Summary: It's been exactly seven months and nine days since Sam left for Stanford. Since he packed up his protein shakes, his meds, his inhalers and his nebulizer and walked out of the door.
A/N: Cowrote this with the amazing BECKALOOBY! She came up with the initial concept of having a cystic fibrosis Sam verse and this is the first part of it .
It's been exactly seven months and nine days since Sam left for Stanford. Since he packed up his protein shakes, his meds, his inhalers and his nebulizer and walked out of the door. Dean had been counting the hours as well as the days, but a few months ago a spirit threw him into a headstone and the concussion had made him forget exactly what hour Sam had left on that day. Dean's never bothered asking John to refresh his memory, because who does that? Hey, dad, did Sammy storm out at lunchtime or was it dinner?
Yeah, no thanks. He wasn't getting into that with his father. Hell, some days John walks around like Sam never existed. It's not he pretends the kids dead, he just doesn't seem to acknowledge he even had a second son. Maybe it helps John, maybe it's his coping technique or whatever. It doesn't matter what his excuse is, it pisses Dean off to no end either way. Because Sam was real, he did exist and he still fucking does. Dean likes to prove that by texting Sam every few weeks. To make sure he's keeping his grades up, to make sure he's doing his homework, to make sure he's taking enough time away from school work to party and get some action like you're supposed to at college. Dean definitely does not keep contact with Sam because he needs to reassure himself the kid hasn't drowned in his own lungs while he's away. Puh-lease.
-what are you doing?
-art history paper. You?
-vengeful spirit in Delaware. You okay?
-infection cleared up?
-if you're lying to me I'll kick your ass
-almost cleared up
-are you still lying?
-dr gave me new antibiotics, asshat. You never answered my question
-are you okay?
-I'll see you then?
-sure, later Sammy
-it's Sam :/
It's been eight months and twenty four days since Sam left.
Dean gets this stupid combination of joy meets dread every time his phone makes that particular ring. The ring Dean has for Sam only so he knows he has exactly 0.5 seconds while he reaches for his phone to freak out and that's all the time he's allowed before he has to rein in his panic and act like he's so much calmer than he actually is when he answers Sam's call. John doesn't know this, but not even he has his own ringtone on Dean's phone. Nope, sorry, that privilege is for Dean's tall hairy mucus freak of a baby brother alone.
He reaches over and flips open his cell. "Sam? What's up?" Dean asks, getting straight to it because they don't have time for hellos. If Sam has called him, not the other way around like it usually is, there's something wrong and Dean will not panic on the phone to his brother right now.
"Dean, hey," Sam says like Dean called him and he's happy and surprised.
"Are you working a job right now?"
Dean knows if he says no, Sam will know he's lying and then he'll mumble some apology that he's sorry for interrupting and it doesn't matter and then he'll hang up and he won't answer Dean's calls for two days when he tries to get Sam back on the phone. So Dean dodges the subject all together and asks, "What's wrong, Sammy?"
Dean can see Sam chewing his nails and he would be able to hear him too if it wasn't for his heavy thick breathing blocking out all other sounds besides Sam's voice. "Are you in the hospital?" Dean asks because Sam always gets nervous in hospitals by himself.
The last time three months ago they made it work though. Dean was stuck in Texas with a fractured collarbone and a broken leg and John was with Caleb in Chicago. Sam had just been admitting to Stanford University hospital with a bad chest infection -because that's all he ever gets- and he called Dean all sputtery and clogged up and exhausted. He was scared and he wanted Dean, and Dean wanted to be there too, more than Sam probably. But they couldn't so they made it work by being on the phone to each other at every opportunity and it was almost –but not really- like the old days when they'd both be holed up in Sam's hospital room for two weeks and Dean never left his side.
They watched TV together but actually they didn't because Dean's motel TV didn't have the channel Sam wanted to watch. But he was so delirious with a fever he didn't even really notice Dean was making up what was on Sam's screen but not his as he went along. As far as Sam was concerned, they had watched Meerkat Manner that day and talked about it for four hours afterwards, in excruciating detail.
"No, I'm in my apartment," Sam answers, still with that scared unsure tone that makes Dean want to scream because he's so far away from his little brother right now.
"Do you need a hospital?" Sam sounds heavy, but not desperately so. Dean just needs to check though.
"No, I don't think so."
"Then what's up?" Dean says to remind him he doesn't just call to say hello.
There's a pause before Sam answers. "I failed a test."
Dean stands from the chair he's been picking the chipped wood from since he picked up his phone. "You called me because you failed a test?" Was the kid trying to give him a heart attack?
"No I…I didn't fail because I failed. I failed because I started coughing and it was bothering everyone in the room so I walked out to take a hit of my inhaler and get a drink of water. When I came back my paper was gone. My lecturer had to fail me because I left in the middle of a test without supervision."
Dean envisions the asshole lecturer and mentally beats his face in when he thinks he gets what Sam needs from him. "So you want me to come down there and kick the guys ass until he gives you an A?" he smirks.
"No, Dean. No. He's letting me re-take it by myself tomorrow. It's fine."
Dean's officially back to being confused. "Then what-"
Sam cuts him off. "It doesn't matter. It's fine; I'm okay. Bye, Dean."
Dean finally understands when he hears Sam's rushed defeated tone. "I can be there in eight hours if I don't stop."
"Dean, you don't have to." Sam starts to protest, even though they both know by this point this is what Sam called him for. He was lonely and bummed and nothing tragic had happened but Sam just wanted company for a few days, his brother's company to be precise.
"Eight hours. I'll see you then." Dean hangs up before Sam can. He sends his father a text –Sam's sick, gone to check up on him- and it's not a complete lie, Sam is always sick, he's always going to be sick. Then Dean packs up his things, making note to get some laundry done while he's visiting Sam. He grabs his keys and his leather jacket, and makes it to Stanford in seven hours and seventeen minutes.
Dean arrives at Sam's off campus apartment just before dark. The building's clean and mostly used by older students rather than freshmen like Sam. It's much nicer than the dorms. Dorms, even Ivy League dorms, are cesspools of germs and dust and all other manners of things that would totally screw with Sam's already shitty health. So yeah…his apartment building is much better. It's one of the special privileges CF's get, the silver lining, blah blah blah. Yeah, like for the sake of a cleaner room, Sam would rather have a genetic disease that's slowing killing him than not. Fuck. Off.
Dean parks in the guest lot across from Sam's door and grabs his things, his duffel bag and the burgers and drinks he'd picked up from some drive in five minutes away from Sam's room. He heads up to Sam's front door and knocked, knowing Sam has the door locked and salted just like he promised he always would.
After few seconds, the door opens to reveal his baby brother. He's paler than Dean would like and there's dark smudges under his eyes. It's obvious he hasn't slept much. It looks like he's lost a little weight as well, not that Dean's surprised. The kid hates eating big meals like he's supposed to do, hates the extra fatty calorie pumped shakes and every other substitute there is for kids like him. He's just a whiney bitch like that. But he gets on with it, almost never complains, he's a pro at this. It's what you get for living with it for twenty years. He's been slacking though, clearly.
"Hey," Sam sighs, stepping away from the door so Dean can walk in.
"You look like crap," Dean greets in reply, stepping over the salt lines and into the living room.
"When do I not?" Sam scoffs. Super, he's in that mood. This weekend is going to be fun.
Sam locks the door behind him and walks back to his couch. He slumps down into the leather with an exhausted sigh.
"You getting sick on me?" Dean puts his hand to Sam's forehead to check for fever.
"Fuck off," Sam swats Dean away and leans forward in his seat. "Just tired…and stressed."
"Sam," Dean rolls his eyes. "Seriously? Stressed over a damn test you're gonna re-take anyway?"
"Shut up, Sammy." Dean sets his duffle bag in the floor and tosses Sam one of the greasy paper bags. He sets the drinks tray down in on the coffee table and rolls his eyes again when Sam grumbles about water marks. He ignores the stupid comment because Sam will not change the subject that easily. "You look like you need a break."
Sam picks at the burger paper. "Dean…"
"You're eating that whether you like it or not, kid. You've lost weight; I'm not blind, Sam. Haven't lost my touch ya know?" Dean takes his own bag and sits down next to Sam on the couch.
"Bacon cheeseburgers with fries?" Sam says, raising his eyebrows.
"You need the protein and sodium." Dean starts unwrapping his own burger.
"Then what's your excuse?"
"Bite me," Dean smirks with a mouthful of bread and bacon. "Strawberry milkshake." He picks up the drink in the right side of the drinks tray and pushes it into Sam's free hand. Sam tries to glare but it's not working. "Don't give me that bitch face. It's your favorite and you know it."
"Maybe…" Sam's mouth twitches into a slight smile as he takes the drink. He starts munching on the greasy food before long, kid hasn't lost his touch either when it comes to following orders, Dean's order. He's always sucked at taking John's orders.
They sit in silence for a few minutes while they eat their food. It's uncomfortable, even though they haven't seen each other in months. It's relaxed and just as Dean had remembered it being. Just as it always is with them.
"It's hard you know," Sam mutters, breaking the silence. He's staring down at the pile of fries in front of him, playing with them a little before finally munching on them when Dean stares long enough.
Dean doesn't comment; Sam just needs him to listen. Yeah, they could have done this over the phone, but no, they couldn't actually, so screw you.
"I thought going to school, having a routine, it would be easier. But…there's times I just don't remember to eat, you know?" Sam fiddles with his drink's straw. "Or…well…eat like this at least."
"Most college kids would kill to eat like this every day, Sammy," Dean tries to tease.
"But I'm not like most college kids. That's the problem. I'm not fucking normal." Sam moves the rest of his uneaten fries to the coffee table so he can rest his elbows on his knees. He buries his head in his hands, running them through his shaggy hair that Dean desperately wants to cut but never will.
With a sigh, Dean scoots over and rubs at Sam's back. It's their thing. Sometimes when John catches them and it looks more than it is, Dean will pat Sam on the back, hard, like he's helping Sam with CPT. Dean's a motherfucking God at CPT, he's had enough training and practice to wipe the floor with any of the professionals at the hospitals they've been to over the years. But Dean can't complain about them all that much. Despite their life on the road, John and Dean always managed to find good doctors and therapists for Sam along the way. They knew cystic fibrosis wasn't something they could just ignore. John might have thought he could at first…but he quickly learned that wouldn't fly with Dean.
"Okay, you're not like every once else. And it sucks. It always has. It sucks you were dealt this shitty hand and that there isn't a cure for it and that you have to put up with all this crap on a daily basis without a break."
Sam huffs. Christ kid, shut up, Dean's got a point here somewhere, just wait, it's gonna blow your fucking mind.
"But you know what? You're better because of it. Sam, you've done more than what every doctor every said you would be able to do. They said you wouldn't survive after that infection you got from all the smoke in the fire…but you did. Just a baby turnip head and you stuck the finger to them." Literally. Dean learned it from some drunken guy outside the hospital and taught it Sam and Jesus, there will never be anything funnier than watching a sixth month old give the finger to a bunch of doctors, whilst giggling his tiny ass off.
"You set your own rules and you still are. So fuck anyone else."
Sam sniffles a little into his hands but doesn't move. Dean is starting to think that this is about more than just failing a test because of a coughing fit. But he's not commenting on that…not yet at least.
"When's your test tomorrow?"
"A little after noon. The professor is giving up his lunch hour so I can retake it."
Maybe the bastard isn't as big of an ass as Dean had originally thought. "Okay then…you're going to go get some sleep and not think about this for the night, or I'm gonna kick your ass into next week."
"But I need to study more and-"
"Sam, I would bet my arsenal that you would have aced that test if you hadn't had to get up."
Sam blushes. "Maybe…"
"Don't be a bitch. Definitely is more like it."
"Jerk," Sam mumbles with no real heat behind the word. He yawns loudly before he can protest any more. "Maybe sleep would be good…"
"No shit Sherlock. Have you even looked in a mirror in the last week?"
Sam just rolls his eyes and clears his throat.
Dean hands him the half drunk milkshake again. "Drink, then bed. I can ask you questions or something in the morning while you do your exercises."
Sam nods. "Thanks, Dean. I'm…I'm glad you're here." He reaches over and squeezes his brother's shoulder.
Dean shrugs away from under the touch. "You're such a girl." Me too…
While Sam sleeps, Dean forces himself to stay awake. He drinks what feels like a gallon of coffee while he pours over Sam's notes. He wants to be prepared so he can test his brother in the morning. It's not like Sam needs it, but it's important to him, so it's important to Dean too. It doesn't matter if he has dark smudges under his blood shot eyes the next morning when Sam comes out of his bedroom, because Sam no longer has his own.
"Hey," Sam greets around a yawn. "You sleep alright?"
"Yeah, the couch is comfier than it looks," Dean lies. "There's coffee already on the counter for you. Take your meds and start your exercises."
Sam grumbles. "I've been doing it for twenty years, Dean, I'm not gonna forget."
"Like you don't forget to eat?" Okay, that was low, even Dean'll admit to that one, but what else is he here for if not to kick Sam's ass some? "I'll make us some breakfast."
"I've got plenty of protein bars-" Dean cuts him off with a glare, warning Sam not to test him. "Thank you."
Dean nods in acknowledgement as he goes about grabbing skillets and pans in the kitchen. He finds some pancake mix in the cabinet and starts mixing it in a bowl. Out of the corner of his eye he sees Sam swallow down a handful of pills and take a few hits from his inhaler. His brow knits in confusion. He can't remember seeing Sam take that many pills in the mornings before he had left for college. He makes a mental note to check out what new meds Sam's on while the kid is out doing his test later.
"Um…Dean? I think you got all the lumps out of that batter and you're starting to burn the butter in the skillet."
"Shit," Dean curses, realizing he forgotten the burners. He turns them down and adds a little more butter before pouring the batter in. "Sorry…just trying to figure out what class these damn notes are for," he lies.
"Criminology. It's an elective, I thought would be helpful."
"Of course you did…"
"Can you just help me? I need to do my therapy crap and it would be awesome if you could quiz me."
"Fine, fine. Don't get your panties in a wad, geekboy." He flips the pancakes. "Just do your thing and I'll ask you some questions."
Sam grabs his vest from its place, folded neatly on top of the machine. He snaps the clips together down his front and as he plugs the two tubes to the holes in the jacket, Dean can only think of how much he hates that thing. The stupid fucking vest that took the thing that used to be his and Sam's away. Not only that, it did a better job than Dean's pounding could ever hope to. Dean might think of himself as a CPT pounding God, but that thing…it was mother of all God's.
Fucking hell, he was jealous of a CF vest. He needed to get out more…
"Dean, quiz!" Sam shouts over the rattling of the machine and the shaking of his voice.
"Oh…yeah." Dean puts some bacon in another pan and lets it fry next to the pancakes. "Alright…um…who is accredited with developing strain theory?"
"And he took who's concept of anomie and made it his own?"
"Durkheim…too easy, Dean."
"Fine, smartass." Dean's back is to Sam and he doesn't bother suppressing his proud grin. "How did he make it his own then?"
"He used the word to describe a discord between what society expected of citizens and what citizens were actually capable of doing." Sam's voice breaks off into a thick cough, it's just like Dean remembers. Or maybe it's a little different. Heavier.
He waits until Sam can breathe again from the living room. "People can turn to crime when the expectations are unreasonable as a way to bridge the gap and the inequality."
Dean has to turn to the notes he stole from Sam's desk to quiz him harder. Not that he's meant to know what harder is, he can talk a good talk, quiz a good quiz, but he doesn't actually understand what any of this shit means. It's kind of scary Sam does.
Twenty minutes of one agonizing quiz later, the kid turns off the stupid fucking machine Dean might break one of these days and walks into the kitchen sounding so much better than he had the day before. The normalness of Sam's breathing should last a couple of hours, until the evil fucking mucus builds up again and tries to drown Sam like it does every day of his damn life. If Dean didn't know all he did about the supernatural, he would swear CF is a making of the devil himself. Yeah, he'd like to hunt that little bitch down.
Sam's next to the stove and snags a piece of bacon. "Gotta try harder than that, dear brother." The smartass moves to another cabinet and picks up some more pill bottles. Dean takes a split second peak inside and fuck, the kid could open up his own pharmacy if he wanted.
Sam shakes out two small blue pills from one bottle, one from another and three from the last bottle. He sits down at the table in front of the plate Dean set for him, cutlery and all. Excuse me you're dining at Dean Winchester's Supreme Grill, thank you.
Dean only recognizes the enzyme tablets on Sam's hand. "What are those?" he asks.
"New antibiotics. I'm supposed to take them with food."
That's new; apparently a lot of things about Sam's health routine are new. Dean will find out everything he needs to on that subject in the next few days. Hours if Sam's test takes long enough for him grill the apartment from top to bottom by himself. Call it an invasion of privacy, call it creepy, call it whatever the hell you want. Bottom line is, there are no secrets when it comes to Sam's health, not from Dean. No chance.
Sam leaves all nervous, looking stupid biting his nails, with his ugly ass army green backpack over his shoulder and Dean asks him for the third time if he's got his inhaler and his water and Sam hits him for it this time.
Dean reminds him once again he's going to ace the test and wipe away everything smug thought his lecturer had when he ripped up his last paper –yeah, the douche actually ripped it up in front of Sam before telling him to leave.
The amount of new meds Dean finds when Sam is gone freaks him out a little. He reads all the frightening warning papers from every new bottle or packet he finds. Some he remembers Sam taking when he was younger for a time or two. Others are brand new he's never heard of before and the side effects are fucking scary but he's pretty sure if Sam started hallucinating or experiencing 'convulsions', he'd let his big brother know.
Dean has cleared up and the place looks untouched when Sam comes back. Though he's not entirely sure why he spent so much effort making everything look exactly as it had before Sam left, because one look and the kid knew what he'd been doing for the last two hours.
"You could have asked."
"Yeah, and you would have probably lied out of your ass. Come on, it's not like you have a secret stash of porn and handcuffs you didn't want me to find. This place is embarrassingly un-dirty."
"Mind out of the gutter, you freak. I take it you found everything you wanted?"
Dean nods, not mentioning that he found a hell of a lot more than he wanted. "So how'd the test go?"
Sam smiles a fraction. "Good. Really good…thanks for this morning by the way."
Dean feels unwanted all of a sudden. "Good, that's…good." Fuck. Was that it? Hey, Dean, come help me study. Then goodbye? So it turns out, maybe little mucus hairy brother didn't need him as much as he used to, as much as Dean thought, as much as Dean….wanted. Fuck he was slice that vest apart.
Dean takes a breath and what he plans to say next might just kill him. "Listen, dad just sent me news of a job, there's no one else that can take it."
"So you're leaving?" Sam sounds a little surprised, but not angry, or hurt. Doesn't that just suck?
"I'll come back. When's your next service?" That's what they call it, when Sam has to go into hospital for two weeks on IV antibiotics every three months or so to give his lungs the top off oral drugs can't.
"August twenty first," Sam tells him, but Dean already knows because looking at Sam's calendar was one of the first things he did when Sam went out.
Dean nods. "I'll be there." He didn't need to pack, the only things he'd gotten out last night were his sweats and he'd put them away back in his bag when he tidied up. "You better be bigger by then."
"Whatever," Sam shrugs, but there's a little smile. He's still not upset. Damn if Dean wasn't…
"Call me, if you need any-"
Sam smiles and nods. "'Course."
"See ya, Sammy." Dean slings his duffel over his shoulder. He's gone, out of the door, before he can hear Sam's stupid comeback.