“Get down! Take cover!”
Dean threw himself to the ground, landing roughly on his shoulder where pain shot through him from an old bullet wound he’d acquired a few months ago. Dean didn’t have time to care about trying to shift into a more comfortable position as mortar rounds went off overhead. Dean curled into a ball and shut his eyes, as screams came from every direction; there was nothing he could do to help.
“Medic! We need a medic!”
Another round hit so close to Dean that he felt it ricochet up his bones and through his teeth. There was another soldier crouched beside Dean, one hand on top of his muddy helmet, the other pushed into the ground to steady himself. Dean peered through half-open eyelids to see that it was Adam, a young scrappy boy around Dean’s age.
“Adam, get down!” Dean shouted over the scream of another round coming through the sky.
Adam’s eyes widened in fear, but before he could push himself into the mud beside Dean there was blood covering Dean’s combat jacket and Adam was struggling to breathe on the ground.
Dean woke with a start. Sweat dripped from his forehead and his back was slick with moisture, his chest heaved as he tried to force air into his lungs and his heart was pumping a fast drumbeat through his head. His hands felt like they were sticky with half-dried blood, but when Dean looked down to try and rub it off, he realized his hands were bare.
It was just a nightmare . Dean thought.
Except it wasn’t, it was a memory. It’d been fourteen years since Dean had been in combat and still, every night, he would wake up in terror for his life as he re-lived every terrible day he’d been through out on the field.
Dean glanced at the clock ticking steadily beside his bed, the little hand was stuck on the four and the big hand was moving slowly after the five: 4:25. It was only 4:25, Dean hadn’t even been asleep for three hours.
He knew he wouldn’t be able to fall back asleep so instead, Dean climbed out from under his covers and headed into his kitchen. He scrubbed a hand down his face to clear away the terror that was in the form of sweat and he pushed the heels of his hands into his eyes, as if that would cleanse his mind of all his terrible memories.
Dean opened one of his cabinets and took out a cocktail glass, he moved over to a crate by the fridge and pulled out a bottle of whiskey; Dean poured himself a glass and then moved to his couch.
As Dean sipped at his whiskey his eyes wandered over his apartment, taking in the record player that sat at the far side of the room next to the fireplace, listening to the hum of his fridge as it kept his food cool.
Dean tried to relax, to let the old tattered blue couch underneath him soak up his fears, but it was no use. No matter how hard Dean tried, he couldn’t keep his hands from shaking, he couldn’t stop his eyes from moving around the apartment, trying to find the best exit if someone were to attack him.
You’re safe . Dean told himself every time he had one of these panic attacks. You’re fine, you’re safe, the war is over, you don’t have to be afraid anymore .
Dean sat there, breathing slowly, whiskey glass in one hand, the other clenched in a tense fist where it rested on his knee, he sat there until the faint orange of dawn started to seep through the curtains.
Dean made himself breakfast of eggs and bacon with a strong cup of black coffee on the side. It was nearing eight o’clock when Dean finished doing the dishes and managed to get himself into some clothes.
Today, Dean was wearing jeans, held up by a brown leather belt, a black skin-tight t-shirt, a leather jacket, and brown boots. He didn’t bother combing his hair, he let it stick up a bit at the front and smoothed down the sides with his fingertips.
With ease, that he didn’t have mere hours ago, Dean swiped his car keys from the counter and headed out the door. He descended two sets of stairs until he reached the street where his brand new ‘59 Cadillac waited for him, its fresh black paint shining in the early sun. Dean had been saving up money for years so he could buy a good car and had treated himself to the Cadillac back in March, it was October now and the car was still sparkling, not a scratch on her.
Dean started the engine, letting the purr of it wash over him, and then backed out of his parking space on the side of the road and let the familiarity of his commute to work relax him even further.
Dean owned a bar he had named The Winchester Tavern, for lack of a better idea, and he worked as a bartender there on most days or he cooked in the kitchen, grilling up burgers. Dean always opened his bar himself, he never let any of his hires do it for him. It wasn’t that Dean didn’t trust his employees, some of them were his best friends, it was that every morning Dean needed some time to be alone in his bar before any of the workers came in, his routine was what kept him grounded after his nightmares.
Dean’s bar was about ten miles away from his apartment complex so it only took him a little less than ten minutes to get there, and that was if he was going the speed limit- which was something Dean rarely abided by- but today, he decided to take it slow, enjoying the scenery of the town.
He spotted a woman going for an early morning jog with a dog's leash clasped in her hand as the shepherd ran beside her, there was a man dressed in a sharp suit walking swiftly with a briefcase swinging from his left hand, there was a mother and a daughter holding hands as they walked down the street looking through shop windows; it was the normal hustle and bustle of Lawrence Kansas and Dean couldn’t help but smile to himself.
Dean reached his bar and turned onto the back road that would lead him to the parking lot. He pulled into the slot furthest from the entrance and plucked the keys from the ignition before sliding out of his Cadillac and walking across the parking lot towards his most prized possession.
Dean turned the key in the door and stepped into his bar. The smells of alcohol, faded cigarette smoke, and grilled meat greeted Dean as he walked in and he took a deep breath, relishing in the familiar scents. His eyes moved along every inch of his bar, checking to make sure everything was intact and that no one had tried to rob him in the night. Everything looked fine, as far as Dean could tell.
The red high padded stools still sat neatly pushed up under the long polished bar table, the ten or so tables that made up the ‘restaurant’ part of his bar were all untouched from how he’d laid them out last night before he left, and the black tiled floor was spotless, Dean could see his reflection staring back at him from the ground.
Dean moved onto the kitchen and double-checked that the fridge was stocked with what they’d need for the day, it was, save a small lack of hamburger meat but that shouldn’t be a problem as Dean had put in a request a few days ago for a shipment of meat which should be arriving sometime tomorrow; so Dean figured they’d be set in that regard.
Dean then checked behind the bar, counting the number of bottles he had of each form of alcohol, there were definitely enough bottles, so Dean straightened up and pulled his apron out from under the bar table. He folded it in half and then wrapped it around his waist before he plucked a clean towel from where it was sitting beside a bottle of tequila and began to wipe down the already clean counter, just in case any dust had settled there during the night.
His hands swept over the shiny surface in slow circular motions and he hummed to himself as he worked, letting the rhythm of the movement pull him back into the reality that the war was over and that he was safe.
After Dean finished with the counter, he tucked the towel into the back of his jeans and then moved towards the front door where the CLOSED sign currently hung in the window. Dean flipped the sign over, now letting the word OPEN face the street.
As Dean was moving back behind his bar the back door opened and in stepped Dean’s best friend and war buddy, Benny Lafitte. Benny had a stocky build and a well trimmed beard with short brown hair and a smile that could light up any room. Benny was head chef and Dean’s assistant manager.
“Morning chief,” Benny said as he moved behind the bar to greet Dean.
“Mornin’ Benny,” Dean replied, offering his friend a smile.
“Sleep alright?” Benny asked.
Benny was the only person Dean had told about his nightmares, mainly because Benny was the only one who would understand, he’d lived through the same war Dean had, he had the same nightmares.
Dean just shrugged. “I slept as well as I usually do.”
“That bad huh?”
Dean shook his head with a roll of his eyes. “I got three hours, which on some level is better than not getting any sleep at all. What about you?”
Benny grinned and boasted, “I got five hours.”
Dean raised his eyebrows at Benny in disbelief. “ Five hours? Really?”
“Yup. Best I’ve slept in a long time.”
“Well, I’m glad to see one of us is moving up in the world,” Dean said with a laugh.
Benny slapped Dean on the back as he moved past him to make his way to the kitchen. “You’ll get there chief.”
Dean moved on to organizing the glasses on the shelf behind the bar and dusting them out. He heard Benny start chopping something in the kitchen and heard the bubbling of water as it started to boil in preparation for whatever Benny was about to cook on their very limited menu, which consisted of some breakfast foods -just your basics, pancakes, eggs, toast, etc…-, three different kinds of burgers, salads, two soups, and a few small appetizers.
Dean had just begun to start moving from table to table, checking if napkins were stocked and the ketchup bottles and salt and pepper shakers were full, when two of his favorite employees Ellen and Jo Harvelle entered the bar. Ellen was a single mother of her twenty-year old daughter Jo, she’d lost her husband to the war when Jo was only five years old. They’d moved to Lawrenece when Jo was sixteen and when Ellen came into his bar the day after they’d come to town Dean quickly took her in, offering both her and her daughter a job. Ellen hadn’t wanted to accept at first but after Dean’s insistent arguing that he was short staffed she gave in and Dean had started them the next day, Jo working tables and Ellen fixing drinks behind the bar with Dean or working in the kitchen.
“Hey Dean,” Ellen said with a smile as the door swung shut behind her with a click.
“Ellen,” Dean replied with a nod, “Jo.” Dean flashed Jo one of his most winning smiles and Jo flushed red from the neck up. It was no secret that Jo was harboring a crush on her much older, devilishly handsome boss, and despite Ellen telling Jo it was unprofessional and that she needed to get her life together and start going after guys her own age, Dean took it in stride and assured her that it was fine and that Jo’s feelings weren’t going to affect her job in any way.
“Hi Dean,” Jo replied as she forced her blush back down.
“Why don’t you get your apron on and then you can finish making sure the condiments and napkins are full on all the tables,” Dean said.
“Sure thing,” Jo replied.
“Anything you need me to do?” Ellen asked.
Dean sighed as he looked around the bar, his eyes searching for something to occupy Ellen, he came up blank. “I think I’ve covered everything involving the bar for right now, but you can go see if Benny needs help in the kitchen.”
Ellen nodded and disappeared into the kitchen, her voice could barely be heard as she asked Benny what she could do. Jo started moving around the tables, filling up salt shakers and napkin dispensers.
Dean didn’t expect any customers for another couple of hours so when the bell above the door rang and young red headed woman in her early twenties came in, Dean had to work hard to hide his surprise.
“Hi there,” Jo greeted her with a smile.
“Hello,” the woman replied.
Jo led the woman to a table and once she was seated Jo placed a menu in front of her. “I’m Jo and I’ll be your server this morning. Can I start you off with a drink?”
“Just come coffee would be nice.”
“You got it,” Jo replied.
Dean heard Jo put in the order in the kitchen which was followed by the clanking of pots as either Ellen or Benny began to brew the coffee.
The woman began perusing the menu and Dean turned back to mindlessly cleaning the counter.
It was about twenty minutes later, when the woman had ordered French toast and was halfway through her meal, that Dean was alerted to the sound of the back door opening to announce the entrance of his most problematic employee.
Gadreel, a tall roughly built man in his late twenties, came sauntering into the bar a smile on his face as he locked eyes with his boss. Gadreel was always late for his shift and he only did what Dean told him when it was convenient for him. Dean had half a mind to fire him but Gadreel had a way with customers, always leaving them smiling and charming them within an inch of their life, and Dean just couldn’t bring himself to sack him.
So, instead, Dean tossed the man his apron, who caught it easily, and directed him towards the kitchen. Gadreel helped Benny with the cooking but also waited on tables with Jo.
Dean turned his gaze back to the red headed woman and saw that she had pushed her empty plate aside and was now nose deep in a book. Dean didn’t bother calling Jo out to take care of the woman’s plate, he needed something to do anyway. Dean moved over to the table holding his lone customer and offered her a smile, which she didn’t see as all her attention was on the book. Dean glanced at the cover and saw The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe written across the front in loopy letters.
Dean’s hands were closing around the edge of her plate which she looked up, finally noticing him. “Oh, thank you,” she said.
Dean nodded. “Of course. Did you want to order anything else?”
The woman shook her head. “No, thank you, I’ll just take the check please.”
Dean gestured towards the book with his free hand. “Good book?”
A smile broke out the woman’s face. “It’s amazing! It’s set during World War 2 and it’s about these four siblings that find their way into a magical world through a wardrobe in this professor's house, but the land is controlled by an evil queen and it’s up to them to save Narnia, that’s what the place is called, and the siblings end up getting separated and have to find their way back to each other, it’s really cool.”
Dean smiled and let out a short laugh. “Sounds interesting.” Dean wasn’t really into fantasy literature and all that, in fact he didn’t really enjoy reading, and if the book was set during the war Dean had fought in he wasn’t exactly eager to revisit those days through fiction. “I’ll be back with your check in just a moment,” Dean said, fighting down the memories he had just worked all morning to push to the back of his mind.
“Thank you,” the peppy woman called after him.
Dean entered the kitchen to find Jo leaning against the counter, arms propped up behind her as she watched Benny stir a big pot of soup. Ellen was chopping vegetables on the long table that was set up in the middle of the kitchen, and Gadreel was patting together burgers.
“Hey, Jo,” Dean said as he entered, the dirty plate held aloft. “Remember to check on your customers once and awhile.”
Jo’s eyes snapped to Dean and embarrassment flooded to her cheeks. “Oh shit, I’m sorry.”
“Don’t worry about it just don’t let it happen again,” Dean replied softly, letting her know he wasn’t mad. “She does need her check though, which I think you can handle.”
Jo nodded and then picked up the woman’s check and headed back out of the room.
“Sorry,” Ellen said as she looked up from chopping a tomato. “I shouldn’t have let her get distracted.”
Dean shook his head and held up a hand. “It’s not your fault Ellen, there’s only one customer right now, it’s no big deal.”
Looking unconvinced, Ellen returned to her tomato and Dean left the kitchen to stand back behind his bar. He saw Jo walking away from the woman, check in hand, and Dean watched as the woman’s eyes followed Jo’s back, skimming her body up and down. Dean crooked an eyebrow, but didn’t say anything.
Dean knew that in other places the woman would have been thrown out just for looking at Jo with any form of lust, but Dean’s bar wasn’t that kind of place. Dean wasn’t homophobic, in fact he himself liked to taste both flavors, he was bisexual as they were calling it these days. It was easier for Dean to hide is ‘queer’ side because he also liked women, but every once and a while when a good looking man came through his door it took a lot of effort for Dean’s eyes not to trail after him.
When Jo returned with the woman’s change she smiled at the waitress and then closed up her book and stood up, ready to go.
“Goodbye!” she called to Dean.
“Have a good day,” Dean waved back.
“Oh I will, I’ve got a hot date this afternoon,” she said with a wink.
Dean chuckled. “Well good luck.”
“Thanks!” she paused in front of the door, her hand poised to push it open but she turned back. “I’m Charlie by the way, I just moved here a week ago, and I just wanted to say that so far this restaurant has been my favorite, my compliments to the chef, I’ll definitely be back.”
Dean grinned. “That’s mighty kind of you, I will pass on your compliment.”
Charlie grinned, waved at Dean, and then left, the bell ringing in her wake. She’d only been gone for a few moments when the door opened again and in stepped one of their regulars, Ash. Ash walked with a swagger that made him look like the most important person in the room while simultaneously giving you the feeling that he was the biggest idiot that you’d ever laid eyes on. His hair was short in the front and long in the back (“business up front, party in the back” was what he always said when anyone commented on his hair) and he wore ripped jeans and a tight t-shirt with a necklace that hung on a long chair. Ash defied all norms and Dean couldn’t help loving him for it.
“Hey there Ash,” Dean greeted him.
“Hey Dean!” Ash replied cheerfully as he swung himself onto a bar chair.
“The usual?” Dean asked.
“You know it,” Ash grinned. Dean cracked open a bottle of beer and set it down in front of Ash.
Ash was one of two of Dean’s regular day drinkers, the other was an older man named Asmodeus, whom Dean had to throw out of his bar a few times because the man had an insufferable ability to argue about anything and everything and he was very loud about it, which tended to be disruptive to his other customers. But, every day Asmodeus came back and Dean served him because sometimes the man was interesting to chat with; Dean had just learned to refuse him service after he’d had over five alcoholic drinks.
Ash on the other hand was a very mellow drinker, a happy drunk, and he was able to hold intelligent conversation even after his sixth beer.
Jo emerged from the kitchen and she smiled when she saw Ash. “Hey Ash.”
Ash held up his beer in cheers and grinned back at her, putting on his best flirtatious smile. “Joanna.”
Jo rolled her eyes. “It’s Jo .”
Ash took a sip of his beer as Jo went to wipe down the table Charlie had just vacated. Dean slipped off into the kitchen, knowing that Jo would handle Ash if he wanted anything. “Hey Benny,” Dean said when he entered the now slightly warm kitchen.
“What’s up chief?” Benny asked as he looked up from where he’d been tearing fresh lettuce into bite sized pieces.
“Our latest customer wanted me to express her compliments to the chef,” Dean replied as he waved his hand over his head in a circular motion and dipped down in a bow.
Benny laughed. “How touching.”
“Ash also just arrived and I’m sure he’ll be wanting his usual eggs and bacon,” Dean added.
Benny nodded. “Coming right up.”
Dean floated back into the main room and saw that Jo had seated a father and daughter at one of the tables by the window. The little girl had long blond hair and couldn’t have been more than eight or nine years old, the father had short brown hair and he smiled at his daughter as she picked up the menu that Jo had just put down.
“You can get anything you want,” the man said.
“Anything?” the girl asked with wide eyes.
“Anything munchkin,” her father confirmed. “It is your birthday after all.”
The little girl’s eyes lit up with excitement and she eagerly started to read the menu. Jo went off to get them drinks and Dean watched Ash turn around to look at the father and daughter. “Sweet kid you got there,” he said.
“She’s the sweetest,” he replied with a soft smile.
The girl looked up at Ash with big blue eyes. “I’m turning eight today!” she exclaimed, holding up eight fingers.
“Well then a happy birthday song is in order,” Ash replied.
“Oh boy,” Dean grimaced. “I’m sorry for what’s about to happen,” he apologized to his customers.
“What’s your name?” Ash asked.
“Lilith,” the girl replied happily.
Ash cleared his throat and started to sing a very off-key rendition of Happy Birthday To You. When he got to Lilith’s name he threw his hands up in the air in an exaggerated gesture and Lilith started to giggle. Ash finished on a high note, that Dean worried might actually make his ears bleed, and then took a swig of his beer, a loopy grin plastered to his face.
Lilith started clapping and Ash laughed and stood up to take a bow. “Thank you, thank you very much.”
“Is it over?” Jo asked as she poked her head out of the kitchen, removing one of her fingers from her ear.
“All clear,” Dean replied, sending her a thumbs up.
“Thank God,” Jo said. She came out of the kitchen carrying a glass of orange juice and a glass of lemonade on a tray and went to set them on the table for Lilith and her father. “So, what’ll it be?” Jo asked, pulling out her order pad.
“Pancakes!” Lilith exclaimed. “With whipped cream!”
“Sure thing!” Jo replied, writing it down. “And you sir?”
“I’ll take the eggs with a side of sausage and toast.”
“How would you like your eggs cooked?” Jo asked.
“Over easy will be just fine,” he replied.
“You got it!” Jo said as she pocketed her order pad and headed back out to the kitchen, only to emerge a moment later with Ash’s eggs.
Ash grinned up at Jo as she set them down in front of him. “Thank you, Joanna.”
Jo scoffed at Ash again. “For the last time Ash, it’s just Jo .”
Ash ignored her and took a bite of his bacon and Jo shook her head and walked back into the kitchen. Dean placed another bottle of beer in front of Ash, as the man had already barreled through his first one and Ash acknowledged Dean in a thank you with a nod of his head.
A couple of minutes later Jo came out of the kitchen with Gadreel and Ellen following her as she held Lilith’s plate of pancakes with a few candles stuck in them out in front of her. The three of them began to sing Happy Birthday, in a much more pleasant tone than Ash, as they advanced towards Lilith who was smiling broadly and fighting excited laughter.
She blew out the candles in one breath which earned her cheers from everyone in the room and then she dug happily into her pancakes. Ellen had been holding the plate for Lilith’s father and she placed it in front of him before taking her leave back to the kitchen with Gadreel.
The day moved on slowly. Asomdeus came into the bar in the late afternoon and sat down a few seats over from Ash, who was now on his fifth beer. Dean fixed Asmodeus his usual glass of whiskey and the man grunted his thanks before knocking the drink back in one gulp. Dean refilled the glass and then moved over to see if Ash needed anything.
“I’m good, man,” Ash said upon Dean’s inquiry.
“You sure you don’t want a burger?” Dean asked.
Ash looked up at Dean with a smirk. “Only if you make it.”
Dean laughed and winked at Ash. “I think I can do that.”
“Make it a double then!” Ash called after him as Dean pushed open the kitchen door.
“Ellen, I need you to take up bar duty,” Dean said.
“Sure thing,” Ellen replied, putting the knife down she’d been using to cut up potatoes for the homemade french fries Benny made.
Dean moved over to where Gadreel was manning the grill. “You can go see if Jo needs help with the tables, I’ve got the burgers for a bit,” Dean said.
Gadreel flipped one last burger and then handed the spatula to Dean. “Actually I was wondering if I could take my break now.”
Dean sighed but nodded. “Yeah why not.”
Gadreel flashed him a grin and then pushed his way out the backdoor, a cigarette already between his fingers. Dean placed the two burgers Gadreel had been working on on a plate for Benny to make up and then put two more patties on the grill.
“So, how was your date with Andrea last night?” Dean asked over the sizzle of the grilling meat.
“It was great,” Benny replied, the hint of a smile in his voice.
“Yeah? You think she’s the one ?” Dean asked.
“Yeah, I think she might be,” Benny replied.
“Well I’m invited to the wedding then, right?”
“‘Course you are. I couldn’t imagine my wedding day without you brother.”
“You’re too kind,” Dean said as he flipped one of Ash’s burgers.
Dean and Benny worked in silence for a few minutes as Dean finished up the burgers and then moved over to dress them up with Benny’s famous creamy sauce, cheese, lettuce, tomato, and bacon. Benny placed some fries on the side of the plate and then Dean headed off to the bar.
He put the plate down in front of Ash and watched as Ash took a huge bite from the burger. “Mmm,” he said over his mouthful.
“Good?” Dean asked.
“Marvelous,” Ash mumbled.
By the time night rolled around, the bar was fairly quiet, Asmodeus was finishing up his last drink, Ash had left, and Dean had sent Ellen and Jo home. Gadreel had left his shift at six so now it was only Dean and Benny.
After Asmodeus left, Dean cleaned the counter and waited for the usual night customers. Sure enough, at ten o’clock sharp, in came Crowley, a short portly man with thinning brown hair and a short beard. Crowley sat down with a huff at Dean’s bar and Dean quickly made him a daiquiri, the man had a love for fancy drinks.
Meg wandered in at half past ten, ordering her usual bourbon on the rocks and Raul, one of Crowley’s buddies, came in not long after Meg.
Crowley made idle conversation with Dean occasionally and Dean talked with him politely. Crowley was easy to like but also very easy to hate, and Dean wasn’t sure which side of the scale he was on when it came to this particular customer. Meg on the other hand was very easy to warm up to; she was charming, flirtatious, and very pretty, Dean could talk to her all night.
Dean let Benny leave at midnight, who thanked him for another good day and promised to introduce him to Andrea if things got serious, before he was out the door. Crowley and Raul left around 12:30 and so did a few other customers that had come through the door.
Meg left fifteen minutes later and Dean followed her towards the door, biding her goodnight, before he locked the door behind her and turned the sign to CLOSED. He wiped down the tables, polished the bar counter, pushed in all the chairs, swept the floor, and then checked to make sure Benny had cleaned the kitchen, even though he knew that Benny would never leave a mess behind. The kitchen was spotless, but Dean still moved his rag over the counter in the center of the room, just because if he left the bar without doing so he would feel like he was missing something.
Dean did one last sweep through his bar, straightening glasses and bottles of alcohol on their respective shelves, before he deemed his bar good enough to leave behind for the night, or early morning as it was.
Dean locked the back door, jiggling it once just to make sure it truly was locked, and then he headed across the empty parking lot to his Cadillac and slid inside with a sigh. The engine turned over, his car roared to life, and Dean pulled out onto the street and headed home.
Dean parked his car on the street outside his apartment complex, mounted the stairs to the third floor, and then unlocked the door to his one bedroom apartment. Dean tossed his keys on the counter, kicked off his boots, and poured himself some whiskey, from the bottle he’d opened the previous morning, before he sat back on his couch with a sigh.
The clock was nearing 1:30 when Dean finally headed off to bed. His feet hurt from standing all day and a yawn forced its way out of his mouth. He set his alarm for 8:00 A.M., even though he knew he’d wake up hours before it went off, and then laid back in bed and shut his eyes, preparing to do the same thing again tomorrow.