Seventy-two hours had passed since Dean had been assaulted. Seventy-two hours had passed since Castiel last got more than an hour of continuous sleep. Castiel refused to leave the hospital grounds, even though the doctors really couldn’t tell him much as he wasn’t family. The dark-haired man wanted to say that Dean was his family, his business because that was his boyfriend, but that would cause a load of different issues that no one was ready to deal with.
The hospital staff now just considered Castiel an extension of the ICU and the waiting areas. When they stopped to gossip about hospital happenings, they invariably spoke of the handsome messy-haired, blue-eyed man who kept vigil over his injured friend. It almost was like Castiel took on the role of guardian, he hadn't been able to protect Dean from getting hurt in the first place, but he wouldn't fail him again.
Charlie came to be with Castiel and await news on Dean as often as she could, but she was dealing with the media “shit storm,” as she referred to it, that Dean’s beating had caused for the show. Not that Castiel really cared. He didn’t want to return to the show. He knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that there was nothing for him there without Dean. He didn’t know if the injured man felt the same, but he wanted to find out.
So deep in his worries and thoughts was Castiel that the bang of the waiting room door startled him out of his reverie. Jumping slightly, he turned around to come face to face with Charlie Bradbury, who came bearing the nectar of the gods - coffee and doughnuts.
“You look like shit, Novak,” the red-haired host commented without preamble. “You need to take care of yourself if you are going to be able to take care of Deanie-Beanie when he wakes up.”
Charlie was right and the rational part of Castiel knew it. He looked at himself in the mirror that morning and was aghast at what he saw. His normally disarrayed hair was even wilder than usual, made worse by his constant running his hands through his hair in agitation and worry. He had deep purple circles under his eyes from his lack of sleep, and the whites of his eyes were streaked liberally with red as vessels came nearer to the surface to supply blood in his sleep deprived state. He knew he was running on empty, but he didn’t want to leave - there was no other place for him.
“Well, why don’t you get me caught up on the latest news and gossip while I have my coffee, and maybe I will grab a nap, if you can stay for a while,” Castiel conceded. He was tired, but he also was curious.
Castiel knew that Charlie had a soft spot for Dean, but the petite host had not been to visit the hospital for more than an hour or two since Dean came out of his first surgery. He had a feeling there was a lot going on in the “real” world that he should know.
Charlie nodded as she took a small sip of her hot coffee. There was a lot that Castiel needed to know - some she probably shouldn’t tell him, but she wasn’t going to let that stop her. However, she had more important issues to deal with first.
“I’ll tell you everything that’s been going on,” she agreed, “but first, what’s the latest on our boy?”
Castiel sighed heavily, his head thudding back into the wall behind him, hoping to get additional strength and support from the structure.
“Dean’s still in ICU, which means I can only see him for an hour at a time, and only at certain periods,” Castiel explained, blinking rapidly to keep tears from forming. “God, Charlie, if you would see him...he doesn’t look like himself. He is so pale and looks so vulnerable. I want to go and hunt those bastards down and smite them for what they have done. Dean’s a good man, he doesn’t deserve this.”
Castiel broke off, breaths shuddering in an attempt to gain control over his raging emotions. Charlie could see him losing his control, so she did what she could to redirect him.
“But, what about his prognosis?” she prompted. “What are the doctors saying about that?”
“He has an infection stemming from one of the wounds,” Castiel said, picking apart a doughnut and taking a bite. “The doctors are giving him a fuck ton of antibiotics, but while he is fighting the infection, they want to keep him sedated, and while he is sedated, he is on a ventilator. However, if he shows signs of improvement, they might wake him up sooner.”
Charlie processed this latest news. She knew Dean’s injuries had been severe, but to know that he still was fighting for her life made her furious. She had been doing this show for far too long and never formed personal attachments, not even with the main participant - the bride or the groom. It was easier for her that way. However, there was just something about Dean Winchester that slipped beneath all her usual defenses and made her care. What a lot of good that did.
“Dean’s tough,” she stated, hoping she sounded firmer in her resolve than she actually felt. Cas didn’t need any more doubts.
Castiel nodded. Dean would get better, he just had to, because it would completely stink if Castiel finally found someone he wanted to date only to have that person taken away from him before they got a chance.
“Well,” Charlie said suddenly, trying to lighten up the mood somewhat, and tell Castiel what had been happening outside of the hospital walls. “First off, the producers - big heartless bastards that they are - didn’t want to call Dean’s family. I guess legal counsel finally convinced them of the idiocy of this, so someone did contact Dean’s family.”
“Is Sam coming?” Castiel asked, opening his eye in curiosity. He knew Dean’s parents both had died, and that Sam was his only living blood relative. It was Sam who signed Dean up for this utter disaster.
“He’s trying, but it hasn’t been easy,” Charlie admitted. “I guess he is a big shot lawyer in California and he is the middle of a fairly intense case. Plus, his wife is pregnant and the bun is ready to pop out of the oven any day now, so he feels conflicted. I’ve been talking to him to give him updates, but so far he hasn’t been able to get a continuation in the case, and his co-counsel isn’t willing to step up to the plate in his absence. He's also afraid of missing the birth of his first child. It's a no-win situation. He’s a wreck.”
“I can imagine,” Castiel said wearily. It would have been nice to meet Sam, although the circumstances weren’t ideal. “Dean is so proud of what Sam does. He would never want his brother to lose a case just because of him. It probably is for the best, for now, for Sam to stay where he is.”
Charlie’s eyes widened marginally in surprise. Cas looked at her questioningly, wondering what he had said that was so wrong.
“That’s pretty much exactly what Sam said to me,” she said softly. She had known for a while that the relationship between Dean and Castiel was more than friendship, but she hadn’t realized the two were that connected, until this moment.
Shaking herself slightly to get back in the moment, Charlie started in with the rest of the news she had.
“Well, there have been meetings going on for the past two days about what to do to salvage the rest of the season, and how we should proceed with the remaining contestants.”
Castiel, who had been slumped in a more relaxed posture next to her, suddenly bolted upright and was as tense as a tiger ready to pounce on his prey.
“If they think there is any way in hell that I am going back to that farce, they are sadly mistaken,” Castiel hissed, blue-eyes spitting ice at the host. “I want nothing further to do with that show. They can all crawl in a hole and die for all I care. The only person I want to see, is Dean. Tell Lisa that Victor is perfect for her and let the producers have their happily-ever-after bullshit fairy tale nonsense. There is nothing in this world that will compel me to go back to that house or come back on that show.”
Castiel was breathing heavily after his rant. He knew he was being too harsh with Charlie, she was just the messenger, but this was too much.
“I didn’t think you were coming back,” she replied calmly. “There have been talks about bringing cameras to the hospital…”
If Charlie thought Castiel was upset before? He was downright terrifying now. He jumped up from his seat and started stalking around the waiting room, anger and rage radiating from every sinew of his body.
“If those….assbutts even think about bringing a camera into this hospital, or filming a moment of Dean’s pain I will bring the wrath of heaven and hell down upon them,” Castiel vowed. “My brother may be a sarcastic shit who signed me up for this catastrophe, but he also is a lawyer, and I can make sure that he files every injunction necessary to keep them from invading Dean’s privacy. I”m sure if Sam knows about this, he will do exactly the same - major case or not.”
Charlie held her hands up in a placating manner, trying to show she is not the enemy here.
“I said the same thing to them,” she admitted. “They finally agreed to leave Dean alone as long as he is in the hospital. They will leave you alone, too, while you are here.”
Castiel’s movements stilled as he absorbed this new information. “What happens when Dean gets out of the hospital?”
“You come back and film.”
“Absolutely not. There is no fucking way I am going to continue,” Castiel yelled, not caring who he was disturbing. “I withdraw from the competition, I have decided I am not compatible with Lisa, I fear for my safety after the show wasn’t able to protect my fellow housemate. Tell the producers whatever the fuck you have to so that I don’t have to see one of their smarmy faces again.”
“Calm down, Novak,” Charlie snapped. “You think you’re the only one who is hurting in this? You think you’re the only one suffering? You think you’re the only one to give a fuck about Dean? You think I’m not out there busting my ass, risking my fucking job to make sure this doesn’t happen. You don’t know jackshit about me Castiel Novak.
“Dean is my friend, too. Hell, he’s probably the big brother I never wanted. I care about him, and I am working my ass off to try to protect him, and by extension, you. You don’t think I know this is a sham? Hell, I’ve even tried to convince the producers to cut their losses and pretend this season never happened. Of course Gordon and Lucifer probably will whine to the press like the fame-hungry whore-bitches that they are and make the producers talk about this. But, don’t stand there in your self-righteous fury and think that you are alone in this.”
Charlie’s tirade brought Castiel up short. He hadn’t considered how much Charlie was invested in this, and how much she already had risked. He felt very selfish. He let himself get too caught up in his own grief that he never considered anyone else. He didn’t know Charlie that well, he always viewed her as a more friendly extension of the three-ring circus that was the show. He should have taken more time to get to know her. More than that, he should have trusted Dean’s opinion. If Dean liked and trusted her, that should be good enough for Cas.
“My apologies Charlie,” he murmured contritely. “I was inconsiderate, and I sincerely apologize. I know you will do what you can for Dean, and me.”
Charlie sat for a moment longer, anger and hurt still evident in her posture, and then nodded curtly - acknowledging the apology.
“Anyhow,” she continued, her tone more clipped, not as warm as it usually is. “it seems like the house of cards is tumbling down faster than the producers can build it back up.
“Samandriel packed his bags after the cops took his statement. He said he feared for his safety and he didn’t want anything more to do with the competition. He hugged Lisa and thanked her for her kindness and then he walked away.
“Lucifer and Gordon are being held as persons of interest in the beating-slash-attempted murder of Dean Winchester. Both are denying any wrongdoing, but it turns out they both have some history of violence. Evidently the show didn’t do that good of a job on their background checks, if any were done at all, and these two have been charged before with aggravated assault.”
Castiel growled, low and animalistic somewhere in the back of his throat at this information. “You mean to tell me the producers knowingly let contestants on the show with a history of violence? They didn’t think that was a bad idea for the other contestants? For Lisa? My God.”
Charlie nodded, wary of Castiel’s movements, she wasn’t sure if he was going to complete snap, and if he did, she wanted out of the way, but he needed to hear everything.
“First off,” she clarified, “I am not in charge of background checks. They just like me on the show to keep everything moving and because I can be a sarcastic shit.
“Second, the show’s producers are supposed to do a thorough background check on every contestant exactly for the reasons you just mentioned, to make sure that someone isn’t a sociopath. I don’t know if the show was cutting corners by not following through with this. I don’t know if someone thought it would add drama to the show to have unstable people compete. I can’t make excuses and I can’t accuse because I don’t know for certain what is going on.
“For all I know, the producers wanted to improve ratings, and they thought the best way to do that would be to add drama. If that was what they were thinking they are going to be so screwed by the lawsuits that start pouring in.”
She paused to take another sip of her rapidly cooling coffee. She also paused to give Castiel a moment to process what she said and to gather himself.
“Lisa said she doesn’t think she can continue knowing that someone got hurt,” Charlie continued. “Victor agreed. The two of them have been pretty close since the beating. I have a feeling they might keep talking to each other after filming is done.”
“What do you mean after filming is done?” Castiel queried, immediately tense again.
Charlie groaned, inwardly cursing her own poor word choice. She hadn’t meant to broach this particular part of the story, but here goes nothing….
“After many threats of legal action, the producers have agreed to a compromise of sorts. They will stop principle production on the season. However, after Dean recovers somewhat, they want to film one final episode. This will be a completely different format, Lucifer and Gordon will not be on set - they will be interviewed separately, if at all. But, it will be a wrap up of the season.
“During this final episode all the contestants will be back to discuss what happened on and off camera. Lisa will be able to say who she might have picked, and it will be a way to give some closure to the season. The producers were not willing to give up all the money they spent, but they agreed to not continue with the normal protocol, especially as they would have to explain anyhow what happened to Lucifer and Gordon, and would most likely come up looking like great big bags of dicks for making people continue on after injury.”
“And they don’t think they will look bad making us rehash this shit for ratings?” Castiel grumbled.
“Legal has convinced them it is a public service to talk about bullying and abuse and that it will be a way to raise awareness to the realities of reality television,” Charlie concluded with a little smirk/grimace. Castiel could tell she wasn’t entirely sold on the prospect either, but that it was the best case.
“I won’t agree to anything unless Dean does,” Castiel relented, sitting back down in his vacated chair.
“Of course,” Charlie agreed.
The pair sat in silence for several moments, both lost in their own thoughts. So much had changed since they started filming, and there was the potential for so much more to change.
The silence was nice, calming, and Castiel felt himself drifting into a dream-like state. He could relax a little knowing that Charlie was here. She would make sure he knew if anything happened to Dean. Maybe he could get a little sleep.
Just as he was starting to drift to sleep, the door to the waiting room opened again, causing Charlie to jump and sit straighter.
An unfamiliar man wearing a white doctor’s coat peered around the corner, looking at the room’s occupants.
“Are you here for Dean Winchester?” the man said with a thick British accent.
Both Castiel and Charlie leaped to their feet in near perfect unison. They nodded they were here for Dean.
“I’m Dr. Balthazar, I’m Dean’s primary attending physician,” he explained.
Castiel’s heart was beating wildly, blood thrumming through his veins, making it difficult to pay attention to what the doctor was saying. Was it good news? No doctor had come down to find him since the first surgery. Did this mean it was bad news?
“What’s the matter?” Castiel blurted out, not caring if he sounded as panicked as he felt. “Is Dean okay?”
The blond-haired doctor smirked at the outburst and waited a moment to make sure the younger man was quite done before saying, “I just thought you’d like to know that Dean Winchester is awake.”