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   Chapter 25 Peace Beyond The Wall

Stolen Souls (boy x boy) By m i c h e l l e p a k Characters: 16316

Updated: 2018-02-10 22:11

How are you supposed to cross an ancient, raggedy bridge that crosses a mountain canyon? Carefully. How do Jules and I cross it? Whooping our heads off and running as fast as two teenagers in unspeakable pain can. And this is supposed to be a stealth mission.

The bridge swings upward. The wind whips in my face, and I was right about the oncoming storm. Snow cuts the sky in streaks of white. It's getting worse.

"We just gotta make it to the other side." Jules says, blowing snowflakes out of his face. The ropes are fraying, threads unraveling as we pound across the rotting planks. That's not true, what he says about just making it to the other side, I mean. There are vampires on the other side. There is freezing cold and hypothermia on the other side. But right now, with the bridge rocking, threatening to capsize and hurl us into the eternal darkness below, yeah. I can see what he means. I squeeze his hand back, suddenly needing his warmth, needing his presence. Wonder Shiro may not want to admit it, but there's nothing scarier than vampires who want to suck the blood out of your flesh, who will keep you from stealing back your soul, who will both indirectly and directly kill you because of it.

I just run. I don't look back, look down, look up. The gloves save my hands from the rope burns, Jules' heat bleeding through the thick fabric. Snow and fog swirl ahead, the mountains dark behind it. But the bridge slopes up, pushing against the swells of gravity, the rope rails strung tight. All I can see is gray, like looking through clouds of smoke. The steeper the climb, the slipperier the rotting planks, the closer I know we are to the other side. I can just see the rock in the distance, coming closer, closer. I punch my free fist up, whip my head back to Jules and grin.

"We're here!" My voice hardly sounds in the howling wind, more whisper than whoop. So I shout it again, "We're here, we're here, we're—"

I plunge through a gap. My voice is torn from me, lost to a silent scream as the wind envelops me on all sides. I squeeze my eyes shut, my stomach squeezed up into my chest as my kicking legs only find cold air. Jules squeezes even harder and yanks me back up, pushes me back onto solid—'solid' being used pretty generously here—bridge while I swallow and wheeze.

"Careful, careful." He pats my hand, looking at me again with that strange way he usually does, with those big, wild eyes. His lips quiver from the cold. And as the chittering creatures wing across the sky, we cross. Careful this time, looking down, me always one plank ahead, leading though I'm probably the worst person to do the leading when I just fell through the bridge.

We find the other side. The bridge hangs down from a scraggly cleft, leaving sharp, glittering jags of stone to climb.

Jules shoots me a look. I nod and thumb-up. We're up for it.

The screeching is louder now. Jules pushes me and I scramble up, edges cutting through my gloves. Blood splatters the winking mountain side. It's a soft color, more of a pink than the deep red it should be. But I can't dwell on it. I scrape my knees up the crag, whip around, and take Jules by both arms. Yank him up.

We've had the upper body strength discussion, but it's easier now. He crouches down and bounces off the bridge, sending it whipping up with one of its usual shrieks. His momentum carries him and I just swing him across. Granted, I can't swing him all that high are far, so he lands kicking on his stomach.

The screeching comes louder now, harsher. Like screams from above, dogging us as we race toward the mountain side. The aches are back, all over my body. I have become one, ugly scab. My muscles like putty. My skin punched with new cuts and scars. We're on our shaking feet now, looking up into the sky. The moon is big and full, hanging like a glowing medallion against the milky clouds and the fading stars.

I shudder. Snow crunches under our feet, the mountains rising on either side of us, like cave walls. Here, high up, in the empty, thin air, I feel even more trapped. Tingles race up both shins. I smash my fists into both of them. Jules jump back with his hands up in front of his face in a half-hearted guard. "Shiro?"

The tingles won't go away. They grow even more pronounced, pins and needles under my skin. Except it's worse than that, like scalpel tips and hammer heads. I swallow back a scream, driving my hands into my shins, then my knee caps. The bats land on the bridge. One by one, I watch them fall, situated gracefully on the frayed ropes. They look like black birds on a telephone wire.

"Shiro, shiro! Stop it!" Jules races to me, blowing thick strands of his hair out of his face. The pain is sudden and excruciating, cutting into my muscles. They're unraveling, I decide as I fall to my knees in the snow. My muscles, my tendons, my flesh, the fibers u

" I shrug. "And sorry about all this."

"I don't mind carrying you. It's strength training. Except you might be too light for even that."

"Me?" I toss my hair back even though he can't see it as the darkness closes in on our footpath. The rock surrounding us twinkles with snow and dead lichen. "I'm all muscle." I narrow my eyes where the darkness folds in on the rocks. "A cave. Right here."

As the wind howls and thick bunches of gray clouds roll across the darkening sky, Jules ducks the frosty hanging moss and slings me down on the floor. We're consumed in darkness, with only the pinpricks of stars for light.

"We'll ride out the storm here, " Jules announces. I unzip my pack from behind my back, rifle through its contents, and unroll my sleeping bag. It's thick and zips from the side, like a big, fluffy pillow you can slide into. Except I can't do much sliding. My legs are still numb. Jules shakes a pill bottle and throws me two aspirin tablets I swallow dry without even checking them for traces of cyanide. Jules does the same. He plops down beside me. In the dark, all I can see are his eyes, burning blue in the blackness.

"Aren't you going to sleep?"

He throws me a stick of jerky. For the first time I realize how hungry I am. I tear off the plastic and gobble it down, the chewy meat stale and spicy. I Iick the last of the salt and grease off my glove, stomach still rumbling. Jules chuckles, all white teeth in the dark.

"We really ought to share a sleeping bag. Y'know, body heat and all."

I roll my eyes. The world has become a haze once more, layered with this thick, smoky gray. I blink. Shake my head slowly. "You just want to cuddle."

"Well, yeah, Shiro, no shit. I'm on a suicide mission to steal my soul back from vampires. Of course, I want to cuddle. What type of person wouldn't want to cuddle under those circumstances?"

I settle beside him on the cold, damp stone with my arms crossed over my chest like a mummy. I squint up at the hanging jags, listening to the comforting drip drip drip as the cold water trickles toward our camp.

"You don't know me all that well."

"Does it even matter, Shiro? We need to conserve body heat. And we're kind of both dead here anyway, so, if this doesn't work I'm pretty sure it's the least of our worries."

I shrug. "Sound points, sound points. Oy." I rub my face. "Man, I'm too tired to figure out a plan."

"And I hurt too much to school you on the finer points of vampirism. So."

I unzip my jacket. He rolls up against me and pushes me into the sleeping bag. We're wedged up against the cave wall, one person in a puffy winter jacket rolled up in the sheets already a stretch, two an exercise in insanity. Larry skips around the cave, licking up the trickles of water. I sigh and close my eyes, feeling, really feeling, the aches that have settled in my muscles. Buzzing behind my eyes, behind my brain. But more importantly, I feel Jules. Who is not cuddling with me, just pressed up against my back, the two of us jammed into this thick fleece pocket like a Teen Boy Burrito. I can hear his breathing, soft and regular.

And I sleep. For the first time, I think in a while, I'm not afraid.

Yeah, you can guess how long that will last.

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