Title: Holding Out for Tennessee
Summary: Ten-year-old Sammy wakes up in the backseat of the Impala to find the car in the ditch. Written for the h/c meme on LJ.
A/N: I am so ridiculously wordy. I took this prompt by dodger_winslow and endeavored to write a quick and simple h/c fic for the meme. Way too many words later, I had this. I'm reposting here for a bit more reader friendly version since the comment version ended up being broken into twelve parts. A quick beta was given by geminigrl11. Also, this story is light on Dean but that's not intentional. The full prompt has him missing from the scene and he was supposed to show up according to my prewriting but the story just never got there. I promise, I'm not trying to slight him and if you need more, there are tons of Dean fics on the meme.
Disclaimer: Not mine. Not even the prompt :)
The first thing Sam wondered when he woke up was if they were to Tennessee yet.
He'd asked his father to wake him up when they were close. Well, he'd asked Dean first, but Dean had told him that the only thing good about Tennessee was Dollywood, and not for the lame-o amusement rides. So he'd asked his father, asked him once and twice and three times, each time securing the promise that, yes, he would definitely wake Sam up before they got to Tennessee.
The problem was that the car was stopped, and the car never stopped, not unless it was lunch or dinner or the motel at night, and Sam had gotten really good at peeing in the bottle (though Dean still didn't let him use the long neck coke bottle they'd scored back in North Carolina--said that pee on the seats baking in the afternoon sun would stink way too much). And Sam had studied the map carefully and he'd known that they wouldn't stop for dinner until they were already in Tennessee and he'd been lobbying to eat in some little town called Maggie Valley, just because it sounded nice, Maggie having a valley, and, so, if they were stopped, then they had already missed the big sign that said Welcome to Tennessee.
It was all about the sign, the sense of accomplishment of marking another state off on his list of places to have been twice. And Tennessee was the coolest name in the entire United States. All those double letters. That and Mississippi, but the double e's were just too hard to beat.
He had just opened his mouth to complain when he realized he was looking at the floor mats.
Worse, he was smashed against them, face burning on the rough floor, and Sam could see the remains of the pack of peanut M&M's that Dean had spilled two weeks ago.
Blinking, he took a breath, or tried to, and pain erupted through his side, tingling from his shoulder down to his leg and radiating sharply around his knees.
He gasped at the intensity of it--worse than the time he'd broken his arm on the jungle gym at school--and tears sprung to his eyes before he could stop them.
Clenching his teeth, he willed himself to keep it together. Dean wouldn't. Dean said only babies cried, and it was time for Sam to stop being a baby, to start being a hunter, a hero, just like the rest of his family.
Shakily, eyes still wet, he looked out again, craning his head slightly to figure out what was going on.
It was hard to see much from his vantage point, but he could see light coming in through the windows and trees through the Impala's shattered back window.
Sam felt his heart skip a beat.
They hadn't stopped for dinner. They'd crashed. That was why he was forced up against the floor boards, that was why the window was shattered, that was why it hurt so much to even breathe--
That was why they needed seatbelts, Sam thought vaguely. He'd had this teacher back in Florida who was obsessed with them. They talked about them, about how they saved lives, about how to wear them properly, and Sam had been distressed that the Impala didn't even have any.
"Cool cars don't need seatbelts," Dean had told him. Their father had promised that he'd drive extra careful to compensate.
And his dad was a good driver. Sam knew that. It was one thing he'd never had to question, because the car was as much home as anything, and his dad at the wheel was how he knew him best.
But seatbelts could keep you in place when you crashed. Sam wasn't in place, so what about his dad? What about Dean?
With another tentative breath, Sam tried to move. Not crying was just for non-babies. Figuring out what was going on--that was the stuff of heroes.
It was a slow process, and Sam had to move gingerly through the pain that spiked through his body. But he managed to lever himself to a sitting position, letting his body go lax against the door and breathing heavily.
"Dad?" he called, surprised to hear how weak his own voice sounded. He licked his lips, swallowed hard, and tried again. "Dad!"
It was hard to see far, but the Impala's seat was low, and Sam could see his father's large outline slumped against the seat back, shadowed by the sunlight that streamed in. They seemed to be at an angle, maybe sort of down an incline or something, and Sam was at the bottom end of it, looking up. It made him feel a little disoriented, actually, and his stomach churned a little. But if pee on the seats would smell bad, puke would be so, so much worse.
"Dad!" he yelled this time, feeling a little desperate.
His father moved then, shifting a little, and Sam felt relieved.
"Dad, you awake?"
It was one of those pointless questions, the kind that answered themselves and that Sam shouldn't waste his time asking, but Sam couldn't help it. It was out of his mouth before he had the chance to think about it at all.
He heard his father groan, watched a hand fluttering to his head, rubbing it vaguely. When his dad put it down again, Sam saw it was coated red.
Panic flared in Sam. "Dad!" he called, scrambling now, despite the pain. He'd almost made it to his feet when his knee protested and he fumbled awkwardly to the seat. "You okay?"
Another stupid question, because Sam knew his dad wasn't okay. His dad was kind of unconscious and he was bleeding and that was bad. Sam didn't know how bad, but he knew it was bad because they'd been in a car accident and there weren't any seat belts and Sam hurt and he didn't know what to do.
Feeling his eyes growing wet again, he tried to control his breathing and re-focus. If their dad needed help, then Dean could help him. Dean wasn't as old as Dad, but he was just as awesome. Dean had been on hunts and everything, helped salt and burn things. Dean got to go to high school and could take turns driving the Impala on quiet country roads.
Trembling, Sam turned his eyes to the empty seat next to his dad. "Dean?" he called, almost afraid to even ask the stupid questions that came to his mind. Are you okay, are you there, can you help Dad?
Silence answered him.
Pushing forward, he minded his knee, careful to keep from putting pressure on it, straining to see over the seat. It was hard work, since gravity was working against him. Gravity pulled you down, Sam had learned. It kept bringing you back to the ground, which was mostly a good thing, but right then, it was really, really bad.
It was possible his brother was on the floor, just like he'd been. Dean liked to sleep a lot in the car, and sometimes when he slept, he would get really low in the seat, so it'd be easy to get thrown forward onto the floor like Sam had.
But even when Sam was high enough to see the seat bench and the floor boards and the spilled cup of coffee splashed against the dash and the broken glass that littered everything like sparkling shards of confetti, he couldn't see Dean.
Dean was just gone.
Sam fell back hard, and this time he couldn't stop the tears from leaking from his eyes. Dean could have been thrown from the car. That was what his teacher had said, about why seatbelts mattered. They kept you in the car, and Dean didn't have a seat belt and they'd crashed and now Dean wasn't even in the car.
And their dad was bleeding and Sam was hurt and what was he going to do?
"Together, men," his father's voice barked suddenly from the front seat.
The order was so terse that Sam snapped to attention without even thinking, his eyes going immediately to his father. "Dad?"
His father was blinking lazily around the car, one hand waving again, still stained with blood. "Hold rank, hold rank," he said. "Damn it, I don't care how we do it, just do it."
Sam was holding rank, as best he could. He had only gotten up off the floor, and only because he needed to see what was going on. That was another one of the rules. Know your surroundings. Keep aware. Even when Sam had to stay in the car or back in the motel by himself, he had to be aware at all times. "Dad, you okay?"
Another stupid question, and Sam felt another tear drip down his cheek. He should have asked for more clarification, more directions on what to do. Those were good questions, his father always said. He had to be smart.
His father didn't look at him but he picked his head up, coughing hard into his hand. "What the hell?" he asked. "I can't risk this sloppiness. Nothing can happen to the boys--nothing. Do you understand?"
It occurred to Sam, finally, that his dad wasn't talking to him. Sam wasn't sure who his dad was talking to, but it clearly wasn't anyone who was in this car, because there wasn't anyone in this car besides Sam, and Sam didn't understand the orders at all and his father's orders were always pretty clear and to the point and especially designed for Sam.
His dad was hurt. His head--he'd hit his head. Sam had seen the blood, so that had to be it.
His dad was hurt and Dean was gone and they needed help. And if his dad couldn't do it and if Dean couldn't do it, then Sam had to do it.
With a deep breath, Sam swiped sloppily at the tears on his face.
He just didn't know how to do it.
His heartbeat quickened and he felt his breath catch in his throat. They were counting on him, they had to be counting on him, which was all wrong because Sam wasn't good at this stuff yet, he wasn't allowed on hunts and he didn't know much about first aid yet and he'd never had to make the big decisions about anything. He'd always been told to watch and learn and just pick up as much as he could. To practice and prepare and someday it would be his turn.
A cough tore through Sam, ripping the pain in his body again, and he squeezed his eyes shut, trying to curl away from it, to hide from it--anything. For a long, agonizing moment, that was all there was. Just the pain and the fear and the sense that he was about to really, really, really screw up.
When Sam came back to himself, he realized his eyes were already open. He had slid down on the seat, scrunched awkwardly against the back, his legs mostly off the bench.
He blinked, and saw his father straining, looking back at him.
Startled, Sam tried to sit up, to show his father that he was paying attention. "Dad!" he said, but it sounded a little funny, breathy and clumsy.
His father's brow furrowed, and Sam could see the injury now. It was a gash that stretched along his hairline, coating the side of his head and coloring the collar of his button-up shirt a dark shade of red.
"Dad?" Sam asked again, and it was everything he could do keep a fresh wave of tears from spilling down his cheeks.
His dad seemed to be trying really hard, squinting, and his face screwed up with something like pain and confusion. "Sammy?"
At that, Sam couldn't help it. He broke out with a laugh and a sob. "Daddy," he said, feeling relieved. He hadn't called him Daddy in years, hadn't heard Dean call him that ever, but that didn't matter. Not now.
"Where's your brother?" his dad asked, wincing again, rubbing a hand over his forehead and smudging the blood.
"I don't know," Sam said. "I woke up and I was on the floor. We had crashed and--"
"I've told you both, you can't wander off," his father said. "Stay where I tell you."
"But--I don't think Dean meant to go anywhere, I think--"
"You can't talk back so much," his father continued. "It's dangerous. I don't want you to get hurt. All your talking, all Dean's talking, all that talking, the music and the eating--it's distracting and I didn't even have a chance to miss that deer--"
Sam's chest felt tight and he was going to cry again and he just couldn't help it because his dad was looking at him, but not really. He was looking right through him, and his dad had to be hurt because that was a lot of blood and he wasn't quite making sense and Dean was still missing and Sam needed to do something.
"...tired," his dad said, dipping his head and looking forward again. "If you find Dean, he's in charge. He'll know what to do. Follow the rules. Keep it together. We never let people see us hurting."
And then his father's voice trailed off and his head dropped a little further and Sam wanted to scream.
He wanted to scream and cry and kick and wail--but it wouldn't do anything. Throwing tantrums was for two year olds and Sam wasn't two and there wasn't even anyone there who could do anything.
Follow the rules. Sam could follow the rules. He didn't always like to, because sometimes the rules weren't fun. Rules about how long to train, about how much time to spend on studying, about what chores to do. Rules about what they could tell people and what they couldn't and there were so many that Sam was supposed to know but didn't always know but he could still follow a few.
Know when you need backup.
He was supposed to know when to not try things alone. Don't go down dark alleys by himself on his way home from school. Don't try to clean the weapons, not even his hunting knife, by himself. If anything happens, if a teacher asks him to stay after school, if he sees something supernatural, he's supposed to get help--now.
Get help. They were on the road--somewhere--and Sam didn't think he could walk. His dad was out and Dean was missing and there was no guarantee anyone would drive by or even see them if they'd gone too far off the road. Which meant...
His dad had a phone. An emergency one--a portable one. Big and clunky and it plugged into the cigarette lighter. They didn't use it often, but his dad had showed him how the first night that he'd left him in the car while Dean and Dad went out into the woods to hunt a ghost together.
It was in the glove box.
Which was in the front seat.
Normally, that wouldn't be a problem. Sam knew how to slide through the seats and nestle into all the crevices of the car, but with the pain in his side and his throbbing knee, he was pretty sure that navigating the low ridge of the front seat would be hard.
But he looked at his dad, slumped again on the seat, and Dean was missing, so a little pain would be just something he'd have to deal with.
He steeled himself, trying to be cool like Dean, to be calm like his dad.
It was hard work, harder than running the long run with his brother in the mornings before school, and by the time he was standing, he was already panting. Worse, he wasn't really standing, he was mostly propped up against the door, leaning heavily on his good side, his injured leg stretched out in front of him, the other supporting his weight awkwardly.
And worse still, that was only the first step. Now, he had to get over the bench.
Normally, he'd just slide over, throw his legs and try to do it like Dean did, with all that fancy style that Dean said he was too nerdy to ever really get. Though Sam had been practicing--the Impala was sometimes his only playground--and he was getting better. Not quite as good, but sort of good.
But there was no way he could do that now. No, he'd have to go head-first and hope that gravity helped him out this time around and sent him tumbling over without too much work on his part. The trick would be landing without hurting himself, but that was a chance he'd just have to take.
Bracing himself, he hoisted himself as best he could, diving with his head and shoulders in a slow plunge over the top of the leather. As hoped, his body followed suit, sending him falling face first into the seat.
His face smashed against it, and pain sparked again as his knee cleared the seat with more than a little jarring. With his injured side pressed against the seat, for a second he sort of felt like he couldn't breathe and a harsh new pain seemed to split him open.
He saw stars, even though his eyes were closed, and he was pretty sure that he was going to pass out and die because his face was still smushed against the seat and he couldn't breathe right. This pain was different--deeper and sharper, something almost ripping, like parts of his insides were pulling against each other and trying to burst right of his body.
And his dad couldn't help him and Dean wasn't even there, so Sam would just die, which meant they would die. Because they were counting on Sam. Even if they didn't know it, they were, and Sam didn't want to screw that up.
With a jerk, Sam rolled away from the seat, gasping desperately for a deep breath of air that he couldn't take. All he could manage was shallow panting, and even that made his chest feel like it was on fire.
But he was so close now. Head lolled to the side, body limp against the seat, he could see the glove compartment.
Looking above his head, he saw that the door was open, which wasn't something he'd expected. Open meant that maybe Dean hadn't been thrown out, maybe he'd walked out, gone for help. Gotten it together better than Sam had and done what Sam was trying and failing to do.
But what if his brother hadn't made it?
What if something else had happened?
He darted his eyes down, straining to see his father, and there was more blood than before. Besides, he was sitting in the seat where Dean should be but wasn't and he had to fix that. Now.
Throwing all of his energy into it, he flopped forward, his arm reaching out and fumbling at the glove compartment. It took two tries, but the latch finally gave way. It thunked open, and Sam could see the pile of papers--fake IDs, forged credit card forms--the little dirty secrets that made their lives possible.
And there it was. Large and clunky, Sam's fingers trembled as he reached for it. He had to scoot a little farther before his fingers closed around the phone and pulled it to him.
He had the phone. That had been his master plan--to get the phone--and there it was.
But--who should he call?
His fingers hovered over the nine, because you were supposed to call 9-1-1 for emergencies.
This was an emergency. His dad unconscious, Dean missing, Sam feeling like he might have torn his chest in half--those were all kind of serious.
But what was a Winchester emergency? There had been that time when Dean had cut his finger open and it had bled really, really bad and their dad had just stitched it up himself, even when Dean looked all pale and the blood got all over the floor.
And they weren't supposed to tell people stuff. There were lots of lies--about why they moved so much, about what Dad did, about why Dean sometimes had bruises when he came to school. And Sam couldn't remember if there were contingencies for that kind of thing and really, Sam couldn't even quite remember what contingencies meant at all and he had a good vocabulary, according to his last teacher. He was reading at tenth grade level, which Sam didn't really know what that meant, but he sort of thought it meant that he should know what contingencies were.
He could only trust certain people. Not strangers. Not even the nice little ladies who gave him free pie at diners. Not even librarians who showed him where the chapter books were. He could trust Dean and Dad and...other hunters. And not even all of them, just the ones they stayed with, or the ones that they were left with. Like Bobby, and Caleb that one time, and Pastor Jim.
He didn't know Bobby's phone number, but he knew Pastor Jim's. It was the same backwards and forwards, and there was a name for that and Sam knew it but his head was hurting and he sort of felt sick and he just couldn't think....
The name didn't matter. The number.
It took a minute for the phone to power on. When the display came on, Sam struggled to focus, forcing his eyes to narrow in until there was only one phone and the buttons were clear. Even the meager effort it took to push the buttons seemed to exhaust him, and by the time it was ringing, Sam realized he was crying.
Crying and coughing and his mouth tasted funny and his chest felt like it was being squeezed, like that time Dean had sat on him to make him give up the remote control.
"Hello?" someone was saying. "Is someone there?"
Pastor Jim. Sam's heart leapt and he got so excited he almost forgot that he was having trouble breathing. Instead of saying hello, he coughed, a long hacking cough, and when it died down, he was limp again and the phone was barely next to his ear but he could still hear Pastor Jim's voice on the other end of the line.
"Hello? Hello? Are you okay?"
"Pastor Jim," Sam said, and his voice was doing that funny thing and the words were all rushed together.
"Yes? Who is this?"
By that time, Sam was sobbing, like a baby and a girl and a baby girl who liked kittens and wanted to be a fairy princess. But it didn't matter, none of it mattered--not the crying, not the pulsing pain in his knee or the pain that rippled with intensity through his chest with every breath he tried to take.
Sam had to speak, he knew with sudden clarity. Or his plan may not work after all. "Pastor Jim," he said again, and he knew he should say something more than that, something a little more informative, if not insightful.
There was a pause, a brief hesitation, and Sam worried he'd been hung up on. But then, like a blessing: "Samuel?"
He sobbed again. "Pastor Jim," he repeated a third time, and it was no more intelligent this time than the first, but it was all he could think.
"What's wrong? Are you okay? Where's your father?"
Questions--too many and too fast and Sam's brain was having trouble keeping up--what with all the effort it took to do things like breathe. But he has to answer this question, he knew. He just did. "Accident," he said finally, and it seemed a little simplistic, but he didn't really know what happened beyond that, and saying what had happened was still easier than listing all the things that were wrong.
"An accident?" Jim said. "You were in an accident? Where's John? Samuel, where's your father?"
"Here," Sam said, flicking his eyes to his father's still frame. "Bleeding."
"Your father is bleeding?"
"Are you still there?" Pastor Jim prompted and Sam remembered belatedly that nodding didn't work over the phone.
"Yes," Sam said, as clear and as simple as he could, because even moving his jaw seemed to send shockwaves of pain through his body.
"Good," Pastor Jim said, and Sam could hear the Pastor take on that calm voice, the one he used when talking to the little children at church. Sam had liked that voice, found it comforting and easy. Not condescending, like some people were with kids. But just understanding. Like he got them. Like he cared. "Where's your brother?"
Sam blinked at that, turning his eyes to the open space where the windshield used to be. "Dun know," Sam admitted.
He could hear the Pastor swallowing and when he spoke again, his voice sounded a little wavering. "Are you hurt, Sam?"
Sam figured he was, which was why there was pain and all that, but that wasn't the point. He didn't call to talk about himself, and besides, his dad would take care of him and Dean would take care of him, right after Sam finished taking care of this. "Need help," Sam told him as soundly as he could, because he wanted to get that much right. He'd climbed over the seat for this, and that was the message he had to deliver and it had to be enough because it was all he knew how to do. He hadn't learned enough yet to handle the rest.
"You need help? Where are you?"
"Not quite Tennessee," Sam recalled, because his dad kept promises like that, even Dean would keep a promise like that, no matter how stupid it was to just like the look of all those double letters--two n's, two s', two e's--and all the stations played Johnny Cash whose low voice thrummed in tune with the rumble of the Impala's engine over the twisted backwater roads.
"You're not in Tennessee? You were--I know this, you were coming up from Florida, right? John called me from North Carolina two days ago and was moving in on a hunt in Missouri."
Pastor Jim was talking, but it seemed like a lot people talked without talking to him anymore. That wasn't something Pastor Jim normally did, though, which was why Sam liked him so much, and Sam wasn't totally listening, so that was probably okay.
"Can you tell me anything more about where you are?"
Sam looked out the broken window and saw trees and green a light and he wondered where his brother was and if he'd be mad that Sam was sitting shotgun, even when the car wasn't moving.
"Samuel, answer me."
An order. Sam knew orders. Orders to make his body and read his Latin and to be in bed by the time Dad got home. "Yessir," he said, and it sounded a little disrespectful, but that wasn't his intention, it really wasn't.
"Have you called for help?"
Sam's heart stuttered a bit. "Di'n't know who to call," Sam said, numbness suddenly spreading through his arms and legs. "Trust no one."
"You didn't call an ambulance? Sam?"
Was he supposed to? Had he screwed up? Had he made the wrong decision?
His breathing hitched, or tried to, and it left him gasping uselessly. He let the phone fall from his fingers, because it didn't matter anymore. He'd called and he'd picked wrong and they were probably going to die because Sam couldn't cut it when the pressure was on.
Dean wouldn't make the wrong decision. Dean probably walked five miles through the woods and found the only telephone within five miles and was going to show up with firemen and paramedics and even a cheerleader on his arm to nurse away his stellar bruises.
Sam felt silly and he felt stupid and he felt hurt and he felt more than hurt and he felt like he could be dying and he just wanted to cry and to sleep and he needed a hug, even if real men didn't hug, but if he cried enough, Dean would hug him, but Dean wasn't here--
He looked at his dad again, and, sniffling, inched his way to him. It took more work than Sam should have bothered with, but it was what he wanted. It was the one thing he wanted. Something safe, something warm and familiar and right, and even if his dad was bleeding and unconscious, he was still Dad and he was still the superhero Dean said he was because that was all Sam had left to count on even when sometimes he didn't believe it.
He gave a final effort, flopping the rest of the way, his body sinking into the seat next to his father. Nestled there, he could feel his father's heart beating and he could see the crumpled door and the steering wheel smashed up against him. His dad was stuck, and more hurt than Sam had known, and Sam had made the wrong choice while his dad was stuck and hurt and bleeding.
Closing his eyes, he tried to listen, just like he was supposed to. Listen to orders, listen to the world around him. Pay attention and you'll figure it out.
Sam heard the thump, thump, thump and it meant that his dad was alive and he listened to it beat again and again and again and tried to believe in something, in anything. He couldn't trust the world and he couldn't trust strangers and he couldn't trust much at all, but the pounding of his father's heart seemed like more than enough to keep him grounded right then, even as he slipped away into to darkness.
At first, distant. Like he was holding his breath underwater and trying to listen to his brother flirt with the girl who was staying in 2B.
Then, louder. And more than voices. Other noises, something wailing, and the rustling of movement.
It seemed important, there was something Sam was supposed to be doing. But not training, not homework, not Latin...not...
He pulled into himself, hunkering down. He didn't want to know. Ignorance was bliss. Maybe not, but it was the closest thing he'd ever had. Back when he could believe in people completely. Back when he could believe that there was something good in the world for him.
"....found them!" a voice called, closer now. "They look worse than the kid said!"
More people talking around him, maybe about him, but not to him. Like he was invisible. Like he was nothing. Like he was some sort of object, not a person with a mind and feelings and a life.
"We're going to need another rig here," the voice said. "We'll need something to slice through this door--this guy looks pretty wedged. What's the ETA on the fire department?"
A voice answered, farther away, and Sam didn't want to know.
Then, touch. Hand probing his arm, touching his face. "Son? You with me, son?"
Sam turned away, because he didn't know what to say to strangers, and this voice, this touch was too strange.
"Kid, can you hear me?" the voice asked again, louder this time and more insistent, and the hands went down, gently exploring his chest.
It made him whimper, or try to, because he wasn't really breathing right and anything more than just laying there was more than he could handle.
Instead, he let himself drift deeper, leaning into the warmth of his father, and tried to hear the reassuring heartbeat.
He wasn't sure if it was there or not because all the pressure was building again, and he exploded with a cough that shook his entire body, tearing from his chest to his knee and back again, and he hacked louder and harder and harder and louder until tears ran down his cheeks and he was sure he was going to die.
"Whoa, easy there," the voice was saying, and the hands were steadying now. "I think we've got some kind of internal injury, possible pneumothorax--I need a backboard, now!"
He didn't know what that meant and he didn't know just how bad that was but it seemed bad, it seemed really bad, but it didn't make sense, nothing made sense, and maybe if he could clear his head, take a breath, get some air--
Then movement behind. "Sir, sir--just--take it easy."
Then a low rumble in his father's chest. "Wha--where?"
"Sir, you were in a car accident," the voice said, and the hands were on him once again, shifting him down, bracing his neck and holding him still.
"Sam? Dean? Where's Dean? What's wrong with Sam?"
"Sir, we're trying to help your boys," he said. "We found Dean down the road, passed out, not two miles from here. He's fine--looks like a concussion, but we're going to take him in."
His father was moving again and Sam wanted to open his eyes to look at him, to see it for himself, but he didn't know how. The world was both lighter now and heavier still, a weird mix where he was floating and anchored all at once. Everything was buzzing, just around the edges.
"Sammy--" his father's voice called, and it sounded funny--cut short and almost an order but lacking the severity.
It was worried.
His dad was worried about him.
After all of it, after Sam's worst fears and his doubts and his struggle to do the right thing--his dad was worried about him. Didn't he know that it had been Sam's turn to do this right? To try to do the right thing?
"We're not sure about the extent of Sam's injuries just, yet but we're going to get him out of here, and then we're going to get you out, okay?"
"Why isn't he waking up?" his father asked. "What the hell is wrong with him?"
"Sir, you need to stay still until we know more about your injuries--"
"The hell with my injuries," his father cut in. "Tell me about my son."
The protection was fierce, strong and instant, and Sam wanted to cry again. Not because he was scared or because he was worried, but because, for the first time in a long time, in longer than he could remember, he really and truly felt safe. It didn't matter that there were monsters in the night. It didn't matter that Sam couldn't remember having a home address for more than three months. It didn't matter that sometimes Sam couldn't remember what his last name was supposed to be or what the Latin conjugations were. There was just his father, strong and present and in control, and no harm had ever befallen Sam while that was true.
And that was all there was.
He could still hear the heartbeat.
Steady and strong--unchanging.
But the warmth was gone. The closeness.
Sam startled, because this was different than before. No pain, no car, no Dad, no--
He opened his eyes in a flash, blinking rapidly as he tried to make sense of where he was.
Machines and bed rails. A curtain on a track from the ceiling. Sheets and the smell of antiseptic.
He'd been in them before, but never on this side. Never in the bed.
A shiver trickled down his spine and he looked around again, taking in the tubes and wires attached to his body, feeling the weight of thick bandages. His head felt funny and his tongue felt think, like it hadn't been used in a long, long time and he'd slept with his mouth open again.
The strong, steady beat wasn't his father's--it was his own. There was a monitor with a bouncing line above him and to the right, as if he needed to be reminded that he was, in fact, alive after all.
Sam turned his head to the other side, and found his father, sitting up in the chair, looking at him anxiously.
His father's face was tired, the stubble more than a few days old and well on its way to becoming a beard. His hair looked greasy and matted, like it tended to after he would get back from a long hunt. There was a line of stitches marching across his forehead, angry-looking and neat, and his arm was in a sling.
Still, Sam was pretty sure he'd never seen his father happier.
Smiling nervously, Sam licked his lips and opened his mouth, unpleasantly surprised by the rawness of his throat.
"Easy, easy," his dad soothed, sitting forward now and putting a restraining hand on Sam's shoulder.
It was simple advice, but it didn't quell Sam's growing sense of disorientation.
"It's going to hurt for awhile," his father continued. "They had the tube in for a few days, so that's going to be inevitable."
It was said in passing, easy and nonchalant, but Sam picked up on it. He turned wide eyes up to his father's face beseechingly.
"You're okay now," his father assured him.
Sam shook his head, because that wasn't it. He didn't care about himself. It didn't matter if he was okay. That wasn't what he'd worked so hard for. That wasn't what he'd been trying to do at all.
He worked hard to swallow, wincing, and building as much saliva up as he could. "You okay?" he managed to get out, and it sounded like rocks on sandpaper and felt like it, too.
His father actually laughed at that. "I'm fine," he said. "A little banged up, but they put some stitches in, gave me an x-ray and decided that I really was made of steel after all."
Sam tried to believe it, because there his dad was, smiling and joking. Sam could remember, though, too clearly, his father's confused voice, the weird nonsensical orders, the blood smeared across his face. He could remember the thudding of his father's heart, that only reassurance, and it was hard to let go of.
Worse than that, he remembered the open door. "Dean?" he asked, his worry surging again.
"Dean's fine," his dad said. "They've got him under observation in another room. They're going to discharge him later today."
Sam shook his head. That wasn't the whole story. That wasn't enough. Sam needed to know. "He okay?" Sam asked, hoping his father would understand the inherently plea for details.
"Bad concussion, broken wrist. They wanted to monitor him because they were worried about side effects from the concussion and they figured we all got tossed around pretty good and wanted to watch for signs of internal bleeding," he explained. Seeing Sam's look of terror, he added, "Which Dean definitely did not have."
Sam attempted to swallow again, finding it a little easier this time, and he let himself relax.
His father was watching him, eyebrows raised and curious. "You're not going to ask about you?"
Sam just cocked his head.
"About how you're doing?"
Truthfully, it hadn't been a question Sam had been concerned about. His father and his brother had spent so much time making sure that Sam was okay, that Sam was on track, that sometimes he figured he could just stop worrying for himself. They weren't decisions he had to make. They weren't choices he even had in his power. Sometimes that was frustrating, sometimes it was reassuring, but Sam didn't know how his own identity existed as a solitary thing. He didn't know who he was without his father and his brother. The thought of them failing him, of Sam being hurt on their watch--was impossible.
His father smiled a little, disbelieving. "You may be a Winchester, after all," he said.
Sam thought back to the car, to the open door and the desperate phone call. "Pastor Jim?"
His father nodded. "Yeah, your desperate little phone call may have scared ten years off Jim's life, but it did the trick. It took some work, but between the information you gave him and what Jim knew about our plans, he was able to get some help our way. They found Dean down the road, passed out cold while trying to get help. He's already gotten his lecture, and I'll give you another day to recover before you get yours."
Sam felt his conscience pang. He had made the wrong choice. He'd known it the minute he did it, the minute he heard Pastor Jim ask about 9-1-1.
"Sam, you do realize I'm not mad, right?"
"Dis'ppoint'd," Sam concluded for him.
"Disappointed?" his father asked, a little incredulous. "Sam, you saved our lives. I can't be disappointed in that. But you almost got yourself killed. You and Dean both, you didn't think about yourselves. You charged blindly ahead. Dean could have passed out someplace worse or gotten lost. You could have ripped more than one hole in your lung and suffocated before help ever arrived. Did you even think about that?"
No, Sam hadn't thought about that. In fact, ripping holes in his lungs was kind of news to him.
"Yes, Sammy, a hole in your lung," he said. "They figured your little acrobatics to the front seat pushed a broken rib out of place and it did some real damage. It was a long surgery and they're still watching you like hawks for complications."
Sam swallowed again, feeling disappointment rise. He felt like shrinking back, like finding some way to hide away. He should be used to doing it wrong. He was always too young and too little and just not enough of anything to do it right.
His dad sighed, rubbing his free hand through his hair. "You've been paying too much attention to your brother," he said. "Not every critique is a condemnation."
Sam looked at him, not really sure what that meant.
"I just...can't lose you. Either of you," his dad explained. "And what you did--it was stupid and it was reckless and you better believe we'll be stepping up your training after this--first aid, decision making, contingency planning--but damn." He paused, shaking his head, a smile playing on his lips. "I'm so proud of you, son."
The compliment was so unexpected that Sam wondered briefly if he'd imagined it. If he was still drugged up or passed out or dreaming altogether.
"We'll talk about this more in the morning," his father said. "And I'm sure your brother will want to talk to you. But for now, just get some rest, okay, kiddo?"
Sam's instincts were to protest, to resist, but he didn't know why he would, not now, not when life was probably about as good as it could be, as it ever had been.