Author's Note : For the record, Manor House is not a manor-house. The name just made me snicker.
Thank you, all you wonderful people who reviewed! I should stop apologizing for posting chapters so far apart, because so far I haven't fixed the problem. This one was edited very minimally so I could get it up, I apologize for any errors resulting from my laziness.
In the bright daylight Manor House looked more melancholy than menacing. Sam hesitated briefly at the top of steps, having neatly avoided the hole Dean's foot made the night before. He knew another sweep of the house probably wouldn't turn up any new information, but he wanted another look just to be sure.
The sun filtering in through the dirty windows cast enough light to display just how rundown the house actually was. What little wall paper was left was peeling away, and the walls behind were stained with grime. The floors were hardwood, now more scratches than sheen, even beneath the layer of dust.
Sam let out a low whistle as he traced a vicious looking crack in one wall. "This place needs a lot of work."
A lot of work, but it could be beautiful again someday. Provided they figure out whose bones needed torched.
As they made slowly made their way through the rooms, he wondered what the story was here. Murder was always the best bet when it came to vengeful spirits, but there'd been no mention in any of the records he'd gone through, and murder always made the papers. And besides, it wouldn't explain the why only a few of the workers had been killed.
Sam trailed his fingers along the bannister as he ascended the stairs and wished again for the time and ability to go through this one properly. Any other time he might even enjoy unravelling the mystery. No one was in any immediate danger while renovations were on hold, and it wasn't often a hunter got to work without time constraints.
When he came to the hole in the wall created by Dean's flashlight he stopped. Squinting, he brought his hand to the hole, feeling rough brick against the pads of his fingers.
He felt Dean's unvoiced question, and followed up with, "Must've closed off a chimney."
Dean came up behind him, furrowing his brow as if asking 'so?'.
He took off at a jog and his heart sped up in anticipation. "How do we get to the basement?"
They hadn't bothered to check it out the night before, but when he saw the hidden brick, a light went off in his mind. It had been brief, but he remembered skimming over part of an article that mentioned the original owner's involvement in the Underground Railroad. It might be nothing, but it might be something.
He tried the handles on all the closed doors, but the only one that wasn't locked lead to a small bathroom.
At Dean's voice he turned, seeing his brother dropping into the hole where the floor had given out. Alarmed, he rushed over, just in time to see Dean rising from a crouch. He looked up, beckoning his brother with one arm.
"And how are you going to get back up?" Sam asked smugly, teasing for the sake of normalcy.
Dean grunted a reply. "Easier to find a way out. Not so many doors."
He had a point.
"Fine," he laughed, and tossed down the shotgun. "Catch."
He made sure the ground was clear before taking the plunge, dropping into a crouch to absorb the impact. He'd noticed the dip in temperature before he rose; it was cold enough to see his breath.
Dark, too. There didn't seem to be any windows, and he couldn't past the circle of light they were standing in. "Any lights?"
Dean lifted his chin, and Sam followed his direction, looking to the right. One of the walls was damaged, near what used to be the ceiling. On closer inspection, it looked almost intentional. As if -
"They were trying to wire the basement for electricity?"
Dean only shrugged, but Sam didn't really need him to. He was sure now that this was where they would finally find some answers.
"Looks like we've got a lead," he said, grinning.
Dean cast him a look, and after a moment he realized it was directed at his enthusiasm. With a small smile, he shrugged. "Guess we both changed, huh?"
Dean looked away, wordlessly handing Sam the gun.
"I read something," he quickly went on, "Maybe a lead. It wasn't much, but one of the old papers mentioned this place being used as part of the Underground Railroad."
He walked the circle of light, peering into the shadows, but there didn't seem there was much to see
"A lot of houses had hidden rooms, or secret passageways, to help hide the slaves," he said. "Maybe someone made it a permanent hiding place."
Hell, a basement like this could cold even without a spirit present. Practically an icebox.
He shuddered at the thought while Dean turned slow circles, watching Sam pace.
"I know," he said without looking, "it's not much to go on, but it's better than nothing. All we have to do is find it."
No sooner had he spoken than he felt something slam into his right shoulder, spinning him off balance. The shotgun went flying, and he broke off a curse, pain blossoming as he hit one knee.
Dean was at his side in an instant, scanning the darkness with wary eyes.
"I'm okay," he answered the silent question. "What the hell?"
"Hammer," Dean mumbled, reaching out an arm to help him up.
He yanked hard, bringing Dean down instead. "Duck!"
He hit the floor, the hammer slicing through the air where his head would have been. They rolled together and came up fast.
"Dammit!" Sam cried, searching the darkness for the gun. "Where is it?"
He learned it's location when it hurtled toward them, clipping Dean in the forehead and sending them both back to the ground. The fire in his shoulder doubled, tripled.
Grinding his teeth against the pain, he rolled to his stomach, easing the pressure on his back.
He looked left, then right, his eyes coming to rest on Dean. He was sprawled on his side in the shadows, the shotgun lost in the darkness. Cursing again, he made his way to his brother's limp form, crawling on his belly.
"Dean!" he hissed, easing his brother onto his back.
No good. The entire right side of Dean's face was bloodied, and already a lump was forming over his eye. Using the hem of his t-shirt he gently dabbed blood away from his eye.
"Come on, Dean," he said anxiously. "Wake up."
He took a moment to comply, but opened his eyes diligently, blinking slowly. Sam was pleased to see recognition as he helped his brother sit up.
There was no time to answer. The air around them stirred, gently at first, then violently, sending dust and bits of concrete whirling around them. The air howled as if a thunderstorm had somehow found its way into the basement.
"We need light!" Sam shouted to be heard over the wind. "Where's the damn door?"
He hauled Dean to his feet, then left him swaying as he dashed into the darkness, arms outstretched. When they came into contact with the wall, jarring him, he began a half-jog around the perimeter. Rough concrete scraped his hands as he felt for the door, but he was rewarded with the feel of smooth wood soon after.
The door at the top of the staircase was closed, too, allowing very little light, but he didn't dare leave his brother long enough to open it. As he raced back into the basement, the toe of his boot met with something solid. He caught himself before he tripped, but let the momentum carry him forward until he held the shotgun in his hands.
"This way!" he shouted.
Dean stumbled toward him, an Sam switched the gun to his other hand, wrapping the other around his waist. He pulled Dean along, using the faint light at the top of the stairs as a guide.
They half fell up the stairs, bursting through the door and crashing into the wall directly behind it. A cloud of dust exploded into the air, carried by the wind that seemed to follow them.
Sam turned and fired a shot at random into the basement, hoping the rock salt might disrupt the faux storm. His one armed shot meant the aim was off, but he didn't have a target anyway, and it was no surprise it didn't help.
In the hallway, the abandoned box of nails spilled open, joining the dust in a frenzied tornado before rocketing straight at his face.
Instinctively he turned, taking Dean with him. A few nails hit at enough of an angle to illicit brief stabs of pain, but most fell away harmlessly. There, they rolled to a stop on the ground, seemingly unaffected by the maelstrom around them.
The protective arm he'd thrown around his brother was shaken off angrily as Dean pulled away. Sam was startled to see the look on his face made all the more feral by the drying blood.
"Fuck this!" Dean growled into the air. "Give me something to fight!"
Without warning he charged, thrusting his hand in Sam's pocket before he could protest.
"What the - "
He stuck around long enough for Sam to spot his lighter - cheap red plastic - clutched in his fist. Then he was gone, into the cloud of dust.
Nails scattered as he followed, coming up behind him just as Dean was tossing a can of WD-40 to the ground. He remembered seeing it the night before, but hadn't given it much attention until now.
"Dean, what are you doing?" he called, shielding his eyes with his arm as dust pelted his face.
He didn't answer, staring at the floor by his feet for a heartbeat before flicking the lighter to life.
The patch of floor and wall soaked with WD-40 immediately burst into flames, but it didn't take long to spread, the fire licking the old wood just as greedily.
Dean stood stock still, staring at the fire with a look Sam couldn't quite place. He got the feeling he would have stood there a lot longer if he hadn't grabbed his arm.
"Come on!" he urged. "We gotta go, Dean."
His brother turned to him with a flat expression on his face, flames reflected in his eyes.
"Now, Dean," he stressed, tugging on his arm again. "Now."
Reluctantly he allowed Sam to pull him from the burning hallway. Then, as if just realizing what he'd done, he matched Sam's urgent pace.
They burst through the front door, tumbling down the stairs in a tangle of limbs. For a moment they just lay there, breathing fresh air, feeling the sunlight and absolute stillness of the air out there.
After his heart settled back in his chest, Sam sat up. Already flames were visible from the outside; even with a modest amount of accelerant, the house was being devoured. He felt a pang of sympathy, even sadness. The town was losing their community center, and a piece of the past that actually stood for something just would soon be nothing more than ash.
He had to remind himself they would also be rid of any future deaths. Whatever spirit it was - an escaped slave that hadn't quite made the journey North or a something more sinister - it wouldn't be hurting anyone. Any connection to the house would be severed by nightfall; an abandoned house this far out, no one was likely to notice a fire until it was too late. The house was done for, and so were any bones that might be hidden inside.
It was a rash decision, maybe not a necessary one, but he had to remember what was important : it worked.
"We need to go," he said softly.
"What're we playing for?"
There was enough edge to his voice to sound interested and just a little uncertain, and the man across the table reacted accordingly. "Let's say ten bucks a ball?"
Sam cast a weary eye at the table, and shook his head. "Five."
He accepted the proffered hand, and returned Jack's smile.
The guy had him pegged as easy money, probably had from the time he set up at one of three pool tables at the back of the bar. He'd known he was being watched, made sure his moves were visible, but not too sure. Sure enough, after a few solo games, the man approached, introduced himself, and offered some friendly competition.
Another three games and he suggested making things "a little more interesting".
Jack broke, and sunk two in a row before giving Sam his chance.
When he lifted the cue, it took everything in him not to cringe.
Driving was hellish, which meant this was next to impossible. Well, more impossible than usual.
When Dean did it, it was called hustling. When Sam did it, it was every bit the gamble his opponent thought. He had an advantage, sure - hours of practice under his belt, and he'd learned from two of the best - but he was nowhere near the level Dean or his Dad had been. Skill, a little manipulation, and the rest was up to fate.
"Nine in the corner," he offered.
The motion sent a stab of pain down his arm and into his back, but he ignored it, sinking two balls in a row. The third he deliberately missed, sending it spinning into the rail.
"Too bad," Jack said, managing to sound like he actually meant it.
Sam lost the first game on purpose, struggled to win the third, then lost the next two in a row.
"You wanna stop?" Jack asked, laughing when Sam missed an easy shot.
"Bad luck," he returned with a good natured smile. "I'm telling you, any minute now you're gonna be asking me for tips."
He laughed, but Sam won that game.
He was starting to get antsy when midnight rolled around, and his shoulder felt like it could very well detach from his body at any minute. He was about to offer a polite excuse to leave when Jack offered double or nothing on a game of nine-ball.
The frown that crossed his face wasn't feigned. Nine-ball could be over before he even got a shot in.
"I don't know," he said, glancing at his watch. "I told my girlfriend I'd only be gone a few hours."
"Come on," Jack said with a wink. "She's probably in bed by now, don't even know you're gone!"
"How much are we talking?" he asked, putting the power in his hands.
"Let's say 90 for the game?" Jack offered for the second time that night. "That's ten bucks a ball no matter how many you put in a pocket."
Sam frowned. Ninety bucks was a lot to fork over, but it was also a reassuring weight in his wallet. "Yeah, okay."
When Jack won the lag Sam was sure he was screwed. When he sent ball after ball neatly into the pockets, he kissed his money goodbye. When he finally missed, leaving Sam with four balls, he felt like dancing.
He settled for praying under his breath as he lined up his shot. He hit the six, prayed, and sent the eight spinning into the left corner.
The seven rolled to rest comically close to the side pocket, and was nudged carefully in. Eight was fate, and he heard Jack curse behind him when it thunked home, leaving only the nine.
Sam didn't bother hiding his nerves, straightening and exhaling sharply as he surveyed the table.
He wiped his hands on his pocket, and finally bent over the table, doing his best and leaving the rest to chance.
He took his shot.
Sam came home smelling of smoke, sweat, and alcohol.
The smells were familiar, but the bright eyes and cocky smile were new. Somewhere along the line his baby brother had disappeared. In his place stood a man.
And he'd missed it.
"Sorry I'm late," he said. "But I have a good excuse."
Dean watched from his bed as Sammy dug in his pocket, fishing out a wad of bills and slapping it on the dresser. He flinched at the noise, but eyed the pile, recognizing at least a hundred dollars, easily more.
"About two sixty," his brother announced, shrugging out of his jacket. "Woulda been more, but I lost a few."
He'd taught Sam as much.
"Always gotta lose a few, Sammy. Otherwise they're gonna know you're screwin' 'em over. They figure that out and you're screwed, and it's gonna go one of two ways : you lose the money, or you get your ass kicked. Sometimes both, but if you're lucky enough to get the choice, you pick your ass, okay? It's not worth it."
Hell knew if Sam ever listened - he hadn't exactly led by example - but if tonight was any indication, he was holding his own.
Holding his own.
He curled up to watch Sam count the money, slipping some of it into his wallet and some into the bottom of his duffle. He was moving stiffly, and Dean didn't need to ask to know he was suffering. On the drive home, he'd driven with his left hand, asking Dean to shift. How he'd managed to keep up with anyone willing to lose that much money playing pool was beyond him.
"I'm gonna take a shower," he said as he stood. "You okay?"
Dean nodded; it was only the eightieth time Sam asked in the last nine hours. When they got back to their room it was, " Are you okay? How's your head? What year is it?"
Then again when he announced they were running low on funds, and he'd need to head out to get some. "Are you sure you're okay if I leave for a little while?"
He'd spent those hours forcing himself to lie perfectly still on the bed, to be normal, and not hide. (If that meant forcing yourself to sit in the dark with only a muted TV as company.) The whole time he was tense and trying hard to convince himself that not every noise meant something sinister was lying in wait on the other side of the door.
Yeah. Things had changed. Now Sam was out there doing the things he should be doing. He was supposed to take care of Sam, not the other way around. His brother shouldn't have been working some bastard out of his money in the first place. That was his job, he was better at it.
So why was he, with a mild concussion at best, at home on his ass while Sam was playing pool with a shoulder that was more colorful than the bedspread beneath him.
His fingers crept upward, tracing the cut on his forehead. His head might be pounding, but it hadn't even required stitches.
Disgusted with himself, he turned onto his side, other aches making themselves known. He diligently ignored them.
The shower shut off abruptly, leaving the room in dreadful silence until the bathroom door creaked open in a shower of light and steam. Sam emerged wearing a towel and looking like the energy he'd brought home had finally crashed.
When he knelt to retrieve a fresh set of clothes from his bag, Dean got his first look at the result of the hammer's impact : a bruise the size of a dinner plate that was an ugly array of black, blue, and everything in between. He cringed, knowing it had to hurt, but Sam offered him a smile anyway. Just before he disappeared back into the bathroom with his clothes and shaving kit in hand, Dean saw the tattoo.
He stared at the closed door, feeling suddenly, utterly exposed. His fingers twitched, and rose to his chest. Branded into his mind was the bold ink, unbroken lines that graced the perfect flesh beneath.
A tremor wracked his body at the memory of how it felt to have a demon wearing his skin. How it felt to be defenseless at the feet of one, at the mercy of a creature that didn't know the meaning of the word.
The sound of the tap turning broke the silence, startling him. He wanted to roll his eyes at the reaction; he was getting so damn sick of every little noise making him jump.
Sam entered with steam still at his heels, tossing his dirty clothes in the direction of his duffle. They missed by an inch, landing in a heap, but he paid them no mind, dutifully checking the salt lines again.
It was something of a ritual now, Sam checking their defenses with an OCD-like thoroughness what seemed like every hour. Too much and never enough, he knew.
He watched Sammy carefully stretch out on his bed, watching the screen with disinterest while he tried to find a position that didn't hurt.
"S-Sam?" he spoke hesitantly, wanting to take it back as soon as those eyes were on him.
"I...you should," he faltered, gesturing at Sam's shoulder quickly before tucking his arm back around his body.
"S'okay," Sam shrugged with his good shoulder, then winced at that. "Well, it will be. I took the good stuff."
Guilt stabbed him in the gut. Sam should have been X-rayed, strapped in a sling, not out playing pool to keep his head above water long enough to - to what? Coddle his brother? Pity him?
He swallowed hard mouth working in the dark, trying to form words he had no idea how to say.
Sorry wasn't good enough, but what else could he say? The very least he could do was offer to get Sam some ice. The ice machine was outside, at the end of the hall. It would take five minutes, tops. It was for Sam.
Come on, Dean, he urged himself. Offer to get him some ice. Just... say it.
He couldn't make the words come out, though, and the next time he looked over Sam was stretched on his stomach, dead to the world.
A/N : The math in this chapter might be off - again. I blame dyscalculia - again.
In case you're wondering about the story behind the house, don't worry, you didn't miss it. There really isn't one. It was sort of purposefully left vague, though I think it came out a little stressed. I dislike that, but I needed to give the boys something a little confusing.
The house was haunted... literally.