Rating: PG (in this part)
Looking back, he couldn't help but see the events of that day as foreshadowing, the symbolic markers of a turning point, an axis upon which his fate would spin: the ferry ride across choppy steel grey water, during which Jack had called because he'd finished Clone Wars and had questions about mind-control murder chips which were difficult to answer with Dean sitting next to him in the car, Dean having insisted on driving on despite the walk-on fare being so much cheaper; the long climb to the once proud house on a hill long since forsaken to thickly snarling ivy and black-grimed windows opaque as demon eyes, (and if a thing looks possessed it probably is); climbing three flights of stairs and turning his back on Dean, who had been right behind him until the thirty seconds in which it would made a difference; going alone into the second attic room where he found the black mass altar, the priest with his eyes vacant and heart plucked out, the blood staining the mirror and slowly fading from sight. Any one of these things could've been part of an ordinary day, an ordinary case, but taken together they spelled, in clichéd storytelling terms, an oncoming storm, and like always he should've known better before he bit into the proverbial fruit.
That is to say, he touched the mirror with his forefinger, tracing the vanishing blood, wondering at how fresh it was, so fresh he could feel the unmistakable blood-warmth tickling his skin, like it had only been a minute at most since someone had excavated the priest's heart with surgical exactitude.
That couldn't be right, he thought, I would've heard him scream--unless, perhaps, they had first cut out his tongue--
And then his thoughts were split between making a note to check for the tongue and a howling horrified incomprehension as he felt himself sliced in two, but not neatly down the middle, oh no, this was an evisceration, skin and muscle and bone flayed back and organs and bowels slopping out, and underneath all that was his second self, excavated like the heart had been, which was the closest and most visceral metaphor; he was removed from himself, he was leaving himself behind, he ached from his own abandonment with fear and shame and bewilderment and just a touch of relief. This was not a new experience, although he could not place the prior one for a while because he could not place anything, and when he did he woke with a scream.
He choked the scream, a thick burning lump like a hot coal, down as he became conscious of how strangely muffled it sounded, belted into cotton, like a gag, no, not a gag, softer and more giving and he could still breathe through his mouth, and Oasis was on the radio, a couple walls removed-- he recognized the lyrics to Wonderwall even though he hadn't listened to it since Stanford, since Jess had introduced him to...
With an effort of will his thoughts looped back, settled on the problem at hand, which was that he was facedown and had been screaming into a pillow like when he was a boy trying to hide the nightmares because even then he knew there was something wrong with them (with him) and he didn't want to wake the brother in the next bed, or god forbid, the father passed out on the sofa because this had been one of the 'bad days.' November 2nd. Right. But he was not a child anymore and he got his hands flat on the mattress through which he could feel the precise placement of the creaky springs, and he pushed himself up to sitting, and in the next scant seconds he had a gun in his hand which should have a witch-killing bullet in the chamber.
There was sunlight on his face and no other living being in the room, and it was a strangely mundane room to be in considering what had just happened to him had felt so like dying: greying plaster and a dusty blue quilt nailed to the wall, the only real furniture the single bed he was sitting on, duflle bags and hiker's backpack on the floor and a crank-operated radio on a camp stool. There was a closed door with no lock that he could see. A dusty haze, reddish gold dust motes blurring in sunlight stronger than he remembered seeing since they'd arrived in the Pacific Northwest. It was warmer too, much too warm to be autumn in this part of the country, humid and sticky and his arms were bare and there was sweat sticking the t-shirt he was now wearing to a body that didn't fit quite right, didn't ache in quite the right places, the places it usually would after passing out and waking so violently. His skull felt strange, too light, his scalp prickling. He picked up on a faint whiff of smoke, a distant fire. He checked the gun he'd drawn from a holster that he now was aware of where it was strapped under his arm, and yet he'd known to reach for it on thoughtless reflex, and it wasn't the same gun, wasn't any gun he'd handled before. He ran a hand over his face to make sure it was the same face. It was. He ran his hand back over his scalp and felt the jaggedly clipped scant inches of hair he'd been left with and his skull felt lighter and lighter like it might blow away like dandelion spores. Nausea quickly followed on the light-headedness. His stomach squirmed like a worm on a hook.
Someone has stolen my body and my sense of time, he thought and the thought was concretely settled even though it was a logical leap when he would usually reason things through step by step. This was, ironically enough, like some bodily instinct. It opened up a full deck of possibilities that he could sort through more methodically. Some were worse than others but he could shut down inhabiting those imaginative realities by scouring his surroundings for evidence, by treating his situation like any other case. One of the iron-clad rules of working a case was not to get ahead of yourself. He just had to remember that. One problem at a time.
The radio had a clock and the clock told him that it was approximately forty-five minutes since he'd last checked the time, when he'd been looking at his phone on the ferry. That seemed about right, calculating how long the drive had been and how long they'd poked around the house before they'd caught on that they wouldn't just be interviewing the last victim's last living family that morning.
He stood up and looked out the window, got a glimpse of trees from another part of the country, many-forked and huge and dripping in moss, and hazy thick reddish gold sunlight streaming from right over a low green hill, and then he heard the click of the doorknob behind him turning and he spun on his heel, raising the unfamiliar Colt with a half-seconds last wish that he'd gotten to raid the packs around him for alternative weapons first.
Then his eyes were blurring and his heart was leaping into his throat, lodging there thick as a knot on a tree, pulse starting to gallop with something more reckless than fear, because the first thing he saw was her hair, falling in her face in golden waves brighter than sunlight and longer than he remembered it, almost as long as in the pictures and when he first got to know her, those surreal glass-bubble first hours, and then she was flicking it back and the illusion shattered only not to something real and sure and solid, no--it was like he was slipping into a second dream, seamlessly interrupting the first, a Schroedinger's dream that in this knife-edge second could be either fantasy or nightmare.
"Didn't mean to spook you, baby," she said. "This stealth thing's a hard habit to switch off." Her voice snapped him like a rubber band, tense and wary under the thin pretense of off-handedness, like he'd never quite heard it before. Hoarser and deeper than he remembered it, too. The way her face sank into a frown was so strange he almost couldn't recognize her for a second, and somehow it was only then that he saw the scars, old and pale and blurry but unmistakably the kiss of fire.
He lowered the gun, more out of helpless resignation than anything like hope. The tense lines of her shoulders and mouth and brow eased, and she leaned against the doorway, black tank top and jeans and gun holster on her hip, the subtle bulge of a knife concealed in her hiking boot, ink on her deeply tanned arms, several sigils that he recognized and one he didn't.
She tilted her head to the side and lifted her eyebrow just slightly in the gently questioning manner he remembered, and she said, "There a reason you're looking at me like I just crawled out of my grave?"