A/N: This is a little one-shot AU for the hoodie_time Dean Focussed Hurt/Comfort comment-fic meme #3. The prompt was: Dean and Sam are in foster care for some reason, aged around 12 and 16 maybe? Dean has epilepsy but doesn't inform the social workers or the new foster family/boys home that he has been placed in. He struggles with both grand-mal seizures and the ones where he stares of into his own little world for a few minutes and doesn't remember when it happens, so sometimes it looks like he is being ignorant and just ignoring people when in fact he is having a seizure, he gets labeled as disruptive and a smart ass. Sam is an agitated wreck worrying about his big brother, particularly when Dean is just pretending like everything is okay when it so clearly is not.

Here's my attempt at it. :)


'Piece of cake, Sammy,' he says. 'Two days tops.'

It's times like this that Sam wishes he was bigger than his older brother so that he could kick his ass for a change. Because this? – stuck in foster care while Dad undergoes knee surgery and Pastor Jim rushes to get the paperwork together to take custody of them so they can get out of the damned 'system' – is not a piece of cake. At all.

It would have been fine if Jim had gotten to them first, before CPS caught wind that all was not well in the state of Denmark, but things never run smoothly when you're a Winchester. It was a clusterfuck from the start, as Dad would say. Hunt went south and Dad ended up in a hospital in Duluth, two hours away, highly concussed and in need of major reconstructive surgery to his knee. Of course, neither Dean nor Sam knew this and were left waiting. And waiting. And waiting. Then Dean decides to bring home the bacon and tries to hustle pool for grocery money and ends up getting on the wrong side of a muscle-head biker commonly known as Tank. You can see where this is going, right?

He didn't get beat up too bad, all things considered, but the minute he showed up at school with a shiner, alarm bells went off. Both brothers got sent to the guidance counsellor's office, and then the guidance counsellor called Dad and Dad didn't answer. Then someone called CPS. And CPS tried to get hold of Dad and no one, including Dad himself, knew where he was.

And just like that, they're nabbed into the system and placed in foster care. Dean tried convincing the powers that be that he was old enough at 16 to look after Sam on his own, which pretty much earned him a sympathetic pat on the head and an eye roll. And now, here they are.

The Daltons aren't too bad. They've got a smallish sort of house set in a low-end suburban neighbourhood. There are neat hedges and compact-looking cars lining narrow streets and narrower driveways. There's barely three feet between one house and the next, and it feels a bit like driving through Lego Land. Dean gulps when the old Dodge Caravan pulls up in front of the house for the first time, his big green eyes going wide at the sight of the boxy little yellow house they're supposed to call home for the next however many days.

"Jim'll have us out of here in no time," Dean assures Sam with a light squeeze to the shoulder. "Like I said – piece of cake."

There are a whole host of reasons why Dean is wrong on that score, though Sam decides not to voice them now. #1) They got taken away from Dad and put in foster care. Dean can play it up as an adventure all he likes, but Sam knows his big brother has got to be freaking out on the inside. Because it's a big deal. A really big freaking deal. And if something happens, if Jim can't get his fake papers to look real enough, or if Dad can't convince them he's a fit father once the post-surgery drugs wear off, then their family could be torn apart forever. Dad could lose them for good. #2) It's only by some act of God that they weren't separated into different homes (or it might have been the fact that Sam pitched a fit and insisted that he'd run away if they took him away from his big brother). Because no one wants to take in a teenager and his pre-teen brother at the same time. It's too much trouble for the foster families. And this brings Sam to the most important reason why this is not going to be a piece of cake. #3) No one's said a word yet about Dean's epilepsy.

He wasn't born with it. In fact, Sam remembers all too vividly, and with a deep pang of regret and nostalgia that leaves him feeling resentful and angry towards their father, what it was like before the seizures. Before an angry ghost threw Dean head-first into a tombstone, before Dean's skull got cracked open so bad that he developed a severe edema and slipped into a coma for four days, Dean used to be just a normal kid. Back then there was no worry about prescriptions or sleep regimes or diets or petit or grand mal. A year and two months ago the only health problems Dean ever had to contend with were the occasional zit and hunger pains (because man Dean could eat!). Then, a full week after Dean woke up from the coma, he had his first seizure and the whole world changed. Now Dean's brain likes to periodically short-circuit and reboot itself with chronic seizures the doctors call Post Traumatic Epilepsy.

Sam hates the seizures. They make him feel helpless and out of control. They terrify him and shake the foundations of his entire universe because Dean isn't supposed to tremble and quake like that. Dean isn't supposed to space out and lose time. He isn't supposed to get confused and dopey and vulnerable like he gets after he's had a seizure.

Dean's bigger and stronger and better than that. He's Atlas, carrying the whole freaking globe on his shoulders. He's cocky and loud-mouthed and indestructible. Or at least he's supposed to be.

So when they got taken in by the social worker, Sam wanted to tell the man about Dean's epilepsy. In fact, it was one of the arguments the twelve year-old was going to make in favour of keeping the boys together, so that Sam could look out for signs of an oncoming seizure, protect his big brother. But Dean had made him swear to secrecy, imploring in the strongest language possible for Sam to keep his damned mouth shut.

"If they find out about the seizures they'll put me in a group home," Dean had said in a harsh whisper not intended for grown-up ears. "No one wants to look after a kid with medical problems, Sam. They don't want the hassle and they don't want the hospital bills. Trust me. You mention my epilepsy and I guarantee you they'll take you away from me. We gotta stick together, Sammy. How else am I s'posed to look out for you, huh?"

So Sam had kept his mouth shut about the seizures, and instead had fallen into hysterical wailing (thank you, drama class!) when Mr. Kregger of CPS explained his plans to have them placed in separate homes. He'd sobbed and roared and made wild promises to run away where they'd never find him if they didn't let him stay with Dean. Placing them together meant a lot more work for Kregger and the good people at Child Protective Services, but Sam wouldn't be losing any sleep over that. And in the end, it got them placed together with Wanda and Carl Dalton, so Sam figured it was a win.

Now, though…

The Daltons are strict. Not mean or abusive, as far as Sam can tell at this early stage, but no nonsense in a way that spells trouble for Dean and his big mouth. The minute they arrive, Carl Dalton, a man of average height with a moustache that hides his entire top lip and with sideburns just this side of too long, gives them the run-down on the house rules.

"There will be no fighting or talking back," he says, and Sam pictures him in sandals and a shin-length smock tied at the waist with rope, arms laden with stone tablets after having received Revelation from a burning bush.

"We keep a clean house here, so that means that everyone's responsible for cleaning up after themselves. There are also chores that you'll each be responsible for."

Dean raises an eyebrow at this but doesn't say anything, which is a relief.

"There are two other foster kids living with us and you will treat them nicely. If I hear you've been giving either one of them a hard time I will have you out of here so fast it'll make your head spin."

Both boys nod their agreement and take inventory of the house while Carl Dalton drones on about the consequences of stealing or bringing drugs into their home.

The house is small, but the space is used with an economy that's almost military. It's got four bedrooms, one of which is theirs to share. They're stuck sharing a double bed, which is nothing new, so they both take that news in stride. The bathroom is basically a hole in the wall, and Carl informs them that they've each got a maximum of five minutes shower time per day.

"This isn't the damned Hilton," he explains gruffly at Dean's incredulous look. "You wanna luxuriate in a twenty-minute steam shower? You go find yourself a spa and have at it."

"H'oookay there Chief," Dean huffs in disbelief, then sobers a bit at the stone cold look Mr. Dalton's giving him. "Whatever you say, man. Your house, your rules."

The Daltons don't like Dean. That much is evident pretty much from the word 'Go.' His attitude is an affront to their children-should-be-seen-and-not-heard mentality; he's older and eats more than they're used to (which is particularly offensive to Mrs. Dalton, who's already got locks on all the cupboards in the kitchen and on the fridge so that no one can steal a snack when she's not looking); his black eye is a blatant flaunt of Dean's trouble-maker ways, and as they have made abundantly clear, they won't abide trouble makers; and he's lacking in proper respect toward his elders with his frequent trips to la-la land when he spaces out or, by their thinking, deliberately ignores them.

Sam can't tell them that when Dean zones out with rapid eye blinks that he's actually having a tiny seizure, because that would clue them in on the whole epilepsy deal and then Dean'll be sent to a group home to get 'proper care' for 'someone with his special needs.' Sam can't tell them why Dean gets glazed in the eye and then checks out, can only offer assurances that he's not 'on something' and that he's not fooling around.

"He still has a concussion from the fight the other day," Sam explains lamely. "The school nurse said he'd zone out once in a while over the next day or two, and that it was perfectly normal."

Sam holds his breath and prays that the Daltons buy it (he'd used the grown-up catch phrase 'perfectly normal' and everything). It's in part true, anyway. Most likely the bar fight is responsible for the sudden increase in petit mal seizures Dean's been having. His head's still tender and soft like a melon and getting punched in the face can only be bad for his epilepsy. Stress, they've learned, is also a big trigger, and there's nothing more stressful to Dean than the threat of losing his family.

"Sammy?" Dean murmurs in a small, confused voice.

Sam heaves a sigh of relief and pats his big brother on the shoulder. The seizure's over, thank God, and Dean's coming back to himself. He's always confused after a seizure, discombobulated, like someone took his brain out and ran it through one of those old-fashioned washers, scrubbing it clean and then plunking it back in his head.

"Hey, Dean," Sam whispers. "How're you feeling?"

Dean licks his lips and blinks owlishly, looking sleepy and out-of-sorts. "F'ling?"

"He looks high if you ask me," Wanda Dalton's voice cuts in from her place at the kitchen sink, full of suspicion with eyes narrowed tightly.

"He's not high!" Sam insists. "He's not high," he repeats, tired and pleading. "Just… C'mon, Dean. I got homework to do. You wanna lie down, maybe have a nap?"

Dean's eyelids are already drooping with post-seizure fatigue.

"'kay," he breathes in a sigh as Sam leads him away from the kitchen, toward their bedroom.

When Wanda calls out at their retreating backs, "If this happens again I'm calling the Public Health Nurse over to do a urine sample. 'Not high' my ass!" neither brother acknowledges it.

888

When Sam wakes up the next morning, it's to find himself alone in a strange room in a strange house. He has a moment's panic where he completely forgets where he is: what state, what city, what circumstance. But then he takes note of the double bed, the pillow next to his that's sleep rumpled from where Dean's head has indented it into a flat line on the right side. He sees their worn duffle bags stowed neatly under the tiny desk, catches a glimpse of white siding through a narrow window and remembers.

The Daltons. Foster care.

He heaves a weary sigh and strangles the loose mop of shaggy, matted hair on his head in a moment's pure frustration, away from prying eyes as his long fingers twine into the thick strands and tugs until his eyes water. He's alone, for now. Dean's obviously up and is probably off breaking into the kitchen cupboards to fix himself something to eat. That or he's wandering the house waiting to have another seizure…

Sam just needs a minute. Just a minute alone. He allows himself a moment's relief at his brother's absence, glad to be free of Dean – the endless, ceaseless worry about Dean – for a few moments. Revels in the feeling of isolation, of independence, as he stretches out with freshly growing limbs and luxuriates in the empty space, in the solitude. Pushes away the deep, burning anxiety and allows himself to shed the mantle of caregiver to his big brother for just a minute. Just so he can catch his breath. Just so he can hold onto his sanity without fraying at the edges and flying apart.

Then he sucks it all back in with a long, deep breath, and steels himself to face the day.

Dean isn't a burden. He isn't. In spite of being really bossy, and annoying, and immature, he's probably the most capable sixteen year-old Sam's ever seen. And he takes care of things – he does – with a cocky grin and a witty retort and he never complains. Sam sees other kids with their older brothers and sisters, sees how they're ignored or scorned or disdained, and he knows he's damned lucky to have a big brother like Dean.

But Sam doesn't know how to worry about him without feeling like the world's ending. He doesn't know how to see Dean taken down to his knees, doesn't know how to stand by and watch his brother shake, rattle and roll with a seizure, without feeling like nothing will ever be right again. Because he doesn't think he's strong enough to do what Dean does, and his own shoulders are slight and can't bear Atlas's load like Dean does, and deep down he's afraid that he can't take care of Dean the way Dean takes care of him.

And if life were even remotely fair, Sam Winchester wouldn't have to worry about looking after his epileptic older brother because their Dad would be the one doing it in the first place. They wouldn't be in foster care, and Dad wouldn't be laid up with a bad knee because he wouldn't have been hunting in the first place. And for that matter, Dean wouldn't have the damned epilepsy at all because he wouldn't have gotten hurt…

Sam figures that's enough brooding for one day. Sulking and wishing won't change things, and he's got a missing brother and an insistent bladder that both demand his immediate attention. He takes care of the latter first, being sure to wipe away any stray droplets of soap or water after he washes his hands because Wanda likes a clean house and Sam gets the feeling that even the tiniest of messes would earn a reprimand. Then he heads out into the living room, where he finds his brother sitting Indian-style on the floor, deeply involved in a game of Monopoly with a dark-skinned girl who looks to be a few years younger than Sam.

"Heya, Sammy," Dean says without even turning his head to look at whomever he's heard approaching him.

Sam's always thought Dean had eyes in the back of his head.

"How'd you know it was me?" he asks, curious, as always, about how Dean always seems to know when Sam's around.

Dean shrugs and rolls the dice.

"This here's Ava," inclining his chin in the direction of the girl across from him. She's wearing a frilly pink nightgown and her knees are kind of knobbly.

"Hi," Ava says, grinning prettily with cheeks that dimple.

"Ava, this is Sam," Dean says, then moves his piece across the board. "Ha! Park Place! In your face!"

He counts through his money and lays down the appropriate amount of cash before extracting the coveted blue tabbed property and adding it to his pile.

"I already have Boardwalk," Ava reminds him with an eye roll.

"Yeah, and now you're not gonna double-whammy me with the B-PP combo." He grins winsomely. "I got layers, kid. I'm so much more than this pretty face."

Sam rolls his eyes and heads towards the kitchen.

Breakfast is already laid out on the table. There's bacon and eggs and toast and Eggo waffles, as well as orange juice. Someone, probably Dean, has laid out a clean plate and utensils, and there are a couple of napkins and a clean glass. Sam serves himself a hefty breakfast and pops it into the microwave for about 30 seconds to warm it up a bit, noting that the kitchen is otherwise spotless. There are no dirty pans or dirty plates, no crumbs or spills or jam smears. Everything's pristine.

He eats at the kitchen table and watches through the archway as his brother and Ava continue in their Monopoly war. The food's good: the eggs are cheesy and spicy, with just a hint of paprika and cayenne pepper, just the way Dean likes 'em, and the bacon's extra crispy. Sam's pretty sure this morning's spread is all his brother's doing, and he wonders idly where the heck Carl and Wanda got off to while Dean raided their kitchen.

"Where'd they go?" Sam asks once he's finished his breakfast and cleaned up the evidence.

Dean shrugs.

"Carl works on Saturdays," Ava explains. "And Wanda volunteers at the Rec Centre."

"So you broke into the cupboards to make breakfast?" Sam queries of his brother.

"What did you want me to do, Sam?" Dean huffs in irritation. "Let the poor girl here starve?"

Then he nudges Ava in the knee with his foot and she suddenly snaps to attention, turning big, brown eyes up at Sam and allowing her lip to wibble piteously.

"I was awfully hungry," she agrees dramatically.

Sam huffs and rolls his eyes again for good measure before plunking himself down onto the couch. Dean chuckles and Ava grins proudly.

"Just imagine how much free pie we could get with her around, huh?" Dean muses. "None of those truck stop waitresses would stand a chance, man."

Sam watches them play Monopoly for a few more minutes before abandoning the game in favour of taking a very Spartan shower. He'd learned in the interim that Cody, the youngest foster child in the house at age 7, is with Wanda at the Rec Centre, and that they'll be returning before lunch. He'd also learned that Ava is 10 and has been living with the Daltons for a year and a half.

"They're pretty nice," she'd offered with a shy smile. "Strict, but good."

It probably says a lot about the kind of upbringing she's had before coming here that she thinks these guys are nice, but neither Sam nor Dean felt it prudent to point that out. Heck, Sam doubts she'd find John Winchester's particular brand of parenting to be anywhere in the realm of nice, so who is he to judge, anyway?

After he's dried himself off and brushed his teeth, Sam dresses quickly, again wiping away all stray drops of water to preserve the surgical cleanliness of the bathroom, and rejoins his brother and Ava in the living room. They've abandoned their game of Monopoly, with Dean claiming that Ava is a complete hustler and not to be trusted (winking at her and making her dimple and blush bright pink), and are now watching some Wild Kingdom program about bugs. Dean looks bored but Ava's engrossed, so neither brother bothers trying to change the channel, which Sam is secretly glad of, since he likes nature shows.

Just as he's getting into the program, Dean suddenly stiffens, head tilting as he sniffs the air.

"Shit!" he hisses, getting to his feet and looking down at Sam in confusion. "Did I leave a pan on the burner?"

"Wha—" Sam begins, but is interrupted.

"Damnit, Sam!" he storms into the kitchen, muttering under his breath about idiot brothers being the last ones in there, and 'Would it have killed you to turn the damned thing off?'

Sam follows his brother, completely bewildered, as they both take in the spotless kitchen. There are no sizzling pans and all the burners are off.

"I thought…" Dean mumbles, scratching the back of his head. "There was burning. I coulda swore…"

He does a quick turn as if searching for something, wide green eyes scanning with hawkish focus on the radiator, the power outlets, the hot plate on the coffee pot. Sam watches as Dean's face loses some of its colour, paleness whitewashing his features and making his freckles stand out as he continues to search for the source of the burning smell.

"Dean?"

Dean pushes past him, taking a quick inventory of the living room as Ava continues to stare contentedly at the television, completely oblivious to the little drama unfolding behind her. He bends down and sniffs at the heater, shaking his head and flaring his nostrils in frustration when he search comes up empty.

"Dean?" Sam tries again, feeling that cold nugget of worry blossoming in his gut into clawing tendrils of fear.

"'s'burning," Dean murmurs absently, and already his eyes are losing focus, like the wires in his brain are firing off messages in the wrong direction. "Sammy, I—I think…"

It's a seizure. A big one, Sam can tell. Dean's blinking rapidly, his lips slightly parted as if that lost sentence is hanging there still, waiting to dribble out. Sam calls his brother's name one more time but Dean doesn't reply, already lost to the first stage of the seizure. It's a matter of minutes now before he goes into convulsions.

"Is he okay?" Ava asks timidly.

"He's fine," Sam insists as he takes his brother's wrist and starts pulling him out of the living room, towards their bedroom. "He's just goofing around. He does it sometimes when he gets bored. Watch your show."

Ava doesn't look very convinced, but she recognizes an order when she hears one and turns her attention back to the TV. Sam doesn't spare her another glance as he manhandles his big brother down the hall and into their shared room. Once inside, Sam quickly closes the door behind them and locks it.

"C'mon, Dean," he whispers as he leads his big brother towards the bed. "On the bed, big brother. Come on."

Dean is pliant and malleable in his hands, going where directed, sitting when firm but gentle pressure is applied to his shoulders. Sam juggles him out of his jeans (in case he has another accident during the seizure) and then manoeuvres him until he's lying on his side on the bed, which not an easy feat when you're scrawny and small and your brother's almost six feet of lean muscle.

They've only just made it in time. Dean stiffens, neck stretching as his whole body seizes up, muscles locking rigidly and eyes rolling back in his head. He breathes in loud, panted huffs of breath through his nostrils, jaw clamped tight and teeth grinding. Sam counts, watching the seconds tick past on his wrist watch as the next phase of the seizure runs its course.

That's when the convulsions start.

Sam bites his lip and blinks past tears as his big brother thrashes and moans on the bed. He's safe from injury with pillows and mattress cocooning his flailing, trembling limbs and head, but it doesn't make witnessing it any easier for the twelve year-old boy as he watches his idol succumb to the cruel spasms of his own body. The seconds tick by and Sam counts them in tears dribbling in salty streams down his cheeks, off his chin, as the Grand Mal seizure sizzles like a live wire through Dean's body.

Two minutes and forty-two seconds later the trembling stops. Dean lets out an unconscious whuffing moan and goes still, and Sam lets himself cry while he waits for his brother to come back to himself. He's got about a twenty-minute window, at least, before Dean will come to. The doctors explained it like a computer rebooting, that Dean's brain needs time after a seizure to get all the programs back online again.

When Dean finally blinks his eyes open he's not with it at all, his eyes unfocussed and his brow furrowed in confusion. He looks so out of it, so lost and vulnerable in a way he's never been before – nothing like the hyper-vigilant, hyper-alert soldier Dad's trained him to be. Sam makes sure his cheeks are dry and clear of evidence of his tears before addressing his brother.

"Dean?" he tries. "Hey… Hey, Dean?"

Dean blinks up at him, quick flicks of his long lashes, like a Southern Belle fanning away the heat, before licking his lips.

"S'mmy?"

That's the only word Sam needs to hear to know that they're going to be okay.

They stay one more night with the Daltons, bearing the criticisms for Dean's laziness for 'sleeping all day like some tricked out junkie' without argument, and Pastor Jim is there to pick them up in the morning.

~Fin!~

Thank you for reading!