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The Bartender

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Small town, small lives, Ellie thought to herself. Her brother liked to say that, so of course he’d fled their hometown the second an opportunity presented itself, off to the city for a life that he felt made him someone bigger than the one he’d left behind.

She’d never felt that way though. She liked the familiarity of home, always the same even when it changed. The way that something new could be made to fit in without disrupting everything else around it. Like the Avengers, for instance. They’d set up shop a few miles away, at the old Stark Industries place, and it hadn’t taken long for everyone to act like they’d just always been there. Going grocery shopping, watching movies, strolling through the park, hanging out at her bar: now just part of everyday life. The town absorbed change, without fundamentally changing itself.

(She’ll admit, however, that she totally called her brother to brag the first time she served Captain America a drink. But after that, even superheroes became ordinary.)

Steve (“Call me Steve. Please,” he had said with a warm smile and a firm handshake) was here tonight, alone. Ellie idly wondered where the rest of the team was, but while seeing the Avengers around town was now commonplace, they did keep rather unpredictable schedules. They’d vanish for weeks at a time, only to pop up on the news having saved the world from some crisis or another. She doubted they were off doing something that important tonight, though, if Steve was left behind. Maybe he just wanted to be away for one evening - another neighbor dropping by for a drink and what should be some rather pleasant music, judging by the sound-check for the band that would perform later.

Ellie poured him the beer he asked for. Steve had sampled everything they had on tap, fascinated by the diversity of beer now commonplace even in a small town bar. He seemed to like imports the best. She wondered if it was because he’d been serving in Europe right before he’d been frozen in time, but she’d never asked. A good bartender was a confessor, or maybe occasionally an eavesdropper, but never a snoop.

Steve seemed content to be alone, just enjoying his beer and the atmosphere. Ellie let him be and went to serve other customers.

She looked up when the door opened. It was a habit to always note who entered the bar. Friends, strangers passing through, the few locals one had best keep an eye out for, known for being unable to handle their drink or otherwise unwelcome. The fellow who stood in the doorway fit into the “stranger” category. Average build, blonde hair, crooked tie dangling from the collar of his shirt, and a tan trenchcoat, out-of-place on this warm summer evening. He positively swaggered as he walked into the room. Putting on a show of confidence, most like, Ellie thought. She was vaguely curious, but her attention was pulled away by locals wanting drinks.

She refocused on the stranger as she heard him take a seat at the bar, near the end where Steve was sitting apparently lost in thought.

Damn, she thought, figuring this guy was here to bother him. She had no patience for strangers who messed with townsfolk.

The stranger looked right at her and grinned what he clearly thought was a charming grin. “Give us a pint, luv. Whatever you have that tastes least like piss. And another of what my friend here is having.”

English, huh. They didn’t get many foreigners wandering through, but it wasn’t like it was unheard-of. Ellie shrugged, unimpressed and determined to show it, and got their drinks. She kept most of her attention on the stranger as she brought over their beers, feeling cautious of him yet curious.

As she set their glasses down in front of them, Steve looked closely at the stranger. “Uh thanks. Do I know you?”

“Nah mate. I tend to be the bloke you only know when it’s all gone to shit. Things haven’t gone to shit enough yet for you to have met me. Name’s John Constantine.” The stranger, John, grabbed his beer and downed half of it in one swallow.

He was nervous, Ellie thought. Like he was trying hard to be nonchalant, but instead his words came out a bit desperate.

Steve frowned at him. “What do you want?”

Ellie was now entirely focused on their conversation, keeping her hands busy by rearranging the glasses behind the bar near the two men.

Smiling at Steve’s question, John looked earnest, or tried to anyway. He didn’t seem to be very good at it.

John raised his glass in a toast and said, “What else? To save the bloody world, of course,” then downed the rest of the pint.

Steve raised his eyebrows and shifted closer, clearly drawn into whatever the urgency was that John carried with him, covered with a poorly practiced mask of reassurance. Other customers called Ellie away then, but she made a point to zero in on the conversation between Steve and John whenever she had a chance. Having superheroes as neighbors made the whole saving-the-world concept less novel than it probably was to most people, but it wasn’t exactly something one got used to either. She wanted to get an idea of what it was they were all in for.

A number of emotions crossed Steve’s face as John tried to persuade him: disbelief, annoyance, concern. John must have gotten increasingly convincing though, because soon Steve was stepping away from the bar and pulling out his phone to make some calls. John played with his empty glass, looking like a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. Ellie had only caught a few words between the men. Something about a rising darkness, angels and demons, of all things.

She felt a bit rattled by all this, as anyone would. But one of the advantages to knowing the Avengers was personally knowing the folks who were dedicated to saving all their asses when things went awry. Ellie watched Steve, looking grim but determined as he called number after number. He seemed solid, reassuring, a hero ready to act. She had complete faith that he had ahold of the situation and the rest of the Avengers were sure to follow. It would all be alright.

The band in the far corner was about to start playing; a small dancefloor had been cleared in front of them as the locals anticipated a night of fun. Ellie watched Steve and John head out the door to tackle this new crisis. She noted that the Englishman had never paid for his drinks but Steve had left an extra ten on the bar. Snorting in amusement, she turned to her other customers as she thought about what she’d tell her brother about all this later.

Small lives, indeed.