Sam's arm dropped and he stepped back from the mirror, a lightness coming over him that was at first all but unbearable and then was far more than bearable: it was sweet soothing relief; it was checking into a motel after driving twelve hours straight; it was the one painkiller that finally put a stop to the migraine he'd been nursing all day; it was the cessation of hours-- days, weeks, years--of torture and the moments when euphoria flooded the body before the fear and despair of knowing it would start all over again ground it into dust.
He felt so much better now, the kind of better you could only feel when you hadn't known what ailed you until it had been cured and then you were made to wonder how you could have lived for so long in that condition.
The blood had vanished from the mirror. His soul had left his body. It was unmistakable, this time. The first time had been too disorienting, too inexplicable, no landmarks but the immediate familiar/unfamiliar sense that something was wrong inside him, and he couldn't stop picking at it, couldn't stop pushing at the boundaries of it and snapping back even when he encountered no boundaries; he couldn't quite trust his own nature still, couldn't quite trust his own instincts over what others had told him about himself, not until it was too late anyway.
He remembered waking up on wide twilit grey prairie and yelling at the horizon for answers from Cas or God or Dean and then when they weren't forthcoming he went looking for them, first to Dean's doorstep and then to the Campbells, the last family and the last tie to the past he had, and then despite all his quite rational reservations back to Dean again, still hoping to learn something about what he was, so really you could say curiousity had been his first sin, the thirst for too much self-knowledge his downfall.
He didn't want to repeat those mistakes, but still, he could not be grateful for his liberation in peace. It was a side effect of some black magic ritual involving a cursed mirror. Curses could often prove volatile. He had no guarantee it would stick. He had to investigate the curse, the caster. He had to continue working this case.
Dean was calling his name. Dean would find him out and then he would be as good as dead, in a manner of speaking. He had a gun and the element of surprise. He could kill Dean first. He didn't particularly want to anymore than he ever had, but he gave the idea due consideration in the name of self-preservation. Dean was the greatest threat to him in the universe because no one would ever be more dedicated to forcing him back into that miserable psychological straitjacket than Dean. There was no more important key to his freedom than escaping from Dean.
But maybe not yet. He should think it through first, soberly and carefully. He wasn't an animal, after all.
He hadn't gotten to the cons of killing Dean yet when Dean burst into the room and he had to immediately dress his face in the kind of horror and sympathy Dean would expect to see him wearing around a butchered priest. It wasn't that difficult. He only had to think about it and his facial muscles remembered and he only had to put a little added effort into pulling them into place.
"Poor bastard," he said. "This looks really fresh. Must've happened just minutes before we got here."
"Killer could still be in the house," Dean said, sounding pleased about it despite that they had only a very vague theory of what had done the killing. Witches and vindictive hexes and something to do with the unusually lingering fog. They were armed with witch-killing bullets and not much else.
"Not the same killer that scratched up the others victims." He pointed at the excavated heart, lying in a dark red pool on the pale dust-caked floor, so fresh he could almost think he'd see it beat if he leaned close enough.
"Some ritual shit," Dean said, and his eyes flicked to the mirror but didn't linger. "Must've been used for something--probably the witch that cursed the others needed a little extra juice."
"Maybe," he said.
It was a reasonable conclusion, of course, but he wasn't sure he wanted Dean following up on curses pertaining to this room. But then what did he want Dean around for if not to work the case? If not to bounce ideas off of like they always had because it was routine and familiar and he worked best within routines?
It was unforgivable weakness to think of depending on him even for a moment. He had to start planning his exit.
The wallpaper was peeling, paper printed with blood-dark roses and thick thorny vines; at least what little could be seen of it beyond the crates and other furniture stacked against the walls. He swept the floorboards with his eyes and rolled up the one carpet, a frayed hallway runner, then let it roll back into place. No sigils, no lettering of any kind that he could see. Not even any candles. The sole light source was the one window, high and with no latch, not that that would be an obstacle to a fleeing witch with the power to trap souls in mirrors and murder half a dozen people.
He checked out the body again and this time noticed that the priest's hands were soaked in blood, presumably his own as he struggled vainly to keep his heart inside his cracked ribcage. His cassock was neatly fitted and in good condition aside from all the blood, not even missing any buttons, as if it had been all neatly unbuttoned before his heart had been cut out. He noticed stiff peaks in the ripples of the cassock where it spread away from his calves, and he pulled back the hem, which was stiff with blood. Underneath it was a thick puddle and in that puddle were a large pair of pliers and a shining silver knife with a shining white bone handle. Sam picked up the knife, straightened to hold it to the meager grey light.
"Real sloppy," Dean said. "Leavin' that behind. Unless he's lurkin' on the premises, thinkin' he's gonna jump us and come back for it. C'mon."
Sam had nothing better to do with it than slip the blood-soaked magic knife into his innermost jacket pocket. He pulled out his gun. He stared at the back of Dean's head as Dean led the way out of the room. It would be best to have strength in numbers when confronting the witch who had placed a powerful blood curse on the town and stolen the soul right out of his body. He would stick with Dean for another hour or two. Extra muscle. It made sense.
It took longer than he had expected to search the house. It had been built by a timber baron in the 1890s and stayed in the family even generations after the company had gone under and it had become a debt-ridden ball and chain for a legacy. It was not in the best state of repair, a particular problem when it came to turning on the lights. Half the bulbs had burned out, the rest were palely flickering and they hadn't brought flashlights which was stupid, they should have anticipated this. It made poking around a more tedious task; they had to get up close and personal with every corner of every room just in case. They found nothing in room after room except furniture pushing fifty at the least, mildewy and threadbare and motheaten drapes and upholstery, cobwebs and carpets of dust; the rooms to show signs of recent habitation were one bedroom which Sam guessed to have been a guest room, one bathroom, and the kitchen where a toaster oven and a radio at least looked like they'd been purchased in the last decade. It was as if the man had been a squatter in his own old family home.
The only other thing of interest was a utility closet just off the entrance to the cellar, which Sam swung open and would have swung shut within the same breath had Dean not said, "Wait."
He was pointing at the bottom half of the closet door, where a silvery pale sliver of daylight had filtered from the window at the end of the hall, just barely delineating scratch marks in the wood. Sam ran his fingertips over them and found they were shallow and blunt, fingernails not claws, and small, tiny nails belonging to tiny hands, reaching no more than four feet high. A child.
"Oh Jesus," he said, breathy and tense, because he was quite sure this was the sort of thing he was supposed to be shaken by. "What the hell did these people do?"
"C'mon," Dean said, only a little terser than he'd been lately. "It's just gonna get darker and we gotta call this one in. Hope that the autopsy will tell us somethin' about somethin' 'cause otherwise we're right back hittin' the wall where we started."
They got out to the driveway and Dean dug through the glovebox for a spare burner phone, called up park services to report an illegal garbage fire. Let them discover the body and call the cops and they'd be well away from the scene by then.
Then a Subaru came rolling up the drive, so much for not being spotted at the scene of the crime. The man who got out was grey and balding and pale and had deep worry lines around his eyes and mouth that were making him look further along in years than he probably was. He was very thin, papery jowls sagging from his sharp jutting cheek bones. He was wearing jeans and a plaid jacket but underneath was a shirt with a clerical collar. Another priest then.
They walked up to him, flashing fake badges, Dean barking a gruff order at him. "This is a crime scene now, you need to get off the premises.''
"What happened to him?" the priest said shakily, obviously already anticipating the answer, so at least here was someone who knew something about something.
"He's dead," Sam said, enacting all his best sympathetic facial ticks. "We're so terribly sorry. Did you know him well?''
"Oh, Thomas," the man sighed, and it was appropriate degrees of shock and grief for a close friend but there was an undertone to it, a harsher note--recrimination. "How did it happen?"
"Can't say what'll be released to the public yet," Dean said.
"You're in a state of shock," Sam said, deliberately deepening the wrinkles on his forehead. "You should take some time to process. You don't need to hear the details now when so much is still uncertain. Believe me, knowing just enough to get your imagination revving will only cause you more pain. But I can promise that we'll keep in touch. Where can we find you?"
"He was a student of mine at Widdlesworth Seminary. You can find me there. Here--I'll give you my card."
They caught the next ferry back and on the boat Sam got out and was stretching his legs on the top deck, watching the dark smoky fog which had cleared for only a few hours after midday trail the ferry towards the cove, and letting his options turn over and over in his mind like he was making butter out of them, when Jack called again. Automatically, he picked up.
Orphan Black was apparently the next thing in Jack's Netflix queue.
"The clones are completely different people," Jack somehow felt the need to tell him, "even though their genetic makeup is identical."
"All totally fuckable, though, right," he said, hoping to derail any questions about identity or moral philosophy Jack was building towards. "Hey, which combo would you most like to--"
"What? No." Jack sounded mildly puzzled. "I'm not aroused by looking at Tatiana Maslany. I'm only admiring her skill at pretending to be different people. The clones are different people because their experiences have made them who they are and formed different ideals and ethics and relationships. Relationships are very important."
"Good boy," he said. "You get a gold star in Intro To Humans."
"Is something the matter with you? You sound...different."
"God, no. I've never been better than I am at this exact moment."
"Okay, I'm pleased to hear that. But how? Was there magic involved?"
"Was I that much of a sadsack that the only way you could imagine me lightening up is if I huffed some magic dust?"
"Probably," Jack said. "I don't really know you that well. I only know the things you tell me."
"Welcome to the family, kiddo," he said. "Gotta go. Look, you know better than to say anything about magic around Dean right? You know how mad that'd make him? What am I saying. 'Course you do." He hung up.
Their destination was just off the coast, a town with a traditional seaside Americana name, something like Mary or Bethany's Cove. They docked in the evening chill under a cold cobalt sky, and drove off with the fog rolling after them, thin silvery vapors clinging like cobwebs when they would usually burn off by morning. The fog had been like this every day of the week they'd been here. Sam had read everything he had cataloged on unnatural fogs to no avail. They stopped at a gas station on the other side, a quiet highway between two hills, tall thick red cedars creeping in at the edge of the asphalt, old mountain trees contemptuously throwing their shadow over the feeble arclights and neon signs, and Sam had that niggling suspicion that he would turn and see the glint of eyes from within the shadows and mist, something ancient and seldom seen crouched between the roots, so he got out of the car and looked around, but he saw nothing but a passing white van with a crayola bright galaxy spray painted on its side.
"Hey, dude, what," Dean said flatly, and Sam turned and saw him with the nozzle dripping in his hand and one brow lifted and his lips pursed, but his eyes were vacant and disinterested. He had almost forgotten how fucked up Dean had been lately, one of his periodic spells when he was tired and bitter or drunk and insensible over a bad hand of fate or maybe it was life, just life finally penetrating through his bullshit bravado, or whatever.
"Just got spooked, I guess." He shoved his hands in his pockets with an embarrassed hunch. "Hearing noises."
"So you got out of the car 'cause you're goin' for slasher flick bingo? We already did 'split up in a spooky house,' what's next? Dark alley walk of shame?"
He smiled sheepishly, thinking that he could put a bullet through Dean's head right here, stuff his body in the truck, and get away with it for good. Who would come after him? Who really gave that much of a shit about his brother's life other than himself? And why should he care anymore?
"Hey, watch it, you're spillin' gas on your shoes," he said instead, and Dean finally hung up the nozzle.
Haste could be almost as dangerous as curiosity. He would have the whole sleepless night ahead of him to make up his mind.