She's all yours, Dean. Don't drive too fast; her engine doesn't like it if you gun it. Don't take wild turns; her suspension's had enough of that over the years. She was a good year, and I've kept her in good condition, you know that. Take it easy out there on her; she likes hard top pavement more than she does a dirt road. You remember all that, and she should last you a couple of years, maybe. She's just a car, after all; bound to go out one day.
"John, what on earth-"
"I know, I know, this isn't the car you thought about when you said 'family vehicle', but-"
Dean raced past them, almost tripping over his laces, before he stopped in the front yard. His eyes lit up as he took in the black car parked on the other side of the road. Her black paint glistened in the sun, and he smiled, big and wide.
Then he raced back to his parents, who were still talking about the car. "Daddy, can I drive 'er?" Dean asked breathlessly, slamming into John's leg and clinging tightly. He couldn't really do that to Mary anymore; not with her belly so round. Any day now, they promised him. Any day until he'd have a little brother or sister.
He hoped it was a brother.
John glanced down at his son and laughed. "You want to drive it?" he asked, bending down and picking Dean up. Dean giggled and wrapped his fingers tight in John's shirt so he wouldn't fall, even though there was a strong arm around him that wouldn't drop him.
"Her, Daddy," Dean insisted. "Wanna drive her."
"It's a her, is it?" Mary asked, stepping forward slowly. She was smiling, too, and Dean's own smile bloomed again. "How come it's a her?"
"'Cause she's pretty," he said simply. He turned to John, completely ignorant of the looks of surprise on their faces. "Can I, Daddy?"
John finally shook himself and moved so they were both facing Mary. "Well? What do you think?"
Mary nodded, and Dean let out a cheer. "C'mon, Daddy, put me down!" he said, squirming now to be released. "Let's go! I wanna drive 'er!"
Dean so didn't want to drive her. Not like this.
"Just..just reach down for the pedals, Dean," John whispered, and Dean could tell his dad was losing the battle. "Don't push her too fast..
Dean swallowed hard and tried to breathe evenly. He wasn't ready for this. He was so not ready for this. Not when he hadn't been able to follow orders and keep Sam safe from that black rag thing only a month before. And now he was supposed to drive the car?
"Dad, how do I make it go?" he asked, trying to keep his voice from trembling. When no answer came, Dean whipped his head around. John was unconscious in the back seat.
Blood loss. Dean had to get him to the hospital. Which meant-
Dean took in a deep inhale, then let out a shaky exhale that trailed into a sob. He let himself have the moment of crying and hysteria for about half a minute, before he pinched himself really hard. He could do this. He had to do this. Otherwise his dad was going to be in really bad shape, the thing could come back and get them, and then Sam would be-
Dean's eyes widened. Sam. He'd been left alone in the hotel room, and they were running low on food. He'd be scared out of his mind. No. Dean had to drive, had to get his dad to the hospital and then get back to Sam.
"Help me out here," he whispered to the dashboard. "I..I don't know how to do this, and I don't want to hurt you. So..help me drive? Please?"
He put his feet in the positions he'd always seen his dad use. He reached for the lever near the steering wheel (gear shift his mind told him), and then pulled it down. One, two, three clicks, and nothing happened.
Then the car began to roll.
Dean's eyes widened, before he sat up as straight as he could, the wheel clutched in sweaty hands. He pressed down tentatively on the gas, and was rewarded with faster movement forward. The car was in the middle of the road, and Dean used the strength of both arms to turn it back to the right.
Slow and steady. That's what his dad had always told him. Go slow and steady. That wins the race.
He could do this.
Ten minutes later, and the car was still on the road. The signs for the hospital were a bright blue on the side of the road, and he carefully made a turn to the right to follow them. There: just in front of him.
Parking the car had a few bumps and lurches, but he didn't crack her front or sides into any cement blocks, so he was okay. John groaned in the back, and Dean heaved a sigh of relief. They'd made it.
He helped his dad limp in, a comical sight, and staff poured out of various places to assist them. As they led John down the hall and asked Dean to go to the waiting room, he whispered, "Thank you," and didn't mean the staff.
They'd help his dad, sure. They weren't the reason that he and Dean were okay, though.
Sam was silent in the car. That wasn't anything new. Ever since he'd found out what they really traveled around doing, he'd been keeping to himself more and more. John hadn't actually been angry with Dean for his finding out; he'd known it would happen sooner or later.
Dean, however, was still angry with himself. More for the fact that he no longer had anyone to talk to, and that when Sam woke up from a nightmare with tears running down his face, he knew it was his fault.
The car stopped outside a small convenience store. "You boys want anything?" John asked.
Sam simply shook his head. Dean kept his sigh to himself. "No, sir," he said quietly.
The car door was opened and shut, the creaky hinge suddenly noisy in the ensuing silence. Sam glanced out the window, leaving Dean on his side of the car with nothing to do and no one to talk to.
He leaned back into the seat, his glare directed at the seat in front of him. He pushed himself back into his own seat, then sat up suddenly when he felt something press against him. He slid forward and turned, frowning as he pulled between the seats for whatever was down there.
"What are you doing?"
Dean glanced over at Sam's almost silent question. Sam wasn't looking outside anymore; he was watching Dean with a puzzled glance.
"Don't know," Dean said honestly. "Just felt somethin' down there." He turned back to digging, and tried to ignore the shot of happiness that filled him at the fact that Sam wasn't turning back, that Sam was talking to him again.
His fingers finally reached something, and he dug until he had a solid enough purchase that he could risk pulling his hand back. Slowly he continued to pull until he had his hand back, with the treasure pocketed in his fingers.
Sam's eyes got big. "That's my cowboy! Wow. I thought I'd lost him in one of the hotels." He hesitantly reached out, and Dean placed the small cowboy figurine in his hand.
"I thought you'd lost him, too," Dean admitted. "Guess she had him kept safe for you."
Sam rolled his eyes. "You keep calling the car 'her'. Doesn't she have a name?"
Dean raised his eyebrow. "She doesn't need a name," he finally said. "She's just..just who she is."
Sam gave him a look but started to grin. "Then I guess I can only say thank you," Sam said, turning to the window again. He slid his cowboy-free hand over the top of the car door, petting her twice before he turned back to Dean. "And..thanks. For finding him."
"No prob," Dean said with a nonchalant shrug. "It's what big brothers do. Gotta watch out for the little brothers. It was all on the job requirement list, you know."
"Yeah, right," Sam said, but he was still smiling, and a part of Dean felt better for it.
He felt even better when John came back with two small bags of chips for them, and the car moved on down the road.
The door slammed shut to the hotel room, causing Dean to stop suddenly and turn his head. Sam's shoes appeared in his view, and he closed his eyes. Dammit. Could they not fight for just one night?
He'd been afraid of this, though. It was why he'd come outside to work on the car. She'd saved him more than once from the epic fights of John and Sam, and it was only fair he reward her for it.
Jeans and shoes were now what he could see as Sam sat on the ground next to the car. "What's up, Sam?" Dean called, as if he didn't care. He tried to stay out of the fights; no matter what side he picked, he always picked wrong.
Then a sniffle caught his attention, and Dean was shooting out from beneath the car faster than he'd thought possible. "What happened?" he asked immediately, sitting up and moving over to Sam. He crouched down next to him, trying to duck his head to see Sam's face. "Sammy, what happened?"
"I can't do anything right," he whispered, anger and hurt in his tone. "God, I just wish I could disappear or something. I bet he'd loved that."
"Don't say crap like that," Dean retorted, the sudden fear of Sam not being there slamming into him. The kid was only fifteen; where was he going to go?
Anywhere he damn well wanted. He wasn't a normal fifteen year old. He was a fifteen year old supernatural hunter, and just as equipped to survive on his own as the rest of them. Maybe even more so, with his independent and intelligent streak he had going for him. Worse yet, his stubbornness would probably be the driving point: all he wanted was to fit in, be normal, like everyone else. That was where the fights always started.
Sam didn't respond. "C'mon, let's go," Dean said suddenly, standing and wiping the grease from his hands onto his jeans. Sam gave him an odd look but slowly stood, wiping at his face with his sleeve. They climbed in and headed off; that would give John some time to cool off.
Maybe give some time for Sam to be a normal kid for once, too.
Dean drove around until he reached the mall, the parking lot now empty. The mall was pretty big for the town, but they were only an hour out from Detroit, after all. Tons of little strip malls and not so little real malls were all over the place down here.
Dean slid her into park and climbed out. "Dean?" he heard Sam call before he shut the door behind him. He made his way around and opened the passenger door, jerking his head towards the other side. Sam gave him a look that was made of total confusion.
"Move it," Dean ordered, and Sam hastily slid over to the driver's seat when Dean moved to sit where he'd been only a few moments before. He closed the passenger door and turned to Sam, who looked more baffled than before.
Dean took a deep breath in before he started. "Okay. Right foot for both the gas and the brake. Be easy with her; she's not the type you can just floor. Treat her with respect, let her climb, and she can do eighty easy. I've even had her up to a hundred before, but I try not to push her."
Sam's eyes were as round as saucers. "You don't mean-"
"You gotta learn how to sometime," Dean said easily, like it wasn't a big deal. When Sam continued to stare at him, Dean waved towards the wheel. "Well? You gonna drive?"
Sam jumped and turned to the wheel, hands hovering over it. "Uh..
Dean sighed and leaned over. "Okay. Lemme go through everything. Listen up and pay attention; this stuff's important."
The lesson lasted for two hours, the peace between John and Sam two days after that, thanks to the good mood the car had put him in.
Dean still spent a day under her and her hood, though. Simply because he owed her that much for what she'd done.
"Just move easy, Dean. You'll be all right."
"You're not the one with hell hounds running through your head," Dean mumbled, then moaned as they took a quick step down the hill.
"Almost there," John said quietly, his big arm wrapped around Dean's waist. Dean clutched back at him feebly, then saw the car waiting at the bottom of the hill. He smiled at that, then winced as the smile touched into one of the cuts on his face. Ow.
John managed to open the passenger side door and keep Dean upright, which Dean thought was a pretty neat feat. Of course, Dean's own feat, staying conscious, wasn't to be outdone. Blackness teased at the edge of his vision, and he blearily blinked, trying to wake himself back up.
John helped with that as he slid Dean into the car. Dean moaned again, and the world spun alarmingly. The car door shut, and Dean slid to the right until her door caught him.
At least she stayed with him. He'd been lucky to have his dad for this hunt; John was talking about two different hunts again. That meant they'd be splitting up. Again.
And all Dean would have was the car. Sam was already gone, only a couple hundred miles away and yet so much further from him than that.
What had happened?
"You need somethin' for the pain, or can you wait until the hotel?" John asked, frowning at him in real concern. It wasn't until Dean felt the tears on his face did he realize just why.
"Hotel," Dean murmured. "Need the good stuff."
The tears weren't from the claw marks, anyways.
John nodded and started her up. Dean closed his eyes and let her rumble slide underneath and around him. He slid down even further, his forehead touching the cool glass of the window. He would've moaned in pleasure if he'd had the awareness to do it. As it was, he managed a small smile. The cold was soothing against his throbbing head, and even as John pulled onto the road, the gentle jostles didn't disturb him.
If anything, they felt as if the car was rocking him, cradling him. Heat from the vents slowly drifted around him, a companion to the cold window pane, and Dean let himself sleep. He was safe. John was there, would make sure his breathing didn't change and would wake him if it did.
And the car would comfort him all the way back to the hotel.
It was only after Bobby and Sam had gone to bed did he come back out to the yard. She hadn't moved, but if he could, she would soon enough.
So long as he didn't put any more dents in her.
He slid his hand over her trunk and winced at the damage. All her years of steadfast support, and the one time she'd needed him, he'd been in the back, trying not to bleed to death and failing.
And he'd taken it out on her.
"I'm sorry," he whispered softly. He rested both of his hands on the trunk and leaned onto her, head hanging low. He didn't know where he really stood anymore. With his dad gone, and Sam begging him to be the steady support he'd always been, he just..couldn't. Nothing felt right anymore.
Sometimes it felt like he'd really died in that hospital, that he'd died with his dad. There were days he thought it was a good idea.
A dot of water fell onto the dusty metal below him, followed by another. He closed his eyes and let the tears he couldn't show Sam fall. He was hiding, he knew that. Hiding behind a mask of indifference and smiles that felt too fake even to him. He couldn't be Dean right now, though. Couldn't be the Dean he'd been.
The Dean he'd been was still locked inside, screaming and sobbing for John.
Not even she could fix him this time. He'd tried hiding under her, fixing her back up again, but there hadn't been any peace of mind when he'd done it. The fight he was afraid of was inside of him, followed him around everywhere.
He couldn't drive her. She'd been his emancipation for so long, freedom on the long, wide road ahead of him, and now she couldn't soothe him, rock him into sleep and comfort.
He wiped his eyes with the back of his wrist, then glanced out at her. She looked just as sad and weary as he felt. She was more than his home; he felt like she was a part of him. She'd always been more than 'just a car' to him.
The realization came silently. She needed him, this time. Needed him to be there for her, just like she'd been there for him for so many years. She needed him to patch her up, make her whole again.
It was his turn to make sure she made it through.
He placed his left hand over the hole he'd made in her. He'd make things right with her, help her recover, be her savior. He'd help her get back into one piece again.
You remember all that, and she should last you a couple of years, maybe. She's just a car, after all; bound to go one day. But if you take care of her, she'll take care of you. I promise you that, Dean.