On the day they met, Dean Winchester is four years old. Emblazoned on the front of his light blue teddy T-shirt are the words I Wuv Hugz, and everyone who’s ever met Dean can verify the accuracy of this statement.
Everyone who’s ever met his new neighbor, Castiel Novak, knows the opposite is true. It’s 1983, and though terms like Asperger’s Syndrome and touch aversion have yet to seep into public consciousness, Cas had been sure to convey his displeasure to anyone who’s ever tried to hug him without his explicit consent.
As such, both the boys’ parents watch with considerable apprehension as Dean toddles up to the newcomer, ready to bestow upon him the signature Winchester greeting.
He throws his pudgy arms around Castiel’s slight shoulders, squeezing him as tightly as his little body will allow.
Castiel’s haggard single mother, Naomi, squeezes her eyes shut and braces herself for the ear-splitting wail that is sure to follow. To her surprise, there is none.
Instead, when she dares to look again, Cas is, for the first time in his short life, expressing physical affection, his thin arms wrapped delicately around Dean’s shoulders.
In a voice so soft no one but Dean can hear it, Castiel murmurs, “Hello, Dean.”
It’s now 1988.
Dean Winchester is nine years old, down a parent, and up a…well, he’s hesitant to refer to Cas as like a brother, though adults in his life have described it as such. It just feels wrong to him, for reasons he has yet to put his finger on.
Regardless, Cas has become remarkably close, mostly because his mother – a single parent, struggling to make ends meet – is almost never home. As his closest neighbors and closest friends, Cas ends up spending more time at the Winchesters’ house than he does at his own.
Dean still wuvs hugz, though he’s now less willing to admit to such, and Cas, miracle of all miracles, still never fails to return them. Indeed, Dean is one of the few people Cas will willingly touch.
At present, the boys are cuddled up on Dean’s lower bunk while young Sammy snoozes above them, a rerun of the Three Stooges buzzing on Dean’s fuzzy, black-and-white TV set.
99% of the time, Cas doesn’t understand the humor, fails to see the amusement in watching three people brutalize one another. But he enjoys hearing Dean laugh, the feel of his warm breath against the back of his neck. It makes him feel comforted.
It makes him feel home.
Contentedly, Cas closes his eyes. He’s just drifting off when he hears Dean say, “Oh. Hi, Daddy.”
For some reason, he sounds nervous.
When Cas blinks open his eyes, he sees why: John is standing in the doorway, glowering at them, a strange sort of contempt darkening his glassy eyes. He’s yards away from them, leaning in the doorless entryway to the boys’ room, but Cas can smell the pungent stench of alcohol wafting off of him.
“You boys’re too old to be doin’ that,” is all he mutters, before staggering away and leaving the confused duo with the vague but pervasive sense that they’ve done something wrong.
Cas glances over at Dean, who’s now worrying his lower lip and won’t meet his eyes.
Cas pats his hand. “My mommy smells that way when she gets sad,” he offers.
For some reason, it seems to help.
It’s now 1996, and in that very same room, the boys are having a slumber party. Of course, they’re not allowed to call it a slumber party, because they’re boys over the age of twelve, and rules of social conduct dictate that it be called hanging out.
But, essentially, it was a slumber party.
Cas skipped a grade, while Dean was held back one, and as such, they haven’t seen as much of one another as either party would have liked.
Still, Dean is popular, and surprisingly, so is Cas: yes, he’s undeniably nerdy and not a little weird, but there’s an inherent niceness to him that makes him a pleasant person to be around.
Dean has had the pleasure of witnessing this all evening, as Cas interacts with Charlie, with Gabe, with Kevin and Garth and Benny, and even the little gray mixed breed that recently followed Sam home. Regardless of what is being said, Cas listens to each of them with his undivided attention, head nodding, blue eyes wide with interest.
Dean is content, for once, to quietly observe, witnessing his friend for the first time through the others’ eyes.
Later that night, however, when they line the floor like sleeping caterpillars in their multicolored sleeping bags, Dean once again has Cas all to himself, facing one another in the bunk they’d shared all those years ago.
There’s a flutter in their chests that wasn’t there before, a not-entirely-unpleasant sensation that neither one can place.
Years later, Dean won’t remember what it was Cas was saying. He’ll only remember the soft, gravelly rasp of his voice, his crystalline blue eyes as they stared so intently into his own.
He’ll remember how soft his chapped, full lips felt as he found himself kissing them, the tickle of his faint stubble.
He’ll remember the instant he pulled away, and the long moment in which they just silently stared, a million wordless protests racing through their minds: it’s the mid-nineties, and the heat of the AIDs epidemic is still fresh in the public’s memory. It’s by no means a good time to be gay, or anything close it.
More than anything, he’ll remember the exact moment he decided he didn’t care, that nothing in the world mattered more than having Castiel’s lips against his own.
He’ll remember the instant Cas silently agreed with him when he kissed back.
Cas is going to medical school. Sam is going to college.
Dean is going overseas.
In the end, he really doesn’t have a choice in the matter: he never had gotten his high school diploma, weighed down by the burden of being his family’s full-time emotional (and ultimately, financial) provider.
He’d tried so hard to juggle the two, coming home straight after school everyday to clean up and make dinner, to fill the role his mother had vacated when she’d died of cancer years before, and helping Sammy with his homework every evening before he even got started on his own.
He eventually had to give up and drop out of school entirely when John left them, and he had to get a full time job at his Uncle Bobby’s garage just to make ends meet.
But never once had Dean given up on the hope of making his life meaningful, of helping others and saving lives.
When he was younger, he’d wanted to go to nursing or medical school, perhaps become a paramedic, but as a high school flunky with five bucks to his name, this option is out for the time being.
So really, his only option is overseas.
Cas knew this, and he knows he should have prepared himself better. Yet this does little to stop the tears from falling as he holds his fiance’s hands, freshly gifted engagement rings glinting in the evening sun.
Dean smiles that goofy, crooked smile, puts on a brave face as he wipes the tears away.
“Hey, now,” he says, chuckling painfully. “Ain’t we talked about this, angel? You know I don’t do chick-flick moments.”
Cas smiles faintly, nearly argues that Dean loves chick-flicks and they both know it, but he finds he doesn’t have it in him for their usual, lighthearted banter.
“Promise me you’ll come home,” he says instead.
For a moment, Dean’s facade falters, adam’s apple bobbing as he swallows. Still, his smile remains fixedly – painfully – in place.
“I promise, angel,” he whispers.
Eighteen months later, Dean comes home. Or rather, most of him does.
They’ll both realize, with time, that Dean lost a part of himself overseas, and it wasn’t just the tip of his now-stubby left pinky finger that he’ll forever use to give Sam wet willies for maximum gross-out factor. It wasn’t just the majority of the flesh of his left arm and ribcage, that took the brunt of the damage when the bomb went off, the drum-tight, pinkish scar tissue there to remind him whenever he examines himself shirtless in the bathroom mirror.
It’s something intangible, that will make itself evident the first time he ushers Cas away from their bedroom window, mind already anticipating the crackle of bullets and the shattering of class. The first time he wakes up, heart pounding, to the crashing of a garbage truck or early summer fireworks, every instinct screaming for him to find shelter.
Dean knows he lost something overseas, a part of himself he’ll never fully be able to recover.
But he’ll be okay. They both will.
In time, he’ll finally get his GED. He’ll go to community college, and then, to nursing school, finally able to fulfill his dream of saving lives, helping others in his own way.
He and Cas will get married in the fall, and though it will take years of convincing on Cas’s end, convincing that Dean will not become a replica of his father, they’ll have kids: Claire and Ben, adopted two years apart. Dean will be startled by how completely they feel like his own.
They’ll be okay. In spite of it all, they’ll be okay. Life will go on, and it will be a good one.
But for now, all that matters is here at the airport, searching the crowd for that messy head of raven hair he knows is waiting for him.
His heart skips a beat when he finally spots it.
The years have been good to Castiel. His shoulders visibly broader beneath his usual beige trench, a veritable sea of stubble framing the familiar, chapped lips. Eyes, somehow bluer than Dean remembered them, widened when they met his own.
Dean swallowed. Make no mistake, Cas had always been gorgeous, but now…damn.
For a moment, the two just stare at each other, neither sure what to say.
Finally, Dean chuckles wetly. “Angel,” he huffs, with his best attempt at a cocky smile. “You’re…you’re all grown up.”
Castiel says nothing. Wordlessly, he moves forward, strong arms enveloping Dean’s shoulders. Dean rests his head in the crook of his neck, breathing in a shaky, relieved breath as he feels the familiar prickle of stubble, taking in the clean, soapy scent he hadn’t known how much he’d missed. It makes him feel comforted.
It feels like home.
A soft, gravelly voice rasps gently in his ear, “Hello, Dean.”
It’s not the first time something like this happened but Dean thought they were past this. They’ve been texting almost every day, talking at least twice a week. Now that he knows this version of Cas, he can’t take the radio silence.
It spooks him more than he lets on.
He tries again late at night, dials the number he knows by heart. Straight to voicemail. He knows it would happen, he tried just a minute ago, but the sound of Cas’ voice washes over him and he relaxes as much as his nervousness increases. At the beep, he sighs.
“Cas, buddy… where are you?”
His mouth is an ugly grimace, the lines on his face etched with concern even after he rubs his hand over his face. It’s not the first message and it won’t be the last. He should stop. He should. Still, his voice breaks.
“I need you.”
We need you, he should add - because plural is safer, less full of weight. Yet, for some reason, he doesn’t. Instead, he just swallows, calls Castiel’s name softly against the speaker as if the sound of it could summon the angel. But, just like the other times before, the line clicks dead. Cas doesn’t magically appear just because Dean is wishing it with every fiber of his being. So the hunter closes his eyes, puts the phone by the nightstand - as he always does when Cas is away. Just in case.
He’s drowning, deeper and deeper, pulled into the water by dark claws. He can’t fight it. Or maybe he just doesn’t want to anymore. All of the sudden, he’s pulled up, fast and hard and then all the water is gone. He’s dry, standing on his childhood bedroom, bright blue “I Wuv Hugz” shirt on. Cas. Cas is standing right in front of him. The angel looks down at his shirt quizzically, the twitch of his brow too accurate to be just a memory. Then, he looks back up, smiles, all soft and gentle before he steals Dean’s space and wraps tight arms around broad shoulders.
Dean doesn’t know what to do. He hugs back, closed fists against Cas’ back, but none of this makes sense and the realization hits him like a truck doing ninety on a freeway. He pulls back, eyes moist and full of hurt.
“I’m dreaming, aren’t I? You’re just a dream.”
The angel hesitates, his expression odd. He looks as if he’s considering the answer and it makes Dean think for a moment that maybe it’s really Cas, sneaking into his dreams. But then the angel nods, confirms his suspicions and Dean believes it - maybe because Cas needs him to. He wraps his arms around the angel again, anyway. Fictional or not, this Cas feels real.
“Come back to me,” he pleads to the phantom because if it’s just a dream he can’t be at fault for his own words. Cas frowns, he looks sad - like angel statues over cold stone graves. Too sad. Dean’s hand cradles his jaw and he presses closer, leans in until his lips brush Cas’ in a gentle kiss.
“I’ll wait,” he assures, “just… come back.”
At last, Cas smiles again and Dean can’t help but smile back. The angel pulls him in for another kiss but he licks it out of Dean’s mouth, all demanding and pushy, hard and bossy in that way he knows always has the hunter going a little crazy. So Dean melts into it, all soft, pleased noises, moaning into chapped pink lips, trembling fingertips dancing over Castiel’s nape.
He should be angry. He knows Cas is lying. His imagination, no matter how good, could never recreate Cas this perfectly. This is the real deal, probably neck deep into some new stupid ass decision. But Dean doesn’t say anything, just shakes his head and smirks into the kiss, pulling the blue-eyed little nerd closer still.
When he wakes up, hours later, the other side of the bed remains empty. Still, he feels a little better. Cas will come back.
Sam and Dean: Brother appreciation post. = “They wuv hugz”
SAM: “What happens when you’ve decided I can’t be trusted again? I mean who are you going to turn to next time instead of me? What another angel? Another… Another vampire? Do you have any idea what it feels like to watch your brother…”
DEAN: “Just hold on. Hold on. You seriously think that? Because none of it. None of it, is true. Listen man I know we’ve had our disagreements okay? Hell. I know I’ve said some junk that sent you back on your heals but Sammy, come on. I killed Benny to save you. I’m willing to let this bastard and all the sons of bitches that killed mom walk because of you. Don’t you dare think there’s anything, past or present that I would put in front of you. It’s never been like that, ever. I need you to see that. I’m begging you.”
Part Two: A Trip Down Memory Lane. (Dark Side of the Moon S05E16)
Episode Summary: Ambushed by angry hunters, Sam, Dean and the reader are shot and killed and sent to Heaven. Castiel warns them Zachariah is looking for them. He instructs them to lay low while searching for an angel named Joshua who can help them since he talks directly to God. During their search, they run into some old friends and family members. Pairing: Dean Winchester x Reader Word Count: 6,661.
“Daddy, look!” Lily cries, stretching her arm as high as it’ll go. Her small fingers are curled around a chocolate egg wrapped in pink foil, just one of a couple dozen he and Cas hid around the living room last night.
“Hey, great job, sweetheart!” Dean praises her with a grin. Her ziplock bag is about halfway full and he knows for a fact that there’s another egg hidden beneath the lampshade right behind her. “Where do you think we should check next?” he asks nonetheless, and touches a forefinger to his chin as Lily hums and glances around; her tiny frown makes her look just like Cas.
“I don’t know…” she murmurs quietly, turning her doe eyes back to Dean as if she knows he’ll cave and give her a hint. Well, she isn’t wrong, Dean thinks with a sigh. Who’d have ever thought that Dean Winchester would be at the beck and call of his four-year-old daughter? Certainly not Dean Winchester himself.
“What about Mr. Lamp over there? Have you asked him?”
Lily takes one look over her shoulder and huffs dramatically, which she does whenever she deems the adults in her life completely ridiculous. “He isn’t awake yet, Daddy,” she informs him seriously, because of course the lamp is sleeping. It’s ten in the morning and how could Dean not know that.
“Right, right. My bad,” Dean bites back a laugh. “Um, well, should we try Mrs. Firewood?” - he points to their fireplace - “Or should we see if Mr. Lamp is ready to wake up?”
Lily blinks, clearly considering both options, and Dean’s heart virtually swells with how much he loves his kid. “I think he can wake up,” she concludes. “I woke up early today!”
“Yeah,” Dean sighs with a shake of his head. He remembers how swiftly Cas pushed a hand in his face when Lily burst into their room and interrupted their frankly awesome make-out session. “That you did, princess.”