Sam gets the call while he's at Stanford.
He listens quietly as the voice on the line talks. They tell him the worst news of his life, and he leaves the next day.
Jess asks him what's wrong but he can't bring himself to talk about it to her.
She stays at school.
The funeral is quiet. He stands there and watches as the grave is filled in. It's a nice little plot, a few dozen feet away from where their mother is buried. Or at least, the empty box that signifies her body and lets her family find some solace in her loss.
There is no solace for Sam.
They tell him Dean went down fighting, one hand on the sonovabitch's throat when he died. He went down swinging, just like he always said he wanted to go.
But Sam knows Dean would never want to stop fighting.
There were people to save.
Sam doesn't return to Stanford.
Jess calls, but he doesn't answer. He can't. There aren't words for what he's gone through, and he knows she'll want to talk about it. There's nothing else she can do, but he won't talk to her. Not yet, not with the hole in his chest so fresh.
The Impala is in one piece, but damaged. Dean was tossed through one of her windows during the fight. Dean would kick his own ass if he saw the state he left her in.
He would say she deserves better.
While he's trying to make sense of his life, Sam starts to repair the Impala. Bobby helps when he finds the time, and Sam begins to learn what Dean grew up knowing.
Everyone thought Dean was the mechanic in the family, but Sam displays the same aptitude as he works on the sleek black and chrome body.
After weeks of sweat and blood and yes, tears, she stands proud in the sun. Reflections of the trees gleam in her sides and Sam sits in the driver's seat. He grips the steering wheel and for a second can almost hear Dean's voice in the back of his head.
It's saying "Sammy," and Sam has to leave as his eyes well up with tears.
No chick flick moments for Dean.
The next time Sam sits in the car, he's in the passenger's seat.
He thinks maybe he's just not ready to drive her yet. She belongs to him in title, as a will is produced by Bobby. Says it existed ever since Dean was given the Impala by their father, that Dean knew hunting was dangerous work.
"She deserves better than to rot, Bobby. If anything happens to me, she goes to Sam."
Neither hide nor hair of John has been seen since the incident. Even in his mind Sam can't think "death" when it comes to his big brother. Dean is bigger than life; he always promised to be there for Sam.
But he isn't around anymore.
With no John and a will with Sam's name on it, he takes her as his own car. She was gutted by the police after the incident. Her trunk is stripped, the glovebox is barren of Dean's slew of fake IDs. But under the seat there is a box, and in it is Dean's cassettes.
These bring an actual smile to Sam's face as he pulls them into the light. Dean and his classic rock. A thousand times Sam had wondered why Dean didn't just replace the radio and upgrade. He'd tell his brother to get with the times, no one uses cassette tapes anymore. How has Dean gone so long without any of them eaten by the radio?
Now Sam's glad they're around. He holds one gingerly in his hand, a thousand memories attached to it.
Just like the Impala.
Sam knows she doesn't belong to him in spirit. How can she? Dean's entire life was this car. He had no other home, no friends. He lived on the road, hunting with their dad.
If their dad was around, would Dean still be alive?
Dark and dangerous thoughts tempt Sam. Refusing to indulge them, he shoves the key into the ignition. The Impala starts up with a roar, her anger matching Sam's. Her driver is gone and his brother is dead but they have each other.
He drives and doesn't look back. Highway to Hell blasts from the speakers and Sam knows that's the path he's on.
Sam has no idea how long it's been. Jess calls, but he doesn't answer. He can't answer her, he has nothing to say. Her calls begin to taper off, same as the calls from the university. People asking about the full ride he was on the brink of earning, a path away from the hunting life. It's a path he can no longer take.
If Sam was around, would Dean still be alive?
In the meantime, Sam does the only thing he can do.
Years of fighting against their father's plan for them are gone, washed away like sand on the beach. Sam remembers the arguments, the yelling. He remembers the look on Dean's face as he leaves, and that hurts most of all.
That was the last time Sam saw his older brother. His angry voice yelling was the last thing Dean ever heard from Sam.
Nothing he ever does can take that back. A lifetime of regret, bottled up and only let out when he belts out the lyrics to the classic rock that plays constantly on the radio.
Sometimes he can almost hear Dean singing it with him.
The weapons begin to build up again. They can strip the Impala and gut her insides, but they can't take her soul. Sam knows how to make his own fake IDs. Dean taught him himself. The glovebox is bursting with them again as Sam travels from case to case.
The road stretches before them and the loneliness overwhelms Sam.
Is this how Dean felt before he died?
Tears streak down his cheeks once more and he exhales a cold breath.
"No chick-flick moments."
For a second it doesn't sink in that the person talking isn't on the radio. Sam glances to the side and shouts.
Dean is sitting there, leaning casually against the door and staring right at his little brother.
The tires screech against the road as the Impala swerves in Sam's hands. He almost loses control before managing to park on the side of the road. A truck roars past while Sam sits there, the adrenaline making his hands shake.
He dares glance to the side again and sucks in a gasp.
There is no one there.
The second time Sam sees him, he is slightly more prepared.
He doesn't know if it's really Dean, but the sight of those green eyes and that spike of blond hair brings a tight feeling to Sam's chest. He's missed those eyes, and remembers how proud of his hair Dean could be.
It's not possible. Dean couldn't come back. Bobby gave him a hunter's funeral before the grave was filled in. That coffin was as empty as their mother's and Dean's ashes were scattered to the air. Hunters don't become spirits.
There is no logic in the world that could change what Sam sees sitting there in the passenger's seat.
"Man, if you screwed up my car, I'll kill you."
The words are so familiar. Dean's voice, his drawl, his casual sass. Sam blinks, and this time the car doesn't swerve. He meets those eyes, and Dean flickers.
Dean is gone, but a part of him is hanging on.
"You shouldn't be here," Sam says, speaking to the air. To Dean. "Bobby burned your body."
Dean scoffs. "Not everyone that comes back is attached to their body."
Even after death Dean thinks like a hunter.
With a flicker, he is gone and Sam is left with only his thoughts for company.
Over the next few weeks, Sam pieces it together.
He changes how he drives. He used to drive in broad daylight, avoiding rush hour and cities. Small towns were best for the hunting life.
Now Sam drives at night. He knows it's wrong, but deep inside he yearns for another chance to see Dean. To hear his voice and joke with him. He doesn't tell Bobby, and John had dropped off the face of the planet. No one knows that Sam can see Dean.
On those deep nights, for moments at a time, Dean would flash into existence with a quip or a stern correction about how his baby is being treated. The visits start to last longer, and Sam has more than one conversation with his older brother.
Ever since that first night, Sam doesn't mention the fact that Dean is dead. He thinks to himself that if he questions this, it will stop.
It was the way Dean died, and his attachment to the Impala that tied him to her. Thrown through the windshield, Dean bled out there as he locked his hand around the throat of the werewolf that tossed him. Silver blade through its heart, it died first. Dean knew his triumph for one sweet minute before he expired.
Dean is tied to the Impala, his lifeblood staining her past.
Unless Sam burns the Impala or finds a way to free his older brother's spirit, Dean will remain with her no matter where she goes. Sam finds a motel to get space and falls into the bed there. He screams into a pillow and feels his eyes fill with tears. No chick flicks, Sammy, but he's living a horror movie.
In the end, he can't do it.
Sam can't take the Impala from Dean, and he can't take Dean from the Impala. They belong together, and he's the third wheel. He drives at night and puts on the radio. The brothers sing along together, belting out classic rock as loud as they can.
Sam doesn't mention it when Dean flickers.
Years pass, and they carry on.
Sam ages. His hair grows longer but he ignores when Dean points it out and tells him to cut it. He builds up the physique of a hunter once more with constant hunts. Dean might not leave the Impala anymore, but he's still Sam's back up.
Dean doesn't change.
His hair stays the same and his smirk is just as snarky as ever. He quips about being the oldest, but Sam realizes that's now a lie.
He's lived longer than his older brother.
Sam's 27th birthday was the week before. Something in his world has shattered, and now things are no longer the same. Dean, his older brother who promised to always look out for him would never celebrate his 27th birthday. He would always just be in the car, waiting. No more one night stands, no more women. He can never hunt again, he can only become the monster just like every other trapped spirit becomes.
An important part of Dean is gone and Sam is angry at himself for never realizing. He's trapped his older brother on earth for his own selfish needs.
Sam slams on the brakes. Dean doesn't wear a seatbelt, but he isn't thrown forward. He simply arches an eyebrow at Sam and wonders at his 'little' brother.
"I'm not the little brother anymore," Sam grits out. Angry at himself. Angry at Dean. "I'm not the little brother!"
It's an important part of who they were, and now it's gone.
"Yeah, dude. Whatever," Dean mocks, but there's a different look in his eyes. "I'm still the handsome one."
Sam blinks back tears. "I'm the older brother," he insists to Dean, and the spirit flickers.
"Take it back," Dean says darkly. "You're not the older brother, take it back! "
The light in the Impala flickers, then overloads. All the gauges rev up, and Sam fights the wheel. It is a harrowing minute before he can pull her over to the side of the road, breathing heavily. When he tries to leave, he realizes the doors are locked.
Nothing he does can budge them, and Sam remembers the salt he has in his jacket.
Dean flickers, and this time there's regret on his face. The spirit is driven by emotion, and Sam pushed him over the edge with his callous statement.
"I'm sorry Sammy," Dean says hoarsely. "I'm sorry."
Intuition strikes, and Sam knows he is locked in the car because Dean is afraid. If Sam leaves the Impala, he can walk away and never come back. Dean would be alone again, just like he was alone all those years he was hunting.
Sam did that to his older brother in life. He couldn't do that to him in death.
"No Dean," he says. "I'm sorry. I'm not going to leave you. I'll never leave you again."
Dean smiles, and blinks, and Sam knows "no chick flick moments" still stands, but he doesn't bring up the fact that the doors were still locked.
He couldn't leave.
Carry on my wayward son,
There'll be peace when you are done,
Lay your weary head to rest,
Don't you cry no more...
This story is entirely inspired by a tumblr post from scrapedknees. Comment/review if you like my work!
(I made myself cry writing this)