Summary: A seemingly normal illness turns into a whole lot more for the Winchester family.
A/N: This one goes out to my beta and dear friend, Cati. I never would have written it without her and it wouldn't be what it is without her sound beta-ing skills. This is my first "real" multi-chapter fic in quite some time and really the first one in this fandom, so I'm not quite in my element (sustained plots? what? consistency? huh?).
Disclaimer: I own none of these characters but sure love playing with them (well, except John--him I could do without most days).
Chapter One: Status Quo
Sam was nervous. He had been nervous when he woke up, nervous as he sat through his classes, nervous when Dean picked him up from school. If his brother or father noticed, they didn't say anything. Not that he expected them to. After all, to them it was just a normal day. As he went to school, they were prepping for the next hunt.
Normal. It almost made Sam laugh.
Life was never normal for the Winchester family. At 16, that was a fact Sam was all too aware of. He was used to it really, used to the transient lifestyle, used to always being the new kid, used to learning to wear long sleeves in the summer to hide the bruises and scratches. He was used to moving into and out of drab apartments and cheap motels, living on drive-through and take-out. He was used to this monotonous life punctuated by occasional dramatic bursts of supernatural encounters. He was even used to nearly getting killed every other weekend.
He was even more used to not fitting in--not with his family, not with the rest of the world. Despite his separation, Sam still found solace in school, surrounded by everything he craved but could never be a part of. He wanted to belong so badly, but couldn't relate to those around him. While they lamented being grounded for curfew violation, all Sam could think of was his father's emotionless voice instructing him on hand-to-hand combat. And no matter how hard he tried to look normal, the other kids always seemed to sense his difference, his innate oddity--his family curse.
But the Winchesters had created their own kind of normalcy, their own personal status quo. True, it existed in danger and transience, but there was a steadiness in their approach, in their general attitude toward it. Together, the three of them formed a seamless unit, unified in the face of the many obstacles they sought.
He learned early on that his father disliked deviations. John Winchester believed in plans and preparation, and expected complete obedience from his sons. He claimed that it was the only way to keep them safe, that kinks in the process put people at risk, and he wasn't about to lose another family member.
Sam understood this, to a certain extent. When a hunt was going down, he certainly knew the value of taking orders. When someone said ducked, he had learned the hard way that he needed to hit the deck.
But not all of life was a hunt, at least not in Sam's eyes. So he struggled to accept that status quo in the quieter moments, the moments between hunts when he saw that the pursuit didn't have to dominate life.
It was all the same to his father, though-his life had been one continual hunt since Sam was a baby. He didn't let go of it, ever. He was single-minded and iron-fisted. Anything he deemed worthless was worthless.
There had been a time Sam had accepted this, trusted in this, but his frustrations intensified the more such blind acceptance was expected of him.
There were moments when Sam purposefully bucked his father's authority, just because he resented it so much. There were other moments when Sam couldn't help but buck it, when the injustices seemed too overwhelming to overlook. Then there were other times when he knew he had to be careful. Outright defiance got him very little. In truth, he tried to avoid it, because it never ended well. In order to get the things he wanted, he had mastered the art of subterfuge and manipulation. Sometimes it was all in the presentation.
When he couldn't sneak his way to happiness, he treaded carefully toward it. With this in mind, he had finagled in his way into various avenues of normalcy--trips to the library, the mall, school activities. He had nearly mastered getting out for an evening without more than a disapproving glance.
But this time was different. This time he wanted a weekend off, a whole weekend away from the hunt. He had been planning this for weeks, carefully constructing his arguments in his spare moments. He had been sure to keep himself in check, obliging his father's every whim, pouring himself wholeheartedly into research and training. He'd even asked Dean to help him spar, which his father had watched with a bemused smile.
Sam was playing his cards carefully. But no matter how much he had planned and prepared, the idea of making the actual request was unnerving. He hadn't been able to sit still all day during school, and he hadn't said two words to Dean in the car trip home. Now, back in the apartment, he hovered around his father, trying to garner his strength, but each time merely pouring himself a glass of water before disappearing back in to his room.
Sam took a deep breath, trying to calm himself. His stomach turned, and for a moment he thought he might throw up.
He eschewed the feeling and went to his father.
John was leafing through a library book on paranormal activity. Dean was sprawled on the lumpy coach watching television. Sam edged closer, standing in their field of view, but near the exit. He waited a moment, hoping they would notice his presence. If they did, they didn't show it.
Sam shifted awkwardly. "Dad, can I ask you something?" he finally managed to ask. His voice almost squeaked and he swallowed hard as he awaited a response, willing himself to stop shaking.
His father didn't look up. "Yeah."
Sam cleared his throat. "I know we're supposed to head out tomorrow."
His father kept jotting notes in his journal. "Right."
"Well, I know we're all supposed to go, but I was wondering if I could possibly skip this one."
Stopping, his father finally looked up at his son critically. "Why?"
Sam swallowed, encouraged by not receiving a flat refusal. "See, this weekend there's this, um, competition that I'd like to participate in."
John raised his eyebrows. "What kind of competition?"
"It's called Mock Trial," Sam explained tentatively. "It's a group of kids and we reenact a trial. A bunch of schools compete and then we're judged as a team and individually."
John appeared to think about the idea. "What kind of activity is that?"
Sam scrambled. "It's, uh, supposed to help us understand the legal system. I'm a lawyer, which is a really important role, and the team is counting on me."
"When have you had time for this?"
Sam could feel Dean's eyes on him, but he avoided his gaze. They both knew that their father would not like that Sam had been sneaking about for weeks attending meetings before and after school. He would think it was a waste of time. "There's just been a few practices, most of it's been stuff we've done in on our own. I usually read stuff before I go to bed." Sam's statements were mostly true, although he underplayed the time commitment he'd already put forth.
John shook his head. "Sammy, you're always doing stuff like that. I don't know why."
"I like it," Sam said defensively.
"But it's useless," John said.
Sam's hopes began to fall. "I just thought I could sit this one out," he said meagerly.
"Sammy, you can't just sit it out. We need you."
"You leave me at home all the time for hunts. You'll have Dean with you."
"But you know this one is a different one for us. We've never encountered anything like this before. Don't you see how much research I'm doing? I need all the help I can get on this one in order to get the job done without any casualties."
"I just thought--"
"About yourself, as usual," John snapped. "You never think about anyone else, just you. Always you. This world doesn't revolve around you."
"I nothing, Sammy. I'm tired of your excuses. I'm tired of you being a dead weight around here. How many times have we been there for you? How many times have we had to pull your sorry backside from the fire? Too many. Time to give back something, son."
His father's words stung like a blow and Sam finally did not have the resolve to defend himself. With a ragged breath he tried to suppress, he kept his face stony. Without a word, he turned and walked away.
The place was too small to find some place of refuge where he could lick his wounds in peace.
His father's bedroom was off-limits--too cluttered with notes and pictures anyway. The kitchen adjoined the dining room, which opened to the living room where his father and brother were. That left the bathroom (which was hardly a welcoming escape) and the bedroom he shared with Dean.
He sat disconsolately on the bed. There was a history paper he could be writing and a math assignment he should be finishing, but he knew he wasn't going to be in school the next few days and couldn't find the motivation. He had a library book in his backpack, but he didn't want Dean to find him reading; he couldn't take another slight at his hobbies.
His stomach twinged, and he pressed a hand to it. A wave of exhaustion spread over him. It was a little early for bed, but he didn't want to face his family, and he hoped that sleep might melt away the pain of rejection and the unquenchable emptiness that upset his stomach.
He didn't bother to change his clothes. He just pushed off his tennis shoes, turned off the light, and curled up under the covers.
Laughter erupted from the living room as his father and Dean shared a joke.
Sam rolled over in his bed and faced the wall, squeezing his eyes shut tightly, praying to keep the tears inside.
"Dude, you're going to be late!"
Rolling over, Sam opened his eyes blearily.
"What are you doing still in bed?"
"…go away…," he mumbled, coiling himself up under his blankets and closing his eyes and slipping back into sleep.
He was drifting into a dream of his biology class, sitting and looking as Mr. Paterson pointed at a life-size model of the human body. Food goes down the esophagus, and then make it way to the stomach where digestive juices are released…
He opened his eyes again and saw his brother standing over him. Sam squinted, trying to bring himself fully awake. "Yeah, yeah, I'm up."
"Doesn't quite look that way."
Grudgingly, Sam pushed himself up, and gave Dean a happy-now look.
"We're leaving in ten," Dean said, moving toward the door, apparently satisfied by Sam's progress.
A wave of dizziness swept over him as he sat up. When he found his equilibrium, his stomach churned.
Sam swallowed, forcing himself to stand. His body seemed to protest the movement, but Sam persisted.
Shuffling, he made his way slowly to the doorway, hoping that the movement would bring his body to full wakefulness. He met his brother coming out of the bathroom. He stopped, but the hallway kept moving forward, and he braced himself against the wall. Something wasn't right. He couldn't straighten himself and saliva built up in his mouth.
Sam grimaced, holding his stomach and looking at his brother. "I don't feel so well, Dean."
"What do you mean?"
"I'm--" Sam's voice cut off and he covered his mouth with his hand, doubling over as he made a dash to the bathroom.
Dean watched him and heard the unmistakable sound of throwing up. He followed after Sam, waiting just outside the door, watching as Sam curled himself around the toilet, oblivious of how dirty it was.
The vomiting continued until Sam could do nothing more than dry heave. He panted over the toilet, his eyes closed, trying to gather the strength to move from the foul stench that wafted up at him.
"That's lovely, Sam," Dean said. "Really lovely."
Sam groaned, finally falling back against the vanity. "I don't feel so good, Dean."
"I can see that, little brother," Dean said. He squatted in front Sam, feeling his forehead. "You don't feel that warm."
Sam looked miserably up at him.
"But you clearly are not doing so well," Dean said. "Let's get you to bed."
"You're not going to do much good to us if you're heaving your guts out, are you?" Dean said lightly, gently pulling his brother to his feet.
Sam allowed Dean to wrap a steady arm around him. "What about Dad?"
Guiding Sam, the two moved toward the bedroom that they shared. "I'll take care of Dad, okay?"
When they reached the bedroom, Sam eagerly sunk into the folds of his unmade bed. Opening his eyes again, a look of discomfort passed over Sam's face. "I really don't feel so well today."
"You're not going to hurl again, are you?"
The sickly discoloration of Sam's face was an answer in itself. "I'm going to go find a bucket. I swear, if you puke on the floor, you're on your own. You hear me, little brother?"
Sam nodded, closing his eyes again.
Watching his brother nestle beneath the covers, Dean allowed himself a half-grin before he went in search of something to save them all from emergency trips to the bathroom.
By the time Dean got back, Sam was asleep. He placed the bucket he had salvaged from their pathetic collection of cleaning supplies on the bed next to Sam, and resisted an urge to sweep his baby brother's hair off his forehead. Sam looked younger in sleep, more innocent, and Dean could remember an earlier time, a time when Sam's life had not been so complicated, when Sam didn't complicate his life so much.
There was a noise behind him, and he turned to see his father dressed and shaved.
His father still looked tired, the bags under his eyes perpetually present it seemed.
"He should be ready by now. I told you I wanted to be on the road in ten minutes."
"Sick? What do you mean?"
"He's got a slight fever," Dean said softly, letting his hand rest on Sam's forehead. "And I watched him empty last night's dinner into the toilet."
John growled. "Sure he's not faking? You know how upset he was that he couldn't do that Mock-whatever thing this weekend."
"It's definitely a fever and not even I could replicate puking that realistically."
John reluctantly let himself be convinced. "Never had this problem with you," he muttered. He scowled. "Fine, Dean." He left the room, Dean following after. "Stay with your brother--"
"Dad." Dean moved to protest, following his father into the living room.
"No, if he's too sick to hunt, he must be too sick to take care of himself." The sarcasm in his voice was evident.
"You're going to need backup."
"Dean." John stared at his son.
Dean held the gaze longer than usual before his shoulders slumped. "Yes, sir."
"He stays home ALL weekend. If he doesn't hunt, he doesn't do anything."
"If he's going to act like a baby, treat him that way. It's about time Sam learned a little bit about growing up. He's never going to be worth anything to us if he doesn't get over this juvenile phase he's going through."
Gritting his teeth, Dean swallowed his objections. "Yes, sir."
"I mean it Dean," John warned. "Sam's getting out of control. He needs to learn a lesson about the way our life works. If he wants to play sick, we'll let him play sick and live to regret it."
Pursing his lips, Dean nodded.
"Do you understand me, son?" he asked with impatience.
A glimmer of satisfaction passed over his father's face before it returned to its typical flinty demeanor.
Dean watched his father go silently, noting all the supplies that had been checked and double-checked. He left no further instructions for Dean, told him to call Pastor Jim in case of emergencies, and said he'd be back Monday evening.
"You keep on an eye on your brother," he warned one last time.
With that, John was gone in a gruff flash, leaving Dean staring the back of the door. Taking deep and steady breaths, Dean tried to assure himself that he had not made a mistake in acquiescing to his father's orders. John's decision to go alone had been based on principle, not safety. He wanted to make Sam learn, to make them stronger as a unit.
Understanding his father's train of thought made him focus his frustrations and anger on the source of the conflict: Sam.
Sam's illness did seem too well timed. Despite Sam's display over the toilet, the doubt was tangible now as real consequences lurked in the future. Dad shouldn't be alone on this one.
Dean couldn't shake the feeling that his father never should have left. He needs me.
Stewing, Dean stalked back to his brother's room, making no secret of his entrance. A lot more than Sam does.
Sam shifted in bed, blinking hazily up at his brother. "Dean?"
Dean eyed him critically, coldly. "You better not be faking it-if something happens to Dad and I'm stuck here with you, I'll kill you."
Sam looked like a kicked puppy.
The wounded look on Sam's face made Dean soften. He sighed. "You look like crap, man."
"Yeah," Sam said. "I feel like it, too."
"Get some rest," Dean ordered curtly, hoping not to show the inner turmoil he was feeling. He wanted to protect his brother, to keep him safe, but he also wanted to protect his father. And in the grander scheme of things, Dean knew his father was probably at more risk on a hunt by himself than Sam was home alone with the stomach flu.
But Dean had his orders and Sam's gratitude was marginally satisfying.