It doesn't come out of nowhere, Cas’ request. In fact, it makes perfect sense, and yet it still takes them by surprise. Or maybe it was just Cas whooshing into the middle of Bobby’s living room without warning, not giving them a second to maybe ask where the hell he'd been or why he was showing up now before he was announcing, “I would like to ask for a favor.”
Dean must make a face because Sam elbows him as he sits up and puts his laptop on the coffee table, his Go On, I'm Listening expression on in full force. For his part, Dean mostly closes the book he’d been reading about wendigos and other native american lore, keeping his thumb between the pages.
Cas doesn't look directly at either of them as he continues, “It has come to my attention that, while vastly less efficient than ‘beaming up’—” Dean gets a narrow-eyed look at this, the one that means Cas knows he was referencing something but still isn’t sure what; he runs a hand over his mouth to keep from smiling. “—driving is your preferred method of transportation.”
Sam glances at Dean, eyebrows raised; Dean shrugs back.
“And...?” Sam prompts.
“If it would not be an inconvenience,” Cas says, like he’s rehearsed this, “I want to know how.”
“To drive,” Dean says. Sam looks like he wants to elbow him again for some reason. Maybe Dean sounded a little too incredulous, but he just kind of assumed that if Cas wanted to drive he would’ve picked it up already.
“Yes,” Cas says, a little petulant.
“So that’s not one of your angel superpowers?” Dean asks. He can’t help it. Getting Cas to roll his eyes is Dean’s favorite sport. Sam steps on his foot, and there goes the eye roll, almost a full-body gesture: a half turn away as his eyes look to the heavens, his shoulders rising and falling in an exasperated breath before he sets his sights briefly on Dean again just to make sure his annoyance was conveyed. Dean can’t tell if Cas knows that only makes him want to bother him more.
“Shockingly enough, there’s not much use for cars in celestial battle,” Cas says. He goes back to looking past them out the window. “But if you’re too busy.”
“No we’re not busy,” Sam says. “We’d be happy to help.”
“Hey, speak for yourself,” Dean says. Sam turns to frown at him at the same time Cas finds something incredibly interesting to glare at in the kitchen, and Dean holds up his hands. “I already taught you to drive, and believe me, that was enough to last a lifetime.”
“I wasn’t that bad!”
“Yeah, okay, like you didn’t drive over every curb in sight, twice.”
Sam very purposefully turns back to Cas. “ I’ll be happy to help.”
“Thank you, Sam,” Cas says. There’s a pause where he just looks at Sam while Sam reaches for his laptop and then Sam goes, “Oh, did you mean now?”
“If you’re not—” Cas starts.
“Nope, not busy,” Sam says, and closes his laptop. As they head to the door, Dean calls after them, “Don’t even think about taking Baby! I just changed her tires!”
Neither of them acknowledges him. He’s pretty sure they know they’re under threat of death if they even look at his car. Just in case, he dislodges himself from the couch and watches from the kitchen window until they come back out of the garage and get into an old Corolla. It’s weird to see Cas get into the driver’s seat, but he guesses he’ll get used to it. As long as Cas doesn’t try to drive when he’s in the car.
Cas sits ramrod straight and studies the inside of the car carefully. Sam watches him mess with the visor, touch the gear shift, press an experimental foot to the brake, patient enough to wait for him to finish his inspection before he tries to explain anything. While he has no doubt that Cas would absorb the information either way, he’d rather be sure it was understood the first time around.
“There are only two pedals,” Cas says, looking at Sam with a crease between his brows.
“That’s because this is an automatic transmission,” Sam says. “You won’t have a clutch unless it’s manual, and this is the only car that runs, so you get to learn the easy way first.”
Cas nods, and Sam points out and explains the other key parts of the car (gear shift, turn signals, which pedal is gas and which one’s brake) before handing Cas the keys. This is how Dean taught him, minus a lot of teenage surliness and the whole you don’t have to use turn signals because it’s nobody’s business where you’re going attitude. Nevertheless, Cas looks a little dubious of the indicator.
“So you’re gonna want to adjust the mirrors first so you have a good field of view behind you,” Sam says.
Cas just looks at him. “I don’t need mirrors for that.”
Sam lets out a laugh and says, “Humor me.”
Cas does, indeed, humor him, spending a good five minutes making sure the side mirrors aren’t a millimeter out of alignment and then moves on to the rear view. Sam holds his tongue as he waits, because he’s the even-tempered brother, damn it, and he is not going to lose it over an angel adjusting the mirrors in a car.
“Okay,” Cas says when he’s finally done.
“Next is the seat belt,” Sam instructs. Cas gives him a look like, I do not need this measly strap of fabric to protect me from bodily harm , but he buckles up anyway. Apparently the mirrors were enough for him to just go along with the strange human practices involved in operating a vehicle. Sam puts his own seat belt on. “Alright, go ahead and start the engine.”
Dean is on the phone with Bobby, who called to tell them he’d be a few extra days, when the unholy sound of metal against metal echoes across the salvage yard. From his spot on the porch, Dean can see a stack of cars swaying. He nearly drops his phone in his haste to hang up, managing a quick “I’ll call you back” over Bobby’s demand to know what in the hell that noise was.
“Sam!” he yells, jogging across the yard.
The stack of cars doesn’t fall, but the Corolla is worse for wear; the fender is falling off, one of the tail lights is busted, and the trunk is caved in. Sam has already climbed out, leaning against the hood and rubbing his chest while Cas watches him from the other side of the car, wide-eyed.
“Are you okay?” Dean asks.
Sam waves him off when he gets close. “It probably won’t even bruise. I’m fine.”
Dean frowns at him for a second before directing his leftover adrenaline to Cas. “What the hell happened? Are you trying to kill my brother?”
“The pedals,” Cas says, and Dean hasn’t seen him look this shaken up maybe ever. He glances at Dean. “I didn’t know they would be so sensitive.”
“You also slammed the gas instead of the brake,” Sam says, but gently, like Cas hadn’t almost collapsed five other cars on top of him.
“My sincerest apologies, Sam,” Cas says. “I did not think I would cause any harm.”
“It was a rookie mistake,” Sam says with an aborted shrug.
“Okay, you,” Dean says, pointing to Cas, “fix this.” He gestures to Sam’s chest and then addresses Sam, “And you, why on earth did you think it would be a good idea to give driving lessons surrounded by towers of cars? Did I not take you to an open field to learn how to drive?”
“I figured that was just so Dad wouldn’t know,” Sam replies, sagging in relief when Cas puts a hand on his shoulder and does whatever it is with his mojo to heal him. The idiot must have gotten a serious case of whiplash.
“No, it was so you wouldn’t kill us crashing into anything!”
“You’ve been in more accidents than I have!”
“So that means an angel won’t back into anything?”
“I didn’t think it would be an issue!”
They stop arguing when Cas takes off, but only because Sam takes Dean’s distraction as an opportunity to walk back to the house.
“Hey,” Dean calls after Sam, or maybe both of them, “I wasn’t done yelling at you yet!”
Neither of them respond. Dean huffs and looks at the Corolla. It isn’t completely totaled. In fact, he could probably fix it in a couple days if Bobby has the right parts lying around. But first he should probably let Bobby know that nobody died and there’s nothing to worry about; then he can cover up the evidence.
Cas doesn’t ask about driving again. He takes a while to come back around in the first place, and when he does he apologizes to Sam one more time, to which Sam replies, “No, Cas, seriously, it’s fine. No harm, no foul,” which prompts Dean to point out that there was harm, and Cas looks very much like he’d prefer to be elsewhere again but sticks around to help them with a case he found.
It takes over a week for them to clear out all the demons determined to possess everyone in the suburbs of San Antonio. All the body-hopping frayed all their nerves, and Dean’s pretty sure they’ll never look at a cul de sac the same again.
Not that Dean ever really trusted cul de sacs in the first place.
They head back to Bobby’s a day later, because driving 16 hours straight is annoying, even for Dean. Cas rides back with them, and it’s weird. He sits in the middle of the backseat like he always does, but instead of getting—Dean doesn’t know really, bored, or maybe just impatient and taking off without a word, he stays. Dean keeps checking the mirror, expecting to find the car empty, and every time, Cas notices and meets his eyes serenely like it’s nothing out of the ordinary.
And then, when they stop at a fast food joint for lunch, standing around the hood of the car to eat just so they’re not sitting for an extra half hour, Cas actually takes a fry that Dean offered mostly sarcastically. Dean watches him inspect it and then stick the whole thing in his mouth and he turns to Sam, who looks back at him with an equally unsettled expression before they both watch Cas chew and stare across the parking lot.
“Those are very salty,” Cas says, seemingly oblivious to the disturbance in the force he just caused. “I understand why you enjoy them.”
Dean looks at Sam again, He did just say that, right? and Sam shrugs back, glancing at Cas and then spearing another forkful of salad. Dean follows his lead and finishes his burger. As much as he wants to know, he just does not want to ask.
Dean has to round the corner of the building to throw out their trash, and when he comes back, Sam is in the backseat; Cas is standing by the passenger door, his hand resting on the handle.
“Sam said he wanted to sleep so he could drive the last leg,” he says after Dean pauses, keys in hand. Dean peers at Sam, as stretched out as he can be but watching Dean with his stupid little brother smile, and resists the urge to sigh. Whatever Sam is playing at, he’s sure it’s going to be a pain in the ass.
“Whatever, just get in already,” he says.
The first few hours are fine. They cross through Oklahoma and into Kansas without incident or conversation. He and Sam don’t constantly talk on long drives, so the silence, punctuated every so often by Sam trying and failing to fit both his legs on the seat, is fine. Whatever. He drives and changes the radio stations when the commercials start annoying him, and Cas is just—there. He isn’t bothered about having Cas’ stillness right there in his peripheral vision. At least this way he doesn’t have to look away from the road to know whether he’s still there or not.
It’s around the four and a half hour mark that Dean starts to feel Cas watching him. Cas, weirdo that he is, doesn’t look away when Dean looks over, merely waits for him to go back to staring at the road and then either keeps on watching or looks out the passenger side window. Going on hour five, Dean starts to notice a pattern. It takes him another twenty minutes to bring it up, just to make sure he isn’t imagining it.
“If you want to know what I’m doing, just ask,” he says after Cas studies him changing lanes. Now Cas looks away before Dean catches his eye. Naturally. “What happened to you wanting to learn?”
Cas doesn’t answer right away. “It seems...unwise.”
“You disagree?” Cas challenges.
Dean laughs. “You crashed a car the first time you tried to drive. That’s not that bad.”
Cas hums skeptically.
“Dude, I almost totaled this car the first time my dad let me drive it.”
Cas turns toward him. Dean glances away from the road to see Cas almost-frowning at him.
“I was so nervous,” Dean says. “Dad kept nagging at me about everything, and I started to take a wrong turn and I panicked and sped right in front of the only other car on the road. I think I gave him his first gray hair.”
“How old were you?” Cas asks.
“Thirteen. It wasn’t exactly legal, but between him and Bobby I’ve known how to drive since I was nine.”
Cas falls silent again. Dean checks to make sure he’s still there a few times, but it seems to be the end of the conversation until Sam wakes up and they have to decide where to stop for dinner.
Since Cas has become more of a boots on the ground kind of angel, he's gotten a cell phone. Well, Dean got him a cell phone because it's way less weird than praying and also a more reliable way to know when they're just being ignored. The point is, Dean can just call Cas and tell him to meet him in a field and Cas will or won't show up, just like if Dean had prayed to him, but this way he won't feel as stupid if Cas decides not to.
Cas shows up at exactly one in the afternoon, sees Dean with the car he specifically got running for this occasion, and scowls. “No.”
“‘No?’” Dean repeats. “What if I have a case and you just walked up and said no?”
Cas folds his arms across his chest. “Do you have a case?”
“No,” Dean says. Cas rolls his eyes, keeping his head turned away as he works his jaw. “What I do have is a crash-able car with nothing to crash it into.”
“I don't appreciate having my time wasted,” Cas says.
Dean lifts his hands in surrender. “You can leave whenever you want. I don't care if you can drive or not.”
Cas inhales slowly like Dean does when he's trying not to yell and his irritation cracks, just a little bit. He looks at Dean, at least, and doesn't seem to be plotting his death.
“So?” Dean says, drawing it out until Cas uncrosses his arms with a small sigh.
“I thought you didn't want to help,” he says. Dean shrugs.
“Sam would've done it if he thought you'd get in a car with him again, but it's not like I have a busy schedule keeping me from being manipulated into good deeds.”
“You don't have to be manipulated into doing good deeds,” Cas says. Dean opens his mouth, closes it again, decides he really doesn't want to get into Cas’ random moments of earnest belief in his character. Instead he takes the car key out of his jacket pocket and holds it out. Cas frowns at it for a second before he lets Dean drop it in his hand.
“At some point, you’re gonna have to move,” Dean says. They’ve been sitting in the car for almost ten minutes. Cas is at risk of bending the steering wheel at this point and the engine isn’t even on. Dean reaches over and turns the key. Cas’ eyes dart over to him but he doesn’t move. Dean sits back, propping an elbow on the door as he scrubs a hand under his eye. “Cas, man, you’re either gonna do this or you’re not, but I’m not sitting here all day.”
Cas finally moves, letting go of the steering wheel with one hand to grab the gear shift.
“You got a foot on the brake?”
Cas peers under the steering column, like he’s not sure, and then shifts into drive.
It goes smoothly, if not slowly, from there. Cas won’t go over about fifteen miles an hour except for the one time he seemed to forget himself and went from fifteen to seventy without warning. That’s when he stops short and shuts the engine off. Dean decides not to tell him that braking that fast will also cause whiplash.
“You can’t be scared of it,” he says.
“I am not scared ,” Cas says. “I am being cautious.”
“You’re telling me that with your reflexes, you have to go that slow to still be cautious?”
Dean rolls his eyes and gets out of the car. Cas starts to follow, but Dean rounds the car and shuts his door before he can. Cas could just blink out of there and go back to whatever he was doing before Dean called him but he stays and frowns at Dean.
“Drive,” Dean says. “Faster.”
He walks about ten feet away and then turns back to watch. Cas starts the car; after a few seconds, the car moves, just as slow at first as he drives toward the edge of the field and then he speeds up as he heads back. Dean kind of wishes the field wasn't totally empty so he'd have something besides the ground to sit on, but he picked well judging by Cas’ advance from grandma driving to teenager that just got their license.
Sam calls a little while later with a case, and Dean reclaims the car, Cas moving to the passenger seat with only a little irritation.
Sam is waiting for them when they get back to Bobby’s. Cas hadn’t necessarily had to come, but Dean wasn’t going to send him off if he was willing to help with whatever Sam had dug up. The first incriminating evidence comes in the form of Sam’s confused, “Hey, Cas,” when he sees Cas walk in behind Dean.
“Hello, Sam,” Cas says. “Dean said you had a case.”
“Yeah, it looks like a vengeful spirit in Ohio,” Sam replies, looking at Dean questioningly. “Nothing major.”
Cas nods, peering at Sam’s laptop, left open on the kitchen table. “Would you mind if I join you anyway?”
“Uh.” Sam’s what the hell look intensifies; Dean lifts his shoulders in response. “Sure? If you want.”
“I’ll go get my stuff,” Dean says. Sam follows him out and catches his arm before he can go up the stairs.
“You didn’t have to call Cas,” he says.
“If he wants to help, he can help,” Dean says. “Besides, he was already with me when you called.”
“Where were you anyway? You didn’t take the impala.”
“I’m sorry, did I miss the part where you became my keeper?” Dean asks, very aware of the fact that Cas can hear them. “We weren’t doing anything important, I went out, it’s not a crime.”
“I’m not attacking you, Dean,” Sam says, backing off. “It’s just weird, I guess. Cas spending so much time on the ground, with us.”
“Yeah, well. Who are we to understand the whims of an angel.”
Sam huffs. “Yeah.”
Dean gets his things and they head out, Cas in the back seat and the motel and the police station and the cemetery. He watches them burn the bones of a guy who didn’t let death stop him from controlling his wife (none of them have a problem with the slow and seemingly painful combustion of his spirit that his wife’s sister witnessed), and then he takes off to do whatever it is he does in the ether.
Teaching Cas to drive really isn't that bad. Truth be told, it's less stressful than when he had to teach Sam. Whether it's because Cas is able to fine-tune his movements more easily once he knows what he's supposed to be doing or the knowledge that if Cas wraps a car around a tree he'll be able to walk away from it, Dean doesn't know, but once they got over the initial resistance, it's gone surprisingly smooth.
The most annoying part is realizing Cas doesn't have a clue about traffic laws. Sure, he's observed Dean driving (and not always folllowing the law), but the correlation between the actions and the consequences is just not there. So Dean gets to explain road signs and right of way and when you have to have your headlights on, which is a real uphill battle with someone who doesn't really need light to see. Cas absorbs the information like a heavenly sponge, but Dean still ends up driving around Sioux Falls and quizzing him on what the different lines in the middle of the road mean and what this or that sign stands for until he's at risk of Cas losing patience and smiting him right there in the '87 Taurus he fixed up just for Cas to learn in. He should probably work on a stick shift for Cas to drive since he's still firmly set against allowing Baby into a newbie's hands. He makes a mental note to check the salvage yard next time he's bored and then goes back to pestering Cas about speed limits.
Time goes on. Monsters kill people and Sam and Dean kill monsters. But now Cas is cementing himself as a third party to their hunting trips, joining them more and more frequently until they end up on a case without him and it's just weird not to have someone stealing bits of Dean's food and determining if humans are right or wrong about their fondness for it. Neither of them mention it, but Dean keeps glancing in the mirror and finding himself surprised that Cas isn't in the back seat already looking at him.
"So, driving," Dean finds himself saying after the first time Cas drives successfully around Sioux Falls. They're walking around a Safeway, because Bobby ran into Dean heading out and told him if he was going to avoid the books he might as well bring back supplies. Grocery shopping is not a thing Dean ever imagined doing with Cas (not that he imagines doing anything with Cas), but whatever. He hunts monsters for a living; he might as well send an angel an aisle over to pick up some cereal. "You're telling me it's just practicality."
Cas studies a hanging display of temporary tattoos. "I was curious why you like it so much. Operating machinery always seemed like a hassle."
"But now you get it?" Dean asks.
"There is a certain appeal," Cas says. On the other side of the tattoos are finger skateboards. He looks back at Dean. "I don't understand the point of these."
"Me neither, dude."
Things go back to normal.
Whenever they have enough downtime to head back to Bobby’s, Sam finds Dean fixing up cars. When pressed, Dean just says he’s not used to doing nothing (not true; Sam has seen him veg out like he’s getting paid for it) and this way he isn’t sitting around with his thumb up his ass.
Cas still pops in infrequently, mostly when they call him or he found something for them to fix, but sometimes he comes back with Dean after Dean disappears, this time with excuses to get food or car parts or just drive around for a while. It’s not like it’s the first time Cas has found Dean first and then joined the rest of them, but it is increasingly just when nothing else is going on.
So Sam is more than a little curious, but he’s not going to ask. If it was important, Dean would tell him. Probably.
The big reveal comes when they’re hunting a shapeshifter. They didn’t know it was a shapeshifter when Cas brought it up; people were disappearing and it could have been almost anything and Cas evidently had nothing else to do since he tagged along. The shapeshifter had claimed the sewer systems and a slew of abandoned buildings that could be accessed through them (“Typical,” Dean muttered.), and it was keeping everyone alive, apparently enjoying their reactions to the chaos it wreaked walking around with their faces.
Dean got knocked out in the last confrontation (“For fuck’s sake ,” he said when Cas healed him.), and then they were up for nearly two days straight finding everyone, a job they could’ve left to the police but Dean was still touchy about shapeshifters and wouldn’t let up. They finally get back aboveground across town from the warehouse where they left the Impala. Dean sits on the nearest curb, looking like he’s not planning to move any time soon. Sam joins him a second later, scrubbing his hands over his face, while Cas stands in the road in front of them. Dean shifts around, and Sam hears the jingle of his keys. He looks over when Dean says, “Here,” expecting to be the one he’s talking to, but Dean is holding the keys out and up to Cas, who accepts them easily.
“If you crash, I know how to kill you,” Dean says and then drops back on the sidewalk, one arm under his head and the other covering his eyes.
“What,” Sam manages before Cas disappears. Dean lifts his arm to squint at him.
“You really wanna walk all the way back to the car?”
“No, but,” Sam says. “You’re letting Cas drive?”
“I’ve been teaching him,” Dean says on an exhale. Sam wishes he didn’t care about what was on the sidewalk; he needs to lie down. “He’s pretty good.”
“So, with the cars?”
“Can we talk about this later? Preferably after a day of sleep?”
At the prospect of sleep, Sam sags, crossing his arms over his knees to rest his head. “Yeah, okay.”
Dean mumbles something else what feels like an eternity later. It takes Sam another eternity to understand what he said, but by then he can hear the rumble of the Impala coming down the street and Dean is laboriously sitting up and repeating, “Later, okay?” and Sam has no choice but to agree as Cas parks in front of them. He gets out and offers them both a hand, and they each take one. The difference is, Cas holds on to Dean’s and Dean leans against him for a second before slumping into the passenger seat.
“You don’t mind, do you?” Cas asks, gesturing to the car. He could be talking about him driving, or the display between him and Dean.
Either way, Sam says, “No, it’s good.”
Dean is already asleep when they get in the car. Sam’s not far behind him, but he sees Cas look over and smile before he puts the car in drive and they rumble off down the street.
“I kissed him,” Dean had said. Later, when they’ve both slept for almost twelve hours and eaten enough food for three people each, Sam asks if he and Cas are, like, together. Dean shrugs, says they haven’t talked about it, but he smiles when Cas comes back and doesn’t complain about his personal space being invaded when Cas sits in the booth next to him.