He knew he was sleeping, he knew that, because out there in the real world, colors like these didn't exist, not even in the Icies' eyes. They were surreal, both bright and dark, shades of grays turning into purple and to green and into blackness that spilled all across dim blue. Couldn't tell where he was – or where he wasn't – couldn't tell if he was standing or flying, there were just colors all around him, seeping into him through every hole his body possessed, every pore, through his eyes and his hair. All around him, everywhere, just like those shadows had been before colors stole the show.
His heartbeat was slow and steady – the beat of it so loud around him, as if he was standing inside his heart – his breathing nice and easy too. Sleeping, with nothing in his mind or on his mind, except just how much he wanted to touch the lines of colors surrounding him, how much he wanted those shadows back, how much he wanted to hear them whistle and sing around him.
How much he wanted to feel safe again, wanted, needed – loved. Not petrified beyond belief, not angry, not sad or suffocating under the weight of grief and loss.
He wanted those shadows back, but knew they were lost to him. Maybe forever, but definitely for quite a while.
He listened to himself breathe out and suck air back in that sounded suspiciously like a snore which vibrated through his whole body. Shook it right to its core but when he breathed out, everything slotted back to place. Even the wavy strings of color started to dance around him slower.
The shadows took away the bad dreams and left him with this and he was so grateful he didn't know if he was crying or laughing. Couldn't feel his mouth nor his eyes, but he could feel the absence of things that brought forth nightmares. There were no voices screaming and pleading him to spare their lives, no eyes going dim and losing sparks of life, no blood-stains spreading on solid chests. No Alineja crying and bucking under Noah's strong grip. Not a trace of anger he felt for Jared abandoning him. Nothing there for him to dream about that would make him shout himself into wakefulness, nothing there behind his closed eyes to make him sweat and pant. No regret for what was and what had been, no fear or anger in him to make him wake up and reach for his knife to draw blood and cause death.
Even the feeling of constant loneliness was gone, replaced by one of belonging. He belonged now; to the Icies, to the humans, to the shadows, to the stars, to Jared and to Odie. To family.
He was sailing on a wave of calmness; like whatever pit that had swallowed him somewhere along the way had spat him out and the world around him was filled with a sense of rightness now. Everything felt good around him, felt as it should be.
A straight, delicate thread of red touched his forearm, wove itself around it, squeezing so tight he could feel it sink through the skin and flesh to the bone and he screamed.
He opened his eyes to a blurry sight of the stalactites threatening to pierce his chest. Maybe that would be better than the agony he could feel right now.
He cried out when he tried to move; the pain shooting up his arms from the tips of his fingers to the top of his shoulders.
"Ahhh, God, fuuuck!"
He snapped his eyes close and tried to breathe through this; this whatever it was that was making him nauseas and lightheaded.
He tried to roll towards the cavern's entrance, to see where his uncle and Odie had gone, but all he could do was roll to his left then to his right and then back onto his back, screaming whenever his arms came to contact with the bear fur underneath him.
Bringing his legs up, knees touching his chest, he tried to push his arms to his chest, put some pressure on the wounded forearms because they were agony. Pure agony; throbbing in time with his heartbeat, pulsing with each breath he took.
His spine felt like it was splitting open, fissures appearing from where he'd bleed to death, as this was feeling exactly as if he was dying.
Biting his lower lip with his canines he could feel it coming this close to breaking and he didn't need more blood to spill out of him; he needed his blood, needed it to keep him alive.
When he released his lip, he panted: "Oh God, oh God, oh God, oh God …" trying not to bite his tongue off. It was an effort to stop himself but he did it by turning his head and biting down at the foul smelling fur instead. He didn't care about the taste that exploded in his mouth – nasty, nasty, nasty - as long as he didn't hurt himself even more.
He pressed his teeth together, munching on the coarse, thick hair, trying not to die.
He couldn't uncurl himself, couldn't do it, the pain screaming at him to hide, hide, hide, so he pressed his forearms closer to his chest with his thighs and crushed the bear's hair with his teeth.
There were noises spilling through his clenched teeth and lips, noises not even the bear fur could stop; whimpers and moans that turned into groans and screams that came out from the throat.
A heavy, warm hand on his shoulder made him flinch and release the disgusting fur only to cry out and curl even deeper into himself. He knew the hand hadn't wanted to cause pain, but it did exactly that.
"Hey, hey, hey, 's just me…"
Even the whispering voice was too much, vibrations setting off new waves of pain.
"Come on, come on …"
The hand wasn't having any of his hiding and pulled and pushed until he was lying on his left side. Another hand gripped his knees, uncurling him with a steady pressure, getting his legs away from his chest and down. He had no choice but to uncurl himself and put his arms down on the bear, gasping for air that was obviously sucked right out of the cavern, because … there was just no air.
"Jensen, hey, hey, hey, 's okay. Just breathe, come on."
"Hey, come on, just breathe. It's just the memory of pain, okay, you just have to ride it out. Come on, it'll go away, come on."
"What," he gasped and sniffled, "didja do?"
"You know what I did, now come on, just breathe through it. 'm not kidding here, Jensen, come on."
Jared's fingers were digging themselves into his burning – or so it felt - bicep and he breathed with them; squeeze, breathe in, release, breathe out, squeeze, breathe in, release, breathe out, squeeze, breathe in, release, breathe out.
The pain was fading, sailing away slowly but surely at least so much that he was able to begin to breathe in and out without wheezing and spots appearing before his eyes.
"What, damn, ow, God, fuck … uhhh…"
He slowly rolled onto his back and looked up at Jared who was leaning over him, hands reaching out to touch him again.
"Don't you touch me, don't you dare, I'll cut your hands off, I swear."
"Look at your arms."
He didn't really want to look at them, didn't want to see what kinda damage had to be done to them to make him feel like this. He imagined them be torn apart, clawed down to the bone, skinned or chopped up or worse – missing altogether.
If he'd ever lose his arms … then he was as good as dead, because in this world being armless was the same as being headless.
"Come on, just look at 'em."
He tried to shake his head 'no', whisper out a broken 'no', turn onto his other side and rock himself to sleep, but his uncle had other plans and before he knew it, his forearms were being held in a gentle cradle and brought to his eyes.
"See, nothing there. They're fine."
There really was no other choice for him but to look at them. Look at how they were exactly as they'd always been; a bit pale, freckled, with brown/blond hair and … black-blue dots close to both his wrists.
Two tiny pinpricks … he remembered now. He knew now.
"Mmmh think 'm gonna be sick."
Jared scoffed close to his ear: "No puking allowed, besides you wanted to leave, right?" and slowly placed his arms back down to the bear skin.
"'s still raining. We'll leave tomorrow."
Now that he saw what his arms looked like, saw that they were okay and not mangled or missing, the pain was residing, not burning him up like before. He didn't know how it was possible that he wasn't all black and blue up his whole forearms, but maybe it was because he was half half. Maybe the Icy side of him was healing him. Maybe. He could ask, but he was too tired. Too tired to waddle through any answers Jared might've given him.
"Uh, it is tomorrow."
But, but that would mean he slept for a very, very long time.
"What time's it?"
"Morning, I think … haven't been outside."
"Shit …" he tried to get up from the ground, but fell back down, balance shot to shit, feeling tired and dizzy and this close to passing out. Pain shot through his arms again, but he could handle that now – now that he knew everything was working okay, because he could move his fingers, could move his arms. Strange what a little knowledge could do to a person.
"Okay, food first and then we're leaving," he didn't move his head away when Jared placed his palm down on his forehead, just rolled his eyes upwards to see the side of Jared's palm: "good, no fever."
"Were we expecting fever?"
"No, just … doesn't hurt to be careful."
"So, how you feelin'?"
"Besides my arms?"
"Feel fine, I don't know, just the usual aches and pains, ya know?"
Jared nodded again: "But … inside?"
His uncle's hand on his forehead made him feel like a small child that he wasn't anymore. He wasn't the kid his uncle raised up, he wasn't, but it damn sure felt nice to remember those days.
The stalactites, even so high up, were bathed with the light of the fires coming from the torches Odie had set up all over the cavern, drawing his attention. He felt … it felt …
"I don't know." He whispered up to the pointy hanging rocks, not daring to look at his uncle.
"What did you dream about?"
He huffed: "Colors, lots of 'em."
It was easier to talk up at the ceiling than directly to his uncle. The ceiling had no eyes and couldn't see him, see inside of him, see how he was.
He'd been deconstructed, he knew that now. The shadows had pulled him apart, cell after cell, stripped him of all that had plagued him ever since Alineja had died, hell, ever since he'd woken up and his uncle wasn't there to say "morning" to him. The shadows had taken his rage, all his sorrow, all the pain and loss and fear away and rebuilt him. He could still feel it all, but it was just residue.
The shadows had taken what he gave them and took care of it, he just hoped that he had given enough. Noah was strong, he'd probably be able to find even the tiniest and most stupid things and twist and turn them. Like his distaste for carrots.
"You can feel it, can't you?"
Jared's voice was wonder and curiosity all stuffed into something hoarse and Jensen nodded: "Yeah, can still feel it, but … 's like it's hidden. There, but out of my reach, you know? Hope that'll be enough."
"Yeah, we'll see," he whispered and then added as an afterthought: "There're things that I can't feel anymore at all."
"You said to leave it with the shadows, said no one would ever know."
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't've asked."
"'s okay. Curiosity is a … a thing."
"Okay, now paws off me," wincing and hissing he raised up his right arm and pushed his uncle's palm off his forehead, "let's get some food and then leave."
"Sure you're good?"
"Okay then, sounds like a plan."
He rolled his eyes: "It is a plan."
"Need some help getting up?"
"Naw, I feel … better now."
"Yeah … better."
He did feel better, lighter. The shit he'd left in the darkness, the horror he'd given gave to the shadows made him feel lighter, brighter, sharper. Made him feel like he could do anything and walk on air. It was weird and it would definitely require some getting used to. He'd never felt so free, unburdened by loss and the need to be better and stronger. It was liberating to feel something without really feeling it. He just really hoped that Noah wouldn't exploit his other fears; the carrot one or the fear of dead fish. That would suck.
He stumbled on legs unsure of what they were supposed to be doing to the stony table where Odie was busy placing some jars of various sizes and colors on.
"Wild strawberry jam. It's red, not blue, not dark. But red. Like," Odie licked his chapped lips, and Jensen could've sworn the old Icy's eyes turned purple-green-blue for a split second, "blood."
"Odie, uh, would you mind packing us some water? Some bread if you can spare? Maybe apples?"
"Oh, oh yes, yes, of course, Jared. Of course. Will do that right away, right now, right away."
Jensen wasn't completely sure, but he had a vague feeling that he was missing something here. But then again, Odie was a weird fella anyway. Everything around the guy was strange, even though this was a bit stranger.
"Why must you leave? Why, why, why? You stay, please stay, you can stay, it's okay. Noleih won't hurt me. Please stay, please, pleasepleaseplease."
"Odie, we can't stay. Noleih is, he's dangerous, we can't lead him to you. I won't lead him to you, I can't do that to you, do you understand? I have to keep you safe, protect you, just like you did when I was … when I was dying. Okay? Do you understand?"
"I do, I do, do, do, do but I don't want to. Don't want to, please just stay, Jared, my King, please stay, please. Don't go."
Jared's sighed words were born out of frustration, but there was patience in them too: "Odie, please listen to me. Please go back to the cave, stay in there and you'll know when to come out. You know you will." Jensen couldn't help but wonder how there could be so much patience. No one could have that much patience and if Jensen were in Jared's place, he'd lose his shit hours ago.
"I know, I know, I do, I really do, I promise I'll hide, I'll hide, I will, I swear. I'll go and and be in my cave and come out when it's done. When it's all done, I'll come out then and go to sleep, right? We'll go to sleep? We will, right? Jared? Right?"
"We'll go to sleep, my brother. You'll have a spot right next to me, I swear on my Father's crystals."
That made Odie's eyes start to glisten and a tear slid down the wrinkly, leather like skin: "All right, okay, I'll go now. Keep safe, please keep safe, please, stay safe. Just safe, please."
Jensen watched with a knot in his throat as Jared hugged Odie, hugged his brother tight enough to crush bones and then held the old Icy at arm's length, his voice steady and strong, worthy of a King as he said: "We'll stay safe."
And that was his cue he figured, didn't really know for sure, he wasn't one for saying goodbyes. He was terrible at those, because he never actually said goodbyes to anyone in his life before. He couldn't have said goodbye to Alineja, he never said goodbye to his uncle, because the man had just disappeared one day. He had no friends to say goodbye to and all the people he had come into contact with were traders or people he'd killed. Maybe he could count his hookups as people he said goodbye to, but normally he just slid out of bed after the chick he'd been with fell asleep and …left. No goodbyes there either.
"Uh, so well … Odie, it's been … something, huh?"
He was not expecting the willowy man to all but lunge himself at him, wrapping those twig like arms around him, nearly knocking him off his feet.
His first thought was about his bow and quiver, if he man was strong enough to break anything of that. Then he thought of his knife and if Odie might cut himself with that but then reflex kicked in and he carefully hugged the Icy back.
"Stay safe, kiddo, safe, okay? You must be safe and talk to Noleih, must make him see reason, make him go back to sleep with us. Keep Jared safe, right, pleasepleaseplease keep Jared safe! Please!"
He swallowed: "I will, trust me. Things'll be okay." and looked at Jared who was standing a few feet away, hands at his waist. There were no emotions on his uncle's face, none, it was a blank canvas with brown eyes, brown hair and thin lips. But there was a deep nod when Jensen clapped Odie's back two times and then tried to let go. Tried being the operative word here, because Odie was reluctant to let him go, holding onto him tighter for a few more seconds and he was actually starting to feel a bit faint. The man's strength was unbelievable, pressing down on his lungs, making him gasp with short breaths.
"Odie, let go, I can't breathe."
"Sorry, sorry, sorry, you okay? You okay? 'm sorry, kiddo, so sorry."
"It's okay, Odie," he smiled, "no harm done."
"Leave Noleih okay, make him get okay, please. Keep him safe too. Safe, just safe, please, please, don't hurt him. Nobody get hurt, please, I forbid it."
Jensen quirked his lips; he wasn't sure that Odie's 'I forbid it' tactic would work with this particular matter, but he could play along: "Well Odie if you put it like that, then 'm sure no one would get hurt."
"Don't you make fun of me, puke boy. Don't you, silly goose who pukes and pees all over the place, don't you dare."
He smiled at the stern look that washed over Odie's face before those chapped lips formed a smile and that twig-like arm swatted at his chest.
"Hhh-ow, that hurts."
He wasn't exaggerating, it really did hurt. The man might look as if a light breeze could knock him over, but the strength there was uncanny.
"Now promise, promise, promise you won't hurt our brother. Promise."
He clenched his jaw, because hell no, he wouldn't keep Noleih safe, that bastard was going down one way or another, but for Odie, for the old man who had seen so much, who had lost so much - he could lie. He was good at lying anyway so what would be one more lie in a pot of many? Nothing.
He clasped Odie's shoulder, pulling back the strength with which he wanted to squeeze the bone and said: "I promise, Odie," with as much seriousness as he could muster up in his voice.
He was wrong. It wasn't nothing; as soon as the words came out of his mouth, a sting hit his chest, his heart feeling as if it had been stepped on and pulverized. Odd. Very odd. He had lied so many times, to so many people on so many occasions, and he thought that he could say this lie right then too, just like that, without even blinking, but no, it stung. It stung him really deep.
"Keep Jared safe, keep him safe. We can't lose him again, Jensen, kiddo, please keep him safe. Keep yourself safe. Don't get hurt, don't allow Jared to get hurt, please."
Odie's eyes were filling with tears again while the previous set hadn't even dried yet and it was awkward. Just awkward; he'd never been around so many tears before, the last time he'd seen anyone really cry – besides Odie – was Ely. She'd cried and bled and he hadn't been able to do anything about it but whisper sorry until she'd cried herself to sleep. That had been uncomfortable as hell and since then he rather looked for sex with more 'experienced' girls.
Ely was probably dead now.
He shook his head: "I will, I swear."
That one didn't sting at all. Didn't feel like a lie either. It just felt … right to say that he'd never allow anything to happen to Jared and he knew that his uncle would never allow anything to happen to him either.
"Goodbye, goodbye Jensen, goodbye kiddo. See you when we say sleep tight, Jared, yes. See you then? See you both at sleep tight, sweet dreams, yeah? See you then? Under the ocean, under the ice? See you then?"
"Yeah Odie, count on it."
It felt strange to just turn around then and leave the old man standing there, by the mouth of the cave. Felt like abandoning him, felt like leaving him to loneliness and emptiness.
But they had to go. No looking back, even if they could hear Odie sobbing as quietly as he could behind their backs.
Jensen concentrated on the dense forest stretching before him and as he glanced at Jared, he could see that his jaw was clenched tight.
"He'll be okay, right?"
"Yeah, he'll be fine, Jensen."
The words felt hollow, untrue, but there was nothing they could do about it.
Jensen understood why they had to leave. Odie might be a strong son of a bitch but he'd probably be no match to Noleih and Jensen was sure that Noleih wouldn't leave Odie alive, no matter that they were brothers. No matter how much Odie would plead and beg and forbid. The old man was naïve enough to think that Noleih felt any kinda of sympathy or love towards him … Jensen huffed. Fat chance of that.
While he'd been with Noleih he'd seen saw murder in his eyes, seen blood and fire and desire to kill anything coming across his path. And while Jensen had worn his anger and rage on his sleeve, for anyone to see and call him on it, Noleih kept it hidden; like a volcano waiting to erupt and when it did … the lava and the ash and the smoke would kill anyone and anything close enough.
Nolieh was a mad, mad man. His soft voice and soft eyes, so much like Jared's, were a façade. A cage that hid an animal ready to leap out and rip things apart.
But Odie would never understand that, no matter how hard anyone would try to explain it to him. Jensen understood that; family could be a bag of crazy, but love made people blind to it.
Odie was blind and crazy and loved his brother and believed in him and that was okay with Jensen. That was fine, because he would kill Noleih before the lunatic would have any chance to even think about Odie existing.
"How far are we gonna go?"
"The other side of the mountain should be far enough. Noleih'll come no matter where we call for him. He'll come."
The lake was a white, sparkling mass hidden between the trees and they went towards it and the mountain flanking it on the other side.
Odie had packed them some bread and a jar of jam and even some apples that Jensen would start chewing on as soon as they'd stop for the night. He needed to clean his teeth so badly, he was going crazy with it - his tongue couldn't stop licking the gross fuzz on 'em.
The old man had even gotten them five bottles of clean rainwater that now sat real heavy in Jared's backpack, the machete they'd found on the dead kid weighting the backpack even more. But at least now, even Jared had some sort of protection, even if he could protect himself from humans just fine with his bare hands. Icies however, well … a machete wouldn't stop them, but it sure would hurt them.
It would be a long way across the steep mountain terrain, but Jensen agreed. They needed to keep Odie safe.
He was family and Jensen couldn't say that for Noleih. That man was just a fly for Jensen to swat at and explode its guts all over a table.
And no, that wasn't rage nor anger. It was just simple fact.
The lake was still frozen – although after all Jensen had been through he kind of expected to see water - and it would probably never unfreeze again, not in Jensen's life time and probably for many centuries to come, if ever at all. The ice looked solid enough but he wouldn't chance it. He had fallen in once, he wasn't gonna fall in twice.
Jensen tapped his knife, making sure it was still there and cleared his throat: "So, when I fell into the lake? Did … I die or … something?"
He wanted to talk – and think - about something other than Noleih, something other than what would happen once they'd settle down on the other side of the tall, broad mountain that was stretching almost all along the northern shore of the lake. It was magnificent, beautiful even, but Jensen knew that climbing up it and then descending down would be a bitch.
"No, you didn't die." Jared whispered.
"Can we just … not play these games anymore? Just tell me what happened. I promise I won't go berserk on you, because apparently I can't do that anymore."
Jared smiled: "You can still feel anger, you can get angry, you know. Noleih just won't be able to use it, abuse it, build on it."
"Okay, but still … answer my question."
"I don't know what you mean."
"You're hiding something."
"You sure you wanna know?"
"Yeah, I wanna know, damn it, Jared. Just … I wanna know everything. It's my life, damn it I wanna know, okay, so just … tell me."
"Okay. And no, you didn't drown, didn't die, because I saved you."
He rolled his eyes and snapped: "I already know that, tell me something I don't know."
"I saved you by … I saved you by pushing my finger into your lungs. Making you breathe. You weren't … you weren't breathing so I … my crystal … it connected somehow with the ones in you and … I was going on instinct, you know? I just … you weren't breathing and I thought that I couldn't harm you any more than you already were so I just … you know" Jared made a stabbing motion with his index finger, "… and it worked."
Jensen stepped before Jared and halted him almost mid step by his hand on the broad, hard chest: "Whoa, whoa, whoa I'm sorry, what? Back up here a few words. What do you mean ones? Ones as in plural? As in more than the one in my finger? What? Why … why didn't you … fuck you. Just fuck you, all right? After all this, after everything you both told me, after yesterday and the shadows and just fucking everything, now you're saying there's more crystals in me?"
Well, apparently he really could still get pissed, just the need to stab Jared was gone. Huh.
"Jensen, stop, hey stop. Look, I don't know for sure if there's more crystals in you, okay? We'd have to cut you open and look, okay? Do you understand? We'd have to dissect you, look at your insides and, and search for bones to see, all right?
Jensen nodded and bunched up Jared's shirt into a tight fist.
"All I know for sure is that you do have a crystal in your hand, your right one, I touched it yesterday, connected you and me. You following me, here?"
His mouth was as dry as the damn Rio Grande: "Yeah …"
"So you were going on blind faith?"
"I had to do something. I couldn't," he watched Jared look down at their feet, hair covering his eyes, "I couldn't let you die."
He squeezed Jared's shirt with his fingers even tighter, wanting to rip it apart just because, and then rapped at his uncle's chest with his knuckles a few times and let go. The shirt remained bunched up, wrinkly.
"Yeah. Uh, yeah, okay."
He took a step back and squeezed the bridge of his nose with his fingers.
Of course it would make sense that he had more crystals in him, he couldn't just have one or two that belonged to his other side. Of course not, but hell if it didn't feel really bizarre to know that inside of him, somewhere, at some place, bone wasn't bone but crystal.
He threw down his bow, struggled out of the strap that held the quiver and raised up his shirts, looking at the spot where his lungs were. He ran his hands up and down the area, but couldn't find any … holes, any scars. It was just skin as it had always been. As he ran his hand up and down his chest, he wondered if any of his ribs were made of crystals.
"You won't find anything. 's all healed up now, but there was a hole. But it healed up really good."
"But you pushed … a crystal … into my lungs. Into my damn lungs, how the hell didn't they like, I don't know, collapse? Or filled up with water or some shit?"
"I did and 'm not sorry, Jensen. 'm sorry about a lot of things, but that ain't one of 'em. And I think you being part … us … helped."
He was still sliding his hand up and down his smooth chest, searching for any scars, but there was nothing that would scream 'a crystal went into you right here'.
"Let's move on, come on, Jensen."
He was still standing there, shirts pulled up to his chin, running his trembling fingers across the whole expand of his chest, thinking of where all the crystals were hiding.
Jared was a hundred or so feet away already when he finally pulled down his shirts, grabbed the bow and quiver and ran after him.
He'd been right, hiking up the mountain was a bitch but at least this time he was nearing a goal, he was getting closer and closer to actually doing something, making something happen. Maybe even putting the end to all of this. Giving people a fighting chance to rebuild life without living in fear that the Icies would find them and slaughter them just because they existed.
The sun was making the little pebbles - and the not so little pebbles that were forming the passage across the mountain - shine and reflect the bright light. He held his head down, feeling his nape getting sunburned, but there was nothing he could do about that. Let it get burned, whatever. He was tired and thirsty and his arms still ached a bit and the pebbles were starting to look like little stars with each step he took.
Stars. Millions and millions of them, right there under his feet. Right there under his torn up sneakers – he'd need to get (steal) some new shoes soon – millions of tiny, white, shiny stars.
He was just putting one foot in front of the other, step by step by step, the repetition of movement lulling him into his mind where his thoughts weren't loaded with all the things that had weighted him down ever since his uncle had left.
He remembered what had happened yesterday, remembered the dark hole sucking him in, the stars exploding with tiny bursts of light, and the shadows. The giggling, whistling, singing shadows that were telling him to let everything go - no worries anymore, Jensen.
And then the pain, the god-awful pain that had hit him from nowhere, chasing away all the shadows.
The pebbles were like beacons; calling for him to come closer, come nearer and he was able to feel himself starting to hunch lower and lower and lower, the tips of his fingers already skimming the ground, when he slipped and caught himself with his right hand, skinning his palm and the underside of his fingers. But the pain was sharp enough to get him back to the here and now.
"Jensen, you all right?"
He looked at his torn palm; blood and white sand and ragged skin. And something blue-green glittering beneath his ring finger. He didn't skin it down to the bone, so the crystal was just peeking at him, but it was there. It was definitely there.
He brought his hand closer to his eyes and blinked.
"I'm okay," he breathed out, "'m fine."
"You sure? You look a bit pale. You hurt yourself?"
"I'm fine, just … skinned my palm. Had worse, its fine."
He looked at Jared, who was a bit higher up the trail and nodded. He couldn't explain to anyone, not even to himself, why he didn't tell his uncle about the crystal he could see. In his finger. Right there. Covered in blood, yeah, but still visible, still very blue-green. It wasn't as if Jared didn't know there was a crystal there, it wasn't as if they hadn't just talked about all this a few hours ago. But he just couldn't … say it. Saying it, showing the crystal to his uncle would make it real. For real real.
"I'm sure, let's go on."
He wiped the blood onto his pants and looked back at the finger.
"Wanna rest some?"
"Uh … yeah, yeah sure."
They were already on the other side of the mountain, just needed to descend down to the forest that looked tiny as an ant below the mountain.
They sat down on the warm ground, under a shade of a big boulder and got out the water bottles.
"You should wash off that blood, shouldn't, uh, have your hand bleed like that."
Jensen looked down at his palm; the blood had dried already and if he'd go poking at it now, it would just start to bleed again and the crystal … there was a crystal in his finger.
A crystal that probably killed his mom, cut her inside and made her bleed. Made her die.
He swallowed down a big gulp of water and put the cap back on the bottle; no need to get clumsy and spill any of the precious liquid.
"Naw, 's okay. The blood's dried up by now."
"You really should clean it, infection and, uh all that."
"Meh, it's okay."
"Jensen! Just, please, clean it off."
"Whoa, what crawled into your ass?"
"Nothing, just … Jensen, just please, clean it off."
He looked at Jared, saw him starting to sweat, tiny drops already running down his temples and down his neck, wetting the tips of the hair there.
"There's something … you're hiding something from me, aren't you? Again! After all of this, fucking asshole, just … damnit, Jared you make me so pissed sometimes … I just wanna … I wanna throw you to the ground and beat the living shit out of you, okay? I know that wouldn't kill you, but it would hurt and I just … you make me so angry, but … I can't do that. I feel angry, but not to the point of actually doing that. Man, this is some freaky shit, okay? It's like I wanna, but I don't wanna."
"That's actually good, you know? Means that Noleih won't be able to … make you do it. You just feel like you want to, but you can't. You're angry, but not to the point of acting on it. That's a good thing."
"Yeah, feels weird, ya know!? I mean all this time, I've done what I felt doing, but now … now I just … don't want to. It's hard to explain, hard to … put it to words, it's just how it feels. But that's not the point here, is it?"
"Just tell me!"
"It's your blood okay!? Okay? It smells warm and it feels warm and it tastes warm and it's so warm and it's so red and just please …"
"I need something more than that."
"Your blood feels really warm."
"Feels? What do you mean, feels?"
"Whoa, whoa, whoa," he got up from the ground and held his hand towards Jared, silently telling him to back off, shut up and stop "inside. Of you? What, you kinda a blood junky? A vampire or somethin'?"
He knew of vampires, he read books, comics, magazines … read everything he could get his hands on, even if it was decades old. Stories remained, written or spoken, stories were inerasable, stuck as black print on any paper that hadn't been used as a fire starter.
"No, no! Jensen, no. Nothing like that. It's just … your blood, human blood, not just yours, it's really warm. We've slept in the ice for so long, we've been in the cold for so long that that warmth … of human blood … it's just really nice."
"Nice. Good. It feels good to have something warm flow inside of us."
"But, but you feel warm, like when I touch you, you're warm. I mean you're not made of ice."
"No, we're not made of ice. We're made of crystals, solid, we can't melt. It's just … it feels nice to have that warmth flow inside, flow through everything that's hollow inside. And before you ask, no, I didn't drink any of your mom's blood. But … but Noleih, he … he does it. A lot."
He hadn't even thought about that – about his mom, but if Jared said that he hadn't then he hadn't. It had probably been very enticing, but Jensen bet that doing it wouldn't be something that Jared did. But Noleih, Jensen could picture him do it. He didn't know who to thank, which God or deity for the fact that it had been Jared who had found his mom and not any of Noleih's men. Or the loony Icy himself.
"And beside the, the uhh warmth, we get … you know …"
"No, I don't know."
"Memories, we get emotions. From the person. Blood is … it's very powerful, Jensen. It's really powerful, addicting."
Jensen dragged his hands down his face, hissing when his wounded finger came into contact with his cheek bone.
"Wait, wait, hold it, just … yesterday, when you, my arms, I, I bled. Did you …"
"What did you get from me?"
"'m not lying. I swear, I got nothing. It was more of a connection than anything else. Jensen, you're one of us, you're not like other humans. You're not really a human at all, it's different with you. The crystals in you, they're screaming to connect with others, when I touched the one in your hand, Jensen … it was like being home again. Did you feel it?"
"No, I just felt pain and the shadows where there," he shrugged and threw a pebble into the distance, "man, this is … I don't know what this is. I mean first I find out about my parents, then about how I have crystals in me, and then that you all are some kinda blood junkies, feeding on people's feelings and warmth and it's just," he shook his head and threw another pebble down the slope, "… you know … a lot for a guy to take in."
"But you understand, don't you? Otherwise you'd be yelling at me. Again."
"Fuck me, but I do, yeah. Doesn't mean I'm not freaking out here, but … those shadows, they were … they took things from me. Yeah, not my blood exactly, but other things."
"You bled Jensen. When I pushed my finger in your arm, connecting our crystals, you bled. You bled on both of our crystals, the shadows … they took what they found in your blood. What you wanted to give them."
"Do we have anything stronger than water?"
"Want to get drunk?"
He leaned to the warm boulder and closed his eyes. No he didn't wanna get drunk, he wanted this nightmare to end.
"I just want the life I had before all of this." He murmured and opened his eyes to stare at the distance, up at the blue, cloudy sky and further away to the trees of the forest.
"I know. I never wanted you to know about the blood thing."
"I know, but … then that would just be another secret you had and …"
"If it makes you feel any better, that's the last secret I had."
"No, no it doesn't."
He didn't feel any anger anymore, any resentment, any desire to kill Jared right on the spot. He knew how now, it would be so easy, but he couldn't. If this had still been his old self, he'd probably be clawing at Jared's spine right about now, but he wasn't his old self anymore. He was more … composed, relaxed, thinking more clearly without the fog of anger/fear/loss clouding his mind.
He smirked: "Okay, so, you're not gonna start drinking my blood anytime soon, right? Like when I go to sleep?"
"No, that would be gross."
"T'yeah, well apparently you like human blood, so … what's not gross about that?"
"Well, you humans drink your own blood too."
"What? No we don't!"
"I've seen you do it, when you cut yourself you stick your finger into your mouth, or if you split your lip or bite your tongue."
"That's … pfft, that's different."
"Well, that's my blood, I don't go out sticking other people's bleeding fingers into my mouth."
"Neither do I."
"Then what do you do?"
"If I, uh, if I touch someone who's bleeding, I, uh, then, you know, lick the blood off my fingers or, or hand."
"That's just sick."
"But I don't hurt them. I don't go and hurt people to get to the blood. Only if they're already bleeding."
"You really have no fucking clue just how gross that is, do you?"
Jared shrugged: "Your blood tastes different too."
"How," he cleared his throat, not really wanting to know this, but curious nonetheless, "does it taste?"
"It's … hot and cold, as if you poured cold water onto something warm."
"This is just … unbelievable."
"'s okay, it's probably not your fault anyways. It's just really disgusting and just please don't ever put my blood anywhere near your mouth ever again."
"Okay. I promise, but ..."
"You serious right now? There are no but's or and's or if's here, 'm serious here." Jensen shook his head. This was unbelievable, this was so out there, it was just … wow, psycho material.
"You know what, let's just move on. The sooner we get down to the woods, the sooner I can call Noah."
"His name is Noleih."
"Whatever and gimme an apple from the backpack. My teeth are as furry as a squirrel."
He didn't want to talk about this anymore, didn't want to think about it, just wanted to go on and hit the delete button in his head. Jared could have his blood addiction or what-the-fuck-ever but he didn't want any part in it. Ever.
"You're so gross, really …"