"Just some good ol' boys..."


"Never meanin' no harm..."


"Beats all you ever saw, been in trouble with the law since the day they was born..."

"Seriously, man, can you stop now?"

"Straightenin' the curves..."

"Because I get it, okay? And it's not getting funnier with repetition."

"Flattenin' the hills..."

"Oh for God's sake, Dean! Give it a rest!"

"Someday the mountain might get 'em but the law never will!"

Sam sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and middle finger. He and Dean were on their way to Covington, Georgia, famous for being both the home of the most haunted plantation in the southeast and the filming location for the old television show The Dukes of Hazzard.

This last bit of information had been gleefully imparted by Dean, who had spent the past two hours singing the theme song, complete with a drawn out "Yeeeeeeeehaaaaaawwww!" at the end. Sam had never figured Dean for a Waylon Jennings fan--or a Dukes of Hazzard fan, for that matter--but his brother was just a font of surprises lately.

Take Dean's suggestion that they stop off in Covington for a day or two in order to "sightsee," for example. That was unlike him, to say the least. Of course, Sam wasn't entirely sure just exactly what was like Dean nowadays, his older brother veering suddenly from crazed hedonistic excesses to dragging them to places that Sam suspected held some sentimental value. Not that Dean was sharing what that value might be. He would talk animatedly and at length about his sexual conquests, or the relative coolness of the camaro versus the firebird, but God forbid Sam broach the subject of Dean's feelings, or the deal, or anything that couldn't be filed under "live fast, die young" on the Dean Winchester Farewell Tour of '07. And Sam was quickly moving from "sympathetic understanding" to "impotent rage" on the topic of his brother's deal and his refusal to discuss Sam's attempts to save him, particularly after the recent fiasco with the crossroads demon.

Sam was pulled from his darkening thoughts by his brother's sudden turn onto a gravel road. He caught a glimpse of a white clapboard sign reading "Gaither's plantation," and then the Impala was traveling smoothly along a gently winding drive that passed through fallow fields and by magnolia trees. They drove for a quarter mile before Sam was able to make out what looked more like a simple two-story farmhouse than the Hollywood images of plantations that his mind had conjured.

The plantation house was white with green shutters and door, the main entry framed by two large magnolia trees. A row of bright yellow mums bloomed in front of the porch, which was decorated with pumpkins in a festive fall array. It was a far cry from most of the haunted places Sam and Dean had visited, and Dean seemed to read his brother's thoughts.

"Yep, this is it," Dean remarked, pulling into a parking space in the unpaved lot marked "Visitor's Parking" and cutting the engine. "Doesn't look like much, but you're almost guaranteed a ghost sighting in this joint."

Sam turned his puzzled gaze on his brother. "You've been here before?"

Dean merely shrugged. "Dad had me check it out a few years back. Haunted but harmless≈thought it might be nice to stop back by while we were in the neighborhood and see if anything had changed."

Sam didn't call him on the fact that "in the neighborhood" apparently meant six hours out of their way, or that this was the third or fourth such random stop in the weeks following their visit to the Braeden family. He also refrained from asking who, exactly, Dean was going to be checking for changes.

"C'mon, Sammy, daylight's burning," and Dean exited the car, heading back up the drive toward the front entrance. Sam had no choice but to follow, and began trudging up the driveway behind his brother.

Only to nearly collide with Dean moments later. He had stopped in the middle of the two magnolia trees and was looking up toward the house, head at an angle and a puzzled expression on his face. Sam followed his gaze to the front porch, where a small knot of people was gathered in front of the door, adjusting various pieces of electronic equipment. His attention was caught by one item in particular, held by a stocky, balding, middle-aged man in a denim jacket.

"Is that an EMF?"

But Dean was already moving again, ignoring his brother's question and charging up the front steps, and Sam was half-afraid that his brother was going to attack the man on the porch, who startled and looked up when he heard Dean's approach. The man's initial expression of surprise rapidly changed into pleasure as he appeared to recognize Dean.

"Dean Winchester?" said the man in disbelief. "I'll be damned!" He moved toward the edge of the front porch to greet Dean, hand outstretched.

Sam could hear the genuine smile in his brother's voice as he grabbed the other man's hand.

"Hell, Charlie, fancy meeting you here, huh?"

"Yeah! So, what's your story this time, Winchester? More buildings to 'inspect,' or are you just passing through?"

"We were in the neighborhood, so I thought I'd stop by┘"

"Checking up on me, huh? What a coincidence--I was just talking about you!" The portly man shook his head and smiled wider. "Well you know what they say about speaking of the devil┘"

Dean merely smiled and shrugged, the sudden tension in his jaw apparent only to Sam. Charlie turned to his companions≈three women, ranging in age from mid-thirties to late fifties.

"Hey guys, this is the fellow I was telling you about at the meeting!"

"That's Dean?" A forty-something woman with short dark hair stepped forward, her eyes round. After a moment she giggled a little self-consciously. "Wow! It's like meeting a rock star or something!"

The others laughed good-naturedly, and Sam saw the slight flush that colored the tips of his brother's ears as he closed the distance between them.

A flash of relief crossed Dean's features when he noticed Sam at his elbow, but it was quickly replaced by his trademark grin. "This is my brother, Sam," he said, but the comment was directly mainly to Charlie, who again looked surprised.

"Finished with law school, or on a break?" he asked, and Sam swallowed around the sudden lump in his throat as he shook Charlie's offered hand. "Finished," he managed, not looking at Dean.

Charlie appeared not to have noticed Sam's change in demeanor, and merely nodded, indicating the Gaither home with a wave of his EMF meter and a grin.

"Well, considering the rest of your family's line of work, this is probably like going to Disneyland!" Charlie turned back toward the women, and Sam stepped closer to Dean, their shoulders brushing.

"Want to tell me what's going on?" Sam asked quietly, keeping his voice even with an effort.

Dean shrugged away from him, whispering, "Hey man, I'm as surprised as you are," and followed Charlie to the entrance. Sam refrained from replying he highly doubted that was possible, and trailed behind his brother.

"So what brings you guys out here?" asked Dean, leaning against the front porch railing.

"Training," Charlie answered. "You're looking at the first official training day for the Georgia Paranormal Event CHaserS."

"Paranormal Event Chasers?"

"Georgia PECHS-- pronounced "peaches,' get it? It was Billie's idea," Charlie said, looking slightly embarrassed and indicating the brunette who had spoken earlier. Dean's eyebrow quirked up in amusement, but he merely nodded.

Charlie cleared his throat and continued. "The Gaither place is the most documented, most haunted location in the southeast. You're pretty much guaranteed a sighting or some sort of experience--EVP, EMF, orb photography--so we figured we'd spend an evening here and let everyone get familiar with the equipment."

"And let our resident psychics do their thing as well," Billie piped up. "Sam and Dean," she said, moving aside so that the other two members of the group were visible, "this is Annalee and Norma. They're our psychics in training."

Both women nodded, but didn't speak. Annalee was the youngest of the three women, petite and pale with white-blond hair and light blue eyes. Norma, by contrast, was tall and stout, with short curly brown hair shot through with gray. She wore bifocals on a chain around her neck, which she had put on while Billie made the introductions. The lenses magnified her sharp brown eyes as she studied the Winchesters, making Sam feel a bit like a bug under a microscope.

Billie stepped forward to stand beside Charlie, and held out a manila folder that was stuffed full of newspaper clippings and covered with post-it notes. She handed it to Dean, a look of nervous pride on her face.

"I did the background research on the plantation. Charlie showed me how--told me you taught him everything he knew. I tried to be thorough."

Dean eyed the folder as though he thought it might bite him at any moment, then cautiously took it and opened the front cover. A large pile of newspaper clippings and Xerox copies immediately fell out of the folder and scattered over the porch.

"Oh! Sorry! Guess I got a little carried away with the research, huh?" Billie stooped to gather the papers, and Charlie bent to help her.

Dean had closed the folder and was studying the post-its that decorated its cover. "Nah, you can never be too prepared," he said absently, and Sam felt his eyebrows crawl toward his hairline. He determined to get Dean alone as soon as possible and get an explanation for his brother's sudden status as the paranormal Yoda of Georgia: at gunpoint, if necessary.

Dean sensed Sam's irritation and shot him a quick apologetic glance as he reached to take the gathered papers from Charlie. He stuffed them back into the folder and turned to face his brother.

"Sam, Charlie is one of the curators for the Gaither plantation. He'd called Dad when the paranormal activity started kicking up, a few years back. Dad was busy, so he sent me along--"

"And Dean showed me how the other half lives! Or doesn't, you know," Charlie interrupted with a chuckle. "Frankly, this ghost hunting stuff is more than a little addictive," he continued, holding up a hand to placate Dean when the elder Winchester frowned and looked about to interrupt, "but I know my limits, Dean, don't worry. No poltergeists, nothing beyond a few cold spots and orbs and EVP phenomena here at Gaither and at some of the other old homes in the area. I know enough to leave the big stuff to the professionals, like you."

Dean gave a short nod. "Good to hear, man, but remember what I said."

"No such thing as a routine haunting. I know." Charlie stepped closer to Dean, his face earnest. "We're taking precautions, I swear. In fact, I'm glad you're here. Maybe you can come along tonight--give us some pointers?"

Dean didn't answer right away; instead returning the folder to Billie. He nodded at her and then turned his attention to Charlie, motioning him to follow, and took a few steps away from the rest of the group, putting Sam between the women and Charlie. He spoke to the older man, voice pitched too low for the others to hear.

"You've got two psychics along? You remember what I said about psychics ramping up paranormal activity, right?"

Charlie glanced past Dean and noticed Billie's look of concern. He sent her a reassuring smile before replying, voice pitched equally as low as Dean's.

"One psychic. Annalee's the real deal; Norma's just a New Agey dabbler who thinks an experience or two with an Ouija board makes her one with the spirit world. But she's good with rituals and knows every local legend in a tri-state area, and I've never seen anything yet that could intimidate her. Tough gal, definitely. Psychic, no."

"You sure about that?"

"Absolutely. I remember what you told me. I'm not some cut-rate amateur or glory hound, man. I admire what you do and want to help people, okay? I mean, not even you can be everywhere, Winchester."

Dean gave Sam a considering look, apparently weighing the odds of his brother's "mojo" making a surprise reappearance. After a moment, he reached his conclusion and nodded at Charlie, seemingly satisfied. He headed back to Billie, acknowledging her with a jerk of the head.

"Looks like you've done your homework. Mind filling my brother in on what's going on at the Gaither plantation? He's never had the pleasure of meeting Cecilia."

Billie cleared her throat and turned to face Sam, standing practically at attention. Then she began reciting what she knew. "Cecilia Gaither, along with her husband W.H. Gaither, ran a cotton plantation in Newton County in the 1800s. She had several children - one, named Clara, died young and is buried on the grounds, along with Cecilia's husband. Cecilia, though, had to sell the plantation in 1921 to pay taxes."

"Most folks who have experiences describe cold spots, the smell of a floral perfume, and occasionally a white mist--some people have even reported an apparition of a woman rocking a baby. EVP sometimes picks up a child's voice saying "Ceely," which was Cecilia's nickname from her grandchildren."

Billie's posture relaxed when she got to the end of her official report, and her expression turned wistful. "I think she just wants to be sure that her home and family are okay, you know? The idea of home is really important to southerners--the connection to history, to the land--it makes you who you are. It's no wonder Cecilia would want to make sure that her home was being well cared for┘" she trailed off when she noticed the others staring, brushing her bangs out of her face self-consciously. "I'm rambling, sorry! I'm just really excited about tonight--it's my first real investigation!"

"Well, Dean," Charlie looked at the brothers and raised his eyebrows, "up for a little ghost hunting?"

Sam already knew the answer, and was halfway down the porch steps when he heard Dean say, "Sure! Let me just get a couple of things out of the trunk."

"No shotguns this time, Winchester," Charlie warned. "It took forever to replace that moulding after your last visit!"

"Yeah, yeah," replied Dean easily, pushing past a startled Sam who had stopped short at his brother's agreement.

"Wait, Dean--you're really going in there without a gun?" Sam asked in amazement.

"I've been here before, dude, and you heard it yourself, Cecilia's harmless. Besides, I won't be going in totally unarmed." Dean popped the Impala's trunk and rooted around for the iron knife. He also grabbed two large canisters of salt, and handed one to Sam. "You want the silver blade?" he asked, returning his attention to the contents of the trunk.

"Yeah? What happened to all the "no such thing as a routine haunting" stuff? Or the fact that we've got a psychic along?"

"Dude, we'll be there. I've BEEN there. I trust Charlie. It will be fine and you know it." Dean slammed the trunk and scrutinized his brother, and Sam knew he was debating whether or not this conversation would lead to yet another go-round of the "Why are we still hunting when you're going to Hell and oh by the way, why won't you let me help you" argument.

Sam was just as tired of it as Dean was, but he was also stubborn and desperate, and figured that if he was going to be forced to revisit highlights from Dean's days as a solo hunter, he at least deserved some kind of reason for it. So he decided to just go for it.

"I'd really like an explanation, man. We drive out of our way to for what, a nostalgia visit that just happens to coincide with a ghost hunt involving a bunch of amateurs--one of whom you just happened to introduce to what we do? What's going on here?"

Dean sighed, and Sam could see him give in.

"Look, I didn't know Charlie would be getting ready to do this whole--peach thing, or whatever. And I'm sorry I didn't fill you in beforehand. I really just wanted to swing back by and see how things were going, maybe check up on Charlie, 'cause he's a good guy. That's all. I swear. And now that I know what he's up to--I just want to make sure everything goes okay."

Dean took a step closer to Sam, made sure he had eye contact so Sam could see he was sincere. "Okay?"

Sam held the eye contact as understanding dawned. What was the expression--if you save a life, you're responsible for that life? His brother felt responsible for Charlie--and not just for Charlie, but for all of the people he'd saved. He was hiding it under the excuse that he was revisiting some good parties, but these supposedly spur-of-the-moment side trips had a pattern and Sam saw it now. Dean wasn't just overcompensating for his fear by going out in a blaze of hedonistic glory. He was making sure that his life's work had made a difference. He was trying to make sure that the people he cared about--that he was responsible for--were going to be okay.

Sam looked away, so Dean couldn't get a read on his suddenly jumbled emotions≈a mixture of fear and love and anger and guilt that had been plaguing Sam for almost half a year. When he regained control, he met his brother's gaze again and forced a smile.

"Okay. But I am never, ever, letting you live down the fact that you're now a junior member of the Georgia Peaches Ghost Hunting Club."

Apology given and accepted, Dean harrumphed and turned back to the house. "Yeah, well what does that make you, little brother? Our mascot?"

They joined the rest of the group on the porch stairs. It was dusk now, and Sam could sense the excitement in the air.

"Okay, y'all. Let's do this!" With that, Charlie and the rest of the PECHS headed into the Gaither house. Dean looked back at Sam, rolled his eyes good-naturedly, and followed.

Sam shook his head, berating himself for his reluctance. Dean needed this, and these people seemed like decent folks. Besides, it beat sitting outside a motel room while his brother got his threesome on with twin cheerleaders. And Dean was right--the research was solid, and Dean had been there before. It would be fine.

Four hours into the Gaither Plantation investigation, Sam was seriously revising his idea of "fine." True to Dean's prediction, Cecilia had been attracted to Annalee's psychic abilities, and at first, it was nothing more than a slightly amped up version of what other visitors to the plantation had described--the smell of flowers, a rocking chair moving by itself, cold spots, and the brief appearance of a female-shaped apparition.

The PECHS had been beside themselves with excitement, talking about EVP and orb photography and running around like kids in a candy store, with Dean playing the part of indulgent, exasperated adult.

And then Norma came screaming out of the downstairs dining room, followed closely by an antique oak sideboard. Dean used a flying tackle to knock Norma out of the furniture's path, and Sam quickly rounded up Annalee and Billie, who had been in the kitchen. Moments later, Charlie came pounding down the stairs to find the group huddled in the parlor, Sam pouring a salt line across the entrance.

"What happened?" he asked frantically, but any explanation was delayed by the sudden explosion of the glass door on the curio cabinet to his left. Charlie cried out as glass sliced his cheek, and the group was forced out of the parlor and into the entrance hallway, which was free of both heavy furnishings and glass.

"This ever happened before, Charlie?" Dean asked, irritation in his voice as he examined the cut on the older man's face.

Charlie shook his head. "This makes no sense--no history of violence in the house, Cecilia went peacefully in her sleep..." he trailed off, and his eyes narrowed as he looked at Norma, who was looking down with a guilty expression.

"Norma, you mind telling the group what happened?"

The allegedly unflappable Norma ran a shaking hand through her hair, making the curls stand practically on end.

"Well, I had the Ouija board set up in the dining room--"

"WHAT?!" five voices chorused in varying shades of disbelief and anger, but Charlie spoke first.

"Dammit Norma, we talked about this! You know summoning objects are more powerful in haunted places! What were you thinking?"

"I was THINKING that maybe we could actually communicate with the spirit, instead of just running around ooh-ing and ahh-ing at a bunch of freaking mist clouds and cold spots! I was THINKING that if she's here, she's here for a reason. You keep saying we're going to help people, Charlie, but you're only ever talking about helping the living. And I think that's just damn short sighted of you!"

Dean cut Charlie off before he could reply.

"Oh my God. Seriously? What, you're gonna start the Association for Rights of the Life Challenged? Lady, you're a piece of work." He turned to Sam.

"Sammy, get everyone out of here. I'll go get the Ouija board." Dean paused at the doorway long enough to point an accusing finger at Charlie. "Next time, I'm bringing the shotgun. Moulding be damned." Then he stalked out of the room, leaving Sam in charge.

Sam herded everyone toward the front door, salting every access point to the hallway as a precaution. When they reached the door he grabbed the handle and pulled firmly. Just as he'd suspected≈the door was sealed shut. It would have to be a window, then, and there were two large ones that opened from the dining room directly onto the porch.

"Dean! Door's jammed!" Sam called.

"Well of course it is," Dean grumbled loudly from the dining room, disgust in his tone. "Just our freakin' luck. Windows?"

"Yeah, can you break the ones in there?"

"Gimme a minute," Sam heard the sound of a chair being dragged back, and then a loud grunt and a clatter as his brother heaved it at one of the large windows, but there was no noise of breaking glass.

"Son of a bitch! Now what?" Dean never got to answer the question, as pictures began flying off the walls and the group was forced to huddle in front of the door. The elder Winchester joined them a few moments later, the Ouija board tucked under one arm.

Annalee, who had been almost completely silent for the entire investigation, suddenly spoke up. "We're not alone. Look!" She pointed to the opposite end of the hallway, where a soldier in full Confederate regalia stood, casually smoking a hand-rolled cigarette. The soldier, alerted to their presence by Annalee's voice, looked at the group and started down the hallway toward them.

"Sam, we need a barrier," Dean said under his breath, and Sam hastily poured a large semi-circle of salt around the group, while Dean pulled the iron knife out of its holster and assumed a defensive stance.

But the soldier never made it all the way down the hall. Halfway to his destination, he was waylaid by a dark gray mist that seemed to ooze from beneath the staircase. The mist enveloped the soldier's body, and he began thrashing and screaming, until he disappeared entirely with a small "pop."

"What the hell is THAT?" asked Charlie, panic in his voice.

Sam and Dean shared a look. "Dark spirit," Dean said grimly. "Billie, did you happen to come across any violence associated with the house?." He spared another accusing glance at Norma. "FYI, Norma, they REALLY love Ouija boards. Nine times out of ten when you're "chatting" with grandma on one of these things you're really dealing with a dark spirit who's looking for a power source or a way back to this plane."

There were a few moments of frantic rustling, followed by a quiet, "Oh," from Billie.

Dean sighed and cast his eyes heavenward. "Lay it on me," he said in a defeated tone.

"Um, according to this article historians uncovered evidence last year that there may have been a murder/suicide on the premises?" Billie said. "It was still sort of inconclusive, but the bodies are buried in the graveyard out back."

"That's new," Dean snarked. "And helpful. We can't salt and burn, because we can't get out of the house!"

"We need the purification herbs," said Sam, and Dean nodded.

"Same problem, Sammy, since they're in the car."


"FIRE? Dean, you can't use fire!" Charlie had gotten to his feet, eyes wide. "This is an historic property!"

"I know, Charlie, I know!" Dean turned to Sam. "Can we bind it?"

Sam was already thumbing through John's journal. "I think there's something in here--yeah, yeah, this'll work." He looked up at Dean. "Just need an object to bind it to."

Dean thwapped him lightly on the head with the Ouija board, and Sam snatched it from his brother's hand. "Okay, we have an object. This will be harder without burning sage, but┘" Sam looked at Annalee.

"I've done a couple of simple bindings," she said nervously, "but never on anything like this!"

"Bindings are all basically the same," Sam said, "but your abilities will make the spell stronger. I'll help you through it."

"And I'll keep the big nasty off your back until you finish," added Dean.

"You can do this, Annalee," Billie encouraged with a shaky smile.

"Okay." The blonde moved to stand beside Sam. "I'm ready."

Sam copied some symbols from John's journal onto the Ouija board and then placed it on the ground immediately outside the protective salt barrier. He indicated a page in the journal to Annalee. "Just read this binding chant, and keep reading it until I say stop." She nodded, and took a deep breath before starting the chant.

The effect was immediate. The gray mist came boiling down the hall, walls and floorboards creaking and groaning in its wake. It stopped momentarily at the salt line, seeming to gather itself for attack, which came in the form of a screaming wind. The salt line began quickly disappearing under the onslaught.

Dean had pressed the other members of the group as far back against the front door as possible, and had drawn the iron blade. With one fluid movement, he stepped over the line, extending his arm and thrusting the blade into the center of the gray mass.

Which dissipated immediately, leaving Dean shaking his hand and cursing. "Damn! That was cold!" He turned to Sam. "We almost done here?"

Sam shook his head and glanced up at Dean just in time to see the spirit reforming behind him. His cry of warning coincided with his brother flying across the hall and colliding with the wall, and the resumption of both the wind and flying objects. Sam shielded Annalee with his body. "Everyone stay low! We're almost done!" He wanted to go check on Dean, but couldn't risk exposing the psychic, so settled for calling out instead.

"Dean! You okay?" Sam was relieved to see his brother struggling to his feet, still grasping the iron knife.

"I'm good. Be better if we were done with that chant, though!" He moved somewhat unsteadily against the wind and toward the mist, which actually drew back slightly from the knife. "C'mon, Casper! You want another piece of this?"

On cue, Annalee finished the chant and looked around, confused. "Why is it still here?"

"It's bound to the object--now we have to destroy the object." Sam looked at Dean, who was focused on the mist. "Lighter?" he asked.

"Just a sec, okay?" Dean flipped the knife in his hand so that he held the blade, then threw it into the mist, which disappeared again. Spinning on his heel, he ran the few feet down the hall to the Ouija board, produced a lighter from his jeans pocket, flicked it open, and set the board alight.

The flame caught easily, fed by the swirling winds. In moments, the Ouija board was reduced to ash and everything fell silent around them.

Charlie was the first of the PECHS to recover. He stood and helped the women to their feet, and the group surveyed the wreckage. Broken glass covered the floor, along with the tattered remains of historical photographs, and bits of shattered furnishings.

"Wow," Charlie managed after a moment.

Dean stepped up beside him. "Yep." He paused, then clapped the older man on the shoulder. "Hey, on the bright side at least we didn't burn the place down!"

Charlie's only response was a slight nod, and the bedraggled members of the Georgia PECHS filed quietly out of the Gaither house into the darkness.

Sam stifled a yawn as the descended the porch steps with Dean, watching his brother surreptitiously try to work out the kinks in his shoulder. He made a mental note to give Dean first dibs on the shower in whatever hotel room they ended up in.

Charlie waited until Dean caught up with him, then reached out to stop him. "Hey, Dean, that's twice you've helped me out now."

Dean gave him a half-grin. "Yeah, don't count on the third time being the charm, okay?"

Charlie nodded. "Yeah, about that--"

"First investigation turning into the last one?"

The older man sighed. "Maybe so. You're right--there's no such thing as a routine haunting. And being responsible for everyone else--I couldn't stand it if something happened to them, you know?"

"I know. But for what it's worth, you did okay for your first training mission."

Off Charlie's skeptical look, Dean continued, "Hey, anything you can walk away from? Totally counts as a win." He offered a hand, and Charlie shook it, then turned to look back at the house.

"Damage doesn't look so bad from the outside," he mused.

"Yeah, where there's life, there's hope," Dean quipped. "Look, we'd better hit the road. Good seeing you again Charlie. You take care, okay?"

"Okay. Bye Dean, Sam."

Dean turned and joined Sam, offering a half wave to the female members of PECHS as they started back to the Impala.

"Where there's life there's hope, huh?" asked Sam, as they reached the car and Dean popped the trunk. His brother paused for a moment, then started dumping supplies back into the car.

"Don't start, man." He closed the trunk and circled to the driver's side of the car. Sam huffed out a frustrated breath.

"I'm--Dean--you're a fucking hypocrite, man," he began angrily, then stopped, dropping his head. Sam really didn't want to do this now. It was late, they were exhausted, and he knew full well that Dean Winchester had two sets of rules: one for the rest of the world, and one for him. Dean was fine with carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders, but wouldn't stand for his brother to bear the same burden, especially if it meant putting him in danger.

Sam saw that he had two choices: he could either continue beating his head against this particular brick wall, or he could suck it up. And life was short, as he was reminded with every passing day. He raised his head to see Dean eyeing him curiously, obviously braced for more of the same diatribe he'd been hearing for months and confused by its sudden absence. The lack of yelling had thrown his brother momentarily off-guard, so he did what he always did in those situations--he blustered.

"Yep. I'm a big damn hypocrite when it comes to keeping you alive, Sam. Deal with it."

Sam made his decision, and mustered a smile for his brother. For the time being, he would go with sucking it up. But he was just as stubborn and hypocritical as his big brother when it came to protecting what he cared about.

"They say admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery," Sam remarked mildly, and Dean glared, but took the peace offering.

"You know," Dean said as they climbed into the car, "it's not that late and we should probably get a couple of towns down the highway before the cops show up to investigate the "vandalism" here, what do you say?"

"Sure," replied Sam warily.

"Awesome! And you know what would help me stay awake while we're driving?" Dean gave his brother a particularly evil grin. "A singalong!"

"No, Dean."

"Just some good ol' boys..."

"Stop it. Seriously."

"Feeling drowsy, Sammy. Better sing along--Never meanin' no harm!"

"I hate you."

Dean's laughter and the sound of the Impala's engine faded into the Georgia night.