It's about time I updated this...utmost apologies for those I kept waiting! This is the final chapter, so please enjoy, read, and review!
Sometimes it hurt to be back in Radiator Springs.
Mater watched the trailing groups of cars roll back into town, both recognizable and foreign alike, voices lost in the tumult, an unnaturally brooding look crossing his rusted features as he sulked in his rickety garage. He remembered a time when the town was silent. When there was peace. When Lightning was among the living. When he wasn't so pessimistic….
The funeral service had just ended. Mater had stayed for a few minutes, in the back of the crowds, while his family grieved in the front row. He'd remained only to hear the cars going up to speak about his best friend. Sally hadn't found the strength to go up, but Sarge, out of all others, somehow did. His speech was short, cut and dry, without much sentimentality. But Mater could've sworn he saw the Jeep holding back tears.
Luigi and Guido were next, bursting into tears in the middle of their lamentation and had to be ushered away from the microphone. A few of Lightning's racing friends followed, Darrel Earncar Jr., Jeff Gorvette, and Lewis Hamilton, but most surprisingly, was the final speech given before the pastor took hold of the proceedings again. The King had somehow materialized from the crowd, and given a few words that left even the strongest-willed of cars in tears. Mater had bolted as soon as the baby blue racer had finished.
The tow truck rubbed his tire in the dirt, gradually creating a rut in the dust. He released a despondent sigh, eyes closing. A million and one memories flashed before his mind's eye, from the best times to the worst times with his best friend. If only he could've apologized to him one more time…
Mater's eyes reopened as the voices grew distinctly louder, and glanced up from the dirt. More cars were entering the small community, a grand majority of them mourners, and they all idled around, most of them at Flo's café, as most of the town's shops were closed for the event. The main road was being emptied, however, and hay bales set around the peripheries. The tow truck paid them no mind, and instead found his gaze drawn to the light blue Porsche currently conversing softly with a Mrs. Lydia Weathers. Mater caught her eye, and she sent him the smallest, saddest of smiles, which he returned.
The moment Holley entered Radiator Springs, she wanted to go back to Siddeley.
To call the area a ghost town would've been hypocritical, as there were clear signs of wear and tear, the sure signals of a long and happily occupied existence. But there was hardly a soul. Abandoned oil cans littered the sidewalk here and there, and there were hay bales set around what appeared to be the main road, but besides that, Holley half expected a tumbleweed to come breezing through like in the old Western films.
She and Finn paused in the town proper, her partner appearing calmer than he actually was, the Jaguar was sure of it, when an accented voice called to them from the V-8 café they had just passed.
"If you're looking for Mater, he's watching the race over by Willy's Butte."
The secret agents turned instantly, and found a pretty Motorama car cleaning up around the café, pausing to meet their gazes and sending the pair a somber smile. Holley's brow rose in slight confusion.
"Pardon me, but what race?"
The Motorama car smiled apologetically. "Sorry. It's the race held in McQueen's honor. It was Mater's idea, since the kid never got to finish his own."
Holley felt something tug at her engine, but she put up a brave face. Finn remained stonily silent beside her. "Thank you, ma'am. But where exactly is this…. 'Willy's Butte'?"
The elder car jerked her front end in the proper direction, and Holley bobbed her hood in gratitude. The Motorama car smiled again. "It's the least I can do. Heaven knows Mater needs some sort of comfort." With that said, she returned to tending her diner. Holley idled for a moment, as if unsure, and Finn started for the road without her.
Holley revved her engine as quietly as she could, and had soon caught up to her partner as he rounded a radiator cap shaped landmark, and they drove in pensive silence for several moments. The younger car sent her partner furtive solicitous looks, which he either ignored, or somehow didn't notice. She finally spoke, when his brooding silence and stony expression hadn't changed.
"Is something wrong, Finn?" she hedged softly. For the short time she'd known the elder Aston Martin he never let anything get to him, whether it be nearly getting crushed, to watching Lightning McQueen's untimely murder.
Finn exhaled softly, and for the first time, Holley saw the years of pain and stress weighing down on him. "No, Miss Shiftwell," he answered, with the tone of one who'd gone through hell and back, no longer proud to tell the tale. "There is nothing wrong."
Holley didn't broach the subject again.
The groves and hills of Carburetor County were spread out below the tow truck, the orange and brown dust intermingling with the rare patch of green, standing out starkly from the pure, life-giving blue of the cloudless sky. The heat came bearing down, stifling, and would make one's engine overheat if they weren't careful. But Mater was long used to it, and only baked under the hot sun in silence, gazing down at Willy's Butte, and the rest of the panoramic view swelled around him like a mismatched quilt. He'd just been making out the colorful paintjobs of the cars way down below, when he caught the unmistakable sound of tires against dirt and dust.
He released a sigh as he spoke. "So you two showed up afta' all."
Holley rolled forward, only slightly, smiling chastely. "I promised we would."
Mater didn't turn to look at them, not just yet. "Ah guess ya did," he muttered. There was a pause, then the churning of tires over dirt again, and the two spy cars were on either side of him, looking down at the valley as the tow truck was.
"It's beautiful here, Mater," Holley murmured.
"Very idyllic," Finn agreed in a clipped tone. Mater either didn't notice, or chose not to comment on it. He only nodded.
"The racers are comin' back," he finally said, just as the sound of several revving engines reached the trio. They all observed in silence as the race cars sped by, some even climbing the bowl like structure with their speed. A haze of pain clouded Mater's eyes, and lasted until they disappeared in the dust.
Holley took a deep breath. "Mater," she began softly, gently, as if not wanting to startle him, "We come here...with an offer."
The tow truck raised an eyelid, but didn't speak. Finn took it from there.
"As I'm sure you can imagine, your recent adventure with us has caught our higher-ups' attention," the Aston Martin's tone was…strange. It didn't sound friendly and charismatic like usual, but simple and proper, as if he were emotionlessly informing their superior of the total number of losses during a mission. "In short, we provide you the possibility of joining C.H.R.O.M.E."
This finally gauged a reaction from the tow truck, and he blinked, the information barely sinking in. even when Mater was devastated, he was still awful at hiding his emotions. "Join?" he stammered, also making eye contact for the first time that day. "Join you guys? An' go on missions an' stuff?"
Holley nodded. "Yes, Mater. And Ford knows that the agency could use a car like you."
The news didn't seem to have sunken in yet. "B-but, why me?" Mater stumbled, expression like that of a lost child.
"Our superiors heard of you, and both Miss Shiftwell and I gave our full reports of what happened on the mission," Finn informed him. "They decided that you would be the ideal chap for the job."
The tow truck bit his lower lip, hazel eyes uncertain. Holley felt her heart go out to him. She moved an inch closer to him. "Just think of it, Mater—you said yourself that you've always wanted to be a spy. And here's your chance, to make history… and make sure nothing like this happens to anyone else." She had certainly grasped his attention again, and the tow truck's wide eyes locked with hers.
"B-but…Radiator Springs! What about Sally, Flo, Sheriff, Lizzie, Doc, Lightnin'—Ah-Ah, kin't jist leave 'em!" Mater stumbled over his words, expression panicked and worrisome, and a painful knot formed in the base of Holley's tank as he mentioned his two deceased companions. He became quiet then.
And Mater remained silent, even when his gaze began wavering. He looked back towards the butte. Holley shared a look with her partner, before sending the rusted truck an encouraging smile. "It's all right, Mater," she assured softly. "You needn't decide now. There's plenty of time." The Jaguar wasn't allowed to continue on account of Siddeley's whining jet engines as he landed a good twenty feet away. Mater's eyes became frightened in that instant.
"You're leavin' already?" he murmured sorrowfully, worriedly.
"Duty calls, Sir Mater," Finn sighed, the first display of emotion Holley had seen from him since arriving.
"But we'll be back," Holley quickly reassured, giving the tow truck a smile that she hoped would calm him. "And if you ever need to get a hold of us, or if you change your mind, you have both of our numbers. Call anytime, Mater." The tow truck nodded slowly, indecision lacing his easily readable features.
"Ah...okay, Miss Holley," he said, rubbing a tire into the dirt. Holley seemed to want to say something more, but Finn shook his front end before she could do so. The Aston Martin began to make his way over the patiently waiting jet, while the younger car paused. After an instant's deliberation, she placed a kiss on the tow truck's bumper.
Mater's eyes instantly widened, and a faint blush spread across his frame, and he seemed to forget his despondent mood for a few seconds. He resumed rubbing his tire into the dirt, this time with embarrassment in his motions, and Holley smiled again.
"Remember, if you change your mind…." she turned and reserved then, heading for Siddeley. She felt the tow truck's eyes follow her, and something told her to go back and try to convince him further. But she didn't. and she left the disheartened tow truck where she'd found him, looking over his home, and trying to put the pieces of his life back together.
The last few moments of Lightning McQueen's life were nothing short of excruciating.
It had all happened to quickly—one minute he was ahead of the pack, on cloud nine, and the trophy within his grasp, when pain abruptly consumed him. He lost control, and engine was spouting flames. In those sparse seconds before darkness consumed him, he heard his own unsure comment about entering that day's race, his insensitivity towards Mater, who was utterly hapless and out of his element, and completely innocent, and then Fillmore's unconvinced caution towards using Allinol. He never told his best friend how sorry he was.
And then he hit the wall, and it was all over.
But…somehow not quite. The pain of gone, but Lightning floated in a strange state… somewhere in between, it felt. In the interminable blackness, he could only think. He didn't know how long had passed…he didn't even know if he had a body anymore, or if he was just a spirit, his mind and soul just floating around infinity forever. But then a bright light, the bright light, appeared, seemingly miles away. And then this light encompassed him too, and he could see himself again.
There was a sort of haze surrounding him though, like a veil had been thrown over his eyes, and so he didn't see the blue shape until it was only a few feet in front of him. A painfully familiar and gruff voice filled the emptiness.
"Well…I thought it'd be a while before I saw you here, kid."
And then the film was gone, and Doc stood before him. Lightning instantly moved backward. "D-Doc?" he stammered, before horrible realization dawned. "I'm dead, aren't I?"
The old Hudson Hornet nodded, if somewhat ruefully. "Yeah. I didn't think you'd join me for some time, though. But I guess life isn't that kind."
Lightning closed his eyes, subtly shaking his front end as if it would make this nightmare end. "But I-I can't be dead! What about Sally, Radiator Springs… Mater. I never- I never apologized to him! How am I gonna apologize if I'm—,"
"Quiet, hotshot," Doc groused, before looking to Lightning's left. "And look."
The younger race car turned accordingly, and stunningly, saw…Radiator Springs. "Wha...its home," he said, matter-of-factly. Just as he'd left it. The scene changed, and he saw Mater, looking down over the butte from the bowl like rim surrounding it.
"He knows, Lightning," the Hornet said, and the stock car's eyes flickered towards him. "He knows that you're sorry. And so do the others."
Lightning's gaze returned to the image, where his home was, his friends and family. "Will…will they be okay?" he finally asked, looking back towards his mentor.
"They will be. In time."
And thus the portal closed.
A month had passed, and Holley was back at her office in C.H.R.O.M.E., the diagnostics department, picking up a few final items before her desk was completely cleaned out, and preparing for relocation into the field agent division. That was when her telephone rang.
A perturbed look crossing her features, the Jaguar answered, even if the number was foreign to her. "Hello?" she answered, voice tinged with caution. A warm feeling bubbled in her engine at the familiar southern accent on the other end.
"Heya, Miss Holley. Ah was meanin' ta' ask if yer offer was still standin'."
A/N: In reference to the second to last section of this chapter, I don't believe in a heaven, per say, but I do believe that there's a place where the soul goes to after one passes away.
And anyway, that's it! I hope no one was too out of character, and that you all enjoyed this story. Please leave a review, and special thanks to everyone who did so before :D You're all awesome people