This is a companion piece to my story "Five Jobs Dean Winchester Never Had...But Kinda Did." Though each can stand alone, this story grew out of that one. This originally appeared in Road Trip with My Brother 10. Thanks to everyone who made that zine possible.
And, as always, thanks to those who've reviewed or favorited my stories—it keeps me posting. I hope you'll let me know what you think of this one!
His Most Important Job
Dean stood outside the combined gas station/mini-mart, giving the Impala's hood one last swipe with the soft cloth he'd been using to buff out the blemish marring her perfection. Stupid kids and their shaving cream.
He'd sent Sam inside while he worked, with orders to buy some provisions so they could drive straight through to their next hunt. At least the weather was holding; it was a beautiful day—sunny with a blustery breeze and big, puffy clouds floating across a clear blue sky.
Dean heard a low whistle behind him and turned to find an older man with silver hair that had faded to snow white in places. He looked distinguished, despite his casual outfit of jeans and a striped blue denim shirt. The man was eyeing the Impala with appreciation. "She yours?" he asked, his tone a mixture of awe and envy.
"Yep." Dean felt his chest puff out like a proud papa's at the man's obvious admiration of his baby.
The older man held out a hand. "Name's Peter, by the way."
Dean took the proffered hand, noting the firm grip with approval. He nodded in acknowledgment of the introduction. "Dean," he responded in kind.
Peter gestured toward the Impala. "Don't find 'em much in this kinda shape anymore," he lamented. "Usually when you see a classic like this, they're covered in rust and up on blocks."
Dean was horrified at the very idea and let it show on his face. "Won't find any rust here," he assured.
"No, I can see that. She looks brand new," the man said, raising a brow in question.
"Completely restored. Runs like a dream," Dean boasted. "Here, look at this." He reached into the car and popped the hood, then propped it up on the stand so Peter could see inside.
He spent the next few minutes detailing the Impala's specs and the care he always took to use only original parts when working on her. He pointed out improvements he'd made during the rebuild, and finally finished off with, "Just listen to this!"
Enthusiastically, Dean got into the car and started her up, revved the engine, and let the stranger hear her throaty rumble. After a minute, Dean shut her off and slid from behind the driver's seat, taking pleasure in the other man's impressed look.
"She's a beaut," the older man said reverently. "You restore classic cars much?"
"When the mood hits," Dean returned easily. It was nice to be able to tell the truth about something he loved to do. Not only had he rebuilt the Impala, he'd also helped Bobby rebuild the Chevelle he often drove. The work suited him, satisfied something deep inside. "Rebuilt this one from the ground up," he said, feeling again the rush of the achievement. He ran a loving hand along her satiny smooth flank.
"You a mechanic?" Peter asked, one eyebrow raised as if to say Dean looked too young to have such skill.
"My dad had his own shop," Dean inexplicably found himself explaining. "Picked up a lot from him."
"Had?" Peter questioned gently, picking up on the past tense.
"He…passed." Dean forced the word out around the sudden lump in his throat, feeling like he'd swallowed jagged glass. He couldn't believe he'd mentioned his dad in passing like that. Sure, it'd been months since he'd died, but his death was still a gaping wound for Dean, made worse by the knowledge of where his father was, and why. He felt his throat working and the bite of tears at the backs of his eyes as the familiar pit in his stomach flared to life.
"I'm sorry to hear it," the other man offered quietly, not saying more. His gaze was compassionate and Dean shifted uncomfortably under its weight. He just hoped the old guy wasn't going to ask him how he felt or anything. But Peter just stood for a few minutes, seeming to understand that Dean's grief was still fresh, his feelings raw. He waited, giving Dean a chance to talk if he wanted to or to pull himself together if he didn't.
When it was clear Dean wasn't going to share any more, Peter nodded and set about changing the subject. He walked around the Impala, occasionally crouching down to see her from all angles, casting an admiring gaze at her sleek lines, freshly washed and waxed paint job, and gleaming chrome. He came back to stand next to Dean, looking pensive for a moment before he ventured hopefully, "Sure could use a good man like you. I've got a classic of my own needs a little tender lovin' care—a '69 Mustang Mach I. Candy apple red. Looks like you're just the man for the job."
Dean felt a moment of real longing. He could suddenly picture it—staying there, settling in, rebuilding this man's car. Ditching the job, forgetting about his dad's last words, about what he'd told Dean he might have to do. It was appealing, the idea of him and Sammy staying there, just being brothers. Having nothing more pressing to do each day than fit together the pieces of an old classic like a giant puzzle…spending his days covered in engine oil, rather than gunpowder residue. Dean always found the mechanic work soothed him—reminded him of time spent with his dad growing up, learning the ropes. Now that John was gone, those memories were more precious than ever.
When he worked on the car, Dean felt close to his dad again—more than he ever did when hunting. They'd usually split up during a hunt, but they'd always worked on the car together. It was the one normal father-son thing they had done, even before the fire. Dean had vague, hazy memories of watching his dad work on cars at his garage when he'd been barely big enough to lift the tools John would have him get from the toolbox. It was during those times that his dad had taught Dean about all kinds of things, about life.
Later, when Dean had known the mechanics as well as, if not better than, John himself, they'd used that quiet time maintaining the Impala to connect as father and son: touching base on hunts they'd worked, going over possible cases, discussing the few friends the Winchesters had—what Pastor Jim had been up to last time John had swung by or what new theory Caleb had cooked up; what arcane text Bobby had unearthed and was working to translate. Dean could still picture his dad's hands coated in grease and grime as he pulled out a part they were trying to replace. Hands that worked steadily, easily, as familiar with bearings and spark plugs and pistons as with bore brushes and firing pins and shotgun shells. Could still hear, if he concentrated hard enough, the low murmur of his dad's voice as they hammered out a dent some creature had left in the Impala's body. It had never been the words that were important; it was the companionship. Sometimes they had been quiet and serious; sometimes they'd talked and laughed just like any other father and son.
Though he would never admit it, Dean had occasionally feigned ignorance on car repairs, claiming he needed help with something that, if he was honest, he would've admitted he could do in his sleep—just to get some time alone with his dad. John must've suspected, but he had never called Dean on it. Dean liked to think it was because that time together had meant as much to his dad as it had always meant to him.
So, yeah—the idea of staying there, making a life doing work that he loved, keeping both himself and Sam far from anything that might prove his dad's final words to be true—it was appealing. The image of the life they could have, a peaceful life away from demons and death and destruction, tugged at Dean. But he knew Sam would never go for it. Not now, not anymore. The kid had already flat turned him down when he'd suggested they so much as take a break to regroup.
Dean realized Peter was still waiting for an answer and had to look away from the other man's hopeful gaze. "Sorry, sir," he said with genuine regret. "I'm here with my brother. We're just passin' through." He closed the hood, wincing as it seemed to carry an air of finality.
"Ah, road trip, eh?" the man asked knowingly.
"Somethin' like that," Dean affirmed.
Peter let out a sigh of heavy disappointment. "Well, guess I can understand that. You're only young once. But, hey, you ever come back through this way…" he pulled out a business card and held it out, "give me a call. I'll let you take a look at my baby."
Dean grinned, glancing at the business card before tucking it into his front pocket. "Yes, sir, I'll do that." He was surprised to find that he meant it.
"See that you do," Peter ordered kindly. Then his face lit up with a smile. "Maybe we could put the girls through their paces, see who measures up."
"Nah, I'd hate to break an old man's heart," Dean said with a cocky smirk.
The older man burst out laughing at that. "I like your style, son."
Dean managed to bid Peter an amiable goodbye despite the pang he felt at the moniker. He hadn't been called "son"—hadn't been a son—in months now. It suddenly struck him anew that he would never be a son again. He and Sammy were orphans now. Alone in the world, just the two of them. Dean felt suddenly lost, adrift—a ship without anchor.
He instinctively looked toward the door of the mini-mart, hoping to see Sam's lanky form coming out. As if summoned by his need, Dean's shaggy-haired kid brother exited the store, bells twinkling in his wake. Something in Dean's chest loosened at the sight of him. He wasn't completely alone; there was still someone who could keep him grounded, after all. That was something…everything.
He may not be a son anymore, but he was still a brother.
Dean wiped his dirty hands on the shop rag he'd stowed in his back pocket earlier and watched his brother's approach. Sam came ambling over, leaning in the open car window to deposit the brown bag filled with purchases on the seat, before turning back to his big brother. "What was that all about?" he asked curiously, having seen the man talking to Dean. He'd obviously seen enough not to be concerned, but, as always, his insatiable curiosity had kicked in.
Dean just shrugged. "He wanted me to take a look at a classic car he needs rebuilt," he said nonchalantly. He omitted the part about how tempted he'd been to take the man up on his offer.
"What'd you tell him?" Sam asked, brow creased as if he'd picked up an undercurrent of something unsettling in Dean's tone.
Dean finished up with the car and collected his gear to stuff back into the trunk. He stowed everything back in its usual spot, not looking at Sam. His little brother watched him closely these days, a seemingly unending well of worry over how Dean was dealing with the aftermath of their dad's deal and the knowledge that he'd gone to Hell to save his oldest son. Sam's eyes saw too much and Dean didn't know what might be lingering in his own eyes just then. Best not to chance it.
He raised one shoulder in a half-shrug, in response to Sam's question. "Told 'im the truth—I'm on a road trip with m'brother and we're just passin' through." Dean stared in the direction Peter had gone for a minute, pensive, trunk lid open before him. The image of settling down somewhere—leaving the hunt, putting his dad's final words behind them—beckoned again with surprising strength.
If he'd been asked years ago, Dean never would've imagined he'd come to a day when he'd want to leave hunting, when he'd be tempted by a normal life. Saving people, hunting things? It was the only life he could really remember, the only life he'd ever dared imagine for himself. But between his dad's sacrifice and the looming weight of his final order, coupled with the promise Sam had forced on him weeks earlier, that day had come all too soon. If given the choice now, he'd leave it all in a heartbeat—if he could only take Sammy with him. But he knew Sam would never go.
Dean had a moment of startling insight and wondered if this was what Sam had felt all those years earlier, when he'd decided to leave Dean and John to go to school. Of course in the end, Sam had chosen a life free of hunting over the people he'd be leaving behind. That was a choice Dean couldn't—wouldn't—make. He wouldn't leave Sam to this life alone, with no one to watch his back—just like he hadn't been able to leave his dad to it when the temptation to follow Sam to school had beckoned.
Sam bumped Dean's shoulder lightly with his own, trying to jar him out of wherever his thoughts had taken him. He, too, looked in the direction the older man had gone. "You—You didn't want to stay, did you?" he asked tentatively. "Take him up on his offer?" He regarded his brother with concerned eyes.
"Nah," Dean denied, knowing there was no way he'd convince his little brother to leave the hunt. Last time he'd suggested it, Sam had run off on him in the middle of the night. He wasn't risking that again.
Dean slammed the trunk shut and made his way to the driver's side door. "Besides," he smirked at Sam over the roof of the car, "can't have my baby gettin' jealous, thinkin' I'm cheatin' on her." He patted her roof lovingly to the accompaniment of Sam's huffing snort and muttered, "Get a room, man," then slid inside, the leather welcoming him into the only real home he could ever really remember having.
Yeah, the temptation to stay was there, but this—his brother, the Impala, the road—this was where Dean truly belonged. Besides, someone needed to have the kid's back—and protecting Sammy, being a big brother? It had always been his most important job.