SUMMARY: Tag to Swan Song. How Sam's toy soldier got stuck in the rear door ashtray and why, decades later, and in the wake of a complete rebuild, it's still there.
SPOILERS: References to Devil's Trap, Everybody Loves a Clown and Swan Song.
RATED: T, for minor swearing. Family-Hurt/Comfort.
DISCLAIMER: These amazing characters belong to Eric Kripke. Thank you for five years of great stories and allowing us to play with characters you created. It's been an honour and definitely a pleasure.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I loved the 'Ode to the Impala' facets of the Season 5 finale – and the rest wasn't too shabby either *g* - especially the little green army man which, ultimately, played such a pivotal role. That got the creative wheels turning and this little piece is the result. Hope you enjoy.
"I can see that, genius." Nine-year-old Dean frowned at his brother, who was kneeling on the back seat, staring in frustration at the little green toy soldier jammed into the Impala's rear door ashtray. Sam's face was red with exertion from trying to yank it out.
Dean pulled the door open wider, wrapped his hand around the toy and gave it a tug. It didn't budge. His jaw clenched as he tried again but, still, it didn't move. He shot a look at Sam. "What the hell did you do? Crazy Glue it in there?"
"No. And don't swear." Sam bit his bottom lip. "I was just playing."
Dean gestured at the book tossed aside on the bench seat – Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. "You were supposed to be reading that."
Sam glanced up at his brother. "I finished it."
Dean's eyes widened. "Dad just got it for you, like yesterday."
"So." Sam shrugged. "You and Dad were gone a long time, and it's just a kids' book."
"You are a kid, Sammy." Dean grunted as he tugged again on the plastic army man.
"I like your comics better." Sam slid forward on the seat to better see what Dean was doing. "Can I read your new Spider-man?"
Dean tried rocking the plastic figure back and forth to loosen it. "Look at the pictures, you mean."
"No." A mix of anger and pride flashed across Sam's face. "I can read the words."
Dean paused and stared at his little brother. Sammy was smart, he'd always known that. Whether Dean was teaching him to tie his shoes or what to say to neighbors when they moved into a new place, he didn't need telling more than once. And every time Dean read a book or a comic to Sam, whether at bedtime or in the backseat of the Impala as they waited for Dad, his brother's eyes would be glued to the pages, following along. And he was always – always – asking questions.
"You said that word's 'psycho.' How come it has a 'p' in front of it?"
"What do all those '**#&!' funny marks mean? That's not a word."
"Catastrophe? How can it end in 'fee' when there's no 'f'?"
"I thought you were a smart kid because you had a great teacher – me." Dean offered his brother an exaggerated grin as he reached into his pocket for his penknife. "But smart kids don't get their toys stuck where they don't belong."
Sam pulled a face. "Wasn't me who put the Legos in the air vent."
Dean shot Sam a look. "Smartass."
Sam grinned, knowing he'd scored a point, but the smile faded quickly as he saw Dean jab at the toy soldier with his knife. "Don't do that. You'll wreck him."
Dean squinted into the ashtray. "Sorry Sammy, but the only way he's coming out is if I cut the base off."
Sam shook his head. "No. Then he can't do his job."
Dean frowned. "His job?"
Sam nodded. "He's watching our six. Making sure nothing sneaks up on us."
"Our six?" Dean bit back a grin. "Where the hell…heck…did you hear that?"
"From Uncle Bobby." Sam's nose wrinkled in annoyance. "It means our asses."
"I know what it means." Dean cuffed his brother affectionately across the back of the head. "And that's bum to you, short-stuff. You have to be at least eight before you can use the word ass."
"Says me." Dean turned from the toy soldier to Sam. "And why does he need to watch our asses, anyway?"
"Uncle Bobby told Dad he should always have someone to watch his six."
Dean studied Sam closely. He was under strict orders to shield his brother from the hunting world at all costs but, the older he got, the harder it was. Sam was curious about everything. He'd obviously overheard Dad and Bobby talking about something but, luckily, not enough to give the game away. Otherwise, the questions would have started long before now, and never stopped. "Dad's got me to watch his back."
Sam stuck out his chin. "And me."
Dean smiled. "Yeah, you too. We're a good team. We watch out for each other." He closed his penknife and shoved it back into his pocket. "So, why do we need the soldier?"
"To watch out for the car."
Sam nodded. "Yeah. You always say she's part of the family, right? So she needs someone looking out for her, too."
Dean's smile softened. There was Sammy being smart again. "Okay then." He turned to the plastic figure, his expression serious. "Listen up, soldier. You're on duty now. It's your job to keep the car safe, and to keep Sammy safe when he's inside."
"And Dean," Sam cut in. "He has to keep you safe, too."
Again, Dean bit back a smile as he leaned forward to stage whisper to the soldier. "You keep all of us safe. You don't, I'm gonna cut you off at the knees. You got it?"
"Yes, sir." Sam deepened his voice to answer for the soldier, doing a remarkably close imitation of their dad in the process.
Dean turned back to his brother. "You good now?"
Sam stared at the toy soldier, smiling happily. "Yeah." He swung his legs forward, sat back in the seat, then glanced up at Dean. "Now can I read your Spider-man?"
Dean nodded. "It's in the trunk. I'll get it. But wipe your hands first." He grinned at Sam's indignant huff, then stood up and walked around to the back of the car. His grin faded as he popped the trunk. One day soon, Sammy was going to start asking questions he couldn't answer and Dad wouldn't. Then it wouldn't be so easy to put a smile back on his kid brother's face. But hey, what was that saying Uncle Bobby always used? He'd blow up that bridge when he got to it.
Dean was leaning heavily on Sam, fighting to stay upright, fighting to stay conscious. Every step was an effort, his strength disappearing a little faster with each one.
Sam's arm was wrapped around his brother's waist. He tightened his hold as Dean wavered, somehow taking even more of his weight without increasing pressure on the injuries inflicted by their possessed Dad. His big, klutzy little brother could be incredibly gentle when he wanted to be.
Dean opened his mouth to say something but all that came out was a cough and frothy bubbles of blood as he struggled to breathe.
"Don't talk. We're almost there." Sam pulled Dean's right arm over his shoulders and encouraged him forward. "Just a few more steps and we'll have you safe inside the car."
Dean managed to force out a single word. "Dad…"
Sam's voice was tight. "Dad's gonna be okay. He told me to take care of you first. Let's just get you to the car, then I'll go back for him. I promise."
Dean's knees chose that moment to buckle and he would have gone down had Sam not caught him.
"I've got you…I've got you."
Dean's vision blurred, then darkened. He focused on Sam's voice, used it to pull himself back from the brink of unconsciousness.
"We're almost there, Dean. Just a few more steps. That's all…"
Dean coughed, then stumbled. Sam was half-carrying him now but, suddenly, they were beside the Impala. The familiar squeal of the Chevy's hinges helped rally his strength and he reached out for the car door. His clumsy grab missed, leaving a smear of blood down the glass.
"Hey, hey – relax." Sam was lowering him into the car now, his big hand on the back of Dean's head, making sure he didn't smack it on the door frame. "Let me do the work."
Sam gently maneuvered his brother inside, leaning him against the seat-back and then carefully lifting his legs into the car. He grimaced as Dean hissed in pain. "Sorry…sorry. But that's it. We're done now. I'll just get a blanket from the trunk and-"
"No." Dean weakly grabbed Sam's arm, leaving a bloody hand-print on his brother's jacket. This time he croaked out two words before coughing up more blood. "Get...Dad…"
"Dean…" Fear, worry and exasperation were all mixed together in that one word.
Dean forced open his eyes and leveled a weak glare at his brother's battered face. Sam's right eye was almost swollen shut now, thanks to the battering he'd taken at the hands of Meg's brother. He likely needed medical attention as much as Dean, not to mention that Dad had a bullet in his leg – although that was definitely preferable to the heart, where he'd ordered Sam to shoot him. They all needed to get out of there. "Go…"
Sam, crouched beside the open door, exhaling loudly. "You're a stubborn ass, you know that?" He shook his head at Dean's weak smile. "Fine, no blanket – but I'm turning on the engine and cranking the heat. You need to stay warm."
As the loud squeal of the rarely used back door hinges faded, it was replaced by the softer, more familiar groan of the driver's side door opening, followed quickly by the roar of the engine coming to life as Sam turned the key. Just as Dean had tuned her to do, the Impala's throaty growl settled back quickly into a steady purr. That was followed by a whoosh of air as Sam clicked on the heat before looking worriedly back at his brother. "Dean?"
Dean was struggling to keep his eyes open and it took concerted effort to hold Sam's gaze.
"You hang in there, you hear me? I'll be right back, just as fast as Dad can walk."
Dean blinked his acknowledgment, a nod requiring strength he simply didn't have.
Sam backed out of the car, slammed shut the door and, suddenly, Dean was alone. Whether through weakness or want, he couldn't say, but he slid across the seat-back, slumping into the corner. The Impala cradled him there, holding him up when his own strength couldn't. He concentrated on the sound of the Chevy's engine: it calmed him when he was angry, helped clear his head when he needed to find order in chaos and cheered him up when life sucked out loud.
He smiled as he picked up a soft rattle behind the warm air being forced throughout the car. That was the pieces of Lego he'd shoved in there when he was five or six and mad at Dad over some long-forgotten slight, knowing the resulting rattle would drive his mechanic father crazy.
A wave of nausea washed over him and he slumped a little more into the corner. He shivered, and wrapped his arms tightly around himself, wishing he'd taken Sam up on his offer of a blanket. Bleary eyes slid to the heating vent in the front. "Come on, baby." His croak was barely audible. "Blow me some kisses, send a little heat my way."
Dean's vision blurred, then cleared, his gaze ultimately falling on the green toy soldier still stuck in the backdoor ashtray. He was still at attention, gun raised, guarding their six.
Growing up, the back seat of the Impala was the boys' domain. It was the only space they could truly call their own and, once Sammy outgrew his car seat, one Dad rarely entered. When he'd finally seen the toy, more than a year after it was jammed into the ashtray, Sam matter-of-factly told him the soldier was on guard duty. Dad had just nodded and left it there, with a simple, "Carry on, soldier." And, so, he stayed.
Dean clumsily reached for the toy, his shaking hand leaving a blood smear on the door's cream leather. He scowled; that would be a bitch to get out.
His eyes slid closed, suddenly too heavy to keep open, the pull of unconsciousness too hard to ignore. He slipped under, his left hand curled loosely around the little toy soldier.
Dean wasn't sure how long he was out, but when he came to, the car was moving. Sam was behind the wheel and Dad was riding shotgun. Too tired even to lift his head, he stayed slumped in the corner and just listened.
Sam glanced worriedly at Dad as he groaned in pain. "Look, just hold on, alright? The hospital's only ten minutes away."
John shot a look at Sam and Dean cringed. Even half-conscious and in the dim-light of the middle-of-nowhere, he knew that look. Dad wasn't happy about something and was about to start a fight.
"I'm surprised at you, Sammy." Dad's voice was quiet but soaked in disappointment. "Why didn't you kill it? I thought we saw eye-to-eye on this? Killing this demon comes first – before me, before everything."
Sam glanced in the rear-view mirror, making eye contact with his brother. Dean flashed him a look which he hoped said, "Let it go, Sammy. Don't let him goad you. You did the right thing."
But Sam had no interest in fighting. His focus was solely on family.
"No, sir. Not before everything." His voice hitched. "Look, we've still got the Colt. We still have the one bullet left. We just have to start over, alright? I mean, we already found the demon-"*
Dean barely had time to flinch at the blinding light that suddenly filled the Impala before there was a deafening crunch of crushed metal and he was tossed sideways, his head slamming into the window and the glass shattering under the force of the impact. Like his brother and father, he was unconscious long before the car came to a stop.
It would be much later before he learned that the Impala had been T-boned by a semi and that the driver had been possessed. It would be later still before he discovered that the impact of the crash had twisted the frame to the point that the little toy soldier, stuck in the ashtray for more than 20 years, had been ejected from his post. He landed at Dean's feet, splattered with blood and half-buried in shattered glass. Then, over the next few hours as paramedics fought to save the Winchesters' lives, he disappeared.
Dean sat on the end of the back seat of the Impala, opening and closing the driver's side back door as he adjusted the hinges. The door was balanced and clicked shut just fine but the squeal was off. He had to get it just right … just like before the accident.
Piano tuners could strike a key and, through training and instinct, know exactly what was off and how to fix it. Like they knew their instruments, Dean knew his car – and he was determined to rebuild her so she looked, sounded and ran just like she did before she was wiped out by that semi.
Dean had thrown himself into fixing her ever since he'd been released from the hospital, working on her every day, taking a break only to drive to another scrap yard or auto parts depot if Bobby didn't have the part he needed.
Then Sam had found the killer clown case. That offered a return to the twisted normalcy that was their life. The only thing Dean hated was driving around in Bobby's loaners and that made him more determined than ever to get the Impala back on the road.
Sam appeared suddenly from behind a stack of crushed clunkers. "How's it going?"
Dean pushed the back door one more time and smiled at the squeal the hinge made. Now, it was good – sounded just like he remembered. "It's going."
Sam looked over the car. The Impala was back in one piece. She still needed her final paint job but, other than that, she seemed almost ready for the road. "She looks great, Dean."
Dean's eyes narrowed in the bright sunshine. "She still needs a few more tweaks but, as long as we can get her into the paint shop in the next day or so, I think we can be on the road by the end of next week." He grabbed a rag from the ground and wiped the grease from his hands. "You should start looking for a case for us."
"I've already got a couple of possibilities." Sam circled the car, dragging his hand over the lovingly rebuilt body. "Oh, and I've got something Bobby said you asked for."
Dean frowned. "What?"
"He wasn't sure why you wanted it, but I think I do." Sam walked up to Dean, reached into his pocket and pulled out a small plastic bag containing six pieces of Lego – two blue, two yellow and two red. The colors were faded and they were slightly misshapen but still easily recognizable. "He found these when he was sorting through the scrap." Sam offered the bag to his brother.
Dean took it wordlessly, then walked toward the passenger side. He yanked open the front door and slid into the shotgun seat. Sam moved up to the driver's side door, pulled it open and stuck his head inside the car. Dean was shoving a blue Lego block into the vent. "I know you want everything back the way it was, but you really think that's such a hot idea?"
"They're part of her." Dean picked up a yellow piece and shoved that through next. "You know, when I first did this, I was royally pissed at Dad. I remember that like it was yesterday even though I was only five or so. The stupid thing is, I have no freaking idea what he did to piss me off." The corners of Dean's mouth twitched, trying for a smile but not quite making it. "A few years back, I asked Dad if he remembered what I was so mad about…"
Sam slid behind the wheel, his eyes locked on Dean. This was the first time his brother had said something – anything – about their dad that wasn't in the form of a fight since he'd died. "Did he?"
"No." Dean snorted as he posted a red block through. "Didn't have a clue. Said I'd finished my not-speaking phase and moved straight on to pissed off. He couldn't do anything right – if he brought me chocolate ice cream, I wanted vanilla. If he brought vanilla, I wanted strawberry."
Sam's face creased into a puzzled grin. "You hate strawberry ice cream."
"You're missing the point, Sammy. I was pissed at the world and he was the closest target. That's something you, of all people, should understand."
Guilt flashed across Sam's face. "I do, trust me. I just didn't know that you-"
"…went through the same thing?" Dean glanced sideways at his brother. "I got over it a little faster, maybe, but sure I did."
Sam shook his head. "Guess I always think of Dad and me as the ones who were butting heads. Dad said as much at the hospital just after you woke up, remember? Said half the time he didn't even know what we were fighting about."
Now it was Dean's turn to look guilty. The only things that were crystal clear from the days right after he came out of the coma were Dad telling him he might have to kill Sam and Dad's sudden, suspicious, death. Dean cleared his throat. "Sorry, Sammy. Those first few days after I woke up are a little hazy."
Sam's face creased with worry. "You're okay now, though, right? You'd tell me if something was up?"
"Yeah. Just…chill." Dean shoved a second blue piece into the vent. "We took care of that Rakshasa without me falling apart, didn't we?"
"Yeah, but…" Sam exhaled, knowing he was moving onto shaky ground. "We got back here and you beat the crap out the Impala. That doesn't exactly make you the poster boy for healthy recoveries."
Dean's face clouded over. "Whatever. It's my car. I-"
"Yeah. Your car. The one you call your baby. The one you've spent almost every waking moment since you got out of the hospital rebuilding. The one we found you passed out under from dehydration when the temperature hit 95 in August and you wouldn't even stop to drink some water. The one you're feeding Lego blocks into now so she sounds exactly like she did before the accident."
Sam shifted in his seat to face Dean. "Hey, if pounding her into dust makes you happy, I'll hand you the tire iron myself and stand there and applaud while you're doing it. But we both know that's not what you want. The accident, Dad's death…they're eating you up, man…" Sam finally took a breath, "… I just wanna help."
Dean's jaw clenched as he shoved the last piece of Lego into the vent. "I'm just working through some stuff, Sammy. And nobody can do that but me. Just…give me some time."
Sam opened his mouth to say something, thought better of it and sat back in his seat. "If that's what you need, you got it. But when you're ready...I'm here."
Dean shot Sam a look. "Like my own personal, supersized Oprah?"
Sam snorted. "I think I'm more the Dr. Phil type."
Dean shook his head. "Uh-uh. Definitely Oprah. You guys have the same hair." He waved his hand at the steering column. "Turn the ignition. I wanna try the vent."
Sam turned the key and, as the engine roared to life, Dean clicked on the heat. It took a moment but soon the familiar rattle joined the whoosh of air.
Some of the tension in Dean's shoulders eased at the sound and, noting the change in his brother, Sam smiled. "Why did Dad never take those Legos out of there, especially when he knew what they were?"
Dean shrugged. "They're not doing any harm and, when you don't have the engine apart, they're a pain to get to. Besides, it was something he could use to yank my chain…remind me what a pain in the ass I was before you took over the title."
Sam smiled, leaning back against the seat and breathing in the familiar smells of Impala. "I've missed her, Dean. I'm glad you brought her back."
Dean shuddered at Sam's choice of words but just nodded. "I need you to do something for me."
Sam nodded. "Anything."
Dean leaned forward and opened the glove box. He reached in and pulled out the little green army man that, for decades, had guarded the Impala from his post in the back door ashtray.
Sam's eyes widened. "That finally came out of the door?"
Dean nodded. "When I first started working on the car, I noticed it was gone. Must've popped out during the crash. Not surprising given how badly the frame buckled." He rolled the toy soldier between his finger and thumb. "But when I yanked out the front seat, there he was – jammed up against the base."
Sam stared at the toy. "There were a lot of paramedics working on you after the crash. Maybe one of them kicked him under there."
"Maybe. But it's time for him to resume his post." Dean offered the toy to Sam. "Care to do the honors?" He snorted at Sam's look of surprise. "Dude, you got him stuck in there in the first place. It's only right you kick off his second tour."
Sam took the soldier from his brother. "Guess he's as much a part of the car as the Legos, huh?"
Sam climbed out of the carl and pulled open the back door. Grinning across at Dean, he flipped open the ashtray and wedged the little figure into place. Once again the toy soldier stood guard. "As you were, soldier," Sam said quietly. "It's time to watch our sixes, again."
Dean pulled the Impala to the side of the road, staring at the rusted iron gates of the Stull Cemetery. Somewhere beyond that entrance, Lucifer and Michael were preening for the ultimate smackdown – a battle that would destroy one or both of his brothers. Of course, if Lucifer won, the rest of humanity would be on the next train south.
He exhaled loudly, knuckles whitening as instinctively he tightened his grip on the steering wheel. He glanced sideways at the empty shotgun seat, just one of many things wrong with this whole plan. As hunters, they'd launched plenty of stupid ideas. Hell, they excelled at stupid but, together, when they had each other's back, they also excelled at beating the odds. And if ever there was time to throw the oddsmakers a curveball, it was now.
But if Sam was going through with his insane plan, no way was doing it alone. Dean was going to be right there with him, urging him to fight until either or both couldn't fight anymore.
He glanced up into the rear-view mirror. He'd lost Bobby and Cas somewhere before the last exit and ignored the phone calls that had come through shortly after. He knew it would be Bobby on the other end, telling him to slow down and wait 'til they caught up before crashing the archangels' party. He couldn't do that, had no intention of waiting and no stomach for a fight about it, so had just let voicemail deal with it. If they were lucky, they could listen to Bobby's rant later over beers and a bottle of Johnny Walker Blue and laugh about it.
His left leg bounced with nervous tension as he reached for the gearshift. He changed his mind suddenly, leaving the car in park as he leaned over and reached under the passenger seat. He frowned; the shoebox holding his treasured cassette collection wasn't there. "Damn it." He shoved open the door and hauled himself out of the car.
As often happened when he was driving hell-bent-for-leather, throwing the Impala around curves at speeds that were well above the posted limits, the box of tapes had slid backwards, ending up in the back seat.
He pulled open the back door; sure enough, there it was, the box spilling its overstuffed contents on the floor around it. He leaned across the backseat, tossing the spilled tapes into the box, then stopped when his fingers closed around Def Leppard's Pyromania. Yeah. If the battle for the ages needed a soundtrack, this would do.
Dean grabbed for the door handle to haul himself up and his hand brushed the old toy soldier still jammed into the ashtray. He rubbed his thumb across the toy's plastic helmet. "Up and at'em, soldier," he muttered. "If ever we needed you to watch our six, today's the day."
He slammed shut the back door and retook his place behind the wheel. He had the Impala in gear and was turning into the cemetery, even before the driver's side door was fully closed. He cracked open the cassette case as he drove, eyes repeatedly scanning the cemetery around him, looking for any sign of Sam or Adam. As he pulled out the tape, he patted the wheel.
"It's just you and me, baby. Sammy needs us both." He shuddered, then understood why as he caught sight of his brothers circling each other just up ahead. He jammed the tape into the deck, his chest suddenly tight. "I don't think he's coming home with us, but he's gonna know he's not alone."
A/N: *Dialogue in this scene appeared in Devil's Trap, written by Eric Kripke.
Thanks so much for reading. If you have a moment, I'd love to know your thoughts on this story and/or the Season 5 finale. See you next time.