There are no bones here / but still plenty to break
— Mary Sims , “In the Midst of Creation ”, from I-Boy, Unmade
“Sammy.” Dean says, desperate, grieving.
He’s down on his knees, supplicant. He’s illuminated in moonlight, pouring in through the broken glass windows, his shoulders are unbowed, jaw clenched. A crown of silver settling across his brow, wide eyes stark and wild. He’s holding Sam’s hands, the bottom of his plaid shirts, white knuckled. Unable to part from him, keeps him close.
Keeps him safe.
“You gotta finish it, Dean.” He says, struggles to get the words from his mouth, dry with tacky blood. He can barely breathe as it is; sweet fever dream, slow like molasses as he swallows. He’s trying so hard not to cry, to stay strong , but it isn’t working; he can still feel the burn behind his eyes, the way the grace purifies his veins, illuminates his skin; blood and holiness on the back of his tongue, slick, beckoning like an early warning. Foreign and home, all at once.
“Sammy,” Dean chokes, pulls Sam to his knees alongside him. Sam’s knees hit the chapel floor; swaying, dizzy, burning. He cannot hold himself up. Dean brings his hands up, grabs at the looseness of Sam’s shirt, brushes against the fever hot skin of Sam’s chest. He can see Dean’s pulse fluttering in his neck, feel the hard push of knuckles against his sternum. “ Don’t make me do this.”
He’s crying, Sam thinks distantly, Dean’s crying. Sees the tears on Dean’s cheeks, the way he’s pleading with Sam. With Castiel. With God. Swears, yells, rages. It’s as if Sam is both far too a distance away and yet seemingly too close, Dean cradling Sam’s hands in his own, pressing Sam’s palms to his mouth; as if to protect them, anchoring and washing him ashore. As if Dean can do anything to go against something that’s been written in holy relic stone. He and Dean have rewritten history in the making before, but this is something that burns inside of him, burns him up and spits him out; Sam has been swallowed whole in a saint’s image, holy, undaunted.
Sam sways; he’s burning. Burning with fever, with light and with holiness. He never thought something like him could become something like this. Light and holiness and faith, graceblood dripping down his face, his throat, sweet prayer hands folded around his big brother’s.
“Dean,” He says, feels it tear at his throat, the way blood pools on his tongue. Swallows it down; feels the way grace is burning him up from the inside out.
It’s the strangest feeling; like boiling holy water tipped down his throat, electrified ocean water; he’s silverlit, illuminated in the oncoming darkness. This is scorched and desert mirages, like a gunshot wound, heavy with blood. It is both worlds and times away from that biting coldness of the bone deep tundra that isn’t grace seeping into him like Lucifer’s, reminiscent of a hand around his heart, crawling slowly down his throat; suffocating, ice made ash forced inhuman. Frostbite, freezer burn.
He feels himself fall forwards, moonlight and gracelight falling across his face, feels blood seeping from his eyes. He is both falling to pieces and slowly melding them together, torn apart house of cards.
Dean catches him; gasoline, gunpowder, leather. He’s crying, still. He clutches Sam to his chest with shuddering hands. Sam buries his face in his throat; gasping, shuddering.
A heavy, warm weight is placed over the nape of his neck, like Dean used to do when they were younger; when Sam had nightmares of fire and screams and mothersblood that he shouldn’t be able to remember, curled against Dean’s solid chest beneath the covers of fabric and darkness, wishing for something different, for something better.
“Dean,” He says, like it’s all he can say. Coughs, feels the blood slipping, sliding down his throat, swallows it down, drowns it, doesn’t want to cough it up all over Dean.
He clenches his hands into Dean’s leather jacket, the plaid warm beneath, the absence of the amulet still so obvious even after all these years. He thinks of the amulet often, wears it around his neck sometimes when it gets particularly hard, a weight he barely feels, sometimes places a palm over the barely visible bump it makes in his shirts. It’s an albatross around his neck he bares almost gladly. Sam closes his eyes, feels the slick wetness of tears, of blood, of guilt, across his eyes, feels Dean’s own tears hot and burning as they fall off his clenched jaw; falling across Sam’s own brow, a damp three pointed brothercrown; Peter, who thrice defied and yet was first forgiven after thrice made redemption.
“Little brother.” Reverent, grieving. Whispered into his blood matted hair, gripping a shuddering shoulder. Cured demon once-King staring at them, glazed eyes and uncomprehending, needle pricked neck, unable to move.
“Sam,” Castiel says softly, just as grieving, just as desperate, bible paper thin pain in his voice, illuminations of wingshadows against the walls, ozone, peppermint, eyes of Christ upon them, thrice agonised. “It’s time.”
“No.” Dean growls, and Sam pulls back, sees him glowering at Castiel; angel blade in hand, unable to let go of Sam. Castiel’s eyes are open, gracelight bright, tears on his cheeks, jaw clenched and hands open and lax at his sides. Human and Angelic, all at once. A terribly beautiful dichotomy.
“You know what will happen, Dean.” Castiel says, quiet, grieving. Darts undying gracelit eyes at Sam, angelic floral emotion; breaking and mending, stitched and unpicked, whiskey bitter and tylenol sour. Five fingered, spine deep gutwound, heavy with guilt and blood and prayer.
My God and I, Sam thinks distantly. Would sink to the floor if he wasn’t there already, shivering and gasping. Knees aching, soul pure, immolating; he can feel the demon blood, being slowly replaced with holy water, unclean blood made holy, soul made pure made grace made holy; a celestial behemoth housed in humanity. It aches. He aches.
He knows, and he accepts. This holy water, this grace, was never meant for him.
“How can you think I’d do - do that to Sam ?” Dean barks, human rage and human grief. Righteous man made self righteous, brought to his knees; supplicant in the light of Christ, thrice made agony, Cain and Abel replicate; unable to comprehend.
“He’s my brother, Cas! I can’t - I won’t - hurt him! If God wants these Hell Gates closed, He can freakin’ do it Himself.”
“We have no time for you irreverence, Dean.” Castiel rasps, takes a step forward, places angelic sweet hands on Sam’s shoulders, soft and tender in a way only Castiel is towards him.
Dean clutches Sam to him, protective, raging. Hurricane violent, unable to let go, unable to grieve. Sam has always know it would come to this. Angelic Blade aloft, Sword of Michael in his Image, in his Glory. With anger, with violence, with grief.
“Dean,” He whispers, pulls back, touches a shaking hand to Dean’s cheek, relaxes into the soft hold of Castiel at his back, knees against his spine, stalwart and steadfast. “Dean."
Dean deflates, unwinds. He turns his face towards Sam, eyes wet and bloodshot. Angelic Blade in loose hands clattering to the floor. Defenceless, grieving, desperate. Repentant. Shudder shakes, eye of the storm, collapsing; house of cards.
“Sammy….” He begs, grips Sam by the shoulders, squeezes tightly. Castiel is a solid bulk besides Sam too, something holy and glorious, indomitable celestial behemoth on his knees before the Vessel of Dawn, of the Morningstar. Sam shudders, leans back into Castiel’s hands splayed huge and protective across his ribs, his chest. Castiel digs his fingers in, muscle deep bruise, and it’s a sweet, aching type of agony.
“I’m going to die, anyway,” He says, feels the caress of ozone burning grace against his organs, pulsing with his heart; grace ghost curling around his lungs, inhaled-exhaled. He curls his fingers around a holy oil iron bolt, drags it closer, feels as Castiel grips it for him. Their fingers touch and it feels like stars badly wrapped in human skin. “Might as well...make sure it’s not in vain.”
“You shouldn’t be dying anyway!” Dean growls, shakes him hard.
“But I am, Dean,” Sam says, smiles softly. “And I’m ready for it.” Earnest, he stares at Dean, at Castiel by his side, at the agonised face of Christ; approving. Drags another holy oil iron bolt closer, pushes it into Dean’s trembling hand.
“Well, I’m not!” Dean shouts. He lunges forward, to his feet; throws that bolt away from them all, smashes it against the wall with a heavy thud, it falls the floor, listless. Sam finches, feels the grace twitch inside his lungs, steal his breathe, settle against his marrow. “Don’t ask it of me, Sammy, not-not this.”
His brother is standing in the middle of the chapel, undying, grieving. Unable to realise the truth. That this is meant to happen; this is what Sam has been waiting for all his life. The Divine Plan, the reason for his existence; not for pain, but for redemption.
The last few steps of a well travelled road.
“Please, Dean.” Sam asks, begs, on his knees in front of his Christ. His Christ has no faith, runs only on fumes and blood and guilt, swallowed down, spat back up, drowning in his own bile, reluctant.
“Sammy,” Dean begs, falls to his knees; shoulders bowed, spine broken. Capulating. “Sammy…”
“I will do it.” Castiel says softly. He pauses, cups Sam’s face in his hand, looks at him with those gracelight bright eyes. He’s illuminated in moonlight too, at Dean’s side, holy oil bolt in hand; tears on his cheeks, halo of moonlight, wingshadows encompassing them all. Sam blinks and Castiel’s face flickers, melting, dripping from view. A head of a lion, maned, roaring; head of a goat, horns twisting to the Heavens, burning wheels; innumerable, unblinking eyes, glorious, ragged.
“Thank you,” Sam breathes, head turned towards the skies, Castiel’s palm blessed and tender against his face. “Thank you.”
“Please, do not thank me, Sam,” Castiel’s roaring muzzle says, thundering echos. Castiel gets to his feet, steps forward. Willing to do what is right, what is needed . Ozone and peppermint, wingshadows curving forward; protective, repentant. Mouth of the lion, snarling, wings of the eagle raised, protective. “Not for this.”
“No.” Dean says, soft. Castiel pauses, hands tightening around the iron bolt. His face is human, no roaring lion, no horned goat, no cawing eagle. Just those undying eyes and that strong brow, handsome and grieving; as if Sam has died already. Mournful angels and howling saints.
“No.” Dean says again; louder, harder. He looks up, lashes wet with tears, eyes bloodshot. He slaps a hand against Castiel, stops him in his tracks. Castiel and Sam look to him.
“If anybody is going to do this,” Dean says, and his voice wavers, as if he hasn’t the strength for this but will find it if Sam needs him too. “It’s going to-to be me.”
He staggers to his feet, keeps his eyes locked on Sam, doesn’t pay attention to the shifting moonlight, the fluttering wingshadows resting against Sam’s shoulders. Eyes only for his little brother, kneeling there before him still.
“You’re my baby brother, Sam.” Dean says, pauses. Face collapsing in agony, choking down sharp gasps of breath, robbing him of everything. Something is cracking beneath the very surface of him.
“And Jesus told his disciples; “if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Castiel says, quiet, grieving. He stands shoulder to shoulder with Dean, brothers in arms, in blood, in grief.
Sam doesn’t say anything for the longest time, simply looks up at Castiel, at Dean. Stood tall and brave before him, immovable; indomitable. Wingshadows gutter briefly across the expanse of wall behind Castiel and Sam watches them with aching eyes. Castiel inhales, exhales, a two beat count in time to Sam’s own heartbeat. Dean is still crying.
“Let us share the burden.” Castiel murmurs, soft, tender . As if Sam can still let people help without catching in his throat, without it being a knife to the back and twisted . But he does, because this is Castiel, this is Dean; and this is for the good of them and for everyone else. He is the least of everyone and anyone, Sam knows, and though that used to hurt, he knows better now; this is what he was meant for, what he was always made for.
He was not made for the father of lies, nor the throne of a boyking; he was made for thrice made agony, revelations; he was blood, he was sacrifice.
Sam falls forward, he is now the supplicant one. He rests his forehead against the muddy floor of the chapel, breathes easy for the first time since he’s started these weighty Trials. Feels the weight of the eyes of Christ upon the nape of his neck; tortured, agonised, watching.
Dean and Castiel kneel before him, a hand on each of his shoulders. A tender moment, before the storm. They help him up, let him sag between them. He’s resting on their shoulders, barely able to stand. He can feel Deans reluctance, Castiel’s guilt, his own peace. He inhales, exhales, coughs and swallows blood, blinks and cries blood.
“D’you-’you want to get the cross, Cas?” Dean asks, and his voice is shaking as badly as his hands are.
Castiel ducks out from beneath Sam’s arm, lingers only enough for the warmth of his softly glowing palm, a stark white blue that makes Sam shiver in the moonlight, to sink into Sam’s side before he leaves Sam to press against Dean’s chest, weak, immobile.
He’s given his strength unto the Lord, already.
“We’ve got you, little brother.” Dean chokes out, strokes a hand through Sam’s hair. Sam raises his eyes, smiles at him, watches the way Dean’s eyes carefully don’t watch as Castiel gets everything ready.
“I’m glad, that it’s you two.” He says, watches the way something in Dean’s eyes fracture, shattering like glass.
“Don’t-” Dean starts to say, pauses, bites his bottom lip until blood, something in his eyes is slowly cracking, shattering. He clenches Sam tighter to his chest, bone deep grief etched into his face.
“I won’t thank you.” Sam says, knows that it’s what Dean’s expecting him to do. He shudders, grace slowly crawling up his back, ghostly fingers wrapping tenderly around his spine.
“It’s gonna hurt,” Dean whispers, presses his mouth to Sam’s temple. Sam smiles up at him, something settling inside of him. “Hurt, like Hell.”
“I know,” He says, serene. “That’s just how we know it’s going to purify me.”
An expression washes over Dean’s face that Sam can’t quite read, and Sam can hear the sob that Dean barely manages to suppress by pressing his mouth harder into Sam’s hair.
A hand curls around his shoulder, Castiel pressing close against his back, huge hand warm over the landscape of Sam’s ribs, pressing his fingers into the mountainous grave site of them.
“It’s done.” Castiel says, just as soft as Dean.
“Ready?” Dean chokes out, curls a hand around the nape of Sam’s neck, warm and weighty. Castiel doesn’t say anything for a while, simply presses his forehead against the broad expanse of Sam’s back; Sam feels Castiel’s shoulders shuddering, ozone and peppermint, angelic sweet holiness.
“I’m ready.” Sam says, and if something starts to balloon in the very pit of his throat, he swallows it down and drowns it in his bile. He has been ready for years now, he thinks. Since he stood on the edge of that precipice, the liar captured in his thoughts and the righteous captured in his arms. He has been ready since he was born .
They end up having to drag him almost, suspended as he is between Dean and Castiel. Dean can barely seem to let him go, hand a warm presence over his right side, high on his chest.
The crucifix stands, large and looming, just before Crowley, as rundown as the chapel around it. Something settles inside of Sam, just beneath Dean’s hand, and it feels like a sharp spear tip pressed against ribs, drowning in his own bile. He tilts his head to the stained glass windows, sees faceless Mother Mary cradling her cracked child, St. Gabriel the Archangel taking flight on shattered wings.
“I love the Lord,” Sam says quietly, but it echoes in the chapel, a thunderbolt shout. “Because He hath heard my voice and supplications, because He hath inclined His ear unto me, therefore will I call upon Him as long as I live.”
“That’s not going to be that much longer, Sam,” Dean snaps, but his voice cracks, heart torn and sternum branded. It is much too vulnerable to be as belligerent as he wants it to sound. They lie him upon the stand of the crucifix, and both of their faces are pale, stark white beneath the moonlight pooling into the room.
“I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.” Sam tells him, floating between something he can’t explain and something he can’t put name too.
“Shut up, Sam.” Dean cries, and the hand on Sam’s back tightens into a fist, knuckles deep and bruising against his back, fingers slotting into a graveyard of a spine. Dean bows his head, hides his face against Sam’s temple. He can feel the warm wetness of Dean’s tears, they catch on his jaw.
Sam can feel the brush of Dean’s lips against his jaw, muttering. Sam thinks he’s praying.
“Come, my friend,” Castiel says, and he stands before Sam, an arm around his waist, what seem to be tears upon his face. He has made a holy being weep. “I do not want to do this, but if this is what you wish?”
Sam smiles, tremulous, at Castiel. He does not thank him, knows better now.
“I wish I could hate you,” Dean whispers, but his voice cracks and his touch is infinitely gentle as he helps Sam to his feet, there at the foot of the crucifix, already anointed with the needed ropes. Just behind it, Christ watches with agonized eyes, he seems almost mournful. Sam doesn’t know why, this is nothing but an honour.
“I’m sorry.” Sam tells him quietly, wishes he had enough strength that he could save Dean and Castiel the chore of doing this, of having to haul him up there. But there is nothing he can do, he has no strength left; he’s given it all to them.
“I know, kiddo,” Dean says, and Sam shudders as he feels the wood of the cross behind his back. “God, I know.”
“We need to start,” Castiel says quietly, and Sam smiles softly at him. He’s thankful that his last visions will be of these two, of his brother and of Castiel, who is closer than a friend, but Sam has never been able to label Castiel, who has been with him for so long. He loves them both, wishes they didn’t have to witness this, but he has always been selfish, he thinks.
Castiel lays the thick ropes into Dean’s outstretched hands, and Sam watches them with tired eyes as they each gently wrap those ropes around his arms, feeling the abrasive rub of them as his shirt rides up.
It is Dean that wraps that last rope around his waist, presses close as can be as he threads it around the thick wood of the cross. He ties it tightly, the knot of it just pressing into Sam’s sternum.
“You don’t have to do this, Sammy,” Dean whispers, and his forehead is pressed against Sam’s chest, and Sam knows Dean can feel the boney expanse of his sternum, how much weight he’s lost since the trials. “We-we can stop right now, before it goes too far. I’d rather- I’d rather have demons wreckin’ havoc on earth and have you with me than the alternative, little brother.”
Sam shudders, bites back the tears he can feel burning at the very back of his eyes.
“I know, Dean,” He says, just as quietly as Dean, and he cant help but tug at the ropes, a reflexive action as he tries to embrace Dean. “But this is something I need to do,”
Dean makes an angry noise in the back of his throat, but Castiel’s hand on his shoulder brings him up short. He and Castiel share a look between them that Sam can’t even begin to decipher.
Before Dean can step too far away; “Don’t bring me back, Dean,” Sam says, begs. “Please.” Dean looks away, allows Castiel to draw him away even as he avoids Sam’s eyes.
“Dean.” He says again, wants that promise, because he knows that his brother would do anything for him, just as he would do anything for Dean.
Dean inhales a shuddering breath.
“I can’t promise anything, Sammy,” He says, and something twists in his face, grief and guilt and rage and helplessness. “You’re my brother.”
“Cas,” Sam says plaintively, a vow to be unbroken.
“I’ll-” Castiel exhales sharply, and his face cracks apart, undying eyes brighter than Sam has ever seen them before. “I’ll stop him.”
“Thank you.” Sam says, sags against the binds of the ropes even as he watches Castiel step closer. Behind him, Dean’s face is clouded with grief and rage. Something inside of Sam cracks at the thought that he put that expression on his brother’s face, but this is for them, for Dean and for Castiel, for everyone.
"Please, do not thank me, Samuel," Castiel says, and something is cracking in his voice. Castiel steps forward, steps close enough to feel the heat of. It soothes something deep inside of Sam that only Castiel ever really seems to sooth.
“If I could take this Trial from you,” Castiel tells him, soft, tender. His palms are calloused, gentle as they cup Sam’s face. Sam can’t help but lean his face into them. “I would do so now, if only to save you the pain of this.”
Something inside of Sam breaks softly, splinters slowly like glass even as Sam looks at Castiel, his chest aches. There is so many things left unsaid between them.
“Thank you, Castiel,” He says, tastes blood on the back of his tongue, swallows it down. “But this is something I should do and-” He swallows down bile.
“And?” Castiel asks softly, and he lets his fingers curl around the nape of Sam’s neck, tangle in the strands of hair there. He’s close to touch, to feel the heat of.
“I can’t bare to see you in pain,” Sam says, whispers like he’s in confessional, as if he has not already vomited all his sins to the Father and had judgement passed upon him. This is something he must do, and suffering is something that will help purify him, he’s known this, will do it gladly. It’s why he’s been suffering his whole life. That he can spare Dean and Castiel even a portion of this, he’ll gladly nail himself to that cross.
“And you think we can stand to see you in pain?” Castiel demands, voice hoarse and broken and grieving. Sam simply looks at him, sways against the cross, against the ropes keeping his arms and waist pressed flush against the wood. “That we want to shove nails into you and hear you screaming as you die?”
Castiel inhales sharply. Then; “That we would not let the earth be torn asunder if it meant saving you? You mean far too much to us, Samuel Winchester, and that you would think-"
“Thank you.” Sam says, instead, whispers it almost. Castiel is so close, foreheads and noses almost touching. He is scorching hot, ozone and peppermint. Castiel chokes on his own tongue.
“I don’t want to be treated like Him,” Sam says softly, looking up at the wood he’s tied too. Castiel’s hands fall away from his face, and Sam is mournful. “I’m not pure enough but if this is what it takes, I’ll do what is needed and what I deserve,”
Dean makes a sound in the back of his throat that sounds enraged, makes his shoulders shudder from where Sam can see them.
“You don’t deserve this, you stupid sonuvabitch.” Dean spits, and his face is pale and chalky, eyes red rimmed. He looks like he’s slowly breaking, splintering apart. Castiel stands next to him, still and stiff. He too, looks as if something is slowly splintering inside of him, as if he’s missing something vital. They both look like they’re in mourning, already.
“But I do, Dean.” Sam says, feels the truth of it in the very pit of his stomach. This is what his whole life has been leading up too, from his Falling with Lucifer and Michael, to being here, right now. Twice made sacrifice, twice made repentance.
“Don’t-,” Dean starts to say, cuts himself off. His face twists, anger and guilt and grief. Collapses against Sam’s chest, grasps at Sam’s shirt. “Little brother,”
Sam watches as Castiel puts a hesitant hand upon Dean’s shoulder.
“We need to start Dean,” He says, and his voice is as soft as can be as he draws Dean away. Dean waits until the very last moment to give up contact with Sam, until his arm is outstretched and Sam’s shirt is protesting. Sam misses the warmth of the both of them at once.
“Do it,” Sam says, looks at Castiel.
Castiel shakes, shudders, he’s all together too human for such a celestial being.
“Father forgive me,” He murmurs, and Sam’s eyes are drawn to the quietly hovering of the holy oil bolt.
“Do it,” He demands. He doesn’t dare close his eyes, only watches as Castiel inhales, mouthing a prayer.
It happens in seconds, in only between the racing beats of his heart. He’s scared, he swallows thicky. In one moment, that bolt is simply hovering before him and in the next moment, Sam feels numb for only a second.
Fire spreads from his right wrist, lacing through his fingers and his biceps. It burrows through skin, through sinew and bone and into wood, shatter both himself and what will be his resting place. He tries to swallow his scream, tries to spare Dean and Castiel of even that, but that fire scratches at his throat, spills from his tongue. He slumps against the wood, fingers on his right hands twitching as he tries to pull against the ropes, try to pull himself free.
Something is rising beneath his chest, in his sternum. He can’t begin to describe it, only that it feels like something is slowly cracking inside of him, a tidal wave rising in the very back of his throat and choking off his screams. It’s golden, golden and holy, and he’s never felt anything like it. He weeps, softly.
Soft fingers touch at his jaw, explore the landscape of his throat.
“I’m so sorry, Sam,” Castiel whispers, and his voice is breaking, as if he, too, has been screaming. “If I could take the pain-”
“No,” He pants, feels the warmth of Castiel’s sheet lightning that isn’t grace slowly thrumming through his veins, it does nothing for the pain, only warms him through. “Don’t.”
“Don’t be a hero, Sammy,” Dean tells him, and his face has been broken into two, cracked down the middle. He’s pressed against Sam’s side, shoulder touching against Castiel’s. “You don’t have to do this, we can stop this shit right now.”
“I have-,” He can’t catch his breath, can only feel the warmth of Castiel’s grace in him, the sharp fire of that holy oil covered bolt. It’s a challenge to lift his head, to slump against the wood of the cross. He clenches his eyes shut, gasps out, chest heaving. “You can’t. I need to do this.”
He needs them to listen, to do what they have to, to finish what he’s started. This is for them, can’t they see that? Everything he’s done has been for them.
“The next one,” Castiel says roughly, and Sam opens his eyes, can’t help the way his head falls forward. His head is aching, right across his forehead, as if something is slowly burrowing in, stinging like thorns. Blood seeps down his temple and Dean chokes, raising a hand to wipe it away.
It’s the same as the first. Sam watches with burning eyes as that holy oil covered bolt hovers, quivering. Castiel is gasping, as though he has need for breath, as if he is the one who is human. Something in both his and Dean’s face is vulnerable, broken open and weeping.
In between one inhale and the next exhale, it happens once more. The sluice of iron metal through his skin, through sinew and through bone; ripping, tearing . He’s trying to scream but it won’t come out, catches in his chest, in his throat. He’s drowning.
That same feeling wells up in his left wrist, fire lancing from his fingers, twitching and spasming. He can’t breathe, can barely catch his breath even as his lungs try to expand. He knows why, can feel the strain of it in his chest muscles, how he’s spread too wide for it to properly rise and fall.
He has had this before, has been spreadeagled and nailed down like Christ, but this is both worlds and times away from the cage, from hearing Lucifer’s taunts and Michaels hollering. This is not torture, this is holiness, this is blood, this is sacrifice and this is what he deserves.
He inhales shallowly, and his head splits in two, as if someone is pressing the thorns resting against his head further into his skin. He swallows and tastes blood, tastes dirt and frankincense. He can barely hear someone shouting, from so very far away. Someone is watching him, mournful.
“Please -,” He tries to scream, tries to shout. He’s lost track of how many times he has. It’s far longer than what he thinks, his voice is torn, shredded. He can only whimper, can only whisper it as he stares at the ceiling. Feels the eyes of Christ upon his back, beneath his shoulder blades; agonising, accepting, always watching, righteous witness to the sins of man, of what he died for all those years and centuries and decades ago.
He tugs at the ropes around his arms, around his torso. He doesn’t know what he’s screaming for, for more or for them to stop. Every time he moves, it sends electric livewire pain down his entire body, but something is welling up inside of him, warm and soothing. It’s seeping into his skin, wrapping around his organs and it feels hot like fire, smooth like glass. It makes something inside of Sam yearn.
Castiel looks up at him, wide eyed and reverent. Sam can barely see him for the blood and the tears.
With only a motion, with only a thought, that last bolt is pushed in. Pushed in through skin and muscle and sinew and bone, thudding into wood and cracking. Dean’s yelling, raging. Sam can barely hear Dean screaming, can barely make out the words he’s yelling at them, but at the moment, Sam doesn’t understand what he’s yelling, nor why he’s yelling them. It’s as he’s far away, beneath the ocean that’s made a chasm between the both of them.
“Please.” He begs, and Sam tries not to lie to himself, though he never quite succeeds, but this is a cry for more ; for more pain, for more agony, for more redemption. This, he knows, is what he deserves.
He’s known this is what he deserves since the very first moment he understood that feeling inside of him, how he couldn’t put into words the lingering nausea in his stomach, the lace of self disgust in his chest.
Sam has never been Galahad, no. He has never been that pure. He knows that now.
That feeling, deep and yearning, wells up once more, swelling up like wax and then it swells over , tightens around his throat and leaves him gasping. It has no escape, is simply burning him up from the very inside out.
Castiel readies his Angelic Blade, high up on Sam’s chest. It burns even through the plaid. He sees Castiel clench his eyes close.
“Forgive me, Samuel,” Castiel chokes out. “O’ Father, please forgive me, I’m so sorry, Sam,” He pushes forward, Sam chokes on his scream, and something thinner than blood pours from Sam, he can feel it pooling into the grooves of his ribs. It smells like frankincense and blood.
The world drips, molting from view and there is nothing left but the feeling of hands cradling his face, ten enormous wingshadows brought to life before his very eyes. Grace and holy water drips from his eyes, from the newly made hole in his chest.
He is cracked open, an empty vessel of only holiness and light and faith. There is nothing human about him, only celestial intent. Warmth and love seep into his veins, into his heart; he’s never felt anything like this before. Those hands smooth over his forehead, touch at the jut of his jaw.
Something warm, golden and sweet and singing and everything in between, sweeps softly across his face. Moulds itself to his very being, laces up his spine and branches out into his ribs, his chest, his shoulders, his legs. Keeps him thrumming with energy and warm from the very inside out, fixes itself to him until Sam no longer knows where he ends and that energy begins.
Thunder cracks across the sky, loud and echoing, shattering across the dark expanse, and the chapel is illuminated, glass stained windows obliterated, the wood shivering. Dean and Castiel yell, loudly, scattered as they are on the floor. Sam is thrown hard into the back of that crucifix, of what should be his grave, and his eyes stare blindly up at the ceiling, glowing white and bright and holy . He sees neither ceiling nor skies.
“Beloved,” He is told. “Champion of my Son,”
“Please,” He begs, still doesn’t know what he’s begging for, if he’s begging to die or to be saved, for all that he knows he doesn’t deserve it. If he is to die for the Gates of Hell to close, for the earth to be scrubbed of both the demons and his own darkness, than Sam would gladly give himself into the arms of the Lord.
Something is anointed upon his forehead, blinding white and gold and powerful. Celestial and so far beyond momentous that Sam gasps and shivers, laid bare beneath what he cannot see, barely feels the grace seeping from the holes in his wrists, his ankles, slowly working those iron bolts free as Sam writhes upon that crucifix.
He is cocooned in light and holiness, can feel the ropes slowly being undone from his body, the slow, sick slide of those holy oil iron bolts slowly slipping free. He wants to vomit, wants to drown himself in that golden light but that is not for him to wish.
He feels the wood of the cross dissipate from his back, and he feels nothing surrounding him, only the feel of grace thrumming through him, a strange weight against his back, those ten wingshadows strewn across the opposite wall. Those wingshadows twist and shudder and shake and no longer are there ten wingshadows painted against that wall.
A lance of pure gold spears through his chest, touches his heart and soul, suspends him in the midst of that ruinous chapel. That lance of gold dissipates, and upon the wall, there are six wingshadows, bright and burning even as he closes his eyes. His head falls back and something settles, sweet and warm, upon the crown of his brow.
“Rest, my Beloved,” Is whispered against his temple. “You have been so brave, so faithful. ”
Samuel Winchester is remade, with grace and with love and with respect.
“Sleep,” Is murmured to him. “You have done so well,”
As Sam slumbers on, the world, too, is remade in his image.
Now I am clothed / in golden air / with one dozen halos / glistening on my skin
— Anna Sexton , from “Hurry Up Please, It’s Time”, featured in The Complete Poems .