glasslogic: (Requiem)
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Chapter Five

I recognize the walls inside
I recognize them all
I've paced between them
Chasing demons down until they fall
In fitful sleep, enough to keep their strength
Enough to crawl into my head
With tangled threads, they riddle me to solve
                                     ~I May Know The Word, Natalie Merchant


Sam came back to the world feeling like every cell of his body was on fire, the pain in his head almost blacking out his ability to see even in the shadowy room. Thankfully, he didn't need his eyes to go looking for what he wanted, Dean's bare flesh was already there, hot and smooth under his desperately seeking hands. Dean's fingers twisted roughly in his hair, a different note of pain that guided Sam's head down to press his mouth to where Dean's skin tasted like silver and iron, like power that burned down his nerve ending, shattering light bulbs in the vaults of his mind and filling up the places that were so achingly empty. It drove the agony back until it was just a dull ache, and eventually even that began to fade into another sort of burn. Another fire that ate at his sanity and self-control.

Sam turned his head away when one blaze finally eclipsed the other, face pressed to Dean's chest while he struggled to get air into lungs that felt deprived. The wound was already gone, wiped away almost with the speed of thought. Dean shifted until he could nuzzle at Sam's mouth, licking away the traces of blood before he ducked down to close his teeth over the muscle that joined Sam's neck and shoulder.

Sam shuddered and gasped. "Good," he managed. "I'm good, just--" Touch me he wanted to beg, but didn't have to, because Dean's warm, competent hands were already skimming up under Sam's t-shirt and pulling it over his head. Sam fell back on the bed and dragged Dean down over him. He tried to help get Dean's shirt off, but couldn't manage to coordinate himself enough not to end up making things more difficult. He was about to start just trying to rip the shirt off Dean, when Dean managed to grab both of his wrists in one hand and pin them firmly to the bed over Sam's head. Sam pulled wildly against the hold, but there was nothing human about the strength Dean was using. Dean had also stopped moving, which was a worse crime. Sam wanted to scream in frustration.

It slowly sank in through his struggles that Dean was trying to get his attention, to, talk to him. Something changed in his headspace and Dean's words suddenly made sense even over the deafening pound of his own heart.

"Better?" Dean asked roughly.

"Not really," Sam panted. He gave his wrists another experimental twist, but Dean's grip only tightened until Sam thought he felt bones grind together.

"I thought you were going to black out on me, I didn't want that this time."

"Okay," Sam managed to get out, not understanding why they were still talking when they could be doing other things.

Dean lowered his head and raked his teeth over the side of Sam's throat. It wasn't much, but it was better than space between them and Sam turned his head, inviting more of whatever he could get.

"I was saying," Dean murmured between trailing bites, "that if you can hold your hands here for a minute, I can get us both naked faster than if I have to fight you to do it. You can do that, right? Keep your hands over your head and out of my way? Just for a minute?" Sam nodded frantically. Naked, faster… none of the other words really sank in that far, but Dean's loosened his grip and Sam obediently grabbed hold of the edge of the mattress. His reward was Dean immediately sliding down the bed, trailing his mouth over Sam's fever hot skin as he did. Sam was barely aware of Dean's hands at his waist, it just seemed to him that in the space between one minute and the next, their clothes evaporated and finally he had Dean's naked flesh pressed all along the length of his body.

An improvement, but not enough to satisfy the desperate hunger that lived in Sam's skin. Dean kneed Sam's thighs apart and Sam offered no resistance, busy trying to touch as much of Dean as he could, and unconcerned with what Dean was doing as long as it didn't involve moving away. Time didn't mean anything to Sam during these exchanges, the worse his need drove him, the less connection he had to any reality outside of Dean. Sam flinched back from the unexpected chill of lube being carefully applied, but then minutes or hours passed with only a hazy consciousness of anything but the mattress under his back and the places where Dean's skin strained against his own, teasing and encouraging until Sam could only anticipate the burning stretch of Dean finally, finally, sinking in. Sweat slicked their bodies where they touched, easing the friction of Dean's increasingly forceful movements as he pushed Sam towards that bright, sharp edge until everything was finally too much and he tumbled over, taking Dean with him in a wash of euphoric sensation and then peace.

~~~~~

"What does that mean?" Dean mused aloud sometime later. Sam lay curled up against him, sweat drying on his skin where it was exposed to the air. Moving, even to get clean, was still too much effort. He'd tried, but was too dizzy to make it much more than sitting on the edge of the bed, so he'd given up and flopped back down. The buzzing in his head usually calmed down in a few minutes, soon enough to shower then. Sam had spent the time filling Dean in on the fruitless conversation with the angel.

"Which part?" Sam asked.

"About not all of your enemies being born in Hell. Kind of sounds like it's got a specific set in mind."

"Yeah. I assumed it was talking about the other angels. They've interfered before."

"They've also been pretty helpful."

"Castiel has, the others I've run into tried to kill me."

Dean spread his arms out over the pillows. "Bad apples in every bunch. And we're doing something right if angels keep trying to kill you and you're still here."

Sam sighed and rolled over so he could see Dean's face. "It doesn't make any sense that it would be trying to warn me about the angels. The name-calling and attempted murder was really all the warning I needed."

"Humans maybe?" Dean considered. "Bobby's not said anything, but there's got to be a lot of people out there who would love a chance to take a swing at us. We didn't exactly advertise our involvement with the crap that's been going on the last few years, but we didn't really go out of our way to keep it a secret either. Bobby knows, probably a few of his buddies. Rufus? Whoever helped you with your house. God knows who Gordon and his assorted fuck-ups blabbed too. It's not impossible that some of them might be gunning for us."

"You think an angel of Hell made an appearance in my head to warn me about some human hunters?"

"Maybe. Maybe not. Who knows how they think? Maybe it just missed you."

Sam sat up again and frowned. "So showing up to tell me that humans might be stalking our back trail is a maybe kind of thing, but you think showing up just because it missed me is a likely alternative?"

"Maybe you made an impression."

"Maybe you should have told me that some of your… you-ness, was a side effect of the curse bleeding things between us," Sam said with a frown.

Dean rolled his eyes and stretched against the rumpled sheets. "It's not a big deal, Sam. So what? You're, you know, the spackle on my drywall."

"First of all," Sam said levelly, "shut up. Second of all, it might have been nice to know this before, back when we were talking about breaking this thing!"

"There were more important things to consider in that decision than whatever little cracks and edges might be a little more visible if we went ahead and just broke it. You know, like blood, sex, and a power exchange. This thing's not such a big deal, Sam."

"It is to me!"

Dean's eyes narrowed. "Which part exactly? That I may lean on you a little to keep the dream alive? Or the reminder that your brother died, and I'm all you got back?"

A tense silence filled the space between them. "That's not fair," Sam said quietly after a long moment.

Dean looked away. "No, you didn't deserve that."

The capitulation was unusual, but genuine. Unease stirred in the back of Sam's mind, and it wasn't his. He reached out and brushed his knuckles over the hypnotic pattern of the tattoo on Dean's hip, pins and needles tingling in his skin where they touched. It had always had that effect on Sam, no matter whose body it adorned. He felt some of the tension uncurl a little between them. "I can barely feel you."

"What part of me were you having trouble feeling, exactly?" Dean's raised an eyebrow, inviting Sam's retort.

Sam ignored the invitation. "I'm talking about the link, without the barriers," he said instead. "I thought it would be this overwhelming rush and I'd have to fight just to keep my sanity above water."

"It was never like that, Sam." Now it was Dean that sounded tired, and even that faint flavor of his emotions receded in Sam's mind until he was aware only of himself.

"No," Sam agreed, feeling an odd sense of loss, "but it felt like it could be. Like it would be, eventually. This is… quieter. Almost like how it started." He hesitated. "We don't experience everything the same way."

Dean snorted a laugh. "Well, that's for damn sure." Sam scowled and glanced towards the bathroom, thinking a shower might finally be on the agenda. And then sleep. Merciful, peaceful, sleep. Maybe even restful, for what might be the first time in half a year. Dean took advantage of his distraction to run a finger down Sam's spine. Sam stiffened and scooted out of reach. He swung his feet down to floor and stifled a yawn.

"So touchy, Sam." Dean rolled to his elbow. "You didn't mind it ten minutes ago."

"That was then, this is now."

"The story of our lives."

Sam stood up and was pleased when the room stayed nice and steady. He made the effort to give Dean a disdainful look, which made Dean grin, then rummaged in his duffle bag for his shampoo.

"I'll do what I can, you know," Dean made a swirly motion towards his head, "to keep things separate. Before when things were getting muddled, it was after Pennsylvania. After… what happened, happened. We never really got a chance to try it by itself again after you sorted things out at Bobby's. It might be okay now."

"It wasn't okay before Pennsylvania," Sam said pointedly. "Which is what led to all this crap in the first place."

"No, but this feels almost like after we kicked Lilith's ass and you created it the first time. You can live with that, can't you? A little give, a little take…" Dean's voice trailed off hopefully and Sam managed a smile. He could live with that. Easier than he could live with Dean unraveling in the backdrop of his mind again. Easier than he could live with reaching for his brother and finding only the demon again.

Easier than being alone.

"I'm not getting back in that bed," Sam said instead of answering the question. He knew Dean could read his answer in the bond twisting between them, alive now like it hadn't been for years, since right after Ilchester. Sam made no effort to hide it.

"That's why we have two," Dean gestured grandly to the still perfectly made bed by the wall.

Sam's smile was more genuine now. He could feel Dean's hopefulness and the sincerity of his intentions. Neither hopefulness nor sincerity of intent would last past anything Dean saw as a necessary evil, regardless of how Sam felt. Dean had always been crystal clear that few things would be allowed to stand between him and whatever was expedient towards his goals, but at least it was a place to start.

~~~~~

"So, why are we still in town?" Sam asked finally.

Dean glanced at him over the top of a newspaper. "You have some better place to be?"

"Theoretically, yeah."

Dean shrugged. "Well, when you figure out your theoretical better place, let me know and we'll head out. But since we're here, see if you can grab the waitress. I need more bacon. And another of those little roll things."

Sam made no effort to locate their server. He leaned in and lowered his voice. "Okay, what gives with you today? We go through towns like most people change channels. What's so special about this place that you've decided to put down roots?"

Dean didn't bother looked up this time. "It's one day, Sam. We've stayed in the same place more than twenty-four hours before. If you think hard, I'm sure you can even recall a few times."

"Why now?" Sam pressed.

Dean peeled out a section of the paper and tossed it across the table to Sam. "Why don't you try dwelling on something else? Like the economy, or the stock market, or what's eating all the wildlife over in Big Stone Gap."

Sam frowned and picked the paper up. "Something's eating all the park animals?" He found the article and skimmed it. "Dean, it says they found three deer carcasses minus their skin and plus a few bullet holes. Noticeably missing are words like 'all,' 'eaten,' or 'mysterious.'" He tossed the paper back down. "This isn't a hunt, it's someone who wanted to re-upholster their man-cave."

"See? I knew you could find something else to think about if you just put your mind to it."

"Dean," Sam hissed in exasperation.

Dean gave him an annoyed look. "What do you want from me, Sam? We unclogged the pipe so, you know, hopefully something useful will come through it at some point. But all that's washed out so far is a really unhelpful conversation and whatever mess you saw right before you fell over."

"And Rufus is going to call," Sam added. They'd tried calling Rufus themselves, but wherever he was, none of the calls had gone through.

"Right." Dean rolled his eyes. "And Rufus is going to call. We don't know why, or where he is, or why the hell he can't pick up his phone for us, but somewhere, somehow, Rufus is going to call. You didn't even say he was going to call us, you know. Maybe he's going to call his mom and she's just such a karmically awesome soul that the whatever that whispers to you got overexcited and put it out on broadcast."

The waitress walked by and Dean waved her down. Sam sat impatiently while Dean flirted through his order before finally sending her on her way.

"I really don't think I'm having visions of Rufus calling his mother, Dean," Sam said as soon as she was gone. "There was more to it, it's just not clear yet."

Dean crunched through his last strip of bacon from his first plate. "I thought clarity was what you were getting when you grabbed your head and started swearing in the car on the way over here."

"There was too much yesterday to sort out." Sam gave his waffle a dispirited poke. "Like all the backlog we've been missing out on the last few months just flooded in all at once. What I saw in the car... I think it was just part of it untangling. It wasn't exactly helpful either though. Some kind of picture, part of a picture, something. It was blurry." Sam closed his eyes, trying to bring the vision back into focus, but the effort just made his head ache and he reluctantly gave up.

"Well, if it's important, we'll trip over it sooner or later," Dean said dismissively.

"In this diner?" Sam asked pointedly.

Dean laid the newspaper down and pinned Sam with a look. "It's one extra day, Sam. You'd think I was shopping for a house. Since when are you the one all crazed to hit the road? I thought you'd like sleeping in the same bed two nights in a row for a change."

"Yeah, Dean, it's great. I'm loving every second."

"I can tell," Dean said in the exact same time. "Just where is it that you think we should go, exactly?"

Sam slumped back in the bench. "I don't know. Somewhere. Just... whatever we're looking for, it's not here."

"You sure of that?" Dean raised an eyebrow.

Sam didn't even hesitate. "Yes."

"Okay then."

"We're going to leave?"

"Seems a shame, I already paid for the second night."

"Dean!"

"Is one day going to kill us? Is this some critical time thing where we're going to miss the Great Pumpkin if we cool our jets for a few more hours?"

"Maybe," Sam growled.

"You know that, or you know that?" Dean's lazy interest sharpened in the back of Sam's mind and Sam knew the question wasn't idle. He stifled his irritation and thought about it. He closed his eyes and imagined leaving the diner, climbing into the Impala, hitting the road... that felt right. He wanted to do that. Then he imagined doing the same thing, but not until tomorrow. Another sunset, another sunrise... that also felt right. The same kind of right it had the first time. He wanted to leave, but another day wouldn't make a difference. Probably.

"This doesn't mean anything," Sam said when he opened his eyes again. "It's not strong either way. I could be getting outside help on this, or--"

"Or you just may really hate Pikeville. Which is totally unreasonable, Sam. Did you see the display case this place has when we came in? I think they have like ten different kinds of pie here. How could you not love this town?"

"I'm just saying--"

"That you finally feel like we have some kind of clue, and you want to get back out there and run it down," Dean summarized.

"Right."

"Run it down where, again?"

"It doesn't matter where, all I know is it's not here. You've dragged me from one place to another on nothing but idle whims for months now, Dean!"

"Yeah," Dean said patiently. "And now I'm waiting for some bacon, and then I'm going to eat pie. Tomorrow's soon enough to head out." He picked the paper up again and flipped it open.

Sam crossed his arms and seriously considered kicking Dean under the table. He wondered if there was something about families that reduced all otherwise competent, adult members to children when forced to spend time together, or if it was just him.

"What are we really doing here?" Sam finally asked when it was obvious Dean planned to continue ignoring him.

"Hanging out, getting brunch, maybe hit the Wal-Mart down the road and pick up some more deodorant."

"That's what we're doing today? Eating and deodorant shopping?"

"Everyone's got to shop for deodorant sometime, Sam."

Sam gave up. "Fine. Let's go shopping."

"And the movies," Dean added as the waitress approached the table with his order. "I can't even remember the last time I was in a theater that wasn't haunted by something."

~~~~~

A booted foot poked into his side with enough force to count as a kick and startled Sam from a sound sleep. He rubbed at his ribs and glared irritably at his brother, who was slouched unconcerned in a chair by the bedside reading, legs stretched out across the comforter next to Sam. As usual, there was enough sodium light filtering in around the curtains for Sam to make out general shapes, but details were lost to the darkness of the room.

"Phone's ringing," Dean noted helpfully, not bothering to look up from whatever magazine he was reading.

Sam blinked at the ceiling while the tinny strains of Enter Sandman filled the darkness of the motel room. It didn't sound like his phone, but with Dean's ringtone compulsion it could be hard to say. Little spots of chaos in the freefall of his life. Sam turned his head to see three a.m. blinking on the bedside clock. He wondered why these moments of weirdness couldn't happen in the middle of the day for a change. "Why didn't you answer it?"

"Not my phone," was Dean's maddening reply. He still hadn't bothered so much as glancing up from the text. Sam groaned and rolled over, fishing his jeans off the floor to fumble the cell phone from a pocket. He stared at the display for a moment, trying to clear the cobwebs of sleep from his mind.

"Who is it?" Dean asked, taking more of an interest now that Sam was moving.

"No one I recognize." Sam flopped onto his back again in the rumpled sheets and hit the button. "Hello?" He listened for a long minute. "Uh... yeah, Rufus." Dean shot him a sharp look and Sam made a hasty quiet gesture. "We're interested, sure. No, no, it's fine." Sam listened some more, nodding slowly. "We were just talking about finding a job earlier. I don't even think we're that far away, swinging by's no problem at all. Yeah." Another long pause. "Sure. See you tomorrow then." Sam tossed the phone onto the bed and started pulling on his jeans.

"Nice to know your subscription to radio-free-weirdness is still good. But -- a job? That's what the whole 'Rufus is going to call' thing was about?" Dean asked, skeptical.

"Yeah, I guess." Sam stifled a yawn and bent down to pull his boots on.

"So what is it?" Dean prompted when Sam fell silent, trying to sort out the mystery that was shoelaces at three in the morning.

"Do you remember Joe Selman?"

"Uhhh… whackjob friend of Bobby's?"

"Is that just a guess, or do you actually remember him?"

"That depends on if I'm right or not." Dean hit the light switch, and Sam swore as the sudden brightness hurt his eyes.

"You could warn me next time."

"Sorry, princess, I didn't think you could see in the dark."

"I can see well enough to put my shoes on.

"Why do I care about Selman?"

"I don't know that either of us do." Sam rummaged in the side of his duffle bag. "Have you seen my toothbrush?"

"The AC vents were getting dusty. If we don't care, why bring him up?"

"You used my toothbrush to clean the vents in the Impala?"

"Well, I certainly wasn't going to use mine. Consider it your contribution to her general upkeep and well-being. I didn't think you'd want it back afterward."

Sam growled something under his breath and fished Dean's toothbrush out of the side of Dean's duffle bag, then disappeared into the bathroom.

Dean waited until the water shut off. "What about Selman?" he called as he packed up what little had made it out of their bags during the two day stay.

"He bought a house out near Charleston. Something about an auction and the city wanting to demolish it," Sam called back.

"This story's already warming my heart. Why do we care?" Dean asked as Sam reappeared in the doorway and gathered up his toiletries.

"Well, it's haunted. Or possessed. Rufus was a little vague on that part. He wants us to do something about it."

Dean stopped packing. "Let me get this straight. Rufus, who we barely know, calls us up out of the blue to drive out to Charleston to... what? Inspect some new real estate his buddy picked up at a foreclosure sale? Do you remember what happened last time we went poking around some ancient, abandoned property? Does falling through a floor and getting hauled off to the emergency room in the back of a van with flashing lights and sirens ring any bells for you, Sam?"

"He said it was structurally sound." Sam shrugged, unconcerned.

"Oh, that's great." Dean snorted, but finished zipping things up. "And Rufus got his engineering degree, where again?"

"Cal Tech," Sam answered absently, debating if it was time to steal a new washcloth or not. "He did architecture at Berkeley."

Dean stared at Sam.

Sam felt the weight of his surprise and looked up. "He did most of the planning work on my house. When I still had one. You think I didn't ask him a few questions?"

"Rufus?"

"People aren't born hunters." Sam shrugged. "Gotta do something to pay the bills."

"I thought that was why God gave us credit card fraud?"

"Sorry, most people aren't born hunters," Sam said. "Dad had conceptual issues regarding child-raising, that's probably why you're confused. Anyways, Rufus is going to text me Selman's current address and we're supposed to swing by so he can tell us about what's going on at the new place."

"Why can't we just meet at the new place and he can tell us there?"

"I don't know, Dean," Sam said, impatience brushing his voice. "He said something about having to help Selman dig out his house. It wasn't exactly a long conversation. My psychic whatever said Rufus was going to call, which implies to me that the call was pretty damn important. Rufus wants us to meet him at this place and do something about the ghost. My vote is we just do it, and whine about it later."

"I don't know why you think we can't whine about it beforehand too. It's not like there's a whining quota we're going to hit or something, you would have found that threshold decades ago." Dean shouldered his bag and tossed the room key on the bed for the maid to find. "Just -- how the hell does some haunted mansion Rufus found out in South Carolina help up on this quest?"

Sam shrugged and grabbed his own bag from the bed. "Only one way to find out."


Chapter Six


On the door of one was truth, on the other door was lies
Which one should I enter thru? I really must decide
The door of lies had lots of flowers growing round outside
But looking close I noticed it was crumbling inside
           ~House For Everyone, Traffic


Charleston was as lovely of a city as Sam remembered it being. He hadn't had much call to spend time there in the past, but he'd passed through enough to appreciate the unique blend of old city charm and modern metropolis, with its thriving coastal community and equally thriving historical districts that felt almost like wandering in two different worlds. It was a quirky kind of place, but the people had always seemed friendly and Sam had vaguely thought about it being a nice place to spend a few years practicing law, back when that was something he had seen in his future. Along with a wife, a house, and a picket fence.

He was kind of sad that this trip to the city seemed geared towards avoiding all of the aspects that made it so appealing in the first place.

"You know, Sam, when you said Rufus was helping Selman dig out his house, I envisioned a mudslide, or some kind of tragic accident involving a dump truck full of sand. Not, you know, this." Dean waved his hand to take in the entire property with its towering live oaks, wild tangle of bushes, and a dingy mustard-colored doublewide that looked almost delicate against the massive sprawl of the greenery. And the mountains of trash and assorted filthy random pieces of junk that lay haphazardly scattered across what was probably a lawn, when you could see it. Occasionally a piece of something would go sailing out the front door accompanied by sulphurous swearing from an unseen person or persons inside.

Sam tentatively poked at a pile of loose carpet with one booted toe, then flinched back when a cloud of flies swarmed up.

"Yeah, don't do that," Dean suggested.

"Maybe we should--"

"'Help' had better not be the next word out of your mouth."

"--Knock," Sam finished, looking for a clear path to the house. "Or something. I'm sure this is the address Rufus gave me."

"We should set it on fire," Dean suggested, giving the place another surveying glance. "Everyone will come out, and we'd be doing them a favor at the same time."

"I thought you liked chaos," Sam retorted, picking his way through the debris towards the front door.

"It's my nose that's offended, not my sense of order."

"Sam!" Rufus walked out of the house with an armload of clothing that he promptly dropped on top of one of the growing piles. He dusted his hands off on his jeans. "I'd offer to shake, but you might catch something."

"Rufus," Sam greeted him, unsure what tone to take. The older hunter had been on hand to witness someone of the more unusual happening at Bobby's house during the troubles of the previous years. The fact that he'd called them for help seemed to imply a live and let live attitude about it, but caution was an ingrained habit. "It's been awhile."

"Not really long enough for my taste," Rufus drawled, "but Bobby swears that's not your fault and I needed a hand out here."

"Hi, Rufus," Dean said before Sam could reply.

Rufus gave him a dark look. "Dean. Bobby was less reassuring about you. Try not to break anything."

"Looks like someone's beat me to it around here," Dean said.

Rufus swept his gaze over the yard and scratched at an ear. "Well, that's true enough."

"Is this Joe Selman's house?" Sam asked, dubiously.

"Yeah, such as it is. But now he's bought the new house and I'm helping him clean this place up to sell."

"As what?" Dean asked. "A landfill?"

"How'd you get involved in this, Rufus?" Sam asked hastily.

"Friendship," Rufus said with disgust. "There's a few of us still around who benefited from Joe's help back in the day. We try to keep the mess in check, take turns swinging by every couple of months and shoveling it out a little. Can't let the man be buried alive by his own poor housekeeping, can I? He doesn't have any family left to speak of, and the one time we talked him into trying one of those assisted living type places, he rigged a crossbow to his apartment door and lectured his neighbors on the importance of a good layer of Valerian around the windows to keep the restless dead from swinging by for a visit. This is less of a headache."

"Valerian keeps the undead away?" Dean looked interested in that tidbit.

"No," Rufus snorted. "He just didn't like his neighbors. Wishful thinking on his part, I think, we haven't had problems with the undead in Charleston for at least twenty years."

"There was a problem with the undead before?" Sam asked.

"There's a lot of reasons people want to forget the 80's." Rufus shrugged. "Not just because of the bad music and big hair."

Sam decided not to pursue that. "So you're shoveling this place out to get it ready--"

"--to bulldoze," Dean cut in helpfully.

"To sell," Sam shot him a withering look, "and meanwhile Selman's planning to move into this new mansion he bought, which is haunted and you described to me as 'probably not going to fall down soon.'"

Dean's irritation curled into the back of Sam's mind. "You said structurally sound, Sam. Not 'Gone With the Wind.'"

"It's fine," Rufus said firmly. "Just old. Like me. Well, older than me, but still a perfectly sound building. Belonged to some New England capitalist family back in the twenties or something. Changed hands a lot over the years. People were interested in the grand estate, kept it fixed up and cared for -- not recently, but recently enough. They just never seemed to want to live there very long."

Dean and Sam exchanged a look. "Never seemed to want to live there very long?" Sam began.

"Or just never lived very long, period?" Dean finished the thought.

"A little of both," Rufus admitted. "Come on around back and I'll let Joe tell you about it."

~~~~~

The back yard turned out to be only half as cluttered as the front, but the what piles of household items remained were supplemented by enough rusting machinery back in the weeds to give it a more classic junkyard feel. It almost made Sam nostalgic for Bobby's place. It was also less fragrant than the front yard had been, and Sam was grateful for whatever small favors he could find.

"So, you're John Winchester's kids," Joe Selman greeted them as they came up to him sitting on the back porch steps. He was a hunter from well before Sam's time, and a legend in his own day, but Sam was having trouble seeing it in the frail old man with his snowy white hair and kind blue eyes. "I met him once or twice, you know. Back in the day." He gave them both a thoughtful once over. "I had the idea in my head that you'd be older for some reason," he mused, voice trailing off as if overtaken by a thought.

"Good genes," Dean offered with a firm smile. Sam refrained from commenting at all, not trusting himself to speak on the topic.

"Tell them about the house," Rufus prompted. His prodding broke Selman from whatever trip down memory lane he was wandering off on.

"Right, right, of course," Selman agreed. He fumbled through a stack of papers on the damp concrete beside him until he came up with an old photograph he proudly extended to Sam.

Dean leaned in next to him so he could see it too and gave a low whistle. "Nice place." The photograph was black and white and obviously of some age, but the mansion with its slender columns, graceful balconies, and obsessively neat landscaping didn't need color to clearly convey its stately nature. "It still looks like this?"

"Eh," Selman hedged. "Not exactly like that. She's a little weathered around the edges. Needs some paint, and little carpentry work. New steps, possibly some siding. They said most of the roof looked okay--"

"It's fine," Rufus cut in. "I told you, it's not going to cave in on you."

Selman shot him a distressed look. "Of course she's not going to cave in on you! This house is a lady. She's a perfect example of the classical architecture of the nineteen twenties. They don't build anything like this anymore. I'd take her bare bones over any of this modern disposable crap they keep trying to push on people nowadays. A house should have great character, it should tell a story, there should be--"

"A body count in the double digits?" Dean guessed sardonically. Sam handed the photograph back silently.

"We all have our warts," Selman said with great dignity. He gave the photograph a fond look. "You can't hold something like that against her."

Sam and Dean exchanged a sidelong look. "So, Rufus," Dean drawled. "What exactly are we doing here again?"

"It's that great character the house has," Rufus's smile was all teeth. "It's a little too much personality for what I'm up to handling these days. I've got a heart condition, you know. My doctor told me to avoid murderous spirits and getting thrown through any walls or impaled on anything this year. I was telling Singer about the problem, and he suggested you guys were the perfect people to look into it for me."

"Jody must not have forgiven him yet," Sam muttered.

"That's because he's doing it wrong," Dean said, disgusted. "I told him, skip all the apologies and sad looks and just take her out and get her drunk. Alcohol makes everyone feel chummy."

"Does Bobby often come to you for relationship advice?" Rufus asked with a raised eyebrow.

"Hey, it works on my current interest." Both Dean and Rufus studiously avoided looking at Sam. Sam ground his teeth and refused to make any comment at all. He had never been sure exactly how much Rufus knew about Dean or the situation between them. He figured the part about them sleeping together wasn't a mystery, since Rufus had been on hand to watch Sam stagger, half dressed and barely conscious, out into a mid-summer snowstorm to meet a long-absent Dean at Bobby's once, but as to what else he knew or had guessed about Dean's nature… Sam was at a loss. It wasn't exactly the kind of thing you could ask a person, much less a hunter. And it didn't change the current situation at all. Sam's visions had led them here; they could only hope there was something in this situation they would recognize as useful.

"What exactly is the problem with the house?" Sam asked, firmly redirecting the conversation back onto productive grounds.

Rufus shrugged, then gave a meaningful glance down at Selman. Selman hesitated for a moment, stroking one finger lovingly over the photograph in his hand, and then told them.

~~~~~

"So," Dean began an hour later, as they stood on what had once been an elegant walkway and now barely passed muster as a weed-choked ramble of broken concrete, "how much do you think they charged him for this place?"

Sam pulled his sleeve free of a monstrously overgrown holly bush. "Too much."

Dean looked around with a frown. The landscaping hadn't been closely maintained in probably at least a decade, but the grounds were still lovely, in a wild kind of way. "Why not just knock the place down and make this a park or something?"

"Asbestos. It would probably cost them more to clean it up than it's worth."

"You know that or you're just guessing?" Dean asked.

Sam shrugged. "It's a huge house from the right time period. Also, I took a look at some of the paperwork Selman had. It was listed under 'possible areas of concern.'"

"As in 'it's possible there's a problem?'"

"As in, it’s possible they wouldn't be able to find anyone dumb enough to take this off their hands," Sam said dryly.

"Old Joe seems excited about it."

"Yeah, well, he probably got hit in the head a lot when he was younger." Sam ripped his sleeve free from the same bush again and took a few more steps away from it, crowding Dean towards the other one. He could have walked forward and gotten away from the holly all together, but there was just something… foreboding, about the house that made him want to stay clear. He knew Dean could feel his unease, but neither of them commented on it.

"Your enthusiasm for this job is really impressive, Sam."

"At least twenty deaths, Dean," Sam said grimly, arms crossed defensively as he stared down the walkway at the dilapidated mansion. "Something in this house has a serious problem with the living."

Dean looked up at the worn-down ruin that was Joe Selman's dream home. White paint was flaking from the siding and one of the columns had actually fallen down. None of the balconies looked remotely safe, and two of them were missing part of their floors. Half the windows were boarded up, and young trees had taken root in the remains of the long, winding driveway, tearing out concrete as they grew and expanded. Beyond all that, in a place where the living had no power or purchase, Dean could feel a presence that burned like cold fire in the vaults of his mind. Icy and malevolent, it was aware of him too, and wary of what it could feel of his nature.

But not wary enough.

Dean smiled up at the building. "We'll just have to see how it feels about the dead."


Section V

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