Summary: Pre-series – Teenchesters – It was them against the world. And it seemed their world now included cancer.
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Warnings: Usual language, plus John isn't portrayed as a nice guy in the first part of this 'verse. If that bothers you, best to move along now.
A/N: The older I get, the more I realize we're all one unexpected phone call away from our lives changing forever.
The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday. ~ Mary Schmich
It started with a phone call, the sound startling in the quiet motel room as the brothers sat across from each other at the small table in the corner.
Dean having picked Sam up from school barely an hour ago and both now focused on completing different tasks – Sam trying to finish his homework while Dean scanned newspaper articles, researching possible cases in the area.
In fact, when the phone had first rung, Dean had expected to see John's number, had expected their dad to be calling earlier than usual and groaned at the anticipated conversation.
"I am not in the mood to deal with his shit."
Sam glanced up from his homework but said nothing.
Father and sons' relationship having been strained for the past two months since that night John had momentarily lost control and had hit Sam so hard the 12-year old had ended up sprawled on the floor.
That night Dean had threatened their dad.
That night Sam had stopped talking to John.
That night everything had changed.
Since then, John stayed gone for even longer periods than usual. The brothers having not seen their father in over a month since John had last left them.
And John didn't call as often, either – usually just once a week and usually on a Wednesday.
But even those brief conversations between father and oldest son were tense and awkward and usually resulted in either swear-filled yelling or icy silence.
And Dean was not in the mood for that shit, especially since today was only Tuesday.
He was supposed to have at least another 24 hours to psych himself up for his weekly battle with the asshole who was their dad.
But the phone was ringing now, so...
Dean sighed as he glanced from the newspaper to the caller display and then frowned at the unfamiliar number.
Because only five people had this cell number – or should have this cell number – and Dean knew all five of them, knew which numbers to expect.
But he didn't know this one.
So the phone continued to ring.
Sam huffed at the disturbance. "Are you gonna answer it or what?" he asked, his tone further reflecting his annoyance as his gaze flickered between Dean and the phone laying between them on the table.
Dean shrugged, still staring at the caller display. "I don't recognize the number."
"So?" Sam countered, his pencil hovering over his math homework. "Sometimes he calls from different numbers."
Dean nodded at the truth of that statement. "Yeah, I guess," he agreed and shifted his attention to Sam. "Finish your homework, so you can help me with this," he told his brother, gesturing at the other newspapers on his side of the table.
Sam scowled at the order. "I have other homework besides math, Dean."
"Then I suggest you get busy, Sammy," Dean returned. "Chop, chop."
Sam's scowl deepened, but he refocused on the calculations neatly printed on his notebook paper as Dean finally answered the call – the big brother holding the phone to his ear but saying nothing, waiting for the caller to speak first.
Sam rolled his eyes, sometimes hating it when Dean was so cautious.
Just answer the phone like a normal person...seriously.
There was a beat of silence disturbed by a bus inexplicably blasting its horn as it roared past the motel.
Sam glanced out the window, squinting in the weak rays of the setting sun, and then turned his attention back to Dean.
"Um...hello?" someone asked on the opposite end of the line.
Dean narrowed his eyes at the unfamiliar voice – the unfamiliar female voice – which only made this call more mysterious since Dean never gave this number to anyone, including potential hook-ups...even though this woman sounded too old to fit that description.
Because while Dean appreciated all female attention, he wasn't really into cougars and certainly wouldn't have given one his number. It was usually the other way around – the cougars giving him their numbers.
Dean snorted at the memory of his last such encounter and shook his head as the voice spoke again.
"Yeah..." Dean answered and waited.
Sam immediately bitchfaced him for his rude tone.
Dean ignored his little brother.
"Oh, hi..." the voice greeted. "Is this Dean Winchester?"
Dean pulled a face.
Yeah. Like he would confirm that so easily without knowing who the hell he was talking to.
But no way was Dean handing out that information and potentially placing himself – and more importantly, Sam – in danger. Because most everyone and everything knew that wherever Dean was, Sam was too.
"Who's this?" Dean countered instead and pointed at Sam's homework as his brother continued to stare at him from across the table.
Because being nosy wasn't getting those math problems done...was it, Sammy?
Sam sighed, loud and irritated.
Dean rewarded the nonverbal sass by kicking the 12-year old under the table.
Sam grunted, even though Dean hadn't kicked him that hard, and rubbed his leg as he glared at his brother.
Dean arched an eyebrow – drama queen much? – then glared as well, the intensity of his expression reflecting how serious he was about this.
Finish your fucking homework, Sam.
They had other shit to do tonight besides school crap...like combing through these newspapers for potential hunts.
John was gone but that didn't mean Dean had given up on the family business. He still saw purpose in hunting. He was just extra careful now, only pursuing easy cases. Cases he could handle solo – because Sam was a kid and should be kept safe. And cases that were low risk – because who would take care of Sam if Dean ended up dead?
Sam had nobody but Dean.
Dean was the one who took care of Sam, and there was nothing the big brother took more seriously than that.
Dean nodded at the thought and pointed again at the neglected math problems before refocusing on the phone he still held as the voice spoke once more.
"I'm Patricia," the woman identified. "Dr. Stanley's nurse from MMC."
MMC sounded like some kind of wrestling organization, but...
"From the Mercy Medical Center," the nurse further clarified at Dean's silence.
Dean's guard lessened as realization dawned, remembering how he had reluctantly – very reluctantly – agreed to give this number to the nurse yesterday when she had reasonably argued that if there was a problem with Sam's or Dean's blood work, then the clinic would need a way to contact them.
And since she was contacting Dean now, what did that mean?
Dean swallowed as dread began to crawl up his spine.
He glanced at Sam, hoping this call had nothing to do with the kid sitting across from him, hoping Sam's blood work and other routine tests had turned out fine.
Because nothing could be wrong with Sam.
Dean could handle anything else.
But nothing could be wrong with Sam.
It was him and that kid against the world, especially now with what had happened between them and John.
And nothing could be wrong with Sam.
Sensing Dean's stare, Sam glanced up.
What? he mouthed.
Dean shook his head – no need to worry his brother just yet – and pointed again at the homework.
"Oh my god..." Sam moaned at the repeated reminder. "Give it a rest, Dean," he bitched but ducked his head as he refocused on his math.
Dean twitched a smile at the 12-yeard old – such a dramatic little shit – and then swallowed once more at the possibility of something being wrong with his brother.
Because nothing could be wrong with Sam.
"You and your brother were here yesterday afternoon to receive physicals," the nurse continued to explain over the phone.
He and Sam having always gotten yearly physicals just like all good soldiers. John having always insisted upon the annual exams and actually saving money to pay for them instead of running their usual health insurance scams. Their dad explaining to his sons that they couldn't effectively carry out the family business unless they were healthy, that anything less was a liability.
And as Dean had gotten older, he couldn't help but feel a twinge of bitterness at that reasoning – that John seemed to care about his and Sam's health only as it related to hunting.
But whether that assumption was true or not, every January they would find a local clinic. The annual physicals one of the four reasons Winchesters ever sought medical care from anyone other than themselves or other hunters – with broken bones, severe head trauma, and the need for invasive surgery being the other three reasons.
John had taken the boys each year until Dean had turned 16...and then completing the yearly physicals had been added to Dean's list of responsibilities.
And since it was now January, that meant it was time for the annual exams.
Though Dean had briefly considered skipping them this year – a kind of "fuck you" to John as proof they didn't have to follow their dad's orders.
Not since that night John had thought it was okay to hit Dean's kid.
That had marked the end of John's absolute authority over them.
Dean made the decisions now – all of them.
But in the end, he had decided to follow through with the physicals.
Because sticking it to their dad wasn't worth Sam's health, wasn't worth the risk of something being silently wrong with Dean's little brother.
So Dean had spent the weekend researching local clinics and had taken himself and his kid to the Mercy Medical Center yesterday after he had picked Sam up from school.
That clinic having met the top three criteria Dean had been taught to look for: clean, convenient, and affordable.
And everything had seemed fine.
No complaints, no concerns.
Just another year, another physical.
No big deal.
In fact, Dean hadn't even thought about it again until now.
But now it was all he could think about.
Dean quickly scanned his memory for anything that may have been done or said during yesterday's clinic visit to indicate a problem.
But there was nothing.
The doctor had seemed pleased with their overall health, and everything had gone smoothly.
But now the nurse was calling.
And since she sure as hell wasn't calling just to chat, did that mean she was calling about Sam?
Dean watched his brother as the 12-year old continued to solve his equations on the opposite side of the table.
The kid looked healthy. Had been eating and sleeping...wasn't pale or feverish...wasn't congested or pukey...didn't seem run down or lethargic.
Sure, Sam would still get the occasional migraine when the kid was stressed or overly tired, and those would land him on his ass.
But overall Sam was fine.
And he looked fine now.
Besides, Dean would know if something was wrong with his little brother, right?
Dean would have already noticed...right?
Dean sighed, blinking as he realized the woman on the phone was speaking again.
"Dr. Stanley just reviewed your lab work a few minutes ago and has some concerns."
Dean swallowed. "What kind of concerns?"
Sam glanced up at the question, his pencil frozen mid-8.
Because there was something in Dean's voice that made Sam concerned.
"Well..." the nurse hesitated on the other end of the line, searching for the appropriate wording.
But Dean didn't care about well-chosen words. He only cared about one thing.
"Is Sam okay?"
Sam frowned at the mention of his name.
Who was Dean talking to?
And why would they be concerned about him?
Of course he was okay – he was sitting right here working on these stupid math problems.
"Is Sam okay?" Dean repeated, his tone more insistent when the nurse didn't answer.
Sam tilted his head, confused by the hint of panic in Dean's voice. "I'm fine, Dean," he assured his brother. "I'm right here."
Dean held up his hand to silence Sam as the nurse finally responded.
"He's the younger one, right?" she checked and then answered her own question. "Yes. I see it here now."
There was a pause, the sound of papers shuffling in a chart.
"Okay...yes. All of Sam's blood work and other lab tests are fine. His iron is a little lower than we like, so he's a little anemic..."
Dean nodded at the news.
Because Sam had always been a little anemic since the picky little shit wouldn't eat like a normal person.
Dean shook his head in annoyance, deciding the kid would eat red meat tonight for dinner.
Sam would bitch about it.
But Sam was always bitching about something, so...
Dean glanced at Sam as the 12-year old continued to stare at him from across the table. The kid's pencil still frozen in place as it hovered over the notebook paper.
Dean shook his head at his brother. It's okay, he mouthed, having heard the nervous tremor in the kid's voice.
Because Sam was listening to only one side of this conversation and was starting to freak out.
Not that Dean could blame him.
It's okay, the big brother repeated.
Sam looked doubtful.
"And he's small for his age," the nurse continued about Dean's little brother. "A little shorter than we would expect and slightly underweight."
...which was another result of Sam not eating enough...and was just another reason why Dean would be choosing Sam's dinner tonight.
"But otherwise, he's fine," the nurse concluded over the phone Dean still held. "No major concerns with him. So, that's good."
Dean nodded his agreement – that was damn good – and then nodded his reassurance to Sam that everything was fine.
Sam's wide eyes held Dean's gaze as he leaned forward over the table. The kid's pencil now resting in the crack of his open textbook since he had abandoned his homework in order to focus more on the conversation.
Dean twitched a smile at his nosy kid, his relief lingering...until he realized the nurse's words implied that while there were no major concerns with Sam – thank god – that didn't mean there were no major concerns with Dean.
After all, the woman was calling for a reason.
And it seemed that reason was Dean.
The 17-year old frowned.
Because he felt fine – maybe a little tired...but who the hell wasn't tired?
Dean sighed, keeping his expression neutral even as dread and panic returned, even as his heart began to pound.
Because Dean knew Sam was still watching him and the 12-year old would take his cues from his big brother.
If Dean freaked out, Sam would do the same...and then some.
Dean sighed again. "So, if Sam's okay, then..."
"Yes," the nurse confirmed, her tone overly gentle. "Our concerns are with you, hon. There were some abnormalities in your blood work."
Dean swallowed, his heart slamming in his chest. "Abnormalities?"
Well, that was certainly vague enough to be scary.
"Yes," the nurse replied. "Your white count is extremely high, and the doctor would like for you to come back to the clinic for further testing."
Dean swallowed again.
Further testing? What the hell did that mean?
Sam stared at Dean, sensing his big brother's distress.
Dean glanced out the motel room's window, avoiding eye contact with Sam. "What kind of further testing?"
Sam shifted in his chair at the question, increasingly uneasy with the direction of this conversation...and with Dean's suspiciously casual behavior.
Because Dean only acted like this when he didn't want Sam to know something, when there was something wrong – really wrong.
Sam shifted again, chewing on his bottom lip.
Dean could feel Sam's anxiety from across the table and glanced at his brother before directing his attention back to the parking lot.
"We'd like to draw more blood," the nurse explained about the additional testing. "Perform a more thorough physical exam...perhaps even a biopsy..."
What the fuck was going on?
Dean didn't have time to be that kind of sick.
Hell, he barely had time for a cold whenever one struck.
Dean had evil shit to hunt and kill...and a little brother to take care of...and...
"Are you still there?" the nurse asked at Dean's silence.
"Yeah..." Dean replied and continued to calmly stare out the window as though adrenaline wasn't pulsing through his veins.
Sam saw his brother's jaw clench like it always did when Dean was pissed...or worried...or scared – and that scared Sam.
"I know this is not the kind of call you were expecting," the nurse sympathized on the opposite end of the line. "But the sooner we find out more, the sooner we can put your mind at ease...or start treatment."
Start treatment for what?
...though Dean wasn't going to ask that now, not with Sam still staring at him with those wide, scared eyes...and not with his own heart about to jump out of his fucking chest.
Dean inhaled a deep breath.
He just needed to calm down, needed to get his shit back in one bag.
Because this could all be nothing.
Or it could be something.
Either way, Dean needed to get a fucking grip and do what he needed to do.
And it seemed right now, Dean needed to schedule further testing, needed to find out what the hell was going on so they could deal with it. Could start treatment or whatever and kick this thing in the ass.
Because Dean had responsibilities.
Dean had a little brother depending on him more than ever now that John had removed himself from their lives.
Dean had shit to do...and being sick wasn't on the list.
Dean sighed, wondering if the sound was as shaky as it had felt.
Judging by Sam's expression, it was.
"Okay," Dean told the nurse over the phone. "When should I come in?"
"Today," the woman answered. "Actually, now if you can. The clinic is open for another two hours. Can you get here?"
Dean swallowed at the urgency in the nurse's tone – the very clear implication that this shouldn't wait, that this couldn't wait.
But still Dean hesitated, stuck between wanting to know what the fuck was going on...and wanting to pretend this phone call had never happened.
Only if something was seriously wrong with Dean and he didn't get diagnosed, didn't get treated...then what would that mean for Sam?
Dean couldn't neglect his own health at the risk of putting Sam in danger...at the risk of becoming so sick he couldn't take care of his little brother...at the risk of dying and leaving the kid alone.
As much as this sucked, as much as this scared the shit out of him, Dean had to do whatever testing the doctor wanted.
He owed that to himself and to Sam.
Dean glanced at his brother, the kid breathing too fast and shallow as he stared back.
Sam was scared.
And he didn't even know yet.
Dean sighed and tried to smile but knew Sam saw through it.
Sam shook his head. Don't.
...as in don't bullshit me.
Because Sam was a smart kid and he wanted answers – real answers.
And so did Dean.
That's why he owed it to both of them to find out what they were dealing with...and then deal with it.
It was the way John had raised them – do your research, then carry through with your hunt.
And as much as Dean despised their dad these days, he couldn't argue against that advice.
Because the same principle could be applied to this situation – do the testing, then carry through with the treatment.
Get it before it gets you.
Dean sighed once more, adjusting his grip on the phone he still held in his left hand while he rubbed his right thumb across the smooth metal of his ring, spinning it around his finger.
Around and around and around...
Sam watched his brother's nervous habit and swallowed.
This was bad.
This was really, really bad.
"Yeah, sure..." Dean finally agreed about going to the clinic for further testing. "I can come now."
After all, the clinic was just across the street two blocks over. He could walk there.
In fact, he and Sam had walked there yesterday when they had gone for their physicals.
And suddenly yesterday seemed so long ago – a magical place where nothing was wrong.
Where he and Sam had celebrated Dean's birthday at the nearby diner. Where they had celebrated Dean turning 17 and being another year closer to official adulthood with burgers and salad and pie. Where an awesome little brother had somehow saved enough money to surprise Dean by proudly paying for dinner that night and giving him a kick-ass mix tape.
Yesterday had been a good day.
And this day had been good, too.
Now it fucking sucked, and Dean had a feeling it was about to suck even more as soon as he went to the clinic.
"Great!" the nurse enthused about Dean's availability to come to the clinic. "Can we expect you within the hour?"
"Yeah," Dean responded, once again staring out the window to avoid Sam's intense gaze from across the table.
"Okay," the nurse replied. "I'll let Dr. Stanley know, and we'll see you soon."
Dean nodded and ended the call, tossing the phone on the table. The clatter the only sound in the room besides the muffled traffic from outside and Sam's fast, shallow breathing.
Several seconds passed.
"What's going on?"
Of course Sam would be the first to speak.
Dean shrugged, his gaze flickering between the window and his brother. "Nothing. I just gotta go take care of something," he announced, deliberately vague as he stood.
Sam scowled. "Dean..."
"I'll be back," Dean continued as if Sam hadn't called his name, and lifted his leather jacket from the back of his chair, slipping it on over his plaid button-up with the black t-shirt underneath.
Sam stared at him.
"Stay here and finish your homework," Dean told his brother, grabbing the phone from the table and pocketing it. "If you need me, call me. But I shouldn't be gone long. And when I get back, we'll go get dinner and – "
" – Dean, stop," Sam interrupted, grasping his brother's arm as Dean walked past him heading to the door.
Dean paused, staring down at Sam.
Sam blinked back. "What's wrong?" the 12-yeard old asked, his voice cracking since he already feared the worst, already knew something serious was going on and Dean was only trying to protect him.
Because that's what Dean did – always tried to protect him.
Dean always tried to protect his little brother, whether it was from bad news...or a drunk father.
Sam swallowed at the brief flash of memory from that night John had hit him and quickly pushed it away, reminding himself that he wasn't going to think about it.
Sam swallowed again.
Dean said nothing as he glanced around the room, then back to Sam.
Sam's heart pounded at his brother's hesitation, recognizing one of Dean's avoidance strategies but still pressing to know. "Dean, please."
Dean sighed, always a sucker when his little brother used the combination of that tone and that expression. "I don't know, Sammy."
Sam pulled a face. "Dean."
"I'm serious," Dean promised in response to his brother's skeptical tone. "I don't know what's wrong. And I don't think they know what's wrong, either. They just want me to come back for more testing."
Sam frowned. "Who?"
"The clinic," Dean answered, gesturing in the direction of the facility beyond the motel.
Sam's frown deepened as his stomach twisted. "Why?"
Dean shrugged, trying to keep this as low-key as possible. "Not sure. Something about my blood work..."
"Oh god..." Sam breathed and Dean could feel the slight tremors suddenly coursing through the kid's arm as Sam continued to grip his wrist.
"Sam. Don't..." Dean admonished, knowing his brother had immediately jumped to horrible conclusions.
Sam blinked at him. "This could be bad, Dean."
"Or it could be nothing," Dean countered and reached for his brother's hand, prying the kid's fingers loose from his wrist. "Which is why you're gonna calm the fuck down and finish your homework...and I'm gonna go do whatever over at the clinic...and then we're gonna eat dinner and watch TV and everything's gonna be fine."
Just another night.
Sam shook his head. "No. I'm coming with you."
"Yeah?" Dean arched an eyebrow as Sam stood. "And what about your homework?"
Sam glanced at the open textbook on the table, snatching the pencil from its crack and instead shoving the notebook paper half-filled with math problems between the pages to mark his place before closing it.
"It can wait," Sam replied, cramming the book into his backpack propped against the leg of the table and scowling as the edges of his paper snagged on the zipper.
Dean watched his little brother, the kid too OCD to just leave everything spread out on the table. Because after all, they were coming back to the room in a couple of hours and Sam would just have to drag all that crap out again to finish his homework.
But it didn't matter.
Sam would rather leave his side of the table clean – all neat and tidy.
Dean shook his head fondly.
Sam zipped his backpack with a frustrated huff – stupid paper ripping on the stupid zipper – and then faced Dean. "I wanna come with you to the clinic."
"I can see that," Dean responded dryly about Sam's preparations to do so. "But Sam..."
"I'm coming with you, Dean," Sam repeated and grabbed his coat from the back of his chair, slipping it on over his hoodie. "And you're not changing my mind."
Dean snorted – how well he knew that fact about this stubborn 12-year old – and then sighed his annoyance. "You are such a pain in my ass."
"I know." Sam smiled, the little shit. "You're welcome."
Dean chuckled, soothed by this normal routine of their usual banter and surprisingly reassured by his little brother going with him to the clinic.
Besides if Sam stayed at the motel alone, all the kid would do was worry about Dean.
And all Dean would do was worry about Sam being alone.
So this was a better plan.
"Fine," Dean agreed about Sam tagging along. "But one rule..."
Sam narrowed his eyes. "What?"
"No freaking out," Dean warned, holding Sam's gaze. "I mean it, Sammy. No matter what they say or what they might do to me – "
" – do to you?" Sam echoed, already looking freaked out. "Oh my god. What does that mean?"
Dean said nothing as the word biopsy looped in his mind.
Sam shifted where he stood, blinking up at his brother. "Dean..."
Dean shook his head. "I don't know," he replied, because that was true – he didn't know what kind of further testing he was about to undergo. "I'm just sayin'...whatever happens, no freaking out."
Because Dean could just picture Sam's expression if the doctor started talking about biopsies or god knows what else...
Even Dean still wasn't comfortable with the idea.
But he would do whatever had to be done.
Because Dean had a little brother to take care of...and he couldn't take care of Sam if he wasn't healthy himself.
"You hear me?" Dean asked, reaching for his brother and readjusting the collar of Sam's coat to lay flatter beneath the hood of the kid's sweatshirt.
Sam tolerated the motherhenning with only a soft sigh, recognizing another of his brother's nervous habits – Dean's tendency to fuss over Sam when he was anxious.
"Sammy..." Dean prompted.
"Yeah," Sam answered. "I hear you. No freaking out."
Dean nodded. "Good," he praised, wondering how long Sam would be able to uphold that deal.
Hell, Dean wondered how long he would be able to uphold his own rule.
Because biopsies...they usually indicated some seriously scary shit.
Shit worth freaking out over.
Dean shook his head, reminding himself there was nothing to worry about...yet.
They just needed to take one thing at a time.
And the first step in that process was going back to the clinic.
"Okay..." Dean stared at Sam who was staring at him. "You ready?"
Dean did the same. "Alright then. Let's go..." he announced, once again reaching for Sam and settling his hand on the back of the kid's neck, offering a quick reassuring squeeze before guiding his brother out the door.