'The long road's behind us
And we made it
To this bright night that finds us
All together.'

"So Let's Go" ~ Alan Doyle

With over thirty minutes until call time, Spike can't stop grinning. He prods the elbow next to him, just to be sure.

Sam doesn't wake.

"If I wasn't seeing this with my own two eyes," says Dean, on Spike's other side, "I wouldn't believe it."

Sam is still wearing those sunglasses, slumped and comfy in the velvet red seat, hands folded at his waist. Out like a light.

"This was his idea," Spike adds. "I feel kind of abandoned."

Other parents mill around the intimate conservatory theatre space, musicians setting up on stage. Professors and students rearrange sheet music with stressed abandon.

Clark emerges from the wings and rounds the aisle to gape at the three of them. His eyebrows disappear up into his bushy hair. "What are you all doing here? I thought you were just dropping me off!"

He looks spiffy in an all black ensemble, complete with shiny wingtip shoes. One hand holds his cello by its neck, bow slung over his thumb, sheet music under his arm.

Spike has a question of his own. "Are you seriously going to wear those on stage? For a concert you're being graded on?"

He points down at Clark's feet.

Clark lifts his pant leg to reveal the whole effect of his socks, a pressed miasma of Dalmatians on a blue background. The expression on his face when he'd opened the gift was priceless, as was the sound of Dean's replying laughter.

He nods at Spike, bobbing his curly head. "Yeah, man. I need to start a sock collection like Dean. Besides, what are they going to do, fire me?"

Across Spike's nose, he high fives Dean with similar abandon.

Spike shakes his head, still smiling. "The next generation is alright."

"It's going to be, like, way more nerve wracking with you all sitting here though."

"Nerve wracking or do you mean exciting?" Dean wheedles.

A smile creeps over Clark's face. "Exciting. Mind blowing. The most stress inducing thing ever, which I've learned are all kind of the same thing when you perform a lot."

Spike runs his fingers over the bow's horse hair, powdery with rosin. White flakes onto his skin. "You're going to be fine. I've heard you practicing that Goltermann concerto when I drop by your dorm—you're more than ready."

"Thanks, Spike. I'd thank Sam too, if he was awake."

"Do you feel confident about the Mendelssohn song too?" Dean asks.

"Piece," Spike corrects, proud of himself for knowing that.

"I think so." Clark glances around. "Some of these guys, though. Man—they're legit. Their playing is amazing."

Then Clark bites his lip, and Spike understands what he's really saying with a jittery rush of sympathy. "I called your dad before we came. Ed's really proud of you like we all are, Clark, and he feels terrible that he can't be here tonight. He's got that appointment uptown."

"I know." Clark gives a tiny smile and a thankful look at Spike. "He's been to most of these recitals over the years and yet he tells me every time."

Dean taps his breast pocket, where his student Academy badge sits. "If the profs don't award you a good grade, we'll totally go over there in uniform and give them a hard time. Right, Spike?"

"Uh." Spike throws him a look, brow arched high. "No, we absolutely will not."

"Yeah," says Clark, already laughing. "Please, please do not do that."

Dean looks genuinely surprised. "What? Why not?"

"Abuse of power, much?"

Spike points to Clark. "Exactly. Take it from the artist in our midst, Dean—powers are to be used only for good. Write that down."

Dean gripes. "You guys are no fun."

"It's the thought that counts," Clark soothes, poking Dean's shoulder with his bow tip.

The boys chatter some more, Clark absently tuning the pegs while Dean contests that performers should get to wear whatever they want. Clark thanks him for the gift, promising to keep the crazy sock contest going.

Spike doesn't realize he's drifted off as well until someone steps over his legs and a soft, tender hand, like butterfly wings, flutters over his cheek. He keeps his eyes closed, disoriented.

"That party really tuckered our boys out, huh?"

"You should've seen them." Dean laughs. "You and Winnie have got nothing to worry about, Jules. No strippers, no lap dances—just badly played poker and a magician that pulled a barrel of monkeys out of Wordy's hat."

A caramel warm hum answers. It buzzes clean through the fingertips that brush Spike's burn scar and down his chest. Checking his breathing, just like Dean always does.

"They're okay?" she asks.

"Yeah. Just tired, I think. It was really nice of them to drive Clark and I around after the night they had."

Spike wrangles his eyes open in time to catch Jules patting Dean's knee, where she settles on his right. A cup of hot cocoa is nestled in her other hand, a feat of smuggling considering they're not supposed to have food or drink in here.

Something about the homey image is wrong for a beat, sharp and out of focus. Spike blinks.

Then his eyes widen—Jules is donned in her SRU gear, vest and all.

Spike is straight up and leaned around Dean in a heartbeat. He rubs the fatigue from his eyes. "Did we have an emergency shift? Is someone hurt?"

It wouldn't surprise him if they got such a call and didn't tell him, with how cautious they've been when it comes to his immune system. They didn't let him out of the command truck during calls until January, until they were positive he wasn't going to die from the common cold.

He's only been allowed to go out and take his gun on a, you know, gun call for about a month now. Even then he's not technically back up to a 'normal' weight, a tad bony around the ribs, but some of his wiry muscle filling back in.

It took long enough just to convince Ed not to have an oxygen tank on hand at all times.

Jules rushes to place a hand on Spike's arm. "Everyone is fine, Spike, no call. We're all safe. A friend just asked me to speak at her daughter's leadership club and they wanted to see what I wear on a typical day."

Spike closes his eyes again, blaringly awake now, and breathes out a long breath.

The hand squeezes. "Sorry for scaring you."

"It's okay." Spike opens his eyes and grins at her. "It was nice of you to come."

"How could I miss Clark and his dazzling socks?"

Dean snickers, trying to stifle them when some parents turn to look. Performers take their seats on stage, in chamber orchestra formation, including Clark. He hears the sound of his friend even over the muffled din and rolls his eyes.

Then he gives a strange, three fingered salute that Dean reciprocates—as if 'catching' the fingers, he places three over his chest. An abridged version of their 'secret' handshake.

"No Sadie?" Spike asks, to distract himself from the winding down snare of his heart.

"Sadie is at her grandparents' but we'll bring her to concerts when she's older."

Spike suddenly notices the intent eyes studying his every breath and the quick text she fires off in their group chat. "Let me guess—Greg sent you to check up on me?"

Jules shrugs. "Maybe. Maybe he worries about his kids sometimes."

"Sometimes?" Dean pipes up in a faux grumble. "Try all the time. If worrying was an Olympic sport, Dad would be a multi-winning gold medalist."

Spike's cheeks flush but he smiles, warmth zipping all the way down to his toes.

Jules gazes at him for a long, steady few minutes, only letting go once the lights dim. At the conductor's podium, one of the head professors begins introductions and acknowledgements.

Somehow, even with the theatre seat arm rests in the way, Dean predictably finds a way to half recline on Spike's shoulder, cuddled close. Spike relaxes fully, the familiar weight of his brother and Jules' lavender scent and Sam's foot flung overtop of Spike's ankle all sensations that carry him back home to the present.

A new, faint pressure settles on Spike's stomach, placed there by a loving hand. He glances down to see…

A beanbag plushy?

It's got green lederhosen on it and a tiny feathered hat, friendly looking. Gentle brown, glass eyes peer at Spike. He scrambles to remember the Toy Story character's name until he sees it written on the tag: 'Mr. Picklepants.'

Why this particular character…?

Then Spike clues in.

"A hedgehog? Really?" He brandishes the spiky fur in front of Sam's face. "When did you even buy this?"

Sam's replying smile is pure, simple, and smug. He's not asleep at all.

Applause breaks out—

"Now you have a friend with hair just like you."

"You and Dean are in on this harassment together, I swear."

"You're welcome."

—And Clark's bow hits the string, the first chord ringing in concert with Spike's laugh.

Written in 2019.