Sheriff Crane looks up. "Starkey." He looks at the boy standing next to him. "And you must be Sam Winchester."
"Yes, sir. Where's my brother?"
The kid is watching him anxiously, and Crane is a little taken aback at how old his eyes seem, despite the boyish expression on his face. They seem oddly out of place against his border-line puppy dog look.
"I just talked to his doctor. He's not ready for visitors yet. But he said he'd find us as soon as Dean's ready for visitors," Crane explains, trying to sound gentle, though he just comes off as a little gruff.
Sam nods, jaw clenched. Obviously, his emotions are whirling, but he hardly shows it. This kid has obviously seen a lot.
"Can you tell me what happened?" Sam asked, his voice tight.
"Not exactly. It looks as though he got attached by a wild animal of some sort. It clawed his chest up pretty good and practically mauled his arm. He lost a whole lotta blood, and the bite on his arm is infected. I don't know exactly what's going on. You'll have to ask the doctor that…Kid? You okay?"
Sam has grown incredibly pale, as though he's seen a ghost. "I think I need to sit down," he murmurs, and Crane grabs his arm just as Sam's knees give out.
"Alright, son, let's get you set down. Come on. There you go. I know this must be difficult for you, but I have some questions to ask. Do you think you'll be okay? You need a glass of water or something?" Crane says.
Sam puts his elbows on his knees and puts his head in his hands. "No, I'm fine. I'll be okay." He says the words with a firmness that's somewhat undermined by his slightly trembling hands.
Crane hesitates. The boy is clearly shaken up, and he doesn't want to push him too far. "Do you know where your brother was going Thursday night?"
Sam shrugs miserably. "We got in a fight. I was being a jerk, and he got fed up and told me he was going out. He didn't tell me where. I wouldn't be surprised if he wasn't going anywhere. He does that sometimes when he gets upset-just gets in his car and drives.
Crane nods. He has a feeling that Sam knows more than he's letting on, but doesn't dig any further. "Can you tell me why he had a gun in the glove compartment?"
Sam looks at him like he's an idiot. "Self defense. If I recall correctly, that's a constitutional right. He's got a license for it and everything, if you're wondering."
Again, Crane gets the impression that Sam is holding out on him. He's going to have to check the registration on the gun later.
"Sam Winchester?" a nurse asks.
Sam sits up. "Yeah?"
"You can see your brother now. He isn't awake, but-"
Sam is already on his feet. "Can you take me to him now?"
The nurse looks over at Crane, who nods. "Follow me."
Dean looks like crap. Sam's seen him in a hospital bed before-this certainly isn't the first time he's seen his brother in a bad way-but he's a bit unsettled just the same.
Dean's skin is pale, almost gray, and shiny with sweat. He's hooked up to an IV and monitors. Though his wounds are covered, Sam can see the bright red of infection peeking from the bandages on his brother's arm. He looks weak and sick and all Sam can think is that this is all his fault. If he hadn't been acting like such a bitch, then maybe Dean wouldn't've gone and nearly gotten himself killed by who-knows-what.
Sam has to fight back tears of guilt as he looks at his older brother laid up in the hospital bed.
"Hey, Dean," he says quietly. "I just wanted to say I'm-I'm sorry." His voice cracks and he pauses, wipes his eyes.
"Sam? Honey, do you have a parent you can call? We haven't been able to get a hold of anyone," a nurse says.
Sam sniffles, rising from the plastic chair. "Uh, yeah. Yeah. Is there a phone I can use?"
The nurse guides him to a phone, and he thinks a moment before dialing Bobby. The receptionist at the desk is keeping an eye on him, so he's careful what he says when he gets the answering machine.
"Hey, Uncle Bobby. This is Sam. I know Dad's latest job was in your general area, and I remember him mentioning that he might stay with you. If he's there, I need you to get a message to him. Tell him…tell him Dean's in the hospital and I need him-we need him-to come back as soon as he can. Thanks, Bobby." He hangs up the phone and goes back to Dean's room.
Sam settles himself in the plastic chair once more and reaches forward to take Dean's hand in his own, careful not to jar any of the tubes residing there.
"I'm not gonna leave you, Dean," he mutters. "I'm going to stay by your side until you're awake and well. I promise."
No sooner does he say this than something starts beeping like crazy and suddenly Dean is convulsing and his IV comes out of his arm and people are rushing into the room. Sam jumps to his feet, tries to get the attention of anyone who can explain what's going on, his worried shouts added to the din of the room. A doctor points a finger at him. "He needs to leave."
Before he knows what's happening, someone has grabbed Sam by the shoulders and starts guiding him toward the door. Sam breaks from his grip.
"What's going on?" Sam cries, trying to see his brother in the swarm of people. "What's happening to my brother?"
The doctor jerks his head up and shouts, "Get him the hell out of here!"
This time, a man wraps his arms around Sam and practically carries him, kicking and shouting, out of the room and into the waiting area.
"I'm sorry, kid," the man says before hurrying back to the room.
Sam stares after him before sitting heavily on the ground, running his fingers through his hair and leaving them buried there, his head between his knees. He lets out a cry of fear and frustration and collapses into tears.
His eyes are squeezed shut and he can hear footsteps running toward him and someone calls his name. He looks up and through his tears, sees his father.
"Dad," he sobs.
John looks down at him, his face a mixture of sadness and guilt and something that reminds Sam of fear, but can't possibly be because John isn't afraid of anything.
And then, John is sitting on the floor with his arms around Sam, holding him close and running his fingers through his hair and muttering assurances that Dean is going to be okay.
Starkey sees the scene that unfolds, watches as Sam and his father sit on the floor, finding what little consolation they can in each others' company. It's heartbreaking, he thinks.
Sheriff Crane is watching, too, and Starkey knows he's trying to think of some way to tactfully intrude so he can ask the father some questions.
"Ben," he says, and Crane turns.
Starkey puts a hand on his shoulder. "Don't. It's not really that important. The Winchesters are drifters. And heaven knows they've already been through-are going through-enough. Let it go, just this once."
He's being much more forward with the sheriff than he's ever been before, and he knows it, as does Crane, who's now staring at him in slight disbelief.
"I have questions that need to be answered," Crane insists.
"No, you don't. You want them to be answered, but you don't need them to be. The last thing this family needs is an interrogation. Look at them, Ben. They're an already broken family trying to keep the cracks from widening into chasms. Let's just leave them be. They're dealing with enough."
Crane doesn't answer for awhile. He knows full well James's story, and trusts that James can see the cracks much better than he can. He finally sighs. "Yeah, you're probably right. I'm going home, James; I'm tired."
Starkey nods, clapping him on the shoulder. "See you tomorrow then, Sheriff."
And he and the sheriff silently leave, deciding a little unsolved mystery isn't so bad.
After a frightening round of d-fib, fresh stitches, and a heavy dose of stronger antibiotics, Dean's fever finally breaks. John and Sam are there when he wakes up, greeting them with a bleary smile. A week later, the doctors deem him well enough to leave as long as he takes it easy.
John takes the boys out for burgers and pie, and Dean gladly regales them with his heroic tale, exaggerating things maybe a little ("It was huge-at least seven feet long!"). They leave the small New Mexico town, kicking up dust behind them, and they don't look back.
Crane looks up. "What have you got for me?"
"The bullet that killed the thing was silver, fired from a Colt. And the blood on its claws doesn't match that of any of the family members."
Crane sighs and sits back. He'd known that Dean Winchester had secrets! Now he's wondering what the hell kind of family he'd just encountered.
"Thank you, detective," Crane says, dismissing him with a wave of the hand.
He takes a long drink of coffee. This is a mystery that's much deeper than he'd originally thought-and one that he's never going to solve, he realizes.
"Damn those Winchesters," he says under his breath.