Title: I'm Just a Love Machine
Universe: Supernatural
Theme/Topic: N/A
Rating: PG-13
Character/Pairing/s: preslashy DeanxCas (some ImpalaxDean and Sam suffering mightily in the background)
Spoilers/Warnings: Spoilers through S4 and mid S5.
Word Count: 27,960
Summary: The Impala finally gets the chance to love Dean back. The problem is, Castiel seems to be in its way.
Dedication: for mclachlan, for holding my hand and smacking me upside the head on my real DCBB fic. Consider this down payment for all the tears and future handholding beta'ing that hot mess is going to require. Also, happy belated birthday to Sonia, and special thanks to sophiap for giving this a final once over for me after mclachlan fixed the worst of it. My friends are awesome.
A/N: Not gonna lie, the entire concept of this fic came about because I really, really wanted to use this title. Durhur priorities. Also, let it be known that I read way too much yaoi manga when this is a feasible fic idea to me. Originally this story was my DCBB, but has since been downgraded to just the safety-net level stuff I wrote because I was too chicken shit to challenge myself with my real DCBB idea until my betas made me do it. XD My only regret at not using this for the big bang is that I would have loved to see an artist's take on the Impala perving on Dean.
Disclaimer: No harm or infringement intended.

So far, Dean's day has gone like this:

5:30am- The alarm clock in his and Sam's hotel room goes off randomly, probably because the douchebag who had this room last seems to enjoy leaving surprises for the next guests by setting the clock radio up so that obnoxious FM DJs playing 90s boyband hits will blast from the nightstand right into Dean's ear at ungodly hours of the morning.

7:00am- They eat breakfast at the world's worst diner. The pancakes are pretty good and the coffee doesn't suck, but all the same, it is a diner that runs out of bacon. What the hell kind of diner runs out of bacon first thing in the morning? This is America, dammit. There has to be bacon. What's the point of democracy otherwise?

7:45am- He and Sam proceed to close in on the hunt they have been working for the last week. It involves lots of people going missing, no bodies, and acres and acres of sparsely inhabited, heavily wooded wilderness with some dark and freaky history. And ticks. Lots of ticks.

8:30am- Dean and Sam learn that the hunt they thought they'd been on for the last week turns out to not be a hunt so much as a bunch psychotic humans being serial killers for religion, which admittedly, can be expected to happen in the Winchesters' line of work every once in a while. Especially given the fact that their lives often force them to drive through the very bowels of the southern United States. But even still, it never gets any less horrifying for all the times something like it does happen, simply because as far as Dean is concerned, there is nothing worse in this world than to be reminded of the fact that there are actual human beings who can do more depraved things to their fellow men (and women and children) than some of the real live monsters out there are even capable of imagining.

11:00am- Dean and Sam finish fighting off the Psychos for Jesus. For them, it has become harder to fight while aiming not to kill something than it is when you're actually trying to wipe a sucker off the face of the planet. So yeah, he and Sam get beat up a little in the process, but in the end, they finish tying the crazy people down and call the cops, because there is a veritable mountain of bodies in the basement of these people's crazy hillbilly church. Sometimes Dean hates people.

11:30am- Dean and Sam stop at a CVS for disinfectant. Dean steps in dog shit. It is a great reminder that Lucifer walks amongst them and the apocalypse is banging on their front door.

1:30pm- Dean and Sam get a call from Bobby on their way to Lubbock, Texas on the trail of what is sounding to be a troll. Bobby says there is a haunted wishing well they should probably see to along the way and that it shouldn't take them more than an hour or two, tops, to handle (unless they're even stupider than he thinks they are). Dean obediently exits at the interchange as per Bobby's instructions and they start heading a little more north than west for a bit.

3:00pm- Dean and Sam pause at a small mountain town in the middle of Bumfuck, USA to gank the ghost of a Japanese-American woman who had been killed by her fiancé and thrown into the town's formerly lucky wishing well. For some bizarre reason, her spirit had been making the wishes of the people who threw their coins in the well come true, except not in the ways they'd wanted so much as in horrible, bloody, ghost-approved gross ways. Sam and Dean are obliged to blow up the well in the process of destroying her, and both of them, along with the Impala, get showered with gunky water, loose change, and unidentifiable slimy pond bits. On top of that, some of the elderly inhabitants of the town who considered the well to be a part of their burg's rustic charm take exception to having the well blown up by a bunch of whippersnapper strangers who have no respect for history. Whatever. It is not the first (or last) time that Dean and Sam are (or will be) run out of a town. Usually the towns they get run out of are the kind no one wants to stay in unless they have to anyway. This one is not an exception to the rule.

7:00pm- Dean and Sam finally arrive in Lubbock. They are exhausted, hungry, a little smelly, and dreading the upcoming troll hunt, because trolls always suck. They check into a ridiculously themed Rodeo hotel before managing to crawl to the nearest diner for dinner in the hopes of an hour or two of peace, quiet, and food before settling down to figure out the whole troll thing. Dean is just relieved that what has turned out to be a pretty shitty day is finally on its way to being over.

7:02pm- The day is not over. The hours of the day leading up to now, in retrospect, had been nothing more than a warm up for the truly shitty things yet to come in this day.

7:15pm- Dean's dinner arrives before Sam's while they are at the diner. Sam goes to the bathroom to wash up a little while he waits for his food to come, mostly because he finds some more well-water gunk stuck to the back of his ear while he's sipping his Diet Coke. When he finds it he makes this horrified, violated face before excusing himself to the restroom to try and get it off. It is while Dean is sitting alone in the booth like this, eating a half-pound BBQ bacon cheddar monster with onion rings on Texas toast, that he chances a look out of the window. There is a man standing there. He's tall, dressed in a black leather jacket and black jeans, and looks like he just got torn right off the pages of an Abercrombie catalogue. He's also apparently really happy to see Dean.

Unbeknownst to Dean, this is when the actual shitty part of the day really starts.

Dean first notices the man staring at him through the diner window as he's taking a huge, luxurious bite of his bacon cheeseburger. Admittedly, it's kind of hard not to notice the guy, mostly because the dude has his nose smashed right up against the glass and is staring at Dean like a complete creeper through it while he fogs up the window with his breath.

Dean blinks and looks at the guy in honest to goodness bewilderment, and the minute he makes eye contact with him, the guy lights up in the same way Dean imagines Sam would light up if he ever got tickets to that Justin Bieber concert he secretly really wants to go to with all of his innocent, maidenly heart. Dean frowns at the guy, turns deliberately back to his food, and hopes the creepy stalker goes away before he ruins Dean's meal.

Of course, with today being the shittiest day of all shittiest days to ever shit on a Winchester, the guy doesn't get the hint to leave. Instead, he starts tapping lightly on the glass with his index finger, all excited like, while hopping from one foot to the other and shouting, "Dean! Dean! It's me! Hey, it's me! Hi!" with his face still pressed right up against the glass. He looks like he's going to hyperventilate from the joy of Dean. Which, okay, Dean understands to a certain degree, because dude, look at him. But even still, the joy of Dean is not for other dudes, no matter how cool their jackets are or how bright and blue their eyes might be when they look at him. Or something to that effect. It's an example.

The waitress comes back with Sam's food then, gives Dean this knowing look when she sees the guy on the other side of the glass. Dean attempts a confounded shrug at her, but she obviously doesn't buy it, setting Sam's plate on the table before smirking a little and sauntering off to go gossip with the other waitresses about the two cute gay guys flirting by the window. Dean does his best to ignore everything and eat his freakishly delicious cheeseburger. He pretty much hates Texas with a fiery, burning passion most of the time, but at the very least, they do their beef right.

The guy at the window, disappointed at having lost Dean's interest, starts waving his arms up and down in earnest then. "Dean! Dean, can you hear me?"

Sam comes back from the bathroom right at that moment—of course—and his eyebrows dart up immediately as he looks at Dean, and then at the guy next to the window, and then back at Dean again. "Friend of yours?" he asks after a bit, and Dean can tell from the look on Sam's face that his treacherous little brother is seriously debating between sitting down across from Dean to eat or moving his plate to the counter on the other side of the restaurant, where he can pretend he doesn't personally know anything about Dean or his long history of fanboy stalkers. It also looks like option number two is winning that internal battle.

"Dean, hey! Can you hear me? Should I speak louder? This glass is really thick, isn't it? Dean! Hi!"

Dean sighs. "I have no idea who that freak show is," he says, plainly. He glares at Sam for effect, because Sam seems to be well on his way to being downright amused at Dean's predicament.

"Well he obviously knows you," Sam answers, but can't add whatever other smart-assy thing he so obviously wants to because when they both look back at the window again, they realize that the guy is mysteriously and suddenly gone, like he'd managed to just vanish into thin air really fast. Which sucks, because in their line of work, they've come to learn that people who can disappear in the blink of an eye while knowing your name usually isn't ever a good thing (unless it's Cas, and even then, sometimes it's iffy, if Dean is going to be completely honest here). Either way, it all probably means that they won't get to enjoy dinner here in peace after all.

"So, uh, I guess we should go?" Sam says, tone turning apologetic while Dean sighs and throws his napkin on the table forlornly.

"Right. I'm done." Dean digs out a few bills to leave next to his unfinished dinner so they can get out of here and get to a more easily defensible position in order to figure out what the hell is going on. He pauses to give one last mournful look at his half eaten burger before turning to go.

Which is when he runs right into the guy.

And staggers backwards, because it's a lot like hitting a brick wall.

The guy manages to catch him before he falls though, reaching out in alarm and clamping a hand around the collar of Dean's coat to steady him.

"I'm sorry! I'm so sorry, are you okay? I shouldn't have been that close, I just got excited."

Dean stares at the man for a moment, unable to tell if this is a prank or an attack or a really, really persistent case of hey baby, how you doin', before remembering himself suddenly and wrenching his jacket free of the guy's sturdy grip. There is a ripping sound as he does this, which is just perfect, and when the guy hears it, he quickly lets go, almost making Dean fall again in the process.

Dean however, is cool and manly and trained in the ways of the Marines, so he manages to keep his balance this time, even as he looks incredulously down at the fresh tear in his coat. "Okay," he snarls in low tones, tempted to reach for the knife in his boot despite all of the people in the diner who are starting to glance over their way in interest, "who the hell are you and how do you know my name?" If they're going to do this right here right now, Dean supposes they ought to do it right, so he squares his shoulders and menaces in the traditional Winchester way while he waits for the stranger to answer. It is pretty convincing and scary, the Winchester Menace, even though Dean doesn't have John's intimidating facial hair to add effect.

Except maybe it's not nearly as convincing and scary without the beard as he'd first thought, because instead of being properly intimidated by the said Winchester Menace, the guy becomes a mixture of confused and wounded at not being recognized. "Dean," he says plaintively, "you don't know who I am?"

Dean scowls. Then he turns the Menace up to eleven. "Obviously. I've never seen you before in my life." His fingers twitch at his side because they really, really wish they had a knife in them right now. That would make the Menace even more menace-y.

The man's frown deepens as he runs a hand through jet-black hair. Then he gestures to himself like that should mean something to Dean, or magically make Dean remember him. "You don't recognize me at all? Not even after all the times you've been inside me?" he asks.

Sam spit-takes at right about that moment, even though there is nothing currently in his mouth. "Oh god, seriously?" he hacks, and doubles over with a hand over his mouth in order to gag out his trauma properly.

Which gets the guy to turn to Sam next, which is probably a good thing because Dean has that Dean-in-headlights look on his face he sometimes gets during awkward occasions like this. He wonders if this guy is another victim of one of his sometimes I get really drunk and don't know what I do nights.

"Sam?" the man implores the younger Winchester softly, "How about you? You recognize me from riding me, right?"

It is Dean's turn to spit-take now, because the last thing he wants on this earth is to be tunnel buddies with his brother. Though from the sound of things, maybe tunnel buddies is not the most accurate term. Jesus Christ.

Sam, now even more bewildered that this tall, leather-clad stranger is making insinuations about him as well, quickly puts both hands up and shakes his head. "No way, man. I have never… never done… that. With you. Or saw you do…that… with Dean."

His is a very convincing and erudite speech. It's a shame he never got around to becoming a lawyer after all.

In the meantime, the man looks totally devastated, and the Winchester brothers share a confused—and somewhat accusatory— look between one another when the man's leather-clad shoulders out and out slump like they'd just kicked his puppy to death in the street in front of him, or something equally heinous and offensive.

"Look, dude, I think maybe you have us confused or something…" Dean begins, even though that clearly makes no sense because the guy knows their names. "But we really don't know you."

"Dean it's me," the man insists, blue eyes flashing at the Winchesters stubbornly. "The Impala!"

A beat.

And then, very slowly, Dean and Sam's confused looks officially turn into incredulous ones, complete with wordless, eyebrows-only communication that only works between brothers who know each other way too well.

From there, their silent conversation consists of, "Dude is crazy" eyebrows followed by, "Did you really sleep with him, Dean?" eyebrows, followed by, "God no, what the hell, man!" eyebrows,followed by, "So how does he know our names?" eyebrows, followed by, "I don't know, maybe he reads Chuck's books and thinks he's my car; I wouldn't put it past the crazy fans to believe that kind of ridiculous shit," eyebrows, and abruptly ending with, "Right, that makes sense. I mean, because the car is…oh shit, Dean, look out the window," eyebrows.

Dean, not liking the staccato tilt of Sam's eyebrows even a little bit at that last part, slowly turns back towards the window instinctively, so he can stare out over the distance into the dark parking lot. His eyes widen in horror.

The Impala is gone.

Which really, is the perfect end cap to the perfect storm of fuck today. It is the only possible cherry that could have truly topped this magnificent shit sundae.

They had to mess with his baby.

The next thing Dean does is whirl around, pull his fist back, and punch the new guy in the face. It's instinctive, okay. It's what any man does when his car gets fucked with.

There is a crunch, and a yelp, and some stumbling after that, but not from the right parties.

A few seconds after that, while Dean is grimacing in pain and shaking out a hand that may very well be broken, he finally notices his duffle, Sam's duffle, and the extra First Aid and weapons bag they keep in the Impala in a neat little pile at the man's feet.


This, he thinks, probably does not bode well for them.

Sometime later, back at the hotel, Dean's car makes worried cooing noises at him and tries to help him ice his bruised hand. But Dean keeps recoiling backwards and glaring every time the Impala touches him, telling the poor car in no uncertain terms to back the hell off. If this isn't the sign of a really bad break up, Sam is not sure what is. And here he'd been, thinking that Dean and the Impala were forever.

Dean is clearly a fickle mistress though, and watching the two of them is a lot like watching your parents get a divorce right in front of your eyes or something. Which is too bad, because Sam had totally been down to make a few wry quips about how happy he is for his brother now that his love for the Impala has finally become requited after all this time. Trust Dean to ruin all the fun.

As for the Impala, the poor guy seems to be suffering under some sort of delusion that now that he's human, he and Dean will ride off into the sunset together or something, because now that they're both human, or relatively so, it means being able to take their loving relationship to the next level.

Dean's face when the Impala says "next level" is comic genius.

Sam has to rein in his burst of laughter however, because right now he is on the phone like a good little brother, intermittently giving the Impala weird, thoughtful looks while explaining the entire fantastical situation to Bobby. He even tries not to laugh too much at the ridiculous expression on Dean's face, mostly because he knows that while it is kind of funny, the fact that they are in the middle of North Texas in the fall with no car is decidedly not so hilarious.

"I thought you said you were hunting a troll in Lubbock. How the hell did you turn your car into a person?" Bobby mutters, as if to reaffirm Sam's own issues with the situation. The older hunter makes appropriately incredulous sounds from the other end of the line as Sam patiently pieces together a summary of their day for him and asks if maybe, Bobby could help them figure this out. Bobby, helpful as always, bites back a snort of contempt. "I don't have time to be researching why the hell your damn car suddenly decided to turn into the Bionic Man. In case you forgot, there's still the small problem of trying to stop the devil."

Sam breathes a weary sigh into the phone. "Yeah, well, if you have the time, we'd really, really appreciate the help, Bobby. This is uh… this is probably out of our league, research wise."

"Bobby, help us fix this!" Dean shouts from his seat on the far bed, while he glares at the Impala to get off of him so he can ice his own damned hand without being tempted to punch the bastard in the face with his good one and ruin that too.

The Impala looks totally confused as to when and why Dean suddenly became shy, but after a moment, obediently backs off and lets Dean alone for the time being. In so doing though, he only succeeds in making things worse when he hastily backs his ass into the TV. There is a crash, a screeching crunch of metal, and a few pathetic sparks of electricity that follow, signaling the television's untimely death by indoor car accident.

"I'm sorry!" the Impala yelps, jumping abruptly away from the dresser. He looks down sadly at the mangled body of the TV. "That was an accident. I'm okay though. No scratches!" He turns to examine his own black jean-clad ass, which indeed shows no damage. Dean's head however, looks like it's suffering from the impact.

"What the hell was that noise?" Bobby demands, while Sam just kind of stares at the mess of wires and glass sputtering lamely in front of his eyes. Good to know that the laws of conservation of mass are still in effect. It would have been weirder if human-Impala didn't weigh a ton. Maybe.

"The Impala just crushed the TV," Sam explains over the phone lamely, while Dean mutters, "Great, now we gotta break into an empty room and switch them out," mostly because he doesn't want the cleaning ladies to come in tomorrow morning and try and charge them for the busted television.

"Jesus," Bobby mutters. "What is it with that boy and bringing home all the super powered boyfriends?"

Sam snorts because he totally gets that, while Dean turns to him with a look that clearly says this isn't as funny as Sam thinks it is. Sam answers with a look that says if the Impala were stalking me, you'd think this was the funniest thing since Cas asked you what bros before hos meant.

Dean scowls but grudgingly concedes the point by focusing on the bucket of ice his hand is currently shoved into.

Sam calmly hangs up on Bobby while the Impala continues to fret around Dean, crunching glass bits beneath his boots and making things generally worse by going off on dreamy teenage-girl style tangents about getting married to Dean and whether or not they can have man-car babies together or something.

"Well?" Dean barks, doing his level best to ignore the clingy car. "What'd Bobby say it was? Witches? I'll bet it was witches. They have no sense of decency. They'd mess with a man's car."

Sam sighs. "He says he'll look into it when he has time. For now, we have to concentrate on the hunt."

Dean is incredulous. "What? What does he mean when he has time? This is an emergency!" He gestures to the Impala, who is talking about the merits of a spring wedding, even though fall is pretty too.

"The Impala isn't hurting anyone, Dean," Sam reminds his brother, though both Winchesters are forced to wince when the helpful car attempts to pick up the broken TV shards from the ground—still waxing poetic about April flowers— and ends up accidentally slamming his head into the dresser in the process. The wood cracks and splinters under the force, and Dean glares accusatorily at Sam, like that had somehow been his fault.

"Sorry! Sorry!" the Impala yelps.

"Er…the Impala isn't trying to hurt anyone, Dean," Sam corrects after a beat, patiently. "Meanwhile, something a lot like a troll is eating co-eds at Texas Tech." He gives his older brother the patented must prioritize the danger list look, and Dean eventually sighs and relents.

"Fine," the older Winchester snaps, before standing and turning to head to the door, his hand still ensconced deeply in the motel's cheap plastic ice bucket. "Whatever."

"Where are you going?" Sam asks in exasperation, at the exact same time the Impala lights up and chirps, "Where are you going?"

"To steal another TV," Dean answers, which makes Sam sigh and settle back down in front of his laptop, because there's real work to be done. If Dean committing petty crimes helps him feel better about this then more power to him, or something. Sam belatedly realizes that thoughts like these are what led to the apocalypse in the first place.


In the meantime, the Impala immediately goes towards Dean in an effort to help. "Do you want me to carry the TV for you?" he offers, brushing wood chips absently from his forehead. "I'm pretty strong."

"No," Dean," barks back. "You stand in the corner until I get back. And stay there." He disappears out the door without another word, leaving Sam alone in the room with a frowning man-car.

After the door slams shut, the Impala turns sad, sad eyes on the remaining Winchester. "He never used to be this shy with me in public."

Sam blinks, not sure how to answer that. "Uh…well, you know how Dean is with the PDA."

The Impala sighs, fluttery and content. "Yeah. I guess you're right. He'll come around eventually, though. I'll make sure of that."

Sam moves his laptop over towards the window a little and feels kind of disturbed.

It is while Dean is picking the lock of the door to one of the vacant rooms down the hall—one handed, he might add— that his phone rings in his pocket, and muttering to himself about timing, Dean attempts to pin the ice bucket to the wall with his hip so that he can use his bruised hand to answer the phone while still working on the lock with his good one. The door clicks unlocked at the exact same moment Dean manages to flip the phone open. He hears a tired, ruffled sounding, "Where are you?" without any semblance of a hello or a how are you to preface it from the other end. It's good to know that despite all the weird shit that has happened today, Cas is still the weird shit in Dean's life that invariably stays the same.

"Uh, Rodeo Inn, Lubbock, Texas. Room…" Dean looks up at the now propped-open door, "203."

Then there's a familiar gust of wind, the sound of settling feathers, and when Dean blinks again, Castiel is standing nose-to-nose with him, staring back at him from inside the room's now open doorway. He looks slightly more ruffled than usual.

The angel frowns, still on his phone. "This is not your room."

Dean snorts at the echo his words create through the line because he is also still on his phone. "Well this is where I am, which is what you asked," he responds, reasonably.

Castiel silently concedes the point and they both hang up simultaneously, Dean with a slight wince. Castiel notices. "You hurt your hand."

Dean scowls. "Yeah, well it's been one of those days. Now move so I can steal the TV."

Castiel looks vaguely disapproving at Dean's plans but obliges by not asking any questions and quietly stepping aside. He also wordlessly accepts the ice bucket when Dean shoves it against his chest and lingers thoughtfully by the door so that Dean can do his work in relative peace. This is the kind of behavior that reminds Dean of why he decided to keep this angel in the first place, even though sometimes this angel is pissy and gives him funny looks and asks weird questions. Most of the time, Dean is certain that this angel is the best angel in the world.

"Keep a lookout, will you?" he tells Cas while he gets on his hands and knees beside the dresser to unplug the TV.

"What am I looking out for?" Castiel intones wearily, and Dean doesn't have to turn around to know that the angel is frowning at his backside in tired confusion.

Dean shakes his head and peers at the mess of dust, cobwebs, and tangled wires behind the dresser. "Never mind," he tells Cas with surprising patience. "So, what'd you want to tell me?"

A beat. "Tell you?" Castiel repeats.

Dean shrugs. "Yeah, you know. Lately you never call or show up unless there's some new development or bad shit happening or something. So, what'd you find? Any God signs?" He listens with half an ear as he reaches for the surge protector, which is, of course, conveniently located just out of his reach and has enough dust layers to suggest that it hasn't been cleaned in several decades. Awesome.

"I found nothing pertaining to my Father," Castiel answers after a beat, dejectedly. Dean huffs a sigh at that, because he's pretty sure as shitty as his day has been, Cas's has probably been worse. "I did however, encounter several of my brothers in the Gobi Desert. It was… unpleasant."

Dean winces sympathetically. "Yeah, I'll bet."

Castiel hesitates for a moment, before speaking again. "I didn't come because I have news for you," he admits, sounding the slightest bit sheepish. "Only because I sustained several injuries and require rest for some time, while they mend."

Dean forgets about the surge protector for a moment and whirls around to look at Cas. "Injured? Where? You need me to do anything?"

Castiel shakes his head. "These are injuries to my wings, which you cannot perceive. They are minor, if irritating, and will heal on their own within days so long as I avoid any more strenuous travelling." Pause. "I do not need your help with this, but even still, I felt compelled to find you." He trails off abruptly, fingers tightening slightly on the ice bucket, like he's confused about that part.

Dean relaxes a little. "Well yeah, Cas," he says, voice gentle, "no one wants to be hurt and all by themselves. It's not safe and it sucks."

Castiel eyes him, relieved that Dean at least, understands this. "I see."

Dean shakes his head and goes back to work under the dresser; he eventually snags the surge protector and manages to nudge the TV's power cord within reach of his fully functioning hand. "Well, you're welcome to chill out here for however long you need, man," he says plainly, glad he doesn't have to look the angel in the eye for this because it's awkward and not manly at all. "Sam and I are hunting a troll," he adds after a beat. "You can come if you want." He isn't sure if that still counts as rest for Cas, but he figures he'll throw it out there anyway. Troll hunting with friends has to be easier than fighting your own family in lonely Asian deserts, in any case.

Cas lets out a quiet breath from behind him, sounding a mixture of grateful and tired. "Thank you, Dean."

Dean swallows. "Sure." Pause. Cough. "So…the Gobi Desert, huh? You think your Dad is into hot places or something?"

A rustle of fabric sounds, what Dean amounts to a trench coat shoulder shrugging. "Not particularly. The Gobi Desert is quite cold."

"Oh. Well, then, he like cold places, you think?"

"My working theory is that He prefers… isolated places."

Dean grunts as he threads the unplugged TV wire through the dusty tangle of other wires crammed into the surge protector. "I guess that makes sense. Sounds lonely, though."

Behind him, Castiel shuffles slightly, shifting his weight to the other foot. Dean, concentrating on untangling this unholy mess of plugs, doesn't notice.

After a moment, Castiel speaks again. "I have brought you some chocolate," he says, as if something Dean had just said suddenly reminded him of it. Either that or the angel is being random, which isn't a stretch either. He has yet to master the art of the relevant segue.

Dean blinks. "Uh…chocolate? Gee, Cas, I didn't know we were in that place in our relationship already. I don't have anything for you." Well, he has some chewing gum in his pocket, but the last time he'd tried to give Cas any the angel had chewed it about four times before swallowing it and declaring the sensation odd and rubbery. So that's probably a no go.

When Dean sits up, successfully holding the TV plug after disentangling it from all the others, he can see Cas's reflection watching him in the TV screen; it's perplexed in a familiar but resigned sort of way as the angel reaches into his pocket and pulls out a small box. "Er, what I mean is," Dean corrects, repentant, "you don't have to bring me things, man. What's the…what's the occasion?"

Castiel looks right at him through the reflection on the television set. "Before I visited the desert, I was searching for my father at the highest peak of the Swiss Alps," the angel begins, by way of explanation. "When I descended into the closest town to rest and warm myself again, a woman asked me why I looked so…down."


"I told her I was searching for God. She laughed at me, and said that on occasion, tourists who bought the chocolate at her shop insisted it was truly divine."

Dean frowns and thinks that somewhere in his mind, he used to believe Swiss chocolatiers had more class than that, or something. Maybe because he could never afford any of that fancy shit. Hershey's all the way for him and Sam growing up, when they could indulge, or something. He turns to Cas then, while getting to his feet and preparing to pick up the TV. "So… you bought chocolate from her hoping you'd find God there?" he concludes, after a beat.

"Yes." Castiel sounds so earnest about it Dean doesn't have the heart to laugh, even though the story is kind of hilarious when you think about it.


"It was…sweet." Castiel's frown deepens then, and eyes the box like it has greatly disappointed him as he turns it around in his hands. "But it had no essence of the divine in it. I did not enjoy the taste, but I thought you might." Pause. "You are always telling me not to waste good food."

Dean supposes that is true, even as he mourns Castiel's lack of taste for not enjoying the awesomeness that is chocolate. Though at the same time, this clearly means more chocolate for Dean, which is a-okay in his book.

Dean finally manages to wrap up the TV cord around the screen and prepares to make off with the set. He winces a little when he lifts it though, because his bruised hand immediately protests the extra workload. " Ow. Goddam…"

His muttering is cut off before he can finish, the weight of the TV gone as Castiel wordlessly takes it from him and pushes the small box of candy into Dean's hands instead. It has been opened and looks pretty battered around the edges, probably from a combination of all the high-velocity hurling from one corner of the globe to another and the epic sounding angel fights it had been subjected to in the desert while sitting in the pocket of Cas's ridiculous trench coat. Dean can see that it had come with a neatly tied ribbon once as well, but that said ribbon has been untied and then retied again, in the same haphazard way Dean imagines Castiel would knot his own tie if he ever deigned to try.

Dean looks at the box, amused and vaguely touched that even amidst Castiel's search and Castiel's battles, the angel still deigns to remember all the little things Dean says to him. "Thanks, Cas."

Castiel wordlessly pushes the ice bucket back into Dean's hands as well, before asking, "Which room is yours?"

"207," Dean replies, and hastily adds, "It's like two doors down man, we can walk," so Cas doesn't decide to zap them in on the Angel Express.

Castiel just looks at Dean, and then the stolen TV set in his arms. Dean grins at the face the angel makes at being made an accomplice in this petty crime because it's the same kind of face Sam makes when he's doing his wet cat impression. For the first time today, there's actually something for Dean to smile about. "We'll be real sneaky," Dean assures him, and steers the angel out the door with a nudge of his shoulder. "Try to look inconspicuous."

They stroll down the hallway like that together, Dean curious and shifting the ice bucket under his arm so he can pull on the ribbon of the chocolate box with his teeth.

Castiel calmly marches them back through the unlocked door to room 207.

Back in the room, Sam looks up from his computer screen at the sound of the door opening and promptly screams in righteous indignation at the tableau Dean and Cas make, standing there with a stolen TV in the angel's arms. "Dean, are you making an angel steal a television for you?" he demands, all scandalized, like Dean hasn't made Cas do worse already. Then he pauses and looks at the open chocolate box Dean is holding, and gets even more butthurt, somehow. "And he brought you chocolate?"

"And none for you, man." Dean grins around a truffle that really is pretty fucking divine from what he can tell. But then the moment of gloating is ruined by the sound of awkward shifting from the far corner of the room, clearly timed to remind Dean that today has been a shit day and that his car is still a dude. Which is stupid, because everyone knows that all cars are girls. What the fuck .

In the meantime, the Impala and Cas have spotted each other and are doing some weird mind-meld from across the room with one another— either that or death-glaring at each other— and Dean hastily puts the ice bucket down on the dresser top and moves between them in case Cas decides to get his smite on, or something. The last thing this room needs is two super-powered beings breaking the gross Texas-themed décor.

What follows is a tense minute of scrutiny on both of said super-powered beings' parts.

Which makes Dean wonder if he should introduce them to clear the air, or something. Cas probably thinks the Impala is some sort of evil monster (which, Dean supposes, might be the case, but even still, he'd prefer for his car to not get smited…smoted? Smote? Whatever, you get the point).

Then he thinks his life is fucking ridiculous, because he's about to introduce his angel to his car. Not to mention, he still has a stupid goddamn troll hunt to deal with amidst the oncoming apocalypse. God, his life.

Though on the plus side, it turns out that he doesn't have to introduce anyone to anything after all.

"Castiel," the Impala says eventually, and wraps his new human tongue around the word like it tastes bad in his mouth. "What are you doing here?"

"Impala," Castiel acknowledges blankly, with a head tilt of grave concern in the car's direction, kind of like the one he'd given Sam when they'd first met because Sam is an abomination or whatever. "I am helping Dean."

The Impala huffs. "He doesn't need your help; he has me now."

Cas almost smirks. "I don't imagine that he finds your new form to be more helpful than your first."

Dean stares between the two of them. Sam is probably staring too, from somewhere behind his laptop screen. "Uh…so you two know each other already then?" Dean manages, only half joking.

Both beings turn to him and say, "Of course," at the exact same time, except Cas says it like Dean is a deficient three-year-old while the Impala says it like he's a Greek God. Both are equally unappreciated and not cool for a completely different set of reasons.

Dean eats another piece of chocolate while Castiel sets down the TV on the table right in front of Sam—Sam makes this hilariously put-out face that clearly wants to know when he got lost in the shuffle here—before the angel turns back to Dean.

"Your car has taken human form," he says after a beat, like he's not quite sure how to break the news to Dean and is doing his best to be sympathetic even though it's still kind of out of his bounds. Dean looks at him with that are you kidding me thing he does with his eyebrows, which Sam is really good at reading but that Castiel still gets confused with Dean's god I'm sexy face.

And from the strange expression Cas is giving him, Dean is going to go right ahead and conclude that Cas picked the wrong one of those two options. Again.

"We uh, we noticed, Cas. On account of walking here with him," he says, frowning. He pops another chocolate in his mouth because so far, they are the only thing good about today. Plus, a man needs to be properly fueled when troll hunting. Which they still have to do.

The Impala watches him eat his chocolate and looks strangely anxious. "Did Castiel bring you those, Dean?" he asks. "I could bring you better ones. Bigger ones. Like the size of my love."

Castiel doesn't seem impressed by the offer. "I don't understand what size has to do with it." Pause. "Those are handmade from Switzerland," he adds, and then looks like he doesn't quite understand why he felt the need to say that last part either.

Sam sighs from where he is now hidden behind their stolen TV. "Uh, question, Cas, I mean. If you don't mind."

"I'm sorry, Sam. I only bought the one box, and I thought Dean would share," Castiel admits, while Dean gives him a dirty look.

Sam becomes vaguely bemused at that. "No, not about the chocolate, though if Dean wasn't a giant ass he'd give me some. But he is, so, you know, nothing we can do about that." Sam stands and gestures to the corner instead, where the Impala is supposed to stay until Dean says it can leave. "Why aren't you surprised the car is uh…alive?"

Dean just eats the last chocolate in front of Sam and waves the empty box in his brother's face because Sam's angel doesn't bring him chocolates because he doesn't have one.

Meanwhile, Castiel blinks at Sam's question in a way that Dean thinks is Cas's this is why I don't bring you things, stupid Sam face. "Your car has been alive for longer than either you or Dean has, Sam," the angel says out loud, patiently. "I don't see why I should be surprised to find it still alive."

Dean promptly chokes on his chocolate.

"Uh, what?" Sam says, a little more eloquently, while the Impala panics and asks Dean if he wants water, or a ride to the ER, or mouth to mouth resuscitation.

Castiel, apparently way less concerned about Dean's obstructed airway than the car is, calmly stands and watches Dean while the Impala crashes into the bathroom to get him a cup of water.

"And you didn't think to tell us that my car is alive?" Dean manages a minute later, after he's taken a sip of water and made the Impala go stand in the corner again, before he breaks any more stuff. Those crashes he'd heard coming from the bathroom just now hadn't sounded promising.

"I didn't want to bring it up," the angel admits, after a long, slightly sheepish pause. "Seeing that my relationship with your vehicle is…contentious at best. I felt it would have been awkward to put you in the middle of that."

Dean and Sam stare at each other. Sam does a few opening-and-closings of his mouth for a second, but no words come out.

Dean kind of gets where his brother is coming from with that, but he has way too much dignity to do a fish impression. So he holds a hand to his head and says, "My car is alive. It has been for more than thirty years, and you didn't want to tell me this because you and the car don't get along?"

Castiel frowns, like he has no idea why Dean is taking that aggravated tone with him. "Yes," the angel answers, slightly ruffled. "Also, after weighing the pros and cons, it seemed entirely pointless to bring my grievances to you."

"Yeah, since Dean obviously can't fix what an enormous, homewrecking dick you are," the Impala chimes in, arms crossed.

Castiel glares at him. "I could crush you where you stand if I desired to," he reminds the former vehicle, a low rumbly edge in his voice.

The Impala is not impressed. "But you won't, because Dean loves me best."

Castiel's jaw twitches. The Impala looks triumphant.

Dean groans. "I can't believe my fucking life sometimes," he mutters.

In the meantime, Sam has finally regained his faculties. Or what is left of them. "Waitaminute!" he huffs, throwing his hands out on either side of him. "Can we please rewind to the part about the car being alive in the first place? What does that even mean, Cas? Is it cursed?"

Cas sighs and takes a seat on the edge of the bed closest to the table. He tilts his head slightly, in a way that means he's thinking very carefully about how to simplify this upcoming explanation so that it doesn't make the puny humans' heads explode. "I believe the closest human term for this phenomenon on earth is tsukumogami," he says, which makes about as much sense to Dean as putting dogs in sweaters (which is to say, none). For some reason Sam thinks it's adorable though.

Speaking of Sam, he is now nerdgasming from the coffee table, which just figures. "Really? Really?" Sam delights, looking at the sulking Impala with a newfound appreciation. "It's… the spirit of the car?"

Dean feels compelled to sit down at that moment as well, and nudges Cas over on the mattress a bit so he can. "What the hell is a wookiemygummy?" he demands, flat out.

"Tsukumogami," Sam corrects, like a bitch. "It's the living spirit in all things, Dean. I mean, it's kind of a…Shinto idea, mostly, with some other influences clearly, but what it basically says is that everything has a spirit, even small, everyday objects."

Dean gives his brother his blankest look. Sam sighs in exasperation. "Basically, the belief behind a tsukumogami is that sometimes, when a certain item or object has a purpose, and is used for that purpose with reverence and love by the people who it belongs to for many years, that object will develop its own…awareness. Or, become alive, I guess, depending on your definition of the word."

Sam pauses then, to make a face at Dean when he plays his own words back to himself. "I knew you loved that car way too much."

"And I love Dean back!" The Impala choruses obediently from the corner, though he is still glaring something fierce at Castiel while the angel sits comfortably next to Dean on the motel's outlandish desert-printed bedspread. "And we're going to get married and live happily ever after, because now we can. In some states."

Dean is way too boggled by this new turn of events to remember to tell the car to shut up. "Whoa, whoa, whoa, so there are a billion potential spirits out there made of stuff we use, and no one decided to tell us about this? How do we kill them?"

"They are not dangerous," Castiel explains. "And they are not known for taking human form, or manifesting on this plane of existence at all, from what I have observed. A tsukumogami object also takes at least a hundred years to come into full awareness." Pause. "Your case is obviously…unique."

"When the fuck is it not," Dean mutters, while the Impala shuffles forlornly in the corner.

"We should discover what has caused this and undo it quickly," Castiel surmises. The Impala sputters.

"Of course you would say that!" The car rails, arms crossed and glowering at the angel. "Why can't you accept our love? Just because you don't like me doesn't give you the right to take away Dean's best shot at happiness, Castiel."

Dean twitches. "Look, buddy. There is no love between you and me," he insists, because the Impala sounds like a man-ified version of Becky only as a Dean girl or whatever. Either way it's creepy. "You and I are love-free. We're not getting married or having little Bionic Man babies. Got it?"

The Impala's anger at Castiel turns to utter heartbreak at Dean's words. "D-Dean?" He stammers. "But you always say that I'm your baby and that you love me more than anyone else."

The dude looks like he's going to cry.

And Sam does not help. "It is true, man. You do say that," he confirms.

Dean sputters. "Look, you are my car. I am not marrying my car."

The Impala takes a step towards him and vibrates in place, like it's taking all his willpower to not just zoom over and wrap Dean up in his arms. "But I'm not a car now. I was given this form so that I could make you happy. I'm your reward!" Pause. "I know you never think you deserve anything good, but you do. And I'll be good to you, at least as good to you as you always are to me."

Dean looks at Cas for help on this one because Sam is obviously not up to offering any.

Castiel blinks. "I agree that you deserve good things, Dean."

"And you shouldn't be such a jerk," Sam adds, clearly sympathetic to the Impala's plight.

Dean decides that his angel is now about as helpful as his brother, which is to say not at all. Dean sighs and stands, putting up his hands placatingly while the Impala looks all fiery-eyed and righteous with conviction over just how much Dean deserves good things. "Look, man, it's… uh, it's flattering that you feel that strongly about me, but I really can't accept your feelings, okay." God, Dean feels like he's in middle school or something. "I mean, there are too many things going on right now, and I'm focused on other stuff and other people and that whole apocalypse thing. Plus you're a car."

The Impala stops. "Other…people?" he manages, and Dean just figures that's the phrase the guy zeroes in on. "Like… you love other people?"

Dean blinks. "What now?" He's not sure how the car got from here to there, but he's pretty sure it's not his fault. He hopes.

The Impala frowns, not noticing Dean's boggled expression as the former car goes all thoughtful and disappointed. "But the only people I ever see you with are Sam and Bobby and…" the car trails off abruptly, turning disbelieving eyes on Castiel. "Castiel?" He demands hotly, "You're in love with Castiel? I knew he loved you, but I thought there was no way that was going to be requited. When? How?"

Dean is not sure how to answer any of that. Or maybe incapable, because he's finally echoing Sammy on that whole impression-of-a-fish thing his brother had going for him a little while ago.

Cas looks on curiously, like he gets accused of loving Dean all the time.

Sam just looks like he is starting to get impatient with all this exciting talk about his brother's love life and the fact that Dean obviously needs to learn his lesson about kissing the hood of his car in the future, and talking to it in a voice that cheap phone sex operators probably use to lure overweight businessmen into long, expensive conversations with.

"Yes," Sam cuts in abruptly, while Dean is still reeling from all the oh my god sensations of being accused of being an item with Cas. "Dean and Cas are a thing. They've been this… thing… for a long time now and you wouldn't want to hurt Dean by pressuring him into another relationship when he's obviously already in a…thing, do you?"

Dean stares at Sam like he thinks his brother has gone evil again. Castiel has his brow furrowed and his lips pursed like he's trying to figure out if what Sam means by a thing and a relationship is what he thinks Sam means.

Sam, Dean thinks, is using vague terms on purpose because he is totally being a sneaky lawyer about this.


And then Sam clears his throat and nods at Dean while giving Dean a look; he gestures vaguely to the Impala and then gives Dean a second, more urgent look.

"Right!" Dean finds himself chiming in, almost by instinct. He and Sam have run so many cons together that it's second nature to just go with whatever the other sets up for them now, regardless of how insane it might be. United Winchester front, or something. "Cas and I are a…thing." Pause. "Together. Cas and I are together, so you know, I can't be with you. Or anything. Because you know I'm not a cheater, right?"

Cas turns his frown on Dean now, because while it is true that they are together in this same room, he's not sure if together in this context means what Dean is insinuating it means. He hates it when the Winchesters are vague, but then again, they've accused him of doing the same thing, so he supposes there is that.

In the meantime, Dean gives Cas a look a lot like the one Sam had given Dean a moment ago. From previous experience (a moment ago), Cas implicitly understands that he is supposed to stand up and agree with Dean in a fervent and vague manner. That is apparently the goal of this strange exercise.

So he stands and says, "Yes. We are…a thing. Together."

Sam and Dean look relieved, so Castiel supposes he has performed correctly.

Then Dean, swelling with confidence, does something odd.

He grabs Castiel's hand in his and twines their fingers together.

Castiel isn't sure if he's supposed to respond in like, but seeing as to how it had worked a moment ago, he reaches out and grabs Sam's hand and threads their fingers together too.

The Impala looks at the three of them in confusion.

Dean grits his teeth, but forces a smile. "Right. So that's us. One big happy family."

Sam not-so-subtly pulls his hand out of Cas's. "Right! So, uh…now that that's all cleared up…can we please focus on this troll hunt? You know, the one where people are dying?"

All eyes are on the confounded Impala, waiting for his reaction.

The car eventually sighs. "I think I get it," he says, after a moment.

Dean—hand still intertwined with Cas's— looks hopeful.

But then the Impala stands up straighter. "Clearly, I've been given human form to stop Dean from making a horrible mistake." His eyes are on Castiel when he says the last two words, and they're dripping with barely concealed disdain.

Castiel frowns, because he's pretty sure he understands what the Impala is suggesting. It, somehow, is much clearer about things than either of the brothers despite only very recently being given the gift of speech.

Dean frowns too, for different reasons entirely, most of which involve not liking his car's tone at all. "What are you saying, exactly?" He demands, and is strangely defensive on Castiel's behalf. He never knew his car could be such a bitch, for all that it's apparently a dude.

But the Impala looks at Dean and just smiles, warm and loving and as affectionate as ever. "What I'm saying is, I'm going to make you realize that you belong with me, Dean. Then you can break up with Castiel, and we can be happy together like we're meant to be."

Dean gapes.

Sam shrugs—hey, he'd tried – and points to the laptop screen. "Can we concentrate on the troll?" he reminds them. "It isn't going to stop killing people while the universe tries to sort out Dean's love life."

Dean glares at Sam, because clearly his plan had been stupid and isn't working since the Impala is a little bit psycho for Dean. Sam just raises his eyebrows and glances at Dean's hand, which is still tangled resolutely with Cas's.

Dean hastily releases the angel. "Okay, right. Work," he declares, glancing pointedly at the Impala. "If you're my ba…car… then you know that the job always comes first."

The Impala looks at Dean with unbounded fondness. "Of course! I'd never stand in the way of your work, Dean. Or tell you how to do it, or make it more difficult for you, or lie to you or use it against you, or trick you about it in any way. I've seen how that hurts you before," he says sweetly, with another one of those pointed looks at Castiel.

Castiel narrows his eyes and silently glowers back. Sam thinks he's got a pretty convincing handle on the Winchester Menace. Must be from being on the receiving end of it so many times.

"Jesus Christ," Dean mutters, and gestures to Sam in a resigned sort of huff. "Okay, so troll. We are talking about the troll now and nothing else. Got it?"

Sam nods and turns the laptop towards his brother so Dean can see. "So uh, from the articles and the police reports Bobby's sent me, it looks like so far, it's been five girls, five weeks. They always disappear from either a frat party or from one of the local bars near Tech's campus. We've got one witness who says she swears she saw her friend being abducted by a ten foot tall man with hideous facial disfigurements and awful breath. When she tried to fight him off to save her friend, he flung her into a wall. She broke her leg and her collarbone."

Dean winces. "And the cops?"

"Say her BAC was way too high to consider her testimony completely reliable. They are investigating some of the frat houses though."

"Her testimony sounds pretty accurate to me," Dean mutters, and sits down again. "A fucking troll. Great. I hate looking for tunnels."

"I can help with the troll!" the Impala offers. "I can definitely help with the troll. Because I'm still useful even though I'm not as strong as I used to be." Pause. "Unlike some people."

Castiel turns the Winchester Menace up to twelve without even trying to.

Dean ignores the pissy angel and instinctively balks at the notion of taking his car on a hunt as backup. Sam, still determined not to be helpful, just looks thoughtful at the proposition. "You know, he kind of has a point, Dean. We could use him."

Dean can't believe this. "No, Sam. He's not human!"

"Neither is Cas," Sam points out. Cas eyes both brothers dubiously, but the Menace subsides when he does, which is probably a good sign.

Sam just keeps looking at Dean. "And the Impala is pretty strong. Which would probably help against trolls. Which are also not human, and also really strong."

"I'm fast too," the Impala reminds them.

"He's fast too," Sam echoes, still looking expectantly at Dean.

Dean is resolute. "Sam."

Sam is just as resolute. "Dean."

There is some staring after that. That possibly evolves into a telling look from Sam, one that obviously means, we need all the muscle we can get for this one, and he might keep one of us from getting hurt like that girl did. Maybe even me.

Sam is a sneaky, sneaky bastard.

Which is why, eventually, Sam wins.

"Fine," Dean sighs after he loses the staring contest because his little brother plays some dirty fucking pool when he wants to. Dean turns and glances sternly at the Impala. "But you do everything I say. And no being creepy in public, man."

"Of course!" The Impala looks so stupidly grateful to be of service that Dean finds himself kind of uncomfortable looking the former car in his big, blue eyes. So Dean does the natural Dean thing; he averts his gaze quickly.

Except he averts right into the slightly disapproving big blue eyes of an angel. "Shut up," Dean tells Cas, before he can speak.

Castiel sighs but obligingly doesn't say anything because he's awesome, while Sam gloats to himself at the table and suggests that they go interview the injured witness tomorrow at the hospital after breakfast.

And so, Dean's shitty day finally ends fifteen minutes before midnight, with Dean reluctantly agreeing to take his falling angel, his suddenly humanoid car, and his once-upon-a-time demon blood enhanced little brother out in the morning for a good old fashioned troll hunt. It almost sounds like a joke, when he thinks about it. An angel, a robot, and an abomination walk into an underground bar.

Dean has a feeling that this particular punchline is going to suck though.

Sherry, the college student who'd gotten troll whacked, turns out to be particularly cooperative when it comes to explaining the events of the night her friend Rhonda disappeared, mostly because, hilariously enough, she takes an instant liking to Castiel, who she feels has honest eyes. On the other side of things, she also gives Dean this absolute stink-eyed look after he smiles at her and tells her she has a pretty name, snorting at the older Winchester like she's seen a ton of sleaze balls just like him in her twenty-two short years on this earth and has uniformly decided that she's done with those kinds of men forever, thanks very much.

Dean tells himself it probably has more to do with the jerkoffs she'd met at the frat party that she and Rhonda had been attending right before the troll napping than it has to do with him personally. It's psychological, or something.

Sam says, "Yeah, sure, whatever, Dean," to that, and then promptly waves Dean over to take up a post by the door because he clearly makes the witness uncomfortable. As such, Dean is obliged to stand with the Impala while Sam plays Cas's honest eyes—or whatever— to their fullest advantage by using them to milk Sherry for every detail she can recall about Rhonda's kidnapping, even the weird ones.

"There," Sam says to Sherry, once Dean has been quarantined to the doorway with the Impala, "I'm sorry if he made you feel uncomfortable, Sherry, but Agent Ehart is really a decent guy despite how he looks. And sounds." Pause. "Most of the time."

The young co-ed shrugs noncommittally. "He just looks kind of like one of those generic frat pledge douchebags who were hounding on me and Rhonda right before she got abducted," she admits tearfully, while Cas and Sam sit at her hospital side and look nonthreatening and nerdy. Dean scowls in their general direction, because he can hear her, thanks, while the Impala looks indignant on his behalf. "One of those guys got super handsy with me, which is why I made Rhonda leave early with me, even though she totally wanted to stay. If I hadn't…I mean, if I'd ignored it, maybe she wouldn't…" Sherry breaks down into sobs.

Dean thinks maybe he'll forgive her for the douchebag frat boy comment.

The Impala doesn't feel as charitable. "She doesn't know how awesome you are," he mutters, in high dungeon over the perceived insults to Dean (which really, just makes Dean even more uncomfortable than the actual insults). "But don't worry, you're not a douchebag, Dean. You're the nicest, best looking guy in the world."

Pause. "I could tell her," the Impala offers next, while tugging slightly at the corner of the suit he had borrowed from Sam because apparently little Winchester brothers and Chevys all run a little on the freakishly humongous side when attempting to take human shape. "Once she knows how nice you are to me, and how much you love me and take care of me, I'm sure she'd stop saying mean things about you."

Dean scowls at him. "Stop messing with your goddamn tie," is all he says.

Back at the girl's bedside, Sam clears his throat and offers a sympathetic squeeze to her arm. "Right, well, Sherry, I know this might be hard, but can you uh, can you please describe to us what you saw that night? Just…whatever you remember, even if it sounds weird. Every detail counts in an investigation like this."

"We have dealt with much stranger things than you can imagine," Castiel adds, awkwardly but earnestly, and makes Sherry smile weakly.

"Sure. I mean…but I was pretty drunk," she admits. "Even still, I swear, the guy was like, ten feet tall. Even taller than you," she adds, with a look at Sam. Sam manages a small huff of laughter at her weak attempt at a joke. Buoyed, she takes a deep breath and ploughs on. "And he smelled. His breath was like… a garbage dump, or a slaughterhouse or something, it was just so rank. I can't believe we didn't smell him coming from a mile away. "

Sam writes all of this down dutifully. "What did he uh, what did he look like?"

Sherry shudders visibly. "It was dark, but he had this face…god, it was like he had this nose that took up half of his face, and this long, nasty weave that looked like it'd never been washed. He also had these beady, shifty eyes." She pauses to lower her voice a little, while glancing towards Dean in the doorway. "Kind of like Agent Ehart's."

Dean bristles. "I can still hear you!" he insists, gritting his teeth. Then, "My eyes are not beady," he adds, somehow not for the first time in his life.

"You have very nice eyes, Dean," Castiel and the Impala say at exactly the same time. Then they glare at each other.

Sam coughs. "Right. And… where did this ten foot man come from? Even drunk, it must have been hard for someone so big and smelly to just sneak up on you like that."

Sherry runs a shaky hand through her hair. "I don't know…I mean, we were really drunk, but I could have sworn he just appeared out of the ground, right behind Rhonda. One minute we were helping each other back to our apartment, and then the next second he just…comes out of the dirt and picks her up without a word. I tried to…I tried to fight him off, I guess, but he just whacked me and then I was out."

Sam writes that down too. "And this frat house…where was it?"

"Right in the middle of Greek Row," she admits. "The Beta Theta Pi house. You can't miss it; it's the one that's halfway remodeled. And it's got the biggest douchebags on the planet inside."

Her lip starts trembling then, and even though she's kind of got a nasty mouth on her, Dean feels his heart give a little lurch when she looks right into Cas's eyes and asks, softly, "Do you guys think…is Rhonda going to be okay? I mean, it's my fault she…I took her there…"

Castiel reaches out to pat the back of her shaking hand with two fingers; it's kind of silly, and definitely not the squeeze it should have been if he'd been doing this correctly, but it seems to lend the kid some comfort anyway. Dean is downright proud of him at that moment. "We will do everything in our power to find her," Castiel says sincerely, voice gentle but powerful. "You are not to blame for what happened."

Sherry manages a watery smile at the strength of his conviction. "Thank you, Agent Hope."

Cas eventually pulls back his hand, like he's remembering Dean's lecture about personal space suddenly, while Sam reaches into his breast pocket for a business card. "Look, Sherry, if you remember anything else, or even if you just want to talk, call me any time, okay?"

She nods, and then, with one last encouraging smile, Sam turns and ushers Cas back towards the door, where Dean and the Impala wait, looking like a pair of cheaply dressed, grumpy bodyguards.

"You hear that?" Sam asks in low tones as they head down the hallway together.

Dean nods. "Bobby was right. Definitely a troll."

"So now what?" The Impala asks, right behind Dean and way too many inches inside of his personal space. It's hard to believe there is someone worse out there than Cas is about this, but here they are.

Dean scowls and takes a step to his right, because his car breathing in his ear in that fluttery voice is super creepy. He ends up bumping into Cas instead when he does, but at least Cas doesn't give him the come hither eyes when they're standing that close.

"It means that we find a troll tunnel and gank it in its lair," Sam continues while Dean does the dance of Impala avoidance right there in the corridor. "The last girl might still be alive, but we probably shouldn't hold our breath on the other four at this point."

Dean's visage turns grim.

"How will we find this troll, exactly?" Castiel asks next, and Dean can feel the angel's breath against the back of his neck. Seriously, this is getting kind of ridiculous. Dean turns and puts his hand on Cas's arm, and then very carefully pulls Cas towards him so that they can switch places.

Cas and the Impala are now standing next to each other in the narrow hospital hallway while Dean is positioned comfortably behind them. Sam pauses at the head of the pack to look vaguely bemused as angel and car glare at each other.

"We'll find it," Dean continues, oblivious to the animosity now that he has his personal space bubble back, "by checking out the sewer maps around this Greek row place. Once we find the lair, we get it into the sun and bam, one ugly stone troll."

"That sounds… deceptively simple," Castiel concludes.

"Dean's plans are awesome like that," the Impala declares. "They always work."

"I did not say they didn't," Castiel responds, looking at the Impala with distaste.

"Okay, ladies, no catfights in the hospital, okay? You're both pretty," Dean prompts, and urges them into the parking lot.

They naturally comply, but don't stop glowering at each other. Dean thinks it will make the next few hours' research super fun.

Later, after Sam has found blueprints to the sewer system with his magical internet navigation skills and they've studied them until Dean feels like his eyes are crossing, Sam and Cas finally deign to put all the information together like the nerds they are and make one of those neat push pin maps with a different colored pin marking each place that the five victims were taken from.

From there, the brothers, the car, and the grumpy angel in the trench coat manage to come to a pretty fair estimation of where a central underground location that would be ideal for troll dwellings is, given the evidence, as well as two possible entrance points that the creature hunts from. One is at Greek row on the edge of campus, and the other is in town, within easy striking distance of several low-end bars that cater to the local college students.

"So… you pick one, I pick one, we meet in the middle, see if we can catch this guy sleeping?" Dean sums up, once they've got a lay of the land.

Sam nods. "Looks like."

They both turn to eye their supernatural companions.

The Impala looks hopefully at Dean.

Dean sighs. "Okay, Impala, you're with me. Cas, you're with Sam."

The Impala crows victory, while Cas just nods and doesn't argue, and for some reason, looks triumphant anyway.

Sam chalks it up to Cas not getting the whole competition thing between him in the Impala, but whatever. "We'll take the bars," Sam says. "Since Sherry seemed to think you'd fit in at Beta Theta Pi."

"Eat me," Dean grouses, but goes to throw the necessary equipage into his duffel. "C'mon, Tin Man," he says, gesturing to the Impala. "Time to head down this yellow shit road."

"Do you want me to carry you?" the Impala suggests, eagerly following Dean towards the door, though not without one last, incredibly smug look over his shoulder at Castiel. "I could carry you."

"Carry the bag," Dean gripes back, as they disappear. "Two hours, Sam! Call if there's trouble."

Sam shakes his head and goes to grab his own gear, while Castiel's gaze remains fixed on Dean and his tall, handsome man-car walking off into the afternoon sunlight together. Eventually, Castiel moves to help Sam.

"Weird," Sam says, conversationally, "I thought he would have picked you."

"I am glad he did not," Castiel answers cryptically, and then says nothing else.

Sam gives him an odd look as they head out of the hotel room and has no idea what that's supposed to mean. He tells himself Cas probably just doesn't get it.

After discovering that the Beta Theta Pi house's cause for undergoing construction is a bad case of slipping foundation, it doesn't take genius to figure that there's probably a connection to their disappearing girl problems and the fact that the house is essentially sinking. Dean and the Impala manage to break into the basement—where it looks like some serious illegal shit is going down, by the way, but that's not really any of their business—and before long, the pair manage to find a good sized hole behind a stack of empty kegs that is more than likely serving as the troll's front door.

The smell kind of confirms it, because even amongst the stench of stale beer and unwashed laundry, Dean is pretty sure he can detect the familiar wafting scents of what amounts to a direct line into the sewer system.

As Dean climbs into the hole with a flashlight in his mouth and a shotgun loaded with consecrated iron bullets in his hands, he thinks it is a sad, sad thing when a man as freakishly handsome as himself has been forced to become so intimate with what a goddamned sewer smells like. How many guys as good looking as he is can say they've spent a whole lot of time tromping around pipes full of poo?

When he touches down at the bottom of the hole a few seconds later he frowns and shines the flashlight down a series of slimy tunnels, sending rats scurrying away from their foraging to avoid the ray of the beam.

"This is gross," the Impala complains as he drops down onto the concrete beside Dean. Dean concurs, but it's kind of uncool to say it out loud at a time like this.

"You're free to go back if you want," he tells the car. "Don't let me keep you."

The Impala brightens. "No way! You chose me, so I'm going to stay with you no matter what," he says brightly. Then, shyly, "And soon you'll see that I'm way more willing to show you how much I love you and appreciate you than that stuffy angel does." Pause. Frown. "Why'd you even decide to go out with him anyway? You two barely touch each other."

Dean snorts. "Yeah, well, Cas'n me are understated and subtextual that way," he mutters absently. "Now be quiet, we don't wanna give this thing any warning."

The Impala frowns, but Dean pulls out a copy of the map Sam had printed out for him earlier and heads down the route they'd highlighted in red pen earlier. Sam's nerdishness is good for things sometimes. "This way. Stay close."

The Impala happily creeps closer. And closer. And closer.

Dean sighs when he feels arms go around his waist and a chin settle on his shoulder. "Not that close," he grits out.

The Impala sighs and lets go before taking a measured step back.

Dean keeps walking and hopes Sam appreciates the things he does for him.

But Sam, as per usual, is not properly appreciating the things Dean does for him at all— not at this very moment anyway—because Sam is busy dropping down a manhole behind a bar called The Blue Light Live and looking put out at the funky smells that attack him as he does.

Castiel is waiting at the bottom for him already, gazing off into the darkness with that Blue Steel expression of his. It looks like the smell doesn't bother him, at least.

"Anything?" Sam asks, under his breath.

"It…stinks," Castiel offers after a moment, like he's not sure what Sam is asking when he uses the word anything. He furrows his brow again, in that humans are so imprecise, I hate it way of his.

Sam huffs and glances down the tunnel that is supposed to lead them back towards campus. "Right. You uh, you need a gun or anything? Dean said you were injured yesterday, or something."

"If it is just a troll," Castiel surmises, and looks down at his hands. "These should be enough." He says it with such certainty that Sam can't help but be impressed; Dean spends so much time joking and ribbing and coaxing Cas to eat things he has no interest in that sometimes Sam forgets how stupidly intimidating angels are supposed to be, even with theirs losing a little bit of his heavenly juice every day.

But the angel doesn't seem particularly powerless right now, just grim and confident, and for a minute, Sam wonders if that's why Cas is here with him instead of with Dean as per usual. He wouldn't put it past his brother to plan for this.

Cas seems to get that too, so Sam doesn't protest when Cas leads the way, Sam picking his way carefully down the dark tunnel while Castiel listens in that way that means he hears more than just rats and dripping water. Like he's listening to the entire universe of the sewer, or something.

It is while they are plodding along through the darkness together like this that Sam finds himself asking, at random, "So I get why you and the Impala don't get along now maybe, but what uh, what made you dislike each other you know, before?"

Castiel eyes Sam for a while, like he's trying to figure out how to say this in terms Sam can appreciate. After a while, when Sam is about to give up on getting an answer, Castiel gives a sound in the back of his throat that sounds a lot like harrumph before he opens his mouth to respond. "The Impala was too young then to articulate to me the exact reasons for its dislike, but from what I was able to sense of its growing awareness, it seemed to be a…territorial issue."

Sam blinks. "Territorial?"

"Upon my arrival I was too often transporting Dean to places via my own conveyance and leaving the car behind, I suspect."

Sam considers this. "It was jealous you took Dean places?"

"Among other things," Castiel murmurs dryly, like he can't be expected to take a whelp like the Impala's personal grievances with him seriously. Castiel is older than dirt, after all.

Sam wants to ask what other things there might be, but before he can, the angel goes dead still at a fork in the tunnels and holds up a hand for Sam to stop. "Cas?" he murmurs, under his breath.

Castiel doesn't even blink for a good thirty seconds. Sam finds himself unconsciously holding his breath beside the angel.

And then, very abruptly, Sam yelps when Cas grabs him by the arm and throws him aside like he weighs nothing. Into a puddle. A puddle of ick. Gross.

Then, before Sam can demand "What the hell?" properly to his brother's angel, the wall beside them comes crashing inward.

For the most part the coast is clear except for the rats and the smell of poop, and as Dean warily navigates the tunnels towards the area they'd deemed as Most Likely To Be Home To Any Local Man-eating Cave Dwellers, he starts tapping the wall, looking for weaknesses or any gaps that might be missed by a casual observer. Some place for things to hide in.

Beside him, the Impala tries to mirror his movements, but after he accidentally busts a hole in the wall and ends up scratching his knuckles in the process, Dean just tells him to hang back so he won't hurt himself (or bring the sewers down around Dean, though he doesn't voice that part). The Impala, of course, looks touched and declares (in a whisper that might as well be a scream), "You always do hate it when I get scratched."

Dean rolls his eyes but bites back any disparaging remarks about how he's not so concerned with that right now when he spies a hastily erected wood and cement blockade condemning a section of the underground tunnels as dead-ended. When he looks at it, and then the map again, he feels a small smile of triumph curling at the corners of his mouth. "Bingo."

He pockets his map and heads directly towards it. The Impala happily follows.

Sam feels kind of useless.

Then again, it's not just a feeling.

But at the same time, Cas had told him to "Stay down," just as the wall had basically imploded on top of the angel, revealing a not-quite ten foot tall troll with, as Sherry had intimated, beady eyes, thick, unwashed hair, and breath horrible enough to make Sam wish it was just good old poop down here after all.

Sam watches as Cas blocks a swipe of the troll's giant, meaty hands and shoves, sending the creature staggering back. It blinks in surprise at the puny human's unexpected strength, before growling and stumbling forward again with a gnashing of its large, blunt teeth.

Sam tries to aim his shotgun at the troll's chest, but hesitates to fire because he's not certain he can shoot without hitting the angel in the conditions of intermittent light they find themselves in. Plus, the two dueling supernatural beings are probably moving much faster than he can properly shoot. He'd just as likely hit Cas as the troll. And while he knows that won't kill the angel, it definitely won't help him either.

Sam winces when the troll manages to blindside Cas and send the angel flying into a bunch of pipes with a metallic crunch that means hours of poo-filled fun for the city's water treatment maintenance workers, and while the angel winces and gets back to his feet groggily, it affords Sam the chance to take a couple of shots, one of which goes wide, but the other of which causes the troll to roar in pain. Sam isn't sure what part of the monster he'd hit, but he figures in these conditions, a hit is a hit, and in any case, it gives Castiel the time he needs to shake himself off a little before striding forward again, looking irate.

"Enough!" Castiel booms, voice somehow drowning out the insensate cries of the troll in the dripping emptiness of the underground. He blocks a swipe of the monster's massive hands with his forearm, whooshes right into the troll's face, and touches two fingers to its chest with an impatient glare.

In the blink of an eye, both troll and angel disappear in a rush of feathers.

Leaving Sam alone in the sewers. He hastily staggers to his feet. "Cas?" he cries, bewildered. He quickly makes his way back to the spot Cas had last been standing in and searches for any sign of the angel, despite knowing deep down that by now, Cas is probably hundreds of miles away. And here Dean had said he'd been injured.

"Okay then," Sam sighs, and wonders if he should wait here for Castiel to report back or to push on towards the troll's lair alone, in order to help Dean find a hopefully still living, if horribly frightened, Rhonda Burke.

Just as he's resolved to head back down the path by himself, there is another rush of air and Castiel appears in front of him again, sending up a cloud of dust from the newly fallen debris before the angel stumbles slightly upon landing and Sam is obliged to catch him as best he can. "Cas?" he exhales, wide-eyed as Sam struggles to hold up the angel and keep from dropping his shotgun in the process. The angel feels alarmingly hot to the touch all of a sudden, enough to make the places where Sam is holding him up tingle unpleasantly. "You okay?"

"Fine," Castiel rumbles, though he sounds more than weary and a little bit dazed when he does. He manages to keep his own feet though, and after a minute, shakes himself off and rolls his shoulders a little, as if they're feeling kind of sore. After a hand-to-hand battle with a troll, Sam supposes they probably are.

"What did you do?" the younger Winchester can't help but ask, as he looks the angel over for any obvious injuries (as Dean had taught him to do, because apparently, sometimes Castiel is bleeding and doesn't notice it himself). "Where did you go?"

Cas blinks back at him, like he is trying to figure out why Sam is giving him such an odd look. "Dean intimated earlier that trolls turned to stone in the sun," he answers after a beat, when Sam figures the angel's as well off as can be told in a dark, rank smelling sewer.

Sam whistles. "Wow, so you uh… zapped him into the sunlight, huh?"

Castiel blinks at him some more. "I took him into the sun," he corrects.

Sam's brow furrows, because that's what he'd said, hadn't it?

A beat.

And then Sam whistles again, because he finally gets what the distinction is. "Wow. All the way to the sun? Really?"

Castiel seems grumpy as he too, realizes what has happened here. "If I had known that simple sunlight would suffice, I would have stopped there," the angel mutters, before turning to head down the tunnel again. Sam tries not to be amused at the face Cas is making, the one that clearly says ugh human words. Clearly trips to the sun and back are kind of annoying when your wings are sore or whatever else is wrong with them.

Sam chuckles to himself quietly as Cas leads the way and is suddenly—not for the first time, mind—super happy that they have at least one an angel on their side.

The troll lair, Dean thinks, is exactly what he imagined a troll lair to be like.

It is stinky, and kind of dank, really dark, and full of rats that are busily scavenging the bones of victims 1-4.

Victim 4 is not quite finished yet. Which is gross and sad, but at the same time, a good sign, because when Dean finds what seems to be half a leg and about a third of a torso of troll-boy's last meal, it means that Rhonda is probably still alive, strung up somewhere in here in storage for the next go around. A midnight snack or something. Midday, if trolls are nocturnal. Whatever.

The Impala crowds close behind Dean as they carefully poke around the space, Dean shining his flashlight beam in sweeping patterns and peeking into various caverns and nooks the troll seems to have dug out of the dirt and concrete, in order to store things like skulls and shiny trinkets and in one super creepy corner, teeth and hair and for some odd reason, a bunch of shoes.

It is while he is staring at this macabre collection of souvenirs that Dean hears the heavy tromping sound of approaching footsteps, and instantly wary, he motions the Impala back towards one of the darker corners, and aims his shotgun at the entrance. He shuts his flashlight off.

The footsteps stop at the mouth of the lair, and Dean can hear the creaking sound of the boards being moved, to reveal the very large hole that serves as the entrance to the troll's cavern. Dean's finger braces the trigger of his weapon as he keeps a steady bead on the entrance.

A hulking, inhumanely massive figure with gross hair and a pissy face ducks in.

But it is a completely familiar one.

"Dean?" Sam asks, as he pokes his head into the lair, not bothering t whisper. "You in here?"

Dean huffs a breath of relief and lowers his gun. "Yeah, Sammy. You find anything?"

"Cas ganked the troll," Sam says simply, sounding completely at ease as he shines his own flashlight inside, in order to look around the cavernous room with its many offshoots in a mixture of horrified wonder.

Dean blinks when he hears of the troll's demise. "What? Really? Already?" He shines his flashlight on his brother. "You okay?"

"Yeah, Dean, fine. Cas took care of it."

Dean seems satisfied to hear that, while Cas follows Sam through the entrance a moment later, looking irate. "Cas?" Dean asks. "You okay?"

"You should be more specific about the sun and sunlight, Dean," Cas says, by way of (fail) greeting.

That makes no sense to Dean. "Uh, what?" He wonders if Cas got troll-whacked upside the head. Those fuckers have some meat hooks on them. His angel could maybe have a concussion.

"This place is huge," Sam murmurs randomly in the meantime, ignoring Dean's confusion as he turns a full 360 degrees to take the lair in.

"Yeah, it's very Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," Dean agrees, while turning the beam of his flashlight away from Sam and onto Cas so that he can examine the rumpled angel warily. Fighting trolls sucks no matter who you are, and Cas is still injured or whatever from that skirmish with his brothers the other day. "Cas? You sure you're okay?" he asks next, deliberately. "Remember that conversation we had last week about random bleeding and how you need to not do it?"

"I am fine," Castiel intones, looking around the cavern as well and looking weary. "There is no blood."

Dean nods and supposes he'll have to be satisfied with that for now, though he'll check the angel over more thoroughly later, because as far as he's concerned, Cas is still kind of hopeless about this losing-his-grace-in-bits-and-pieces thing and sometimes forgets that as he grows weaker, he can't just ignore things like cuts and bullets and stab wounds as readily as he might have in days of yore. Though, belatedly, a thought occurs to Dean. "How'd you gank it down here anyway? You facepalm it and set it on holy fire?"

"No," Castiel says, but doesn't move to elaborate.

"He flew to the sun and dropped the troll into it, Dean," Sam explains for him. "You really should be more specific next time." Then Sam lowers his voice. "I don't think he was happy to make the trip."

Dean blinks. "What? The sun? Really?" Then he frowns at Cas. "I thought we weren't doing any taxing journey stuff with your wings while they healed."

Sam frowns too. "Is it really that bad?"

"So that's why he won't go away," the Impala realizes, and earns a glare from the angel.

"Don't be a dick," Dean admonishes the car, before turning to Cas again. "You didn't fuck up your wings worse by flying into outer space, did you?"

Castiel looks vaguely sheepish. "I will be fine so long as I don't do that again," he says, evasively. "We should find Rhonda Burke."

Dean feels weirdly guilty about this whole thing even though he hadn't even been there, but tells himself he'll work on being less vague in the future. In the meantime, Cas has a point. He focuses. "So we found leftovers of the last victim a few minutes ago; I'm hoping the fact that there were still leftovers at all means our guy hasn't killed Rhonda yet."

Sam huffs. "Hopefully."

Dean doesn't dwell on it as he peers into the massive lair. "You'n Cas take that side, me'n the Impala will take this one, call if you find anything?"

Sam nods, Castiel doesn't say anything, and the Impala does some more of his preening, because he clearly takes Dean's unwillingness to trade partners even now as a sign that things are going swimmingly and that Cas and Dean are going to break up at any second. Dean just wishes his car would stop skipping places. Skipping is one of those things you can never take back. Once you do it, those cool points are gone forever.

Cas rolls his shoulders, gives Dean an unreadable look in the dark, and follows quietly after Sam.

It just figures that on Dean's side of things, he finds he girl. Sam thinks this is God's way of making things fair or something (though he's not sure if he even believes in God or fair anymore). Sam's the tall, smart one, and Dean's the pretty, charming one who girls are happy to see after they've been kidnapped and chained up like animals for a few days. Not that Sam thinks he's ugly or anything; he just kind of has a disproportionately large forehead. Dean not-so-secretly calls it caveman brow, and brings it up whenever Sam smirks at his brother for being slightly bow-legged.

Anyway, the point of this is that even though Sam and Cas were the ones who'd come across the troll earlier, and did all the hard parts (mostly Cas), Dean is the one who gets all the good parts in the end anyway, when he finds (and saves) the girl.

Sam, on the opposite end of the cave, gets other things.

"Got her!" Dean shouts from somewhere in the distance, when he does find Rhonda. His voice echoes off the cave walls with relief. "She's okay." And Sam can tell from his tone that when he says okay, he means relatively.

This—of course— is the exact moment when Sam and Cas run into troll number two.

That's right, there are two. Sam thinks he'd read an article about how sometimes trolls live in mother/son units and eat people together like a wholesome troll family. It's all very Beowulf or something, but he hadn't put much stock in the source because it might have been Wikipedia. He also can't tell if this second troll is the mother or the son.

Not that it matters which one it is, because while Dean is busy saying reassuring things to a barely conscious Rhonda and the Impala is ripping the chains out of the floor that are keeping her locked up, Sam is on the other side of the lair fighting it. Or, to be more accurate, nearly getting blindsided by it, as this one is actually ten feet tall and somehow, impossibly, much angrier than the first one had been.

Maybe it knows that Sam and Cas had killed its son or mom or whichever the first one had been.

It shrieks and goes right for Sam's head, which kind of confirms his suspicions.

He manages to duck that initial blow but drops his gun and his flashlight in the process, which, he supposes, is fine, because he has to puts his arms up to block the second punch anyway, even though he knows, just knows, the impact is probably going to shatter some bones and leave him a very unhappy Winchester for a very long time.

But it doesn't.

Not from lack of trying, but rather, from an excess of Castiel.

An angel's blade glints bright even in the darkness of the cave and cuts deeply into the troll's thick arm, Castiel blocking the swipe one-handed while using his free arm to shove Sam out of the way for the second time that day. Cries from the distance signal Dean and the Impala's hasty approach.

Sam hits the ground while the troll bellows and reaches forward with its uninjured hand, clamping it down around the angel's throat and lifting him off the ground.

The troll throws Cas into the wall with a crunch and Sam winces because that had sounded like it Ihurt/I, and he sure hopes Cas's wings hadn't gotten even more fucked up than they probably already were, or something. Knowing the poor guy's luck with Winchesters, they probably did.

Sam scrambles around on the ground like a winner, trying to find his shotgun and be a little less of the damsel in distress in this story. It doesn't really work.

Mostly because Dean and the Impala show up right about then, an unconscious Rhonda in the car's arms as Dean levels a shot at the bellowing troll bearing down on his brother. He wings the creature just enough to draw its attention away from Sam, giving Sam time to roll out of the way and keep from being stomped on. Sam's shotgun though, not so lucky. Clearly he is just meant to be useless in this fight.

"Sam?" Dean shouts, and fires again in the vicinity of the giant shadowy monster screaming a lot.

"I'm okay!" Sam hastens to say.


"Alive," Castiel's voice croaks from Sam's left, as he peels himself away from the wall with Sam's help.

The troll lumbers straight towards Dean. Who needs to reload.

There is no time, so Dean prepares to swing the shotgun like a club and hold the thing off until Cas can regain his equilibrium and dive in to save damsel-y Winchester number two. "Cas!"

But then the Impala gets in his way.

"I can handle this!" the car declares boldly, clearly irate that Cas's name had been the first one called when Dean needs help. He squares his very broad shoulders from there and rams right into the troll head on, sending it staggering backwards. The Impala punches it in the ribs a few times in the interim, driving it back bit by bit, at least until Dean is safely out of its monstrous wingspan and can reload his weapon.

Dean could almost be grateful for the reprieve, except he knows he'd told his car to take Rhonda and watch over her. Rhonda, very clearly, is no longer with the Impala. She is in fact, propped up against a wall beside the remains of the last victim and very much alone. That's just shoddy work right there. Amateur stuff.

"Goddammit," Dean mutters, and hastily reloads while the Impala makes a show of taking the troll head on like he's fucking Gaston from that Disney movie Sam was balls over when he was like ten.

"It's not that strong, Dean!" the car calls back to him over his shoulder confidently, trying to sound cheerful as he grapples with the monster, ignoring the raw meat stench of its breath and clearly hoping that Dean can see how cool he looks from this angle. "I can take it on in my sleep! I can…"

The troll wraps its arms around the Impala in an uncomfortable looking bear hug. "Hey!"

"Fuck," Dean says, and can't get a bead on the troll without possibly hitting the car. As annoying as the Impala has been in the last day, it's still his car. And you know, currently alive.

The Impala kicks and struggles admirably in the troll's grasp while Dean looks for an opening, but pretty soon the troll is lifting the car over its head and getting ready to pitch it in a way that Dean is pretty sure won't end well for anyone, mostly because the Impala is still essentially a giant honking piece of compacted metal.

The troll doesn't care, it just throws the Impala. Dean's eyes widen in horror when he sees what the troll is throwing the Impala at. "Sam, get out of the way!"

The sound of an impact and the crash of dirt and rock and cement make the entire structure shudder around them when the Impala hits, sending debris falling from the ceiling and making Dean's heart jump into his throat in the dark.

"Sam?" he screams, and for a moment, forgets everything, forgets the troll, the girl, the collapsing ceiling, the end of the world. "Sammy!"

And then tinny croak of, "I'm okay, Dean!" makes Dean stagger in relief.

Meanwhile, the Impala lies in a dazed pile on the floor, the impact against the wall having been absorbed by an angel-shaped cushion that had somehow, grabbed him mid-air and managed to alter their trajectory, if not their velocity.

Incredulous, the car looks down at the bloodied angel beside him as he coughs and tries to scrabble to his feet. The Impala is perfectly unharmed.

"What are you doing?" He demands, and sounds completely boggled by the fact that his rival is doing stupid things like saving his ass when they're supposed to be rivals. "You aren't supposed to save me!" It obviously makes him look really bad in Dean's eyes when that happens. The Impala doesn't seem to notice that Dean isn't paying attention to him. Since, you know, there is still a troll.

The angel just gives the Impala this tired, irritated look before staggering to his feet again, managing to lean against the wall for support while, in the background, the sound of Dean's shot finding the troll's chest causes another earth-shaking roar that sends dirt and rock tumbling from the beleaguered ceiling.

And then, with a soft rustling of air, the angel—and the troll—are both suddenly gone.

Silence reigns in the cavern for a moment.

And then Dean's angry, "Son of a bitch!" shatters the quiet as the Impala gets to his feet and Dean stomps over towards him and Sam and the Castiel-shaped crater in the wall that he'd thought was his splattered brother a few second ago. The Impala tries to look cool, and not like he had when he'd been a crumpled, somewhat dazed heap on the floor next to Castiel.

"I'm fine, Dean!" he insists, when the beam of Dean's flashlight settles on him. "Don't worry."

Dean scowls and ignores him, swinging the beam around to his dirt-covered brother. "Sam? You okay?" It takes him two strides before he's at his brother's side and checking him over, leaving the Impala to stand sheepishly on the edge of everything, completely unattended.

"Yeah, Dean," Sam huffs, and gets to his feet. "I thought I was screwed for a second there, but then Cas saved my ass," he admits. "Again." Sam is torn between sounding grateful and irritated with himself. Today is just not the guy's day.

Some of the tension in Dean's shoulders leaves when he confirms that Sam is indeed, unharmed, and he slumps forward slightly, hand still on Sam's shoulder. "Yeah, well, remind me to buy Cas a drink when he gets back," Dean murmurs, voice painfully fond. Then he pauses and frowns. "God, I hope that dumbass didn't fly to the sun again," he murmurs, and his voice goes tense with irritated worry at the thought. He runs a tired hand through his hair, before remembering the Impala.

"What about you?" he asks tersely, in afterthought.

The Impala forces a smile, but doesn't feel any actual happiness behind Dean's question. "Fine," he says quickly. "Everything's fine."

Dean scowls. "Next time, when I tell you to freaking stay with the girl, stay with the girl," he says, and for the first time in thirty years, the Impala feels that being the sole object of Dean's scrutiny is strangely uncomfortable. "We don't just leave civilians alone like that."

Luckily, before Dean can get really angry with him, a familiar sounding puff of air signals Castiel's return.

Castiel, who staggers and nearly hits the ground before Dean manages to catch him in his arms. "Cas!" That concern is back again, the same look on his face when he'd feared for Sam echoing in his expression as he holds the angel against his side. "Jesus, what'd you do? You didn't fly to the sun again, did you?"

The angel, bleeding from the nose and covered in dust, somehow manages to fight through the pain enough to look grumpy at Dean. "Sunlight," he explains to Dean, like Dean is so stupid it's kind of precious.

Dean sighs. "You okay?"

Castiel nods. "I will be okay," he says very specifically, and to prove it, manages to stand under the power of his own weight again. Dean watches him and Castiel watches Dean watch him, and after a minute, some of the tension loosens from around Dean's eyes and he reaches out to squeeze the angel's shoulder. "Thanks, Cas," he murmurs, with a quick, sideways look at Sam, who is doing his best to stand off to the side and be unobtrusive for whatever reason.

"You're welcome," Castiel answers simply, not bothering to lower his voice like Dean had. The Impala fidgets and looks like he suddenly wants to do the same thing Sam is, to fade off into the background for a little bit and be comfortably invisible. He feels like he's eavesdropping on something important maybe, like he's somehow superfluous when the two of them stand side by side like that.

Part of the Impala—even as new and untested in the waters of humanity as he is—understands that maybe everything that had happened between him and Dean today only happened because to Dean, they didn't matter at all.

Then Castiel breaks the spell by shaking himself off a little bit and squinting into the darkness right past the Impala. A quiet, startled groan from the depths of the cave makes the Impala jump a bit, reminding him that he'd forgotten everything Dean had told him to do just a little while ago because he'd been too determined to prove himself useful to the owner who had loved him so faithfully for so many years.

"We should return Rhonda Burke to the surface," Castiel says. Suddenly, under the angel's unfaltering eyes, luminous even in such a dark, dank place, the Impala feels sheepish and incredibly, impossibly young. "She is waking."

"I'll carry her," the car offers after a moment, voice carefully subdued.

Dean gives him an odd look, and the Impala must appear completely miserable even in the darkness, because after a moment, Dean huffs and nods. "Yeah, okay," he says. He lets the Impala walk up in front.

He lets Castiel follow, always just a few steps behind his and Sam's backs.

The Impala is beginning to learn which of them is more important to Dean Winchester.

That afternoon, after dropping off a tearful Rhonda at the hospital and getting hold of Sherry to let her know her best friend has been recovered safely, Dean drags them all back to the hotel and sends Sam off on food duty while he demands to look at Castiel's back and shoulders.

"I am fine, Dean," the angel say stubbornly, though Dean manhandles him onto the bed anyway and persists in wanting to check him over himself.

"Dude, you cartoon-crushed a rock wall on impact. I can't help you with whatever's wrong with your wings, but I can at least save your mojo the trouble of stitching up the smaller stuff," Dean insists.

"Just bruises and scrapes," Castiel sighs. "If I rest, they will mend themselves."

Dean just stares at him, chin raised stubbornly.

Castiel blinks back at him and obviously doesn't know what that look means.

The Impala watches them, feels miserable in his clothes from the corner, and tells them that he'll be outside. He doesn't want to break any more of their stuff, especially since the cleaning ladies had left a note about paying for damages to the dresser earlier.

"Yeah, okay. Don't wander off too far," Dean throws cursorily over his shoulder at the Impala before crossing his arms and going back to trying to Winchester Menace an angel.

It must work, because after a moment, Castiel slumps a little and shrugs out of his trench coat.

The Impala closes the door behind him and thinks that neither of them even notice when he leaves.

A little while later, Sam finds the Impala idling in the parking lot of the motel, kicking rocks around and curiously inspecting some of the other cars from a safe distance. "Uh, everything okay?" Sam offers after a second, taking in the dejected bent of the former car's shoulders and the way he frowns at a Dodge Charger parked in the lot like it's his mortal enemy or something.

"Fine. Hi Sam." The Impala does his best to appear chipper. "I was just…" he trails off and gestures vaguely to the other cars. "None of them are as well taken care of as I was."

Sam snorts, shifting a fast food bag in one hand. "Yeah, well. Dean's always been, uh…special about that," the younger Winchester offers lamely. "You, uh, you wanna come in and eat? I don't know what you or Cas like, but I got all the basics, and Dean is probably starved by now."

The Impala looks reluctant. "Being in the same room with those two is kind of suffocating," he admits, after a moment.

Sam grins, like he knows exactly what the Impala means. "Yeah, well, you can't let that get to you," he says after a second. "If I did I'd be throwing things at them, like, all the time."

The Impala sighs. "What's even worse is that I can't even be mean to stupid Castiel anymore," he gripes, crouching down on his heels and resting his elbows on his thighs. He stares at the dirt forlornly. "He hurt himself saving me. He doesn't even like me." The Impala runs his hands through his hair in an incredibly human gesture.

Sam coughs. "Yeah, well," he starts, sympathetic. "If it makes you feel any better, he definitely didn't do it for your sake."

The words don't have the effect that the younger Winchester had intended; the Impala's expression gets even more wounded. "It was for yours."

Sam huffs. "Yeah, try not to sound so broken up about that."

The Impala looks sheepish. "No, it's not that I wanted you to get hurt," he insists, backpedaling quickly. "You mean a lot to me too." Pause. "It's just… I get it now."

Sam's brow furrows. "Get what?"

"Everything. I was so stupid… I was ecstatic when Dean chose to go with me instead of Castiel; I kept thinking it meant I was winning, and that he'd forget that stupid angel in the lame trench coat and come be with me." He dredges a finger in the dirt despondently. "Now I know all it meant was he doesn't trust me with his most important thing in the world."

Sam flushes at the exact same time he gets it, what Cas had been talking about earlier when he'd said he was glad Dean hadn't picked him. "Oh," he says out loud, and isn't sure what else to say to that.

"Yeah," the Impala echoes, with a deep, defeated sigh.

Sam coughs. "Well, uh, I think Cas kinda likes me now too, so he might not have Ientirely/I caught you for Dean's sake earlier."

"Just mostly," the Impala manages, with a small, sad smile.

Sam grins back. "Yeah, probably. Cas has a freaky obsession with doing whatever Dean needs him to, I guess." Sam pauses then, and lowers his voice. "To be honest, I'm glad I'm not the one who has that weight on his shoulders anymore, man. Dean can be pretty demanding. You should, uh, you should look on it as a good thing." It is lame, but the fact that Sam is even attempting does make the Impala feel a little better. Dean had barely even remembered to look at him the last few hours.

Sam shuffles a bit, adjusts the fast food bag in his arms again. "So…food?" he offers, after a moment of silence passes between them. "Dean is pretty sure no one can hate a Big Mac, so I grabbed a couple extra of those. You and Cas can make peace over the world's worst fast food, or something."

The Impala frowns slightly. "Peace?"

Sam falters. "Well, yeah. I mean. It'd be nice, and after everything that happened…" he trails off. "No peace?"

"We'll see." The Impala smiles crookedly. "But I do like Big Macs," he adds quickly, getting to his feet again. "Sometimes you and Dean would smell like them while you rode me."

Sam gives him a weird look. "Uh, look man," he says, after a beat. "Now that you're human, you probably want to be less creepy about the things you say to people."

The Impala blinks. "Was that creepy?"

"So creepy," Sam agrees as he pushes the hotel room door open. "C'mon."

Buoyed, the Impala follows.

There isn't peace over dinner exactly, but there is at the very least, an unspoken truce, as Dean grins and tells Cas to eat the Big Mac, become one with the Big Mac, love the Big Mac.

"I do not like the special sauce," Castiel says, though once he's scraped it off, enjoys the burger enough. Dean laughs, makes some inappropriate jokes involving said special sauce that Castiel obviously doesn't get but that everyone can appreciate in their own way, if only for the way Dean grins, eyes sparkling so that the Impala is suddenly reminded of some years ago, when his master had been very young and smiles like that one had come more easily to him.

Then, after the food is done and the trash disposed of, Sam breaks off to calculate their funds versus their expenses because Dean is hopeless at that (not because he's bad at it but because it bores him), while Dean begins the methodical task of cleaning and maintaining their weapons. John Winchester mandated a law that this is to be done religiously before and after every hunt, and at least once a week in between hunts. This includes popping the hood of the Impala and making sure everything is ready to go, but tonight Dean just eyes the car warily for a second before sighing and turning back to the impressive array of guns, knives, crossbows, and salt rounds neatly laid out on the table in front of him. The atmosphere around both brothers speaks of leaving them be to do their rituals. That, even in his short stint as a human, is something that the former car has been able to pick up on very quickly when it comes to his humans.

So, with nothing to do, the Impala excuses himself outside a little after that, citing that he would like some fresh air and a view of the stars he's grown accustomed to falling asleep under.

No one stops him.

It isn't until late that night when humans are asleep that Castiel appears in front of the loitering car again, as the Impala makes needlessly challenging gestures at a Ford without a soul and a Honda that is too new to even have any semblance of awareness yet.

"They cannot hear you," Castiel points out to the Impala after a moment of watching this strange procedure.

The Impala whirls at the sound of his voice, manages a glare that is just as ineffective to the angel as his earlier posturing had been to the other cars.

"Shouldn't you be inside, with Dean?" the Impala asks somewhat accusatorily, like Castiel has abandoned his post somehow, by coming out to the parking lot.

"Dean is asleep and has told me on numerous occasions that he finds it unsettling when I watch him all night," Castiel explains after letting out a huff of irritated air. "I do not understand why he feels this way, considering I have seen every inch of his soul, but he is adamant. I thought I might come out here instead, and ask if you had sustained any injuries from our collision earlier today."

The Impala does not bother to hide his suspicion. "Why?"

"Because while Dean is very good at determining whether you are fully functional in car form, I doubt he is so inclined to do so when you are…as you are."

The Impala growls in frustration; it is very much in the same way Dean does when he feels irked by things Castiel has done. And just like all those times, Castiel has no idea what he has done to warrant irritation with Dean's car this time.

"No, I mean, why do you care?" The former car clarifies, looking confused. "Why did you even care enough to do what you did earlier? You should have let that troll smash me into the wall."

Ah. Castiel tilts his head sideways slightly, studying the Impala's hunched over posture as he thinks about his answer. "Dean would have been very sad to see you hurt, whatever form you may be in," Castiel reports after a moment, very matter-of-factly. "I… did not wish to see him sad, if it was in my power to prevent it."

The Impala sighs in relief at that, like he is glad that he was not saved for his own sake. "Good," he mutters out loud. "Because I wouldn't want us to become friends or anything."

"Of course not," Castiel answers, obligingly. This earns him a slight glare. He decides he understands cars even less than he understands people. "I was simply stating that all that matters to me is Dean's safety and his well being. If you being intact coincides with those things, then so be it. As I am now, I can only hope to be of use to him in some capacity until I can no longer be."

Eventually, the Impala just huffs in laughter. "So what you're saying is, if I loved him as much as you did, I'd do the same thing and do whatever it takes to be useful to him."

Castiel blinks. "I did not say that."

The Impala snorts. "You didn't have to. I know what you're getting at."

That is when Castiel decides this conversation is pointless. He has to forcibly remind himself that he is talking to an infant, a newborn, and that a certain amount of stupidity can thus be expected in the Impala's thought processes. He finds he has less and less patience to deal with it as his grace wanes however.

So he wordlessly turns around and goes back inside. He knows if he is quiet enough, Dean and Sam will not wake, and if he faces the wall away from Dean for the rest of the evening, perhaps he will not be so irate about being watched all night like Cas is a crazy "stalker" in the morning.

"Good talk," the Impala tells him from over his shoulder, as he leaves. The car sounds mostly facetious, though he does pause to give the angel a searching, thoughtful sort of look as he does.

Castiel silently shuts the motel room door behind him.

The next morning, at ass o'clock in the am, Dean is woken by the sound of his cell phone telling him it's ass o'clock in the morning and that Bobby has found something.

Grumbling sleepily to himself, he cracks an eye open and catches Cas with his back to him, staring at the wall at the foot of Dean's bed. Yeah, that isn't weird. He saves the lecture on being psychotic for the time being though, and gropes around for his phone, managing to land it on the third smack and pull it to his ear. "Yeah, Bobby?"

"You two idjits didn't happen to mess with a water kami while you were on that haunted wishing well case I sent you on, did you?"

Dean's brain has not had coffee or bacon yet, so it's a little hard for him to process words. "Buh?"

Bobby makes an impatient noise on the other end. "I looked up more specifics about the Impala being a tsukumogami like Cas was talking about, but he's right; car's too young, and even if it was old enough to manifest into a fully conscious spirit, it shouldn't have gotten human form. Hell, you shouldn't even be able to see or hear it. Most people can't."

Dean's head hurts, so he wordlessly hands the phone over to Sam, who is sitting up in his bed looking at Dean all alert like and full of obvious questions about their situation and what Bobby has found.

"Hey Bobby," Sam greets, when he gets the phone. Bobby interrupts him, and for a moment there's a long string of words on the other end that force Sam into silence. Dean is almost tempted to use the interim quietness to go back to sleep, except that Sam decides to talk again since he's useless.

"Yeah, I don't think… well, we did blow up the well," Sam admits after a moment. "Uh… the town had a pretty decent immigrant population, yeah, but do you really think… huh. Really. Like a…an avatar?" Sam pauses then, to look serious and thinky, and Dean supposes that's progress or something, and sits more fully up in bed so he can rub his eyes and throw a pillow at Cas's back.

"Dude," he says, when the pillow hits and prompts the angel to turn away from the wall and blink at him, "that's creepy. Stop."

"I was not watching you, Dean," Castiel protests, making that face where his eyebrows furrow and he looks displeased because he clearly does not understand the rules to this game again.

"Still," Dean says, obviously very good at giving explanations first thing in the morning, "just don't stare at things dude. Especially things while I'm in the room sleeping."

Castiel sighs and slouches over to Dean's side. "Understood."

Which, Dean knows, actually means, "Your words are understood but your meaning escapes me, I am an angel of the Lord bwahahaha."

Meanwhile, Sam is getting that look on his face that means he's probably too excited to go claim the bathroom first and take his usual hour primping in there, doing god knows what with his hair. "Really," he murmurs, pausing to look at Dean like he just learned something awesome and can't wait to share. It's like Sam's ten all over again. "Okay, yeah. I mean, I'm pretty sure blowing up the well didn't endear us to her or anything, but I'm sure, I mean… if we ask, do you think?" Pause. "Well, how do you kill it, then?" Frown. "Oh. Oh really. Hmm."

Dean looks questioningly at his brother. He does not like the way Sam is reacting to whatever Bobby said in the how do we kill it department.

Cas has his head tilted and is very obviously listening in with his super powers or whatever. "Yes," he says out loud after a beat, more to Sam than Dean, "that would be very unwise, Sam."

Dean looks questioningly at Cas. "What would be unwise?"

"Attempting to kill the suijin of the mountain. It is likely the entire town would shrivel and die without her protection."

Okay, what.

Dean decides it is too early for this and gets up, brushing past Cas to head towards the bathroom. He is going to go have his morning poop, brush his teeth, and take a shower. When he comes out again, the world will make sense like it used to, the nerd triumvirate will have fixed his baby, and they can get back on the road hunting the devil and hoping the planet doesn't go pop in the meantime.

Maybe there will even be breakfast on the way.

Dean is an optimist like that.

But when Dean exits the bathroom twenty minutes later, feeling relaxed and squeaky clean inside and out, the sight that greets him is not entirely optimistic.

Sam is looking kind of apprehensive, while Cas is just staring at him with plain old creeper eyes that make Dean want to put on pants as soon as physically possible.

"Well?" he asks instead, while he goes to his bag to get clothes. "What've we got?"

"Good news and bad news," Sam offers.

Dean is still kind of hoping today can go as smoothly as his morning poop so he doesn't hesitate when he says, "Good news."

"Bobby thinks he might know why the Impala became human."

Dean isn't sure if that actually counts as good news, but gamely waits for Sam to continue. Sam takes a breath. "Bobby thinks we pissed off a water kami when we stopped Karen Kawahara's ghost from killing the people who made wishes in that well. Apparently, the townsfolk kind of had a legitimate beef when we blew it up," Sam admits, looking vaguely regretful.

"So we should apologize for ganking the ghost?" Dean drawls, not at all convinced.

"More like, because the well's guardian spirit was kind of… making its temple there?" Sam clarifies.

Dean looks skeptical as he shrugs on a shirt. "Guardian spirit, huh? Fat lot of good it was doing to those poor mooks that ghost was ganking left and right. Townsfolk should have evicted it anyway."

Sam rolls his eyes. "Well, according to Bobby, before Karen's body got dumped in the well, it had been a source of good luck for people who made wishes in it," Sam reports. "He thinks that must have been the suijin's work, but when Karen's ghost took up residence there, she might have been…perverting the suijin's attempts to help, which explains why the wishes still came true, just in…the worst ways possible."

"So we attempted to help, and now this thing is pissed at us and turning cars into people? What kind of guardian spirit can do that?" Dean asks, trying not to sound skeptical.

"Well, we think it might be… one of the bigger suijin? As in, Mizu no Kamisama level stuff here, not kappa or minor ryu."

That all means nothing to Dean. "That means nothing to me," he says out loud, in case his face isn't saying it enough.

Sam gives him this look like he's a horrible heathen or something. "She's essentially the Shinto equivalent of the Buddhist water deva Suiten, Dean. Or in this case, something close to it… kind of like, a foreign goddess that had part of herself transported. Bobby thinks it has to do with the migration of certain beliefs across borders and how believers of one religion moving to another land and practicing that religion there kind of gives birth to a version of that deity that isn't exactly like that deity, and it's kind of interesting how…"

Sam trails off abruptly when Dean's face tells him this all still means nothing to him.

Sam gives up with this kind of despondent little sigh, like he misses having intelligent conversation more than anything else during the apocalypse. "She's is traditionally um, traditionally associated with fertility and childbirth and motherhood," he sums up, with a wave of his hand. "The one we're dealing with was probably transplanted by the Japanese immigrants that settled in the town fifty or sixty years ago, and she's been living in the well, or at least, the mountain's waters, and granting protection to the people who live there."

Dean wonders in what dictionary does childbirth, fertility, and motherhood have to do with turning classic cars into giant douchebags.

"She essentially birthed a human form for the Impala," Sam clarifies. Good, obviously Dean's faces are still enough after all. "I mean, a lot of the mythology suggests that the manifestations of water deities all stem from the central figure of Ame no Minakanushi, the god of creation. If that's true, it's not so weird that she has the power to create a life and a form for the Impala."

"So she had a kid as… a punishment?" Dean asks, because really, all of this sounds like a ridiculous stretch of the imagination as far as he's concerned. Who thinks this kind of garbage up, anyway? The universe is a weird place.

"Sam's argument is looking like the most sensible theory we currently have to work with," Castiel agrees in the meantime, just to prove Dean right. The angel's head is tilted determinedly to one side still, eyes right on Dean the whole time. Dean ducks back into the bathroom to put on pants before this conversation continues.

"So by ganking a ghost we pissed off the water?" he asks when he comes out again, thumbing the button of his fly closed. Only in their lives is that possible.

"The well was a sanctified site within the mountain," Castiel says. "Perhaps the Mizu no Kamisama punishes all that defile her realm, regardless of intent."

"The historical society website says that the well originally served as a Suitengu Shrine when Japanese immigrants first arrived in town," Sam adds. "It kind of evolved from that traditional service into the wishing well we saw, but essentially it served the same purpose. People came to the well, offered tribute, and then prayed— or wished— for something and the suijin could choose whether to grant their wish or not. We essentially blew up her temple, Dean."

"Yeah, to clean it up for her," Dean points out, not, he thinks, insensibly.

Castiel blinks. "I have fought and killed many of my brothers doing what I believe is right, but that has not changed the fact that heaven wishes to punish me for my actions," he points out, also, Dean thinks, not unreasonably.

The world is obviously not a fair place. Surprise, surprise.

Dean rubs his temples when he feels the optimism from the morning get flushed out of his system in one fell swoop. "Okay. Great. What's the bad news?" He's almost afraid to ask, but there it is.

Sam clears his throat and gestures to the window. "The, uh, the Impala's gone."

Dean officially hates today.

"Maybe he went to get food or saw a hot Prius or something," is Sam's lame suggestion while Dean is more worried that his spirit-born vehicle has actually gone on some sort of heartbroken angry killing spree. It's technically a monster or something now, isn't it? Born by a suijin or whatever to torment the hell out of Dean for blowing up her house.

"Your car is not evil," Castiel assures him, without actually reassuring him at all. "Simply impulsive and immature." Castiel pauses to give Dean a sidelong glance, like he's insinuating things about how pets take after their owners or something equivalent to that which angels understand. It probably involves goats.

"Well then where the hell is it?" Dean barks, and tells himself the other options he's currently thinking of are not really options so much as paranoid delusions on his part. Dude can crush TVs with his ass, it's not like anyone could really hurt the Impala or anything. "You can't tell me it just ran off because it's sulking about me liking Cas better, or something."

Dean winces when he says that out loud, while Cas looks surprisingly pleased. Dean wonders if the fact that he's insulted that Cas looks so surprised should be more worrisome than the fact that he'd just said that out loud.

Luckily, Sam is there to take all attention away from that pre-coffee, not-well-thought-out statement. "Well, where do impulsive, immature kids go running off to whenever they don't get their way?" Sam asks, in a tone of voice that kind of suggests he might have an answer to his own question already. Dean hates that. Seriously, what is the point of asking a question when you already know the answer. Just say the answer.

"You're seriously using child psychology on my car?" Dean demands, mostly because he feels it's his big-brotherly duty to point out that Sam isn't always as smart as he thinks he is (even though most of the time he is).

Sam shrugs. "What other leads have we got? I mean, theoretically, he's got the same mass as the car, so why wouldn't he be able to move at the same speeds? And Cas last saw him around three am. It's nearly nine. That's six hours in any given direction without us knowing where to even start. Do you want to take a wild guess and hope we're lucky?"

Dean supposes his nerdy brother has a point. "Okay, I'll bite. Where do kids go when they don't get their way?"

Sam manages a smug sort of glint in his eye that makes Dean want to put itching powder in his underwear from now until forever. "They run back to mommy, right?"

Dean sighs and throws his hands up in the air because that was the lamest thing ever. "Fine, whatever. Let's go steal a car. Either way, I've got a bone to pick with that Sue-jean."

"Suijin," Cas and Sam say, at exactly the same time. Dean rolls his eyes at them for being the biggest nerds in the universe and heads out the door.

As a general rule, the Winchesters avoid trying to re-enter towns they have been forcibly evicted from just a few days prior, but luckily enough (or not), this time they roll into the county driving a totally nondescript silver Civic (Dean had thrown up a little in his mouth when Sam had told him to steal it because apparently they're the most easily stolen car in the country or something), so no one recognizes them off the bat.

Cas is sitting shotgun because Dean refuses to drive that piece of junk and Sam wants Cas up front to help look for mystical Impala signs or whatever, since apparently angels are suddenly magical tracking devices for all things non-human in Sam's personal creature dictionary of celestial beings. Like a bloodhound with wings except cuter.

Cas had kind of looked at Sam dubiously when he'd suggested that as well, but after a beat, had just nodded and told the younger Winchester that he'd do his best to help. He is currently doing so by staring really intently at any people they pass on the wayside like he's rifling through their brains as if they're a giant stack of angelic Yellow Pages or something. Dean's best guess is he's checking their recent memories for images of a strange dude all in black running maybe 70mph on the road. Either that or very convincingly faking magical tsukamgummithingie tracking powers and hoping Sam doesn't notice that he's pretending. Dean can't tell. Cas is sneaky when he wants to be.

Whatever the case may be, they get back to the site where the former well used to be by around mid-afternoon, only to find a small crew of construction workers standing around the crater in the ground looking thoughtfully over the damage. There is no Impala in sight though, and that familiar tune of anxiety starts to build up in Dean's chest again right about then, torn between feelings of Oh shit did I unleash a sulky, angry, one-ton freakmobile out on the world? and Oh shit where is my baby did some assholes jack her/him/whatever?

Winchester emotions are complicated things.

At the very least they are all universally centered around the timeless theme of Dude, where's my car? in one way or another, which is the thing he's going to stick with right now, no matter how bad that movie might have been.

Sam, being slightly more rational about the whole thing, sends Cas out to ask the construction workers questions about the Impala (mostly because he doesn't want any of the residents recognizing either himself or Dean, which makes Cas their last resort) while he pulls out the town maps he'd printed out back when they'd been on this hunt the first time around (they'd only kept them because Sam insisted on making photocopies of the troll hunt on the backs of them in the interest of being greener or something). Which, Dean supposes, worked out in the end, all things considered.

"Well, it looks like the well is fed from a series of mountain streams that stem from a freshwater spring near the top," Sam reveals after a moment of studying the squiggly blue lines all over the map. "If the Mizu no Kamisama is going to be anywhere, I'm guessing we'll find her there, now that the well is gone?"

Dean just shrugs at him, because it's not like he knows how water spirits think. All he needs to know is how to gank the bitch if it comes to that and go from there.

Sam sighs and shoves the maps into Dean's hands. "Either way, it looks like there's only one road up there. My guess is if the Impala is in the area, he's gone up there."

"Or he's in Vegas right now, boozing it up and whoring it out while trying to get over this hot piece of ass," Dean points out, not, he thinks, unreasonably.

Sam makes a face and decides to ignore that comment, which is totally no fun.

Which is fine, because Castiel slides back into the passenger seat then, and at the very least, Dean knows that when his brother is being uncooperative, his angel is always good for some entertainment.

"Well?" Sam asks Cas, as said angel closes the door and very deliberately buckles his seatbelt again, like a good little soldier.

"It seems your initial estimation was correct, Sam. The workers saw a man matching the Impala's description earlier this morning. He seemed distraught, but not dangerous," Castiel reports. "They asked if I wished for them to inform local authorities and send them in as backup, but I declined."

Sam's eyebrows are about level with his hairline at Cas's concise, yet detailed account. Mostly because he seems surprised that Cas seemed to have gotten the guys to trust his authority on the matter implicitly.

Dean snorts and knows exactly what the angel did. "Dude, don't tell me you did it," he says anyway, just to make sure.

"Did what?" Sam asks, looking between Dean and Cas like he has no idea what language they're speaking anymore.

"I did," Castiel says in response to Dean, and reaches into his pocket to pull out his fake FBI badge Dean had made him back in Maine. He flashes it like a pro. Must be all that TV he's been watching lately. Either that or he's been practicing in the mirror, which might be the best mental image Dean has had ever.

Dean chortles out loud at the thought, while Sam looks disbelievingly at Cas's fake ID. "I don't even want to know," he decides after a moment, and puts the car in drive.

Castiel wordlessly flips the FBI badge closed and tucks it back into his pocket.

Dean is pretty sure his angel is awesome.

They reach the spring one hour and one very tedious, very windy mountainside drive later. Dean is decidedly motion sick from hanging around in the back, trying to endure Sam's lame ass driving, and the minute the water is in view and the Civic is parked he's out the door gulping fresh air and vowing to never drive Japanese ever again, no matter how hilarious Sam had looked with the driver's seat scooted all the way back against the backseat and his head still somehow bumping against the ceiling of the cab.

"Dean," Castiel intones as he climbs out of the car beside Sam. The angel nods towards the distance, at the opposite bank of the massive spring that looks more like a lake than anything else to Dean, to perfectly honest. When Dean squints in the indicated direction (and into the afternoon sunlight, which, okay, ow) he can just make out the shape of a person bigger than Sam at the water's edge, sitting much like Sam had in the cab of the Civic, all hunched up at the shoulders with his knees almost up to his chest.

The black leather just kind of confirms that his car is here and apparently as much of a momma's boy as Dean is, if the way the Impala is staring out over the placid water and chatting to it like it's his only friend in the world means anything. The thought has him feeling strangely reluctant to gank the suijin all of a sudden, despite the fact that that bitch hit him below the belt and messed with his car.

"Well?" Sam asks after a beat of looking between his brother and the car. "What's the plan?"

Dean supposes killing his car's mom is kind of out of the picture officially now, mostly because that would officially make him the biggest jerk that ever lived. Also, coercing the suijin to turn his car back into a car against its will when it's not hurting anyone is probably the second worst thing he could do as a human being.

Which okay, sucks, but clearly this is just the spin on his life lately.

Dean eventually sighs and runs a hand through his hair. Maybe Bobby will give them a car that's slightly less embarrassing than a Honda. Maybe having the Impala be human(ish) will be secretly awesome whenever he gets over his man(ish) crush on Dean and decides to use his freaky strength and speed to help them beat up the devil.

Maybe he can build a surrogate Impala out of the scraps in Bobby's junkyard.

"Dean?" Sam presses, when Dean doesn't answer him right away.

Dean squares his jaw. Makes a decision (except not really, because the freaking decision was already made the moment his freaking car became a person). "Right. I'll go uh, talk to him, I guess," he says to Sam absently, and starts to jog around the banks towards the car. He tries to think of something nice to say, like, "hey buddy, most people are kind of a mess on their first hunt so don't worry about fucking up back there. We're just lucky Cas is strong," or something to that effect, except maybe with less backhandedness and complimenting the angel the Impala sees as his rival or something. He'll work on it.

It's a big lake. He's got time.

In the meantime, he hears Castiel declare, "I wish to consult with Mizu no Kamisama," before disappearing without any further clarification, hopefully not in a way that aggravates his scraped up wings even more than they already are or whatever. Dean supposes the angel's haste makes sense; for all they know, the water spirit knows where God hangs out on Thursday nights or something, and can drop them a bone if they apologize for the whole well incident and ask her nicely.

Which leaves Sam alone by his girly Honda with nothing to do.

"Right. I'll just be here then," Dean hears his brother mutter to himself, and promptly pulls out his iDouche, probably to play that stupid game with the pissed off birds and the derpy looking pig thing.

Castiel, upon arriving at the shores of the spring, had been instantly bombarded with the sing-song tones of Mizu no Kamisama's voice all around him, infusing the moisture in the air and the water that makes up the blood of his vessel in such a way as to be impossible to ignore. Her voice is pleasant and insistent all at once, summoning him to her side so that she might speak to him. Castiel hesitates for a second, willing to leave Dean and Sam's side only upon getting the suijin's promise that neither Winchester will be harmed. With her word as bond, Castiel closes his eyes and feels her guidance aiding the flight of his injured wings until he reappears in a cave hidden deep within these mountains, at the very source of the spring and all her power. He is equal parts wary of the spirit's intentions and intrigued by the pure serenity he feels in her realm, soft and quiet and peaceful when the rest of the world is so clearly embroiled in the chaos of his Father's war.

"It has been a very long time since one of your kind has sought council with any of us," a tinkling, thoughtful voice chimes in once Castiel's feet touch the ground again, breaking the surface tension of his thoughts with a quiet splash.

He blinks and turns at the sound, only to come face to face with the mountain spring's suijin, this partial incarnation of Ame no Minakanushi that is at once, just like the old Shinto gods Castiel remembers scurrying around on the surface of the planet in its youth and somehow, very different as well, changed by her experiences on this continent, with its varied peoples and warring beliefs. He bows his head in respectful greeting to Mizu no Kamisama as she stands before him, maidenly and calm as the waters that will eventually wear this entire mountain away one day, down into nothing.

"You've come to ask me questions," she says simply as she watches him, her magnificent, flowing robes catching the errant rays of sunlight leaking into the cave through the cracks in the rock above them. "But unlike your brothers, you come in peace."

Castiel's eyes meet hers finally and he takes a slow, thoughtful step forward. "My intentions for the moment are peace," he says, honestly. "I do not know that they still will be when my questions are answered."

She is nonplussed by his words, perhaps even impressed by his candor. "Then ask, angel. I will answer as I see fit, but know I have no purpose in deceiving you."

He nods again. "I wish to know what your intentions towards the Winchesters are," he says flatly. "You have enchanted their vehicle, knowing as you must, the role they are supposed to play in the apocalypse. On behalf of what side do you act? Or is this an isolated incident, punishment for their defilement of your shrine?"

Mizu no Kamisama looks amused. "None of the above," she says simply. "Your war is your own, Castiel; my kind knows that there is a time and a place for everything, that there is a natural rhythm to life and death. We do not seek to interfere in any way, simply to exist until such a time as there is no more existence to be had."

Castiel's brow furrows in confusion. "If not interference with the apocalypse and not punishment for your shrine, then what purpose did you have for breathing life into your tsukumogami?" he asks, truly uncertain of himself now.

Mizu no Kamisama's eyes glow softly. "Reward," she says. "This gift of life was only meant as a reward, Castiel." She turns then, looking down at the pools of pure mountain water trickling through the rocks, flowing out from under the ground to give life to the mountainside, to the people and the creatures who reside upon it. "I am the spirit that protects this place. I was torn as a seed from the true form of Benzaiten when our people traversed the ocean to come to this land of many gods. I was planted here with the migration of my people and grew here and made my home here, amongst the humans who left their land but would not leave their beliefs behind as well. I protect those who invoke me, those who hold the sanctity of my waters dear and put faith in their prayers to me. It is not exactly as the old ways are in this place, but it is close, close enough that I have some power within these mountains."

She stops to stoop down, to run her fingertips through the cold, clean water pooled at their feet. "And then the body of that woman corrupted these waters. When that man killed her and threw her desecrated remains into my shrine, it polluted my water with power that was not my own, with a different power that fed off of mine. It made me weak, made me dirty and incapable of gathering my wrath to purify her ghost from this land on my own. She fed on me as a growth, angel, and for some years this was so. I despaired that I would never be clean again, that this place where I had made home, away from the seed of my ancestors, would consume me and corrupt me. But before I lost myself in that madness, they arrived; they salted and purified the bones, laid that woman to rest and released her hold on me."

She turns luminous eyes back up on the angel, the cascade of her hair obscuring part of her pale, lovely face. "They freed me, Castiel. I wish no harm upon them or anything they hold dear."

"I see," Castiel realizes. "You wished to thank them. But what could have prompted you to thank them in this manner?"

She allows a small, secretive smile. "Many wishes are made when tribute is paid to my waters," she says. "When they destroyed the well, they freed me from the bonds of that ghost. I took this as tribute, and bade them stand under the rain of my water so that I could hear them, their innermost thoughts and desires." She turns slightly helpless then, and shakes her head. "The humans, their wishes required too much power, a control of the universe beyond my grasp and the grasp of these waters and these mountains. But," she pauses here, to smile softly to herself, almost fondly. "I heard the wish of the tiny tsukumogami, the spirit of their car that was so beloved of them that it had been given the seed of life."

Castiel is beginning to see. "You granted the Impala's wish."

She nods. "His voice was so lovely," she says, sounding fond, slightly wistful. "He only wished that the one named Dean would be safe and happy and loved, that he would be allowed to take care of both Dean and Sam at least half as well as Dean cared for him. His spirit was full of this longing, to impart the same love and the same undying devotion upon his human that his human had seen fit to bestow upon him time and time again. That," she murmurs, "is a wish that I knew I could grant, even as small as I am within this vast country. And so I gave birth to the Impala that he may do all the things he wished, so that the man he served might hear his voice and know that he is loved."

Castiel huffs in relief. "I see. Then all I can do is thank you."

She grins back, a little bit mischievously. "If I had known," she assures him, "that he is already so loved, I would have chosen, perhaps, a different way in which to manifest that little one's wishes."

Castiel shuffles slightly, suddenly uncomfortable under the implications of the mother goddess. "I should return to them with this news."

"I will grant my little one's wishes again, Castiel," she says before he can take flight. "Know that a mother only wishes for her children to be happy. Know that it is done with the best of intentions, and that we have acknowledged that your love has and will once again change the face of this story, as my waters shape the mountains around us."

Castiel frowns, unsure of her meaning or the tone she is taking with him. "I don't understand what that means."

She shakes her head. "Go then. You will learn as you go. You always have. In the meantime, I will do as I always have as well. Please do not interfere."

He feels the vapor in the air swirl around him them, lift him up and balm the ache of his injured wings.

He lets Mizu no Kamisama carry him back to the lake and to the Winchesters, her chiming laughter following him down the gently sloping mountainside.

Meanwhile, Dean is kind of standing ten or fifteen awkward feet behind the Impala, waiting for the guy to finish whatever meaningful conversation he's having with the puddle that is apparently his mother. When he shifts his weight slightly a twig snaps underfoot though, making him wince even as it makes the Impala turn to look at him, a mixture of pleasure and surprise on the guy's face when he sees Dean.

It's like having a puppy that's always happy to see you, even if you're kind of a dick to it sometimes.

Dean offers a lame kind of wave as the Impala stands up and smiles at him. "Dean!" he greets, chipper as ever. "Hi!"

"Uh, hi," Dean answers, and tells himself to stop being a pussy as he closes the distance between them, so that they can at least have a face-to-face conversation that doesn't involve one of them having to shout. "You uh, you were gone when we got up for breakfast this morning," he starts after a brief pause wherein his former car is looking over his face like it is one of the greatest treasures in the world. Dean coughs. "We—that is all of us—were worried, man. You can't just take off and not tell anyone like that."

The Impala looks instantly repentant. "Yeah, mom was just saying that I was being irresponsible. I guess I just didn't think it through because I was feeling kind of lonely at the time."

"Think what through, exactly?" Dean asks, and isn't sure if he likes his car using vague terms like it with regards to whatever he'd been not thinking through. Maybe he's picking up a love of specific words from Cas or something.

"Everything," the Impala admits, sheepish. "I mean, after I talked to Castiel, I guess I had some time to think by myself, and then I got kind of sad, and a little bit angry, but mostly with myself, because I mean, I've been so stupid this whole time."

Dean balks a little, because that's kind of harsh, all things considered. "Dude you've been human for less than week. It uh, it takes some getting used to. Or so I hear. We'll… you know, we'll work on it. Give it some time." He thinks maybe the Impala and Cas can start a club or something. The world's most awkward and not fun (but hilarious) club.

The Impala just smiles. "You're always so nice to me, Dean," he says, and reaches out to take Dean's hands in his own. Which is kind of weird, but Dean allows it, mostly because pulling back suddenly might earn him a pair of broken hands, which won't do anyone any good in the fight against Lucifer. "That's what I really love about you, you know?" the car continues, apparently unaware of Dean's discomfort. "You always care about other people first."

Dean thinks that the suijin hit the nail on the head if she'd wanted to punish him for fucking up her well, because listening to people talk about how great he is with no hint of irony whatsoever might be the one thing that makes Dean more squeamish than anything except for maybe thoughts of Sam having hot monkey sex with Ruby or that one time he'd had to dig through fresh werewolf poop to find a piece of leprechaun gold (it's a long, complicated story he never, ever wants to talk or think about again).

Meanwhile the Impala suddenly looks strangely shy and abruptly releases Dean's hands from his own before turning back to face the water. He takes a deep breath and sounds oddly resigned, like those kids in those cheap straight to DVD teen movies who have to say goodbye to each other at the end of summer camp. "I learned a lot from you, Dean," he says while they're standing like that and Dean has no idea what to do.

"Uh, you might want to take back what you learned then," Dean begins after a beat, only half-jokingly. "Sammy always says I'm a bad influence. And he's the smart one, so I guess he'd know."

"You're not," the Impala insists, eyes still trained determinedly on the still waters of the spring. The sun is starting to get lower in the sky as late afternoon shifts to early evening and Dean thinks he can see a fine mist rolling in from the mountaintop as the temperature cools quickly in the high elevation. It's kind of ominous, but kind of pretty at the same time. Reminds him of angels.

"I really learned a lot about human love these past few days," the Impala sighs in the meantime, his expression weirdly unreadable. "I think I get it now. I'm glad you and Castiel could be the ones to teach me."

Dean feels a wave of inexplicable embarrassment when he hears that, because saying you learned about human love from Dean Winchester and a possibly autistic angel of the Lord is kind of like saying you got your musical taste from High School Musical, which is to say, you got the slightly dysfunctional, incredibly immature, vaguely idiotic end of the spectrum.

"Uh, don't worry man," he manages, with a sideways glance at his former car, "we'll get you some movies to watch or something. Fix that right up."

The Impala chuckles a bit, turning those big, sappy eyes back on Dean. "Don't you see, Dean?" he asks, "Until I saw you two together I was just being selfish. I wanted you all to myself. I kept thinking if I was good enough, if I showed you that my love for you was the strongest, then I'd be the only one you needed to make you happy. You guys taught me that wasn't the case." He pauses then, to sigh a little wistfully.

Dean wishes he was back in that werewolf poo for leprechaun gold situation because this is thoroughly mortifying. "Uh, really?" is all he can manage, around the embarrassed knot in his throat.

The Impala nods. "Castiel showed me that loving someone isn't a competition. That it's about doing whatever it takes to keep the person you love safe and happy, even if it isn't what's easiest or best for you. If you really care about a person, all you should want is to be useful to them, right?" The car looks rueful. "I get that now. And I can see how much you two really love each other now because of that."

The Impala smiles at him. "After watching you together, it's not the kind of relationship I can compete with at the level I'm at now, I guess."

Dean swallows and is pretty sure he's blushing at the sudden machinegun onslaught of chick flick moments the Impala is throwing at him willy-nilly. Which makes zero sense, because his whole relationship with Cas had just been a hoax Sam had concocted to get the car to back off. It should not make Dean feel self-conscious or fluttery at all when the Impala talks about them like that, like this love is a real, living, thriving thing between Dean and the angel. They aren't like that at all. Not really.

It's not like Cas is ripping himself apart fighting his family and heaven and destiny for Dean out of love. It isn't just Dean Cas has already died for once.

Except, you know, it is.

The thought prompts Dean to feel what are the beginnings of a vague, probing sot of awareness very slowly start to click into place in the back of his mind, whether he wants it to or not. The wheels are turning in there now, re-examining, filing away, over-thinking. Wherever it's leading him, Dean is pretty sure it has the potential to hit him and feel a lot like getting slammed through a wall by an irate werewolf. Except, you know, from the inside out.

Right now, it just feels sort of hard to breathe all of a sudden.

Luckily (or not), the Impala doesn't seem to notice, standing thoughtfully at the edge of Mizu no Kamisama's sacred spring as the fog rolls in around their ankles, catching and reflecting the last few rays of the sun as it begins to fall behind the distant mountaintops. It casts a golden, ethereal sort of glow over everything around them, like they're standing in a dream.

"I want you to know I love you like that too, Dean," the Impala says after a moment of Dean trying to find words(and air) again, the car's voice going soft and contemplative with his declaration. "I want to be as useful to you as I can, and I know now, after talking to you and to Castiel and to mom, that I can't be while I'm stuck like this."

Dean balks. "Wait, what's that supposed to mean?"

The Impala's eyes are gentle around the edges, hopelessly fond. It's a look Dean's seen before, mirrored on Cas's face sometimes, when the angel thinks no one is looking. "Dean," he says, "it was nice finally getting to talk to you. Even if I won't be able to anymore, just know I'm still listening, okay? So…please don't stop talking to me."

And then the mist seems to swell, rolling in off the water in a giant, hungry cloud. It surrounds the Impala like, well, like a mother's embrace, Dean supposes, and before Dean can reach out and pull the Impala back, to tell him no, it's fine, that he should live because it's his goddamned right to, Castiel is at Dean's side from out of nowhere, gently pulling him back from the water's edge.

"Dean," the angel says, voice rumbling quietly in Dean's ear, "This is his wish."

Dean automatically balks at how black and white Cas makes it sound, because it's not fair, because as much as he'd wanted his baby back, no one should be willing to give up their life for him, not Cas, not the Impala, not anyone. "But Cas…"

Cas's grip is unyielding on his arm however, holding him still as the fog slowly starts to swallow the Impala, holding him until all Dean can see when he squints into the miasma is the silhouette of a man waving at him. He's still smiling that ridiculous, hopeful smile of his, somehow cheerful in the face of everything. "See you later, Dean," the Impala's voice whispers through the air, and when Dean blinks again, the form is gone, disappeared into the mist.

"Dammit, Cas!" Dean seethes, turning to the angel in fury. "Why'd you just let him go like that? He shouldn't have given up living just because it's a little inconvenient for me."

Castiel is calm as he regards Dean in all his helpless anger. "This wasn't about you, Dean," Castiel says simply, which Dean thinks is a crock of shit, because it very obviously was. Cas seems to read his mind though—always seems to read his mind at the least convenient times—and the angel's expression softens marginally in that familiar, gentle way of his that makes Dean want to look away or shout or hide under something.

Castiel doesn't let him. "It was about his love for you. The tsukumogami learned love from you, and from you realized that what he wanted, more than anything, was to be of use to you. This is his wish, Dean. This is his exercise in free will and you have no right to take that from him after everything you have shown him." Something about the way Cas says that last part—with that rock solid sureness that brooks no argument— makes Dean's jaw snap shut, makes him swallow the myriad protests that had formed instinctively on the tip of his tongue.

Castiel finally releases Dean then, though he can still feel the angel's hand resting as a light pressure on his left shoulder. "You are the person responsible for teaching that creature what human love is truly capable of, Dean. He knows now, as we all know, that sometimes, love means sacrifice. This was his choice. You must respect that. You must not take it from him."

Dean averts his eyes from the angel's as he says that, takes a step back so that Cas's hand falls off of his shoulder. "Givin' me too much credit there, man. There's no way I taught him all that in just a couple of measly days. I just yelled a lot," he grumbles, though feels like most of the fight is draining out of him when Cas looks at him like that, with all that conviction and all that fierce earnestness and those eyes that are just plain impossible to argue against.

Castiel huffs a small, vaguely amused sigh at Dean's tone as the fog slowly starts to roll away, leaving not only a beautiful view of the spring and the forest and the mountaintops, but a beautiful view of a familiar, sleek black body, parked right at the water's edge as well. "Trust me, Dean," the angel murmurs, voice low and firm as the two of them pause to regard the almost otherworldly shine of the Impala's hood in the autumn twilight, "I know very well that this is not the first time you have managed to do such a thing."

Dean feels himself flush hot and pink at the angel's solemn words and their just as solemn implications. It's the final piece of that puzzle he'd been unwittingly working through earlier, and just like that—with just his gaze locked on Cas's— he feels it all slide into place and complete the picture, as easy as shifting gears in the Impala.

And when he finally gets it, he kind of wonders how it had taken him so long to get there in the first place. Even more, he wonder why Cas hasn't freaking said anything until now.

He thinks in the back of his mind that this is something—something important— about Cas and him that he's going to have to file away for later, that he's going to keep saved up and hoarded away inside him until everything is said and done, until they've killed the devil and saved the world.

Until they have the time to see where it goes properly one day, to open this thing up like a gift where Dean can show Cas that sometimes real love does mean making sacrifices, but also that sometimes, it doesn't have to either.

Besides, everyone needs something like that to look forward to, right?

That decided, Dean allows himself a tiny smile before he takes a deep breath and backs away from Cas to pad up to the Impala. She—he, whatever— is beautiful like this, he decides, will probably be beautiful to him in any form now, after learning what he has about his car and his car's soul these past few days. "Welcome back, baby," he murmurs, after a beat of just drinking in the familiar sight of it.

He isn't embarrassed at all when he pauses to press a kiss to the Impala's gleaming hood before opening the door and climbing in.

He doesn't have to turn around to know that Cas has been right behind him the whole time.