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When they moved, Naomi told him to forget.

Outwardly, he did. He stopped talking about it, carefully minding his words and actions.

He kept the memories buried in the back of his mind, treasured and secret.

Castiel wouldn’t forget the crooked smiles and the sweaty hands. He held onto the emerald eyes and chocolate-smeared cheeks. The smothered giggles as they snuck chocolate milk from the kitchen, so certain they had escaped unnoticed. The way freckles looked when they were stretched wide in a gap-toothed grin.

Castiel refused to let the memories go.

And now, as he stood sweating on an old, familiar doorstep, he refused to let his fears take over.

He had moved out as soon as he could, choosing a college near where he had grown up as a child. His mother had refused to speak with him after their last fight, and he tried not to mind. It was hard, even after everything she had done. Naomi had caused him so much pain, so much hurt, but she was still his mother. It hurt so, so much to let go of the hope that one day he’d make her proud.

He had moved into the dorms of the University of Kansas on a Tuesday, carefully tucking away the clothes and few belongings he had managed to take with him. It had taken him an hour to find the house. A full day to find the courage to walk up the path. He tried to work up his nerve by wearing the nicest clothes he had, a rumpled white dress shirt and an old blue tie. His old trench coat, the one fight he had managed to win as a teenager, a security blanket purchased with saved-up birthday money.

It was Thursday, and his hands shook as he stared at the white door. He didn’t even know if they lived here anymore. He didn’t know what he would do if they didn’t.

Castiel took a deep breath and knocked. He tried not to hyperventilate as he listened to the footsteps approach.

The door swung open, and his breath caught.

“Hello.” Mary Winchester said, smiling politely. Her blonde hair was short now, not the long, soft curls he remembered. She had more wrinkles around her eyes and mouth, soft lines that showed her kindness.

Castiel felt his eyes tear up.

“Can I help you?” She looked confused, but she kept smiling.

“Um,” Castiel wiped his eyes with his sleeve, laughing quietly in a mixture of embarrassment and relief. “Hi, sorry.” He smiled at the woman, eyes still shining. “My name is Castiel. I don’t know if you remember me, but I used to live next door. I, um,” He trailed off, suddenly realizing he didn’t have an excuse for being here.

Thankfully, Mary didn’t seem to need one, her face lighting up in recognition. “Castiel! Of course I remember you, I could never get you and Dean apart! Come in!” She waved him in, closing the door softly behind him and continuing to talk over her shoulder as she led him to the kitchen.

Castiel smiled softly to himself as he realized he knew the way.

“How are you doing? I haven’t heard from you or your mom since you moved.”

“I’m doing well,” he slowly sat in the edge of the chair she indicated. “I, ah,” he tried to find something to say that didn’t involve his mother, “I’m going to KU this semester.”

“That’s good,” she smiled at him. “Would you like some water? Coffee? Tea?”

“Um,” Castiel hesitated, unused to this level of hospitality, “Water is fine, thank you.”

“Not a problem,” she filled a glass of water and set it in front of him, settling herself in the chair opposite. “How’s your mom doing?”

“Um,” Castiel hesitated again, trying to find a delicate way to phrase it. “I’m not entirely sure. We’ve had a bit of a… falling-out, recently.”

Mary sighed, but her small frown was understanding. “I hope this isn’t rude, Castiel, but I have to say I’m not entirely surprised. Your mother was a very difficult woman to get along with.”

Castiel remained silent, internally battling himself on whether to defend his mother or agree.

“Oh,” Mary exclaimed, as if realizing something. “I should tell Dean you’re here! You know, he was so sad when you left, I couldn’t get him to smile at me for the longest time. I’m sure he’ll be ecstatic to see you.”

“Oh,” Castiel’s heart beat double time, nerves returning with a vengeance. This is why he came here, why was he so afraid? “Are you sure?” He couldn’t stop himself from asking quietly. What if Dean… didn’t want to see him? What if Dean had forgotten him?

Which one would be worse?

Mary’s eyes softened. “Of course I’m sure, sweetheart.” She stood, patting his shoulder as she passed. “I’ll send him down. I’ll be upstairs if you need me.”

He managed to nod as she left. He stared at the tabletop, trying to calm himself down. Mary was nice. She wouldn’t lie to him, right? She wouldn’t trick him like that, right? That would be too mean, right? His thoughts became increasingly hysterical, trying to convince himself of things he wasn’t sure of.

He took shuddering deep breaths, counting 2 in… 1 hold… 4 out… 1 hold…

He remembered the laughter they had shared, the bright smiles. What chocolate chip cookies tasted like when they were eaten underneath tablecloths, falling apart because they were still a little too hot. He took a final deep breath and let it out, smiling softly to himself. It would be okay.

Castiel’s head jerked up at the sound of footsteps on the stairs. He shot to his feet and turned to face the door as a figure walked through it.

Castiel stared at Dean, trying to memorize this new person, just in case he did kick Cas out. He had a look of confusion on his face. Mary must not have told him who he was meeting. His eyes were greener than he remembered. He was tall, taller than Castiel now. His hair was a very light brown, almost blonde, no doubt lightened by the summer sun.

He… Castiel’s eyes filled with tears again. He had So. Many. Freckles.

“Hello, Dean.” Castiel managed, voice watery. He shook his head at himself, wiping his eyes.

Dean’s eyes widened as he took a halting step forward. “Cas?” His voice was so low it was almost a whisper.

Castiel couldn’t stop the giant smile that broke across his face. “You remembered me.” Dean remembered him. He laughed wetly.

“You’re here,” Dean said, stepping forward again. He still looked a little shell-shocked.

“I am,” Castiel agreed, staring again. He couldn’t stop himself.

Dean rewarded him with a brilliant smile. His eyes looked like they were shining, too. He walked forward and wrapped Castiel in a tight hug. “Hey, Cas.” He said softly.

Castiel buried his face in Dean’s shoulder. “Hello, Dean.” He said again, just because he could.

“I missed you so much, man.” Dean’s arms tightened around him.

“I missed you, too.” Castiel couldn’t stop himself from laughing softly.

“What?” Dean pulled back but kept his hands on Cas’ shoulders, still smiling hugely. “What’s so funny?”

Castiel shook his head, wiping his eyes with his sleeve again. “I just… I thought you would’ve forgotten me.” He leaned forward and rested his head on Dean’s shoulder again. “I’m so glad you didn’t.” He said quietly.

There was a pause, a breath a time where each just soaked the other in.

“I could never forget you, Castiel.” Dean said softly.