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the two body problem

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It happens in stages, moments of life.

He awakes on a bathroom floor, immobile, blinded. Stench of blood and rot, peppermint and ozone, leather and gun oil. He awakes on a bathroom floor, blood in his mouth, shadows in his mind, writhing. He cannot see for the blood.

He awakes, and he’s face down on that floor, dying.

“Sam?” Someone asks, from very far away. As if he has drowned. Hands on his shoulders, digging into bone deep bruises, try to turn him over, corpse body stiff. Exhale, fetid breath, shuddering. He thinks he screams, fire in the blood, smoke in the capillaries. Blood seeps from his mouth, from his eyes, his ears. He’s lying in a pool of blood, he thinks.

“I swear to God, Sam, if you don’t fuckin’ answer me, man-” Hurricane violent, shouted, still so very far away. Has he gone deaf? The turned over wall wavers opposite him, fever dream mirage. He feels nauseous.

It hurts to be.

They - how many? He can’t tell, is anyone actually really there? - leave him there, stretched out on his belly, cheek against the bloodied floor. He can’t tell if he’s breathing still. It hurts.

Sam Winchester blinks, and the world blinks back, echoed, underwater, fever dream heat. He breathes, or at least he thinks he does.

“Sam,” Repetitive, he wants reach out, say to the voice he can hear them, that he is here, that he is alive. Is he though? Is he truly alive, shuddering in blood on a nameless bathroom floor. Smells ozone and peppermint again, smells gun oil and leather again, smells blood, smells rot, earthly and aching again. Something rattles from far away, like metal, like chains. He thinks he keens. “Samuel .”

It echos strangely, lethargic to Sam’s ears. He hurts, but that has long since been a familiar feeling, as if he was born to ache, as if he was born to be nothing but an aching body that he wishes to escape but is unable to.

He blinks, or so he thinks. Is he formless? Is there a floor beneath him, distant from touch, as if he’s numb? He isn’t sure, wishes he could bend his fingers, stretch every muscle he has outwards just to feel something.

The bloodied wall opposite him wavers, and then dissipates entirely. He tries to open his mouth, wants to form words, but his throat feels as if it’s been cut, as if it’s been scooped out. He knows that, too.

Instead of wall, instead of tile that’s been splattered with red, there is ozone wings and undying eyes, a head of a lion,maned and roaring, a great cawing eagle, stark white feathers standing on end. The head of a goat, horns spiralling towards the very heavens, unblinking, rotating, magma hot. Roaring tornado, quaking limbs. Ocean washes over Sam and he’s drowning in the distant feel of salt. It burns, ground salt in an open wound.

Sam doesn’t know where that wound is, only that he feels like an open sore himself.

“Castiel?” He asks, feels the way the very cartilage of his throat aches, stretches like rusted pulleys. The eagle caws loudly, crown of feathers rustling.

Between one long moment and the next, the beat of a heart, the image dissolves, dissipates like fog upon an ocean breeze. Castiel blinks back human, human visage but still. Still something lingers beneath the ill fitting skin, as if Castiel has tried to shrug on a too big suit. Something beyond Castiel’s head, something great and terrifying, moves. His veins are aglow, violently bright. It’s like looking into the sun.

He almost fears his eyes have been blinded, that he is nothing but an empty vessel. He always has been. Empty is sometimes the only thing he knows. He wants to exhale but can’t seem to gather the breath for it.

A ball of light somehow shoves Castiel aside, twisting, shuddering, alight with a pale grey sunlight dawn. It’s moonbright, dim enough to disappear into the shadows lingering in the very edges of Sam’s mind and sometimes bright enough to be mistaken for a star cradled into a vessel. It goes from the palest grey to the smokiest ash.

Sam chokes on it.

It aches, Sam thinks distantly. As if hurt is all he can think of. He’s choking on how it hurts, tastes blood and rot and fire at the back of his mouth, suffocates on the ash that’s being forced down his throat. It smells like hellfire and tastes like life.

Sammy ?” Like before he doesn’t know where it comes from, can’t tell what’s up, what’s down.

Exhale, inhale, exhale, he can’t get his breathe, still corpse body stiff. He wonders if this is what he’s made for, a ghost in a forgotten apartment, stacking chairs just to make sure the living know that he’s there, that he exists . But has he ever?

Something seems to snap, crackling in the air, echoing against the tile he thinks he’s lying on beneath his unfeeling stomach, his numb cheek - is it numb? Or is it simply severed from him? - and Dean seems to dissolve, coming into being, abstract, crystal shattered, strange light slowly distorting and stretching. Green eyes blink and Sam blinks back. Dean’s face looms above him, twisting shuddering, ash stains his skin.

From deep below Sam has ever known but not quite far enough, a screech like metal against metal makes him flinch, makes him want to curl up. He blinks instead, thinks he feels the soft flutter of eyelashes against his cheeks.

“Sam.” Castiel says; he’s human now, still, or maybe he never was. Maybe it’s Sam’s eyes, his mind slowly breaking. Sam isn’t sure. He’s awake, and he’s cheek down on a floor and he doesn’t know where he is.

Yet his voice sounds like Castiel, from the very reaches from what Sam has heard of his voice; like muted thunder on the cusp of breaking, a rock fall in the height of June, lightening crashing against an ashened sky, an ocean roiling beneath a mutinous storm. Sam never wants it to end as much as he wants to cower away.

“How are you feeling?” Castiel asks, and his voice is still crashing, still breaking, and Sam wants to curl up with it, feel the shudder pull of storms beneath his skin, wants to see if it can break the ice covering his eyes.

Sam blinks up at him again, or maybe he thinks he does. He feels eyelashes and aren’t quite sure if they’re his. He tries to move something, tries to curl his fingers, tries to spread out every muscle he can like wings he does not own. That he has never owned. Nothing rises up in his chest, emptiness already at home in his darkness.

Has he even got a heartbeat?

“I can’t move my fingers.” He says, hears it dimly, as if he’s underwater, far away, drowning. He knows how drowning feels. This isn’t it.

“Not entirely unexpected.” Castiel says soothingly, as if Sam needs it. As if Sam understands anything of what’s going on. He wonders where he is. He can’t feel his fingers, his toes, he can’t even feel the rise and fall of his chest, pressed as it is to a floor. Is his body even there?

Behind Castiel, from what Sam can see, cheek pressed to the floor, two great shadows move behind him, casting strange shapes upon the floors, the walls, blocking light, sound. Sam squints up at them as much as he can, something writhing in his chest.

He feels as if he knows what they should be.

He thinks he does, but the knowledge slips away as fast as he grasps it. Has he hit his head? He can’t tell.

“What are you seeing?” Castiel asks, and he’s so close. Close enough that Sam can smell ozone and peppermint and coffee, the way his hand on Sam’s shoulder, on the bare skin of his neck is almost scorching. It’s only then that Sam realizes he’s cold. So cold.

“I don’t...” He can’t seem to get the words out, mouth dry, tongue sticking to the roof of it. He can’t feel his lips, can’t feel the press of his teeth against the underside of them. His hands are just beyond his vision, and it’s as if he hasn’t got any. He still can’t feel his fingers.

Dean - is it Dean? Sam thinks so. His eyes are glassy, mind disconnected - moves closer, no longer that ball of light that hurt to think of, to look at. He looks tired, Sam thinks, older than he should be. Sam wonders how he hadn’t noticed before. Maybe he never paid attention.

“Heya, Sammy.” Yes, this is Dean. Whiskey rough voice, like the blacktop beneath the Impala’s wheels, 100 miles per hour on the road, hardrock the only sound on the breeze. He wants to move, it hurts to be still but it hurts to move too. It simply hurts to be . “Don’t try to move, kiddo, you’re-”

Dean stops, and Sam blinks at the turned over wall. It wavers. He wishes he could lie on his back. He wants too, but Dean’s hands on his shoulders stop him, never lingering beneath them. He feels weak. He’s just so cold.

“Dean,” He says. “Dean.” Like a mantra, old age ritual. He’s been saying it since birth.

“I’m here, Sammy, try and keep still, yeah?” Dean sounds calm, almost too calm. Sam knows the difference between Dean’s voices. He blinks, again and again. From the very corner of his eye, he sees great big shadows arising. Something is caught in his throat. He thinks he wants to scream. He hasn’t got the energy. Not anymore, at least. “We’re gonna fix you up as best we can, yeah? Nothing to be worried about, kiddo.”

“Dean,” He says, broken. Like it’s the only thing he can say. “Dean, it hurts .”

Is he crying? He wants to cry, he thinks. Something wet catches on his lashes, and he blinks it back. His eyes are burning, but it’s too painful for tears. Something falls from his eye, and it shatters on the bathroom floor. Ice.

Castiel makes a sound Sam can’t understand in the back of his throat, it’s like an avalanche. He thinks he should be afraid, but Dean is here, but emptiness is the only thing he feels.

“I know, little brother,” Dean says. His voice is shaking now. He sounds hurt. “I know, Sammy.”

He shuts his eyes, but he can still see; he opens them and Castiel peers down at him. He wants to clench his hands into fists, wants to see if he can still feel them.

Something against his back, hard and cold, and it rips at him, tears a scream from his breathless throat. He runs out of breathe but still he screams. Dean is shouting too, and Castiel is glowing, peppermint and ozone, and Sam’s eyes should be burning, should be gone, should be empty, but he feels only ice, only numbness.

Please .” He says, shredded, as if even that has lost its strength. He presses his forehead to the floor, and even that now is hot, is scorching; he’s surrounded by lava, by blood and still he’s cold enough to shiver, to ache, for his teeth to clench. He wants to go home, but where is home when you’ve never had one, when you can’t even remember the feel of your fathers arms around you? “ Please .”

He’s graveyard dirt and bruised bones, he wants to lie in his grave that is years old and years empty, too. He wants to lie beneath the dirt for years and feel the roots of trees wrap around him, he wants to close his eyes and feel endless darkness. He used to long for heaven, but he knew he was never made for it. Suicides, after all, never do go to heaven.

Now, now he’s spread out on a bloodied bathroom floor, and he can count the tiles in his vision, but the number keeps slipping from his brain, as if his mind is muddied, is liquid, is simply slipping out of his ears. He knows what that feels like, but something about feeling it up top is different, is sharper, harder.

He’s alive and he never wanted to be. Never wanted this existence, never wanted this aching, never wanted this pain, this blood, this horror.

He’s spread out on this bathroom floor, and he doesn’t know if he’s screaming, if he’s screaming and crying, because something deep inside, deep beneath the emptiness that he’s felt for years, for decades, since he was a child and a phantom in his own body over and over and over and- , something deeper inside of him than he’s ever had the bravery to look at rears its head.

His ribs are grating, he cannot feel flesh but he can feel bone. Bruised and grating, they’re moving as if they’re disconnected. He presses his forehead to that scorching floor again, buries the ice of his tears in the eyelashes he still can’t feel, wonders if this is even real.

Something pulls at his shoulders, sharp, rendering, and he keens. Feels his throat tear beneath the sound. Someone is screaming, and he thinks it’s him, but he doesn’t have the breath, so how could it be?

Sam! Sammy , stay still, kiddo, you gotta stay still-” Dean’s voice, mirage waver, angelic sweet helix rituals, it’s breaking and shattering and Sam wants to try and piece it back together. But he’s never been able to fix anything, not since he drank down poison and swallowed it without even knowing what it was; these hands have ever really known breaking, porcelain shattered, crystal fractured.

But even if Sam didn’t know that it was poison, even if Eve ate the apple and didn’t know what would happen. Monster has been made synonymous with him, and he will never tell anyone that down there, down beneath the dirt where he thought he’d lie for eternity, he opened his own chest up, dug his own hand into it, scooped out the enochian etching of Lucifer against his sternum and laid it at the cage door. No longer a claim, no longer a seal; he’d broken himself apart and Lucifer broke them both; sweetly, lovingly, greedily .

He’d like to say it was a triumphant feeling, but even now; even now, breaking and shattering, shattered in new ways since the cage, he has only ever sought the good that harmed him, has only come to love everything that has ever hurt him.

“Sammy, listen, listen to me kiddo, you’re fine, yeah? You’re still with us, little brother, c’mon, come back to us, get outta that nerd head, Sammy, c’mon.” Dean’s voice is an anchor, something that wraps around him, leaves him emptier than ever before. Sam chokes on his own breath, on his cries.

“Samuel, please, you must stay still, you’re doing yourself undue harm.” Castiel’s voice is an island of calm in the storm, and two pairs of hands are touching him now, two at his shoulders, one hand at his hip, and the other snug at his knees. He’s lying on a bloodied bathroom floor and he wants to leave, wants to stretch muscles that shouldn’t stretch like they do.

But they do. They stretch and twist, and Sam can feel the unnatural shudder of bone beneath flesh he cannot feel. Wonders if he does want to feel it, or if it’ll only remind him of all the times he wanted to slip away from himself, his body; sometimes, that’s the joke. He asks to come back to his body, to feel skin that is no longer too small or too big like an ill fitting costume, and sometimes, sometimes it’s only him saying no.

His body is an open field that other people have laid claim to, that he no longer knows the feel of it. So the sweet play of fingers against ribs, against sternum, against heart is not a new thing he knows, just knows that it’s so much sweeter, so much harder than it’s ever been down below the dirt. Wonders if he could claw down to it, down to his body, to his grave; wonders if he even has a grave anymore, or has the earth swallowed it whole?

It’s been so long.

It’s been so long that he’s gravel sore, dirt deep in the ground that he’s wanted to crawl back into since Dean rose him and then left him. Know that he’s never wanted to burn but he’s always wanted to die, and sometimes burning feels like the only way it could possibly purify him.

Their hands are still touching him, and at once, they’re all too much and not enough. Keeps him anchored enough that he doesn’t feel like he’s going to simply sink down, down beneath the earth and straight into the only home he can ever really remember, but now, now they feel like hooks, searing through flesh.

He’s being punished and God is the one to do it and Sam has always been pious, but he’s never wanted this, but this is for the best. To be Lucifer’s Vessel is to be His Cage, and Sam had welcomed him with open arms and open thoughts.

Had yawned his body wide open to make room for the devil and this is what he deserves.

“Samuel, no .” A deep voice says, and it’s right in his ears, blocks the wavering wall opposite him, strange shadows strewn across ocean blue eyes. A hand touches his cheek, burning hot and it feels so good .

He’s been so cold for so long now, even before this.

Something pulls in his shoulders, somehow bone deep and deeper even than that, and it leaves him breathless, that some age old ice burn in his eyes as he tries to hold back tears, but it burns icy and it shatters on the tile floor.

“Cas, what’s he saying? What the fuck is he sayin’ man-” Dean is yelling. Rock avalanche desperate, drowning man passionate and the hands at his knees clench him tighter. It makes the things in him rattle, shudder shake with the force of Dean’s grip, but he hasn’t the breath to yell.

Look at me, Samuel Winchester .” Two hands grip his chin, turn his face upwards, towards the sun, towards the shadows, towards the once-disgraced Winged Fallen who’d kept his body close and left his soul behind. Sam forgave, but he thinks his soul never forgot.

“God is not punishing you, Samuel.” Castiel says, and Sam’s very lungs ache, because his breath is gone, and Castiel sounds reverent, as if he believe it, even after everything he’s seen in the terrible ruin of Sam’s mind.

He blinks, and the world blinks back, fever dream heat, turned over mirage. Castiel and Dean are the only real things, but even they don’t feel real enough. Stone number one, cracked, shattered, turned over moss.

“God is not punishing you, and you do not deserve this. Listen , Samuel. This is not because of you, this is because of Lucifer .”

Sam closes his eyes, feels how the room, the world, shifts around him, tilted on an axis far below and deeper down than even that that Sam has ever known. He’s unravelling at the seams, and no one can ever stop him. Thinks he doesn’t want anyone to stop him.

This is what he deserves, after all.

Far away, an eagle caws. Metal against metal, Sam has sunk beneath the very dirt of the earth, the crust of it; the core of the earth has never been molten heat for Sam, it’s always been cold, saltwater ice dripping down the back of his tongue. He slips away, and metal, earth cradles him.

He’s both here, and far below everything he ever thought he knew.

Something unfurls from his back, electric sharp, hammering icepick hurt, shadows crossing the walls; Castiel and Dean have disappeared now. Pain imagined sculptures that Sam always used to carve from marble, from thought, from fear, from the blood he used to try and coax back into his own body before he drank it down.

He is a serial killer, but the only murder he commits is of himself, and maybe it should be suicide, but surely suicide couldn’t be this violent, this, this is everything -

Someone is screaming. Dean, Castiel, someone is screaming and Sam wants them to stop , they should stop , he cannot hear for the screams, he cannot see for the blood, he cannot feel for the ice. He is trapped, knows only ropes, only chains, only collars, shackles. He is animal-wary, instinct driven.

Unfurling, rodent-desperate, something digs through his belly, and it’s sharp, scratches, bloodies the back of his mouth. Enochian, violin high pitched, thunder rumbling; esaich . He’s ripping his own throat out but it’s Lucifer speaking through him, claw ripping, bloodied throat; he’s falling to pieces and something is clawing it’s way out of him.

Hands against tile, mouth against it too, he’s shaking, convulsing; he can’t get his breath but still someone is screaming, and he wants to help, god he wants to help so bad but his back is screaming, the world is tilting and he’s alone, he’s alone all over again, he’s so sick of being alone .

Unfurling, billowing, something cracks in his sternum, he can feel his heartbeat in his throat, his belly. He’s dizzy, doesn’t know which way is up, down; he’s so lost.

The wall wavers, shimmering in a heat that he can’t see. He’s cold, blood and ice dripping from his mouth. Bone creaks, and it makes a shriek tear from his throat, bloodied, shredded. He’s crying but he can’t.

Old age rituals, chlorine pool smell sick. He exhales as Samuel Winchester and inhales as something Other, drawn beneath the skin. In the fractured shatter of ice on the floor, something great and terrible leaps into the air, rips from his back.

Bone white, dripping with blood, with flesh, with the Sigil of the devil carved deep into it. No more hands touch upon him, only the matted feathers that he can’t feel.

He’s alone, all over again.