Genre: crossover SPN/White Collar
Disclaimer: Written for personal amusement only.
Summary: Two conmen walk into a bar.
Betaed by Yami_tai.
March 2004, a small town in America
If there's one thing small-town America is good for, it's drinking. Villages that time has forgotten fill the large open spaces of inland USA; places so gloomy and depressing that even Stephen King avoids them, for fear of being mugged by too many muses with unholy ideas. There are bars there whose gritty corners remember the creation of the universe, and the darkness that preceded the event.
Normally this is anything but Neal's scene. Neal excels in the world of beauty and refinement, and though technically he skirts the edge, what with the life of crime, he is an artist and high society is his canvas. This bar is a dishrag, as far as fabric metaphors go. Neal drums his fingers against the bar, an arpeggio the origin of which escapes his mind. This bar is a shithole, but he doesn't feel out of place. He doesn't need to be here, which makes all the difference. Sometimes he needs to descend to earth, for no particular reason, if only to remember that he is, in fact, still on Earth.
Neal is nursing his third whiskey glass, elbows dug so deep into the counter that he fears he will need a crowbar to extract them. He still has his drink and the ice still clinks when the glass is moved, so he doesn't need to worry about raising his head for a while yet.
The door to the bar slams shut and Neal hears footsteps coming his way. One, two, six and he's at the counter; a tall guy, strong and confident – he has the footsteps of a man on a mission and one with military history.
Not Peter though.
"Good morning," the stranger says, and Neal turns his head a fraction, just enough so that his field of vision includes the stranger.
"What can I get you?" the barkeep asks, appearing as if by magic.
"Special Agent Owen Lars," the guy says, and hell, Neal is interested now. This guy so isn't with the Bureau – his walk is all wrong, his suit too cheap plus it clearly makes him uncomfortable, and the less is said about the shoes the better, not to mention the name. He's got the confidence down pat, however, and Neal appreciates that. "Are you Alicia Freemantle?"
The barkeep glances at the ID, too dazzled by the no-nonsense tone and, let's be honest, a face Michelangelo would sell his soul to sculpt, to notice that the ID lacks a few crucial strokes to be considered good enough for Neal to wield. Neal takes a sip of his whiskey and keeps his head down.
"Are you here about Gemma?" the barkeep asks. Her voice quivers, but almost immediately she goes into the defensive mode. "The police already questioned me."
"I know this is hard for you," the guy says, and internally Neal cheers. The guy may be fuzzy on the details, but his voice is just right, a touch of pleading with a subtle tone of command. "I won't take too much of your time."
She hesitates, but the stranger tops the request with a smile and an intense gaze, and his face does the magic. The woman offers a small smile in return. "I'll be taking a break in a few. Can I get you anything while you wait?"
Neal can see the word "beer" forming on the guy's lips, but it never makes it out. "Coffee," the non-agent says, not without a wistful look at the selection of bottles on the wall.
The barkeep sets a mug before him and moves to the other side of the counter. There are maybe twelve patrons at the bar, altogether, and the seats around the two of them are empty. Music blares in the background and Neal lifts his head at last, though even that requires focus and creative balancing.
"Your ID could use some work," he says.
The guy barely blinks. "How so?"
"Well, I couldn't help but notice that your outfit in the photo isn't up to FBI dress code and the blue is a few shades short of authenticity." Neal taps his fingers against the glass with one hand. "Just a friendly tip."
He is being measured up, he can tell. The guy is considering how fast can he start calling him out and how much time he has to start a fight and destroy Neal's credibility. Neal lifts his hands in mock-surrender, just in case – the guy has at least an inch on him and more than a few pounds, not to mention a revolver, by the looks of how he holds his arms, and what seems to be years of military service. "I mean no trouble," Neal says. He reaches inside his own jacket and flashes two IDs, with two different names, neither of which is Neal Caffrey. One of them is a US Marshall badge. "Wouldn't want to cause a fuss with these on me."
The guy relaxes a little, holds out his hand and grins. It's the wide grin of a professional hustler. "Dean Winchester."
Neal takes the proffered hand and shakes it. "Neal Caffrey."
"Needs more attention, eh?" Dean asks, looking down at his FBI badge ruefully.
"It's in the detail. The colors are more or less safe, most people have no eye for precise coloring, but the photo definitely needs adjustments and I would question your choice of an alias."
Dean looks sheepish. If he didn't look to be Neal's age, Neal would suspect him of forging the ID for the sole purpose of getting a beer in a bar, no matter how over the top the FBI ruse was.
"Let's just say I'd stick to our galaxy. As for the rest, I have some excellent references, if you're interested."
"Excellent references?" Dean's got a twinkle in his eye and Neal can't help but grin in response.
"Forgive me for not sharing my sources. Trade secret."
"Wouldn't dream of asking."
"IDs your main trade?"
Dean looks into his cup. "Not really, no," he says. His fingernails are cropped short to make way for calluses and the pen that sticks out of his jacket pocket has bite marks on it. The white collar clearly chafes his neck.
The observation makes him wonder just what Dean's trade is. Given the barkeep's reaction to being questioned Neal supposes a death is involved in Dean's gig, and from the looks of it, it's not the first one. Odd, because if there is one thing Neal knows just by looking at Dean is that he is no killer, especially not the kind of violent sadistic bastard that blue-collar thugs tend to be.
"There's a trick to the ink," Neal says. Dean looks at him questioningly, so he produces a pad and a pencil. Telling his head to cooperate is a tricky business, but a con artist's life includes lessons in combating the weakness of the flesh, so that it can in turn be exploited in others. Neal jots down the details, explaining as he goes. "…and then you get the shade you want."
Dean nods, understands, and pockets the page. Neal gets a look at the gun, one that is anything but standard FBI issue. "Thanks, man."
"Don't mention it," Neal says, just as the bartender makes her way towards them. "See you around."
Dean grins and his grin has layers that go parsec-deep. "Don't take this the wrong way, pal," he says, and though Neal hates being called pal, Dean's amicability is earning him privileges, "but you should pray we don't." He offers Neal a look that's part indecision, part apprehension, one that makes him look young and naïve. He grabs the pad and jots down a number. "In case something weird happens."
Neal raises a brow and Dean ducks his head. "When it happens, you'll know."
He follows Ms Freemantle to a table in the corner. Neal watches them for a moment, but the drink is too much of a temptation to abandon it for long. Just what game is being played here, he wonders, and what exactly constitutes weird? The environment is too low-key for Neal, unless the pictures on the wall are lost Poussin sketches – now that would be weird – instead of something a talented barkeep doodled on a napkin.
Neal looks into his glass. There is a sincerity in Dean that shines through, despite the obvious con, and Neal is a romantic. The next sip is a toast to the unknown job being pulled in the forgettable little town.
He pockets the number, just in case something weird happens.