Sophia had been the one to make all the arrangements, just like when they were back in college. All Jensen really knew was where to be, when to be there, and how to get to the place. Really, only Sophia would have chosen a haunted bed and breakfast as the host for their little reunion.
Jensen had, not unreasonably he thought, been expecting some little old lady to be running the place, or maybe a faux witchy black-haired woman trying to 'set the mood'. Either way, definitely not a friendly guy in jeans and a plaid shirt who introduced himself as just Jeff and had a smile for everyone.
"So I've got McCoy?" he said, dangling a key off his index finger. Sandy reached up to grab it, but Jared's longer reach got to it first.
"That'd be us," he said, wrapping his free arm around her shoulders and squeezing.
"I put you in the Blue Room," he said, shooting them a grin before groping around behind him for the next. "And which one of you's... Murray?"
Chad grabbed the key, but immediately handed it over to Sophia before she even had to ask. "I know the drill," he said. "I carry the bags, you carry the key."
"Smart boy," she said, giving him a kiss on the cheek then showing Jeff her brightest, dimpled smile.
"You two are in the Green Room," said Jeff, though the key tag gave that away already to anyone who was paying attention. He paused before giving out the last key, and bent down to give the dog head butting his shin a little attention. "Bisou, you are spoiled rotten. I'll take you out in a minute."
"She's adorable," said Jared, dropping to his knees and offering her his hand, coaxing her over. "I love dogs."
"Then I'll worry a little less about letting her get underfoot." Jeff gave him an appreciative smile while reaching back for the last key. "And last but not least," he said, twirling it on his finger before holding it out. "Ackles?"
Jensen finally stepped forward. "That would be me," he said.
"Just you?" Jeff said, looking past him as if expecting someone else to appear out of the woodwork. Jensen would've been a bit more affronted if they hadn't specifically booked the whole bed and breakfast for a couples' vacation.
"Just me," he said as he took the key, giving him a smile that was small and a bit sheepish. "I time my break-ups impeccably."
"Aww, Jenny," said Jared right on cue, messing up his hair. "You'll have a better time without him anyway and you know it."
It was true, but it was also about the tenth time he'd heard it since he and Steve had split up.
"I'd be having a better time if I'd found someone to replace him in the past couple of weeks," he muttered, then acted like the tag attached to his room key - gold - was the most fascinating thing in the world. Not that he expected to find a replacement, but having someone to screw around with while his friends were being all couple-y would've been something, at least.
"Well," said Jeff, rubbing his hands together and immediately interrupting what might have become an awkward silence. "Rooms are this way, just at the top of the stairs. You've had a long drive; you probably want to freshen up."
"Shouldn't you be telling us how our rooms are haunted and not to worry about the bump in the night?" said Chad, earning himself an elbow in the side. Jensen couldn't tell which one of the girls it had been.
"Maybe you should be afraid of the bump in the night," said Jeff. "And the surprise is half the fun. The Blue and Green Rooms are on the left; the Gold Room is just around the bend at the end of the hall. If you want the grand tour of the place, I'll be in the parlor, just through those doors there. Try not to get lost in the meantime."
"Don't worry, I'm sure even Chad can follow those directions," said Jensen, hoisting his bag up over his shoulder. "Lay on, McCoy."
Sandy flashed him a grin and headed up the stairs, Jensen lagging at the rear and taking a moment to give Jeff a smile before heading up to find his room. Hell, if he was going to be spending most of the weekend alone while the others got in on in a haunted house, he might as well start making nice with the only other person around.
"As you already know," said Jeff as he led the five of them through the house, Bisou at his heels, "or at least as one of you already knows, you've booked us on a very auspicious weekend. One hundred and twenty-two years ago tomorrow, Mary Singer hanged herself in the middle of her parlor while her husband was away at his weekly card game." He stopped in the middle of the room and looked up at the ceiling. "Right here. It's said that from that moment forward, her spirit never really left this house."
Chad snorted, not unexpectedly, but Jared was looking up at the ceiling with a delighted little grin on his face. Sandy, well into her Ph.D. in psychology, was unsurprisingly the resident skeptic.
"Legend has it that she was driven to it by her husband's many infidelities, and her conviction that she would never and could never be loved."
"Oh, that's sad," said Jared. "What a jerk."
"Come on, tell us about the ghost parts," said Sophia. "I want to hear about bumps in the night."
"Mary makes herself known in all kinds of ways," said Jeff, leading them out into the hallway and pausing in front of what appeared to be a closet door. "There are some people who say they've seen her apparition in the parlor or in the upstairs bedroom that she used to share with her husband, but more often than that people hear her passing. Footsteps in empty rooms, tapping coming from the walls. Unexplained noises in the middle of the night."
He opened the door to reveal, not a closet, but a full bathroom. "On more than one occasion, people have reported seeing messages written in the steam on this mirror."
"What, like 'get out'?" said Chad. "Or maybe 'bite me'?"
Jeff laughed as he closed the door again. "The ones that have actually been recorded are 'no', 'Harriet' and 'sham'," he said. "One can make guesses about what any of those might mean, but we can never know for certain."
"Harriet? Who's Harriet?" said Sandy. "One of her husband's... infidelities?"
"It's possible," said Jeff. "It was a common enough name at the time. Of course, Harriet was also the name of Mary's mother, not to mention her cousin's infant daughter. If she's trying to get a message to us, it's hard to know just what she's trying to say."
"So basically anyone could have written those words, then," said Sandy.
"Such is usually the case with unexplained occurrences," said Jeff. "Not knowing the source means, in theory, the source could be any number of things."
"Wait," said Sophia. "Wait, back up a second. She's supposed to appear in which upstairs bedroom exactly?"
"Mine," said Jeff wryly, "so you don't have anything to worry about. Unless of course you wanted to wake up to a ghost in your room."
"Have you ever?" said Sophia. "Looked up in the middle of... whatever you were doing... and seen something?"
The smile remained on his face, enigmatic. "There are a lot of strange things that happen in this place," he said. "I can't say for sure that I've seen her, but I can't say for sure that I haven't, either."
Jensen had been fairly quiet during the whole tour, but he had to smile a little at that. If nothing else, Jeff knew how to sell it.
"So what's in here?" said Chad, standing in front of a door on the opposite side of the hall.
"It's probably a closet," said Jared. "You wanna see some haunted coats?"
"It's the cellar, actually," said Jeff, opening the door and flicking a light switch. From his position at the top of the stairs, Jensen could see that it was large, well lit, and littered with construction materials. "It'll be a part of the tour again in a few months, but I'm having some renovations done right now."
"Ooh, spooky," said Sophia, giving her boyfriend a grin.
"Hey, it's better than a closet!" said Chad,
"I'd take you down there and show you a few points of interest but I can't vouch for its safety right now, and I'm pretty sure I'll be liable if anybody sprains an ankle or has some molding drop on their head."
"It's okay, we can just let Chad go first," said Jared, earning himself a smack to the back of the head.
"So," said Jeff, closing the door. "Shall we take this upstairs?"
"Wait," said Chad, looking at his watch. "What time are we supposed to have dinner again?"
"Uh, six," said Sophia, pulling Chad's arm towards her to check the time for herself. "Oh, shit."
"I take it we're going to wrap things up a little early?" said Jeff. "Reservations?"
"At the Black Dog Bistro," said Sophia. "Do I have enough time to do my hair?"
"You already look gorgeous," Chad reassured her. "Don't worry about it."
"Hey, if you run into the owner, tell her you're staying out here at the Singer House," said Jeff. "Sam's an old friend."
"We'll keep that in mind," said Jensen, and briefly wondered if he had time to fix his hair. As the only currently single person at dinner, it mattered. "Thanks for the tour, Jeff."
"My pleasure," he said. "Drive safe, I think it's starting to drizzle out there."
"Hey guys, come on," laughed Jensen as Sophia planted another shot of tequila in front of him. "I promise, you don't actually have to get me drunk, I'm fine."
They didn't have to get him drunk, but ever since the five of them had gotten back from dinner, rain-spattered and cheerful, they'd definitely been trying. The area of the parlor surrounding them had turned into a bit of a disaster zone, but Jeff had just given them an indulgent wave, looked out the window at the escalating storm, and gone upstairs to his room, only letting his dog stay downstairs at Jared's insistence.
"Humor us," said Sandy. "When the clock strikes midnight my Prince Charming is taking me up to our haunted bedroom and you won't see us for twelve hours. I want to get my time in with you while I can."
"Besides, it's tradition," said Jared. "Someone breaks up, we get them drunk. Do you want to be the one to break that tradition?"
"Yes, yes I do," said Jensen, though it wasn't like he was actually going to turn down the shot. "It wasn't even... we were just having fun. I always knew he was in love with someone else. I'm not heartbroken."
"Yes, but you're dating your own right hand on a couples' vacation," said Chad, "and if it was me, I'd want to be drunk to cope with that. Down the hatch, Jenny, I've got your lime right here."
"How about I lick salt off your girlfriend, would that be all right too?" said Jensen. "Since apparently we're all about tradition tonight."
"One time!" said Sophia. "And we were trying to make my ex jealous. That wasn't tradition, that was a noble cause."
"Anyone else and I might worry," said Chad, "but you, Jenny, you can lick my girlfriend any time you like."
"Hey!" said Sophia. "Excuse me?"
"Thanks, but I think I'll pass," said Jensen with a laugh, licking salt off his own wrist and downing the shot.
"My point exactly," said Chad, pressing the lime into Jensen's mouth. "Sandy better watch her boyfriend, though, he's more your type."
Jensen's protest was lost around the fruit in his mouth, but Jared just laughed as he rested his arm around Sandy's shoulders and squeezed affectionately.
"Nah," said Jensen after spitting out the rind. "I don't date men who are taller than me."
"Never?" said Chad. "What about Tom?"
"Tom's why I don't date men who are taller than me," said Jensen with a grimace. "Sorry, Jared, the flashbacks just aren't worth it, man. I'd just wake up in the middle of the night yelling something about tighty whities or hair gel."
"Baby, if you were with me you wouldn't be screaming anything other than my name," said Jared, winking at him. "Hey, you remember the time you guys got me drunk and left me on the back steps of my dorm because I couldn't find my key?"
They all just stared at him for a moment.
"I think you're going to have to narrow that down, actually," said Jensen as Sophia plunked another shot in front of him. "Okay, yeah, no. Seriously, I'm at my limit, guys. The only thing worse than listening to you guys have sex from across the hall is listening to you guys have sex while I'm hung over."
"Just one more," promised Sophia, "because I think we've just about run out of 'do you remember when' stories."
"Hey, you remember that time I let you tie my wrists to the headboard with my shiny new business development manager tie?" said Chad.
"Oh, guys, come on!"
"We did not need to know that!"
"Actually, no," said Sophia, frowning at him. "I don't remember that."
"Huh," said Chad. "I guess that must be because it hasn't happened yet."
"All right, bed time!" said Sophia, abruptly hopping down off the arm of the couch, then leaning in to give Jensen's cheek a sloppy kiss. "Don't mope, sweetheart. And we're all meeting for the winery tour after lunch, right?"
"Anyone who'd miss a winery tour is no friend of mine," said Sandy. "Go, shoo. And try to keep it down. We don't want Jeff kicking us out before we even get to see a ghost."
"One look at Chad in the buff and it'll be scared away for decades," said Jensen. "Get out of here and have your fun already."
"Oh, we intend to," said Sophia, giving Chad a friendly nudge that sent his shoulder right into the mantle.
"Ow, woman!" he said, swinging his arm up defensively and managing to knock a picture off the mantle, glass shattering on the tile. "I'm already a sure thing, you know."
Bisou, who had been letting Jensen scratch behind her ears, immediately rounded the chair to begin barking at the empty space in front of the fireplace.
"Shit," muttered Jensen, slowly pushing himself up off his chair to follow her. Chad was bending down to whisper something in Sophia's ear but Jensen shook his head at them. "No, you guys go, I'll get that."
"Are you sure?" said Sophia, as Chad caught her hand and pulled her towards the door.
"Seriously, it's fine," said Jensen. "But if it's a priceless artifact, I'm totally blaming the two of you. Just so you know."
"Fair enough," she said, showing off her dimples. "All right, good night, guys! See you tomorrow?"
"If you can still walk!" said Sandy cheerfully.
"Or if Chad can!" Jared added.
Sophia just flipped him the bird as they disappeared up the stairs.
"Shh, Bisou, you'll bring your daddy down here," said Jensen when they were gone, looking for something to clean up with. "It's all right it's just some broken glass. Jared, if you're pouring, maybe I will have one more shot after all."
When Jeff came downstairs, a little after midnight and shortly after Chad and Sophia had gone upstairs, fragments of glass still littered the tile behind the chair.
"I sort of moved it all into one place," said Jensen sheepishly when he spotted it, "but I didn't know where all your cleaning stuff was. Chad will, uh, pay for any damages of course...."
"It's just a picture frame," said Jeff with a reassuring smile. "Thanks, I'll worry about it in the morning. Do I even want to know what happened?"
"No, probably not," admitted Jensen, smiling back. "Unless you want to hear about people getting tied up."
"Not anyone whose eyes I'm going to have to meet tomorrow," said Jeff, shaking his head. "Don't mind me, I'm just passing through to get more wine."
"No, hey, stay," said Jensen, just enough tequila in him to make him bold. "Unless you're... I mean...."
"Having private time?" said Jeff, reaching down to scratch Bisou's head. "No, not at all. If I'm not interrupting your little reunion I wouldn't mind joining you for a drink."
"Chad and Sophia have already gone to bed," said Jared, which technically was true, "and I think Sandy and I are going ourselves as soon as we polish off this bottle." The bottle which had maybe one shot left in it, if you were being generous. "Please stay and keep Jensen company so he doesn't sulk."
"Oh, come on," said Jensen. "Seriously, guys? Seriously?"
Sandy might've answered, but before she could, there was a shriek from upstairs.
"What the hell?" said Jared, jumping up from his seat.
"I think it was--"
Jeff was already turning back towards the stairs, but before Sandy could finish her sentence the shriek was followed by a giggle.
"Oh God," said Jensen, slapping his hand against his face. "I forgot he was a screamer."
"That's because you're not the one who had to live with him for two years," said Jared, as Sandy covered her laugh with a sip of her drink.
"Yeah, maybe I won't check that out after all," said Jeff, biting back a chuckle of his own.
"Just promise me the two of you won't try to compete. It's enough to wake the dead."
"That's probably the point," said Jared, grinning delightedly. "Do you think she might show up right in the middle of--?"
"Seriously, guys," said Jensen, face still in his hand. "Do I tell you all about my sex life?"
"Yes," said Jared promptly, "but in your defense we got you very drunk first."
"What? I don't remember that!"
"Very, very drunk," supplied Sandy, "which is what we are going to be if we don't head upstairs soon. Jensen, you'll be--?"
"I'm fine," he said. "Honestly, guys. Way to make an awkward situation even more mortifying. You want to buy me a rent boy while you're at it?"
"Don't be silly," said Jared. "Where would we even find a--"
"Good night, Jensen," Sandy interrupted him, setting the bottle of tequila down on the table by his feet. "We'll see you for lunch, if not sooner."
'Not sooner,' Jared exaggeratedly mouthed at him as Jensen finally lifted his head again. Sandy caught it and laughed, and didn't contradict him as she led him upstairs.
"You're going to charge us double now, aren't you?" Jensen groaned, letting his head fall back against the chair. "I knew the tequila was a bad idea."
"Hold that thought," said Jeff, "while I grab my wine. Do you want a glass?"
Jensen waved the offer off. "I'd better not," he said, "or I'll just be sick all night." Jeff disappeared into the dining room for a few moments and Jensen should have taken the opportunity to straighten up what he could, but he was just feeling too boneless and relaxed to motivate himself further than stacking some glasses.
"No, don't worry about that," said Jeff as he wandered back in again. "As long as you aren't leaving any rings on the furniture. I'll deal with it when you're all in town tomorrow. How was your dinner?"
"Oh, it was great," said Jensen. "When we mentioned you to the owner, she gave us free dessert, too. I think that was Jared's favorite part."
"Sam doesn't like anyone going away hungry," said Jeff. "She knows she's got you coming back the whole weekend if she treats you right."
"Well, she might lose Jared to the ice cream parlor a few times," said Jensen, "but he's always got room for more. She told us a great story about a couple who stayed here last year who were convinced they saw Mary Singer in their closet."
"The Rosenbaums," said Jeff with a fond chuckle. "They were pretty memorable all right. I have to admit, though, I suspect there were drugs involved in that particular sighting."
"So do you think this place is haunted?"
"Do you want the official line, or the truth?" said Jeff with a sly smile, now comfortably entrenched in his chair and slowly sipping his wine.
"The truth, if it's all the same to you," said Jensen, smiling back. "My romantic weekend getaway is already something of a bust. I don't need a convenient excuse to hold someone close."
"But you came anyway?"
Jensen shrugged. "These guys are my best friends from college," he said. "We don't get together as often since we graduated. I didn't want to miss it."
"Ah," said Jeff with a slight nod. "In that case, I will admit to you and you alone that while this place does creak and groan from time to time, I think it's a lot more likely that's due to the age of the house and not to any spectral inhabitant. I've lived here for seven years and I've never seen any sign of the ghost of Mary Singer."
"Makes a great story, though, doesn't it?"
"Makes a very lucrative story," he agreed. "I love this place, though, ghost or not. You should take a moment to check out the grounds tomorrow, if this rain stops. Or even if it doesn't, I should have a spare umbrella or five in the hall closet."
"The grounds? Is it that I look like a home and gardens kind of guy?"
"You look like a guy who could use some distraction while his friends enjoy some alone time," said Jeff, "and unless you want to explore town on your own, the grounds are the best way to do that. Take my word for it, as someone who spends his fair share of time out there."
"Is that why you bought this place?" said Jensen. "Or were you hooked by the ghost story?"
"It was actually my partner's idea," admitted Jeff. "I was wanting to get out of the city and he wanted a small business. Six months later we were the proud owners of a slightly run-down bed and breakfast with an alleged ghost."
It was obvious the partner wasn't a part of the business - or Jeff's life - now, but Jensen was reluctant to ask. It would be just his luck to find out he'd died tragically or something.
Jeff watched him for a few moments, then added, "Mitch decided that he wasn't actually into the 'get out of the city' part after all. I bought out his half of the business and he moved back to open up a franchise in the east end. And that was that."
"His loss," said Jensen, looking around the home for a moment, surprisingly comfortable in it. He loved his friends to pieces, but 'comfortable' wasn't how he would have described the rest of his vacation so far. "I think about getting out of the city sometimes. When everything starts to seem too loud and busy and obnoxious."
"Well, I know picking up and leaving everything behind is damn scary, but it can be worth it, if it's something you want," said Jeff. "I'm certainly not sorry I did."
"Not all that much to leave behind," admitted Jensen. "I, uh, was laid off a couple weeks ago, actually. Budget cutbacks, economic downturn, blah blah blah. I haven't... I figured I'd wait till after this weekend to tell my friends. We've been looking forward to this whole thing for weeks and I didn't want to be a downer."
Jeff nodded, not pressing for details. "Yeah, that Sophia seems really into the whole haunted house thing."
"She actually organized a séance back in our senior year," said Jensen. "It never amounted to anything, of course. So you can imagine she was the one who first scouted this place out for us."
"I seem to remember her having a lot of questions on the phone," said Jeff. "I'm glad you guys decided to come. I like having guests who are here to just have fun with the whole idea."
"I guess you get all sorts, huh?"
"Everything from neo-pagans to newlyweds to professional debunkers," said Jeff. "The thing is, I just don't think it's that important whether there's an actual ghost or not. Not that I'm putting that quote in the brochures. The fun part about a haunted house isn't that it's haunted, it's in believing that there might be."
"I guess some people take their haunted houses pretty seriously," said Jensen. "I really like this place, though. I mean, aside from the whole haunting thing. There's something special about it."
"You know, I really like it too," said Jeff, giving him a warm smile.
Jensen was just on the verge of moving into a chair a little closer to Jeff's when Jared poked his head around the corner from the bottom of the stairs.
"Uh, guys?" he said. "We just looked, and Chad and Sophia aren't in their room."
"What are you willing to bet they don't want to be found?" said Jared, opening and closing the door to the hall closet. "Nope, not in there."
"You thought they'd be in the closet?" said Jensen. "Seriously?"
"It wouldn't be the first time," Sandy reminded him. "Remember spring break?"
"Yeah, but that was a cottage off the beach with no privacy whatsoever," said Jensen. "I had to head down to-- yeah, anyway. I don't think he was doing it for the thrill of it that time."
"The boat house, we know," said Sandy. "Gross, by the way. If you're going to sneak off to have sex in a boat house, try not to leave anything behind for people to find when they want to use the boat."
"Wait, what?" said Jensen. "I only... okay, if there was anything left behind, it definitely wasn't me. Everyone used the boat house."
"I didn't use the boat house," said Sandy. "Jared, why didn't we use the boat house?"
"Because when everyone else was in the boat house, we had the cottage to ourselves," said Jared. "So how should be do this? Floor by floor?"
"Odds are they wouldn't have gone outside in this storm," said Jeff, "unless they're certifiable. Why don't the two of you take the main floor and Jensen and I will check upstairs."
"And if they are certifiable?"
"Then they can come inside in their own damn time because I'm not going out there after them," said Jeff. "There's a hot shower and hot coffee waiting for them and that’s about all I can offer. Jensen?"
"Yeah, all right," he said, shaking his head. "I'm going to kill them when we find them, I swear. They think they're hilarious."
"What if they're really missing?" said Jared. "I mean...."
"They can't be missing," said Sandy. "There's nowhere else for them to go. Unless you believe in ghosts."
"Sophia does," said Jared.
"Sophia doesn't believe in ghosts, she likes making other people believe in ghosts," said Sandy. "Let's start back in the kitchen and work from there. Meet you guys in the parlor? Hopefully with the miscreants in tow?"
"That's the plan," said Jeff, giving them a mock salute before heading for the stairs. "Bisou, go to bed. Go on upstairs to bed, sweetie."
She looked reluctant for a moment, then turned and scampered up the stairs, disappearing down the hall.
"I'm really sorry about this," said Jensen. "We'd all had a little to drink, and--"
"Relax," said Jeff, "don't worry about it. At least they didn't set anything on fire, or drill a hole in the wall. And before you ask, no, those aren't just hypothetical examples."
"Someone drilled a hole in the wall?"
"In the Gold Bedroom," said Jeff. "That's the one I put you in, right? If you look behind the headboard of the bed you can see where it was repaired. I'm not sure what they were looking for, but I sure as hell made their asses pay for it."
"Hidden ghost treasure," said Jensen, pushing open the unlocked door to the first bedroom they reached, the one that Chad and Sophia should have been in. "I think they're confusing them with pirates."
"If they want pirates, I can recommend a good place to visit up the coast," said Jeff, pushing aside the curtains to look out on the grounds. "But they'd better not bring their drill there either."
"You see anything out there?" said Jensen, feeling a little ridiculous but checking their closet anyway. As expected, there was nothing suspicious inside other than Sophia's smaller suitcase, the contents of which Jensen was very sure he did not want to know.
"Nothing other than rain and more rain," said Jeff, closing the curtain again. "Well, they're obviously not in here. And I'm not even going to ask why his tie is tied to the headboard."
"Weird," said Jensen, turning to stare at it. "They were going to... well, obviously they changed their minds, or maybe Chad just got cold feet."
"I'm pretty sure this is another one of those things I just don't want to know," said Jeff.
"Or maybe one of those things you wish you didn't already," said Jensen. "Jared and Sandy's room next?"
"We'll just go one by one up the hall," said Jeff. "Have they done this kind of thing before?"
"Every time we had a big party," said Jensen, "though back then there was an excuse for it. It's not like anybody kicked him out of his room here. Maybe Sophia pulled a strap-on out of her bag and Chad ran for the hills."
Jeff barked out a laugh as he pushed open the door to Jared and Sandy's room. The Green Room, no mistake about it.
"God, sorry," said Jensen. "I usually don't--"
"Tequila," Jeff summed up the situation succinctly. "We've all been there. Though possibly not with a strap-on involved. Do you want to check the closet again? This one's got a walk-in. More space."
"Wow, how come Jared and Sandy got the room with the walk-in?" said Jensen, peering inside. There was no one in this one either.
"Because she was the only one who showed up with a piece of luggage just for her shoes," said Jeff. "Nothing?"
"No sign of anything but the shoes," said Jensen. "Guys, you can come out now! We surrender!"
"I think if they were going to do that, they already would have," said Jeff.
The communal washroom, study and Gold Bedroom didn't cough up the missing couple either, for which Jensen was actually grateful. If he found Chad and Sophia fucking in his bedroom again, at least one of them was going to end up scarred for life.
"Oh, they'd better not be in my rooms," said Jeff, leaving those for last. "I'm a pretty easygoing guy, but there's a line...."
He flipped on a light and Jensen saw that 'rooms' was actually accurate; he had a whole suite up here.
"Nice digs," he said, taking a look around while trying not to look like he was snooping. The living room was mismatched but comfortable, plush leather sofa and an armchair that looked like it had been passed down through the generations, plus Bisou's currently-occupied dog bed in the corner. Never mind the sweet plasma TV on the wall. Off to one side was a door that Jensen guessed led to the bedroom, on the other a kitchenette and washroom. If Jeff wanted time away from the guests, he was certainly set up to have it.
"Really makes me wish I'd made my bed this morning, though," said Jeff. "I wasn't expecting visitors."
"Don't worry, I won't judge you," said Jensen. "Well, maybe I'll judge you a little. It depends on what else you left lying around."
"Oh God, I hope not," muttered Jeff under his breath and Jensen had to grin. But Jeff still let Jensen follow him into the bedroom - unmade, but not incriminating - to help take a look around.
"They haven't been here," said Jensen, though that much had been obvious pretty much from the moment they walked in. "Unless they're making out in your shower, I think this is a bust."
"Thank you for that mental image," said Jeff, but they weren't in the bathroom either. Or anywhere else in the suite.
"I'm so going to kill them," said Jensen as they started back down the hall.
"Any luck, guys?" came Jared's voice up the stairs.
"Nothing yet," Jensen called back. "You guys either?"
"Not even in the laundry room," said Jared. "We didn't get far into the basement, but there's no way they could've gone that way."
"We're just going to check the attic real quick," said Jeff. "Meet you downstairs?"
"Sure," said Jared. "We'll be in the parlor plotting revenge."
The attic was reachable via a set of pull-down stairs in the hall outside the study - stairs that were just as easily retracted when a person was safely up them.
"God," muttered Jensen, taking them first. "I bet they are up there. It would totally be Sophia's thing. Guys, come on, this isn't funny anymore!"
"Well, it's a little funny," admitted Jeff. "It'd be even funnier if caught them with their pants down."
"You'd think so," said Jensen, "but all rumors to the contrary, I could live happily never seeing Chad's bare ass again. That thing is pasty."
"Hang on, let me get the lights," said Jeff as they reached the top, motioning Jensen to the side so he could get past him to tug on a dangling chain a couple of times until a bare bulb illuminated the attic space.
"Huh," said Jensen, looking around.
"You were expecting something a little creepier?"
"Are those rollerblades?"
"Yeah, speaking of creepy," said Jeff, grinning as he picked one of them up, turning it over in his hands. "Not one of my better experiments. Good for a laugh when Mitch tried them out, though. And I thought I was bad."
"I used to rollerblade," Jensen said as Jeff put it back where he found it. "Before I could afford my first car. I had a fantastic ass when I was a freshman."
"Don't worry," said Jeff. "It's aging well. Do you see anything?"
"Besides boxes of junk?" said Jensen. "Not really."
"That's not junk," said Jeff, "that's a lifetime of memories that I'd just as soon never have to look at again. The problem with having a big house is that you never have to throw anything away. Ever."
"That's the real reason you stuck around after Mitch threw in the towel, isn't it?" said Jensen. "You just didn't want to have to move all your shit again."
"I will admit, it was a consideration," he said, shoving a trunk aside so he could get past it. "One day I'm going to have to go through all of this. At this point there could be pirate treasure up here and I'd never know it."
"More likely up here than in the walls," said Jensen, picking up a picture from the top of one of the boxes and looking at it curiously. "So how long were you and Mitch together? Or should I not ask?"
"Seven years," said Jeff, looking back and smiling softly when he saw what Jensen had found. "It's fine to ask. It's been over five years since he moved back to the city."
"Wow," said Jensen, putting it down again. "Longest I've ever been with someone is two years, and at least half of that was just habit."
"Well, you're young," said Jeff, peering back into the depths of the attic.
Jensen snorted. "I'm twenty-six, actually."
Jeff turned back and smiled at him. "I was twenty-six when I met Mitch," he said.
"Huh, said Jensen. "Auspicious age." Twenty-six hadn't actually been so great for him so far, but maybe things were finally starting to look up.
"Hello?" Jeff called out. "Anybody up here? I hope you don't mind sleeping with the rats if you are."
"You have rats?"
"No," said Jeff, "but it seemed like a sure-fire way to flush someone out of hiding. I don't think they're up here, but there are a few places we could check yet."
They never got that chance, though. Before Jeff could clear an easier path through to the other side of the attic, there was a scream from downstairs that echoed all the way up to them.
"That's Sandy," said Jensen, already making a break for the stairs.
"Fuck," said Jeff, right behind him. "Any chance this is still a prank?"
"Yes," admitted Jensen as he raced down from the attic and up the hall, "but if it's not that means someone's actually snatching up my friends and I don't want to have to think about that just yet."
The parlor was empty when they reached it, looking exactly like it had when they'd left it earlier except that Bisou, who had followed them back downstairs, was now barking at the empty sofa.
"Jared?" Jensen tried. "Sandy? Seriously, guys, I'm freaking the fuck out here."
"As much as I hope they really are hiding out somewhere laughing their asses off, I think I need to call the cops, Jensen," said Jeff reluctantly, trying to coax Bisou back to his side. "I just can't take that chance anymore, not now that it's all of them."
"Yeah, I know," said Jensen, praying that any moment they would jump out from some heretofore unnoticed closet. "Serve 'em right if they get charged for scaring me half to death." As Bisou finally stopped barking again he waited for the low murmur of Jeff's expected conversation from the other side of the room, looking over when it never came. "What's wrong?"
"Storms knocked the phones out," said Jeff, hanging up and rejoining him. "You got your cell on you?"
"What? Yeah," said Jensen. "Yeah." He dug it out of his hip pocket and handed it over, but Jeff took one look and shook his head. "No service?"
"No service," he confirmed, handing it back. "You know, I used to have nightmares about what could go wrong with this place, but they usually were more along the lines of malfunctioning toilets and accidentally dying the laundry pink. Never considered something like this."
"Should we drive into town?" said Jensen dubiously. He didn't want to leave his friends behind, but they were running low on other options.
Jeff looked out the window and shook his head. "More likely we'll end up stranded at the side of the road if we try," he said, "and then we'll really have something to worry about. Let's just hope the power doesn't go out too."
Jensen just stared at him. "Oh, I can't believe you said that out loud," he said. "Way to screw with our odds, man."
"I think we're a little while past worrying about that," said Jeff, still staring out the window into the front yard. "None of the cars are missing, anyway. That's something."
"At least we can be sure they didn't just go on a snack run?" said Jensen.
"Or that someone didn't steal one of them to get out of here in a hurry," said Jeff, "not that anyone would get far in this weather. It's not often I wish I was any closer to town, but this is definitely one of those times."
"Or that the roads were better, at least," said Jensen.
"Well, I hate to say it, but--"
Jensen glanced at the window. "Please don't say what I think you're going to say."
"We need to check around outside."
"Yeah, you said it," said Jensen, sighing heavily. "Okay, this is definitely not funny anymore. You at least got an extra raincoat?"
"Not that I think it'll do us much good," said Jeff, "but I can set you up, yeah."
The coat was a little big, not to mention a bright yellow which would normally have made Jensen feel a little ridiculous, but it was warm and for the moment dry, and he was pretty sure that Jeff could spot him from a half mile away if they happened to get separated.
"Bisou, go upstairs," said Jeff, but Bisou didn't even move from his heel. "Bisou, please, go to bed, sweetie. Go upstairs. You'll be safer there." Jeff's coaxing didn't get him anywhere, but a rumble of thunder from outside sent her skittering away from the door. "Upstairs, Bisou, go to bed," Jeff said again, and Jensen thought he could hear his pleas get a little desperate. The next roll of thunder was finally enough to send her on her way.
The wind was a lot louder when Jeff opened the front door, the rain even harder than Jensen had been imagining. "There'd better be Irish coffee and laughs at the end of this," he muttered, his words inaudible to even himself, let alone Jeff.
"We'll start with the garage," said Jeff, his voice loud in Jensen's ear. "It's full of crap but I keep it unlocked, so they could've easily gotten inside if they wanted."
The garage was the closest building to the house itself; Jensen was just grateful they didn't have to go farther than that. To start with at least. He nodded his head but Jeff was already looking ahead at their goal, grabbing hold of Jensen's sleeve so they didn't get separated. The wind wasn't so strong that Jensen was going to blow away, but he let Jeff hang onto him anyway, even after he got them inside.
"Wow, you weren't kidding about being full of crap."
"Makes the attic look organized, doesn't it?" said Jeff ruefully. "Most of this was left behind when we bought the place; I've just never made the time to sort it all out. Hello? Anyone in here?"
There was a wail from the wind, but that was their only answer.
"If you're in here and you're not saying anything, I swear to God I'm never speaking to any of you ever again!"
"They know you don't mean that," said Jeff, letting go of his sleeve to catch up his hand instead.
"Oh, I do," said Jensen. "Right now? I mean every damn word of it."
"Well, I don't think anyone's in here anyway," said Jeff. "No sign of anything being disturbed. Maybe the garden shed."
"You keep that unlocked too?"
"No," said Jeff, "but if it's broken into, then we'll know for sure, won't we?"
Jensen didn't relish going back out in the storm, but it really was their last real option. "Just lead the way," he said. "I can keep up."
"I know," said Jeff, and didn't let go of his hand as he pushed the door open back out into the storm, "but I don't want to take any more chances."
The shed - clear on the other side of the house - was locked, and the single window intact. One glance inside told them that again nothing had been disturbed; and unlike the garage, the shed was neatly ordered, everything in its place.
Jensen shivered, the cold and wet starting to seep into the coat despite their best efforts to protect against it.
"Not exactly how I planned to show you the grounds," admitted Jeff, his voice almost lost in the wind. "I was thinking more sunny afternoon... picnic lunch...."
"You were planning to lure me away from my friends, weren't you?" said Jensen, managing a smile in spite of everything. "I've got to tell you, there are easier ways to do it."
"I was pretty sure your friends would be taking care of themselves just fine, from everything I saw," said Jeff. "Let's check the gazebo and then head back in. If they're not there, then we're not going to find them before the storm lets up."
There was nobody in the gazebo either when they finally fought their way out to it, but at least it offered them another respite from the storm.
"Okay, hey, sit down for a second," said Jeff, leading him to one of the benches. "Christ, when they said storm I was thinking a little lightning, a little thunder. Perfect for a night in by the fire."
"Maybe you can still light that fire when we get back," said Jensen. "By the time we cross the grounds again, I think we're both going to need it."
"I'm sorry they weren't out here," said Jeff after a moment. "I was kind of hoping they would be, even if it meant they really were jackasses."
"Yeah, me too," said Jensen. "I'm starting to really get a little freaked out."
"Starting?" said Jeff.
"Okay, been freaked out for a while," said Jensen, "but the whole thing is... starting to sink in. They're really not here, Jeff."
"Nobody vanishes," said Jeff. "They're somewhere, we just don't know where. I didn't see any footprints in any of the mud out here other than ours, no tire tracks other than the ones we made. They have to be around somewhere."
"Yeah, well, we're running out of places to look," said Jensen. "Unless they wandered off into the woods somewhere."
"If they did, we'll find them in the morning," said Jeff. "The rain's miserable, but it's not going to kill anybody."
Jensen nodded and swallowed hard, and closed his eyes as he rested his head against Jeff's shoulder. He didn't even care what it looked like anymore.
"You ready to head back?"
"No," said Jensen, weariness seeping into him. Maybe, if he was lucky, this was a nightmare. Maybe when he opened his eyes again, he'd be looking into Jared's grinning face.
"Rest a while," said Jeff, putting an arm around his shoulders. "We're dry here, more or less.
The sooner they got back, the sooner he'd be warm and dry again, but Jensen still couldn't quite open his eyes. And Jeff didn't make him, not for what felt like a long, long while.
Jensen wanted to get back, but if it meant getting his friends back, he would've been happy to stay cold and wet all night.
"Come on, there's nothing more we can do," said Jeff, ushering Jensen up the stairs and straight past the other rooms into the master suite. "Hot shower, before you get pneumonia."
"What about you?" said Jensen, already stripping his wet shirt off and dropping it on the bathroom floor, modesty just about the last thing on his mind.
"I'm next," said Jeff without missing a beat. "I'll grab some towels while you're in there. You want me to get anything from your room?"
"Just something dry from my bag," said Jensen, not even worrying about Jeff rummaging through his stuff. "Whatever. Anything's fine."
"Okay," said Jeff as Jensen stripped off his heavy, soaked jeans. "Hop in, I'll be right back."
All Jensen wanted was to be warm again. Okay, he also wanted to back to the part of the evening when there was still half a bottle of tequila left and his friends hadn't gone missing, but mostly, right at that moment, he wanted to feel like he wasn't slowly going numb.
The hot water barely registered at first; by the time it did, he could hear Jeff outside the bathroom again. Or at least, he could hear footsteps. After everything that had happened he wasn't even sure what that meant anymore. Right now, as warmth was spreading through his body, he wasn't sure he cared.
When he finally felt human again he turned off the shower and stepped out, looking at his sopping wet clothes with disgust. The only downside to thawing out was that he was actually aware he was naked now, and it mattered to him more now than it had when he was desperate to get out of his wet clothes.
Fortunately, a moment later the door opened a crack and Jeff's hand came through, holding out a large, dry towel. Jensen snapped it up and wrapped it around himself before opening the door the rest of the way.
"Your turn," he said, brushing up against Jeff as he exited the steamy room. Jeff was already stripped down, damp and shivering in just a pair of boxer shorts with a towel slung over his shoulder. "I'll wait out here."
"I grabbed your whole bag," said Jeff, motioning towards where he'd left it on the sofa. "Wasn't sure what you'd want. I'll be out in a few minutes."
What Jensen wanted was the ratty old pair of sweats that he'd packed in the bottom of his bag just in case he really did end up moping around his room, commiserating with basic cable and a case of beer. He weighed being completely comfortable against looking like a complete slob in front of Jeff, and decided quickly that he didn't give a fuck what he looked like anymore, he just wanted some comfort.
When he finally curled up on the sofa Bisou was immediately pressed right up against his side, and when Jeff came back out about ten minutes later, shorts slung low on his hips as he towel dried his hair, he found them exactly like that.
"Find everything all right?" he said.
Jensen nodded and didn't really make any move to get up, even though he knew he probably should. "So what now?" he said.
"I don't know," Jeff admitted, sitting down next to them, letting his towel fall over his shoulders. "I don't really have a contingency plan here. I was thinking maybe we should wait this out downstairs. If they're going to show up again, they're going to find us there, not here."
"This is... not really the vacation I was hoping for."
"Not really the vacation I was planning to give you guys. This isn't the fun kind of scary." He rested his hand on Jensen's knee for a moment, comfortingly, then gave it a squeeze and gave Bisou a scratch as he got up again, heading for his bedroom. "Just let me put something on and we can head back downstairs."
Jensen nodded, silent, and only when Jeff had been gone for a few moments did he manage to push himself up off the sofa, push up his sleeves and head for the door to wait. He knew, intellectually he knew, that waiting for morning was their best option right now, but his gut said he needed to be doing something. If there was anything left to do, he would.
"Come on," said Jeff, managing to look put together even in a worn, gray t-shirt and paint-spattered jeans. "I'll put some coffee on. Much as I'd like to get shit-faced right now, we'd probably be better to stay awake and competent. Bisou, go back to bed, sweetie. Go back to bed."
This time, though, she would not be deterred, and after a few moments of standing at Jeff's heel, looking up at him beseechingly, he gave in.
The parlor was still full of remnants of the evening's reunion, only a few hours in the past even though it felt like so much longer, right down to the half shot of tequila and the fragments of glass. Jensen started straightening up what they'd left behind just to have something to do with himself, right up until Jeff pressed a cup of coffee into his hands and made him sit down.
"Every few months," he said, hands curled around his mug as he sat down beside Jensen, "I make sure to take a couple of weeks with no bookings. Not to take a vacation, though I've done that a couple of times, but just to have this place to myself. Don't get me wrong, I love the business, I love all the people it brings here, but this is my home, too."
"If you can't go home to get away from the business, get the business away from the home."
"Something like that, yeah," said Jeff. "Just imagine this place on a summer night, curtains open and sunset just through those windows, a glass of wine and a good book. Or some music on, pick your poison. Probably hard to imagine right now, but it's the most peaceful feeling."
"I think I'd like to see that," said Jensen.
"I'd like to show it to you, if you ever want to see this place again after tonight."
"Whatever's going on here, the one thing I know is that it's not your fault," said Jensen. "You didn't do this. Either my friends are douchebags or... or it's something that's not you."
"That doesn't make me less responsible," he said. "Whatever happened, it happened here."
"You're freaked out too, aren't you?"
"Of course I'm freaked out," said Jeff. "I lost people. I lost your friends."
"So you're not completely together at all times after all."
"Me?" said Jeff. "Jesus, Jensen, I'm just a big dork. Easygoing, maybe, but completely together? I don't know anybody who's completely together."
That probably shouldn't have made him feel better, but it did. He wasn't alone in this. Maybe between the two of them, they'd get through this all right.
"Maybe they did go outside to fuck with me, but it backfired," he said after a few moments of silence. "Maybe they ended up trying to ride it out instead of fighting to get back to the house."
"Phones are all out," said Jeff, nodding slowly. "They wouldn't be able to call to let us know."
"That's possible, right?" said Jensen. "It could happen."
"It's possible," agreed Jeff. The fact that it wasn't likely wasn't something either of them felt the need to say.
"And it's got to let up soon," said Jensen. "It can't go this hard forever."
"I think it already is," said Jeff after a moment of silence, the only sounds the creaking of the house and the whistling of the wind. "It'll probably blow itself out by dawn."
"We can fix this in the morning," said Jensen quietly. "We have to." Morning that was drawing closer and closer already.
"Hey," said Jeff, turning Jensen's face towards him and leaning in closer. "Everything's going to be okay. I promise."
"You can't promise me that."
"Try to believe it anyway," said Jeff. "Everything's going to be okay, Jensen. We just need to ride this out. And hope that when they are back safe and sound in the house they won't sue my ass."
Everything was still and quiet for a moment, then Jensen licked his lips and leaned in close, the kiss soft and over quickly, but unmistakable.
"Not exactly how I planned to do that, either," said Jeff a moment later, a faint smile just turning up the corners of his lips. "It's been a while. I forgot you don't get to plan these things."
"Tell me again they're going to be all right."
"They're going to be--" Jeff started, but he never got to finish before the lights flickered and Bisou started barking and something was pushing them violently apart.
"What the--" said Jensen, then lost every word in his head when he realized what... who... what... had gone on the attack. "Jeff?"
"Holy sweet Jesus," said Jeff as the ghost of Mary Singer flickered in front of them.
"Not good enough," she whispered at them, as Jensen started to get very cold again. "Trash! Not good enough!"
The next thing Jensen knew he was tumbling down a set of stairs, landing in a heap at the bottom.
There was definitely more than one set of feet rushing towards him. Jensen almost didn't want to look up, afraid of what he might see, until he heard Sophia's very distinctive voice say, "Jensen? Are you all right?"
"What?" he said, opening his eyes, adjusting to the dim, flickering light. "Where?"
"Oh, thank God," said Jared, kneeling down beside him. "I mean, not great that you're here too, but great that you're okay."
"Here where?" said Jensen as Jared helped him to his feet. "Where's here?"
"The Whores' Room," said Jeff from behind him, his voice both wry and resigned. "God, I'm an idiot."
"Jeff," said Jensen, quickly looking back at the dark stairs, and at him. "Did we just see... was that her?"
"Was that the ghost of Mary Singer?" said Jeff, moving past him and into the candlelit room. "Apparently. If I'd just considered the actual possibility...."
"What, because this has happened so often in the seven years you've run the place? Or ever?" said Jensen. "Is everyone here? Is everyone okay?"
"If you can call being locked in an underground vault okay," said Chad. "It sucked even more before we found the candles."
Jensen didn't think it was a vault, but he could imagine why Chad would have called it one. The furniture was ancient, dusty and unused, and the trinkets around the room - including the candlesticks they had been fortunate to locate - looked like they wouldn't have been out of place in someone's family vault. Thick velvet curtains obscured one wall, and opposite it were the stairs Jensen had fallen - or been pushed - down.
"Where do the stairs go?"
"Nowhere," said Jared. "Well, not nowhere, but they're blocked at the top. Believe me, we're not getting out that way."
"Barred and padlocked, actually," said Jeff with a wince. "I didn't want anyone finding their way down here by mistake."
"Wait, so you really do know where we are?" said Sandy. "How did you not find us?"
"Because there's no way you could have gotten into here!" said Jeff. "This is... Mary called this the Whores' Room in her diary. It's where her husband carried on his affairs, sometimes while she was even in the house. He thought he kept it hidden from her, but he was wrong."
"So, what, are we going to die in here?" said Chad. "I don't want to die in the Whores' Room!"
"I guess it shows what she thinks of all of us, huh?" said Jeff. "Put the whores in the Whores' Room."
"Hey, watch who you're calling a whore," said Sophia. "We weren't even naked yet."
"But you were... intimate, right?" said Jeff, looking like he was snapping puzzle pieces together one by one in his head. "And Jared and Sandy, you too, right?"
"Well, not really," said Jared, a little awkwardly.
"We were kissing," Sandy interrupted him, matter-of-fact. "Up against the wall in the parlor. Is that what you mean by intimate?"
"It did the trick, apparently," said Jeff, shaking his head. "I don't know what the hell is going on here, but I do know just about everything there is to know about Mary Singer. If she is here, then she's spent over a century believing she wasn't good enough to be loved. That's a long time to build up a grudge against those who are."
"Wait," said Sophia. "If she's taking out her pent-up frustration on people who are getting some in her house... what are you two doing here?"
Jeff and Jensen caught each other's eyes across the room; Jeff snorted and Jensen just coughed politely.
"Oh, you are kidding me," she said. "While we were stuck down here the two of you were making out?"
"One kiss!" said Jensen. "And if that's what got us down here, that's what got the rest of you down here too, so don't look at me like that."
"Hey, I'm not mad, I'm impressed," said Sophia. "Well, maybe a little mad."
"Shut up," mumbled Jensen, his neck going red. "I was freaked the fuck out, Sophia, you have no idea."
"So what, it was a pity kiss?"
"No, it was definitely not that," said Jeff, turning to look back at the two of them and meeting Jensen's eyes for just long enough to assure him of his sincerity. "All right, can somebody find me something heavy and solid?"
"Something... what?" said Jared, immediately looking around anyway. "What else do you know that we don't?"
Jeff pushed aside the curtains to unveil what the rest of them had undoubtedly already uncovered: a solid brick wall where one might have expected to find a door.
"I know what's on the other side of this wall," he said, tapping on the brick, picking a little at the mortar with his fingernail.
"Wait, seriously? So you can get us out of here?"
"I think so," said Jeff, looking back at the room. "What about that horrid cherub statue there? Is it solid metal?"
Sandy lifted it up with a grunt. "Yeah, I'd say so," she said. "Jesus that's heavy."
"Good," said Jeff, hefting it in his own hand when she handed it over. "You remember the renovations in the basement from the house tour?"
"We're way the hell on the other side of all that mess." His first crack at the wall didn't have much effect, but there was a shower of dry mortar over his bare feet. "This whole room was bricked up decades ago; those stairs over there were the only way in and out, and the hatch is hidden out into the orchard behind the house. John Singer was very careful."
"So you're not the one who built this wall, then."
"I'm the one who was in the process of tearing it down," said Jeff, cracking the statue against the wall again. "I was hoping to be able to open this room as part of the tour after Christmas. Spring at the latest."
"Kind of wish you were a little further along with that particular project," said Jared. "No offense. You want me to take a crack at it?"
"Be my guest," said Jeff, handing the statue over. "I think we're all going to take our turn before we get through. There's just this one layer of brick to get through now, but the debris on the other side is kind of astounding. If I'd known I'd be having to fight my way through it, I'd've cleaned up."
"Here, let me take a shot," said Sophia, taking the statue from Jared after he'd been at it for a while and getting a good couple of blows in. "Damn, this thing is solid."
"Built to last," said Jeff, "but believe me, it'll come down." Sophia handed off to Chad, who eventually handed off to Sandy, who was happy to offload the battered statue into Jensen's hand after taking her turn.
"And around and around it goes," she said, coughing as brick dust started to fill up the room.
"It's got to be just about ready to go by now," said Jared.
"All we need's to punch a hole through," said Jeff. "It's not load bearing. Once we get it started, the rest'll follow."
Jensen wasn't sure where it came from, whether it was a result of everything he'd been through that night, but when he started in on the wall he just didn't stop, barely even noticing when someone was saying his name behind him. He didn't stop until one of the blows he rained down on it finally sent a few loosened bricks tumbling out the other side.
"Fucking finally," said Chad, reaching for the wall with his bare hands and loosening a couple more bricks, shoving them through. "Let's kick this mother in."
"And then what?" said Sophia, peering through the hole into the darkness. "She's still out there somewhere."
"What's she going to do, send us back into the Whores' Room?" said Chad. "We'll just walk right back out again."
"Yeah, well what if she decides to shove someone down the stairs a little harder next time?" said Sophia. "Or worse?"
"So we're supposed to just stay in here?" said Chad. "What, forever?"
"I just think we should have a plan!"
"I don't think she wants to hurt anyone," said Jeff, pushing a few more bricks through the widening hole. "Six of us down here and not one of us so much as scraped? I think she's just having a long overdue temper tantrum."
"Forgive me if I worry that none of us are really up on our paranormal psychology," said Sandy, picking up one of the candlesticks and carrying it over so they could see the other side a little bit. "We don't know what she wants, or what she wants to do."
"No," agree Jeff, "all we can go on is what we do know, and what we've seen. Seven years and she picks tonight to show up."
"After midnight," added Sandy. "That means this is the anniversary of her death, right? It didn't start till then."
"She never did this on the anniversary in any other year. It didn't start till someone started... showing affection, either," said Jeff. "Maybe some combination of the two?"
"So nobody make out," said Jared abruptly. "Seriously. Do not, under any circumstances, make out with anybody. Not even if they're really, really hot."
"Aw, man, and here I thought I finally had my shot with you," said Jensen, pushing his own share of bricks through the hole. It was nearly big enough for someone to crawl through now, and they were still going. "Oh hell, Jeff, you weren't kidding about the mess on the other side."
"What the hell is that?" said Chad. "I thought you were just talking about spilled paint or something."
"Scaffolding," said Jeff. "I wasn't just slapping up some drywall down here. This wall was a lot thicker when we started the work, and the ceiling needs major repairs too, plus I've got decades of badly done renovations down here that I'm fighting. Hell, I got my hands on the original plans and I think there's a wine cellar bricked up down here too."
"We couldn't have gotten thrown into the wine cellar instead of the Whores' Room?"
"At least the Whores' Room had a way out," said Jeff. "You'd rather die in a wine cellar than live in a whores' room?"
"That's kind of like one of those brain teaser questions, isn't it?"
"No it's not," said Jensen. "It's cake or death, Chad. Who the fuck chooses death?"
"All right, just a few more," said Jeff. "Can everyone get through that now?"
"As long as Jared can get through, the rest of us can get through," said Jensen, moving aside to make room for him.
Jared widened it a little more, just for easy access, then ducked his head and stepped through onto the other side.
The candle in Sandy's hand sputtered and there was a crashing sound from somewhere beyond the scaffolding.
"Guys?" said Jared. "I can't really see anything here...."
"Go back where you belong!"
There was no mistaking that whisper-hiss of a voice, even if they'd only heard it once before. Jared stumbled over the fallen bricks in his haste to get back on the other side of the wall. As he did, they could hear her fading giggle.
"See what I mean about a plan?" said Sophia. "You big, brave man."
"Hey, shut up," said Jared. "I couldn't see anything. She could've been about to bring the whole thing down on my head for all I knew."
Sandy held the candle outside the hole in the wall, but all it illuminated was construction materials and debris. "There's no one out there."
"I don't think she can come in here," said Jeff, looking around again. "She never came in here in life, and now I don't think she can come in here in death, either."
"You collecting material for your next tour?" said Chad.
"I'd like to actually be able to get out of this room," said Jeff, "then maybe I can think about telling the story about how this is, actually, a bona fide haunted house."
"It's a lot less fun when the ghost doesn't even let you snuggle up for comfort," said Sophia. "Kind of defeats the purpose."
"Yeah, I'll have to work on that bit," said Jeff. "Do you think we can reason with her?"
"Sure, because that totally worked for the Ghostbusters," said Chad.
"Wow, way to relate this to real life, Chad," said Jared. "What would we even say to her? 'Sorry your husband was a douche. Do you think we can go to bed now?'"
Jensen shrugged. "Worth a shot, right?"
Whatever it took. That was what he'd told himself earlier. And if what it took was standing on a pile of bricks and telling some ghost that she was pretty, that was what Jensen would do. He felt a hand on his arm as he ducked through the wall, but he didn't even know who it was, and whoever it was, he didn't let them stop him.
"Hey, Mary?" he said. "You there, Mary?"
"Go back where you belong!"
"Where I belong right now is bed," said Jensen, "but I have a feeling that's not what you had in mind."
There was the crash of something that sounded like a paint can, then a gust of air that shook the scaffolding that was all but on top of him.
"Yeah, I've been called that by better people than you," he said. "More accurately, too. I've done some pretty trashy shit in my time, but kissing Jeff? Like that? Not exactly trashy."
One minute Jensen was balancing on stray bricks, the next he was tumbling down the stairs again on the other side of the room.
"Should've seen that coming," he said, pushing himself to his knees, then letting someone help him to his feet. Jeff.
"Are you all right?"
"Yeah, I'm fine," he said. "Some bruises at worst."
"Okay, so that plan was a bust," said Chad. "Kind of like I said."
"Oh no," said Jensen, heading straight for the brick wall again. "Oh no, I'm not done yet."
A hand tried to stop him - Jeff's, he was pretty sure; he was starting to know the feel of it - but again he didn't let anyone get in his way.
"Hey Mary!" he said. "We're not finished here!"
"Go back where you belong!"
"What, did I hit the reset button?" said Jensen. "I don't belong in there. None of us belong in there. I sure as hell didn't bang your husband, Mary. Or anyone's, for that matter."
"And neither did anyone else in there," said Jensen. "He's been dead over a hundred years, Mary! And so have you, so just... let it go. Quit fucking this up for me and let it go."
"Why do you deserve love?" she hissed. "What makes you special?"
The scaffolding shook hard and Jensen knew enough to be afraid, but he stood his ground anyway. Jeff said she didn't seem like she wanted to actually hurt anyone and Jensen was going to hold fast to that. If she didn't want to hurt anyone, then all of them were going to get through this. Somehow.
There was another sound behind her, something a lot fainter, and it took Jensen a few moments to realize it was the sound of Bisou barking at the distant cellar door.
"I'm not special," said Jensen. "Everyone deserves love. And maybe if you'd kicked his ass to the curb and not hung yourself, you'd've found it too."
And maybe that was even why she was still here, trying to make up for that mistake and having no idea how to do it.
"You don't have to do this. You can just let it go."
He could see her there, now that his eyes were adjusting. He could see here standing there, in her Sunday dress, her hair all done up, ready to please a husband that found his pleasure somewhere else. A few moments later he could also see a light beginning to come through from behind her.
For a moment, just a moment, he thought maybe it was the light, the one he'd never been sure existed. But then he heard from behind him,
"Look, it's a light! Someone's coming!"
He looked back over his shoulder to see Jeff squinting off into the distance. "No, no one's coming," he said. "That's dawn."
Through the slim cellar windows the dawn light was staring to seep through, illuminating the long path between them and the cellar stairs. The image of Mary Singer flickered a few times in the soft morning light, then vanished entirely.
"I think it's over," Jensen murmured.
"Are you sure?"
"Kiss your girlfriend and find out," said Jeff.
Chad hesitated, right until Sophia said, "Oh, for fuck's sake," and grabbed hold of his shirt, kissing him soundly.
There was no sign of Mary Singer.
"So," said Jeff after a few silent moments had passed, "anyone up for breakfast?"
Chad and Sophia collapsed into bed just about as soon as they all got back up into the house. Sandy and Jared took the time to shower - together - but weren't far behind them.
Jensen was still a little too wired to sleep, adrenaline rushing through his veins, so he silently helped Jeff pick up in the parlor, getting rid of the last evidence of their reunion evening.
While Jensen tossed away the dregs of a bag of Doritos, Jeff knelt down and picked up the cracked frame from the small pile of debris on the floor, careful not to cut himself on the broken glass. When Jensen looked over he saw him staring at a sepia-toned photograph of Mary Singer.
"That's her" said Jensen. "That's Mary. That's what she was wearing."
"Yeah, it is," said Jeff, brushing away a few more fragments of glass. "I didn't realize this was what had fallen. I figured it was just my Great Aunt Helga or something."
"Is that important?"
"I don't know, maybe," said Jeff, sifting through the fragments of glass, examining the cracked frame. "Seems like a weird coincidence, don't you think?"
"Yeah," said Jensen slowly. "Yeah, it kind of does. Maybe we should, um."
"Yeah, I think I’m going to find a new frame for this before I hit the sack," said Jeff, very careful with it now. "I've got something in the office I think will work."
"Yeah, I'll help you with that," said Jensen. "You get the frame and I'll clean up here." Jeff rested his hand on the back of Jensen's neck for a moment, then nodded and turned to go.
"Cleaning supplies are in the closet next to the cellar door," he said. "The dustbuster should get all the glass dust. I don't think we should leave anything behind."
"Yeah, I think you're right," said Jensen, and as Jeff disappeared into the front office he meticulously cleaned up every fragment of the frame that had once held the photograph of Mary Singer. He didn't know if this was what had set her ghost loose on them. Maybe he never would. But he didn't want to take that chance.
When Jeff came back, the photo was firmly ensconced in an ornate bronze frame, both appropriate and - more importantly - secure.
"What do you think?"
"I think she'll be happy to call it home," said Jensen as Jeff put the photo back up on the mantle. "Some night, huh?"
"Pretty happy it's over," said Jeff. "I'm about ready to crash."
"God, me too," said Jensen. But neither of them moved.
"All your stuff's in my rooms."
"Right," said Jensen. "I should, uh, come and get that."
"I think you should be in my rooms, too."
Jensen just looked at him for a few moments, then slowly started to smile. "Thank God," he said. "I was worried I was going to have to ask."
"Come on," said Jeff, grabbing his hand and holding it tight. "Before we're too tired to make it up the stairs."
They were already almost at that point anyway, but they managed to stumble into Jeff's suite, make sure Bisou was safe in her dog bed, strip off their clothes without ceremony or hesitation and climb into that big, still unmade, bed.
"If I wasn't so damn tired, I swear I'd be nailing you to the bed right now," muttered Jeff, wrapping an arm around him.
"Mmm, ditto," murmured Jensen. "If you're into that."
Jeff nuzzled the back of his neck, his hand slipping down over Jensen's abdomen. "Definitely into that," he said, "but until we're up for it, will this do?"
His hand skimmed over Jensen's half-hard cock, fondling it gently before wrapping his fingers around it. Jensen moaned softly into the pillow.
"Yeah," he said. "Yeah, I think that'll do."
For a little while, surrounded by the comfort of Jeff and, maybe even more relevantly, Jeff's bed, Jensen just let Jeff take care of him. But even in his drowsy state he eventually managed to roll over to face him, to run a hand down Jeff's body and stroke him off in return.
Jensen didn't even open his eyes, just found his way by touch and let his mouth rest against Jeff's neck, all but slack, giving him tiny, wet, sleepy kisses. His grip was loose but his strokes were steady, finding a rhythm and using momentum to keep it going. He didn't even have to think about it, rocking against Jeff's body, stroke, stroke, stroke.
He kept moving as his orgasm crested, slowly rolling over him like lava, only coming to a slow stop when Jeff finally spilled over his hand. It was warm and wet and slippery between his fingers, and Jensen would've been happy to just go to sleep like that, but Jeff managed to grab a kleenex to clumsily clean them both up before mumbling something that was probably meant to be, "Good night."
Jensen had never passed out that quickly after coming in his whole life.
Jensen woke up alone, some time in what was probably the early afternoon, and when he stumbled downstairs in just his sweat pants he wasn't entirely surprised to find a stack of luggage already piled by the door. Bisou met him at the door and trailed along at Jensen's heel as he moved in closer.
"It's not you," Sophia was saying to an attentive Jeff. "It was all just... a little more than we bargained for."
"I don't think anyone ever really bargains for that," said Jeff. "At least I'll have a good ghost story to tell the next people who ask, though I think I'll probably have to tone down a whole lot of it. There are ghost stories that people like to believe, and ghost stories that'll make you sound like you ought to be locked up. I think last night was one of the latter."
"You're sure she won't come back?"
"I think we fixed the problem," said Jeff. "And if she does? Well, I'll make sure next year's anniversary guests have fair warning. And, uh, I'll make sure a full refund goes onto your credit card as soon as I can process it."
"No, no," insisted Sophia. "We wanted a haunted house and we got a haunted house."
"You spent most of the night trapped in my cellar."
"Right, so it wasn't all bad," she said with a cheeky grin. "Seriously, I'm pretty sure you earned every penny of that. Chad just got a promotion, so we can swing it."
"Not sure I feel right about that," he said, "but I can't force you to take it. At least go have lunch on me, though. I'll give Sam a call, if you're going to swing through town on your way home."
"Now that I think we can accept," she said, her expression lighting up when she finally spotted Jensen hovering in the background. "Hey! So you're alive after all."
"Ask me again after I've had my coffee?" he said, feeling a little self-conscious in his sweat pants when the rest of them were obviously all but ready to head out.
"We were going to wake you up as ask if you wanted to head back into the city with us, but you weren't in your room," said Jared, his eyebrows lifting just slightly, a repressed smile evident in his dimples.
"Jensen and I made some... alternative sleeping arrangements," said Jeff, returning the expression.
"Is that what the kids are calling it these days?"
"I, uh... figure I might actually stay the rest of the weekend," said Jensen.
"Or the week," said Jeff.
"Or the week," amended Jensen. "Or whatever. But we're all going to get together again soon, right?"
"Sophia's already talking about take two next month," said Jared. "Maybe someplace a little less adventurous." Like skydiving, or deep sea fishing. "Jeff, it's been... an experience. Thank you, for everything."
"I'm sorry this didn't turn out exactly as planned. I can't help but feel responsible."
"You're not responsible for what one lonely dead lady did," said Jared, "but you are responsible for stepping up and saving our asses down there. So thanks. I'm pretty sure this is the kind of vacation you never forget."
"No matter how much you might want to," said Jeff, but he was smiling and Jensen could tell it was a sincere one. "You got everything, then?"
"I think we're just about ready," said Jared, as Sandy came up behind him and wrapped her arms around his waist, pressing a kiss to his back.
"Jensen, you're not ready to go."
"I, uh--" Jensen looked back over his shoulder, at where Jeff was smiling fondly at him. Or at his dog. Possibly both. "I got a better offer, actually. But Jared says we're all getting together again soon?"
"I'm sure our social planner will come up with something," said Sandy, her smile both knowing and, Jensen thought, pleased. "We didn't really get our whole weekend up here."
"Whatever it is, count me in," said Jensen. "After this weekend, I'm up for anything."
"And maybe you'll actually have someone to bring with you next time," said Jared, as Chad stepped back into the room, wiping his muddy feet on the mat. "We all loaded?"
"Everything except what's by the door here," said Chad. "Sophia says we're getting lunch before heading back?"
"At the Black Dog Bistro," said Sandy. "We'll meet you there?"
Chad just gave a wave of acknowledgement, to both them and to Jensen.
"Take care of yourself, Jensen," said Sandy, giving him a kiss on the cheek before they went. "And keep us up to date, all right?"
"Maybe not with everything," said Jensen, "but I'll call you in a few days."
"You'd better," she said, then with a last wave she helped Jared finish loading their car and they were off.
"So it looks like it's just you and me," said Jensen, watching out the window as they headed down the lane.
"And no one booked into the B&B until Monday afternoon."
"So what do you think we should do with the rest of the weekend?"
"Oh, I've got some ideas," said Jeff. "How about I take you back upstairs and try to convince you that a weekend won't be nearly long enough?"
Jensen already knew a weekend wouldn't be, but maybe a lifetime would.