Silence. Darkness. Midnight. The usual setting for their bunker home. It’s the kind of night—or possibly early morning—when nothing in its right mind is awake. Sam, having long ago given up the notion that his mind is anything like right, sits alone at the kitchen table in the physical sense.
Emotionally, though, he’s in good company. His laptop is open, the blue light casting a wintry glow over the cupboards, coffee maker and microwave. The screen provides a window through which he watches the exploits of his friends—because after that day all those months ago, it’s hard for him to just think of them as cartoon characters.
Yeah, the animation is rusty as all holy hell; the dialogue is trite, and the adventures often childish. But it’s still something like home, here with an ascot wearing jock, a danger prone redhead, a bespectacled genius, a scruffy philistine, and, of course, their talking Great Dane.
He’s glad that Dean did everything in his power to keep any kind of truth about real darkness away from their world. Sam would have once said it didn’t matter because it wasn’t real. But what in the hell is reality anymore? The cel-shaded characters and repetitive backgrounds were oddly safe compared to the nightmare that is his life. If one is to maintain sanity, after all, one has to paint reality wherever one can.
And so he thinks of the adventures of Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy and Scooby as less a cartoon and more of a memory. And every time that bobby-sock wearing little flirt with the glasses wanders on screen, he remembers that she kissed him.
Of course he ended up with Velma. Given that he’ll never see her for real, she’s probably the best chance he’d have had for a relationship. Although, given that she’s a teenager in-universe, and Sam is pushing forty, it’s a little disturbing to pontificate how that would have worked. In fact, it’s a little disturbing to think about why Dean had such a jones on for Daphne.
But he doesn’t let his thoughts go there often. It’s an innocent world, this old cartoon—one where the bad guys are just crooked real estate developers in cosplay.
In any event, it’s a powerful time capsule.
Dean called his bluff when they had to play pep-talkers to the gang, but he doesn’t know the reason why Sam tried to pretend like he’d never cared. The fact of that matter is, all those years ago when they could watch a cartoon in broad daylight and not feel guilty, Sam was always paying attention; because Sam always paid attention to everything Dean did back then.
Whenever they had a spare moment—on a cloudy, cool day when Dad was in parts unknown—Dean would surf the waves of cable television with precision. Sam, lounging on either their shared bed or whatever collapsed sofa they’d been left with, would pretend to be otherwise absorbed, usually in a book.
Truth is, he never read half those paperbacks. He was always paying attention, doing double-duty: miming his eyes going across the page, but actually listening and stealing glances. His favorite episode was, and still is, in the second season, when the pop songs became a part of the chase scenes; it's the one with the Headless Specter. Not just because it's genuinely creepy and atmospheric, but also because it was the one time when he didn’t make believe that he didn’t care.
They were in Nebraska, of all places to be, on one of those fall days when rain threatened and clouds blocked out the sun. Dean was, oh, maybe fourteen or fifteen? It was before Dad sent him off to live with a stranger for a month—an incident that made it impossible for Sam to ever forgive his bastard of an old man.
Dean had the covers over the Queen size made. The heat register was going full blast. It was afternoon tumbling into evening, and Dean, full of piss and vinegar due to the magic of puberty, had finally gotten tired of walking around in a bitchy huff. He’d flopped onto the bed while Sam had been trying to nap, flipped the television on, and, by some miracle, found a Scooby Doo marathon.
Sam can’t remember why he tuned in. Ordinarily he’d have reached for something, or just left the room in a moody cloud. But something drew his attention; and when he saw the slight smile on Dean’s face, it had kept him rapt for the entirety of the twenty-episode cycle. He hadn’t even pointed out the flaws in the plot—he’d just kicked back next to his big bro, pigged out on an entire box of Oreos, and watched as Mystery Inc did their thing.
Flash-forward many years and a farmer’s dozen of trauma and he’s here again—only alone, watching something he could recite by heart.
He hears Dean’s slippers flopping on the linoleum. His brother is in his sweatpants and t-shirt, eyes bleary from sleep. But when he catches sight of what Sam’s watching, he grins—that dopey, half-groggy grin that has broken a million hearts, up to and not excluding Sam’s own.
Dean should say something sarcastic, but he doesn’t. Scooby and the gang are too sacred, especially now that they’ve both been there, done that. It hits Sam then, as Dean slides into the chair next to him to watch the rest of the mystery unfold, just why he felt the need to hide that he happened to be a fan of anything at all.
At some point, it become nothing short of a sign of weakness for Sam Winchester to admit that he cared for anything remotely frivolous. He had to be the smart one—the mental equivalent to walking into the locker room and claiming that he had the biggest johnson there. It was his shield, inasmuch as pretending to be the sex-addled frat bro was Dean’s. And it was also a sword: if people saw that his life had robbed him of his childhood, then...then what? They'd have thrown him an epic pity party?
Nobody can maintain that kind of sick, martyr complex in the face of Scooby and his friends, and Sam doesn't want to ever again. He's too damn old to be carrying that kind of baggage, and too damn old to think of himself better than a cartoon.
It’s drawing near two in the morning. Sam glances at Dean as the next episode in the queue starts. Dean’s grinning again, just like he did that day all those years ago.
Sam smirks, silently gets to his feet, and returns a moment later. He pushes a box of Oreos—the new strawberry shortcake kind that could make both he and Dean fat if they weren’t running around all the time—between his laptop and his brother.
Dean meets his eyes. Something in them tells Sam that he hasn’t forgotten that day either.
The next morning, a highly confused Castiel finds Sam and Dean both asleep with their heads in their arms at the kitchen table. An empty box of cookies sits between them. Sam’s laptop is open, and the video player is stopped on the opening credits of a cartoon.
Always curious, Cas presses the “play” button. A flock of bats flies in front of a derelict old mansion, and a rollicking, retro tune starts to play. The second Cas sees the dog, he feels a strange tug of memory—as if he knows these animated pixels as actual people.
Before he knows it, he’s sitting next to the two sleeping Winchesters, his own attention completely wrapped up in what he sees playing on the screen.
Without really knowing why, he gently touches the laptop’s face. Of course, his fingers only meet solid LED glass. He can’t go back there to be with those people—the ones with the unshaken sense of friendship and justice.
It’s just a cartoon…but maybe that’s okay for now.