It’s Castiel’s first day of preschool and he could not be more excited. He bounces in his light-up shoes, holding tight to Gabriel’s hand even though he doesn’t want to. Gabe made him promise before they left the house though, and Cas always keeps his promises. Apparently, because of Gabe is Cas’s brother and he takes care of him all the time, they need to have a ‘grown up talk’. Cas doesn’t see what the big deal is. His Mommy left for Heaven when he was a baby and his Daddy became an adventurer explorer on the high seas. He’s pretty sure a lot of kids have a best older brother to take care of them. “…and just be aware, he’s kind of been having a problem with authority lately,” Gabriel finishes.
The teacher lady—Cas thinks her name is Ms. Blake—smiles. “Don’t worry Mr. Novak, everything will be fine. Won’t it, Cas?”
“Yes, ma’am!” Castiel exclaims cheerily. He tugs on Gabe’s hand as hard as his three year-old arm will allow. “Gabriellll, I’m big now. I go to school. You have to let me learn.”
Gabe crouches so he’s at eye-level. He’s biting his lip. He only bites his lip when there’s something serious going on. “Gabe?” Cas asks sweetly, pressing a palm to his brother’s cheek. “What’s the matter?”
Gabe looks like he’s going to cry. “Gabe, no,” Cas says brokenly, carefully hugging Gabriel. “Don’t cry, Gabe. I’m big now, but you’ll always be my brother.” Gabriel sniffles. He smiles.
“I know, Little Man,” he murmurs, pressing a kiss to Castiel’s dark hair. “I know. I just—what am I gonna do while you’re at school, huh? Who am I gonna bake with?”
Cas looks at Ms. Blake suspiciously before leaning in to whisper into his brother’s ear: “You should make me cookies for when I come home,” he says. “But don’t tell Ms. Blake. Grown ups don’t ask for cookies.”
Castiel takes to preschool like a pig in shit. It feels like sweet, sweet freedom after being coddled by Gabriel for as long as he can remember, even if he’s not allowed outside the fence and they haven’t even done anything past introducing themselves. Nonetheless, this the wind in his hair, the dirt on his cheeks, the grass stains on his pants… it all tastes like independence. Especially because Cas is wearing a princess hat. He loves it. It’s pink and sparkly and has one of those flowy things at the end and it’s beautiful. It means goodness and grace and happily ever after.
Perhaps it’s these values and there fore the hat itself that make Castiel stop fighting the dragon, perhaps not. All Cas knows is that there’s a crying boy right by the cherry tree, and Cas, as fairest in the land, has a duty to make sure no one cries. Not under his rule. “Excuse me?” he asks with his squeaky voice, plopping down on the grass beside the curled up figure. The other boy only turns away.
Castiel huffs. “Excuse me.” He doesn’t want anybody crying in his kingdom, but how can he makes things better if his subjects don’t even listen?
“Why are you crying?”
“Yes, you are. I can see you.”
Cas frowns. He scoots over towards the other boy cautiously, barely taking in the light hair and pale skin and Tonka Truck shirt. Cas wishes he had a Tonka Truck shirt, but he just gets Gabe’s hand-me-downs. That’s okay though, because his brother assures him that they have special powers. (Even though Castiel knows he’s lying, he appreciates the sentiment.)
“I won’t tell anybody,” Cas says quietly. “Promise. And a princess never breaks a promise.”
“You’re not a princess, you’re a boy.”
“I can be a princess if I want.”
“Yes, I can.”
“Why?” Castiel asks. “My brother says that I can be a princess just like you can cry. There’s no difference.”
“Well, your brother’s a dumb butt. Go away or I’m gonna tell on you.”
“You’re bein’ ‘nnoying.”
“Oh. Sorry.” But Cas stays put. He notices that the other boy has stopped crying. “Why are you so sad?” he asks again, patting silky light hair. “‘This is the first day of the rest of your life, kiddo’, that’s what Gabriel told me.”
The boy makes a frustrated sound and sits up. Castiel barely notes the freckles and green eyes… he’s much too preoccupied with the snot dripping down the other’s nose. “I just miss my mommy, okay?!” The poor boy sounds all kinds of angry and frustrated, and Cas figures he would be too if he had a booger. He wipes it off carefully with a leaf.
“That’s okay,” he says kindly. “I do, too. But yours’ll come pick you up after naptime. Mine is in Heaven, so I won’t see her for a while. But at least you’ll see her soon.”
The boy frowns. “You don’t have a mommy?”
Castiel shakes his head. “Not anymore. She went to Heaven when I was a baby ‘cause it was her time. Now she drinks tea and bakes cookies and whenever the wind kisses my face, that’s her kissing me. She watches from the clouds. And my daddy is busy being a pirate and also a wizard. He explores places not even on the map yet, so I live with my brother Gabriel. We have fun and make blanket forts but sometimes he gives me ‘a stern talking to’ because I eat the cookie batter and get sick. Once he got really angry because I brought home a pet toad named Reginald, but he’s a mostly good brother. He lets me watch cartoons and have ice cream on Saturdays.”
“He sounds cool.”
Cas frowns. “Hey, what’s your name?”
“You can just call me Cas because even though I think my name is special because my mommy choosed it for me, I know it’s hard for kids to pro—pronowce.”
Despite the fact that it’s very clear Dean has no idea what Castiel is talking about, he nods to keep up appearances. “Hi, Cas.”
“Hello, Dean.” Cas eyes up the other boy then, tilting his head and narrowing his eyes in deep thought. “We should be friends.”
“Okay. Can I have a hat?”
“We have a cowboy one, is that good?”
Dean and Castiel are fast friends. They spend the day hollering at each other and jumping off of play structures despite the fact that they know they’re not allowed to. They try and climb the fence like explorers, they eat the homemade playdough because it’s an antidote to poison, and they share their lunches. Whispering through the reading time is apparently the last straw and they both get put in timeout… but that’s okay because as adventurers, they’re used to being split apart and make dramatic noises at each other from opposite ends of the room.
Sarah Blake has to put them in two separate rooms, and dreams about the wine and soothing bubble bath she’s going to have while she does. These kids are terrors. Worse, they ended up exciting the whole class.
Later, when things are winding down for naptime, Castiel has an idea. They’re in the grass now, waiting for Ms. Blake to get the sleeping blankets all set up, when he tugs on Dean’s hand and they slip away. “We should make something for your mommy,” he says.
So, they make a flower bouquet. Dean tries to weave it into a crown, but his chubby, small fingers are clumsy. Cas manages to tie a blade of grass around some buttercup blooms and Dean sleeps with them close to his chest. He and Castiel curl towards each other in slumber.
After that, it’s playtime until the parents come.
Dean and Castiel separate for a bit, Cas going to pick more flowers while Dean defends a spaceship with another boy named Benny. Everything is golden until Castiel sticks one cherry blossom in his hair (carefully, mind, with his hat hanging lopsidedly), and starts taking off the flower petals of another. “He loves me, he loves me not, he loves me, he loves me not…”
“EW! What are you doing?”
Lilith Sinclair is loud enough for the entire playground to hear.
“That’s for girls!” she laughs cruelly.
Cas frowns. “No, it’s—”
“Yeah, it is,” she says. “And pink’s a girl colour. And you’re wearing a princess hat. CAS IS A GIIRRRLLLL! CAS IS A GIIRRRLLLL!”
Castiel blushes furiously. “I—No, I’m not—”
“And,” Lilith says darkly, looming over him with a truly evil glint in your eyes. “You like boys. You said it yourself. HE SAID IT HIMSELF! Cas is a girl and he likes to kiss boys on the lips. He wants to marry a boy and he’s all wrong in the eyes of God.”
Castiel feels like he’s been shattered into a million pieces. His eyes well up and he shakes his head because it can’t be. God loves him just as much as anybody else—he has to. Because if he doesn’t he’ll never meet his mommy in Heaven and they’ll never get to do his favourite things.
“Are you gonna cry?” Lilith taunts. “Cry like a crybaby?”
Dean Winchester is a true cowboy in space-fighting armor.
He seems to jump in out of nowhere, pushing Lilith even though she’s smaller and also a girl. “Don’t touch him,” he spits at her.
Lilith sniffs. “I wasn’t touching anything.”
“Then stop talking like that. Cas is a boy and he can kiss whoever he wants. He’s nice and he’s my friend and you’re just mean.” Dean gets up in Lilith’s face then, oblivious to the kids gathering around. “If you hurt Cas then I’m gonna hurt you. I promise.” Dean then helps Castiel up. “C’mon Cas.” He guides him to the other end of the playground just as the adults are coming out to supervise, little hands clumsily stroking Castiel’s back. “He loves you, Cas,” he assures his best friend. “He’s gotta.”
They spend the rest of their time playing with flowers. In fact, they’re so engrossed in their game that Dean doesn’t notice his mother until she’s calling his name. “Mommy!”
Castiel watches his best friend runs over to the pretty blonde lady and feels strangely empty. He bites his lips and turns back to his work as Dean drags his mom into the playground, chattering happily the whole way: ‘and then we got in trouble, and then we tooked a nap, and then I saved Cas from a bully! And then we were making flower stuff. Look! I picked these for you.” Dean hands over the wilting bouquet and makes note of Castiel’s princess hat on the ground. “Hey, why’d you take it off Cas?”
“Castiel doesn’t have a mommy,” Dean informs his own mother matter-of-factly. “She’s in Heaven baking cookies.”
Mary’s eyes soften. “I’m so sorry to hear that, Cas.”
Her voice is silky like honey, and Castiel thinks that his mommy would have been just like Dean’s. He shrugs. “She’s baking cookies.”
“I’m Mary, Dean’s mom.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Cas, can I take that flower out of your hair?”
Castiel shrugs again.
Mary reaches forward, carefully plucking the bloom from Cas’s dark locks before running her fingers automatically through them. She then sits in grass like both boys before her and weaves. In what feels like no time, Mary Winchester has a flower crown. She carefully places it on top of Castiel’s head, smiling all the while. “You look very handsome.”
Cas perks up. “Really?”
“Yeah!” Dean jumps in. “You look like a fairytale.”
Castiel blushes bashfully, shrugging one shoulder and trying to hide his face in it as he grins. Mary carefully lifts his chin to get his attention. “You can be anything you want to be, Castiel,” she says kindly. “You remember that.”
Gabe shows up immediately after that.
Castiel skips to his brother with a wide smile on his face, fully intent on having him meet his new friends but by the time they turn around, Dean and Mary are gone. Cas only just manages to catch then in the parking lot. “HEY WAIT!!” he yells. “WAIT!”
He holds his flower crown as he speeds forward, Gabriel hot on his heels and telling him to stop as he runs headlong into Mary Winchester’s legs, hugging her tight before moving onto Dean. He gives his best friend the biggest hug of all. “Bye for now.”
Dean smiles. “Bye, Cas.”
Years later, Dean and Cas lay in field of wildflowers. It’s Castiel’s favourite spot, so Dean deals with the bugs and the heat. This time though, the eldest Winchester is on a mission. “Hey Cas?”
They’ve both grown into men since preschool, but adulthood doesn’t stop Dean from holding up a daisy—Cas’s mother’s favourite flower—a silver band tied at the bottom. “He loves me?” Dean asks quietly, stomach fluttering a mile a minute.
Castiel’s face breaks into a wide grin and he pins Dean in his excitement, peppering the other’s face with affectionate smooches as he breathes his answer again and again:
“He loves you.”