"Coffee for Cas"
Coffee is what Dean would consider the great equalizer. Most everyone (not insane) likes it, it makes people feel good, gives them something safe to crave, to savor, to bond with other humans over. It’s a conversation starter and a safety net for when conversation runs dry. Coffee is consistent. It’s outlasted the rise and fall of entire nations, civilizations, the industrial revolution, even the Kardashians. Not that Dean knows anything about them, except that he’s definitely always been a Khloe girl. What was he saying? Right. Coffee’s always there for us, and it’s always been there for Dean.
His hands aren’t what they used to be; arthritic and a little shaky, not the calloused and strong hands of a working man he had in his 40’s, that’s for sure. They fumble his keys a little as he slides them into the lock for the last time. When he’s done, he checks the handle like he always does, and steps back to look at the coffee shop that’s been like home for the last… he can’t remember the exact number of years at this point, his memory isn’t what it used to be. But it’s been a long time. He looks up and surveys the logo, it’s faded but still beautifully crafted, exactly what he envisioned when they bought the building all those years ago.
As he stands there in the fading dusk, looking through the wide glass storefront and into the darkened space beyond, his memories come alive. He sees himself and Cas, excited and young and so nervous about such a big investment, kissing happily in the empty space, Cas picking him up and carrying him off to the back office where they could make love in private. He sees Sam, Eileen, himself and Cas getting into a huge paint-throwing fight while decorating and deciding to leave the splatters on the wood floors because Cas insisted it gave the place “character.” He sees himself at the register and Cas walking around refilling mugs, offering people books , because that’s what Cas did. He sees Cas’ organic homemade honey display go up next to the register, and the way Cas’ face lit up when Dean surprised him with it. He sees the shop on New Year’s Eve, still decorated for Christmas, closed for the night but the lights still twinkling, Dean down on one knee and Cas not even letting him make it through the question before he tackles him to the ground. He sees their two sweet kids at age five and seven, playing with their cousins, the adults sprawled in the shop’s comfy chairs and tipping spirits into their half-full mugs on Dean’s birthday. He sees the shop transform over the years; new paint, new bar, new registers, upgraded furniture, different menu boards, countless part-time employees, but through it all there’s him, and Cas, and coffee.
And now he sees the store dark and empty, the way it is today, all of those memories somehow still inside and yet long, long gone.
Dean pulls out his phone and steps back into the street, unsteady as he navigates the small curb. It takes him a minute to find the camera and open it, damn phones get more complicated every year. He’d still have an ultra basic model from the stone age if his kids hadn’t intervened and he’s less than grateful for their “help”. But there’s a picture of him and Castiel from a week ago set as his background, and he’ll have to thank them for that later. Dean smiles down at it even as he squints to see their features, and marvels how Cas never really seemed to age. A couple gray hairs at his temples and a few more laugh lines, but those blue eyes don’t look a day older than the one they met on, and the body Dean knows as well as his own will never not be perfectly beautiful to him. When the camera is ready, Dean raises it and tries his best to get the entirety of the shopfront into the frame. He curses when his hands falter as he struggles to both aim and press the shutter. After a couple failed attempts, he finally manages to snap what he thinks is a decent picture - except that a young couple strides into view at the last second, ruining his shot. “Shit,” he yells in frustration, and his eyes well up involuntarily. He covers them with his hand and takes a second to compose himself. When he opens them again, the couple is standing there arm-in-arm and facing him, contrite.
“Sir,” the girl starts, “We are so sorry, we didn’t see…”
Dean waves her off and gestures at his phone angrily. “S’not your fault… this damn thing. Shouldn’t be so hard just to take a damn picture.”
The couple exchanges a glance and the man steps forward with his hand out. “I’d be happy to take one for you,” he offers kindly, but sees Dean glaring and adds, “Wouldn’t you rather be in it anyway?” Dean’s face softens at that, and he looks from his phone to the couple, to the shop.
“Yea… I guess that’d be alright.” He hands over the phone and stands in front of the big glass window, hands in his pockets. The man stands far back in the street and snaps a couple of pictures, handing the phone back to Dean who accepts it with a gruff, “Thanks.” The couple wishes him a good night and takes off down the street wrapped around each other again. Dean can’t help but watch them go, even if it makes his heart ache.
On the way home, he stops at a Target, where another young person has to help him work the photo kiosk but eventually, he leaves with a print of the photo he had taken tonight. He wishes Cas were with him, he was always better at these type of things. He squeezes the steering wheel and focuses on the road.
Later that night when Dean eases himself down into the bed he shared with Cas for over four decades, he slides his hand into the empty space next to him, letting it drift over the soft, cool sheets before coming to rest on the indent in the second pillow. On the nightstand next to him are two pictures. The one from today with Dean alone in front of the shop, looking so much older than he feels, and the second, a framed picture taken the first day they owned it, him and Cas with their arms around each other, big smiles and eyes full of love for nothing but each other. No matter how old Dean gets or how much of his memory he loses, he’ll never forget the look on Castiel’s face when they pulled up in front of the shop in his old ‘67 Chevy Impala and Cas saw their sign for the first time. Dean had kept it a secret, and the payoff was well worth it. “Coffee for Cas,” was fitting, the entire situation an expression of everything Dean had wanted to say to Cas, but found himself unable to express in words up to that point in time. I’ll give you anything, you are my everything. Dean thinks of Castiel’s face in that moment as he wishes for sleep now, half of him delighting in the memory, the other half cursing Castiel for leaving him here alone.
“You always said that when everyone else was gone, you’d still be here with me,” he whispers into the dark, and no one whispers back. He closes his eyes and lets himself be carried away.
When he wakes, the first thing he notices is that he’s lacking all the aches and pains he’d grown so used to. It’s a bizarre feeling, suddenly being free of a burden you’d forgotten you were carrying. The second thing he notices is that he’s sitting up, in a chair, inside his shop. He looks around and the space is decorated the way he remembers it from maybe thirty years ago, with string lights all around the ceiling, pine garlands everywhere and the smell of cinnamon mixing with coffee in the air. The original “Coffee for Cas” sign hangs overhead. Confused, Dean stands, and his feet are steady, his hands on the table are strong and the skin over them is tight and healthy. He pinches himself, wondering if this is a dream and almost not daring to hope that it isn’t. “Hello,” he calls out, “Anyone… here?” He waits a minute but there’s no answer, no one to be seen, and he’s just about to try and walk out into the street to see if he can find out what the hell is going on when a noise from behind makes him whirl around.
Dean almost falls to his knees in both relief and the sustained fear that he’s dreaming, but instead, he barrel rushes the vision before him. Castiel looks just like he did in the picture in Dean’s mind as he fell asleep, his smile wide and his eyes sparkling, and when Dean takes him in his arms he feels warm and real and just as he remembers. Dean's arms tighten around him.
“Hello, Dean,” Castiel says, voice heavy with affection. “I kept a cup warm for you.”