“Hey, Cas.” Dean leaned over and placed a small kiss to Castiel’s forehead. “I’m sorry I haven’t been by in a week, but work has been busy and the one free night I had Lisa stopped by as a surprise. She brought Ben, I couldn’t tell her to leave.” Dean let out a heavy sigh and sat down in the chair pulled close to the bed’s side. “So, no change, huh?” Dean ran a hand over his face, his hand scraping the little bit of stubble he had grown overnight; for the last two weekends he had not shaved until he had to Monday morning before going into the office. After waking up with the scruff and keeping it all through his physical therapy it had been bittersweet having to shave it off for work. He thought Castiel would like the rough look. “So, Sam and Jess say hi. She really wants to meet you, keeps talking about how she wants to invite you to the wedding.” Dean let out a chuckle. “Still can’t believe he popped the question. But then…” Dean bit his bottom lip. “Yeah, I get it. She almost lost him. I get wanting to stay as close as possible. I mean, that’s kinda what brings me back here all the time.” Leaning forward, Dean rubbed at his eyes with the thumb and forefinger of one hand, pinching the bridge of his nose before taking a deep breath and looking back up at the other man. “So, I need you to wake up soon. So you can be my plus one to this wedding, so we can double date with the love birds… so maybe we can have what they have.” Dean’s voice shook and he laid his head on the edge of the bed that Castiel slept in.
On November second Supernatural was cleared and all around the world thousands of people woke up in their nerve gear weak but ready to get back to their real lives. Also around the world three hundred people remained in their virtual reality comas. After Dean had told the Federal Bureau of Investigation everything that he knew about the game, his time there, and Pellegrino they had told him where he could find Castiel Novak. Dean had begged Missouri, the smiling nurse that had welcomed him back to the real world, to wheel him down the corridor to the room that held the man he loved. That was when they had revealed that a portion of the gamers had not woken up with the others, and no one had an answer as to why. Staying on the safe side, they had left the players in their nerve gear as they continued to keep an eye on them.
Every day of his two week stay in the hospital until Dean was cleared to be released, he had a nurse take him down to Castiel’s room where he would simply sit by the other man’s side for hours, hoping for some change. After his release he had been forced to go back to the hospital to continue physical therapy to regain his strength, after all laying in a bed for nineteen months took a toll on the body. With each session done, Dean spent time by Castiel’s bedside. That first trip home had been painful, knowing he was leaving the man at the hospital alone. It was a difficult change from how things had been in the game, and Dean still wasn’t sure if it was all actually for the best.
Taking a deep breath to try and steady himself, Dean sat up, slipping his hand under Castiel’s to hold it as he spoke. “Anyway, I’m still only on half days at work, which is a load of bull shit since I no longer have to come down here for therapy, but now they are making it mandatory for those of us that played the game to attend psychotherapy now. Sandover’s not the only company doing it, but they waited this long and I thought that they weren’t going to join in on it all.” Dean shook his head. “Sam’s happy about it, says a lot of us could use the chance to talk to someone about everything that happened. But I don’t feel like talking to anyone about it. I served my time in that damn world and I want to leave it behind. All of it.” He clenched his jaw shut as he stared down at the hand held in his own. “All of it except you, Cas. I didn’t get nearly enough time with you and it’s not fucking fair that you’re still trapped in there.” Quickly he swiped at the few tears that had gotten out. “I’ve turned into a damn cry baby, Cas, and you’re not here to straighten me out.” He took a moment to collect himself once more. “Anyway, I’m going to do the therapy because I’m damn lucky to still have my job and if this is what is needed to keep it than I’ll deal with it. I meet with the therapist on Monday, so I’ll stop by here as soon as I am done with that.”
It had been quiet a surprise for Dean, Sam, and the couple dozen other Sandover employees that had woken up from the dive to find out they all still had their jobs. Sam insisted that it made perfect sense being that Sandover had been in the process of trying to buy out Cavea Systems, the company Nick Pellegrino had built. The buyout would have given Pellegrino the resources to expand his platform and develop new games. Supernatural had been his big show of the kind of thing Sandover would be making money from if they bought out his company. Nobody had expected what had come next. Supporting the members of their team that had taken the extra initiative to test out the equipment and game Cavea was offering showed Sandover’s gratitude and remorse over the events that had taken place. Or so Sam said. Dean had a hunch that Sandover was trying to keep face with the public after getting into bed with a psycho that held thousands of people hostage and killed nearly two-thirds of them. Still, Dean had a well paying job that was willing to cut his days in half so that he could continue to fully heal, both physically and mentally apparently, and he was glad to be going back to it. Even after he was taken off the team that was handling the mess with Cavea Systems. Even after they made it mandatory for gamers to see a therapist.
“You know, Ben asked about you.” Dean rubbed his thumb over the knuckles of Castiel’s hand. “He heard Lisa say something to me about you and he got curious. I don’t even know what to tell the kid. What if you wake up and you decide that you don’t really want to have anything to do with me? I think I’ll keep you to myself just a little bit longer. If you do decide to leave me when you wake up I can suffer by myself. Won’t have anyone but Sam, Jess, and Nurse Mosely asking about you.” He swallowed thickly, trying not to let himself dwell on that sad train of thought too long. The sound of the door to Castiel’s private room opening drew him out of his thoughts. Dean turned in his seat to see a man sharply dressed in a suite stride into the room, bouquet of flowers in hand and too wide smile on his lips.
“Oh hello. I wasn’t aware Castiel had a visitor.” The man moved around the hospital bed to stand next to the small table and place the flowers on it before turning to look at Dean. “And can I ask who you are?”
“If I can do the same.” Dean frowned as he slowly stood up.
“Of course. My name is Richard.” The man held out a hand and Dean was forced to let go of Castiel to shake it.
“Dean. Do you know Castiel?”
“I should hope so since we’ve been dating for three years now.” His smile seemed to widen at the sound of Dean’s gasp.
“I didn’t know he had a boyfriend.” Dean couldn’t help the strained way his voice came out as he fought to keep his composure.
“I’m sorry, but how do you know Castiel?”
“Oh, um, we played Supernatural together.”
“So then you were one of the lucky ones to make it out of the game and wake up.” Richard turned to look down at Castiel who slept, closed eyes hidden behind the screen of his nerve gear. Dean watched the man closely and while he was sure Richard was trying to look upset by the fact that Castiel continued to sleep, something about his eyes seemed to twinkle, ruining the effect.
“I guess so, yeah.” Dean shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans. “I’m sorry, but Cas never mentioned you.”
“Did the two of you often talk about your real lives while in the virtual world? Isn’t that frowned upon?” Richard looked back up at Dean, his creepy smile back in place.
“We did yeah. Talked enough at least. Certain rules didn’t really apply in Supernatural.”
“So I’ve heard.” Richard squinted his eyes as he stared at Dean silently for a moment before the smile was back, this time Dean could have sworn it was almost mean. “Well, Castiel doesn’t exactly flaunt his relationship with the head of Roman Enterprises. He tends to keep us private as much as he can with me being so in the public eye and all.”
“Roman Enterprises? You mean, you’re Richard Roman?” Dean didn’t bother hiding his shock.
“I see you’ve heard of me.”
“Well, yeah, kind of hard not to.” Dean was saved from having to say anything more by Missouri shuffling into the room to check on Castiel.
“Oh, I didn’t know Mr. Novak had such a gathering going on in here.” Missouri smiled brightly as she saw Dean. “How you doing, honey?”
“I’m fine, thank you Missouri. Just came in to check on Cas.” The nurse nodded with a sad smile, before turning her attention to the other man in the room.
“Excuse me Mr. Roman, I need to squeeze in there.” She pointed at the bedside table where a monitor sat pressed against the pole that held the IV Castiel was hooked up to.
“Of course.” Richard moved out of the way.
“I haven’t seen you in here in a while.” The woman didn’t turn around to indicate who she was talking to, but Richard answered before Dean could even open his mouth.
“Yes, well the work load for the company has increased since we absorbed Cavea Systems. I feel it has been a better use of my time to be in the office keeping an eye on the servers where I know what I am doing than here where you have things handled.” Richard straightened his tie and suite jacket. “In fact, I think I may be in a position to better know first when Castiel wakes.” The man’s words had Dean’s mind working overtime trying to figure out what was going on. He had heard that Cavea had been forced into bankruptcy, but because he had been pulled off the team dealing with Cavea he hadn’t been following the story. After all, he was far more concerned with Castiel than with the people who had done this to him.
“You do what you have to do I suppose.” Missouri said with a nod of her head. Finally she turned back around, giving Dean a soft smile as she made her way back around the bed. “You take care of yourself, Dean. You want to be healthy when Castiel wakes, help him back on his own feet.”
“I doubt that will be necessary.” Richard practically snarled. “Castiel will have me when he wakes.”
“I was just thinking it might be a little easier on him if Castiel had someone near by that had been through the same thing.” Missouri raised an eyebrow as she looked up at the man now openly glaring at her. “Man’s got to have friends.” She turned her back on Richard, shooting Dean a small wink before stepping back out of the room.
“No, I don’t think that he does.” Richard said as soon as the door to the room had closed.
“What was that?” Dean turned to the other man and realized all pretense of being nice had been dropped.
“Castiel will not be needing a friend such as yourself. See, as soon as Castiel wakes up from this I intend to take him away from here. I think a change of scenery will do him some good after all this business with video games and virtual worlds. “ Richard reached out a hand and began running it along Castiel’s blanket covered leg. Dean’s eyes were glued to the way the man’s hand moved from the ankle upward until it came to a stop too high on Castiel’s thigh before giving a squeeze. “After all, Castiel will have me to distract him from the memory of that dreadful Supernatural game.” His stomach rolled at the way Richard massaged the weakened muscle beneath his fingers, practically groping the sleeping man.
Without thinking Dean moved around the foot of the bed and grabbed Richard Roman’s wrist, lifting his hand half an inch off Castiel’s leg. “Don’t touch him.” The words were barely more than a growl. Richard laughed at the display of protection as he jerked his hand away.
“You don’t seem to understand, Dean, Castiel is mine to touch however I like.” Richard paused to take a breath and tug on the ends of his jacket once again. “I don’t care what kind of relationship you and Castiel had in the game, here in the real world he belongs to me.” The way the man talked about Castiel, as if he was nothing more than an object, made Dean sick. “I don’t want to see you here ever again, Dean, and before you object, I am the one paying for this private room so I do have the right to demand that you stay out of it.” Richard stepped away, pausing with his back turned to Dean as if he didn’t warrant the respect of eye contact as he spoke his parting words. “You’ll have the room to yourself now, say good bye and get out.”
Dean listened to the soft click of the door shutting behind the man, sure that if they had been anywhere other than a hospital Roman would have slammed it to make his point. Stepping back to his chair, Dean sank into it with a broken sob. He reached out to take Castiel’s hand in his once more, laying his forehead against the back of the frail limb as he let himself give in to the tears of anger and pain.
“Dean I was thinking you and I could go out and get dinner tonight. Just you and me. Maybe we can talk. I mean really talk. And you know, maybe work things out. I miss you, Dean. Give me a call when you can. Bye.” Dean deleted the message as soon as it was finished, only having listened to it in case Lisa had said anything about Ben. Even if he hadn’t been in the hospital, he was pretty sure he would have ignored the call, not up to dealing with his ex. He let out a sigh as he ran a hand over his face, heading toward his car in the hospital parking lot.
When he had woken up in the hospital two months ago, Dean had been surprised to have Lisa visit an hour later. The next day when she had come in he had been awake enough to ask why she was there. Lisa had assured him that she still loved him, had loyally visited the hospital as often as she could, and was so happy for him to have woken up so they could be together again. Dean had been struck speechless, thankful when Nurse Mosley had came into the room with a sedative to help him get back to sleep. It wasn’t until her third visit that Dean finally told Lisa that he didn’t feel the same way.
At first he had felt terrible. What kind of a man was he to cheat on this woman who was waiting by his side as he continued to be locked inside a game. Virtual or not, he had started up a relationship with Castiel while Lisa had been waiting in the real world for him. His guilt had him reluctantly agreeing to her continued visits as long as he was in the hospital, each one filled to the brim with awkward silences and lingering glances. Dean refused to talk about his time in Supernatural. Lisa didn’t care enough to ask. At first he had no idea why she was drawing things out, they had been over before he had beta tested the game. By the time he had made the dive into Supernatural on that fateful day, it had only been a matter of who would break things off first and how. Then Lisa had brought Ben to visit, and Dean was reminded of why they had dragged things along for so long.
When Dean first met Lisa it was nothing more than a single passion filled weekend. They had both woken up on Monday, went their separate ways, and known that whatever they had it was going nowhere. Neither tried to call the other. Flash forward nine years and find Dean running into Lisa at a birthday party for his secretary’s kid. Lisa had assured Dean that Ben was not his, the timing had just been a coincidence, but the kid was enough to jump start a relationship between the two. Dean hadn’t even realized that he had been longing for a family, had thought he was happy with how his life had turned out, until he found himself thrown head first into baseball games, Saturday trips to the park, and family dinners. Dean found he loved it. But as time went on he realized he loved it more for his relationship with Ben than any feelings he had for Lisa.
Having Ben visit him in the hospital and seeing the drastic change in the atmosphere between that day and when it was just Dean and Lisa gave Dean the push he needed to just end things. He had invited her to dinner, just the two of them, his first night back in his own home, and had broken up with her after talking for hours without saying very much. Unfortunately Lisa wasn’t letting go as easily as Dean had hoped. She had shown up with Ben on numerous occasions to coax Dean into dinner with them, had volunteered many times to drive him to physical therapy before he was well enough to drive on his own, and on one very awkward occasion, had called Jess to invite her and Sam over for a double date. That had been the last straw for Dean. He had sat through the dinner politely before pulling Lisa to his car for a talk afterward and told her to stay out of his life.
Ben had shown up the next day distraught that he would have to stop seeing Dean as well. Fixing things with the kid so that they could still hang out without Dean having to see Lisa had been the whole reason for the visit the night before. Dean had thought that since having the talk, he would no longer be subject to phone calls like this one, but apparently he just wasn’t going to get a break.
With a sigh Dean climbed into the driver’s seat of his Chevy Impala and put the key in the ignition to warm the car up as he called Lisa back.
”Dean! I’m so glad you called back! What do you think about having dinner with me tonight?
“It’s not going to happen, Lisa. Hey, is Ben still coming over tomorrow?” Dean could hear the heavy sigh over the line.
”Yes. But he has a project due for one of his classes, so I want him back by four at the latest so he can finish it up.”
“Ok, yeah, that works for me. Tell him I’ll see him tomorrow morning then. Bye, Lisa.” Before she could say anything more, Dean hung up the phone and tossed it on the passenger seat before throwing the car in gear and pulling out of his parking space.
Half an hour away from the hospital, Dean lived in a four bedroom townhouse that had been a bit of a fixer upper when he bought it. When he and Lisa had first started dating he had been dedicated to his sparsely furnished condo, loving the space and mess free simplicity of a bachelor pad. The longer he dated Lisa, the more he became involved in the family life she and Ben offered, the more Dean thought of making a home for the three of them. He had bought the house with the intention to invite Lisa and Ben to move in with him when he had fixed it up enough to be a family home. The longer it took, the more he saw the cracks in his and Lisa’s relationship, the more he dragged his feet on finishing the project. Almost two years asleep in a hospital meant there was a lot more work to be done than when he had first made the dive into Supernatural, but it gave Dean something to focus on with only half day work days and Castiel still asleep. At least now all the rooms were clean once more, and Dean had been able to sit down and rewrite his list of improvements still needing to be made.
Pulling to a stop in front of the house, Dean put the car in park and looked up at the brick exterior of his house through the bare tree limbs. With all the work still to be done, he had to simply be thankful he had a house. Pellegrino had destroyed lives with his game. Those lucky enough to make it to the end woke up to find themselves without a job, thousands of dollars in debt because of bills, marriages failed, families split up, a world changed in the time they had been asleep to it all. More than once Dean had heard it expressed that the players that had died inside the game had been the lucky ones. Staring up at his home, knowing he had a job to go to on Monday, thinking about the kid that still wanted to hang out with him, Dean had to count his blessings. Somehow he was going to put Castiel back on that list. No way had he been given a handful of amazing months with the other man just to have him pulled away from his side by a video game and Richard Roman. Dean was going to get Cas back.
Dean climbed out of his car and shut the door, making sure to lock her up before heading up the walkway to his front door. Inside was quiet, too quiet, empty, just like it was every other day when he came home and was forced to feel the absence of Castiel in this real world. Heading into the room that would eventually be a home office, Dean turned on his computer before heading to the kitchen for a drink. Sitting back down at the small desk in the office, Dean clicked on his emails. As he had driven home from the hospital he had received notification of a new one.
Subject: Take a look at this.
Dean, the following picture came across a coworker’s desk in conjunction with a case you have an interest in. Take a look and give me a call, we’ll talk. -Victor
Dean frowned at the vague wording of the email but clicked on the attachment anyway, wondering what an FBI agent he played Supernatural with had thought he would be interested in seeing. When the picture fully downloaded Dean let out a gasp and leaned in to look at the computer screen a little closer. The picture was blurry, and the figure’s face wasn’t exactly clear behind what looked like a bar from a cage, but there was no doubt in Dean’s mind. This was a picture of Castiel.