Summary: An accident forces the brothers to make some changes. Will they adapt or will things fall apart? A smattering of Hurt!Dean followed by a huge helping of Limp!Sam.
A/N: I owe a huge thank you to Faye Dartmouth for her patient and steady beta on this fic. Of course I mucked around after she worked her magic so all errors you find are mine.
In the Blink of an Eye
The Impala hugged the curves of the winding road as the sunshine filtered down through the trees and dappled the road with shadows. Outside it was peaceful and calm but inside it was a little more turbulent. And Dean wouldn't have it any other way.
Dean was currently partaking in one of his favorite pastimes – Sammy baiting. It was the ultimate fall back position when he was bored. And as much as he enjoyed being out on the road, driving the Impala and listening to his music, occasionally he needed a little more stimulation.
And Dean couldn't help but tease his brother. Sam got all quiet and pissy and crossed his arms over his chest…it was his brotherly duty to put his baby brother in his place.
Things were a bit too quiet at the moment so Dean decided to play the instigator. "I haven't seen another car since we got on this road. Are you sure this is a short cut and not another infamous Sammy road that leads us nowhere?" Dean asked, needling his brother. Sam was obsessive compulsive when it came to preparing for a trip and nothing drove him crazier than items disappearing or losing their way.
They were truly in the middle of nowhere. They couldn't even get reception on the handheld GPS. They were at the mercy of a standard map. A map that seemed to have gone missing.
Dean glanced at his brother and noticed that Sam's face was suffused with pink. He was getting under his skin. "No, I'm not sure because someone moved the map. What did you do with it?" Sam heaved a sigh in exasperation. "Did you eat it?"
"Ha, ha. So you do have a sense of humor. You've been sitting over there glowering for so long I thought you'd lost that, too," Dean fired back. The lines in Sam's face shifted from petulance to full frown.
"Nice, really nice. Seriously, where did you put the map?" Sam asked as he scowled. Dean saw his brother lift his legs us and look beneath them.
Sam was definitely Felix to Dean's Oscar. They were the 21st century Odd Couple.
Dean freely admitted that the Impala needed a good cleaning out but in his defense, they had logged a lot of hours on the road lately. Actually, the car needed to be shoveled out. It was a pigsty with abandoned wrappers, cups, and cans littering the floor along with salt pellets and random bullet casings.
No wonder Sam was a little cranky. His ideal, orderly world was in shambles. Dean knew he should throttle back a little and ease up but he couldn't without one final dig. "Gees, Sam. Would you simmer down? I think I shoved it down under your seat," Dean replied.
Out of the corner of his eye he saw Sam lean his long body over and start fishing around under the seat. "It must have slipped farther back," Dean innocently said as he watched Sam undo the seatbelt from around his lap and contort himself further in an attempt to find the elusive map.
Sam was twisted up like a pretzel, his knees almost bumping around his ears as he cast his hands far and wide, trying to make contact with the missing map.
Dean knew where the map was, safe and sound on the floor at his feet, but he liked yanking Sam's chain. His brother took everything so seriously these days. Yes, it was true, Sam had lost a lot in his young life – mother, girlfriend, father, potential career – but he was still alive. Instead of embracing that he was currently funneling all of his energy into worrying about the Yellow Eyed Demon. Sure, YED was a viable threat that needed to be dealt with but Sam was still young and vital. And instead of making use of it, he wasted it, acting like an old man. Old before his time.
Okay, so maybe there was more to it than that. Dean wanted to have a little fun. He was sick of all of the Sturm und Drang of the last year. He wanted to forget about the Yellow Eyed Demon. He wanted to forget about his dad trading his life for Dean's. He wanted to enjoy his brother's company without talking every little thing to death.
And right now he wanted to mess with his brother a little.
Dean was ripped from his musings when a bright orange rubber ball followed by a child darted out into their path. "SHIT!" Dean cried out.
Dean stood on the brakes and swerved around the clueless child. The Impala slid on some loose gravel and fishtailed until the front end of the car smacked into a tree set just off the road.
Dean's chest rammed full force into the steering wheel and the pain left him gasping for breath. God, he hoped he hadn't cracked any ribs. That was a bitch.
Taking stock of himself and realizing the only source of injury was the pain radiating from his chest, he glanced over to find Sam crumpled up in a heap under the dashboard.
"Sammy!" Dean scrambled out of his door and ran around to the passenger side. Despite the pain in his chest, he leaned over and tried to untangle Sam's limbs. Bracing himself, he tugged his brother out of the car and laid him on the ground.
"Sammy?" he called and lightly patted his brother's cheek. Sam must have smacked his head on the dashboard.
So much for fun and games.
Dean didn't want to panic. Not yet. But anytime something happened to his younger brother, he felt responsible. Although this time he really was at fault, at least in part. If he hadn't been screwing around, teasing his brother about the map, Sam would have had his seatbelt on. Having it on was no guarantee that he wouldn't have been hurt, but right now he was out cold.
Dean held his breath as Sam groaned. A moment later his eyes blinked open. Dean sat back on his heels, relieved that Sam was conscious.
"Who are you?" Sam asked, his forehead scrunching in confusion. His voice held a hint of bewilderment.
For a moment Dean was nonplussed. That must have been one whack on the head. But then Dean realized Sam was looking over his shoulder and he turned to find himself eye to eye with a four or five year old little girl with blond pigtails holding the orange ball that had caused all of the commotion.
"My name is Stacy but I'm not supposed to talk to strangers," she recited and then smiled as if proud of herself.
"I bet you're not supposed to run out into the road either," Dean sniped. When Stacy looked at him with her innocent big blue eyes he felt guilty. "Are you okay?" Dean asked gently. He didn't feel like being gentle; thanks to Stacy his car would most likely need some work and they were almost out of money, Sam looked pale and woozy, and his own chest was throbbing with each breath.
"Stacy?" a frantic voice called from the other side of the road. A large man sprinted over to them and snatched the blond girl up in a fierce hug. He had shaggy dark hair and a Tom Selleck mustache. "You okay, pumpkin?" he asked as he looked her over closely.
"Orange got away from me so I ran after it and then there was a crash," she explained solemnly.
Dean shifted his weight, trying to find a more comfortable position. He wanted to straighten up to relieve some of the pressure on his chest but he didn't want to move that far from his brother. He forced himself to remain in a crouch with a hand on Sam's shoulder.
He watched the family drama unfold before him. "You know you're supposed to stay out of the road. Now take the ball back to the house and I'll be there in a moment," he instructed as he looked both ways before setting her on her feet and giving her a pat to send her in motion. Stacy dutifully trotted across the road and disappeared up a driveway.
"Oh my God. Are you boys okay?" the tall, muscular man asked. Now that he was closer, Dean could see his hair was graying at the temples yet his face was unlined.
Sam levered himself up on his forearms and Dean extended a hand to pull Sam up off of the ground the rest of the way. Dean tried to hide his pain, but the hiss of breath from pulling up Sam's weight was inevitable and did not escape his brother's notice.
"Ribs?" Sam asked as he tried to adjust to being upright. Dean could tell his brother was dizzy and off balance. He could also see that Sam was equally concerned about Dean's injuries. It hadn't taken long for his younger brother to figure out that he underplayed his injuries so as not to worry him. But then again Sam could be accused of the same thing. They both shared that macho Winchester gene.
"Let me call an ambulance. I think you need to be looked at," the man insisted, watching their pained interactions critically.
Dean looked wistfully at the Impala for a moment before responding, "Actually, I think we'll be okay but if you know the number of a garage I think my car could use some help." The rumpled hood of his car resembled an accordion. He wouldn't be able to drive it in its current condition.
The man pulled thoughtfully at his mustache for a moment. "My name is Shawn Smith. I'm very sorry that my daughter caused your accident. I'll pay for the damages to the car. I'm so grateful to you for missing my baby in the road like that," he said as he glanced back across the road. "Speaking of Stacy, I need to check on her. If you're sure you won't let me call the ambulance, I insist on taking you back to the house," Shawn finished with determination on his face.
Dean waited for Sam to respond. Usually he let Sam do the talking with the locals. His younger brother just had an earnestness about him that touched people. When Sam didn't answer, Dean turned his head and saw his brother weaving a little. "That's very kind of you," Dean said, taking the initiative and introducing themselves to Shawn.
Dean would have preferred to get back on the road but since that wasn't possible he'd settle for getting Sam inside so he could check him over more closely for a head injury.
Shawn had shown them into what turned out to be a palatial looking mansion tucked back from the road. He steered them into what he referred to as the guest wing which consisted of two bedrooms, a large bathroom and a sitting room. After instructing the boys to make themselves comfortable, he left them alone to call the garage and chase down Stacy.
Dean maneuvered Sam into the nearest bedroom and settled him carefully on the bed. He was concerned by the way Sam kept listing to the right as they had walked through the house as well as his silence.
Gently grasping Sam under the chin he tilted his head back so he could check his brother's pupils. They looked to be of equal size and reactive to light.
Holding a finger up he asked Sam to track its movement. Sam easily followed its movement and then batted Dean's hand away. "Enough already. I'm fine," he said as he lightly massaged his temples.
Dean wasn't sold on that but he let it go. There were some red marks on Sam's forehead but other than that there didn't appear to be any other overt signs of head injury.
Dean straightened up and couldn't prevent another hiss of pain from escaping his mouth. Before he could protest, Sam was up on his feet. "Show me," he insisted.
Dean reluctantly pulled his shirt up to expose his chest. Sam gasped in sympathy. A bright red mark covered most of Dean's chest but particularly the area over his heart.
"Dean, man, I know you don't want to hear this but we need to get this checked out," Sam said as studied what would soon be a spectacular bruise.
"I feel fine," Dean insisted. Well, as fine as you could feel when your chest was on fire. But what Sammy didn't know couldn't hurt him.
"But your heart--I don't want to take any chances," Sam said. Both brothers remembered all too well their scare last year when Dean's heart had been damaged on a hunt and he would have died if not for the help of a pseudo faith healer and a reaper.
Dean had felt physically well since that incident and tended to put it out of his mind. He didn't like to think of Layla. He should have died; Layla should have lived. But he was alive and Sam was pleading with his eyes and he didn't have the strength to say no.
He sat down on the edge of the bed as dizziness assailed him. Maybe seeing a doctor was a good idea. "Fine, we'll go to the doctor…" Dean's voice trailed off since Sam had already left the room to chase down their host. He was just going to lie down for a moment and then he'd be ready to go.
When Sam returned to the room he found his brother passed out which left Sam in a panic. He knew Dean had been hurt more badly than he'd let on. Dean just couldn't get it into his thick head that Sam worried about him, too.
Shawn summoned an ambulance and assured Sam he would pay for Dean's medical attention. Sam appreciated the offer but at the moment he was more concerned with Dean's condition.
The paramedics allowed Sam to accompany Dean and they arrived at the nearest hospital in thirty minutes. They seemed to think Dean had a collapsed lung. His blood pressure was low, his heart rate was up and when the paramedic tapped on part of his chest he said it sounded hollow. All of this information was relayed to the hospital and they were met at the ambulance port by a trauma team who whisked Dean away for x-rays. Sam was left, alone, sitting in the waiting room.
Sam kept staring at the clock and then his watch. He was going out of his mind with worry. It had been over an hour and no one would tell him what was going on. His head was killing him and he wanted some aspirin or something but was afraid they'd put him in an exam room and start poking and prodding him. He needed to be here for Dean and if he ended up doped up on painkillers or hooked up to an IV, he couldn't do that very well.
"Family of Rick Nielsen?" a voice startled Sam out of his thoughts causing him to flinch. That was the ID Dean currently was using, in honor of the guitarist for Cheap Trick. He almost hadn't recognized it even though he'd filled out paper work using it when they had first arrived at the hospital.
Sam carefully stood up, waiting for his head to stop spinning, and crossed over to a nurse holding a clipboard.
The nurse consulted her papers before speaking. "Mr. Nielsen had a pneumothorax, a collapsed lung. I understand he was in a car accident and this condition can be caused by blunt trauma. The doctor was able to remove the air in the pleural cavity. It looks like Mr. Nielsen will be okay," she finished.
"If you'll come this way you can see your…I'm sorry what's your relation to Mr. Nielsen?" she asked as she guided Sam over to a bank of elevators.
He was having trouble thinking. He was so relieved Dean was going to be okay. "Sir? Are you okay?" the nurse asked when Sam didn't answer her question.
"Sorry. Are you sure Rick is okay?" he asked. He was afraid to let his guard down. Dean had been so still in the ambulance and he'd been frantic with worry. He needed his big brother to be okay.
The nurse gave Sam a critical look before responding. "He's been sedated and we'd like to keep him for a couple of days for observation but he should be as good as new in a couple of weeks. He's in room 305. Right this way. The doctor will come by shortly to answer any questions you have," she said as she walked Sam down the hallway. Sam turned to thank her but she had already moved on.
He made his way over to the bed and looked at his pale brother. There was a monitor on Dean's chest and another clamped on to his finger. Sam carefully avoided the wires and IV so that he could pick up Dean's hand. Pulling a chair over he perched on the edge and hesitantly held his brother's hand.
Sam wanted to sob his relief was so great. But Dean wouldn't appreciate that. He needed to be strong. Strong and silent. No tears allowed when you were a Winchester. Hell, Dean hadn't even cried when their dad died. Sam hadn't been so composed but he'd made a vow to be there for his brother. And if that meant sucking up how he felt and keeping it inside, he could do it. For Dean.
On top of the relief, Sam felt guilty. He should have insisted on taking Dean to the hospital right away but his brain had been so fuzzy. And Dean kept saying he was okay. Okay. Since when was a collapsed lung okay? Dean's 'don't worry because I'm the big brother and I'll be just fine' shtick was growing old fast. Dean could be so exasperating. But the important thing was that it sounded like he would be okay.
Dean struggled to open his eyes. Someone must have glued them shut. And something was tugging on his arm. He shifted restlessly. He couldn't get comfortable. And why the hell did the sheets smell like antiseptic? He heard a low, calming voice said, "Just relax."
Sam was in the room with him. Dean forced his eyes open and saw Sam standing next to him. His brother looked like crap. "Sammy? You okay?" Dean asked after clearing his throat. He was flat on his back with wires and an IV sticking out of him.
He remembered lying down on the bed at Shawn's house and then it was a blank.
Sam shook his head and chuckled. "Am I okay? You're the one in the hospital. You scared the crap out of me."
"What happened?" Dean asked. His brow was crinkled and he sounded petulant. Sam knew his brother wished he could remember on his own. He didn't like being at the mercy of others. Even to fill in the blanks.
Sam relaxed marginally. It had seemed like a lifetime but in reality it had been about eight hours since they'd allowed him to sit with Dean. He had been on the verge of panic but now that Dean was awake he was starting to believe he would be okay. "You had a collapsed lung but they took care of it. Why didn't you tell me you were hurt that bad?" Sam said as he hooked a chair over and sat next to his brother.
Dean put a hand to his chest and lightly touched it. Other then a slight pressure he felt pretty good which was a pleasant change.
A knock at the door startled them both. Shawn walked into the room holding a stuffed bear. "Stacy insisted I get you a bear. How are you feeling?"
"A little rough around the edges but I hear I'll be okay. Did you hear any news about my car?" Dean asked, his fondness for his car apparent in his voice along with concern that the Impala had been injured in the same accident.
Sam just managed to prevent himself from rolling his eyes. Only Dean would be more concerned about his car than his own well being. But he couldn't deny that there was comfort in that – another sign that things were going to be okay.
A bright light flared on the periphery of his right eye. He kept seeing dancing lights, almost like the aura before a migraine. But so far no migraine. And no vision. He must be tired.
Shawn tucked the bear down next to Dean's side. "I'm told your car will be ready by the time you're released. And of course I'll take care of your hospital stay. I'm so sorry that this happened."
Now it was Dean's turn to stifle an eye roll. "Not your fault. Just glad Stacy wasn't hurt," Dean said, glancing over at Sam. He waited for Sam to chime in but his younger brother was still seated in the chair, shoulders hunched. And he was being overly quiet again and was looking pale and drawn.
"Sam, you okay? Maybe you should get some rest," Dean asked as he watched his brother closely. He was irritated that he was wired up and couldn't move freely. He wanted to figure out if Sam was just tired or if something was wrong.
"They said I could stay here tonight and I'm not leaving," Sam replied, unconsciously grinding the heel of his hand into his right eye. Dean took note of the movement and was about to ask his brother about it when Shawn moved toward the door.
Shawn glanced at his watch. He shrugged a little in apology. "I have to get back to Stacy but I'll drop by again in the morning. In the mean time, if you need anything please just call me," Shawn said as he slipped a card into Sam's hand.
Dean thought Shawn almost rivaled Sam in his attempt at earnestness. It was obvious he felt terrible about what had happened. He nodded to the brothers before slipping out of the room.
Dean yawned. He didn't like feeling so wrung out. But Sam was here, sitting next to his bed, so he could relax. Silence reigned as Dean closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep.
Two days later Sam slipped into Dean's hospital room and set a bag with fresh cloths and toiletries on the counter by the window. The doctor said he thought Dean might be released tomorrow and Sam wanted to be ready. He knew his brother was eager to blow this joint but until the doctor signed off on his release he was going to make sure Dean stayed put.
As he turned away a wave of dizziness slammed through him and he propped himself against the wall to keep from falling. At the right side of his outermost vision he could see lights sparkling like a firework display. It was disconcerting and it made his head ache as he tried to look through it.
"I don't think you need to hold that wall up, Sam. Why don't you have a seat and take a load off," Dean suggested from his bed.
Sam slowly pushed off from the wall and made his way carefully to a chair next to the bed. Sinking down into it he looked at Dean closely. If he scrunched his right eye closed he could see fairly clearly and he had to say his brother looked energized and healthy.
Sam knew it was hell for Dean to lie around and wait for his body to heal but a collapsed lung was nothing to play around with and he was glad his brother had listened to the staff because it seemed to have paid off. Dean was sitting up, his eyes were clear, and his color was good.
"You look better. How do you feel?" Sam asked after evaluating Dean's condition.
"How do you think I feel? I'm bored. You have to get me out of here," Dean declared as he crossed his arms across his chest. He winced as his arms came in contact with his bruises but he didn't drop the pose.
Sam sighed, rubbed the flashing lights across the vision in his right eye, and tried to pacify Dean. "Come on, Dean. You said you'd wait for the doctor to clear you. Shawn is footing the bill so there's nothing to worry about there. Just try to relax."
"You don't understand! There's nothing to do. The nurses are too busy to flirt and I'm sick of looking at your ugly mug. It's time to hit the road," Dean muttered sharply. Sam knew all of the inactivity was making his brother cranky and tried to ignore it.
Although his eyes were telling him his brother was okay, on some level he wasn't sure and he didn't want Dean to leave the hospital against medical advice and suffer a setback. Just this once he wanted to be sure his brother truly was okay.
Sam understood what Dean was saying, how he was feeling, and he was on the verge of replying when he was suddenly overwhelmed with exhaustion. He'd been running between the garage and the hospital nonstop, plus worrying about Dean. And he'd been unable to shake this headache.
Sighing softly, he gave in to the urge to close his eyes and allowed his body to slump forward, folding his arms on the side of Dean's bed and put his head down.
"Don't be so melodramatic," Dean sniped. "I'm the one cooped up here. You at least can leave whenever you want."
Although it was just 7:00 a.m., Dean had been up for an hour. He had been in the hospital for three nights and each morning at the crack of dawn, the nurses bounced into his room, turned on the lights, and took his vitals. There was no way he could sleep through that which was criminal. Other than flirting with the busy nurses, what else was there to do in the hospital except sleep?
Dean waited for a response but when none was forthcoming he became concerned. Sam looked worse every day. At first he thought it was because of the injuries Sam had sustained in the accident but then he figured the staff must have given him the all clear. He was probably just worn down. Dean decided he would stop complaining about being stuck in the hospital. He'd probably get released tomorrow and he could suck if up for that long.
"Fine. You win. I'll stay until the doctor releases me. But you're going to have to get me some decent food," Dean threw out as a compromise. He thought that was only fair. But when Sam didn't laugh, or speak, or pick his head up Dean's worry ratcheted up another notch.
"Sammy? What's going on?" Dean asked. Maybe his brother was having a vision. He leaned forward and brushed a hand through Sam's moppy hair. "Sam, you with me?"
With effort Sam forced himself to pick up his head and look at his brother. "I..I think something's wrong…I can't," Sam broke off as pain accompanied another light show in his right eye. His vision became cloudier. It was as if a curtain had been slipped over his eye.
He clasped the right side of his face in agitation and leaned over until his head was on Dean's bed again. He could hear his brother talking but he couldn't focus past the pain in his head.
Dean reached forward again and tried to brush Sam's hair out of his face so he could get a better look at his brother. It was at that moment that someone knocked quietly on the door before letting himself into the room.
"Oh, excuse me. I didn't mean to interrupt," Dean's doctor, Dr. McHugh said. Dean could tell by his startled expression that the doctor thought he'd interrupted an awkward moment. The testosterone driven aspect of his personality wished he could set the doctor straight but he couldn't waste another moment of thought on it. Sam was in distress.
Dean turned impatient eyes on Dr. McHugh. "Something's wrong with him. Don't just stand there, do something." Dean swung his legs over the side of the bed, ready to do anything if needed.
"Just stay there," Dr. McHugh cautioned Dean as he moved around the bed and walked up next to Sam. "He's probably just worn out but let's take a look."
The doctor crouched down so that his face was level with Sam's and placed a hand on Sam's shoulder, "Sam, can you hear me?" Dean saw Sam's muscles bunch under Dr. McHugh's touch but he didn't pick his head up.
"Sam, I'm going to tip your head back so I can get a better look at you, okay?" Dr. McHugh explained as he gently grasped Sam's shoulders and pulled him upright to a sitting position.
A gasp was pulled from Sam's lips at the sudden change in position.
Dizziness swamped Sam and he tilted forward again but Dr. McHugh was there to pull him back. The flashing lights were finally gone but the only thing he could see out of his right eye were shadows. He just wanted it to stop. He reached up and rubbed his right eye again.
"Sam, is there something wrong with your eye?" Dr. McHugh asked patiently.
"Trouble seeing," Sam said brokenly as he swayed forward again. It didn't matter if his eyes were open or closed, the dizziness wouldn't stop.
Dean leaned forward as Dr. McHugh brushed the hair out of Sam's eyes. A dark bruise was visible on Sam's forehead up near his hairline.
"Did you know he hit his head recently?" Dr. McHugh turned his attention on Dean.
"Well, yeah. I think he hit his head on the dashboard in the accident," Dean replied as he moved off the bed to get a better look at the bruise. "I thought you guys checked him out." He didn't like the way Sam was reeling around and he was almost incoherent. Not at all like his brother.
Shaking his head, Dr. McHugh reached forward and snagged the call light hanging from the bed and activated it.
Sam was slowly tilting to the side and Dean reached out to steady him but Dr. McHugh beat him to it. The doctor halted Sam's descent and put his arm around him to keep him upright. He then kneeled next to the chair and pulled Sam over so that his head leaned across his shoulder.
Dr. McHugh was supporting Sam's weight and speaking softly to him. Watching the doctor with his brother made Dean uncomfortable. He took care of Sam and he always had. It was weird watching someone else comfort his brother. Disturbing even…making Dean feel powerless and guilty and impotent.
"Sheila," Dr. McHugh addressed a nurse as she entered the room, "I need you to page the on-call neurologist and ophthalmologist and then bring in a gurney. This young man was recently in a car accident and I don't think he was ever examined."
The nurse's eyes widened as she took in the scene before her and then she scrambled out the door.
A moment later Sheila wheeled in a gurney and positioned it next to Dr. McHugh and Sam.
"Sam, I'm going to help you stand up and then we'll make you comfortable," Dr. McHugh explained. He glanced back at Dean, who was still poised for action. "Rick, I need you to stand back while I get your friend situated on the gurney."
Dean didn't want to stand back. He wanted to help move his brother onto the gurney.
But he didn't want to needlessly argue, not with his brother's wellbeing at stake, so he did as the doctor asked.
Dr. McHugh put an arm around Sam's waist and smoothly pulled him up. Sam's knees buckled and in a swift motion the doctor swept Sam's legs off the floor and levered him up on the gurney where the nurse helped arrange Sam comfortably.
As soon as Sam was situated, Dean could no longer stand idly by. He moved around to stand next to this brother.
"Sammy, what's wrong. Talk to me," he begged as he leaned over his brother. He gently pushed Sam's bangs to the side and saw up close what the doctor had been talking about. A huge bruise where Sam's head must have connected with the dashboard was in full bloom.
Sam's eyes blinked open and he looked into his brother's concerned face. He squinted his eyes and tried in vain to see his brother clearly. "I can't see out of my right eye," Sam whispered before closing his eyes again.