Seriously, why do I doubt that the very first step in rebuilding an engine is to assure the car that you'll 'still respect her in the morning'?

Dean seemed to think that was hilarious.

But when I asked how many times he's had to tell a car 'I don't know what happened, really, I've never stalled before', he glared at me like I'd just committed blasphemy.


I wish he was here. I need to know he's OK.

He's probably thinking the same thing about me.

Dean didn't want to take this job. It's been a couple of months since Castiel's 'demolition job', and we've come up with a lot of ways to keep my hell at bay, but none of them has proved to be 100% and he's particular about our jobs. He's particular about a lot of things, but especially things that involve me, weaponry and monsters. So he didn't want this job, but we were close and kids are being menaced by some dark, scary thing coming out of the river at dusk, and - seriously - you mess with a kid and you answer to Dean Winchester.

And I can handle hell's retrospective pretty well. Sort of nearly pretty well. I've lost more bricks out of what's left of my wall than - than - well, than a wall that's lost a lot of bricks. It's hell (pun not intended but entirely appropriate) but I always make it back.

So we're out here in the woods in Ohio, Hill Valley Spruce Creek or somewhere, hunting this thing down. Sounds like it might be a kelpie. And while they normally target kids, Dean is just a kid at heart, so who knows if the thing will try to get it's cold, slimy green paws on it.

Or hooves, actually. Kelpies look like horses. (And Dean has said he wants to try horseback riding sometime.)

I hate to think of him out there on his own.

But since Castiel ruptured my wall, hell burns at the edges. It stands there waiting for me to lose focus so it can burst up into my brain and flood me with disorientation and agony. On our way through these woods, headed for the river, I felt it coming and I told Dean that I felt it coming. I told him to go on ahead, I could deal.

He didn't want to, but like I said, kids are at risk and - so far - I've always come back, so he went and I'm sitting at the bottom of this tree thinking about engines, wrenches, and calipers. Because Dean threatened me with another car repair quiz when he gets back.

I am surprised he left me here on my own at all, much less to try and beat the flames back unassisted. It's been just over two months and Dean has only just started letting me drive the car again. On deserted back roads. In perfectly good weather. Going so slow that Bobby in his wheelchair could catch up with us. And I'm only allowed to go unaccompanied into diners and coffee shops that have full glass walls so that Dean can keep an eye on me the entire time I'm getting us our 'to go' food. And I suppose it's a good thing I have no prospects of dating in the near future, if ever again, because Dean keeping an eye on me on a date could be awkward.

This morning though, he did let me close the bathroom door all the way (not locked, never any locked doors between us) and he wasn't even standing near it when I came out again when I was done with my shower.

I figure though that when Dean's hovering starts to bother me, it'll mean I'm getting better. Until then, with the Great Wall of Sam lying in smoldering ruins, it's nice to have the Great Wall of Dean there in its place.

I wish I knew what was going on with Dean out there alone. There's no cell reception here so I can't call him. As soon as I feel like my legs will hold me, I'll follow him out to the river. I want to be there with him. I need to not let him be alone out there. I need him to know that he's not alone out there.

But the flames won't quit and I'm exhausted from trying to make them quit. They keep coming closer and hotter and I'm not having any luck beating them back.

Nothing is distracting me from them, not engines or epic poems or puzzling out Dean's rather astute (though I won't tell him I think so) observation that of course the egg came first because, technically speaking, the chicken as we know it now is a mutation or evolution or upgrade from what it used to be, which means the upgrade took place when the chicken was forming inside the egg, which means the egg came first because the new and improved chicken came out of that egg.

And then the flames threaten to turn it into a fried egg if I can't push them away and it's not working, nothing is working and it's just about to fully overtake me - when I feel a touch on my hand. My hands are braced on either side of me on the mossy, leafy ground and I feel something soft and scratchy touch my right hand.

A touch. And then another touch. I look down.

It's a raccoon.

A raccoon.

"Hey - do you know Roadkill?" I ask it. Even though we found and left Roadkill a couple of states over. But my brain is mush. This one is a full grown raccoon, and just as old as Bobby from the looks of it; grizzled snout, patchy white fur, a mitten ear, a crumpled front paw. It must get fed by hikers or something because as soon as it has my attention, it stands on its hind legs and looks at me like it wants something or is waiting for something.

"Sorry. I don't have anything with me. It's all back at the car. If you meet me there after we're done here, I'll give you a day-old slice of pizza."

It stays upright another few seconds and sniffs the air like - well, like it's sniffing the air, then it turns and starts limping off, holding up its crumpled left front paw. I wonder if it can smell the pizza from here and is headed that way.

Then the pizza is burning because the flames are back and roaring, and my brain feels like it's on fire and in another few seconds it's going to be a toasted marshmallow if not a flaming S'more if I can't get my mind on something else -

Another soft scratch-touch on my hand pulls me back from the fire.

The raccoon is back, crumpled paw hovering over my hand, eyes staring into my face like I'm a clueless human who is missing some obvious, vital clue to something.

"What? I told you, pizza is in the car. You're gonna have to wait."

It chitters something at me like it's annoyed. Annoyed, for crying out loud.

"I'm sorry. I'm a little preoccupied right now, trying to keep my head from exploding."

It chitters and limps away again, giving looks back every few feet. The farther it goes, the closer the flames come, and they're almost winning - when I hear a serious raccoon distress call and the flames fall back.

I wait a minute to see what happens. Maybe it met up with a wayward baby raccoon, or a raccoon that owes it money or something equally annoying but not lethal.

Then it happens again. And the second one lasts longer than the first one.

Well, the old guy did distract me from hell, and he is down one good working paw, so I think he deserves some back up. I push to my feet and follow the sound of a clearly aggravated, seriously pissed raccoon.

I'm a little unsteady on my feet, and I'm using trees as balance as I push through the ferns and leaf litter and fallen branches. I follow the sound but I never get any closer, like Grandpa Raccoon is taking his grievances on the road.

"Hey - where are you? Is something bothering you or do just like to complain?"

Okay, whatever. I'm on my feet and moving. Pretty much moving. And I'm moving in the direction of the river, so if I catch up with Grandpa Raccoon, okay. If I don't, I'll get to the river and Dean.


I don't like him being out there by himself. Yeah, he'd roll his eyes and make a snarky remark and call me 'Francis' but - but I don't like him out there by himself, even though it's nowhere near dark and anyway kelpies don't attack they lure and no matter how much he might want to go horseback riding, he'd never fall for a kelpie and -

And I'm face-first on the ground and the flames are consuming me without destroying me and the stench and sizzle and agony are all that exist and it'll be days and weeks and who-knows how long until I can fight them back and until then it's just -

Something heavy is standing on my back and soft-scratching at my face and chittering, like it's annoyed.

"That you, Gramps?" I manage to ask without getting a mouthful of hubris or hummus or whatever decaying leaves are called because I can barely remember my own name right now. The heaviness walks off of me and Grandpa Raccoon is there in front of me, a couple of feet away. He sniffs the ground and stares at me and limps off again, looking back at me again every few feet and I get the feeling he expects me to follow him.

"Lassie! Timmy's in trouble!" I chirp into the hummus. Humus? Humdinger? I get another annoyed chitter out of Grandpa Raccoon.

"What?" I lift my head and shout at him. I think I shout at him. Yeah, Dean would get a lot of mileage out of me shouting at a raccoon. My eggs are well and truly scrambled.


"Hey." I call after the raccoon again, like he's going to answer me. Animals can sense trouble. Maybe something's going on and he knows it. He disappears into the ferns and firs and May-Apples and I negotiate myself to my feet, with my legs rubber and my brain liquid and hell half a step behind.

But Dean is in front of me and that's where I have to get to.

Walking isn't the easiest thing to do right now. The earth keeps tilting. Blood is pounding in my ears. Grandpa Raccoon keeps scolding me.

"You know, I get enough of that from Dean, I don't need it from you." I call after him.

My eggs aren't only scrambled, they're well on their way to being an omelet.

I forget how far the river is, not far I think. It's to the west and it's after twelve noon, so I follow the sun. (And the raccoon.) I have to get to Dean. I will get to Dean.

If I can't get my hell under control, I don't know how much help I'll be to him, but at least he'll know I'm there. (And then he'll yell at me for trying to get to him at all.)

Come to think of it, maybe Dean sent Gramps out to check on me. Sure, he made faces at me for taking care of Roadkill, (though if he'd been the one to find him, without me being around, that baby raccoon would've been wrapped in eiderdown and set into a custom made cage with pure spring water and gourmet racccoon kibble.) but I can see him calling in some favors with Gramps here.

Or Gramps there, since my erstwhile guide is five or six yards ahead of me.

Pretty soon, the sound of the river starts to overtake the blood pounding in my ears. I'm getting close. I'm almost to Dean.

Then Grandpa Raccoon makes a sharp left, away from the direction of the river.

"Hey - where're you going? Dean's this way."

He doesn't stop (because raccoons don't speak English apparently) so I leave him to himself and keep making my woozy way to the river. I just hope that the ground stays at my feet where it belongs and doesn't come back up to my face.

All of a sudden, there's a raccoon at my feet, Gramps, scolding me and casting aspersions on my intelligence, if I'm accurately interpreting his tone of voice.

Seriously, I don't have the time or energy or stomach for this. I have to get to Dean.

Gramps has other ideas apparently. He chitters and chatters and scolds me, stomping angry circles in front of me, between me and the river.


He stops, he stands, he sniffs the air, and then he's off like a shot, never mind his crippled foot. He books out of there, away from the river and towards a denser stand of saplings, scolding the whole way.

Okay, bye bye, thanks for stopping over, see you next year.

I shake my head and turn to the river and -

And from the direction the raccoon ran off, I hear Dean yell for me.

Dean's in trouble.

Everything - everything - falls away. Hell, flames, nausea, dizziness - nothing matters but getting to Dean.

Getting to him now.

I'm running full out, the distance disappears beneath my feet and in ten seconds I'm at the edge of a sort of clearing, Grandpa Raccoon is practically screeching, Dean is backed up against a tree - and a huge - gargantuan - big as a volkswagen - wild boar is charging him. Head down, tusks up, he means business.

Judging from the shredded jeans and blood soaking down Dean's thigh, this isn't his first charge either.

I don't even think about it, I pull my gun from the back of my jeans and empty it into Wilbur and he collapses into a skid that ends practically at Dean's feet.

Dean stays pressed against the tree a few moments longer, panting, bleeding.

"Not a kelpie." He tells me, casually, then he starts to sink and I hurry to catch him and move him away from Wilbur and to a fallen tree where he can sit and I can get a look at his torn leg.

He's draining blood but it's not arterial, so I pull my shirt off and fold it into a staunch and use the sleeves to tie it around his thigh.

"Man - do you see the size of that thing?" I ask him. Mostly to say something. Dean's pale and sweaty and going into shock if he isn't there already. Still he gives me a look like I'm an idiot.

"Uhh - yeah." He answers me. "Up close and personal."

"Yeah. Okay. Sorry."

I check my makeshift bandage. The blood is spotting through but not drenching through. Still -

"We need to get you to the hospital. This needs stitches and we have to find out if that thing might have rabies."

"Oh, great." He says. He wipes sweat off of his face and looks at me.

"Nice timing, by the way."

"Yeah, if that raccoon hadn't read me the riot act, I'd still be zoning out back at the -"

"Raccoon?" He asks me. "Not another raccoon."

"Yeah. No - yeah." I point over my shoulder to where I left Grandpa Raccoon agitating and agitated. Only, Dean looks where I'm pointing and then looks at me - again - like I'm an idiot, and I realize the woods are silent.

I look.

Grandpa Raccoon is gone.

"Well, he was there." I say. I get my shoulder under Dean's arm and his arm around my shoulders and slowly we get him to his feet. "He kept giving me grief all the while I was coming here. If I didn't know better, I'd almost say he knew what he was doing. Guess the gun shots scared him away."

"What is it with you and raccoons?" The question is probably rhetorical. I scoop up the duffel and we make slow progress toward the car

"I think he just expected me to feed him. He was an old raccoon, looked like he'd been through the wars, a bad foot, a torn ear. Probably gets by on begging from hikers."

Dean just grumbles something. He's got to be in a lot of pain, and tugging him out of the woods can't be doing him any favors but my shirt isn't soaked through yet and in another hundred yards the car is in sight.

"Wait. Sammy, wait. I need a minute."

I set him down to rest on the trunk of a felled tree and keep a look out for more feral pigs. He rests his head in his hand, braced on his good leg. After a few seconds though, he sits up like something jumped at him.

"What?" I ask.

"What'd you say that raccoon looked like?"

What - does he think he knows it?

I shrug.

"Old, gray, crippled foot, mitten ear. Why?"

He jerks his chin and I follow where he's looking.

There's Grandpa Raccoon, tucked into a little warren formed by the fallen tree against a mound of broken branches and spent leaves.

His body is on its side, flattened by decomposition, white hair blown off in tufts, crumpled left front paw visible, mitten ear still visible on the sunken skull.

He's dead.

He's been dead awhile.

"Dean?" It's all I can think to say. My brain is still too deep-fried to do the heavy lifting of figuring this out. "Dean?"

I look at him and he's quirking kind of a strange smile.

"I guess somebody was grateful you took care of Roadkill." He tells me, and adds to my obvious incredulity, "Hey, Native Americans believe that animals have spirits too. You did get to me just in the nick of time. I'm not gonna turn down anybody's help. Even a raccoon's."

I just shake my head. I'm too tired to think about it. I don't want to think about it.

But when we get to the car, when I start to stow Dean in the back seat with his leg elevated, I see the pizza box, leftover from last night. It's in the way and I move it to the front seat, but as soon as Dean is set and before I burn rubber for the hospital, I take out a slice of pizza and set it on the ground where a hungry raccoon can find it.

The end.