This one might be a lil slow. But I've had all these chapters written for quite a bit lol oops.

CHAPTER 4

Lightning tried so hard to keep himself on an emotional high when they left the hospital, but it was draining and he found himself exhausted by dinnertime. The sight of his car basically demolished had crushed whatever little hope he'd had left in his chest. Without Doc, he wasn't sure if he'd be able to get it fixed right. Without Doc, he might never be able to race again…

That was the first night since the wreck that he saw Doc.

He'd been dreaming he was standing in front of his car at Mater's lot. It was beyond repair, he kept thinking. The frame needed heavy repairs, who knew what kinds of damage the inside had sustained, and he didn't feel like the engine would be as okay as Mater had claimed he thought it was.

"What are you moping for?"

Lightning spun on his heel to see Doc standing behind him looking ready for a race. He had on his old Hudson Hornet racing jacket, a pair of silver aviators over his eyes. Even with them on, Lightning could see his mentor looking down at him, a frown on his face.

"I'm not moping," Lightning defended without thinking.

"Sure looks like you are."

Lightning gestured vaguely to the car. "It's probably not even salvageable."

"Says who?" Doc challenged, moving to stand next to him in front of the car. "You can do it if you want to."

Lightning rolled his eyes. "Well, yeah, I mean—"

"No, boy, I mean if you really wanted that car fixed, you'll be able to pull it off," Doc clarified. "I did."

He thought back to the sleek body of the Hornet and suddenly it was there in the lot next to Lightning's car, looking as glorious as the first day Lightning saw it in person, realizing it was the famous car that had won more races than anyone else on old dirt tracks.

"You think the car came out of the wreck without a scratch?" Doc murmured, his own eyes never leaving the navy car.

Lightning glanced at Doc, and when he looked back, Doc's car was just as twisted and crumpled as his own.

"I was in the hospital even longer than you. Took me months of recovery before I could even begin working on the car. Add on another six or eight of repairs…"

"I built this car by myself," Lightning whispered.

"And you can fix it yourself," Doc commented, crossing his arms. He turned slowly to face Lightning. "But don't be stupid, Hotrod. You have a whole team of people on your side now. You don't need to do it yourself."

He felt a smile slowly grow on his face as the thought of the townspeople crossed his mind. He looked up at Doc and studied the man before him carefully, realizing this was a dream, a manifestation of his own imagination and longing to see his mentor.

"I miss you," he choked out carefully. He pinched his eyes shut and ran his palm over his face. "I wish you were here."

A silence washed over them and Lightning opened his eyes, almost afraid Doc had vanished. But he wasn't. He was still staring down at Lightning with his arms crossed.

I'll always be here, Kiddo, a voice echoed as everything around him began to fade. I'll always be watching…

Their surroundings darkened, but Doc was the last thing Lightning saw before everything vanished.

-x-

After that first night, Lightning had trouble keeping himself in good spirits for much of his time around the others. Doc's words from his dream echoed in his head constantly, as if the man was speaking to him right there, as clear as Sally was talking to him.

"It's been almost a week," she was saying. "I scheduled your physical therapy for tomorrow afternoon."

"That's fine," he muttered behind his glass of water. He was slouched in a rolling chair Sally had pulled into her office at the Cone. He had his good arm wrapped around a glass of water on the desktop and was chewing distractedly on the straw.

Sally's eyes flicked towards him at his quiet response before she returned to her work on the computer. "I can take you somewhere else if you're bored here," she told him gently. "It's no problem."

"I'm fine."

Sally leaned back in her own chair and spun to give him her full attention. She raised her eyebrows expectantly when he simply stared back at her.

"Where am I gonna go that I'm not in the way bothering someone?"

"You're not bothering me and you're not in the way," Sally defended. "I put you right there because that is specifically not in my way—"

"That's not what I meant," he grumbled.

She reached out and grabbed his hand to still his fingers tapping on the glass. "Then tell me what you meant," she said softly, scooting closer.

Lightning's lips pressed into a line for a moment as he considered whether or not to voice his latest thoughts to her. It'd been a week since coming home from the hospital, and he was slowly realizing what life would be like without racing.

"I'm useless," he finally breathed and Sally fought the urge to roll her eyes. She was listening to him right now, not reacting or judging.

"You're not useless," she urged, squeezing his hand. "You're limited and there is a very distinct difference."

"I don't like it."

"Few more weeks and you'll have more use of your arm, then you can wheel yourself around. There's plenty for you to do at the HQ."

Lightning leaned back in his chair and sighed, a little frustrated that she wasn't getting it and he was going to have to say it out loud. He wasn't sure he was ready to say it out loud.

"You can talk to me, Stickers," Sally murmured, pale brows pulled together, and suddenly he felt even worse, like now he was letting her down even more.

He groaned and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Without racing, I am probably the most useless person in this town," he admitted so quietly he hoped she hadn't heard.

"You're not," Sally replied automatically, a little surprised.

He looked up at her. "What am I supposed to do with my life if I can't race anymore? This is the only thing I'm good at, I'm not ready to give it up."

"So don't."

Lightning rolled his eyes. "You aren't getting it," he groaned.

"Then help me understand," she begged, growing frustrated herself.

"I don't know how," he snapped. "I don't understand half of what's going on with me, none of what might happen, nothing." He dropped his face into his hand and rubbed his palm into his eyes. "This would be so much easier if I could just talk to him."

Sally frowned, but didn't say anything. What could she say? She wasn't who he needed, who he wanted right now and it was crystal clear now that nothing she said, no fancy wording could help him right now, because it wasn't her voice he wanted to hear.

"I'm sorry," she finally settled on. "I'm sorry, but I can't help you there, and I don't know how to fix this. But I'm here and I love you and anything you need, I will try my hardest, alright?"

"I want to go to the garage," he muttered, dropping his hand into his lap.

Sally stood and picked up her keys with a soft smile. "Let's go." She pushed his wheelchair towards him so he could hop to it. "Not that I'm trying to get rid of you," she amended quickly seeing his stony expression. She stopped him before he could drop down into the wheel chair and cupped his face so he was forced to look at her. "I would love for you to stay and keep me company, but I want you to do what you need. If you need to be alone and go through some of Doc's things, well I say it's about time."

At that he pulled away and lowered himself down into the wheelchair, not looking back up at her. "You make it sound like I'm snooping through his things," he mumbled, adjusting the brace on his knee.

"No, it's not like that at all," she shrugged, moving to push him towards the door. "I just think it's something you should have done years ago."

Lightning was quiet as she pushed him down the street. "It's been years," he finally said out loud.

Sally nodded. "It's been years."

It was hard for Lightning to think about that. The world had kept spinning for years without Doc. He felt his mood dipping even further and he started to regret asking Sally to bring him to the garage, especially when she'd pushed both doors open to let fresh air in and all he saw were boxes. Box after box stacked on top of one another in the corners.

One man's life packed away neatly. One very important man came down to nothing more than stuff in boxes.

"Let me know if you need to me pull any boxes down for you," Sally said quietly, wiggling her phone in her hand. "I'm just across the street."

"Thanks, Sal," he murmured, letting her kiss his cheek before she made the walk back to the Cone.

-x-

"Alright bud," Mater declared, standing in the doorway of the Cozy Cone. "Jus' me 'n you today."

"What?" Lightning asked dumbly, looking over at Sally, who merely shrugged. "Where are we going?"

"I can't tell you, it's a surprise."

Lightning looked down at himself. "I swear, Mater, if I end up covered in cactus tines again—I get this cast of in four days and you are not ruining that for me." He held up his arm and shook it at his friend.

Mater laughed. "Aw, shoot, it ain't nothin' like that. Promise."

"Go easy on him, Mater," Sally laughed, returning to her computer screen as Mater walked to push Lightning's wheelchair towards the door.

"Wha—Sally! I'm being kidnapped!" Sally only laughed in response. "I thought you loved me!"

She looked at him then, but only grinned. "Oh, I do, but you need to get out today. Go hang out with Mater for the afternoon and then I'm going to take you out to dinner."

Lightning glared at her, but she could tell his heart was barely in it. "Better be somewhere good."

"I promise, there will be a kids' menu and crayons," she said with a wink.

"Better be," he grumbled back as Mater pushed him out the door.

He was thankful it was winter and not the bitter scorching summer. That combined with his current situation would probably only serve to make him that much more miserable. He was thankful for the upper-50's weather.

"So, where we headed?" he tried to ask again.

"I can neither confirm nor deny that I may or may not have gotten some of them parts in the mail," he mumbled as they walked away from the cone and towards his lot.

Lightning blinked at him before a grin stretched across his face. "You've been spending too much time with Sally."

Mater laughed. "You're one to talk," he said. "I feel like I never see you anymore."

"Sorry, buddy," Lightning frowned, looking back over his shoulder. "It's just been a little…"

"Oh, I understand. One time, I done broke both arms are the same time."

"What? Really? When?"

Mater chuckled. "It's a long story, there was this alien car that looked like—"

Lightning sighed but couldn't help the smile on his face. "I understand, Mater," he interrupted. "What parts came in?"

"Well," Mater began, listing off a few parts he'd noticed were easy to replace. "I left all the special bits for you, just lemme know what and where to get 'em and I'll order 'em for you. But I figured today, since you still can't use that there arm 'o yours, we'll just start taking it apart and figuring out what's what."

Lightning nodded. "Sounds good, Mater." Aside from Doc, Mater was probably the only other person he would trust touching the inside of his car. And only barely.

Mater led him around the side of his shop building into the fenced-in lot where his car sat in the corner, just as destroyed as the day he saw it a couple weeks back. The hood was propped open, but otherwise it looked relatively left alone. Good, he thought. He was afraid with all the tourism that someone would break in and mess with it.

"Welp," Mater stopped Lightning in front of the car and dropped his hands to his sides loudly. "Where d'you wanna start?"

Lightning grinned up at his friend, so, so grateful he'd kidnapped him for this. If Sally knew he was working on the car already, he knew she'd be a little upset. But he was dying to get his hands…well, hand…into the car and really get a feel for the scope of the work.

"Hey, Mater?" Lightning asked after they'd gotten well into a steady working rhythm. Mater was bent over, head tucked into the hood of the car removing parts one by one. They had pulled an old wooden table around next to Lightning where he could inspect each part carefully.

"Yeah, Bud."

"Do you have family?"

Mater pulled out of the car and straightened, looking at Lightning with a grin. "Well, sure I do! I just talked to my cousin this mornin'."

"They live around here?" Lightning turned a filter over in his hand, not really seeing it.

"Naw," Mater shook his head before ducking back under the hood. "Got a couple cousins in the south east, but most of my family is in Nebraska."

Lightning looked up at that and blinked at his friend. "Nebraska?"

"Uh huh." Mater pulled a part out of the car and turned it over in his hands, pulling a few leaves out of the top of it. "You know anyone in Nebraska?"

"Can't say I do," Lightning mumbled. "I just would have guessed you'd be from the south, like Alabama or Louisiana or something."

"I get that a lot," Mater nodded slowly before walking over and placing the part on the table next to others. "What about you? Where's your family at?"

"I've been on my own for a while, actually," he mused, putting the filter on the table to pick up what Mater had just put down. "Never knew my dad and my mom passed away when I was sixteen."

"Sorry to hear that."

Lightning shrugged. "Made it a bit easier when Doc died, I guess. I almost knew what to expect, but not really."

"Well," Mater grunted, looking over his shoulder. "You got lots of family right here."

"I do," Lightning agreed.