Masen and Swan: In the Windy City
Disclaimer. Stephenie Meyer is the owner of Twilight characters; Chris Carter is the creator of the X-files. We own nothing related to either, and we make no profit from the work here (quite the opposite, in fact).
A/N: (ebhg): A special thank you goes out to every one of our readers who voted for "Masen and Swan: The FBI's Most Unwanted" in the Epic T contest.
**Second Place** is more than we expected, but it certainly was nice! I nearly screamed like a fan girl meeting Robert Pattinson when I read that email!
(Gleena): It is really sad when a middle-aged married lady starts screaming like a teenage girl at a Jonas Brothers concert, but edward-bella-harry-ginny is right – we are both really grateful to all the readers who voted for Masen and Swan 1. If you haven't read the premiere episode, you probably should before reading this one (look under either of our profiles). There are a few spoilers for episode 1. By the way, the first Masen and Swan is up for two Sparkle Awards: Best Collaboration and Best One-Shot; voting goes on until July 31 – see our profiles for the link.
Special Agents Masen and Swan are in Chicago while on leave following the Forks incident. When there's a death at the old Masen Mansion, Swan can't resist the pull of the supernatural and drags a wary Masen along for the ride. Collaboration by Gleena/ebhg
Chris Foster looked up at the old mansion standing before him, illuminated in nothing but moonlight. His friend Steve gave him a shove and handed him a big flashlight from the trunk of his car. The weather had been rather typical for March in Chicago; which is to say, unpredictable. Fog had been rolling in off the lake for three days now, and it didn't seem likely to stop anytime soon. The sky had been overcast for most of the evening, and Chris fully expected the moon to be blocked completely at some point.
"What did you have to do again?" Steve asked, walking back around to the driver's side. Steve's feet disappeared into the swirling fog, and Chris gave an involuntary shiver as he pulled his camera phone out of his big jacket pocket. He hoped that Steve would attribute his shudder to the chill in the air and not to fear.
"I gotta go inside and send Paul a different picture and a text every hour to prove that I spent the night at the house" Chris explained.
"That's retarded. Just go take eight different pictures right now to send to Paul throughout the night. Then we go back to Ethan's and have some real fun. Langly said he was going to call the Liderman twins, Tracy and Stacey. They were going to bring over their new Star Wars Trivial Pursuit! It has a DVD now! Why did you want to pledge to a freaking frat house anyway? You'll never play a good game of TP again if you get in…" Steve complained.
"For one, don't call it TP, you make it sound like I'm sitting on the John…besides, this was my Dad's Frat, and he hinted that there would be cash involved if I got in..." Chris shot back.
"Well, if you want to be bought," Steve grumbled.
"Just wait here…I'll go get some pictures."
The front door of the house wasn't difficult to get open; the old Masen Mansion had been empty for nearly a hundred years. Only a historical preservation act had kept it from being bulldozed. High school and college kids alike came out here, trying to see the infamous ghost that supposedly haunted the Victorian-era home.
Chris couldn't really see anything in the house; it was slightly cloudy outside, and the moon had slipped behind the clouds just a moment before. He pulled the flashlight out of his back pocket and flipped it on. It was a huge thing, casting a large cylinder of white light over everything Chris pointed it at. He turned around and took a picture of the front door; the stained glass at the top strangely illuminated by the small amount of moonlight still shining through the clouds.
"One down, seven to go…" Chris muttered. He wandered through the first floor, pulling dust covers off various pieces of furniture to find something to take a picture of. He looked at his cell phone clock; 10:01…I wonder if Paul is smart enough to check the timestamp on these, Chris thought. He shook his head in disbelief. Paul didn't seem the academic type. More like the angry meathead type.
The half-shadows and unidentifiable shapes looming in every room were starting to make him jumpy. Chris didn't believe in ghosts (that's what he told himself), but he had seen enough movies to irrationally believe that there was something waiting in the shadows. Shawn and Gus were afraid too…Scary Sherry was just a hoax…It was just a tv show…
The house creaked around him. Remembering Scary Sherry hadn't helped him calm down, and he jumped as the floorboards beneath his feet made a loud groan. He shook his head at himself and kept walking. In a small parlor, he paused to explore a bit. Shining his light throughout the room, he saw what appeared to be old paintings covered in the same drop-cloths as the furniture.
Pulling the material off the first frame, he was met by a faded landscape. The second painting was much the same. Turning around, Chris was taken aback by an uncovered oil painting set upon the couch like it had only recently been placed there. In the painting was a young bronze-haired man with a studious expression. The eyes of the portrait were strikingly green, and Chris was further unnerved when he moved around the parlor under the painted gaze of the portrait. He decided to take a picture of the portrait before backing out of the parlor.
Suddenly, as he shut the door, he heard a soft music fill the house. It was a sad, melancholy tune plucked carefully on a piano. Chris' heart suddenly started beating faster. He looked at his watch; 10:13 p.m.
No such thing as ghosts…No such thing as ghosts…No such thing as ghosts...
Chris dialed Steve, who was still waiting outside. "Sup dude?" Steve asked. Chris didn't take the time to mock him for Steve's attempt at 'cool.' The car radio was playing loudly in the background.
"Shut off your radio…" Chris said shakily. The music in the background cut off abruptly.
"What? I like that song…" Steve complained.
"Forget that…do you hear the music?" Chris asked quickly.
"Dude…of course not! You made me turn it off!"
"Not that, you idiot!" Chris nearly yelled. Silence prevailed for a few seconds on the phone, but the tinkling notes of the piano still filtered softly through the house.
"You're just trying to scare me…I can see the light from here, Chris, I know you're in the attic. All the stories say the piano is in the attic."
"I'm not in the attic; I'm at the foot of the staircase, moron!" Chris growled.
"Oh…well…there's a light on in the attic…and it wasn't on before…there's no power to this house…"
Chris heard the power locks of Steve's car engage over the phone. "Chicken…" he shot at his friend.
"Dipped, battered, and Kentucky Fried," Steve whispered back shakily. Chris was suddenly foolishly bolstered by his friends' fear.
"Well, I guess I had better check that out then," He answered cockily.
"Just forget it…Let's get out of here and go to Ethan's. I will get a job and pay you whatever your dad won't, let's just forget the stupid pledge and go!"
"No! I'm going to find out where this music is coming from!" Chris clapped his phone shut without another word and took the stairs two at a time. He reached the door to the attic and paused, breathing heavily. The music was definitely coming from inside the room. Chris shined his flashlight on the doorknob just as the light dimmed, then faded completely.
"Crap," he muttered, giving the heavy flashlight a shake. It was dead. Chris opened his cell phone and used the meager light from the screen to shuffle over and open the door. The piano was sitting on the far side of the room, close to the windows overlooking the front lawn. The air which wafted onto him from the attic room was chilled, and he rubbed his arms briskly, difficult to do while holding a flashlight and a cell phone.
A small antique oil lamp sat burning softly on top of the baby grand piano. The aged drop-cloth was pulled back from the keyboard, and the piano softly played, seemingly of its own accord. Chris rounded the side of the piano, so that he could take a front view shot of the instrument. The moon slipped lazily out from the clouds that were concealing it, and shone through the windows at his back. In the pale light, he could see his breath was forming mist in the chilly air.
Holding his camera phone at the ready, he took a picture, and gasped. Right in front of the piano in the photo was a white blur. Preparing his phone to take another photo, he watched in stunned amazement. Just as the clock on his phone turned to read 10:26, the blur solidified somewhat into an apparition of the very boy from the portrait downstairs. The boy was dressed in the same type of clothes he wore in the painting. He sat forlornly at the keys, plucking out the melancholy tune that Chris had heard. A yell tried to free itself from Chris's throat, but he couldn't do anything more than grunt. The music stopped with a jarring note as the transparent boy in front of Chris realized that he was there.
Slowly, the boy turned around, and gave him a sharp look, as though offended that he had been interrupted.
"Come to gawk, have you?" the apparition asked.
Chris couldn't speak. He tried to move, to run from the room, but his feet were like lead. The boy at the piano rolled his eyes and stood from the wooden bench. Panicked, Chris did the only thing he could; he backed hurriedly away from the piano. In his haste, he backed right up to the window, but his panicked body wouldn't stop. His back hit the window and the antique glass couldn't support his weight. Tumbling backwards, he fell out of the window, startling Steve, still locked in his car three stories below.
"…and so, in summary, the transcripts of the interviews with subjects 1-50 were compared with those of subjects 51-100 using the principles of functional behavioral analysis. The results showed a clear correlation between three triggers from early childhood that I mentioned earlier and subsequent deviant criminal behavior. Significance testing showed a difference between the two groups at the P=0.01 level. We have been able to incorporate this information into the standard FBI investigation techniques with a 12% improvement in speed of identification of possible suspects over the last five years."
"Thank you Dr. Swan for that fascinating seminar on applied behavioral analysis in the field of criminal justice," said Dr. Kate Daniels, applauding with the rest of the audience.
"Please, I prefer Agent Swan," she answered, relieved beyond belief to be done with the dreaded seminar.
"Thank you, Agent Swan," reiterated Dr. Daniels when the polite applause had died down. Swan's host was a well-coiffed woman in her late twenties wearing a power suit and stiletto heels. Swan was wearing her usual feminine pantsuit, but she felt almost naked. On "vacation" for the first time in several years, she had left her firearm back in Washington, D.C. She took comfort in the fact that her badge was tucked into her pocket. Dr. Daniels turned to the audience. "I believe that Agent Swan is prepared to take questions."
Swan looked out into the large auditorium. The bright lights made it difficult to see the audience. Microphones had been set up in the aisles for the questions.
"Agent Swan? Can you comment on your interview with Nosferatu Quarterly last year when you said that conclusive proof of vampire activity in this country was still lacking?"
Dr. Daniels mouth dropped open in shock as Swan leaned toward the microphone. "I could comment, but what specifically about the interview did you want me to address?"
"Well, you didn't address the documented cases at the Mexican border from 1922."
"I have studied the documentation, as you call it, in detail. I'm afraid that the collective writings of a drunken border-town physician from over 80 years ago are not enough to constitute proof of vampire activity."
Dr. Daniels cleared her throat meaningfully. "I believe we should move to the next question."
"Agent Swan! I read your article in Vampire Hunter Digest on the myth of the power of crucifixes and holy water for battling vampires. How can you prove that they are ineffective if conclusive evidence has yet to be validated?"
"I didn't say in the article that they were ineffective, only that they were very unlikely to be effective. For example, why would a Muslim or Buddhist vampire care about water blessed by a Catholic priest?"
Dr. Daniels was now holding her head in one hand, curious as to how someone so clearly deranged had managed to earn not only a Ph.D. but also pass the bureau psych evaluations, and garner commendations for service from the FBI. She let the questions, all in a similar vein (pun intended) continue for fifteen minutes, and then she ended the farce. "I'm afraid we're out of time for the evening," she announced, cutting off a line three-deep at each microphone. If you wish to speak with Agent Swan, she will be available for a few more minutes at the front of the auditorium." Dr. Daniels looked up at the AV booth and made a cutting motion at her neck. The microphones were all turned off.
Swan turned around from the low table positioned behind the podium, where she was gathering her slide collection from the borrowed projector.
"Yes?" she questioned the group of young men approaching her.
"We have a…case…that we need you to look into for us," the leader of the group said.
"I'm sorry; my case load is assigned strictly by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Regardless, I'm here on my personal time, not in any official capacity," Swan explained.
"Please…we need someone with your particular perspective to investigate our friend's death."
"Who are you?" Swan asked, curiosity piqued.
"I'm Steve Carter; these are my friends, Bruce Byers, Tom Frohike, and Rick Langly. Our friend, Chris Foster, died while he was trying to pledge to a frat." Steve introduced the group, pointing out each in turn.
Swan lifted an eyebrow in surprise. These were not the type of guys to be pledging to a frat, let alone hanging out at an applied behavioral analysis lecture. These guys each emitted a certain vibe; chess club, Dungeons and Dragons, computer hacker and kung fu movie buff. There was nothing about this group that exuded an aura of law enforcement savvy or socially acceptable fraternization.
"I'm sure that the Chicago PD can handle a case involving hazing, there's no need for federal involvement, or for criminal profiling…" Swan began.
"Pardon me, ma'am, but the Chicago PD hasn't got what we need," said the stringy blond-haired guy named Langly.
"Please, it's Swan, not ma'am," Swan insisted. "What exactly is it that you need?" Swan probed further, starting to understand where this conversation was leading.
"An expert on the supernatural, someone who has lots of experience in dealing with the things that would be considered wholly inconceivable in traditional circles," Steve began.
"We have proof!" Langly interrupted again.
"What kind of proof?" Swan asked, interested. Suddenly a grainy eight-by-ten photo was pressed into her hands. A piano and an antique oil lamp were barely recognizable, though dead center of the photograph was a large white blur. "This is your proof? Of what, exactly? The Loch Ness Monster has more convincing evidence," Swan said dryly.
"Our friend died because of this ghost. Chris was supposed to stay overnight at the old Masen Mansion, but he didn't make it past ten-thirty," Steve said sadly.
"Did you say Masen Mansion?" Swan asked in surprise.
"Yeah, it's supposed to be haunted…lots of people have seen the ghost, or heard the piano music." Frohike agreed. "In short, we need the Ghostbusters, but we heard you were even better. Do you have an ecto-blaster or something?"
Masen sat in his childhood bedroom in his pajamas reading the latest Lancet and feeling testy. The current issue featured diabetes, which he had some intellectual interest in but which related only peripherally to topics of his preference. There was one article on modernism and violent conflict which had held his attention for a few moments, but he had primarily been flipping pages and staring at them rather than absorbing the material. Finally he flung the offensive issue across the room where it knocked one of his shirts off the desk chair and thunked to the floor.
He rested his head on his hands, knees pulled up to his chest. He knew his bad mood was unfair to his parents. He was on an enforced "vacation" due to the investigation and leave-of-absence which followed any case-related shooting. He had been barely civil at dinner, and had avoided all the questions about why he had chosen the beginning of March for a vacation to Chicago. He had gone straight to his bedroom after the meal, muttering something to his mother about being tired. He was going to have to make a better effort at breakfast or else she would become unbearable with both questions and hurt looks if he didn't answer. How had he gotten into this mess?
His cell phone began vibrating, and he picked it up off the night stand. Oh, yeah. That was exactly how he had gotten into this mess.
"I'm on vacation, Swan," he spat after clicking the receive button.
"I know. I was in town for a seminar, and I thought I'd look you up."
Masen's eyebrows went up about three inches. "Why? Did you want to get me in trouble with my parents, too?" He knew he was being really ungracious, and he felt a little guilty. Wait, this was her fault.
"No, I just thought…I don't know. I thought maybe we could meet and have lunch tomorrow or something."
Masen looked at the phone like it was a poisonous snake. Swan wanted to do lunch? He moved the phone back to his ear. "What do you really want, Swan?" he asked in resignation.
"Fine. I was asked to look into a case this evening. I thought I could use your help."
"Tell me that you are joking."
"No, it's true. I think there was a suspicious death with possible paranormal connections last week here in Chicago." Swan outlined what she had learned from the guys at her seminar.
"Um, Swan, it sounds like some frat boys trying to cover up a lethal hazing incident."
"They had a photo."
"Which you said yourself was blurry and inconclusive."
"Exactly! That's why a more thorough investigation is called for."
Masen was glad they were talking on the phone. He knew it was good for his bureau record not to have an assault and battery arrest for beating his partner with an issue of Lancet. He also knew the effect her soulful eyes had on his will power. He wasn't going to be drawn into her web of insanity this time.
"Look, Swan, you do remember why we're not in Washington, DC, right?"
"Why we're not working right now?"
"I know, but—"
"No buts. We are on leave. We've been reprimanded. I think we should both try to play by the rules for at least another week or two. You need to back off this whatever-it-is with the frat boys."
Unbidden, the memory of Assistant Director Dermis telling them off came back to mind. Masen had never, ever been officially reprimanded before, and he wasn't eager for a second. AD Dermis had let loose about Swan's unsuitability for investigating deaths of high school boyfriends which had suspects who were also her high school boyfriends. The fact that the two of them had actually apprehended the serial killer had little bearing on the issue, as far as AD Dermis was concerned. A case-related shooting involving one of his agents, where the only living witness was said agent's partner, who incidentally was impaired by narcotic substances while tethered to a roasting spit, was the straw that broke the camel's back. Masen was relieved he still had his badge.
"Masen?" Swan's voice recalled him to the present. She sounded quieter.
"Yeah." He was pinching the bridge of his nose, wondering if his suggestions would have any effect on Swan's decision.
"We could have lunch anyway. I'm giving another seminar at eleven on the campus." He supposed that was as close to an apology as he was likely to get.
"That sounds nice," he found himself saying. "Where's your lecture?"
Swan hung up the phone a few minutes later. The television in the motel that she was staying at seemed to only get three channels, all of which were playing news coverage of the recent Bulls game. Frustrated, she smashed down the power button on the remote and tossed it onto the bedside table. She blew out her breath and pulled her briefcase onto the bed.
As she booted-up her laptop, Swan couldn't resist pulling the manila envelope of photos from Steve and company out as well. Something about this case drew her in, regardless of the fact that the paranormal perpetrator had no fangs, or corporeal body for that matter.
Rifling through the photos, she gasped when she came to one that she had missed previously. It was just as grainy as the rest, having come from a low-resolution camera phone, but staring back at her from the photo was the portrait of a young man.
This, however, wasn't just any portrait. The face was so familiar, so similar, that Swan was stunned speechless. She cursed the low quality of the print, but she was certain that she would recognize that face and hair anywhere. If she didn't know any better, she would have sworn that this was a painting of her partner, Masen.
"Chris was supposed to stay overnight at the old Masen Mansion…"
Now Swan's curiosity was really piqued. Masen had sounded rather put-out about her interest in this case, but she couldn't ignore the fact that the haunted house in question and this portrait both pointed towards some sort of connection with her partner.
The welcome screen of her computer glowed blue-white in the darkness of the motel room. Shaking herself out of the inspection of the photos, she logged in and pulled up her wireless connection. Five minutes later, she was surfing through various web sites devoted to haunted houses across the nation, notable landmarks in Chicago, and one site devoted to driving maps. A search for the Masen Mansion's owner revealed that it was held by E.E.H.V.M. Living Trust.
Cursing her lack of a printer, Swan wrote out the directions to the Masen Mansion and grabbed the keys to her rental car.
One drive-thru coffee, three wrong turns, and thirty minutes later, Swan pulled into the long dirt track that led to the abandoned turn-of-the-twentieth-century mansion. Her car plowed through the fog that obscured the road, leaving a swirling wake behind. Wooden stakes planted into various places in the yard held the yellow "CAUTION: CRIME SCENE" tape in a wide perimeter around the house.
Eyeing the stakes, Swan couldn't help but consider the efficacy of wooden stakes in vampire physiology compared to garlic, or even if either of those items would truly have any affect at all on the undead.
Remembering once more why she was here, Swan pulled the fluorescent yellow tape up and over her head and entered the crime scene. Wishing that she hadn't left her firearm in DC, Swan squatted down beside the still-visible outline of the body. She looked down at her watch; 10:10 p.m.
Still crouched on the ground, Swan looked three stories up towards the blue plastic tarp covering the window. Sweeping her eyes around the area immediately surrounding her, Swan noticed nothing truly unusual.
Then she heard it.
Soft, melancholy notes drifted out of the still broken window. Looking again at her watch, Swan noted with satisfaction that the time was 10:13, the exact time that Steve and his friends had mentioned. Another glance at the window revealed a muted yellow glow, not unlike that of an old-fashioned oil lamp, was filtering through the tarp. Cursing her lack of fire arm for the second time that evening, Swan crept towards the front door, in the hope of gaining entry.
Unfortunately, the glass panes of the door hadn't been covered with a mere tarp. They had been boarded up with plywood, as well as the sidelights on either side of the door. Masen's apprehension of her as-it-comes investigative style made her step back from the entryway. Short of kicking it in, the door wouldn't be opened tonight. Not if she wanted to return to work after her leave was completed.
Masen woke in a cold sweat. The nightmares, while not getting worse, seemed not to be getting any better. It's only been a couple weeks, he reassured himself shakily. It wasn't unusual to suffer from mild PTSD after being kidnapped and nearly killed. Roasted alive was more appropriately descriptive. He was probably going to be evaluated before being put back on active duty, and he wasn't looking forward to that conversation. He rolled over and peered at the clock radio which read 11:45. He'd only made it through an hour of sleep. He punched his pillow in frustration.
A buzzing from the nightstand signaled an incoming call, and once again, the screen showed it was a call from Swan. He debated whether to answer, but curiosity and sleeplessness got the better of him.
"Swan, if you are at a drunken frat party trying to get information about vampires or ghosts or ghostly vampires—"
"I deserved that, but I am nowhere near any frat boys."
"What's going on?"
"Well, I'm parked outside the Masen Mansion—"
"What!" he roared into the phone. "I thought we discussed this. We are playing by the rules for at least a week. One week. Seven days. One hundred sixty-eight hours. That's all I asked. One week." His voice trailed off as he fumed. He knew he shouldn't have answered the phone. This would have been a lot easier as a voicemail.
"Look, Masen, I haven't done anything wrong," said Swan in a conciliatory tone. "I didn't go in. I just thought I'd, you know, look around the property." He had an urge to tell her the owners were sending someone out to arrest her for trespassing, but suppressed it.
"And?" he asked. There had to be a reason she called.
"Well, just like the story the frat boys told, I heard mysterious music at 10:13. At that same time, a light came on in the upper story. At 11:21, the music changed, and then everything went dark and silent."
"Sounds like someone has a timer set." Masen rubbed his forehead. He hoped they weren't about to launch into another of their classic "rational explanation" vs. "paranormal explanation" arguments. He was awake, but he didn't think he was alert enough for one of those.
"Yeah, that's one explanation. That's why I need to get into this place, but I don't want to just break in. That would be breaking the rules, as you have so often pointed out."
"I know a guy; I think I can pull a few strings and get you into the house. You won't even need a search warrant. But right now, you need to get back to your hotel and go to bed. You're giving a seminar in the morning." He wasn't sure why, but he didn't feel like telling her that his parents and aunt and uncle held the trust for the house. All he had to do was ask his dad for a key.
"Thanks, Masen. I guess I'll see you in the morning."
The call ended, Masen put the phone back onto the nightstand and leaned back onto his pillows. Suddenly, he felt relaxed and at ease, and he was asleep within minutes.
At ten a.m. the following morning, Masen left his parents home with a brief explanation about the fact that Swan was in town giving a lecture. He had politely refused his father's offer to accompany him, and walked to his father's Aston Martin, keys in hand.
He got to the local university in plenty of time to get a quick cup of coffee. He figured if this lecture was as boring as Swan had claimed, he would need something stimulating to keep him awake after his late night interruptions.
Masen walked sedately to the criminal justice building, enjoying the memories that he had of the college campus. Although good, he couldn't compare his memories of then to now. He was truly where he wanted to be, so long as he could convince Swan to give up her tendency to forgo the book altogether when it suited her.
Thinking of his partner had unknowingly brought a smile to his face. She had promised to try to follow procedure a little more often. It wasn't the best situation, but it was at least a start.
Spinning around, Masen caught sight of Swan, who had a knowing smile on her face, and a lifted eyebrow. "Did you miss me that much, Masen?"
"Uh…Good coffee…" he excused himself.
"Mhmm…" Swan just looked at him with a smirk.
"So…Applied Behavioral Sciences? Wasn't your doctorate on criminal profiling?" Masen asked, attempting to steer the conversation into safer territory.
"That would be correct, Masen. Criminal Profiling within the Psychological and the Paranormal to be precise," Swan explained straight-faced.
"Paranormal? On a doctorate dissertation?" Masen said disbelievingly. Swan merely crossed her arms and pursed her lips. Masen raised his arms in surrender. "Of course, there is nothing wrong with that…"
"Come on, Masen, the lecture is this way," Swan said as she turned on her heel and walked briskly to the auditorium.
Once inside, Swan moved directly to the front where there was a podium and a table set up for the lecturer's use. Masen allowed Swan to go on ahead, and stood in the aisle, taking in the familiar surroundings of his former university.
"Edward? Eddie Masen?" a tentative voice called loudly from behind him. He hated being called Eddie, and there were only a few people who dared to call him that deplorable nickname to his face. He closed his eyes in resignation, and pasted what he hoped was a friendly smile on his face. Turning around and opening his eyes, he was indeed met with the sight of his ex-girlfriend from college. Kate Daniels, who, according to her employee badge, now served as a vice president for the public relations department of their Alma Mater.
"I haven't seen you in years," Kate gushed. "Are you here for the lecture? If you are, you may want to reconsider; a real psychologist like you wouldn't be able to stomach the crackpot lecturing. You should have heard the questions that were asked! I don't think that half the attendees are even criminal justice majors," Kate finished with a shake of her head.
"Uh, well, actually Kate," he began, though he was soon interrupted.
"Masen here is my partner in the FBI," Swan said from behind Kate.
Kate realized her blunder and closed her eyes in frustration before turning to greet Swan.
"Partner?" Kate asked incredulously.
"Correct…as in associate, collaborator, colleague, chum, buddy; I'm sure you understand," Swan said testily. If there was one label that got her riled up, it was crackpot. Kate visibly fumed where she stood between the two agents, and a tense, awkward silence surrounded them.
"So, Eddie, I guess that's Agent Masen, now? You got your M.D./Ph.D., only to go to the FBI? I'll bet daddy loved that," Kate said sardonically.
"Kate?" a new voice interrupted the tense reunion. Dr. Daniels smiled at the approaching man, and pulled him to stand between herself and Swan.
"I'm Garrett Martin, department head over Criminal Justice. Pleasure to meet you agents," Garrett introduced himself, as did Masen and Swan.
"Garrett here and I are an item; would you two care to join us for dinner while you're in town?" Kate said, emphasizing the word item by pulling Garrett closer and grasping his hand tightly. Masen was surprised at Kate's behavior. When he had broken things off with her, she had seemed agreeable at the time, though now she was showing definite signs of a jilted lover. The thought made Masen blush slightly, as Kate was never very close with him. He had broken things off when Kate's sister Tanya had tried to feel him up at a dinner party and Kate hadn't thought it anything to worry about.
"Unfortunately, we've got some things to do while we're here, right Masen? Starting with introducing me to your parents, since you've gotten to know my dad so well," Swan said.
Masen felt like melting into the floor. Garrett looked at Masen in commiseration. Women his face and shrug seemed to say. Masen raised his brow in surprise. Students were trickling in and taking seats, so Masen excused himself so that he could find a good seat and he settled in to wait.
"So now I'm your chum and your buddy," Masen said with a straight face as he and Swan ambled across campus. She had promised him that the place they were going was within walking distance of the auditorium. No car needed.
"Sorry, Eddie, I've been a little annoyed with Dr. Daniels' attitude during my Q&A sessions," said Swan. She wasn't about to admit what she really thought about Dr. Cleavage. It wasn't that Swan was jealous; she simply found Dr. Daniels unpleasant. Sheesh, it wasn't like there was anything to be jealous about. Masen was her partner at work, and that was it.
"Wait, I thought you said we were going to a frat house?" asked Masen as they crossed the street to a house just off the college campus. He frowned, eyeing the dilapidated two-story house in front of them. Broken lawn furniture lay upside down on the ragged, unmown grass. He imagined there were rats breeding in every nook, and likely a lot of spiders infesting every cranny.
"No, actually I said that the boy who died was trying to pledge a frat house. This is where his friends live, apparently." Swan was unfazed by the rundown building. "Come on."
Swan marched confidently up to the front door, raising her hand to knock, when they both heard loud voices from inside.
"She said she would come over, and she is smoking hot," announced one male voice.
"What was she wearing?" asked a second voice.
Masen gritted his teeth and rapped sharply on the door. He supposed they could have been talking about a female student, but he doubted there were many of those eager to enter Casa de la Audiovisual Club.
A short somewhat chubby guy with a weaselly face and glasses answered the door.
"Frohike," said Swan. "This is my partner, Special Agent Masen. He's assisting me in our informal, uh, meetings with you." She hadn't said "investigation" since that likely would have blown Masen's lid.
Frohike frowned at Masen. "Partner?"
"Yes," interjected Masen. "As in we work together. As associates." Collaborators. Colleagues. Chums. Buddies. Were they buddies? He noticed Swan's lip twitched in amusement.
"Come on in," Frohike urged Swan while not-so-subtly ignoring Masen. He motioned for her to come back to a large room, presumably once the living room of the house. The room was mostly bare, but was graced by a huge plasma flat-screen on one wall. The couches were worn and mismatched and came in highly unfortunate color combinations. One had a broken foot and stood at a mild angle. Five male college students in various stages of pubescence littered the room, all watching a cartoon on the flat-screen. The animation appeared to be Japanese.
"Gentlemen! I give you Special Agent Swan!" shouted the grungy little man. Masen was deeply disturbed to see the five young men leap off their various perches and surround his partner. They were asking for autographs.
"We can get to that later," Swan was saying, gently pushing back one guy who was having trouble recognizing the need for personal space. "We came here to ask questions about Chris Foster."
"He was a complete tool," announced one scrawny guy with really bad skin. Masen pondered whether to offer to write him a prescription for an antibiotic ointment.
"Shut up, Colin. You're just jealous that he was pledging," said Byers. Masen noted that Byers was the most clean-cut, and, well, clean of the group. "Chris hung out with us, but he didn't live here. He was pledging Tau Xi Phi because he had some legacy there. His dad was planning to give him a car or something if he got in."
A skinny blond with glasses butted in. "The Tau Xi Phi frat has been sending their least favorite pledges to the Masen Mansion for years, but this is the first time anything bad has happened."
"Who are you?" asked Masen as politely as possible.
"Rick Langly. I do work study in Campus Security, so I checked on the Tau Xi Phi file."
"Hacked it illegally you mean?" Masen asked with a raised eyebrow. Langly's poker face gave nothing away, so Masen dropped it. There was nothing official about this line of questioning anyway. "Which one of you was with Foster the night he died?" asked Masen.
"That was me; I'm Steve Carter," said a dark-haired young man. He had a haircut which obscured half his face and he hunched his shoulders. "Chris was on the phone with me right before it happened. I'll never go near that house again…" Steve's voice trailed off at the end.
"Where were you, exactly," asked Swan. Her voice was gentle, not her usual brash interrogation style.
"I was in the car. Chris was taking pictures on his cell phone. He was about to leave when he heard the music in the attic," Steve hesitated a moment. "I should have gone in with him."
"Did you see anyone else enter or leave the building?" asked Masen.
"No. Just Chris."
"Did you see anyone in the window?" asked Swan.
"I didn't see anyone."
"You are overlooking the most important factor," said Byers. "The Tau Xi Phi fraternity sends pledges into the Masen Mansion because it is known to be haunted."
"Haunted." said Masen levelly. He sincerely doubted this.
"The story is like a World War I era Romeo and Juliet," said Byers. "Apparently, the young Masen heir fell in love with some girl with no dowry, and his parents wouldn't approve the match. He was dying of the Spanish Influenza when he begged all the servants in the house to find his 'forbidden love' and bring her to him. He died before they could find her. When she was brought in to his room moments after he took his last breath, her heart broke and she lay down beside him and succumbed herself just minutes later."
"That's fascinating," said Swan, enraptured. Masen suppressed a snort. "I wonder what's needed to bring their souls to rest?"
Swan's question provoked a loud and contradictory discussion among the Chi Gamma boys, as Masen was thinking of them: CG for Complete Geeks. Or maybe Tau Nu for Total Nerds. He tried to tune out the ridiculous comments about soothing the angst-ridden souls of the long dead lovers. What had really happened to Chris Foster?
Masen managed to catch Swan's eye, and jerked his head towards the door. He was ready to be finished with the boys of Chi Gamma Tau Nu. She gave him a knowing smile.
"All right, we need to be leaving soon, but I promised I would sign some of my articles," announced Swan. Masen was impressed when the young men produced several magazines for Swan to sign. He was less impressed when Frohike, or Ferret-face as Masen was beginning to think of him, lifted his shirt and asked Swan to sign his chest.
"I think that's inappropriate," he glowered, pulling Swan away from the hormonal adolescent.
"Um, I'm not sure whether to thank you or slap you," said Swan once they were out the door and across the street on the college campus once more.
"You can't tell me you wanted to sign his chest?" asked Masen in disbelief.
"Well, no, but I think I can take care of myself. Hand-to-hand combat training, remember?"
"Sorry. I guess I overdid it." Thinking back on it, Masen realized his actions could have been construed as jealousy. He was just protecting his partner from a rather unpleasant experience. They had a completely platonic relationship. A flash of memory of Swan falling into his arms and their lips crushing together burst into his thoughts, but he quickly squashed it. It had been a complete accident.
As they walked down a quiet lane on campus, Swan pulled out her cell phone and made a call.
"Bella Swan!" came a soprano voice through the speaker.
"How did you know….Never mind," answered Swan. "Hi, Alice. I've got a situation in Chicago, and I need your kind of help."
As Swan spoke over the phone with Alice Brandon, Forks' own prognosticating personal design guru, Masen realized that Swan must be here at her own expense. Their leave was unpaid after all. Thinking about Forks and Alice Brandon made Masen remember Swan's father's insistence that they stay at his home while they were in Forks.
Masen felt that he was honor-bound to offer the same hospitality to Swan while they were in his hometown. It wasn't at all because he wanted her to meet his parents; they weren't dating. Friends offer friends a place to stay when they're in town.
"Thanks, Alice…No that's great, I'll be here for a few more days, we'd love to see you and Jasper. See you then!" Swan hung up the phone and turned to Masen with a gleam in her eye. "I hope you come through with this guy you know; Alice promised to fly out here and hold a séance for us! We'll actually get a chance to communicate with the semi-departed souls haunting Masen Mansion."
"My connections are good, just as promised," Masen said with an eye roll. "Listen, where are you staying? Do you have a car or do you need a ride?" he asked Swan.
"I'm over at the Ohio House Motel. I do have a rental car, but I took the shuttle today. I didn't feel like fighting downtown traffic again."
"Well, I've got my father's car. I'll give you a lift back to your hotel; you can check out, and you can come and stay at my parent's house. As you said, I did get to know your father rather well. I think it's time I returned the favor," Masen said with a crooked grin. He knew that Swan could never back down when he used her own words against her. Swan raised an eyebrow.
"Well Masen, you'd better hope your momma has all the embarrassing photos tucked away then. I accept your invitation," she said as she stepped closer to him with her hands on her hips. Masen fought the urge to step back; he didn't want to give in. This was his home-town and he couldn't let Swan have all the fun so he stepped closer to her. They were less than six inches apart; if Masen leaned forward slightly, he could brush Swan's face with his crossed arms. He tried not to think about Swan's lips against his. It was only an accident. It wasn't real. A beep from Swan's pocket diffused the tension.
Swan stepped back as she pulled out her phone and read the text she had just received. "Alice," she explained. "They'll be here tomorrow."
"Ah…" Masen shoved his hands in his pockets, his bravado gone. "Shall we?" he gestured towards the parking lot and Swan smirked before she walked in tandem with him to his father's car. Masen pulled the key fob from his pocket some distance from the car; he loved driving his father's Vanquish, and he was eager to see Swan's reaction when she realized what they were riding in.
Swan paused, looking around the lot, not looking at the sleek black sports car even though it was directly in front of her. "Is that it?" she asked pointing to the older model Toyota parked beside the Aston Martin. Masen smirked and simply pressed his thumb down on the button in his hand. When the lights blinked and the alarm chirped, Swan's eyes bugged out and her jaw dropped.
"That's your father's car?!" Swan asked in astonishment.
"It's his second car; not exactly the kind of car you commute in. Mostly I drive it when I'm visiting, or when my parents have a black-tie function to attend, they'll use it. Lawyers for the rich and famous have to look the part after all," he explained with a shrug. "Hop in," he said as he pulled open the passenger door.
"Masen…I can't ride in this car…did you not notice that this car is worth more than my car, my condo, and my father's house combined!?"
"Well, maybe not combined," Masen defended.
"Masen! I'm going to curse this car just by standing within ten feet of it!"
"Swan, it is insured…get in, please?"
Swan instantly froze when Masen said "please." Something about the way he said it made her want to instantly agree. She would have to be careful; that was the type of thing that Masen picked up on. She didn't want to surrender all willpower to her partner over something as trivial as the "magic word." Magic indeed.
After Swan had checked out of the motel, she packed her bags into the trunk of her rental car and followed Masen to his parent's home. She was tense the whole drive. Her nerves were on heightened alert from following such an extravagantly expensive vehicle, but she wasn't entirely certain that was the reason that she couldn't shake the nervous-butterflies feeling in her gut. Masen had met her father, what was the big deal in her meeting his parents? They didn't have to like her; she was just his partner at work. It's not like they were picking out china patterns or something.
Masen slowed up ahead; his blinker signaled a right-hand turn. Swan knew just from the look of the neighborhood that this was a pricey part of town. The car her partner was driving would scream "second mortgage" back in her home-town. Here, in this neighborhood, it said "chump change" and managed to sound classy at the same time.
Masen pulled through a gate on the left up ahead; Swan followed, feeling overwhelmed by the stature of the home. Swan got the feeling that Mrs. Masen would have gotten along very well with Esme Cullen. The impressive house before her was reminiscent of the Cullen home in Forks.
Masen helped her into the house with her suitcase. A short dark-haired woman with a thick eastern European accent came out of a door to the side.
"Edvard!" she cried. "Who is this?" she asked in her accented English as she gathered Masen into a tight hug and kissed his cheek with an exaggerated "Mmwa."
"Anichka, this is Swan, I work with her in DC. She's in Chicago for a visit as well, so she's going to stay with us for a couple days. Swan, this is Anichka, my parent's housekeeper…"
"Oh, Malchik moy! I like her much better than Katya; I can tell she's a good one!" the short round woman took Swan's hand and stared adoringly at her before she started to ramble excitedly in Russian.
Both Masen and Swan blushed red at Anichka's assumption. "Nika, we're partners, at work. We're not dating," Masen tried to explain, but Nika merely patted his cheek and smiled before winking at Swan and bustling back through the door she came through.
"I make your favorite dinner tonight, Edvard," she called back.
"I think that went well, Edvard," Swan smirked.
"Hush. Nika has been with my parents for years; ever since I was a little boy. She deserves some respect, Swan," Masen defended. Swan opened her mouth to ask if Nika was really his nanny before becoming the housekeeper, but another voice rang out before she could say anything.
"Edward! You're back! Is this "Swan" who we've heard so much about? You're certainly in a much better mood today!" Elizabeth Masen said as she descended the stairs. When she reached the bottom she grasped Masen's hands and pressed either cheek to her son's in a bisou. She kissed the air each time her face touched her son's and Swan assumed it was to keep her lipstick from smudging off onto Masen's face.
Swan had never seen such a greeting between a mother and son before. While loving and affectionate, it was very formal, not like the enthusiastic greeting that Masen had shared with the housekeeper/nanny.
"Go get cleaned up dears, we'll have a late lunch. Your father can whip us up some Cosmopolitans!
Twenty minutes later, Masen met Swan at the bottom of the stairs. She had gotten settled into the guest bedroom that adjoined Masen's own bathroom. There was a door at each end of the double sink vanity, effectively joining the two rooms. After some smart-mouthed remarks about showering in close proximity, Swan had promised to behave and left to unpack her things.
"So, Nika seems friendly," Swan started.
"Yes, she's wonderful," Masen agreed.
"Your mom seemed nice too…"
"Yes. Both my mother and Nika are very nice. Do you have a point?" Masen asked.
"I guess I can kind of see why you are the way you are now," Swan smirked.
"What do you mean the way I am? I am a perfectly nice, respectable person, who-" Masen defended himself. He stopped when Swan laughed exuberantly and he looked at her in confusion.
"Never said you weren't Masen," Swan replied before slipping into the dining room, leaving Masen gaping in the hall like a recently caught fish.
Lunch was more than Swan expected. At Charlie's house, a late lunch usually involved squashed bread and packaged cold-cuts with dubious expiration dates. Here in the Masen household, they had a veritable feast. Freshly sliced, cold deli-meats and cheeses lay out on decorative platters, between which, was a variety of fresh-baked breads presented in a large cloth-lined wicker basket. Swan felt as though she had checked into the Four Seasons. She gained some unexpected insight into her by-the-book partner in just one meal. Growing up in this household, it was no wonder that Masen was a rule-following people-pleaser. Swan smirked as she thought of why they were in Chicago. She almost felt worthy of another commendation just for loosening up her straight-laced partner.
"It's Edward's dear…do you play as well?" The question pulled Swan out of her reverie. When she thought about the strange context of Mrs. Masen's inquiry, Swan realized that her self-satisfied smirk was directed to a propped open set of double doors just off of the dining room where they mingled over the lunch trays.
"Pardon?" she asked for clarification.
"I'm sorry dear, I thought you were observing the Kawai," Mrs. Masen explained.
"The Kawai?" Swan asked, feeling foolish for not following this woman again. She held a PhD. for pity's sake! Why did this woman speak in riddles?
"The piano, dear," Mrs. Masen clarified once more. Swan's look of realization was halted when Masen spoke up.
"Mother," he interjected with a warning tone to his voice, which only confused Swan further. What was so bad about the piano?
"It's an honest question dear, you needn't be so shy. Have you never mentioned that you're a classically trained pianist? That you had the opportunity to play Carnegie Hall? I still shudder to think you turned them down. What were you thinking Edward dear?"
"It wasn't what I wanted, Mother." Swan realized that this had probably been a frequent subject of debate in the Masen household. Dr. Cleavage's comment from earlier came back to Swan: You got your M.D./Ph.D., only to go to the FBI? I'll bet daddy loved that…
"Liz, Edward. Let's not hash this out in front of our lovely guest. Has my son ever played for you?" Mr. Masen asked, not succeeding in completely redirecting the conversation.
"Father! Not you too," Masen groaned as he rolled his eyes and put both hands through his hair in frustration. Swan couldn't help herself.
"Why, no, I don't believe I've had that pleasure. Masen, why haven't you told me that you're a pianist?" she said it with a subtle smirk and a quirked eyebrow. Liz and Ed were unaware of the teasing between the pair, and Masen, who was facing his parents, couldn't glare at Swan without raising questions.
"Edward, you must play for us. It's been ages since I've heard one of your melodies," Liz said.
"Of course," Masen said, though his petulance was very subtle. Swan doubted that Masen's parents picked up on it at all. Masen settled himself at the piano and took a deep breath before he released it and began playing. Swan had expected something sloppy, perhaps a little rusty. She wasn't sure that he had a piano to practice with in DC, and he had never mentioned playing, so Swan didn't think that he could be too polished.
"He's wonderful isn't he?" Liz asked in a proud, motherly voice. The kind that mothers usually used when their children played terribly, but the mother couldn't find fault with it. Mrs. Masen's ears weren't defective though. Swan had never heard such precise and amazing music played without the need of printed notes. She realized that her mouth was hanging open when Masen looked up from the keys and gave her the same sardonic eyebrow quirk without missing a single note.
As the song came to a close, Liz and Ed Masen stood and clapped as though they were in an opera house, and Swan shook herself out of her dazed state before joining in.
"Thank you," Masen nodded to his parents and gave Swan a questioning look. Swan nodded in agreement with Liz and Ed rather than come across as completely inarticulate. Masen's look turned from sardonic to smug at her speechless nod, though his parents didn't notice the difference.
Later that evening, after yet another impressive spread of food, Swan was getting ready for bed in her guest room. She could hear Masen moving around in his room that was connected to hers by the shared bathroom sandwiched between them. Swan noted that she would have to be careful to knock before entering, as well as lock the door leading into Masen's room when she was in the bathroom. Otherwise, they would be showering in extremely close proximity…
As Swan dressed in her flannel sleep pants and tank, she thought about the spirit haunting the Masen mansion. She and Masen had plans to drive out to the old house in daylight tomorrow, but Swan couldn't help but want to catch the apparition in action. It had been documented more than once that the spirit only materialized at night. They would see nothing if they were there during the day.
Biting her lip and hoping her pleading look was enough to convince her partner that a night-time excursion was just the ticket, Swan moved through the bathroom and knocked on Masen's door.
For a moment, the sounds of movement ceased, and Swan knocked again. Within a couple of seconds, her partner was at the door, holding it partially closed as he leaned into the door-frame.
"Swan?" he asked, not a little suspicious. Swan knew that he was on to her already. She bit her lip and looked up at her partner with her best pleading look. Masen sighed and moved into his room, leaving the door open in unspoken invitation. Swan smiled and followed. His room was spacious, as was his bed. Do NOT think of his bed, Swan! She shook her head and locked eyes with her partner. She hadn't realized quite how close together they were. When had she moved that close? They were barely a foot apart. That's when Swan realized what Masen was wearing. He had on a pair of flannel pants and a white tank; both of which, curiously enough, were of the same pattern and style as hers.
"We match," Swan said, laughing. Masen's eyes looked confused for just a moment, and then he looked down at his own clothes before allowing his gaze to slowly take in her form from the ground up. When his eyes finally met Swan's, the knowing smirk on her lips caused his face to flame red.
"Well, Masen, see something you like?" Swan asked with a serious look. Masen's fish-out-of-water expression as he tried to deny that he was looking in that way melted into chagrined laughter as Swan lost her composure and burst out laughing, leaning over to rest her hands on her knees as she caught her breath. "Oh, your face," she gasped.
"I could very well ask you the same question, Swan. After all, you were the one who so astutely pointed out that we matched. That would suggest that you were looking first," Masen pointed out. Swan instantly turned red and mimicked Masen's previous expression.
"Cat got your tongue, Swan," Masen gibed as he took another step closer, halving the distance between them.
"I wanted to ask you if you would go with me tonight; I don't think we'll catch anything interesting during the day," Swan choked out.
"Swan, you promised me, one week! I'm not leaving this bedroom tonight!" Masen said exasperatedly with his hands crossed over his chest. Swan could've rested her chin on his arms they were so close. The sound of a clearing throat brought them both out of the moment.
Ed Masen stood in the doorway wearing an expression that said that he had heard their last exchange, and that it didn't sound good. If there was ever a moment that Masen had hoped to never share with his father, this would be the one.
"Father! Did you need something?" Masen asked as he hurriedly stepped away from Swan. Ed looked from Masen to Swan and back again before he smirked.
"Partners…" he said, nodding as he drew out the word like he finally understood the connotation behind it.
"No! This is not what it looks like!" Swan and Masen insisted together. Ed just held up his hands and started to back away.
"I understand, times have changed, men and women in the work-force aren't separated like they used to be. It wasn't until our fifth anniversary that your mother and I got matching pajamas, son. Congratulations." With that he spun on his heel and left, securing the door behind him.
Swan sat up sleepily and stumbled into the bathroom. A choking cough made her open her eyes all the way. Masen was standing frozen in front of the sink, his body facing toward the mirror but his head turned toward her, his eyes wide, a razor in one hand poised just over his left cheek. He was clad in only a towel slung low on his hips. For some reason, her eyes skipped over his well-toned upper body and fixated on a spot of color on his hip. It was a tattoo, although there wasn't enough showing for her to identify what it was. She knew her mouth was hanging open, but she couldn't seem to move or tear her eyes off that one spot.
"See something you like?" Masen said, his voice uncharacteristically cocky.
Swan's eyes finally swiveled up to his face. Masen wore a smirk that let her know she had made an utter fool of herself. "I…the door wasn't closed all the way….I didn't….Um….I'll just wait in my room." Swan turned and managed to return to her room where she sat gingerly on the edge of the bed and dropped her head into her hands. What was that?
An hour later, both were clean and fully dressed in the standard FBI uniform of a dark business suit. Masen was driving his father's car to the Masen Mansion.
"So, I didn't know you had a tattoo," said Swan, bravely attempting to make light of the morning's debacle.
"Huh. I knew you had one," commented Masen nonchalantly as he executed a left-hand turn across several lanes of traffic. This was the first time in their partnership that he felt like he had anything like the upper hand, and he wasn't about to relinquish it.
"What!" As far as Swan knew, no one except the tattoo artist and her doctor had an inkling about her tattoo. It was well-hidden.
"Sure. I was asked to review your medical file at one point, and it's listed as an identifying mark."
"You've seen my medical file?" Swan asked incredulously.
"It was before we worked together. I was on a review board for the agency." Now that he thought about it, something was a little fishy about it. That had happened about three months before he was assigned as her partner. He remembered one of the other panel members had snickered about the tattoo, described as a Saguaro cactus blossom with a date of had thought it commemorated something like a first date, or perhaps something a little racier. Masen had since guessed that it was the day Swan's mother was murdered in Phoenix.
"So, what is your tattoo of?" asked Swan, hoping to deflect some of the discussion.
"It's a Celtic knot. I'm Irish, you know." He didn't mention that he had gotten it while drunk with the Lacrosse team in college.
Swan was about to tell Masen to take the upcoming exit to get to the Masen Mansion when he flipped on his turn signal and then merged smoothly into the exit lane. "You know the way?"
"I've heard of the Masen Mansion before, Swan, and I grew up in Chicago."
"Don't forget you promised to get me inside the building."
Swan found herself slightly annoyed when Masen expertly navigated his way to the out-of-the-way property. He parked and they both stepped out of the car. The house didn't look at all scary in the bright light of mid-morning.
"Does it bother you that there's another car parked further down the hill?" asked Swan.
"It is a little suspicious," admitted Masen. He stalled a moment, peering down at the car. He wasn't looking forward to going in the old building. If the Chi Gamma house had looked like it had spiders and maybe rats, he couldn't imagine what had begun breeding in the basement here. Badgers, maybe? There was something about the untidiness that repulsed him.
"Quit stalling and show me your magical plan to get me in the building," Swan teased. She was expecting him to break one of the windows or at least pry off the plywood over the front entrance. Instead, he urged her around the side of the building. Luckily the cold of winter had killed off the grass and weeds making it relatively easy to traverse the unkempt yard. The back of the house was nearly as ornate as the front, and Swan imagined old-fashioned garden parties taking place in the once-elegant back garden.
"I suppose we'll be less likely to be in trouble if you break a back window," suggested Swan.
"I am an officer of the law, Special Agent Swan. You won't catch me breaking windows on private property." Masen sauntered up to the back door.
"You're going to pick the lock?" Swan said incredulously. She knew he had skillful hands – the piano-playing and medical training required it – she just didn't imagine picking locks was within his repertoire.
"Nope." Masen pulled out a key and unlocked the door. "Ta-dah!" He grinned from ear to ear.
The obvious answer smacked Swan in between the eyes. "Your family?" she asked.
"Mmhmm. Ladies first," he offered graciously, sweeping a hand toward the dark entrance.
Swan flipped on her flashlight and eagerly entered the room, which turned out to have been the kitchen. She sneezed twice from the dust and rubbed her nose.
"Do you remember how you thought the lights might be on a timer?" asked Swan.
"Yeah, but I realized later the power is shut down to the property," said Masen absently. They had both wandered into what may have been a dining area. There was no furniture, but an ugly, cobwebbed chandelier still hung from the high ceiling. It was easily visible as the room had large south-facing windows which illuminated each floating dust mote. He wandered underneath it, looking up at the fixture. It was surprising it was still in place. Swan had crossed the room to a far entrance and experimentally flicked a wall switch. The result was a series of loud pops as several bulbs in the chandelier came on and then promptly burnt out. One shattered and fell, bringing a cascade of dust in its wake. Masen had just enough time to avert his face, but he caught the brunt of the debris in his hair.
Swan recovered from her shock quickly, and then burst into peals of laughter, then clapped a hand over her mouth. Masen looked up at her, blinking the dust out of his eyes.
"Sorry. It's just…" Swan lost it again, giggling uncontrollably as she pointed up to the chandelier and then at his hair while incoherently trying to explain herself.
Masen shook his head in disbelief, and then tried to shake the dust and glass shards out of his hair. "Yes, I'm sure it was a remarkable display of slapstick, but could you give me a hand?" Swan managed to get herself under control and helped Masen clean up.
"I guess we know there's some power to the house," said Masen dryly as they exited the dining room.
"Can you help me look for something?" Swan asked as she peered around the dusty room. There was no direct sunlight now they had left the dining room, and she snapped her flashlight back on. "There's a portrait that our victim took a picture of with his cell phone." They found two paintings in the room off the dining room; Masen thought it was a parlor. Both paintings were landscapes. Next they found themselves in the entry area with its high ceiling and dramatic staircase. On the far side of the entry, they found a large room which may have been the formal living room. Here, atop a large chest or possibly a liquor cabinet, rested the portrait in question.
"Oh," said Masen.
"Yeah," answered Swan.
"That's really…creepy," he finished. A chill ran down his back, and he could feel little hairs standing up on his neck. "Actually, it isn't that strange. This was my great-great uncle's house. Why shouldn't I look sort of like one of the portraits here?" He tried to sound convincing.
"Masen, that portrait doesn't look sort of like you. It looks exactly like you."
"Maybe we should go upstairs and view the crime scene," he responded, changing the subject.
"Good, I wanted to see how the upstairs is laid out." Swan took the lead up the grand staircase. She noticed something dark at the top of the stairs. "Hey, do you see that?"
"Go back downstairs," said Masen, suddenly very serious and commanding.
"Don't joke, Masen," whispered Swan, suddenly spooked. Why was her gun in a locker a thousand miles away?
"Then stay behind me," he whispered back hoarsely. He ascended the stairs slowly, pulling the gun he had borrowed from his dad's collection from his shoulder holster. He had recognized the darkness for what it was: a pool of blood.
"Why do you have a gun, and did you bring a spare?" whispered Swan.
"Quiet," he answered. Masen had climbed just high enough on the stairs to see what lay on the floor above. It was a young man, probably a college student. He appeared to have fallen and cracked his head open on the floor as the blood was pooling away from his head and down the stairs. The young man's eyes were wide and staring, his mouth open in shock. He knew it was pointless, but Masen reached down to touch the young man's neck; the coldness of the body told him his answer. He stepped over the body and made a quick circuit of the upper floor, finally satisfying himself that they were truly alone. Swan was right at his back as he turned back to the boy's body.
"He's been dead for some time, probably overnight from the surface temperature of the body."
"Do you think he was frightened by the ghost?" asked Swan.
"No, I do not think that," answered Masen testily. "He was probably walking in the dark…"
"There is a spooky light in here at night," interrupted Swan.
"…and it looks like he may have slipped on that patch of something," finished Masen, pointing to a white smear on the floor just in front of the young man's foot. "It looks like candle wax." He looked at her pointedly. "We need to call local law enforcement. We are here unofficially, and this is not our case."
Thirty minutes later, two uniformed police officer's met Masen and Swan on the front porch. A coroner's van was coming slowly down the long drive, followed by another van of forensic investigators. Masen was sorely tempted to pull out his ever-present latex gloves and join the investigation, but he refrained, telling himself that it wasn't his case, let alone his jurisdiction. Not to mention that it would be completely unethical for him to investigate a body found on his family's property. Swan was anxiously pacing beside Masen. She was just as eager to get upstairs with a pair of Masen's prophylactics and give the scene her professional opinion.
"Sir? Ma'am? Are you the ones that called in a report of a body?" asked the first officer. His partner was rummaging through the trunk of their cruiser for the crime scene tape before he realized that there was already a large perimeter up. The officer merely shrugged and went about replacing the torn down sections.
"We are the persons in question," Masen confirmed.
"Can I ask what you two were doing out here? It is marked as a crime scene," The first officer said sternly. Masen and Swan both looked at one another briefly before they reached into their pockets and fished out their FBI badges.
"Special Agent Swan, we're here…" Swan began, though Masen held up his hand before she could get into an argument with the local jurisdiction.
"I'm Special Agent Masen, FBI. This is my family's property; we were informed just yesterday that the crime scene status was removed. My partner and I were just coming out for a look around this morning," Masen explained.
"FBI? Just looking around?" the officer questioned suspiciously. Masen was afraid that they would get that reaction, and he rushed to explain.
"We're here in a strictly unofficial capacity. We were just having a look," he said. He did, however, refrain from mentioning that the boys back at the Casa de la Audiovisual Club had asked them to look into things. No need to embarrass themselves professionally in front of two uniforms.
"We were actually taking a look around on behalf of the friends of the victim," Swan interjected. So much for saving face. Masen struggled to hold back the groan that threatened to leave him. "Were you one of the original investigating officers?" she continued without batting an eye at Masen.
"Uh, actually, we weren't. Lots of officers in Chicago, you know, and I think that case was handled by the third shift." The officer shrugged and left them standing on the porch while he left to fill out paperwork in his car.
Masen had been watching the coroners come down the stairs with the body bagged and on a stretcher. He wondered if there was still some way to at least observe the autopsy without overstepping any bounds of their leave. Then he shook his head and mentally berated himself for thinking too much like Swan. That woman would be the death of him. He did courteously ask the coroners for their initial findings, discovering that the young man's wallet was extremely helpful. He was actually one of the Tau Xi Phi fraternity brothers, Paul. Initial examination was suggestive of death due to the head injury incurred in his fall. Liver temperature gave an estimated time of death to be 11 p.m. the previous evening.
Just as the coroner's van drove away, another new car came carefully down the old dirt driveway. Masen looked at Swan with raised eyebrows, though she only shrugged, bewildered. As it came closer, they saw that it was a rental car, bearing a sticker in the corner of the windshield of a rental agency based out of the airport. As the car pulled around the Forensics van, the driver and passenger became visible. Jasper Whitlock carefully parked the car while his petite wife, Alice Brandon, hopped out in a graceful leap and rushed to the front porch to greet them.
Forks' very own fortune teller enveloped Swan in a tight hug, surprising the agent. Jasper ambled towards them at his own pace, though he was watching his wife with a fond expression. Alice had stepped back from Swan and was moving to embrace Masen, who, for a moment, wasn't sure how to handle the spunky woman's gesture. He hesitated long enough though, because the tiny woman gave him a squeeze that rivaled Anichka's. This was saying something, considering Alice was half the size of the boisterous Russian woman.
"I'm so pleased that you called," Alice trilled excitedly. Masen wondered if this woman had stopped at every Starbucks between here and the airport, as she was nearly vibrating in place. Of course, with a husband that ran a coffee/bookshop, Alice probably had her own caffeine sources. Perhaps they had developed a patch.
"Let's move inside, shall we?" Jasper drawled as he came up beside his wife and placed a hand lovingly at the small of her back. Swan readily agreed and led everyone inside to the foyer.
"Oh!" Alice grasped her head with both hands and swayed on her feet. Jasper rushed to steady her, cradling her to his chest just as her knees collapsed.
"Alice?" Swan asked worriedly as she and Masen rushed forward to ensure that she was all right.
"Mr. Whitlock…let's bring her here into the living room," Masen suggested. Jasper easily swept his petite wife off of her feet and moved her into the room that Masen indicated. Swan rushed ahead, pulling a dust cover off of an antique chaise for Jasper to lay Alice on.
"Goodness," Alice moaned as she came to. "The spirits here are strong…so sad…anguished…so…in love…" she finished, looking straight at Masen with a knowing look.
"What? I'm not exuding anything negative!" Masen argued testily. He hadn't thought anything positive either, but he wasn't about to argue semantics.
"Masen, have a little more respect," Swan argued. "Alice can feel the spirits here…perhaps she can speak to them as well, give us an idea of how to help them go in peace."
"The spirits are whispering! They need peace…they're tired of being used as a prank and made light of." Alice jumped up from the chaise and moved faster than Masen would have thought possible for her condition moments before. She was fixated on the painting of Masen's nearly identical relation. "The female presence…it is strong around this painting…she moves it with her wherever she goes…she tells me…they can only materialize for an hour at the exact time of their deaths, one at 10:13 pm, the other at 11:21. They are forever missing one another; they've been waiting for nearly one hundred years to finally rest together in peace.
"They are mirrored souls. They are earth-bound until their mirrored halves unite under one roof and release them from their torment," Alice finished cryptically as her eyes cleared, and she fixed Masen with a steely gaze beneath a raised eyebrow.
Masen fought the urge to roll his eyes at Alice's warning. Seemed like nothing more than mumbo-jumbo hocus-pocus to him. When he looked to Swan, he found his partner pursing his lips at his reaction. He hadn't even thought that his expression showed his disbelief, but maybe he was wrong. He told himself that there was no way that Swan knew him that well, even though he could read her like an open book. What he read now was not promising. Swan would not rest until she had seen the spectacle for herself.
Ed Masen listened surreptitiously on the staircase to the loud, insistent voices coming from the second floor hallway. He was simultaneously pleased and relieved that Swan was not the simpering, gold-digging, social climber that he had always thought Kate Daniels to be. His son had knuckled under to Kate's every whim, and Ed suspected it was because he hadn't cared enough to make a big deal out of her silly demands. This bickering with Swan just seemed…right to him. He recalled the predicament that he had inadvertently witnessed the night before and he smiled to himself before he climbed contentedly to the third floor master suite.
"What did you expect me to be thinking? It's not like I said anything out loud, although there were certainly things that came to mind!" yelled Masen in frustration.
"How do you expect a psychic to sense the auras in that house without a friendly environment? We're trying to solve a case, not scare off our best suspects!" Swan threw her hands in the air, incredulous at his bad attitude.
"Are you listening to yourself? No, seriously, are you listening to yourself? You just called an imaginary ghost our BEST SUSPECT in a CASE, which I might remind you, is just as imaginary as the GHOST!" Masen was also gesticulating emphatically with each uttered phrase.
"I'm just saying," began Swan in a more even-tempered voice, "your attitudes were enough to convince Alice and Jasper to take an early flight back to Washington."
"I can't stop my thoughts," said Masen, trying to remain calm despite the thoughts currently running uncontrolled through his mind wherein he was shaking Swan senseless. Or kissing her senseless. "I didn't say anything to Alice, and I certainly wasn't trying to frighten the non-corporeal beings, may they rest in peace."
"That is exactly what I'm talking about," fumed Swan.
"I thought you wanted them to rest in peace," he said in exasperated confusion.
"I do. But I know you don't care, so when you say things like that, it only underscores how little you respect this situation."
"I don't disrespect you, Swan. I just don't agree with you. I didn't intend to upset Alice or you, but I can't believe that ghosts are haunting my family's house."
"I need to see what happens in the mansion at night," said Swan, the full force of her eyes turned on him. "You need to get me back in."
"I don't think that's a good idea; two people have already died–"
"Or been murdered."
"That just makes it worse, Swan." Privately, he suspected the old house was just a death trap. Swan was lucky she hadn't electrocuted herself when she threw that switch earlier. The combination of an old, dirty house, poor lighting, and trespassing was apparently lethal.
Swan glared at him, and then threw her hands up in the air. "Fine." She retreated to her room.
Masen fumed for thirty minutes. He flicked on his television and flipped channels rapidly, finally settling on The Weather Channel. He watched absently as a big red spot rolled over the city. Now that he was a little less distracted, he could hear the occasional crash of thunder. Mirrored souls! What in the name of heaven did that even mean? Masen switched off the tv and agonized for ten more minutes. He got up in agitation and paced for another five minutes, then exited his room and knocked softly on the guest room door.
"Swan, look, I'm sorry. We can grab some halogen flashlights and head out right now."
Masen waited another few seconds, and then knocked a little louder.
Suddenly, Masen had a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. He opened the door to the guest room. It was empty. He felt in his pocket for the key to the mansion, and not finding it, uttered a loud and very rude word. He ran to the hall closet to grab a pair of flashlights and two raincoats.
Swan couldn't wait any longer. Masen was being more stubborn than he had ever been, but Swan had a feeling that she had to be at that house when the apparitions made their nightly appearance. Hoping that the walls in the Masen family's current home were thicker than those in her condo, Swan dressed as quickly and as quietly as she could manage. It wouldn't do for Masen to catch her before she even got out of the room.
Fully clothed and keys in hand, Swan slipped into the hall and eased the door shut before tip-toeing past Masen's door and hurrying down the stairs. She crossed her fingers and hoped that starting the engine of her rental car wouldn't give her away, but she needn't have worried. Masen's window was on the other side of the house, and even if it weren't, the wind and rumbling thunder made enough noise to cover her exit. Swan still kept the lights off as she eased down the driveway, though.
Thirty minutes later, Swan was grateful that the rental had GPS as she pulled down the long half-obscured drive. She was fairly certain that Masen had taken a more direct route earlier, but she didn't want to attempt to retrace the way he had taken for fear of getting lost in the dark.
She was surprised to see that there was a van already parked beside the old mansion. It was a rusty, cobbled-together heap of junk-yard scrap that vaguely resembled a seventies model VW bus. As Swan got out of her car, she promised herself to never leave her weapon in Washington again. Closer inspection of the classic pile of scrap revealed a GPS retro-fitted into the dash as well as what looked like computer monitors and electronic equipment in the back. Swan gripped her flashlight tighter in her hand and realized why the ramshackle vehicle looked so familiar when she was sure that she had never-before seen it. It looked just like the "Casa de la Audiovisual Club" as Masen had so snarkily dubbed it. Rain was just beginning to come down lightly, although she could see flashes of lightning in the distance.
Patting her leg to reassure herself that she had in fact slipped her pilfered key into the pocket of her jeans, Swan set off towards the back door that she and Masen had used earlier. As she rounded the corner of the house, Swan froze when she heard scuffling noises on the porch. Crouching low and taking several slow steps, Swan silently praised herself for leaving the flashlight off and not giving away her position immediately.
"You're doing it wrong! You're such an amateur!"
"I will not move! I've got the lock-pick, let me do it!"
The words were muffled and nearly drowned out by the shuffling of the guys jockeying for position in front of the door, but Swan nearly laughed in relief. Shaking her head at their ridiculousness, Swan flicked on her large flashlight and aimed it right at the three black-clothed men standing frozen before her. They huddled their heads down and kept their backs to her as though they would be invisible if they did so.
"Fancy meeting you boys out here," Swan said. There was an audible sound of relief as all three of the men released the breath they were holding and turned around to see her.
"Special Agent Swan!"
"Frohike, Langly, Byers," Swan greeted them.
The three of them were more than pleased to see that she had a key in her possession, and promptly hid the lock-pick set in their deep pockets. She was after all, still an FBI agent.
"Relax, boys, I have that set too," She smirked as they still tried to deny what they had been using to enter the house.
"It's after ten…I'm going to head upstairs. You three stay down here…there have already been two deaths here, I don't think I need to tell you that you need to be careful, right?" said Swan as she started up the stairs. The three of them argued back and forth for nearly ten minutes.
"She's hot…" Frohike said.
"Please, she's well beyond your league," Byers insisted.
"And you think your little vest and tie gets you into her league?" Langly snarked.
"Did you hear that?" Frohike interjected.
"What?" Byers and Langly asked together.
"I think I just heard a car on the gravel outside! Swan is up in the attic, we have to protect her! What if it's someone nefarious?"
The three of them instantly took up positions in the shadows of the foyer. Frohike grabbed an ancient umbrella with a heavy carved handle from a coat closet near the door and held it like a club. They tensed as they heard footsteps crunching on the gravel and a large beam of a flashlight shined in through the windows on the door. Frohike took up position just beside the door just as the newest arrival pushed the unlocked door open. All three of them widened their eyes at the sight of a drawn gun preceding a man through the entry. Frohike panicked; without a second thought, he brought the handle of the umbrella down on the back of the intruder's head with a thud. The flashlight and the gun clattered across the ground as the man fell to the floor in a crumpled heap. Langly scrambled for the light and aimed it at the now-prone figure.
"It's her uptight partner! He's out cold!" Langly swore.
"Frohike! You imbecile! You just assaulted an FBI agent!" Byers hissed.
"Well, he should know better than to come into a haunted house with his guns blazing!"
"One unfired handgun is hardly 'guns blazing' Frohike!" Byers argued. Then the music began to play. The haunting melody washed over all of them, making them panic again.
"Let's go check on Swan!" Langly suggested. They all agreed, eager to escape Frohike's blunder.
Swan was in the attic when her wristwatch alarm beeped 10:13. The spookiness of the old house was enhanced by the rapid flapping of the blue tarp in the window Chris Foster had fallen through earlier that week. The wind had picked up, and rain was pelting the roof. Positioned as she was crouched in the corner of the attic, Swan was prepared to wait for the first spirit. She was still surprised however, when a glimmer of a white light hovered in the air just over the piano bench. Keeping her eyes glued to the bench, she was amazed when the light before her coalesced into a slightly firm-looking yet transparent young man. He sat silently for a few minutes, and then he lit the antique oil lamp before he began to play the piano. Swan had never heard such mournful melodies. She couldn't quite explain it, but she knew that this spirit was no murderer.
Swan couldn't help the pull she felt towards the young man playing the piano. She was completely engrossed in the music, though she couldn't help but notice the striking resemblance to Masen. They even swayed to the crests and falls of the music they played in exactly the same way. This apparition, spirit, ghost, whatever he may be, looked somewhat more youthful than Swan's partner, but there was no doubt that the two were related.
Suddenly Swan heard a thundering commotion on the stairs and the boy at the piano stopped playing with a clash of discordant notes as he slammed his hands down on the keys in frustration. Swan was suddenly pained for him; according to Alice, he was trapped here, perpetually missing his love. She wanted to protect him. Just as Frohike, Langly and Byers stumbled into the attic, Swan jumped forwards with both hands out trying to signal them to stop. They hadn't noticed her yet; they had frozen watching the apparition move towards them when suddenly the boy noticed Swan for the first time. His eyes widened and his mouth opened in shock.
"Isabella? Is that you, my love?" he asked. His voice was slightly more influenced by a Chicago accent than her partner's. Masen's accent had softened the years he'd been away from his home town. Swan's brain caught up with her ears as she realized what this spirit had called her. How had this long-dead boy known her name was Isabella? His love?
"I actually use Swan. I never cared for Isabella," she explained, unable to think of anything else to say. Swan scolded herself internally when the hope in the boy's face faltered.
"How are you here?" he asked in wonder. Suddenly, Swan's watch alarm went off again. A brief glance confirmed what she already knew: It was 11:21. How had she not noticed how long she had been standing here?
"11:21?!" Swan exclaimed, realizing that more than an hour had passed, and yet the boy still stood before her.
"What? How is that possible? I'm always gone by now! ISABELLA? ISABELLA!" he began to shout.
"Edward?" a faint voice called back. Then, Swan nearly fainted when another light coalesced in front of the boy. It was her. She looked exactly like Swan. She stood there clutching the painting from the dining room; the oil-and-canvas representation of the very boy now standing before her.
"How?" she whispered in a tremulous voice. Her question went unanswered; "Edward" as "Isabella" had called him had rushed towards her, gathering her into his arms as she dropped the painting to the floor.
"Oh, my love. My sweet love. These years I've agonized; tormented by your closeness yet you were unreachable," Edward said into Isabella's hair.
"Edward, I have been lost and incomplete without you!"
Isabella and Edward pulled back for a moment before a fierce look overcame his features.
"I love you, Isabella."
"And I, you, Edward."
And then their lips were crushed together; his hand fisted her hair as his other rested at the small of her back. Her hands were both in his unruly coppery-bronze hair, so like Masen's. In the height of their passion, they began to glow once more; their forms becoming less corporeal until they appeared to be a million particles of light swirling around the room on a gust of wind. Then it was as though a great hole had been opened above them; the wind and the lights all swirled one last time and exited through the still solid ceiling as every window in the attic blew out in a giant clash of glass shards.
Only then did Swan realize that she had been knocked off of her feet in the maelstrom. It was all she could do to turn her head to the side and take in the prone forms of Frohike, Byers, and Langly before darkness overwhelmed her.
Swan unlocked the heavy industrial metal door, pulled it open hard (it stuck a little), and flipped on the fluorescents. Unsurprisingly, everything was exactly as she had left it two weeks previously, the day she (and Masen) had received their official reprimands. If there was anything she regretted from her tenure at the Bureau, it was getting Masen involved in the events in Forks. The reprimand was the least of it; she suspected he was having issues with how things had ended. She smiled at her life-size Dracula poster, plopped into her squeaky chair, and took a deep breath of the musty, familiar air. She faced a row of eight filing cabinets, each full. Cataloguing would have been futile; the Bureau was ecstatic that none of these files had made it into their state-of-the-art computerized databases. She patted her pocket, feeling her badge. She shrugged her shoulders, letting the weight of the holster shift slightly. She felt like she was home, almost.
Swan pulled a twelve-pack of little golden raisin containers from her bag and stashed it in her top drawer after breaking it open and pulling out one box. She flipped a few into her mouth and chewed thoughtfully as her computer came to life.
The door banged open, startling her. Masen was framed in the doorway, his classic smirk on. He looked…well. Rested. There was a gleam in his eye that made her think he was as excited at being back on the job as she was. To her discomfort, she realized that the sense of being at home was complete now that Masen had arrived.
"I thought I'd beat you here. It's only 7:25."
"Early bird. Worm. You know." Swan waved a hand negligently, but she knew she was grinning as widely as he was. "How's your head, by the way?" Luckily, Masen hadn't needed stitches and hadn't had a concussion from the rap on his head by Frohike's umbrella.
Masen's grin morphed into an annoyed scowl.
"That's two cases in a row where you've been knocked out," Swan pointed out helpfully, as she crossed over to the file cabinet and dropped in the file she had prepared on her break into the "M" drawer.
"I don't need the reminder, but thanks. And this last business was not a case." Masen paused a moment. "My parents filed to have the historical preservation injunction lifted in order to have the house demolished, by the way. They didn't want any more incidents, and the judge agreed." Masen leaned against the "U-Z" cabinet.
"What about all the furniture and fixtures?" asked Swan, leaning now against "M-P."
"Oh, most of it was rubbish anyway. There were a few items like the chandeliers that were salvageable. Some of the paintings were also okay. They're selling it all at auction."
"What about your doppelganger's portrait?" asked Swan with interest. That was a portrait she might bid on, given the chance.
"That's a funny thing. I actually went back the day before the salvage people came in. The painting was gone. I couldn't find it anywhere in the mansion."
"It must have been caught up in the rift to the afterlife," said Swan, trying hard to hold back a tear. She had wallowed a little in the romance of the ghosts during the last days of her "vacation," especially after discussing the incident at length with Alice.
Swan's moment of reflection was destroyed when Masen made a sound somewhere between a cough, a snort, and a choked laugh. "Sorry," he said with another cough.
"Just spit it out, Masen. I know you're dying to get your shots in," Swan challenged, eyes narrowed. She had unconsciously straightened up, although she'd need 9 inch heels to be able to look him straight in the eye.
"I just don't know how you can speculate like that when everyone in the house was knocked unconscious." Masen crossed his arms and straightened as well. He always needed every inch to stand his ground against Swan.
"I wasn't unconscious until after the ghosts reconciled, Masen. We already had this conversation." Swan had taken a half step forward.
"That's right. And my next line was 'are you sure you didn't dream it all up, after all, you were knocked unconscious.'" His memory of the argument was fine, anyway. He couldn't think of anyone else who could get him so passionate about an argument.
Swan huffed. "Look, I know you don't believe me. I know you don't believe Alice. But I saw what I saw. Alice said earlier that day that the ghosts couldn't rest until their mirrored souls united under one roof – that night, we were both in the mansion and freed their souls."
"How exactly are we these mirrored souls?" asked Masen, attempting politeness in the face of futility and not quite succeeding. He had leaned in slightly, closing the gap between their faces.
"You know you look identical to the male ghost. When the female ghost materialized she…well, she looked a lot like me." Swan's voice trailed away at the end. She looked into his intense green eyes. When he looked at her like that, she felt like his focus was completely on her, as if nothing else in the world existed. "The male ghost called her Isabella. And, uh, she called the male ghost 'Edward.'" They were so close together now that her last sentence had barely been above a whisper. For some reason, Swan was struck by how amazingly clean Masen smelled.
Masen responded with the same intensity and the same volume. "The wind was awful that night. All four of you were knocked around badly when the windows blew out. Don't you think it's likely that you imagined ghosts who look identical to us and who have the same names we do?" He didn't want to speculate why she would imagine them in a forbidden, eternal love.
"Masen, why can't you at least admit my explanation is possible?" asked Swan breathily.
Masen didn't know what to say. The entire conversation was unreal to him, even though it involved his family and incidents he had been involved in, however peripherally. The college boys Winken, Blinken, and Nod didn't remember anything after climbing the stairs to the second floor – all the "evidence" was Swan's uncorroborated memory from right before being knocked unconscious. He couldn't seem to concentrate on the information she was conveying when she was looking at him like that, her deep chocolate brown eyes looking straight into his soul. She smelled like flowers.
The door to their office slammed open, and Masen and Swan sprang apart, the college intern looked at both of them in bewilderment. "Um, here's your mail, Special Agents." He dropped a pile of mail on Swan's desk and exited the room rapidly.
"Okay. That was awkward," laughed Swan nervously. She pulled a large manila envelope out of the stack and ripped it open, not looking at Masen. "Weird. It's from Alice." Inside the envelope was a copy of a newspaper clipping. "I think you need to see this."
Masen stepped over to her and looked over her shoulder. The newspaper clipping was from a Chicago daily, and the date was September 2, 1918. It was an engagement announcement for an Edward Anthony Masen and Isabella Marie Dwyer.
"What I wouldn't give for a photograph," said Swan in awe.
"That's really weird," said Masen. He was flabbergasted. It could not possibly be true.
Swan absently opened the next envelope. Inside was a single sheet of paper with one sentence typed on it. It said "You'll find what you're looking for in Phoenix."
A/N: (ebhg) Thanks for reading! Now the question remains, what's in Phoenix? (Besides sweltering heat…) Our intrepid agents will have to plan a visit and find out! Hmm…think Swan could get Masen in the pool? Strictly for calisthenics, of course. Hope they remember their sunscreen!
(Gleena): I hope they can get permission to go to Phoenix from their superiors at the Bureau, or I doubt Swan will be able to convince Masen to go anywhere. Maybe they'll get sent somewhere else first…let us know whether you enjoyed Episode 2 and what you'd like to see our intrepid agents do next! (Other than get together – we already know everyone wants that.)