No infringement is intended of copyright or other property interests in Supernatural and its characters held by Eric Kripke, Warner Brothers Television, and Wonderland Sound & Vision.
This series of vignettes (I can’t honestly dignify it as a story) was inspired by my absolute disagreement with the origin of the Impala as described in the Supernatural: Origins comic book. Sorry, Peter Johnson, but I think my version is much less boring! And I’m going to keep believing in it, too.
Copyright 2007, Bardicvoice
“You’ve got to be joking.” Mary Winchester rested one hand on the barely perceptible curve of her stomach as she looked at the rusting pile of decade-old metal in the driveway. It had four wheels, four doors, a hood, and a trunk, but she wasn’t entirely certain that she’d dignify it with the title of ‘car.’ Given that the parts seemed to have been assembled from multiple donors, like Frankenstein’s monster, the original color was impossible to determine; it existed as a patchwork of beige, black, blue, and fire engine red. The upholstery looked like a reject from a fraternity house, and the only surviving piece of tarnished chrome was the model name: Impala.
“Give it a chance, honey. The frame and the engine are sound; it just needs some restoration. I can work on it in the evenings.” John slid his arms around Mary from behind, resting his hand atop hers, and looked at the car over her shoulder. “By the time the little one gets here, you won’t recognize it, I swear. Remember what that looked like, the first time we met? I think you called it a rusty roller skate.” His eyes drifted regretfully to the jaunty little classic MG roadster at the curb, sporting his painstaking handiwork in every inch of gleaming chrome and British racing green. “You’re the one who pointed out that it isn’t exactly suitable for a family of three.”
“And that we wouldn’t be able to afford much in the way of a replacement. I know. Between the mortgage on the house and the loan for the garage, we’re already pushing it. But, still – this?”
“The junkyard price was more than right. And selling the MG will outfit the nursery.”
He felt her tremble in his arms.
“I’m sorry, John. I know it wasn’t what we planned right now. This would have been so much easier in just a couple more years …”
He turned her to face him, and silenced her with a kiss.
“It’s not your fault. And I don’t have any regrets.” He lifted her chin with one finger and smiled into her eyes. “We’re gonna have one special kid; just look at the odds he’s already beaten, picking his own time to arrive!”
Gentle laughter cleared most of the worry from her face, and she lifted one eyebrow.
“He? Aren’t you jumping the gun just a little? We’re not going to know for a while yet.”
“He or she, I’ll be happy either way – but I know which way I’m betting!” Humming, he swept her into an impromptu little dance, and knew satisfaction when he felt her finally relax into the flow of movement. “It’s going to be fine, Mary,” he whispered. “We’ll make it all work, you’ll see.” He chuckled into her soft golden hair. “And when I’m finished with it, that car is going to be the envy of all our neighbors. Just wait and see.”
John was as good as his word. It took a couple of months of often postponed, often interrupted after-hours work, some judicious trading of favors with a local leather shop, and more than one raid on the local junkyard, but by the time he knew that he’d won his bet on the sex of their first child, the Impala fairly gleamed in black and chrome, and the cream and black interior was better than showroom. Enroute to the hospital for the delivery, Mary even made him put down a blanket on the seat to protect the leather in case her water broke.
By the time Sam was due, four years later, a lot had changed. With the garage’s reputation for quality work well established, the money crunch around Dean’s unplanned birth was a memory. Through the garage, John had found a second used car for Mary, a practical, reliable station wagon, so she was free to shop and run errands while he was at work. Given the choice, though, Dean always preferred riding in the Impala, and John kept tinkering with it, making it his hobby. The original engine hadn’t been much in the way of performance, and the day he replaced it, about a month before Sammy was born, little Dean watched in rapt fascination, repeating every part and tool name after John said it, until Mary shook her head and ruefully observed that her little boy was obviously going to be a mechanic like his Dad. Afterward, Dean insisted on “helping” John wash and polish the car, working on one fender while John did the rest.
Hospital rules didn’t allow visits by children, so the first time Dean got to see his Mom with his new little brother was the day that John drove him to the hospital to bring Mary and baby Sam back home. That was also the day John learned just how many habits Dean was picking up from him, when Dean insisted that they take the Impala instead of the “sissy wagon.” John made him solemnly promise not to call it that when his Mom was around, so of course, those were practically the first words out of Dean’s mouth right after he asked to see his brother: “Look, Sammy: we got the good car. You don’t have to ride home in the sissy wagon.” Mary had just rolled her eyes and laughed. “Like father, like son,” she said, and left it at that.
The night Mary died and the house burned, John kept Dean at his side and Sam in his arms and sat in shock on the Impala’s hood, an island of refuge out of the way of the firemen. John had been late getting home from work, and with the garage full of his latest project – the toy chest he was staining for the play room – Mary’s wagon had been parked in the driveway, so he’d left the Impala out on the street. Days later, he realized he’d been lucky, because the station wagon, even though it wasn’t damaged, reeked of smoke from the fire, and the sharp chemical stench of burned plastic, paint, and wiring seemed embedded in the carpet and seats. He couldn’t even sit in the wagon without the smell making him nauseous, but the Impala was fine. It only mattered that he could drive it, though, and that it wouldn’t make the boys sick; it had no magic for him any more. Nothing had magic, not with Mary gone.
Still, he had cause to be grateful over the next years that he’d taken pains with the Impala’s restoration when that souped-up engine got them safely away from things and people he’d rather not remember, and certainly hoped the boys didn’t. His hands were shaking when he drove away from that motel in Fort Douglas where the shtriga had nearly gotten Sammy, where he’d lost his temper with Dean when the one he really blamed was himself, but the car ran steadily, unaffected by his terror. Dean’s silence and his frightened eyes in the rearview mirror as he held his sleeping brother in the back seat seemed to accuse John of inadequacy, and he was guiltily relieved to put the boys in Pastor Jim’s hands and turn back to the hunt alone. The Impala never made him feel like a failure, not even when he couldn’t find the monster again, and by the time he returned to collect the boys, the engine’s even rhythm had calmed him down to the point where he could pretend that nothing had happened, that nothing was wrong. Jim knew better, but at least the boys were okay.
In a way, teaching Dean to drive when he was only ten was an attempt to make amends for that lie. Even with the seat pushed all the way forward, he could barely reach the pedals and see over the dash at the same time, but his radiant smile was absolution, and what could he hurt, on a country lane in the middle of nowhere? It was the biggest treat John had been able to give him in years, and from the look on his face, far better than the meager presents handed out at Christmas time. John hadn’t expected to ever actually give him the order to drive, but the day it happened, not all that much later, he was grateful that Dean was able to do it and get Sam safely away from a hunter who’d come entirely too close to the truth. John wasn’t sure that Dean would have managed with any other car, but he’d grown up in the Impala and knew every inch of her, and every sound; he could feel when he’d gotten things right. Even alone and afraid, he’d kept his head and remembered his orders, and hours later, John had been so relieved to find them safe and sound at the rendezvous point that he hadn’t been able to say a thing, but just pulled them into a hug and held on.
Over the years, the car changed right along with them. John didn’t really notice at first, but it struck him once when Sammy was about four. He’d opened the trunk for something, and it suddenly occurred to him that things were different. He’d been slowly but steadily adding to his weapon stock as he learned about the different weaknesses of the supernatural beings he hunted. The shotgun, hunting rifle, and handgun that he’d started with had been joined by an assortment of knives from a machete to an antique silver dagger, and he’d found a crossbow and learned to make bolts tipped with everything from sharpened, fire-hardened wood to iron, silver, and even flint. One corner of the trunk was turning into a library of obscure texts, and he had a box of holy symbols from more religions than he’d even known existed. Once upon a time, the boxes of diapers, baby formula, toys, and clothes had taken up more space than the hunting paraphernalia; now the bulk of the trunk was taken up by weapons and books, with just a couple lean duffels of clothes and a box with cereal, snacks, and camping gear.
They couldn’t live out of the trunk forever, not with the boys needing to go to school, but they never acquired much in the way of possessions. They never owned more than would fit in the car, so the old-fashioned size of it was an advantage. A couple times, they pulled out fast with nothing but the weapons in the trunk and the clothes on their backs. The first time that happened, Sammy cried himself to sleep in Dean’s arms in the back seat over an abandoned toy. About a month later, cleaning out the car after a hunt, John found a box with a couple of Sammy’s favorite things tucked carefully under the back of the front seat; Dean’s secret insurance against his brother being hurt again. John never said anything about it, but he noticed that the contents of the box changed over the months and years with Sam’s different interests. The box lived hidden under the seat until Sam was halfway through high school, and disappeared as silently as it had come after one of the brothers’ prank wars ended when Sam, having found the box, threw its contents in Dean’s face and shouted that he wasn’t a baby any more. Dean never said anything about it, so John didn’t either.
John tried to shift them as little as possible during the school season, renting furnished rooms everywhere from cheap motels and efficiency apartments to units in trailer parks, but they never stayed in any school longer than a year. During the school week, as much as he could, John spent his time doing research, reading the newspapers and haunting the libraries and historical societies, staying close to home, connecting the dots and planning the hunts. It was tedious, but it let him spend some time with the boys. Sometimes, after Sammy went to bed, he’d hit a bar. Summers, weekends, and holidays, the boys were mostly on the road with him, staying close to wherever the hunts took him. He tried to make it fun for them whenever he could, teaching them the mundane joys of ordinary hunting and fishing, but Sam never took to that at all. He loved books, but he seemed to hate the woods, and anything that took him away from school, his friends, and intellectual challenges. Jim Murphy took the boys for a while a couple of times, when both of them were still in grade school, but most of the time, whenever John was away, Dean was in charge. It didn’t take John long to realize that he didn’t need to arrange for a special knock to alert Dean when he got back, because Dean’s ears were tuned to the Impala’s engine. It didn’t seem to matter how late John got home: once Dean got to be ten or so, he would wake up if he heard the car, and he’d always meet John at the door.
The first few years were the hardest, when John didn’t know what he was doing and the pain of Mary’s loss was still fresh and raw, but that old bleakness came back now and again, especially if a hunt went bad and people died. He couldn’t share that kind of thing with the boys, so he shared it with a bottle instead. Once when Dean was around fourteen, John shocked himself by finding an empty fifth of Johnny Walkers on the floor of the front seat without remembering how it got there. That was about the same time that Dean asked him about rust on the car, and looking at the spotted car and his son’s shaggy, uncut hair, John had to admit that he’d let things slip. He cut way back on the bar nights for a while, and found an unexpected peace in teaching Dean how to sand, prime, patch, and paint the car. By the time they were finished, the Impala looked as good as it had back when Sam was born, and John and the boys were a lot less unkempt, too.
Almost from the beginning, John pretty much took for granted that he wouldn’t be changing cars. The Impala was solid, reliable, powerful, and big: and there wasn’t any money for an upgrade, anyway. Big purchases just drew attention; only the little ones let you get away with credit card fraud for long. He took pains to keep the engine and electrical system in shape even when the car’s looks didn’t seem to matter, just because he always kept his tools sharp and his weapons oiled. But as the boys got older, spending more and more time alone as John’s hunts got deadlier, longer, and more complex, he started to think about needing a second car. It wasn’t just that the Impala was aging; he had to think of the boys’ needs. It really came home to him when Dean, at sixteen, got both his driver’s license and his first kill. He’d been pushing for a while for John to take him along, not just leave him guarding Sam, and John had always known, ever since the first time he put a gun in Dean’s hand at the age of seven, that they both needed the experience of the hunt to be able to survive on their own someday. They both had learned weapons skills and were deadeye marksmen, and they could really help – if he was willing to risk them in the field.
The werewolf hunt was the key experiment. Rather than leaving Sam alone in the motel, John had him wait in the car while he and Dean set the trap. John played bait, and Dean came through with flying colors, nailing the beast with a silver-tipped crossbow bolt to the heart. They burned the body together. That became the new pattern for hunts: Dean and John working together, John giving Dean tips, while Sam either stayed close by in the car or stuck to them like a burr. John started to realize that there were times it would have made sense to cover more territory with two sets of wheels instead of having all of them in one, and the more he saw Dean steadying into a solid hunter, calm and quick under pressure, the more he was confident it would work. He’d worried at first about Dean being distracted or not focusing, but the only thing that ever drew Dean’s eyes from the quarry was any hint of danger to his brother; John couldn’t imagine any safer place for Sam than being at Dean’s side.
He didn’t discuss it with the boys at all, but asked Bobby to stay on the lookout for something he could use. For months, everything that Bobby found they both dismissed out of hand, until the 1982 GMC Sierra Grande 1500 4X4 Stepside turned up. It was in rough shape, but no worse than the Impala had been at the start. Customizing it at Bobby’s salvage yard became John’s occasional escape from the hunting routine. He never told the boys where he went or what he was doing, but for a while, it was like the days before Dean was born. New engine, custom bumpers, new lights, replacement fenders and bed liner, new upholstery – the pieces added up to a lot less than a new truck, and it felt good to be working with his hands again. He wasn’t finished in time, but that was all right, too, because long before Dean’s eighteenth birthday rolled around, he knew that the truck had never been for Dean. Every time he was with his boys, he watched, and he saw: he saw Dean under the Impala’s hood, tuning the engine to sing; Dean washing and waxing the Impala, stroking it lovingly like a horse; Dean singing behind the wheel as if no one could hear. The car was already a part of him, and always had been.
Still, the moment that John put the Impala’s keys in Dean’s hand and said simply, “She’s yours, son,” he saw something he’d never seen before and would always remember, always cherish: he saw Dean’s heart fill his eyes and overflow. It came to him then that Dean had never owned anything, not really, and that the Impala was all he’d ever wanted, the only mere thing he’d ever loved. So he smiled when he asked Dean to drive them all to South Dakota, and the joy in his son healed his own heart as they both worked on finishing the GMC. The only shadow was Sam’s discontent, which he couldn’t explain and couldn’t resolve. Sam never had Dean’s empathy for cars and couldn’t seem to share it, to the point where he was all thumbs and irritated complaints when it came to automotive things, and Dean in turn, for the first and only time that John could remember, was selfish in his joy, protective of his love for his car.
So it was that Sam learned to drive in a driver’s ed class in high school, and he took his driver’s test in the GMC, not the Impala, because Dean denied him the keys. John didn’t force the issue, not after everything that Dean had sacrificed along the way. He wondered about that later, when Sam declared, at his high school graduation, that he was leaving for college. Dean had graduated without giving it a thought and turned immediately to hunting full-time with John; Sam’s objections came out of the blue. John wondered if giving Dean the Impala when he had nothing similar to extend to Sam had helped to breed that discontent, even though Sam had never voiced any desire for a car of his own; the question was there, even if the answer wasn’t. The fight was epic and bitter, and in the end, John couldn’t help but think that all of them had lost, especially Dean, who’d stayed silent through the whole thing.
After that, nothing was the same. John hunted together with Dean for a while, and then took the chance of sending Dean off on hunts of his own, not wanting Dean to express the same resentment at restrictions that Sam had voiced. That was the only good thing John could see that might have come out of that fight; he relaxed his grip on his oldest son, and things between them stayed close and loving. He’d kept tabs on Sam even while he was away at college, watching him without ever intruding, and he knew that Dean did the same, whenever an independent hunt ended. He’d crossed paths with the Impala more than once, even on Stanford grounds, and smiled to think that Sam had somehow failed to notice them both.
Then the demon surfaced again, for the first time in twenty-three years, and John felt he had no choice but to take his quest underground, to leave his sons to fend for themselves while he focused the demon’s attention on himself. It didn’t work the way he intended, but it did more good than he expected; he saw his sons reunited, closer than ever, together in the Impala as if no time had passed at all.
And then it all fell apart. The Impala was wrecked, and as if the car truly embodied Dean’s soul, John’s oldest son lay dying. Still, Sam refused to give up, and given half a chance, Dean would rebuild the car and, by extension, himself.
So John gave him that chance.