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I was just poking through my Google Drive and found this. It was the beginning of a Dean/Castiel AU I was going to write for DCBB a couple of years ago, based on the film The Awakening. I thought I might as well post it here. :) I still think it was a good idea.



Memento Mori

"Whatever you do," said Madame Eutrec, as her hands shook against the tabletop, "do not turn around. "Do not suffer, children, the loss of Orpheus!"

In the center of the table, the bell jar began to quiver finely. Beneath it, the mementos of the dead -- a father's watch; a locket; a child's blonde curl -- trembled too within their protective circles of white chalk, but the borders held. Around the table, three women and two men clutched tightly to each other's hands, breathing as one.

Then, suddenly, the clear sound of a bell rang out and the shivering of the table fell quiet in its wake. Madame Eutrec called out, "Anna?" The company was silent. When Madame Eutrec's voice emerged next, it was higher-pitched, strained. "Mama?"

A whisper of movement in the curved glass of the bell jar caught all their attention at once. All eyes turned toward the reflection as it loomed larger: the unmistakable shape of a fair-haired child, a little girl in a light-colored dress. Anna, immediately in front of the jar, caught her breath sharply. "Frances?" Her voice quavered. "Is that you? Frances! Mama's here -- Frances, don't leave me --"

Her body twitched in the chair; the warring desires within her to turn toward the phantom of her child and to keep her eyes front as the medium had directed were plain to see. The older man to her left reached across and stabilized her with one bracing arm. "Don't turn around!"

She nodded shakily. The child stepped closer still, and Anna began to sob. "Frances -- Frances, if you can hear me..."

When the door burst open it was, to Dean Winchester's mind, not a moment too soon. His mouth curled in sympathy and disgust, and he leaped out of his chair to lay hands on the supposed phantom's shoulders. "Ma'am, I assure you, your daughter can't hear you."

The lights flickered on to reveal three uniformed members of the New York Police Department and the furious face of a young boy, ridiculous now above the collar of the frock with his wig dangling from Dean's fingers. Anna's eyes widened, mouth open. She seemed at a loss for words, but Madame Eutrec at the head of the table did not suffer from the same affliction.

"I know you," she accused, as two policemen hauled her up out of her chair. "You and your book and your exposés. Don't think you're going to get away unscathed, Winchester. The truth will find you!"

Dean snorted, raising his eyes to Anna's. "Yeah, I don't think this room's had any acquaintance with the truth for a good while." Bending, he retrieved his hat from the tabletop, set it on his head and tipped it to Anna courteously. "Ma'am, I gotta be on my way, but these nice policemen'll make sure you get your money back, you hear? Watch out more carefully for charlatans next time. Here's a hint." He leaned in conspiratorially. "They're all charlatans. All this stuff? Bunkum."

"Thanks, Mr Winchester," cut in one of the policemen, laying a hand on Anna's arm. "We'll take it from here. Will you make a statement?"

"Of course." Dean straightened the placket of his waistcoat and smiled. "Always happy to help."

**


"Back, are you?" Bobby observed. He was giving the hall table a very disapproving look, as if it had personally offended him. "How's the crime fighting going?"

"Great," Dean said flatly, unbuttoning his coat one-handed. An unruly stack of letters sat on the table by Bobby's hand. "Those for me?"

"Every last man Jack of 'em," Bobby grunted, "except this bill. You're going to make enemies this way, son."

Dean shrugged, taking the first envelope off the pile and turning it to inspect the back. No return address. "Don't exactly want friends like these people, Bobby."

"Hmm." Bobby eyed him darkly. "Don't exactly want friends at all, from what I can see. Christ, boy, when I was your age, I had a wife and a kid on the way."

Dean shifted uncomfortably. He hated this conversation, and Bobby liked to have it far too frequently. "I'm thirty!"

"I know," Bobby said, one eyebrow arched. "I'm going back to my book. Dinner's in half an hour. Don't be late down."

**


Dean had barely gotten his jacket and waistcoat off before he heard the insistent jangling of bells start up, demanding his attention. At first, he thought it was dinner come far too early, and he cursed under his breath, but did not hurry as he tugged off his collar and tie. Then the housemaid knocked timidly on the door of his study -- "Mr Winchester? Sir?"-- and he realized his mistake. It was not the dinner bell he heard, but the doorbell.

He was in shirtsleeves, hardly fit to receive visitors, but he hesitated only a second before he called back, "Yes, Sarah, who is it?" Anyone who chose to show up at this ridiculously inconvenient hour could just put up with Dean's bare throat and mussed shirt.

The door opened a fraction and Sarah put her head in. "It's a gentleman to see you, sir." The look on her face left Dean in no doubt as to her opinion on his state of undress. "Should I ask him to wait?"

"No," Dean said firmly, "He wants to see me, he can see me now. Send him in."

Sarah's brows drew together slightly. "But --"

"Send him in. Please."

Sarah pursed her lips, but Dean held fast until, at length, she pulled back and closed the door. Satisfied, Dean sat down on the edge of the settee and then, as a final tiny gesture of defiance, unbuttoned his cuffs. Five thirty was a ridiculous time for visiting.

Another brief knock, and then the door opened to Sarah's voice. "Mr Milton."

The man who subsequently entered was rather tall, perhaps six feet, but there was something about him -- his slightly shabby suit, perhaps; the nervous hunch to his shoulders or the uncertain twist of his mouth -- that made him look smaller, a country boy out of place in a big city. His eyes, vividly blue, were never still, flickering from Dean's face to his shoes to the window before recommencing the whole cycle again. His hands, held in front of him almost protectively, were long-fingered and fine, marking him out as a member of the professional classes. One of them clutched the handle of a briefcase. In the other rested a copy of Seeing Through Ghosts, by D. Winchester. Mr Milton was, as far as Dean could see, bumpkinish, unremarkable and currently inconvenient, and Dean's primary thought was to dispatch him as swiftly as possible.

Biting back a sigh, he held out a hand for the book. "Who should I make it out to?"

Milton blinked. "I beg your pardon?"

Dean rubbed an irritable hand across his eyes. "Look, I'm glad you enjoyed my book, but it's been a long day, and I --"

"I didn't, actually."

Dean rattled to a halt mid-flow and fixed Milton with a look, but Milton only continued to regard him mildly, his posture upright, almost soldierly. "Excuse me?"

"I said," Milton explained calmly, "I didn't enjoy your book all that much, actually. It was all a little too...certain. But now that I've met you, perhaps I'm beginning to understand why."

Dean crossed his arms over his chest and frowned. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Milton raised one shoulder in a half-hearted shrug. "I'm a history teacher at a boys' boarding school out in the country, twenty miles upstate from here. We've both read your book, the matron and I, and we thought -- well. We'd like to engage your services."

Dean blinked. He wasn't sure what he'd expected, but not...this. He gestured vaguely in the direction of the low sofa. "All right, Mr Milton -- take a seat, please. Uh. My -- my services?"

Milton raised a careful eyebrow, setting down the book on the cushion beside him as he sat. "You are a ghost hunter as well as an author, correct?"

Dean smiled wryly. "In a manner of speaking. You can't really hunt what doesn't exist."

"And isn't that the rub?" Reaching for the briefcase now between his feet, Milton opened it. "We're pretty sure we have one that does."

This was a first. Dean leaned back in his own chair and crossed his legs sceptically. "Oh yes? And you want...what? To prove me wrong?"

"Not at all. If anything, I'd be most grateful to you if you could prove me wrong." From the briefcase, Milton took what appeared to be a set of photographs, which he laid face-down on the cushion. "The school where I teach hasn't always been a school. It used to be a private house. Apparently, some twenty years ago, a boy was killed there."

"Apparently?" Dean reached for his cigarettes. "You don't know? Who was the kid? Who killed him?"

"There's no proper record," Milton said, unperturbed. "It was an important family in an isolated country house; things were hushed up. It's perfectly possible that a boy did die there."

"Possible, but ultimately gossip, is that it? You've come all this way to see me about a rumor." He offered his cigarette case. "You smoke?"

"No, thank you. No, Mr Winchester, I'm not here about a rumour. Actually, I'm here about another death -- one of our boys, three weeks ago. Sadly, there isn't any doubt about that one." Fumbling in his briefcase, Milton withdrew a folded newspaper, which he proffered in one hand. "The day before Andrew died, he went to see the headmaster to tell him he'd seen a ghost. He was petrified -- shaking with it, and this was a good boy, Mr Winchester. Not a troublemaker, not a liar."

"But," Dean cut in, "a kid with this idea pre-planted in his head, am I right? Does everyone up at the school know about this rumor?"

Milton's face twisted, half-amused. "It's kind of hard to keep secret, unfortunately, without raising further questions in the attempt."

"What do you mean?"

"Well -- here." Milton turned over the first of the pile of photographs. "This picture was taken eighteen years ago."

The photograph showed a group of boys in two neat rows, posing in front of an ornate country house. At the extreme left of the backmost row, the phantom outline of an additional boy could be seen. To the unpractised eye, the figure might have looked like a ghost attempting to claim a place among his peers to which he was no longer entitled -- but Dean's was not an unpractised eye. Laughing shortly, he pushed the photograph back toward Milton and shook his head.

"Are you kidding me? Classic old school prank. When the photographer starts the exposure, one of the boys runs from one end of the line to the other so he'll appear in both positions. If you don't hold still the full ten seconds, this is what you get." Dean shrugged. "Is that all?"

"No," Milton replied quietly. "I'm a schoolmaster, Mr Winchester; I'm well aware of the common pranks. That was 1890. Here's 1891 --" Milton passed another photograph -- "'92, '93, '94." A further three. In each, the rows of boys grew successively longer, but still, in each, the partly-exposed figure reappeared on the extreme left of the picture. "Mr Winchester, I grant that a boy could run the length of the line -- even, at a stretch, this line --" he tapped the most recent photograph "-- in the time it takes a photographer to pan the length of the building. But look at this one, taken last month. All the boys are accounted for, as they are in all of these. So how did a boy get there?"

Dean frowned. In this picture, unlike all its companions, there was no phantom boy at the end of the row. But there, next to the pad of Milton's long finger, was the distinct shape of a child's head and shoulders, looking out of a second floor window. It was, undeniably, eerie. Still -- "It wouldn't be a difficult effect to achieve, Mr Milton."

"Everybody was accounted for."

"How can I be sure of that?"

Milton laughed, short and harsh. "Well, Mr Winchester, my problem is that all the boys at school are sure of that, whether you are or not. And you can imagine what that means. They're terrified. There've been other sightings, not just these pictures, not just Andrew. Look, I know you're a very busy man. But these boys...many of them are practically orphans." Milton paused, as if remembering himself. "And I don't just say that because of your circumstances."

Dean's brows drew together. "Why say it, then?"

"It doesn't matter." Milton sighed. "It's coming up to vacation time; the boys will all be home within a week. I just want them to feel safe again. Do you understand that? I don't need you to catch a ghost. God knows I'd rather you didn't. I just want you to come and lay out all your instruments and your traps, make your recordings, do your crazy science. I want you to prove to them that we've investigated every avenue open to the ghost-catcher, and caught nothing. I want you to convince them, once and for all, that there's nothing to catch. Then, maybe, we can go back to normal."

Dean leaned back in his chair and surveyed Milton assessingly. Ten minutes ago, he'd had every intention of pushing this man out of the room as quickly as possible, the quicker to get downstairs to his dinner. Now, though -- now, he wasn't so sure. There was something plaintive in Milton's face that tugged at Dean's emotions unfairly, and moreover, he was so damn rational. Dean was a busy man, but he wasn't too busy to prevent another ten year old from killing himself unnecessarily over a fear of what didn't exist. He held out his hand. "All right, Mr Milton, I take your point. I'll come."

"Thank you." Milton's hand seized Dean's in a sure, firm grip. "The journey's a bit of a nuisance, but it isn't far, not really. We can't pay much, Mr Winchester, but..."

"Thrill of the chase," Dean said generously, and smiled. "Call me Dean."

"Castiel." Opening his briefcase again, Milton began piling his papers and photographs back into it. "I have rooms in town tonight, but if you could come back with me in the morning, I'd be most grateful."

"Absolutely," Dean said, standing up to show his visitor out. "I'll dig out my kit -- throw the whole shebang at it, that's the way to impress little boys."

Castiel laughed, the corners of his mouth pulling upward properly for the first time. "It is indeed," he said. "It is indeed."

**


"Wow," Dean said, in a tone that wavered between horror and awe. "This place is a real old pile of bricks, that's for damn sure."

"You can say that again," Castiel said, smiling a little as he pushed open the big wrought iron gate that kept the school grounds cordoned off from the world. "It gets a little drafty."

"I'll bet," Dean said, wonderingly. Gravel crunched under his feet as he moved forward into the courtyard, but he barely noticed it. His head was tipped back, neck craned upward to take in the magnificent picture the old house made, the cut
of it starkly Mother Country with its granite roof and crenellations, all unforgiving angles against the grey-white sky. "What a place to be a kid in."

Holy Rood School for Boys stood miles from anywhere, its stately shape the only blot on an endless expanse of north country grassland. From the front door, a double staircase swept downward; when Dean lowered his head, he saw that there were boys peering at him over the railings, their bare legs skinny and pale beneath their little Eton suits.

"Dean." Castiel's hand at his elbow shook him back to earth. "This is Mrs Harvelle, our school nurse. She's the real fan of your book. It was on her advice that I went to see you."

At the bottom of the nearest stair stood a woman, perhaps forty-five but looking well for it, her hand outstretched and a smile on her face. It was a good face, not pretty, but handsome in a way that must have been devastating in youth and was still compelling now. Her dark hair, swept up into a knot at the back of her head, was streaked with grey. A little brown-haired boy, with almond-shaped, leonine eyes, clung to her skirts and looked up at Dean reverently.

"Mr Winchester," she said, squeezing his hand. "I'm Ellen to you, please."

She was all warmth, motherly over an undercoat of battle axe, and Dean smiled, liking her immediately (even if she was a superstitious bumpkin, which somehow didn't fit). "Ellen, then. I'm Dean. Hi." The boy at Ellen's side was still staring, and Dean turned to smile down at him. "And who's this?"

The boy blinked, as if startled to be addressed, but then a quick smile spread over his little upturned face, bringing dimples with it. "Sam," he said. "I'm Sam."
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