"Tony's got a case," Dean told Cas. "I can't stay."
"But –" Cas started, but Dean had already grabbed his jacket and was out the door. Cas turned to look at the little human who'd been put in his care. "Hello."
"Hello," the boy said, staring up at him with wide eyes.
"Do you require changing?" Cas asked, combing through his mind for any information he had on small children.
"No," the boy said with a giggle.
"What's that mean?"
"Dean usually makes pancakes at lunchtime."
"I... do not know how to make pancakes," Cas admitted. He usually left the food to Dean. The boy shrugged, still looking up at him with wide eyes.
"I can have a sandwich," the boy said. Cas was reasonably sure that was something he could make. Maybe he could take the boy to Bobby. Although, he was fairly certain that removing a child without the parent's permission was a bad thing.
The boy was still staring up at him. Were they supposed to do that? It seemed an inefficient use of time. But there were plenty of things Dean did that weren't efficient uses of his time. Although, they usually contributed to hunting or Dean's immediate gratification. Cas wasn't sure how staring at him contributed to what the boy was supposed to be doing. Then again, he didn't know what the boy was supposed to be doing.
"Are you really an angel?" the boy asked.
"Cool," the boy said, breathless in the way Dean sometimes was when he saw an old... a classic car.
"Can you fly?"
"Can you take me flying?"
The boy pouted, still staring up at him with wide eyes.
"Perhaps if you ask your father," Cas relented and the boy immediately smiled up at him.
"Do you have a name?" the boy asked.
"I am Castiel," he said. "Though Dean calls me Cas."
"Hi Cas," the boy said, holding out his hand to shake. "I'm Jack."
Castiel carefully took the boy's small hand in his and gave it a light shake.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Jack."
"You, too," Jack said. "Have you seen my mom?"
Cas frowned, wondering if she was someone he was supposed to have met.
"I do not think so."
Jack pouted again, looking downcast, and it reminded Cas a little too much of Dean trying to be strong when he thought his world was falling apart.
"She's in Heaven," Jack told him.
"I'm sure she is very happy there," Cas told him "But I haven't been to Heaven in some time."
"Isn't Heaven where you live?"
"I used to," Cas told him. "But I have found that there are things on Earth that I have come to appreciate."
"Like Dean?" Jack asked
"I like Dean, too. He reads to me lots."
"Dean has told me that he feels the same way about you."
The smile Jack gave him was almost blinding, his soul radiating from inside him. Cas had noticed Dean tended to have that affect on people.
"Would you like me to read to you?" Cas asked. Jack shook his head.
"What's Heaven like?" he asked instead.
Hotch returned home earlier than he anticipated to the sound of Jack chatting away. He smiled a bit, but wondered why Dean wasn't reading to him as he usually did. He found Jack in the kitchen, chewing on a sandwich, in between asking questions to the angel standing awkwardly in the corner of his kitchen.
"How old are you?" Jack asked. "Older than the Earth?"
"Yes," Castiel said.
"How much older than the Earth?"
Hotch cleared his throat and the angel looked up at him, a little overwhelmed, and Hotch couldn't help but smile at the scene.
Lindsey had been on his way to a local bar where he sometimes sang, demons not included, when Tony had called him about being summoned for a last minute meeting and needing someone to look after Jack. It hadn't exactly been his plan for the evening, but considering what Tony had done for him and what he owed the man, Lindsey couldn't turn him down.
That was how Lindsey ended up in SSA Aaron Hotchner's home, crouching down in front of a seven year old so that they were eye-to-eye and holding out his hand.
"Hello Jack," Lindsey told him. "I'm Lindsey. I work with Tony."
Jack glanced at Tony who smiled and nodded at him before Jack turned back to shake Lindsey's hand.
Jack seemed to take being introduced as some sort of permission since he looked Lindsey over curiously where before he'd barely looked up from where he clung to Tony's side.
"Are you a musician?" Jack asked, looking at Lindsey's guitar. Lindsey shrugged.
"I play a little sometimes."
"I'll be back in an hour," Tony told him quickly, like he knew he probably wouldn't get another chance. "Hour and a half at most."
Lindsey nodded and let Jack take his hand and drag him into the house.
"He's had dinner. Bed time's at eight o' clock," Tony called after him.
"Is learning guitar difficult?" Jack asked. "Tony says he learned piano when he was my age but that he didn't really like his teacher."
"It's not too difficult," Lindsey told him.
"Think I could learn to play something?" Jack asked.
"If you sit quietly, I'll play for you," Lindsey offered, sitting down on one end of the couch and laying out his guitar case on the coffee table in front of him. Jack immediately clambered onto the couch next to him. Lindsey took out his guitar and settled the strap around his shoulders. He strummed aimlessly for a moment, thinking about what he could play that would be appropriate for a child. Finally, he began.
"Childhood living is easy to do. The things you wanted I bought them for you," he sang softly. Jack cuddled in at his side.
(Song is Wild Horses by the Rolling Stones.)
"Dean!" Jack said, hugging him tightly when Dean leaned down to wrap his arms around the boy. Dean lifted him up and swung him around before settling him on the ground again.
"Hey, little man."
Aaron and Tony looked on, both smiling a little. Dean turned briefly to them.
"I've got it from here. Enjoy date night. Don't do anything I wouldn't do," he told them before following Jack down the passage to his room. When he pushed open the door, Jack was already sitting in bed, the book on the bed in front of him.
"What should we do tonight?" Dean asked, tapping his chin thoughtfully.
"Dean," Jack said, looking as chastising as a seven year old could. Dean grinned and sat down in the chair, opening up the book.
"Once upon a time there was a dear little girl who was loved by every one who looked at her," Dean read. "Sounds a lot like you, little man."
Jack grinned at him, but it faded quickly as he waited for Dean to continue. So Dean did, telling him about Little Red-Cap whose mother wanted her to take some cake and wine to her grandmother, but who must not, under any circumstances leave the path. Dean told him about how Little Red-Cap journeyed through the forest and met a wolf who asked her all about her grandmother.
"What should she have done?" Dean asked.
"Not talk to strangers," Jack said and Dean figured between his father and school, that was a message that had been thoroughly drummed into him. He simply nodded and explained how Little Red-cap became distracted by the flowers growing amongst the trees, which she wanted to give to grandmother. And so she wandered further and further into the forest.
"Where did she go wrong?" Dean asked, looking at Jack.
"Stay on the path because it isn't safe in the forest," Jack answered. "And Dad says not to go anywhere I don't know."
"Your Dad's a clever man, kid," Dean told him.
"And if I do get lost to stay where I am so he can find me."
"He wouldn't be the only one looking, kid," Dean muttered before continuing with the story and told Jack about the wolf going to the grandmother's house and letting himself in so that he could devour the grandmother. Dean looked up expectantly.
"She didn't have salt at the windows and doors," Jack answered promptly. "And she invited him in."
"Good," Dean said and continued telling about how Little Red-Cap finally reached her grandmother's house and noticed immediately that something felt wrong, but it was too late because the wolf had already eaten her. He looked at Jack again.
"If you think something's not right, what are you supposed to do?"
"Call Dad or Tony or you or Lindsey or Adam or Cas or JJ."
Dean nodded and told him about the huntsman coming into the house then and cutting the two women loose and the three rejoiced.
"Red-Cap thought to herself: 'As long as I live, I will never by myself leave the path, to run into the wood, when my mother has forbidden me to do so," Dean finished.
"Or just make sure you're very prepared," he added a moment later.
"Read another one," Jack told him. "Jack and the Beanstalk."
"Again?" Dean asked and Jack nodded vigorously. "Okay, but before we start, what should Jack use to disguise his scent?"
"Saffron, skunk's cabbage and trillium," Jack answered.
"Good man," Dean said and turned to the right page.
(Quotes taken from Grimm Brothers' Little Red-Cap.)
"Are you Professor Snape?" Jack asked, looking up at Methos, or more specifically his nose, with big, wide eyes. It was a moment's effort to adopt a British accent again.
"I can teach you how to bewitch the mind and ensnare the senses. I can tell you how to bottle fame, brew glory, and even put a stopper in death," Methos sneered.
Jack stared at him for a minute longer before he giggled delightedly.
"Looks like he's in good hands then," Aaron said and Methos nodded to him.
"Come along, Mister Hotchner," Methos said. "I hear you've got homework to finish."
Jack frowned a little, clearly reluctant.
"Or it'll be cauldron scrubbing for you."
Jack hurried to the kitchen where his books were laid out on the table. Aaron watched him go with a smile.
"Thanks for doing this," Aaron said. Methos shrugged.
"I've looked after plenty of children before and Jack's a pretty good kid from what I hear," he told Aaron.
"I think there's just a little bit of Math left," Aaron said.
"I'll help him with it," Methos assured him and Aaron nodded before leaving. Methos followed Jack into the kitchen, where Jack was bent over his book, though he kept sneaking looks at him. Methos poured him a glass of chocolate milk and settled down beside him.
"So, let's see what you're working on."
Tony was the first to arrive home and he leaned against the back doorframe and watched as Adam chased Jack around the garden. Finally, Adam caught Jack around the waist and spun him around before holding him upside down and tickling him.
"No, Adam, please," Jack begged between breathless peals of laughter. Adam chuckled as he let Jack down and the boy immediately collapsed on the grass to stare up at the sky. "There's a rabbit."
Adam lay down on the grass beside him, undoubtedly ignoring any impending grass stains to his jeans or T-shirt.
"No," Adam insisted. "It's an elephant."
It wasn't often that Tony saw Adam this honestly happy. He smiled.
Sam and Gabriel
Sam wasn't quite sure what to make of being roped into babysitting Dean's boss's boyfriend's kid, but they hadn't really had any other choice when Tony and his team, including Cas, had been called away. Although, Sam had to admit he'd much rather be with Dean's team than where he was.
"You're Dean's brother?" the boy asked, looking up at him shyly.
"Yup." Sam looked around the perfectly normal suburban house and wondered how he and Dean had become attached to this, however peripherally. He hadn't realised how much Dean had clearly wanted something like this, something normal, too. "What does Dean usually do with you?"
"Read or play ball," Jack told him.
"Right," Sam said, not sure he could imagine Dean doing either of those things.
"You suck at this, you know that?" a voice said behind him and Sam spin around, moving the kid behind him.
"Gabriel? How are you..." he paused, not wanting to be too explicit with the kid there. "How are you here?"
"Azrael," Gabriel said and it was all the explanation Sam needed considering he was in the same position.
"You're an angel, aren't you?" the boy asked, peering around Sam.
"That's right, kid. How did you know?" Gabriel asked.
"Cas lets me ask all sorts of questions."
"He does, does he?" Gabriel said, far too amused. Sam assumed Jack was using a rather loose definition of 'let'.
"Adam and Dean said to call them or Cas if any other angels came up to me," Jack said, looking to Sam for confirmation.
"That's a good strategy," Sam told him. "But Gabriel's mostly okay."
"What's your favourite sweet, kid?" Gabriel asked.
"Chocolate cake, but I'm not supposed to take sweets from strangers," Jack told him firmly.
"But I'm not a stranger," Gabriel said and he sounded honestly disappointed. Sam carefully hid a smile.
"My Dad and Tony and Dean haven't said you're okay."
Sam assumed the others weren't mentioned because they didn't really have the kinds of acquaintances you introduced to children. He shuddered at the idea of Kronos near anyone he cared about, never mind a child.
"Considering who his father knows, you might want to tread lightly," Sam advised Gabriel. Gabriel sighed.
"Fine," he said, before brightening. "How about a game of Candy Land?"
It took Tony a moment to realise Jack was hovering in the doorway, one hand gripping tightly on the frame. Tony pulled himself up a little in bed, wincing as the movement jarred his ribs and pulled at his stitches. The price of letting his guard down at the wrong moment when hunting a ghoul.
"Hey, buddy," Tony said, smiling at him. "I'm okay."
Jack stepped a little further into the room, then stopped, shifting on his feet and not looking at Tony. There was a slightly crumpled piece of paper in Jack's tight fist.
"I'm going to be just fine," Tony assured him and Jack looked up then, staring at him in a way that reminded Tony of exactly how much the boy had lost already in his short life.
"Dad says I should let you sleep 'cause you need lots of it," Jack said.
"Well, we won't tell him I'm up past bedtime," Tony said, giving him a reassuring smile. He held out an arm for the boy. "Come here."
That was all the prompting Jack needed to climb on the bed with him and sit at his side.
"I told Dad you needed orange juice and chicken soup," Jack told him seriously. "'Cause that's what I get when I'm sick."
"Thanks, Jack," Tony told him, smiling faintly as he wrapped an arm around the boy and pulled him close. Jack buried himself into Tony's side. "I really appreciate it."
"I drew you a picture," Jack said, handing the crumpled paper to Tony who carefully smoothed it out to see rudimentary figures of a little blond boy holding hands with a blond woman and a brown-haired man who was also holding hands with another brown-haired man.
"It's beautiful," Tony told him, meaning it with everything in him. "I think I'm going to have to frame it."
"Are you sure you're okay?" Jack asked, looking up at Tony, all earnest concern.
"Positive," Tony told him with all the confidence he could muster. It was no small amount. "I love you, kiddo. You know that, right? I'm not going anywhere if I have any say in the matter."
"I love you, too," Jack told him, words muffled in his shoulder as Jack curled into him. Tony blinked quickly.