"A Little Child's Hope"

Notes: Cleaning out drafts and this is as done as it will ever be. 456 words.

"There was always something comforting about meeting in parks, wasn't there, Dean?"

Dean doesn't even startle anymore. It's a dissonant realization. Cas is just... not there, and then... there. Like the sun or the wind.

"It's the children, isn't it? You're watching over the children."

Dean shuffles forward a little, resting his elbows on his knees, matching Cas's pose. He doesn't say a word; doesn't really need to. Cas is just talking something out, just wants to have someone listen, so Dean only nods.

Cas watches the children play for a little while. A little girl, maybe three years old, with bright red hair, laughs all the way down the slide, her mother off to the side, smiling. She doesn't hover, so much as follow, as her young daughter rushes off again to climb the ladder.

Dean watches Cas. He's seen these scenes a dozen times before. Cas is right, there's something soothing about parks, about the sounds of children, their laughter and screeches of joy being enveloped by the air around them. It's like a cocoon, safety and warmth, but Cas...

None of it reaches his eyes.

Dean straightens his back, a question on his lips, but he stills it when Cas stands and puts his hands in the pockets of his coat. It's a familiar image, but the dissonance clangs again, because this Cas is not scanning the horizon for danger like he once did. Instead, he turns to Dean, eyes still flat, face expressionless.

And then the little girl runs up to Cas, tugging on his coat and Dean's attention is pulled toward the playground and the girl's mother, catching up to her runaway child.

"You're sad," says the little girl, and Cas looks down. "Do you miss your Daddy? Do you want a hug?"

Her mother's face tenses in worry and suspicion. She reaches for her child, saying, "Come on, let's go." But she stops, her hands falling away from her daughter's shoulders, when she looks up into Cas's face.

The little girl holds up her arms. Cas stoops and picks her up, and Dean holds his breath as the girl holds Cas's face in her hands and says, "You'll be okay."

Cas bends down, placing the child's feet on the ground. The little girl smiles at him, and puts her hand inside her mother's. She says, "I want to swing. Swing me, Mommy." She yanks on her mother's hand, leading her back. Her attention is gone back to playing, but her mother's is on Cas, her head turned until she can no longer stare.