Actions

Work Header

The Unexpected Duet

Chapter Text

The Unexpected Duet photo The Unexepected Duet_zpshlbuuzgw.jpg

Art by SketchyDean

There is a woman sitting on the other side of Dean Winchester's too-expensive mahogany desk, crying. That means it's Monday. He wishes he could say this sort of thing almost never happens. But that would be a lie. He pushes a box of fancy lotion tissues over silently. It's the least he can do, and he won't feel bad about spending company funds on the more pricey tissues if he has to watch cases of them disappear every month.

"I'm sorry," she sobs thickly. Like any of this is her fault. Her hands are shaking when she pulls five tissues from the box and presses them over her eyes.

"It's not your fault," Dean murmurs, though he knows she won't believe it, no matter how true it is.

"I just..." she heaves in a huge, stuttering breath. "I don't know what to do. I've been taking care of my mom while she's so sick, and the bills are starting to hurt, and I knew I should have hired someone to take her to appointments so I didn't miss more time here. I was on thin ice, but I still..."

Dean clenches and unclenches his fists resting against his thighs. "Your severance package is pretty generous," he says. Anna pulls the tissues away from her face, looking almost hopeful. Internally, Dean's able to unclench a little. This is the familiar ground that he prefers. It helps them leave a little less bleak than before. "You'll be given full salary until the end of the pay period in two weeks, and then three months severance. You can also keep your health insurance until the end of the year. Your retirement can be moved to a private account, transferred to a new company if they offer if, or cashed out." He pushes the pamphlets across the desk to her and she grabs them like a life jacket on a sinking ship.

"Thank you," she breathes tremulously. "That's... yes, it's very generous. I can work with that."

Dean's stomach turns sour. Why do they always thank him for this shit? He's firing her and she's grateful for the carefully packaged scraps the CFO is throwing her way to make her go as quietly as possible.

He can't fucking stand it. Anna is - was - a great employee. Up until the past year her attendance had been stellar, her work perfect, her devotion deeper than even the managers. But then her mother had been diagnosed with aggressive cancer and Anna was the only family she had left to care for her. She'd had approved absences with good reason, but too many had accumulated in too quick a succession, and management hadn't cared about her personal life. They'd simply seen the trend. She'd been written up and Dean, HR manager, had filed the forms in the system, hoping. Just hoping. Always hoping. But it never worked. They always ended up at his desk, crying or yelling, signing their exit paperwork and stuffing a handful of pamphlets into their laptop bags and purses.

Sucking in a fortifying breath, Dean completes the firing process with something he's not authorized to do, though Zachariah Adler can lick his sweaty taint if he ever finds out and demands Dean stop doing it. He hands Anna two business cards. On top is his. Expensive card stock, matte finish, Sandover Bridge & Iron, Inc. logo stamped neatly at the top. "Take my card. My cell number and email are on there. If you need a reference or have any questions about the paperwork, let me know. I'll do whatever I can to help. And if you like, that other card is for my sister-in-law. She's a recruiter and I guarantee that she can find you something before your severance runs out. I can refer you."

Anna seems surprised. "Yes, I... thank you. Are you allowed to do that?"

Dean smiles and it's almost genuine. "Nope."

Wordlessly, Anna takes the folder of exit papers and pamphlets and slips them into her briefcase. She puts his card carefully into her wallet. Lots of people just throw them back in his face. He doesn't blame them. She stands and smooths the nonexistent wrinkles out of her dove gray skirt. Then she uses the tissues to dab at her eyes and wipe away the makeup stains. She throws them into the trash can next to the desk. "Thank you, Mr. Winchester," she says, and her voice is stronger. "You're much too good to do what you do here."

He wishes it was the first time he's heard that, too. He stands. "Call me or email me any time," he answers, holding out his hand. She shakes it firmly. "Take care of yourself. And Naomi."

She shrugs, but looks pleased that he remembered her mother's name. "I've got nothing better to do now." Finally, she unclips her badge from her lapel, but Dean shakes his head.

"I know you were told to give it to me, but just pocket it for now. The parking deck will charge you $20 without a badge. Mail it back to the HR address when you get home. As long as we get it back within ten days, it's fine."

She smiles. "You're a good soul, Dean Winchester. Take care."

"You, too." He follows her to his office door and closes it slowly behind her. The heavy wood doesn't make a sound as it slides shut.

For a moment he stands helplessly in the middle of his large office on the 15th floor with an obscene view of the city below through floor to ceiling shining windows. He straightens his powder blue tie over his blue checked shirt, pressed to perfection. Sometimes his suits feel like they're strangling him.

There's a knock on the door and Dean retreats to his office chair before calling for them to come in. Zachariah's false smiling face peeks through the half open door. He's dressed like he's about to cheerfully attend a funeral in a tailored black suit and white shirt, demure gray tie toning down the severity. The whole ensemble probably cost more than Anna made in a year. A muscle in Dean's jaw twitches as he smiles as best as he can, hoping it doesn't look as much like a grimace as it feels like.

"Good things, Winchester," Zachariah says by way of greeting.

He always says that. In the five years since he'd been working there, Dean still has no idea what it means. He doesn't really care. "Good things?" he parrots back, because that's what he's supposed to do.

"Great things!" Mr. Adler replies. "How are the new job postings coming?"

Unnecessary if you didn't stop firing people for being humans and having lives, Dean thinks. "Great," he says. "We'll have them queued up to post on the site by five. I'll probably be able to sort through the first wave tomorrow morning."

Mr. Adler gives him a thumbs up. "I can always count on you, Winchester."

Only until 5:05, then you can eat a ripe bag of dicks. "Happy to be helpful, sir."

"See you in the morning!" And without saying anything else, the CFO is out for the day. At 2:00 in the afternoon. Dean wants to throw something at the door behind that man. He puts in less hours than the temps down on the ground floor and delegates everything that isn't high profile enough to keep his name on the lips of the stuffed shirts on the top floor. Honestly, Dean hopes he himself never does enough "great things" to have to knock on their doors.

For the rest of the day he focuses on proofing the job descriptions and making sure the listing tag numbers match the database. Then he has a handful of benefits packages to review, several raises to approve, and then it's 5:00. He really should stay a bit later to complete his data entry, but it's nothing that will be noticed if left half done until the end of the week. He breathes a sigh of relief as he shuts his computer down and scrambles to get his things together, nearly running out of his office to the elevator before anyone can stop him. He really doesn't mind his job most of the time. He'd worked his way up from the bottom floor like many of his colleagues. Sandover did recognize and reward talent. They'd just grown too big to care about anything but the bottom line and how their people affected it. It didn't matter why you affected it, just that you did. It's why there were fewer and fewer single parents, part-time students, people with relatives to take care of every year. Weeding out the weak. And Dean had been handed the weed killer along with a huge raise last January. The only thing keeping him going now is his complacency in the process. He doesn't pick where the ax will fall, he just has to slam it down.

He's at the underground parking garage in record time today, sparing only a few "see you tomorrow's" to the people he passes as he bolts to his Impala, tucked away near the elevator in a spot reserved for D. Winchester, HR Manager. It's 5:06 when he scans his badge to lift the parking gate and floor it out of the deck. A new record. He's pretty proud of that.

He's blaring AC/DC at 5:15 and crawling through the downtown traffic when his cell phone rings. He swipes his headset off the rearview mirror and puts the earbud in, taps the button on the side to accept. "Hey, Sammy," he says over the traffic noise and heavy guitar.

"Wow, yeah, hey, Dean. Bad day?"

"What makes you say that?"

"The decibel level of your music is a pretty good scale of your mood."

Dean hits the dial on the tape deck to shut it off. "I had to fire one of the nicest women I've ever known."

"Damn, I'm sorry. I'll give Eileen a head's up. She'll be more than happy to help. You really think Sandover is the best place for you still?"

Why in the nine hells does everyone always ask him the same questions all the time? Is he stuck in a loop like in Groundhog Day? Is everyone under the impression that he has short term memory loss? Jesus. "I'm fine, Sam, really. It doesn't matter, anyway. They pay me a lot, give me lots of vacation, and I have full benefits. Even if I had my dream job, something would suck about it."

"True enough," his brother's amusement is clear. "Think you might need to decompress better this weekend? Eileen and I are having a BBQ."

Dean rolls his eyes. "No, thanks."

Sam's exasperation is immediate. "Oh come on, Dean. You never come to any of our get-togethers."

"That's because your wife is a snake. She's always inviting someone to try and set me up. I'm tired of it. Don't get me wrong, I love you guys, but I don't need some lonely suburban ex-wife or ex-husband to make me happy."

"She means well," Sam says, though he doesn't bother to deny Dean's statement. "She told me she misses how you were with Lisa. You were really happy then."

"For a minute," Dean protests. "I'm just not cut out for that shit. Sorry, Sam. No disrespect to Eileen."

He chuckles. "Trust me, she wouldn't be offended. Look, I'll try to keep her reigned in. Approved guest list only."

Dean stares out at the traffic. Up at the skyscrapers surrounding him. He fucking hates the claustrophobia of the big city. Maybe he should look into buying a house near Sam again. It's been awhile since he's entertained the idea, but it might be time. "I'll think about it and get back to you, okay?"

"Fair enough," Sam agrees easily. "Talk to you later."

Dean disconnects the call and slouches down in his seat as the traffic moves forward in inches. Goddamn city.

xxXXxx

It's 6:00 on the dot when he pulls into his apartment building's garage, exhausted from the snail's pace driving and overthinking his work day. AC/DC hasn't helped for once and he is starting to entertain the sneaking suspicion that his brother could be on to something about needing either a change of pace or a new job. He just can't seem to bleed off his irritability tonight. He yanks at the knot on his tie as he stalks to the kitchen, headed straight to the fridge for a beer. He twists the top off and leans back against the counter, looking around wearily. Huh. It looked oddly messy... oh, right. The cleaning lady had retired a couple weeks ago and he hadn't gotten around to hiring a new one yet. He's too damn picky about his stuff to let just anyone in to clean around it.

He can't help it, really. He'd come a long way from living in motel rooms to one of the nicer high-rise condos just outside of the city enough to keep him from going crazy with the noise. Plus, he gets more space for less cost. That's a win-win. Sam once said that he'd never get the hang of not living out of a suitcase, but Dean had sure proved that asshole wrong. After a year. But, hey, who was counting?

The condo itself is sparsely decorated, mostly out of habit. Dean still doesn't see the point in having tons of collectibles or knickknacks, save for a handful of truck stop memorabilia purchases from places he'd actually enjoyed, like the small plastic replica of Graceland. He's also got a fern by the window that Eileen bought him as a housewarming gift. He's surprised he hasn't accidentally killed the damn thing. He thought he had once when he'd left it out on the balcony during a cold snap, but it had forgiven him and thrived once moved indoors.

The rest of the place is 2,500 square feet of minimalism. An open floor plan leading from the dark rosewood cabinets and floors, stainless steel appliances atop gray and silver speckled granite counters, to a floating wall separating the small dining room, following the full line of windows that stretch the length of the west-facing wall all the way to the living room where he'd indulged in a large TV mounted over the gas fireplace, and leather sectionals. A narrow hallway leads to the only rooms with doors; two bedrooms, one still completely empty except for some storage boxes, a small guest bathroom, and the master bedroom with a full en suite bathroom. Frankly, Dean had bought the place because of the insane master bath. It's all slate stone, glass, and crazy-good water pressure. Plus, the tub doubles as an auto-heated jacuzzi. Couldn't get much fancier than water jets on your lower back.

The other perk is the soundproofing. Dean has never heard a peep from any of his neighbors, save for some people on their balconies every now and then when he leaves the windows and balcony door open, but no one's ever sent him a noise complaint over his 7.1 surround sound. The peace and quiet could have sold the condo to him if it had had a hole in the floor and no running water.

He's glad for that today because he needs something. Music hadn't worked before, so maybe a movie? Something with lots of explosions. He downs the rest of the beer before shoving off of the counter and making his way to the bedroom to put on his "fuck everything about today" clothes. To his dismay, he discovers his laundry basket is full. Cursing his slothful weekend with Netflix marathons of Dr. Sexy, he hauls the basket out of the walk-in closet, stripping off his dress shirt, slacks, and socks, tossing the shirt and pants into the dry clean basket, and the socks in the heavy pile of accumulated laziness that he presently hauls to the laundry room behind the kitchen. He's half tempted to just lounge around in his boxers and undershirt because doing laundry on a Monday night is some next level curse or something, but it's getting colder and like hell is he going to turn up the heat in the condo to pay the highway robbers at the natural gas company.

Jesus, even theoretical bills are starting to piss him off. Calm the hell down, Winchester. He slams the plastic basket down on top of the front load washer and sorts the lights and darks by throwing one pile in the washer and one on the floor. He's reaching for the detergent when a sound breaks through the rain cloud in his head. He pauses, detergent bottle held in midair. Music? He's never been able to hear anything from anywhere before. Weird.

Curious, he tilts his head slightly towards the shared back wall. Yeah. It sounds like it's coming through the dryer vent. Feeling only slightly foolish, he bends down to rest his chest on the dryer, poking his head over the back to hear better. Sure enough, sounds from a piano drift up, made tinny by the vent. Maybe that old guy with the scraggly dog downstairs...? Dean recognizes the tune, but he knows shit about classical music, so he can't place the name of the piece or the composer. It's slightly relaxing, in a way, just the barest hint of notes drifting up through the piping. He blinks when whoever it is hits a sour note and the music stops abruptly. Huh. Someone's actually playing that? Like, on a piano in the building? Color Dean impressed. He's fairly decent on the guitar, but hasn't even touched one since high school. And he could never play anything as complex as what he'd been hearing just then.

Unconsciously, he scoots further up the dryer until his head is almost hanging off the back, straining to hear better. The music starts again, slower, and a small smile quirks the corner of his lips. The pianist plays a couple measures over and over again, faster and faster until they reach the proper tempo and move on. Probably not the old guy, Dean muses. He's got nasty arthritis and complains about it all the time. Maybe some helicopter parent's over-achieving kid? That doesn't seem to fit, either. There's something about the playing that just seems... weathered? Like whoever is playing the piece has actually experienced the complicated emotions evident in it. It dawns on Dean that this is why people love this kind of music. For once it's not boring to him at all. It's kind of eliciting the same swath of calm that he usually gets by blasting Led Zeppelin at top volume with the windows rolled down doing 85 on the open highway.

He wonders who's playing. He wonders how he can find out.

xxXXxx

Castiel Milton finishes his practice for the day, stretches his fingers and wrists, wipes the keys of his grand piano with a dust free cloth and then closes it all up for the evening. It's 7:00, which means that it's his favorite time of day. He walks to the back wall of windows, opens the curtains, and then opens both of the balcony doors wide. It's getting a bit cold to do it, but he'll suck it up for as long as he can. Maybe purchase an outdoor heater, because this is the reason he bought the condo.

It's musical. His last place had also been downtown, but the noise had mostly consisted of cars, televisions, and shouting matches. Now he lives much higher up, so the traffic is muted, and he's discovered - to his delight - that many people here prefer listening to music than blasting their TV's. A handful of the city's symphony orchestra members live in the building, and had praised the soundproofing and location, so Castiel had barely thought twice before purchasing a newly renovated unit. It's been perfect so far.

He steps onto the balcony and sits in the iron lounge chair, closing his eyes and tilting his head back. Listening. There's the person downstairs who listens to Broadway soundtracks in the same order. Just on time, the forceful violins from the overture of Les Miserables waft up towards him. Castiel hums a few bars with a small smile on his face. By the time the Fantine is defending herself to the foreman, Castiel catches the bass line from some hip-hop album or another. He doesn't know much about the genre, but he finds that he enjoys the bass beat that thumps in his chest like a secondary heartbeat.

Ah, but now it's time for his personal favorite. Someone upstairs who is into classic rock. Castiel himself could take or leave rock 'n roll, but whoever upstairs listens to it, is passionate about it, and that's what Castiel admires. It's a man, probably still fairly young. He knows this because the man goes out on his balcony and will almost always sing along. His voice is lovely; untrained, but always on pitch and clean. It's not weathered by age or bad habits. Tonight's serenade has been played enough that Castiel's picked up some of the lyrics and can mouth along, "Oh, take your time / don't live too fast / Troubles will come / and they will pass." It stirs some bittersweet ache inside him whenever he hears it, similar to the Chopin Nocturne he'd been playing earlier. The man upstairs seems to love the complicated hopeful, yet melancholy emotions of songs like this. Castiel's learning to enjoy them, too.

He hadn't had much exposure to modern music as a child. He'd latched onto Beethoven, Mozart, and Rachmaninov at a young age, and never really cared for anything written after the early 1900's, aside from a musical or two. In school and conservatory he'd been exposed to more modern music through his friends, but he'd always found it quite easy to tune out the pop hits and top 40 songs. None of it seemed complex enough to grab him.

Living here, he understands now. The complexity and composition isn't the only point. Many times it isn't even the main point. The reason for it all is the feeling. And sometimes those feelings are raw and simple. Bob Dylan with an acoustic guitar. It's just as powerful as Bach and a full, 90-piece orchestra. Either way, it strikes deeply to the willing listener, and Castiel honestly loves music in all its forms now. The longer he stays out on his own, the more he opens himself to learn. It's thrilling.

He also really wishes he knew who that man above was, but all he's certain of is that he's a floor or two over him, and perhaps one or two units to the right.

The song goes into the break, and Castiel opens his eyes. He glances to the side and realizes that he'd left his composition notebook out last night. He reaches for it and flips through the pages. He's always been interested in writing his own music, but has never completed much of anything to his satisfaction. Lately he's been getting more accomplished, though. Idly, he turns to a blank page and scratches out a measure of the melody to "Simple Man" with a grin. Perhaps an exercise out of his comfort zone will stir more original creative endeavors. He's never attempted to arrange a rock piece for piano, but the challenge might be entertaining. At the very least, his best friend, Gabriel Novak will be tickled pink. The man is a god on the violin, and made quite a bit of money last year touring the USA playing his own covers of modern pop songs. Castiel had seen his show in Chicago and been incredibly impressed.

Maybe he could do something similar some day? His mother would have a fit. That makes him smile wider. He'd have to talk to Gabriel about the logistics later. For now, it's just an idle thought that's gone the second the man above shuts his balcony doors and the music is lost. Castiel sighs. He hates it when the mystery singer calls it an early night. It is cold, however. Castiel stands and takes his notebook back inside, shutting the balcony doors behind him.

He goes back to the piano bench, even though he's completed his scheduled practice time. He opens the fall and puts the notebook and pencil on the music stand, not bothering to open the lid again. Hesitantly, he plucks out the rest of the melody to "Simple Man," and an hour later is satisfied that he has it figured out quite well. But what to do with the harmonies? It's never been played loud enough upstairs for him to pick up on them completely, and besides, he's usually more focused on the man's voice.

Castiel picks up his cell phone from the music stand and taps the Spotify app. He finds the song and plays it. Then he plays it again. Then he connects his headphones and plays it again. Again while he cooks dinner. Again while he cleans up the dishes. Again while he brushes his teeth. By the time he's in bed, he's got the whole thing memorized, along with every instrumental part. Yes, he can definitely do something with it. And for the first time in a long time, he feels a surge of excitement to wake up the next day to practice.

Chapter Text

The doorbell ringing disturbs Castiel from his morning practice. Normally, he'd be upset about that, but not today. He hadn't slept well in his excitement, and if he doesn't get his eight hours, his mood is fairly surly for most of the day.

He stands from the bench, stretching tall and yawning as he shuffles to the door. Charlie Bradbury, lead cellist with the philharmonic, breezes in as cheerful as her fiery red hair and bright blue shirt with a reference to a ship called Serenity that Castiel doesn't understand.

"Were we supposed to practice together today?" Castiel asks, squinting at her. He honestly can't remember on so little sleep.

"Nope, just making a social call," she answers, going to the living room and eyeing the sheet music on the stand. She double takes. "That's not Rachmaninoff," she notes, interested. "What is it? Something you're composing?"

He shakes his head, following her to the couch. "It's Lynyrd Skynyrd."

Her hazel eyes widen comically. "Um. What? Since when have you been into playing anything that was composed in the last century?"

He shrugs with another yawn. "Small inspiration is all. I wanted to challenge myself. I thought it would help me out of my creative slump."

She hmm's, dropping to the couch and folding her legs under her. "Then I might have something interesting for you. I came up to ask if you want to audition for the next pops concert. I mean, I say 'audition,' but if you told them you wanted to do it, they'd give it to you. We need a pianist and our go-to will be on vacation." Despite its size and scope, the local philharmonic doesn't employ a full time pianist. Castiel has played with them many times, and will be again soon as the headliner for Rachmaninoff, but he's never bothered to help with the pops concert. He's just not interested in playing that type of music.

Of course, the pops concerts are all huge draws for the orchestra. They bring in younger audiences, large amounts of income, and tons of publicity. They've performed everything from show tunes, to pop hits, to movie soundtracks. It's all too contemporary for Castiel, but he's heard they're wonderful. Charlie's often told him that the audience is much less subdued than normal. "I don't think I'm the right person for that," he says, a little surprised at the regret in his voice.

Charlie opens her messenger bag and pulls out a folder, handing it over. "Please consider it. You'd be amazing. This year we're doing video games. It's so seriously cool. Take a look, okay?"

"Fine." He moves to put the music aside, but Charlie is staring at him expectantly. She won't let him wiggle out of it. Naturally. With a sigh, he opens the folder and sees two sets of sheet music. "What the hell is a Zanarkand?" he asks dubiously. He flips to the second piece. Mass Effect Suite? What? No, he can't do it.

Charlie is yanking on his arm, though. "Final Fantasy!" she enthuses, dragging him to the piano. "Dude, just ignore the names for now." She shoves him onto the bench and spreads Zanarkand out on the music stand with a flourish. "Play it." It's not a request.

Castiel rolls his eyes. The piece isn't any more complicated than anything else he's sight read before, so he's confident he'll get it mostly right, though it is more complex than he thought it would be.

Charlie is hovering over his shoulder. "That tempo is a little too fast to get the actual feel of it," she says. "Sounds better when the orchestra comes in, but in the game where it's just piano, it's more..." she searches for the word.

"Melancholy," Castiel finishes. He can tell just by looking. He's been thinking that word a lot lately.

"Yes," she agrees wistfully. "It's really pretty." She snaps her fingers at the correct tempo and Castiel taps his left foot with her for several measures. He raises his hands over the keys, reads ahead as far as he's comfortable, and then he begins to play.

She's right; it's beautiful. By the time he reaches the first coda, Castiel is incredibly impressed. "This is video game music?" he asks wonderingly. It reminds him of slowly flowing water. Skies full of stars. He reaches the orchestral part and just imagining the swelling violins raises goosebumps on his arms. The minor notes make him ache. Why is such an airy piece also so sad? He's never really heard anything like it before. Much less played it. It's wonderful.

Charlie is grinning when he finishes. "So?" she asks excitedly. She can tell that he's hooked.

Castiel absently fingers the first long notes of the song again before stopping and folding the music back up. "Why is it so sad?" he asks.

Charlie plunks down next to him on the piano bench. "Because all the characters in the game are willingly going to die in order to save their world from destruction. But only for ten years of peace. It's a pretty sad. Zanarkand is the final destination in the game."

Castiel's eyes widen. "You mean, you play a whole game just for your characters to die at the end? For a mere ten years of world peace?"

"Well, not really," she relents. "You think you are for almost the entire game, but they figure out a way to save everyone and themselves at the eleventh hour. It's still a sad ending, though. Not everyone makes it."

He shakes his head, blown away. "I apologize for ever making fun of you for playing 'silly video games.' They're not at all how I remember them as a child. It was all Space Invaders and Oregon Trail back then. Nothing much to them."

"They're not!" she agrees. "Some of them will stay with you longer than books or movies. I should show you some of the ones we'll be playing for when you agree to be our pianist."

He huffs a single laugh. "When?"

"Spread your wings, Cas. It's gonna be amazing. Please?"

Contemplatively, he looks over the second piece. It looks just as compelling as the first. And after having so much fun with "Simple Man"... it might just be good. "You're right."

Charlie whips out her phone and starts typing as fast as she can before Castiel can say anything else. "Good to hear! Most of us are doing it this season. Me, Gabe, Balthazar, even Crowley's in! The whole gang together, right?"

"Who are you texting?" Castiel leans over to peer at the screen.

"Duh," Charlie says. "Gabe. Concertmaster, and all that. He'll make sure it's you at the keyboard in case they were thinking of anyone else. Ah! See? He's totally down." She turns her phone towards him and Castiel sighs.

"I can see that."

The text reads, fuuuuuuuuuck yeeeeeeeeees!

"We'll have our first rehearsal in a few weeks. It won't interfere with the other concert."

"I suppose it won't, considering the entire orchestra is playing Rachmaninoff."

Charlie's brow creases. "You'll be okay with the extra work, right? I mean, the rest of us are fine, but the piano part is crazy-next level."

He shrugs. "I'll be fine. I've been playing Rachmaninoff for decades now."

She grins. "You'll really enjoy going out of your comfort zone, Cas. Don't think I haven't noticed you being more mopey than usual lately."

Chuckling, he says, "forgive me. I'm never very friendly when I don't get enough sleep."

She bumps his shoulder. "That's not what I'm talking about. I mean, you've been down-ish for a while. Everything all right with you?"

It's a tricky question, really. On the whole, yes, he's doing fine. He has plenty of work, a solid practice schedule, plenty of money, and not much to complain of. His life is uncomplicated, as he'd planned it from the start. It's just... "I feel like I'm in a rut in more ways than one."

Charlie scoots around to face him fully, concerned. "Depressed?"

Shrugging a single shoulder, she says, "not really. I'm just restless. Perhaps lonely? I don't know. I think I got myself stuck in my singular routine, and I'm not sure how to get out of it when I want to."

With a glance towards his notebook, Charlie asks, "is that what the rock 'n roll piano is about?"

"Probably."

"You should come out with us more often," Charlie says with authority. "Let your hair down!"

Smiling, he actually considers it for once. He likes his friends. The orchestra members who also live in building often get together for dinner parties and smaller get-togethers. They also tend to go out after concerts, but Castiel's never attended with them. Performing for an audience simply exhausts him. He pours his entire soul into his playing, and can barely keep his eyes open once the adrenaline wears off. He'd like to put in more of an effort, though. It's not like it's escaped his notice that many of the orchestra members consider him to be a bit of a prima donna for constantly declining the group invitations. He's not trying to be standoffish. He's just so tired. And he's ready to admit that the exhaustion is becoming more than just that simple. He's growing exhausted with everything, and anything that he can do to mix it up, he's willing to try. So, he says, "I'll make an effort."

"Good! I worry about you, Milton."

Castiel leans against her briefly in response. "Thank you, Bradbury. But I'll always be fine with you watching out for me."

It's very true.

xxXXxx

Tuesday is even worse than Monday. Dean is starting to worry that he's going to break his molars, grinding his teeth so hard. Zachariah's been up his ass since he arrived, and on the warpath to boot. He's ordered performance reviews of six employees, making it sound like he's merely looking for an excuse to have them fired. Dean's expected to find those reasons, though he can't do anything to prevent it because he has no idea what the asshole is looking for, exactly. Dean knows all of the handbook regulations backwards and forwards, but Zachariah is an eel. He may be a financial officer, but he probably got his high title for being able to twist anything to his liking. Including company rules and regulations. There's no one to stop him, after all.

It chaps Dean's ass, and it doesn't fucking stop all week. By Friday, Dean's about ready to break someone's face. He can't fucking take it. No one's been fired, but the line is there and Dean already knows what the next week is going to look like. He's fucking done. Without any warning to anyone, Dean leaves on his lunch break and emails his assistant manager to say that a family emergency has come up. No one's going to question him. He hasn't taken a proper vacation or sick day in more than a year. He has the time in spades, and he's taking it. He's home by 12:30.

The condo is silent, which makes Dean's thoughts even louder. He's not in the mood to deal with the TV or radio. He shuffles to the kitchen for a beer and promptly spills it all over himself. It takes every last ounce of willpower to not scream and throw the goddamn bottle across the room. He strips off his shirt and stalks to the laundry room, slamming the offending garment into the washing machine.

"Fuck," he mutters. Every day.

But then... the piano. It sounds so good. If he doesn't breathe loudly, he can hear it clear as day. Without a single hesitation, and after the day he's had, Dean rips the plug to the dryer out, bends his knees, and hauls it away from the wall. He unhooks the vent and slides down the side of the machine, back resting against it. He can hear it much better now. Without the vent connected, the tiny strains of trilling notes is a lot more clear, though Dean still keeps his breathing as silent as possible. It's another familiar song, but it's not classical. He can almost place it. From... a video game... maybe? It's a little sad, but overwhelmingly calming. He closes his eyes and loses track of time listening.

His legs and ass have fallen asleep by the time the pianist is done practicing and no more music floats up through the vent. Dean gets up with a groan, cringing at the pins and needles. He stretches his back and wanders out into the living room. He has no idea how long he's been sitting there listening, but he doesn't even care. He doesn't exactly feel better, but he definitely feels at ease. And that's more than he'd hoped for. Especially considering he has to be on his best behavior for Sam and Eileen's BBQ tomorrow. He'll get there. And he keeps repeating that to himself until he finally falls asleep.

xxXXxx

Dean considers himself to be an extrovert, but he still doesn't understand how his brother and sister-in-law have so much energy to throw parties all the time. The BBQ is pretty low-key, though. Sam had kept his promise, and somehow stopped Eileen from inviting all the neighborhood singles. There are a few there, but only the uninterested ones. Dean greets Sam by shoving a 12 pack of beer at him, then wraps Eileen up in a hug that lifts her off her feet.

Brady is already at the Green Egg, smoking some sort of holy smelling meat while chatting with Mildred Baker. Dean grins widely when he sees the spry retiree. She's got the flirting disease as bad as he does, and she's one of his favorite people in the whole world. He sidles up next to her, casually dropping an arm over her shoulders and giving her a light squeeze.

"Dean," she says in her bright, Southern drawl, "I haven't seen you in an age." She tilts her face up and Dean agreeably plants a kiss on her cheek.

"Got nothing better to do but pine for me?"

"I am retired. How've you been?"

He shrugs. "Oh, you know. Hating my job, just biding my time until I can retire and move into Oak Park with you. Same as always."

She laughs, full and honest, and Dean really should visit her more because everything about her soothes his soul.

Brady holds out his hand and Dean shifts his beer to shake it. "Firm's still hiring for admin positions," he says.

"I'd never work for Sam," Dean gripes. "Can you imagine?"

Mildred laughs again. "I don't think any company could handle the three of you gorgeous men in one place."

"Point taken," Brady flirts easily.

Bobby and Ellen have just arrived, hauling out a huge bowl of homemade potato salad and an actual salad. Bobby nods to the small group. "You boys tryin'a steal my girlfriend?"

"You have a wife," Dean answers.

"She's my girlfriend, too," Ellen says, passing by to the picnic table to put down her load.

Dean glances around in mock misery. "Since when did I have so much competition?"

"Since you never made a move, hot stuff," Mildred beams.

Eileen taps Dean on the shoulder. He turns and she signs, I have the best date idea for you both.

Dean gapes at her serious expression. "You've got to be fucking kidding me," he laughs. "Is this because I told Sam not to let you throw anyone else at me?"

She cracks and grin and Mildred scolds, "I thought you were a gentleman, Dean Winchester!"

"I have my moments," he protests.

Eileen digs in her back pocket and pulls out two tickets. She hands them over to Dean and then signs, I won them at work, and I can't use them." She shrugs with a wry smile.

Dean eyes the tickets. The symphony? Seriously? Ugh, that's most decidedly not up his alley.

But before he can initiate a real eye roll, Sam says, "you'll like this one. It's gonna be all video game songs. I heard they're also going to have a full chorus and even videos from the games and everything."

That does perk Dean up. "That actually... sounds pretty cool." He faces Mildred and gives her his most flirty smile. "Waddya say, Millie? Wanna be my plus one?"

"You wish, stud," she scoffs. "I'm too old for that stuff. But if you wanna take me to their Rachmaninoff concert, I'm all yours. Castiel Milton is playing a piano concerto with the orchestra. It'll give you the chills."

Brady glances up from the smoker. "So will Milton himself," he chuckles. "Mildred has a serious crush on him."

"Hard pass," Dean says. "If it ain't from the rock gods, I don't care."

Eileen signs, Sam wants to see the video game show.

Dean arches an eyebrow. "Really," he drawls. "You gonna be my date?" He bats his eyelashes.

"Gross," Sam answers shortly, backing away a step.

Dean steps towards him with a shit-eating grin. "Aw, don't be that way, sexy. Put me in a tux and tell me I'm pretty." He makes kissy noises and Sam backs away further. Their eyes lock and they freeze for a second. Then Sam is shooting off across the lawn with Dean in hot pursuit, yelling as many obscene things as he can think of.

"Lord knows I tried with those two," Bobby laments.

The BBQ passes pleasantly with the usual banter and bad jokes until full dark falls, and they all pitch in to clean up the dishes and say their goodbyes. Eileen holds out a stack of leftovers to Dean secured in a plastic grocery bag and says, "you look better now."

He kisses her cheek. "I feel better now."

She beams at that and opens the door for him, waving him off as he steps into the night to make his way back home. He puts the leftovers in the fridge and then digs out the tickets, sticking them next to his calendar with a magnet. He's not exactly sure what to expect going to the actual symphony, though the concert sounds pretty cool. He'll give it a go, at any rate. It's something new, and God knows, he could use something new these days.

xxXXxx

Castiel loves the video game music. Even at the first rehearsal, he's charmed and stunned by how much game music has changed over the years. He recalls the 8-bit tinkling, repetitive songs of his youth, and this is nothing like that at all. And when he expresses this to Charlie during their break, she pulls up YouTube on her phone and shows him footage of the games they're playing for. To say that Castiel is shocked beyond words is an understatement. He can suddenly see the appeal in video games as a storytelling medium. Charlie threatens to turn him into a gamer and he's not entirely convinced that would be a bad hobby.

The weeks slide by. Castiel's routine is pleasant enough. He wakes up, practices, goes for a run, eats lunch, goes to rehearsal, and listens to his mystery neighbor singing to cap off his evenings.

Then the big night arrives. Charlie has a tradition of gathering the orchestra members from the building for a pre-show get together, and since Castiel is involved in tonight's performance, he offers to host. They meet up two hours before call for a meal and non-alcoholic drinks. The booze will flow like water at the after party. Such is the way of musicians. Castiel also graciously agrees to let them all get dressed for the performance at his condo, and fully regrets it after he, Gabriel, Balthazar, and Crowley repeatedly mix up their suit pieces.

They're allowed to dress down a bit for pops concerts, but suits - minus jackets - and ties are generally still required. Crowley is holding up a tie like it's a live snake. "Who even owns ties in this color? Who even makes ties in this color?"

"It was a gift," Castiel snaps, yanking it away from the percussionist. "I like it."

Gabriel swipes it smoothly out of Castiel's hands and replaces the green monstrosity with a demure sky blue one. "This will bring out those baby blues better, dollface," he winks.

Castiel snorts, but does as he's told, putting on the blue tie. He's never thought much about regular suits; never having been in a concert that didn't necessitate a tuxedo.

Charlie barges in as they're finishing up, beautiful in a flowing black dress and her hair pinned up. "Time to get a move on!" she says cheerfully. "Wow, I'm sort of sad to be a lesbian now. You guys look great!"

Gabriel drapes an arm over her bare shoulders and guides her into the front room. "Everyone's more beautiful when they're unattainable."

They gather their personal effects, coats, and file out the door. Their instruments are at the concert hall, so they don't have to figure out logistics as they pile into Castiel's car for the short drive.

The mood is upbeat in the practice room, everyone excited for the light-hearted show. Castiel greets the people who have arrived early, shaking hands and accepting thanks for adding his famous name to the playbill. He's fairly certain that general audiences have no clue who he is, but he enjoys that, too.

Once he's done with pleasantries, he slips out of the room quietly and weaves through the backstage area to the stage. The theatre is empty for now and silent, house lights only at half. Castiel steps to the front of the stage, looking out over the seats. He loves the stage. When it's empty before a show. When the audience is trickling in. When the lights finally dim. When the applause fills the room. He loves all of it. It's like being in a different world, and his heart sings with it. He closes his eyes and breathes deeply several times, allowing the beginnings of an adrenaline rush to slowly course through him. It's going to be a wonderful evening.

The orchestra's regular conductor, Cain, has even volunteered for the show. When he'd showed up for the first rehearsal, it had surprised Castiel, truth be told. Cain is an amazing conductor. However, he's known for being fairly stern and... well... classical. He's never done the other pops concerts before, or even anything as modern as Gershwin.

However, he gathers in front of his musicians beaming and dressed to the nines in his tuxedo. "Ladies and gentlemen, tonight is a big night for the ASO. We are performing two nights to sold out crowds." There's a rush of applause and Cain holds his hand up after a moment to silence them again. "That hasn't happened for a long time here, except for our Christmas shows. This concert is special for many reasons. First of all, we are proud to have such an astounding talent such as Castiel Milton leading us tonight."

Gabriel wolf whistles, the orchestra cheers again, and Castiel bows to them deeply with a grin.

Cain shakes his hand firmly. "Thank you, Mr. Milton."

"My pleasure, Maestro."

Cain turns to them. "This concert is our greatest chance to bring people back to the orchestra. Not only for our benefit, but for the benefit of future musicians. Our audience tonight is quite young, and they have spent their lives, spare time, and money, falling in love with the games that we are going to orchestrate for them. Expect quite a bit of enthusiasm."

Charlie laughs and a titter ripples through the rest of them.

"This audience is different," Cain finishes. "Their energy will likely astound you. Use that, and play your best. Play your most passionate. This music means a great deal to the people you are playing for tonight. Enjoy it, and have a wonderful time."

Even Castiel can't help feel a tremor of nervous anticipation.

Cain gestures for them to stand. "Let's go! Break a leg, everyone!"

Castiel lingers back as the rest of the musicians leave the room. They will all seat themselves on stage with the chorus at their leisure before the performance. Then Gabriel will take his place specially as the concertmaster, then Castiel, then Cain to bring them all to glory. He's thrilled.

Cain approaches the pair of them and pats them both on the shoulders. "Gabriel, thank you for convincing me to do this. I was ambivalent, but you won me over."

With a huge grin, Gabriel says, "which game made you fall in love?"

"I'll admit Final Fantasy VII was quite breathtaking in its story."

Gabriel laughs and Castiel looks confused. He knows the song that they're playing, of course, but no clue who Aerith is, or why she has a whole theme. The piano arrangement is haunting, though. He's looking forward to playing it on the Steinway.

Hands still on their shoulders, Cain faces them towards the door. "Gentlemen, it's time for a show."

The three of them walk together to the backstage area right as the house lights dim. Gabriel clears his throat, squares his shoulders, secures his violin, and steps out onto the stage under the spotlight to deafening applause and cheers that makes it seem like a rock concert is about to start. Castiel's eyes widen. Cain hadn't been kidding about the reception they would receive.

As soon as Gabriel takes his place standing, he holds his arm out, welcoming Castiel. With a final deep breath, Castiel blinks into the spotlight and receives the same incredible welcome. It makes fire light in his veins as he nods to Gabriel and bows to the audience. He takes his seat on the bench and taps out a clear A. The rest of the orchestra tunes and Castiel closes his eyes briefly to feel the sounds and harmonics. It's his favorite moment. Once Gabriel signals that they're finished, Castiel stands with him to prompt Cain's entrance. The whole orchestra and chorus stands.

Cain steps onto the stage to a thunderous standing ovation. He's grinning more widely with a glint in his eyes that Castiel doesn't think he's ever seen. Cain shakes his hand, then Gabriel's, then he takes his place in front, bowing deeply to the audience and gesturing to the orchestra and chorus as a whole. It takes a full minute for there to be silence enough for him to turn back to the orchestra. He gestures for them to be seated. He nods, raises his baton, turns his eyes to Castiel, conducts the slow tempo, the video monitors blink to life with a beautiful young woman in a kimono walking carefully over the water, and Castiel Milton, heart suddenly full, begins to play.

Chapter Text

Sam pauses his applause to point towards the pianist. "That's Castiel Milton, the one Mildred's in love with."

"Ah, my competition," Dean jokes, still clapping loudly. But his teasing grin suddenly wipes right off of his face when he gets his first full look at Milton. Holy shit. He's gotta agree with Mildred. She's got excellent taste in men.

He and Sam are seated in the orchestra section, Row E. Close enough to get a good look at everyone on stage, but back enough that they're not craning their necks to see.

And the first thing he thinks is that he should probably consider getting tickets to Rachmaninoff, or whoever Mildred had mentioned before. Castiel Milton is younger than he'd imagined. In fact, he looks about the same age as Dean. He wonders if the guy is some sort of musical prodigy. One who started playing the piano before he could even speak in full sentences and cloistered away in some stuffy music school his whole life. The thought makes him laugh a little, even though it seems sort of sad.

The guy actually appears surprised by the applause and vocal cheering he's getting.

Sam leans close and says, "I don't think they're used to being treated like rock stars."

Apparently not. But Milton seems to be enjoying it. Dean's having trouble looking away as the man bows and straightens, blue eyes alight with excitement. He keeps staring as Castiel goes to the piano and presses a key, the orchestra tuning to it. Dean doesn't miss the way Castiel's eyes drift shut, chin raised slightly, smiling a little at the sound. Dude really loves his music.

The whole concert hall quiets again, and the conductor steps onto the stage confidently, grinning broadly. Sam actually puts his fingers in his mouth, whistling shrilly.

Dean side-eyes his brother. He thinks Sammy might be more knowledgeable about the symphony than he let on before. Not exactly surprising, the nerd. But it gets Dean into the spirit of cheering a little more loudly, too.

Then Cain prompts his orchestra to sit, and the audience does as well, falling to silence.

Dean completely ignores the conductor, who is also attractive, to study Castiel as he sits at his piano, hands resting lightly on the keys, waiting.

As soon as he starts to play, the breath is punched out of Dean's lungs, though he tries not to make it sound too loud. It's the song. The one he'd been hearing for weeks between loads of laundry. He'd recognize the heartbreaking tune anywhere. He glances down to the playbill, flipping the pages until he comes to the set list. Final Fantasy X. Oh. That's why it had been so familiar from the start. He'd played the game years ago when it was first released. That explains a lot. Castiel's headshot smiles at him from the opposite page, his bio underneath. He devours it as quickly as he can in the low light. The first part is typical. Musical prodigy, playing since the day he was born; this music program; that conservatory; played all over the world. The interesting part is that he lives locally and is pleased to play with his hometown's philharmonic at every opportunity.

Dean looks up and is ensnared by Castiel playing. His movements flow with the song up and down the keyboard. Once the full orchestra joins, Castiel stops playing and watches the video monitors with a smile. Dean waits impatiently for the part where Castiel gets to play again. And when he does, Dean feels exactly the same way that he had every day he'd heard the mournful strains of piano through his dryer vent.

By the end of the song, he's clapping on autopilot, stunned. Castiel has to be the one playing the piano he's been hearing. There's a face and a name to the tune now, and Dean somehow wants to let the guy know that his music has meant everything to him in the past weeks. Is that weird, though? People probably say that sort of thing to Castiel a lot, right? Modern musicians hear it all the time. And Castiel probably qualifies as a rock star in the piano world. Or whatever. Dean muses on it during the next pieces, all the way until intermission. He is enjoying the show, but all he can do is watch Castiel unwaveringly, playing or not. He's totally engaged in the music, smiling serenely when he's not playing. It's mesmerizing.

The lights come up at intermission and most of the orchestra members have left the stage, though a few linger. Castiel's not one of them. Dean needs to piss and is pretty stoked to see that they can bring drinks in the theatre; he's jonesing to nurse a beer in a classy place like this. It's a hell of a novelty. But as he waits for the crowds to clear out of the aisles, he listens to a cute red-headed cellist lean over the stage to talk with someone in the front row.

"Enjoying the show?" she asks.

The girl in the audience nods enthusiastically. She looks like she's only eleven or twelve. "Yeah, you guys are really great at playing all the music. Even my mom likes it."

The redhead grins. "What's your favorite?"

"Chrono Trigger. I'm playing a lot of old school games right now."

"That's great!" the cellist beams. "Not a lot of people in the orchestra play the games, but I do. I love Mass Effect. And Final Fantasy. The guy playing the piano? Castiel? I loaned him my PS3 and some older games. I'm determined to turn him to our side."

The girl nods. "My brother let me play his old PSOne last year when he found it in the attic, and I fell in love. I want to play all the games ever."

The redhead sticks her fist out over the edge of the stage and the girl bumps it with her own. "Same."

Sam taps Dean on the shoulder, breaking his concentration. He gestures to the clear aisle and Dean sidesteps out of their seats and goes to the bathroom. Afterwards, the get in line at the concession stand for drinks.

"What do you think so far?" Sam asks.

"Not gonna lie," Dean admits, "it's pretty badass. This orchestra knows what they're doing."

"Right? I hope they do more shows like this in the future."

"Yeah," Dean says distractedly. "Hey..." he trails off, not even sure exactly the question he wants to ask. How can he ask anything about Castiel specifically to his brother, without the nosy asshole getting suspicious? Does Sam even know the protocol for contacting a famous classical musician? Are there places to send fan mail? Do they have agents? Managers? Bodyguards? "Dude, I think that Castiel guy lives in my building," he says without thinking.

"Do what?" Sam glances at him as he shuffles forward in the line.

"The piano player. I think he lives in the same building as me. I've heard him playing that first song before. I mean, I think it was him."

Sam's eyebrows go up. "For real? That would be amazing, right? He's really well-known. But how'd you hear it, anyway? The soundproofing in your condo is kinda legendary."

Dean chuckles. "Yeah." He decides half-truths are the better part of valor here. "I think he plays with his window open sometimes."

"You should send him some fan mail, then."

Bless his brother for walking right into the real questions without even knowing it. "What," he scoffs, "classical musicians get fan mail?" He really fucking hopes so.

But Sam shrugs. "Dunno. Probably. I mean, people like Josh Groban have fan clubs and everything."

True enough. Dean purses his lips and nods. "Suppose so. Be cool if I ran into him sometime, though, huh?"

"Get me an autograph," Sam teases. They reach the front of the line and order their overpriced beers.

It's the most disappointing conversation Dean's had with his brother in a long time. He'd hoped to eek out some better information, but it looked like he'd have to figure it out on his own. He doesn't want to be creepy about it, but he'd really like to shake the guy's hand. Tell him his music is pretty awesome. Probably not say anything about the weird dryer vent concerts, but just a casual type... thing. Fuck, he doesn't know. He just feels something when the man plays the piano. And it's a lot more something than he's used to.

The rest of the concert doesn't disappoint. Dean attempts to not get lost in thought about "running into" Castiel at their building, and he actually does enjoy the the show as a whole. Every now and then he even manages to tear his eyes away from Castiel to peek over at the redheaded cellist who is having the time of her life being such a nerd on stage. It makes Dean grin.

The encore with the full chorus doesn't disappoint, either, and once the show is well and truly over, he and Sam once again wait for the crowds to clear before heading out themselves. Dean can walk home from the symphony hall, so he says goodnight to Sam at the entrance and lingers by the theatre for a moment, lost in thought. It hadn't been a waste of an evening in the slightest.

He starts down the front steps, turns left, and a few of the orchestra members come around the corner of the building, laughing and talking, instruments under their arms. Dean pauses. They just walk out like it's nothing? Huh. Of course they do. They're not gonna get mobbed like Taylor Swift or something. Does that mean...? Dean meanders to the corner where the other musicians had come from. He tries to look as casual as possible. Not a creepy axe murderer at all. He figures there's not a huge chance he'll run into Castiel, so he convinces himself to just walk by and turn back towards home at the next block over, but then it happens.

It's Castiel Milton. Standing right there at the stage door. He's laughing and talking to the redheaded cellist and a shorter dude with a violin case under his arm, who Dean recognizes as the concertmaster.

Suddenly, Dean feels more nervous than if he'd just come face to face with Swayze. He pulls the playbill out of the inner pocket of his leather jacket and holds it to his chest. Less creepy if he's just asking for an autograph, right? He clears his throat and three pairs of eyes turn to him with curiosity.

Great. Now he's gonna start feeling like a teenager asking a girl to the prom. Which he'd almost not done because prom season makes girls suddenly travel in huge packs. "Hey," he starts eloquently.

"Hey," the red headed girl answers cheerfully. "Enjoy the show?"

"Yeah," Dean answers automatically. "You guys were awesome."

"Thank you," she says warmly, turning her body slightly towards him which is a good sign. Means she doesn't think he's a total weirdo. "Thanks for coming."

"No problem. Hey, uh... was wondering if I might get a few autographs? Y'know. If you want."

The girl points to herself like she thinks Dean is speaking to someone else. "Us? Or Cas here?"

Dean's eyes roam towards Castiel and the pianist is staring at him. Open, but a little guarded. Shit, well he probably does actually have people accost him for autographs all the time.

"All of you," Dean says gamely, and yes, Castiel's shoulders relax a tiny bit. "I mean, no offense, but I don't really follow classical music, so if I'm making some sort of faux pas here, lemme know."

Castiel actually smiles and takes a few steps towards him. "No, you're not," he assures Dean in the most oh, god, if this were a porn I'd be screaming 'take me now' voice in the history of ever. He holds his hand out for the playbill. "We're always grateful for newcomers to the orchestra. Hopefully this won't be the last time we see you."

"Nah, I definitely look forward to coming again," Dean says, handing off the playbill to be signed. And since he's doing so well with the casual stuff, decides to push his luck a little. He knows he's good at bullshitting. He does it every day at work. "It's dumb, actually. I live a block away in Lebanon Tower Condos, and yet I've never been here before. Shame, 'cause y'all rock."

The redhead laughs as she signs her name with a flourish and passes the booklet over to the shorter man. "I don't think anyone's ever said that about the philharmonic before."

"Someone probably has somewhere," the shorter guy says. He holds the signed playbill back out to Dean. "I'm Gabriel, by the way. Concertmaster. Thanks for coming." Dean shakes his hand firmly. He tilts his head towards the woman. "That's Charlie." She gives him a Vulcan salute, and Dean decides he likes her already. "And that's Castiel Milton; the only real celebrity among us."

Castiel sticks his hand out and Dean shakes it, and goddamn it feels nice. "That's hardly true. It's nice to meet you."

"Yeah, same," Dean says dazedly. Castiel up close is a lot to take in. "I'm Dean Winchester, audience member." He hopes his winning flirty smile is enough. By the way that Castiel's hand tightens in his before releasing it seems to suggest that's the case. Dean smiles wider. Score.

"Hey," Charlie says. "You wanna walk with us? We're going to the same place. I'd like to hear some more about how incredible we were tonight." She saunters up to Dean and loops her arm through his like they're the best of friends.

"My pleasure," Dean says, happier than ever. How had it been this easy? Is anything ever this easy? He's one lucky son of a bitch as Gabriel falls into step next to Charlie, wheeling her cello case for her, and Castiel to Dean's left.

And Charlie, obviously never having met a stranger or a lull in conversation in her life, asks, "what was your favorite song? You a gamer?"

"Hell, yes, I am," Dean admits proudly. "Been gaming most of my life. That whole suite you did from Assassin's Creed was freaking great. Makes me wanna bust out the games again."

Charlie nods sagely as she leads them down the street. "I'm more of a Final Fantasy girl, myself, but AC is a great franchise, too."

"Cloud or Squall?" Dean asks.

Charlie scoffs. "Rikku. Come on. She's cute, and smart, and blows shit up. Final Fantasy X all the way."

Dean purses his lips thoughtfully. "Yeah, she's okay. But I like the broody types. Squall's my boy. Takes care of business and all the people he cares about without saying a word."

Charlie's giggle is nothing short of salacious. "Well, we know you've got good taste. We should be friends. Gabe and Cas here don't do much gaming, which is super lame. They have no real hobbies." She tuts sadly.

Gabriel bumps into her. "Now, that's a lie, Charles. I watch porn enough to consider it a hobby."

Both Charlie and Dean laugh at that while Castiel pulls a face, but says lightly, "I knit sometimes. Helps with hand-eye coordination and dexterity."

Charlie laughs even harder. "You're a for real old lady, Cas." She swings her head back to Dean. "Man doesn't even own a TV."

"I do!" Castiel protests.

"Okay, fine," she relents, "but you've never turned it on since you got it, so that hardly counts."

Dean sneaks a glance at Castiel and almost can't bring himself to look away from the man's flushed face. He's glad he keeps looking though, because otherwise he would have missed the pianist staring moodily at the ground and muttering, "I've watched it a few times."

Grinning, Dean realizes that these people are fairly awesome. It's sad that he hasn't shared more than a few words with the other residents in the building since he moved there. It makes him wonder how many cool people live around him and he doesn't even know.

Before he has the time to get depressed about it, Charlie is addressing him again. "So, we know you're not hot on classical music, and you like the video game stuff. What other music are you into?"

He shrugs the shoulder not against Charlie's arm. "The usual classic rock, I guess. AC/DC, Bob Seger, Lynyrd Skynyrd."

Charlie perks up at that. "Then you and Cas have something in common! He's composing a piano piece for 'Simple Man,' aren't ya, Cas?"

Castiel glances up, surprised, and his gaze barely touches on Dean's before it skirts away again. "Yes, it's just a tiny personal project," he murmurs. "I don't know much about rock, but I've heard the song a few times. Someone in the building plays it with their windows open."

Dean's heart skips a beat. Could it possibly be true? No way. That's too much of a fucking coincidence. He doesn't have that much luck. Unless he does. Maybe it's just been saved up his whole life to culminate in this crazy-fortunate turn of events. Embarrassing, but great. He's not gonna say that, though. He can't. Castiel looks spooked enough by Charlie outing his secret for a stranger to add to the pile. For now, anyway. "That's cool," he says a little weakly. "I'd love to hear it sometime."

Castiel turns his face away as he digs in his bag for the electronic key to the front door of the complex, but Dean can still see his cheek turning up in a smile. "It's only a passing fancy."

They all troop into the lobby and over to the elevators. Gabriel hits the call button and while they're waiting, Charlie says, "who's coming to my place for celebratory drinks since we ditched the bar crawl?"

Dean chuckles. "You did?"

"Yeah," Gabriel says. "Charlie and I don't have a free day tomorrow, so we figured celebrating at home was the best option."

"And Cas likes to go to bed early because he's eighty," Charlie teases.

Castiel rolls his eyes and pushes the call button again agitatedly. "I do not. I have a lot of work to do tomorrow. And besides, if my best friends aren't attending the bar crawl, there's no point in me going, either."

Gabriel looks positively stunned by the admission and Charlie tackles Castiel with a squeal right as the elevator doors open, shoving them both inside. Dean grins and follows behind. Clearly Castiel is normally as reserved as he looks. That's good to know. He presses the button to his floor, noting that Charlie lives a few floors down.

"Wait, why aren't you coming with us, Dean?" she whines.

He arches an eyebrow. "'Cause I'm a stranger."

She pffts and takes his hand. "No, you're not. We've been talking, haven't we?"

"For ten minutes," Dean confirms.

"Best friends, then!" Charlie chirps with a wide grin up at him. He really can't resist it.

"That's true," Gabriel continues. "I mean, take Cassie here. We've known him for years, but if you boil down the time we've had actual, meaningful conversations with him, it would probably equal ten minutes, too."

"You're both horrible," Castiel says, but he doesn't sound offended. "I prefer to listen."

Charlie releases Dean's arm to hang on Castiel again. "Well, then since your voice is such a rare gift, use it to tell Dean to party with us tonight."

Dean rubs the back of his neck. He's got the feeling that Charlie will barrel ahead at everyone's expense to get her way. He likes women like her, though. But he's in the headlights, and Castiel seems really embarrassed.

However, after a pause, the elevator stops and the doors open. Gabriel and Charlie step out, and Castiel catches the door before it can close. "You're welcome to join us," he says sincerely.

"I, uh..." he hesitates for just a moment. It's sort of happening faster than he can process, all this damn fine luck pouring onto hm. He does want to get to know Castiel better, and he does like Gabriel and Charlie, but he also doesn't want to overstep social acceptability here.

Then again, after a glance at Charlie, he decides that's probably not even possible. She really does want him to come and hang out. Talk about nerd things. He's down with that. "Sure," he says, shrugging. Charlie whoops then yanks him down the hall to her condo. He's probably made a good call.

xxXXxx

Castiel watches Dean carefully for the first few minutes of really being able to focus on him. They're all seated around Charlie's massive coffee table arguing board games while drinking her craft beer.

Dean seems... completely at ease, actually. The man oozes natural charm. He sprawls in a way that makes him look like he's taking up more space than he is. It's casual, effortless, and Castiel couldn't possibly lounge that way if he'd been given a million dollars to relax. He also acts like he's known them forever. Castiel marvels at it. They haven't been talking long - maybe an hour at this point - but Dean simply fits in. He shoots back snark with Gabriel, flirts with Charlie, as she demanded after he'd stopped when she told him she was a lesbian, and... well, he hasn't said all that much to Castiel yet, but that's probably because Castiel hasn't given the man much to work with. Up close, Dean's almost too attractive to look at directly. It's been a long time since Castiel's been in such a situation.

"We can't play fucking Scrabble," Dean is presently insisting.

"Why not?" Charlie demands. "You can spell, can't you?"

"Sure I can, but I'll always lose 'cause you three will slay me with all the music words."

"That's the point," Gabriel smirks.

Dean crosses his arms over his chest. "Forget it. I'm not letting y'all make me look like an idiot just because I'm the new guy."

"Suck it up, noob," Gabriel says.

Charlie swats his arm. "Fine. How about we play teams? Two on two? Me and Gabe, you and Cas. That's fair."

Castiel glances up to find Dean grinning at him pleadingly far too close for his libido's comfort. "That's fair," he hears himself saying before he can think.

Dean fist pumps. "Hell, yeah." He scoots around the corner of the table, closer to Castiel and helps move their snacks out of the way for Charlie to set up the board. God, he smells good. With a flourish, Charlie removes the board from the case and opens it.

"Holy shit," Dean murmurs. "I take it back. We can't play this with you. None of us can."

Rolling her eyes, Charlie holds out the purple velvet bag containing the letters, offering to let Dean shake it. "It's not as bad as it looks," she admits. The board is amazing. It's carved wood, expensive gold-leaf painting. Dean reaches into the bag and pulls out one of the tiles. It's onyx. Of course.

"How the hell is this not as bad as it looks?" Dean says.

"My mom got it for me ages ago," Charlie says. "I'm really not that good at it, but I love collector's items, you know? There was a board game store going out of business, so this was really cheap, and my mom got it for me for my birthday. I love the game, but the quality of the product in this case, does not reflect my skill at playing it." She thumbs over her shoulder. "Same thing with that Star Trek chess set back there on the shelf. I'm okay at chess, but that thing was also on super sale when the store closed, so I got it."

Dean casts a glance at both Gabriel and Castiel for confirmation. "She telling the truth, or am I about to get murdered at Scrabble?"

Castiel laughs shortly. "I think I know more real worlds than she does, so we're fine. Just don't let her use Klingon or Elven, or whatever."

Gabriel nearly spits his beer out laughing at Charlie's offense. "You're no fun," she whines.

"Just less nerdy," Gabriel returns.

Despite the bickering, they settle into the game amicably. Castiel and Dean put their tiles together. After several rounds of beers and a hectic competition later, Dean manages to actually make Castiel giggle by spelling out "penis" with their tiles.

Castiel decides that he likes Dean. He's handsome and smart and funny and the complete opposite of what he's used to. And Dean miraculously doesn't seem to tire of him as the night goes on, despite Castiel's introversion. Dean's still smiling, maybe on the drunker side of tipsy, when they all head out from Charlie's to their own homes. Gabriel is just down the hall, so Castiel and Dean share the elevator alone. It's thrilling and awkward.

"That was fun," Dean relieves the tension by saying.

Castiel nods. "Yes. If you'd ever like to do something again..." He doesn't know how to not leave that sentence open ended.

The elevator dings and the doors open one floor down from Castiel's. Dean steps out, but turns and puts his hand against the door. He grins. It's drunk and wavery, but genuine. "You flirting with me, Cas?"

Castiel clears his throat.

Is he?

Yes, he is.

"Yes," he says, brazenly letting the alcohol speak for him.

Dean looks entirely pleased about it. "Gimme your phone for a second."

Castiel unlocks the screen and hands it over quickly. Dean pokes at it and then passes it back. "Text me." Then he takes a step backwards, releasing the door. Castiel stares unblinking until it's completely closed. His heart is pounding. Had he really just done that? He gets out of the elevator and walks down the hall to his condo. Numbly, he unlocks the door and goes inside, right to his bedroom without so much as turning on the lights. He clicks on his phone and sure enough, the contacts are still pulled up. Dean Winchester. Holy crap. It really happened. Now what?

Chapter Text

On Monday, Dean's job doesn't get to him. The same thing on Tuesday. Wednesday. On Thursday, he's starting to think he's either reached his emotional breaking point and now he's just completely numb, or texting Castiel is making everything better enough that Zachariah's assholery isn't on the radar anymore.

He really hopes, for his own sake, that it's because of Castiel. And the fact that they have a "date" planned for Friday evening. They hadn't called it as much, but the flirting after the concert had sort of suggested it. Castiel had texted to say that he'd probably have a good portion of his initial work on "Simple Man" done, and he'd enjoy Dean's expert opinion on it.

Frankly, Dean's just as excited to hear Castiel's piano again as he is to have a sort-of date with him. It's been too cold for Dean to leave his windows open and serenade Castiel unsuspectingly, and Castiel's rehearsals had changed a bit so Dean's never home in time to hear through the dryer vent. He knows he's being an idiot and should just tell Castiel how he's been hearing the music before, but he doesn't want to embarrass either of them, which would probably happen if he said, "yeah, hey, Cas I love listening to you practice from the comfort of my laundry room floor." Not weird at all, right?

But on Friday, Dean sneaks out of his office five minutes before official quitting time and bolts to the parking garage before anyone even notices. He just can't wait anymore to get the evening underway. Plus, traffic on Fridays is horrendous and Castiel had asked him to stop by at 6. Dean will be damned if he's going to hang out in his smarmy work clothes after hours, and even more damned if he's gonna miss a second of hanging out with his favorite classical musician.

Leaving even five minutes early makes a huge difference in the mass exodus from office buildings the city over, and Dean is home by 5:15, jumping in the shower, and ready to head over to Castiel's condo right on time. He wipes his sweating palms on his jeans before ringing the bell, almost giddy with anticipation.

The door swings open a moment later, and Dean takes in the pianist in his casual clothes, feet bare. It's only jeans and a red hoodie, but he looks fucking great. "Hello, Dean," Castiel says.

"Hey, Cas," Dean answers, grinning. "Thanks for inviting me over." He removes his shoes in the entryway and puts them neatly in the shoe cabinet. He congratulates himself for not putting on his sport socks with the holes in them.

Castiel steps to the side and closes the door behind them. "It's my pleasure. To be honest, Charlie has been harassing me to not be so shy and standoffish with people I like. I'm trying to take her advice."

Dean turns from where he's been studying the living room - so similar, yet so different from his own - to receive the full brunt of Castiel's shy smile. And he just can't resist. Dean smirks and teases, "aw, what? You like me, Cas?"

Castiel drops his eyes to the floor, but he's still smiling when he mutters, "shut up."

"I don't get out much either these days," Dean admits in fair trade. "Work's too draining."

Castiel leads him into the kitchen to offer him a beer. It's the good stuff, too. More props to the pianist. "Yes, I've been getting the sense this week texting you that your job is stressful."

"That's a word for it," Dean says, unscrewing the bottle top with the cuff of his shirt. "Not gonna lie, most days it's either full neutral or shitty. But the money's good, and I hate job hunting."

Castiel nods in sympathy. "That seems to be the case with many people. I can count myself blessed because I can't imagine doing anything else other than music."

"That's awesome, man. For real. I mean, music is therapy to lots of people. Your job makes a real difference in the world. Even if we can't play instruments or sing, everyone's got a song or band or something that speaks to them. I know I do."

"Who?" Castiel asks, clearly intrigued.

Dean fist pumps the air with his free hand. "The rock gods."

"I wish I was more educated in popular music," Castiel says. "There were classes offered at the conservatory, but I never took any of them. I thought they wouldn't benefit me. I believe I was wrong about that in retrospect."

Dean shrugs, padding with Castiel into the living room. "You can learn. I mean, if you want any tips or suggestions, I'm pretty schooled in the art of classic rock."

Beaming at him, Castiel goes straight to his piano after setting his beer bottle down on a coaster on the coffee table. "I'd really like that, actually. And since you know Lynyrd Skynyrd, perhaps you could listen to what I've arranged so far?"

"Simple Man still?"

Castiel nods, hands folded in his lap, studying his short fingernails.

"It's a personal favorite of mine. Go ahead. Will it bother you if I watch or do I have to pretend to be fascinated by your curtains or something?"

"Not if you sit on the couch behind me," Castiel says, "though, the sound is better if you're on the right where the lid is open."

Dean flops onto the sofa, sprawling as much as he's comfortable doing in a stranger's house. "It'll sound good no matter what," he says. "If you haven't already noticed, you're awesome at playing the piano."

Castiel clears his throat and whips around to face the Steinway. Dean grins at the man's embarrassment as he adjusts the piano bench and opens the notebook on the music stand. He takes his time reading it over and Dean watches him, intrigued.

He can hear himself talking pretty confidently to Castiel since he's arrived, but in truth, he's slightly overwhelmed knowing that he's about to hear the piano music up close and away from his dryer vent. It's different from when Castiel was playing at the show. This is far more intimate, and he's positive that Castiel has no idea he's already heard some of the music he thinks he's sharing for the first time.

Still, the first notes take him by surprise. Castiel starts the song simply, just like the guitar in the original. God, it's even more amazing hearing it without anything blocking the sound. Despite Castiel saying that he doesn't know much about, or understand, most modern music, there's a soul in the piece that Dean can actually feel, exactly like when he listens to Lynyrd Skynyrd play it. Castiel actually does get it. He adds his own flairs all over; an arpeggio here and a few triplets there, but that only makes it sound better to Dean.

He closes his eyes and leans his head back against the couch cushions, letting the delicate music wash over him. He doesn't realize that he's started humming along softly. It's easy enough to follow even though Castiel's playing beyond where Dean's ever heard before and he's taking some liberties with the melody. He's so entranced that he's unaware that he's softly started singing the lyrics along until Castiel abruptly stops playing.

There's a squeak of leather, and Dean opens his eyes to find Castiel turned around on the piano bench staring at him owlishly. "Dean," he says slowly.

"Sorry," Dean says, picking his head up and feeling the back of his neck heat. "Did I mess you up? I couldn't help it. Got caught up, I guess. I do that sometimes."

"No, it's not that," the pianist hesitates. "Do you... which condo do you live in?"

Oh, man. He's figured it out. There's no point in demurring, so Dean says, "1515."

"Right below me."

"Yeah."

Castiel leans forward. He doesn't look angry at all. In fact, he looks incredibly excited. "That's you I've heard singing!"

Dean shifts. He scratches his ear. "I dunno. I mean, it's... possible, I dunno."

Shaking his head vigorously, Castiel says, "no, it's you! I know your voice. I can't really hear it well from my balcony, but it's you. It has to be. You have a beautiful voice, Dean."

At the frank praise, Dean flushes even more. "I, uh... thanks, I guess. I just..." he raises his shoulders helplessly, not really able to look Castiel directly in the eye. "It helps me unwind. Most of the time."

Castiel rubs his palm on the bench beside him. "I could tell. You... you seemed a little... desperate when I first heard you singing it. But it inspired me. You're the reason I tried to arrange this song in the first place. I'd been frustrated with my music for a while. Creative block, dissatisfaction with the same music I'd been playing for years now." He looks up, and Dean's much more willing to look at him straight on when the topic isn't directly on him. "I'd come off of a long tour recently. All over Europe and America. When I got back, I needed a break to play something new. But... I didn't know anything new, and never have."

"Yeah, but aren't there like millions of classical pieces? You can't have played them all."

With a small laugh, Castiel says, "that's true. But it all tends to blend together sometimes. I didn't realize at the time, but what I really wanted was something entirely different. When I heard you singing this song... it shook something loose. I felt the pull to figure it out. And I want more now. I was thinking... ah..." he trails off, shutting his mouth with a click of his teeth, like he's suddenly realized he's said too much.

That encourages Dean. He sits forward on the couch, leaning closer to Castiel until those blue eyes meet his again. "You saying you want me to help you learn more classic rock to play?"

Castiel nods with an unsure twist to his mouth.

Dean grins wider. "You bet your ass I will. That'll probably turn me into your biggest fan, though. Just so's ya know. Be prepared and all."

Castiel laughs outright. A pleased and surprised sound. "You would do that? I mean, the helping thing. Not the obsessing thing. You can do that, too, but it makes me uncomfortable."

"Yeah," he answers immediately, appreciating the humor to lighten the mood and freely lift off their awkwardness. "Cas, I think we can really help each other out."

Thoughtfully, Castiel says, "you're right. Thank you." It sounds far more relieved than Dean can process just yet, so he sits back with a nod.

"Anyway, you hungry? I promised sushi, right? How 'bout we order in and I'll school you on some of the rock classics. Got everything on Spotify if you have a Bluetooth speaker."

Castiel looks offended by the suggestion that he wouldn't. "Of course I do. I have the best sound system there is. I'm a musician, after all." His imperious sniff makes Dean laugh. Castiel stands from the piano bench. "I'll get the menu for Maru. You like it, don't you?"

"Best place in town, and less than a mile away," Dean agrees. "I'll eat anything there, even the weird stuff."

"You and Charlie will be great friends," Castiel says going back to the kitchen to the menu drawer under the coffee maker. Back in the living room, he continues, "she eats things on a dare."

"Not gonna lie, I've done it, too."

"I believe it." Castiel flips open the menu, marking his and Dean's orders on a sticky note. Dean pretends to look at the menu, but he's really watching Castiel's hands. Seeing them up close is a whole new experience bordering on future kink. The blunt nails, carefully cut and filed, the long fingers, the delicate way he holds the pencil, the pronounced veins. Dean seriously doesn't know what he'd do if Castiel touched him with those skillful hands. Since he's a piano player, they're probably really strong, too. Do not pop a boner while ordering sushi. It just ain't the polite thing to do.

Dean phones in the order and pays for it with the tip while Castiel protests and tries to hand him cash. "My treat," Dean says.

"I invited you," Castiel argues. "Let me at least cover half." He keeps trying to shove the money in his hands.

Finally, Dean sighs and acquiesces, holding out his hand. Castiel puts the $20 bill in his palm triumphantly. "You're stubborn," Dean says, creasing the money.

"Just polite," Castiel counters. "It's a first date. Things should be equal."

That warms Dean to hear, but he's still old fashioned, regardless of whether he's with a woman or a man. "Hey, could I have a glass of water?" he asks. "Haven't had all my ounces today."

"Sure," Castiel says. He stands up and goes back to the kitchen.

Dean grins. Sucker. The man's a great host, but doesn't know Dean well enough yet. He barely drinks water. But it gives him time to rapidly fold the $20 up without Castiel noticing. When he comes back with a bottle of spring water, Dean takes it with a murmured thanks. Then he holds the folded bill up. He's made it into a paper airplane. "I won't take your money, Cas," he says lightly, throwing the plane. It sails past Castiel's head somewhere down the hall.

Castiel makes a noise of displeasure. "That's very immature."

"Dude, you practically tried to stuff that cash down my shirt. Not real mature on your part, either. Plus, I do lap dances for free." He waggles his eyebrows and Castiel laughs.

"Fine, but next time it's on me."

"The lap dance? Gladly."

Castiel kicks Dean's foot as he steps over his legs to the other side of the couch. "The dinner. That is, if I think you're worth the trouble for a second date."

Trying his best to look hurt, hand over his heart, Dean says, "cut me to the quick there, Milton. You always so grumpy?"

With an arch look, Castiel takes a long drink from his beer. And Dean's found something else besides the pianist's hands to be obsessed with. He stares at the cleanly shaved line of Castiel's throat and the way that his adam's apple bobs when he swallows. When he's done, Castiel deadpans, "yes. I like people to know right off the bat what they're getting themselves into."

"A surly bastard who won't take no for an answer."

Castiel's eyes shine with humor. "Precisely."

In this very moment, Dean realizes that he's in huge danger of falling for this guy hard and fast. "We'll get along just fine, then."

Now the warm humor is obvious in Castiel's voice. "You should treat me with more awe and respect. I'm famous, you know."

Dean throws his head back with a truly delighted laugh. "Yeah, forgive me, maestro. Are your feelings hurt because I didn't ask for your autograph the second I got here?"

Eyes narrowed mischievously, Castiel says, "no, because you already have my autograph. If you asked for it every time, I'd wonder what you could possibly be doing with them that wasn't creepy."

Laughing even harder, Dean says, "dude, you're the one with the creepy imagination! What if I was just selling them on eBay?"

"It's a poor way to make money," he answers ruefully.

"What did you think I'd do? Wallpaper my bedroom with them?"

He shrugs, taking another sip of beer. "I'm sure I don't know what my stalker would get up to."

Castiel's dry, nearly self-deprecating humor is like a breath of fresh air. The more Dean takes it in, the more relaxed he becomes. He's messing around, but deep down he had been worried about what a famous person like Castiel would be like. Dean can't even imagine something like fame. It's so far out of his wheelhouse, it might as well not even exist. Is there some grain of truth in the teasing? He realizes that a concert pianist isn't exactly the same as Taylor Swift fame, but it's still a thing. It's still tons of strangers around the country and the world knowing you better than you probably know your best friend.

He doesn't realize Castiel has moved so close to him until one of his long, glorious fingers pokes him between the eyes and Dean blinks back to reality swimming in blue. "I zoned out," he says, frozen by Castiel's close examination.

"You did." Their arms brush now when they sip their drinks.

"I was thinking... what's it like to be famous?"

Castiel snorts, covering his mouth before he spits out his mouthful of beer. He arches an eyebrow, silently asking for clarification as he swallows.

"Don't feed me the 'I'm not famous' line, either. You are. Maybe not the worshiped by millions kind, but you are famous in your world. What's it like? I'm just curious. I've never even met a local celebrity before."

Castiel tilts his head side to side, considering. "It's... I'm not sure, exactly. I've been 'famous' for a long time now." The air quotes make Dean grin again. "But I suppose I've become a bit spoiled," he says sheepishly.

"Yeah? How?" Dean turns sideways to be able to face Castiel fully, tucking one leg under him and draping his arm over the back of the couch. He ignores how close he is to being able to stroke the man's shoulder. He doesn't, but he wants to.

Castiel turns to face Dean as well, copying his position and leaning back against the arm of the couch. "I've learned to expect certain things that aren't normally provided to everyone else. I grew up in a wealthy family; it's why I was able to focus on music completely and without worry. I never needed a 'plan B' as it were, because my parents' money afforded me all the luxuries I desired. We always had a grand piano in the house, had a private piano teacher, I went to a wonderful musical boarding school, summer music camps, my choice of conservatory for higher education. And when I grew a name for myself, I became used to people courting me, as it were. The nicest hotels, anything I asked for on a whim, concert hall staff falling all over themselves to make me comfortable. I thought it was normal to request an obscure tea blend and have it delivered to my room."

After a pause, Dean breathes, "Jesus. That's like night and day, you and me. I've never even stayed anywhere fancier than a motel until I went to one conference for work. And even then it wasn't like I could order off of the room service menu, or anything. I don't think the room even had a mini fridge."

Castiel chuckles, embarrassed. "That's normal. I was an exception."

"'Was?' You don't get that treatment anymore?"

"I don't invite it," Castiel assures him. "I love my work. I don't need people going out of their way to get me to do it. I'd do it no matter what. I just want everyone else to enjoy it."

"I do," Dean says. "They way you play piano... I, uh... I don't even know the technical terms for it. It's crazy-awesome."

Beaming like it's the best compliment he's ever received, even though Dean's sure that's so far from true. The smile makes him feel like the tallest man in the world, though. "Thank you, Dean. It's not every day someone like me is praised by someone like you who hasn't grown up on classical music like I have."

"Eh," Dean deflects. "S'true, though."

The doorbell rings, blessedly saving Dean from further torture. He jumps up from the couch to answer it, accepting the food with thanks and signing the receipt. He holds up both of the plastic sacks, grinning. "Dinner's served!"

They spread everything out at Castiel's recovered wood table. It's ridiculously large for someone who claims to be fairly antisocial. But that's hardly a thing as Dean unwraps the miso soup, ginger salad, scented rice, and mouth watering sushi spread. It's probably way more than two people can eat, but Dean's sure going to give it a try. He finishes arranging it as Castiel reappears from the kitchen with small plates, chopsticks, and soy sauce.

"Should we have some music while we eat?"

"Yeah," Dean agrees enthusiastically. "Wanna start learning all about the greats?"

Castiel nods as he begins on his salad. "You can use your Bluetooth to hook up to the speaker on the counter." He nods towards the small portable speaker.

Dean decides that the Allman Brothers is a good place to start. Castiel perks up immediately at the rambling country strains, almost forgetting to eat when Kansas kicks in, making a pleased noise for Bob Dylan. Dean instructs him on the titles and singers. Castiel is familiar with many of them; obviously he's heard modern music before, but never been interested enough to put names with songs.

They linger for nearly an hour at the table, picking through the food and cleansing it all with the green tea ice cream Castiel admits is his weakness.

After they clean up and toss the recycling, they return to the living room where Dean gives Castiel the reins of his playlist to pick out songs that he might want to transpose later. They've got quite a set list by the end of it.

Dean looks over it and suddenly has an idea. "Hey, if you did all these you could have a whole classic-classical-rock concert, y'know?" He laughs at his own joke, but Castiel looks pensive.

"I wonder if I could," he muses.

"Seriously?"

"Sure. Concerts like this have been done before. Bela Fleck enjoys playing classical music on the banjo. It's extremely impressive."

"Wow, for real?" Dean asks, shocked, though he doesn't know why. Music has always been an exploration. New ways to play old things and old ways to play new things. That's what music is for. "Pretty rad."

"Indeed. Charlie gave me a CD last year for Christmas of the Brian Setzer Orchestra playing Mozart. I listen to it all the time."

Grinning, Dean says, "so, you already know you can do something like it. You totally should."

"Perhaps I will. It's an intriguing idea."

Dean kind of wants to pat himself on the back for suggesting something that a famous pianist thinks is a good idea. And he still can't shake the feeling that Castiel is somewhat out of his league, though he's doing his best to measure up. Castiel speaks a little strangely, obviously from his enriched upbringing, though his dry sense of humor cuts the formality to something much more accessible. The longer that they talk, the more comfortable Dean becomes.

In fact, it's getting on towards midnight when they both start to yawn.

"I should probably get going," Dean says, not bothering to hide his regret.

Castiel stands and stretches before leading the way to the door. "I had a lot of fun tonight," he says.

Dean pauses in the entryway. He mulls over it for a second while he puts his shoes back on, and then offers haltingly, "maybe we could, like, make this a regular thing. The music and... dinner. If you want."

"I would love that," Castiel says, reaching out for Dean's hands unconsciously.

It's a jolt to his nerves when his fingers curl around Dean's and they cling to each other for a long minute, just smiling at each other. "Good," Dean says softly. "We can hang out any time."

Castiel steps closer, and for a split second, Dean thinks that he might kiss him, but he doesn't. He simply shifts his weight from one foot to the other. "You know where to find me." The tone is as intimate as the kiss that Dean's really starting to consider.

So he reaches back and opens the door. "Me, too. Holler at me whenever. 'Night, Cas."

"Good night, Dean."

Dean keeps Castiel's gaze held with his own, a soft smile on his lips until the door is shut fully. He goes back to his own condo in a bit of daze. He's not sure what to do with everything he's learned about Castiel tonight. The instant attraction he'd felt when he'd first saw the man walk onto stage was still there. But it wasn't the same sort of dick-grinding impulse that often led him to little more than some entertaining weekends with people he couldn't fully remember all that well anymore. This thing with Castiel... he can tell it has the potential to go a lot deeper than he's used to. Not that he's complaining. He isn't some spring chicken at this point.

He could do with some more evenings just like this. Exhausted in a good way for once. Not drunk or horny or dreading the silence in his condo. He shuffles straight to his bedroom, stripping off his clothes and throwing them into the hamper in the closet. There's no impending depression now that he's alone and reality is free to crash back down. He's still floating on the good company of a shy, earnest pianist who lives directly above him.

Dean flops down onto his bed, staring at the ceiling. Castiel is up there right now, maybe thinking the same thing as he is right now. The thought is soft and makes Dean smile a little as he falls slowly into the deepest, most restful sleep that he can remember. having.

Chapter Text

Castiel and Dean text throughout the rest of the week, and it's great. Sam keeps trying to butt in every now and then to implore his brother to come over and watch a movie or something, especially on the weekend, but Dean's content in his own space and mind, so he deflects, saying he's got errands to run that he's been putting off. Which is true, but he's still putting them off. Instead, he ends up at the local big box electronics store looking for music. He's not sure if Castiel's famous enough for his albums to be in stock, but since he's a local musician, they might.

They do.

Grinning, Dean pulls them all off of the rack. There are six in total that are his solo work, though his website - the man has his own website - lists a much longer discography. He's been a guest musician on several other albums, and played with other orchestras, but Dean's not really interested in all of that. He wants Castiel Milton, unplugged.

The album covers aren't all that interesting, sadly. Nothing like the color explosions he's used to on most rock staples. The oldest one, recorded when Castiel was in his early 20's, doesn't even have a picture of him on the cover. Just an artsy shot of a piano in some sort of barn, sunlight streaming over the keys. Dean flips it over to see the track list, and is actually pretty thrilled that he doesn't understand anything about this opus or that Sonata in A, or whatever. The other five albums all have a picture of Castiel on the cover, smiling serenely and gently ageing throughout. It makes his heart skip a beat as he traces a finger over the pianist's lips on the newest album while he turns it over. Still no songs he recognizes, but that doesn't matter. He'll get familiar with all of them sooner or later.

With a touch of awkwardness, he takes the CD's to the cashier while trying not to look totally creepy buying six albums from the same musician. The kid at the checkout counter doesn't seem to care, though. He rings up the CD's quickly, takes Dean's money, puts them all in a bag, and tells him to have a great day.

Of-fucking-course he is. He plans to go home and listen to this shit on repeat until he goes to bed.

Which is exactly what he does. Castiel is gone for a few days to New York, so there's no hanging out with him. He'd said that he was going to meet with his manager and agent about what he planned for his next studio recording. That's what had given Dean the idea of getting his CD's in the first place.

He puts his purchases down on the coffee table and pulls out his phone.

Me - 11:18 am: Freezing here today. How's NY?

He doesn't expect much of a response. Castiel's been incredibly busy since the second he stepped off the plane last Monday. He always texts at night before going to bed, even if it's just to say hello and goodnight, which Dean appreciates. He understands how it is dating a famous person.

He chuckles at the thought of the way that Castiel's face pinches whenever Dean mentions his fame. He sits on the couch, opening all of the CD's and stuffing the trash into the shopping bag, then puts them all in his CD changer. Then he sits back, feet up on the table as they play in order.

He's into the second CD when his phone buzzes.

Cas - 12:55 pm: They wouldn't let me leave the recording studio until I was so hungry my stomach rumbled loudly enough to ruin the take.

Somehow the grump comes right through loud and clear on the text.

Me - 12:55 pm: Wow, they're working you hard. Thought you weren't going to record this trip?

Cas - 12:55 pm: I wasn't planning on it, but it was a last minute request on some pieces I've rehearsed a million times. It's just a demo to see if I'll be recording with the Tokyo Philharmonic next year.

Holy crap, he really is in demand. Playing all over the world with so many different orchestras must be thrilling. Dean himself likes to travel a lot, must be awesome to do it and get paid for it.

Cas - 12:56 pm: I wish I was home. I left NY for a reason. Too noisy and crowded.

Or not.

Me - 12:55 pm: You're a famous concert pianist, dude. Isn't big city travel just what you're supposed to do?

Cas - 12:56 pm: Yes. I'm trying to convince my agent and manager to let me scale back. I'd like to stay local for a while. Traveling is tiring.

He can't really argue with that. Driving across the country and seeing the sights over a summer is one thing, but being in a new city every night; sometimes a new country... not getting to be a tourist, but playing a show or two and moving on. All that time zone crossing and never having a proper schedule to eat or sleep. That does sound tiring. Castiel loves his work, and really wouldn't do anything else, but even things people are passionate about can get overwhelming after a while. Dean can understand, if not still envy Castiel living his dream, drawbacks or not. Nothing is perfect.

Me - 12:57 pm: I can understand that. I used to travel a lot, but nothing like you. You still coming home on Saturday?

Cas - 12:57 pm: Yes, thankfully.

His hands are sweating a little when he types:

Me - 12:58 pm Can I pick you up from the airport, or do you famous folk have drivers and stuff?

His heart's even starting to beat a little bit faster at the prospect. It seems like it takes an eternity for Castiel to answer him.

Cas - 01:01 pm: I would very much like that, if you're offering. My flight arrives at 8 pm.

Dean - 1:01 pm: I'll be there.

Maybe take him out to dinner. Or make him something nice at home if he's too tired. That's a nice thing to do for someone you're getting into, right?

Well, he's got a week to think about it and does little else.

xxXXxx

Castiel is one of the first people off of the airplane, but the arrivals lobby is still packed enough that he has to muscle his way through. God, he hates flying. He hates the crowds. The only perk is being in first class, and even then he'd rather just drive rather than deal with all this hassle. He feels like he'll never be able to make up for the sleep deprivation, but that's why he'd given himself the next three days off. Honestly, it's the only thing that makes so much travel palatable. No phone, no noise, no bright lights if he doesn't want them. Just peace, quiet, sleep, food, and - Dean.

He shuffles to a stop, shocked. Honestly, he hadn't expected Dean to actually show up in rush hour traffic just to pick him up from the airport. He'd expected an apologetic text and an offer to meet up later. Frankly, Castiel always expects the letdown. Prepare for the worst, as they say. Most especially because the texts, picture exchanges, brief calls over the past two weeks have started to draw him in. And he knows how he gets when he starts to fall.

But there Dean is. Hands stuffed in the pockets of his jeans, smiling and giving him a little nod. He looks like a dream come true. Castiel is helplessly drawn in further at the sight. He's also about dead on his feet. He shuffles up to Dean, drops his carry on, and without stopping, plants his face against Dean's neck as he breathes out a huge sigh of deliverance.

Laughing, Dean pulls him closer into a tight hug as Castiel sags against him. "I was gonna ask you if you wanted to go out to dinner, but you just answered that question."

Castiel closes his eyes and takes a moment to let Dean's heat and the smell of his cologne relax him further. He really could fall asleep right here leaning against him he's so pleased with the affectionate response. "I'm sorry," he mutters.

Dean shrugs, cups Castiel's face, and pulls back just enough to look at him. Castiel wants to kiss him. He hadn't thought about the hug before he'd just fallen against the man. It's just... Dean had looked so welcoming. It was easy to forget they've only had one evening together and nothing else besides their cell phones. Dean is just so easygoing. And his hands feel so nice against his face. He blinks and allows his eyes to close again, basking in the moment.

There's a tap against his forehead and warm breath ghosts over his face when Dean puts their foreheads together. Castiel can hear the smile in his voice when Dean says, "let's get you home. I'll make you something to eat and you can shower away that gross airplane smell."

Castiel chuckles exhaustedly. "Will you always spoil me like this?"

"Only if you keep looking so wrung out. It's really sad." He throws an arm around Castiel's shoulders, pulling him towards the baggage claim. "You got luggage?"

"Actually, no," Castiel says. "I shipped it home." Dean snorts and Castiel's grouchy frown returns. "I cannot overstate my distaste for air travel."

"I can tell. Well, that's easy. Let's get going, then." The entire walk to the car, Castiel says nothing, stewing in his travel fatigue. Dean keeps him pressed against his side, gently guiding him with a hand over his shoulder through the rows of cars until they reach the Impala.

For the first time since arriving home, Castiel perks up. "This is your car?" He runs his fingers over the hood to the passenger door handle. "Chevy sure did know how to make a beautiful car back in the day, didn't they?"

Dean rests his elbows on the hood of the driver's side. "You know cars?"

"Some of the classics," he says. "My grandfather drove a lovely Bel Air back in the day."

Dean opens the door, slides in, and leans over the seat to open the passenger side. Castiel takes his time examining the restored leather interior with interest. "Baby here was a little beaten up after my dad died, but I restored her. Worth all the blood, sweat, and money." He lovingly strokes the dash. "This has actually been the only car I've ever had my whole life since I was a kid."

"Classics like these are wonderful heirlooms," Castiel agrees, buckling up. Then he chuckles at a sudden thought, and his sluggish brain is too slow to stop him from musing, "the way you look at this car with so much pride, and say you've never had another one, I'll bet you even lost your virginity in the backseat because it would have been the most special place for you."

The observation makes Dean laugh loudly as he pulls out of the parking spot, steering the huge car towards the exit. "Well, you're not wrong. But in my defense, I didn't mean for it to happen that way. Girl's parents came home early so we took a drive."

Castiel joins in his laughter. "Oh, youth."

"Yeah. It was awful. I didn't know what I was doing, and there wasn't enough room in the back to figure it out."

That shoves the rest of the grump out of Castiel and he's laughing enough that it necessitates him wiping away tears. "I'd love to have been a fly on the wall."

Dean cracks an embarrassed lopsided grin. "I'll bet."

Castiel turns the heating vent towards himself and leans his face into the blast. "Thank you for picking me up. I can be intolerable for days after these sorts of trips if left to my own devices."

Reaching out before it registers in his mind, Dean rubs Castiel's shoulder soothingly. "Don't worry about it. How'd it all go, jetlag notwithstanding?"

Sighing, Castiel sinks into the rich leather seat. "My manager hates the idea of doing a rock cover album."

That's a surprise. Both the idea and also the fact that Castiel had liked it enough to pitch it. There's enough pride there that Dean wants to pat himself on the back. "What? Why?"

"He thinks it's out of my league. That it would 'ruin my image.' I'm not sure if he's right."

The air quotes are a nice touch. "That's bullshit," Dean says. He keeps his eyes on the road, but he can feel Castiel looking at him. "Look, maybe it would spoil your image a little, but what's the big deal? What's your image now? Why would it suck to change?" He glances over. Castiel's face is easing into a genuine, affectionate smile.

"Why indeed?" he murmurs. "To be completely honest, my image is still of the prodigal stuffy pianist. Only my grandmother is fond of it. Change would be... something."

Snickering, Dean says, "screw your manager then. Can you imagine walking out on stage in like... I dunno, ripped jeans and a band t-shirt, just wailing on the piano to an AC/DC song or some shit?" He rolls his eyes up in brief ecstasy. "Man, I'd pay top fucking dollar to see it."

"Hmm," Castiel hums, amused. But he's getting into the idea. He stretches his legs out in the footwell, closes his eyes again. "I'd have a small band with me. A few violins. Percussion. Maybe a trumpet. Also an electric guitar. Bass. And you could be the lead singer."

"Wow, you're dreaming big there, Cas," Dean teases. "I've never been on stage before in my life. I'd probably freeze up and pass out."

"Not with me there," Castiel says with a brazen air of confidence. "I've been told that I bring out the best performances in people."

"Pfft, who's telling you that?" Dean snarks back. "Your ego?"

"No. My mother." He grins and Dean's off in another peal of laughter.

"Moms have to say shit like that, but in this case, yours might actually be right."

"Thank you," Castiel says mildly. "Perhaps you should be my manager. I like your ideas. My current one is an insufferable snob."

"Well, I am in HR," Dean says. "But wouldn't that be a conflict of interest if I managed you?"

Castiel arches an eyebrow without opening his eyes. "Oh? How so?"

"'Cause I gotta crush on you," Dean answers bluntly.

The sleepy smile that blooms over Castiel's face is warmer than the Chevy's heater. "That's very good to hear."

Playing off his sudden bashfulness, Dean sing-songs, "what? No way. Do you like me back?"

"Dunno," Castiel answers smoothly. "You never slipped one of those 'do you like me' notes into my locker."

"My bad," Dean chuckles. "I forgot we were twelve."

"I forgive you," Castiel says magnanimously. "And on a similar note, you really don't have to go to all the trouble to cook me dinner. I'll just order in."

"No freaking way," Dean insists. "You haven't had a good home cooked meal in weeks."

"Longer," Castiel admits sheepishly. "I don't cook very often. I'm no good at it."

"There's nothing you're bad at." Dean protests, turning off the exit ramp to the side streets leading them home.

"Say that after you've had my pancakes," he says darkly. "They're the worst pancakes in the world."

Dean grins. "That's fine, because I'm pretty good at them. How did you get to adulthood and never learn to cook?"

With an imperious huff that Dean's learned is Castiel's way of deflecting the real emotional impact behind the truths he's uncomfortable with, the pianist opens his eyes and says, "my family was wealthy and then I was famous. It's ridiculous how little practical knowledge I possess. Do you know I didn't even learn how to do my own laundry until last year?"

"For real?" Dean's eyes widen almost comically.

"Yes," he answers. "We had that awful blizzard and everything was actually closed for once. I couldn't get to the dry cleaner and I ran out of clothes to wear. So... I tried to do it on my own. I have a washer and dryer and never used them. Ridiculous of me. Naturally, I ruined all my clothes, shrank most of it too small, and wore dyed pink everything until the roads were clear enough for me to go buy a new wardrobe."

The laugh is impossible to suppress. "Oh, my god," Dean chokes. "You're serious?"

"Scouts honor," Castiel says, holding up his hand. "I spent the rest of the week reading housekeeping blogs just to learn the basics of surviving on my own. It was the first time I'd felt actually ashamed of myself."

He seems so down about it that Dean's only option is to be fair minded as his humor fades. "Dude, the life you grew up in just set you up for that stuff. Some people are like that and it's not shameful. It's just how it is."

Quietly, Castiel says, "thank you for not making fun of me."

"Why the hell would I do that?" Dean asks. "No one's born with that sort of knowledge. Ain't your fault no one prepared ya to handle a blizzard by yourself." He pulls up to the condo's garage, swipes his keycard, and pulls in once the doors rise.

Still smiling, Castiel asks a bit shyly, "so you don't think I'm completely spoiled and useless?"

"Nah." Dean parks in his assigned spot and kills the engine. "I just can't even imagine what that sort of life is like. I'd probably get angry if someone was always doing all that for me, stepping on my toes. It'd be nice for a few weeks, but then I'd get tired of it."

They make their way into the elevator and Dean hits the button for his floor. Castiel doesn't select his own and that makes Dean pretty damn happy. But to be polite, he asks, "is there anything you need at your place while I'm making dinner?"

"That depends. Can I borrow your shower?"

"Sure," Dean shrugs casually, though the idea of Castiel showering in his home is pretty freaking fantastic on several varying levels of perv.

The elevator dings and they step into the hallway. Dean even takes pity on the pianist and hauls his carry on for him, since Castiel does actually look about ready to completely drop by the time they've made into Dean's condo. "I'll get started on dinner."

Castiel nods, takes his carry on from Dean, and shuffles down the hallway to the bathroom. The layout is the same in his unit, so he doesn't need directions.

Dean is in the kitchen washing a green pepper only a minute later when Castiel appears again, sans suitcase, shoes off, and dragging his feet. He shuffles right up to Dean, bleary blue eyes focused on his face. Dean is about to ask what's up, but the question dies when the answer comes first. Castiel kisses him on the lips; warm, tired, minty after just having brushed his teeth, probably grateful, and then he's stepping back with a tiny smile before disappearing down the hallway again to bathe.

Dean watches him go and then peers down quizzically at the green pepper he's still holding. What had he been doing? Making... dinner? Right! Stir fry.

He turns on his heel to face the stove. Stir fry. Right.

Stir fry is... what's in stir fry?

Green peppers. And, uh... chicken! Chicken's good.

In. Stir fry...

The green pepper tumbles from his loose fingers onto the counter. Dean swings around and stalks to the bathroom. Castiel is still half-dressed, holding his shirt in his hands and looking at Dean, startled when he slams the door open.

Dean doesn't stop, and in the split second before he's on Castiel, the pianist registers what's happening, turning from the sink to face Dean, hands reaching out the same moment that Dean grabs him and hauls their bodies together. His hands must be freezing against Castiel's face, but Castiel doesn't seem to care in the slightest. His fingers reflexively clench the fabric of Dean's shirt then splay out against his back.

The kiss is the direct opposite of the one Castiel had given Dean a few minutes before because Dean dives into the deep end, and Castiel's lips part immediately to let him. It's full on making out, Castiel backed against the sink, long fingers roaming over the defined muscles of Dean's back, and if they keep this up for very long, there's gonna be one less Winchester in world, because Dean is about to die and go to Heaven.

Castiel looks thoroughly tousled by the time the kiss ends. "What was that for so suddenly?" he asks in a questioning tone laced with certainty of the answer.

"You made me forget how to make stir fry," Dean answers. Then he leaves the bathroom, shutting the door behind him while Castiel's elated laugh follows him out.

He may have been bowled over by the kiss, but for whatever reason, Dean's head is a lot clearer now. He remembers how to make stir fry, at least. Which is great because it feels astounding to be able to make dinner for two, when the second someone isn't just his brother.

Castiel reappears as Dean's dishing up the food and putting it on the table. "Perfect timing," he says.

Castiel is beaming at him, skin pink from the shower, hair still damp and sticking up. He's in jeans and a worn blue hoodie, looking relaxed and happy, though still tired. He comes around the table to kiss Dean again, but there's no time to crank it up to eleven. They're both way too hungry for that. They sit at opposite sides of the table, but it's small enough that when Castiel stretches his legs out, his socked foot touches Dean's, and he absently taps out a steady rhythm to a song that only he can hear against Dean's toes. It's awesome.

"Thank you for dinner," Castiel says eventually after he's taken the edge off of his hunger and chugged two glasses of filtered water to counteract the dry airplane air.

"It's been a while since I've tried to impress someone with my cooking," Dean answers. "You get a lot less vegetables when I know you well enough." He winks and pops a sugar snap pea in his mouth.

"Then, I'll just have to learn how to cook, too," Castiel answers, contemplating his broccoli. "I'll admit that I enjoy my vegetables, and always have. I wasn't a picky eater as a child."

With a teasingly sarcastic look, Dean says, "now why do I totally believe that?"

"There's no use making fun of me for being a good child," Castiel admonishes lightly. "You won't make me regret it."

Chuckling, Dean says, "I won't. Hell, my parents would have killed for a kid like you. My brother, Sam was pretty good until those few years he worshiped me. Then we got into all sorts of trouble together."

Castiel peeks up at Dean through his lashes with a sly smile. "You never gave them a moment's rest, did you? A constant, lifelong troublemaker."

"Could be," Dean smirks proudly. "We all have our quirks."

"Were you popular in school?" Castiel asks, sounding genuinely curious.

Dean contemplates it while watching half hypnotized as Castiel elegantly navigates his chopsticks, scooping up rice. "I could have been," he says. "I wanted to be. But we moved around so much that I never had the chance. Think most people just felt sorry for me and Sam."

Castiel pauses. "Army brat?"

Dean shakes his head. "Marines. I liked moving around when I was younger for the most part. Always somewhere new to explore. But I didn't make any real friends until I settled down here and started at Sandover." He glances up, glad to see that there's no pity from Castiel. Only curiosity. "What about you? Where'd you fall on the popularity scale?"

"Oh, I was solid middle class in the school popularity hierarchy," Castiel answers easily. "I had plenty of friends, but I was also a brown-nosing teacher's pet, so that tarnished my reputation somewhat."

Dean exhales a slight laugh. "I can totally picture it. But no wonder you'd work so hard. You're one of the best."

He decides that he likes seeing Castiel's face go red. "Thank you."

The rest of the meal is mostly quiet. Castiel droops more and more until Dean cleans the kitchen and Castiel actually falls asleep at the table while waiting for him to finish. He only grumbles a little when Dean heaves him up and drags him towards the bedroom. He's too tired to even put up a polite token protest of going to his own condo. But still, when Dean tucks Castiel in and moves to leave and sleep on the couch, Castiel catches his arm and makes a sigh of protest.

After only a small hesitation, Dean crawls under the covers worried that he was right. He's going to fall for Castiel and there'll be no coming back from it. He lays on his back, careful to keep space between them. However, Castiel doesn't quite get his show of chivalry, instead crowding against Dean's side and resting their heads together on the same pillow, hand pressed over Dean's heart.

"Does this make you uncomfortable?" Castiel murmur-slurs, drifting in the pre-sleep haze.

Hell, no. So much the opposite. "It's nice," Dean answers, eyes starting to get heavy.

"I missed you every day. I don't want you to let me push too fast, though. I do that. Sometimes. I've done that."

Dean tilts his chin and says softly into Castiel's hair, "I went out and bought all your solo albums. Haven't listened to anything else since you've been away."

Castiel goes completely still for a long time.

Edging towards the precipice of complete humiliation, Dean waits it out silently because the other option is saying something else that inevitably just shoves his foot further in his mouth. Fuck that.

"Did you like them?" Castiel asks the darkness eventually.

"Yeah," Dean breathes, not sure if it's okay to be relaxed again, and therefore settling on full honesty. "I mean, I dunno anything about any of it, but I liked them. There's a lot of emotion when you play."

"There used to be," Castiel corrects quietly. "I want to find it again. Like I did at the pops concert."

"Then do it," Dean encourages, rolling to his side so that he's nose to nose with Castiel. "Don't let your manager tell you what to play. It's your music. Your piano. Your soul. Your choice. Play completely for you just once, and you might find what you're looking for. Get it back. Whatever."

"You believe in me a great deal." Castiel's eyes slide closed again.

"Sure, I do. You're just burned out. Not burned up."

He barely feels the kiss that Castiel brushes against his lips, but that's okay.

"You're right," Castiel answers, finally, finally sounding unburdened. "Good night, Dean."

"'Night, Cas."

For the both of them that night, at least, their sleep was completely untroubled.

Chapter Text

In general, Dean is fully of the mind to never let his work and personal life meet, so he stubbornly refuses to even open his laptop on the weekend when he can get away with it. Castiel, on the other hand, appears to have a fire lit under him suddenly. He wakes up at dawn the next morning, shoves Dean aside with a soft, "piano!" muttered as he grabs his clothes, leaving Dean to blink at him groggily.

He seems startled when Dean rubs his eyes and mumbles, "what about breakfast?"

"Oh!" Castiel says, swinging around to face Dean as if realizing where he is. He glances around the room, gears turning. "I spent the night in your condo," he says.

A sleepy smile spreads over Dean's face. "Yeah."

"I'm so sorry," Castiel rushes to say as he pulls on his shirt and then sits on the edge of the bed closest to Dean, who reaches up automatically to press his hand against the pianist's lower back. "I had a dream about performing. Happens sometimes. It's... inspiration, I suppose? I always have a productive day after those dreams. So, normally I rush out of bed to get started. To not waste a second."

Dean can't relate. He's never once been inspired to get out of bed early for any kind of work, or even a hobby. That sort of passion is incredible. "Don't let me stop you," he murmurs, not bothering to stop the warm adoration in his tone.

Castiel's expression softens. He reaches over, pushing his long fingers into Dean's hair, ruffling it up even more. "I wouldn't mind if you did. And that's saying a lot."

"I'm getting that," Dean answers. He catches Castiel's hand as it skims down his cheek, kisses his palm. Then tilts his head up for a real kiss that lingers in its gentleness like they've been doing this same routine every morning for years. "If it'll make you feel better, we can eat some cereal and then I'll kick you out so you can work."

Castiel stands so that Dean can get out of bed. He tracks every movement as Dean stretches his arms up high, yawning, muscles taut as he shakes off the rest of his sleepiness. He's got an incredible body, and Castiel is a little angry at himself about not having been able to keep his eyes open for long enough to enjoy the feel of it against him last night when they'd curled together. Dean obviously pretends he doesn't notice Castiel's hungry stare, preening casually as he dresses in his sweats and a worn hoodie.

Dean wanders close since Castiel is blocking the doorway, and the pianist takes the hoodie strings in both hands, pulling Dean closer. "If you kick me out, I'll just take you with me."

"I've heard worse ideas." He licks his lips. Castiel kisses him quickly.

Then his stomach grumbles. "I'm hungry."

It sounds dangerously close to whining. "Let's feed you, then," Dean says. "Come on." He removes Castiel's hands from his hoodie and threads their fingers together. Happily, Castiel follows him to the kitchen.

Dean pulls out all the cereal boxes he has and puts them on the counter. He needs to go grocery shopping, but it's Sunday. He should be lazy on Sunday's. It's the Lord's Day, after all.

"Dean Winchester, you are an adult, are you not?"

"Yeah, why?" Dean wipes at his nose.

Castiel steps up beside him. "All of these cereals have cartoon characters on them."

Dean scoffs. "Gimme a break, man. Just because you're an adult doesn't mean you have to do boring stuff and eat boring food all the time. Life's short."

Chuckling, Castiel selects the Lucky Charms. "Shorter if you don't keep yourself healthy."

An easy smirk spreads over Dean's mouth. "You stared at me before. You know I'm healthy."

Castiel clears his throat against an embarrassed laugh. "Yes. I've seen."

Dean scoots down the counter until he's pressed right up against Castiel. In a tantalizing murmur he says, "then you should let me live my life and eat all the Cocoa Puffs I want. They make chocolate milk and I drink the whole bowl. Milk is healthy. Makes a body strong."

Castiel chuckles even as he leans away from Dean's smolder. "That's... an acceptable compromise."

Dean grins, steals another quick kiss, and then goes about making his own breakfast, whistling softly. Once they're settled at the table, Dean asks, "so what do you do on days like these when inspiration strikes?"

Castiel shrugs, swirling his spoon in the cereal. "It depends on the inspiration. Sometimes I practice the piece I was dreaming about. Sometimes I write or transcribe. Sometimes I just practice and let my hands wander to whatever they like. Normally after traveling I'd take a few days off completely, but the Muses are fickle, and I bow to their whims."

"Must be nice," Dean says, resting his chin on his fist and idly scooping up a spoonful of his own cereal. "I was thinking before that I can't even imagine enjoying getting up in the morning to work."

"It's not always enjoyable," Castiel smiles sympathetically. "Sometimes it's drudgery like anyone else goes through. But I try not to complain, because in the end I am living my dream. Nothing can be perfect all the time, though."

"That's true," Dean agrees. "I'm happy for you though. Envious, despite the flaws."

Castiel nods, unsure how to answer. Then after a pause asks, "what do you do in your spare time, then?"

"Eh, I watch a lot of anime."

Castiel laughs. "You watch cartoons on your days off after eating cereal with cartoons on them?"

"It's an art form," Dean protests, but he's smiling. They eat their breakfast, and Castiel is the one to rinse the dishes and put them in the dishwasher while Dean puts away the cereal. "Do you want me to come over, or will I be bothering you?"

"You're more than welcome, if you won't get bored," Castiel answers. "I can get somewhat into my work to the detriment of the world around me."

"Sounds like you need a babysitter, then," Dean answers.

"I hardly need that," Castiel mutters, but Dean's already out of the room, grabbing his laptop bag and slipping on his tennis shoes and keys.

The hold hands during the short elevator ride to Castiel's place.

Something about Castiel's condo is a lot more homey than Dean's, though he can't really put a finger on it. They're both exactly the same floor plan, decorated minimally, and clean. Maybe it's the piano. He's not sure, but he contemplates it as he settles on the part of the couch closest to the piano. Castiel gives up his wifi password and then adjusts himself onto the piano bench to warm up. It's simple scales and small measures of songs that test his dexterity. To Dean, even that much is beautiful.

Even though he said he wouldn't work on the weekend, Dean still pulls up his email. He'd been slacking a bit in the last week, and doesn't exactly want to fall behind on his work. No one will reprimand him for it, but they will ride his ass about certain things taking longer than normal. And frankly, the only one he wants riding him is Castiel. He smirks a little at the dirty thought as he skims through a handful of emails from Zachariah, who seems to think that there's nothing in the world better than making the people under him do his work for him.

His mood slips a little south the further he digs into his inbox, prioritizing the mess, but instead of it leading to him rage quitting the whole thing, Castiel's music begins to register, gradually soothing away the irritation. It takes a minute, but as Dean lets his eyes unfocus from his laptop screen, he recognizes the tune. It's an artfully arranged, slower rendition of "Highway to Hell." He stifles his laugh since the last thing he wants to do is make Castiel stop playing. He turns his head. As promised, Castiel is fully invested in the song, though it's not as polished as some of the other things Dean's heard him play. Castiel pauses for a moment every now and then; replays a bar here, tries a different arrangement there, but overall it's objectively wonderful. And Castiel's face while he's playing... it's magnificent. He looks almost blissed out when he hits his stride on the familiar parts of the piece.

Slowly, Dean slides off of the couch to the floor. He inches towards the piano, inexplicably needing to be closer. He turns around, pressing his back against the piano bench, his head resting lightly against Castiel's lower back. He can feel every flex of the man's muscles as he sweeps up the keyboard and back down. Somehow, it connects Dean to the music even more, seeping into his bones.

Abruptly, Castiel switches to "Simple Man," playing it much more pianissimo, almost like an afterthought. "Talk to me, Dean," he says as gently as the notes flowing from the piano.

Dean closes his eyes, draws his knees up. "I really hate my fucking job," he murmurs. It's so soft he's not sure that Castiel can hear him.

But he does because he makes a thoughtful hum and answers, "what does it feel like waking up on Monday?"

He doesn't answer right away. Several unkind words spring to mind immediately, but those are the words he gives his friends and family. Trite and just enough for them to nod sympathetically and agree that they've all been there. It's more than that. And he doesn't want to make anyone worry about his mental health. With Castiel, though...

He doesn't realize he's lightly humming along to the tune until he switches to speaking. "I get out of bed, get in the shower, and it feels like the air is so heavy. I'd never tell anyone else, but man, I always feel like I'm five seconds away from crying or murdering my boss. All the time. Every fucking day."

Castiel plays a little louder, and Dean can swear he can hear the sympathetic agitation in the music now. "Is there anything I can do to help?"

Dean smiles, an exhausted tiny thing. "You have no idea how much you already are."

Another measure goes by, and the music smooths out again. "Sing for me, Dean," Castiel says.

Immediately, Dean picks up the chorus. The tempo is different, but Castiel makes it easy to follow along. They unconsciously adjust to each other's volume in what Dean thinks is a perfect mix of voice and strings. Castiel never misses a single note. The music fades with the last repeat. Castiel folds his hands in his lap. Dean remains back-to-back with the pianist. His face is damp.

Once the final strains disappear completely, Castiel says, "you have a beautiful soul, Dean Winchester."

Dean presses back more firmly against Castiel. "So do you," he answers hoarsely.

A minute of silence passes. Castiel starts to play again. Dean grins. He'd always wondered what Bon Jovi would sound like on the piano.

They don't talk much for the rest of the morning. Castiel plays on, only stopping to transcribe the things he likes. Dean gets up to make them tea at some point, and then settles back on the couch to keep track of Castiel's song list on his laptop. After lunch is made, they begin their first shop talk.

Castiel sits cross legged on the sofa next to Dean, eating his sandwich daintily and looking over at the list. "If I were to put these in some sort of order, how should I do it?"

Beaming, Dean wipes his hands on his napkin and starts numbering the pieces, explaining his reasoning. He's been to a lot of concerts in his life. Castiel listens, enthralled, obviously soaking up the explanations.

"It makes perfect sense what you're saying," he says. "There's a real ebb and flow to rock concerts, isn't there?"

Shrugging, Dean says, "yeah. It depends on the band, though. The sort of mood they want to bring out. Sometimes they start simple. Slower songs and then working the crowd up into a frenzy. They like to put classic, or well-loved songs throughout. End with a bang. Other times, they start with a real arena rocker and keep up the energy until the end when they get more relaxed and leave people smiling. It's all good."

"I've never really been to a rock concert," Castiel admits. "It makes sense how they'd carefully choose their set lists to whatever they wanted to achieve with the audience since they're both part and parcel. It's not the same with a lot of classical music, sadly."

Dean leans back against the plush cushions. "How does it go with classical concerts, then? I only went to the pops concert, but that's so different than what you normally do."

Castiel tips his head from side to side, sipping his tea. "Most of them are predetermined arrangements," he says. "They've been that way for hundreds of years, and they're played the way that the audience expects. There isn't as much give and take, either. The orchestra plays and the audience listens. I mean, I've known about the difference in performances, but I was quite shocked when I experienced real audience interaction for the first time at the pops concert. I didn't think I'd be so affected by it."

Dean turns enough to face Castiel fully, folding his legs up. "I watched you pretty much the whole concert."

Flushing slightly, Castiel's eyes fall to his mug. "That's embarrassing."

"No, it's not," Dean insists. "You were so into it. You looked like an angel up there, playing for all you were worth."

"It was the most amazing feeling I'd ever had," Castiel admits. "I loved it."

He can't resist it, so Dean bends forward and kisses Castiel lightly. It lingers, chaste. Light pecks from both of them interspersed with more firm kisses, though their mouths stay closed. It makes Dean tingle all over.

When they finally pull apart, Castiel sighs, pushing his forehead against Dean's. "I want to do a rock concert." He sounds so full of longing that Dean aches right along with him.

"Then do it. I'll help you."

Castiel shakes his head, rolling his forehead against Dean's. "None of my employers will help me."

Dean tilts his chin and kisses Castiel again. And then another one. "Do you have enough connections to make it on your own?" When he opens his eyes, Castiel is already staring at him with something like cautious hope.

"I probably do. And I have a lot of support of most people - including the concertmaster - in the philharmonic here."

That's what he wanted to hear. Dean shows his teeth in a challenging grin. "Then what the fuck are you waiting for?"

Castiel tackles Dean backwards onto the sofa, kissing him with all the passion of a ramped up musician. It's hot. So hot. Dean goes with it willingly - he's kind of always wanted to be a groupie - as well as with something like relief to feel Castiel already half-hard against him.

Then he's helpless against Castiel's onslaught, because his hands. They're insane. They're good at everything. Dean's never been one to be passive in the making out department, but at least for now, he can't do anything except get drunk on the sensation of Castiel's long fingers stroking him everywhere. And it also seems like Castiel doesn't notice Dean being unable to move much. His fingers don't stop, exploring his face and neck. He pushes up to straddle Dean's legs, gripping his face tightly, kissing him with hungry desperation. Dean opens for him happily, dizzily, their tongues meeting in a whole other erotic explosion.

Dean is resting against the arm of the sofa, wiggling up enough to give himself a bit of an incline to have a better angle. When Castiel's sinfully talented hands push down over his chest to his sensitive abs, Dean's own hands clench against Castiel's ass, anchoring their hard-ons together so that they both moan. It's the least he can do.

Castiel's hips twitch, then grind down. Reflexively, he squeezes the short hair on the back of Dean's head, almost accidentally yanking. Dean makes a deliciously high whine in his throat, gasping as his head is jerked back. "Jesus," he breathes. "Jesus, Cas." His eyes are hazy with lust as he opens them.

Castiel's heated gaze is full of wonder. "Do you... like that?"

"It's your hands," Dean manages, barely able to keep coherent words in any sort of reasonable order when Castiel gives a particularly compelling slide of his hips to bring himself closer. His mouth finds Dean's pulse on his neck, sucking lightly, dragging lips and teeth along the pounding line.

"What about them?" Castiel asks, flicking his tongue into Dean's ear, and goddamn the man knows exactly what he's doing.

Dean tucks his leg over Castiel's calves, using the sudden movement to flip them. Castiel lets out a startled cry, and it's Dean's turn to drive them a little bit more crazy now that he's got some of his head back. "They're fucking amazing," he growls, pushing his hips down. Castiel gasps and his eyes slam shut. It inspires Dean to pull out all the stops, a symphony of core and thigh muscles undulating to create an exquisite friction against their groins.

For the first time he's aware of, Dean watches Castiel actually fumble. His hands are shaking when he reaches between them, clawing at the fastenings on their pants.

And Dean keeps up the teasing as he says, "I could watch you play the piano all day. The way your fingers move over the keys. They look the same when you're touching me. Strong, sure, playing me like a goddamn song, if you wanna know the truth." He takes care of freeing them from the confines of denim and cotton. When their dicks thrust together for the first time, Castiel practically shakes apart.

"I do," Castiel moans. "I do, I do, I do." His fingers slip on his own button and he gives up with a huff and whine, instead grabbing for the hem of Dean's shirt, yanking it up to feel smooth skin. Just like he'd play a soft staccato, he trails lightly over Dean's abs, burning up as they tense under him.

Dean's hands cover his, stilling them low on his belly, but allowing Castiel's blunt nails to dig in. In an instant, he's glad he spends regular time at the gym, though he hates it, because he's discovered one of Castiel's turn on's, and that's the feeling of a strong body on top of him. He'd had an inkling when Castiel was watching him before when they got out of bed. Confirmed right now, and he's more than happy to take advantage.

And pretty soon he's all hard everything as his body begins to tighten towards release. It's gonna feel incredible. The way that Castiel can follow the beat of any music, including this sort of primal dance.

Castiel is more vocal than Dean had expected. His breathy moans turn into words of praise. He's not loud, but he is a good counterpoint to Dean, who's engrossed enough watching Castiel underneath him that all he can manage are soft gasps and hard breaths that quicken towards his release.

It's so good that Dean can't imagine it getting better, but then Castiel breaks free of his grip and wraps his strong fingers around both of their cocks, stroking frantically.

Dean's head tips back and stars dance behind his closed eyes. "Don't fucking stop," he demands.

"Never," Castiel promises. Faster and faster, the tempo almost too much to follow. "You're so good. Want you inside me so bad."

"Fuck!" Dean hisses. That's it. That's the whole show and encore. He comes apart gloriously, orgasm sweeping away every bad thing that's ever happened to him, it feels like.

Castiel lets out a strangled shout a moment later and his shaking hands squeeze gently as he comes before falling away from their spent cocks.

Dean could stay this way forever, he's sure of it. Nothing feels better than this. Except for the part where he bends down to kiss Castiel languidly again. He wants to take a nap in the afterglow.

Slurring slightly, Castiel says, "I'm going to wash up. Please be in the bed when I'm done."

Score. Dean slides off the couch, strips his jeans off, and tucks himself into his boxers, not shy at all about Castiel's roving eyes on him. He knows he's pretty damn good at sauntering, and plays that up as he leads the way to the back of the condo.

Castiel breaks away to the bathroom to wash his hands, and then he's back before Dean even has the covers pulled down. "This right here is true laziness," he says.

Castiel worms into the bed. "There's nothing lazy about a nap after an amazing orgasm. It's simply indulgent."

"Can't argue with that." Dean pulls the sheets up over them. Castiel scoots as close as he can.

They stare at each other.

Dean snorts.

Castiel chuckles.

"That was fun."

"We should do it again sometime."

"If I was ten years younger..."

"You're such a stud."

Dean laughs outright.

Castiel brushes lightly through Dean's hair, pushing it off of his forehead. He really seems to enjoy those casually intimate gestures. "You look better now. More relaxed."

"You let me forget about the bullshit," Dean says softly. "I feel better."

There's more staring and more silence, though this time it's considering. "Can I ask you something?"

Dean shifts around on the pillow, putting an arm under it and fluffing it. "Go for it."

Uncertainty laces every word as Castiel says, "if I... if I fired my manager... if I wanted to pursue a change of pace with the rock concert... would you consider letting me hire you as my manager? Would... would you be interested in something like that?"

Dean's first thought is, wow, I didn't know someone's face could get that red. After that, he feels his chest clench. He guesses that Castiel is the type to try his hardest to make everyone he cares about happy when he's happy himself. It's endearing. "You don't have to do something like that for me, Cas," he answers gently. "I get by. I don't need favors or pity. Despite how it looks, I chose the job and the money. It doesn't always break me down."

Castiel's eyes widen. "I'm not trying to... it's honestly not like that. Not completely. I wouldn't risk the rest of my career for a favor, I promise you. It's just that you actually have the perfect skillet for this. You know the music, the audience, you know management, PR, scheduling. It's a different area, but with your professional background, I believe you would be fantastic at this. Also... I could pay you a competitive salary. It won't change anything between us if you say no."

He's so fucking earnest about it that clearly he's given it more thought than Dean would have. "You're serious?"

"Yes," Castiel says vehemently. "And my coworkers agree with me. I asked for their input in case I was looking at you with rose tinted glasses."

"You really are serious. Shit, Cas. Yeah, I mean... can I think about it?"

Castiel steals another kiss. "Of course you can. At any rate, I'd like to bother you for your input anyway. I'm going to do the concert."

Dean squints. "You already fired your manager, didn't you?"

"Of course I did," Castiel answers imperiously. "He was holding me back."

Smirking, Dean says, "I'm a bad influence on you."

"Dangerous influence," Castiel corrects. "And I always did like a little bit of that."

"Happy to oblige," Dean murmurs, kissing Castiel again. The pianist crowds onto his pillow, all arms and legs, tugging them flush for a gloriously long makeout session. Dean's not ten years younger, though at one point his dick does try valiantly to join in. But finally they're relaxing again, Castiel head on Dean's chest, drawing small circles over his heart absently.

"Whatever happens, I need you to know that it feels like you've done something big for me, Dean," Castiel says finally. "I'm grateful for it. Feels like my life will never be the same. I've got that spark back. Thank you."

Dean brushes his lips over Castiel's forehead. "It's my pleasure. I'm proud of you."

Castiel holds him tighter. "Thank you," he repeats.

They drift off for an afternoon nap, both feeling the plates shifting under them. And neither one afraid of that. Not together, such as they are.

Chapter Text

Monday morning feels a lot different when Dean slaps his phone to turn of the alarm. He stretches, star fishing across the bed and staring at the ceiling for a few minutes before bothering to get up to shower.

Castiel's offer has been rattling around in his head since yesterday. When he'd gotten home the night before, Dean had done some research on the job. Castiel had been correct. It wasn't exactly out of his wheelhouse, and he's always been a fast learner. He knows he could do the job and do it well. He also knows that he'd be burning a lot of bridges if he quit Sandover. So if it doesn't work out managing Cas, he'd be up shit creek without a paddle.

There's the job security to consider, first and foremost. He'd love nothing better than to stalk into Zachariah's office and tell him to shove it, but unless he quits, he won't get fired. Zachariah relies on him far too much to keep making him look good. So he could easily skate by to a comfortable retirement.

But as he shampoos his hair he reminds himself that that's exactly what he has to think about. What was the most important thing? Money, or the potential for greater job fulfillment and happiness?

When he'd started at Sandover years ago, the answer had been easy. Money all the way. He's been hard off, and he's been downright poor. The salary he'd managed to win had counteracted his dissatisfaction with his career path. He has health insurance, a hefty 401K, a savings he'd never dreamed of. It's easy to look at this sort of problem from the place he's at now. He's not hurting for anything, and in fact, has excess. He has the luxury of wondering what it would be like to throw it all away on a whim. Past him would have kicked his own ass for even considering it.

Then again, past Dean had really taken one for the team, knowing he was walking into misery at that job. Maybe it's time for present Dean to take all that money and privilege he's earned, and risk it. He's paid his dues, hasn't he?

He thinks about that a lot on the drive to the office. He doesn't even need the radio on. For once, he doesn't want the distraction.

People begin to greet him the second he's at the parking deck elevators, but he only gives them an auto-reply. He says nothing to the other executives on his floor, and closes his office door the second he arrives. Some people will find that strange since he usually has both a literal and figurative "open door policy," but they can suck it today. Dean's got a lot of work to do.

The first thing is to fire up the computer and make a list. Pros and cons. A practical, factual overview of why he should stay or go. He knows he won't be so objective if he doesn't have a physical list to go over. Because, honestly, his kneejerk reaction had been to drop everything and run with Castiel into the sunset with the rock shows. He needs more than his crush and prayer to make a stable career.

He kills the screen when Zachariah pokes his head in without knocking, as usual. "Winchester!" he booms in his falsely gregarious tone that makes Dean's skin crawl. "Working hard or hardly working?"

Dean smiles at his most fake. "You know me, Adler. Gettin' it done as always." Why is he even thinking about this? Can his sanity really afford however many years of Adler until the dickhead retires?

"Good. Got a few more items for you to look over before the end of the quarter. Need to slim down the expenses, right? Whenever you get a chance. Shoot me an email, tell me what you think."

Translation: more people to fire to bump up the bottom line. "Will do," Dean answers, mentally adding, you balding asshole to the end.

Then Zachariah is gone and Dean adds to the pro list, never seeing Adler's shiny head again. That's a big one. Might outweigh some of the smaller cons.

He takes his lunch break at his desk as well, ordering up from the cafeteria like he never does, just in case someone wants to talk to him on his off hour, but he doesn't want to waste a minute with this life decision. Though he's no closer to one eventually, so he goes to his last resort. Meaning, he plugs in his headset and calls Sam.

His brother picks up on the third ring sounding astonished to hear from him. "Dean? What's up? Something wrong?"

Chewing his sandwich as loudly as possible because it's one of Sam's pet peeves he says, "why you always think I'm dying when I call you?"

Sam's voice sounds a little farther away when he answers. Must have put him on speaker to hear the chewing less. Score. "Because the last time you called me at one in the afternoon, you'd been in a car accident and were on your way to the ER. You never call."

"Yeah, well, screw you, I need some advice. But if you'd rather not..."

Of course he rather would. Sam's nose is a mile long. Nothing makes him happier than being an obnoxious smart know-it-all. He proceeds with caution, however, asking neutrally, "sure. What's up?"

It's now or never, and his lunch break ain't getting any shorter. "I was thinking about quitting Sandover for a better offer."

Silence.

Sam clears his throat.

Kudos for sounding almost bored with his next questions. It had to be nearly impossible to rein in his curiosity. "What are the details? Benefits?"

"No."

"Retirement plan?"

"Nah."

"Better pay?"

"Probably not."

"More job security?"

"Nope."

"Um."

"I'd be happier."

"Oh." A for effort, but now Sam sounds like it's painful for him to keep his enthusiasm in. "So, what is it? I mean, I'm assuming anything would make you happier than Sandover, but this must be big if you're going for no security or benefits or anything."

Dean turns his chair around to look out on the obscenely nice view he has of the city. "Castiel Milton asked me to be his manager."

He could probably hear a mouse fart over the line, Sam's so quiet. Finally, "the... pianist? You and he...? Am I having a stroke and mishearing, or is this really happening?"

"Yeah, it's... uh, he and I met up after the concert and got to know each other. He lives in the same building, and one thing led to another, and... tell me I'm not gonna have to explain this to you, Sammy."

"No!" Sam says emphatically. "I get it! I'm just surprised, is all. Wow, Mildred is gonna kill you. Hey! Good for you! But I guess... are you calling me because you're worried there's an ulterior motive? You can't have been together that long. The concert was only a couple weeks ago, right?"

Had it really only been a couple of weeks? Wow. Yeah. Must have been. "That's not what it is. Long story short, Cas wants to do another pops concert by himself. But his manager says it would ruin his image, so he fired the guy, and is going for it anyway. Pretty badass, if you ask me. But like, I know I can do the job. It's not out of my area. It's just that... what happens if Cas and I don't make it? Like, as a couple? I'll be back to job hunting again, and I fucking hate job hunting."

"That makes sense," Sam says thoughtfully. "Mixing personal relationships with work is difficult, even if you're steady and have been with the person for ages. Lots of potential for a conflict of interest."

"I should say no, shouldn't I?"

"Not necessarily, if you're really thinking seriously about saying yes."

The answer irritates Dean. It's too evasive and he was counting on Sam to be his usual overbearing self. "Clear as mud, Sammy," he complains.

Sam huffs. "No, I mean, I don't think you should write it off just because it's a conflict of interest. You tend to disregard things out of hand, so when you tell me you've actually been considering this, I put weight on it. And I agree that you'd be good at it. As long as you have a solid contract in place for every eventuality. A way to protect yourself if the personal side of things goes south."

"I can do that."

"Hire me, and I'll write it myself."

"Done, ya sleazeball."

Sam's tone suddenly brightens, sweeping away the solemnity. "And hey, if worse comes to worst, you've got an in with a really fantastic recruiter!"

Dean chuckles. "Yeah, I'm sure Eileen would be over the moon with the commission she'd make off of my salary requirements."

"Damn right she would. We got a mortgage to pay!"

"I love how you always keep it real."

"Wouldn't be any other way. Seriously, though, Dean. It's a good idea. Maybe even the chance you've been waiting for. You're not old, and there's not a lot stopping you. You've got plenty of money saved, a good skillset, plenty of experience. You wouldn't be out of the fold too long if it did fall through with Cas."

Dean pauses. "Are you tactfully telling me to go for it?"

"Pretty much."

It feels like the weight of the world has instantly lifted off of his shoulders. "Thanks, Sam," he says sincerely.

He must sound too relieved because Sam's voice is uncomfortably affectionate when he answers, "anytime, Dean. Call me later, okay? Tell me how it goes."

"Will do."

He disconnects the call and contemplates the city below for the rest of his lunch break.

That evening, he doesn't go home. He goes straight to Castiel's without telling him, or even being invited. For some reason, it doesn't occur to him to be polite and that he doesn't have an open invitation to show up whenever he wants.

But the door still opens, and Castiel starts smiling the second his eyes land on him. "Dean." It's such an inviting sound.

"Hey, Cas," he says shyly. "You got a minute?"

"Of course." He moves out of the way, but then seems to change his mind when Dean takes a step forward. He grasps Dean's tie gently, pulling him in for a kiss while Dean kicks his foot out behind him to shut the door. The kiss is a lot sexier than expected, and Dean's thrilled to have it. Not sure what he did to deserve it, but he'll take it, anyway.

When they separate, Castiel says, "you look amazing in a suit."

With a rakish grin, Dean says, "yeah, well don't get used to it." He reaches into his breast pocket under his jacket and holds out an envelope.

"What's this?" Castiel asks tentatively, taking it. Dean shrugs, so he opens it, pulls out the neatly folded letterhead, and reads. Then a soft, "oh!" Then he looks up. "Dean, I..."

"You still want me to be your manager?"

"Yes, I do," he answers immediately and with one hundred percent confidence.

"Good. Then let's come up with a workable arrangement and get my smarmy lawyer brother to write up a contract for us." He watches as Castiel's beautiful fingers fold up the letter of resignation and slip it back into the envelope.

"Are you sure you've thought about it enough? I don't want you to feel pressured."

"Thought you might say that." Dean pulls out another piece of paper, this one folded into fourths and stuffed into his wallet. He offers it out much more ceremoniously, flicking his wrist to pop it open. "This ought to convince you."

Castiel reads the paper, brow furrowed. "You made a list of pros and cons to accepting my offer?"

"Yeah."

"That was very wise," he muses, then laughs a little. "Baldness is an actual deal-breaker to you?"

Dean leans back on his heels with a sheepish grin. "I was mad at him."

"I suppose so." He reads the list twice and gives it back to Dean. "It appears you're most worried about us breaking up and the business arrangement not working out." Dean takes his hand and crumples the note between them.

"Yeah, it's not like we were friends first, or anything. So, there's no real going back if things fall apart. If we're gonna do this-" he gestures between the two of them and towards the paper, "then we're gonna do it smart. All of it."

"Your terms are acceptable," Castiel agrees, smiles.

Dean yanks, and Castiel stumbles, almost knocking their heads together, but catching himself at the last minute.

He can only describe the look on Dean's face as wolfish. "I can take you all the way, Cas," he says firmly. "Don't doubt that for a second."

Castiel shivers at the throaty promise. Not just from the double meaning. Either way, he knows that Dean can deliver both. "I don't."

That sort of faith is a huge turn on. Dean takes full advantage. Castiel kisses him with a giddy ferocity as it all starts to sink in. He kisses Dean all over his face with a series of small laughs and sounds that sound like "thank you" over and over. He's practically vibrating in his excitement. He's also laughing, which makes the kissing falter and stop until he's clinging to Dean and they're both giddy with the promise of the unknown.

Then Castiel is shoving Dean away, and he would feel rejected, only the pianist is digging for his phone in all of his pockets before he remembers it's in his right back pocket, and he starts typing rapidly, talking at about the same speed.

"I have to tell everyone," he explains in a rush. "They'll want to know so we can hook up with the philharmonic and do this. I want a full orchestra and they'll have to block their schedules. They're very busy."

Dean watches with a grin. He's created a monster.

"Charlie says yes. So does Gabriel. Balthazar. Cain wants to conduct. He's always had a bit of a wild side. Oh, not again. He sent me a whole paragraph on bringing new people to the symphony and appealing to a wider audience. He does this every time. I think he's got the whole speech saved on his phone."

"I thought he'd be more of a purest," Dean says thoughtfully, reading over the - admittedly - long wall of text.

"He used to be," Castiel answers, putting his phone on the coffee table. "But he realized that music is meant to be heard. Tastes change. No one's obligated to love Beethoven forever. At least not all the time. Doing all of this, at the very least has cured me of my former pretentiousness."

"Really?"

Castiel arches an eyebrow. "Don't sound so smug."

"But I am smug because you've changed so much. Even I can tell, and I haven't known you all that long. It's awesome."

Castiel takes Dean's lapels in his hands, drawing the man close again. "How is it that you've only known me for a few weeks, and yet you're more supportive of my happiness than some people I've known my whole life?"

Dean slides his hands up Castiel's arms, neck, cupping his face. "Because everything about you is so much more incredible when you're happy. I want you to be happy, Cas. I think you can do anything."

His face softens. "I might fail, you know."

"No, you won't. Has it even crossed your mind as a viable option?"

Grinning wickedly, Castiel answers, "no."

"God, that's sexy," Dean murmurs against Castiel's lips. Now they're kissing with intent. They're walking backwards in an awkward tango towards the bedroom while Castiel works diligently to divest Dean of his expensive suit. He jerks the tie loose, but doesn't unknot it all the way. Just enough to be able to reach the buttons on his dress shirt. They pop free easily, though it's a little frustrating to find an undershirt below. Too many layers.

Dean senses his impatience, shucking his jacket, but as he reaches for his tie, Castiel stops him. They shuffle into the bedroom and Castiel hesitates.

"What's up?" Dean asks between kisses.

"Would you be willing to try something with me?" Castiel asks.

"Sure," Dean answers immediately, picking his way over Castiel's warm skin with small nips of teeth. He rolls Castiel's long sleeved t-shirt up and Castiel raises his arms to have it removed. "Especially if it involves something like me being inside you."

"Oh, yes," Castiel gulps. "That sounds... perfect, actually. But I'd like to..." he grabs tightly at Dean's shoulders when he mouths a hot trail over his chest to bite a nipple. "DeanI'dreallyliketoblindfoldyou," he rushes to finish before his breath leaves him completely.

Agonizingly slowly, Dean pulls up to meet his eyes. "You do?"

Castiel nods.

"Why?"

Shy, Castiel fidgets absently with Dean's belt buckle, valiantly ignoring the straining erection beneath the wool slacks. "Last time... you said those things about my hands... I thought maybe..."

Dean remembers, all right. And the thought of Castiel's hands being on him when he can't see where they're going... his dick twitches so hard it makes him flinch. "Sounds good," he croaks.

Castiel's hands slide up Dean's tie to the knot. "You trust me?"

"Yeah."

Castiel's brilliant smile comes closer before Dean shuts his eyes and they're kissing again. Then, Castiel pulls away. He gently lifts the loosened tie up, turns it so that the knot is to the back, covering Dean's eyes completely. He tightens it just enough to be snug. "Can you see?"

Dean shivers. "No." He's been waiting his whole life for something like this and he didn't even know it.

Gently, Castiel pushes Dean's chest. It takes a few faltering steps backwards, but Dean finds his equilibrium, and Castiel is making absolutely sure that he doesn't run into anything. But when they reach the bed, Castiel catches him and doesn't let him sit down. "Not yet."

"You're the boss," Dean says gamely, unable to keep the tremors out of his voice. He's so fucking excited.

He hears the shifting of fabric, thinking it's Castiel undressing, but it's not. It's him moving because his voice is low right in Dean's ear all of the sudden. "When you said that I could play you like a song, it stuck with me. I've been thinking about it. Wondering if I can."

Dean jumps when Castiel's warm fingers pinch lightly over his nipple. "Definitely think you can," Dean says, strained. "I told you; you can do anything."

The teasing stroke turns to firm pressure when Castiel presses his palms against Dean's abdomen, making the muscles flex. Dean hears a long sigh before those insanely warm hands sweep up over his chest to his shoulders. "Sit."

Dean complies.

"Do you want me to tell you where I'm going, or leave it a surprise?"

Dean grins. "Thrill me."

"Plan to."

It's the best decision he's ever made in the bedroom. Maybe beyond. The first order of business is to get rid of the rest of Dean's clothes, though it's much hotter when Castiel decides not to follow a pattern. He removes one of Dean's shoes and socks before switching to the rest of the shirt. Then back down to the other foot, and up to the belt. Every new touch sparks heat with the surprise, making it all the more intense. Dean's heart is pounding in his chest when he's finally completely naked and Castiel is telling him to lay back.

He expects more skin contact after that, but the rest of Castiel's body remains elusive, and Dean's made the executive decision to remain still for as long as he can.

And he's hardly prepared for the erotic overload when both their hands meet. There are plenty of other spots to touch him that'll bring him much more easily to a writhing mess. In fact, he's never experienced such intimate touching to his palms before. It's completely new, and has him tingling all the way up to his shoulders. "Cas," he whispers.

Castiel threads their fingers together encouragingly, then releases, trailing his fingers down into Dean's open palms, tracing the lines, the veins on his wrists. The touch is confident but feather-light. It would tickle if Dean wasn't already too turned on to register anything as less than seductive. He lets out a soft moan when Castiel moves on, pressure changing from firm to light at irregular intervals up his arms, to his neck. "You feel wonderful," Castiel murmurs.

One hand disappears, and Dean mourns the loss, but the other makes up for it. A single finger trails down his sternum, straight down to paint between his abs, then into the jut of his hips. Dean grapples for the slats of the headboard, cursing and arching up. But Castiel is too in tune with him, drawing the finger away until Dean resettles, only to reward him with two fingers splayed out on either side of his rock hard dick, rolling down the foreskin. Castiel's thumb presses against the underside of the glans, massages it before moving up over the head and wiping the beading precome around the tip, causing Dean to make a noise he's pretty sure he's never made before.

A bead of sweat rolls down his temple into his ear, itching a little, and for a mindless moment he wishes he had something to bite down on. Anything. He needs pressure. He must have said something out loud because Castiel answers, "shh. Patience. This piece has several movements. It won't be finished in one verse."

Groaning from the depths of his soul, Dean says harshly, "love it when you talk music to me."

Roughly, Castiel growls, "next movement."

There's finally weight and pressure. Castiel is straddling Dean's thighs and he's gloriously naked. And also... slick. Oh, God. Instantly the lack of touching from the other hand makes perfect sense. Castiel's left hand is slippery with lube when he wraps his fingers around both of their dicks to coat them. Lines them up perfectly. Begins to thrust.

"Can I ride you?" he asks breathlessly.

The sheer amount of desperation for it makes Dean laugh helplessly. "Yes. Yes, please. Yes, always. Yes."

Castiel abruptly stops moving, hips rising up. He rips the tie off of Dean's eyes, and though the quick return to brightness makes him blink several times, once his vision clears, the view is beyond words. He drops his hands to Castiel's hips to steady the pianist. He'd thought the man had been in control, but seeing him now... he's nothing short of wrecked.

A high flush paints his cheeks, his full lips are parted and wet like he's been biting them, curled strands of hair matted to his forehead from the thin sheen of sweat, eyes dark and wild. Both of them are barely holding it together.

So, for the moment, Dean can help. He plants his feet firmly on the bed and juts his hips up. The tip of his dick prods against Castiel's loosened hole. Castiel makes a needy sound as they both lower their hips together. But when Dean stops, Castiel keeps going. He reaches between them, holding Dean's length at the base and lowering himself in increments. The strain furrows his brow in the effort to take it slow, but he's seated soon enough, leaning back against Dean's raised knees with a sigh, face turned up to the ceiling.

He opens his eyes and lowers his chin. Dean looks back at him, eyes swimming with want, need, desire, adoration.

Castiel braces both hands flat against Dean's chest for leverage, pushing the air out of Dean's lungs. He doesn't need it anyway because when Castiel starts to move, all pretense is gone.

He's hot and tight and playing Dean less like a song and more like a whole orchestral arrangement. It's hard, quick, glorious. Castiel works himself on Dean's cock with short thrusts, crying out when he finds the best angle.

Dean holds on for dear life, hands tight on Castiel's hips.

Breathing hitched, Castiel grinds out, "I can come just... just like this. Dean, la-last move... oh, God, last movement."

Dean's answer is a series of incoherent sounds of encouragement that spill from his lips in a single string. Everything's so tight followed by the spiraling heat lit in his belly, shooting up through his chest and into his limbs. He thinks he's holding on too tightly, but he can't help it. He heaves Castiel up and off of him right as he comes; a thick, hot mess of it splattering against his stomach. And he doesn't give the pianist a second to protest, as wave after wave of ferocious pleasure surges through him.

He shoots up to sitting and dumps Castiel unceremoniously onto his back, rolls forward to blanket the pianist's body with his own. He can taste the slight tang of blood when he crashes their lips together. Castiel responds with a frantic desperation that Dean will never stop answering to. He lowers his hips until Castiel's dick is trapped, sliding through the mess of come. It feels like Castiel is going to shake right apart in his arms, but Dean's got this. He presses a single finger past Castiel's loosened, slicked rim, and it only takes two exploratory twitches of his wrist to find the prostate.

Castiel lets out a gorgeous wail, clenches around Dean's finger, ruts his hips up hard, and then he's coming, too, lower back bowing off of the sheets.

They hold each other tightly through the aftershocks, touching from feet to foreheads, sharing the same gasping breaths. Each small shudder feels like the pinprick of an electric shock.

Eventually, Dean is able to pry his eyes open. Castiel does the same a moment later. He smiles, just a sated curl of his lips. Dean kisses him lazily. One embrace fades into another until they're both dozing on top of the covers, warmed by each other's body heat, feet resting on the pillows at the head of the bed. Dean is so content that he's only barely aware of Castiel dragging over one of their shirts to give them a lazy wipe down before settling again. He doesn't want to move a muscle. Neither of them do. Popping the afterglow bubble would be tragic. So instead of that, they lay in bed for a long time, trading small kisses and immune to the rest of the world turning somewhere outside beyond them.

Chapter Text

Sam had said that he was going to be cool with the whole thing, but he's not. Not in the slightest. He's drafted up the contract at the speed of light, and then calls Dean and Castiel over to his home for dinner and to go over it all. Eileen's making her famous lasagna, so Dean's all in.

When they arrive, Mildred is actually the one who answers the door, giving the pair of them a serious look that Dean hadn't even known she was capable of. "You couldn't have told me?" she demands.

Taken aback, Dean answers, "I... what?"

Graciously, Castiel steps forward, offering his elegant hand to Mildred. "I'm Castiel Milton. It's a pleasure to meet you, Mrs...?"

The winning smile gets to her in a split second. Mildred practically swoons against him, grabbing his hand and pulling him inside. "Ms.," she stresses first off, because of course she does, "just call me Mildred. I'm your biggest fan, Mr. Milton." She loops her arm through his on the way to the kitchen. "You know, I saw your debut with the philharmonic years ago. Kept my eye on you ever since. I've seen all of your solo performances. I'm a season ticket holder for the orchestra. As a retired musician myself, I can always spot talent."

Dean rolls his eyes as Castiel says, "oh?"

"Yes," Mildred enthuses. "I was in a Patsy Cline cover band." She titter with laughter. Castiel chuckles. Dean starts to feel like Mildred might really challenge him for the pianist's affections.

She's laying it on so thick that all Dean can do is follow behind them helpless and mouth "why" to Eileen and Sam.

Eileen grins and shrugs. Sam greets them all, handing Dean, what he considers to be, an apology beer.

Mildred's a charmer, though. Castiel looks like he's having the best time reminiscing about his old concerts to a rapt audience who'd actually been there for most of them in the city. And Mildred is dying to hear all about his overseas shows. They gab like two long-lost friends while Eileen moves between the kitchen and the living room, passing around wine and keeping an eye on the oven and stove. Sam and Dean take the time away from their companions to go over the first draft of the contract in Sam's quiet office.

Sam Winchester, Esq. is nothing if not thorough. He's laid out everything in general legalese; the same stuff that anyone would expect to see in this kind of partnership contract, but there are also special provisions. Those, Dean pays the most attention to. After all, they're the most worrisome for the future.

"Wow," Dean says, flipping pages. "You didn't leave a single stone unturned, did you? You've got everything from a dating situation going sour to a marriage and subsequent divorce. My whole hypothetical future planned out in terrifying detail."

Sam leans back in his chair, sipping his beer and twirling his red pen. "Those are just what-if's, and we need to think about them if you and Castiel are going to continue on with the work and personal life combined. You have to cover both of your asses."

"You sure you're not jinxing it?"

"Always knew you were secretly superstitious."

"No, I'm not. Shut up." He scratches some things out moodily on the contract and then flips through the rest a second time to make sure that he hasn't missed anything before handing the contract back to his brother.

Sam pages through it. "Hey, wait, you really wanna change this part about splitting of company assets upon dissolution of the contract? And your royalties?"

"Yeah," Dean says. "I won't take more of a percentage than I'm due."

"Dude, you due-"

"-I'm due what's fair. Most of this is Cas, not me. The money's gonna be coming from him, okay? I'm just there to get him the exposure. Manage his calendar. Book him gigs. I wouldn't make any money if not for him."

Sam rolls his eyes. "And he wouldn't play any shows or make any money if it weren't for you."

"So, we're even."

"That's why you deserve more."

"Forget it. Give me the standard. End of story. I did my research. I know what most managers get in these sorts of deals."

"You're the whole package, though. Those numbers you Googled are for people with whole teams batting for them." Dean gives him an unrelenting glare and Sam relents with a sigh. "We'll show this to Castiel after dinner, and if he's comfortable with it, I'll finalize it and get it to his legal council tomorrow. You should be good to go by the end of the week."

"Awesome. Seriously, thanks, Sam. And don't 'forget' to send me a bill as you tend to do for family, okay? You're practically on retainer."

Grinning, Sam taps the pages against the desk and clips them. "Can't wait to tell Eileen that we'll never have to worry about paying the bills ever again."

Dean kicks Sam under the desk and then Mildred is coming to collect them for dinner.

The meal itself is wonderful, though the gathering seems to be more of an ambush than anything else. Everyone has an opinion on what Castiel should do with the show. He takes it all just as gracefully as he did dealing with Mildred, and by the end of the evening, everyone is completely charmed. Dean marvels at how Castiel is simply gifted with putting people at ease. He noticed the tension when a famous person descended on the household, and immediately set about convincing everyone that he was another human being when he was off the clock. He even asks Eileen to teach him some basic ASL so that he can at least perform the niceties with her. In those few hours, Dean's struck by how lucky he is to have met this man at all; let alone be invited into his home. His bed. His life. It strikes a chord deep within him, and he knuckles over his sternum has he pulls on his coat in the entryway to say goodbye to his family.

Half way through the drive home, Castiel says ponderously, "you've been very quiet for a while now. Is something wrong?"

The concern in his voice surprises Dean. Though, "yeah, I guess I have. Just thinking, is all. Big steps we made tonight. You really cool with the contract? You agreed to it pretty quickly."

With an enigmatic smile, Castiel says, "of course I am. I've read dozens of contracts exactly like it throughout my career. It's very well done. I wish you'd kept the larger percentage of the royalties, though. Sam was perfectly fair in the original draft."

Dean tips his shoulder up. "I'm fine with it. Not like I have the job experience to back up the higher pay. If things change, we can always revisit it."

Castiel's blue eyes are full of some other meaning when Dean glances over at him, but he simply says, "I suppose that's true. I look forward to working with you, Dean."

"Same here, Cas," Dean says, breathing deeply to try and dissipate the growing pressure in his chest. It's a big deal. All of this. No matter what, from here on out, Castiel Milton is going to change his life in one way or another. And that's as terrifying as it is thrilling.

But Castiel must know it, because he's unimaginably soft the rest of the evening. They go to Dean's condo, undress each other, fall together silently on the bed, and Castiel plays Dean slowly from overture to climax with the most gentle hands, mouth, and body that Dean's ever experienced. As they lay together after, Dean staring at the ceiling blank and overwhelmed, Castiel murmurs into the darkness, "it's going to be magnificent, Dean. You'll see."

It's impossible to not believe him.

xxXXxx

"Dude, what is this?" Dean exclaims. "How can one human being be so fucking messy?!"

"Sorry," Castiel calls from somewhere deep inside Dean's walk-in closet. "I'm trying to set the mood."

"For what?" Dean demands, scooping up an armful of discarded shirts off the bed and floor. "Your descent into crazy bag lady?"

Castiel emerges from the closet looking perturbed, but also delicious in a pair of Dean's rattiest, ripped jeans that he hadn't worn in years since they were a bit too small, but fit Castiel perfectly, and his favorite AC/DC tour shirt that sit tight on Castiel's broad shoulders. "I'm trying to channel a rock star," Castiel says moodily. He brushes a hand through his hair, now all messed up from what was probably several wardrobe changes.

Suddenly, Dean doesn't care that his entire closet has been cleared out in an apparent fit of artistic rage. "Looks good on you," he smirks.

"I'll clean everything up," Castiel promises. "I'm just..." he approaches Dean, tugging him closer by his belt loops. "I want to use the manic energy while I still have it. Get off to a good start."

"It's fine," Dean assures him. "Am I going to be living with this sort of thing a lot?"

Castiel's face heats. "I can be somewhat difficult to deal with when I'm, as they say, 'in the zone.'"

Dean's really starting to find the ridiculous air quotes quite attractive. That's kind of how he knows he's fucked. "Maybe difficult, but not impossible. As long as you clean up your damn mess later, it doesn't bother me. Plus, raiding my closet is kinda hot. You look good in my duds." He reaches up and scrubs his hands through Castiel's dark hair until it sticks up in every direction. "Little eyeliner and no one'll ever know you spent most of your life until now playing music from stuffy white guys who've been dead for centuries."

Castiel scoffs. "Most of those men could hardly be considered stuffy. It's rumored that Rossini once, while writing an opera, dropped a piece of the sheet music on the floor, and instead of bothering to bend down to pick it up, started over and wrote it again."

Chuckling, Dean says, "that's lazy, not hardcore."

"That's only the tip of the iceberg. At any rate, if you're interested in hearing how off the wall many famous composers were, Gabriel has quite a head for the stories and rumors. It's his hobby, I think."

"I believe it. Okay, you ready now, maestro? You're taking longer to get ready than a bride on her wedding day."

"Well, it is the first day of the rest of my life," Castiel smirks. "I'm ready. Shall we?" He offers his arm, elbow bent like a true gentleman, and Dean plays along, accepting his arm with a flourish and allowing Castiel to lead the way to the door.

The light teasing, Castiel wearing his clothes, the destruction of his closet, the playlist they'd made of possible songs for the concert blasting through their shared earbuds on the short walk to the symphony hall; all of it makes Dean near to bursting. Castiel hadn't needed to tell him that it was going to be magnificent. It already was.

The buzzing in the practice room only proves the point further when Dean and Castiel enter unnoticed for a brief moment. Then everyone is rushing to talk to them noisier than before.

Dean's completely out of his element, so he takes a step back, though it seems like sort of dick move as soon as he does it because Castiel is being drowned by his coworkers, all trying to be the loudest in hopes of getting his attention first. He's holding both hands up in a pleading gesture with an expression of panic right as Cain enters the room and calls them to order. They all take their seats, Castiel pulling over two chairs next to Cain's facing the orchestra, gesturing for Dean to sit. Self-consciously, he complies.

"Welcome, everyone," Cain says in his booming voice. "We have a bit of a unique situation today. Castiel here has asked that a select few take part in a special concert that he's putting together. Since you're here, I'm assuming you read the email with all the basics. You don't have to participate in this show, and it will not affect your job with the symphony at all if you choose not to play."

Castiel begins to fidget, wiggling around in his seat until Dean surreptitiously reaches back and plants a steadying hand against his back. The pianist stills, but remains tense.

Cain winks at Castiel and continues, "here's what was not revealed in the email. Mr. Milton is paying for the show himself along with some grants from the fine arts program. I will conduct, of course, and this show is unique in that all of the music will be arranged by Castiel himself."

A murmur goes through the room, and Cain lets them converse for a moment. They're talking too low to be clearly understood, but Charlie and Gabriel, at least, already appear totally on board while they stage whisper excitedly. Castiel looks over at Dean and Dean gives him an encouraging smile. Castiel's lips flick up briefly in answer, then he's looking nervous again.

"Mr. Milton," Cain says eventually when the group has calmed down, "please go ahead."

Castiel turns to them and clears his throat. "Um. Well. Thank you for coming today and considering my offer. After the pops concert, I've been playing with the idea of of a rock symphony. Classical arrangements of rock songs. I think..." he twists his fingers. "I think it'll be wonderful. I've researched similar things done all over the world, and from what I've found, they've been well-received by both classical fans and rock fans, which would be wonderful for our symphony program. If you decide you'd like to participate, and are willing, you'll likely be more involved in the production. Seeing as how this is my first concert of this magnitude, I would enjoy input on the set list, arrangements, everything. I want this to be a collaborative show. If it's successful, I'd like to do more. Pay you better for your contributions."

He pauses and Charlie takes the opportunity to ask, "I get you wanting to branch out from what you've been doing before, but why're you pitching this as a solo venture? I mean, won't your agency front some of it?"

"Ah," Castiel says. "I... sort of fired my representation." He gestures to Dean as the room begins to murmur again. "They didn't want to support me broadening my horizons, so I hired someone with my best interests at heart. Everyone, I'd like to introduce Dean Winchester. He's my new manager. My new everything, really. He'll be taking care of PR, bookings, contracts, and he'll also be responsible for securing any licenses we may need to use the songs we choose. Cain will be in charge of all of you. If this is all acceptable, then welcome aboard. If not, thank you for your time, and you're free to go."

Not a single person moves. Charlie is bouncing a little up and down in her chair. Gabriel is beaming like a proud mother, and the others - about half of the total orchestra - are talking among themselves, all smiles.

It's a great start.

xxXXxx

For the next two weeks, neither Dean nor Castiel get reasonable amounts of sleep. In fact, Dean's dragging ass something fierce on Saturday when they've both agreed to take a full day off of work if only to reset their brains, so the final push on Friday is extra exhausting. Castiel's been working hard and scowling even harder as the days pass. Dean's favored yawning a lot and barely keeping his eyes open. It feels like his phone's been practically glued to his ear talking to record companies, licensing teams, marketing firms, the works. It's the biggest challenge of his professional life, and he's gonna make it happen. He's gonna make Castiel's dream not only come true, but also a rousing success. He's good at this stuff. He'll get the people in the seats for the show. He has to. Both their careers are counting on it, but more importantly, this is Castiel's dream. Taking his whole life head on to do exactly what he wants. And he's trusted Dean with that. The only way that he can repay that is to make sure that the dream is as perfect as it can get.

So he talks to everyone and negotiates himself hoarse while Castiel revises the set list, collaborates on arrangements with the other musicians, and by the time the orchestra is ready to begin working on the final set in earnest, everything in the legal realm is ready.

The last preliminary phone call is made and Dean hangs up with a sigh. "That's that," he says wearily. "You're getting everything you wanted. The last license is ready to go."

That perks Castiel up from where he's slouched over his sheet music. "You're a miracle worker. Truly."

"Glad I could just get it done," Dean admits. "How's your end going? You gonna get all that music ready in time?"

"Yes, I think so. Everyone's helping a lot with the arrangements, and actually quite easy to collaborate with. Surprising, since most musicians like thinking their idea is the best."

Huffing a laugh, Dean collapses next to him on the couch, rubbing his eyes. "I've noticed. Are you winding down now, or I am going to bed alone tonight?"

Castiel carefully sets his notebook down, then unceremoniously tips backwards into Dean's lap. "I should get as much rest as possible. Full rehearsals begin on Monday. I need all the sleep I manage now."

Dean smiles and sifts a hand through Castiel's hair, pushing it off of his forehead. "You're gonna be great. I'm already excited."

"I wish you'd consider vocals for a song or two," Castiel sighs wistfully, idly rubbing Dean's knee. "You have such a beautiful voice."

"Dude, I've never had a lesson in my life. What would I do up there on stage with all of you trained professionals?"

"Wonderful things," Castiel smiles up at him. "If it would make you feel better, we can hire a voice coach."

Dean cuts off the argument by bending down for a quick, insistent kiss. When he pulls back, he schools his face into his best smolder, knowing that it always makes Castiel squirm. And often give up. "For now my singing's just for you, Cas."

The pianist's mouth turns down in a knowing frown. "Nice try, but if you keep using that expression, I'll only grow immune to it more rapidly."

Face lightening into an unrepentant grin, Dean answers, "that's too bad for me. Seriously, though, I'm better behind the scenes. Stage fright and all that."

"It's selfish of me to want everything with you, including sharing a stage." He cups Dean's chin. "it's unfair, especially when you've never been a performer before. Am I allowed a pipe dream or two?"

"Yeah. Maybe someday. Might be cool."

It's Dean's favorite expression to watch on Castiel as he fully relaxes and begins to doze. His eyes grow heavy, tensed expression easing to a contented half smile. He's a heavy weight in Dean's lap when he closes his eyes fully with pleased hum and presses up against Dean's hand in his hair.

"Let's get to bed," Dean says, feeling his own head start to droop. "I ain't carrying you."

Castiel rolls to his side belligerently until Dean jiggles his leg, almost unseating the pianist onto the floor. He finally gets up with a grumble, shuffling slowly towards the bedroom. Dean makes a detour to the bathroom to wash his face and brush his teeth, but Castiel goes straight to the bed and flops down face first.

The sight pleases Dean a lot. He's so grumpy and it's wonderful. Dean climbs up onto the bed on all fours, straddling Castiel's things and bouncing on his knees until the mattress wiggles and Castiel starts growling, but the ferocity is cut off by the bouncing making his voice pulse kind of like a cranky cat. Grinning, Dean gives in and presses his palms against Castiel's shoulder blades, kneading until the grumpy whine pitches down to a pleased purr. "Never ever stop doing that," his muffled voice wafts from the plush comforter.

Dean leans down and kisses the back of his neck. "You need a haircut." The growing hairs curling against his collar tickle Dean's nose as he trails more butterfly pecks across the small amount of exposed skin. "Just buttering you up."

Castiel turns his head to the side, puffing out a breath when Dean massages lower on his back. "For what? Don't I spoil you enough already?"

"No such thing," he scoffs. "I'm lying, though. I'm not buttering you up, I'm spoiling myself. I love you like this. You could use some more relaxation."

"I've never been good at that," he admits regretfully. "I get so focused. And now it's even more important than ever to succeed. Both our futures ride on it."

Dean lifts up just enough to tug on Castiel's arm until he turns over onto his back. He looks worried but beautiful spread out on the bed, looking up at Dean with something like hope. "Succeed or fail, this is something worth doing, Cas. I'm not gonna blame you if this doesn't all work out perfectly. It's a risk, sure, but it's not the end of the world."

He shifts over beside Castiel and the pianist sits up, leaning against them. Dean wraps an arm around his waist. "Artistic endeavors outside of your comfort zone are always gonna be a huge risk. But it's making you happy. You trusted me enough to include me in it. That faith... man, Cas, I dunno if you know this, but no one in my whole life has ever been willing to give me such a shot. It means everything to me. I won't hate you or blame you if it doesn't work out. You only gave me the catalyst to quit a job that was killing me inside." He taps his chest. "That's enough. I'll always be able to find a job if what we're doing now doesn't pan out."

He can't even look at Castiel while he's baring his soul so much. He's not used to doing it, and it makes him uncomfortable, but the way that Castiel leans against him harder, grounding, he knows he's doing the right thing. It's important to reassure each other. Not for personal reasons alone, but also because they're in this life choice together come hell or high water. So Dean finishes, "you've done something so incredible for me, I can't put it into words properly."

"We're changing each other's lives," Castiel finishes softly into the silence when Dean finally trails off.

"I'm happy. Right here, right now. You're making me happy, Cas."

Castiel turns his head, burying his head in Dean's shoulder. He'd think the man was crying by the way he's shaking, but small puffs of laughter soon follow. Dean grins. "You're my miracle, Dean."

"Can we make out now?"

In answer, Castiel shoves Dean backwards, climbs into his lap, and kisses the life out of him. It's a wild, frantic thing that Dean takes in and gives back in equal measure. The composure cracks like fragile spun glass, focusing all of that passion he normally pours into his music and channels it into Dean. It's the biggest thrill of his life.

Of course, Castiel's energy flags before they get anywhere beyond the kissing part. The sentiment is nice enough, though.

Dean maneuvers them under the covers, Castiel only rolling around enough to untangle himself from the sheets. He tucks himself against Dean lethargically. "'M only worried, 'cause I wanna keep doing this, being like this for as long as possible." The words are slow, heavy, but there's meaning behind them that makes Dean pay full attention. So that's what his unusual manic focus is about recently. Castiel is saying he wants them to work. For as long as humanly possible.

That's a sentiment he can certainly get behind. "Me, too, Cas," he murmurs, placing a small kiss on his forehead and adjusting them until they're more comfortable. "We'll make it happen."

Chapter Text

Castiel is contemplating his blueberry bagel with cream cheese when Dean enters the living room, already swiping around on his tablet. Castiel tries not to pay attention, watching the morning news instead. Dean plops down onto the overstuffed lounger next to the couch, draping his legs over the arm. Eventually his rapid typing, swiping, poking, finally gets to Castiel enough that he groans and says, "tell me how it is."

Dean doesn't look up, but a knowing smile spreads across his lips. "You sure?"

"Give me some credit," he grumps. "It's almost eleven."

"You're doing great, sunshine," he assures. "You're twenty percent sold already. That's amazing."

Castiel's not sure if he's ready to cheer or have a heart attack. "In forty-five minutes?"

"Yeah. I'm telling you, we're gonna sell out before the week is up."

"Not sure how I feel about that," Castiel muses quietly.

Dean does look up at that, surprised. "What? Why? Dude, you wanted this thing to be a success and now we have pretty much full confirmation that it's gonna be. Having second thoughts?"

With a noncommittal noise, Castiel turns off the TV to give Dean his full attention. "It's silly of me to be so picky about how I want the success to go, isn't it?"

Dean leans back until his head slouches over the edge of the chair, touching the arm of the couch closest to Castiel. "What are you talking about?"

Castiel slumps. "It makes me nervous to have ticket sales this good. It means that everyone's going to be expecting an especially amazing concert."

Dean gives the pianist an upside down perplexed look. "Why would that make you nervous?"

His face pinches. "Seriously?"

Dean kicks his legs down, sits up, and turns to fully face Castiel. "The expectation isn't gonna affect the reality, Cas. Every single show you've ever done has been above and beyond. This won't be any different just because it's new and the tickets are selling faster. I mean, you blew it out of the water at the pops concert, and you'd never done that before, either. Don't get hung up here, man. It might be your money this time, so it's riskier, but your talent is the same. The orchestra backing you is the same. The audience coming to see you is the same."

"Why are you so good at everything?" he mumbles almost to himself.

"You say something?" Dean smirks.

Castiel rolls his eyes. "I couldn't have hired anyone better for this job. Without any actual experience in his area, you've kept everything under budget, boosted ticket sales, and pep talk better than anyone I've ever met. I'm so glad I hired you. It was a smart move."

"Of course it was," Dean scoffs. "Someone might try to argue with me about this, but in my opinion, no one wants you to succeed more than I do."

"I won't argue that," Castiel answers fondly. "It's probably true, anyway. Or at least I'm willing to accept that you're the one who most wants me to succeed for me, and not mostly for yourself. Bigger paycheck aside."

"Pfft. I don't need the money right now. What I need is for everyone to see how awesome you are when you do exactly what you want. You're not a one trick pony, and it's time the world saw that."

Castiel smiles. "Like I said: I couldn't have hired anyone better. Today's the day we run through the whole show for the first time. Start working out the kinks. Do you want to come?"

"I want to be surprised on the big night," Dean answers. "Plus, I've got a lot of work to do here."

Castiel finishes his food, wipes his hands on his napkin, and steps over to Dean, kissing him lightly. It makes Dean smile tasting the blueberries. "That's fine. Don't work too hard, though. We promised each other a day off tomorrow from everything."

"Except each other," Dean corrects wolfishly.

"I look forward to it," Castiel quips back.

Dean does a small, agitated shimmy. "You're making me hard."

"That's the idea. Later." He kisses Dean again and disappears to the bedroom to get ready.

Dean watches him go with a humored, heated look. He's done for.

xxXXxx

Castiel has never seen Cain with a wider smile on his face ever. And Cain is the type of guy who loves to smile. He's already in the practice room front and center, flipping through the sheet music Castiel provided him with a couple of weeks ago while waiting for everyone to arrive. "Met your vocalist," he says without even looking up.

"Oh?" Castiel moves over to the piano, sits down, and begins to organize his copies of the sheet music. "And? Dean says he was the best we could do on our budget, but he's been great in the local music scene. Up and coming."

Cain makes a noise and Castiel side-eyes him. "You don't like him."

"I'm reserving judgement."

Turning on the bench until he's facing Cain, Castiel says, "what's wrong with him?"

Cain swivels in his chair, propping his elbows on the backrest. "Nothing yet. He just seems a little... squirrelly."

Castiel bursts out in a short laugh. "I'm sure Chuck will be fine. He was pretty enthusiastic when Dean signed him and agreed to all the other terms. Plus, he's a local talent. I plagued his band's albums. They're good. He's got a good sense of alternative and rock music. He's looking for a boost, too. His only stipulation is us playing one of his songs, and it's a solid investment."

The look Cain gives him is nothing short of fatherly-adoring. "You're willing to see the best in everyone."

Shrugging, he answers, "this is my finest moment. I have to."

"Very well." Cain winks and then begins greeting the rest of the musicians as they file in. Castiel is especially eager to meet the rest of Chuck's band members, who had passed his litmus test after he'd listened to their albums. The real challenge was going to be getting them to blend properly with the orchestra. They'd never played with anyone except each other before. Chuck himself hangs off to the side for a few minutes, watching the activity with his shoulders hunched. Castiel starts to see what Cain is talking about.

It worries him as well, though he's not giving up. The lead singer appears to be quite the introvert, eyes darting from person to person, watching silently, squeezing a bottle of water in both of his hands.

Charlie decides to take pity first, and she's never met a stranger. She abandons the group to shake Chuck's hand enthusiastically. His answering smile is reserved, though he answers her questions amiably, following her further into the room.

Castiel keeps half an eye on them as he speaks to the band. "You've had plenty of time to review the music?"

"Sure," the drummer answers proudly. "We're all familiar with most of the songs, anyway. Did a lot of covers when we were first starting out. So, no big. More interested to hear how the classical parts blend in. Pretty cool stuff you've come up with."

"I appreciate it," Castiel says humbly. "This has been a dream of mine for a while."

The lead guitarist says, "when I told my family what this gig was, my mom said she'd kill me if I didn't do it. She's a huge fan of yours."

Smiling, Castiel demurs, "well, you'll be allowed some comp tickets, so feel free to give her one."

"Take your seats, everyone," Cain calls out.

The practice room silences in waves as the musicians take their seats, prepare their instruments. Chuck stands to Cain's right, scuffing his shoe on the floor, hands stuffed in his pockets while they all tune.

"First run," Cain says when they're finished. "I'm not expecting miracles, but keep those ears open. Follow the set list as arranged." He raises his baton. Castiel's hands hover over the keys. The orchestra takes a collective breath. Chuck straightens his shoulders.

Cain counts the tempo, watching Castiel watch him, and the first notes of "Simple Man" float confidently from the piano. When Chuck begins to sing, soulful and no trace of his former introversion left, Castiel feels his heart swell. This is it. This is it.

xxXXxx

Dean's never seen Castiel on opening night before the show, but he's feeling a little bad for enjoying it. The pianist has been wandering aimlessly around his condo the whole morning, every now and then sitting down at the piano to warm up or practice parts of the songs. And he's looking vaguely panicked sick the whole time. It's a little funny, though Dean understands. Three months of rehearsals and tweaks and changed set lists and one terrible week when Chuck had caught a chest cold and only got his full voice back three weeks ago. Castiel had nearly stressed himself into an early grave.

But now the planning is over. There's only the show. And Charlie holed up with Gabriel in the master bathroom with Castiel. They say they're getting ready, but Dean can't be sure because he's fairly certain getting dressed doesn't require nearly so much feminine squealing and masculine laughter. Plus, it's been an hour.

They're going to be late for their call time.

Dean knocks on the door. "Come on, guys, what's the hold up?"

"Perfection takes time!" Charlie calls.

"You're gonna shit!" Gabriel adds.

Another five minutes of Dean hovering, scowling at the door, and then it finally opens. Charlie prances out first, looking awesome in ripped jeans, a Metallica shirt, hair artfully windblown. Gabriel is next, with a Kansas shirt, grinning like a loon. Last, Castiel.

Dean's heart stutters and thumps painfully. He can feel his jaw drop. "Holy... holy shit," he stutters.

Smiling like he's about to start screaming, Castiel says doubtfully, "do I look stupid? I've got no frame of reference for this."

Since when did his tongue weigh a ton? "No..." he says dazedly. "You look... fuck, Cas you look..."

Charlie jumps forward, grabbing Castiel's arm. "He looks like a rock star, right? So hot!" She squeals again. "Someone's so getting laid tonight after the show!"

It's true. 100%. They've gone the extra mile, and Castiel looks delicious. Gone is the prim and proper concert pianist. Enter the new and hot rock god. His dark hair is carefully tousled, the fringe tinged with bright blue that brings out his eyes. And he is even wearing the eyeliner. Dean didn't know he was into that sort of thing, but the way the subtle black lines frame his eyes is sinfully good. He's wearing Dean's tight AC/DC shirt over a new pair of dark blue jeans, and heavy Doc Martins. His nails are even painted black.

"Dean?" Castiel prompts, looking even more concerned by the second.

"You're definitely getting laid tonight," Dean blurts.

Castiel laughs, smiling genuinely for the first time all day. Gabriel and Charlie high five each other, and with that, the tension is released enough to put them all in excellent spirits as they double check their bags and make their way to the stage entrance of the concert hall. "I wish you'd let me wear that leather jacket," Castiel says.

Dean pops the collar of the black leather jacket he's had since the height of hair bands in the 80's. "Not a chance."

Charlie and Gabriel traipse inside as soon as they arrive, but Dean snags Castiel's coat sleeve and pulls him close before he can break away to the practice room. Fluidly, Castiel keeps up the momentum like a mind reader, kissing Dean, grinning into it as it gets deeper. He pulls back and murmurs, "don't miss a second."

"I won't," Dean promises.

Castiel squeezes his hands gently before moving towards the practice room.

Being as anal as he is about this whole adventure, Dean makes his way backstage. Techs are testing the lights and sound, stage hands rushing around. Dean goes to the side of the stage, down the stairs, and walks to the back of the house. Everything's ready. The air is charged like they're all holding their breath.

Before going into the atrium, he pulls his lanyard over his head, badge dangling with his credentials and making him feel like a badass. The logo they'd designed for merch looks awesome.

The house manager already has the merch table set up and ready. Dean meanders over, impressed. There are shirts, hoodies, bags, stickers, and key chains. If they concert is a success, and they're able to play more shows here and in other cities, they'll add an album to the offerings.

God, he's so proud of everyone.

The time flies before the audience starts to arrive and Dean retreats to the backstage area again. Several of the performers are already milling around while the seats fill. Castiel finds him and takes his hand with a smile. "Sold out crowd," he murmurs.

Dean leans to the side, kissing his cheek. "You ready?"

"Yes," it sounds less confident than it looks.

But Dean beams all the same. "Break a leg."

What feels like an instant later, the lights dim and the din of the crowd ceases to a few stray whoops and cheers. The rest of the orchestra is on stage as the house goes dark. Dean has the distinct reminder of the first time he'd seen Castiel on this very stage from his seat in the audience. It's almost impossible to think that he's now in the wings holding hands while Gabriel wanders out into the spotlight to raucous applause, then Cain, and he holds his hand up for silence, taking the mic. Castiel presses against Dean's side, adjusting his earpiece as Cain introduces the show, Chuck's band, and explains Castiel's dream show to them.

Chuck steps to the curtain, shakes hands firmly with Castiel, and makes his way on stage. The crowd roars. Castiel's grip tightens for a moment on Dean's hand, then it's his turn. He closes his eyes, kisses Dean firmly, and walks slowly into the spotlight. His reception is deafening. Dean finds himself yelling and clapping until his palms sting.

There's dead silence when Castiel sits at the piano. Dean holds his breath, feeling his pulse pounding expectantly. Chuck and his band grab the beat Cain is counting out, and then in perfect harmony burst out the first lyrics for Carry On Wayward Son. The second Castiel's fingers slam to the keys and the orchestra joins in, the audience nearly loses its collective mind, and Dean swallows against the tears. He blinks rapidly, but doesn't look away. He'd promised he wouldn't, and couldn't if he'd been offered a million dollars.

Castiel is on fire. From Highway to Hell, to the slowdown for Hey Jude, which combined with Chuck's vocals, make an actual tear or two roll down Dean's face, he's captured with the rest of the audience. Castiel never slows down, and by the time they close out the first act with one of Chuck's band's songs, Cool If I Come Over, there's no stopping the momentum. The crowd jumps to their feet the second the last notes fade away, the curtain closes, and Dean watches the orchestra practically scream about their excitement. Castiel congratulates them all with Cain, but doesn't waste time running off stage to where Dean's waiting with a smile so big it aches.

"I'm sweating," Castiel laughs in giddy disbelief. "I'm sweating like an actual rock star!"

Dean offers out a hand towel, and Castiel scrubs his face and neck vigorously, careful not to mess up the waterproof eyeliner. "The first act was incredible. You've got everyone in the palm of your hand. Any doubts left?"

"None."

Dean wiggles his cell phone. "You're trending, too. People are already talking about this. You might have just really exploded this thing, Cas."

In answer, Castiel lunges forward, kissing Dean wildly in front of everyone. They're greeted by catcalls and clapping, and it's awesome. But then they have to part so that Cain can give them all notes for the second act. Dean slips out the side door to the atrium while they're having their meeting, finding Sam and Mildred easily at the bar, ordering mixed drinks.

Sam catches sight of him, raising his plastic glass. "It'd be understating it to call this show a huge success so far."

"Thanks, man," Dean grins. "How you holding up there, Millie?"

She fans herself dramatically with her program. "I'll never forgive you for this jealousy in my heart, Dean Winchester," she says airily. "You're the luckiest man alive."

"Don't I know it."

The lights flash with the ten minute warning. "Call me later," Dean says in a rush before heading back. He really doesn't even want to take the chance of missing a second of this. "I'm probably gonna celebrate with Cas afterwards."

"Gross," Sam intones dryly.

"Lucky," Mildred reiterates.

Dean starts walking backwards to the staff entrance. "Seriously, full review later. Don't hold back." Then he's off to the wings again.

The second half of the show builds on the first, and the audience is primed and giving back as much as they get. It's a palpable energy feeding the orchestra and launched back through the speakers to everyone listening.

They open the second act with a blast of dynamite. Enter Sandman has never sounded so good. Especially considering the freaking fortune it had cost them to be able to play it.

Momentarily, Dean watches Chuck. He's versatile, nailing every song to the point Dean's hoping his band's career careens into the stratosphere after tonight.

Finally, the strains of Run Like Hell fade, and the orchestra pauses. Waits. It's time for the final number.

You could hear a pin drop when Cain raises his baton for the last time. Slowly, achingly, Castiel begins Simple Man. Chuck closes his eyes as he listens, singing with a clarity and conviction that leaves not a dry eye in the house.

The rapture afterwards is euphoric. The orchestra bows three times before Cain sweeps his arms out to the band. Then to Chuck who is shaking with emotion. Castiel stands from the piano and the orchestra, band, Cain, applaud him with hundreds of other hands. Castiel bows low. He raises his right hand in a fist. Gives the audience the bull horns. Dean screams himself hoarse.

Then the curtain closes and he's swept up in an avalanche of performers, plus Cain, all talking excitedly at once. He's carried away from Castiel as he's shoved further into the wings, accepting congratulations and promises for future shows. At one point Chuck ends up snot crying on his shoulder. Dean's so overwhelmed that he loses track of everything until he blinks and he's alone in the practice room, ears buzzing from the former noise. He glances around. Castiel isn't there. The lights are down to half everywhere, and Dean worries that his pianist rock god might have been caught up in the tidal wave, already outside with everyone else. But just in case, he makes his way back to the stage.

Ah.

Castiel is sitting on the piano bench, stroking the keys in the low lights. His eyes are closed, and he's breathing deeply, slowly, over and over. Dean smiles tenderly at the sight. "Whaddya say, Cas?" he asks softly so as not to startle the pianist.

An indulgent smile curls Castiel's lips. "I can still hear them," he says blissfully. "I can hear them cheering. The applause. The music. My ears are ringing. I've never been happier in my whole life. Not since the first time I played on stage."

"I'm so fucking glad to hear that," Dean answers. He really is. Castiel was glowing tonight. Every time Dean had looked at him, he'd felt so full. Brimming over. His pride couldn't be matched by anyone. Castiel had done what he'd set out to do, living a dream he'd never imagined, and it had worked and he was happy. And Dean had helped. He'd helped put that dreamy look on Castiel's face. "You were so incredible tonight, Cas. I can't even... you were just... fuck, you were just great."

Castiel's smile widens to his best gummy smile. "I love you so much, Dean."

"I... what?" Had he really just heard that? He stares at Castiel unblinking. If he's heard right then it's more than he'd ever dreamed. Everything in him tingles with the anticipation of perfection.

Castiel's eyes open and focus on Dean. They're shining. "Did you not know? How could you not? Dean, this whole show was my love note to you. Everything about it... are you really surprised?"

He is and he isn't, he realizes. But knowing something in your heart and hearing it for the first time are vastly different things. It makes perfect sense, he just never expected anyone to love him that much. "Only because it's everything," he admits.

Castiel turns fully on the piano bench facing Dean and holding out his hands. "I love you. I love what you've given me. How you've changed me. I was happy before, but now I'm also content. You gave me that, Dean. I'm grateful and I love you more than anything. No one could be my match like you."

Dean steps forward, taking his hands. "I love you too, Cas. So fucking much. I never would have been able to do any of this without you. Never thought I'd be this happy in my wildest dreams."

"Same here."

TUD001_dmsilvisart

Art by Dmsilvisart on Tumblr

By some unspoken cue, Dean fluidly lowers himself into Castiel's lap, straddling him. Their lips meet in a hot, wet kiss that makes Dean feel like he's rising out of his body. Castiel's hands are feverish as they shove under his jacket and shirt to the bare skin on his back. Dean's mouth wanders lower over Castiel's sweaty cheek, to his chin, to his rapid pulse. Castiel shifts slightly, hard in his denim. It makes Dean moan against him. "You got really worked up."

Castiel gives him a stern look that comes off as smoldering. "Can you blame me?"

Dean grabs a handful of Castiel's blue hair and tugs until the pianist arches his neck back. "Nope. I've been waiting to get my hands on you since you walked out of the bathroom looking like this."

There's the clink of a buckle, and Dean glances down surprised to find his pants being deftly opened. It's so hot. Castiel can't even wait to get them home. Still riding on the high from the show. And considering no one's really around...

Castiel's brilliant hands on his dick solidify his willingness to finish the show with a strong encore.

And despite the quick rush to a partial state of undress, when Castiel gets his fingers where he wants them, he slows down with a sigh, taking all the time in the world to gently stroke Dean's cock to full hardness, lightly squeezing his balls, worshipping his mouth with kisses until Dean tugs his hair again, lips, teeth, and tongue exploring the salty sheen of sweat while he unbuttons Castiel's jeans. Castiel lets out a grateful sigh as his dick escapes the tight confines of his jeans.

Dean leans back enough to give them room to work each other carefully, slowly. Their eyes lock, and Castiel's lips part on a short gasp, and Dean's never been so in love in his life.

Everything, everything has been worth the effort to get here. There's nothing left but Castiel's breathy sighs against him, their slick hands pumping each other in tandem, the warm stage lights glowing around them.

Castiel comes with a hitched breath, hips bucking as much as they can under Dean's weight. The glorious bliss on his face breaks Dean's tension so he's coming, too, mouth open against Castiel's temple.

They bury their faces in each other's necks through the aftershocks. Eventually, Castiel reaches blindly for his hand towel on the piano to wipe them up with.

Dean lets him and then tucks them both away, shivering a little with sensitivity. "Sex on the piano bench," he says lowly. "Gotta say I imagined it with you once or twice."

Castiel huffs a laugh. "I've always wanted to try it."

Their eyes meet and they grin at the same instant. Castiel's face is flushed, glowing in the lights and Dean feels damn lucky to be basking in it. "So," he says lightly. "What now?"

Castiel taps their foreheads together. "I want to do this more. Travel. Perform in more cities. See the world. With you."

Smiling, heart full, Dean answers, "dream big. I like it. Let's do it."

"You will?" He actually sounds surprised that Dean is agreeing.

Dean kisses him again. And then again for good measure, pressing steadying love against his lips. "I'll be with you every step of the way, Cas. You dream it, I'll make it happen."

"It sounds like a good life." His hands slide up to wrap around Dean's shoulders.

"You said it to me, so I'm saying it to you: it's gonna be fucking magnificent."

Chapter Text

Chapter 01

Chopin Nocturne No.2 Op. 9-2
This is the song that Dean first hears Castiel playing. It's airy and romantic, and most people probably recognize the tune, if not the composer. I've always found it to be slightly melancholy sometimes, depending on what mood I'm in when I listen to it, though always hopeful.

Chapter 02

To Zanarkand, from Final Fantasy X
If you're a fan of Final Fantasy, and you ever get the chance to go to one of the orchestral concerts, I highly suggest. The orchestra in my city does it every year, and I've been to several of them, including one that Uematsu Nobuo himself attended. It was magical.

Aerith's Theme, from Final Fantasy VII
There's never a dry eye in the house with this one.

Mass Effect Suite
This is my favorite video game series of all time. There was no way I wouldn't throw this suite into a fic.

Chapter 04

Simple Man (Lynyrd Skynyrd)
The original.

Simple Man (Jensen Ackles)
Jensen Ackles himself singing the classic from Jason Manns' album, Covers With Friends. It's a fantastic album. I highly suggest giving it a listen.

Chapter 09 Concert Lineup (with original versions and orchestrated versions)

Simple Man (links above)

Let It Be (Orchestra)
Let It Be (The Beatles)

Hey Jude (Orchestra)
Hey Jude (The Beatles)

Livin' On A Prayer (Orchestra)
Livin' On A Prayer (Bon Jovi)

Run Like Hell (Orchestra)
Run Like Hell (Pink Floyd)

Highway to Hell (Orchestra)
Highway to Hell (AC/DC)

Rock of Ages (Def Leppard)

Carry On Wayward Son (Orchestra)
Carry On Wayward Son (Kansas)

Ramble On (Orchestra)
Ramble On (Led Zeppelin)

Space Oddity (Orchestra)
Space Oddity (David Bowie)

Enter Sandman (Orchestra)
Enter Sandman (Metallica)

Cool If I Come Over (Louden Swain)