Title: Beauty I
Genre: gen, stream of consciousness
Characters: Dean (POV), the Impala, Sam
Word Count: ~3700
Rating: thematic R
Warnings: because the fic itself is gen, warning for brief m/m insinuations; trigger warning for extensive imagination of suicide
Summary: What to do when you might be beyond salvage, and how to tell your brother.
Notes: 10x05 "Fan Fiction" tag, slightly inflected with 3x10 "Dream a Little Dream of Me" and 10x07 "Girls, Girls, Girls." It also fills my spnspiration bingo squares for "future tense" and "non-linearity." Serves as prequel to Beauty II, which is a short 10x06 tag.
Dean doesn't end up outside that morning for good reasons. But in later tellings--for instance, to Sam, three hours from now, just after Dean finds the story about the missing teacher in Flint, Michigan--Dean will make it innocent.
Sam's asleep now. Dean feels like that hasn't happened in a long time. They've been living closer than they have in a while--single motel rooms like old times, which unlike the bunker have no space to spread--and he's noticed that Sam, as casually as possible, has not been going to bed until he's sure Dean has. And except for today, he's been awake when Dean's awake. But apparently, the pattern's unsustainable. Even so, Sam's watchfulness might be the reason Dean's ambitions for the morning reduce to wiping down the car.
Dean takes his sleeve to her and scrubs at the splotchy welter of dust and grime that coats her like a rash. The rain out west has scored its storms and evaporations onto her, and the mud's caked paint-like up on her fenders. He hears, or imagines he can hear, the sandy skritch of flannel against dirt against lacquer. In bare sunlight, he imagines he'll be able to see all the little damages he's inflicting with this.
Sam is asleep.
And anyway that's all vanity, and Dean's told more than a few people that she's not that kind of car. He'd tell it again, if there were anyone around to hear him. But like Sam, the rest of the world is asleep.
Dean opts not to take advantage of the emptiness.
He's just outside, he decides, for a little fresh air. It's all those suicide wings still working their way through his system, all that tequila. He feels like shit. He's chosen to believe that's why. He figures that in some modicum of honesty, it's true; among the many demon things Sam could not cure, the shit Dean pulled on his own damn liver is one of them. He wants to say he's never felt this fucked up before, but that's probably not true.
Still, quantification loses its luster after you pass a certain threshold, so maybe it doesn't matter if it's true or not. After that certain threshold, truth, cause, all the big headliners--they all go fuck themselves.
In roughly twenty-seven hours, Dean will tell his story to an eighteen-year old girl who's in love with the idea of his brother. In this story, which is itself a threshold, there will be no sense of causality, no reaction, no retrospection. Dean will tell the bare events, and he will end with the part where he becomes a knight of Hell. He still won't be convinced they've written beyond that. He's certainly not convinced now.
The mosquito lights in the parking lot are dim and ruddy, but the moon's out, and so is the haze of the city in the distance. Dean wipes the Impala down until she shines in the darkness, in broad straight strokes that follow the line of her. With a body like hers, its hard to get it nice like that; and in the daylight, this probably all still looks like shit. A part of him wants to rev her up and re-park her, just to see what she looks like under a new angle of bad light.
But if he gets into her now, he won't be able to keep himself from leaving. And Sam is asleep.
Dean's been told people paint their cars black to see color. He heard it first from a guy outside Gallup, just past the last of New Mexico, and the last of January. It had been--shit--over a decade ago now. He'd been drinking tequila toasts to himself--happy birthday--and when he got to a gas station he'd forgot what he'd actually come for. Ended up out of gas and shit outta luck, sick-drunk and, quite literally, desert captive to this one talkative Gallup fucker. (Sam doesn't know this, but while Sam was at school, there'd been long, barren stretches where Dean hadn't actually hunted much. It had taken him a while to realize why Dad wasn't trusting him with work. Dean would have appreciated a hint.)
They got that mirror quality to them, you know? said the Gallup fucker, who'd been brown and stupidly tall. Dean remembers he left his prints on the hood while he did all his talking about mirrors, the bastard.
You can see the sky all round around the fenders and watch the desert stretch out and move when you come up to her. The black, it lets you see things clear, you know? he said.
Dean knows he slurred something back about this, like she ain't that kind of car, she ain't for show, she she she. Then there was something that involved Dean acquiring gas money. The how of that hadn't mattered to him then and, he figures, matters even less now. But the guy, he'd wanted a ride, and somewhere between Dean picking his ass up off the gravel of the parking lot and having his Levi's serve as dust rag to the Impala (Gallup guy's mouth over Dean's and his hands at Dean's hips), they agreed that Dean would take him to St. Louis for eighty bucks and change.
I'm headed to California, Dean had said.
Why? asked the Gallup guy. There ain't shit out there.
There's some shit out there, said Dean.
Well, what're your thoughts on Missouri instead?
Sure, said Dean, and let the dream of the 40-West fade from his mind. A thousand miles was a thousand miles, no matter the direction, wasn't it? But he'd been heading west to save himself, he's pretty sure.
For the low, low price of abandoning this project--and almost eighteen hours of straight shop-talk; black paint and primer; sandpaper in 80, 120, even 800 or 1200 grit; microfiber cloth--Dean earned his gas money.
Tequila comes from blue agave, you know? said the Gallup guy, in one of the rare moments he wasn't about paint. And no, Dean did not know. Regardless of where it came from, Dean had been pretty sure all the tequila in the world was sloshing around in his head. Not enough to keep him off the road--not in bumfuck Arizona, anyway--but enough that maybe someone should have stopped him.
But no one did, and on this own, eventually Dean spiraled from wasted to merely hungover, and then to sober and starving. It's not until after all that Dean even began to think about crashing. He wasn't drunk then.
Agave guy--because that's what he became, once they'd put enough sand between them and Gallup that his old nick just wouldn't stick--started talking about agave plants, and pointing them out as Dean whisked the Impala past them.
They'd been these scruffy desert things, Dean remembers, with razor leaves straight out of Jurassic Park. Some of them had had these big-ass stalks protruding from their hairy bottoms, and they'd looked like dicks growing in the desert. Agave guy made a joke about that.
And fuck if Dean could tell you why, then or now, but that's the moment he'd almost torn the car from the tarmac and let the agave take all three of them.
He'd been twenty-three. No, twenty-four.
He'd been thinking about going to see Sam, taking a roadtrip out to Cali--hence Arizona. He'd been thinking about going to Sam.
But in that moment he'd also been serious enough about the Impala versus these dick plants that he could imagine vividly the warp of her metal, mangled and shimmering in the desert heat; the woody crack of the agave, its tumbling downward onto their bodies; their bodies, his and the other guy's, folded into the steel and burning--choking on the smoky remains of a totaled engine block. That afternoon, Dean keeps the car on the road and instead of dead-ending in that desert or driving out to Stanford, he ends up on the other side of the country in New York. The guy--he's a race wars fan; nine generations of car buffs, proud mestizo; he's an innocent man, he'd have made an innocent victim if Dean had--
The guy rides with him all the way to St. Louis. He never once realizes how lucky he is to make it there. Amiably, he gives Dean his card--he owns a body and detail shop in Kansas City, which is neither St. Louis nor Gallup. Dean wonders what the fuck the guy's been doing out here.
Dean wonders what the fuck he's doing out here.
Dean keeps east.
His new hitchhiker, death, sticks with him. And what Dean does in Nyack and what he didn't in that desert probably would have felt about the same, were it possible to live them both. Of course, it's some ten years later and now Dean realizes it is; this year he's been stabbed through the heart and he's been reunited with Trenton Jr. and his arm is still scarred with all Sam's needle pricks. It's possible to live both, and both again. This realization takes the fear out of him when he imagines being able to live neither, living nothing ever again. He's thirty-five.
It's more than paint, he thinks.
There's a shimmy to her when he drives her now. She's had it a while; but for the first six weeks, he'd liked it. It rattled his blood and the scream of it, the buzz of his knuckles draped lazy against the crest of the steering wheel, sang like a violent prelude. He'd liked the idea of her crying, and he'd wanted her to hurt. Now she lists right, and so runs the tires a little harder on that side. They're gonna go bald.
Dean punches out a knot in his arm. His skin feels tight, though the mark itself is fading pale. Or it's becoming; the look of it is so much less alien than it had been six months ago. It's becoming part of him.
He shakes his head. (Imaginary flies.)
It'd be nice to get her up on blocks, Dean thinks. Nudge everything back into alignment. He'd start with her front bearings and work his way up and back and he'd chuck out all her cracked separators, her pitted rollers. He'd clean her out and all her insides would be new and strong and cherry. For a moment, Dean loses himself to a fantasy of cotter pins and bearing cups.
He can't do any of that here, though.
He creaks her hood up, just to have her in his hands. Could do with realigning, too, he figures. So he rounds around to her back and when he returns to the hood he scribes around the left hinge plate, cap in his mouth. He loosens her up with a screwdriver. Then, ever so slightly, Dean nudges. It's just a sliver of a change, but damn if it doesn't feel good. He rubs at the gnarl of coagulated grease and dust that's slicking up around her battery, and frowns.
In about thirty-six hours, Dean will sail into a skeleton of untreated plywood so hard the splinters will bind themselves right into the weave of his jacket. It will be harder than Dean will admit to get back up from that.
The Impala's running a 427, and has been since 2011--a final parting gift from Bobby's salvage yard. Like everything in the yard, the engine's of dubious origins. It's never quite sat right with Dean; and he's convinced that all that time spent hidden in the bush did no part of the Impala any favors. Sam and Texas (and the damn dog) hadn't, either. But mostly, he thinks, it's him. It's what he's doing.
He toys briefly with the idea of taking her back to factory setting, letting her slow and cool, and live a little longer, maybe. But thinking about her longevity scares him, and anyway that's not the life they've chosen. Or it's not the life they have, anyway.
This is what she has.
And Alejo, that was his name. The agave guy from the desert was Alejo. There's a Cuban poet with his same initials, he'd said at some point. Suddenly the memory is bright and clear, distinct from the haze of the last few years but a lot like the vivid, demonic Technicolor of the last few months. (Not counting, of course, their recent stint in Washington, which aside from the werewolves Dean recalls so little of he really thought he'd broken something for good.) In any case, Dean's always had a good head for signs and sigils, and he remembers Alejo tracing his initials down his neck--first fingers, then tongue.
He and Sam have theirs carved into the Impala. If he fixed her up, he wouldn't fuck with that, of course. But now that the idea of an overhaul's bounced toward him, it's in his hands and then warm against his stomach. A frenetic, hopeful energy. He doesn't want to erase what cannot be erased or forget what shouldn't be forgotten, but he realizes, he does want to relearn her. He wants to take stock of her pieces and trade out the blistered rot. He wants to take her home. He wants, he realizes. He really wants. And it could take days to get back to the bunker from here.
He hasn't really thought about days, plural, in a while. It just hasn't been that kind of year. And hell, the only calendar he's ever kept reliably is the one that waits for other shoes dropping. Just realistically speaking. The thought of days, plural, is almost intoxicating.
Dean wipes at her spark plugs with the too-long sleeves of his shirt (Sam's shirt? oh, fuck it, whatever), makes a studied mess of wires and cables. He'd make a terrible mechanic; he really only knows this one car. But he can hi-jack just about anything older than he is, so that's gotta count for something. And in the vast expanse of things Dean does not know, and will not ever, he knows this car.
He shrugs his shirt off entirely--and it is Sam's shirt, he realizes--when maybe his sleeplessness catches up with him and he feels a cross-eyed headache beginning in his skull. He feels like shit, and it's stupid, but it's like he finally realizes he doesn't want to.
The cool air feels good.
Before dropping the shirt to the ground, he fumbles for a pocket and feels past the screwdriver and the scriber for the compression gauge. There's not much more he can do today, not for her engine, but he's curious. He wants to see.
Compression's a little low. He cranks the engine a few more times, but something's burnt, or not seating. What Dean imagines vibrantly before him takes the form of engine oil and brand new gaskets, pumping steel and bright red, arterial wires. His body heady with the smell of new rubber and old grease, the musty stone smell of the bunker's garage. That garage is the first space they've had since the salvage yard, and this is the first Dean's thought about care in a long damn time. Sometimes your brother's dying and sometimes you're saving-killing him; whenever that's the case, other things tend to fall away. Not that that's personal experience talking or anything.
He's interested now, though. He's hungry for it, even, and his hands ache for it, and his creeping headache--that's his brain kicking into gear, imagining spans of time. A week--weeks, even--made of hours he will fill. Hunched over the heart of her, Dean makes lines with the Impala. The broad angle of his back and the planes of his shoulders fit organic into her whitespace. The motel, in his peripheral vision, streamlines with them, too. Its exposed beams stand tall. It's a geometry of belonging.
That will all be gone in twelve hours, when he and Sam will step into a school auditorium and their whole damn life will blare in surround sound, set to show tunes. You know, as it does. To Dean, it will feel like being caught naked, and then it will feel like being used. But somewhere between the start of the nightmare and the thrill of its curtain call, it will also feel like being hailed. That whole ordeal will mean there's a troupe of people who know their whole story, after all. His and Sam's. Twenty girls in southeast Michigan doesn't mean a whole lot to Dean, and celebrity means even less, but tomorrow, he will think about Sam a lot. Sam, harmonized. And piano music.
Initially, Dean will feel a desperate relief that these girls only know so much, because it's all downhill from there. It will be like being saved at the twenty-yard line when he finds that according to them, the worst he's ever done is fall in love with Lisa. (And they have no idea what else he almost did that year.)
He will have no idea why this compels him to offer them a sequel. The sequel will be brittle in the telling, even more stunted and skeletal than Chuck's, because Dean for the life of him can't do any better. The girl he tells will laugh. And it will be appropriate somehow, her laughter. It will feel like that's the only real thing to do about it.
Mainly, what Dean will think about a day from now, or two, is that aside from the girls, it's Sam who knows Dean's whole story. Or more than plenty, in any case. Dean's story has come out and onto Sam in a big, messy conflagration that Dean's sure can't help but make him wonder, gasping, How could there possibly be more? How is there more than the shit I know already?
Maybe there isn't. Dean won't remember half of the stuff those girls fit into that play, even though he lived it--and that's well before the space robots get introduced. The girls will know all their scenes by heart, though, and Dean's life will mean more to them than it does to him. And when he thinks about his life, and what it means to Sam in turn, he'll feel guilty--for all the usual reasons, obviously, plus a few extra. He's not sure if he can change any of that, and tomorrow he'll be no more sure.
But this morning, in his parking lot, Dean feels good. In the dry air and the coming heat, small cuts shave his knuckles and one's split the pad of his thumb, and he feels good. He grabs a local paper to wipe his hands down with (the shirt, after all, is Sam's, even if it's a little too late to keep from doing damage). They'll head back to Kansas and Dean will get under the car. He'll see about her engine. The day, this plan, they both feel awesome until Dean remembers to be afraid of that. "Good" ain't exactly bomb shelter material, and if you're not mindful of the expiration dates, it'll screw you. Dean's familiar with the ebb and flow.
Every time good rolled around, he used to think--at first paranoiacally and now, he's very sure, honestly--that this might be the last good run. This could be it.
He's not sure if he can change that about himself.
He kneads his headache and punches out his arm again and thinks, he probably shouldn't. But fuck "should"; as usual, fuck "should." He may not be able to change a damn thing but that don't mean he needs to toe any of it. He opens the newspaper and, acutely aware of the throb of his blood through his skull, starts scanning. It's the expertise of thirty years in business that finds the missing teacher in Flint, Michigan. It only takes a minute.
He still wants to tune the car. She has work for him that should have been done years ago. But so does Flint, Michigan and it's just--
It's hard not to waste the future when you have it.
Dean finds a real rag when he goes to throw Sam's shirt to the back of the trunk, and resolves to keep wiping the car down until Sam wakes up. Hers is not a mirror kind of black, and Dean knows there's spider cracks. But his headache is such that he's willing not to focus too hard on the details.
She's made for more than show; she's gonna have cracks.
Dean might wake up tomorrow looking to die; it's happened, and will happen again. But then, dangerous gig, meet obvious finale: Often enough, death is a circumstance with no assembly required. Either way, it's not his choice. Dean's not in control of this the way he is not in control of so many things. And he'll just have to live with all of that. (Until, one day, he doesn't.)
This, though, is something Dean can choose: He's going to tune the car. He's going to build her back from the ground up. He'll erase her wear but not her scars. He will make her strong and beautiful. She will be beautiful again. And he knows that, ten minutes later, when he flops a newspaper down in front of a bleary, early morning Sam--disappeared teacher; an all girls' school in Flint, Michigan; boom--that he's driving them in the wrong direction. That maybe this will spiral outward, they'll lose orbit and this time, there will be no coming back. But Sam fills shotgun, and in the Impala they skate up Michigan, past pale, full water towers and peeling billboards. They pass Detroit. And Dean explains to Sam, he'd like to do an engine tune-up on the Impala; maybe a total overhaul, he's not sure yet. Switch out the brittle wiring to her spark plugs and figure out what the deal is with her cylinder compression. He wants to realign her front suspension, tweak her shocks and maybe do something about the molding around her grille, because there's something really fucking weird about it right now and Dean's not sure what. He's babbling, he's certain, but Sam doesn't object. Sam, swiping through his phone, intones wordless, comfortably inattentive approval. Dean glances over at Sam, so quick and so short that in his mind, Sam transposes with the road ahead. Sam's smiling.
What're you looking at? Dean wants to ask Sam, but it doesn't matter. It's just some Internet thing. Sam's smiling. Dean dreams the future.
"Spark plugs and shock absorbers, Dean. I heard you," says Sam. Sam's smiling.
Dean dreams the future.