Lady in Black

Take a car. Most guys spread more love and time
and money on their car in a week than they do on
their wife and kids in a year. Pretty soon, you know
what? The machine starts to think it
is somebody.
—Tennessee Steinmetz, "The Love Bug"

It starts not long after Dean puts the final touches on the car and they hit the road again.

It's little things at first. She slips out of gear at stop signs. The radio stations Sam chooses spontaneously change back to Dean's favorites. Dean laughs at the look on Sam's face, mutters about a short in the wiring, and spends an evening puttering around in the Impala's innards.

Doesn't help.

When they have to spend a night in the car, Dean sleeps as soundly as if he owned his own bed and was in it, even when he loses the coin toss and gets the front seat.

Sam's lucky if he dozes off at all. Every spring gouges him—the same seats that practically cuddle Dean. Every time Sam finds a position that promises comfort, the whole seat seems to shift beneath him, becomes a patchwork of too soft and hard as a board. There's no point in switching with Dean; he'd just wind up in the same predicament, with the added bonus of a steering wheel for a pillow.

Dean's asleep in the passenger seat the first time she stalls for no reason. Luckily, there's no one behind them and Sam manages to pull the car safely off the road. He tries every trick he knows, but he's not a mechanic; he learned the basics, the things Dad insisted they had to know, and no more. He can change a tire and perform some maintenance, but when it comes to this car, Dean doesn't let him do that.

Dean finally wakes up when Sam pops the hood. "What the fuck did you do to my car?" he growls, as cheerful as ever before coffee, and after a perfunctory check of the engine compartment, he cranks the car.

It starts as if nothing ever happened.

It's not long before Sam can't drive at all. Whenever he gets behind the wheel, the car just won't cooperate. It sputters and stalls and coasts to a stop; if it's raining, the wipers won't work; if it's cold, the heater won't work; pretty much, if he's behind the wheel, nothing works. But it's never anything concrete, nothing he or Dean can point to and say, "This is what's wrong." The only time in all these months that Sam has been able to drive the car without her throwing a temper tantrum is when he's racing Dean to the hospital, desperate to get a bad laceration stitched before Dean goes into shock.

And the only way to cure the problem du jour is to put Dean back behind the wheel.

Thing is, this causes more problems. They've been busy, too busy. Dean's always said he could drive this car asleep. Now he is. Sam realizes that the day he jerks out of a nightmare-ridden nap to find Dean conked out behind the wheel, drooling slightly, his head against the window and his hands off the wheel, while the Impala drives itself down a curving mountain road.

Sam swears the car is humming as she drives. Contentedly. It's a sound barely audible beneath the engine, beneath the blast of AC/DC, but it's there, and it's clear if you listen for it.

Dean thinks he's crazy, of course. Denies the whole thing. He just blinked. He didn't fall asleep. On a road like that? They would have wrecked in half a mile. Not to mention, he had the radio cranked. Frankly, he doesn't know how Sam could have possibly dozed off either.

Now he's starting to call it "her," like the damn car's alive and has a personality. Female, of course, because the women always fall for Dean and the Impala is no different.

He figures it's a curse, a spell on one of the parts maybe, so Sam calls Bobby to see where he got the parts for the rebuild. Bobby listens to his litany of complaints patiently, fervently denies using bespelled car parts—honestly, what kind of hunter does Sam think he is?—and finally asks, "Sam, have you ever seen The Love Bug?"

Sam hangs up on him. This is real life, not some fluffy Disney movie older than he is. Bobby should know better.

Not to mention, if he compares the Impala to a possessed Beetle, Dean's liable to dump him out on the side of the road on sheer principle.

So he rides along, playing navigator, never touching any control more important than the passenger side window. He punches his brother in the arm whenever Dean starts to nod off. It does for awhile. It's not like Dean really wants Sam driving most of the time, anyway.

The last straw comes one day when Dean, half-asleep from a three-night stakeout topped by a huge fight with a poltergeist, staggers into a store to pay and choose junk food for the road, leaving Sam to fill the car up. No matter how he tries, he can't. She won't stay put. When he gives up and leans against the pump, waiting for Dean to come back, she rolls backwards. Right over his foot.

Trying to explain this to Dean just makes them both cranky.

Dean's tired. It's been another long day of punching him in the arm to keep him awake. Sam doesn't know why he bothers, except that when it comes down to it, it's just too damned creepy to watch the car driving herself down the road. When they find a motel, Dean falls into bed with his boots on; he doesn't even manage to put his trusty knife under the pillow before he's gone.

It's the best chance he's going to get.

It takes twenty minutes to get her into the deserted mall parking lot next door. There's nobody around, nobody to see Sam walk around to the front of the car and look the Impala square in the grille.

He didn't feel this stupid carrying an Ouija board into Dean's hospital room.

"I don't know what's gotten into you," Sam tells the car, "but it's not my fault you got totaled, so quit taking it out on me!" Do the headlights flicker? "Look, the damn trucker was possessed. You were there. You had to see it. Or whatever cars do."

The horn honks. He has a sudden mental image of the car sticking her tongue out at him.

Of course. Why would logic work? He's talking to a fucking car.

Fine. If logic won't work, he'll appeal to its—her heart. "You're going to get him killed."

Another honk, this one more sullen.

"Oh, you don't think so?" The words escape before he realizes just how stupid they are. "What are you going to do when he gets pulled over for sleeping behind the wheel? You think a cop's going to care that you're driving? You think a cop's going to believe it?" No answer. "You want to be responsible for him getting sent back to St. Louis? They think he's a murderer, you know, and there's no way to explain what really happened so that anybody's going to believe it. They'll lock him up and you'll be stuck with me. And I don't have any problems selling you for scrap."

He probably wouldn't. Unless she really pisses him off. But she doesn't need to know that.

It. It doesn't need to know that. Thinking of—it as a she is just making the problem worse.

The Impala rolls forward and bumps him hard enough to make him stagger backwards. She's pissed now.

"Fine, be that way," Sam snaps. "Next time you get impounded, I'm making sure we leave you there. Assuming we make it through the next fight, because he's fucking exhausted!"

If a car's bumpers can droop, hers do. For a moment, Sam's afraid he's hurt her feelings.

Then his sanity makes a startling comeback. "What am I doing?" he mutters, fighting down the urge to kick in a headlight. "Just behave, will you? Or the next time we get run over by a demon, I will leave you in Bobby's junkyard and take the chance with Dean's temper!"

Nothing malfunctions on the way back to the motel. Nothing except the radio, that is, but that's a small price to pay for a drivable vehicle. Besides, it's not like Sam ever gets to listen to anything he likes anyway.

The motel is packed, and he has to leave the Impala in the one remaining spot, at the far end of the lot, well away from their room.

Dean raises his head and squints blearily at him as he enters. "Sammy? Where you been?"

"I—" Oh, no way in hell. "I filled up the car. Figured it'd give you another half-hour of sleep in the morning."

Dean frowns. "She cooperate?"

"Like a dream."

"Glad you two're finally gettin' alon'..." Dean's head hits the pillow again, hard.

Sam smiles, in spite of the fact he's spent the last forty minutes talking to a car. Only Dean would be worried about Sam's relationship with the car.

The next morning, the Impala is waiting for them in the spot right outside their door.

I feel sorry for the next poor cop that tries to impound her.

the end