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Two Sides of the Same Coin

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There is a pain burrowing into Jared’s brain. It’s right between his eyes, past the bridge of his nose and he knows he’s doing it to himself. He doesn’t have any intentions of stopping though because he’s not done yet.

He knows that if the police have called him in on a case then things are more complex then they’ll ever let on. Though Jared works with the law he isn’t the law and there is a very thick line drawn between the two. They rarely tell him too much about cases other than that they need his particular brand of expertise and the names of the people he is dealing with.

Right now he’s staring at Mrs. Landers, Carol as she is insisting he call her, and trying to figure out what to tell the woman who is giving him hopeful doe eyes.

He hates that part about this.

Whatever bullshit the cops feed the families he is trying to help, Jared is sure that it sounds something along the line of, “Mr. Padalecki is the best, he’ll be able to give us some insight.”

Only, sometimes Jared can’t give them some insight. Sometimes things beyond the veil of the living are not so cut and dry. And more often than not, they don’t feel like cooperating on law enforcement’s schedule.

He feels like he is going to pass out and he’d much rather leave the house than sit and figure things out but he can’t. It’s his job. He’s been blessed, or cursed, with his ability and he’s sworn to use it to help as many people as he can.

So he stays.

He can’t blame his ability alone for the throbbing in his skull. The area they are standing in smells fairly charred and though it’s cooled, everything feels hot. Jared feels it right in the core of his brain. To most people it makes no sense. To Jared, this is just the warm up.

“Please? Karl, he…” Carol’s voice trails off and she dabs at her eyes again with her handkerchief.

Taking a stop forward, Jared grabs the tips of the leather glove on his left hand and peels it off. It comes off in a smooth tug, the material long grown soft and worn after many days of being Jared’s faithful accessory. Crouching, he presses his hand to a slat that seems unburned.

Even though he knows what is coming, the air still leaves Jared in a sudden rush.

Everything hits him at once and he has to grit his teeth to hold himself together. There are flames, a ton of them. They’re all encompassing and higher than he is tall; he feels them licking at his skin and burning holes in his flesh. He knows they’re not real but they feel real enough and he lets out a scream.

Then he sees a man, Karl, assuming the pictures the police have shown him were correct. He’s burning just like Jared only he’s truly being consumed by flames. He’s choking on smoke and suffocating. It’s vivid enough for Jared to realize what he’s seeing. Karl’s stuck on replay, his spirit on a never ending loop of being burned alive as the house catches flames.

Jared feels it. He screams again as the flames grow higher and hotter. He wants to move his hand and snuff out the pain but he can’t. Not yet.

Somewhere in his vision he can see faded forms of Carol and Officers Roberts in the background. They’re there with him but they don’t know it. Karl is practically beside Carol but she doesn’t look at him. Jared knows, he can tell, that Carol feels Karl’s presence. She’s been reacting to it all night without realizing. The chills, the nervous eye dart when she swore her mind was playing tricks on her and she saw something? They’re all signs that maybe this time the police department was spot on in thinking they needed Jared’s help.

Jared himself doesn’t talk but that doesn’t mean he isn’t speaking to Karl. He hangs on just long enough to get a name from Karl before he lets out a gasp and falls forward, holding himself up with the one arm he’s using to keep contact with the wood. He burns hotter and feels flames in his throat and lungs until he can’t scream any more. The world is melting and he focuses on the connection he’s just made with Karl and urges the spirit to rest. To leave. To go in peace. He can’t do anything more here. Jared can take over from now on.

It works.

Like a switch flipping, suddenly Jared’s world is cool again. There are no flames or bright colors. Everything is dark and normal. Everyone is staring at Jared but it’s so common that he doesn’t even bother to care. Smacking at his face, he finds that there are no holes in his flesh, no burns, no blisters. He swears he’s hotter, like he’s been baking in something too big for him to understand.

It’s not.

It is, however, too big for everyone else in the room to understand.

Slipping on his glove, Jared turns to face Carol. He puts a comforting hand on the woman’s shoulder and gives an exhausted smile. “Karl…he loves you. But you know that part. He…he’s okay. He said he’s okay. He’s at peace.” He sees Carol shed a tear. He wishes he could say more but there wasn’t much time to hold up the connection with Karl’s spirit before Jared had to send the man to his final resting place. The flames were too draining on him. Letting his hand slip from Carol, he headed towards Roberts. Feet heavy, he stumbled once but caught his balance before anyone else tried to hold him up. “Guy Scarpinito,” he murmurs on an exhale.

“What?” Roberts gets closer. He throws Jared a skeptical look but pulls out a notepad despite that fact.

Pinching the bridge of his nose, Jared feels pain pulsing outward. “It wasn’t an accident, the fire. It was arson and Karl was murdered, not accidentally burned to death. The one that killed him is a man named Guy Scarpinito.”

“Guy?” Carol’s voice is shrill despite being forced out through tears.

Jared knows what comes next. He doesn’t need to be here for the dirty part. He’s seen enough heartbreak in Carol’s eyes; he’s met his quota.

When he walks out of the house, it’s without anyone’s opposition. Jared knows that even though the police force values his help, they are often uncomfortable around him. He gets it. He has alternate ways of getting to the bottom of a situation and sometimes admitting they need those ways makes the law a little cloudy.

Out on the sidewalk in the fall air, Jared finally feels like he can breathe. It’s not much but his lungs are finally taking in air that doesn’t come with a hint of ashes.

The walk isn’t long but by the time Jared gets to Canterbury’s he’s about ready to drop.

A bar probably isn’t the best idea right now but it’s the only idea he’s got. Slipping through the door, he slides into a dark corner of the bar. He’s unnoticed, another common occurrence he’s come to depend on.

Except, Kelly’s got her eyes on him the exact moment he walks in the door. She always seems to know when he’s coming. She’s not psychic or anything like that, Jared’s checked. Still, she seems to be on the same wavelength as Jared sometimes. Behind the bar, she follows him to his seat, digging under the bar and pulling out a glass.

It’s Jared’s glass. She keeps it there for him, wrapped in a towel behind a part of the bar no one else knows about. She has it down on the dark shine of the bar and is filling it with ice and Johnnie Walker before Jared can get a word out.

When she looks up, it is with displeasure and a slathering of pity. “Jay, you’re going to – ”

“Don’t start, Kelly.” Jared keeps his eyes down and shakes his head.

“You’re going to kill yourself Jay.” Kelly slams the bottle down on the bar loud enough to let Jared know she’s not happy. With a hand on her hip, she tosses long black tresses over her shoulder and shakes her head in slow disapproving motions.

Kicking back the drink, Jared coughs. The alcohol burns and it reminds him too much of the spectral flames that were licking at his throat earlier. He doesn’t usually drown his troubles in alcohol, it’s not his style, but he’s here now and coughing again as he squeezes his eyes shut and swallows. He has to admit, the one benefit to alcohol is that it dulls the edges so that they don’t stick out in his mind so prominently. “Kel, I mean it. Don’t start. I…I just can’t handle it right now.”

Kelly’s face falls but her sass stays in place. She’s still not happy but her movements show that she’s not sure what to do about it. Huffing, she pours her friend another drink before returning the bottle to its place behind the bar.

Jared swirls the golden liquid in his glass. He knows Kelly’s right. It’s getting worse for him. It’s taking longer for him to bounce back from spiritual encounters. He feels like falling over right now despite the case being fairly run of the mill. The flames may have been new but dealing with a wayward spirit is an old trick for him.

He drinks the whiskey and hopes it’s enough for him to fool himself into thinking he’s fine.

Even if it isn’t fine it has to be.

He has work to do.

He stares at the wood grain of the bar, barely feeling his own life, let alone everyone else around him when he’s startled by his phone buzzing in his pocket.

Pulling it out, he realizes it’s been hours since he left the last crime scene. Hours. How he lost track of time he doesn’t know but he sees Police Chief Danners’ phone number pop up on the screen.

If the Chief is calling him, it’s a big deal.

He’s tired but his brain has already locked in on the fact that he’s fine. He’s fine and he has a lot more work to do.

He’s stumbling out of the bar and Kelly is screaming at him but he keeps walking. She’s his only friend in the world and he’s walking out on her because walking out makes things so much easier than staying and trying to make sense of things.