cri de cœur | chapter three

  • Jun. 19th, 2016 at 6:28 PM
kelleigh: (sn [cri de cœur] yellow wallpaper)

The first night of surveillance leads nowhere.

Dean drives past Nine Oaks several times, eyes open for anything out of the ordinary. The place looks like something out of an old movie, a wide avenue of towering oak trees leading from the main road up to the sweeping, two-storey white manor. It feels old, as if history is pressing out from the heart of the plantation, trying to keep them away.

Nine Oaks is clinging to its fair share of dark secrets.

He parks well out of sight of the house, the Impala’s chrome shielded from the moonlight behind a line of trees, as he listens to Sam go over what he knows about the property and the current tenants.

“Max Benbow was hired a few months ago by one of the big hospitals downtown,” Sam tells him. Dean leans across the front seat to see the picture Sam brings up on his phone, studying the official staff headshot of a white man with thick, reddish brown hair, wearing a white lab coat. “He’s married to a woman named Sayuri, but I haven’t found much on her yet.”

“Not really your typical rental,” Dean muses, staring out the windshield. An old plantation house well outside Charleston city limits doesn’t seem like it would make the list for many people relocating to the area. “Kind of out in the middle of nowhere.”

Sam smirks. “I guess some people are willing to ignore a century and a half of history that includes slavery, murder, and ghosts.”

Dean shrugs. “They probably thought it was charming.”

Three a.m. comes and goes without a sighting, and Dean drives them back to the house, half asleep as he and Sam work out where to crash. Through a yawn, Dean offers to take the couch. Sam scowls at the idea.

“C’mon, Dean. There are bedrooms Edmond said we can use.”

Sam chooses the room beside Jocelyn’s study, leaving Dean the one across the hall. They stand opposite one another, shoulders sagging after a never-ending day that began on the side of a highway.

Sam hesitates with his hand on the doorknob, and Dean pauses, waiting out whatever he’s trying to say.

“I’m glad we came.”

“We haven’t found anything so far,” Dean reminds him in a low voice.

“I know you would’ve rather stayed at the bunker, not taken on two hunts back to back.”

That brings a frown to Dean’s face. “I can handle it, Sam.”

“I’m not saying you can’t, Dean. I meant that it feels like we’re getting back to normal.” He sighs. “For a while, it kinda felt like we’d never get back to this.”

Dean knows what Sam isn’t saying. That there was a time when Sam thought he wouldn’t get Dean back.

“Let’s save this talk for tomorrow, alright?” Sam knows this is his way of saying let’s never talk about this again. He soaks in the sight of Sam’s sleepy half-smile just before he turns and steps into the bedroom.

When they moved into the bunker, it took Dean weeks to get used to the idea of not sleeping in the same room as his brother. For years on the road, he’d built his routine around Sam. Working out the sleeping arrangements, sharing the cramped bathroom, knowing Sam would spread his crap out all over the table, the desk, the dresser—any solid, flat surface.

Eventually he did. It turned out that getting used to sleeping alone, but knowing Sam was close, was easier than trying to rest when Sam was thousands of miles away at Stanford, living his own life.

Dean had never gotten used to that.

He forgoes his headphones and lets the sounds of the Lowcountry night lull him to sleep through the half-open window. Gossiping crickets, mournful marsh birds, and the melodic croak of tree frogs make for an unusual soundtrack, but Dean doesn’t mind. He falls asleep moments after his mind catches on the idea that the void within him doesn’t feel as sharp tonight. As if the serrated edges have been worn down, no longer as deadly.

Sam wakes up in the morning with a plan.

“Let’s go talk to the agent who rented Nine Oaks to the Benbows,” he suggests as soon as Dean stumbles into the kitchen, still yawning. “Edmond gave me her name, so I called and made an appointment at her office downtown.”

A clunky black coffee maker that’s seen better days is chugging along on the kitchen counter. The smell alone wakes Dean’s senses enough for him to follow along.

“How are we playing it?” he asks, impatiently waiting for Sam to finish pouring the coffee. “IRS agents looking into the property? Students writing about local history?”

“Dean, no one would ever believe that we’re students anymore.”

“Hey,” Dean teases, “don’t knock continuing education programs. So what, then? Do I need my Fed suit?”

Sam shakes his head. The way the corner of his mouth twitches makes Dean nervous.

“I have another idea.”

Georgia Snipes welcomes the Winchesters into her office with a smile. Her straight, dark hair is just beginning to go gray at her temples, faint wrinkles at the corners of her eyes and around her mouth. Her makeup is nearly flawless, and in place of a suit she wears a bright knee-length dress that brings out her green eyes. Dean knows he’s looking at a strong, successful Southern woman, complete with white pearls around her neck.

Sam insisted they dress it down for this particular meeting. He grumbled something about ‘options’ as he went through Dean’s bag, pulling a pair of slacks and Dean’s nicest collared shirt, pale blue, and insisting he wear it with an open-collar. Sam came downstairs wearing a crisp, blush pink shirt, unbuttoned at his throat, that Dean swore he’d never seen before. He would know; he does most of Sam’s laundry.

“Did you buy that shirt in the last five minutes?” Dean accused. What he didn’t add was how well the shirt fit his brother, and how the color brought out the pink in his cheeks.

Turned out Sam's plan was to take advantage of the fact that strangers often assume they're a couple. An odd scenario considering it was the truth once, long ago. Dean tried to leave it in the past, but he's lost count of the number of times the line has blurred. Sometimes it's after a strenuous hunt or a life-threatening fight, maybe after too many beers and not enough personal space. Dean’s desires rise and fall like a wave. Sometimes he can bear it, other times he wonders what's stopping him from kissing Sam.

“You mentioned the Nine Oaks property when you called this morning,” Ms. Snipes says after introductions are made and her assistant has gone to fetch two cups of coffee. “What exactly is your interest in the plantation?”

Sam fields her question. “We’ve been coming down to Charleston for years.” His tone is different, more easy going and relatable than the one he uses for his various government aliases. “I kind of fell in love with the place. We’ve always wanted a big, Southern manor,” Sam says, looking fondly at Dean in a way the agent can’t mistake for platonic. Obviously, Sam doesn't mind pretending. “Every time I looked into the property, it wasn’t available to buy or rent. Now we’re down for a long weekend, and when we drove by the plantation just to see it, I couldn’t help noticing that someone was living in the house.”

The ruse is impressive. Sam knows exactly how to shape his responses to lead the agent in the direction he wants. Specific enough to show Ms. Snipes that he’s not wasting her time, but vague enough to let her fill in the blanks without hesitation.

“That’s a fairly recent development,” Ms. Snipes informs them. She spins in her chair and pulls a black binder from the mahogany shelf behind her. “Until recently the property was held in some sort of trust—I’m a little unclear on the details. It prevented the plantation from being sold, or even rented.”

They need more. Dean presses. “Sounds like an odd arrangement.”

“It was stipulated in the will of the previous owner,” she says, scanning the paperwork in front of her. “Instead of leaving the property to family, he stated that Nine Oaks was not to be occupied until certain conditions were met.”

Dean glances sideways at Sam. He has a pretty good idea what those conditions were. Jocelyn’s death left no Campbells in the area, setting the property, and whatever’s haunting Nine Oaks, free.

Ms. Snipes grins, setting the binder to the side. “Lucky for us, that changed earlier this year. A local group of investors that I deal with purchased the plantation.”

Sam feigns disappointment. “Looks like we’re too late, then.”

“Oh don’t worry, it’s only been rented temporarily. The current tenants are building a new home in the area.”

“Were any changes made to the land or the house itself?” Dean asks, eager to know what might have caused a dormant spirit to reemerge. The agent’s eyes narrow, forcing Dean to cover his remarks. “It’s just that Sam here”—he places his hand on Sam’s knee—“is all about those original details. He’d hate to hear that the manor had been gutted and renovated, or that some of the old trees were dug up to put in a pool.”

Sam plays along. “It’s just so beautiful already.”

Ms. Snipes relaxes. “You boys don’t have to worry about that. The main house was brought up to code, of course. New wiring and outlets, some changes to the plumbing. Ductless air conditioning units added to several rooms.”

“Would the tenants be allowed to change anything?”

“I gave them explicit instructions not to,” Ms. Snipes swears with a hand over her heart. “Besides, with the husband being a doctor and them having a new baby, I doubt they’re the type of people to throw themselves into major projects. Actually, now that you mention it…”

She rifles through a small pile of notes stacked beneath her cell phone. “The husband did call asking about a few minor cosmetic changes. Apparently his wife was unhappy with some things. But don’t worry, I’ll call him back and tell him that changes aren’t permitted under their lease. Especially if the next tenants, or should I say owners—” she winks at the Winchesters—“want the manor left in its original condition.”

“That would be amazing,” Sam says, false smile full of teeth. “Thank you, Ms. Snipes.”

“Oh, please, call me Georgia,” she drawls, smooth as honey. Clearly she’s sniffing out a massive future commission. “And you boys just feel free to call me if you have any more questions.”

Nine Oaks feels different as soon as Dean and Sam pull up in the Impala later that night. The air is just as muggy as it was the evening before, yet somehow feels heavier. Like the property has doubled its efforts to keep them out.

Dean forces himself to take deep breaths. The strong scent of fresh, tangy moss floats in through the open car windows, the green notes mixed with something sharper. A scent they recognize easily.

“Ozone,” Sam mutters. “I think we’re in luck.”

“Only you would call this lucky,” Dean says, staring into the darkness, trying to pick out the lights of the manor through the line of trees. “We’re gonna have to go in on foot.”

It’s too hot for layers, so Dean ditches his jacket in the backseat after they park the Impala behind a twisting grove of trees out of sight of the main house. Sam is already down to his navy blue t-shirt, sweat around the ring of his collar, attracting Dean’s stare a moment too long.

“Something wrong?” Sam asks. He looks down and groans. “I forgot how humid it can get down here. At least we had the beach last time.”

Dean remembers the crescent beach, palmetto trees shading them from the strongest of the sun’s rays, and gray-blue water that Sam couldn’t resist. Unlike Sam, Dean didn’t hit the beach to cool down. He went there to find Sam, usually ending up with a lapful of chilled skin and searching lips, although the memories themselves are suffused with heat.

They circle the property, getting closer and closer to the house on every pass. It’s quiet out here, no noise from the road and no neighbors for at least a mile on either side. He shakes his head when Sam suggests splitting up and searching in opposite directions. They have no idea what’s out there, and if something happens, Dean doesn’t want Sam out of his sight.

A few steps ahead, Sam has stopped dead in his tracks. Dean watches him turn and exhale, breath passing his lips in a burst of white fog. Dean shivers.

Sam’s voice is barely a whisper when he says, “It’s gotta be close.”

Dean raises his gun and steps forward, matching Sam’s pace as his brother moves carefully, salt-filled rifle in his hands. It gets steadily colder, and Dean suddenly regrets leaving his jacket in the Impala.

Sam’s hand shoots out, stopping Dean in his tracks. Using the rifle, he points through the trees ahead of them.

The ghost is indeed a woman. She stands just off the main drive, her back to the Winchesters. She's entirely focused on the house and nothing else, not even the approach of two armed hunters.

Dean doesn’t remember ever being able to sneak up on a ghost.

With one look at Sam, they decide to watch and wait.

The woman's face is turned away, but Dean notes long, dark hair curling down past her shoulders. What skin he can see at her wrists is pale, almost snow-white. Her clothing is distinctive, certainly nothing from the last fifty or one hundred years. The dress is a creamy white, but the fabric around her waist is darker, matching the bottom of her dress. Full sleeves, delicate embroidery, a high collar. Dean’s read his fair share of history books—he’d place her clothing around the pre-World War I era—but Sam would know more. At the very least it gives them a time frame in which to focus their research.

“What’s she doing?” Dean whispers. The pale woman hasn’t moved. She stares up at the house, never moving. “The history on this place is pretty damn bloody, man. It doesn’t make sense for her to just stand there.”

“Can you see the house?” Sam asks, leaning to the side.

Doing so requires Dean to move. A few seconds later he’s able to peek through the trees and see the manor for himself. A few lights shine in the windows on the lower level, but what catches Dean’s eye is the large balcony that sits front and center above the wrap-around porch. Piazza. Whatever.

The doors to the balcony are wide open. Dean can’t see much from where he’s crouched, just the barest glimpse of a yellow room along with a shadow moving back and forth in front of the light. If he had to guess, he’d say their ghost is watching that room, her focus unwavering.

He looks back at Sam. His brother has his phone out, silently snapping pictures of the ghost. Dean pulls out his cell and does the same for the house before making his way back to Sam’s side.

“I don’t get it.”

“Maybe she’s like this at first,” Sam suggests. “Then she gets angrier and more violent the longer someone remains in the house.”

It’s a strong possibility, definitely a scenario they’ve worked with before. Still, something seems off. He’s about to say that to Sam when a rush of hot air sweeps over them, too warm to be a natural breeze. Spanish moss swings back and forth like a pendulum over their heads, goosebumps breaking out on their bare arms.

Strangest of all, the ghost covers her face with her pale fingers like she’s trying to shield herself. She looks up at the house one last time, gaze going straight to the yellow room, and disappears.

Dean’s mind is stuck in overdrive all the way back to the house.

Sam keeps flicking his thumb against his teeth, an old nervous habit. He doesn’t have to say anything. There’s no question: this hunt is more complicated than they thought.

He follows Sam up the steps and into Jocelyn Campbell’s house, dropping the duffle bag on the floor by the kitchen. Normally he’d recheck the weapons as soon as they got back, but they hadn’t fired a single shot.

“What the hell is going on here, Sam?”

His brother braces himself on the counter, his muscles tense and his shoulders forming a rigid line across his back. Dean’s caught up in the sight of thick biceps disappearing under the sleeves of Sam’s t-shirt, still stained with sweat, and wide palms spread flat on the countertop.

Dean has always loved his brother’s hands. Even back when Sam was twelve, before his teenage growth spurts hit, Dean knew Sam’s hands would get bigger and bigger. Like a puppy growing into its paws. They’d lie on cheap motel sheets, or sit folded against one another in the backseat of the Impala while Dad hustled inside the bar, and compare the size of their hands. Palms pressed together, innocent touches that gradually grew into more. Year after year, Dean would measure Sam’s growth.

By the time he left for Stanford, Sam’s hands could completely cover Dean’s.

“I don’t think I’ve felt anything like that wind before. It doesn’t make sense. Ghosts usually run cold,” Dean says, shaking his head to dispel the cottony wisps of memory. “Something else was causing it.”

“Did you see the way she reacted?” Sam asks, looking at Dean across the kitchen.

Dean returns to the scene while it’s still fresh and vivid in his mind. He sees the woman’s specter turn into the heated rush of wind, hands coming up. The look of pain and sadness on her face.

“She was trying to defend herself against it.”

Sam nods, his gaze turning distant as he, too, thinks back. Dean watches the emotions flicker across his face, his lips making the barest of movements as he speaks silently to himself, forming and rejecting ideas until he settles on one to say aloud.

“Did you notice the trees closer to the house?”

Dean scowls, trying to figure out where the question leads and ending up lost. “What about them?”

“They didn’t move,” Sam points out. “Neither did the balcony doors, and that was a pretty strong gust of wind.”

“You’re saying our ghost was targeted?” Dean asks.

Sam sighs, pushing a hank of hair away from his face. “You know as well as I do that there was nothing natural about that wind. We just happened to be hiding in the line of fire, so to speak.”

“Ghost on ghost violence?” Dean muses. “Now that’s something we’ve seen before.”

He recalls helping Bobby’s ghost and Annie Hawkins’ spirit take on the malicious ghost of Whitman Van Ness. Some people carry their evil into death, where it’s further twisted and warped until they hurt not only the living, but the dead, too. Could be what’s happening inside Nine Oaks.

Dean’s prepared for the melancholy that accompanies the memory of Bobby. Some losses never stop hurting.

“It could be one of her victims trying to prevent her from turning violent.”

“We have to find out who she was,” Sam says, unable to stop his yawn. “She’s the only clue we’ve got.”

Though they could both use a few hours to recharge their cells, it looks like sleep is going to have to wait. Sam’s already searching through the books he left open on the kitchen counter, shoving volumes aside that don’t contain whatever he’s looking for.

“Why don’t you hand me a few of those?” Dean offers, pretending to struggle when Sam pushes three extra-voluminous books in his direction. “Anything shorter? Maybe ones with pictures?”

Sam frowns. Dean knows to look for the slight quirk at the corner of his mouth. It’s nearly as good as catching a smile. His brother points towards the couch, and Dean complies. When it comes to research, Sam’s running the show tonight.

Dean wakes up slowly, grimacing when he shifts and feels a couch-spring digging into his ribs. When he finally opens his eyes, it's to the sight of Sam sitting at the counter with his laptop. Dean’s about to apologize for dozing off when they still haven’t figured out who the figure amongst the oaks could be, when he notices several things in quick succession.

First, the aroma of strong coffee. Second, the too-bright rays of sunlight slanting through plantation shutters, warming Dean’s feet from across the living room. Added to the fact that Sam’s wearing a different shirt than he was when Dean carried his portion of the research to the couch, Dean realizes he’s been asleep for way longer than he planned.

“What time s’it?”

“A little past ten,” Sam says without turning around. Whatever’s on the screen in front of him has him totally engaged. Dean is too far away to see the photos he’s scrolling through. Checking means moving, and that’s a big ask for his aching body. Give him a minute. Or two.

When he finally rolls off the couch, scuffling bare-footed across the floor, he notices that there’s a cup of coffee beside Sam’s elbow. Dean looks for the carafe and finds it half empty.

“Dude.” He smacks Sam on the shoulder. “Did you even sleep?”

“I couldn’t,” Sam says. “But it was worth it, Dean. I hit the jackpot.”

That hits Dean like a shot of caffeine. Not a literal one, obviously. He still requires a cup of black coffee if what Sam’s about to tell him has any chance of sticking.

The jackpot turns out not to be a book or one of the Campbell’s journals. It’s not an article from ancient issues of the Charleston Post & Courier or in any of the notes Sam packed and brought to South Carolina from the bunker.

“An Instagram account?” Dean scoffs. “Are you kidding me, Sammy?”

“I found Sayuri Benbow’s Instagram account,” Sam states proudly, taking a small sip of the coffee that’s probably kept him from collapsing on the counter if he’s been awake as long as Dean thinks he has.

“What’s so awesome about that?”

“She’s a lifestyle blogger.” Sam says it as if that’s a phrase Dean ought to be familiar with. “Meaning she posts all kinds of stuff from her daily life. Or, well, she used to. She stopped posting seven months ago, around the time she probably had her baby.”

Dean takes in every piece of information. At this point he’s positive Sam didn’t sleep a wink last night.

“But when she moved into Nine Oaks, she started posting again. Not much, just a few photos here and there. Most of them are of the main house and the grounds immediately outside.”

With Dean leaning in from the side, personal space no longer even a consideration they afford one another, Sam scrolls through Sayuri’s Instagram page. From what Dean can tell, Instagram is just a fancy word for ‘photo wall.’ He sees Nine Oaks in the daylight, the old manor impressive against the lush green of the surrounding land. Somewhat artistic shots of the line of trees for which the plantation was named, their age apparent in the width and span of the branches. Another shot taken from the spot where Dean and Sam were crouched last night, the manor just barely visible through a screen of oak leaves and drooping moss.

There are photos of the interior, too. Sam scrolls and clicks, showing Dean a cropped shot of the wide, curving staircase taken from the foyer. At least their story to Georgia Snipes holds up—Sayuri Benbow has documented many of the manor’s unique details. Fireplaces, carved bannisters, original hardwood.

“Not really my style,” Dean quips, squinting at the next photo. He can’t tell if it’s his vision or a problem with whatever filter (Sam explained what Instagram did) Sayuri used, but the wallpaper she’s captured is hard to look at. “I mean, that’s some hideous stuff. I don’t care what the real estate agent told me, I’d rip that crap out right away.”

He stares at the yellow mess until Sam clicks on the next photo.

“I still don’t understand why you’re so excited,” Dean says, pushing away from Sam and finally getting his hands on some coffee. Lukewarm, but he’s a beggar, not a chooser. “It doesn’t tell us anything about the ghost. Hell, Sammy, we don’t even know if anything is happening in that damn house!”

Sam, frustratingly calm, withstands the brief tirade. “It tells us a lot about Sayuri.”

“Care to share?” Dean mutters against the rim of his mug.

“I checked out her blog from before she moved down here. It wasn’t great stuff content-wise, but she seemed like a happy, well-adjusted person. She was pregnant and excited about it.” He spins his laptop around so that Dean can see the series of photos he’s talking about. “Lots of photos and blog entries about baby showers, gifts she received, all leading up to their move down to Charleston.”

Dean hustles Sam along to the point. “So?”

“So…” Again, Sam indicates the laptop. “No pictures of the baby after she was born. Not even a mention of her daughter except for the first photo she posted from Nine Oaks. Choosing a room for the nursery is tough when there are so many to choose from. After that, nothing. As far as the captions go, it’s the same thing as her blog,” he adds. “She went from writing a lot of upbeat stuff to barely managing to post a few words here and there. Not exactly inspiring stuff.”

He reads a few of the captions out loud, and he was right. Sayuri’s posts are low-key, morose. When Sam reads them in monotone, the effect is even more noticeable. The longer Sayuri lives in Nine Oaks, the stranger her posts become. The latest one, posted just a few days ago, is downright nonsensical. The photo it’s paired with is the same shot of obnoxious yellow wallpaper that Dean noticed before.

“Maybe she’s stressed. There’s a lot to raising a baby.” Dean has vague recollections of Sam being that small, Dad’s temper fraying as the demands of raising two young boys fell on him alone.

“There’s a nanny, though. Edmond told me.”

“When did you talk to Edmond?”

“He called me earlier, like, around eight-thirty this morning,” Sam says. “Wanted to see if we’d found anything. I told him about the ghost we saw, trying to figure out if he knew anything else that could help us.”

Dean rests his forehead against his palm, working out the puzzle in his mind. “So why is Sayuri so depressed? Moving halfway across the country, maybe? Losing interest in her work?” He sighs. “This might not be our kind of thing at all, Sam.”

Sam’s quick to refute that. “If Nine Oaks didn’t have such a violent history, and if you and I hadn’t seen the ghost last night, I might agree with you. Put it all together, and there could be a connection here.”

Closing his laptop, Sam takes a deep breath. No amount of coffee can hide the fact that he’s exhausted. Dean’s about to suggest that he crash for an hour or two on the couch to deal with the shadows beneath his eyes, but Sam speaks before he can open his mouth.

“We need to go talk to Sayuri, figure out how she fits into all this.”

“I got this.” Dean jumps in before Sam can object. “Only one of us needs to go, anyway. You can stay here, keep working on the ghost. Reach out to Edmond again if you need to.”

He stops short of ordering Sam to take a nap. No matter the circumstances, Dean has to make sure Sam is taken care of. It's hard-coded into his DNA. Whether Sam is sick, tired, or hurt, Dean sees it as a problem he needs to fix. Even if he's also sick, tired, or hurting twice as bad.

Even with a hole the size of Texas in his soul, Sam comes first.

Nine Oaks appears even more dramatic in the daylight. The manor is large and overdone, excessive in any era. Dean can’t see the charm. He appreciates places that are old, well-loved, but that’s not what Nine Oaks is. The scars are there for all to see.

Even with Sam’s guided tour through Sayuri Benbow’s online life, Dean has no idea what to expect when he steps up onto the wide veranda and knocks on the front door. It’s definitely not the smiling black coed who answers the door with a baby on her hip.

“Can I help you?” she asks, brown eyes looking Dean up and down while the baby girl coos. He’s wearing the same clothes from his meeting with Georgia Snipes. According to Sam he looks much less threatening this way. Approachable. That was the word Sam used.

Dean flashes his most disarming smile. “Hi, I was hoping to speak to the Benbows. Is that you?”

The young woman, in a crimson University of South Carolina t-shirt, shakes her head. “Nope, I’m Anna. I just help with little Lourdes here.”

“I was talking to the agent who rented this house to the Benbows. My partner and I are interested in the place once they move out.” He sticks to Sam’s ruse in case this meeting gets back to Georgia Snipes. “There’s a lot I’m curious about. Do you know much about the plantation?”

“When I’m not with Lourdes, I’m on the computer taking my online courses,” Anna explains, all too trusting. “Max is at work but Sayuri is upstairs, I think. She definitely knows more about the house than I do. Hang on, I’ll see if she’s busy.”

Dean politely waits outside the front door while the nanny goes to find her employer. His eyes inevitably drift towards the shaded spot where the ghost appeared. Nothing there now, but that doesn’t stop him from feeling uneasy.

A few minutes later he hears soft footsteps approaching the door. Then silence as whoever it is hesitates on the other side. He’s relieved when the door finally opens and reveals a thin, black-haired woman, her hazel eyes blinking at Dean from behind teal-framed glasses.

Sayuri Benbow stands behind the half-open door, obscuring Dean’s view of the foyer. Her blouse is tailored, the color of rose quartz, worn over dark jeans that fit tightly around her narrow legs. Dean half-expected her to be holding Lourdes in her arms. The baby must be with Anna.

Tracks with Sam’s theories.

“Mrs. Benbow, I presume?” Dean sticks with the charm. “I was just talking to Anna about the house.”

Sayuri doesn’t pretend to be interested. Dean recognizes suspicion in her tightly drawn features.

“Yes, and?”

Smile in place, Dean explains, “My partner and I met with Georgia Snipes, your leasing agent? We’re interested in Nine Oaks.”

“I’m afraid I can’t help you,” Sayuri says, trying to withdraw. Dean stops her with a hand on the door, but he keeps his tone and expression gentle.

“Please, ma’am. This would mean so much to my partner and I,” Dean pleads. His heart gives a little twirl whenever he calls Sam his partner. “It’d be great if I could see some of the original architecture, take some photos for him. I promise it won’t take long. I can stay out of your way if you're busy?”

“No, I—I’ll show you around.” As if the idea of letting Dean wander on his own is more unthinkable than accompanying him. “Come in.”

Sayuri hovers by the grand staircase, a good ten feet separating her from Dean. She doesn’t launch into detail about the house; she waits for Dean to ask the questions, which proves difficult as he’s not as familiar with the place as Sam.

“Mrs. Snipes mentioned you wanted to make some changes to the place,” he tries, hoping that an old house means big problems about which to vent.

“The house is fine,” Sayuri tells him flatly, barely blinking. Dean has to stop himself from snapping his fingers in front of her face. “She shouldn’t have told you that.”

“No major problems, then?” He keeps up the friendliness, trying to come off as harmless. “We’re used to fixer-uppers, but we want to know if we’ll be getting in over our heads, here.”

Sayuri hesitates before each response, Dean refusing to give up until they're no longer stalled in the main foyer. He talks his way through the front parlor—now a home office for her husband—and the formal dining room where Dean pretends to know the origins of the massive oak table which dominates the room, undoubtedly a piece that came with the manor.

Finally Sayuri gives in to Dean’s prompting and allows him upstairs. He needs to see the room with the balcony, the one their ghost couldn’t take her eyes off of the night before.

As soon as he sets foot on the upper landing, the E.M.F. reader in his back pocket—a slimmed down, homemade model no. 5—begins to vibrate. Sam suggested the modification when Dean was building this reader, and Dean is grateful for it as Sayuri doesn't notice a thing.

The vibrations get stronger as Dean approaches the first room with Sayuri reluctantly trailing. He takes one look inside and stops dead.

He recognizes the wallpaper immediately. He thought that perhaps Sayuri purposefully altered her photos on Instagram to make the yellow paper look more monstrous. In person, it's worse. Sayuri, with more emotion in her voice than he's heard all afternoon, tries to lead Dean away from the room, but he's caught up in the sight. The wallpaper tarnishes the sunlight pouring in from the balcony until it matches the turbulent yellow of the sky just before a tornado, and the draw is just as strong.

Helpless, as if hooked and pulled, Dean steps into the room. Sayuri is still speaking, her tone barely reaching Dean’s senses. He tries so say something to her, a question perhaps, but he can't hear the words leaving his lips. It's too warm in the room; Dean can feel sweat running down his spine, gathering on his upper lip.

His mind loses focus. Strange static drowns every other sound, muffled voices pressing against Dean’s ears, unable to make out one over the others. He turns, assaulted by the abstract amber mess no matter which way he looks. Something is there, watching him. He would swear it appears darkly pleased with his suffering.

Finally, one voice resolves itself, and Dean strains to hear, stomach heaving when he recognizes his own voice.

You’re going to die, it hisses. You think there’s hope, but the emptiness in your soul is going to kill you.

Dean winces, physically revolted but unable to muster the strength to raise his hands to cover his ears.

You want it to be Sam, but baby brother is going to walk away, just like he’s done before. Your love isn’t enough, not for Sam, not for anyone. You’re worthless. Worn down, used up. Empty like the pit in your soul. She ruined you, Dean.

It attacks with emotions Dean has long thought salted, burned, and buried deep. To his horror, the voice gets louder, consuming him. Screaming that he’ll never be good enough for Sam, that he’s better off dying so that Sam can get on with his life. Every negative thought he’s had over the last fifteen years is being ripped out of him and brought to rot in the open.

He doesn’t want you anymore. Not after everything you’ve done. He's better off without you. Do yourself a favor, Dean. Pull out that fancy gun and use it.

That’s when Dean’s phone rings. Dazed, he reaches for his phone without thinking, barely noticing the E.M.F. reader continuing to vibrate in his other pocket. In the background, he can vaguely hear Sayuri ask him a question. He raises his phone to his ear.

“I need you.” Like a hammer, Sam’s voice breaks through the spell Dean’s under.


“...Dean? You okay?”

He doesn’t know how to respond, just so relieved to hear Sam’s voice after what this place has made him feel. Sayuri is staring at him, her face drained of what little color it possessed. When he drops his gaze, he sees her wringing her hands together. Can’t really blame the woman for being spooked.

“What the hell’s going on, Dean? Talk to me.”

“It’s fine, Sam,” Dean manages to say, his voice shaky. “I’m at Nine Oaks with the owner. What’d you need?”

“I need you to get back to Jocelyn’s,” Sam rushes to say. There’s so much noise at his end of the call, the low buzz of other conversations, the rapid beat of traffic passing by, the screech of gulls overhead. Sam must’ve gone out chasing a lead. “I think I know who our ghost is.”

Sayuri creeps to the edge of the balcony and watches Dean Winchester drive away in a long, black classic car. The kind of car men spend thousands of dollars refurbishing in their spare time.

Her skin hasn’t stopped crawling since the man stepped into her study before she could stop him. Something told her to scream, push him out. She felt hands at her back pressing her to do just that. Sayuri was too scared, though, rooted to the floor as the man stood in the center of the room, unmoving, as if he'd slipped into a trance.

He snapped out of it as soon as his phone rang. He went from panicked to relieved as soon as he heard the voice on the other end. Must have been the man's partner.

The dust kicked up by the man's car has settled. Sayuri needs to move, check on Anna and Lourdes, but she's tired. Barely slept the night before, kept coming back to this room to get away from Max. She used to find comfort sleeping beside her husband. Now he's too loud, every sound an echo in their bedroom. He falls asleep before she can tell him what she's found in this room. In the wallpaper. He doesn't want to know, blocking her out without saying a word.

If he can't hear the problem, it doesn't exist.

Dean pried; his questions made Sayuri uncomfortable. Did he know the room’s secrets? Sayuri wanted to protect her space, heard the whispers coming from the walls telling her not to say anything.

She looks back, feels the wallpaper beckoning her closer. Her knees hit the hardwood floor as her fingers reach out. Hovering close to the paper as if the vines will come to life for her. If she waits long enough, perhaps they will.

The next time she looks up, she's shuffled halfway around the room, her knees aching. But she saw something behind the yellow thicket. There, just there! A gaze meeting hers, a face taking shape. Sayuri scoots closer and closer, the scent of the old paper thick and heavy in her nose.

The room is grateful for her protection. Max, Anna, Dean Winchester...not one of them would understand. Would see what she sees.

Perhaps tonight, the room will reveal its secrets to her.

On to chapter four.

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