Two days later

Laura Wilmington was anything but a pushover. She was in her mid-fifties, but looked closer to seventy, and she had been head nurse of this particular ward for thirteen years now. She took pride in her job and was professional to a t. Nobody was ever going to be able to say anything about the way she handled things. The patients came first and everyone else be damned. Naturally, none of her patients knew what was good for them and she saw it as her sacred duty to make sure they got the care they needed. And anyone who got in her way risked being trampled into the ground.

She looked up from her place at the nurse's station and narrowed her eyes at the young man striding past toward room 315. Now that one was trouble. He spent most of his time with his brother and that in and off itself was not conductive for the kid's healing. Laura intended to put a stop to this nonsense right now, so she rose. "Mr. Weatherly," she said and was pleased to see his response. He stopped as if he had hit an invisible wall and raised his shoulders a little. "Could I have a word with you please?"

He muttered something under his breath before turning back to face her, his expression a mix of emotions. "Sure," he said and managed a halfhearted smile.

Laura was fully aware of that he didn't like her, but that feeling was mutual and not something she had any hangups about. "It's about your brother, Mr. Weatherly," she said, deliberately keeping her tone stern. "I understand that you are worried about him, but he is not doing as good as he could and I really don't think it's helping him heal that you are spending all your time with him. You must have a job you need to get back to? A family perhaps?"

The look in his eyes darkened. "What do you mean?"

"I mean, Mr. Weatherly, that you are holding him back. He needs as much rest as possible and he most certainly does not need you hanging around twenty-four seven, hampering his progress. I have had the cot removed from his room and I want you to leave when visiting hours are over today. Do I make myself clear?" Laura eyed him, expecting him to raise a stink about it, and he didn't let her down.

"There is no way in hell that I'm leaving him alone, lady. He has made it clear that he doesn't want to be alone and whatever hangups you have about my being here, you better stash them in a dark place, because the only way I'm leaving is feet first," he said.

His tone was deadly cold and for a second her resolve to see this through to the end wavered. But she had not reached this position in her life by letting herself be intimidated by relatives who thought they knew more than the medical staff. "Then you give me no choice, Mr. Weatherly. I suggest you say your goodbyes to your brother, because I'm calling security now," she said and placed a hand on the phone.

His reaction was surprising at best. He stepped forward and grabbed her wrist, his eyes meeting hers, and there was something in his gaze that rattled her to the core of her being. "You do that and I'll have to remove my brother from your so-called care," he growled darkly. "Don't force me to do something you'll regret."

The warning was evident yet vague at the same time, but it got the point across. Laura had never met any relatives that managed to intimidate her, but this guy sure as hell didn't pull his punches. And she knew she was losing this battle of wills before it had really begun. To maintain some of her dignity, she pursed her lips and pulled her hand away from the phone and out of his grip. "I only have my patients' best interest at heart, Mr. Weatherly. Threatening me with bodily harm is not going to change anything about this situation."

"I don't care what you have at heart. All I care about is my brother's well-being and he needs me here," he countered, his voice as tense as a bow.

She glared at him, angry yet afraid. "At least let him sleep in peace at night. Go home when visiting hours are over. I promise you that no harm will come to him while you're away," she countered, trying to force some feeling into her voice without really being able to.

To her immediate surprise, he backed down. "Fine. I'll leave at eight. But I'm leaving him his cell phone and you better not touch it," he warned, turned around and strode over to the door to 315.

Laura watched him go, then made a face and glanced at the phone. There was nothing she wanted more than to call security and have him banned from the hospital for life, but she feared he might follow her home and kill her in her sleep if she kept him from his brother.

***

Dean was blistering mad by the time he stepped into Sam's room and pushed the door shut behind him. "Goddamn bitch," he snapped.

Sam blinked, glanced at the door and then back at his brother. "What's wrong?" he asked, suddenly afraid. He was doing better, seemed to improve every day, but he still hadn't been able to even wiggle his toes without sending waves of nauseating pain through his abdomen, and the fear of being alone was still a heavy cloak on his shoulders. He couldn't shake it, no matter how much he tried to rationalize what he had been through.

The fear of those soulless welder goggles staring dispassionately down at him, while he could feel the cold steel of the scalpel slicing through his skin, cutting through nerves and muscles with no mercy, no concern for the pain it was causing him, made him shudder in the bright daylight with Dean by his side. When he was alone, he saw shadows moving from the corners of his eyes, he could hear the somewhat heavy breathing of that bastard while the morbid part of his brain wondered if the perp got off on cutting kids open and pulling their intestines out.

"What, Dean?" he tried again when Dean made no move to reply and instead started pacing around the room in a tight pattern. He glanced almost helplessly at the cardiac monitor when the beeping increased and the line started jumping faster and higher.

Dean stopped and stared at him for a second, then stepped over to the bed and grabbed his arm. "Calm down, Sam," he said quietly.

The touch was what did it and Sam couldn't suppress the need for something Dean hadn't given him since they'd been kids. It was one of the many things that had attracted him to Jessica in the beginning. She loved to hug and cuddle and it had covered a need in him that he hadn't even been aware of until she gave it to him. He needed someone to hold onto, physically, when he was scared, and he was more than scared right now.

Knowing that Dean wasn't into that sort of thing any more, Sam pushed the urge to beg for a hug back and focused on calming himself down. The second the cardiac monitor's beeping slowed down again, Dean released his arm and flopped down on the chair he had spent so much time on lately.

"Nurse Ratched out there want's me to leave," he finally said and glanced at the empty spot where the cot had been. "She threatened to call security if I didn't. So I guess I'm going back to the motel tonight," he added and eyed Sam closely for a moment.

Sam bit back on the sickening surge of panic that tried to rise in him and clenched his teeth together hard enough for them to creak.

"I know, it sucks," Dean agreed. "I don't know what to do, man. If I push her, she'll have me out of here in no time. And that's just not going to happen." He grimaced. "I think I'm gonna have to have a word with the doc about this. Maybe he can make her back off. The man must be able to see that you're doing better with me around."

"You'd think so," Sam agreed and shifted his upper body a little. It pulled at muscles that were far from healed and he only barely prevented a vocalization of that fact. Instead he closed his eyes and snapped his jaw shut, but not soon enough. Dean had noticed.

"Dammit, Sam. Stop squirming. You know it's not helping," he chastised and got up. "You want me to call someone?"

Sam shook his head tightly. "No," he pressed out and focused on riding out the pain. It subsided after a moment and he finally opened his eyes again. "No, I'm fine," he managed and focused on Dean. "I'm just so fed up with lying here, man. It's driving me nuts," he admitted.

"I can tell, dude," Dean countered and dropped back down on the chair. "Are you gonna be okay tonight?"

Sam considered it for a moment, well aware that he would be anything but okay at the moment, then shrugged lightly. Even that little movement seemed to send a shockwave of agony through his body, but he somehow managed to suppress the signs for now. "I guess I'll have to be," he muttered.

"Look, you've got your phone. Don't let Nurse Ratched out there take it away from you. And if it gets too bad, you call me and I'll be here in less than fifteen minutes, okay?" Dean had bought them both new phones to give Sam a chance to stay in touch with him whenever he was out of the room and it made Sam feel a little better about everything.

He nodded vaguely and pressed his lips together for a moment. Then he glanced at Dean from the corner of his eyes. "I've got a problem," he muttered after a moment.

Dean frowned, then made a face and got up again. "You want to me call a nurse?" he asked, obviously misunderstanding what Sam was trying to say.

"No," he said and chomped down on his lower lip when he settled a hand on the side of his right thigh. "I'm numb," he added and sneered. He was scared of what it might mean, of how it might affect his recovery.

"Numb?" Dean asked and gave him a puzzled look. "What do you mean, numb?"

With the pain and the inability to move without causing more of it, Sam's patience was pretty much down to zero at the moment and he couldn't stop himself from glaring at Dean. "I can't feel anything," he specified a little sharply. "My thighs are numb. No feeling. And the skin is cold."

Dean glanced at Sam's hand resting against the side of his thigh while the frown on his brow deepened. "That doesn't sound good," he muttered, then glanced around the room in search of something. He grabbed his bag and rummaged around in it, then brought out a paperclip.

Sam watched him, a little concerned. "What's that for?" he asked.

Dean unfolded one end of the clip, then jabbed the pointy end against Sam's thigh. "Did you feel that?" he asked.

Sam just stared at him. "Dude, you did not just do that," he finally managed. He was still lying flat on his back, but one of the nurses had propped him up a little so his head was elevated. That was the extent of 'sitting up' that he was allowed right now.

"Look, it's the best way to test your responses," Dean countered and jabbed his thigh again.

This time he hit something, because Sam's leg jerked. The involuntary contraction of his quadriceps should have caused pain, but it didn't. Sam displayed his first violent reaction to something Dean had done since this crap had happened by slapping Dean's hand away. "Stop that," he snapped.

Dean looked a little surprised. "Chill, dude. It's not like I'm breaking the skin or anything," he said.

"Yeah, well, I'd like to leave that up to Dr. Faulkner to test, okay?" He gingerly and carefully rubbed the place where Dean had jabbed him and had to admit that he was even more worried now. Despite the muscular response, he hadn't felt the jab at all.

"Man, you're grumpy," Dean muttered, then made a face. "Which I guess I can relate to. I would hate being tied to a bed like this."

Sam glared at him again. "You're not helping, man," he said. "Go find Dr. Faulkner and get Laura off our case. She scares the crap out of me."

"Me too," Dean confessed and shuddered. "But I can always get out of her way," he added thoughtfully, then shot Sam a guilty look. "Sorry. I'll go find the doc. Be back soon."

With that he left, closing the door quietly behind him. Sam felt the by now familiar ripple of fear rising in him and tried to be practical about it and analyze why he felt this way.

To anyone else it was a given, of course, but Sam figured that with all he had seen and done in his life, this shouldn't be that big an issue. But whenever he allowed himself to think of the incident that had brought him to this, his subconsciousness shied away from it like an animal from fire.

The thing that had really gotten under his skin was the fact that this lunatic hadn't spoken to him once. He hadn't asked any questions, hadn't taunted him, hadn't said anything. He had merely drugged him, stripped him and cut him open. And Sam guessed it was the inhumane manner in which that man had dealt with him and the other kid that had invoked this panicky response.

Feeling suddenly very shaky and borderline frantic, he shifted his attention from the door to the ceiling to the window and back again, unable to keep his gaze from roaming over the room. There were no dark corners, no places for anyone to hide, and yet he shuddered with the fear of the unseen.

It drew a borderline hysterical snort from him and he clapped one hand over his mouth to keep it at bay. "Stop it," he admonished himself quietly, muttering into his hand. "Just stop it."

"Stop what?"

He hadn't heard the door opening and let his hand drop away when Maryann stepped into the room. "Nothing," he lied and tried a tentative smile. "It's just something Dean said. Was kinda funny. And laughing hurts," he added. "How were your days off?"

Maryann's smile widened a little. She had been off the past two days and Sam personally was happy to have her back. She was a lot easier on him than Laura. "Oh, fine. Thanks for asking," she said and checked the machines before focusing fully on him. "You look a lot better," she added.

"Yeah?" he countered. "According to Dean I look like a melting wax-paper doll," he added and made a face.

"Your brother has an odd mind," Maryann said and checked his pulse. "How's the pain?"

"Manageable as long as I don't laugh," he said and grimaced. "Or move," he added.

She touched the back of her hand to his brow, feeling for the fever that was still there, albeit not as high as it had been. "It will get better soon. I promise," she said, pulled out a thermometer and stuffed it in his mouth before he could say anything.

He waited for to beep and for her to remove it again before saying more. "Could you get Nurse Ra... uh, Wilmington off my case? She says I don't need any more painkillers."

Maryann arched her eyebrows. "What? That's far too soon," she said, sounding stunned. "I'll have a word with her," she promised. "Well, your fever is down, but it's not gone. I guess you're still going to have to do the antibiotics for a bit longer," she said. "Sam, there's something I've been meaning to ask you," she added and her expression became serious.

He frowned lightly and briefly considered feigning fatigue to get her to leave him alone. He had a feeling he knew what came next. "Like what?" he asked, dropping the idea of pretending to be something he really was, namely tired.

"I've tried to talk to Dean about it, but he doesn't seem too keen on hearing me. What happened to you ... it could happen to someone else. I really think you should report it to the police," Maryann said.

Sam eyed her for a moment, wondering how far he could trust her, and decided he had to take the chance. If it went wrong, there was still time to tell Dean to get the hell out of town. "That's not necessary. That ... guy won't do that to anyone else," he finally managed.

"How can you know that for sure, Sam?" Maryann asked, her expression one of concern.

"Because he's dead," he said and glanced away. "When Dean found me, he ... I guess he pushed him out of the way. I wasn't paying attention. But the guy fell and cracked his head on the floor. Dean checked him and said he was dead." He paused, glanced back at her and eyed her with a concern he did feel, but he was pouring fuel on the fire to make it look like more than it was. "You can't tell anyone. Please. Dean was only trying to help me. And he's probably saved a lot of other kids too this way," he pleaded quietly.

The look in Maryann's eyes was ambiguous and Sam was already starting to fear that he had said too much, but then she nodded and patted his arm. "Don't worry. I won't tell anyone," she promised. "I'm glad to know that this won't happen to anyone else," she added with a smile on her lips.

Sam glanced nervously at the door even though he felt relief rushing through him. "What about Dr. Faulkner? I heard him mention the police the other day," he said and sent her an overtly worried look.

"I think he's forgotten all about that. He's only interested in your recovery right now, Sam," she said. "If he brings it up, I'll deflect him. Nobody is going to take your brother away from you. I promise."

He smiled with a relief he felt as strongly as he displayed it. "Thanks," he said.

She left him alone again a moment later and Sam found that he could focus beyond the fear of being alone ... at least for a bit.

By the time Dean returned, Sam was beginning to feel the smokey fingers of fear rising again and he was more than grateful for his brother's return. To distract himself as much as to cover up the fact that he had once again been battling the fear, he eyed Dean. "Did you find him?"

"Yeah, I did. Seems like the guy feels the same way about her. He says he usually doesn't interfere, but agreed that I have a beneficial influence on you, so he told me to stay put and he would talk to Nurse Ratched himself," Dean countered, then eyed Sam back. "And you've had another panic attack, haven't you?"

"No, I haven't," Sam said. "I got Maryann to back off on the police thing, though. I told her you pushed him out of the way and he cracked his head on the floor and died from it. She's promised not to tell anyone," he added.

"Way to go, dude. I knew you could convince her. Did you give her the puppy-dog look? That works every time," Dean said, sounding elated. "Looks like we're safe."

For the briefest of moments Sam thought so too and it downscaled his fears, but then he remembered something Dean had said at some point after they had arrived at the hospital, something about ... "What about the body?" he asked quietly, hoping that he had somehow missed that Dean had gone out to take care of just that.

Dean's expression spoke more than words and Sam felt his heart sink. "Oh crap," Dean muttered and wiped a hand over his mouth, a sure sign of frustration. "With all that's been going on, I totally forgot," he admitted. "I hope nobody's discovered the bodies."

Sam blinked. "Bodies?" he asked. "As in more than one?" Then he remembered the kid again and made a face. "Oh yeah, of course," he muttered.

Dean eyed him for a moment and Sam had the distinct impression that there was more, that there was something Dean hadn't told him. "Yeah, there were two," Dean said and grimaced. "Look, dude, I'd better haul ass out there and deal with it. But it'll take a while. Should keep Nurse Ratched happy, though. I'll be out of your hair and hers for a few hours."

The thought of Dean being out of reach sent an icy shiver through Sam. "Can't you wait a bit longer?" He hated being this whiny, knew that at some point Dean would use it against him, but he couldn't help it. The thought of having Dean leave and be only fifteen minutes and a phone call away was enough to raise his blood pressure. To not be able to get in touch with him at all, that was a whole different ball game.

The look in Dean's eyes told a different story, though. He looked worried and that was usually very serious business. "Are you really that freaked out about being here alone? I mean ... it's not like you're alone. Maryann's here," he tried.

"Yeah, and do you really think she's got the gall to go up against Laura if it comes down to it?" Sam countered.

"And that's not what I'm talking about," Dean said, his tone a bit stern right then. "You're scared of being alone and it has nothing to do with Nurse Ratched. We need to talk about this, Sammy. You need to get this out in the open."

"Yeah, like you'd listen long enough," Sam muttered, closing his eyes briefly. He knew that comment was uncalled for, but at this point in time Dean's no-touch policy really got on his nerves. "You don't do chick-flick moments, remember?" he added and sighed.

Dean's expression was half hurt, half annoyed. "You talking about what's scaring the crap out of you isn't exactly what I would call a chick-flick moment, dude," he growled. "Tell me what's going through that freaky head of yours, Sam. You always feel better when you talk about crap like this."

"And that's exactly why I don't talk to you about crap like this, Dean," Sam countered a little aggressively. "You don't take it seriously and you always have to make a damned joke out of it." He glared at his brother for a second, then turned his head away and briefly closed his eyes. The anger and frustration was making him tense and tense muscles at this point in time was not a good thing for him. His abdomen felt nearly petrified with pain at this point while the tone of the cardiac monitor was beating out his anger in rapid, breathless beeps.

"This is no joking matter, Sam. I don't make jokes about the serious stuff and you know that," Dean countered quietly.

Sam continued to stare into the darkness behind his lids, not wanting to let on how much he hurt right now. But the pain was upping the ante on him and he couldn't stop his fingers from curling into the sheets under him.

"Sam?" Dean's voice carried that now very familiar concern. "Sammy?" Dean's hand on his shoulder only served to intensify the need to vocalize how he felt, but he wouldn't give in, couldn't give in. All he knew right now was that his stomach burned with pain. It felt like he was going through the whole gutting-process anew and the rational part of his mind was fully aware of that the memories added to his agony.

Dean reached across him and grabbed the buzzer, pushing it repeatedly until Maryann turned up.

"What happened?" she asked and strode over to the bed to take a look at Sam.

"I don't know. We were talking and he got a little upset and then this happened," Dean rattled off and Sam could hear the guilt in his voice. He hated hearing it, because he knew it wasn't Dean's fault that he was here, now, suffering this way, but he couldn't speak. If he opened his mouth, he knew he would start screaming.

"Dammit," Maryann snapped and rushed out again, only to return a moment later. She injected something into the IV-line that was still connected to his right arm and after what seemed like forever, the pain slowly began to recede again and he was able to breathe normally once more.

"What the hell is going on here? He was doing better. What's this ..." Dean started, but Maryann stopped him.

"Nurse Wilmington decided to take him off the painkillers," she said. "I'm going to have a word with Dr. Faulkner about this. I'll be right back."

At this point Sam noted that Dean was still holding onto his shoulder. "You can let go now. I'm fine," he rasped.

Dean's expression was not what he had expected, though. The mix between deep-rooted concern and guilt made Sam regret his words almost instantly. "Dammit, Sam," he muttered and sat down on the chair again, but he never lost touch with Sam's arm. He slid his hand down his arm until he grabbed his wrist. "I'm sorry, man. I didn't mean ..." he tried, but trailed off.

"Don't," Sam said. "Don't blame yourself for this one too, Dean. It's not your fault. You didn't do this to me."

"I might as well have," Dean said and he looked damn close to the breaking point. "I shouldn't have let you go back alone. I should have stuck with you."

Sam shifted his arm and grabbed Dean's hand, holding on fiercely to prevent his brother from pulling away. "I'm not a little kid any more, Dean. I'm not your responsibility any more," he tried.

"Screw that. Of course you are," Dean countered heatedly. "You're my little brother. It's my damned prerogative to take care of you, to make sure you're okay. And this isn't what I call okay. This sort of shit isn't supposed to happen to you."

"Then who is it supposed to happen to, Dean? Others?" Sam asked. He didn't have energy enough to get upset right now, but he felt the indignation and the resentment. And most of all he felt the sadness about Dean's chosen prerogative. He knew that this duty, this task, had been put on Dean's shoulders by their father and that Dean took it very seriously; so seriously that he blamed himself for anything bad that happened to Sam.

"Nobody, man. This sort of shit isn't supposed to happen to anyone. I wanna find out who that freak was and why the hell he did this to you and the others. There's just no damned reason that's good enough, you know? But I need to find out. I need to know who the hell he was." Dean's hand tightened around Sam's. "Nobody does crap like this to my brother and gets away with it," he added angrily.

Sam nearly managed a smile. "He didn't, Dean. You got him," he whispered.

For a moment, Dean just stared at him, then he finally nodded. "Yeah, I did, didn't I?" he countered and glanced toward the door. Then he sighed deeply. "I guess it'll keep a few more days. Since nobody's apparently found the bodies yet ..." He shrugged lightly.

Moments later, Maryann came back in. "I just spoke to Dr. Faulkner and he's furious; says Sam shouldn't be off the painkillers for at least another week. He's pretty much ticked off at Laura right now," she said and couldn't help a smile. "I asked him about you staying with Sam and he said it seemed to benefit him, so you're welcome to stay," she added, her words directed at Dean.

Sam tightened his grip on Dean's hand and closed his eyes. He hadn't really realized how much this meant until now. It felt like a burden was lifted from his shoulders.

Dean shifted his grip on Sam's hand, but didn't let go. "There. You see? Everything's okay," he said, then grinned broadly at Maryann. "You're a miracle worker, Maryann. Thanks."

She smirked. "Well, after this I may have to transfer to another ward. Laura's not happy with me," she confessed. "But as long as Sam's here, I'm staying."

"Good to know," Dean said, then finally released Sam's hand. "What's for dinner?" he asked.

Sam glanced at him and knew that under all the bravado, Dean was being eaten alive by guilt that wasn't his to carry. And Sam was only now beginning to understand just how damned guilty his big brother felt, about everything, and he swore to himself that he would try to force Dean to talk about it when he felt better. And he would not pull any punches to make it happen.

***