Chris didn’t like this part of his job. He hated heights. And he doesn’t like the cold. Still, he walked into the shadow of the camelback bridge, leaving his car where the cracked pavement ended, not trusting the nearly century old wood planks that made the roadway to hold its weight. When he saw the small shadow, he swung his leg over the iron truss and slid between a cross beam until he was standing on the rusted steel ledge, holding on to the braces until his fingers hurt, hearing the large oaks on the river banks creak.
“What’re you doing, kid?”
When the kid looked up Chris could see enough of his face in the security lights in the parking lot far to their side to see that he wasn’t actually a kid. But he was still younger than himself by a solid fifteen years, probably more.
“Thinking that this isn’t nearly high enough to kill me if I jump,” he said, staring down at the dark brown water. Chris only knew it was brown, because the Deep Fork River was always brown. Right now, though, it flowed black with the parking lot lights twinkling on it like stars.
“No. You’d probably just break your legs.”
“Then I couldn’t swim, then I’d drown. That sounds like a really shitty way to die.”
“It wouldn’t be one of my top picks, no,” Chris said.
He held on to the steel harder as he sat, feeling the rust cling to his fingers. The boy looked over at him, his eyes catching on the side of his neck, then down to his uniform. He looked at his neck again, squinting. Chris wanted to tell him that staring was rude, but probably not the best thing to tell a boy sitting on the side of a bridge stinking of weed and alcohol, like he had bathed in them.
“What city are you from?” the kid asked.
“I’m not city. I’m county,” Chris said.
“So are you going to make this easy for me and climb back over the railing?”
“Are you going to make it easy for me and just get back in your car and leave?”
When the boy shifted, Chris resisted the urge to grab him and hold him steady. He dug in the pockets of his hoodie, shifting around too much. When he shifted farther, Chris did reach out to soccer mom press against his chest. To his surprise, the boy laughed as he pulled out a pack of cigarettes from his back pocket and tucked one in the corner of his mouth. The flame from his lighter bathed his face in orange for a moment until the end caught.
“I swear you’re all the same.”
“Who?” Chris asked, only taking his hand away when the kid stopped moving.
“Cops,” the boy said. Then shook his head. “I don’t like have anything against you guys, protect and serve, all that shit. My dad’s a sheriff.”
“Stilinski,” Chris said after thinking about it for a moment. He could see the gray-haired man in his mind’s eye, his wide shoulders, and handsome face. The boy didn’t look like him. He was still handsome from what he could tell, but they didn’t look alike at all.
“Mhm, if you can’t tell, he’s super jazzed about all this,” Stiles said, gesturing to himself before he blew out cigarette smoke. The cloud from his mouth was a lighter gray against the dark.
“What do you mean by that?” Chris asked.
“You should really just go.”
“You should really climb over the railing and let me take you home.”
The boy barely smiled at him, the corner of his mouth twitching up. He had quite a few moles on his cheeks. They were a handsome contrast with his pale skin and dark hair. Something about him reminded him of Peter. He didn’t know what it was, but there was something there. The kid’s eyes caught on his neck again, like it was a zit instead of a bond mark.
“Why are you sitting up here?”
“That’s pretty obvious.”
That was it. The smart ass tone. That’s what reminded him of Peter. He was jealous of the bastard at home, warm in their bed, while his fingers were starting to ache from the cold.
“This is the cheapest therapy session you’ll ever get in your life. Maybe take advantage of it.”
The boy rolled his eyes. He had dark eyes. Chris couldn’t even tell the color.
“I flunked out of college, how’s that?” the boy asked. “Stereotypical enough? Oh and I was busted for possession a week ago. Guess who had to bail me out on that one, from his own station? He was super impressed.”
“Possession of what?”
“Weed,” then he shrugged. “I had some meth on me, but not really enough for anything. They just marked that off.”
“Being the sheriff’s son has some benefits.”
“Do you smoke meth?”
“Not really,” the boy said, staring at his feet as he swung them. His shoes almost blended in with the water far below. The white band of them was the only thing that kept them from being lost. “No, I mean. I don’t really want to lose all my teeth at twenty-five.”
“Wouldn’t be very attractive.”
The boy snorted. “Shows what you know. I’m sure it gets a lot of fuckers all excited, no teeth to get in the way.”
Chris laughed. The boy looked at him and the corner of his mouth lifted again before he took another drag from his cigarette and let it fall from his fingers. Chris watched the ember fall against the darkness until it was snuffed out on the water.
“I failed out of school too,” Chris said. “I liked to party more than I liked to study. It happens.”
“Not to the valedictorian of the high school.”
“Oh yes it does,” Chris said.
The boy looked at him before his shoulders relaxed some where he was leaned forward. “Were your parents pissed?”
“They weren’t pleased, but they’re my parents. They still loved me.”
That wasn’t the truth, but it also had nothing to do with his grades and everything to do with the fact that his soulmate was his college roommate. The kid didn’t need to know that though. He’d never be the wiser and if his parents had been any kind of parents at all none of that would’ve mattered anyway.
“I can tell you this, he’d much rather have you and be a little pissed for a while than get the call that you’ve done this,” Chris said.
“Yeah,” the boy said. For the first time his eyes looked shiny before he wiped under his nose. “I couldn’t really do that to him.”
“It’d kill him. I’d really appreciate if you didn’t make me the person to call him.”
“I just don’t know what the fuck to do,” the kid said, his breathing catching slightly. “It feels like such a clusterfuck.”
Chris reached up, moving slowly enough for the boy to move if he wanted to before he squeezed his shoulder. The thick fabric of his hoodie was cold under his fingers, but heat beat beneath his fingertips before he let his hand fall back to the truss.
“How old are you?”
“Twenty-one,” Chris said, laughing slightly. “God, you’ve got years. The last thing you need to do is let a few fuck ups get in the way of the rest of your life.”
“It doesn’t feel like I’m that young any more. I should be getting my shit together.”
“When I was twenty-one I had a DUI, spent most of my days drunk, and high. I got over it. People leave out the part where your twenties are some of the hardest years. You’re figuring shit out, what you want to do, who you are. You’ve got time though.”
The boy stared at him for a moment, before his eyes slid to his neck again and he nodded. “Thanks. That helps.”
“I hope so.”
Then the boy looked at his hands before looking away. Then he took a deep breath and tugged down the collar of his hoodie. It took Chris a moment to understand what he was doing, to look at the light expanse of his skin before he was staring at the same dark mark on his neck that was on Peter’s. That was on his own. As he stared the boy shifted then let his hand fall.
“Not really a way to bring that up delicately,” the kid said. “And of course you’d be a cop. I just can’t get away from you guys.”
Chris leaned over, frowning as he pulled down the kid’s hoodie and looking closer. He rubbed it to see if it would smear. The kid laughed.
“Yeah, because I’d know to fake that.”
“Sorry,” Chris said, leaning back and still staring. “Fuck,” he said quietly.
“So you’re married.”
“He has the same mark,” Chris said, staring at the boy’s neck. “I’m not letting you jump off this bridge.”
“Yeah I kind of figured when you sat down,” he said with a slight laugh.
“If you don’t get over the railing I’m hauling you over it,” Chris said.
The boy smiled again, his teeth barely showing as he tilted his head back against the steel. “Bossy. I like it,” he said, then he jerked himself up and Chris’s heart shot into his throat, ready to grab him before Stiles slid through the trusses and back onto the relative safety of the rotting boards behind them.
Chris got up more carefully and felt a cold hand close around his own, steadying him as he climbed over the railing. The supports above threw shadows on the boy’s face. His heart beat like a drum, he heard the water far beneath them and the creak of the boards in the wind that whistled around the angles.
“What’s your name?”
“You can call me Stiles,” he said.
“Chris,” he said, holding out his hand.
When he smiled and shook Chris’s hand, he looked like a ghost in the moonlight, his skin was cold enough for it and his eyes and lips dark enough. Chris felt a shiver pass down his spine that made his stomach hollow.