Title: Two Guys Walk into a Bar
Beta and Muse: Amy
Author's Note: Amy has my undying gratitude for pushing me to 'tighten things up'. This story would not be here without her.
Dean pushed open the bar's swinging glass door and stepped over the threshold, ignoring his brother's grunt and muttered curse as the door swung back and caught him unprepared.
"Look alive, Sammy," Dean said, never breaking his stride. He was headed straight for the bar- and more importantly- the magazine-worthy barmaid behind it.
Sam followed suit, grumbling something about common manners.
Dean approached the bar stool and slid onto it hips first, setting his elbows on the polished wood and giving the brunette his most charming smile. "Hi there," he beamed as Sam appeared next to him, rubbing his forehead. Dean ignored him, looking the barmaid over appreciatively. "Hey there… I'm new in this town. Do you think I could have directions to your house?"
Next to him, Sam groaned.
The barmaid grinned shyly, ducking her head as she tucked a lock of hair behind her pierced ear. When she looked back up, Dean waited hopefully.
"What'll it be, hot stuff?" she asked, looking him in the eyes in a way that told Dean he didn't have a chance.
He sighed, letting his shoulders slump a bit as he eyed the tri-fold menu next to the ash tray. "Just gimme a cheeseburger and fries," he said, then jerked his thumb in Sam's direction. "And whatever he wants."
"And to drink?"
She nodded and turned to Sam, and a shy, flirty smile lit her face. Disgusted, Dean eyed the other patrons as Sam ordered.
It was a Thursday night and Oroville was a small town. There were roughly thirty other people in the bar, most of them men and most of them alone. Dire Straits provided background music and Dean subconsciously began bouncing his leg in rhythm to the beat. An empty stage sat in the corner, a lone microphone near the edge.
Yeah, he picked a booming place alright.
Dean flashed a disarming smile at the man next to him before turning his attention back on Sam. "Great place you picked out. I especially like the jackalope on the wall over there." Dean pointed at the stuffed and mounted creature but Sam didn't break eye contact.
"Me? You're the one who wanted to stop here. I said I was fine."
A beer bottle was set down before him and he immediately wrapped his hand around it, his hot palm forming condensation against the cold glass. He took a long pull, welcoming the signature taste, then set the bottle on the bar and belched against his fist. "Yeah, well I was tired of listening to your stomach rumble. You sound like freakin' Chewbacca sometimes, you know it?"
Sam shook his head looked away, taking a drink from his own bottle. "We're only two hours from Almont. I don't know why we couldn't keep going."
"Because for one, I'm hungry," Dean started, grinning to himself as he heard the familiar opening notes of 'Sweet Home Alabama'. "And two- that ghost has been there for over a hundred years. One more night isn't going to hurt anything."
"We could've scoped the place out. Done some research."
" 'Scoped the place out'?" Dean mocked. "Who are you, the secret service? It's a haunted house, Sam. Same as all the others. Broken windows, squeaky floorboards, unearthly spirits." Dean shook his head and took another drink. "And what kind of research are you going to find at 12:30 in the morning?"
Sam tilted his bottle, watching as the bottom edge made tracks through the puddle of condensation on the bar. "Keep your voice down," he mumbled, glancing at Dean nervously with a quick eyebrow-gesture.
Dean turned to his right and found the stranger next to him staring openly. He raised one hand from its position around the bottleneck and lifted his chin. "Hey there."
The man continued to stare.
Dean shifted a little, uncomfortable under the scrutiny. "Nice night?" Where was the barmaid with the food?
"You boys talking about the Silas Creek ghost?"
The stranger's voice was rough and deep, and he spoke without moving his lips. "Uh, yeah," Dean replied, noticing the deep wrinkles in the man's tan face. "You know anything about it?"
"I know enough to stay the hell away from that place," the man said. "You'd be smart to do the same."
Dean looked at his bottle with a cocky smirk, then tried to hide it before looking back to the man. "Okay, yeah. Thanks for the advice."
"Dean," Sam admonished, shooting an apologetic puppy-dog look to the stranger. "Can you tell us a little about the ghost?" he asked over Dean's head.
The man settled himself upon his barstool as the barmaid handed them each new bottles, sans the caps. "I can tell you a lot about that ghost," the man replied. "Jeremiah was friends with my Pa. I heard plenty of stories about the two of 'em growing up."
"Really? Like what?"
Sam was turning on the charm and Dean shook his head, focusing on the steaming cheeseburger that had been set down before him. His mouth began to water even before his fingertips sunk into the warm, soft bun. The salty smell of hot, greasy ground beef filled the air and his stomach rumbled. Unable to resist the sandwich of lettuce, tomato, ketchup, mustard, pickles, onion, orange processed cheese and grilled meat, Dean took a bite and nearly fell off the barstool in ecstasy. Good God- a cheeseburger this good had to be laced with poison or crack or something. He'd traveled all over the country- it just wasn't possible. No way was a cheeseburger this perfect.
Next he tried a fry- and nearly dropped the burger as another wave of pleasure swept over him. "Holy shit," he mumbled through a mouth full of deep-fried potato, stuffing more fries into his mouth. They were hot and crispy, seasoned and salted, and still glistening with grease. The insides soft, just like he loved. Dean's hand moved on automatic, alternating between stuffing his mouth with burger and fries. Only when his esophagus became clogged did he pause for a long pull of beer. Then he began clogging it some more.
"So why you wanna know all this stuff about Jeremiah, anyway?"
The stranger's voice cut through Dean's cloud of oblivion and he paused, giving the bite of cheeseburger one final chew before swallowing. He looked up. "What?"
The stranger looked Dean in the eyes. "You seem to be awful curious about a dead man, that's all."
Dean ran his tongue across his teeth and glanced at Sam. Apparently, he had missed an entire conversation. Just what the hell had Sam been talking about? He decided to play it safe. "We're gathering information for our book," he lied, watching as the stranger's fingers froze in the air over his quarter-full tumbler.
"A book?" the man asked, pinning Dean with a cold but interested gaze. "What kinda book?"
What, was this old guy challenging him? Affronted, Dean straightened on the stool, and looked the stranger in the eyes. "A horror novel. It's a series." Damnit, if he said he was an author, then by God, he was an author. He could always bullshit his way through the details. Beside him, the barmaid returned with two new, dripping beer bottles and traded them for the empty ones.
"You're an author?" the barmaid asked. She eyed Dean carefully, with a warmness that wasn't there before. "You don't look like the author type," she challenged.
Sam ducked his head, picking at his fries as Dean said, "Honey, I'm whatever type you want me to be." He smiled expectantly.
Her disgust was eclipsed by her interest and she stuck out her hand. "I'm Brandy," she said, her fingers warm and soft in Dean's hand, "Nice to meet you…"
"Dean," he replied. "Dean King."
Sam started choking and reached for his beer.
Dean was still gazing into her eyes when the stranger interrupted. "So your books are about ghosts?" he asked, his fingers playing over the lip of the glass before him.
Annoyed, Dean broke eye contact with Brandy and faced the stranger. "I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name."
"Tom," he replied, making no other movement.
Dean raised an eyebrow. "Well Tom, as a matter of fact, our books are about more than just ghosts." He grabbed the beer bottle, which was sitting dangerously close to Brandy's chest, and pulled it closer. "We like to mix it up. You know, demons, poltergeists, shape-shifters…"
Behind him, Sam growled a warning.
Tom's gray eyes lost some of their iciness. "A shape-shifter?"
Dean took a drink, the rest of his cheeseburger forgotten. "Yeah, they shed their skin so they can look like whoever they want to. You could be one, for all I know." He shrugged nonchalantly. Tom's eyes grew bigger.
"So is your main character this big, burly guy with long hair and a hat?" Brandy asked, leaning forward on the bar. Her breasts were dangerously close to spilling over her low-cut shirt and Dean stared. "Does he wear a trench coat and carry silver bullets?"
A bony elbow in his ribs alerted Dean that his mouth was open. He closed it quickly, teeth clacking together. "Uh," he started, glaring at Sam, "No. There's two main characters, actually. They're brothers."
Next to him, Sam's eyebrows rose.
"Brothers?" Brandy purred. "What are their names?"
A million names went through his mind. Burke and Hare. Butch and Sundance. Starsky and Hutch. Holmes and Watson. Mulder and Scully. "Uh… Frank…" Dean glanced at Sam, whose eyebrows were up in anticipation, "And Joe."
"So how do they kill all these things?" Tom asked. "With wooden stakes and silver bullets?"
Dean finished off his third beer and picked up a French fry. "Well, yeah, sometimes," he said. "It depends on what it is they're killing."
Sam threw half a fry onto his plate and Brandy turned to him. "So what do you do, sweetie? Are you an author too?"
Dean watched as Sam blinked, startled by the sudden attention. "Uh, yeah. I help out. Actually, I do most of the research." He glared at Dean.
"And this is research?" she asked. "Sitting in a bar, chatting up the locals? Listening to ghost stories?"
"Hey, it's hard work," Dean said. "Not everyone is as friendly as you," he grinned brightly at her, "and Tom over here."
"What do you do if no one talks to you?"
"I go to the library," Sam interrupted. "I spend hours digging through a town's historical documents, building an intolerance to dust."
Dean rolled his eyes. "Don't listen to the drama queen. He plays around on the internet too, pretending not to look at porn."
Brandy giggled and Sam's cheeks turned red. "Shut up, Dean. I do not."
"The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem, Sam."
"Tell me about one of your stories," Tom said. He looked at Dean expectantly.
Dean watched Brandy move off to serve a patron at the other end of the bar, admiring the view. "You want a story?" He blinked, looking at Sam. "What do you think, Sam? Which one should we tell old Tom here?"
"I got it! How about the one where Frank and Joe go up against Bloody Mary?"
"Bloody Mary?" Tom echoed. "I thought that was an urban legend."
Dean shook his head. "Far from it. You see, Frank and Joe discover that people are dying after they've looked into a mirror and said Bloody Mary three times. So they go to investigate and find out that basically, the dead people's eyes have exploded, like a major brain meltdown. It's pretty gross."
Brandy returned with new bottles and topped off Tom's whiskey, of which he promptly took a sip. "So how do they kill a girl that lives in a mirror?"
"Well Joe- that's the geeky little sidekick brother- he does some digging around and finds out that Mary really only lives in one mirror. Her soul was trapped in it when she died. But she can transport herself to any other mirror."
"Wait a minute," Brandy interrupted, crossing her arms over the bar and leaning forward. "Mirrors? Mary? Are you talking about Bloody Mary? Isn't that just a story?"
"No," Tom said quickly. "She's real. Be quiet now, let the man tell his story."
Sam smiled into his near-empty plate and Dean fought back a grin of his own. Brandy looked somewhat affronted. "Anyway, Joe finds out where the original mirror is being kept and they break in. They've got to lure Mary back to her own mirror and when she appears, they have to smash it before she can kill them."
"But Mary only kills people that are responsible for someone else's death," Sam interrupted. "She believes that she's setting things right."
Tom swallowed, his fascination palpable. "One of the brothers killed somebody?"
Dean jumped back into the conversation. "For some hair-brained reason that is totally not right, Joe thinks he's responsible for his girlfriend's death." It was blunt, Dean knew it, but the fact that they'd talked about it many times before took the sting out of the words. He looked Sam in the eyes, conveying his empathy while challenging Sam to argue. Before Tom could ask how Jessica died, Dean continued, "Apparently, just feeling guilty is enough for Mary."
"So what happened?" Brandy asked. Her eyes sparkled in the dim lighting and Dean unconsciously licked his lips.
"While Joe was trying to lure out Mary, the cops showed up. So Frank heads outside to keep them busy. They tried to arrest him, so he ends up knocking them both out- two against one." He leaned closer to Brandy, or more importantly, her breasts, and said, "Frank is the cooler, older brother. He's strong and has a lot of really cool weapons."
"Weapons?" she purred.
"Yeah. Guns- lots of guns. Knives, swords… you name it." Dean lowered his voice. He was so close he could smell her perfume. "He's also really good in bed."
"Yeah, well while Frank is outside being a Neanderthal, Joe is facing off with Mary." Sam was speaking to Tom, garnering the man's full attention. He shot a glare at Dean.
"Yeah, but then Frank had to show up and save your ass," Dean retorted, only realizing his slip when Sam's eyes widened. He glanced at Brandy and Tom; neither appeared to have noticed. "If I remember correctly, Joe was getting his eyeballs melted when Frank showed up."
"So how did they kill her?" Tom asked.
"Mary was advancing on them both and they were losing strength," Dean elaborated just to see the gleam in Brandy's eyes, "Then at the last minute, Frank holds up a mirror. When Mary sees herself, she disintegrates right in front of them. Pretty cool."
Tom exhaled and leaned back, grabbing his tumbler and downing the last of his whiskey. "That's some story," he said. "How many books you got out?"
Dean shrugged and picked up a cold fry. "A few. They're not real popular yet."
"Well I know what the problem is," Brandy said, refilling Tom's glass. "There's not enough danger- pain… close calls. You're guys- you wouldn't understand. Women like to read about the hero being in danger, bleeding a little before he triumphs." She gathered the brother's empty plates and paused. "You gotta rough 'em up a little."
Dean snorted. "Rough 'em up?" he repeated. "Those guys get knocked around all the time! You think it's fun to have the crap beat out of you by some pissed off spirit?" He huffed. "Add more danger. You're crazy."
Brandy smiled. "Just try it. I think you'll be surprised." With that, she winked at Dean then carried the plates to the back.
Dean looked at Sam. "Don't even think about it," he jabbed a finger at Sam's chest. "I've sewn your ass up enough for this lifetime, you hear me?" He let his hand fall, shaking his head. "I should have you wrapped up in bubble wrap. Maybe get you a helmet, too. Call you Special Sammy."
Sam growled. "Where are the keys? I'm gonna wait in the car."
"Oh Sammy- don't be like that," Dean said. "Relax, will ya? Just enjoy the atmosphere. Have another beer."
Sam crossed his arms on the bar, his head lowered. "It's Sam. Jerk."
Sam jumped to his feet.
"Alright! I'll quit. Just get your ass back here. Come on." Dean patted Sam's vacant barstool and put on his most puppyish smile. "Would you like a cookie? I'll tell Brandy it's your birthday…"
"Don't," Sam warned, sliding back onto the chair. His shoulders were hunched and tense and he glared at Dean. "Do it and I'll kill you in your sleep."
Dean lifted one shoulder. "At least it won't hurt that way…"
"God you're hopeless."
"So your characters," Tom interrupted, apparently fed up with the bickering, "What do they do when they're not hunting ghosts?"
"What do you mean, 'When they're not hunting?' " Dean asked. "They're always hunting. That's what they do." For the first time tonight, he was genuinely confused. Hadn't she been paying attention?
"Well where's their home?" Tom asked. "Their family?"
Dean shrugged. "Their home is the open road. Their dad's a hunter too, and mom's… dead."
Tom seemed to digest the information. "Don't they get lonely?"
"Sometimes," Sam answered at the same time. They looked at each other, then Sam continued, "Yeah, sometimes."
"But they have each other," Dean said. He looked at Sam, trying to read his expression.
Tom was giving them his full attention again. "So how do they pay for things?" he asked, a vertical line forming in between his eyebrows.
"Ah, that's where Frank really shines," Dean grinned. "Frank is a kick-ass pool player. Not too bad at darts either."
"He hustles people," Sam admitted.
"Hey, don't forget about the fake credit cards," Dean beamed.
"So your good guys aren't really so good, are they?" Tom asked. "What, with all the lying and cheating and such."
"They only do it to get by," Dean replied. "They take what they need to survive and move on. It's not like those credit card companies can't afford it."
"Why don't they just charge people to get rid of the ghosts?"
Dean paused, trying to come up with an easy answer.
He turned to Sam.
"Because," Sam started, glaring at Dean like what he was about to say next was the most obvious thing in the world, "That wouldn't be right. Joe and Frank… they want to help people. They've had pretty dark lives themselves… they know how bad things can happen to good people. Life's not fair." Sam shrugged, his shoulders rising and falling as he studied a point on the opposite wall. "They feel that if they help other people, some justice will be brought to their own lives."
Not liking the proverbial storm gathering above Sam's head, Dean interrupted. The conversation was straying too close to reality. "You know, like the credit card commercial. Ridding the world of evil, priceless."
Tom laughed. "Well hell, boy- I'm an exterminator! I charge fifty bucks an hour to help rid the world of evil!"
Sam rolled his eyes and sulked silently while Dean laughed with Tom. "Yeah?" Dean asked, getting his breathing under control, "What's the worst job you ever had to do?" Brandy returned with fresh beers and Dean smiled at her.
"Well there was one time, back in '91," Tom started, his eyes losing focus. "There was a church full of termites-"
"Oh Tom," Brandy interrupted. "Don't bore these boys with your stories. Leave the story telling to the professionals."
Tom ducked his head in obvious embarrassment and Dean's opinion of the barmaid dropped a few points. "Actually-"
"Come on, tell us another story," Brandy purred, leaning over the bar again and exposing a good portion of her breasts.
"We really should get going," Sam said, pulling Dean away from a testosterone-driven trance. "It's late and we've got a lot of work to do tomorrow."
Brandy pouted, sticking out her bottom lip. "Don't go."
Dean was barely aware of Sam jumping to his feet. "We really should." He watched as Brandy worried her lip with her teeth. Maybe they could stay just a little while longer-
"Come on Dean," Sam ordered, jerking on the elbow of Dean's sleeve with enough force to knock him off balance. "Let's go."
Dean tried not to look embarrassed as he caught his balance. He fished out his wallet grumbling, "Yeah, yeah. Sammy, all work and no play makes you an ass, you know that?"
Sam was ignoring him. "Thank you for the information, Tom," he said, shaking the old man's hand. "You've been a big help."
"Maybe you can give me a part in one of your books?" he asked, hope shining in his weathered eyes.
Sam swallowed and looked incredibly guilty as he nodded. "Yeah. Sure."
Dean threw down their last twenty dollar bill as Tom smiled. "Thanks! Wait till I tell my grandchildren that their grandpa is going to be in a best-selling novel!"
Sam eye's grew large and dark and Dean recognized the all-too-familiar signs of Sam berating himself. Dean grabbed him before he could ruin their cover and turned him towards the door. "Come on Sam, say goodnight. We got enough material to last us a while." Brandy slid the receipt across the bar and he grabbed it out of reflex, stuffing it into his pocket behind his wallet.
He turned back to say goodnight to Brandy. Parts of him wished he didn't have to.
"You boys don't be strangers," she winked. Then she brought her hand to the side of her face, her thumb and pinky finger extended, and mouthed, 'Call me.'
Confused, Dean gave an awkward smile before turning and herding his brother towards the door.
Outside, the lack of noise rung loudly in Dean's ears. The clean, cool night air sent a shiver down Dean's spine and he balled his fists. He breathed deeply, reveling in the bite of chilled lungs, then looked at the back of Sam's head. Dad would have a fit if he knew how long Sam's hair had grown. "You okay?" he asked. "You turned a little green back there."
Sam didn't stop his trek towards the Impala. "I'm just tired, Dean."
"Dude, it's almost 2 am. Everyone is tired."
Sam stopped and spun towards Dean.
"I'm tired of all the lies, Dean," Sam started, turning his just-kicked-puppy gaze on Dean. "Did you see that old man's face? He believed us! He gave us what we wanted and we didn't give him anything in return."
Dean held his ground. "He didn't tell us anything we couldn't have found out ourselves."
"It's the thought that counts, Dean," Sam sighed. "How do you think he's gonna feel when he realizes there are no books? What's he going to tell his grandchildren then?"
Dean looked at Sam. Why didn't Sam understand? They'd been creating covers like this their whole lives, why was lying to an old man in a bar any different? "What do you want me to do about it, Sam? I failed grammar class, remember? I can't just pull a book out of my ass."
Sam turned away in frustration. "Just forget it."
And Dean did- he'd been effectively shut out. They began walking towards the car again, this time in silence. He was sorry that he couldn't help Sam feel better about what they had done, but that was life. It was full of disappointment. He and Sam just did what had to be done. Tom would get over his hurt feelings eventually. Life moved on.
As they drew close to the car, Dean retrieved his keys from his pocket, stopping when a slip of paper fell to the ground. He plucked it from the gravel and was about to crumble it up when he recognized handwriting.
Across the bottom of the receipt, in big loopy handwriting, Brandy had scribbled her phone number.
With a predatory grin, Dean folded the paper and put it back in his pocket.
Instantly in a better mood, Dean stepped back as the driver's door creaked open. He got in and glanced at Sam as he pulled the door shut. "Don't worry Sammy, you can make it up to him next time."
Sam's face remained stony as one eyebrow raised. "Next time?"
"Yeah, next time." Dean started the Impala. "This place has the best damn cheeseburgers I've ever eaten. We are definitely coming back."
Sam rolled his eyes as they pulled out of the parking lot. "It was just a cheeseburger."
"Dude, it was not. It was awesome. Better-than-sex awesome."
Sam turned his head towards the door and mumbled, "I'm sure any cheeseburger is better than you."
"What?" Dean snapped. "What the hell did you just say?"
"Nothing my ass. You just volunteered to shower second, little brother. And guess what? I'm gonna make sure it smells real nice in there for ya."
Sam shuddered. "You're such a jerk, you know that?"
"Only for you, bitch. Only for you."