Just back from a particularly trying hunt, three men – well, two men and an angel, in truth – sat around a table in the Men of Letters bunker library, each of them nursing a beer. The remains of meals from some cheap fast food joint were scattered in front of two of them – a half-finished salad in front of the tallest of the trio, and leftover wrappers from a couple of cheese burgers and mostly-finished fries in front of the man with light brown hair and a faint sprinkling of freckles - while the third had only his beer. All the lights in the bunker were turned down, leaving just a single lamp sitting in the middle of the table casting an intimate circle of yellowed light in the darkened room. Both men were slumped a bit in their seats, obviously exhausted, while the angel didn't show the weariness he felt quite so obviously as the humans did.
“Cas,” Dean broke the comfortable silence, “how're things going with that project? What'd it get called again?”
“Wayward Academy,” the angel answered absently. “Construction has been started on the dormitory and additional cabins. Donna took over... 'decoration duties,' I believe it was.” Castiel squinted a bit, confused by the term.
A laugh burst forth from Sam, a grin lighting his face. “Yeah, I'll bet she did. That woman.”
The elder Winchester rolled his eyes, but a fond smile teased at his lips, belying the gesture. “Yeah, that woman. How you handling that, man?” Dean's smile shifted into a smirk as he imagined the angel trying to puzzle the firecracker of a sheriff out.
Cas took a moment to consider his words before replying. “Donna is...intriguing. She is also confusing. But she has a good heart. She and Jody are... It's good.”
Both men nodded in reply to Cas' words, an understanding look passing between them. The silent communication shifted slightly, and Dean rolled his eyes and shrugged at his brother, while Sam's expression grew serious. “What about you, Cas? How are you doing?”
Taken aback by the question, the angel's eyes narrowed and flitted between the two hunters. “I've been with you for almost a week. Why ask a question like that when you've seen me? I am uninjured.” He'd started to fall back on old habits of speech without even being aware of it, which told both brothers far more than if he'd actually answered the question outright. They had learned it was something the angel often did without thought when he was uncomfortable about a subject.
The brothers traded another look, Sam's eyebrows raising in a silent question. Dean shrugged once more, then turned his attention to the angel. “Stop being me, Cas. You might have been that clueless years ago, but we all know better now. You're deflecting.” He softened the harshness of his words with a quick grin, though it faded quickly as he regarded his friend.
Cas dropped his gaze down to the half-full bottle he held in his hands, absently rubbing away some of the condensation on the brown glass with a thumb. Slowly, his gravelly voice strangely vulnerable, he answered. “I am... I'm fine.” The nearly instantaneous scoffing noises from both brothers made his lips quirk. He realized he'd probably picked the wrong word to use, given the the Winchester standard use of the word 'fine.' “I'm doing better,” he said, raising his eyes from the bottle to look at them both where they were seated across the table from him. “The academy project helps.”
Once more, the brothers traded a look, then both smiled as they turned their attention back to the angel. “That's... that's good. I mean, that's really good,” Sam said. “Because we've been talking...” He trailed off, glancing back to Dean.
The elder Winchester nodded at his brother, and continued for him. “We were thinking... Since things have quieted down for now...as much as they ever do, anyway, that maybe you'd like to spend more time helping them out with the academy.” He glanced back to Sam even as Cas looked between the two, obviously trying to understand what point they were slowly coming to.
“Yeah. I mean, you're always welcome on a hunt. Of course you would be,” Sam said almost stumbling over his words in an effort to keep Cas from thinking they were pushing him away the way he had been the last time he'd been human, and vulnerable. He wasn't human now, of course, but both brothers felt in many ways he was just as vulnerable now as he had been then, even if it was in different ways. “We don't want you to think we're trying to...well, kick you out or anything. You're always welcome here, on hunts, whatever...”
“Damn, Sammy, shut up,” Dean interrupted. “You're supposed to be the one who's good at the chick-flick crap.” Unimpressed by his brother's bitchface, Dean just stared him down, then turned his attention back to his friend. Resettling himself in his chair so he could lean forward, he sighed. “Cas, man, what we're trying, badly,” he glanced briefly over to his brother, “to say is that we think spending more time helping out with the academy would be good for you. And maybe...they need a guardian angel more than we do, these days.”
Sam spoke up, adding the one thing he knew might sway Cas if nothing else they'd said would. “And get this... We got word that Claire's on board with it, too.” The brothers traded another look, then turned their focus in tandem to the angel, waiting to see if he would finally react.
Cas had remained silent during the back and forth between the brothers, his head tilted to the side and his eyes squinted up in his most classic 'trying so very hard to understand the strange humans' look. Despite the poorly executed, yet obviously planned, discussion, he understood what they were trying to say. But, just as Sam had imagined, it was the mention of Claire that finally prompted a reaction from him. Slowly a smile spread across his lips, one that brightened his eyes as few of his smiles did these days. “I think I'd like that. I think,” he paused, considering the idea seriously. “I think that would be a good idea.”