Author notes: I totally blame tanaquisga for this. Which is only fair, since she blames me for her 3.07 ficlet Fixed Up that in turn inspired this story. She also provided a wonderful beta and helped me fix the ending, so it's all good... :-) Remaining mistakes are all mine. Also, I know absolutely zip about cars or how they work... Title based on Crazy Circles by Bad Company.

Leavin’ Shadows For Behind

Sam lost the race against time. And his brother.

Though not for lack of trying. Up to the last minute, Sam searched for a way, scouring libraries and antique stores all over the country for ancient texts and manuscripts that might hold an answer. He questioned anthropology professors and old priests, hounded Bobby and Ellen and any other hunter he could think of, ever seeking for that single loophole that would set Dean free.

He even offered Bela free run of the contents of John’s lock-up in New York if she could offer a solution. He wasn’t sorry for it, either, though Dean chewed him a new one when he found out.

But it was all to no avail. One year to the day after Sam’s resurrection, Dean died. And that was counting February’s leap day.

Dean died with his brother’s name on his lips—a whispered “Sammy…”—and Sam never knew if it was meant to be an apology or a final, desperate plea for help. He hoped for the first, unneeded as it was, but, alone in his nightmares, believed it was the latter.

He and Bobby built a pyre in the yard behind Bobby’s house, where they salted and burned Dean’s body. Ellen came, and Bela, which Sam thought so out of character he considered dousing her with holy water before she made it ten feet into the yard. Even Jo drove down from Duluth. She stayed at the edge of the flickering circle of light cast by the flames, avoiding Sam’s eyes, and the sight of her, so small and pale, broke his heart all over again.

At least Ruby had the good sense to stay away.

Afterward, Sam drank himself in a stupor that lasted three days before Bobby sobered him up enough to pour some strong coffee and a little bit of good sense back into him.

Two days after that, Sam turned his back on Bobby Singer’s Auto Salvage Yard, driving the Impala straight out of the gate under the moonless sky of a South Dakota summer’s night without so much as a goodbye.

Just like Dean had predicted, Sam kept on hunting. He wasn’t sure if it was out of a need for revenge on whatever supernatural being he could lay his hands on, or if it was his way to stay as close to Dean and Dad as he could—a longing so at odds with how it had once been when they were still alive and all Sam could think of was to get away from hunting.

Or maybe he did it because he knew he could never return to the life he had before, could never pretend to be normal again, in the way he’d tried to before Dean came to pick him up from Stanford three years ago. But no matter how many evil things he killed, or how many innocent people he saved, their gratitude did little to banish the loneliness of endless highways, the utter silence of empty motel rooms, or the sorrow at failing to keep the one promise that truly mattered. A sorrow that constantly bore down on him.

To the car, it didn’t matter it was no longer Dean that sat behind the wheel; she carried Sam faithfully wherever he wished to go, just like she’d done for every Winchester for decades. He crisscrossed the forty-eight states of the US continent; once he even made it all the way up to Alaska, where he killed a possessed grizzly bear that had already shredded half a dozen tourists and two park rangers before Sam caught wind of the hunt. The long drives never bothered him; he found a smidgen of solace in the familiar grumble of the engine, the soothing hum of the wheels on the blacktop, the soft, worn leather of the seats beneath him. After all, the Impala was the only true home he’d ever had.

Sometimes, at night, when he was exhausted to the point of collapse with lack of sleep, or near-delirious from blood loss because there was nobody to stitch up his injuries unless he got himself to a hospital, Sam thought he caught a whiff of Dean’s cologne. On those occasions, if he closed his eyes, he could picture his brother in the seat next to him, bitching about Sam’s driving or his choice of music. Because driver picks the music, after all.

After he nearly wrapped the car around a tree during one such incident, Sam decided that any smell he detected was Dean’s scent seeped into the porous leather of the old seats, because his brother’d spent so much of his life behind the wheel, and that the rest was his stupid imagination.

True to promise, Sam kept the Chevy in tiptop shape, though after Dean was gone, he never dared work on her again. He’d go to Bobby whenever the engine developed a worrisome rattle or she seemed to drag to the left. And if Bobby’s was too far away, he’d find a local mechanic, looking long enough until he found someone who all but drooled over the chance to work on an American classic instead of cheap imports from Japan and Korea.

Until one night, more than two years after Dean’s bill came due, the Impala decided to break down.

It was a cold, bleak night in December, shortly before Christmas. The temperature had dropped so far below freezing that it seeped all moisture right out of the air. Far from civilization, with no hindrance from artificial light to dim them to the point of non-existence, millions of stars twinkled overhead, reflecting off the snow on the ground and illuminating the night gloom with a soft silver glow.

Sam had no eyes for the beauty of the winter’s eve. The road was icy, the wheels threatened to slip on a frighteningly regular basis, and he was dead tired and in agony. His neck stung where fangs had grazed his skin, his ankle throbbed from a hard kick he’d failed to avoid, and his left hand was a mass of fiery blisters.

He was lucky to be alive.

Shortly before sunset, he’d gone to lop off the heads of some vampires holed up in a shed near Gordon, Nebraska—and wasn’t that ironic?—but the body count in the nest had been a bit higher than he’d estimated. So Sam resorted to plan B, torching the place with most of the vampires still inside. The entire interior of the car reeked of blood and smoke and burned flesh and skin. But at least he’d gotten the job done; those vamps would no longer terrorize the nearby communities and people could live without the fear of ending up as snack food.

Once upon a time, that thought would’ve given Sam the deep satisfaction of a job well done. As it was, he just longed to return to his drafty motel room, down a handful of Tylenol and sink into a coma.

But the Impala had other ideas. Abruptly, without warning, she hiccuped, startling Sam from the half-doze he’d sunk into even while driving. The car hitched again; a death-rattle sounded under the hood; and the engine died. The car rolled to a stop on the shoulder.

For a long minute, Sam just sat there shocked, staring out at naked farmlands lit up yellow in the glow of the headlights. He turned the ignition, but the engine simply coughed and refused to take.

Muttering below his breath, Sam crawled from the seat, swearing more loudly once the frigid air hit him. He got a flashlight, raised the hood and peered into the compartment. He cautiously tapped the carburetor, tried several of the bolts, tugged gently on some of the wiring to see if anything had come loose. He struggled to recall the things about the engine that Dean had tried to teach him, in those final months running up to the end. But truth was, although Sam had faithfully paid attention to whatever Dean was telling him, had applied the same diligence to those auto shop lessons as he once had to his history and philosophy classes at Stanford, he’d never been as skilled with his hands as his brother, who could build a tazer to take out a rawhead from cannibalized coffee maker parts.

Truth was, Sam had no clue how to fix the car.

He knew he was in no condition to walk the eight or so miles to the next town, and although he wasn’t far from South Dakota, it would do him no good to call Bobby either. Without the heater running, he’d freeze to death before Bobby could make it down with the tow truck.

For one endless moment, Sam considered doing just that: sitting in the car and waiting for Death to come take him. At least the pain would finally end, and he’d know peace at last.

“C’mon, little brother. Never knew you for a quitter.”

Sam started, and swirled around. There was nobody. But for an instant, Sam could swear Dean was standing right there, lips quirked in wry humor even as concern showed in his eyes, and all he had to do was reach out to touch his brother.

“Dean?”

Dammit, he knew better than this! But apparently the endorphins being pumped into his system to dull the pain in his hand didn’t mix well with bone-deep weariness. Or perhaps he was suffering from hypothermia already…

“Pay attention, Sammy. This is important. Might save your life some time.” The voice was as clear to Sam as if Dean were indeed standing beside him. Despite himself, Sam squared his shoulders and bent further over the engine.

“Remember what I told you. This is the valve cover. And that’s the intake manifold…”

Tears welled in Sam’s eyes. They made it difficult to see what his hands were doing. But Sam never noticed. He simply reached into the engine compartment, no longer thinking, but letting Dean’s voice guide him instead.

Later, he was never able to repeat what he’d done to the car, although Bobby said that one of the cylinders was shot, and that he shouldn’t have been able to get her running even another mile. Sam shrugged at the old hunter’s grumbling. But he’d discovered something that night, freezing his ass off by the side of a country road in Nebraska with no living soul within miles.

Sam had learned he’d never be truly alone.

***

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  1. Mandy
    Posted March 21, 2008 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

    OMG…*Sobs* That was so…so wonderful…

    Thank you!!!

    *Clings*

    *hugs*

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