Disclaimer: No copyright infringement intended.
A/N: Based on a prompt for the Dean Focused Hurt/Comfort Meme on LJ. Title is from the poem "Why?" by Bob Flanagan, an artist who had CF (google him... he's a fascinating fellow).
Because of Houdini
by wave obscura
Why did he run?
It was much more than the guns and knives and the crossbows and dripping fangs and moaning heartbroken dead and the Saving People, Hunting Things. It was the pills bottles, the dungeon-like contraptions, the mucus, the terrible stomachaches and the all-night coughing, the loud buzzing machines and the infections and the play-nice-and-quiet-Sammy-because-your-brother-isn't-feeling-well.
If he closes his eyes he can still smell it, Dean's tumultuous, rotten stomach, the sticky fluid that flowed ceaselessly from his thickening lungs. He can still see his brother silhouetted against the windows of black motel rooms, hunched and retching over a Styrofoam cup.
Sammy hated those cups more than anything, and not just because of how nauseating it was to watch his brother hack up hot smelly mucus three or four times a day. He hated it because he knew that sooner or later it wouldn't be enough.
Sooner or later Dean would drown in his own lungs. Slow.
Why did he run?
Part of it was the jarring disappearance of his willful ignorance about what was wrong with Dean; the assumption that one of these days his brother would be able to cough all the fluid out and it wouldn't come back. That the last lung infection was the last lung infection. That Dad would find a healer. That Dean would somehow cope forever.
It was Dean, actually, who finally told Sam the truth.
"Sammy," Dean said, "I wanna talk to you about something."
Sam didn't even look away from the television. "What?"
He was sixteen then and so he didn't really give a fuck what Dean wanted to talk about. Dean was just a burden and a nuisance and kept him from making any friends because "my dad is gone and I have to freakin' babysit my older brother..."
Dean cleared his throat and coughed a little, which turned into a torrential cough, which dislodged some of the gunk, which meant he had to reach for his disgusting spit cup and choke into it for a minute before he could go on.
Sam hated The Cough, the one that sounded so monstrous coming from such a young person's mouth that it made people gawk and crinkle their noses and shy away.
"What the hell is that?" So many of Sam's schoolmates asked when they heard Dean coughing in the next room. "You live with your grandpa or something?"
"My brother. He has cystic fibrosis."
"He sounds terrible."
And they were right. It was a rasping, rapid fire cough, thick thick phlegm rushing to the back of his throat and crackling there and always punctuated by violent, painful gagging.
"Yeah, he always sounds like that."
"Is it contagious?"
"No, he was born that way."
"Is he gonna be okay?"
Sam never had an answer.
"Dad says he's never told you much about what I have," Dean said, which pulled Sam back to the present. At the time they were staying in some shitty sublet waiting for Dean to recover from his latest infection.
He was taking forever.
"I think I know more than enough about what you have." Sam's eyes flickered with distaste to the spit cup.
Dean looked down at the cup with only mild shame, because when you've been sick for a lifetime you develop a vastly different sense of dignity.
"I just... Sam... are there any questions you have? About it?"
"I don't know."
"Why are you like this? " Sam realizes now that it's the most hurtful question he could have asked. But Dean only smiled a little, his eyes growing watery.
"It's genetic," he said, laboriously clearing his throat. "Mom and Dad each carried a gene."
"Then why I don't I have it?"
"Because, Sammy," Dean's eyes filled with fondness, just for a second, just before he smirked, "You're adopted."
"You're hilarious, Dean."
"Look, Sammy... I brought it up because when it does happen? I just don't want you to think... " But he didn't finish his sentence. He just shrugged.
"When what happens?"
"When I die."
Back then Sam thought When Dean Dies was too far off in the distant future to bother himself with. So he leered at his brother and said, "Does this mean goodbye?"
"Sam... I don't want you to think..." Dean began. Then he stopped and huffed and started over: "I'll live to be old enough, okay? Like thirty. I promise."
"Awesome," was the only think Sam could think to say.
Why did he run?
Sam loved his brother. He did. But he couldn't let himself get used to having Dean around. He was going to have to live most of his life without Dean and that was what he needed to get used to.
Sam hated his father for a lot of reasons but the one thing he understood was why Dad was always eyeballing the nearest exit, even when he was rubbing comforting circles into Dean's back and telling him, "I gotcha, son. I'm here."
They were always looking for an escape. By the time Dean was a teenager it was like he'd forgotten what life was besides bad digestion and discomfort and pain and choking and never ever breathing and coping-- coping and trying not to die was his whole life and he didn't know any better.
But dealing with the disease was like a constant free fall for Dad and Sam.
So Sam ran.
He went to Stanford and Dad screamed about Saving People, Hunting Things and don't come back but Sam knew he was really saying yes I failed but I didn't expect you to notice.
His last glimpse of Dean was from the motel room window. He was in the middle of a treatment and eyes were huge and hurt and sad around his nebulizer mask, his skeletal malnourished arms wrapped around his middle.
He lifted one hand in goodbye.
"Tell me what your brother was like," Jessica asks him one night. They've been laying in bed all day with a bottle of wine and they're drunk and Jessica's hair is soft against his chest. "You never tell me about him."
"Nothing to tell. He was sick. All the time." Sam isn't sure when he started talking about Dean like he's already dead, or why he never bothers to correct Jess when she does it, too. All he knows is that his father and brother seem like from a different lifetime, an abstraction heavy in his heart and morphed into something vague; Dad a bigger-than life shadow looming at the foot of his bed, Dean a dark figure hunched over loud machines in rooms that always smelled like sick.
"Did you look alike?"
"Not at all?"
He looked like our mom and sometimes I liked it when he was sick because it was the only time my father spoke in a soft voice and he was fucking great with a gun and he taught me how to play pool and poker and darts and when I was fourteen we drank beer together and he loved me to death and I fucking left--
"We both had hazel eyes."
And that's when someone knocks at the door. Sam doesn't have to ask who it is. He knows that it's Dean and he's afraid the question isn't ever going to change:
Why did you run?
To be continued.
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