The wind rustles in the eaves. The old house creaks and settles, and Shannon McCreary almost doesn't pay attention. But when the wind blows again, there's almost the sound of a low whine undercutting it. Shannon glances up at the ceiling.
The papers on the desk in front of her whisper as some of the wind finds nooks and crannies in the old wood to creep through.
She inherited this house from her grandmother when she died about six months ago, and at first she'd been excited. Thrilled to be trusted with it. Ecstatic to have a chance at something her grandmother would never have let her brother have.
But things turned sour quickly. It's a boarding house, and people moved out in droves not long after her grandmother passed away. Keeping herself out of debt had become nearly suffocating. And while she tried to put a positive spin on it, she was losing money like water down the drain.
Her brother Nathan offered to help out, but Shannon wasn't going to go down that road. He was notorious for beginning projects and then, just as suddenly, abruptly abandoning them. Shannon didn't want her grandmother's legacy to fall into tatters because of Nathan.
Her grandma bought the house in the 1920s, back when things were simpler and quieter in nature. It had originally been one of the first nursing homes in the country, a groundbreaking idea to take care of the elderly in ways that hadn't been done before.
By the time her grandmother bought it, it had fallen into disrepair and disrepute, though her grandmother—Rosa Mae Marie—would never go into any details about it. All she'd ever told Shannon was that she got it for a greatly discounted price and it was exactly what she was looking for when she was in her twenties and 'wild and reckless', as she put it.
Back then, the bottom floor had been opened up for dancing, and the rooms above had been silent and still, unused.
In fact, the rooms on the third floor had still been closed up when Shannon inherited. Her grandma had rented out the second floor, but once their favourite landlady was gone, a bunch of tenants didn't wait around to see how Shannon would do.
Six months later, and only two of the original tenants remain.
More wind, and Shannon can't help the shiver that rolls through her. Even though she'd felt good about her grandmother's trust in her, as she'd begged Shannon to keep it going in the last few lucid moments of her life, she'd always been uncomfortable whenever inside the boarding house. Once, when she'd been in college and the dorms didn't have enough rooms and Shannon couldn't afford to rent, Rosa Mae had offered to let her live in the boarding house.
But Shannon, moments after stepping over the threshold, had felt the same sort of shiver she's feeling now, and she'd turned down the offer.
Back in college, Shannon had dated a girl for a short time, and it had been an open secret in her family. Her mother had been cool and distant, unable to deal, but her grandmother had embraced her, showing suddenly more interest and any time Shannon needed anything, Rosa Mae had been the first one to step out of her comfort zone and give Shannon whatever it was.
Nathan had never liked the idea. At least, it had seemed that way, until Shannon caught him with a photo of her and her girlfriend, and he confessed to liking the idea of two girls together.
She had been disgusted—still is, really—and it had driven a spike of discord between them that remains to this day.
Rosa Mae had once said something strange to her, though. Don't go livin' out that lifestyle in my house, she'd said. It had felt wrong and discriminatory at the time, and then Shannon had discovered that Amber Liv, one of the remaining original tenants, was just as bi as she is. They'd struck up a friendship, and then a relationship, and by the time Rosa Mae died, Amber and Shannon were truly serious about each other.
Shannon wants to pretend she never heard those words, but in the town of Windsor, Connecticut, word of mouth has gotten her a new bunch of tenants. The problem is, they're all part of the queer community and Shannon knows, deep down—especially as the wind trails fingers down her back—that she should have listened.
She'd been uneasy back then, but it's worse now, that edge of creepy that had always been at the back of her mind now not so much so. Now, times like these, when everyone else is asleep and she's alone, trying to balance the books, she can feel that creepy ambience stealing back in.
In fact, when the wind rustles again, she can't stop herself from biting down on her lower lip. It hurts, but it settles her. This is just nature having its way, she tells herself. Nothing to be afraid of. Be an adult, already.
Then the wind gusts, turning the room frigid, and the lights flicker and go out for just a second, but in that time, Shannon hears something from above her. It's on the third floor, and even though she recently started to air out the rooms in hopes of renting them as well, no one lives up there, and no one ever goes up there.
But she definitely heard something up there. She sighs. If one of her tenants is up there fucking around, she's going to be pissed.
She gets up, closing the register, and begins to climb the stairs. But every step she takes brings her into colder and colder atmosphere, as if she left all of the windows upstairs open, which is ridiculous, because it's been warm the last couple of days—for February—and she just closed the windows last night.
Still. A frisson of fear rambles through her. Something is just not right, and she's going to have to investigate, even if she's scared silly.
She raises her hand and puts it on the knob of the first door on the third floor. She hasn't aired this room out yet because Rosa Mae told Shannon to leave it be.
The doorknob is absolutely freezing underneath her hand.
Shannon unlocks it and opens the door.
"Hey, look, this sounds like our kinda thing," Sam says, pushing the newspaper across to Dean. Dean sucks the froth off the end of his straw and picks it up.
"Young woman found dead in boarding house," he reads aloud. "So what? People die."
"The proprietor found her on the third floor, behind a door locked from the outside, in a room no one had used since 1912. Her body was completely unmarked—I got that information from the police report. They don't know what killed her yet, but she was pretty young and with no obvious cause of death, they are treating it as a homicide."
"Okay, so it's a little strange. What exactly pushes this over into our realm of work?"
"I thought you'd ask that. It's in Dad's journal. It's just a footnote, really, but Dad notes that it used to be a nursing home back in 1911. So, you gotta think, old people die, right? Maybe one of them's still there, and he or she has gotten a little angry."
"If it's in Dad's journal, then it's worth checking out," Dean says immediately, finishing up his milkshake. He glances over at the girl behind the counter. Sam sighs. If he didn't know better, he'd think Dean was about five seconds away from seeing if he could get her in the back and score.
Then again... he knows his brother, and that's probably exactly what Dean's thinking.
He grabs the straw that Dean is still holding between his lips and tugs. "Time to go, Casanova," he says, and when he yanks on the straw, the remnants of Dean's milkshake splatter across his face.
"Fuck," Dean says, and turns back to Sam. He's suddenly, irrationally interested in the little white flecks on Dean's face.
"Let's go," Sam says. "Back to the hotel room, we can pack and then point the Impala towards Connecticut, which should be fun. We haven't had a case there since before..." Sam winces and hopes Dean doesn't fill in the blanks with, since before you deserted the family for Stanford.
"Fine," says Dean, wiping at his face with a napkin. The girl behind the counter—Shauna, her nametag says—is staring avidly at Dean, almost like she'd like to lick the mess off. Hell, she probably does. Sam sighs again. Around his brother, girls never pay attention to him. That actually doesn't bother him much. It bothers him more that even the guys check Dean out and ignore Sam.
Sam's so tired of being the invisible little brother, but that's life. He knows that when they find Dad, he won't be invisible, he'll be under a microscope again, and that's just as bad.
He gets into the Impala and waits for Dean.
Taking out a book, he begins to read, the newspaper folded beneath his thigh. If he doesn't miss his guess, Dean's still going to be at least ten or fifteen minutes before he makes it back to the car.
"You know, she had these cherry lips—and I mean, they tasted like cherry, and—"
"Dean, shut up."
"And oh my God, Sammy, she had these panties on, red with black lace—"
"Dean, shut up."
"And they were a thong—"
"Shut up, Dean!"
"It's Sam, and yes, I have a problem. I don't need to think about that, fuck." Sam opens the newspaper and tries to bury himself in the newsprint, but like Dean ever lets anything go that easily.
"Sammy," Dean says, the smug bastard. "Cherry-flavoured lips, Sam, and I don't think it's the ones you're thinking of."
"God, Dean," Sam says, closing his eyes and wondering if he can brain himself to death on the head-rest of the seat behind him.
But Dean is not done. Then again, Dean never is...
"I am pretty sure I popped her cherry," he says, grinning gleefully over at Sam. Sam winces and plants the newspaper over his face.
"If you're not careful, I might be sick over—"
"Don't you even dare mention that around this upholstery," Dean says, suddenly very serious. Never say that two can't play that game.
"Just drive, Dean, and if you're going to talk about something, talk about the case." Sam emerges from behind the newspaper and lets it flutter down to his lap. Dean turns his attention back to the road in front of them, and Sam wonders how long it will take before Dean decides to take annoying him to yet another new level. Ever since he picked Sam up from Stanford, his brother's been a strange mix of conciliatory and absolutely obnoxious.
There's something about this case that's been niggling at Sam. He's not sure what it is, exactly, but he's positive this is their kind of thing, and right now, the current number of victims seems to be just the one. He'd like to keep it that way.
It's growing dark outside the windows of the Impala, shadows stretching tendrils into the car, so Sam clicks on his flashlight and rereads the article.
It takes a few moments, but then it falls into place: Ryan O'Rea. Her name had struck him as familiar, and he thinks he just figured out why.
College sports were never his thing, but he'd been to a couple of parties where her name was bandied around. Of course, the college party scene was never really his favourite place to be, either, but occasionally, if he thought something supernatural was up on campus... anyway. Ryan O'Rea had supposedly been a fantastic womens' hockey goalie, but more than that, had come out as lesbian in her senior year.
It had been a hot topic for college frat boys, in their brash, politically incorrect way, all talking about getting into her hockey pants and showing her what a 'real' good time was like.
It had disgusted Sam back then, but it saddens and worries him even more now. Maybe this isn't their thing. Maybe it's as simple as a case of homophobia gone wrong. Not that all homophobia isn't already wrong, he thinks.
He checks the paper again. The report states that the police did an initial investigation on the proprietor of the boarding house, and that currently she's not a suspect.
"Hey, Dean, this is odd," Sam says, intending to point that out.
Dean grunts, which Sam takes as permission to continue.
"The police don't have any suspects, including the owner of the boarding house. But the body was discovered in the middle of the night and as far as I can tell from this shoddily written article—" Dean rolls his eyes, and Sam knows his course in journalism has made him a snob and it irritates Dean to no end "—she was alone at the time. Why did they strike her off the suspect list?"
"Maybe someone vouched for her," Dean says, but he doesn't sound sure, and Sam really isn't so sure either.
"Unless she was with someone at the time, that wouldn't be enough, and you know it."
"So it doesn't say in the paper," Dean says. "We'll just have to ask her ourselves."
"And another thing," Sam adds, even though he knows Dean's going to try to use this as a brush-off, "the victim was a lesbian hockey goalie. I heard about her while I was in college."
"So it could be totally not our thing at all," Dean immediately says. Sam knows that Dean's just trying too hard, wanting to be like Dad, to be perfect, to save lives, but still, sometimes it's really annoying. Mostly because of times like these when he's so uptight about their thing that he overlooks the obvious. Sam wishes yet again that they could find John, get his help. Even if he knows it would just lead to sparks of conflict flying between them again.
"I still think it is," Sam argues. "How did the killer get in, then?"
"But what would be the point?" Dean turns off an exit that proclaims lodging, and Sam is kinda glad for it. He's tired and his butt is numb from sitting in the car for hours. "And if there was no visible cause of death, maybe it was suicide."
"I don't know. All I know is, this girl is dead, and we owe it to her to look into the suspicious circumstances of her death."
"Why? Because she was some college friend?"
"Of course not, Dean. I never met her. But because this pings my radar, and I don't want to run the risk of ignoring it. Who knows who might be next?"
Dean parks the car in front of one of the crappy, anonymous type of motels they always stay in. Only a few months back on the road, but Sam remembers this well, and he's already sick of the microwaved food and the sticky floors in the bathrooms.
Though the idea of a night of rest, even on a lumpy mattress, even if he tosses and turns all night, does sound appealing. He unbuckles his seat belt and stuffs the paper in the inside pocket of his jacket.
Dean is just sitting, hands still on the wheel, obviously in thought. So Sam waits him out.
"It could be a homophobic ghost," Dean says finally.
"See, that's the spirit," Sam grins.
Dean groans, and Sam throws open the car door. Every once in awhile, it's nice being able to pay Dean back.
Sam doesn't sleep. He knows Dean does, because even though Dean's not quite snoring, his breathing is audible in the quiet of the room, the silence of which is literally only broken by that and the hum of the heater.
But Sam knows from experience now that if he closes his eyes, if he does more than nap—and sometimes even then—he'll see Jess. Maybe some people would think dreaming about their dead lover is a good thing, like a chance to see them again, connect with them again, but for Sam, it's not like that. Because of the way she died, it can't ever be like that.
When he sees Jess in his dreams, she's either burning to death on the ceiling and asking, why, Sam? or she's standing eerily in some field—sometimes it's a deserted streetcorner or some other desolate place—dressed all in white, her blonde hair so pale it blends against the paleness of her skin, and even if she's not asking, why, Sam? he still feels guilty.
Those dreams are actually the worst, because he thinks sometimes she's mouthing something at him—it could be I love you, but it's more likely, How could you leave me alone? and so he just doesn't want to close his eyes and go to sleep.
And that doesn't even take into account the fact that sometimes he thinks he sees her standing on streetcorners in her nightgown even when he's awake.
He'd rather think about their upcoming case and try to solve the mystery.
So it's still with a start of surprise that comes when his phone rings into the blank darkness. Sam reaches for it, trying to get it before Dean wakes up, and manages to get it up against his ear the right way and says,
"You're not wanted." It's crackly with static and the voice is thready and insubstantial, but the intent is clear: malice and warning.
"Who is this?" Sam asks, quickly on high alert. If this is some kind of prank...
"You're not wanted here. Your kind is not allowed here. Stay away."
"Hey, who is this," Sam says angrily, "don't try to scare me, I don't exactly scare easi—"
He's interrupted by the dial tone, and the sudden absence of the static.
"Who was it?" Dean asks sleepily from the other bed.
Sam stares at his cell phone for a long time. This is going to sound unbelievable, even for them, but...
"I think it was our ghost," he says slowly. "This has gotta be our kinda thing, because I'm pretty sure I just got warned away from investigating." He sets the phone down on the night table, carefully, lining it up square. "I know it sounds weird, but I could hear the EMF. It was definitely EMF. I think."
"Ghosts don't usually make phone calls," Dean says. Pause. "Unless they call collect."
"Very funny, Dean. I don't think it's the spirits that call collect, though. I think it's the demons."
Dean actually laughs. "Touché," he says. "What did our ghost say, then?"
"'You're not wanted here,'" Sam repeats for Dean's benefit. "Not particularly original, except for the part where the ghost made a freakin' phone call."
"It may not have been the ghost," Dean reasons, "after all, how would it know we were coming? It may be someone who has a vested interest in the case."
"Well, you know, I couldn't really tell gender..." Sam lets the sentence hang.
"And this is confusing, you're right. If it's not our ghost, well, we didn't exactly tell anyone we were coming to investigate... But how would the ghost know either?"
"Another plane of existence, right? Maybe it knows we're on our way."
"You know what, the whys don't really matter. I think the point is, we just got a warning, and that's a pretty good indication that this is something we should be looking into."
Sam very carefully doesn't tell Dean the rest of what the ghost said. And the more he lies in bed, talking things over with Dean, the more he's convinced that it is, in fact, their ghost. Dean yawns; Sam can hear the near-violence of it in the dark.
"I'm gonna hit the hay again, Sam," Dean says, sounding sleepy once more. Sam nods, but Dean doesn't ask him for an audible response.
It's comforting that Dean can still read Sam, even after the years away. Dean knows Sam nodded, even though it's dark, even though he didn't say anything aloud, because Dean knows Sam.
But, Sam asks himself as he continues to lie awake in the dark, Dean doesn't know everything, does he? No, he tells himself. No, he does not.
Shannon can't believe it. She'd been so sure that the problem would be simple, but it's been over a week and there's still police tape everywhere, and she's been questioned over and again.
The police have been really nice about it, actually. They don't seem to think she's a suspect, though she can't imagine why not. It's not like she has a good alibi. The only alibi she technically has is that she had logged into her computer three minutes before she found the body, and it seems weak, even to her. Even though the police keep assuring her that if anything changes, she'll be the first to know.
They offered her counseling services, and she accepted, because, worst of all, Ryan O'Rea was a friend. Is a friend. She doesn't like to think of her in the past tense already, even if it's true—Ryan had been young, vibrant, talented. It's almost impossible to believe she's gone, that life can be so fragile.
Shannon puts her head down on her desk. Her tenants, living as they did on the second floor, have been allowed back into their residences now, but Shannon, a couple of tears sticking her lashes together, wonders if this is an isolated incident.
After all, the feeling of being disturbed—or more accurately, the house being disturbed—is worse than ever. And while Shannon can't explain any of it, she knows deep in her heart that this could be one of those things where everything gets worse before it gets better—and she doesn't want to know how bad worse is going to be.
She's thought about shutting the place down, sending her tenants elsewhere, but she can't do that. This is their home. And even if it weren't for that, there's still the fact that without the rent money, Shannon herself will be on the street.
For a split second she allows herself to imagine the boarding house being foreclosed upon, closed up, and Shannon allowed to live someplace else, someplace where she doesn't have this awful dread crawling through her veins every day and even more so at night, but she knows she can't do that.
If nothing else, this is all she has left of her grandmother, and she's not going to let the bank take that away from her.
She swipes at her eyes, trying to remind herself that death is a fact of life, but she can't stop the feeling that a death like this—violent and abrupt—is not the way someone's life is supposed to end, especially not someone with so much promise, like Ryan O'Rea.
Ryan hadn't just been out and proud, in a way Shannon envied. She'd been trying to change the culture of her sport, if not on the most public level, but starting with her college and trying to get womens' hockey programs in other colleges on board. She could have really done something awesome, something amazing, but now this.
There's a knock on the door.
"Enter," Shannon says, because she's in her office, and she quickly picks her head up and straightens her blouse, her hair, tries to touch up her eyes and hope her mascara hasn't run—even though the girls at the house who are her friends already know how wrecked she is about this.
It's Amber. Shannon tears up all over again. Amber, she can't deal with. She can't, because what if the killer had chosen Amber instead of Ryan? And then she feels a crushing wave of guilt for even being thankful it wasn't Amber.
"Hey, baby," Amber says softly, crossing the room and drawing Shannon's head to her chest, cradling it there. "You've been shut up in here for hours. It's not healthy. Come for a walk with me or something."
"I can't," Shannon says, but she doesn't actually have any earthly reason why not. "Amber—" she begins, but she doesn't have anything to follow it. Just her lover's name, like a prayer.
Amber's always been the cool, reasonable one, and she's talked Shannon down from many a ledge. But she doesn't judge. She holds Shannon and sings softly under her breath, the words lost to how quiet her voice is, but still, it's soothing.
"Amber, I feel so responsible," she whispers.
"It's not your fault." Amber lets her go, but takes both hands and draws her to her feet, bringing her body close and then, just before she lays a kiss on her lips, Amber murmurs, "You know it's not your fault."
Shannon closes her eyes and lets her girlfriend kiss her, then slowly pulls away, still holding both of Amber's hands. "I'm just grateful you don't think I did it," she says, the words feeling strange in her mouth.
"Of course not," Amber says, giving her a stern look. "I know you're not capable of that kind of violence."
"I love you," Shannon whispers. But as Amber draws her in close for another hug, Shannon wonders if she imagined the flicker of the lights when she said those words.
It's almost like the house is listening—but that's ridiculous. She basks in the feel of Amber's arms around her, soaks in the comfort being offered.
She refuses to think about anything else.
"Windsor is the first English settlement in the state," Sam reads from the computer screen, having begun with consulting Wikipedia. "Settled in 1633."
"Hey, queen of research, less information about the town and more information about the possible haunting," Dean says, trying to take over like he always does.
"Sometimes it's good to do some research on the area," Sam says, affecting an aura of absolute patience that is also meant to clearly convey how long-suffering he is. "You know, graveyards, all that shit."
"It was a nursing home, Sam. It's not like we're looking for cursed ground." Dean has affected the exact same tone. Sam curls his lip and hits the 'x' button on the browser tab, opening a new one.
He's in the process of pulling up all the information he can find on the address—37 Prospect Street—when he notices Dean staring over his shoulder. He sighs. He doesn't even have to look behind him to know that, obviously, some pretty girl has pinged Dean's radar.
"Hey, this is interesting," Sam says, trying to draw Dean's attention. "The nursing home at the address opened in 1907. It was one of the first of its kind in New England. According to this article, it paved the way for today's industry."
Dean hums in response, so Sam sighs again and turns to glance over his shoulder. Sure enough, Dean is watching a girl. She has long, slightly wavy, thick auburn hair and stylish glasses perched on her nose. Sam doesn't think she's the librarian, but Dean's distraction is pretty easy to quantify: he does love a girl who he can roleplay with, even if only in his own mind, and Sam has seen enough of Dean's porn to know that the naughty librarian is one of his favourites.
She's slender, with a willowy build, and high, small breasts, which Sam would ordinarily say weren't Dean's type, but then, 'girl' and 'heartbeat' are usually Dean's type, so he groans and turns back to the computer. He highlights some of the article, then selects 'print'.
While he's waiting, he scribbles down the address and directions. The house in question really isn't far from the public library, so Sam figures they can be there in a few minutes. Unless Dean manages to convince the girl to bang him somewhere, in which case Sam might as well go get a room at the Windsor Townehouse hotel by himself.
Sometimes he wonders why they bother to share a hotel room, when not sharing would make it easier for Dean to fuck as many girls as he'd like.
Then he remembers that he'd have to hustle pool, too, if he wanted his own room, and answers his own question. Dean thwacks him on the back, startling him.
"I'll be back, Sammy, just keep working the computers," he says, and Sam knows his brother is going to chat up the hot chick. Honestly.
Sam opens his blog and decides to complain, under the cover of a pseudonym, about his life. It's too bad that not only is his name fake, but so is much of the information he posts, since he can't exactly describe his true life—and while this blog is a way to keep track of his friends from college, he knows that sooner or later Dean is going to cotton onto it and make Sam shut it down. After all, Dean's opinion on Sam having friends is legendary. At this point, he's not so sure that Dean's wrong, but still, it doesn't hurt to keep track of them, right? In case they need something? After all, he misses them; they don't know what happened to him, either, not truly. He dropped off the face of the earth.
He updates it quickly: roadtrip now taking a break in New England, checking out the historic houses, bored in library because brother is a horndog and then quickly closes out of the browser entirely.
He balances his chin on his hands and waits. Now he's bored. And it's getting late, which means waiting till tomorrow, most likely, to check out the house.
Hell, it's too late today to check out the corpse. That is, if the body is still at the morgue, and hasn't already been released to the family or cremated and released to the family.
Sam wonders if he has time to go find a book to curl up with and read while he waits for Dean, when his brother comes back, whistling under his breath. Sam takes that as an indication that Dean is going to get laid at some point today when Dean plops down in the computer chair next to him and flicks his forearm with his finger, making Sam flinch.
"What?" he asks, trying not to sound sullen, like the irritated little brother he is.
"Lesbian," Dean says, but not with disappointment; no, he says it with delicious glee. Sam rolls his eyes.
"What, and even you couldn't still get her into bed with you?"
"Now, Sammy, I have my standards," Dean says loftily. "I would never try to corrupt something as pure and beautiful as the love between two women."
"Yeah, maybe not, unless it meant watching them in action," Sam says sardonically.
"Oh, you wound me, baby brother," Dean says, throwing a hand out over his chest. His dramatics are going to garner them a lot of attention in a quiet place like the library.
"I'm still surprised you didn't try it anyway," Sam says.
When Dean speaks again, he sounds vaguely angry and a lot more serious. "Honestly, Sam, it's not so much about the lesbian thing as the fact that she's in a steady relationship, and I really do have some standards."
Sam nods a little bit numbly; he's exhausted from barely any sleep and it has been several years since he spent this much time with his brother. Maybe Dean has changed.
Maybe the only thing more unreasonable than expecting him to be the same person he was four years ago is not realising that it is possible for someone to change that much.
After all, in high school, Dean probably would've been one of those guys who claimed a good dicking would cure a lesbian forever. Is it so unreasonable to believe Dean still thinks the same way?
"All right, look, can we just go back to the hotel and start trying to break this case down?"
Dean has a contemplative look on his face. "You know, Sam, I'm not entirely useless. I learned something from Amber over there. She says one of the best places in town is the boarding house where she lives."
"That boarding house?" Sam asks incredulously. How in the world does Dean do it? He can even get lesbians to fall for his charm, if not for the sensual promises he makes with his lips and his body.
"Yeah, new plan," Dean says. "You and I are in a relationship—"
"Ew," Sam says, blushing. "You know how wrong that is, right?"
"Everyone already assumes we're gay," Dean says a little testily. "This is the perfect cover. It'll give us a chance to investigate from the inside without having to sneak around too much."
"You just came on to her, you think she's going to believe you're gay?"
"Bi," Dean says smugly. "And then—"
"And apparently trying to cheat on your lover," Sam interrupts again.
"All right, so I'm not perfect," Dean says a little more heatedly. "I'm sure they'll believe us if we show up together with luggage and first month's rent. Amber told me that the proprietor is hurting for tenants right now."
"I don't think—"
"Sam," Dean says grumpily, "fine, so I might have insinuated that you and I were thinking about getting married."
"You what?" Sam asks dumbly.
"Well, she..." Dean swallows a little uncomfortably. "I had to do something quick to try and make it less like I was hitting on her, and it was the first thing I thought of."
"Dean, couldn't you have run our cover by me first? Maybe I'm not comfortable pretending to be gay."
"Oh, please," Dean scoffs. "You're already as gay as they come, and you know it. Maybe if you actually slept with a girl sometimes..."
"I'm not gay," Sam protests. "And besides, Jess, remember?" He ignores the pang he feels at saying her name in favour of trying to win the argument with Dean, though he should know better, because Dean never plays fair when it comes to winning arguments.
"It's not important," Dean says, waving a hand as if Sam's protest is nothing more than a mildly irritating insect. "Did you take drama class in high school, or didn't you?"
"It was only in one of our high schools, Dean, and that doesn't automatically equate to being—"
"No, I mean, you should be able to act the part. It's just a part to play like any other, and like I said, people seem all too ready to believe it about us, anyway."
Sam bites back further protest. "Fine," he says. "Let's go see how believable we are."
"That's the spirit," Dean says, clapping Sam on the back. Jesus, this gay thing is going to be impossible.
It's bad enough Dean's his brother... but what if Dean knew the truth? Would he still think this whole ruse is okay?
"I feel stupid," Sam says, tugging at the collar of his t-shirt. He's got his duffle bag, and Dean has his, and he feels naked because the only gun he currently has with him is buried in the bottom of the bag. Dean might have his on his person, Sam's not sure, but they both agreed to leave most of the weapons in the Impala for now.
There is holy water and a rosary in Sam's bag, too, along with his two other pairs of jeans and his few t-shirts, plus a flannel shirt and a jacket. He's afraid that the woman who runs the place will think that they don't have nearly enough belongings to be moving in.
"Just concentrate on acting natural," Dean says. "You look fine. Except you might want to stand a little closer to me—"
"Jesus, Dean," Sam mutters. But he takes a step closer to his brother—God, his brother—and tries to pretend he's in love with the man next to him.
It'd be easier if he could forget about the blood they share; Dean's hot enough, sure, but still.
Though he remembers what a good actor Dean is, and even if they're not wearing their FBI suits, Dean will probably be fine.
On impulse, as Dean rings the bell, Sam stuffs his hand into Dean's back jeans pocket. Leans a little closer. Dean smells like old leather and old sweat, and while Sam has obviously smelled his brother before, this is somehow different; he's more aware of the smell, right down to the faint cigarette smell clinging to his leather jacket and the slightly sour smell of well-chewed bubblegum on his breath.
It makes his stomach do a half somersault. He files away the strange reaction when the door opens. Dean, to his credit, didn't flinch when Sam put his hand in his brother's pocket.
"Hello?" the woman says to them as she stands in the doorway. She looks faintly confused. Almost as if the last thing she is expecting is two people who might want to move in, as opposed to more police.
She has chin-length black hair and brown eyes, and a beauty mark next to her left eye. She's curvier than Amber, with a Playboy Playmate-sized chest, and Sam can practically see Dean running through them in his head to see if she's one of them.
He rolls his eyes inwardly.
"Hi," Dean says, probably unintentionally turning on the charm that makes him so irresistible to women. That and he probably still hopes he can get her into bed, even if she's the proprietor. "This is Sam. We were hoping we could move into one of the empty apartments? Amber suggested it when I ran into her at the library." Dean positively twinkles after this last bit.
"Oh!" The woman smiles, though it's a bit worn, as if she's been really stressed—not a surprise, considering, Sam thinks. "Yes, come in. I'm Shannon McCreary, and this is my boarding house—though you probably already know that if you've spoken to Amber."
"Amber raved about this place. She said my boyfriend and I just had to at least come take a look around."
Sam feels a funny little feeling go through him at being referred to as Dean's 'boyfriend'. Dean is still smiling, as if that lie isn't all that is wrong in the universe.
But Shannon is smiling too, more relaxed than previously, and she ushers them inside and shuts the door behind them. The entrance opens into what seems to be a sitting room, possibly a common area, and she gestures to a couch that is a pale cream colour with green vines scrolling over it.
"Please, sit. I'll take you on a tour afterwards if you're still interested, but I feel like I should give you some information about the place before you make a decision."
Sam sits first, half-expecting Dean to sit down at the other end, but instead he plops down directly next to Sam and slings his arm over Sam's shoulder.
It's very difficult for Sam not to twitch away from the embrace, not when he knows they have to convince this woman that what they say is true, to give them the best possible chance at discovering what's going on in the house.
So he musters up his own smile and leans back against the couch, casually turning his body a little bit towards Dean to imply closeness. It's not too hard to do, since he and Dean are close, even they've been estranged for several years.
"Now," Shannon says, clasping her hands together in her lap, "if you've been reading the newspapers, or turned on your TV at all—" she pauses, looking pained. Her eyes flick down and settle on her clasped hands.
Sam decides it's his turn to say something. "No, we're just visiting. We're considering moving here since civil unions are legal."
Dean tacks on, "Yeah, we're not actually married yet, but we thought we'd come up to New England to..." he hesitates just enough that Sam knows he's not sure what lie to weave into the tapestry next, so he smoothly continues Dean's sentence,
"...see the fall foliage that's so renowned, and maybe get married up around here."
"Oh, yes, it's lovely," Shannon says, latching onto the subject. "There are some beautiful areas around here especially. You should absolutely have a ceremony here, though. When are you thinking of having the ceremony?"
Sam smiles at her, kindly. She might still be frazzled by the murder in her boarding house. But before he can speak, Dean sticks his foot in it.
"Well, probably in the fall."
"Oh, yes, of course. Have you been around here long?"
"We've been roadtripping," Sam says. "Since November. We actually missed the fall season, coming from California. Though the snow has been pretty."
"You did just miss the season," she says. She clears her throat. "But actually, even if you're planning to stay in the area, you need to know that there's been a murder here."
Sam brightens, all part of the act, and says, "Oh, wow, really? We're true crime buffs and—"
"—we fell in love over true crime novels," Dean finishes, which Sam would totally give him a dirty look about if they weren't playing at being lovers. Since it's not like Dean reads, or anything. "I saw him across the library reading the same book I was, and it was like the sky opened up and the sun shone down on him," Dean continues, and Sam wants to disappear into the sofa cushions. He risks giving Dean a dirty look anyway.
"Oh, well," Shannon says. "I'm not even sure I should take on any new tenants while the investigation is ongoing, but I really need the mo—I mean, I need to keep this place running, so, if you'd like the tour, you're welcome to it."
"Lead on," Dean says, hopping to his feet and reaching for Sam's hand. Sam smothers a sigh and takes Dean's hand. Hell, he wasn't this touchy-feely with Jess, and he'd definitely considered marrying her. But Dean seems to have decided that being gay means constantly touching each other.
"You'll have your choice of apartments, because several are empty presently." She leads them through a kitchen, around a corner and up some stairs.
The stairs are dimly lit, a couple of wall sconces visible, but far apart enough from each other to add to the faintly creepy vibe Sam is getting from the place.
If Dean's picking up on it, he's not showing it; he's practically skipping up the steps. Sam wants to grab him and pull him aside and point out that not all gay guys walk like they're in a musical production on Broadway, but if it makes Dean happy... well, as long as Shannon doesn't question them.
She opens the door to the first room on the left after the landing, and they walk into a small front room with a double bed against the wall and an open door that clearly leads to a bathroom. She's giving Dean a funny look, almost like she has seen through them, so Sam, without really thinking it through too much, grabs Dean after all and plants a kiss on his cheek, perilously close to his pouting lower lip.
"Isn't it lovely?" he says, in a whisper meant to be heard by Shannon.
Sam does wonder a little bit about Dean's sanity when he doesn't immediately jump and punch Sam in the throat for kissing him, even if it wasn't on the mouth.
Shannon smiles. "This is one of our smaller apartments. There's no room for a kitchen, so if you take this one, you'll be able to use the kitchen downstairs, and there should be room for a table and chairs if you'd like. Otherwise you can eat in the kitchen, if you want."
The walls are painted an airy, light-green colour, and the bed has brass fittings. There's a wardrobe in the corner that is built of some sort of pale wood, with two doors and a drawer at the bottom.
There aren't any curtains, but Dean takes care of that by saying, "Ooh, Sammy, we can pick out curtains together!"
Sam wants to close his eyes and maybe punch Dean for sounding so excited, but Shannon isn't paying attention; she's going on, saying,
"If you don't like the walls, I have a room down the hall that's got a lovely panelled look, rose-toned wood. It's very pretty, and still very masculine. You know."
Sam thinks about how little they've brought with them. Before Dean can say something—he's going to give Dean such a lecture later—he grins at Shannon.
"No, this is perfect. We don't need a lot of space, really, and I do like the color green."
"Amber lives next door to this room," Shannon says. "If you need anything, I recommend asking her first, if you can't find me. Why don't I show you the kitchen and then I can get your keys? After you sign the lease, of course."
Sam is about to ask a question when Shannon says,
"In light of recent events, it's probably even more important to point out that the lease has a fifteen day grace period. So if you want to move out at any time, you just need to give fifteen days advance notice. Come on, I am having an outdoor lunch today, even though it's cool, if you'd care to join us."
It's not just cool, it's cold, seeing as it's February, but Sam thinks it might be nice to meet the other tenants, so he nods and is grateful when Dean doesn't contradict him.
"Just as soon as we settle in a little," Sam says. It's early, not yet eleven in the morning, so they have some time to get their things in order.
He does wonder how much trouble they'll be in when they sign the lease under assumed names, particularly when the almost-lawyer within him cringes at breaking yet another law.
"Oh, of course. And the outdoor lunch is something I do at least once every winter, because the trees behind the house are so beautiful—especially today, with the leftover ice on them from the ice storm a few days ago."
They follow her back down the stairs and into the kitchen. She motions to the table and they sit, waiting for her to come back with the lease.
They sign the lease and then Shannon gives them each a key, and by the time Sam shuts the door, he just wants to yell at Dean, dude, not all gay men are that flamboyant! Tone it down a little, but he doesn't. At least not in those words.
Sam pulls the printouts out of his duffle and immediately begins taping them to the wall behind the door, where they won't be visible unless someone enters the room completely.
Dean flops down onto the bed, and for the first time, Sam takes notice of the fact that it is one double bed.
"Dean, that's a double bed," Sam says warily, wondering if Dean's figured out the significance of that yet.
"So?" Dean puts his hands crossed behind his head and closes his eyes.
"Do you see a couch anywhere for me to sleep on?"
"It needs to be authentic, Sammy," Dean replies lazily, without opening his eyes. "Besides, you don't sleep."
Sam wishes Dean hadn't noticed that. But after the thing with Bloody Mary, it's been even closer to impossible to hide how he feels about Jess, and the fact that she haunts his nights.
It's going to be even harder to sleep, though, if he has to do it two inches away from Dean. Why the fuck is there only one bed? And what has he gotten himself into?
He thinks about that kiss; it may have been innocent enough by his own intention, but it was still a kiss, and it was meant to be misconstrued, but it still makes him uncomfortable that it has, no doubt, been interpreted as a kiss between lovers.
Sam tapes the last photo of Ryan O'Rea to the wall and faces Dean again. This time, Dean is watching him. As if reading his mind—and Sam should be used to that by now—Dean says,
"We shared beds all the time in cheap motels, Sammy."
"Not after I turned twelve, we didn't," Sam points out weakly.
"We can sleep in shifts if it really bothers you that much," Dean says. But Sam knows that Dean is just pointing out, again, how little Sam sleeps these days.
"I think the lunch will be a good thing," Sam says instead. "We'll have a chance to meet some of the other tenants. It would help if we could get a read on the other people living here."
"I hope they are all hot lesbians," Dean says, slightly dreamily. Sam snaps his fingers to get Dean's attention.
"You better hope they're not, or it will blow our cover," Sam says, injecting annoyance into his tone. "And it's bad enough, your act so far. Seriously? Skipping? This is not a Broadway musical."
"I was feeling cheerful," Dean says defensively.
"I've never seen you skip anywhere before."
"I've never seen you kiss me before," Dean retorts.
"...shut up," Sam says weakly. He'd kind of been hoping Dean wouldn't bring that up. But Dean smiles wolfishly.
"No, it's good. I think that pretty much convinced her."
"I had to do something," Sam mutters, "the way you were acting, Jesus."
"How soon do you think we can sneak upstairs with the EMF meter?"
"Probably not till after dark," Sam replies. He thinks maybe he should change his shirt, but he only has a few, and this one is already dirty... He pulls a different one, with stripes on it, out of his bag and sniffs it. It smells only faintly musty, so it's probably good to go... but he might need a clean shirt for later.
It's amazing how many shirts he loses to things like burning bones. Or digging up graves. He sighs.
"It'll be like a date!" Dean says, and Sam gives up and throws his shirt at Dean's head.
"Yes, because everyone wants blood and guts on their first date," Sam says. When he realises he just implied that he's actually going on a date with Dean, he wants to crawl into a hole.
What the fuck? Like, no, seriously—what the actual fuck is wrong with him?
"Do you mind if we ask you some questions?" Dean has toned down the gay act, but Shannon does turn to him with a bit of a startled expression, as if she weren't expecting that. Sam kicks Dean under the little Victorian style patio table in white, scrolled metal.
"About the..." Dean smiles at her. "I did say we were obsessed, didn't I?"
"You should ask Amber," Shannon says. "I'd rather not talk about it anymore, but Amber's loquacious, she'll talk about anything you like for hours."
"But you did find her, didn't you?" Sam asks, turning up the soft compassion in his voice. He'd feel bad about manipulating people this way, but to help them... well, it's important to get as much information as they can so that they can stop whatever nastiness is occurring and keep these people safe.
"Yes," Shannon says with a heavy sigh. "It was gruesome." She shudders.
"Did you notice anything... strange?" Dean chimes in. "Like, besides the locked door?"
"You know, now that you mention it... it was odd, that door being locked. I mean, I always kept it locked, so how did she even get inside? It isn't even just about the killer getting in, but Ryan shouldn't have been in there."
This is not precisely the clues they were hoping for, but it is something useful. Knowing that Ryan somehow wound up inside a locked room, too, lends credence to the fact that this is something supernatural.
Dean is watching Shannon closely, but Sam is pretty sure his brother doesn't think she's responsible. Still... if Shannon is the owner, then she had the key.
Sam decides he better be the one to ask the question, or Dean might make her angry and closed off to further questioning.
"And the police questioned you already?"
Shannon's brows draw together, as if she's becoming suspicious. Sam hopes not, though.
"I don't know why they don't think I'm a suspect," she says, quietly. "I have an alibi, but it's weak. I'd logged into my computer during when Ryan must have been killed. But I could've given out my password, you know? I mean, I didn't, of course. I didn't kill her. But nevertheless, the police should be all over me. Picking apart my story."
"I believe you," Sam murmurs. "This was a... weird... murder, wouldn't you say?"
"It was!" Shannon exclaims. "The way she was... she was all arranged, and... God, I can't think about it. Please don't ask me any more questions."
"All right," Sam says. "It's no trouble."
"Let me introduce you to everyone," Shannon says. She stands up, and Dean gets up right away. Sam gets to his feet and steps close to Dean, leaning against his shoulder.
"That—" Shannon points to two men practically feeding each other, snuggled up in their extremely warm coats, "is Simon and Jesse. They've been living here for a couple of months. They didn't freak out about the murder, so..." Shannon pauses, then gestures to a young woman eating by herself.
"And that is Sara. She's one of the last original tenants from before I inherited. Next to her is Elise, and there's Colton in that chair over there." Shannon smiles at them. "You picked the right place to stay, as long as you don't mind the recent events. This is a boarding house for people..." she stops, shrugs. "Sara and Elise have become best friends, but they're not a couple. Colton's boyfriend died of AIDS before he moved in. And of course, you know Amber already." She blushes a bit, gives them a shy smile. "Amber is my girlfriend."
"Oh," Dean says, smiling. "Naturally. You two look like you're perfect together."
"I'm going to leave you to your lunch," Shannon says. "Let me know if you need anything." She walks away.
Without even needing to glance at Dean, Sam knows they are both thinking the same thing. They go over and sit at the little table with Amber.
She gives Dean a very welcoming smile. "Oh, I am so glad you decided to move in! You seemed so nice in the library. And who is this? Is this your fiancé?"
Dean wraps an arm around Sam, yanking him close, and before Sam realises what's happening, Dean's lips—warm and slightly rough—are covering his own.
It's brief, but a feeling Sam can't put a name to runs through him. It's not the disgust he's expecting, but even as he's trying to identify it, Dean is using those lips to talk to Amber and the kiss is nothing but a troubling memory—Sam's mouth is tingling every place his brother's touched.
"This is Sam," Dean is saying. "He is the love of my life." There is a ring of truth to Dean's statement, as if Sam is the love of his life, though he probably—right?—doesn't mean romantically. But Dean has spent his whole life practically living for Sam; it's why it ripped Dean apart when Sam decided to go to college and leave the hunting life behind. Dean took it personally.
"That's so sweet. Hey, did Shannon tell you about—"
"Yeah," Sam says. "The murder?"
"It's a strange story, isn't it? I mean, it's almost... well, this house can sometimes feel... sinister. And I do mean the house, not someone in it. I can't explain why Ryan died, but..." She twitches one shoulder, a half-hearted shrug. "Do you believe in ghosts?"
"Surely a ghost can't just kill someone," Dean says, putting just the right amount of skepticism in his voice.
"I don't know," Amber says. "Maybe not. But, you know, I'd lock your doors at night."
"Of course," says Sam. "It's really nice to meet you. Have you always believed in ghosts?"
"The house I lived in as a little girl was haunted," Amber tells them. "I had an 'imaginary' friend. But my mother thought I was suffering from some mental illness, and we moved up here, and..." she darkens, as if the memory is painful. "I was in an institution for awhile. When I got out, I learned not to tell my mother if I saw or experienced anything strange."
"Did you see anything strange here?" Sam enquires.
"This used to be a convalescent home," Amber says. "And there were a bunch of killings here. It's a bit of local history. Look up the Arsenic and Old Lace story," she says, and it's a clue, even if Amber doesn't know it. "Happened in this house. I'm not sure if Shannon knows. I don't want to tell her and worry her, or anything. I mean, up until recently, this house didn't have the same feel it has now."
"What does it feel like now?" Dean asks.
"Menacing," Amber says. "Disturbed."
"Like something is angry?" Sam questions.
"Yes, exactly like that," says Amber. She pushes her glasses up on her nose. "It's frightening. I've lived here the longest, and I've never been afraid like I am now. Oh, my God, I forgot, I have an appointment. I have to go, sorry," she says, and jumps to her feet.
As she strides away, Sam is fairly certain Dean is thinking the same thing: something spooked Amber, and it wasn't just the story she was telling.
"More research," says Sam. "First, the play."
"Yeah, about that," Dean says. "What is Arsenic and Old Lace?"
"Well, the story goes..." Sam starts walking back towards the house. Dean follows, and as soon as they get into their room, Dean throws the latch and Sam continues. "two old women were living in a house, and they'd poison old men with arsenic. But that's obviously not the reality here." He boots up his laptop as Dean lays down the salt lines in front of the doors and windows.
"If this was some kind of slaughterhouse..." Dean flomps onto the bed. "We have our work cut out for us. It could be any ghost, and figuring out which one could be complicated."
"Yeah," Sam agrees. "We might be missing something in the murder, though. Maybe there's some kind of clue the ghost left behind."
Dean lies back on the bed, sideways. "Let me know if you find anything out."
Sam's stomach twirls a little. "You know, Dean, it's pretty sick to kiss your own bro—"
"Shh!" Dean says adamantly. "You don't know who might be listening. Or the walls could be thin."
"Fine, but you know what I am trying to say."
"Sammy, it wasn't anything. Just part of the act." But something about Dean seems squirmy, smarmy, like he's not quite telling the whole truth.
Sam types rapidly into the search box. After a couple of seconds, he says,
"There may have been as many as sixty-six murders committed in this house. It was called the Archer Home for Elderly People and Chronic Invalids, and the owner allegedly killed her patients with cocktails of lemonade and arsenic."
Dean has sat straight up. "Sixty-six? Jesus fucking Christ. That's insane."
"Well, it certainly gives us plently of possible ghosts," Sam says, but he's not really happy about this news, either.
"Let's get some sleep, Sammy," Dean suggests. "We're going to be going upstairs tonight to scope out the scene, so we need to be alert." This is a veiled reference to Sam's lack of sleeping again. He doesn't really want to climb in bed with Dean—his body still feels strange after that kiss—but he puts the laptop to sleep and kicks off his shoes. Dean is removing his boots, then flipping back the covers. He climbs in first, holding the covers back for Sam.
When Sam lies down next to Dean, his body suddenly calms. Everything that's bothering him feels kind of muted this close to Dean; he remembers when he was a child and Dean could soothe any nightmare, assuage any hurt. How Sam used to cuddle up to Dean because he knew his brother could protect him from any of the monsters in the dark.
How simple his life used to be, and how complicated and twisted up it is now.
Dean snuggles into the bed, lying beside the wall, and the bed's not really big enough for the two of them to keep any distance between them, so Sam allows his body to come into contact with Dean's, and he closes his eyes.
Sleep overtakes him more quickly than he's expecting, and he doesn't dream.