Melvin Pruss was quite content with his life. He had a good job, a nice house, a Mercedes—the typical American dream. He even had the white picket fence lining his yard, surrounding that little barbeque pit that he’d put in two summers ago. In fact, if he had the pretty blonde wife, 2.5 kids and the dog, his life would be on par with a Normal Rockwell for iconic Americana. Melvin, however, didn’t really swing towards women, blonde or otherwise, disliked dogs and hated kids. So Melvin thought that his life was rather perfect. There were even hints about him making partner at Sawin and Sons and that, Melvin knew, would open up a lot of doors. It might even open up political doors.
Instead of just challenging laws, Melvin would be making them—his life was looking better and better every day.
He closed the door of his Mercedes as he juggled his briefcase to check his watch, wincing at the time. Once again, he was late getting home. At least this time, though, it wasn’t because of the long hours that he’d been putting in at the office—those were coming to an end as the judge was set to give a ruling soon. Tonight had been a celebration of the fact that Melvin was going to win his case. He swayed a little, catching himself on the car as he headed inside, leaving the garage. He was going to win and get piles of money from his well-funded clients as well as make a name for himself for successfully challenging a strangling environmental regulation. So many doors, wide open.
As he passed by the large bay window in his living room, he paused for a minute to bang on the wall to scare off the coyote that was digging up his geraniums—hopefully animal control would make it out soon and catch the pest. For weeks now, it had been making a nuisance of itself, getting into something or other and Melvin was sick of it knocking over his garbage. Dirty, filthy thing. He’d brought it up to Alan Peachtree, the community manager multiple times now. It was a shame to let such a creature spoil as nice a community as Sunrise Acres.
His Gucci shoes clacked on the hardwood flooring as he passed by the potted fern and hung up his black trench coat in the closet. Melvin loved his house—he’d paid a lot for the large two story in the middle of the exclusive, gated Arizona community of Sunrise Acres. It suited him well, he thought. Him, his lifestyle, and his potential future—his bright, shining future.
Melvin smiled as he pulled himself up the stairs. Nothing could stop him now. His newest case was about to gift-wrapped and hand-delivered with a little bow on it to his clients, the same as the last time he’d gone to bat for them. Previously, he’d successfully litigated against an overzealous environmentalist’s wild accusations and damaging slander of illegal dumping. Whether it was true or not, Melvin didn’t really care. What did it matter if a few coyotes died? They were pests, anyway, knocking over his trash and digging up his geraniums. What Melvin had cared about was that the overzealous environmentalist had lived right down the street from Melvin. A hippie living in what should have been a nice, respectable neighborhood. Melvin could have died of shame. Truthfully, when Miguel Foxtail had disappeared, Melvin had been more relieved about his property values than the fact that his opposition had lost most of its will to fight. Melvin knew that the courts would have sided with him in time—he was the only one making sense in the courtroom—coyotes, who cared?
He would win this case, too. The environmental regulation was simply strangling local businesses—standing in the way of progress! By getting it removed, Melvin Pruss would single-handedly save hundreds of potential Arizona jobs once the new mines went into operation. There was no one out there on that land that his clients needed to dump their waste in anyway. He could certainly use the case on his record to show that he was a staunch business defender once he ran for office.
Stripping off his suit jacket and gently laying it on the bed, Melvin moved carefully into the master bathroom of his house, catching a hold of the jamb to steady himself. He grimaced at the harsh glare of the lights and then grimaced again at his reflection in the mirror. He certainly looked like he’d been having a good time. His hair had broken free of its gel and his eyes were bloodshot. Melvin grabbed his toothbrush and set on scrubbing the dark wine off his teeth—he hadn’t spent a small fortune in keeping them white just to slack off.
There’d been protesters outside the courtroom today, holding their signs and shouting. Melvin had curled his upper lip at them as he’d been forced to wade into their midst. They were as bad as Foxtail. If only they’d disappear just like him, off to do their drugs or whatever it was, and painlessly remove themselves from Melvin’s hair. At this rate, he might be tempted to start tearing it out and then all that money spent on regaining it would be wasted.
One of the protesters today had even looked Foxtail—same swarthy face and long dark hair pulled back in a beaded braid. He’d caught a hold of Melvin’s coat sleeve chanting, “Save the Earth! Don’t suck it dry!” and, before Melvin had successfully shaken him off, Melvin had even thought that it was Foxtail. He’d regained his senses after putting some distance between himself and the unwashed hippie. It wasn’t very probable for Foxtail to have returned. The man had been gone for nearly eight months now and there was nothing waiting for him. Even his faithful, grieving partner had moved on, heading back to Canada.
Now that was a tragedy—a good-looking, obviously well-to-do man like Jules wasting his life on the likes of Foxtail. Melvin wouldn’t have minded offering Jules a sympathetic shoulder to cry on. It had been awhile since Melvin had had sex and there was nothing like grief to motivate a person into seeking a little bit of comfort.
Nothing like missed opportunities. Melvin shook his head ruefully and rinsed out his mouth, leaning over the marble sink to spit the toothpaste down the drain. Oh well. In the future, he’d be able to have multiple men like Jules—and he wouldn’t have to pick up the scraps of an unwashed hippie to get them, either. Once he won this case and started working on his political ambitions, he’d have to make sure to hire an aid with Jules’ blue eyes.
Melvin shut off the light of the bathroom as he headed back into the bedroom, knowing the way well enough to walk it blindfolded. He slipped into bed easily and fell asleep, dreaming of the future.
He never saw the eyes that were staring at him in the darkness—but the eyes certainly saw him. He didn’t even have the chance to scream as every drop of moisture was squeezed from his body like how a thirsty cactus sucks up the rain.
Melvin Pruss was left abandoned and alone in the rocky desert sand. The one who put him there, gently setting down his dried corpse, thought that it was a fitting end for a man who’d been sucking the Earth dry as surely as his rich corporate employers.
One week later…
Over the years, it had become some sort of strange game with Dean. Sam was sure that, in his head, Dean was keeping a meticulously detailed record because Dean never failed to remind Sam when they hit a particular goal or mile-marker. Yesterday, he’d brought Sam a beer and sat down next to him on the bed, taking a swig of his can. “Drink up, Sammy.”
Sam looked up from the laptop with all its open tabs of local Arizona newspapers and quickly clicked away from one screen in particular before Dean had a chance to lean over his shoulder and see it. He quirked an eyebrow at the can that Dean was offering him. A can of beer meant that it was cheaper than even what Dean usually bought. Cans were what Dean bought when he was scrounging for change. “Why?”
“Because we’re celebrating.” Dean waved the can at him, grinning invitingly and making it clear that saying no was not an option.
Sam grimaced as the alcohol went down rough and he stared at the can feeling vaguely betrayed. Somehow, the smooth aluminum had fooled him into thinking that the contents were going liquid and not, say, fire. He should have known better—it had come in a can, after all. He smothered a cough. “What are we celebrating?”
Dean took another long pull off his beer and leaned backwards on the bed. “A big moment, Sam. Huge.”
“Huge,” Sam repeated skeptically. He’d learned a long time ago that he and Dean differed widely on what sometimes constituted as a ‘huge’ moment in life. Like Dean considered visiting the world’s largest ball of string to be the highest of life goals.
Dean nodded and looked happily up at the ceiling. …The ceiling that Sam was pretending didn’t exist because it was either that or go stark raving mad from the demented clown faces smiling down at him. “Clowns,” Dean said. Sam shuddered. He’d tried vetoing the idea of staying at Betty’s Circus Tent Motel based on pure principal but Dean, just like with the beer, hadn’t taken no for an answer. Sam had spent half the night dreaming about being surrounded by clowns and nearly suffocating as they crushed him into one of their tiny cars. He blamed Dean for that. “Do you know that this is the tenth time that we have stayed in a clown room? That means tin, Sam.”
Sam frowned. “You’re not…”
“Yeah, I looked it up. 10th anniversaries are tin. Or aluminum. I figured a can of beer would do just fine.”
“Dean, that’s for wedding anniversaries, not…celebrating…bad taste.” Sam couldn’t decide if he was more appalled by Dean wanting to mark the tenth time they’d stayed in a clown room or the fact that he considered a can of beer to be a fitting ‘anniversary’ gift. Then again, considering the former, maybe the latter was fitting. Sam took a long swallow of his beer, not caring how it went down. Something told him that he needed to be drunker for this.
Dean flashed another smile. “Well, Sammy, we’ve outlasted most marriages and taste is just a matter of personal style.”
That was true. Taste came down to personal style and Dean’s personal style personally sucked. The clowns with their maniacal, evilly-scheming grins had haunted Sam last night, too, but yet he’d caught sight of Dean smiling at one this morning—the one that was pretending that it was a lamp. Sam closed his eyes for a brief moment of respite from the clowns. He was glad that he and Dean were leaving them behind very shortly.
Dean peeked his head out from the bathroom, a green toothbrush jutting out of his mouth. “Hey, where we goin’ again?”
“Sunrise Acres,” Sam said, repeating it from memory. He was currently sitting on the garnish clown bedspread that was mostly buried in piles of newspapers and assorted paperwork, all of which had “Sunrise Acres” written on them in varying sizes.
Dean snorted and ducked back around the corner. Dean rarely shut the bathroom door if he could help it. It was a hold-over from their childhood. “Should have just called it ‘Desert’ and gotten it over with.”
Sam shrugged. He wasn’t going to comment on the name—even if it was a gated community out in the Arizona desert. In about two hours, he and Dean would be there anyway. There was just one small thing…
They had a little bit of paperwork to complete first. Sam snatched up a neatly clipped stack of paper and flipped through it, using his fingers to mark the various pages that still needed to be signed. He hadn’t asked Dean to sign anything yet, because he had wanted at least one night of peace about the whole situation before Dean started in on the jokes.
Just like with the clowns, Sam didn’t expect Dean to be able to resist. He could hear Dean gargling noisily—more for Sam’s benefit than Dean’s—as he signed his own, fake name to each of the requisite sheets, initialing when he had to. In two hours, Sam Mustaine and Dean Hetfield, domestic partners, were about to become proud new owners of a nicely-sized two-story house in the gated community of Sunrise Acres.
No, Sam didn’t expect Dean to be able to resist that little siren call at all.
They passed a brightly colored billboard, standing almost defiantly against the empty stretch of road. With a large sun hovering in the sky over a perfect little white house and a large expanse of green grass, the board’s picture seemed extremely out of place, framed by the pale yellow of the desert sand. Besides the cacti that dotted the desert, the vibrantly painted grass was the only green that Sam had seen for miles. “Visit Sunrise Acres!” the sign said, part of the marketing plan that the community had just started six months ago. “A Better Way of Living! Turn off in 10 miles.”
“The Housewives of Desert County,” Dean said, grinning at Sam across the seat. “It’s got a nice ring to it. You know, to match that diamond you’ve always been wanting.” Like all of Dean’s other unsubtle jabs since Sam had gotten him to sign the papers, Sam ignored the comment. Dean, of course, thought it was hilarious that Sam had set them up with a cover to be domestic partners. The entirely too long drive to Sunrise had been filled with gleeful declarations of, “Gee, never knew you wanted me that way, Sammy. I’m touched,” and “How long you been harboring these secret desires?” and “You know I top, right?”
Sam just accepted them all with a stoic demeanor. He’d known exactly what was going to happen. It hadn’t exactly taken a psychic to see it coming. And it was better to just take the comments than answer them because…
Because Sam didn’t know how much he’d be able to resist. He didn’t need to let years of hard kept secrets out of the bag just because he wanted to one up Dean. He slanted his eyes over to Dean, taking in Dean’s customary sprawl across the Impala’s seat. Dean could happily drive for hours, completely comfortable behind the wheel.. The Impala and the wide open road were as good as home to him. He was tunelessly humming to himself, tapping his fingers against the casing of the open window with the sleeves of his white dress shirt pushed up around his elbow. The coat and tie of the suit that he liked to pretend he didn’t own was sitting in the seat between him and Sam.
Oblivious. He had no clue. Sam didn’t plan on letting him catch one, either.
They just had to make it in and out of Sunrise Acres. It really wasn’t anything they hadn’t done before. They’d pretended to be a couple in the past and Sam had slipped through with his secret intact if not always his dignity. The job at Sunrise Acres didn’t have to be any different.
“So, we’re sure it’s not a chupacabra?” Dean glanced over at Sam and Sam, grateful that Dean had momentarily dropped the teasing, decided to answer him this time.
“Yeah, we’re sure,” Sam said, giving the joke more recognition than it deserved. “Chupacabras aren’t rumored to turn their victims into corn husks.”
Dean whistled. “That’s too bad. I always wanted to hunt one of those puppies.” Sam rolled his eyes. Truth be told, they had no idea what they really were hunting. Some kind of life-drainer or something, because nothing else explained the mummies. It was Dean’s pet theory that the sun had just dried up the abandoned bodies like grapes turning into raisins but Sam wasn’t taking him seriously. He was ninety-nine percent sure that Dean wasn’t taking himself seriously, either. After two nights in the clown room, though, it was anybody’s guess.
Sam thought more that either the victims had been sucked dry or it was possible that they’d been aged beyond natural means. A stop-over at a morgue in Phoenix—the city that Sunrise Acres sat just outside of—hadn’t yielded any clues, either. The bodies were mummies, plain and simple, and either theory was as good as the other.
The discovery of the bodies—three in the past month—must have shocked the residents of Sunrise Acres. The community, up until now, had boasted of a zero percent crime rate. They had it blazoned across their website complete with citations of local newspapers writing up glowing reviews of the area. There had been no mention, however, of the gruesome news but Sam knew that that little piece of information was just as likely the work of a panicked PR manager than anything else.
With no information coming out of Sunrise Acres, Sam had only stumbled across the reports of mummified bodies by accident. It had been listed on a less-than-reputable superstition website, one that Sam normally took with not just a grain but an entire cup of salt. Sam would have just passed the story on by if it hadn’t been for the one leaked but hastily retracted police report he’d come across earlier. He’d combined that with two reports of disappearances from the community of Sunrise Acres— Miguel Foxtail, an environmentalist who’d worked in Phoenix, and Melvin Pruss, a high-profile lawyer. In the case of Pruss, though, it was debated whether he was truly missing or not. Some claimed that he’d merely accepted another position at another firm out-of-state and moved.
After a bit more digging, Sam had discovered that, yes, there had been human remains found out in the desert, though the local authorities were claiming that they were stolen museum exhibits, left by pranksters. Curiously, no museums in the Phoenix area had reported any break-ins and certainly none were admitting to any mummy thefts. When one plus one plus one didn’t quite add up to be three, Sam had decided that there just might be a job waiting for them in Sunrise.
And they were in luck because only last year had Sunrise Acres started accepted residency applications from the general public. Before then, the community had been an exclusive piece of private property, owned by business tycoon and eccentric billionaire turned social recluse Mr. Steven J. Coldwater and the only residents had been those who Coldwater had personally invited. That had changed in September of last year and now, eight months later, Sunrise Acres was shaping up to be a place where the well-to-do could live in their private little paradise and still be able to commute to Phoenix to work. Sam wondered if Sunrise Acres—and Coldwater—was experiencing some financial problems because the community was all but putting in an express lane for residency. He and Dean had managed to be approved in a matter of days—floated a loan until the bank approved their ‘financing’—instead of the usual weeks or even months.
Sunrise Acres had originally been founded by Coldwater as a place to hide from the media’s ever present eye. Now, it was listed as one of the premiere “gay-friendly” communities as Coldwater had made sure to only allow those that shared, supported or tolerated his lifestyle choices. Coldwater, the owner of a couple of mines that dotted the area and the founder of a company with so many umbrellas and legal twists and turns that Sam had gotten dizzy just looking at them, had been plagued with rumors for the better part of his life. Never one for the ‘apple-pie life,’ Coldwater had been involved with sex scandals galore—interns, hookers, and videotapes, the whole nine yards—all nicely silenced soon after they broke. In other words, the usual standard fare for a man with a lot of money and no idea how to spend it all.
What had caught Sam’s eye, however, were the accusations of Satanic and black magic practices. Most of the rumors had been laughed right out of the tabloids but Sam couldn’t ignore the few auction receipts that he’d managed to dig up with various names of Coldwater’s corporations on them. They showed purchases of old, rare, expensive and powerful books—the exact kind that a rich man believing himself a warlock would buy.
It remained to be seen if Coldwater had secretly turned his private community into his very own coven or if what was happening in Sunrise Acres had nothing to do with him.
Sam stared out the window at the passing desert. Hopefully, they’d get to the bottom of the mystery surrounding Sunrise Acres soon enough. In the meantime, he and Dean were running just a little bit late. They’d had an appointment with the manager of Sunrise Acres, Alan Peachtree. Peachtree had sound friendly but busy on the phone and had seemed to indicate that he wouldn’t stand for deviations from the set schedule.
There were two things, though, that Sam had no control over and that was the weather and traffic. The first had been fine but the second… A semi had jack-knifed across three lanes of traffic and had slowed them down to a crawl on the highway. Dean had yanked off the tie that Sam had forced him to wear earlier and pulled off on the back roads of the back roads because, “There’s no fucking way I’m going to let myself be grilled like a fucking steak in this heat waiting for these dumb fucks to move.”
It had set them two hours behind. Sam had called Peachtree who’d sounded extremely doubtful of being able to greet them when they arrived because of the delay. Oh well, Sam figured. Without the manager there ingratiating himself, Sam and Dean had that much more time to set up everything that they needed to.
Personally, Sam was hoping to have the case solved and the hunt over as soon as possible. Sam smoothed out the mortgage papers that he had sitting on his lap, and pulled at his tie. It was getting more than a little uncomfortable, feeling like a noose around his neck while the dry but relentless heat made him want to wilt like a dying plant.
Dean stopped humming as he made a left, turning off the main road by the sign emblazoned with the looming sun over the perfect little house again. The Impala’s wheels kicked up some dirt and dust from the side of the road before Dean pulled it back onto solid pavement. “Got your papers all together?” Dean asked, his eyes dropping to Sam’s lap.
“They’re all set,” Sam said, tapping them against his legs. The poly-blend of the slacks was sticking to his skin in places. As Dean had cheerfully informed Sam awhile back while pulling at his own underwear, Sam’s balls were probably stuck together with nothing but dried sweat.
“Good. Because I can’t wait to see you in a frilly little apron.”
Sam resisted the urge to snap back that if anyone was going to be wearing the apron, it was going to be Dean—and that Sam would love to see that, too. That kind of thing just led to escalation and that was something that Sam would like to avoid because, for Dean, it was just a joke.
“So, everything squared away with Mr. There’s a Stick up My Ass So Keep to the Schedule?”
Sam nodded, letting the insult to Peachtree slide. “We might have a few minutes with him but I doubt it. I figure that we’ll get settled into the house a little and then we can start meeting the neighbors.”
“Can’t hardly wait,” Dean replied. “We’ll get to hear all about the coyote problem.”
Sam snorted, turning his head to look back out the window. The only thing that he’d be able to find on Sunrise Acres that wasn’t pure propaganda or the two missing persons reports had been several complaints of coyotes roaming through residents’ yards. Despite the fact that coyotes in the desert were hardly news, it seemed to be the only perceived problem. “Maybe the coyotes have something to do with it.”
“Yeah,” Dean said wryly. “Maybe they’ve just been secretly wanting some human jerky and have finally decided to start making some.”
They reached yet another large sign with its yellow sun as the road dead-ended at two imposing gates flanked by stone walls that seemed to stretch forever, rising stark and imposing out of the surrounding desert. Dean stopped the car in front of them and glanced over at Sam again, another smile playing at the corners of his mouth as he scratched at his hair. “If I get turned into a Stepford wife, Sammy, I ain’t gonna be happy.”
Sam sighed and thumped his head back against the seat. “Just tell the guard that we’re here.”
Laughing quietly to himself, Dean rolled down the window and smiled at the bored looking security guard sitting in his little booth. “Misters Hetfield and Mustaine?” the guard asked, looking down at his clipboard. He had no less than three fans directly trained on him.
“That would be us,” Dean said, still grinning.
The guard nodded and lifted a page to tear out the one underneath it. “Alan says that he’ll be waiting for you at your new address,” he said, handing over the paper. Apparently, Alan Peachtree had found time for them after all. Dean glanced at the guard’s paper before tossing it over to Sam like the local weather section of a newspaper. He had about the same amount of use for either. Sam frowned, turning the page right side up and peering at it. It listed their new house number—308 Oakview—and pointed out a miniature map. “If you have any questions,” the guard said, “you can call me on the number listed on the bottom. I’m Dave and I’m here until 3. After that, you can talk to Kyle on the night shift.” The man tipped his hat forward and smiled as he pressed the button to buzz them in.
Dean mimicked Dave’s little head tilt as the gates slide soundlessly apart. “Thanks, Dave,” he said, easing the Impala forward.
“Anytime,” Dave replied and retreated back into his box, closing his little window. He picked up his copy of The Enquirer and went back to reading.
Dean rested his arm on the open window again. “You got it, Sam?” he asked. Sam nodded.
“Third street on the right,” Sam said before setting the map down on top of the pile in his lap. “Fourth house on the left.” Since Dave had said that they’d meet Alan there, Sam straightened his tie and tried to pretend like it wasn’t over seventy degrees outside and he wasn’t sweating like Dean trying to tell Dad that he hadn’t drank the last beer. He debated joining Dean on the jacket protest.
Sam looked over at Dean, just to see if he looked less overheated than Sam. If the heat was bothering Dean, though, he wasn’t showing it. Instead, Dean’s attention was focused elsewhere: his eyebrows were rising higher and higher as they kept passing completely identical houses. They were all immaculately white, two-story homes with two car garages and little verandas out front, each one looking that it had been perfectly placed there, stamped onto their little lots. Frankly, Sam could understand what Dean was finding so odd, though he was more marveling at how the signs for Sunrise Acres hadn’t been lying: the grass in front of each house was such a vibrant green that he wondered how much water they had to truck in daily to achieve that. “I’m serious, Sam,” Dean said, an edge of tension in his voice, betraying the fact that he was only mostly joking this time. “If they invite you in for a drink and start leading me downstairs, you haul ass to come and get me, okay? I promise to do the same for you.”
“Dean,” Sam replied, grinning, finally giving in to the laugh that Dean had been relentlessly trying to pull from him all day. “We’re here to check out a couple of cases of mummification. That isn’t exactly Stepford-like, okay?”
Dean didn’t look exactly convinced but he didn’t say anything else. They passed a scruffy brown dog sitting on the sidewalk, its thick furry tail wrapped around its legs. Sam glanced at it curiously, wondering if it was one of the coyotes that they’d been hearing about, before he pointed at the road just behind it. “Turn right,” he said, glancing down at the map again. The dog watched them go before getting up and trotting off, disappearing behind a house. “Fourth drive on the left.”
All the houses looked exactly the same, so Sam was counting the driveways. Dean, though, apparently was not, because he sailed right on past the fourth driveway. “Dean!” The Impala jerked to a stop as Dean slammed on the brakes and stared at Sam like he was snapping out of a daze. Looking straight ahead, though, Sam could see why. Sitting in the fifth driveway on the left, proud as could be was a cherry red Pontiac Firebird with twin white racing stripes running down over its hood. Sam’s eyebrows rose. The car looked to be in mint condition and, with the exception of the paint job, it looked to be a dead ringer from that one TV show he used to watch as a kid. Or rather, the one Dean used to watch and Sam used to sit through.
“I think I’m in love…” Dean mumbled to himself.
Sam pulled his eyes away from the car and turned to look at Dean. He looked about one step away from wolf-whistling. “Dean, do you think we could make it in the driveway, first?”
“Oh, what?” Dean shook himself. “Yeah, sure.” He popped the Impala into reverse and backed it down the road to their own driveway, pulling in to it. As soon as the car was in park, Dean was up out of the Impala and taking a good long look at the Firebird next door. “She’s beautiful… Aw, man, Rockford would be jealous.”
The dog that Sam had seen earlier was now sitting by the Firebird’s front wheel, its tongue lolling out happily and looking like it thought it belonged there. Its tall ears swiveled forward as it quietly regarded the two of them. Sam frowned. He was fairly certain that the contract that he and Dean had signed had specifically mentioned that residents were not allowed to have dogs. “Neighbor’s got a dog,” he said, pointing at the dog. It was either that or it was one hell of a brazen coyote.
Dean shrugged and responded with, “He’s also got a pretty damn sweet car,” like those two things were even remotely the same.
“No, Dean, he’s got a dog.” Maybe repeating it would drive it home. “Complaints of strange dogs?” It was entirely possible that what people had mistaken for a coyote was something entirely else. Sam walked around the front end of the Impala, trying to ignore the heat and watching the dog who was watching them. Sure, they’d laughed at it when they come across the reports but, at this point, Sam was treating everything as a possible clue.
Dean snorted. “Sam, sometimes a dog is just a dog.”
“It’s not if the contract specifically says no pets,” Sam said, holding up the paperwork. He knew that he’d read that somewhere in the stack.
Dean shrugged, turning away from the dog and the car. “So maybe the neighbor got permission.” Sam gave him the point because, yeah, that was possible. And the dog didn’t seem to be anything other than an ordinary dog—scruffy but ordinary. He gave it one last, assessing look before turning away to face the front door of their new house which was opening to show a slender man in a tight-fitting pin-striped suit.
The man looked liked he’d been starched right along with his suit. His straight black hair was glued to his head, his back ramrod straight, and it looked like not only was the heat not affecting him but it didn’t dare. Neither did the sun for that matter: his skin was pale enough to almost blend in with the whiteness of the house. “There you are,” the man said, walking briskly down the steps and across the little provided walkway to greet them. “I’m glad that you could make it.” He stopped in front of Sam and held his hand out stiffly. “I’m Alan Peachtree, Community Manager. Misters Mustaine and Hetfield?”
“That’s us,” Dean said, reaching out to grab Alan Peachtree’s hand. “I’m Dean and this is Sam.”
Sam took the hand after Dean let go and winced as Alan had a deceptively tight grip. “Pleased to meet you.”
Alan smiled at him. It looked as dipped in plastic as the rest of him. “Pleased to meet you. Welcome to Sunrise Acres, a better way of living.” He turned and gestured at the house. The same as the rest in the neighborhood, it had an expanse of vibrantly green lawn in front of its white veranda. “As you can see, we here at Sunrise Acres believe in having only the very best for our residents. I had hoped to have a chance to give you two the grand tour but, regrettably, I must be going. I hope that I’m not inconveniencing you.”
“Oh,” Sam said, holding up his hands. “No, our fault. Sorry that we were so late.” Even if Dean’s normal speed demon act had shaved off about a half hour’s worth of time. “We can show ourselves around.”
“Well, I did leave the homeowner’s manual for you on the kitchen table…”
Dean plastered on his most charming smile. “Ah, don’t worry about it. We’ve shown ourselves around plenty of places!” Sam ducked his head, scratching at his temple as he tried not to laugh. That much was true enough. Random houses, neighborhoods, graveyards…
“Excellent,” Alan said, grabbing Dean’s hand again and pumping it firmly. Dean winced but kept smiling. “I’ll stop by later, once you’ve gotten all settled in just in case you have any questions.”
“That’d…be great,” Dean muttered, carefully extracting his hand from Alan’s.
“Also,” Alan added, straightening out his blue tie, “I am to invite you to the party on Friday.”
Sam tilted his head. “Party?” he asked.
“Mr. Coldwater, the founder of this great community, hosts a party at his house every other Friday. Sort of a ‘community get-together’ if you will. You two are very much invited and it would be a great way to meet the rest of the community.”
“Well, in that case,” Dean said, “we wouldn’t want to miss it.” Sam nodded. It would be a great time to hopefully meet Coldwater, potential warlock, in the flesh.
“Great,” Alan replied and turned to Sam again, pointing down at the paperwork that Sam was still holding onto tightly. “Is that for me?” he asked, grabbing a hold of the top of it.
Sam let him have it. “Uh, yeah. I think everything’s all there.”
Alan was already flipping through the pages, checking them all out before he folded them under his arm. “Again, it was nice meeting you two and thank you much for choosing Sunrise Acres.” He nodded at the both of them before bustling down the driveway and across the street to the powder blue Prius parked against the curb.
Sam stared after him until Dean grabbed a hold of his shoulder. “Ready to check out the house, Sammy?” he asked. “Got a ton of work to do.” They had to scout over the entire house, check every angle, and see if there was a way that they could get away with possibly hiding all the runes and devil’s traps and salt lines… Sam looked at the vast expanses of windows that the house boasted and sighed. That was going to take awhile.
The house was even larger than it appeared from the outside. Sam had stepped inside on the shining hardwood floor and then stopped to stare. The walls were horribly blank—a stark white—but they went on forever. A staircase ran up the left side of the main entry way, the oak railing sweeping up the side, and hallways branched out in either direction. Dean had taken one look at it and whistled.
“Whoa,” Sam said, his own acknowledgement of the house.
Dean grinned, elbowing him. “I bet this place’s got an awesome shower.”
Sam rolled his eyes. Dean had a thing for showers and Sam, for the life of him, would probably never understand it. He was all for being clean but Dean, hedonist that he was, liked to revel in the process itself. Sam could understand “taking a little extra time in the shower” but Dean’s geekiness about the shower itself was confounding. Sam followed the precise, grid-like lines of the flooring and walked to the right, into what he presumed was the kitchen. He stopped in the archway, letting Dean catch up as he glanced around at the fully outfitted room. “I bet this place has a little bit of everything,” Sam said, adding on to Dean’s earlier comment. Dean clicked his tongue in acknowledgement as he walked around the large wooden table that dominated half of the room. The house had come pre-furnished—part of the contract that he and Dean had signed.
Copper pans hung above an island in the center and Sam touched one, making it rock gently on its hook before he turned his attention to the cream countertops took up two entire sides of the room, covering medium oak cupboards. Cabinets of the same color of varnished wood hung above, stopping only for the stove’s gleaming metal hood and a large window above the sink and ending where the huge, stainless steel refrigerator stood.
After flipping through the white booklet on the table—probably the homeowner’s manual—Dean made his way over to the large window on the opposite side of the room and brushed his fingers against the lacey curtains that matched the countertops. “This is ridiculous,” he muttered, shaking the folds of lace. The window that he was standing beside overlooked their perfectly mowed side lawn and their neighbor’s tall wooden fence. Once again, Sam was struck, his mind trying to calculate just how much the monthly water bill for Sunrise Acres had to be.
Dean rubbed his hand against the painted trim of the woodwork, scrutinizing a particular spot, and froze. Sam ducked under the pans to get a better look at him. “Dean?”
Dean’s fingers traced the trim for a few more moments before his head jerked upward and his eyes narrowed. Smiling oddly, he turned to face Sam. “Hey, Sammy,” he said, his tone low and welcoming—and completely suspect. That was not a tone that Dean used with Sam. That was a tone that Dean used to hook his one night stands down at the bar. Knowing that didn’t stop the instinctual surge of lust but Sam did try to suppress it as he walked around the kitchen island. Dean didn’t mean for Sam to take that tone the way that Sam’s body wanted to and it was best to keep that in mind. Dean crooked a finger at him. “C’mere,” he purred and the bottom of Sam’s stomach dropped out from both fear and arousal. It was a heady combination. “Feel like I’m steppin’ into the Twilight Zone, don’t you?”
And there went the arousal. Sam pushed back his fear, flattening it out, as he slid into an easy smile. Dean was quoting Golden Earring. “Feels like a madhouse?” Sam repeated back dutifully, deliberately misquoting. It was a code that they’d worked out when they were kids. Dean smiled and Sam knew that he had it right: Dean thought that there was a camera on them and he wanted Sam to act natural and play along.
Dean waved his hand again, wanting Sam to come closer. “Yeah.” Sam moved within range of Dean’s reach and Dean snagged him, hauling him towards the window. Their bodies aligned, Dean tugging Sam closer to stand between his legs and Dean’s hand slid around the back of Sam’s head. Sam’s heart skipped a beat when Dean pulled him down and gave his jaw a quick nuzzle.
Sam bit back a groan and tried to focus. One of Dean’s hands was sliding around his waist. “Where?” he whispered, his voice meant for just Dean’s ears.
Dean blew on Sam’s ear, making him shiver. “Look up.”
Gasping, Sam jerked his head toward the ceiling, letting his body go through the motions that it wanted. There, in the corner of the window, he finally saw what Dean had seen. Nearly hidden to the untrained eye, behind the blinds of the window, sat a small, barely there, cylindrical camera. “Damn,” Sam whispered and Dean gave him another nuzzle of acknowledgement, his lips grazing Sam’s sensitive skin.
“Yeah,” Dean said. His hands were wandering, putting on a show, and Sam let him as he quickly scanned the rest of the window, looking for more bugs. He didn’t find any but, as Dean would remind him if he could, just because he couldn’t see them didn’t mean that they weren’t there. Sam dropped his own head to the crook of Dean’s neck and thought furiously. Had he and Dean said anything in the house that might have given them away already? Had they done anything?
…Had they not done anything? Sam’s blood went cold. They were being recorded and God knew how many cameras and microphones were scattered throughout the house. That meant that, even behind closed doors, he and Dean still had to pretend that they were an actual couple. The game had changed and Sam’s worst nightmare was coming true. This was different than any other time that they’d pulled this particular scam because they had always been able to disappear behind a closed door and be themselves again. This time, they weren’t going to have that luxury. And later tonight…
Sam closed his eyes. He didn’t look forward to later tonight.
Dean was like a bloodhound when he wanted to be and Sam didn’t know if he’d be able to fool him. It had taken Sam years to master the concept of mere omission and the artful dodge when it came to his feelings.
Dean hands slipped around to cradle Sam’s face and Sam felt his heart start to pound. Dean wasn’t… He wasn’t about to… But they had to. Who knew who was watching? Their lives might very well depend on how well they could fool their audience.
Sam gently ducked his head and pressed his lips against Dean’s, making the choice before he had a chance to second guess himself. There was no turning back now. For a moment, Dean was still underneath him, no doubt recovering from the same shock that Sam was feeling, if for a different reason: This was his brother. Sam was kissing his brother. And his brother was starting to kiss him back.
Dean pushed forward, moving more fully into the kiss and Sam’s eyes slid shut. It was like every fucked, pre-teen fantasy that Sam had ever had was coming true. Sam had grown up with a deep, inseverable attachment to Dean but he hadn’t realized just how deep that attachment went until he’d gotten older. He hadn’t realized just how “unnatural” the rest of the world considered that attachment, either. No, that lesson had been a rather painful revelation when the kids at school had teased him for his hero worship and Sam realized that most siblings weren’t like him and Dean—that most families weren’t like his.
Most regular boys didn’t have wet dreams about their older brothers.
If Sam were normal, he wouldn’t have closed his eyes before kissing Jessica Knell when he was thirteen and pretended that she, with her short hair and puffy lips, was Dean. If Sam were normal, he wouldn’t have spent the next five years sneaking glances at Dean’s body when he wasn’t looking, saving up the memories, imagining what it would feel like. And if Sam were normal, he wouldn’t have secretly looked forward to Dean sometimes coming home battered and bloody because it was one of the few times that Dean let Sam touch him whenever and however he wanted. Sam had felt guilty whenever he’d deliberately wished that Dean would get hurt—just a little bit—so that Sam would have an excuse to run his hands over Dean’s body again.
That same guilt was getting to him now. He was taking advantage of Dean and the situation, the same as he’d always done and he started to pull away. Before he could, though, Dean let him have a quick swipe of tongue that sent an electric shock tingling down Sam’s spine. Sam jerked backward, staring at Dean who stared right on back, his eyes narrowed but his face calm. Sam felt a small dab of fear settle into his stomach and he turned away.
There was no way that Dean knew. No way that he could. Right?
The doorbell echoed through the house and, as one, they turned to look in the direction of the front door before glancing back at each other. Dean shrugged. “Should go answer the door.”
Grateful for the ready-made excuse to escape, Sam headed out of the kitchen and moved to the front door, opening it with its soft woosh of weather-stripping. A couple stood on the porch of the house, two men, and the shorter, blond one waved cheerfully. “Hi!” he said, drawing out the word as long as he possibly could. “We just saw you come in and thought we’d welcome you to the neighborhood!”
Smiling back at the men, Sam pushed his problems to the back of his mind and focused on the job again. Dean was still looking at him strangely but Sam, like all Winchesters, was well-versed in ignoring the elephant in the room. It was practically a family tradition.
Dean was still debating on whether or not Sunrise Acres bore an uncanny resemblance to a certain movie or not. On one hand, he was starting to feel like he was dropped in a maze with how similar everything looked—the perfect houses, the perfect lawns, the perfect streets. On the other, though, he was unsure if Paul Stanley would have made the cut. Paul, their next door neighbor, didn’t exact fit the mold of a perfect Stepford wife. For one, he was fun. It had taken Paul all of five minutes after having been let in the house to show Dean how to access all twenty-three available porn channels—for free. Paul, Dean had decided, was awesome. He might not have a Firebird parked in his front yard like the guy on the other side of the house—the neighbor that Dean had yet to meet—but he was alright. And so Dean figured that between Paul and the guy with the Firebird, it was quite likely that Dean and Sam had at least two awesome neighbors.
Of course, it was entirely possible that Paul and the other guy just hadn’t been led down to the machine yet. Dean was worried about that one because Paul’s partner, Ron Hull, fit the bill for Stepford quite well. He had the kind of bland good looks that were instantly forgettable the moment that you turned away from him and the personality to match it. Looking at Paul standing next to Ron, Dean couldn’t help but wonder if Ron just had a really big dick.
Ron, however, had one thing going for him: he loved to bake. And he’d promised to whip Dean up a blueberry pie as soon as possible after Dean sold him a sob story about how his “Aunt Betsy” used to make the best pie he’d ever tasted. Ron had smiled blandly and wrapped an arm around Paul’s shoulder saying, “We’ll have to make one soon, won’t we, hon?”
It had been right about then that Sam had deflected with the ever-handy, “So, have you guys lived here long?”
Turned out that, in terms of Sunrise Acres, Paul and Ron were practically founders themselves. “Oh, Steven invited us years ago,” Paul said, waving his hand. “We used to work with him. In fact, most of the residents did.”
“Those that came before,” Ron added and Dean could practically here the air quotes around the word. Ron was, of course, talking about the people that had come before Sunrise Acres had been busted open to the public, sort of like the pearly gates of Heaven opening up to just all those wonderful sinners standing outside. Paul elbowed him and shot him a dirty look.
Sam cleared his throat. “So you know Coldwater?” Everything that they’d been able to dig up on one Mr. Steven J. Coldwater had been second-hand accounts at best and pure slander on average.
Paul snorted. “Not really. Steven’s really private. I think the only one he talks to is Alan. Well, anymore at least.”
“Anymore?” Dean asked.
Ron answered him, his hand on Paul’s arm, holding him still. “Steven’s always preferred to keep himself out of the spotlight but he used to be around the neighborhood a lot.”
“I haven’t seen him in maybe a year?” Paul said. “Not even at the parties.”
“How long have you two been together?” Ron asked suddenly.
Dean smiled and let the change of subject slide as he reached out and grabbed Sam’s hand. “Oh, awhile now,” he replied. Sam stared down at his trapped hand like a poleaxed cow before hurriedly glancing away. Dean noted the odd look and filed it. Something was up with Sam and he needed to find out what before it ended up costing them. “Haven’t we, Sam?”
“Yeah,” Sam said, nodding. “Years.” His fingers curled around Dean’s, holding him lightly.
“Stability is good,” Ron replied and it didn’t do anything to help change Dean’s mind about the whole Stepford thing. Something eerie was going on in Sunrise Acres and Dean didn’t just mean the dead bodies. He made a mental note that, if Ron ever did stop by with a pie, to check it for more additives than just preserves. Ron continued on, extolling on the virtues of the neighborhood while Dean studied him closely. Beside him, Sam sat still cradling Dean’s hand like he’d forgotten that he was even holding it but he wasn’t fooling Dean, either.
Dean could feel Sam’s pulse leap every time he slid his thumb over Sam’s wrist.