It was another few days (according to nurse Lisa, Dean had no idea, it seemed like forever) before Castiel started to show signs he was slowly waking up. When he'd wake up exactly was unpredictable, just like what the effects of the head injury were. Dean felt – and probably looked – like hell, his eyes were sore and dry, his head constantly felt like it was about to burst, his back hurt from the uncomfortable chairs in the hospital. He just wanted to get the hell out of this hospital, but at the same time he knew that wouldn't be possible just yet. Cas had to wake up first, and then they'd have to see what damage had been done.
Dean had used Sam's laptop to google head injuries and the results had been unsettling. Traumatic brain injury was just a posh word for a concussion, but common symptoms of head injury included coma, personality change, seizures... what if Cas ended up a completely different person? Sam had found him researching 'brain injury' on Google and had stopped him from reading after he read out that traumatic brain injury a major cause is of death and disability is worldwide. Afterwards, Dean had walked to the hospital's chapel, lighting a candle for Cas and then sitting down to pray for the first time since he could remember.
'Erm… I don't really know how to start. I guess I'll just say hi? It's Dean Winchester. I know we're not on the best of terms and that I blaspheme all the time, sorry about that. I'm not praying for myself though, or maybe in a way I am. I'm praying for Castiel. He's in the hospital, he's got a serious head injury and he's not waking up. Please, god, please, I'm begging you, bring Cas back. He's a good guy, a great friend and the best husband anyone could ever ask for. I hope you don't mind that, well, you know, we're gay and got married and all that. Seriously though, Cas doesn't deserve this. He's good, he doesn't have a bad cell in his body and the world is a better place with him in it. Please bring Cas back to me.'
After finishing his prayer, Dean opened his eyes slowly, hoping god would listen and help him out. He got to his feet with a slow shake of his head. Him, praying. Wow, he really was desperate. He walked back to the room to find Sam curled up in a chair, study book in his lap, fast asleep. He carefully grabbed the book before it fell to the ground and sat down in the other chair, flipping through the pages. It was no wonder Sam had fallen asleep, this stuff was boring as hell. It reminded him of something however. People always said that talking to people in a coma would help, didn't they? Cas might not be in a coma, but it could be worth a shot.
'Hey Cas, it's me, Dean. I really hope you'll wake up soon, life is really shitty without you. I miss you so much, baby. I just wish you were here with me, you always –' Dean had to swallow around the lump in his throat, rubbing the back of his neck, feeling embarrassed, 'you always find a way to calm me down, and right now I'm nowhere near calm. Haven't been since I heard what happened to you. I love you so much, Cas, I can't even imagine what life would be like without you. I miss you, baby. I don't want to go home because I know you won't be there. Oh and Sam called Gabriel yesterday to tell him what happened, he's hoping to stop by soon to see you and he'd call Lucifer. Mom's one of your nurses, so you're in really good hands here. Sam's here as well, he fell asleep whilst studying for one of his courses. You should see him, he's all sprawled out over a chair that looks really uncomfortable. Oh, I just realized something. I should probably bring you some books, and some clean clothes and stuff like that… I'll get you a stack of your favourite books when I next go home. Dammit Cas, I need you to wake up. I need you.' Dean had to blink away some tears, realizing just how much he loved, and missed, and needed his Cas.
After a lot of convincing from Mary and Sam, Dean went home that evening, to take a proper shower, do some laundry and gather some things for Cas. After a quickly thrown together dinner he sat down on the couch and looked around. There were memories in every single thing in the living room. How they'd argued about which tv to buy, if they really needed that bluray player, the books sharing the shelves with dvds and cds. The most hideous couch they could find, which also happened to be the most comfortable one. The frames containing a poster of Van Gogh's Starry Night with the T.A.R.D.I.S. in it, next to a Led Zeppelin poster, next to a very grudgingly put up exploding T.A.R.D.I.S poster. Dean wasn't much of a Doctor Who fan, but Cas was. With another deep sigh he put his head in his hands. It was their home, but without Cas, it was just a house.
After a fitful night of sleep and a long shower, Dean found himself sitting at Cas' bed once again, feeling a little bit better than before. When a nurse came to check on Castiel, he was faced with a surprise however. 'He should be waking up in the next few hours,' nurse Lisa informed him. He called Sam, who came over immediately, and sent a text to Gabriel to let him know as well. Mary came to check on them soon after the other nurse left, delighted with the information that Cas would be waking up soon. She sat with him through her break, looking at the books he'd brought and making general small talk until Sam came in and she had to go back to work.
Castiel woke up feeling groggy, he didn't want to open his eyes against the harsh light and wondered where on earth he was. Why had Gabriel left the curtains open? Generally, when Gabe left for work earlier than Castiel had to leave for his university classes, he'd close the curtains before leaving so Castiel could get some more sleep. With a groan he tried to open his eyes after all, confused with the scene that faced him. There were unfamiliar people staring at him, one of them too close for his comfort – and, he realized, holding his hand, asking him things. Looking around he recognized the white walls and too harsh light as belonging in a hospital. He tried to open his mouth to ask what on earth was going on, but no sound would come out. A nurse – Mary, her nametag read – gave him a cup of water with a straw, so he could drink some water. Panic started to settle in. Where was he? Why was he in a hospital? Who were all these people? It became harder to breathe and Castiel longed back for the darkness and rest of sleep.
Mary pressed the call button soon after Castiel woke up, seeing the panic form in his eyes. She told Dean and Sam to give Castel some room, and when the doctor came in and demanded they left the room, she dragged them out.
'It's good to see you awake, Castiel, I am doctor Milton, but you can call me Anna. You're probably confused as to where you are and what's going on. Let me clear some things up for you, you're in Lawrence Memorial Hospital, you were in an accident and ended up here because of a head injury. Now that you're awake, we can do some tests to see what the results are of this. Can I get you anything whilst I go and get these tests ready?' the redheaded nurse asked. Castiel shook his head, still trying to wrap his head around everything. 'I'll let your friends back in then, and take it easy for now, okay?' she said before opening the door and leaving. His friends? He'd never seen these people before! Where was Gabriel?!
As Dean zoned out on the talk between his mother and Castiel's doctor, his eyes returned to the room Cas was in. He just wanted to see him, just wanted to make sure he was okay. '… he seems to be a bit confused for the moment, but that's understandable after being out of it for so long. He'll be a bit clearer later on today. Don't ask too much of him, give him some space and try not to wear him out, okay, Dean?' Dean turned back to the doctor in front of him at the mention of his name. 'Go easy on him, Dean, I mean it,' the doctor repeated before turning around and leaving.
When the door opened, it revealed the unfamiliar men from earlier and the nurse that had been there as well. The nurse checked things all around him, monitors, drips and the likes. 'Cas?' the mention of his name drew his attention to the green eyed man next to him, still too close. The man's hand hovered above his, not touching just yet. 'Cas, how are you feeling?' Cas closed his eyes for a moment, feeling so confused. 'I'm alright, I think,' he replied, still unsure how to approach this situation, 'but can I ask you something?' The man nodded, looking at him expectantly. 'Who are you?'
Dean hadn't thought he could ever actually feel his heart break, but this question broke his heart. Castiel didn't know who he was. After all the years they spent together, everything they'd been through together, Castiel didn't remember him, his husband. Before panic completely overtook him, Dean took a deep breath and tried to face the situation. 'My name is Dean, this is my brother Sam, and the nurse fidgeting with the stuff around your bed is my mom, Mary. Cas, what do you remember?'
'I remember going to bed in the apartment I share with my brother Gabriel. How did I end up here?'
Dean had to get out of the room. Right the fuck now. Before he got up, however, Sam had thrown him the keys to the Impala, giving him a way out and a broken look in his eyes as well. 'Go, Dean. We'll handle this and we'll keep you updated.' Sam barely got to finish his sentence before his brother was out of the room, running down the hallway, the stairs and out of the hospital. When he arrived at the Impala he couldn't get the key in. It took him several tries before he managed to get the key into the door. The same problem occurred with trying to insert the key to start the car. His hands were shaking too badly. Once the comforting purr of the car filled his ears, Dean drove off.
It wasn't until nearly two hours later that Dean stopped, somewhere on a dead end dirt road in the middle of nowhere, well out of Lawrence, well away from Castiel. He leant his head on the steering wheel and realized he was crying and had been for a while. That explained the blurriness of his vision. Closing his eyes to try and stop the tears from escaping, Dean focused on his breathing, trying to keep calm and failing. He leant back and hit the steering wheel a few times, but it didn't make him feel better. If anything it made him feel worse, his baby didn't deserve this kind of treatment. Even if his life had gone to hell. Mumbling a small apology to the car he sat back and checked his phone. Sam had left him a voicemail and a few texts.
'Hey Dean, it's me, Sam. Castiel seems to have a type of memory loss that is called retrograde amnesia. This means he doesn't remember anything that's recent before the accident. His last memories seem to be from before you met, before he was kicked out of the family. This is pretty common for amnesia, the older the memories, the better they are preserved. He's just… well he's missing the last seven and a half years. There's no way to predict how this is going to go, his memories might come back, they might not come back, they might partially come back. You know the brain is fragile and that prognosis is really hard when it comes to that. I'm so sorry, Dean, I really am. Give me a call if or when you want to talk, I'm here for you, you hear me?'
Memory loss. Amnesia. Seven and a half years… how could this be happening? Why was this happening? This is the kind of thing that happens in movies and things always end well and people are happy. This doesn't happen in real life!?
But it does. And it did. To Cas, to his beautiful, beautiful Cas. His husband, his best friend, his roommate, his partner. His everything. All the memories they had together were now his memories, because Cas no longer had them.
The long haired man that called himself Sam stayed with Castiel. There was this nagging feeling at the back of his throbbing head that told him he knew this guy.
'Erm, Cas? Dean left these books here for you a few days ago, just in case you wanted to read something.' Castiel looked over to the pile of books on the nightstand next to him. He was glad to see that at least these people knew some things about him, though at the same time it freaked him out a little. He was beyond glad to see the full Lord of the Rings trilogy amongst some books he didn't recognize. He frowned at the books labelled 'Torchwood' which seemed well read, broken spines and the likes.
He let the books for what they were for the moment, still trying to sort through all the information he'd been given. He had no idea how he ended up in the hospital. Or what happened in the past seven years. Not remembering the accident was normal. Missing seven years? Not so much. He'd been asked a standardized set of question, name, date of birth, who's the president, stuff like that. When he replied with George W. Bush he got some strange looks and a specialist was called. The preliminary diagnosis 'retrograde amnesia' was written down on his chart. Not long after, doctor Milton left him alone with Sam.
It was 2013, a guy named Obama was president, had been since 2008. His last memory was somewhere halfway through 2005, and an insignificant one at that. Going to bed after listening to Gabriel moan about his boss, about how being an intern was terrible and how much his life sucked. He wondered where Gabriel was now, or any of his family, for that matter. Why were these strangers here and his family wasn't?
'Oh. Yeah… do you mind waiting until Dean comes back around for any questions? He knows you better than I do and he will have a lot more answers than me.' Castiel hadn't realized he'd voiced his question, but this reply just made him more confused and sulky. He opted for nodding instead of replying, which got an him overly happy (and utterly unnecessary) grin. Castiel decided he might as well try to read for a bit, if this guy wasn't going to give him answers, there wasn't much point in talking anyway. He opted for the first Lord of the Rings book, a little wary of the books he didn't recognize.
It was another hour before Dean felt calm enough to drive without totalling the Impala. He took his time driving back to the hospital, trying to come up with a way to break several things to Cas. Like what had happened with the Novak family, the fact they were married and had been together for the last seven years. Or that Cas had pretty much been adopted by the Winchester family. And what about the Roadhouse clients, who were pretty much family too, and how they'd been asking about him.
There were so many things Cas wouldn't remember, Dean seriously needed to work on his patience if he was going to deal with this. Which he was, he had to. He couldn't leave Cas behind, not ever, but especially not now. He'd have a lot of research to do, he had no idea what retrograde amnesia entailed, all he had to go on was the information Sam had given him. Once he parked the Impala, he took a deep breath. He could do this, he could deal with this.
Before he made his way upstairs he got himself, Cas and Sam some coffee. Black for himself, cappuccino with two sugars for Cas, macchiato for Sam. Walking into Cas' room, he found Cas sleeping, a Lord of the Rings book on his chest. Sam was busy typing away on his laptop. 'How is he?' Dean whispered, startling his brother.
'Confused, grumpy, silent.' Sam then noticed the cups of coffee. 'Oh, you hero. I've been gasping for some coffee, but didn't want to leave Cas alone.' Handing Sam his coffee, Dean shot a look at the laptop; a Wikipedia page on retrograde amnesia. He then noticed the notepad Sam had been taking notes on. 'I thought I'd save you some research, I wrote the most important things down for you,' Sam said, following Dean's gaze, before handing him the notepad.
'Thanks, that's great actually,' Dean replied as he took a seat next to Sam and took the notepad before skimming through the text. Retrograde Amnesia is often temporally graded, this is consistent with Ribot's law.
Dean frowned. 'Sam, what the fuck is Ribot's law?'
Sam chuckled before explaining. 'It means that people are more likely to lose recent memories, as in the ones that are closer to the incident, than memories that are older. This is because older memories are easier to recall, they strengthen over time. As in, they are recalled more often and in more different ways, so there are more pathways leading to that memory.'
'Kinda like "all roads lead to Rome"?' Dean asked, confused as to what Sam was getting at. Sam nodded enthusiastically.
The most commonly affected areas are associated with episodic memory. Episodic memory is the memory of autobiographical events that can be explicitly stated, like a wedding, a graduation, things like that.
'Okay, so older memories are more likely to… erm, survive trauma, and the memories about stuff that happened to you, like your life story, are less likely to survive trauma? So what would be likely to survive trauma?' Dean asked, summarizing what he'd just read out loud to see if he'd gotten it.
'Semantic memory generally survives trauma. That refers to the memory of meanings and understandings, stuff like knowing how to ride a bike is semantic. Remembering who taught you and where and things like that are episodic again. As for your other question, yes, older memories are more likely to survive, but in general your "life story" memories, as you put it, are susceptible to trauma.' Sam explained, very glad he'd taken some neurological classes on the side. Otherwise he wouldn't have been able to make any sense of all these terms.
Going back to the summary Dean read something about tests and treatment, but decided he could harass the doctors about that, so there was no need to read any more right now. He got up and walked to the window, looking up at the – fittingly – grey sky. Looks like it's going to rain, he thought as he sighed deep.
Castiel woke up to people whispering. After a while he opened his eyes to see that – what was his name again? Dan? Dave? – had returned and noticed the smell of coffee hanging in the air.
'Hey, welcome back. Dean brought you some coffee as well if you're feeling up for it,' the dark haired man told him, pointing at his nightstand. The other man – Dean, he reminded himself – turned around to face him.
'I assume you've got a lot of questions. I'll answer those which I can. And… I should probably apologize for running off like that. So, I'm sorry.' Castiel nodded to acknowledge the apology and thought on what question he'd ask first. There were so many to pick from…
'What happened to me?' Castiel asked after a long silence, thinking that might be the easiest question to start with. He watched Dean swallow, and taking a deep breath before pulling the empty chair closer to the bed and he sat down.
'You were in an accident, Cas. Somehow a car managed to swerve so badly it nearly hit you. But, as you're awesome like that, you jumped out of the way. Unfortunately, you lost your balance and hit your head against the curb. Bystanders called an ambulance and you were brought here. You were unconscious for a few days, and there was a bit of swelling going on in your brain, but that went down before you woke up,' Dean explained, hoping it would satisfy Cas. He looked at Sam for support and his younger brother gave him a small nod, obviously trying to encourage him.
'Okay, thank you for explaining that. So what did the doctors say whilst I was out?' came the next question. Dean had to think really hard to answer that.
'Not a whole lot, just that the swelling was small, so not to be worried about too much. That you being unconscious was a good thing, as it would allow the swelling to go down easier that way.' Dean watched the love of his life nod his head. There was still no recognition, nothing in those deep blue eyes. They were empty.
Castiel struggled to voice his next question, dreading the answer. He wasn't sure he wanted to know why these strangers were here, and why his family wasn't. He needed to know all the same though, so gathering all his courage he spoke; 'Where is my family?'
He watched the man's green eyes– Dean, he told himself, his name is Dean – widen a fraction. A silence fell for quite some time as he watched Dean trying to figure out how to answer. That couldn't be a good sign, could it?
'Cas… shit, man, I don't know how to break this to you… that's a really big question you're asking and it doesn't have a simple answer. It's really complicated and -'
'Tell me,' Cas demanded. He felt dread pooling in his stomach. All of a sudden, the coffee smell was overwhelming and it made him nauseous and he thought he might throw up.
'Cas. Your family… your family disowned you. You haven't had any contact with them for seven years. Well, except Gabriel and Lucifer. But that's a different story.'
Cas swallowed down the bile rising in his throat, blinking rapidly to get rid of the tears that were threatening to spill down his cheeks. He couldn't believe this. Sure, he'd been different from the rest, silent, liked to be alone. What would make them reach this decision though? What could be so bad they'd do such a horrible thing to him? He couldn't tear his gaze from his hands. They were fidgeting with the hem of the thin blanket that covered him to the waist. In a hardly audible voice he asked Dean why.
Dean tried really hard to keep the tears out of his own eyes, failing when Sam put a hand on his shoulder. His brother always knew when his support was needed, and unfortunately that wasn't always a good thing. Dean had to be strong for Cas. Cas had been so upset at the time, he'd cried for days, wouldn't leave the house and had been pretty much lethargic. Dean didn't want to see him go through that again, it had been hard enough to deal with the first time it happened. He wiped away the tears that managed to escape after all, angry with himself for not being strong enough.
'They didn't agree with some of the choices you made, with… with who you are. Cas, you told me ages ago that before we met you knew you were… different. Not just from your family, but… fuck, Cas, I don't know how to break this to you, man.'
'J-just tell me, Dean. I can t-take it,' Cas said, voice broken, eyes still glued to his hands. Dean's breath hitched – that was the first time Cas had said his name since he woke up. He just wanted to reach out and hold his hand, wrap him up in his arms, kiss the top of his head and tell him everything would be okay. But he couldn't. Cas didn't know who he was. He wouldn't get what it meant.
'When you told them you were – about your –' Dean had to swallow around the lump in his throat before he could continue, 'when you told them you were gay, they didn't agree, they kicked you out. At the time you knew they were going to react badly, but you never thought they'd do this to you.'
Cas couldn't believe his ears. Yes, he knew he was different. He knew he was gay, had known since he was approximately fourteen years old. He just never told his family and couldn't remember ever acting on it. He furiously wiped at his eyes, angry at himself that he was crying.
'How are we doing – oh dear… Dean, Sam, leave the room for a while, will you? I think Castiel needs a moment,' Mary said as she walked into the room, taking in the whole scene. Sam quickly got to his feet, but Dean wouldn't budge. She walked over to him and gave his shoulder a soft squeeze. 'Go get some fresh air, Dean. Sam, take him outside, please?' Sam pulled Dean to his feet and dragged him out of the room by his elbow.
'Oh sweetheart…' Mary said as she approached Castiel, torn by how broken the man she had taken into her family years ago looked. She reached out and took one of his hands in hers, gently squeezing it.
It seemed like that gesture broke a dam inside Castiel, the tears now flowed freely and he gave the nurse a desperate look, not knowing what it was he wanted, what he needed. Just knowing that this wasn't it. That it wasn't enough. His life had been torn to shreds in the time span of mere hours and he didn't know what to do. What was he supposed to do? What would happen to him? He had no family, no house, nothing. He was nothing.
'Castiel, sweetheart, I know that it's hard. I do, but you have to trust us. The doctors, the nurses, Dean, Sam. We just want what's best for you, love. We'll help you out here. You're not on your own in this big mess.'
Somehow that made him cry even harder. He hadn't thought it possible, but it happened. This woman, this nurse, felt familiar. The motherly warmth his own mother had never shown him felt right. His body seemed to know this comfort and he couldn't help but lean more towards her.
'Oh come here, you. Baby, I promise you, we'll get you through all this. We're going to help you out and you're going to be okay. You're going to be okay, Cas. You hear me? You're in good hands.' Mary momentarily let go of his hand, wrapping her arms around him in a hug instead.
Castiel didn't know why, he didn't understand why, he just knew this felt right. His body knew these arms, knew that voice. It was beyond confusing and a little scary, but for now, he didn't really care. He just wanted this to stay. He wanted…
Mary watched Castiel fall asleep in her arms. He was exhausted. From what she gathered, Dean and Sam had tried to answer his questions and it had led to a small breakdown for all her boys. She hoped Dean was okay, but knew he was in good hands. Sam would look after him. As for Cas, she moved him a little bit so he was lying on the bed, tucked the blanket around him and sat down in the chair Dean had vacated. She held Castiel's hand in hers, rubbing small circles with her thumb.