Mary never liked the desert - said it looked like death.
A tumbleweed crosses the dusty highway in the rearview as John sweeps away errant thoughts of his wife. He should know better than to turn the cassette off ahead of time when he pulls into a gas station. This one's a ramshackle last chance establishment so old the sign's more based on the shadow of letters that once were more than peeling paint, but he's seen worse.
Dean snaps to it as soon as John stops the car, obedient as ever; doesn't even wait to be asked before he gets out and gets the pump going. John unfolds himself out of the car to stretch, but it's no cooler in the shade than in a black car that drinks up sun like vampires suck down lifeblood. He shakes himself at the analogy. He's so messed up he couldn't even think like normal people if he tried.
He squints across the horizon, but all he sees are grotesque twisted Joshua trees and miles of tan sand that's not the same shade as his wife's skin that summer they spent by the river. His skin feels tight, baked on, and his thick denim jeans - so good for protection against claws - feel like punishment, searing the heat into his skin. Thoughts of clear waters and sparkling laughter don't help.
Dean's inside paying so he has to do something useful. John's never been the type to order his sons around then sit on his ass drinking beer and watching TV. He never asked them to do more than he did himself. So he pops the hood and lifts it, stepping back as a wave of palpable heat assaults him from the engine block. Definitely need more water. And maybe a radiator flush once the job's done.
Grabbing the last remaining blue paper towel from the station's ancient windshield washer station he checks the oil carefully. It looks good: full, clean, and while he can't really tell how the car smells over the sharp odor of the station, he's certain Dean's been keeping his baby in top condition. Maybe he won't have to tell Dean to service the radiator.
Putting the dipstick back, he takes a moment to gaze at the motor he's spent so much time on. He misses the Impala and it's been good to feel her under his hands these last couple of days, purring under his touch like she always did, but she's Dean's now. He earned her and John really does need that big truck even if it gets the same crappy mileage. Let Harold Binghampton's credit card company worry about those charges. He's got to worry about a tire blowing out in the boonies. And the dead creature in the trunk he needs to deliver to the reservation.
Images assail him as he closes the hood with a loud clang: Dean firing his shotgun as the thing lunged at him, John not fast enough in the heat to do more than wound it with his machete, the old man's body splayed out in his hotbox of an Airstream... John's stomach churns, half as a reminder he's had no food for hours and half at the thought that the old man had been cooked from the inside out, as if his trailer had been one big man-sized oven. Another person he failed to save. He'll have to let the local cops scratch their head over that body, Billy and the others on the reservation know how to properly dispose of the real culprit. He owes him.
The pump flips off once the tank is filled, but Dean's not there to take it out. John shields his eyes against the glare and spies him still inside the station, leaning with his best James Dean impression against the counter. The pretty brunette cashier - and of course Dean would be able to pick up a girl in the middle of nowhere - is definitely buying what he's selling, clueless to just how traveling salesman Dean is.
It strikes him, in these rare moments when he can look - really look - at his grown son, how much he looks like his mother. The easy smile, the lashes so long some might dare to call them pretty - as long as they were out of earshot, the way the corner of his eyes crinkle up... He may not be as fair as Mary, but she's his boy. At least in looks. Now Dean's all his: standing by his side washing blood off their hands after the kill with water hot from the trunk, passing the flask back and forth until the liquor dampened at least some of the battle's adrenaline overdose, offering only a wordless apology for how the hunt turned out. Winchester men... They weren't good at words. They just expected each other to understand. Save Sammy, he liked his words, especially yelling them.
John had wanted to say something then: maybe to tell Dean it wasn't his fault the man died, to say he did a good job, to let him know that he was proud of him... But as usual the words didn't come. He tried. He clapped his hand on Dean's shoulder, had the word "Dean..." ready on his lips... Nothing. Just his son's expectant face looking up at him. So he just passed the flask back with a knowing nod, hoping he'd understand.
He takes a step towards the pump, but then Dean's there, pulling it out and replacing the gas cap with practiced hands. He holds up a slip of paper, smirking: the girl's phone number no doubt. It's not a coup for him, just enough of a victory to help wipe the bad thoughts away for a moment. John's found dozens of those papers, wadded up and forgotten, usually in the laundry. Their journey is always one way so Dean's not in a position to really use these numbers, but he's a hunter through and through and this is just a more pleasurable prey for his efforts.
John catches Dean's face falling slightly when he goes to get back behind the wheel; he misses driving her too and John's glad for that. No way he would have given his baby up to anyone who loved her less than he did. It's only sixty more miles back to the reservation where the truck awaits, then she's Dean's baby again.
Mary hadn't thought much of her when she first saw her, but she understood how John felt about her. Mechanics love cars and when they find the one - their baby - it's like nothing else. Dean would have made a good mechanic. A momentary fantasy flits past fast as a black bird flies across the windshield in the distance: Winchester and Son Automotive Repair...
Zeppelin... John pushes in the cassette as Dean climbs in wielding two ice cold colas in real glass, just like in the 50s. He turns up the volume nice and loud. Nothing like Plant and Page to fill his head with music and empty it of memories.
He turns the key and the Impala roars to life around him. This is his world now and he needs to keep his head in the game.