Heavily leaning against the Impala, Sam held his aching middle while he watched Dean talk to the owner of the youth hostel. He had just taken one helluva beating from a very considerate poltergeist who’d kindly had flung Sam across the room, slamming him into an ancient grandfather clock. Sam had come through, albeit with a bruised middle whereas the grandfather clock wasn't so lucky.
Sam sighed to himself—this was supposed to be one of those "easy" hunts where they arrived with all input they needed, did some salting and burning and, voila, the hunt was over. One more happy customer with a supernatural-free youth hostel. That was the idea—in reality, they had ended up fighting with a super-pissed-off poltergeist who didn't like that they had come to get rid of it and had a sick affinity to throwing things with Sam's weight and dimensions through the air.
Sam knew Dean was also sporting some lovely purple and blue bruises. Sighing again, he wished that his brother would just hurry up, so that they could get on the road and find a motel so they could heal in peace and lick their wounds before their next hunt.
Lost in his thoughts, he jumped as Dean approached him sporting a wide smile and dangling a set of keys that looked massive and old.
That smile? Never a good thing, Sam contemplated, not sure whether he wanted an answer to the next question. "What did you do? Steal his dungeon keys?"
"Well, Sammy, what do you say to the chance of having a huge house all to ourselves for the next week?"
"Sounds like heaven," Sam replied as he frowned, "What's the catch?"
"No catch. Greg..." Dean motioned to the old man who was waving at them with an old handkerchief. "...was so grateful that we got rid of the poltergeist and saved him from having to close down this hostel that he gave us the keys to his old hostel." Dean explained theatrically as they got into the Impala. "It's just few miles outside Cleveland. Maybe an hour drive. Whaddaya say? Am I awesome?" Dean grinned over the roof of the car.
"Sure, bona fide awesome." Sam mocked. Good things never happened to them. That was a given. Why should this be any different?
Dean shifted to look at him as they settled in the car and—ignoring Sam's scepticism—added, "But the best thing is, the place is rumoured to be haunted so it really seems to be right up our alley, don't you think?"
Sam just groaned. "Dean, we just finished a hunt. We need to heal some before we take on another one."
"Sammy, Sammy. Don't you trust me? Greg said that while there are rumours of the place being haunted, there haven’t been any sightings whatsoever, so we're good."
“Yeah, because this statement usually ends up wrong, right?”
Sam bit his lip as he looked at Dean who looked like he was a little boy in a candy shop. Sam rolled his eyes but smiled nonetheless, knowing he had long lost. They did need a place, after all, to recuperate from their injuries and a free "possibly haunted" place was still a free place. Their budget would be thankful.
"Okay." He nodded as Dean gave a happy whoop and started the Impala, mumbling under his breath, "Next time, I say, we save a Hilton. And I want a Jacuzzi."
They stocked up on supplies before heading into the outskirts of town. They hadn't met another car for over half an hour when they turned into a dusty driveway with potholes that seemed deeper than the Grand Canyon, leading up to a large house. It was situated far away from any kind of civilization and so secluded that Sam doubted that there was even electricity available. He glanced at Dean who glanced back at him. As one, they shrugged sceptically. For the next week or so, this would be home sweet home.
Sam got out and walked around the Impala to join Dean as he closed the car door, glancing up at the house. His arms were crossed in a casual way and he nodded appreciatively.
It was two stories high at its peak. Two rectangular minarets with round rooftops towered above the main structure and the whole building had a strangely asymmetric look. The bricks of the walls were of good condition, but the paint was peeling a bit, revealing dark red bricks like muscle in a damaged body.
Nature had started to claim its wealth back and trees were growing unhindered, brushing their arms against the private space of the walls. Bushes, once neatly trimmed, were expanding wildly, barricading paths and windows. It almost looked like the house was crouching shyly behind nature. The little roof covering the path leading up to the entrance was almost gone. The front windows were dirty and sad looking. It was quite obvious that no one had been there to clean and take care of the house in a very long time. Some scattered huts, more ruins than actual buildings, were situated in wide circles around the main house.
Sam sighed and turned slightly towards Dean. "You're sure that he said no actual sightings? This does look like the perfect setting for a horror flick." Somewhere in the distance, a crow was cawing as if for confirmation and Sam arched his eyebrows.
"That's what he said." Dean replied, unconcerned, as he turned to go to the trunk of the car to get their gear.
"Well, I think he's a liar." Sam said as he joined Dean as they gathered their stuff. "Or in deep denial."
"Oh, come on Sammy, doesn't it look all comfy? Just like one of those Agatha Christie books you love to read."
"I'm not twelve any more." Sam snorted. Dean could be so childish sometimes.
"Anyway, he should know about any potential hauntings. We just helped him to get rid of a mean poltergeist in his youth hostel." Dean replied as he led the way to the front door. Sam followed him, keeping a wary eye out for anything that decided to fall on them - either roof, branch, balk or pissy ghost.
Sam knew that they both felt like having a break and being offered a free cabin to stay at for as long as they needed was pure heaven plus almost unheard of in their line of work. Even if the house was really haunted, a quick salt'n’burn should take care of it, leaving them with an empty house to squat in for as long as they needed to recuperate and start to gear up for whatever headed in their direction next.
Because there would be a next. And a next after. And Sam had the bad feeling that it wouldn't get easier.
Dean had already reached the front door. He looked at Sam one last time as he inserted the key into the rusty keyhole. The door swung open with a screeching sound, and they were greeted with a stuffy twilight and a mouldy smell. Dust particles danced in the scarce sun rays and cushioned their steps.
To their left, there was a small room behind a sliding glass door that had probably once been used as the reception now was milky and cracked so that they couldn't see much behind it. A stairway leading to the upper floors and hallways curled upwards from both sides of the entryway. Just to be on the safe side, Dean got the EMF meter out of his pocket.
"Honey, I'm home!" Dean yelled in a sweet-laden voice and grinned heartily when Sam rolled his eyes, regretting this whole thing already. "I have the bad feeling we were sent here to do the..." Sam begun and stumbled over a hat stand that had fallen over. "... cleaning." He underlined that with a throaty cough.
They decided to split up so that they could cover more ground and secure the house. Dean headed upstairs while Sam started to explore downstairs. With measured movements, Sam crossed the rooms on the ground floor. Most of the furniture was covered in splotchy sheets and an eerie silence loomed in every room, making Sam's footsteps sound louder than they really were.
In the room leading off the kitchen, Sam came across the generator, which—to his utter surprise—looked like it had been installed only recently. He moved the lever up and down and the machine coughed a few times before rattling to life. Promptly, a few overhead lights flickered on, one by one, the staticky sound of them whizzing over his head. Pleased, Sam turned off the flashlight and headed back toward the entrance hall so he could check the other side of the floor.
The condition of the furniture here wasn't much different from the other rooms he had seen so far, so when he stepped into a homey looking chamber that looked unusually clean and well-maintained, he stopped, mouth agape.
It was a library. The walls were covered with shelves that reached to the ceiling, each of them filled with books, books and more books. Sam went closer and took one in his hand. Then another one. Despite the tended-to feeling of the room, some of the books looked as rotten as the house itself, their substance turning to dust under his touch. A surprising number of others, though, had survived almost unscathed even though they looked older than the house. Enthusiastically, Sam started to take off the dust sheets from a couch, a writing desk and a stable-looking chair. A low coffee table made entirely of wood stood in the middle of the room, its surface engraved with scenes in an Indian style.
Sam randomly reached out lovingly caressed one of the books, longing to just curl up and read. The couch looked comfortable enough and he sighed to himself before setting aside some the book he was holding in his hands. He'd have enough time to go through them later. He glanced once more around the library and found some old newspapers and other scraps of history including some old vinyl music records. Sam picked up one of the dusty records and wondered if there was a player lying around so he could listen to them, well aware of the effect it would have on his brother.
Rummaging around in a few cabinets, Sam did find the player, with needle still intact. He set it up with the album of "Earth, Wind & Fire" before letting himself fall onto the couch. The music sounded foreign in the loneliness of the house and he didn't have to wait long until Dean came back, his face a painful grimace at the choice of music.
"What the hell, Sam?" Dean complained, his eyes wide. "Fuck, Sam! This not funny."
"What?" Sam asked, looking up smug, before preparing to get the room secured. "I like it here. Looks clean. At least clean of ghosties."
"Oh God," Dean groaned. "I'm in Soul Train library hell."
After Dean had fled to go through the rest of the house, he had determined that it was ghost free and started to ward the windows and doors of the rooms they were bound to use often. He found the pantry and, to his delight, sacks of road salt sitting in a corner. He heaved them upstairs and put salt down on every window. He took the additional steps of adding demon-repelling charms to the windowsills, floors, and ceilings. He decided that he and Sam could finish up salting the windows and doors downstairs together—at least as soon as his brother was kind enough to leave the library again which, Dean supposed, would take a while.
He had looked in every room, had checked every closet and had thought about how awesome it was to have enough space and bedrooms, no matter how dusty, that for once they would be able to use a single, each. Good idea, Dean decided and rubbed his temples, fighting back the tiredness that was gripping him tight. His ears were ringing, but it was no big deal. Just a rise in his blood pressure from the activity. Nothing else.
Getting his game face back on, he returned into the library where Sam was already spreading their stuff on the table, Bobby's books on top.
"So, looks like you've found your happy place, huh, Sammy?" Dean said.
In response, Sam rolled his eyes and replied, "You seem unusually happy."
"Yeah, you should see the rooms. I think they're all honeymoon suites.” He waggled his eyebrows. “I think we can each actually afford our own rooms. What do you say?" Dean grinned as he flopped down besides Sam glancing at the book titles.
"Our own rooms?"
Dean looked at his brother and expected an offended reply like "Don't you like me any more?" but Sam merely shrugged his shoulder noncommittally, obviously not even listening to what Dean said. Not that Dean blamed him. Well, he DID blame him but he also knew that when Sam was in company of books, especially in such a high number, neither rawhead, ghoul nor black dog would be able to draw his brother's attention away from them—even if they were playing Poker ... wearing nothing but pink woollen hats. Dean chuckled at the imaginary picture and sat down in a chair with a high backrest, leaning his aching head against it, ignoring the fact that the ringing in his ears wasn't a ringing after all.
Over the past few days, Dean had been hearing more of the strange background noises and they had gotten louder and more detailed. As long as he was in a hunt, he could forget about them. Could push them in the darkest corner of his perception. But if his concentration slipped, he could easily make out words, whole sentences and even different voices. Sometimes he could hear his or Sam's name being spoken in urgent whisper. But anyway, they were just his imagination, right? Nothing else. Just the lack of sleep and too little to eat. That must be it. Yes.
Denial was easy when the alternative would cost your sanity.
Of course, Dean was not stupid. And Sam was even less stupid which meant that Sam probably knew something was up as much as Dean knew that he couldn't hide it much longer. But until now, Dean had managed to keep the voices secret, even if it got harder every day.
It didn’t matter, though. As soon as this whole thing (phase...whatever) was over, Dean would be his same old self. No need to bother Sam with his concerns. It was just a phase after all. A "Dean is going crazy"-phase, sure, but still a temporary phase. And letting Sam know all the details would make it more real—not to mention what it might do to Dean’s "I'm the big brother" image that he still had to uphold, no matter what. And God knew, they had enough problems to deal with without having Sam freaking out over his crackpot sibling.
"Yeah, our own rooms. I mean, why not?" Dean snorted, "We're both grown-ups—well at least one of us." Dean smirked and Sam's left eyebrow shot upwards.
"Do I want to know who you're talking about?"
Dean gave his explanation with his version of Sam's puppy eyes.
Sam rolled his eyes and reluctantly agreed to the arrangement. "Fine, our own rooms. But don't come under my covers at night when you think there's a monster in your closet."
"You'll hear me kill it when that happens." Smirking, he added. "Then, I come crawling under your covers."
This time, Sam laughed and Dean felt giddy, almost like he was floating when his brother's laughter drowned any other voices he might hear.
With that decided, he and Sam headed out to finish putting salt on the windows of the rest of the house. Just to be on the safe side.
About twenty minutes later, they were settled in. Sam had brought the first aid kit from the Impala and they finished patching each other up from the fading bruises. Afterwards, Dean decided that he would try out the bath in one of the bathrooms and enjoy a well-deserved soak. Sam—after settling in a bedroom just across the hall from Dean's—headed back downstairs to read in the library.
The next few days flew by as if someone had put the fast forward button on the remote. They enjoyed the unexpected leisure time. Or at least Sam did. Dean, on the other hand was starting to get impatient and bored.
Still it was a nice change. They took turns at meals, using ancient pots and pants and ugly dinnerware, and equally took turns on bitching about it. Whenever Sam wasn't sleeping or eating or doing something as mundane as doing the laundry in one of the bathtubs Dean would find him in the library, skimming through the various reading material: Bobby's books as well as the ones he had found in the library. Dean thought that Sam was such a geek boy for finding it intriguing to read books which he didn't have to read for researching a haunting. How could Sam enjoy reading something other than skin mags for his entertainment was beyond Dean.
At night, Dean would sit beside Sam in the library, cleaning weaponry or sorting through their supplies. A fire was crackling in the open fireplace, shushing away the chilly November cold. It was almost surreal, Dean mused to himself. Usually they didn't have the time to just be. Although the truly surreal moment took place one night when Sam actually decided to make tea. Tea, for God's sake. Dean had sighed dramatically and called Sam Mrs. Brady for the rest of the evening, which Sam had countered with a laugh and "'Night John-boy.” Dean had cringed. The name waking to many bad memories.
It was another late evening when Dean absent-mindedly hummed a Metallica tune as he happily took guns apart and cleaned them. He glanced over at Sam who was smiling while reading a huge tome of a book.
"What are you smiling at, geek boy?" He said looking over at Sam as he put down a gun part and grabbed a fresh piece of cloth to wipe his hands with.
Dean smirked, "Nothing? It must have been a helluva nothing to put such a dreamy girly look on your face, Samantha!"
Sam chuckled at the sound of Dean so relaxed, then glanced towards the big bay window where he could see huge snowflakes starting to come down. Over the last days the weather had gotten worse. Wind had started to blow viciously, sending leaves tumbling and the house groaning. The winter finding its way into the season.
Sighing, Sam got up and turned to Dean, "I'm going to get more logs so we will be stocked up. Doesn't look like the weather gets any better. If this goes on we will be snowed in in the morning."
Dean nodded, already reaching for the next weapon.
After Sam had left the room, Dean put the cleaning utensils aside and walked over to the window, watching Sam walk over to the nearest hut which had turned out to be the wood storage shed. Sam's tall frame had some difficulties fighting the strong winds as well as the snow as he emerged from the hut with firewood and started his laborious trek back to the kitchen door.
As Dean watched he heard "Dean" echo in his mind and his heart sank. He knew it had been too good to last. But, fortunately, nothing else was uttered. Somewhat relieved, Dean chalked it up to his imagination, as usual.
When Sam got to the door, Dean looked down past his brother and could have sworn that he saw a figure standing in the snow glaring at them. Quickly reaching out for a gun, Dean didn't even blink and the apparition was gone. He leaned against the window and rested his forehead on the freezing pane. He really needed to get more sleep if he kept on hearing and seeing things, but he couldn't ignore the uncomfortable feeling in the pit of his stomach. At least the face hadn't borne any resemblance to their father.
Snow was falling heavily by the time Sam came back into the library with the wood, accidentally dropping some of it on the way to the fireplace. He put two large logs into the fire and tried to warm up his frozen hands by holding them close to the fire and puffing into them every other second.
Dusk was settling outside, creating shadows around the room. Crossing over to the fire to join Sam, Dean switched on the lights. Luckily, the generator was in excellent condition and the electricity had been stable until now. The only downside was that the house didn't have a working heating system which meant they had to keep the fire burning all day to have it warm. Still, a permanent chill hung in the air of most rooms except for the library.
As they huddled next to the source for warmth, the wind was howling outside. Dean worried when he noticed that Sam was still shivering slightly from his trip outside.
"Hey, man, why don't I go to the kitchen and make us some hot chocolate? With something extra for the big boys?" Dean said, taking the bottle of Jack Daniel from the table on his way out.
"Yeah, thanks." Sam answered, still trying to get warm and Dean regretted not having any marshmallows to go with Sam's hot chocolate.
In the kitchen, Dean quickly warmed up the milk. As he did, he looked out the window overlooking a little courtyard where the snow was still coming down. "Dean, you should leave!" echoed in his mind just as a figure outside came charging at the window, its shape more or less human and remarkably naked. Dean jumped back in shock while the lights started to flicker. A second later—his mind quiet again—Dean glanced through the window and saw nothing but ever falling snowflakes.
He tried to shake off the tenseness of having been momentarily poised for an attack and gathered the mugs of hot chocolate. He hurried back to the library to let Sam know what had just happened. This time, Dean was positive that he hadn't imagined it.
Sighing as he entered the library, he uttered to himself, "It was too good to be true."
He handed a mug to Sam who had turned to greet him.
"What's too good to be true?"
Dean hesitated long enough which caused Sam to burst out, "I knew it! Don't tell me the house is haunted after all. I like it."
Shaking his head, Dean denied, "No, Sam. I don't... I just. I think I saw someone outside. A figure."
"A figure? It's not Dad, is it?"
Dean shook his head. "Only if Dad decided to get all nudist."
He almost laughed at Sam's appalled expression but instead kept talking, "When you went out to get the logs, I was watching you and I think I saw someone looking after you from the hut as you came back inside."
"Why didn't you say something?" Sam wanted to know. To Dean's surprise, it sounded neither reproachful for angry. Just curious.
"I don't know. I thought it was my imagination. But right now, in the kitchen, I saw it again. Something like a human shape. Could be a ghost but..."
"I don't know. Just a feeling. It didn't look corporeal. And the form... scattered after that."
"Sounds like a ghost to me.” Sam replied. “Maybe we should take a deeper look at the history of this place after all," Sam suggested now, a little bit more enthusiastically.
God, how Sam could look like that at the prospect of pouring through old books would always be a mystery to him. But at the same time, Dean was relieved. Sam was in his element and didn't miss a beat, diving into the research so they could figure this out. It felt good to have at least one constant in life even if it was Sam's geeky-ness.
Just as the thought crossed Dean's mind, a voice screamed in his head, the scream so loud that it echoed in his skull. He pressed his hands against his ears. Next thing he knew, Sam was by his side, holding him up and mumbling something.
"RUN!" Someone or something in Dean’s head yelled just as something heavy hit the roof above them, causing the lights to flicker furiously. Whatever it was it rolled down the roof as Dean lost his fight and surrendered to the blissful darkness.