Castiel was not a morning person.
He blearily flailed around in the dark, searching for the snooze button. He managed to accidentally knock his alarm clock onto the floor and briefly considered the merits of powering up just long enough to smite the damn thing.
Either way, he wasn’t getting back to sleep any time soon.
Castiel groaned and begrudgingly got out of bed to smack the thing manually. It turned out to be a bit more satisfying than it probably should have been.
He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and shuffled down the hallway in the direction of the kitchen and, more importantly, coffee.
The smell of cooking bacon drifted down the hallway and brought a smile to his face. Dean must be up.
Castiel entered the kitchen and homed in on the coffee maker like a heat-seeking missile.
Dean glanced up from the pan he had over the stove with a grin and said, “Good morning, sunshine.”
Castiel wrapped his hands around the warmth of his coffee mug and smiled at Dean through the curl of steam rising from it as he said, “Hello, Dean.”
This had become something of a routine for the two of them in the couple of weeks that Castiel had been back.
The two of them would shuffle into the kitchen to share a pot of coffee and some breakfast. At some point, Sam and Jack, who were both early risers, would come in from their morning jog to make smoothies. Which almost always made Dean roll his eyes and crunch into his bacon extra loudly in their direction.
The steady ebb and flow of their mornings was peaceful and Castiel found it soothing.
Today promised to be a bit different than usual, though. Jack was gone on one of his visits to heaven and Sam had taken a case a couple of states over with Eileen, promising to call if they ran into more trouble than they could handle.
“You still up for our walk today?” Dean asked as he placed a plate full of pancakes and bacon down in front of Castiel.
Oh yes, he had almost forgotten the best part of their new routine. Every morning, the two of them would put on their boots and go explore the wooded area around the bunker.
Now that hunts were fewer and farther between than they had ever been, Dean seemed to need the excuse to get out of the bunker for a while. Castiel had only been back from the Empty for three days before Dean came knocking on his door carrying a pair of hiking boots in his size.
Castiel pulled his sleepily wandering mind back from the memory and said, “Of course.”
Twenty minutes later, Castiel stepped out of the bunker and felt the cold chill of the morning breeze sting his cheeks. The mornings still retained their sting even as Spring crept slowly into Summer.
Castiel stamped his boots to warm himself and turned to find that Dean was standing motionless, staring off into space. He was just about to ask Dean if anything was wrong, when the hunter seemed to shake himself out of his reverie and started walking.
Castiel followed along after him and was surprised to find that they were on a well-worn path that they had never walked before.
They hiked for some time in silence as Castiel listened to the birds singing in the trees, breathing in the fresh smell of new life all around them.
After they had hiked for a mile or two, the ground started to slope up. The slope seemed to make Dean agitated, the line of his shoulders tightening as they continued.
Castiel felt his head tilt slightly, pondering why Dean seemed to be on edge—when Dean stopped walking so suddenly, Castiel almost ran right into him.
“Got something I’ve been meaning to show you,” Dean said quietly, not looking at Castiel.
“Really?” Castiel asked, matching Dean’s quiet.
Dean turned to face Castiel and opened his mouth as though he wanted to say something more. He hesitated before snapping his mouth shut in frustration and turning to stomp further up the path.
What on earth could Dean want to show him that would make him this tense?
Castiel didn’t have to wait long to find out.
The first thing he noticed was the noise. A low, droning buzz that emanated from somewhere up the path ahead of them and slowly grew louder as they drew closer.
The second thing he noticed was the scent. A beautiful, floral scent wafted to him on the breeze, far surpassing any of the wildflowers they had passed along the path so far.
Walking for another five minutes or so brought them to a break in the trees and Castiel found himself standing in a sun-drenched clearing. He squinted, his eyes unsued to the bright light and saw flower beds all around the twenty-foot patch of clear ground. Blue, purple, orange, yellow, and red blooms danced in the breeze in a riot of color above the bright green grass.
Castiel recognized several different varieties, Yarrow, Calendula, and several flowers from the Salvia family, as well as an abundance of tall stalks of Bee Balm. Great care had clearly been taken to keep the plants safe over the winter, a thick layer of mulch visible at the base of each of the flower beds.
The air in the clearing was alive with motion and a cheerful buzzing as hundreds of bees darted from flower to flower.
A wide smile stretched across Castiel’s face as he watched the bees flit back and forth across the clearing. He was so enamored with the happy little creatures, he almost missed the main feature of the clearing entirely.
A large wooden bench stood serenely in the middle of the clearing, its wood too bright and its edges too sharp to have been there long.
Carved carefully into the back of the bench were four words:
** In Memory of Cas **
Castiel inhaled sharply and turned to stare at Dean.
“We, um, we didn’t have a body to bury,” Dean explained, his eyes never leaving his shoes. “But Sam insisted we bury something to represent you… I thought it was kinda dumb, actually.”
Dean shifted his weight from foot to foot and continued, “And then, I don’t know, I just kept thinking about the fact that ‘you’ were out here all alone,” Dean glanced up briefly to make sure that Castiel was watching when he used the air quotes around the pronoun, but then his gaze returned to his shoes once more.
“It didn’t… I don’t know, it just didn’t feel right.” Dean said, awkwardly rubbing at the back of his neck.
Castiel stared in awe around the clearing once more. There were dozens of flowers and plants laid out in the semi-circular beds around the clearing. It must have taken Dean ages to plant all of them, not to mention the time he must have spent maintaining the beds since.
Castiel smiled at Dean brightly, but the hunter seemed to be unable to look up from his shoes, still awkwardly shuffling from foot to foot. Castiel took pity on him and gave the hunter some space, turning to walk over to the bench.
It was clearly hand-made, and by someone who was not a terribly skilled crafts-person.
As though Dean could read his thoughts, he said, “It’s not very good, it’s all wobbly in the back and it’s not really level, but…” Dean gave a humorless chuckle, “It’s better than the first one I made, that one was a disaster.”
Castiel blinked down at the bench through the tears suddenly clouding his vision. Not only had Dean planted all of these beautiful flowers, that seemed to have been hand picked to attract as many bees as possible, he had also made this bench—no, more than one bench—with his own hands… for him.
Castiel desperately wanted to ask how many benches Dean had made, how many false starts it had taken. He wanted to ask how many hours Dean had dug and planted, watered and weeded. He wanted to hoard the knowledge of the hours, days, even weeks that Dean had worked on this garden, just for him. He wanted to gather every second of care that Dean had put into the entire beautiful garden and wrap himself up in them. Wrap himself up in the love Dean had poured into them.
“This place is too far from the road to haul in a tombstone,” Dean continued quietly, nodding toward the bench. “But I thought that you’d like a place for people to sit and watch the bees.”
Castiel’s heart was so full, it was a wonder it hadn’t burst from his chest.
“Why…” Castiel started to ask. The word came out strangled, choked by the tears now streaming freely down his face as he stared at Dean in wonder.
Castiel sucked in a breath and tried to find the words to finish his question, but Dean seemed to understand what he was trying to ask.
“I had a lot of time to think. To remember what you said,” Dean winced and glanced away briefly, his mind no doubt reliving what came after Castiel’s goodbye speech.
“We should’ve had a long talk years ago. I should’ve told you…” Dean rubbed his hand across the back of his neck again and let out another frustrated huff. “I’m not real good with words, Cas.”
“This is…” Dean spread both his hands wide to indicate the garden. “This is more my style. I do things for people that I…” Dean trailed off helplessly, seeming at a loss for words.
All of a sudden, Dean’s meaning clicked into place in Castiel’s head. Dean did things for people. The meals that he made for the cobbled-together little family they had built in the bunker. The time he had spent teaching Jack how to drive and fishing with him. The time he had always devoted to helping Sam. Dean did things for family.
Castiel nodded and said, “It’s alright, Dean, you don’t have to say it. I understand.” Of course Dean would try to find some way to let Castiel know that he was still part of the family, to let him know that he wasn’t mad that Castiel wanted something from him that Dean wasn’t willing to give.
Dean looked instantly relieved, his tense shoulders dropping as he finally dared to look up from his shoes. Then his eyes narrowed, and he seemed to be searching Castiel’s face for something. He asked, softly, “Do you?”
Castiel did his best to smile through the tears on his face, which were not all from joy now, and said in what he hoped was a reassuring tone, “Yes, Dean. I’m alright.”
Dean frowned, still searching Castiel’s face for something. He shook his head lightly and muttered, almost to himself, “No, you don’t.”
Dean sighed heavily and scrubbed his hands over his face, turning to pace the length of the clearing, shoulder stiff once again.
“Dean?” Castiel asked, frowning himself now. If that wasn’t it, then what was Dean trying to say?
Dean held up his hand for silence and stared into the trees, trying to gather his thoughts.
Rather than stand there nervously, Castiel decided to gingerly take a seat on the bench, and was mildly surprised to find that it felt solid and sturdy for all that it was a bit lopsided.
Dean suddenly whirled around, his previous stillness traded for a frantic, desperate kind of energy and stalked back towards Castiel.
“I did all of this because I missed you. Because I was upset that you were gone.” Dean was nearly shouting now, gesturing wildly at the garden around him with flailing hands.
“Yes,” Castiel said, surprised and a bit defensive. “I understand. You did this for me because you do things for family—”
Castiel was cut off when Dean let out an exasperated sound, shoved his hands roughly into his own hair, and turned to pace back to the other end of the clearing, muttering his frustration to the flowers.
Castiel was getting a bit frustrated himself now. He was doing the best he could, it wasn’t his fault that Dean wasn’t making any sense.
Castiel was unable to hide the exasperation evident in his tone when he called out to Dean, “What are you trying to say?”
Dean whirled around, frustration pinching his face into a frown, and shouted back, “I’m trying to say I love you, you idiot.”
Sound faded away and time seemed to slow as his focus lasered down until all he could see was Dean standing on the other side of the clearing staring back at him.
The world around him froze for the span of several heartbeats as the words ‘I love you’ echoed in Castiel’s ears.
Sound and motion rushed back into his awareness as he finally processed the words and gasped.
He stared at Dean in awe and, seeing the look on Dean’s face which appeared to be some combination of relief and horror, Castiel came to the sudden realization that Dean might actually be more shocked by his own outburst than Castiel was.
Castiel couldn’t help it; he burst out laughing.
The shocked, flabbergasted look on Dean’s face combined with the emotional roller coaster he had been through in the last ten minutes made it impossible for Castiel not to laugh until his sides ached.
Dean crossed his arms over his chest as his face ran the gamut from irritation to relief to something that Castiel could only class as ‘hopeful confusion.’
It only made him laugh harder.
“Somebody wanna let me in on the joke?” Dean asked wryly as his arms folded a little more tightly around his chest.
Dean’s self-conscious tone was enough to finally cut through Castiel’s laughter and he sobered somewhat as he caught his breath. He shook his head at Dean as he rose from the bench, smiling so hard his face hurt.
He launched himself across the clearing and into Dean’s arms so quickly the hunter barely had time to catch him, plastering his lips to Dean’s in a searing kiss.
Castiel poured all of the love and affection he had felt and had never been able to express over the years into the kiss.
He pulled back a few moments later and was gratified to see a dazed smile on Dean’s face.
“No joke,” Castiel whispered into the stillness in the scant few inches between the two of them. “I love you, too.”
Dean grinned, chuckling, as he said, “Guess I should have just led with that, huh?”
This time the two of them burst into laughter together, the sound echoing out into the forest around them and, if the two of them sat talking and laughing—and kissing—for hours after that…
Well, the bees didn’t seem to mind.