Dan is in your kitchen when you get home. It’s well past midnight and you don’t remember inviting him. Suspicion creeps up your spine to settle heavily on your shoulders. It’s changed you, this thing, this hallucination business. You don’t enjoy surprise visits as much as you used to.
You shrug out of your overcoat as casually as you can manage.
“Are you dead?” you ask. It's the kind of question you shouldn't ask if you want to stay employed, but it slips out and there it is.
Dan looks at you from across the table, wearing the carefully schooled expression of someone who put you in therapy once and isn’t afraid to do it again. He takes his time finishing his pizza slice, wipes his hands on a napkin and says “I don’t think so,” and “You should really lock the door when you leave.”
“Clearly,” you quip.
You sit down across from him and reach for the pizza. Dan watches you. He looks a little guilty. Maybe he’s here to suspend you - you can’t say it’d come as a complete shock. You did your ten sessions like you were told, and for some of them you even put the brakes on your bullshit, but Dan never stopped looking at you like you were three fries short of a straitjacket.
“I hated The Sixth Sense, you know,” he says.
You chew your pizza. You weigh your words. “Didn’t everyone?”
So much for doctor-patient confidentiality, you think. You knew you shouldn’t have confided in someone who only took you on because Dan blackmailed her.
“I guess so.”
“Thoughtful of you to bring pizza,” you say. “Am I fired or just suspended? I wouldn’t mind a few weeks of desk duty. All that crouching by dead bodies is murder on the knees, if you’ll excuse the pun.” And paperwork is far less likely to come to life and speak to you.
Dan’s smile is brittle. “You’re— fuck knows what you are,” he says, and leaves it there.
You’re in an alley between a Chinese restaurant and a laundromat. A squad car is parked haphazardly on the kerb behind Dan’s nondescript black sedan, the rain running down the windows in streaks. You try to remember how you got here. Dan gave you a ride, maybe. He’s standing next to you, grey suit, blue tie, grim look on his face. His hair is plastered to his forehead, making him look uncannily like a drowned cat.
Forensics crowd the crime scene, white coveralls contrasting with the grime. One kneels besides a large pool of blood diluted with rain and marks it with a plastic triangle.
The dank alley is a bit of a cliché. Alleys, dumpsters, highway overpasses - sometimes you wish the lowlife of LA would be a little more creative, but in your line of work creative is often a synonym for gruesome.
Some poor bastard is being wheeled into an ambulance, sheet pulled up over his head. Lance shuts the door and motions to the driver. She walks back over to stand next to Dan. The rain drips down her cheeks.
“Single gun shot to the shoulder,” she says to Dan. “He bled out.”
“Not quick enough,” Dan mutters.
Lance is shivering in her rain-soaked uniform. “Are you cold?” you ask her. She doesn’t respond, but Dan turns abruptly, as if he hadn't noticed you standing there. You start to shrug out of your sodden overcoat, meaning to give it to Lance.
“Start knocking on doors,” Dan says. He’s looking at you, but Lance turns to go. Your hands are wet with rain, you think, but when you look they’re covered in blood.
“Is that— Am I—”
“It’s not yours,” says Dan. “Most of it isn’t.”
You’re on your back on a slab in the morgue, trying to remember how you got here. The memory lapses are new. You wonder if you should mention it to Dr. Kohl. It’d go well with the hallucinations. Signs of mental instability, collect them all.
If this is a dream, it’s one you’ve had before. You were conscious as they were cutting you open, but you couldn’t move or speak to protest. Dr. Kohl dismissed it as a typical anxiety dream. “I’ll try to do better next time,” you’d said. She hadn’t laughed.
You sit up, swing your legs over the edge of the table. Dan’s on the table next to yours.
“Now there’s a dream I haven’t had before.”
Your voice echoes off the tiled walls of the morgue. It’s freezing down here. Dan doesn’t look at you, or move at all. He’s staring at the ceiling with his hands folded on his chest, wearing the same suit he wore yesterday. No, you think. No. Your hands clench around stainless steel.
“I swear, Michael, if you ask me if I’m dead I’ll...”
You wait for him to finish the sentence, but the pause lingers and grows awkward. You clear your throat.
“I’m not dead,” says Dan. He sits up to face you. His suit is wrinkled, there are bags under his eyes and more lines on his face than you remember.
“Oh,” you say. You look down. There’s something tied to your toe. “Oh,” you say again, inanely. “You could’ve said something sooner.”
You’re in Dan’s office. You can’t remember how you got here; you seem to just appear these days. It’s well after midnight and there is no pizza.
Dan’s signing the paperwork to close your case. You had expected fanfare, a hero’s death, maybe - something more profound than you missed, he didn’t.
“That’s it,” Dan says. What passes for closure. You already shot the guy who shot you, you don’t get to see him cuffed and stuffed into a squad car.
Dan looks at you pensively. “Should you still be here?”
“I don’t know. I thought I’d, ah, move on. That’s how it worked with my figments, but maybe this is different.”
“Is there anything else you need to resolve?” asks Dan. You hope, you wish it could be as clear-cut as that, that there is another file somewhere labelled Michael Raines, and you'll get your bright light like in the movies.
“I may have left the stove on.”
Every time Dan smiles it starts to look a little less rehearsed. “Maybe you need to hide more of Boyer’s office supplies?”
“You know what, I bet that’s it.”
Dan rises from his chair, and for an absurd moment it looks as if he’s about to shake your hand.
“Could you stick around for a while?” he says, not quite meeting your eye.
“I guess I don’t have anywhere else to be.”