Before the Great Brotherly Road Trip, there was Dean in the Big Easy. With plenty of ghost stories to chose from, Dean shouldn't have a problem keeping busy. Except trust him to find the most awkward.
Except it wasn't and a little voice in his head was now whispering full-bore and it was louder than the bass drum at his brainstem.
It sounded exactly like his father.
Groaning softly, he pushed the pillow away and rolled onto his back. There was a moment and then he was sitting up, dragging hands over his face. The voice was right. He had a job to do. To finish. One of the two. Swinging his legs over the side of the bed, he resisted the urge to look to see where his head had rolled off to and instead ran his tongue over his teeth. Yep, something had died in there.
It took about 30 seconds to gain both the will and the coordination to make it to the bathroom but, one strong tooth-brushing later, he decided it was the smartest use of 30 seconds in his entire life. Blearily, Dean peered into the mirror above the sink. Bloodshot green-hazel eyes stared back and he grimaced in disgust. He needed a bath, a shave, and some breakfast. If he did it in that order, the general populace would probably thank him. Then, with all of that under his belt, he would feel more human again and he could sort out if he still had a job or if he had, in fact, finished it up last night prior to the run in with the Captain. Hands braced on the cool porcelain of the sink, eyes closed, he felt 99% sure he was done but there was a sort of niggling in the back of his head. In his line of work, you ignored instinct at your own risk and this sounded like a pesky little instinct.
With another yawn, Dean pushed away from the sink and padded over to jimmy with the temperamental tub faucets. It was hard to think with a hangover. Sitting on the edge of the bathtub helped, though, listening to the pouring water. Every now and then, he put his hand under it to test the temperature but his gaze was fixed ahead on the dank tiles, seeing beyond them as he tried to think past the fog. Small house, lots of wrought iron work, abandoned, and smelling of... He felt bile rise up in the back of his throat and did a neat about-face to hover over the toilet in the ready position. When nothing quite came up, he merely grimaced horribly and spat into the bowl as a precaution. Anyway, the house smelled of rotting things and sulfur and dried blood which was about par for the course.
Kneeling beside the tub now, Dean hung his arms over the edge to trail his fingers in the water, the level steadily rising as the faucet continued doing its duty. As the water covered his wrists, he suddenly smiled. He remembered it all now. The job was done. It hadn't even been anything tough - a bit of a spirit laying, tied to the body in the backyard. Some research, some questions, and it was a walk in the park. The little spook didn't even rate a mention on one of the cheesy ghost tours that crawled all over the French Quarter.
He withdrew his hands and ran them back through his hair, effectively dampening it all before reaching out to shut off the faucets. Then, with the aid of the bathtub rim, he rose to shaky legs and stripped down for the plunge. A grin curved his lips at a sudden thought. Maybe he should go on one of the tours while he was down here. It wasn't like Dad expected him back at the checkpoint until next Tuesday at the earliest. It was Wednesday. He had plenty of time to screw around a bit. Just a little. He hadn't had a vacation in ages and where better than here?
Stepping over the edge, he got himself into the tub and sank down abruptly before his legs decided to rebel again. Then he tilted his head back and closed his eyes. Yeah, that sounded good. A little break, a little tour, maybe a little more Bourbon Street. He sighed and slid further under the water. Once he was human again, of course.
Which took about 2 hours to accomplish due to him drifting off in the blissfully warm water and nearly drowning. Twice. When he had finally managed to drag himself from the cooled water, Dean faced his toothbrush again and then spent a good ten minutes tinkering with the hot-plate contraption his low-rent motel provided along with the little glass coffee pot and a squished packet of the holy brown grit. Finally turning out a cup of coffee so strong the little plastic stirrer threatened to melt in it, he took his time swallowing it as he stood by the window and peered out at the street. Despite his internal clock telling him it was late, there were few people out on the street and the sunshine wasn't really as bright as his bloodshot eyes had made it out to be. That was a good start to his vacation, he decided.
He spent a few minutes watching a lean, long-legged blonde in shorts jog across the street and then head west. That was an even better start. Turning away from the window, he drained his mug and set it on the nightstand before settling himself back on the bed and snatching up the pile of brochures the motel left in every room. The very first one had him snickering at the logo design alone and he rolled onto his back to better enjoy the hilarity of the tacky Gothic print. Before long, Dean was laughing outright as he set up miniature piles of the pamphlets.
When he turned one over to find a picture of one of the company's tour guides, he froze and a grin so stupid that it lowered the IQ just to look at it spread over his face. "Aaaand we have a winner, Bob," he muttered with unholy glee as he read the poor bastard's name. "Let's tell Belladonna Loveless what she's won."
Upon further examination, he discovered that Midnight Horror Ghost Tours offered three different options to the willing victim - a cemetery tour, a voodoo tour, and a ghost tour. Ghosts of the French Quarter, specifically, as if anyone in their little touristy minds gave a damn about Ghosts of the Irish Channel or Ghosts of Storyville. Dean wondered which tour would have the vampires and then decided that it was probably the cemetery one which meant he was going to nix that one. Asking him to behave on a ghost tour was probably risking enough. Whistling under his breath, he flipped through the little glossy brochure again. Voodoo or ghost?
As the word "orgy" caught his eye, though, he snickered again, decision made. Rolling onto his side, Dean reached for the phone and dialed. As he waited for the other person to pick up, he reflected that he must have gotten the adult version of the brochure... Or else those who ran the tours hated kids and never wanted them to lend a ray of sunshine to their horrible goth-ness of being. Just then the phone clicked and he found himself far too busy sounding like a suitably fascinated and serious tourist to further ponder the amusing quirks of people who thought death was sexy.
He almost lost it, though, when he gave over his name for the reservation and a soft, wordless gasp of excitement down the line answered it. Ironic how this time around he was Montague Summers. Complete head-up-his-ass syndrome, that guy, but only college professors and vampire would-bes would pick up on it so he came in handy. The chances of either of those people running a dive motel were slim to none. "Yeah, uh huh." His mouth twitched in helpless amusement. "Yeah, distant ancestor, I guess... Nope, never read the book... Yeah, I know I should... Okay. 8 sharp, it is... Jackson Square, cathedral, yep."
Hanging up with a satisfying click, Dean flopped back against the pillows and indulged in the snickers until a sudden rumble from his stomach reminded him that he had previously emptied it completely. He rubbed at it thoughtfully for a moment as he studied a crack in the ceiling. Hangover? What hangover? Winchesters had iron constitutions and steel-clad livers. Tentatively, he imagined a plate of bacon and eggs and hash browns. His stomach raised no objections. So far so good. He added sausage to his mental plate. Still nothing. Okey dokey. Then he poured maple syrup over it all until it floated.
When his stomach stayed exactly where it was, he grinned and pushed himself upright. Iron constitution and steel-clad liver in functioning order, check. It was time for breakfast. Then a quick call to Dad just for check-in's sake. Dean kind of doubted his father would be overly concerned if he didn't call semi-regularly but it made him feel better to pretend it would bother the man if he didn't have a little Dean-message on his phone at least weekly if they were apart. After all, you never knew. It might. If nothing else, it would be a pain in the ass hunting down anything that killed his eldest son. Not to mention never letting Dean live down the shame. Even if he was dead.
Absently plucking his boot knife from the desk and propping his foot on the chair at the desk to tuck the shining blade into place, he glanced out the window. He tugged the leg of his jeans down to cover the weapon and then half-rested his chin on his upraised knee as he considered the brightening view outside. Which way had the leggy blonde gone? Riverwards?
He straightened and swung his leg down. He eyed his tattered leather jacket for a moment before shaking his head and slipping his wallet into his back pocket. If last night had been a good sample of New Orleans humidity, he wasn't about to slowly poach himself in leather. Anyway, it was clearly already warm enough outside for tiny shorts. Lips curved in the Devil's own grin, Dean grabbed up his room key and slipped from the hotel room. Yeah, breakfast towards the river was a great idea.
Apparently, the iron Winchester constitution was proof against even the warm humidity of a New Orleanian springtime and, come eight o'clock, Dean still found himself disgustingly chipper and ready for mischief. It didn't help that he had been blissfully playing the tourist-rogue all day with gusto. As if following a list he had found in some guidebook years ago, Dean had worked his way through the French Quarter - beignets at the CafÃ© Du Monde, a wander through the Market, a po'boy at a place called Mama Tooley's, some street-corner jazz, a good gawk in an alleged-voodoo shop complete with shrine, a hilariously off-the-mark tarot reading at a pokey little psychic shop. Him feeling the "cold hand of despairing eternity"? What the hell was that supposed to mean?
He shrugged his shoulders, rolling them back and then forward, hands still in the pockets of his tatty jeans as he made his way to the tall, beckoning steeple of St. Louis'. He hoped he had scored Belladonna for his tour. A wicked grin flickered into life. Now that would be lots of fun. He wondered if he should tell her to call him "Monty."
Hearing a noise just off to his right, he slowed his pace and glanced over curiously. Nothing appeared for a moment and then, with a rustle of leaves, two children burst from the bushes, one clearly chasing the other as they laughed. With his own crooked smile, Dean neatly stepped to one side to avoid the little hellions as they tore through the greenery of Jackson Square and disappeared out the set of tall black iron gates he had just come through. Kids, heh. Wasn't it kind of late for them? Then he paused a little longer, watching a streetlight flicker on, before shaking his head and slouching on towards his night's fun.
The moment he was through the far gates of the Square, Dean knew the brochure hadn't lied and he beamed wide. Amongst a scattering of other tourists, the duly designated representative of Midnight Horror Ghost Tours stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb and the fact that she so clearly matched his image of what should be leading their merry band made him feel like it was Christmas morning. Sauntering up casually, he stood just at the edge of the group and surveyed her from the top of her head to her toes. It was too perfect. The hair was too fake, too black. The eye make-up made Tammy Faye Bakker look restrained. The clothing... Dean bit the inside of his cheek to keep his expression down to a smirk. As she introduced herself as Viviana de Sade, he looked around to inspect his fellow tourists.
A couple in their early twenties stood to one side, holding hands, barely listening as they stared at each other. He rolled his eyes. Three middle-aged women stood on the other side of the guide and quietly talked amongst themselves. Four teenagers gave Viviana their rapt attention as she began talking about Pere Antoine and Pere Dagobert. One of them even took notes. He was the only single party in the group, he realized. Then a flicker of movement caught his eye and he turned his head to observe a lone, late arrival.
Okay, so he wasn't the only single in attendance. Dean shot the woman an inviting smile even as he gave her a quick elevator-eyes once-over. When she ignored the look, he considered feeling insulted or maybe sidling over for a conversation. She was certainly nicer on the eyes than Viviana. He had always been a jeans kind of guy and she wore her ancient pair really well. Watching her tuck her hands into the back pockets and rock back on her heels, her attention clearly on the tour guide, he tilted his head and took his time on a second study to notice the fitted t-shirt and the sturdy boots and the pony tail. College girl, maybe? Hey, now. Sorority girl. So that's why Sam was all hot and bothered to get into Stanford.
Suddenly, she moved and he snapped his attention away from her lean form to catch Gothetta inform them all that she would now be leading them down Chartres Street to see the Beauregard-Keyes House. "Site of frequent nightly battles of soldiers that can no longer die, chess-players who can never win, and a horrific scene of wise guy violence," she droned hollowly as she began walking them down the road.
Dean raised his hand and beamed innocently. He took her owlish blink at him to signal a go-ahead. "Wise guy?" he asked.
"Mafia" came the muttered answer from the blonde to his left. He rewarded her with a wink and she raised her eyebrows at him wordlessly before turning her attention back to the guide.
"Um, yes. Mafia. That's right." Viviana smiled brightly to show off just how white her teeth were in comparison to her black lipstick. "This way, please. It's only a few blocks and please stick together, everyone," she added cheerfully. "This city is consistently ranked in the top ten of U.S. cities when it comes to murder." Boot heels clacking in a disgustingly brisk and horrifically chipper manner, she set the pace up the road.
"Well, isn't that a cheerful thought?" Dean mumbled after a block, moving to keep pace with the blonde. "Think they've thought about using that for the city seal? It's got a ring to it."
"Mm." She shifted her hands from her back pockets to hook her thumbs in her front belt loops and he eyed the action appreciatively. She hardly flicked a glance his way. "Y'know, the money you paid is for the tour, buddy," she added dryly. "Not looking at my ass... Or other places on my anatomy."
He grinned, half-laughing, and shoved his hands into his own pockets. "Well, I could buy you a drink as admission?" he offered cheerfully. "I hear we're supposed to be stopping at Lafitte's on this little trip."
"So help me. If you say something about shoes, shirts, or the alphabet..." Before she could finish her sentence, Viviana cleared her throat and lifted her hands to signal they should stop in front of a buttery yellow house with white trim and a distinct would-be Parthenon flair to its architecture. Dean noted that she was wearing black-lace, fingerless gloves. Somehow that delighted him even more and he abandoned his focus on the woman beside him for the time being to listen as the caricature leading them launched into a recitation of the various sorts of supernatural baggage the house held. He considered raising his hand again, asking how there could possibly be Civil War battles in a location where the war hadn't touched. In the end, he opted to leave it alone; he had scanned the list of planned sites and there were some better spots coming. So he merely arranged his face in his most innocent of expressions, shoved his hands deeper into his pockets, and gave every indication of listening raptly.
Besides, if the cute blonde was going to ignore him for the time being, he might as well ignore her.
Before long, however, Dean was so caught up in his internal sniggers that the tunnel-vision became self-fulfilling. Up Gov. Nicholls and across Royal, he held his tongue and nodded, feeling like one of those stupid dolls with the too-big heads that wobbled. As Viviana pointed up at the ornate, iron-work balcony of the Lalaurie house, he tilted his head to one side and wrinkled his nose. The story was gruesome enough and then some, he knew, but there wasn't even a whiff of ozone around the tall mansion. The bodies had been removed ages ago, after all, and probably even buried half-decently out of shame. He half-listened to the story of the little slave girl who was often seen running across the balcony in terror before plunging to her death below. A grimace twisted his mouth. Shit, people were messed up.
He stood, looking upwards for long moments as the others moved away again on the trek. At the words "Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop," though, he perked up and rejoined the group with a faint whistle that continued down to St. Phillip's and right on up to Bourbon. The blonde shot him an incredulous look after a block and a half and he paused just long enough to grin widely at her. She shook her head and went back to ignoring him determinedly.
As they approached the hodgepodge creation of brick and plaster and wood, though, the whistle gave a final long, low trill of appreciation and ceased. She glanced over her shoulder to see Dean standing on the sidewalk and smiling up at the centuries-old building in a vaguely brainless manner. Snorting under her breath, she slipped through the wide, shuttered doors with the rest of the group.
Remaining behind for a few moments, Dean canted his head to one side to better study the infamous bar. He finally decided that it looked about right. Whether or not it had actually served as a front for the Pirates Lafitte as Gothetta claimed made no difference. It looked comfy as hell, served alcohol, and the smell reminded him of dozens of other places he had set foot in all over the country. It might be a tourist trap, he thought with amusement, but that never meant the beer wasn't good. With a broad grin, he welcomed himself in and nudged his way to the bar to order a beer for him and the promised price of admission for his stand-off, fellow tourist.
The sojourn at Lafitte's pushed to nearly forty-five minutes and all but had Viviana fluttering in her anxious concern for the schedule. Dean wove his fingers together and put them behind his head, idly stretching as he allowed her to herd him back out onto the sidewalk. He gave her an innocent, sweet smile on the way past despite the urge to laugh at the sudden image of her as a big, black butterfly. There wasn't even the slightest hint of the two boilermakers he had consumed to the look and he was rewarded with what might have been a bit of a blush beneath the three layers of white-face. Reassured at his unsurpassed way with the ladies (overcoming the polite stonewalling he continued to receive from College Girl - Sam would have found it hysterical), he resolved to behave better for her.
As they stood in front of the Sultan's Palace ten minutes later, though, Dean regretted his hasty vow. He had forgotten about this stop. He had forgotten the blurb in the pamphlet. Resolutely, he shoved his hands into his pockets and rocked back a bit on his boot-heels, pursing his mouth with determination. When Gothetta started talking about the variety within the Sultan's harem, he closed his eyes tightly and gritted his teeth. Nice. He would not say it. He wouldn't. A sudden jab to his side caused his eyes to fly open and he barely restrained himself from throwing a punch. Seeing who had done it to him, he was especially glad not to have decked her.
"And what's your problem now?" hissed the blonde. She stood close and her words barely had to cross any air between them. She clearly had no intention of letting their tour guide overhear her.
Turning ever so slightly, he offered a look of innocence that tried desperately to imply that he had only just opened his eyes to the world five minutes prior. "Who, me?" he asked and then had to avoid choking on his own laughter that he had actually opted for those two words.
She stared at him in clear disbelief and silence settled just long enough for Viviana's words "rumors soon spread of the orgies" to drift in between them. The corner of Dean's mouth twitched in mutiny of his control, eyes clearly telegraphing the strain that his good behavior was placing on him. The blonde looked away quickly but not quite quick enough. Dean rarely missed much when it came to visual markers and his attention was all the more honed when it came to something of interest and the flicker of amusement she couldn't quite stifle? That was definitely of interest.
Encouraged, Dean politely raised his hand and waited for Gothetta to acknowledge him. When she did, it was with clear reluctance which quickly melted under his most charmingly cocky grin. "So, Miss de Sade..." Score points for the formality, she preened slightly at the ring of her own name. "When EMF readings are done on this location..." The nods started, delight in her expression. "Does it sound classy like Playboy or kind of dirty like Spice?"
He watched her mouth open and shut a few times in wordless horror. He felt the distasteful glares from the middle-aged women. He heard the shocked gasp from one or the other of the intent little students. Tilting his head to one side, he merely kept grinning at the poor tour guide.
Even as he heard a strangled noise that just might have been laughter off to his right from the leggy blonde. Which made being banished to the back of the group and the sudden quick-step-march that Gothetta set down St. Peter's Street pretty much worth it. The Sultan's Palace was soon behind them and everyone dutifully ignored the uncouth man and Dean wondered when he had ever had more fun.
When they came to a halt outside 734 Royal Street, he received a warning look, dark with eyeliner and mascara and loathing. Dean shoved his hands in his pockets and shrugged back easily as if to show how willing he was to behave again. His effort was rewarded with another glare. Idly, he rocked back on his heels and craned his neck back to squint up at the house's fence-edged widow's walk. A flicker of something in a window caught his attention and he stepped closer, brows furrowed. The night air hung heavy on the skin and the smells of stale alcohol and growing green things and some sort of dampness tickled his nose.
In the background, the story of the Steadfast Mistress droned onwards. Every other word or so registered but his mind was fixed on the walkway and the roof. That was where she had died, frozen to death on an impossibly cold December in the Big Easy. That was where her ghost was seen. Julie.
And it was the first honest-to-God ghost on the whole damn tour because, over the booze and the plant life, he could pick up hints of ozone. Dean frowned as he slid his hands from his pockets and moved one up to scratch the nape of his neck. He glanced to his right and saw College Girl staring intently upwards as well.
"And his heart broke as he held her lifeless, frozen, little body. After that night, he no longer smiled or took interest in anything. He became like a ghost himself, hovering around the house, waiting for something. Finally, after a couple of months, he gave up and he too passed away. Just as the ground softened for spring, his life left and he..."
A low, soft scraping sound caught his attention over the drone and Dean tensed, shoulders going up and back even as his eyes snapped upwards to the balcony again. An overdone terracotta pot, heavy with flowers, looked awfully close to that edge now. Before he could manage to even begin to calculate if the damn thing had indeed moved, though, it suddenly tipped with a grating noise and began the downward plummet.
But that was okay, really, because Dean was already in motion. The muttered "shit" only added to the power of his push as he barreled into the blonde. His arms wrapped around her tightly to cushion the blow to her upper body as he took her to the hard macadam roughly. The angle was horribly wrong, unfortunately, and he had no time to roll with it. He landed hard, half on top of her, driving all breath from her body.
The pot shattered where she had been standing. Dirt sprayed in all directions, rewarded by shrieks and screams. He felt it hit his back and he could have sworn that a marigold or whatever the heck those little frilly yellow flowers were slapped the back of his neck. Dean ignored it. The view beneath him was way more interesting than botany. "Hey," he drawled. "What was that price of admission again?"
Big brown eyes stared up at him and, if he had been a bit more perceptive, if he had been a bit less /Dean Winchester/, he would have noticed that the expression within was not fear or gratitude. Not at all. Slowly, she licked her lips. Then she smiled sweetly. He returned the look with a grin.
Therefore, he didn't even see the awkward right hook coming until it landed and forced him off to the side. He rolled over and sat up, blinking at her. "What the hell?" he mumbled and gingerly touched his cheek. It had been such a bad angle that it wasn't even going to leave a mark but what the hell kind of thank you was that?