Synopsis: Dean has a panic attack in a supermarket.
Disclaimer: I am renting Dean for a while. I promise not to crush, spindle or mutilate... Much.
Notes: As per my previous notes in my story Short Stuff... I'd actually written this before the Jensen Ackles interview that mentions the supermarket scene out of The Hurt Locker. I really love that movie and it's exactly what I'd been working on as well. Rather than let the entire 40 pages of my epic S6 story go to waste, I've split the various half completed chapters into separate slice-of-life stories. This is another one of those stories.
The panic attack happens while they're in a supermarket. Dean isn't keen to go on an urban hunter gathering spree but Lisa needs the help and God forbid he's going to contribute whenever he can. Ben complains and says he hates grocery shopping because it's boring and he'd rather be at the movies with his friends. Dean wants to nod in sympathy but reminds himself that he's supposed to be a grownup now. His boyish charm needs to be parked in favour of doing adult things that normal adults do. Like shopping for groceries.
So, off they go. Every time they get into a car together, Dean thinks it's weird. It's weird to be in a car with a kid in the backseat and having very ordinary, mundane conversations about grocery lists and what time Ben has to get to soccer practise.
When they get to the gigantic supermarket with its own café he bravely follows them around feeling like he's supposed to be the Dad figure in the entire charade. He spends his time fending off chipper people dressed in brand name uniforms who shove food samples at him, usually skewered on a toothpick (It's organic lamb!) or clenching his teeth together in irritation at the sound of screaming babies.
There are brightly lit aisles and constant noise and crowds of people and before he knows it, he's been sent on a mission to pick up a cereal for Ben and a couple of steaks from the meat section. He presumes Lisa has sensed his restlessness so she's given him an independent mission to distract him. Ben has to stay with his mother because he's not allowed near the cereal aisle. This annoys Ben who likes to point out that he's twelve in a tone that implies he's pointing out he's actually 27. Lisa reminds Ben that he will demand Fruit Loops and they aren't good for him and he's not getting them and she's not in the mood to argue.
She makes a gesture down the far end of the supermarket to indicate where Dean needs to go to find the cereal. Dean is given strict orders to return with something that has fibre in it but when he asks what brand she wants, he's told to get something that he likes. Dean doesn't say that he's in agreement with Ben – he likes Fruit Loops and Lucky Charms. At least he would if he still ate cereal but he hasn't done that since he was twelve. He's spent decades chomping his way through diner menu items that were low on fibre and high on saturated fats and sugar and the thought of actually having to take care of himself has never once crossed his mind. Except now. Because now he's with Lisa and Ben and there's the very real possibility that he's actually going to live past 40.
He hits the cereal aisle and then just stares at the boxes. There are loads of boxes. Piles of boxes. Big boxes with logos and smiling children and images of spoons and splashing milk. He has no idea where to begin except to avoid boxes that feature toucans, tigers, rabbits, monkeys, pirates or leprechauns on the front.
He grips the handle of the cart and slowly walks down one part of the aisle and randomly stops and picks up a box. The box tells him that the unappetising looking cereal resembling a Brillo pad is heart healthy and also contains the Recommended Daily Allowance of a bunch of vitamins that Dean has never cared about at any point in his life.
"Shit," he says to himself and puts the box back. How many boxes of cereal did America really need? Shouldn't one or two be enough? What was up with the need for this much choice? Besides, six months ago he was trying to save the world from literally going to hell in a hand basket. Choosing cereal just doesn't seem like much of a task to worry about and if he wasn't with Lisa he'd just pick the first box in front of him and throw it in the cart. But now he feels pressured and stupid because he's standing in a supermarket aisle confronted by a task that should be simple but just seems monumentally difficult because it's so monumentally stupid.
He feels a breeze behind him and he quickly turns around. His brain says something about the possibility of a demon attack. He ignores his brain since it's been doing this a lot lately. Waiting for the axe to fall. His heart does that old familiar, 'thud' that signals he's gearing up to run away or fight for his life but there's nothing there. Nothing at all. Or at least that's what he tries telling himself because there could be something there. Invisible. Hiding.
His heart rate speeds up some more. He mentally berates himself and tells himself to get it together. He doesn't take any notice of himself at all.
There are more boxes further down the aisle and he reads the side panels of a couple, all promising such wonderments as a healthy heart (whatever that means) and regularity. Apparently everyone is happier with regularity and a healthy heart. Dean spies a cereal brand that contains raisins and that's about as close to added sugar as he thinks he can get away with. At least the raisins will disguise the taste of the cereal.
This really sucks. The aisle is too big and it goes on forever and now he has to get the steaks and it's too much.
He heads for the meat section and gets lost twice. He has to ask some guy restocking the shelves. He hates this, hates being stuck here and he pushes the cart around until he finally blunders into the meat section at the back of the cavernous warehouse of a store.
"Sirloin, rump, flank, ribeye, hanger, porterhouse, strip, or skirt?" The guy behind the counter keeps going on and on and Dean is bewildered because steaks have always been just steaks to him and all that raw meat is beginning to send him on the verge of a flashback and the guy won't shut up.
"Look, I just wanted three steaks..."
"Well, maybe you could give me a price range, sir. Rump is cheaper than porterhouse," says the guy behind the counter trying to be helpful.
Dean clutches at the handle of the shopping cart and feels his brain doing a flip flop and then suddenly it's getting a lot harder to breathe. Sweat seems to be rolling off his forehead and sliding down his temples.
All that meat, bloody and raw and he's got an eagle eye view of himself, half crazed from the choices he's being forced to make down in hell and then there's rack and instead of him, it's Sam. And Dean doesn't need to imagine what's happening to Sam because he knows and that knowledge must remain unacknowledged because Dean fears for his sanity if he ever thinks about it for too long.
"Tasty!" Alistair would say this while sucking the blood from his own fingers. He always thought cannibalism was hilarious.
Dean wipes a hand across his face. His throat seems to be closing up to the size of a straw and it's hard to breath. A very insistent voice in his brain tells him that what he's experiencing is probably supernatural in origin because there is no other explanation for what he's feeling in the middle of normal suburbia and it's time to abandon the ordinary chore of trying to shop for groceries, pronto.
He nods at the guy behind the counter, unpeels his hands from the handle and quickly marches to the nearest exit.
"Dean? Dean! Wait up!"
It's Lisa calling his name but she sounds very far away and the exit seems oh, so very and comfortingly near and if he can get outside he'll be fine. There's fresh air out there, and he won't be in here with a bunch of strangers and the noise and people demanding that he makes choices because he's sick of constantly being asked to make choices.
He pretends he doesn't hear her and just keeps moving. An Exit sign has never looked more inviting.
Out in the car park his breathing doesn't even out much but at least he's not viewing slabs of raw meat and trying to make decisions about the tastiest cut to try or fretting over the amount of raisins in cereal.
Dean fixes his sight on Lisa's car and figures that if he can get to the car, he'll be okay. It quickly becomes a chant in his head. The car – a Hyundai of all things - is his touchstone, the object that will ensure his survival. It's not the Impala because Lisa refuses to drive in a car that doesn't have adequate safety belts installed, or air bags for that matter, but it's familiar and if he can get inside, it's safe and that's going to do just fine.
Lisa's voice is behind him and he can hear footsteps, like someone is running after him. He ignores the voice and makes it to the car and fumbles for the keys in his jacket pocket. He drove today so he has the keys. He pushes the button on the keyset, the car helpfully beeps and he's in the door and seated behind the wheel in twenty seconds flat.
He gets the keys into the ignition on automatic and he's very close to driving away.
Lisa suddenly turns up in the passenger seat. Ben stands outside watching the mini drama unfold and the look on his face says that he's kind of frightened by this semi-nutty behaviour because the adults he knows aren't supposed to nuts.
"Dean? What's happening?"
He blinks and then rocks back into reality and can't think of how he's going to explain what he just did.
"Sorry," he says. "I... I thought I left something in the car."
Lisa gives him the look that says not only is she not buying it, she's going to make him spill the beans at home, and then she's going to be understanding and sympathetic and he's going to feel like a dick.
"You left the shopping cart in the middle of the aisle and ran outside."
"Yeah... Um, sorry about that," says Dean. Lamely.
Lisa knits her eyebrows together, considers him and then says, "Look, I'm going to go back in and finish up. Are you okay sitting here until then?"
"Sure," he says. He's never been happier in his life. Of course he can sit here.
Lisa gives him one last look before getting out of the car and heading back with Ben. Dean settles himself behind the wheel. He turns the ignition key so that the electronics switch on. He turns on the A/C and lets the breeze dry him out a little and it also tells him there's an overabundance of air in the car so he can breathe now. It's all good. The car is safe. He turns on the radio and happily listens to a classic rock channel. It's thirty minutes before Lisa and Ben make another appearance and by then he's calmed down. He gets out to help them load the groceries into the trunk and on the drive back to Lisa's, he whistles.
He's going to pretend that whatever happened is never going to happen again.
But he knows he's probably wrong.