"Can you complete this project or not?"
Dean turned the design sketch around, checking out the dimensions. "I mean, yeah, the project's not a big deal. Surprised you didn't go to someone who specializes in this stuff, you musicians are usually a lot pickier."
"You came very highly recommended."
Dean raised an eyebrow at that but let it pass without comment. "How did you get my name again, anyway?" He did good work, Dean had no doubts about that but he ran a small shop and didn't spend much on advertising.
"As I said. You came highly recommended."
Dean shook his head, smoothing the sketch flat against the glass coffee table. Or crystal, maybe, the set wasn't quite right for glass. Either way, he could tell at a glance the table was probably worth more than what he'd made in the past six months, just like everything else in the sitting room. Dean usually had a policy against taking on the really wealthy as clients, the hassle was never worth the money, but when he'd gotten the call that morning his curiosity had gotten the better of him. "Didn't even know anyone was in this old place," he said.
"I live a quiet life."
Dean tried to study his prospective client without being obvious about it. It was true that he'd had no idea anyone was living in the old mansion outside the town line; the place dated back to the Kansas territory days, maybe the oldest standing building in the state. He'd assumed for years the historical society had been keeping it up, not that it was inhabited. There weren't even power lines connecting it to the town grid, although Dean supposed there must be a generator because power was coming from somewhere.
And the mansion's resident was just as strange. Dean had walked in expecting some old recluse but Castiel (no last name, and Dean hadn't pressed) looked to be around his age, wearing a dark suit even though it was the height of summer and the mansion didn't have air conditioning. Dean guessed the recluse part of his guess had been right, at least; Castiel hadn't even stepped out of the door to greet him when Dean had arrived, buzzing him in at the gate. And that was even without the direct staring going on; it was like he'd never gotten the hang of eye contact and personal space.
But hey, weird and rich tended to go hand in hand and just looking at the terms of this contract Dean had the feeling this guy was very, very rich. "You have reservations," Castiel said, letting out a frustrated huff of breath.
"Yeah, you could say that."
"If there are problems with the sketch I could..."
"Nah," Dean said, shaking his head. "I've worked from worse. It's not the project, it's the terms."
He watched Castiel ruffle up like an agitated cat. "If you require more compensation, that can be discussed."
Dean just shook his head again. "Look, don't think I'm against you throwing money at me but this whole thing about doing all the work on site," he said, pointing to the clause in the contract, "that's no good."
Castiel frowned. "I could make any accommodations you require."
"That's not it. Look, I've been doing this a long time, you want this done right it needs be in a proper shop. Wood reacts to all kinds of things, humidity, all of that. I can't just set up a saw in the driveway and expect that to work."
Castiel's lips thinned but he didn't make another argument. "Aside from that, do you have any other concerns?"
Dean examined the sketch again. "Well, I've never made a piano bench before but it doesn't look that complicated. What's with these cut outs along the back?" he said, pointing to the two triangular indentations on the sketch.
"Okay, okay. Just means I'd have to adjust the storage area underneath, there's a reason these things usually aren't made like that."
Castiel nodded, fidgeting like he wasn't sure what he was supposed to do with his hands. "I apologize if I'm coming across as difficult."
"If I didn't want to deal with difficult clients I wouldn't do custom work," Dean said. A part of him wasn't sure why he still sitting here – this was more trouble than Dean cared to go through to get work, even when he needed the money. Everything about Castiel just screamed how uncomfortable he was, from the stiff way he held himself to the eye contact. Dean had worked with some awkward clients in his time but never someone who looked like he was being tortured just by sitting down to discuss the estimate. "I'm not saying no, okay? Just that you've got to compromise."
"You drive difficult bargains," Castiel murmured. "Does the privacy clause meet with your approval?"
"Yeah, whatever, I don't talk shop with my competitors anyway."
"That's not what I mean. I don't want my name spoken to anyone. I value my privacy."
That got a raised eyebrow out of Dean. "To anyone? If my brother calls up and asks what I'm working on, you mean I can't tell him?"
Castiel did that uncomfortable fidget again. "I...I suppose you don't need to go to that extreme. Just leaving my name out of the conversation should suffice there."
Dean shrugged. "Hey, you're the client. You're providing materials, you said?"
Castiel nodded. "You'll be allowed to examine them, of course." There was a little tinge of excitement in that direct stare now. "Does that mean you'll accept the commission?"
"Leaning more toward yes than no."
"How long do you think the project will take?"
Dean tilted his head. "There's a lot of hand carving. A week, I guess? At the most?"
Castiel lowered his eyes, and Dean couldn't tell if he was happy about that estimate or not. He closed his eyes for a moment, his hands steepled under his chin. "Is the on-site provision your only pressing concern?"
"That's the big one, yeah."
Castiel nodded. "Then come with me."
Dean followed him through a winding hallway, the walls covered with art that even to Dean's untrained eye looked like museums would be lining up to get their hands on. "Are all these real?"
"I can provide the provenance if you'd like."
"No, I believe you." He stopped in front of what was unmistakably a Van Gogh. "My brother went on an art kick when he was twelve or so, I can recognize some of the big names." He glanced down at the gallery behind him. "Pretty sure there's enough money in this hallway to buy the town."
"I've put a lot of time into my collection," Castiel said, sounding pleased with himself. "But there are less 'masters' represented than you might expect. I buy whatever catches my eye. History forgets more talent than it remembers."
"Must be nice."
"If I can't create great art I can at least collect it." He paused by a door at the end of the stairs. "Tell me if this meets your standards." He pushed open the door and stepped aside, allowing Dean to step inside first.
Dean felt like he'd stepped backwards in time. He found himself in a fully-equipped workshop – an antique one, to be sure, but one just as beautiful as any of the paintings hanging in the hall. Castiel was at his elbow before Dean even realized he'd entered the room. "If I double the offered fee, would working here suffice?"
"Tell me you said no. Tell me you said no and ran out of there as fast as you could."
Dean leaned against the kitchen table and rubbed his suddenly aching forehead with his free hand. Sam hadn't been...exactly as positive as Dean had felt driving away from Castiel's mansion and hadn't wasted any words during the phone call letting Dean know it. "Dude. It is a lot of money."
"There's no way it could possibly be enough money."
Dean pulled out the wad of cash Castiel had given him when they'd concluded business that morning, half of his estimated fee straight up in advance. Normally he dealt in checks but Cas had just blinked at him when he'd brought up the possibility. It wasn't the first time he'd had a client pay him in cash, some of the ones on the wealthier side liked to flash their money at any opportunity but he hadn't gotten the feeling this was showing off. He wondered if the guy even had a bank account. Money was just literally lining the walls of that mansion, for all he knew. "I don't know, Sam. If it's not it's pretty close."
"I thought you said the shop was doing okay."
"Dude, it is but with the way things have been lately there's no way I'm turning down someone literally throwing money at me. And I mean actually tossing a money clip full of hundreds at me as I was leaving."
"And none of this strikes you as even a little bit weird?"
Dean sat down, propping up his head with one hand. "It's a lot weird. I know that, but what do you want me to do?"
"Not work for crazy people would be a good start."
"He's not crazy. Weird, sure, but I'm not getting crazy off him."
"Dean. I want you to really look at the terms he set for you and tell me that again. He won't let you say his name out loud."
Okay, so maybe Sam had a little bit of a point there. "When you're that rich you're allowed to be a little nuts."
"He built a 19th century woodshop in his house so you wouldn't have to leave."
Dean smiled just thinking about that shop. "Place is fucking beautiful, Sam. I feel like I went back in time, it's like I'm working in a museum."
"But, you know. Not crazy."
"Fine. But not dangerous crazy." If Sam kept making points Dean felt like he was going to have to pull some older brother rank because there was no way he was going to be talked into giving this money back. "You didn't talk to him, Sam. Dude is awkward. I got the feeling the whole time it had been so long since he'd talked to anyone that he didn't really remember how." Dean realized as he said that it didn't really do anything to disprove Sam's argument.
Sam didn't miss it either. "Dean. Listen to yourself."
Definitely time to pull rank. "I took the job, Sam. I'm not backing out now, you know I don't do that." And he wasn't giving this money back, but he didn't really feel the need to say that.
Sam let out the most long-suffering of his vast array of long-suffering sighs. "Fine. At least send me the contract so I can get an idea of how much crazy we're dealing with." Dean could actually hear Sam's forehead do that worried scrunched-up thing when Dean didn't say anything. "Dean, tell me there's actually a contract."
"More of a handshake deal." Not that they'd actually shaken on anything, Cas had given a definite hands off vibe, but he was far from the first client of Dean's to have that particular flavor of weird.
Another sigh, louder and more tragic than the first. "Just promise me that if he offers to play an opera he wrote specifically for you that you'll jump in the car and get out of there."
"He's not the Phantom, Sam, he's just a guy. A weird, rich guy."
"I didn't think you'd get that."
"Hey. I got some culture."
"Cool, next time Jess wants to see it again you can go with her."
"See? I got more than you." He could tell Sam was still worried – Sam worried like it was an Olympic sport sometimes – but that he was going to let it drop for the moment, which Dean guessed he could count as a win. "How's the studying for the bar going?" he said, deliberately changing the subject.
"Gonna get a zero."
Dean grinned. Sam had never failed a test in his life. "You're gonna pass on the first try and save the world from corporate douchebags."
"That's the plan." Dean heard some noise in the background. "I gotta get going, Jess just got home and we're having dinner with her parents tonight."
"Tell her she's too good for you for me."
"Man, don't I know it. You don't check in after a couple of days and I'm going to assume you've been kidnapped and fly out there."
Dean knew Sam would, too. "I'll talk to you later." After Sam hung up Dean put the phone down and picked up the wad of cash, counting through the hundred dollar bills as if he expected them to turn into singles before finally just putting it aside.
Sam was right, of course. This was a pretty strange set up, way more hoops than Dean would usually care to jump through and he'd never been swayed by the promise of some quick cash before. And actually he hadn't been now – Cas had been the one to bring up this payment when Dean had completely forgotten about it as he'd been gathering up his stuff to leave. If Dean was going to be honest with himself he knew he probably would have done this job for half the fee.
Dean realized then he'd started thinking of Castiel as "Cas" in his head. He tried to remember when that had started and couldn't. He'd have to be careful not to call Castiel that when he showed up there in the morning.
Dean put all of that out of his head and decided to knock off early. He had a long day in front of him after all.
Dean woke in the middle of the night sweating and gasping, his sheets wrapped around his legs and the blanket kicked to the floor. He took a moment to catch his breath, stretching out across the bed, his heart beating a fast rhythm in his chest. The dream that had shaken him awake was still there behind his eyes, Castiel under him in the backseat of the Impala. They'd pulled over at some rest stop, like they'd been in the middle of some road trip; Dean felt his hands clench in the sheets as he remembered Cas shaking in the dream as he whispered Dean's name like some hedonistic prayer.
He pushed the dream aside as he tried to get back to sleep. Maybe obscene amounts of money weren't the only reason he'd taken this job after all.