Title: Stuck in a Moment
A/N: This is for the lovely and awesome Annj! She's had a rough week, and so I thought some limp!Sam might be just a little pick-me-up to help her forget :) Very fast beta done by geminigrl11. This is set roughly before Asylum in S1. Forgive any lingering mistakes--this was written very quickly, so I can't promise perfection, even though Annj deserves it!
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Summary: Hunters died on the hunt, from ghosts or monsters or demons. They drank themselves to death in backwater bars or lonely hotel rooms. But they really didn't stand stupidly in front of cars and let themselves get run over. Set S1
It was something that he was trained not to do. He remembered that lesson all too clearly; his father screaming at him, his face so red that Sam almost worried his father was having a heart attack.
"You never freeze!" The lecture had come with spittle all over Sam's face. "You freeze, you could get someone killed. Yourself, me, Dean--is that what you want, is that what you want?!"
He had said it with such intensity, such a deep fire in his eyes that Sam had flinched, looking away. His father shook him.
"Tell me, Sam! Is that what you want?!"
Sam had cried then, even though he was too old for that kind of thing. He couldn't help it. It had been far too emotional, the entire thing. From the spirit charging at him to his father's painfully harsh rebuke, it was catching up with Sam what had happened, how close he'd come. If his brother hadn't turned around in time, hadn't been so accurate with the shot, Sam would probably have been skewered on a ghostly sword by now, and the entire hunt would have been for naught.
"Figure it out, Sam," his father had seethed, shaking him again for good measure. There were tears in father's eyes, angry and terrified. "What do you want?!"
Sam was supposed to want to train more. To hunt better.
But what he really wanted, what he finally couldn't deny that he needed, was to just get the hell out. Normal kids didn't have to worry about freezing like that. Normal kids worried about safe kinds of freezing, screwing up the big shot in the high school basketball game, blanking during the SATs, getting tongue-tied while asking out a cute girl to Prom.
And for almost four years, Sam didn't freeze at all. Not when Jess had finally cornered him to ask him out. Not when he had to take the LSATs. Not even when he walked into that ring shop and asked about financing options.
Not once. Not once.
And yet, there he was. Standing like a deer in the headlights. Literally.
Sam was all big doe eyes and he was staring in the beams of the oncoming car with a dumbfounded expression. It wasn't coming for him, was it? It couldn't really hit him, could it?
Hunters died on the hunt, from ghosts or monsters or demons. They drank themselves to death in backwater bars or lonely hotel rooms. They wrapped their cars around trees when they got too old to give a damn anymore.
But they really didn't stand stupidly in front of cars and let themselves get run over.
Unless they were Sam, of course.
The perpetual screw up. The pitiful cursed kid. In so many ways, that car would be doing him a favor.
Of course, he hadn't walked in front of the car for no reason at all. He hadn't been standing on the road waiting for something stupid to happen. No, he'd been walking back to the motel room, leaving Dean to his latest conquest, when he'd seen the couple stumbling in the street. Too much to drink, it looked like, which was no big deal. Except they'd been stumbling more than walking, weaving more than watching where they were going.
And that car--it just came out of nowhere.
What do you want, Sam?
He wanted to be back at Stanford, holding Jessica in bed, dreaming about his life as a lawyer. He wanted to pick names for their children, graduate with honors, buy a house he couldn't afford in the suburbs.
Those things were gone now, smoke in the night, or maybe they'd never been his to begin with.
What do you want, Sam?
To kill the thing that did this to him and his family, to understand why it happened. To get justice and revenge and to make peace with his father once and for all.
But there were more questions than answers, and Dad didn't answer his phones calls, and Sam was beginning to wonder if he'd ever have a chance, after all.
What do you want, Sam?
A quiet night, sleeping in, a place to call home. A laugh with his brother, an evening to forget his curse, maybe just some peace.
Some people just weren't that lucky. Sam would have to settle for saving the lives of a drunk couple stumbling home and hope that was enough.
What do you want, Sam?
To freeze there forever, to be stuck in that moment. Never moving forward, never going back. He didn't have to face the past, he didn't have to deal with the future. Just that moment, blinded by headlights, thinking that maybe salvation really was that easy.
What do you want, Sam?
A squeal of breaks, someone yelling. A woman crying.
What do you want, Sam?
He came to life with a start, blinking against the glare and gasping at the reality of it. He was moving, but it wouldn't be enough.
Figured, though. Sam Winchester, too little, too late. Getting his head in the game just enough to know how screwed he was but not soon enough to stop any of it from happening.
What do you want, Sam?
The question didn't matter, couldn't matter, as the car hit him and that was all there was.
She had been all over him, breathing hot and heavy in his ear, the taste of her lipstick in his mouth. Her body was moving into his, sliding closer, fingers trailing on his thigh.
"You know," she said, her voice sultry and seductive, just like he liked it. "I think maybe we should take this show on the road?"
Dean let his head dip, looking longingly down the front of her deep v-neck dress. He tilted his head back up, brushing his lips against her cheek. "Yeah? Any ideas?"
She grinned. "Oh, maybe a few," she said with a tipsy giggle.
Dean took a moment to pull back, raising his eyebrows. "Care to share?"
She tossed her head a bit. "Well, my roommate is out of town for the week," she said. "And we have this spectacular walk-in shower, with jets on all sides, more steam than you can imagine."
Dean was pretty sure he could imagine just fine. "You don't say," he said. "That sounds pretty appealing."
Her eyes lit up. "It does, doesn't it?"
He'd leaned close again, running his hands over her back, feeling the line of her bra under her dress. "It sure does."
"So tell me, tiger," she purred, just like in the damn movies. "What do you want to do?"
And damn it all, he froze.
Dean Winchester, ladies' man extraordinaire--he froze.
This kind of crap didn't happen to him. He was a smooth operator. He could woo any woman off her feet, and get an invite home without even blinking.
"Dean? What do you want?" she asked again.
He wanted to take her back home, to see her bedroom, to feel the warm skin under her dress. He wanted to run his hands through her hair, breathe her in like she was the only oxygen he would ever need.
"Dean?" she asked again, more impatient this time. "What do you want?"
Damn it, he wanted to know Sam was okay. That was the hang up, and he knew it. The kid had left him to this with no complaints, but Sam wasn't happy. He was like some lost little puppy in these kind of situations, too heartbroken to move on, too stubborn to let go. It wasn't fair to leave him like that, not so soon after Jess.
"You have to tell me what you want," she said simply this time, the seductive edge gone in her voice. She was about to bolt--with or without him.
He came back to himself with a start, blinking and closing his mouth. It wasn't what he wanted; it was what he needed. What Sam needed. The whole big brother thing meant sacrifices sometimes.
Giving the girl another look over, he ached with what a sacrifice it would be.
"Well, if you won't tell me what you want--" she said with a frump, pulling her purse off the bar.
"Oh, hey, baby, it's not like that," Dean said.
"Yeah?" she asked, clearly not convinced. "Then what is it? You just want a quick feel? Got a wife to go home to?"
"What? No," Dean said. "Just a brother. I mean. I should really check up on the kid. He's had a hard time lately, and I just thought--"
She rolled her eyes. "Whatever," she muttered, brushing passed him. "Have a nice life."
What do you want, Dean?
He turned, watching her go. The question didn't matter, couldn't matter. She left the bar, the door closing behind her, and Dean leaned back, nodding to the bartender for one more round before he went to check on his brother.
The headlights were still there. Bright and glaring, searing into him, exposing every inch of him.
It was cold. Why was it so cold?
He shouldn't be here, not like this.
Sam blinked, trying to flinch away, but the light was everywhere. He couldn't escape it.
"Sir? Sir? Can you tell me your name?"
The voice was distant, hard to make out. Disconnected, lost in the light.
"Sir, do you know where you are?"
Sam never knew where he was. Not since his apartment had gone up in smoke. Now there were just motel rooms and the Impala, the endless road.
He blinked involuntarily, and the world came to him with more clarity. He wasn't standing in the intersection anymore, and he wasn't a deer in the headlights. He was stripped naked, stretched out on a table. And there were people with masks on looking down at him.
This would be a perfect time to freeze, maybe to pass out again.
But Sam was nothing if not impossibly contrary.
Instead, he became aware of how much he hurt, of pain, pain, pain, pain.
"Sir, can you hear me?"
Sam swallowed convulsively, and it tasted like blood. He gagged a little, tear burning at his eyes.
"Do you know where you are?"
A hospital. He was in a hospital. He'd been hit by a car and he was in the hospital.
He'd been hit by a car?
Because he'd frozen.
Just like his father had always told him.
You could get someone killed.
Sam laughed, or tried to. It was choked off in his throat, and he squeezed his eyes against a flare of pain in his stomach.
"Is there anyone we can call?"
Sam's eyes snapped open. This was an important question. A question he could answer.
Dean would be pissed at him, for screwing up. For being here. This was a risk, this whole hospital thing. He shouldn't have been so stupid. He should have trained harder, hunted better. He should have been smarter. He should have saved Jess. He should have found Dad. He never should have left Dean.
"Please, someone who will want to know where you are."
"Dean," Sam said, almost without his consent. There were some answers that were just there, some that he just knew, no matter how long he was gone, no matter how far away he'd been. No matter how badly he'd screwed up. "My brother, Dean."
Then something ripped through him, pulling him apart with an agony he hadn't expected. He couldn't help it--he cried with it, trying to arch his back to get away from it. But it didn't do any good, and hands were pulling him back down. He couldn't breathe and he couldn't think, and he strained and strained against it.
Dying. Dying to breathe, dying to live. Dying, dying, dying.
And for the second time that night, Sam froze. Because he didn't know what else to do. There was nothing else to do, but to stare into the light until there was nothing left and Sam was gone.
The last round had been bitter, smooth beer as rough as whisky in the wake of his forsaken conquest. He'd thought about going after her half a dozen times or so--he was a good tracker, and it was about time those skills paid off in his personal life--but the choice had been made.
His damn split second, deer in the headlights decision.
Fight or flight, family or fun: Dean had chosen Sam.
But who else was he supposed to choose? The dad who wouldn't answer his calls? The girl who he barely knew?
Nope, the little brother who needed him.
And Sam did need him. Not like when they were kids, and Sam relied on Dean for just about everything from lunch money to bedtime routine, but in a more subtle way. What had happened at Stanford, losing Jess, the dreams--they were taking a toll on his little brother, even if Sam wouldn't admit it.
Dean always had a soft spot for that kid. After all, Sam was everything good in his life. He'd lost that once already; he wasn't about to risk it again.
With that thought, he plunked a bill down on the bar, nodded to the bartender and made his way out. Down the street, there was some kind of commotion. Police cruisers with their lights still flashing, and a few uniformed officers milling around.
He had nothing to worry about, but there was no sense tempting fate. Nonchalantly, he turned, taking himself the other direction. A bit of an extra walk perhaps, but it would be worthwhile.
Dean was turning the corner, giving the scene behind him one last glance, when his phone rang.
Moving out of sight from whatever crime scene there was, Dean pulled out his phone. Sam's name showed on his screen.
He frowned. The kid would know better to call during one of Dean's nights outs--wouldn't he? If Dean had followed through with his plan, he probably would have been rounding third base and on the stretch for home.
Despite the fact that Dean had made a sacrifice pop fly, he was still perturbed as he answered the phone.
"Dude, really?" he answered.
"Dean...McMichaels?" a very not-Sam voice said on the other end.
The question threw him. Dean McMichaels? And who had Sam's phone? "Who is this?" he demanded, his feet stilling.
"My name is Tracy," the voice continued. "I'm a nurse over at Mercy Hospital."
"A nurse?" he asked, his brain still trying to make sense of all the details.
"I'm calling about your brother," she said.
Maybe Dean had had a little too much to drink. "My brother?"
"Sam McMichaels?" she asked.
"Uh, yeah," Dean said, because that sounded right. One of their aliases. Which meant that something had happened. Sam didn't pull out the fake names for just anything. "What about him? Is he okay?"
"I think you're going to want to get down here," was all little nurse Tracy could say. Her voice sounded apologetic.
"Lady, come on," Dean said, his head still swimming. "I need to know about my brother."
Because Sam was all that mattered. He mattered more than Dad, more than the hunt, more than cute girls in the bar. He was Sam. Dean's responsibility.
"We can tell you more once you get here," she said. "Do you need directions?"
And for the second time that night, Dean froze. For all the work he'd done to keep Sam safe, to keep them together, it couldn't be blown away by one freakin' call from a hospital. Could it? They'd survived too much, suffered too greatly. They were Winchesters, damn it, and they didn't die under aliases in anonymous towns in the middle of who-knew-where.
So, no, Dean did not need directions. He needed to clear his head, he needed to get laid, he needed to find his dad, but most of all, he just needed his damn little brother.
He swallowed, hard, breaking himself free. He had a job to do.
"I'll be there in ten minutes," Dean snapped, hanging up the phone. Breaking into a jog, he laid out the town in his mind. The hospital wasn't far, he remembered from their drive in. Closer to the center of town. He could loop around the alleys and take a shortcut and be there in ten.
It was as fast as he could hope for, but he could only hope that it was fast enough.
The big things were always easy. Finding out that monsters were real. Going to Stanford. Taking the LSATs. Looking at rings. Those were decisions Sam could make, problems Sam could figure out. Life-altering choices that he could make without hesitation because he'd thought them through. He knew the pros and cons, so when push came to shove, he knew which side of the line he wanted to be on.
It was the little things that got him. Should he tell Dean about Stanford? Should he tell Jess about the dreams? Should he tell his brother the truth about how hard growing up Winchester had been on him?
Those decisions, the split second ones that came, day in and day out, those were the ones that got him all messed up. The ones he always picked wrong.
And Dean resented his choice for college. Jess died on the ceiling. His brother was never in the mood for chick flick moments.
Wrong, wrong, wrong. What do you want, Sam?
To make it better. To make it right.
But he couldn't. He was helpless and hopeless, flat on the bed while everything burned above him.
His body was weak, held down. He couldn't move. He couldn't move.
And he couldn't speak. His voice was gone, something stuck in his throat. He was a captive, a prisoner to his mistakes, his failures, watching them play out again and again and again and not being able to change any of them.
What do you want, Sam?
To breathe, to live. To just get out.
But he was frozen. Stuck. A deer in the headlights who understood everything that was happening, everything that would happen, but couldn't change it anyway.
He'd been hit by a car, he remembered. He'd been in the hospital, he knew.
He'd asked for Dean.
Dean would come. Dean always came. Dean could make this better. Dean could pull him out, just like at Stanford, just like when he was just a baby.
What do you want, Sam?
There was only one answer, only one that mattered. Only one he could give, if he could just find his voice to speak: Dean.
But the question went unanswered and the light glared at Sam and he couldn't even turn away as it overtook him yet again.
He was out of breath when he got to the hospital, but that didn't slow him down. He staggered to the reception desk. "Sam McMichaels," he panted. "I need to see Sam McMichaels."
The woman behind the counter gave him a look, somewhere between surprise and disgust, but she pecked at a few keys on her computer. "Sam McMichaels," she read. "Yes, he's being treated upstairs. Check in with the surgical reception desk."
The word surgical threw him. He swallowed hard, a lump in his throat, almost cutting off his air intake entirely. "Surgery?"
The woman nodded absently, squinting at the screen. "He was admitted just over a half hour ago and redlined to the OR."
"What happened to him?" Dean asked.
She shrugged, and then gave him a tired, sympathetic smile. "They'll tell you more once you get up there."
Dean didn't have to ask to know she wasn't going to tell him anything more. All she had was her little computer screen and Dean needed answers, not fast facts.
He took the stairs, bounding them two at a time, bursting onto the second floor breathlessly. The signs were clear enough and he found the reception desk, running up to it, demanding: "I'm here for Sam McMichaels."
There was a small assortment of nurses behind the desk, and they all eyed him with curious detachment. Then one, a small blonde, stepped around the desk. "Dean McMichaels, right?" she asked. She held out her hand. "I'm Tracy Fredericks. We talked on the phone."
Dean shook her hand without thinking. "How's my brother."
She led him aside, away from the waiting room and the other nurses. "Your brother is in surgery right now," she explained, as though she were a kindergarten teacher instructing the class on the best way to use scissors.
"Yeah, I figured that," Dean said sarcastically. "Since this is the surgery wing."
Her saccharine smile was patient, if tired. "Yes, well, I'm afraid it may be several more hours before they're finished. At that time, Dr. Barlowe, who is leading the surgery, can update you on Sam's status."
"That's great," Dean said. "But how about you update me one what you know. Like you said you would on the phone."
"Oh, yes, of course," she said. "Your brother was brought in as the victim of a hit-and-run, pedestrian versus auto. The cops have stopped by, said that your brother was pushing two other pedestrians out of the way but couldn't clear the car's path himself."
Dean's mind flashed. The police outside the bar. Sam hadn't even made it a block, and Dean had never even known.
He should have been there. He should have been there.
"Sam's presenting injuries were fairly severe. There was some head trauma, of course, but the head CT luckily didn't show any serious damage. The bulk of the impact was with his torso, resulting in massive internal trauma. The doctor wanted to perform an exploratory laporatomy to catch any bleeders that the medication can't control. He has five broken ribs, one of which did puncture a lung, but that has stabilized with a chest tube. Sam also suffered a handful of broken bones, including a broken wrist and a broken leg, both on the left side."
The litany was long. Dean's bravado was gone.
Instead, he felt nauseous.
She'd had him at massive internal trauma and the final nail in the coffin had been chest tube. He wasn't even sure he could think about the implications of a broken wrist and leg, not when he didn't have a clue how Sam was going to survive this at all.
Dean swallowed, feeling numb. "Is he...okay?" he asked, too aware of how dumb the question was. Sam wasn't okay--he was in surgery. He'd been hit by a car. He had a list of injuries so long that Dean couldn't top them, not in his entire life of hunting.
This time, Tracy's smile was truly sad. "His condition is critical," she said. She squeezed his arm gently. "We'll know more once the surgery is complete. If you have any questions, feel free to ask at the desk."
She lingered for a moment, as if waiting for him to speak. This was his time to ask questions, his time to press for more.
But what could he ask? What could he do? It was like he was frozen again, stuck in a damn moment he couldn't get out of.
It didn't happen often with women. It happened even less on the hunt. But when it came to this stuff, the touchy feely stuff, the things that really scared him more than monsters ever could--he was just plain weak. The truth was--and this was a well-kept secret--Dean Winchester was a chicken when it came to this stuff, a no-chick-flick kind of guy who used jokes and deflection to avoid the fact that when it came to his family, when it came to the people he loved, he just didn't know what to do.
And without Sam there to coax it out of him, without his brother to be there are give Dean a reason to move again, Dean wasn't sure he could. Wasn't sure he wanted to.
What if Sam didn't make it? What if Sam died? What if Dean lost his brother?
What do you want, Dean?
Only one thing. Always one thing. And Dean would stand there forever until he got it back.
This time, Sam really woke up.
Not just half-way, not just sort of, but really. Breathing, living, eyes open awake.
If he had any doubts, the pain would have convinced him otherwise. It was everywhere, but muted and distant. Probably drugs. The good stuff.
Drugs--meant the hospital.
Hospital--meant he was hurt.
Hurt--meant he'd done something stupid.
Stupid--meant par for the course in Sam Winchester's life.
He blinked, trying to move, but finding it tricky. There were tubes and wires and his left side felt heavy. Looking down, he tried to make sense of it all, but there was almost too much. A cast on his leg, another on his wrist. And bulky bandages, a pair of IVs.
He was a mess.
Sam turned his head, a little too quickly. He winced.
"You're awake!" Dean said, sounding far too excited. And far too loud.
Sam's head throbbed.
"It's about time," Dean muttered, trying to sound annoyed, but even drugged up, Sam could tell his brother was just relieved.
Sam blinked, focusing his eyes on his brother. Dean was sitting next to him, looking a bit worse for wear. There was more grizzled facial hair on his features than usual, and his hair looked particularly unkempt. "Have you even showered today?" Sam asked. He swallowed hard, wishing he hadn't spoken at all. His throat felt raw, burning and coarse.
It must have sounded as bad as it felt. Dean winced. "Try five days, little brother," Dean said.
"Five days?" Sam asked, truly surprised. He coughed on the words though, hacking painfully.
Dean was standing, holding him down gently. "Take it easy," he said, sounding perturbed. "You just lost the tube in your throat this morning."
Sam squinted up at him through the pain. "The tube?" he rasped.
"Yeah," Dean said, holding up a glass of water for him. "Drink slowly. I don't want the nurse to have my ass if I make you vomit."
The idea of vomiting sounded very unpleasant in this condition, so Sam obeyed. After his small sip, he worked to find his voice again. "What happened?"
Dean settled back in his chair, snorting a bit. "You don't remember?"
Sam thought about that. "The car," he said suddenly, the bright flare of headlights burned into his mind. "I was hit by a car?"
Dean nodded warily. "Pushed two drunk people out of the way but got creamed. Messed you up pretty good."
The idea of it made Sam cringe. Maybe it was good he didn't remember the details. "What's the verdict on me?"
"You'll live," Dean said with a grunt. "No thanks to your stupid heroics. I know you have a soft spot for innocent people, but now you're including drunks in that, too?"
"They didn't see the car," Sam said meagerly.
"So you do and you jump in front of it?" Dean asked sarcastically.
It did sound kind of stupid. It had seemed like a much better idea when he'd done it.
Dean sighed, scrubbing a hand through his hair. He swore. "What were you thinking, anyway? You're smarter than that, Sammy. I know you."
Sam shrinks away, feeling sheepish.
Figure it out, Sam. What do you want?
"I'm sorry," Sam said, feeling tired suddenly.
"Damn it, Sam," Dean said. "I don't...I'm not mad at you."
Sam glanced up at his brother.
Dean sighed again, shaking his head. "You just...scared the crap out of me, okay? I've been sitting here for five days, wondering if you'd live or die, and feeling so freaked out. I was just, I don't know..."
Sam's eyes went wet with sympathy. Drugs always did make him weepy and sentimental. He gave a light laugh. "Frozen?" Sam guessed.
Dean's eyes flashed to him. "Yeah," he said. "Just stuck there. Seeing it all happening, but having no way to stop it."
Sam nodded. "I think I know the feeling. Like a deer--"
"Stuck in the damned headlights," Dean finished for him.
"That's what happened out there," Sam admitted with a shrug. He swallowed against the pain. He had to say this. "I wanted to do the right thing. But I got there and I was just staring at the car and there was nothing I could do. I was just stuck."
"Dude, you do know that you probably only hesitated for a split second," he said.
"It felt like longer," Sam said.
Dean laughed at that. "I think I know the feeling," he said with sardonic bemusement. He leaned back again, shaking his head. "Man, we are a pair, aren't we?"
Sam raised his eyebrows. "How do you figure?"
"You, all banged up in the hospital bed. Me, sitting here worrying. We've got to get past this."
"Well, when are they looking to discharge me?"
Dean shook his head. "I'm not just talking about this. I mean, yeah, we're going to have to lay low for awhile until you're back up to speed, but I'm talking about us. You and me. Family. There's only one thing that will make me freeze up, and that's you. Because I don't know how to help you. I don't know what you need."
Sam's eyes burned and he had to look away. "I don't know what you need either," he admitted. "Much less what I need."
Dean nodded a little. "Yeah," he agreed. "But you know I have your back, right? That if you freeze, you don't need to worry? I'm always going to be there. I mean, after the other night..."
Sam looked up again, trying hard not to cry. "I know," he said. "And you know I've got yours, right?"
Dean's grin was large, honest and free. "Damn straight," he said. "We make one hell of a team."
Sam's smile was lopsided. He nodded. "Yeah, I think we do," he said.
Dean stood, patting Sam's shoulder lightly. "Now I probably need to call the nurse," he said. "If she finds out you're awake and I didn't tell her, she's going to have my hide."
Sam had to laugh. That was classic Dean, through and through. The one thing he could always count on.
He watched his brother slip out the door, and he let himself sink back into his bed. His body ached and he was already feeling sleepy.
What do you want, Sam?
A lot of things, maybe. Another chance, another future. Another chance to be real. But for now, all he wanted was what he already had.
That knowledge was soothing, and he felt the moment slip away, for better and for worse.
But especially for better.