This story was written in response to a Hurt!Dean challenge. I do not own Supernatural. I'm just writing for fun.
John Winchester was trapped, pinned by the weight of his sons on either side. It had been one of the longest nights he could remember, and it was barely past 2 a.m. Sammy had curled up against John's right leg, cushioning his head on the pillow he'd carried over from his bed. His head rested on John's knee and his feet were tucked up toward the headboard John was leaning against. Dean was seated upright, leaning against John's left side; John had tucked his left arm under Dean's arm and held his hand pressed against Dean's chest, monitoring his labored breathing.
At the moment, both of the boys were sleeping, but John wasn't fooled into thinking that would last for long. Soon, Dean's inability to breathe would win the war in which a good night's sleep was the first victim. John would help him stay upright as the hacking cough seized his lungs. He would murmur assurances that Dean would be fine, and that he was right there. Sammy would look on silently with wide, frightened eyes until the coughing fit passed and they all settled back into their places.
John tried not to grind his teeth in frustration. He tried to force himself to relax, because though Dean was too far lost in the fever to pick up his father's tension, Sammy was not. Sammy always picked up on those things.
John looked down at the face of his youngest son. It was rare that he took the opportunity to examine his boys in a moment of peace; usually he was looking for broken bones or bite marks. Gently John traced Sam's brow with his thumb. When Sam didn't react to his touch, John continued, tracing his nose and following the line of his cheekbone to his hair line. At nearly thirteen, Sam was finally growing out of his baby fat. John could see hints of his height, and he was already picking up a lanky look. It wouldn't be too much longer until he matched Dean's height. John let his hand rest tenderly on Sam's head; the boy needed a hair cut. A familiar fist closed around John's heart. Sam had so much of Mary in him; sometimes it was a welcome pain to be close to him. And there was definitely something to be said for nature versus nurture – Sam carried Mary's light in spite of John's crusade.
A deep, hitching breath from Dean drew John's attention. But Dean settled back to sleep almost instantly. John pulled Dean closer, resting his cheek against his eldest's head. The cough was bad, but the heat radiating from Dean's body was a growing concern. John had a small stash of antibiotics and he'd already given Dean as much as he dared. At this point, the hospital was not an option; John had a hard time keeping a low profile on this last mission, and the risk of social services getting involved was too great. They'd have to wait out the night and hope the fever broke, or wait until the morning when Pastor Jim might be able to secure a more potent antibiotic. It made John quake with helpless frustration – of all the evil things he fought and killed, he couldn't fight this. It was like some sick, cosmic joke.
John's mind wandered back to the first night he'd ever done this – spent the night awake wondering if his boy was going to live until morning. Mary had said Dean had been quiet all day. John noticed it too when he got home. But the baby wasn't complaining about a sore throat or anything. He'd been running a slight temperature and Mary was going to take him to the doctor in the morning.
Mary had always been much more restless at night than John, particularly after Dean was born. She'd check on the baby four or five times in the night. On that night Mary's cry roused John from a sound sleep. He was out of bed and running almost before his feet hit the floor. Mary met him in the hallway, thrusting Dean into his arms as she ran into the bathroom. "He's burning up, John!"
Mary ran into the bathroom to draw a cold bath as John paced impatiently. Dean was so flushed with fever he didn't even have the energy to cry. He just clung to John weakly and whimpered against his shoulder. Mary emerged from the bathroom. "Get him in the water; I'm going to call the doctor."
John was a man who knew how to follow orders. He quickly stripped off Dean's Transformer pajamas and lowered him into the bath. The shock of the cold water caused an immediate reaction. Dean screamed in pain. It broke John's heart as Dean tried to use him as a means to scramble out of the tub. "You've got to stay in the water, baby. You're too hot."
"Daddy, no! It hurts!" Dean cried and struggled, but John kept him in the tub all the while feeling like the most horrible father to walk the planet. The trip to the hospital was nightmarish. Filled with anxiety John watched as the doctors and nurses stuck his baby with needles and packed him in ice. John couldn't erase the feeling that somehow this was his fault; if he'd paid more attention, if he'd gotten up once or twice instead of letting Mary do it, then Dean wouldn't be staring at him with those glazed and accusing eyes.
The fever broke by morning and by the afternoon Dean was charming the nurses with his antics. The doctor explained to them that there were just some kids who had a tendency to spike alarmingly high fevers. Dean was one of those kids. He assured them that they'd taken all the right steps by cooling him off and getting him to the emergency room as soon as possible.
And in his nearly seventeen years of life, Dean had been fairly blessed. He was an amazingly healthy kid, in spite of all the germs Sammy seemed to pick up in school. There had been only a handful of episodes since the first, and none had equaled the first in intensity; although this fever seemed to be giving it a run for the money. Dean moaned softly and hitched a deep breath as his head rolled against John's shoulder bringing John's attention back to the present. John didn't have to slide his hand up to Dean's face to feel the heat radiating off of him. The thin fabric of his t-shirt did nothing to mask the intensity of the heat he was giving off. And his skin was bone dry; not a good sign.
It was then that John realized that it had been quite a while since the cough had seized his son's lungs. Dean's breathing was still labored, but now it was far too shallow for John's comfort. His body was working so hard at fighting the fever that it was shutting down all the other functions; his natural cough response had been inhibited. It might appear that Dean was resting more peacefully, but in reality he was slipping away.
John made a decision. Now that he had decided to act that it never occurred to him to pray that he wouldn't be too late.
Gently John moved his right hand down to Sam's shoulder. He gave him a shove; not hard enough to dislodge him from his position, but enough to wake him up. Sam blinked up at him, disoriented and then immediately looked over to check Dean. "Sam." John said to get his attention. "I need your help. I have a job for you."
Sam pulled himself upright, giving his full attention to his father. "Go start running cold water in the tub. Then take the ice bucket and get ice from the machine down the hall - three or four buckets." It was nothing short of a miracle that Sam didn't argue or question; but he seemed to know that John was asking him to help Dean, therefore there was no time to waste. Sam swung his legs off the bed and padded over to the bathroom. John missed his solid weight as soon as he shifted; already he felt unbalanced.
The brightness of the light from the tiny bathroom as Sam flipped the switch caused John to blink furiously as he listened to Sammy start the water running. Almost immediately Sam returned to the main room. "Turn the light on, Sammy." John ordered. They both blinked in response to the additional light, but once Sam's vision was clear he had the ice bucket and was out the door. John allowed himself one more moment with Dean. He tried to will his strength into his son's failing body, and then he moved. No time for prayers or hope or faith – only action.
Scooting forward John wormed his way around to the left side of the bed. Dean was roused to semi-consciousness, but unable to hold himself upright. John began to strip him of his outermost layer of clothing. Sam returned when John was working on Dean's socks. He paused before returning to the hallway. John gave him a look, but Sam's attention was elsewhere. John was about to bark an order when Sam grabbed a pillow from the bed and shook it free of its case. He held the case up triumphantly; it was easily three times the size of the ice bucket. John nodded approvingly and returned his attention to Dean. Jeans and shirt came off; underwear stayed on.
By the time Sam had returned with the pillowcase and ice bucket, John had moved Dean into the bathroom. John was holding him in a seated position on the toilet waiting for Sam to arrive. Sam dumped the ice in the tub and turned off the water. Proud of his accomplishment, Sam turned to John with a look, wondering what was next. John could see the rapid connections Sam started making in his head between his brother and the tub full of ice as a growing expression of concern and anxiety crossed his face. But John didn't take the time to explain; it was not a time for talk.
"Go in the other room, Sam. Close the door. Let me take care of Dean."
Without waiting for a response, John maneuvered Dean to the edge of the tub. He spared no more time for thought; it was time to act. John knelt on the floor pulling Dean's right arm across his left shoulder. Then scooping up Dean's legs under his knees, John lifted him far enough to clear the lip of the tub and placed him in the icy water. Dean's reaction was far more intense than John had anticipated considering how far the fever had already advanced.
The shock of the ice cold water caused Dean's eyes to fly open in surprise, and then immediately filled with confusion and pain. Panic overrode reason and he cried out against his unknown assailant. He didn't recognize John as the source of his pain; why would his father engineer this torment? "Stop! Let me out!" Dean screamed as he struggled against John. Panic gave him power and John was hard pressed to keep him seated in the water.
"Dean! Sit down! You have to relax!" John tried to maintain a position of leverage, but Dean was fighting back with training that John himself had pounded into him so well it was instinct. Dean twisted and stretched, trying to get his feet under him, all the while screaming for help; begging for his father, for anybody, to help him. It would have broken another man; a man who might believe that giving in for the sake of a son's love was worth the risk. John knew better, but it still twisted his soul hearing the agony in Dean's voice.
Dean's struggles increased, flinging frozen water over every surface of the tiny bathroom. "Please Dad, I'll do better at the shooting range next time I promise…I won't take my eyes off Sammy like I did that time in Oklahoma, I know that was my fault…" Dean's litany of imagined transgressions delivered in sobbing and broken gasps brought John to his breaking point. Dean had managed to climb to his knees, clinging to the front of John's shirt; and though John had him by both shoulders he couldn't find the strength to push his son back into the frozen water.
"Please Dad….please…" Dean pleaded, quaking and shuddering in the tiny bathtub.
John stared into the fevered eyes of his son and imagined that perhaps, they had done enough. Then a figure climbed into the tub on John's left and disengaged Dean's right hand from its death grip on John's shirt. "Just a few more minutes, Dean."
"Sammy?" Dean was incredulous. Sam tugged on Dean's right hand, trying to draw him into a seated position in the water. Dean never noticed when John freed himself from his grasp. "Sammy?" Dean repeated, uncertain where he brother had appeared from.
"Jeez, it really is cold…" Sam muttered under his breath as he seated himself in the water against the far wall of the tub. "Here Dean, turn around or you won't fit." Dean obediently turned around to face the wall with the faucets, and Sam pulled him backwards to lean against his chest.
Dean seemed to be trying to make sense out of the situation; trying to take control. "We can't stay here Sam, it's not safe."
"Dad says just a few minutes, Dean. We'll just wait a few more minutes."
John watched in awe as Dean acquiesced to Sammy's suggestions. In moments he'd changed from raving wild man to a confused boy. Dean shuddered and shivered in Sam's embrace. "Sammy, the water's too cold. My legs are on fire."
"It's the fever, Dean…"
"It hurts, Sammy…"
John saw Sam's eyes fill with tears; Sam at least allowed himself the release, bowing his head and letting his hot tears fall on Dean's head. "Just a few more minutes, Dean. I swear. Just until Dad says so."
And so they sat, with Dean asking for release and Sam murmuring reassurances. Then Sam started talking about some movie they'd badgered John into letting them see. Sam did most of the talking, but John could see Dean was listening; it was a conversation they could've had in the back seat of the car. Suddenly Dean hitched a gasping, wheezing breath and was seized by the worst coughing fit of the night. Sam did his best to keep Dean upright and out of the water. "Dad!" Sam yelled in a panic.
John leaned across the lip of the tub and wrestled Dean out of the water drawing him up to sit against his chest like he had been seated on the bed. Sam watched helplessly from the tub as Dean struggled to breathe. When the worst had passed, John grabbed the nearest towel and began drying Dean off. "Sammy! Get out of the water and get yourself changed - quick! Give me all the towels you can find."
Sam scrambled out of the tub and flung every towel in the vicinity at his father. He stood frozen in the doorway watching John tend to Dean who had lapsed back into semi-consciousness. "Sam, you can't help me with Dean if you don't take care of yourself first." That got Sammy moving. John listened to the random thumps and bumps of his youngest searching the bags for warm, dry clothing as he tended to his first born. He was no doctor; he had no idea if what they'd done was enough, or if he'd have the strength to do it again.
John Winchester was trapped, pinned by the weight of his sons on either side. Sammy was curled against his right leg and Dean was on his left slumped against his chest. John's hand was pressed against Dean's chest to monitor his breathing, but it was his increasing temperature that had him concerned. Then suddenly Dean gasped. Sammy's head snapped up. Dean's head rolled against John's shoulder. He blinked and looked over at Sam as he reached up to wipe his forehead.
Dean was drenched in sweat; the fever had broken. If John had been a man who prayed, he would have taken the time to give thanks, but he was a man of action. He held his sons a little tighter; dropped a kiss on the head resting on his shoulder, and then assisted Dean to the bathroom for a quick shower and change of clothes. And the night ended, as nights always do, with the sunrise.