Tangible Schizophrenia

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Shapes Prologue: Scorpion

Author: Guede Mazaka
Rating: PG-13, Rish for disturbing images.
Pairing: Sands/El, others later.
Feedback: Constructive crit. is lovely, but anything you'd like to say is welcome.
Disclaimer: Not mine, dammit.
Notes: //words// in Spanish. Psychic!El and slight supernatural overtones. Am assuming Sands has eyelids, and has eye-reconstruction surgery.
Summary: Between life and death is an unusual headspace in which to be.

***

The desert had shadows.

Rolling flatlands of excruciating brightness, it had brutal light shining down and out and in everywhere. Anywhere. On El's chains, grown too hot to touch. On his head, shriveling his thoughts till they turned as dry and brittle as his hair. On his heart, charring what had already been burnt.

He allowed that. What else could he do? He'd saved the President, served his country-far better than it had served him, but a mother could never be not loved. Hated as well, of course, but never the second without the first. And now El was walking her, stepping soft along her dusty black tar bones that snaked over the brown flesh to knit it together. He'd been doing that for a little over three days, passing from fatigue to ache to apathy.

El had thrown away the sash after the first day. He'd crossed the town on the second, stopping just long enough to change jackets. Thrown away the gilt laurel leaves of hollow victory, and reclaimed his scuttle and sting. Then he'd gone on, not bothering to drink or eat or even sleep. Rest, yes: he'd let himself fall wherever his body dictated, but in the end, he always lurched back onto his feet. It had been after one of those spells that he'd first begun to see the shades of dark in the all-encompassing light.

A hawk's shape, gliding over the earth. Twisting into a turn and changing, lengthening. Snake, then, slithering between the spines and gnarled broken spots to coil about the saguaro. Red-hued black, fluttering at the very edges of his sight.

They'd gradually gotten larger and larger, till the ones stalking alongside him now were full-grown as a man. He glimpsed his parents in their folds, his brother and his almost-brother and all of his dead friends, come to brush breezes across his uncaring shoulders. Then his enemies came, broken-backed and holed and crushed as he should have been. They clustered most closely, pattering elongated cinder-colored wisps over him, trying to seep in. Their efforts as futile as drawing blood from stones. Stones, though, could draw out blood as easily as breathing, El remembered. A city full of shadows, living-playing-dead killing and tumbling down as corpses already arrayed for the burial.

And he should have expected the last shades in the line.

Carolina and his child. Mother and daughter, flitting past and then circling back, too cruel in their likenesses.

Stumbling, El felt his eyes stretch wide and his heart collapse into charcoal fragments. He fell to his knees, then onto his back, watching as she came near, so near. Followed the graceful reach of her hand toward him.

And felt nothing.

Shock evaporated, he let himself lie there, relaxing into the dirt till the heat cracked him wide open. He gazed at Carolina, gazed through her, waiting.

What do you want in life?

El had wanted to play. But that had been ripped away. He had wanted love, and that had been taken from him twice over. He had wanted peace, and that had been splattered over a hanging forest of guitars. Now, too burnt, too gutted, he didn't want any of them.

What do you want in life?

Life. His perpetual joke. Thin as a dagger blade, he smiled. //To be free.//

Dreamily, he saw his hand lift and touch the translucent black one wavering before his eyes. Saw the desert overwhelm itself in shadows-

***

Hospital, reeking in Sands' nose. Stinking aseptic hell, and not nearly enough drugs to keep him asleep while the graveside doctors argued over his body, prodded and jabbed and cut into his flesh. No wonder he spent so much time daydreaming.

Like that reality was any better. Always the same goddamn feedback-loop images, frying themselves into his gray putty of a mind. Brilliant, brilliant color, and fuck all but did his unconscious hate him that much? What the hell had he done to it?

Wasteland, scrubby and pathetic, filled with nothing but mutant cacti and weird mirages and a man. A particular man. A man Sands had seen and spoken to for all of fifteen minutes, one man taking on a lifetime's worth of shit-faced memories and kicking every single one of their standardized non-biodegradable plastic asses. Fucker. Those petroleum-based throwaways were supposed to last for six hundred years, piling higher and higher till they choked out humanity.

And El, Mr. Biggest Fucking Mexicunt himself, just had to ruin the system. Sweep aside all the accumulated detritus of Sands' life and stagger himself over the water-blotted roadmap of Sands' head.

"When can we move him?"

"Tomorrow."

Oh, goody. Fieldtrip to the gunshow, kiddies. And if you behave, next year we'll get you your very own submachine guitar.

Somewhere near the crinkled replacement flesh stuffing up one eye socket, the mariachi flopped over. Slanted one odd gaze upward. Raised a hand, and then spasmed. After that, El was motionless. Sands couldn't even see-did this qualify as sight?-breath stirring the chest.

Shithead. Get up, you fuckmook. No copping out now. You won, you prick-dragging maniac. So get back up and act like it. Act like the man who took my triumph, goddamn it. Get up. Get up. "Get up!"

"Wha-"

"Delirium. Nurse-nurse! Wrist restraints, now!"

Up! UP! Don't fucking-no! You do not get that too. You don't. Get up and stay here. Stay in this goddamn world, in my fucking head where I can keep track of you. Get up and stay. Stay! Stay with me!

***

Death. El could see death. Marquez's, Carolina's, his. Death crying, death smiling, death falling and walking and dancing. Sly and stupid and here and gone. All colors, all shades, all going to black.

And white. White tingeing pink, gray, red. White filling his vision, then shrinking out into a screaming face. Writhing and twisting in tangled webs, yelling out to heaven and hell. Unheard voice nevertheless wielding a ferocious blade among the silk and cotton wads of indifference and dreariness muffling El.

What do you want in life?

To be free.

Then take your freedom.

Take it. Take. It.

***

Spark of pain in Sands' arm. Needle, the bastard shitwits. But he wasn't going to fall for that. Not yet. Not until that stupid fuck stopped spreading himself out on the desert like a squished bug and got back onto those ridiculous spurred boots.

"Get up," he hissed, lashing out. One wrist caught, got yanked down and held, but that still left three other weapons. "No deus ex machina for you. No fucking ride in the sunset, no glorious death and short hop to Valhalla. You're stuck here, same as-" savaged whatever the fuck had been shoved into his mouth, then spat it out "-as me. Stay. Up."

The mariachi rolled onto one side, then heaved onto knees and elbows. Pushed and straightened himself. Unsteadily, butů

"Up," Sands murmured, subsiding into the soft sedative talons slowly clasping around him. "Good. Good dog. Skullfuck. Whatever."

As he slipped back into the rising waters of drowsiness, the last glimpse Sands had was of El's back, scorpion mark glowing redder and redder till it blotted out the rest of his sight.

***

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