and Alineja really were.
What a moron, what a fucked up moron.
"Yeah I ran. I ran and I hid and ... and they still found me."
"They'll always find you," Jared scoffed, "it'll take some time, years obviously, but they'll always find you."
"You say that like you're really, really sure of that."
"I am sure. It ... it was my Father, our Elder who," he paused, searching for the right word, "build a tracking device into humans."
"What the … what? What tracking device? What the hell are you talking 'bout?"
"Are you hungry, you probably haven't eaten in a while, I have some bread, some meat?"
"No, stop, what? No! Tell me what … what tracking device?"
"You need to eat, okay, I'll tell you when you eat and drink some water."
"You're such a frustrating asshole."
Jared just smiled at that and went to grab a bottle half full of water and two slices of bread with some pink salami poking out.
The water was amazing and the little sandwich tasted like the best thing he had ever had.
"Explain." he prompted, losing a small chunk of bread that fell out of his open mouth.
"Don't talk with your mouth full."
"Stop telling me what to do!"
"Stop acting like an idiot."
He finished his sandwich and flickered all the bread crumbs off of his lap: "Just … let's not fight okay? I'm tired and …" grimacing at the crusted puke and blood and probably some piss too that was caked to the sweat-pants. He would need to find new pants.
"What? Jensen? Jensen, how're you feeling?"
"Don't … don't go all concerned on me, okay. 'm fine, just my right side kinda hurts."
"Kinda? Jensen, listen to me really carefully, okay?"
Uh-uh, this wouldn't end in anything good, Jensen could tell, because Jared was abandoning his seat by his right side and coming to crouch before him, looking up at Jensen with eyes wide and soft, and hands probably just itching to touch him. Check for fever or some touchy-feely crap like that.
It felt as if he had his uncle back. All that concern, all that protectiveness that always got concentrated on the man's face, whenever there was something wrong. Whenever a problem arose and needed to be fixed.
"Did whatever Ashil did to you, did it feel cold or hot?"
"I don't ..."
He didn't really understand the question. Hot or cold? It just felt really fucking painful, that's how it felt.
"Jensen, this is important. Did it feel cold or hot?"
"I don't know, it just felt really fuckin' painful."
"I know it hurt, but did it … did it burn you like fire or feel cold like ice?"
"I don't remember, man, cut it out. I don't know!"
"Try, please, you gotta try here. Was it cold or was it hot?"
He didn't know and what did it matter anyway? It was done, he got out, he was just feeling some pain that would pass soon. All pain passes soon. He just needed to rest, recuperate and then he'd be in fighting and killing form again.
"I don't know," he shrugged "both I guess. Maybe."
"Couldn't be both, Jensen. One or the other."
He was starting to freak out now, because Jared got that look. That look that often told Jensen there was trouble ahead, but that everything would be okay because his uncle would be there. That look that was part worry and part fear so strong it always made Jared's eyes widen and his voice get even softer.
The side effect of all of that was the calmness that Jared's body projected onto Jensen, and it made Jensen so relaxed that he couldn't even care that there might be something wrong with him. Severely wrong with him, because no one just escaped from the Icies un-scattered now, did it? No. No one, or at least no one that he had heard of. Escape was only possible by death or slavery. Or so the rumors said, but fuck rumors, because obviously those were a load of crap. A huge, huge load of crap.
There was no truth to be found anywhere. About anything, apparently.
What a fucked up world, with a fucked up population.
"Jensen, you with me?"
"Yeah, 'm with you, I just don't know. It just burned, okay?
"Yes, burned, it felt like it was burning me up, but cold like. Like," he was trying to come up with some decent comparison, something that wouldn't make Jared ask a billion more questions, "when you fall into a really cold water, ya know? It's, I don't know, cold, but burns."
Something shifted in Jared's eyes. Something made him look down to the ground for a fraction of a second, and then his eyes were back on Jensen's.
"You ... uh, you remember that?"
"Huh, remember what?"
"When, uhh, when you fell into the lake?"
"What lake? What? No, I don't ..." he looked at Jared, uncle Sam, no, Jared and ... maybe, if he tried really hard he could vaguely – in bits and pieces - remember crystal clear water, lots of it all around him, inside him. He could remember really bright light before stars exploded in front of his eyes. All those beautiful, soothing stars among all that crystal clear bright water.
And arms; strong, tight, unrelenting, squeezing him around his whole body pushing him up and up until there was nothing but air all around him. Air and light and water lapping at his neck.
"I fell into a lake ... I ... kinda ... remember, just water everywhere and this really bright light and arms … everything was burning cold. My skin … it was cold."
"It's okay, it doesn't matter right now. What does matter is how you felt when Ashil had you. Did it feel like with the lake? Can you remember that?"
"Yeah, yeah like that. Cold but, but burning."
"All right, okay, okay, I mean I can still sense you in my mind, so they didn't hurt you ..."
"Didn't hurt me?"
"Not in the way that matters, which is good, really good. But they still did something. Damnit, I should've checked this the second I dragged you out of there. Shit."
Pissed off Jared? Scary. Extremely scary. He had seen his uncle – Jared angry only two times. Just two times, but those times were tattooed into his mind and he'd never forget them. Could never forget them.
"Okay, hey, calm down, Uncle Sam," he closed his mouth. No. No, that wasn't what he wanted to say. It … this wasn't Uncle Sam anymore. This was Jared. An Icy.
But it made a small smile appear on Jared's face and … okay. Okay. It was okay.
"Can you show me?"
"I … uh … what?"
He followed Jared's index finger that was pointing somewhere in the direction of his groin.
"Your right side, can you lift up your shirt and show me. Really low down, by your hip."
"Oh, yeah, yeah… okay."
Fumbling with the end of his shirt, he finally managed to get a good grip of it, his fingers shaking and what was that all about? and lifted it up.
He looked down and couldn't see anything. He could just see his abs, freckles, a bit too pale skin, but eh, and nothing else, until Jared touched him. Way low by his hip, right there where he was ticklish and he squirmed.
"I don't think that ever goes away, man." He smiled and looked back at where Jared was pressing his finger into the skin a bit further up than his hip bone.
"Does it hurt if I press?"
"What do you think?"
"Sharp pain, or just pain or … I don't know, just tell me how it feels."
"When Ashil, that was his name, right? The one you killed?"
"Yeah, that was his name."
"When Ashil was … demanding answers, it felt like needles, like something sharp, I remember that. And well I guess it burned cold, no hot, so," he shrugged, "you tell me, man."
Jared pursed his lips, getting his 'thinky' face on. That face looked exactly as it had when his uncle had been teaching him math and grammar and reading and history and geography and – oh God, this was really his uncle.
Jensen had seen a lot of crap in his life, a lot of blood and grime and gore, a lot of destruction and darkness, seen what people were capable of, seen what the Icies were capable of, but he had never seen anyone fake to be someone else. Not this realistically. Not with so many memories. Not with so many of the same facial expressions and body mannerisms.
Maybe the Icies were capable of shifting into someone else, but memories? How could they replicate memories? Emotions? The smell, the exact tone of voice, the exact look in someone's eyes?
They both looked at each other, the pad of Jared's finger still pressed to Jensen's skin.
"You … I hate you so much for leaving us." He whispered.
"I know and you have every right to hate me, you do, okay, and I'm so, so sorry for running away, I thought that I could lead Noleih away from you two …"
"… it didn't work."
"No, it didn't."
"Who is he anyway?"
"He's … he's my brother."
"He's … he's … what now?"
"My brother. We're … we're all brothers and sisters."
"You're all … all the Icies?"
"Yeah, all of us. We …" he shook his head, "you know what? Let's focus on you right now, and then I'll tell you."
"I don't wanna focus on me, you owe me explanations, you owe me so damn much, man I'm having a really hard time not bashing your head in."
"Jensen, look, I know, okay, but you're not okay, Noleih and Ashil did something to you and we need to … I need to know what it was."
Jared was scared, that much was obvious to Jensen. The man was scared of something and whatever it was, it was probably something pretty horrible.
Was he gonna die? What the fuck did Noah and his gorilla do to him?
"Yeah, okay, yeah … I …" don't wanna die, went unsaid, but if this was his uncle, then the man knew exactly what was being left unsaid. He looked down at his stomach, raising his shirt up even more and scooting a bit closer to the edge of the tree trunk, extending his lower part, offering Jared more room to see whatever the man thought he would see.
Because Jensen saw nothing, just his skin that was a bit dirty; blood and puke would do that to a man, but otherwise, nothing.
"Are you looking for something … uh, specific?"
Jared was quiet, a frown on his face and bangs of sweaty hair in his eyes and it was really starting to freak Jensen out. He could feel and see Jared's fingers probe all around his hip, and a bit further up, but still below his ribs.
He was starting to feel mighty uncomfortable, being poked down there.
"Jensen, can you look at me for a second?"
His fingers tightened in the fabric of his shirt and his eyes snapped up from his belly to Jared, because this was it. This was the part where the man would tell him that he would die in the next thirty seconds.
"Good, now just keep looking at me, okay."
He couldn't speak, didn't know what to say, all words just got sucked into a black hole in his brain and he couldn't pull them back. He didn't want to die, not after coming such a long way. He was twenty-three already, and if he could just reach the ripe age of thirty-five(ish) then that would be okay. But not … not this young.
He watched as Jared folded his long legs from his crouch down to the ground, tucked his shins under him, leaned on them and then rose up. Even like that, he was still taller than Jensen, coming eye to eye with him, although Jensen suspected it had more to do with the tree trunk being so low to the ground than Jared being that tall. Stupid tree trunk.
"Okay, just keep your eyes on me, man okay? Don't look down, don't look at what I'm doing, just eyes on me, buddy, okay."
"What're," he breathed, "you gonna do?" His voice sounded raspy, like he just swallowed a fistful of pebbles, but it wasn't that. It was fear, it was the desire to trust this man and a want to not trust him and combined with what had happened in the last couple of hours, he thought that he should've been feeling way more and way worse.
Damn that Icy's mojo.
"Hey, I'm still your uncle, I'm still the man you knew, nothing has changed, just my name. Trust me Jensen. Just trust me here, man."
He licked his lips, never moving his eyes off of Jared's. Those were his uncle's eyes, that was his uncle's face just like it had been all those years ago, that was his uncle's voice, that was his uncle.
Who just happened to be an Icy. The enemy. The killer and the destroyer.
"Okay, okay, yeah ... I ... I can do that."
"All right, just look at me ... that's it."
Jensen could feel Jared pressing his finger into a spot on his side, deeper and deeper to the point where it was starting to hurt a bit.
He breathed out: "What're you doing?" not daring to blink, not daring to lose contact with his uncle's eyes.
"Does this hurt?"
Jared pressed in even harder, digging his finger deeper into his side, until there was no way it could go even further.
He stuttered a groaned: "S-stop…" and grabbed Jared's right shoulder, fisting the man's shirt.
It hurt as if a spike was going through him and he couldn't stop himself from falling forward and gripping Jared's shirt with his teeth instead of his fist. He had to muffle his scream somehow and he would rather bite Jared than his own hand. The man would heal in no time, while he would probably die of infection or something equally dumb.
"Okay man, okay, I'm done. It's done."
He was panting and drooling all over Jared's shoulder and didn't even notice when Jared had stopped doing what-the-fuck-ever he'd been doing and started hugging him instead.
He felt like a child. He felt exactly as he had so many years ago, safe in Alineja's or Uncle Sammy's arms. Whenever he had been sick, whenever he had cried, whenever he was tired and fussy and wanted to sleep. Whenever he was hungry or thirsty, all those Fridays when it rained like the sky was falling, all those days when he couldn't remember how his mom was described to him by Alineja and uncle.
"Stop, please," he begged, because he didn't need this, didn't want to be comforted, didn't deserve it and just one more second of this and he'd lose it, "just don't."
"All right, its fine."
He nodded and raised his head because he didn't want to lose it. He didn't want to scream and rage and cry and do all of the things that he only did whenever he could dunk his head under water and let himself go.
He couldn't do that here, with Jared.
"What did you do?"
"I just had to check if … if your, uh, tracking device, is still there. I mean I can sense you, but," he smirked, "we Icies are deceivers, aren't we, so … who knows what Noleih did. Although, I think I know what he did."
"Please, don't let me stop you from sharing."
He was out of breath, his side hurting like he just got stabbed, his brain feeling fried, his emotions were all over the place but it was good to know that he wouldn't be dying in the next few seconds. That was good.
"He," he snorted, "he called me."
"He called you?"
"Yeah … they, I mean Ashil, he didn't actually do anything to you, he just … pushed the right button and I responded."
"Just fucking tell me what this button is. What this tracking device is, how were you called?"
A few birds flew out of some bushes nearby, a flock of them, big and black screeching all the while they flew up to the sky.
They turned their heads to the noise, Jensen standing up and leaning on Jared's side, both standing side by side.