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You're the One that I Want

Chapter Text

Dean Winchester couldn’t stop fidgeting with his tie. The green and gold silk felt like a noose around his neck. He alternated between trying to loosen the tie’s knot and running his fingers between his dress shirt collar and neck to try to provide some way to make the shirt less constricting. He just couldn’t get comfortable. Dean was not a man who liked being dressed up. Every time he put on a suit, he felt like a Ken doll (a sore point after a former boyfriend referred to him as such). Give him some flannel or a Henley and jeans and he was in his glory. Tonight was special; tonight, he had to dress the part.

Sighing, Dean stared out the tinted window of the black Lincoln Towncar he was being driven in. The ride wasn't bad, but it wasn't his near mint condition 1967 Chevy Impala that was waiting back at home for him. His brother, Sam, was so going to pay for this.

Sam Winchester was the only reason Dean was sitting in this car right now, being driven to the edge of a long driveway to start this three-ringed circus known as “The Bride,” a reality dating show competition.

Sam thought it would be funny to submit his brother’s picture and a brief video to the producers of the show. Dean hadn’t been in a serious relationship for about two years, and now that Sam had found the love of his life with Ruby, he wanted his older brother to find that special someone, too. Why Sam thought he would find love on a reality dating show was beyond Dean’s comprehension. The elder Winchester thought the whole thing was a joke. He just hoped the woman would be nice enough, and that he could politely get himself thrown off the show as early as possible.

It wasn’t that Dean didn’t want to find someone to share his life with; he just didn’t think that would be possible on a dating show. Plus, at 32-years-old, he was tired of the meat market. He hated the pretense of first dates, trying to play the part of someone you’re not. Most women, and men (he was an equal opportunity dater), wanted someone more successful than he was. Dean thought he was doing pretty well, over all. He owned his own vehicle restoration business that was growing in renown throughout the industry. But, most people he dated felt uncomfortable dating a mechanic. They didn’t understand why Dean settled for this life when he could have gone to college and have done so much more. His potential partners didn’t get why he had sacrificed so much of his life to care for his brother. He declined going to college, after his and Sam’s parents died, so he could work full time to put Sam through college. To many people that came across as weak, and Dean no longer had the time or energy to justify himself to those people.

That image was another reason why he was dreading this dating competition hell. He knew the other guys would probably be competitive and would try to find every way possible to cut him down. Dean wished he could reassure everyone on day one that he was not a threat. He’s not there to win “The Bride,” he just was doing this to make Sammy happy; and, if he was able to plug his company and get some business as a result, that was just a bonus.

Lost in his thoughts, Dean didn’t even realize when the Lincoln pulled to a stop. Within moments, the liveried driver opened the rear door to let Dean out and throw him to the wolves, so to speak. As he exited the car, the first thing Dean noticed was there were a lot of lights, painfully bright lights that he had to squint against. Dean was never a fan of this show, not the way his sister-in-law, Ruby was, but he had seen it a few times: Never before had he realized how produced the show was. Everything he saw on television made it look organic and natural. On this end of things? It was like stepping onto the set of a movie or a scripted television show. There were at least four camera operators at various vantage points – some of these cameras were pointed at him, some were pointed toward a petite redheaded woman, and some were pointed toward a taller darker-haired woman.

From the few times Dean had seen the show, he knew the redhead to be Charlie Bradbury, the fiery host of the show. Her sense of humor and ability to diffuse tense situations were one of the things Dean most admired about the show. Once he recognized Charlie, he deduced the other woman to be Lisa Braeden, the woman who was selected to be this season’s Bride.

As he started to walk up the flower-strewn driveway, Dean took a quick assessment of Lisa. She had long, shiny, dark brown hair; her eyes were a chocolate brown and gleamed with trepidation and warmth; her smile, when she bestowed it upon him was warm and pleasant. On the whole, Dean thought she was a very attractive person, not his type; but, an attractive person nonetheless. If he had to be forced to spend time in someone’s company over the next several weeks, she seemed as good a choice as any.

“Good evening,” Charlie intoned as Dean got closer. “Could you introduce yourself to our lovely Bride, Lisa?”

“Uh, sure,” Dean mumbled. Smooth Winchester. You’re first impression is going really well. “I’m Dean Winchester. I’m 32-years-old from Lawrence, Kansas. I’m an Aquarius. I own my own car restoration business, and love pop culture.”

“Hi Dean,” Lisa smiled at him. “I’m Lisa, it is a pleasure to meet you. I look forward to talking with you as the night goes on.”

“Yeah, me, too,” Dean said with a crooked grin.

After this awkward introduction, the lights snapped off, and Dean almost stumbled as he tried to adjust from the contrast of the bright, false lighting to the more muted natural light from the evening.

“All right, that’s enough of that,” a slightly clipped British voice sounded behind him. “That was terrible. I would say we would do it again, but I think you would be just as bad the second time around.”

Dean whirled around to see who was talking to him, and found himself face to face with a shorter, dark haired man with just a hint of a scruffy beard.

“Okay, Princess,” he said, “you’ve made your first impression, now get on your way so we can reset for the next chump.”

“C’mon, Crowley,” Charlie said from Dean’s right. “Give the guy a break. Not everyone can keep up with your production schedule.”

“That’s why we should have some professionals in with the rubes,” the man, Crowley, snarled. “That way at least this would photograph better.”

“You do realize this is supposed to be the real deal, right,” Charlie snarked back to the producer.

“Yeah, yeah,” he said. “It’s all sunshine and roses coming out of my ass. These morons don’t have a network on their case threatening to cancel a show if there isn’t a successful match.”

What? Well, that was news to Dean. He really guessed a lot of this was real, but maybe there was more of a script to it that it appeared.

“The network is getting grief from the public that after 10 seasons of this farce, no couple has made it to happily wedded bliss,” Crowley continued. “So excuse me if I want to have higher standards.”

“Don’t mind him, Dean,” Charlie said. “He’s a big old softie, once you get to know him.”

Dean found himself nodding along dumbly. Lisa just stood to the side, looking uncertain as to what she should be doing.

“You’ll just want to go in through that door,” Charlie continued, taking the reins as Crowley continued to argue with the camera crews about angles. “You are one of the first to arrive.”

Great, Dean thought sarcastically, more time to sit and twiddle my thumbs and wonder what the hell I am doing here.

“Feel free to have some snacks and drinks,” Dean found himself being herded into the nearest door by the feisty redhead, who was much stronger than she appeared. “Try to enjoy yourself and meet with the other guys. We have to film the rest of the arrivals, and then there will be a brief period for you to talk with Lisa one-on-one.”

Because that went so well the first time, Dean’s subconscious mocked him.

“After she mingles with all the guys, we’ll make the first round of cuts,” Charlie concluded. “If you make it to the next round, we’ll show you where the bachelor pad is going to be for the next several weeks. If you don’t make it, we’ll escort your perky ass to the Towncar and get sad footage of you losing your chance at love.”

Dean felt like a bobble-head doll, because all he could do was continue to nod his head in agreement to everything Charlie was saying, even though nothing really made sense.

“See you later, Dean,” Charlie said with a grin, “and, good luck.”

With that she gave him a gentle, yet firm, push in through the main doors of the house. He felt like he was being sent into the darkest depths of Hell. Why had he let Sam talk him into this? What the was he doing here?

Chapter Text

Three hours after “meeting” Lisa Braeden, Dean was convinced he was staring into the deepest bowels of Hell. He wanted to at least try to be friendly with some of the other guys, after all, they could end up spending several weeks in close quarters with one another – those hopes were quickly shot down. So far, the men he met fell into two groups – pompous douche nozzles who were posturing jerks set on winning this competition at all costs; and guys who seemed more laid back, like Dean, but who were wary of anyone trying to befriend them, thinking it was a trap.

Deciding he was better off keeping to himself, Dean found a nice corner near the free food and tried to stay as inconspicuous as possible. He liked people watching, found it helpful in his work as a mechanic, to judge which customers might try to cause trouble. So, since he hadn’t been successful at talking to the other men, he decided he would just hang back and observe.

Even with watching his fellow “competition,” Dean was bored. He didn’t consider himself the most outgoing person in the world, but he liked company, he liked to have someone to bounce ideas off, but no one seemed willing to fill that bill. Just as he was ready to call it quits and try to go over to one of the bigger, burly men who had seemed friendlier, Benny he thinks he remembers the other man saying, the door opens announcing the arrival of one of the last two contestants. Dean looks up and sparks immediately flew.

No…literally, not in the sexy love at first sight. Sparks flew because one of the camera lights blew and the bulb shattered causing a cascading effect on several others. Dean recovered from his shock at some excitement after hours of boredom and tried to assess the newcomer. He definitely was gorgeous, slightly shorter than Dean with crazy, messy dark-brown hair and the bluest eyes Dean ever had seen. The man was lean, but looked like he had muscles hidden underneath his ill-fitted suit jacket and hastily tied paisley tie.

The newcomer paused in the doorway and looked uncertain as to where he should be. His piercing gaze roved over the holding area, taking in everything in front of him. Dean knew he was staring at Blue-Eyes, but he couldn’t stop. It had been a long time since he had felt this attracted to an individual so quickly. In some ways, it also was inconvenient. He wasn’t here to be attracted to another contestant, for God’s sake, he was supposed to be attracted to The Bride, Lisa – whose face he couldn’t even call to mind at the moment.

As Dean continued to gawk, the other man found that moment to lock eyes with Dean – blue met green in an intense staring competition, and before Dean knew what was happening, Blue-Eyes was walking straight toward him like a man on a mission. Dean started fidgeting slightly. He wanted to meet this guy so badly, not only because the man was hot, but because Dean genuinely was lonely and wanted some company. On the other hand, Dean was nervous as hell to talk with this man, what if he was one of the douche nozzles who just wanted to play Dean? Or what if they hit it off and they both were attracted to each other? No, that was impossible, dude that good-looking had to be 100% straight.

The other man kept walking straight toward Dean and never faltered until he was directly in front of him. Up close Dean could admire the brilliant sapphire of the shorter man’s eyes, and he found himself wondering what it would feel like to run his hands through that already crazily disarrayed hair – would it feel as soft as he thought it did?

“Hello,” the other man spoke, startling Dean from his reverie. His voice was impossibly deep and gravelly, like he had swallowed a handful of rocks from outside.

“Hey,” Dean replied. Smooth Winchester, Dean chided himself, mentally face palming. “I’m Dean.”

The other man shook Dean’s proffered hand with solemnity and replied, “I am Castiel.”

“You’re what now?” Dean asked, blinking in mild confusion. “Casteel?”

The other man shook his head in exasperation, like he had been through this conversation a million times before and didn’t relish having it again. But, come on, with a name like that, you had to expect some questions.

“Cas-tee-el,” the dark-haired man repeated again slowly, with only a hint of exasperation in his voice. “Yes, I know it is an uncommon name. My parents were religious scholars for Princeton University and they decided to name their children after angels.”

“Wow,” Dean replied. “That’s kinda cool, but it’s a little bit of a mouthful for me. Do you mind if I just call you Cas?”

The other man tilted his head in puzzlement. “I have never had a nickname before, well other than my older brother Gabriel who likes to call me Cassie.” Castiel shuddered in horror at the name, making Dean chuckle. “But, I think I might like Cas, so yes, you may call me that.”

Dean continued to grin after Cas finished his speech. “Where the hell did you come from, Dude?”

“I don’t understand, I came from outside in a car. Did you come in some other fashion?”

“No, man, it’s just you’re so formal and proper, and I am so not,” Dean said cheekily.

“Oh,” Castiel said a slight frown between his eyebrows. “I’m sorry if I am disturbing you, I can just go wait over there. The other contestants seemed much more intimidating and you seemed friendly.”

“Calm down, Cas,” Dean said, interrupting his new friend’s ramblings. “You’re fine. I just was taking aback by why someone who seems so put together would be going through this three-ring circus with the rest of us.”

“My brother submitted my photograph and a video,” Castiel admitted with a shrug. “He felt I needed to get back into the dating pool after my last breakup.”

Dean nodded in sympathy. “Me, too. What a small world, huh? How long has it been since your breakup?”

“Five years, three months, and fifteen days,” the other man replied without hesitation.

“Not like you have been keeping track or anything, right?” Dean responded, teasing good-naturedly.

“I like numbers,” Cas said with a sheepish look on his face. “There is something concrete about numbers, they don’t lie, they are orderly, and they make sense to me.”

“I get it,” Dean said. “I feel the same way about car engines. Cars and engines I get, people are messed up. I can put an engine back together, but I don’t always have the same success with people.”

Over the next hour and a half, Dean and Castiel continued to chat, finding a relaxed, easy camaraderie with one another. Dean was appalled to learn that Cas had never seen any of the Star Wars movies, he might have said it bordered on being un-American. Both men found they had a love of Kurt Vonnegut books, and spent a good amount of time talking about their favorite stories and books. They got into a particularly heated debate over the social commentary of Harrison Bergeron.

The two men were so engrossed in their conversation they were startled when the front doors opened and Charlie Bradbury waltzed into the room.

“All right, bitches,” she said cheerily. “Let’s get this show on the road.”

Dean looked at Castiel. “I guess it’s time to play this dumbass game.”

Castiel nodded gravelly. “I have enjoyed our talk, Dean. I hope we can continue later tonight. I would enjoy having you as a friend.”

Dean felt his face light up in a brilliant grin, he was glad Cas was enjoying their talk as much as he was.

“We’ll catch up later,” Dean agreed.

They caught up with the other contestants and went to the see what the next phase of the competition had in store for them.

Chapter Text

Dean wishes the old adage “time flies when you are having fun” applied to his current situation. Of course for that to be true, he would have to actually be having fun, which he most decidedly was not.

He didn’t know really what he envisioned when he showed up at the end of the driveway to start filming The Bride, but the reality of reality television was not what he expected it to be.

Instead of this being truly about a woman trying to find herself a potential life mate among several eligible bachelors, it was more of a loosely scripted series. There weren’t actual lines so much, but the directors would suggest different scenarios or request a contestant to look a certain way, or talk about a specific subject. After production the more forced moments probably would look completely organic to the home viewer, but as a participant it looked too harsh and forced.

Although secretly Dean pretended to be cynical and jaded about life, he was a romantic at heart, and a part of him really thought it was possible for the titular bride to be able to find a suitable partner; seeing the behind-the-scenes view of things stripped him of those assumptions and showed him the harsh light of day.

Each day, he found the veneer of reality was stripped thinner and thinner. Dean actually felt most sorry for the Bride herself. He hadn’t had much of a chance to spend individual time with her, but from what he could see Lisa was a good person, and she genuinely wanted to find someone to share her life with. Of course, at the moment, it didn’t look like things were going her way.

Two weeks into filming, a swarm of corporate type executives descended upon the production. Apparently last season’s “winner” Becky Rosen had broken up with her show-fiancé Chuck Shurley, or he had broken up with her, it was a little hard to tell. Dean only knew that one day the normally laid back host, Charlie, was going toe to toe with one of the executives.

“Well you all should have known the bitch was crazy,” Dean was able to overhear Charlie say during one of his casual eavesdropping sessions. Of course, he was noticed by the producers shortly thereafter and told to move along, so he didn’t have a chance to get any more scoop. It was sad that one of the most interesting things to happen was gossip about a failed relationship from the show he was competing on – that seemed to almost defy logic.

Because so many viewers had been enraptured by the seeming fairy tale of shy, somewhat geeky Becky Rosen falling for what the show billed as the most average of Joes in Chuck, the fallout of their breakup was casting harsh criticism on the show. Fans and critics alike were starting to complain that in all of its seasons, The Bride had yet to produce one successful match. Considering the show was a major revenue and ratings generator for the company, the network brass were determined to make this a successful season, whatever the cost.

They were now four weeks into the production schedule and amazingly Dean still was in the running. He didn’t really know why except that he was a decently attractive man, and he figured either Lisa and/or the suits thought he would be good for ratings. Goodness knows it wasn’t because Dean actively was trying to win the competition. He actually found himself lurking further and further into the background, trying to make himself as unnoticeable as possible on the off chance that he might get to go home. The only advantage to staying for as long as he had – aside from the amazing pool and the all-you-can-eat room service (the pie was amazing!) – was the friendship he was cultivating with Castiel.

It didn’t take long for Dean and Castiel to realize they were kindred spirits in this dog and pony show. They found themselves gravitating toward each other naturally. When they didn’t have to be on set to film a group date sequence, they tended to be in one of their rooms in the bachelor’s house watching cheesy science fiction movies (who knew they both loved Mystery Science Theater 3000?) or playing chess. Both men were born strategists, so it was a true battle of wills to see which one would emerge victorious from their play.

The afternoon found them preparing the board for another game of chess. Unsurprisingly, neither man had been included in the day’s scheduled group date, so the bachelors left behind were left to their own devices at the house.

Dean and Cas quickly found that almost all of the other contestants – except Benny, who sadly was let go in the second week – were not keen on being polite or trying to make friends. Almost all the contestants viewed the others with thinly veiled hostility and distrust. Many of these men had watched previous seasons and saw how some men would pretend to be friendly, only to undercut their new “friend” and get them kicked off because of something told in confidence.

Some of the men were there just to get publicity to try to get discovered and springboard into acting careers. Others signed up for the sheer competition factor and wanted to win for the sake of winning, regardless of the cost. There were two men – Victor Hendrickson and Samandriel Evans – who seemed genuinely interested in Lisa herself. Then, there were Dean and Cas, who could care less about all the lights and cameras, or even about Lisa herself.

The fact that Dean and Cas spent all their free time together did not go unnoticed by the others; it only served to make the other men more leery of the two, thinking they were conspiring to get people kicked off the show – when that was the last thing Dean and Cas wanted. If they wanted anyone kicked off the show, it was themselves, except that would mean they wouldn’t be able to spend time together any more.

As the two men sequestered themselves away from the other cast offs for the day, they took advantage of the fact there were no cameras about. They didn’t have to wear makeup today, they didn’t have to be hooked up to microphones, or worry about if they were blocking the cameraman’s line of site. Castiel was guilty of that the third day of filming. He wasn’t paying attention and ambled across the floor to get a cup of coffee from the nearby craft services table and inadvertently walked in front of a cameraman’s shot. This, of course, caused the director to shriek for production to halt, and everything had to be reset and the scene shot again – thus completely destroying Dean’s illusion of the “reality” of the program.

However, on days when they weren’t near Lisa, the men generally weren’t followed by the camera, something that irked several of the men trying to use this as an opportunity to fame and fortune.

“So, how long ya think we’re going to have to keep up this charade?” Dean asked, as he set his white pieces on the board.

“I don’t know,” Castiel replied evenly, his long, nimble fingers making quick work of setting up his black pieces. “I guess until Lisa decides we aren’t right for her.”

Dean chuffed a laugh. “I wonder if there is some way we can speed up that process. I don’t know how much longer I can take the stink eye from some of these dudes. I think that Walker creep is going to start lacing my coffee with arsenic because Lisa talked to me the other day.”

Castiel looked up from the board and tilted his head to the side. Dean noticed it was something his new friend did often when he was confused about something, and it was far too adorable for a grown man.

“How would he have gotten arsenic to put in your coffee, Dean? Wouldn’t the producers have found that before we started filming?”

Dean stared at the darker haired man in stunned amazement. He knew his friend was socially awkward and didn’t always get his jokes, but he would have thought he would have understood…

“It’s sarcasm, Cas,” Dean said, with a fond roll of his eyes. “I was saying it sarcastically. I don’t think that Gordon actually has arsenic on him. I do think he wants Lisa to dump my ass as soon as possible.”

“I hope you get to stay until after I am gone, Dean,” Castiel said, blue eyes shining with earnest emotions. “I would be lost without you here. It is nice to have a friend to talk to, especially one that I have so much in common with.”

The two looked up at the same time and emerald-green eyes locked with sapphire-blue, and in that moment Dean Winchester realized he was so screwed. He might not have any feelings for Lisa Braedon, but he was starting to think he was more than halfway in love with Castiel Novak.

"Awesome," he groaned subconsciously. 

Chapter Text

The sun was slowly beginning its climb in the morning sky when Dean was first tugging on his sneakers and pulling a baseball cap down low over his eyes. Of all the things he had done and knew would be televised in a matter of a few weeks that he could be embarrassed about, this was the one habit he had picked up that he didn’t want anyone to learn about, especially Sammy. His younger brother would never let him live this down.

Dean was going jogging.

It was a habit his younger brother engaged in regularly, and one that Dean took perverse pleasure in mercilessly teasing his brother about his exercise habits and his healthy eating. Dean needed more than rabbit food to survive, thank you very much. However, in the six weeks he had been on The Bride, he found himself engaging in and enjoying morning jogs. He thought the activity has less to do with health benefits, and more due to the company he usually keeps.

A few days after arriving at what Dean called the Bachelor Batcave, Dean stumbled into the shared kitchen in desperate search for morning coffee. He had to get up at the God-forsaken hour because he was summoned to a group event with Lisa and some of the other contestants. While he stumbled around the kitchen like a zombie, he was taken surprised to see he had company. Castiel was just coming back from a morning run.

Dean would be lying if he said he didn’t almost drool when he saw his friend in navy blue running shorts and a light gray T-shirt, now stuck to his body like a second skin due to sweat. The Winchester was able to pull a few brain cells together to make banal conversation, and found himself volunteering to go for a run with Cas the next morning – starting what now had become their morning routine.

Dean found Cas to be a comforting, strong presence next to him, plus if he hazarded a glance at the other man he had a nice view to keep him moving along. Occasionally, the two would talk about their lives – politics, books, movies, future goals, jobs – but, they also enjoyed a companionable silence.

This morning, however, there was no dark-haired man to run beside him. No easy banter or companionable silence. Dean could have taken advantage of Cas’ absence and have slept in, but he had gotten used to getting up early for a run, and figured he might as well keep it up. After all, as long as all goes as expected, he and Cas will be back to their normal routine the next day.

As the competition continued, the field of potential suitors kept being whittled down. They were now down to just six contestants: Dean, Castiel, Gordon Walker, Luke Milton (called Lucifer by most of his competitors), Victor Hendrickson, and Samandriel Evans. Because of the reduced number of participants, it was getting to the point in the show where Lisa was able to go on duo dates. This gave her a chance to get to know the men vying for her affections in a little more intimate setting, but it still wasn’t a one-on-one situation. Today, she was going for a breakfast date with Cas and Victor. Cas said he was told by a production assistant that they would be gone for most of the morning and possibly some of the afternoon.

Although Dean and Cas still were in the competition, both were surprised they hadn’t been kicked out, yet. To be honest, neither was trying that hard to impress Lisa, especially when they were together. The attraction between the two of them seemed to be building steadily. Many a time Dean found himself staring into his friend’s ocean-blue eyes before he had to shake himself as if he were coming out of a trance. Cas’ eyes weren’t the only thing Dean found himself staring at. The green-eyed man found himself daydreaming too frequently about Cas’ mouth, and what it would feel like to finally press his lips against Cas’ plush mouth. These thoughts were occurring with more frequency, and Dean found himself wondering if he shouldn’t just drop out of the competition. He liked Lisa well enough, she seemed sweet, but there was no spark between them from what he could see. If he were being completely honest with himself – which he rarely was – if he wanted to explore a romantic relationship with anyone, it would be Castiel.

Though Dean thought about leaving the show, he hadn’t taken that step, yet. He never believed he would make it this far, and he certainly didn’t believe he would make it too much further – especially when he could practically see the devotion that Victor had for Lisa. Every time she walked into the room, Victor would light up like a kid on Christmas morning.

Dean smiled fondly as he thought of how the older man who usually was so closed off and stoic, yet when Lisa would shyly glance his way, you could practically see the hearts leap into Victor’s eyes. Dean should have found it disgusting, but it was oddly adorable. He also was fairly certain he often wore a similar expression on his face when Castiel came into a room. Dean was so screwed. He was falling in love with a friend, and he didn’t know what he was more afraid of: Starting a same-sex relationship on a network television program, or losing a fantastic friendship because he was thinking with his downstairs brain more than the upstairs one.

These thoughts were Dean’s companion for the morning’s run. He was so engrossed in his own head that his usually hyper awareness of his surroundings was muted. That’s why a sudden blow to his back took him completely by surprise.

The hit was made by something hard and immediately caused Dean to lose his balance and face plant into the sodden trail beneath him. His breath immediately was knocked out of his body with a pained whoosh, and he had no time to defend himself when another blow came, this one harder and focused on his kidneys.

Dean tried to maneuver himself to shield vital organs from the increasingly violent blows; but, there was no pattern, no time to recover.

“Fucking cocksucker,” he heard a deep voice growl, animalistic and dark. “You think you are going stroll in here and take what is rightfully ours? No fucking fairy is going to take my chance at fame and fortune.”

“Yeah,” the second voice, slightly higher in timber, but no less intimidating seconded. “We may not like each other, but we are united in our chance to get rid of at least one of the queers.”

No stranger to fighting, Dean worked part-time as a bartender to supplement his income as a mechanic, so he had broken up more than a few bar brawls. However, he usually was not blindsided, so that put him at a disadvantage in this situation. Dean kept struggling to get his feet underneath him. He knew if he continued to be pinned to the ground, the beating was going to get more vicious and he was going to lose consciousness – once everything went dark, there was no hope for him to make it out of this in one piece.

The voices continued to taunt him, throwing homophobic taunts at him with each sharp blow. Dean was able to deduce that baseball bats were most likely the weapons of choice in this instance. He also was now able to place the voices of his attackers – Gordon and Luke. He thought there had been something unusual between then for the past two days. Usually the two men couldn’t stand each other, but they started talking more.

Dean should have suspected.

He also should have known his routine was too predictable. He and Cas ran on the same paths every morning without fail. Cas liked the serenity of the trail as it passed by a beautiful lake where ducks usually were gliding lazily in the early morning light. Dean and Cas usually would stop for a few minutes to stretch as a mid-way point and feed the ducks before continuing back to the compound. Because Dean was missing his friend, he had kept to the same route. The only upside to this mess was that Cas wasn’t here. Dean took a brief moment to thank whatever deity that was listening that his friend was safe.

As these thoughts flew through his head, Dean was trying to bring his knees back under his body; if he could do that, he might be able to get some leverage. However, each time he started to make progress, one of his attackers would make a particularly brutal strike and send him flat on his face again.

None of the blows actually hit his face – Luke and Gordon were sadistic and cruel, but they weren’t stupid, they knew if Dean survived this, he would still be a potential competitor and it would be damaging to the show and the network to have a contestant show up with evident bruises. That’s not to say the attackers didn’t hit him in the head, they were just careful to hit the back of the head.

With each blow, Dean felt himself losing the battle. He was struggling, trying to find a way to fight back, but he was pinned beneath their combined weight and the pain from the blows was making it difficult to rally his thoughts. It wasn’t long before Dean started to notice his vision was getting black at the edges, a sure sign that loss of consciousness was soon to follow. He had to laugh, brokenly and mirthlessly, Sammy sent him on the show to find love, and he might have done that, but it might cost him his health and possibly his life.

All the while during the attack, Luke and Gordon kept up a litany of slurs and hate.

“Wish I was in to dick,” Gordon goaded, “might be fun to fill that ass of yours just to take you down off that pedestal a little.”

“Bet the bitch would like it too much,” Luke jeered, letting go with two more rapid fire blows to Dean’s shoulders. “You’d be bigger than what that pussy Novak has in his pants.”

“Freeze!” a new voice called out suddenly, accompanied by two gunshots in the air.

The attackers halted their actions and bolted for the nearby woods, seeking the cover of the nearby trees.

“You two try to go after them,” an unfamiliar female voice said authoritatively, she clearly was someone in charge. “I’ll call for the medics, and possibly an ambulance and wait here with him.”

Dean vaguely heard the crunching of leaves as the two other people, probably security for the show, took off after Luke and Gordon.

Now that the brutal blows had stopped, Dean was aware of just how hard and how badly he had been beaten. The back of his head felt as though he had been hit by a semi-truck. His breathing was labored and pained, he definitely thought he had at least one – possibly more – cracked or broken ribs. There was no place at this point that did not hurt him.

He wanted to tell the security officer what he knew while he still could. He also wanted to warn Cas and the others not to trust the clearly psychotic men.

“C-C-C-Cas,” he choked out. He could barely form the simple mono-syllable word, so great was his pain. As soon as his friend’s name was gasped out, his body was wracked with coughs. As the spasms subsided, Dean felt a warm, metallic trickle out of the corner of his mouth…blood. Shit! Did that mean he had internal bleeding, or had he just bitten down on his cheek or tongue?

“Shh, sweetie,” the female officer’s voice cooed soothingly in his ear. “My name’s Jody Mills. I’m the head of security for the network. You are gonna be okay. Help is on its way.”

Dean fought for consciousness. He needed to keep himself aware. He was so afraid if he slipped into darkness he didn’t know if he would make it up again.

“G’dan. Luke,” he wheezed. “Beat me.”

“Gordon Walker and Luke Milton were the attackers?” the officer queried. “How could you tell? Their faces were covered in masks?”

“Talked,” was all Dean was able to eek out. The pain was intensifying. He could hardly bite out the words, but it was too important to wait.

“They talked while they beat you?” Jody questioned.

“Unnnnhhh,” Dean grunted, hoping the officer would take the non-word as an affirmative.

“Shit,” she swore. Dean heard movement and a moment later he heard static as Jody reached for her radio. “Cole? Gibbons? You read me?”

“Yeah, Jody, whassup?” a male voice crackled back over the line.

“Head back to the compound. You are looking for Walker and Milton, Winchester said they taunted him during the attack and it was definitely them who were responsible.”

“Copy that,” was the response.

In the distance, Dean could hear a siren wailing, cutting through the relative quiet of the trail. The noise almost was soothing to him after the intensity of the beating. He could feel his tenacious grip on consciousness start to fade.

“Dean?” he heard Jody call to him, but her voice was distant, almost as though he were coming from the end of a tunnel. “Ya gotta stay with me kiddo. Don’t go to sleep. We don’t know if you have a concussion or not.”

“S’rry,” he slurred. “Tired.” And, he was. He was tired of fighting to stay awake, not when the dark was so calm and peaceful. Not when the darkness was cool and inviting and free from pain.

He felt the air around him stir in a frenzy of activity as medics started to work to treat his injuries. He was in so much pain and the words around him weren’t making much sense.

“Pulse is thin and reedy,” one voice stated.

“Breath sounds are shallow, intubation may be needed.”

“Dammit, his pressure is dropping, he’s bottoming out!”

He was so tired of fighting. He was ready to just let go.

“S’rry,” he whispered. “S’rry Cas.”

And with those words, he surrendered to the peaceful bliss of the darkness.

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

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.”

Chapter Text

If Castiel thought the wait to hear the latest on Dean’s condition was nerve-wracking, it was nothing compared to the anxiousness he felt at waiting to see the man now that he regained consciousness.

Bouncing on the balls of his feet, Castiel kept muttering under his breath, trying to will the elevator to move faster. Everytime the elevator stopped on the incorrect floor - for other passengers to load on or off - Castiel practically growled his frustration. He wished there was a way he could have just teleported to Dean’s room after Dr. Balthazar informed Castiel and Charlie that the other man was awake. Instead, he was stuck on the slowest moving elevator known to man, with people who had no consideration for the fact that he had somewhere he needed to be about fifteen minutes ago.

“You need to calm the fuck down, Novak,” Charlie hissed under her breath. “You keep acting all crazy and they aren’t going to let you in to see Dean at all. They might even ban you from seeing him during the entirety of his hospital stay.”

Castiel rounded on the petite red-head at that moment. Practically snarling in his frustration, fear, and fatigue.

“Nothing is going to keep me from making sure that Dean is okay,” Castiel vowed. “I just want this stupid hunk of metal to move faster.”

“Well unless you’ve grown wings at some point in the last several hours that I don’t know about, I think you are going to just have to chillax,” Charlie countered.

After what seemed like an eternity, Castiel and Charlie finally arrived at the correct floor. The raven-haired man barely waited for the doors to open, pushing himself through the other people on the car and he vaguely heard Charlie making general apologies on his behalf. That wasn’t of import to him. All that mattered was seeing Dean and knowing he was okay.

Castiel was so intent on getting to the room, he didn’t even notice he’d passed it until he heard a sharp whistle pierce the air from behind. He whipped around to see Charlie standing outside of a room.

“Alright, lover-boy,” she called with a smirk, “unless you are going to visit another boyfriend I don’t know of, Dean’s in this room.”

Too focused to even blush at what the host just insinuated, the blue-eyed man circled back around and went into the door Charlie had just entered and was able to have his first look at his friend since the attack. Castiel’s heart stuttered and his knees felt unsteady when he took in the sight in front of him.

Dean was hooked up to various machines, there were needles and tubes and wires hanging everywhere. Dean’s chest was bare and Castiel was able to see some of bruising from the beating, but large, white swaths of bandages covered most of the damage from his eyes.

“Didn’t know you were so hard up for attention, Winchester. You could have just said you wanted more time on camera,” Charlie tried to joke, but Cas could see the sparkle of unshed tears in her eyes.

Dean quirked his lips slightly in a smile, but none of the customary sparkle was evident in his eyes.

Charlie moved further into the room, composing herself as much as possible, and had taken a seat beside Dean. Castiel found himself rooted to his spot at the door. He couldn’t make himself move, no matter what he tried. He felt so many raw emotions flicker over him in that moment - anger, fear, compassion, horror, dread, denial...love. Leave it to the wonderful timing of Castiel Novak, the most socially awkward of all individuals, to realize he was in love with someone while standing on the precipice of their hospital room.

“Would’ve thought it would have taken a tank to get you out of the competition,” Charlie tried to joke.

“Wasn’t in the competition for her,” Dean murmured. “Thought those asshats would have realized that.”

“Yeah, well, sometimes dudes are just slow on the uptake,” Charlie agreed, glancing over her shoulder to where Castiel still was rooted to the spot. “That’s why I prefer the ladies, we’re just smarter and generally more awesome in all ways.”

“Shut up, bitch, I’m awesome,” Dean grumbled, causing Charlie to give a watery chuckle.

“You scared the hell out of us, Dean,” she admitted, all traces of levity gone from her tone. “I thought it was a sick joke when I originally got the phone call. Too many seasons of this farce and I’ve never cared about a contestant. Go figure, the first time I do, he is the one who gets beaten within an inch of his life.”

“Yeah, well what can I say, I like to shake things up.”

“Cas, you gonna stand there all day or are you gonna come over here and talk to me,” Dean called out finally. “I can’t turn my head that far yet and you just standing there staring is a little creepy, dude.”

Blush creeping over his skin, Castiel was able to break himself out of his stupor and move to Dean’s other side and try to find as comfortable a spot as possible on the hard plastic chair.

“Dude, do they give a discount to hospitals on most uncomfortable chairs ever?” Charlie whined, giving Cas a moment to settle himself and his thoughts. “Seriously where do they find this shit - Lumps of Plastic ‘R Us?”

“Don’t quit your day job, Bradbury,” Dean quips, genuine humor lighting his green eyes for the first time, “you would be horrible at marketing and hospitality.”

“Never,” comes the reply. “I’m a joy to be around. Anyhow, if I wasn’t hosting this dating game, I would be a queen, and you would have to bow down and worship me.”

Both men had to chuckle at that statement, and it brought a sense of normalcy to the interaction. However, Charlie could see that Castiel was struggling with his emotions, and she decided to take pity on the other man.

“Alright,” she drawled, “now that I’ve seen you are awake and functional, Winchester, and not going to shuffle off this mortal coil anytime soon, I am going home and am going to sleep for a year. Just to warn you, some of the studio guys probably will be coming by in a day or so to wrap things up. I’ll keep them away as long as I can, but I’m just a peon on the show, I don’t have any real clout, so you probably will have to deal with them.”

Dean nodded his understanding, closing his eyes briefly against a wave of fatigue that swept over him.

“I’ll come see you tomorrow,” Charlie said, standing slowly. “You take care of yourself.”

“Yes, your majesty,” Dean snarked back at his friend.

“Awww, such a good hand-maiden for me,” she mocked cooed back at him.

“I’m no one’s hand-maiden,” Dean grumbled. “I would be a knight.”

“You keep telling yourself that Deanie,” she jested, leaning over briefly to give him a kiss on the forehead. “Catch ya later, bitches.”

With that, Charlie sailed out of the room, without so much as a backward glance, leaving Castiel and Dean alone together for the first time since the incident.

“You okay, man?” Dean asked, being the first to broach the thick silence that had descended after Charlie’s departure.

Castiel started to say that of course he was fine, when it felt like a dam broke within him. All the fears, the worry, the absolute terror he had felt for the past seventy-five hours came crashing down on him. Before he knew it, he felt himself shaking his head in the negative and felt the hot wetness of tears as they dripped down his face.

“Hey, hey, Cas,” Dean soothed, trying his best to sit up and maneuver around with all his temporary hardware. “C’mere.”

“What?” Castiel’s head shot up at the blatant invitation Dean offered. “Dean, I can’t...I couldn’t.”

“Of course you can,” Dean said, scooting over to make room in the narrow bed for the other man.

Debating with himself for about a minute, Castiel decided he didn’t care anymore. He toed off his loafers and quickly shucked his tan overcoat that he had been wearing since coming to the hospital like a security blanket. He carefully tucked himself into bed next to Dean, both of the careful to get comfortable so that nothing would get jostled or pulled out. It was a tight fit on such a narrow bed for two, fully grown, large men, but they made it work. They both needed it to work.

Once they were settled, Cas felt the tears start to trickle down his face again. His tremors weren’t as bad because he had Dean’s large hands stroking soothing comfort down his spine, reassuring Castiel of the other man’s presence and strength.

“Ya wanna tell me why your face has decided to spring a leak?” Dean asked, joking gently.

“It’s too much,” Castiel choked out.

“What’s too much?” Dean asked, some tension starting to enter his body, even though he continued to stroke comfortingly down Cas’ spine.

“All of it,” Castiel grumbled. He felt like he was sulking like a child, but he felt raw, exposed, vulnerable, none of which he was used to feeling, and it made him uncomfortable.

“Could you be a little more vague there?” Dean retorted mildly.

Cas rolled over to try to look Dean in the face. If he was going to make a complete ass out of himself, he wanted to do it facing Dean, not mumbling into the taller man’s chest. Dean seemed to understand and repositioned himself so they were both eye-level.

“I’m not used to feelings,” Cas began. “It’s one of the reasons I haven’t been in a relationship in so long. I don’t like to share myself with others, I don’t like feeling exposed or vulnerable. I don’t like the disorder that comes from sharing myself with someone else.”

Dean stayed silent, taking in everything the other man was saying, knowing that a lot of Cas’ insecurities and thoughts mirrored his own.

“For the past seventy-five hours, I have been assaulted with every emotion possible. It is like I have had my whole life’s worth of repressed emotions come crashing down on me, and I am helpless to stop it,” Castiel said, voice cracking slightly, but he was determined to get this all out.

“I don’t think you know what you do to me, Dean Winchester. Over the past several weeks, you have turned my entire world upside down. I have tried to put these feelings out of my head, have tried to keep them neatly categorized, but every time I think I succeed and shore up my defense walls, you do something that makes another crack in the exterior.

“I find myself wanting to let you in, wanting you to break down my defenses, but that scares the hell out of me. I didn’t come on this ridiculous show to try to find love. I don’t believe in finding love on reality dating shows. There is no way I ever believed you can find what your heart truly desires in an artificial environment. Yet, here I am. I have been fighting this for weeks. I have known that my heart was getting too emotionally attached. I knew there was a danger, but I kept diving in. I couldn’t stay away. The more I learned about you, the more I wanted to know.

“I learned more about you, and myself, from our late night talks, than I have ever known about anyone in any relationship I attempted. I kept saying it was infatuation. I kept saying that I should get over it, I didn’t know if it was possible for you to feel the same way, too.

“Then, when I was on that God-awful breakfast date with Lisa and Victor, I kept saying to myself “Why am I here? I have no interest in this woman. I don’t want to be here.’ But, I did want to be here, I wanted to be here, because you were here. I didn’t care what Lisa was saying because she didn’t interest me half as much as you did. As I sat at that breakfast table, I realized that despite my thoughts and prejudices, I had fallen in love on a reality dating show - just not with the person that I was supposed to.

“Right when I started to have that mini-freak out, Charlie came over and told us that you had been hurt, and my world felt like it had fallen out from underneath me. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t think. The only thing that kept playing over in my mind was that I blew it, that I had a chance and I missed it because I was too much of a coward. I had been so afraid to let myself feel, and to take a chance that I might have missed out on the best thing that could happen to me.

“I’ve been pacing the waiting room like a caged animal. No one wanted to let me up to see you because I’m not family. I couldn’t even say that I was your boyfriend, because I don’t know if you feel the same about me, or if you could even see us as being together. I have been so scared for all this time, and now it’s like everything inside of me has cracked and I can’t harness my feelings and everything is just spilling out, and I am making a complete ass of myself, and this is too much to dump on you all at once, I should at least wait until you are up and moving. I should let you rest and heal and not have to worry about my freak outs, and….”

Cas’ diatribe and (not so) minor freak out were stopped abruptly when Dean crashed his mouth into his, stopping the words from flowing and swallowing down every doubt that Cas was trying to express.

The kiss was short, but served the purpose to calm the blue-eyed man down, and give him something more pleasant to focus on.

“I’ve been kinda freaking out, too,” Dean admitted, nuzzling his nose gently at the underside of Cas’ chin, enjoying the three days’ scruff that had accumulated. “I’m awful at relationships, I always seem to find a way to muck it up, and I’ve been enjoying our friendship so much, I didn’t want to risk it by pushing for something more - even if that is what I wanted.”

Castiel lay there for a minute, enjoying the soothing sensations of Dean’s hand, continuing to rub down his back, and pressing himself ever closer to the man beside him. Yes, they were in a hospital, but right now, he had never been happier.

“So, you don’t want a chance with Lisa?” Castiel asked, needing the reassurance of hearing Dean say this out loud.

“I’m terrible at communicating,” Dean said with a sigh. He shifted slightly to get more comfortable, and winced when his actions pulled on one of his IV lines. “I can’t always talk about how I am feeling, but I can say that I never was interested in Lisa. The only thing that has kept me trying for the past several weeks, has been the opportunity to spend more time with you.”

Castiel leaned his head back slightly to take in the other man’s expression. He saw nothing but sincerity radiating out of the jade-green eyes in front of him.

“Good,” Castiel responded, pressing a string of kisses along Dean’s jaw line. “‘Cause I think as soon as you get out of here, we have a show to withdraw from and lots of exploring to do to make up for lost time.”

Dean’s face lit up with happiness at the look on Castiel’s face, but he wanted to proceed with some caution.

“So,” Dean said, clearing his throat nervously, “We are really going to do this? Be together? Boyfriends? Partners? Whatever lameass name you want to give us?”

Castiel swatted him lightly on his less injured shoulder, diving in for another brief kiss, before whispering in the other man’s ear,

“You should know by now that you’re the one that I want.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Dean scowled at his reflection in the mirror. He couldn’t believe he got roped into this dog and pony show - again!

For two weeks, Charlie and Castiel kept the smarmy television executives away from the hospital while the Winchester recovered from his injuries. Secure in his bubble, insulated from the scandal outside the hospital doors, Dean had been able to recover from his injuries, and maybe fall a little more in love with Castiel. The two had something. But, part of Dean wasn't used to good things happening to him, and was wondering when it was all going to hell.

The truth was Dean wasn’t sure what was going on between him and the gorgeous blue-eyed man who had become his best friend. That was a lie, he knew his feelings, he was pretty much gone on the other man. He knew Castiel felt something for him, but he kept debating to himself whether it was just infatuation on both of their parts. After all, during the filming they had been attached at the hip, maybe it would be different in the harsh light of day.

And, Dean Winchester was man enough to admit he was afraid...afraid of opening himself so completely to another - giving them the power to destroy him with a single word. He always had safeguarded his heart from those outside his immediate family, and that plan had worked to this point. Of course, he had never met someone quite like Castiel Novak.

In a frighteningly short amount of time, Castiel had wormed his way into the cockles of Dean’s heart, wormed past all his usual defenses, and had taken up residence in a spot that no one else ever had entered. If was glorious - it was petrifying.

Looking himself over again, he felt more nervous than he had at fifteen going on his first date.

“Jesus, Winchester,” he grumbled to himself. “Try to act a little more lovestruck why don’t ya?”

“Not possible, boss,” a new voice chirped behind him.

Dean would deny to his dying day that he screamed like a girl at his surprise. It would be another lie, but that was his story and he was sticking to it.

“Charlie!” he exclaimed, trying to bring his galloping heart back to a more normal pace. “Are you trying to put me back in the hospital?”

“Low blow, Dean-O,” the petite redhead returned, calling him out on his obvious guilt tactic.

Dunking his head in remorse, Dean gave his best impression of a kicked puppy and when he glanced back up, he saw the anger drained from Charlie’s face, leaving only exasperated fondness.

“Sorry, Char,” he said sincerely. “I’m just worked up. I don’t want to go back out there and have to talk to all those assholes again.”

“Not all of them are dicks,” Charlie responded. “Well, most all of them have dicks, but I think there is only one you would really be interested in.”

Dean could feel the blush that rushed over his face. He hadn’t blushed since he was a teenager; but, then again, there were very few people who could be as blunt and crass as his new friend. Perversely, he admired that about her. She kept him on her toes.

“How do you know I’m not gonna go out there and profess my undying love and fealty to you, my Queen?” Dean retorted.

“Shut up, bitch, I already know I’m awesome and you would lay before my feet,” Charlie said, pushing off from the doorway where she had been standing. “And even though I have eyes and can admit that you are an attractive man, unless you decided to grow lady parts, you’ll just have to settle for my charming friendship.”

Dean rolled his eyes fondly and he wrapped his arms around the television host in a warm hug.

“I’m glad you’re here,” Dean confessed, trying to calm his frantic nerves. “I so don’t want to do this. Remind me why I have to do this again?”

Charlie gazed up at the taller man and quickly read true reticence and fear. She had done this gig long enough that she was a good judge of character. As such, she could tell that Dean wasn’t just worried to go out and expose himself on television; he was worried about losing something much more precious.

“Because until those assholes get a true conclusion to this season of The Bride, they technically own your ass….and Cas’,” she said sadly.

Dean pulled away and just barely resisted the urge to run his hand through his carefully coiffed hair. It wouldn’t do for his frustration to ruin what he worked so hard to get right; but, this whole thing was just insane.

Yes, Charlie and Castiel had been able to insulate Dean from all the off-screen drama while he recuperated in the hospital, but the moment he exited the building all bets were off.

As soon as he was wheeled out of the exit, he no sooner got his first breath of fresh air when flashbulbs started going off in his eyes. The mainstream media had descended en masse and was swarming like a hive of angry bees, like vultures who sensed weakness and were just waiting for their prey to drop.

Turns out that news of Dean’s injuries had been something the television company hadn’t been able to keep under wraps. It was the first time in the show’s controversial history that two individuals had been arrested for aggravated assault and attempted murder, and there was no way the production crew could keep a lid on that information from going viral.

The only thing that stopped the predators from storming the hospital to interrogate Dean was an injunction that Sam Winchester had been able to instigate. Sam had been called, as Dean’s emergency contact, the moment he was admitted to the hospital. Although Sam was unable to get away, he did everything in his legal power as an attorney to ensure his brother’s safety. Charlie and Castiel helped take care of the rest from their end.

All this attention left the executives and producers of The Bride in a prickly situation. Obviously they couldn’t continue the season as originally planned. They were heartless bastards, but they realized pushing the competition forward when no one’s heart still seemed to be in it was futile, and would only hinder ratings,in the long run. But, they couldn’t end the season so abruptly - especially since the scandal would help to make this true must see television.

As such, Dean, Castiel, Samandriel, Victor, and Lisa were called in to a meeting three days after Dean’s release from the hospital. The competition would effectively be over, but the remaining contestants would agree to a talk show forum for a final episode to discuss everything the cameras hadn’t captured.

Dean and Castiel sat side-by-side, thigh-to-thigh, and due to their close proximity Dean felt the tension that began to radiate in Cas’ body.

“Why would we do this?” Castiel asked tightly, trying not to grind his teeth together in his rage.

“Because,” the head executive, Zach something or other replied, sneaky grin on his face, “when you signed on for the show you signed a contract and if you do not fulfill the full terms of the contract, you would be in breach of said document and we would own your ass.”

“You don’t think that we have all been through enough, especially Dean, with this farce?” Castiel retorted. Dean could feel the anger rising in his friend, and subtly moved his hand to place it against Cas’ thigh to provide focus and to bring him back from his anger.

Zach’s eyes tracked the small motion, and a lascivious gleam in his eyes. “We only want what you agreed to in the beginning.”

“Let us talk about it among ourselves, without you present,” Victor suddenly entered the fray. “Whatever happens needs to be something that the five of us are comfortable with. Wait for us and we will tell you our decision.”

Zach blinked in confusion, obviously not expecting the blatant dismissal he had just been given. He gaped like a fish out of water for a few seconds before standing with a huff and stalking out of the room.

“Now that the douche is gone, let’s talk about what we want to do,” Victor said, gentle authority in his voice.

*****

After a few hours of deliberation, the remaining participants agreed they would appear on a final episode of the program to provide closure. Their only condition was that Charlie be the one to moderate and that none of them had to answer any question they were uncomfortable with.

The studio reluctantly agreed to the provisions, and plans were completed to film the final segment. That was how Dean found himself standing in his former bedroom at the bachelor house, trying not to hyperventilate as he talked to Charlie.

“This is a really bad idea, Red,” he said for what felt like the thousandth time. “It’s bad enough I have to go out there and talk about all the shit that Lucifer and Gordon did to me, but to try to do this romantic crap. Fuck! I’m Dean Winchester, I’m not supposed to do chick-flick moments.”

Charlie gaped at him for several seconds, shocked that he still didn’t believe that Castiel was as much head over heels for him as he was for the darker-haired man.

“Idiots,” she murmured under her breath.

“What’s that?” Dean asked, spinning back around to face her.

“C’mon man,” Charlie tried to hype him up. “You’ve so got this. Have you seen your ass? What gay guy or straight chick wouldn’t want to tap that?”

“Don’t objectify me,” Dean said churlishly, crossing his arms over his chest almost as a way to shield himself from her prying gaze.

“Nut up, Winchester,” Charlie said putting herself directly in Dean’s personal space. “I’ll make you a bet, if Castiel isn’t as gooey eyed over you as you are about him, I will give you half of my salary from this season of the show.”

“Seriously?” Dean questioned, green eyes sharply assessing the truth from his friend.

“Totally,” she vowed. “You have so got this. After tonight, we probably won’t see you guys for a week ‘cause you’ll be going at it like bunnies.”

Dean felt himself flushing with that thought, but all he said was, “I don’t know if I feel comfortable with the thought of you picturing me and Cas having sex.”

Charlie shrugged and she started to haul him toward the door. “I’m only human, and while I may not swing your way, doesn’t mean I can’t get off and appreciate a good show at the same time.”

Dean wrinkled his nose in distaste, but opted not to make any additional comments on the matter.

Within moments, he found himself being situated on a sleek black, leather sofa next to Castiel. The blue-eyed man looked as uncomfortable as Dean felt. Quickly Dean let his eyes roam over the other man’s form - he’d forgotten how good Cas looked in a suit, and the deep blue tie Castiel was wearing just went to accentuate his sapphire blue eyes.

Yeah, Dean thought, as he finished his assessment of the other man, he was so done for.

Things moved quickly after Dean came out. All five remaining contestants were situated and were waiting for this catastrophe to be over. As Dean looked at the remaining group, he couldn’t help but notice that Lisa and Victor were huddled a little closer to each other, and that small, affectionate touches were being traded between the two.

Almost as though he could sense someone watching them, Victor raised his eyes to meet Dean’s. For a brief second, a hardness entered Victor’s chocolate-brown stare, almost daring Dean to do something. Dean silently chuckled to himself at the other man’s show of possession and aggression. Slowly, so as not to draw too much attention to himself, Dean shook his head “no,” and just mouthed silently “congrats man.”

Victor looked momentarily surprised, almost waiting for some sarcasm, or for Dean to take a shot to win Lisa for himself. Whatever he saw in the golden-green gaze convinced him that Dean was being earnest, which caused Victor to relax, fractionally, and nod his head slightly in acknowledgment.

Dean couldn’t help but grin. He may not have gotten to know Victor that well, but the older man seemed to be a good sort. What’s more, he genuinely seemed to have affection for Lisa. Regardless of what his own ending would be, Dean was happy that maybe, just maybe, something good would come out of the clusterfuck that had been this season of the show.

Turning his attention back to the proceedings, Dean noticed that Charlie had taken her seat and she was miked and ready to begin the recording. Realizing it literally was show time, Dean felt his palms start to sweat with nerves and was trying everything in his power to keep the pinched, constipated look off his face, while stopping his leg from bouncing up and down in his anxiety.

Not daring to look next to him at Castiel, Dean tried to keep all his attention focused solely on Charlie. He wasn’t paying close attention to her words, just listening to the rather soothing cadence of her voice.

Before filming began, Charlie sat down with the group as a whole and told them what she was going to say. The producers wanted her to acknowledge the assault on Dean, but mention in a way so there didn’t appear to be negligence on the studio’s part. The executives were worried about nothing so much as covering their own asses and trying to boost ratings.

After she brought the audience up to speed, she was going to go around the room and ask the contestants a few final questions and give them a chance to weigh in on the events. The legal team had explained extensively to Dean and Castiel that they should try their hardest not to blame the studio or the program for Dean’s injuries. Although both men privately seethed at the veiled order, they agreed nothing would be gained by insulting the production team and the security staff, who ultimately did save Dean’s life.

Jarring himself back to the here and now, Dean tuned in just in time to hear Charlie say, with a wicked twinkle in her eye, “Dean, why don’t you start us out? What do you think you’ll take away from this experience.”

He smirked back at her, trying to reign in his knee jerk response to say, “a new found appreciation for hospital food.”

“Oh, I don’t know, Charlie,” he drawled, allowing his voice to assume a deeper tenor than usual, making his mid-Western accent slightly more noticeable. “The one thing I would say is that I am never letting my brother talk me into anything while I’m drunk again.”

There were some chuckles from the other people in the studio, and Dean noticed that Castiel’s shoulders were shaking along with his quiet laughter. Dean hoped he would get a chance to explore every facet of the other man’s expressions after today.

“Nothing else?” Charlie prompted. Dean didn’t miss the spark of anger in her light brown eyes. He could almost swear there was a telepathic link between the two of them at the moment for he heard in his head her saying “Don’t fuck this up, Winchester. Take your shot, Ice Man.” Why Charlie would be quoting Top Gun to him, he didn’t know, but that is what he heard.

“No, there is something else,” he said, nerves flying back to the surface. He took a deep breath and decided it was now or never. If ever there was a reason to make a potential ass in front of twenty million people, he guessed Castiel was the best one.

“When I came here, I admit I was cynical about the whole process. I don’t often consider myself a romantic, but I guess I am at heart. I didn’t understand how someone could come into a controlled environment and be thrown together with someone at random and hope the seeds of love would grow. That seemed impractical to me. I have lived twenty-eight years on this planet, and even out there, I’ve never seen people fall in love in only a few weeks. I guess this show proved me wrong.”

Dean could tell his words surprised everyone surrounding him, except Charlie who practically was beaming. Next to him, Dean felt Castiel tense up, his body, which had been somewhat relaxed while Dean was talking was suddenly tense, like he was waiting for the right moment to bolt.

“I know for people watching on the other side of the camera, they will find it difficult to believe that love can grow in these controlled conditions. I was like them, too. But, I found that when given time to talk to someone, to learn about them, and to really listen, it isn’t hard to find that piece of you that is missing.

“The only thing I don’t know, for sure, is if the other person feels the same way about me. We’ve talked about everything over our time here, books, movies, family, politics, religion. We may not always be on the same page, but we have a lot in common, and I find the ways in which we do differ, make us work even better with one another.

“I probably would never have been this bold, never have wanted to take this risk if it wasn’t for me getting hurt. But, I realized as I was recovering that I needed to live each day to the fullest. So, this is me saying carpe diem and seizing my moment.”

Dean turned fully in his place on the couch so that he was fully facing Castiel. This was the first time he looked at the other man since he started talking. For a brief moment, Dean was stunned. Castiel’s normally bright blue eyes, were cold and dull; there was none of his customary joy shining through. There were tight lines forming at the corners of his eyes and his mouth, as though he was suffering through an endless torment and was fighting desperately not to scream in rage or agony. His hands were balled into tight fists at his sides, curled so tightly into themselves that the knuckles were white and Dean would swear he could see Castiel’s fingernails piercing the tender skin and causing blood to well to the surface.

Had Dean been mistaken this whole time? Would Castiel reject him, humiliate him on national television.

“Devil hates a coward,” Dean muttered to himself, not remembering the microphone pinned to his lapel probably was able to pick up every word he said.

“Cas, I don’t know how else to say this, but that you are the one that I want,” Dean began again, causing the other man to jerk his head up in surprise, “I don’t know about you, but I have learned more about you in these past several weeks than I have about any of my previous partners. I know that you are a good man. I know that you are a weird, dorky little guy who finds endless ways to make me smile. You know Vonnegut and Kerouac as well as anyone I have ever met. Our conversations are never boring, and I find myself challenged by you in ways that I never thought I would find in a potential significant other.

“I know there is a lot that I know about you, but there is a lot that I don’t know, but if you would like to, I would like to spend more time getting to learn about what I don’t know. Sure, it will be hard, and we’ll have to figure out how to visit one another and what not, but if you are willing, I, oof - “

Dean never had a chance to finish his sentence, as he suddenly had a lap full of six-foot tall dark-haired beauty. Castiel’s mouth fastened on to Dean’s and attacked with a passion that Dean wouldn’t have known the other man was capable of.

They didn’t know how long they continued kissing one another, breaking apart for a moment here and there to say little endearments to the other, but after a few seconds, minutes, who knows, they both became aware of the catcalls and cheers coming from behind them. Breaking apart suddenly, the two men came back to reality, realizing they had just make quite the spectacle on television.

“I told you both that you had nothing to fear,” Charlie crowed triumphantly, looking like the cat that swallowed the canary.

Dean and Castiel both exercised extreme restraint not to flip her off during the taping.

Everyone else started to speak about their time together, and Victor and Lisa admitted they were considering pursuing their relationship post-show also. All-in-all it had been a successful season for the program, with two matches secured.

As Charlie wrapped up everything, she asked if any of the guests had anything else to say.

“Gabriel and Sam,” Castiel intoned gravely, “if you are watching this, just because you were right on this doesn’t mean that you can ever put us through anything like this again. If you do, we will hurt you.”

Dean threw his head back and laughed at his boyfriend’s comment, leaning over to give him another peck on the cheek - because he could now.

“You know,” Dean said conspiratorially, “we could always send Charlie over to spend a few weeks with them, she’d probably drive them insane in the first week.”

“I heard that Winchester,” Charlie snarked back. “Just for that, you are off my Christmas card list.”

“Oh no,” Dean said, feigning hurt and putting his hand over his heart, “whatever shall we do.”

Charlie assessed the two men in front of her, both radiating more happiness than anyone she ever had seen in her seasons as a host, and she felt all her snark fade away.

“Just be sure you invite me to the wedding.”