A/N - This is the PLATONIC version of the sequel to Forgotten.
(There is also a Destiel version of this fic called Flight. PSA to Flight readers: If you have already read Flight you needn't read Broken. It's really the same fic, just with the Cas/Dean relationship staying platonic.)
Stuff you need to know: This fic 'verse diverges from canon at mid-season 9, and has grown into an alternate S10 where the mark of Cain never happened. Gadreel has been kicked out of Sam for some time now; Crowley's still in the basement; Cas lost his stolen grace pretty rapidly (Forgotten explains why), became human again, and spent the next six months on his own living in poverty before Dean and Sam finally found him again. Then in the late summer they all had a big adventure together in Wyoming. It's now fall, Cas is still human, he's wounded, and during Forgotten he gave up most of his lifespan to save Sam. So the boys need to find his grace again, and fast. Not to mention... Cas really, really misses his wings.
Nightmares were old territory for Dean.
He'd had them since he was a kid. Starting when Mom had died, of course, and then getting worse with all the monsters he'd faced since. And since the forty years in Hell...
Well, nightmares were routine, put it that way. He had them almost every night. It'd gotten so that Dean could sometimes recognize a nightmare while he was in the middle of one.
He still could never stop it though. Even when he was sort of aware he was in a dream, the nightmare always just marched on relentlessly. Horrible things kept happening left and right; people being tortured, monsters leaping at him, people dying... Like now. This moment, now, of staggering through the mountains at night with Sam and "Buddy", desperate to get away from the terrifying magma elemental— Dean knew, in the back of his mind, this had already happened, months ago. He knew, dimly, that it had happened in the past, that "Buddy" had really been their old friend Castiel, that it was long over, and that this must just be a nightmare.
But he couldn't stop it. He had to stagger through the woods just the same, just as exhausted and desperate as always. The dark, tangled woods seemed all too real, the tangled branches poking him all too believably. Dean had to watch Sam collapse one time too many, and had to stand helplessly aside as Cas tried to give Sam some life-essence— one time too many. Dean had to watch Sam grow still and cold. And then Cas slumped down too. Still and cold. Both of them.
They were both dead.
They were both... just... lying... there... dead.
"SAM?" Dean yelled. The branch was poking him in the shoulder again and Dean shoved it aside, kneeling by Sam and slapping his face. "CAS?" he cried, turning to Cas. But neither Sam nor Cas was breathing. No, no, this couldn't be happening — Cas was dead and Sam was dead and —
The branch shook his shoulder firmly. "Wake up, Dean," said an insistent low whisper, very close, right in his ear. It continued: "Dean, it's not real. It's a dream. Wake up." The branch shook his shoulder again.
Dean woke with a gasp.
"You were dreaming, Dean," said Cas. He was leaning over the bed, still shaking Dean's shoulder. "Hallucinating while you were asleep."
"Oh...right," said Dean. He rubbed his face with both hands, trying to pretend he was wide awake— and trying to hide how desperate he'd felt just a few seconds ago. Just a dream. Just a dream. Shake it off. "Yup. Uh, hi, Cas. Uh, what time's it?"
"Three in the morning," said Castiel, adding helpfully, "Dean, you can tell it was a dream by how rapidly the memory fades." He released Dean's shoulder and sat down on the edge of the bed, saying, "The details should be getting faint now, right? That means you were really just lying in here in bed, hallucinating in your sleep. Also, if you think about what you were just doing, you'll notice now that things didn't quite make sense. That's another clue that it was a dream. Also, now that you're awake you should be able to remember going to sleep last night. Right?"
Dean almost laughed to hear Cas so carefully explaining the illogic of human dreaming. Dreaming was one of many strange human experiences that Cas had had to adjust to over the past year. Must've taken him a while to figure all that out, Dean thought.
Must have been hell on him before he'd figured it out, too...
"Thanks, Cas," said Dean. He rubbed his face again, and sat up a bit on his elbows. "Just a dream. I got it."
Cas asked, "Dean, may I ask..." He hesitated a moment. Cas was still visible only as a dark silhouette against the open door, and Dean could really only see the shape of his shoulders, and the dim outline of his mussed hair. But he could hear Cas take a careful breath. Cas continued with, "You called my name. And Sam's name too. May I ask... were you dreaming that Sam and I left you?"
Dean blinked at him and sat up a little further. Being "left" was actually Castiel's unique brand of nightmare, not Dean's; Cas had been having nightmares of that sort ever since he'd nearly died in that lake in Nebraska. But... well, in this case it actually sort of fit.
"Sort of," said Dean. "Not exactly but... sort of, yeah."
Cas shifted a little, taking another breath. His voice dropped a little into his throaty Important-Proclamation tone as he said, "You should know, Dean, that Sam and I would never leave you. We would not do that to you."
Unless you both go and die on me, thought Dean.
Dean managed to say, "Thanks, Cas."
Cas said, still in that very serious, you-can-count-on-me sort of voice, "Perhaps you should drink some whiskey."
That, at least, made Dean laugh. "Thanks, Cas, I'm okay."
"Chocolate milk, then?" said Cas gravely.
"No, thanks," said Dean, smiling a little now. Sam had dragged Cas along on the last grocery run. It had been Cas's first foray into a grocery store after a solid year of grinding poverty, and Sam had apparently been unable to resist buying anything and everything that caught Cas's eye even slightly. They'd ended up coming home with over a dozen grocery bags stuffed full with a thousand random foods, everything from artichoke hearts to chocolate-coated strawberries to smoked salmon to devil's-food cake. (Cas had spotted the box and had instantly been very curious about what kind of cake devils liked, so of course Sam had to buy it.) And, yes, chocolate milk. Which had immediately become Cas's new favorite beverage.
"No chocolate milk? You're sure?" said Cas, sounding a little baffled that Dean was capable of turning down chocolate milk. "What if it were warmed up?"
"No thanks, Cas. Maybe some other time."
"How about—" Cas's voice brightened— "Whiskey mixed with chocolate milk!"
Dean tried not to laugh, and said, "I'm fine, really. But thanks. You can head back to your bed."
Only then did Dean finally realize that Castiel was in the wrong room.
Dean had been camping out in Cas's room for the past couple weeks, sleeping on a mattress on the floor while Cas recovered from his Nebraska ordeal and got the nightmares under control. Sam had been taking shifts too. But tonight had been supposed to be their first night all back in their own beds, in their own rooms. What was Cas doing here?
Dean reached out to the bedside lamp and flicked it on, and took a hard look at Cas. Cas looked pretty tired.
"Cas, what are you doing in here? Was I yelling or something?"
"Not yelling, no. But, you were talking a little bit," said Cas. "I happened to hear you."
"You happened to hear me? From down the hall in your own room?"
Cas gave a little shrug, and said, "Well... I might have happened to have been walking near your door..." At Dean's skeptical look, he confessed, "I was patrolling the hallway. Checking the whole bunker, actually."
"Checking the bunker?"
"Whenever I'm sleeping alone I always wake up every couple of hours and check. Just do a patrol, just check the boundaries."
"Wait, what? Every couple of hours?"
Cas looked a little puzzled. "I've done that ever since I lost my grace. Other people don't do that?" Dean shook his head, and Cas said, "But... how do you deal with it?"
"Deal with what?"
"Sleeping. Falling asleep." At Dean's puzzled look, Cas elaborated, saying, "How do you deal with knowing that you have to go unconscious for several hours? Knowing that there's no way to avoid it. Having to trust that your body is somehow going to know how to keep breathing on its own, and that the heart will know to keep beating... And, most of all, knowing there's no way to stay alert and keep watch. And nobody else awake to help keep guard."
"Okay, Cas," said Dean, sitting up all the way now. "Listen up. First off, your body is going to keep breathing; you just have to trust it. It knows what to do. Okay? And second, this place is really well warded. The Men of Letters definitely knew their stuff, about wards. There's even some alarms set, too, so if the wards ever broke we'd get woken up. Also Sam and I are pretty light sleepers, and we've both got weapons, and your room's between ours anyway."
"I know all that," said Cas. "I know that. But—" He sighed, and said, "In the garrison we usually worked in pairs. If one angel had to meditate or heal or even just needed some time to think, there was always a partner keeping watch. And during molt, of course, we... well... anyway..." Molt? thought Dean, but Cas went on with, "I suppose I'm still just not used to falling asleep alone. I've been doing it for months, of course, but I always wake up several times at night."
"Meg's not quite enough, huh?" said Dean.
Meg was the abandoned cat Castiel had rescued when he'd been living alone in his little mountain cabin. She rarely left his side now.
Cas said, "Meg is marvelously reassuring and I don't think I'd have gotten any sleep at all in the last couple months if she hadn't been with me. But, Dean, Meg is very small, and she doesn't know how to operate firearms."
Dean had to laugh at that. "Bet she's no good with angel-blades either, huh."
Cas nodded and said, "I tried to teach her once but she doesn't have opposable thumbs." Dean had to stifle another laugh, faking a cough, as Cas went on to say, "She does have claws of her own, of course, and she's actually a good hunter, but I think she could only take on mouse-sized demons. I hate to leave her the only one on guard. Especially since I still feel so weak, and I'm not... I'm not... well, I know I'd be no good in a fight."
Something in there had caught Dean's attention. Cas had said, I'm not...
"You're not what?" said Dean.
Cas glanced away, and didn't answer. And Dean went on alert at once.
Dean studied him for a moment. Cas still had the three diagonal whip scars across his face from Wyoming, and the bruises from Nebraska. He was still too thin, but he looked about normal, though. His hair was all mussed, as usual; he was wearing his usual mismatched sleeping outfit (an old flannel shirt of Dean's, a pair of Sam's old sweats with the cuffs rolled up about a foot, and a ridiculous pair of bunny slippers, completely with little ears. Sam had spotted the slippers on their shopping run and Cas had apparently fallen in love with them instantly; and also the slippers helped the cuts on his feet not hurt as much).
All looked about as usual. Cas looked about as he always did.
He looked exactly the same as he had two weeks ago, in fact.
Even the bruises and the whip-cuts looked exactly the same.
Which... means... Dean realized slowly, He's not healing.
It had been a couple weeks. Sure, Cas shouldn't be totally healed in two weeks, but there should have been more improvement. Dean realized now that he'd been trying to ignore this, trying to convince himself that Cas was healing just fine. But now, looking at him, with Cas sitting so close like this, and the light right on his face... the three diagonal whip scars across his face were still far too raw, the bruises still far too livid. There were dark circles under his eyes now too, and those just seemed to be getting worse every day. And Cas was still terribly thin, despite all the food Sam had been shoveling into him. At least Cas was walking a little better, but that was mostly due to the elaborate pack of gauze padding Sam had worked out for his feet.
Dean said, "You're not healing. Are you."
Cas just looked at him.
After a moment, Cas said, "My estimate of five years may have been inaccurate."
"Five...years," repeated Dean. "You mean... you mean, how many years you have left?"
"Then how long?" said Dean quietly.
Cas gave a little shrug. "I don't know," he said. He sounded almost unconcerned. "Perhaps less than a year? I don't know."
There was a little pause.
"We gotta get your grace back," said Dean. "Immediately."
"Dean, I know you and Sam have been spending the last several weeks trying to figure out where Metatron hid my grace, but you must understand, this may be an impossible task—"
Dean broke in with, "I have a plan B. I've been thinking about it all week. Tomorrow we start plan B."
Cas frowned and said, "Your Plan B's are like other people's Plan Z's, Dean. Realistically—"
"We're not giving up on you, Cas," said Dean, cutting him off. "You just gotta accept that. Even if it's a Plan Z, we're gonna try it."
They sat there looking at each other for a moment, and finally Cas gave a reluctant nod.
"Plan Z tomorrow," said Dean, giving him a clap on the arm that was half a shove away, half a friendly pat. "Now you go get some sleep, and I'll patrol."
"You'll patrol? Dean, you don't you have to patrol. I can—"
"I'm awake now anyway. You go get some sleep. I'll patrol. Not a problem. It's a good idea,"
So Dean spent the rest of the night walking the hallway, and checking the wards, and walking the whole bunker. He took special pains to walk back and forth by Cas's door every hour, so that if Cas were awake, he'd hear Dean's footsteps and he'd know all was well.
He checked the bunker, and the library, and the kitchen, and the upper floors. When he got downstairs he stood in front of Crowley's door for a while, thinking about Plan B. Or — maybe Cas was right? — Plan Z.
The next afternoon Dean hauled Crowley up from the basement, safely secured in devil's-trap handcuffs and shackles, and led him outside to where Sam (totally on board with Plan B) and Castiel (totally not on board with Plan B) were both waiting with the Impala.
It was a blustery day in early November, with a bright sun shining sporadically through short squalls of chilly rain. Dean hustled Crowley over to the Impala, and Crowley slipped a little on some damp fallen leaves, blinking in the bright light. Crowley complained, "Dean, slow down, would you? It's so nice to have a pleasant outing like this with you all, but this bright light is hurting my poor weak eyes. I've just been alone for so long in that sad lonely dark dungeon, alas... with only Buffy the Vampire Slayer and one hundred eighty cable channels for company...and no premium channels at all..." His eyes fell on Castiel, and he said, "Hell's bells, Castiel, you look just awful. What have these boys been feeding you?"
"Devil's-food cake and chocolate milk," answered Castiel.
"Devil's-food cake?" Crowley cast a mock-horrified look at Sam and Dean. "You're feeding him devil's-food cake instead of angel-food cake? What's wrong with you two? Didn't the pet store explain to you how to take care of your pet angel?"
"Get over to the trunk," snapped Dean, hauling him to the back of the Impala.
Crowley let Dean drag him over, still chattering cheerfully, "Angel-food cake at all times, and don't forget the litterbox. You can train pet angels to use litterboxes, did you know that? The smarter ones, anyway; I'm not sure if Cas here would qualify."
Dean gave Crowley a sudden sharp shove on the chest just as Sam grabbed one ankle. Together they flipped him unceremoniously into the trunk and slammed it shut, ignoring the muffled yelps coming from inside. Dean turned to Sam and Cas, and said, "Let's get this show on the road. I want to do this as far away from the bunker as possible, just on general principle."
"Dean, I'm really not sure that—" Cas began.
"Plan Z or bust, Cas," said Dean. "Unless you've got a better idea?"
Cas still looked unhappy. He said, "I just hate to see you lose your biggest asset on my account."
Sam pointed out, "Crowley never turned out to be that much of an asset. Just good for the jokes, really. And we know how to summon him later if we ever need."
"Also I have truly had it with his theories about Buffy and Spike," said Dean as they all clambered into the Impala.
Dean drove to the far side of the Missouri River. The drive was a couple hours, but Dean always felt a little better when he got a good-sized river of running water between demons and home. Demons could actually travel over bridges, technically, but apparently the old lore about magic being weaker over running water did have a grain of truth; demons' powers were reportedly a little bit weaker near big rivers. Every little bit helped, right?
They found a deserted parking lot in a little-used state park with a nice view of the water. It was near sunset, the sun sinking down over the river, as Dean hauled Crowley out of the trunk and set him down on a folding chair, while Sam spray-painted a devil's-trap around him. Cas kept pointing out little spots Sam had missed, and finally he grabbed the can from Sam and added a few mysterious details of his own, while Dean got Crowley settled.
"Far side of running water, I see," said Crowley, glancing around. "Classic old-school touch, Dean, nicely done. Where are we, anyway? Missouri? This is getting more and more interesting. Why'd you bring me all the way out here?"
"We got a proposition for you," said Dean.
Crowley sighed. "Oh, spare me. Another long round of negotiations? Some spell you need to make a birthday cake for Castiel here? Or, let's see, do you need me to translate some damn scrap of ancient Mayan in order to save your pet hamster? Boys, I told you before, during your previous little adventure with that Cretan minotaur you already gave me everything I want except for setting me free, and I know you're not going to do that. So, whatever you're selling, I'm not interested."
"Get us what we want and we'll set you free," said Dean.
"Oh well in that case I'm all ears!" said Crowley, brightening suddenly. He sobered a second later and said, "Though knowing you lot, it's going to either be something one hundred percent impossible, or something that'll get me one hundred percent killed. Re-open Heaven? Get Lucifer out of his cage? Make you into an archangel? If it's something like that, boys, I can't do it."
"Find Castiel's grace for us," said Dean.
Crowley shut his mouth. He looked at Dean for a long moment, and then turned and looked at Cas.
And kept looking at Cas. Thin, pale, Castiel; bruised, beaten, all the whipmarks and bruises as fresh and raw as ever. He was on his feet, at least; but only just.
"Oh," said Crowley. "I see." He looked back at Dean, a little smile creeping over his face.
Dean added, "Metatron stole Cas's grace from him. We need it back. We can't find it."
Crowley still said nothing, his little grin just growing wider, and at last Dean snapped, "What are you grinning about?"
"Oh, nothing," said Crowley, all innocence suddenly. "Nothing at all." He leaned back in his chair, raised his eyebrows, and said, "Listen up, boys. Despite being cooped in your dungeon, I actually do manage to hear a bit of chatter - you really should have checked those cable channels, you know - and in fact, a while back I did hear something about a spark of angelic grace being present on Earth. Not attached to an angel, either, like usual; just in its raw form. And I even developed a pretty solid theory about where it might be. It's not easy to hide something like that from demons, you know. It sort of itches at us. But here's the problem: I can't handle it myself."
Crowley paused and looked at each of three of them in turn. The sun was setting now across the river, the wide river gleaming with reflected sunset, and Crowley's face seemed lit with the colors of Hell - oranges, yellows, reds.
Crowley explained, "Castiel knows this but you two probably don't: an untethered angel's grace would burn me if I tried to handle it directly. Even just getting near it would be quite uncomfortable. That's exactly why it's so hard to hide a thing like that from demons; we can feel it when we're anywhere near it. But you're in luck! I just happen to have a couple of, um, associates, shall we say, who are able to handle grace safely, and who might be willing to help." Crowley paused, waited a few beats (Dean could almost see him thinking "I'll pause here for dramatic effect") and then went on, dropping his voice and staring meaningfully at Dean.
"Here's my proposition," Crowley said, suddenly in his lawyer-mode, stating each word very slowly and clearly. "You let me go. I see if I can negotiate with my associates to locate the grace and bring it to you, Dean. I don't control them, so I can't guarantee they'll hand it over to you, but I'm willing to go out on a limb and make a deal that they'll at least bring it to you and be willing to negotiate with you. If they do bring the grace to you and are willing to open negotiations, I walk away free. If not, I walk back into your dungeon. Do we have a deal? Usual contract, signed and sealed and ratified like always."
Crowley added, "You know my word is good. Once I sign a contract I have to abide by it. If I don't hold up my end of the bargain, I'll walk back right back into your devil's-trap in your dungeon. And that's the best I can do for you, boys. And before you ask, no, I absolutely won't put you directly in touch with my associates, because I'm not a complete idiot; and no, you can't stick any codicils on this, because this really won't be an easy job and I absolutely despise grace jobs anyway. So, take it or leave it." He smiled cheerily and added, "One-time offer, today only, act now!"
The sunset had gotten even redder now, the sky and the river positively aflame with red, and Crowley's eyes glinted red for a moment. He suddenly looked at his most demonic.
Dean thought, I don't like this.
Sam pulled Dean several feet further away and said, "I don't like this."
Cas limped over to both of them and whispered, "I really don't like this."
"Great minds think alike," muttered Dean back to both of them.
Cas whispered, "Or, stupid minds." Dean could only shrug at that; Sam gave a little laugh.
Dean thought a moment, and said softly to both of them, "What other options do we have? At least if we get within shouting distance of the grace we have a chance. We're pretty good negotiators, Cas, don't you think? Whoever these "associates" are, we can come up with something. At least we'll find out where the grace is. And even if Crowley surrounds us by demons right away, or has hellhounds all around us or something, at least we'll have a chance. Some kind of chance, at least."
They were all silent a moment.
"All in favor?" said Dean.
"I'm in," said Sam, with a sigh.
"Me too," said Dean.
Cas said, "I don't know, Dean. I really don't want to put you two at risk. I'm not sure it's worth it."
Dean said, "Two to one, motion passes." Before Cas could say anything else, Dean called to Crowley, "You got a deal. Let's write it up."
Twenty minutes later they were on the road back to Lebanon, this time with Cas riding shotgun and Sam in the back. The trunk was empty, Crowley was gone, Dean was still ferociously wiping his mouth and spitting periodically out his window, and Sam was laughing in the back seat.
Sam finally got his laughter under control long enough to say, "There's nothing like the taste of a Crowley kiss to put you off your appetite, huh?"
Dean spat out the window again and said, "Don't think I'll be able to eat for a week. Maybe two."
"Maybe you can wash down a demon kiss with some of that devil's food cake, back at the bunker," said Sam, still chuckling. "Or, wait. Angel-food to neutralize it?"
"I was thinking something more like, five gallons of whisky to sterilize my mouth," growled Dean.
Out of the blue Cas asked, "Was he right about the cakes?"
Dean couldn't even remember what he was talking about, till Cas added, "I liked the devil's-food cake. Should I be eating angel food?" He sounded a little worried.
Sam leaned forward to say, "Crowley was just joking, Cas. Devil's-food isn't for devils; it just means dark chocolate. It's named that just because it's so good it seems like a sin to eat it. It doesn't mean angels can't eat it. So, don't worry, it's totally fine if you like it."
Cas said, now sounding puzzled, "It's named that because it's good? But... shouldn't angel cake be good? And devil cake be bad? Or... do people think..." He paused. After a moment he said, "So it's backwards... I see. People prefer the food of devils?"
A little silence fell over the car. Dean glanced over, and found that Cas was just staring quietly at his feet.
Sam leaned forward and patted Cas on the shoulder, and said, "Cas, angel-food's also a good cake. People love it."
"They do?" said Cas, craning around to look at him.
"Yup. Angel-food's a sponge cake. It's really light and fluffy. It's like a cloud; that's how it got its name. And it's great. I love it, actually, it's lighter. They're both good cakes, Cas."
"Hey. I got an idea," said Dean. "Once we get back to the bunker let's make both, a devil's-food cake and an angel-food cake and have them side-by-side. With burgers. And pies. And with chocolate milk and at least five gallons of whiskey. And Cas, you're gonna tell us all about where you want to fly to first, when you get your wings back."
Dean snuck a glance at him. Cas was still quiet, and was still staring at his feet. But now that Dean had mentioned wings, Cas was smiling.
A/N - And off we go into platonic-land! And don't worry, any Destiel fans reading this; you'll find there's still loads of emotions and feels even in a platonic fic. Remember the big message of Forgotten: even if it's all "just" platonic, our two boys and their angel do love each other, and they need each other. :)