Facing the Dark

By: Ridley C. James


Stockton, TX

Marilyn Castle moved as quickly as her aching old legs would allow her towards the exit door of Sandstrom Memorial Hospital. She’d been there for over thirteen hours and escape was definitely on her mind. Maybe she should have opted for early retirement, after all. There was only a few feet left to go when duty called. For one of the countless number of times in her life, she cursed her mama’s damn sense of integrity that she’d insisted on instilling in all her girls.

“Marilyn, I was hoping I’d catch you.”

Duty called, as it often did, in the form of one Doctor Benjamin Taylor Greene. Dedicated ER trauma specialist and practical jokester of the hospital, Ben Taylor had a way of weedling his way into most of the women staff members hearts. Fortunately, for Marilyn he was young enough to be her son, and his, as the floor nurses like to say, captivating blue eyes and dazzling dimples, did little for her sixty year-old libido.

She looked longingly at the double bay doors once more then turned to face Mr. Charming. “Doctor, I was just on my way out.”

Ben nodded, bit on his lower lip and looked at her from under hooded lashes. “Long day, Mari?”

Oh, don’t try that with me, young man. “I’ve been here since seven, Dr. Greene, but I’m guessing you knew that.”

Ben grimaced, as black eyes pierced him with a knowing stare that made him fear for the privacy of his thoughts. Marilyn Castle was one of the most compassionate people he had met in his short time in the medical field, but she was nobody’s fool and damn near impossible to manipulate, even when one‘s intentions were honorable. “Yeah, Karen said you’d been really busy with the Martinez family. I’m sorry about Sarah Jane.”

For a moment Marilyn felt her old friend grief tugging at her, inching through her well controlled front. “Everyone knew it was just a matter of time.” She swallowed hard. “So, you can understand if I really would like to get home where a hot soak and three of my favorite men await me.”

Ben raised an eyebrow. He wasn’t aware that Marilyn was dating anyone, unless she’d finally caved to Dr. Howard’s obvious flirtations. “Three?”

“Ben and Jerry.” The older woman smiled and her eyes softened, “As in the ice cream guru, Ben. I know I should keep an eye on my girlish figure, but Marshall doesn’t mind, and he would be number three.”

Ben smiled at the mention of the Golden Retriever that often accompanied Marilyn to work on most days. “He play hookie today?”

“He had a date with the groomer, I’m afraid.” She sighed, and glanced at the clock on the wall beside them. “Now are you going to tell me what you’re needing or am I suppose to guess?”

Ben smiled. Straight to the point, as always. “Okay. I have a patient that I think could really use your expertise.”

“I see.” Marilyn frowned at the young doctor. “I suppose he or she needs this ‘expertise’ at this very moment.”

“Sorry.” Ben looked towards the hallway that led to the ER. “It’s a he and he’s in pretty bad shape.”

Don’t ask. Don’t ask. Just say no, and run away as quickly as possible. “What’s going on with him?” Damn it.

“Physically, we put about ten stitches in his head and another twenty in a gash on his side, but other from that he’s just bruised and banged up. It’s the other part, your part, that’s got me concerned.” Ben looked down at a chart in his hand. “I wanted to admit him overnight for observation and treatment of shock, but he insisted on signing an AMA. He wouldn’t listen to anything I said, in fact, he hasn’t said another word since he left the trauma ward, escorted by Harry by the way.”

Marilyn raised an eyebrow. Harry was their security guard, it you could call him that. He was as sour as a lemon, but harmless, and rarely left his perch in his tiny office unless something was on fire, or someone yelled the word, donuts really, really loud. “And why was Harry escorting this boy out of the ER?”

Ben raked a hand through his sandy blond curls and shot his colleague an amused smile. “How’d you know it was a kid?”

“Because you have a soft spot for your peers.”

“Ha ha,” Ben rolled his eyes. He often got ribbed for looking even younger than his twenty-eight years, but it still caught him off guard sometimes. “He’s twenty-two.”

“A baby, ” Marilyn rubbed at her aching hip and motioned for Ben to keep his explanation rolling. “And, why was Harry harassing this young man?”

“He wouldn’t leave the trauma area.”

Marilyn’s brow knitted in confusion. “But you just said that he wouldn’t stay the night, why’d he not want to leave?” She frowned at Greene. “He’s not on something is he?”

“No, I did a toxicology just because of the circumstances. He’s clean, Marilyn.” Ben’s pager chose that moment to go off and he checked it quickly before returning it to his pocket. “To make a long story very short, his brother’s in surgery. This kid refused to leave his side.”

Marilyn sighed loudly. There was going to be no turning back now. “How’s his brother doing?”

“I’m not sure. Howards is handling it. Blunt trauma injury to the upper torso and head. Internal bleeding, and possible skull fracture, although we’re leaning towards a moderate concussion.” It was Ben’s turn to sigh. “I’d say his chances are sixty/forty to the good.”

“I don’t like odds, Dr. Greene.” Marilyn shook her head. “Was it a car wreck?”

If Ben was chagrined he didn‘t let on. “No, we don’t know exactly what the hell happened. This kid came in carrying his brother, covered in blood himself, shouting that he needed help. He said his brother hit a wall, hard, and had been unconscious for about thirty minutes before they arrived.” Ben rolled his bottom lip between his teeth, a habit he had when he was puzzled or frustrated. “I don’t see how he could have hit a wall that hard without being thrown from something. He had three broken ribs and two cracked ones, not to mention a cracked cheek bone and a hair-line fracture to the frontal bone.”

“Could he have fallen from something?”

Ben shrugged. “He’s in no shape to tell us anything, and his brother’s not talking. We called the police, but with that big pile up on 11-E, they won’t be sending anyone for a while.”

“So you want me to interrogate him?”

“No, I want you to work your magic.” Ben looked towards the ceiling in gesture of ‘you’ve got to be kidding me’ as his pager went off again. “He’s totally out of it, and he’s really freaking out the other people in the waiting area. Lay hands on him, Marilyn, buy him a cup of your famous coffee, hell, turn him over your knee for all I care, but just get him the hell out of my ER.”

For some reason Marilyn didn’t feel too sorry for the young physician now snapping at her. It probably had something to do with the fact that she hadn‘t eaten since noon, and her dogs were barking worse than Marshall did when the neighbor‘s cat insisted on prowling on their window ceil; but, she did feel something for the young man he was talking about. So, Greene was in luck. “I’ll have to go pick Marshall up first, before Silvia gives him a perm or worse, another Simba cut.”

The pager beeped again, and Ben cringed as if in pain. “Fine, his brother will be in surgery for a while, and I doubt if he’s going anywhere. Besides, maybe Marshall will have some good advice for you.”

Marilyn rolled her eyes and feigned a look of exasperation. “Go,” she waved him away as his pager screamed again, “Get out of here. I’ll take care of everything.”

It was sarcastic, but Ben would take what he could get. “Marilyn, you’re an angel.” Ben jogged backwards towards the elevators. “I owe you one. A big one.” He blew her several pageant worthy kisses.

“Yeah, yeah.” Marilyn watched the doctor get on one of the cars before raking both hands through her tangled gray locks. She looked around the empty corridor and cast her eyes skyward. “I guess I could say the same to you, huh?”

When the almighty didn’t reply or strike her down, she pushed her way through the exit doors kicking herself all the way for being such a damn do-gooder.

It wasn’t hard to spot him. He was alone in the far corner, closest to the swinging doors that only patients and staff were allowed through, and he was indeed covered in blood, from head to toe, in varying degrees of goriness.

There was no surprise that all the other patrons of the waiting area had removed themselves as far as possible from the young man staring a hole through the partition separating him from his brother. Tension was radiating from him in palpable waves. They, of course, would cast furtive glances his way, whispering to one another, but no one had approached. Tonight, this young man, was the freak show. There was one most nights in the ER, and Marilyn was never surprised at people‘s lack of manners and tact or their insatiable, morbid curiosities.

Marshall whined and thumped his tail on the floor, obviously ready to go to work, but Marilyn took her time in approaching. Not that her cane allowed for speed walking these days, but she wanted to try and gather as much perspective as possible.

She supposed Ben was right about the age, although she would have guessed closer to eighteen. The kid had a baby face, and probably a strinkingly beautiful one at that if it hadn’t been smeared with what looked like a combination of ash, blood, and plain old dirt, and had it not been half hidden by his dark hair. The silken strands hung down into his eyes in a way the young girls swooned over these days, but it was his hands that drew her professional attention.

One hand lay outstretched almost reverently on a worn, rugged, leather coat that he had draped across his lap and his fingers curled lightly around it’s softness. His other hand was clinched into a tight fist, and there was a thin dark leather strap wrapped around his knuckles as he grasped something within the confines of his palm, some sort of necklace she guessed. His fingers were long and elegant, like a musician’s, but they too were marred with cuts and drying blood also.

Marilyn came to a stop in front of him, and didn’t even try to wait for him to notice her. “Young man?” She spoke in a firm but quiet voice, and was almost surprised when the boy turned dark, haunted eyes on her, without a second prompt.

“Are you a doctor?” His voice was rich and deep, but had a sad, almost lost little boy quality to it, that unfortunately had Marilyn’s maternal instincts screaming at her.

She pushed the voice aside. “I am.”

He looked at her like Marshall did when he was hoping for a bite of her chocalate chip cookie dough ice cream. “Do you know anything about my brother?”

“I’m not a physician.” Marilyn extended her hand, hating that she had to disappoint him. “I’m Marilyn Castle. I’m the resident psychiatrist and patient advocate here.”

For not the first time, Marilyn watched walls erect quickly and securely, as the boy ignored her greeting and turned back towards the doors.

Sam had once talked to a school counselor and John Winchester had nearly had a heart attack. The woman looked harmless, but all he cared about at the moment was talking to Dean's doctor. “I don’t need a psychiatrist.”

“I’m sure you don’t and besides, I’m not offering my services. I’m off duty.” His gaze sought her face once more at the cheerful admission, but he remained silent. “And you are?”


“Well, Sam, I’ve actually been sent out here to remove you from the waiting room.” She cast a glance over her shoulder at the others quietly watching them. “You seem to be causing quite a stir out here, and I‘ve been known to play bouncer from time to time.”

Sam really looked at the woman in front of him. She had to be at least sixty, although the years actually seemed to work for her. Her silver hair hung loose in a tangled array over her narrow shoulders, and framed a soft, full face. She was petite and slight, and looked even more fragile because of the cane she had firmly grasped in one hand.

As if she could read his thoughts, she laughed. “Don’t let this thing fool you, Sam. I can take you. My Tai Chi teacher says that I have untapped potential in the martial arts.” She looked down at the Retriever, panting happily with his tongue lulled to one side. “And Marshall here, believe it or not, is a trained attack dog. He can be quite ferocious.”

To make her speech seem even more absurd than it already did, Marshall chose that moment to extend his paw in greeting to Sam. “Don’t fall for it. It’s a trick. That’s his warning move.” Marilyn smiled. “Trust me, he’s a real beast. You need to come with us.”

Sam looked at the dog and then back up to the doctor. “I guess I don't have much of a choice.”

“Oh, there's always a choice, Sam, but I do make a really mean cup of coffee and honestly, hon, you look like you've already seen enough action for one night.”

His eyes went back to the doors, and Marilyn didn't miss the fact that his grip tightened on the jacket and he pulled it closer to him. “My older brother, he's in surgery.”

Marilyn walked over to the reception desk which was nestled near the patient entrance. “Jill,” she called the pixie-faced nurse working there by name, “I want you to buzz my office as soon as there is any word on this young man's brother, can you do that?”

Sam watched as Jill made a quick note on a sticky pad and then smiled at Marilyn, “You bet, Mari.”

“Okay then,” Marilyn motioned for Sam, “Let's get you out of here before someone has to wake Harry up again.”

Sam entered the small office and instantly felt like he'd left the cold, nondescript hospital behind. The walls were painted a rich cream color and various prints of the ocean and seascape decorated them. Large overstuffed chairs faced each other in front of a spacious window and a small oak desk sat in the corner. Toys and stuffed animals as well as art supplies were stacked neatly on a book shelf, and several colorful lamps lit the space instead of the glaring overhead lights that were used throughout the rest of the building. The smell of the hospital disappeared here too, replaced by a warm, spicy aroma that reminded Sam of pumpkin pie. His thoughts went to Dean, who could eat a whole pumpkin pie by himself. On the rare occasion when they had experienced normal Thanksgivings, their dad had always bought two. His thoughts and senses were bought back to the present, harsh reality when Marshall brushed by him.

The shaggy blond dog immediately curled up on a monstrous pillow shaped like a baseball, and watched Sam with intense interest as he made his way to one of the chairs.

Bean bags of various colors and sizes littered the floor and Marilyn carefully maneuvered around them as she made her way to a small refrigerator where a coffee maker and microwave rested on top. “I hope you like Hazelnut, because it's all that's on the menu tonight.”

“That's fine.” Sam eased himself into one of the chairs and was assaulted by a loud squeak from underneath the afghan that was tossed over the back. Hoping like hell he hadn't sat on anything living, he reached underneath him and retrieved a stuffed blue cat, which Marshall swiftly rose and relieved him of.

“Sorry, that's Boo and Marshall leaves him everywhere. One of our favorite patients Sarah Jane gave him to Marshall this past Christmas.”

Sam had to let go of the leather jacket he was still clutching to take the cup of coffee that Marilyn held out to him and she gave him an understanding smile. “I bet that belongs to your brother.”

The young man dropped his head to look at the coat as if he hadn't even realized he had been holding onto it like a lifeline for the last however many hours he'd been sitting in the waiting room. “Yeah,” Sam took a drink of his coffee avoiding her gaze. Thinking of Dean caused his head to hurt worse.

Now that she had him here, Marilyn wasn't quite sure where to start. He had that look about him, the one that said 'I have no intentions of spilling my guts to you or anyone else'. She'd seen it countless times in her work with at-risk teens and even more while working with the terminally ill and their families.

“So, how about those Cowboys?”

Sam glanced up at her in surprise. He didn't know much about psychiatry, but from the psychology classes he had taken in college, he was pretty sure small talk wasn't a very good tactic.

Marilyn shrugged, looking only slightly ashamed. “It was the first thing that popped into my mind. Truth be told, I've lived in Texas most of my adult life and I've only gone to one game.” She sighed heavily. “By this time of the day I'm out of brilliant strategies to weaken defenses and break down barriers.”

When he still didn't reply, she leaned forward resting her elbows on her knees. “I'll be honest with you, Sam. I'd rather we just drop all those pretense we both probably have about shrinks and just talk.” When he raised an amused eyebrow, she pointed at the jacket. “Why don't you tell me a little about him while we wait.”

“Dean.” The name was said with such emotion that Marilyn found herself leaning back ever so slightly.

She nodded. “What's Dean like?”

At this he laughed, as if she'd asked him to describe something as mystifying as Newton's Law of Physics. “Dean is complicated.”

Sam had tried countless times to describe his brother to Jessica, when the subject of his family had arisen. She didn't get it. Not the strange emails, not the wierd post cards with cryptic messages that always found their way to him on birthdays and holidays, and not the short phone conversations that always seemed to put Sam in a funk for days after. Dean appeared simple on the outside. Badass, bad attitude, bad news. But that was the problem. That Dean was only a small layer, a bare glimpse, of what lay beneath.

“Most people are complicated.” Marilyn took a drink of her coffee. "If they weren't, I'm afraid I'd be out of a job."

He reached up and ran his fingers over the bandage covering the wound on his forehead. “He is…Dean is...”

Marilyn could tell he was searching for a word that would encompass everything that he was feeling at the moment, or had ever felt about his brother. She hated to break it to him, but those types of words were almost impossible to grasp. She wasn't sure if they even truly existed.

In a surprise move however, he slammed his cup down on the small table between them, sloshing coffee over the rim, and abruptly stood, looking out the window, his back to her.

“He's an idiot!”

Images of Dean stepping in front of him, facing off with the half human/half demon thing they'd encountered that night flashed through his mind.

Marilyn looked down at the jacket which had slid to the floor when Sam had stood. For the first time she could see the blood stains covering the front. “I see.”

Sam spun around to face her once more, his hand going protectively to his injured side. “No,” he shook his head, “I don't think you do.” No one knew what Dean was capable of. Only him.

She waited for the storm that she could see building in the dark watery depths. People under great stress could run hot and cold, talking when they usually wouldn't, confessing to a complete stranger, or clam up tighter than Fort Knox. She wasn't sure which way Sam was headed. “He never thinks about anything. He just jumps right in.”

“He's impulsive?”

Impulsive. Dean made impulsive look like a coma. “He's deranged. Suicidal.” Sam raked both hands through his hair. “He doesn't consider the consequence of his actions. He doesn't think about what might happen.”

“Like leaving you alone?” It was a guess, but by the stunned and hurt look that crossed Sam's expressive face, it was on the money.

Alone. Sam had never been alone. He sank back into the chair, buried his face in his hands for a moment, trying to get his heart to slow down.

When he looked back up all the anger was gone. He picked the coat up off the floor and hugged it to him again. Marilyn wasn‘t sure if he was even aware of the action. “He's all I have. He's always been there, the one person I can depend on.”

“What about your parents?”

There was a pause and a myriad of emotion swam through Sam’s dark eyes. He opened his mouth and stopped as if he wasn't quite sure how to answer, or maybe he wasn't sure if he wanted to or not.

Sam didn't think a lot about his parents, as parents. The word seemed almost foreign.There was his mom, who was more like a mythic legend, something untouchable and pure and perfect rather than a caretaker, that came to PTA meetings and bandaged scraped knees. Dean had told him stories about her through out his life, and they had always painted a beautiful picture of the woman who had brought them into the world. Mary Winchester was a dream, a fairy tale even. She was a ghost.

Then there was John. His dad wasn't really a parent either, not in the traditional sense. He loved him, of that Sam was sure. But, John Winchester was a dragon slayer, the person who kept the monsters away from the family castle. He was larger than life, always battling some terrible thing or another, fighting to keep his boys safe. He was always locked in a world of his own, one that kept him too distant. Untouchable. He was as easy to pin down as the wind.

No, Sam wasn't sure if he ever really had any parents, unless you counted Dean. Dean was as solid as the ground beneath his feet. He was a rock. Sam wasn't sure how to explain that, especially to a complete stranger. So, he went for the easy way. “My mom was murdered when I was a baby.” That usually shut people up pretty fast.

"I'm sorry."

Sam nodded. "Dean was there. He saved me."

Marilyn looked slightly surprised. “That's a very brave thing for a someone to do.”

There dad had been there of course. He had placed the baby version of himself into his five year-old brother's arms and instructed him to run. He'd heard the story so many times, read about it in his dad's journal, that it was almost like a movie playing in his head. The most important part to him though, was that Dean had got him out of there. Dean was always getting him out of something. “Dean's the bravest person I know.”

It was said with complete sincerity and a heaping amount of kid brother awe. Wonder if Dean knew exactly what his brother thought of him. Marilyn smiled. “So he's a big, brave, idiot?”

A slight grin caught at the corner of Sam's mouth, revealing a glimpse of the dimples he must have had when he really smiled. “I don’t know about the big part. I'm taller than he is. It use to really piss him off.” Sam thought about the first year he caught up with his brother in height. He'd hit a growth spurt over the summer of his fourteenth year and easily reached his brother's 5'11 stature. Dean had told him he didn't care how tall he was, he could be the Jolly Greeen Giant for all he cared, but he'd still always be the 'little' brother.

“Big brothers expect to be the biggest and the baddest, don't they.”

Her words had Sam thinking about what had brought them to the hospital. “Yeah.” He glanced towards the phone. “Do you think that they might have forgotten?”

“No, they haven't forgotten, Sam.” Marilyn waited until he was looking at her. “They will let us know as soon as Dean comes out of surgery. There's nothing else that you could be doing right now except for wearing a hole in our new tile pacing, or giving the ER occupants something to gawk at.”

Sam nodded but stayed quiet, lost in his own thoughts. He felt so damn helpless.

“What about your dad? Is he not in the picture?” The question obviously struck a nerve.

Sam clenched his jaw. Where was John? If he'd been with them tonight, Dean might not have been hurt. Three against one was a whole hell of a lot better odds, especially considering how much John knew about anything demonic. Wherever he was, Sam hoped he had a good reason for leaving them, for all of their sakes.

“I haven't seen him in a while.”

“Your choice or his?”

Sam shrugged. “Honestly, the last several months, I'm not sure.”

Marilyn gave him a questioning look.

Sam sighed, his relationship with his dad was one thing that was actually probably normal about his life, after all, all families were some what dysfunctional.

“My dad and I never got along too well. Dean likes to say it’s because we’re so much a like, but I think it’s because we’re way too different.”

"Fathers and sons have seen things differently since the beginning." Marilyn thought of the story of Adam and Eve. "If you think about it, I guess sons have always thought that they'd let their fathers down in some way, disappointed them."

Sam swallowed hard. Dean had promised him that his dad had never been disappointed in him, but until he heard it from John Winchester himself, it wouldn't sink in, and maybe even then, it wouldn't matter. “It all came to a head when I got a full ride to Stanford. I went to college and Dad wasn't too happy with my decision.” His voice lowered. “Maybe he thought I was abandoning him, but I just wanted a normal life.”

“It's hard to verge away from a father's footsteps. We parents can make big mistakes with the best of intentions.” She looked at him for a moment. “What do you mean by a normal life?”

Normal. The word his big brother had told him to erase from his vocabulary. The word Sam clung to. “After my mom died, my dad became obsessed with finding her killer.” He fidgeted with the leather cord that Marilyn had seen wrapped around his hand earlier. “It's all he ever did, and after Dean and I were older, it was all we were ever allowed to do. It kind of became the family business.”

Marilyn frowned, trying to put together the pieces of the story Sam was laying out for her. “He made a business of hunting down your mother's killer?”

Sam nodded again, looking out the dark window once more. “Hunting other bad people too.”

“Kind of like a bounty hunter?” Marilyn was always curious about what drove people to do that type of work. “Or a detective?”

Sam nodded. Dean would like the idea of them being detectives. “Kind of.”

“So you and Dean were like the Hardy Boys?”

Sam looked puzzled for a moment, but then agreed. Dean had read some of those books to him when he had been little. “Yeah.” Closer to the Ghost Busters, actually, but why bust her bubble.

“That must have been an interesting way to have grown up?”

Interesting didn't begin to cover it. His life was like a continuous episode of the Twilight Zone. “We traveled a lot. I had been to every state in the country before I was ten.”

“I'm sure that didn't leave much room for making or keeping very many friends?”

Sam looked at her, as if she had missed some very important point. “I had Dean.”

Marilyn nodded, starting to realize just what kind of edge they were standing on. “He took care of you while your dad worked?”

A look of uneasiness passed over the young features, one that Marilyn had seen on children who were use to keeping necessary secrets.

Sam had been asked these questions before. A teacher once turned their father in for abuse when Dean had come to school with bruises that couldn't be explained by falling down. His father had never laid a hand on them, not in all the years Sam could remember, but they'd been hurt lots of times on hunts, especially Dean, and maybe that was almost as bad. But he was twenty-two now, and no one could take him away from his family or send him off. “Yeah, it was just the two of us most of the time. Dean did his best. Dad always tried to make sure we were safe, though.”

“I'm sure he did.” Marilyn had seen countless cases of older siblings stepping into the role of one parent or the other. It was beginning to sound like Dean played both parts. “So, you both followed your father around the country tracking down a murderer, and other bad people?”

“Yes.” The single word was forced, almost defensive. She could tell that they were at the end of this road.

Sam was tired, and his head was hurting. He wanted his brother.

“Sam, I'm not trying to interrogate you.”

He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, pushing away the panic that was trying to pry through his defenses. “I don't really like to talk about my past.”

“That's fine.” Marilyn leaned back in her chair, and took a long drink of her coffee. “Tell me about tonight. What happened to you and Dean, Sam?”

His fists reflexively tightened around the necklace and his jaw clenched. “Dean and I were trailing someone,” he raised his eyes to look at her, gauging her reaction, “someone bad.”

Sam could see them walking into the alley, his brother complaining about the fact that demons or anything evil never hung out in nicer parts of towns. Then it was on them, quick as a poltergeist, as silent as mist. He'd gone down hard, hitting his head, dropping his weapon, stunned for a moment.

Marilyn remained quiet, waiting for him to continue.Her dark eyes were watching him. “We followed him into an alley and I wasn't paying close enough attention. The guy got the jump on me and then Dean was there.”

Marilyn could tell by the pained look in his eyes that Sam had traveled back to the incident that had brought him here. He was reliving the trauma, like a bad movie he couldn't get up from.

There were times when Sam didn't mind lying. This was one of them. Why take security away from people if you didn't have to. The woman probably heard enough horrifying stuff as it was. “I got too close. I didn't move fast enough. The guy had a knife of some sort.” It was actually a ceremonial dagger that they had brought with them. Sam had lost his grip on it when he'd fallen.

“That explains the twenty stitches. It doesn't tell me how your brother was hurt.”

“Dean was pissed." Pissed was not actually the word for what he'd seen in his brother's eyes as soon as Dean had realized what was happening. Sam was bleeding. His little brother was hurt, and no one crossed that line and lived to speak about it. That had been drilled into Dean's head from the time Sam had been born. The fact that Dean would protect Sam from anything, with his own life if necessary, was something Sam Winchester had never doubted. "He went after it…the guy. The next thing I know, it throws Dean against a concrete wall like some kind of rag doll.”


Careful, Sammy. Dean had coached him on what to say to the police and social workers and just about any other form of authority from the time he was old enough to string words together into a sentence.

He, the suspect.” He swallowed hard, unable to stop from remembering the sickening thud that his brother's body had made as it impacted with the unforgiving bricks. “I don't remember much after that.”

Sam winced ever so often and rubbed at the bandage below his hairline, and Marilyn decided that his head must be hurting. “You were probably in shock.”


Marilyn knew the kid was leaving things out, she had no doubt that there was more to the story, like why he and his brother were trailing anybody into a dark alley, but that wasn't important at the moment. “Sam, it’s never easy to see someone you love suffer, or get hurt.”

He looked up at her, but remained quiet. Try watching someone you love stuck to the ceiling like an insect on display and then having them burst into flames. Only one other person knew what that was like, two if you counted their father.

“I watch people battle with that pain everyday.” She sipped her coffee. “I’m always amazed at what people can survive.”

“Dean is a survivor." It was true. Dean never let anything get him down. Sam was usually the one that screwed up. “I wish it were me.” Sam shook his head, not sure why he was telling the woman this. “It usually is. I mean, it’s not like I attract trouble like a magnet, no matter what my brother says. But, I usually end up on the wrong side of these things. Dean is…, he‘s…,”

When he struggled, Marilyn couldn’t help herself. “Invincible?”

The young man looked down at the jacket in his hands. There was dried blood on it. “I guess not.”

“No one is invincible, Sam, no matter how much we wish that they were.”

“I know that." What did she think, that he was some little kid, who thought his big brother was some fucking super hero. "But, I don’t want to know that.”

Mari smiled sadly. “I understand completely.”

“He never lets on, even when he is hurt. Dad once let him go three days with a broken arm, because Dean insisted he was fine. I finally had to tell Dad that he cried himself to sleep every night.” Sam swallowed hard as he remembered Dean asking him, begging him not to tell. They didn't have any money, no insurance. His arm would be fine, just fine. Dean would always be fine.

“Some people believe that they must be strong all the time. Sometimes, they hide a part of themselves away so long, that they, themselves, forget that it is even there.”

Sam could understand that. Dean had stuffed a part of him down so deep inside when he'd watched their mother die, that Sam wasn't completely sure if he even knew that part of his brother. “Dean stopped being a kid when Mom died.” Sam glanced at the phone again, and shivered slightly. “He took care of me and Dad from then on. I don’t know if he knows how to stop doing it.”

“Maybe he doesn’t want to stop.”

The blunt truth of that pissed Sam off. Dean did want to be the hero, all the time. He didn't know how not to protect Sam. “But it’s not his job.”

“Maybe not, maybe it’s just who he is. Would you really want to change who he is?”

“No.” Sam shook his head. “He’s the best brother anyone could ask for.” It wasn't Dean's fault he had to take care of Sam. It was John's. Damn you, Dad.

Marilyn leaned forward. “And you’re terrified to lose him. You can say it, Sam. We’re all afraid of death, but maybe even a little more afraid that those we love will die and we'll be helpless to stop it.”

Sam watched her for a moment, and then took a sudden panicked look around the room. “Is this what you do, talk to people whose family is dying or have died? Did they tell you that my brother was going to die?”

“No,” Marilyn could have kicked herself, “Sam, I wouldn’t lie to you about that.”

The young man continued to look at the room as if seeing it for the first time. Mixed among the toys and games were books on loss, and grieving, on death and dying. There was a wall of snapshots of people who looked as if they belonged on a telethon on PBS, and some who looked normal, but truly sad. A lot of them contained Marshall and Marilyn, and suddenly Sam couldn’t breathe. “I don’t need your help.”

He stood suddenly and Marshall moved to his side, whining almost sympathetically. “Sam, it’s alright.” Marilyn held up her hand, but didn’t stand for fear of crowding him. “I truly did just want to talk. I don’t know anything more about your brother’s condition than you do, but from what you said your Dean is a fighter, and if he loves you as much as I think he does, I’m sure he’s going to try like hell not to leave you behind.”

Tears shined in his eyes, but he didn’t shed not one. Dean did love him. Even if he'd rather sale his car for junk parts than say it, he'd never deny it. Dean loved Sam and Sam loved Dean and now he might never get the chance to tell him that. "I can't do this." Slowly he sat back down, and Marshall rested his head on his knee. “He can’t leave me. I wish it were me in there instead of him. Dean would know what to do.”

Marilyn nodded. “I know.” She sighed and cast a glance around her office. “I do talk to families and patients that are dealing with death, Sam. We have a children’s oncology unit here. One of the finest, west of the Mississippi.”

“Oncology? Cancer?” Sam slowly let his hand rest on top of Marshall’s silky head, his fingers sliding through the blond fur. He and Dean had always wanted a dog, but John could barely afford to keep food for them on the table. Although, they had found an abandoned puppy at a campsite once. Dean had named it Ivy, short for Ivanez, like the guitar. Their dad had let them keep her the whole summer that they lived there, but when it was time to go Ivy went to a shelter. Life on the road was no place for a dog, there dad had said. But it was okay for his children?

“Yes," Marilyn was speaking again, pulling Sam back to the present, "Cancer, the terrible monster that it is."

"Marshall and I try to help people through the most difficult times anyone might face. We work with those who are fighting for their life, and those who are learning to let go of their life. Most importantly, we try to help those that they leave behind to go on living.” She smiled a dark, painful, all too knowing smile. “That’s the kicker, going on, when you’ve been left behind.”

“Why do you do it?” Sam continued to pet Marshall, as he looked once more at all the small faces framed on the board. Why would anyone choose to be around death all the time. Of course, who was he to judge. What kind of people chased after the dead for a living?

“Why? I hear that question a lot." She smiled. "I do it for several reasons I guess. For one, I’m no stranger to being left behind.” She turned and picked up a framed picture that sat on the window ceil. “My son and husband,” she said proudly handing the photograph to Sam.

A smiling man and a teenage boy stood half way in the breaking waves at some sunny beach. “What happened to them?”

“A drunk driver happened.” Marilyn took the picture back and held it to her heart. “That was twenty years ago, Sam, and I still have the scars.” She patted her left leg and nodded to the cane, “Both physical and emotional.” She shared a look with him. “Just like you, I wished it were me instead, a million times I guess.”

“I don’t really remember losing my mom, but I lost someone I loved not too long ago.” He glanced longingly at the phone again, almost willing it to ring. “Losing Dean would be a hundred times worse.”

“Scary isn’t it?” His eyes found hers again, as she spoke. “Facing the dark.”

Sam could see his brother lying crumpled in front of the brick wall where the demon had thrown him. He was barely conscious, and bleeding badly from a gash on his head. Sam didn't even think about it, as he grabbed the knife and rammed it through the monster's heart before it could get to Dean again.

“There are really bad things in the dark,” he whispered.

Doctor Castle nodded, feeling as if her and Sam finally understood one another completely, if only for that moment. “Yes there are, son.”

She leaned forward again and put her hand on his arm. “Doing what I do is my way of facing the dark, Sam. I face death every day, and sometimes I’m not even afraid. Those are the days, that I know I’ll be okay.”

“Dean knows how to turn on the lights, when I can't find them." Sam wasn't sure if what he was saying made any sense to anyone but him, but it felt so good to admit it out loud. "I can’t let Dean go.” He shook his head and pulled away from her. “I can’t face that.”

She smiled patiently. “Sam, nobody is saying that you have to." She covered his clenched fist with her hand and squeezed it lightly. " Whether Dean makes it through surgery or not, I have a feeling, a part of him will always be with you."

Sam opened his hand and looked at the silver pendant his brother wore religiously. It was evident to Marilyn that he had forgotten he’d had it. By the look on his expressive face, it was easy to see what the piece meant to his brother. “He’s worn this thing as long as I can remember.” Sam used his other hand to quickly brush away a single tear that had dared to escape. “He loves it almost as much as he loves his stupid car.”

Marilyn reached down and took the necklace, she smiled at Sam and then slipped it over his head, letting it rest against his heart. She let her hand cover it a moment. “I don’t think Dean is the only brave one in your family, Sam.”

Before he could reply, they were interrupted by the ringing of the phone. They both jumped and Marilyn laughed. “Saved by the proverbial bell.”

Sam watched her get up and go to her desk. “Dr. Castle.” She nodded. “I see. Thank you, Jill.”

Sam was on his feet as soon as she hung up. “What’d she say? Is Dean out of surgery?”

“He is. She didn’t tell me anymore than that.” She continued on, before Sam could move towards the door. “Dr. Howards is on his way up to talk to you.”

“Is that a bad sign?” Sam couldn’t keep the fear out of his voice. Why would the doctor come to Marilyn's office if not to give him bad news.

Marilyn started to answer when there was a knock at her door.

“May I come in?” A tall doctor with salt and pepper hair and a silver mustache peaked his head in the door.

“Dr. Howards,” Marilyn motioned for him to join them. “We were expecting you.”

He shook his head and sighed. “It never ceases to amaze me how fast news can travel in a hospital this size.”

Marilyn turned back to Sam.“Sam, this is the doctor who took care of Dean.” She motioned to the young man. “Jack, this is Sam, Dean’s younger brother.”

The doctor smiled at Sam. “I heard that Mari drug you off to her lair. She’s always had a thing for younger men.”

“Is my brother alright?” Sam was sure the man was trying to lighten the tension, but he was in no mood for small talk.

Dr. Howards nodded. He respected a man who got right down to business. “He made it through surgery just fine, son. I would have let Jill tell you that but when I heard Dr. Castle was giving out free coffee, I wanted to make an appearance myself.”

“Help yourself, Jack."

"I will." The doctor turned to get a cup off the shelf beside him.

"Can I see him?" Sam was by his side in an instant.

"Easy there, tiger." Howards didn't miss the pale features and slight persperation gathering on the kid's face, or the fact that he was swaying like a Maple in the wind. "Slow down or you just might be joining him."

"Sam's had a rough night, himself." Marilyn frowned at her colleague. "Maybe you can skip the coffee and tell him a little more about Dean."

Jack could read the irritation in the psychiatrist's eyes and sighed. He glanced longingly at the coffee once more before sitting on the edge of the desk and crossing his arms. "Alright, if young Sam will sit back down, before he falls down, I'll give him all the details."

Sam chose the chair that Marilyn had abandoned because it was closer and stared at the doctor. His brother had to be alright. He was alive, and that was the most important part, but he needed more reassurance than that.

"There wasn't a skull fracture like we first thought, and that's made me very optimistic. He did have some broken ribs," the doctor motioned to his own side, "two here and one down here." He looked at the scared kid in front of him, unable to produce the stern look he had practiced while piecing his patient back together. "He hit that wall with an amount of force I've not seen except in car wrecks or motorcycle accidents. There was some bleeding, but we got it under control, before things got too harry." The doctor raked a hand through his hair. "He has a fracure to his right cheek bone," he touched his own face, "not a bad one, but it will hurt like hell for a while. The hair-line fracture to the frontal bone is very marginal and no damage permanent damage was done to the eye." Howards smiled. "All in all, even though it might be painful for him to look in the mirror for a while, he was damn lucky. The girls will be swooning at his feet again in no time."

Sam couldn't help but to laugh. "Dean will be glad to hear that."

Marilyn clucked in disapproval at her colleague. "I imagine that looks are not in the foremost position of concerns at the moment."

Jack chuckled. "Trust me, Mari, us chick magnets take our appearance very seriously."

She rolled her eyes and a smile spread across Sam's face. "Dean woke up." There was no doubt in his mind that this man had either spoken with his brother or was somehow channeling him.

"He did." Howards nodded. "Right before surgery."

"I should have been there." God, how could I have not been there.

"Sam, they wouldn't have let you in," Marilyn pointed out, trying to erase the complete look of failure now on the young man's face.

Howards held up his hands. "He was only conscious for a moment, Sam. He asked about you, wanted to know if his kid brother was alright. As soon as he found out that you were okay, he settled down."

That sounded just like Dean. Sam swallowed hard, he still should have been there. "Did he say anything else?"

Howards smiled again. "Just that if I messed up his face, I would be disappointing countless numbers of women he had yet to meet."

Sam looked up at the clock. "Can I go see him now?"

"He should be out of recovery in about thirty minutes."

"Which gives you enough time to get cleaned up." Marilyn crossed her arms and refused to budge when she saw the look of denial on Sam's face.

"Trust me, Sam, the Dean you described to me will not want to wake up and see you the way you look right now."

For the first time that night, Sam looked down at his clothes. Red and brown stains covered the front of his white T-shirt and jeans. His jacket didn't fair much better and both hands were stained with a mixture of his and his brother's blood. He could only imagine what his own face looked like. The nausea rushed over him like a wave, and Marilyn quickly pointed to a small door off to the side.

He stood, stumbled past them and made it inside just in time, as all the fear and worrying and anxiety caught up with him.

"I imagine it's all just now sinking in." Marilyn cast a worried gaze towards the door.

"I have a feeling those two boys come from tough stock, Mari. I'm guessing they'll both bounce back quickly."

"Yeah," she still looked worried and Jack couldn't stand to see her so unhappy.

"You did a good thing for him, Marilyn Castle." He winked at her.

She sighed and fought back a smile. "No, you did something for him, Jack. You kept the lights on."

He looked confused and she squeezed his arm. "How about that coffee? I have your favorite, Hazelnut."

Dean Winchester hurt. His face felt like someone had pounded it with a sledgehammer, and his head had assuredly gotten in the way. In fact, it was still throbbing with the memory of the beating he must have taken.

He tried forcing his eyes open to find out exactly what level of hell he had ended up in, but only one would cooperate. Okay, that was a little scary.

Fear pushed away the lingering vestiges of nausea that were threating to send whatever he'd eaten last time back from the pits of his stomach, and he tried to sit up.

Bad idea. Damn, that hurts. Okay, so maybe the sledgehammer had gotten a few good licks in on his ribs also. He heard someone groan and it took a moment for his foggy brain to realize that it was his own voice. He had a slightly floaty sensation going on, kind of like the tail end of a nice buzz, and he imagined that some pretty strong drugs were coursing through his system or he'd have been in even more pain than he already was.

His one good eye searched the area around him. It was dark, but from the faint glow overhead he could see machines, and a white tiled ceiling and nondescript walls. Hospital.

He'd been in them before, but not often, considering his dad had gotten pretty good at First Aid over the years, and hunting didn't exactly come with a HMO. A sudden thought entered his mind and adrenaline pumped through him, giving him enough strength to lift his head. "Sam?" His voice sounded weak, even to him, and he tried it again, with as much force as he could muster. "Sam?"

No one answered, but his straining ears detected the sound of soft breathing, and his other senses kicked in. Something warm rested against his right arm, and when he shifted his gaze, a mop of dark hair came into his line of sight. Sam had a chair pulled close to the bed, his head resting on his arms, and he was sound asleep.

Immense relief rushed through Dean, taking some more of the edge off the punishing pain. He willed his sluggish muscles to cooperate and slowly lifted his hand to rest on top of his brother's head. "Sammy?" He pushed long strands of brown hair back until he could catch a glimpse of Sam's face. "Sammy, wake up."

"Dean," Sam mumbled, shifting slightly, but not waking completely.

Dean smiled, but regretted it instantly when his face protested. "Sam," he raised his voice as much as was manageable.

The dark head finally lifted with a start. "Dean?" Sam rubbed at his eyes, fighting the exhausted sleep that still tugged at him, and a huge smile spread across his face. "You're awake."

Dean was so glad to see his little brother alive and obviously in one piece that he didn't even protest when Sam's hand closed around his. "Unfortunately." He frowned as he took in the bandage over Sam's eyebrow, and the dark bruises on his face. "You alright?"

Sam was still staring at him like he was a loot-packed Christmas tree on Christmas morning. "I'm fine. What about you?"

"I feel like I was hit by the Steelers whole defensive line. Twice."

Sam grinned. "Yeah. I bet you do."

"What the hell happened, Sammy?" Sam was so greatful that his big brother was awake and talking to him, that he was willing to let the annoying nickname slide, for a little while anyway.

"What do you remember?"

Dean closed his eyes and took a deep a breath as his protesting ribs would allow. "Demon boy got the drop on us." He looked sharply at Sam, through his eye that wasn't swollen shut. "He hurt you?"

"It was just a scratch."

Dean continued to stare at him. "Okay, so the kind of scratch that takes twenty stitches, but really I'm fine."

After a moment of appraisal Dean finally relaxed. "Okay. How about me?"

Sam swallowed hard as he took in the damage done to his brother. His left eye was black and blue and swollen completely shut, his jaw and basically the whole side of his face hadn't faired much better. He forced a smile and tightened his hold on Dean's hand. "You've looked better."

Dean rolled his one good eye. "Sam," he growled.

Sam let go of his brother and raked his hands through his disheveled hair. "You're going to be fine. Dr. Howards said you should be able to get out of here in a few days. You had some internal bleeding, and they had to do surgery. A couple of broken ribs," and Sam motioned to his own face, "you might be lacking in the ladies for a little while."

When a look of pure panic appeared on his face, Sam rushed to explain. "Nothing permanent, I promise. You have a cracked cheek bone and a slight hair-line fracture to your frontal bone."

Dean looked angry, then majorly pissed. "That sunuvabitch broke my face?"

Sam nodded, and his countenance darkened as he remembered carrying his unconscious brother to the car that night. "I killed him." He said it matter of factly, with no hint of remorse.

"Good." Dean reached up and attempted to touch the bandage over his eye, but Sam stopped him.

"You had a pretty good concussion, too."

Dean sighed. "That would explain the Phil Collins drum solo in my head." He let his hand drop back to the matress, taking another long look at his brother. Sam had either decided on medical school, or someone had lent him their scrubs. Dean didn't miss the fact that he was wearing his leather jacket and his necklace hung loosely from Sam's neck. His usually bright eyes were dulled from lack of sleep and the dark circles beneath them made him look older than usual. "You look like shit, yourself."

"Thanks." Sam couldn't seem to keep the grin off his face. "And thanks."

Dean shook his head slightly and then winced. "For what?"

Sam licked his lips, pulling his chair closer. "For saving me. Again. Like Always." When Dean only looked more confused, Sam continued. "I know we're brothers, and that's just what we do, but you do what we do, a lot more than I do it, and I'm just trying to say that I appreciate what you do, and what you have done, more than I can ever say. I just don't know what I would do if you weren't around, to you know...do it."

Dean laughed, slightly puzzled by his brother's unusual rambling. Maybe it was the drugs. "Okay."

Sam rolled his eyes, "I'm trying to say I'm glad you're alright, and that...," Marilyn's words came back to him, " you're a big, brave, idiot." Sam looked at him, and his face grew serious, "but I love you anyway."

Before Dean could come back with his usual sarcastic comments, Sam held up his hand. "Don't say anything. Just listen for once."

Dean looked uncomfortable, but kept his mouth closed. Sam seemed physically okay, but there was something in his eyes, almost that same haunted look that he'd held for weeks after Jessica had died. Dean couldn't stand the thought of Sam being traumatized again, especially if it was because of him. "I know I can be a pain in the ass sometimes and you've had to sacrifice a lot for me, and I don't always seem to appreciate it, but if you weren't around...well, I don't think I'd be alright, you know?"

Dean nodded. His brother was scared that he was going to leave him, just like their mom and their dad. Dean understood that feeling all too well. For him it was acceptable, for Sammy, it wasn't. He moved his hand to grasp the pendant that was hanging around Sam's neck. He gave it a slight tug and then lightly slapped his brother's cheek."I'll always be around, Sammy. I ain't planning on going anywhere anytime soon."

Sam smiled. "I'm going to hold you to that."

Before Dean could reply, there was a soft knock at the door and Marilyn Castle entered, holding Marshall's leash in one hand, and the tiny hand of little girl in the other. "May we come in?"

Dean looked puzzled, but Sam quickly stood and motioned the strangers in. His brother had apparently made friends. "Dr. Castle. Hi."

Marilyn was not the least bit surprised that Sam had even more of an amazing smile than she had imagined. "Sam. I take it the darkness has passed."

Sam ducked his head, and Dean looked at the older woman. "Yeah, lights are on again." Sam motioned to the bed, "This is my brother Dean. Dean, Dr. Marilyn Castle."

"Young man," Marilyn nodded, "I have heard a lot about you."

"Really." Dean cast his brother a nervous glance. How long exactly had he been out of it?

"You left these in my office. I had them cleaned for you." Sam hadn't even noticed his clothes that were draped across Marilyn's arm. She handed them to him and smiled."I thought you might like to get out of those scrubs at some point."

"Thanks." Sam looked at his brother, who was staring at him as if he were some alien creature. "Marilyn is a psychiatrist here at the hospital." He pointed at her Golden Retriever partner. "And this is Marshall, he's a therapy dog, and I'm not sure who the lovely lady with her is."

"Oh,I'm sorry, " Marilyn nudged the little girl forward. "This is Sarah Jane." She looked to be about five, and she was wearing a baseball cap with Girl Power written on it in bright pink letters. Her blue eyes were clear and bright and she smiled hugely as she presented Dean with a boxed model car. "She's leaving the hospital today and when I told her that I had made a new friend yesterday, she thought she might bring you two something to pass the time with."

"It can be so totally boring here," Sarah declared dramatically.

Marilyn looked at Dean. "Your brother mentioned you liked cars, and Dr. Greene was drooling over this sleek black Chevy Impala in the parking garage this morning, which he covetously told me was yours, so, Sarah Jane and I managed to dig up a little something."

Dean took the car, and smiled when he saw that it was indeed a model replica of his baby. "Thanks. This is great."

"My dad says Ford rules, Chevy drools, but whatever rocks your world." Sarah Jane smiled and returned to Marilyn's side.

Marilyn laughed. "Kids." She winked at Sam. "We won't keep you any longer. I'm sure you both need your rest. Feel better, Dean, and take care of your brother."

Dean nodded, then glanced at Sam. "Always."

When the three had gone Sam sat back down and took the model from his brother, pretending to read the description, and avoiding his brother's penetrating gaze. "Man, we haven't had one of these in years. This thing has a lot more pieces than I remember."

"We've always been pretty good at putting things together." Sam lifted his dark eyes to meet his brother's hazel ones."The two of us make a good team."

Sam swallowed hard and fought to keep his voice steady. He dropped his gaze back to the car. "You were always better at these things than I was."

Dean shook his head slightly. "You always did fine."

Sam put the car down on the bed between them, and looked back up at Dean. "I was so scared that I wouldn't get you help in time. Dad was always there if you were hurt, but now we don't know where in the fuck he is, and I thought you were dead, Dean, and you could've died, and..."

"Sam," Dean cut his brother's tirade off, by grasping Sam's wrist and squeezing. "Stop it. You did good. Yeah, I've looked better, but, I'm going to be alright. You did just what Dad would have done. This wasn't your fault." There was no way Dean was going to let his brother pile one more unnessary piece of emotional baggage on his already unfair load. "You saved my life."

"I don't know if I can do this."

Dean let go of his brother and smiled. "Sure you can.You have a college degree." He glanced at the car. "We'll just take it one piece at a time."

When Sam only shook his head, his older brother pointed a finger at him. "Just don't eat the glue this time."

"I only did that because you told me it tasted like cake icing."

"Well, hopefully four years of higher education have helped you to realize when someone is yanking your chain."

"It'll take more than four years of college to get you out of my head, Dean."

Dean smiled. "Don't I know it."