The awesome charis-kalos has reason to celebrate! She asked me to write a fic just for her and I couldn't possibly say no because, well, she's been just so wonderful to me. Reverend Doctor, congrats from all of us on your ordination!! This fic is dedicated solely to you.

(See? There's a great reason she's my theological advisor on L&D!)

I expect to update this fic weekly, barring massive computer and internet issues.

The Art of Balance

Chapter One

The Assignment

Sam sat in his English class, trying hard not to growl. He was not upset with the class, his classmates or the teacher. It was that stupid, stubborn, arrogant, asshole of a brother of his. He blew his bangs out of his eyes as he watched the teacher write the new essay assignment on the board.

"Write a compare/contrast essay." The class groaned and the teacher smiled. "But this time, I want something a little different from you, class." The groan grew louder. "I want you to compare and contrast two of your family members."

Sam scribbled down the assignment with a vengeance. The paper tore under the assault of his ballpoint. He swore softly to himself, ripping the page out and starting again on the next page. Sam felt his stomach twist into a knot as he wrote down the assignment. All around him he heard classmates whisper about comparing parents to grandparents, themselves to their siblings, mothers and fathers to aunts and uncles. Sam had very few choices to make, but maybe that made his choice more difficult. Should he compare himself with Dean, himself with Dad, or Dad and Dean? Sam huffed a sigh, again blowing his long brown bangs out of his eyes.

He picked up his full backpack and swung it over his shoulder as the last bell rang. Sam headed to the front of the school where his stupid brother was supposed to pick him up in that damn car. He was sixteen now, why didn't he have a car, too? Dad gave Dean the Impala. Where was his car?

Sam knew he was being slightly irrational as he looked for the sleek black car, which was nowhere in sight, but he did not really care at the moment. Where was Dean? His eyes scanned the cars lined up to pick up other students. No Dean. No Impala. Sam's teeth ground together as he dropped his backpack on the grass and sat down to wait. No buses went by their motel, so either Dean picked him up or Sam was walking. He hoped Dean had not forgotten.

That was not fair. Dean forget to pick him up? Never. Now, Dean might be busy getting some girl's phone number and running late, but he would never just forget. Sam sighed, digging through his bag. At least he could do a little homework while he waited. He pulled out his math book and started solving the homework problems while he waited.

By the time he had finished his math homework all of the waiting cars were gone and only the students participating in after-school activities were around. Sam's eyebrows drew together. This was really not like Dean. He shoved his irritations over his brother to the back of his mind, worry taking their place. Where was Dean? Sam crammed his completed math work back into his bag and stood. Now that the student parking lot was mostly empty, Sam was able to spot the black car parked in the far corner.

All the irritation flooded back instantly. Sam stormed through the parking lot, a fully formed lecture already in his mind. The car looked empty. He leaned over to peer through the window. There was Dean, spread out on the front seat asleep. Sam banged on the window.

Dean bolted upright. He looked around rapidly, his eyes unfocused and wide open. Sam banged on the window again. As Dean looked at Sam, his eyes focused and a slight grimace came over his face.

"Dean?" Sam shouted at the closed window.

Dean unlocked the passenger door before sliding back behind the wheel. Sam stalked around the car, threw his bag in the floorboard before slamming the door shut.

"Hey! Watch the door!" Dean snapped.

"Were you out here sleeping this whole time?" Sam demanded.

"Whole time?" Dean checked his watch. His irritation faded a little when he saw the time. "Is that the real time?" Dean tapped his watch and held it up to his ear.

"Yes, that's the real time! You're an hour late!"

Dean shrugged with his left shoulder and started the car.

Sam crossed his arms over his chest and stared out the front windshield. He refused to look at his brother right now. What a jerk! No apology or anything.

"Feel like pizza tonight?" Dean asked as they pulled out of the parking lot.

Sam refused to answer. Instead he brought out his history book so he could hide behind it.

"Come on, Sam. I was early, so I figured I'd take a nap. That's all. Sammy?"

"It's Sam!" he bit back.

"Well, at least you're talking to me now," Dean said as they waited at the light. "Homework?"


Dean sighed. "I meant, what homework do you have?"

Sam's jaw clenched as he stared over his book at the taillights of the car in front of them. "I finished my math while you napped. I have a little history and an English paper due Monday."

"What's the paper on?" Dean had a total disregard for history class. If they could not be bothered to teach myths and legends, which was the only history he considered useful, then he could not be bothered to pay attention. Apparently the same rules applied for Sam's homework.

Sam buried his nose in his history book.

"Sammy? What's your paper about?"

Sam turned the page, pretending to be engrossed in his history text. Truth be told, it was one of the most boring textbooks he had ever had and this particular chapter Sam had already covered in his last two schools. But it was convenient.

Dean sighed again. Sam knew that the silent treatment annoyed Dean more than just about anything. He fully intended to keep it up as long as possible. He sneaked a peek at his brother out of the corner of his eye. Dean's face was twisted in pain.

"Dean? You okay?" The history book dropped, forgotten.

Dean took a deep breath and smiled. "Of course. Why wouldn't I be? Pizza tonight?"

"Are you messing with me?" Sam demanded.

"Why? What do you mean?" Dean turned innocent eyes on Sam. Sam was not buying it.

"Are you in pain?" Sam asked, concern outweighing irritation.

"Nah! Unless you count the constant pain in my ass."

"What pain?" He was starting to get worried.

"You," Dean replied, beaming.

Sam groaned, reaching down to retrieve his book. "Fine."

"What's fine?"

"Pizza. But I get to order this time."

Dean nodded. "Okay."

Sam cocked an eyebrow. "Really? Just like that?"

Dean shrugged his left shoulder again. "I was late. It's only fair."

Fair? Dean Winchester was worried about being fair? Maybe he wasn't hurt, maybe he was sick. Sam reached over, intending to feel his brother's forehead.

"Hey! Watch it!" Dean batted away the probing hand. "What the hell?"

"I just wanted to see if you have a fever," Sam protested.

"Dude! I'm fine!" Dean shot him a glare. "You try that again and I'm ordering anchovy pizza. Nothing but anchovy."

"Fine!" Sam buried his nose back in his textbook.

"What kind of essay?" Dean turned at the light, heading toward their cheap motel.

"Compare and contrast," Sam admitted reluctantly. As bad of a mood as Dean had been in lately, his brother showing some interest in school was kind of nice.

Dean laughed. "Boy, I sure don't miss those. I think the last one I did like that was either dogs versus cats or werewolves versus vengeful spirits."

Sam spun around to see if his brother was serious. "You didn't!"

Dean nodded. "Yep, I think I did. Earned me a visit to the district child psychologist. Boy, was Dad pissed!" He chuckled at the memory. "I think that was the year we moved three times inside of two months."

Sam's jaw dropped. "That was because of you?"

"Dude, chill," Dean's eyes slipped over his annoyed brother's face. "I made sure all your school records made it, didn't I?"

Sam's jaw was working, but nothing came out. He finally snapped it shut, unsure why he was so upset. He always felt upset these days, and he tended to take it out on Dean. Maybe that was the reason Dean had been so moody this past week.

"We're here." Dean said as he shut off the car.

Sam grabbed his backpack to follow his brother, careful to lock the car door before closing it. He might have been irritated with Dean, but Sam did not have a death wish. He was so consumed with thinking about his paper, he did not notice the black truck in the parking lot.

"Hey, Dad!"

Sam's head snapped up. Dad was here? Oh, crap. There went hiding behind homework and eating pizza all night.

"Boys!" Their father's gruff voice greeted them warmly. He held both arms open, expecting his sons to run straight into them. Neither did.

Sam shot Dean a surprised look. When did Dean ever hesitate in front of their father?

"Dean! Sam!" Dad's hands waved them closer. Sam was shocked to find that he actually passed Dean approaching Dad. Sam returned his father's large hug then stood aside to watch Dean.

Dean chuckled with a half-hearted smile. "Dad. You're early. We weren't expecting you for a couple of weeks."

"Decided to take a short break. Visit my boys." Dad's face broke in a wide smile. "Dean? Where's my hug?"

Sam noticed that Dean practically drug his feet towards Dad. He leaned into the hug with his left shoulder and slapped Dad on the back a couple of times before pulling away. "We were talking about pizza. Want to join us?"

"Nah," Dad shook his head, "I thought we could all go out to dinner. We have something to celebrate."

"What's that, Dad?" Dean stepped back, out of reach.

Dad looked more than a little puzzled. "Isn't it someone's birthday?"

Dean frowned. "No. Sammy's birthday isn't for a few more months."

Sam slapped himself in the forehead. Of course! No wonder Dean was so moody! Sam had completely forgotten his birthday! "Oh, man, I forgot! Dean, I am so sorry! No wonder you've been mad at me."

Now Dad's eyes darted from one of his sons to the other. "Dean? Is that true? Have you been angry with your brother?" Sam noticed the tone, the one that said 'you're supposed to be watching out for Sam, not picking on him.'

"No, Dad," Dean shrugged his left shoulder. "I haven't been mad at Sam. He's doing great in school and practice, too. Got a little pissed at me today, though."

"Oh?" Dad's voice was guarded, like he was trying to decide if this was normal bickering or something more.

Dean looked away. "I was, uh, a little late picking him up." Sam rolled his eyes. Leave it to Dean to point out his own short-comings. Dad would have bought that they were just bickering.

"Sam? How long did you have to wait for your brother?" Dad's tone was severe.

"Not too long, Dad. Really. It was no problem." Sam said in a hurried defense of his brother, whom seconds ago he had been ready to throttle.

"If it was no problem," Dad's dark eyes bored into him, "then why were you pissed?"

Sam chewed the inside of his cheek. Then Dean turned those green headlights on him, too. Sam hated when Dean did that, it made it almost impossible to lie. Almost. "I, uh, didn't have a great day. I guess I took it out on Dean." He stared down at his sneakers. "Sorry," he mumbled.

"Well, that's better," Dad's voice was light again. "So? Dinner?" Dad was gripping his shoulder. Sam looked up into those dark eyes and understood; Dad thought this was just how brothers acted. Sam knew better. He and Dean were not like most brothers, there was definitely something going on here. Something Dean was unwilling to admit, and that was a challenge which Sam could not possibly pass up.