Despite all the business with the Apocalypse still currently under way. Sam and Dean had decided to take a nice step back from the gaping maw of hysteria full of Angels, Demons, and other assorted crazies, and go do something relaxing and simple for a change. You know, unwind for a bit before returning to fight everyone and their mother about ending the world.
Okay, so maybe going on an old fashioned salt-and-burn wasn't the height of soothing vacations but they couldn't exactly drop 'everything' related to hunting. Bobby had already given them enough disproving looks when they mentioned a ghost problem in Charleston. Who knows how he would have reacted if they mentioned 'time-off' around the older man.
So, Charleston South Carolina. It was a pretty well known hot-spot for ghosts, lots of tourist traps built around haunted sites and the like. Sure most of the time it was little things like the ghost of a dog, a cold spot here and there, maybe some music playing when you were alone. Nothing actually harmful.
Fun fact about ghosts living in 'haunted attractions' they usually didn't go crazy homicidal. The sheer amount of people looking and reacting to them on a daily bases kept them fairly sane, especially if they hadn't died traumatically.
Their plan was fairly simple, salt and burns generally took about three days (although their had been plenty of exceptions in the past). Sam had already burrowed into the towns history and found all the info he could on their ghost, (Young girl, 15-16, slave on a plantation, beat to death for using hoodoo) they knew where she had been buried and baring any attacks or movements of the body they could have this shit wrapped up in a day. Which left two for the brothers to dick around and relax with. It wasn't flawless, but honestly it sounded better then scrapping the barrel for ways to shove Lucifer back in his hole or get Michael to fuck off.
A nice, routine, ghost-busting. No Demon or Angel business to be had. Just Sam, Dean, and the Impala driving cross country, listening to overplayed classic rock and eating at every diner and dive they could instead of trashy McDonald or Gas station fair. It was more comforting then you would think.
It was dark when they rolled into Charleston. Led Zeppelin's Kashmir was currently in the middle of a guitar solo, and Dean was being picky about where to stop.
"Just pick somewhere! For the love of God!" Sam moaned, letting his head thunk onto the cool window. The movement emphasized by the sudden deep drum noise from the radio.
"Dude," Dean didn't even grace his brother with a look. "This place is like ghost-central, I just want somewhere we won't have to deal with another ghost on top the one we came for."
"Honestly Dean! We're going to put salt-lines and iron down where ever we stop. Plus we've stayed at plenty of haunted places and the ghost tend not to give a damn about us." Sam pointed out. "Just stop at whatever the dump coming up on the left is, they're all the same."
Dean turned to argue but Robert Plant's voice sudden broke free of the guitar and drums to start back up. "Oh, father of the four winds, fill my sails, across the sea of years" the radio crooned steadily. Sam turned the volume down so they could continue 'talking' but Dean had turned to the motel coming up and raised a brow.
"What?" the taller hunter asked, seeing his brother's unbelieving look.
"I think Led Zeppelin just told us to shut up." Dean snorted in amusement, taking a hand off the wheel to point at the dim neon sign of the hotel they were in the turn lane to pull into.
In big, blue letters with a wavy pattern underneath read 'Four Winds Inn'.
"Kashmir is officially my new favorite." Sam chuckled, any classic rock that got his brother to agree with him was totally cool in his book.
They pulled in and within five minutes had a room. The girl behind the counter had been more engrossed in her magazine and chewing gum then chattering and had looked beyond pleased to be handed cash instead of dealing with credit cards.
The motel was a one floor dump. The plaster was cracked along most of the walls, the pool was empty with a layer of dead leaves, and most of the lights in the parking lot were shot. Maybe literally. It was honestly not the worst place they had ever stopped, but it might rank up there.
The room itself was surprisingly clean and free of any mold smell. The shower looked recently bleached and glory of glories. The two beds had new sheets and blankets.
It was the little things in life the boys had come to enjoy. Clean sheets was like an early Christmas present.
Sam claimed the bed closest to the door and Dean barely even grumbled as he took the one by the bathroom. Though in retaliation for taking the 'better' bed Sam had to bring in both of their bags while Dean puttered around the Impala's trunk for their iron-lines and a bag or two of salt. Sam didn't bother to watch what his brother was doing, sometimes Dean felt safe enough with just salt. Sometimes he needed salt and iron. Every now and again he would pull out rugs with devil's traps and go crazy warding their room with paint.
Sam let his brother do as he pleased and went to take a shower. If he didn't let Dean set up the protection his own way then the next three days would be hell. It was a compulsion that Dad had instilled early within his older brother and Dean would worry endlessly if he didn't do this. It had been a sore point for a long time between them that Dean didn't trust Sam to ward them but eventually it just became one of the many quirks of his brother that he had to live with.
The shower was quick, most of the fifteen minutes spent on his hair. It had been almost two days since they left Sioux Falls and the problem with long hair was it needed daily cleaning. For a few minutes he entertained the notion of cutting some of it off, before snorting at the idea and rinsing his hair free of conditioner. Dean would probably have a heart attack if he changed his looks so dramatically. His older brother did not like change, not even inane things like hairstyles.
As he wrapped a towel around his waist he could hear Dean clamoring back into the room with what sounded like half of their arsenal. What little tension he had left from leaving Bobby's fled at the noise. If Dean was going to clean the guns then he would be calm and relaxed.
Sam viciously dried his hair with the clicking of metal and his brother's muffled rendition of Ramble On as his soundtrack. He didn't dare turn on the hairdryer innocently clipped to the wall. The plastic looked ancient and had spider-web cracks all along the back. It was more likely to catch his hair on fire then dry it.
Plus, Dean would tease him for hours for using it. Warm air was not worth the shit his brother would say.
"Hurry up in there Samantha!" yeah, like that.
"Shut up, I'm getting dressed you jerk." he yelled back without any true heat. letting the towel drop and pulling on his boxers and pants as his brothers derisive snort barely made it through the door's muffling.
"Yeah, yeah, just get a move on." there might have been a 'bitch' tacked on at the end of that, but the sharp metal twang of Dean undoing another gun drowned it out.
Sam gave a smile in the empty bathroom. This was exactly what they had needed. Hopefully everything would be nice and simple on this hunt and they could get some R'n'R for a day or two.
"Are we going to get food?" he asked, pulling his shirt over his still damp hair.
"We would if you'd get outta' the damn bathroom." Dean retorted almost instantly, the steady rhythms of guns being pulled apart and put back together still a constant.
Sighing in content for what felt the first time in years Sam combed his hair quickly before opening the door and switching the glaring florescent light off as he left the cramped room. He cocked a brow at the impressive number of guns his brother had managed to get through already.
"Guns first, food second." Dean instructed, motioning to the empty chair on the other side of the rickety table that all their weapons were stacked on.
Smiling, Sam took a seat and grabbed his favorite shotgun from the pile.
The room was salted at every available entrance, thin sticks of consecrated iron (a gift from Castiel, since pretty much anything he touched became consecrated.) lined the door and windows. One of Dean's Devil Trap carpets was set in front of the door. the mauve weave clashing with the murky blue-green of the carpet.
On a plus note there was no painted wards to leave behind this time. Sam always wished he could see the cleaning ladies face when they left those rooms full of demonic looking symbols and Enochian blood wards.
Settling back Sam and Dean swiftly fell into an age old rhythm of passing rags and preferred guns in between each other. Dean continued his quite rendition of Ramble On and Sam may or may not have hummed the guitar riffs.
The all night diner they found was a rusted red brick place. It was a tiny restaurant with a large, grinning black man behind the bar. His presences filled the empty room in a comforting way while low Jazz music from an old jukebox kept a steady beat. Their was a aura of infective happiness around him and his young daughter. Like they had just shared a really good joke and it was taking all they had to not laugh more about it.
His daughter, Sophia, was a stick of a girl. Her hair was pulled into tight braids and a smile big enough to rival her fathers panned across her face.
"Hiya guys, late night out?" her accent was thick in a very southern way, but her dark eyes sparkled in interest as she sat their menu's down and pulled out her book and pen.
"Just got into town actually." Dean grinned his most charming bar smile. "Sweet Tea for me, sweetheart."
Sophia fanned herself with her book, "I bet'chu call all the girls that." she tittered and jotted his drink down.
Sam snorted at his brother's aimless flirting as he perused what they had to drink. "I'll just have water." he decided, he kind of wanted coffee but that much caffeine before bed never mixed well.
"Man 'o simple taste." she cheerily responded and skipped off to get their drinks, leaving the brothers to look at the menu.
"Oh holy God." Dean muttered, stopping on the second page of the booklet. "They have fried chicken." He stated with a reverence usually held only for heathen gods and pie. Not that Sam really blamed him, Dean had a deep closeted affair with southern comfort food. Finding it in all-night diners was fairly impossible.
"Sure du'! Mah Daddies specialty." Sophia piped in as she set their drinks down. "Although the Shrimp an' Grits is mah favorite."
"That's 'cause you ain't got no taste girl!" her father shouted from where he was busy mixing something violently in a pan.
"Hush Daddy, these nice men ain't come here for you to harass 'em." Sophia made a shooing noise at the mans back. Causing the two brothers to smother their own chuckles.
"Ah' ain't harass-en them, I'm harass-en you." he shot back without missing a beat.
Sophia clicked her tongue but kept smiling as she pulled out her pen. "So what you boys havin then?" she bounced on the balls of her feet.
"Obviously the fried chicken." Dean answered, sipping his tea like it was ambrosia.
"You get two sides." she raised a brow. "And I know you want mash potatoes right? Nothin' goes betta."
"Sounds awesome, and I'm sure I saw mac'n'cheese as a side."
Sophia fanned herself again and fluttered her lashes at Dean. "Man with taste, if mah Daddy wasn't here I might have ta' slip you mah numba'"
"But your Daddy is here, an' you'll be doin' no such thing." her father groused with good humor.
"Oh fine." she huffed, writing Dean's order down and turning to Sam. "Now what can I get you Simple-man?"
"How about a simple salad?" he grinned at her nearly scandalized look.
"Salad?! You're gettin' water and a salad?! Look at you thou'! You're a stick, a buff stick, but a stick! You need some meat."
"Listen to the girl Sammy." Dean's smug grin nearly made Sam reach over and spill the prick's sweet tea into his lap. "You wanna grow up big and strong right?"
"Aha..ha funny." Sam glared at his brother for a moment before turning back to Sophia. "Honestly I like salads, not big on a lot of meat."
"Because he's secretly a communist." Dean stage whispered to their waitress. Who gave a snort and giggle behind her book.
"Dude, I don't think you even know what a communist is."
"Well fine, have your salad. But ah'm puttin' you down as an alligator salad."
Both brothers turned and gave matching questioning looks.
"It's just a salad, but Daddy puts fried alligator on it. It's so good." she cheered and ducked over to her dad to give him the order. Sam huffed quietly and Dean nearly cackled at someone having successfully put some sort of meat into his brother's usual rabbit food.
Sophia popped back over real quickly looking slightly contrite.
"Daddy has tah' turn the fryers back on so it'll be a couple minutes, sorry bout that." She swiftly turned to glare at her father's back. "He di'n't botha' to tell me he was cleanin' the grease tra'hp."
"You sound like your momma!" the owner groaned.
She turned away from her father and settled back on them with a huge grin. "So you boys just rolled into town, yeah?"
"Sure did." Dean grinned around his tea.
"Business or vacation?" she asked with a raised brow.
"Hopefully both, we have a job but it should only take a day to finish then we have two to mess around with." Sam answered.
"Goin' on the ghost tours then?"
Both of them snorted in an almost comical unison before Dean's "Hell no." mixed with Sam's "Not on your life."
"Not inta' the whole ghost thing? Ah' can't say ah' blame yah. Other then a couple o' museums and some historical stuff ain't much else ta'h do though." She nodded sagely. Her eyes lighting up after a moment though. "Oh! but if yah gonna see anythin, yah gotta' see the oak!"
"the oak?" Sam cocked his whole head and pitched his voice just a little higher in question, Dean groaned. That tone was usually reserved only for really nerdy things like cheap hardback novels and Gandhi. It meant he was interested.
"Yeah! The Angel Oak!" she enthused. "Ah' know it sounds weird to be so inta' a tree, but it's so cool. One of the biggest tree's in America, well coverage' wise. It's supposed to be almost two thousand years old and ah' I dunno' it's just. Really peaceful and pretty, you gotta' go see it."
Sophia's father chimed in "She ain't kiddin boys, The oak is really somthin' ya'h gotta see." their was a small clatter before the large man continued. "Plus, it's free. Everyone likes free."
Dean looked like he would rather fight a ghost with his bare-fists then go do something so hippie-lovechild as see a tree. Especially a tree called the 'Angel Oak' that just had way too many alarm bells ringing for his taste.
Sam still looked interested though.
"Oh! Hey Daddy, do we still got those tourist booklets by the register?"
"O'course, they're out-dated though."
Sophia made a 'one second' gesture and fluttered behind the bar, returning in less then three seconds with a small magazine. She flipped through the pages quickly before stopping on one and bringing it over to their table.
"Here, it's not tha' best picture."
Sam took the booklet and blinked owlishly at the tree.
It was, well huge wasn't a good word but the only one that really worked. The limbs of the tree didn't fit in the small photo but you could see a number of the branches were so large and heavy they had to rest on the ground. Their was a teenager in the photo standing by the trunk to show a size difference but really that paled to the tree itself. Bright golden light haloing the branches like some sacred relic. It was beautiful, idyllic almost. Like this was a painting and not a picture.
"Dean, look." He passed the picture to his brother. The older male took it and looked for a moment or two but didn't seem nearly as enraptured as Sam.
Dean handed the magazine back to Sam, who went back to staring at the tree's details. "Are you really going to drag me to see a tree on my vacation?" he groaned.
"It is free, and you don't have to come. It says here that a bus route stops nearby." Sam pointed out flippantly, reading the short article about the Oak. It must be where Sophia got her facts from because it pretty much said the same thing she had told them. Huge coverage, approximately 1,500 years old. Plus the street address and stuff to find the place.
Dean grunted out what could have been a 'fat chance' but he wasn't really paying attention. There was no way in hell Dean would let Sam ride a bus by himself, let alone go out of his older brother's sight. If the Apocalypse had done one thing, it had reinforced Dean's deep belief that everything was trying to kill his baby brother and if he wasn't constantly watching like a hawk they would succeed.
The fact that it could happen non-withstanding.
Sophia was grinning like a loon at them. "If you're gonna' go, Ah'd say go 'round ten-ish. Afta' twelve people start comin' in swarms."
"To do what?" Dean rolled his eyes. "It's a tree" he stressed.
"Picnic's an' playdates. You know, things most people go to a park for." she raised a brow as if to challenge him, but Dean just pushed his mostly empty sweet tea glass at her. Sophia took his cup with a pout and went to refill it.
"Dude, I don't know about this." Dean hissed as she disappeared.
"It's a tree, Dean." Sam didn't look up from his booklet.
"Yeah, called the Angel Oak that people apparently flock too. I thought we went on vacation to get away from all things fire and feathery."
Sam put his magazine down and meet his brother's eyes for a moment. "We are steering clear, but it's an old landmark. Not a church, not holy ground, no mention of miracles happening in the branches." He sighed "If we avoided everything with the name angel in it you wouldn't have found that bakery in Kentucky you raved about for weeks."
Dean huffed and opened his mouth to retort but Sophia returned with his tea.
The green eyed man shot his brother a 'we're not done' look before taking a sip.
"Oh, but definitely 'dun go after 2:30!" she warned after a moment. "The elementary school nearby lets out an' the place gets full. Though if ya'h do you might run into my little sisters." Sophia chuckled. "They'd be happy to show you all their favorite hidey-holes ah'm sure."
"Do you have a lot of siblings?" Sam politely asked, trying mostly to keep their waitress talking about herself so they wouldn't have to think up any lies about their life or job.
"I got three. Faith is twelve and thinks she's a princess or sumthin'. Hope is ten and a snot most of tha' time. Mah littlest sister is nine and the only one Ah can stand usually." Sophia shot a look over to her father before leaning in conspiratorially. "But she got the worst name outta the girls, momma was on a kick namin' 'em after virtues. Her name is Love." Sophia snorted. "Faith, Hope, and Love. Sounds like a get-well soon card."
"That must be really awkward to sign letters with. Love, Love." Dean grinned.
Sophia barked out a laugh "Oh lord, I neva' thought about that. Thank yah', I gotta' get her with that next time she complains about not getting any post."
"Sophia, get your tail-feathers in here and bring these men their food. You can gossip about your sisters afterward."
"Hey!" she cried indignant, even as she went to retrieve their meals. "They asked first."
"They ordered first, now hustle!"
"Slave-driva'" she whined and disappeared.
Sam unrolled his silver-ware and put the napkin in his lap, while Dean pretty much just wiggled like an excited toddler for his chicken.
Sophia brought their meals out after a few moments. Dean's plate was practically piled with food. A breast and leg both a perfect golden color, a venerable mountain of mash potatoes with a rich, dark brown gravy, and enough macaroni and cheese to probably put Dean into a very happy food coma. Sam hadn't seen Dean's eyes get that wide in months.
If that food was half as good as it looked, Dean might single-handedly solve the ghost problem in Charleston just to come back here.
Then Sam almost had his own happy conniption fit when his salad was put down. The lettuce was the dark green of Romaine instead of cheap tasteless iceberg. Plump red cherry tomatoes, shaved carrots, and what seemed to be grilled bits of sweet-potato equally spread amongst the dish with a spicy-honey sauce drizzled lightly over it all. Three large tenders of deep-fried alligator laying artfully on top.
Yeah, the ghosts in Charleston didn't stand a chance. Sam was going to help Dean annihilate anything within a hundred mile radius of this restaurant if it meant getting a salad this beautiful again.
Sophia left the brothers to eat, retreating to the back to help her father with cleaning or something. Silence and jazz reigned over the restaurant front, the quite broken every now and again by rapturous moans from either Sam or Dean.
Sam had even braved his own misconceptions about eating alligator tail and tried the meat he'd been forced into ordering. The fry on the outside was the perfect level of crispy and the meat inside was tender, it tasted a lot like chicken but was different enough for him to be almost certain it wasn't.
Dean snagged a piece of alligator to try, but after one bite and a 'not bad' he left it alone in favor of his own meal.
Sophia came and refilled their drinks three times before they were finally done eating. Dean looked ready to check into the hospital's coma ward and Sam wasn't fairing much better.
But God, that had been the best food he'd had in years.
"You boys want dessert?" Sophia teased as she took away their plates and what few scraps that had remained.
Sam moaned at the thought of more food, it was almost physically painful to contemplate.
Dean, on the other hand, seemed to mentally debate the chance of sickness versus how amazing the pie they had would be.
"Pie?" the glutton finally asked.
Sophia snorted with her huge grin. "Apple or cherry?"
"Dean you are going to be miserable tomorrow." Sam huffed, standing up to stretch.
"Fine." the older hunter whined. "No pie, but you are getting me some before we visit your hippie tree."
Sam waved a hand flippantly. Obviously he would end up buying Dean pie at some point. A hunt without victory pie was a bad omen. 'Horrible Shit' happened when there was no pie.
Sam honestly didn't like pies very much, but he was a willing to eat all the fruit filled pastry in the world if it kept more 'Horrible Shit' from being dropped on them. The world couldn't handle anymore of it at this point. You know, with the Apocalypse and all.
Sam ended up forking over the cash for their meal with some of his hard earned pool money. Dean left a generous tip on both the table and the cook's tip jar though.
Sophia's father waved cheerfully at them and his daughter came from behind the register.
"Feel free to come again 'kay?" She gave them both a stern look. "And visit tha' Oak!"
Both brothers startled slightly when she reached out and hugged them each tightly. Holding onto Sam a moment longer then maybe strangers should. But she backed off a moment later and smiled so bright it looked like it might hurt. "Have a good night boys!"
A little wary now, they bid the girl and her father a good night before making a break for the Impala and their motel room.
"I think I might have laid it on a little heavy." Sophia bemoaned, watching the two hunters peel out of the parking lot.
"Nah, you did just fine. When they walked in though I thought you were going to jump 'em" The larger man chuckled, placing one firm hand on her shoulder in comfort. "You just hugged a little to long."
"Shut up Lorenzo, you would have done the same thing if they hadn't fled." she huffed, shrugging his hand off.
Then with a small flash, the entire restaurant was gone.
And in it's place was a broken down shell of a general store, full of dust and shattered shelves. Both Sophia and Lorenzo having disappeared into the light.