He was a good guy. He'd been coming into my bar about nine months, give or take a couple of weeks. He'd show up every couple of nights or so, nurse a beer at a back table, and write in some journal looking book. I wondered if he was some recluse author, hanging around getting notes on something, except we're a tiny little town, with not much going for us that'd interest anybody who wasn't us.
One time I asked him, one of the nights he nursed a couple shots of whiskey at the bar. It was a quiet night and we were alone at his end of the bar. "What do you write in there all the time?" I asked him.
"My life is so amazing, I just have to keep track of it." He cracked back at me. I laughed. I knew he was joking, and I knew to never ask again.
He was a tall guy, even sitting. Broad too if you could see past the baggy clothes he was always wearing. He kept to himself in my place, but one night a fight broke out over a dart game. Two local pains in my ass. Sam watched from his table while I tried to deal with them. But when one of them pushed the other and plowed him into Fae, the waitress, Sam was on his feet in a blur. I swear, three strides across the floor was all it took for him to grab those morons by the backs of their necks and fling them out the front door.
Then he went back to the table and his journal and his beer and his privacy.
One night, it was late January, one night Sam came in and paid for a full bottle of whiskey, then proceeded to try and drink it all at his usual table in the back. No journal this time, no nursing his drink, just shot after shot after shot.
Fae kept giving me looks that I should check up on him, so when it was quiet, I pulled the chair out across from him.
"You could say."
He didn't even look up at me.
"You know, it's not a cliché that bartenders make great listeners."
He smiled a little, though I think it might've been an accident.
"Then I would make a lousy bartender."
So, he wasn't in a sharing mood. Okay.
"Look Sam, you can get as drunk as you want, as long as you don't cause trouble, and at the end of the night you sleep it off in my back room."
"I didn't drive." He told me. His voice had a different tone to it, something I hadn't heard out of him before. Not like he was telling me that he didn't drive, but like he was trying go get me to believe it. Like when my youngest tries to get me to believe she didn't back the car into the garage door.
"Yeah, well - friends don't let friends walk drunk."
I was surprised how surprised he sounded.
"I thought so."
"Hunh." He sounded like he was considering it, not like he was denying it. After another shot, he finally said, "It's my brother's birthday."
"No." He put a bit of emphasis on that too. "He's alive, living with the woman of his dreams, a good kid, a safe life. No, he's alive."
He sounded grateful that his brother was alive and happy and safe. So why weren't they celebrating together? I took a chance and poked the bear.
"Can I ask why you're in your cups then over a brother whose such a pain in the ass, he won't apologize for whatever he did, or won't accept your apology for whatever you did?"
Sam didn't get angry at me though. He looked puzzled like maybe I'd figured something out that he wasn't expecting.
"No - it's not that. He - he thinks I'm dead."
"Why does he think that?"
"Because - ." He stopped there a minute and looked at me closer, like he was deciding what to say or how to say it. "Because - I went missing in action. Missing and presumed dead. He doesn't know I'm back."
A soldier then.
"You don't think the Brass told him?" It would be odd for next of kin not to be notified of something like that.
"I don't know. He's just better off without me anyway."
He downed one more shot and capped the bottle and left it on the table as he left the bar.
I worried when he didn't come back for a week. But a week later he was back, at his table, with a beer and his journal and a sandwich that Fae made him without being asked.
And a long scratch that ran across his face from his left eyebrow to his right jaw.
"You all right?" I asked.
End of discussion.
He kept coming in, his usual every couple of nights, for beer and writing and privacy.
Usually he was fine. Sometimes he had bruises, a couple of times he was limping. Once he had his whole left hand wrapped in an ace bandage.
"You know, if you need help, I wanna know."
He nodded but only said, "Hazards of the job."
End of discussion.
So a few more months passed, usually same as usual. Usually beer, sometimes shots, sometimes beat up. And no talking about it.
One night, with a beer and a bruise on his face that looked like it could be a cracked cheekbone, Sam suddenly had company. I glanced over to him, like I did every once in awhile every night he was here, and there was a big guy standing there, not as big as Sam, but by the look Sam was giving him, he could've been the biggest guy in the world.
I knew Sam could take care of himself, but he was getting hurt a lot somehow, and I found a reason to wander back to his table. Just in time as Big Guy made a lunge that had Sam on his feet, pressed against the wall, with Big Guy's arm shoved against his throat.
"All right. Back off." I warned him. Big Guy turned toward me only enough to shoot me a glare that said I was no threat to him. He sure looked pissed.
"It's OK." Sam told me. He sounded fine, so his throated wasn't being shoved that hard. "It's my brother. It's Dean."
I wasn't sure that was a relief to me.
"Is he the one who's been beating you?"
I expected a smart remark from Dean, but his arm dropped as fast as his snarly expression.
He yanked out a chair and shoved Sam into it and leaned in for his apparently first look at Sam's broken cheekbone.
"What happened?" He asked, sounding like a concerned brother, and not like he'd just gone a year thinking his brother was dead. And sure not sounding pissed.
"A vengeful -." I caught the look Sam shot me. What to say and how to say it. "- ex boyfriend."
"And the girl?" Dean asked. He was lightly probing Sam's cheek.
"Married, with grandchildren." Sam answered him with a laugh. "She's okay."
I wondered what kind of grandmother had a vengeful ex-boyfriend. Before I could ask though, Sam pushed at his brother who was probing over his skull now.
"Dude, could you not grope me in public?"
No anger, no threats, just typical sibling exasperation.
Dean sat down in another chair, so hard, I wasn't sure he meant to.
"You're alive." So, he hadn't gotten the notification.
"Yeah - uh - yeah." Sam shot me a look, wanting privacy again. "For awhile now." I turned back to the bar.
"And you didn't think I'd want to know?"
I wasn't close enough to hear Sam's answer. I pulled a beer for Dean and brought it back.
"You're better off without me." Sam was saying.
"Bull." Dean answered before Sam was even done saying it. "Where've you been staying?"
"I've got a room, a couple blocks away."
"Great. We'll go grab your stuff, and you're coming home with me."
Since I couldn't hang out there without it being obvious, I went back to the bar, and kept an eye on them as they hashed it out.
They had a heated discussion between them, each by turns concerned, relieved, adamant, pissed.
I couldn't imagine what it must feel like to go a year thinking your brother was missing and presumed dead, especially considering the people and places we were at war with these days.
And I couldn't imagine what might've gone on to make the other brother think his presumed death would preferable to his family.
So I kept an eye on them.
After awhile, they both stood up. Dean headed for the front door, and stopped there, not taking his eyes off Sam, who walked over to me.
"Everything OK?" I asked him.
"Yeah, yeah - everything's fine. I'm gonna - I'm gonna go visit with Dean for awhile. See what's what. You know?"
"He still looks pissed."
"Yeah." Sam looked over his shoulder at Dean who was standing as solid as Gibraltar at my front door. "That's his usual look when I annoy him. I'll see you around."
He offered me his hand.
"It's been good to know you." I answered as I shook his hand. This was feeling pretty final. More than just leaving for a visit. "Welcome back from the dead."
"Ha. Yeah. Thanks."
He turned away and said something to Fae as he passed her, halfway across the floor. She kissed his undamaged cheek and patted his shoulder and he left the bar with Dean.
Out the window that overlooked the parking lot, I saw Sam following Dean, who still looked pissed. Until he stopped suddenly, so suddenly that Sam had to take a step back, and then Dean folded him - literally folded Sam into a hug that paid no mind to their difference in height or size. Mr. Pissed-Off-Big-Guy had his brother back and he didn't seem in any hurry to let go of him any time soon.
And Sam, with his forehead pressed down into his brother's shoulder, didn't seem to mind at all.