Castiel was bored. He knew this duo date with Lisa was a great opportunity. With only Victor and himself present, this was a great chance for him to distinguish himself in the competition; after all, that was what this ostensibly was - a game show. He should be in this for a chance to win the grand prize. In reality, he couldn’t care.
Lisa seemed to be a pleasant enough person. She was bright and beautiful, but he had no interest in her. If they would have met on the street, or on a blind date away from the glare of television, they never would have made it past a first date. There was no spark, no common ground. In fact, Castiel suspected the only reason he exerted himself even a little to stay in the running was because he was enjoying the chance to get to know Dean.
Suddenly, Lisa started laughing at something that Victor evidently said, startling Cas out of his reverie. He should take advantage and try to find a common ground, but he was an astute man. Castiel considered himself a keen observer of human interactions, even though he felt inadequate in many social situations. Castiel could see the way that Victor looked at Lisa when he thought no one else was looking. Of all the competitors left, Castiel felt only Victor had genuine affection for Lisa. Castiel thought Victor was in the competition for the right reasons. Yes, Samandriel had some genuine affection for Lisa, but it was more a school boy crush, an infatuation, than something that could develop into the real thing. Castiel often wondered if the same was true for his feelings towards Dean.
Just thinking of Dean pulled his attention away from Lisa and Victor’s chattering. If he had been left to his own devices, Castiel would be on his regular morning run with the Winchester. They could continue the fascinating conversation the had the previous evening about Philip K. Dick. Both men had argued passionately for their favorite novels. Dean tried to make his case for The Man in the High Castle being the author’s masterpiece, while Castiel argued just as vehemently for Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? It had been a long time since Cas had found someone who could argue with him without anger, but with joy and passion; and, someone who could inspire, challenge, and energize him.
Maybe he needed to make more of an effort with Lisa. Maybe he started thinking too much of pursuing a relationship with Dean - something he didn’t even know if the other man truly was interested in beyond friendships and flirtations - that he had closed himself off to the possibility of more with Lisa. Could this have been part of Dean’s plan? He didn’t get a sense that the younger man was legitimately interested in Lisa, but maybe Dean was playing the game and trying to fraternize with Cas to make him miss an opportunity with Lisa so Dean could have her to himself. That didn’t seem likely, but a granule of doubt lingered.
“So Lisa, what types of books do you like to read? Do you like science fiction?” Castiel blurted out in a rush.
Lisa and Victor both turned wide eyes toward the dark-haired man, and Castiel felt himself blush furiously. These were the first words he had spoken the entire time they had been at their breakfast date, and he clearly interrupted the conversation they had been in the middle of.
Victor glared at Castiel and the unfortunate interruption, while Lisa tried to think of the best answer to the question.
“I don’t think I am that familiar with science fiction,” she said, somewhat cautiously. “Is there a particular book or author you have in mind?”
Shit! Cas thought to himself. Way to make an impression, Novak. Now, she thinks you are both inept and stuck up, possibly she thinks you are rude, too - a perfect trifecta.
If he hadn’t been so caught up in his thoughts on Dean, he might not have made this mistake.
“I like all kinds of books, but science fiction is my favorite,” Cas soldiered on in an attempt to make honest conversation. He winced internally when he realized this whole debacle could end up televised. It was a nightmare. He wanted to ring his brother’s neck for convincing him to do this. Participating in this show could be the worst thing Gabriel ever conned him into doing - and that is taking into consideration the five day symposium Gabriel dragged him along to for candy making. Cas swore by the end of that weekend he was going to go into diabetic shock for all the sugar they consumed. This experience, however, was infinitely worse and with the added bonus of being embarrassing.
“One of my all-time favorites in Fahrenheit 451,” Castiel continued. “I thought that Bradbury created one of the most believable, and therefore most frightening dystopias I had read about, even more so than 1984.”
“I can’t say I have ever read it,” Lisa said with a self-deprecating smile. “I confess I don’t like dark stories, I prefer more fairy tale-esque stories where the boy meets the girl and wins the girl’s heart and they live happily ever after.
“It is one of the reasons I agreed to come on The Bride,” she confessed somewhat shyly. “I wanted to believe that it was possible to have my own fairy tale and meet my prince. I feel that the real world is dark and terrifying enough that I don’t need to imagine made up horrors.”
Castiel wanted to reply to that, to ask her if she didn’t think some of those stories she dismissed as too dark were written specifically to keep conversations moving and to keep people from falling into those pitfalls in the real world.
Just as he started to respond, he noticed a flurry of activity over Lisa’s shoulder.
“I wonder what all that is about?” Victor asked, taking the words right out of Castiel’s mouth.
Within moments, the director and some of the production assistants were coming over to the table, followed closely by Charlie Bradbury. Castiel sat up straighter in his seat. Usually the irrepressible host didn’t tag along on the outings and was only around for chats with the contestants before the pinning ceremonies and to talk with the ousted competitors on their “walks of shame” off the show. To see the red-headed host striding purposefully toward their table, and with a grim look on her face, Castiel felt worry seep into his skin.
“Hey guys,” Charlie said in greeting. “I’m sorry to do this, but we wanted to let you all know about a situation that occurred back at the house.”
At this, Castiel felt himself relax, marginally. He knew Dean was back there - surely something wouldn’t have happened to his friend. Dean was tough and resourceful. No matter what the problem was, he had every confidence the other man would be fine.
“It appears that two of the housemates, Gordon and Luke, decided to team up and try to get rid of one of the other contestants,” the host continued. Castiel noticed she was talking almost woodenly, as though she couldn’t believe something like this would have happened. Maybe that was true. She had been the host of the show since the beginning, and in all that time, there was never any mention of violence perpetrated behind the scenes. This must be new to her as well.
“The two surprised and severely beat the other contestant, whom they apparently considered to be a threat,” Charlie explained. “Before he lost consciousness, the victim identified them as the ones who jumped and attacked him. Both men have been removed from the house and are being held for further questioning.”
Castiel felt sadness wash over. He could only imagine that it had been Samandriel who had been attacked. He wondered if he and Dean would be able to visit with the younger boy to show support. Castiel almost felt like an older brother to the youngest of the competitors. The Novak appreciated the wide-eyed youth and optimism the boy brought to the show, although he somewhat cringed at Samandriel’s naiviety. His only question was why would Gordon and Luke have decided that Samandriel was a threat? Surely someone like Victor, who obviously cared for Lisa, would have made more sense.
“Medics at the scene were able to stop some of the bleeding, but there were internal injuries,” Charlie said, and Castiel noticed a slight hitch in her tone, almost as though she were forcing herself to stay calm. He was surprised, he didn’t think she was that close to Samandriel. He knew she was friends with Dean - although the two really couldn’t admit it - but, Castiel was touched the tough-as-nails host had a soft spot for the younger man, as well.
“He has been taken into surgery. The family has been notified, and the doctors will let us know anything as soon as possible. We are working with the hospital for permissions for Lisa, or for the remaining three competitors to see him as soon as possible, if you would like.”
Lisa looked stunned, tears shimmering in her chocolate-brown eyes. Castiel wanted to reach out and pat her hand in comfort - just as he would with his nieces and nephews. Lisa opened her mouth several times to start to ask a question, but couldn’t seem to make sense of what Charlie had just told them. Victor was the one who finally broke the silence.
“Who was attacked?” he asked, genuine concern lacing his tone. Castiel knew the older man had kept himself somewhat distant from the rest, but he had a good heart and this act of violence shook him, too.
“Dean Winchester,” was the soft reply.
Castiel’s head raised sharply, ice filling his veins.
“That can’t be right,” Castiel stated, voice firm in his conviction. “Dean’s too smart for that, he’s strong. It had to be Samandriel who was attacked.”
Charlie looked on the blue-eyed contestant with a combination of understanding and pity. She had long suspected a burgeoning relationship between Castiel and Dean - hell, a part of her was rooting for the two of them. It was one of the reasons she wanted to be the one to deliver the news in person.
“No, Castiel,” she said looking him straight in the eye never wavering, never breaking contact. “Gordon and Luke knew Dean would go for a run this morning. Apparently they waited until he was a good distance from the house before they started the attack. They wore masks so no one could see their faces, but according to what security was able to get from Dean before he lost consciousness Gordon and Luke taunted him and were talking throughout the attack.
“They knew he would be a formidable opponent to fight fairly, so from what we can tell, they waited until he was alone, and then hit him from behind taking him completely by surprise. It looks like he was clubbed repeatedly with blunt instruments - probably sticks or baseball bats - and with the two working together, they would have been able to alternate blows so they were always on the attack...not giving him a chance to gain any ground to fight back. It was vicious, well-planned, and dirty.”
Castiel’s heart was thudding so hard, he thought his heart was going to leap out of his chest like a bad parody of a Bugs Bunny cartoon. This couldn’t be happening. If he hadn’t been on this farce of a date. If he had just been with Dean, it would have been a more even match. Between the two of them, they might have been able to fight back. This was all Castiel’s fault. His friend was suffering because he was out having breakfast with someone he didn’t have the slightest interest in. And, while he had been having French toast and seasoned potatoes, Dean had been bloodied and bruised.
Standing up suddenly, Castiel knocked his chair over, causing the other diners to pay even more attention to their party.
“Take me to him,” Castiel said, voice more raspy and harsh than usual. “I have to see him.”
Charlie still had that sympathetic glint in her eyes. It was almost as though she were trying to convey something to him - something like, don’t blow this, try to remember what you actually are here for. Cas knew why he was here, and he’d be damned if he lost it. He was here to find love, something he had scoffed at and deemed impossible on a reality show, but that was what he had come for. Maybe he ended up finding it after all - just not with the person he was supposed to fall for.
“He’s in surgery, Castiel,” Charlie soothed. “No one will be allowed to see him until it is done.”
“I don’t give a flying fuck,” Castiel growled, all semblance of pleasantries and the veneer of kindness stripped away in his panic. “I want to be at that hospital so that I know the moment my friend comes out of surgery. I want to talk to the doctors and I want to hear for myself what the prognosis is.”
“Maybe we should go back,” Lisa said, finally finding her voice jumping into the conversation for the first time. “I’m sure Samandriel has been shaken up over this as well, right?”
“Yes,” Charlie agreed, never turning her focus away from the irate bachelor in front of her. “Samandriel happened to be wandering on the trail when he heard odd noises. From what he told security, he saw the attack - although again he wouldn’t have been able to identify the attackers because they wore masks. He ran back to the house and called for security. It is because of him that Dean wasn’t beaten even more severely.”
Victor had yet to say anything. He noticed that Lisa was upset for the whole situation, but had made no mention of wanting to go immediately to the hospital. However, the worry and fear radiating from the man beside him was practically tangible. He knew if Lisa insisted they all go back to the compound that the production crew would not override her; but, he thought that would make Castiel go nuclear.
“How about this,” Victor said, hoping to appease both parties, “I will escort Lisa back to the house so that we can give statements to security, if need be and check in on Samandriel. Castiel and Charlie would then be able to go to the hospital to wait for any new information on Dean’s condition, and they can update the rest of us as soon as possible.”
“I think that is a wonderful idea,” Charlie agreed readily, jumping on Victor’s suggestion as though it were a lifeline. “C’mon Blue Eyes, you and I have a date with crappy hospital coffee.”
Castiel found himself nodding stiffly. He didn’t think he even had a chance to thank Victor, or say goodbye to Lisa. He was maneuvering on autopilot. Somewhere in the back of his brain he knew Charlie grabbed on to his arm to pull him out to the car.
“Ya gotta keep it together, Castiel,” Charlie chastened him once they were safely alone in the car. There were no microphones here, no cameras. The host and the contestant were just regular people here.
“Don’t tell me what I have to do,” Castiel snapped, ice spitting from his normally tranquil blue eyes. “My friend is hurt and I was not there. Don’t tell me what I need to do. I need to be there with him.”
“Don’t bullshit a bullshitter kiddo,” came the equally frosty retort. “I’ve done this for a lot of years, and I’ve seen crazy shit go down. I know when to lie, and I know when I’m being lied to.”
“I don’t know what you are talking about, I haven’t lied about anything,” Castiel grumbled, leg jangling rapidly in his nervousness. Couldn’t this car go any faster?
“I won’t say anything, but you and Dean need to be honest - with yourselves if no one else,” she said, leaning her head back against the leather headrest in the back of the car.
Castiel turned to face the petite woman beside him, head tilting in his confusion. “Be honest about what?”
“The two of you are so in love, it’s amazing the world doesn’t already know it,” she stated in exasperation. “In fact, if Walker and Milton wouldn’t have been such ‘roided up jackasses, they would have been able to see that Dean never was competition to them in the first place. They would have been able to see the only reason either of you tried to stick around was for the other.”
Castiel stared at the host dumbly. He didn’t know how to respond.
“Yes, you really are that obvious,” she continued, filling the silence. “Especially when someone knows exactly what to look for, and I do.
“I try to counsel the participants to help them make the best choices,” Charlie said, and it sounded like she was confessing something that never had been said before. “Usually no one listens to me, they have it in their head that they are making the best decision and it has to be their decision and no one else’s. However, they often forget they are so caught up in the novelty of the situation that they can’t be objective.
“So, you can try to be dishonest to yourself; you can try to be dishonest with Dean; but you sure as fuck aren’t going to be dishonest with me.”
“What do you want me to say?” Castiel asked, brokenly.
“You don’t have to say anything, you just have to be willing to admit that the alpha male display you put on back at the restaurant had nothing to do with casual concern over a friend, and everything to do with terror at losing a potential partner.”
Castiel closed his eyes and let the other woman’s words wash over him. Part of him knew she was right, but he was afraid - what if Dean didn’t feel the same?
“And if you even think that dork doesn’t feel the same about you, I’m going to kick your ass out of this moving vehicle,” she snarked, eerily being able to determine the direction of his thoughts.
No additional words were needed. Right now, all that mattered was getting to the hospital, everything else could be figured out later. Until then, he needed to see Dean and to know he was going to be okay.