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“Dean.”

“What?”

“The place is haunted.”

“Dude, I know.”

“... Do you even believe in ghosts?”

“No.”

“Then how does that work- look, Dean, buying it is a financial disaster waiting to happen. It’s run down. It needs renovations. You’ll sink money into it and then get scared out of it.”

“Will I?”

“That’s what’s happened to the past five owners. No one’s lasted longer than two years, man.”

“It’s perfect, Sammy. Everything I’ve ever wanted and a blank slate. Perfect for me, y’know? I gotta- I gotta get busy, Sam, and stay busy.”

“I get that, Dean. Just… there’s a lot of other houses to buy and renovate.”

“None with that acreage. Space for chickens, a cow or two? Heck, maybe a goat! And there’s a river within walking distance, Sammy. All fixed up that house could be put on a fucking post card.”

“I guess. Will you at least think about it?”

“I did, man.”

“...”

“I… already bought it.”

“Do you have any self control?”

“What could go wrong?”

“Oh, I don’t know- murder, suicide, accidents. Stuff that has been happening there for a CENTURY.”

“Don’t be so superstitious, Sammy. I got this.”

“HA. Yeah. We’ll see.”

--

The driveway to the farmhouse is a quarter mile long, all dirt and patched with weeds that haven’t been tamed in the five years the property has been vacant. Very slowly Dean drives his beloved Impala up the road and around a small corner, where the farmhouse comes into view like the opening credits of an HGTV show. It’s perfect. Red in color (a new paint job is high up on his to-do list) with white trim, plenty of windows, and a huge wraparound porch, the farmhouse is textbook isolated American. There’s a circular landscape feature in the driveway that allows people to u-turn in order to get out, though the bark is overgrown and generally messy looking. Dean bypasses the roundabout to park his car near the suspiciously leaning carport (that’s probably the first thing he’ll fix), getting out and feeling the Spring sun on his skin.

Benny’s old truck rambles up around the roundabout, followed by Sam’s plastic excuse of a car, both vehicles just as loaded as Dean’s. Kitchenware, sentimental decor, anything that can be fit into the cabs as well as some furniture in the bed of Benny’s truck- they made it out here in one trip. Anything that Dean couldn’t fit that he didn’t care about can be reordered if he so desires.

The ride out to the farm from where Sam and Benny live in the city takes a little over an hour. Benny gets out of his truck with a little groan, knuckling the small of his back as he cracks it. Sam looks like a clown getting out of a tiny car as he exits and walks up towards where Dean and Benny are, his eyes skeptically looking over the house.

“Are you sure about this, Dean?”

“Think it’s a little late to back out now, Sammy,” Dean says.

“I think it’s a fine project,” Benny says.

“See?” Dean slaps Benny on the shoulder, grinning. “It’s fine.”

“Definitely haunted,” Benny says as he turns away to move to the back of the truck.

Dean rolls his eyes. “Fine.”

“Did you tour it before you bought it?” Sam asks, dangerously close to making Bitch Face #402, the pitch of his voice nearing it as well.

“Nope,” Dean says, popping the ‘p’. He jingles the keys in his hand. “Talked to the realtor over the phone and through email. Wanna go take a look?”

“Oh my God,” Sam reaches up to ruffle his long hair, pinching the bridge of his nose. “If I fall through the floorboards, I’m suing.”

“You’d be suing yourself,” Dean says easily, moving towards the porch. “You’re my lawyer.”

“Fuck,” Sam mutters under his breath.

The stairs creak under their weight as they walk up about half a dozen. On the porch Dean tests a few planks of wood, noting that nearly all of them are soggy and rotten. That’s going to be a big project. The front door is simple, no windows or peephole. There’s no screen, either, which is going to have to be remedied before summer hits, because Dean can just tell by looking that the HVAC is either nonexistent or in terrible shape. Not only that, but doing renovations in the house is going to require a lot of moving air… He checks the windows at the front of the house, noting that they open, but also don’t have screens.

Add it to the list, he supposes.

Thankfully the door is locked. Critters will probably still have made it inside, but he hasn’t seen any broken windows, so at least he thinks that people have been kept out. Hopefully.

Sam coughs dramatically when Dean opens the door and a weird musty cloud billows out. Dean hides his cough a little bit, but still automatically lifts a hand to wave the smell away from his face.

“Jesus,” he says.

“At least it smells old and not like death,” Sam says.

“Quit bein’ a little bitch,” Dean grouses. He steps into the house, looking around. It’s a little dark, but not too much with all of the natural light coming in. He turns to look for a light switch, flicking it on- and then bites back a sigh when nothing happens. Electrical is out. That’s alright. That’s fine. So far nothing that has happened has been anything unexpected.

The foyer opens directly into a staircase, which is a little jarring. It’s narrow and uneven, like something out of a Harry Potter house. To the left is what looks like a parlor of sorts, and to the right is what might be a day room. There’s still furniture in the house, covered with white sheets and dust, and alright, yeah, Dean’s starting to get a little tickle in the back of his throat.

“This place is definitely haunted,” Sam says.

“Shut up.” Dean takes a left, walking into the parlor since the day room doesn’t have any other exits. Through the parlor is the kitchen, which is actually pretty big. It’s definitely outdated, probably renovated last in the seventies according to the fading yellow and orange hues everywhere. He peeks into the sink, thankful to see that the water has turned off to prevent anything molding.

Behind the staircase is a half bathroom with no toilet or sink, broken tile on the floor left behind. The next door leads to what could possibly be a bedroom or a study, the room large and empty, sharing a wall with the day room which explains why it only had one entrance and exit.

“Huh.”

“Pretty big on the main floor,” Sam comments.

“Think the stairs can handle us?”

“One at a time.”

Dean ascends first. The staircase is even narrower while occupied; the hand rail takes up quite a bit of space, and as he moves up, Dean makes a mental note about exposing the bottom half to open it up and make it feel less claustrophobic. When he’s on the landing he hears Sam carefully climbing as well.

“How many rooms were listed?”

“Five,” Dean says. There are four doors up here; three bedrooms, and one full bath. He frowns. “This don’t add up though.”

Sam comes to the same conclusion as he looks around. Separately they peek into rooms, which thankfully don’t have any furniture in them. There’s some wood rot on the floor and ceilings, easily fixable, and some of the windows have been painted shut, which is a little weird. They meet in the hallway, scratching their heads.

“Where’s the fifth room?” Dean asks.

“Is there a basement?”

“It’s listed with a potato cellar,” Dean says. “No access from the inside, just one of those weird dungeon doors that are outside.”

“Well, better check that out.”

They go down the steps one at a time. Outside Benny is carefully organizing everything from the cars and truck; when he hears Sam and Dean he turns to arch a brow.

“I doin’ all this alone?”

“Give us a sec, Benny,” Dean says. “We’re tryna find the fifth bedroom.”

Benny looks up at the house thoughtfully.

Around the corner of the house is the creepy cellar door. Dean reaches for it, then notices that it’s padlocked shut.

“Well, shit.”

Suddenly a brick slams against the padlock, busting it open. Dean yelps in surprise, backing up and sending Sam a startled, incredulous look, to which he shrugs and says, “It’s not like we’re breaking into someone else’s house.”

“With that attitude it’s no wonder you became a lawyer,” Dean mumbles. He pulls his phone out of his pocket, turning on his flashlight and peering down the dank, musty steps into the darkness of the cellar. “If there’s a bedroom down there, someone’s a crazy sonuvabitch.”

Silence.

Dean looks towards his brother, who’s frowning down into the darkness.

He squints.

He looks down into the cellar.

He looks back at Sam.

“You scared?”

“I’m concerned for my health,” is Sam’s snippy reply.

Dean rolls his eyes. “Wuss.” Very carefully he lifts his foot over the wood frame, then sets it down on the first stone step, testing his weight. Finding it alright, he very slowly starts to climb down. Very slowly. Because he’s worried about his health, not because he’s worried about what might be lurking in the darkness. It also… smells musty, much like the cloud that billowed at them when they opened the front door. The floor of the cellar is dirt and seemingly free of debris as Dean sweeps his flashlight around.

Nothing too crazy to report.

“This definitely isn’t a bedroom,” he calls up.

“Come back up,” Sam says.

Taking one more glance around, Dean sees iron shelves housing empty jars and gardening tools. There’s some heavier equipment, like a wheelbarrow and what looks like a post digger, but other than that… nada. Turning around, he carefully climbs up the steps. He’s greeted by Sam holding out a hand to help him, which he takes gratefully. He’s no spring chicken, anymore.

“Where could that bedroom be?” Sam asks, turning towards the house.

“Y’all ever heard of an attic?” Benny drawls.

“I didn’t see access to one,” Dean says.

Benny shrugs. “Don’t worry ‘bout it for now. Whatchu need five bedrooms for anyway?”

Dean chuckles. “I guess. Let’s eat and then get to work.”

“You’re gonna owe us more than pb and j’s when we’re done,” Sam says.

Dean slaps him on the shoulder. “My love and affection should be payment enough.”

Benny’s eyes glitter. “Yeah, yeah.”

--

Ten hours later, the kitchen is the most fixed up place in the house. The counters and cupboards have been scrubbed, the floor cleaned, the water turned on and the appliances fixed up. Compared to the rest of the house it hadn’t been too bad. The fridge will work when plugged in, the stove won’t catch anything on fire, and most importantly: his Keurig lives in peace on the counter, ready to be plugged into the generator in the morning for a nice hot cuppa. The kitchen will probably be the last thing he renovates, considering it’s in good condition if a little outdated, so he’s satisfied for now. He has an air mattress bed set up in the day room, which has been cleaned and aired out, and is prepared for these two areas to be his living space while he works on the rest of the house.

Of course, none of this would have been possible without Sam and Benny. Dean’s only one guy, and while he’s pretty efficient and good at what he does, he needed the help of extra hands at least for today so he could get settled and comfortable.

The sun set about an hour ago. Tomorrow he’ll figure out the wiring and electricity, so for now he has an electric lamp and a portable charger for his phone. He settles down on his air mattress, bundled and padded in blankets and pillows. The days are hot, but the nights are cold, especially since the house so far doesn’t have any ventilation. Every single window has been painted shut, even if they couldn’t open, which is weird, but whatever.

On his back, he stares up at the ceiling. He feels a nice sort of giddy, a quiet, pleased thrum. This is it. He’s going to turn this house into his dream home. It has a rich history, a great location… He figures he’ll renovate the parts he wants to live in, first, and then focus on the acreage. Becoming self-sufficient has always been a dream and he’s already antsy to get his hands in the dirt and start planting.

Closing his eyes, he lets out a breath, his body relaxing.

A creak sounds overhead.

He inhales through his nose, out through his mouth.

A clang. Probably the pipes shifting and adjusting to having water in them again.

Another inhale. Exhale.

Bang.

Sitting upright reflexively, Dean looks at the ceiling. That bang sounded like it came from the upstairs hallway. No one did anything up there today, all of Dean’s belongings on the main floor because of the wood rot upstairs that needs to be fixed before anything other than a human goes up there. During all of their exploring today they hadn’t come across even a bug.

Again, something strange, considering the house has been vacant for five years and surely some bugs would have gotten in somehow.

Nope.

No bugs. No draft from the paint-sealed windows.

Y’know, actually, now that he’s here alone, in the dark, listening to the house creak and groan…

No! No. He won’t give Sam the pleasure.

This house hasn’t had an occupant in over five years. It carried the weight of three grown men carrying heavy things all day. It’s settling and shifting and adjusting. That’s what houses do.

Lying down again, Dean draws the blankets up to his chin, trying to trap the warmth under them. There’s a wood stove in this room, but he needs to clear out the shaft before lighting it up. Closing his eyes once more, for the final time, he relaxes.

He bought his house with a gut feeling.

He just hopes his gut can stomach it.

--

A week later, electricity is restored to the house and the wood stove is all cleared out. The front porch steps are fixed with new, sanded wood, and the majority of the porch is ripped out and waiting to be re-done. He set up a kitchen table and some chairs, some second hand furniture he’d gotten from a yard sale fifteen miles away; during renovations he doesn’t want his dream furniture at risk of getting dirty, scratched, or broken.

That’s where he sits this morning, drinking his coffee and perusing the news on his phone. It’s quiet up here, him all alone with only his music and phone to keep him company. It’s quiet, but not lonely. He’s spent so much of his life in the company of others it’s a good change of pace for him to just be… by himself. For him to not hold the world on his shoulders or worry about anyone but his own damn self.

He stays busy enough to not think about too much other than what’s right in front of him, but in the quiet of the morning, sometimes he hears the squeal of tires, the crash of glass, the screams of agony…

Shaking his head, he reaches for his coffee cup.

He misses.

Frowning, he looks towards where his mug sits, only to find it about eight inches to the left.

Huh.

He picks up his mug, taking a sip. He’s distracted, is all.

The aftermath of the accident involved a lot of time, energy, blood, sweat and tears, but in the end ol’ Sammy had ruled everything in Dean’s favor. A fat check was written, one that Dean could comfortably retire with (and then some), so he knows he’ll be alright in the long run but for now he’s having a bit of trouble adjusting. For instance, not setting an alarm and not having a specific time to wake up. All he cares about right now is getting up early enough to beat the heat, but he wakes up when his body wants, not when his phone buzzes. Also, that mental to-do list that never seemed to end at Sandover Construction plays over and over even though he hasn’t stepped foot in that building for three months. It’s slightly nerve-wracking, in some moments thinking “shit, I didn’t do ___” when in reality… who gives a fuck. He hadn’t even packed up his office when he left. Just sent a big I.O.Fuck U to his boss and never went back in.

And how could he? In the accident he’d been broken, physically and mentally, and the asshole higher-ups still wanted him to clock on for the day and break his back. No thanks. His broken knee and psychological damage took a rain check he never cashed in.

It’s for the better, anyway. Nearing fifty, he’d been growing sick of the politics of business anyway. And who even knew if he could retire in this economy? Like, actually retire. If he’s worried about it, he can’t even fathom what the younger generation feels…

Anyway.

He’s a little distracted. So misplacing his coffee mug is the least of his worries. He goes to bed, he wakes up, he stays hygienic, he stays active, he takes breaks and rests when he needs to. He calls Sam every day because the idiot acts like Dean moved halfway across the world and isn’t just an hour drive away, and he talks to Benny enough to keep their easygoing friendship intact. They’re too low maintenance to be in each other’s business all the time.

He reaches for his mug again.

He misses by four inches.

Frowning, he sets his phone down and stares at it. The thing is a million years old, a relic of his parent’s past, pea green and chipped around the bottom. It’s plain, unremarkable, and one of the few things he refused to throw out. Squinting, he mimes the action of putting his mug down and picking up his phone, repeating the action and wondering how his hand wandered that far. There’s… no w-

No.

No.

He’s just distracted. He’s got all this time to himself, sometimes he spaces out. He’s misplaced a million things. Granted, when he found them he could remember misplacing them, so…

He stands up. This is ridiculous. Letting out a short huff, he decides he’ll clean up and start his day. He reaches out towards his mug and-

It goes sailing across the room. He lets out a startled yelp, panic gripping him not so much at the paranormal act, but because that’s his mom’s favorite mug-

It smashes against the wall, crumbling to the floor in pieces. Dean stands at the table, frozen, staring at the broken shards of one of the few good memories he has left of his mother. His heartbeat slows. His breath hitches. His eyes grow hot. He slaps his hand over them, trying to keep the tears at bay.

Forget witnessing what actually might be a ghost- Dean’s sanity is on a thin tether, his grief nowhere near settled, and seeing his mom’s favorite mug smashed to pieces is a pretty good mirror for how his heart is on most days.

Doing his best to collect himself, he drops his hand from his eyes, though a few tears steam hot down his cheeks. He sniffles, bites his quivering bottom lip, and then shifts to grab the broom and dustpan from the corner. Crouching, he starts sweeping the broken pieces onto the pan, clenching his teeth. It’s not a big deal. It’s a mug. He has a dozen others. This- this is fine. Whatever.

He dumps the broken pieces into the garbage can, listlessly putting the broom and dustpan back in the corner.

Today… Maybe he’ll take the day off?

No, no. That’s stupid. He needs to stay busy or else he’ll spiral into one of those stupid panic attacks Sam keep telling him about.

“Ok,” he says out loud. “What can I do.”

The porch. He needs to finish the porch. That involves measuring and cutting and hammering, monotonous to keep him busy yet detailed enough to not allow for distractions. Perfect.

A whisper of frigid air slides over the inside of his wrist as he turns to leave.

--

It takes all day, but Dean gets the entire porch done. It needs a coat of weatherproofing, but it looks good, already giving the house a bit of a facelift. He walks backwards on the driveway so he can take it all in, hands on his hips, dripping with sweat and grinning to himself. Not bad, not bad. Putting up a railing will be next, but seeing as he won’t be having any toddlers or elderly folk around, it can wait.

Wiping his forehead with the back of his gloved hand, he lets out a satisfied sigh. The house is still an ugly, old barn red, and he takes a moment to fantasize about what color he’d like to paint it. Grey? Grey-blue? With all the lush greenery around, maybe a taupe. Something to make it look like it was meant to be here.

Movement in one of the upper windows catches his eye. There aren’t any curtains. He frowns, trying to pick which window the movement came from.

A shadow in the front corner bedroom forms then disappears. Finally, finally Dean thinks about his mug being flung across the room.

“Shit,” he breathes. “This house is fuckin’ haunted.”

Looking around, Dean lets out a tired sigh. Just what he needs.

He clears up his mess. All of his tools and lumber get put under the Leaning Tower of Carport, which is definitely next on his list. The weather has been fair, but the second Baby gets caught out in the rain he’ll probably cry. Going up the new steps to his new porch feels like heaven. He nearly forgets about the shadow in the window, until he sees his own reflection in the window by the door.

“I swear if I’m just dehydrated or somethin’...” he grumbles as he enters the house. Sticky with sweat and sawdust he heads up the stairs, pulling up his shirt to wipe at his forehead. He doesn’t have time for ghost problems.

He saw the shadow in the front bedroom, so that’s where he starts. When he opens the door, nothing’s out of place… because nothing’s in the room. It’s as empty and stale as it was when he moved in. Walking towards the window, he inspects the seam-

“Wait a minute…”

He had gone through the other day and chiseled out the paint sealing the windows. It had taken him around three hours and he hated every second of it. This window, though… has been re-sealed? Or maybe he missed it?

Frowning, he scratches his head, looking around. He couldn’t have missed it. He had a freaking checklist.

A thump overhead makes his head tip back.

Is there… something in the attic?

The attic… that he has no idea how to get into?

He groans. He’s too old for ghost stories. And he’s still pissed about his mug breaking.

His mug-

God damn it he’s still pissed about his mug!

Stomping a little, he moves towards the closet in the bedroom, opening the doors and looking up at the ceiling.

Nada.

He moves to the next bedroom, examining its closet as well.

Nothing.

Third bedroom.

Zip.

Bathroom, just to be sure.

Nope.

He stares at the master bedroom. He’s still camped out in the living room because he doesn’t trust moving around on these floors too much- in fact him stomping around up here probably isn’t a good idea, either. Shoot. But- he has to figure out what’s going on in the attic. Well, firstly he needs to figure out how to even get up there.

He opens the door to the master bedroom. It’s not that much bigger than the other rooms, but it’s listed as the master because it has two closets and private access to the bathroom. He’ll probably just reconfigure things so that he can have his own bathroom and, you know, not have a communal bathroom with two doors (that just sounds like trouble with guests), but that’s going to happen with time.

But hey, two closets to check.

The first one yields nothing.

The second one, though…

There’s a paint-sealed square in the ceiling. There’s no pull-down, no rolling ladder- if Dean didn’t know he was looking for attic access, he’d probably just assume the ceiling got patched. He takes a moment to think- imagining this house as a five bedroom with the fifth bedroom, presumably, in the attic with no real attic access like stairs or a ladder… That’s concerning. Just on the whole.

Frowning, he stomps (gently) out of the room and down the steps to grab his tool box and his step stool. He then stomps (gently) back up the stairs and into his bedroom, pulling out his hammer and chisel and then carefully getting up on the step stool. Bit by bit he chips away the paint seal- a two-by-two foot square- letting the paint fall down to the floor. He sneezes a few times, and by the end of fifteen minutes he has the seal completely broken. He gives his arms a rest, then puts his palms on the center of the square and pushes.

And pushes.

And turns a little red in the face.

“Phew!” He drops his arms down, shaking his hands out at his sides. “Jesus, they use gorilla glue?”

A thud hits the square directly above his head. He full-body flinches, reaching up reflexively to cover his head, ducking down a little. When he peeks up, nothing happens. Squinting, Dean reaches up to bang at the square in turn.

A bang replies.

So he bangs again, and a bang comes back, and then he bangs again, and the bang comes back, and-

“Oh, come on!” He snaps, pushing up with both of his palms, using all of his strength. The square pops free, he pushes it aside, and then has a coughing fit with all of the dust and cobwebs that fall onto his head. Waving a hand in front of his face, he squints up into the darkness. He carefully steps down, grabs his flashlight, then shakily gets on the top step of his step ladder. It’s high enough for his head and shoulders to be inside the attic, but he’s a little too old to be doing a full on pull-up to get himself up there, so for now, he turns on his flashlight and peeks around.

There’s stuff up here, because of course there is. Furniture covered in sheets, boxes and boxes and boxes… It doesn’t smell rotten or anything, so that’s a good sign. He’s still amazed that there haven’t been any critters, dead or alive, in this entire house. His light beam can’t hit everything, but judging by the slope of the eves and what it can’t reach, he can figure out that the attic is easily the size of the entire upper floor.

Huh.

What could be banging?

A cold draft passes his head.

“Oh, yeah. A ghost.”

He turns off his light and squints into the darkness. He’s not about to start shit with something invisible when he’s standing on a puny step stool. No, he’ll get a ladder later and actually get into the attic to have a look around.

“I’m comin’ back for you,” he says threateningly into the darkness.

Something flicks his forehead.

“Gah!” He slaps his hand to his face, then flicks his wrist to dispel the weird sensation. “Christ, alright! I’m leavin’!”

Once he’s on even ground he groans. Is he really having interactions with a ghost? Ugh. Sam’s gonna lose it.

Or- Sam… doesn’t have to know, because Sam’s stupid ‘I told you so’ bitch face is probably the worst one to look at.

No, Dean will figure this out on his own. The ghost totally had the chance to do some actual bodily harm, but it hasn’t. Aside from breaking his mug, the ghost actually hasn’t done anything bad at all.

Speaking of his mug, though…

He looks up into the dark square. “Just so you know, that mug belonged to my dead mother. An’ I’m real mad at you for breakin’ it.”

Silence.

Grumbling to himself, Dean leaves the room.

He’s either high on some undetected asbestos or gas in the house, or…

It’s haunted, and he’s really, truly, having paranormal experiences.

Super.

--

The following morning there are no incidents. No dishes being broken, no weird thuds, no weird chills. It’s a little suspicious, but then he thinks it’s stupid to be suspicious of things not being suspicious, so he does his best to just work. The day passes with him fixing the carport, which is easy enough. He’s got so much new lumber he’s going to have to make up things to build to use it all so it doesn’t just end up rotting. The new carport can hold two cars, is enclosed on the north and east sides, has a pretty roof, and… well, doesn’t match the dull red of the farmhouse at all, but once he gets the house painted, he’ll paint the carport. He puts a coat of weatherproof on the wood, calling it a day. He’d only breaked once for a sandwich and as the sun sets he realizes he’s starving.

Inside he showers upstairs, because he hasn’t converted the main floor bathroom into a full unit yet. That’s probably going to take more than just him, which is fine. He wraps a towel around his waist and moves back downstairs into the living room, opening up his luggage (his wardrobe fit in three airplane-approved luggage cases and he’s… sort of impressed with himself, but also a little embarrassed, because clearly fashion isn’t something he worries about) to pull out a fresh pair of boxers and a t-shirt. He’s done for the night, so he doesn’t put on jeans, but he does put on his house slippers because the floor still hasn’t been wholly restored.

In the kitchen he stares at the cupboards. Then opens the fridge and stares inside. Then stares at the counter. Then repeats the process. He’s hungry, but he doesn’t know what for. He scrubs a hand over his mouth, sighs, and then yelps when the cupboard next to the fridge opens and a box shoots out and nearly clocks him.

“Jesus, what the hell!”

Silence.

Glaring in every direction, he grumbles as he stoops to pick up the box.

Huh.

Pasta.

He flips the box over to read the back. It’s instant, requiring only water and milk, and normally he balks at this sort of thing but… it’s easy, and he’s tired, and it will fill him up.

Looking around, he squints a little, then mumbles out, “Thanks.”

Fifteen minutes later he’s settled at the kitchen table, which is an old card table that’s a little wobbly and folds up when not in use. He has minimal dishware because when everything is said and done he wants to be the type of person that has a matching set, so he’s eating out of a plain white bowl, a beer planted next to him as he scrolls through things on his tablet.

An incoming video call from Sam interrupts his quiet meal, and honestly, he’s thankful for it. He props the tablet up on the kickstand, then answers with a grin.

“Heya, Sammy.”

“Hey Dean,” Sam greets with a returning smile. “How’s things?”

“Same ol’ same ol’,” Dean shrugs. “Got the carport all fixed today. It’ll get painted up with the house.”

“Nice,” Sam nods. “You start on the bathroom yet?”

“Nah, I’m gonna need some help with that,” he says. “Think while I’m by myself I’ll just replace all the wood rot so that when I do need people to help me they won’t fall through the damn floor.”

“Good idea,” Sam chuckles. “You settling in ok, though?”

“Yes mom,” Dean rolls his eyes, ignoring the pang in his heart with the sarcastic words. “Things are good. Peaceful, y’know? Out here… no traffic noise, hell- I think I’ve only seen two planes. S’easy to get work done.”

His brother nods, though there’s a tinge of disbelief in his eye. “Alright. You sure you don’t need me to come out and help with anything?”

“Nah, man,” Dean shakes his head. “I got it. An’ I’m gonna have Benny come out and help with the bathroom ‘cause he’s certified in plumbing.”

“You’ve done it before,” Sam says.

“Yeah, but-” Dean drums his fingers over the table, trying to find the words. “I’ve spent my whole life renovating houses, y’know? And I’ve always hired certified workers for shit like plumbing and electricity. I don’t wanna change that now just ‘cause I’m workin’ on my own house.”

“I get it,” Sam waves a hand. “Besides, Benny misses you. He’s started visiting me at work.”

Dean snorts. “Treat him good, a’right?”

“I can’t replace you.”

“I don’t need replacing-”

“-yeah, yeah. You and him aren’t and never were a ‘thing’.”

Dean narrows his eyes. “Y’know, you’ve been single for a while, too, bitch.”

“Because I’m not interested in dating anyone, jerk,” Sam says sunnily. “I gotta go. Try not to go stir crazy all alone, ok?”

“Blah, blah. Bye.”

“See ya.”

Sighing, Dean puts both elbows on the table, pressing his face into his hands. Before buying the farmhouse, and since, he’s been on a rollercoaster. He knows he’s trying to run away from a past he doesn’t want to think about, he knows he’s throwing himself into work to keep himself distracted. He knows he’s lying to Sam when he says he’s fine. Like- yeah he’s fine, but in moments like this, he feels so weak.

Being alone out here probably isn’t a good idea, but he’d rather suffer alone than drag anyone down with him, which is why he usually waits for Sam or Benny to contact him first, instead of the other way around.

A soft, gentle tinkering of porcelain catches his attention. Lifting his head out of his hands, his eyes zero in on the mug placed on the other side of the bowl.

His mother’s mug.

In perfect condition, like it didn’t shatter along with his heart.

Feeling his cheeks flush and his eyes water, he reaches out towards the mug, picking it up with trembling fingers.

It’s the real deal, solid in his hands. He brings it to his chest, hanging his head and trying to not let the tears fall.

Whatever broke the mug fixed it.

Whomever, maybe.

Inhaling shakily, he tips his head back and stares at the ceiling, swallowing the lump in his throat.

“Thanks.”

A whisper of cold air passes over his cheek, drying the lone tear that dropped.

He supposes that after all, he’s not as alone as he thought he was.

--

“Son of a BITCH!”

“Watch your thumb.”

“Ya think!?”

“Here-”

“Fuck-”

Dean and Benny set the double vanity counter on the floor outside of the upstairs bathroom. It’s taken a whole week, but the bathroom has finally been renovated and converted into a master en suite. New floors, new walls, new hardware, new layout. It’s pretty simple compared to other en suites he’s crafted before, but he doesn’t need anything fancy. Two sinks because counter space is nice, a shower/tub combo, the palette a pretty, soft blue complemented with chrome fixtures and some crystal accents. Benny hadn’t said a thing about the… well, more feminine decor, but Benny also knows Dean doesn’t really adhere to this or that when it comes to stereotypes and stigmas, so it’s likely he hasn’t even thought of anything to say at all.

“On three,” Dean says.

On three they get the vanity into the bathroom, countertop and all. It doesn’t take much to get it all hooked up, and when they’re done, Dean lets out a high pitched sigh.

“Phew! Shit, man.”

“Wasn’t sure if we was gonna make it up the stairs,” Benny says, pulling a handkerchief out of his back pocket to mop the sweat off of his face.

Dean pulls out his own handkerchief to do the same. “Can’t die yet, Benny. Haven’t even had a chance to use this fancy bathroom.”

Benny slaps him on the shoulder. “Hoo-wee, brotha. Lunch?”

“Lunch.”

They amble back down the stairs and into the kitchen, where Benny takes a seat as Dean opens the fridge. “When ya gonna fix this up?”

“Last,” Dean says. “Still thinkin’ ‘bout what I wanna do.”

“No inspiration from previous projects?” Benny asks as Dean hands him an open beer.

“Haven’t looked at my portfolio yet,” he shrugs. “Maybe somethin’ will jump out.”

“So far you’ve gone off the cuff. That master bath ain’t somethin’ I seen you do yet.”

“Guests ain’t really gonna see the master bath,” Dean sits down once he’s set all the sandwich fixings on the table.

“Don’t tell me you’re worried about people’s opinions.”

“No,” Dean chuckles and shakes his head, spreading mayonnaise on a slice of bread. “This whole house is gonna be a statement, Benny. I’m just tryna figure out what that statement is.”

“That bathroom ain’t too modern. More elegant. You thought about restoring the age of this house versus totally renovating it?”

Dean hums thoughtfully. “That’s a thought. The dude who built this house was probably some victorian gentleman, huh? I mean, he lived on a farm, but this place got all the victorian angles and ugly wallpaper.”

“Could mix modern and victorian,” Benny suggests as he slices the cheese. “Make it like if a victorian person had access to all the bells n’ whistles we have now.”

“Huh.” Dean grins. “Benny, you’re a genius.”

“I knew you kept me around for more than my looks.”

--

The conversation with Benny shifted Dean’s direction. With ‘modern victorian’ in mind, he modified some of his original drawings and notes to reflect that. Bright, open spaces with dark, elegant accents and hardware; dark accent walls; a mix of wallpaper and paint in certain areas, dark stained wood. It’s not difficult to change a few things around, since the architecture itself didn’t change much, and when he looks at everything as a whole, he feels a new fire ignite inside him.

He doesn’t think about the accident.

When his knee twinges he massages it with a grimace and moves on.

He feels… good.

Better than good.

He makes a lot of headway on the renovations. The entire upstairs flooring has been replaced and finished, the texture on the walls sanded down and primed for paint. He’s opened up the stairwell on either side and put up a new, elegant banister reminiscent of the nineteenth century with curves and angles, the wood waiting to be stained at a later time.

He’s still yet to do much on the main floor, because he wants to make sure all of the construction traffic on the top floor will be done first.

He forgets about access to the attic until he starts painting the upstairs bedrooms. It’s an all day job to put up the first coat of paint in every room, and by the time he makes it to the master bedroom, he pauses and stares at the closet. He’d knocked out the center wall to open up the entire space with dark wood accordion doors, and at the time, he hadn’t thought about the attic.

Today he’s thinking about it.

He grabs his ladder and puts it in the closet, climbing up a few steps. He presses on the panel in the ceiling until it pops free, and then finally, with the reach of the ladders, steps up into the attic until his entire torso is in it. He pulls his flashlight off of his belt, turning it on and panning around the room. Just like last time, there’s not much up here. Furniture covered in sheets (how did they get it up here?), plenty of boxes… a shit ton of dust.

He closes his eyes to sneeze.

When he opens his eyes, there’s a face directly in front of his own.

“FUCK!” He yelps in surprise, his feet going wibbly wobbly on the ladder.

Strong hands reach out to grab him under the armpits, keeping him safe until his feet find purchase on the ladder. Breathing heavily, panic zipping through his veins, he looks around once he’s steady and finds that he’s alone in the room once more.

“Fuck,” he breathes.

“I’d rather you not curse in my presence,” a disembodied, deep voice says, the tone of it regal.

“Um???” He turns his head this way and that to try and place the voice. “I do what I want?” He says unsurely.

“I’ve noticed,” the voice says, droll. “For instance, you are destroying my home.”

“Des-” Dean clenches his jaw. “I’m restoring it, Casper. The seventies really did a number on it.”

 

“My name is not Casper,” the voice says, sounding confused. “I am Castiel.”

Dean squints into the darkness. He moves his flashlight around. “Why can’t I see you?”

“I used all of my strength to catch you. You’re quite heavy.”

Dean flushes. “Yeah, that’s ‘cause I’m still alive, buddy.”

“Will you be ‘restoring’ access to the attic? It was closed off quite some time ago.”

“Well, yeah,” he says. “Probably put access in the hallway for some pull-down stairs.”

“Lovely.” A pause. “I must say, Dean, you are quite calm for someone conversing with a ghost.”

“Y’know what, not much shocks me anymore these days,” he mumbles in reply.

“I apologize for your coffee mug, by the way,” Castiel says primly. “I was trying to manifest and seemed to have had a… malfunction.”

“You fixed it, s’fine,” he rubs the back of his neck idly. “Are you uh. Are you the guy who built this house?”

“It is my pride and my legacy,” Castiel says softly.

Dean rests his elbow and forearm on the floor of the attic so he can lean a little to take weight off of his bad knee. “Do you… not like what I’m doin’?”

“You are not done, therefore I cannot know if I like it or not.”

“Do you. Uh. D’you wanna see… the blueprints? And drawings?”

“... You would show me?”

“Listen, I’m guessin’ that when I bought the house I also bought your uhhhh… company. An’ I don’t wanna disrespect you by fuckin’ up your house. But renovating houses literally was my job before I retired and I’d say I’m pretty damn good at it.”

“I heard you discussing with your friend that you would like to keep original victorian touches…”

“Yep.”

“Perhaps we could work together? No one knows true victorian touches like one who lived through the ages.”

Dean scratches his stubbly cheek idly. “Fuck it. Why not?”

A cool breeze wisps by him, ruffling his hair and causing a full body shiver.

“I thank you, Dean Winchester.”

“Yeah, yeah-” he blows out a sigh, though the corners of his lips are tightening minutely. “I’m gonna go now.” After a moments’ thought, he says, “Can you uh. See me… all the time?”

“It takes a lot of energy to manifest through the veil. After this conversation you may not hear from me for days.”

He breathes a sigh of relief. “Alright. I guess I’ll uh, see you in a few days and I’ll show you my blueprints?”

“Of course, Dean.”

Dean steps down the ladder, replaces the ceiling panel, and then finishes painting the master bedroom with a small smile on his features.

--

Dean relocates attic access to the hallway. He makes an entirely new ceiling in the master closet with recessed lighting, eliminating the small panel that used to lead to the attic. Dropdown stairs are a bitch to install, but Benny comes over and helps him to eliminate the stress and also avoid any injuries. A second coat of paint gets thrown up on the second floor in all of the bedrooms, and then Dean and Benny get to work sanding down the original floors.

By the time they break for dinner, they’re beat, but satisfied. Aside from some detailed touches in the master bedroom, the second floor is completely done. He won’t furnish it until the whole house is done, but he will move his temporary bedding and all of his belongings up there. He uses a countertop grill to make burgers (he has plans to buy a brand new grill so he sold his old one, and countertop grills aren’t terrible but they’re not ideal, so he settles).

As they sit down at the card table with their burgers and potato chips, a cold breeze passes over them.

A man appears in the cased entryway to the kitchen, behind Benny. Dean blinks in surprise- the man is… well. Wow. The man is beautiful, mid thirties, wild dark hair and sparkling blue eyes. He’s wearing a very formal sort of tuxedo, maroon velvet with gold accents. Immediately, Dean knows this is Castiel.

Immediately, Dean has a little panic.

But it’s too late, because Benny turns to look at Castiel, making a surprised noise. “Eh bien. Bonjour?

Castiel smiles politely, also looking a little surprised. “Bonjour. Puis-je m’asseoir ici?

Benny brightens. “Of course, friend!”

Castiel sits in the seat adjacent to both of them, sending Dean a bit more of a reserved smile. Up close, he’s… stunning. Dean doesn’t think he’s ever been so caught off guard by someone’s looks before. Especially a dead dude. He’s a little pale and grey, but his clothing, hair, and bright eyes offset the sallowness of his skin. “Hello, Dean.”

Dean swallows the dry piece of bread in his throat. “Heya, Cas.”

“Ah! S’this a neighbor?” Benny asks with a jovial grin. Bastard loves meeting new people.

“Yes,” Dean and Castiel both reply.

“An awful long hike in those fancy duds,” Benny says, eyeing Castiel’s outfit curiously.

“It would offend my tailor if I did not wear his creations,” Castiel says, reaching up to straighten the lapel of his suit jacket, fingers idly tucking the ruffled collar of the undershirt.

“I’ll bet,” Benny says, eyes twinkling.

“Uh, Cas,” Dean says, grabbing the ghost’s attention. “I didn’t know you were dropping by.”

“It has been four days,” Castiel says, squinting at him, head tilting in a bit of confusion.

Dean remembers Castiel saying he would come back in a few days, giving him a slightly tense smile. “You’re right. My bad, I forgot you’d be comin’ around.”

Castiel’s beautiful eyes narrow. The light overhead flickers. “You forgot?”

“I mean-” Dean waves a hand. “I didn’t forget, I just got busy.”

The ghost adjusts his sitting posture, which is already perfect. “I see you made a new attic access.”

Dean’s smile is frozen on his face. Benny frowns in confusion, because why would Castiel, who is clearly an alive neighbor, know about the upstairs attic access if he came through the open front door?

“Mhm. Look, Cas. You want a bite to eat?”

Castiel looks at their sandwiches with an odd type of sadness. His shoulders are broad, Dean notes. The suit does a good job adding curves where there might not be, but it’s not lost on Dean that Castiel has… well- he technically doesn’t have a body because he’s a ghost, but y’know, when he was alive, he was definitely stacked. Is that weird thought to have? About a ghost? About a very good looking gho-

“I thank you, Dean, though I have already eaten.”

“Right.” Dean claps his hands. “Well, Benny! Hate to make you dine and dash but uh. I gotta talk to my neighbor about a few things.”

Benny’s eyebrows raise in a way that Dean absolutely hates, the twinkle in his blue eyes something like the glimmer in Sam’s whenever a juicy bit of gossip has been revealed. “Alright, brotha. I’ll gather my stuff and leave you to it.” He sends Castiel a playful wink. “He only acts like he’s scared. He really loves it.”

Castiel sends Benny a frazzled, confused look. Benny reaches out to pat Castiel on the shoulder, and Dean sees Castiel’s jaw clench and his entire body clench- Benny’s hand lands, like nothing’s wrong, and then he leaves the kitchen to start gathering his tools so he can leave. Castiel flickers a bit like a television trying to find a signal.

They sit in silence until they hear the front door shut.

“Holy shit, Cas!”

“My apologies,” Castiel replies, solidifying once more. “I spent all of my time gathering energy to manifest, it didn’t occur to me that it might happen when you had company.”

Dean slaps a hand to his face and then drags it down. “S’fine, he was gonna leave after dinner anyway.”

Quiet.

Dean peeks through his fingers at Castiel. “So. Uh. This is… what you look like, huh?”

Castiel sends him a blank look. “Yes.”

“Were you uh.” Dean looks him up and down. “Rich?”

“Quite.”

“Nice.”

Dean puts his hands on the table, drumming his fingers idly.

Castiel looks at him placidly.

“Oh-!” Dean gets up, moving towards the counter to grab his notebook and the rolled up blueprints. He clears the table, puts them down, and slides them over to Castiel. “Take a look.”

Leaning over the table, Castiel looks over the blueprints and reads Dean’s notes, also eyeing the concept drawings as well. He’s silent for five whole minutes, and then he sits back in his chair, looking at Dean who is now seated as well, waiting to hear what he thinks.

“Much of this was not available when I built this house.”

Dean grins.

“Is it so easy to make these changes now?”

Dean nods. “Yeah, man. A lot of it is cosmetic, and the few things we gotta knock out and replace aren’t that big of a deal.”

Humming, Castiel looks over the drawings. “You… drew these?”

“I doodled ‘em, yeah.”

“These are no doodles, Dean.”

“It’s no biggie.”

Castiel squints.

Dean clears his throat awkwardly. “Anyway. Upstairs is basically done. Just needs some accents, really. What do you suggest?”

“Unseal the windows, firstly,” Castiel says plainly, looking over the blueprints again. “I can make suggestions for drapes.”

Dean frowns. “I did unseal the windows.”

Castiel looks up with a matching frown. “They… are sealed shut.”

“Uh, I know. Which is why I unsealed them. Gotta put in screens so we can get some airflow up there.”

Castiel’s brows furrow even deeper. “They… sealed again.”

“Huh.” Dean folds his arms over his chest, tipping his head back to now frown up at the ceiling. “They did that once already.” He sends Castiel a crooked smile. “There some sort of demonic entity tryna make sure the house stays on lockdown or somethin’?”

Castiel’s eyes widen. His mouth opens-

And then he wisps away in a puff of smoke.

--

“Did you and your nerd brain do any research on this house?”

“Yes,” Sam replies primly. “Did you?”

“No,” Dean grins, “‘cause I knew you would.”

Sam rolls his eyes. “What do you want to know?”

“The original owner-”

“-Castiel Novak-”

“-died here?”

“It’s rumored,” Sam shrugs. “There was no body recovered and no foul play detected. His mistress also went missing.”

Dean’s eyebrows raise. “Mistress?”

Sam grabs his phone, tapping around a few times. “Megan Masters. Oh- they were actually betrothed.”

“There a chance they got ganked and their bodies are on the property?”

“Most likely. You have over twenty acres. And that weird cellar.”

Dean shudders. “Haven’t been down there again yet.”

Sam snorts, still scrolling. “Oh- so get this: Megan’s family wasn’t very well off. She was set up to marry Castiel in some sort of trade. Castiel had started putting together papers so that the Masters family could own property in exchange for marrying Megan.”

Dean wrinkles his nose. “He don’t seem the type to ask for marriage in exchange for some land.”

“What?” Sam asks.

“What?” Dean feigns.

“Anyway,” Sam looks down again. “It doesn’t look like the documents were legitimized. No land was sold to the Masters. And then… well, Castiel and Megan disappeared.”

“What a coincidence,” Dean says dryly, picking up his beer.

Sam puts his phone down, resting his elbows on his desk and lacing his fingers under his chin as he looks at Dean. “The law in the eighteen hundreds was a little backwards, especially here in the south. If they had been murdered, it probably wouldn’t have been followed up. Castiel’s house went up for auction, and that’s that. Every two-to-five years the deed changed hands, all the way ‘til you bought it.”

“Well,” Dean smiles at his tablet as he settles back in his chair in the kitchen. “I ain’t goin’ anywhere.”

“Right,” Sam shakes his head. “You got the upstairs all done finally?”

“Oh, yeah,” Dean nods. “I’ll wait to furnish the guest bedrooms but I got the master bedroom all done.”

“Got a fancy Martha Stewart bedroom set?” Sam smirks.

Dean sniffs. “Joanna Gaines is my one true queen, thank you very much.”

“Are you going for ‘Victorian B-and-B’?”

“Maybe,” Dean puts an elbow on the table to mimic Sam’s position. “S’alotta room in this house and a lotta property. Bet I could fix it up real nice and do a b-and-b.”

“You went out there to retire,” Sam says flatly.

“Social security is bullshit,” Dean ruffles, then glances away from the screen. “Plus, y’know, the money from the settlement isn’t gonna last forever.”

“You couldn’t make a dent in that if you tried. How much have you spent remodeling so far?”

“‘Bout seventy.”

Sam’s look magically gets flatter. “You won’t run out of money, Dean, if that’s what you’re really worried about.”

Damn it. Stupid brother bond. “Yeah, yeah. Maybe I’ll want company?”

“Dean, you don’t want to turn that place into a b-and-b. You want to turn it into a place where friends and family can gather. Maybe be a venue a couple months out of the year for weddings. You don’t want to run a b-and-b.”

Groaning a little and stomping his feet in a pout, Dean tips his head back. “Fine.”

Sam’s brows pinch together. “Do you need me to come up for the weekend?”

“What?”

“You just seem-” Sam runs a hand through his hair. “You just seem a little… off.”

Dean waves a hand. “M’fine. Benny was just here.”

“For an evening. Dean, I’m worried-”

“I’m fine,” he snaps, then immediately closes his mouth.

They stare at each other.

Finally, Sam sighs and relents. “If you say so. Talk tomorrow?”

“Bye, bitch.”

“Later, jerk.”

--

With easy access to the attic, Dean finds himself wandering up there occasionally. He doesn’t always see or hear Castiel, but the space is thick with his presence. Dean sweeps the floors, runs a wet swiffer over them; he pulls the sheets off of the furniture, nearly peeing himself when he sees how beautiful the original victorian pieces are, already thinking about how to restore them and make them shine again. Castiel had granted Dean access to anything in the attic, which means Dean is gung-ho not only for the furniture, but to look through the boxes in which Castiel mentioned there might be some other decor. He won’t be able to get a lot of it down without help, but Benny won’t be available until next weekend. Which is fine. He can actually restore a lot of the pieces right here in the attic.

After an hour of oiling all the wood pieces of the couches and chairs, he’s sweating. He’s sitting on the floor doing the legs of a dining table that he’d had to assemble, admiring the handiwork but also panting heavily. He lifts a hand to wipe his forehead, and when he drops his hand Castiel is crouched in front of him.

“FUCK!” Dean jumps and scoots back, hitting his head on the underside of the table.

Castiel looks unaffected. “Hello, Dean.”

“Jesus,” Dean whines, “you gotta wear a bell or somethin’.”

Castiel frowns. “I am a ghost, Dean. Making noise is not something I do.”

“Right,” Dean replies shortly, doing his best to not feel affection for the odd way Castiel talks. “‘Sup?”

Castiel observes all that Dean has done. “They look beautiful. Like the day they were made.”

“I used to do a lot of thrifting when I renovated houses,” he gets his heart beat under control, scooting out from under the table on his butt. “Restoring furniture’s actually pretty fun.

Castiel smiles softly. “You were very focused.”

“I tend to get that way,” he mumbles.

“You are restoring all the furniture?”

“Yeah,” Dean whuffs out a breath as he stands, his bad knee twinging. He reaches down to rub it idly as he looks at the collection of furniture. “I’ll see what everything looks like in actual daylight and decide where it goes. I’d like to use it all.”

“And the ones you do not use?”

“Store ‘em again.”

Castiel seems to be relieved.

Dean offers a slightly crooked grin, “I wouldn’t sell ‘em, buddy. It’d be different if you weren’t hangin’ around, though.”

“I see,” Castiel nods. He looks down at Dean’s knee. “Does that hurt?”

“Only when it rains,” Dean jokes, then winces when his knee twinges again, “and when I exist in general.”

Castiel frowns. “What happened?”

“Car accident,” Dean says, hoping his tone of voice closes the conversation.

“Ah.” It does.

“Anyway, what happened to you the other day? You were totally fine and then you just kinda went poof.”

“Oh,” Castiel frowns. “I’m not exactly sure. I’ve never manifested for so long. I assume I expended all of my energy.”

“Really?” Dean raises his eyebrows in surprise. “You’ve… never manifested before me?”

Castiel shakes his head. “I’d never felt the need.”

Dean squints. “Why do you ‘feel the need’ with me?”

Shifting from foot to foot, Castiel wrings his hands idly. “You… are transforming my home. I found myself wanting to be a part of that process, if you would let me.”

“Huh.” A pause. “Wait- so… all of the previous owners, you never interacted with them?”

The ghost shakes his head again. “Not at all. Time in the veil…” He looks off in the distance. “It passes differently. Some of the families that lived here, I never saw at all.”

Dean frowns. “Then… if it ain’t you, what’s been scaring off all of the homeowners?”

Castiel mirrors his frown. “They have been scared off?” He brings his fingers to his chin in thought. “I suppose it is odd that no one has lived here for more than a few years…”

“Cas…” Dean feels an odd squirm in his chest. “Cas, are there any other ghosts here?”

Castiel shakes his head. “Not that I have noticed.” He snaps his fingers, “Though-”, and then disappears in a wisp.

Alone in the attic, Dean stares into the empty space.

Something is amiss.

--

“What are you doing here?”

“Hello, brother, I missed you so much. Please, enter my beautiful home. Set up the brand new bedroom set in one of the spare bedrooms and stay a while. Your comfort and security bring me so much joy,” Sam says as he passes Dean to enter the house.

Dean stares at his brother’s back for a second, then looks out toward where Benny has his truck parked, a trailer hooked up to the hitch. The bed of the truck is stuffed neatly full of furniture, and no doubt the trailer is also filled with this and that as well.

“He put you up to this?” Dean calls.

Benny just shrugs and hops into the bed of the truck. “When a Winchester wants to hitch a ride, you don’t say no.”

Grumbling, Dean moves out towards the truck to help Benny. Sam joins them after a few minutes and together they haul a complete bedroom set up the stairs and into the spare bedroom at the front of the house, following Sam’s direction. Dean acts put out, but in reality he’s thankful Sam elbowed his way into this weekend. After a few hours the guest room is set up completely; Sam’s choice in dark blue bedspread and accents go nicely with the soft grey walls, and he’d even brought his own furniture. Bed frame, box spring, a dresser, two night stands, even a closet rod. By the time they’re done the room looks inhabitable and Dean can’t help but grin, slapping his brother on the shoulder.

“Nice work, Sammy. I knew some taste would rub off on ya.”

“Yuck,” Sam says blandly.

“Let’s have lunch,” Benny says, rubbing his belly.

They wander down into the decidedly not tasteful kitchen.

“Smart idea to get the upstairs done before doing the downstairs,” Sam says.

“Almost like I did this for a living once,” Dean replies.

“Beer me,” Benny calls.

The three of them get sandwiches made and sit at the card table, happy in each other’s company.

“I tell ya brotha, I can’t wait until you get this kitchen fixed up. I miss your cookin’.”

“Me too,” Sam says.

“Me three,” Dean laughs.

“Upstairs is still pretty plain,” Sam notes.

“Yeah, I’m still tryna figure out the details. There’s some really sweet furniture up in the attic, though. I’ve refinished a lot of it. Just waitin’ to get the floors down here redone and the walls all painted.”

The lights flicker.

Sam frowns at the ceiling. “Didn’t you redo the electrical?”

“Maybe it’s a ghost,” Benny grins.

“Haha,” Dean laughs awkwardly.

“Dean tell you ‘bout his neighbor?” Benny asks Sam.

Dean feels his gut drop.

“Neighbor?” Sam raises his eyebrows at Dean. “No.” He mouths to Dean, ‘Neighbor?

“Weird fella,” Benny continues. “Dresses like a vampire. Real nice though. Dean seems a lil’ sweet on him.”

The corners of Sam’s mouth tighten. “Is that so?”

“What was his name?” Benny strokes his beard idly as he stares at the ceiling. “Colin? Connor?”

The lights flicker.

“Cas,” Dean supplies.

Sam’s eyes widen. “Cas?”

“Cas!” Benny says with a laugh. “That’s right.”

“And this ‘Cas’ dresses like a… vampire?” Sam repeats.

“Yeah,” Benny gestures at his own face, “kinda pale- real pretty eyes though. And then his,” he gestures at his body, “suit was… kinda looked like it was made outta pillows. Crimson?”

“Maroon,” Dean croaks.

“I ain’t so good with colors,” Benny chuckles. “Anyway, I imagine he lives alone, that boy. Or maybe has an eccentric wife. Lotta people love doing reenactments of different areas out here.”

“Mhm,” Dean hums.

“Uh-huh,” Sam hems.

Oblivious, Benny continues. “Anyway. That’s that. What are we gonna work on after we eat?”

The lights flicker.

Dean stands up, his chair scraping over the floor. “I gotta piss.” He speedwalks out of the kitchen and shuts himself in the powder room. He does his business, washes his hands, then returns to the kitchen where Sam is cleaning up, Benny out of sight.

“So,” Sam says.

“So,” Dean says.

“This house is haunted?”

“I don’t believe in ghosts.”

“That doesn’t mean it’s not haunted.”

“Don’t it?”

“Dean,” Sam whirls on him, hands soapy and hazel eyes bright, “Benny literally described the original owner of this house. I saw pictures of him, you know, when I was doing research.”

Dean pales a little. “Huh. What a coincidence.”

Sam’s eyes narrow. “Cas is the owner Castiel, Dean. You don’t need to hide it from me.”

Wiping a hand down his face, Dean sighs. “Alright. Castiel the friendly ghost.”

Primly, Sam returns to washing the dishes in the sink. Then, because he’s a little fucking asshole: “Do you have a crush on a dead guy?”

“I’m gonna go find Benny,” Dean snips, leaving the kitchen.

The lights flicker.

--

The weekend is interesting. It’s been a long time since Sam and Dean have shared space like this, but it’s interesting in a… good way. Dean’s always been into sharing his space with someone, especially his stupid brother; they complement each other well, occupy the same space well, and just… damn. It feels good to have Sam here.

Saturday morning Sam helps Dean move a rocking chair and an end table into a different spare room. Sam made a joke that rocking chairs are an invitation for ghosts to sit, Dean rolled his eyes, and when the air got a little chillier, Sam shut up. Dean says he’ll put a daybed in this room, something gender neutral for whatever rascals will be running around here… eventually. Not that he and Sam are on the road to pop out a few kids, but they have friends.

They spend the afternoon restoring the hardwoods on the main floor, still avoiding the kitchen, which Dean will tile. It’s easy work, the silence between them compatible and comfortable. Sam expertly doesn’t say anything more about the ghost situation, but Dean knows better. It’s brewing.

It bubbles over at dinner.

“Will I be able to meet him?”

“He says it takes a lot of energy to manifest,” Dean says, checking the burgers on the countertop grill.

“When’s the last time you saw him?”

“Uh… couple days ago.”

“Hm.”

“Huh.”

“Hello, Dean.”

Dean tenses when Sam yelps in surprise and nearly falls out of his chair. There in the opening to the kitchen Castiel appears, still wearing the maroon suit, looking beautiful and mildly confused.

“Heya, Cas,” Dean says, relaxing and flipping the burgers.

Castiel looks towards Sam. “Hello…?”

“Sam,” Sam says, looking at Castiel with open awe on his face.

“Ah, Dean’s brother,” Castiel nods.

Sam blushes brightly, which is super weird. He rights himself on his chair, clears his throat a few times, rolls his sleeves up and down and then says, “You’re a ghost.”

Castiel sends him a flat look. “The sky is blue.”

“Fair enough,” Sam says. Castiel takes a seat across from him on the only chair not tucked underneath the table. Sam leans forward a bit, regaining some of his sanity. “This is incredible. I told Dean this house was haunted.”

“It is not haunted,” Castiel says haughtily.

Sam arches a brow.

“I live here,” the ghost says firmly.

“Right. A ghost that lives in a house,” Sam says.

“Dean, you said your brother was smart.”

Dean snickers to himself while Sam splutters in surprise. “I think he’s in shock.”

“My apologies,” Castiel says, not a hint of apology in his voice.

Sam looks him over. “You look… really good.”

Castiel’s brows knit softly. “... Thank you?”

“I mean-” Sam flails a hand. “You actually look like… you could be alive, y’know? Your skin is a little grey but other than that you look. Real.”

“Given that I cannot leave the house I cannot be in the sun to tan,” Castiel jokes.

He fucking jokes. Dean serves his and Sam’s burgers, setting the plates on the table as he sits at either of their elbows. “You can’t leave the house?”

“I assume my body is somewhere inside,” Castiel explains.

Wowza. Dean swallows, pushing his plate away slightly.

“How did you die?” Sam asks, because he has zero tact.

“I’m not sure,” Castiel admits. “The last thing I remember is…” he frowns as he thinks. “It was night time. I awoke because…” he chews his lower lip. “I… I don’t remember why I was woken up.”

“Maybe it’s best if you don’t remember how you died,” Dean says, sending Sam a pointed look.

“But if we know how then maybe we can find his body-”

“And what?” Dean’s voice rises slightly. “Bury it?”

Sam looks at Castiel. “You’re stuck in the veil, right? Wouldn’t a proper burial send you to the other side? To Heaven or whatever?”

Castiel shrugs. “Perhaps.”

“Do you want to go to Heaven?” Dean asks.

Castiel looks massively uncomfortable. “I am not sure I would make it into Heaven.”

“Why?” The brothers ask in unison.

The ghost looks down at the table, where his hands are folded. He stays quiet, and suddenly Dean feels very, very anxious.

“Cas, you weren’t like- y’know, this is the south and during your time it was…-”

“-frowned upon to be homosexual.”

This time the silence that fills the kitchen is palpable.

“What.” Both brothers say.

Castiel sighs. “I was betrothed for… show, really. My parents did not approve of my lifestyle and threatened to take away my estate, my house that I built,” he gestures around, his eyes fond but his lips tight. “In exchange for marrying Miss Masters I would be allowed to live peacefully.” His eyes lower again. “Though, homosexuality is a sin, of course. Which is why I do not believe I will be granted access to Heaven.”

It takes a few moments for Castiel’s words to absorb.

Sam speaks first, “Did Megan know you were gay?”

Castiel tilts his head a little at the term, but seems to understand. “She found out.”

“Did she approve?” Sam asks.

Castiel’s shockingly pretty, alive-looking eyes drop down to the table again. “She did not. It was her who found out about my preferences and set up the betrothal, as if she were acting in my best interest.”

“She blackmailed you,” Dean says flatly.

“Yes,” Castiel replies plainly.

“Dean, she disappeared too,” Sam says.

The brothers share a look, then look at Castiel.

“Is it possible Megan could have killed you?” Sam asks.

Castiel’s eyes widen. “Miss Masters?” He looks between them. “I… am unsure of that possibility. She seemed well suited to our union. As she knew I was not in love with her, she would still be free to live her… promiscuous life while under the facade.”

“Ok but,” Sam puts both his palms on the table, leaning forward a bit. “Hear me out. What if… Megan killed you, and then killed herself?”

Castiel gasps in horror. “What?”

“Anyone would have the hots for you, Cas,” Dean interjects. “She’d be blind or a fucking idiot to not want to be with you, whether or not you were gay.”

“She appeared to be of sound mind,” Castiel says, confused.

“So in a fit of jealousy,” Sam says, “she killed you because she couldn’t have you, and when she’d realized what she did, she killed herself.”

“That doesn’t explain why her body was never found,” Dean says.

Castiel suddenly stands up from the table, a chilly gust of wind blasting from him. “Stop!”

Both brothers shut up.

“I cannot accept that Miss Masters is a killer,” Castiel says with passion. “I can barely accept that I have been murdered and not passed away peacefully in my sleep.”

“I mean, peacefully is a stretch, if you died in your sleep in the eighteen hundreds it was probably a painful and agonizing bout of tuberculosis-”

The glare Castiel sends Sam could melt the ice caps. Sam snaps his jaw shut.

“I thank you for your terrible company this evening,” Castiel says regally. “Good eve.”

He disappears in a wisp.

Dean and Sam exchange a glance. After a moment, Dean sighs.

“Man, I hope there’s a fuckin’ crawl space under this damn house.”

--

“So,” Sam’s standing in the doorway of Dean’s bedroom, wearing sleep clothes and a stupid little brother look. “That’s Cas.”

“That’s Cas,” Dean says, sitting up against his padded headboard, a book in his hands and glasses on his face.

Nodding and looking around Dean’s beautifully furnished room slowly, Sam slips his hands into the pockets of his pj pants. “He seems nice.”

“He’s alright,” Dean turns the page in his book.

Sam keeps nodding, looking like some sort of idiot bobble head.

Sighing, Dean puts his book in his lap and fixes his brother with a glare. “You got somethin’ to say?”

“I didn’t think Benny was serious when he said you liked Cas, but clearly he was right.”

“Oh for cryin’ out loud.”

“I mean it, Dean,” Sam takes a step into the room, his face all earnest and sweet and annoying.

“Me too, Sam,” Dean slaps his book shut. “He’s a ghost. He’s dead. And he’s a weird dude and I kinda like him but not like- not like that. I don’t even know him.”

“So… get to know him?” Sam gestures around. “You’re, um. Going to be roommates for a while.”

“Y’think I haven’t thought of that?” Dean gripes, folding his arms over his chest.

“Dean,” Sam says, with feeling, because he’s an asshole. He sits down on the edge of Dean’s bed, big hazel eyes wet and wide. “He needs a friend. And so do you.”

Dean sends Sam an unimpressed look. “No I don’t.”

“That’s not up for argument,” Sam smoothes out the comforter needlessly.

“I moved out to the countryside to do this crazy thing called retire and everyone’s acting like I’m walking the plank.”

“You moved out to the countryside to run away from your problems,” Sam says, a little louder than necessary.

Quiet.

Dean sighs. Sam looks at him through his lashes. Begrudgingly, Dean scoots over a little and then pats the space next to him. “Don’t be weird about this.”

“You’re the one who’d be weird about it,” Sam says as he crawls up to scooch under the covers next to his brother. He rests on his side so he can face Dean as he speaks. “You need to talk about it.”

“I talked about it plenty,” Dean says, trying to control the irritation in his voice as he picks up his book. Two middle-aged brothers sharing a bed like it’s a freaking slumber party… “To the therapist, to the doctors, to the lawyers. I’m done talkin’ about it, Sammy. I just wanna put it behind me.”

“You can’t put it behind you when it’s still in front of you,” Sam says quietly.

Letting out a long, tired sigh, Dean stares at his book as he gathers his thoughts. “I don’t wanna pull the ‘you’ll never understand’ card. I really don’t. But Sammy- you didn’t…” he licks his lips. “You didn’t see them die. You didn’t watch them get crushed in a compacted car. You didn’t hear the train. You didn’t hear their screams, or feel your own body get crunched up. That ain’t somethin’ that’s gonna get behind me real fast.” He fingers the corner of his book. “It’s been three years and I can’t…” he blows out a breath.

Sam pats Dean’s thigh through the blankets. “I know. I can’t understand and I never will. But…” he curls up a little. He’s ridiculous, his long moose limbs and fluffy hair and awkward body. “I lost mom and dad, too.”

Ah, fuck. Guilt grips Dean tight. He puts his book on the nightstand, shifting to lie down next to his brother, forcing their gazes to meet. “You’re right. I been real shitty about all of it. Selfish. You don’t deserve that.” He sighs. “You’ve done nothing but good things for me.”

“I don’t mean to make you feel bad, Dean. Just aware. And I know one of the reasons you came out here was so you wouldn’t be a burden to anyone around you.”

Ouch. “Caught me.”

Sam snorts. “You gotta let us in. You can still be a grumpy bastard, but for the love of God, let us in.”

Dean nods. He turns around to click off the lamp on the nightstand. He settles back down, thankful this bed is big enough for both of them. They haven’t shared a bed since they were children, but it has always been a safe space for them. Blanket forts, makeshift spaceships, karate championships that always ended up with something broken or strained… They shared a room up until Dean moved out after high school and he’s gotta be honest, it was really difficult adjusting to not sharing his space with his stupid doofus brother.

Right now, on the surface, he’s pretending that having Sam stay the night with his is embarrassing.

Deep, deep down, he’s thankful he has a brother who loves him so much.

“Dean?”

“Mm.”

“You also have to let your ghost boyfriend in.”

“The amount of trauma either of us has gone through could probably fill and then explode the Chrysler tower.”

“Good. Then you can build each other back up again.”

“I think you’re missing the point of him being uhhhhhhhhhhhhh dead.”

“And I think you’re missing the point of him never showing himself to anyone but you.”

“You’re havin’ a lotta fun romanticizing this aren’t you, Samantha.”

“S’a better story than Twilight.”

Dean punches his pillow and settles down into it with a grumpy frown. “Nothin’s better’n Twilight.”

--

Breakfast the next morning is simple. Sunday mornings are a day that’s historically lazy in the Winchester household, no matter where they are or what they’re doing. Dean wakes up before Sam to catch a shower and get a head start on breakfast; Sam comes down and sits at the makeshift table, ruffling his wet hair and complaining that Dean doesn’t have a blender.

“What is a blender?”

Castiel’s rough, deep voice startles them both a little. He looks a little confused, like he usually does when he shows up, as though he’s shocked that he’s made it to this side of the veil successfully. Hell, maybe he is shocked.

“Mornin’, Cas!” Dean greets. “Have a seat.”

Castiel walks towards the table. He fidgets with the cuffs of his sleeves, before looking at Sam. “Good morning, Sam. Could you please pull a chair out for me?”

Sam obliges. “Can you only focus your energy on manifesting?”

“Indeed,” Castiel says.

Dean sets two plates down on the table, sitting down as well. “How’s things in the veil?”

“Void,” Castiel says flatly.

Dean snickers.

Sam rolls his eyes, then looks towards the ghost. “Hey, I want to apologize for the last time we saw each other. I pushed you pretty hard on the death thing.”

Castiel shakes his head, “You were right to. In all the years I have been dead I never wondered… the why, or the how. I merely existed in it.”

Dean shoves some bacon into his mouth. “So did you… remember anything?”

The ghost eyes the way Dean talks with his mouth full, before shaking his head. “Unfortunately, no. If Miss Masters died as well… wouldn’t she also be haunting the house?”

“I guess that depends,” Sam shrugs. He grabs his tablet off of the counter, propping it up in front of him.

“On what?” Castiel says, eyeing the device curiously.

“How she died, and where she was buried,” Sam says.

“You a ghostbuster now?” Dean asks, some bacon crumbles falling out of his mouth.

Sam sends him A Look. “I do this weird things called ‘reading’. You should try it sometime.”

“I’m good,” Dean replies, picking up his orange juice for a deep drink.

“So get this-” Sam starts.

“Wait, when did you have time to read-”

“-spirits can attach themselves to physical objects when they die. Sometimes even if they get buried. Cas, you built this house, so in all likelihood even if you died outside of it, your spirit would probably be attached to it. You love it, right?”

“It was my greatest accomplishment,” Castiel confirms.

“Unfortunately the best information I got on how to help ghosts pass over to the other side involves destroying whatever object they’re attached to-”

Dean and Castiel gasp.

“-but we’re obviously not gonna do that so we have to find a different way.”

A thud upstairs catches their attention. Three sets of eyes look up towards the ceiling.

Dean frowns. “Uh, Cas? Can you be in two places at once?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Castiel grumbles, “I can barely keep myself at this table.”

Sam drums his fingers over the table. “What about… Megan?”

Castiel looks towards Sam. “I told you, I haven’t seen her at all. Not in the veil nor outside it.”

“I’m just gonna throw this out there,” Dean says, wiping his hands clean on a napkin, “that if she was a bad nut, she’s probably not a friendly ghost like Cas here.”

“Do you think she could be a dark entity?”

Dean levels Sam with a blank look, “You’re really enjoying your newfound afterlife knowledge, huh.”

“This is serious, Dean,” Sam says, straightening a little and looking earnest. “It’s a miracle Cas has lasted this long in the veil without turning into a monster. From everything I’ve read, the longer a ghost lingers, the more they go crazy. Like, poltergeist crazy.”

“So you think Megan is a bad ghost?”

“If she’s still around but no one has seen her, even Cas, there’s a chance she’s gone dark side.”

Quiet.

Another thud upstairs.

“Cas,” Dean says, “‘member when you told me to unseal the windows?”

“Yes,” Castiel frowns.

“And ‘member when I said I did… twice?”

“Yes,” Castiel’s eyes widen in realization.

Dean’s heart rate starts to pick up in his chest. “I think Meg’s around. And I think she’s been makin’ sure that you can’t leave.”

The front door slams shut. Sam and Dean jump up from the table, their knees knocking it askew, glasses tipping over and spilling orange juice on the floor.

“What do we do?” Dean tries to keep himself from yelling.

“I don’t know,” Sam says, turning wide, nearly-panicked eyes towards his brother. “I’ve never fought a ghost before.”

A cold breeze passes through the kitchen. In the entrance a dark figure appears, staticy and wispy, before it solidifies into a woman wearing period clothing reminiscent of Castiel’s. Dark hair, dark eyes, she’s beautiful and… well, pissed off.

“CASTIEL.”

Her voice roars in a pitch unlike anything Dean’s ever heard. Sam covers his ears. Dean winces, but they both stand their ground as Castiel stands up from the table as well. He looks… well, like he’s seen a ghost. Megan’s eyes are focused solely on Castiel as he approaches her. Dean thinks it’s a dumb idea for anyone, alive or dead, to approach such an evil looking spirit, but then again, what does he know?

“Dean,” Sam’s made his way to stand next to him, his voice dropped low. “Where’s the salt?”

“The what?” Dean cuts him a glance.

“The salt,” Sam hisses.

There’s really no time to question anything. Dean creeps over towards the counter where he’d been cooking breakfast on the griddle, grabbing the salt shaker and then moving back towards Sam. He passes it off to him by their thighs, discrete and out of the way.

“I know pretty much everything online is fake,” Sam says, “but I really, really hope this works.”

“What-”

Sam rips the cap off of the salt, and then chucks it towards Megan. She sees it coming and screams a terrible banshee scream, holding her arms up in front of her face- the salt shaker spills and passes through her, her specter disappearing with a howl and a breeze. Sam, Dean, and Castiel stare at the empty space, in shock.

“Guess ghosts need to watch their sodium intake,” Dean says.

“When do you think she’ll be back?” Castiel asks.

“I don’t fuckin’ know,” Dean replies, “but we gotta get outta this house and come up with a plan.”

“Dean,” Sam points at Castiel, “he can’t leave.”

Dean presses the heels of his palms to his eyes. “Shit. Ok. Um. She wants Cas. She- fuck, there’s no way she didn’t kill him, right? If she’s here, her body is somewhere here, too. Maybe- maybe it’s with wherever Cas’s body is?” he thinks out loud.

“The cellar,” Sam suddenly says.

Dean stares at him.

“We barely went down there,” Sam says, “and I know you haven’t gone down there by yourself. It’s a dirt floor, right?”

Dean groans. “We gotta dig up the floor.”

“Do you think she can hurt you?” Sam asks Castiel.

The ghost shrugs, but looks a little worried. “I am not sure. I have no corporeal body so I assume I cannot feel pain, though when you threw the salt at her she seemed rather distressed.”

“What do we do when we find their bodies?” Dean asks.

Sam sends him a look, his hazel eyes a mixture of scared and determined. “We burn them.”

Dean’s eyes bug out of his head. “I’m sorry, did you just say we burn their dead bodies?”

“They’ll be skeletons by now,” Sam says, voice hurried. “We gotta talk about this outside, if she comes back-”

“I don’t wanna burn- damn it, Sam!” Dean grips his brother’s shoulders, shaking them. “I won’t do that to Cas!”

“He has to pass through the veil!” Sam argues. “He can’t stay here, Dean!”

Dean searches Sam’s eyes, feeling anxiety grip his entire being. There’s this awful moment suspended in time where Dean is suddenly facing how lonely he truly has been, all of his own volition. Sam’s right. He did move out here to run away from everything, to not be a burden to anyone else. He moved out here so no one knew that he wasn’t really alright, no one knew that he still had nightmares about his parents dying right in front of his eyes, nightmares about him being sure that he was going to die, too. He moved out here to grow old and be lonely and sad and maybe end it all by eating a bullet, but at least he wouldn’t be bothering anyone else while doing it.

And then, Castiel.

And it’s not like Castiel has been a part of his life for months, hell- years. It’s only been a few weeks and yet Castiel’s weird presence and his stupid grammar and out of date outfit have been a… comfort. The guy doesn’t have any ulterior motives. He just… figured out how to manifest himself, chose to manifest himself, and continually chooses to keep Dean company when he can spare the energy. So, you know, that grumpy old man life that Dean had been working towards felt a little less… daunting, or whatever. Because he wasn’t truly alone. Even when Castiel isn’t here, he’s here, somehow, somewhere, in the ether or the veil or wherever the fuck ghosts go when they’re not actually visible.

If they light his body up, he’ll be gone forever. And it’ll be just Dean and this huge ass house which he’ll then know belonged to a pretty neat dude who also happens to be easy on the eyes but oh yeah wait he’s dead, so it’s not like anything could happen, because he’s a fucking ghost and they can’t even touch and God fucking damn it.

“Ok,” Dean says, but it’s a little wet.

“Dean?” Castiel asks, his voice a little strung out.

“Yeah, uh,” Dean turns towards him, scrubbing his hand over his mouth and meeting that crystalline gaze, still so piercing and beautiful even through the veil. “We’re gonna dig up the cellar.”

“I can go down there,” Castiel says, “I can try to hold Miss Masters off.”

Dean’s heart breaks a little. His voice shakes when he says, “Alright.”

Sam and Dean head out the back door to round the house. They stop at the tool shed to pick up shovels. Sam asks Dean if his crowbars are made of iron; Dean shrugs, but Sam grabs one, and then hands Dean a loose chain. Dean doesn’t question it. They walk up to the cellar doors, pulling them open together. Dust coughs up from the bellows. That weird, musty smell wafts up. Bracing themselves, they head down. Using their cell phone flashlights they finally get a good look at the space; it’s about fifteen by twelve, lined with old rickety wooden shelves holding various glass jars and baubles.

“Lovely,” Dean comments.

“Start digging,” Sam says.

It’s brutal. Dean’s done a lot in renovations, but digging down into the earth with rocks and roots and all sorts of bullshit in the way with his bare hands and no power tools is… shitty. He and Sam alternate blows, digging down, down, tossing the loose dirt in piles on either side of them. They’ve apparently got a lot of hope that the bodies are buried in the center of this room, and if they’re wrong, that will be the start of a different fire. They work up a sweat, clothes stained, hair dark, skin flushed. Dig, dig, dig. Three feet down Dean’s hits something that twangs his shovel differently than rocks and dirt. Kneeling, he clears some of the dirt away and then gags when he realizes his shovel went through bone. Human bone.

“Use your hands,” Sam says, dropping to his knees as well.

Pushing dirt aside with their hands so as not to disturb the bones too much, it’s even hotter and more moist down here. There’s no air flow without them swinging the shovels in the air. He can taste dirt and does his best to not think about whatever else he might be tasting. After another hour of precarious hand-digging they unearth two skeletons, their clothes disintegrated down to threads.

One skeleton has the remains of maroon thread covering it.

Dean feels like he’s going to puke.

“Dean,” Sam’s voice comes through water. “Lighter?”

“Yeah,” Dean says tightly. He pulls his zippo out of his pocket. He doesn’t smoke, never has; but this was his dad’s lighter, and he wears it like jewelry.

“Shit, we need salt,” Sam says, standing up. He has to climb out of the grave. “Do you have any more?”

“Uh,” Dean wipes his hand over his face to try and mop up the sweat, then grimaces when he realizes he’s smeared dirt and bone dust all over it. “Yeah. The rock salt under the carport for ice.”

“Right,” Sam’s big feet clomp up the cellar steps as he leaves.

“Dean.”

Dean can’t even be surprised anymore. He sits back on his butt at the feet of the skeletons, leaning against the dirt wall and looking up at where Castiel stands at the edge of the grave, looking down at the bones.

“I remember.”

Dean closes his eyes.

“Miss Masters was in love with me. I would not accept her advances. The lovers she took… she was dissatisfied with them. And when I told her I would not marry her, blackmail be damned… she pulled out a gun.” He presses a hand to his breast, right over his heart. “She shot me. And with my dying breaths I saw her put the barrel of the gun in her mouth.” His eyes close, a frown on his features. “What an atrocity.”

Atrocity?” A female voice inquires.

Dean’s eyes snap open just in time to see Megan materialize next to Castiel.

“You were a disgrace of a man!” She yells, her voice sounding disembodied even though her apparition looked as solid as Castiel’s. “You were sick to prefer a man’s company over a woman’s!”

“Any more sick than someone who would rather take their own life than deal with the repercussions of being rejected?” Castiel says, his eyes narrowing. Oh, that tone of voice. Ok. “You were a child, Miss Masters. And it seems as though even death could not change you.”

She steps into his space. She was once beautiful, Dean can tell. But her perfectly curled hair has flattened and frayed in places, her dress torn and tattered. When she talks her mouth shape distorts, a black hole with lips. “I will make you burn, Castiel. You and your precious house.”

Castiel steps towards her, towering and imposing and looking oddly large. “I would like to see you try.”

Rock salt spatters in the air over the grave, over Dean, speckling down onto the skeletons before the entire bag follows. Megan and Castiel’s attention go towards where Sam is standing at the base of the steps, hand outstretched.

“Dean!”

Dean flicks his zippo open, thumbing the spark. A flame erupts. “Gonna need more than salt Sammy!”

Megan screams, barreling towards Sam with her hands outstretched. He ducks her just in time, but she flicks her wrist and he goes sailing into a shelving unit, thrown by an invisible force. Castiel flies towards Megan, tackling into her, their spirits swirling and exploding into the ether, Megan’s banshee screams echoing into the darkness.

Dean clicks his lighter shut and climbs out of the grave, stumbling over to Sam. “Hey!”

“Hey,” Sam says in a daze.

“Hey, hey,” he slaps his face lightly. “C’mon, we gotta find some sort of ignition fluid, those ain’t gonna light up with salt and dirt.”

“Check the jars,” Sam says, coming to awareness. “Anything that was in there two hundred years ago is probably flammable by now.”

They pick up every jar they can find, breaking them open and throwing them into the grave. Megan suddenly comes flying back into the cellar, speeding towards Dean and grabbing him by the throat, lifting him up off the ground.

Choking, he kicks his legs out futilely. Even though she is holding him, he can’t grab her arms to try and break her grip.

“You cannot have him,” Megan hisses. “I have sealed the house and he will stay with me forever!”

“Crazy bitch,” Dean manages to burble out.

Megan’s apparition suddenly disappears in a whuff of smoke. Sam stands in her place with a crowbar in his hands, looking stunned as Dean drops to his knees and starts coughing uncontrollably.

“Dean, light it up!” Sam yells.

“Shit,” Dean says, patting the ground around him. “I lost the lighter!”

Megan reappears, this time heading directly for Sam.

“Find it!” He yells.

“I’m too old for this shit!” Dean yells in reply.

“Dean!”

He looks up to see Castiel three feet away from him.

“Here!”

“Now would be a really good time for you to figure out how to hold things!” Dean snaps. He army crawls over to where his zippo is in the dirt, reaching out for it and snapping it open one-handed.

He flicks the flint

He flicks the flint.

He flicks the fint.

“God fucking damn it!”

“DEAN!” Sam yells, swinging his crowbar around wildly every time Megan appears.

“YEP, I GOT IT,” Dean yells back while his lighter continuously doesn’t light.

“DEAN,” Castiel says firmly.

“Y’know, I’m feelin’ a little pressured right now-”

The flint lights.

He throws it into the grave.

Flames explode and the instant they do, Megan screams louder than before, her apparition disappearing in a burst of flames. Dean looks up just in time to see Castiel send him a rueful smile, before he closes his eyes and his apparition goes up in a softer display of lights, before completely disappearing.

The only noise in the cellar is the fire burning in the grave.

Sam rushes over to Dean to help him up. He touches his throat gently and immediately Dean knows there are some weird ghost hand prints on his skin. Super. He smacks Sam’s hand away but does take his help to stand, weirdly shaky after being choked out. Or maybe that isn’t weird at all. Once he’s steady on his feet he and Sam pile the dirt back into the grave, covering what’s left of the skeletons as well as putting out the fire at the same time. It doesn’t take as long to fill the grave as it did to dig it and after an hour they’re climbing up the cellar steps.

The zippo was buried in the grave.

He can’t find it in himself to care.

On the front porch they sit in the shade, staring out at the trees of the property.

Sweat and dirt is caked over every inch of their bodies.

“So,” Dean finally says, his voice raw.

“So,” Sam replies, his voice equally wrecked.

“That’s a thing we just did.”

“Yep.”

“We just… killed some ghosts.”

“Yeah.”

“Do you think…?”

“Maybe…?”

They both settle back on their hands, looking up at the clear blue sky.

Together they say, “Nah.”

--

Weeks go by.

Sam doesn’t fucking leave, the bitch.

Benny comes by on the weekends.

It takes another month and a half, but the house is finally finished, inside and out. Dean had used literally everything in Castiel’s stash in the attic, restoring it and displaying it neatly and precisely to add some victorian charm to the house. From furniture to hardware on the cupboards, there’s a little bit of Castiel in each room. Sam had found an old photo of Castiel, serious and solemn looking, stood in front of this house with a top hat under his arm and a cane in his opposite hand. He looks like a victorian prince, honestly. That photo is framed and hanging in the kitchen, because that’s where Dean spends most of his time, cooking and baking and acting as a consultant for up and coming home renovators looking for advice.

Three months after the big ghost incident, a chilled breeze passes over the back of Dean’s neck as he sits at the restored dining table from the attic.

He looks up from his tablet, peering around.

Nothing out of place.

He puts his elbow on the table and his chin in his hand, looking across the dining room and into the kitchen where he can see the photo of Castiel hung neatly and clearly.

“Elbows off the table, Dean.”

He smiles, turning his look at where Castiel is seated at the head of the table. His hair is messy, his suit is perfectly pressed and buttoned, his eyes are the prettiest blue Dean’s ever seen.

“Howdy, stranger.”

Castiel offers him a small smile. “My apologies in taking so long to return.”

“I wasn’t sure you were gonna,” Dean admits. “Burnin’ your bones… I thought that was gonna be the end.”

“My life force is deeply rooted within these walls,” Castiel says, looking around the dining room fondly. “Dean, the house is beautiful.”

“You’re beautiful,” Dean blurts.

Castiel sends him a raised brow, though the corners of his mouth are lifted. He looks less… grey, Dean notices. He looks… alive. “Thank you.”

Dean scrubs his hand over his mouth, then rubs the back of his neck. “I mean- you look. Uh. Less… dead.”

“I believe Miss Master’s presence in the house, even if I was unaware of it, was having a negative affect on my spirit.”

Dean nods. “Right. And she’s gone now, so…”

“I feel better, too,” Castiel confirms. “It is taking no energy at all to be visible and speak with you.”

“Yeah?” Dean perks a little. “This mean you’ll… be around more?”

“Would you like that?” Castiel asks curiously.

“I mean,” Dean shrugs, trying to act cool. “Yeah. Y’know. S’your house an’ all… you should be able to enjoy it.”

“I see,” the ghost says knowingly. “Then, I shall be around more.”

Dean grins.

Castiel smiles.

Sam comes down the stairs. “Dean? Who are you talking to- oh! Cas?”

“Hello, Sam.”

“Huh,” Sam sits down at the table next to the ghost. “Welcome back.”

“Thank you.”

Sam looks between Dean and Castiel. “So, you two are uh…?”

“It is rather unorthodox,” Castiel says, because he’s a weirdo, “but I do believe I will start courting Dean.”

Dean’s jaw drops open.

Sam pats Castiel’s shoulder in approval.

Everyone goes stock still when his hand doesn’t pass through his body.

They pause.

Sam reaches out, this time to pluck at the lapel of Castiel’s overcoat.

It moves.

Suddenly, Castiel stands up, the chair under him knocking back with the force. He rounds the table, the brothers stunned into silence. He reaches to Dean, cold hands touching his face and turning it up, and wastes no time in pressing their lips together.

It’s like being doused with a bucket of ice water. But it feels fucking amazing and incredible and Dean presses back and he hears Sam gasp and then-

Castiel pulls away, blinking owlishly at Dean, who blinks at him in return.

“Sweet,” Sam breathes. “Can I research-”

“No,” Dean and Castiel say at the same time.