Actions

Work Header

sea of islands

Work Text:

They'll ride out tomorrow in the early morning, and see what there is to see. Early, early morning. Sam sits quiet for a while with his knees to his chest, staring into the palm of his wrecked hand — rolling his fingers and feeling the raw tissue twist.

He's too weak to stand in the shower so he just slumps; he sits on the grimy floor and breathes thick ragged breaths with his hair gluing itself to his forehead and the water getting in his eyes no matter how tight he closes them. If he shuts his eyes he can pretend he's somewhere else, like maybe the basement showers at the last place he worked before he worked here, antiseptic and gritty gray tile and never-ending hot water.

If Sam shuts his eyes he can almost pretend somebody else is there. His sense of something in the periphery is too pressing, but he knows it can't be — if he looks up he'll see his impatient towel-clad girlfriend the way she never was and never will be, tapping her bare foot because she needs to brush her teeth and wash her hair. Or he'll see something he's too afraid to see. He'll see her. His sad-sack hallucinations are getting weirder.

Maybe there never was anybody there. Maybe there never was anybody, that's the more pressing question right now, and the hair-prickling ache on the periphery of his senses is as sick as everything else that's going wrong with him.

When he opens his eyes the other Sam Bell is standing there in his boxers, white towel dangling from his arm, his mouth ajar. Sam blinks away the sting of recycled water. He knows that he's naked, and that he should care about that, even as he's too dulled to indignity to feel shame.

There's a folding partition that slides out on a track to make a little booth, but the obvious expectation is that mining operators work alone, and he hasn't used it for probably two and a half years. It's too late to put it up now; the other Sam is already looking at him, really looking at him, and he's willing to bet he's looking pretty bad. He's too weak to lift his arm anyway.

His lungs hurt from the steam. There's a ringing in his ears, or maybe it's the pipes, but it's whistling like a teakettle and his head rattles on the stainless steel paneling. His teeth are chattering and the water still scalds.

The other Sam is looking at him, but he's got his hand out. It hurts to keep his eyes open under the streaming water, but Sam dares him to do something, to say something.

His mouth is moving, but Sam isn't listening, Sam can't hear. He's asking if if you're alright is the only thought and it makes his cheeks prickle. What a stupid, neutered question. Sam wonders almost if he's bleeding and hasn't realized it yet, because the other Sam has something in his voice that he hasn't heard before in their brief acquaintance — only Sam doesn't know what it's supposed to be.

"Of course," Sam says. "Don't worry about it. Why don't you, fucking — run along and get out of here?"

He's just out of shape, that's all. There's nothing wrong with him, and nothing to worry about. Jesus, it's like living with a fucking roommate. He hated living with a roommate. Sam used to think he liked living alone.

He's cold. Can't remember when he started to get cold like this, started feeling his extremities prickle with pins and needles. His wet hair stands up in spines at the back of his neck.

Once he's dry enough to make the trip without leaving a trail of soggy footprints, Sam props himself up on the exam table in the infirmary to rebandage his hand. The sudden spell of weakness has passed, and he tops off the gauze with silicone-laminated tape. Gerty's serene voice keeps trying to walk him through the same four steps to first-aid; if it were really bad, he'd be telling Sam to hold still and taking over the application of antiseptic gels remotely. Gerty's voice is the anchor, pleasant and sober. Sam squinches shut his eyes and listens. His bruised cheek aches.

(Sam wonders if there's a real Gerty somewhere who had to painstakingly record his entire soundboard's worth of vocabulary — some bored guy clocking in and out, just like Sam but probably better-paid. He made a joke about that once, but it didn't land right.)

**

The man who is not Sam is waiting for him in his room. He's still too stark in this light, too saturated in the cheeks and lips department, and his novelty tee shirts hang on his shoulders better than the real Sam has ever looked in the mirror. Maybe he looked like this once too, healthy, but his old photos don't give a real basis for comparisons.

Sam sticks out his chin, feels his Adam's apple kick in his throat, tries to affect a casualness he doesn't feel crossing the threshold. The other Sam is settling in. He's going to stay as long as they're waiting it out. "Sorry about that back there. You don't have to worry about that, I get kind of dizzy sometimes. Gerty says it's probably the hot water, but I hate cold showers, so what the fuck can you do." He slaps his leg as some kind of punctuation for this concept and immediately can't figure out why he did it.

His eyes are pretty doubtful, the other guy who's not Sam's. "You fucked up your head pretty bad in the wreck."

"Don't worry about it. I'm sorry." Sam scratches behind his ear cautiously. The pair of them are stuck eyeing each other cagily, like they're not sure what move to make. "Do you. Um. Do you have strong feelings about the bed? First come, first serve? Or do you want to split it?"

Seeing as they're the same person and all, it shouldn't be that strange. The new guy will sleep in that same bed, curl up under those same heat-sterilized bedsheets — Sam half-expects some explosive display of violence anyway, for his clone to start ripping down the photographs or breaking the daylight lamp.

The new Sam shuts his eyes for a moment, and that's all. "Unless you have a better idea."

"—I'll sleep on the floor, or the examination table. I'm sorry. That was a stupid suggestion."

"Don't worry about it." Sam pads across the floor to check for any debris — fallen photos, anything that really shouldn't be there. It's not a pretty picture, two guys in that same bed, crammed up against the wall jostling for space with Sam's potted plants and magazines. Neither of them signed on for this. Potentially no Sam Bell signed on for this. If nothing else they were promised solitude — they were promised a chance to be the only one, and look how that worked out.

The other Sam is already slipping out of his shoes.

**

The novelty of sleeping naked wears off pretty fast. It's always a little too cold at night — complaining about it just gets Gerty offering to make you a warm beverage for the next 2 hours — and it's too embarrassing to keep up, like sleeping with your sneakers on. The time you save isn't equal to the amount of time you spend lying on the mattress feeling completely non-human. Sam sleeps in his faded tee shirts.

Sam tugs back the covers a little wider and smooths them a little self-consciously into perfect triangles. If he'd known he was going to have both unexpected guests and a serious head injury he'd have washed his fucking sheets. The empty bed is like a yawning mouth.

"Like a fucking hotel bed?" The other Sam does a shitty job not looking dismayed at the accommodations, mouth quirking to the side — Sam doesn't know if his own face does that when he's thinking, but it's obvious the other Sam is mulling over whether this is really that much better than a night upright in a chair or on a table. It can't be the bed

Sam feels a muscle in his cheek batter. Deep breaths. Counting to five. "Do you want it or not?"

It's not the bed as much as the company, but they're both beyond dignity now. Back before Sarang there were sleep tests, and a lot of long nights sleeping on papery sheets and getting in trouble for trying to wring one out still hooked up to all the monitors. They must have shown him pictures of the living quarters, the Lunar Industries people — they showed Sam pictures, maybe he remembers that, of when everything was shiny and unused, like the diagrams from an Ikea catalogue. Sam remembers that. He remembers how everything fit together, before he made it his and covered every available surface in printoffs and tape and pictures. The company encouraged that kind of thing, or at least it wasn't very good at preventing it.

The bed is just a bed. They've both slept in it before; they just didn't know they were already sharing it.

The other clone takes a generous step back, gesturing gawkily toward the open spot. "You first. You were here first." Sam can't tell if he means this as a courtesy or if it's emblematic of his annoyance.

Sam doesn't do more than grimace. "All right, suit yourself. Lights out."

It feels guilty, dirty, like he's trying to trick him into something. They can't both lounge back without one or the other of them getting dislodged, and the blanket is wedged between the two of them like a barrier — like a wordless way of saying this whole side is for me, and the other tiny wedge is for you. The pull of sleep is tough to resist, and the drop in the lighting has practically conditioned him into drowsiness once things have lowered to an indistinct glow, but self-consciousness and pain make him stiff.

Sam winces away from the jostling rise and fall of the other clone's chest, and shuts his eyes tighter — tighter still, until the stars behind his eyelids drop off into nothing and there's no Sam at all.

**

He doesn't dream about the girl this time — he dreams about no one at all, a green field and an empty picnic basket and a sky the flat blue of a paint chip. He'd asked Tess if she'd thought any more about painting the nursery a different color when Zoe gets older, something less babyish, and she hadn't answered — she hadn't said she hadn't, or she wouldn't, she just never said anything. He doesn't dream about Zoe, and he doesn't dream about Tess.

Sam wakes, maybe two hours into it by his own baseless reckoning, to find the other Sam is awake too. Even with his eyes shut, he can hear him breathing in the low near-dark, he can hear the uneasy noises as he shifts on the mattress or hmms a little in his throat. Blanket or no blanket Sam can feel him, there, in the dark.

He's about to ask him if he'd like a tranquilizer from the bottle he keeps on the bookshelf ledge, when the other Sam exhales oh, for fuck's sake to nobody in particular and turns over. They're chest to chest now, and face to face.

Face to face is officially too close. The other Sam's pointy kneecap bumps into the soft meat of Sam's thigh, where there's already a bruise.

"What is it?" Sam is squinting in the dark, bruises on his cheek wrinkling. And then again, suddenly fearful, "did I say something?"

"You didn't. Your eyes." The man who isn't Sam doesn't sound anything close to coherent, speech thick with sleep as he drags himself up to his elbow; the way he presses his eyes shut tight to clear his vision makes Sam reflexively start doing the same thing.

"What's wrong with them?" How he even saw them is the real mystery; Sam blinks a couple times more, still expecting something like blood.

It's never really dark here on Sarang. The real dark is outside. Sam's eyes are trying their best to catalogue the differences, shuttering back into focus, and he can feel the scrutiny going both ways.

The other Sam has less wrinkles and more color in his cheeks; he doesn't have the raw patch under his jaw from hacking away months' worth of beard. He doesn't have Sam's soft paunch or his dark shadows or weeks and weeks of speckled overlapping bruises capped off by the latest ones from the wreck. But the have the same noses and the same eyes, the same base coat of fine lines they came in with around the eyes and probably the forehead, Tess always says it's just stress, but Tess never looks anything short of angelic — Tess would know the difference, between the before and the after.

Sam leans ins at the same time as his clone, like there's something else to see — and now he's here, bumping noses with himself, lips brushing on lips that are a lot like his own. His chest is pressing against the other Sam Bell's shoulder, feeling the symmetry where there might not even be any any more because this Sam is still solid muscle. He smells like soap and clean glass. Sam is kissing a mirror.

Still new—

The other Sam's mouth is on his mouth. His mouth is open, and Sam wants to devour him.

— shiny and new.

After a few breaths, Sam says, "That kind of hurt."

"I'm sorry for busting your face."

"Don't worry about it."

The inside of his mouth aches. The other Sam's hand is on his cheek, thumbing a scrape, and he can't remember what it's like to be touched by somebody else's hands. Three years is a long time.

Sam shifts on the mattress and the lights come up a little. It's all he can do not to verbalize thanks, pal, but the fear that Gerty's blocky robot arm might actually be there in the room with them while they're getting down is too real and too weird.

This is all too weird, but they're beyond weird now. Sam can barely stand to touch him at first and to bridge the gap — the sensations of both their bodies are amplified to the point of pain, but the animal part of him that likes details is telling him to get down to it, to touch bony shoulders and collarbones and prickling skin and to get to know how he smells. Sam's not too picky about smells, or he wouldn't be working on a godforsaken mining rig with no fresh air and no light, but his doppelgänger smells like soap and ozone. Brand new.

The other Sam's teeth catch in his lip and he groans a little into the pain of it, a flash of soft sound. His shirt is warm from being on his body and his nipples are pebbling up against the first Sam's palms. He's warm, and clean, and his heartbeat is steady as a drum. Sam can feel it against the hollow pit of his hand.

The pair of them do look alike, but this Sam is the one who's there, the one who's flesh and blood. He's not lonely. He's still new. Maybe Sam and Tess had one last really good screw for old times' sake, before parting — this guy would remember it better, or he'd think he did, but if it happened Sam remembers only impressions. Not what they did or where they went to do it but Tess' hair sticking in his mouth, her breasts spilling out of her bra and and her hands making him work—

He needs to breathe. He needs to keep his shit together or whatever string's still there to tether him to reality will snap. Sam leans into it, into his own clone's hand working at him hard and slow and tight, but he can't get hard— Sam stammers an apology and the other guy shifts his grip a little, so Sam can grind forward uselessly against his hand and pray for their bodies to line up.

To get closer. He just wants to be closer, and he can't make it work.

"I haven't really done this in a long time," Sam mutters against the side of his face, because he hasn't and if this is him too he'd already know that — the pressure is there, tightening his throat and making it hard to say anything at all.

The other Sam snorts, with derision or the exertion of tugging down Sam's waistband and shucking up Sam's shirt. His thumbnail carves a generous line against Sam's abdomen, where his belly slopes down into his hip.

Six months was the longest he could remember sleeping alone, before — and if he'd handled that he could handle anything, maybe he'd always slept alone. He'd made it through that part. This is different, impossibly different, but the same thoughts of Tess are throbbing in her head that used to tide him over — he tries to remember — he remembers.

He remembers his mouth on the upper slope of Tess' left breast where her veins shine through a little. He remembers his hand between her legs pressing into her panties and working her apart, it's her and it's him and he misses the way she feels, lean and hard and breathing. But the other guy would remember those things too, if the whole clone thesis bears out. They're a lot alike. Sam gasps and swears and rakes at flesh with bent fingers —thinking of her, thinking of him with her, if this other Sam was impatient and rough or urgent and sweet or something else entirely. If he ever put his mouth on her, or if he was selfish —

— and he's hard under his hands, hurting, gasping. Naked legs tangling with naked legs, just a couple of animals. The other Sam is working his hand up and down the length of him with a familiar rhythm and a renewed urgency. This is the way Sam would do it — the way Sam likes it — but all he can bring himself to do in return is grasp at the other version of him with absolute helplessness. Catching his upper arm, or just below his ass, trying to keep his weight fixed just right and curling up like a stiff comma to support him while the other guy jerks him off, or tries.

This isn't real, it's just another hallucination, some glimpse at himself from an unflattering angle. The old Sam Bell — the old Sam Bell who hasn't been cracking up for three years straight, who hasn't tried so desperately hard to remember how somebody else's skin feels on his, who hasn't once touched himself and pretended it was somebody else's hand — Sam Bell the way he was three years ago wouldn't want anything to do with him now.

But there's the magic factor, the thing that kicks Sam into overdrive and sets his brain scrambling off through his memories — his responses are immediate, the tiny shifts in his grip and how he lays his weight, there's no long moment where Sam has to imagine what another person might do.

He thinks of Tess, and Sam, and white sheets. He comes gasping.

The fingers presently fastened on his dick twitch all at once, like it catches him by surprise. Sam swears softly; the other Sam wipes his hand off on his boxers and wraps his arms around him, a fixed band of muscle and bone. He can't tell if he means for it to be so tight or if it's just the narrow space.

The other Sam's face presses into his shoulder. He can feel his breathing, and the percussive thud of his heartbeat. Sam puts up a bloodless trembling bandaged hand and cups the back of the other Sam's head. His hair is soft under his palm, warm and soft; he's clean in the way Sam can never seem to get clean. He looks better without a beard. Maybe they both do.

The other Sam exhales against his collar.

It's a little bit funny, given the three years' worth of uninterrupted jerking off he's done up here, that what he really wants is to be held. What he really, really wants is to be holding Tess, but he'll settle for any set of arms. This wouldn't have happened if he hadn't been alone. Sam would have never done this with anyone else.

He can't read his face, he can't read his body. Sam is afraid of him half the time they're going at it, even with his tongue in his mouth and his long bare legs in his bedsheets and his boxers shucked down to his knees. Fear. Sam is afraid, the other Sam is not. Pity. What he must feel for Sam is pity, and — pity is pretty good, isn't it?

"Don't you want a turn?" Sam says when he surfaces.

"I'll be fine." But he's hard, and Sam brings his hands down to show he knows it.

His clone is turning him over against the mattress, helping him turn over, and for a moment Sam's eyes shut and he's seeing stars — it's not the other guy's fault, it's just the change in his equilibrium and the unfamiliar sensation of somebody else's hands on his waist or on his shoulder, gently arranging him like an egg getting put back in the carton. He doesn't just throw him down. Sam used to think that looked cool. He'd probably break a rib now.

Sam reaches back to bring him down — and he's rutting against Sam's hip, hard enough to hurt, but the friction is enough to make Sam's own dick ache and he twists his back to allow a better angle.

The other Sam grunts with hopeless desire. Sam's legs come apart and he reaches back to guide the other Sam between him, to rub against a more advantageous place, somewhere softer than bone

The other Sam's hand still cups at his groin — a weirdly familiar gesture of safekeeping, though Sam's still so sensitized after the first round that just the comfortable touch is something close to painful. He can feel the sheets wadded up under his stomach and every bruise on his body like a special thumbprint. The other Sam lowers his head without really meaning to, and Sam stiffens. The other Sam just brushes him with his nose and lip, not a kiss, and he jerks back against the bed — like an electric shock, like something that feels so good his teeth hurt.

That's his neck. His fucking neck. Nobody has touched his neck in three years, not even Tess for even longer than that — she always just thought it was funny, feeling him squirm when she'd curl up on him and mouth at his throat in the dark.

There's a sound that might be a laugh. Sam makes a helpless noise, with the other Sam heavy against his back, and kicks out spasmodically. He knocks down the fucking lamp.

"Shit—"

"Don't move," he says with his mouth still against Sam's neck, "I'll get it. Don't worry about it." Like Sam's own orderliness is contagious. It's a habit the new guy hasn't learned yet. He starts to lift himself up, and the sudden peel of cold air down Sam's damp back makes him flinch.

"Don't bother." Maybe a couple magazines hit the floor or one of the pictures hangs crooked now, he doesn't know. It's a ball of cheap plastic that probably cost the corporation less than putting a panel in the wall. It made the place feel like home. Maybe Sam's always been kind of a slob. Sam sinks down into nothing.

When he finally spills himself against his legs, his breath hitches somewhere behind Sam's ear, and he goes still. The backs of his fingers are fluttering against Sam's side, just below his ribs.

Pity is one thing. Comfort is something else. They are flush together in casual sticky wetness for a long moment, and neither of them must really want to move for a long time.

**

Slowly the two of them come apart, but it takes a few tries — in the process Sam relishes the small strange touches, and can pinpoint them one by one, the place where the tender back of somebody's ankle brushes somebody's calf or the back of his elbow grazes Sam's armpit.

They race each other to the shower, shedding useless clothing on the way, but Sam's just a little too slow; he stumbles in after on aching feet once the other guy has had a chance to appreciate that first blast of frigid water. It'd probably cost too much to have it start out warm. It's as instantaneously bracing as an electric shock.

Two guys horsing around in the bathroom like a couple of kids. What would Gerty think? Honestly.

The other guy's careful to keep a light touch with him, something about him bruising like a peach probably, even as he presses his wrists up to the wall — and where does Sam know that from, has Sam done that, that is one of his special-occasion 'pay attention now' moves for a reason and the immediate flush of sensation from his throat to his crotch explains why.

The other Sam holds him there, forehead to forehead.

"That didn't happen," the other Sam says. He blinks a couple times rapidly under the freezing water, like he's trying to wake himself up. "That didn't happen."

The other Sam's fingers knit into his own, interwoven, and Sam can feel the shifting of his long strong bones, he can feel the painful tug of the bandage on the back of his own hands and almost wonders if he feels it too.

Belly to belly in the suffocating dark, Sam Bell knows he isn't alone.