9_of_clubs (9_of_clubs) wrote,

Strange Truth (1/5)

Will Graham sighs as he leaves the hospital, a cold snap of fall air nipping at his cheeks. He hadn’t gone any farther in today than any of the other times he’s made this pilgrimage, but no one has yet put a stop to his trips so he continues to take them– like clockwork, every Sunday. He wonders if Hannibal knows, deep down in the bowels of this place, if he can sense it, Will’s presence creeping into the place and then vanishing. He should stop wondering.

Jack’s driven him today, had offered with something of an apology in his voice, but there’s something else on the agenda and Will knows, but he won’t prompt it out of the man, because it’s not what he wants, but he’s sure he won’t be able to refuse. He doesn’t want to have to look again, wishes secretly for some sandy, quiet, piece of beach somewhere, for a haven to simply exist in that doesn’t exist here any longer. But he could have gone as soon as he’d been freed, could have disappeared into the wind, and he hadn’t.  Another chance to walk away that he hadn’t taken, so he knows it’s more of an eventuality than a maybe, his grand return to the bureau; it’s not in Jack’s nature to make his decisions for him. They haven’t broached this topic yet though, not since, despite the way it hovers in the air between them, and Will has been glad for that. Some part of him is still too throbbing to make his throat work around the words he would need to say.

But when the other puts in the keys, but doesn’t start the car, Will knows the grace period is over. Further recovery will have to be done on his own time.

“Look, you know I wouldn’t ask you so soon after – after everything , but...” Jack shifts, uneasy in Will’s silence as the younger man moves to press his cheek against the window. “But it’s not just some run of the mill case…” It sounds as though this speech has been prepared, at least outlined, the words moving quickly and efficiently across his tongue.

Will barely hears it though, Jack’s voice flitting in and out of focus as Will waits for him to find the core of the thought. He wants to accuse the other of something suddenly, of disregard, or betrayal, or other stupidly dramatic things of the sort, to tell him that he thinks it doesn’t matter how run of the mill or otherwise the case is, that Jack would want him on board and full speed ahead if he’s capable of thinking, even after everything, all the damage this has done to him. But the words stick in his throat. Because as much as he wants to say them, they aren’t entirely true. There have been other murders since his release, and Jack hadn’t knocked on his door. And it’s not like he’s doing much of anything, succumbing to nightmares while his dogs whine unhappily, walking aimlessly through forests, missing serial killers. His schedule is pretty clear actually, come to think of it.

“…and so, since I promised Hendrickson…” Will finds the thread of the words again, and the gears start turning in his mind, matching the name with case files he’s seen, to other things he’s heard. “Will,” Jack is saying, turning his eyes onto him. Will doesn’t make contact, but this is the first time in a while Jack has addressed him so directly while they’ve been alone, and he doesn’t need imagination to know that might take some courage. “You can say no, but the Winchesters don’t surface often, and if they’ve got new friends, I want to know about it – and you…”

There’s a faltering in his voice and for a moment, an apology lingers there, an explicit one, Will listens to the edges of it humming out of the man’s mouth, but then Jack swallows it back and his voice turns authoritative, colder: “and this is your job, Will.” The words rumble out. “Still haven’t quit, and we haven’t fired you, so it’s your job. I expect you in the office tomorrow.”

At first, the words are like a slap in the face, though they’re exactly what he’d expected.  The petulant part of Will wakes up full force in their wake, calling for a fight as the silence stretches on. He doesn’t blame Jack, can’t, anyway, and yet, that Jack doesn’t seem to blame himself, to at least be openly apologetic after all that has happened niggles at him. For a moment, with the blood rushing loudly in his ears he feels as he felt underneath the angel made of flesh and blood, the bursting desire to tell Jack that he’s done and out, to go fuck himself and do it on his own if he wants answers so badly. He wants to remind Jack how much of this sits on his own shoulders, and that he’d like to see him go into the office tomorrow after going through something like this.  The words sit sourly in his mouth as he works through the emotions dancing through him.  In the end what comes out is…

“Fine, Jack, I’ll do it.”

They drive away, and he doesn’t look back at the drab building behind him. Perhaps next week he’ll be too busy to linger outside locked doors. He tells himself that’s a good thing.

“I don’t fucking get it.” Dean impatiently drums his fingers against the wood, which earns him a glare from the ex-angel sitting across the room. And how the hell did he get stuck with Balthazar, again? He knows the other and Cas are on some kind of Angel Protection Program for the time being, having lost their powers and largely the whole regime to Metatron, the other fallen angels having disappeared off the map. They’re working on that, but one issue at a time. Either way, he could have sworn Sam said he would take the bastard off his hands today. Library, there must have been some kind of library mentioned, he eyes Balthazar with open annoyance, and Sam isn’t here... So why is the Balthazar still–

“Sam said I could stay if I wanted to.” The accented voice comes curling around his ears. “And I told him that I did.” There are books sprawled over the bed the blonde is lounging on and an open one across his knees. He looks tired, but at the chance to tease Dean, light glints into his eyes all over again. “Funny, he seemed to really think you’d want me here to help, and I could only agree, knowing how you can’t bear to go on without my pretty face.”

He chuckles, dodging out of the way as a book is chucked in his general direction, groaning a little at the sudden movements after such a period of stagnation. Dean feels no pity.

Balthazar is picking up another book for retaliation when Cas finally looks up from his own reading, cutting the argument down effectively, there’s an expression somewhere between amusement and disapproval painted all over his features. Something like fondness ripples through it too, but Dean can’t tell exactly at whom it’s directed, and for a moment a nauseating lurch of raw jealously seeps through him. He knows he’s failed to hide it when Cas’s gaze suddenly snaps onto his. Even graceless, it seems to rip into every last hidden thought Dean has, to tear into him like a knife. For a heartbeat, Dean is sure Cas knows everything, but then the moment passes and leaves Cas’s reaction as nothing more than mild confusion. Dean’s heart is still racing, and Balthazar is smirking to himself in the corner, but no one says anything until Cas’s low voice is speaking once more.

“Tell me again, Dean…” There’s a quiet patience in the tone, even though Cas has seen everything - the body, the crime scenes, every bit of evidence - he always wants them to go through it all again, to think through it once more, and a time after that, until they find the piece that they keep missing over and over.

It’s helped before on other hunts, sure, but Dean suspects there’s more to it than that, wonders if secretly Cas thinks his now human memory is failing him somehow.  That he has them run through the cases so often to make sure he’s not losing any of the pieces with time. He keeps the thought to himself.

 “…What is the pattern?”

Even though it is the millionth time and there’s still no good explanation, Dean sighs and humors him. What’s one more? “Something is killing kids.” The words burn from his tongue, and any of the petty thoughts that had just been surfacing fade away. No time for selfish self-pity just now; they’re on a case. He hates that they can’t stop the fucker that’s doing this, that there have been three bodies already and they’re no closer than before.

“No forced entry, no sulfur, no ghoulish ooze, it’s just being let in somehow. And then it mangles them, like a wild dog or something, and the heart - “ He shakes his head, trying to keep the mental images of the bodies to a minimum, they drag up memories of a different place for him, of screaming and fire.

“The heart is gone, but the liver too, so not a werewolf. But these cuts are different than the rest of the chew toy act.” He’s pacing as he speaks, and he can’t help it, feels as though the pieces are just not fitting together, like some important part is there but he just can’t fucking reach it. “They look done by a human, like someone cut into the kids with a knife.” That image does hit too close and ugly memories course through him, spinning around in his brain as he fights to stay afloat. Even though it’s been years now, human years, time he understands, the memories haunts him: blood coating his fingertips as he yanks out some poor soul’s intestines, the smell of it sharp and tangy, the way it feels against his skin, he -  Cas’s hand lands on his shoulder and jerks him out of it, even Balthazar looks concerned from his corner, though it’s nothing more than a changing shade in his eyes. The moment passes by them and he’s back in the hotel room.

“Perhaps it is a shifter?” Cas suggests for the hundredth time, not mentioning what’s just happened, but his hand stays on Dean’s shoulder, warm and welcome.  Dean shakes his head though, no, that can’t be right, shifters don’t change into animals as far as he’s seen, and the kid wasn’t dragged away or anything, was just butchered in the bedcovers, or their backyard, or wherever they were found. In any case,  to use a knife, the thing would have had to transform, it’d have needed to go from claws to hands.  And transforming in the room would have meant shifter ooze left behind somewhere. And there wasn’t any anywhere that they’ve spotted. It doesn’t add up.

“Or some kind of creature who travels with a companion?” Cas adds, furrowing his brow. He hasn’t suggested this before, but Dean only shakes his head again, no.

Cas turns to look at him at that, blue meeting green. Cas’s determinacy is obvious in the gaze, mixed with slight annoyance at being rejected again, his lips set in a thin line.  But to decide that it’s two things, Dean see how it’s tempting, but ... He opens his mouth to explain the problem as the intensity of their gazes ratchets up,  but Balthazar beats him to it, infiltrating their connection.

“But then we couldn’t know what it was, could we, Cassy? Could be any two pairs of things and we’re back to square one. If it’s one thing…“ He’s risen to his feet now, wandered over to where they’re both standing, “then we have some kind of abnormality to keep our eyes out for. Otherwise, claws and cuts, we have no way of narrowing that.” He shakes his head. “But I think…I think we would perhaps be better off attempting to actually catch a glimpse of the creature than we are playing Guess Who in this hotel room.” There’s a slight challenge in his words, as though he knows what he’s suggesting could mean the death of another child and is aware of how well that might go over.

Par for the course, Dean glares at him, annoyed, but Cas looks thoughtful. “Attempting to figure out where it might strike next would be useful. Even if we may not be…” He snatches a glance at Dean, apologetically, almost, “may not be quite ready to kill it.”

It’s a suggestion, but Cas looks to Dean. Balthazar, he’s sure, wouldn’t bother, but Balthazar looks to Cas, so in the end it comes back to him and he battles. On the one hand, he has to admit it’s better than doing nothing at all, sitting on their hands and thumbing through more books that don’t have any answers. On the other, he can’t stand the thought of someone else getting cut into god-damned parts because they decided to just fuck it and go in half assed. But it’s easier to hear, somehow, coming from Cas. And it’s not that he doesn’t want to ditch the books and get into the thick of things… Sammy can stay behind with the geek work. He’d suggest Cas stay too, but Sam can manage, and besides Cas has a good eye for things, the soccer moms love him, and a whole bunch of other excuses he could pull out if he had to. But he doesn’t. Cas can decide for himself where he’d like to go, after all, and he’s right here.

“Fine,” Dean sighs, reaching for the police report files again. The thing doesn’t seem to kill in one town more than once, which is lucky cause the FBI is slowly catching up to them on the trail. Though the high and might bureau are never the quickest to pick up on the clues, they’re dangerously on their tail this time.  So far they’ve had a lead, managed to talk around the local units, but they can’t really afford a run in with the real thing, especially not with so many other loose ends at the moment.

It does seem to be making kind of a circle though, skipping around from town to town, and always for whatever reason attacking on a Tuesday.  There’s no telling exactly which neighborhood it’s going to strike next,  but there aren’t too many that fall into the line it’s drawing. It’d be worth driving through a couple of them, he supposes, asking strangers if they’ve seen anything resembling a huge, clawed, creature roaming the streets. He feels like he’s in Harry Potter or something.

They’re just about to leave though, when Dean’s phone rings.

“Hello?” The number is unfamiliar.

“Detective Stevens?” The woman’s voice is tear filled and grief stricken, but he’s heard it before. “I think you should come see this.”

Will walks towards the Behavioral Science department of the FBI at 9 o’clock sharp on Monday, as promised. He hasn’t been here since Beverly had scraped blood from under his fingernails, since the whole of the country thought he was a serial murderer. It’s a strange sense of the world lurching around him to be back, here where nothing has changed. The trial, the evidence, the jail cell, all of it flits past his gaze as he walks. There were times that he’d never thought he’d see these halls again, and now, standing here, innocent once more, a strange sense of self consciousness runs through him.

There’s been no interaction with anyone but Jack since the trial, not really. Beverly had stopped by his house once, knocked on his door, but he’d been in no shape to see anyone at that point, lying in bed, stricken by equal parts feverish exhaustion and relief. Alana he’d seen briefly when she’d returned the dogs and pressed a kiss to his forehead, but they hadn’t spoken. She won’t be here today, one way or another. Or perhaps she will. She has a habit of showing up when he needs her, but he’s not a child, he reminds himself, and this is not his first day of kindergarten. He doesn’t need to hold his mother’s hand, he just needs to take a deep breath and pretend as though nothing has changed for him. With regards to this, to his work, little has after all. He won’t get too close again, and with his brain more or less working straight, the encephalitis long gone, he should be able to handle this.

He pushes the door open and walks into the familiar examination room. There’s a very small body lying on the table, and Zeller and Price have already bent their heads over it, looking for missed information. He’s read all the other reports at home, and he can tell even from a distance that this one is exactly the same.

They look at him as he enters, and for a moment only silence lingers between all of them, but then Price looks away, picking up a chart, and Zeller shrugs, eyes flitting back to the body. Beverly starts listing off everything she spots as always, and Will lets himself fall into the flow.

His eyes rove the body as Zeller pokes around at the openings carefully, gloved fingers examining the wounds. The whole of the body is twisted up, bite marks and cuts that look suspiciously as though they’ve come from claws decorate the arms and the legs mar the face. They stop short at the torso though - don’t edge onto the stomach or chest. The incisions there are different…they may as well have been surgical. He swallows hard around the last word and exchanges it for precise in his mind.

“Could it have been an animal?” Zeller asks for what Will is sure is not the first time, and yes, claw marks and teeth indentations certainly seem to make that a…non absurd, if not completely on point, question. But it’s not so, it can’t be.

Beverly opens her mouth, but Will, still peering down at the body doesn’t see her and beats her to the punch, she shuts it again with a small smile. “No unusual traces of bacteria, no fur, and these lines.” His fingers edge across the clean marks. “These were done with a knife.” He blinks and tries to see past the corpse, tries to reach into the wounds themselves and pull out the hands of the murderer behind them, but to no avail, she’s been too removed from the site of the death, too cleaned up and muddled with to show him anything clearly. He blinks again. “No dog I’ve met could manage that much, don’t you think?”

Price snorts a little and the tension eases slightly more between the three of them. Will’s eyes move to the tag on the table. Eileen Johnson, it reads, from a few towns over. He wonders what he might have gotten to know about her if he’d seen the crime scene, if hadn’t been…drowning in his own mind. That flash of fury he’d felt against Jack in the car rises again, but it’s directed inwardly this time.

“Jack thinks it was the Winchesters.” He prompts them, even though he can feel their doubt that something solely human could be responsible for this. He shares it.

Beverly nods, their eyes meeting briefly. There’s a brief warmth in them, and then back to business as usual. “Yeah, their fingerprints were all over the place, haven’t seen them on anything for a while. Guess they got clumsy. But it’s unusual for them, kids.” She shrugs her shoulders as if to say, 'but who’s to say with crazy people,' as she moves over, showing him the prints sent up from forensics. “But they seem to have new people on board, prints we didn’t recognize. We’ve matched this one up –“ She points to one of the sets. “to a Louis Deveraux - a few priors, but nothing major. He went missing about three years ago, no connection to the Winchesters that we can find, though it’s possible they picked him up somewhere along the line.”

Will nods. He hasn’t studied the cases extensively but he knows the jist. A lineage of killers, but why suddenly introduce in someone new? It always struck him as something particular to the family.

“This one.” She gestures at the other set. “We don’t have him anywhere in the system, so it’ll be impossible to tell until we catch up with him, I guess.  Jack said they looked up other disappearances in Deveraux’s vicinity, but so far, no dice.”

“Bacteria or not.” Price interrupts their discussion, his tone curt. “These were definitely done by an animal.” He’s gesturing to the teeth marks and Will can’t disagree, the claw marks could have been manufactured, but to get indentations of that style in that shape to go so deep, they’d need the actual creature. Is that what Deveraux and their John Doe were there for? Some kind of twisted bestial development? His mind brings up a thousand kinds of scenarios, but he won’t know until they get a better look at fresh evidence.

Even if they had some kind of rabid dog, something still sits uncomfortably in his mind. How could they have stopped him from attacking the chest and the stomach? An animal, especially one rabid enough to attack a dead human body, doesn’t stop to choose where it attacks; it just latches on and claws.

“I guess it wouldn’t hurt to try and match the marks.” Bev sets the files next to him. She moves closer to the body again, brow raised. “We’ve run them against all the humans we’ve got, but maybe if we could get a breed…”

Will nods his agreement as they start into a flurry of action. He picks up the Winchester case files, though he knows nothing inside of it matches what’s before him. Still, if they’re his murderers, it would be best to start getting to know them now, crime scene or not.  “Let me know when they hit again.” And then he’s retreated, leaving them to their practiced patterns, trying to forget where he might have been headed if this case had come up six months ago.

It’s dangerous, going back to a house that the real FBI has been through, but Mrs. Johnson had sounded both terrified and strangely calm on the phone; almost as though still in a deep shock. When they’d last seen her, she’d been a mess, tears and anguish, and she wasn’t to be blamed. But there’s something in her voice that sets alarm bells off in Dean’s head. So they go. He’s not sure why she called them and not the real FBI, but he has to hope she hasn’t called them both.The Feds have taken the body already, they have no real reason to come back, but they might. But if there’s something, anything, more that they’re missing, they have to go see it.  Cas seems wary of the idea, but for once, Balthazar falls on his side of the equation and they take off towards the Johnson house. The impala gets left behind this time; it's too high risk for her to go with them.

“I am still uncertain about this.” Cas mumbles as they pull up to the street, and Dean is about to say something, but Balthazar has reached over from the backseat and squeezed the other’s shoulder.  Dean grits his teeth, turning away.

“We’ll be fine, darling.” He hears as he gets out of the Impala, slamming the door shut harder than necessary and then regretting it. Shouldn’t let that smarmy son of a bitch get to him, shouldn’t give him the satisfaction. It’s a struggle to stop the thoughts as they all get out of the car though, and despite Dean’s best efforts at nonchalance, Balthazar’s eyes are twinkling as though he knows anyway. It makes that now familiar sparking, angry, feeling inside of Dean rise to life, a good part of him wanting to just tackle Balthazar to the ground, but he ignores it. He’d have a hell of a time explaining that one to Cas, besides, if he hurt the wimp, there’d probably be hell to pay in some form or another.

Instead, he rips his eyes away from the blonde and follows Cas to the door. Something like pride replaces the annoyance as he watches the other knock and then settle in to wait, badge ready to pull out, right way up, shirt tucked in, neat, in the new, if ill fitting, suit the Winchesters bought him. He’s come a long way since that day with good ol' Raph.

Next to him, Balthazar elbows him slightly, and he turns to face the other eyebrows raised, but whatever was going to be said is lost between them as the door swings open.

“Detectives.” The woman’s eyes are bright. There’s fear shining through them, but she no longer looks grief stricken. If anything, something’s lighter about her, brighter. Dean’s eyes narrow, that’s usually not a good sign in a hunt like this one, nothing positive ever coming of it. They saw the dead body on the table, nothing that makes that better so fast is going to mean anything they’re gonna wanna hear. “Please.” She doesn’t ask for their badges this time, only motions for them to come in, over eager. “I think you should see this.”

Shifter, he tries to think, shifted into the child? Or a ghost? Has the women reanimated the body somehow? No, he doesn’t think so, she seemed surprised, not guilty.

She takes them through the two story house, eerie silence hanging from the walls, and leads them out to the backyard, gesturing out to the swing set.

“She won’t talk.”  Mrs. Johnson’s voice has fallen into erratic whisper, shaking, but excited. “She’s just been sitting, and staring. But it’s her, right, agents? It has to be. It looks just like her.” The calm is gone now, and she’s shivering. “You see her too, don’t you?”

Perched on the swings is little Eileen, staring past them into the garden. Her limbs swing her back and forth, setting the playset creaking, but she seems vacant. She’s a perfect replica, though, of the little girl Dean had seen cut to pieces in this very house. He takes a step forward, but Cas’s hand stops him. He’s right, they don’t know what this is, it’s not Eileen, that’s for damn sure, but if he doesn’t get any closer, they’re never going to figure this out.

“Mrs. Price.” Cas asks as Dean debates. “When did Eileen reappear?”

Right, questions, they should get information, but the girl is right there, and it would only take the murmuring of a few things, a splash of holy water, iron, a silver blade if he can pull it off, to rule out some things.  And man, do they need to do that.

“Last night.” She’s tearful as she clutches onto herself, her eyes never leaving the little girl. “I found her tucked up in bed when I went upstairs to…when I went upstairs… and she was there.” Her eyes are big, wet with tears, and hope that’s too painful to look at. “She was there.”

“Has she said anything?” Balthazar asks, finally speaking, his eyes are on the moving child as well, the worry and displeasure is smoothly hidden on his face, but Dean can see it lingering in his eyes. It doesn’t shock him anymore when Balthazar gives a damn; he supposes he could put that down as progress.

Mrs. Johnson shakes her head.  “No, but she, she’d be in shock, wouldn’t she? Right? She’s been through so much, and she’d been attacked, maybe she doesn’t feel like speaking yet. Maybe…”

Had it been six months ago, Castiel might have told them woman this is not her child. He might have told her it was likely a demon or a shifter of sorts. But much time has passed since then, and now, instead, he nods quietly, passes her off to Dean, and moves closer. He knows he’d told Dean not to touch the child yet, but the mother, he’s fairly certain, will not help them much. And if she does know something, Dean stands a better chance at asking the correct questions to draw it out.

In the mean time, he can just as easily go over to the child and wet her skin with holy water, draw a bit of blood, attempt to coax her into speech. He can feel Dean’s eyes following his movements, but then the other’s low voice sounds and Cas is satisfied that his intent has been understood and accepted.

He kneels down in the dry grass, and waits a moment, just to see, but the girl continues to swing, back and forth, back and forth, her legs kick up the dust as she passes low to the ground, but she fails to notice that, eyes firmly on some point only she can see. Once, she sneezes, the vibrations interrupting the smoothness of the motion, but she continues with the repetitions the very moment everything in her body has settled.
With one smooth motion, he reaches out and stops the swing, careful not to jostle her, though he knows that she is nothing but a mere imitation of the child who once sat in this seat of rubber. The mother is watching though, he must spare her as best he can.

This uninvited interruption finally causes the child to look at him, and she sneezes again, followed by a cough. On closer inspection, he sees that she seems feverish, a sweaty sheen coating her features, her eyes bloodshot, cheeks blotchy. Her red hair is limp and lifeless, looks dead where it was once bright. He’s certain there’d be a temperature too high to be normal as well, if he checked her skin.  But for now he doesn’t touch her.

“Hello.” He says quietly, waiting to see the reaction. Her legs kick out slightly, the swing swaying in his grasp, as though she’d like to go again, but no indication that she hears him is evident. He says christo under his breath, just in case, though he doesn’t think she’s a demon, and is unsurprised when no reaction meets his efforts.

Hesitantly he moves, running his fingers across her skin. She seems unnaturally smooth to the touch, slippery, almost, as though she is not made of skin at all. Her eyes have gone back to the spot in the horizon; he thinks she’s staring almost longingly at the tree that’s visible just around the house. She sneezes again.

“Inspector…” He rises to his feet, not sure if he’s referring to Dean or Balthazar, but before he can quite make up his mind, the girl sneezes again, and then she’s choking, no, heaving, dry heaving, and plants are falling out of her mouth. He hears the mother’s worried screech, but can’t turn away to see if she is alright or not as the onslaught continues. Eileen sneezes and pinecones fall out of her nose, the greenery still pouring from her lips. Her skin is changing too, turning alternatingly brown and green, becoming rougher around the chest and smoother around the arms as she… transforms...her middle takes on the texture of tree bark, her skin falling off of her to reveal not bones, but fine blades of grass all woven together. Not a child at all then -  he’s transfixed though horrified - a puppet animated from the trees. A perfect Eileen-sized replica made of out dirt and trees. Her red hair turns last, rounding out into bright autumn berries.

He rises wordless, turning to see that Dean is holding the mother, Balthazar takes her, calling out to say that he is taking her inside, but as he turns towards the house, he stops short, gaze fixed on a high point where the silhouette of a man is standing in the window, a gun clearly drawn in his hand.

“We have to get out of here.” There’s a horrified look in his gaze as he looks from the man to Mrs. Johnson, but he shakes his head, mouthing FBI, and Cas doesn’t know how he knows, or if he’s right, but they can’t afford to be found at the murder scene if it’s true.

Dean looks stricken, but the man is already gone from the window and they have no time. Cas takes one last look at the straw doll of green and brown that was once Eileen and rushes off with them. They drive off just as the man comes running out to the front yard, his eyes wide and disbelieving, yelling at them to freeze,  before, realizing the futility,  he turns on his heel, back towards the house.
The sound of sirens greet them as they drive away.

Will sits and waits in the lobby of Jack’s office, thumbing through the files. The head of the unit isn’t there right now, but he’s waiting on the secretary for some papers that were left out of the report. Some kind of oversight probably, but he needs them.  He’s made up his mind to go visit the last crime scene, but the address seems nowhere to be found.

The secretary smiles at him from her seat, and he glances up at her briefly as she speaks over the printer humming behind her. “The papers should be ready in just a moment, Mr. Graham.”

He can’t help but notice that her eyes are bloodshot and splotchy: late night, probably, he thinks to himself, unable to help analyzing everyone that’s in front of him.  It’s not the first time he’s seen her tired, either; there's always a large mug of coffee in her hands. He pulls his eyes away from her before she realizes he’s staring. They never like it when you stare, but he really can’t help it. His eyes fall across her desk instead,  papers scattered about haphazardly, a letter of congratulations addressed to the Greenwood Family, the stamp on it shows a stork carrying a balloon in its mouth, and pictures of children at the edge;  single mother, maybe, trying to make ends meet.

She notices his gaze and smiles. “Nieces.” Her tone is soft. “Going to go visit them in Rockville tomorrow.”

He nods, politely, though his mind is elsewhere, distracted again.

“Jack lets me start late on Wednesdays so I can make the drive.” She reaches up to get the freshly printed pages, handing them over. “Do you have any children, Will?”

His smile is tight as he takes the sheets from. “Just a collection of strays…of the dog variety” He struggles with his natural inclination to be rude, because she’s only being nice, but he’s got other things on his mind, and the sooner he gets to the crime scene the better. It’s a waste of his time to sit here analyzing Jack’s secretary, no matter how much his brain wants to dig through everyone he meets. Now that the address is in his grasp, he nods and moves away as she goes back to her typing.

It’s not too much of a drive to Ashburn, he doesn’t bother with FBI transport and takes his own car. No point in bothering anyone else to come out with him; there’s nothing left there for the FBI to do, only possible clues as to why this child that will connect solely in Will’s mind. Getting to know her strikes him as pointless, but he owes it to her to try. His fists clench on the wheel, after all, he’d been asleep in bed, too busy feeling sorry for himself to be useful when she’d been torn to pieces. Yes, he has to at least make himself look, so they can figure out the pattern before the next attacks lands.

The image of the girl, of Eileen, flashes before his eyes as he drives: red hair, bright eyed. The pictures of her show her dancing, biking, but there’s nothing unique about her that he can see - nothing that matches up with the last girl that was killed except the gender.  He supposes he’ll see when he reaches the house, one way or another.  There must be something, some crucial clue that ties all of this together: there always is.

The doorbell clangs loudly when he finally reaches the house. The feeling of disquiet that always lingers a crime scene, long after the tape is removed and the police gone home, fills him. Maybe to everyone else in the neighborhood, the taint has faded, but Will can feel it deep in the roots of the place. Nothing here will ever be the same. He feels similarly about his own home sometimes, the darkness still tainting the air, haunting it. It makes him sick, even though he can’t bear to leave it.

Though two cars are parked in the driveway, minutes pass and no one answers the phone. The door tempts him, slightly ajar, swaying open as the air currents play with its weight. He has his badge after all, the security of having credentials behind him once more. And it’s imperative he sees everything as soon as possible, as close as he can to the way the home was on the night when everything happened. He’ll have the best chance of being able to see that way. To let even a day go by means the difference between the life of another girl and another corpse. He squeezes his hands together as he considers his options, pushing the door bell again as he looks around.

The wait drags on as the sound of the bells fade away into the air and he can feel Eileen calling to him from inside, her presence entrenched in this place, the best clues they have. Feeling like a thief, he pushes the door up and moves inside the building, calling out a “Hello, FBI, is anyone here?”  as he moves. It makes him uncomfortable, to enter uninvited, but the killer will strike again tomorrow and there’s no time for niceties.

From the careful notes in the file, he’s memorized the layout of the house, kitchen to his right, play room in the back, living room to the left. What had been labeled a spare room on the floor plan, has been painted the bright colors of a nursery, the smell of fresh pain still hovering in the air – a new crib sits in the corner, unused but waiting. It wasn’t Eileen’s, but there’s no second child. He moves past this mystery though,  what he’s after is the stairs directly in front of him, the girl’s bedroom lying on the second floor, towards the back, windows facing out onto the backyard. Could the killer have scaled the fence and climbed up the wall? He imagines the feeling of creeping up brick and stone, shattering a window – but no… there was no broken glass at the scene. He erases the scenario as he walks up the stairs, trying to fit a new one.

The bedroom itself doesn’t tell him much as he peers around; light dances across the freshly made bed, the bloody bedcovers have been changed, the sheets starched and new, everything has been put back in place, but scrubbed clean. Holes in the scene are evident here and there from where the FBI confiscated stuffed animals and pillows, took posters from the walls,  but the killer is nowhere in these things.  No image creeps out at him, no tendrils of another’s mind latching onto his own. All that’s here are the sad remains of a life no longer living.

With a sigh, he walks over to the bed, not ready to give up just yet, he’s come all this way after all and even if his imagination is no use, perhaps his eyes will be, though he knows how easily both can be deceived. He lets that train of thought dissipate, forcing himself to stay grounded in this case, in this crime. Noiselessly, he moves the covers to the side, picks up the pillows, considers lying in the bed just in case, but rejects it. Even empty of all alien thoughts, he can already tell the killer had not done that. The girl had been merely a means to an end, not a trophy to treasure. She’d been chosen for some reason, but not for herself.

He’s just turned to the chair (an old teddy bear sits on it, there had been a bear in the last room too, he’d seen it in evidence as he’d passed, but could a stuffed animal really mean anything?) when the sound of voices filters into the room.  He can’t make out the words from up here, but one is a man’s, low and rumbling, the others, panicked and tear filled – he moves over to the window to look, alarm bells going off in his mind.

There are four people in the yard, Mrs. Johnson, two men  whose backs are to him, and one, on the far side of the yard, kneeling next to…next to Eileen, he gasps, next to Eileen, alive and well, swinging herself back and forth. If Will had been holding something, he would have dropped it. He should go downstairs, should look up close to make sure it’s not just his mind seeing what it might want to, but something sticks him to the spot, hypnotized.

As he watches, the dark haired man reaches out and stops the girl’s swinging. He speaks to her, though Will can’t hear his words, but she doesn’t respond. Shock, he thinks dreamily, the vision of her cut up and lying on an examination table vivid in his mind. He thinks he might be able to relate.

Moments pass and nothing changes, but then from nowhere, the girl has bent over, is sick, heaving, Will strains to see, but then she’s shaking, changing, becoming…green. He feels a lurching feeling in his stomach: is he hallucinating this, is his mind not healed after all? The burning disease still present despite what he’s been assured, toying with him, making him see things that aren’t there. The icy grip of fear squeezes him. No, he grips the window sill as he watches, no, the other men are reacting too, the mother is screaming. This is not, his world is becoming rapidly dizzy, but he fights, this is not in his mind. He can trust himself to know what is real now, he has to hold onto that. And still, the girl is turning to greenery before him.

It’s not until the blonde man turns, as though sensing a presence, that he remembers himself, remembers what he’s here for and what he should be doing. Deveraux, the name leaps up at him from the pages in Beverly’s hands. Here, back at the scene of the crime, back where a little girl is dying all over again. The man meets his eyes, and he can see the words forming to his companions already, they’ll be gone by the time Will gets down there, but with trembling hands he pulls out his badge flashing it in the sun.

“Stop.” He yells down at them, replacing it with his gun for good measure. The equipment shuddering in his grasp, it’s the first time he’s held one since that night in Minnesota. “Don’t move.” But they’ve already run, scattered.

He races for the stairs, stumbling out of the door at top speed, just quickly enough to see the green Nissan driving of. He commits the license plate to memory, but it’s no good, he knows the car will be found in a ditch by evening. He breathes hard, a Winchester, the new hire, but what had he seen? What could he have possibly seen. A girl turning to a plant? It’s impossible. He swallows down the bile, slowly working his way into the backyard, putting on his glasses, just in case, though their absence could not have possibly caused the spectacle he’d seen.

Mrs. Johnson is sobbing in the grass, her hands on her belly. He leads her over to a chair, realizing what the nursery was for, after all: another child on the way.

He places a hand on her shoulder as he coaxes her to sit, her words too garbled to understand, her grief infecting him, but he has to see. Body shivering in the warm sun, he walks over to the swing. Sitting on it, unmoving, like a statue, is Eileen Johnson, a perfect replica in plant and bark, where moments ago flesh and blood had been sitting. He touches it, but it’s only grass, nothing out of the ordinary. Had the killer done this? Had the Winchesters somehow managed to pull this off? But how, how could anyone do this?

He gathers the the evidence up with ginger fingers, heart beating quickly, moving towards Mrs. Johnson, unsure what to say: were they all hallucinating?

She looks up at him, wet eyes bright, but calmer now, her fingers stroking over her growing belly. “Did I, did I only dream it?” She looks desperately like she wants him to say yes, to tell her nothing had truly happened, only a play of grief on the mind.

So he nods, swallowing around the lump in his throat, moving Eileen’s double out of sight. “Yes.” He tells her, “Whatever you saw.” He bend next to her, his hand covering hers, the grief mirrored in their voices, there’s a burning in his eyes. “It wasn’t so.” Sometimes, to think oneself insane is easier than swallowing the truth, he knows that. He gives her the gift of ignorance.

He lingers only moments more to explain about the Winchesters, then, with a squeeze of her hand, picks up the plant girl and moves the plant girl to his car, mind racing to try and find a logical answer. It reminds him of stories he’s read: of Daphne running from Apollo, her only means of escape to transform into a tree. Myths play across his mind like movie clips. But they’re only stories aren’t they? Silly tales to explain the unexplainable, and yet not even his mind is capable of finding a better answer.

The key turns in the ignition as he starts the car, intending to drive back to the office, unsure yet who he’d tell or what he’d say, but as his fingers curl around the wheel, he finds his car veering onto different roads, ones that don’t lead to the FBI, but somewhere else entirely.

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