They both stood on a block of ice that was covered with grainy, white snow and silently looked into the far distance at a small block of ice that was swimming freely a bit further from the shore. It was occupied by a polar bear. Jensen wow-ed internally when the animal yawned, stretching its huge jaws and showing teeth that just a few seconds ago had been munching on a seal. The bear's muzzle was covered with blood, all that yellowish whiteness stained red, and Jensen couldn't tear his eyes away. Here they all were, him and the Ice People and a polar bear going about his business – which was lunch and sleep apparently – as if he was the only one on the planet.
For a split second, he thought how nice of the rogue section of the Ice People that they hadn't killed any creatures that had lived so close to where they'd all risen. Even if they'd screwed up the rest of the planet and its life and habitats, they'd left both poles alone.
He wanted to stay just like that; watching the bear lick himself clean of the seal's blood, but splashes in the water made him turn around. They were loud and broke the serenity of the scene … they brought back the reason why he was here. Why all of them where here.
He saw Jared's people - brothers and sisters - his half-uncles and half-aunts, jump off the ice block, jump into the sea and disappear into its dark depths.
He was nervous. He was terrified, his heart beating so fast he thought it would explode inside of him, his breathing picking up into shallow pants but he would do this.
There was nothing - in the cities or in the mountains - for him to live for. Nothing to go to, no one to go to. Just him.
Always just him.
But here, here he had everything. He had his uncle, he had his family, he had a chance to not be alone anymore. He had the feeling of love and security back, the one he had lost when Alineja had died. He'd forgotten there for a few years how all that felt like, but now … here … he felt it again.
And seeing his family like this … he'd never seen anything like it. The Ice People had showed themselves in their true form only once, but he hadn't been born yet back then – he'd come into the world four years later – and Jared had never changed while they were traveling together so he could only imagine. If Jared looked like that in his human form, just how magnificent he looked like in his true form?
Because the Ice People were breathtaking. Simply breathtaking.
And it was surprisingly shocking to see all those people; so many of them, some that he had talked to on their way here, some that had asked him questions about this and that, some that Jared had introduced to him and said 'brother' or 'sister' and then their name, but there were so many – hundreds and hundreds of them, that he simply forgot their name …
… shed their skin, just like that. Like a snake sheds its skin and leaves it there on the ground like garbage, these People left their skin to fall to the snow covered ground where it dissolved into the snow.
He … he wasn't sure anymore what was more spectacular; the skin melting away and turning into snowflakes, or how the Icies weren't bloody and 'meaty' underneath but started growing crystals before the skin was even completely off them. The crystals, as they were either growing or shortening, weren't making any noise; no clinking, no breaking noises, nothing. It was all so quiet, only the beat of his heart in his ear and the splashes of water.
He knew his eyes were probably the size of a manhole cover, but he couldn't stop staring.
It was a jaw dropping scene.
It was crazy, it was weird it was ... magical. If he had thought his uncle changing the color of his eyes was magical when he'd been a kid then this … this was … indescribable.
He could see how some crystals were rough; especially the ones on the arms, while some – in particular their abdomens and backs - were smooth as silk. He … he wanted to touch. To run his palm down that polished crystal and feel it. How would it be? Would it be really solid or could he press on it and it would give way? Could he maybe see their spine crystal beating? Would the crystals be hot or cold? He had touched his own crystals – through the wrapping, because he was too chicken-shit to actually look at them - but they'd just felt solid and nothing special. But he was only a half-breed, a mutt, an abomination that didn't fully belong to either side, so ... maybe even his crystals were different. Stuck in a place in between.
He squeezed his fingers into a fist, poking his arm with the tips of the crystals. He should be careful with that, he could poke an eye out.
But no touching didn't mean no looking.
Because he had to look, it was too mesmerizing not to look and the more he looked the more he saw how the People's shoulder bones were clusters of pointy crystals, their collar bones were a line of individual crystal points but their forearms were smooth again and their fingers were long and pointy. Their heads were round like balls but he couldn't see their brains –didn't know why that fact even occurred to him.
Their eyes, though, their eyes were the color of fresh water, straight from the mountains.
Aquamarine. That was the word. He had read about gemstones in an old, really old magazine he had found lying around in a house he'd once squatted in – weird house that was, they had some really quirky things in there – and the color of it, and the name got stuck in his brain.
Aqua. Water. No one could forget that word.
The crystals were bright blue, some even neon blue, with green lines covering some parts. Like veins. They had actual veins with green blood. He bet no human knew about that little fact. He had seen Jared bleed, had made him bleed himself but actually seeing all the blood run through the crystals … it was surreal. Like a stream, a river rushing in a waterway.
He looked at Jared who was standing by his left side. He was watching his siblings with a small smile on his face, lips stretching up and forming a half-dimple on his right cheek. It was love. Jared loved his sisters and brothers, just as much as Jensen loved … his weapons.
But not anymore. The fight for survival was over, the days when his bow and knife were his only friends were over and over were the days of solitude. He'd never be alone again. He would finally belong somewhere again. To someone. He'd been born a human and the very first person that touched him through the blood and the gunk was an Icy.
He never belonged to the humans in the first place. From the very start.
He looked back at the Icies, his kin now, and noticed how they all shone in the sunlight. He had to squint his eyes from time to time when the bright sun hit the crystals at a particular angle and made them gleam.
Some of the Ice People were so glossy, he could actually see the reflection of his stunned face – huge eyes and open mouth - looking back at him. Their bodies were like mirrors, it was incredible.
Looking down at his hands that were still wrapped up - even though the cloth was completely wet and all but half frozen now - he started to unwrap them.
He wanted to see now. See his fingers, skinless as they were, but most of all he wanted to see his crystals. If they were similar to what he had just seen. Touched them without the barrier of a fabric. Connect with them through touch.
"You wanna see?"
The words made his head snap up to Jared and he nodded.
His uncle took his hand in his and slowly started to unwrap the cloth, hissing a little when Jensen did: "Sorry."
It didn't hurt exactly, it was just really sensitive, like a wound half way to healed.
Jensen watched, mesmerized as the cloth unveiled … crystals. Blue and green, smooth, long and shiny and stunning. He looked at them closer and tried to pull them into a fist and they did. They moved when he wanted them to move, as he wanted them to move.
"Lemmy was that shade of blue."
Jensen looked at Jared: "My dad?"
Jared nodded: "Yeah. Humans … they think that blue is blue, but it has numerous shades, numerous ways of shine. And that," Jared pointed at Jensen's fingers, "is Lemmy's shade of blue."
Jensen looked at his ring and index finger, crystals. His dad's shade of blue.
"He was a good man?"
"Yeah, he was … he was a great brother and a good … a good man. And your mom, she … after seeing her be so brave, I understood why Lemmy loved her."
He touched his ring finger … the crystal was as smooth as oil, making the pad of his finger just slide right off.
"All the times you … your finger … does it look the same?"
"It's the same, long and smooth but a different shade of blue. Different color of green."
Jensen nodded. Of course. Maybe that was the only way of knowing who was who. By shades of blue and green of their crystals.
When the very last of the Ice People went and jumped into the Arctic sea and got submerged under the soft waves, Jensen felt Jared place his broad palm on his shoulder. He couldn't tear his eyes away from the – now empty – space in front of him. Everyone was gone. Everyone was back to where they'd come from so many years ago. Finally at rest. Finally sleeping.
"Don't be scared."
Jared's voice was as soft and calm as ever and now … now that he had seen what the Ice People's true form was, he wondered if all those crystals made their voices like that. Or if that was just Jared.
He had so many questions, so many that he could feel his head starting to hurt, but he knew that in just a few minutes he would get all the answers without even having to open his mouth.
He wondered if he'd ever hear Jared's voice again.
He smirked: "Easy for you to say ... this ... this is where you live, it ain't
gonna kill you, but me?"
Jared nodded and squeezed his shoulder, easing the tension in the too tightly coiled muscles: "I know."
"Okay, so ... so ... now what?"
"You sure about this?"
"There's nothing, absolutely nothing for me here. It was the truth. A truth that hurt him to the depths of his soul, a truth that he wished he could ignore and go back to living in sewers or squatting in abandoned houses and avoid the planet righting or destroying itself. He had absolutely nothing and no one to return to, because what he did have was standing right before him and the rest was already submerged under the sea. "Even if the planet," he scratched his nape, "even if the planet'll go back to how it had been ... you know, before … I don't know that planet. I don't ... I don't know that Earth. And whatever the humans will do now … I don't think I wanna know that kinda planet either. I can't ... I have no one … just ... tell me, what now."
Tell me what now, before I start freaking out, before I run away, before I change my mind, before I start screaming. Before I won't want this anymore.
"Now, you take off your clothes and just ... hold on to me."
"Okay, yeah, okay I can do that."
Jared smiled and his eyes twinkled green. Like emeralds.
He started to undress himself with shaky fingers and trembling hands; hat, scarf, gloves, jacket, pullover, shirt, shoes, pants, socks, another pair of socks, which made Jared laugh and what earned him a scowl, undershirt, t-shirt, boxers. They had stopped at some town – long empty, long forgotten – when they'd emerged from the water.
Jensen had been freezing, shaking and gasping from for real air, and Jared had decided that he needed new clothes, better clothes, dry, warm clothes. So they had searched and found them tucked away in small fishermen cottages along the shore. Jensen's clothes had always all been stolen, all borrowed, all old and worn out, so he was okay with all of that.
He kicked them to the side now and stood there naked as the day he'd been born, as the day he had wailed out of his mom and into Jared's waiting hands.
"This is," he chuckled, "weird." and looked away to the side. For some … reason … he couldn't look into Jared's eyes.
"Hey, I've seen you before, you don't … you don't have to hide."
He looked down where his hands were covering his groin and blushed, well became redder under his already red cheeks.
It was really horribly cold; he was shaking like a leaf in angry waters and he could feel the soft wind start to send little shocks of icy cold through his entire body. It felt as if fingers were pressing tiny icicles into his still clothes-warm skin.
He was starting to stutter, his teeth chattering from the cold and he was envious of Jared, who just stood there. In his stolen jeans and stolen t-shirt as if the cold wasn't even there, which well, obviously for Jared it wasn't.
"Are ... a-are y-you gonn-gonna c-c-hange?"
"Do you want me to?"
He shot that out, no stuttering and no chattering, because even if all the Icies he saw before took his breath away with just how marvelous they looked like in their true form and he wanted to see Jared like that too – he couldn't. He didn't want to see his uncle in his true form, he didn't want to see what he really looked like, he wanted to see and remember Jared just like this. With warm human skin and human hair and human features. He wanted to remember the dimples whenever Jared smiled, wanted to remember the mole on his left cheek, wanted to remember the slanted eyes, the mole by his neck, the uneven teeth, the thin lips. He wanted to see that, when he'd ... go. Seeing Jared in his true form just to satisfy his curiosity seemed wrong to him. He wanted this, help him, but he wanted to remember Jared just like this.
Remarkable even as a human. Because he might not have survived seeing Jared's true form. Human brain probably wouldn't be able to even comprehend all of it.
"Then I won't."
He smiled: "T-t-thanksss."
He got a small nod at that and hugged his middle with one arm while the other one was still cupping his junk. Suddenly, he was beginning to feel shy and awkward. He shook his head to get rid of those feelings, because there was nothing to be shy about. Or embarrassed about. He … he had survived on his own, in a falling, bent Earth for twenty-three years. Stealing to survive. Hiding when he had to and attacking when he had too and he had killed. He had blood on his hands, just like that polar bear had it all around his muzzle.
He was standing there, in the middle of the Arctic, naked and exposed with a man, a family, that he wanted to be with. He chose this. He said yes to this.
He didn't want to go back, didn't want to go anywhere but with Jared.
There was nothing for him to be awkward about, so he raised his head up high and looked straight into Jared's emerald eyes.
They were ablaze, the green in them on fire.
He shuddered; couldn't say if it was because of the gentle tone or because he was freezing his literally naked ass off. He couldn't control the chattering of his teeth anymore, they had a mind of their own, the same as his muscles that were beginning to spasm and send long, seemingly never-ending shudders up and down his body. He was already starting to feel a bit sluggish, his thoughts were all about sleepsleepsleep, but he knew he couldn't do that. Not yet anyway.
He didn't know why, what for, he was apologizing, but his brain wasn't working on all cylinders anymore. The cold was … it was consuming him from all sides and the only point of warmth were Jared's eyes and how they were outshining the sun.
The day was beautiful. Sunny, as sunny as the weather on the Arctic could get. There were no snow storms, which he was certain was something Jared or someone else of their kin arranged, there was no strong wind, except the slight breeze. It was absolutely amazing, or it would be if he wasn't freezing to death standing on a block of ice with the sea only three steps away.
"You're cold, Jensen," Jared sighed and stepped closer, dipping his head a bit down and to the left, to catch his eyes, "you ready?"
He looked up at his uncle, his best friend, a man who had always been there, even when he hadn't been physically present, and nodded. Yeah, he was ready.
He ... he'd do this. It would be all right, or so Jared had said and he trusted him. The Ice Man. The King.
"Okay then come 'ere."
He took one step closer to Jared and flinched slightly when warm arms wrapped around him and pressed him closer to Jared's chest. Solid chest where bones under the skin were crystals, the ribs were crystals, the collarbone was a crystal.
Jared had told him how at least five, if not more, of Jensen's ribs were crystals, how one of his bones in his right forearm was a crystal and it had been a lot to take in, especially when he had still been riding on adrenaline and pain.
He had been through so much, mentally and physically; stabbed, poked and prodded, learning about his mom and dad, Odie, Alineja, killing Noleih, dying – he'd died, he had actually died and was brought back to life - touched in his mind and on his body. He was still feeling aches and pains almost everywhere, skin sensitive to the touch, but somehow just knowing that the crystals inside of him would keep him safe, would protect him or at least try to protect him from more harm, made him feel as if he was soaring high up in the sky.
"Hold tight, okay. Don't let go."
He untangled his arms from where they were pressed between their chests and wrapped them around Jared, fisting the man's shirt at the back.
"Y-y-you hooold t-t-ight."
"'m not gonna let go, I promise."
He did know. He knew his uncle would never ever let him go. He would just have to make sure that he wouldn't let go either.
He was ready. He was ready as much as he could ever be ready, but still ... this wasn't something - this wasn't something that a human being could ever do. It wasn't physically possible to do this. It ... he was going to die. He was going to die a horrific death; choking on freezing water and there would be nothing he'd be able to do, because he knew Jared would never let him go. No matter how much he'd struggle, Jared wouldn't let go of him.
"N-n-no cry-y-ystalsss in m-m-my lungs."
Jared shook his head: "Not this time, Jensen."
He did. He did so badly, he could feel the trust heat up his whole body, from the toes he dug into the snow to the tips of his hair that were probably all frozen spikes now. Or maybe the heat was all Jared's fault, the guy was warm even in this freezing cold. It was like hugging fire, even in this biting cold.
He couldn't speak, couldn't even make a sound so he just nodded and clutched at the back of Jared's shirt tighter.
"Let's go then Jensen."
Being manhandled wasn't something he liked, wasn't something he tolerated and if anyone did it to him, that person soon found a knife stuck somewhere on their body. But this time, he let it happen, braced himself and stiffened in the tight embrace Jared had him in.
He closed his eyes, trying really had to relax, but couldn't – fear was gripping him tight, making his whole body stiff and heavy like a block of cement.
But that didn't matter to Jared, because his uncle was still propelling them both towards the edge of the ice block and no matter what he'd do, he wouldn't be able to stop it.
He gripped Jared's shirt tighter, hissing when he nearly broke his index crystal, and pushed himself closer to his uncle's chest, pulling the shirt between his teeth.
He was scared, he was scared, he was scared, he was going to die and it was going to hurt and he didn't want to die. But he couldn't stop it, Jared was too strong, too fast and before he could scream out to stop … there was no more solid ground beneath his left foot.
And a leap into a thirteen feet long fall, where he couldn't see anything but blue - yellow sky and white snow, where all he felt was the rush of the wind against his ears and Jared's hard chest pressed against his own.
Then the water came.
They crashed into the water, feet first and it felt as if he broke through an inch thick glass. He could feel the force of the impact reverberate through his shin bones and up to his hips, but he had no time to think about if maybe he broke his legs because then the harsh, cold water was rushing over his head, blocking his ability to draw in a breath. He wanted Jared's crystals in his lungs … he wanted that feeling of breathing back.
But this was it. The point of no return.
The coldness of the water shocked him so much that he let go of Jared's shirt, flailing his hands in the water, trying to swim away, tugging at Jared's whole body but Jared held him tight, bone crushingly tight.
He closed his eyes tighter and tried to find some kinda purchase on Jared's body again; he scrambled with his fingers, probably scratching Jared up pretty good - but that wouldn't matter in a few minutes or even sooner - until he finally found some floppy fabric of the shirt that he could grab hold of.
He could feel Jared tangle their legs together, pulling them both even closer to each other. There was no way for him to escape. Jared was strong and he could breathe under all this frigid water and he could see and he would never let go.
Jensen didn't know if that made him feel better or worse.
His body was fighting, his brain was screaming at him how wrong this was, how his lungs needed air, sweet, delicious air, how he was going to die if he wouldn't get air.
He wanted Jared's crystals in his lungs! Now!
He couldn't breathe and his lungs were starting to ache like something was squeezing them into a pulp. He needed air. He tugged once, trying to worm himself out of Jared's arms, but his uncle just gripped him tighter and hid him into his embrace, shielding his front from the biting water.
Jared felt … hot, which was such a difference to the freezing water. His chest was warm pressed to Jared's like that, while his back was already frozen solid – or so it felt to him.
The water was so cold, so cold it burned his skin; tiny pinpricks of flames licking at every pore of his skin. He was burning and freezing both at the same time, but Jared was still holding him tight and tightening his hold with every inch they fell through the water.
He remembered the lake. He had been drowning and it was hurting him, the water all around him, the surface so close yet so far away and he was sinking, sinking as if he had been a stone. And then he was lying on the frozen lake, with his Uncle Sam leaning over him lips moving, forming his name.
He knew that Jared would only let his hold go, when they would crash to the sea's floor and joined the rest of Jared's brethren. His brethren.
But he was going to die before that. He was already dying. He could feel it. He needed to breathe, he needed to do it so he opened his mouth - it was instinct, he couldn't help it - and swallowed down water that filled his stomach and his lungs. But when he had done that in the ocean on the way here, Jared gave him air, made him breathe but here, now … it burned. It hurt so much he screamed, but all that did was fill his guts with even more glacial water.
He snapped his eyes open and saw Jared looking at him, mouthing: "Let go."
It looked ... funny and he'd laugh if he wasn't busy dying and all, but it looked funny. The water was surprisingly bright blue, there was sunlight still coming through the surface of the sea, there were seals swimming above them and he could see a polar bear's paws treading water a bit to the left of Jared and it felt ... crazy.
He was drowning. He was dying. He was falling down to the sea's floor with a man who showed him the strangest of things, who made him let things go, who was more a family to him than any human could ever be.
He didn't want to close his eyes, he wanted to see all of this, wanted to sear it into his brain ... this stunning beauty. But he had to close his eyes, because the bitter cold water burned his skin, curling around him, pushing into him through every pore in his body.
He let go.
It didn't hurt when Jared grinned at him. It didn't hurt when he grinned back.
This was what peace felt like. What love felt like. What belonging felt like.
What family felt like.
It didn't hurt all that much when his back hit something squishy and soft, didn't hurt when Jared gripped his biceps, pushed at him and turned them around, so that Jared was now lying on the sea's floor. It didn't hurt when his legs fell between his uncle's spread ones, didn't hurt when his toes dug into something mucky, didn't hurt when his hands fell over Jared's shoulders.
What did hurt was watching Jared's face start to morph and lose its skin in big patches; forehead, cheeks, ears, hair, neck, chest ... tan skin flaking off in chunks that floated up to the sea's surface for the fish to munch on. It made him want to vomit, but what he could already see peeking through the skin and the muscles and the gooey green blood was so shiny, so blue.
Dark blue, bright blue, pulsing green, blue and green he had never seen before in nature was being unfolded before his eyes.
He could only watch with a conscious that was fading fast, lungs squeezed and screaming for air, black spots already trying to take him away, as Jared's skin fell away and the blue-green crystals that formed his uncle's body were all there was.
Jared's arms sneaked around his shoulders and then pulled, crashing their chests together and then he screamed bubbles of water when he felt something plunged into his chest and straight into his heart.
The last thing he felt was his forehead colliding with Jared's smooth, blue neck.
It was bright; early morning with the sun already hot and punching eyes with its beams.
"You stabbed me!"
"Whoah, hey, Jensen …"
"You fucking stabbed me, you asshole. In my," he pulled up his shirt and looked down his chest, searching for a gaping hole where his heart was, "heart, you dick."
Jensen dropped his shirt, one part because there was nothing at all to see at the spot where Jared's crystal penetrated his chest and one huge part because damn, his uncle's shouting wasn't something one ignored.
"Look around, kid."
Jensen did and what he saw was breathtaking.
"Where are we?"
"Not the kind from the horror movies, but in a way. Just like I said."
"My body is under miles of water, but my … what? Soul? Is here."
"Yeah, in a way, you could say so."
There was nothing else to say to express the awe Jensen felt when he looked around. There was the lake, still frozen, there was the mountain, still with a rocky incline, there was the forest and the birds and …
"Can we go to Odie's cave?"
Jared bit his lower lip and nodded: "If that's what you want to do."
Jensen wanted. Odie had been his friend, his uncle too and he wanted to …
"I wanna see … just …"
"We can go some other time, we don't have to go now."
"Okay, yeah. Another time."
Jensen turned around and squinted at the bright sun.
"So what do we do now?"
Jared shrugged: "Dream."
"Awesome plan, uncle. Hope I won't die of boredom."
"You're such a drama queen, squirt. Just take all of this like a … a movie."
"Never saw any movies…" he mumbled through a pout, feeling like a child again, squinting his eyes from the glaring sun.
"Well then … enjoy."
The creatures who came from the darkness, who watched life and light be born would forever dream of how no dawn would ever break for the planet they'd seen get created and later destroyed.
No one would ever see how the icy cold water would be stripping a human of its skin little by little, strip him bare of everything, until there would be nothing but bones mixed with crystals lying on top of a shape made of sparkling blue-green crystals.
No one would ever see dawn break for Earth.