TITLE: The Merry Christmas Disputation
SUMMARY: While still reeling from Dean’s loss in “Survival of the Fittest”, Sam takes a temp job at a Best Buy in Pasadena, California and meets a certain Cal-Tech theoretical physicist “one lab accident away from being a super villain”.
AUTHOR: Team phebemarie and tari_roo
CHARACTERS/PAIRINGS: Sam, mentions of Dean, a notorious theoretical physicist, and several surprise cameos.
SPOILERS (if any): Everything through season 7.
It’s coming on Christmas, they’re cutting down trees.
Sam shifted uncomfortably and tugged at the collar of his store-issued blue Best Buy polo. Why on earth stores played this song during the festive season, he had no idea. It wasn’t a carol. It was sad and bitter and hopeless and hitting far too close to home. Yet, here it was, piping through the busy, happy aisles of the Pasadena Best Buy.
Putting up reindeer, singing songs of love and peace.
True, more traditional tunes were no better. Whenever Rosemary Clooney’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” came over the speakers, it was no coincidence he took his mandatory 15 minute coffee break running laps around North Rosemead Boulevard. Returning to work out of breath and disheveled was a better option than ripping the speakers off the wall with his bare hands.
Oh I wish I had a river to skate away on
“Shit,” Sam muttered as Joni Mitchell’s song wailed on. Stupid lyrics had as much in common with Christmas as a swift kick in the privates.
It’d been eight months since Dean disappeared in a splatter of Leviathan goo. Eight months wandering the country taking random jobs, adopting ridiculous aliases, trying to make up for the Dean-sized hole in his world.
Sam shook away memories niggling at his noggin like so many dancing sugar plums, suddenly aware he’d been staring gape-mouthed at the wall of TV monitors. Incessant chiming, courtesy of the Hershey’s Kisses Christmas cantata, drown out the final chorus of Joni Mitchell and made Sam eager to tie on his running shoes.
We Wish You a Merry Christmas tinkled in merry multiples.
“Excuse me, my good man.”
We Wish You a Merry Christmas
“Good Lord, Best Buy’s hiring department needs a do over with this one.”
We Wish You a Merry Christmas
“I don’t care that he’s having a personal moment, Amy, nor that he has the shoulders of a 21st century Adonis. I am the customer. My satisfaction trumps his need to amuse himself with shiny things.”
And a Happy New Year
“Oh, good grief!”
A tinny flurry of tinkling reverberations followed, and Sam shook himself free of his Christmas Kisses reverie. At the counter, a lanky man with Ken-doll hair pounded out a rhythmic version of Jingle Bells on a call bell clutched in the hands of his mousy female companion.
Something alien and unsettling about the customer pinged his hunter’s senses, and Sam pulled himself to his full height. The man’s pasty complexion and reed-thin physique suggested vampire. Or praying mantis. Sam scanned the room for a security camera he could check for the tell-tale retinal flares of a shapeshifter.
“Sheldon!” A second woman hissed as she grabbed the call bell. “What are you doing? I heard your stupid bell all over the store.”
“Stupid?” The willowy customer bristled. “I’ll have you know that the call bell is a time honored communications device going back to….”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, can it, Sheldon.” The woman tossed her blonde hair; her expression morphed from furious to flirtatious. “I apologize for my friend.” She continued sotto voce, “He has no social skills.”
“I hardly think I have done anything requiring an apology, Penny,” Sheldon protested. “There’s but one amongst us wanting in that capacity.”
“What do I have to apologize for?” Penny glared as the 100% human Sheldon feinted in a futile attempt to extract the bell from the young woman’s possession.
“If I may.” The mousy companion stepped forward. “I don’t think Sheldon requires an apology from you, Penny.” With laser-like intensity, she turned the full-force of her bespectacled gaze on Sam. Behind her, the cute blonde continued a fruitless argument with the cantankerous Sheldon.
“Are you feeling all right, miss?” Sam asked as an unhealthy red suffused the woman’s face and neck. Without hesitation, she grabbed a DVD from the bargain bin and waved it at her ruddy cheeks.
“The blood vessels in my face appear to be in a state of vasodilation.” The woman emitted a strange, hooting sound as she fanned herself with a High School Musical DVD. “Forgive me. Biological imperative. Completely involuntary.” The glazed look in her eyes reminded Sam of Becky Rosen, and he squirmed like a nine-year-old
“Do you…Can I get you a glass of water?” he stuttered as the woman blinked up at him with pupils the size of quarters. He found himself inordinately grateful for the I-Pad filled display case between them.
“No, but thank you. There’s no reason for alarm,” she explained and tossed aside the DVD. “My vascular system is merely responding to a signal from the adenylyl cyclase to flood my body with adrenaline.” The woman’s gaze inventoried the length and breadth of his body like a scientist collecting data, and Sam felt his own cheeks flush. “May I examine your pectoralis major and deltoideus?” she asked while simultaneously placing her palm on his chest.
“I ask you, Penny, is it fair that this business has an archaic return policy? Is it fair that it employs an army of incompetents during the height of holiday madness? Is it fair that while we speak, the Neanderthal behind the counter is attempting to club Amy on the head and drag her off to his cave in the Pasadena Hills?”
“Point of clarification, Sheldon,” the Amy in question countered. “Although the subject’s broad forehead is indicative of the classical features attributed to Homo neanderthalensis, the whole of his physique suggests another classification of the genus. Wooooo!” The woman continued after a pregnant pause. “If a cave in the Pasadena Hills is in the cards, I have no objection!”
Sheldon and the cute blonde turned in synchronized unison, while Amy wrapped her fingers around the circumference of his right bicep. “Unbelievable!” she muttered, and Sam felt his hands lift in involuntary surrender.
“Amy, I really must object.” Sheldon scurried to Amy’s side. “Mauling this entry-level permatemp is a clear violation of our newly notarized relationship agreement.” The man pulled out a smart phone shelled in a Star Trek phaser case. “I have an app formatted for your perusal if you care to refresh your memory.”
“Let me handle this, Sheldon.” The cute blonde stepped between the phaser wielding maniac and the hyperventilating woman. “Amy, leave the man alone. People are staring.”
“Woooo,” the woman sighed. She was so close Sam noticed condensation from her hot breath had fogged her horn-rimmed glasses. “Wouldn’t you agree, Penny, this man…this Adonis…has more in common with Michaelangelo’s David than the Geico Caveman?”
The blonde pursed her lips in concentrated study while the Best Buy Grinch vibrated in irritation behind the women.
Really, things were getting a little too ridiculous. Behind the tussling trio, a line of angry shoppers had formed. Gathering his patience and his patented empathy, Sam said, “Uh, miss, could you please quit touching me?”
“Look, he’s playing hard to get.” Dean’s voice echoed in his memory. “Isn’t that cute?”
Sam shook back the memory and shook free of the grasping Amy. She let out a soft whimper before falling backward into the DVDs.
Sam winched. “Sorry.” A life spent fighting monsters made it easy to forget his own strength, especially when dealing with tenacious and terrifying female civilians.
“Count yourself lucky I haven’t perfected a time machine, my friend.” Sheldon’s upper lip convulsed as he waved his I-Phone phaser ineffectually. “If that little scene had played out in the Victorian period, I would have been forced to challenge you to a duel for violating my lady friend’s virtue.”
“Are you all right?” Sam massaged his bruised bicep as Penny extracted her friend from the bargain bin.
“No worries.” Amy grinned. “That’s the closet I’ve gotten to first base since I got beaned in a junior high slow-pitch softball game.”
Before the trio could beam in reinforcements, Sam seized the high ground and turned to the percolating uber-nerd. “Can I help you?”
The customer exhaled a quick breath through his nose. “I sincerely doubt it.”
Sam felt his brow furrow. Was the sound the man’s attempt at laughter or the result of stuffy nasal passages?
“Be nice, Sheldon!” Penny exclaimed. “Remember, the comic book store is closing early tonight.”
“Oooh, that’s right, and I so want to pick up the new Batman Incorported: Leviathan Strikes before Stuart takes a holiday hiatus. Never let it be said that Sheldon Cooper can’t play nice with little children and nincompoops.” The man turned back to Sam with exaggerated formality and a fixed smile that would scare someone who hadn’t recently faced off with Dick Roman. “I wish to return this limited edition, Green Lantern X-Box console.”
“No problem,” Sam said, cheerfully. Bing Cosby’s “White Christmas” piping through the speakers provided a soothing counterpoint, and the shoppers in line visibly relaxed. All was right with the world. He could do this. He could get through this holiday season alone. He could manage this man’s simple problem and help these folks have a peaceful and safe Christmas. He could make a new life for himself and all would be well. “Do you have a receipt?”
The rictus grin contorted, and Sheldon twitched as he attempted a reply. “No, I do not have a receipt. When evidence of malfunction is so transparent, a trifling piece of paper is inconsequential.”
Sam sighed and wished he’d taken his break at the top of the hour, thereby avoiding what would surely be a nuclear meltdown. “Unfortunately,” he began with a glance at the two women, “without a receipt, I’m afraid I can’t give you a refund.” The folks waiting in line groaned in theatrical unison.
“Sheldon, I told you that in the car. Let’s go,” Penny nodded and reached for Sheldon’s elbow.
“I came here to get a refund,” Sheldon protested and pulled his arm from the young woman’s hand, “and I’m not leaving until this Geek Squad reject makes it so.”
“There’s a store policy, you idiot,” one of the customers waiting in line interjected himself into the scene, and Sam buzzed discreetly for the store manager. Irritating though he might be, watching the man get torn limb from limb by an angry mob would do nothing to alleviate his holiday melancholy.
“There’s nothing I can do,” Sam used his best puppy-dog eyes, hoping it would lessen the bad news.
“Oh, I’m sure you could do plenty,” Amy purred with a toss of her head.
“I demand to speak with your immediate supervisor! Here,” Sheldon shoved his phaser phone toward Sam. “I have him on speed dial.”
“Not necessary, Mr. Cooper,” Brian, the department supervisor, arrived on scene, clip board in hand. “I’ve been watching this little contretemps for a few minutes now. If you’ll excuse me for a moment, I need to get Sam up to speed on our new policies.” Turning to the collected crowd of irate shoppers, he said in a loud voice, “Veronica at Home Theater has opened another register to take care of the rest of you folks.”
Sam glanced across as Veronica waved and beamed a cheerful smile at the approaching mob. It was easy enough for Veronica to be in a good mood. She didn’t have to deal with an uber-grinch bent on ruining everyone’s Christmas. Grumbling but moving, many of the rabble shot lingering looks in his direction, anxious to see the impending confrontation but constrained by their own shopping needs
“Didn’t you get the memo on this guy, Sam?” the department supervisor hissed in his ear. “We’re supposed to put up our shields and call in the big guns when Sheldon Cooper appears. It’s the prime directive.”
“Prime directive?” Sam frowned.
“You’ll thank me for it later. The District Supervisor is doing a walk through as we speak. The timing is perfection.” Brian touched his Blue Tooth ear piece. “Ms. Granger, we have a situation on the floor.”
“Granger!” Sheldon bellowed, whirling on the spot, as if expecting a mid-air apparition to appear.
“What’s going on?” Sam whispered to the two women as the man’s face contorted in fury. “Should I call security?”
Penny raised her eyebrow and pursed her lips, obviously not concerned by her friend’s sudden outburst. “Don’t worry about it. Granger is only number 33 on Sheldon’s Mortal Enemy list.”
Slightly aghast, Sam blinked, “Your friend has 33 people on a Mortal Enemy list? Isn’t that a little extreme?”
“Oh, no,” Amy shook her head. “The total count is currently 61. Penny just got off the list a few weeks ago.”
Penny shrugged at Sam’s look. “What can I say, I’m that type of girl. Come on, Amy. Let’s go to the ladies’ while Ms. Granger kicks Sheldon to the curb again.”
“Right behind you, bestie,” Amy turned back and gave Sam a last, lingering look. “Don’t forget, we’ll always have Best Buy!” she cried as Penny pulled her away.
From Sheldon’s smart phone, the familiar opening chords of “The Imperial March” rattled the I-Pods in the safety of their glass display case. Sam peered over the heads of the curious shoppers to see the monster’s approach, but it wasn’t Darth Vader striding through the smoke-filled halls of a rebel blockade runner: it was Charlie.
Sam felt the bottom of his stomach drop out.
“She’s kind of like the little sister I never wanted.” Dean’s voice rang out in his memory, and an ache settled inside him. A thought burned through his brain: she knew Dean. She remembered Dean.
It was a short list-the people who remembered Dean. A deep, yawning maw of grief encompassed him and threatened to swallow him whole.
“She’s Hermoine, Kara Thrace, and Wonder Woman wrapped up in an adorable ball of red-headed awesome!” The store manager’s voice interrupted him mid-wallow, and he shook himself free of them. Charlie’s hair was still vibrant red, but she had cut it into a cute Emma Watson pixie style. Cat eye glasses framed her dark eyes. Sprinkled over her blue Best Buy blazer, she’d pinned an array of Harry Potter buttons including one reading “Be Calm and Wait for Your Owl”. Sam scrubbed a hand across his eyes and ducked behind the 5’8 Brian, not ready to show his face just yet.
“Captain on the bridge!” the store manager piped and threw his chest out at attention.
“Thank you, Number One,” Charlie said and awkwardly saluted. She turned to the customer, her arms akimbo. “We meet again, Dr. Cooper.”
“Yes, Ms. Granger, once again!” Cooper’s attempt to project a stern and commanding presence was coming off as constipated.
“Are you game for a rematch?” Charlie beamed, brightly.
Dr. Cooper glowered down on Charlie. “To the last, I will grapple with thee!”
“Number one, bring me up to speed,” Charlie said, without taking her eyes off Cooper.
Brian visibly deflated and stepped back. “My associate has been point man on this one, Ms. Granger.”
Sam fought back the urge to run but held his ground while Charlie’s gaze shifted to him. Her eyes widened in fear and wonder, and Sam smiled sadly and gave her the Vulcan salute. She licked her lips but nodded back. “Continue.”
Before Sam could shed light on the situation, the uber-grinch piped up, “Your associate has no appreciation for the time-honored adage first coined by Marshall Field’s department store in the nineteenth century….”
Turning back to the more pressing matter, Charlie tapped her fingers on the iPad in her hands. “’The customer is always right’,” Charlie finished for the man who bristled at the interruption. “Marshall Field was guilty of a bit of public relations hyperbole, I’m afraid, Dr. Cooper.”
“Be that as it may,” the man continued, “I wish to return this item.”
Charlie’s mouth quirked in anticipation. “Do you have a receipt?”
“She tasks me. She tasks me,” Sheldon muttered before placing the Green Lantern X-Box Console on the counter. “Fine. I find my anticipated gaming pleasure has been tainted by its association with the cinematic release of the same name. According to the folks at Rotten Tomatoes the Green Lantern is, and I quote, ‘a noisy, over-produced, and thinly written piece of drivel that squanders both an impressive budget and decades of comic mythology.’ It received a 26% approval rate. Even your mathematically challenged associate must concede it is my duty to return this device.”
“Considering the Green Lantern was released last summer, and it is now two weeks to Christmas, you’ve certainly taken your time making this decision,” Charlie thrust the console back at the uber-nerd.
“The respect I hold for the DC franchise delayed the inevitable.” Cooper puffed out his chest and tried to loom over Charlie.
She simply raised one eyebrow and said, “Nevertheless, our return policy is six weeks, with or without a receipt. Booyah!”
“That is so unfair!” Sheldon exclaimed. “I refuse to be held hostage by a diminutive, delusional red head power mad with usurped authority.”
“I’m going to have to ask you to leave this store, Dr. Cooper.”
“‘The line must be drawn here. Here and no farther,” Sheldon cried, dramatically swinging his arm in an imaginary line.
Gearing up to lambast Dr. Cooper or call security to drag him away, Charlie turned open-mouth and mid-word to stare at Sam. Cooper did as well, although his gaze was far more derisive.
“I beg your pardon?” she asked as a hopeful grin spread across her lips.
Sam blinked back, surprised that he had spoken but since he had their attention, he bit the bullet and continued. “Didn’t Nathan Fillion voice Hal Jordan in both Emerald Knights and Justice League: Doom? His association with the franchise alone surely counteracts any ... taint from the movie?”
“Firefly,” Charlie and Cooper sighed in wistful unison, before glaring at each other.
Going for broke, he continued, “And Reynolds is potentially both Deadpool and Connor McLeod, let alone ...”
The mood broken, Cooper pointed his index finger and shook it vehemently. “Do not bring up the travesty of that ridiculous Blade movie, good sir!”
Shaking his head and raising his arms in surrender, Sam replied quickly, “A single bad movie hardly derails a franchise and considering Marvel’s current assault on DC’s obvious superiority – and Marvel’s recent successes-would it not be prudent to show support even for such a ... poor undertaking as the Green Lantern movie, and keep the console?”
Charlie turned her gaze back to Cooper and both she and Sam watched the nerd work through Sam’s reasoning. Out of the corner of her mouth, Charlie hissed, ‘Your geek-fu is strong, Sam-wan.”
Cooper came to a decision abruptly and snatched up the console, shooting Charlie a death-glare. “For the sake of the Corps, I’ll keep the console. But this is not over, Ms Granger – oh no... it is not.”
With that he sniffed and stalked off, his praying mantis like legs eating up ground through the aisles like an AT-TAT on speed.
Charlie sighed and leaned back against the counter, “Shoot, I forgot he purchased a Dark Knight Rises skin. He’ll probably try to return that next.”
Brian nodded sagely, still basking in the wonder of his District Supervisor. “Run along now, Brian. Sam and I need to confab.” When the man still hesitated, she added, “You have the comm.”
Brimming with pride, Brian bobbed his head and scooted off, already talking into his earpiece. Sam gulped and braced himself for the surge of emotions that rose as Charlie stared at him knowingly. “Tentacles?” she asked after a long moment.
“Are you on a Scoobie hunt?”
“Nope. Just needed the work.”
It was a knife through his heart, even though he knew it was coming. Sam shook his head, and Charlie deflated. “Sorry, Sam.” She patted his hand awkwardly and said, “Nice job back there.”
Straightening, she smiled at him, the smile not quite reaching her eyes. “Try not to blow anything up, and tell me if there’s anything hinky going on, okay?”
He nodded mutely and with that, she was gone, bustling off to help the next irate customer.
Sam stood in silence, Christmas music blaring around him, alone in the midst of the hustle and bustle of people swirling in a maelstrom of life going on.
Dean had respected Charlie’s intelligence and courage, and he would have gotten a kick out of the uber-nerd Sheldon Cooper and his handsy female friend, Amy.
They had saved Charlie. They had saved the world. That was the important thing.
Have yourself a merry little Christmas. Let your heart be light.
As a customer approached with a purchase, Sam pasted on a fake smile and sighed, “How can I help you?”