The Dearth of the Cool; or, Five Errant Dreams of Other Lives
Hilts ─ It's a street: Ashland. ─ McQueen Sam reads, sitting in a Baltimore holding cell. Six little words, and the note is Dean all over. It's not just the trust that Sam, and only Sam, will know what to make of the words in Dean's neat, if diagonal, uppercase. There's the bravado in the signature (though Dean is more badass than Steve McQueen by a country mile), the assumption that he and his brother are cut from the same cloth in the greeting (Sam thinks he just might be more badass too), and in between there's proper grammar: it's instead of the lazy, incorrect its.
Sam thinks, not for the first time, that Dean could have been a grammar teacher.
He's tagged along with Dean all his life, after all, and he's seen Dean use spray paint and knives to fix the punctuation in road signs and shop signs. Because Dean absolutely, unquestioningly respects competence ─ or, as he would put it, bein' fuckin' awesome, dropping his g's as resolutely as Lord Peter Wimsey ─ as the first step to true badassery. When things are wrong, Dean wants to fix them, even if it means painting an apostrophe into its rightful spot, or carving away the unnecessary quotation marks around the word "free."
It's kind of a kick to imagine Dean, the masked grammarian of the night, as a mild-mannered grammar teacher by day. Sam can even kind of picture it, Dean in a tan cardigan and little half-moon glasses, his fingers dry and yellow from chalk dust (streaks of it on his slacks where he's wiped his hands after diagramming another sentence for the edification of his adoring students).
"If I was you, I'd start talking," Sam hears a cop say in a mean, blustery voice to a suspect being walked down the hall, past the door of his little holding cell; the shock of bad grammar jolts him out of the daydream and back into the present. Right. He's got a great escape to make.
At almost-really-close-to five, Sammy is convinced that Dean is not only the best big brother in the whole wide world, but also a master chef. It's not like the TV would lie about that.
And Sammy distinctly remembers that he was on the floor on his stomach, playing with Dean's old Hot Wheels racer ─ the Vette Stingray, Dean calls it, and Sammy's glad that Dean names things too, just like Sammy did with the teddy bear that Daddy found for him once ─ and the TV show changed from the good guys in their van to a commercial. Dean got up to fix them a snack, and the commercial for Lysol ended, and then a new lady was on the TV, looking at her kids with a big smile and putting a big pot of something that looks really weird in front of them ─ it could be pasta, or it could be soup. Then the lady turns and looks right at him and says, "I just want what's best for my family. And the best food is made with love. You might even say it's the secret ingredient."
"Dean, your show's back on!" Sammy hollers as the lady fades away and the big black van shows up again, and Dean comes back with a PB&J and puts the plate down in front of him.
Sammy doesn't bother trying to match the Hot Wheels racer's moves to the ones on the show, where B. A. Baracus is twisting the wheel so that the muscles in his arms look super-big, because he's too busy inspecting his sandwich.
He peels the first layer of bread away carefully. The peanut butter ─ smooth, and spread all the way to the crusts just like he likes it ─ is sticking to the bread like bubble gum sticks to the bottom of a sneaker in the summertime. Sammy leans in even closer, looking at the purple streaks of grape jelly. He sticks his tongue out, tentatively. Both the jelly and the peanut butter taste just the same as always.
Maybe it's in the bread? He pinches a hole in the bread and crumbles it between his fingers. He can't see anything different than usual, can't find the secret ingredient that lady was talking about, but he can always ask Dean later. For now, he's hungry, so he puts the sandwich back together and takes as big a bite as he can.
Dean's sandwiches are always the best.
Dean's got just one more month, and Sam still hasn't found anything, not one single thing, that could save him. It's getting to the point where Sam is afraid to close his eyes, not from fear that sleep is wasted time, but from the horror show that plays behind them. And yet Dean is sitting imperturbably beside him, driving the Impala, even giving her those unconscious little caresses he's always lavished on her, and heading toward the next job, the next family he can save.
It's killing Sam. Dean shouldn't be resigned to his own death, shouldn't be facing it down so staunchly; he should be cackling with glee that Sam's found a back-door escape, singing at the top of his lungs at the joy of being alive and by his brother's side.
Sam thinks, without exaggeration, that he'd give his own soul for Dean to be rocking out to some dumb song of his own creation, like that endless version of the Dukes of Hazzard theme song he'd made up, listing all of their exploits on the road in chronological order, from Constance Welch to the Morton House, always including lines about two good old boys.
But that gusto is gone. Dean just sits quietly, using the blasting stereo as cover.
There have been so many songs that Dean has made up, like some better-looking, less obviously nerdy version of Weird Al. And they were all personalized for Sam.
Sam can remember the one Dean composed the day that they were standing in the kitchen of the apartment in Port Belle, Florida, and Sam reached over Dean's head to get to the cereal cabinet above the fridge. It was the first time he'd actually stood taller than his big brother, and he was sure it would drive Dean crazy. But Dean had just belted out, to the tune of "My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean," Oh Sammy was a freakin' midget / Oh Sammy was awfully small / Oh Sammy was a freakin' midget / But now he is nineteen feet tall.
Sam hadn't been able to figure out why Dean sounded pleased about the whole thing, had even convinced himself that Dean was shamming his good cheer, until the night three weeks later when he'd been allowed to join Dean and Dad on a hunt, and Dean had burst through the door first, as usual, and Sam could stay safe behind him but able to see over Dean's head.
If he can get Dean out of his deal, Sam thinks, he'll never complain again about Dean's propensity for twisting lyrics and coming up with dirty rhymes. Hell, he'll even buy sheet music and sing along.
"Are you kidding me with this?" Dean asked, leaning heavily over Sam's shoulder to look at the crossword puzzle on Sam's lap.
Sam twitched away irritably. He wanted to be someone who could spend leisure time on a pastime as dignified and intellectual as the Sunday crossword ─ in ink, but the problem was . . . he really wasn't all that good at them. His brain just didn't seem to work that way.
He put on a good show of reluctance when Dean said, "Get your ass over here and help me with this," but he had a feeling that Dean wasn't fooled. Sam opened one of the washers and shook the wet clothes flat, the resounding flaps sounding like distant thunder. They all smelled fresh, and looked nearly new; Dean had always had a knack for getting stains out of their clothes.
The bottle of goop Dean always threw in with the detergent was peeking out of Dean's duffel, kicked under a chair. Not for the first time, Sam wondered what was in it; Dean would only brag about his secret formula like he was Billy Mays pitching some new stain fighter. In an obnoxious-off, Sam wasn't sure which one of them would win.
But if it were a salesmanship contest, Sam knows who he'd back. Really, what product wouldn't sell like hotcakes with a pitchman as charming and funny as Dean? Except for maybe actual hotcakes, given that Dean would probably eat his way through his entire stock, with ridiculous, relishing chomps like Pac-Man, just a tireless set of jaws on legs. Sam's sure that one of these days, Dean's metabolism will bite back, and suddenly he'll be waddling around, with the evidence of every burger and pie written clearly on his morbidly obese form.
"Hey!" Dean calls, snapping Sam out of his daydream. "Your clothes are done, princess. Good as new," he adds proudly, holding up the shirt Sam had bled through in one scary minute the week before.
Sam takes it, inspecting it carefully. It smells clean, and it's soft too (someday he'll catch Dean adding fabric softener, but he hasn't managed it so far); he rubs his cheek against it. "Good as new," he echoes, and folds it away.
"We could choose life," Bobby had said, out there in the old barn covered in holy graffiti, and Dean wants to curse his brain for holding on to that nugget of information, even after the revelations Castiel, angel of the Lord, had lain on him immediately after.
To know that he'd been pulled from hell because God had bestirred himself to notice the fall of this particular sparrow ─ that was too much. His mind can't comprehend it, even as he runs shaking hands over his own body once again, verifying that he's real, he's whole, and he's back. Dude, I've literally been touched by an angel, he thinks when he gets to the raised handprint on his arm, and the '80s cheesiness of it is what makes him collapse into laughter.
Because he could choose life like Bobby meant, or he could ─ and this is the one his brain picks, snorting with glee ─ imagine Bobby wearing a shirt with the same message and jumping around like a dancing fool. Dean is frankly both awed and horrified by what his subconscious can come up with; Bobby as George Michael is plenty scarring, particularly given the tiny little shorts George crams himself into, but then Castiel shows up, as the other guy, the one who mostly has a guitar to hide his shame.
He gets into bed and closes his eyes, still laughing. Tomorrow, he'll have to get up and do the work he was put on the earth again to do, but for now, he can just imagine how fun things might have been.
(Title tweaked from The Birth of the Cool)
As always, I'd love to hear what you think.