John Winchester crosses paths with something Other.
| “I’ll tell you one thing, John. I don’t know what it is. And that’s reason enough for you to get your ass as far away from it as you can.” Bobby’s tone was worried and John rolled his eyes, trying to take the other man’s concerns seriously. “I am not looking forward to trying to explain to Dean and Sam where their father is this time.”
“If you don’t know, you haven’t looked deep enough yet,” John replied. He cradled the hard, black plastic receiver of the pay phone between his ear and shoulder while he made notes on a hotel notepad. “Bobby, thank you for worrying, but I’ll be fine. Call me if you find anything else out, okay?” He paused to bounce the pen against the side of the phone. “How are the boys?”
Bobby’s voice was irritated. “They are ten and fourteen, John. How do you think they are? Eating me out of house and home, bored out of their skulls and driving me up the damn wall. Hurry up and either kill whatever that thing is or get back here. Before they kill me.”
John chuckled and shook his head. “Thanks, Bobby. I’ll be in touch.”
He hung up the phone, listened to the coin dropping into the machine, then automatically checked the coin return. It was empty, as usual, but you never knew. It was a stuffy, humid summer night in Central Virginia, hot enough that it was foolish to wear more than one layer even after dark. John had found it necessary to abandon his leather jacket three days ago and he felt naked without it. Instead, he was wearing a t-shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his shoulders, more than slightly conscious of the fact that his tattoos showed clearly. Like he needed to be more conspicuous than he already was. But it was just too damn hot to wear anything more. John slouched his way across the parking lot, hands deep in the pockets of his jeans as he headed for the big old truck where it squatted near the motel.
As he leaned inside to root around under the seat for his stash of bills, a strange scent reached him and John froze, tilted his head, waited. It wasn’t inside the cab of the truck, but seemed to move against the wind, curling around him to push into his nostrils. Wary, he stepped back and turned around. It smelled like the air after a thunderstrike, ozone and earth scrubbed clean. Just as he was reaching back for the pistol tucked into the back of his jeans, a flash of light exploded and John yelped, ducking back and trying to save his night vision.
When he looked up again, the parking lot pavement was scorched and smoking in a strange, almost glyphic pattern around a vaguely humanoid bundle. John craned his neck, looking first toward the motel for any signs of awareness. When none came, he looked back toward the road for curious onlookers. Certain he was the only witness to this bizarre situation, John crept forward, eased his pistol out and kept it ready as he slid one booted foot to the center of the smoking pattern and nudged the bundle with his toe.
The bundle rustled and then began to crumble, flakes of ash falling and floating around in a hazy halo. As the outside deteriorated, John could see it was surrounding something inside, a shape that glittered faintly in the shifting light that penetrated the collapsing ash structure. Once the ash had settled, he leaned over, keeping his pistol trained at the object inside.
The object opened her eyes.
John found himself staring down the sights of his pistol at a figure of a woman that appeared to be made of glass. Her face was faceted like cut crystal, the muscles and tendons of her body visible as spun fibers. The hair that fell around her shoulders gleamed in a bizarre rainbow of colors, each strand catching the light from the streetlamp at its own angle. Clear sheets covered her muscles like skin, though everything was still visible underneath. The effect was captivating, if unsettling. John tried to take a step back, then remembered how close he was to the truck already and held his position instead. She slowly shifted from a sitting position to gather her legs under her and then stood up, her eyes finding John where he continued to stand with his pistol aimed. “What are you?” he asked in a low voice.
She didn’t answer, stepping out of the halo of ashen pavement and looking around the parking lot. Her body language was fluid, graceful and yet utterly alien in ways John couldn’t quite put a name to. It was almost as if the hinges of her joints moved in more directions than the standard human directions. After a moment of slowly turning her eyes around the parking lot, she turned and looked at him again and John felt something in his stomach clench tight.
Her eyes were blue. Entirely blue, like they had been crafted from a single orb of sapphire or blue topaz. And she didn’t blink. She slowly stepped towards him and he became aware that her feet were bare, grating softly on the pavement like someone grinding a broken bottle against a sidewalk. She kept coming and he redirected the pistol at her face. “Stop right there,” he growled.
She may not have understood the words, but she seemed to grasp the tone and stopped, standing straight and tall with her head angled slightly to the side, avoiding the barrel of the gun. John stared at her, afraid to blink. This was so far outside his experience that he wasn’t even sure what to do next. Maybe she was the source of the strange ashen symbols he and Bobby had been researching. Finally, he repeated his initial question: “What are you?”
Her head moved slowly to one side, then the other and John was suddenly flushed all over when the glassy surface of her skin became opaque and reflective. Well, almost. He started to chuckle when he realized that it wasn’t a reflection he was seeing as much as an imperfect attempt to clone his clothing over her skin. Her face was downright unnerving now, all the shadows and planes of his own face overlaying the structure of hers, his dark hair covering the upper portions of her hair while the longer portions took on the color of his t-shirt and his bare shoulders. She’d even included the tattoos.
“No,” he said and shook his head, still trying to keep from laughing. “You are definitely not me. Stop that right now.” Her head tilted, then the color drained away and she was glass again. “What the fuck are you?” he asked again, still smiling in spite of his caution.
She smiled at him. He saw the resemblance to Dean’s smile immediately and realized she was mimicking him again, though this time without changing her surface colors. She had dimples. He wondered distantly if she would have them if she smiled her own smile instead of his.
“I don’t even know if this would hurt you,” he sighed, looking at the pistol in his hand. After a moment, he pushed it back into the waistband of his jeans. “No point in threatening you when it could be like hitting you with a paintball gun.” John leaned back on the seat of the truck, still watching her watch him. “Can you even understand me?”
Something flashed across her crystal skin, then she resolved into Mary only without the proper proportions or underlying structures. Mary’s blonde hair was captured in the rainbow strands of her hair. Mary’s final nightgown superimposed itself across her legs, complete with a splash of Mary’s blood across her midriff. John turned away with a grunt and chewed his bottom lip to keep from saying anything. “Out of my head,” he finally said gruffly.
The creature made a sound then, the first she had made under her own power and not from interacting with her surroundings. It was musical, almost harp-like and John looked up in surprise. It was the saddest sound he had ever heard. She had purged Mary’s visage from her skin again and was holding her arms out to him, her face twisted in very recognizable grief. She moved her hands in a complicated gesture and splashes of color and images moved across her skin, a rapid explosion of light and fire, a flood of gleaming blood like a river of molten rubies. He looked away from the violence she showed him, then up into her face again, seeing the sorrow there.
Her lips moved and she said, “Regret.” Her voice was like the sound of a high-speed glass grinder and he winced. Her fingers formed several shapes that looked familiar and John looked again. She slowed them down and he recognized the finger shapes for Marine sign language counting. She was repeating them over and over, one through ten. After a moment, she moved her arms again, tapping her ear and moving her hand in a sideways motion across her belly, palm out.
“You hear me, but you don’t understand.” John stared, helpless. It was more field sign from his time in the Marines. “You’re pulling my memories out, trying to communicate.” She nodded and inclined her head, her expression still so sad. John sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. “Well, we should at least get you off the street. C’mon.” He reached back into the truck and hefted a grocery bag of convenience store food from the floorboards where he had stuffed it earlier and headed for the motel room.
He didn’t hear her following, so he stopped and looked back. He was surprised to see she had opened the door of his truck and was studying something on the seat with a posture of intense concentration. After a moment, she picked up his leather jacket and turned it around in her hands, examining the arms, the zipper, the collar, the orientation of the pockets. She turned to look at him and then slipped her arms into the arms of the jacket and shrugged it over her shoulders. Then, she closed the door and walked to him, her feet still grinding on the pavement. “At least you learn fast,” John sighed. He unlocked the door to the motel room and held it open for her. “After you.”
She walked past him and into the room, her head swiveling curiously as she looked at everything. John followed her in and closed the door, bolted it, then shook a line of salt across the threshold. She turned and tilted her head to watch him. “Keeps things out,” he explained as he put the bag of food on the desk. “Housekeepers all over the country hate me with a passion. Are you hungry?”
She continued to study him without an immediate reaction, so John opened the bag and pulled out a can of Pringles. “Do you eat?” He pulled the seal off the can and stuck a chip in his mouth before raising an eyebrow at her. Her face was a study in confusion at first, then she recoiled in disgust and John almost choked when an image of a flushing toilet flashed across her skin. “Well, that is the end result,” he agreed sheepishly. “You must get your energy some other way, then.”
She tilted her head, then stood up and stretched her arms wide before falling backwards onto the bed. She bounced there and she held still, her eyes closed. He was surprised to see that the clear skin of her eyelids actually did obscure the colored orbs of her eyes, as if someone had drawn a shimmering curtain across a globe. It happened in a flurry of movement, though, and he got the impression she had far more than one layer of eyelid. It was more like the way a spider covers its prey in silk. When she held still on the bed for a few moments, then lifted her head, John realized she was trying to explain to him how she gathered energy.
“Sunlight?” he guessed, then indicated the lamps on the walls. She shook her head, then stood and reached for his hand. John twitched a little, reluctant to let her touch him. She waited, her fingers outstretched until he finally relented and let her close her hands over his. She was like ice. “Damn, you’re cold,” he commented in surprise, then realized it wasn’t so much that she was cold as she was draining the heat out of his hands. He pulled away quickly and she let him go with a small nod. “You absorb heat for energy. Just out of the air.” He stared at her, now more than a little frightened of her. “You’re like a… glass vampire. You feed on heat.”
Her eyes followed him and he saw sorrow in her face again. She quickly formed the Marine sign for ‘enemy’ and shook her head emphatically. Across her skin flowed images of vampires he had hunted, monsters he had killed. “Maybe you’re not like those vampires,” John conceded slowly, “but you still don’t belong here.”
She sat on the edge of the bed and hung her head, her expression clearly mimicked from his memories of Dean’s shamed face when he had done something wrong. “Can you go home?” he asked her quietly as he sat on the other bed. “Back to wherever you came from?” Without lifting her head, she slowly shook it. “Can’t or don’t want to?”
In a flash, she showed him across her skin. Images of people like her in many shapes and sizes and configurations, moving through a wooded kingdom like shadows, climbing trees, some of them even flying with wings like dragonflies. They swarmed the forests and then vanished, first a few at a time, then in droves. Finally, there were only a handful of them, clustered together in the canopy of trees. The trees began to fall and the little cluster fled. He saw one shattered by a falling tree, another starved to death in an unnaturally cold winter. Two of them died through accidents, trying to cross highways and hit by cars that didn’t see them. The history vanished very suddenly and John looked up at her face. The grief there was profound and he chewed his lip quietly. “You’re all gone. You’re alone.”
Her skin blossomed into activity again and John watched her fleeing through the forest with another of her kind, only the two of them. She was swollen in the image and he wondered if they carried their children the same way humans did. He heard something and looked into her face again, watched with a heavy heart when she reached to touch the face of her mate. Because that’s who it had to be. She closed her eyes tightly and John watched as clear fluid slipped down her face, tears on glass. The image animated again and John watched, heartbroken, when she slipped and fell hard against a log, her crystal belly crumpled inwards as she writhed in agony. He watched her mate wrap himself around her, holding her as they grieved their loss. And while he was still gathering her up, wounded and in pain, something pierced his chest and he collapsed in a burst of glass shards. She floundered on the ground, screaming her pain and loss, her hands sifting through the fragments of the one she had loved so much.
John watched as her skin went dark. Truly dark and opaque. She turned to jet, wrapping her arms around her belly. Now that he knew where to look, he could see the creases of where she had impacted the tree, scars of her lost child. “You lost everything,” he whispered. “Everything. At least I had the boys still.” She looked up at him and gave him the saddest smile, one he didn’t recognize as belonging to anyone but her. The dimples were still there, though smaller. “When Mary died, there was really nothing even left to bury. All I got was a jar of dirt. Ash. You… you could have had a jar of crystal shards. Not that it would be much comfort.”
After a few moments of silence, she turned her head and slipped out of his jacket, folded it over itself and laid it on the bed. Her skin was still opaque and black, mirroring the shabby motel room like the screen of the old television. John could see himself warped in her curves. She opened her mouth then and spoke again, this time in something closer to the harp-like sounds she had produced earlier: “I don’t know where. Confused about how as well. Just know that these things will never change for us at all.” The words were lyrical, flowing like a song but it wasn’t like anything John had ever heard before. She looked up at him and smiled again, this time with more animation, more joy though the expression was still sad. “It was good to have met you, John Winchester.” She stood up, framed his face with her hands which did not draw heat from his skin this time, and she kissed him.
When he opened his eyes, she was gone. As if she had never been there at all.