AN: Angsty Dean. 'No one ever expect that Dean plays the piano.' Sam stumbles upon Dean playing the piano, not realizing he knew how.
Dean is raw muscle and blue jeans and an easy smile, and girls, if they're around long enough are thrilled but not surprised that he plays the guitar.
No one ever expects that Dean plays the piano, but then no one ever finds out. Except Dean's fingers slide over the piano keys and his eyes darken and as soon as he starts playing the piano sings and it's easy to see he's a natural. The music slides smoothly between rock and old love ballads and should be disjointed but isn't. He sits in a dark room with dark leather clinging to his shoulders and his eyes are wet and his mouth is almost a snarl and he plays as if the night itself is at his heels and he knows it's coming for him and one day he wont' be fast or strong or smart enough and it will take him. Of course, it is coming, and he does know, and the piano keys are dusty except where his fingers slide and the music echoes softly in the empty house, and the first time he hits a sour note is because Sam says "Dean?" softly, and Dean stands up awkwardly, wondering how long Sam's been there.
Sam remembers Dean playing the guitar in a band for a couple of months when he was in high school in Massachusetts and remembers being grateful for the money and proud of the awe the middle school boys his age held for Dean and laughing at how all the girls wanted his dark-eyed, guitar-wielding brother with the leather jacket and a smile that promised danger.
Sam remembers Dean winning the guitar in a seedy bar the lanky fifteen-year-old had no business being in except John knew how good his son was at cards and they need the money, after all, and Dean would always do what he was told. John wanted to sell it but before he had the time or the place Dean was teaching himself to play by ear, long fingers running up and down the neck of the guitar, softly humming the tune under his breath. John complained about there not being room for it in the car, and there wasn't, really, but put up with it when Dean began to make some cash playing in rundown bars and nicer cafes and—one eventful night—for a high school prom when the band's guitar player turned out to have gotten his talent through fairly questionable means. They said Dean was just as good, but to be fair all the boys wanted to be him and all the girls wanted him. He was still fifteen, but he didn't look it, and his eyes were older then they had a right to be.
Sam remembers when Dean's right hand was shattered in a hunt two months later, and Dean begging John not to sell the guitar. John hadn't listened and Sam had watched John tuck the extra cash in his wallet while the kid ran his fingers up and down Dean's beauty. It was obscene, and Sam had yelled and cursed, but when they got back to the hotel Dean had been silent when John mentioned it, although his eyes had gone dark and he'd swallowed hard and gone for a late night walk.
Sam remembers John picking a guitar up from a pawn shop for Dean sometimes, after Dean's hand had healed, and Dean making the spare cash John wanted before they had to move on and it had to be sold back. Somewhere along the line Dean's eyes lost their spark when he played, and his music was excellent and precise but he no longer forced people to look up and take notice. Sam wonders if it was only the music that lost that indefinable spark.
They moved into a house after that—a real, honest-to-God falling-apart heap that they rented for five months for the price of the cleaning, repairs, and paint job and practically nothing in cash. The first day they moved in Sam picked a fight with John, his dreams of a normal childhood shattering as he took in the place. Dean had walked around, his fingers trailing over a dusty, out-of-tune piano. Dean was sixteen-and-a-half, and while Sam stayed after school to do his homework and hang out with his friends at the local YMCA that Dean had paid for with the more and more frequent games and gigs he got without John knowing so he could keep the family afloat and money where it was needed, Dean worked. John was always off on one hunt or another, a $100 bill held down by a coke can on the kitchen table, a scribbled not promising to help with rebuilding the porch next weekend, when Dean had gotten tired of waiting two weeks ago and done it himself. With all the cleaning Sam didn't notice the special care the piano was given, or the fact that Dean had tuned it by ear. Nor did he see Dean's breaks when he came back from school and taught himself to play for thirty or forty minutes before shrugging into work clothes and trying to teach himself between library books and his own keen eyes how to replace shingles.
Sam remembers, horrified now, seeing the cuts and scrapes and bruises all over Dean's body, and not thinking anything of it, because Dean was always cut or scraped or bruised, and Sam wonders, now, when it became routine. Dean woke up early and did laundry and when dawn broke he was working outside on the house or the lawn and when Sam woke up breakfast—milk and cereal and sometimes just milk for Dean if money was tight—was out and Dean was checking his homework and then school and then Dean went home and worked while Sam was doing homework and playing, and at six Sam came home while Dean made dinner and Sam had complained about having to wash his hands, set the table, help with the dishes—heaven forbid clean his room or train! And Dean was up late at night writing papers and studying for classes, and Sam wasn't awake to see Dean glance longingly at the piano as he tried to memorize the order of the presidents. On weekends John might need Dean, and Sam would sleep over at a friends, or John would need both of them and they'd pack their stuff and hope they'd be coming back.
When Sam was little he'd left his favorite stuffed toy in a hotel because he hadn't wanted to leave and thought it would they'd have to go back. John had been silent and thirteen-year old Dean had calmed his crying brother, and later called up the Hotel and talked to the manager and wired money to get him to mail it to Bobby's, where it had still been waiting three months later when they arrived. Sam had learned to count on never coming back, and that Dean could do the impossible, and somewhere along the line Sam thinks those have become his mottoes, and he doesn't know when. So he doesn't know why he's surprised that Dean plays the piano. Or that Dean can play the piano like that.
And Dean is standing, awkward and vulnerable and Sam doesn't need to ask why Dean kept it a secret, because Dean's eyes are still older then they should be, and Dean's body is still cut and scraped and bruised, and Dean still keeps cash in their pockets and does everything he can to keep Sam happy and their family together. Dean's leather jacket is worn soft and Dean's quick half-smile doesn't reach his eyes, and Sam looks at the man in front of him and tries to remember the boy who thought he had the chance to be anyone, to do anything, but he can't and Sam can't help but wonder if that boy ever existed or if he was destroyed the night their home was all those years ago. Dean grew up to be the man he had taught himself to be—by ear? By his keen eyes?—the only man he'd had the chance to be, the man he'd become every time he didn't complain, didn't question, didn't argue, and every time he risked his life for his family, and even every time he took the guitar John handed him and stepped out in front of the drunken crowd or picked up the deck of cards and looked the men around him dead in the eyes, sizing them up.
Dean understands people—knows people, and cars, and leather jackets and rock music and guitars and pianos.
Dean can make sense out of guns, and knives, and can recite how to perform an exorcism in his sleep.
Dean carries salt in his pocket and keeps a lighter handy and taught himself Latin when John ordered, and has done almost everything John ever ordered, and has done almost everything Sam needed, including letting him go, and Dean had done almost nothing for himself, and Sam wonders if Dean ever wishes things were different, ever wanted to be something else, ever feels the sharp pain of regret and loss.
John lost his wife.
Sam lost Jess.
Dean lost his chance of life, and part of Sam wants Dean to keep playing the piano, because the man playing it isn't the Dean that he knows, and it scares him and ensnares him.
Dean plays the piano because no one ever needed him to.