Dean considered himself a problem solver. A creative thinker.
Hell, on a good day, he was the freakin’ Steve Jobs of hunting: dynamic, innovative, not afraid of taking chances, of trying something new. Of approaching a problem from a different angle, one that gave him a distinct perspective all his own.
Yeah, ok, it was the end result that mattered. Sure. But it never hurt to get there with some style. Some panache. With a touch that said: Dean Winchester was here, you evil fuck, and that’s why you’re dead. Because of me.
And yeah, that attitude had gotten him in trouble. Once or twice. Never a good feeling when a demon knows your name, like some hellspawn version of Norm or something, but hey. Having a rep was a good thing—hell, if just his name could get some sick son-of-a-bitch monster to hightail it without a fight, then it was worth it.
So, when you came down to it, Dean had a reputation to maintain. As a man with a plan, one that might be a little out there—a little unconventional, sure—but one that you could count on to get the job done.
And, all right, Sam might make an assist every now and then: an intuition, an ancient incantation, even a shot or a punch or a grab. Fine. But even Sammy knew whose name it was up in lights, whose name it was that rolled before the title.
So there was more than a little pride at stake whenever Dean had to ask for help. When he was forced to, his arm twisted by circumstance and frustration and when he had no other choice, goddamn it. Because he was going—
“Going fucking nuts here, Bobby,” he hissed into the phone, ducking into the cereal aisle.
“Oh, wait,” Bobby said. “Let me get a piece of paper and mark down the damn date cause, gee, boy, this is a historic fucking occasion. Damn, you and your brother driving each other crazy? Wow. I never thought I’d see the day.”
Dean huffed. “You done?”
“Look, I know it doesn’t sound like much, ok? But I’m telling you, something is really wrong, and I haven’t been able to find anything that might explain it, and Sam has been like zero help here, so I was hoping you could—”
“So he’s talkin’ about cows.”
“Yeah,” Dean said, “like, all the goddamn time.”
“And how long’s this being goin’ on?”
Dean gritted his teeth. “For two whole days! And he won’t. fucking. stop. It’s like he can’t shut it off, or something. Like this morning, he went on a 20-minute tear about the gestation cycle of a gurnsey or a jersey or something, includin’ a detailed damn description of how one of those things gives birth which, I’m telling you: the stuff of fucking nightmares, man.”
There was a long pause.
“Dean,” Bobby said, finally, his voice grave. “Look. Let me be straight with you. We have to prepare ourselves for the possibility that Sam—”
“—wants to be a big animal vet.”
“What?!” Dean shouted, backing into the Fruit Loops.
Bobby started laughing. “I wish I coulda seen the look on your face—!”
“Jesus, Bobby! C’mon, this is serious!”
“Yeah,” Bobby managed, “he may want you to be his assistant! Ya ever done CPR on a calf, boy?”
“Hilarious,” Dean scowled. “You’re a freakin’ comedian.”
Bobby’s grin practically beamed through the phone. “Relax. Seriously—he’s talking about cows? That’s it? This is either the lamest haunting in the history of haunts or your brother is just fuckin’ with you. And hey, what do you know? It’s working.”
Dean bared his teeth at Tony the Tiger and got a death grip on the phone. “For his sake,” he growled, “there better be a ghost rattlin’ around in there. Or the world’s dumbest demon. Otherwise—”
“Uh huh,” Bobby said. “I hear you, Chuck Norris. Just keep an eye on him until I have a chance to look into this.”
“Have a chance?!” Dean yelped, starling a nice-looking chick bent over the Muselix. “C’mon! This is an emergency! I can’t—”
“Oh really?” Bobby drawled. “More urgent than a vampire nest in Albuquerque? Or than some kinda man-eating deer up in Michigan? Or, I’m sorry, you’re right, a goddamn cow obsession is way more dangerous than the poltergeist outbreak in-“
“Ok, ok, Bobby, god,” Dean muttered, embarrassed. Pissed at himself all over again for giving in and calling for help. “Fine. But as soon as you can, ok? I don’t know how much more I can take of this crap.”
“Yeah, yeah, cry me a river, sunshine,” Bobby sighed. “In the meantime, why don’t you try to distract him, or something? Put somethin’ besides cows into that giant noggin a’ his. Give him some new material to chew on.” Beat. “So to speak.”
“Huh,” said Dean. “Can’t hurt.”
“Right,” Bobby said with a yawn. “You do that. I’ll call you in a couple of days.”
“A couple of days?!” Dean squawked, but Bobby had already hung up.
The funny thing was, it had all started with pigs, not cows.
They’d stopped at some hole-in-the-wall out west of Raleigh for Carolina barbecue, the kind of place that had Dean practically weeping with joy just from the smells in the parking lot. Sam, of course, was not physically capable of appreciating the complete and utter beauty of pulled pork slathered with slippery, greasy sauce and covered in coleslaw. He spent the whole meal looking disgusted and kind of ill but damn, Dean had been in heaven. Just floating there, dreaming over his sweet tea and kind of reveling in Sam’s wrinkled nose and the building bitchface.
But then Sam had perked up, suddenly, eavesdropping on the loud-ass people behind them who were going on and on about some upstanding local citizen who’d broken into like 20 cars in the last two days before being caught in the Wal-Mart parking lot, claiming he had no memory of what he’d done and no clue as to why he’d stolen enough AAA maps from people’s gloveboxes to wallpaper his house.
Tsk, tsk, they’d said, shaking their heads and reaching for the biscuits. His wife was just in here last week. Well. Just goes to show you never know really anybody. You never really know what’s going on upstairs until one day he throws open the attic door and lets it all hang out.
Dean couldn’t have cared less, was too in love with the peach cobbler to give a damn, but Sam was interested and Dean was too blissed out to put up a fight and so they’d spent a couple of days digging into it, interviewing the totally clueless guy and his wife, casing his house and the town and coming up with pretty much jack.
A gigantic waste of time. Except for the three straight days of barbecue, which had been just about perfect.
It’d made Dean a little nostalgic, actually, for this little place in St. Louis: a diner with burgers straight from heaven, a glimpse of utter bliss. He’d waxed and waned about those burgers, god, earning an eye from the waitress and double heavy sighs from Sam. But whatever. Good food made Dean happy, no matter what the circumstances.
Even if the case they were working was stuck in park.
Even if he had to watch Sam scowl across the table as he pushed butter beans around his plate and tried to make Dean feel guilty, which he totally did not, because how often did they get a chance to eat like this? Especially three days in a row.
But then, almost as soon as they hit the city limits, Sam had started randomly yammering about cows. And not just your average Wikipedia stuff either, but like crazy in-depth and completely random info, like the typical weight and size of the things, by breed. Their sleep cycles in the Southern hemisphere. The relative nutritional value of their milk for their calves and for humans. The history of mechanized milking. The cultural significance of the longhorn in the American West.
And on. And on. And on.
“Where the hell did you learn all this stuff?” Dean’d made the mistake of asking, that first day.
Sam had rolled his eyes, puffed out his chest.
“Dude,” he’d said. “I did go to Stanford, you know.”
Which made absolutely no fucking sense, because Dean was pretty sure that animal husbandry wasn’t part of pre-law, but hell, it was California, so who the fuck knew what they made you learn out there, or what Sam had managed to cram into his head in four years, but good goddamn! Did it get annoying really, really fast.
After 12 hours, Dean was completely exasperated.
After 24, he was thoroughly pissed.
After 36, he was on the edge of a murderous fucking rage, because it didn’t matter what they were doing, or what they were talking about, or where they were: Sam just would not shut the fuck about the damn cows already, even when it was totally inappropriate, even when it made everybody else uncomfortable and made Sam look looney tunes.
Like at dinner the previous night, when Sam had gone medieval on the waitress because Dean’s cheeseburger had come out too rare, still bleeding a little, which was the way Dean liked it, honestly, but he never ordered it that way because it always freaked Sam out.
But Sam had blown right the fuck past freaked out and camped out in crazy town.
“Haven’t you heard of e-coli?!” he’d shouted, leaping up, glaring down into the waitress’ face. “Or mad cow disease? There’s no way you cooked this to 175 degrees! And where did this meat come from? Huh! I bet you don’t even know how this poor cow died!”
Aaaand it’d been all downhill from there, Sam getting redder and more sputtery by the second, the manager marching out and threatening to call the cops, until Dean had grabbed Sam by the collar, thrown him out the door, and booted him into the car—the idiot still hooting about unsafe meat handling practices.
He’d kept her over 70 until they were well out of town. Just in case.
And still, Sammy would not stop with the goddamn cows.
And this morning, Dean had finally reached his breaking point after a 30-minute monologue on cows’ relative intelligence as compared to other members of the ovine genus that even Iron Maiden at full blast hadn’t stopped, couldn’t even fucking slow down, damn it.
“Sam!” he’d bellowed. “Stop it! What the hell is wrong with you? We haven’t even seen a fucking cow, dude!”
Sam had scoffed. “Of course not,” he’d said, as if Dean was a complete idiot. “We’re in an urbanized area here. And the grass is all wrong. And even if it weren’t, it’s still not warm enough to—”
And even Dean’s screaming hadn’t shut him up.
So Dean had pulled in to a Piggly Wiggly, planted Sam in the produce section, and run away to the cereal aisle to call Bobby. To plead for help.
And what had he gotten for his troubles?
A total lack of sympathy and the awesome implication that he was a self-centered dick.
And no help.
Dean stomped back to the bananas where he’d parked Sam.
But, awesomely, Sam wasn’t there.
He turned, stretched, swiveled. Peered over the stacks of apples and the bruised peaches but yeah, no Sam to be seen.
But then he heard it: that whiny, bitchy, lecture-y tone that drove him up the wall on a good day drifting up from the back of the store.
He marched towards the back, following the noise, and the butcher, for one, did not look amused.
“No, really!” Sam was yelling as Dean stormed up. “Are you sure that these cows were slaughtered ethically? I mean, the industrial meat complex has a long history of violating the most basic standards of—”
“Hi,” Dean barked. “We’re leaving.” He grabbed and started dragging before Sam could protest and they were halfway down the soda aisle before Sam managed to yank himself free.
“Hey!” he shouted. “What the hell, Dean?”
“Dude, you’re being an ass. Now c’mon. Let’s go.”
Sam opened his mouth. Dean got right in his face, hissing.
“You say another fucking word about cows or meat or milk or the lactation fucking cycles of heifers in the Northwest and I will gut you myself!”
Sam rocked back, blinking, and Dean grabbed the advantage, hooked his brother and tugged him outside into the sun.
Sam scrambled in, kept his mouth shut while Dean slammed his door, jammed the key home, and turned them back onto the main road.
Dean steamed, shook the steering wheel with his fists, and cursed Bobby’s total inability to see how fucking serious the whole thing was.
But, sure, it was easy for him to laugh it off, wasn’t it? Bobby hadn’t had to put up with two full days of Encyclopedia Sam and his Bovine Chronicles. 48 hours of gurnseys and jerseys and bull sperm counts and calving and feed cycles.
Two days of 4-H on speed.
Which. What the hell?
He sighed. Tried to enjoy the quiet while it lasted.
The silence did something nice to his head, freed up his brain a little. Enough to think through what Bobby had said. Enough to have an idea. A creative one, even.
He needed to put something else in Sammy’s head, huh? Really.
Something overwhelming, preferably. Something that would kick everything about cows right the fuck out of Sam’s head, for good. For Dean’s good, anyway.
Hell, he deserved a little something, too. As a reward for not murdering the gigantic bastard and throwing his body in the nearest ravine.
Ok, a little too violent in the imagery there. He was a little tense. Clearly, he need to blow off some steam. So this? Was perfect.
He leaned back and grinned.
“Sammy,” he said. “How many ones you got on ya?”