They mostly had to slide down the slope on their butts because the incline was so steep they couldn't risk any broken bones - Jensen couldn't risk any broken bones or broken crystals, because down there, down in the lovely, dark forest … a job was waiting for him. The one thing he wanted to do, if it cost him his life or not, he needed and wanted and had to do this.
And he was scared. He was petrified, but not for himself, not for his life. If this went south, there wouldn't probably be any more opportunities to take that mad man down. And Noleih was a mad man, madder than mad and if he had a craving for human blood, then … flashes of dead, dried up people appeared before Jensen's eyes. Dried up and brittle like dried leaves. Sucked of all blood.
"Jared, about the blood, Noah, I mean Noleih, he really …"
"You don't wanna know, Jensen."
That was how nightmares were born.
They breached the forest line and walked further in, until the ground leveled up and they weren't on the mountain slope anymore but deep in the forest, hidden under a canopy of trees, one bigger and taller than the other. They had to use the dead kid's machete to cut their way into the forest; the bushes and ferns grew tall and thick where the forest line started.
"Okay," Jensen said and dropped down the quiver and the bow, "now let's call your brother."
"Don't you wanna sit down for a minute, have some water? Rest?"
"I'll rest when I'm dead. Uh, that came out wrong, just," he shook his head to clear his mind of what fucked up misfortune he just called upon himself, "come on. Let's call him."
"If you're sure."
He was sure. There had been too much time gone and Jensen didn't want to wait another second. And waiting another second would make him start to get really scared and possibly even have a small panic attack and no. Just no. They had to do this, he had to do this now, right now. Right now when his eyes weren't shaking yet and his breathing was only labored because of the trek they just did.
"Right," he clasped his hands together, the sound of it making some birds chirp in the nearby trees, "so how do I do this? Yelling the asshole's name won't work so ... how?"
"The same way Ashil called for me."
"You mean …" he placed his hand over his right side, whining: "but man it just healed. Really? You serious? Man …"
Damn it, that ache had just healed and everything was feeling just fine down there and now this? He didn't want any more sharp things being stuck into him, no more prodding and poking and cutting into him. No more of that god-awful cold-hot pain.
And his uncle looked sorry, his whole face nothing but soft eyes and loose lips.
"Uhh, fine, okay …"
He looked left and right, looking for a decent place to lay down and not have stuff poking at him. He walked to a beech tree, its leaves shiny and green, letting through the yellow sunbeams to stretch along the ground.
"Hey, just," he stopped Jared with a hand over the man's chest, "don't, don't lick my blood after, okay. It's … 'm not okay with that."
Jared licked his lips and nodded. It would be hard, so damn hard to respect Jensen's wish, because he could already imagine all that warm, syrupy, red liquid run down the crystal, all that desire to connect with his nephew calling out for him.
"All right, just lie down," he didn't shrug off Jared's hand that helped him ease himself down on the leafy ground, "it'll be easier."
Jensen lay down on the leaves that were lying in small heaps all around the tree, looking like soft pillows just waiting for him to lay his heavy head on them. A sigh escaped him when his back hit the solid ground, his spine finally straightening after such a long time spend walking and sitting. It felt really good to be lying down, even if it wasn't for sleep. Even if it wasn't for rest.
Rest seemed such a long way from where he was right now. Maybe after all of this, all he'd have would be eternal rest. Heaven? Hell? Nothingness? The place with the shadows? Was that where his kind went? His kind? What kinda kind was he?
He had to ask his uncle, he had to know … he looked to his right and found his uncle sitting on his shins right there, right beside him.
"Where," he licked his lips and rasped, "where do you, me, go when we die?"
"You're not gonna die."
"Just answer me."
The breath Jared released was loud: "I don't know Jensen, maybe … maybe we go back to where we came from."
"'m I … where will I go?"
He could feel a prickle of tears in the corner of his eyes, but blinked it all away. There was no time for that.
"Jensen, come on, don't…"
"Will I go … where you go? Or where humans go? Or nowhere?"
"Jensen, you won't die."
"But if I do?"
"I won't let you die."
"You can't say that."
"I can, I just did."
"Doesn't work like that, we both know it."
"Come on Jensen, don't … just lie down, okay and we'll talk about this when you'll be a hundred years old."
"Takes one to know one, right?"
They both smiled at that and allowed the bird chirping to fill the comfortable silence.
"Yeah, it does."
"You couldn't let that one sit, huh?"
"You still wanna do this now? You can get some sleep before…"
"No, come on, no, let's do this."
"Jensen, once we do this, there's no way back. Noleih will hear and …"
"I want to get this over with, but … do we need a plan for this? Plan of attack?"
"There's … Noleih is unpredictable, having a plan is …"
Oh, that wasn't good. It would be better to go into all of this with a plan of action, some sort of attack plan, or maybe at least some code words or something. But then again Noleih was crazy and crazy always worked around the rules.
"Oh, well then we'll swing it. 'm good at improvising."
He was. He was good and making stuff up on the spot and he had his bow, had his knife, had a brand new machete and had his crystals and had Jared and … and he'd do this. They'd do this.
He lay down and got himself comfortable, sneaking his head deeper into the pile of leaves not caring about snakes or ticks or other tiny little critters that could've made home in there. All that was on his mind was getting this done and then … and then he'd see.
He pushed his shirts up to his neck, giving Jared enough room to do what he had to do. There was a hot sliver of sun that ran across his stomach, all but burning him, the sun was so hot. A cool breeze hitting his exposed, sweaty skin made him shiver, goose bumps erupting all over his stomach and arms.
"This ain't gonna be fun, huh?"
"Yeah, I remember. Vividly."
He did, he remembered it as clear as if it happened just a few seconds ago; the pain, the feeling of hot-cold needles pushing their way inside of him. He shuddered and took a shaky breath.
"You know, Alineja and I, we were always fighting whether or not to remove your tracking device."
"You mean my appendix?"
"Yeah … but we decided that we wanted to know where you were, you know, in case something happened."
"Wait so all of this time, you knew where I was? Everyone knew where I was?"
"Not exactly. I knew you were alive, but there are so many humans in my head, so many signals, it's really hard to pinpoint only one. But I knew you were alive."
"Well, I'm glad you didn't and kinda wish you had."
"Yeah … I know. We, we would've asked you, when you'd become older, about what you wanted. Make it your decision, but things happened…"
"Yeah, things happened, well … can't do anything about that now, right?"
"Okay then, let's get this show on the road and do what we can do."
The sky above him was a good distraction from his uncle sitting by his side. There were white, puffy clouds rolling across it, sometimes hiding the sun, other times the sun penetrated right through them. Friday rains sometimes brought fog, sometimes clouds. This time it was clouds.
He panted and shivered, that tiny ray of sunlight across his belly making him itchy; the air was cool, the sun was hot and he was sweating buckets. It could all just be fear, but he'd rather blame it on the fact that it was a Saturday; the day after the rain.
"Hey, look at me."
He turned his head and looked at Jared who was leaning over him, hair in his eyes, hiding those brows made of cluster of crystals that the skin just couldn't really hide, although if Jared hadn't told him about it, he'd have never known. Never noticed.
"Keep your eyes on me, okay?"
"Okay, just ... just do it."
"Eyes on me."
Jensen didn't know if he could look away even if he wanted to, because where would he look? Jared was leaning so close over him, all he could see was the face that had been with him since he'd been a baby, then all through his childhood and now. Here. Right here.
He kept his eyes steady on Jared's and tried not to let his breathing pick up. That would make his whole body shake and move and he couldn't have that. One wrong move and Jared could nick something in there – in there – and he'd bleed to death, before this party could've even properly start.
He did flinch though when Jared's fingers grabbed at the waistband of his jeans and tugged then down, way below his hip bone.
"What you doing?"
"I need some room here …"
"Ashil didn't, he didn't need any room there."
"He was torturing you, he wasn't exactly looking out for your comfort."
He remembered how it felt and yeah, it wasn't comfortable at all, but then again when was torture comfortable. He could remember how he'd puked all over himself, bled all the way down to the cuffs of his pants, pissed himself and screamed himself hoarse.
"Can you hold them there?"
He could hold them now, but when Jared would … he wasn't sure he would be able to hold anything then. Wasn't sure if he'd even be conscious enough to do anything but breathe.
"Not when …"
"Okay, yeah, you think we can pull them down a bit, get them to your thighs?"
"Uhh, okay, but if your brother'll catch me with my pants down, I swear..."
"You'll kick his ass?"
"Damn right I will."
He felt stupid, really, really stupid. And way too exposed to everything what with his pants pulled down to just barely hide his junk, his shirts rucked up under his chin and his hands gripping them with all the strength he had in him. If he'd find holes in his shirts, he'd be very pissed.
The clouds in the sky were moving faster now than before, the wind picking up speed, but the sun was still very hot on his belly. He didn't dare look down and see … see his uncle's fingers turn into crystals and push inside of him. Didn't want to watch that happen, so he concentrated on the sky. On the trees around him. On the noises the wind was making, noises the animals were making.
He tried to close his eyes, but every time he did that, all he could see was Ashil, all he could feel was painpainpain, all he could smell was blood and his piss and feel the taste of vomit in his mouth. So he left them opened and stared up at the sky.
He nodded to the silent question and gasped when something really pointy and sharp dug itself into his side, but not penetrating the skin yet. He flashed back again to when he was with Ashil and how he'd made it feel as if he was being ripped apart. Pierced with something as wide as a log, even if he knew now that it hadn't been like that.
"Easy, easy now, 's okay."
He started panting; drawing in huge gulps of air when a feeling of something needle like – really sharp and really thin – started pushing through the skin. He couldn't hold back the scream that was already bubbling up his throat, couldn't bite it and swallow it back down, so he screamed when it kept on pushing, kept on making its way through his insides to get to where it wanted. He grabbed Jared by the shirts, somewhere close to his neck, because he could feel Jared's collarbone brush against his bruised knuckles and pulled, all but draping Jared over his upper body.
It hurt, hurt so bad that after a while, he didn't even register the pain anymore; everything was just a hot-cold pressure all along his right side.
He hoped this worked. He really hoped this worked, because he really didn't want to go through this again. Ever.
He wished he couldn't feel anything, wished that Jared would've knocked him out, but he also knew that the pain would've just woken him up when it started. Totally unprepared and that would've been worse. At least being conscious gave him some possibility of fighting this, of screaming and breathing and not choking on his own puke.
He didn't wanna puke, but he was already feeling bile rising up his throat so he arched his back, pulling Jared closer, bumping his chest with his fist that was holding Jared's shirt, probably impaling himself further on the crystal. But he didn't care what this position was doing to Jared's finger, didn't care if this would break the crystal and leave it inside him. He didn't care, because he was screaming and puking; the water he'd drunk and the apple he'd eaten were both coming up as a team and erupting out of his mouth. If he weren't busy hurting and puking, he would maybe feel kinda bad about puking down Jared's shirt. Because no one deserved to be puked on.
He couldn't respond, not with words, so he groaned and coughed, letting spit, water and chunks of apple run freely down his chin and neck.
He coughed, trying to roll on his side, go to sleep and never wake up, but the hard, unyielding crystal in him, pinning him to the ground wasn't letting him do anything but lie there and take it. Could've been hours for all he knew, the tip of the crystal pressing down on the damn thing in his abdomen, before it started to slide out, out of the tissue, out of him.
He slumped to the ground when he felt it leave him with a squelching pop, Jared's shirt still firmly held in his fist.
"Hey, you okay? Jensen, you okay?"
Jared's palm gripping the side of his face, cupping his cheek, was warm and soft and smelled so much like Uncle Sammy, he choked out a sob and let more watery apple run out of his mouth.
This hurt him, this hurt him a lot. Doing this to Jensen, it hurt him so deep, so deep, burning his insides to ashes. But there was no other way. He tried to be careful, tried to do it slow and steady, touching just enough so that it would send a clear signal to Noleih that something was happening with Jensen, to give his brother a light to follow. He wished he didn't have to do what he just did, because watching Jensen try to stay still, hearing his screams and getting puked on wasn't his idea of fun.
His crystal was pulsing as if someone was squeezing it to the point of almost stopping it, but he knew all that would settle down as soon as he'd have proof that Jensen was okay.
He wiped the kid's blood off on the leaves and started to grow skin again, retreating the crystal back and wishing for the whole process to go faster because he needed to make sure Jensen was all right. Needed to take care of the kid he'd always taken care of.
It was like second nature to him, now, to take care of this kid. This man now, who he'd helped bring into this world. The kid he'd protected all of his life, the kid he'd hoped could be spared all of this.
But faith had other ideas. This was destiny and the bitch couldn't be pushed off the tracks. It had to be like this.
"Jensen, talk to me, you okay?"
The puke running down his chest was making him gag but that wasn't the worst part. He could take that, had taken that a lot of times when Jensen had been a kid with a bad stomach. No, what was horrible was Jensen's eyes that had gone glassy somewhere along the way, staring up at him but not really seeing. Maybe not even hearing him.
"Jensen! Wake up, wake up, hey look at me, come on, can you look at me? Say something!"
Maybe all of this was a too big of a shock for the kid's body, maybe this was that one step too far.
"Jensen, buddy, come on, blink. Please!"
He couldn't lose him, not now … not now, not after so many years going into nothingness, not now when they were so close to getting Noleih and then getting the humans to live a hopefully normal life.
He couldn't lose Jensen now, not now when they were beginning to be a family again.
"Jensen, look at me, come on, can you see me? Blink, come on."
He stared up at Jared's face, feeling completely numb. And hot. And cold.
"M-m-mmmojo…" he whispered and swallowed, wishing for water to rinse out the taste of stomach acid in his mouth. He nodded up at his uncle's face, seeing the worry there. Just this once. Just this one time.
"Just breathe, Jensen, okay, just breathe, 'm gonna take care of it. Okay, just relax."
"Fuckithurts…" he squeezed out, making three words into one and closed his eyes. A few deep breaths later and he was sinking into the calm that was rolling off of Jared's body like heat from asphalt.
"I know, just stay still and let things there knit themselves together, okay. Just breathe."
He opened his eyes with a gasp and stared up at the sky – at the part that he could actually see, what with Jared's head blocking the view. But when his uncle started to clean his sweaty and puke-full face with a wet cloth, he closed them again and let the shivers that were coursing through his body rock him to something resembling sleep. He was safe here and he needed rest and the calm coming from Jared was rocking him into sleepiness.
There was something tingling in his belly, he could feel it just like he could feel the cloth stroke his chin; felt as if he was being scratched by tiny claws, way down deep inside of his stomach. It didn't hurt though, so that was nice. Compared to what he went through a minute ago, this felt like a deep tissue massage.
"I know," he swallowed and breathed in, "what you're thinking," breathed out and sunk into the feeling of that deep tissue massage, "please don't."
"What? 'm not thinkin' anything."
"You are, Jared. Please just don't … I'll hunt you down and kill you myself, I swear to God I will."
It was so hard to talk, sleepiness pushing at him from all sides, pain disappearing under a cloak of calm, but he needed to say all this. Needed to, just like he needed to draw in his next breath.
"What're you talkin' about?"
"You wanna go. You wanna leave my, mm-my ass here and, and handle Noleih yourself."
"Can … feel it … just … don't. Don't make me kick your ass."
"It'd be easier. Noleih … he's …"
"He's a killer and I can't …" Jared bit his lip, "I can't risk you. I can't … he'll kill you."
"No. No, he won't. Not if I kill him first."
"He has no more mercy left in him, he's out for blood. Any blood. He'll kill you."
"I'd like to see … see him t-t-try."
"Sssshut it, just ssshut the hell up 'n cover me up, man. 'ssss cold."
He was trying to cover himself up with his hands, but it wasn't working; he needed his pants back up where they belonged and his shirts pulled down.
"You're not … hurt. Not really, your body's just in shock. 's just gonna bruise, but it'll heal. Like the last time."
"Good thing 'm not a hundred percent human, huh?"
"Yeah, good thing that, huh."
Jared patted his shoulder and squeezed it. It felt nice. To have someone that cared. Someone who was there. It'd been so long since anyone was just … there.
"How long for Noah to…"
Jared shrugged while pulling his shirts back down, covering him up and smoothing them across his stomach: "A second, a minute, an hour, a day, a week."
The pants came next: "Can you lift up a bit?" and when those got settled back at his waist he hissed when the fabric pressed at the sore, tender spot.
"'m I bleeding?"
He remembered the blood, remembered feeling lightheaded and as if he'd been strapped to a spinning wheel, remembered warm liquid spilling down from the wound, soaking his pants, spreading like wild fire all along the fabric. He remembered the smell; iron mixed with the sharp smell of his piss. He gagged; at least he wasn't tasting blood this time.
"Just a little, I was careful. You gonna puke again?"
"No…" he swallowed down and looked up at the sky.
This would take a while to mend, some time to heal. More than a minute that was for sure, but if Noah would come right now, he'd be up on his feet, pain or no pain, permanent damage or no. That bastard wouldn't get away just because Jensen was in a little – okay, a lot – of pain.
"I can't … can't do this again."
"You won't have to, trust me, Noleih heard just fine."
"I hope he cleaned his ears today."
Jared's smile was gentle: "Yeah, uh, why don't you just lie here for a second, 'm gonna go change my shirt."
"'s okay. 's not the first time you puked on me."
He chuckled: "One of those embarrassing stories?"
Jensen smiled and closed his eyes, letting his hands fall beside his body, palms and trembling fingers settling into the nest of soft leaves.
It was becoming easier and easier to give in to pain; he wasn't sure why he'd been resisting it for such a long time before.