The Winchesters froze, staring at each other for a long silent moment before Dean spoke up. "Jeez," he mumbled, meekly handing the keys to Sam; "I mus' be freakin' drunker'n I thought. I could ha' sworn the 'mpala just freakin' spoke to me!"
Sam shook his head slowly, never once taking his eyes from Dean's face. "No," he murmured; "I mean, yes, you are drunk … but I heard it too."
"B-but …" Dean began, and then tailed off into silence, seemingly lost for words.
"But, that's ridiculous – the Impala can't talk," Sam spluttered; "she's a car, she hasn't got a larynx. Cars don't talk."
"You haven't got a tail-pipe, honey, but you still manage to pass a whole load of gas," came the response from their mysterious third voice.
Dean couldn't stifle the laugh that burst forth at the sight of the outraged gape that appeared on Sam's face, clearly reddening, even under the harsh glare of a nearby streetlamp.
Clumsily squatting down in front of the Impala, Dean almost toppled face-first into her grille as he fought to balance on his haunches. Clearing his throat, he addressed her directly.
"Hey Baby," he crooned softly, as if he were talking to a skittish filly; "you talkin' to us?"
"Well, I'm not talking to myself, sweetie; that would just be whole buckets of crazy."
Dean looked up through the diffused grey light of the streetlamp at Sam, face stretched into a stunned, pebble-eyed mask.
"Dean," Sam snapped, throwing his arms up in exasperation; "the car talking AT ALL is whole buckets of crazy."
"Okay," The Impala announced suddenly; "that's enough of that. You boys need to get home and get to bed; it's late, it's cold and you're both beat."
She glared at them.
Neither brother could adequately explain how a car was capable of glaring but there was no doubt in either Winchesters' mind that her metal frame had suddenly taken on a very authoritative mien.
"Uh, right;" Sam nodded timidly and pulled her driver's door open, deliberately climbing inside before Dean could get any ideas in that direction.
The Impala's new-found abilities didn't appear to have had any detrimental effect on her running as Sam pointed her nose toward the bunker. She carried her boys towards their home, sailing along the deserted road as smoothly and as powerfully as ever she had.
However, that wasn't to say that their journey home was in any way quiet.
"You always did get cranky when you got tired, Sammy," she announced, her voice clearly audible over the thrum of her engine; "you were such a beautiful baby, and very sweet natured, but you turned into an absolute monster when you got tired."
"I wasn't … I didn't … but …" Sam gabbled in affronted outrage as Dean looked on with unbridled and distinctly sadistic pleasure.
"She's right," Dean added, taking great delight in fanning the flames; "y'were a cool baby 'cept when you got tired, then y'turned into a pissy li'l scream machine."
The Impala chuckled; "pissy is the word," she added; the wink, although mechanically impossible, was nevertheless still very much there in the tone of her voice.
"Yep, y'not wrong;" Dean sniggered; "we used to ha' to put in a bulk order for diapers."
Sam fixed his eyes on the road ahead, his face set into a deliberately unpissy scowl.
"Well what about golden boy over there," he snorted, pointing a thumb at Dean; "I'll bet he wasn't a perfect baby either!"
"Oh honey, my sweet little Deanie-Bean was just the most adorable little cutie-pie," she cooed.
"Yeah, yeah, whatever …" Dean interrupted, spots of pink beginning to colour his cheeks as he waved a hand dismissively in Sam's direction.
"Oh yeah?" Sam grinned, sensing an unmissable opportunity for toe-curling humiliation; "tell me more about, uh, Deanie-Bean."
"Hey, what's on the radio?" Dean blurted, cranking up the volume, and seemingly unconcerned that it was cheesy gospel music that came blaring out.
His relief didn't last long as the radio inexplicably shut itself off.
"Yes, he was just the sweetest little baby ever," she began with a coquettish giggle in her voice; "gorgeous blond hair and huge green eyes that you could swim in," the smile was clearly audible in her voice; "always laughing and showing the world the one and only little tooth he'd managed to sprout up until he was a year old."
"Uh, Baby …" Dean spluttered; "yeah, thanks but …"
"Hush now honey, and take the compliment," she scolded affectionately.
Sam stifled a laugh as Dean realised this was one argument he wasn't going to win and sat back, burrowing sulkily into the passenger seat; he could feel the heat radiating off Dean; but he wasn't letting the smug dick off this lightly.
"Yeah? That cute huh?"
"Oh yes," she agreed; "but dribble – I've never seen so much drool; my seats used to be awash with it. I swear you've killed chupacabras that didn't drool as much as that little tyke did."
"Is that so?" Sam prompted with a snigger.
"Hey look, we're nearly home; "Dean announced loudly in a desperate attempt to change the subject, and failed parlously.
“Oh yes, he was such an adorable, squishy little pudding!”
Shaking with laughter, Sam pulled the Impala to a halt outside the entrance to the bunker's garage and engaged the parking brake. Wiping tears of hilarity from his eyes, he tried hard to temper the grin on his face as he turned to chance a glance at Dean.
The expression on Dean's florid face wasn't exactly what Sam would describe as cute right at that moment.
With the Impala safely ensconsed in the bunker's spacious garage, the Winchesters turned to head toward their rooms. Dean paused and turned back to her; "uh, g'night Baby," he mumbled; "y'gonna be okay?"
"I'll be just fine and dandy," she replied; "now you get to your beds and get some rest. Goodnight boys, sleep tight."
Sam had to practically drag Dean out of the garage.
The following morning, after a revoltingly greasy breakfast which had made some small contribution toward easing Dean's hangover and restoring his power of coherent speech, Sam had eventually managed to coax Dean into the library, and had him sitting down and researching the Leshy hunt, exactly where he wanted him.
"So, it says here that Leshys are repelled by wrought iron," Sam read aloud from a dust-coated tome on the table in front of him. "It says …"
"It must have been those parts I put in her …" Dean announced out of the blue; "I mean, there's no other freakin' logical reason she should be talking, is there …?"
Sam looked up. "No Dean, there isn't any other logical reason." He paused for a moment before gesturing expansively across the books and the laptop spread out on the table between them; "uh, the Leshy?" he prompted.
"Oh, uh, yeah …" Dean sighed. Listlessly picking up a scroll, he stared at it, scanning the words blankly and obviously without any attention given that it was upside down.
"But the other book here says that it can be killed by a weapon made out of any metal that is not pure of the earth." Sam turned the book toward Dean, pointing toward the relevant passage; "so I wonder if that means …"
"I mean, they were the right sort of parts for her, so they're not doing her any harm, but it's kinda weird isn't it?" Dean muttered vacantly.
Sam's head dropped into his hands and he let out a long sigh of abject defeat.
"Dean," he groaned; "go down to the garage; do what the hell you gotta do."
Dean had tossed the scroll back on the table and was up and out of his chair before the last words had even left Sam's mouth.
"Thanks Sammy," he grinned as he strode toward the exit.
"You're welcome – Deanie-Bean," Sam called after him.
Dean's middle finger was the last thing he saw before the Library door slammed shut behind Dean's retreating silhouette.