Summary: The Impala was wrecked, Dean's family was shattered. A broken cassette tape was just one more thing gone wrong.
Pairing: Dean Winchester, Sam Winchester
Original story: Salvage by minim_calibre
Notes: I absolutely loved remixing this story. thank you to elanurel for the lovely beta!
Salvaged (The Back in Black Remix)
For a hell of a long time, Dean thought that if he ever got around to getting a tattoo it would be that snake from the cover of the Black Album.
It was a badass design, but simple in its own way. For most of ninth grade, Dean kept it drawn on his left bicep. He went over the lines with a Sharpie every time the ink started to wear off from showering, and by spring he knew the curve of the lines so well that he could have drawn them with his eyes closed. His fingers knew the slope of each whorl just as well as they knew how long to hold down the rewind button on his walkman to get back to the beginning of "The Unforgiven."
For history class, he wrote a paper on the flag they got that snake from, and it was pretty cool, really. Sprawled sideways in the front seat of the Impala a dozen years later with the tape case in his hand, Dean thought about that paper for the first time in years, but he couldn't remember all the details. He knew there was something about the Revolutionary War and the Marines, and he knew it was the one and only time he'd bothered putting in enough work to get an A on a history paper. He couldn't recall if his father had ever known, had ever seen the paper or the big red A on the front of it. He thought he remembered a glimmer of a distracted smile, a look of approval, but it felt more like something he'd imagined, not like something real, something he could touch.
He knew Sam was inside Bobby's house, wanting to talk, wanting to cry manly tears on each other's shoulders, whatever. The Impala still wasn't running, but the front seat wasn't in half bad shape, and it felt more like home than anything else. His own space. He would have rather played his music through the car's stereo, but the electric system was dead so he had to make do with the old walkman, relatively new earbuds shoved up inside his ears. Back when he spent so many hours, days, inside the car with Dad and Sammy, the music was the only way Dean had to make his own space. He'd close his eyes and let the driving bass and the drums work their way into his blood, his heartbeat, his dreams.
His only beef with the album was that the song he hated to hear just had to be on the flip side of his favorite. If his finger slipped, switching from rewind to play, he'd have to hear Hetfield sing about how God had failed him, failed his mother, and Dean knew enough about that, fuck you very much. Sitting there in the busted up Impala with his hands still sore from beating the crap out of the trunk, it was the last thing Dean wanted to hear, but there it was. His finger hovered over the reverse button, but he stopped, letting the end of the song beat its way into his head.
Betrayal. Betrayal. Betrayal. Betrayal.
Even with his eyes open, he could see his father leaning over that hospital bed. Nothing had felt quite real at that moment, his body shaky and feeling weird inside his own skin, a gaping hole of no memories, and then there was John Winchester saying good-bye. Again. His father was the only kind of god Dean had ever been able to believe in, but the thing he was saying was the one thing Dean could never accept. Anger cramped the muscles in Dean's hand and he squeezed down savagely on the buttons of the walkman.
Rewind. Stop. Fast-forward. Stop. Rewind. Stop. Rewind. Stop. Stop. Stop.
Dean pitched the walkman down to the floorboards, and it landed on the carpet with a thud, tugging the earbuds out of his ears with a pop. He leaned his head back against the window and listened to what passed for silence in Bobby's salvage yard--insects creaking away industriously in the long grass out back of the lot and the breeze whistling through the hollowed-out skeletons of cars. He could smell a hint of smoke in the air, and for a moment he thought it was still hanging around from the pyre, from Dad, and his eyes burned. He shoved the heels of his hands against his eye sockets, making the darkness total, making himself totally alone there in the place where they all nearly died.
Fuck, he wanted his music back.
Dean's ribs ached as he folded himself forward and dangled sideways off the seat to reach for his walkman, but he knew that the pain was nothing, that he'd been lucky. Impossibly lucky. The kind of lucky that had nothing to do with good fortune. He stuffed the earbuds back in his ears and hit play, but all he heard was a couple drum beats before something snapped and the music was replaced by an empty whir.
Dean held the walkman up and looked through the little window, watched the reels of the tape spin around pointlessly. When he snapped the stop button again and pulled the tape out, one raw, stretched edge of skinny brown tape dangled out of the middle. He knew he could splice it, maybe, make the tape playable again, but "The Unforgiven" would be screwed up forever, and it just wasn't worth the trouble.
Not much was.
The box with the rest of Dean's tapes in it was up in the bedroom in Bobby's house, but Dean wasn't going inside to get it. He bent his knees to let himself slide down further in the seat and closed his eyes. There were people who deserved to be alone in this world, and Dean knew what he was.
They were six hours out from the Roadhouse, and Dean's metaphorical ass was still sore from the reaming Ellen had given him over Jo's involvement in the Philly case. Sam was driving, one-handed steering just fine on the quiet nighttime highway. He was being suspiciously nice, hadn't suggested that driving gave him the right to play some kind of emo indy pop or whatever the fuck he wanted to listen to, but still Dean felt like it was time to change the music. Strange as it might sound, a man really could get tired of Zeppelin.
Dean nudged the box of tapes closer with his feet and then picked it up onto his lap. He flipped open the lid and looked at the labels on the tape cases, squinting in the low, uncertain light. His fingers caught on a piece of paper sticking up between two cases, and when he tugged on the edge of the paper the Black Album came with it. The case should have been empty, the broken tape rattling around somewhere in the trunk, but the case was too heavy for that.
"What the hell?" Dean mumbled to himself, and he felt Sam go stiff beside him.
The cassette looked just the same as it had months ago, half the writing worn off from time and too many days being handled by fingers greasy with sweat or gun oil...or french fry oil. But the fragile tape inside was whole, rewound to the beginning of side one. He held the case up to the catch the light and read the messy scrawl on the post-it note.
Fixed it -- Sam
No shit, Sherlock. Dean wondered if Sam thought Dean would think it was possessed or maybe it was like that Velveteen Rabbit thing, making itself real after being played so many times. Still, it was--Dean took a breath, cleared his throat. It was a damn nice thing to do.
"Yeah," Sam answered, cutting his eyes sideways.
"You, uh, you want to listen to something else? The Postal Service or whatever that crap was?"
"Eh." Sam jabbed one of the free fingers on his broken hand at the cassette eject button. "I could go for some Metallica."
Dean pushed his newly repaired tape into the slot and started bobbing his head in time with "Enter Sandman." When he looked over at his brother, Sam was doing the same thing. His stupid shaggy hair shook around his head with each beat and Dean let himself believe that they could go on the same way, just the same way, forever.