Coming Home to Me
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.”