Sammy Winchester was many things. With his nose almost always pressed firmly into his homework, Dean Winchester was never hesitant to comment (either in praise or mocking) how smart he was. His dad, on the other hand, was always quick to follow up that a bit of streets smart (which Dean seemed to inherit in spades) wouldn't hurt, either. Sam Winchester would simply roll his eyes, reposition himself at his desk, and continue reading on. Sammy Winchester was naïve and silly and spoiled and whinny and funny and suddenly… a klutz.
But, over the span on one summer, the boy had grown four inches and with his newfound height came an onslaught of clumsiness. It rarely emerged on hunts where he would be quick with the trigger of the shot gun loaded with salt rounds or a crossbow (depending on what they were hunting), but simple things. John Winchester would send his boys to the thrift shop down the road from the motel-of-the-week they called home and he wouldn't get far before he would trip over his too-large feet, roll his shoulders awkwardly, push a handful of hair out of his face, and continue on with Dean smirking, green eyes flickering, beside him.
"You gotta be more careful, there, Sasquatch." Dean would say.
Most times, all Sam would do in reply was mutter under his breath for Dean to shut up. This day was no different and they continued on to the thrift shop to find new pants for Sam that came down past his ankles.
For the first time, the Winchester trio found themselves in the ER for an injury that wasn't related to a hunt. Sam's ever-growing limbs got the better of him once again and he had tripped down the stairs in the motel and, if John's suspicions were correct, fractured his wrist when he landed. So, under the buzzing fluorescent lighting of the ER with the curtains of the cubicle draped around them, Sam sat upright on the bed with his legs swung over the side, right arm clutching his left, Dean sat in the chair next across from Sam's shaking knee and John stood in the corner watching his boys and drowning out the usual chatter and flare of the emergency room.
Did Dean's shirt always fit so loose?
The doctor came in at a blessedly quick pace holding Sam's X-rays in one hand and his chart in the other. "Well," he began as he held up Sam's X-ray to the light, "looks like you've hurt your arm pretty good there, kid. Your dad was right about the wrist but it looks like you've got a hairline fracture you're ulna. See?" He pointed to the X-ray and Sam squinted in the light to see. "We'll get you set up with a cast and you'll be good as new in no time. Just watch the stairs next time." He flashed a quick smile at John standing tall and out of the way in the corner and Dean, sitting slouched in the chair.
"Thanks, doc." Sam replied with eyes downward, feeling the flush of embarrassment spread from his cheeks to the tips of his ears. In his short fourteen years of life, he'd never felt more embarrassed or relieved and normal to break a bone or sprain something in a way that wasn't at all related to a ghost or demon or some such bullshit jumping on him like a rabid howler monkey.
John watched as the doctor turned his concerned expression from one son to the next. God, Dean… He thought. The harsh glow of fluorescent lighting did favors to no one, but now John could see the dark circles that clung beneath Dean's eyes and his uncharacteristically slack posture. The kid looked exhausted. He'd complained about it occasionally when John pushed during drills but shrugged it off like always. "Sammy's snoring like a fuckin' woodchipper, Dad."
"It's Sam! And I don't snore."
"You're asleep, asshat. How the hell would you know? I'm the one up listening to you for half the night. I need my own room, Dad. A man needs his space!" he's remark with his characteristic grin that, when John thought about it, didn't look as wide as it used to.
And his shirt. God, John could for the life of him remember the collar of that shirt gaping around Dean's neck like it was doing now. Did he stretch it out goofing around with Sam? Dammit, Dean.
"Young man, are you alright?" The doctor asked. Dean didn't respond right away. Instead, he blinked a few times staring off at a spot on the pink curtain pulled around them.
"Dean." John called out with his arms crossed tightly across his chest.
Dean's head wiped back at his father's call. Naturally. "Huh?" Dean turned to see all eyes in the cubicle were on him. Sam, from his seat a couple of feet away, fidgeted (still holding his arm) and looked at Dean with wide eyes partially blocked by brown bangs. "What're you staring at, Sammy?"
Sam, not Sammy, huffed and rolled his eyes, as was expected these days when he was in the throes of puberty. Kid was too easy. "Dad? What is it?"
"The doctor here was speaking to you, Dean. You just spaced out. That bug you had coming back? If you're coming down with something again—"
"I'm fine, Dad." Dean answered, cutting John off mid-sentence. John responded with a glare and Dean straightened in his seat before turning to face the bald, pudgy doctor with the blindly white coat standing on the other side of Sam. Damn, triple team. He rubbed his stiff neck (that was new) and flashed a smile. "Really, man, I'm good. Sam's the banged up one here. Kid can't even go down a flight of stairs without nearly breakin' his neck." Damned stiff neck. Damned hard motel mattresses. Damned –
It was John's turn to cut Dean off. In the midst of his internal rants, John had pushed himself up from his little corner of the "room" and grabbed Dean's arm as he rubbed his neck. "Dean. What the hell is that?" John pulled the collar of Dean's shirt back to reveal a tapestry of blacks and purples and blues that stained the skin around Dean's shoulder and back. It had been two weeks since their last hunt. Or, if John was being completely honest, two weeks, 4 days and 15 hours. But who's counting? Dean shouldn't have any bruises.
"What the hell is what? What are you –ow!" Dean hissed. The doctor had strolled over the Dean's chair and pressed a cold hand along his bruised back and Dean nearly jumped to his feet. John cupped a firm hand around Dean's cheek and silently told him to sit still. And, if Dean didn't know any better he would've thought the flicker in Dad's eye was a "please" but… that couldn't be right.
Sam now thought it would be a fine time to join in observing and craned his neck around to get a view of what all the fuss was about. He grunted when he leaned too heavily on his injured wrist and the doctor glanced up. He held up his index finger and briefly excused himself from the cubicle.
"Dean, what happened?" Sam asked when he was sure the doctor was gone. "You're always making fun of me for tripping and falling over stuff and you're covered in bruises. Hypocrite." Apparently, Sammy Winchester is dramatic as all hell as well.
Dean opened his mouth to speak but was cut off when the doctor pulled the curtain back to allow a nurse in with a wheelchair. He ushered for Sam to hop off the bed and into the chair. "Shelia here will take you to get that arm in a cast. You're in good hands." Shelia smiled at Sam as he walked to the chair and he sat down obediently, feeling the red return to his face.
They disappeared behind the curtain and the doctor turned back to Dean, face stern. "Those bruises – how long have you had them?"
Dean shook his head, still rubbing at his neck. "I don't know. They weren't there last time I checked. God, my neck is killing me."
"I'd like to set you up for a few tests; blood draws and the like. Today…now, if I can manage to call in a few favors."
"Doc, is this necessary?" John asked. He'd stepped closed to Dean in the chair and rubbed his calloused and dry hands on Dean's neck. His son's hand fell to his lap and his squirmed in his chair.
"I'd say so."
"Oh, fuck." Dean muttered. Stupid, clumsy Sammy.
Sam's newly casted arm rested comfortably on a pillow in his lap on the drive to the motel. Dean sat in the front seat of the Impala with his head pressed up against the rolled up window. John sat erect in the moonlight, mouth tight and steering wheel gripped tightly in his white-knuckled hands. They arrived at the ER at 1:00 that afternoon and it was now 10:28. They drove silently in the rain until John finally spoke.
"They said they'd call us in 24 hours with the results of the tests, Dean. There's no need to brood. Probably just need a few iron supplements and you'll be good as new."
"Uh-huh. Hey, can you drive a little faster? I gotta piss."
The hospital called the next evening informing them of Dean's appointment the next day.
"It's probably just anemia, Dean. That's nothin'." Sam would say. "Just a few pills, right Dad?"
As it turned out, Dean needed a lot more than iron supplements.
Cancer. Fucking cancer. Fucking leukemia. Fuckingfuckfuckfuck leukemia. The doctor talked and Dean just stared down at this shaking knees and tacky carpet. Dad was listening, though. He could tell by how tightly he was holding on the arm of the chair in the doctor's swanky, wood-adorned office. His ears perked up, though, when he hear the first mention of "courses of treatment."
Chemo. Fucking chemo. Fuckingfuckfuckfuck chemo. Images flashed in his head of a bunch of bald and sickly kids from those commercials that always came on at 2 am asking for donations. God dammit. A doctor he was not, but Dean got the gist about chemo. It was poison that they let drip, drip, drip into your veins and by some fucking miracle of science, that shit wouldn't kill you but it would try. And, fuck. He'd just gotten his hair the way he liked it.
Subconsciously (or not), Dean rubbed a hand through his hair. He stopped when he the voices stopped their incessant talking and he felt the doctor's eyes on him. He looked up when the doctor called his name.
"Dean, I'm not an oncologist by any stretch of the imagination, but cancer doesn't always lead to chemotherapy and chemotherapy doesn't always lead to baldness." He paused and his brows drew closely and he made the same stern expression Dean saw for the first time at the ER when he addressed him, "and even if it did, if it meant getting you better and well again, that's just the price you're going to have to pay."
Dean nodded as his sense of vanity fluttered away
On his first point, the pudgy doctor was wrong. The next day, Dean and John and Sam all travelled back to the hospital with Sam in the back seat reciting a string of statistics about leukemia and chemo and radiation and Dean just sighed and rolled his eyes. He was gonna break that computer as soon as they got back to the motel. Or break Sammy's little fingers that were always clicking away on the thing since Dad had "bought" it a few weeks back.
Their appointment wasn't with Pudgy Doctor today. No, Dean was special and had to see his special cancer doctor. The Winchester Trio followed the signs and arrows pointing them to the oncology ward and then again to the hematologists where they sat in the waiting room to be called back for one Joseph Matloub, MD.
Sam fidgeted constantly with the outdated National Geographic magazine piled onto a corner table while John filled out paperwork. Dean sat between them with his legs crossed at the ankle thumbing the pocket knife in his front jean pocket. Perhaps it was a sign of a larger psychological issue, but damn he wanted to stab something.
"Here." John called. "Come on, Dean-o. Sammy, you stay here."
Dean figured he was dying because of two things: 1. John called him "Dean-o" like it was nothing when Dean hadn't heard that nickname since he was ten. 2. Sam didn't protest when John told him to stay or called him "Sammy." No, Dean wasn't dying. He was already dead and the peace and quiet of his father and brother not bickering was his sorry excuse for heaven. Great.
John watched Dean shuffle into the office of Dr. Matloub with eyes filled with concern and worry. Dean was too quiet. His shoulders were slumped too far down. He wouldn't stop rubbing his neck. How did I miss this?
There was more talking and more knife-thumbing; more oppressive fluorescent lighting and more spacing out. Dean ignored most of the conversation unless John nudged him softly in the side. What drew him into the conversation this time was Dr. Matloub and John standing, shaking hands and John gently pulling him to his feet.
On the way back to the motel, Sam was mostly quiet. He'd stopped with the statistics and fidgeting and said only one thing in the twenty minute drive: "I'm glad I broke my arm, Dean."
Dean was diagnosed with leukemia on a Tuesday and began chemotherapy on Friday.
Chemo was supposed to cure him, or so they said. After the first treatment, he felt fine. When he stood from the chair there was initial dizziness ("From sitting down too long, that's all.") but it was smooth sailing after.
When they got back to the motel room, Dean flopped down on his bed and Sam handed him the remote. "Watch whatever you want, Dean."
John raised a questioning brow, but watched from the table where he was unpacking Dean's things and a seemingly endless pile of pamphlets about leukemia with freakishly happy people on the cover. Freaks.
"Anything?" Dean asked.
"Whatever you want. Here."
"If that's what you want. I can start my homework or something."
Dean interlaced his fingers behind his head and shrugged casually. John knew what was coming before the words left the boy's lips. "Porn?"
"Dean—" John cut in.
"Just seeing where we draw the line here."
"I'm just trying to be nice, Dean."
"That's just it. That's just fucking it." Dean's expression morphed seamlessly from his casual snarky glare to anger rapidly and he stood to face Sam who was barely an inch below Dean's eye level. "No offense, kid, but you aren't nice to me."
"On any given Friday, you're given me grief about drinking or you needing to study or what-the-fuck-ever. Don't start kissing my ass now. I ain't dead yet, little brother."
"Dean!" John interrupted again, trying to stop Dean's rant. He failed.
"Dad, look at me. I'm fine! Tired? Yeah. Always lately, but don't go around treatin' me with kid gloves because some doctor says something's wrong with my blood or bone marrow or whatever the hell you guys were babbling about! Just—" he sighed and this fists he didn't realize were clinched loosen at his sides. "Just treat me like normal. Please."
Pudgy Doctor was wrong on his second point, too. 0-2.
Dean stood in the mirror after his fourth chemo treatment breathing deep breaths with a clump of blonde hair in his hand. "They must be giving medical degrees away," he muttered.
And right on cue, his head found its way back to the toilet bowl with Sam sitting on the tub talking low and gentle about how he was "gonna be fine" and "it's okay" and "Dad'll be back from the pharmacy with your meds any second."
Dean finally came up for air and leaned back against the cabinets beneath the sink. His clothes were beginning to fit even loser around his thinning frame, but his t-shirt clung to his sweat-drenched body. "Fuck. This is exhausting."
"Maybe we should turn in? It's almost two in the morning."
"Nu-uh. You sleep. You've got school in the morning."
"Dean. You need sleep, too."
"You snore like a damn wood chipper, Sammy. I wasn't kidding." He smirked.
Sam chuckled. "Shut up."
Dean's smirk faded and his nostrils flared. "Dean? You gonna be sick again?"
After a moment, Dean shook his head no. "False alarm. You know, I think this is the longest we've ever stayed in one place since the fire."
"You mean this is the longest we've gone without a hunt?" Perceptive. Sammy Winchester was very perceptive.
"Yeah. It's kinda nice, y'know? Quiet."
"Since when do you like things quiet?"
"Huh. Good point. But, I could see this life for you, Sammy."
"I've seen those college brochures you've got stashed around. You know, most kids are busy hiding porn from their parents, not glossy little pamphlets about big-time schools in California."
"No, let me finish. People, people think that I'm an idiot and I swear to you I'm not. It's just with hunting and taking care of you and cleaning up after Dad, I didn't have much to give to anything else. All those detentions my last year of high school? Every single fucking one was because I was always either late to my first class or ditching the last. You needed someone to meet you at the bus stop, y'know? I know what kind of fucked up shit is out there I wasn't gonna just let you walk back to whatever hell hole motel we were staying in alone." Dean paused and rubbed across his sweat streak brow and his eye lids drooped a bit. Sam opened his mouth to speak and closed it again when he saw Dean wanted (needed?) to keep going. "I didn't mind it. Honest. School was boring, chasing skirts got old and… Dad needed help, too. Sammy, sometimes I swear hunting this damn thing that killed mom is either going to keep him sane or drive him completely crazy. I mean, what the hell is he gonna do when he catches the thing? Start fishing? Join some suburban softball league? Fuck no.
Sammy, don't let this shit trap you, okay? You think it's bad now? It will just keep eating at you until it kills you. It's…a fucking cancer. You gotta know when to walk away. Please." Dean's eyes were glassy now and at first, Sam couldn't tell if it was the fever or if he was crying. But the way his voice quivered at his plea answered the question for him. Sam blinked and when he felt moisture running down his cheek, he wiped it away, not realizing he was crying too.
A moment passed where neither said anything. Sam's heart pounded in his chest and Dean's eyes drooped more and more. "Come on, Dean. Let's get you to bed."
"I-I- This floor is killing my back. Can you go see if Dad's made it back with those pills yet?"
Sam nodded his head and his hair flopped in his face. Dean smiled as Sam's long and awkward leg's bounded for the door.
Sam didn't have time to think about what an asshole or bastard their father was for taking so long with Dean's prescriptions when he walked out of the bathroom and into their bedroom/living room/kitchen to see the Mighty John Winchester sitting on Dean's bed with his head hung in defeat. He looked up with red rimmed eyes and handed Sam the paper bag that rattled with Dean's steady stream of drugs. Sam said nothing and went back to tending to Dean.
"Take these." Sam shook out two painkillers into Dean's shaking hand and he dry-swallowed them before Sam could offer water. "Come on, let me help you to bed."
Dean nodded sleepily and reached an arm out to Sam. "Ah, shit! No, you're okay, Sam. It just probably wasn't the best idea to sit on this floor for so long."
Sam stood patiently for Dean to stand up right, "Are you sure?"
Dean cleared his throat and smacked his mouth, frowning at the taste of acid. "Hmm..I'm jus' tired, S'mmy."
During his next round of chemo, Dean was admitted to the hospital; a new development. He was dehydrated, the doctors told them, and when the nurses went to give him an IV of fluids, he bled excessively. "We're going to keep Dean for a bit to get this bleeding under control." Sam listened intently, and John nodded grimly.
"Hey there, Dean." He said walking into Dean's room with Sam on his heels. In the span of a few short weeks, Dean's tan skin had grown pale and his cheeks sunk in highlighting his weight loss. His hair had almost completely fallen out, but he refused to cut it, "You're not gonna bury me bald!"
"We're not gonna bury you at all!" John shouted back, surprised at his own ferocity.
John stood at the foot of Dean's bed and Sammy at Dean's side staring at him weepily.
"Oh, come on, Sammy. Cut it with the waterworks. It's nothin'." Sam blinked away his tears.
"So, Dean, I was thinking. When this is all over and you're in remission, we could go on a road trip."
"We're already on a road trip, Dad."
John suppressed a laugh. Dean was right, technically. "No, I mean a real road trip. Take a few months off from the job and go somewhere. Maybe the Grand Canyon."
"Take a few months off the job? But, sir, we—"
"I know, Dean. But, everyone needs a break sometimes. The world won't implode without us." He offered a weak smile, but my world would implode with you in it.
"Christo." Dean mumbled.
"What was that?" Sam saw John smirk as he turned to hide his laughter.
For a while, it seemed that Dean was beginning to get better despite what the doctors were saying about his counts. He picked at Sam when Sam picked at his arm in the cast. He started to cook and sing terribly off-key to John's cassettes and it seemed that things were going back to normal.
And then that all went to hell.
It seemed that in a few short days, Dean developed a cough. A hacking, wet cough that made Sam's hairs stand on end when he heard it in the middle of the night.
"Dean?" Sam peered groggily across the room to find Dean sitting up in bed hand clutching his chest. He flipped on the nightstand lamp and threw his lanky legs over the edge of the bed and rested a hand on Dean's sweaty shoulder. "Man, you're burnin' up."
Dean let out another wet cough into his fist. "S'mmy, i's like somethin's sittin' on my chest. Fuck." Sam looked around the room and grabbed Dean's shoes. There was no sign of John.
"Can you put these on?"
"Yeah. I-I got it."
"I'm gonna find Dad, Dean. Just hang on." Sam ran to the door and it wasn't until the chill night air brushed against his leg that he realized he was wearing boxers and a t-shirt. Thankfully, John was only a few feet outside the door, clutching to a cigarette and staring off into the parking lot. "Dad! There's something wrong with Dean. Say's he can't breathe."
Pneumonia. Fucking pneumonia. Dean never did things halfway, so this new twist shouldn't have been that big of a surprise. When Dean said it was like something sitting on his chest, he wasn't too far off. So much fluid had built up so rapidly, Dean was put on a ventilator and further chemo was postponed until he was stable. They were keeping him in the hospital "indefinitely" because he counts still hadn't been in the ballpark of normal and he was highly prone to infection.
"This isn't good." Sam whispered to John as they both sat next to an unconscious Dean. "He said he was fine earlier. Why didn't he say anything?" The ventilator buzzed and the heart monitor beeped. It echoed in the sterile room.
John ran a hand over his eyes and fidgeted in the hospital-issued scrubs to keep the room as sterile as possible. He clutched Dean's hand with the other. "You know your brother, Sam. Stubborn to the core."
"How are we supposed to go to the Grand Canyon with Dean on a ventilator, Dad?" Sam's voice cracked, and not because of puberty. Sammy Winchester was good at a lot of things, hiding his emotions was not one of them. John blinked through his own tears to see Sammy's wet cheeks and red nose. He pulled his youngest son to his chest that still carried the unmistakable aroma of tobacco and whiskey while still holding onto Dean's limp hand.
After a week, Dean's lungs had cleared up and he was taking off the ventilator. John was off barking at the doctors how their treatment, their help, was doing nothing but making Dean worse while Sam sat with Dean.
"Freakin' hate those things." He rasped.
"The ventilator. My throat's on fire."
"You want ice?"
"How's school comin'?"
"Jesus, you need a hearin' aid? How. Is. School. Coming?"
Sam shrugged. "It's school. Hard to focus a little lately."
"Don't screw yourself up on my account, Sammy."
"Wha—" Sam cleared his throat. " Dean, I was there. Your lips were practically blue back in the motel."
"You're being dramatic."
Sam smirked. Must be a Winchester trait. "Maybe a little."
"I'm tired, Sammy."
"You want me to leave so you can get some rest?"
"No. That's not what I meant." Sam knew what Dean meant but Sammy Winchester was getting better at lying. "You think about what I said earlier?"
"You shouldn't talk, Dean."
"Oh, shut it. Sammy, before you know it, you'll be graduating high school with Dad cheering for your scrawny ass in the audience and—
"You and Dad cheering for my scrawny ass."
Dean smiled. "Sure. You can do whatever the hell you want to do; go wherever you wanna go."
"I'm where I want to be. Why do you always pick the worst times to have these little chats?"
"Because I know you can't get up and walk away." Dean cleared his throat and rubbed at his still-balding head. Another clump fell out in his hands. "Dammit."
"You don't get to talk about what I'm gonna do here when you're dead because you're not gonna be here to see it!" He was standing now, unaware of how loud he'd become.
"Sam!" John was standing in the doorway, having become skilled in eavesdropping on their conversations. "What the hell do you think you're doing?!"
"Dad, Dean. Shit, I'm sorry. Dean. I didn't mean that. Dean?"
Dean sat with his eyes pinched shut and rubbing a hand at his temple. "You guys gotta stop yellin'. My head's fucking killing me."
"Sorry." Someone muttered; Dean wasn't sure who.
"I meant what I've been telling Sam, Dad. You're supposed to want better for your kids. Want better for Sammy. Watch out for Sammy."
Dean had grown steadily weaker as the days went on. Conversations were few and far between aside from the standard fare: "Dean, it's Dad." "Hiya, Dean. It's Sammy. Uhm, I aced my history test." "Come on, kid. Wake up for me."
Dean would comply and wake up for small intervals of time with either Sam or John sitting vigil by his side cloaked in the yellow scrubs and masks (in Sam's case).
"Keep seein' Mom, Dad." Inhale, exhale and slow blink. "She's so beautiful."
Fuck. Mary, you've gotta help our kid here. "You have her eyes, Dean. I ever tell you that? God, when you were a kid and she'd hold you, it was the freakiest thing—staring at her eyes on your little face with all those freckles. You were a cute kid."
"You think you can stay awake a little longer, kiddo? Sam'll be back from the cafeteria in a second. He'll be glad to see you're up."
"That's all I ask."
"Dean—" Dean blinked up at the ceiling and tears emerged from his emerald eyes. Mary's eyes. "It'll be okay. You'll be okay. You know I love you, right? God knows I don't say it enough but it's true. I love you so much. Shit, Dean. I know I put too much on you growing up with taking care of me and Sam and you never should have had to do that. I was so fucking full of piss and vinegar and anger…it wasn't your job to take care of us." John shook his head and thumbed the tears still flowing from Dean's eyes. "But you need to know something. I am so proud of the man you've become. You were a better man than me when you were twelve years old."
John laughed. "Sure. I bet your mother's watching over you and pissed as shit at me, but so proud of you and how you've grown and what you've done for Sam. I just—"
"Love you, too, Dad."
Sam came back from the cafeteria with three coffees, one for himself (a new habit he'd developed), one for John and one for Dean (for when he was filling up to it). John sat by Dean's head and ran his fingers softly up and down his thin and pale and sickly arm.
"Dad, behind… you."
"Dean, what is it?" John asked, cupping Dean's face.
"I's….Mom." He swallowed thickly, staring at an empty spot on the door. "G'tta…go. G'nna h'lp." He smirked the Winchester smirk and his chest hitched.
Dean's eyes fluttered closed and Sam fell into his chair erupting with loud and sloppy sobs. John stood there, frozen, with his hand still on his son's cheek, eyes wide in disbelief while his heart pounded heavily in his chest..
Sammy Winchester saw himself as a lot of things, but an only child was never one of them.