At first, it was an average sort of Friday night in apartment 4A. Leonard and Sheldon, the apartment's two residents, were sitting around their small coffee table with their co-workers and fair-weather friends, Howard and Raj. A Scrabble board sat on the table between them, half-filled with letters.
Leonard looked up from his rack and considered the group. "You know," he said, "we could always just play normal Scrabble."
Sheldon looked up at him with open disgust.
"Right," Leonard said, rolling his eyes. "What was I thinking?"
"Scrabble, as a game, is only challenging to people with limited vocabularies, Leonard," Sheldon said, laying down the word "quark", the letter q resting on a red triple word score square. Howard groaned, and started shuffling the letters in his rack around. Looking up at Leonard with a raised eyebrow, Sheldon said, "Sixty-three points."
"Plus a tenth of a science point," Raj added, scribbling down the two scores.
The we do not have limited vocabularies had gone unsaid, but the look on Sheldon's face was shouting it at the top of its metaphorical lungs. Leonard barely resisted either sighing heavily or rolling his eyes again - a situation he found himself in all too often with his bizarre roommate. But he put up with it, because - for some reason - he and Sheldon were friends. And friends, according to Sheldon's roommate/friend contract, were only allowed to get verbally upset with each other once a week, and Leonard had already used this week's moment of frustration over a faux pas Sheldon pulled at work.
Grumbling, Howard put down the word "super", the s attached to the end of "quark". "Twenty-eight points," he muttered. "I would have had a bingo, but somebody took my spot."
If anything, Sheldon looked pleased at the announcement.
Raj tapped his pen against their score sheet. "Does he get science points for "quarks"?" he asked.
"Oh, why not?" Sheldon said. "At this point, he needs the score boost."
"Thanks, Sheldon," Howard said flatly, pulling new letters. Laying them out on his rack, he winced. Then, after a moment's consideration, he switched the position of a few letters and grinned to himself.
"And you wonder why you always lose so badly at poker." Tacking on "natural" to the end of Howard's "super", Raj grinned. "Bingo!"
As he started to count his points, the lights flickered once, twice, and then shut off entirely. A high-pitched scream pierced the silence.
A moment later, when the lights turned back on, everyone looked suspiciously at Howard. He looked between them, frowning. "Seriously, guys?" he asked, voice a full octave higher than normal. He coughed, and in a much lower pitch added, "It wasn't me."
The collective gaze turned on Raj, who shrugged and said, "Don't look at me."
Sheldon turned to look at Leonard, who just stared back, exasperated.
Then someone threw open the door to the apartment, rushed inside, and slammed the door shut. All four of the guys jumped at the sound, and two screamed. (Neither would admit to it later.)
It was their neighbor, Penny, wide-eyed and panting, and dressed up for a night out clubbing.
"I think my apartment is haunted," she said.
And that was when the nice, ordinary weekend Leonard had planned took a sharp left at Weird Street and drove straight off into Crazyville.
Penny could hardly sleep in an apartment she thought was haunted, so she stayed over at theirs. It was a little awkward. They'd had something between them, Penny and Leonard, only he was never really sure what. Mutual interest, at one point, sure, but now? He was still interested, at least - hey, he wasn't blind, alright? Penny was gorgeous, and funny, and... not smart, exactly, but clever - but he had no idea what was going on in her head most of the time.
The next morning, looking up at the pair of guys she had asked him to buzz in, Leonard had the faintest suspicion she might be trying to send him a clue.
Not that he had any interest in guys, but he knew what features were generally considered attractive, and these guys had all of them, in spades. The usually "tall, dark, and handsome" package, with well-defined muscles and good hair on top of that, plus the kind of clothes all of Penny's relatives wore in her pictures of home. Leonard considered trying to look threatening, but when the shorter of the two gave him a nasty look he gave it up as a lost cause.
"I'm guessing you're not Penny," the taller guy said, craning his neck so much to look at Leonard that he felt insulted. He wasn't that short.
"No," he said. "I'm her neighbor, Leonard. Penny's staying with us until this... ghost thing is dealt with."
"Us?" the shorter guy asked.
"My roommate Sheldon and I."
"Wow," the shorter one said, "Sheldon and Leonard. Somebody must have really hated their kids, huh?" The taller one elbowed him, and he grunted something like an apology, rolling his eyes.
"I'm sorry, but who are you?" Leonard asked. "Penny said she called somebody named Ellen."
"Yeah, Ellen gave us the job since we were in the area," the taller one said, holding out a hand to shake. "I'm Sam, this is my brother Dean."
"Nice to meet you," Leonard muttered, refusing to wince at Sam's tight grip. He turned to Dean next, who shot him another look. Leonard dropped his hand and gaze.
Leonard forced a smile. "So, I guess you want to see Penny's apartment, right?"
Unfortunately, when they got up to her apartment, there were already people in it. Leonard barely kept from groaning, and waved a hand at Sam and Dean to hold them back. They didn't need to get in the middle of one of Sheldon and Penny's arguments.
"You see?" Penny said, throwing an arm up to point at her kitchen light. As if on command, it started to flicker. She crossed her arms triumphantly. "Tell me that's not creepy."
"I don't see why, but alright: that's not creepy," Sheldon said. "Bad wiring or a light bulb in need of a change, maybe, but certainly not a sign of a haunting, Penny."
"Actually," Sam started to say, and Leonard really did groan.
"Don't, please," he begged, but Sheldon had heard, and turned on Sam with a superior look in his eye. He took a step forward, mouth open to argue, and... paused. Slowly, he took a step back, and a step forward again. Then a step to the left, then one to the right. He frowned to himself, and turned to Penny, who was watching him with a cautious eye.
"Penny," he asked carefully. "Did you open a window?"
"Turn your air conditioner on high?" He was starting to look nervous.
Leonard smiled. Not that he believed in ghosts any more than Sheldon did, but seeing his so-called friend get taken down a notch, or have his belief system destroyed, was always a highlight of his day.
"No, Sheldon," Penny repeated, also smiling.
"Hide a fan in the ceiling?"
One of the brothers muffled a laugh.
"What? Sheldon, of course not."
Sheldon looked up at the ceiling, as if tempted to check anyway.
"Then how is it," he asked, "that this spot I'm standing in is ten degrees colder than it should be, given our climate and the thermometer reading I took this morning?"
"A ghost," Sam and Dean said.
"Now really," Sheldon said, spurred back into his normal, argumentative state. "There's no such - "
The lights flickered, and Sheldon visibly shivered.
When he next looked at their ghost hunters, his face was carefully blank. "Alright," he said. "I'm listening."
"So," Sam said, shining a flashlight in one of Penny's kitchen cupboards. "What do you know about the previous residents of this apartment?"
Penny shrugged. "Never met them."
Leonard frowned. "The only one I knew was Louis/Louise."
Sam turned around where he stood and shone the flashlight at Leonard. Dean leaned backwards out of the bathroom and raised an eyebrow at Leonard.
"Louis." Leonard shrugged. "Sometimes he wore dresses and went by Louise."
Dean looked at Sam, who looked at Dean. They both shrugged, and returned to their inspecting of the apartment.
"Any idea what happened to Louis after he left?" Sam asked.
"Oh, he didn't leave," said Sheldon, still standing by the open front door of the apartment. "He died."
Sam glanced at Dean again, then frowned at Sheldon. "Died?"
"Complications of his skin condition," Leonard explained.
"Very tragic," Penny said.
"He looked like a large, overripe peach at the end," Sheldon said.
"Or so we're told," Leonard added hastily.
Sam winced, and Dean wrinkled his nose. They shared another look - and seriously, what was with that? Did they have to consult each other for every single decision they made, or something? It was weirding Leonard out - and turned back to Sheldon, Leonard, and Penny with solemn expressions on their faces.
Something awful occurred to Leonard.
"Wait, you don't think - "
"Oh, yes we do," Dean said. "Tell us more about Louis."
Sheldon, Leonard, and Penny told the brothers more about Louis.
Then Sam and Dean told them what they were going to do about Louis's ghost.
Penny left the room sometime around the word "cemetery". Leonard lasted until the word "gasoline", at which point he ran, before Sheldon could start asking more detailed questions.
Penny waved as the brothers drove off in their noisy old car, Leonard halfheartedly following her lead.
"They said they'd call when the ghost was gone, right?"
She nodded, making an affirmative sound, and then looked at Leonard a little awkwardly. "You don't mind if I stay over another night, do you? Just until they're sure it's gone."
"Not at all," Leonard said, and was quite proud of his voice for not breaking (as Howard's would have done in the same situation).
Sheldon, chin in his hand, was still puzzling over what Dean had said they were about to do. "I can understand how fire would help - if the ghost is connected to the body, destroying the body should destroy the ghost. But salt? What does salt do? The purifying properties associated with salt are nonsense, pagan hoodoo to explain why it works as a preservative..." He shook his head repeatedly. "I just don't understand."
Penny placed a hand on Sheldon's shoulder comfortingly. "You don't have to, Sheldon. It's okay."
Shaking out of her grasp, Sheldon sighed miserably. "No, it's not, Penny. No, it's not."
As they walked back to the apartment building, Howard pulled up to the curb, Raj clinging to the back of his Vespa. Pulling off his helmet, he climbed off the scooter and chased after the others. Raj followed, several small chrome objects in his hands.
"Okay, so the Hazmat suits are a no-go, I couldn't get into the biochemistry department, but I did get some EMF sensors that I think we can turn into a ghost detector." Raj frowned, and elbowed him in the side. "Okay," Howard admitted, "Raj got the EMF sensors; I got jack squat. But that's not the point. The point is, we've got a ghost to bust!" He grinned, looking between Sheldon and Leonard. "So? Who's ready to kick ectoplasmic ass?"
Penny laughed hysterically, and walked inside. Sheldon followed after her, now wondering aloud about corporeal manifestations of ghosts. Leonard looked at Howard, whose excited expression had crumbled into disappointment, and shrugged helplessly.
"Maybe next time."