Dean sat stiffly in the padded chair in the lobby. The girl at the desk kept sneaking glances at him from behind her computer, blushing and looking quickly away whenever he caught her at it. He winked at her, and the color of her face became so dramatically red, for a moment Dean almost thought she was having a medical emergency.

Feeling slightly guilty at having embarrassed her like that, Dean picked up the nearest magazine and started idly flipping through the pages. It was one of those magazines meant for suburban housewives but only ever read in waiting rooms.

He looked at his watch. It was 9:34. His appointment was for 9:30. He sighed and went back to looking at the magazine. Then he looked back at his watch. Not even a minute had gone by. He sighed again, louder this time, and sank in the chair a little. But that pulled on some of his still healing wounds, so he sat back in his original position and leaned his head back. He'd never been a particularly patient individual, and on this occasion he was even more antsy than usual.

"He's ready for you."

Dean looked up. The receptionist was looking at him, a small smile on her face. Dean looked at her a moment before registering what she'd said. "Oh! Me?"

She nodded, choosing to ignore the fact that Dean was the only one in the lobby. "His door is the third one on the left."

Dean thanked her and walked down the hallway to the office and knocked on the wooden door.

"Come on in," called a voice.

Dean opened the door.

"You must be Dean Hanson. Why don't you come have a seat? And close the door behind you."

Dean nodded, closing the door quietly and settling himself into the chair. The man reached a hand across the desk.

"My name is James Cassidy," he said. Dean shook his outstretched hand, then sat back in the chair.

Cassidy was young, not much older than himself. He had that look about him that psychiatrists tended to have-kind and understanding and neat. But there was something else, something deep in his eyes that Dean recognized.

It was the same look he saw every time he looked in the mirror, the look of people who had seen too much, who knew just what kinds of monsters were out there in the world.

"Cassidy, huh?" Dean said. "Can I call you Cas?"

Cassidy smiled a little. "Sure. Call me whatever you want. That's certainly not the worst nickname anyone's given me." He folded his hands in front of him on the desk. "Why are you here, Dean?"

"Honestly?"

"That would probably be best."

Dean shrugged. "I'm just here to get that piece of paper signed so I can get back to work. No offense but, uh, I'm not really the talk-my-feelings-out type. So I'd appreciate it if you could just sign it and let me go."

"I can't do that, Dean. You know that as well as I do. I want you to go back to work too, but what I want is to make sure you're well mentally and emotionally before you get back out there. If we work together, we can both get what we want."

Dean resisted the urge to roll his eyes. This guy was just like every other shrink he'd ever been to. Except all the other times, Dean was fine. This time, he really was having trouble, and he knew it. But this man wasn't going to be able to help him.

"You think I won't be able to help you," Cas said, as if reading Dean's mind. Dean looked at him, startled.

"What makes you say that?"

"I've been doing this a few years. I can tell. I'm here to tell you that I will do my absolute best to help you. If you don't at least try, I'm never going to be able to sign that paper, and then what?"

Dean looked down. He wasn't sure he liked this guy. Or maybe he just didn't like that fact that he could see right through him.

"Fine. How does this go? You ask me about my feelings, I unload on you, cry it out, we hug and it's good?"

Cas smiled. "If that's how you want it to go," he said, taking Dean's sarcasm in stride. "It's our first appointment together. We can talk about whatever you want. There's certainly a lot of things we could choose from."

Dean wondered briefly what that meant, then decided he didn't really care. "I'll tell you what I want to talk about. I want to talk about you. What's your story, huh? How did you end up getting stuck with this?"

Cas chuckled lightly, shaking his head. "No, no, this is about you. It's to help you, not me."

"If you wanna help me, I gotta get to know you. I can't just sit here and talk to someone that doesn't have any experience with the darker parts of life."

Dean watched him to gauge any reaction he might have, but Cas didn't respond to the not-so-subtle nudge, just gazed at Dean with a curious look on his face.

"You're observant," he finally said. "What do you wanna know?"

Dean tried not to show how satisfied he was that he'd managed to crack the shrink. "What is it that happened that puts that look in your eyes? Did you have daddy problems growing up? Lose someone close to you? Get picked on in junior high? What?"

Cas looked at him, chewing on his bottom lip, then spoke. "I was in Afghanistan as an army doctor. I did the same thing there that I do now. The soldiers I worked with were mostly greenhorns, just kids really. It was pretty rough out there, you know? Then, one day, I decided to go out with some of the guys and…we got ambushed. I was the only one of us to get out alive, and even then I took a bullet to the shoulder and nearly died of a collapsed lung. The wound didn't heal quite right and…well, they told me I was done. I was in a dark place for a long time. When I finally got myself out of there, I decided to go back to work as a psychiatrist. Figured since I'd been at the bottom and got back to the top, I'd be able to help others do the same. That accounts for the look in my eyes."

Dean didn't answer, just sat in silence. Maybe Cas could help him. He was honest and up-front, and he certainly had experience with the tougher things. Cas didn't press as Dean wrestled with his thoughts. Did he really want to open up to this man that he'd just met?

Finally, Dean looked up at him, his decision made. He took a deep breath. "Did you have nightmares?"

XXX

"Fuller. Chief wants to see you."

Sam looked up. "Okay. Thanks."

"Now."

Sam heaved a sigh, pushing himself up and walking to Hardy's office. He thought he knew why the chief wanted to see him, and he wasn't looking forward to it.

"Chief? You wanted to see me?"

Hardy looked up from his newspaper. "Fuller. Come in. Close the door behind you."

Sam did.

"Do you know why I wanted to see you?" Hardy asked.

"I think I might have an idea."

"Good. Then this'll be easy. Bryant is going to be your new partner until Hanson's cleared for duty."

Sam let out a breath of relief. "Yes, sir. Sounds good." He turned to leave.

"Wait. We're not done here, Fuller," Hardy said.

Great. Here it comes.

"You remember when I said we'd talk about it later? It's later. In fact, it has been for awhile. So it's time to talk."

Sam groaned. "Look, Chief, I'm-"

Hardy cut him off. "Shut up and listen, Fuller. I know this one was personal. And he made it that way on purpose. You had a right to be pissed, hell, maybe you even had a right to pop him one. But you nearly beat a man to death, and that will not fly. You hear me? I ought to give you a slap on the wrist, hell, I ought to have you working a desk job for the next six months, but given the circumstances, I'll cut you some slack this time. But if you ever pull that kind of bullshit again, you'll be out the door so fast your head'll spin. Are we clear?"

"Yes sir. Thank you sir."

"For what it's worth, I probably would have done the same thing," Hardy called.

Sam paused in the doorway. He knew Hardy probably wasn't expecting a reply, so he just looked back at him, gave him a nod, then went on his way.

"Hey, looks like we've got a case," Bryant said, meeting him in the hall with a coffee in each hand. He gave one to Sam.

"Thanks," Sam said. He did appreciate how hard Bryant was trying, but it was hard. He gave him a tight smile. "You drive. I've got to make a phone call."

Bryant knew exactly who it was Sam needed to call, but didn't comment on it, silently getting into the driver's seat. He drummed the steering wheel as he waited for Sam to get in the car.

Sam slid into the car, waiting for him to pick up.

"Hey, Sammy. What's up?"

"Hey Dean! How'd it go? How was the shrink? Is it helping? Will you be back soon? How are you doing?" Sam asked, shooting questions at him rapid-fire.

"Whoa there, cowboy," Dean said, and Sam had to smile. Dean hadn't called him 'cowboy' since Sam was a rookie. He took it as a good sign. "It, uh…it actually went really well, Sam. This guy…he's different. Nothing like the other shrinks they've forced on me. I think maybe the whole talking it out thing is actually helping. Shrink says that if sessions keep going like this, I'll be cleared for duty before long. And I went in for a check-up and the doctor said everything's healing right, so I should be good to go on the physical aspect, too. I'll be back before you know it. I imagine Chief's partnered you with someone by now."

Sam grinned. "That's great, Dean! Yeah, I'm, uh, actually with Bryant."

Dean snorted. "Bryant? Like, Bryant with the stick up his ass Bryant?"

Bryant shot a sour look in Sam's direction and Sam shrugged apologetically. "Yeah, that's the one. He's, uh, right here if you wanna say hello."

Bryant shook his head profusely the same instant Dean responded with a solid and resounding "NO."

Sam chuckled. Yup. Dean was still as Dean as ever. "Hey, I gotta go. I miss you buddy. You should come by this evening. I'd even watch that crap show you're addicted to."

"Hey," Dean said, sounding genuinely offended. "Doctor Sexy, M.D. is not a crap show and I am not addicted to it. I don't go around mocking the show you watch! You're such a bitch."

Sam laughed again. "Whatever. I've really gotta go now, jerk. Call me later."

"I will, Sammy. And, uh…thanks for calling," he ended awkwardly before the line went dead.

Sam smiled a second at his phone, then shook his head, shoving his phone into his pocket. Bryant was watching him.

"What?" Sam asked.

Bryant quickly looked away. "Nothing! Just…you two have quite the relationship, huh?"

Sam shrugged. "He's like a brother to me. After Jess...He was a big help. We got close after that, have been ever since."

"Must be great to have someone you can rely on for anything like that."

This gave Sam pause. He'd never really realized just how lucky he truly was. It was a fact he'd be sure not to take for granted in the future. "Yeah. It is."

XXXfinXXX

Sorry it took so long. Things have been hectic, what with my G-pa's 80th birthday bash. Also, if you wanted more-don't fret! I may write more stories in the same AU.

Reviews definitely help prompt me to write more. If you catch my drift (though I'm not sure how you couldn't since I kind of shoved said drift down your throats).

And thanks so much for the support so far!